Eat Me. Drink Me.

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

Category: Eating Together

Boo

by lyzpfister

pumpkins

I’ve never really cared about Halloween. Until I moved to Germany, that is. Here, I seem to love all those American things I didn’t really have much interest in before. Carving pumpkins, dressing in ridiculous costumes, making pumpkin pie.

To be fair, pumpkin pie is something that I’ve always loved. To play devil’s advocate for myself, my mother always made pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin. Which is, I don’t think, very American.

Pumpkin pie made with real pumpkin is not like typical pumpkin pie. It’s custardy, with an almost vegetal undertone and a sweet, earthy hit of cinnamon. None of this creamy, creepy rust-colored goo, real pumpkin pie is bright orange and textured with scraps of shaved pumpkin.

Naturally, the only course of action available to me was to organize a pumpkin carving soiree.

scooping out pumpkins

ready for pumpkin pie

So last Friday, my roommates and I chilled some wine, pulled the extensions out on the table, and bought two big, beautiful pumpkins. (OK, they were from the bottom of the barrel… all the good ones were already gone – but we loved them nonetheless.)

Being the only veteran pumpkin carver, I oversaw the operation, but to tell the truth, I don’t think I actually scraped a single bit of pumpkin flesh from the shell or cut out a single eye. Not that it mattered – for me, it was enough to know that it was being done.

carving a jack-o-lantern

I spent the evening making edible things from our pumpkins. Roasting seeds with olive oil and salt to an addicting crisp, turning scooped-out handfuls of pumpkin into spicy curried pumpkin-coconut soup – and making pie.

roasted pumpkin seeds

Can I tell you how lovely it is to sit around a table by candlelight, hands greased with pumpkin guts, sipping white wine from juice glasses and laughing with friends? What it is to eat together?

chestnuts

pumpkin party

curried pumpkin soup

I’ve been living in Berlin for a little over a year now. Last year at this time, I was sitting at a kitchen table alone, just about to spill a drink into my laptop and break it. Not that life was bad. It was just a new thing.

Carving pumpkins this Halloween, eating with friends – I can’t help but look back on this past year and think about how blessed I am to be here and to have met the people I have. How beautiful it is to be this heartbreakingly happy.

Granted, it’s not just carving pumpkins with other people – or making pie for them – that makes me so happy, but it’s a part of it.

the view from my desk

pumpkin pie recipe

Pumpkin Pie

Crust:
2 cups flour
2/3 cups vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk
pinch of salt

Filling:
2 cups raw pumpkin, scraped from inside of the pumpkin
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg (opt.)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tbsp melted butter

For the crust: Blend flour and salt. Add vegetable oil and milk and whisk ingredients together. When the dough starts to come together, use your hands and quickly knead it into a ball. You may have to add more vegetable oil for the dough to stick together. Conversely, if the dough is too wet, add more flour.

Press dough into a 9-inch pie dish. You may have extra dough – set it aside for another use (or a mini-pie!). Place your pie crust to the side.

Pre-heat oven to 400 F.

Place raw pumpkin in a medium pot and add 1 inch of water. Turn heat to medium-low and steam pumpkin until cooked through (about 10 minutes). (If you haven’t just carved a Jack-o-Lantern and don’t happen to have shaved raw pumpkin, you can roast pumpkin cubes in the oven and, when cooked through, mash them with a fork to get the right consistency.) Drain any juice from the cooked pumpkin – you should have approximately 1 1/4 cups of cooked pumpkin. Don’t worry if it’s not exact – pumpkin pie isn’t a science.

To your cooked, drained pumpkin, add milk, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg (optional), beaten eggs and melted butter. Stir all ingredients together until well-blended.

Place pie in the oven and bake until set. Depending on your oven, this should take about an hour.

pumpkin pie

Biscuits & Blogging

by lyzpfister

sweet corn biscuits

When Ellie and I get together, we talk. About lots of things. Like work and men and crazy people we know. We do things like make cocktails and Instagram photos of them, then drink them and make another round, which we do not Instagram. But really, when we get together, what we do is bake.

