The New Convivialist

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Convivialist food blog

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Looking Forward and Glancing Back: A Cocktail for the New Year

ingredients whiskey

Now that 2013 has faded away and with it all the requisite year-in-reviews for restaurants (here, here and here) and pop music (here), 2014 has taken the stage with lists of its own: Oscar-hopeful releases and politico-cultural predictions by just about anyone who thinks you’ll listen.

I myself will not make any recaps or predictions other than a libationary one: if 2013 was the year of the Manhattan (cocktail), then let 2014 be the year of the Big Apple.

The Big Apple is a little something I invented for the dark days of winter. It has the whisky and angostura punch of a Manhattan, but with an additional soothing element of hot-spiced apple juice. I do like a good Hot Toddy in the cold months, but sometimes I find it lackluster without loads of honey or sweetener. The Big Apple, on the other hand, won’t disappoint with its full and spicy flavors that match perfectly to bourbon whiskey.

Admittedly, I started drinking this cocktail before we rounded the corner into 2014. It was just too perfect for that period between Christmas and the New Year. While I think it is best suited as an after-dinner drink or nightcap, why not serve it up at a January brunch? It is mildly refreshing, given the apple juice, thus suited for heftier dishes like eggs, potatoes and bacon. It’s also easy to make for a group. Just slow-heat a big ol’ pot of apple juice and simmer with spices for as long as you like. Therefore your mix is ready-made– just add the alcohol and go. (A fair warning, though: during the day I think a couple of these would sufficiently knock you out until nightfall.)

Happy New Year!

Recipe: Big Apple hot cocktail

For the hot-spiced apple juice:

1 liter apple juice or apple cider*

2 cinnamon sticks

a large pinch of whole cloves

a slice of fresh ginger

-Simmer this mixture in a saucepan or pot over very low heat for at least 20 minutes, longer if you like, for a spicier flavor.

For the cocktail:

Hot-spiced apple juice

1.5 oz or 44 mL (1 shot) bourbon whisky

1 dash Angostura bitters

cinnamon stick

-Ladle some hot spiced apple juice into a small mug. Pour in the whisky and dash of Angostura bitters. Stir and serve with a cinnamon stick as garnish.

*If you are in the US, I would highly suggest using apple cider for this drink. In most countries in Europe, though, if you say apple cider, it means the alcoholic kind. The closest we have to what you want in Germany would be naturtrüber Apfelsaft, basically an unfiltered apple juice. Using this just adds to the overall spiciness and depth of the drink.



Meatballs with Rosemary White Wine Sauce or Frankie’s Polpette


This is a recipe I’ve wanted to share for a long time. It is about a meatball, but not the kind with tomato sauce or spaghetti or anything having to do with a slow-cooker. It is a somewhat more refined meatball, but still one that can be made en masse, lending itself easily to large events or holiday gatherings.

The preparation is Italian in origin, but with a little practice, you will find that you don’t need Nonna herself in the kitchen to make a stellar batch. For our monthly Dritte Mitte aperitivo, a heaping bowl of polpette has become a mainstay, one of a handful of dishes that feeds up to 100 people. The bite-sized meatballs satisfy, with a savory yet citrusy and herbaceous undertone. They also look impressive, but do not pose an enormous burden in the kitchen. One of our quintet, Frank, has mastered the art of polpette. Though he is no more versed in Italian cuisine than your average German guy, Frank has with practice become the primary responsible party for the preparation of the polpette each month.

A good ground meat is the first order of business– either all beef or, as is more common in Italy, a combination of beef and pork. Next comes a loaf of plain white sliced bread, with the crusts cut off, soaked in milk and hand-mixed into the meat. A few eggs, a good dose of grated parmesan and lots of salt (plus strong hands) is all it takes to finish the basic recipe. The balls should be rolled on the small size, so that they can be cooked through rather quickly, and tossed in a dish lightly dusted with flour. A frying pan is warmed to medium heat with a slick of olive oil, filled (not crammed!) with meatballs and fried to a light brown. Pour a glass or so of white wine into the pan (with practice you will know when), along with a sprig of rosemary. Let it all cook, the crisp flavors of the wine and the rosemary infusing the meatballs. Once the liquid has reduced, squeeze in a bit of lemon juice into the pan, stir, and turn out into a bowl. Repeat and repeat and repeat, depending on how many or how hungry the group is.

Since I think intentionality is always important when someone does something well, I asked Frank what he thinks about while he lovingly rolls his perfect balls of meat. He responded, not missing a beat, “I think about the fact that I’ve never eaten one.” You see, Frankie is gluten-intolerant, thus both the bread and the flour in the recipe unfortunately prohibit him from testing the results. That’s right, I thought. He’d never even tried them. After two years of rolling polpette every month, you would think that once, just once, he would succumb to meaty, citrusy temptation and stuff one into his mouth, in a moment of blind insanity. But no, never. Maybe it’s actually the mystery of the polpette, the unrequited anticipation of the taste, that makes Frank so excel at their preparation. When you can’t actually eat that thing you have taken so long to cook, the end result is abstracted, and no longer food, but something higher– art?


Frankie’s Polpette : Recipe

1.5 kilo ground meat, combination of beef and pork

4 eggs

one loaf of sliced white sandwich bread, crusts removed

milk, enough to soak the bread

100 grams parmesan, finely grated

4 teaspoons of salt, or to taste

a few large sprigs of rosemary

olive oil

approx. 1 bottle of white wine (just cheap table wine)

juice from two lemons



1. Soak the bread in a small bowl of milk until it softens. It may be easier to do this in stages so that it really soaks through, taking small stacks of bread and pouring the milk over them into the bowl.

2. Crumble bread between your fingers and begin to incorporate into the ground meat. Add the four eggs and mix everything with your hands.

3. Add the grated parmesan and then the salt (don’t be shy with the salt), mixing well so that everything is evenly combined.

4. Roll the raw meat mixture into small balls in your palms (bite-sized). Place balls into a lightly-floured dish and toss to coat. Set aside prepared meat balls.

5. Heat a frying pan to medium and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Fry together as many meatballs as the pan can hold, without crowding them. Shake or stir gently with a spoon until the meatballs are lightly, evenly browned and almost cooked through.

6. Add a cup or so of the white wine, as well as one large sprig of rosemary (whole). Shake the pan occasionally and cook until the wine has reduced and the sauce appears to have thickened.

7. Squeeze some lemon juice into the pan, stir and pour out into a large serving bowl.

8. Wipe out the pan and repeat the cooking process with the rest of the raw meatballs.

italian meatballs recipe





The Highs and Lows of Smørrebrød


Some recent work trips have kept me away from writing, but, luckily, not from eating. When the purpose of a trip is not pleasure, often times the dining side gets thrown by the wayside in the name of expediency and convenience. It’s kind of like a road trip. While it sounds really easy from the outset to pack balanced, tupperwared meals and canteens of green tea, how often have you found yourself at the gas station convenience store with a big bag of salt and vinegar chips and a black, tar-like coffee? My last year’s worth of work-related trips, despite some European food capitals appearing on the roster, included dining experiences as varied as reheated pizza from a 7-11 in Stockholm, three days of subsisting purely on bread and cheese in Paris and overpriced fair food in Milan that might just pass as Italian in, say, Tenaha, TX.

Yes, yes, poor me, you must think. And you’re right; it’s not as bad as it sounds. As much as paying to eat bad food infuriates me, I admit that among these experiences, I have managed to eat some very nice things. The key is to know that a little bit of research goes a long way. Take Copenhagen, where I had the chance to visit for a design festival during the end of August. If you’ve heard anything about Copenhagen and food, it’s probably been something to the effect of “oooh, NOMA is there!” or “it’s soooo expensive!”. And both are precisely correct. With NOMA being the top-rated restaurant in the world two years running, and Denmark enjoying a boom of ‘New Nordic’ cuisine standards that draw chefs from around the world, Copenhagen is certainly the IT place for food lovers. Since Copenhagen really does live up to the ‘it’s soooo expensive’ reputation, I knew I couldn’t afford to truly partake and deem the hype justified or not.

Which brings me to Tip Number One for dining out of town: Google. Believe it or not, this ubiquitous search engine holds the key to all the ‘best of’ lists for just about any city around the world. Do yourself a favor: the day before you leave (or on your smart phone at your home airport, to avoid roaming fees) run a quick google search for the best restaurants, cafes, to-go and coffee shops of your destination. Avoid big, corporate-created lists like Trip Advisor or Fodors. Instead, focus in on a newspaper or magazine that you like and trust and see what they have to say. Or, find a local’s guide- a bit of digging will provide loads of rouge travel and food writers that are sure to share your own (good) taste. Note down a few spots that look good, and are near to where you will be staying. Paper and pen also work beautifully here. You never know when that smart phone will die or decide not to connect to foreign networks.

