Monday, December 26, 2011

Just a trifle of trouble

As the designated baker and master of all things sweet in our family, I am traditionally responsible for the family's Christmas dessert.

Cupcakes for Mr von S's family Christmas
After baking for almost four hours straight to make Christmas cupcakes for Mr von Strudel's family Christmas Eve, I couldn't bring myself to do it all again for my own family. So I settled with an old Christmas favourite: trifle.

It's been a couple of years since I last made trifle, and with most of my possessions still in storage, my old faithful trifle bowl was out of action. Using something similar, but with less volumetric capacity, I layered my sponge rolls (after soaking them in cider!) with jelly, cherries and custard until I reached the very brim of the bowl. Thinking that some of the liquid would soak into the sponge, I covered the bowl with cling wrap and put it in the fridge to set.

Christmas morning arrived and I rushed to grab all my bits and pieces, loaded up the car and hit the road, destined for my Mum's place in Mount Martha.

Trifle on the passenger seat with my belt positioned to make it level (I was in such a rush I didn't put my belt on. In fact, that belt never actually made it on...) I cruised along the freeway with my festive Christmas CD blaring, singing along to the Bub. As I got closer to Frankston, traffic grounded to a halt as everyone headed for the coast struggled through a bottleneck. A trip which usually takes 50 minutes was already ticking on past 70.

Reaching a break in the traffic, I zoomed around the first in a series of roundabouts, feeling like I'd been released from my traffic jam shackles. Then I remembered the trifle. Taking a look down I could see custard fighting its way past the cling wrap, fighting for its freedom from the bowl! Grabbing my handy pocket pack of tissues, I swabbed at the breakaway custard while keeping an eye on the road.

Only ten minutes remained in my journey, so I glanced down at the trifle again, only to see more rogue custard dripping down the bowl onto the car seat. Panicking, I pulled over, grabbing handfuls of tissues and surrounded the disappearing trifle. With indicators on and distracted by the issue at hand, I didn't see the car waiting behind me until they sped past with an angry toot. With tissue stuck to my hand, I waved at them yelling 'can't you see I'm having a custard crises?!' And a merry Christmas to you too!

Despite losing some of the custard to the car seat, I finally managed to get to my Mum's where I was welcomed with open arms, a damp cloth and paper towel.

Merry Christmas to you all!


Friday, December 23, 2011

The great Turducken extravaganza

I’ve achieved something that only a handful of people ever manage to do. It may be because the sound of it is quite daunting and you may have to be slightly crazy to undertake such a task. But with backing from like-minded culinary colleagues, this weekend I created a Turducken.

The response was mixed when I told people my grand plans. Some knew exactly what I was on about (thank you television show, Poh’s Kitchen) while others told me that anything with ‘turd’ in its name couldn’t be good. It was great fun explaining to people just what we’d be doing, often repeating the order, ‘yes, the chicken goes inside the duck, which goes inside the turkey’.

After scouring the internet for recipes and tips on how best to make a Turducken, my search lead me to Hawksburn butcher, Peter Bouchier. Bouchier is the butcher to David Jones’ snobby food courts and somewhat an expert when it comes to stuffing birds inside each other.

Bouchier’s teams can create a Turducken for you, or you can do as I did and order the separate components; my recommendation is to have you butcher debone the birds for you, because there’s nothing fun about removing bones from three different types of poultry. Have the butcher save the bones for you to make a brilliant stock later down the track.

Knowing I would be cooking for a relatively small group (six people total), I asked for my birds to be on the small side. I ended up ordering a 4kg turkey, a 2.5kg duck (or ‘size 16’ as I was told) and two butterflied chicken breasts, rather than a whole chicken.

Making a Turducken doesn’t come cheap – the above cost me $107. Add to that stuffing, sides and assorted roasting-related miscellanea, and you may just have to smash your piggy bank.

Turkey in the brine
Twenty-four hours prior to oven time, I drowned the turkey carcass in a bucket of brine. Or nicely put, I bathed the largest of the foul in a solution of salt, sugar, apple cider vinegar and water. Better. Looking to the well-versed Not QuiteNigella for guidance, I used her adaptation on a traditional brining solution to ensure that the turkey was moist and flavoursome come cooking time.

Pistachio and dried cranberry stuffing
To save myself stress on the day, I also prepared two different stuffings and put them in the fridge overnight. I made the third stuffing on the day.

Taking into account the rule of 45 minutes for every kilo of Turducken, it’s a good idea to estimate just how long those birdies need to roast for, and then work back from your intended serving time. Our beast weighed close to 6.5kgs once it was fully formed, meaning the Turducken would cook for a bit over 5 hours. With this in mind, we knew we needed the birds in the oven no later than 1:30pm on the day of serving.

Assembling the Frankenstein of birds required several pairs of hands, and my two gourmet-minded friends, Lady Bike-a-lot and the Poster Girl were on hand to assist.

Patting the turkey dry, we laid the bird flat, completely splayed, and using our hands moulded the first layer of stuffing (cranberry and pistachio). Doing a similar thing with the duck, we rotated the bird so that the turkey breasts were roughly in line with the duck thighs and vice-versa. This ensured the respective breasts nice and juicy (as thighs have more fat than breasts, as the birds cook, they release the rendered fat, and voila, juicy breasts).

Turkey with pistachio and cranberry stuffing

Duck with apricot and brandy cream stuffing lying atop the turkey
Layering the duck with its stuffing of apricot and brandy cream, we then positioned the two butterflied chicken breasts flat and spooned onion and sage stuffing over them. 

