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.