Tip Number Two: locate a nearby supermarket. True, not so seductive while travelling, but useful to cost-save and pick up a few staples that are a hassle to eat while on-the-go. Take Copenhagen, for instance. Upon emerging from the Metro and before arriving at my AirBnB, I spied just across the street a supermarket. I decided to pop in for five minutes and pick up some cheese, crackers, fruit and yogurt, which would prove later to be immensely appreciated as a late evening snack and for breakfast the next morning. I’ve always thought it’s even fun to browse grocery stores in new cities. You get a sense of what the locals actually eat, how differently their packaging looks and the real price of food staples as compared to restaurants and to-go establishments.

Tip Number Three: Instead of a hotel opt for a private apartment stay, AirBnB, etc. This is essential for getting an insider’s view into a city and for saving money on food. Nearly every AirBnB place, whether a private apartment or a shared one, will have a kitchen, giving you at least the option to cook and store food there. Even if you never do, just having the ability to boil your own water in the morning for tea makes you feel at home. Plus, any good AirBnB owner will provide you with a list of their favorite neighborhood locales, a kind of mini-guide to their city.

This is exactly how I came upon Aamanns Etablissement, where I lunched on Danish Smørrebrød one afternoon. Even before arriving in Copenhagen, I knew of the Smørrebrød, or open-faced sandwich, tradition as a mid-day staple all over Denmark. I thought little of it, however, as the similar custom I experienced while in Norway a few summers ago was actually pretty dull: a slice of bread with butter and a couple pieces of cheese, or maybe some canned fish. Fine, but it got boring fast. What I experienced in Denmark, however, was a whole new level of Smørrebrød. Granted, as a Michelin-recommended restaurant, Aamanns being my virgin Danish Smørrebrød experience perhaps biased my opinion of the dish.

The tradition of Smørrebrød began in the late 1800s, popularized as a basic meal for the working-class. It also proved to be something that worked all year round; with a thin slice of hearty sourdough rye bread as its base, a layer of butter, a slice of cured meat and some pickled vegetables, the ingredients could be obtained throughout the long Danish winters. Aamanns had the goal, with its casual deli and corresponding restaurant, Aamanns Etablissement, to offer a contemporary take on the traditional Smørrebrød experience. Focusing on locally-sourced ingredients, Aamanns takes the open-faced sandwich to a truly gourmet level with its perfect flavor and texture compliments.

We tried the dish of three seasonal herrings, which included: fried herring in wheat beer, fresh herring cured with mustard seeds and dill, and 
marinated herring with dill and Västerbotten cheese. Here one can sense, in a single sampler dish, the range that is possible with herring prepared and topped in three different ways, and offered a micro-glimpse into the Danish palate. This was followed with Smørrebrød topped with slices of potatoes, crumbled bacon, hazelnuts, cress, ramsons capers, and 
radish/chive mayonnaise. The cress was tiny and delicate, the mini-capers as well, and the bacon and hazelnuts provided the perfect crisp texture in contrast to the potatoes and mayonnaise. While this delicate meal did not come cheap, following my Tip Number Two of grocery shopping and eating in while travelling helps to compensate for a nice meal out. I also felt justified in the small splurge when, the next day at an opening, I was surprised and utterly delighted by a free buffet of Smørrebrød catered by none other than Aamanns. There, I ate even more inspiring and fishy varieties of open-faced sandwiches to my heart’s content. Washed down by free champagne, it was a version of ‘bread and butter’ that the working class of 19th century Copenhagen could not have imagined. Is it my catholic upbringing telling me that frugality somehow pays off in the end?


The fabulous thing about Smørrebrød is that you can go as basic or as fancy as you want. While not everyone wants to spend their afternoon frying herring in wheat beer and gathering micro-capers from the fields, it’s pretty simple to keep a hearty loaf of sourdough rye bread on hand (sliced thinly!), some good quality butter, a bit of cured meat or cheese, and some pickled beets. Likewise, some leftover boiled potatoes can be cut up and topped with mayonnaise combined with chopped fresh herbs, whichever you have lying around. Or, if you happen to be located in New York City, you will be happy to learn that in 2012 Aamanns opened a Manhattan outpost, where you can sample all these Danish delicacies with American dollars on the other side of the Atlantic.


lunch at aamanns copenhagen

Brown Rice Arancini

recipe convivialist arancini

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to happen upon an entire pot of untouched day-old brown rice. Steamed and sticky to perfection.