The baking, of course, might just be an excuse for the gossiping and the cocktails, but then again, it might be because there’s something really rewarding about sitting around chatting and drinking and ending up with yeasty donuts covered in pink gloss, or red velvet cupcakes topped with an icing that involves very. specific. instructions. and slightly strange ingredients.

Because of all the baking and the eating, I think Ellie has made more appearances in this blog than anyone else. There was Thanksgiving (we’re already getting ready to order the turkey for this year…), the plätzchen-baking extravaganza, an ancient Easter, and of course that time we decided to eat in the dark. And probably because of all the appearances she’s made here, she’s spent a lot of time listening to me talk about the blog – why I’m even still writing it and where I’d like for it to go. Or maybe that’s because of the cocktails.

sweet corn biscuits

We talk about the big plans I have. I want to redesign the site so that it’s easier to navigate. I want an index of recipes and photos. I want to write a book…

And then sometimes I want to pretend that there’s not a place where I have been, more – or less – regularly, recording my edible thoughts for over three years. What a long time to throw words into the sometimes uncommunicative interwebs. There are times when I don’t know why I’m still writing it, but there you go – I’m still writing it.

sweet corn biscuits

Maybe that’s the beautiful thing about food writing. The foods we cook and eat, much like the stories we tell – another day at work, another awful date, another crazy piece of gossip – repeat themselves. And yet each time we tell a story, every time we cook a dish, it’s something new because life has configured itself differently around us.

Just look at the way Ellie’s appearances thread through this blog, which in a way is also a chronicle of my life. You could say, it’s always the same – you cook, you eat, you cocktail – and yes, there’s an element of repetition there. But it’s not stagnant repetition – it builds a history, one which tells the story of a friendship through a sequence of meals.

So, though sometimes I wonder why I’m still writing – it’d almost be like asking why Ellie and I are friends. At one point, you might be able to say, it’s because we can talk for hours – or that she knows how to make me breathe when I’m having a mini panic attack. But you reach a point where friendship is no longer a list of whys, just a knowledge that you are.

In a certain sense, this blog is like a friend (in a totally non-lonely-I-swear-I-have-breathing-friends-too sort of way). We’ve been through a lot together, and sometimes we tell the same story over again. But whatever. We’re changing, we’re growing, we are.

sweet corn biscuits

Sweet Corn & Pepper Biscuits

Adapted from Joy the Baker

There might not be an obvious connection between these biscuits and blogging and friendship. And actually, when I started writing this post, it was going to be a different thing. You see, Ellie and I made these biscuits together – and they were super great, so I thought – well, I’ll write about them and at the same time, write about blogging, because this recipe is from Joy the Baker’s blog – which is a blog I admire and enjoy even though it often puts me in a reflective mood about blogging. (When will hundreds of people comment on my posts? When will I be invited to cook with slightly famous food people? When will I get to go on a book tour?) And then I started writing – and it ended up being a totally different thing, a story about friendship with a little bit about blogging thrown in. Somehow, the biscuits got totally lost. But they are a part of this story too – they’re the reason I wrote it. And they’re pretty good biscuits. So here you go:

Whisk 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tbsp baking powder, 1 ½ tbsp. sugar, and a pinch of salt together in a medium bowl. Add 3 tbsp cold, unsalted butter and 3 tbsp vegetable shortening, and with your fingers, crumble the fat together with the dry ingredients. Don’t worry if your butter balls are different sizes, though none should be larger than a pea. Add 1 cup corn kernels and 3 finely chopped, charred chili peppers and stir.

Pour ¾ cup cold buttermilk into your flour mixture and quickly blend the wet and dry ingredients. Let me warn you – it’s not a very pretty dough. Regardless, dump it onto a lightly floured work surface and knead about ten times, until you’ve brought it together into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour. (You can also refrigerate it overnight… but you know I didn’t read the instructions in advance enough to plan that.

sweet corn biscuits

sweet corn biscuits

Pre-heat oven with a rack placed in the upper third to 375ºF. On a lightly floured surface, roll out biscuit dough until it’s ¾-1 inch thick. If you’re fancy, you can use biscuit cutters. If you’re not, you can use the open end of a drinking glass and press it into the dough to cut out rounds.

