For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

November 26, 2011

My Thanksgiving II, Here I Come

Thanksgiving – the biggest holiday excuse to eat like a pig. No offense to those of you who define it as something else. I've only celebrated Thanksgiving once in my life so far and I can tell you, it didn't come with a very pleasant ending. 

Last year my favorite American friend Sean invited me to his Thanksgiving dinner. I had no idea what to expect. Basically, the only thing I knew was that there is big fuss around a big turkey; the stuffing, the gravy... I could only think about some B-class 90's sitcom series where the kid in the family crams his head up the turkey's butt, or something like that. Anyway, like I said, no expectations. Sean was kind enough to provide the invited guest with some typical American Thanksgiving recipes so that each guest could both contribute with a dish and understand the essence of the feast: pumpkin pie, brussel sprouts, green beans casserole, etc, etc. Got ya! I, however, decided to be a rebel and bring a Finnish/Swedish Christmasy dish called Janssonin kiusaus instead, literally translated to Jansson's Temptation. A fairly average, oven baked dish composed of thin sliced potatoes, onions, cream and anchovies. 

When I arrived to Sean's place, I immediately got high of all the wonderful smells coming from the Thanksgiving buffet table he had set up. With a smile, Sean invited me to assist and observe him doing the oh so important gravy. D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S! My mouth was watering, I'm sure I was even drooling. 

When the gravy was ready, the feast could start. A feeling of fear, combined with temptation and hunger came over me. I knew it could only end in tears.

After the first round and the first opened button on my jeans, there was no end in sight what so ever. I had to change my approach drastically, otherwise I'd just die. We ate for hours and hours and my belly grew bigger and bigger. At midnight, I had to pull out the white flag. NO. MORE. FOOD. HELP!

I don't know how, but I somehow managed to load myself and my exploding belly on the bus that would take me to my death bed. I know I often say that I had too much food, but this time I was seriously full with a capital F. I think I remember having only tea for lunch for the next couple of days. My very first Thanksgiving 2010 in a nutshell.


2011. Another year, another Thanksgiving.  A week ago I got Sean's invitation for the second time around. With a bittersweet smile on my face, I accepted his kind invitation. There was no need to worry, I had evolved, learned from my previous mistakes. I'd be stronger, braver this year. I'd only eat very light a couple of days before D-day and I'd be good to go. Right...

Here I am, 1,5h before the start of Thanksgiving Feast II, writing to you as I'm nibbling on everything I can get my hands on. Shame on me! What else can I do, I've been preparing my contribution to the buffet since 11am and now it's sitting on the stove, looking at me, making me super hungry. "Edith, fight back, be strong!" says my other half. 

I thought writing about it would help, keep my fingers off of it. So far so good. This year, I've made another Finnish classic Kaalikääryleet (stuffed cabbage rolls). Yummy!

With a growing appetite, a strong mind and very big pants, I'll soon take off towards my Thanksgiving adventure II. Wish me luck!

November 13, 2011

In Vino Veritas

The French have internalized it a long time ago. Not that it has been a secret to the rest of us, but somehow the French still get it, truly in depth, without doubts or complications: The way you feel after a glass of wine. You feel good! No wonder that already in the Middle Ages, wine was said to have all kinds of curing, even medical effects. A delightful substance. How it makes you feel (disregarding the headache the next day of course) is so lovely and so easy. Instant 'feel good' effect in a bottle. Used with precaution and without exceeding personal limits, this centuries old juice of Gods still does it for us today.

After having said that, I guess you can understand the utter joy I felt two weeks ago boarding a plane taking me to the place for wine lovers – Bordeaux. The purpose of my visit to the promised land of wine wasn't all fun and games though. Or actually it turned out to be so, but my primary reason for the travel was work. I attended an international network meeting of the European independent cultural sector: Trans Europe Halles, a network of independent cultural centres in Europe, had one of their biannual meetings. Member centre TNT in Bordeaux was the host for the event of 150 participants. And what a generous host indeed.

