vendredi 27 mars 2009

Einfach kompliziert

There are days of frustration when nothing ever seems right. I sleep badly, wake up tired and I feel everything I do just isn't good enough. If I write something, I want to have polished, musical prose but there are moments when writing the simplest sentence feels like pulling teeth out then the words seem too heavy and dull. There are days when I don't feel sure of anything anymore and just wish I could be someone else. Worst of all are those times when whatever I try in the kitchen is a disaster. The best cure for truly rotten days is to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head but sometimes this just isn't possible. You might think I'm exaggerating here or have just seen too many Bergman films or become too influenced by Leonard Cohen songs but I assure you that the off days sometimes hang heavily over me like rainclouds. Fortunately, they don't seem to last long.Last week I made my usual cake for the Toastmasters, a club to practise public speaking. Everyone there has been kind enough to give me the title of Cakemistress, an honour I try to live up to. As I'm a neurotic through and through, I always try to make a different one each time and often worry it won't taste good as obviously, I can't try a piece myself beforehand. Last Wednesday was a good example. I found a wonderful recipe on the Smitten Kitchen website and adapted it a little but when mine came out of the oven, I felt it just looked too simple and boring. On the website, hers was golden and spectacular but mine just looked yellow.
Could anything like that really taste good? Despairingly, I made a cream cheese icing which actually worked nicely and made me feel better about taking my humble cake to the meeting.

It turned out I had worried about nothing and everyone really loved the cake. Seeing it again in the photos, golden and glowing in the all too brief rays
of the evening sun, I think it looks lovely after all and wish I could convince myself more often that the most complicated things aren't always the best.

Pound cake

1 pack of full-fat Philadelphia cream cheese at room temperature
250g soft butter
100g sugar
5 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 packet baking powder
200g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 160° and butter a bundt pan or Springform if you prefer.

1. Mix the cream cheese and butter with a hand held electric mixer for 2-3 mins or until smooth.
Add the sugar and beat until light and

fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and mix well and then theflour, baking powder and salt.
2. Pour the batter into your baking tin and
shake it a little so the top is roughly flat and the same level everywhere. Bake until the cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean - around 70 mins.
3. When the cake is ready, take it out of the oven and leave it in the tin for about 20 mins before turning it out onto a cooling rack. If you like, you
can also make the icing - this is probably a good idea if you want to at it the next day so it doesn't dry out.

Cream cheese icing

125g Philadelphia
25g icing sugar, sieved
15g soft butter

Simply mix all ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Add more sugar or cream cheese if the icing is too runny or stiff. Spoon over the cake.

I'm now going to immediately contradict myself by giving you a recipe for a chocolate torte of Gargantuan proportions which is undoubtably THE chocolatiest cake I've ever eaten. It takes a bit of time but isn't complicated and surely, this should be a good enough reason to make it as everyone will think you've been working in the kitchen forever . The most important thing however is patience because you'll need to leave it to set. This cake combines the damp squidgyness of chocolate cake with a heavenly mousse, followed by cream and strawberries. Be warned though, even the most ardent chocoholics would find it a challenge to polish off a piece after a big dinner.

Double chocolate torte (from Smitten kitchen)

For the cake

200g semi-sweet chocolate (or you can just take half dark, half milk like I did)
150g unsalted butter
100g sugar
5 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 packet of baking powder
150g plain flour

For the mousse

100g unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
2 small tubs of whipping cream
200g semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
50g sugar

To decorate

Fresh strawberries or raspberries

Preheat the oven to 160°. Grease and dust your springform baking tin with sugar.

