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A Travelling Cook: February 2015

A Travelling Cook

A Travelling Cook: February 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Moving to Berlin: Part 1

It's been a busy week for me. As mentioned in my last Food for thought, Chris has started his dream job in Berlin this week. However the last weekend before he started he was asked to work in Austria for the first week so I've been flat chat trying to organise Berlin rental viewings. I went to Berlin yesterday and saw four places.

I thought I would document a little bit about our challenges/experiences moving to Berlin as they happen. It might be of interest of helpful to anyone who is considering the same move. If you read anything about renting in Berlin, all you hear about is how difficult it is, especially for expats. It's worth stressing that we are already living in Leipzig and have our apartment until the end of April though we/I will move as soon as we find a place and have everything finalised, keys in hand. We've been living in furnished rentals up until now, so we will have to buy bed and all the other furniture!

We are looking at Prenzlauer Berg, Neuköln, Tempelhof and Kreuzberg as potential places to live. I have made lots of enquiries yet most vacancies seem to be in P'berg.

Part of moving is making lots of enquiries (in Deutsch). Today I have made one phone call and received two. Doesn't sound like much but it is a big deal when you are learning a language. I've finished A2 and yet to finish B1. I generally understand some of what people are saying, probably less than half to be honest. Of course context helps so you can get the gist. It's worth mentioning this in case other people don't speak much Deutsch. I have been learning for 6 months but we only did half an hour in this time on phone calls so they are still quite difficult for me. It's harder to understand what someone is saying without visual cues, all you can do is pick out the words you know and make an estimated guess.  Ironic, I used to be a crisis counsellor volunteer supervisor so I was quite comfortable talking on the phone!

This is the car wash next to the bus station, I love the logo! 

I always get the bus to Berlin from Leipzig as it's half the price of the train ticket although it takes twice as long (two hours). As an Australian, that kind of travel is nothing! I boarded the bus yesterday at 5:35am and read a bit then fell asleep. We had a rather eccentric bus driver who woke everyone up 15 minutes before our destination by singing on the speaker and saying something about health.  I arrived in Berlin about 7:45 ready to travel to my 9am appointment. I'm not completely au fait with Berlin so I needed a bit of travel time. I was pleased to be able to help a new visitor to Berlin with their train ticket :).

The first place was in Prenzlauer Berg. The second time we stayed in Berlin many years ago we stayed in this suburb. It's a previously East German DDR suburb, but it's pretty much unrecognisable given the plethora of bright cafes, shops and markets. This is a suburb for children, with loads of parks, children's clothing shops and child care centres. I can understand how it makes some people's teeth gnash with cries of gentrification, it really is lefty monied hippie meets hipster. To give a Melbourne (Australia) reference it's more Fitzroy than Coburg. It's monied so you'll sit in a real seat not a milk crate whilst enjoying your craft beer/cafe and vegan cake.

The apartment was a good location, not too far from Mauer Park but sooo dark. All the light fitting had been ripped out (the thought of dealing with a sparky in Deutsch would be another challenge for me). Further, each of the rooms had the old coal heaters still installed (but presumably defunct) which I can't help finding rather creepy. They are certainly nice from a retro view but I found them rather creepy to be honest. Doesn't it make you think of WWII? Notably they were not featured in any of the photos on the real estate site...


As I've mentioned earlier, it is common in Deutschland to rent apartments without fitted kitchens. A kitchen may have anything from nothing except holes in the wall to an oven, sink, benches (if you are lucky). Several places (including this one) I saw had a lid on the stove tops which I thought a great space saving device although I assume it's not meant as a permanent fixture. Some places have no light fittings or floor boards, the renter has to bring their own.

The second apartment was basically my dream apartment. Gorgeously light with brand new floor boards, large rooms and a little courtyard patio which would be perfect for a little kitty to sun itself. I miss Mr P terribly and can't wait to get a fat lady cat from the animal shelter to love. The real estate staff person spoke English and she kindly gave me some advice for getting an apartment in Berlin. It was really appreciated, as i have mentioned previously, I am constantly blessed by the kindness of Deutsch people. (Every day I meet someone in my day to day life who makes me life as an expat better).

