The Look for Less: The Furry Clutch

October 24, 2014

The Look for Less: The Furry Clutch

What is it about this turn of the weather that is making me crave all things soft and fuzzy: scarves, jackets, even accessories? Perhaps it has been my rather trying year, having me seek out comforting things. Or maybe it's just the perpetual chill in my bones that make me want, nay, need, to stay warm. Either way, my tactile awareness is at an all-time high.

Lucky for me, faux fur is having a major moment.

Enter: The furry clutch.

It's like the grown woman's equivalent to a teddy bear. It's soft. It's comforting. Best of all, it's meant to be coddled and clutched, just like you know you want to. The more serious fashionistas out there may insist on the monster-face bag, à la Fendi (sorry bargain shoppers, the Zara knock-off is already sold out), but I'm one for a dash of subtlety with my trendy pieces. These single-color versions - from the natural to the outspoken brights - are high on my list for the season. After all, don't we all deserve something warm and fuzzy to make us feel all warm and fuzzy?

10th Berlin Festival of Lights

October 16, 2014

10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral Fernsehturm TV tower pink flower illumination

Having arrived in Germany just in time for the 200th Oktoberfest in Munich, we serendipitously arrived in Berlin for the 10th anniversary of the Festival of Lights. Years back, when Berlin Instagrammers I had started following posted photos of this magical event, I knew it was one for the bucket list. Lucky for me, we now live in this wonderful city and can look forward to this every year.

With my husband away on business and our own romantic stroll through the illuminated city postponed unit next year, I grabbed my new-to-Berlin friend and we headed out to our first light festival experience together. The Berliner Dom (cathedral) was high on both our lists, with its ornate old-European architecture, so we started there. Walking around from the back, we were greeted by stunning lights projected from across the Lustgarten, perfectly backlit by moody, cloud-covered skies, the impact surpassing any photos I had seen. Each new illumination seemed even better than the last, making it hard to tear ourselves away and continue on our tour of lights.

The evening was perfect autumn weather, mild and surprisingly dry, making the stroll down Unter den Linden a very pleasant one. One bike taxi saw my DSLR and heard our English, nearly insisting we get a ride to Brandenburger Tor, as it was 'very far away'. We chuckled at being mistaken for tourists that didn't realize it was only a 20-30 minute leisurely walk down one of the main drags of the city, with more illuminations along the way to see. While we talked about how much we loved our new city - mine for not-yet-a-year and hers for only a week - we took photos and reveled in the fact that neither of us felt ill-at-ease being two women out near midnight in a major European capital. Germany has been good to us, Berlin especially so, and that night was just another reason why we had fallen so hard for this new home of ours.

While I barely made a dent in experiencing the long list of illuminations around the city, it felt like a right of passage to take part in one of Berlin's amazing traditions as an actual Berliner (ahem, Berlinerin). I may venture out again to see more of the festival, running through the end of this weekend, as I am greedy to take in more of this enchanting show. I would highly recommend you do the same if you are in Berlin. Like Christmas and New Year's, it is a year-long anticipation well-worth the wait.

10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral love amore words illumination up-close 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral pink yellow geometric illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral green tiles illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral graphic illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral illumination projection at Lustgarten 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral girl painting illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Berliner Dom cathedral geometric illumination reflection on fountain 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Humboldt-Universität floral and water nature illuminations 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Humboldt-Universität waterfall illumination through iron fence 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Humboldt-Universität Juristische Fakultät
10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Station Microsoft Berlin fire illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Station Microsoft Berlin numbers illumination
10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Station Microsoft Berlin front numbers illumination 10th Berlin Festival of Lights _Brandenburg Gate Brandenburger Tor crowd illumination

Berlin Festival of Lights, every Octber
see map for illuminations around the city

Exploring Berlin-Steglitz + A Momentous Anniversary

October 14, 2014

Berlin Steglitz Bierpinsel from underneath

Five years. Half a decade. That's how long my husband and I have been married, as of today. It's kind of crazy to think about five whole years, but even more so what has happened during that time. We moved to Germany (mere months after saying our 'I dos' in Central Park), explored German wine regions we never knew even existed, took countless road trips through Europe, made the move to Berlin, all the while, unknowingly dealing with the fall-out of my health struggles.

I'll just come out and say it: Things have been tough for me for the last several years. My husband was by my bedside in the hospital and literally caught me when I fell after fainting at my first round of iron infusions, but more importantly, he did his best with me in the years prior to my diagnosis, when I struggled so much with knowing something was wrong, but never able to put a finger on it. With more sickness than health, I'm just glad he took those vows to heart.

Tucked between those valleys of lows through the years have been incredible highs. We've established a life - not just an indulgent extended stay, as I think many of our friends and family expected, or maybe hoped - in a new country. We've seen amazing things like the bone church in Czech Republic and towering German castles, an abandoned amusement park and teetering Italian coastal villages. We went to the 200th Oktoberfest. We attended a French wedding on the couple's own vineyard in Bordeaux. Having not yet been in Berlin even a year, we still have much to explore and learn about our new adopted home.

And so, as I spend our special day here in Berlin while my husband is half a world away in California for work, my thoughts are on the recent few weeks off he had in which we played tourist in our still-new city, just wandering around. Day-to-day things here like U-bahn stations and street art and the significance of a beautiful sunny day are still noteworthy and satisfying, a feeling I hope does not soon fade. Because as I inch closer to my healthy self and we embark on our sixth year as partners in life, I am so optimistic for what's to come.

To my husband: I thank you for being there, in the good times and the bad, for showing me things I never thought I'd see and visiting places I'd only dreamed of. Thank you for sticking by me at my worst, and reveling in the good times together. Thank you for holding my hand through my fear of heights and my fear of needles. Thank you for accepting me as I've changed - my interests, my wants in life, my many hair colors. Just, thank you. I love you.

Berlin Steglitz Bierpinsel colourful back exterior
Berlin Steglitz Bierpinsel tower Berlin Steglitz Bierpinsel graffiti bear art
Berlin Steglitz Bierpinsel graffiti wall and Kate profile Berlin Steglitz Bierpinsel graffiti stairs and Russ Berlin Steglitz Bierpinsel stairs bear graffiti street art Berlin Steglitz paint dripping stairs to Bierpinsel tower Berlin Schlossstrasse ubahn station stairs underground graffiti

Oh yeah, that weird tower? It's the Bierpinsel ('beer brush'), a former restaurant and nightclub that's been shut down since 2006. There's talk of reopening it, with much criticism for the plans to repaint the colorful exterior, which was done in 2010 by several graffiti artists.

Currently Coveting: Nike Blazer Mid Premium Burgundy Leather

October 10, 2014

Nike women's Blazer mid premium leather in burgundy_ image via 43einhalb

Still pining away for the classic white and red Blazers, as well as the more sporty black Lunar Flyknits, I couldn't help but add another shoe to my current footwear wish list when I came across these babies. Shiny, sleek and modern, these sneakers keep it simple and timeless - just the way I like it - with the classic Blazer styling and deep, rich color, so perfect for fall.

A subtle shoe amidst of-the-moment in-your-face neon, I could see living in these cool, urban trainers for the next few seasons.

Mr. Susan F'in Good Hidden Chefs Series at Stadt Land Food Fest

October 7, 2014

Mr Susan F'in Good Hidden Chef dinner for Stadt Land Food fest_ Korean fried chicken over cucumber salad with menu

'You Won!' was the subject line. I'd almost forgot that I'd entered Stil in Berlin's giveaway for the Mr. Susan dinner in the Hidden Chefs series, part of the Stadt Land Food festival, when I received the email saying I was the proud owner two seats for a six-course Korean/German/American extravaganza that Sunday night. My mind could barely comprehend how lucky I was and then I realized.... oh shit. My celiac is going to ruin this for me. I looked back at the menu and saw words that trigger my fears when even considering eating out. Damn gluten sneaks its way into more than one would think.

