Art, I guess

A friend came to Berlin for my last 4 days. He’s very avant garde and we went to a place called the Hamburger Bahnhof. It was, at one time, a train station or something, now it is an art museum on the order of the Musee D’Orsay. Except not at all like it. It is a forum, somehow, for modern art. No hamburgers though.

“The reduced formal language of her mostly large-scale creations may initially recall the works of Charlotte Posenenske or other representatives of this art movement of the last century.”

I have no clue what that means and I don’t even know what to think of this sort of art. It looked like someone had moved out and just left stuff in the rooms. Nothing of any consequence. Just some pieces of crap that didn’t belong to any other things. Debris. I wish I could at least understand what this “art” was, if not fully appreciate it. It’s on the order of anchovies. I wish I liked them but in the meantime I just plain don’t.

At least I didn’t have to taste these things.

Bye-bye Berlin

The idea was that I was going to move to Berlin while my husband waited for his green card to come through he so could work and live in the US at which point we’d move back. The process of getting the green card could take more than a year and finding a decent job in the US could take much longer. So I was planning to abandon my family and friends, and more importantly my garden, and stay for at least a year or more. Last spring when I was there we went apartment hunting, and I was really looking forward to living there. My German is not anywhere near fluent, or even existent, but I’d take classes. I’d get to know the butcher. I looked at expat groups, planned to set up a studio, we toured neighborhoods, and looked at apartments. And then just when we were about to close on a perfect apartment he got offered a great job in Wisconsin.

You can see the conflict that might have arisen for me. On the one hand the plan has always been that he would return to the US, hopefully somewhere close to Wisconsin, or easy enough to get to, and so here, this job, was better than we’d ever expected or imagined. On the other hand, no year in Berlin. No fun expat clubs filled with tedious retirees yammering on about god-knows-what, pining for Pop Tarts and Kool-aid. No trips to KaDeWe for Flügelflupfen. No flouncing around Potsdammer Platz. No Peking Ente. And yet . . .

I love Berlin. It is not as charming as Paris, although it is far less frantic, it does have its charms. There is almost nothing old (for pretty obvious reasons) but there is something so wonderful about it. I will say it isn’t the people, they’re, well, German and while they can seem rude there is a certain freedom in being completely ignored. The Germans, though, seem to be far more politically on top of things. I mean, they had Angela Merkel while we had Donald Trump, for chrissake. You can protest on the lawn right in front of their federal council, their senate.

The architecture is awesome. Walking is a joy unless you step into the bike lane. The public transport is fantastic. The city is clean, safe, there’s a great art scene (not that I’m much into art scenes), terrific restaurants. There are vast accessible parks, rivers and green spaces. There is unbelievable shopping. KaDeWe. OMG. I never liked shopping but I miss shopping, I miss stores. They have them.

It’s hard to say how the Berliners or Germans in general deal with their past. There are markers called Stolpersteine in the sidewalk all over Berlin (and many other places, even other countries the story is here) at the confiscated homes of people, Jewish, but also gay and other targeted minorities, who were murdered by the Nazis. There is a huge sobering memorial in the middle of the center of the city. There are over 20 memorials in Berlin and the full history of the country is prominently displayed inside of the Bundestag (seat of government) without ignoring this hideous aspect of their past. Is that all that’s being done? Is it enough? I don’t know. But it is not ignored or invisible.

So now I will not be living in Berlin. Husoor (who-zoor is an Urdu word for “the boss”) will be in Madison. It isn’t Milwaukee, but it also isn’t a continent away—and I have an electric car so, you know, that ol’ carbon footprint. And who knows, if the political situation in the United States gets worse I may live in Berlin after all.

The fall harvest

I am home now and I do have some other stuff I want to say about Berlin since it is unlikely that I will ever see it again. But in the meantime I came home to this welcome sight in my greenhouse. Tangerines! My own “tree.” Actually it’s a satsuma and I have no idea what that is but I will find out soon. One is already nearly ripe.

Surprisingly the squirrels seem to have been unable to find their way in to the greenhouse and tear them off but not eat them.

Home again, home again

You know how when you come home after long and brutal 20 hour travel day and you just collapse into bed and sink into a deep, deep, richly satisfying sleep and then at 2 am the battery in the fire alarm in your bedroom runs out and starts to beep? No? Well I do.

And then after you get your ladder, because my ceilings are 75 feet high, and take the battery out you discover it’s one of those wacko rectangular batteries with “snaps” on it and it’s 2 in the morning and there is nothing open anywhere near here. Without a great deal of hope I went downstairs to the drawer above my tool drawer which is what my niece would call a “monkey drawer” but in my case is more like a “monkey island drawer” in which you can find everything from blue metallic thread to super glue to some little wooden things whose purpose is long lost to me. But there, miraculously, was one of those square snap batteries. Thank god I lit all of those candles I’m sure that did the trick.

So I got that all straightened away, still tired enough to be able to get back to sleep, I turned off the light and noticed a large black thing moving across the wall up at the ceiling near my bed. I mean, seriously????!!!?! Because I am basically blind I could not tell what it was. Too small for a bat, I hoped, too big for a spider, I hoped as well. I put my glasses on, turned on the light and discovered the largest centipede I’d ever seen in my life.

