Eating Like an American in Germany

“Tacos.”
“Cheez-its.”
“Corn on the cob.”
“You know what I can’t find here? Pumpkin!”
“You looking for pumpkin? I got. You want?”

So went a recent conversation with my Ami* amie, Britt. Sharing a post-inauguration drink to drown our sorrows, we were resigned to staying in Germany, but bemoaning four years without our American food favorites. (And yes, this is definitely a First World Problem. Namely, a First-World Expat Problem.)

Sure, American food isn’t impossible to get. Certain specialty food stores have an American aisle, where bright boxes of Safeway familiars crowd together. And Amazon recently launched an online version (although a box of Twinkies was retailing for 11EUR, so perhaps it’s not the most cost effective). If one of us is going home for a visit, we collect the grocery lists of the other. Over-the-counter medicines, Trader Joe’s favorites, Target snackbags. Cajun seasoning and jars of peanut butter.

But the best is when friends come visiting from the States, bringing with them a taste of home that is as literal as it is figurative. It feels like Christmas to see the suitcases unzip and spew forth such delightful contraband as corn tortillas, bags of black beans, name-brand Sriracha, Louisiana hot sauce, boxes of ramen, gallons of Soy Sauce, my favorite Detox Tea. And the ever elusive cans of pumpkin puree, perfect for making pumpkin pie desserts.

Of course, there is an upside to foregoing our processed American food. It’s challenged me to do a lot of made-from-scratch cooking that I never would have bothered with otherwise. For my farewell Obama dinner, I made enchiladas. I could find basically everything I needed…except for enchilada sauce. So for the first time, I made my own (note that the recipe calls for Chili Powder, which is way easier to get in the States). And I’ll tell you what—I am NEVER going back to the can again. I make my own soup stock now too, like a regular Hausfrau.

And the local favorites are nothing to scoff at. German bread is way, way better than anything you can buy in the U.S. The meat and vegetables you buy at the market (even the chains) are typically all locally-sourced and seasonal—which leads to incredible taste. The cheese selection will blow your mind, and the dazzling array of quality two-buck chuck will have your winerack stocked for less than 20 euros.

But sometimes you’re hungry for more than just food. Sometimes you want a little of that Americana nostalgia that only a bag of baked-but-not-fried Goldfish crackers can provide.

Just be sure to ration them util your next visit(or) is planned.

*Ami is a German slang shorthand for American

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I too, eat America

Samut Sakhon, Thailand: February 2011

Sing to me, O America, a meal song. Of fast food joints draped in neon light, or fryers still hissing. Sing to me of the slow drip of ketchup from the stained red bottle. Sing to me of mall food courts—of burrito shops beside sushi beside pizza beside hot dogs. I will sing to you the song of the expatriate.

I will sing to you of the expatriate living in a small town in Thailand. Of the endless homogeny of cuisine. I will sing a song of rice, grains and grains clumped on the end of a spoon, mingled with vegetables, with the nascent taste of meat stirred in. I will sing to you of woks hissing on open stoves, cleavers falling with steady thwacks, of plastic plates and metal cups, of blocks of ice chopped by hand with the silver blade of the machete. I will sing to you of kao pad gai, of khai jeow moo, of pad thai my plaa, of caffe yin on the dull blue mornings before the sun has fully risen.

O America, can you know the taste of butter? You eat it every day. I will tell you of the taste of butter after weeks and weeks of none. I will tell of its slow seep into the bread, of my knife’s slow dance over the surface, spreading it thicker and thicker. I will tell you of the rich, heady, salty, pure yellowness of it on my tongue. I will tell you of the Fall mornings that taste conjured, the sound of toast springing from a toaster so suddenly sorely missed.

O America, can you know the taste of cheese? Of pizza? Of hamburgers? Of chicken strips, battered in eleven secret herbs and served with French fries? Can you know the taste of pot roast, meat melting in your mouth? Of salt, of pepper? I can tell you of spice—chili flakes redder than setting suns, oils that flare and flame on the tongue. I can tell you of walks, choking on the passing sharp zing of a pepper thrown into a pot, of crying on sidewalks amidst billowing steam, a ragged tearing in my throat. The sudden, brilliant need for water. For ice. For piles of soft white rice to pull the taste. For cucumbers, as green and pale as new grass.

I will sing to you of my old spice cabinet. Of the rows of glass jars so neatly contained. Of cinnamon and nutmeg that fell in brown clumps. Of oregano—hanging in the air as I crumbled it into a pot. Of black pepper and olive oil, grainy and slippery on a slab of raw meat. Of flavors wide and diverse as the people who brought them, who cultivated them on the turf of countries far from you…Sing to me, America! Of diversity.


