Saturday, December 5, 2009

Beschäftigt in der Küche

It has been a while - but 'tis the season and I've been busy in the kitchen....

As proof/justification for my lack of writing, I offer a few images:

Thanksgiving pies waiting to be picked up (I can accept the fact that I had to import pie pans (though you do have to pity a culture that doesn't even know about, let alone appreciate (worship?) pie), but the fact that I was forced to house them in pizza boxes (which work OK for pumpkin, but are seriously too shallow for a proper apple) because this supposedly cosmopolitan city doesn't have a single store selling baking supplies (a la New York Cake Supplies). You must be able to order them from somewhere, but still....

Christmas Linzer Cookies (particularly delicious delicious with my foraged plum jam). Thanks to Martha Stewart for the Christmas tree cut-out idea (and the recipe, which I highly recommend as the dough is surprisingly workable and the finished product even better than I had expected: after sampling a single cookie, one customer immediately ordered a kilo.)

And a marshmallow snowman awaiting his perch atop a chocolate cupcake. This guy and his cohorts were sold at a Christmas Bazaar at an international school here (part of my attempt to teach myself marketing/self-promotion). I really can't tell you how defenseless small children are in the face of these guys. I felt almost guilty. (Again, I have to give some credit to Martha (the woman (or her staff) does have good ideas), but not all that much as hers look a lot more like birds than snowmen. And I couldn't get behind the beret look...).

Finally, on a totally unrelated note, a shot from the cemetery down the street. While I'm not a cemetery person, I have to admit the Germans do this better than we do. Each plot is almost a little garden with loved ones regularly tending to the plants, making cemeteries feel less desolate, which I think is a nice thing. Who wants to spend eternity in desolate sterility? One of the cemeteries in my old neighborhood had an actual and frequented playground within its walls. And a different cemetery in my new neighborhood (where the brothers Grimm are supposedly buried) includes a cafe. But, of course they are still German cemeteries so the plots are neatly arranged (no wild flowers growing into the neighbor's plot now!). And in this photo, you can see that the various people who come to tend to the mini gardens keep their personal watering cans on-site and they are all Germanically locked up so that nobody can steal them!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Berlin: eine angsteinflößende Stadt

Not a new expat sentiment, but holidays outside of the US (or wherever it is you call home) are not the easiest of times. Especially holidays that are totally ignored (or worse, incorrectly celebrated) by the rest of world. I will say that my neighborhood threw a pumpkin/squash festival (in German Kürbis is the word for both). It was fairly tame and not all that pumpkin- or squash-focused, although they were selling over-priced pumpkins and squash. My absolute favorite part was the kids running around in giant plastic bubbles. Alas, I didn't have my camera with me, but of course somebody else documented this bizarre activity at some other festival. I guess they are sort of pumpkin-shaped?

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday (after my birthday, which Germany has also yet to do justice to). So this year, I decided to take matters into my own hands and we threw a Halloween party (costumes mandatory). I have to say, I was really pleasantly shocked that almost all of our guests wore costumes (maybe the Germans take "mandatory" literally?). We had cowboys and indians, pirates and angels, Cruella DeVille, Karate Kids, James Bond, and some generally creepy-looking Krauts. And, to our great surprise, we even had a group of trick-or-treaters! They say Halloween is taking off here (and if you were a German kid, isn't it the holiday you'd want to copy?) - the costume store down the street had a line out the door for three days solid. Still, living in an apartment (as opposed to a freestanding house with a welcoming front porch light) a ways from the areas of Berlin known for high numbers of expats, we were were not prepared. We lamely offered them our bowl of unwrapped candy (gummy rats, bats, and cats) from our party buffet (it seemed like a safer choice than finger pretzels or lychee eyeballs). I think the American paranoia regarding tainted candy hasn't made it here yet and they seemed pretty excited that some fairly unimpressive costumes merits free candy.

ps. For those keeping count, my New York Times columnists in Berlin sightings count is up to three!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Himmel und Erde (mit Bäume)

We are still working our way through those Jüterbog apples (the pears having been mostly dealt with thanks to Susan's vanilla pear jam recipe and a somewhat disappointing pear & chocolate torte). If I were in possession of a freezer, I'd no doubt freeze a bunch of applesauce for applesauce cake and muffins in the coming months, but as I am not and the pantry is jam-packed (no pun intended! Could this be where this phrase comes from?!) with jars of jam already.... I decided to take advantage of the sale on Blutwurst (blood sausage) and have another go at traditional German food (which as previously mentioned, I seldom cook or even eat strange as it may sound, but I have important work to do here, like converting mein Mann to pimento cheese, which I made today for lunch).