The next step was when being an octopus would have come in handy and I was Glad Bike-a-lot and poster Girl were there.

Pulling together the two sides of the chicken breasts to form a football shape (uh, that would be Aussie Rules Football) I lived out dreams of being a surgeon, and using butcher’s twine and a really big needle, sewed together the chicken.
Getting my Nip/Tuck on
The sewing process was repeated for the duck. Using a running stitch, as recommended by the butcher, I sewed the meat together, encompassing the already-sewn-together chicken and stuffing inside. The duck’s flesh was more difficult to get the needle through than the turkey and chicken, and the combination of raw meat with fatty duck made gripping the needle difficult to do.

All sewn up
It was time to close up. As the two sides of Frank (the Frankenstein Turducken) came together, the beast finally started to look like a turkey should. Finishing off with a good rub of olive oil, salt and paprika, we positioned a poultry thermometer, put Frank in the oven and went to lunch.

At the two hour mark, we checked on Frank. Although only roasting at a relatively cool 150 degrees, the skin of the turkey was browning faster than we liked, and even after two hours, there was no sign of any juices in which to baste our beast. With a generous glug of olive oil, we gave the turkey’s crisping skin a good drink and promptly covered it with aluminium foil to halt any further browning. A check of the poultry thermometer gave us no reading. Puzzled, we wondered whether it was broken, or if the birds simply weren’t heating up because of their many layers.

And so, we plugged Frank back in and let him cook for another hour.

Meanwhile, we prepared a whole host of side dishes: candied yams, crunchy roast potatoes, green beans, roast beetroot salad, and our entrée, baby bocconcini and roasttomato tart with pesto. 
A further hour on in the roasting journey, the Turducken’s juices were finally flowing, and we reinvested the dividends, basting the bird to ensure a beautifully moist specimen once done.

And “done” took a bit over five hours. Keeping an eye on the poultry thermometer, we were looking for the magical number: 72 degrees. With the oven at 150 degrees and with the thermometer reading in the low 60s, we cranked the temperature to 250 for the final half an hour. Success! Thirty minutes later, bing bing bing, we have a winner, 72 degrees.

Leaving the bird to rest for half an hour, we busied ourselves with adding final touches to the table, preparing the entrée and clinking our champagne cocktails with shouts of Merry Christmas.

Champagne cocktail? You heard me right! A mix of 25ml sloe gin, 10 ml Chambord, 10 ml lime juice and topped up with the fizzy stuff, the Sloe Soul as it’s called is a lovely, fresh and fruity aperitif for an Australian Christmas.

Carvin' it up!
Finally, it was time to dissect Frank. It was a glorious moment, and despite the heat in the kitchen, my skin puckered into goose bumps at the amazing cross section of three different types of meat layered with three different stuffings. It was a proud moment – we had pulled it off! – and at last, it was time to taste the efforts of our hard work. Delicious!

Stuffing, chicken, stuffing, duck, stuffing, turkey.
Within the ranks of the work-friend-foodie army, Lady Bike-a-lot teamed up with the Boggle Champ to create our dessert. And what better dessert to match a Turducken that a Bombe Alaska? It keeps to the theme of something within something within something (cake, ice cream, meringue). To top it off – literally – we flambé’d the whole thing with brandy, which was almost as exciting the eating!

The bombe!
The question I’ve fielded most since the Turducken Extravaganza was ‘would I do it again?’ Put simply, yes – but only once a year. The Turducken is really a special event kind of meal, and the effort involved cannot be repeated too often, save risking foodie burn-out. The novelty of having three different kinds of bird in one slice is nice, but at the end of the day, it really is just roast meat (of the most delicious kind, of course!) So, come 365 days, watch this space as Turducken 2.0 may just become a reality.

Lots of love and Merry Christmas!

Fifi von S xox

Monday, December 5, 2011

A journey of a different kind

Hi friends,

Not sure if anyone's still lurking out there. You'd be forgiven for assuming I'd abandoned my blog. I suppose I've needed some time to get back into the rhythm of things. (*cough* excuse).

I'm still writing and I'm still eating - one more than the other, naturally.

On the writing side of things, a certain right-wing Melbournian newspaper has been running a travel story competition over the past couple of weeks. I've entered twice but not deemed worthy of publishing; although I'd love a detailed list of their criteria given some of the most recent 'winning' entries. Not that I'm bitter (*cough* maybe I am).

Anyway, sometimes writings are too good to be left unpublished - by newspapers or otherwise.

So I give you my travel story - of a different kind.


Fifi xo

After a 14 month sojourn in Europe, I’ve been put on the ‘No Fly’ list by my parents, and I’m Australia bound for at least the next few years. I’m back to the daily grind: commute, work, commute, and sadly those 14 months of eye-opening, exciting and unpredictable adventures have begun to feel like a distant memory.
The thing about memories is that they’re inextricably linked to things – sounds, smells, items of clothing, and they can pop up any time. Rather than grit my teeth through another peak hour city loop, I take another journey, to a place much nicer than the 8:08am express to Flinders Street.

It’s winter and my boots aren’t doing a very good job battling the slush of Berlin’s first snow of the season. In my ears, ‘Basic Space’ by The xx is playing, and I grip my chai with mittened hand as I make my way down a street in trendy Prenzlauerberg. Although it’s 10:30am, the sky is grey and heavy, not dissimilar to my chosen soundtrack. I’m surprised when I open my eyes: the grey sky is still there, but I’m a world and eleven months away; still The xx wail on.

