Markthalle Neun

Inside the Markthalle, via http://www.markthalleneun.de/
Anytime you live in a neighborhood long enough, you are sure to witness some surface and demographic changes. Here in Berlin, those changes seem to take place at lightening speed.

Take my corner of Kreutzberg. When I moved in, it was a sleepy street with one cafe and a grubby burger stand, along with an abandoned betting office and barbershop. A few years later, the two closed storefronts became two insanely popular restaurants (pizza and tapas) that clog the sidewalks in summer time with mamph-ing tourists, street performers angling for change, and clumsy children playing dangerously close to traffic while their parents chug red wine. Not everyone is happy with the practically overnight shift- as exemplified by plentiful "Fuck tourists!" graffiti and the occasional screeching neighbor yelling out her window at drunken passerby, "Go back to America, Touristen-Schwein!"

There are also, obviously, more thoughtful critics of gentrification and rising rents, who point to the fact that long-time residents get pushed out by newcomers willing to pay higher rents, and shops hawking precious olive oils, soaps, and innovative forms of yoga.

I'm on board with debating about the issue, but I sometimes think that the tendency to blame foreigners for what are, essentially, real-estate and urban planning issues is a bit short sighted, and in the worst cases a cover for plain old xenophobia. I mean, really, isn't it a bit of a chicken and egg issue, blaming foreigners for raising rent? Like anyone comes to a country and wishes to pay more than locals do for housing? Shouldn't we rather be enlisting newcomers into neighborhood politics, instead of a knee-jerk reaction to alienate and blame them for long-standing political problems?

That brings me to Markthalle Neun, either one of the worst examples of yuppie gentrification OR an awesome urban renewal project, depending on who you talk to. (You can guess which side I stand on.)

A few years ago, a building on Eisenbahnstrasse was home to a discount grocery store and a tacky drugstore, both of which were crowded in the corner of a voluminous space that once housed a rowdy neighborhood market before the wall fell. After years of failure, the government decided to auction off the mostly empty space in 2009, until a gang of foodies decided to occupy it for their own purposes: to start a weekly market showcasing local produce and food artisans. Surprisingly, they won! (Score one for direct action!)

Although the first few years were shaky, with poor attendance and bad sales, Markthalle Neun has suddenly exploded. Now you have to wait in a line to get house-smoked local Barbeque, sample Spanish chickpea stew, or grab a giant slice of gluten fee cake. To me, the rambunctious atmosphere is refreshing after years of stifled potential inside of this picturesque building. If you are so inclined, you might view this hall, with all its young hip Italian and Spanish people hawking organic and gluten-free wares to hip young neighborhood parents with 5 bio-babies, an annoying example of gentrification. From my side though, I'm seeing a vibrant community meeting place, supporting small ethical businesses inside a once-abandoned building that could have just as easily been sold off to a corporation or made into lofts.

I went there this weekend with S. and was surprised to see new stalls, more people, and plenty of interesting vegan food on offer. But my favorite thing has been there since the beginning: Vegan Burger, a small stand featuring several types of smoothies and juices, and one kind of burger. The 'Sunday Burger' is a few slabs of marinated and grilled tofu, cucumbers, beets, sprouts, lettuce, and three homemade sauces (chipotle, peanut, and mango) all on a sturdy whole wheat bun. While chewing my delicious burger, sipping on a carrot-orange juice, and watching cute grubby kids play and grab at organic produce, I can't help but think that this is a giant improvement over cold empty space.


 Song of the Day: Blumfeld- Status Quo: Vadis


Red Wine Stew with Leek Dumplings

Not to sound complainy or anything, but I have never lived anywhere with such gleefully bad weather as Berlin. (And I've lived in Brussels, where it rains approximately 363 days a year.) Wintertime is really a struggle- no one wants to leave the house, everyone is getting sick or getting over being sick, and the few hours of daylight are dominated by bone-chilling temps and gloomy gray skies. Plus your bike freezes all the time, and all the stores close early because they think you ought to be inside anyways. (They are correct.)

HOWEVER. I am in an oddly upbeat mood and it annoys me deeply that the weather won't bother to even try matching me. (The Secret is bullshit people. You do not manifest your own reality.) Luckily, bitching about the weather only takes up, like, 50% of my mental energy. The rest is dedicated to devouring new books about alchemy, Yugoslavia, Victorian female authors, or whatever else peaks my promiscuous curiosity, and thinking about what to eat for dinner.

Yesterday I decided to create a thick, wintry stew containing three things that cheer me up in these dark times: lots of red wine, crispy leeks, and plenty of herbs. And why not some easy dumplings? It was excellent, and I'll give you the "recipe" but its gonna be pretty fast and loose and should be more of a idea-sparker because a) it was quite improvisational and b) might have drank a bit of the wine myself....

Red Wine Stew with Leek Dumplings
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, white and white-ish parts, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, diced
circa 2 c. mushrooms of any sort, sliced
4 medium potatoes, loosely chopped (about 2 cups)
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds 
3-4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 or 1 teaspoon each of the following (that you have handy):
      -smoked paprika
2 cups drinkable red wine
2 cups veg broth (or water and a veg bouillon cube) 
1 T. white miso
 1 14oz. can white beans
3 T. flour

1 leek, white and inner green parts, chopped
1 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
3/4 c. soymilk

1.) Set up your stove with one frying pan and one large pot or Dutch oven. Set the frying pan to medium-low and drizzle with olive oil. When hot, add in leeks and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and some are browning a bit. Season with salt and remove from heat.

2.) While leeks are cooking you can already get going on the stew. Set large pot to medium heat and drizzle with olive oil. When hot, add in onions and the other leek, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in garlic and cook for a few minutes more before adding in mushrooms. Let the mushrooms brown for a bit (5-7 min.) and then add in the carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and herbs. Season with salt and pepper, and stir to coat vegetables with spices. Add in wine, broth, and miso paste. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and let cook, stirring ocassionally for about 30 minutes.

3.) After stew has reduced, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. In a small bowl, spoon out a bit of the broth and mix together with flour until no lumps remain. Add back into stew, and cook for 5-10 minutes while you prepare dumplings.

4.) For dumplings, mix flour, salt and baking powder together in a bowl. Add in about a cups worth of leeks (eyeball it- you can reserve the rest of the leeks for garnish) and stir to coat with flour. Add in soymilk and stir together until "just mixed." Dough should not be too wet- add in more flour if necessary to make it sticky but not liquidy.

5.) Drop tablespoons-full of leek dough into simmering stew. (No need to be too precise, they won't turn out pretty anyways.) Cover, and cook for another 15 minutes or until dumplings are cooked through.

Serve a bowl of stew with a few leek dumplings and some extra crispy leeks as garnish. Oh yeah, and wine. Lotsa wine.

Song of the Day: Passion pit- Take a Walk


Migas in Portugal

Mama Celeste, a Portuguese cook
My Dad recently traveled to Nazare, Portugal for work, and also for part of his "making my daughter jealous tour." While there, he witnessed monster feats of surfing during the day and stuffed his face with homey cooking in the evenings. Ah, the life of a cameraman.

There was one dish, coincidentally vegan, that he really enjoyed at thought to share with me.

Mama Celeste in her element
He wrote the following:

"If you order fish in Nazare it comes with garlicky potatoes and Migas,.. it’s a mixture of cornbread, kale and black eyed peas that tastes great and is light and fluffy.
The cook, Mama Celeste, who feeds a ravenous band of surfer dudes every day at her restaurant that bears her name, shared her recipe.

Cornbread  sauteed in olive oil
Kale sauteed in garlic
Black eyed peas boiled and salted.

The whole thing gets stirred together in and heated for a moment in a black skillet."
The finished product!
Sounds pretty delicious and do-able, right? I'm going to have to add this to my repertoire of easy dinner dishes.


Frohes Neues Jahr!

Happy New Years,everyone!

That's my husband S, on our rooftop New Years Eve setting off fireworks to join the literally jillions going off all over the city in Berlin. New Years Eve here is completely crazy. IT IS CRAZY. Germans have NO FEAR of fire and shoot off rockets at each other for about a week leading up to the New Year, finally reaching a crescendo at midnight where the whole city momentarily seems to catch fire in a display that makes the 4th of July in the US look like a lit birthday cake. Its pretty terrifying, but everyone seems pretty used to it. (To wit, while standing on the roof, several rockets buzzed right pass our heads coming up from the park below and no one even paused from sipping their prosecco.)

Aside from a constant fear of death-from-above, I heartily enjoyed our New Years party which was mildly Southern-themed, complete with Gumbo-Z, black-eyed peas, cornbread, and dark-and-stormy cocktails (a heady mixture of dark rum and ginger beer.) For those that missed out on the food it probably just seemed alcohol-themed, but it was definitely a hearty entry into the new year with lots of good friends from Berlin and all over. By 6am it devolved into a wild dance party but, and this bodes well for the new year as well, our neighbors didn't care.

And as for 2012, good riddance! I am so ready to move into a new year, which is hopefully the year in which I get an awesome job, perfect my German, and learn to cook new exciting dishes, rather than repeat the same lasagna-stirfry-pumpkin soup pattern that is my wont. No, this year will be about shaking things up, remembering to take the vitamin B12 pills, and trying new things! 

Hope you guys are as excited as I am!