Eat Me. Drink Me.

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

Month: December, 2011

Right Down Santa Claus Lane

by lyzpfister

In Berlin, there’s a Christmas market on every corner.  Really.  Every corner. There’s Gendarmenmarkt and Opernpalais – classy affairs – while the market at Alexanderplatz is a sprawling menagerie of fun houses, fair rides, and staggering, drunken teenagers.  But even besides these large Christmas markets (and those aren’t nearly all of them), there are tiny markets tucked into strange corners, scant strips of wooden houses lined up along the street, as if wherever you go, you absolutely, positively, need to be within arm’s length of Glühwein, gingerbread hearts, and 3-foot long sausages.

Of course.

But there is a certain amount of charm to these closely clustered cottages, though the markets are all relatively alike. Wandering through some of the larger, maze-like getups, you almost forget, for a moment, that you’re actually in the middle of a city. As if you’ve been stuck into a blown up fairy tale land, powdered sugar snow and gingerbread houses.

Bundled-up bands of people huddle around warm places – in Potsdamer Platz, there are tall fire pits, at Alexanderplatz, cylindrical heat lamps – and depending on where you are, these groups of people are students joking about their classmates, or whispering, huddled couples, or Prolls in pink velvet sweatpants and slick and shiny, black down-filled jackets. Conspicuously absent are young children, at least during the evenings, which is when I manage to make it to the Christmas markets. These gaudy shacks, stacks of candy, and carousel rides are for grownups? Na, cool, as the Germans say.

Last week, we walked around the Alexanderplatz market, and when it started to rain, we posted ourselves under the corner of a cottage and sipped Glühwein out of mugs shaped like little blue boots. We people-watched and gossiped, huddling closer together as the rain shifted from a fine mist to an insistent, thick-dropped drizzle. On the way out, we passed the flying swings, circling high in the air at a dizzying clip, almost twice as high as any flying swings I’d seen before. We’d hurried past the swings quickly on the way in, saying, never, no, absolutely never could we be induced to sit in one of those chairs. “Let’s do it,” I said, and impulsively, Elisabeth agreed. As the chairs began to swing and lift up into the air, we were amazed at how easily we’d convinced ourselves to ride. High over the fair, the wind was icy and pellets of rain stung our faces as we whipped around. But the pinpricks of light below were beautiful and in the cold there was a calm silence. Back on the ground again, surrounded by the chatter of the emptying fair, last calls for toasted nuts and bratwursts, we looked up at the swings starting to rise again, amazed at what a little Glühwein made us do.

In die Weihnachtsbäckerei

by lyzpfister

I don’t know if this is a thing – whether a whole nation inflicts this on their children, or just my family – but I’m reminded of it every now and then. Like the refrain to Feliz Navidad or the Wrigley’s doublemint gum commercial, the words appear in my head on repeat, and I feel an overwhelming desire to reach for the nearest person, grab their arm with both hands, pump it vigorously so the limb (preferable a fleshy part) rumples back and forth, while chanting, “Butter stampfen, Butter stampfen!” – which roughly translates to “churning butter, churning butter!”

Growing up, you never knew when a Butter stampfen attack was about to happen. Bare arms were extremely vulnerable. Maybe it sounds awful – but I suppose it’s one of those inexplicable childhood joys that involves shrieking and faux escaping, and joy at finally being caught. Butter stampfen, like the German version of steamroller.

That long lead-in story is mostly irrelevant (as most randomly remembered childhood moments are). But I thought of Butter stampfen the other day, while Elisabeth and Sophie and I were making Christmas Plätzchen – like cookies but smaller and cuter. Maybe because baking cookies is such an ingrained childhood Christmas memory. Then again, it could just have been because there was butter involved.

My other hypothesis is that it was because we were playing the god-awful Christmas song, In die Weihnachtsbäckerei (In the Christmas Bakery) and one good Ohrwurm inevitably leads to another. (Another irrelevant, yet interesting side note: the Germans have a great word for songs that get stuck in your head – Ohrwurm – which literally translates to “ear worm.”)

Plätzchen backen during Advent is a true German tradition, much like baking cookies at Christmastime in America. It seems that the world over, people love to be fatties for the holidays. Everybody makes Plätzchen with everybody else and then brings boxes of Plätzchen to other people, taking boxes of Plätzchen home in return. And everywhere, everywhere is full of Plätzchen. I am eating Plätzchen right now.

