Saturday, July 30, 2011

I ate that! Take 3

German Home-Cooking 1
Blutwurst + Kartoffeln + Sauerkraut (+ Salat)

When I mentioned my experience with calf liver to a chatty old lady at church the next day, she told me that she thinks the apples and onions are the best part. And actually, she prefers chicken liver. And had I tried another Berlin dish, Blutwurst, yet? When I was in England last month for that food and drink history conference, we were served black pudding one evening, which is the same thing. I also found that tasty. So I agreed to take her suggestion to purchase some fresh blood-sausage from a butcher, as the packaged ones are supposed to be relatively tasteless. She recommended I pair it with boiled Kartoffeln (potatoes) and Sauerkraut “verfeinert” (“refined”) with Lorbeerblatt (bay leaf) and Speck (bacon). Because I am cleaning out my pantry in preparation for returning home, instead of buying white sauerkraut I used some of the Rotkohl (red sauerkraut) I already had. I cooked the basil potatoes with their delicate skin on (even my sources from around WWI suggest that). And I served the warmed sausage slices with a green salad without the typical German dressing of lots of oil and vinegar. The meal was very delicious! I would eat that again.

American Home-Cooking
Shrimp Couscous + Mixed Green Salad

While I was back in Dresden for a quick, one-week research trip, I stayed with two sets of friends, and of course we cooked and ate together. To thank the first couple for their hospitality, I offered to make an “American meal” from a personal recipe, which is as follows:
      Shrimp Couscous
Shrimp, thawed (+/- shells)
Broccoli, with long stems
Boxed coucous, any flavor
Pine nuts, toasted if you like
Olive oil
Garlic, minced
Start boiling the water for the couscous. When the olive oil and garlic are hot, begin cooking the shrimp. When the water has boiled, add the couscous. Meanwhile, steam the broccoli. Just before the couscous is finished cooking, stir in the craisins and pine nuts (if you toast them, put them in the oven at the very beginning of the cooking process). When everything is cooked, spoon the couscous mixture into individual bowls, arrange the broccoli around the edges, and top with shrimp.

This is a very fast meal that you can prepare in about 15 minutes once you’ve got the rhythm of the individual ingredients down. My hosts found it an unusual combination but they liked it very much. They are born and raised Saxons, and Saxony lies miles from the East Sea, so salt-water seafood is a relative rarity for them. Apparently they hadn’t had Garnelen (shrimp) before. We ate this with the usual German salad with oil and vinegar.

German Home-Cooking 2
Pellkartoffeln + Quark + Leinöl

The next night, my hostess cooked a traditional mitteldeutsche (Middle-German) meal for us of Pellkartoffeln (boiled potatoes) and Quark mixed with red onion and linseed oil, the way she used to eat it in the Mensa (cafeteria) at her university in Thüringen (a state next to Saxony famous for Martin Luther and Wolfgang von Goethe). The red onion is pungent and the linseed oil is nutty, making for an interesting flavor combination.

German Home-Cooking 3
Spiegeleier + Kartoffeln + Spinat

At my next hostess’s home, I got to try a combination I often came across in my research in Leipzig on women’s journals from the 1910s to early 1930s. For all its reputation of being meat-heavy, much German cooking uses other sources of protein and blood sausage, quark and linseed oil, and eggs. This meal is really well balanced: protein from the egg, carbohydrates from the potatoes, and balast from the spinach. I don’t know about its vitamin content, however, as the spinach is usually boiled, chopped, and then cooked again with butter and/or cream and maybe some nutmeg (my hostess used packaged frozen spinach). If I make this at home, I will cook the spinach less, if at all. I added some fresh cherry tomatoes for color.

Czech Restaurant Food
For my birthday, my friends took me out to Goldenes Prag, a Czech restaurant in Dresden with a good reputation. I ordered a traditional Czech meal of pork and dumplings with gravy, because it reminded me of my family’s two trips to the Czech Republic. When I asked if it came with any vegetables, the waiter said yes, Preiselbeeren (think cranberry sauce). Anything green, I asked? He suggested a salad. So in the picture you can see the cucumber salad I got, which consisted of mostly peeled and thinly sliced cucumbers in a creamy dressing. That’s a nice white wine from Thüringen behind my plate.

“German” Restaurant Food
Salat + Gebratene Pfefferlinge

Last dish: one day I met my Doktorvater (dissertation adviser) for lunch at the famous Markthalle in Bergmanstrasse. We ate at a vaguely Italian restaurant. He had a salad with goat’s cheese, I a salad with lightly cooked mushrooms. Fresh lettuce plus toppings is a combination I enjoy, but it is not a German formulation. However, the little mushrooms called Pfefferlinge are a national favorite, so I thought this was a nice fusion with which to conclude my food posts.

