The Little French English Improvement Project

little french person trying to improve her english, little french english person trying to improve herself, french english person trying to improve a little bit… and blogging along the way. (Now in Deutschland)

Posts Tagged ‘england’

Very late breakfast: unexpected comfort food for expats in Berlin

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 7, 2011

Should I really  apologize again for my unpredictable, more than patchy writing habits? I think not, time is scant enough as it is and my bed is beckoning dangerously so let’s get to the point! I spent the weekend in Berlin, and it was pretty good.

You might be aware -or not- that I have been in Deutschland this past month and a half and the fact is: since my arrival, I hadn’t once stepped outside Regensburg (lovely little university town – I’ll come back to it some other time). So when Sven and Paul suggested a trip up to the capital, I jumped out of reason’s range, into the back of the car and we sped along northwards on the motorway, leaving all homework, academic and administrative bothers behind. This weekend was NOT going to be museum orientated: we set out to be unreasonable and  enjoy youth while we still have it; party much, drink a reasonable amount (my mam might read this blog so I’l leave it to everyone’s imagination) and sleep very little.

So at some point around 2pm on Saturday as we were walking along in the parks around Kreuzberg drinking takeaway coffee and gently emerging from our stupor, we realised we were going to need breakfast. And we went to THIS place:

We had walked past that shop the night before on the way to a party and it looked cool, a nice sort of whacky modern vintage look with big chunky furniture and many lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, and of course classic display racks and glass shelves covered in carrot cakes and scones and muffins. As an official half-expat it was pretty obvious I would have to go there at some point.

I was a little anxious at first, and with good reason: my experiences of british food abroad have been very mixed. Soggy chips, half-defrosted fish and wobbly set gravy. Some people do seem determined to confirm everyone’s deep-seated prejudice that british food is crap. Well this time I was pleasantly surprised. Particularly as far as the tea was concerned.

Tea preparation and serving policy varies much from one establishment to the next I have noticed, and this cuppa was very much in keeping with the contrasted stylish/funky atmosphere of  “East London- God Save Brit Food”. It came in one massive thick mug, and with all the elaborate paraphernalia one might expect from a specialist coffee/tea shop. Now I’m not normally one for over-complicated pedantic tea ceremonial. Like anyone else I just shake a teabag around in a mug of boiling water until the desired colouring has been achieved and then add milk. However for once I decided to obey the 5min indication on the timer and it was worth the wait. I drink about 1,5Liters of tea every day, and since I have come to Germany all I’ve had to quench my thirst was, well… german tea (ie: not English). But this time was something else. Possibly the best cuppa I have ever had. EVER. I was heaving a sigh of pleasure with each sip. Does anyone out there know what brand of tea they serve in that place, I didn’t even think to ask.

Anyway, that was for the tea. The food was good. I know this is a bit of a contrast with the lyrical description of a humble cup of tea but it was scrambled eggs on toast, so how much can I say? I could I suppose write an ode to comfort food but it’s getting late. Scrambled eggs is not exactly a good choice if one wants to write a restaurant review, but that wasn’t the point. It was comfort food, it was obviously freshly made, tasted good and was just what I needed. It went perfectly well with the cup of tea and I felt at home for a while, except I was speaking German all the way through.

What else can I say about the place… The staff are very friendly and all native English-speakers! If I remember rightly the cooks were English, and the waiters Australian and Irish. We were waited on by ozzy Annabelle, who smiles a lot and fits in perfectly with the surroundings: friendly bubbly and just a little bit odd (and I mean that as a compliment). She even posed with a scone for me, how much more helpful can you get?

So my verdict: I will definitely go again next time I’m in Berlin, if only a cup of tea and a scone and to enjoy the atmosphere.

And I know it’s a veeery long shot, but if the young man who was sitting at the table opposite us should ever happen on this blog, I really feel I should have come over and said hello that day (Saturday 5th of November) ; please get in touch?

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Ah the spirits of christmases past…

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on December 27, 2010

I know I keep saying I need to write more regularly, and every time my messages and my apologies stretch out over longer periods of time.And yet, every day I find reasons to write, lovely inspirational moments like last week as I lay underneath the Christmas tree, peering at the twinkling lights through the branches. I had a sort of epiphany, remembering moments, glimpses from my childhood. Since then I have been visited daily by the ghosts of Christmases past.

On Monday Mam and I were in the kitchen cooking… something (so much gets cooked and baked over the X-mas hols, I just lose track), and listening to BBC radio 4, as we often do since Mam borrowed Dad’s chequebook for her birthday and bought an internet radio. And on the radio that day, it was Women’s hour Christmas tradition call-in. People from all over the UK were calling with their anecdotes and family customs. Stuff that had been around their families for generations, or habits they’d started a couple of years back. From ancient traditions from Denmark, to truly modern british oddities involving motorbikes…  It just reminded me of all the things we used to do when we were small.

Christmas was such a big affair! I will not discuss here the long weeks of secret plotting it took my Mam to let our aunts know what presents we might like, complicated toy names she had to spell backwards in foreign languages over the telephone to make sure we didn’t know what she was going on about. I mean, that certainly was fascinating in its own right. But there was so much more to come. First of all, we had to travel to Christmas land. A long two-day car journey from the middle of France to Newcastle in the North of England, with three kids in the back, can you imagine it? And the evening before we left, when all our things had somehow been squeezed into the boot and under the car seats, my gran would invariably turn up with a massive crate full of “presents” for the family in England. A bottle of my grandad’s home-made walnut oil, boxes of french biscuits, freezer bags full of broad beans and various other  home-grown produce… All of which of course was rather voluminous, weighed a ton, ahappened every year, even when we started travelling by plane.  To this day I don’t think we ever told grandma about the stuff we just could not take with us.

And then it was two days of I-spy, unhealthy snacks, are we there yets, and  audiobooks.  We also had a small suitcase in plastic faux-leather which held a wealth of musical audio-cassettes. Each year there would be a different selection, my parents had very eclectic taste, but we kids would just pick the amusing and cool-sounding titles, not necessarily knowing what was on them… I think that ended with our primary school teacher asking mam why my little sister was humming chansons paillardes in school… So that lasted two days or so.

And then we got to my Grandma Thompson’s house in Jarrow, near Newcastle. I loved that house. There were so many little things different from home, so many details. And so many people. Since we only went to England once or twice a year, the world and his wife turned up for a visit, along with their second cousin thrice removed. And when we got to 8, Greenbank Villas, we had a quick and delicious dinner of Stottie-cake and bacon sandwiches and we children were sent upstairs to bed while the grown-ups retreated to the living room with a glass of wine or something to fill the room with presents. I think. Looking back, we were very good about that actually. Maybe we didn’t go to sleep immediately, but we never peeked. The threat of the omniscient Father Christmas stopped us from tiptoeing down the red-carpeted stairs, or even leaning over the landing railings. It kept us safely inside our room where we skipped from bed to chair to bed, to table, to windowsill never touching the floor so it wouldn’t creak and no-on would suspect we were awake. We would listen at the door for people walking up the stairs or talking in the corridor, and watch the metro trains rushing past the back garden out of the window. I don’t remember ever deliberately going to sleep.

Somehow on Christmas morning I would find myself waking up in bed. But mam always told us not to come downstairs too early, because we’d have to wait for everyone to wake up anyway. We’d also received instructions not to wake one another either, so I’d turn over as slowly and as quietly as possible to see if either Géraud or Lucile were awake. If one of them was, we might sign to each other, mouth “Merry Christmas”,  or whisper and giggle. If not, well I could just daydream; I was very good at it at the time. But come on, how long can you expect children to stay quietly in bed on Christmas morning? I can’t quite remember what made us come out of the room at last. It was so long ago. I think our whispers and giggles and the unavoidable running around would probably end up waking mam and dad in the room next door. Mam would lead us to the kitchen for breakfast. We would eye the determinedly shut sitting room door as we walked past it, trying to guess what lay inside, but we knew we weren’t allowed in before every single person in the house was up and had had breakfast! To keep us busy, we would be allowed to open our christmas stocking. In our family by the way, we use proper socks. None of those massive things no-one could ever wear on their foot and that can fit massive toys. The biggest thing we had in our stocking was a tangerine. And there was a pound, and chocolate money, and usually a novelty soap, and Starburst, and a pencil.

And then, finally, we were allowed into the living room. The tree was in the bay window-area, and the rest of the bay window was piled with presents. There were so many of them. Many of which weren’t to be opened by us and would lie there for days and days, but they were there all the same and helped making the moment, the room even more magical.

There are many other things we used to do, but it’s twenty minutes past midnight, and I want to go to bed with  the image of this amazing christmas tree at the front of my mind. I’ll tell you about the carols, the fenwicks windows, the mass, the shopping, the cousins, the ham and stuffing,… another time.

I hope you are, like me, still basking in the afterglow of a wonderful Christmas. Good night.

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