Eat Me. Drink Me.

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

Month: May, 2012

A Murmur, the Wind, Some Fish, a Sea

by lyzpfister

Everything sounds like ocean in the Baltic. The wind brushing through the tops of trees, sand sweeping against itself, the hypnotic hiss of fire on wood – even the ocean sounds like ocean. I felt disoriented my first morning, awake before the rest of the house and out for a walk. There was a brisk wind carrying the smell of brine and fish, driftwood and the specific salinity of coastal air.

Our house was part of a series of small summer houses, all pained the same cream color with the same thatched roof and thick green shutters. There were clearly big plans underway, and the clean green lawn outside our windows dropped off to an abrupt construction site. Swaths of bare earth still half frozen with winter, caked with the ridges of a dump truck’s wheels and forlorn palettes of latticed wood and bricks – this was our ocean view.

I wandered around the development, even ventured into the woods where I found an abandoned locker room whose placement I couldn’t quite comprehend. Why one would need to shower and change so far from the water was a mystery to me. The only solution being that the badgered ground was covering up the remnants of an old swimming pool. Children’s summer sunshine memories buried under frozen dirt and soon covered with vacation homes. We must give the archeologists something to do.

For a while it was nice to be in the open air. Smelling ocean. Blinking in unadulterated sunlight. No big buildings, no noise, no city hemming-in. But I had underestimated the wind and I desperately wanted a cup of coffee.

Back in the house, people were waking up, and our bedraggled-looking crew grew in the kitchen. The sound swelled, murmurings, an oceanic susurrus with the break of laughter.

Officially, we sat down to breakfast around noon – but for that, the spread was plentiful and pretty. Rolls, butter, honey, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions, and chives, müsli, pickled herring and smoked salmon from the fish stand on the beach.

It made me nostalgic for my college spring breaks, where my friends and I would drive to the lake house in western Maryland, which, though it was really Kevin’s lake house, we all began to think of as our lake house. The entirety of the group shifted year to year, but the core of us stayed the same. We wouldn’t leave the house all week. I lived in my mumus and a giant Davidson sweatshirt, only changing to get into the hot tub. We watched a lot of movies, did a lot of lounging, a lot of drinking, and a lot of cooking. Everybody had their specialties – Mark’s jambalaya, Andy’s barbeque chicken pizza, the Oreo balls Liz made that disappeared from the tray before they’d even had a chance to cool. It may not have been a traditional college spring break, but it was perfect; absolute laziness, my dearest friends. And a hot tub.

I was a relatively new addition to this group of people – and still, being together in that house by the sea reminded me of those other weeks tucked away in Maryland. Especially when we sat around the table, playing dice games that involved drinking and gambling and nonsensical rules or eating breakfast together at the long wooden table, lounging around on the couch or in front of the outdoor oven and exchanging the lighthearted teasings of camaraderie.

On our last evening, we made pizzas. We formed a casual, rotational assembly line. Now rolling out dough into imperfect crusts, now topping a pizza with ruccola and feta or roast vegetables and gouda, now placing in or taking out of the oven, slicing up, carrying to the table or the empty chopping block back to the stove. Sandy and smelling of wood smoke, we sat around the table snatching up slices of hot pizza as soon as they appeared. The city seemed far away, though the next day we’d be back in it. We’d have laundry to do, errands to run, work to go to, appointments to keep. But as soon as we’d begin to think about another day’s responsibilities, there’d be a new pizza to haul from the oven, dough to roll, toppings to choose. We’d forget the have tos of tomorrow and just let the ocean carry us away.

Homemade Pizza Dough

Have I really never given you the recipe for homemade pizza dough? I can’t believe that. But it’s true – and I’m sorry. You should never have had to go without. There’s nothing like homemade pizza dough – warm and fragrant, delicately yeasty and chewy. And you get to do some kneading, which is one of my favorite things to do in the world.

Add 1 ½ tsp active dry yeast and a pinch of sugar to 1 ¼ cups warm water. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until frothy. Sift 4 cups all-purpose flour and 1 tsp salt into a large bowl and make a well in the center. Gradually pour in the yeast mixture and 2 tbsp olive oil. Mix until just cohesive, then flip onto a clean, floured counter and knead about ten minutes, until the dough is smooth, springy, and elastic like a fat woman’s thighs. Be aware of the dough. Feel how the lumps work themselves out under your hands. Feel how the dough warms up, responds to your touch. A fully kneaded ball of dough will do anything you ask of it. It would rob a bank for you if you wanted it to. Grease a large bowl with olive oil and place your ball of dough in the bowl. Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place for 1 ½ hours. When you’re ready to make pizzas, knead the dough for 2 minutes to warm it up, then divide into four equal pieces (more if you want to make mini pizzas or very thin pizzas). Roll out each piece into a 10-inch round, stretching and piecing together any uneven or torn pieces of dough. Add your toppings and bake in a pre-heated 425º F oven for about 15 minutes.

