Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Month: November, 2011

Love is Wherever You Find It

by lyzpfister

Warm murmur, glasses clinking, candlelight, the smell of herbs and browned butter, a room full of people crammed around a long, improvised table, a whole roasted turkey. Thanksgiving in Berlin, beautiful.

Jamie and I have spent all morning cooking. Turkey with herbs and butter and apple cider gravy, bratwurst, apple and cranberry stuffing, celeriac and potato mash, carrots glazed in sherry, green beans in toasted walnut vinaigrette, cranberry nut rolls, roasted sweet potatoes with sage, kale and Brussels sprouts salad, apple pie, pumpkin pie… All of the good things Thanksgiving means. Elisabeth comes home around one after a long day at school and a quick shopping trip for some last minute menu items, and begins to set up the living room. At three, a quick pick-me-up (vodka/muddled orange, mint, brown sugar/goji berry smoothie), and back to work. We sneak finger-fuls of gravy base at regular intervals, dance around the kitchen to tacky party pop with whisks, improvise baking dishes from cake pans, toast with cans of champagne.

Our guests arrive between six and seven, I slip into my party dress, purchased at a vintage store last weekend in Paris, wipe flour from my face. We work through until eight – the last minute touches to a big dinner party – adding the olive oil to a dressing of Dijon, shallots, garlic, and sherry vinegar whose flavors have been melding all day, pouring pan juices into gravy base, shrieking at how good the gravy is, grating parmesan.

Everyone is seated at the table. Elisabeth and I make a toast, piles of food behind us. I look around at the table of people – new friends and old – and remember why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, no matter where I am or who I’m celebrating it with. It’s about sharing what you have, being together, being thankful, loving, and allowing yourself to be loved.

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Spitzen

by lyzpfister

My great uncle had always been old. From the time I was young, he’d been the same Hansvetter – I remember him in a newsboy cap, a cigarette in his hand, his feet covered in slippers. He loved to watch the planes take off from Stuttgart airport. He lived nearby and kept his TV programmed to a bluescreen listing of departures and arrivals so he’d know which planes were heading where as he watched them fly into the sky. When I’d visit, he’d ask when I was leaving, what plane I’d be on and tell me he’d track me as I took off.

A few distinct memories recur when I think of my great uncle. Every time we came by he’d ask, in a slow, loud Schwäbisch drawl if we understood what he was saying. It can’t be reproduced in print, but it’s something like that joke about Americans speaking loud, slow English in foreign countries as if it turns their words into something other than loud, slow English. For Hansvetter, it was a question of whether we could understand his dialect. And no matter how many times we said, yes, this crazy south German dialect (incomprehensible to even many northern Germans) makes complete sense to us, he’d always shake his head astounded and say, “Well, you just speak such good German.” Well, yes, we’ve been speaking it our whole lives.

I drove to the South this weekend for Hansvetter’s funeral. On my way there, I thought of how our language and our dialect works to shape our selves. Such a large part of why I’m in Germany is to understand myself as well in this language as I do in English. Yes, Hansvetter, I grew up speaking German, but in a way, you’re right – it’s a foreign language to me still. And yet it’s personal. A whole half of my family is German, a whole half of me exists in another language.

We drove to the cemetery, passing a giant trailer full of cabbages, and then another, and another. These were the largest cabbages I’d ever seen, round and full at the bottom and then spiraling up into a peak. Spitzkraut, it’s called, or Filderkraut, after the area in which it’s grown. But I prefer Spitzkraut. It reminds me of what Hansvetter used to call my youngest brother: Spitzbub, an impish boy. My middle brother had even said, when we’d telephoned earlier in the week, “It’s weird not to have someone calling Michael Spitzbub.” – as if Hansvetter had a monopoly on the term.

We stopped at a stand whose placard, written in the Schwäbisch dialect read:

Wer im Herbscht

Sei Spitzkraut kauft,

der hot em Wender

Sauerkraut

The rough translation would be, “Buying Spitzkraut in the fall means winter saurkraut for all.” We bought a Spitzkraut and stuck it in the car before we went to the funeral. It might sound macabre, to take such joy in finding out about a type of cabbage I’d never seen before, right before going to a funeral. But I think Hansvetter would have appreciated my delight in the Schwäbisch saying on the sign, in a traditional Schwäbisch food. His grandfather, after all, had been a cabbage cutter.

It was like having a dialogue with Hansvetter – we talked about words and dialects, about how what we speak makes us belong to a place. I forgave him for always asking if we could understand. Then, it seemed a bit insulting, but I suppose that for him, my brothers and I were wonders – we lived in America, spoke English, and yet could understand a dialect most Germans from the North can’t comprehend.

