Confessions of a Sentimental Baker

I’m not a recreational cook. I prepare food to eat it, though I discovered that I enjoy a simple cooking process or also putting together a meal with my family or a group of friends. While the end goal is always to eat, for anyone, with time I’ve grown into my own understanding of the special moments of eating and cooking together.

My mother comes from a family with lengthy branches of extended relatives on either side, with multiple family units, and she inherited the gift for efficiently prepared and delicious meals. Not to mention sharing this gift again and again, to this day, with her own big family. Scheduling, time-saving measures, a fair amount of multi-tasking among mothers and grandmothers, gatherings around a kitchen table that would inevitably lead the way to jokes and stories that were passed on in the future – all this, together with and around the process of cooking, contributed to the fundamental base of home and family. Many of those mothers, grandmothers and aunts also developed their own recipes.

My father, being a scientist with an eye for taking things apart and seeing how individual components relate to each other to create a whole, is adept at following a complicated recipe that might involve several hours of labour. It was a treat when he had time to do this and I remember how, as children, we were entranced by one dish where the pieces of spiced meat were carefully wrapped up in foil (so shiny) and stuck in the oven. He was also always willing to lend his strength (and patience) to mixing or rolling out dough to the necessary thinness, also for layers that had to be put in the freezer first – my sister and I were very keen on puff pastry for a while.

Baking stands out to me because of childhood memories of spending time with my mother and, of course, knowing that I would get a treat. I remember my sense of importance when we were allowed to shape dough into anything we liked or use cookie cutters. My mother would regularly bake in the evenings as well for the week ahead. When we were older, sometimes we would come to the kitchen after already having gone to bed, drawn in by the aroma of baking cinnamon buns.

My sisters are both good at understanding more intricate baking recipes and proceed with focused confidence once they start. There was a Betty Crocker cookbook from the 1980s in our house that had amazing photographs. My sister and I spent a large share of our early teens trying out various recipes and sitting in front of the oven, watching a cake take shape.

I’ve come back to baking at home this year, after I realized I missed it. Tonight’s cake didn’t turn out like expected, namely it crumbles easily, but it’s still perfectly edible, and thanks to the chocolate frosting (which turned out amazing) the apartment smells lovely.

 

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Recent Travel Reminders

Travel, even if it’s a short trip away, always opens you up. You have to make decisions along the way, the unexpected may happen, your daily routines might be left for a while, freeing time for something else or a new day rhythm. You remember or refresh things that might be useful, and discard others that are not. I love making lists and my brain starts buzzing with the random, the practical and the sentimental as I make my way to a given destination.

So here’s a selection from my recent trip

Have a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer readily accessible. Or wet wipes. Big fan, yes. And never again shall you be unpleasantly surprised by the absence of soap in the airport bathroom when you eagerly press the dispenser button or hopefully flap your hands in an attempt to activate the motion sensor.

There’s never really a bad time for a cup of hot chocolate, if you want one, but maybe there’s more variety around than Starbucks? And if not, heck, go for that Wifi.

Phones, tablets etc. are indispensable, but sometimes it’s so nice to read an actual book or magazine while waiting for boarding or during train journeys. It’s getting a tinge of rarity around it and rare is chic.

Browsing a good bookshop, if there is one in the train station or airport, is a very absorbing way to fill the time, even a nice ritual I like to follow before departure. It’s kind of like a final tourist activity to do in the place and you might find something interesting to bring home.

Headphones are the ultimate blessing and accessory for anyone wanting to be left alone in their seat, and you don’t have to actually listen to anything – I can’t get over the coolness of that one. Chatting to someone is always easy, but this bubble of time for yourself only before you return to everyday life is just too luxurious an opportunity to pass up.

 

 

 

Frankfurt Winter Weekend, Part 2

If you’re thinking where to go out after arriving, especially if it’s closer to the evening, the Bornheim Mitte district is a good suggestion. Just a few minutes on the U4 subway line from the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) and get out at the stop called…you guessed it, Bornheim Mitte. It’s a cosy, lively area full of cafés, bars, restaurants and shops, also great for meeting up with friends.

The next day is open to me and I can do whatever I want, so I set off towards a classic destination, the old town, planning to walk around and refresh my memories. Frankfurt’s city center around its cathedral, Dom Römer, had been severely destroyed during air bombings in the 1940s and painstakingly restored since then. Arriving at the square that is still relatively quiet for a Friday morning, I pause to take it all in. It’s a pretty sight.

I’m about to go all around the square first, but then when I start I walk past a sign next to the cathedral pointing towards the entrance to the tower. It seems encouraging and I make the detour. Hamburg doesn’t have a cathedral and I’ve had a hankering for visiting them ever since seeing Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in my youth (yes, I know the book is vastly different) and going on my first trip to Paris shortly after. There’s a bit of construction going on around the ticket office of the Dom, I contribute 3 euros to preserving this historical structure and pull open a heavy metal door. It shuts behind me with a resounding bang after I enter.

The next 10 minutes that feel like half an hour are spent climbing a tightly spiraling narrow stone staircase, holding on to a rail on one side and gripping a rope on the other. A few other visitors make their way down as I’m going up and we carefully maneuver around each other, me pausing to let them by. One size stairs fits all! A sign next to a caged door that’s locked despite providing the first view of what seems like a balcony points upwards to the observation deck and I cover a few more flights. So that’s my morning workout and suspense kick sorted, but the views from the top of the cathedral tower are more than worth it. Like this classic one of the Frankfurt city skyline (contributing to the fact that many people think it’s a metropolis – there’s just something about skyscrapers):

Or this one of the Main river:

I love finding a place to get a good view of a city from above when I travel, it just adds something special to your day and provides some reflection time to scope out the area before joining the action on the ground. Going up the cathedral tower was more taxing physically then going down, but going down is also more likely to make you slightly dizzy.  Feeling proud of myself for being a good tourist, I walk around the square, going into every side street and passing a chattering class of French exchange students clearly just beginning their journey through snooty puberty.

I make my way towards the Kleinmarkthalle on foot, everything is close – it’s a covered marketplace that I’ve briefly been to years ago and decide to explore more after a tip from my friend. But first there’s a bookstore right by the entrance that pulls me in. While the massive volumes about Vogue shoes or Hitchcock’s blondes are way out of both my budget and suitcase range, it’s fun to leaf through them, and then I spot a small discounted daily desk calendar for 2019 with screenshots from Disney animated films. And what do you know, I actually don’t have a desk calendar for this year yet. Thank you, Frankfurt.

The market is filled with people, but it’s easy to move along, and colours, food, smells, sounds all take up my attention for a while.

Plenty of stalls offer lunch, and I settle on one that promises homey food. “Here you go, my dear, enjoy and come again,” – well, thank you. The breaded salmon with fried potatoes and a minty green sauce is delicious and it’s fun to listen to what the other diners around me are talking about. After that I treat myself to some homemade chocolates and conclude the day’s walk by doing that thing all the tourists here do.