Eat Me. Drink Me.

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

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.

Woo Me With Roses and Roast Pigeon

by lyzpfister

It’s not hard to make me fall in love. For those of you who are trying, here are a few tips. Buy me a set of copper saucepans. Preferably from Paris. Preferably antique. Know that I only ever drink cappuccinos, and order them for me when we go out. Bring me gifts of strangely-shaped fruits – like baby pears or blue melons or something with an unpronounceable name in a language neither you nor I can understand. Or, take me on a weekend jaunt to London to eat at St. John’s, and there, ply me with brains and liver, bone marrow, goat’s curd, and other things I’ve never tried.

Oh, St. John’s. Oh, Fergus Henderson. The man who changed my life with a piece of pork belly.

This is my second trip to St. John’s, the first being almost a year ago exactly. And though this isn’t the Smithfield outpost, rather the newer one in Spittlefield, and though there isn’t bone marrow and parsley salad on this menu, I feel both giddy and supremely content at the same time.

I’m here with Ambrice and her parents. We’re sitting at a corner table, getting cozy with a bottle of chardonnay. Our meal comes out in hiccups – cold lamb’s tongue salad with arugula and herb-soaked breadcrumbs, foie gras on toast, cauliflower and chickpea salad dribbled with spicy mustard, goat curd with caramelized onions and mint on giant slabs of bread. We sop up the sauces with freshly baked sourdough crusts.

It’s sitting here that I am reminded, once again, of how lucky I am to have the people in my life that I do, how I can’t wait to see where we go.

Our mains arrive, with another bottle of chardonnay – venison with beetroot and horseradish, calve’s liver with braised onions and crisp potato hash, and finally, the most tender, rare pigeon, split upon a bed of greens and pickled walnuts. Even Ambrice’s mother, who says, I will not eat pigeon, eats pigeon. It is the perfect ending to this meal.

The low, pleasant murmurs of diners around us, the smell of rich sauces and simple, graceful food – this is what a restaurant should be.

So love, when I talk about it, this is what I mean. I mean laughter and lights, a bottle of wine (or two), good people, and food. When I say love, I mean food.

Plans

by lyzpfister

I was thinking, as I rode my bike rather recklessly the other day, about how much we rely upon the reactions of other people. As I sped down the hill at Hallesches Tor, I skimmed past a man weaving his way along. He was whistling, his step in lazed anti-tune to the sound. And I, too, was feeling the spring breeze in Berlin, letting the bike, brakeless, coast. We were close as I passed. I heard his tune; he surely felt my speed ruffle it out of place.

We expect someone in a straight line to continue in a straight line, without thinking that perhaps their plan had been, all along, to veer suddenly to the left. We continue on our way, taking for granted that the other person’s path runs smoothly within our plans. So we plan and we plan and paths snake along in perpendiculars until one day, they don’t. The man on the sidewalk veers to the left. You crash into him on your bike. It wasn’t the plan.

I don’t want to write a metaphor for happenstance. I just want to observe that we are constantly assuming the outcomes of others’ reactions, when those other people are planners themselves, planning our reactions back at us. It’s dangerous to do too much planning at fast speeds. Dangerous not to allow the veer its own possibility of chance.

We are natural planners – and it is good so – otherwise, how would we build cities, invent, bring our creations into being. We plan our lives, our futures, and these things are good. Still, we can plan and plan and plan and still plan a reaction wrong.

We’ll never drive less recklessly down the hill past Hallesches Tor. We’ll always assume the man to the left will walk in a straight line. We’ll plan for him, just as he plans that we’ll drive by. Until one day, we don’t.

Spontaneous Soup

Coarsely chop 5-7 medium carrots, 1/2 sweet potato, and 3 Jerusalem artichokes and set aside. In a soup pot, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter. Sautee 1 chopped yellow onion until translucent. Add other chopped vegetables, a pinch of cumin and curry powder, salt, loads of cracked black pepper, and cayenne pepper, and cook until vegetables are softened. Cover vegetables with water and add 1 bouillon cube. When water reaches a low boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Blend soup either with an immersion blender or by transferring to a blender. Return to pot, add 1/2 cup heavy cream and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

Icon

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 Nontraditional Easteralist or Curried Easter

by lyzpfister

The smell of frying fish and mangoes shocks the apartment as Sigourney drapes slips of catfish into a hot skillet. We’ve dragged ourselves out of bed for the third time today and this time, the effort seems to have paid off. Last night was a late night. An Easter party, whose connection to Easter seemed to veer toward the irreverent and bunny-themed took up the latter part of our night and the majority of the early morning. There was dancing, neon gin and tonic, and an Easter breakfast haloumi sandwich from the still-open or maybe just opened döner place by the train station.