I’ve missed the 8:08 and have to wait for the 8:12. With iPod on shuffle, my mind wanders back in time with the randomly chosen song: Blur’s ‘Country Sad Ballad Man’. We’re hurtling through rural Poland on a feat of Soviet engineering – a feat because the train is still running. As the honey-colour fields zoom past, I see tepee-shaped bales of hay which no piece of farm equipment could ever make. Those poor, sad country men, I think, as the Soviet train of my memory is replaced with the pale blue Metro variety.

Upon boarding the train, my shuffle function takes an interesting route, pulling out DJ Ötzi’s ‘Hey Baby’. How did this even get on my iPod? Suddenly, I smell it (or is that my neighbour?) - yeasty steins of beer, doughy pretzels and hops, strung from the rafters of a tent at Munich’s Oktoberfest. People are standing on benches, singing the cheesy song in unison. By this stage of the night, the simple lyrics are manageable even for the most inebriated, and the long heeeeeeeeey baby, followed by a satisfying ‘ooh, ah’ seems to be doing the trick. My neighbour grabs me, and we clink steins and cheers “Ein Prosit!”

Another day, I’m pushed right up against the train door, my personal space left behind on the platform. I think I’ll take a ‘Walk in the Park’ with Beach House instead. Immediately I’m back to Alicante in Spain, lying on a perfectly white beach, the Balearic Sea nibbling at my toes and the gentle European sun affording me the tan I could never earn in Melbourne. For five and a half minutes, I float away from the condensation-fogged windows of the train, which threaten to drip morning-breath-dew upon my jacket. Another morning, another journey – of a different kind.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Return-to-home reality, or a case of amnesia?

The return home after an extended period of travel is often marked as a difficult period – people feel that they have changed, yet everything else seems to have remained the same.

For me, my 14 months in Europe was not my first ‘big trip’ – that happened when I was a rather green 19 year old, and boy did I do a lot of growing up and soul searching during that adventure. I spent close to six months in the US working at a summer camp. After camp I bought a car with a couple of friends and ended up driving around the north-east of the country. When I came home from my trip, I was dismayed that while I had changed and grown, no-one seemed to recognise this, and I struggled a bit with the way I perceived myself versus the perception of others.

Thankfully this time around, none of that happened. These days I’m comfortable with myself, satisfied with my life and save a few minor things, happy to be home. It seems, however, that it is Melbourne that has changed and grown…

Melbourne: isn't she pretty? source
The return to Melbourne has signalled a return to work: paid employment, hallelujah!
Income really makes a difference to one’s life. After surviving 14 months without a pay-cheque, having money in the bank has made me frivolous. In the five weeks I’ve been back, the following establishments have thanked me for my patronage:
  •  Hutong
  • Dimitri’s Feast
  • City Wine Store
  • Porgie & Mr Jones
  • DOC
  • EARL Canteen
  • The Langham Hotel (for tiffin!)
  • Spice Temple
  • North Cafeteria
  • Café Esc.
  • Lilo Café
  • Get Down Dog Pizza
  • The French Quarter (in spirit, thanks to a VERY good friend who has brought me TWO almond croissants since being back!); and
  • Haigh’s (does this count?)
Spoilt! I have been absolutely spoilt. Prior to my departure, I had been budget girl: I brought my lunch to work every day and treated myself to a takeaway coffee once a week.

Even in Berlin, it was all about getting the most for the least: EU2.90 kebabs and currywurst, and occasionally a meal at our favourite Indian place, creatively called India, where we received entrees, mains, a batura bread and 500ml beer for EU15 each.

But back in the homeland, I’m glad I have a job and am no-longer on a budget, because Melbourne is expensive! Is this a recent development, or has my mind simply erased all my Melbourne dining experiences as a series of traumatic events?

After settling back in, I think I’m ready to start bringing out the camera at meal times and recording some of the great food this city of mine has to offer. Of course, Chin Chin is high on the list of places to visit, in addition to Pony Fish, Coin Laundry, Grace Darling, Union Dining, St Katherines…oh my, when’s my next pay-cheque?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

We have now officially been back in Melbourne for a month, and I cannot believe that I’m STILL going on the dregs of our road trip around Germany (and Austria).

I promised a glimpse at the bier halls of Munich, and a glimpse you will get!

See? That there is the Augustine Bier Hall in Munich. Mr von S ate Schweine Haxe (pork knuckle) and I had Maul Taschen (like giant ravioli). Bier was consumed – some more than others. As the sole driver on the tour de Deutschland, I was responsible (read: freaking out about driving on the wrong side of the road in what should be the passenger seat, going 140 km/h). It seemed like there were actually very few tourists, as the bier halle is actually not in the city centre, but rather a part of the factory in the suburbs. Groups of older gentleman sat with their Mass glasses along wooden benches, ‘prost’ing and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Our stop in Munich was brief – we had actually been to Munich twice before for Oktoberfest in September last year. With our grand total of visits to Munich totalling three, I still can’t say I’ve seen anything except the inside of a bier halle/bier tent. Although many would say that’s all there is to see in the city.

From Munich we left Germany and headed for Austria, a country that I could not return to Melbourne without seeing. For me, Austria had two main draw cards: The Sound of Music and The Spanish Riding School.