1. Begin by melting the chocolate and butter in a metal pan over a low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and leave until lukewarm. Whisk in the sugar, followed by the eggs (one at a time) and blend well. Add salt, flour and baking powder and mix until smooth. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 35 mins until the middle of the cake just starts to rise. As the cake is so damp, a tester won't come out clean.
2. Leave the cake in the tin and place on a cooling rack.
3. To make the mousse, melt the butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water (the bowl should NOT touch the water). Whisk eggs yolks and 1 pot of cream in a small bowl and then gradually whisk this mixture into the butter. Whisk constantly over simmering water for around 5 mins. Remove the bowl from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until melted.
4. Beat the egg whites and then add the suagr a little at a time until you have medium stiff peaks. Add a little of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture to lighten it then gently fold in the rest, taking care not to overblend. Pour the mousse over the cake in the springform and smooth the top. Leave to chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours and up to one day. To avoid temptation, perhaps it's better to go to a restaurant the night you make this cake!
5. When the mousse has set, gently transfer the cake onto a plate from the springform. Whip the cream until thick and cover the cake. Place the fruit on top in a semi-circle and prepare to be amazed.

lundi 23 mars 2009

The art of slowness

Sometimes I think the defining feature of modern society is speed. In many ways it's a good thing; we can travel to far flung destinations in a matter of hours rather than days or weeks; we have a mass of information at the click of a button and appliances like washing machines and dishwashers leave us longer to get on with things we like. The downside however, is that we're often too impatient for things to come our way and feel the need to constantly multi-task.

Recently someone I know told me he'd started reading Proust which I was glad to hear as so many people are put off by the idea of tackling such a huge book. He complained though about the amount of concentration necessary and that it was simply impossible to read fast. This though is surely what Proust must have had in mind when he wrote his non-stop, meandering sentences with such complicated syntax and language. He wanted us to slow down and savour the poetry and musicality of his words. How can we reflect on our past, on time or on the taste of a madeleine if we're rushing? I've been reading Proust for quite a long time (almost 8 years) and there are moments when I also feel frustrated because I'm too tired to read him in the U-Bahn on my way to work or it's impossible to read more than 15 pages at a time but overall, I love dipping into the world his books which is so rich and unique and know it's worth the extra effort.

Another French genius who has mastered what I would call the art of slowness is film director Jacques Rivette (above). Along with François Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol, Rivette started off as one of the writers for the influencial film magazine Cahiers de Cinéma before becoming a director himself and was associated with the New Wave. Perhaps the most striking features of his films are their versatility but also their length. They range from 2 !/2 to almost 4 hours which certainly place demands on the viewer and probably explains why he isn't constantly top at the box office. One of his films which I like the most is his first called Paris nous appartient (Paris belongs to us) about a group of young people in Paris during the Cold War period when paranoia and fear filled the air. Though more than two hours long, I found myself transfixed by the complex relationships and backgrounds of the characters. The photography by Charles Bitsch is amazingly beautiful and there's also an interesting musique concrète soundtrack which makes everything seem so threatening. Rivette took over two years to make it, by which time it got unfairly overlooked by films like Truffaut's 400 Coups and Godard's A Bout de Souffle as leaders of the New Wave. What a shame as it's so beautiful and certainly a masterpeice.

Of course, Rivette and Proust aren't everyone's cup of tea and I certainly wouldn't hold it against you if you preferred something a bit more fast moving but isn't it nice to go slower sometimes?

With food, preparing and eating fast have become major issues. Arriving home tired and hungry from work, we no longer wish to spend hours slaving over a hot stove. Sometimes this can mean sacrificing quality for instance with a frozen pizza or a microwave meal. I've done that too but must say, I never feel good afterwards and always wish I'd spent 10 more minutes preparing something nicer. Luckily there are some great cookbooks now like Nigella Express and Nigel Slater's 30- Minute Cook which make it possible to have something tasty with the minimum of fuss. At weekends though, I often like to spend longer preparing something
a bit more demanding, as a kind of treat I suppose. What better place to spend a few hours than the kitchen with its wamth and cosiness? One of my favourite dishes is lasagne. Usually I make it with roasted vegetables but on Sunday I tried a version with spinach which was rich and comforting. Its creator, the wonderful Delia Smith, assures us it's
suitable even for spinach haters. As I'm not one myself, I can't guarantee that but feel free to adapt the recipes below with the things you like best.

Spinach lasagne

For the sauce

850ml milk
50g butter
50g flour
1 heaped teaspoon cornflour
60g freshly grated Parmasan

For the lasagne

600g fresh spinach
1 tub ricotta
12 lasagne sheets (the kind you don't need to pre-cook)
A little butter
200g blue cheese (Gorgonzola or Roquefort are good)
1 pack Mozzarella
Salt and pepper so season

Pre-heat the oven to 180°

1. To make the sauce, put all ingredients in a metal saucepan over a medium heat. Stir constantly with a balloon whisk until thick. Stir in 50g of the Parmasan. Remove from heat and cover with clingfilm so a skin doesn't form.
2. Wash the spinach very thoroughly two or three time. Put the butter at the bottom of a large saucepan and then place the spinach on top. Cover and cook on a medium heat for around 2 mins.The spinach will go down a lot. Drain and leave to cool.
3. Squeeze as much liquid out of the cooked spinach as possible. Chop finely on a cutting board and mix in a bowl with the ricotta and approximately 150ml of the sauce. Then crumble in the blue cheese and season with salt and pepper.
4. Grease a dish and begin by pouring in a layer of sauce, followed by a layer of spinach mixture, then lasagne sheets (break if needed so they fit) and finally some Mozzarella. Repeat again and finish with a layer of pasta and finally the sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmasan and place in the oven for abouut 50-60 mins. When it's re
ady, leave to cool for a few minutes as it's very hot. Bon appétit!

I'm also including the roasted vegetable variation. I've made this for many people but espcially for L. from California for her birthday last year. We enjoyed it so much that we ended up eating it cold at breakfast next morning before heading off to Potsdam. I miss her warmth and and sense of fun in Berlin. This lasagne needs a bit more time but then you know the best things come to those who wait and it's truly scrumptious.

For the sauce:

850ml milk
50g butter
50g flour
1 heaped teaspoon cornflour
1 tub ricotta

For the lasagne

1 medium aubergine
2 small courgettes
450g cherry tomatoes
1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
1 onion, finely sliced
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 pack Mozzarella
12 lasgne sheets (the kind you don't need to pre-cook)
A little grated Parmasan

1. Prepare the aubergine and courgettes beforehand by cutting them into 1 inch (2.5 cm) dice, leaving the skins on. Then toss the dice in about a level dessertspoon of salt and put them into a colander with a plate on top and a heavy weight on top of the plate. Leave them on one side for about an hour to get rid of the bitter juices. After that, squeeze out any liquid left, and dry the dice thoroughly in a clean cloth.
2. Place all vegetables in roasting tin and sprinkle the oil and garlic over them. Then cook in the oven at 200 ° for about 40 mins or until they start to look brown.
3. Make the sauce by putting all ingredients except the ricotta into a metal pan and stirring with a balloon whisk over a medium to low heat until thick. Then add the ricotta and mix until smooth.
4. Remove the vegetables when they're done and turn the oven down to 180°. In a dish, begin by pouring a layer of the sauce, followed by some of the vegetables, the mozzarella and lasagne sheets (break if needed so they fit). Repeat and finish with the pasta and finally the sauce. Sprinkle the Parmasan on top and bake for about an hour.

samedi 21 mars 2009

Reflections on a Saturday morning

Today was for me a very special morning since I had the day off. Norrmally on Saturdays I either work or am in Munich so you can imagine how nice it was to sleep longer until the crisp sunlight filled the room. It was such a beautiful morning to stroll around, even with the sharpness of the wind which stung your cheeks. In Berlin, the area around where you live is known as your Kiez. There's often a tendency to end up spending all of your time there and neglect other interesting parts of the city but I must say, I'm very attached to Charlottenburg. It's not as cool or as gritty as the East (which I also like very much) but there's always a kind of tranquility and I love the wideness of the streets and the leafy cafés. My first stop was the market on Karl August Platz close to my home. Markets have been a real favourite of mine since the time when I lived in Lyon and frequently used to go to the one in Croix Rousse. Sunday morning was always best; a brass band played nearby, people gathered to chat and greeted old friends and you always ended up struggling to make it back home under the weight of fruit and vegetables you'd bought. Perhaps most charming were the cries of the market stall sellers themselves which Proust describes so beautifully in La Recherche, :

A la tendresse, à la verduresse
Artichauts tendres et beaux

Even though their shouting this morning might not have reached such levels of poetry, it was so wonderful to hear "lecker, lecker, lecker" or "süß, süß, süß" as I meandered through the
different stalls, stocking up on everything imaginable. Sadly I had to resist the glasses of fresh orange juice and the lavender honey from Provence. Perhaps next time.

Afterwards, I headed over to Savignyplatz to Bücherbogen and Marga Schoeller in Knesebeckstraße for some serious browsing. Bücherbogen is a wonderful art store in the arches below the S-Bahn where you could literally spend days flicking through books on painting, photography, theatre, cinema etc. with the sound of the trains rattling by above. Marga Schoeller is a wonderful store to find English language books and I finally settled for Isherwood's Berlin stories which seems appropriate, especially as parts of Cabaret were filmed so close to here.

As I wandered back, I looked at some of the wonderful buildings that line the streets;
there's one in Goethestraße that's always fascinated me next to an English bookshop
because of its entrance. Strangely, it reminds me of one of Atget's photos of the door with a mouth. Sometimes I would like to get inside to see the courtyard and climb the heavy wooden staircase which creaks underfoot.

mardi 17 mars 2009

Magnum cheesecake

"I choose the rooms that I live in with care/ The windows are small and the rooms almost bare/ And there's only one bed and there's only one prayer." Whenever I hear Leonard Cohen singing about his surroundings, I somehow feel guilty because I know that I'm just too messy for this kind of minimalism. The opening of photographer Robert Capa's wonderful book about his experiences in World War two, Slightly Out of Focus, starts with a similar description of a room devoid of furniture where he was only woken up by the light and had no reason for getting up in the morning. Capa was one of the founders of Magnum, a cooperative agency established by photographers so they could have complete editorial control of their own work. Perhaps today Magnum is synonymous instead with the big ice cream on a stick but for me, it always makes me think of the wonderful images of Cartier Bresson, Capa, Riboud amoung others. After our walk on Lake Starnberg, J. and I visited a small exhibition in Munich with pictures by Magnum's founders. Perhaps the defining image is that by Werner Bischof of a small boy walking on the road in Peru. J. asked me why I find it so good and I'm not exactly sure to be honest. Maybe it's because he's so lost in thought and absorbed by his music. There's a certain dynamism and movement despite the heavy load he's carrying. At the exhibition they were also showing a wonderful BBC film from 1989 about Magnum and its influence. There's no doubt that Magnum changed photographic journalism but it's somehow sad that such a world no longer exists. The photographer with his rolls of film and darkrooms is well and truly a thing of the past and it's hard to imagine having photo scoops in days or weeks instead of a matter of hours. Despite the brutal times it's set in, Capa's book made me long for a lost world where it was still possible to wrangle an exit visa as a political alien, when London was full of men who wore hats and girls danced the rumba and you could live in cheap, grimy hotels in Paris.
Afterwards, we headed home for tea and a piece of cheesecake which I had made the day before. I'm not sure if it's a true Berlin cheesecake but it was delicious and so welcome to come back to. Feel free to use a biscuit base if you prefer; the advantage of the one I used it that you don't need to chill it in the fridge beforehand.


Half cube of fresh yeast
Warm water from the tap
Good amount of white flour


500g quark (40% fat) or use philadelphia if you can't get it
100g sugar
Zest and juice of one lemon
5 eggs
Handful of raisons

1. For the base, mix the flour with the yeast and gently add the warm water. Add more flour until the dough becomes drier then follow with a little oil. Repeat the following steps with the flour and oil until you have a decent sized ball of dough (but don't worry if it's not very large as it will rise.)
2. Place the bowl with the dough on a radiator or in a warm place and cover with a tea towel. Leave for at least 30 mins.
3. To make the filling, begin by mixing the quark and sugar together
4. Add the eggs one at time until smooth, followed by the lemon juice, grated zest and raisons.
5. When the dough has risen, roll it out on a floured surface until it's large enough to cover your greased Springform tin.
6. Pour the mixture onto the base and place in the oven at 160°C for about an hour.
7. When it's ready, leave for at least 20 mins in the tin then cool. Chill in fridge until just before you're ready to serve it.

lundi 16 mars 2009

Ludwig and Lake Starnberg

Last weekend I was in Munich. Most of the time was spent being lazy and watching films but J.also persuaded me to venture outside a bit. We took a trip to nearby Lake Starnberg yesterday morning on one of those grey, dreary days I rather like. I had only been there once before in 2007 on a rather warm afternoon and actually, I liked it more this time around. There were just a few well-dressed elderly couples wearing elegant hats or joggers and the whole area seems fairly forgotten and melancholy out of season. Pebble beaches where the waves of cold emerald water break with just a thin line of spray, shiny wet surfaces of ping pong tables without nets and volleyball courts littered with dead branches and leaves. If you walk along the left side, you come to a memorial for mad King Ludwig with a cross in the water where he was mysteriously found drowned. It's a bit of an eyesore but made me think of Visconti's long and wonderful film about him with Helmut Berger and Romy Schneider taking up the role of Empress "Sisi" again but this time with more depth. It's so fascinating to see how he squanders his power as a young and beautiful ruler pursuing his crazy dreams of building castles in the sky and running up enormous debts for lavish Wagner operas until we witness his final sad decline alone and exiled. Though he was unquestionably erratic, there's something so poignant about his huge scale artistic plans which seemed doomed from the beginning. You won't find a sense of that with the memorial but on days like yesterday at the lakeside it's possible to picture the emptiness of his final years.
We wandered a little further to a small place along the shore called Leoni to savour a hot chocolate in one of the hotel spas. It was rather a strange mix of poshness and kitsch and we found ourselves in the cocktail bar watching the other guests drift back and forth from the breakfast room and the patterns of the raindrops against the glass. Hot chocolate has always been a special drink for me. It always makes me think of Angélina's in Paris or the Café Savoy in Prague, two of the most wonderful cafés I've ever been to with their excessively thick and rich chocolate drink. Often I simply make mine at home with milk, cocoa and honey but espcially if I feel down, a real hot chocolate brings me instant comfort. At the end of our walk I felt sad to leave without really being able to explain why. Maybe because I felt these moments I had so enjoyed were already gone forever, melting into just another series of Sunday mornings.

jeudi 12 mars 2009

Chocolate: the consuming passion

This was the title of a wonderful book my mother gave me a few years ago. It's a humourous and quirky book aimed at people like me who are self-confessed chocoholics. Most importantly you really learn a lot: e.g. fourteen out of ten people love chocolate; there are studies by chocolate producers that it really doesn't rot your teeth and best of all, statistics about how many calories you burn off when you suddenly have to hide your chocolate if visitors arrive or to swim to Switzerland for chocolate tasting which more than compensates for the amount you consume.

The page that most sticks in my mind though is a diagram about how much chocolate you should eat, depending on how bad your day is. A slightly irritating day for example, can be put right with just a few Hershey's kisses and the worse it becomes, the more you need. The advice for a truly rotten day when you have the blues (or the mean reds as Holly Golightly so nicely puts it in Breakfast at Tiffany's) is to scoff a whole Sachertorte. Sachertorte is truly the chocolate cake par excéllence and I can fully understand why it's the perfect comfort food, although it's hard to imagine the slender Miss Hepburn digging her fork into a piece! I first tried it in Andalusia when it was served for breakfast! Last October, I was lucky enough to get the chance to try to original at the Café Sacher in Vienna. Even though, it's one of the most obvious places with tourists, Ju (fellow chcolate affectionado) had already been and told me just how fabulous it is. Despite it's immense popularity which means it's almost always full, the place exudes a kind of old-fashioned charm and you're treated with Überhöfflichkeit (over-politeness) as you sit back in comfy red armchairs and flick through the menu. The choice of coffees is enormous in Vienna but I decided to have a total chocolate day and combine hot chocoloate with a piece of Sachertorte. It's a luxury but surely one worth its weight in gold. The exquisite china plates you cake is served on, the red silk wallpaper and the satisfying clinking sound of the spoon against the teacup. As you can see from the photo, I certainly savoured every mouthful.

Though the original is well-guarded secret, here's a very good recipe I got from one of Delia Smith's books so you can make your own Sachertorte when you have one of those days.



175g good quality dak chocolate (70% cocoa)
100g brown sugar
100g soft unsalted butter
100 flour
1 sachet baking powder
4 large egg yolks, beaten
4 large egg whites

For the icing
175g dark chocolate (at least 50% cocoa)
100ml double cream (or thick schlagsahne)
2 tsp smooth apricot jam

1. Melt the chocolate either in the mcrowave for about 1 minute or by putting it in a heatproof bowl over a pan or simmering water. Kept an eye on it so it doesn't become hard or lumpy. Leave aside to cool.
2. With a hand held mixer, blend the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Then add the egg yolks a little at a time.
3. When the melted chocolate has had time to cool, add it to the eggs and sugar, stirring carefully.
4. Sift the flour and baking powder together to get rid of any lumps, then using a tablespoon, add it to the egs and chocolate gradually until it's all gone and the mixture is smooth.
5. Use a perfectly clean bowl and beaters for the hand held mixer to whisk the egg whites until they look like stiff peaks (in about 3-4 mins). After use a metal spoon to add it to the cake mix and make sure you don't lose all the air in the egg whites while you're gently blending.
6. Bake in the oven at 150°c for about an hour.
7. Leave the cake in the tin for around 15 mins before putting it onto a cooling rack. Leave it for some time and listen to music or read to pass the time.
8. When it's completely cold, you can make the icing. Warm the jam and brush a layer over the whole cake.
9. Melt the chocolate as above in a bowl over simmering water and mix with the cream. Pour the icing over the cake, coating the top and sides and leave to set for 2-3 hours. If it's cold and you're lucky enough to have a balcony or terrasse, you can speed up the process by putting it outside. Serve with a large dollop of whipped cream and enjoy!

lundi 9 mars 2009

Un après-midi au Café Fleury

Since I often work on Saturdays, Sunday is for me the first real day of the weekend. Quite simply, I love it. After a good 10 hours of sleep I awaken to the ringing of the church bells nearby which makes me think of Proust's Combray. Sunday mornings are just the perfect opportunity to feel lazy, drink tea and delve into the Sunday papers in between munching on croissants. Yesterday was so miserable and wet but I found the courage to venture out and meet C. for afternoon tea at Café Fleury near Rosenthaler Platz. To call it charming sounds far too obvious but somehow you'd be hard pushed to find a better description.

Inside it's small and cosy and immediately you forget the rain and the soggy feet. Sunday afternoon is pretty popular and we were lucky to get a table. Inside couples sip coffee and hold hands , women huddle together to laugh and gossip while others simply lose themselves in books or magazines. Time is not an issue here. The café also offers a very nice selection of reading matter so no need to despair if you're ever without a book. I opted for a latte macchiato and a slice of tarte aux poires while C. chose café au lait and cheesecake. The café au lait comes in a comfortingly large bol ideal for dunking and the latte macchiato was creamy and smooth. Needless to say, the cakes were superb, particularly the cheesecake while managed to be light, fluffy and truly delectable. After a while, the lure of the baguette proved too much for me to resist and I was not disappointed. It was perhaps the best baguette I've ever tasted, filled with goats' cheese, rocket and tomatoes. Years of mass produced, hard and stale baguettes have been enough to put me off but this was truly a revelation. Crunchy but not hard and an explosion of
delicious flavours on my tastebuds.

In one section of the café, there are also some shelves stocked with goodies from France; Breton galette biscuits, biscuits de rose and chocolate among other things. Most appealingly, there are some old fashioned tins filled with tisane tea from Provence. They really are most wonderful to look at and touch and it brought back memories of my trips in the TGV between Lyon and Aix-en-Provence when I worked as an economics teacher. In winter it was always such a joy to leave grey, rainy Lyon and see the radiant sunshine, pure blue crystal skies and the snow covered Lubéron mountains as we headed South. Naturally, I had to buy one to take home and also grabbed a couple of madeleines which I know is far too obvious a treat for a Proustian so I won't comment any further on that. The tisane comes in little muslin teabags and every time I open the tin, there's a scent of lavender, rosemary and mint in my room and the landscape of Provence which seems to unfold before me. Truly a Sunday to remember.

samedi 7 mars 2009

Every good teacher deserves..Tarte Tatin

Hmm, working in Friedrichstrasse can certainly be dangerous. For one thing, you're rather too conveniently situated between the double temptations of Galeries Lafayette and Dussmann. Lessons this morning left me feeling a trifle peckish and before I knew it, I was heading down the escalator of the former to the sous-sol or simply the food department. For the uninitaited, it's a food section where goumets like me have the impression we're in heaven. Sourdough Pain Poliâne, crunchy yet squidgy macaroons in all colours, heartstoppingly expensive teas, an épicerie where you can buy orange juice from clementines pressées and Bonne Maman chestnut jam, a cheese section with an odour which might poleaxe an elephant, but my how fabulous they all taste, knives by Laguiole and, last but not least, the cake section. Naturally, I have a weakness for the Tarte Emilie but the Tarte Tatin proved irresistable this afternoon. Combined with a cup of exquisite jasmin tea by Mariage Frères, it erased all the anger and frustrations of last week and most of all, it was one of those precious moments of pure egoistical pleasure.

Feeling suitably refreshed, I drifted along to the French bookshop. Though small, it's never full and apart from myself, the only other people there today were an elegantly dressed dark haired woman who rearranged books into tidy piles on the tables yet insisted she didn't work there and a mother with a young boy who complained he simply couldn't make up his mind what to buy. I certainly know the feeling. Reading about Normandy last night left me yearning to read the wonderful prose of Marguerite Duras so I opted for Emily L. , L'Eté 80 and on my way to the till, the new Mondiano caught my attention. It's pure luxury as libraries are so good in Berlin but there's something about the gleaming cover of a new book and the sensation of knowing you're the very first person to turn the pages. Spring might be just around the corner but I hope the chilly evenings continue a little longer so I can curl up on the settee with my book while the darkness creeps in until my eyes become heavy with sleep.

Les plaisirs du printemps

My first message on a rather dull and uninspiring Saturday afternoon. Yet what better way to spend it than with you? First things first though, why Berlin cheesecake? Well, simply because there's already a New York and a London cheesecake (see photo) and I felt the time had come for a city as wonderful as Berlin to have its own. All that remains to be done is to invent one of course as it currently exists only in the mind. Naja.

The title is, of course, that of a cooking blog. For a long time I resisted giving in to my ever growing desire to write one. Too clichéd and unoriginal. Friends will probably of guessed however, that where I'm concerned it just couldn't be that simple as my love of food is certainly equalled by my passion for literature. Both are a kind of nourishment which I'd be hard pushed to give up so you shouldn't be surprised to find Flaubert side by side with Sachertorte.

I'm not sure when my love of food began. As a child I was enraptured by the delicious smell of homemade bread or apple pie which permeated our red brick house. Living in France certainly intensified my passion and even to the French, I was très gourmande. Food for me isn't just a matter of survival. It's something which can stir up the deepest sensations or reawaken cherished but forgotten memories. To the irritation of certain people close to me, I scorn the idea that you always have to buy the cheapest. Personally speaking, there are certain "staple items" where I simply refuse to compromise: bread, cakes, cheese, chocolate and tea among others, even if it sometimes brings me to the verge of financial ruin. Alas, today food has become such an emotional subject. So much so that the very idea of tucking into a cream cake or a slice of warm bread with best butter is enough to leave us feeling guilt racked. Certainly, our health is something to be taken seriously but hopefully this blog will help you rediscover or increase the pure pleasure of eating.