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Friday Link Love

  Picstitch(9)It's been a little quiet here this week as I've adjusted back to daily life without my husband or my mother around or a huge garden for Hugo to get lost in. I keep staring at my very tan feet on the white tiled floors of my kitchen here and thinking they should still be sunk into the soft Adriatic sand. Yep, both Max and I could have used a little more time down south, but I'm hoping to be back in the swing of things next week.

In the meantime, I wanted to make sure you know that as of Monday, Google Reader's service will cease to exist, so if that's how you read this site, it's time to move to another reader! Feedly and bloglovin' will migrate your links directly from Google Reader easily. You can also subscribe to the site by email (see the last item in my navigation bar up there) so that posts are mailed to you. Or click on the RSS Feed for other options.


The delightful Fany Gerson talks about her doughnut shop Dough. Just try to watch this without craving a doughnut (or three) by the end.

Whatever you do, don't call this black bean purée hummus.

An update on rebuilding Chez Panisse after the fire.

Have you ever roasted bulgur for your tabbouleh?

Loved this grilled vegetable manifesto.

Swift and splendid apricot jam.

Not only does this easy Taiwanese meal look delectable, but she cooks eggplant in her rice cooker! Mind, blown.

And finally, since I'm feeling a little homesick for Italy, this lovely post.

Have a great weekend!

Laura's Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Salad

My aunt Laura, my mother's sister, was with us for most of our holiday in Italy. This was a good thing for several reasons, not the least of which was the guarantee of good meals every single day. I don't say this to knock my mother, mind you. She, too, freely admits that with Laura around, the level of dining in our house rises several notches at least.

Laura made us juicy bistecca alla Fiorentina and insalata di riso (cold rice salad) and the very best roasted vegetables I've ever had (more on those in another post soon). We had four different kinds of ricotta and really delicious bread and peeled almonds for breakfast, and she taught me to stir an egg into Hugo's evening pastina and made meatballs that he would have happily eaten every day for the rest of his life.

Laura also proved the usefulness of a ridged grill pan, which I now am coveting and need to add to my arsenal right away. Laura used it for grilling meat, of course, but what really opened my eyes were the vegetables she grilled with it. Thick slices of parboiled potatoes, for example, to dress with olive oil and herbs like dried oregano, or long strips of zucchini and eggplant.

And best of all was the salad she made with the grilled vegetables. After the grilled vegetables (eggplant and zucchini sliced lengthwise, then grilled on the hot pan with no oil on both sides) cooled, she cut them into thickish strips and put them in a salad bowl. She added two garlic cloves, slightly crushed (not entirely smashed - the aim is the perfume the salad without making anyone eat raw garlic), a good amount of salt and a healthy glug of peppery olive oil.

You know how raw eggplant soaks up olive oil quickly and in cooking can turn sodden and greasy? Well, if you grill the eggplant first and then dress it, the olive oil can't penetrate it anymore. It simply coats the eggplant pieces and leaves them still delightfully chewy and toothsome.

The salad is perfect summer fare - easy to make ahead of time, best at room temperature, hearty and cooling at once. It goes very well with grilled sausages, but also with a cool ball of mozzarella leaking milky fluid alongside.

Once I've got a grill pan in my possession, I'll be making this all summer long.

The Days of Our Lives


Last night, I stood by the gate with my mother and took this picture in one direction. Then I turned around in the other and took this one:


Lest you think that with time and repetition, the beauty here at our house in Italy stops having an effect on me, let me assure you: It leaves me speechless every time. Every time.


And getting to see Hugo crawl through the grass, finding snails and dry leaves and little sticks and chamomile blossoms and beetles and fallen cherries to pull into his chubby, dimpled hands and hold aloft triumphantly, right here where I used to crawl myself, is better than words can say.


I suppose these days I'm at a loss for words in more ways than one.


When I was in high school, a classmate of mine named Rhonda looked at me coolly one day and told me she didn't like people who were always so damn happy (her words, not mine). It didn't come across as an insult, really. It was just a blunt observation. I remember looking back at her and wondering how to respond.

