Berlin Berlin!

Just wanted to write a bit about our Christmas trip to Berlin last weekend.  We spent Friday through monday there and had a lovely room at the Hyatt at Potsdamer Platz.

The first night we flew in and arrived at the hotel around 9.  We walked around near the hotel, found the SONY center, which is this cool indoor/outdoor mall.  Had a very traditional German meal at a restaurant (sausages and kraut, of course), and went back to the hotel to crash.  Saturday was Christmas Eve, and we hadn’t realized that most of the city would be closed! D’oh!!! And it was raining.  But we made the most of it.  Walked through Tiergarten Park and THROUGH the Brandenburg Gate, which was pretty spectacular.  From there we headed toward Museum Island.  We stopped in at the Neue Wache monument to victims of atrocities.  That was one of my favorite sites during our visit.  The monument is very simple, with a single sculpture, a modern version of La Pieta.  The roof directly above it is open in a circle, and as it was lightly raining while we were there, the rain fell on and just around the sculpture in a really moving way.

That night we met up with JHO’s cousin and his girlfriend for turkish kababs and grilled veggies at a lowkey place in the Turkish area of Berlin, Kreuzberg.  It was very nice to meet the girlfriend and hear about their adventures traveling the world.  After dinner we popped into a bar for a cup of mulled wine.  Smoking is still allowed in bars there!  It was thick!  But the atmosphere was very convivial and relaxed.  Nice not to worry so much about appearances.  You could really feel how much more casual Berlin is than Paris.

The next day was Christmas!  We had a lovely HUGE breakfast at the hotel and got treated like royalty by the waitstaff.  JHO and I demolished waffles, sausages, more sausages, eggs, pastries, breads, MORE PASTRIES!  It was intense.  By the time we got moving it was pretty late in the day, but we made it to 2 really cool things: A huge artist squat with completely graffitied stairwells and a big sculpture garden; and the Pergamon Museum  (containing huge portions of Pergamon’s temple to Athena and the surrounding frieze).  After the museum we met up with the cousin and copaine again for dinner in a Russian restaurant.  What a great atmosphere!  Very vibrant, with a pianist playing old 50s showtunes.  Good food, although it was quite heavy and copious.  Afterwards we had drinks at a pretty, cozy little bar called Scotch & Sofa.  I had a non-alcoholic cocktail with pineapple juice, gingerale, o.j.  delicious!

Our last day we finally made it to the famous Christmas market, Gendarmenmarkt.  It was very full.  We downed a waffle with cherries and custard, some mulled wine, and bought some sugar-coated hazelnuts for the road.  The trip back to Paris was so easy.  When we arrived back at our apartment I could it felt like I had just been riding through the streets of Berlin.  Next time…clubbing for JHO;-)


The Upper Crust

Just a post to remind myself of a good meal in Boston.  John took me to The Upper Crust in Beacon Hill.  Next best pizza to Lucali’s for me.  Highly recommeded if you’re in the Boston area.  Apparently the owners are Williams alumns and they bought the rights to Hot Tomato’s recipe.  That’s a Williamstown pizza place.


The Prep Work

Something I’ve noticed recently about cooking, at least the type that I do, is that it’s not the actual cooking that takes so much time and energy.  It’s acquiring the ingredients that’s the hard part.  Especially here in Paris.  There’s no one-stop shopping.  You go to the boulangerie for your bread, the fromagerie for your cheese, one stall in the farmers market for your veggies, another stall for your meat.  It’s not easy, but I’m not really complaining.  When each vendor or store specializes in one thing, their product is more likely to be of high quality.  Don’t get me wrong…there are supermarkets here with pretty much everything you need in one place.  That’s just not the preferred method of buying groceries here.

My meals lately have been pretty simple, but focused on quality ingredients.  For instance, I made a roasted chicken with potatoes, carrots and onions.  My time in the kitchen was minimal.  I spent about 20 minutes peeling and chopping veggies.  The oven did the rest.  But buying those ingredients took more time and effort. I got those ingredients from 2 different stores and probably spent over an hour doing that.

