Some time ago, when going through my secretary’s drawers, looking for some stuff for my tax declaration, I found an old wallet of mine, made of Louis Vuitton’s nice Épi leather, in a yummy chocolate brown, I instantly had to eat some, luckily I always have some bars at home, but that’s not the interesting part of my find. Inside the empty wallet was a single note, issued in February 1962 in the Congo, shortly after it had become independent, after the Belgians had lost their colony, and many, many a year before Hergé’s comic book “Tintin au Congo” had become ever so politically incorrect. A friend of my mother’s gave the Congolese note to me after giving account of her African adventures when I once visited her in Munich. She had spent some time in the young country in the early sixties, and during dinner she had all these funny anecdotes to tell, all of them much to her husband’s disapproval, who was sitting next to her when she talked about her African years but wasn’t part of any of the stories, she had only met him many years later. Males must feel important. Anyway, I remember most vividly the one about her arrival: picture a very young woman, very stylish, very vain, very concerned about her looks, having left Europe in mid-winter, in a top notch red bouclé wool ensemble with matching coat, made of the same red bouclé wool that one, too, and finding herself all of sudden in the tropical heat of Leopoldville, on a gangway and an airfield ever so close to the equator, lost even more in perspiration than in translation. You have to dress destination appropriately when you travel, she told me with great gravity when she handed me that note as constant reminder of her wisdom. I wouldn’t know. You see, I’ve never been to the Congo.
There’s pasta and there’s… nothing! If it comes to pasta, I lose all objectivity, I forget all about any other meal, I always declare I will never ever eat anything else again. Like the boy who cried wolf, nobody believes me, but it’s true, nothing beats pasta, nothing is better, believe you me! As a proof, I stop writing right here and now, there’s nothing left to be said.
The Swedes are very happy people. They have Abba and Anders Celsius, great people as Donald Trump would call them, without them we would know nothing about Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and if we should put on a pullover when leaving the house or not, then there’s Queen Silvia, a very politically interested queen, she does a lot of charity work for underprivileged children, for the elderly and people suffering from dementia, there’s IKEA, too, I could not live without my BILLY book shelves, there’s Ingrid Bergman and Ingmar Bergman, Greta Garbo and Sofia Helin, one doesn’t need much more on one’s screen, there’s Stockholm and all these beautiful lakes to swim in naked, there’s Stieg Larsson and Arne Dahl to prevent one from sleep, then they know all about goals in life, as there are Pippi Långstrump aka Pippi Longstocking and the Nobel Prize, the most prestigious prize ever, if I ever got one, I would no longer talk to you just out of sheer arrogance (I’m kidding, of course I would still talk to you, I’d tell you all about my Nobel Prize, the night I got it, why I got it, how much I deserved it, and where I keep it, maybe on the mantelpiece), and last but not least (at all!), there’s gravad lax! If I were a salmon, I’d be deeply honoured to end up with sweet mustard and dill sauce on my toast, believe you me. Nothing is yummier!
Yesterday, quite out of the blue, I was confronted on Instagram with a photo I had posted years ago. Years! A fantastic little object of fine Swiss patisserie on one of my Royal Copenhagen plates. Obviously, I was still living in Zurich at that time, a time I was deeply and ever so hopelessly in love with everything the Swiss do to raspberries. At Vollenweider’s, for example, they sprinkle them with tiny pistaccio crumbs, des pistaches hachées ever so menues, just to enhance their aroma, just like what a glass of cool Sauternes does to strawberries, at least if we trust Sebastian Flyte, which I do, but I digress and on top, I’m quoting from Brideshead Revisited again, but any of Evelyn Waugh’s novels are forever stuck in my mind, so I have to ask for your forgiveness and to reread them all. Anyway, this delicious post had just gotten a new like after all these years, and by whom? By none other than the Vollenweider people themselves! I was most honoured to be reminded of what I’ve been missing in my life ever since I left Zurich… Damn!
