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My Kitchen and Broccoli Soup


The boxes are unpacked, the cookbooks are once again in their shelves, a few paintings grace the walls and there are fresh towels in the bathroom. My name isn't yet on the doorbell, but I've got a basil plant thriving in the warm light that comes through the window from the balcony. I don't have a phone line yet, but my living room looks almost lived in. And though I haven't yet got a table and chairs in the kitchen, I made lunch there the other day, the first real thing I've cooked since moving in, and the smell of browning onions and boiled broccoli was the best sign of being home.


Sadly, the lovely apartment I ended up in doesn't have a gas stove. A lot of apartments in Berlin don't have them anymore, out of what seems to be a combination of modernity and fear. (Of gas leaks, explosions.) So instead of flames at the hearth, hissing away as I boil water or fry an onion, I now have a sleek, black induction stove, which looks super cool, but is eerily silent and, I find, a little strange. I'm getting used to it. I don't know if it's my imagination or not, but water boils awfully fast on it, which is rather nice. Perhaps I've got a physicist or two in my audience who can tell me if I'm making this up or not? In any case, it's easy to clean. Which is good, too. Like I said, I'm getting used to it.


The kitchen is lovely. Flooded with light and with a gorgeous view, I feel really peaceful when I'm in there. Sometimes I can hear traffic a few streets away, and sometimes I hear little birds chirping in the eaves outside my window. All my old friends are gathered together: my blue soup pot, my knives from college and New York, my grandmother's spatula, a tea kettle given to me by an old boyfriend over a decade ago. I've got Rancho Gordo beans in the cupboard and two kinds of brown sugars in the fridge (thank you, Nikolas!). I've got parchment paper in the cupboards and my trusty lipped cutting board at the ready.


I can already tell, good things are going to come from here.


And last week, a few days before I left for London, where I spent the weekend with my friends, strolling through Borough Market, marveling at stylish London girls, buying killer cheddar and Cadbury's speckled chocolate eggs at Sainsbury's and drinking, yes, quite a lot of tea, I made soup in the new apartment. My very first proper meal cooked there, if you don't count the spaghetti with tomato sauce I made for a couple friends who came over to help me put up shelves and do a bit of drilling a few weeks earlier.


I found the soup recipe in a free magazine from a grocery store chain here that my mother picked up for me, which sounds rather unpromising, I know, but trust me. It's just broccoli and potatoes boiled in chicken stock, then puréed and topped with fried onions and Speck and little slivers of mint leaves. It's simple and easy and awfully filling, plus it looks just darling, especially when spooned into lovely antique plates bought at a flea market in Paris ten years ago and then forgotten about in a basement until now.

Oh, right, and it tastes good, too.


The last week has been warm and sunny here. The trees sport fat buds, crocuses are peeking up from the moist ground, I hear birds chirping before the sun goes up and the air is fairly bursting with anticipation for spring. We're not quite there, yet, as today's cold wind reminds me. And the markets are still only selling asparagus and peas from far away countries like Greece and Spain. But today I saw local rhubarb for the first time, so pink the stalks almost glowed. And I have plans for tomato plants on my balcony, and little gherkins so I can make my own cornichons later this year.

It's going to be a good spring.

Broccoli Soup with Speck
Serves 3 to 4

1 medium yellow onion, minced
6 slices Speck or pancetta or unsmoked bacon, finely diced
1 lb (450 g) floury potatoes, cubed
6 cups (1.5 liters) chicken broth
1 lb (450 g) broccoli, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint

1. In a small pan, cook the onion and Speck together over low heat until the onion is translucent and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Set aside.

2. In a covered soup pot, bring the broth to a boil. Add the cubed potatoes, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chopped broccoli, mix well and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and, using an immersion blender, purée until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Ladle the soup into plates and sprinkle a spoonful or two of the bacon-onion mixture over each serving. Top with the sliced mint and serve.

Dispatches From an Austrian Grocery Store


Skiing was so much fun, it really was. But one afternoon, our energy levels pooped out entirely (the infamous third day!) and so a few friends and I decided to go souvenir shopping at the local grocery store in the next town over from our little village. Ooh! We found some serious gems. Here's what I bought:

Gelierzucker is what Germans and Austrians use to make jams and jellies. It's sugar mixed with powdered pectin. Have you ever seen more beautiful packaging? I don't believe I have. It is the only reason I bought this sugar and if I could have, I would have bought a case. Wiener Zucker seems to be Austria's Domino and they make all kinds of different sugars, including powdered sugar that comes in an equally enchantingly designed box. (Austrians call powdered sugar Staubzucker, which means "dust sugar". This, for some reason, pleases me to no end.)