Himmel und Erde or "Heaven and Earth" is, according to Wikipedia, a typical west German dish with a bunch of regional variations. Basically, it's mashed potatoes with applesauce or cooked apples mixed in. In some parts of Germany, potatoes are called Erdäpfel (earth apples) and thus the source of the dish's name: Heaven (from the tree apples) and Earth (from the earth apples). I associate it with Blutwurst (perhaps because the recipe in my mother-in-law's German cookbook says to serve them together), but after a bit of internet research, it turns out that this combination is the Cologner/Dusseldorfer way, whereas other towns pair it with regular old Bratwurst or the German equivalent of fried bologna. I'm sure other porky things have been known to make an appearance. Caramelized onions are a common topping.

Himmel and Erde was, if I do say so myself, delicious (if not particularly photogenic - sorry). I was a bit worried about the combination of cooked apples and potatoes ... it seemed a bit like a baby food experiment gone wrong, but it was creamy and tangy and we ate it all. I've had the good fortune of living in several blood sausage-loving countries so far and today's version is giving Spain a run for its money. I think if you ordered Himmel und Erde at a restaurant, you would be hard pressed to find anything green on your plate, but while I can put away blood sausage with the best of them, I do like a bit of veg to round out my plate. So the version of Himmel und Erde typical of my apartment has trees (Bäume), which seems like an obvious addition to heaven and earth if you ask me....

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Büffel-Besuch + Plünderung

We certainly ate our share of fresh mozzarella while we were in Campania, but somehow we didn't manage to hang out with any water buffaloes. Who knew that our chance would come in the 1,002-year-old town of Jüterbog (whose name is very fun), just south of Berlin? It wasn't the nicest of days, but we had wanted to visit Bobalis since returning from Italy and it's only open one Saturday a month. (Somehow, I who have plenty of days off, always ended up having to work on these Saturdays.) So we weren't going to let a bit of gray sky keep us away. The Buffaloes were extremely cute - there were lots of calves (waiting in line at the milk trough with the same patience found in human toddlers). I was a little disappointed that they weren't actually making cheese during the visiting hours and were only selling mozzarella that was already two days old. Am I wrong? Isn't "the fresher the better" the whole deal behind fresh mozzarella (although I will say that Provolone is pretty hard to find in the Fatherland). The cheese has a nice buffalo tang and I'm all for supporting a herd of happy German water buffalo, but ... it (along with the grey sky) does make a girl long for those days in Campania. Bobalis also butchers some of their buffalos and the sausages and liverwurst we brought home are delicious. I suppose it's not all that surprising that Germans would make better Wurst than delicate Italian cheese.

The town of Jüterbog is a collection of some really amazing very old buildings with the fairly depressing, shut-down vibe often found in Bradenburg/former East Germany as a backdrop. A rinky dink carnival set up in the lovely town square supposedly in honor of Oktoberfest didn't help matters. For some very unknown reason, Fläming, the region surrounding/including Jüterbog also boasts "Europe's first and largest skating path." I have no idea if or why in-line/rollerskating (skateboarding?) would be especially popular in this fairly out-of-the-way spot, but we biked around part of the 200-and-some-kilometer route and it is really very nice. To our delight, it's also full of fruit trees and once again we came home with saddlebags full of plums, pears, and apples (mein Mann has just discovered his love of scavenging/gathering and couldn't bear to leave any fruit behind). Our pantry is already very, very full of jam and chutney now and we are eating our weight in apple cake/tart on a daily basis. We're also developing somewhat of a reputation among our friends for being weird people who spend every weekend in the country in search of abandoned fruit trees.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Die (Aus)Wahl von Keks

As has been widely pointed out, the recent German election was a bit on the dry side. (Barely related side story: I hung out (briefly) with Roger Cohen at the reception following a foreign policy panel discussion I attended this week (making him my second New York Times columnist sighting in Berlin! He was next to me in the buffet line and asked me what I did for a living. I think I was the only non-politics person in the room (if you don't count that silly bachelor's degree or my brief stint saving children) and he seemed rather amused to talk about something besides the boring election). In any case, there was an election going on here. I suppose it wasn't all that different from elections at home, except that we didn't get phone calls during dinner from Bill Clinton (or Merkel for that matter) and because we don't have a television we were't subject to nonstop political ads (though I hear they are not so pervasive here). There were a lot of posters up around town for the various parties. Mostly they serve to illustrate that German politicians do not use stylists (or it would seem, professional photographers). One poster in particular illustrates the ability of the German people to take some things more lightly than Americans. This poster displays the cleavage of Chancellor Angela Merkel and another politician from her CDU party, claiming: we have more to offer. While I can't say that I find this poster particularly convincing, remember what a fuss they made about Michelle Obama showing her arms?! (In the end, she lost.)