Happen upon, you might ask? You see, I have a boyfriend who likes to cook what he calls eco-rice. This kind of rice ensures that as little heat, i.e. energy, as possible is used, employing instead patience and time for an excellent result. Just dump a kilo or so of brown rice in a pot, add water (no matter exactly how much), bring to a boil and leave on for a couple of minutes, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for… well, that depends. Until all the water is absorbed, so, at least a few hours but if you are in our house, probably a day or more. Best is an electric stovetop for this purpose, one of the few things it is better than gas for.

Paul has admitted he buys and cooks rice just because he thinks it looks healthy. So he tends to cook it without actually imagining an end result, in other words just to have it around in case inspiration arises. In case. And sometimes it does just that­– sits around. It is almost infuriating to me, as someone who consistently overthinks how rice should be cooked, that it can some out so perfectly with such little effort. I mean, how people can obsess over rice! To soak, to toast, to rinse, to double rinse, to salt, to parboil…. the possibilities are myriad and, let’s be honest, ridiculous, once you have tried eco-rice.

But back to my story: when I happened upon this pot of lovely brown rice, with a Dritte Mitte aperitivo fast approaching, I dipped in a spoon and a little parade of arancini began to dance in circles before my eyes. It was already so sticky and gelatinous that the answer to this unaccounted for rice was obvious.

Usually arancini are made with cooked risotto. The Italians, being masters of the leftover, have from their already delicious risotto, developed something even more toothsome. Although I suppose if you cheese, batter and fry just about anything, you can turn an eight into a 10 without fail.

Feel free to go the traditional route and use cooked risotto/Arborio rice. All I’m implying is that if you choose to get creative, go ahead and use any rice you like, so long as it’s well cooked (ideally day-old) and relatively sticky. All you need to do at that point is mix the rice with a bit of egg, flour, finely grated Parmesan cheese, pepper and salt. Then form a small, compact ball around a square of mozzarella, bread with fine breadcrumbs and fry in a neutral oil. A quick note about the salt: I felt that my arancini were undersalted, even though I added quite a bit into the mixture. I attribute this to the fact that the original pot of eco-rice was not salted at all. Therefore, I would recommend salting your pot of rice to taste to ensure you have the right amount in the final arancini.


Recipe: Arancini


1 kilo brown rice, cooked as instructed, ideally leftover

3 eggs

150 grams finely grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup flour

2 cups of finely grated breadcrumbs (or more as needed)

approx. 2 balls fresh mozzarella, cut into small squares

neutral oil for frying

pepper and salt to taste


  1. Place a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add enough vegetable oil to rise 4 inches in the pot.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the cooked rice, Parmesan cheese, 1 egg, flour, salt and pepper
  3. Form a small ball of the rice mixture around a cube of mozzarella. Make sure that it is compact (squeeze a bit) so that it does not dissolve when placed in the oil. Repeat with the remainder of the rice mixture.
  4. Whisk together the remaining 2 eggs. Dip each arancini in the eggs and then in the breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess.
  5. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot enough (you can try one as a sample- if it starts to sizzle, not spatter when placed in the oil, it’s a good temperature), place a few of the balls in the oil and cook through until browned on the outside.
  6. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cooked balls and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining rice balls.

Ideally serve warm and with a light tomato sauce.

The best of the wurst: On eating healthy but wanting Wurst in the wurst way

german sausage convivialist food blog berlin

I once considered myself to be a vegetarian. When I moved to Germany two and a half years ago, I indulged in meat occasionally, maybe at a restaurant or special dinner, but very rarely. A combination of the meat culture that is omnipresent in Germany as well as the general feeling that the Fleisch sold in the EU is held to higher quality standards than it is in the US, has led me to eat much more meat than I ever have in my life.

This all became exceedingly apparent on a recent stopover in Munich. The state of Bayern is considered the capital region of Wurst, or sausage, in Germany. The stereotype of big groups of Lederhosen-wearing men glugging down steins of Weissbier and swallowing whole incomprehensible amounts of Würstl, is actually true. True and contagious. Seemingly from the moment we set foot in the old town of the city, we had sausage on the brain. Upon recommendation from a friend born and raised in Munich, we ended up at Nürnberger Bratwurst Glöckl, a classic old beer cellar that makes Rostbratwürste. Since it is located right beside the dome in the old town, it has its fair share of tourists, though we learned from the retired Munich police commissioner sitting beside us that it actually does, in his opinion, serve some of the best beer in the city. We scarfed down every last Würstl on our plates.