This is similar to sewing in that the actual sewing on a sewing machine is not the time-consuming part of “sewing”.  Cutting out the pattern, cutting out the fabric, pressing seams, trimming seams – those are the things that take the most time. Realizing this distinction allows for better time management-more realistic expectations about what parts of the task (i.e. cooking or sewing) will need more time.  It also helps me be patient with the more time-consuming parts.  Maybe this is old news but I’m just discovering it.

Independent Errands

John started his intensive language class today, so it was my first day on my own in Paris.  I was nervous about it. I knew I needed to get out of the house in order to stay sane and I did want to buy some odds and ends.  It’s always good for me to have specific goals/errands in mind when getting acquainted with a city.  I can wander once I’m a little more comfortable.  One of the biggest challenges for me in Paris right now is total disorientation.  Forget the lovely grid system of manhattan and Park Slope.  Here, streets are rarely at right angles, boulevards change names, alleyways are streets, and I have no idea which way is up.  So I spent alot of today just trying to keep in mind where I was relative to my apartment.  And I made it back home without consulting the map at all!

1) toiletries at monoprix.  The pharmacies here really seem to cater to women.  You walk in and you’re in a seafoam-green and white, calm environment with every kind of facial wash imaginable.
2) groceries at franprix.  not very exciting…cereal, yogurt, milk, wine.  I am still pretty excited about the yogurt here b/c it’s definitely richer than in the U.S.  Activia is everywhere here and every time I see it I think of this SNL sketch.  Needless to say, I do not buy Activia anywhere.
3) fresh 4-cheese gnocchi and parmesan at the italian pasta shop.  The woman who helped me gave me advice on preparation. 2-3 mins. in the water, then a little sauce of butter and parmesan, being careful not to burn the butter.  my first french cooking lesson.

Tomorrow I’m planning on going to a market to buy some fresh fish and veggies.  Today I was a little late for that.  The markets (like farmers markets…outdoors stands)  close arond 1:30 pm.  So I’ll have a reason to get out the door early tomorrow.

Fresh, the movie

On Wednesday I went to the premiere screening of Fresh, the movie.  It was such a positive, inspiring event.  I highly recommend that you see the film if you get a chance. If you go to their website and sign up for the mailing list they’ll keep you posted on screenings.  The film is about the need to move away from BIG agriculture…the surplus of farms that grow only corn/soybeans & the cattle lots that house thousands of cows and pigs.  

I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma a couple of months ago and really enjoyed it.  Fresh, the movie has many of the same characters and themes.  For me the most inspiring part of the book is the section about Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Virginia.  Salatin has a staring role in Fresh and he was at the screening on a Q&A panel afterward.  He’s a very charismatic, entertaining character.  Salatin farms grass- that is the building block of his farm.  His cattle feed on the grass (a beautiful mixture of clovers and many other grasses).  He controls the area they are allowed to graze and moves them daily to mimic the nomadic grazing of herds in nature. Their manure fertilizes the land for future grass crops. 3 days after a herd grazes a pasture, he moves his hens there in his tractor-drawn egg-mobile.  The hens pick through the cow dung, eating the tasty grubs, making their eggs full of protein and omega-3s.  This relationship between the foul and the cattle also mimics nature.  

It all makes sense and it’s a beautifully choreographed dance through the acres of his property.  In the movie he says in all the years he’s been farming there he’s never bought a single pound of feed or fertilizer.  amazing.

As I mentioned Salatin sat on a panel after the movie.  The other panelists were Will Allen, who’s doing very exciting vertical urban farming in the middle of Milwaukee; Joan Gussow, a founding member of Just Food, and a  professor at Columbia University; and Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner, of Blue Hills at Stone Barn (he was recently named top chef in the country).

The main take-away points I got from the panel were:

1) Organic can work.  It is possible and can be financially profitable and sustainable. Now we just need more organic farmers.

2) When choosing between buying organic and buying local-BUY LOCAL.  Gussow made the point that if we don’t support our small local farmers, how are they going to become strong enough financially to become organic.  Organic certification by the US government is NOT cheap.  It is more important to support our local small farmers at the moment.

3) we should all try to grow our own fruit and vegetables as much as possible.

