mardi 19 juin 2012

Goodbye to Berlin

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 I picked out the title long ago after those wonderful Christopher Isherwood stories which describe a very different city. I've often regrretted not having been able to live in the Paris of the twenties or the immediate post-war period or New York in the seventies but with Berlin, I think I managed to catch it at a wonderful time back in 2007. Wedding and Neukölln were still seriously uncool, rents were cheap, the little bars and nighclubs by the Spree seemed there to stay and the property developers and tourists hadn't yet discovered it fully. Berlin is still a wonderful city but it's changed a lot. When I made my decision to leave about a year ago, it didn't seem so harda nd besides, it's rather like reaching 30, you know it will happen one day but never imagine it will really come around. Perhaps I was even a little sick of the city but in the past few weeks I keep going to places I love and thinking how much I'm going to miss all of this. Just taking the U2 line from east to west when it goes overground for a bit and you look towards Potsdamer Platz or seeing the Regierungsviertel at night from the S-Bahn - these are moments that will always give me a kick. This coming Saturday then (at 11:35am if you want to be really exact), I'll leave my home here and Berlin will continue to exist without me, just as it did all those years before as our paths were moving ever closer together. I know that cities don't belong to anyone but it felt good knowing that I had Unter den Linden or the Volkspark Schöneberg at my fingertips. Originally I had made a list of all the thing I wanted to do in my last weeks but I quickly abandoned that, knowing that the stress of the move would make it impossible to do that much and also that I didn't want to accomplish absolutely everything here because that would leave nothing to come back for.

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Porridge and scones at the charming Hudson's cakes in Kreuzkölln

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Check out the clotted cream!

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The best cuppa

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Wandering around Neukölln

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 I feel very lucky  to have been abe to spend half a decade here, to have been a part of this and know that it will always have a special place in my heart. Back in Febraury I went to a Twin Peaks marathon screening with a good friend at a recreation of the Black Lodge and David Lynch's red room at a tiny bar in Neukölln. A thick layer of snow lay fresh on the ground but inside people came past with big slices of cherry pie and steaming cups of coffee and I chatted to some of the people around me, mainly artists. I though about how that represented everything I love about Berlin - the easiness, the excitement and something special which you just can't put your finger on. There's no easy way to say goodbye, in fact I prefer Tchüss which isn't quite as final. A big thanks to all of you for being so patient with me and give me so much support. It would have been so much harder without you. The next time we meet, I'll be writing from another part of the world.

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Nice headwear in Neukölln

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Returning to the zoo in West Berlin

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A sand cat

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The lion sleeps

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Berlin's panda

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The oriental entrance to the zoo

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Coffee time at Café Buchwald

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Baumkuchen or tree cake - a butter layer cake topped with chocolate

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Outside the Akademie der Künste in Tiergarten

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Schloss Bellevue, where the German president works

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The rose garden in the Bürgerpark in Pankow

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Danish pastries (from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess)

I've been wanting to post this recipe for such a long time but somewhere alog the line, things got in the way. It might look like a lot of work but actually not much effort is needed for fresh pastries which are probably the best you'll get unless you live in Denamrk that is. In fact the pastry and filling can be made ahead and popped in the freezer until you need them. I don't mean to be biased but my friends told me of all the cakes i've made for them over the years, these were the best!

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1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk at room temp
1 large egg at room temp
2 1/4 cups white bread flour
1 package rapid rise yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into slices

Almond filling:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons banched almonds, toasted
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temp
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 large egg white

Clear glaze:
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Sugar glaze:
1/2 cup icing sugar
1-2 tablespoons warm water

1. Beat egg, water and milk together, set aside. Put flour, yeast, salt and sugar into food processor and pulse to mix, add the cold slices of butter and process until the butter is cut up, empty into a bowl and add the milk mixture. Fold together, cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator overnight or up to 4 days.

2. To turn into pastry, let it get to room temp, roll into a rectangle, fold into thirds turning it afterwards so that the closed fold is on your left. Roll out again to a rectangle and repeat the steps above 3 times. 

