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

A peek at H&M's Autumn/Winter 2014 Studio Collection

September 5, 2014

H&M A/W 2014 Studio Collection display at Berlin Kurfurstendamm store

Excited to finally share a city with one of H&M's flagship stores, I was eager to actually experience a Studio Collection in person, rather than just drool over the internet photos. So for yesterday's launch, I headed over to Charlottenburg to see it first-hand. I arrived about an hour after store opening and already the highly-anticipated pieces like the cropped khaki sweater and multi-patterned maxi dress had been picked through. Even so, I was not disappointed. From the artistic, gold-accented displays to the luxe fabrics and finishes, it was total eye candy for the fashion set. Touching the fabrics, understanding the cut and drape of certain pieces, and feeling the weight of the higher quality construction in one's hands really did make all the difference.

There were lovely surprises like this beaded top that positively sparkled in person, which frankly, I hadn't even noticed online:

H&M A/W 2014 Studio Collection all-over beaded black top
I made a quick sweep of the collection, grabbing what I had already scoped out online, as well as several pieces that caught my eye in person - all the while noting the unfortunate absence of the black shearling - and headed to try on my selections.

H&M A/W 2014 Studio Collection mannequins and store display H&M A/W 2014 Studio Collection clothes hanger

As it so often happens behind the fitting room curtains, clothes can transform on the body. Something that seemed 'blah' on the hanger can be filled out and shaped pleasingly by one's body, or in the unfortunate circumstances, beautiful pieces can fall flat on the frame and remain beautiful solely on the rack.

H&M A/W 2014 Studio Collection khaki and black sequined dress H&M A/W 2014 Studio Collection heavy knit khaki sweater
I was only slightly surprised by the sequined dress, which hung in a rather frumpy way around my wider bottom half, thanks to the straight cut and side pockets. The detailing and quality was top-notch though, so for those with straighter figures, this is a great piece. I really wanted to love the khaki sweater that it seems was on everyone's wishlist, evidenced by the only two that remained by the time I got there, but once again, my body type was not having it. The hefty knit highlighted my wider shoulders more than I prefer, but again, those with a more balanced figure could definitely consider this one a must-have.

H&M A/W 2014 Studio Collection navy and black pilot jacket H&M A/W 2014 Studio Collection pilot jacket side view

What surprised me the most was the short, wool-blend pilot jacket. I skimmed over it on the website preview, not really taking interest, but in person, the details and quality begged me to add it to my fitting room pile. I noticed the plush neckline and heavyweight fabric immediately when I slipped it on. This had the feel of a much more expensive coat. The more I played around with it, snapping it up, unzipping the pockets, turning around, the more I started to fall in love. The black collar, cuffs and seaming details looked so chic against the navy fabric, and the elastic bottom created a surprisingly flattering, fashion-foreward silhouette. It's one of those pieces that only goes with so much, but I have a feeling if it were it was in your closet, you'd create outfits specifically in order to wear it again and again.

While I ended up leaving empty-handed - my birthday is only a week away, as my husband reminds me every time I start to pine when another fall line hits the stores - the one piece I really regret passing up with the aforementioned jacket. It's already sold out on Germany's site, and is one size away from being the same in the US, but there is still hope at any of the stores carrying the exclusive line. I'm fighting the urge not to run back to the one here and see if they haven't all disappeared into closets of some very fashionable, very lucky Berliners...

H&M A/W 2014 Studio Collection sweater and jacket hanging up

It's worth noting that I also popped into & Other Stories for its Lykke Li collaboration launch and Uniqlo for its latest Ines de la Fressange collection, but felt a little let down by both. Of the Lykke Li pieces that appealed to me, namely a leather t-shirt and a collection of gold-toned rings, they were much too expensive (195€ and 45€, respectively) for my casual shopping outing. The cashmere sweaters were an exception, with generous measurements and a super-soft touch, they were the most practical items of the indulgent collection. The rest was nail colors and beauty pieces that had already existed, but had a co-lab sticker with 'Lykke Li' emblazoned on it to make them appear as fresh offerings. The collection at Uniqlo was a pleasing assortment of French-countryside-looking tweed blazers, denim dresses and striped sweaters, if not a bit conservative for my current tastes. The one exception for me were the accessories. A nice collection of hats - berets, structured felt hats and knit beanies - and a luxurious-feeling cashmere-mix scarf offered at an incredibly reasonable 25€ were pieces I could definitely see myself in.

As if I needed more fuel to the fire that is my love for autumn, after perusing the latest offerings in the shops, I am in even more anticipation of the coming season - not to mention whatever my birthday has in store for me. Here's to the best season for dressing all year!

The Look for Less | Black Shearling Coat

September 3, 2014

The Look for Less: Black Shearling Coat

Shearling coats are one of those things you often see on wealthy people vacationing in very posh places for good reason. They're damned expensive. It's like the leather jacket's more successful, more luxurious older sister. Not terribly practical for wet winter weather, it's use is often relegated to those rare, dry freezing days or in a mostly indoors capacity. For those who indulge in outwear for such specific scenarios, the shearling should be top of the list. What could be better than feeling like the human equivalent of a teddy bear? If Luke had been wearing a shearling on Hoth, he might not have had to wait out the cold, literally, in the belly of a beast.

Aside from those who use can afford to use paper bills as kindling, what are the rest of us to do to afford such luxurious warmth? While there are always options in the faux category, I have yet to see one that even comes close to the quality and likeness faux fur has reached and, let's face it, it's never as warm as the real deal. For shearling, it seems, it's go big or go home. Fast fashion to the rescue. H&M proves once again it can play with the fashion heavyweights with it's latest autumn Studio Collection - launching September 4 - featuring a quality-looking shearling of its own. An investment in its own right, it's still a fraction of the cost of most and stylish to boot.

Even if this pricey piece, the most expensive of the bunch (save an even less practical leather jumpsuit), doesn't make it home with me, I'm looking forward to tomorrow's launch and seeing what pieces I might need to add to my fall line-up (like perhaps this...).

Music Monday: That Other Hozier Hit

September 1, 2014

While I realize "Take Me to Church" is getting major play at the moment (pretty sure I heard it over a retailer's sound system the other day), I can't get enough of Irish artist Hozier's other big hit "From Eden". His voice. Those instrumentals. Swoon.

After having his entire Spotify offerings on repeat for weeks, I looked into this young man a bit more. Challenging the church he was brought up with and the powerful images from his "Take Me To Church" video portraying the deep-seated homophobia in Russia shows an impressive sense of self at such a young age, not to mention a great humanity. His talent extends beyond even his own music, as proven in his fantastic cover of Fun's "We Are Young". I for one am anxious to hear more from his first full-length album in October, or September if you're lucky enough to live in Ireland.

What about you? What have you been listening to lately?