Pardon my stupid unoriginal pun, I just couldn’t resist. Fact is, however, this salad’s recipe is originally from Nice, France, and secondly, it’s very nice a recipe, especially when served in summer on a hot day and spaghetti bolognese are just to heavy a meal to even think of. You might say now, that in November, temperatures are ever so moderate, and ask what kind of point I was trying to make, and in fact, you’re right, if served outside now, you might want to exchange your glass of red wine that goes ever so fine with for some mulled wine or punch in order to stay alive and/or unfrozen, but I still would have to remind you of the people from Down Under who are suffering from some rigid heat wave right now, so hot, they might actually wanna have their red wine served on the rocks. I have never quite understood why that actually is, they having summer when we have winter, something with the sun and rotation and blind sides and solstice and astronomical stuff such as that going on, but I digress. Anyway, salade niçoise, this lovely dish from Nice, France tastes fine in any season, at any time, with any ocean next to it, the Mediterranean Sea or the Pacific, but if you prefer some heat to go with it, just turn it on. Bon appétit!
Some days ago, or weeks rather, on one of these greyish autumn weekends, I visited a castle nearby in the beautiful region of Münsterland, a castle not so much known for its architectural significance, although having been around since the 11th century, the “new” main house with its splendid black and white shutters was built from 1540 to 1545, and not a single one of its many stones has ever crumbled, it’s only known for one of its residents, Baroness Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, a well known German author from the early 1800s. On January 12th, 1797, Burg Hülshoff was her place of birth, just imagine, at that time, in the late 1700s, the castle had already been over six hundred years old. Six hundred! The Frankfurt apartment my parents lived in when I was born, was merely 80 years old at that time and was already considered Altbau, meaning old architecture. I’m a sucker for tradition, as you might guess… Anyway, besides all this history and ancient glory, besides the little neo-Gothic chapel added in 1880, just imagine having your very own chapel to pray in, just like the marchioness of Brideshead in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, what struck me most was the moat the castle is surrounded by. All that peace and quiet, protected by ever so tranquil a moat. Not even the ducks that are to be spotted here and there dare to make any noise. I really need one, too.
Cheese is the best thing there is, unless you’re lactose intolerant. I thought I was, at least until very lately, but it turned out to be an imaginary intolerance. Actually, it was a severe case of media brainwash, thus called by my physician, but that’s a totally different story. Anyway, as I said, cheese is the best thing there is. Especially this one, imported from Burgundy, France, by my parents who came back yesterday, served tonight for dinner with baguette and some other fine stuff and, most importantly, with a (actually, two and a half) bottle of Maranges, a very fine Burgundy wine, with a nice aroma of almost overly ripe cherries to lighten the almost overly creamy heaviness of that wonderful cheese. A cheese, of which my parents couldn’t recall the name, otherwise I would have told you, please believe me!
Green. I’ve said it before and I say it again, Berlin is very green. Trees everywhere, offering lots of shade and making the urban air somewhat breathable. If I were in charge, meaning if I were either God or Donald Trump, cars would be forbidden altogether. Except maybe for Aston Martins, Bentleys, and la déesse. But that’s a completely different story. Anyway, on a hot summer’s day, Berlin’s trees provide enough shade for strollers and flaneurs to survive global warming, its architecture offers some diversion, and in the same spirit, its restaurants are contributing some nice sunshades to dine under.
When you live in Berlin, you’re far better off than when living in Zurich. Zurich has just one lake, not even a very big one, whereas Berlin has lots of lakes, just lots. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, but I’m not one to compare, is the Wannsee. It’s really close to the city while giving you the impression of being far off anything remotely architectural (I feel transferred to Finland at times), if it weren’t for the Funkturm, Berlin’s iconic radio tower. That tower’s height of 368 metres, Germany’s heighest building, just doesn’t allow it to disappear in the skyline, and helps keeping your feet on the (ever so urban) ground. There are many places to go to on this very ground, but Wannseeterrassen offers the best view with your happy hour drink or your Caesar’s Salad or whatever you’re having. Anyway, I can assure you won’t ever regret coming here at sunset, when the light turns everything incredibly beautiful, romantic and just, well, stunning. Even Rusty couldn’t take his eyes off of that lake… it’s just too good to be true…
When I felt like having some French goat cream cheese yesterday, I realized for the first time in my life how very white it is. I mean, it’s really white. Almost whiter than white. And that’s where it got tricky. When I put that ever so white cube on my white plate, plain white as white plates go, my eyes went blank, they had suddenly stopped transmitting any information, as if they were kind of snow-blinded. I would have needed sunglasses if hadn’t been already dark, we’re talking a late-night snack here… Anyway, I exchanged plates immediately and not only did I choose a very vivid pattern, hand-painted using a lot of turquoise ink, I also looked out for the red cheese cutlery I once bought in France. The morale of the story? It’s the boy scout’s motto: always be prepared.