Photo Potpourri – Karneval der Kulturen

I think you have figured out by now that I love food.
My German teacher said that eating & drinking don’t count as hobbies in Germany – whatever.  Food is definitely my hobby – cooking, eating, admiring, reviewing…I love every thing about it!  So I was overjoyed when I learned that a cultural festival featuring food from around the world was happening in Berlin!  The Karneval der Kulturen (carnival of cultures) is a yearly street fair/giant party/parade that takes place in Kreuzberg over a long weekend.  The carnival highlights and celebrates the many different cultures present in Berlin.  At the parade, people put on traditional costumes from their home countries and put on a show for the crowd.  It is a hugely popular event – we read that the parade alone attracts around 1 million attendees!  Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the parade until it was over but we did hit up the street fair a few times!  The carnival was a great way to enjoy the beautiful weather, get excited for summer, and eat a lot.

P.S. Pictures of yummy food & fun times from our trip to Bulgaria will be coming soon!  We had an amazing time and took a lot of pictures, so editing them all may take a while. 🙂  I’m also hoping to have a new layout up soon that I coded and designed myself!

week_14

1. Empenadas and arepas!  Good Latin American food is so hard to come by here so, naturally, we were thrilled to see booths ran by actual Latin American people.  These were delicious!  I don’t think the booth was ran by a specific restaurant so we probably won’t be able to have these again until next year.

2. This Vietnamese burger from District Mot was awesome!  Between the steamed rice bun, pickled veggies, the chip, cilantro, and good beef we couldn’t get enough.  Hopefully we will make it out to their restaurant sometime enjoy another one!

3. Berlin’s finest!

4. I think this dish was called ‘Funky Chicken’ and was served at a West African booth.  Anywho, it was a crunchy fried chicken kabob sprinkled with curry powder, served w/ salad and a dressing similar to Thousand Island.  It was very tasty and matched well with the passion fruit beer I had from the same stand.

5. This may have been my favorite dish we tried at the carnival because fish is not something we eat often here.  This delicious chunk of salty smoked salmon topped with a dill sauce came from a Finnish booth – it was to die for.  The outer edges of the fish were sooo salty and sooo crispy…it was amazing.

6. This is a very small fraction of the trash that was left behind after the parade.  We ventured out at night after the parade and it felt like walking into apocalyptic ground zero.  Thousands of beer bottles lined the streets, some nicely arranged into large piles for the bottle collectors who return them for money; broken glass everywhere; paper plates & napkins drifted eerily down the street, and still the Berliners partied on!  Every so often along the 6 km parade route we stumbled upon an impromptu dance party outside of some cafe whose owners were (brilliantly) selling beer on the street and blasting dance music.  It was a strange sight to see but made for a fun night!

Photo Potpourri – Week 13

Thursday (6/6) was our 3 month Berliniversary!
It was also the day our traveler’s visas would have expired had we not secured our residence permits.  Due to a series of semi-unfortunate events, I had to wait until the last minute to make the dreaded trip to the Ausländerbehörde (the foreigner’s office) and apply for a long-term visa.  The stories on forums and blogs online about the Ausländerbehörde are terrifying; I read many tales of long wait times, confusing requirements, non-English speaking employees, general woe & despair, etc…  Last Sunday night I was so anxious about going the next morning that I barely slept.  I guess I got lucky because the whole experience didn’t end up being too awful.  I did have to make two attempts before securing my visa, but the wait time was relatively short and the employees were very nice.  Maybe now that I am completely legal (I think) in Germany I will try to sum up the whole process in a blog post in the future.
With that trial overcome I can now move onto today’s potpourri which, as usual, features parks, beer & food!

week_13

1. The purple color in this ice cream is almost as awesome as the flavor that comes from the ube or purple yam.  Ube flavored desserts are hugely popular in Asia and Polynesia.  It has a deliciously smooth, buttery flavor that reminds me of taro.  This scoop came from an ice cream shop up the street from the Südstern U-bahn station.

2. We finally made it over to Görlitzer Park, one of the most popular parks in Berlin.  It was a fun spot to eat a picnic dinner and people watch.