Years later, towards the end of my time in New York, when things in my life were going up in flames and I felt like I couldn't see even one foot in front of me for all the pain and confusion and sadness fogging my vision, I thought a lot about Rhonda and that comment she made that day. And about the girl she'd been talking to. I was so unhappy, had been so unhappy for so long, that I couldn't even remember what it felt like to be happy. How strange, I used to think, that someone used to see all that happiness in me.


Last night, after the baby was asleep and my mother had gone to the movies with her friends and my aunt was inside with the newspaper, I picked my way around the house at dusk, stopping to photograph every stunning sight I could see, like I have a million times before. The sun was very low in the sky and the churchbells up the hill were ringing. I could hear a tractor in the distance finishing its rounds and the grass pricked at the edges of my feet, but not unpleasantly. I thought about all the years I'd been coming here, since I was a baby Hugo's age. The house looked so different then, lying in ruins when my grandfather bought it, the land neglected completely. Over the years, my grandfather planted fruit and nut trees, rose bushes, creeping vines and jasmine, plate-sized dahlias and rosemary hedges. Our friends made a roof, my grandfather built a shed.

I was a child here and then an adolescent, a teenager who came home late under the speckled canopy of the Milky Way, a college graduate with little time to spare for this lovely place, and then, one day, a very sad young woman who was trying her darndest to figure out her life and how to be happy, and failing completely and miserably.

Now, my days are filled with things like meeting Hugo's needs - hunger, thirst, a diaper change, a cuddle, three cuddles, a bump to be soothed, more hunger, another cuddle - reading an entire book in stolen moments throughout the day, planning time for a sunset cocktail with my husband on the grass, sitting at the dinner table and talking with my mother and aunt long after dinner is finished, and there is so much goodness here, so much to feel blessed by and lucky to have, that sometimes I find myself literally screwing up my face with the effort of finding the right words to describe it all.

The funny thing is, it wasn't so hard finding words when I was in pain. In fact, it was all I could do some days. Despair was my midwife. But to capture in writing that warm, round feeling of everything being right, of being filled up with happiness, is much harder. Every phrase I choose seems overblown and clichéd and ridiculous. People will roll their eyes, I think. Also, it's bad luck.


So instead, I knock wood, I spit three times, I do what I must. But then I say to myself, hold tight when you feel your heart brimming over, when you can barely breathe for all the glory coursing through you as you look into that flaming sun and smell the wild mint underfoot and feel the microscopic hairs on a bee's wings as they touch the skin on your arm for just a moment. You are lucky, you are blessed, you are loved. You have everything you could ever want. Maybe one day in the future you will look back at these days and wonder how you were ever this happy. Maybe. Probably.

But for now, it is everything.

Friday Link Love


A few housekeeping points on this fine Friday morning!

First of all, I wanted to let you know that the Recipe Index has been updated for the first time, errr, in over two years. (Ridiculous, I know.) I'm so sorry for having been such a recipe-indexing delinquent. Bringing it up to date made me feel about three pounds lighter. I've been toying with the idea of highlighting my favorite recipes on there - what do you think? Would that be valuable to you?

Also, yesterday I discovered an insane amount of your wonderful, thoughtful comments in the spam comment folder! I have no idea why the spam filter is suddenly being so catankerous, but every last one of those comments was actually written by one of you nice people. Eep! More apologies. They've been restored to their rightful spots and I'll be checking the filter more often now.

Lastly, the blog redesign is trucking right along. Please to note my pride and joy: the navigation bar up there, just below the banner image. Head there whenever you're looking for the Cooking for Hugo posts, or the Archives or the aforementioned Recipe Index, or the link to Berlin on a Platter, among other things. Whee!


No less than five people have emailed me to tell me to try this bread recipe. Have you? Is it really that good?

Whenever I need a moment of zen, I head to Jen's blog.

This looks like a nice way to use up cooked brown rice.

Loved this story about a self-made apron (almost) millionaire.

Hol-ee mol-ee. A baking project to throw yourself into.

These anti-theft lunch bags made me laugh.

Have you ever cooked chicken breasts in milk?

Suzanne Goin's new cookbook is finally available for pre-order! I cannot wait to hold that thing in my hot little hands.

And finally, a Tumblr made for me.

Have a lovely weekend, darling friends. Next week I'll be writing to you from Italy!

