mardi 28 juillet 2009

Books and cakes

To be honest, I'm a little sad today as it's almost the end of my trip. I've seen and done so much, yet the time has gone by like a flash, even if I know it sounds like a cliché. Before I left, I'd never imagined that three weeks could go so fast. Most of all, I've loved being able to read undisturbed, to have midnight movie sessions and to gather my own thoughts. It'll be difficult readjusting to a noisy flatmate so that's why I've started looking for somewhere new in Berlin. My stay in London was perhaps the most enjoyable that I've spent there. Previous trips often consisted of a couple of days so everything seemed crammed together and a bit stressful. This time though, there was no need to hurry. It was so wonderful to savour each day as it came, wandering through the streets of different areas, finding the most amazing little shops and just watching other people. Living abroad so long and in another capital city gives you another set of eyes. Even though I'm British, I always find it strange to come back to a culture which is somehow mine but also somehow like in a foreign country. Everyone walks faster here but apologises more. People wait patiently in line and buying something in a shop takes so much longer. I was also struck by how openly people talk about money but that's probably because London is so expensive.

I also paid a visit to some amazing bookshops. The London Review Bookshop near the British Museum has been on my list for ages but nothing could have prepared me for what I found when I walked through the door. Huge bookcases stacked with gems you never normally find in chains like Waterstones. On every display section, there's something new and unexpected to tempt you and should you venture downstairs, there are the most incredible poetry and film sections. I don't have to tell you what a hard time I had limiting myself to three books before finally settling on Numbers in the Dark by Calvino, a book of poems by EE Cummings and some travel writing by Martha Gellhorn. Before I left, I naturally also had to try out the coffee shop where you can find the most unusual but heartstoppingly expensive cakes like lemon, rosemary and olive oil. I opted for orange and almond, accompanied by a pot of loose jasmine tea and it felt lke the biggest luxury in the world sitting in the corner and dipping into my new books in between mouthfuls of cake and sips of hot tea. Next on my list was an old favourite of mine, Hatchards on Piccadilly. Apparently it's one of the oldest bookshops in Britain and even though it's sadly now part of Waterstones, it still retains an old-fashioned charm. Needless to say you could browse for hours here (the fiction and biography sections are to die for). The temptation was too hard to resist so I got a book of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's Letters. The last stop was to a secondhand bookshop ,Judd Books, which is just out of this world. It's literally packed floor to ceiling with the best books, most of which are really cheap. I couldn't believe my luck when I spotted those facsimile Eva Hesse Notebooks for 10 Pounds which I'd been so envious of Pia for getting hold of. I also picked up a huge Hemingway biography which I'd been wise enough to leave at Hatchards plus the Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir. So all in all, a successful trip!

Orange and almond cake at the London Review Bookshop café

Gromit and his marrow at the science museum

Some vintage kitchen products

The model British kitchen

The perfect invention for the British climate: a hat barometer which selects the appropriate headwear for you depending on the forecast!

In between book buying sessions, I managed to squeeze in some cultural stuff like the Wallace and Gromit World of Inventions exhibition at the Science Museum. Even if most of the other visitors were kids, it was still really fun to see all those gadgets and most of all to look at the tiny plasticine animation models they use. I can't believe how they move those things hundreds of times to make a film. In the evenings, I felt a little exhausted but in a nice way and just enjoyed walking along the banks of the river, listening to the music from cafés and wishing it could last forever. The days slipped by though and yesterday I took the plane back to Germany in the pouring rain. As we took off, the sun reappeared and tiny clouds were dotted all over the patchwork fields like tiny icebergs. There are just a few more days in Munich before I head home to Berlin on Monday. I keep looking at all my photos and souvenirs but most of all, I already long for the sea again and to feel the wind in my face.

Some oversized Alice in Wonderland type furniture

One of the outdoor exhibits at the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition

Some delicious lemon cake at the RA restaurant

The platform at St. Pancras station which always makes me long to hop on the Eurostar there and go to Paris.

A dramatic sky over London, complete with rainbow

Jasper and Oscar at the my parents' place

dimanche 19 juillet 2009

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things..

Today is my little break in between North and South and tomorrow I'm headed for London. It's not easy coming back after a week far from phone and Internet where you only think about the sound of the waves and it no longer matters which day of the week it is. I have rarely felt so free and inspired by a place before and it helped me too to come to a few decisions about my future. There's something incredibly simple and yet magical about the sea, how it carries so much from far away but eliminates all traces too, leaving only something smooth and polished. Returning from a walk along the beach a few hours later, you find your footprints gone, as if you were never even there. I spent the evenings watching all those films I've never got around to seeing like Midnight Cowboy, Singin' in the Rain and Chinatown and afterwards climbed into the large, soft bed to read until I fell fast asleep. At the moment it seems difficult to find the words to describe everything so I prefer to use some images instead.

The harbour in Craster

The romantic ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle

My bedside table with my reading selection. I dipped into the Camus and Hemingway in the evening and took the Mankell to the beach.

Some snaps from Embleton Bay

A butterfly in the gardens of Annick Castle, famous as the school of Harry Potter although I found it too touristy.

An English Rose

Raspberry Ripple ice cream

Barter Books in Annick, one of the largest second hand bookshops in Britian in the old railway station. Here you can browse for hours, drink tea in the old waiting room while model trains whiz round above you on little tracks and jazz music plays. Pure heaven.

Our trip to the Farne Islands on the North Sea, home to many birds and seals.

Fish and chips - a healthy option, followed by a Mr. Whippy 99 ice cream with a flake.

The little seaside town of Seahouses

My evening stroll

Journey to Holy Island when the tide is out.

Coffee and fudge cake

The view from the top of Lindisfarne Castle in between showers

Penny daisies and other flowers in Gertrude Jekyll's garden near Lindisfarne Island

Lindisfarne Priory and its raindow arch

The finest Crème Brûlée from Cabosse in Warkworth with strawberries and vanilla. It must have been good because the shop was full of French people.

Some magnificent flowers from the stunning walled garden at Wallington Hall

jeudi 9 juillet 2009

Voyages and Streuselkuchen

I've been wanting to write on the blog for about ten days now but somehow the circumstances just weren't quite right. Last week though, the weather is Berlin was so meltingly sticky that every movement seemed an effort and the last thing on my mind was baking cakes. Instead I stuck to salads and ice cream. I started too to write about the film I saw called Alle Anderen (Everyone Else) which was so fresh, funny and touching but then I simply got too preoccupied with holiday preparations. As some of you will understand, I spent hours selecting the books and left everything else until the last minute! The moment I boarded the train for Munich, all the tension faded away. In fact, it was one of my nicest journeys, divided between being thoroughly gripped by In Cold Blood and talking to a philosophy professor from Leipzig. The past few days there seem a bit like a blur because I'm simply not used to being without a plan, or not having to be anywhere at a certain time but of course, it's a wonderful feeling too.

Caramel ice cream from Sarcletti im Munich

Last evening I finally arrived at my parents' house, a little exhausted but relieved to be there. While coming into land, we seemed to descend for hours through gigantic glaciers of cloud and then I saw the English patchwork countryside. I still can't believe that it will soon be five years since I left the UK for France and my second year in Berlin. I often try to picture the girl who left this room half a decade ago: the things in it still mean a lot to me - my pictures, my music and most of all my collection of French books - yet somehow they belonged to a different person. Between 2000 and 2008, I read almost exclusively in French and then later on in German. This was because I'm such a slow reader in any language but was desperate to speak perfect French. At the beginning, it was absolute torture since I started with Madame Bovary, one of my favourite books. Torture because it took me something like a month to read 100 pages of the original and I hated Flaubert for being so detailed (I've since forgiven him!). I don't know if I'd have a same discipline now. It's only really since the bginning of this year that I've rediscovered English language books which I'm currently devouring.

Some old favourites

Every time I come back to Derbyshire , I long to take all of my books with me but sadly I know it's impossible. The places nearby seem so familiar but somehow strange, especially after life in a foreign big city. Yet, I love the stillness here and having my own space. I wake up and see the four walls which were so important to me and am now working at the desk where I spent so many nights as a student working into the early hours until my head and my eyes could take no more and I collapsed into bed, thoroughly exhausted. I'll stay here until Saturday when I'm travelling further North to the coast for a week. I haven't seen the sea for such a long time and am already longing for the sounds of the waves and the birds flying overhead and the long, sandy beaches. Hopefully, I'll have time to post a little about that in ten days' time in between my return and the departure for London. So if I'm not commenting on your blog so much, it's simply because I won't be online for a while. I never imagined I'd enjoy writing on this blog so much but I love sharing things with you and reading you all in return, discovering so many different voices and lives.

Before I leave though, I have to give you a recipe. In Munich, the days were humid and rainy which suited me fine as I finally got around to making a Streuselkuchen. This was one of the first cakes I ate when I came to Berlin. When it's well made. it's like crumble and truly irresistable but sadly, too many bakeries sell versions with an overdose of yeast which leaves an aftertaste in your mouth. I've used apple because J. adores them but apricot or rhubarb would be wonderful too.

Apple Streuselkuchen

4 large apples (not too sweet, like Braeburn or Canadien Gris)
100 ml lemon juice
250g plain flour
125g sugar
180g unsalted butter
2 eggs, separated
1 heaped teaspoon sugar
25g semolina
250g quark/ fromage blanc (20% fat)

1. Wash, peel and roughly chop the apples into small pieces. Soak in the lemon juice and leave to one side.
2. In a large bowl, mix the sugar and flour together. Melt the butter over a gentle heat and pour over the flour and sugar. Using a wooden spoon, mix in until you have a crumble or rough breadcrumbs texture.

3. Whisk the eggs whites with a little sugar until they form stiff peaks.

4. Mix the eggs yolks, semolina and quark together, then gently fold in the egg whites.
5. Grease a 24 cm Springform tin, then take about half of the Streusel mixture and press down firmly onto the base. Then add the apples on top of it, followed by the quark mixture and finally, the remaining Streusel. Bake for between 40 - 55 mins, depending on your oven. Enjoy with a cup of tea and a good book!