The euphoria in me took a head start already one week prior to the actual meeting for one specific reason. The programme for the event proposed a wine tasting in the middle of the week! I couldn't but jubilate. I already had a huge weak spot for almost everything French, it's kind of a thing I've had since forever I guess, but this really sounded extrêmement merveilleux to me. Besides, knowing the French quite well by now, I knew wine would come with breathtakingly scrumptious cheeses and charcuterie. My bags were packed. My taste buds and I were all set for departure.

My expectation were met already on the first evening. The director of TNT, a laid-back, cool and very charming Frenchman opened up bottles of red as soon as we entered the premises: "There's more, just come to me when your glass is empty". Hallelujah! I loved him already.

The next five days were a rather interesting socio-cultural experience. Early morning, people crawled in, one after another. They queued by the self-service coffee table, mingled a bit, smiled politely to one another, made work related comments. But as day turned into night and dinnertime got closer, it suddenly got so much more interesting: The first sounds of wine bottles opening echoed in the main hall, creating an atmosphere of sweet temptation. I swear, it was like Pavlov's dogs: A simple little sound had such a huge impact, no matter the nationality. Myself included. Yet, I decided to fight against nature. It would be so entertaining to see how long it actually would take before I was able to prove my point.

Obviously, I didn't have to wait for long to see the results right before my eyes. Like magic, as if a higher force had taken the lead. People started laughing and smiling. All their worries were gone and what was important was the atmosphere of that very moment. It was simple. All they needed was that one glass of wine. I was pleased. I stopped analysing and let myself be guided towards the source.

After a week of nice wine, great moment and priceless encounters, I found myself sitting on the plane taking me back to Sweden. I was ecstatic, happy, satisfied – I simply felt good and I smiled. On the plane an extremely stressed and angry, yet sad, very tall blond man in his forties sat next to me. I smiled at him, said hello. He looked my with such despise! I took it as a challenge. I decided to show him the way to easy and instant happiness, at least for a moment. Until the flight attendant rolled in with drinks I decided to do my best to make him more comfortable. Maybe he'd even do himself a favour by doing what I did, asking for a glass of red from the pretty Air France lady. Sadly, he didn't. I think I only provoked him further by being so happy and on top of that having wine on a Monday… Outrageous! Clearly, wine can't save the word from depression, but it sure can save your day (and the person sitting next to you on a plane) from internal aggression. 

All is fine after a glass on wine!

November 2, 2011

 – an almost complete
Culinary A to Z

A couple of weeks ago I did my fourth trip to Berlin. After each trip I love it more and more. Berlin has been hyped for years now and I'm sure many people have left their hearts there, myself included. Of course there are many reasons behind my adoration, but the most obvious is the city's vibrant, pulsating and always surprising culinary culture.

My first time in Berlin was about three years ago. I had no expectations what so ever. The only bells ringing were the highlights related to the second world war, the Berlin wall and so on. German food in general was nothing that interested me. In fact I have to admit that my appreciation for what possibly could be German food was extremely low. Stereotypes of Weiss wurst, sauerkraut and beer were limiting my imagination... All in all, let's say that Germany didn't come up when thinking about great food nations. This was probably why I got so positively surprised when arriving to Berlin.

My latest trip to Berlin was my fourth. Because I knew what was to come, I started meditative breathing exercises a week earlier to prepare to stomach for a colossal food tsunami. I also warned my boyfriend: this would be a culinary vacation par excellence! I guess he got the message when he saw me preparing a list of food markets, cafés and restaurants to visit already one week ahead. I also decided to challenge myself a bit regarding my blog posts. It was obvious that I'd write about Berlin, but I wanted it to be something at least slightly different. I had this idea of making the Berlin culinary A to Z list. How difficult could it be to eat for 26 letters worth in four days...?

… Definitely harder than I thought. I mean I ate, and believe me when I say 'I ate'. Germans have astonishingly many dishes and food related names starting with the same letter though. Stuff starting with the letter S almost killed me!

When the last day in Berlin turned to night and I still had half of the alphabet uncovered, I had to admit failure. Being the stubborn, decisive person that I am, I couldn't bare “killing my darling”.  I loved my culinary A to Z idea way too much. So what I have for you, dear readers, is the best attempt of a A to Z I was able to accomplish within the limits of my digestive capacity and the (too) short time spent in the magnificent city of Berlin.
Alnatura & Alverde. Two product lines and two reasons behind me traveling to Berlin by plane with an empty suitcase and returning home by bus with a suitcase filled with affordable, good quality biological food (and some cosmetics too). If you've never been to Germany I guess you won't know what I'm referring to. I'm talking about the dm (drogeriemark Deutschland), a drugstore/daily goods chain offering a pretty decent selection of anything you could possibly need. I simply love it. Most of all thanks to the perfect balance of price and quality. It's the absolute best place for gluten free products too!

