Food


One of my favorite dishes to seek out when traveling is rabbit cooked in almost any style. Coniglio in Italy. Lapin in France, or as it turns out, in Belgium. 

This is the dish I ordered in this hip little restaurant in Brussels. In English – the joint was called “Greedy Glutton.”  There were some Americans or Brits in the room, but there were as many (if not more) locals at the tables 
 
I ordered this Lapin, a saddle of rabbit, cooked in a type of Belgian Lambic called Geuze. Served with frites, of course. On the side: a simple, perfectly-dressed green salad. To drink: a flavorful blonde Belgian beer.  

Our waiter was an eccentric-looking man. Picture an Ichabod Crane dandy with high waist pants held up by a belt that hitched up the back loop. He was laconic. And possessed just enough English to take our order, and display a wry sense of humor. I asked him if a particular lambic/beer beverage was good. He wrinkled his fringe- covered brow, paused, then answered ‘well, it’s okay.’  

He almost grimaced when my table mates ordered soup and fries. “As you like…” He muttered. With a slight smile on his face. 

It was fun. And, oh so good. 

Hippety. Hoppety. Then on to the chocolate shops. 
 

Ain’t no doubt about it, I hit the best. The BEST, the veritable mother lode of awkward English menus – at a great restaurant in Prague. 

 There were special categories on the menu for “FEEDERS” – which, after we grilled the waiter (or barbecued him, as one of our guest speakers said this week) – we are pretty sure really meant “foodies.”
 
But this was my favorite on that multi-lingual ode to gastronomy. 
 
Now doesn’t that just sound delicious? Spicy sausage of the chef. Yum. Yum. 
 
 
 

When I found myself alone (got disconnected from my peeps after looking for a cash machine – more on this misadventure on Ruling Woman) — I went looking to get me some Czech food. 

I ended up at a little off-the-path (but not too much, had to get back to the hotel to meet the group – and I didn’t want to get lost again. It was bad enough I got split from my group). And ordered a potato soup that the menu described “in bread”. No suspense — you can see the picture. But I thought it was a mistranslation – and I think the waiter was laughing under his breath when I asked for bread on the side. You know, thereto.  (see fish note)

I am told it is rather typical Bohemian. And it. Was. Delicious. Just what I wanted. 

When the Italians immigrated to Germany, yes, of course they brought their pasta. And, their gelato. But then they took it one step farther. 

 

Meet “Spaghetti Eis.” This dessert (which I bought in Dresden, but is apparently ubiquitous in Germany) is ice cream extruded through a noodle maker – to look like spaghetti. 

The Eis is piled over a mound of whipped cream — which I suspect was pre-frozen — and topped with sauces and crumbles and shreds that make it look like a real spaghetti dish. “Marinara” is usually strawberry (tomato sauce) with shredded white chocolate (Parmesan).  

 I picked “Spaghetti Carbonara” – which was covered in a vanilla sauce with walnuts, hazelnuts and amaretto cookies. 

Sounds a little weird. Tastes a lotta delicious. 

Three Eis Later




This was my first meal in Dresden — if you don’t count the cake and coffee which is traditionally served at 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon.

 This was my choice for the menu, although it took me and my colleague sitting next to me at dinner about 10 minutes to decipher. 
 
Pike perch – I knew was a freshwater fish. Baked in egg turned out to be a fluffy coating around the perch – with a slightly crusty outside and an almost soufflé like inside. 

But what the heck is a thereto salad? Turns out it is bad translation of “on the side”. 

My first Dresden dinner was delicious. 

We are on the road — in our Mercedes-Benz bus, Abba and Beatles and the Who playing in the background — having left Berlin, now heading to Dresden. 

I am sad to see the Berlin leg of our visit end. Several of the other journalists will be returning — many of us not. 

I’m having my lunch on the bus right now – made from our hotel breakfast buffet. Cheese with little salami bits and another slice of stinky cheese. Bottled water. And a few crudités. All wrapped in plastic bags from our hotel bathrooms. 

I do have to laugh — one morning someone in our group said they were “sick of the bread.”

Really?!? They have the most incredible bread here. From hearty wheat to even sliced white. How can you get sick of this bread? I am reminded of people I knew back when I was in high school who, for one reason or the other, had the opportunity to travel to Europe (much rarer in those days of Pan Am and TWA). And they would come back 10 pounds heavier because of “all that bread!”  I understand. 

More coming for Dresden, I’m sure. More news. But also (hopefully) more bread. 

I’ve written about this before, I know, but it makes me a little crazy when I see a Starbucks in a European country, like here in Germany. 