For the most part, I leave the German politicking to mein Mann, but I did see fit to make one (fairly neutral) contribution to the election. We went to a little election party to watch the results come in (Germany only has one time zone (and only tiny scandals) so you can actually find out the results and then go have dinner!). I brought along some election-themed cookies - the different sprinkles represent the colors associated with the four main parties. Freakily enough, most of the red (red being the color of the SPD, which lost badly) cookies turned out really poorly (weird holes in the centers and melting around the edges) and yellow (of the co-winning FDP) turned out perfectly. Hmmmmmmmmmm....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Julia auf Deutsch

Julia Child and I go back a long way. I haven't cooked my way through any of her books (or anyone else's for that matter, though I sometimes wish I had that kind of patience and didn't always feel the need to make something with whatever I think I need to use up in my fridge), but she was on my Sesame Street-Mr. Rogers rotation, and I continued to watch her shows long after Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers had faded from my television screen. Thanks to a roommate/friend who worked at the American History Museum, I was able to visit her kitchen before the exhibit opened in DC and I got to hold her balloon whisk. It's true: I have photographic proof and a witness.

I moped around for weeks because I was sure "Julie & Julia" wouldn't be playing in Germany -- nobody in Europe has any idea who she is. Of course, they are familiar with Meryl Streep so, to my delight, the movie is showing in Berlin after all. I moved here with my DVD of "The French Chef" in tow (naturally) so mein Mann had already been persuaded of her charms and did not even need to be begged or bribed to come along. So there we were last week, sitting in the theater and waiting for the movie to start when it occurred to me I hadn't double checked that the movie was in English (for reasons I have yet to fathom, most movies here are shown dubbed and only a few theaters show the original version). I had stupidly assumed the film would be in English because who would want to hear a dubbed version of Meryl Streep's spot-on imitation of Julia's voice? A small handful of Germans who have no idea what Julia sounded like anyway (or Meryl Streep for that matter because these people always go to see the dubbed version) that's who. I panicked. For about 2 seconds I thought maybe I could sit through it in German...the story is the same right? And it would be good German practice, no? Much to the bewilderment and irritation of mein Mann I announced that I had to leave. He could stay, but I could simply not bring myself to see Julia in German. Much to my satisfaction, after we finally saw Julie & Julia this week in the lovely English language, mein Mann pronounced that we could never have seen it auf Deutsch. Ha!

In other news, I have a new bike so last weekend we took it out to the country for a spin. It was one of the last (sigh) really nice days of the year and it was a lovely bike ride other than the fact that it was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay to long for someone who had only ridden a bike once in the last two decades or so. I am now fully recovered, though, and can say that it was totally worth it because along the way we discovered countless plum trees (the sort my family calls Italian prune plums, but I understand are also known as damsons and in these parts, Zwetschen), as well as an apple orchard at the Cloister in Chorin (actually we knew this was there, having stumbled upon it last year - you may recall my adventures in making 100 or so tiny jars of jam?). The bike was even less fun to ride with saddle bags full of fruit, but the apple cake I made last Sunday and the particularly delicious plum jam I made yesterday (plum chutney, brandied apple butter, and a sour cream apple pie to come) have a way of helping me forget that part

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Moin Moin Meppen Meppen

When I first heard of Meppen (mein Mann's hometown) my only thought was that it sounded like the name of a particularly zany muppet, but over the past few years, I've had the opportunity to explore (or at least drive by) it's many New Jersey Nightclub, for example...and Jumpy's American Pizza (I am fairly sure nobody from Jumpy on down has ever been anywhere in the vicinity of America (or Italy for that matter)), and the Hotel Pöker (sounds like Puker) come to mind. OK, so I have at times struggled to really see Meppen's charming side, although the natural setting is quite nice and behind the family home there are some work horses - the really giant ones with lots of hair/fur in the winter that I really like, along with many duck couples that hang out on the main square....I really do try to like Meppen.

