Entertaining Michael while he queued in Flughafen Schönefeld for an Aeroflot flight via Moscow to Guangzhou. Recently deceased wild deer meat from the Wildfleischhandel in Kreuzberg.
We went and saw Mission Impossible: Fallout and laughed for 2½ hours at the brilliant kinetic absurdity: Tom Cruise, part of the Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton lineage of getting audiences to pay stacks to watch them do mad stunts. We ate chocolate and ice cream and nachos – cinema nachos! – and drunk Sekt. In the Kino. This is Germany and everywhere is drinking erlaubt. Ten years today, ago Dasniya and I met in her Fabrik studio in Uferstraße.
mmm, yes, root vegetables! The first time I saw Schwarzwurzeln, I thought, “Why are twigs being sold in the vegetable section? And what are they?” After much asking of, ”You know those things that look like someone dug up the roots of a tree, what are they?” someone said, “Oh them! They’re Schwarzwurzeln!” Which I promptly looked up and discovered as a bunch of things no english speaker I know of has ever heard of. “Yeah, but what do they taste like?” “Oh, white asparagus for poor Belgians,” said one Belgian.
My first several attempts (all successful!) of cooking these delicacies resulted in not insignificant amounts of oozing of latex (yes, really) that stains everything black unless doused in lemon juice. This time, I discovered boiling them for 15 minutes first, and then the skin pops off like peeling a lychee. The difference is the former results in crisp eating, like stir-fried asparagus, and the latter verges on the despotic northern-european tradition of boiling until joyless.
Ja, so, risotto! For Isabelle and Malcolm on the 24th, which is when Germany does Christmas (no, I don’t know why either.) Risotto with Champagne. Or Sekt. Or Sparkling Wine, whatever you want to call it, just the dry, flinty stuff, like licking granite cliffs in Norway. And smoked salmon. None of that weird packaged sliced stuff, just a good-sized steak of hot-smoked depravity. Sadly it was a Tuesday when I did the buying so Herr Räucherfisch was not at the Markt. The replacement did the job, however.
- Garlic, as much as you like. I threw in about half a corm.
- Onions, or shallots, enough for an easy handful
- Salt & freshly ground pepper
- Butter, a good-sized knob
- Olive oil, as much as you need once everything’s in the pan to keep things moist
- Risotto rice
- Stock, chicken is best (provided it’s not battery chicken), otherwise mushroom or vegetable
- Parmigiano, I used about 300g for three people, more is possible
- Schwarzwurzeln, usually comes in 500g packets or as many as I can hold in my hand
- Smoked salmon, a bit more than the cheese
- Thyme, fresh, otherwise soak in a bit of oil to soften it up
- Saffron threads are good too, but I can never find them
As you can tell I have no idea how much of anything to use, I just make it up as I go along. What is important is the quality of the stuff you’re going to eat until breathing hurts.
To the stoves!
Cut the Schwarzwurzeln into lengths short enough to fit in a pot, boil some water, throw them in and ignore for 10-15 minutes. You’ll be busy so make sure someone know’s what time it is.
Cut the onion. I learnt a fully awesome method that results in molecule-sized cubes: Cut the onion into quarters, then for each separate out the top half layers. Flatten them and cut length-ways (same direction you’ve already been cutting in) then cut the now julienned strips into minusculeness. They utterly melt in the pan. Do the same for the garlic. Grate the zest off the lemon.
Ok, Schwarzwurzeln is finished. Get it off the stove and into some cold water. Start popping the skin then soaking in the juice of that lemon (just squeeze it like you’re a super-villian). Ignore it again.
Pan! Heat! Butter! Onions! Low heat … let them melt and go all unholy! Garlic, but not too hot. If you caramelise that garlic, I will cut you! (Now with the Saffron if you have it.) Olive oil is good about now. Salt & Pepper! Rice! Stir it with the heat going up, things need to get a little calamitous before the Champagne hits the pan. In with the lemon zest, and a quick stir, then in with the champagne, half the bottle, then the rest into the freezer so you can drink while stirring.
Once that’s calmed down, start adding the stock, which by the way is simmering on the back element. Now it’s time to work one’s zen martial arts training. A lot of stirring and no complaining. I cheat a bit, 2-3 ladles of stock then stir it until it’s mostly gone, with periodic wanderings off.
First wandering off: grab the cheese and flake it with your best knife. For entertainment (as with stock-stirring) try with your other hand, being careful not to add fingernails or fingertips. Back to the pot, more stock and stirring, alternating hands and directions for maximum excitement. There’s 40 minutes of this so everything depends on the freezer being cold.
