Sunday, February 26, 2017

Uli Richter, the legend of the German haute-couture

Until the 5th of March, the Design Museum - Kunstgewerbemuseum - in Berlin hosts an interesting exhibition featuring the post-war German fashion icon Uli (Ulrich) Richter. The exhibition was opened on the occasion of the 90-year old birthday of Richter, the creator of 'Berlin chic' in the 1960s. He closed his brand in the 1980s, but remained involved in the fashion industry as teacher at the university and role-model for many contemporary German fashion designers.
The exhibition covers two underground levels at the museum, a mixture of representative pictures, sketches with directions by Richter himself as well as samples of clothes. As in the case of the great works of fashion, this exhibition is not only about beauty and elegance, but it also tells interesting stories about the recovery of West Germany after WWII. 
In the post-war years, the precarity and various restrictions made impossible any effort towards elegance. In the few cases when the resources and opportunities were available, the eyes of the elegant gents and ladies of Berlin were directed towards Paris or Milan or New York. Uli Richter changed and challenged this situation.
The free Berlin and through it the Western part of Germany acquired through the fashion inspiration of Richter its special charm, which might not have been the same as Paris, but its special noble distinction. The photographs are the work of F.C. Gundlach, a long-time collaborator of Richter. 
He brough high-couture on the streets of Berlin, with a sense of restoring a certain autonomy and self-respect, although at the symbolical level for the beginning.
The exhibition includes relevant samples from various collections. The materials are not always impressive or extravagant, but the shapes are always outstanding and most of them are samples of timeless elegance. 
As the first Berlin couturier, Richter was not only the preferred consultant for artists outfits, but also for famous politicians companions. Rut Brandt, the wife of the late German chancellor Willy Brandt, chosed him as her exclusive fashion desigher. Trying to offer a German variant of Jackie Kennedy, she introduced the style and elegance into the local politics. This outfit was especially created for her during the 1970 official visit to Iran.
German elegance has some special features, one of them being an overwhelming modesty, despite the silks and tafetas used as main materials. 
Details are always important, although not necessarily strident. Those colourful sequins create an unique 3D effect, embellishing the entire outfit.
Since the 1980s, Richter retired from the big business and only created limited fashion collections. As a teacher at the German design schools, he plays a considerable role in the evolution of local design, influencing the work of Berlin creators such as Nobi Talai or William Fan, whose works I recently admired on the occasion of the events organised for the Berlin Fashion Week

Cookbook recommendation: Taste of Persia, by Naomi Duguid

Taste of Persia by Naomi Duguid is a fascinating culinary journey into the secret corners of the kitchens in one of the most interesting regions of the world for me. Singled out by a past of conflicts and a present of political turmoil and insecurities, this region promises instead a tradition of peaceful and extremely diverse meals. Through photography and intensive interractions with the people from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran and the region of Kurdistan, Naomi Duguid succeeds to present authentic travel and taste stories, mapping the diversity of local products and tastes in over 120 recipes.
The beautiful photographs are adding more colour to interesting recipes with local ingredients not easy to find on the markets outside the region - especially in Europe. Therefore, one can understand the deep longing for home among people from those part of the worl while far away from their traditional cuisines and the hard task to cope with on the shoulders of the traditional restaurants opened overseas. 
Although significant differences - the demarcation between the use of pork in the case of the non-Muslim countries and the abundance of the beautiful wines of Georgia and the sophisticated rices from Iran - there are common ingredients shared in the region. Unfortunatelly, Afghanistan - for obvious security and safety reasons - is not featured which I am almost sure it shares some common features with many of the cuisines featured. For instance, the richness of versatile sauces or the frequent presence of walnuts - in salads, sweets or sauces, a detail I was not familiar with -, the fresh herbs, or the variety of fruits - including dried - consumed together with teas. 
Another great merit of the book is featuring a minority group only recently brought into the world attention and not for a good reason: the Yazidi, the victim in the recent years of a permanent genocide. As in the case of the Kurds, their 
There are many recipes that caught my attention and made me dream of a rich feast: mint oil - very easy to make at home too -, onion salad with barberies, grilled eggplant - including with pomegranate seeds, the variety of the Georgian vegetables pates, pkhali, the herbed yogurt soup, stuffed vegetables and dumplings, the roasted fish with walnut paste, the roasted poultry soaked in saffron water or the tart lamb stew with fried potatoes.
Very well organised, the book is covering the entire region, country by country, from spices and pantry essentials, to sauces, meat and fish, teas and sweets, bread and juices. As I recently developped a fascination - not yet followed by a perfect execution - for everything Persian rices, I would have love more variants and details of this beloved meal, but obviously, the Persian cuisine is more than that. 
The recipes are very clearly written, with simple directions that can appeal also the beginner chef with a lust to try a recipe from one of the most sophisticated kitchens of the world. I personally saved for later two recipes that I hope to try and share in the next weeks. The book has also a glossary of terms and many historical and travel references that bring the region closer to someone getting to know this region for the first time.
I strongly recommend this book which is more than travel dairy and more than an exploration of taste. It brings you more the hunger and the wanderlust which is a fantastic win-win.

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Friday, February 24, 2017

Jewellery for ever at Pforzheim Museum

One of the best things about travel is the possibility to discover new places and stories. Especially jewellery is mean to share special stories. Precious pieces are transmitted from a generation to another, gifts or purchases with a special meaning whose symbolism is cherished for decades. The German city of Pforzheim is called the 'Golden City' for good reason. For centuries, here was the center of jewellery production in the German lands and all over Europe, with pupils from coming here to learn the special art of creating beautiful pieces of jewellery.
Although nowadays the activities are dramatically restricted, testimonies of the old art are everywhere, particularly at the Jewellery Museum. I visited this special place a couple of days ago, and I am happy to share some of the most beautiful discoveries.
The museum hosts an amazing collection of jewellery - including special sections dedicated to rings and watches - covering more than 5,000 years of history.
In total, there are around of 2,000 pieces of work, some of them unique works made by the skilled hands of the masters from Pforzheim.
One special thing that I always noticed about the jewellery made in Germany is the high attention for every detail and the perfect execution.
Every piece of jewellery seems to be the result of a very careful planning, when any detail has its own meaning in the overall design.

I've spent there more than an hour, admiring carefully every piece of work and one clear lesson was at least very clear from the very beginning: quality and elegance in general should not be extravagant or strident, but discrete and adding value to the general outfit and outlining the personality of the person wearing it. A piece of jewellery, regardless how expensive it is, does not make a person more valuable or notworthy.  
Some of the rings were worn both by men and women, with the men models being aimed to outline family connections or - later on from the Renaissance on - the membership to specific fraternities.
Most - if not all - the pieces of jewellery I've seen are meant to pass successfully the test of time. As in the case of quality pieces of clothing, age is not an impediment.
The large time span covered - from Renaissance to Modern times, with an extensive focus on one of my favorite style, Art Nouveau - offers an excellent overview of the evolution of style and feminity in general. 
Nature, particularly the structure of flowers and vegetation, were a valuable and constant source of inspiration for the Pforzheim designers. As this locality is situated close to the famous Black Forest, the sources abund and were only a couple of minutes away.
The ways in which gems are used is another interesting aspect to study at this museum. Most of them were brought from very far away and learning to match them with the gold was a hard work in itself.
Very often, the evolution of jewellery is telling stories about the evolution of tastes and the social manners as such. Once women become more visible, they needed such elaborated pieces to share social and family status.
The work of matching a gem with a specific gold mixture - the gold we see is never in pure form, but part of various compositions - was very elaborated and required a deep knowledge of materials.
