Friday, June 7, 2013


Coveting Legos in Alexanderplatz.
100 meters. It can be challenging for a heavily padded, helmeted, 300-pound linebacker to move a ball that far. It must be excruciatingly difficult for an amputee to even think about walking that distance during the initial stages of rehabilitation. To an insect, it’s like crossing continents. And to two women with three 5/almost 5 year-olds and two toddlers its all of these things: challenging, excruciatingly difficult and just really, really far.

100 meters was the distance from our apartment, which we rented through airbnb, to the subway, our gateway to the rest of Berlin. But these 100 meters felt a little bit like hiking through a minefield in the Alps while simultaneously commanding two opposing armies comprised entirely of deaf and blind soldiers. There were constant fights over who got to push the button on the elevator! Who gets to put the money in the machine! Who gets to pull the ticket out of the machine! Who gets to validate the ticket! There was a constant race to be first – first to finish my pizza! First to get to the door and therefore earn the right to hold it open! First to finish peeing! First to wake up! There was the incessant measuring for fairness – he got more ice cream than I did! She got to hold the ipad last time! He got to go down the slide twice and I only did it once!

At one point when we had completely HAD it with the fighting, Ash and I declared NO ONE could push the button. It was the ADULTS TURN! And then before she could do it, I pushed her out of the way and ran for the button only to have her try to trip me so of course I had to put her in a headlock and when she bit me the whole thing dissolved into a slapping match that left us both black and blue and bleeding.*

I mean, where do the kids get this shit?

We made it to our spacious, minimal-decoration-=-less-to-break, apartment after our 100 meter journey that involved one poop in the park, one run-in with a drunk, a few narrowly avoided collisions on the bike path, one near foot amputation via street car, one very dumb illegal street crossing (adults take the blame for this one. Ok – I take the blame for this one.), one ten-minute pause to ogle a large billboard with cows walking by a nuclear reactor-size tub of chocolate ice cream, 15 minutes to pick dandelions growing next to the drunks and the poop, one adult-kid confrontation over whether or not they could go to the park RIGHT NOW before dropping off the heavy bags the moms were carrying, one five-minute break to stop and admire the “Starlight Express” poster in which every kid picked out their favorite costume and all declared that the girl on the top of the cake-like structure was the “chief of the poisonous ones” and was definitely the biggest badass. We picked up the keys from the owner, trudged up three flights of stairs and just – arrived.

This is where my mom says, "What kind of crackhouse playground are you taking my grandchildren to anyway?"
After the promised trip to the playground, we attempted to go to Friedrichshain to find the “spielwagon” that a friend of mine told me about – a large truck that drives around to different playgrounds, scheduled on different days, and unloads games and an obstacle course. My incompetence with Google Maps meant that we made a full ring around the intersection at Frankfurter Tor on the gorgeous Karl-Marx-Allee. When I finally got my bearings, the kids discovered … jugglers. And that was as far as we got. Spielwagon be damned, these guys had the kids mesmerized. I need to find some jugglers to move in with us.

The next day we had an agenda: an early start, a ride on the double decker bus to see a bit more of the city in a way that the kids would find entertaining, lunch in Mitte, a playdate with Luisa and Hugo and end up at the Street Food Market Hall in Kreuzberg.

The early start was the first casualty of the day. Thwarted by a snack and pee break that last two hours – BEFORE getting on the subway. The double decker bus was a hit for the first 20 minutes. Then they got restless. We got off around Zoo Station/Kudamm just minutes before Linnea’s head started to rotate and Henry alienated us from not only the entire front of the bus but the driver, who bellowed into the mic, “SOMEONE MAKE THOSE KIDS SIT DOWN – NOW!!!” That was our cue to get off.
The Lebanese Balloon Twister - available for hire.
Spilled currywurst, the Lebanese balloon-twister and a two-story fountain later, we abandoned our ambitious agenda and headed for a playground. That night the kids were asleep by 7:30 and Ash and I headed out – God bless my friend’s daughter, Chiara. In Friedrichshein – staying close by in case the babysitter called in a panic – what we thought was live music was a public viewing of Heidi Klum’s Germany’s Next Top Model grand finale and we grabbed a drink at the bar, packed with girls who made me feel old and gay boys, as I explained to Ash who the favorite was, who was the girl who always cried, who was the one Heidi picked up in a chicken coop and who was the one who everyone just generally disliked. It was the most culture Ash would experience in Berlin. I am a fine, fine tour guide.

The next day, we scrapped our museum plans and took the 12:30 train back to Hamburg. And to think I had originally thought we would then take a train from Berlin to Prague (4.5 hours) and then another local (3 hours) on to Cesky Krumlov in southern Bohemia. I can chalk that idea up to temporary insanity. Or a bottle of wine. More than likely the latter.

And the moral of this blog post is: travel with your kids, y’all. If you are visiting a city, try to balance cultural events and historic tours with playgrounds, trampolines, ice cream and jugglers. It’s not easy. And you definitely won’t see or do all of the things on your list. But it is worth it. Absolutely… At least that’s what they tell me.

*The adult fight did not actually happen. I know, I know, it is totally plausible. But Ash and I are beacons of maturity, pillars of restraint.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cooking for Gianni

Gianni is not impressed...

I have seen the way he eats. He’s reduced his wife to tears in front of guests with a scolding when the risotto was not al dente. He has pushed plates away after a single bite, causing a bit of a scene. But he can be just as dramatic when the food is done right. He practically bear-hugged a chef for producing a pitch perfect roast beef, cooked just long enough to not be raw, short enough to still be slightly bloody. Whether he loves it or hates it, he is an enthusiastic eater who is not short on opinions nor shy about expressing them.

Born at the start of World War II near Venice, Gianni was the first of three children born to a homemaker who tended to the children and a surgeon who tended to wounded soldiers on the front lines. With her husband away for two year stretches at a time and no guarantee that he would return, Gianni’s mother did the best she could with the rations she received, watering down soups to make them last longer and filling hungry bellies with stale bread. In fact, young Gianni was so accustomed to “pane vecchio” – or “old bread” that he never knew that bread was supposed to be soft and chewy. To this day, he will pass over freshly baked ciabatta for a hard, crumbling slice of three day-old pane vecchio.

But Gianni wouldn’t always have to settle for stale bread. The war ended, his father returned, and a period of prosperity followed. He was the favorite eldest son and was spoiled by his mother’s adoration heaped upon him at the table. Her roasted meats, fragrant risottos and homemade pastas were stuff of legend. And her legendary repetoire was the direct result of her husband Antonio’s legendary appetite. He would famously eat an entire meal at home before going for dinner with friends because his voracious appetite would otherwise embarrass his wife. While I fancied myself a decent home cook who could turn out a creamy risotto, a few enviable tomato sauces (thank you Marcella Hazan) and a perfectly balanced capresse, I would not dream of attempting to make any of these dishes for my very particular, very well-fed, Italian father-in-law.

But I have made Boeuf Bourguignon – a day in advance – in my Le Creuset, over store bought egg-spätzle noodles. He ate it slowly and did not ask for seconds. A whole baked fish – too dry. I made a creamy mushroom soup from Food 52 that Ingo and I love – again, no second helping. “You shouldn’t eat too many mushrooms in the evening – they are hard to digest,” he said. Last weekend when he came to pick up the twins to take them to the Baltic sea, I made a roasted red pepper and tomato soup that is on regular rotation at our house. He cleaned his bowl relatively quickly – although the bowl was shallow so I only considered it a partial success when he asked for more.

But the next day as I was packing up the kids things for the trip, I cut up the Rice Krispie treats I had made the day before, slicing them into squares and putting them in a Zip Lock bag for the drive. I had already given the twins two each and had to shoo them away repeatedly as they snuck back into the kitchen trolling for more. “Cos’e?” asked Gianni as he held up on of the squares suspiciously. Rice Krispie Treats, I answered. An American childhood favorite. My mom always made them for road trips and picnics, I added. He eyed the motley cube with measured distain, then suddenly and uncharacteristically threw caution to the wind and bit in.

He chewed. And chewed and chewed. I reached for the hand broom and swept a pile of crumbs the kids had left behind. As I turned back to Gianni, I saw him reach for another. Mm, he said. Mmmmm. He ate three Krispie Treats in rapid succession and then turned to me, pointed at the pan, and straight-faced said, “Molto buoni, questi. We’ll bring these with us.” He walked out of the kitchen and left me standing there with my mouth open.

The organic cuts of marbled beef, the farmers market wild mushrooms, the toasted hazelnuts and shaved aged parmesan, the homemade cheesecakes… the research and calculation, the practice and the planning, the fuss over the presentation, the nervous anticipation, and after all that, after the blood, sweat and tears… he fawns over a mixture of melted butter, a bag of marshmallows and Rice f*cking Krispies.

I should have remembered the pane vecchio: when it comes to this sophisticated palate, it’s best to keep it simple.