My Berlin Kitchen Goes to New York

MBK in NYC
Mark your calendars! Save the date! On Tuesday, October 22nd at 6:30 pm, I'll be at NYU's Deutsches Haus for a conversation with Amanda Hesser and Deb Perelman about My Berlin Kitchen, out now in paperback!

I am beyond excited, as you can well imagine.

New York City! Amanda Hesser! Deb Perelman! My book! YOU!

I hope you can come and am counting the days, hours, minutes, seconds until I am back in New York City again. I have been in the throes of missing New York for several weeks now and it's been this dullish sort of ache in my chest where I keep pushing it down to to keep it from interfering with the rest of my life. But now, now! It is in reach! And I am all afire.

(I also need to cool it with the exclamation marks, but it is just one of those evenings.)

Can't wait to see you there!

Time and date: Tuesday, October 22nd, 6:30 p.m.
Location: Deutsches Haus at NYU (here is a nifty map)
The Scene: Me, Amanda and Deb chatting about food blogging, recipes, love and happiness (!) with Martin Rauchbauer, director of Deutsches Haus.
Other: The event is free of charge, but space is limited so please rsvp to this address: deutscheshaus[dot]rsvp[at]nyu[dot]edu


Eight Years

My Berlin Kitchen paperback

Eight years ago today, I wrote my very first blog post here. I was living in a ground-floor apartment with friends in Chelsea then, commuting by foot to my office just a few blocks away. I had a window that looked out onto noisy mail trucks rumbling down 18th Street, there were massive black cockroaches who periodically liked to terrify me in the kitchen (water bugs, to get specific) and I had to tiptoe into my roommate's bedroom each morning to take a shower while she slept. But it was glorious! (Well, except for the water bugs.)

One year was the time limit I gave myself to write the blog. Just a year and then you'll be done.

Ha.

Eight years later, I live in an apartment at the very top of an old building in a quiet neighborhood in western Berlin. I have a toddler who is (blessedly) asleep in his room, a lovely husband who (still) works in another city, I'm the author of a book, a book that will be published in paperback in a few short days, and I'm still blogging.

Ha!

To celebrate, I wanted to give you a cake. The tender, gorgeous, simple cake my friend Gabriella made for Hugo's first birthday, the one that made him faceplant into a slice of it (though, admittedly, it might have just been CAKE in general and not that cake, but I'm sticking with the first version). However, my life these days is not conducive to cake-baking. It is not conducive to any kind of baking or cooking or time in the kitchen at all beyond making Hugo's meals and cleaning up after them. I realize this sounds sort of complain-y (I do sometimes fantasize about live-in help), but really, more than anything, I'm just trying to be honest. Life with a toddler - newsflash! - is like living with a crazy person? Who can't speak? Or walk? But has OPINIONS? And NEEDS? And FEELINGS, LOTS OF THEM? I'm still trying to figure it out. (Don't worry, I'll get you the cake eventually - give me another week or three.)

But I still want to celebrate. I mean, eight years! My book in paperback! Me, still here! You, still here! So instead of cake, let's do books. I want to thank you for being here, for reading me, for being my lovely audience and for being patient when I take a little time off. So, if you'd like to win a copy of the paperback edition of My Berlin Kitchen, leave me a comment and by the end of the weekend, I'll pick eight people to send a copy to. Sound good?

Eight years!

xo

Update: The comments are now closed. The eight winners are Carol, Lynn, Kara, Jen, Helena, Yvette, Laura and Abby Lutman. Congratulations!


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.


Reading My Berlin Kitchen in...Berlin!

Okay, Berliners, this one's for you: What are you doing on Tuesday, January 22nd at 7:30 pm?

You're coming to Soho House to the My Berlin Kitchen event, of course!

Here's the skinny: My friend and Dialogue Books owner Sharmaine Lovegrove will be hosting me at Soho House's January Literary Lounge on the evening of January 22nd. I'll be doing a little reading and then Sharmaine and I will have a deeply illuminating literary chat and then there will be a Q&A so you can ask me anything your heart desires, and if the evening is anything like the book events I did in the US, it will be so wonderful I will not want it to end. I hope you come! All you need to do before that is rsvp to events@dialoguebooks.org. 

Soho House is at Torstrasse 1, 10119 Berlin. You don't need to be a member to come to the reading.

See you soon! xo


A Friday Report

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Hellooooo! Is anyone out there?!? It's me! I'm back! Helloooo!

And, dearest, darlingest, bestest readers in the universe, I have the most amazing news ever. Ever. EVER EVER EVER.

