It's been confusing, to say the least, to be a vegetable-loving individual in Germany this past month. For a while, to be on the safe side, all I did was eat stewed vegetables, which I didn't mind in the least. Braised zucchini and slow-cooked Romano beans are very fine indeed. But then the summer sun and the lack of answers from the scientists and government agencies involved in solving this E. coli epidemic started to get to me. That and the fact that weeks were going by in which I was not allowed a single raw tomato.
(I ask of you: how can one live through the month of June without eating raw tomatoes? I say one cannot.)
At the greenmarket yesterday, then, I bought a sackful of everything I'd missed so much over the past few weeks, from a favorite local farm: a kilo of gleaming tomatoes, a long, dark cucumber, the most beautiful, moody head of oak-leaf lettuce and a perky bunch of radishes. I had to restrain myself from nibbling on the greens on my walk home, Peter Rabbit-style.
(Several people have asked how I'm dealing with the vegetable situation at present in Berlin: I try to buy fresh produce only from local vendors at green markets who are either growing the produce themselves or eating it themselves. If I have to buy any fresh produce from the grocery store, I cook it. I'm steering clear of ground meat and I only buy organic, local milk and eggs anyway. And now I'm making my own yogurt, too. But not because of the E. coli, just because. Homemade yogurt!)
Despite a few intermittent bursts of rain now and then, it's tough not be spending every waking minute outdoors these days. Berlin in summer is something so impossibly lovely and fleeting that it must be enjoyed and soaked up, as much as humanly possible. The best way to do this (besides taking a boat ride around the city) is to go out to one of Berlin's many parks and have a picnic. Just the other day, I was at my friend's annual picnic a stone's throw from the bridge to Potsdam, and we had ourselves a feast: cold meatballs and herb jam on flatbread, long-cooked beans and carrot-harissa salad, strawberry cake and Bienenstich.
I've been thinking a lot about picnics lately, and celebrations, too. As much as I can't wait for our wedding celebration at the end of June and the rustic Italian menu we'll be serving our guests, there are some days I wish we'd just decided to have a party in the middle of a big, empty park in Berlin - empty save for the massive trees keeping quiet watch over us - and spread out blankets covered with big trays of deviled eggs, homemade pickles and pavlova (in this ideal world, mayonnaise-spiked egg yolks and fresh whipped cream consumed on a hot summer's day outdoors makes perfect sense and is not dangerous in the least).
Maybe that's how we'll celebrate our anniversary instead. One thing I know for sure, the next picnic I go to, I'll be bringing a jar of radish pickles - rosy-pink and crunchy.
The recipe comes from the archives of Gourmet.com and is a cinch. You salt a bunch of quartered radishes, which give off a surprising amount of liquid half an hour later, and dissolve sugar in rice wine vinegar. Then you put the salted, drained radishes into the vinegar solution along with spoonful of slivered ginger. A few hours in the refrigerator (they can stay there up to a day) and you've got yourself a bowlful of crisp, sour, pickly radishes that are lovely popped into your mouth straight from the fridge or served, more adult-like, alongside a plate of salumi, for example. The addition of the ginger gives the pickles the faintest soupçon of sushi ginger. It's lovely.
I find picnics require pickles almost as much as they require a steady supply of cold drinks. You need the occasional bright pop of acidity and crunch to wake up your palate and keep you from fading away on the blanket, ants nipping at your ankles.
How about you, dear readers: what are your picnic must-haves?
Quick Radish Pickles
Makes about a cup
6 oz radishes (about 7), quartered
3 tablespoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 (1-inch) piece peeled ginger, cut into thin matchsticks (1 tablespoon)
1. Toss radishes with 1 tsp salt in a bowl and let stand 30 minutes. Drain in a sieve but do not rinse.
2. Heat vinegar with sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and add radishes, then stir in ginger. Transfer to a small bowl and marinate, chilled, at least 2 hours. Radishes can be marinated up to 1 day.