When you're trying to be virtuous and it backfires...
autumn in Berlin: when it’s cold and dreary, it’s a great time to crank up the heat and bake
I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve attempted the Tartine Country Bread recipe. Today, the dough is coming out exactly like the photos in the cookbook, which has never happened. I think I’ll actually end up with a loaf of bread.
The sourdough yeast starter I use in the recipe requires frequent maintenance. I have to discard a portion of the flour and water mixture every other day. Discarding the yeast makes me feel a bit wasteful especially when I know that there are hundreds of recipes I can put it in.
I enjoy being resourceful—but it’s not a virtue. I’m compelled to save food, but most often I end up discarding it at a later date. The additional packaging and washing wouldn’t have happened if I just didn’t feel bad about throwing food out.
In being resourceful with the starter, I’ve made chocolate cake, chocolate cookies and even waffles. The chocolate cake came out so large that I ended up freezing most of it and then I threw it out. Not only did I waste the foil and plastic in baking and packaging, but I also ended up wasting the additional ingredients: eggs, flour and sugar.
The Aesop in my neighborhood got new windows today. This may not sound interesting, but since the overpriced soap store opened, it’s been heavily vandalized.
Why didn’t they replace the windows earlier? I think they did, and immediately the glass was repeatedly smashed. This week, the shop installed metal shutters to cover the new glass windows that came in today.
The anarchists are always making a statement against gentrification in my neighborhood. Just a block away is a luxury condo that continually gets graffitied. The lobby windows are always cracked and the property managers seem to have given up on making repairs.
My residential neighborhood, a seemingly strange place for a corporate soap shop and a photo of the glass being held together with tape.
When I first moved to my apartment, I considered getting something nice, like a bottle of expensive hand soap, to 'decorate' my bathroom. I considered Aesop even at its 30 euro price. I didn’t have time to visit an Aesop shop, the one nearby hadn’t opened, so I grabbed a 3 euro bottle from a supermarket instead.
Aesop’s branding, the hipster apothecary-look, is aspirational, or once was. By now, medicinal bottles are found in any home decor shop. When I lived in London many years ago, I would make a point to stop in Ozone Coffee’s bathroom. There was a large bottle of Aesop soap and each time, I’d double coat my hands. I’ve never felt richer.
When I first saw Aesop in my neighborhood, the destroyed shop windows immediately changed my perspective. What kind of tool am I to buy into this corporate bullshit? This is exactly what the anarchists wanted me to think. Immediately I switched sides and was delighted to see justice 'served'.
But really, all this shows is how easy it is to manipulate someone like me. Windows smashed seem to represent power of the people over the corporation. Should someone like me have a say on any sort of decisions?
Finding ways to make use of my amoeba pet, the sourdough yeast starter.
Getting the ingredients ready
I’ve been keeping my wild yeast alive, despite not having made bread this month. One of the requirements for keeping it alive is to discard a large portion of it on a regular basis.
It’s like an animal that eats food and then the food is absorbed into its amoeba form. As it gets larger, it needs more food. I don’t want to keep such a large animal around, so I have to cut it down.
Much like keeping a pet, things happen when you don’t treat it right. When I don’t feed it enough, it starves. When it’s active, it eats more. How is sourdough bread vegan? Bacteria is found on everything, including every piece of vegan food, and from my several month long experience living with it, there’s life. Maybe the lack of blood makes it "vegan".
I used to feel bad for discarding dough, but I’ve come to realize that I’m not wasting anything, especially since the flour and water I add has been used to keepg my amoeba animal healthy. Still, I enjoy being resourceful. This week, I used the excess starter in a sourdough chocolate chip cookie recipe.
The cookies came out chunky, unlike anything you’d find in bakeries in Europe. I miss American style desserts, chunky cookies that are irregular in shape. In Europe, the same recipe may be used, but the bakers here flatten everything out to precisely the same thickness and size. The cookies are cut perfectly round.
Autumn outdoors: rainy and gray outside, it was comforting to have fresh hot cookies
How do I like them? They taste as delicious as any home-baked chocolate chip cookie. The difference is that I am not getting a tummy ache after having five in a row.
Last year, I discovered Claudia Bertini when she released a collection of dresses and coats. For those who enjoy natural materials, you’ll admire Claudia’s designs for the cotton, linen and wool. There aren’t that many designers who make original clothing from natural materials.
The latest collection includes a dress that can be worn as a coat—much like a kimono or robe. Like the previous collection, the clothing is made to be relevant past the current fashion cycle. The dress is made from 5 meters of cloth, demonstrating a style of luxury that promotes comfort.
Cloth edges on a few items are left raw and undone, reflecting today’s appeal for distressed style. In addition, pleats are arranged irregularly.
Perhaps Claudia’s style could be a new standard for workwear. Now that there are more freelancers, more are working from home, why not make clothing appropriate for a different setting? The comfort of Claudia’s pieces make them comfortably career appropriate for modern times.
Delicious stories about cooking and eating in Rome.
