Pear Cake

Due to extreme sleep deprivation, a plummeting bank balance and occasional (Full disclosure? Frequent) boredom, this baby machine is now closed for business.

Subsequently, I have given away my maternity wear, pillows, baby books, to anyone who looks remotely pregnant- even if they are just fat.

Except for my underwear. The hideous ones with the high waist, cut low on the legs, I’ve still got those.

Uncomfortable underwear, shoes and mascara (that stuff hurts more than you can imagine when sharp bits flake off and drop into your soft eye) make me question the existence of feminism.  Forget the glass ceiling or pay disparity and consider the string.   Read more of this post

Rhubarb Crumble Cake

We were out this morning when our Amazon packet arrived. An office in the building accepted the parcel for us. When we saw the DHL notice Layla and I did an ‘Amazon dance’ – she because she knew she was getting some more ‘Harry and the Dinosaurs‘ books and me because I was getting ‘Relish‘ Prue Leith’s autobiography. Leith is the founder of Leith’s (imagine that) and a serious over achiever in life.

We skipped over to the office and handed over the DHL notice.  The girl handing over the box launched into a rant.  I could tell it was a rant because her cheeks flushed.  I asked her to slow down and repeat what she had said.“You should know.  This is the last time we are going to be accepting any packages on your or anyone else’s behalf.  Otherwise all we do is answer doors to give people their packages.”  She must have seen my perplexed expression because then she said “I realize that this is the first time we have accepted a package for you but nevertheless that is our decision.”

I shrugged my shoulders, smiled and said thank you.  But to you I say there goes another sufferer of the resentful martyr syndrome  and “Don’t you need to know someone before you chew them out? Or at least – Hell I don’t know – be aware of their first name?’  I feel like I should walk around the city, depositing fortune cookies with nuggets of self-help ensconced inside.  She would get; “Doing the right thing has no value if done begrudgingly” or “Life is too short to be this anal and you are too young to be this bitter.” or “Smoke some of this green stuff, it will take the edge off”. Read more of this post

Bulgarian Salad (Salată Bulgărească)

When I was doing my MA in London, I met a girl whose last name was Mihai.  Her first name was very Romanian sounding as well.
“Hi, I’m Suzy.” I smiled “My mother is Romanian.”
She answered me in English, “I don’t speak Romanian.”
“What?” I balked.  She was as Romanian as they get, I would have guessed she was Romanian even without hearing her speak or knowing her name.
As I got to know her better, she took the liberty to advise me “You know, you aren’t really Romanian, it’s only your mother after all and you have a Greek passport, just tell people you’re Greek.” (Obviously this all happened way before the current financial crisis) As if admitting to be a Romanian or even part Romanian was tantamount to saying “I like to pick my nose in public.”  And that people were going to give me wide berth once they knew.In spite of her advice, whenever I meet someone and they ask me where I am from, I hit them with the “I was born in Kuwait, my father’s Jordanian, my mother’s Romanian and I was raised in Greece.”

I am surprised by how many people don’t know where Kuwait is (over Saudi Arabia, invaded by Iraq in the first Gulf War, a country which in August can reach temperatures of 55°C).  And since the Middle East is like the dark side of the moon for most Western people (although I find overall perception of Arabs is improving since the start of the Arab Spring), the part they latch on to is the Romanian part.  (And Eastern and Southern

Europeans are now more than ever becoming the new target for xenophobia, see Simon Kuper’s article ‘Meet Europe’s New Scapegoats‘)

“So Romanian huh? They have a big problem with orphans? And stray dogs? And prostitution? And corruption?”  I am assaulted by a barrage of negative associations and I understand why Romanians often skirt around their nationality but it also really bugs me. Enough already!

There is a little bit of that going on in Berlin, sometimes when I am introduced to someone new at a party, the next comment, whispered with a shifty look is “She / he is East German.”  “And?! So Freaking What! What exactly does that mean?  Hide my silverware?

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Steamed Apple Pudding (& trying to learn German)

The women’s toilette at Nopi is all mirrored, the door, the walls, everything. When you wash your hands and look at your reflection in the mirror you see yourself (obviously and hopefully) but behind your reflection, is another smaller you and another and another. I feel my brain’s mental eye expand until what it perceives is so large the edges of the picture wobbles, the picture implodes and then contracts into a tunnel, me hurtling through it into the tiny pinprick at the end before resetting to normal leaving an unsettling shadow of what just happened, in a fraction of a second.