Another side note: the German word for “to pop” is platzen. I don’t know, but it sounds suspiciously like Plätzchen to me.

There are many traditional Christmas Plätzchen, gingerbread-like Lebkuchen, Springerle dense with anise, vanilla-almond half moons with powdered sugar, sugar cookies with colorful glazes, airy, macaroon-like nubbins.

Though not traditionally German, my absolute favorite cookies are my mother’s gingersnaps. Dense, chewy, sweet with cinnamon and molasses, crusted with sugar. They must absolutely be dunked in milk, where the cookies, hardening as they cool, crumble into sugary bits, soft with the cold milk.

I couldn’t conceive of Christmas cookies without gingersnaps, so I emailed my mother to ask for the recipe. She almost didn’t want to give it to me, as though making the cookies myself symbolized my growing up, for no longer needing her in the same way. I, too, felt reluctant to take the recipe – I could never imbue the gingersnaps with as much love, making them for myself as she could, making them for me.

But I took the recipe, since, after all, I wasn’t making them only for myself, but for others. Just adding another link to the cookie-love-chain.

So we listened to awful Christmas music and drank Glühwein – hot, spiced wine flavored with oranges, cinnamon, and cloves. We were a veritable cookie-making factory: the gingersnaps, sugar cookies with Glühwein icing, butter-almond moons, and lemon-rum muffin-cake inventions lovingly dubbed, “disasters.”

We ate Plätzchen all night long, took home bags of them, and are still eating them. We’ll probably be eating them through to New Years – especially since the Plätzchen baking is really just getting into full-swing now. I’m going to another Plätzchen baking party right before I fly back to the states for Christmas. And when I get home, I’m going to make my mother bake a plate of gingersnaps for me.

Gingersnaps

2 c sifted flour
1 tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking soda*
1 tsp cinnamon (but be generous)
½ tsp salt
¾ c butter
1 c sugar
1 egg
¼ c molasses

Sift dry ingredients together. Cream butter and sugar, then add egg and molasses. Stir in flour mixture. Shape dough into balls and roll in additional sugar. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes.

*If you substitute baking powder for baking soda, like I did since there appears to be no baking soda in Germany, your cookies will turn into puffy little ginger mounds – and will need an extra 15 min in the oven. I recommend finding the baking soda.

Tastes Like Home

by lyzpfister

Sylvia found this Brooklyn lager for me. I love her.

Please note: “Imported”…

You and me both.

All Roads Lead to the Marais

by lyzpfister



“Have you ever noticed the farting sound the doors to the metro make as they’re closing?” Jamie says to me as we step into the train heading south from the antique markets at Porte de Clignancourt. I hadn’t – but now it’s all I hear. Soft little train tufts.

We finally felt comfortable in Paris. It had taken a while. First, there were the overwhelming tourists. And because of the overwhelming tourists, there were far too many underwhelming restaurants. Our first few days in Paris, I’d found myself disappointed. Untoasted slices of bread with dry paté for seven euros? Heavily salted, monochromatic beef bourgingnon for nine? A cappuccino for five fifty?  Kidding, right? We’d discovered a few gems – miniature croque madames carefully wrapped in brown paper, tight little cups of espresso over whose thin white lips we watched fashion’s finest stroll by, fluorescent macaroons with silky fillings – but our edible despondency was apparent.


Until the day before, when we’d walked across all of Paris, through the Latin Quarter and along the wide banks of the Seine, up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and then up, over, and around the winding streets of Montmartre.


We sat on a small, grassy knoll just beneath Sacre-Coeur, Jamie sleeping off his jetlag. I watched lovers walk by, watched the women in stilettos, the baby buggies, the tourists with their tripods, the woman in the pink hat singing opera. A flock of pigeons landed beside us in a cooing frenzy and just as quickly fluttered off, the shock of air from their wings ruffling my hair. Parts of the Pompidou glinted through the haze like slipping silver fish. The light like rose water and creamsicles.

Paris, unfurling from the top of Sacre-Coeur. Domes and spires and hedges of tetris-packed buildings rolling out like a concrete sea. Even in the absence of a lover, the city was a big, white heart. Explorable, open, tender, full of secrets. I love Paris.