Another purchase just for the package. This, my friends, is pickling salt. Enough for 50 kilos of meat once mixed with a couple kilos of table salt. Apparently, it's best used when "butchering at home". Why yes, of course I need this in my new kitchen! Who wouldn't? I plan on doing a lot of meat butchering and pickling this year. Seriously, I could not pass this by. Could you have? Look at that little pig! It was too much.


The Austrians have all sorts of adorable names for things. Like the aforementioned "dust sugar" or "ice box" for refrigerator or "powidl" for plum jam. They also call black currants schwarze Ribisel (pronounced REE-BEE-sel), which is so perfect, isn't it? Of course they're little Ribisel! That's exactly what they are. Anyway, d'Arbo is an Austrian jam maker that does a lot of business worldwide (you can find their jams in New York and Berlin anyway), but I'd never seen this delicate little jelly anywhere before.


While in the jam aisle, physically restraining myself from reaching out and putting everything I saw in the basket, I made an exception for Staud's apricot jam, made with pure fruit. Austrians call apricots Marillen, which always makes me think of Marilla Cuthbert, who was Anne of Green Gables's caretaker, in case you didn't read that book 14 times (uh, I didn't get out much in the 5th grade) and so I am powerless when it comes to them. Also, Dean & Deluca sell Staud marmalades for totally atrocious prices, which always rather appalled me, so part of why I bought this was because it was cheap. Chee-heap.


My shopping companions spent a lot more time than I did eyeing, discussing and marveling over all the cured meats available at the store. Let's just say, if you're into cured pig, especially but not exclusively, there is a lot to get excited about in Austria. I liked the look of this maroon slab of dry-cured bacon (which, literally translated, means "ham bacon", har) out of Carinthia. I'll let you know what I end up using it for. Right now I just like hefting it back and forth.


Cabanossi, I have recently learned, are one of Austria's greatest salami products. Thin and chewy and completely addictive, some people I know take them skiing to gnaw on during breaks (I can't seem to even handle chewing gum while on the slopes, but that's another story). They're not that easy to find outside of Austria and certainly impossible to find outside of Central Europe. I wasn't allowed to leave the store without buying a package.


Mozartkugel! Do you know about Mozartkugel? A ball of pistachio paste covered with a layer of nougat covered by a layer of marzipan, then covered in dark chocolate. Delicious little things. These are not authentic; no, the real, true, authentic Mozartkugel are only made at a confiserie in Salzburg, where Mozart was from. But unless you go to Salzburg or pay a lot of money to have them shipped, they're out of reach. These industrial ones from Mirabell are pretty and delicious and very easily squashed into a suitcase. Also, affordable. Mozartkugel for everyone!


I mentioned Austria's gorgeous pumpkinseed oil in my last grocery store post. But what Styria, the pumpkinseed capital of Austria, is also famous for is apple cider vinegar. This near-liter bottle cost a whopping €1.99, plus the packaging was so stylish I couldn't resist. I plan on splashing this liberally into potato, cabbage and beet salads.


And now we come to the mustards. Lovely people, the mustards. I could have spent an hour in the mustard aisle and I don't even love mustard as much as I love ketchup. It was insane. Insanely wonderful. All kinds of metal tubes and bottles and flavors and oh my goodness, you would have thought we'd never even seen mustard before the way we carried on in there. I managed to get out of that store with only five (5!) tubes and I tell you, I practiced some serious restraint.

Above, in exhibit A, we have the classic Wiener Würstel mustard (semi-sweet, whatever that means). If you go to any butcher in Germany and ask for a Wiener Wurst, you will get what looks like a slightly elongated American hot dog (no bun, obvs). (Wien, in case you were wondering, is Vienna in German.) You can eat it on the spot, cold, or go home and heat it up in water. Either way it's iconic and delicious and apparently, this is what you should be dipping it in.


Austrians have a thing for fresh horseradish. They call it Kren and dudes, it is HOT. They like shredding it over an open-faced sandwich or grating it onto boiled beef and holy hotness, it should come with a warning. MAY BLOW YOUR FACE OFF or CAN PERMANENTLY RECONFIGURE SINUSES. I do believe it could be hotter than wasabi. This here, exhibit B, is horseradish mustard, labeled "hot". Um, YES. Don't let that goofy horseradish root cartoon drawing fool you.


Here, Exhibit C, we have the remaining three mustards I bought. Tarragon mustard (savory-hot), at the bottom, a traditional Austrian mustard from Krems in the middle (mild-sweet), and then something called "English Special Mustard" (sweet-hot) at the top. Aren't they darling? The metal tubes are cool and smooth to the touch. The terrible thing is this: I bought these as gifts and now can't bring myself to give them away. How can I live another day not knowing what English Special Mustard tastes like? Or the original sweet mustard from Krems? Or that spicy tarragon mustard?