As always, I wish you, Guten Appetit! Lass es Euch schmecken! (May it taste good to you!)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I ate that! Take 2

This post is dedicated to the memory of my Aunt Sue, who shared my interest (obsession?) with food.

This is the companion post to one I put up last summer, about my usual diet while in the United States; like the next one I will post, however, it is sparsely illustrated. This is because I was waiting for “a typical week” to take the series of photographs, but between frequent moves (4 times in 10 months, not counting traveling to and from Germany) and a changing schedule depending on my research, it never seemed to work out. Instead, I decided to practice my vocabulary by making up a typical Tagesspeisezettel (daily menu) and offering it to you in German and in English.

1. Frühstück (immer mit Obstsaft)
Winter: Haferflocken mit Birnen, Rosinen, und Milch gekocht + Zimtzucker und manchmal Nüsse
 Sommer: Joghurt und Müsli + Obst oder Beeren
Wochenende: Eierkuchen + Obst + Zimtzucker oder Rühreier + Gebackenes + Obst

2. Frühstück
Banane + gekochtes Ei

3. Frühstück 
Gebackenes + Obst (gewöhnlich eine Apfelsine)

Belegtes Brot: 1 oder 2 Scheiben Brot, Senf und Käse oder Frischkäse, Gurke, Fleisch
+ Möhren + Etwas Schokolade (besonders Ritter Sport) + Chips (ab Berlin)

Apfel + Butterkeks mit Erdnusscreme oder Nutella oder Studentenfutter oder Salzstangen oder Keks

Gebratene Kartoffeln oder Reis + Gemischte Hülsenfrüchte oder Linsen + gefrorene Mischgemüse
Nudeln + Tomatensoße (manchmal mit Kapern) Gemüse
 Dosenfisch + Reis oder Kartoffeln + Salat + Rotkohl
 Gebratene Kartoffeln + Kirchenerbsen + Kokonußmilch + Curry + Gemüse

Apfelmus (nicht gezuckert) oder Gummibären oder Reiskeks mit Apfelmus (oder Nutella)

Daily Menu
1. Breakfast (always with fruit juice)
Winter: Oatmeal cooked with pear, raisins, and milk + cinnamon-sugar and sometimes nuts
Summer: Yogurt and muesli + fruit or berries
Weekends: Pancakes + fruit + cinnamon-sugar or Scrambled eggs + baked good + fruit

2. Breakfast
Banana + hard-boiled egg

3. Breakfast
Baked good + fruit (usually an orange)

Sandwich: 1 or 2 pieces of bread, mustard and sliced cheese or spreadable cheese, cucumber, deli meat
+ Carrots + Some chocolate (especially Ritter Sport) + Chips (as of Berlin)

Apple + Butterkeks with peanut butter or Nutella or snack mix or pretzels or cookies

Pan-fried potatoes or rice + Mixed beans or Lentils + Frozen mixed vegetables
 Noodles + Tomato sauce (sometimes with capers) + Vegetables
 Canned fish + Rice or Potatoes + Salad + Red cabbage sauerkraut
 Pan-fried potatoes + Chickpeas + Coconut milk + curry + Vegetables

Applesauce (unsweetened) or gummy bears or rice cakes with applesauce (or Nutella)

The Gebackenes (baked goods) sometimes included treats like Mohnschnecken (poppy seed spirals) and Pfannkuchen (jelly donuts, aka Berliners), but usually I bought some kind of roll and either made a peanut butter-jelly sandwich with it or spread it with mustard and cheese or maybe butter and Lachsschinken (prosciutto?). To illustrate how serious the Germans are about their baked goods, the rolls I could choose from included plain wheat, whole wheat, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, mixed seeds, something with carrots in it, rye, and Dinkel. Dinkel—as one of the ladies at the German Cookbook Museum in Dortmund explained to me—is unripe wheat. It’s a common enough result of trying to grow wheat this far north that it often can’t fully ripen. So someone decided to market it as a specialty product that is supposed to be particularly good for you. I don’t know if the health claims hold up under scrutiny, but it’s yummy enough.
You may notice that the dinners are largely meatless. I was trying to eat vegetarian for reasons of health, finances, and environment. I had a hard time getting enough calories while bringing my meatless dinners to the library (to eat and then keep working), so I introduced canned fish, mostly for the sauces, which are a tasty alternative to the Kräutersalz (herb-salt) and Basilikum (basil) that has been my main seasoning here. Here’s an array of fish dishes:

The produce selection has been quite good. Italy and Spain are to Europe what Florida and California are to the United States, although some fruit also comes from as far away as South Africa and Peru. I have tried to buy German and/or organic where possible. When I lived in Kreuzberg I had the option of joining an organic co-op, and if I had been living in the area longer than a month I would have. But I didn’t think it was worth the trouble for so short a stay and just tried not to look at the difference between the member and non-member prices.

