Remember Midsummer


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It lay forgotten at the back of the closet underneath the pile of heavy jumpers but as soon as I put on the blue cagoule, I found myself instantly transported back to Northumberland two years ago, the day spent in Seahouses visiting the Farn Islands when our boat was tossed by the waves and in spite of the grey skies and heavy showers everyone queued for ice cream. I bought the jacket at the National Trust shop along with a puffin (cuddly not real) and a small book on baking. When I returned to Seahouses last sumer, I spent a long moment standing on the jetty trying to engrave the smell of the sea in my memory so that I would always have the experience of being there but it faded almost as soon as the footprints left behind on the beach. It's difficult to explain why but just recently I've been lacking inspiration, feeling my heart yearn for other landscapes. It's always worse on days full of greyness and rain which take me back to my hotel room in Venice last autumn with its richly coloured wallpaper and dusty Murano glass chandeliers where I spent my time reading a book on Canaletto and a biography of Peggy Guggenheim. As strange as it seems, overcast skies and cool breezes are what I find most romantic.

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Yet there have been some wonderful moments this past week to open my eyes to the loveliness of Berlin; my friend Kat had her book launch for the exceptional Berliner Chic (review to follow here shortly, promise) at St. George's bookshop in Prenzlauer Berg. Arriving soaked to the skin with shoes full of water after walking through a downpour, it was lovely to be greeted by Kat in her beautiful electric blue dress and sip a glass of wine. The next evening, my friend Gabi kindly took me out for dinner at a wonderful Korean restaurant called Ixthys which is Greek for fish (please don't ask me to explain the name). It's perhaps one of the strangest places I've eaten in, with passages from the Bible written in German on all the walls and also in the menu and a tiny interior with no toilets where you have to share a table with other diners. But the food was exceptional, all prepared fresh and a generous portion of Bim Bam Bap, one of the best meals I've had in Berlin. My only regret was not taking my camera along. Next time though...

Tomorrow then I'll board the plane for Birmingham to spend the summer in England with its showers and sunshine so dear to my heart. There will undoubtadly be strawberries and cream, days spent watching Wimbledon addictively, eating dinner in the garden and reading Tove Jansson's the Summer Book and Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger in the shade of the apple tree.


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Brunch at Clärchens Ballhaus

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Coffee with Christine in Mitte

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My summer breakfast of porridge with strawberries

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My friend Sasa made an amazing rhubarb fool with brown sugar which you simply must try if you can still find the pink stuff

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On Alexanderplatz

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On Karl-Marx-Allee

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The great man himself...

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....and a few communist protesters

The other day while wandering around the stands at the tiny market near where I live, my eyes lit up when I spotted the first blackcurrants of the season, all rich and gleamingly luscious so I decided to try out a recipe for crumble squares with them because to me, nothing is more summery than the crunch of buttery streusel with the sharp juices of fresh fruit. They also freeze amazingly well so you might want to have these ready in advance for when the heatwave arrives. I made some changes to the original recipe though, exchanging white flour for spelt, white sugar for brown decreased the amount of butter and took buttermilk instead of ordinary milk.

Blackcurrant crumble squares (adapted from BBC Good Food 101 Cakes and Bakes)

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115g butter, softened
100g natural cane sugar
1 egg
250g spelt flour
1 tsp aluminium free baking powder
125ml buttermilk
200g fresh blackcurrants, destalked

For the crumble

50g natural cane sugar
40g spelt flour
25g cold butter

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 23cm square baking tin.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy. Add the egg then carefully blend in the flour and baking powder, followed by the buttermilk until you have a smooth mixture.
3. Pour the mixture into the tin and smooth out until even. Sprinkle the blackcurrants on top.
4. In another bowl, combine the sugar and flour then rub in the butter until you have large flakes of crumble. Spoon over the blackcurrants and place the tin in the oven for 45 minutes or until the fruit has burst through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin before cutting into squares.


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