In Salzburg, we boarded a big old tour bus and became the type of tourists we despise –I had the best time (cannot speak for Mr von S). As a child, I watched The Sound of Music as often as I could. I knew almost every song and whole paragraphs of dialogue. At one stage, I even found old scraps of fabric and created bandanas as Fraulein Maria had for the children.

On the Sound of Music Tour I saw the green hills – alive with the sound of music – the bluer than blue skies, the abbey, the gardens, the von Trapp family home, I saw it all. I was one very happy von Strudel (and there wasn’t even food involved!). The area around Salzburg is the prettiest I have ever seen. Even when The Sound of Music was brought out in technicolour, it couldn’t prepare you for the stunning natural beauty of ice-blue glacial lakes, grass so green it hurts your eyes and little towns of gingerbread houses.

Salzburg: birth place of Wolfgang Amadeus von Mozart and his confectionary namesake, the Mozartkugel These little suckers are sold seemingly everywhere in Austria, and are even readily available in Germany too. Pistachio marzipan covered in chocolate nougat – remember the Schneeballen from Heidelberg?

On to Vienna. Oh Vienna, you gorgeous city, you. Remnants of the city’s history as a centre of culture and enlightenment are evident throughout the city. The well-maintained and grand buildings speak of bygone eras when philosophers and intellects sat in coffee houses for hours, where the first steps of its namesake waltz were taken, and where Princess Sisi won the hearts of the people (even if she didn’t return the love).

Top of the list in Vienna, apart from visiting the Spanish Riding School – I had the best time (cannot speak for Mr von S) – was to sit and have coffee and consume some Sachertorte. We walked for a while before coming across a Konditerei that offered the tort. Strangely, for a cake which originates in the city, it was a bit difficult to find. The search paid off handsomely and deliciously. If only the service at Gerstner could be described so glowingly.

The Sachertorte consists of two layers of dense, not overly sweet chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam in the middle and is covered in a dark chocolate ganache. According to tradition, it should be served with whipped cream as apparently most Viennese consider the Sachertorte too ‘dry’ to be eaten on its own. I just think that the Austrians, much like Germans, just really like cream.

In addition to the Sachertorte, we also tried a Haustorte – an almond cake with chocolate cream. Given I don’t really like cream, this one didn’t go down so well. The cream to cake ratio definitely favoured the former, so much so I was surprised the cake managed to hold its shape.

Of the two cakes, the Sacher was our favourite – while apricot jam is not what I usually spread on my toast, I think in future I shall certainly be spreading it upon my cakes.

xo Fifi

Monday, September 19, 2011

A holy moment with snowballs

Greetings from sunny Melbourne. In fact, Melbourne in Spring is actually sunnier and warmer than Berlin was this Summer. But c'est la vie, or should I say so ist das Leben.

So I left you all hanging for Schneeballen, which we were told to look for in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but actually found in the gorgeous university town of Heidelberg. The pastry derives its name its shape and size – round and roughly the size of a large snowball.

We first spied these delicacies of the region in the main tourist strip, in more than one touristy-looking shop. Schneeballen of all varieties were lined up in a six-by-six display, enticing people from the street to come in and sample.

the variety of schneeballen on display
Overwhelmed by choice, we took a while to decide which we would buy. The traditional flavour is a simple dusting of powdered sugar while still hot, however we chose one with cinnamon sugar and one with pistachio and marzipan (almost like a Mozartkugel, but in the form of a schneeball). We took possession of our treats and hurried away to eat them on a church step of all places. I would soon find that this was rather fitting.

Biting into a schneeball is rather difficult to do. We should know, we tried. Rather, it is easier to break the pastry apart, which is rather easy to do given how it is constructed. Without being told, Mr von S and I concluded that the schneeball would have first come about from the off-cuts of other pastries. The good German people, ever frugal and resourceful, saw opportunity in the off-cuts and thus the schneeball was born. Tasting like a cross between Italian crustoli and shortbread, the schneeball in its dough form is cut with a crinkle roller, and then roughly formed into a ball before being deep fried for half a minute. The result is a golden-brown biscuit which is then seasoned in a variety of ways.

The cinnamon sugar schneeball tasted very much like a normal biscuit/shortbread. The pieces fell apart easily and we picked our way through the ball looking for the best-seasoned pieces. The pistachio marzipan schneeball was a much messier affair. Half covered in milk chocolate, we had to be a bit smarter about eating this specimen on such a warm day. In search of the marzipan heart, I picked through the jigsaw of pastry in search of the ultimate piece which had both elements of chocolate and marzipan.

chocolate, pistachio and marzipan
My earlier mention of Mozartkugel was then apt, as the taste of the schneeball mimicked aspects of the Austrian confectionery. The initial crunch of biscuit was pleasant enough, but with the addition of milk chocolate AND pistachio AND marzipan, the schneeball quickly became too rich. After thanking God for creating the schneeball in a country I would soon be leaving (seriously, if these things were in Australia, I would be in trouble), I managed to get half way through my now-sticky mess before calling it quits.

If you're ever in Heidelburg or Rothenburg ob der Taube, you'll notice the homeless people are all rather plump most likely owing to the fact that tourists like me could never possibly finish an entire schneeball in one sitting!

Next...a quick stop in Munich for lunch at the Augustine beer hall.

xox Fifi

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Essen from Hessen: Frankfurt

In our share house, we live with a guy who is from Frankfurt (am Main, not Oder). So when we found ourselves in the city, not only were we prepared for the skyscrapers – something rarely seen in Germany – we were also ready for the experience that is Handkäse.