My dreams are haunted by America. In my previous trips abroad, I learned the ups and downs of my country from afar. I learned the way Europe sees it, the way Asia sees it, how rich countries see it differently than poor countries. But in Thailand, I surprised myself by becoming patriotic. In a country where diversity is a rarity, the range of America—from people to cities to food to opinions—became something fresh and beautiful, something that I can acknowledge I took for granted before. At night I dream of city sidewalks, of brick brownstones and Califonia stucco. I dream of cacti and salt flats and red rock and forests. I dream of sand and pine trees and snow drifts and maples. I dream of color spectrums. Of celebrations that toast Dia de las Muertas and Christmas and Kwanzaa and Independence Day, riots of color and song.

I miss the homeland because I miss variety, and while I toast to Thailand’s harboring me here for lo these seven months, for introducing me to so many spices and dishes and people and ideas, it will be good to be home.

Happy Bellies: A Weekend in Portland (Pt II.)

I already covered a bit of the Portland beer scene (check it out here), so this post is about the second thing making our bellies happy—food!

In terms of food—well, to be frank, we love eating, but we’re not necessarily true foodies. We don’t go out of our way to nosh on the latest trends (case in point—committing the cardinal sin of not ordering a cronut while living in NYC when they first came on the scene). But Portland’s was a rare case where everything that was put in front of me tasted five times better than I expected! Here’s the rundown.

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Food Pods/Food carts

I wasn’t initially sure why PDX didn’t call them “food trucks” like the rest of the country…until I realized that they really don’t move. In fact, at a few of the pods (the collective noun for a gathering of food carts—which, really, could be more imaginative. What about a plate of food carts? Or a swallow? I digress) had several abandoned carts that were open for rent. Like food trucks, don’t mistake these for the classic “roach coach”—the meals were well priced, cooked to order, and wholly delicious. We went the adventurous route and picked a pod without knowing the carts inside, lucking out with some savory carnitas tortas from Guero Tacos and Tortas, but hardcore foodies who want the lay of the land before making their choice can download the Cart Compass app.

Blue Star Donuts

Speaking of not going out of our way…though everyone hyped up Voodoo Doughnuts to the Nth degree, waiting in that line just did not seem appetizing. We hopped instead to a lesser-known but out-of-this-world-GOOD Blue Star Donuts. With their Instagram-ready glazes and sweet and savory (blueberry basil!) flavor combos, these already exceeded our breakfast expections—but the fried chicken donut was really icing on the cake (so to speak). Imagine a plain glazed donut topped with what had to be two fried chicken breasts and a smattering of Frank’s Red Hot. Sweet and spicy perfection.

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Grain and Gristle

Though a bit apprehensive about a restaurant with the word “gristle” in its name, Grain and Gristle was nothing to shy from. Hip but local, this place had a great selection of beers (many from breweries we’d hit during Zwickelmania) and amazing food. We snacked on the porky croquettes and homemade Slim Jims, then went all-in on the house burger and accompanying onion rings—the perfect ending to a day full of beer.

Loretta Jean’s

Why aren’t pie shops still a thing? One bite of Loretta Jean’s streusel-topped blackberry-raspberry slice and you’ll be wondering the same. Though the shop’s wares might throw you back to the 60’s, the sleek space and hip décor reminds you that yes, this exists in 2015.

Screen Door

We were warned that good Portland brunch spots = a good wait. So it seemed an auspicious sign (er, sorta) when we arrived at Screen Door to find a line that stretched the block. Two crossword puzzles later, the reason for the line revealed itself in the form of biscuits and gravy as “big as a cat’s head”, a tower of fried chicken and waffles, and pecan-crusted bacon. Need I say more?

Happy Bellies: A Weekend in Portland (Pt I.)

It was hard to say what we more excited for as we belted ourselves into our flight to Portland. Was it beer? Was it food? Was it getting out of town for the weekend—being on another flight? Whatever it was, it brought a flush to our cheeks and hammer to our hearts…or maybe it was the fact that we’d nearly missed our flight and had to run all the way from security. Now the hype has cooled and I can look back on the weekend with the sepia tones of sweet nostalgia, identifying just what, exactly, made our PDX weekend so remarkable. Part one? The BEER.

In all honesty, of the three things listed above, beer was the frontrunner in terms of excitability. We’d heard tell of Portland’s legendary beer scene for years, and couldn’t wait to cheers a pint. Lucky for us, Zwickelmania was that weekend!

