Thursday, December 6, 2007

Neu York, Neu York

For for my few and far between non-NYC-based readers, there were many highlights to my time in New York (madly finishing my NYU masters thesis, having my gloves stolen by an evil cabbie, and the Moishe's poppyseed hamantashan (hardly any filling!) excluded):
1. Lunch at Google: You've heard about the quirkiness of the Google offices and it's all true: scooters in the halls, free snacks and espresso machines everywhere (I pilfered my share!), and a sprawling (by Manhattan standards cafeteria with about a million choices and a cookbook author signing books and doing a cocoa-crusted scallop tasting.
2. A totally unBerlin evening, beginning with (as Anne called it) "grownup cocktails" at Pegu (even a simple vodka tonic gets me funny looks in Berlin) and dinner at Momofuko Ssambar (Japanese custard with maple and trout roe, roasted brussels sprouts with mint, pickled chiles(?), and fish sauce, steamed pork belly buns, pork short ribs with miso or ???, and a PB&J-inspired dessert of concord grape jelly, crunchy peanut butter, and saltine ice cream).
3. A meal with Diana at Prune has become a tradition when I visit New York. I know not everybody gets it, but Prune's food is perfectly in tune with me. Maybe next time I'll be able to branch out from the fried oyster omelet (served with remoulade and a brilliant sauce of powdered sugar mixed with tobasco). We were also harrassed (again!) by drunken Santas taking part in the annual Santa Con pub crawl (Berlin is much too serious for anything so silly) and went to a Christmas party at Sotheby's with a viewing of the purchasable Magna Carta.
4. The marinated white anchovy sandwich at 'wichcraft (with a soft-cooked egg, roasted onion, and salsa verde), which earned me a free sandwich (it's only taken me four years to earn this with my "frequent customer card"). I spend most of an entire day in 'wichcraft -- they have good snacks and coffee and surprisingly decent music to drown out the NYU undergrad's insipid conversations and free wireless.
5. Lunch as study break at the Jackson Diner (lunch buffet!) and for my last hurrah, pork and chive dumpling noodle soup on a cold night in Chinatown.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Frohe Weihnachten

Christmas in Germany is still a bit of a mystery to me and I'm going stateside in a few days so I won't be able to report on most of it first-hand, but I can tell you that the madness starts on the first day of Advent (December 2 this year), which is also when the Weihnachtsmaerkte (Christmas markets) get going. I'm currently in a bit of a German Christmas flurry as I have to soak it all up in less than a week (ie, buy meaningful, typical, and this year sustainable (the fam is doing a sustainable (except for the massive amount of airmiles on my and mein Freund's parts) Christmas) presents). I was pretty revved up for the Weihnachtsmaerkte. You always see such great photos in travel magazines...all winter wondery and overflowing with holiday cheer. In my experience, the Berlin version is more cold, grey, and drizzly than winter wondery, but it was still pretty cheerful. I managed to visit four markets this year so I have definitely had my share of cold toes and Gluhwein (literally, glowing wine, as in mulled wine): very important for the toes. The first market was at Domaene Dahlem in west Berlin and was possibly my favorite, if only because I got my share of Weihnachtsgans mit Gruenkohl und Kartofeln (Christmas goose with kale and potatoes) (and a bite of Hefekloesse mit Plaumenmus (yeasted dumpling with plumbutter!), pictured in the background). I also scored these delightful wooden animals ... very overdue baby gifts for some new tiny cousins I've acquired.

Another Christmas highlight was this insanely cute Advent calendar (Adventkalendars are huge here) that mein Freund made for me! I have a feeling Saint Nikolaus is going to really fill his (ugly German hiking) shoes this year! This is another German (and other Christian-y places, I think) tradition....Saint Nikolaus (think Santa in a pope hat) goes around and puts little treats in the shoes of good kids (and Freunds). From what I've read (thank you, Gridskipper), he has a not-so-nice acomplice, Knecht Rubrecht who deals with the naughty kids by leaving switches instead of treats. Like I said, I don't quite get this German Christmas thing (they also have two Christmases: the 25th and 26th even though the main celebration is on the 24th???). Not that I, equal opportunity celebrist that I am, fault anyone for too much celebrating ... we'll be having latkes (called Kartofelpuffer here and are not considered a Jewish food in the slightest, but are served year-round at street festivals and such) for our Hannukah dinner on the 4th.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Botschafting

My patriotic activity for the week was a formal, sit-down three-course plus hors d'Ouevres dinner for 14 for some people affiliated with the US Embassy: walnut toasts with blue cheese and fig preserves, ham biscuits, herb-marinated salmon over warm beluga lentil salad, Provencal lamb shanks with garlic mashed potatoes and haricot verts, and mini apple galettes with cardamom-spiced creme fraiche. I am insane, so of course I did this without an assistant and seriously undercharged (Sidenote: I am much too uncomfortable asking for money to free-lance. I seriously think I would do better in a bartering society. Alas....). Even though I felt there were several major things that I c/should have done better, now that the event is a few days behind me, I am feeling pretty OK about it. The first time working for a new client is always the hardest by a lot -- you spend so much time and effort just trying to situate yourself in their kitchen, figure out how their stove works, etc. Luckily, these people have a massive kitchen with an obscene (by Berlin standards) amount of refrigerator-freezer space and three (!) ovens (warm plates!). They also hired two Chileans as waiters, which was great, though linguistically really bizarre. It takes me 15 minutes to find my Spanish during which time I produce an interesting mix of the two plus the ocassional Portuguese and Catalan word. Once I locate the Spanish, it´s fine, but then I am unable to speak to the housekeeper (or anyone else for that matter) in German and it takes me about 24 hours to get back to the Deutsch. The point is, these guys were amazing and essential to the success of this gig. They stalled gracefully when I needed it by refilling wine glasses and brought me the bosses' clean plates to prove that all was not a disaster. I was crazy tired at the end of the night and everything still hurts (mashed potato disaster really did in my upper extremities)...but the clients were really pleased (even claiming that a former Inn at Little Washington chef had praised the food). I´m not so sure, but they have already booked me again for next week, so I suppose all´s well that ends well.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Das Entedankfest a la Deutsch

Thanksgiving outside the US never works out quite right. In Chile my host-family insisted on having tomato salad (it being early summer in that particular hemisphere) and could not understand why this was problematic (tomato salad clearly not being a Thanksgiving dish). There wasn't a single stalk of celery (for the stuffing) to be found (apparently a seasonal vegetable in some parts of the world). And then they wanted to know why there was so much food. In Spain my parents were visiting and we caved and had paella, Thursday being paella day in Spain. Thanksgiving got off to a bit of a rocky start here as well. I knew that Turkeys are not readily available here, so I ordered one from the butcher where they are used to my strange questions and inability to express exactly what I mean. Last weekend, I happened to mention to a German woman that I would be celebrating the charming American holiday, Thanksgiving. "So, you´re going to eat Truthahn?" she asked. I immediately began to panic because I had not ordered a Truthahn, but a Pute. What sort of beast were we going to feast on? As it turns out, Pute is also turkey, but more specifically, a female turkey. One of the only things I learned in cooking school was that females tend to taste better than males, so all seemed in ordenung, as they say in these parts. Another expat Thanksgiving dilemna was that they gave (read: sold) me a much bigger turkey than I really wanted or needed (or had ordered for that matter). I also have a much smaller refrigerator than I really want or need. Brining was a bit of a challenge, but we managed by taking out some of the shelves. Still, it took up the entire fridge and had it been an inch bigger in any direction we would have had to roast it in pieces. Anyway, extreme proximity to heat worked out well and it browned very nicely, my herb paste visible through the golden skin. No picture....again....sorry! Gravy drippings were a different story and I do so love good gravy, but....maybe next year (with the cornish hens I have planned). With the exception of lumpy mashed potatoes, cornbread rolls, and roasted squash, the rest of meal came from guests, one of whom managed to score a jar of Trader Joe's cranberry chutney (cranberries being scarce in these parts) We also had a porcini mushroom stuffing, the ever-nostalgic greenbean caserole (sans Campbell's) and a glorious, soft-the-way-I-like-it cheesecake. I don't know if it was quite Thanksgiving...nobody argued about what time we should eat and there was no name-calling (just a few highlights of the traditional extended family Thanksgivings of my childhoods)...then again, this may be, in and of itself, something to be thankful for.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Auf Wiedersehen...

I never would have thought that the thing I'd hate most about Berlin would be American, but the Hollywoods have really been the bane of my Berlin existence for six months. While they have never been directly rude to me (that was my attempt to say something nice about them in case you missed it), they are boring, self-absorbed, cheap, passive-aggressive, excessively particular without being able to express prefences (even for simple things like: do you want mustard on your sandwich? How can a grown woman not know if she likes mustard on a ham sandwich?). I could go on, but the point is really that.....they are gone! As I write, they are flying back to Hollywood, their beastly children undoubtedly terrorizing the entire planeful of passengers (yesterday they both screamed for about four hours straight). In any case, while it was a good learning experience for me (mostly in terms of the importantce of setting rules for clients and the practicality of shopping carts vs. shoulder bags) .... last night was time to celebrate. The Hollywoods lived in a very nice apartment building right next to a nice restaurant, ETA Hoffman. I recognized the apartment building the first time I visited them because it's part of a Lonely Planet walking tour and I recognized the restaurant because I read about it on Berlin Reified (where I seem to get most of "my" good ideas) (see previous blog for link!). I had walked by ETA Hoffman on countless occassions...never quite wishing I worked in their "real" kitchen with it's long hours, (potentially) angry German chef, bad pay, etc., but always a little jealous that ETA's clients are mostly adults who order off a menu, eat, pay, and go home. Anyway, dinner at ETA Hoffman seemed like the perfect farewell to Hollywood, so mein Freund and I met there last night after my last stint and enjoyed the Vegetarisches Uberaschungsmenue (vegetarian surprise menu). Not "vegetarian surprise" as in: I bet you can't tell there's tofu in that, but as in the chef decides (supposedly) on the spot what to make. It wasn't the best "nice" meal I've had in Berlin, but it was quite good (especially the beet soup in the trio of beet dishes appetizer) and felt just a bit luxuirous. Hardly surprising, the meal was full of things that would cause the Hollywoods to run in terror: no animal protein for starts, the forementioned beets (in tripplcate!), baby bok choy, salsify (gasp!), pumpkin/winter squash puree, hazelnuts....really shocking. Anyway, it is now onwards and upwards (hopefully) ... I do have a small embassy party lined up for next week and a little Thanksgiving to cook, but after that it's time for a little dose of America. I hit NYC on December 5th! Get the poppyseed hamantashen ready!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Der Fraß

It´s hard to admit that I sometimes struggle to like Berlin because I hear it´s such a cool place, even the New York Times says so, and mein Freund really likes it and so do all his friends. Plus, I do live here and I really want to like it. One of my main issues with the city has been that (in my admittedly limited (can only meet so many people, see so much in 9 months)observations) it´s just not a food town. I don´t mean that there isn´t good food here, because I have had two excellent meals in very nice restaurants every bit as good as you could find in New York or Barcelona (H. H. Müller and Fischers Fritz), as well as more moderately priced good meals, and there certainly are plenty of good ingredients. There isn´t the variety (of produce, "ethnic" ingredients, etc.) as you´d find in NYC, but as I´ve been told: it´s not fair to compare any city to New York. Still, there are far too many mediocre restaurants and I´ve been frustrated that many people seem somewhat oblivious to what they are eating, who cooked it, did it come from a local farm or China, etc. I´ve taken it too personally, as is my way, but last Saturday was a different kind of day.

My sister regularly throws/hosts these potluck events that she terms Grub in Berkeley...they are more or less open to anyone and everyone brings something local, organic, sustainable. I´ve never been to one, so I can only imagine the culinary splendor, but I have eaten and shopped for food in Berkeley, so I know there is a difference between here and there to say the least. Anyway, my imaginination had me convinced that Berlin could never live up to BerkeleyGrub, but then I met Berlin Reified (I wish I was savvy enough to make links...http://reified.typepad.com/): another food person! So, with my sister´s idea and BR´s help, we launched GrubBerlin on Saturday. Berlin didn´t exactly become Berkeley (if I find the person who brought the Red Bull there´s going to be trouble!), but it tried: there was lots of good food (Grünkohl, Homemade Quince Paste, and Winter Squash soup to a few different tunes...I made Winter Squash Ham Biscuits and Walnut Toasts with Blue Cheese and Poached Pear), a really good international crowd that mixed really well, and perhaps most importantly, a good time was had by all. Such a good time was had by me, that I only have one really bad photo to share....alas:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween auf Deutsch

Halloween outside the US is always kind of a bummer, especially if Halloween is your favorite holiday. Alas, I did my best to bring the mountain to Mohammed by making a special Halloween lunch for my Wednesday lunch clients. The bad news is that even though I remembered to bring my camera and charge the battery, technology and/or Cannon (who hate me!) got the best of me again. Luckily, one of the diners took pictures and sent them to me. Anyway, the lunch was a lot of fun to make and a big hit: slime soup was really split pea soup (although when I went to buy split peas, all I could find were whole dry peas... which worked just fine and I think have more fiber anyway). It was quite slimelike (in color, not texture) and tasted pretty good thanks to the wide array of pork products available in the Fatherland to flavor soup (no picnic hams, however). I also made finger- and toe-shaped pretzels, which turned out quite well (thank you, Martha Stewart (say what you will about her, the woman does Halloween right). There was also a Decomposed Salad...which is a really great play words (again, thanks to MS), but doesn´t translate at all as there is no German word that means both unarranged and rotten, alas. This is a pretty bilingual crowd, but I think I was the only one who got it....alas. And for dessert, I found these perfectly disgusting gummi eyeballs at the grocery store.
There were too perfect not to buy. And I made red velvet chiffon cupcakes with meringue frosting....these were not as pretty as I had hoped (stupid culinary mistakes on my part...) but, the eaters got such a kick out of the eyeballs, which had the most disgusting texture, and the red velvet cake was like biting into the flesh behind the eye socket! Anyway, they were quite tickled and it was great to get such a good response!

Alas, no Remy costume (except in spirit) this year....but here is a shot of our Jack o´ Lantern, Scarface Melinda:

Friday, October 26, 2007

Schleppen, jeztz einfacher!

Well, the big news this week is that after far too many years of schlepping far too much produce for far too many blocks using just my own human strength(come to think of it, this may have something to do with my elbow and back pain....), I have finally acquired a shopping cart. I got it at the Turkish Market for only 6 Euros (which is a lot more in dollars as I am reminded every morning because they announce it on the radio. I wonder if they did this way back when the dollar was stronger? I doubt it. It's depressing). Anyway, it is sleek and black (and goes with everything) and extremely helpful when carting around 6 cauliflowers (my weekly lunch clients had Sicilian cauliflower pasta last week) and would have been great the week before when I lugged several mammoth cabbages(coleslaw to accompany bbq sandwiches and baked beans). Anyway, I have secretly wanted one for years, but never got around to getting one, but the 6 heads of cauliflower pushed me over the edge.

In other moving-from-here-to-there news...I have been meaning to write about the absurdity/humor of crossing the street here for a while. I think it´s widely known that Deutschland is not a jaywalker´s paradise. You´ve heard how they stand, waiting patiently for the cute little walk signal (der Ampelman!), even when there isn´t a car or even a bike in sight. Especially when there are Kinder around, because we all have to set a good example... It's not that I'm darting between cars or in all that much of a hurry, but I do have places do go, things to do, and it´s cold now. It´s just not in my impatient, American nature to follow such a stupid rule (except when there are scary policemen in view). So I jaywalk and frequently. But my favorite part or consequence of my careless ways is when the other people waiting look at me and I can hear them silently thanking me: you did it, so now I can too...and they follow me across the street. Bizarre and hysterical. Anyway, you have to jaywalk here if you ever want to get anywhere because the crossing signals here don't make any sense at all. Usually you can only get to the median...if you don't take matters into your own hands, you'll spend half your life standing between multiple lanes of oncoming traffic, which is just no fun. Especially in the cold.

I promise to take pictures of my halloween lunch on Wednesday! And of my Remy costume (if it happens)!

Friday, October 19, 2007

So viele Milchprodukte!


Germany might be lacking in some things, but dairy products isn´t one of them; there's really an astounding variety. The other day, the grocery store was out of or probably just hadn´t stocked the organic yogurt section, so I decided to just get drinking yogurt. This morning when I poured it over my Müsli, I was shocked at how watery it was. I shook it, thinking it must have separated, but that didn´t help. Then,I read the label and then had to look up Molke: whey. Today I had Müsli with orange-passionfruit-flavored whey for breakfast. I won´t buy it again, it was like watery, sweet skim milk. It is amusing, though, that the Germans are willing to pay for what Americans only accept as government cheese. I think government cheese might be better, though....

There's also a very wide and extremely fun selection of yogurt flavors. I´ve already sung the praises of hazelnut yogurt, but I didn´t tell you that there are seasonal flavors. In summer we had lemon-mint and I just bought ginger-pear! Seriously, I don´t think I´ve had the same flavor more than once or twice in the past 8 months.