So I frantically messaged them - Mr. Susan is the duo of Susan Choi and Stefan Andres - cringing as I typed the kind of inquiry I used to scoff at when I overheard people being 'difficult' in restaurants before. They quickly responded with just a couple of courses that I would likely have problems with, and I spent the next couple of days debating pawning my ticket on a friend, so that someone could enjoy every last bite that I would not be able to. In the end though, I decided to make a go of it and boy, am I glad I did.

Getting there at 8p.m. on the nose, we were the last to arrive and were seated at the bar, with a prime view of all the magic happening in the kitchen - a place I love to be seated in a nice restaurant. We were quickly caught up with cocktails from the charming Italian boys of Nudo, the restaurant hosting the event, and the jars of fermented veggies our table mates slid over for us to enjoy. After digging into some pickled beets, kimchi that left the perfect burn on my lips and a round chewy veg neither of us could identify, I started to remember how much I always enjoyed Mr. Susan's burgers (pre-celiac diagnosis) at Burgers & Hip-Hop and their regular offerings at Street Food Thursday and my mind eased a bit more.

Mr Susan F'in Good Hidden Chef dinner for Stadt Land Food fest_ oysters with KimChi relish and candied bacon Mr Susan F'in Good Hidden Chef dinner for Stadt Land Food fest_ beef heart and foie gras tartare with capers

The next two courses, the ones that looked to be the only two 'main' dishes I would be able to enjoy, honestly scared me just a little bit. Now, I've become quite the adventurous eater from the super picky child I was growing up. I've enjoyed sweetbreads at a wedding in France, cow tongue at the most expensive meal I've ever eaten in Prague and baby goat cheeks my brother-in-law prepared during his time as a sous-chef back in San Francisco. In all these years of travel and eating, somehow I'd never tried oysters (which I believe had more to do with my mom recounting her first unsavory experience with them than my aversion to all things seafood) and I steered away from organs after realizing that liver was never a flavor I was keen on, no matter the preparation. But I was completely surprised by both courses.

The oysters, one with just a fresh squeeze of lemon, the other with a dash of kimchi relish, were fresh and tasted of the sea, not the skunky aquarium taste I feared ever since I first tried sushi. Diving into the beef heart and foie gras tartare, I admit I was fighting the urge to be put off by eating, you know, heart - and eating it raw. Pushing aside any Indiana Jones-esque visions of animal sacrifice, I tentatively tried a bite. The flavorful meat mixed with the capers, fresh lemon zest and delicate garnish came together in the most unexpected and delicious way. Enjoying a bite on the hand-cut crisps it was served with provided a nice crunch in an otherwise soft and rich course. Surprising myself with how quickly I cleaned my plate, I couldn't help but think this should help my iron deficiency tremendously. Take that, anemia.

Mr Susan F'in Good Hidden Chef dinner for Stadt Land Food fest_ the chefs at work in the kitchen

Susan was very kind to work with me on the next two courses, as they were both made with wheat-containing soy sauce. Absolutely devastated I couldn't enjoy their fried chicken - one of my all-time favorite foods - I nearly forgot about meat when a huge pile of cucumber salad with roasted cashews was placed in front of me and I happily crunched away on the vinegary, spiced veggies. Then I made the mistake of asking to just smell my husband's chicken leg and I almost cried. It smelled like heaven and he confirmed it tasted as such. The oxtail stew course arrived for everyone else, with Susan presenting me with my very own bowl of the Korean rice cakes (chunks of a thick, gummy rice noodle of sorts) that were served with the stew, sautéed up with their amazing kimchi. Once again, I was so touched by the compassion for my eating restrictions and enjoying my special-made bowl of goodness, I barely even looked over at my husband until he was spooning up the last of his oxtail stew, eyes wide and nodding vigorously. It had seemed we'd both made out very well.