This isn’t usually how I spend Easter. First of all, I’m usually still in bed at six. Secondly, I’m usually not roaming around the streets of Berlin with a pair of lopsided bunny ears haphazardly thrown together from a paper towel roll and some tape. Usually, I’m with my family. I make everyone dye Easter eggs, I cook an Easter feast, we unwrap baskets on Easter morning, and at Easter lunch we smash eggs together like our Bulgarian guests taught us once.

I guess this is what happens when you decide to uproot your life and move across the world and across the ocean. You make new traditions.

So our Easter feast this year is a roast Jamaican fish and mashed potatoes. There’s not an egg in sight. There’s no ham, no quiche, no rack of lamb. Just me and Sigourney and rap music and a roasting fish.

I love having visitors. Showing people around makes you more aware of the positive qualities of the place where you are. When you have to convince someone else they’re having a good time, you often end up having a good time yourself. Even though Berlin has been a bit moody this week (As Sigourney said, as it started to snow, then hail, then be sunny, “This weather is on its period.”), I’ve really loved watching someone else love my city and know that to some extent, I am responsible.

We’ve eaten well, and like all good Berliners, taken as many meals as possible outside, no matter what the weather. We even tried to picnic one day – from the apartment on the fifth floor, the bright sun tricked us into thinking that the weather would be balmy. But as we stepped outside, the sky turned overcast, and even as we walked to the canal, we pulled our jackets closer. We were the only people crazy enough to sit outside, much less picnic. And though our food was delicious – an Asian-inspired noodle salad and grilled chicken, bread, cheese, nutella, and salami – let’s just say we didn’t linger. We walked quickly past the swans, skimming the water and nipping each other, past the line-less ice cream truck, and back up to the warm fifth floor where we had a cup of coffee.

I could think of this Easter fish as just another good meal. But it’s Easter. And I have a tendency toward traditioning. By which I mean, I’m the one who makes us dye Easter eggs every year. I’m the one will never be too old for an Easter basket. I’m the one who insists on making deviled eggs even though no one eats them.

In reality, though, all traditions are tidal. They are broken and created as families shift shapes, through marriages or divorces, children being born, children moving out. Every moment is the possible beginning of a tradition. Which means we should always surround ourselves with people we love and imbue our actions with kindness.

“Happy Easter,” Sigourney and I say to each other, and eat our fish.

Jamaican Strawberry and Pepper Roasted Fish

Preheat the oven to 420ºF. On a baking sheet rubbed with olive oil, arrange a halved pepper lined with strawberry slices. Combine 1 cup mango nectar with chili, paprika, cumin, curry powder, oregano, salt, and pepper. Set aside. In olive oil, sauté 1 chopped red onion, 1 tomato, 1 clove garlic, and 4 large chopped strawberries. Sweep the fish (any white fish will do) through the mango sauce and pan fry until lightly browned on both sides. Add about half the sauce and a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the skillet. Remove the fish from the skillet and arrange in the peppers. Top with the sautéed vegetables. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Curried Mashed Potatoes

Boil 5-6 peeled, small/medium potatoes until soft. Drain off water and mash hot potatoes with ½ cup milk, 2 tbsp butter, and the other half of the mango sauce.

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.

Beautiful, Beautiful Bacon

by lyzpfister

I miss bacon.

There is no bacon in Germany.

There is speck. There is pork belly.

But there is no bacon.

Bacon is what love is made of. Bacon is salt and fat, gnawed-upon muscle with crunch. Lips licked of grease and an old-timey taste of applewood or hickory. Bacon is hot Christmas morning and hungover brunch. It is the marriage of egg and potato hash, the slash of red on a diner’s cream plate. Bacon is being fed in bed and being too small to reach the stove. Bacon is getting your hand smacked for stealing strips still hot and popping. Bacon is burning your tongue. Bacon is burning your tongue again. Bacon converts vegetarians or is what vegetarians dream of even when they don’t dream. The scent of it sinks into clothes like the damp whiskey smell of campfire seep. Like a hazy summer morning on the East coast. Without bacon there is no baked beans, there is no avocado sandwich, there are no dates wrapped in bacon blankets set on a plate in a restaurant in Seville, next to tiny octopi in oil, olives, and chopitos. Bacon is the what I make for you because I like you and the what you make for me because you like me. It’s also the what I make for myself when no one’s looking. Germany, oh land of beers and brats, oh land of cheeses and sausages, spätzle and baked breads – what I wouldn’t give for bacon.