What is Zwickelmania? Their website describes them thusly: “The annual one-day event in Oregon when breweries open their doors to the casual and hardcore beer fans, lands on Feb. 14 this year — Valentine’s Day — from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. More than 110 breweries, both big and small, are participating with meet-the-brewer events and beer samples.”

Toss me a life-jacket, because I am ON BOARD. The Zwickelmania map listed a total of 44 breweries to check out. It was completely insane to attempt to see all of them between 11 and 4, so we did a little strategy and came up with four that sounded good: Base Camp, Coalition, The Mash Tun, and Stormbreaker. (An added bonus was hitting up Breakside Brewing the night before on our way home from the airport.)

Base Camp Brewing Co.

Base Camp had a really imaginative set-up for their event: instead of your standard tour of the brewery and tasting separate at the bar, they set up a faux-trail through their brewing tanks. On different points along the way, we steadfast hikers were rewarded with a beer to taste and an explanation of the sights to be found from our particular “vista.” From a branding standpoint, it was really well-executed. From a drinking standpoint, their Saison was killer.

Coalition Brewing Co.

The Coalition Zwickelmania setup was basically a big backyard party—complete with a fence of kegs. There was cornhole, picnic tables, stereo music and an outdoor bar. We couldn’t be sure if it was the unseasonal sunshine or the citrusy wheat beer, but it certainly felt like summer.

The Mash Tun Brewpub

The Mash Tun was incredibly laid back. Posters inside advertised a Wednesday Cribbage night and bar trivia, and their daily happy hour was a $3.50 pint of any of their incredible beers. Try the tater tots. And the fried zuccini. Ok, try everything (especially their Kitchen Sink!)

StormBreaker Brewing

StormBreaker Brewing was the most epic in name (an old Native American nickname for Mount Hood can apparently be translated into Storm Breaker) and Zwickelmania special—patrons at the bar could get a 20 oz pour for a measly $4. An outdoor tent and fire pit kept everyone warm, but the piece de resistance were the hop-shaped lights hanging over the main bar.

Breakside Brewery

Breakside was our first stop on Portland’s beer trail—we hit it up a mere 20 minutes after landing from San Francisco. As such, it wasn’t an official Zwickelmania stop, but it did provide an excellent first glimpse into the unique specialties of the PDX Beer Scene. Case in point—the salted caramel stout that was as filling as dinner and as sweet as dessert.

But beer wasn’t the only thing filling our bellies—check back for Part II (FOOD) later this week!

Asheville, NC: Toasting Five Favorite Bars

We recently headed to Asheville, N.C. to visit the Biltmore Estate and celebrate David’s graduation from law school. We’ve long had a bucket list of Southern cities we need to check out, and Asheville’s been on it since the first year we lived here. Everyone hyped up its casual, laid-back vibe and the excellent beer scene (According to Explore Asheville, it boasts more breweries per capita than any U.S. city—roughly one brewery per 8,000 people!). So of course as soon as we finished the Biltmore tour, we headed to downtown for an impromptu bar crawl, based on suggestions from friends and locals alike. Here’s the rundown on our five favorites: 

Wicked Weed:
“Hops are a wicked and pernicious weed” -Henry VI. Good ol’ King Hank banned hops back in the day, so the good folks at Wicked Weed are taking the best kind of revenge: brewing delicious, delicious beer. I tried their Saison XXXI—it was a little bitter, but full of flavor. Not surprisingly, their hoppiest beers were the ones we liked best.

Barley’s Taproom:
All of the bars we visited in Asheville had great outdoor spaces—patios, rooftops, porches. Barley’s had neat little bars set up on the sidewalk, so you could sit along the street and do a bunch of people-watching. Their vibe was a little sportier, but they had a wide array of local brews and some mean garlic knots. I tried Highland Brewing Company‘s Gaelic Ale—so refreshing!

Thirsty Monk:
Everyone we talked to absolutely raved about Thirsty Monk, so it was a sure addition to our crawl itinerary. Tuesdays are Taco Tuesday, so we started with some absolutely killer tacos, and followed up with selections from their impressive Belgian beer list. The Ommegang Three Philosophers was probably the best beer I’ve had all year.

LaB:
Towards the end of the night, we headed towards LaB, which we’d seen on our way back from dinner the night before (at Brasilia Churrasco Steakhouse—great food, great service). LaB had a sweet front porch area, and their Honey Wheat was an excellent way to finish out a long night of beer tastings.