Mr Susan F'in Good Hidden Chef dinner for Stadt Land Food fest_ cucumber salad Mr Susan F'in Good Hidden Chef dinner for Stadt Land Food fest_ Korean rice cakes and KimChi

Anyone who knows me won't be surprised to hear me say that even after all these amazing courses, dessert was definitely my favorite. A float of olive oil ice cream suspended in a concoction of a thick raspberry vinegar, pisco and sparking water was the ultimate grown-up version of a childhood dessert. Perhaps taking pity on all that I could not eat, Susan offered me even more ice cream, which I greedily agreed to despite the status of my surprisingly full belly. I am not one who can say no to more dessert. Ever.

Mr Susan F'in Good Hidden Chef dinner for Stadt Land Food fest_ raspberry vinegar and olive oil ice cream float

We left Nudo positively stuffed and just in awe of how much the evening's meal blew us away. I mean, we expected good things, but these were great things. Before you despair, dear reader, that you did not get to enjoy this decadence, let me offer some words of hope: they are working to open a whole restaurant of their very own. While they are taking their time seeking out just the right spot, have patience, because I can guarantee if the results are anything like this special meal, it will be well worth the wait.

You can find Mr. Susan regularly at Street Food Thursday at Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg. Online, stay up-to-date by following them on Facebook and see their photos on Instagram and Tumblr.

Top 10 German Apotheke Beauty Products

October 1, 2014

Top 10 German Apotheke Beauty Buys

Furthering my continued research on beauty products in Germany, I'm here to tell you about what I love from the German Apotheke, or pharmacy. Pharmacies in Europe are not at all what you think of if hailing from the US of A. Sure, there are prescription drugs and pharmacists ready to answer questions and provide you with over-the-counter meds that will barely make a dent in your symptoms (oh, Sudafed, how my sinuses miss you during allergy season...), but it's the swanky (mostly French) beauty products that make the Apotheke an actual shopping destination. Brands that were mostly relegated to high-end department stores in America can be had at any corner pharmacy - and here in Germany, they literally are on almost every corner - at a much more palatable price.

But with all these amazing choices, where does one start, you might ask. Well, that's where I come in. Having a penchant for beauty products, not to mention being here for several years, I've spent some time seeking out the best. So whether you are a new expat in Europe looking to replace that face wash you loved for years or are just here on holiday and want a special little beauty treat to add to your arsenal back home, this list is for you. Of course, everyone's skin and hair needs are different, but these are the things I've found to work brilliantly for me.

Vichy Pureté Thermale Sanft schäumende Waschcreme | This creamy, moisturising face wash is super gentle and feels great going on. Even better, it lasts forever as only a teeny bit is needed for each use. I keep mine in the shower for washing my face in the steam.

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo-Nettoyant/Reinigungsfluid | My go-to face wash, I've been using this since before I even moved to Germany. I love how gentle it is for my sensitive skin, as well as how my face doesn't feel stripped by washing with water.

Avène Lotion doucer | I began my face-washing routine in the early nineties, era of the stinging alcohol toner. Why on earth did we do that to our skin?! For that reason, I hadn't used a toner since - until I discovered this. Feeling like I needed a little extra clean and a bit more moisture after my face wash, I decided to give this a try. I've never looked back. It makes my skin feel clean (not stripped), moisturized and smelling like French perfection.

La Roche-Posay Hydraphase UV Intense Legere | I have been adamant about moisturizer with sunscreen since I was 15 years old, after losing several friends and family members to various cancers and the days when melanoma news was at its peak. The incessant teasing of my paleness in high school has turned into skin in my 30s I can be proud of, and I know I have my daily UV protection to thank. This is great stuff and the bottle lasts a decently long time. In the harsh German winters, sometimes I'll switch the heavier 'Riche' version of this to satiate my dry, irritated skin. The smell also takes me back to those weeks spent on the French Riviera in high school, and what could be better than that? (note: I used to use this one, which works great, but prefer one without parabens)

La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL LSF 50+ Anti-brilliance Gel-crème toucher sec | I call this the holy grail of sunscreen. It disappears into your skin like you never put anything on, making excuses for not putting on sun protection null and void. I keep this little tube in my bag for touch ups on my nose, ears or neck when I am out in the sun for longer than expected, as well as to protect my exposed tattoos from fading. I recommend the large tubes of Anthelios sunscreens for slathering on during summer holidays as well.

