Coffee Swan

If you’re wondering why my waist is no longer discernable and my skin looks red and splotchy, it’s because I’ve eaten so many sausages this weekend that I’m turning into one.
On Friday, a friend and I went for breakfast at the good coffee shop by the train station*. When we got there, we realized that most of the world’s espresso machines were lined up there in all of their shiny glory, ready for the 2011 Deutsche Barista Championship. Cameras were flashing and the cappuccinos were flowing and people were a little jittery. (Although the coffee was delicious and the design in the foam was just so, it didn’t hold a candle to Cassie’s in Delta, CO: she made a latte that had a a swan in it! She’s clearly the Barista of the Decade. A swan!)
We drank our coffee, got filmed drinking our coffee, and decided not to try to eat breakfast there (croissant plus black sweater plus onsite media team to record my major crumboob? No thanks.) We ended up at a very, um, authentic four-table basement restaurant right by the slaughterhouse. Apparently ‘spirulina smoothie’ doesn’t translate, so we ate what was on offer: hard but tasty bread rolls (brotchen) with a smear of butter and various sausagey products on top. There was spreadable liverwurst, a harder, drier sliced liverwurst, blutwurst (blood sausage) and a summer sausage in slices that were easily 8 inches across. This place was so serious about the sausage that they didn’t serve mustard!
Inspired by the breakfast, we then walked to not one, but two butchers. I got roughly 1/20th of the things that looked delicious, and lugged everything home thinking that I was glad that the German’s aunt and uncle were coming the next day to help us eat it all. When they arrived, their hostess gift was, of course, an enormous sausage that they brought from their favorite farmer/butcher/sausage maker. And it was good. So now there are 8 kinds of sausage in the fridge, and I’ve been Googling ‘nitrites + preservatives + youthful looking skin from the inside out’ and ‘amount of fiber in sausage casings’ and ‘high cholesterol is better for you than diabetes, right?’ So far, results are mixed.

I’m off to floss my teeth for the sixth time today. Good night.

*the coffee shop is Elbgold, and they take their shit serious. Their coffee is so good that the decaf is delicious! The last time the German and I were there we were chatting with one of the main coffee nerds. He asked if I was from the U.S. and then quizzed me on coffee: did I know of Stumptown Coffee Roasters (yes, I like their Hairbender,) had I been to the new Stumptown in Manhattan (yes, it opens at 5 am which is super convenient for jetlag-ridden Europeans,) had I heard of Intelligentsia (yes, when they start a new account with a coffee shop they send out their Intelligentsia trainers to make sure that the coffee beans are treated with the utmost care and respect.)
Thanks to Jessica (for introducing me to Stumptown), jetlag (for getting me to the Stumptown in Manhattan oh-so-early of a morn,) and Nancy (for her knowledge of all things Intelligentsia), I am now the proud owner of a modicum of coffee-nerd respect from an entrant in the Deutche Barista Championships. Next time I’m there I’m totally showing him a picture of Cassie’s swan.

Tengo Ganas

It’s not like it’s a tire around my neck, stooping me over and draining my enthusiasm for the good cheeses and better coffee and interesting sausages in Hamburg. It’s not like a bug buzzing around my ear, spoiling my concentration and slowly driving me mad. It’s just an occasional sharp twinge: I want enchiladas.

Red sauce, green sauce, mole or al nogal. Con carne, chicken, al pastor, or just cheese. At Polvo’s, at Curra’s, at Fonda San Miguel. I want enchiladas.

Countdown to Austin visit: 21 days.

There’s a Petey Pablo song that is (kind of) helping me ease through the enchilada twinges. He says, “Sticky icky come get me. Good God Almighty, hot dogs and chili.” I think that the lyrics reference his extended incarceration and the resultant restraints on freedom to choose from his favorite foods, but it might be a euphamism of another sort. Simpleton that I am, every time I think about it I want a chili cheese dog from Casino El Camino in Austin. Soon!
In the meantime, meine Eltern are coming to visit and I’m SO EXCITED!!!

You Topia!