Second wandering off: get the salmon and flake it like the cheese. Eat the skin. Eat the bloody skin! It’s fucking delectable. Back to stirring. Back to fridge and commence drinking. Scrape the Thyme off its stems and soak it if it’s dry. More stirring. Cut the Schwarzwurzeln lengthwise (or thirds if they’re fat stumps) then into 2cm long bits. More stirring. More drinking. Stir, drink, stir, drink. Did you buy two bottles of champagne? Yes? Why, you clever thing. More stirring. More drinking.
Presuming everything else has been done, salads made, table set, drinks at the ready, now comes the last frenzy of terror after many tens of minutes of boredom. Throw in a bit more lemon zest, keep stirring, in with the Schwarzwurzeln (yes, stir), bring the heat up a bit to compensate, in with the salmon (variation: gently stir, gently!) and just before it’s all about to turn to shit, in with the cheese. Stir, then don’t stir!
Plates, bowls, whatever, doesn’t matter. Fill them with this glorious slop, then throw a bit more cheese on top, followed by more salmon, then the thyme. Eat with that third bottle of Sekt you bought. Keep the pot on the table because you will finish it and will find breathing and walking difficult.
Michael came back to Berlin for the weekend, a welcome surprise that coincided nicely with my weeks-long desire for a certain dish. We met in Saint Georges, where I was picking up one book and ordering another, and found ourselves wandering through supermarkets in search of spices and mmm… organic lamb.
Many of my friends seem to have read “Eating Animals” in the past weeks and months – myself included in Vienna. Reminding me why I became vegetarian in the first place, and specifically putting the onus on me to be responsible in my eating, the immediate impact has been to cut my already minimal meat and dairy eating to almost none.
With some provisos, eating meat or dairy in Europe – when these delicacies come from organic farms – is a substantially different thing to eating McDonalds or other fast food either here or in America. Nonetheless, being reminded once again of the suffering such a predilection causes – to animals, the environment, to ourselves – means I have found myself without a trace of desire for any casual eating of flesh.
Organic lamb meat is not cheap here, more than twice the price it was in Australia, some €26 a kilo. As to how the animals are treated in their lives and deaths, I’m not sure, though the German guidelines for organic farming are fairly strict. I pay then, for some salving of my conscience, though maybe it’s not enough.
Figs then. A safe topic of discussion and eating. It is fig season here, and the prices are in direct opposition to lamb and Australia. Ten ripe, fat and purple-skinned fruits for a mere €3. And spices. I have had an idea for a fresh fig and lamb curry for more than a year, though mostly finding only Tajine recipes; admittedly not so distant from a curry. I discover the name of a mixed spice called Ras el Hanout, which I don’t find in any Turkish supermarket. Maybe it has a different name. Having a long history of love with Chinese and northern Pakistan curries, I came up with this from various recipes and self-enjoyment.
Cooking with Michael and Dasniya; bottles of wine, my favourite spices an aromatic haze in the apartment, figs seared and then braised in honey and lemon juice with an avalanche of walnuts. Stewing for hours until we eat. (I should have taken photos.)
1kg organic lamb
2 red onions
ras el hanout (if you can find it or make it yourself)
cayenne or paprika
lamb or chicken stock
8-10 fresh figs
brown basmati rice (or couscous or flatbread)
Notice the lack of measurements. I cook by throwing in as much as I think might work and then a little more. I like spices and chillies and can’t understand why anyone would want to eat such a divine thing as a curry only half-spiced.
Mash the garlic and ginger, thick slice the onions and fry on low-ish heat while cubing the lamb (leave the fat on; it’s yummy). Add lamb and turn the heat up to sear it.
Mix all the spices together – I used around a half to full tablespoon for each – crumble the cinnamon stick, throw it on top of the lamb and keep stirring till it becomes aromatic and sweats.
Add the stock, put a lid on and simmer on a looooow heat (barely bubbling) for two hours.
Sear the figs in a pan. I cut them into sixths first but it might be better to sear them whole then cut them and sear a bit more. Add the honey – a couple of big tablespoons – and let it caramelise, careful not to turn the figs to mush. Add the walnuts and lemon (juice of one) and try to avoid eating this in the next two hours.
Brown rice takes 40-50 minutes. Put it on about an hour after finishing the figs. Other things that would go well are Couscous or warm flatbread.
Two hours or so later…
Remove the lamb from the sauce, turn up the heat and reduce it till it’s fairly thick. Add the tomatoes and continue until they have become one, maybe 15-20 minutes.
Return the lamb, till it’s warmed up again, then add the figs, carefully stirring through. Throw on a good handful of fresh corriander leaves and take it off the heat.
Have some fresh figs, corriander, walnuts, lemon, other spices around for garnishes and mmm… bottles of red wine… happiness for three greedy people (or four if Gala comes along).
