How to serve toffee.

My great-grandmother was a great influence on me, although I never met her. But I get it from stories my mother who adored her has told me. My favourite one, and the most impressive, gives a wonderful example of what it takes to be cultivated, and maybe more of what a certain upbringing does to you and your morale. She was very particular about the way a table was set. As a middle aged woman, long before the war, I’m talking World War II, she indulged in style, decorated her house beautifully, with no trouble apart from striving for perfection on a daily basis, she would give orders to the few servants she had, and was known for her splendid dinner parties. But it wasn’t just the times and circumstances that made her the lady that she was and to bring her daughter up to be one too in the future, meaning to instruct my grandmother, then a young girl, never to take too much sugar with tea, what unthinkable intemperance, regardless of my grandmother’s sweet tooth of course, to force her to sit at the dinner table as if she had swallowed a broomstick and to introduce her to the effects of alcohol, a young lady’s demeanour and virtue mustn’t be compromised by a glass of wine, let alone three, it was her composure, her absolute restraint in everything she did. This would actually not be a story if she hadn’t had to adapt to war times. First of all, that dinner table got lost in ruins, bombs smashed it to pieces, and after the war was over, there was not much food to serve. But no war could ever impinge on her dinner celebrations, anything had to meet her demands, it was like an obsession with her. My family was happy to have anything at all, potatoes were a luxury, there weren’t any oysters to sprinkle with lemon juice, meat on the table would be conceived as a mirage, a fata morgana, but she would never eat up, even in these days, she would leave something behind on her plate, always, whatever it was, however humble a meal had been prepared, she would leave something to be thrown away, for one could get the impression she’d been hungry, and hunger, oh dear, what a vulgar sensation, how weak a character one would be to adapt to a life in ruins, she might have thought, and so she did not. Never. How absurd, and yet, quelle contenance. I think of her, each time I want to eat something right off the box, like these toffees. And then, I take a beautiful plate or dish, and one of the antique glasses for the sherry instead of the dishwasher safe ones, and enjoy life her style. God bless her.

Cheers to Lemon & Peppermint.

There are many powerful couples in the history of mankind. There’s Caesar and Cleopatra, Bonnie and Clyde, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, Napoleon and Josephine, Miss Marple and Mr Stringer, Norman Bates and his mother, and many more. And then there’s peppermint and lemon (not to be confused with the Peanuts’ Peppermint Patty and that car by Volkswagen), in summer they make the perfect drink, the perfect refreshment, the perfect remedy against heat. Admittedly, they need a little help from their friends mineral water and sugar, but who doesn’t need a little support in life? Together, they quench thirst most wonderfully, and, I must say, quite healthily, too. Cheers! (Writing this, I miss summer even more…)

Thoughts on fish and fate.

Today, with all that sunshine in November, while working on my novel, I felt like a fish in the sea. Happy and content. Ironically, for dinner, I had fish who must have felt literally like out of water. And some mussels, prawns, and scallops to join them in that hapless situation also known as bouillabaisse. The world is an unfair place, I guess. If you ever have to face the truth about life like me, I recommend a great wine to smooth the edges, my 2017 Kerner from Saale-Unstrut, the former GDR’s highly esteemed winegrowing region, is the best to reconcile you with anything, and if there’s nothing to reconcile you with in the first place, all the better. Prost!

Summer guests.

 

Sometimes, when it’s really hot, strenuously hot, like right now with these 36 degrees Celsius (or 98 degrees Fahrenheit), I really don’t care for company. I like to suffer by myself, indulge in cold lemonade, refresh it with ice cubes every thirty seconds, these things melt in no time, like zero point nothing seconds, and try to read more than one sentence at a time, as War and Peace might refresh you with all these scenes in snowy Russia, but it wears you down with its obsessive joy for details, Tolstoy could never just let the little things go, the heavy lifting of these 1,200 pages, the one thousand and two hundred pages the details took to be described on, really kill you. Preoccupied with all these activities, I really don’t care for entertaining anybody else but me, I mean it, and please do take this hint: don’t ever come over for a drink! However, there are exceptions to this my summer rule: birds, dragonflies and bumble bees. They are the only houseguests I appreciate this time of year. They help themselves with drinks and food, nectar, pollen or whatever they are having, they don’t ask for the latest gossip or a reflection on the latest political events, they just tweet, fly about and hum, softly, pleasantly, and ever so soothingly.