A note on toppings: While you can put virtually anything on top of a piece of dough and call it a pizza, there are a few really lovely combinations that I find myself coming back to again and again. For instance: caramelized onions, gorgonzola, and walnuts. Roast vegetable medley (eggplants, zucchini, onion, etc.) with basil and fresh mozzarella. Olive oil, roast garlic, ruccola, feta, sautéed mushrooms. You get the idea.

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Cook Like No One’s Watching

by lyzpfister

I suffer from performance anxiety. It’s not a big deal, really. It just means that I often cook better when I’m by myself than when I’m cooking for other people. When I’m home alone, there’s no need to prove myself, to live up to having a food blog, to make something so delicious that whoever I’m cooking for never wants to eat anywhere else. I guess that’s what performance anxiety means.

While we’re getting it all out into the open, let me go ahead and admit this now. I’ve never been good at group projects. I like to be either completely in charge or completely the opposite. I take direction well and I lead well, but that nebulous middle ground where everyone’s got a good opinion and we’re all trying to self-moderate – I don’t do that.

It’s not that I was that kid who always got “does not play well with others” on her report card. In fact, I played so well with others that I sunk into the background, becoming an un-player, or a non-entity, a completely forgettable figure. For most of my childhood and young adult life, I’m pretty sure none of my classmates thought I had a personality. If they even knew who I was.

No one believes me now when I tell them I’m shy. Usually, I no longer believe myself. But ask my parents, my grade school teachers, my hometown best friend, who I made cry by refusing to remove myself from the folds of my mother’s skirt the day we met.

I’m not sure if I could pinpoint when it was that I grew into myself, my idiosyncrasies, my strangenesses. Perhaps it wasn’t one moment, but a process of growing. It appears mine is a soul that dislikes stagnancy in temperament as much as location.

The dislike of group projects, on the other hand, is something I haven’t outgrown. I had always ascribed it to being a symptom of shyness, but unlike the shyness I’ve left behind, this dislike of working together with other people – especially on creative projects – has stuck. Perhaps it’s just a palimpsest of qualities, whether good or bad, that I possess. My stubbornness, my unwillingness to be wrong, my dislike of being made to share. When I create something I want it to be mine. I want to possess it. I want all of the glory – or all of the defeat.

At least I will also take all of the credit for a defeat.

But what am I talking about. You want to hear about the food.

So I have performance anxiety. Right. That’s how we started. Last Friday, in the quick snap between work and going to the launch party for Issue 5 of SAND (the literary journal I’ve been working on here in Berlin, for those of you who didn’t know…), I didn’t check my watch (the very same watch I proceeded to lose at said launch party) to see how much time I really had before I had to leave again.

When I came home from work, I threw some zucchini, eggplant, onions, and garlic into the oven on a low roast, cleaned the kitchen, and took a leisurely shower, only realizing as I stepped out that there were scant forty-five minutes to dress myself, make my face presentable, and cook dinner. A quick assessment of the situation revealed that I wouldn’t have nearly enough time to fry up the potatoes I meant to use as a base for the roast vegetables anyway, so I opted to spend most of my time getting dressed, stress-lessed and listening to music. Dinner was improvised. Two slices of toast, goat cheese with chives, topped with the roast vegetables which had melted together in the oven. Perfect and soft, redolent of garlic and onion sweetness. I had to photograph it, even though I didn’t really have the time to get my camera out and snap the shots.

I sat in my kitchen being self-congratulatory, eating my toasts with cheese and roast vegetables. Thinking about how even haphazard meals can be surprisingly stellar.

What I want to say about this is that I love cooking and I love when food and people are together. There’s very little I love more. (Especially if it is grilling outside. Especially if there are craft brews.) But somehow all this loving makes me nervous. It’s got an element of group project to it.

When I cook with other people, I doubt myself. I overcompensate or recede into a background of deferential good opinions. I burn the crepes. I over-salt the rice. By myself, I risk more – which results in both stunning successes and also miserable defeats. And there are defeats.

For that, though, the successes taste so much better because they surprise me. Because they were created with a fearlessness, almost recklessness. An inventive energy I find when I work alone. Without someone looking over my shoulder to read a pre-edited version of a thing. Also, I’m a perfectionist – add it to the list.

So the question is, how to cook for other people like I do when no one’s watching? Blinders? Blindfolds? Boxing up my guests?

Clearly these are not the answers. Maybe the answer to this, like growing out of shyness, is time. It is possible that even now, my brain is coming up with a new body algorithm in which I am better at sharing ideas, better at working with other people, better at being ok with differences of opinion. Better at being imperfect.

Slaw That

by lyzpfister

Speak to me wonders, oh cabbage slaw. Your rings, wound and crenellated round a core. Sliceable, screaming of spring. Fit for kings, yet cheap enough to make poor men sing. Cabbage, cabbage, speak to me divine things.