The Art Nouveau section is so elegant and beautiful that I was hardly keen to leave this place. So much simplicity and elegance in such a small piece.
The different types of gold can create unique pieces of art jewellery, noticeworthy for their ingenous simplicity.
The more I was discovering, the more the ages were melting together with only a unique feature remaining: beauty beyond ages. 
My only regret of the visit to Pforzheim was that I wasn't able to find any open workshop where I can watch the masters at work.
For creating such fine and detailed piece of jewellery, the master need a box with so many special instruments, from tweezers to huge magnifiers. The work can last between a couple of days until months, but the result is heartbreaking.
In order to wear some special items you need special occasions, but sometimes it is enough to have the right attitude to create the opportunity. The woman with perfect taste knows how to wear such a piece on the street and shine not because of what she wears but because of her straightforward personality.
As a fashion designer friend once told me, a perfect outfit means to focus only on one and only element. It can be the shoes or the jewellery or the design of the dress. The bigger the number of elements, the lower the taste.
Interestingly, I was able to see some of the works in various outfit combinations. For instance, this pendant was suited for a simple dress, light colour. Not sure if you need an earring too or other accessories, but I would rather avoid to add anything.
This beauty bracelet with diamonds inserts tells fashion stories by itself. A long sleeve velvet dress is the best match. 
Every piece of the museum is an invitation to dream - of huge ball halls and beautiful dresses but it is also a lesson in elegance and genuine taste. 
If you are visiting the Western part of Germany and you love fashion, this museum is a great recommendation for spending a day in style. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Getting ready for the summer with a glass of Limoncino

With my curious nature to try something new at least every day, one of the promises I made to myself for this year is to have more new drinks, particularly cocktails. But as it happened in the case of food, I always need some inspiration for getting through the right taste. 
For my birthday, I tried for the first time Limoncino, a drink which can be a good refreshment for the hot days of the warm season. Not being a big lover of white wine, I am quite uneducated when it comes to mixing it with other drinks or ingredients. In this case though, it was an easy combination, with the taste keeping in line with the wine's. The fresh lemon slices bring more perfume and develop the original taste, while the ice creates a refreshing chilling effect. 
The recipe is very simple and can be done at home easily.
White wine, sparkling wine, prosecco or champagne - the more sparkles, the better
Ice cubes - around 4-5
Lemon slices
Fill half a glass with the alcoholic drink
Add the ice cubes and the lemon slices. If you want more lemon taste, you can squize half a lemon and add the zest too.
Mix a bit the ingredients to melt together
That's all! Sip it slowly while listening to some relaxing music, or reading a book or planning your next getaway.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cookbook review: Dining at the Ravens

