Mamaliga is a cornmeal porridge, sometimes with cheese, that you’ll find all over the place in Romania.
I was talking about American cereal brands the other day and remembered some of my favorites, like Apple Jacks and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Sugary garbage, I’m sure, but my childhood nonetheless.
So I can’t get this apple-cinnamon flavor out of my head and it suddenly hits me that these are flavors that would work in a mamaliga.
I used a mamaliga recipe out of Irina Georgescu’s Carpathia cookbook to get the ratios. I subbed in coconut butter and grated apples, and I added cinnamon and honey to the mix.
I went the full breakfast route, subbing the dollop of sour cream that usually goes on top of mamaliga with Greek or Oat Milk Yogurt to keep it vegan. It’s also rhubarb season here, so I topped it off with a scoop of homemade compote before sprinkling some chopped toasted almonds, apples, and cinnamon to finish my bowl of Apple Cinnamon Mamaliga.
Every time I’m back in the US, I try pulling more food memories out of my father. One of the latest ones to come back to him was a mini cherry cheesecake dessert my grandmother used to make. My aunt remembered it as well, describing the graham cracker crust and cherry pie filling on top.
I did a quick search and found a Shugary Sweets recipe. “Yep, that looks like it,” they said. I saved it, thinking I’d make it sometime in the future.
I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to dive into German cuisine. It’s a cuisine that brings to mind monstrous mounds of meat. There’s Schweinshaxe or pork knuckle, a dish that looks like something Fred Flintstone would nosh on. Not to mention every corner of Germany has its own take on the sausage from the Leberwurst (liver sausage from just about any animal with a liver) to the Currywurst of Berlin.
But just as I’ve found a treasure trove of vegetarian recipes from the catalogue of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, I have to imagine the Germans aren’t always stuffing their gullet with whatever once lived. After all, Berlin itself is something of a vegan paradise.
The first German restaurant on my list was Kantine Kohlmann in Kreuzberg. There’s a chic, Weimar Republic vibe inside –– dark blue tiling that blends into sandpaper-colored walls that you can barely make out in the evening chandelier glow. I’m expecting a fast-paced, jazzy bob to start up any minute with everyone kicking back their chairs, grabbing a partner, and flailing about doing the Charleston.
When I was back in Ohio visiting my father, I flipped through old recipe cards from my grandmother. She mostly made desserts. I’ve heard my father say on multiple occasions, “She could’ve opened a bakery.” During my last visit, I learned that she baked treats for weddings of her friends or even for her dentist.
“I remember carrying bags of baked goods for to her dentist when she had an appointment,” my dad told me.
Then I came across a recipe card that didn’t exactly fit in with the rest. Sure, it was wrinkled at the edges like the others with sepia stains and my grandmother’s barely legible handwriting. But the name of this one left me tilting my head to the side like a puppy trying to understand its owner.
What can I say about gallo pinto? First and foremost, it’s how I started many a day in Costa Rica. In the land of pura vida, it’s breakfast––rice mixed with black beans, cilantro, onions, maybe a red pepper, and seasoned with Salsa Lizano, a kind of Worcestershire sauce that’s truly the nectar of the Gods. This simple yet delicious combo is typically served with some scrambled eggs and a hot cup of coffee. I came to love gallo pinto in the same way I loved my ridiculously sugary breakfast cereals with cartoon mascots before I hit double digits.
If you’re looking for something different to make for breakfast that isn’t your typical egg-focused dish, pancakes, or cereal, then you ought to start working gallo pinto into your routine. It even stores and reheats nicely if you want to make a big batch. Just be sure to keep a bottle of Salsa Lizano handy so you can top yourself off with each plate.
After six holiday seasons outside of the US (one in Costa Rica, five in Germany), those annual December trips back to Cleveland look basically the same on paper. We alternate time spent with our respective families, and there’s a minimal amount of schlepping across town involved to ensure everyone is pleased with our visit.
We rarely do anything that’s purely selfish when in town. Once we spent a night at a downtown hotel near where we used to live, but even that ended up being for work. This year, I planned a surprise Airbnb overnight in the building next door to our last US address only for the host to ghost me on check-in day. (I got a full refund but never an explanation.) But the sudden surge of COVID cases drastically changed what that overnight would’ve looked like anyway. My planned night out at my wife’s favorite neighborhood restaurant with surprise appearances from extended family and friends warped into grabbing take-out and some beers to bring back to the Airbnb.
(If I’m honest, I’m partly spelling out the surprise I planned for posterity. I don’t do many things particularly well, but I can plan a fucking thoughtful surprise.)
At best, we get to check out a new restaurant and maybe a couple of old favorites. Even that’s been limited in recent years due to family illnesses and, in case you haven’t heard, the pandemic. But this year, I remained determined to finally stop by Larder Delicatessen and Bakery in what would’ve been a few minutes’ walk from our old apartment.
I’m generally skeptical of all things Airbnb. It’s not just the questionable things they do to cities i.e. one person buying up multiple properties in a neighborhood and renting them out exclusively to travelers. I just generally feel awkward running up and down the staircase of an apartment building, sticking out as the obvious tourist. I’d much rather be in a hotel, lumped together with my fellow ignorant travelers. To me, a city hotel is a safe space to make mistakes. Nobody expects you to know the cultural cues of a destination when you’re walking in and out of a hotel.
That said, I do from time to time pop on over to Airbnb Experiences when I’m traveling and even when I’m not. When I first moved to Berlin, I found it could be a great source for locating neighborhood interesting tours, cooking classes, and other culinary experiences. So that’s precisely what I looked for when Melanie and I planned our trip to Gdansk to celebrate our anniversary.