Thursday, November 6, 2008

Meine Job ist der Hammer

I've decided that I have the best job ever. And I´m not just talking about the job I can´t write about (WinkWink) fabulous though it may be, but also about my intermediate gig, which involves making lunch for a film company here. Seriously, you should all quit your jobs and try to steal mine. Work isn't always so grand, for sure, but lately things have been working and it is great. Yes, there is a crazy lot of schlepping. And there are insufficient elevators in Europe, from what I have observed, which is all well and good and helps encourage us to move about and save energy and whatnot, except when you are carrying lunch for fifty and you are prone to back pain. My back along with other bits of me are in fairly serious pain. I spend too much time in my (job-provided!) car these days as the studio is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay on the other side of Berlin (good for listening to NPR pre-during-and post-election coverage, though)...there is way too much construction everywhere so I am eternally waiting in traffic or trying to find a parking place within decent schlepping range of my apartment. And then there´s the stress of trying not to destroy a car that does not belong to me. Also the kitchen they have me working in is the worst kitchen ever. I know all chefs say that no matter where they work, but we are not talking small walk-in or no windows here. I am cooking in the office kitchenette....every morning when I get there, it is a disaster from the work-late crowd...there is no secure storage space and the mini fridge floods. I have only a weenie electric stove (the fact that New York is chock full of gas stoves is only one indication of its superiority over Berlin) and the oven is small by Euro standards. In these parts, ovens come with pans that you slide in like the racks in American ovens. This oven is missing the original pan and the replacement one doesn't quite fit, which means that if you put anything heavy on it (three kilos of Schinkenbraten (German cousin of pork roast) for example), it crashes to the bottom of the oven repeatedly, splashing it's nice bath of wine and broth EVERYWHERE. Also the workers, who are seriously really nice (with the exception of two people: one woman who complains about cooking smells and is then totally piggy at mealtime (she doesn´t seem to connect the extremely delicious smells with the opportunity for her to be piggy) and this other moron who upon discovering that I am American (and proud, especially this week!) proclaimed: "an American who can cook, impossible!" He then gave me a mini-lecture on how bad the food is in the US. I told him he could eat upstairs with the German cook (see comments below about German cooks), are constantly coming into the kitchen to make themselves a snack. I am definitely pro-snack, but the kitchen is the size of a closet.....

That was a lot of whining for what I have proclaimed to be the best job ever (at least currently...knock on wood), but really it is. I have no boss so nobody tells me what to do or acts like a crazy, senile Polish man (subtle reference to my editing job in New York). I get to cook anything I want...and because I don't make the same boring German things intermixed with the German interpretation of Asian food (as previously mentioned, in this line of thinking Asia is one big land where the people eat endless bowls of greasy noodles with bits of carrot and scary meat), they all think I´m remarkably creative. And because this particular crowd was subject to a German cook for a while and then abandoned by him, they are so greatful that I´m there.....they are constantly thanking me and telling me how delicious everything is. Also the German cook upstairs doesn´t ever make dessert. I ALWAYS make dessert (I am even more pro-dessert than pro-snack) and this makes everyone really love me. This is a (potential) big upside about personal cheffing: your clients are right there in your face. If things turn out well, everyone is happy and lets you know (unless they are like the Hollywoods and programmed to complain no matter what. alas.). On the other hand, when your Schinkenbraten is a little dry (I could try to blame the oven-from-hell, but....) you don't have the nice door between the kitchen and dining room or a waiter to act as buffers. Luckily the blue cheese potato salad and blue-ish sweet-and-sour cabbage (this was my blue-themed election day lunch....) were delicious and somewhat made up for the slightly over-cooked pork(barrel) and there were chocolate chip cookies to wash it all down (dessert makes ending on a positive note all the more easy). Someone else comes to clean the kitchen when I'm done(!) and I get to drive home(did I mention they pay for my gas, too!?) awash in all the thank yous and compliments. Remind me to revisit this post when/if the Hollywoods strike again.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Viele Grüße aus irgendwo in Berlin

Very sorry to have been missing in action for a little while there (though it was an excellent way to find out just who actually reads this thing). I have a new client ... and while so far (knock on wood) everything is going swimmingly, it has kept me far, far away from my computer. Anyway, here I am with a few days off and a little more sleep under my belt, so I thought I'd say hi (if anyone is still out there) and make a few random observations and updates.

1. 2. A few weeks back, before the chaos really set in, mein Mann and I along with BR and ihr Mann und Wunderkind made a spontaneous trip to Browdowin, a self-proclaimed Ökodorf or organic village (a source of much of Berlin's organic milk and such). While very cute there was not all that much Öko in evidence, but nonetheless it was a very refreshing change of scenes and we did snag (not personally) some fresh eggs from the hens living behind our rental apartment, which made for an excellent breakfast. There were also lots of neglected apple trees and while there (and around the restored ruins of the nearby Chorin monastery, we picked a serious lot of apples (considering that we had to carry them home sans vehicle). In one of my rare Martha Stewart moments, I turned the bulk of them into apple butter, which will make it's big debut next May at the Hochzeit. (This is supposed to be added incentive for US-based guests to make the trek (those of us planning destination weddings (sort-of) during the worst economic crisis since the Depression have to do all we can do...).

2. In the midst of the height of my chaos, Diana stopped by to sleep on our cold floor (some day we'll have a guest room or at least a human-length sofa), run the marathon really fast, run errands with me (these days I go to more grocery stores every day than some people visit in an entire month), eat Kaffee und Kuchen at the Literaturhaus cafe, and save mein Mann from an endless succession of Abendbrot.

3. It's not that I have spent more time in the kitchen than anyone, but I have put in a few hours in my day so I don't know how this has escaped me. In any case, I've just noticed that my apron when worn backwards (untied) is almost a cape (for some reason, I started swinging it behind me when refastening my belt after using the facilities). This is perhaps silly and random information, but I have found it very cheering to meet my superhero self (in the mirror) every so often during a long, stressful day (like I say, the job is *so far* very positive, but not without it's share of stress and sleepless nights). There's to be no photographic evidence of my current employment, so you will just have to imagine me making superhero poses in the bathroom mirror.

4. In other, more mundane news, I have successfully (I think) battled the German insurance system and won (knock on wood) so that I am now an official member of the public system (as opposed to the stupid and equally confusing private system). I know the US is falling apart at the seams, but note to Hopefully-Soon-President Obama: any system so complicated that the industry itself can't understand or keep up with the changes (I kid you not) is not the one we need to be copying. I've also paid my taxes twice now (does it not seem excessive that they make small business owners pay taxes every single month here?!) and officially registered (because I had to) that I am a heathen and have no official religion (and if I did, why would I want to tell the German government about it? German history doesn't define my personal/current experience here, but this is asking a little much for someone with my ancestry, no?). The religion people also wanted to know the address from the house where we lived when I was born. Germans actually keep this sort of information (and store it in funny Euro 2-hole binders) and can bring it forth when called upon. I'm sure I could find out if I tried, but seriously, I only lived there for 6 months ... not quite long enough to start keeping records. And what can this possibly have to do with my religion or lack thereof?

Anyway, it is back to the trenches for me, but I will try to visit with you again soon!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Zweijähriges Früstrück

It has been a while and the combination of technical difficulties (spilled water on my keyboard as is my way), lack of camera (mein Mann's camera specializes in blur), a couple failed summer adventures, and a bit of work-related stress are my medley of excuses. I bring you now just a few images. Heart-shaped Egg-in-a-Hole for an anniversary breakfast (it being a well-known fact that eggs taste better in holes and especially when the hole is heart shaped).

And, one of my favorite sites in Berlin: the grillwalker. These guys roam the city selling Bratwurst cooked on portable grills that they wear around their waist. It seems risky in multiple ways...wearing fire for one., but I am nonetheless always amused when I see them....

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Die Ukraine: zufallsbedingt

A week in the Ukraine is possibly not everyone's idea of a dream vacation (possibly not even mine). A trip to the Ukraine is good for making you really happy to be back in Berlin. That said, there were many highlights (mixed in with a few dark moments that in hindsight are actually rather amusing).
Kiev is particularly lovely at dawn/dusk, when its many, many, many golden-domed churches glow in the setting/rising sunlight. Both Kiev and Odessa (we took the night train down) have some remarkable architecture. It's often falling apart, but still makes for some good urban wandering. Kiev is home to the world's deepest subway station (sidenote: the subway (and train) stations have amazing chandeliers, mosaics, etc. and they play loud patriotic music in them: really odd and hysterical): it takes 4.5 minutes to get above ground from the station. And for those of you who rate a vacation based on how tan the vacationer is at the end, well....Ukraine isn't quite the Caribbean, but Kiev has (very polluted) river beaches (we ate shish kebob, drank vodka, and listened to synchronized Russian pop music) and Odessa has ... the (less polluted) Black Sea (if you get off the night train before 6 AM like we did, you can have a picnic breakfast on the beach and watch the older crowd swim, do calisthenics, and drink cheap beer out of soda bottles. Later, when the sun is fully risen, the microminiature bikini/speedo crowd takes over (less calisthenics, but same beer).

We found a few surprisingly good museums - my favorite was the Museum of Microminiature at the Kievo-Pecherska Lavra (monastery, where incidentally I was forced to wear my sweater on my head and my travel towel as a skirt over my jeans so that I might be allowed to see some mummified Russian Orthodox priests who are apparently still in denial that women have hair and legs. This is actually somewhat ironic considering that the going fashion among my Ukrainian contemporaries was in an altogether different know, micro-miniskirts, more cleavage than shirt, and 4-inch stilettos (often the cheap, plastic-y kind ... never mind the sad condition of the sidewalks in Ukraine). Totally unclear what the Microminiature Museum has to do with Russian Orthodoxy, but it was full of very small objects that you had to view through a microscope, including a flea fitted with golden horseshoes, a guitar-like instrument with strings one-fortieth the width of a human hair, etc. It was highly amusing.

As I mentioned, there were some less good times...such as, for example returning to our apartment in Kiev to find that they had changed the locks. This turned out to be mostly a misunderstanding, but because of certain cultural differences, most Ukrainians come across as extremely rude and unhelpful to Americans (and their very friendly Mann), rarely smiling or thanking anyone and certainly not going out of their way to help two panicking foreigners. When you think you might have to sleep on the street, it's challenging to remember that this is a cultural difference and not a blatant, nation-wide attempt to make you crazy. Also, very few people speak English (not saying they should, it's Ukraine, not the US ... just that it makes traveling for people like me more challenging) and there is a serious lack of street signage...You may remember that I first took up with mein Mann (in part) because he was in the army and is good at reading maps and jumping out of planes. Ok, we didn't jump out of any planes, but he was able to decipher cyrillic after trying for about 2 minutes and he has a killer sense of direction. He is useful and I think I will keep him.

I'd like to say that I did as good a job navigating the food scene, but ... Ukraine is not one giant Veselka (Ukrainian diner near my first apartment in NYC). This is not to say that we didn't find any treats. I am a sucker for anything with poppyseed filling and we had some poppyseed buns that were way more filling than bun. This was, I must mention, the ONE time we found a bakery in all of our 7 days there and in all fairness, it wasn't really as bakery as they were not baking there, but they did have a wide selection of fresh baked goods. Other days, I had to wander around until I could find a kiosk where they sold usually stale bread products. Very odd. Anyway, I'm also a big fan of Ukrainian pickles - mostly cucumbers, eggplant, and green tomatoes. They are garlicky and I intend to buy some here at the Russian store on Torstrasse. We had excellent blini (with cabbage and prunes or with mushrooms from a little hut in a park in Kiev and less excellent, but more opulent blini with caviar for our farewell (to Ukraine) dinner). Some decent borscht, varenyky (the cherry-filled ones are my new favorites), and a cheesecake-like concoction. There were a few good picnics - one particularly delicious stuffed eggplant that I bought at the market in Odessa (the biggest open-air market in the former USSR, I might add) and an excellent smoked mackerel (from the same market). I guess it's just that the bad meals were so bad..a Georgian meal I will not bother to discuss and all the dry breakfasts, etc. Also, it's just sad to be this excited about German coffee.

