The road at my door


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Photograph taken by J. a couple of years ago in the Karwendel in Austria

My Dear Friend,

I suppose you have long thought before that I had forgotten you (or was dead) but my dear friend, I am still alive, and when I think of my Old friends you are always the first to come to mind. It will probably surprise you to hear from me down in this country but U.S was too small for the last two years I was there. I was restless. I wanted to see more of the world. I had seen all of the U.S that I thought was good.( ....) I visited the best cities and best parts of South A. till I got here. And this part of the country looked so good that I located, and I think for good, for I like the place better every day. I have 300 cattle, 1500 sheep and 28 good saddle horses, 2 men to do my work, also a good 4 room house, a warehouse, stable, chicken house and some chickens. The only thing lacking is a cook (...) and sometimes I feel very lonely for I am alone all day, and my neighbours don't amount to anything, besides the only language spoken is Spanish, and I don't speak it well enough to converse on the latest scandals so dear to the hearts of all nations. (...)

The climate here is a great deal milder than Ashley valley. The summers are beautiful, never as warm as there. And grass knee high everywhere and lots of good cold mountain water, but the winters are very wet and disagreeable , for it rains most of the time, but sometimes we have lots of snow, but it don't last long, for it never gets cold enough to freeze. I have never seen Ice one inch thick...

Robert Leroy Parker, otherwise known as Butch Cassidy writing to Mrs Davies from Argentina

The original Butch and Sundance probably weren't quite this good looking

I read that letter, part of Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia, in the deserted auditorium of a cinema just before they turned down the lights. Something about it, imagining seeing the seasons change in the spectacular landscapes of Argentina and later the solitude in a room lit by candlelight makes me dream. It makes me think of the film with Paul Newman and Robert Redford which is one of my favourites but most of all, it leaves me restless for some kind of adventure myself. As I've said in another post, I'm not much of an explorer; there's a fear of the unknown, the inability to go without a real bed or a regular wash or be at the mercy of the elements. Basically, I'm a coward. At the same time though, the ordinary scares me too, the fear that every day might always end up being the same, a bit like Groundhog Day, so perhaps the answer is to look for small adventures in the places around me and leave the big adventures for bedtime reading and viewing. I love the open spaces of the western where people's dreams live and die, where you can ride off in any direction without meeting a soul for days.

Last week I finally got around to visiting the Pergamon Museum for the first time. It felt amazing walking in and seeing a huge altar which filled the massive space, an elaborate Roman market gate, delicately painted cups and pots, Islamic woven rugs and wooden pens for exquisite penmanship. There was also an opportunity to catch the Adventures of Tel Halaf exhibition with sculptures pieced back together from thousands of fragments in the rubble of the museum in Charlottenburg bombed in World War Two. They were originally discovered and excavated in part of what is today north east Syria by the German archeologist Max von Oppenheim and housed in a converted machine hall which served as a foundation. I imagine illustrious visitors like Agatha Christie or Samuel Beckett spending time in the glacial, unheated rooms in the bitter Berlin winter, standing in awe at the sight of these monumental blocks of sculptures and it also makes me long to follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia into the desert where there is no end to the horizon. It made me think back to when I visited the Alhambra at nightime when the moon was shining brightly. Others were content to take a blaze of photos and rush onto the next room but I lingered in the soft summer air for a moment, letting my mind drift back to times when people really lived here, listening to gentle song of the fountain nearby. I thought of Oppenheim in his luxurious apartment on the Ku'damm, decorated in the oriental style where visitors would go to admire his collection of treasures and listen to the strumming of a guitar as evening fell over Berlin.

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From the Adventures of Tel Half exhibition

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A book belonging to Oppenheim

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Some of Oppenheim's personal collection for his apartment

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Fragment of the Pergamon altar frieze

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Islamic writing instruments

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Luisa's zucchini fritters with yoghurt - you can find the recipe here

This is my 100th post and it feels amazing to get to such a large number. To mark the occasion, it only seems right to return to my starting point and make another cheesecake. This one is from a Nigella Lawson book which I somehow never got around to making because I preferred the London one. It's not a New York cheesecake in the truest sense because I reduced the original amount of Philadelphia, replaced the sour cream by whipping cream and added a tub of quark to make it lighter. Thanks again to all of you who take time to read such long posts and leave comments - I really appreciate it!

New York Cheesecake, adapted from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess

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For the base

250g digestive biscuits (or graham crackers as you say in the U.S. Berliners, you can now buy these at Edeka and some Karstadt stores)
150g unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp caster sugar

For the filling

2 tbsp cornflour
300g cream cheese
4 eggs, separated
2 tsp vanilla extract
250g quark (not low fat)
150ml whipping cream
1/2 tsp salt
200g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon

1. Make the base by putting the biscuits in the mixer and pulsing until you have fine crumbs. Melt the butter in a pan or the microwave and pour onto the crumbs along with the 3 tablespoons of sugar. Pulse again so everything is blended and press the crumbs into the bottom of a springform tin with the back of a spoon so they're firm. Place the tin in the freezer while you get on with the filling.
2. Preheat the oven to 170°C and put in a baking sheet at the bottom to catch the inevitable drips . In a large bowl, combine the 200g sugar and the cornflour. Add the cream cheese, egg yolks and vanilla and blend, either by hand or with an electric blender. Slowly pour in the quark and whipping cream and beat well until the mixture is smooth then add the lemon zest and salt.
3. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff then fold them into the cream cheese mixture. Retrieve the cheessecake base from the freezer and gently pour in the filling.
4. Bake for between 60 and 90 minutes without opening the door until set and golden brown on top. Then turn off the heat and leave the cheesecake for 2 more hours in the oven, again without opening the door. Then open the door and leave the cheesecake for another hour.

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