Cooking in a practical kitchen, one I can relate to. Photo by Rachel Roddy via Rachel Eats.
"I had no plan, only a vague notion that I would know the place I could settle in when I found it."
The latest cookbooks contain stories about travel and personal experiences. Only recently have I discovered this genre of literature. In My Kitchen in Rome, Rachel Roddy, a food blogger originally from the UK, describes how she came to live in Rome.
"Approaching Testaccio for the first time…I was caught off guard."
"Two weeks later, I signed a year-long contract for a small flat at a gentrified rent next to the market. Did I know at this point that Testaccio was the somewhere I’d been looking for? Looking back, that was possibly so."
I wonder what Testaccio is like. Rachel’s descriptions make the neighborhood seem like a place worth visiting. Located outside the center, in the south west corner there wasn’t an occasion for me to cross it on my last trip. Proclaimed "the most Roman of all Roman quarters", I’m for sure going to check it one day.
Of all the places I’ve traveled, Rome is the only place I know I’ll return to. When my husband and I booked our last trip, we booked it a week in advance. Without any planning, we landed and wandered for a few days. No tickets for anything were needed, just our feet and our appetites.
One of the things I’d like to experience more is the food culture. Maybe I can say that for every place I go to. How do locals eat? Do they really eat four courses as the menus suggests? My Kitchen in Rome shares glimpses of local food culture.
"I’ve already had several lunches at Augustrello, a single-roomed trattoria with frosted windows and a reputation for good Roman food, but it wasn’t until the fourth or fifth one that I witnessed a Roman ritual for the first time. A table of men, deep in conversation and seemingly able to order purely by gesture and nod, were brought a plate of fave (fresh fava beans in their pods) and an entire wheel of young pecorino romano cheese. While the conversation continued unabated, the men opened the fave by pinching the tip, tugging on the thread…they then ate them with pieces of pecorino chiseled from the wheel."
"I remember staring, thinking it both odd and wonderful. I wondered if I too might be brought a plate of fave and the wheel of cheese… fave didn’t even seem to be on the menu I’d studied."
Rachel’s photos from both her blog and her book are taken in her kitchen as she actually cooks each meal. In contrast to the flashiest food photography online, Rachel’s style is simple, honest and easy—there are no flowers or unnecessary rustic tableware. It’s rare to find photo stories that reflect the beauty of reality, undecorated.
I love recipes that transform basic ingredients. Flour, water, and salt, can be made into hundreds of forms. Su filindeu is a pasta that takes years to perfect and because of the expertise required, it’s known as 'Italy’s rarest pasta'.
"No one can remember how or why the women in Nuoro started preparing su filindeu (whose name means 'the threads of God'), but for more than 300 years, the recipe and technique have only been passed down through the women in Abraini’s family – each of whom have guarded it tightly before teaching it to their daughters."
“'There are only three ingredients: semolina wheat, water and salt,' Abraini said, vigorously kneading the dough back and forth. 'But since everything is done by hand, the most important ingredient is elbow grease.'”
"Then comes the hardest part, a process she calls, 'understanding the dough with your hands.' When she feels that it needs to be more elastic, she dips her fingers into a bowl of salt water. When it needs more moisture, she dips them into a separate bowl of regular water. 'It can take years to understand,' she beamed. 'It’s like a game with your hands. But once you achieve it, then the magic happens.'
"'The problem was that once they saw how I actually do it, they’d say, "It’s just too much work", and wouldn’t come back,' she said."
Quotes from "The Secret Behind Italy’s Rarest Pasta" via bbc.com.
My favorite look from Mara Hoffman Spring 2017 via vogue.com and a tiled fireplace in a Spanish farmhouse photographed by José Hevia via dezeen.com.
The internet is for daydreamers. I love looking at items I know I'll never wear, never visit nor will I ever make use of.
Chaquita banana wore bright blue. She was in a dress, but my favorite look from Mara Hoffman's Spring reminded me of Chaquita’s look. I remember watching banana commercials when I was five, wanting to carry fruit on my head while doing a little jig in a puffy sleeve dress. Would I ever wear the more practical version? I’d love to, but unfortunately, reliving Chaquita in a flattering way costs hundreds.
A bit of the utilitarian style of brutalism found in this modern kitchen. Photographed by José Hevia via dezeen.com
I've been admiring an old Spanish farmhouse, renovated with modern built in furniture. Burnt red tiles are found on the fireplace, all over the kitchen and on shelving. I hope to select tiles as bold in color to cover large surfaces of my home one day. Or maybe move into a home with built in furniture. The tables never budge and the legs are never uneven.
I wish I could wear light cotton all the time. Unfortunately, the breathable cloth is not suitable for winters I go through. LA based Natalie Martin makes a range of dresses and tunics in light cotton gauze. It's so light it's actually gauze. Another label based in a warm place, Heinui from Barcelona, is making jackets from embroidered cotton. I wish there was an occassion to wear cotton coats in the winter, but the only occassion I have is indoors.
random path in rome: the high wall on one side seemed to be protecting an exotic garden
Imagine if you could walk in someone’s shoes for a day. I would love to trade places, even if it meant living someone's boring life.