3. Now onto another park – Mauerpark!  We met up with an expat meet-up group here for some BBQ’ing last weekend.  The weather was beautiful, the park was bustling, and the karaoke was rocking!  This is a picture of the crowd filling the “stands” watching brave karaoke singers belt out tunes for the entire park to hear.  Maybe someday Alex and I will have the courage (probably the liquid kind) to get up there!

4. The Berlin Craft Beer Festival was also last weekend in Friedrichshain!  It was small but there were some great breweries & brews we had never tasted before.  Naturally, there were tons of Americans there enjoying some non-pilsners while they could.

5. These meat pies from Hellogoodpie were awesome!  To be honest, I only tasted the filling (I’m not a big fan of pie crust) but Alex ate the whole thing and we both loved it.

6. More ice cream!  This time I tried a chocolate + pandan combo.  Pandan is another staple of Southeast Asian desserts and it has a great kind of nutty, fatty flavor.  I am really loving living so close to this awesome ice cream shop!  Now I just need to figure out the name of the store…

In other news: Next week we will be in Bulgaria!  I am very, very excited to get away for a bit and enjoy the beach.  Pictures & more will follow, of course!  See you soon. 🙂

Berlinburger International

As I’ve mentioned before, Berliners love burgers. Which is funny because the German word for ‘citizen’ is bürger, haha…  Anywho, we popped into a popular local burger joint in Kreuzberg called Berlinburger International (aka BBI) on a cold Thursday and left happy & very, very full.  BBI has a tiny storefront on Pannierstraße (near Hermannplatz) that often has a long line out the door.
What BBI lacks in space they more than make up for with their big burgers!

blog_060314_2

Is your mouth watering?  In the front of the picture above is the cheeseburger with jalapeños that I ordered and in the back is the Mexican-ish burger Alex had.  Note the giant pile of guac spilling off of Alex’s burger.  That’s right, real guacamole with chunks!  This is hard to come by in Berlin.  As you can see, the burgers are loaded up with toppings, including far too much salad for any normal sized mouth.  Consequently, most people were pushing off most of the greens and eating it like a little side salad, which is definitely not a bad thing in my book.  I was also very, very happy that they gave me such a generous portion of jalapeños. 🙂

blog_060314_3

We also had some amazing potato wedges which were good enough to rival KFC’s, especially when smothered with ketchup & mayo.  At first I thought the portion was a bit small but trying to tackle both the wedges and a burger in one meal is quite the challenge.

blog_060314_4

Above is a picture of BBI’s tiny, tiny storefront.  I kind of like how their logo looks like it belongs to a government office.  It would be awesome if all Berlin government buildings served me delicious hamburgers to go with my inevitable long wait times.  Just an idea…hint, hint.

blog_060314_1

Nothing pairs better with a big burger than a big bottle of a light beer!  This Augustinerbräu is a go-to bottled beer for us and it looks very beautiful against the background of BBI’s graffitied tables.  The seating arrangement at BBI isn’t the best, but considering the minuscule space they are working with the only thing they could maybe do is add more outdoor tables.  They do have a few seats inside – although you are likely to have someone in the queue rubbing up against you throughout your meal.

I don’t think I will ever be able to confidently deem a restaurant the best burgers in Berlin – there are waaay too many burger joints in this city to single out just one!  As soon as you think you’ve had the best one another juicy burger dripping in toppings comes along and makes you reconsider.  Regardless, BBI is an excellent choice for big burgers at a low price, despite the lack of seating.  For more info, check out BBI on their website and on Yelp!

Thai in the Park

Berlin is full of surprises.  It seems like every week we hear about another cool, semi-unknown, event or place in the city that blows our minds.  Our most recent discovery was the Thaiwiese (Thai meadow) market in Wilmersdorf.   The market is an unofficial event that occurs daily but the biggest turnout is on the weekend when dozens of Thai women, men, and families set up make-shift food stands in a park to sell homemade Thai classics for low prices.  For us, this is what dreams are made of.
The market is situated near the back of Preußenpark (right at the Fehrbelliner Platz U-Bahn station) and there is also a flowmarkt (flea market) at the front of the park.  At the Thai market you can find all of your favorite dishes from pad Thai to papaya salad to delicious sticky cakes wrapped in banana leaves.  The food was by far the best Thai we have had in Berlin.  Finally some real, authentic, spicy Thai food!!

