Growing up, one of my favourite books was about a girl called Flossie Teacake (I sometimes think of changing my name to that) whose life was transformed every time she put on a magic fur coat. The plain girl with glasses became a glamourous eighteen year old who could go out and do anything she wanted. Although it doesn't have quite the same magic powers, my thick winter coat with the fake fur collar around the neck and the blue suede boots everyone seems to love give me even more of the impression that I'm doing someting special when I put them on for my outings in Berlin. Soon though, they will no longer be needed because the days are getting warmer at last. From the open window, sounds of the springtime enter into my room; the chirping of the birds, a moped in the street, voices in the garden below. Normally, I'm not one of those people who feels the cold too much (which explains my trip to Wannsee on one of the iciest days of winter) but last week, I felt an optimism and inspiration which have been missing these past few weeks. I had forgotten the pleasures of going out on mild evenings without a scarf and gloves, of seeing the shadows of the branches on the sunlit walls in the mornings when I leave home and of shopping for summer dresses.
Somehow the dirt and grime are as fascinating to me as the beautiful buildings
Although the buds on the trees remain tightly shut for the moment, I have the feeling they won't be able to resist the spring much longer and can't wait for those colours to come bursting out all of a sudden and take me by surprise as they do every year. I was hoping to give you some brighter images but instead, big, fat raindrops are falling from the sky even as I write which meant I wasn't so keen to go for a long walk today. I stuck to the little streets close to home and walked along Ku'damm where groups of French tourists rushed to shelter in the entrance of the theatre and elegant, old ladies were accompanied by their dogs. I strolled under my umbrella with my camera in my pocket, determined to at least capture something of the warmer days and found most of the springtime contained in the large shop windows packed with daisies, tulips, gerberas and daffodils.
No watering cans needed today
The windows of Habitare on Savignyplatz
The deserted tables of Café Grolman
The window of Bücherbogen, of my favourite bookshops
I also thought back to times when, like Flossie Teacake, I was sent to bed early. Sometimes, I would try to delay this as long as possible by drinking my tea incredibly slowly until my parents finally lost patience. Seeing the daylight above the curtains in my bedroom made me feel I was missing out on life. Downstairs, I could hear my brother playing snooker (we have a small table) and sometimes, my parents would take their dinner into the living room to watch a film. When I was a litle older, I used to secretly watch American TV series in my room late at night with the volume on low, ready to reach for the remote control just in case anybody came upstairs. I never got caught. Ironically, after all that effort, I haven't watched TV for years and love nothing more than going to bed early with a book, knowing that life is not just outsde but also in the words I'm reading which let me travel. I guess things are often less interesting when they're no longer forbidden.
The incessant tapping of the rain left me feeling in need of comfort. There are certain places which make you feel at home the moment you walk through the door. The Choko café in Charlottenburg is one of these. I had walked past it many times and thought it looked like a place for me. Early afternoon, shortly after it had opened for the day, I took my place in the little domed alcove looking out onto the street, meeting the glances of many passers-by. Inside, chandeliers hung from the ceiling, there were benches and little stools with plush red cushions, little tables with floral cloths and a large counter full of bars of chocolate, easter eggs and pralines. The board outside advertised hot chocolate with cream which I couldn't resist. I'd read good reviews of the Kalter Hund but today there were just two other cakes on offer, the most delicious of which was the Torte della Nonna with lemons and almonds. The hot chocolate cake came in a large mug with a nice, thick layer of real cream (I don't care how good the chocolate is, for me the effect is always spoiled if it's topped with artificial cream from a squirty can), under which was dark and luxurious sweetness - a drink for grown ups. The torte was also amazingly good, delicate and creamy without being too heavy. Tucked away in the corner, it felt like pure indulgence. I sat there reading Paris by Julian Green, a strange but wonderful book about the city he loved which gives me the feeling of discovering it afresh again.
Inside the Choko café on Bleibtreustraße
Yes, I know that's an indecent amount of cream for one person. Isn't this what Sundays are all about?
The delicious Torte della Nonna - how have I lived without this for so long? I have to make my own soon.
My place at the window - so gemütlich!
Last week, I also finally made it to see Alice in Wonderland. Although the true Alice fan inside me still regrets to see most of the original story disappear and some irritating changes (why is the Dormouse Scottish and female?), it was fun seeing it in 3D and with friends, one of whom always brings chocolate and wonderful homemade peanut butter cookies - a kindred spirit. My favourite part of the book is the Mad Hatter's Tea party and the dormouse's story about the three little girls, Elsie, Lacie and Tillie who live in the bottom of a treacle well. This inspired me to make a long lost favourite pudding of mine, treacle tart which is amazingly simple to make. Served warm with some crème fraîche or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it's the perfect comfort food.
For the pastry
1 Sweet tart dough / pâte sucrée pastry case, baked blind, from Dorie Greenspan as used on Smitten Kitchen
For the filling
400g golden syrup (golden syrup is a lighter version of dark treacle, in Berlin you can find it at Karstadt or at the Brot und Butter bakery at Ernst Reuter Platz)
50g treacle/ Zuckerrübensirup (from a Bio shop)
85g fresh breadcrumbs*
zest plus 1tbsp juice of a lemon
* To make fresh breadcrumbs, you need some slice of dry, white bread (not stale!). You can dry it out if needed by putting it in the oven for a few minutes. The easiest way is then the put the slices onto a food processor and blend until you have fine crumbs but otherwise a cheese grater will work just as well.
1. When the pastry is ready, leave the tart tin to one side and prepare the filling. To do this, just mix the syrup, treacle, breadcrumbs, zest and lemon juice together in a large bowl and pour onto the pastry. Bake in the oven at 190°C for 20-30 minutes but not too long, otherwise it will be too hard. Leave to cool some minutes before serving.