Tag Archives: culinary notes

Check In: A tl;dr* special

The story so far
I set up this blog with the intention of writing about my New Exciting Life In Berlin, which was just sort of okay, and then Berlin fucked up and I started travelling instead. It is now a year since I left Berlin, a year of just me and my rucksack and whoever I met along the way. And there are quite a few things I want to address in this blog post. Therefore, here is today’s agenda:

I. Where I have been and what is going on
II. The importance of balance, which I will attempt to outline without sounding overly self-helpy
III. Stuff that is good

I
Listing all the countries I’ve been to since July 2010 feels like a pointless exercise, because who really cares besides me (there are a couple maps in the sidebar, anyway), but the new ones were Lithuania, Iraq, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. In addition to these I pinballed around quite a bit. It’s all about cheap flights and creative overland solutions and whatnot.

I think it’s about time I mentioned that I’m not actually a wreck any more, okay? I mean with regard to the whole break-up angst that prompted my departure from Berlin. That episode left me with a couple of issues, such as: reduced faith in humanity (oh, the melodrama!) and newfound fear of rejection, but those have faded somewhat with time. However, it’s hard not to tell my story without referencing it to some extent, since it was the impetus that caused me to begin travelling.

Berlin remains kind of a no-go zone for me for the foreseeable future, apart from its airports, which are handy for Leipzig purposes. But I’m okay with this. A big reason why I left Berlin was because I didn’t have a support network there to help me cope with the break-up. Some people opt to endure unpleasant situations to prove they can do it, in order to ‘win’. Whatever. I won by taking back a little control and getting the fuck out. Berlin still makes me feel kind of weird and uncomfortable to think about, which is why I don’t want to revisit it, rather than for fear of running into my ex or something. But that’s okay. Other people can have Berlin. I have the rest of the planet.

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Dog in a bag

I was trying to write a post about visiting the Karneval der Kulturen at the weekend, but it kept turning out too linear/mediocre/earnest/boring/rubbish, so I decided to leave it alone and come back to it later. And now I’m back and I’m like, hey, you know what this blog needs instead? A picture of the tortilla I made on Saturday. Behold:

This is the fourth or fifth tortilla I made in about a week. The first ones were good too but this one totally wins. Well, won. It didn’t last long.

I am now secure enough in my tortilla-making repertoire that I could embark on adding extra ingredients to spice it up a bit. But you know what? I’m not going to. Because my tortilla does not require any fancy embellishments. My tortilla is beautiful in its simplicity, and it is made of joy and delight. So.

Okay, so I can’t go into detail about the Karneval, because I’ve already proven to myself many times over that I can’t write anything decent about it. My attempts were either some glib variation on OH WOW MUSIC AND FOOD FROM SO MANY PLACES!, or a tangent about how I dislike the term world music (which wasn’t, to the best of my recollection, used by the Karneval anyway). But I visited it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; today (Monday) was its last day, and I thought I might go back to it and take pictures but I figured the pictures might work better if they just existed in my head rather than attempting them in real life, and anyway I was busy trying to write an article loosely inspired by this scathing recap of Chasing Amy, and then there was an impressive thunderstorm so I felt marginally smug for having decided to stay in, and then the thunderstorm ended and it was all sunny and I still didn’t go out.

Anyway. On Saturday I couldn’t face getting back into the U-bahn – the place was so packed – so I walked home from the Karneval, which took maybe an hour and a half. It was a nice day, and I hadn’t walked that far in a while; I was given a free metro pass for the month of May, so I’m making the most of its €72 value while I still can. I bought some groceries along the way, further identifying cheap and useful places to shop, and stopped by a couple of cinemas to pick up programmes. And I thought about how it was seven weeks since I had moved to Berlin, which is both a lot and a little: certainly little enough for me to still be classified as a newbie, but long enough for me to get somewhat used to daily life here, and for it to feel like months since I embarked on my first solo excursion to the Berlin Welcoming Committee’s flat. Or months since I sat by the canal with his bandmate and she said, look, I like the direct, kindergarten approach: will you be my friend? And I said yes.

I hadn’t even properly noticed the transition, how I started to feel at home here, how things started to become familiar to me. My neighbourhood with the tables of men sitting outside cafés and the discarded cartons of ayran on the street and the friendly man in the Spätkauf and the grocery shop where they asked if I spoke Arabic. Then there’s the Berlin Welcoming Committee’s neighbourhood, with its English-speaking hipsters and impressive street art and nice places to eat except technically we can’t afford to go out to eat but sometimes we get cheap toasties at Wendel or go to this really good pizza takeaway. I haven’t been to the Turkish market for a few weeks; I said, oh, I don’t think I have the energy to fight my way through the crowds, I think I’ll just go to the local shops, and he said, yeah, that’s what happens when you get used to living here.

