dimanche 18 avril 2010

A light exists in spring

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)
80g flour
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

200g Philadelphia
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.

20 commentaires:

  1. A beautiful post! What great memories...

    Your spring shots are so pretty! I love this time of the year.

    And that food... Yummy! Wow, 4 cakes in 3 days, phew!!! They look mighty good.

    Cheers and have a wonderful week, dear friend!



  2. Maison bouddhiste, maison littéraire, il y en a pour tous les goûts et toutes les aspirations. Tes photos me rappellent le délicieux parfum de fleur de la promenade de cet après-midi (j'aime ce printemps qui embaume !).

  3. I think it's *perfectly* natural to bake 4 cakes in 3 days dear! I'd do it myself...wait...because I'd do it does not qualify something as normal. Uh. I take it back ;P

  4. Chocolat-cardamome, un de mes assemblages favoris. Et cette lumiere, et ces fleurs dont on ne se lasse pas. Arriver a saisir la lumiere au travers des fleurs de cerisier, encore un challenge inutile mais rejouissant.

  5. Mouth watering... I want cake! Instantly!
    And those pictures really captured the essence of spring. To think that soon we'll be caught up with sweaty summer... Er.

  6. Spring is such a time of renewal and nothing illustrates this better than your lovely photographs of flowers. While I love the fall leaves, there is something about spring blooms that make me smile. I miss them in Florida...

    Cooking up a storm, aren't you? Love the idea of a touch of orange in the carrot cake frosting. And I LOVE zucchini pancakes!

    Have a lovely week!

  7. Beautiful temple nice writing here..
    The Buddhist house, the push the pull the dark and light..generating the elixr of immortality.

  8. 4 cakes in three days..that's my kind of week...i adore the shots of the flowers and the chairs at the cafe ..oh to be there with you eating omelets..divine


  9. I used to know these Proust sentences by heart... you brought back old memories, thank you! And I'll add the carrot cake recipe to my already long list: I could live on carrot cake, yours looks absolutely delicious.

  10. @Rosa - Thanks so much for always being the first to leave me a lovely comment. Yes, all that baking was a challenge and I couldn't do it every week but it felt good afterwards and everyone appreciated it. Hope you have a great week too with lovely weather. Bises.
    @Rose - Ah, mais j'imagine que la Normandie doit être magnifique par ce temps-là. C'est vrai qu'à Berlin, on trouve tout et j'aime bien voyager un peu aux quartiers que je n'ai pas l'habitude de fréquenter. Ça me donne l'impression de découvrir une autre ville.
    @Sasa - Ha, ha, well what is normal anyway? Most people think I'm crazy for taking pictures of the things I eat so if I relied on their opinions, I wouldn't even have a blog.
    @Gracienne - Merci de trouver du temps pour me lire et de me laisser de petits mots - je les apprécie énormément! Chaque journée, toutes ces couleurs de la lumière m'émerveillent. J'essaie de tout saisir et de profiter du temps magnifique. J'ai une grande faiblesse pour les cerisiers depuis longtemps et parfois je rêve de partir au Japon pour voir tous ces arbres.
    @Pia - I would have loved to have brought you one (or maybe two, or three) to your brunch. I love spring so much because there's the chance to enjoy the warmth and sun without pouring with sweat. Everything's so fresh now so I try not to think about the hotter days but then I know many people look forward to that...
    @Barbara - It's truly, I seem to spend most of my time in the kitchen these days. Why just today there was a rhubarb tart which I'll be posting next time. The carrot cake was lovely because it was so light (it doesn't contain any butter or oil) and the frosting made it so fruity and cool. I'm so glad you love the spring and my photos. It's true that the blooming flowers is something I look forward to each year, yet I somehow forget just how wonderful it is, everything seems alive. Have a lovely week too dear Barbara.
    @Natural selection - Thank you so much. The Buddhist house is a special place, I love the statues, the texture of the stones and the peace there.
    @Sweetlife - The only thing missing from our wonderful brunch though were your amazing brownies. Take care.
    @Julie - Those sentences of Proust's are so incredible and I feel so humble writing anything else about spring or blossom next to them. Didn't know you were a carrot cake fan, hopefully one day we can get togther to share some. This recipe's really nice.

  11. Ya rien à faire, ton blog est illlllllllluminé par ce soleil!!! Toutes ces fleurs, ces arbres, cette verdure... tu nous transportes Vanessa, j'adore tes billets, je voyage, et quand c'est fleuri, c'est magique alors merci pour ce rayon de soleil!
    Grosses biz :-)

  12. Oh, you've inspired me to make a pilgrimmage back now that spring is here!

  13. What a wonderful post! J'adore tes photos et toute cette atmosphère! Le bonheur est fait de ces moments et tu as bien su les recréer!

  14. I can feel the sun on my back with these photos. And the carrot cake is calling me. I've never made carrot cake. I like the looks of this recipe.

  15. Your pictures are fantastic! I love those candy-colored chairs. :)

  16. @Sarah - Oh merci! J'espère que tu as beaucoup de soleil à Paris aussi car tout a l'air magnifique en ce moment. Le printemps est vraiment un de mes saison préférées. Malheureusement, il fait un peu moche cette semaine et plutôt froid mais je n'ai pas perdu l'espoir! Grosses bises chère Sarah.
    @Sylee - Thanks so much for inspiring me to go there. It really does look lovely with the spring, although I'm keen too to return in autumn when the leaves cover the steps like on your wonderful photo.
    @Taste of Beirut - Oh merci! C'est vrai que le printemps m'inspire beaucoup en ce moment et rien qu'en se promenant dans la rue, on se sent si bien et contente d'être là.
    @Tracy - I hadn't made a carrot cake for ages but love this recipe - it's so simple. You can skip the frosting if you like but I find it a refreshing addition. Courgette cake is also tasty, although you need to eat it faster as they contain much more water than carrots. All that's missing now is a wonderful garden for me to grow them in.
    @Tinypaperheart - Thanks for visiting my blog. I love those chairs too but they belong to a cake shop where I don't go any more because what they sold isexpensive and not always fresh. I couldn't resist capturing these colours though.

  17. Whoa, the chocolate and cardamom torte looks so good.

  18. Reading about Berlin makes me feel blue... I've been away for so long. And I still have to be in France for a week. I'm eager to find all you are talking about in this pretty post. I've been to Literaturhaus two years ago but I was a little disappointed. For the Berlin 1930 atmosphere, my favorite will always be the Café Einstein in Schöneberg.
    These two new cakes look fabulous. But I've promised myself I'll bake your fantastic tiramisu first!

  19. @Des - I really love these two flavours together and can't wait to try them again with a chocolate tart.
    @Magda - I'm so sad you're not here and can't wait to see you again when you get back. Hope you have other nice things to do in Paris. Berlin is so beautiful and inspiring right now. Literaturhaus is a bit posh but I love the building and the atmosphere. I'd also like to visit the bookshop soon. Still, I must admit that Café Einstein near Nollendorfplatz is fantastic. It'd be nice to meet there soon if you manage to get a flight. Ah, the tiramisù, hope it works out better than the chocolate loaf ;-) I've promised one too to a friend of mine.

  20. I'd be so glad to see you soon in my lovely Berlin. I'm taking the night train tonight and will be back tomorrow morning, but as you may know, I'm moving with J. in the flat upstairs, same building (easy!) and I'm starting a new job so I'll be really busy during the first week + my best friend is visiting! Maybe we'll manage sth with her? Anyway, I'm really looking forward to it...