Bàhn mi. Vietnamese foodgasm in a baguette! Perfect for breakfast, lunch or just as a quick heavenly snack taking you far, far away to a country of exquisite and exotic flavours. The place doesn't look like much when passing by, but it is definitely worth entering. The owner was very nice and listened to my childhood Vietnam -stories very patiently. Cảm ơn người bạn của tôi! Most importantly, the food was authentic. Berlin is blossoming with small Vietnamese restaurants and most of them look pretty okay at the first glance. But when the menu is too Europeanized or worse, when traditional Vietnamese dishes are turned into a German version, I really wouldn't stay for a meal. CôCô looks a bit too trendy and jet-set to my taste, but the food and especially the stuffed baguettes called bàhn mi really won't leave you cold. Try it!

Rosenthaler Staße 2
(Mitte, U: Weinmeisterstraße)

And for a pretty authentic Vietnamese restaurant, go to Chén Chè. You won't be disappointed!

Rosenthaler Straße 13
(Mitte, U: Weinmeisterstraße)

Curry Wurst. This is a Berlin 'must'. Especially 'Curry 36' because it's said to be the best place in town for this local speciality. It's a rather curious postwar addition to German cuisine, I would say. The woman holding the patent for this rather porky, but yet so yummy dish is Herta Heuwer. In 1949 she came up with the future grand hit mixture made out of ingredients she got a hold on from British soldiers: ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder. She then had the brilliant idea of pouring the sauce over a grilled pork sausage, giving the final dish a German touch. Heuwer started making money with her creation selling the cheap but filling snack at a street stand in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin. In 1951 the dish was patented as “Chilliup” and was selling 10 000 portion a week! As the story often goes with these small street stands, so went Heuwer's spicy sausages story. In 1974 the street stand turned into a little restaurant. Nowadays, curry wurst is eaten all over Germany but of course it remains a true Berlin special.

My first curry wurst experience was actually elsewhere and I have to say that I preferred that one over Curry 36. But as I'm unable to remember where the better place according to my taste was, I'll give you the next best thing. Even if a curry wurst doesn't make your mouth water, it's kind of fun to see this place. People actually form long queues to get their portion of crispy fries and greasy sausage with curry sauce.To my disappointment there were way too many tourists holding firmly on to their travel guide booklets. I guess the word is out for this place. Good for them.

P.S. The dish is such a big thing that there's even a song written to honour it. “Currywurst” on Herbert Grönemeyer's 1982 album “Total Egal” is a tribute to the snack. Gotta love those Germans and their love for wurst!

Mehringdamm 36
(Kreuzberg, U: Mehringdamm)

Restaurant Doyum. If you think you've had authentic Turkish food in Berlin where you can pretty much find a more or less skanky Döner Kebap shop in every street corner, you've seen nothing if you don't know this place. Doyum is an authentic Turkish restaurant with a range of tasty Turkish specialties apart from the well known Döner.
The quality comes with a price, as it is often the case, but it still remains pretty cheap. What I loved was the whole concept of the place. The decoration is very Turkish (at least to my eye), families come and go eating there or ordering takeout, there, strong smells from the open kitchen hypnotize you while you sit there sipping on the Turkish tea served before the meal... No fuss, nothing extra added. I ate something called Halep. It was a kind of stew made of aubergines, sliced lamb, tomatoes and loads of garlic and Turkish yoghurt. I don't think I said a word during the whole meal. I was totally and completely mesmerized by the richness of flavours.

