Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Ich bin ein Berliner

...I'd always wanted to say those words. Unfortunately, I'd never had the opportunity because, until this summer,  I'd never been to Berlin. After the thrill of Paris, we were keen to visit another city - a slightly cheaper one though, since we wanted to stay ten days instead of three without risking bankruptcy. So when a number of colleagues mentioned Berlin being relatively cheap as well as relaxed and child-friendly, the choice was easily made. But we didn't want to be tourists for ten days. So instead of booking a hotel, we opted for an apartment through Airbnb in the relatively quiet suburb of Neuköln. And I'm glad we did. It was super: a regular neighbourhood with regular locals - son S even enjoyed playing soccer with the neighbouring boys and girls, communicating with hands, feet and bits of German he was picking up. And I of course enjoyed imagining having moved house. "We've moved to Berlin, you know," I pictured myself saying to anyone willing to listen.
I also imagined eating out every night for the rest of my life at the fabulous local cafes. Nothing posh, just life-worn street eateries serving good, basic food: veggies and fruit, fresh herbs and spices. And good coffee. Boy, the coffee was good! But not only the food and drink were deeply satisfying. Just kicking off your shoes, sitting back and watching Berlin's colourful inhabitants pass by: that alone made the trip worthwhile. A dip into my diary, in which I recorded a kaleidoscope of images, not only of the people, but of Berlin itself: 'polished nails holding cigarettes, flip-flops, bare feet, boys with braided hair, sunglasses, breakfast in the afternoon, multilingual chatter, laughter, faces close together, laptops, books, newspapers, graffiti, cobblestone streets, slow traffic, trees, playgrounds, high-ceilinged apartment blocks, entrepreneurism, cappuccinos and fresh mint tea.'

Entrepreneurism? I hear you wonder. Yip. One thing that struck me about Berlin was the number of 'businesses' or 'niches' popping up all over the place. It seems people simply hog a space in the city and do their own thing. Quite successfully. None of the red tape we have over here, apparently. In that respect Berlin seems to be a blank canvas for boundless creativity and that certainly gets my heart pounding.
And so I imagined us moving there. Setting ourselves up in a neigbhourhood surrounded by the many artists (writers!) who so happily flock to the Berlin to settle deep within her bowels. I mentioned this flight of fancy to one of the neighbours who was in charge of the house keys. "Berlin is just fantastic'," I said, to which he replied without hesitation: "Yes, in summer." When I stared at him, expecting more, he added in his attractive German accent: "In winter it's a whole different story: cold and dark."
Oh. In that case: Ich bin ein Berliner... in den sommer.


(Just in case you are wondering: the kids of course wore safety helmets while biking; I don't for the life of me get how they're not wearing them in these photos). 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Something with apple

Last week saw the 44th birthday of a very good friend of ours. "Shall I come over for coffee and pie?" he asked cheerily on the phone. And indeed, come Saturday morning he showed up on our doorstep with his infant son, as his wife was out of town. Just days before, another friend of ours had mentioned "all that delicious baking" I do and I was forced to reluctantly admit that well, I hadn't done any - save the odd batch of biscuits - for quite some time. Why I haven't done any baking? I'm not sure. I could say I was swallowed up by work at school. Or by work on my book. Or by lots of nice outings and general busyness during the summer holidays. Or simply by a kind of kitchen lethargy. A combination of all the above is probably most accurate.
Anyway. "Shall I come over for coffee and pie?" rang in my ears all Friday through to Saturday morning and a kind of panic gripped me. Much like at the start of every school year, I wondered: "Can I still do it? What if it turns out my teaching/baking 'successes' have been nothing but flukes all along?" Silly, self-absorbed thoughts, of course. As with teaching, the best thing to do is ignore thought altogether and just get on with it.  I was in the mood for 'something with apple', and so I dusted off my favourite kitchen companion Nigel Slater for a bit of inspiration. As I got on with preparing the dough and peeling/coring apples, I felt a pleasant quietness emerge within me, a deep sense of satisfaction in what I was doing. To cut a long story short: I found myself completely in the moment and apparently I hadn't been there for a while. And when I pulled that glorious, golden pie out of the oven - well, that must have been the highlight of my day.

When our friend had been, seen and eaten, I set about clearing out my baking cupboard to give it a good clean. Then I reorganised all my baking necessities, throwing out stuff that was over the use-by date (quite a lot, to my shame). Measuring spoons, bowls, whisks, flour, packets of baking powder and all sorts of other useful utensils and ingredients passed through my hands. And as they did so, I felt an old familiar thrill.


The photo has nothing at all to do with the pie. I asked M to leave a piece of pie for me to photograph, but he 'forgot.' Hence a photo taken in a Berlin cafe where we drank some lovely green tea. We spent part of our summer there (in Berlin, not the cafe) about which I will write later.
Apple Shortcake
Adapted from The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater
For the pastry:
150g butter, softened 
150g raw cane Sugar
250g spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
lemon rind of one organic lemon
a little milk to finish
For the apples:
5-6 apples
lemon juice
50g butter
1 tablespoon raw cane sugar
  • lightly butter an 18cm pie tin (Nigel says a shallow one, but since I don't own one of those, I used my usual loose-bottomed springform tin)
  • using a hand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  • gently mix in the egg, then stir in flour, baking powder and lemon rind
  • with a light hand, work ingredients into a ball in the bowl or on a thoroughly floured work surface
  • cut pastry in half, wrap one half in glad wrap and store in fridge for a half hour
  • roll out the other half of the pastry to line the tin (this may require some patchwork), then store tin in fridge for a half hour
  • preheat oven 180 degrees Celsius
  • peel and core the apples, slice them into wedges and throw them in a pan of cold water to which you have added the lemon juice to stop the apples discolouring
  • heat a pan, allow the 50g of butter to melt
  • when the butter sizzles, add the apples, bake until they have coloured lightly, sprinkle the sugar over the apples and cook until lightly caramelised
  • remove the pie tin from the fridge, carefully transfer the apples to the pie tin
  • roll out the other half of the pastry and cover the whole pie (again, this may require some patchwork); press the pastry edges together so as to 'close' the pie
  • brush the top with a little milk
  • bake for 40 minutes
  • allow to cool briefly, then eat warm with unsweetened whipped cream