So, this (gorgeous!) morning I walked to the Grand Army Plaza farmers market, supported our local farmers there, and bought two tomato plants I will attempt to grow on my fire escape.  Striped German tomatoes.  I hope they survive. mmmmm fresh tomatoes! can’t wait!

a good day (part one)

Even though Sunday was a miserably grey day, it turned out to be a really good New York day.  I met up with my friend Jessica for tea at Alice’s Tea Cup and they seated us in about 30 minutes instead of the hour and a half they had originally estimated. yay! Jessica and I had peeked in an Alice’s a couple of months ago and i was a colorful shop with girls wearing fairy wings, so I had to go.  It’s got an Alice in Wonderland theme with fanciful murals painted on the wall, old shabby chic tables and benches, and of course pretty china.  The hostess was wearing purple fairy wings and then a couple of little girls who were having tea were wearing them.  I was relieved not to wear them. It actually felt like a sophisticated tea.  We did a full-on tea-for-two. Jessica got an Assam tea and i had a lavendar earl grey that wasn’t too lavendar-y…just write.  They brought us a three-tiered tray of goodies to stuff ourselves with: wonderful fresh scones (mixed berry, pumpkin, and goat cheese & basil (heaven!), sandwiches (wonderful lox and ham & gruyere with a honeymustard and greens), and lots of sweets (a mocha cake and 5 or 6 cookies). we focused on the tea, scones and sandwiches, and couldn’t really even deal with the sweets on the bottom.  I was happily stuffed and slightly jittery at the end. 

Afterwards, we wandered around and went to some shops on the upper west side.  I rarely go up there, so just being in the neighborhood was a fun change of pace. 

for more…see a good day (part two)

battle of the brooklyn pizzas

Okay, John and I finally tried Grimaldi’s Pizza last week for his birthday (Happy Birthday, Johno!!!).  Grimaldi’s is a famous pizza place in brooklyn heights, near the waterfront.  They serve brick oven pizza, and their spot is crammed with tables. It’s almost like eating family style except you don’t have to share your pizza with strangers.  We’ve tried to go before and there’s normally a line. this time there wasn’t….wednesday night at 7:30 pm.  I have to say, it was good, but not as good as Lucali’s.

If you haven’t heard me rave about Lucali’s before, her you go. It’s the BEST pizza i’ve ever had. And the ambiance is really nice. it’s dark, relaxed, you can see right into the kitchen and see the big bowls of fresh mushrooms, mozzerella balls, peppers.  Apparently they use 3 or 4 types of cheese on the pizza, and i think that’s what makes it better than Grimaldi’s.  So, if possible, you must go to Lucali’s. Some things to know:

575 Henry Street

It’s BYOB. there’s a corner store down the block that can hook you up.

There’s normally a wait. But the waitresses are cool and if you give them your phone number as they put you on the wait list, they’ll call you when your table is about to free up. so you can wander a few blocks away to another carroll gardens or red hook bar and have a drink while you wait.  i recommend supporting a bar on columbia street if possible.

It’s Cash Only

They only do pizzas and calzones. no salads, no breadsticks. just the essentials.

Back 40…homerun

Caroline gave a great review of a restaurant in Alphabet City  (Ave B x 12th St) called The Back 40, so last night we gave it a try.  WOW! I can still taste the pork jowl nuggets in jalapeno jam.  melt in your mouth!  The atmosphere is like a rustic farmhouse. rough hewn tables and chairs, wood panelled walls, dim warm lighting.  another treat was the order of freshly made doughnuts drizzled in a little bit of icing.  As we finished our meal, two of the wait staff walked out of the kitchen carrying a whole suckling pig on a board.  They made a tour of the restaurant and then carried it back into the kitchen and sliced it up.  That was a bit unnerving.   Other than that, a wonderfully pleasant, delicious meal.  Thanks, Caroline!

Preparing to Cook in Vermont

John and I are joining some friends for a ski weekend in Vermont in a few weeks. We still don’t have the lodgings pinned down but we’re on our way to planning the menus, thanks to Mark Bittman’s recent article in The Times:

Favorites that I’d like to recreate: sheep’s milk gnocchi with winter squash, pine nuts and sage; goat cheese and pumpkin-stuffed ravioli with a sauce of beets & dill. Anything with beets is good in my book!