Monday, January 25, 2016

On Baerchen Paerchen

What are Baerchen Paerchen?  Only the greatest gummi candy in the entire world.  Okay, that is not true - that is an epistemic problem I am unable to get into.  But they are good.  Oh so good.

They are gummis made by Haribo - and they come in pairs of bears (hence the name).  One bear of the pair is sweet and the other sour. They are just so extremely well done - each bear so flavorful and delicious. Here is a link to these marvels of candy, in case you were interested-

I feel a bit embarrassed admitting a fondness for such a brash, prepackaged food.  We live in a climate in which only the virtues of the "natural" - whatever that even means - are to be extolled.  But life needs gummy candies.  It needs the fun, the naughty, the mesmerizing.  It needs gummy candies made with pure human ingenuity.  With all of the the chemicals, the flavorings, the coloring agents, that go into them.  All those witch-like shenanigans that come together to make a delicious candy.

How wonderful it is to live in a world in which people decided that we need squishy candy shaped like pairs of bears holding hands, in flavors like lemon and cherry and orange and apple and currant and blueberry.  Sometimes we need our food to be fun, not precious.  Sometimes we need something to eat in bed that won't leave crumbs while watching through the series Deadwood for the third time. Sometimes we need to pack a happy snack for nibbling in our purse - and want something that won't get squished.  In fact, these even held up in a package shipped to the U.S.  Yay for preservatives!

There isn't a "natural" equivalent of these.  That perfect texture and the bright happy colors and the adorable bear shape.  Perfection.  If you tried to pick up a pair of actual bear cubs you would be eaten.  No one tries to eat you when you eat these. Unless you have taken the last one in the bag.

On fortune cookies

One of the most wonderful things ever invented is the fortune cookie.  Ever.   I mean, yeah, of course items like computers and cell phones and life-saving/life-improving medical devices and coffee makers and televisions and Zojirushi thermoses and Nutella are ahead of the fortune cookie. But the fortune cookie is definitely up there.

One finishes his or her meal and then is presented with a tiny package to open.  And this package is given (basically) each time one orders from or goes to a Chinese restaurant!  We should be going to Chinese restaurants ALL the time!  And this package has two(!!) components to it - a sweet crispy cookie to end the meal on a sweet note.  And literally a note, supposedly fated to end up in your very own hands! How is this not one of life's most exciting experiences?

These notes generally are of two types - the descriptive and the prescriptive/predictive.  I take the "fortune" in "fortune cookies" quite literally and harbor extreme disdain for the descriptive kind.  The kind that says "you are nice to everyone" or "you have made a decision."  We, as recipients of the fortune cookie, already know ourselves and we don't need a cookie to tell us what we already know. We want the cookie to tell us something that we DON'T know!  The most apt description presented in a cookie will always be quite inferior to a prescriptive/predictive kind.

The prescriptive/predictive kind uses phrases like "you should" or "you will."  Even when an alarming sort of fortune is predicted, these are still vastly superior to the descriptive kind.  For example, my most recent cookie said that I will be going to many parties.  Most people would probably not mind this fortune.  However, I, as an introvert, found this to be an ominous, anxiety-inducing nightmare situation to think about - I truly hope that my future does NOT involve me needing to go to parties!  I think those parties would be much, much better off without my awkward weirdness, out-of-date cultural references, and misanthropic tendencies mucking up the atmosphere. And yet, receiving this was more preferable than a description!  Because at least it was an actual fortune.

I submit to you two propositions - 1) all the notes in fortune cookies should be actual fortunes.  This is the harder of the two propositions because it is the part we don't control.  and 2) lets all eat more often from places that give us fortune cookies.  This is much more doable.  Life should have ever-more fortune cookies involved.

Hopefully we do not get the worst of all the fortune cookies - the ones that come with no fortune at all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

On creamy baked eggs

You know that feeling you have when you put on a warm robe on a cold winter morning?  Instantly, you go cold and miserable to happy and toasty.  And just a bit smug - for some reason, putting on a robe feels so indulgent, like you have just done something naughty.  And then you prance around joyously in your comfort, parading back and forth through the hall like the puffy queen of terrycloth that you have become.

Baking eggs in cream are like putting on that bathrobe.  All you need to do is place three tablespoons (yes, I believe in three.  at three, this becomes dip-like and oh so delicious.) of cream in a ramekin.  Then add a squirt of citrus juice.  Then throw in some herbs, salt, and pepper.  Then crack that egg into that glorious mess.  Bake at 200 C for about 10-15 minutes, until the whites have set but the yolk will be runny.

