Joining Urban Jungle Bloggers with June's #plantcolorpop

June 30, 2015

purple orchid for urban jungle bloggers plant color pop

Where plants are concerned, I have no natural aptitude whatsoever. If there was something more inept than having a black thumb, that would be me. I even managed to kill a succulent earlier this year. I didn't even know that was possible! But when reminded of Judith and Igor's project, Urban Jungle Bloggers, from this post from Anna about great planters and getting more greenery in her own home, I decided there's no time like the present to improve my plant situation.

So I'm starting out slow, with my little bargain orchid from Ikea, a flower I'd always admired in other people's windowsills yet always thought they would be too delicate for my clumsiness around plant life. According to the website Beautiful Orchids: "Phalaenopsis... are among the easiest of the orchid family to care for." Praise the plant gods! These relatively low-maintenance flowers might be just what I need to tentatively test my toe into the waters of successful plant ownership - beyond a couple succulents and some half-dead herbs.

I remember a few years back lamenting to my friend's mom about my basil always dying and felt immediately better when she told me of basil's temperamental, needy nature, thriving in lots of sunlight that seemed so rare in Germany. This hurdle of understanding each plant and what to expect is perhaps my biggest. I've always been of the mindset that water plus sunlight means it lives, right..? Clearly my learning curve is going to be pretty steep. My fumbling start may mean I'm a less-than-regular poster for this project, but I intend to take full advantage of the inspiration I know it will provide to learn about and care for each of my green friends appropriately.

Pressing thumbs I can create my own urban jungle before too long...

Celiac and the frustrations of eating out

June 23, 2015

gluten-free card in Jute Bäckerei bakery window

Sigh. Celiac, it seems, is a constant dance with my well-being. I ease up on the reigns of food enjoyment - and I pay the consequences. I mean, we moved to Berlin in large part for the food! We got a taste of all the culinary greatness here, and then - boom! - I'm just supposed to give all that up? Am I just supposed to stay at home every evening with raw veggies, ignoring the sounds of summer - the satisfied slurp of an ice cream cone, the celebratory clink of wine glasses - on the street below us? Granted, with the arrival of summer weather and all the glorious food fests Berlin has to offer, my strict eat-bio-and-grain-free-at-home-only has seen me slip back into less vigilant eating practices. So much so, my body is pulling back on the reins.

Admittedly, I'm a little raw after a recent realization about food I'd eaten that it turned out was not gluten-free. As soon as I read the message from my friend Adam, that his more thorough inquisition turned up soy sauce as an ingredient in the meal I'd had twice in one week, my heart fell. All at once, I understood that my distended belly and foggy brain had not been a result of too much sugar, as I had thought (read: hoped). More importantly, it hit my eating-out confidence hard and I had a mini-breakdown right there in the park. I pouted and realized I'm better off boarding myself up inside and eating only home-cooked meals. What can I say? I still get really emotional about food.

As other celiacs can attest, even when being vigilant, eating out is a minefield. Like my glutenings from the last couple of weekend food fests made clear once again, too many people are unaware of what gluten really is and the serious implications it can have on someone like me. So why eat out at all? I mean, it's my food issue and why should I impart that on folks just trying to provide people with some good food? Believe me, I used to be one of those eye-rollers every time someone began the laundry-list Starbucks order or launched into a soliloquy of why said menu item must be altered to meet their lengthy requirements. No one realizes what a pain in the ass I am, culinarily-speaking, more than me.

But this all begs the question: Is a food allergy sufferer just never supposed to eat out? And more importantly, how is travel possible? It's one thing to inflict one's dietary needs on a well-meaning chef when managing at home is often the better, and safer, answer, but what if that isn't an option? Will people in food service ever truly understand the importance of knowing all their ingredients and their allergy ramifications? Don't even get me started on the emotional fallout around celebrations and time out with friends.

"There are few things more isolating and disheartening than being unable to freely join with loved ones to celebrate significant times in life." 
- Jenni Hulet (The Urban Poser) from My Paleo Patisserie, An Artisan Approach to Grain Free Baking

I don't mean to rant, but I thought that after 10 months of healing from my initial diagnosis and the start of living a gluten-free life, I wouldn't still be dealing with such lows where my health is concerned. All these frustrations have been bouncing around in my foggy brain, yet I never seem to have the clarity to come to terms with it 100%. Speaking with a friend one day about her husband's diabetes and its constant need for surveillance, it hit me that celiac was much the same, at least where recovery is concerned. Not even the middle of an estimated 2-year recovery time, I must still pay close attention to what my body is telling me each time I put food into it. Some days I might feel strong enough for grains or a glass of wine, others might require upping the gelatin and coconut to soothe my ailing gut. It's rather frustrating to feel like there isn't a clear-cut answer for good health and well-being every day, but I've spent much of my life not listening to what my body really needs and now we're playing catch-up from years of miscommunication.

In a very lucky turn of events, the visit this last weekend from my Wiesbaden-based friend Christie, a fellow foodie who's body also takes serious issue with gluten, meant eating out was a necessary indulgence, yet a carefully thought-out affair. After two and a half days of what was essentially a gluten-free food tour of Berlin, I managed to remain free from the clutches of usually inevitable, albeit unintentional glutening. From street food to the Michelin-starred Tim Raue (more on that later, to be sure) to the gluten- and grain-free paradise that is Sauvage, I ended the weekend rather tired, but with my belly in mostly good spirits. For all the times I am glutened and left feeling vulnerable and weak - physically and emotionally - there are shining beacons of light on the Berlin food landscape that give me hope for eating out. This weekend was definitely one of those.

And so I proceed with more caution, but also more optimism as we dive into this currently grey, rainy season that Berlin calls summer. I will stick mostly to places I know are safe, but I will also feed myself healing, nutritious food at home so I am more fortified to go out into the big world of uncertain ingredients. As I refine my diet, I hope to bring you more the successful recipes here soon!

Eating at home: Tom Kha Gai with plantain chips... and a spinach quiche with bacon & cassava flour crust
plantain chips and Tom Kha Gai Thai coconut soup gluten-free grain-free bacon and cassava flour crust spinach quiche with salad

Top 5 Berlin food events to look forward to this June

June 10, 2015

Berlin Food Collage_ Bite Club Jones Ice Cream Laksa Pop-up Spice Spice Baby Jerk Chicken

My relationship with food continues to be a complex one. Thanks to celiac, gluten is verboten. Continuing health issues have lead to me cutting out even more in an attempt to appease my protesting body. But as summer food festival season begins, my love of all things delicious has started to win out. Ever since the first Bite Club of the season, it's become almost impossible to stick to my strict organic, homemade diet. And with so many amazing things to eat, can you really blame me? Add in factors like sunshine, DJs and amazing urban locales, and my kitchen will surely be covered in a film of dust come summer's end.

These are some of the things high on my radar this month. If you're lucky enough to be in town, grab your sunnies, slip on some sandals and get outside!

Berlin Music and Streetfood Open Air Festival June 2015 at Neue Heimat

Berlin Music & Streetfood Open Air Festival

Since Neue Heimat started it's own regular street food events, I've only made it over for the Bazaar last weekend, but was easily won over by the hip, urban spot. A large open industrial space, complete with a concentrated collection of some of Berlin's best street art, leads the way here from the Urban Spree. The first of its kind, this event boasts bands, DJs, art galleries, live acts and "the best of Berlin streetfood booths". No word yet on what food will be there, but my fingers are crossed and thumbs are pressed that there's enough gluten-free options to keep me going for at least a few music sets under the summer sunshine.

When: Friday, June 12 from 18:00, Saturday 13 & Sunday 14 from 12:00
Where: Neue Heimat, Friedrichshain
More info: On Facebook

2015 Berlin Beer Week wall of beers

Berlin Beer Week

OK, I admit, it's really my husband who is looking forward to this (damn my stupid celiac), but I'm sure every other Berlin beer-drinker can relate. A whole week chock-full of events celebrating the most traditional German beverage. The list of events is rather staggering - and many big name tickets, like dinner with Lode & Stijn, have already sold out - but I can't help but pine for the ones like Beer Trivia Night at the lovely Kaschk and "Have Your Cake & Eat It" with cupcakes made with craft ales. There are also classics like craft beer and poker, hosted by none other than my better half at The Castle Pub. For all those who can drink beer, I say go forth and enjoy this momentous week. Have a beer - or three or twelve - for me!

When: June 13-20
Where: All over Berlin. Check the website for the list of events and locations.
More info: On Facebook

Berlin Ice Cream Market by Stil in Berlin This is Jane Wayne mint&berry June 2015

First-Ever Ice Cream Market

Honestly, I'm surprised it took Berlin this long to host a festival celebrating one of the best things about summer: ice cream. Like many other European countries, once the temperatures start to creep up after a long winter or at the first sign of sunshine, Germans are out in droves, lining up for a cone to kick off the season with. This is Jane Wayne and Stil in Berlin partnered up with German brand mint & berry to host an event centered solely around this perfect summer treat at the idyllic new urban pool in the open air former railway building, dubbed as industrial charm of urban Berlin meets Mediterranean '60s charm. Complete with beer garden and lounge, I foresee this afternoon to be a long, lazy one relaxing by the pool, getting up only to visit a new ice cream vendor. I think Berlin just came up with the ideal summer food event scenario.

When: June 13 @ 12:00-20:00
Where: Haubentaucher, Friedrichshain
More info: On Facebook

Schlachtfest The Lamb Edition farm-to-table June 2015

Schlachtfest: The Lamb Edition

Even in a city of the ubiquitous vegan menu, it's hard not respect a celebration around the use of a whole, humanely-raised animal. This edition will be in honor of the Müritzlamm, a native sheep that has been bred with English goats from Mecklenburg. The farm-to-table, nose-to-tail concept has been done previously with a cow and pig, to much accolades. And with courses from the likes of Mr. Susan and Lode & Stijn, duos noted among Berlin's most anticipated restaurant openings of 2015, you know you won't be anything less than blown away.

When: June 13 @ 20:30
Where: Markthalle Neun, Kreuzberg
More info: On Facebook (must buy tickets in advance)

2015 Bite Club Berlin Hoppetosse view over Spree

Bite Club

I had a love-hate relationship with Bite Club last year, considering every time I tried to go to the original spot by the river, I somehow managed to always show up on the wrong day. Well this year, they have finally published a calendar of dates to make sure it's not to be missed. I did manage a couple of last summer's Bite Club at Platoon Kunsthalle and I admit, it had nothing on that picturesque riverside location. Watching the sun set behind the Oberbaumbrücke, reflecting off the Spree, with burgers, ice cream, cocktails and tunes make this the place to be every other Friday night this summer.

Like so many food fests, gluten-free options can few and far between, but last week I tried the only thing safe* for me: caribbean jerk chicken with beans, rice, plantains and pineapple from newcomer Spice Spice Baby and boy, was it delicious. The guys from the super-tasty-looking Born Again Chicken, another newbie on the foodie scene, mentioned they were working on a gluten-free sauce (their current one sadly contains wheat), so I'm eager to see how that materializes. You can't go wrong with Jones Ice Cream's delicious new sundaes, or Zwei Dicke Bären's increasing gluten-free ice cream sandwich options either. Here's hoping more gluten-free offerings show up because I plan to be here every other Friday through the summer!

*UPDATE: Unfortunately, I was misinformed and Spice Spice Baby uses soy sauce [read: gluten] in their marinade. They have been very kind about the misunderstanding, but do know this is not safe for those with celiac or an intolerance. Bite Club regulars Taco Kween and Maria Maria Arepas claim to be gluten-free, but I can't speak to any ingredient- or cross-contamination issues. As always when eating out, proceed with caution.

When: Every other Friday (next one June 19) @ 16:00-midnight
Where: Hoppetosse, Kreuzberg
More info: On Facebook