dimanche 28 mars 2010


Coming out of the underground, the sky suddenly darkened and there were a few spots of rain. Potsdamer Platz was busy with traffic, scientologists surrounded by anti-scientology protesters wearing masks and tourists crowding around a few remaining slabs of the Berlin Wall. It's not a place real Berliners typically hang about in; compared to other areas, the restaurants and cafés are not the cheapest and the ultra modern architecture seems impressive but a little cold sometimes. I often think back to a beautiful scene in Wim Wenders Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) where the old writer is wandering through the wasteland, looking for the old Potsdamer Platz which was once the liveliest and most cosmopolitan meeting place with the café Josti. He knows he must go on because if mankind loses its storyteller, it also loses its childhood. The new Potsdamer Platz is unrecognisable.

Come on now, don't be shy!

But once a year, something wonderful happens there. Under the strangely shaped roof of the Sony Center, there is the smell of lilac and pots of daffodils and rhodedendrons blossom outside small greenhouses. The sound of music mingles with the advertising outside in a strange echo all around because it's time for the Herzgrün Liebeslieder festival (literally Green hearted love songs). For a free event which has been taking place for five years, it's still amazingly unknown. Every spring, over three days, musicians and singers perform short concerts in those little greenhouses full of Japanese blossom, lavender, bay trees, citrus plants and even a magnolia. You must call a few days before to reserve tickets and just before the concert stand in line impatient to get into that wonderful garden full of music and flowers. The first year we went, the charming Kitty Hoff and her Forêt Noire band were playing. Dressed in a pretty brown patterned dress with white knee high boots and wavy 1920s style hair, she enchanted us with her mix of jazz and chanson in songs about the little things in life. Last year it was Lisa Bassenge and her band Nylon. Seeing her standing in the crowd before the concert, dressed in black, I felt a little disappointed because she seemed so ordinary and not especially pretty but the moment the came on stage, a transformation took place and there was an amazing magnetism about her performance and her face became beautiful in the twilight.

The Sony Center in bloom

Yesterday, there was the strumming of a guitar and a samba beat as Bergitta Victor took us on a journey starting in Schlosspark Charlottenburg where she sat writing songs barefoot before finally coming back to the Seychelles where she was born. Towards the end, the sun made its welcome reappearence, illuminating the glass exteriors of the buildings and the inside of the roof with its golden rays.

As lovely as the afternoon concerts are though, I feel that everything only really comes alive when the light begins to fade. Shadows fall on the fresh green plants and the smell of the flowers become more intense the longer the music plays. We stayed for the next concert by K.C MacKanzie with her wonderful mix of folk songs and dark humour which made me think of the qualities of the Coen Brothers' films. Accompanied by Buddi on the double bass, banjo, Maultrommel (a small mouth instrument which makes a sound like a didgeridoo) and my favourite, a hammer and rock. I felt so sad when they finshed their last song and I knew this year's festival was over for us. Who says Germans can't be romantic?

The wonderful and talented K.C MacKanzie

Last Friday, the day was so warm and vibrant. I stared out at the park opposite from the place where I work, longing to be able to enjoy it while it lasted as rain was forecast for the weekend. Coming out of Savignyplatz S-Bahn, there was the smell of fish and chips as people sat outside at the restaurant Jules Verne where I've always wanted to go, if only for the prettiest, multi-coloured sprit bottles behind the bar. I made a visit to my favourite bookshop in Carmerstraße where a woman was telling the bookseller that she was travelling the island of Sylt (somewhere I've dreamed of for so long with its dramatic cliffs and waves) and wanted a book about the sea to read there, finally choosing an enormous volume by Claudie Gallay (in French Les Deferlantes) which I also can't wait to read, in spite of my suspicion of prize winning literature. I was a little less ambitious and found a collection by a Norwegian writer I'd never heard of before called Kjell Askildsen which I chose more for the beautiful cover than anything else, but I guess that's Pia's influence! I've only read a couple but there's a charming quirkiness and absurd humour in the way he describes characters who are mostly losers or outsiders. Sadly, little of his work seems to be available in English.

Springtime on Gendarmenmarkt last week

Making the most of the beautiful weather on Friday afternoon before the rain came.

Isn't that a little premature?

The perfect cheesecake which I made again for a friend's birthday - recipe here

Sunlight on my balcony yesterday

Sadly, the past couple of days weren't the best for me because I was ill. This also explains why I missed out on the lovely Daring Bakers challenge.The cause was my cooking, not overdosing on cakes as you might expect, but experimenting with a pasta dish including mushrooms. They once made me ill a long time ago but I've eaten them in the meantime without any bad effects. Anyway, you'll understand that I've decided not to post this recipe (or ever cook with mushrooms again) and after longing for something warm and nourishing but being unable to eat anything, it's a relief to just be able to cook again.