Finally, if anyone is still reading, I will leave you with one of my favorite images from our trip: the vodka selection in the grocery store in Kiev: Seriously, they have an entirely separate aisle for other kinds of alcohol.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Der Unabhängigkeitstag

We had such a nice BBQ planned for the Fourth of July -- Berlin is full of parks and in many of them you can bring your own grill and have a cookout. I made star-shaped stracciatella meringue cookies with red, white, and blue sprinkles. I even tracked down sparklers so we could have a mini fireworks show. The weather has been perfect for the last several days: high 70s, blue skies with only a few picturesque puffy, white clouds. But we woke up this morning to thick gray skies and a precipitous drop in the temperature. And then it started to rain and didn't stop all day. As I wasn't invited to the opening of the US Embassy here, we dragged ourselves across the park to The Bird (an "American Steakhouse and Bar" - really an "authentic" American Burger joint, where they charmingly have "angry hour" instead of happy hour (so-named, I must conclude because the American staff there is trying (and succeeding) to outdo the famed Berlin rudeness) and declare that soft drinks and juice are available for "sissies"). It wasn't the most festive of Fourths, but at least the burger and fries were good. And, as we were traipsing back through the park, the Embassy was setting off their fireworks. We stood on the hill and watched the show (I provided a concert of patriotic (American) songs sung loudly and seriously out of tune for all within earshot).

So now that we've made what we could of this rainy Fourth of July, we are off to Ukraine. Why? (everyone asks): for a week of vacation or honeymoon number one (as I like to see it). We will try to avoid the radioactive berries and mushrooms, eat as many varenyky as possible, and possibly find out what all is fuss is (or was) about Chicken Kiev. Details to come......

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gewerbe anmelden: Lektionen gelernt

Things I have learned/confirmed in the process of legally setting up a business in the Fatherland:
1. Germany has so many rules, even the bureaucrats (rule-imposers) themselves don't know them all. According to one agency, Americans (like me) aren't technically allowed to register a business (regardless of the size) until after three years of marriage (and here I am, only a month and a half in...). I could get all worked up and irate about this particular rule (overlooking the tiny fact that mein Mann, who one might point out, is married to an American, has to register online if he wants to visit my homeland...sigh), but suspecting that the agency charged with registering businesses might let me slide by (because I'm so nice? because if they don't let me do it the(ir) "right" way, I'm just going to find another way - there's always another way here?), I went down to the office of business registration last week, filled out the form, presented my passport complete with shiny new 3-year marriage-related visa and handed over 26 Euros and low and behold, the woman in charge of food-related businesses couldn't have cared less if I was American.
2. Don't believe what they tell you: the insurance system isn't any better here. At least not if takes you (like it does me) an entire day to read the fine print on insurance company publications. You can, however, get liability insurance for your dog. I wonder, does it cost more for terriers? (Is this common in the US?)
I know the photos of my (parents') dogs are not entirely relevant here, but...they are cute, nein?

3. Even though they have a crazy lot of rules regarding safe food handling, they make almost no effort to enforce them. I've never been certified in the US, but I am pretty sure there's a test you have to pass to become certified. In Deutschland, all I had to do was watch a movie (think health class), in which some guy got food poisoning from eating in the restaurant where he worked (!) and then proceeded to wretch and writh around for 20 or so minutes. Then, I had to sign something saying I had watched it and was in good health (apparently if you don't attest to having been healthy during education movie-watching (and also test-taking) scenarios, you can later say: hey! I was sick, that's why I failed, so now they make you attest to it). The best part, though, is that because I don't have a boss to sign my certification form, I'm supposed to sign my own form and review the material with myself every year. I'm not complaining, I didn't want to take a test in German, but it does seem a little lax, no?
4. More lessons to come ... no doubt

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Essbar Frühling (und Mauer)

Just to prove that there is (sometimes) more to life than bargain basement grocery stores here, I share with you a photo from a dinner party/exercise in cooking with others from a few weeks back. Inspired by springtime, three of us gathered at the local organic market and set about finding the makings of dinner. I'm generally a fan of benevolent dictatorships when it comes to deciding what's for dinner, but we overcame the complications of joint-shopping/cooking and made it home with a shopping cart laden with spring delights and a menu plan in mind. Alas, I did not manage a picture of our wild lettuces/greens with lemon vinaigrette, but it really was (for me anyway) the highlight of the meal. We got dandelion and nettle and a host of other lettucey things and edible blossoms. It was a tangled mess of shades of green from pale to purpley ... much more interesting and delicious than the same old "mixed greens" you always see (well, not in these parts, but stateside anyway) and certainly a gigantor step above the fatherland's beloved iceberg with prepared (preservative-laden) dressing. We also made orecchiette by hand to go with a spring veggie ragout: pancetta, artichokes and favas (shown here!), asparagus and purple-hued spring onions ... lots of lemon zest and splashes of wine and cream. I must admit the pasta was just a bit on the heavy side, but all in all, the dish was really, quite tasty. End-of-rhubarb-season panic had set in, so we (still basking in the deliciousness of our previous rhubarb tatin) settled on rhubarb clafouti, which the British among us enjoyed with a nice splash of heavy cream.

We've been having a quiet weekend over here (try starting the most very simplest of businesses in Germany and your head will also spin so much that you can't see straight enough to leave the apartment (pity mein Mann: he gets to go to work all week and then come home and help me decipher this nonsense). But, in case your head is fine and you happen to be in the neighborhood tonight and looking for something food-related to do: eat the wall! This is some bizarre and hysterical art-related event in which artists have been invited to make edible bricks (I wonder if they have valid food handlers certificates like me!?). The bricks will be used to build a wall (a la the Berlin Wall, they suggest) and tonight "we will eat our way through the divide in a grand communal catharsis." Somehow this doesn't sound so much yummy (or effective) as scary, but....if you do go, post back and let us know about the catharsis!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Spiel mit deinem Essen!

As (food) shopping (basically the only kind I practice) goes, Lidl (a fairly down-market grocery store chain) doesn't provide for the most satisfying experience: the place smells funny (like rotten chemicals), the food is frighteningly cheap, and though I lack a television, I'm told there are constantly stories about employee mistreatment (a la Wallmart), etc. Still, if you remember last year's Amerika-Woche (America Week - actually an anual event), you might remember how hysterical the place can be. Every week or so they have a different theme (various countries, grilling, beachtime, etc.) and temporarily sell a few related products (both food and random junk). Apparently Lidl is about to host or throw or sponsor (I'm fuzzy on the details) some sort of soccer event and thus, has all these bizarre soccer thingies. My favorite is this package of hard-boiled eggs decorated like soccer balls!
And the most disgusting offering (by far): "black, red, and yellow" (the German colors) marinated sausages for grilling (I keep telling you how much the Germans love to grill?)

Other delights include soccer ball-shaped sugar packets, sprinkles in the colors of major European soccer countries (Germany, France (star-shaped fourth of July cookies!), or Italy (aka Christmas colors)), or soccer ball chocolates that come in a little cardboard playing field with a little plastic player... like Foosball only, less functional!

And while we're talking about Lidl, I just used my last bag of marshmallows (leftover from Amerika-Woche last year) for a batch of Rice Krispy Treats (thanks to the recent acquistion of Rice Krispies and other things I can't find in the Fatherland when the 'rents were here earlier this month). Maybe it's because my German has gotten so much better, but this time I noticed the highly comical instructions for how to make s'mores (including how many centimeters to hold the marshmallow away from the heat source and a warning (Achtung!) not to let children eat the hot marshmallow before it cools for three (I think that's what they specified - I've already thrown away the bag!). Anyway, the Germans found the Rice Krispy Treats highly amusing ... if not highly delicious (but they taste like American childhood to me, so I'm happy to have them for myself!).

Monday, May 19, 2008

Do the Heirat! (und der Einbruch)

It took me a long time to come to terms with my civil ceremony marriage. I thought I was more level-headed (and so I've been told), but officially getting married months before our actual wedding (as many Germans do), felt wrong and certainly didn't match up with any of the (admittedly Hollywood-originated wedding images in my head). We were getting married for all the good old-fashioned reasons, but with my visa running out, we had to be about it. Scheduling the marriage to suit the Auslaenderbehorde (Foreigner's Bureau -- If crankier, less helpful people exist, I don't want to know about it) may not sound romantic, but I think you'll agree getting deported would have been even less so. (Full disclosure: the other option was to pretend to enroll in one of the local universities: expensive, and it's not as if I need another degree I won't use...). In the end, I've come to view getting married as a process, which whether I like it or not, is the way it is here. We did the marriage part, but haven't had the wedding yet. It still sounds funny to my American ears, but I'm no longer losing sleep (embarrassing, I know...) over how many weddings we'll need to organize on how many different continents (Allison suggested we could pen our own chick lit novel, "Never a Bridesmaid, Three Times a Bride") and exactly what each of them should mean. Anyway, the civil ceremony, conducted in the shadow of Berlin's famous TV tower was surprisingly nice for a government-mandated affair. I find it highly amusing that they pay someone to conduct these ceremonies ... sort of like religious services without god in an office setting with slightly nicer furniture and light fixtures. The godless priest/minister/rabbi also spoke crazy fast and thanks to my slightly fluttery state, I couldn't tell you what she said to to save my life, though I do remember she recited a poem that I couldn't understand. I have to add that it seems on the cruel and unusual side to have to sign documents written in a foreign language during your the ceremony. I've possibly sold myself into white slavery...I really don't know. I do, however, have relatively full recall of the after-picnic (I'm always tuned into what matters): we retired to the closest green spot, a churchyard across the street where we drank delicious sparkling Riesling alongside a selection of fairly ugly sample gravestones, and enjoyed a few nibbles snagged during a marathon Saturday market session -- pictured here (and look, I got a nephew - the kid picnics with the best of them) and the perfect spring weather. In the evening, we had a little family and witnesses (unflowery German version of maid of honor/best man) gathering at home ... cold side of salmon and grilled spice-rubbed pork loin with tzatziki sauce, arugula salad with grilled marinated mushrooms and shaved Parmesan, asparagus vinaigrette, potato salad with herbed homemade lemon mayo, rolls, and strawberry shortcake. All's well that ends well, but let's just say this was good reminder that catering your own party is not the same as catering someone else's party ...

If Tuesday was the high point of the week, Friday might have been the low. I returned home to find bash marks on our front door and that the key no longer worked. I called mein Mann (formerly known as mein Freund) who ran home, and the neighbor helped us bash in he door (which hadn't really been locked, but slammed extra hard). Who knows what the perpetrator thought when s/he burst into our studio apartment adorned with at least seven bouquets of flowers (the Germans are into flowers and we were given a lot this week), but s/he took a fancy to my relatively new laptop (though not to my passport or (new, borrowed, and old) civil ceremony jewels, which were lying in plain sight) (or to the fridge full of tasty civil ceremony party leftovers). I was going to take a picture of my bashed in door, but then I realized my camera was missing. Hmmmm. The camera was so prone to bouts of nonfunctioning, I *almost* pity whoever ends up with it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Heitraten: Kein Witz

I wasn't sure whether or not to write about this whole wedding/marriage thing here, it can get a little "fluffy" (for lack of a better word), but there are just to many oddities in the process here, I can't keep it all to myself. Up to now, I have had to swear twice (first, way across town at the US consulate to the tune of $30) that I am not currently married (the consulate gave me a certificate and threw in the fact that I'm not a member of the armed services, which is true, but I didn't swear it like they say I did). Despite demanding this certificate (charmingly titled, the Certificate of Eligibility, which sounds like it should list how many camels I'm worth, no?) the German Standesamt or Bureau of Status made me re-swear it (mein Freund didn't have to swear even once....). We also had to attest to the fact that we are not each other's parents or (half-)siblings, though the Official commented that seeing as how we are from different countries, this was unlikely (???). Anyway, my favorite part of the Standesamt is the xeroxed article they have posted on the wall, telling of an Austrian (same-same, but different) civil ceremony in which the bride jokingly answered no when asked if she took this man...The ceremony was therefore postponed for 10 days! At the bottom of the sign is noted: "This applies to Germany too!"
As a foreigner, my documents had to undergo a special inspection, which the efficient Germans completed in less than half the time promised (got to give credit where credit's due). It's hard to believe, but either they missed the teeney discrepancy in my birth certificate (long boring story) or didn't care. In sum, after all the swearings and paying of various fees based on my lack of official income, and being inspected, we have now been cleared to wed by the German government (only the official ceremony, the real fun comes later)...assuming we can both keep a straight face.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Apologies to my few loyal readers for the little pause here. Much has happened, but not not all of life lends itself to blogging. In any case, here and now for your viewing pleasure...

A friend left a bottle of elderberry syrup at my apartment after our last party and while it is delicious splashed into sparkling wine (Sekt as they say in these parts) and I do plan to drastically up my consumption of such beverages in the coming year and a half or so (it's my duty being recently engaged and all (or verlobt as they say in these parts)(serious apologies if I should have told you in person or personally via email -- I have been far away from Miss Manners (and probably you) for a while now)), I must admit that I prefer my Sekt/Cava/Champagne (call it what you will) straight up. I made a half-hearted effort to return the bottle of syrup to its owner, but she politely refused. To make long story short, the syrup (diluted ever so slightly) joined up with some leftover agar agar to became these pretty (if a bit toothy (I'm still figuring out the proper agar agar to liquid ratio) gelees.

And! The first rhubarb of the season: getting reading to be cooked into compote (a requisite springtime granola accompaniment).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Eine Rose mit eine andere Füllung

Some of you may recall the Great Poppyseed Hamantaschen Craving of 2005-6. Those were dark days: Barcelona while culinarily plentiful in many ways, is severely lacking in the poppyseed department). Poppyseeds and especially poppyseed-filled desserts are easily found अरेin the Vaterland (though I've yet to find a match for the Eastern Market bakery poppyseed hamantaschen (with just a hint of almond extract in the crust) -- alas the market burned down a year or two ago!) Anyway, with Purim taking place this week, I had hamantaschen on the brain and was really excited to spy these cookies in a bakery in Essen last weekend. They looked exactly like my beloved hamantaschen, but I couldn't be sure of the filling? Prune or Poppyseed?! They turned out to be filled with a date-marzipan mixture, which although delicious, is no match for the concentrated nutty poppyseediness of poppyseed filling (to be honest, the crust in this cookie is just a vehicle for the filling). Despite Hamantaschen's German name (meaning Haman's pockets), these were labeled as Kapuziner as in the Capuchin order of monks (and nuns, I think???) just like cappuccino, both so named for their supposed similiarity in shape to the Capuchin monk's hoods. Wikipedia says that the name Hamantaschen is popularly believed to be "a reference to Haman ... the villain of Purim, as described in the Book of Esther. A more likely source of the name is a corruption of the Yiddish word מאן־טאשן (montashn) or the German word mohntaschen, both meaning poppyseed-filled pouches. Over time, this name was transformed to hamantashen, likely by association with Haman." In any case, if you want to be cool, and you can limit yourself to a single cookie, you should refer to it as a hamantasch (the hamantaschen is plural)...just in case you are celebrating Purim with some German grammar fanatics.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Der Frühjahrsputz: Löffeltrüffel

My third attempt to find Berlin's food-obsessed side by inviting the city into my apartment took place last Saturday. I must admit to a bit of (continued) frustration with these events, with this city...I know my interest in food is extreme and don't expect everyone on the planet to share it, but when you have parties that are blatantly all about the food, it's somewhat discouraging when the majority of party-goers aren't really there for the food (or maybe they are and I'm confused/a snob). I've felt the frustration in other cities before, but I find fewer outlets for my obsession (passion is a nicer word, no?) here. Still, GrubBerlin is new and has already opened some interesting doors leading to some remarkable people. It has also been a place for me to try out recipes and a good excuse to make things that require something of an occasion/crowd (last time's cocktail tamales, zum Beispiel). In any case, this weekend's crowd was slightly smaller than usual(not entirely a bad thing in terms of elbow room or my ability to talk to everyone) due (at least partially) to a quaint Euro-style transit strike we're experiencing. Our theme was "Spring Cleaning," with the idea that
we cook based on what's in our cupboard...Lucky girl that I am, I received a little envelope of vanilla salt (as in salt with vanilla bean seeds) for mein Geburtstag. I really wanted to make ceviche, but as Berlin isn't exactly the shellfish capital of the world, I settled on chocolate caramel truffles with vanilla salt (based on this recipe from Bon Appetit. I must say they were quite tasty, but I cooked the caramel for about ever and even after a good while in the shoe box that is my freezer, couldn't get it firm enough to form balls. I could have resolved this dilemma with lots of glamour if I had a collection of about 50 pretty silver coffee spoons. Alas, I do not, and after throwing a nice little kitchen fit, which mein Freund has mostly learned to ignore, made chocolate caramel spoon truffles with vanilla salt....which worked perfectly fine. Now, what to do with my remaining vanilla salt....should I rework the truffles because they were really so yummy or make something else exciting?! Ideas please!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Einjähriger mit Pumpernickel

It's hard for me to believe it, but today is the one-year anniversary of my relocation to Germany. I certainly never imagined that I'd be living the life I'm living (in Germany of all places!). I could go on about the things I can do now, have seen over the past year, have adjusted to, have still not adjusted to, etc., but I'll just summarize by saying that mein Deutsch has grown from about 50 words (we counted (and most of them also exist in English)) to more than I can can count (especially if you include the words I can understand, but can't remember when I need to say them). I have developed a particularly good food vocabulary (seriously, I sometimes have to translate the menu for mein Freund) and a pretty good map of which "exotic" ingredients can be bought at which random stores...but many things still puzzle me. For example, this package of pumpernickel bread. There is plenty of good bread here, so I don't entirely get these little packages, which last for months, but I do generally understand the idea behind the use of sex in advertising. Only, I've mostly seen it used on/for products that are associated (logically or not) with sexiness: cigarettes, chocolate, perfume....I don't understand the connection to pumpernickel bread at all. Anyway, I guess the fact that I don't even begin to understand the logic behind this packaging is proof that there are still many things I don't understand about the Vaterland....

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Meine Deutsche Küche

So, I've stumbled into a bout of German cookery. I always intend to cook German, but rarely get around to it, but some lingering barley and a perusal of a German cookbook from mein Freunds Mutter (Die echte deutsche Küche) led to a batch of Pomeranian Barley Soup. It's actually a very nice cookbook chock full of regional specialties with nice photos, but I haven't made all that many of the recipes. Last year during Asparagus Season, I made Spargel mit Kratzete, which is cooked white asparagus and sliced ham with what are basically shredded crepes/pancakes (I told you they eat pancakes for dinner here). Anyway, it was cold last week and I wanted to use up the barley and the soup appealed. In addition to barley, it has your basic German soup veggies (carrots, celery, onions, leek, celery root, and parsley root) plus prunes stewed with a pinch of sugar, lemon peel, and cinnamon. Not something I use in all my soups, but it also had pork, which goes with prunes and other sweet things like apple sauce, fruit chutney, and bbq sauce. Said pork was specifically 500 grams of gepokelte Rippchen, which are pork ribs that have been cured/salted ... I think the literal translation is corned (as in beef). So after three or four butchers didn't have gepokelte Rippchen (and mein Freund told me that the word was frightening close to boogered ribs) (and another friend told me that nobody has used gepokelte Rippchen since before World War I, I settled on a different, but hopefully similarly salty, porky product and proceeded to make the soup. In my own defense, mein Freund, who is proudly German really liked the soup (perhaps a weak defense because Germans seem to eat most things). It wasn't quite bad, it just reminded me of eating rice pudding (the barley combined with the cinnamony stewed prunes) with veggies and pork.

Perhaps Pomerania isn't my favorite region (though I'm not quite ready to write it off) so I proceeded to make another German(-inspired) dish (courtesy of Deborah Madison): braised turnips. I meant to make this some time during the week, but other leftovers took precedence and somehow this became dinner for visiting Diana. As luck would have it, Diana is the sort of visiting friend who doesn't mind (and is possibly even amused) if you serve her braised turnips with pearl barley (didn't use it all up in the soup) for dinner and then stewed prunes (again, I didn't use them all in the soup....) for breakfast. I must say though, the turnips, which were braised in a mustard-spiked cream sauce (with a healthy sprinkle of fresh thyme) were pretty tasty. The prunes, stewed in some exceedingly mediocre Chianti with aniseed and cloves weren't bad either (not to mention the homemade custard sauce on the side). Anyway, when in Rome (or Berlin as the case may be)...

Friday, February 15, 2008


Valentine's Day is admittedly a silly holiday ... we shouldn't need Hallmark or the gods of capitalism to remind us to tell the one we love that we love them (I have to give the Germans (with the exception of flower, jewelry, and candy shop owners) credit for realizing this), but I must admit, my inner Martha Stewart welcomes the opportunity to make heart-shaped food. My lunch group ate the beautiful bright pink beet soup, heart-shaped cheese crackers, green salad with kohlrabi heart cut-outs, and orange-cardamom shortbread hearts before I could photograph them, but I did manage to capture dinner for mein Freund on "film" (with apologies for the lighting, etc.). We started with a watercress-endive salad with orange vinaigrette (please note the careful arrangement of the oranges). Next, having recently conquered, I used my new pasta machine to make heart-shaped winter squash ravioli (sans almond cookies because that addition never quite works for me. I much prefer the also-classic Parmesan and sage). Dessert was regular-shaped chocolate chip cookies because mein Freund, who while not a "foodie" by birth knows a good thing when he sees/eats it, likes them. Hope all of you had a heart-shaped day, too!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Wochenend und Sonnenschein

After so many days and months on end of grey, the sun finally came out last weekend and it was glorious. Mein Freund and I took a little excursion eastward to the Mies Van der Rohes Haus as part of our Bauhaus wanderings (not my favorite) and also strolled around a few of Berlin's many lakes. Alas, the camera was pleading a memory card error thoughout this trip so I can't show you any of the lakes or the pretty crocuses we saw poking through the winter grass. On Sunday, we celebrated Karneval with Berliners (the only bit of Karneval you get in these parts), as is “ich bin ein Berliner” (which I am not, should you be wondering). It was a little lacking in the filling department (as you might be able to see) and in general, I don’t need my cake fried, but it was festive nonetheless. Then we strolled through our local flea market (a big thing in these parts). A picture here of my favorite stand: all the duck tape you could ever use, in a wide variety of sizes and colors. We ended the day at Sasaya, which is one of very few acceptable (ie entirely free of mountains of greasy “Asian” noodles) Japanese restaurants in town: three small plates, grilled mackerel, marinated Japanese veggies, and a sadly somewhat bland, if "authentic" homemade tofu dish.

Monday, February 4, 2008


1) Germans do not know the difference between cupcakes and muffins. For whatever reason they are generally familiar with the latter, but now that the Cupcake Bakery Trend has hit Europe, they need to be educated on how the two treats differ (Americans know that muffins are for breakfast or to have with tea/coffee. A cupcake is not necessarily less healthy, but is not ever (intended as) a breakfast food and most always has frosting (though just to make it interesting, a muffin can have glaze or streusel). I will add that I've always thought the cupcake trend was silly in the US and it is even sillier here. I don't really have a problem with the occasional cupcake bakery (though I was seriously underwhelmed by Magnolia in New York the couple times I went -- not remotely worth waiting in line for (if there still is a line...I wouldn't know) or bakeries in general selling cupcakes. Actually, I really do like cupcakes (especially blackbottom or peanut butter with chocolate frosting), but they are so easy to make and take really no time at all and I'd just rather go out for something a bit more crafted. And while Berlin may not be Vienna or some other yummier cafe city, the German-speaking world is supposed to make good Kuchen. My point: they can do better than cupcakes. Anyway, Cupcake, the cupcake bakery that opened a while back near my apartment (the one at Zionskirchplatz, not to be confused with the one in Friedrichshein. I haven't been to that one, so I can't comment, though I am very sorry for linking to it before!) is owned by an American/Brit (not sure) so I can't exactly hold the Fatherland responsible for it, but ... my cupcake was dry and my espresso macchiatto undrinkable. I have heard more favorable reviews, but when in Rome (or Berlin as the case may be): I'm going around the corner to Cake, where you can get a huge piece of beautiful cake (I had a walnut cake with walnut buttercream; it was really exquisite -- perfect crumb, delicate, but distinct walnutty flavor, and buttercream frosting that doesn't make you feel like you've eaten a tub of crisco). Oops, that turned into a bit of rant (as is often my way....)
2. Germans don't know how to eat edamame: At my weekly lunch gig a while back I made a Japanese meal that included a bowl of salted edamame. I've been in Berlin long enough to guess that Germans might not be familiar with this snack (sushi, though most often mediocre, is extremely popular here. I have seen edamame on the menu a bunch of times, but never gotten it for free at the beginning of the meal as is often the case in the US), so I asked the woman who coordinates the lunches if she/they knew what edamame/frische Sojabohnen (fresh soybeans) are and how to eat them). She said yes and looked mildly insulted so I left it at that...only to come into the dining area a while later to find many of them eating edamame with a knife and fork. I'm not saying it's wrong ... maybe in Japan they don't eat edamame with their fingers as we do, but to my barbaric American eyes, it was pretty amusing.
3. How to use a napkin (like an American would): I was taught (as I think is the custom in the states), to put my napkin on my lap. I mostly do it without even thinking about it. Germans don't - they leave the napkin next to their plate. I don't think I have a particular lot of trouble getting food into my mouth, but I do wipe the corners of my mouth and somehow it ends up dirty and crumpled by the end of the meal. This must happen to other Americans because I didn't realize this was happening until a few months into my time here in the Vaterland, but I use my napkin a lot throughout the meal. I am often the only non-German at a meal and unless we are eating something really mess, I'm always the only one who has used their napkin? I guess Americans are barbarian slobs...
4. And something that I don't know: why can't you buy milk in quantities bigger than a liter (think quart) here? This is a (if not America's) dairyland. I have often seen youths drinking entire liters of milk/drinkable yogurt/buttermilk/etc. Our neighborhood is teeming with Kinder: don't they drink milk? The most popular coffee beverage here is Milchkaffee -- made with, you guessed it, lots of milk! Am I the only one making coffee at home? Mein Freund confirms that this is not limited to Berlin or urban areas and reports that his poor Mutter with four teenage sons also had to buy their milk in liters. It's not the end of the world as I am basically a professional grocery shopper and make an average of a trip a day, but seriously, it doesn't make sense, does it?
5. I don't know how to use a knife (like a German). I've tried, but I think my fingers have aged past the point of learning new motions or something. Germans use their knife to skillfully push food onto their fork. I do ok if I have a piece of bread to nudge with, but lacking bread, I often end up trying to be discreet with my fingers. I think earlier Generations of Americans (who were often German, no?) knew how to do this, but the melting pot seems to have done away with it. Schade, nein?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Grüne Woche: nicht so grün

First, I have to say that I have no idea why Blogger thinks I want to blog in Hindi. I think am working it out so that it doesn't look like Hindi to you, but it's really quite an effort and quite annoying. Nothing against Hindi, I'm just personally more interested in blogging in English with the occasional German word thrown in for added color. I also have no idea why random Portuguese/Brazilian people continue (ok, only twice) to post random comments on my blog. I guess I'm not exactly opposed, but it does seem somewhat unnecessary.

Anyway, the big food event of the week was Grüne Woche.This is a ginormous "exhibition for the Food Industry, Agriculture and Horticulture" that takes place annually in Berlin. (Have you ever seen a sillier ad for such an event? It's as if this woman has never seen food before.) Anyway, we went on Tuesday after 3 pm and expected not too much a crowd. We were wrong. It was as if all of Berlin's senior citizens had been picked up and deposited in the massive convention center. Really, you could hardly move, but I'm not much of a crowd-phobic person and having lived in some places with a lot of people, I'm pretty good at skirting around people and squeezing in between people when I want a closer look (or a sample, though there were few samples and of those, most were Bergkäse (good, but fairly standard cheese in these parts). So the crowds weren't so much my issue with GW; it's just that it was boring (and I am someone who can spend hours in the grocery store)...(You can read a good condemnation of GW here.)I pretty much walked the entire length of GW and my favorite things were: Finnish powdered dried blueberries sprinkled on yogurt (In my head I made a coffee/pound cake with a dried blueberry swirl using this stuff, but it was crazy expensive and I am probably capable of grinding my own dried fruit if I could get it dry enough). They also had dried broccoli and powdered dried broccoli, which I did not sample, but find much less intriguing.) The other good sample was a candied cranberry...which is a somewhat sad commentary on the quality of the festival. I do need to tell you about my favorite product (for sale, 1 euro): an apple from Arnold Schwarzenegger's hometown. I must admit to regretting not buying this product, but in my defense some Austrians were trying to sell me wine and the Austrian accent is really hard for some of us to understand (although it sounds very North Dakota in its way). If you're too lazy to click on the link above, know that: "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger explicitly and voluntarily supports the initiative to revalue and upgrade the image of the apple to a successful and healthy premium product."

