Week Twenty-Four in France: Hummus and handmade noodles
29/02/2020: Eyes heavy and prickling, stomach empty and body tired after a week of travel, I didn't sleep for a wink Friday night, what with the whole train debacle landing me in Mulhouse at 1 AM and having to leave for my flight to Berlin at 5 AM that very morning. J. took one look at me, ordered me to eat two clementines, and off we went to the airport. I could barely lift my arms up to hug my aunt and her best friend and introduce them to J. before falling into bed and sleeping until 2 PM. Considering we had less than two days to explore the iconic German city, I felt bad about this, but it was inevitable, and the bed was just so comfortable. Slightly refreshed, we met up with Aunt L. and R. for lunch at the trendy hotel's restaurant, a Mediterranean spot called Neni, and ordered what can only be described as TOO MUCH HUMMUS – from beetroot horseradish to mango curry to beef- and lamb-topped. We swooshed the dips onto fluffy, soft pita bread and marveled at the open kitchen churning out beautiful dishes right behind us while I nervously watched J. and L. interact (even though I had nothing to worry about – they loved each other).
Sufficiently full of chickpeas, we piled into a taxi to visit the East Side Gallery, walking along the remnants of the wall, considering its weighty history and taking pictures of the colorful murals (yes, you can do both – just be tactful!). Next stop, Museum Island, where we admired the architecture and didn't actually go into a single museum, a classic Aine travel move. Finally, we stopped for a beer and conversation, wrapping up in blankets so we didn't catch cold on the terrace facing the Berliner Dom. Mine was flavored with elderflower syrup and was hands-down the most pleasant beer-adjacent drink I've ever sipped on. I couldn't stop smiling as I watched three of my favorite people get along swimmingly. Nothing could harsh my buzz, not even a killer stomachache, but I was a little disappointed that I was too tired to hit up a club in Berlin – or at least eat some schnitzel. Alas, our lack of sleep caught up with us and we decided to go to sleep early and save our energy for tomorrow.
01/03/2020: Nothing screams vacation like a hotel breakfast smorgasbord, and we gorged on yogurt, granola, scrambled eggs, meat, waffles, fruit and more before walking down the block and through a grandiose Chinese-inspired gate into the Berlin Zoo (our hotel had a magnificent – and loud – view of the animals from above). Despite getting caught in a downpour, we oohed and ahhed at all the creatures: seals, jellyfish, painted rock lobsters, giraffes, pandas, gorillas and more. Then, we broke my cardinal rule – we went to a museum. I was willing to transgress for this museum, though, because I never pass up a good photography museum. I'd never heard of the German photographer Helmut Newton, but I was pleasantly shocked by what I saw in his private residence, now on display for all to see. Black and white pornographic shots caught my eye at every turn, some vulgar, some powerful, some feminist, some funny, some absolutely absurd. I was fascinated by his career as a fashion photographer for all the big magazines, his life in Monte Carlo and all over the world, the adulatory letters sent to his wife after his death. It was the perfect taste of Berlin's sexy side. We finished our short trip with giant burritos, chips and guac and refreshing mint lemonade from the San Fran-inspired Dolores. It satisfied my Mexican craving, but I miss the real-deal taquerias. Reluctant goodbyes, and off to the airport. I liked what I saw of Berlin, and I loved getting to see my friends and family and travel with J., but I know I need to come back to truly explore and understand the history, culture and gastronomy of this giant capital city. Bis bald, Berlin!
02/03/2020: Back again for another week of teaching – I missed my students, but they didn't give me the chance to tell them before they started acting up and chatting during class. All I can think during these times is thank goodness I'm an assistant teacher. I feel for those who have to handle all the classroom management and teaching on their own. I know that French teachers can get a bad rap for being "mean," and there is never an excuse for that, but I can understand that sometimes snappy tones come from a place of being majorly overwhelmed. Teachers are UNAPPRECIATED, here and in the U.S., and it needs to change. J. picks me up from school, and we close out the day with some sushi and a good chat with his sister. Welcome back to the routine!
03/03/2020: It's the week of mock exams (the bac blanc) for the senior students at the high school, so a lot of my classes are cancelled today. (Although I did get the chance to play Harry Potter Kahoot with my new favorite class.) I take the opportunity to make Molly Baz's new Earl Grey yogurt cake recipe from Bon Appetit Magazine, and despite my worries that it would spill out of the pan and cause a flood in my kitchen, it turned out perfectly. Moist but not dense, strong tea flavor, crunchy top from caster sugar. I took half of it with me to J.'s dad's house for the weekly dinner I keep scoring an invite to, and everyone takes a slice after our meal of veal in curry sauce and wild rice. I think it impressed the French eaters at the table (who are notoriously frank with their food opinions), so I leave feeling proud – and full.
04/03/2020: It had been a while since I'd seen my "math in English" class, which always stresses me out since I straight up have forgotten every single thing I learned in math class (even though I did very well in BC Calculus in high school... things have gone downhill). Today, though, they were nicer than usual, and I left feeling very useful, which is not always how I feel after class. Before my tutoring session, I hunkered down at Le Nid to click around on my computer for a while and eventually eat lunch at my coup de coeur café. I asked for a table, and seconds later, I saw my name appear on a tiny chalkboard ("Hello, Aine!"), welcoming me and indicating my seating arrangement for the afternoon. Soon, a colorful salad and a mason jar filled with butternut squash, mushrooms and tender homemade spaetzle in a cream sauce arrived in front of me. "C'est très chaud," she warned. So, I started with the salad – toasted hazelnuts, candy cane beets, butter lettuce and balsamic dressing, which made me wish every salad was this delicious. The meal, although somewhat lacking in sauce near the top, was warm and comforting, and made me want to try to make my own spaetzle again. Next project!
05/03/2020: After five months in the country, I'd finally been summoned to the immigration office in Strasbourg for my medical visit (essentially to make sure I don't have tuberculosis). I braved the pouring rain in between appointments to stop by Lamian, a Chinese restaurant in the city where chefs pulled handmade noodles behind the counter that you could slurp up out of your bowl just moments later. My appetizer, raviolis aux trois délices, or sautéed dumplings with chicken, egg, shrimp and mushrooms, was a revelation (I haven't had good Chinese food in ages), and the bowl of beef noodle soup that came afterwards was equally as mouthwatering. Bean sprouts, an egg aux cinq parfums, bok choy, white radish and scallions finished off the bowl, although the soft noodles in their flavorful, 23 spice-filled broth would have been enough to make my eyes roll back in my head just by themselves. It was the perfect meal to eat at the window as I watched people walk by in puddles outside. One French administrative task, finally done, with a delicious meal to boot.
06/03/2020: When will I stop lazing around on Fridays? Maybe never. I celebrated my several hundred steps for the day with a three-cheese pizza and a Blacklist marathon with J. After the last weekend we had, we deserve this. I beg him to find me some chocolate, and he steals me a triangle of Toblerone from his brother's room. I'm a lucky girl.