We went up to Meppen this month to collect a load of furniture for our new apartment and managed to squeeze in a few day trips so mein Mann could show me Emsland (the region where Meppen is situated). When we met, mein Mann told me he was from "the Iowa of Germany." Perhaps: there's a lot of farmland -- very pretty in the German way (all very precisely groomed, nary a grain out of Ordnung and to my own personal horror and dismay: not a single farmstand).

First, he showed me a bunch of piles of rocks aka megalithic graves (apparently his ancestors were very strong):

Also, a lovely mill (what's not to like about a place that has Mills listed at the top (I kid you not) of their list of tourist attractions?):

And a few nice Schlosses and (after sneaking sans passport across the Dutch border, where, by the way, we immediately encountered an adorable farm stand) to see a very nice fort.

Along with rocks and mills,

Along with rocks and mills, Emsland is also known for Schnapps production. I was particularly taken with this bottle of Hasetaler Korn, which promises a "guarantee of origin" and actually lists the names of the farmers whose wheat was used in the Schnapps' production along with the specific location of the farm!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Sorry for that little pause ... ten days in Campania, a move across town, another move (down from Meppen) and a lack of internet in the new apartment (evil landlord + German phone company bureaucracy=bad combination).

Anyway, all I can say is Amalfi Coast Aschmalif Coast. Ok, I haven't been there and it is supposed to be nice, but I am pretty sure that Cilento is all that without the nonsense (tourists, high prices...). We flew to Naples and immediately headed south to Cilento (stopping to visit the Greek ruins at Paestum and watch the sun set behind Capri from Agropoli). We hiked from village to village (with help from a few buses) ... We ate produce that was actually ripe (peaches with flavor being a rare item and infamous flavorless Dutch tomatoes being all too common in Berlin), were repeatedly pushed to gluttony by the Italian mamas at the hotels/agriturismi/guesthouses we visited, got sunburned despite having rented a beach umbrella, ate as much gelato and espresso as we could manage, spoke a lot of fake Italian (ie Spanish with an Italian-ish accent and a few Italian words thrown in for authenticity (plus the all too frequent Portuguese or Catalan word), got a lot of strange looks from the locals because we were (gasp) walking, enjoyed a lot of local plonk (mein Mann's new favorite English word) and fresh-as-can-be buffalo mozzarella, (one of us) got bitten by every mosquito in Campania (but not on the eye!), witnessed the (modern) city of Pompeii's Pompeii Idol-ish contest in the main piazza (oddly, nobody but us found the whole thing hysterical), romped around Naples eating our weight in pizza, fried zucchini blossoms, sfoggliatelle, and seafood, and (gasp) witnessed a women get hit by a car in the marketplace near our hotel (luckily it was right in front of a hospital).

And for your viewing pleasure, two of my favorite shots...
I was really into these trucks selling watermelon that we saw all over Cilento:
When trying to find a bus schedule in one small village (to get to another village across the valley that we could literally see from our hotel room), we were directed to something like a town hall -- they, like everyone else we asked) couldn't understand why we would want to go there or for the life of them tell us how to get there. While not very helpful, they were quite nice, and I particularly appreciated the bags of zucchini blossoms on the official's desk:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Verschiedene Flitterwochen

After the nuptials, I slept for about a week solid, getting up only to eat leftover wedding cake and make various concoctions out of our leftover wild boar. Thus rejuvenated, I hightailed it to Prague to honeymoon with Laura. (Don't fret, mein Mann and I had a post-civil ceremony honeymoon in Ukraine and next week will find us on Honeymoon II (aka our summer vacation), walking across Cilento in southern Campania.). Back to Prague: it's not my favorite city, but it does seem to have made nice progress since I was there a few years ago. Or maybe it's just that we didn't do any of the touristy stuff, but wandered from here to there, sat in plazas, beer gardens and breweries. The food is still sort of monotonous ("pork with more pork" as our guidebook put it), which is fine for a few days, but the coffee still dreadful, which is not fine for a few days. We really did eat a lot more hearty porky food than you can tell from these photos, but they were some of our favorite/most interesting finds: (clockwise from the top) pickled sausages (not quite as bad as it sounds), potato pancakes with a coleslaw of sorts (by request), and little open-face sandwiches with various toppings for breakfast.

In other news we went to a seriously interesting concert by the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, which plays instruments made entirely from vegetables. I didn't come away wanting to buy the CD, but it is fairly clever and extremely hysterical.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Die Hochzeit in der Rückspiegel

After so many months of walking forwards towards our wedding, it's hard to believe today is the one-month anniversary. I've never been one to go in for the Best-Day-of-my-Life, fairytale, cupcake-dressed nonsense and while I have a lot of good days behind me and I hope there are lots more to come, it's hard to imagine being able to recapture the shear joy I felt for every second of our wedding (though I'm up for giving it a try).

Here are some highlights from our more-perfect-than-we-dared-to-believe-was-possible wedding weekend:
Rehearsal Dinner (aka Polterabend) chili, cornbread, and beer for 90 of our guests (there was more than one occasion when I questioned my sanity on inviting all of our numerous guests to this event, but...while we hadn't expected so very many to attend, we were really glad to have more time to spend together and that everyone didn't have to cram their celebration into a few short hours. Anyway, more-the-merrier is sort of our entertaining style. Despite my moments of panic, the chili was a big success (note the thumbs up) and our amazing guests acted as schleppers, bartenders, waitstaff, and dishwashers.
And as a rule, a bonfire always makes a good party better. Especially with s'mores. Poltering wasn't my favorite part of the wedding (by far), but it was an interesting cultural experience (leave it to the Germans to turn cleaning into a party game). Full disclosure: the Germans are way into playing games at weddings and most of them were a lot more fun.

Saturday aka Wedding Day was spent running around like chickens with our heads cut off: serving breakfast and lunch, cleaning the kitchen, setting things up and then resetting them up when a torrential downpour seemed certain, arranging flowers in vases, bouquets, and bouts, etc. There was a brief, if very palpable, period when I didn't think anything would work out, when having a wedding seemed like the worst idea I'd ever had and I considered just taking the nap I hadn't been able to take all week ... but it all came together and I wouldn't trade a second of it.
We wed as the rain fell on the barn and then recessed out to I was Made for Loving You by Kiss, which our upstairs neighbors play ALL THE TIME so we have had no choice, but to make it our theme song. The sun came out and shone a few strong rays at us (it was eerily good timing) and then retreated back to a drizzle. I was pushed here and there and made to pose with nearest and dearest while trying to drink the delicious cava we (literally) carried back from Mitte Meer (ok, fine, I pulled it in my shopping cart, but mein Mann really did carry several cases on his back. And we dined (!) - please note our most handsome wedding guest, shown in the photo here - wild boar (which, fear not, lives on (in a manner of speaking) in our freezer).
Not to mention the buffet, whose deliciousness isn't really captured here (you have no idea what amazing Knödel can do for an already perfect buffet). This may not make sense, so just know that I mean it in the humblest and most complementary way: the caterer's food was just what and how I would have cooked if I had had any extra time and energy. It was (for me, anyway) perfect. I can't claim to be able to pull off such a cake, however. And let me just tell you - it tasted about a million times better than it looked/s. Our DJ was a little odd, but we were determined to dance and I will say that he was obedient: he played all the songs I asked for (even if he did play my Shakira song when I happened to be outside and give me slight attitude for requesting that he NOT play YMCA or heavy metal. I know what you are thinking about Shakira, but you are wrong.). I did struggle with my inner Bridezilla who really wanted to confiscate his mini disco ball (I am pretty sure that I do not come across as a mini disco ball kind of girl). East German DJs aside, it was a joyous night. It's such a powerful feeling to have so many of the people you love (and who love you) all in one spot - be it singing along to Fools Rush In, lifting a glass of Emsland Schnapps to honor the people who couldn't be with us, or dancing to some German dance hit from the 80s ... it was, to say the least, a memorable weekend/night.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It was so much fun to have (almost) all my nearest in Berlin. I almost love Berlin with so many of my favorite people in a 5-block radius. Except for the crazy people that come to visit in November (snowstorm with thunder anyone?) or February (gale-force winds!), most visitors come in the warmer months, giving them the very silly allusion that Berlin is some kind of eternal Spring paradise. So this time, it was a bit gratifying to see Berlin act up: chilly rain in what is supposed to be the nicest month, surly copy shop workers refusing to print from (gasp!) a disk or emailed file on (the horror!) labels, average food (not that you don't get average meals in other towns, but with the exception of the restaurant at the Deutsche Oper and the old standby that is Schwarzwaldstuben, the other restaurants I took my guests to were intensely embarrassing flops (why can't they make a decent, interesting salad in this town that isn't drowning in bad vinaigrette (to put it politely)?) People commented on the oddness of the pillows, the strange fact of life that makes a Berlin-Brandenburg train ticket cost 26 Euros for one passenger or five, and why are the sidewalks as/more uneven than some developing nations?