Cooking for Hugo: Roasted Apricots

Roasted apricots

We recently had Hugo's one-year check-up (a few weeks short of one year - his birthday isn't until next week, which is, of course, blowing my mind in every clichéd way possible. One year? Already? Wasn't he just born?) and as we were leaving, the doctor handed me a little brochure on nutrition after the first year. I stuck it in my bag and forgot about it until a few days later, when I pulled it out and realized it was actually pretty useful - full of guidelines on things like how much water babies should be drinking each day, how much meat to aim for in a given week, how many dairy products kids should have per day and other relatively specific, yet still vague enough to not feel up against a wall, pieces of information on nourishing your child.

(I was happy to have some specifics, because our pediatrician is absolutely useless with advice - he refuses to give any, on anything, which means the internet, our mothers and my girlfriends is where I come up with new things to feed Hugo and as you can imagine, there is a lot of conflicting opinion. I used to think our doctor's insistence that we should just follow our gut and ignore all advice was sweet and refreshing, but now - after he dismissed a persistent and nasty rash on Hugo as nothing but dry skin (and in the process made me feel like a crazy person), when it actually turned out to be infected (!) eczema (!), we're switching doctors. Do not tell a mother to follow her gut and then when she does so, call her crazy, Mister Doctor Man! Ahem.)

Continue reading "Cooking for Hugo: Roasted Apricots" »

Q & A: On Writing My Berlin Kitchen

My Berlin Kitchen

Hellooo, everybody! Still recognize everything? Yes, things look a little different around here this morning. I really (really) needed a change and although I'm still fiddling with some things, it feels so good to have cleaned house a bit. I'm doing all the design fixes myself, but have about as much knowledge of this stuff as a fruit fly, so I'm feeling both triumphant and totally hungover this morning. But hooray for change! And hooray for Typepad for having such brilliant customer service, without which I would be completely and utterly lost.

About a year ago, just after I'd delivered the final, final, final fixes to my book's manuscript, I asked if you guys had any questions about the process of writing a book. I wanted to help give some insight into the process, which had been so daunting even for me, a publishing "insider". You guys obliged me by asking wonderful questions and I obliged you by...oh, right. I never actually got around to answering them. I was in the end spurt of pregnancy and then Hugo was born and then my life exploded and the book tour happened and did I mention that I'm just answering emails from last September now? Right. GAH.

Anyway! Better late than never is a good motto to remember in these moments (or at least that's what I tell myself), so today, let's talk about book writing. Okay? Okay! (And if you have more questions, please leave them in the comments! I swear it won't take me a year to answer them this time.)

Jennifer asked:

I'm an American in Europe, and I'm curious as to whether or not your book will have both US and EU measurements, and if so, did you have to painstakingly test recipes using both measurement methods in order to make sure they were just right? What was the publication negotiation like on that topic?

The US edition of the book was published with only US measurements. Things are changing, especially in the cookbook world, but because I was writing a food memoir and not a straight cookbook, my publisher didn't insist on having both US and metric measurements. In fact, they didn't care at all. (For many cookbook publishers, having metric measurements - up until a few years ago - was considered a drawback. Too alienating for US readers, too messy for designers to have to include both on each page.) Because so many of the recipes I included in the book were originally in metric measurements (for example, the Poppyseed Whirligig Buns or my uncle's Sicilian Pizza), I had to painstakingly test them as I converted them to US measurements in my Berlin kitchen. All of those European-originating recipes were tested multiple times by me, some up to ten times! Hoo boy. Recipe-testing is not for the faint of heart. It's fussy, repetitive stuff and, for me at least, it took the joy right out of cooking. Luckily that phase didn't last long.

Ileana asked:

I'm curious about the discipline needed to write in long form. A deadline helps, but how else did you make yourself get it done?