Days of nothing over the weekend, seeing Bonnie for the last time in a while, breakfast at Mario’s on Brunswick St, warm croissants and fresh jam, muesli and poached fruit, rhubarb and yoghourt, wandering the city and other streets on my own, bookshops visited, finishing…
The careless, careful folding on my life into one sealed volume. One last, short sleep and then…
Adelaide tomorrow morning. All this time since early December is finished. A new project about to start, butterflies in my stomach.
A taxi driver from Punjab studying electronics with such a polite demeanor managed to persuade me that going all the way to the airport with him was not such a bad compromise than going to Southern Cross Station and getting the bus. Honestly, I was quite in the mood for swaying with whatever breeze happened by.
I have a sense of anxiety when I return to somewhere I used to live, that it will have changed, that I will have changed, and an accommodation between the two of us will be impossible. Still, to see North Terrace beneath from the usual exit row seat I occupy, I thought, “Home…”
And today, seeing my darling friends Gala, Lisa, Adam, and last night with Alison, and later today with Daniel… It’s like a short holiday, a reprieve from the madness of the past few weeks, the intense emotions, intellectualising, trying to make sense of what I wanted to do… and …
I’ll write about the showings later, when it’s settled somewhat, when I’ve looked at the footage, when it has calmed down.
So, Adelaide for a week. Festival time, shows to see, people here from Melbourne, Bonnie and Lina both, and something maybe growing in my life that has made these last couple of weeks like the sun breaking in mountains.
Approaching a return to Melbourne, back to airports on Saturday and to … see if I can make sense of what this new piece is. I’ve had a wonderful couple of weeks in Adelaide, certainly for now my home, days with Gala and Daniel and Alison that I suppose to say make apparent it is friendship that makes life. Yesterday then, a day with Gala walking up Waterfall Gully.
On the way up I discovered how unfit I am, and felt like the Witch of the Waste in Howl’s Moving Castle, all red-nosed and quivering jowls and gerontic feebleness. Gala who seems to feel hills not at all hauled me up the last bump. So much for trekking along the Nü River later this year, I thought, and you can also relieve yourself of fantasies of climbing mountains.
On the return, an easy skip down an easy path we talked, and … somewhere I was thinking of a passage from Chuang Tze, and … well it was another passage altogether, but I was also thinking about this one, which is one of Sam Crane at The Useless Tree’s favourite passages, and he even mentioned it in regard to Wittgenstein’s final proposition in the Tractatus, that was also floating around during all the people …
I also like it quite a bit, and feel an affinity for this passage for the mention of Hsi Shih or Xi Shi, 西施, one of the four beauties of classical China. Shortly after I arrived in Guangzhou, I asked my translator to give me a Chinese name. After a couple of days she returned with 方希石, a phonetic play on Frances, but also with multiple meanings, people would say, it’s not a name a Chinese person would have, but it’s a very good name, 希有, rare or uncommon, 希望, to wish for or desire, and the play on tones 希石, my name is a first and second tone, 西施, Xi Shi is two first tones.
I suppose this is all to say … what?
I came to Adelaide because I had friends here who mean so much to me, and being here found new friends who have given me much inspiration and happiness and this is something I can’t live without. Also to say I had a rare and very special day yesterday I will remember until I am old and feeble.
Sufficient because sufficient. Insufficient because insufficient. Traveling the Way makes it Tao. Naming things makes them real. Why real? Real because real. Why nonreal? Nonreal because nonreal. So the real is originally there in things, and the sufficient is originally there in things. There’s nothing that is not real, and nothing that is not sufficient.
Hence, the blade of grass and the pillar, the leper and the ravishing [beauty] Hsi Shih, the noble, the sniveling, the disingenuous, the strange – in Tao they all move as one and the same. In difference is the whole, in wholeness is the broken. Once they are neither whole nor broken, all things move freely as one and the same again.
Only one who has seen through things understands moving freely as one and the same. In this way, rather than relying on you own distinctions, you dwell in the ordinary. To be ordinary is to be self-reliant; to be self-reliant is to move freely; and to move freely is to arrive. That’s almost it, because to arrive is to be complete. But to be complete without understanding how – that is called Tao. (23-24)
Or week as it mostly became, an impromptu holiday from dance, much shopping, a haircut and dye from the amazing James at Gang, so now I am a redhead, new makeup to match said hair, a Friday night celebrating Daniel’s birthday where I had to leave early because everyone else was far, far more drunk than myself, and Saturday…
A present for myself buying Harry Potter on my birthday for the – I think – third time. The previous one on the train from Zürich to Vevey for a holiday after SiWiC when I’d just realised I’d be spending the rest of the year in Suisse. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches, a lazy afternoon here in Adelaide before another beautiful couple of hours with someone I like … I suppose it’s a date – again, a phonecall from Vienna, then on for an evening at La Boheme. I was thinking how in three quick months here I’ve found a really special group of friends who make this feel like home.