Place biscuits about 2 inches apart on a greased (or parchment papered) cookie sheet. Reshape and re-roll excess dough, then cut out some more biscuits. Repeat until the dough is gone.

Brush the tops of your biscuits with a bit of heavy cream and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Bake for 15-17 minutes until biscuits are cooked through and golden brown on top. These guys are best served warm. We topped ours with cheeses, avocado slices, smoked salmon, cucumbers, and tomatoes… and of course melted butter.

sweet corn biscuits

In the Beginning, There Was Butter

by lyzpfister

bagna cauda

“You start with nine sticks of butter,” my aunt says, giving me the recipe for a dish which, at the end of its life, will contain fourteen sticks. Her voice is a Florida twang, an accent no one else in my family seems to have picked up as strongly, though when I am with her, I find my own vowels stretching out. I becomes Ah, as though I’ve been stuck into a Twilight Zone dentist’s office and every personal statement is a chance to glance at my sweet tea-ravaged cavities.

“This is the easy way, but the real way is, you’re going to want to chop up about three things of garlic – at least.” Except it sounds like, Yer gunna wunna

My aunt is referring not to cloves of garlic, but to heads, because this is the famed family recipe for banyacotta, which is the phonetic spelling for a dish which is actually a famed Italian recipe called bagna cauda. The recipe is basically the same. But I think my family uses more butter.

minced garlic and anchovies

Banyacotta is a familial rite of passage. Lovers, fiancés, new spouses, children – you’re not a part of the family until you’ve eaten banyacotta. This is mostly due to the fact that for a full two days after eating it, you trail the scent of garlic behind you thicker than Pepe le Pew on an amour trail. It is imperative, for this reason, that everyone in the family partake, so that we don’t notice our stench, naïvely wandering through the world in our own little garlic reek.

For a long time, I had no idea that banyacotta was not just something that had been handed down in my family from generation to generation. All of the friends I told about the dish – it’s a dip of butter, garlic, and anchovies and you eat it on cabbage – were disgusted (but then again, that isn’t quite the favorite foods lists of an eight year old). No one else had even heard of the concoction.

cabbage for dipping

One day, while I was perusing a food magazine, I found a recipe for bagna cauda. The recipe called for butter, anchovies, and garlic… and I thought… this sounds a lot like banyacotta… And when I sounded it out in Italian I realized, oh my God. This is banyacotta. My family just can’t spell.

Regardless, this is tradition, and my aunt still makes her banyacotta (sorry, the spelling stays…) in my Great Aunt Dorothy’s electric skillet. At one point, the Davis clan used to add cream – which is also a part of the original Italian recipe – but somewhere along the lines, the cream was lost, and what now remains is a giant pile of melted butter, six cans of salty anchovies, and four heads of minced garlic simmered into a rich, salty mess.

bagna cauda

white bread plates

When the banyacotta is done, my family huddles around the pot. We each grab a cabbage leaf and dunk it in. Some prefer the garlic-infused butter from the top which just slightly wilts the cabbage – others scrape the bottom for anchovy-laden scoops studded with garlic. For plates we use slices of white bread, and after we’ve eaten as much cabbage leaves as we can, we eat the bread, soaked through with butter.

bagna cauda

Don’t tell anyone, but this is what I really came back to America for. Butter, garlic, salt – and a reminder that I’m part of the family.

Banyacotta

This makes a lot of banyacotta – and let’s hope it does, or else that’s a lot of butter shoveled through your arteries at once. My aunt freezes any leftover banyacotta and slices off pats to melt on top of a hot-off-the-grill steak. I add fresh parsley and capers and toss it with cooked pasta for a quick dinner (provided I’m not going anywhere later that night…)

14 sticks unsalted butter (give or take)
6 cans anchovies
4 heads finely chopped garlic
2 heads of cabbage leaves (Napa or bok choy), whole but removed from core
1 loaf of thinly sliced artisan white bread

In an electric skillet set to 200°, melt 9 sticks of butter. Keep a close watch on the temperature to make sure your butter doesn’t start browning. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn the heat lower. When the foam has started to clear from the top of the butter, add your chopped garlic. Take care that your garlic doesn’t burn. If you’ve burned the garlic, the banyacotta is ruined, as is the world. Throw it out and start over. Better yet, don’t burn your garlic.