Hand cheese. Not the most appetising name; and if the name doesn't put you off, then perhaps the sight will. Given its name for the way in which it is traditionally formed – by hand – this sour milk cheese resembles a piece of translucent, yellow fat. I'm not kidding.

Fat: yellow and gelatinous (source)
Hand cheese: translucent and waxy
Given that the two things we knew we had to try were this horrible-sounding cheese, and its less offensive matching beverage, Ebbelwoi (dialect for Apfelwein – cider) we went head first and ordered both at a little Biergarten specialising in the regional cuisine. We also each ordered schnitzel chasers.

The Ebbelwoi came out first. As we both love cider, we knew that this would be a beverage we would like. The glasses soon formed condensation due to the lovely weather, and we happily sipped our cider, waiting for the scary part.

Roughly the size of a doughnut, our Handkäse mit Musik – hand cheese with finely chopped onion on top, came floating in a bath of oil and vinegar, and a served slice of rye bread. I was pleasantly surprised I didn't want to gag, despite the pungency of the offering. In fact, once in my mouth, it was quite nice – the texture somewhat waxy and finishing off with a taste similar to Camembert. Washed down with a gulp of cider, the whole experience wasn't too bad.

Mr von S's Schnitzel mit Speck und Zwiebeln
Next, our schnitzels. Mr von S ordered his with bacon and onion with a side of roast potatoes. I ordered the Frankfurter schnitzel, which came served with roast potatoes, a side salad and Grüne Soße (green sauce). I took a punt on this one, and the result was interesting. The sauce was very green, and to me tasted overwhelmingly like parsley and not much else. But according to wikipedia “The Frankfurt-style [of green sauce] is made from hard-boiled eggs, oil, vinegar, salt, and generous amount of seven fresh herbs, namely borage, sorrel, garden cress, chervil, chives, parsley, and salad burnet.” Hm. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure my sauce did not include chervil nor borage – only parsley. Despite the fact that the sauce is served cold, I quite enjoyed it, and liked the freshness it added to the otherwise heavy meal.

My Schnitzel - with green sauce.
The schnitzels were well cooked and much better than any pub schnitzel or parma I've had – and a fraction of the price – at €7.00 each, I don't know I'll ever be able to order a sub-standard parma for AU$20.00 again.

After a second glass of cider, we enjoyed a very slow stroll around Frankfurt, feeling rundum wohl and full of Gemütlichkeit.

Next: the beautiful university town, Heidelberg and Schneeballen

xoxo Fifi

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Little French bread: Franzbrötchen

I hope everyone has recovered after the breaking news of my previous post. But it's true, the von Strudel's have just over a week until it's time to say Auf Wiedersehen to Berlin, and I'm trying to get as much in (my mouth) as possible before we leave. Eat, drink, be merry, for in Melbourne, ye diet.

Knowing that our time in Europe was limited, Mr von S and I set about organising a road-trip through Germany and neighbouring Austria. After our amazing camping success at Melt! Festival, we thought we would save money and 'commune with German nature' by camping. Ambitious? Perhaps. Worth the crick in the back? Maybe. Would I do it again? Certainly!

With a rough itinerary planned, we set off from Berlin on a Thursday. Remembering that I haven't driven a car in over a year, we had hired a manual VW Polo, stuffed it full of everything we thought we'd need, and set off on the German Autobahn. Very slowly. First stop, Hamburg.

Hanseatic Hamburg, as it is known, is a city that I've visited before. In fact, 11 years before. As a slightly bewildered school girl, I spent three months on exchange in a town just south of Hamburg, called Luneburg. Trading in a summer for my first white winter, I managed to gorge myself on marzipan, Pommes mit Mayo (fries with mayonnaise) and McFlurrys of all things. I arrived back in the heat of Melbourne's summer (and the start of the rowing season, oops!) quite a few kilos heavier than I left. I guess some things never change :)

Luneburg's Am Sande
Never-the-less, the last time I was in Hamburg was a long time ago, and a refresher visit was much anticipated.

Our trip to Hamburg also included a visit to our friend Kata's house. She cooked us a lovely meal (we got her recipe for a great casserole, which will likely feature on this blog some time in the near future) and gave me some great foody tips on what I should try in each region. In Hamburg, apart from the famous Niederegger Marzipan from Lubeck, we were urged to try a pastry called Franzbrötchen, and tried it we did, the very next day.

According to Wiki, the Franzbrötchen was probably named after the French (in German französisch) bread roll (brötchen) the croissant, which became popular in Germany after Napoleon's troops occupied Hamburg between 1806-1814. The Franzbrötchen is essentially a sweet, yeast-based pastry, which is more bread-like (or even doughnut-like) than flakey. Filled with sugar and cinnamon, the Franzbrötchen can be topped with pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, poppy seeds, or as I chose, streusel.

Streusel Franzbrötchen
Upon first bite, I compared the texture to another baked good I've been coveting of late, Streuselschnecke (literally streusel snail) – the similarities extend to the texture: bready and almost doughnut-like, and the shared streusel topping: a crunchy, biscuit-like covering. Of course, what really sets the two apart is not only the shape of each pastry, but also the Franzbrötchen's heart of cinnamon and sugar. After biting into the pastry, this layer is a welcome surprise, and achieved by sprinkling the rolled dough with the Zimt und Zucker mixture, and then folding in to shape.