On a non-dairy note, I stumbled upon Goldsaft (sugar beet syrup) in the grocery store recently. I know it´s just an Eastern European version of corn syrup, but it´s exotic to me. And best of all, it is a perfect substitute for molasses, which is hard to come by in these parts. I made baked beans and "molasses" cookies this week and I dare you to tell the difference!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Noch ein Samstagabenteuer

We like to have adventures in these parts and we are having one beautiful fall day after another (same temperature as summer only sunny), but we know the winter is coming so we have to make the most of it. On Saturday we set out to explore Bauhaus architecture in Berlin. We were distracted however, by the message-bearing bear hanging in front of the neighborhood anti-capitalist shop. Seems the Hollywoods are not making too many friends in this town. We were also distracted by the library (which is seriously enhancing my music collection and German movie watching habit), shoe shopping, vacuum bag buying, inspecting the new mall to see what all the fuss was about (???), and coffee drinking and sesame-date bar eating on the subway, but we finally made to the southeast of the city where we inspected 3 bauhaus sites. Wikipedia has the following information on bauhaus for your information: "Bauhaus is the common term for the Staatliches Bauhaus, a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts" and "became one of the most influential currents in Modernist architecture and modern design." It is known for "radically simplified forms, the rationality and functionality, and the idea that mass-production was reconcilable with the individual artistic spirit." The Seagram building and the UN headquarters in NYC are American example. Anyway, this little group of what we would call town or rowhouses reminded me a little bit of Fairlington (for those of you familiar with Arlington neighborhoods). Anyway, I'm not sure that its bauhaus-ness comes across in this photo, but .... I tried. Not to worry--my professional photographer aka Allison will be here in a month (!) so it's quite likely that the visual aspect of this here blog will improve significantly, if briefly. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Bär!


So, the mascot of Berlin is the bear. I don't know why, but Wikipedia does say that there was an Albert the Bear who "formally inherited Berlin from its last Wendish king, Pribislav" and the bear is on the city flag and crest and there are a bunch of those stupid artist-decorated statues in bear form (like there were cows in NYC, elephants & donkeys in DC, etc). Anyway, mein Freund had a family reunion here in Berlin over the weekend so we did a bit of touring around and happened to wander by this little park with a real Bear pit. This is home to Berlin's mascots, Thilo, Maxi, and Schnute (can't say for sure which one is pictured here) .... who seemed like nice enough guys, but the pit seemed freakishly small and lacking in stimulation for three actual adult-size brown bears. I thought the Germans were known for being nice to animals? Anyway, aside from the depressing bear citings, a good time was had by all, a lot of German was spoken, and much food was consumed as we went both to this very good Brazilian rodizio place (9 different roast meats!) and to our favorite brunch spot. (Then I got to go to the Hollywoods and listen to them berate their daughter for not drawing grass vertically. I wanted to send them to bed without their cobb salad, but....).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kohlehydrataufladen

So mein Freund ran the Berlin Marathon last weekend, which meant we were on official carbo-load status. Beet risotto and roasted winter squash make for the prettiest carbo-loading, don't you think?
Prettier than the fact that I had to miss the end of the marathon to make Sunday dinner for the Hollywoods who insisted on having Chinese chicken salad. As if I am a walking, international PF Chang's. Anyway, there are an awful lot of uber greasy "Asian" noodles in this town, but not so many cans of fried noodles....and I seriously, SERIOUSLY draw the line at canned mandarin oranges. Anyway, I just didn't ask any questions and made my version (though I've never made it before), which entailed romaine, shredded cabbage and carrots, green onions, avocado, asparagus, chicken breast, sesame seeds and toasted slivered almonds all tossed with a simple "Asian" vinaigrette. Of course I had to make an entirely different meal for the Kinder (because children clearly do not eat salad and couldn't possibly just eat the non-lettuce parts) which they didn't even eat because they had a snack about 7 minutes before dinner as they always do so I got to witness yet another fight about how children who don't eat dinner don't get dessert. (All of this drama took place in the shadow of a towering and glorious chocolate-glazed marble chiffon cake. And, to make matters worse, they were really late coming home for dinner, which meant my poor marathon-running Freund was all weak and protein-deprived by the time I got home. Stuffed pork chops (because I couldn't find veal chops?) solved that particular dilemma so all is now more or less right in the world...until I have to go back on Tuesday....SIGH.

p.s. You can see mein Freund running off here -- that's his hand waving in the middle of the shot!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rettet dieses Mädchen!


Ok, I am swallowing my pride and posting this frightening photo here as the official launch of my public health campaign to get window screens in Germany. They don't even have a word for screens in Deutsch (I kid you not) so this is going to be a big job, but the madness has got to stop. This is the third mosquito bite on my eye this summer (technically it's fall now, but.....) and I really think another one will do lasting damage to my vision/face/mental health/all of the above. I had to go to German class like this and inspired an entire vocab lesson: mosquito, bite, insect, freak of nature, etc. Then I had to work for Hollywoods and Mrs. Hollywood about had a nervous breakdown, sure that I was going to infect her little brats with some eye-puffing ailment. Not to mention (!) that I was literally almost hit by a car on my way to class because I was puffy and out of it. Anyway, as I've said before, it's not like I'm lobbying for every German to have their own iPhone, but screens are a simple, effective means of keeping me from looking like a stroke victim/experiencing a severe allergic reaction/got punched. This is no laughing matter....Germany has got to get on the screen train.

The Land of Müsli


In response to the last comment....I have made granola here, a bunch of times. Actually, before I relocated to the Vaterland, I made granola in the Motherland (with dried cranberries and pecans for that American touch) and sent it to mein Freund for his birthday (making it fairly expenive granola). It's true that Deutschland is awash in granola. It's also true that they call it Müsli here (I think the difference is that Müsli isn't usually toasted, but don't quote me on that one). Müsli is generally better and cheaper here than at home, but I just like mine better ... it's crunchier and doesn't have any added wierdness. Mein Freund's brother came over once when I was making a batch of Müsli and thought it was about the strangest thing he had ever seen (though I'm not sure if reveals more about me or him?). Anway, I'm certainly not above the ocassional bowl of purchased Müsli with bits of dark chocolate...when you mix this stuff with hazelnut yogurt....yum; it's dessert. I wish I could share my granola/Müsli recipe with you (as requested), but I don't have one. I just buy oats (though lately, I'm into this mix of grains), throw in some coconut (the frozen kind is best, but I can't find that here, so I just use regular shredded. I think Goya sells it in the US?) and chopped nuts or seeds and then drizzle honey over it. I usually wait until I'm using the oven for something else to toast it, but it seems happier if it's a hotter oven. I try to remember to stir it. Occasionally I add dried fruit after it's cool, but usually not. Very frequently I get distracted and burn it (all my previous and current roommates can attest to this charming tendency) and then have to pick off the top layer. Anyway, the making is a very flexible process in my book and it never turns out quite the same. I made a stellar batch earlier this year when my grandfather's neighbor passed through town, took me out to a very nice lunch, and gave me some Arizona pistachios, which I used along with Turkish apricots.... memorable Müsli. While I'm not picky or pingelig as some might say, about the making, I am about the eating (though only my own eating; in this unusual case, I really won't judge you for how you eat yours). I have a very strong preference for yogurt over milk with my Musli and I don't like a lot of yogurt -- I strive for just moister than a pastey consistency. I'm also fond (now) of Quark and fresh ricotta...I sometimes add it to ice cream (especially here as Germany seems to be a 100% smooth ice cream nation (except for the imported Ben & Jerry's). And there you have it: my thoughts on Musli (aka granola).

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ein Tag von Mahlzeits...

It's been a short while since I had anything to say... I guess we are in that end of summer lull (except that summer forgot to visit Berlin this year). Anyway, I still don't really have anything of great import to share, but so as to keep the ball rolling.... you get to read (and see!) what I ate yesterday:

FRUSTRUCK:Honey-Bulgar Bread with Apricot Jelly. I made the bread to use up the last bit of bulgar after an uber batch of Tabouleh and stuffed tomatoes didn't quite make it all go away (as you might imagine, you can get it in serious bulk for not so many Euros at the Turkish Market). Alas, I was too lazy to go and get whole whate flour, so it is a little doughy, but still good. The apricot jelly is lovely and came from mein Freund's childhood friend, Swen (an oddly common name here; pronounced "Sven" of course. Swen can stay because he recognizes the greatness of DC United) who got it from the taxi driver he uses (regularly) when he goes to Munich on business. She is apparently quite generous/prolific and his jelly supply is a little out of control. If I were really adapting to the German way, there would be an inch of butter on my bread under the jelly. Or under my nutella because they are that kind of crazy here.

SNACKZEIT: Got to keep up my energy for the first day of Deutschkurs (German class) -- banana. Though really, I should have gotten alphabet cookies, which parents traditionally buy for their Kinder for the first day of school. Plus my pseudo Nalgeen bottle, which to my amusement, Europeans find quite bizarre/suspicious and they are sure no matter what I tell them that there must be something special about my water or why would I carry it around in a blue bottle. Seriously though, the Europeans in these parts refuse to drink perfectly good tap water and drink an oddly large amount of apple juice. Anyway, hydration is key.

MITAGSESSEN: Leftover whole wheat spaghetti (that the Hollywoods had someone bring them from home, but wouldn't eat because it tastes too healthy) with creamed leeks (except I used quark instead of cream because I had quark and not cream) with basil. Personally, I didn't think it tasted too healthy, but then they would never eat creamed leeks. Would have been extra good with toasted walnuts, but somehow those didn't make it home from the store.