Admiralstraße 36
(Kreuzberg, U: Kottbusser Tor)

Essen. I don't speak German, or at least I would never say I do so to a German speaker. Of some reason unknown to me I still managed to communicate my eating needs to a bunch of waitresses and restaurant keepers. Some laughed, some didn't. Okay, most of them laughed, a lot. I laughed too. I think I probably invented a hand full of German words only clear to me and my enormous appetite. Here's a hint on how to make even the driest German smile: step in to a restaurant, a café, a food store, what have you and express the obvious: Ich will essen. Or even better, Yoda -style: Ich essen will. (I thought the verb always comes in the end of a German phrase. Not.) They'll think you're a retard, but at least it can only get better from there on.

Frühstük. During our trip to Berlin, we followed the guideline “the breakfast is the most important meal of the day” religiously. Hungry and grumpy, we got out of bed every morning to go on a pilgrimage leading us to a perfect place for frühstük. From my earlier visit to Berlin this meant a pretty hard core plate of different wurst, leberwurst, schinken and nice little brötchen. The first place we went to was something totally different though, a little cosy French breakfast café called Fleury. We felt silly going to a French place in Berlin. Anyhow, it seemed to be a pretty popular café. The place was nice, we were hungry and the breakfast tasted lovely. Fleury is a bit overpriced, to be quite honest, especially compared to the more typical breakfast places in Berlin. It also didn't really attain the level of French finesse that I'm used to, having lived in France for 2 years, but kind of the next best thing to the real deal.

Weinbergsweg 20
(Mitte, U: Rosenthalerplatz)

Guten Apetit! “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is my absolute favourite motto to follow when travelling and especially when eating in a foreign country. In order to follow this motto, it's always good to learn basic vocabulary even though you otherwise have to knowledge of the local language. For me the first words and sentences I learn always are food related and insults. Both vital for suvival.

Hackesche höfe. This buzzing courtyard complex built in 1906/7 is not a place I'd recommend for you who get claustrophobic and hate masses of people like I do. But it's a beautiful place filled with restaurants, boutiques and galleries. The reason for us to go there was a cinema on the fourth floor screening films in their original language. But best of all, you were allowed to sip on wine in the cinema. Sure sounds to me! However, note that this place is a major attraction in the Mitte district. We went there pretty late on a weekday to see a movie. It was the perfect moment to see the beauty of the impressive construction in peace.

Hackescher Markt
(Mitte, U8: Weinmeisterstrße)

Berlin Burger International. I really wish my belly wouldn't have been at the point of explosion when we passed by this tiny, luring and super fresh hamburger bar. I can't say whether it was the very cute and very hungry looking German men or the luscious, juicy hamburgers they hand in their hands that made want to enter the place. Let us be diplomatic and say both. My fascination for this little factory of delight grew even bigger when I understood that not only do they have a amazing hamburgers made out of only the freshest ingredients and real 100% meat, they also have vegetarian and even vegan variations in on their list of burgers! I'm thinking a perfect place for Saturday afternoon munchies. I'm happy there still are honest people preparing honest food.

Pannierstraße 5
Closed on Sundays!
(Neukölln, U: Hermannplatz/M41)

Kumru. This place is heaven for a birdfood lover like me. This guy dries, rosts and marinates everything, nuts, fruits, seeds, olives, cheese. Salty and sweet. 100% natural. What really impressed me was the huge variety of types of pates made of nuts, sun dried tomatoes, cheese, veggies, mushrooms... Everything is sold by weight. Perfect place for an easy and delicious aperitivo.

Wrangelstaße 49
(Kreuzberg, U: Schleisisches Tor)

Lazare – The apple of my eye. Call me silly, but I had to give the letter L to Lazare, a very special two year old little boy. Not because I didn't find something better for L, but because in my eyes, he's as cute and sweet as a cupcake. You really can't help but take the little creature in your arms and squeeze him tight! If only I could get a bite. I met him and his parents for the first time this summer on the island of Gotland, at Hablingo Crêperie where I worked as a waitress. His dad used to work their too a while ago and nowadays they're good friends with the owner who invites them to their big house for summer vacation reunions. I got the privilege to babysit Lazare one evening and ever since he's the undoubted invincible number one on my cutest baby ranking. He totally and utterly stole my heart.

Maybachufer Open Air Market. A foodie (or anyone else for that matter) should really not miss this street market when visiting Berlin. Food, veggies, fruit, nuts, fresh pasta, cheese, fish, meat, you name it! People pushing and screaming, eating and drinking. I felt so at home. To quote a Turkish salesman there “almost everything cost almost nothing”. How can you not like the sound of that.