How is it that an American coffee institution that built its business around ersatz European coffee drinks with coffee that is almost always overroasted, gains any popularity whatsoever in the actual Europe?

It is hugely popular. Always crowded. I do avoid Starbucks if I can, so I’m not entirely clear if it just draws American visitors.  I think it likely attracts locals as well.

So, when we were a little early for a lunch right inside the Brandenburg Gate in Eastern Berlin, we found ourselves in search of a cup of coffee. The only place at that particular location we could find was, yes I am sure you guessed it, a dreaded Starbucks. I dragged my feet as we neared the crowded establishment when lo and behold — immediately next door sat a German bakery and coffee establishment.

There, I got a simple and delicious cappuccino. My friend got a hot chocolate with whipped cream on the top. And to top it off — a big ol’ pretzel with mustard. 

Oh yeah!

 

Pretty much you cannot go to Berlin without getting a curry-wurst — even better with frites. My first trip here in 2013, I went to one of those simple street stalls near Checkpoint Charlie, and had my first curry-wurst experience.

This trip — while visiting the studio of the artist who first devised the idea of making one very large section of the Berlin wall, a “canvas” for 180 artists (called the East Side Gallery) — our group leader pointed out Curry 36 — allegedly (one of) the most popular curry-wurst joints in town.

So – this is what it is:

Big ol’ bratwurst, cut into small rings, sprinkled with some kind of curry powder-salt mix, topped with a high quality ketchup. Served with a tiny red plastic fork, the likes of which I would love to have the patent on those perfect little plastic tined instruments. 

You can order the wurst with or without the casing. Mit darm means with the casing. With or without French fries (“frites“) plain or with ketchup or with mayo. All, some, none. 

OH

MY 

GOD


I’ve written about foreign translations of food before – like the “fantasy of artichokes” in Sicily. But — as I sit waiting – in the charming outdoor alley of Brauhaus Lemke — for what was described to me by a colleague as “the best spaetzle in Berlin” — I notice on the German language menu (in other words: not translated) under the Schwein category – a dish called Steak “Western Art”.

But we’ll have to leave this pondering for later because OMG — the best spaetzle in Berlin was just delivered to my table. Served in a hot shallow pan, the most delicate noodles in a light cream sauce, with peppers (red, green and yellow), scallions, onions, and leeks (white and green parts) – topped with a julienne of salty, crisped ham and melted cheese. 

So incredible that even the rat that ran by several tables away didn’t spoil the mood. 


 

In these days of global cuisine, food shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. So when I ordered a seasonal salad at my Berlin hotel with “fried” monkfish, bacon and shiitake mushrooms, I figured I knew what I was getting. 

Not. 

The vinagrette was berry-based, yes — except it was elderberry. The “fried” fish was lightly sautéed and tender: we’re not talking fish fry here!

The bacon was not “his first name is O-S-C-A-R” — if you get my drift. The shiitakes were soft to the tooth, not reconstituted and chewy. And the seasonal greens were heavy with the red of radicchio, though absolutely not bitter. 

Even the vinagrette receptacle was slightly altered: square with a delicate little spout at the corner.

Ah, yes. It is, indeed, the little things.  

What a difference a border makes. 

I will never EVER forget what happened to me in Rome when I requested the sandwich maker in a tiny little store put some pesto on my cheese sandwich. He gasped. Then did what ofttimes happens in Italy: refused my request. Simply, would not do it! As I wrote at the time, it was as if I had asked for a dollop of bird doo on my panino. 

At my first meal in Berlin in 2014 — a post-transcontinental-flight brekky. I got a caffe latte (or whatever they call it in German — better figure that one out sometime soon) and a “Tuscan sandwich.”  Which was a cheese sandwich on a baguette with arugula (“rocket”) and, yep, pesto. As delicious a sammy as I’d imagined it would be 13 years ago in Roma. 



A simple post about a simple observation of a simple snack: the egg.

After a long day at the Giardini portion of the Venice Biennale (think the MN State Fair of art, albeit the nominally best art in the world) — and a long vaporetto ride going nowhere (at least I had no other goal in mind than to spend some time on a boat in the Venetian lagoon) — I decided, what the heck, I’d head back to the hotel and rest a bit.

Oh wait, gotta stop writing for a second, must be on the hour because the bells are ringing all over the island: my god that’s beautiful.

Here’s a picture from my room while we wait:

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Okay, where was I? Ah yes, the incredible, edible egg. I stopped to get a caffè and some water. No, I answered, I did not want a cicchetto. And then I saw it! A small plate holding little halves of hard boiled egg. Yolks deep golden and all glistening with the sheen of smoky green olive oil.