ABENDESSEN; Sausages cooked with apples and apple juice (I can't drink apple juice the way these people can, but it was left here at our BBQ and I have to use it up somehow), potatoes, and balsamic radiccio. This was quite pretty, too bad I forgot to take a picutre. NACHTISCH: Followed by leftover baked peaches with hazelnut cookie crumbs and vanilla ice cream. Not so good because the peaches weren't good to start with. I find the fruit situation quite frustrating....alas.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Hamburg Babyrundgang 2007

So, we survived the Hamburg Baby tour (cute for the most part, not as August Gloop as many German kiddies, all speak German less well than me)....and even managed to squeeze in an early-morning visit to the Fischmarkt (not just fish). You're supposed to go out in the incredibly tacky area called the Reeperbahn (German's New Orleans French Quarter but with a lot more opportunities to see naked girls) and stay out until 5 am when the market opens...wander down and there you can continue to drink and eat Fischbrotchen (little fish (usually herring) sandwiches) and Currywurst, etc. This might be the cool thing to do and might have been possible if I hadn't had to speak German all day (to the babies' parents), which really takes it out of me. By 1 AM I was exhausted. As luck would have it, mein Freund has very nice god-parents who live in a very nice apartment right on the Elbe River right next to the market. So we could crawl out of bed and head down. It's an interesting mix of extremely drunk people and people actually trying to buy food for the week. In terms of quality, it's no match for Union Square (sigh), but I did buy corn (I have been meaning to note that I was too quick to proclaim the lack of corn in Germany -- it was just too early in the season) and we had it for dinner last night, German-style with grilled Bratwursts and Kohlrabi slaw.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Zu Besuch

Life in Berlin rolls along. The big excitement of late was a visit from Sam, jetsetter that she is. It was a short visit and I had to work for a few hours on Sunday, but we tried to pack in as much fun as possible. We finally had our summer bbq, though the weather refused (yet again) to cooperate and so we had to move it inside. (Because the Germans love to bbq so (little-known fact), many of the parks here have areas where you are allowed to bring your mini IKEA grill (Berlin is 99% IKEA). Anyway, we grilled on the balcony (and by" we" I mean "he") and people were shivering in their wool "end-of-German-summer" coats. On the upside, there's literally nowhere to buy ice here so outdoor bbqs feature warm beer, which I just can't support. Anyway, a good time was had by all and we were actually joined by an acquaintance/friend we knew in Barcelona, which made me feel all worldly and cool. I made a gorgeous plum tart with hazelnut frangipane, but as is my way, neglected to take a picture.

Other activities included a German breakfast (somewhat lacking in the meat and cheese dept. albeit) auf dem Balkon, highly successful flea market wanderings, randem wanderings resulting from my inability to read a guidebook (sorry, Sam), Kaffee und Kuchen (Egg Cream-Poppy Seed Torte!), and because Sam is my Beer Friend (or rather I tried to be her Beer Friend back in our Barcelona days when there were a lot of holes to fill...(sidenote: she was also bestowed with the title of Sommelier for el Camino de Santiago 2006, a job she carried out beyond all expectations)), a visit to my favorite brewery mit Restaurant.

This weekend we are off to Hamburg (the last trip to Hamburg was cancelled) to visit a bunch of babies (3 baby-related visits in 8 hours have already been scheduled!), say that they are cute and give them presents. Alas, I think all the babies will take up the time that I might otherwise use to eat eel soup and a wierd/gross but typical salad including pears, green beans, and bacon and other Hamburg delicacies. Schade......

Monday, August 27, 2007

Wann kommt November?

Things (one or more of) the Hollywoods Won't Eat:
1. Vegetables other than Zucchini (must of course be peeled as European zucchini skin is apparently too tough), Broccoli, Carrots, and Lettuce (but Mixed Greens or lettuce with any sort of curly whatsoever is"too fancy")
2. Cheeses other than Parmesan, Mozzarella, or Provolone (which isn't easily available in the Fatherland)
3. Steak or Chops (or any meat that requires actual chewing)
4. Chicken on the bone (some weeks) and Boneless Chicken (other weeks)
5. Fruit Desserts
6. Chocolate Ice Cream
7. Couscous
8. Fish with bones (god forbid whole fish)
9. Sausages other than turkey hotdogs (in Deutschland!)
10. Lamb or Pork (too fatty)
11. Anything remotely spicy
12. Tomato Sauce
13. Macaroni & Cheese (except when they absolutely must have it)
14. Lasagne (gasp -- it has both tomato sauce and ricotta cheese!)
15. Round foods
16. Corn
17. Pie (unless called galette/tart/etc.)
18. Anything pickled
19. Nuts
20. Most German foods
21. Beans

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Climb Every Mountain

I meant to warn everyone that I was heading off to climb every mountain in Austria for two weeks and would thus be away from the blogosphere for a while, but it was so crazy in those final days (delightful houseguest, wedding, feeding the Hollywoods, etc.) that I never got around to it. In any case, it was a good Wander (odd German euphemism for all levels of hiking), though there were times when I thought mein Freund was going to drag me up and down every peak, cliff, and high point in the Alps. Anyway, a nice feature of Euro wandering are the "huts" where you can eat and sleep so you don't need to carry all your food and sleeping equipment. The huts are generally rustic, but the food (while lacking in perishables) is pretty decent and generally what you are craving after scrambling over and up and down rocks for ten hours...dumpling soups, pasta and Spätzle, sausages and Knödel. The wine was good, the coffee situation significantly less so (but I learned from last year's Wander and this time had a stash of chocolate-covered espresso beans to get me through). There were also about a million fat marmots scrambling and screeching about the mountains and I had been told that you sometimes found them for dinner in the huts. I was seriously craving marmot fricassee, but apparently the little rodents are now protected.....alas. I did, however, manage to have Gross Glockner (the mountain we were hiking around) lamb heart and lung stew (naturally with Knödel).

The uberWander was pleasantly sandwiched between days in Munich and Salzburg. Munich is a lovely city, full of sports cars and stylish people -- sort of an Italianized Germany. I had excellent food photos of Schweinhaxe (Pork Knuckle) and Knödel in Munich but my camera/technology got the best of me again and somehow they were deleted. (All in all I had eight (8!) kinds of Knödel during the trip: bread, potato, pressed, liver, semolina, speck/ham, and napkin (a log-shaped Knödel traditionally steamed in a cloth napkin and then sliced)). Salzburg is also a beautiful city straight out of The Sound of Music. It's also (supposedly) home to Sacher torte, which we dutifully sampled (as well as "warm apple strudel" and Schnitzel (though not with noodles) and lots of good Austrian wine and beer. Even taking into account all the beautiful mountains, wildflowers, adorable herds of Alpine sheep and goats and cows, and the many varieties of Knödel, my hands-down favorite moment of the trip was captured in this last photo here -- mein Freund trying on Lederhosen (after all, what's the point of a German boyfriend if he isn't wearing the costume?)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Die Deutsche Hochzeit

Observations of German Weddings (after attending 3):
1. Dry pork instead of dry chicken.
2. Cheesy American music AND cheesy German music (a la '80s pop hits).
3. They Germans are surprisingly into the cheesy....I have now witnessed: the very unPC group-release of a bunch of red heart balloons all with postcards that will hopefully make their way back to the happy couple (alas, they were already sort of deflated by the time we did the release and I don't think any of them made it more than 50 meters away from the church), a dove release, and a wierd thing where the couple were roped out on to the dance floor by their "friends" and made to dance under a star-printed canopy while people stood around them holding paper lanterns, thereby simulating nighttime, which I *think* was supposed to be romantic.
4. The first dance is always a waltz, which they (unlike me) all learned to do in school. But hey, I don't think anyone else can do-si-do (sp?).
5. Apparently it is considered rude to use trays at formal events so banquet waiters, even when serving hundreds of guests must carry two plates at a time. I suggest packing snacks or eating a big meal before going to a German wedding.
6. Another thing that makes the weddings last so long is that they go around an introduce everyone to the rest of the group...nice, I guess, but sort of odd.
7. And my personal favorite: For whatever reason, storks nest on churches in Europe and they have babies in the spring (wedding season), so two of the three weddings featured stork families flying about. Too cute.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rinderbrust und Verkaufsfrau

An interesting measure of my German progress is my improved ability to ask questions of strangers. Twice recently I had conversations who I had tried to speak to a while back (emphasis on tried) and it's wierd/amusing to have such a measure. In any case, the ladies at the butcher still think I am a brisket-obsessed wierdo (you may recall my desperate attempts to make a brisket for Passover) because I just made one for the Hollywoods. This was a source of much stress as they told me Rinderbrust (brisket according to my dictionaries) comes on the bone and in sizes as small as one pound, which didn't seem like the brisket that I know...plus the fact that the Hollywoods are so very fussy yet totally unable to communicate what kind of foods they like or are allergic to until I have already made things they do not like or are allergic to. Anyway, there were more than a few brisket-related nights without sleep, but now, for better or worse, it is behind me.