At 70 Euro cents a piece, and with a variety of toppings, the Franzbrötchen is dangerously affordable. Good thing for my hips we won't be visiting Hamburg again for a while!

Next stop, Frankfurt: Handkäse mit Musik and Apfelwein.

xox Fifi

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I'm baaack!

Hi friends,

So, the reason (I have one this time!) for not posting for over two weeks, is because I was on a 'research' trip: a two week road-trip through Germany and Austria. Given this was our last trip through to continent before we head back to Melbourne (you heard it hear first) I took the opportunity to taste my way around the region, and for your sakes, possibly gained a kilo or two. But, all in the name of research!

I ate schnitzel, I drank Ebbelwoi, I tasted Schneeballen, I consumed Sachertorten. And you shall read all about it in the coming weeks!

So stay tuned for some saliva-inducing reads. You may want to ready some napkins, to, you know, save embarrassment ;)

With love,

Fifi xoxo

Monday, August 15, 2011

As cute as a Knickelkopp

In the back of my mind, a clock is ticking. My Berlin hourglass drips grain after grain of sand, I know that time is running out. There won't be another white Christmas – in any case, we've already sent our thick coats back home to Melbourne, where we shall join them in just under a month.

In the past ten months, we have certainly done a lot in Berlin, but there are still a few lingering points we are yet to cross off our 'to-do' list: ride our bikes along the Mauerweg, the path of the former wall, explore more abandoned spaces such as a paediatric sanatorium and Nazi training camp or even go barbecuing (called grillen auf Deutsch) on a nice day – I guess we're just waiting on the nice day ;)

I did, however, manage to cross one thing off my list this weekend.

We are fortunate to be located in Kreuzberg – a really great suburb in the inner-south of Berlin (yes like the Bloc Party song). We live within walking distance of Tempelhof: an abandoned airport (now public park), Hasenheide: a lovely 50 hectare park, and Viktoriapark: home of Berlin's highest natural point and great place to catch some sun on a nice day/go sledding when it snows. When we first arrived in our area, we did some exploring, and really enjoyed visiting Viktoriapark and climbing to the very top of the hill. At any time of day, but especially sunset, people walk to the peak and have a beer or two while taking in the view.

After visiting the park a few times, I began to take in the surrounds. En route, we would walk past a little sunken cafe with the cutest name ever: Knickelkopp. Each time we walked past, I would grab Mr von S's arm and tell him how cute the place looked. He soon grew tired of me telling him how cute the place was and put it to me: pick a day, and we'll go. It only took me nine months to pick the day!

Berlin's current wasp invasion forced us to sit inside the cafe, despite the unusually nice weather.

The cafe's décor is adorable – retro, 1950s style furnishings, gingham linens and a touch of shabby chic. Call it twee, but I love it!

even the menus are cute!
The little handmade menus are filled with breakfast options, from muesli, fruit salad with quark, waffles and eggs, along with lunch options, such as sandwiches, salads and quiches. The drinks list is complete with teas, juices, sodas, beers, prosecco and coffee every way you can imagine. Scattered throughout the menu are old-fashioned images of the owner's grandmother and great grandmother, who looked to have been bakers of all things sweet back in the day. And it seems the gene for baked good has carried. The cake display boasts several different types of Torte und Kuchen, making deciding which one to order difficult. I finally chose the Käsekuchen (cheesecake made with quark) with a chai latte, and Mr von S ordered a Belgian waffle and hot chocolate.

chai latte, complete with chocolate freckle; totally digging the retro saucer.
Our drinks came served with a chocolate freckle, as I squealed for the umpteenth time how 'cute' everything was. Yes, I was overloaded by the cuteness, and Mr von S was overloaded by how many times I used the word 'cute'. Hm. Anyway, my chai was sprinkled generously with cinnamon sugar and was more a chai tea than the traditional syrupy-sweet chais that I am used to getting in Berlin. I felt the chai lacked spiciness and visually resembled dishwater; and while it made me feel somewhat more wholesome to not have my teeth ache with every sip, some sweetness would not have gone awry.

Likewise, the Mr felt that his hot chocolate could use a dose of Zucker. I think he may have actually received a hot cocoa rather than a hot chocolate, which is rather popular in Germany, especially laden with cream.

hot Belgian waffle
On to the eats. Mr von S was thoroughly pleased with his Belgian waffle, which had filled the little cafe with the most wonderful smell while we were waiting. Light and slightly eggy, as a Belgian waffle should be, it was served hot with a dusting of powdered sugar. My Käsekuchen had the texture of a baked cheesecake – dense, yet almost crumbly. German cheesecake, which is made with quark, has far less sugar than the typical New York cheesecake. This can be a welcome difference, as I usually struggle to finish this type of cake owing to its density and sweetness.

German cheesecake
Overall, the atmosphere of Knickelkopp won me over. The owner, who also plays waitress, is such a sweet lady, and you can really see that the cafe is her baby. I feel that if I were to ever open a cafe, it would mimic the design and feel of this cute – there's the word again - cafe, and even for that alone, I would make a return visit.

xox Fifi

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Festival Bruffins

As I mentioned in my previous post, Mr von S and I attended a music festival in July - a camping festival at that, and a first for both of us.

The last time I actually camped was in 2004, when I worked as a counsellor at a summer camp in New Hampshire, USA. It's hard to believe it was seven years ago. In fact, really hard to believe! Never the less, it had been a while since either of us had camped, and I was a little worried as to how we would fare. In the past seven years, I'd say I've become a bit prissier than my 19 year old self, so if I was going to do this camping thing, I was going to do it right.