This wurst kind of syndrome continued into the following week when Paul returned home with three large packages of sausages, dying to fry them up. Now, it took me nearly two years of living in Berlin before I even tried its fabled Currywurst, and Paul claimed he hadn’t eaten a sausage in over 15 years prior to the Munich binge. Nevertheless, we fried some 30 Würste with a bit of soy sauce and Cholula hot sauce, giving them a distinctly non-German, spicy edge. (Highly recommended if you like some heat in your meat.) We also used mustard, and caution that ketchup should never be considered.

As enjoyable as these kinds of rich delicacies are, in the end I just don’t think I like eating in this way. At least not often. The problem is that in Germany, these kinds of meat- and fat-based foods are difficult to get away from. True, one can find very good quality products (I have a wild-meat butcher within a three minute walk of my house!), but try getting a whole vegetable or fruit here on a Sunday, for example, which is exactly what our dire quest was upon returning from the Munich road trip. Walking around town after 11pm or on a Sunday, one encounters a plethora of beer, wine, chips, döner kebabs, or falafel sandwiches, but there is not a whole food in sight.

Many Germans would argue that you can’t make people work in grocery stores late at night or on a Sunday or holiday, because they want to have lives too, a family, time for themselves. But what about the countless late-night shops– beer and cigarettes abound­– or the 24-hour kebab stands? Are the people who work there not deserving of rest and relaxation? Or is it just that we need cigarettes and fats much more than we need apples and broccoli? Certainly owners of late-night shops also need to make a living; providing such high-margin items as alcohol around the clock ensures a thriving business–or at least a surviving one. But these shop owners also pay for the right to remain open late into the night or on Sundays. Or they hide it, as I have seen in the case of some semi-closed ‘underground’ grocers on a holiday. The holiday Monday after we returned from our road trip, desperate for some real food to bring home and cook, we set out by bike and found one Turkish-owned grocer that instructed us to ‘walk around back in half hour’ in order to go inside to go shopping. We happily waited, imagining the rows of fresh vegetables that normally would grace the shelves. Creeping in through the back service entry, flies swarmed around crates of rotting peaches, wilted peppers and moldy onions. In the end, half-defeated, we settled on a bag of frozen peas and some cans of beans, which is actually a much better option than you would ever find at your average late-night shop.

I don’t know what the answer is. Subsidize shops that want to open on Sundays and that carry actual food? Never return from a trip on a Sunday night before a Monday holiday? My personal solution is perhaps more of a multi-faceted resolution: do not succumb to the convenience and temptation of what’s out there and being shoved at me. Go shopping on Saturday– early. Buy a juicer. Remind myself that Currywurst just does not feel good to eat. Keep frozen vegetables and cans of beans in the house. Knock on the neighbor’s door on Sunday afternoon…





A Simple Recipe – Roasted Pepper and Apple

convivialist recipe food blog

I recently returned from a blink-of-an-eye trip to Milan. Though my job brought me there in order to see the Salone del Mobile design exhibition, my first thought upon landing was not where to find the hottest new chair prototype by Nendo, but rather- surprise, surprise- where to eat lunch. I lucked out. I found a tiny corner locale selling fresh pasta and simple fare not at all far from our apartment rental. Usually, I do NOT luck out with such spontaneous finds, which is why if I want to eat well in an unknown city, I have learned to do at least a minimal bit of advance research. But with the Milan trip, there was simply no time.

I didn’t eat anything fancy at this place, but I must say that what ended up on my plate was a refreshing surprise. I ordered what I thought was a simple dish of roasted peppers, but as I began to indulge, I realized there was something else mixed inside… something sweet, that complimented the peppers perfectly. I grasped at all the vegetal possibilities, but finally it dawned on me: apples. Soft, roasted ones, how genius. Something I had never before seen in Italian cuisine. Not to say that it isn’t known, but just that I had to take my hat off to the Milanese for what I found to be an utterly radical breakthrough.