We Have to Finish the Sausages or Else It Will Rain

by lyzpfister

I learned a new saying today. Apparently, the Germans instill in their children a fear that if they don’t finish all the sausages, the next day’s weather will be rainy. Clearly, in Berlin, the children have been slacking.

Let It Rise

by lyzpfister

There’s been a lot of yeast dough in my life lately. First there were Fasnet’s cakes, then I made donuts. Ok. So there were two instances of yeast dough in my life. But two yeast doughs within weeks of each other is more yeast dough than usually makes an appearance.

There’s something incredibly soothing about yeast dough. It takes time. And I think we spend far too little time taking time. What I mean is, I read this book called Momo, by Michael Ende (yes, yes, the very same Neverending Story mastermind) when I was living in New York, spending a lot of time regularly hyperventilating about how there wasn’t enough time.

Momo is a book about time and how humans construct it cleverly disguised as a children’s story. The sweeper tells Momo, “it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept. And then you start to hurry. You work faster and faster and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop – and still the street stretches away in front of you.”

I read that and I thought, Oh my God. Momo knows my life.

There’s this moment in the book where the grey men, bankers of time, visit each of the townspeople and convince them to put their spare time in a savings account. And when the people wonder how to save time, the grey men tell them, you know how to save time – spend 15 minutes less on each haircut you give or don’t drive all the way to the nursing home to eat with your mother –

I read that and I thought, My life is full of grey men.

I began to see them everywhere – they’d been invisible before, but now I felt them tapping against my elbow as I angrily stormed along the subway platform when I missed my train. I smelled the acrid smoke from their perpetually burning cigars as I stressed myself around a sales floor. I felt their cold hands on my chest as I started ten different projects without being able to sit still and finish any one. They whispered, Save time, save time, save time.

Like the people in the town, it seemed as though the more time I saved, the less I seemed to have.

I started kneading around this time. Rolling into dough required time. Although I had begun to cease thinking about time as a rule. Kneading dough is like breathing with your fingers. Your body slows to the tempo of your hands, and your breaths slow your beating heart. The dough demands you.

We ate a lot of bread those months. A lot of pizza and pasta and naan. I don’t know if it was the dough that cured me. The dough or the Momo or the yoga I started doing around then as well. But all three things taught me pliability and presence. That you must be where you are and yet flexible enough to change where you thought you’d be.

Every time I knead dough now, I think of that time, then, when I couldn’t let time be, but tried to mold it – the one thing you shouldn’t try to shape. Yes, time is fluid – but we don’t shape time by trying to control it. Time shifts when we are fully present in it. “Calendars and clocks exist to measure time, but that signifies little because we all know that an hour can seem as eternity or pass in a flash, according to how we spend it.”

Sweet Yeast Dough

500 g flour
20 g fresh yeast
¼ L milk
80-100 g butter
50-80 g sugar
1-2 eggs
pinch of salt

I’m sorry for the lack of specifics. But you should know me well enough by now to know that I’m not good at that sort of thing. This recipe was scrawled on a piece of paper by my aunt, who had gotten the recipe from another aunt, and who probably changed things around as she made the dough. So here goes: Make a well in the center of the flour, pour in half the milk, the yeast, and a bit of sugar, and stir into a rough dough. Cover with a towel and let rise for half an hour. Add the rest of the ingredients and knead into a smooth dough. Place in a clean bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Your dough is now ready to use – to make the Fasnet’s cakes I talked about in my last post, briefly knead the dough again and roll out on a lightly floured surface. Cut into diamonds and fry in a pan of hot oil (about 1 inch deep – you can test for “hotness” by sticking a wooden spoon into the oil – if the oil bubbles, it’s hot enough), about 25 seconds per side. This is a highly subjective number – you might need far less or more, depending on the thickness of your dough. Rule of thumb – when it starts turning brown, flip it – it will brown more as it cools. To make donuts, check out this recipe: hot pink donuts (the one I used…), and to find a less vague recipe for yeast dough: search the internet.