I think German is having the same effect on me. Like a never-ending deck of cards, each with an answer, all furling out and laying on their backs, information bared as far as my eye can see and then just as quickly, *thup*, they get sucked back in, into a neat stack, contents impenetrable.When I say it’s hard to learn German people say, “Yes, the verb is at the end.” But where the verb is hanging out equates to a little Chihuahua nipping at my ankles, when the real problem is that I am locked in a cage with a hungry tiger.

Before melodrama overtakes me completely, let me explain (and also say to you all who have learned German as a 2nd language – hell even as a 1st language: RESPECT!).My grievances can be outlined in 3 main points:

1. The words are long. You will no doubt say to me “Ah yes, but they are mostly made up of words strung together, like ‘kugelschreiber’ which means pen – and could be translated as ‘ball writer’ because of the little roller ball in ball point pens. And I will answer back to you ‘Gänseblümchen’ which means ‘daisy’ but translates as ‘goose flower’.

And also,that my ability to stay concentrated is much like my ability to hold my breath under water, finite. So when I am confronted with something like this: ‘Verständlichwerweise, denn der Vogel war schon von Generationen von Köchen, die hier ein-und augegangen waren, getriezt worden -…”* my brain gives up and goes out for a smoke after the first word, which I think might mean ‘understandably’.

2. The capitals in written sentences are totally distracting, like visual Stolperstein (Stumbling Stones) without meaning. Equivalent to a news reader wearing a bright red clown nose. Anyone prone to distraction (me) will immediately think WTF? and not hear the news. Spoken German has a lot of consonants bunched up together (Someone help that man! He’s choking! Oh, no – my bad, he’s just speaking German), dipping down into vowels and then back up again. So that if I do manage to utter a sentence, I end up feeling like one of the Von Trapp kids crossing the Alps. It’s physical. Olivia Newton John would have not trouble working out to it.

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The Fancy Nicoise Salad


I make two Niçoise salads. One for myself which doesn’t use up too many dishes. And another one, for guests. A show stopper. Where I treat all the ingredients right, dress a lot of them separately. Then layer and scatter the everything on a low plate so that they can really stand out against one another and arrest you visually.

This Niçoise relies on two principal things; good ingredients and prepping before everyone arrives. What you want to achieve is an outward and inward calmness and control; so that you can just nonchalantly drop, nudge, dollop your way into a salad, while being able to manage a conversation without suddenly saying “Oh No! My potatoes! Ach well, you guys don’t mind if it’s all a soggy mess!”

If all you’ve got in your cupboard are those abominable dyed black pit-free olives they sell at all the supermarkets here, then walk away from this recipe now!  (Great article on dyed olives in the Independent here).  Or just leave them out and definitely throw those nasty things out because there is no culinary use for them.  You are looking for those fingernail size niçoise olives or kalamata olives (they are expensive but good so shell out).

Then this is what you do:

Cherry tomatoes on the vine: drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Put in a low oven: 120 C and roast for 1 hour.  Then turn off the oven and let it cool down with the tomatoes inside.  They will look alarmingly shriveled but taste, sweeter than you could ever fathom.

Fennel: Halve and then slice through the core, as thin as you can go, retaining the core.  Trim the core leaving just enough to keep the fennel slices together.  Toss with olive oil and salt.  Add to the roasting tomatoes half way through and allow to dry up with the tomatoes.

Green Beans: top (and tail if you want) and halve into bite sized pieces.  Get a big pot of salted water to the boil.  Throw the beans in, put the lid on to get back up to the boil.  Boil from anywhere to 3 minutes to 10.  Depending on what it takes for the beans to give a little.  Take out and either put in a bowl of ice water (I never have enough ice myself) or put in a colander in the sink with cold water running over them.  To store for the salad.  Lay a Tupperware container with some paper towel.  Put in the beans and cover with another paper towel.  They will stay in the fridge like this happily for 12 hours.

Eggs: put room temperature eggs into simmering water, gently.  (If they are cold from the fridge, they will crack).  Lower the heat to a gentle simmer (a rolling boil makes the white tough) and cook for 6 minutes, the centers should still be soft and creamy.  Cool down, peel, store between paper towel in Tupperware in the fridge.