Yes, there was that thing about there not being much room left in the suitcase, what with the apple cider vinegar and the sugar and the preserves and the cured meats and the freaking pickling salt, but really, I have learned my lesson: there must always be room for more mustard.

Away and Back Again


When in Austria, do not leave without eating at least one serving of Tiroler Gröstl (approximate pronunciation help: GRR-ESH-TL, helps if you go all guttural on the "RRR"). You should receive an individual cast-iron pan filled with crusty fried potatoes, big chunks of bacon and ham, topped with the most perfectly fried egg you ever did see, the yolk still runny, the edges laced just so. If you are physically able to finish this all in one go, you will probably not need to eat again all day or perhaps the next day, too. Sharing it will leave room for dessert.


Dessert, after all, could be as delicious and essential as one puffy, gorgeous Germknödel, which I know, I know, does not sound like much to Anglophone ears ("what do they mean, GERMS?"), but is one of the greatest contributions to world cuisine. (Germ is Austrian for yeast.) What you get is a large, steamed, yeasted dumpling (similar, I suppose, to char siu bao) filled with a generous helping of plum jam (remember?), topped with a small mountain of ground poppyseeds and powdered sugar, swimming in a pool of melted butter and more poppyseeds. I, frankly, could do without all the butter, but the dumpling itself, yielding and chewy, and that plum jam, slightly sour and spiced, is seriously wonderful. You will be happy you left room for it.


The week in the Austrian mountains was wonderful. Concentrating on not breaking a leg or humiliating myself on the slopes was an excellent way to detach from regular life. Oh, and no access to the Internet seemed to help, too. What is it with snow-covered trees and their enchanting ability to seem like a gathering of silent and wise old men?


We stayed in a cozy little guesthouse run by a family that also runs one of the restaurants on the top of the nearby mountain, providing hungry skiers with plenty of fried potatoes and steamed dumplings and other Austrian comforts. There were delicious meals every night (each dinner started with a different soup, made with homemade stock cooked fresh every day, beef bones and turnips a-bobbing), adorable little girls who poked their heads into the dining room and ran off giggling when spotted and the sound of a rushing brook next to the nearby road at night.


I didn't realize until we left how deeply soothed I felt. The mountains and the sky and the crrrsh crrrsh crrrsh of skis slicing through fresh snow reordered how my mind worked.


But coming home was good, too. I saw Berlin, with its cement gray skies and damp earth air, with eyes wide-open. People! Graffiti! Signs! Traffic! Buildings!


Lovely in its unloveliness. Gilded and sooty alike.


You can walk through some parts of Berlin and see a whole new city unfold in front of you. New streets, new bridges, a new identity entirely. And in other parts it looks like nothing has changed in thirty years, like there is still a Wall and melancholy swirling around empty fields underneath that metallic sky.


But you keep moving, because you must, there's more to see just around that corner and there are subways to take and dinner to cook and before you know it, it's snowing again. Great big fat snowflakes, gathering wetly on your sleeve. You pass Tiergarten, seemingly unchanged in a hundred years, and there they are, those wise old trees, bewhiskered with white, standing like sentries in the midst of this strange, interesting city. Silently watching us as we go.

Austrian Potato Strudel


Alright, poppets, this one has to be quick. In one hour and 35 minutes, I am leaving the house to get on a bus to drive through the night from Berlin all the way down to Austria, where I will be skiing for the next 8 days. Ooh! The last time I did this was in the 8th grade. I remember that drive as a long night filled with classmates taking turns on some lucky kid's brand-new Game Boy and a lot of dirty, well, for 14-year-olds at least, jokes. This time, instead of the Game Boy, we've got an iPod, a couple of books and maybe even a few better jokes than last time up someone's sleeve. Honestly, I just can't wait.

While I'm gone, eating more ham sandwiches than I care to count, I leave you with a true Austrian gem in the spirit of my vacation, if you will. Potato strudel, which is sort of like the most delicious, most elegant potato knish you'll ever eat, only studded with bacon. It's tasty. And you don't need German strudel dough to do this, you can use plain old phyllo (or filo) instead.

Let's get started, shall we? My long underwear won't pack itself. Pardon the iPhone photos, I know they are hideous, but the night I made this, my camera battery died and this was all I had.