In other news, Other Bekah has arrived and we are seeing the sights and having a little gastronomic tour of the few vegetarian delights that German cuisine has to offer. Last night we made some very tasty Spätzle (full disclosure: we didn't make the Spätzle ourselves) with Alpine cheese. Alas, no picture again, but I will try to do better....Stay tuned for more news on non-porcine German food...and for my sum up of the German wedding (Saturday will be our third this summer)!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Alles verboten

Sorry for the little pause in action here. When I started this blog, I wasn't nearly so busy catering to the needs of the rich and annoying. Anyway, I'd like to say that the situation with the Hollywoods has improved, that under my care they have seen the light that is flavor, but not so much. I am still getting late Saturday night emails regarding the too-strong nature of a certain Macaroni and Cheese (it was not remotely strong, sharp Cheddar is not exactly a dime a dozen in these parts and it had only the tiniest bit of mustard and no cayenne or any such spiciness whatsoever). Fresh tuna (and by fresh I meant fresh, as in not from a can ... they certainly don't eat anything rare!) never came to pass as it was just too scary. Mrs. Hollywood keeps trying to get me use these instant salad dressing mixes she bought (99% preservatives) and her prized can of Pam. My new favorite thing is that the children aren't allowed to eat round foods (fear of choking, I think). As I was making a delectable Mac & Cheese (using Butterkäse, the German Velveeta) with hotdogs (this is an elaborate, refined dish I learned in culinary school in Barcelona), Mrs. Hollywood was all flipping out about me cutting the hotdogs not just in bites (they have round edges, not in half moons, but in quarters! It's really all too much.

In other news, we did have one really nice day this weekend ... another canoeing adventure in the adorable town of Templin. The worst/funniest was when we were nearly attacked by a swan parent as we had no choice but to go between her/him and the baby. It was quite the scene and I almost had to protect mein Freund with my paddle. Here is a more tranquil photo of the swan family. The best part was that it was a three-picnic day and I do so love to picnic. We had smoked salmon fritatta sandwiches and honeydew on the train for breakfast, lunch was crackers with liverwurst and caraway cheese spread, carrots, and marinated olives, cherries, and cream cheese swirl brownies, and we had excellent dinner sandwiches on the river banks after we returned the canoe -- chorizo, mountain cheese, pickled red onions, and cilantro-mint chutney (leftover from an Indian lunch at my relatively normal clients). I should have taken a picture, I know......

Friday, July 20, 2007

Amerikanerin in Berlin

Sometimes you just don't want to eat anymore Wurst or Knödel or Sauerkraut. Kidding, as I am in charge of the kitchen here and we don't actually eat much German food (after breakfast anyway) and most of the restaurants in our 'hood are bad ethnic (though there are exceptions). Anyway, good burgers here are few and far between. But the other night I was really craving a good burger and for once, I just didn't feel like cooking at all. As luck would have it, we live within walking distance of an "a New York style bar and steakhouse" that serves excellent burgers and the best and most important part is they understand the concept of rare. I am a proud burger snob: a burger cooked more than rare is not worth eating. Anyway, this was an excellent, ginormous burger and my burger craving has been satisfied for the next little while. The fries were also very good, but if you happened to be out and about in Berlin, say at the Schonefeld S-bahn station and had a craving for fries, you could also satisfy that craving for just a few euros (though for some reason, only from 9 am until 3 pm???) at this French fry/Pommes vending machine, that I find vaguely hysterical.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sich vorsehen was du etwas wünschst

Well, as of this week I am a gainfully employed personal chef with two actual clients. (Alas, neither of them is Brangelina, who did not move in on our street, but the new rumor is they have a place about 10 minutes from my apartment, AND Tom&Katy are in Berlin too -- the Germans HATE him. They are not fans of Scientology).

Anyway, the first client is pretty great (although they are somewhat in denial regarding my total lack of a work visa). I'll be making a staff lunch for them every Wednesday. I get to make whatever I want, they seem to like everything, they always say thank you, they do their own dishes, and help carry things (which is key as the office is 3rd floor, no elevator and food for 15 people plus platters weighs a lot more than you'd think). Last week was Middle Eastern-themed. I made hummus & whole wheat flatbread, tabbouleh, spiced lamb meatballs, rice salad with cucumber & yogurt, watermelon-feta salad, and for dessert: stuffed dates, sesame brittle, and I bought some halvah and cut it into pretty cubes. Once again, I was too busy to take pictures, but maybe next week....

I wasn't feeling that good about my trial for the Producer family, aka the Hollywoods, but they called and said they really liked my food so now, for better or worse, it's a three times a week deal (7 lunches and 6 dinners a week). It turns out the interviewed someone else who was "too fancy" for them. This would not be difficult as they really only eat plain chicken breasts, macaroni & cheese, and broccoli (why you need a personal chef for such haute cuisine is beyond me). Yesterday I made meatballs that were quite plain (just a little Parmesan cheese and parsley), but abolutely delicious. I was told that they looked "poopy." I really don't know how to argue with that kind of logic. I am pretty sure that there will be a lot of head-banging going on as a result of the Hollywoods and their adorable but beastly children. Luckily, it's a limited gig: they reinvade the US in November. Also, I've decided that the only way to remain even a little sane doing this job is to decide that the wife/mother was lying or wrong when she said she didn't like pie. Anyway, I'm making a crostata on Sunday so we'll see if she eats pie in Italian. In response to the myriad angry messages I received regarding the lack of cooking detail in my previous post (which, in my defense, I posted before I was ready by accidentally clicking "publish" (I told you this technology thing was too much for me)), here is what I made for them yesterday: "poopy" meatballs & mashed potatoes with sauteed zucchini and peach crisp with strawberry ice cream for dessert; broccoli-chicken tetrazzini and green salad; for lunches/snacks: hummus, pita, & veggies, tuna salad, brownies and banana muffins. Are you still reading? This is boring food, I know, but we can't be too fancy, now can we? Stay tuned to see if I get fired after making them fresh tuna for Sunday dinner!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Wann es regnet, es quillt

So, Friday was quite a busy day here in Berlin as I somehow found myself with two jobs. Two jobs is really too many for me at this point, but as I don't have a steady thing going just yet and I'm trying to build a client base, I felt like I had to say yes. Of course both jobs came along on Wednesday so there wasn't even much time for preparation. I also have a fridge the size of a bread box and hardly any freezer space so the possiblilities for advance preparation were few. And.... we had already invited die Mutter von mein Freund over to celebrate her birthday. And, Thursday was the last day of Deutschkurs so I really couldn't skip it and the teacher basically made me stay late to take the final. Luckily, most of the Mutters dinner got done in advance. This was for better or worse, the best of the three meals: salad of red leaf lettuce and radiccio with candied spiced walnuts, persimmon, and feta, posole (made with blue corn posole that I brought from Seed Savers in Tucson) with all the fixings (avocado, salsa fresca, cilantro, feta pretending to be cotijo, sliced radishes. and crumbled corn chips -- it was really pretty, too bad I didn't take a photo...., and pavlova with kiwi, strawberries, and blueberries for dessert. I resisted the urge to serve the food and continue cooking while everyone ate...so I didn't really get to work until 11. I had to bring lunch for 10 to a design firm (the same place I've done a few jobs for already): individual ricotta tarts with olivada & roasted cherry tomatoes, white bean salad with lemon vinaigrette, prosciutto & melon, roasted marinated pepper salad, and assorted cookies. Making all this equaled just 4 hours of sleep. I had to schlep it all there, set it up, and then leave b/c I had another job at 1, a try-out of sorts for a family from Los Angeles. This is a family from LA....in Berlin for 6 months b/c the husband-father is producing a movie (there is a huge film scene here, fyi). I've been in their apartment twice now and it's a world like nowhere I've ever been. For example, on Friday I was one of four servants! Naturally, every stay-at-home mom with two kids needs two nannies, a maid, a chef, and a personal assistant, right? These are not my dream clients as the mother is uber neurotic, claims the family is low-key and eats everything, but one of them doesn't eat cheese, fish may never have bones, pork is fatty, apparently a lot of foods make small children gassy, and children can only eat food cut so small they need a microscope to find it on their plate, and the wife-mother doesn't like pie. Pie is sacred. Isn't it unamerican? unhuman? impossible to dislike pie? Has she never had pie that didn't come from a box? If this gig works out, this blog is either going to get a lot more amusing or irate. Or both.

O...Kannst du Sehen...