Oh, I answered, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll have that!! €0,50 for each mezzo uova. When they say, it was the ambrosia of the Gods, I think I just discovered on that little cobblestoned Venetian street what they’ve been talking about. It was that egg.

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Sing it with me now:
You say chee-ketty, and I say key-chetty.
Chee-ketty. Key-chetty.
Let’s call the whole thing off!

There are these Venetian bar snacks, something Venetians pride themselves on — and many of us just stumble upon, called the Cicchetti. They are properly called chee-ketty — don’t embarrass yourself and pronounce it like we would. ‘Cause frankly it feels sometimes that the Venetians just tolerate us. Grudgingly. The way I guess those of who work around Rock Center feel about tourists during the f’ing tree season. Yes, that is what we call it: the f’ing tree. Not sure who I’m cleaning this up for, but I feel compelled.

As usual, I digress.

I was the Cicchetto of some voracious kick-ass mosquitoes my first night in Venice, so I didn’t get much sleep. And once I did, I slept past breakfast time at the hotel. By the time I got moving, it was noon. A tiny bit too early for proper lunch (well, probably not, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it) and way too late for breakfast.

I went on an errand to pick up a fan to fight the skeeters. Got the last ventilatore at the Venetian hardware store (totally COOL) experience — and on the way back to the hotel, grabbed a couple of dates from the miniature “farmers market” near my hotel. Two succulent dates and a handful of filberts I’d bought at the market in Rome later — I headed out for my first full day of art and magic. Even a trip across the Grand canal on a traghetto. The poor man’s gondola. 2€ (€0,70 for locals) and you are propelled across the water while standing.

20130926-234815.jpgI highly recommend it!

I set out to seek the best cicchetti I could find for my meals on this (again) bella giornata — beautiful day. This was not some food-on-a-stick affair although I did approach it with the same fervor I display at the Minnesota State Fair.

Oh, one type of cicchetto is a clever topping on a slice of soft, fresh of course, Italian bread. More like a Danish Smørrebrød than bruschetta. Another type of this Venetian tapas best described here by Rick Steves is a simple bite on a toothpick.

This is what I found.
A lightly cured prosciutto with a dollop of black olive tapenade on a schmear of crema.
(Strictly speaking not a cicchetto but) A tramezzino (sandwich made with crustless white bread with a filling) of egg salad, smoked salmon and thinly sliced dill pickle. I know – sounds ick. Wasn’t.
Grilled charred baby octopus, wild mushrooms, pine nuts and crema.
Lightly-vinegared sardine on a slice of tomato.

Made a reservation for dinner at the same place I got those last two cicchetti. I’ll let you know. That is, if I can find the joint again.

Ah, Venice. To be here is to get lost here.

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What a great time at the Fair this year. I often have trepidation at the outset: will I see and eat everything I want to? My fairmate always teases me: remember, we ARE professionals.

We attend the Great Minnesota Get-Together every summer, always on opening day. Gotta catch it when the deep fat oil is fresh, and there are still yardsticks to be had in the Merchandise Mart.

I train for this event like a seasoned athlete. Study the new foods, decide what I want to try: yes, on the deep-fried bread pudding, no, on the Idaho nachos. That kind of thing. Make sure I have enough room in the tum for what I want to eat. In years past, I have made the mistake of eating breakfast before attending. Wrong. Why waste the precious stomach room, ya know!?

I have seen changes in my eating marathon through the years. Honestly, I don’t have the capacity to hold that much, I have a better internal monitor for fullness. And discriminating. Yes, I know when you are weighing deep fried dill pickles with chocolate sauce against pork belly sliders, it may not seem like a gourmet challenge. But this is the fair, dammit! Whadya expect? Corn dog foam? And, when you have a companion, you can share. Which we did.

Let’s get to it: honey ice cream with sunflower seeds, battered and deep-fried green beans, deep-fried bread pudding, Pronto Pup (pictured above, you may know it as a corn dog), Walleye roll (think lobster roll except made with a Minnesota native fish that’s in the perch family), a dough-sant (state fair version of the cronut) with iced coffee, sasparilla, a sip of Guinness, thick vanilla shake purchased outside the Moo booth at the cow barn, dream peach (a big ol’ succulent, drip-down-your-arm juicy sweet peach), miniature pumpkin pie served with cinnamon ice cream, sausage sampler (bourbon wurst, wild rice sausage with jalapeño and Swedish sausage with potato), lots of water and the evening capped off with a flight of admittedly mediocre but earnest Minnesota wines.

What I loved: the mini pie with crust worthy of a French bakery and, surprisingly, those green beans. What I did not like: deep-fried bread pudding needs to go back to the drawing board, and that dough-sant was frankly inedible. Or, as I said in my Instagram post (nyproducer) “dough-sant: don’t give up your day job!”

Not all 10 hours at the fair was Food. We made our usual pilgrimage to watch Roger demonstrate the fascinating craft of bowl turning on a foot-operated lathe. He’s a talented, personable, humble man who started turning bowls because he loved history. He dispenses aphorisms as nimbly as his flying wood chips. He makes exquisite pieces for daily life — those bowls. He uses them himself to drink his beer. Isn’t it frustrating, I asked him, to put all those hours into these bowls, knowing that if you hit a knot just wrong, it will break?

This is workmanship of risk

I love that phrase. As I love those bowls.

My friend and I set out on the fair history tour: visit 13 sights, punch your card at the kiosk, win a gift! I learned that several of the notable Art Deco buildings were WPA-built. That Teddy Roosevelt made his “carry a big stick” speech at the MN State Fair. That Matisse, O’Keeffe and Picasso showed their work at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. For our prize, we each picked a sheet of State Fair postcard reproductions.

We capped our night with what seems to be becoming a tradition: a walk through the crop art exhibit (seeds and stems made into “fine” art).

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It was truly a fair to remember.

Published in the New York Times!!

SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE
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The trip from Berlin to the ferry in Rostock (to return to Denmark) was one of the most beautiful, sunny, peaceful days of my vacation. My friend, the priest, and I speeded along the autobahn with its general lack of speed limits (add in the kilometer rather than miles, and you find yourself driving 160 on the speedometer!) (ack!) to get to the dock in time to catch the ferry.

On the way, we decided to make a pit stop in a tiny little German town, and have coffee and dessert at a bakery — they call them konditori. I spotted the above dessert in the case and asked what it was. I recognized the meringue, meaningful in any language. But, what was that green filling? Tart or sweet? Lime? Perhaps kiwi? The baker woman didn’t speak English. My Danish friend speaks a little German but not enough to know what it was. He thought he recognized it as made from a very round, light green berry, that grows on a bush.

It was delicious. Slightly tart, a faint scattering of little blackish seeds throughout.

I had just eaten my first Gooseberry Tart.

Now, on to København!

 

Keep Your Hands OFF My Corn

This will be a short post.  I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE RIP OFF OUTER HUSK OF CORN at the Farmers Market.  Of course, it is bad enough when they do it – but forgivable if they place it in their bag.  But then, what’s the point of that!?

What is simply not acceptable is ripping down the husk and putting the ear back on the pile.  Really!?!

So many reasons why that is wrong:

  • You don’t need to rip open an ear of corn to see if it is edible. Feel the damn thing and you can sense any rot. Otherwise, a couple of missing niblets is no big.
  • If you rip it open – even just to look at the top — and see some kernels missing – you may think that is bad.  When, in fact, it may indicate that some sort of beastie loved the corn because it was succulent.  Which can be perfect for you.
  • I am shopping.  I see a nice looking ear of corn. I look more closely and see that it is drying out because some fool ripped it open and tossed it back on the pile

See my point!!! Take a chance to spend 50¢ on something that just MAY be imperfect. You know: like life.

His naked skin basking in the sunlight, his lithe body bent in a crouch, muscles rippling, jeans hanging just so revealing … We didn’t know his name. We thought of him as Fabio.

(Screeching sound of sudden stop).

Oh! Not that kind of delicious fantasy.

We’re talking food here — more specifically what can happen on an English language menu in foreign lands. I have oft wondered if I could make a living (albeit a very small one) fixing another country’s menus. Whether it be Eggplant Milk in Istanbul (it turned out to be some sort of creamed eggplant) or Pasta with Meet Sauce in Rome.

Which brings us to those delicious fantasies. In Sicily — during my first visit to that country — we ordered an item called “Fantasie di Carciofi“. Carciofi are artichokes. Honestly, I’m not sure why the restaurant gave this particular name to the dish. In context, it likely has meaning to the locals. However, put that phrase through babel.com and you get the appetizer called “Fantasy of Artichokes.” It was, indeed, fantastic. Artichokes three ways: marinated, breaded and sautéed, battered and deep fried.

The “Deliziosi dei Affumicati Pesci con Arancia” became “Delicious of Smoked Fish with Orange.” Yes, it was delicious.

So, too, was that hunk on the roof in the Sicilian village of Cefalù!

