My return to Berlin has in many ways seemed like a strange and beautiful dream. The masses of snow, rediscovering my room with its piles of books, coming home every day with wet feet because of my hopelessly inadequate boots but having the comforts of cheese on toast, large mugs of cocoa or tea and settling down with a Woody Allen film or getting around to the book someone gave me for my birthday last year. It's almost as if I was never away at all and yet I feel I love the city more than ever. Before my trip to Paris, I was afraid that I wouldn't want to come back here because it would seem cold and ugly in comparison. But although I still love Paris, it was hard to describe the emotion of getting into the TGV headed for Frankfurt and hearing the announcements in German once more or changing in snowy Mannheim to the familiar high speed ICE trains. Just little things but they gave me the impression I was getting closer to home. There's something inside of me that clicks with the imperfection and the solitude of Berlin. Reading Caroline's wonderful post the other day made me realise how much this city is part of me, how much I need it.
Late breakfasts at the weekend
Last Sunday, I set out to explore the snow in Tiergarten. Early in the morning, there was still a grey mistiness hanging over the trees, the heels of my boots sunk a little into the solid white ground with each step and I met only occasional joggers and dog walkers on my long walk through this special place filled with so many memories. I had never seen so much snow in Berlin before and it reinforced the silence and magic of it. Later on, there were children being pulled along on sledges and cross country skiers keen to take advantage of the winter landscapes while they last.
Later on, I decided to walk back all the way to Charlottenburg along the Kurfürstendamm, the rough equivalent of Oxford Street, although it's no longer as important as it was in divided Germany when it was realy the centre of West Berlin. The title of this post refers to a famous song by Hildegaard Knef and can be translated as "I'm homesick for the Kurfürstendamm" or Ku'damm as everyone calls it. I've always had a special affection for it, even if most of my friends can't understand why. I remember going to a vernissage with Justine at the Maison de France. The organiser described Ku'damm as the Champs Elysees of Berlin and outside passers by stopped to look in at us through the large glowing windows like those of an aquarium which made me think of the restaurant in Balbec in Proust. Afterwards we went to the most adorable little pizzeria in Uhlandstraße where you sit on wooden benches and they announce when your order is ready over loudspeakers in Italian. Coming out into the cold, we looked up at the beautiful buildings opposite with their iron balconies and strolled back to Savignyplatz past the nocturnal displays in the chic, deserted boutiques.
There is still so much I want to discover here and maybe the optimism I'm feeling right now is just that "fresh, new year's effect" which will melt away with the snow but I know that even though it's good to go away, the best part is when you come home.
Before I give you my late recipe for Christmas cake, I know that many of you will be sick to death of Christmas, overeating and seriously rich food. It also seems terrible to think of the festive period after seeing all the heartbreaking images from Haiti. All I can say is that nothing really seems that important anymore in comparison. The only appropriate thing to do is to give a donation and most of all not forget.
Christmas cake (makes a 110g cake) - from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess
50g glacé cherries
90g brown sugar
2/3 tsp lemon zest
2 large eggs
250g plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
pinch of salt
Fits an 18cm round tin.
1. Place all fruit in a large bowl and pour in the brandy. Cover and leave to soak overnight.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 150 °C. Line the baking tin with a double layer of baking paper - it should reach about 10cm above the edge of the tin.
3. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the lemon zest.
4. Add in the eggs, then the marmelade, beating well.
5. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl then add them alternately with the brandy soaked fruit.
6. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 2-2.5 hours or until a cake tester comes out clean.
7. When the cake is cool, brush with brandy and wrap in extra thick tinfoil so it stays moist. When it's 100% cool, remove the foil, remove the cake from the tin, re-wrap it in foil and store in an airtight container for at least 4 weeks before you plan to eat it. I like to pour over some extra brandy every couple of weeks to make sure the cake doesn't dry out.
1 large block of marzipan - about 500g (preferably white, but they'd sold out when I went to buy some which explains the yellow snowman, and from an organic shop so it's free of E-numbers!)
300-400g icing sugar
1. Dust your work surface with icing sugar and roll out the marzipan so it will fit the cake but still be a good, thick layer. Brush the cake with a little warmed jam to make it stick and gently place the marzipan over the top and sides of the cake.
2. Sift the icing sugar or put it in a mixer to get rid of the lumps. Add in as much lemon juice as you like to get your desired consistency - I like my icing a little bit runny. Carefully smooth it over the marzipan using a palette knife. Leave to set for a few hours before placing any other decorations on top.
My marzipan birds - I can be artistic too sometimes.
Holly from our garden for a finishing touch!
The trifle recipe is the same as the one I posted here, expect that instead of panettone, I used trifle sponges for a more English touch.