3. Cut in half, cover and put in refrigerator for 30 minutes. To make the almond filling, toast the almonds, then process with the icing sugar until finely ground. Add the butter then process again, then the almond extract and egg white.

4. Roll out pastry into a large square and cut into 9 equal squares.

5. Take each sqaure and put a tablespoon of the almond mixture onto the pastry.  Bring up the opposite corners and pinch together, then flatten the pastry slightly.

6. Place on baking sheets and brush with the egg glaze, leave them to rise until they have doubled in size (about 90 minutes) 

7. Preheat the oven to 350, cook for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

8. To make the clear glaze heat the water and sugar to boiling and then brush on pastries when they have cooled a little. 

9. To make the sugar glaze, add the water to the icing sugar a little at a time to make a runny icing.  When they have cooled drizzle over the sugar glaze. Velbekomme!

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dimanche 10 juin 2012

The summer of a dormouse

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I am relieved that this blog isn't accompanied by a webcam because if you could see inside my flat right now, you might be shocked by the chaos. Half filled boxes piled on top of one another, bags of papers to be recycled, piles of books to take to the charity shop etc. I have little less than two weeks in Berlin but still a long list of things of get through and if you were wondering what I have been doing these past few weeks, the truth is, I feel rather overwhelmed by it all. Taking your life apart after 5 years in a place is a complicated business; there are moments when it doesn't seem quite real and others when sadness weighs down upon me. Last Wednesday was my final day at work and all last week I was busying myself in the kitchen making chocolate cakes and whipping up batches of amaretti. In return I was taken out to dinner, given beautiful bouquets with Emily roses, boxes of chocolates, a whole carrot cake and even a personal file with the students' favourite recipes. Saying goodbye affected me much more than I could ever have imagined, though strangely only when I got home and today there's still a whirlwind of emotions pulling me in different directions. I keep looking round, thinking of all the things that I love here and wondering how I'll be able to get by without them. Yet I know if I stay, I'll never be able to accomplish certain things.

My mum's visit at the end of May seems like an eternity ago when summer arrived in the city and boots and tights were exchanged for sandals and dresses. A final respite before the serious work began. The highlight was her birthday when I made a Linzer Torte and we returned to the Gemäldegalerie before catching Wes Anderson's latest film, the wonderful Moonrise Kingdom which managed to be as delicious as the soufflé at the end of this post. It was perhaps the perfect week, even though that made it even harder when she left and grey clouds and rain returned the following day. Just looking at the photos fills me with a longing for those sun drenched days.

Luckily I have enough wonderful friends to take me out and cheer me up when it all gets too much. Last week one of them gave me a little Iittala jar filled with Berliner Luft (Berlin air) to be opened whenever I miss it here. I thoroughly intend to take great gulps of it regularly.

Some photos from the perfect week:

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On our way to visit the Reichstag

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The best place to catch the sun's rays on the Reichstag terrace

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Looking towards Potsdamer Platz

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Endless legs

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Tomato caprese at Va Piano for lunch before going to see the Avengers

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A stroll in Tiergarten

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The view from the top of the Siegessäule is pretty nice too - looking west

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Golden Else from the top....

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...and the bottom

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The cinema at the Sony Centre

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Summer porridge

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Visiting the Max Liebermann villa where the garden is so beautiful it makes you cry

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The birch path - my favourite part of the garden

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Looking out to Wannsee

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The Garden of Exile at the Jewish Museum. Sadly too crowded with school parties these days.

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Gedeckter Apfelkuchen

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A birthday cake for my mum - Linzer Torte

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At the amazing Stasi Museum

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The different stamps showing the complex hierachy

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Mielke's offices (infamous head of the Stasi)

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The meeting room

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Where the canteen and supermarket were located in Stasi times

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Frankfurter Tor

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Café Moskau - sadly closed

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The pelicans at the Tierpark

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The villa at the Tierpark

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I made David Lebovitz's fromage blanc soufflé (recipe here) the day my mum arrived and even though we couldn't eat it warm, it was still amazing - rather like a cheesecake and perfect alone or topped with a few strawberries to offset the creaminess.

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