The hardest step


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Forgive my absence on this blog - this was really not the way I intended it to be, not even getting around to wishing any of you a Merry Christmas or Happy New Year and now we're into February. I feel I have to start with a piece of news, something that's been running through my mind constantly these past few months. It's nothing incredibly exciting like a book deal or a wedding but rather the decision to leave Berlin in the summer and return to Derbyshire for a while. It's hard to say exactly when I made up my mind. Berlin has been so great to me; I've managed to make a decent living for the first time in my life, get a place of my own, live in one of the loveliest cities and have the most wonderful friends. It seems insane to give it all up and yet...there are other things I want to try and if I don't make that leap now, I have the impression I'll never have the courage or the chance to take that step.

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This summer will mark my fifth year as a Berliner. I remember that first visit a year before my move, walking through the Tiergarten in the rain to catch a glimpse of the Siegessäule, visitng the zoo and seeing the panda. There were the early days here when I did the CELTA and spent wild nights clubbing with Americans who've long since left. Five long years, half a decade and there's still so much to explore and understand. In my mind I've rehearsed the different stages; packing up my Berlin life into boxes, selling the furniture, cleaning my apartment and looking out from the plane at the red rooftops of Berlin as I fight back the tears. I try to prepare myself just as Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung do in In the Mood for Love when they practise saying goodbye even though I can't delude myself that you can train your emotions. Leaving Berlin will be one of the saddest things I do. Of course it seems more than a little desperate being 30+ and returning to the same small town where you started out when others already have houses and careers and I haven't even managed to get a drivers' licence in between.I've often identified with Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters, the kooky one who gets turned down for acting parts for being too offbeat looking, trying out different projects and always needing to borrow money.

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 Deep inside there's a fear that it will all blow up in my face. I hope it will be a transition to something I've been wanting to do for a while, something I don't yet want to talk about because I'm afraid the dream won't come true - does that sound crazy?

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Outside a Siberian winter has settled in Berlin for a while bringing frost, glacial winds but plenty of sunshine - the kind of winter I like best. The time here seems so precious but I keep repeating to myself what the our American guide at the Teufelsberg told us; once a Berliner, always a Berliner. I know wherever I go that it will always be a part of me. Thanks to all of you for your comments and emails - I know that you'll bear with my while I find my way through a somewhat uncertain 2012.

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In the meantime I've been doing plenty of baking because nothing helps you keep it together better than a cup of tea and a large piece of cake and also because it's the only way to heat up my freezing cold kitchen. Nigel Slater's carrot cake is one of the nicest I've made; light and moist but with the indulgence of a cream cheese frosting.

Carrot cake (from Nigel Slater's Tender, Volume I)

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For the cake

3 large eggs
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of salt
200ml sunflower oil
125g light muscovado sugar
150g carrots, peeled and grated
juice of half a lemon
150g chopped walnuts

For the frosting

250g mascarpone
200g Philadelphia cream cheese
150g icing sugar, sifted
a few walnut halves

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan assisted. Grease and line a couple of 22cm cake tins.
2. Separate the eggs. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
3. Mix together the flour and sugar in a food processor until smooth then add in the egg yolks one at a time. Tip in the grated carrots, lemon juice and then the chopped walnuts. On the slowest setting possible, carefully fold in the flour mixture.
4. Beat the egg white until stiff then fold them into the mixture using a metal spoon.
5. Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins then bake in the oven for around 40 minutes. The cakes should be moist but not sticky. When they're done, leave them in their tins for about ten minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
6. When the cakes are cool you can begin making the frosting. Beat the mascarpone, cream cheese and icing sugar together with a hand mixer or by hand until smooth and creamy. Sandwich the cakes together with the about a third of the frosting and spread over the top and sides with the remaining mixture. Scatter a few walnut halves on top and enjoy with a large mug of tea or coffee.


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