Le Ritz UK

We had a guest who considers herself international. In fact, she’s got two passports, did her baccalauréat in Paris and over the years, she’s spent more time in California than some Hollywood actors. Much more. As a consequence, she constantly speaks four languages, sometimes all of them together, language barriers obviously are not hers to ever cope with, and so we happily adapted: over tea and under the walnut tree, we played Scrabble in three languages. Strangely enough, the extension of our vocabulary didn’t make it easier at all. So I layed out “Dieu” to get some help from above…

EAT PLANT LOVE

We felt like we needed flowers. Some more hydrangeas for example. Or some lavender. Or maybe both. And so we bought even a tiny olive tree at our local garden centre. And geraniums. And petunias. And hostas. And summer lilac to feed the butterflies. And why not some eucalyptus, too. I guess, you get the point: we went nuts over flowershopping. Planting, however, is hard work in this heat and so we went hungry, too. Luckily, we had enough to eat to recover and some vino verde for a much needed wine spritzer, they’re quite refreshing.

The heat is on.

It’s never been that hot. Never. For the first time ever, we did not find a single place in our garden that would offer some shade for our tea time. We were stranded. Heatstroked. Sunstroked. Roasted. Burnt. All dried out. All in all, we were desperate—until my father discovered a tiny spot under the ivy covered apple tree. Shade! We went nuts and decided to skip tea and prepone happy hour. A bar was improvised. Ice cubes were fetched. Lemonade was made. Shy beginnings, you know. Then gin was poured. Laughter got louder. People started singing. My mother got kissed by my father. It was heaven! And so I come up with one new maxim: summer can be heaven, if shade and drinks can be delivered. Mark my words!

A garden’s quite an asset.

The other night, I was binge-watching The Durrells, I couldn’t help myself, I just had to, I had fallen in love with their place by the sea, their entire living situation in Corfu is totally gorgeous, much more than the family itself, they’re really lovely but also quite odd, truth be told, I wouldn’t have watched the entire first series in a row if it hadn’t been for their garden, as a matter of fact, I’ve started wondering if our garden has the same effect on people, do they only come to visit for the oleanders in bloom, I would get that, I was most attracted by the ones in the Durrell’s garden, they were most beautiful, and do they endure our conversation over tea only for our hydrangeas, just as I was enduring Lawrence Durrell’s obnoxious love for his morning gown only for his family’s olive trees? Is our garden an escape for our friends where our presence is being tolerated just as long as we keep serving drinks, just as I was tolerating all this English eccentricity when escaping to Corfu last night, a place that’s actually Greek, not English? It’s hard to say, I guess. But I better keep the garden in shape, otherwise I’ll end up as a hermit.

Cocktail hour.

 

Can one miss something one has never experienced? I do think so. I for one miss cocktail hour. I miss dressing up for drinks. I miss not being forced into a tuxedo after six – just like Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin’s character in 30 Rock. When asked by Liz Lemon aka Tina Fey why he was wearing a tux, he replied: “It’s after six, what am I, a farmer?”. I love such traditions, and I want them back, just like in the 60s when even the most provincial of German TV families, the Hesselbachs, styled themselves up. Such glorious times. I really miss them.

Too good to be forgotten.

We ate all day. From 11 am on, we had everything one could ask for, I spent most of the time between 11:15 and 12:29 passing sliced duck breast on a bed of rocket with a very mustardy vinaigrette, tasting slighty Japanese, then there was none left, and people started asking why, why is that so good and why did you make so little, by that insulting and praising at the same time the life and death of the two ducks whose breasts had been sacrificed for our Easter brunch, but I at least was left alone then, at my end of the table were only the jugs with water, lemoned and pepperminted, and some of the minor salads, they weren’t paid much attention to, politics and a collectively hated friend, let’s call her Madame X, provided enough distraction anyway, at least until, very late in the afternoon, a lentil curry was served, prepared with none other than lentilles vertes du Puy, cumin, coconut milk, mustard seeds, red onions, chillies and coriander leaves, all of it interacted heavenly, creating something so good, everybody lost track of the conversation, time stood still, and those ducks, well, the poor bastards and their breasts, however good, had obviously died in vain, as they had already fallen into complete oblivion.