The next wohnung was actually a sublet via the Ebay classifieds but wasn't advertised as such which was a bit annoying, so I won't go into it too much. I got lost on the way and was very late which is annoying for all concerned but the tenant was gracious about it.

The fourth was in an up and coming Berlin area. Fifth floor walk up with a rather narrow staircase which would make moving hell.  Nice 3 room place (as in 2 bedrooms and a living room) although you'd struggle to fit a double bed in two of those rooms). Lovely big brand new kitchen.

I've since spoken the woman from the second property and she's advised me to submit our CV's and the last three pay slips (bit hard when you are self employed as they don't exist) with our application. So far we've included:

  • Introduction letter (in Deutsch) detailing a little about us
  • Work contracts (I am doing a little contract editing work but not that much)
  • Bank statements
  • Photocopy of our passports
  • Photocopy of my Aufenthaltskarte (basically a residency card that gives me living and work rights) 
  • Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung (Rent arrears freedom certificate. We've subletted since we came to Deutschland so we have a letter from landlord indicating we caused no damage and owe no money) I still don't understand why Deutsch words are so long! 
We are due to get SCHUFA credit reports (these basically verify that you have no debts). I tried to apply for ours online but have been unable to complete the forms online (keep getting an error notice) so I am visiting a Buro to get one tomorrow.

Chris is back from Zurich tomorrow so we are visiting three-four properties on Saturday before he flies off the Spain. We'll keep you posted. 

 Ping pong tables in one of the public spaces in Prenzlauer Berg. 

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Chocolate and custard wontons


Nutella and other types of chocolate spread are very popular here in Germany. Spread over fresh bread or toast, its a rich, sweet delight that is liable to leave someone in a food coma, especially if the chocolate spread is eaten directly from a jar, not that I would do anything like that, ahem... You can buy vegan versions (as most chocolate spreads contain milk powder) but it's actually really easy to make your own if you can get nuts affordably, I've even made it before with sunflower seeds with good results. 

I had some wonton wrappers leftover from making soup so I decided to make some sweet wontons for dessert. These are quick and easy to make, providing you have ready made chocolate spread and custard on hand for filling. I don't do a lot of frying for my recipes but I don't have an oven at the moment or I probably would have baked these after brushing them with some oil. I made both chocolate and custard wontons. You could of course, just make one or the other, both are delicious! 

  • 1 packet of wonton wrappers
  • 'Nutella' (see below)
  • Custard ( I used this custard recipe from my portuguese custard tarts)
  • Oil for frying

 Make dumplings: 
  1. Place wonton wrapper on table (a plastic surface or a board is easiest for folding) 
  2. Place a teaspoon of custard or 'Nutella' in the centre of each wonton. You want to fill half your wontons with ‘Nutella‘ and half your wontons with custard. 
  3. Wet edges of wrapper and fold and seal the edge together, crimping lightly as you seal. 
To cook:
  1. Heat oil to medium high heat
  2. Add wontons, making sure not the crowd the pan.
  3. Fry on one side, then turn and fry until cooked.
  4. Drain well on absorbent paper
  5. Allow to cool and dust with icing sugar
Nutella recipe
  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence/powder
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup cacao
  • 3 tbsp hazelnut oil (or oil of choice)
  • 2 tbsp oat milk
  1. Soak hazelnuts overnight in water to make blending easier
  2. Add to a blender with all the ingredients and blender until thick and creamy. Add a little oat milk if needed.
  3. Store in a jar in the fridge, if it lasts that long!

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chocolate quinoa rum balls

I have a heap of bits and pieces in my food cupboard that I would normally use to make cakes or biscuits. Alas in my current apartment there is no oven. So I decided to make an adult version of rum balls. If you have a decent blender then you can certainly blend the mix to reduce the need to pre-soak the dates-I won't have a blender until I move to Berlin. The rum is of course optional and can be replaced by water, although it makes a quick snack into a lovely adult dessert for a dinner party.

