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Wednesday Morning Link Love

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Two of my best friends were here this past weekend from New York and they've just left and I'm feeling bereft. They'd never been to Berlin before, so we spent the days zipping around the city and eating white asparagus. I'm not really that mobile anymore, so I had to keep taking breaks to keep my pelvis from breaking in half (that's kind of what it feels like when I walk, anyways), but I loved every minute.

This interview with Gabrielle Hamilton about the memoir-writing process is interesting to read, but the best thing is buried in the last sentence: She's writing a cookbook!

Max is the vinaigrette master in our house, never failing to make the most perfectly balanced dressing without a single measuring spoon (left to my own devices, I always, always overdo it on the vinegar), so I'm going to be pushing him to try this concoction as soon as possible.

This article on how plastic packing contaminates our food is unnerving, to say the least.

Did you know McCormick's "pure" vanilla extract contains...corn syrup? Depressing.

How to grow your own pea shoots (and then put them in your scrambled eggs).

If I start to write about what the books I read as a child meant to me, I get all weepy, I really do. My childhood books were everything to me, my whole world. Whenever I'm reminded of a particularly good one, the way I felt when I first discovered it comes flooding right back. I so hope our boy is a reader - I can't wait to rediscover those lost worlds with him. If you need inspiration for children's books, Jenny Rosenstrach and Andy Ward, the bloggers behind Dinner: A Love Story, have just written a book about 121 of the greatest kids' books of all time and are giving it away for free with an order of Jenny Rosenstrach's new book, Dinner: A Love Story. But you've got to hurry - this offer is only good until Thursday at midnight. More info here!


Catherine Newman's Donut Cake

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This all started when I read Joanna's post about a book she'd read that she'd loved during her pregnancy (this one). In that post, she asked her readers if they had any other books to recommend for pregnant ladies, which was like Christmas morning for me and soon I was clicking and bookmarking away, leading me further and further into an Internet wormhole. I came up for air at Catherine Newman's blog, the author of Waiting for Birdy (ordered, shipped), and soon found myself reading about a cake that tastes like doughnuts, which is a riff on Edna Lewis' Busy-Day Cake, which I'd only wanted to make since, oh, forever and so I decided to take that serendipitous find as a sign from the gods that I should waste not a single moment longer before making it.

So I made it. And, lo, it made my house smell of doughnuts, nutmeggy and sweet.

(Let's not discuss the fact that I was far more inclined to make something called Donut Cake than I was to make something called Busy-Day Cake. I am, in culinary terms at least, apparently something of a magpie.)

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It really is the loveliest thing. Buttermilk makes it tender and gives it the faintest, barest tang. A few spoonfuls of cornmeal give it a little crunch. And the intersection of vanilla and nutmeg make your house smell like a old-fashioned doughnut shop, MINUS the stench of boiling oil and the slickness of greasy fingers. It's intensely wholesome and lovely, this cake. If it was a person, it'd have perfectly creamy skin and a natural glow all the time, no makeup or raw spinach smoothies required.

It's the archetypal afternoon cake or breakfast cake, to be dunked in hot chocolate or coffee, and I'd gladly serve it to children, too. You could, I suppose, gussy it up with whipped cream and fruit. But I like how stark and plain it is all by itself. In fact, in the terms of auld, I'd say this is one for the lamination files.

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Which reminds me that I actually meant to tell you guys about a different cake entirely before I got completely sidetracked by this one. But that will have to wait until next week.

Catherine Newman's Donut Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake
Catherine says that the cake is destined to sink once it cools, but I had no such problem.

1 stick butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature

1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan, and set it aside.

2. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition, then add in the vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Set aside.

3. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with flour. Make sure each addition is incorporated before adding the next, but don't over-beat it at the end. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and smooth the top.

4. Bake until the top is puffed and golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a rack before serving warm or room temperature.


Diane Kochilas' Tomato, Oregano and Feta Risotto

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I've been feeling a bit like a wrung-out dishrag lately, creatively speaking, I mean. A reader very kindly pointed out the other day that you all would be a lot happier if I posted more often, to which I could only bleat "I'm so sorry, I know!" at the screen and sink my head in defeat. I mean, I'm the first to feel bereft when my favorite blogs go silent for more than a few days.

I guess I poured so much energy and heart into finishing the book that now that it's over, instead of feeling full of inspiration and moxie, I'm feeling a little empty when it comes to cooking and writing about it. For a few weeks after I finished work on the manuscript (and the final testing of the recipes), I could not turn on the stove to save my life. I just couldn't. I couldn't stand the sight of the measuring cups, the mixing bowls, the sink waiting to be filled with dirty dishes. I had to stop seeing it as the final frontier, the final battle zone between me and the finished manuscript before I could enter it again with hunger and a lust for cooking.