I know you've all be checking the blog every 5 minutes to hear about Berlin's Azerbaijani fireworks. Well, a DC childhood comes complete with federally-funded fireworks that make even Manhattan's seem pathetic.
Nevertheless, the Azerbaijani himself was a riot and total pyromaniac. Check out his very appropriate party attire: an American flag Old Navy t-shirt. There was also an Uzbekistani guy who, lacking such a t-shirt, came toting an Uzbek flag and wearing an Uzbek flag shirt. But I'm not exactly the poster child for American patriotism, so.....why not? Anyway, sparklers ("wonder candles" auf Deutsch) have always been my favorite part of the 4th (picnic food aside, of course) and someone managed to scrounge up a few boxes. Here is Anne, my language partner, demonstrating the wonder! Of course there were a lot of bratwursts and an excellent coconut angelfood cake with strawberries and blueberries (the requisite red, white, and blue food) if I do say so myself.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Das Gute, das Minus und das Hässliche

The good, the bad, and the ugly of late:

THE GOOD: Early summer produce complete with a photo! Even though Poland is really close, the only produce I ever see from there are mushrooms (and this seems to be true all over Europe). But these were really good and not very expensive chanterelle-type (?) mushrooms that made an excellent pasta sauce with leeks and garlic. The red currants are Northern Europe's take on cranberries. My clients enjoyed (I hope) an almond-polenta pound cake with an apricot-red currant compote and sweetened mascarpone and then we celebrated Canada Day (why not?) with red currant pancakes with maple syrup.

THE BAD AND UGLY: I cannot recommend trying to buy hiking shoes on a Saturday in Germany. But, we are going hiking in the Alps next month and I have to buy shoes because the ones I walked across Spain in melted (long, sad story). Germans get really excited about hiking shoes so this was like watching pigs at the feeding trough when the slop is particularly yummy. (Disclaimer: mein Freund did not care for this analogy.) This is difficult for my American brain to compute as I find them all heinous, overpriced, and uncomfortable. Paying a lot for beautiful shoes is one thing, but ugly, clunky ones? The salesman rejected my shoe of choice. I had to ask over and over and over again for him to bring it. And then he finally brought it but 1-1/2 sizes too big. I tried it on to make sure, but then I had to tell him that he had brought the wrong size. He told me that it was in fact my size and that I was being "typically English." Finally I got so fed up, I told him I had to go have tea, but I don't think he understood.

Stay tuned for a report on the 4th of July a la Berlin. An American friend has planned a little BBQ complete with quasi-illegal Azerbaijani fireworks. It should be a good time unless we all get deported...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

die Gesichtsbehaarung

Did you know that there exists a World Beard Championship? Well, it's true. And it happens right here in the fine city of Berlin. If you can't make it to Berlin, you can still visit the website of "Beard Team USA": worldbeardchampionships.com. They seem to have a bit of a chip on their collective shoulder, though, noting that at the last Championships, the Germans won gold in 14 of the 17 categories (you know: FuManchu, Salvador Dali-style, etc., etc., etc.). Team USA notes that "the Germans' domination can be attributed to their superior organization and the large number of active and enthusiastic participants" and that they "made the rules, picked the venue, hosted the competition, picked the judges, defined the categories, etc." Anyway, if I have an extra 25Euros (a bit steep for facial hair, no?) come October, I just may head on down to root for my team. And remember gentlemen readers, according to these guys, "it is almost unpatriotic not to grow a beard or moustache and enter the competition."

I was impressed/disapointed in myself for writing a food-free entry, but then I started thinking about the sorts of beard-related snacks they could serve: mussels have beards until they're cleaned. Root veggies grow scraggily whiskers, etc. James Beard recipes? Incidentally, when I was little I thought Jeff Smith was James Beard because he had a beard......

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Condiment Blasphemy


Just back from a weekend trip to Rostock on the Baltic Sea -- a bit late for the anti-G8 protests, I know....but we did drive over to Heiligendamm so we saw the fence (now open) and the big resort-hotel (very impressive). Despite the fact that it's officially summer now, the water was too cold for swimming. For me at least -- the old East German men in baggy Speedos didn't seem to agree. It was fun to be so far north this time of year -- the sun didn't set until almost 11 (or 23 as they say in these parts)!

Anyway, I'll use this opportunity to discuss something that's been on my mind for a while now. Growing up, I was taught that it was wrong, wrong, wrong to put ketchup on bratwurst. My uber-tolerant mother even let it be known (ever so subtly) that she was not amused when I put ketchup on hotdogs. Now, bratwurst mostly came to the US with German immigrants, so I expected this rule to be in full force here. Come to find out that I am wrong, wrong, wrong again. It's not just that they put ketchup on their brats; I have discovered that Germans LOVE all condiments. It really doesn't matter what it is, any kind of sauce or spread is consumed in shocking quantities. (Note the "Mexican Sauce" and "Exotic Sauce" in the photo.) I guess traditional German food is on the bland side, but.... good brats are well, if mildly seasoned and eating them in ketchup soup....well, I didn't inherit the uber-tolerant gene so I guess it's good that my German abilities make me think twice about speaking at all.

Oh! I should also report that on the way there, we passed lots of cornfields.....I can't say for sure whether it's sweet corn (for eating on the cob), but I did remember the saying about how the corn should be knee-high by the fourth of July and it was about there, so maybe in a month or two my corn cravings will be satisfied....I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ich bin Kuchen

One thing that tickles me about German is that the word for cake (Kuchen) is (at least to my ears) a bit too similar to the word for female cook (Köchin). So, sometimes when someone asks me what I do, it sounds (to them) like I'm saying: I'm a cake....amusingly reminiscent of JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner"/"I am a jelly doughnut," no?

Anyway, I am a Köchin and today my tiny, no longer entirely imaginary, catering/private chef company made it's big debut. Not such a big debut, but lunch for 15 is enough for now, especially when you have to schlep everything from here to there. The event inspired a fair about of stress and there are about a million things I would do differently (including remembering to take pictures of my food for your viewing pleasure -- sorry! My beet salad really was picturesque...), but all in all, I guess it was not a total failure and nobody has called in with food poisoning yet, which is always good. I feel kind of like I gave birth today and am now unable to move or really think (though this may also have something to do with a 45km bike ride on Sunday after not having been on a bike in 15 years....). Anyway, during the job, two people wandered into the kitchen (which was in an office building) ooooh-ed and ahhh-ed and then asked for my contact info....and the job ended with the client asking me to do more cooking for her next week, so I can live with that. Sorry, enthusiasm has never been my strong suit. Now I just need to sleep for about 48 hours....then I can eat my weight in sauteed leeks, of which there are many leftover (it was a galette filling).

And on a totally unBerlin-related note: can we actually be expected to vote for someone with a Celine Dion song for her campaign song???!!! I mean, not only does she just really suck, but she's Canadian for fuck's sake. Joder (sorry, couldn't leave that one in Spain).

Friday, June 15, 2007

Vermisst im Kampf (in Berlin)



(In case you don't have your trusty online German-English dictionary handy, "vermisst im Kampf" means MIA, or missing in action.)

1. Why doesn't Europe have any screens? In general, it's a pretty nice place and it's not that I'm suggesting everyone go out and get a flat-screen and their own personal rocket, but do they really like living with gnats and flies? I know we're not likely to come down with a bout of Malaria anytime soon, but screens are a pretty simple, low-tech innovation that keeps bugs out and lets air and light in. There really aren't any downsides that I can think of. Yet another thing I do not understand.
2. And about those Rice Krispies, which I still cannot find, I just wanted to reiterate that I know they're not good. But they have much worse cereals here. If they can have Oger Mpfamps (which are pea green and somehow connected to Schrek), why can't they keep a few boxes of RK around? On that note, I was at a catered BBQ last night and got all excited when the grill chef pulled out a portable gas burner, a bag of marshmallows, and some skewers and started to roast them. Alas, he was never a small American boy and didn't have the slightest idea how one roasts a marshmallow. You can't really blame him, bless his little German heart, but he had the burner on high and was just scorching the outsides. Even if you're not a roast-slowly-until-golden-brown girl like I am, surely you can appreciate the importance of at least roasting it enough to melt it in the middle? I tried to explain the process to him, but either he didn't care (probably) or my broken German ("that is too heat, (rude informal) you must slower") didn't quite get the message across. Alas.
3. Why can't I pay with a credit card at the grocery store, or pretty much anywhere? I thought this was a major international center?
4. I know it's my choice, but I'd like to take a minute/line or 2 to mourn the fact that this is the second summer in a row in which I will eat not a single ear of fresh corn. Why does Europe import Oger Mpfamps but not grow sweet corn? Sad Becca. Please eat an ear for me. I can eat something German for you! Gooseberry, anyone? Oger Mpfamp?
5. My ability to spell. Someone actually signed my yearbook in 6th grade: you're a good speller. I've always that was odd to the point of being hysterical (that was the only nice thing she could think to write? isn't it better to go with "have a nice summer!" or maybe she was genuinely impressed with my spelling). Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I actually used to be an excellent speller. Then I learned Spanish and started dropping consonants where there should be two, etc. And now I find myself smooshing words together to make absurd compound words a la Deutsch. Help.

