Eat Me. Drink Me.

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


by lyzpfister

Here is a true thing: food tastes better stuffed into your mouth with your hands. I decided this definitively at Cucina Casalinga. Drew was visiting. Emboldened by the presence of another American, I scorned the German habit of slicing pizza (pizza!) into bite-sized pieces with a knife and fork and instead shoveled triangles from tip to crust into my hungry little mouth.

I took a few experimental bites with a knife and fork. They didn’t taste as good.

It’s common knowledge that before the wheel was invented, our bushy and laconic ancestors developed the spoon.* Primitive priorities. The wheel was only practical. Sure, it got you from point A to point B a little faster – but the spoon – the spoon had the capacity to distinguish between the classed and the uncouth. Urklk still eating wolly mammoth with his fingers? For shame.

Humans have always loved to make distinctions.

Which is why, sitting in this pizzeria along the canal, surrounded by beautiful people (why are there so many beautiful people in Berlin?), I feel like I should feel ashamed to be greasing up my fingers with hot chili oil and melted mozzarella. For shame, for shame, I hear in the metallic clink of slicing knives, the screech of a fork against a plate.

But what of it? My pizza belongs to me. If I want to dissect it with my hands in public, well, who will be hurt? Society? Propriety? My neighbor’s refined aesthetic?

Is it an American thing to love finger foods? Think of all the wonderful things we eat with our hands: hamburgers, barbeque ribs, pigs in a blanket, corn on the cob. Not only do we revere these foods, we seem to revel in the mess they cause. Say… sloppy Joe’s?

All I can say is that the Europeans are missing out. If it’s habit, fine. Though I can’t quite sympathize, I can, at least, understand. But distinction? No. There’s too much tactile pleasure in the shape of a grilled cheese sandwich, too much joy in licking a line of watermelon juice slipping down your arm. When we eat with our hands, we throw decorum out the window. And maybe this is why the Americans love finger food so much – we have a history of flaunting how little we care about what we should do.

So Let Urklk eat with his hands. You know you want to, too.

*This may or may not be a wholly invented fact.

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.

The One and Only

by lyzpfister

Let me tell you something about standing downwind from the pungent armpit of a singing Turkish man.

Garlic is better in than out.

Thank God for the breeze blowing up the smell of the Marmara Sea, for the perfection of the gulls as they glide beside the boat. I’ve never noticed before how they hold their stick legs taught against their tails when they fly. How effortlessly aerodynamic they are. The other passengers on the ferry chuck scraps of bread to the gulls. Every few minutes, a man with a tray piled high with simit scoots past our knees and sells these ring-shaped breads doused with sesame seeds. Most of them end up bobbing in the ocean in bits after having been thrown to, and rejected by, the gulls.

The group of men beside us is now singing dirty Turkish songs. Not that I speak Turkish, but a dirty song sounds the same in any language. The second verse breaks off into raucous laughter, someone makes a jibe – the laughter doubles. I am also inclined to believe these are dirty Turkish songs, because they’ve just finished comparing the size of their willies with each other. Classy.

The men are silent for a while. They lean against the railing and throw bread to the birds. One man begins to sing alone. It’s a sadder song, and even though his voice isn’t very good, the rest of the group listens quietly as he sings, and when he stops it is quiet again.

I have found nothing endearing about this group of men. They are as crude as a group of drunk fußball fans singing national songs in the U-bahn or that group of guys at a party doing keg stands. Awfulness is not restricted to one specific culture. And yet it is this solitary singing that makes me feel the most out of place. It’s a beautiful moment – but it isn’t meant to be shared. Their boys’ club is enacted in a public space, but me? – I’m a non-entity. This public space may as well be private. It is theirs.

We keep comparing Turkey to other things. The highway looks like I4 in Orlando. The passageway in the Hagia Sophia smells just like the line to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney. These villas could be in the Mediterranean.

The mass of Istanbul rolls over us, and the more we compare it to other places we’ve seen, the more I think – maybe Istanbul is its own place. Maybe we’re trying so hard to place it because we can’t. (I swear the city looks exactly like Naboo.)