My Berlin Kitchen is a bestseller!!! On the LA Times nonfiction hardcover list for the week of October 14, it popped on at number 8. Number 8! Number 8! Can you believe it? I cannot. You could have knocked me over with a feather, in fact you still could. Ohhh, and let me tell you, I have only all of you to thank for that, for going out and buying the book, for telling your friends, for showing up. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We got back to Germany two weeks ago and went straight down to my mother's in Italy to recuperate. At first I was all, pshaw, who needs to recuperate? I need more book signings, more cities, that's what I need! And then Hugo was all, woman you must be out of our mind, I have had enough, take me to Nonna's. So we went and lo, it turned out I did need to unwind, just a little. The first several nights, I did nothing else than replay everything that had happened on the tour over and over in my head, like the very best movie I'd ever seen. Other than that, we did nothing. Besides take one hike, sit in front of the fireplace every night and eat homemade gnocchi at Gabriella's for lunch one day. (Now you know who Gabriella is! Ha! I love it.)

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For those of you who wanted to hear the Leonard Lopate interview I did in New York: here you go.

Here's an interview I did with the lovely Amy Scattergood of LA Weekly, before the first event in LA.

While in Portland, I was on the local morning television network KATU: have a look.

The questions in this interview with Popmatters were really great.

Oh, and remember when, this summer in Italy, I said I had a recipe for pickled eggplant for you? Here it is.

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I took these photos the day after we arrived on the West Coast, exactly one month ago. We rented a car and drove to the Santa Monica beach, where we walked down the pier and gazed out over the Pacific Ocean. Just a day earlier, we'd been in gray Germany. Now there was a wide expanse of blue ahead of us, a huge beach behind us and a pelican sitting in repose beside us. We stood there quietly, snapping pictures, both of us a little nervous about the trip that loomed ahead still. Hugo slept in his stroller and I thought about how funny it was that he had traveled so far already and yet didn't have a clue about where he was, how far from home he was. All that mattered to him was that Max and I were right there next to him. We were his home. We are his home. I like that, so much.


My Berlin Kitchen: The Book Tour Ends

The last days of the tour went by in warp speed. Sunday, DC. Monday, New York. Tuesday, Boston. Wednesday, back to Germany. Bam! Just like that. I'm still reeling a little.

When we got off the airplane at dusk in DC, the air smelled familiar again. California smelled different, somehow. Drier, more exotic. As we rode the comparatively empty streets to our hotel, I felt in a weird way like I was making my way back home. Which, in a way, I guess I was.

The DC event was big, bigger than any had been on the West Coast, and to boot, the store sold out of my book that evening. I hadn't expected either of those things. We celebrated with delicious steak and beers at Bistrot du Coin. The night before we'd seared our mouths with a late-night meal at Shophouse. Can't wait until that thing goes national. Your taste buds should be warned.

The next day we pushed on to New York. (Acela Express, you should know you impressed two diehard Deutsche Bahn fans with your free wifi, punctuality, and hot water in the bathroom sinks - ahem, three guesses as to who added that one.) For the first time, I started getting a little jittery. I think I was scared of being there for mere hours. I was afraid of how it'd make me feel. Luckily I was almost too busy to notice.

First order of the day? The Leonard Lopate interview. (!!)
Second order of the day? A pedicure (my first since before Hugo's birth!)
Third order of the day, this one cooked up by my genius girlfriends? Afternoon hotel room party with dumplings from Vanessa's, stellar tortilla chips and guacamole from Brooklyn and treats from City Bakery and Billy's while Hugo got to meet his New York family. It was splendid.

The reading and signing at the gorgeous Powerhouse Arena was lovely, relaxed and filled with friends. The only wrinkle was that it was the beginning of the end of Hugo's incredible easiness on this trip. Poor baby was starting to hit a wall. One too many airplane rides or early morning wake ups? Who knows. He still deserves an award for what a champ he was.

Now I won't deny it; I cried saying goodbye to my friends and I couldn't really bear to look out the window as we drove over the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan that night. The visit was too short, too brief. The way a tourist might see the city, or a visiting author. Not like me, a real New Yorker, right? Right? Oh people, my heart did hurt. But then we were off again, to Boston and my stepmother, who was impatiently awaiting Hugo.

I could write a whole post on the final event of the tour, of coming back to Boston, of reading at one of the bookstores my father used to take me to when I was a kid, of seeing old friends from those days in the audience, along with faces from every step along the way to where I am today, their faces shining up at me like so many brilliant little secrets. Maybe I will, we'll see. But in the meantime, if I tell you that on that night, looking out into the audience, I couldn't help but choke up, you'll know how I felt. Blessed, lucky, proud; a little bittersweet and melancholy, too. My heart just filled to bursting.

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Now we're back in Germany again, both of us reliving little moments of the past two weeks over and over. It was the trip, no, the experience of a lifetime. Those of you who came out, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. It meant the world to me to see you there, to chat, to answer your questions, to see your faces matched up to your names. And you know, for all that belly-aching I did about writing the book, I'd do it again in a heartbeat if it meant another tour.

xo!!!

My Berlin Kitchen: The Book Tour Ends

My Berlin Kitchen: The Book Tour Ends

My Berlin Kitchen: The Book Tour Ends

My Berlin Kitchen: The Book Tour Ends

My Berlin Kitchen: The Book Tour Ends