First you boil a whole mess of peeled, cubed potatoes. They will take far less time or elbow grease to prepare than you think. In the time it takes to boil a pot of salted water, basically, you should be able to take care of those babies. Add some caraway to the cooking water. It imbues the potatoes with wonderful flavor and some even make it into the strudel later. By the way, in case you didn't know, potatoes and caraway? Soulmates, star-crossed lovers, meant to be.

You mash those potatoes with Quark and a good amount of salt and pepper. In New York, I know, you can find Quark at the farmer's market and at Whole Foods and Fairway. It's a fresh German cheese. You can substitute fromage frais, if that is easier to find. The recipe I used has you thrown in minced mint, too, which sounds lovely. I didn't have any, so I left it out and no one missed a thing. Do as you like.


Next up is the bacon. Here at the grocery store, you can find ready-cubed bits of bacon just as you can in France. When I went grocery shopping, the store was all out of the regular stuff and only had "diet" cubed bacon left. One cold look at the package and I realized it was just regular cubed bacon, with all the fat cut off. Uh. Thank you for doing my work for me? (Incidentally, the brand-name of this bacon was Abraham, I kid you not.) So. Anyway. Bacon. Fry up a bunch of it, cubed, until the fat renders or, if you're using the superlean kind, sauté it in some olive oil. Then add sliced leeks and minced onions and cook until everything is wilted and glossy and fragrant, about 7 to 10 minutes.


Go back to the mashed potatoes and mix in an egg and then the leek mixture. Ooh, it will be hard not to stick your finger into those potatoes and have a taste! Oh, go on. Have a taste. Lovely. Make sure there is enough salt and pepper and set aside.

On a damp towel, spread out the strudel or phyllo dough that you've layered and brushed with butter (don't worry, I've written it all out below). Pile on the mashed potatoes, but don't overdo it. My split strudel is not very Austrian. They are far more restrained, I hear.


Using the towel, instead of pulling on that oh-so-delicate baby's bottom strudel dough, gently roll the strudel over itself, making one big long log. Gently glue the ends to the side of the strudel, making a nice neat package.


You brush this thing with egg yolk to make it all shiny and burnished later and bake it in a hot oven until it smells irresistible and is crackling with excitement. We ate great big slices of it next to green salad dressed with pumpkinseed oil. It doesn't keep particularly well, so try to come hungry, will you? Everyone takes two helpings, no discussion.

The outside casing is thin and crispy and sort of shatters under your fork, while the filling is fluffy and yielding and creamy and wonderful, the Quark and leeks and bacon and caraway combining to glorious effect. This food is fancy and peasant at the same time, easy enough for a weeknight (I swear), yet impressive enough for dinner with your mother-in-law.


See the split? Tsk tsk.


Alright, I think that's it. I have to go: less than an hour and still no packed suitcase, eep. Have a lovely week, you all. Enjoy your strudels! Stay warm!

Austrian Potato Strudel
Serves 6

1 lb (500 grams) floury potatoes, like Russet, peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1 cup (250 grams) Quark
2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced (optional)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or oil
3.5 ounces (100 grams) lean bacon, diced
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 onion, diced
1 large egg and 1 egg yolk
2 sheets of prepared strudel dough or phyllo dough (do not use puff pastry dough)

1. Preheat your oven to 390 degrees F or 200 degrees C. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Throw in the cubed potatoes and the caraway and cook until tender, about 10 or 15 minutes. Drain and put the cubed potatoes back in the pot. Some caraway will have gone out with the water, but some will still be stuck to the potatoes. Mash loosely with a fork. Mix in the Quark until well combined, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix the minced mint into the potatoes. Set aside.

2. Heat a tablespoon of butter or oil in a skillet and add the bacon. If using regular bacon, you can simply render its fat in the skillet without using any additional fat. Add the leek and onion and sauté, stirring, until glossy and wilted, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.

3. Mix the egg into the potatoes and then the bacon-leek mixture. Combine well.

4. Unfold one dough sheet on a damp towel. Brush with some of the remaining melted butter. Unfold the second sheet over the first and, again, brush with the rest of the melted butter. Spread the potatoes over the second sheet evenly, leaving room at the edge of the dough. Do not overfill - leftover mashed potatoes are delicious if fried into croquettes the next day.

5. Using the damp towel to assist you, gently lift one edge of the strudel and begin rolling it over the filling. "Glue" the edges to the side of the roll and arrange the strudel, seam-side down, on a baking sheet fitted with parchment paper. Beat the egg yolk and brush the strudel thoroughly with the egg yolk.

6. Bake the strudel for 30 minutes, until the strudel pastry is shiny, golden brown and crackling. Remove from the oven, setting the pan on a cooling rack. Slice into thick pieces and serve immediately, with a green salad.