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Lunch is not all pasta with potatoes here in the Eternal City. I have seen this dish with oranges and olives, dressed with oil, for years — both here in Roma and in the states. I am not sure whether it is of Roman origins or not — so much of what one eats in this country is specific “tipico” to its region. I have admittedly seen some variance to that on this trip. Just like it used to be you couldn’t even order a cappuccino after noon but now you can — other regions’ foods are popping up here. I have seen pasta with pesto at a couple of trattorie this week — pesto is from Genoa, not Rome. I would be curious to see if that kind of regional culinary mixing happens in smaller towns or just in this sprawling metropolis.

While eating my “don’t leave Rome without (eating) it” cacio e pepe pasta dish at my favorite Roman restaurant Soro Margherita, I decided, finally, to order the orange salad. Important to note, that any salad or veg dish (it may be oranges but this is no dessert) is served after the primo (first course) of usually pasta, rice, or gnocchi and the (second course) secondo. That baffled me when I was first visiting Italy. This truth had not yet come up in my guide books. I would go to a restaurant, order pasta with (what I thought was going to be a side of) a vegetable. Watch my pasta get cold (okay, so I didn’t wait!) wondering “where’s my broccoli”? Sometimes even, I would ask the waiter to cancel the veg because I was full, dammit!

I digress. As I am wont to do. This simple orange salad was ambrosia! The oranges, blood oranges, were just the perfect mix of tart and sweet, so juicy that one bite caused an explosion of the most delicate and succulent tastes on the tongue and, if you weren’t careful, down the chin. The salad was dressed with a light, fruity but not intensely so, olive oil. The juice mixed with it to make a simple dressing. Sprinkled lightly in the dish, just the perfect grind of black pepper (not sure what the story is with the pepper here, if they roast it, or if it is farmed from somewhere else in the world than we are used to, but it is very special). They top the salad with perfectly sliced, crisp fennel and a small handful of mixed black olives. Simplice but squisito!

It was truly the food of gods. My dining companion tells me that it is the antidote to the pasta and deep-fried artichoke carciofi alla Giudia we had consumed. Eat this orange and fennel wonder, and it erases the fat and calories of anything you ate before it.

Oh. Yes.

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Lest you think I only eat thinly disguised donuts that don’t seem like they’re donuts because they have names I can’t recall — here is my porta via (take out) dinner purchased at a pizza/forno (bakery) in Monti. The turisti are all out in the piazzas now, or at the wine bars, or having those little glasses of nuts and chips & plates of savories with their glasses o’ wine (read Apertivi Time in Rome). There were only Italians in this pizza joint, working folks, grabbing a little slab of pizza like me. I walked away with veggie pizza with a slice of potato tossed on — and then oh those greens!

Why are they so damn good!?! I make them at home. They dont taste like this. Granted, I don’t see those water tubs with stalky greens floating in them that seem ubiquitous in every shop or super mercado I have visited. I went with cicoria (chicory) tonight. Alas, I think the punterelle season is over.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not all I do while in Rome: eating. I have been museuming, churching, praying, monumenting, Pantheoning, Coliseuming. Walking, walking, walking. It’s that food as microcosm thing at play. The way a culture does their food is the way they live and think. Hey, better minds than mine have pondered this. People you might say who are higher on the food chain. But, the Italians express themselves with those plates of bitter greens yanked from the ground. And, by the way, those Roman greens are nothing like the ones in Florence. Or, Assissi.

I ran into a funny blog written by an Italian in America when looking for the name of that killer sweet I had for breakfast. The writing is in Italian, but you get the drift with the pictures. This hapless soul looked into the face of Taco Bell coffee and a Hearty Man breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, pancakes and toast. When all he wanted was un caffè e un cornetto.

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I am here to tell you: watch out when you’re hanging out with priests!

I had the unexpected pleasure to discover I was in Rome with one of my best friends in the world — who happens to be a priest. He was in town, staying at his Alma Mater in centro storico. We started our evening with gin and tonics on the rooftop, warm, inviting and surrounded by a stunning view of Roma. St. Peters was just behind me.

On the hour, the bells rang from every church in this city of a thousand churches. Beautiful sunset in Rome with fascinating people.

This night, we dined at a cool little ristorante near the Campo dei Fiori. I ordered pasta e patate — which is pasta with potatoes. It was tomatoey, which I did not expect. And soup-like. I wondered aloud whether it would be redundant to sop up the sauce with bread. I only asked, of course. I did it anyway. After dolce, one of our priestly party told me about a kind of “darker” grappa. The waiter, who was alternately in our face, and absent when we needed him, told us it was called, in Italiano: Grappa Scura. Less lighter fluid, more smooth brandy. Yum. Me.

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