But I’m still new to a city where I barely speak the language, so it’s not like I really know what I’m talking about. Here, have a picture of a dog in a bag:

And here is the one sentiment with which I was planning to finish my piece on the Karneval that I’ve barely described at all: Berlin, if you keep doing the things you do, you’re going to get my custom long-term.

Late nights in Neukölln

I had these disjointed, messy dreams last night and snippets of them keep coming back to me. My former boss with some new madcap schemes. A country road and a coastal path. Being stalked by some girl who wanted to collaborate with me, and getting off in an office with some other girl. Getting a message from a boy I kissed last summer and never contacted again; he told me he still liked me. I think I woke up feeling oddly guilty, and finding it hard to distinguish these memories from reality.

My guest from Belfast has been volcanoed, which means he is sticking around for another couple days. This means that tonight we are going to see Late Nights In Squat Bars at Monster Ronson’s.

Prior to Saturday, the largest number of people I had ever cooked for was probably about six. On Saturday night I decided to host a dinner party, given that I have a whole lot of space in this flat and have pretty much settled in now. Since I invited people with only a few days’ notice, I figured lots of them would be unavailable. Instead, half the New Zealand expat community descended upon my flat, along with a handful of other nationals and a token German, and the grand total of guests was seventeen. Preparing for the event was somewhat nervewracking, but I was fortunate that the Berlin Welcoming Committee and my Belfast guest were around to help.

I’d have taken pictures but I was too busy and distracted. But I know you care, internet, so here’s the specifics. Dinner consisted of:

  • Khobz with za’atar.
  • Salad of rocket, tomatoes and pine nuts, with parmesan shavings also available for the non-vegans.
  • Tortilla: so simple, and yet, so beautiful! I made several of them, so now I can officially cook it. I felt like a goddamned culinary genius for this one.
  • Leek, mushroom & lemon risotto, with added pine nuts. I regularly cook this, but making such an enormous quantity of it was daunting. I was relieved that an Italian arrived early and offered to take over risotto duties while I dealt with other stuff.
  • Vegan brownies, baked by a kind guest and served with strawberries and Black Forest gateau-flavoured ice cream.

I spent a while being awkward and nervous – many of the guests were people I’d only met once or twice, though it was hard to figure out what, if anything, I needed to actually worry about. It all turned out good, though, and the last guests left some time after 3am. Although there was drunkenness, it was way more civilised than the trainwreckery which was so characteristic of my life in Edinburgh. It’s like a whole new era! I had fun. I like talking to nice people. And I like not being a train wreck. Although, hosting visitors from Ireland and Scotland does, I’ve already discovered, tend to pose a threat to this new wholesome trend.

Everything you believe is a lie

It’s four weeks today since I moved to Berlin. It’s also May Day, but I have no-one to go to the riots with. I was in Friedrichshain last night, where gutterpunks roamed drunk and vanloads of police made their presence known. There was a feeling in the air, a tension that was more than a normal Friday night. People come from all over Germany to demonstrate on May Day, and police come from all over Germany to deal with it. This is the striving-to-be-nonpartisan summary, anyway; other summaries vary from “nobody cares about politics and they just want to smash things” to “everything was peaceful until those pesky cops showed up”. You know the drill.

Nobody I know is taking part in the festivities; everyone seems to have been devising complex strategies to avoid the hell out of the action. I’ve been trying to filter the scare stories and figure out whether it’s really going to be the apocalypse that everyone’s predicted (every year, there’s some soundbite about expecting “the worst violence in years”). I can’t really picture myself haplessly stumbling into the middle of a stand-off, anyway, but I guess I’m sitting this one out simply due to lack of any plans. I’m generally too jaded to go to demonstrations these days anyway – I know, I know, bad activist etc – but there’s an added thing here about being new in town and not being sure what’s going on, not to mention not speaking the language. Still, I feel like a bit of a copout. So to speak.

Travel news
I went back to Belfast for five days. It would’ve been a week only the volcano got in the way. This was fine by me; having arrived in Berlin such a short time ago, I was wondering what possessed me to book a whole week in Ireland. I cheered when I saw my initial flight had been cancelled. Anyway, being back in Belfast is always kind of weird for me and so it was kind of weird this time too. It’s not to say I didn’t have a nice time, it’s just that it was weird also. I am only mentioning it here for the sake of reporting that I’ve been away.

Gig news
On Thursday night I went to Schokoladen to see The Burning Hell from Canada. Hell yeah! I didn’t know what to expect beforehand, but really enjoyed the gig, as did my guests. I prefer to avoid writing about music for the most part, due to general cluelessness, but there is a man with a beard and a ukulele and entertaining lyrics and I think you should check them out. Also my new friend Ariel is playing clarinet with them on their European tour (and saxophone before it broke). And she is super. So.

Culinary notes

  • This is the sort of thing I have for breakfast/brunch each day.

    Stuffed vine leaves, sundried tomatoes with garlic, halloumi cheese, fried aubergine.
  • Also simits. Bread is generally more exciting over here than it is in the UK, with the exception of cranberry & rosemary bread, an occasional treat that I miss.

Goddamn writer’s block
You may have noticed that I am totally failing to update my other blog. This is in part due to deadlines and travel, which have also gotten in the way of this one, although clearly not to the same extent. And it is in part due to standard-grade writer’s block, whereby I am still searching for the right way to tell the next story; when this happens I generally just sit back and wait for inspiration to come (or rush something through and then resent it because I don’t like the way it was written). But I am beginning to wonder how long I am going to continue not being in the right headspace for it. And then I wonder whether that’s because I’m in a new relationship and don’t feel like analysing previous encounters right now? I do not know. I am just saying. I’m not actually planning to abandon the project or anything; who knows, maybe I will wake up tomorrow and the next post will write itself.

Speaking of waking up
I woke up in a panic yesterday morning, heart thumping, because I dreamed I missed the boarding call for a flight to Amsterdam because I was busy cooking a vegetarian sausage.

A couple of turns of phrase

  • When I was ten I went to visit this rich kid who I thought I was maybe going to be friends with. (This did not turn out to be the case.) I came home and reported to my mother: they had this big house, and a tennis court, and all these animals, and all this land. I added that the rich kid explained that they didn’t have a swimming pool because of the cost of heating it.

    Well, said my mother wryly. That’s a problem we don’t have.

    Lately I’ve taken to complaining that I can’t afford to heat my swimming pool, any time I catch myself whining about anything that isn’t, in the grand scheme of things, a big deal. See: having an unstable income yet still a fair way to fall before I wind up in desperate poverty; not having a clue where my life is going yet having the luxury of living rent-free in Berlin for the summer; etc.

  • On a similar note: IT’S LIKE LIVING IN RUSSIA. Which is what my brother informed me when he sent my Polish books and noted that the post office had no padded bags of any size. Yes. EXACTLY like living in Russia.

T- 6

So here are a few things I’m planning to do while I adjust to living in a much bigger city in which I know maybe half a dozen people:

  • Write stuff. I mean, I don’t want to get too specific about this, because maybe I’ll get sidetracked and write something quite different to the projects I currently have in mind. But as long as I’ve written a decent amount of decent material by the end of it, that’s fine. I’ll be working remotely in a tiny elite writers’ group with a good friend of mine, checking in with her every week or so.

  • Keep on learning Polish. I’m hoping that the fact I’ll have very few possessions with me will help me to actually devote time to it, rather than finding a gazillion other things to do first. I mean, to be perfectly honest, the Polish is sort of a lost cause, because it doesn’t matter that I know a fair amount of vocab: there are so many complicated grammar rules that I can’t string a sentence together without needing to be some kind of genius. Maybe if I study it for ten years. That’s what my teacher once said, anyway.
  • Read stuff. One of my 2010 resolutions is to read a book in Spanish: something I haven’t quite managed outside of class before, but I would have achieved this about ten years ago were I not prone to getting sidetracked and wandering off halfway through. Again, I’m hoping that a newfound minimalist lifestyle will help me out here. The book I’ve selected is Temporada de Caza Para el León Negro by Tryno Maldonado, which has the added bonus of being a slim volume and will therefore not take up too much space in my meagre luggage. I reckon I’ll take only a couple of other books with me, and use my bookmooch points and maybe this place when I get there.
  • Bake stuff. Yeah, I have this weird thing going on these days where half the time I’m a drunken train wreck and the other half I’m doing wholesome things like baking. I started on New Year’s Eve, because I had resolved to bake something before 2009 was over. Since then, I’ve made Anzac biscuits, cranberry slices, coconut-honey muffins, and most recently chocolate chip cookies. I am a goddamned culinary genius.
  • Travel. Of course. A trip to Warsaw is likely to happen at the end of April so I can attend Ste‘s gig (I also resolve to not get so hammered that I barely remember the show, as per last time). Also likely is a visit to Paris in May. Oh, and I already have a week in Ireland booked, and did I mention I’m visiting Brussels and Amsterdam on the way to Berlin? So. I’d also be interested in returning to Istanbul, though I haven’t looked into it yet. And I’m open to other options.

Would you believe that I mostly envision spending time by myself and being all quiet and domesticated? Yeah. I don’t know what’s up with that, but I suspect it’s just foreshadowing.