Dispatches From a German Grocery Store

I love going to grocery stores. And I'm willing to bet money a lot of you do, too. No?  There's something so calming about grocery shopping. All those nice parallel lines, the reliable stacks of products, the hum of the refrigerated section, the loamy scent in the produce aisle. I heft sacks of rice in my hand, feel the bumpy rinds of cool lemons, run my index finger along smooth jars of honey. Whenever I'm feeling out of sorts, a stroll through the grocery store sets me right again.

After a long time out of German grocery stores, I am having such a good time rediscovering what's in them. There are enormous amount of dairy products, lots of whole-grain flours, very cheap, delicious honey and the most beautiful Savoy cabbages you ever did see. There are also more "ethnic" products than there used to be, like Chinese sauces and Yugoslavian pepper pastes; and the produce sections, while piddling in size compared to the grotesquerie of a Whole Foods, now sport lemon grass and cilantro along with the standard offerings of local potatoes, leeks and turnips.

I don't know about you, but when I travel I love spending an afternoon in a grocery store, looking at local cheese that will never leave the zip code, strange jams, interesting vegetables and more. You can learn a lot about a place from its grocery stores; can see the importance of cured meats, say, in one culture, or the lack of green vegetables in another. I buy gifts for people back home there, figuring a rosehip jam or an exotic nut oil is so much better than a standard post card. It's something tangible you can eat and feel transported by, something delicious you can't get back home, something special, best of all.

I thought you might like to see some of my favorite things from my local store here. Next time you're in town, stock up.


Pflaumenmus is German plum butter and it is glorious. Dark and sticky and lightly spiced with cinnamon, German bakeries pipe this stuff into doughnuts and citizens put it on toast for breakfast. I've heard it on good authority that it tastes especially delicious spread over fresh cheese on bread. For some reason, Pflaumenmus is almost always sold in tins, which makes for lovely presents.


Strudel. Oh, strudel. Those Austro-Hungarians, man, they had good ideas. Light, delicate dough, so thin you can read newspaper through it, stuffed with spiced apples and brushed with butter, browned in the oven, served with cream... Is your stomach growling yet? I am nowhere near knowing how to make my own strudel dough, so I loved finding this premade dough in the refrigerated section. Plus, isn't the type on the package worth buying it alone? This stuff is from Bavaria, which will probably make me the laughingstock of any Austrians reading the blog, but I've also seen Austrian strudel dough at a fancy department store here and I'm buying that next. Last night, I filled and baked a sheet of this dough with mashed potatoes seasoned with caraway, then mixed with sauteed leeks, onions and ham, and almost two cups of quark. Sliced and served with a salad, oh ho, it was good.


Germans love tea. They love tea. Especially herbal tea. In my grocery store, there are herbal teas available for almost every kind of ailment or situation known to man. From standard offerings like fennel and rosehip to more complicated stuff like "Men's Tea" or "Tea for the Common Cold" or even a tea called "Hot Love" (ahem), you could spend hours in the tea aisle and be convinced to stop believing in modern medicine. My favorite herbal tea at the moment is this stuff called "Arabian Spice Tea". It's flavored with cardamom and plums, among other things, and tastes especially wonderful with a spoonful of honey melted into it. No idea if it does anything good for your health, but it warms my soul and that seems plenty.


We all know Zwieback, right? Just little squares of crispy bread, best eaten when afflicted with a stomach flu. Here in Germany, though, the birthplace of the Zwieback, some evil genius has gone and done it: created what is possibly the best teatime snack ever made: the chocolate-covered Zwieback. Covered in bittersweet chocolate, Schoko-Zwieback is addictive. It's crunchy as all get out, barely sweet and so satisfying. I am a little bit obsessed. You will be, too.


Another import from Austria is Styrian pumpkinseed oil. Produced exclusively in Styria, a region of Austria, pumpkinseed oil looks like dark green ink and tastes like a pumpkinseed on steroids. I like drizzling it on pureed pumpkin soup or dressing greens for salad with it (best with a delicate white wine vinegar). It's powerful stuff and comes in all kinds of beautiful little jugs and bottles. Way, way better than a miniature replica of the Brandenburg Gate.


And finally, the best ready-made dessert you'll ever buy. Bauer, a privately-owned dairy, makes this very simple, very plain chocolate pudding. Made only with milk and no cream and with 72% cacao, it's improbably light and yet packs a serious chocolate punch. It's almost black and silky on the spoon. Best of all: the ingredient label. No preservatives, no strange color numbers. Just milk, sugar, cacao, and starch. Imagine eating a mashed pototo strudel for dinner and then still finding room for dessert? This is the only thing that will fit.