Then you take a hunk of crusty bread and do one of two things.  You either dip it right into your ramekin.  Or you spoon the mixture right onto the bread.  And now you have the bathrobe of breakfasts.  A most pleasing sensation for a world-weary soul.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On clementines

It has been said that beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy.  Perhaps so - as an agnostic, I suppose I could find the reasoning compelling!  But if it is indeed true that there is a god, then I submit the existence of clementines as proof that said higher power has a profound appreciation for beauty.

The clementine possesses an exquisite beauty - so wonderfully deep and orange and vibrant (especially when one finds them with the leaves still attached), standing as a contrast to the season's quiet darkness.  Amidst the fog and the mist and the snow and the darkness, these small orbs of joy remind us that color and sun will be returned to us.  It is this contrast of life and stillness, color and lack thereof, joy and sedation that makes one convinced that it had to be planned.

Clementines not only possess beauty, but taste and ease and portability.  Only a perfectly ripe clementine can give one that delicious rush of sweet and sour juice, a most energizing and invigorating force.  And it arrives in its very own packaging, it is so easy to peel and take anywhere without worrying about it becoming mush at the bottom of your purse - this is, without a doubt, a most special kind of fruit.

A world without clementines would be a bit dimmer, a bit less vibrant, a bit less delicious, a bit less marvelous.  At the end of the day, I can't actually know that a higher power exists just based on the presence of clementines in our world.  But I like the idea.

Monday, January 11, 2016

On buttermilk biscuits

I was going to sit here and extol the virtues of the two-in-one nature of buttermilk biscuits.  On their chameleon-like ability to morph between savory and sweet with the right backdrop.  Serve with whipped cream (scented with vanilla or lavender to make this particularly lovely), berries, butter, honey, and jam - and you have a sweet breakfast, snack or even dessert.  Serve with cheddar, deli meats/sausage/bacon, Dijon mustard, butter, snipped chives, and slices of radish and cucumber -  and you have a savory breakfast, snack, or dinner.  Serve it with all of those, and you don't even have to choose between savory and sweet - you get to have both!

But isn't this so self-explanatory that it isn't even necessary for me to remark upon it?  I suppose it is.  However, I can't stop myself - I feel particularly defensive about buttermilk biscuits.  

I love them, oh how I love them.  So buttery and pillowy.  So wonderfully golden-brown on the outside and dreamy soft in the inside.  And did I mention buttery?  I love them plain and fuss-free.  I love them with a pat of butter.  I love them loaded with accoutrements - both the sweet and savory kind.  My love for them is unconditional.  Yet I feel a bit prickly and anxious near a mention of them.

Because I love them and their chameleon-like quality, I have served these for overnight guests.  And while some have shared my enthusiasm and love, building up my confidence and hosting skills, and making me feel at ease,  others have not.  Others have brushed over the effort put into the serving of these treats and glossed over their inherent deliciousness, leaving me feeling exposed, vulnerable, and ashamed.  And my cheeks burn with embarrassment as I remember those feelings of pride and happiness in sharing a beloved dish being blown into smithereens.

So now that I have acknowledged the source of my defensiveness, perhaps I can finally let it go.  And return to the uncomplicated and simple joy that buttermilk biscuits necessitate.  These are, after all, a two-in-one dish.  Not a two plus heaping side of defensiveness and embarrassment dish.  Two is plenty. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

On walnuts

Most food is background noise to us.  We have our favorites - the foods that get us excited, that remind us of previous moments, that make our bellies full and happy (oh hello there pan-fried dumplings!).  Then there are the foods that we hate - that we have become trained to avoid for whatever reason - distaste, disgust, allergies, sensitivities, etc (I am, unfortunately, looking at you olives, garlic, and onions!). We tend to focus on our friends and enemies of the food world, while our acquaintances fade away, garnering little attention from us.

Every now and then, however, an acquaintance moves up to a full-fledged friend.  We spend a little more time together, discover previously unknown qualities about them, and then suddenly the kitchen needs to make room to store more of this new friend.  

