Monday, 29 June 2015

Arrival of the Big Green Egg and recipe for smoked mozzarella, broad bean and lovage salad

The Big Green Egg is based on the Japanese 'kamado' ceramic grill design with a vent below. As a result the BGE has incredible heat-retaining properties; a small amount of charcoal will keep it warm for hours and the vent below gives great control over the heat. The Big Green Egg feels to me rather like a BBQ equivalent of my Aga oven, which also produces moist, beautifully cooked food.

The thing itself looks like a dragon's egg; when I'm cooking on it I feel like the khaleesi of the fire tongs! This heavy-weight bit of kit is hugely popular with restaurants, it works as both a smoker and a BBQ.  
Last week I smoked a side of salmon after curing it (recipe in my book Supper Club: recipes and notes from the underground restaurant). I also smoked some mozzarella. Now, I'm not really a huge fan of smoked cheese, I find it too strong, often overpowering, but smoking milder cheeses such as mozzarella works very well.
I paired it with lovage, which grows in my garden. In Sweden you can buy lovage and many unusual herbs in supermarkets, whereas our UK supermarkets stock a very limited range of herbs. Lovage has a slight celery flavour and a pleasing bitterness that matches well with mozzarella. I then added double-podded tender grass green broad beans and finished with lemon juice and hay smoked rapeseed oil. This recipe is gorgeous.

How to smoke in a Big Green Egg

There are three types of smoking: hot smoking, tea smoking and cold smoking. To make smoked salmon for instance, you need cold smoking. This is lighting a very small fire, which doesn't heat up the food but produces enough heat to ignite wood chips and these create the smoke. One can use different kinds of wood to give different flavours of 'smoke': apple, cedar, oak, hickory, olive, to mention a few.

In order to cold smoke, in conjunction with the Big Green Egg, I used a ProQ smoker,(around £35). It is a small square wire 'maze' that you first fill with fine wood chips, then light a candle underneath to ignite the sawdust, finally extinguishing it. I've had a few problems with the ProQ, mainly that it is difficult to get it to stay alight, but I've finally worked out a few techniques. It's essential to use very, very dry, fine wood chips. Sometimes I dry out the sawdust in my Aga oven prior to using the smoker. The ProQ smoker has a tealight candle in one corner to get the sawdust smoking, though I found it necessary to light the centre of the wire 'maze' as well.
I put this on the bottom grill in the BGE and overlaid it with herbs to add even more flavour. The mozzarella took only half an hour to be smoked but a side of salmon would take at least six hours. If smoking fish when the weather is very warm or there is too much heat, you can lay the salmon on tin foil and surround it with ice cubes to bring the temperature down. (There is a temperature gauge in the BGE.)
A second technique is to light 3 or 4 BGE charcoals (you get a bag with it) and overlay the charcoals with wood chips. Make sure that the temperature doesn't rise when cold smoking. If the BGE gets too hot, you are hot smoking rather than cold smoking!

Smoked mozzarella, lovage and broad bean salad recipe

Serves 6

375g or 3 balls of mozzarella, lightly smoked in the Big Green Egg, sliced thickly

3 tbsps of olive oil, or smoked oil
1 kilo of broad beans, podded
2 handfuls of lovage, leaves picked.
Juice of half a lemon
A sprinkling of good sea salt

First, prepare your Big Green Egg and smoke the mozzarella balls by placing them on tin foil and lighting the ProQ filled with sawdust. It should only take half an hour or so. You could also smoke your chosen oil by placing a bowl of it in the BGE.

Put the broad beans into a big pan of salted boiling water. After 2 minutes, strain the broad beans and plunge into cold water.
Then carefully slip off the broad bean skins.
On a large plate, place the slices of mozzarella, the lovage leaves and the broad beans, then dress with the oil and lemon. Finally, sprinkle the sea salt. 

I'm going to be posting vegetarian and other BBQ recipes throughout the summer on my Big Green Egg. I'm in love with it! It's my new baby, albeit green and knobbly. Last week I did some corn on the cobs on the grill and they were so moist yet flavoursome. Check out more vegetarian BBQ recipes here and veggie BBQ dos and don'ts here.

