I don't remember how old I was when we first started going to the bluebell woods near where I grew up but if I close my eyes, I can retrace the path taken year after year. You go over a stile, around a large field and then up a slope with wooden steps. At the top, there's a field with dandelions either blazing with gold or transformed into the fluffy white clocks. Once we took R. there with us, my first friend from school, the two of us gathered up huge bunches of them, then blew on them, watching the seeds float away in the wind. But it was only when you continued just a little further that you discovered the incredible mass of blue under your feet, stretching far away, an unending beautiful carpet. Returning there every year, it was as if they were waiting only for you. There are memories of descending through the wood with those that are no longer here to enjoy the spring or with whom I've fallen out of touch. Sadly, the late spring meant that I missed my trip there this year but I often think of them, with their mass of perfect blue.
I was reminded of the emotions that I feel seeing them during a trip to see the Buddhist house in Frohnau which I found out about in a post from one of my favourite blogs, Berlin Reified. On the day of my visit, the sky was the most amazing azur crystal and on the way, I stopped to see the little clumps of delicate flowers appearing everywhere.
The steps of the buddhist house were solid stone blocks, worn away over years by the all footsteps of those who have come here for peace and reflection. The garden and temple were busy with people either preparing or bringing food but they sat quietly in groups enjoying the gentle rays of sunshine. Since spring has finally arrived, it's difficult to imagine the icy streets or bitter cold from just a few months ago.
My friend Abbie once gave a speech called "The squirrel's heartbeat", about how sometimes we're so caught up in books or music when we're travelling that we often forget to look up and see the wonderful things around us. Since my return to Berlin, I find it difficult not to stop looking around me though to appreciate the colours and the light. There was also the girl dressed in black and grey beside me on one journey with sad, tear stained eyes and a group of French people, one of whom sat reading a newspaper in German and translating the main stories for the others. Most wonderful of all though was the blossom I noticed gazing out of the window in the S-Bahn yesterday on my way to Frohnau and where I knew I had to stop off on my return to take photos. Alongside Wollankstraße station stood several cherry trees in bloom. I used to live close to here and wondered how it was that it has taken me this long to find them. How long have they been there, enchanting all the passers by with their delicate beauty? It sounds like a terrible cliché but I thought of the famous passage in Proust's A l'Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs:
Tout d'un coup, dans le petit chemin creux, je m'arrêtai touché au cœur par un doux souvenir d'enfance : je venais de reconnaître, aux feuilles découpées et brillantes qui s'avançaient sur le seuil, un buisson d'aubépines défleuries, hélas, depuis la fin du printemps. Autour de moi flottait une atmosphère d'anciens mois de Marie, d'après-midi du dimanche, de croyances, d'erreurs oubliées. J'aurais voulu la saisir. Je m'arrêtai une seconde et Andrée, avec une divination charmante, me laissa causer un instant avec les feuilles de l'arbuste. Je leur demandai des nouvelles des fleurs, ces fleurs de l'aubépine pareilles à de gaies jeunes filles étourdies, coquettes et pieuses. "Ces demoiselles sont parties depuis déjà longtemps", me disaient les feuilles. » (I've looked for a translation of this passge online but couldn't find it - apologies!)
I too couldn't help but wander from one tree to the next and then back again, the freshness of the blossom reminding me of strawberry ice cream. A few flowers already lay on the ground and I caressed their soft, delicate petals between my fingers. I hope I can return there to visit them for many years to come.
Today I awoke to another perfect morning with the music of the church bells chiming nearby and the birdsong. My friend W. had kindly invited me to brunch with her at Literaturhaus in Charlottenburg. You'd have thought with a name like that and my love of books that I'd have been there long ago but like the blossom, some things are only discovered after you've been here a while. We arrived at a charming little garden with a small fountain surrounded by daffodils. Little paths lined with rhodedendrons led us to the Wintergarten where we took our places at a table in the conservatory. Waitresses went by with large, frothy coffees, pots of tea and glasses of freshly pressed orange and grapefruit juice. Around us, some sat reading the Sunday papers leisurely while others enjoyed tall glasses of iced coffee and chocolate with cream on top.
We ordered omelettes, a huge bagel which we shared, croissants, orange juice, coffee and later on almond cake and tort with mango cream. Looking at other tables though, I saw an apple strudel with vanilla sauce, streuselkuchen and another cake with strawberries which looked delicious. I guess I shall have to return there to that idyllic garden where the word time loses any meaning and if you listen carefully, you can hear a piano playing from one of the apartments opposite.
A herb omelette at the Wintergarten in the Literaturhaus café
A bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon and rocket
Some of the lovely cheeses there which I was too full to try this time
Chocolate and almond cake
Cookingwise, it has also been a pretty successful week. Despite commiting myself to bake four cakes in three days (please don't ask me to explain why, it's complicated and would only make you think I'm crazy, like my friends whom I interrupt mid-conversation to rush back to the kitchen because I'm sure the pasta is ready and I never use a timer), I found it relaxing to spend time in the kitchen and try new things. There was the amazing radicchio salad from Smitten Kitchen, Luisa's roasted tomato pasta and then her delicious zucchini pancakes, which you really have to try too. I didn't feel like adding my own pictures because they didn't turn out well, unlike the recipes. There was also a chocolate and cardamom torte (recipe here) which looked good but which didn't entirely satisfy me. Somehow the cake was too light for the denseness of the flavours and I think next time, I'll try cardamom in a chocolate tart instead.
My chocolate and cardamom torte
The highlight though was the carrot cake which I found on Sooishi's beautiful blog. The cake was light, moist and refreshing with the cream cheese topping (I've only got a picture of the unfrosted cake because later on, the light wasn't good enough but believe me, you defintely have to make it with the frosting which tasted of oranges and made me think of afternoons spent in fine tearooms with a breeze blowing through the open windows). Simple but elegant.
Carrot cake (from Sooishi - original recipe in French here)
For the cake
5 eggs, separated
250g brown sugar
250g grated carrots
125g ground almonds
125g ground hazelnuts
1 lemon (juice and zest)
1 level teaspoon of baking powder
a pinch of salt
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons of ground ginger
a little butter to grease the baking tin
For the frosting
1 zest of an orange, finely grated
1 teaspoon of orange juice
60g icing sugar, sifted
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C
1. Grease and line a springform tin.
2. Using a whisk, beat together the egg yolks with the sugar.
3. Add the grated carrots, almonds, hazelnuts, spices and finally the lemon juice and its zest.
4. Sift in the flour and baking powder.
5. Whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Carefully fold them into the cake batter. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for around 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. Leave to cool.
For the frosting
Beat together the Philadelphia, orange juice, zest and icing sugar. When the cake is cool, spread it over the top.