But now for the really appalling part: I don't know how any visiting Canadians felt about the 2 Canada stands selling pancakes with maple syrup (Sidenote: Germans, at least some, eat pancakes for dinner (Kaiserschmarn), not breakfast, but not usually with syrup) and whiskey, but I can tell you how one American felt about the single US stand: American Ice Cream, selling softserve and milk shakes. I was so appalled by this stand, which unlike the big Finland area, which was surely sponsored by someone somehow connected to the Finnish government, or at least Finland, clearly has no legitimate connections to the United States. Maybe I'm a little sensitive because I've had to defend/explain American food a few to many times in the couple years, but the point is that I was so appalled, I looked into the matter. According to the GW website, Jörg Lackas of American Ice-Cream by Lackys Waffeln Inh. is behind this stand. Now, I know that Americans come in all shapes and sizes and names, but don't see too many umlauts (those dots above the o in Jörg) in the US, now do you? And it's not that Americans don't eat softserve or milkshakes. I probably ate more than my fair share of softserve's cousin "fro-yo" in college and I know the US gets more than it's share of attention in other arenas like the UN, which one might argue is a bigger deal than GW, but still. Is this really the best representation of American food? And seriously, who goes around to international food festivals pretending to sell American ice cream? Or selling pretend American ice cream? And why hasn't the US government looked into this serious issue of cultural impersonation. Not to mention the gramatical errors on the signage (probably not visible in the photo, but really!).

(Thanks to Allison for teaching me how to get images off the internet, now I can decorate my blog even when I forget my camera!)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Grub (noch mal!)

While I continue to be frustrated from time to time by the food situation/scene in Berlin (today's frustration was my inability to find Lapsang souchong tea, though this may have more to do with my looking in the wrong place and not being much of a tea expert), I am still making new discoveries (one of the stands at my Friday market actually sells food that they grow on their farm...) and remembering that sometimes, if you want something, you have to make it happen. Thus, Berlin Reified and I decided to throw another Grub potluck (again, in the tradition of my Psister's Berkeley Grubs). As most everyone is recently back from the holidays (whether that meant a subway ride across town or 3 airplanes), our theme for the evening was Cook Something from Home, "home" of course, was subject to interpretation. While the first Grub was a lot of fun, we were a little frustrated that too many people didn't cook but brought cheese (sorry, Diana, but it is a cooking party) and the cheapest beer that isn't embarrassing. So, this time, we kindly but sternly forbade people from bringing cheese (not that I didn't manage to make a delicious mac and cheese out of the many, many bits of mystery cheese left at the end of the night) and mass produced beer. We may have weeded out a few people, but we were quite pleased with the spread. Home may be particularly difficult for temporary/permanent expats to define (though we had many "real" Germans in attendence) and for Americans (among others) "home food" can seem pretty international ... we had a lot of Asian-ish food (Vietnamese springrolls from San Francisco, sushi from a German who had lived in Japan and California rolls from a Californian, an invented Korean tofu dish from a Korean-German, an Indonesian noodle thing from a half-Dutch woman, and Chicken Yakitori from an Australian who also lived in Japan). Latin America/the Southwest wasn't so well represented, but I did my part with my grandmother's (Tucson) Green Corn Tamales made with local Schmalz and German Bergkäse. We promised ourselves we were going to take pictures, but it didn't happen once again...GrubBerlin will come back to life in March and I promise to try harder...(though I hope you are all impressed with my newfound linking skills).

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Weihnachten in die Wüste

When I planned it, three weeks in Tucson (where the fam' converged upon my grandfather's desert home) seemed like ages, but it (as vacations do) flew by. We ate a lot (though it's never enough) of Sonoran-style (ie, local/Tucson) Mexican food: thin placemat-size flour tortillas, green corn and red (chile pork) tamales, stacked enchiladas (mild cheese, no meat), carne seca (theoretically air-dried beef rehydrated with tomatoes and chiles), and other delights you just can't find in Berlin. Other food highlights included double birthday chocolate-hazelnut mousse cake, locally sourced (by meine Schwester) Christmas leg of lamb, Christmas Indian pudding (one of several "authentic" American culinary experiences for mein Freund (others: pimento cheese, ham biscuits, pecan pie...)) with homemade maple ice cream (yum, if i do say so myself), a New Years Eve Thanksgiving dinner (pecans (for the pie) gathered from our old family farm and painstakingly shelled by my grandfather), a New Years Day mesquite (gathered in the backyard (of sorts))-grilled steak cookout...
Lest you think we spent the entire time in the kitchen/dining room, non-culinary highlights included: several hikes (two in "our" canyon), a family roadtrip complete with not one, but two dogs, to see old family sights in New Mexico (the dogs liked the stop at White Sands best), some people (not me) visited a lot of airplanes (Tucson is home to a lot of "dead" airplanes), stargazing/sunset-viewing from Kitt Peak/our deck, the sustainable Christmas saguaro, and mingling with the unpaid retirees who make up the staff of the hot air balloon company (mein Freund got a ride for Weihnachten),and being cornered by a herd of javelina (wild boars of sorts)...

After a few days in DC (Banh Mi and pupusas revueltas)I´m back to Berlin (stash of not-so-accessible-in-Berlin ingredients replenished: chocolate chips, canned green chile, etc.). After almost five weeks stateside, mein Deutsch is feeling pretty sad and after Tucson and unseasonably warm DC, the lack of central heat a little harsh, but for the most part, it´s good to be back.