Friday, 26 June 2015

More vegetarian bbq recipe ideas

red pepper grills

Summer time, weather permitting, is barbeque time. I love to cook outside over some kind of fire, it brings out the cavewoman in me. 
Barbeque is the closest to the original cooking, over a fire. As humans we are the only animals that cook; our big brains are due in part to the extra nutrients we get from foods when they are cooked. I maintain it's almost impossible to feel depressed when you are in front of a fire or a BBQ. The primeval essence of fire is life affirming, balancing, grounding.
There are certain nations that have become renowned for barbeque, often New World countries with plenty of land, grazing stock and some sort of cowboy tradition whereby cooking while you roam is a necessity. You will note that I'm spelling the word with a 'q', French-style while the Americans tend to spell it with a 'c' from the Spanish 'barbacoa', the Australians call it a 'barbie', the South Africans use the Afrikaans word 'braai'; but the Argentinians, none of whom ever travel without a grill, for there is always one slung in the boot of their cars, even taxis, as I discovered when travelling in Patagonia, call it an 'asado'.  

So often nobody has any idea of what to cook for vegetarians and over the next few months I'm going to be giving you suggestions on this blog. I also think it's very important that women bbq as well as men and in that vein, I recently gave a masterclass in vegetarian BBQ for bloggers invited to an Argos garden party near Cambridge. Here are some of my tips and rules, dos and don'ts, in this post.
This BBQ took place in gardening author Dawn Isaac's place, I was very envious of her beautiful garden, each section of it like a room in a house, with different moods and uses: a children's garden, a rose covered bower, a vegetable garden, sedum gardens planted in colanders as decoration on tables. 
For this demonstration I made corn on the cobs with compound butter; baked miso aubergines; baby peppers stuffed with halloumi and a pesto glaze and finally, for dessert, barbequed pineapple spears with lime. 
BBQ corn on the cobs with compound butters recipe

BBQ corn on the cobs with compound butters recipe

Serves 4 

4 fresh corn on the cobs (ideally) or use frozen
150g salted butter
Either maple syrup, sweet chilli sauce, lime juice and chipotle paste 

If your corn on the cob isn't very fresh or very sweet then do boil it in salted sugared (a couple of tbsp of each) water for ten minutes beforehand. This is a Caribbean BBQ trick that works very well. Kids love corn on the cob.
Compound butters are flavoured butters and couldn't be easier to make while at the same time adding a cheffy element to the dish.
I made a maple syrup, a sweet chilli, and a lime and chipotle butter. Take room temperature salted butter and spoon or mash in the flavourings that you want. For instance I added 2 tablespoons of maple syrup to 150g of softened butter, then wrapped it in cling film until ready to use. For the sweet chilli, I added 2 tbsp of sweet chilli sauce to 150g of softened butter. For the lime and chipotle, I added juice of half a lime to half a teaspoon of chipotle paste to 150g of softened butter. If you want the flavours to be stronger, simply add more.
These butters melted over the grilled corn on the cob boosts flavour. 
If you have corn on the cobs complete with husks, soak the cob in water for 30 minutes prior to grilling. This will prevent the cob from cooking too fast. It will take about 15 minutes, turning frequently.
If you have frozen or other cobs, then you can either cook them in foil or brush them with oil and cook over a less hot portion of the BBQ, you don't want the corn to burn, you want it to caramelise and become smokey with flavour. This should take about ten minutes.