La Roche-Posay Deodorant Physiologique 24H | I happened upon this product on a trip to Paris many years ago when the airline lost my luggage and I had to replace all my toiletries. After begrudgingly shelling out for all new products at the pharmacie, I discovered that this seemingly simple deodorant was better than anything I'd even used. It didn't irritate my skin, it had no scent and best of all, it doesn't have parabens, aluminium and all the other crap in US deodorants that are terrible for you anyway. Even in Europe, amongst all the icky liquid roll-ons in the drugstore, this is a gem.

Eucerin DermatoCLEAN Augen Make-Up-Entferner | Paying a bundle for eye make-up remover seems ridiculous, but there's also nothing worse than skimping on something that leaves you to wake up with raccoon eyes from all the make-up it didn't remove the night before. This is the best stuff I've found that doesn't cost a fortune but gets the job done. An extra bonus: it's gentle on my easily-irritated eyes.

Phytojoba Masque brilliance haute hydration | With all the capricious hair decisions I've made in the last few years (red, bright blue tips, platinum blonde), my hair has taken a beating. At the recommendation of a well-known white-blonde, I ditched regular conditioner for a deep-conditioning mask. This one is fantastic, it smells great and improves my hair's straw-like texture tremendously. I use it as a regular conditioner every time I wash my hair (letting it work it's magic for as long as possible), as well as slathering it on dry hair a couple times a month and leaving it for as many hours as I can manage to be lazy around the house before washing it out. Phyto's Kératine mask is great as well.

Phytokératine Sérum réparateur longueurs et pointes | That damaged hair I was talking about? Well, it requires all the help it can get. Looking for some kind of leave-in reconstuctor, I gave this stuff a try and it has literally changed the texture and feel of my hair. All those horror stories I heard about platinum hair breaking off left and right, with slit-ends galore, just doesn't happen for me and I think owe a lot to this little bottle. I love the way it smoothes when applied to dry hair without making it greasy or weighed down. A little goes a long way.

Phytocitrus Shampooing éclat couleur | Anyone who spends a lot of time or money on hair color wants to protect it and keep it looking its best. I read good things about this shampoo from other blondes and thought it sounded like the right one for me. As with all of Phyto's products, I love that it's plant-based and the wonderful smell. It helps keep my color bright and doesn't over-lather and dry my hair out.

There are still so many products I have yet to try from the Apotheke, so I would love to hear about your experiences. What mid-range skin and hair products do you love?

Music Monday: My new favorite lady, LP

September 22, 2014

I've long been a fan of the strong female musicians with unique voices (hello, Nikka? I miss you), so when I first laid ears on "Into the Wild" some time last year, I was smitten. So after having the same few songs on repeat for months, I was supremely happy to finally have a whole album to listen to. That voice, the ukulele, - oh, how I love a good ukulele - and some mad whistling skills, LP seems like the kind of cool, laid-back chick you'd love to just hang with and have a beer or five.

Any time you're in Berlin, LP. Any time.

A gluten-free birthday cake dreams are made of

September 16, 2014

Strawberry-lime Mousse Cloud Layer Cake Gluten-free via Wholesome Cook_ lit by birthday candles

I had reasonably high hopes this year for my birthday, unfortunately most of which came crashing down in a cloud of head-cold haze and heaping piles of tissues. After deciding that only four waking hours that day did not a suitable birthday make, September 15 was declared the new 14th and a birthday do-over was made. Being significantly more lucid meant I could enjoy the presents, my special dinner and the birthday cake. Oh, the cake...

When I first spied the Strawberry Mousse Cloud Layer Cake on Martyna Angell's Instagram for her food blog Wholesome Cook, I knew I had found my birthday cake. A strawberry-lime mousse layer, reminiscent of a seasonal margarita? Sponge cake that was actually gluten-free? Whipped cream spiked with ample flecks of vanilla bean?! My heart swooned and stomach grumbled. My recent celiac diagnosis had me panicked about finding a birthday cake as good as years past, but I needn't have worried. When I took my first bite of this beautiful creation my husband made for me while lay in a foggy-headed stupor, even my impaired senses could taste a winner. The tart mousse coupled with the nuttiness from the almond-meal sponge and the sweet vanilla cream was exactly as Martyna had named it: like floating on a cloud of decadence.

Despite my rather hazy state of mind and the rescheduled celebration, my birthday was salvaged. I owe huge thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday, not to mention the Herculean culinary efforts of my husband, from the homemade chicken soup on my real birthday to the feast of pot roast, apple-walnut cabbage salad and this lovely cake, complete with candles and a solo of "Happy Birthday", the next day. As for Martyna, I am grateful to her and the many food bloggers that have made this new gluten-free life of mine just as enjoyable and full of good food as before my diagnosis. Here's to another year filled with more happiness, good health and deliciousness than before!

Strawberry-lime Mousse Cloud Layer Cake Gluten-free via Wholesome Cook_ slice in front of cake
Strawberry-lime Mousse Cloud Layer Cake Gluten-free via Wholesome Cook_ from above with candles

Gluten-Free Chocolate Brownie Cookies

September 11, 2014

Chocolate Brownie Cookies Bon Appetit with bite

It is rather sheepishly that I admit that cookies are not my favorite dessert, nor are brownies. I know, I know, they are staples growing up, but the adult in me is more into a decadent chocolate mousse or a subtly-flavored cake. Perhaps I've eaten one too many dry, lackluster cookies in my day, but they've never sprung to mind when I'm craving something sweet (save the amazing cookie-ice cream sandwich creations by my friends Zwei Dicke Bären, or, the Two Fat Bears - now available in a gluten-free version, bless them).

However, fiending for baked goods I could actually indulge in post-celiac diagnosis, I stumbled across this recipe on Bon Appetit and thought, those look super easy. Why not? While my first batch was a bit hit or miss with the cooking time - half were not cooked in the middle, while the second round in the oven produced slightly-blackened rounds that threatened even the most secure fillings - I've since managed to whip these up several times with much-improved results. Sizing, spacing and watching them like a hawk are key. I've also discovered the addition of toasted walnuts improves on them even more. They've now accompanied me to a birthday picnic and served as a thank-you treat for the amazing folks at my Dr's office, who have put up with me being a big baby through my time as a human pincushion these last few months. This chewy, delicious and super-easy recipe has now become one of my go-tos when my sweet tooth gets the better of me.

Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Chocolate Brownie Cookies Bon Appetit recipe ingredients Lindt chocolate

Chocolate Brownie Cookies {gluten-free}

3 cups gluten-free powdered sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
4 oz./113g high-quality, bittersweet chocolate bar, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F/176°C. Sift powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt into a large bowl, then whisk in egg whites and egg. Fold in chocolate and walnuts. Spoon batter by the tablespoonful onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2”/5cm apart, as these babies spread like wildfire as they cook. Bake, rotating sheets once, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and set just around the edges, about 14–16 minutes. (note: thess can very quickly go from chewy to super crispy in a minute, so keep a close eye near the end!) Transfer baking sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool on pan to firm up. Carefully peel off baking paper and store in an airtight container for up to three days.

Makes about 2 dozen.

Chocolate Brownie Cookies Bon Appetit cooling on baking paper close-up

Adapted from this Bon Appetit recipe

Eating {gluten-free} in Berlin | Cielo di Berlino buckwheat pizza

September 9, 2014

Cielo di Berlino Italian restaurant gluten-free pizza Berlin

My strict no-eating-out policy following my celiac diagnosis just over a month ago has proved to be the hardest part of my diet transition. I mean, we moved to Berlin in large part for the food. Now I was supposed to hole up in our apartment, cooking every single meal until my digestion healed enough to brave the big, bad world of eating in restaurants that didn't understand the first thing about gluten cross-contaimination. I thought I might be old and grey before I could venture out to enjoy a meal again. Enter Cielo di Berlino.