blog_052814_2_2

Our meal began with these chicken skewers smothered in a chunky peanut sauce.  Sweet, nutty, a little spicy – delicious!

blog_052814

Next, we went for a plate of one of our very favorite Thai staples – spicy papaya salad!  I loved watching the lady crush the ingredients with a giant mortar & pestle (the kind Alex wishes we had at home) and appreciated that she asked how many chilies we wanted in the mix.  Papaya salad always puts me in a good mood. 🙂

blog_052814_4

As our ‘entree’ we enjoyed a large plate overflowing with four kinds of Thai noodle dishes.  I’m not entirely sure what some of the dishes were but all were tasty.  I believe that the top right quadrant was some kind of Pad See Ew; to the right were glassnoodles; bottom right is of course the always popular Pad Thai; and bottom left were a denser noodle, kind of like lo mein.  It was a huge amount of noodles for only 5 euro!

blog_052814_3

Of course we had to pair our meal with some Thai beer!

blog_052814_5

Sadly, after the big noodle plate we were too full to try any other entrees but we could not resist getting a Thai cake dessert.  We used to buy similar cakes from the Asian markets in Virginia and they never disappoint.  I’m not sure what these are called or made from buuuut I think these kinds of cakes are usually made from rice flour, coconut, and lots of sugar!  Which is probably why they are so incredibly delicious.  They also come wrapped in a super cute banana leaf package.

blog_052814_7

Looking at the pictures makes me want to go back again this weekend!  Just when I thought I’d be stuck eating mediocre Asian food forever, a pop-up market in a park comes along and rocks my world.  Unique finds like the Thaiwiese are what make Berlin such a fun place to live!

Photo Potpourri – Week 10

We are busy here in Berlin.
In between starting German classes 5 days x week, learning basic programming, household chores/feeding the Big Hog, and trying to fit in some gym time, there’s not much space left in my day for bloggin’.  So I apologize if I go a little M.I.A. for the next few weeks!
However, we did take some time off from serious pursuits last weekend to hang with old & new friends.  There was a programming conference in town last week which gave Alex the perfect opportunity to meet new people and talk about his true love (coding) at the same time!  We met some really cool nerds, found some new hangouts spots, and – in true Berlin fashion – stayed out ’til the sun came up.
Another highlight of the weekend was our first American-style German football game!  It felt like a high school or middle school game, but it was still super fun.  Between the smaller-than-average field, pre-teen cheerleaders, streakers, and the World Cup-style announcing (“FUUUUMMMBBBBLLLEEEE!!!”), nothing was quite ‘American’ but it was definitely unique.  The most authentic thing about the game was the dismal weather – it was cold & rainy, just like any Monday Night Football game in November!
Here are some very misc. photos from the past few weeks, including a couple I rescued from Alex’s phone (aka where photos go to die).

week10

1. Throwback to May 1st (known as May Day) which is somewhat similar to Labor Day in the States but with more rioting and Molotov cocktails.  From our apartment we watched a few thousand riot cops and protestors parade down our street.  Apparently the May Day protests used to be much more raucous and violent but are now more of a party/rally about whatever people have beef with: anti-capitalism, pro-communism, immigration rights, peace in Korea, etc.

2. It’s rare that we shell out the cash for a nice cocktail so I made sure to soak up every Don Draper moment of this Old Fashioned from Würgeengel in Kreuzberg.  Würgeengel is a really cool spot – good mood lighting, red walls, intimate table settings.

3. American football!  We headed over to the stadium at Mauerpark to watch the Berlin Adler do their best at tossing the ol’ pig skin.  Even though the gameplay was a little lackluster, we had a blast eating hot dogs, drinking beer, and cheering for the home team (who obliterated the other team).

4. This is just a random picture of the sign in Alexanderplatz that, appropriately, was taken by Alex.  No story here, I just liked it. 🙂

5. Our awesome friend and former Maid of Honor mailed us a care package full of American goodies!  And a hilarious note explaining each pick.

