Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Month: November, 2012

Book Review: “My Berlin Kitchen”

“My Berlin Kitchen”

This “love story with recipes” is the newest-comer to my limited kitchen counter collection. I got a whiff somewhere that food-blogger-turned-writer Luisa Weiss (of The Wednesday Chef blog) lived in Berlin; I ordered her book ahead of my first visit.

I wasn’t expecting much. Maybe a peek at the Brandenburg gate and a few lines about currywurst.

But Luisa (and if you feel like calling the writer by her first name, she did something right) has this lovely knack of enfolding you into her life along with scrumptious and fascinating food references. You are never far from a fretful identity crisis or a sublime dish. Or the two blended together. Each chapter ends with one recipe or several.

"My Berlin Kitchen" coverI sped through it. I may have possibly even needed a tissue by the end, something that has never happened before while indulging in a cookbook, except perhaps the “Joy of Cooking” onion section.

I especially savored the tidbits about life in Germany. Her insights into the cooking challenges here made me feel like I had found a sister upstate. (So that’s why my chocolate-chip cookies, the comfort food we desperately craved when we first arrived, flopped? European butter is fattier than American butter? What? Luisa! You must be kidding me!)

Still, all the charming anecdotes of a 30-something’s life in Berlin/NYC/Italy in the world wouldn’t permit me to put a memoir on my kitchen counter. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I shouldn’t. I need the precious counter space for standard-issue cookbook classics and food reference tomes and stained recipes in newsprint.

Except, then I tried her recipes.

I don’t think SP (my sweet husband) has looked so alarmingly happy at dinner in a long time. And he looks pretty cheerful generally. The look on his face said: Oh my god. What is this? And can I please have more? Immediately?

I made her Brussel Sprouts from Heaven (she calls them something more pedestrian and less accurate), which was a break-through recipe for me and those stubborn sprouts. That alone would have been worth the book price. (Assuming, I should caveat, you are the type who likes fish sauce, chili flakes and lemon zest. Which is not everyone, I realize sadly.)

The same evening, I made one of her two pizza recipes. Dough from scratch. Just yeast, water, olive oil, a pinch of sugar and salt. And it actually behaved. I loaded the crust, shaped to my dismay like one of Dali’s clocks, with anchovies, fresh mozzarella, crushed tomatoes and a sprinkling of dried oregano. (The Surrealist influence was all mine.)

The pizza was fantastic.

"My Berlin Kitchen" recipes

My humble but lick-your-fingers delicious creations via “My Berlin Kitchen. (Enormous sprouts are not to scale.)

“My Berlin Kitchen” now lives on our counter. May the next 20 recipes be just as good.

 

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Halo-Halo, a creation of Kuya Wonka

“Mr. Willy Wonka can make marshmallows that taste of violets, and rich caramels that change colour every ten seconds as you suck them, and little feathery sweets that melt away deliciously the moment you put them between your lips. He can make chewing-gum that never loses its taste, and sugar balloons that you can blow up to enormous sizes before you pop them with a pin and gobble them up. And, by a most secret method, he can make lovely blue birds’ eggs with black spots on them, and when you put one of these in your mouth, it gradually gets smaller and smaller until suddenly there is nothing left except a tiny little DARKRED sugary baby bird sitting on the tip of your tongue.”

— Roald Dahl, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

Hallo, hallo to my new blog. You’ve done it. This is the first post. You cannot go back any farther.

Instead of a Golden Ticket, you win a taste of Halo-Halo, one of my favorite desserts. If Mr. Wonka was Filipino, he could have created this crazy, psychedelic, you-put-what-in there?! concoction.

Americans used to a decadent sundae, slathered with Hershey’s syrup, M&M’s, whipped cream and peanuts might think they’ve seen the height of ice cream heraldry. But they have no idea.

Halo-Halo Ice Cream

(I had no idea.)

Oo, it’s bright purple. That would be the ube ice cream, made from a purple yam. And yes, there’s tropical fruit, like bananas or plantains, jack fruit, On a mound of crushed ice. Soaked with milk. Maybe with a few red beans floating down in the bottom. Cubes of jelly-like gelatin. And that might be rice on top, because, well, Halo-Halo is Filipino, and rice is nearly required by law.

In fact, that photo above doesn’t do it justice.

To my memory, it looked more like this:

I confess I was a little skeptical. Slushy ice and milk are usually separate houses in my church of dessert. Red beans evokes beef chili, ew. But of course, there’s a reason Halo-Halo is so beloved.

Don’t try to eat it piece by piece. Churn it up. Let the ice tinkle in the milk, the fruit swirl with the beans, the leche flan sink down into the delicious sweet goo.

It’s marvelous, as refreshing and surprising as anything I’ve ever had. The Philippines in an ice cream bowl.

If you are hankering for your own, I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to make.

As Charlie’s Grandpa Joe says: “I’ve heard tell that what you imagine sometimes comes true.”