I got a fly swatter and took a whack at it only to have it fall onto me. Well. I am proud to say that my response was not as desperately fruitsational as one might expect under those circumstances, still, I noticed that lights in neighboring houses went on. But I freaking lost the thing . . . IN MY BED!!!

You know, just what you want to be doing at (now) 2:45 in the morning even on a good day. I took the bed apart, removed everything from and moved the night stand. It streaked across the floor and under the dresser with such speed I didn’t even have a chance to comprehend what was happening. I mean, the freaking thing has a million legs. The dresser is an inch off the floor and immovable. Fine. There’s a centipede living under my dresser. I am at one with nature. I went back to bed and slept until 5:45.

OK, it’s me

The squirrel made a second trip to help herself to the bird feed. Husoor claims to have never seen one here before now and I have seen Little Judy twice. Really it doesn’t seem to be any way she could get up here. That’s the window they show up in. I know, it’s me.

Failed bread becomes tortillas

I’d been promised an Elsa’s burger au poivre by my local kitchen tryant for dinner or his version of it anyway. It is one of my favorites and I was thrilled about it. But I had no plans to eat that on a German brötchen, the consistency is completely wrong. In fact, none of their buns or rolls are the right size, shape or consistency for a hamburger. So I decided to make my own brioche buns, it’s not that hard. That is, unless you’re cooking in someone else’s kitchen with someone else’s yeast. I was assured with absolute certainty that the yeast was good even though my frena the week before had not reached the desired fluffiness.

Of course, dough never rose. Like I spent a day constantly peaking at the dough to see if it was “doubling in size” which is what all recipes tell you should happen. Mine did not double in size. It just sat there like the lump it was. So, no burger au poivre. We ended up making chili and he made tortillas with the dough instead. How many people have a tortilla press?

He does.

Tortilla dough is basically flour, salt, water and possibly some sort of fat. Brioche dough is flour, milk, egg, yeast, and a lot of butter. The tortillas ballooned up like pitas over the “fire” which was fine. They tasted pretty much just like tortillas.

My lifetime quest for French bread

Ideally I would be finding it in a charming little boulangerie in France or, if life were fair, making it in my own kitchen with home made butter. Imagine my surprise, delight, chagrin to find perfect French bread in the form of plain old supermarket brötchen in Berlin. These particular Brötchen were still hot from the oven. They were just perfect. Crisp, thin crust and tender, airy crumb. Delicious. I had intended to make a sandwich for lunch but the bread was so good that I just ate it, still warm, with Irish butter. I think they are 19¢.

And can we talk frankly about the German language? Bread is Brot, no umlaut. Bread roll or bun is Brötchen (little bread) and has an umlaut. Excuse me? Wha?

Interestingly, the word “frank” the base word of “frankly” comes from the Germanic Franks, a group of Germanic peoples who lived in what is now Germany and France around 400. And the Germans are nothing if not frank.


It doesn’t really have an umlaut, I just think it makes it more German-ish and the only person who will care about this is a certain nit-picky officer of food law, and, generally speaking, all other laws.

This was vegan banana bread. I don’t know how it’s supposed to stay together without eggs in it and my regular recipe uses sour cream, too, which adds something or other. But, hey, it’s vegan. This was almost like a recipe for kindergartners. Bananas, flour, vegan butter and brown sugar. There are a zillion other recipes like this and they all are “sooooooo good.” Yeah, bananas and sugar. Anyway I am frying slices in vegan butter and serving it with caramelized pineapple. So who cares if it “develops a lovely gooey quality the day after” as the recipe states. That sounds sooooooo good doesn’t it?

Aside from the fact that I made it too small, which is easily solved by serving 2 or 3 slices, slopped with pineapple, it tastes good. Not great and there’s a weird bitter aftertaste which could only be from the vegan butter since every other thing in there is just what it is. Bananas, sugar, flour.

This is the recipe which I only sorta followed.

Getting comfortable

The day after phō I got down to business and made this. OMG it was so good. Almost like gravy bread, a childhood favorite, although this bread was little upscaled from what we had as kids.

When I think of comfort food my go-to is this sort of thing (or possibly turkey stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, definitely gravy has some involvement). His go-to is some sort of yellow curry-rice-y thing. He didn’t even taste this. When I asked him if he wanted some he looked at me like I’d asked if he wanted to share my anchovies.

My food stylist did not wipe up the edge of the bowl I see.

Phō, meh

When we got back from Greece I was seriously wanting some sort of comfort food and decided to make chicken soup. So I made a big batch of chicken broth and thought I’d make some regular soup from that and some phō. We ended up just making phō that night. It was pretty but how I got from comfort food to that is a deep mystery. It was fine, I love bok choy and all the various elements of it.

This an example of the sum equaling less than the parts, 2 + 2 = 3. I was never good at math anyway. It was filling enough for a meal but not comforting.

Phō, FYI, is pronounced fuh.