6. Included in the care package was this super cool necklace featuring a map of the Washington DC area where we used to live!  I love it.

7. Another throwback from a few weeks ago when we were chillin’ at a Starbucks, searching Ebay for bikes*, and realized we were across from Checkpoint Charlie (white building on the right).  The surrounding area is always bustling with tourists visiting the museum and spending all of their Euros at the souvenir shops.

*Note: Yes, this means that we now own bikes.  Which also means that I now ride said bike almost every day.  Me.  I am still a little scared of bikes but the convenience is winning me over.

 

The Joy of Cooking & the Internet

My appreciation for both cooking & the internet have increased dramatically since we moved overseas.
Up until ~2.5 years ago I did not know how to cook at all – sorry, Mom.  I had a very busy extracurricular schedule growing up which didn’t leave much time for cooking lessons.  I also had little to no interest in learning.  This feeling continued through my college years (why cook when there is a cafeteria full of mostly edible food?) until I met Alex.  Alex loves to cook and to explore new cuisines – he will eat anything once, probably twice, even if he didn’t like it.  Turns out I was marrying into a whole family of amateur chefs.  My then future brothers-in-law used to make fun of me for having zero culinary skills.  Alex did most of the cooking for us until last summer when we got married and I quit my job for a few months.  Suddenly, I found myself in charge of finding recipes, shopping for ingredients, and doing most of the dinner preparation.
Faced with this new challenge I quickly became addicted to recipe apps (Yummly & Epicurious in particular) and food blogs, especially my favorite dailies from Saveur.com.  I have always loved eating food but now I have a new love for preparing food.

blog_050914_2

I now spend a considerably amount of time every week browsing online for new recipes, ingredients, and techniques to try.  Naturally, these endeavors result in many successes and the inevitable failures.  There are some challenges with trying to explore cuisines and ingredients when living in Germany.  This is probably more so for me because of the cuisines that I prefer (Asian and Mexican, most notably); if I were trying to master French or Italian cooking things might be easier.  Unfortunately, I seem to always make things difficult for myself and choose recipes that involve ingredients not often found in German markets.  Thank goodness we live in Berlin.  There are a surprising number of large, well stocked Asian markets here (we just discovered one down our block!!) which have really made my life in Berlin wonderful.  They not only provide me with my weekly jar of peanut butter but also have enough sauces & ramen varieties to keep us satisfied for years!  However, Mexican ingredients are much more challenging.  I previously mentioned my failed attempt to make mole verde without tomatillos…  The other day I wanted to make black bean burritos but discovered that a can of frijoles negros cost 3.50 euro.  So obviously that was out of the question.  These difficulties force me to be a little more creative and usually involve me searching online for ingredient substitutions.

Other than enabling my new culinary adventures, I have started appreciating the internet in other new ways, mostly relating to communication.
For example, the other day I was able to watch some of my dearest friends graduate from our alma mater live online.  After we finished watching the ceremony, Alex mentioned that he felt like we had “been somewhere else” for a few hours.  I agreed – it really had seemed like we were back in Ohio watching the ceremony in the student center.  It is pretty incredible that we can get some of what we are missing even when we are far away.
I have the same feeling every time I text people back in the States.  I still “talk” to them just as much as I did when we were living in the same country.  Thirty minutes, two hours, 4,170 miles – it doesn’t matter the distance now that our cell phones are hooked up to the internet!

Alex and I often talk about how crazy it is that our parents lived abroad in the Stone Age before any of these technologies were available to average folks.  I would feel so much more cut off from my family & friends if I couldn’t shoot them a text or send a funny Snapchat.  I haven’t even mentioned video chatting, which really puts you in the action no matter where you’re calling from.  Last summer we were able to video chat with our parents from a tiny island in Croatia!  Which, by the way, had amazing internet speeds.  It is a huge advantage for us to be able to communicate with everyone so quickly and easily.  Especially for me, being unemployed and spending most of my days alone, it is really great to be able to chat with my friends easy-peasy.  Sometimes I think maybe we are spoiled by such wonderful technology…  Maybe we are missing some of the grand adventure that our parents had when they moved abroad because we are still so connected to the States.  But, as they say, if you got it, flaunt it.