There are so many people everywhere. It’s a huge change from Berlin, where the streets are wide and there’s an overabundance of greenery. Istanbul is cramped. The streets, half made of steps, charge upwards at vertical inclines, and buildings tip precariously along them. Feral cats stake out their territory; if you look at them, they give you the evil eye. (My family is nervous about me and feral cats. We have a history.) Even along the waterfront, the press of people doesn’t stop until the shoreline opens up on the Bosporus.

The only Turkish word I know is merhaba – hello. I use it for everything. “How are you?” sounds like this: merhaba. “Yes, please” sounds like this: merhaba. “How much is ½ kilo of beef and can you show me how big that is?” sounds like this: merhaba merhaba? In the butcher shop, after playing the pantomime game and managing to receive a beautiful piece of steak, I learn a new word. Teşekkür. Thank you.

At home, in our apartment near the Blue Mosque, I cook a birthday dinner for Ben. He’s twenty-one. Mom says, “Now you are responsible for anything you do in every country.” What he refuses to be responsible for, however, is choosing what he wants to eat for dinner, so we play a game. “Meat or vegetarian?” “Meat.” “Beef or chicken?” “Beef.” “Ground or whole?” “Whole.” “Grains or vegetables?” “Vegetables.” “Warm or cold?” “I don’t care.”

So I make thinly sliced steaks marinated in olive oil, lemon, garlic, and mint; skinny green peppers roasted over the gas stove and served in olive oil and garlic; a meze of tomato, eggplant, and onion slowly cooked down to nothing; and corn salsa with fresh tomato, onion, feta, oregano, and mint. We wash it down with cold Efes, the only Turkish beer we know.

There’s a lot of bread in Turkey. There’s a simit cart every ten feet, each meal comes with massive loaves of inconsequentially airy bread, and even the döners are mostly made of bread. This disappoints Michael, who is on the quest for the best döner in Turkey. I tell him – they’re better in Germany – but he will not be dissuaded. We walk down every restaurant gauntlet and stop to look at the döners while overzealous hosts accost us. “Yes, please. What do you want? Here is the most delicious food.” We shake our heads no, no, no (merhaba, merhaba, merhaba) with panic in our eyes and run away. This is how we end up eating mostly street food or snacks from small shops – flaking börek, one filled with cheese, the other meat, which we eat on a concrete dock along the water, sandwiches of freshly grilled fish with lemon and salt which are cooked on boats all along the coast.

We walk and we walk and we walk. There are people everywhere. In the Spice Bazaar, mountains of turmeric and sumac glitter against the copper of coffee pots and pepper mills. The floor is littered with powdered sugar fallen from jeweled pieces of Turkish delight. Vendors hawk silk scarves, carpets, bronze antiques, key chains, leather bags, and silver bracelets, knockoff Ray Bans, painted pictures, pistachios, glazed bowls and serving platters, wooden spoons, and lamps.

We find our quiet spaces in the city. In Café Pierre Loti overlooking the Golden Horn, where we drink strong Turkish coffee and çay (tea) served in thimble-sized glasses, or our favorite haunt, the Marmara Café, a shisha lounge draped in rugs and glittering glass lights. It has its own collection of feral cats which weave between the table’s legs. One wall is completely open and looks out across the Marmara Sea. We come here almost every night for the çay, the grilled vegetables and kofte. I learn to play backgammon. And win every game.

The prayers begin. The eerie call of the Muezzin echoes from the walls as it is projected across the city. The melody is strange to me, but beautiful. In the Marmara Café, it is quiet. There is just the clink of backgammon pieces, of tea glasses, the sleepy sweet smell of shisha and the long blue of the water. Below us, Istanbul writhes.


by lyzpfister

I’ve been in sandwich mode again. How could I have forgotten what a lovely lunch it is: curried chicken or ripe tomatoes and basil, crumbled feta or camembert, peppery arugula, spicy mustard, caramelized onions or chopped olives… All stuffed between two warm, toasted slices of bread.

Sandwiches are like edible hugs. Right arm, left arm; top bread, bottom. Only good things in the middle.

