This morning I awoke to the sound of the wind howling outside and the pattering of raindrops on the window-pane. Like Proust's narrator, I often spend some minutes looking at the thin crack of daylight above the curtains to imagine the kind of day it will be. It felt good under the warmth and heaviness of my winter quilt but that made it harder to leave my bed and face the world. In the evenings, I look from my balcony to a street that runs parallel to mine and particularly to a large skylight on the top floor which glows with warmth. Since I returned from Italy, I haven't stopped thinking about about the light and colours there. Every rain filled day makes me miss it a bit more. Berlin in late autumn and winter is very grey and you're grateful for every break in the clouds. I long for cold, dry winter's days with snow sparkling in the brilliant sunshine and dream about spending Christmas in Canada making snowmen. Yet I try to take comfort the the little things; at dusk, the streets are filled with Christmas lights and the brilliant illuminations of shop window decorations. Soon, I'll visit the markets for Glühwein, Lebkuchen and waffles. I make tisane and learn Italian on the sofa or read Proust and a fabulous book on Boris Vian which another wonderful blogger sent me. I watch New Wave films, especially those with the lovely and charming Anna Karina who inspired me to get a new hairstyle and I even found the missing Truffaut film in my collection after years of searching which I hope to watch later.
vendredi 27 novembre 2009
vendredi 20 novembre 2009
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in the cantine, working my way through a bowl of overcooked pasta with olives and tomatoes, trying to read L'écume des jours (I always feel terribly alone in such a huge room among other people and reading makes me feel less self-conscious) while the woman next to me was telling her male colleague that the water in Berlin is full of hormones and other stuff that boosts your circulation which explains why children today are reaching puberty earlier and earlier and have hair everywhere you don't want to see it. She explained that in her family they only buy bottled water from Aldi - not Volvic or Evian because you never know what the French put in their water. Her daughter is 6 months older than her niece but still looks like a child because of what she drinks; her niece has now switched to Aldi water too but of course, it's too late for her!. I abandoned the huge bowl of pasta and decided that Thursdays in the cantine are simply too depressing for words and that it would be better to return to Marc Ann's, even if the service is unfriendly, for a panini with goats' cheese and herbes de provence, a latte and a slice of tarte aux mirabelles. I always take my usual seat at the window and watch the passer-bys on the street. The décor inside makes me feel like summer has returned and there's a wonderful calmness as I eat and flick through photography magazines.
This week, I even made it to Barcomi's with another D. and a fellow cheesecake fan. Chrissi had told me about Cynthia Barcomi's cafés a while ago and tempted me with her amazing baking book but somehow I've been in Berlin for two and half years without once setting foot in one. We decided to try the place in Mitte, tucked away in the most charming little side street near Hackescher Markt, lined on both sides with the most tempting little boutiques. To get to Barcomi's, you go through a courtyard which was still glowing with the last rays of the sun when I arrived. Inside, you find many little tables pressed close together as well as comfortable black leather barquettes. At the back is a take out deli and glass counter containing huge, beautiful cakes - carrot cake, chocolate New York Cheesecake, brownies, scones - you get the picture! D. and I both ordered a large caffe latte and a piece of New York Cheesecake (sadly not Berlin cheesecake but I guess I have to invent that!) which was rich, creamy and oh so good! Every mouthful seemed to taste better and better. Our time there went too quickly of course like all afternoons full of chatting and cake.
If you're wondering, no both pieces weren't for me!
Cool neon lights leaving Barcomi's
After the coffee and pie, I returned to work with a heavy heart only to find that another wonderful blogger had chosen to present me with an award and asked me to tell you seven things about me which give me great pleasure but which you don't yet know about - oh la la!
1. Merci Sarah! C'est trop gentil!
2. Please check out Sarah's lovely blog Juste pour le plaisir
3. The prize logo
Seven things I love but which you don't yet know about:
1. Having a shower in the evening (never in the morning), putting on my pyjamas and slippers because afterwards it's cosy and comfortable to watch a Woody Allen film or read.
2. When I'm alone in the apartment, I love to get all of my evening dresses out of the wardrobe, put them on the bed and try them on with heels. It brings back all the nice memories of when I wore them and makes me feel special.
3. Going to the cinema in the afternoon during the week always gives me the impression of missing school. I love being in the empty screening room when everyone else has to work (sorry!).
4. Finding beautiful papeteries like this one at Hackescher Markt makes me daydream for hours. I love looking at the wonderfully coloured paper, feeling the texture of the envelopes and long to buy another gorgeous fountain pen to add to my collection or take up calligraphy again. Ahhh!
5. Re-reading Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans for its humour, wonderful descriptions of school, creative use of English and for the hilarious pictures by Ronald Searle (see below).
6. Eating Grießbrei (semolina pudding) with plum jam and cinnamon after reading a post from one of my favourite blogs.
7. Making savoury tarts. Ju made me an addict when she made the most wonderful salmon tart for my birthday party two years ago. Everyone told how delicious her quiche was and she explained "Ceci n'est pas une quiche mais une tarte salée. Une quiche est seulement avec des oeufs, de la crème, des lardons, du fromage." (It's not a quiche; a quiche is only with eggs, cream, bacon, cheese). Since then, I can never call something a quiche (in English and German, basically every savoury tart can be called a quiche) without a bad conscience and explain to sceptical Germans that what I'm making is, in fact, a tart. The one below has been a favourite of mine for ages and I hope you enjoy making it too- just don't call it a quiche, OK?
Leek and goats' cheese tart
For the pastry
125g cold butter
200g plain flour
1. In a large bowl or a mixer, rub the butter with the flour until you have breadcrumbs.
2. Add in the iced water and mix or stir with a spatula until the dough form a ball. Cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for 1 hour.
For the tart
1 pack of goats' cheese
2 leeks (only the round parts, not the hard green ends)
!/2 pot crème fraîche
salt and pepper to season
1. Fry the leeks in a pan with some oil until they are lightly golden.
2. In a bowl, mash the goats' cheese with a fork and mix with the eggs and crème fraîche. Stir in the browned leeks and season with salt and pepper.
3. Roll out the pastry of a work surface covered with lots of flour so that it fits your pie dish or tin. Cut off the excess around the edges with a sharp knife.
4. Pour in the goats' cheese mixture so it fills the tart evenly. Bake in the oven at 170° for about 40 minutes. When it's ready, remove from the oven and leave to set for a few minutes for serving.
Apparently, I now have to offer the prize (and ask them us their pleasures) to seven other bloggers I appreciate. I choose:
- Abbie from Have bear, will travel
- Lisa from Style Strategies
- Pia and Julie of Book Travellers (that counts as two, right?)
- Julia of Ju* Carnets
- Rose of Ce que dis Rose
- Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums
Outside the night is mild and clear with the thinnest moon on the horizon. I don't much feel like going to work tomorrow but hopefully the rest of weekend has other nice things to offer. Take care!
samedi 14 novembre 2009
When I was a teenager, my brother sent me a a Christmas present from Geneva where he was working then. Inside the big box which I ripped open excitedly was a beautiful cauldron (chaudron or Kessel) made of the finest Swiss chocolate. This is apparently a symbol of Geneva because the people there defeated the attacking Savoyards by pouring hot soup over them which must have hurt. It looked so amazing; I often used to put it on the table in front of me and gaze at it longingly but could never bring myself to eat it because it was just too beautiful. The months passed and my mother asked me when I was going to finally destroy this amazing work of art but it just seemed too cruel until the day when the chocolate started to turn a bit white and it was no longer at its best so had to be thrown away. I didn't tell my brother!
Looking back, perhaps this reveals some things about myself; firstly that I couldn't have been as much of a chocoholic as today when I wouldn't hesitate for a second about breaking it into pieces and eating it and secondly, that I already had a passion for beautifully presented food. You might wonder about the title of this post; why the return of the chocolate habit when I obviously never stopped liking the stuff? Actually, before I started this blog in March, I rarely made anything else apart from chocolate cakes but since then, I've become completely crazy about lemons, raspberries and cakes with fruit.
Some chocolate moments from the last few months
I started thinking back though to defining chocolate moments, I remember my first visit to Angélina's in Paris, famous for hot chocolate and also for the Mont Blanc dessert. Standing in line, waiting to be seated, I saw what looked like a young student in a velvet jacket savouring a cup of chocolate which he was holding in his long, elegant fingers with an expression of contemplation on his face, like I imagine Proust would have looked when he tasted the madeleine. We were eventually given a table next to a young gay couple dressed in tight T-shirts which showed off their muscles. I can still clearly remember my look of disbelief when they placed their order which went something like this; "Alors deux chocolats chauds, deux rhum babas, deux opéras, six macarons, deux monts blancs etc." We changed tables because it was too noisy there but later on I heard the sound of ambulance sirens close by and wondered whether the enormous afternoon tea had been too much for the two guys! When the chocolate finally arrived (I decided that even I didn't have room for a mont blanc as well), it was sweet, rich and thick like custard so you could eat it with a spoon. I don't think I ate anything else for the rest of the day! Since then, I have never stopped searching for that kind of indulgent hot chocolate and there have been a few amazing ones; in Calvados in Spain, at the café Savoy in Prague, at Anna Blume's here in Berlin and most recently in Venice. In fact, since my return from Italy, I haven't stopped craving chocolate and of course, any kind of resistance would be ridiculous.
I couldn't leave you either without a few words about in events in Berlin this past week. As you know, on Monday, it was the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and I felt a sense of pride in knowing that all eyes were on my city that day. In the evening straight after work, I went to Potsdamer Platz to see some of the celebrations. Coming out of the subway, I heard the final movement of Beethoven's Seventh playing in the streets and gathered with many others in the rain in front of the giant TV screen just a few hundred metres from the Brandenburg gate but where you couldn't see anything else for the large crowds of people who must have been standing there for hours. We huddled together with the rain dripping off our umbrellas and started to sing Berliner Luft with Placido Domingo. It's hard to imagine the euphoria and optimism of twenty years ago, especially with the economic climate of today and of course, the celebrations couldn't capture that. Many Berliners also stayed at home to remember a painful moment of history since 9th November was also Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) when the Nazis attacked Jews and destroyed their property - thanks to Alexa for reminding me of this with her wonderful post.
If you look closely, you can see the line of bricks on the road where the wall once stood.
Often in Berlin, I look around for parts of the divided city that are still visible and of the history I never knew - they are there but you have to sometimes look carefully. Going home later that night, I felt so happy to be here in this ever changing place full of energy and inspiration. Funnily, I rarely walk around the tourist attractions close to the Brandenburg gate but on Friday took my camera to capture the light and colours of late autumn and enjoy the freedom of crossing from East to West which others before me were not so lucky to have. I found myself smiling at the thought that I have finally found my city at last.
The glorious colours in Tiergarten
By the Russian war memorial on Straße des 17. Juni.
The Siegessäule (column of victory) in Tiergarten, made famous by Wim Wenders' Himmel Über Berlin).
And the recipes? When I returned home on Monday, I ate the rest of the amazing Italian chocolate pudding I had rediscovered from Nigella Express. Tasting it, I wondered why it had taken me so long to get around to making it. You can eat it warm with a spoon as luxurious hot chocolate but I prefer it cold for its seriously intense chocolate flavour and velvety texture. I had mine with the last of my funnily shaped biscuits from Venice which reminded me of the golden sunshine of Italy. To accompany that, there was also a dense chocolate loaf; when I cut and photographed the slices, I noticed that they looked like a B for Berlin which seemed appropriate!
Budino de cioccolato from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Express
250ml full-fat milk
125ml double cream
60g caster sugar
1 x 15ml tablespoon cornflour
35g cocoa powder
2 x 15ml tablespoons boiling water
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
1. Begin by boiling the water in the kettle. Warm the cream and milk together in a saucepan or in a heatproof bowl in the microwave.
2. Mix the sugar, cornflour and sifted cocoa powder in another bowl and add the boiling water to them to make a paste.
3. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time, followed by the warmed milk and cream and finally the vanilla extract.
4. Put the pan over a fairly low heat and stir constantly until you have a thick chocolate mixture.
5. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped dark chocolate. Pour into four little cups or glasses.
6. Cover them with cligfilm to stop skin forming and when they are cool, leave to chill in the fridge. They taste even better the next day but I couldn't wait that long!
Dark chocolate loaf
3 eggs, separated
50g ground almonds (optional)
200g plain flour
1 sachet baking powder
40g best quality cocoa (in Germany, you can find this at Kaisers or Kaufland at a resonable price)
100g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), melted
100ml boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1. Put the kettle on to boil and in a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
2. Add the egg yolks, vanilla extract and ground almonds, followed by melted chocolate.
3. In a perfectly clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff then carefully fold them into the cake mix.
4. Alternate pouring a little of the boiling water with the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder until the cake mix is smooth and thick.
5. Pour into a greased and lined cake loaf tin and bake in the oven at 170° until it looks crunchy on the outside. The middle should still be damp and squidgy so don't let it cook too long. Best enjoyed on a lazy Sunday afternoon!
samedi 7 novembre 2009
Lisa asked me for more photos of Italy after the first post. I hadn't intended to show more but as I can never refuse her anything, here are some others. Hope they brighten up your November evening. Next time though, we'll talk about chocolate.