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29 posts from November 2006

Fruit in a glass


I wanted to eat more fruit, as people do, but the eating was the tricky part. Now I begin each morning with a fruit smoothie, and savour the gritty texture of pureed pears.

Fruit smoothie (I)

  • 1 pear
  • 1 apple
  • 1 banana
  • 2 C apple juice
  • juice of 1 lemon

Blend and serve; makes 2 servings.

Portraiture in the new style


For everyone who's dreamt of being born again as a wide-eyed cherub, Evelin offers stylish portraits based on photographs or a real-life encounter. Visit her website or her small shop in Lychenerstraße (north of Helmholtzplatz) for more details.

Celery root cream soup

Four years ago, my downstairs neighbour was going away for a week, and she came by with two eggs and a small brown paper bag full of produce, and that was the first time I saw celery root. I couldn't fathom eating such a primitive ungainly ur-vegetable, but my ever-capable German flatmate Marion – in Berlin for a few months between stints at a women's-rights nonprofit in Pakistan – knew exactly what to do. She peeled, she trimmed, she sliced, breaded and sauteed, and there we were dining on satisfyingly crisp rounds of celery root, flavoured with a quick squeeze of lemon juice while the cat, Paul, purred on the red floorboards.

Though I've eyed it in the shops since then, I never got around to buying celery root until Saturday. I had been round at Joanna's the night before, and tasted a bit of the soup she had simmering on the stove just before I left to try and guess what it needed. That spoonful induced a craving for that clear, uncomplicated taste of celery root, and the next day at the Bio Company I was up on my tiptoes trying to find one which was heavy without seeming woody. Once home, David goggled at the alien growths, but then dunked it into the sink for a good scrub, and we were off.

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Pear, quince and apple chutney


After getting excited about quince and buying one, I had to figure out what to do with it. Flipping through Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, a chutney recipe jumped out at me, and I made it with some modifications. The cooked fruit has a pleasing translucent stained glass quality, and tasted wonderful with my pancakes this morning; the friends we visited this afternoon for Kaffee und Kuchen (actually waffles and tea) were very excited about the small jar we gave them.

Pear, quince and apple chutney

  • 1 large quince
  • 3 apples (I'm very into Elstars at the moment)
  • 2 pears (I used one Green Anjou and one Red Bartlett)
  • 1 C honey (I tried acacia, but I imagine any fragrant liquid light one would do)
  • 1/2 C apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 C balsamic vinegar (I used white, but would try red next time to accentuate the pinkish undertones)
  • 1/8 C dry white wine (eg Riesling)
  • 3 small cinnamon sticks (about 1 inch each)
  • 12 cloves
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 3 small dried red chilis

Core the fruit and cut into small chunks; keep fruits separate. Combine the honey, vinegars, wine, 1 cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, 3 peppercorns and 1 chili in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat to a boil. Simmer each fruit turn by turn with a third of the aromatics (cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, chili), then remove to a large bowl with a slotted spoon. (I cooked the quince for 20 minutes, the apple and pear for ten.) Spoon the fruit into a medium-sized jar and add the remaining syrup. Madison says it will keep for several months in the refrigerator.

Keramik Stefanie Scheier (I)


Ceramics marry beauty and function in a way similar to cooking, and I'm always on the look-out for nice pieces. I was thrilled to stumble across Stefanie Scheier's shop in Husemanstraße a few weeks ago. Her technique of imprinting wet clay with patterned paper was something I'd never seen, and I love the aged, worn quality of her pieces. I'll post an interview with Ms Scheier later in the month, but couldn't wait to put up some samples of her work. (Many thanks to James – my man in Île d'Yeu – for photographing his birthday presents.)

Keramik Stefanie Scheier, Husemanstraße 23, 10435 Berlin

Organic oils


The possibilities for fun at the Kollwitzplatz market are never-ending, with just the right balance between food and non-food items, and an endless array of samples. And where else could I watch linseed oil being made before my eyes?

Uwe Leue is a civil engineer by profession, but has been making oil for years. All his homemade oils are unfiltered, organic, and taste strongly of their source; at his stand, little dishes of sunflower, walnut, hazelnut, almond, poppyseed, black cumin, Bärlauch and sesame oils sit in a row waiting to be tried. (And Mr Leue is very patient if you try them all...) After much sampling I settled on the sunflower oil, which was flavourful but neutral enough, I thought, for the aioli I was planning to make that weekend.

If you look carefully at the mill above, you'll see a drop of oil just hitting the trough resting on the lip of the oil jar. The fibres left from the seeds – the brown rope curling out the front – are used as animal feed.

Mr Leue explained that in Berlin and Brandenburg, linseed oil was traditionally used to top a dish of boiled potatoes and quark – a meal of the poor, but made gourmet with the right ingredients.

Ölmühle Gatow at the Kollwitzplatz market, Saturdays 9 am - 4 pm
(To check if he's got a particular oil, call Mr Leue at 0173 871 3824.)

Disappointments in the kitchen (I)


My first cooking disappointment since starting this blog. Three hours in the kitchen! And I cannot pretend I wasn't looking forward to rhapsodizing on how perfectly my chewy pearl dumplings turned out. Yet I consoled myself, biting into the fruits of my efforts and finding myself underwhelmed, with the knowledge that I could detail my failures here, and this catharsis would lead to closure.

Real Vegetarian Thai was a Christmas present from my sister in 2004, and the moment I got it I mentally circled 'Chewy pearl dumplings'. 'Dumpling' has always been a siren call for me, and my eyes brighten whenever I spot the word on a menu. When I got a job in Hong Kong, the first thing I thought was 'dim sum!', and indeed one of the best meals I've ever had was lunch at Maxim's Palace (the 'fried milk' – quivering cubes of custard enrobed in crumbs and flash-fried – were exquisite). While in London on business briefly this January I made a beeline for the Royal China in Baker Street, and a visit to Oriental East has been on my to-do list for a visit home for ages now (wedding planning, then the wedding itself, kept me from it on my last two trips).

But while the German dumpling scene is delightful, I have utterly failed in finding anything resembling decent dim sum in Berlin, so it seemed only logical to have a go at some myself. It all started so well. The alchemy of water and tapioca was remarkable, how a bit of kneading turned the tiny chalky pearls into a satisfyingly solid ball, and then a few minutes later I had neat logs of dough, waiting to be sliced into eights and stuffed with the waiting 'mushroom mince'. The mince itself was impossibly aromatic, fragrant with cilantro, ginger, garlic and shallots. And look at me, carefully stuffing away!


It was soothing work, the perfect activity for a very rainy Sunday afternoon, and I felt full of anticipation as I carefully stacked the little rounds into my oiled bamboo steamer.

But the results were ... chewy. What's in a name indeed - make 'Chewy pearl dumplings' and one should expect nothing else. But I assumed the covering would be the glutinous white substance that I've met before, enveloping crunchy shrimp, for instance. These, though, rivalled Wrigley's, and the dough-to-filling ratio was all off, with hardly enough spice to justify working through the gluey outer layer.

Ach... We did our brave best, but I didn't hestitate long before deciding to put the last eight uncooked balls into the wastebin rather than the steamer. Perhaps I should have tried harder to get the recalcitrant dough thinner? I'm not sure. But the mushroom mince was delicious, and as I made a double batch there's still a container in the freezer, waiting to be redeemed: Stay tuned...