In Berlin, They Call Berliners Pancakes

by lyzpfister

Well, it’s edible, says my grandfather, as he pops a hot beignet into his mouth and then quickly shakes the heat of it from his fingers. This means that it is actually very good. My grandfather is Schwabisch, where the phrase nichts g’sagt ist Lob g’nug, meaning nothing said is praise enough, is, in fact, nearly the highest form of praise. As far as I can tell, the most generous expression of delight is: Man kann’s essen, which means, you can eat it.

My brother and my grandfather and I are standing in the kitchen, deep-frying Fasnet’s cakes, the south-German name for beignets. We’ve developed an assembly-line of sorts – I’m rolling out dough and cutting it into diamonds, my grandfather is manning the deep-fryer, and my brother is dusting the cakes, blistering with hot oil, in powdered sugar. We’ve developed an unhurried camaraderie, mock-criticizing each others’ methods, telling old jokes, jostling against each other with batches of dough, making faces, taking pictures. The kitchen is warm and smells sweet.

This picture freezes in my mind. My grandfather grins at me in a half-laugh and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, Well, what do you think about that? His eyes are wrinkled into crescents, his eyebrows lifted like a mischievous child’s as he swings a bottle of Oettinger Pils up to his mouth. And then his back is to me as he flips the Fasnet cakes in the deep-fryer. My brother catches the hot cakes on a plate of sugar and the powdered sugar he dusts onto them melts.

Fasnet (aka Fasnacht, aka Carnival) is mainly celebrated in the southern, Catholic parts of Germany. In Berlin, there were a handful of people who looked at me with confusion. They’d never heard of it.

In Burladingen, however, people belong to Fasnet clubs (called Vereins) which supposedly exist solely to march in the parades and plan parties during the two weeks or so that Fasnet is celebrated. However, upon further inquiry, it turns out that the clubs meet at least once a month or so throughout the year to talk about next year’s plans, or reminisce about the last year’s Fasnet, or drink beer.

Each club has a traditional costume which members spend vast sums to purchase and which they are only allowed to wear during the parades. In the weeks ambling up to Fat Tuesday, a loose affiliation of neighboring towns hosts these parades, sometimes a parade a day, especially as the specter of Lent looms nearer. The costumes are elaborate, hand-sewn with hand-carved masks of wood, specially suited to each individual’s face. When you join a Verein, you’re in for life. I guess this means people don’t move from town to town very often, I tell my cousin. She looks at me with mock horror, Don’t even suggest it!

Hidden behind their masks, the paraders dive into the bystanders. Witches with apple-red cheeks and stringy black hair made from horse tails hurl themselves at attractive young women and bind their feet together with those plastic ties that get tighter as you squirm and can only be removed with a pair of scissors. They fling the girls over their shoulders and run a good portion of the parade route with them before letting them go. We later learned that most of the witches are actually teenage boys, the girls they “kidnap,” their classmates, and the Fasnet parade a coy ritual of flirtation.

Marching bands playing purposefully off-key trumpet down the street. The cats from Gammerdingen hop and the bells across their chests jingle in beat. A rogue bear grabs a bystander by the foot and won’t let go. A tree grabs my aunt and kisses her.

Every time a new group walks past, they shout Nari! to us and we answer back, Naro! The snow, which had fallen that morning, is still piled along the sidewalks. The witches flick it at us with their brooms.

My grandfather doesn’t go to the parades anymore. While we stand out in the cold, watching the devilment unfold, he works in the church. He is home by the time we come back, shivering and laughing, candy in our pockets. Most of my family has come down for the parade, and so we set up the living room table for coffee. People have brought cakes, my brother and I place our beignets from the night before on the table.

So you made the cakes after all, my aunt says as she slips a beignet from the stack. When did you have time?

Last night, I say, after you left.

Last night! She exclaims, and my brother and grandfather and I laugh. Because we’re remembering how we’d said goodnight to my aunt and an uncle late at night after an evening spent cooking pizza together, watching a few rounds of ice crushing, and learning to knit. We were tired and full and ready for bed. But the dough we’d made earlier in the day and forgotten about was still sitting out on the counter. These have to be made tonight, my grandfather said as he tried to send my brother and I to bed. To bed! We laughed – We’d never let you stay up to make these all yourself.

So we three stayed up, cracked open another round of Oettigners, and set to work rolling out dough, heating up oil, dusting with sugar.