Below are some of my recent culinary experiments and links to the recipes!

blog_050914_6

Above: Pork vermicelli is one of our go-to dinners.  We use a recipe from Helen’s Kitchen on YouTube (she has tons of  Vietnamese recipes).  Alex made this meal – vermicelli has kind of  become “his thing”.

blog_050914_3

Above: Chicken with a lime & coconut milk sauce.  The recipe can be found here.

blog_050914_1

Above: Carnitas tacos w/ pseudo-guac (aka what you make when you only have avocado and tomatoes).  Homemade corn tortillas are the bomb and are much more affordable here in Germany than buying tortillas at the market.

blog_050914_5

Above: The “before” of the previous photo.  I used this recipe I found on Pinterest.

blog_050914_4

Above: Mango pico de gallo – soooooo gooood!  No recipe, I just throw things in until it tastes awesome.

 

Photo Potpourri – Week 7

Spring has finally sprung!
The sun is shining, rain is pouring, flowers are blooming, and Germans are picknicking.  It took 1.5 months for Spring to catch on here in Germany but we are so very glad it did!  Unfortunately for me, with sunshine comes sunburn.  I’ve only been “lightly toasted” so far but I am very, very eagerly awaiting the arrival of our shipment from the USA which (if I remember correctly) includes some sunscreen.
Speaking of our shipment, we erroneously thought it was arriving last Friday.  We were sorely disappointed when we realized that we had misread an email from the shipping company.   I am desperate to have our stuff back, especially my clothes and our kitchen equipment.  I have been dreaming about our Wustof’s and mandolin as I struggle to slice, chop & mince with dull knives.  Oh, and I also miss our measuring spoons.  It appears as though Germans aren’t into measuring ingredients…?  Neither of the apartments we have lived in so far have had measuring spoons or cups.  What?!  I haven’t come across any in the grocery stores either, though I haven’t been to a real kitchen store yet.
Anywho, until our shipment arrives I will have to julienne by hand and do Gordon Ramsay-style measuring.  (If you don’t get that reference go check out Gordon’s videos on YouTube, his “small pat” of butter is half the stick.)
For your enjoyment, here are some photos from last week, along with a throwback I just found on my camera!

week_7

1. I just found this picture of us on Christmas Day in Old Town Alexandria on my camera!  I will always miss that beautiful waterfront.

2. Since I don’t have a reason to get out of bed job right now I have turned my attentions to fitness & cooking (contradictory?).  In regards to cooking, I have been trying to tackle new ingredients, techniques, etc.  Last week I attempted to make this recipe for Mole Verde Zacatecano from my new best friend, Saveur.com.  I foolishly thought that German supermarkets would stock tomatillos because I had an idea in my head that they were also in Spanish cuisine…wrong on all accounts!  Consequently, I had to sub some green tomatoes from Spain (not an adequate substitute) and the mole didn’t quite work.  I also ran out of fresh jalapeños and had to use a habanero so it was hot, hot, hot.  Despite the missing ingredients, etc. it was very tasty! 5/5 would make again, with or without the correct produce. 🙂

3. Banh mi wieners!  I was inspired by Damn Delicious to make this spin on one of our favorite Vietnamese sandwiches.  It’s not sophisticated or difficult but it is damn delicious.  And it gave me motivation to pickle some carrots!

4. The humungous Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central train station).  We popped in here for a few minutes on our way to the main tourist area of the city just to see the spectacle!  It is the biggest train station I’ve ever been to – there are four floors with loads of restaurants, clothing stores, grocers, etc.  It’s pretty cool to visit just to see all of the hustle and bustle!

5. After seeing the Hauptbahnhof, we walked our way over to see some of the most popular attractions in the city.  The building in this picture is the Reichstag building where the German parliament meets.  It is possible to go up inside the glass dome and walk around the edge of the dome (example) but you have to register ahead of time.   Thus, the dome will have to wait for another day!

6. I think this picture pretty accurately sums up the feel of last weekend – sunny & colorful.  I love these new kicks I got from H&M for $10!