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...