American cuisine and restaurants in general are frequenty badmouthed by the other part of the world for their lack of rafinament and unhealthy ingredients. In the last decade however, the number of good American gastronomic practices changed dramatically and more and more secret healthy gourmet spots are revealed to the whole world.
One such revelation is The Ravens restaurant in Mendocino, California, where the menu is plant-based, mostly using ingredients produced in the own organic gardens and farm. A book published last year offers over 150 vegan recipes regularly served, with interesting details about the life and food philosophy of the owners, who are the authors of the book. 'I really love food that not only tastes amazing, but also reflects my values and ethics'. 
The book details the various daily stages of the menu, starting with the breaksfast that, 'at the Ravens, is an expression of mindfulness'. The day seen and tasted through different meals looks very appealing and healthy too, with interesting unique combinations. One of the meals that stayed obsessively with me - and will keep doing so until I will offer my own interpretation of the recipe - is citrus polenta with a braised garden greems and a creamy toasted cashew sauce. The recipe is so convincing, especially for someone so reluctant to prepare and taste polenta as I am. Cashews are often used in many meals, from breakfast platest to sauces. 
Part of the owner's philosophy is to treat bread as an accidental companion to the meal, rather than as a necessary presence at the table. 'We look at ordinary wheat breads more as condiments than substantive parts of a meal. At Ravens, bread is available only by request. Some of the bread recipes that found interesting are: jalapeno cornbread and rustic bread. 
Passing through the list of sauces and dips, a kale sauce sounds like a very unique experience, followed in my list of preferences by white beans hummus and mint pesto. For those less familiar with various green ingredients, the chapter dedicated to salads includes a list of possible salad ingredients.
The more I was advancing into the lecture - good writing, with easy directions that make you feel like you are good enough to submit your CV to the Ravens for a chef opening position - the more temptations arose. What about a roasted zucchini soup with pistachio cream and fresh mint - it seems that in the case of many recipes, there are more than 3 ingredients mixed, which is my perfect case scenario for me, especially when it comes to vegan food? Or a seasonal wild mushroom crepe or some eggplant cannelloni too? Maybe the Ravens Sea Palm Strudel, a staple dish of the restaurant?
Last but not least, take a look at their desserts too. 'Their ingredients stimulate the release of endorphins, providing a sense of well-being, aiding digestion, and ensuring that we receive the greatest nourishment from the food we have eaten'. As sweeteners, there are used maple syrup, agave and vegan sugar - such as beet sugar. The list includes, among others: basic sorbet, candy cap mushroom creme brulee - my first time ever when I've heard about candy cap mushrooms - or chocolate ganache tart. This chapter of the book is less spectacular in terms of recipes and ingredients. 
The book is a real star among my recent cookbooks, and an example that vegan food can be sophisticated and tasty, As for me, there is one recipe that I will try in the next days, not a spectacular one, but it makes it a tasty ingredient of burgers, for instance. 
My only disappointment was the relatively simple quality of the pictures, but somehow, after reading the book, this is the only minus of an interesting and balanced book.

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My perfect pizza calzone

Hungry and with a lot of creative ideas about how to mix some ingredients? Coping with an overload fridge with a lot of stuff you have no idea how to match? This calzone recipe - I wanted first to call it a pizza, but I spontaneously decided to fold the entire composition in two - can be the answer for a cold winter day.
I used for my calzone a lot of ingredients, but the most important is the dough. From the REWE store I bought a Tante Fanny pizza dough - both vegan and veggie -, which is very flexible, tasty and crunchy after staying in the oven. While preparing the dough, I warmed the oven at 350C for around 10 minutes. I spread the dough in its full beauty on the table and started to add the ingredients:
350 ml. tomato sauce basis pomodoro Italiano - Barilla Basilico
3 hard boiled medium size eggs, cut into little piece
2 slides of butter cheese, finelly cut
150 gr. Parmesan cheese
150 gr. canned mushrooms
150 gr. green peas
200 gr. canned corn
2 scallions finelly chopped
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper
Fold it carefully and seal the ends, in order to be sure that the - too many - ingredients - are not spilling out. I spread a pinch or two of parmesan cheese one more time on new shape, plus by hand, spread olive oil.
The preparation time takes around 10-15 minutes. It is important to spread the ingredients on the entire surface of the dough. You can eventually reduce some of the ingredients, for instance some of the cheese. Butter can be also a good match. Tuna or slices of salmon are equally a good choice for the fish lovers. If you are interested in the meaty - kosher version - just eliminate all the cheese and spread some pre-cooked minced meat.
The baking takes around 20 minutes. If you want it more crunchy, you can keep it for another 5 minutes. To be served warm. It serves at least 5 hungry mouths. 

Bon Appetit!