The kids in Hamburg wear Rayban Wayfarers, just like the kids in Brooklyn. The servers in sit-down restaurants enter your order on a discreet touchscreen at the server’s station, just like they do in Chicago. The fusion restaurants are big into microgreens, just like they are in Austin. Not everything, however, is the same. Let’s play:
How to play: imagine that you are creating the world. In the following list of things that are different and/or availble in one country and not in the other, choose which you would include in your utopia, and which you would relegate to the very depths of hell.
• Paper at government offices is 1.5 centimetres longer in Germany than in the US, making it just barely long enough to dog-ear all of the documents sticking out of every folder I own. You’re God in this game, so which length would YOU choose? If you go with the longer size, that’s fine, but could you tell me why?
• Bed sizes are standardized in each country, but not to the same standard. Sheets, comforters, even pillows are not interchangeable. So, God, you tell me: 100x150cm or 60”x75”? YOU get to decide! Fun, no?
• Electrical outlets – 3 prong rectangular, 2-prong rectangular, or 2-prong round? Let us remember that the harnessing of electricity was invented in the US, and asking that the entire world convert to the US system is NOT like expecting everyone to speak English. Not at all.
• Swans that can fly. Yea or Nea?
• Assigned seating in the movie theatre. Please say yes. Please say yes. It’s awesome.
• Drive thrus. In Germany, even the drive-through car wash at the Shell station has you get out of your car. In the drive-through car wash! Ha!
• Nut butters (other than peanut,) corn tortillas, salsa.
• Very, very good coffee, surprisingly tasty milk, and a zillion delicious ways to eat cabbage.
• Netflix.
• 75% Voting rate.
• Good Korean food.
• Kinder Eggs.
• Leash Laws.

All sorted? Have you created a magical land where you can have a ridiculously good espresso with an almond butter sandwich? And did you resist the temptation, in this utopia, to make the espresso available in a to-go cup from a drive-through? Good! Then try to figure out why, if in the US and in Germany we can all agree to use the same goddamn iPhone 4, we can’t get these other differences ironed out. Why all the cabbage but no Kimchi, Germany? Why the moratorium on fun bits of plastic inside children’s candy, USDA?


After a quickie minor surgery this morning, I had a couple of requests for my caretaker: a few funny, cleverly scripted romcoms in English – my hint was ‘exactly like The Princess Bride, but that I haven’t seen before’ – and some Gatorade. I knew that the first request was unlikely to be fulfilled on a Monday morning in Hamburg, but I thought that the second would be an easy win. What, you ask, did the German bring back from the Gatorade store?

Strawberry-flavored kombucha.

Because when you want the rehydrating properties of a sports drink in a soothingly familiar flavor and color, any old fermented tea will do.


…and now I want some saltines. Damn it. In his defense, the German made a nourishing, refreshing watermelon/milk smoothie that was better than Gatorade, anyway.

Guess what the nurse offers you when you wake up from surgery? Coffee! On a pretty little tray with milk and a few fancy cookies! Odd, no?

The Spring Pear

Spring has sprung here in Northern Germany. The crocuses are enjoing the warmth of the sun, the days are longer than they are wide, and the hipsters in our neighborhood have broken out their white jeans.
This winter didn’t seem too terribly long to me, probably because I spent large swaths of it in temperature-controlled airports. I missed the long days of bitter cold, and the weeks with nothing to eat but some wrinkly potatoes and the last of the storage onions. The relative cornucopia of my winter diet does not dampen my enthusiasm for spring produce: I am thrilled when the asparagus arrives, and spend ages in the ‘sprouts’ section of the greengrocer trying to indentify the bulky yellow ones between the pea shoots and the sunflower sprouts. I get excited about new peas, about the availability of edible nasturtiums, and about the improved quality of the fresh herbs. Amidst all of this newness, imagine my surprise when a PEAR, that most autumnal of fruit, was the winner of this morning’s breakfast fruit-off! A small, perfect, yellow/red, spotted pear that wasn’t even soft! I don’t know where it came from, or what its name was, or who it’s related to, so I am free to imagine that it is a special Spring Pear that grows in cloud forests on a vine with large, daffodil-yellow flowers. Why not, right? The color scheme makes sense for the season, and if we can crosswalk the death of Jesus to the Easter Bunny and further to Peeps and Cadbury eggs, the Spring Pear concept isn’t even a struggle.

This week I’m taking drugs (not the kind that need a special scale,) and they are interfering with my sense of taste. I know this, in part, because I got some shampoo in my mouth this morning and it wasn’t a big deal – it didn’t really taste like anything. I know from previous experience that shampoo tastes like a burning plastic bag, so this worried me. Later I made what I thought was a killer leek/ginger/lemongrass/soy/garlic topping for salmon in papillote, but when we had it for dinner it tasted alternately like honey and then like green beans. Weird.
The Spring Pear’s debut today was exceptionally well-timed: it had a clean, full pear taste and, especially important this week, it was a pear! A delicious moment of taste sanity in an otherwise mixed-up week.

The German is tons of fun to cook with: he eats ravenously, he pays attention to what things taste like, he will try anything, and he gives good compliments. He does tend to start the compliment before he’s actually tasted the food, but I like the eagerness and he recallibrates the intensity of the compliment appropriately as he’s chewing. His reaction to the Spring Pear was perfect: wide eyes, an “Oh!”, and a little laugh. I love watching him eat.