Berliner Dom and Schnitzel

After spending the majority of my day at Museumsinsel, the sun was still out and I had some energy left to keep sightseeing.  Next to Museumsinsel is this beautiful cathedral, the Berliner Dom.

IMG_2550 The exterior of this cathedral is absolutely breathtaking, especially since most of it was not damaged during WWII.  Though there was some fire damage that caused the roof to collapse.

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Walking into a cathedral this size is always either a huge disappointment or an eye-opening experience.  Let’s just say my eyes were wide open for a long time.

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I was lucky enough to walk in during a rehearsal for Bach’s Matthäuspassion that was to be performed in April.  The beautiful sounds of operatic singing and strings playing filled the dome.  I sat down for at least an hour enjoying this free concert of sorts.

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With only a little time left before the cathedral closed I knew I had to motivate and walk around.  One of the most impressive pieces in this cathedral was the pipe organ.

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Though I didn’t realise it when I bought the entrance ticket, I had the opportunity to climb up to the top of the cathedral and look upon Berlin.  So I climbed, and climbed and continue climbing until I reached a door and walked outside.  Had it not been cloudy, it would have been absolutely amazing.  But, beggars can’t be choosers, and I enjoyed the views the best I could.

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From there I found myself in the crypt.  This was one as I’d never seen before with large coffins lined up and crowns displayed to recognise royalty.

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Feeling absolutely famished I made my way over towards Hackerscher Markt to find a bite to eat.  The night before I played it safe with some Italian food but after this day, I wanted a beer and some traditional German food.

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I found myself at Restauration 1840.  There were people sitting and eating inside, which is always a good sign, so I made my way in and found a table for one.

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IMG_2597The servers were extremely helpful and I ordered a Warsteiner and Schnitzel Weiner Art.  Never having schnitzel before, I was a little skeptical.  You always hear about schnitzel but if you’re like me, ask yourself, “What the heck is a schnitzel?”  Basically, it’s tenderized meat, coated and fried.  Delicious, but extremely filling.  While I didn’t finish the whole thing, I only left a few bites.

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A fine end to a great day!

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Learning to Make Baklava

Now, let me start with…I don’t have a hint of Greek in me.  I’m born and raised American with Polish, Prussian, German, French-Canadian and Native American ancestors.  Quite a mix, but no Greek to be found.

Nevertheless, yesterday I learned to make a very traditional Greek treat, Baklava.

My mom’s friend Trudy comes from a Greek background and has been making Baklava for years.  As a child, she learned from her Yaya and has kept the tradition alive since.  She came to our house on Monday morning with a bag of materials and the recipe stored safely in her head.  This baffled me, as I almost never bake without a set recipe in front of me.  Trudy, on the other hand, goes off of what feels right and the motto, “this is how Yaya made it!”

To start, we needed: walnuts, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, butter (LOTS of butter!), lemon peel and honey.

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We started by grinding the walnuts with a nut grind.  I’d never seen one of these before but apparently you can buy them at any home goods store.  By using a hand-powered nut grinder, you get just the right ratio of walnut pieces to walnut powder as well as more consistently sized walnut chunks.

IMG_1398 Sugar, cinnamon and ground cloves were then added to the walnut mixture and set aside.

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Next, a pound, yes, a POUND of butter was melted in a microwave-safe bowl.

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From there, the layering began!  To save time, we used premade Phyllo, or Filo, dough that was cut and ready to go.  We buttered the pan and added 6-8 layers of Phyllo dough with, of course, butter between each layer.

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Then, sprinkled the nut mixture evenly and added two more layers of dough.  Nuts, Phyllo, butter, nuts Phyllo, butter…repeated until the nut mixture ran out.  Then it was on to alternating Phyllo and butter until the Phyllo was gone.

IMG_1413 IMG_1414 Baklava must be evenly cut before it’s baked.  We used a flexible ruler to cut diamond-shaped pieces.  Why diamonds?  As Trudy told us, “that’s just how you cut baklava.”

IMG_1417 IMG_1419 We baked the baklava, “until it looks right.”  This meant a golden brown top with the dough baking away from the sides of the pan.

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As the baklava baked we created the simple syrup for the top and between the layers.  While water, 4 cups of sugar and cinnamon sticks boiled on the stove, we took whole cloves and stuck them into lemon peels.  This eliminated the problem of fishing the cloves from the mixture later.

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After the syrup came to a boil, it had to reach 220°F before adding in the honey.

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Once the baklava came out of the oven, we poured the honey mixture on top to fill in all the crevices.  Unfortunately, this sweet treat has to sit overnight so the pastry could thoroughly absorb the honey mixture.

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So, we had baklava for breakfast today, which was totally worth the wait!  The sweetness of the honey mixture with the spiced nuts and flaky dough was the perfect way to start this cold, December day.

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Thank you Trudy, for sharing your family recipe with us during this holiday season!