Of course, I am/was the main whiner, and most people had only glowing things to say about Berlin, but in the spirit of celebrating the oddness that is here, I present you with some very odd (to me at least) snack foods I have recently discovered (but not (yet) sampled):

Horse milk products at the organic market! I ate horse meat in Italy (and admired the horses baby food) and would sample this if I could find it. Alas, thus far I've only seen the advertisement. I do love that their new line is: "a delicious cow milk alternative!" But why is there also a goat on the packaging?

We (for the next 6 weeks anyway) live near the worst video store on the planet. On the rare occasions they have anything we might want to watch, it's always checked out. They have about 20 DVDs in their collection, most of which seem to be porn or extreme-violence-for-the-sake-of-extreme-violence movies. They do, however, have very interesting snacks. I recently observed doner kebab- and El Gaucho-flavored chips. Flavoring cheap potato chips like a cheap greasy meaty sandwich is intriguing. Or something. And what does El Gaucho taste like, do you think? Sweaty Argentine cowboy?

Stay tuned for a much less cranky, perhaps even fluffy wedding post....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Das Leben nach der Hochzeit

If not the words, I lack the images to describe the perfection of our wedding last weekend. Instead of trying, I'll leave you with a few images of my post-wedding life:

1. The last bit of leftover wedding cake. It may not look like much here, but I am fairly certain that a more delicious or more beautiful wedding cake has never been seen (the layers alternated chocolate and hazelnut and were accompanied by a big bowl of fresh strawberries).

2. This being the third celebration of this marriage, I can tell you that a wedding is a great way to fill your apartment with flowers. In a mad dash through the wholesale flower market that resembled Supermarket Sweep more than wedding preparations, we grabbed peonies for the bouquets, pale pink roses for the boutonnieres, and sweet williams (amusingly called bearded carnations auf Deutsch) for the tables. Down with overpriced florists!

3. Wrapping paper and shipping boxes are very convenient for those of us with a pending move....(Note the wedding dress rumpled in the background.)
4. What to do with more leftover wild boar than will fit in my (increasingly annoying) micro Euro-fridge?

A post-wedding Sunday night leftover party is a must (no matter how tired you are, you can probably still manage to snack and open presents), pulled boar BBQ sandwiches (bonus points for using up the end of the rhubarbbq sauce and some of the leftover rolls), and tonight's menu features boar ragu with tagliatelle (sorry, I forgot to take the picture until I was half finished).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

As I type, a man across the street is cleaning a squiggly purple line off the yellow building facing ours. Later he'll paint over the remaining traces of the squiggle with more yellow paint. I know because I've seen him do this many times. Berlin has a lot of graffiti (at least where we reside), but I generally think the graffiti says less about art than what my then-toddler-aged sister accomplished when she walked through our small apartment dragging a marker along the wall as she went (ability to draw a straightish line, statement of independence, etc.). I know the Berlin Wall is known for its decor, but today we are mostly inundated with scrawled initials or statements such as, "vegan" (believe what you will about this movement, writing the word on a wall doesn't strike me as a much of statement, let alone a compelling argument). But lately, someone has been defacing property more to my taste: dog stencils! Of course, if they really wanted to impress me they would stencil terriers up and down my block, but still ... I find them quite endearing.

And while I am singing the praises of my neighborhood (not mine for all that much longer - we've just decided to move across town in the summer), I share with you the window display of a former electrician's office down the street from us. Last Fall there was a medieval scene with knights and horses and (to my wedding-minded) delight, a pig turning (this being the electric bit) on a spit! Until recently, Easter was theme: daffodils, Easter baskets, and a slowly twirling Easter bunny. Now I am entertained by a cowboy-and-indian scene (the Germans can't get enough of this's rather odd). The powwow to the right of the picture spins! The typical-in-these-parts cheap lace window curtain (usually framing tacky nicknacks like miniature fake flowers or ceramic hedgehogs) really accentuates the wild scene, no?