Maybe it means I’ve been in Germany too long, or maybe its just that I have been too intensely working in a way that glues me to a screen, but this short trip to Italy, more than any other I can remember, felt like a relief. From the moment I stepped off the airplane and into the mass of people pushing and shouting to get on the bus into the city, I could breathe easily, for the first time in a while. I could jaywalk. There was a pulse and an agenda belonging to the people in Milan that I have been missing in Berlin. The trees were blossoming and there were things to do. But not too fast, please. Don’t forget to take an hour, maybe two, for lunch. Order a glass of wine, why not. It is the simple luxuries that keep the pace of a large, bustling city manageable and even enjoyable. The opportunity to get off the iphone for a minute and just look at, wait – see – the analog sights that surround.

Last night I was reading an old issue of Harper’s, from 2009. Since I have limited, expensive access to weekly or monthly American publications, I take what I can get. And it’s not like articles from Harper’s or The New Yorker become any less relevant with two or three years’ passing. Anyway, it was an article written about the twilight and eventual demise of the American newspaper, by Richard Rodriguez. I was most struck by the following passage, towards the end of his piece:

“ Something funny I have noticed, perhaps you have noticed it too. You know what futurists and online-ists and cut-out-the-middle-man-ists and Davos-ists and deconstructionists of every stripe want for themselves? They want exactly what they tell you you no longer need, you pathetic, overweight, disembodied Kindle reader. They want white linen tablecloths, on trestle tables in the middle of vineyards on soft blowy afternoons. (You can click your bottle of wine online. Cheaper.) They want to go shopping on Saturday afternoons on the Avenue Victor Hugo; they want the pages of their New York Times all kind of greasy from croissant crumbs and butter at a café table in Aspen; they want to see their names in hard copy in the “New Establishment” issue of Vanity Fair; they want a nineteenth-century bookshop; they want to see the plays in London; they want to float down the Nile in a felucca; they want a five-star brick and mortar and DO NOT DISTURB signs and views of the park. And in order to reserve these things for themselves they will plug up your eyes and your ears and your mouth, and if they can figure out a way to pump episodes of The Simpsons through the darkening corridors of your brain as you expire (ADD TO SHOPPING CART), they will do it.”

The nice thing about Italy is that… this doesn’t quite take hold. The old way, the analogue way, the romantic way, still seems to work, to hang on by a thicker thread than it does elsewhere.

I am sad to confess that nothing else I ate on the trip quite lived up to the dish of roasted peppers and apples, but at least I can keep this tiny discovery in my arsenal of simple and healthy recipes. The recipe I ‘invented’ for what I encountered that afternoon is hardly a recipe at all. It is kind of like how a five year old would cook if he or she were given a couple of peppers, an apple and an Easy-Bake oven, but I will share it with you anyway.


Recipe – Pepper and Apple ‘Caponata’


Red and yellow bell peppers, as many as you like

Apples, probably green are best, as many as you like, but probably fewer than peppers

Sprinkling of olive oil

Sea salt


1. Wash and dry peppers and apples and place on a baking sheet or dish.

2. Cook at approx. 175°C, uncovered, for about a half hour, then rotate so that roasted side is facing down and cook for another 20 minutes or so, or until softened and skins of peppers are blackened.

3. Remove from oven and let cool.

4. Peel skin from peppers and apples. (This should be pretty easy.) Slice peppers into thin strips and apples into small wedges. It’s ok if the apples are a little mushy.

5. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with a bit of olive oil and sea salt. Toss together gently.

6. Serve with bread as an appetizer or side dish.

recipe pepper apple caponata






Pa amb Tomàquet

recipe pan con tomate

Last weekend I was in Barcelona for the first time since I lived there, nearly ten years ago. As is often the case when one goes back after many years to a place that was at one time so familiar, it was like a puzzle of sights and smells that wanted badly to fit together, but did not quite manage it. It was the tastes that allowed me in some small way to where I wanted to go. Drinking a café con leche, a simple taste, one would think – just coffee! – brought me back to my time living in Catalunya in an instant. It is a testament to locality of foods, I suppose. The milk of a certain place only tastes of that place, and when combined with coffee in just the right proportion, alters ever so slightly what we think we know it to be. I had nearly forgotten about pa amb tomàquet, but when I saw it on someone’s table at a tapas bar, it was like the floodgates of Catalan food-related memories had suddenly burst wide open.