As we tentatively dive into spring, I find myself increasingly drawn to greener things and (clearly also) 18th century romantic poetry which inspires me to write extravagant and rather ode-ish sentences to cabbage.

Nothing wrong with that. Cabbage is great.

Cabbage gets a bad rep for being cheap and one-dimensional, but I would like to do a little salvaging on behalf of the image. Cabbage is versatile. Main ingredient in stir-frys and slaws, stew-filler, a hull for ground beef and spices. A pinch of crispness in a rice salad or the vinegary tang topping a pulled pork sandwich. And the types of cabbage – there’s red cabbage, green cabbage, Chinese cabbage, Savoy, Napa, bok choy – and here in Germany, I’ve discovered yet another lovely variety called Sptizkraut.

It’s a spitzkraut I’m working with today, a baby one about the size of a kitten with smooth, light green skin. It squeaks apart as I cut it into perfect rings with my knife.

The fresh, green foods I crave in spring mean my meals all take a healthy bent – not a bad thing, considering my cooking habits in Germany have inclined towards excessive use of butter and heavy whipping cream during this past winter. But as usual, I haven’t been grocery shopping in a while, and all I have in the fridge is this cabbage and some chiles, some slim pickings of condiments.

Though to make a springtime lunch, that’s all you need. Dijon mustard and farmer’s cheese spread thickly on freshly toasted bread, topped with a simple slaw of cabbage, red onions, and chiles – the dressing no more than rice wine vinegar, grainy mustard, lemon juice, sriracha, mirin, honey, salt, black pepper, and garlic.

I eat my open-faced sandwich, I’ll make a cup of coffee and sit in the kitchen letting the sunlight in through the windows, pretending its warmer than it really is. Read a magazine. Let the lightness carry me away. Oh cabbage, oh cabbage.

There Was No Food in the Inn

by lyzpfister

My brother is my roommate. This is both lovely and… interesting at the same time. Especially when he says things like, “I just want to see how soon it is before you get really annoyed at me” after saying something really annoying.

The problem with living with your siblings is, they really know how to annoy you. They’ve got practice.

We’ve been living together for all of four days now, and so far so good, despite a few squabbles over how we split the grocery bill. He says, “But I’ve spent twice as much as you.” I say, “But you eat twice as much. Fatty.” And then I cook us dinner.

Tonight, after coming home from work, I realize that there isn’t any food left in the fridge. Of course, by no food left in the fridge, what I mean is, there’s an assortment of strange and half-eaten things. Two peppers, a bit of cream from the tortellini with mushroom and cream sauce I made for dinner last night, an old jar of pesto, some tomato sauce, five forlorn little olives, one fourth of a dried up chili pod.

But my brother is looking at me expectantly. And I’ve promised to cook. So I shrug, and bring the various and unrelated food items out of the fridge until I have a plan. Stuffed peppers. Ish.

Ben is working on his mash-ups – and I can’t help but think that the total ADD selection of music we’re listening to is something like the way I’m cooking. Haphazardly.

It’s coming together I think, though, as I taste the rice I’ve mixed with heavy whipping cream and tomato puree, sautéed onions, garlic, and olives.

This is what I love about cooking. This something from nothing.

I ladle rice into peppers and top them with generous slices of cheese. I change into yoga pants. I make some comments on songs.

“I think the shells are done,” my brother says.

“When you say shells, do you mean peppers?” I say.

He says, “I mean pepper shells.”

We sit down to eat. Pour another glass of the hefeweissen from the case we carried all the way down the block and up five flights of stairs. Ok, that he carried down the block and up five flights of stairs.

I say, “These peppers are delicious. I’m awesome.”

He says, “These peppers would be better if you had filled them with something else. Like candy.”

Not Candy-Filled Peppers

Cook two portions of rice – or one and a half, you probably won’t be able to fit all the rice into the peppers anyway. While the rice is cooking, halve two peppers and remove the seeds and pith. Set aside. In a skillet, sauté 1 finely chopped yellow onion and 1 clove garlic until translucent. Add chopped fresh chili, olives, and a handful of chopped basil. But who am I kidding here – you could really add whatever you want. It’s probably more interesting than what I had in my fridge anyway. When the rice has finished cooking, add it to your onion mixture. Add some heavy cream, some tomato sauce, some pesto. Again, this isn’t really a recipe, but rather a gentle suggestion. Just pour some leftover liquid substances into the rice and see what happens. Stir your rice + fridge leftovers mixture well, then ladle into pepper halves. Top with sliced cheese – I used firm goat and aged gouda – and bake in a 400F oven for as long as it takes to finish washing the cooking dishes, listen to your brother’s mash-ups, and drink a glass of hefeweissen. So about 20 minutes. Do not fill with candy. It won’t taste good.