Caramelized Onion and Tomato Sandwich

Thinly slice 1 yellow onion into rings and do a quick caramelize: heat 1 tsp oil in a skillet, add onion and 1 tsp brown sugar plus a pinch of salt. Sauté on medium heat until onion is deep brown and looks melted. In the meantime, toast 1 cinnamon bagel (preferably one you’ve gotten for free from a tray of dumpster-dived baked goods after the bartender has spilled an entire beer on you and given you complimentary tequila shots. But a regular cinnamon bagel could be good too…) and prepare the rest of the ingredients: 3 sliced cherry tomatoes, a handful of fresh arugula (washed, bottom of the stem removed), and a few slices of feta. When the onions are done: assemble.

Curried Chicken and Raisins on Ciabatta

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet. Add about ¼ cup thinly sliced chicken breast, 1 tsp curry powder, and a healthy pinch of the following spices: turmeric, berbere, cumin. Add a handful of golden raisins to the skillet. When the chicken is cooked through, add ¼ cup tomato sauce (or crushed tomatoes, pureed tomatoes, etc.) and simmer on low for five minutes. In the meantime, coarsely chop ½ red pepper and 1 tomato. Add juice of 1 lime, salt, and freshly cracked black pepper. Prepare other ingredients: a few rings of thinly sliced red onion, 4 leaves of lettuce. Toast a split ciabatta roll. Assemble.

Egg, Cheese, and Pesto Sandwich

Melt 1 tbsp butter in a skillet. Crack 1 egg into the skillet – cook it over-easy so that the yolk is still deliciously runny. Prepare other ingredients: sliced white cheese (I used Allgäuer Bergkäse, similar to an Emmenthaler), chopped parsley, pre-made pesto. Toast 2 slices of bread (this one is carrot-studded). Assemble.

Bobo Baking

by lyzpfister

It’s a rainy Saturday in Berlin. Ben and I are lounged on the couch. We’ve both got our laptops open. I’m reading articles online, he’s playing a computer game. Sometimes we talk, but for both of us, it seems that what we say hovers for a while, then dissipates, unanswered.

I spent a luxurious morning in bed, listening to the downpour through the open window. At first I hadn’t even heard the rain. It was just a hush, a solid sound that belonged to the space.

I haven’t made it far from bed. I’ve migrated from that horizontal to the horizontal of the couch, though there was an interim with huevos rancheros and coffee. Much good that did for getting the day started.

I don’t usually spend my days draped over a sofa, wearing a mumu and a baggy sweater, last night’s mascara still smashed under my eyes. Even when I’m not working, I’m out of bed by 8:30. I French press some coffee, make toast with butter and cheese, and some arugula if I’m feeling fancy. I do some yoga, I do some writing.

I’m justifying this slothing to myself. I know.

Ben is playing music from Swan Lake. Then he plays 50 Cent. I want to bake.

There’s only a handful of butter and the oven is kind of broken, but this is what I want to do. So I do it.

Though I don’t really know how to bake, I know what cookie dough looks like. This is enough, I think. The last knob of butter, equal parts sugar (it’s the secret reserve sugar, probably left over from the DDR) and brown sugar (imported from America), the last bit of sour cream from the fridge, an egg, flour, some old chopped-up caramel chocolates. Dropped on a pan, stuck in the oven. They come out looking like little biscuits with moles.

But they’re good – not as sweet as I’d anticipated, and with an unexpected chewy shot of caramel. Perfect with a glass of milk. I’m like a ten year old in pajamas.

Cookies like today. Haphazard, but sweet – a bit unfocused, but so necessary.

The Not All At Once Approach

by lyzpfister

I’m not good at change. Anyone who’s ever asked me to make a decision quickly knows this.

It takes me time to think things through. Not necessarily to weigh the pros and cons of a new course of action – but just to get used to the idea of something different.

As a human, I am a huge proponent of the not all at once approach.

Tell me something new, but don’t tell me all at once.

This is also the way I cook. I believe ingredients need time to understand themselves as they melt into a hot skillet – an onion doesn’t want an eggplant until it’s ready. And when they meet, they need time to get to know each other. To feel comfortable as a unit before tomato comes along.

Cooking like this takes longer. But it makes sense to me. One at a time, piece by piece until the composition of the pan has changed. Until it is a full pan, not an empty one.