The first time I came to Paris, I was fifteen. I loved it then, too. Loved the city Victor Hugo so ferociously describes, loved the escargots and the fast-paced walking, the white bridges, and baubled shop windows. I came back to Paris when I was eighteen, on a trip across Europe with my best girlfriend and four boys. It was a very different trip – we stayed in a hostel in Montmartre, drank lots of red wine, marched up and down the Champs Elysées as if we meant to conquor it. But it was still love. This trip, my relationship was more complicated.

Cities are like lovers. I’m dating Berlin and in love with New York. In comparison, Paris almost seems like a sordid seaside love affair. Like revisiting an ex years down the road, when you’ve both changed and yet somehow expect your relationship to pick up where it once left off. You almost need to see Paris through the eyes of a local in active relationship with the city – like meeting up with an ex and saying, “Oh you’re married now” – a twinge of jelousy, remorse, longing – and then, perhaps, learning to love on another plane.

Thank God for JP. I’d met him about a year ago when I was working at the Urban Outfitters in SoHo. I’d shown him around Williamsburg, recommended a few good places to eat and thrift in Bushwick, but after that we really hadn’t kept in touch more than the occasional Facebook hello. But he’d offered to show me Paris if I ever came that way. I’m a taker-up-on-offers-er. And he obliged. Our first night in town, he took us out in the Marais, to La Perle, a small bar which swelled with Parisians as the night wore on, and then to an even smaller bar with cramped ceilings, dim yellow light, and ironwork grille around the stairs.

The next night, we met near Place Clichy at a local restaurant for a shared plate of charcuterie, cheese, and bread. We shared a bottle of white wine and sat, cramped in a window seat at a long wooden table, taking in the burble of French around us. Oh the French, the French! I love this language – and I loved unleashing it on the locals, making them have long, gesture-rich conversations with me about shoes, food, weather, anything for which I had the vocab set from the six years I took French in school. Six years ago, let me add.

We breathed a sigh of relief, sitting in that restaurant, slipping into the noise around us. I’d almost lost hope that Paris had any real pockets left. Even when you’re a tourist, you don’t want to be around tourists.

It was our turning point. Later that night, we met up with a New York friend at Les Étages, a small bar, furnished like a boho-chic living room with cushiony chairs and Christmas lights and then had a late-night snack of fried potatoes at Les Philosophes down the road. It would seem we were drawn to the Marais like moths. Akiko and I headed off to Social Club – David Lynch’s Parisian dance club – where, surrounded by beautiful Parisian men and women, we danced until the trains started running again at five. (Jamie still sleeping off his jetlag.) The next day, walking around the Marais (again), window shopping, discovering the most magnificent pastry – une cigar, doughy marzipan wrapped in honey-drenched phyllo – at a Jewish bakery, people watching at brunch. And then, late at night, finding a real Parisian bar in our neighborhood near the Rue Mouffetard and sharing a carafe of wine, later wandering into a hookah lounge, drinking pot after pot of the most delicious mint tea as smoke hazed around us.


It took a while to find this Paris. Maybe the city had changed – I really couldn’t remember this many tourists, or the prices being this expensive. But more probably, it was that I had grown apart from the city. Estranged lovers. Finding each other. And though Paris had disappointed me a few times (being jilted when you least expect it always hurts…), I thought back to the hilltop under Sacre-Coeur, where all of Paris promised herself to me.


Our last day, a quiet Monday, we walked from our hostel in the Latin Quarter through sloping, white, clean-swept streets, along the sunlight-laced Seine, past Hugo’s Notre Dame, and into our Marais. We’d been to the Marais every day of the trip, and still, we found ourselves drawn to this area more than any other. And making a connection with at least one part of Paris made it feel to us a more real place. Less bombarded with tourists – a city we could love, a place we could live. We bought falafels for five euros and ate them in an alley, yogurt and garlic mixing with vinegar and juicing down our hands as we bit into slick strips of eggplant, warm, fragrant falafel bits, onion and cabbage.

I bought another cigar, we crossed the Seine one last time, and then we headed for the airport, got on a plane, and flew back to Berlin, home.

On Second Thought

by lyzpfister

Maybe the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers.

Turkey sandwich with mustard and mirin slaw: