I'm so sorry about my recent absence on this blog but to be honest, I've found it a little hard getting back into a regular rhythm again after so long away from work and this may come as a shocking revelation to you but: I haven't been cooking so much. Of course, I still make things but it's often simple and when the light's no good for photographs. I also missed another Daring Bakers' Challenge and promise to do better with that for the rest of the year.
These past few weeks, Berlin has been cold and I don't just mean that you need to wear a hat and gloves. There's the kind of cold wind that blows against your face and makes you feel someone's cutting into your cheeks with a knife. Your hands get numb the second you take off your gloves. The streets have become like an ice skating rink and even though I've now invested in a pair of boots that keep my feet dry, it's not so easy to go for long walks in and around Berlin. Ten days ago though, I decided to brave the arctic conditions and head for Wannsee, the large lake in the west which Kitty Hoff charmingly compares to the sea for Berliners. In summer, it's packed with bathers but I've always preferred its melancholy desertedness out of season. The ferries which carry passengers across to places like the Peacock Island stand empty and stranded on the edge of the white shore. Setting off alone, I looked across to see two figures walking alone into the distance on the ice, so fragile with only a layer of frozen water to support them and the endless winter landscape before them. I wondered if they felt alone or liberated to leave the stress of city life behind for a few moments. I've always been afraid of walking on the ice myself, especially after seeing part 1 of Kieslowski's Dekalog but I would love to travel to the Baltic Sea in winter with a strong breeze, the cries of the seasgulls flying overhead and the restless breaking of waves which carry my thoughts further and further away.
For walking, perhaps Wannsee isn't the best because most of the shore is occupied by boat clubs and villas and by the time I had been walking for a couple of hours, the damp cold seemed to have gotten inside my skin and I perhaps felt colder than ever. Luckily, one of the loveliest places to go is the Liebermann villa where the Berlin artist Max Liebermann used to spend his summer holidays. As I pushed open the door to go inside, I found a girl reading in front of a roaring fire and sat next to her in one of the large armchairs with only the sound of the crackling logs as I closed my eyes and felt the warmth returning and thought of Jane Austen's characters coming in after their carriage rides on a frosty day. I had already heard about the charming café there and I wasn't disappointed. I ordered a hot chocolate with cream and was asked to choose from a stand with little blocks of all kinds of solid chocolate which you then whisk yourself into a steaming glass of hot milk. On such a biting cold day, I felt I really needed dark chocolate with chilli and was also given a small dish with a large amount of fresh, whipped cream to spoon on top. I would have preferred a large slice of warm apple pie for the ultimate comfort food experience but settled for a piece of poppyseed cake with cream. The large bay windows of wood panelled room with its green walls look out onto the garden by the lakeshore. Afterwards, I walked across the deep snow with no other footprints but mine. On the lakeshore, I could hear the laughter of families iceskating and playing games and watched a boat slide whizz by at regular intervals. I would love to return there when the spring colours have started to appear and there are the gentle sunrays glittering on the water.
Returning home, I found it hard to get warm again and settled down on the sofa with a good book and some cinnamon spice tea. The long winter evenings are truly the best time to read. Before going to sleep at night, I take Willy Ronis' Ce Jour-là, brought back from Rennes, a charming book in which he describes what inspired him and the story behnd some of his photos. Ronis' photography has always enchanted me with his timeless pictures of another time and his romantic visions of Paris.
The Zupfkuchen I remade for a film evening last weekend (recipe here)
Winter is also the best time for soup and I decided to try my first recipe from the new favourite cookbook, Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries which I found in my favourite remained bookshop in London. Nigel is officially my new guru; I know that Abbie is already a huge fan and I remember the amazing fish recipe of his she used at one of the lovely evenings in her apartment in Friedrichshain. The Kitchen Diaries is such a pleasure to read, as well as to bake from. It's basically a year's enjoyment of food and flavours throughout the different seasons and I think it's a book I'm going to return to again and again this year. This soup is so easy to make and even if it's not one of my most photogenic creations, it was certainly one the tastiest. Another key advantage is that you don't have the chop the onions, just cut them in half so you don't need to shed a single tear!
French Onion Soup from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries
About 8 medium sized onions
3 tbsp butter
Some salt and pepper to season
1 glass dry white wine
6 cups vegetable stock
1. Peel the onions and slice them in half. Place them in a roasting tin with the butter and some salt and pepper. Cook at 180°C until soft and golden (you may need to turn them regularly to stop them burning).
2. When they're done, remove from the oven and cut them into large segments. Bring them to the boil in a large saucepan with the wine until the wine has almost evaporated then pour in the vegetable stock and bring the boil again. Leave to simmer for about 20 minutes then serve with fresh, crusty bread and some cheese if you like.