Tuesday, March 26, 2019

How To Cook

In America:

1. Leaf through a cookbook and pick out something that sounds exciting.

2. Go to the store and buy the ingredients.

3. Follow the instructions. When it's finished, pat yourself on the back for a job well done and enjoy your tasty treat!

In Germany:

1. DAY ONE. Leaf through a cookbook and pick out something that sounds exciting. Think, "Mmm, that would be especially delicious after a year of currywurst!"

2. Write up a list of ingredients and go to the grocery store. Then go to another grocery store, and then another. Return home eight hours later holding a can of kidney beans and parsley.

3. DAY TWO. Try to find a recipe that doesn't have weird ingredients in it. Unfortunately, it's impossible to know what's considered weird in Germany, unless you can figure out why they don't touch celery, corn tortillas, farro, peanut butter, porcini mushrooms, pie, canned salmon or chili powder while devouring mayonnaise, vegetables in Jello, and sausages floating in glass jars.

4. Go back to the grocery store but admit that you need help. Type "Where is the kale?" into Google Translate, and then ask a clerk: "Wo ist die grünkohl?" Watch the thoughts flicker across his face. He glances outside: yes, it is sunny out. He looks at you: yes, you have just asked where you can find a winter vegetable. You don't look like you are mentally defective, but looks can be deceiving. The next time he talks it will be very slow, since he's decided that you are not a person who understands that the earth spins.

"IT ... IS ... SUMMER," he will say. "THIS ... IS ... NOT ... THE ... TIME ... OF ... YEAR ... FOR ... GRÜNKOHL."

If he is feeling particularly helpful, he will tell you to come back between November 27 and December 3 -- the kale season -- and that he is sure you'll enjoy your recipe even more after eleven months of anticipation.

5. Go online and investigate this mysterious phenomenon. Learn that in some countries, like Germany, they anticipate the arrival of seasonal produce rather than institutionalize immediate gratification. It's like a cultural "glass half full" thing. For thirty days per year, Germans think, "Hooray! Asparagus is here!" Whereas for 335 days per year Americans would think, "Where in hell is the goddamned asparagus?"

German grocery stores don't have every fruit and vegetable on earth flown in from Peru; instead, they sell food from local farms. When a new crop arrives, they put up a banner on the front of the store saying something like, "STRAWBERRIES ARE HERE!" and within the next 24 hours every German will eat four hundred pounds. The next day they will be gone, and if you ask about them, the clerk will again answer you very slowly.

6. Return home and find another recipe while checking the Farmer's Almanack for each ingredient. Strawberries? Late summer. Mushrooms? Early summer. Fresh green peas? June. Corn? September to October. Rhubarb? May, July, September.

So, can you actually make that Peach-Pumpkin Parfait? Sure! Well, you know -- provided it's September 24th.

7. Decide to cook without using any fresh fruits or vegetables, and suddenly realize why the produce section in a German grocery store is just slightly smaller than the deodorant aisle.

8. Go back to the store and actually find some of the ingredients your recipe requires. Now go online to buy the rest. On Google, type in "store that sells [celery, corn tortillas, farro, peanut butter, porcini mushrooms, pie, canned salmon, chili powder]." See the long list of results and think, "Hooray! I found them! I can actually finish cooking!" Now look closer at the top result and see that since your query was in English, Google found your ingredient at a Walmart Supercenter in Coffeyville, Kansas.

9. Convince yourself that you can turn Google into something useful. Type in "store that sells [celery, corn tortillas, farro, peanut butter, porcini mushrooms, pie, canned salmon, chili powder] IN GERMANY." Be pleasantly surprised when Google returns another long string of results before noticing this line under each:

Missing: Germany ‎| ‎Must include: Germany

Understand that when you asked, "Where can I find porcini mushrooms in Germany?" Google decided that the "in Germany" part didn't really matter because, hey, UPS exists. And planes.

10. Spend a second trying to understand why Google does this. Now type in "HOLY FUCKING GOD YOU STUPID FUCKING IDIOTS, YES, I REALLY WANT A GODDAMN STORE IN GERMANY THAT SELLS [celery, corn tortillas, farro, peanut butter, porcini mushrooms, pie, canned salmon, chili powder]."

Notice the stream of remarkably similar websites that Google returns, and learn that the word "fucking" included in a query is weighted more heavily than a word like "mushrooms." The websites Google recommends will not help your meal but you may find it a nice change to hear people screaming, "YES, YES, YES!" after hearing "NO, NO, NO!" since the day you decided to cook.

11. DAY THREE. Go to the store and randomly grab substitute ingredients out of desperation. Just to make it easy on yourself, choose things you can easily find, like bratwurst, potatoes, or pretzels. Now it's finally time to cook!

12. Notice that instead of teaspoons and tablespoons your recipe calls for teelöffels and eßlöffels. Think that these sound pretty ridiculous, but then remember that in America you never ate tea or tables. Chalk it off to worldwide stupidity and turn to Google again:

Teelöffel (TL): ein Kaffeelöffel oder Dessertlöffel
Eßlöffel (EL): ein Suppenlöffel

Open your utensil drawer and pull out all the spoons. Hold them in your hand one at a time while thinking: "Would I use this to stir my coffee? Could I use it to eat dessert? Would I use it for soup?"

If the answer doesn't come to you immediately, run through all the different types of desserts and soups in your head. This is usually the highlight of cooking in Germany. Wonder why you like small spoons for tiramisu and vichyssoise, big spoons for ice cream and chicken soup, and forks for pie and chili. Now close the drawer and try to forget that you started thinking about pie.

13. Go to a restaurant and watch people eat. What are they using the tiny spoons for? And how about the big spoons? Yes, it's clear: big spoons are for soup, tiny spoons are for dessert. You're ready: go to a kitchen supply store and ask a clerk for measuring spoons. Watch him stare at you incredulously before he says that no such thing exists and then says, very slowly, that you should go home, open your cutlery drawer, pull out a big spoon and a tiny one, and then measure with those. Make a mental note of another difference between Germany and America: in Germany, the guy will not say "Duh."

14. Cook. Use the big spoon for EL, the tiny spoon for TL, the bratwurst for tuna, the pretzel for porcini mushrooms, the potatoes for cheddar cheese. Taste the result. Ask yourself: "Did I make the wrong substitutions? Did I get the TL and the EL mixed up? Did I measure the water in liters instead of grams?" Realize that you can never tell people that, after three days of effort, your Curried Asparagus Ratatouille turned into Cinnamon Wiener Soup. Take comfort in knowing that, tasting as it does, you will never need to.

15. Realize that you are going to live on this and currywurst for the next few years. Go over to your calendar, circle September 24th and think, "I am gonna fuckin' love that Peach-Pumpkin Parfait."