Le Petit Parisien in Dublin, Ireland

Ireland.  The land St. Patrick’s Day, Guinness, green grass and….French pastries?  Yes, French pastries.  Le Petit Parisien is a quaint coffee shop/bakery/cafe located in the heart of Dublin.  My aunt, uncle and cousin stumbled upon it the day before I arrived and, not knowing we were in the same place the next day, we stumbled upon it again.  With the rain starting to come down harder, and a very enticing window display, it was the perfect excuse to take cover for some breakfast.

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But not just any breakfast.  Sitting in a cozy window seat surrounded by Christmas music and holiday spirit, we started out with one of the best cappuccinos I’ve had.  Now, I spent 6 months in Italy back in 2010, so I’ve had my fair share of cappuccinos, and this one is hard to beat!

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My cousin, who is not a fan of coffees or cappuccinos, opted for a hot chocolate instead.  They served it to him in a glass where the first 3/4 was milk and the bottom was filled with chocolate, allowing him to mix it himself.

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With hot drinks in our hands, we were served pastry after pastry after pastry.  While my uncle ordered porridge, my cousin and I ordered fruit scones with homemade strawberry jam.

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My aunt, having had a scone the day before, went big and ordered the  vanilla cream pastry that caught her eye from the window.

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Seeing as it’s the holiday season, and I’ve seen mince pies everywhere for weeks, we decided to try one.  A mince pie is a fruit-based mincemeat sweet pie served during the Christmas season.  Having no idea what it was going to taste like, I was pleasantly surprised with its sweet, spiced flavour and flaky crust.

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If you’re in Dublin, and looking for an amazing breakfast with a cozy atmosphere, I highly recommend you check out Le Petit Parisien.  For more information, check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LPPCafe.

An American/British/Faroese Thanksgiving

Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone, but it will be one I’ll always remember.

As we sat at lunch on 28 November before a 4 hour lecture, one of my friends asked me, “will this be your first Thanksgiving without family?” At that point, I truly realised how far away I was from my family. Boom, just like that, total shut down. Let’s just say sitting through that lecture was not a pleasant experience.

Fortunately, I had something to look forward to after class. Thanks to the hospitality of some amazing friends, we feasted like…Americans! There was turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and the best homemade gravy I’ve ever had.

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Great food, Call of Duty, and some amazing friends made this year’s Thanksgiving in England a memorable one.

A night out at the German Bar

Let me tell you, being a postgrad is not all fun and games.  But, when times get stressful, my friends and I are learning that we need to step away from the computers, close the books, and have a little fun.  On Thursdays, we have lecture from 2:00pm – 6:00pm.  This, my friends, is a very long time to try and pay attention to one lecturer.

Usually after this lecture we head to The Stag’s Head, our campus pub, for pizza, beer, and table football (foosball).  Last Thursday, we decided to branch out and head to the city centre.

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With the holidays approaching, Southampton is slowly changing into a winter wonderland.  At the city centre, the food stalls have been converted into Bavarian-themed huts and they’ve placed a German Bar smack dab in the middle of everything.  With our brains feeling like mush after class, we decided to check it out.

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Now, for a German Bar, in England, we expected some of the workers to be, well, German.  Low and behold, they were English.  But, the beer was cold, the mulled wine was hot, and the sausages were delicious!

IMG_2359IMG_2363With reports, essays and presentations looming over our heads, it’s hard to take a few minutes, or hours, for ourselves.  But, thanks to the holiday spirit, we took a timeout from university life and had a memorable evening.

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First UK Baking Experience

Confession time – I love food.  Not surprising since most people do, but I have a unique relationship with food.  Ok, starting to sound weird but let me explain.  I’m a baker – not on a professional level by any means but I like to think I’m alright at it.  Some people do yoga to relieve stress.  Me, I make cookies or brownies or cake or whatever I’m in the mood for.

I was a little nervous to bake here in the UK though.  For starters, there aren’t cups, tablespoons, or teaspoons here.  So, I had to convert my recipes.  Not a big deal, but it takes time.  Anther concern was temperature of my oven.  Celsius doesn’t scare me, but not actually knowing what the temperature is in the oven does.  As you can see, our knobs have been used a few times and setting the temperature is a guessing game.

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So, as an experiment, I made brownies today.  Nothing fancy, just simple, chocolaty brownies.  I’ve made this recipe from http://www.pepper.ph/brownie-test/ a few times and have had people scraping the pan for the final scraps.

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One modification I had to make was not adding vanilla.  I  checked a few stores here and couldn’t find it anywhere!  I’m still on the hunt for it so if anyone knows where I can find some here in Southampton, please let me know!  Instead of vanilla I added in semi-sweet and milk chocolate to hopefully give it enough sweetness.

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There was some trouble with the temperature as predicted but for the most part I think they came out ok!  A little crispy on the edges but the middle is moist and gooey – the way a brownie should be!  Hopefully my housemates enjoy them as much as I do.