lundi 11 octobre 2010

Waiting for the sun

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I woke up shortly before the alarm went off, conscious of how early it was for a Sunday morning. The sun was warming the kitchen with its first rays and I thought that I should already be out there, taking photos, not wasting a minute of what might be the last fine day of the year instead of sipping hot tea and munching on white toast with apricot jam. The morning air was crisp and chilly with the only warmth in the flaming colours of the trees. I could see my breath as I made my way to the S-Bahn, fumbling for my gloves in my pockets and wishing I'd exchanged the ankle boots for knee high ones. On the platform, the odd travellor headed for Schönefeld airport with small suitcases, perhaps off to some hot destination. Yet I didn't feel in the slightest bit jealous as the train rattled on via Treptower Park, Ostkreuz and I saw the golden tones of the sky reflected in the Spree. Part of me hestitated whether to get out there but I had decided to travel all the way to Grünau, a place I had last visited at least two years ago. There is still the familiar Imbiss or snack bar opposite the station and the tram rails which disappear into the forest. Some modern villas occupy the lakside, competing for the space with watersport clubs. Yet I could not help noticing a number of buildings standing empty, their windows broken or boarded up and gates in front of overgrown gardens padlocked. I wonder what they were before; former post offices, schools, restaurants and whether they shall ever be brought to life again. I'd optimistically wandered down to the pier, deserted until next summer, hoping to begin a walk by the lake but had to continue for what seemed for miles through streets. At the empty beach, a line of Strandkorbs took in the Indian summer and just after, a small path finally veered off, taking me deeper into the woods and down to the water's edge. From time to time, silhouettes of joggers dressed in black came towards me in that hazy light where sunshine and shadows mingled equally. The further I went along, the lovelier the walk became; the tracks of cyclists in the sand, the view of the lake on which rowers occasionally glided by. Pausing to take some photos at a small beach, a man sitting out on his boat waved to me. Families and couple were just beginning their Sunday walk as I emerged out close to the tramlines again and back in civilisation, wishing my time away could have lasted a little longer.

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It's a pity this place was closed. I can only imagine the kind of food that's served in a restaurant with a carved native Indian on the roof.

Later on that day, I was seized by a desire to take more photos and watch the sun go down over the city. Normally, I avoid tourist traps like the Brandenburg Gate but I had a feeling this was the place to go. Berlin had never looked lovelier; even the most charmless, modern buildings were tranformed by the gentleness of the evening light and the colours of the leaves stood out like glowing embers in the fading afternoon. As strange as it may sound, it suddenly seemed amazing to me that I live here, how far I've come from the small place I grew up in and how lucky I am to be able to stay. At that moment, it all felt so easy.

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Blowing bubbles on Pariser Platz

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Trees and people cast long shadows at the end of a glorious autumn day

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A memorial outside the Reichstag for the murdered politicians of the Weimar Republic

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About ten days ago, I decided to watch The Railway Children, the film of my childhood about three siblings growing up in Edwardian England. I had not seen it for maybe twenty years but simply hearing that familiar music at the beginning brought tears to my eyes. Those landscapes of London and Yorkshire, the excitement and significance of the trains, the rain beginning to spit at the most dramatic moment. So much from my time growing up came flooding back; matinees at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham with its chandelier and green and gold interior where I would get a choc ice at the interval, returning home from swimming club on Sunday evenings starving before tucking into a boiled egg with soldiers, walking barefoot in the garden. The film left a lump in my throat in a way that would perplex an outsider seeing it for the first time. Another link with the past for me is re-reading Le Grand Meaulnes which I first discovered at the age of 20. I came to the final chapters while travelling down to London on a National Express coach just before Christmas and can still recall driving through the suburbs on a cold, grey day, fighting back the tears at the sadness of the story. I found it poignant too because it's about saying goodbye to our true youth, becoming an adult, abandoning those days of illusions and dreams. We may never lose it completely but it's difficult to escape the constraints of harsh reality sometimes. Even back then, I felt as if I had passed beyond that point and wished that I had read it a few years earlier. Coming back to it now, I find easier to lose myself in its pages, imagining myself in those frosty landscapes, awakening in a room filled with Chinese lanterns where you can hear the distant music playing. Even if the past is still a closed book into which we get an occasional glance, I'm glad to have those links with it, to feel that those moments still belong to me even if they are tinged with regret or nostalgia sometimes.

Lately, I seem to spend time in the train on the way home craving some particular flavour or dish, especially chocolate cake. I had an idea of how it should be; light but intense, fluffy but not moussy with some kind of icing. No recipe I had tried so far satisfied me and neither did rummaging through all my cookery books until I picked up one bought on my holiday in Scotland this year. I also grew up watching the Moomins, an animation based on the Finnish writer Tove Jansson's books. I might cringe at the English dubbing today but still have a fondness for their adventures, the fact that they use a rope ladder instead of stairs to come down from their tall, house, the fact that Moominmama always has an apron and handbag, prepared for anything. You can picture my excitement then when I discovered a cookbook featuring them. The book is divided into different sections; for example, winter, summer, harvest, picnics, lunchtime, dinner, garden parties and birthday parties. Although the Moomins are popular with children, the book is for the young at heart, rather than just the young since it features recipes for grog and some dishes which would be a little complicated for children. They're also accompanied with charming illustrations (see below!).

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My eye immediately lighted upon a chocolate cake recipe. It managed to be amazingly simple, fast (around 5 -10 minutes prep!) and has to be one of my absolute favourite cakes. I made some little modifications, reducing the amount of sugar since 240g seemed rather a lot (those Moomins obviously have a sweet tooth) and upped the amount of cocoa. Reading about Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain on Luisa's blog a while back made me keen to try out baking with spelt flour which I used here instead of the wheat one in the original. I was pleasantly surprised by the results and felt it enhanced the chocolate. Use the best cocoa you can get your hands on; I know it may seem extravagent but I bought Valrhona 100% cocoa (for Berliners - you can now get this at Kaufhof on alex as well as KaDeWe) and frankly, it's the best I've ever tried.

Moomintroll's delicious chocolate cake (slightly adapted)

2 eggs
100g granulated sugar
150ml milk
150g melted butter, cooled slightly
180g spelt flour
40g good quality cocoa
2 tasp vanilla sugar
2 tsp baking powder

For the icing

200g icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla sugar
4 tbsp cold espresso
4 tbsp melted butter, cooled slightly

1. Beat the eggs and sugar together until thick. Add the milk and melted butter.
2. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, vanilla sugar and baking powder) together and carefully blend with the eggs and milk.
3. Pour into a greased and lined springform tin and bake at 200°C for 50 minutes.
4. Leave the cake to cool.
5. For the icing, measure the icing sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla sugar, coffee and melted butter into a large mixing bowl and belnd until thick and smooth. Spread it over the top.

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Moomintroll's birthday cake

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19 commentaires:

  1. I will have to read your post again, so well written, I was experiencing the day with you. The photos have a autumn warmth. Spelt flour is quite workable, I have used it in breads, and this recipe sounds excellent. Moomins entered my life a little bit later, I love them. Enjoy these autumn days.

  2. Ici aussi le week-end a été lumineux et la chaleur des après-midis presque estivale. Nous concoteras-tu quelques exemples de "finnish cuisine" grâce à ce joli livre ?

  3. I love those tram tracks disappearing into the woods! This would be the right time of year for that journey too. Now I'm dying to try your chocolate cake...

  4. Je vois que tu as exactement les assiettes qu'il faut pour ce gâteau :-)
    A l'école, on nous lisait des histoires des Moomins, alors c'est vraiment un souvenir d'enfance pour moi aussi... D'où le voyage en Finlande il y a dix ans...
    J'ai ce livre depuis un moment... Tu as choisi la bonne recette pour me convaincre de m'y mettre :-)

  5. You seem very much at peace right now. A mighty enviable position. I would much enjoy spending a lesiure autumn day watching you take these great photos.

    So much of our lives are spend looking forward or to the past. Where's the moment? I ask myself this when I yearn for the past. It is a challenge just to embrace the day. The human mind seems perfectly capable of dissecting the past or projecting what's to come, but sometimes it can't see what is right in front of it.

    Thanks for making me think today...

  6. Thanks for taking us on this Sunday adventure with you. I love your pictures and also your writing, so expressive.
    I remember reading Le Grand Meaulnes and loving it, a long time ago. I should read it again.

    And your chocolate cake! It looks just scrumptious!
    I had never heard of the Moomins but they fit right into my interest for Scandinavia right now, so I'll look up the author, thanks for the tip.

