A thing of beauty


Often when I walk through the streets, I long to push open the closed doors to the wonderful buildings and imagine going into a courtyard or climbing heavy wooden staircases. In the evenings, I look up to the windows glowing with light and get a glimpse of what's inside. It gives me the impression that the lives of others are much more interesting than my own, that somehow I'm outside another world which I'd love to belong to. I remember at school they'd often ask us what job we wanted to do. Mine changed fairly often, sometimes it ranged from photographer, screenwriter and at one time, film director. Yet I never took these options too seriously, never really considered what I wanted to do with my life or how to make it work. Besides, I was always the outsider, the one with hair that was too dark, skin that was too pale, crooked teeth and no style - what did it matter?

I changed my mind a lot, was unable to just stick to a decision. At high school I changed from English to economics, psychology to history, German to philosophy so that I ended up staying on for an extra year. But then there was my first trip to Paris; the lights, the sense of freedom walking along those wide streets and the caf├ęs. There too I had a feeling that I was somehow staring into a different world through the other side of the glass, unable to get in but I wanted to find the door so badly. That was the thing that made me start learning French and feel that something new was in my reach. Four years later, I left for Annecy and began my life abroad. Studying philosophy made it difficult to choose a high powered job and so I started teaching English, feeling it was the only thing I could do. Even though I liked it, there always the thought running through my mind that it was something anyone could do, that it wasn't good enough. I felt inadequate next to the managers and professionals I was teaching, that somehow what they did counted for so much more. I was still standing on the wrong side of the glass. This impression stayed with me until I did a teaching qualification just after I arrived in Berlin and saw that teaching well is more difficult that you think, that not everyone is cut out for that. I realised that it's not your education, money or status that will open you that door but only yourself, that others don't see their lives as any more interesting and often envy things about mine.

After years of doubt and struggling, I finally have the chance to do something a little different in addition to language teaching. The thought of it makes me nervous; I wonder whether I'm good enough for that, feel somehow bad about taking more money. Yet I'm also aware that I have to grab this chance with both hands, regardless of where it leads me, walking close to the edge of the void but with the sense of exhileration being so high up. I hope it works out.

To reflect a little more on things, I took a trip to the botanical gardens today, getting up early to be there when they opened. I'll let the photos speak for themselves but just say that it felt good to be alive with the warmth on the sun on my skin and the smell of the flowers.

Can't get enough of magnolias

In the tropical greenhouses

Stunning camelias

To finish with, a couple of inspiring recipes I tried this week. I know that the emphasis is more on rhubarb rather than apples now but I just couldn't resist making an apple cake. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Spring onion risotto (from the New York Times click here for the recipe)

Apple cake

100g sugar
125g soft butter, unsalted
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
zest of one unsprayed lemon, plus 1 tbsp juice
3 eggs
2-3 large apples (it's best to use ones that aren't too sweet like Braeburns), peeled and cored
some cinnamon for decorating

Pre-heat the oven to 160°

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a spoon until pale and fluffy.
2. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing well before adding the next one. Add the zest and lemon juice.
3. In another bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder and add it to the batter a little at a time until completely blended. If the mixture seems too dry, add a little water. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined springform tin.
4. Peel and core the apples. Cut them into quarters, then cut each quarter into thin slices. Starting at the outer edge of the tin, make a circle with the apple slices. Do the same with some smaller slices in the middle for another little circle. Sprinkle with cinnamon on top and bake in the oven for 30 - 40 minutes or until the top is golden and a cake tester comes out clean.
Leave to cool a little before eating and serve with fresh whipped cream.


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