I have recently gone through this leveling up of friendship with walnuts.  I hadn't been anti-walnut, previously.  Just a bit meh about them - only using them when it seemed necessary.  Now I am bringing home bags chock full of them and dumping them into the large bowl that has now been converted to full-time nut holding and taking up valuable kitchen space.  I can't get enough of their sweetly bitter, fatty taste.  I love that satisfying feeling of successfully cracking open that hard shell.  I love the sound of the shell breaking.  And I especially love excavating that craggy, brain-like nut meat.  I love it all.  I'm sad that I missed out on valuable walnut time for so long, but I have been busily making up for all that lost time together.  I do believe that my new-found friendship with walnuts will be a long, fruitful one.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

On hidden treasures

Some produce is inherently charming.  Strawberries, blueberries, clementines, shiny green apples, romanesco cauliflower - all of these draw you in so easily, so readily.  How can one not resist those juicy red berries, those fun little dark blue orbs, those bright and happy citrus fruits (especially when sporting cute little green leaves on top), those crisp and proper apples just waiting to be picked, the bizarre and captivating brassicas - they are all so easy to love and eat and bring home and adore.

Others sitting in the produce aisle or at the produce market lack these innate charms and instant lovability.  Some are even prickly - both figuratively and literally.  Like, for instance, the pineapple - an alien-looking creature that is quite difficult to grasp and sports a brownish-yellow coat.  Or the artichoke - so sadly green and pointy.  Or the kiwi fruit, looking like fuzzy pieces of poop.  Or the turnips and rutabagas and celery roots - the lowly root vegetables whose outward charms are so lacking that we generally overlook them, rendering them invisible.

As much as I am a sucker for the produce in the first category, my heart truly belongs to the produce in the second.  The ones that need some love and care, to hack away the nasty hard parts to get at the delicious goodness inside.  The ones that need some extra prep to make them stand out and proud. The ones that need a bit of extra oven time to sing.  Today, I will be sure to fill up my basket with the hidden treasures of the produce world.

Monday, January 4, 2016

On the best thing I ate in 2015

Recently, Seth and I were discussing this topic - the best thing we had eaten in 2015.  It seems fairly straightforward - what was the tastiest thing we had consumed?

But appearances can be deceiving.  Unlike Seth, I couldn't separate a food/meal from its context.  Was the best thing I ate..

1) The first cake I had baked here in our new home?  It was absolutely not a fancy cake.  It was a simple one - a chocolate chip one perfect for snacking  - no icings, no fillings, no decorations.  This cake, however, was the first thing I had baked in approximately 4 months.  Between Molly's birth in November, the international move, and living in temporary housing for 2 months, baking had become almost impossible.  But finally, a few days after moving into our new home, everything came together and I finally had the material and the time to bake a simple cake.  And it was grand.

2) Or was it the first doener kebab I had here in Hamburg.  This - this is the food I had fallen in love with during my study abroad in Berlin.  And had never been able to find in the United States.  In fact, Seth used a photo of doener to help me concentrate in getting through contractions during my unmedicated birth of Molly.  And now, here it was back in my arms, after being away from me for almost decade.  That wonderfully seasoned meat, the salad and sauce, the bread - it was everything i had hoped it would be.  While I loved every bite of it, I am sure that objectively, someone would find it uninspired and not the best version in the city.  But I don't care.

3) Or was it the multi-course dinner served in Hotel Schoenburg during our trip to the Rhein River Valley?  It had been a warm summer day, and we had been out exploring.  I should note that "out exploring" means that I trek around while wearing Molly in a baby carrier and lug a giant purse/diaper bag.  Seth got it into his head that we should see the town of Oberwesesel and its old Roman wall.  And that we should walk all away around it so that we can see as much as possible.  This idea - pleasant at first - became absurd, as it became clear that we were unable to easily find an opening through this wall to get back into town and into the car and to rest and to food and to water. But finally, finally we were able to hike to just the right place to get around that wall and back into town and then to the hotel where a civilized, delicious dinner was available.  How that food refreshed my body and soul!  And oh that glass of beer - I'm not sure any will ever taste as delicious as that did!  The food and service for dinner at the hotel can border on stuffy, and quite frankly, ridiculous, with its pomp and circumstance.  But all was cherished that night.  The truffle cream pasta, the veal medallions in mushroom sauce, the mashed potatoes...on its own, each was good, but not outstanding - but that night, together, they were everything.

Of course, I have no idea which of these is the "best."  And there have been many other delicious things I've eaten this year - including so many new ones!  But time and memory seem to have carried them away.  So I suppose, at least for me, it truly is the context - the emotions, the circumstances - around food that turns them into precious memories.