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": 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, 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.......