Pasta with Tomatoes and Arugula

This recipe is about not rushing. It’s very easy and doesn’t take long to make – but it needs a gentle hand. Finely chop 1 yellow onion and sauté with 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp brown sugar in a skillet until onion is translucent. Add 1 finely chopped sweet red pepper (I prefer the mildness of a Hungarian pepper) and cook until softened. Add 3 chopped sundried tomatoes with a splash of the oil they were in (or more olive oil if you’re using dry tomatoes) and a healthy pinch of salt. Stir for a few minutes. Add 5 coarsely chopped cherry tomatoes and cook until softened. Add 1 finely chopped green onion and a chopped clove of garlic. Lastly, add a generous handful of arugula and a few leaves of chopped basil until the greens have wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. In the meantime, have set a large pot of salted water to boil, and cook as much pasta as you (& others – though this recipe was ideal for 2) plan to eat. When the pasta has cooked, drain it, then add it to the skillet of vegetables with 1 tbsp butter and ¼ cup heavy whipping cream. Toss the pasta with the sauce and cream until coated and the cream has cooked up a bit. You can use any sort of pasta with this recipe – and add other vegetables as you see fit, but I like the simplicity of just tomatoes and greens.

You Say Tomato, I Say Potahto

by lyzpfister

When I think about things that go well with potatoes, the first thing that pops into my mind is tomatoes. There’s a great possibility that this is a vestige of some ingrained-in-my-childhood-brain Fox in Socks trickery, but there’s an equally great chance that this is simply because potatoes and tomatoes taste like magic together.

Let me be truthful – I haven’t cooked in a long time. For the last few days, I’ve been eating toasted slices of bread topped with a plethora of interesting things: garlic-ginger butter with aged gouda and arugula, mini peppers stuffed with goat cheese and marinated in oil, mettwurst with raw onion and cracked pepper, pink roe paste with piquant goat’s milk cheese, or absolutely, absolutely sinful Biscoff cookie spread. And while all of these things are delicious, there is only so much toast you can eat before you never want to see a slice of bread again.

(As an aside, I really hate the word “plethora,” and I’m not really sure why I felt the need to use it here. I suppose that sometimes, words just want to be, whether we like them or not, just as sometimes, it’s not at all bad to be kind to people we don’t like.)

Part of the problem is that I haven’t really had time to cook – and the other part is that I haven’t really been home. I’ve been out having fun. Going to music festivals, entertaining visiting friends, sitting in cafés. Oh yes, I know, my life is hard.

But really, I’ve missed cooking. The quietness of it. The focus of it. The to-do-list-fading-away-ness of it.

So today, for lunch, I whipped myself up a little something something. Nothing fancy – just some simple roast potatoes married to a bacon and sweet Hungarian pepper tomato sauce. As I sat down to eat, I picked up the old issue of Harper’s my dad had just brought over from the states for me and began to read an article on the benefits of fasting.

Potato, potahto.

Roast Potatoes with Sweet Hungarian Pepper Sauce

Preheat the oven to 460°F (though my oven is quite weak – you might want to adjust the heat accordingly). Peel and slice about 5 medium-sized potatoes into wedges. Spread them across a baking sheet along with 1 yellow onion sliced into rings or half-rings and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, cracked black pepper, paprika, and an Italian herbs blend (alternatively, you could just use oregano and parsley). Stick it in the oven and roast those beautiful potato wedges for about half an hour, giving them a little nudge around the baking sheet once halfway through.

Right after you do your nudging, start the tomato sauce. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add 1 finely chopped onion and 2 tbsp chopped bacon. Sautee until the onion is translucent. Add 2 chopped sweet Hungarian peppers (if you can’t find these, yellow peppers are probably the closest approximation) and cook until softened. Add ½ cup (or more if it still looks too thin) tomato sauce or pureed tomatoes and reduce heat to low. Add a pinch of red chili flakes and cumin, since tomatoes love cumin. It’s like date night every night. Put a lid on your pan and let the flavors come together. You want to give the sauce at least 10 minutes of melding.

When your potatoes are done, transfer them to a plate. Top with the sauce and garnish with shaved parmesan and basil.

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.

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.