  • 12 dried dates, seeds removed
  • 1/2 cup quinoa (if grain free you could use flaxseeds and linseeds)
  • 1 cup water (to cook quinoa)
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes (or coconut sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons cacao powder
  • 1 tablespoon plant oil (I used coconut oil but any would work ok)
  • 2 tablespoons rum 

  1. Soak dates in hot water over night. Drain.
  2. Dice dates in small pieces (scissors work really well) and place in a mixing bowl
  3. Dry fry quinoa until it changes colour (about 2-3 minutes)
  4. Add water and cook quinoa on a low temperature for 5 minutes, will be softer but still have a little bite.
  5. Drain and add to the dates. 
  6. Add the almond meal, cacao powder, olive and rum and stir well until all ingredients are well combined. 
  7. Place mix in the fridge for an hour to make it easier to roll.
  8. Take about a tablespoon of the mix and roll into balls.
  9. Roll the balls in coconut flakes and store in a sealed container in the fridge or serve.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

6 Food trends I am completely over and 6 I am eagerly awaiting

Every so often food trends come and go from sun-dried tomatoes to focaccias to cupcakes and cronuts. Heck I've even been guilty of falling prey to the donut trend, making my own rather tasty vegan baked donuts. As I write recipes and read food blogs, sometimes I see the same recipes again and again. They are usually exclaimed over as though no one else has over made them quite so good, but only the next day you'll see another recipe pop up for raspberry and chia jam or mango and chia seed pudding. 

I know that food trends, especially in vegan cooking, come from a desire to abstain from particular ingredients or an inability to eat certain food due to severe allergies. It's great that people take the time to be inventive and create new food combinations. I don't have to like all of them. Heck, I love quinoa and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I even made a cauliflower pizza base! But it's when I see them so many times that I start thinking that I wish they'd disappear....

Massaged kale

                                    Image from here via Creative Commons

Rubbing a bit of brassica (part of the cabbage family) in coconut oil until it until it resembles salad that's been sitting in the bottom of the salad bowl marinading in italian salad dressing at a family barbecue in the sun for the better part of a day? Yuck. Where I live you can't actually buy kale except for one week a year.

Kale chips
                                             Image from here via Creative Commons

Sorry, they're just not the same as potato chips. Or even as good as beetroot chips. There's something about them that catches in the back of my throat, combined with the smell of nutritional yeast that, as much as I love the stuff, reminds me of vitamin B tablets.

Chia pudding

                                       Image from here via Creative Commons

Yes, it's healthy and an alternative to creamy, high fat desserts. But after they've been soaking a while, chia seeds resemble frogs eggs turning into tadpoles, all slimy. Did you ever study those at school? I did. It was a little bit creepy.

 And don't get me started on chia jam, whilst it has it's place, in my humble opinion it's not as good as my pear and vanilla or strawberry and rosewater jam. Just saying.

Brussel sprouts

                                  Image from here via Creative Commons

Brussel sprouts are very popular in Germany and as cheap as carrots and cabbages. But if I see another recipe for brussel sprouts fried or baked with oil, garlic and salt and pepper (with or without nuts and bacon). Surely everyone has worked these out by now that these go best fried rather than boiled within an inch of their lives like in years gone by?

Green juice smoothies

                                     Image from here via Creative Commons

Yes, I know, you have an amazing blender (the maker of which sponsors your blog posts according to your disclaimer). And I have no longer got a blender since I moved house so I am poorer than you and cannot make smoothies or juices anymore. But do you have to make another post every time you replace spinach with kale or blueberries with raspberries? Here in Germany you can buy cabbage juice at the supermarket by the carton. That's hardcore.

Two ingredient ice cream

                                                   Image from here via Creative Commons

You've discovered this amazing way to make ice cream, so much so that you went and bought an ice cream maker. And you're going to share it with all of us. If I read a little further I will invariably discover that your magic ingredient is either bananas or coconut milk. Sometimes you even go crazy and use both! I have made ice cream both ways and it invariably taste like either bananas soft serve or coconut soft serve. Not surprising really.