Baby peppers stuffed with halloumi and a pesto glaze recipe

Baby peppers stuffed with halloumi and a pesto glaze recipe

Feeds 5 as a starter or side

10 baby peppers in red, orange, yellow, split in half lengthways and deseeded. Keep stems on.
Olive oil
Sea salt
1 pack (200g) of halloumi cheese cut into small strips
4 tbsp of pesto sauce, either fresh, home-made or jarred

One toddler at this Argos BBQ adored these, I was suddenly his new best friend as he kept coming back for more. These are sweet peppers not the spicy ones, although you could do it with fresh jalapeño peppers or padron peppers if you want a bit of kick.
Brush the peppers halves with olive oil and scatter a little sea salt.
Then press a small strip of halloumi into each half.
Drizzle with pesto.
Grill on foil over the BBQ for around 15 to 20 minutes depending on how hot the grill is. Serve immediately.
Baby aubergines, basted with miso sauce recipe
Baby aubergines, basted with miso sauce recipe

Baby aubergines, basted with miso sauce recipe

Serves 2 to 6 as a side or canapé

A pack of baby aubergines (350g is a pack of 6) cut in half, stem retained. (You can also use large aubergines)
2 tbsp of toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp of sweet white miso (but I have also used dark barley miso to good effect)
2 tbsp of rice wine or sherry
2 tbsp of mirin
2 tbsp of brown sugar
2 tbsp of sesame seeds

Criss cross with a knife the white side of the aubergine half. Brush the sesame oil on the white side.
Place the rest of the ingredients in a small pan and warm until amalgamated. This creates a sticky sweet rich sauce. Baste this on top of the aubergine halves, the white side. 
Then place the halves in foil and grill for half an hour.
Serve warm garnished with sesame seeds if you like.

Grilled pineapple spears with lime and palm sugar recipe
Grilled pineapple spears with lime and palm sugar recipe

Grilled pineapple spears with lime and palm sugar recipe

Serves 8

1 pineapple, cut lengthways into quarters then eights, keep the green top on if possible because it looks cooler that way
2 limes cut in quarters
8 tsps of palm sugar (if the sugar is hard, microwave it for a minute, it will soften, this trick works for brown sugar too)

Grill the pineapple directly on the BBQ until a little charcoaled around the edges. Then remove, squeeze over the lime and cut a shard shards of palm sugar onto each pineapple spear. Serve warm. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Swedish midsummer supper club with Linn Soderstrom

One hand-made flower and leaf crown for each guest to wear
Home made aquavit with caraway and fennel
Knackebrod with vasterbotten and kalix roe (from the Arctic circle)
Devilled eggs with skagen prawns
3 types of pickled herring: creamy, pickled, and sandalwood with bowls of sour cream, red onion and chives, boiled potatoes.
Home-smoked salmon
Home-cured salmon with tarragon and fennel from my garden
Potato salad with mustard dill sauce
Charred asparagus spears with grilled lemon and hay smoked oil
Fruit soups: blueberry and rose hip with rosewater with cinnamon bun biscotti
Strawberry, white chocolate cake with whipped cream

It can be a lonely life that of a supper club hostess and chef. You haven't got the team and camaraderie that you do in a restaurant. Most of the time it's just you: you doing the shopping and ordering, you doing all the prep, you laying the table, you cleaning the toilet before guests come so that they don't realise what a slob you are generally, you cooking all the food, every single course, you clearing the table, you doing the washing up, you putting everything away, you doing the laundry, ironing the tablecloths and napkins, you... on your own when everybody has gone home, rubbing your sore feet because you forgot to drink water, going through the evening in your head to review any mistakes, smile at successes. Just you.
This weekend was the most fun I've had in ages: I got to celebrate the Swedish midsummer meal with a Stockholm supper club hostess Linn Soderstrom. We've worked together before on the ill-fated Global Feast project in 2012 (don't ask, it was awful) and I was keen for us to do this again.
Linn has been working as a chef in restaurants since she was 19. She's only 29 now but is a veteran of kitchens. It was so cool to discuss food with a fellow obsessive, to brain storm dishes and ideas, to have a laugh with someone, to piss about in the garden making garlands for our guests while I practised my Swedish, to dress up in traditional Swedish outfits, wear clogs and play Abba.
I've just got my Big Green Egg and together Linn and I broached its virginity by smoking a side of home-cured salmon in it. I was taught how to make pickled herrings from scratch with Attika vinegar. I learnt how to culture butter. I got a few new tricks for curing fish.
I've come to the conclusion that I AM SWEDISH. My name Kerstin is Swedish. I've always fancied Swedish men. I like pickled herring. I identify as Swedish. I'm ...transwedish.
Here is the evening in pictures.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Publication day of my new book Get Started in Food Writing

Yeah you read that right, I've had three books published in the space of six months...nuts! This new book is very different from the others however. There are no recipes, there are no pictures, it's just text, 70 thousand words of it. I now know I can write a novel-length book.