My last full week was busy with little time for cooking and baking. On Wednesday, I'll be travelling back to the UK for a visit to Derbyshire where I hope to see the bluebell woods, rhodedendron gardens, the parks of Chatsworth and take a tea at old Hardwick Hall in between chocolate bunnies. I'll leave you then with one of my essential recipes for keeping me going during the week. It's a pie with a difference - instead of pastry, you use a cheese scone crust. No rolling out, no chilling in the fridge for an hour. Just quick and delicious. Nigella uses red onions but I chose white ones instead.

Onion Pie for busy people (from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess)

For the filling/topping

4 medium onions (about 750g)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 heaped tablespoon butter (approx 25g)
3-4 sprigs of thyme
150g strong hard cheese like Cheddar or Gruyère, grated

For the scone base

250g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
100ml milk
40g butter, melted
1 teaspoon mustard
1 large egg beaten

For a 24cm pie dish, greased

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Peel the onions, cut them in half and then each half into 4 quarters. In a frying pan, heat the oil and butter then tip in the onions. Fry over a medium heat, stirring from time to time until they're soft and brown (Nigella says this should take 30 minutes but I've always found they're done in around 15). Season with salt and pepper, add the thyme and turn out into the bottom of the pie dish. Sprinkle about 5og of the cheese over them.
2. Put the flour, baking powder, salt and the rest of the cheese into a large mixing bowl. In a jug, pour in the milk and mix it with the melted butter, the mustard and the egg, then add it to the flour mixture in the bowl. Use a fork to blend and finally your hands (it'll be sticky). Knead it for a few moments (use more flour if needed) then on a generously floured work surface, press it out so it's big enough to fit the pie dish. Press it down on top of the onions of the bottom of the dish, paying careful attention to the edges.
4. Bake in the oven for 15 mins, then turn it down to 180°C for another 10 mins or until firm and golden. Leave to cool a couple of minutes, then cover the dish with a large plate and tip it out so the onions are on top.

19 commentaires:

  1. Gorgeous shots! You really make me want to see Berlin...

    I love that Nigella Lawson recipe. A lovely pie!



  2. goregpus shots all of them were so beautiful...I loce it..the flowers, the blacony of different colors, even the pasta sign..cool

    great recipe hope you fell better and have fun on your trip


  3. Sorry those evil mushrooms made you sick again, Vanessa! Guess you have to avoid them. I do love them, especially morels, which should be in profusion shortly!

    I love your architectural shots, the unusual Sony Bldg and then the lovely florals mixed in. An unusual mix, but bringing a smile to my face and a great interest in seeing Berlin someday.

    Also the information about the Herzgrün Liebeslieder festival! And you're correct, I'd never heard of it.

    I'm smiling about the onion pie too. I can't eat them in such profusion. Perhaps a spoonful here and there, but even a slice of that lovely pie would do me in!
    I can still copy the recipe to serve to my family, however.

    I bet you can find eaux de vie everywhere in Berlin, you lucky girl!

    Have a wonderful trip to the UK!

  4. J'aurais adoré écouter ces artistes dans le parfum des fleurs (je viens de les écouter un peu grâce aux liens mais dans mon bureau en désordre) ! Et je vois que Berlin reprend des couleurs...

  5. I always feel like I'm on a nice long walk when I read your posts. Hope you are feeling better. :)

  6. @Rosa - I hope to see you in Berlin one day for tea and cake. Nigella's recipe is great and I love the combination of scone, thyme and onions.
    @Sweetlife - I'm feeling much better today thanks. Yesterday was a bit rough and I slept a lot. I appreciate the comment about the photos too as I think yours are simply amazing.
    @Barbara - It's a shame because I basically like all vegetables but I'm not as upset as I would have been with something like leek or aubergine which I just adore. Potsdamer Platz can seem a bit artificial compared to the rest of Berlin so the greenhouses add another element which somehow softens the modernity of it all and works well. It's a small festival so I'm not surprised it's not famous internationally but I'm always surprised that no other Berliners know about it. Still, it makes it easier to get tickets. I didn't know you couldn't take much onion pie but I can understand that. I try to avoid eating it at work unless I can clean my teeth as onion breath isn't the most endearing smell!
    You've got me longing for those eaux de vie and I'm going to track down some good ones when I get back.
    @Rose - Et moi j'aurais bien aimé partager ces moments avec toi. C'est vraiment charmant dans ce petit jardin et je me réjouis chaque printemps de le redécouvrir. Malheureusement, Berlin reste assez gris pour le moment mais cela le printemps arrivera bientôt, je le sens.
    @Tracy - Thanks for your wishes, yes I'm feeling so much better today and can even eat meals :-) I'm so glad you like my post.

  7. J'aime bien cette enfilade de transats, oh combien prometteuse ! ;o) L'onion pie aussi, je l'aime ... et puis toute la balade, qui me donne, comme à chaque passage par ici, envie de découvrir ta jolie ville !

  8. J'aime beaucoup ces balcons colorés ! Et ta recette n'est pas pour me déplaire nous plus... ;)

  9. Enjoy your trip and while you are there, try to find a copy of Edith Templeton's "The Darts of Cupid" a fantastic collection of short stories.

  10. Please, please, before you go, tell me how much is in a packet of baking powder? Thanks.

  11. @Hélène - Je sais à quel point tu aimes aussi te promener avec ton appareil-photo ici et j'espère qu'on fera une belle balade ensemble un jour...Merci de ta visite qui m'apporte toujours quelques rayons de soleil venant du Sud :-)
    @Le citron - C'est marrant car ces balcons sont en face d'où j'habite mais je les ai remarqués pour la première fois la semaine dernière. Je trouve que la photographie m'aide beaucoup à apprécier ce qui est autour de moi.
    @cj - Thanks for the book tip. I've just looked this up on amazon and it sounds great. I love getting reading advice from others as I discover so many new things. I'll be in London for a few days so there's a pretty good chance I'll find the Templeton. OK, I've just rummaged a bit in the pantry and a packet of baking powder is 15g. I've seen many recipes calling for about 8g or just a teaspoon but in Germany, it doesn't seem to make cakes rise that must so I often end up using 2 packets each time which seems like a lot I know! In the UK or France, I never needed this much.

  12. Les Déferlantes is really excellent... sometimes, prizes are here for a reason (sometimes only). And I can't wait to read your thoughts about Askildsen! I've heard so much about him but never actually opened one of his books...

  13. Love the architectural details that you took pictures of! I'd love to use them as in inspiration for my cake.

    Of course, the flowers are also beautiful! Ooh, can I borrow you camera? heheh, just kidding.

  14. What beautiful photos of Berlin. The pie recipe looks tempting. I've just recently found your blog and enjoy visiting.

  15. My first evening back in UK where it's cold and wet (love that British springtime!) and I'm glad I took my thick coat. Still, there's lots of good food.
    @Julie - Great that you like les Déferlantes: it sounds truly amazing and I love reading about the sea, although I'll probably wait for a paperback version. You're right about prizes and I think it's just important to be aware that winners aren't necessarily all good, that it's sometimes too commercial but that good writing should still be rewarded. I'm totally into the Askildsen. It's like a blend of dry, rather absurd humour in stories about losers or often old men which manage to be about real situtation without ever becoming depressing. You're lucky because you can discover more of his work in the original! While I'm here in the UK, I just have to get my hands on a copy of the Ice Palace. Apparently, in Germany it's never been translated which surprises me.
    @Ry - Oh, I feel so honoured that some things from my photos could inspire your amazing cake decoration! Taking pictures is such a pleasure for me, although as regards food photography, I think I have a lot to learn. I'm OK with cakes but stuggle with other things and it's a true art you need to devote some time to. Yours always look amazing.
    @P.K - Welcome and and thanks so much for stopping by. It's always nice to have new readers.

  16. coucou Vanessa,
    9a sent le printemps tout ça!!! Que de belles fleurs...
    Une groooooosse biz madame :-)

  17. Coucou Sarah,

    Merci de ta visite et grosses bises aussi!

  18. Hello Vanessa, je croyais avoir laisse ici un coucou l'autre jour, visiblement il ne s'est pas enregistre. Il me semble que je te disais que j'aimais la lumiere du printemps qui doucement illumine tes photos au fur et a mesure que la saison avance.
    Bon sejour en Angleterre, profite bien.

  19. Je m'excuse d'avoir mis tant de temps pour répondre à ton gentil commentaire Gracienne. Ah, cela fait du bien de sentir le soleil sur mon visage et puis c'est si agréable de sortir pour prendre des photos de toutes ces couleurs. Ça m'inspire. Bonne soirée et à bientôt x