Basically, my diet is very similar to what I ate in the United States. I still graze throughout the day, and I eat mostly the same variety of foods. What is different is that there have been more baked goods and less meat and variety at dinner. I have also started eating some foods that I didn’t used to, like kiwi, eggs sunny-side-up (Spiegeleier), and tomatoes (especially cherry, grape, or other small varieties). I also now know I like some less common foods, like rote Grütze (basically a sweetened mixture of various red berries like Stachelbeeren), calf liver, and blood sausage. Probably what I eat back at home won’t change very much, but I am definitely looking forward to a change in how I eat, namely sharing the cooking and eating of dinner with DH!

Friday, July 22, 2011

I ate that! Take 1

Technical difficulties have caused publication delays and a backlog of posts, so please bear with me. As I only have one week left in Germany, I will probably continue putting up new (old) posts throughout August, at which point teaching and dissertation reading/writing begin. This post is about my recent culinary adventures in Berlin. The title plays off the name of a flickr group (I Ate This) that encourages people to upload photographs of the dishes they’ve eaten, with particular interest in those that are different, creative, or unusual. Unfortunately, most of the food experiences I will describe here remain undocumented, as I either did not have my camera with me or did not want to take photos. So you will have to use your imagination for this one!

Food from the Land
Quark mit Erdbeeren

The lead photo is from the field trip I took one beautiful afternoon to Domäne Dahlem, a working organic farm and museum on the site of a very old manor estate in Dahlem, once a village outside of Berlin and now a chic suburb. I biked past the (Embassy of) the Republic of Morroco while getting lost on my way there [!]. I rested after the trip from the archive with a refreshing snack from their outdoor café. Quark is an untranslatable dairy product similar to yogurt but thicker. Maybe you can tell from the photograph that the advertised strawberries were accompanied by Himbeeren (raspberries)—not that I was complaining! Their tastiness reminded me that I hadn’t had any yet this summer. So on my way out after seeing the exhibits in the manor house I bought 5 Euros worth, enough for dessert that night and for breakfast for the rest of week. In the name of participatory research I probably should have chosen something new to me, like Stachelbeeren or Johannisbeeren, but I wasn’t sure what to do with them, and the raspberries looked so plump that I knew they would taste delicious. “Excuses, excuses,” said DH when I told him. I should have responded that they reminded me of him. Or at least, of the yummy raspberry pies he bakes!

Street Food
Currywurst ohne Darm (mit Curry und Ketchup) + Pommes Frites (mit Curry und Ketchup) + Fanta + Magnum Gold

The day I moved across Berlin, I used the necessity of eating on the run to sample the local street food, namely the famous curry sausage stand down the street from my old apartment. I opted for the skinless sausage, which was rather tubular and wrinkled. It came on a little paper tray, chopped in pieces, and covered in curry powder and ketchup. The french fries received the same treatment. Other options included Bockwurst (a sausage with skin) and “Pommes rot-weiss,” or “french fries red-white.” That refers to the sauces: ketchup and mayonnaise. As the really well-conceived Freilicht Museum Domäne Dahlem exhibit “In Bewegung--Wie Alltag sich verändert" (In Movement--How the everyday has changed) noted, even the language of street food has been abbreviated, like the preparation time and eating time. I rounded out my meal with a rare soda and an ice cream stick, which I discovered only after purchasing it was coffee-flavored (I’m not really a coffee fan). If you know me you know that I would never eat like this on a regular basis! Still, it was worth it for the experience. I may yet try a Berlin Bockwurst, if I make it to the Currywurst Museum, which is very close to the library I use here. But I think I’ll pass on the mayo-covered fries.

Restaurant Food
Gebratene Kalbsleber “Berliner Art” mit Kartoffeln, Zwiebeln, und Äpfeln + Salat

The first weekend after I moved I was facing Saturday evening and Sunday after church home alone and without internet. The family I’m renting from was gone on vacation, and the other subletter’s girlfriend was in town. How was I going to entertain myself? I decided to visit the Körperwelten (Body Worlds) exhibit after the library had closed, but I hadn’t packed dinner. At a local restaurant down the street (Jedermanns, or Everyman), I jumped at the chance to order Berlin-style fried calf liver. I’ve actually been looking for an opportunity to try kidney, too, after a friend of my roommate in Dresden talked them up. The liver looked like a dark-brown Wiener Schnitzel and tasted mostly firm (like meat). I thought it was good. It came with a puree of butter with some potato for consistency, a lot of onions, and two apple rings. The portion was big enough that I was able to bring half home for dinner the next night. Meanwhile, the Körperwelten exhibit showed all manner of body parts, with a particular emphasis on the heart and circulatory system, but the most sensational piece was a plastinated giraffe, clinging halfway up a palm tree, its rib cage opened like a pair of wings. I'll let you in on a little something I learned while taking anatomy in medical school: the dissecting lab turns some people off from food, but some times certain tissues can look like various foodstuffs and some people hungry! I fall into neither group. Maybe because my stomach clock is a law unto itself. :-)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On the Move Again