What is this book about? It does what it says in the title, although it's more a 360 degree look at the food world, the myriad ways of getting into food media. Each chapter covers a different aspect: every type of food writing, including trade and consumer press, from radio and TV, to social media ranging from Instagram stars, Twitter celebrities and YouTube hotshots and a whole chapter on improving your food photography. I've created practical exercises to help you along your way and there are many interviews with people in the food media. It's a snappy, honest, view of the food media world and how to make a living in it. It has advice on writing, the history of food writing, photography, social media, with interviews with Sheila Dillon, Tim Hayward, Catherine Phipps, Katy Salter, Helen Graves of Food Stories, Marina O'Loughlin, Chris Pople of Cheese and Biscuits, the Sorted guys from

If you want to buy a copy go to this link. It will also be on sale at the Britmums conference this weekend and the Food Bloggers Connect conference in September 2015.

Don't forget the Secret Garden club supper club this Sunday, in conjunction with Swedish supper club chef Linn Soderstrom. The Saturday night has sold out but there are still tickets for the Sunday lunch.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Bohemian heatwave: a weekend in Prague

Honey wine and dark beer, U Fleku, Prague
Czech food, Prague, Sisky s Makem, Pretzel and potato dumplings, goulash and dumplings, cheese and meat plate,
Architecture in prague
'It's never like this,' said my driver from the station when I arrive at Prague train station. 'It's 33 degrees today. Normally, at this time of year, it is maybe 17ºC. Never this.'
I am hollowed out with sweat, the salt running into my eyes, stinging. I've just endured a five hour train ride from Gorlitz, changing four times because of work on the line. The last train from Dresden was 35 minutes late and had no air conditioning. Friday afternoon, everybody was going to Prague, it's a regular weekend jaunt from Berlin and Dresden. There were no seats and I'd resigned myself to standing in the air-less carriage corridor where you couldn't open windows when I spied that one of the compartments was filled by three young girls with their legs stretched out and, in the seats opposite them, their three large backpacks. I knew what was up.
I opened the door and said in English, 'C'mon, you cannot be serious'.
The girl in the first seat bristled and reluctantly moved her bag, complaining: 'Why you so unfriendly? No need to be unfriendly.'
My temper flared. 'Yes, I do need to be unfriendly. There are hundreds of people without seats on this train and you are hogging this carriage?'
'We were saving them for our friends who went to get coffee.'
'Where are your friends then?' I was in no mood for diplomacy. 'Liars!' These mystery friends do not turn up for the whole train journey. 
She snorted, 'unfriendly!', as if she was in the right and I was being unreasonable.
I muttered that if I smashed her face in, that would be me being unfriendly all right, which she understood despite the colloquialism. These three women were all younger and bigger than me but I was so furious that in that moment I felt I could take all three on. As I sat down in the minuscule space they had made for me, their bags still on the seats, I remembered my first physical fight which was also against a German girl. We were on holiday in Ireland, on a horse-drawn caravan trip. Every night we stayed somewhere different, at a farm, or at a beach. That day, in the sea, this girl was threatening my younger brother and I. So I whacked her. I was eight and she was ten and blonde and about two feet taller than me. After looking momentarily stunned that I should even attempt to do this, her face softened and she wanted to be friends. I felt exhilarated. It taught me a life-long lesson: if you are small and easily underestimated, if you take the initiative, people, even much bigger, more powerful people, back down. People don't like to fight.

I've never really been to Eastern Europe before, unless you count my bus trip to Belgrade with an activist samba band where I saw nothing of the country, just played drums, wore pink, cooked vegan food for trade unionists and anarchists and participated in protest marches.

The driver drives me to the family run Golden Horse guesthouse, high up on a hill, next to Prague castle. I am lodged in a garret four floors up, a loft room with beams and tiny windows in the roof letting in the barest breath of warm stale air. I set out immediately, passing tall Farrow & Ball paint colour houses called The Green Lobster, The Golden Wheel, The Golden Lobster, The White Lion, The Red Lion and, towards the bottom, 'Thai massage for 9 euros' signs, for the 14th century Charles Bridge. As I approach the archway to the bridge, the walk slows to a sticky crawl: there are thousands of milling tourists, some of them on segways which are two-wheeled motorised vehicles. Musicians of different genres line the bridge, hats out for donations. A string quartet incongruously play 'I love rock n roll'. One beggar is crouched forward, face unseen, head covered with his hoodie, his forehead touching the pavement, arms stretched out, palms upwards. He looked young. When I returned by that way four hours later he was still in the same position, a Slavic sadhu.
Prague bridges
The bridge is crested with sooty statues looking down sadly at the multitude. Below some of the figures an area of shiny brass is revealed, cleaned by the touch of multiple hands hoping for good luck, granted wishes, blessings or fertility, I'm not sure. I shoulder my way through the press to the Old Town Square, where a throng stand under the clock, phones, selfie sticks, iPads and tablets held aloft, like some weird tourist protest. They are waiting for the world's oldest working astronomical clock to wheel out a mechanism of whirling apostles and a skeletal figure of Death. Nobody sees anything just with their eyes anymore. Everything must be documented or it didn't happen; we aren't here and we don't exist, except in virtual reality. But angels and cherubs are everywhere in Prague, leaning over doorways, on parapets, stretching out from buildings, beckoning.
Lokal restaurant Prague, Fried cheese schnitzel

I visit a typical Czech restaurant 'Lokal' where I am given the choice of three types of Pilsner lager: a slice, a half and half, or a creme. The first has a large head of foam, the second is fifty/fifty foam and beer, the 'creme' is almost entirely foam.
'People order this? A pint of foam?' I query.
'Mostly it is their last drink before they go home. Czechs like foam,' explains the waitress. 
I also order fried cheese in breadcrumbs, cheese 'schnitzel'; potato salad and a cucumber salad with sour cream and dill. Most Czech food is meat based; duck is a particular favourite. I have nonetheless spotted many vegan restaurants on the streets. The fried cheese is bland and so heavy you can't eat more than one or two bites, the potato salad is flavourless, the sour cream salad is watery. There is no salt or taste to anything. The beer is good though. Afterwards the trudge back uphill to my hotel is weary.

Saturday. The weather is even hotter. I'm exhausted before I even leave the hotel. I spend my time trying to keep to the shade, hopping from one patch to another. I make for the river where I judge that thick humid air may be more bearable. People are letting off hoses in the street, complete strangers are standing underneath the showers of water. This is the kind of heat where you can't function. I can handle dry heat but these humidity levels are 47% according to my iPhone. It's not the weather you want to sight-see a city in.
I can't be bothered to eat. I'm living on cold Pilsner, in any case beer is cheaper than water. I find a waterside jazz bar where I meet a kiwi lady that has been living there for six years. I want to eat Czech food I say. She mouths 'the food is awful'. Later I say I think Czech people seem friendly. She mouths again 'they are not nice'. But she likes living in Prague, it is beautiful, green and safe. Very young children walk to school by themselves, there is a sense of community.
U Fleku microbrewery, prague

I summon up the strength to walk on to Pragues' oldest micro-brewery U Fleku where they serve trays of pint glasses of mahogany beer in dark panelled rooms. An accordionist plays and one table, knowing the songs, starts to sing. I also try honeywine, which is delicious. I have two glasses of that. I'm sitting on my own, swaying slightly, in a medieval bar, fanning myself next to a stained glass window. After a while I leave, going to the toilet first.
As I exit my loo the cleaner starts to yell at me, making a sign that I have banged the door too hard. 'That's your tip gone love,' I say. She doesn't stop shouting and gesticulating at me. It's really a bit much.
I go outside and tell the barman that the toilet attendant is very rude.
'She thinks you are not a customer just someone from the street. This is why.'
'But I am, I mean I have been.'
'Yes I know. But this is why she shouts.'
'Your toilet attendant is crazy, you should sack her. She should not be abusing customers.'
'Yes. Thank you for telling me. I will talk to her.'
The heat. It's making me even more bad tempered than usual.
I cross back over the river, enduring the scorching temperatures. I wipe my face with my cotton dress. The pavement burns my feet through the fine leather soles of my pumps. There is no wind. I can walk about 200 metres maximum before I have to rest. I stop at the Savoy Café, a high ceiling restored place from the belle époque, encrusted with crystal chandeliers. I have a cloudberry lemonade and a slice of apple strudel. The strudel has cinnamon and currants. It's ok, but not great. I can make better. This is the problem with me and places to eat: I always think, 'I can make it better'. Then I make another attempt at Czech food, this time in a recommended restaurant called Kolkovna Olympia. Almost every dish is meaty so I order side dishes of potato dumplings and a fresh pretzel and another pint of beer. The potato dumplings are solid, without flavour of any description: I begin to wonder... is salt illegal in Prague? The pretzel is good, studded with caraway seeds. But I start to give up on Czech food.
I walk to the large park and see a funicular railway. I don't want to walk back up the steep hill so I figure that if I go to a point higher than my hotel then walk down to it, it'll be a better option. I keep trying to buy a ticket with the only change I have, a 50 kroner piece (about £1.50p), it won't work and I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. Eventually, as there is no help and apparently nobody in the station, I duck under the barrier and walk towards the lift. Somebody starts yelling at me in a military fashion. I turn around and a Soviet era style stout woman in a uniform is looking very angry. She works in the station but was in a hidden booth. By this time there is a huge crowd of tourists clutching tickets. I do the walk of shame back through the barrier while holding up my 50 kroner. I try to explain that I wanted to buy a ticket but the machine didn't work. A German sounding tourist declares that this isn't true, that the machines do work, pointing to another machine I haven't noticed. I feel like I'm about to be lynched.
I take my 50 kroner piece to the other machine. It still doesn't work. I march up to the German sounding tourist and say, 'Excuse me, you have said this machine works. But it doesn't. So can you explain that? You've all treated me as if I'm some sort of criminal.' 'The machines don't take 50 kroner pieces,' she asserts, as if I should know that. Her husband gives me change. I get a ticket, I confront the guard saying 'Smile! Tourists! Money!'.
My plan for avoiding the hill works but first I have to walk a couple of kilometres across the large park, through the winding paths, through the black trees, the clouds of gnats, the fireflies, the dogs, the darkness. But Prague feels safe.

Sunday. I laze about reading chicklit, I'm momentarily exhausted from being an adventurer. I know I'm supposed to be exploring the Jewish quarter and reading Kafka, maybe visiting the Art Nouveau museum celebrating the art of Mucha.  But I can't be arsed, I want to read the latest shopaholic adventure by Sophie Kinsella.
Later, when I've finished the novel, I wander about the castle and St Vitus cathedral, which are nearby, noting that the stained glass windows are new. A Chinese bride is wearing a dress with a long white veil. Her photographer wants a picture with the veil floating in the air, but the wind blows it across her face. I offer to help. I'm then co-opted into the wedding pictures! They have a spare veil and I get to try it on.
Further on I see the toy museum, which has an exhibition, '50 years of Barbie'. I pay to go in. Barbie is German. She started out as 'Lilli', a cartoon in a German newspaper then made into a doll for adults or teenagers. With her pointy breasts, tiny waist and long legs with feet permanently in a high heeled position, this doll was never intended for children. Barbie had a flat-footed younger sister and an ugly friend who could wear the same size clothes but would never get the boy. The 1952 Barbie has Dioresque New style dresses, and a 21 piece wardrobe in which at least half of the outfits are transparent negligées. Barbie becomes Swinging Barbie in the 60s with geometric bright minidresses and white plastic booties, then punk barbie with matted twisted hair, then disco Barbie and 80s Barbie, all Dynasty shoulder pads and shiny materials. I note the 90s Barbies that my daughter had, the clothes are a little bit rave culture, spandex, day-glo and tie dye. I see famous Barbies like Cher, Flash Dance, the Spice Girls, Princess Diana. Although Barbies are made in all races with different coloured hair, the most sold is the blonde blue-eyed Barbie.
That evening I go to the friendly restaurant U Zavesenyho Kafe next door to the hotel, I eat potato gnocchi with butter plus a thick black layer of poppy seeds sprinkled with icing sugar. 'This is what we feed children,' says the owner. 'The poppy seeds help them to sleep". It's the most delicious thing I've eaten in Prague.
Trdelnik, prague
Things to know about Prague:
Tartar(e) sauce is not actually made by Tartars (Tatars). It was just a posh exotic sounding name that was made up by chefs in the 19th century. However many dishes are accompanied by tartar sauce.
Trdelnik are like pastry 'tunnels', sometimes filled with cream. They are grilled, a bit like damper bread on sticks, over charcoal fires. I had one dusted with cinnamon and sugar, these are good.
Never get a taxi on the street, they will rip you off.
Go in winter, probably January or February. Too many tourists otherwise. 'Every year there are more tourists,' said the guy at my hotel. The crowding is quite unbearable.
Try not to go at the weekends.
With the best will in the world it's not a foodie city but beer geeks will be happy.
If you are on a budget, the breakfasts are large: make a couple of sandwiches from cheese or ham for lunch.
Apple strudel, Prague, Savoy cafe,

Friday, 12 June 2015

Gorlitz 'Gorliwood', a historic town in Germany

The 1920s department store used in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Every year an anonymous benefactor donates half a million Euros to refurbish the medieval town of Gorlitz, one of the most preserved historical towns in Germany. I came here looking for the buildings depicted in films like The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Reader and The Book Thief. The inside of the Grand Budapest Hotel was based on the 1920s Department store in the middle of town, which is at present closed but may open next year. Gorlitz has become the go to 'set' for films that want to recreate pre-war Germany and Eastern Europe.
The streets are cobbled, the golden doorways are wide, buildings have plaster decorations on the outside, or murals of astrological signs, or wrought iron balconies. Gorlitz still has three medieval towers, the clocks chime every half hour, you barely hear traffic. The town, the eastern-most in Germany (the former Eastern Germany) managed to escape the destruction of world war two.

From here, if you do get weary of discovering architectural gems around every corner, you can cross the river into Poland where you pay in Zlotys not euros. (Did you know that Poland doesn't have the euro? I didn't). For this you do not even need a passport although of course in mainland Europe, legally one should always carry photo ID unlike in Britain. I skipped over to Poland a couple of times that day!

I stayed at the Hotel Borse, actually their guesthouse opposite, in a single room with a wooden boat bed, overlooking the square. This is where the cast and crew of The Grand Budapest Hotel stayed during filming.
Gorlitz is pleasant and peaceful, with several woodland and green areas, especially when the weather is warm as in June. I'd also return for the Christmas market, for Gorlitz in the snow must be picturesque.
I ate in a courtyard restaurant last night, a smallish potato gratin: food as everywhere in Germany is usually generously portioned but on the heavy side. I drank a couple of glasses of Gerwurtraminer white wine, a yellow syrup of resiny alcohol. Afterwards I passed a nightwatchman carrying a black scythe, giving a dusky tour of the town as the gas lamps flickered into life. Gorlitz is very much geared, at present, to the German tourist; English language tours only occur on Mondays and Thursdays at the time of writing which is a pity. Check with the town's tourist bureau for up to date details, they speak English and are very helpful.
Gorlitz is the central point for Central European Time, the 15th meridian so 42 countries base themselves on Gorlitz time!
I recommend visiting this beautiful town, I think it's perfect for a long weekend. You can get cheap flights to Dresden from Stansted for around 60 euros.
A grand Train station for a small town