The Yacht Club:
Turns out David wasn’t as ready to tap out as I was, so we really finished at The Yacht Club, right across from Thirsty Monk. It cost $1 to join the club, which had a groovy tiki-bar meets biker-bar kind of atmosphere. David snagged another beer, but I ordered a pitcher of tater tots, which, surprise surprise, was an actual beer pitcher of tots.

Of course this is just a sampling. Got other places you recommend? Leave a note in the comments!

Kanpai! to Kirin (Sponsored)

IMG_6151I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Millennial Central for Kirin. I received product samples to facilitate my review as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

My college roommate moved to D.C. at the end of last summer, and while I didn’t envy her at all during the winter, the pictures she’s been posting lately of the Japanese cherry blossoms have certainly kindled a longing to revisit the capital. Though I probably won’t make it up there this spring, I put together the next best thing, thanks to Millennial Central and Kirin beer (who coincidentally is the sponsor of the National Cherry Blossom Festival)—that next best thing being a night of Japanese food and drink.

Now ya’ll I know I’m a big fan of both beer and travel, and one of my favorite things to do when I get to a new country is order a pint, can, bottle, or bucket of the local speciality. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to trying both Kirin Ichiban and Kirin Light. So how to round out the menu and make a meal out of it? Luckily Kirin has partnered with celebrity chef, Candice Kumai (of Top Chef fame) to share recipes and pairing recommendations. While I got a few of Candice’s favorites in a little booklet, if you follow Kirin’s Facebook page, you’ll recieve a continuous stream of special recipes that go well with the beer. (I highly recommend you do so—the recipes I got were positively drool-worthy!) But first, the beer.

Kirin Ichiban

Kirin Ichiban is a full-bodied, malty beer with a smooth flavor and clean finish. Kirin is one of Japan’s oldest breweries, and the homebrewers among our little group were fascinated by the first-press brewing process. (If you click the link there’s a hypnotic animated gif showing demonstrating how it works). My boyfriend really liked the bold, clean taste the Ichiban, which perfectly complemented our gyoza and avocado rolls.

Kirin Light

Let me preface this with the fact that I am normally not a light beer drinker. Most light beers I’ve had have been really watery, tasteless concoctions that aren’t worth the 65+ calories you’re saving by drinking them. The same cannot be said of Kirin Light. It surprised me by being my favorite of the two—incredibly refreshing, easy to drink, and a welcome relief from the spice and bold flavors of the dishes in our food spread. I can easily see it becoming a cookout or poolside favorite when the weather gets hot.

What did we drink it with?

IMG_7208Gyoza: As you can see in the pics below, we ended up with quite a spread. We started with Candice’s recipe, “Mom’s Homemade Gyoza.” I have a HUGE weak spot for gyoza, and making it from scratch was kind of a dream come true. The flavors blended together perfectly, and Candice’s method of “freaming” (half frying, half steaming), left them gyoza mouthwateringly soft on top and nice and crispy on the bottom. They literally flew off the plate.

Avocado Rolls: Candice also provided a recipe for Maki Sushi Rolls, which I’m sure are delicious. I can’t eat fish though, so my poor dinner party was deprived of that certain goodness. Instead we compromised and made avocado rolls—all of us newbies at the sushi rolling technique. Once we did our first roll, we were addicted…as our mountain of cut sushi can attest! The salty flavor of the nori wrapper, the tartness of the rice and vinegar, and the buttery smoothness of the avocado were a perfect match for the malty flavor of the Kirin Ichiban.

Siracha: Our dinner party guests are big siracha fans, and since the beer is so light and refreshing, I thought it would pair well with the fiery kick of the Asian chile sauce. (Man, was I right). Our guests brought over a bag of siracha popcorn to tide us over while we finished cooking. Siracha popcorn + beer = addictive! As a special treat, I tried out a recipe for honey siracha wings that I found on The Comfort of Cooking. WOW. They were another overwhelming hit with the party, especially when followed up with a sip of Kirin Light.

Before we set into the meal, we toasted each other and the season with the traditional toast: “Kanpai!” which literally mean, “dry your glass.” Easy to do with a beer like Kirin, that’s for sure!

Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Part II

1932491_10100179186735271_1292204160_nIn case you missed it last week, we recently got back from the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (check out Stops One—Four in Part I of this post to see the first four distilleries we checked out!)

Picking up where we left off, we took our second day to see Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, and one of the distilleries on the Craft Bourbon trail—Limestone Branch. We rounded it out with a mini-pub crawl through Louisville. Our fave bars are at the end of the post!