My relationship to language is not an easy one – I am constantly reminded in Germany of how much I fit in and how apart I still am. But in memory of Hansvetter (whose comments always managed to bring up all my conflicted, complicated, defensive feelings about language), I made something simple. I took my Spitzkraut (thinking of Hansvetter calling Michael Spitzbub, how Spitz means point, pointy, top, the tip, peaked, how cabbage and children can be given the same prefix) and made a Krautsalat – just finely grated cabbage, vinegar, salt, pepper, oil, honey, and lemon. And that was enough.

Fall Homage, In Memoriam

by lyzpfister

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve bathed my laptop in liquids one too many times and I have killed it. Killed it dead. Marley was dead: to begin with, as my dear, dear Dickens said. And it’s getting to be that season anyway, though the weather is unseasonably warm here in Berlin. I took a long bike ride today, partly because the weather was so nice – and partly because I had to go to O2 to see if they could get the internet to work on this wonderful computer my dear friend Elisabeth has lent me – they can’t.

So, my laptop, my love is dead. My internet does not exist. I am shut off and out of the world. And here’s a secret. When, after two hours, the nice man at O2 told me the internet wasn’t going to work, I cursed the heavens silently, first, and then I felt – relief.  Although I don’t know if that is exactly the right word. There should be a word that means something in between resignation and freedom. So don’t tell anyone, but I don’t think I’m upset to be shut off and out the world. I can feel my brain blossoming.

Of course, the only thing to do the night I broke my laptop was to leave the apartment. To find my way to a champagne party whose address I wasn’t quite sure of since the internet had failed before I could plot my meticulous way across the city. To leave the scene of horror, half-sopped liquid still puddled on the floor, and go to meet people and drink champagne with berries and talk it out and then go dance it out. I know nothing more cathartic than hip hop and sweat. But the next day, my first day, waking up to a laptop pried open and drying on a chair, battery expunged (I learned that much from the first time I dropped a drink in the keyboard…), I didn’t know what to do. What could I do. Read. Write. Cook. You know, the things I moved to Berlin to do more of.

I finished The English Patient, I started Beloved, I even read some of Ezra Pound’s cantos over breakfast. I arranged the poems in my book, I edited them; I wrote letters and started a short story. And at first it was strange, luxuriating in a novel. Reading a hundred pages without getting up to check my email or rearrange some files or just do something else because I have become incapable of sitting down and breathing.

The computer compartmentalizes our lives, and not just when we’re using it, there where we live in multiple windows, web pages, in an online, app-driven multi-taskedness – the computer makes us take that hyperventilating approach into the outside world. We spend ten minutes on this before we think of that, are constantly syncing our e-lives, our cell lives, our paper lives together, don’t even know how to do one thing at a time. We have forgotten how to breathe, how to experience, how to think.

I won’t lie and say, I’m going to be even more of a technological neanderthal than I already am. When I finish writing this blog, I’m probably going to play a few rounds of spider solitaire on the computer. I never got around to downloading that game on my mac, and it’s pre-programmed on a PC, and I do love spider solitaire. When I go home at Christmas, I’ll be buying myself a new computer and instantly installing the internet on it. And organizing my itunes, my photo library, downloading apps and skype and all the rest of it.

For now, I won’t complain. I’ll be harder to reach – which is hard, since it’s already difficult to organize meetings with people I don’t really know but want desperately to be my friends. But I’ll write more. I’ll sit down and write blogs like this in one sitting without checking my email every three sentences – because there’s no email to check. I’ll read. Maybe I’ll actually get around to memorizing some poetry like I said this summer I was going to.  Or, like tonight, I’ll come home later than usual, after the biking and the errands and think, it’s late, but I’ll cook because there’s nothing else to do.

And when I finally eat my pumpkin soup, I am so glad I took the time to make it. It’s the most amazing pumpkin soup I’ve ever eaten. Spicy and deep with berbere and Jamaican jerk seasoning, earthy and sweet with cinnamon and nutmeg, and garnished with creme fraiche and green onions. But maybe it’s also so good because while I sat at the kitchen table, listening to my soup simmer, I read a letter from a friend, I wrote a little, and in the linear space I now inhabit, I gave my thoughts the space to grow.

Pumpkin Soup
Cover the bottom of a pot with olive oil; saute 2 small onions and 1 shallot until translucent. Add 1 small pumpkin (about the size of a baby’s head…), cubed, and 2 medium-sized potatoes (about the size of a leprachaun’s head…), cubed, and saute with salt, pepper, Jamaican jerk seasoning, berbere, and cinnamon until soft. Don’t be afraid of adding generous amounts of all those seasonings – but remember, it’s soup, the flavors will intensify as the soup cooks, so always just add bit by bit, and not all at once, over time, until the flavor is where you want it. Cover with water and add 1 vegetable bouillon cube. When water boils, reduce to low and simmer until pumpkin and potatoes are meltingly soft. Add a pinch of nutmeg. Blend until smooth (either with an immersion blender or in a food processor). Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and chopped green onions.