Finally, this is what happens when you are too stressed, running on too little sleep, and have one of those awful flat stovetops where you're supposed to be able to figure out which knob works which burner before you make your coffee. Oh how I yearn for my little Manhattan gas stove (among other Manhattan delights (human, culinary (anyone want to bring me a pack of those date bars you can buy at any NYC deli counter for (what was once) $1????) and otherwise....).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Der Spreewald: Mehr als Gurken

We didn't get around to canoeing in the Spreewald last year, but Spring has overtaken Berlin in full force and we couldn't waste any time. As noted in the link above, the Spreewald is a forest-wetland preserve about an hour south of Berlin. Some of the current residents are descendants of the Sorbs/Wends, the Slavic tribes that originally settled the area and all the signs are in Deutsch and Wendish, houses are built in the traditional style, etc. I had heard that the Spreewald made for a nice day trip, but I had no idea how charming it was. The Spreewald is sort of Germany's take on Venice in that much of the area is made up of small channels, which are lined with adorable houses and hay stacks (I have a weak spot for nice haystacks) and the occasional restaurant. The Spreewald is also known for its pickles (which you can buy at most any grocery store in Germany) and let me just say that being able to canoe along on a perfect spring day and buy pickles right from our boat pretty much made the trip for me. The Spreewald is one of those places that has a lot of tourists, but is still quite charming. Most people tour the wetlands on a Kahn (punt) -- the cute boats pictured here -- which is powered by a sort-of Spreewaldish gondolero. One does feel somewhat virtuous paddling by them (and more entitled to the double-picnic day (breakfast and lunch), which we concluded with a typical Spreewald dinner of boiled potatoes, quark and linseed oil (better than it sounds) and some sort of local take on blood sausage with sauerkraut.

ps. Seven weeks to go and I've finally had a wedding nightmare. What does it say about me if I dreamed not that I lost my dress or that it rained or some other Perfect Day-ruining catastrophe, but that I forgot to make the chili for the rehearsal dinner. I realized the oversight the morning of so there was still plenty of time, but I was distressed that the flavors wouldn't have time to meld properly.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Die Deutsche Küche schlägt wieder zu!

It's not that I have anything against German cooking, it's just that I never get around to making it. Or I make something that is American to me (stew or roast chicken) but tastes German to mein Mann. But, this week I did a tasting for a potential new client that wants seasonal German food (why they think I am the person to make German food is beyond me, but...) and so I had no choice but to cook auf Deutsch. The potential client hails from the region of Hessen (you may be familiar with the Frankfurt airport). In my somewhat limited experience, Hesseners are all crazy for Grünesauce (Green Sauce), which is an herb sauce made from a blend of seven fresh herbs (don't even think of substituting something else or leaving one out!): borage, chervil, parsley, cress, chives, sorrel and salad burnet. The herbs are minced and combined with a bit of vinegar and mustard, a few hard-boiled egg yolks, and some minced onions, which are all mixed into something white (I used creme fraiche, but you can apparently also use mayonnaise, yogurt, sour cream, or quark). (Full disclosure: I'm fairly certain that this is one of those recipes for which there are as many versions are there are cooks - the herbs seem to be a set deal, but you can add minced pickle or capers, etc.) I've most commonly seen Grünesauce served with boiled potatoes or brisket (a more sophisticated version of that mayo-mustard mixture that my family always ate with our brisket), but I think you could serve it with most any meat or fish or veggie for that manner. But then again, I'm a heretical American and can never seem to think (or cook) inside the German box. With that spirit in mind, I decided to make deviled eggs with a Grünesauce filling. I trekked down to Frischeparadies (another one of these stores that is supposedly "the best" and where you can "find anything," which, in my experience mostly translates to fancy jarred sauces and overpriced mixed greens (though they do have (crazy expensive teeny jars of) vanilla extract), which is the only place I've been able to find all seven Grünesauce herbs. The herbs come in a very chic wrapping complete with a recipe for Grünesauce.
Alas, I couldn't take a picture of my finished eggs, but I can tell you that they were a big hit...which, in connection with a delicious (if I do say so myself) apple tart (such is seasonal cooking in Berlin at the beginning of April) and a few other delights, have resulted in a potential new client/job situation......details to come if it all works out...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


oops...... it was drawn to my attention that I indicated that there was a photo in the previous picture. has never been my strong suit, but ... better late than never, my anemones (they really were prettier off the screen).

And, for your added viewing pleasure, a few of my little jams. I (half) wish I could say that these 13 jars of citrus marmalade brought an end to my jam-making adventure, but alas....people keep rsvping yes=I must keep making jam.