6 Food trends I am eagerly awaiting

                                                   Image from here via Creative Commons

Hot chips with cheese curds and gravy. How could it be wrong? I tried it first in Montreal at the Jazz Festival, then was a regular at Melbourne's Lord of the Fries. So good.

Like brunch but later and far boozier.

Sunday roasts in restaurants for lunch
Roast meat/nuts/tofu, roast veg, greens and gravy. A staple at British pubs and occasionally in Australia. Not so much in Germany unless you want the ubiquitous pork and potatoes that you can also get any other day, any time.

More smaller serve recipes
Single unit dwellings are a thing. Many of us are couple or not but happily child free. We can end up eating that same dish three days in a row. Not everyone has much freezer space. That said, I've seen recipes for a single chocolate chip cookie, these make me sad.

More local fruits and vegetables
Since moved to Germany I've fallen in love with kohlrabi and Schwarzwurzel (salsify). Back in Australia I loved bok choy, choy sum and chinese broccoli, (not so accessible except in asian grocers here) not to mention Lychees and Dragonfruit from Queensland. It's fun to try things you haven't had the opportunity to eat much of, or in turn cook your favourites in a new ways using local ingredients.

More supperclubs and potlucks. 
I've loved running a supper club for the last 6 months. I love the way that food can bring people together, especially those who might otherwise be socially isolated or lacking the opportunity to meet new people. People have been creating websites and apps to bring people together all around the world, but what is needed most is for people to open their homes and give it a go. It's fun and a great way to move out of our comfort zone and challenge yourself.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Food for thought

I've been pretty busy with moving to our new apartment. The ridiculous situation is that the week we moved, Chris was offered a job in Berlin, so we'll be going to Berlin in a few weeks! I'm really sad to be leaving all my good friends here in Leipzig but the sad reality is that jobs here are few and far between (unless you work as a translator or in an in demand sector like engineering and have fluent Deutsch) and I can only live off my small savings for a few more months. I'll hopefully also have more success in teaching workshops in Berlin and doing my other bits and pieces.

I've been quite busy with my Sprachschule and I'm looking forward to having a week off next week. We've been learning about each other families (in Deutsch natürlich) and it's always challenging talking about my family. We showed each other family photos and I shared photos of David and Mr Pablo, whilst yes, my twin and cat are deceased, I still feel them in my heart. A lot of people felt quite teary and homesick for their loved ones, it's the side of expat life that no one really sees that much.

I'm also planning my next little recipe ebooks and looking forward to working on them in more detail. 

p.s. I'm starting a newsletter to coincide with my new website. It'll be maybe once a month  at most with a few new recipes and bits of pieces. Nothing spammy. Maybe you'd like to sign up? There's a box on the right hand corner of my blog, can you find it ok? 

Things I am reading:

I love this story so much, to me it sums up so much about building community and friendship around food and the home. It's why I started the Apartment Supper Club here in Leipzig, something I definitely want to continue in Berlin, albeit in a different format. 

I quit my job to set up a commune, Dylan Evans, The Guardian

What a (food) blog costs per month and why the reader show know, Mel, Gourmet Guerilla (translated from German). 

This encapsulates nicely why I have ads on my blog. As I don't have a full time job, anything and everything helps to represent my time and the money I spend buying ingredients, hosting my website (coming) etc. I'm not a big entrepreneurial blogger, just a small fish trying to offset a few costs whilst being able to do something I like. 

How one stupid Tweet blew up Justine Sacco's Life, Jon Ronson, The New York Time Magazine. This is definitely one to read if you are a user of social media, it gives another side the story we so often hear...

The US is the only country in the world that locks up kids for life, could that finally change? Bryan Schatz, Mother Jones

Things I am liking

Great art by Irana Douer via Design is Mine 


I know Cath Kidston wares are rather chintzy, expensive and probably all made in China (I actually saw loads of Cath Kidston rip off bags in Beijing) but I love this collaboration with Gola, who made my favourite sports shoes until I realised my new pair have slippery soles. What's with that? 