Add that to the fact that I am now single-digit weeks (eeep!) away from giving birth and you'll understand why sometimes I sit here in front of the computer trying to think of things to tell you, but coming up empty. I mean, I can spend hours thinking about organic baby mattresses, what on earth - WHAT - we should name our baby and, uh, trying to wrap my head around labor, but then dinnertime rolls around and I'm eating a handful of sliced cucumber and a peanut butter sandwich. You know?

But enough about that.

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Remember Elaine Louie's wonderful The Temporary Vegetarian column in the New York Times? The source of such delicious things as Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez's Chana Punjabi, Aytekin Yar's Zucchini Pancakes and Julie Sahni's Green Beans Bihari? I loved that column so much. (It no longer exists, but you can buy the book it was turned into right here.) Slowly but surely, I'm hoping to cook my way through most of the recipes she published (Cabbage Strudel, anyone? I'm still kicking myself for having lived mere minutes away from the strudel shop on Queens Boulevard for almost three years and never having made it there.).

The recipe with which Louie retired the column was from Diane Kochilas, Greek food writer and consulting chef at Pylos: a Greek riff on the classic Italian risotto, using ouzo instead of white wine and feta cheese instead of Parmesan and butter. I made it for dinner last night and the one thing I kept thinking as I ate it was, forgive my ineloquence, woah.

The risotto looks like it will just be a sweet little tomato-ey thing, flecked with some well-meaning oregano, but it turns out to be a flavor bomb, an umami explosion, if you will, almost too intense to actually eat. The convergence of the feta and the anise liqueur and the fresh tomato and the lemon zest is sort of epic, really. I practically had to wipe my brow as I worked my way through the bowl. (And this was without adding any salt besides what was already in the broth, people.)

I left out the garlic that was in the original recipe, because I think garlic in risotto should be against the law, and I used Pernod instead of ouzo because that's what I had in the house and if I made this again, I would use water instead of broth, probably, and also a bit less feta, because I actually don't really like to feel like I'm fighting my way through dinner, even if it does taste very good. But eating it in the soft dusk light that came in from the balcony and being reminded of our trip to Greece last September was lovely, really, and just the kind of thing that makes me want to cook again and again and again.

Diane Kochilas' Tomato, Oregano and Feta Risotto
Serves 4
Note: To grate a tomato, halve crosswise and grate the cut side with a coarse grater over a lipped cutting board or bowl. Grate as close to the skin as possible, then discard the skin.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 to 5 cups vegetable broth
1 cup Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/3 cup Pernod
1 1/3 cups grated ripe tomato (about 3 or 4 large plum tomatoes)
2/3 cup crumbled feta
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
Finely grated zest of a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, optional

1. In a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat, heat olive oil until shimmering. Add onion and stir until soft, about 6 minutes. Place broth in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.

2. Raise heat to medium, and add rice to skillet. Stir until well-coated with olive oil and starting to soften slightly, 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup of the simmering broth. Keep stirring gently until the rice absorbs all the broth. Add Pernod and stir until absorbed.

3. Add grated tomato and stir gently until the mixture is dense. Add remaining broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring until each addition is absorbed, until the rice is creamy but al dente, 25 to 30 minutes.

4. Add feta and stir until melted and risotto is creamy and thick. Stir in oregano and lemon zest, and season to taste, if needed, with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and serve immediately.


Friday Morning Link Love

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Here in Berlin, today and Monday are holidays, so the city gets all quiet and serene. Shops close, streets empty and peacefulness descends onto our red-roofed buildings. It's lovely. On Sunday, I'll be having a bit of that magnificent, sweet, yeasted rooster for breakfast, moist and tender and studded with marzipan eggs. We'll be over at my friend Joanie's that morning, though "friend" is hardly a good word for everything that this woman is to me - but you'll read more about her in the book when the time comes. (The book that now has a cover!) What you need to know for now is that Joanie is the queen, the empress, of sweet yeasted doughs scented with cinnamon, lemon peel and fairy dust. What starts out as a pallid lump in a ceramic mixing bowl gets transformed into sweet little rabbits, great roosters, feathered and wattled, and more. This particular rooster was last year's Easter breakfast and while it almost pained me to watch her slice into it to serve us all, it was even more delicious than it was beautiful, if you can imagine that.

Elsewhere:

This corn bread (not cornbread, mind you) is haunting my nights. It's on the to-do list for the weekend.

The cutest grocery tote I've seen in a long time.

I had lunch at ABC Kitchen in New York with Deb last week and this deceptively simple appetizer served in a pretty bowl (no spoon, though) stayed in my thoughts all week: Roasted Beets with Yogurt.

Are you brave enough to eat wildflowers?

I love reading about what other people eat, even more than I love looking into people's shopping baskets at the grocery store, so I got a kick out of Phoebe Cates's diet.

I've always wanted to make sushi at home, but I never actually do it. These rice balls (a rounder version of onigiri) somehow seem more approachable. Also, mouthwatering.

I've become anemic during pregnancy and a month of iron supplements hasn't made much of a difference. My doctor says to eat more millet and this spiced millet breakfast bowl sounds like the best way to start.