I recently moved across Berlin. I had always planned to spend two months here, but when my first housing arrangement fell through only a week before I was supposed to move in, I took a one-month sublease in Kreuzberg. My roommates were three men (the German owner and two Italians). They were the nicest guys, but the place was a stereotypical bachelor pad (i.e. gross). What was tragicomic was the number of cleaning products laying around that never seemed to get used (cleaning spray, mop, vacuum). It didn’t help that they smoked, either. Number of lighters on the magazine table in the bathroom: 7 (once I counted 8). The kitchen had what I took as classic Berlin WG* décor: a newspaper mural on the wall and rainbow flags as cabinet curtains. The clippings were mostly of athletes and various sexy women. The sign in the photo sums up the situation: Wo staubt liegt, herrscht Frieden. “Where dust lies, peace reigns.” Interpret that how you will!

Kreuzberg used to be divided into two zip codes, 61 and 63, which Berliners still use as shorthand. The former area in particular has a reputation for being hip and happening. That’s where I ended up, and hopefully my earlier posts about the street festivals (here and here) convey something of the vibe. Also characteristic of Kreuzberg are numerous Turkish-Germans (like the taxi driver who helped me move) and an active gay community. There’s a Schwules Museum (Gay Museum) down the street from my old place, and St. Matthew’s Cemetery is the resting place of quite a few famous Germans, including Rudolf Virchow** and Rio Reiser (of the band Ton Steine Scherben).*** I’m hoping to get there on a sunny afternoon after church one Sunday.


The map is a screen grab from a website that catalogs what is left of the Berlin Wall and its history. The dark red line follows the path of the Wall, and the orange circles have numbers to show how many objects or places of interest are nearby. I moved from bottom to top on the map, from old West Berlin to old East Berlin (black arrow).

As you can see, Prenzlauer Berg is on the other side of the city center from Kreuzberg. Also a desirable neighborhood in Berlin, it is more gentrified, and there are supposed to be more Russians and Spaniards living here. Unlike Kreuzberg, however, Prenzlauer Berg is actually on a hill (ein Berg is a mountain). This means that it stills takes me about 15 minutes to get to the library in the morning (tiny black circle in center of map), but the return trip is more like 20 minutes. I used to bike past the Holocaust Museum and then up through the side streets of the city center behind the Gendarmenmarkt, where traffic is regulated partly by courtesy and partly by who’s bigger/gutsier. Now I ride up and down one major thoroughfare, but the car traffic stays on the street, and the bicycle traffic has bike paths on the sidewalk. I pass the Fernseherturm (tv tower) on Alexanderplatz, the Berliner Dom on the Museuminseln (Museum Island in the Spree River), the Neue Wache (Tomb to the Unknown Soldier), and Humboldt Universität.

Interestingly enough, in both places my bedroom has/had yellow walls. Other than that, the new apartment is very different from the last one. For one, a family lives there (parents and elementary school-aged son) and rents out two spare bedrooms. Although they especially like to have non-German guests, the other roommate here now is a law student from Hamburg. After we leave, a college student from Chicago and a Chinese student are moving in. For two, the place is clean and bright. The décor has three themes: Berlin, Fußball (soccer), and Britania. There are garlands, postcards, and collages everywhere. The photo shows part of the mural in the guest bathroom, which also features three ladies running a currywurst stand and a green Ampelmann waving the Union Jack from the prow of the HMS Merlin.

I typed this while the “unfriendly” apartment cat sat in my lap. The landlady warned me about her when I came to view the place, and she (the cat, not the landlady!) promptly jumped into my lap. She’s a stripey tabby like my beloved fur-face back home, but decidedly plumper and not declawed, so I’ve had to discourage her from shredding my jeans in thanks for keeping her company while her humans are gone on vacation.

*--Wohngemeinschaft or “living community,” the typical living arrangement for single Germans. These are formal or ad hoc roommate arrangements.
**--I wrote my undergraduate senior honors thesis on this pathological anatomist-anthropologist-politician.
***--This is the first thing my new landlady mentioned when I told her where I was moving from.