How I love the creative work done on this room! 

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Red beans, quinoa and jerk spice soup

In Melbourne we had dinner a few times at a Jamaican restaurant. One of the many dishes we enjoyed was 'red peas and rice', a traditional Jamaican dish of white rice and kidney beans cooked in coconut milk. This dish inspired this soup which was made extra flavoursome with homemade jerk spices. It's also really easy to make your own spice mixes and substantially cheaper than buying them already mixed. This soup is a great winter staple and goes well with some fresh bread and vegetables and a dessert of pineapple soaked in rum.


  • Coconut or olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 tspn jerk spice
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 tbsp ginger, finely diced
  • 1/2 large red capsicum
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 1/2 cup quinoa ( I also added 1/4 cup of pearl barley as it was going spare)
  • 1 tin kidney beans
  • 1 tin peas (or 1 cup fresh or frozen peas) 
  • 2 teaspoons jerk spice mix
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1 tin coconut milk

  1. Fry onions and garlic in oil until translucent
  2. Add spice mix, carrots and ginger and cook for 2 minutes
  3. Add capsicum, celery, quinoa, beans, peas, stock and coconut milk and simmer under the vegetables are tender and the barley is cooked (about 30 mins)


Jerk spice mix:
  • 2 tbsp ground cinnamon or 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 1½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

  1. Toast the whole spices in a small pan until they are aromatic and have turned a shade or two darker. Don’t be tempted to skip this stage, as it really enhances the flavours.
  2. Crush with a mortar and pestle if you have one then store in a dry jar. 

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Jumbo vegan crumpets


It's always interesting the foods and equipment that you can find in foreign countries and those you cannot. English muffins are readily available here (well a German version to be precise) whilst crumpets are no where to be seen. You can buy them at expat shops, but it's Sunday when the shops are closed and being me, I decided to have a try at making my own.  The ideal is to make the crumpets using 'egg rings' which enable the crumpets to hold their shape and I daresay easier to flip also but I've not been able to find any, so I decided to just make two pan sized ones!

I needed to buy quite a bit of cooking equipment here in Leipzig when I first moved here and my choices have been limited to large department stores that are quite pricey (a bit like Australia's Myers or David Jones) or Euro shops that have limited stock. I like Ikea but it necessitates a bus trip to Halle about 30 minutes away. I miss having loads of Asian discount stores and Kmart for cheap but functional kitchen equipment!

Anyway, give these crumpets a try (rings or not) and see how you go. You'll need at least an hour free with rising and cooking times. You could even make the batter the night before for breakfast although it would taste far more yeasty (in this situation I'd probably halve the yeast due to the longer fermenting/proofing of the dough).

  • 3  and 1/2 cup  flour
  • 2 tbsp dairy free butter
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp dry yeast (or 2 sachets)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 cup dairy free milk (I used oat milk)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water (or you could use self raising flour of course and omit the baking powder)

  1. In a bowl or cup stir together yeast and 1 cup of water. Let stand for 5-10 minutes. 
  2. Warm milk and butter in a saucepan or the microwave but do not boil or make too hot or you will kill the yeast. You're aiming for lukewarm.
  3. Add flour, salt and sugar to a bowl and stir well.
  4.  Add warm milk and  butter and mix until the batter become smooth. I added an extra half cup of water to assist this. 
  5. Let stand for 30 minutes in a warm place.
  6. Stir in baking powder dissolved in water and leave to rise 20 to 30 minutes.
  7. Grease non-stick fry pan and heat over medium-low heat. 
  8. Reduce heat to low, pour in batter and cook crumpets until tops look dry, about 15 minutes. A low heat enables them to bubble nicely and cook through without burning the bottom in the pan
  9. Flip them over and cook for about 5 minutes. 
  10. Serve toasted with more dairy free spread, jam, Vegemite or golden syrup. Delish!

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