That little red tent behind me was our home for three nights!
We arranged to hire a tent from a company who would also pitch the tent for us before we arrived and take it down after we'd left. It certainly took a lot of stress out of having to purchase a tent and then wrestle with tent pegs, guy ropes and flys. In addition to this, we wanted to have as much non-perishable food as we could get, in case the price of food at the festival ground exceeded our budgets or the quality didn't meet our standard. Our house mate had warned us of both, so we made sure we were prepared. Fruit, nuts, rice cakes, vegemite, muesli and UHT/long life milk in individual portions. We ended up bringing a number of things with us as we overstocked and ended up eating a couple of times as the festival grounds - I had a great organic tofu burger one night and a drunken slice of pizza, not so great.

One thing that we did manage to finish before the end of the festival (apart from a bottle of vodka!) was a batch of muffins I had baked, envisaging that we would eat them for breakfast. The muffins were a great idea - they were moist, filling and lasted very well in a Tupperware container. Of course, they didn't end up being just a breakfast food - we did managed a couple after a disco nap one night (10pm-3am). They fuelled us for a good couple of hours, while those around us looked very much the worse for wear; although I'm not sure if it was thanks to the muffins or the fact that we'd actually gotten some sleep!

I've made these muffins a further three times since the festival, with some tweaks to the original recipe. I think I'll probably tweak this recipe some more - I feel that the 1/2 cup of oil is really far too much, and would like to use something more nutrient dense. If you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Festival Br (eakfast M) uffins
Apple, cinnamon, oatmeal, walnut muffins
Makes 13-16 muffins

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Grease muffins pans


1½ cups whole wheat flour (or half whole/half plain flour if you don't like it too whole wheaty. Coconut flour is also great in this recipe)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sugar
cinnamon to taste (I like lots, approx 2 tbsp)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk or water
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½-2 cups chopped apples (approx 1 medium apple)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts


In a large bowl, stir together flour, oats, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Make a well in centre of dry ingredients and add wet ingredients - milk/water, eggs, oil, and vanilla, stirring just to combine. Stir in apple and walnuts.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Allow muffins to cool on a wire rack for five minutes before removing from pan to continue cooling.

Enjoy! xo
PS - I've written another article for Running in Heels - make sure you check it out! xox

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A summer* in Berlin

No more apologising for lack of posting, as sometimes life gets in the way of documenting it. The past month or so has been busier than usual, as Berlin has had a feeble attempt at summer. Never mind me, I'm just bitter that it's been raining for seven days straight, with a brief interlude of sunshine, only to resume with the wet stuff for another four days. Ergh!

Anyway, with what little summer-like weather we've had, we have certainly been making the most of it. The below pictures will tell the story for me (well, with some words from me, for explanation).

Berlin is full of abandoned places, owing to its recent history as a fractured city. The above is an abandoned listening station, which the Allies used to intercept air-wave traffic in the soviet East.

The below is an abandoned  brewery in East Berlin - which is now a haven for many of Berlin's creative street artists.

In mid-July we travelled one hour south-east of Berlin to attend Melt! Festival. We made friends with our Bavarian camping neighbours. Oh Bavarians! The festival itself was superbly organised (would you expect anything else in Germany?) and we managed to see some great acts, including Cut Copy, Nicolas Jaar, Lawrence,  Àme, Roman Flugel and more.

This photo is for all our friends in Australia. You're reading the sign correctly - TWO kilos of bananas for ONE euro (or 50 cents a kilo). This photo was taken at Turkischemarkt at Maybuchufer in Neukölln.

I cannot wait to be rid of these dammed 'Latte Macchiatos'. It's a latte, people, a cafe latte if you want to get special. Opting for a coffee on a sunny day probably wasn't my smartest move, but I sure did get my sweat on. Sorry Mum, I mean 'glow'. Anyway, this pic was to capture the paste-up behind me. I like to think it's Knut. RIP Knut.

It seems that Berlin has been taken over by wasps. They are anywhere food is, and manage to get in everywhere. I think I'll skip on the sugar this time...

The omnipresent symbol of Berlin -the Fernseherturm. This time captured with the sun behind it during a reprieve in the rain.

I hope you've enjoyed a snap-shot of my summer thus-far. I will endeavour to have another post up shortly with a recipe of a lil' something I've been baking of late.

xoxo Fifi

*summer, because it's a pretty poor excuse for summer, especially when I read that it's warmer in Melbourne - 22 degrees Celsius mid-winter?!? Cray Cray!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

L'Aquila part two - or the meaning of the word 'basta'

It was like I had come home: the long-lost grandchild they'd never met, but smothered in hugs and kisses and passed from person to person none-the-less.

Rapid-fire Italian flew about my ears, a cacophony of unfamiliar voices crashing like waves about my head and disorienting me – but in a nice way. Like that moment after you've caught a wave, land on the shore and spot the familiar red-and-white striped umbrella.

I was introduced to Marisa and Anna, both daughters of Ercole, Rafaella - Marisa's daughter, Dritan - Rosanna's husband, Denise and Dorian – Dritan and Rosanna's children and finally, our translator Rosanna - daughter of Anna, the sole English-speaker. Rosanna, in an accent flavoured with an American twang thanks to cousins in New Jersey, embraced me and began translating all that had been said to me. The general gist was that everyone was so happy to meet me, and did I speak Italian? The answer had become apparent without my even needing to acknowledge it, but I did impress them with my counting skills (all the way to 12!!) and a bit of 'ciao, buon giono, ciao, buon giorno, come stai?' to the tune of Frère Jacques. Thank you my sole year of Italian classes at age five!