Potatoes: I am at a total loss when it comes to potatoes here, no matter which kind I get “Festkochend” – Waxy or “Mehlig Kochend” – Floury, once I cook them, they just taste…odd.  (Very good guide to potatoes in Germany here) So I usually flake out and go to Galleries Lafayette and pick up a bag there, which are waxy and creamy at the same time.  Scrub them, boil them in salted water with their skin on.  Peel while they are still warm, otherwise you will never get the skins of once they have been in the fridge.  Leave them whole, store them in the fridge.

Dressing:  Dijon mustard is what makes this salad pop!  So use lot’s of it.  Make double what your instinct is, with white wine vinegar and olive oil.

Tuna: I like to splash out on Oritz tuna, which they sell in Berlin at Mitte Meer (sadly the shop behind Hamburger Bahnhoff has now closed but there are still 3 other locations in Berlin)

Bring it together. The look you are going for by the way is cool nonchalance, like all these vegetables happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to have an impromptu soiree. : Read more of this post

Fresh Fig Cheesecake with Greek Yogurt, Almonds & Honey (& Greece for rent)

It’s hard to believe the changes that have taken place in Athens since my last visit in June.  The whole city is for rent, prices of soft commodities are 3 times what they are in other countries (6 organic eggs €4.60 versus €1.55 in Berlin).  Tax after tax is thought up and levied, the newest one – a 4 per square meter property tax paid yearly, if your flat is 100 sqm, you pay 400.  That is on top of car taxes, pool taxes, VAT of 23%.  I’m even at a loss for my fictitious “if I lived here, I would open a…” scenarios.  Right now, there is nothing I can imagine opening.  Sure, every other shop is for rent but let’s say I opened a cake shop, a Victoria Sponge would cost me about €8 euros to make, if I were to then apply the industry standard mark up of 3x, I would have to sell it for €24.I invited my girlfriends over for lunch, like I always do.  The mood was sober, these are young, talented, intelligent women who went to the same international school as I did.  They were not / are not trying to cheat the system, a simplistic retort that people like to throw around in tandem with “Well, whatchadya expect?”, but they don’t have a single opportunity.  To the point that one even closed her Etsy shop because she couldn’t afford to pay the taxes, on her Etsy shop!  The mind boggles.

In the once boisterous coffee shops, people talk in hushed voices, even the motorcycles are quieter, it’s eerie.  I find the Greeks themselves softer, like they’ve spent an extended period of time being rolled back and forth in the waves until their sharp edges have been filed down to smooth curves, like a sea glass you want to run your fingers over.It’s only at the beach that the mood lightens up.  Avlaki beach, the same beach I’ve been going to since I was a little girl.  With a mountain range that looks like a reclining dog, minus its head.  Not a thing has changed in 25 years (except for the prices and that people now smoke rollies instead of Marlboro or Camels), they still sell greasy cheese pies and Frappés so strong they give me heart palpitations.  There are fat, thick legged children building sand castles as best as they can with the impediment of arm floaties.  Whole families show up, grandmothers with epic breasts and backsides and, if they’ve survived 50 years of hen picking, their usually emaciated husbands, a few sprightly hairs dancing around on their otherwise bald heads.  This is the Greece I remember growing up in.

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Lemon Tart and Dinner for a Discerning Friend

Proclaiming myself ‘Foodie in Berlin’, then eating my way through the city giving long commentaries on what I think about a place is a little…..

Well, King Julien the XIII (the conceited but fun-loving lemur from the cartoon Madagascar. “Maurice, my arm is tired. Wave it for me. Faster, you naughty little monkey!”)

My self-declared expert status on food means that when I invite friends over for dinner; there is a little bit of implied ‘Okay sister; bring it on.” After all that talk I would expect nothing less.

Still, it makes me sweat a little (a lot).  This weekend I invited my friend Margue for dinner. The first time I met her was at Winterfeldplatz market where she had picked up a thick slice of veal liver which she was going to cook for her family later that afternoon.
Offal for children? And they eat it?
She must be gifted, I thought.
And did I mention she’s French? Oh ya, she’s French. And cooking for a French person, well – they wrote the book on cooking.  Plus they actually wrote the book on cooking! Careme, Escoffier, Point, Bocuse, Roux, Ducasse.I opted to deploy the bulk of my energy on a main course of herb tortellini with an oxtail ragu.  The ragu was not a thick chunky murky soup but rather a clear jus which took an hour of diligent skimming, in it two large tortellini filled with a light chicken mousse flecked with chervil and parsley.  Around each tortellini, a shawl of prosciutto ham.  It’s an elegant dish and one which takes a lot of preparation. Read more of this post

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