Pa amb tomàquet (or pan con tomate, or bread with tomatoes) is an exceedingly simple dish and a basic part of nearly any Catalan meal. Just take some baguette, or even old bread, grill or toast it, rub it down with garlic and tomato and drizzle some olive oil and sea salt. That’s really it. It was such a normal part of my life in Barcelona, I can hardly believe I had forgotten about it until just last weekend. (Now I confess I am making it every night.)

I remember always looking forward to the simplicity of pa amb tomàquet. You see, when I first arrived in Barcelona, I was not eating meat at all. Just didn’t appeal to me at the time. For the first part of my stay, while I was at the University, I was living with a Catalan family. I just didn’t know how to break the news that I was vegetarian, so… well… I just kind of started choking down meat. Sometimes it wasn’t so bad. But when the hardcore blood sausages came out, you know, the ones with thick pieces of white fat embedded within bright red dense and chewy hunks of meat… Ok, maybe I still have a slight gag reflex when it comes to blood sausage. Anyway, pa amb tomàquet was always a “thank goodness” dish to me during that time. Now, I realize I still love it, but basically for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

Though you can use either an oven-fresh baguette or simply day-old bread, having a flavorful, juicy tomato, as well as good quality olive oil and sea salt will turn a good pa amb tomàquet into a sublime one. I admit that in Germany this time of year it will be hard to come by an excellent tomato, but on the Mediterranean I imagine you can find great specimens of all of these ingredients at any season.

Recipe: Pa amb Tomàquet

Baguette, 5 inch or 12 cm piece

1 medium tomato, sliced in half

1 clove of garlic, sliced in half

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

  1. Slice the baguette piece in half lengthwise. Grill, broil or toast until warm and slightly browned on the edges.
  2. Rub the garlic on each half of the bread
  3. Cut the tomato in half and rub the cut side into the bread until it is well moistened with pulp and only the tomato skin is left in your hand.
  4. Drizzle generously with olive oil. If it’s good olive oil, very generously.
  5. Sprinkle with sea salt.
  6. Enjoy like tapas, with hams, cheeses, olives or anchovies. Or with a green salad for a light meal

pa amb tomàquet recipe


Three tips for eating in Barcelona:

For tapas, we went upon recommendation to Bar Ramón, which is a simple, brightly lit place near Sant Antoni, with jazz décor and music. The tapas range ran from your typical, though excellent, patatas bravas to a very unique mashed squash with roquefort in a half-shell.

A bakery with three local outlets in the city, which is new since I was there last, is Barcelona Reykjavik. With its copper and white tile-heavy interior design and range of gluten-free offerings it is right at home on the hipster-bakery archipelago of Brooklyn-London-Berlin. Nevertheless, the organic breads are of sorts you will not find elsewhere in the Catalan capital and the palmeras are buttery perfection.

Forget the Boqueria (ok, don’t forget it- just buy with your eyes only) and head to the other side of the old town to Mercat de Santa Caterina.
The restored 19th century market butts up against ancient ruins and features a colorfully tiled wavelike rooftop. It struck me as much more local than the Boqueria, with tiny ladies lining up on Saturday morning at the many fishmongers and meat stands. This was one of the many instances when I felt that the Catalan people know instinctively how to find both quality and pleasure in food.

Good Morning Cake

good morning cake

Who ever said you couldn’t eat cake for breakfast?

Remember when you were a kid, those “fun packs” of tiny boxes of sugary cereals? You could buy, say, 2 boxes of each of Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops and Cocoa Krispies, all shrink wrapped together in a row? Alas, I was never allowed to have them, making those colorful little cardboard containers naturally all the more appealing.

Ok, I admit that I did not regress back to childhood and eat the Good Morning Cake – a four-layer vanilla cake with espresso frosting – for breakfast. I made this cake about two and a half years ago as part of an installation, for an ongoing project I did called Conzept Kiosk. Why I woke up yesterday dreaming about this cake, I do not know, but I felt it appropriate on my 30th (!) birthday to re-consider it. My words of wisdom discovered after three decades of life experience: I actually think that what’s on top of this cake is far more unhealthy for you than the entire cake itself.