Of course there are nice things here, too. The rhubarb and asparagus are winding down, but the strawberries continue to be excellent. There are also fresh currants and red AND green gooseberries, I think. This is super cool, but also stressful because I don't really know what to do with them. I have my big Berlin catering debut next week and once that potential nightmare is behind me, I'll make my attack.

In other news, the Hamburg trip was cancelled at the very last minute, as one of our hosts is ill. It was a nice weekend in Berlin, though -- platter shopping at the flea market (my attempt to disguise my poverty as retro chic) for the aforementioned catering situation. And a daytrip to Werder Island -- only about 30 mins from here, famous for smoked fish and fruit trees. We ate a nice fish lunch overlooking the Havel River, visited an orchard museum, and then went for a dip in the Havel! If I hadn't forgotten my camera, you might have gotten to see some fuzzy images. Instead, here is a gooseberry tart!

Friday, June 8, 2007

die Ausländerbehörde


Well, the big news is that I am not going to be deported, but have been granted a 1-year language study visa. This entitles me to be in the presence of the glory that is Germany, but not to work or study anything but the language. Basically, I am allowed to exist here and can leave/enter the country as many times as I want. As far as I can tell, it's next to impossible to figure out which documents you need unless you have a nice German boyfriend to call and ask. You'd think they could post it on the website or something straightforward like that, but as I've mentioned before....the German efficiency thing is a big lie. Once you figure it out, though, the process is pretty simple if you can pull together all the documents. Unlike Spain, you don't have to spend the hottest day of the summer in Lower Manhattan spending $50 to prove that in the last 5 years you were never arrested and convicted of a crime.

Anyway, the bestest part of the experience was the cranky woman who bestowed me with the visa ... she said about 20 times (only a very mild exaggeration): why don't you just get married? Ummmmmmm ok. I prefer not to make major life decisions based on the advice of totally uninformed former East German officials who yell at my nice German boyfriend for thanking someone for letting him use a chair, but on the other hand, it would have saved us 60 euros (as she pointed out). The other really fun part was taking a picture for the visa. Do they have biometric passport photos in the US yet? This is a stupid machine that you must feed 7 euros and then it yells at you over and over again: DO NOT SMILE. Anyway, I have been receiving a lot of angry emails about the lack of photos in this blog. It's really just a reflection of my being technologically challenged, but I have persevered and here, for your viewing pleasure is an actual digital photo of my new, shiny visa. I know it's too small and fuzzy and sideways to really see, but that's for the best.

We are off to Hamburg this weekend to visit the godmother of mein Freund, or probably to her country home near Hamburg if the weather is good. Pray for eel soup, not more fake hollandaise sauce.......

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Bats, Democrats, and Sad Marshmallows

Berlin has a plethora of Opera/Classical Music/Theater so you can score good, cheap seats to most any thing. I picked Die Fledermaus because what sounds more amusing than a singing flying rodent (Fledermaus is bat auf Deutsch). As it turns out, it's not so much about a bat (alas), but it was still a good show. Anyway, it was better than our little picnic dinner, which involved a can of Bauerwurst (farmer's sausage or something to that effect) that someone gave mein Freund. Farmer's sausage sounds like it would be rustic and hearty and tasty, but it turns out to be the German spam. I tried to pretend it was pate and made baguette sandwiches dressed up with a nice horseradish-kohlrabi (one of my new discoveries) slaw and the first edible tomatoes of the season, but...it was to no avail. The baguettes here are also really pitiful.

In other news, last night I attended a meeting of the Berlin chapter of Democrats Abroad. I knew some people in Barcelona who were involved in this group, but back then I thought I'd only be gone for a year....which I guess is what all expats think, but as I continue to find myself outside American borders, I thought maybe I would go....see what it's all about, try to be a more informed, if distant citizen. And hey, maybe I would meet some nice people or potential clients. I really had to give myself a talking to about going b/c I was feeling pretty lazy and it was supposedly about to thunderstorm and I hate making small talk and I just didn't want to. But in the end, I yelled at myself a lot for not getting out there enough blah blah blah and so I went. First of all, the best thing about meetings is always the free snacks and everybody knows it. It was at a little German restaurant that looked pretty decent, but there were no snacks and I even had to pay for my own beer. Add that to the list of reasons it's hard to be a Democrat these days. I did manage to snag some good bread and herbed quark from someone else's bread basket. Anyway, it is a really, really good thing that I wasn't trying to meet cute guys at this meeting because everyone else was about three times my age. Seriously, most of these people have lived in Deutschland longer than I've lived on the planet. We listened to a presentation on global warming and then people who share the same opinion proceeded to argue with each other while simultaneously agreeing with each other. My favorite. I plead other plans and snuck out early. Made an excellent fresh peach milkshake at home..... so much for venturing out.

One final complaint: I stocked up on marshmallows at Amerika-Woche. I had big Rice Krispy Treat plans. Come to find out that Berlin/Germany is apparently a Rice Krispy-free zone. Maybe it was presumptuous of me to assume they'd have them here, but they've had them all the other places I've lived (the Spaniards were actually mildly obsessed with Rice Krispies covered in chocolate). They're probably the worst cereal we have, as you can't possibly eat them faster than they get soggy and the whole "snap, crackle, pop" thing isn't really all that amusing, but they have other bad cereals here, including Choco Krispies, which are surely worse. I know you can make Treats with other cereals, but if you're a Rice Krispy Treat virgin you can't have your first time be with Corn Flake Treats. So I'm on a mad search for puffed rice of some kind. Anyway, it's good to have a purpose in life.......

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Muppets take Deutschland


So, mein Freund comes from a small town on the Dutch border called Meppen (sounds like a Muppet character, no?) and this weekend we took advantage of Pfingswochenende or Pentecost -- the beginning of this word (the P-F part) is pronounced with a subtle ppppfffff sound, but I prefer to "Puh-Fuh" it, which I find highly amusing, though I can't say the German people are quite as tickled. Anyway, our train was delayed on the way there (I swear, the trains running on time thing, is just a rumor), but the cool thing was that when we missed our connection Deutsche Bahn (the German train people) paid for an hour-long taxi ride. If you've ever dealt with the humans (?) at Amtrak (let alone when you are wearing an arm cast bigger than your entire body and you are only wearing a tanktop in January in New York b/c you cannot get any substantial clothes over the ginormous cast and some moron got off in Philadelphia with your suitcase leaving you with a little more than a large bottle of cheap cologne), you know that this would never, ever come to pass. But this is supposed to be about the Fatherland, so.... Meppen is a very cute little town including a bar-club called New Jersey (because it's our coolest state and they know it), too many pizza places, pretty churches, etc. There are three rivers that flow about and lots of greenery and farmland. We went kayaking one day, which mostly involved mein Freund rowing and me getting uber excited and moo-ing/bah-ing loudly every 100 feet when we passed yet another cluster of calves/sheep (for whatever reason, only the sheep responded???). All in all, as I have been repeately told, Meppen is clearly the perfect place to be a small German boy. Anyway, it was a nice weekend with perhaps a bit too much of someone else's family and too many prepared mayonaisey or oily cream sauces, but I won't get into that or I'll get in trouble.

Unrelated: My computer is out to get me yet again -- I carried this machine across an ocean. It's a Mac for god's sake. It should know that it's an American computer. Why does it all the sudden think I speak German? Do I look/sound like I want to be immediately connected to Google Deutschland when I type in google.com (Sam, I need you to look into this STAT....oops, no pun intended (she's a statistician!) or Amazon.de? Just because I type in the ocassional German word or quasi-read the ocassional German newspaper article does not mean that I want to conduct all business auf Deutsch.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Amerikanish Berlin

You might think that I am homesick, so far away from my native land for so, so many months. I mean what's a girl to do when the local supermarket doesn't carry baking soda or cheddar cheese? But you needn't worry about me. It's all under control b/c it's Amerika-Woche (America Week) at Lidl, the local budget supermarket!

But first, I must tell you of the other extreme: European cities all seem to have these big department stores and for some reason they have food halls (ie, overpriced grocery stores). Most everyone agrees that Berlin isn't a food town, but the KDW is supposed to be this glowing exception. I had to go to the American consulate because I needed extra pages in my passport (this is, I think, my most impressive accomplishment to date, though to be honest it has mostly to do with having lived in stamp-happy Chile for a year). Side-note, the consulate is (at least temporarily, next to a circus and there a bunch of camels grazing about stinking up the American air). Also, everyone at the consulate tried to speak German to me. If American tax dollars pay your salary, and it says 'US Citizen Services" on the door to your office, please keep your Deutsch to yourself. Anyway, the consulate and the KDW are both on the west side of town, so I decided to swing by on my way home since I don't venture that way too often. Now, I tend to go in more for "ethnic" or fun specialty shops...and I knew that it would be the kind of place that has jars of jam for $15, but still... I had to go to see what I was missing. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the absurdity, the horor. Yes, uber-expensive jam and silly imported French pastries, etc. A nice, overpriced fish section (horrible monkfish flashback...) and a fun regional sausage section -- you have to love a regional sausage section, no?! But then, I came to the American section. Concord grape jam? Fancy Tex-Mex salsa? Key Lime juice? Sadly, no. The American section at the KDW, the supposed ulitmate gourmet experience in Berlin, has small tubs of crisco for 7 euros, ONE cand of old el paso refried beans for 6 euros, a single box of jello for 3 euros, a box of poptarts for 8 euros (And as I am all too aware, a euro is not the same a dollar). I could go on and on, but for god's sake, crisco is pretty much solidified liquid poison: 7 euros?! I was planning to bring mein Verliebte a special treat, but I was too appalled. I was basically frothing at the mouth and writhing around on the floor in a state of total appalledness, and all the other shoppers were oohing and ahing over the overpriced mediocre pasta, oil, herbed vinegar. It was all too much. I fled.