During a visit to Rome, my husband and I wandered onto a side street after exiting the chaos of the Vatican. We were overwhelmed by lines, slow moving tourists, and pushy women with fanny packs full of passes to skip lines. In desperation, we darted onto the first side path. The narrow road was bordered by a a high fortress wall and a cliff overlooking five story apartments. Cars accelerated past us as if trying to escape the experience of being on this road. Everyone was there to get somewhere else.
At the end was a large fountain and overview of the city. Delivery vans could be seen every five minutes making sharp turns and the people around were all walking at a brisk pace. We met two tourists photographing the fountain, far below the number we've seen in a cluster.
the park entrance: We finally got to the entrance of the garden. But by that time, I was hungry. I was more interested in finding food.
hilly landscape: From this vantage point, you can see the seven hills Rome was built on.
uneasy: The fountain is enclosed within a busy road. I took the photo in between cars whizing by. My back was towards a cliff edge and there was a couple of feet to stand and view the fountain. I had to step back enough to avoid water splashing from cars but forward enough not to fall off.
steep turns: This house is built on multiple elevations. The terrain allows for different styles of gardens: elevation plays a role in arranging trees and plants
As we continued walking, we saw more people coming and going. The area had no places of importance, which made it all the more interesting. This is a path that commuters walk on to get to and from work and school. There were no tourists taking in this part of Rome.
The road led down the hill to livelier areas, where there were restaurants every couple steps. I’m not familiar with the Mediterranean vegetation since I flew in from a place where trees had lost all color. The green foliage and cypress trees were soothing to see. Also, I’d never been in a place where oranges grow. In Rome, it was common to find orange trees growing from sidewalks. Branches were weighed down by fruits the size of grapefruits. Food just falls off trees.
I’m sure locals are not enthusiastic. If there was a way, just to switch places and see what someone else sees, perhaps the world would be a happier place. Especially when an annoying commute can be an exotic travel destination.
walking down: I was super hungry and there were no restaurants in the area we were exploring. A downside for going 'off the beaten path'.
regular occurrence: This fountain just sat at the bottom of the steps. I think it's opulent but it's normal, everyday for Rome. We descended into Trastevere, a neighborhood with great dining options.
So many high walls. From the street, I'm always wondering what's behind.
Pearly iridescence: A typical summer morning on the lake path
I’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago, but despite the number of years, I still consider Berlin more 'home' than Chicago. Perhaps it has to do with how comfortable I was with myself during the time I spent there. I visited the Art Institute and the Museum of Science and Industry in junior high and high school for field trips and weekends. Although I was also there in college, I hadn’t been outside of the education system where I had to actually make decisions by thinking for myself. Chicago has always been a place for me to prepare myself, so one day, I can move out.
"Where I live is not my home. I am my home." - Marianne Faithfull on her home tour via Nowness
During one summer living downtown, I started biking on the lake path. I’d get up in the morning and immediately go for a ride up to Lakeview to grab a cup of tea. Back then, I believed tea was much healthier than coffee, so even if I wanted to have coffee, I’d have tea. What’s healthier than a healthy morning bike ride? A healthy cup of tea.
Morning Tea at one of the best coffee places, Intelligentsia
I soon became addicted to riding in the morning. The sun shining on open waters was slightly different but always breathtaking. These photos were taken from one of the mornings.
It feels like you’re in paradise. But even that feeling doesn’t make me want to live there. I can see why Chicago can be an excellent place to live. Despite the amenities, for some reason, I can't imagine settling there.
A very interesting middle of nowhere. Travel photos by Malcolm Bull.
"This is a church in the town of Campo Maior." and "an isolated cork oak tree in a vast rolling wheat field."
If you’ve ever been on a roadtrip in the US, a small town in Kansas can look very similar to a small town in Colorado. Similar styles of architecture and the same stores are available in most rural areas, along with the same Walmart, and similar Waffle Houses on the side of highways.
When I drive across Europe, the small towns outside big cities all have their own charm. You don’t have to go to a well-known touristy place to enjoy unique surroundings.
Alentejo is an agricultural region of Portugal. For over 300 years, the barks on the cork-oak trees are harvested there to make wine bottle corks. There’s a ton of wheat grown here as well.
While the middle of nowhere is really nothing special in the US, the middle of nowhere in any country in Europe is special. Flickr has been a great place to find original places to travel. Here are my favorite travel photos by Malcolm Bull, a Sussex based amateur photographer.
"the Pousada Hotel Flor da Rosa, near Crato, Alentejo, Portugal"
"Traditional blue patterned tiling on the outside of a house in Estremoz" and "bright white walls and potted flowers - Vila Viçosa"
"This cottage is on outskirts of Flor da Rosa, Alentejo." I love finding different details in different places, like the fenced in patio entrance.
"on a ranch in the middle of a vineyard - The Herdade da Malhadinha Nova"
All images and caption quotes by Malcolm Bull. View the entire album on Flickr.