How’s that for growing up?

good morning cake

In Conzept Kiosk, I would leave baked goods (or in its last version, entire cakes) on a stand on the side of the street. It began on a remote island in Finland and continued on a mixed-use urban street in Brooklyn. The absurdity of it all interested me. But the further goal was as follows:

To investigate an alternative mode of exchange and distribution, one in which there is an implicit sense of trust that goes beyond the unsaid but all too present sense of obedience and fear of manipulation that we all have experienced as a buyer and a seller. In our urban culture, we are often taken aback by generosity, even when it is sincerely offered, and regard it as suspect. In Concept Kiosk, however, there is a moment of sharing, of uninhibited exchange. My goods are vulnerable to the perusal of the “customer,” but the leaving of money is an acknowledgement of the value of my public offering. This subtle shift in the traditional model of consumerism posits the consumer as an active participant in a dialectical artistic exchange.

good morning cake

good morning cake

good morning cake

The “In NYC But Would Rather Be Upstate” Dinner

I just returned to Berlin from a whirlwind ten days in the US, mostly New York. Unfortunately the trip’s purpose was not leaf-peeping. Nor was it shopping, as the officer at the security check leaving Berlin simply assumed of my travel plans! No, I flew back to be with Paul, after he learned the sad news that his father would not make it to 12-12-12, when he would have turned a century old.

It was a quiet week, not at all like my usual trips back to New York, which consist of round-the-clock running, in order to see everyone and eat everything. Even at the time, it seemed to us a shame not to at least drive for a day upstate to see the brilliant red maple trees, pick pumpkins and eat apples. But it just wasn’t on the agenda; there were more pressing things. On my last night in town, though, Paul cooked up one of his signature dishes, inspired by the season and flavored with his very unique touches.

I think if any born and bred Italian would see how Paul prepares his ravioli, they would sneer at the disregard of the purity of ingredients. But it tastes fantastic so, in the end, I simply like it. My best way to describe how he cooks is a fusion of Japanese and Italian, using some elements of the macrobiotic movement. His telling is much more poetic: “Fat is seared. Moisture is driven out. So all is delicious in the end.” Which, let’s be honest, are really tenants of so many wonderful dishes from all kinds of cultures. So, keep an open mind and follow along.

Recipe: Cinnamon-Pumpkin Ravioli with Orange Garlic-glazed Kale

Serves 4

-enough pumpkin ravioli for four (either store-bought fresh ravioli – which we used – or homemade)

-one large bunch of green kale

-½ head garlic (yes, this much!)

-3/4 cup orange juice


-olive oil


-umeboshi plum vinegar

-brown rice vinegar

-powdered ginger


1. Peel and chop the cloves from ½ head of garlic coarsely. Wash kale and remove leaves from the stems. Chop leaves coarsely.

2. Warm a large pan with high sides and a lid with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and ½ cup of orange juice. Add garlic and simmer for a few minutes until reduced (see photo). Add a small knob of butter and simmer a couple of minutes more on low heat.

3. Add chopped kale, in batches depending on the size of your pan and stir to coat in sauce. Sprinkle in a tiny bit of tamari, umeboshi plum vinegar and brown rice vinegar to taste (these are pretty intense, but go ahead and add a few splashes). Cover and cook on medium heat for 8-10 minutes, checking and stirring every couple of minutes to be sure it doesn’t overcook.

4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the ravioli and cook only a few minutes, just until they float. Drain well and set aside for one minute.

5. Heat a non-stick frying pan with a tablespoon of butter and ¼ cup of orange juice. Add drained pasta and sprinkle with cinnamon. Stir together gently and let fry over medium heat until browned. When you see it beginning to dry out, add a bit more butter, a splash of tamari, a drop of the two vinegars and a pinch of powdered ginger. Continue to cook until seared/well-browned.

6. Serve a few (or in our case, more than a few) ravioli next to a heaping portion of kale.

orange garlic glazed kale

reduction for orange garlic glazed kale

adding kale to pan

paul's triad of secret saucesYou really can’t imagine how satisfying, yet surprising this meal is. The browning of the carbohydrates in butter makes it generally savory, but it is prevented from burning through the orange juice, which doubles as a nice sour-sweetener. Despite all the fats and salty vinegars, the meal still doesn’t feel too unhealthy. Kale is a superfood, after all, something to feel good about.

Though we cooked a meal for four, all of our friends in the neighborhood have either babies or stressful jobs or both, and were too tired to join us on short notice. Deciding to turn our attempted dinner party into an early birthday party for each other, Paul and I ate nearly the entire meal for four between us, and even whipped up a couple of mini flourless chocolate cakes for the finale.

pan-frying ravioli

cinnamon pumpkin ravioli and garlic orange glazed kale recipe