Interior design inspiration in Berlin: Habitat Store in Potsdamer Platz

I rarely fell in love with a design store. In most cases, I am particularly looking for inspiration for various pieces of furniture, seldomly for a full room set. Unfortunately, in the case of many such stores - IKEA including - the setting is neglected for the chaotic accumulation of products. After all, the thinking might be that the customer is interested in buying not in visiting an exhibition. Habitat store in Potsdamer Platz, Berlin makes a well deserved difference in this respect.
Expanded on two storeys, the store offers everything you need for your modern house: from chairs and various office items, to full living or bedroom sets. The employees are running up and down, ready not only to convince you to buy a specific product, but knowledgeable in interior design affairs. Therefore, if you are looking for a particular advice for a dramatic challenge to your house, you will most likely find the right person here. You don't need to pay a 'consultant'.
The items are available in different colours - like the red chair that is also offered in yellow or gray or cognac, among other culours. The furniture suits the modern houses and spirit, when you want to fill a small space with as few objects as possible.
Sometimes, one single colourful item can definitely change the entire mood of the house. At Habitat you can easily bring more life into your kitchen or living room, with one single object. The products are medium to high prices, but if you make the right decisions, you can easily satisfy even the strictest budget. 
Comfort goes hand in hand with practicality and multi-functionality. This sofa from the picture can be easily made into a guest bed. For the long winter days, one can spend the working day at home there, while enjoying the full comfort without leaving the room. I am not so happy with this colour, but materials are also available. 
The store offers everything you need for your house, for bathroom decorations to colourful carpets. Don't expect Persian quality at those carpets, but at least a modern piece with a lot of colours. Don't expect elegance or high-end choices, but at least some youthfoul and friendly vibes. Sometimes it can be enough.
In addition to carpets, the pillow section is also worth an eye, for the same reason.
You can easily spend a couple of good hours strolling the various sections of the store. Leaving home with at least one item is also possible. For instance, the copper-coloured lamps are so elegant and simple. Or the leather brown sofa, perfect for a business-like house or even an office lobby.
One of the products that I definitely fell in love with is this very practical desk. It is the right investment in terms of space and comfort. You can set up your laptop with enough space left for some files or a book you are working on. It can easily be moved in different parts of the house and when not used for work, it can be an elegant decorative table or a good writing spot. 
Another interesting section richly represented at Habitat gathers beautiful photographies and paintings, many of them travel- and nature-inspired. Some can be purchased for over 200 EUR. but sometimes only this small investment can dramatically change the perspective in your room. The customer service is there to help you to choose the right one as well as to establish the details of the delivery or other technical aspects.
My visit at Habitat was a revelation. Besides the good practices in terms of customer service, I've found a couple of interesting ideas and products that would love to have in my own house. As soon I am planning a dramatic re-design of my home, this visit was more than a professional investigation, it seems. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cheese puff pastry in the morning

Germany doesn't have a tradition of salty puff pastry, and once in a while I miss having some oily pastry with rich white or yellow cheese. Although I still fight hard with what I call my 'baking inferiority complex' - meaning that I simply don't trust my baking skills, I am trying to overcome this issue. Sometimes, my hunger for something crunchy and salty in the morning is strong enough to win me over all my issue. A couple of days ago, I tried my hand in preparing some cheese puff pastry as early as 7 o'clock in the morning. It was not only easy, but with 90% successful results. The time spent preparing was of maximum 20 minutes, with a minimum money investment and delicious results.
For a batch of 10 puff pastry I needed one ready made puff pastry - the German supermarkets like REWE do have plenty of them and very good quality too, sometimes for less than 2 EUR. For the filling, I used Philadelphia olive cheese, but you can practically use any possible variant of cheese, from Gouda to Parmesan or goat cheese (yum). For beautiful effects and in the memory of the golden Middle Eastern burekas, I also needed some white sesame seeds to sprinkle on the cover. One teaspoon of olive oil for the cover is also recommended for an amplified golden cover impression.
Cut the dough in various shapes: square, triangle etc. Add the cheese filling in thee middle and roll the dough or close it over it. 
Warm the oven at 250C and place each figure of puff pastry on a parchment paper. Let it bake for around 15 minutes.
The breakfast is ready! The smell of fresh dough is wrapping the house and makes the early mornings more bearable. After all, playing with puff pastry is not that difficult.

Bon Appetit!