Add anchovies whole, scattering evenly around the skillet. They’ll break down on their own. Increase the temperature to a low simmer – but if the bubbles get too high, turn it down. There’s a good chance that at this point, you’ll need to add more butter to the skillet. If your mixture looks a little chunky, add 3 more sticks of butter. Either way, you can do no wrong. If I learned one thing from my aunt, it’s that you can never have enough butter.

After you’ve added the anchovies, be sure to let the whole mix simmer for about 10 minutes (the whole process should take about 15-20 minutes). Don’t let the butter bubble too much – but don’t let the temperature get so low that it doesn’t bubble at all. Give it a slow and thorough stir every now and then.

ideal butter bubbling

When you’re ready to eat, dip cabbage leaves into the banyacotta and eat over slices of white bread. Be sure to finish your plate. Literally. Your plate is white bread. Keep the banyacotta simmering on about as low as you can go for another couple hours while you go have real dinner (something like… caramelized ham, corn puddin’, tomato puddin’, mac & cheese, and pot roast… or something), then come back and have some more for dessert.

corn and tomato puddin' count as vegetables in my family

Before you freeze the rest, melt the remaining sticks of butter into the skillet to even out the proportions and better prep you for a heart attack.

Every Kitchen Gets a Post

by lyzpfister

In my new home, we have a tablecloth. It is a dusty pink tablecloth and on top of it are placemats upon which we eat. Our china is rimmed with roses. Our mugs match. At last, I think, I have arrived.

In the last three years I’ve had five different kitchens, and I’ve written about most of them. First there was the Davidson kitchen where this blog began, and my ever-recurring ancestral home’s blue-walled affair. There was the first kitchen in New York, which was tiny – enough counter space only for the mice. Then there was my second kitchen in New York, which stood unused for a long time while we were too busy battling bed bugs to cook. There was the kitchen in Berlin, shower beside the stove. And now there is my new kitchen. Where we use tablecloths.

We are three women in my new kitchen, and of course the tablecloth may have something to do with that. Which is not to say that men don’t care for tablecloths. Just that, well, I don’t think they do.

Normally I’d balk at the idea of living with only women. There’s too much estrogen. Too much makeup, too much body lotion, too much bickering and gossip about boys. But my new little Neukölln apartment is different. It has a good feeling, something I sensed the first time I went to see the place – calm, relaxed, communal.

The kitchen is our shared space. There’s always someone in it – reading the newspaper, doing the dishes, cooking something. It’s also the first time I’ve lived somewhere where there’s an absolutely effortless attitude about food and sharing it. Whoever’s cooked, cooks for whoever else is home. But it’s not as stressful as being required to cook for everyone. It goes more like this: someone cooks, someone walks into the kitchen, food is shared. Unobtrusively, casually.

Last night, I made Ethiopian lentils in order to use up the last bits of vegetables from the fridge. A friend was over for dinner, so I was already making a bit more than usual. But lentils are one of those things that expand, like hot air balloons and lies. My roommates wandered in and out of the kitchen – to chat, to prepare lunch for the next day, to make a cup of tea. And when the lentils were done, there was more than enough to share, and I fed them, just as they have fed me.

Ethiopian Lentils

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet and when hot, add 1 diced onion. When the onion is translucent, add ½ chopped eggplant and cook until eggplant is soft. Add 1 chopped yellow pepper, 6 chopped mushrooms, and 4 chopped prunes. Season with salt, pepper, berbere, turmeric, cumin, and Jamaican jerk seasoning. Cook until vegetables have softened. Add ½ – ¾ cups quick-cook red lentils and just cover with water. Stir in 1 tbsp tomato paste and cover skillet with a lid. Turn heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are cooked. Serve with freshly crumbled feta.

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.

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.

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.