Stop Five: Maker’s Mark

The weather in Kentucky on our second day was so perfect, it’s hard not to be biased. That said, I think Maker’s was my favorite distillery experience of the trip. This may be because I’m in advertising, and was fascinated by their brand story, which they tell most excellently as you wander the property. Maker’s was also the only tour that took us into the bottling area. While it wasn’t in operation because of the weekend, we did get to see where the dip each bottle of Maker’s Mark in a vat of red wax—pretty cool! By far the best part of Maker’s was dipping our own bottle at the end of the tour. In fact, you can dip anything you purchase at the gift shop in red wax. We saw a few baseball hats, glassware, flasks, and a ton of different bottles go into the vat.

The Maker’s property is also really beautiful—a creek (named “Whisky Creek” of course) runs through it, the buildings are painted a rich brown with vibrant red shutters, and the whole feel of the place was very cozy and welcoming. Their visitor’s center did a great job telling the Maker’s story, with Harry Potter-esque talking portraits that gave you a preview of the personalities that shaped the brand.

Address: 3350 Burkes Spring Rd, Loretto, KY 40037 [Full disclosure: this place was a DRIVE and a half, so prepare lots of time. On the plus side, there was some beautiful scenery along the way.]
Price: $9

Stop Six: Limestone Branch

Limestone Branch is technically on the Craft Bourbon trail, but we wound up only tasting their White Lightnings on our visit. White Lightning, White Dog, Moonshine…they were used interchangeably during our trip to describe the high proof liquid that is first distilled, before it gets aged in the barrels and comes out as bourbon whisky. It smells delicious, but boy will it put some hair on your chest! Limestone Branch had softened that shudder-inducing taste by infusing their ‘shines with a variety of fruits and flavors—my favorites being the ones based on Moon Pies, another Southern treat. The chocolate one was to die for, perfect for a dessert drink. They also had a jalapeno moonshine, which our guide assured us is delicious in Bloody Mary’s. It tasted delicious as-is, too—so good in fact that a bottle of it came home with us. Limestone Branch is really small, but if you’ve made the drive out to Maker’s, it’s only a few miles away and certainly worth the stop.

Address: 1280 Veterans Memorial Hwy, Lebanon, KY 40033
Price: FREE

Stop Seven: Jim Beam

Jim Beam was the last stop on our tour—we unfortunately didn’t make the full passport this time. Even more unfortunately, we missed the tour due to the length of the drive from Limestone Branch to Jim. We did get to do the tasting, though, in their super modern tasting barn. Their property was also really fun—a series of little barns each designated to a different purpose. They are their own cooperage too, so one barn was dedicated to making barrels. Pretty neat. The tasting was pretty unique. Imagine a vending machine that poured bourbon and you’ll get a pretty good idea. I’d had no idea that Jim Beam makes and distributes Knob Creek, which is absolutely delicious. We also tried their Jim Beam Single Barrel—awesome. We rounded out our self-guided tour at their on-premise BBQ shack, Fred’s Smokehouse, for some brisket sliders and mac n’ cheese.

Address: 526 Happy Hollow Rd, Clermont, KY 40110
Price: FREE (for tasting)

Stop Eight: Louisville Bar Crawl

Our favorite stops on the Louisville scene were as follows:

Troll Under the Bridge: Great beer selection, lots of TVs to catch the March Madness madness, neat history
Sidebar: Swanky atmosphere, delicious bourbon cocktails, cool theme (a sidebar is when lawyers approach the judge to conference in the courtroom)
Bluegrass Brewing Company: Local brewing company, amazing food (we ate dinner there—their burgers were amazing), chill vibe

 

 

50 States, 50 Pizzas

Now THIS would be a road trip I could get on board with! Apparently Zagat came out with a “best pizza per state” list in honor of Pizza Week back in the September and it completely escaped my radar. How? I honestly have no idea. I feel like I’m in danger of having my pizza-lover card revoked—and this from the girl who won (and has eaten) free pizza for a year!

I grew up in California, so I have to give a shout-out to Pizza My Heart, which made the list!

watsonville_apple_680_340_s_c1 Per Zagat: “Ironically, Pizza My Heart co-founder Chuck Hammer said this pizza with apple on top of it started with their company’s deep desire to put bacon on a pizza. “Who hasn’t seen the classic pig with an apple in its mouth?” asks Hammer. More importantly, the salty-sweet combo just works. In addition to the bacon and fruit, Hammer’s team added spicy pepperoni to the mix to make it loud and clear that this was still a pizza. The gorgonzola added at the end rounds everything off with a creamy finish. In-the-know tip: you can custom-order nitrate-free bacon for your pie.”