But then, a few weeks later, I was walking along and I went past Lidl, a grocery store that I don't usually shop in b/c it is a little gross and frighteningly cheap. I happened to notice the ads they had posted in the window, including one declaring that it is: Amerika-Woche! So, this is pretty much the funniest thing I've ever seen. First of all, everything sold is from the "McEnnedy" brand -- with a delightful red, white, and blue logo. Now, in their defence, some of the products being sold as part of "Amerika-Woche" are legit: marshmallows, peanutbutter, cornflake crumbs. Real Americans really these products. But others are just strange; is "Sandwich Sauce" something that has become a typical American food since I was last there and if so, what is it? I personally, wouldn't consider turkey curry pizza American or edible, but ??? I don't have anything against "gourmet quality" walnut oil, but I didn't know it was a typical American thing (though I guess we do grow a lot of walnuts). My favorite thing, though, is that you can buy a US mailbox! The silver kind that says US Post Marshall or something on the front and has a little red flag on the side. But the best part is that my entire shopping cart (multiple pkgs of marshmallows, peanutbutter, walnut oil, and pretty napkins for my upcoming 4th of July party cost about the same as a single can of refried beans at the KDW.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

wanderen oder besser, padelln

We have just celebrated May Day here....as in Workers of the World Unite. As I understand it, about 20 years ago with political tension all about, some punks broke into a grocery store...more and more people showed up and started stealing Bier (what else?).... the police came and then a big ol' spontaneous riot broke out. OK, I just checked on Wikipedia and that's not what it says, but that's what I was told by an actual Berlin resident and who really trusts Wikipedia anyway? So, now they have planned planned spontaneous riots, which strike me as rather absurb.....anyway I missed them b/c, outdoorsy girl that I am, went canoeing....a lovely 4-day trip in the lake district just north of here. We did have one day in which everything possible went wrong (proving yet again (as I am oft telling mein deusch Freund, much to his annoyance) that contrary to popular worldwide belief, the Germans are not really efficient, though they are thorough (pingelig!)) -- the bus didn't come and then the tram didn't come and then we had to change trains 3x in an hour, and I forgot the food (which I suppose I can't *really* blame on the inefficient Germans)...etc. But then the next 3 days were completely lovely and we didn't starve....lots of lilypads, cute diving waterbirds, some very good plum Kuchen, and an excellent smoked lake fish (sable? is this a lakefish?). I did get bitten on the eye by a spider causing my eyelid to swell to twice the size of my head and after the swelling went down a bit, causing me to look like a stroke victim, but that's all behind me now. The trip back was totally uneventful and we arrived just in time for a friend's May Day bbq (most of the apt buildings here have these amazing inner courtyards....perfect for bbqs and all sorts of fests).

Anyway, now that the "festivities" are behind us and I have written a pitiful paper on doner kebab (not requiring too much actual research, thankfully -- sorry Salley), my main focus is back to Deutschlernen (learning German).....which is a good project I suppose, but basically sucks as it is an absurd language in which there are a million rules, but never any clues and....... this is an actual, common word: Strassenbahnhaltestelleschild (I think that's right?) (neutral in case you were wondering -- German is also having a constant sexual identity crisis). How can anyone possibly learn a language with words like this (each w/ it's own gender or lack thereof as the case may be)???!!! This language make me seriously nostalgic for Catalan.

In any case, I am now taking a class at the adult ed center, which is a strange mix of kids like me (an au pair from Atlanta, an Australian who loves the clubbing scene here, a Latvian girl who moved for her (oddly) Spanish boyfriend) and kids not so much like me (a Serbian war refuge, a Ukrainian lured here by the promise of work and *almost* forced into prostitution, now taking part is some dangerous trial, a really smelly guy from Ghambia). So far my main accomplishment is scoring a seat far far away from the smelly Ghambian, but I am really closing in on memorizing the prepositions that indicate a need for the dative case.

Anyway, all is not so schlect, my German really is getting better and......spring is always fun and it is asparagus (big fat white ones!) season and Germany is full of rhubarb. There is much to be said against the food scene here (do not get me started on the "ethnic" restaurants), but anywhere with so much rhubarb can't be all bad. This week has also delivered the first local strawberries....which are tiny and amazingly flavorful. And, they have Turkish nisperos (loquats) here...one of my favorites from Spain...tiny new potatoes (in my opinion, Germany is only behind Portugal in terms of potato delectableness) and a plethora of excellent kuchen. Not to mention the Turkish griddle-cooked things that taste *exactly* like the Sonoran tortillas w/ Monterey Jack cheese that my grandmother in Tucson always made for me.

Hope you are enjoying die Frulingsfreunden in your Bezirk too.......

Monday, April 2, 2007

Brangelina


I know I just shared myriad observations of the Vaterlanders w/ you, but there is big news. If you aren't inclined to visit me b/c I am fun or have a hammock or know where all the good markets are held and on which days of the week and can (after just 2 weeks of Deutschkurs) ask for directions and have other basic, childlike conversations in German, or b/c it's spring and the biergartens are opening and there is an uber cute polarbear/Eisbar cub named Knut in the zoo here.....I could go on, but the point is this: there is a legitimate rumor that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and their Jungen are buying and apartment on my street. Don't all buy your tickets at once b/c there's only one hammock, but I thought it was my friend-ly duty to inform you that w/ just one plane ticket you might get all of my fun-ness plus Brad & Angelina. My plan is litter their door w/ ads for an organic/fair-trade babyfood-making private chef...... Then I can make my fortune by selling spoons that Brangelina have licked on eBay.

Really the only other news is that a jar of gefilte fish costs 12 euros here. I actually enjoy about 1/2 a gefilte fish (ball?) every year, but not for 12 euros. If I knew how to say carp in Deutsch I might try to make my own, but lacking both carp and a food processor.....well, don't visit for the gefilte fish.

EDITED: to include a photo of the hammock (after much harrassment)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Vaterland

After only a week here, there's not too much to report...just a few observations:
1. Germans make bread that you can leave to your children. Not that it's not good, but it's serious bread. I bought a half-loaf this week and the bag literally ripped when I picked it up. I think Germans must learn how to carry bread when they are small, but this info doesn't seem to have been transmitted in my genetic material. Anyway, it was worth it b/c it was really good and cheap and particularly yummy when spread with Nutella.
2. Ikea is pretty much the same here as at home, but the cafeteria/restaurant had a lot more options. The Swedish meatballs taste exactly the same here....I tried to instigate a meatball fight in the store, but my responsible boyfriend wouldn't play along. I thus claim victory. Seriously, I had never noticed how Ikea is full of young couples buying disposible furniture and really bad kitchen equipment to begin their cohabitations. It was pretty fun. Or maybe I was just high on being crowned Swedish meatball fight queen.
3. I look like I speak German, but I don't. I find this embarrassing even though I know it's not really my fault. Nobody's born speaking German. I begin a frighteningly large # of conversations by admitting this and wishing I could tell them that I'm not one of *those* Americans. I actually speak other languages besides English. I'm worldly, I swear. Sorry, I'm feeling particularly sensitive about this b/c I got yelled at by this woman at a German school (if I was there, you might conclude I'm trying to learn German) for not speaking German. Sigh......
4. They have flavored buttermilk here (like yogurt). I was all excited, but it turned out to taste just like liquidy/drinking yogurt at home.
5. They eat pancakes for dinner, not breakfast. Not dessert, dinner.
6. Germans are really into qualifications. For example, you can't even cut hair w/o going to school for 3 years and thus becoming qualified/certified. My haircutter (no mullet!) was shocked to believe that in the US you can get a job cutting hair just by being good at it.
7. I can't find baking soda. The baking powder and the closest thing they have to vanilla extract comes in packets.....which is all well and good, but what do you do if you don't use a whole packet, which you usually don't.
8. Apparently dachsunds are on the decline in Deutschland. I'm not sure if they are counting both bearded and regular dachsunds, but either way, it was in the paper. (On the same day, they reported that there's been a surge in the racoon population. ???)
9. There are a lot of poppyseeds here......not so many hamantashans, but I can fix that. Finding matzo for Passover will be another issue........