I cannot begin to imagine the feelings of confusion and fear that I’d feel after having gone to bed, just like any other night, only to wake up and discover that overnight I had been separated from my family, friends, job, and certain freedoms by a fence, later to become a series of walls, manned by armed guards and other devices to prevent escape. And yet, this is exactly what happened to those living in East Berlin one night in August of 1961. Before visiting Berlin, it was easy for me to think of the Wall as just another pop-culture reference in a U2 or Ramones song. However, the hardship, despair, and desperation caused by the GDR’s Berlin Wall, or, as it was officially known, the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart,” instantly registered as much more when I saw the Bernauer Straße memorial to those who died attempting to escape East Berlin, heard stories of people driving trucks into the wall and digging fifty meter tunnels under it, and observed the lasting disparity between West Berlin and it’s formerly Soviet-controlled counterpart. It was just twenty-five years ago that these two halves were divided, with West Berlin an island cut-off from Soviet-controlled East Germany, and East Berlin cut-off from just about everything. The city suffered such oppression and violence and today, it continues to actively recover, rebuild, and reconnect (they’re still working to connect the water pipes and electricity of East and West Berlin). In response to it’s troubled past and a consequence of it’s current rehabilitation and renaissance, the people of Berlin have taken on a somewhat defiantly proud attitude toward their city. In an interview in 2004, the city’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, gave his famous quote that is now the war cry of the gritty city’s young, proud, and cheeky artists and professionals: “Berlin is arm, aber sexy.” (“Berlin is poor, but sexy.”)
Maybe it was the fact that I had walked 9 miles that day in 90 degree heat, maybe it was the fact that I was deliriously happy to be spending the weekend with one of my best friends who I hadn’t seen in over a year, maybe it was the fact that I was in Rome, but the matriciana and dessert and wine and everything that I ate at enOsteria, a little farm-to-table place near the Spanish Steps, was the best meal I’ve ever had. Even as I was eating it, I was already trying to figure out how I’d make it in my own kitchen. Luckily, we had one of the best waiters of all time and he told us that the secret to the sauce was the orange zest. Genius! To my continual gratitude, he also steered me toward a dessert of strawberries covered in white chocolate mouse with a drizzle of olive oil. It was like a fluffy, sweet and salty cloud of deliciousness. That may need to be my next project.
In planning my trip to Rome, I was picturing myself as Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, stylishly riding a bike through the city, eating spaghetti without gaining a pound, and buying bouquets of flowers. Reality, however, was not a crisp white shirt dress and a perfect new pixie cut. Picture instead a sweat-drenched creature, with hair simultaneously frizzed and plastered to her face, stomping around Rome in rubber sandals made out of some kind of stink-free space foam, trying to convince herself that her outfit paid proper respect to the Eternal City. Oh well.
One of my favorite scenes from My Big Fat Greek Wedding is when the aunt exclaims in horror, “HE DON’T EAT NO MEAT?!! …. It’s ok. I’ll make lamb.” Cracks me up. Every time. It only seemed fitting to me that on my first trip to Greece, I eat a lot of lamb. Prior to the trip, however, I expected to eat a lot of fresh seafood. I pictured salty, old locals stringing octopi on the ropes of a dock and us eating it grilled and fried and covered in olive oil until we needed to bribe a local child to roll us back to our hotel. Alas, this was not to be. Much of the seafood served on the island is of the frozen variety and so I discovered that I’ll have to save my dream of eating the day’s catch for another rock in the Aegean. In my grief, however, I was comforted by a variety of delicious treats. Here are a few:
The local delicacy of Dakos: a crusty bread (rusk), topped with olive oil, tomatoes, cheese, and olives and capers. S and I ate this as an appetizer to pretty much every meal on our trip.
Winding around hair-pin turns and gazing out at the sun-drenched, olive-covered hills of Crete, a cool breeze blew through my hair and “GOAT!” There’s nothing like a loud excited scream from your fiancé, seated next to you in the back seat of a very small two-door Panda, while your friends drive you through the majestic interior of the island of Crete.
When I think Crete, I think early civilization. When I think early civilization, I think Mrs. Lewis’ middle school social studies class learning about Mesopotamia and the civilizations that grew out of it. It all seemed so dry…dry as in sandy and hot. I think, to me, it seemed extra dry and hot because in the old movies that we watched in class like Ben Hur and Laurence of Arabia (obviously, I lumped all early civilizations together…Greece, Jerusalem, Rome…and they say students in the US don’t properly learn world geography….), everyone was always so sweaty and dirty. When S and I decided to go to Crete for a long weekend in July, all I could think of was a hot and dry, rocky, dusty island. And, of course, the Minotaur. Trapped in a labyrinth, being chased by a half-man-half-bull, while great exercise, did not sound like my ideal vacation.
I arrived in Bruges with a few friends a few hours before S and our other friends, just in time for a nice big Belgian dinner and, of course, some beers by a canal. When I think Bruges, I think moules! I’ve said it here before, S and I are obsessed with mussels (and especially the dipping sauces for the, not only accompanying, but equally important, frites!). When I sat down to dinner with my friends without S, my tastebuds and my heart entered a battle royale. I wanted mussels. Real bad. Meanwhile S was stuck in traffic. Could I push him from my mind and enjoy some moules-frites solo? Probably. Yes. Absolutely. After the first bite, with my betrayal complete, I could totally enjoy those little mollusks swimming in a delicious garlic wine sauce. I’d blissfully plunge those frites into a creamy mayonnaise like no frite had ever been plunged before. But I didn’t. I decided to save the moules for the next day and venture alone into the unknown with a Flemish beef stew. IT WAS AWESOME! When I told S about it the next day, he started drooling and the search was on for another bowl. We still had a lot of mussels over the weekend, but the first thing I did when we got home was figure out how to recreate Flemish stew. And then I served it over some roasted cauliflower because the sauce is too good not to sop up. And vegetables are a good thing. Here it is: