My banner isn’t the best picture I’ve ever taken. I’ll probably replace it. But to me, it’s a reminder to cook for fun, and a reminder to challenge myself. A lot of people would probably say it’s not much of a challenge, and now I would agree with them, but then? Completely different story. Here’s why.
This was Easter dinner in my first apartment. I know, you’re probably thinking “Why weren’t you with your family? It’s Easter, for pity’s sake!” And there is a perfectly good explanation for that- I was in Berlin. I was doing study abroad, and sharing an apartment with a girl I went to high school with. We had two friends who were also in Europe, one in England and the other in Denmark, so they decided to come to Berlin for Easter, and we all celebrated together. We had Karla’s (roommate) mom’s yummy Asian-style asparagus, scalloped potatoes, and a beautiful ham with an orange reduction on top.
Cooking in a different country is always interesting, especially trying to reproduce things you eat at home. Sour cream? Good luck! And milk in Berlin comes in these odd Tetrapaks, plastic-coated cardboard similar to what you can find stocks in in the States. However, milk in Tetrapaks doesn’t have to be refrigerated until it’s opened. I was afraid of German milk.
And going to the butcher’s to get an Easter ham? They looked at us like we were nuts. It took three days to find a ham. And when we did, we learned another cultural difference. In the United States, you’ve probably noticed, hams are either pre-cooked or smoked. This makes it pretty much impossible to mess up. In Germany, they take away the safety net. Completely raw, unsmoked ham. If we messed up and undercooked it, we were gonna be in a world of hurt.
Another silly little thing about our German apartment was the stove. Rather than being able to set the oven to temperatures, it used gas marks. If you haven’t heard of a gas mark, it means that the dial on the oven had the numbers 1-9 or 1-10 on it, rather than temperatures. Fortunately, we found a conversion online to get us to actual temperatures, but between never knowing if our oven was the right temperature, and taking two weeks to figure out how to even light it… we were getting worried by the time Easter rolled around.
Obviously, everything worked out fine. I’m still here, I didn’t die from eating undercooked ham. The asparagus was delicious, even if it was difficult to find cashews (and we didn’t want to substitute hazelnuts). The scalloped potatoes with their Tetrapak milk and impossible-to-find Cheddar cheese tasted fine, even if they were a bit undercooked.
And at the end of the day, everyone was happy, well-fed, and full of good-quality German chocolate. And the potatoes were a little bit undercooked. And the asparagus got done too early. And the orange reduction never quite sunk into the ham like I’d hoped.
But you know what? I didn’t care. No one did. We had fun. We weren’t alone for Easter. And we made it through the whole weekend with a lot of good memories (reading The Lorax and going to a 90’s pop disco), new skills (cooking a raw ham without a meat thermometer), and the guts to do it again. And to me, that’s what cooking is about. Helping you to realize that if you can just do that one thing, if you can figure it out, you can do anything.
Ok, that was cheesy enough. I promise I won’t do this again. And I’ll try to find another picture for my banner. But for now, here’s my friends at the 90’s disco. They played Backstreet’s Back, and we all sang along.