I was skeptical about a pizza place that makes both buckwheat crust and regular crust pizza, envisioning air thick with poisonous wheat flour and work surfaces long covered in the sticky, glutenous stuff. But even on its website, it puts even the most dramatic of worrywarts like myself at ease, explaining how they make the different crusts in separate places to avoid cross-contaimination and they are cooked in the oven on dedicated sheets. It looked like other than the one Paleo restaurant in town, I wasn't gonna get much safer than this. So after a particularly long Ikea visit late one night, famished with nothing to cook at home, I threw caution into the wind and we headed here.

I had heard that sometimes the wait for food could be a bit long, but thankfully our food arrived before our grumbling bellies forced us to start gnawing on our arms. Our wide, hungry eyes were drawn to the salads, sure to come quicker than a pizza requiring a trip to the oven, so we started there. The dressing was a light and flavorful addition to the fresh greens with onions and cherry tomatoes, but it was the toasted pine nuts and wide, thin slices of the best parmesan I've ever tasted that really impressed me. After wolfing down my salad, I was even more eager to get to the main course.

The pizzas arrived, filling the large, platter-like plates, and we set to work. If it's your first buckwheat crust pizza, you discover it is actually work. Cutting the crust (true Italian pizza comes uncut) takes a heavy hand and a good knife. Unlike flaky, crisp wheat flour crusts, buckwheat is denser and a bit more chewy. This is not to say it is not good, it's just different. If I've learned one thing about gluten-free eating in my relatively short time having to do so, it's that you must adjust your expectations. A gluten-free baguette won't have the same buttery, flaky crust, the same way a buckwheat pizza crust won't have a light, crumbly feel. You can't expect things to have the same flavor or texture when they are made from entirely different ingredients. And frankly, they're better when they're something altogether new, rather than trying to be something they're not and failing miserably. Long story short, the buckwheat pizza crust is a tasty, satisfying alternative for those eating gluten-free.

Aside from the thin buckwheat crust, the pizzas were impressive in their flavorful toppings and generous cheesiness. My pizza had thinly-sliced pepperoni and a heady goat's cheese, while my husband's had an assortment of olives, peppers and a good kick (though, that might've just been his ample dousing of hot chill oil...). His being the winner that night, it was ordered again on our second trip, while I opted to mix it up with the classic Margherita, which was fresh, simple and delicious. The cheese, brought all the way to the outer edges of the pizza where it crisps in the most perfect way, makes the 'crust' my favorite part. We also tend to stuff ourselves so full of pizza here, there is literally no room left for any of the gluten-free desserts, but I hear good things from those who have indulged. The offerings can vary from something chocolate, to classic cheesecake or crème caramel. Next time, I really must remember this so that I pace myself to leave room for something sweet.

After two very successful trips to Cielo di Berlino, and I'm sure many more to come, I must offer high praise to the Italian culture and its knowledge of celiac disease. Apparently in Italy, children are regularly tested for it and there are ample alternatives to standard wheat-based pizzas and pastas. A simple 'senza glutine' will be met with a nod of understanding and a plethora of gluten-free options brought to you. The very kind Italian ladies running this place have thankfully brought this compassion and understanding for those of us who must not only eat differently, but also very carefully, to a city and culture that too often does not understand the rather high-maintenace needs of those with this disease. I am eternally grateful that they did.

Cielo di Berlino Italian restaurant salad with pine nuts and parmesan Berlin

Cielo di Berlino
Monumentenstraße 31
10829 Berlin (Tempelhof-Schöneberg)
S+U Yorckstrasse
Pizza daily from 16:00, Sundays from 14:00
Cash only