(Neukölln, U: Schönleinstraße)

Näturlish-Bio Market. This is certainly nothing special or astonishing for a German. For all you others, I have to say that nowhere have I found such an impressive spread of biological supermarkets and exhaustive range of biological food and ingredients as I have in Germany. But Berlin really is the promised land of bio! It's actually harder to find food that is not biological than vice versa. That's pretty amazing to me. I love it when people don't look at me strangely, like I'd be the biggest freak they've ever encountered when I empty the little box with flaxseeds in my food. In Berlin, it just made me one of them.

Rudimarie. Bubble wrap yourself and your kid and find the childlike enthusiasm lurking inside of you. Rudimarie is a café you shouldn't miss, especially if want you're kid to have a blast. Home made waffles, cheese cakes, rye bread, warm delicious soups, almost anything you could wish for! And the coolest thing: while you eat and relish of all delicacies, you're kid can run around freely consuming all that extre energy in the awesome playground right next to the café. That playground was wild! I mean there's even a cool skatepark! Lazar was ecstatic and fearless! Luckily, I got out with minor bruises...

(Neukölln, U7 / U8: Hermannplatz, U7: Rathhaus)

StreuselschneckeHello there lover! Was all I could say when I saw this vulgar piece of pastry. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the guiltiest of my guilty pleasures, the pastry that will guaranteed make you high and sick simultaneously. I swear it's seriously worth the bombastic stomach ache and the feeling of being uncomfortably full. It's basically white flour yeast dough with a crazy amount of butter and sugar glaze on top – tout con, tout simple like one would say in French. I'd say you can get our hands on this baby in pretty much every street bakery in town.


Vux. If I wouldn't know better, I'd say that this tip for a café is pretty valuable. It's so extremely hidden and unexpected in the surroundings that if you're not ein Berliner I'm pretty sure you wouldn't know where to find it. I say this because just a few blocks away from this pastel coloured little oasis of delicious pastries and hot chocolate, there is the notoriously ugly Karl Marx Straße. At least I couldn't have imagined stumbling upon this place by accident. For me, this is the perfect example of how Berlin doesn't seem to surprise the traveller. The atmosphere in Vux is delicate and it seems that it's (at least still for now) a hide out for the coolest kids of Neukölln – the upcoming hipster district according to my. The tourists with a map get an angry eye entering the café (yes that is me and my horribly bad sense of localization). Don't get discourage though. The great thing is that everything is biological and there are stuff for vegans and gluten intolerants too. It seemed to me that the owner or one of the co-owners was Brazilian which explained the nice Brazilian twist to the menu. A little teaser to awake your taste buds: “Bagels with various toppings such as «salami»-saté, seitan-limão, guava jelly and cheese, houmous with sun-dried tomatoes, cream cheese or seitan sausage with smoky-habanero-mango-sauce – with loads of fresh salad, tomatoes and sprouts. Or as menu of the day various soups such as pumkin-manioc-coconut-soup, parsnip soup or fruits tomato-raspberry-soup with flavoursome homemade bread...” Nice and new surprises like these are always welcome, don't you think? Now I'm just babbling... go and see for yourself!

Richardstraße 38
between Richardplatz and Comenius-Garten, near U7/ Karl-Marx-Straße )

Weltempfänger. “Rent a room, welcome at the table” is the slogan for this Austro-Mediterranean breakfast café/bar as they themselves define it. I like the concept of having a guest house above a café/bar, but alternatively putting the main focus on the café/bar. I mean many hotels and hostels have a breakfast serving or a shabby café which is only open for hostel/hotel guests, but this place is different. The atmosphere was extremely soft and warm, like in a nest or something. The red blind that they roll down to protect your tired eyes when morning turns to day paints the whole interior smooth and mellow. The best thing is to give in and dose off after a heavenly morning feast.

Anklamer Straße 27
(Mitte, U: Bemauer Straße)

So that's all folk! For now. I hope the content of one of the letters at least gave you something new to chew on. If anyone feels like completing my alphabet please do so. I welcome all input with enormous appetite!
Vielen Dank! Schüssi freunden!