mardi 31 mai 2011

Evening at the window

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My relationship with summer has never been easy. While others rush to put on shorts and sandals and spend hours at picnics and barbeques, I find myself desperately trying to stay cool and not get sunburned. Officially the palest person in Berlin with only two skin tones, white and red, my friends look annoyed whenever I take a seat at a café in the shade or worse still, inside. No matter how much people tell me how incredible Berlin is in this season, the hot weather makes me bad tempered and the warmer it gets, the more I long for a summer in England in my parents' garden, eating strawberries and cream and watching the tennis. While others dream of endless parties on the terrace with cool drinks, I struggle to deal with sticky nights and mosquitoes.

Yet this year I find myself enjoying the warmer days more than before, even if I'm not outside for very long. Though summer will never be my favourite season, it's hard to resist a time of year when the tomatoes have flavour once again, when you can smell the strawberries as you wander between market stands, gazing at the piles of fresh asparagus and the cherries. I love to take a moment to watch the changing palette of the sky as the sun goes down and enjoy the luxury of getting up early at the weekend to linger over the first silent moments with a cup of tea. And you, what are your favourite things about summer?

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Beautiful skies

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Strawberry smoothie - strawberries with kefir milk and rolled oats

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In the Bürgerpark last weekend

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One of the best things I've done recently was to get my hands on a copy of Heidi Swanson's new book, Super Natural Every Day. Like many others, I was always a fan of 101 Cookbooks but the book really blew me away with such wonderful recipes and I've been using it pretty much every day. It's hard to talk of favourites - millet muffins, baked oatmeal, wild rice casserole and yoghurt biscuits to name just a few - but I have a soft spot for these stuffed tomatoes with couscous and it seems like the perfect summer dish.

Stuffed tomatoes

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6 large, ripe tomatoes
115g/ !/2 cup plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon harissa
1 tablespoon olive oil
12 fresh basil leaves, chopped,
2 shallots, minced
fine-grain sea salt
85g wholewheat or barley couscous (I used spelt)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Chop the tops off the tomatoes and scoop out the insides with a teaspoon over a bowl, trying not to cut into the sides. Break up any large chunks. Place the empty tomatoes into a baking dish, greased and big enough to fit them all in.
2. For the filling, mix the tomato chunks, yoghurt, harissa, olive oil, salt, most of the basil and the shallots into a bowl. Test to see if you need more salt or harissa then add in the couscous.
3. Spoon the mixture into each tomato until almost full then bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes or until the couscous is done. Top with the leftover basil.

dimanche 15 mai 2011

I'm gonna miss you now that you're gone

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I'm not sure if this is a good time to write a new post. Outside the wind is battering against the windows, scattering the last of the blossom in the afternoon sunshine, cooled by yesterday's rain. I'm feeling a little shattered after just watching the Deer Hunter and unable to focus my mind on anything else. Others had warned me what a harrowing film it is but I still wasn't prepared.

Since my return to Berlin last week I've been lucky to have had plenty of free time to enjoy the late spring in full bloom and bask in the warmth of its rays. An afternoon on the terrace of Café Fleury with Chrissi for coffee and cake, a stroll around Schlosspark Charlottenburg, stopping to read Graham Robb's Parisians underneath a chestnut tree with pink candles and picking up a copy of Henry James' English Hours at Marga Schoeller. Yet there was also sadness knowing that Chrissi and another good friend are moving away soon, that there is so little time left to do and say so much. Like Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, I try to prepare myself for their departures and play out the scene in my mind where we say goodbye but deep down I know it isn't really possible.

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At café fleury with its gingham tablecloths, patterned cushions and photos of classic French movie scenes.

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Capitalism destroys

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Keeping cool at Schloss Charlottenburg

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In the Schlosspark

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Guarding the leaflets outside Marga Schoeller

Yesterday morning, I sat in the living room, reading and also listening to the city wake up through the open window; the footsteps on the gravel, the fragments of distant conversations and the rattling of the tram. I had a desire to sit in the darkened space of the cinema again but decided to cook a Japanese meal in the evening as the delicate beads of raindrops came cascading down. I sometimes wish that things could be as simple and satisfying as the sunlight on the trees or the smell of spices and fresh bread filling the kitchen.

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The evening sky from the living room

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In The Schlosspark Niederschönhausen

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Soba noodles with crispy tofu

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85g soba noodles
100g plain organic tofu
1 medium piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 garlic clove
3 spring onions, chopped
80g bamboo shoots (half a jar), drained and cut into thin strips
soya sauce and olive oil for seasoning and frying

1. Begin by cooking the soba noodles in a large saucepan of boiling water for 5-7 minutes, then rinse then in cold water and set aside to drain.
2. Chop the block of tofu up into cubes. Heat some olive oil in a large sized frying pan, add in the tofu and fry on a medium heat until crispy, stirring regularly so it gets evenly brown. Leave to cool.
3. Heat some oil in a wok and stir in the crushed garlic and chopped ginger without letting them brown. Tip in the spring onions and bamboo and stir for a few minutes then add a splash of soya sauce to the wok and leave for another minute or two. Now add the cold soba noodles, stirring them into the vegetables until warm all the way through and finish by adding the tofu.