With welcomes and introductions out of the way, we rushed to our awaiting table at a restaurant located literally in the middle of a field.

If the name L'Aquila sounds familiar to you, it may be owing to the 2009 earthquake which devastated the small town, injuring some 1,500 people and ending the lives of just over 300. Some 65,000 of town's residents were left homeless as a result of the quake, many of whom were forced to move elsewhere due to the Italian government's slow-moving recovery plan. Speaking with some former-residents now living in towns nearby, they will be lucky if their homes will be rebuilt within another three to four years. Considering it has already been three years since the event, it's a long time to be living in temporary accommodation. Businesses, unable to wait that long to star up again have begun popping up on the outskirts of the city, sometimes in groups and sometimes in random fields.

Inside the restaurant - an epicurean island in a sea of green fields - we sat at a long, rustic, wooden table. Obviously early, the wait-staff routinely clanked down plates, silverware, glasses and two carafes of red wine, giving us attention while we were still among the few occupied tables. Rosanna commented that this was a very popular restaurant and that we had come early to secure a table – something I'm glad we'd done. Not half an hour later, the restaurant was at capacity. I'll repeat that: a restaurant, full of Italians, at capacity. If you think the Germans do merriment and cheer well, the good-natured, easy-going Italians give them a run for their money!

Accepting my first glass of red wine (another fantastic drop for house plonk) baskets of fresh bread, prosciutto crudo and formaggio were brought out and passed around the table – the cheese mild and the prosciutto moist, almost like a sliver of carpaccio. Before I could even blink, it appeared that the rest of the table had inhaled their antipasto, and I quickly scoffed my meat and cheese to the approving eye of the older ladies.

Round two arrived quickly, this time warm terracotta bowls of a tomato based meat and vegetable dish, like a ratatouille, and plates of grilled eggplant. More bread was passed around, and chunks taken and used to mop up the stew-like offering. Fresh basil and lashings of olive oil mixed with tender bites of beef, I was urged to take more and I gladly obliged.


If only I knew.

Eye blink, plates gone.

Hearing grew increasingly difficult as more parties arrived and children grew fussy. Over talk of their memories of my grandfather, new plates had arrived and a server with a dish of steaming risotto came to each person to ladle the fresh offering. One scoop. The server gave me the eye that said “unless you say so, I'm going to put at least another three spoon-fulls on your plate”. Second scoop. I gave Rosanna the “I don't know if I can eat this much” look. Before scoop three could occur, Rosanna muttered the word I needed to know 'basta' - that's enough, stop. Grateful, I took a deep breath, inhaling the steam of the spinach and spring onion risotto, which looked nothing like the gluggy, glue-like imitations of back home. Instead, it was light and tasted mildly of stock, and once I'd had my way with the parmesan bowl, parmesan.

Thoroughly satisfied, my eyes grew large when the server came around with yet another set of fresh bowls (I pity the dish-pig!) and another steaming dish. Fresh, home made tagliatelle served with ragù; I don't believe I have ever had pasta this good, and I doubt I ever will again. The pasta itself was soft, yet firm to the bite, and wasn't drowned in sauce. It was all a bit Goldilocks – just right. Of course, despite absolutely loving every minute of this meal, I was once again the last to finish. Not wanting my Italian hosts to think I didn't like the meal, when offerings of a second helping came, I accepted happily.


Sometimes I think I should have worn a more appropriate outfit to my meeting with the Farinosis. At the end of the fourth course, there was definite strain on the high-waisted fastening of my skirt, and I was wishing for something with more of an empire line, or at least an elastic waist band. Still, I soldiered on in the name of good manners (of course). When the fifth course arrived, I damned myself for that second helping of pasta and the slices of bread I'd feasted on earlier.

In between courses, my dear friends the Farinosis
The fact that I smelled this course before I saw it should speak volumes. Large roasting dishes of slow-cooked meat were placed before us, tenderness visible, swimming in juices of deliciousness (I know that's a bit of a nothing word, but it was amazing – more flavourful than any stock or gravy I've ever tasted). Next to the meat dishes, tureens of garden peas with speck and generously doused in olive oil offered one of the few vegetable components of the meal (the other being a salad served with the pasta). Knowing I would regret it if I didn't, I placed two matchbox sized pieces of meat on my plate, and a serving of peas, wishing I could stomach more. The meat melted, dissolved into separate pieces in my mouth, stringy bits of fat falling away with a mere nudge of the tongue. If only, only I could have fit more in!

Finally, I was done, well and truly finished. I had overdone it and began swearing that I'd never eat again (ha!) or I'd at least be eating salad and soda water for days. Of course, this meant little to the Italians, who were already planning dinner.

After throwing back an espresso, turning down a piece of fruit and then in-turn a piece of cake, much to Signora Maria's disappointment, it was time to hit the road, and start digesting before the next epic meal.

This experience has taught me a couple of things – primarily what an amazing thing the human body is to be able to put away the above meal, then a couple of hours later at least four slices of pizza, a meat stick, salad, and two slices of Vienetta ice cream cake. Oh, and some cherry liquor to top it all off.

How those Italians do it, I'll never know, but at least I'll know for next time – basta!

xoxo Fifi von Strudel

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