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by lyzpfister

This spoon was a spoon that my grandmother held. She stirred soups with it, melted butter into noodles, nudged vegetables in a pan. All that’s left of it now is the wood that’s worn smooth and what was once a cupped surface that looks as if it’s been licked too many times. The handle is polished with palms and bent, warped from the heat of a skillet. My grandmother has been gone for years. I barely remember her. Although if I close my eyes I can still hear a laugh that I think belonged to her. I have nothing of hers except my name, and that too is shared with my other grandmother. But now I have this spoon. It was probably once longer, and straighter, and more useful to use. And yet, this is how a wooden spoon should be – well worn, paced, serving until it disappears piece by piece into the dishes it stirs, and these hereditary splinters connect us.

The Best Things Come in… Well, You Know…

by lyzpfister

 

I like little things. Maybe this is because I myself am little. Or maybe it’s because there’s something absolutely endearing about holding a button-sized penguin in the palm of your hand. Penguins. I don’t know.

This is also perhaps why I find tapas particularly appealing. They are small. Though messy, you can hold them in your hands. Also, they are delicious.

For a long time, my favorite restaurant was a Spanish tapas place in Bremen called Aioli. I was thirteen the first time we were there – my family and a group of college students doing a summer study program with my parents. We sat wedged together at a big table, sneaking bits of fried octopus and potato slices, anchovies, dates wrapped in bacon, marinated eggplant slices. Picking food from platters family style, because that summer, we were like family. The restaurant was snuck into the Schnoor viertel, one of the oldest sections of town. Like everything in the Schnoor, where the roads were as wide as a handspan and the buildings all falling in on themselves, we could never find the restaurant again if we were looking for it. Just every now and then, we’d turn a corner and its friendly yellow façade would be waiting there to welcome us inside, promising fresh sangria heaped with fruits, dim blue lights, wooden tables, and slathers of garlic.

I once told a friend of mine about this favorite restaurant. Apparently, he spent the entire conversation under the impression that I’d said “topless restaurant.”

Oh, tapas, tapas, tapas.

I made tapas with a friend from work this week. I’ve never actually made tapas before, just happily stuffed my face with them whenever I got the chance. But making them is lovely – and possibly the best sort of meal to cook with someone else who knows how to cook. We worked well together in the kitchen, each of us tackling different tasks, cutting what needed to be cut as we found it, simultaneously seasoning, adjusting burners, snacking.

And it was hard to stop snacking – whether it was on the tomato sauce growing fragrant on the stove, or bits of chorizo before they were swum in wine. We snacked on prunes and dates, olives, and wheels of roasted vegetables. And when we finished making all our tapas, we sat at the tiny kitchen table and snacked some more until our snacking made a whole meal.

Patatas Bravas

 

 

Halve or quarter a handful of assorted fingerling potatoes (as many as you think you’ll eat). Toss them with olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper. Arrange on a roasting pan and roast at 375 F° for about 30 minutes or until the outside of the potatoes are beautifully crispy and brown. Sprinkle freshly chopped parsley on the potatoes about 15 minutes before you take them out of the oven. While your potatoes are roasting, prepare the tomato sauce. In a skillet, sauté 2 medium onions, diced, and 2 cloves of chopped garlic until translucent. Add 1 can/jar of tomato sauce, ½ cup chicken broth, ¼ cup of rice wine vinegar, and a handful of halved green olives. Add a small handful of flour to thicken the sauce. When the sauce begins to bubble, turn heat to low and allow to simmer. Season with a healthy tsp of sugar, black pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Allow sauce to reduce until thick – add more chicken broth (or water if the sauce is too salty) if it gets too thick too quickly. Don’t rush the sauce – it takes time for all the flavors to melt together. Serve the roasted potatoes with the tomato sauce. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Roast Vegetable Antipasta

You can make this at the same time as the patatas bravas, since the oven is set to the same temperature (375 F°). Slice 1 zucchini and 1 small eggplant into medallions. Halve a red pepper. Toss the vegetables with olive oil and place them on the roasting pan and roast until soft. The peppers take a while – half an hour – the thinner slices of zucchini and eggplant maybe only 15 minutes per batch. Thinly slice the vegetables and set aside in a bowl. In a skillet, sauté 1 small, slivered onion with 1 tsp honey and a pinch of salt until translucent. Add to sliced vegetables. Add 1 large clove finely chopped garlic, a slip of olive oil, salt, and black pepper to the vegetables in the bowl. Toss. Allow to rest so that flavors can blend.

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.