By backing myself up against a wall and holding a gun to my head? Only sort of kidding! Ha! Haha! I don't think I exaggerate things when I say that finding discipline to write may be the very hardest part of any writer's job. Read any book on writing or any memoir of a writer's life and you are guaranteed to find many, many sentences devoted to the fact that the writer is convinced, at any given point, that they are a fraud and a waste of space and spirit and utterly incapable of writing, so there's no point in even sitting down and trying because it's never going to happen anyway and you might as well give up and become a garbage man or a middle manager or go hike the Camino de Santiago or something. At least then you'd be useful. That having been said, a set routine really helps: forcing yourself to sit down at your desk at the same time every day (and then ending at the same time every day) is a must. Also, I found that listening to music that you can write to helps as well - I'd put my headphones on and put my head down and stuff would just flow. Finally, re-reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird whenever I felt stuck (I know passages of it by heart now) was balsam for the battered soul. Writing is painful stuff - realizing that you're not alone in what feels like the ultimate sisyphean endeavor is hugely, hugely helpful. And it's motivating, too. Once you're done feeling sorry for yourself, you find yourself thinking, if all those people could do it, why can't I?

Thomas asked:

At some point I would love to hear what the three hardest things were to say goodbye to when editing the book, the things that didn't make the cut. And did you choose those yourself or were you 'forced' to?

I really regret not answering this question sooner, because now, a year later? I can barely remember what I was forced to get rid of. But the very fact that I can't remember anymore speaks volumes, I think. Clearly those things really did need to go and whether or not it was painful at the time ends up being irrelevant in the long run. That's a good lesson to learn. But one chapter that didn't make the cut (by both my choice and my editor's) that really stands out for me was the one about my mother's longtime boyfriend Florian. That chapter was actually originally an essay that I wrote after his death in 2004 in an attempt to come to terms with his very sudden, totally devastating death. Years later, when I was working on the book proposal, I realized that a lot of what had gone into that essay made sense in the context of what I was putting together. It was not only about him as a person and what he meant to me, but also about the food that he loved and what he taught me about love and feeding people and family. Ultimately, once the final manuscript was finished, we realized that the elegiac feel of the essay didn't really make sense in the wider arc of the book. Since I couldn't find a way to make it fit, we reluctantly cut it out.

Emily asked:

I'd love to know more about how it was that you put together a brief/pitch to get your publishers on board way back at the beginning (I know you touched on this a little back then, and also that you were maybe lucky enough to have a bit of an insider's knowledge, but a bit more of a story would be great!).

It's funny, so much has happened since I started working on the book proposal in July 2009, but I remember those days, hunched over my laptop, looking out over the treetops in Forest Hills, like they were yesterday. My agent, who at the time was not yet officially my agent, but just my good friend Brettne, and I had been getting together for lunch a lot that summer, talking about the big changes in my life and what my next steps should be. Brettne knew how homesick I was and when I told her that I was thinking seriously about moving back to Berlin, she was the one who actually suggested the idea for My Berlin Kitchen - a memoir about growing up in Berlin, my peripatetic childhood, the struggle to understand where I belong, the heartbreak, too, and then the return to where I started, all accompanied by my favorite recipes from Berlin and my uncle's table and Joanie's kitchen, among many other places. (Brettne says the idea occurred to her in the middle of the night while she was nursing her baby and after she told me that, I promptly signed with her, because where else on earth would I ever find dedication like that?). I loved the book idea instantly and started work on the proposal that very evening.

For the proposal, I wrote a general overview of the proposed book, outlined the chapters I wanted to write, gave some details on the recipes (heavy on mouthwatering details), wrote about the blog and all of you lovely people and what press I'd garnered over the years, and put together a sample chapter about my weekly trips over the border to East Germany when I was a child to visit Joanie's father-in-law, which ended up turning into Chapter 3 in the finished book. I gave the proposal to Brettne and a few of my closest friends for feedback and worked on perfecting it over the rest of the summer. In the meantime, Brettne and I compiled lists of editors that we wanted to submit the proposal to. In early October, just before the Frankfurt Book Fair, Brettne was ready to go. The day that she sent out the proposal to our first round of editors was one of the scariest of my life - woah, just remembering it now, I can actually feel the adrenaline rush up into my throat and down into my belly. I was at the office then, of course, and trying to focus on the work in front of me was so hard. Luckily, one of my close friends at the office knew what was going on (I hadn't told anyone at work that I'd been working on a book proposal - or that I was planning on moving to Berlin!) and let me come into her office every now and then to freak out. But all the worrying and sweaty palms had a swift end not two full days later when Viking preempted the book. !!! I still haven't gotten over the thrill of that moment and I hope I never will.