  7. I'm enjoying reading all your nice comments over a cup of tea just before going to bed:
    @P.K - Your words make me smile. I'm really keen to experiment more with spelt flour as i really like the flavour and texture it gives.
    @Rose - J'espère que tu nous racconteras un peu de tes promenades. Tes billets me manquent! J'ai très envie d'essayer d'autres recettes de ce livre et de découvrir enfin la cuisine finlandaise.
    @Sylee - I can really recommend the walk, although perhaps skip the first part through Grünau which was pleasant but not amazing and get the tram to Strandbad Grpnau and then maybe go on afterwards to Alt-Schmöckwitz. I'm so looking foward to meeting you at long last and feel sure we'll have lots to talk about and many cakes to share together :-)
    @MM - Je me souviens de ton billet où tu nous as parlé de ton séjour linguistique en Finlande et de ta passion pour les films de Kaurismäki (que j'adore aussi) mais je ne savais que tu est aussi fan des Moomins. C'est chouette, surtout parce que as ce livre! Avant de m'en être servie, je le croyais mignon mais plutôt pour les enfants mais les recettes sont bien bonnes et pas compliquées. Quant à la vaisselle, j'ai une grande faiblesse pour celle d'Ittala, même si c'est chère et quand J'ai vu ces assiettes, j'ai complètement craquée. En Angleterre, j'ai aussi un mug avec Moominpappa et un bol que je vais ramener lors de mon prochain voyage là-bas.
    @Lazaro - It would be nice vaing you along on one of those long strolls and then cook with you in the evening. A shame we're so far apart! Exploring a different place each time helps me to focus on enjoying things for what they are. You're so right about us being concerned with the future or past thinking things were so much better back then or worrying too much that everything won't be perfect which means we fail to appreciate how wonderful life now can be. I'm guilty of being too nostalgic but I also know that I have it pretty good here. Take care!
    @Mary-Laure - Thanks so much. Le grand Meaulnes is a book you can come back to again and again I feel. Funnily, a reader on your blog left a comment recommending Tove Jansson's novels the other day and she also wrote the Moomin books. I can definitely recommend both. I'Ve been thinking a bit about Scandinavian literature tips and even though I'm no expert, I'd recommend stories by Kjell Askilsen, although there seems to be more available in French or Klas Ostergren oh and Julie from the Book Travellers blog loves The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas which is on my must read list.

  8. A lovely day indeed, Vanessa. And poignant photos. It's fun to many people, places and sights to remember. I call it: photos in my head.

    My FIL, when I used to talk about old days with him, would say: that's history! He was an old man at the time.

  9. Moi, j'ai juste un Moominpappa en peluche :-)
    Ah non, j'ai aussi un mug (offert dans une boutique d'électronique à Hong Kong), mais c'est mon poulet qui l'utilise.
    Mais c'est vrai, la vaisselle Moomin Iittala est chouette !

  10. It looks like a beautiful Sunday! A chocolate cake to end the day seems just perfect. I am so curious about the Moomins, the characters look adorable (and quite practical- a handbag and an apron? Ready!) :)

  11. Vanessa, you I always say, I'd love to trade shoes with you. We have NOTHING like that here in Vegas! I soooo wish we had beautiful places that you go to here or somewhere even close. And of course, thank you for sharing me the recipe. Do you think there will be a difference if I substitute red wine with the milk? I kinda wanted to make wine cake with this (with added raisins). The cake looks fab to me! Love it!

  12. @Barbara - I often think of you when I've forgotten my camera, taking the shot in my head. The old times always seem better because we can'T have them back but the present is pretty good too.
    @MM - Ah, j'ai Moominmamma en peluche, donc, il faut vraiment se voir un des ces jours ;-) Ton poulet a très bon goût s'il se sert de ce beau mug. Je compte les jours avant de rentrer chez Iittla!
    @Nicolette - Moominmamma is the kind of person I'd always like to be around since she keeps a cool head in a crisis and can always rustle up tea and cake. I'm more like Moominpappa though who spends his time writing his diary, thinking about adventures and is rather chaotic. The books and Tv series are charming.
    @Rylan - It's true that Berlin has an amazing amount to offer, plus it's so cheap. I like the idea of using red wine in the cake and think it could work nicely, although I've zero experience in cooking with it in desserts. It's a nice idea to think of having a cake for the kids and one for grown ups!

  13. Boy, what a light! We had a couple of good days in october, I have to admit. Now things are starting to look a bit grey...
    More importantly: there is a moomin cookbook! I need to get my hands on it! I have been willing to buy the comic books for a while.
    And then there is the chocolate cake. Can I make this post one of my favorites?

  14. the light in your shots is amazing,and i love the cake, it looks so moist and delicious, cheers!!

  15. @Pia - It's true, we're so lucky this year with the Indian summer. September was rotten but now the colurs and light are so beautiful. I just want it to last a little longer though. I picked up a Moomin comic book last year and totally love it and yes, you really should get this book. I'm flattered that you like the post so much - thanks!
    @Pity - This autumn has to be one of the best ever and whenever the sun comes out, I rush for my camera. Last Sunday was one of the most beautiful days of the year.

  16. Those Moomins and their sugar...I would have cranked it back as well :) I know that lump in the throat that you speak of. It was very nice passing the time with your post today. The photos and words were all woven with a wonderful golden light.

  17. Oh, so much loveliness here. I can't imagine where these Moomins have been all my life, but clearly, we need to become better acquainted.

  18. @Tracy - Oh thanks! I was trying to store as much of that golden light in my memory for rainy days.
    @Molly - Thanks for stopping by. I so hope you like the Moomins as the stories are so lovely for adults and children alike.

  19. Maybe it is because I woke feeling a little sad this morning that chocolate cake for breakfast seems a very good idea. Yours looks so dark and delicious. Less sugar and excellent cocoa is the perfect plan. I did not grow up with the Moomins, but I have read The Summer Book and enjoyed it. So many beautiful thoughts in this post.