jeudi 10 février 2011

The road at my door

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Photograph taken by J. a couple of years ago in the Karwendel in Austria

My Dear Friend,

I suppose you have long thought before that I had forgotten you (or was dead) but my dear friend, I am still alive, and when I think of my Old friends you are always the first to come to mind. It will probably surprise you to hear from me down in this country but U.S was too small for the last two years I was there. I was restless. I wanted to see more of the world. I had seen all of the U.S that I thought was good.( ....) I visited the best cities and best parts of South A. till I got here. And this part of the country looked so good that I located, and I think for good, for I like the place better every day. I have 300 cattle, 1500 sheep and 28 good saddle horses, 2 men to do my work, also a good 4 room house, a warehouse, stable, chicken house and some chickens. The only thing lacking is a cook (...) and sometimes I feel very lonely for I am alone all day, and my neighbours don't amount to anything, besides the only language spoken is Spanish, and I don't speak it well enough to converse on the latest scandals so dear to the hearts of all nations. (...)

The climate here is a great deal milder than Ashley valley. The summers are beautiful, never as warm as there. And grass knee high everywhere and lots of good cold mountain water, but the winters are very wet and disagreeable , for it rains most of the time, but sometimes we have lots of snow, but it don't last long, for it never gets cold enough to freeze. I have never seen Ice one inch thick...

Robert Leroy Parker, otherwise known as Butch Cassidy writing to Mrs Davies from Argentina

The original Butch and Sundance probably weren't quite this good looking

I read that letter, part of Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia, in the deserted auditorium of a cinema just before they turned down the lights. Something about it, imagining seeing the seasons change in the spectacular landscapes of Argentina and later the solitude in a room lit by candlelight makes me dream. It makes me think of the film with Paul Newman and Robert Redford which is one of my favourites but most of all, it leaves me restless for some kind of adventure myself. As I've said in another post, I'm not much of an explorer; there's a fear of the unknown, the inability to go without a real bed or a regular wash or be at the mercy of the elements. Basically, I'm a coward. At the same time though, the ordinary scares me too, the fear that every day might always end up being the same, a bit like Groundhog Day, so perhaps the answer is to look for small adventures in the places around me and leave the big adventures for bedtime reading and viewing. I love the open spaces of the western where people's dreams live and die, where you can ride off in any direction without meeting a soul for days.

Last week I finally got around to visiting the Pergamon Museum for the first time. It felt amazing walking in and seeing a huge altar which filled the massive space, an elaborate Roman market gate, delicately painted cups and pots, Islamic woven rugs and wooden pens for exquisite penmanship. There was also an opportunity to catch the Adventures of Tel Halaf exhibition with sculptures pieced back together from thousands of fragments in the rubble of the museum in Charlottenburg bombed in World War Two. They were originally discovered and excavated in part of what is today north east Syria by the German archeologist Max von Oppenheim and housed in a converted machine hall which served as a foundation. I imagine illustrious visitors like Agatha Christie or Samuel Beckett spending time in the glacial, unheated rooms in the bitter Berlin winter, standing in awe at the sight of these monumental blocks of sculptures and it also makes me long to follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia into the desert where there is no end to the horizon. It made me think back to when I visited the Alhambra at nightime when the moon was shining brightly. Others were content to take a blaze of photos and rush onto the next room but I lingered in the soft summer air for a moment, letting my mind drift back to times when people really lived here, listening to gentle song of the fountain nearby. I thought of Oppenheim in his luxurious apartment on the Ku'damm, decorated in the oriental style where visitors would go to admire his collection of treasures and listen to the strumming of a guitar as evening fell over Berlin.

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From the Adventures of Tel Half exhibition

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A book belonging to Oppenheim

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Some of Oppenheim's personal collection for his apartment

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Fragment of the Pergamon altar frieze

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Islamic writing instruments

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Luisa's zucchini fritters with yoghurt - you can find the recipe here

This is my 100th post and it feels amazing to get to such a large number. To mark the occasion, it only seems right to return to my starting point and make another cheesecake. This one is from a Nigella Lawson book which I somehow never got around to making because I preferred the London one. It's not a New York cheesecake in the truest sense because I reduced the original amount of Philadelphia, replaced the sour cream by whipping cream and added a tub of quark to make it lighter. Thanks again to all of you who take time to read such long posts and leave comments - I really appreciate it!

New York Cheesecake, adapted from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess

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For the base

250g digestive biscuits (or graham crackers as you say in the U.S. Berliners, you can now buy these at Edeka and some Karstadt stores)
150g unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp caster sugar

For the filling

2 tbsp cornflour
300g cream cheese
4 eggs, separated
2 tsp vanilla extract
250g quark (not low fat)
150ml whipping cream
1/2 tsp salt
200g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon

1. Make the base by putting the biscuits in the mixer and pulsing until you have fine crumbs. Melt the butter in a pan or the microwave and pour onto the crumbs along with the 3 tablespoons of sugar. Pulse again so everything is blended and press the crumbs into the bottom of a springform tin with the back of a spoon so they're firm. Place the tin in the freezer while you get on with the filling.
2. Preheat the oven to 170°C and put in a baking sheet at the bottom to catch the inevitable drips . In a large bowl, combine the 200g sugar and the cornflour. Add the cream cheese, egg yolks and vanilla and blend, either by hand or with an electric blender. Slowly pour in the quark and whipping cream and beat well until the mixture is smooth then add the lemon zest and salt.
3. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff then fold them into the cream cheese mixture. Retrieve the cheessecake base from the freezer and gently pour in the filling.
4. Bake for between 60 and 90 minutes without opening the door until set and golden brown on top. Then turn off the heat and leave the cheesecake for 2 more hours in the oven, again without opening the door. Then open the door and leave the cheesecake for another hour.

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16 commentaires:

  1. I feel sort of... bewildered by things of such age. I can't imagine the people who used them or the places where they were originally kept.

    Congratulations on your 100th post, Vanessa. Quite a milestone.

  2. Thanks for the virtual museaum visit! What a great collection of objects. I loved it!

    Zucchini fritters are delicious and so is NY cheesecake. Both look terrific.



  3. You captured the wonder of the museum treasures. What a fantastic place.
    Congratulations on your 100th post. The zucchini fritters look delicious.

  4. On peut voyager en pensee sans etre lache pour autant. Il me semble.
    Plus que par tous ces objets antiques, pourtant d'une grande beaute, je suis emue par le titre, et par l'evocation d'une nuit dans les jardins de l'Alhambra.

  5. Yes, the Pergammon is an amazing museum! It's like travelling into a new world just by stepping in it :)

  6. I think about adventure often, smaller nearby adventures and those more challenging and far off. I'm sure we learn from them all. A beautiful sunset just a few blocks from home, back country camping in a tent, or walking beside the Seine on a Sunday -- I love them all. Your museum visit, and all of the adventures you share with us here, always transport me. It's nice to get to experience your adventures as well as my own.

  7. 100 posts, congratulations! You added something good to the world with those x

  8. @Amber - I know what you mean about feeling somehow cut off from things so long ago - it's one reason why I struggle to read about Roman or Eyptian history. After a couple of hours in such museums, I'm happy to return to the modern age. 100 posts feels good but a little unreal too.
    @Rosa - The museum is a real jewel and I hope to return there quite soon.
    @P.K - Thanks a lot. The fitters are really delicious and so easy to make.
    @Gracienne - Merci beaucoup Gracienne. Le titre vient d'un poème par Yeats que j'ai trouvé en feuilletant mon gros livre de poésie (j'ai souvent du mal à trouver des titres). Cette nuit à l'Alhambra était tellement magique. Je regrette un peu de ne pas avoir eu un appareil photo mais parfois c'est mieux de savourer de tels moments sans ce besoin de tout enregistrer.
    Inès G - Yes, I feel exactly that way too and it felt so special discovering this place at last.
    @Denise - The truth is many of these big adventures can be thrilling but so much can go wrong and there must also be moments of boredom so I'd choose the magic of a sunset or a walk in a new place any day. You're so right that reading books and blogs is a great way to broaden our experience.
    @Sasa - Oh wow, my contribution to the world seems pretty small but the blog has made a big difference for me, if only for coming into contact with people like you.

  9. Les visages peints sur les fragments de céramique semblent s'échapper d'un livre de Marjane Satrapi ; bravo pour ce 100e billet (et ce nouveau cheesecake !)

  10. Oh man, cheesecake! :)

    I just had to read the first lines and I knew it was Patagonia; I definitely have to start reading Bruce Chatwin one day or another, what a great observer.

    I love the Pergamon too - although I visited it 10 years ago now! I'm getting old...

  11. I always enjoy seeing a bit of your world...thank you for sharing. xo

  12. @Rose - Mais oui, tu as bien raison! Je n'y avais pas pensé- merci pour cette observation très chouette et pour ton commentaire. Bises!
    @Manon - Ah, I should have known you would recognise it. As you've already been there and love the place, I think the Chatwin book is definitely for you. It's quite unusual and some bits are more interesting than others but definitely a favourite of mine. I'd no idea you were in Berlin back in 2000 and I wish I'd seen the city back then too before Prenzel Berg took over and Mitte became too clean. I recall you're younger than me so you can't be old ;-)
    @Lecia - I feel exactly the same about your stunning blog which I look at almost every morning.

  13. what lovely and historical pieces of art. I love them. Makes me want to go back and visit the High museum here in Atlanta. It's wonderful to be able to preserve artifacts from periods we missed. And who doesn't love zucchini fritters! Have you have cabbage ones! Nice to find your blog! :)

  14. Beautiful photos, Vanessa. I felt as though I was there.
    Congratulations on your 100th post! I so enjoy visiting you here.

    You certainly don't strike me as a coward....start small and work up. Go with a more adventurous friend. That's the answer. My daughter travels extensively and she has taught me to spread my wings.

  15. Yummy looking fritters and cake, perfect for a post-museum meal. Congrats on the big 1-0-0!



  16. @Bren - It's always great to find new readers. Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I'd like to visit Atlanta one day.
    @Barbara - I think we have to find the right kind of challenges for ourselves. Spreading our wings and taking the plunge is a good thing but that doesn't mean we have to get the South Pole either.
    @Nicolette - Thanks so much for these kind words!