Yet another reason I can't wait to be in L.A. for the book tour this fall. (Yes, Los Angeles is on the list!)

Have any of you read Bringing Up Bébé (UK folks: French Children Don't Throw Food)? I had no intention to, but then I was given a copy by my publisher and my best friend couldn't stop raving about it and I had nothing else to do on the airplane back home (besides bemoan the hideousness that are well-fittting compression stockings), so I read the whole thing in one swoop...and liked it. Can we discuss?

Happy Easter, happy Passover, happy weekend, folks!


The Cover of My Berlin Kitchen!

Okay, folks, picture a drumroll, if you will. (Or imagine a drumroll? Conjure a drumroll? Whatever, a drumroll. Let's just pretend you're hearing one right now, okay?)

Ta-da!!!

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Do you like it? I so hope you like it.

Let me tell you a little how it came about. Back in January, during a Very Cold Snap, I was asked by the art director at Viking to send over a few photos of me that could be used for the cover of the book. Now I don't know about those of you who are the designated photographers in your social circle, but I actually have very few photos of myself - after all, I'm always the one with the camera. So I called my very talented friend Jördis Anderson and asked her if she wouldn't mind meeting up early one Saturday morning to take some pictures of me. Despite the freezing cold, Jördis was game, quickly organizing childcare and clearing her schedule. We agreed to go to my favorite green market first thing in the morning, before it got too crowded, and then on a little stroll around my neighborhood.

I was a little nervous that morning. I don't find myself particularly photogenic and I was dreading stiffening up in front of the camera. We only had that one weekend to shoot and the pressure to get the right image felt, well, intense. I was also just emerging from the "I-hate-my-strange-new-body-shape" phase of pregnancy, a little unsure of how well I'd be able to hide The Bump. (After all, this book is called My Berlin Kitchen, not Bringing Up Kindchen.) Luckily, the market was relatively empty and only a few people stared at us as Jördis quickly took a few snaps of me plucking potatoes out of a bin, holding a bundle of carrots, selecting a bouquet of hot pink ranunculus. Still, when we looked at the photos on the display of her camera, we both agreed that what we wanted to capture simply wasn't there. Growing colder by the minute, we hopped in the car and drove to one of my favorite streets in Berlin, Friedbergstraße.

Friedbergstraße is one of the only streets in Berlin that suffered absolutely no damage in World War II - all of its turn-of-the-century buildings are intact and pristinely cared for. It's a gorgeous sight, especially when compared to almost every other street in Berlin that is peppered with squat little buildings from the 1950s and 1960s, a sure sign that an Allied bomb destroyed what once stood there. Trying not to shiver and buoyed by Jördis's good spirits, I walked up and down that street as she snapped away, passing typically Berlin doorways, clacking over the tiny cobblestones, trying to be both as dynamic and slow as possible so that Jördis's images would have energy and focus at once.

By lunchtime, Jördis thought she had shot enough and we were both so cold and tired (and hungry) that it sort of made sense to call it a day. We went back to my apartment and I cooked us lunch while she snapped away. You can see some of those shots in my kitchen and living room here, mismatched plates and all. Then Jördis fiddled with her computer for a while, uploading the photos and selecting the ones she liked best before sending off the files to the art director. And then we crossed our fingers and waited.

Now, you all remember that I used to be a cookbook editor before I said goodbye to New York and followed my heart to Berlin, yes? Well, one of the many things I used to do in my old role was deal with jacket images and cover design, corralling the author's input and the designer's needs and everyone else's requirements into one final image that would, oh, also actually sell. Folks, this was never an easy thing, to choose the right photo, to nail the design, to make the author and the designer and the publisher and the publicist and the marketing folks and the sales department happy. In fact, we used to go through rounds and rounds of cover designs (different photographs, fonts, title placements, subtitle placements, burst placements, for Pete's sake) before finally settling on just the right one. So I was bracing myself for just that: a lot of rounds and negotiations and compromise. I knew it was just part of the process.

But then, just a few days after we sent in the photos, my editor sent me the image of that jacket up there, created by the art director, Roseanne Serra. I'll admit, opening the file was a little scary. What would I see? Which photo would she have picked? (We'd sent her 19 to choose from.) When the image opened up and I saw it with all its charming details, its simplicity, its total "Berlin-ness", for lack of a better word, all I could think was: Roseanne, lady: You. Nailed. It.

The craziest thing was that everyone else agreed. And that was that. Easy-peasy. Done. (And now, to my neverending delight, the cover image also graces the Viking Fall 2012 catalogue!)

As the process of publishing this book goes forward, I'll be sure to keep you all updated on things that I think you might find interesting about the journey. But I'd love to know: is there anything in particular you'd like me to write about on this subject? Any topic related to the book writing or the publication that you'd like explained? Please let me know. And thanks, as always, for being such lovely readers and supporters. I couldn't imagine doing any of this without you.