Friday, November 30, 2007


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... 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: