Embracing Butter

Street food in West Berlin

Street food is all the rage in Berlin right now. I have mixed feelings about the street food trend. Often times is not much more than over-priced food that you can find anywhere. But sometimes you can find some really. GOOD. food and drinks, and a variety of choices you would have a hard time finding all in one place.

When the weather is good, you can find street food events in a few different corners of the city. In Prenzlauer Berg there is the Street Food auf Achse event happening weekly – until winter temporarily shuts it down. Here you can get some great eats – they have tasty sweet Macarons, Pulled Port (that looks like the real thing!), decent burgers, and my favorite – the Wiener Schnitzel Truck, which a sandwich made of Schnitzel and very delicious Austrian wines. And lucky for me, this place is about ten minutes away from our home, making it an easy place to pop by on Sunday evenings when I’m too busy – uh, or lazy – too cook.

But last week we ventured out a bit further to Charlottenburg – in the ritzier West – and went to the Bikini Berlin Street Food event. Which, I have to say, was nice – but not amazing. But it could have been that we went very un-hungry, as we’d had a massive dinner the night before and a decent sized German breakfast (complete with Nutella, of course!) right before.

In any case, it was nice to get out, and here are a few images from the day … enjoy!

Starbucks Zoo Station

Apparently my daughter and friend couldn’t start out the afternoon without a coffee and a chai latte from The Bucks … 
Talya Katy Zoo Station

I, on the other hand, held out for yummier coffee from one of the food trucks at the event. The smiles shows I was happy I did!
Gedächnis KircheThe Gedächtniskirche – the church that was bombed in WWII and never fully repaired and which is now one of the most popular symbols of West Berlin – and of survival and freedom – or something along those lines. Impressive building nonetheless, and my favorite theologian – Dietrich Bonhoeffer even spoke there.

Bite Club Bikini Berlin

On top of the world! Or on top of West Berlin – this is the roof of Bikini Berlin

The Pankow Kiezfest – Our Neighborhood Street Party

Pankow Kiezfest

Last week was the annual Kiezfest here in Pankow. It’s an event we look forward to each year, as it’s become a regular milestone that marks the end of summer and the move towards fall. It’s an afternoon and evening full of fun, with shops and vendors open selling everything from delicious eats to art work, toys, and other random niceness.

Pankow, our little corner of the former East Berlin, has grown quite a bit since we’ve been here, and so has the Kiez fest. What started out as a few local shops offering their wares and drinks on one part of the street has expanded to a full on street party with a stage and live entertainment lasting the entire day.

So what is a Kiezfest? In essence, it’s a big neighborhood party. Kiez is the very northern-German word for a small area within a city. A Kiez is not defined by any particular by official city districts or boundaries. One district can have several Kiezs, but each Kiez is distinctive, with its own flavor and style. The nice thing about the Kiez is that it breaks city life down into digestible chunks, giving the city a cozier town-like feel.

For me and my kiddos, this year’s Kiezfest started out with a sidewalk yard sale. My daughter spent the day shopping with her dad, so my two boys and their friend Lukas set up shop in front of our apartment building and sold items that they’d been putting aside for weeks. It was their chance to have a relatively captive audience – foot traffic heading to the festivities – so they spent a few hours selling some of their old toys and a few other random household items I’d been wanting to get rid of.

The boys did quite well, making a total of 22.50€ in the few hours they spent selling their goods and chatting with passersby. The most fun for me was seeing how proud they were to have their own money to take with them for the rest of the Kiez fest, which we went to after their sale. We had a lovely afternoon, complete with cotton candy, toys, balloons, and wine for yours truly (because it isn’t a Fest if you don’t have at least one drink, let’s be honest!).

Kiezfest Pankow balloons

boys eating cotton candy

Flora-Strasse-Kiezfest

Weinrebell

wine bottles Riesling

 

 

My favorite Berlin cafés

 

Few places on earth that are as lovely as a nice café. I can – and do – while away many an hour at a nice café. And yes, I could wax poetic about how charming the cafés are in Paris, how much I love drinking cappuccino in Italy in the summer when it’s almost too hot for coffee, or how you can almost skip the coffee at some places in Vienna, because if you order Sachertorte with fresh whipped cream, you won’t have room for a beverage with it. Yes, I do love a good café.

I’m quite sure that love began long before ever even stepped foot in one. Cafés have long since been gathering places for creatives and revolutionaries, both of which I am fond of. Think Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald in Parisian coffee shops. And cafés are a decidedly European thing, which of course added to my interest in them – I do love many things about this continent, and their appreciation for taking time to enjoy life includes centuries of coffee indulgence (yes, inhabitants of the Old World were sipping coffee and tea in cafés and coffeehouses long before we Americans had even wrangled independence from the British).

But back to the Berlin cafés I would like to tell you about – there are quite a few here in Berlin, but three are my favorites. Here they are:

Spreegold

Spreegold

Spreegold is, in a word, fantastic. You get good service almost all the time (which is not the norm for Berlin), excellent coffee, great food and wine, and lots of space to spread out and make yourself at home. Now that I work remotely, Spreegold is seeing a lot of me. The only drawback is the wi-fi which is slow some days, and the bees – which there seems to be hordes of – and they will attack you if you dare sit outside with anything that might like to sample. I highly recommend both the pancakes (covered in berry sauce) and the porridge with hot fruits (also covered in berry sauce). Delicious, filling breakfast items that will keep you full for a while.

Wo der Bär den Honig Holt

Wo der Bär den Honig Holt

Der Bär, my nickname for this cute little place, is right around the corner from my apartment, and how happy that does make me. It opened about two years ago, and was the third café to make its way to Flora Strasse, one of the nicer shop-lined streets in Pankow. The owners of Der Bär are one of the friendlies couples you will ever meet, and they’ve created a cozy little space offering yummy coffee, teas, homemade sodas (“Brause,” in German), and some excellent cakes. Their chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting (topped with a layer of chocolate ganache) is to die for – believe me. The only drawback here is that they are closed on Saturdays, which took some getting used to. But they are open on Sundays, making it a great place for a Sunday afternoon cake and coffee. The other catch? No wifi, so this is a place of enjoyment, not work.

Café Anna Blume

Cafe Anna Blume

Café Anna Blume is close Kollwitz Platz in Prenzlauer Berg, which is one of the prettiest little quiet corners of the city. Think broad streets lined with tall trees, bunting hanging from the windows, ice cream shops, florists, restaurants, and weekend markets, and that’s what you have in this little area. The café itself is also a flower shop and bakery,so you get beauty and sweets all around. Their cakes are freshly baked in-house and taste amazing, as do their many different coffee offerings. On my birthday or if I’m having a really bad day and needing happiness, I come here for Sachertorte – a semi-sweet Viennese cake and one of the best things you can eat this side of heaven) and coffee. And not just any coffee, but one flavoured with Cointreau (orange liqueur) and topped with whipped cream.

Anna Blume also serves a great breakfast you can order all day, but if you’re planning to brunch here on a weekend, be sure to reserve a table in advance. This place gets full fast. And I don’t think there is wi-fi, so don’t plan to work here. It’s too pretty a place to want to bother with work anyway, believe me.

 

Life in Berlin: The Wild West

Museum Island

One of the nicest spots in Berlin – Museum Island

“Paris is always Paris, but Berlin is never Berlin.” … someone semi-famous once said that, and how right he was. Berlin is the kind of place that is ever-evolving. It’s not the same city I moved to five years ago, and it’s nowhere near the city I remember on my first visit to Germany back in 1995. It is very much a living thing, with movement and change and life.

To me Berlin is little bit like a rebellious child trying to prove itself by showing off it’s wild and crazy side, bucking the system in any way possible. It’s the teenager who broke away from its controlling parents and is out partying all night, tattooing and piercing itself as a way to rebel against the years of freedomless existence. And rightfully so, as half the city was under lockdown for roughly 30 years, separated by a Wall and rules that limited both freedom of movement and expression. Considering this rough history, it makes perfect sense that the city is now known for being a creative hub and has become home to many new businesses, even being dubbed the Start-up capital of Europe. I call Berlin the Wild West of Europe, and I think it fits – it’s a bit frontier-like in that you can come here and start – or be – virtually anything you want.

And unlike the rest of the country, which is neat and clean, Berlin tends to be a bit more unruly, messy, and in some corners, downright dirty. So if you’re coming to Berlin and expecting impeccable order and neatness, you’ll have to actually look for it here. Of course there are areas of Berlin that are more traditionally “German.” The former western part of the city, areas such as Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, and Wannsee – still have the old world German charm – the lovely old buildings, little gardens and flower boxes hanging out of windows and off balconies, cleanliness, and a general air or structure and order.

Berlin’s wild and crazy side is I liked most about the city at first – well, after the initial culture shock resulting from a city very unlike the rest of the Germany I knew. I loved the air of freedom here and it’s relatively unstuffy feel. And the fact that you can wear what you want and no one will bat an eye. Compared to other European capitals, the city is extremely casual. You wouldn’t necessarily be able tell a successful start-up founder making loads of money from the guy dressed like a bum and waiting tables. You can go to many – if not most – clubs for a night of dancing in whatever you feel like wearing, even if it’s ratty jeans and a t-shirt. I love that.

But after five years and change of living here, I feel like this city and it’s casual grit are starting to wear me down. Wild and casual is fun for a while, but at some point you realize you want – or maybe even need – more. From what I am seen with others and experienced personally, Berlin is a big wide space that gives you freedom and space to grow. Or to grow up. It seems to be a playground of sorts, where many come to stay a while, either play, build a business, gain life or professional experience, and then leave before setting roots down to deeply.

The Wild West is fun and exciting for a while, but when you grow up you long for a bit more calm, and culture. At least I do. Streets lined with graffiti and wild plants growing every which way is a novelty for a while, but at some point, neat clean streets without dog droppings and advertisements of adult toys get old. I personally long for beauty – traditional, clean, organised beauty that are the result of order and hard work – of course creativity too, but creativity refined by a bit structure. Which is what you get places beyond Berlin and which is what I am ready for.

So that’s where I am. I’ve enjoyed a lot about Berlin. Learned a lot. Experienced more than I wanted or ever planned to. Cut my teeth. Grew up. Reached the goal of helping my children become bilingual. All of this I’m grateful for. But I’m ready to trade creative and messy for lovely and neat, Berliner “Schnauze” (Berlin slang/attitude) for politeness, six months of winter for a climate that’s a bit more friendly.

Yes, my time here might be winding down. And that’s ok!

 

 

How I manage three kids, work, and me

Coffee and wine

“Wow, you’ve got your hands full! How do you do it?” If I had a dollar (or a Euro!) for every time I’ve heard that since becoming a mother to three children, I would be a wealthy woman. It seems that regardless of where you are in the Western world, it’s acceptable to have 1-2 kids and still manage to have a life beyond your children – be it a job, a business, hobbies, or whatever it is you do outside the home.

However, once you cross over into three-kid-territory, you should no longer be able to manage it all without superhuman powers. People begin to treat you with a strange combination of awe and curiosity – and you become something to both respect and fear at the same time. Strange dynamic, but it’s what I’ve experienced for years now – especially since moving to Germany, where three kids is considered a “groß Familie”(big family). And even more so since I made the move into single-parent land.

At first I thought three kids was would be fine fine, I like a good challenge and staying busy makes me happy too. I also grew up the oldest of eight (yes, 8!), and thought if my mom could handle that many, surely I could manage a fraction of her troop. But it didn’t take long to figure out that yes, raising three children is challenging. And a tiny bit insane, especially when it becomes a single parent gig and you find yourself doing it all on your own.

So how do I do it? To be brutally honest, some days I don’t. That’s right – some days my apartment is a chaotic mess, my kids run around like banshees screaming at each other and fighting, and I’m an exhausted heap of rattled nerves just trying to make it to bedtime. But luckily that’s only some days.

Other days it feels like one part of the work-kids-everything-else equation is off-balance. So the kids might be great, my apartment clean with everyone happy and well-fed, but I feel like my job and business are not where they should be. Or – work is going well, I’m putting time into writing and my little dating biz and feeling good about that side of life, but home/personal life is a bit chaotic. The work-life-balance so many talk about isn’t always attainable.

Most days though (especially when I’m not crazy stressed about a custody case), I feel like I have life under some level of control. A good friend once said being a single working parent with a full life is basically like juggling – you toss the balls one at a time, trying not to let them fall. And while it’s a challenging word picture – really, how many of us can juggle? It’s also accurate. There is a lot going on at any given time, but you learn to pace yourself – both catching and throwing on ball at a time.

So how do I manage it all? Well – I do my best to take life a day at a time – although as a future-minded person and dreamer that does not come naturally to me. I also have a strong support system – family, friends, and a great guy who help and encourage me to keep going even when it’s hard.

And for the rest – these are a few of the most important things for me to help manage the busyness of parenting, work and the rest of life:

  1. Naps - An absolute must. I’m generally a weekend napper – “Quiet time” on Sunday afternoons is a ritual and one of the few things in life I am very dogmatic and consistent in having. I do also sneak in the occasional tiny nap during the week as well – either on my lunch break (I work from home, remember) or evenings when the kids are play. Just 15-20 minutes of shut eye will help me recharge and have the patience and grace I need to get through the rest of the day. My kids know how much better I am with rest and gladly give me that time.
  2. To-do lists – I am nothing without my stack of post-it notes. I write down everything, from grocery lists to work tasks, to creative ideas, and even parenting reminders. If something is not out of my brain and on paper, the chances of it happening are slim to none. I’ve even added index cards to my post-its – the larger size and lined paper make the more complicated tasks – especially those for work or my creative projects – easier to break down into manageable line items to check off.
  3. Alone time – This is another way I recharge and keep energy levels high. I am a social creature by nature, but when you are constantly surrounded by three little ones – sometimes barely getting shower time alone without interruption – even the most social of us need a break. So I try to get at least one evening a week out of the home to get away by myself. I also do my best to get up before all three of the kids wake up (although it’s hard to beat my daughter, who is an early riser) so that the day starts in quiet. When all else fails and a big chunk of time alone is impossible – some weeks are just too demanding – I will sneak away for a few minutes on weekend afternoons to go grab a coffee at my favorite local café. Ten minutes and a cappuccino work wonders, believe me!
  4. Help/support - You can’t do it all on your own, so when friends or family offer to help – either by taking you out for coffee, bringing you food, or taking one or more of your kids out for an afternoon – you say yes. Every time. And when times are really busy and I’m not getting the support I need for free, I bring in paid reinforcements – either my babysitter so that I can get away for a bit, or my cleaning lady to save myself some time and energy.
  5. Not doing it all (myself) – As a bit of a neurotic Type A, I often feel as though I have to do everything and try my best do prove that I can. But this doesn’t work for the long-term, and reaching the point of burn-out the end of last year forced me to accept that I have limits I must respect to keep life running as smoothly as possible. Practically speaking, I’m learning to say no and let others do more, especially my kids. I’ve passed a lot of home chores over to my children that I had been doing – which both saves me energy and teaches them responsibility, which my previous efforts of “doing at all” had actually robbed them of. The result is a happier mom, more productive kids, and a more peaceful home.
  6. Keep things simple – This can be as challenging for me as #5, but it is important to keep life as simple as possible. When you have limited resources – energy, time, and money – and as a single parent the reality is that all three can be quite scarce at times – it’s really important to keep it simple. I do this by keeping meals and scheduled as simple as possible. Which means on weekdays I keep meals light and simple (which tend to save me both time and money), and I don’t have myself or the kids involved in many activities outside family, school and church. I tend to let each of my children gets to be involved in one activity at a time. So far this works and helps me keep sanity in check.

So there you have it – that is essentially how I manage to “do it all” and stay sane. Of course I forgot to mention the wine and coffee that are in the photo above (thanks Pinterest!), which are of course helpful as well!

 

 

 

 

Summer afternoons at Lake Weissensee

Lake

You’re not always guaranteed a hot summer in Berlin. In fact, some years it seems you don’t get a summer at all. It can feel cool to downright cold some days, and it can be rainy and dreary too. A particularly low point for me this summer was when I wore a turtleneck sweater and boots to work one day in June, because it was just that cold. In June. Yes, I’d rather not talk too much about that dreary day.

After spending the better part of half my life in hot, humid south Georgia, I appreciate that Berlin does not reach sweltering temps and that humidity is very rarely high. Because sweating as soon as you step out the door, like you do in the hotter-than-hot Southeast is really not fun. On the flip side, with the 6-month winters you get in this part of the world, you really really really want summer to come. Trust me.

But occasionally we get lucky and have days that are sunny and warm just as summer should be – like this week when temperatures reached at hot 100 degrees (Fahrenheit, that is!). Yes, it was hot. And no, most places here do not have AC. However, after a few years of long cold winders, I’ve grown to enjoy the days when it’s actually hot here, because you (a) get to break out that bikini that gets way to seldom worn here, and (b) you get COLOR – maybe not Cali beach tan, but you can at least get rid of the winter pale and look alive again, which is of course good!

My favorite place to escape to when it’s hot – and when I don’t have my kids with me, as they’ve turned into city kids in the meantime and don’t love the mucky mud at the bottom of the lakes or the bugs – is one of the many lakes here in Berlin. I won’t list them all here because I’m much to lazy to do so, when a quick Google search show them to you. But my personal favorites up to now are Weißensee (pictured above and which I’ll tell you more about) and Krumme Lanke (which will have to wait for another time, because all this writing about the lake is making me want to head that direction!).

Bike Wiese

Weißensee is about a twenty-minute bike ride from my place, so it’s easy to reach without the hassle of public transport. It’s in the former East – meaning it’s a tiny bit run-down is (see photos below), and there is lots of graffiti and some of the rougher folk you tend to mostly see most here on the East side. But it’s also quaint and inexpensive. You can rent a paddle boat for an hour for about 3 Euros, and there is food and drink available for sale at the Strand (beach) bar that is not too pricey either. And somehow, unlike more popular places like Wannsee, you can find a quite little spot to sunbathe even when it’s crowded. In short, I love Weißensee. There is even one of those swings you can jump in the water from (see below!), although I’m not sure you can reach it unless your the better part of six feet tall.

Lake Swing Weissensee

If you live in Berlin and haven’t been to Weissensee, head that way for an afternoon for a nice, unpretentious place to cool off. You won’t be bored – I heard no less than six languages spoken there yesterday (yes, I counted! Among others were French and Arabic, two of my favourites). And with paddle boats, a playground by the “beach,” food and a bar – you’ve got just about everything you need to make a day great.

Berlin: home, semi-sweet home

Berlin Mitte

Monbijou Park, Berlin Mitte

Berlin has been home for me and my kids for over five years now. Five. It’s the first year that I wasn’t excited about celebrating another year in this craziest of crazy cites. To be fair, part of my lack in enthusiasm is because the past two years have been spent fighting my ex-husband over custody over our three children, so it’s probably not Berlin’s fault that I was not in the mood to party about spending another year here.

My long-standing love affair with Berlin started the summer after ninth grade, when, as a fresh-faced 15-year-old I spent three weeks in the former American sector of the city hosted by family friends who were contracting for the US military at the time. They’d heard that I had taken German that first year of high school and invited me to spend a few weeks with them to practice my newly-acquired language skills and see some of Europe.

Those three weeks were magical – not only did I get to spendtime exploring Berlin, but my hosts also took me on a trip through Bavaria and part of Austria too. We spent time in Munich touring the city, visiting beer gardens and venturing beyond the city to see the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein as well as the gruesome concentration camp of Dachau. We also crossed the border into lovely Austria, where I am no-longer-ashamed to admit that, in addition to eating way too much Apfelstrudel, I went on the touristy Sound of Music tour. So yes – it’s safe to say that those three weeks were when I fell in love with Germany – and Austria took a little bit of my heart too.

That trip left a strong impression on me, and I knew after that sunny summer in interesting Germany and beautiful Austria, I’d have to return. I’m not sure what it was exactly – if it was the food (Schnitzel, German bread, and the sweets here are pretty hard to beat), the language (which I somehow picked up easily and quickly), or the old world charm (palaces, markets, cobblestoned streets). I suspect it was a combination of all of it that captured me and lured me to return.

And return I did. Several times in fact. A few times to visit friends – exchange students we’d hosted while I was in high school. And a longer stay when I worked as an au pair near Stuttgart in between studies. But those weren’t enough, and the desire to live in Berlin stayed strong until several years later, when – as a married mom of three, I got offered a job in Berlin by a long-time friend who was from the Berlin area and had his own company. He needed a native English speaker to handle communications and PR for him, so I jumped – almost literally – on the opportunity, and within two months of being offered the job, we had packed away our most precious belongs, sold or gave away what we didn’t need, and packed our necessities and kids to move to Berlin.

That brings us to the present. Five years and counting – five years of expat life and all its ups and downs. These five years have included introducing my children to the world of international life, a new language that all three have mastered to native level (my youngest even speaks more German than English some days), culture galore, and friends from all over the world, quite literally. For me, these years in Berlin have been a time of stretching and growing – yes, we still mature after reaching adulthood – both professionally and personally. And on a very personal level, these years in Berlin have been full of loss, pain joy, love and hope all mixed together.

What does the future look like? I’m not sure, but for now we’re here. Most definitely NOT forever, because although I like Berlin, it’s not amazing enough to keep me here forever, and there is no beach which is a definite deal-breaker for long-term living. And as much as I adore living in Europe, I don’t love the idea of my kids spending their entire childhood so far away from the family and friends who are stateside.

So we’ll see – I’m dreaming of a beautiful house somewhere by the beach, but in the meantime I’m trying to make the most of life here – so focusing on the good and trying my best to ignore the bad, both of which I’ll share in another post …

 

 

 

My little business baby, “Cupcake Dating”

Cupcake Dating

This is my ‘official’ photo for Cupcake Dating. Isn’t this couple the cutest?

Along with cake and coffee, my kids, and a certain Austrian guy I’m crazy about, entrepreneurship is one of my favorite things in this world. As an Aquarius - we’re the crazy social ones with lots of ideas and a desire to change the world, in case you didn’t know – I find it magical that out of an idea, a concrete thing – be it a service, a product, a new food, etc. – can be created and generate income. Awesome, isn’t it? I think so.

My very first experience with entrepreneurship was at a Dallas, Texas gun show at age six. Yes, you read that correctly. My dad and I had made an overload of gingerbread cookies (the ones mentioned here) for Easter, so we decided to pack them up and take them to the local gun show and try to sell them. Can you get more Southern than selling something at a gun show in Texas? Doubtful. But we did take those cookies to that show, set them out on a platter, and sold every last one of them. It didn’t take long.

That, my friends, is when the magic of business hit me. It was an early, clear lesson that if you create something good that people want, package it nicely, slap a price tag on it and make it available, people will pay you for that thing. For chubby six-year-old me, the little girl who lived for sweets and hunted for loose change in Coke machines and pay phones – the fact that you could do something fun (make cookies!) and then sell them (making money!) was amazing.

Let’s fast-forward to adulthood, when after extensive travel, a few odd jobs, and the occasional stint in college, I found myself married with a baby and ready to make my dreams of being a business owner reality. I started a catering company in the gorgeous, massive 1920s yellow house where my little family and I lived in and called it, appropriately - The Yellow House Catering Company. We hosted catered events in the first floor of the house, and lived upstairs. Hard work, but somewhat charming and fun, and living and working in the same home was generally enjoyable, especially as a parent.

The grand plan behind The Yellow House was to start with catering, build up the business the point where I could open up a café, and then expand to different places, dotting its way across the Atlantic and ending up with at least one location on or near the beach in Barcelona. Yes, that was the plan. And as you may have guessed, it did’t work out that way. After about two and a half years of catering for the local community, hosting everything from ladies’ bridge luncheons (deep South!), to corporate Christmas parties and weddings, one day my (then-) husband asked me if I wanted to spend the rest of my life “selling brownies and lasagna to Dublinites” (aka, the locals). The question hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks, and I had to ask myself if that was what I wanted. It was not.

As much as I loved making people happy with food and supporting my family with it, it was clear that my little small-town catering business was not going to turn into a chain of cafés that would get me to the life on the Med I was dreaming of. So after being jerked back into reality by the brownies and lasagna question, I decided to shut down the business and put the café dream on hold. My ex went back to work and I went back to college. In the end, my degree and a job got me much closer to the Mediterranean, than my littler catering company in Georgia could have.

Fast-forwarding again a few years to the present. I still have a day job (one that I love, but that’s a story for another day), but there is still that desire in me to create and build a business of my own. I work in online marketing doing recruiting for tech companies here in Berlin and elsewhere. I seem to be good at it, I enjoy it, and it’s paying the bills, so I am happy with it and don’t plan to make a change any time soon. But deep down, my heart still beats to drum of a creator/dreamer/business builder.

Which brings me to Cupcake Dating, my singles business I am creating and hoping to build. This is most definitely what you would call a passion project, as it combines a few of the things that I really enjoy – meeting and connecting people, nice events, fun, and – cupcakes. It’s an idea I’d thought about for ages and finally decided to start growing slowly – at the moment we host little singles events – I call them “mixers” at nice, intimate venues – giving people who are looking for other singles to potentially date a place to do so. And yes, we do serve cupcakes – or at least some sort of cake – at all events. Because as Julia Child said, “A party without cake is just a meeting.” She was right!

Let’s see where this business goes. Of course I have plans to scale and make Cupcake Dating Events available in the larger western European and US cities, but I am not pinning all future hopes on it. I’ve got a lot going on so this only gets attention on the sidelines of life, but I hope that regular effort and events will eventually pay off.  In the meantime, I’m happy to once again no longer be just an employee. I’m a creator at heart and am happiest when putting energy into bringing my visions to life. And with Cupcake, it’s a vision of bringing great people together to build relationships, because I’m convinced that life is sweeter shared.

 

 

This Sunday’s sweet treats: Vanilla Latte Cupcakes

Cupcakes

Vanilla Latte Cupcakes – delicious!

I love cake. Especially good cake. And therefore I enjoy baking, and I’ve loved it ever since I was a child and figure out that mixing together a few ingredients could result in something as magical and delicious as a yummy cake topped with buttercream goodness.

And I do bake a great cake. It’s just the truth. But before you think I’m bragging based on some sort of special talent or skill, the reality is that when you start baking as a 9 or 10 year old and you’re well into your thirties, do the math and you have about 25 years of baking experience under your belt. So yes, it would be pretty sad if I couldn’t make a good cake after all of this time, wouldn’t it? It would.

My first foray into the world of baking was decorating buttercream-frosted gingerbread cookies with my dad (yes, my dad was more the cook in the home than my mom, but shhh! If you happen to know Annie, please don’t tell her you heard this from me!). Our family didn’t have many holiday traditions, but decorated gingerbread cookies was one of the few, and rarely did a holiday go by without a messy kitchen, a frustrated man who overextended himself by doubling the recipe, and dozens and dozens of sugary frosted spiced cookies.

But back to the present … what was I saying? Oh yes, that I love baking. I do love it, although I love it a little bit less when baking in a small European kitchen with a hand mixer as opposed to a spacious American kitchen equipped with a KitchenAid. I didn’t really cook at all the first 2 years we lived in Berlin, because adjusting from a massive kitchen to a tiny one took me some time and a big attitude adjustment.

In the meantime, while I am not quite back to cooking and baking at the capacity I was stateside, but to be fair, I was also operating a catering business from that lovely kitchen. In the meantime, I have learned that you can bake great cakes, host lively dinner parties, and even throw the occasional big bash of a celebration with a tiny kitchen. And my daughter and I bake some amazing cakes and cupcakes, including yesterday’s deliciousness: Vanilla Latte Cupcakes.

I won’t waste time rewriting the recipe here when you can find it over at Lemon Sugar. I will also go ahead and admit that I borrowed their picture of the cupcakes as well, because the most photo-worthy pictures of ours were eaten before I managed to break out the camera. Yes, they are that good! If you’re looking for an easy recipe that you can even split in half (we baked only 12 cupcakes, not the full recipe amount of 24 and they turned out fantastic), then this is it. Sweet, vanilla cupcakes with a hint of coffee flavor. Yum!

Try them, you won’t regret it!

Holmes Place – my great but rarely visited gym

Holmes Place Gym and Spa

Holmes Place Potsdamer Platz

Once in a very rare blue moon, I actually make it to the gym which I am spending too much money on to not be visiting more often. That’s what happens when you get sucked in by a good deal and sign on a dotted German contract line that essentially commits you to lifelong membership. So yes, I am locked into a membership at a spa-like gym that I can’t really afford and that I don’t take advantage of as I should.

But back to the gym itself. Holmes Place is appropriately called a Health Club, as it is definitely not just a gym. Combine gym and spa and you get Holmes Place, or HP, as I like to call it. In a word, it’s awesome, and I am not one to go crazy about places to work out. Which means this place must be pretty amazing, and it is. It’s my little haven of peace and quiet in the middle of the city, and next to my favorite cafés, it’s one of the best spots to recharge.

Which brings me to yesterday’s visit, which was the first in quite some time. Maybe even the first this year. Luckily for me, however, limiting cake since Christmas and doing the occasional Pop Sugar workout via YouTube resulted in a fairly easy twenty minutes on the treadmill, which would have normally been difficult. Making things even better, the scale outside the sauna reported that I am down exactly 2.3 kilos, putting me very close to my best personal weight ever. Numbers don’t lie, do they? What a great afternoon!

Between the easier-than-expected run and a lighter body,  I was impressed that one can skip the gym for months and still see results. So I packed my things to leave, and with that healthy post work-out and sauna glow I smugly thought to myself that you didn’t need regular gym outings to get fit and look great. And hey, while I’m at it, why not play cool and act as though I’m here all the time. Who would know?

So I pranced out of the dressing room, bag and wet towels in tow (you are expected to put away your used towels at HP). All was good until I realized that the towel bin was no longer where it had been before. Hmm. Walking around a bit lost, one of the employees asked what I was looking for and then informed me that the towel bin was now downstairs. Of course I couldn’t just thank him and leave, so we started chatting. The following conversation ensued, and my bluff was called:

“But wasn’t the bin here?” I asked, pointing to the area where it had been.

“A long time ago it was!” Said Mitch, who had introduced himself – a very friendly older black American man with a sense of humor. “Are you a member here?” He looked at the trainer he had been speaking to, and both were smiling.

“Yes! But it’s been a while,” I answered and we all laughed. Then I switched to excuse-mode, saying, “I have kids, it’s hard to find time to work out. But I do ten minute Pop Sugar workouts sometimes!” Both men looked confused.

Mitch asked, “Pop Sugar workouts, are those high intensity?”

I stuttered, “Um, I’m not sure I’d call them high intensity … but I just stepped on the scales and I’m almost my ideal weight!”

“What was your name again?” Mitch asked, still chuckling. I told him my name, a tiny bit nervous as this point.

“Well, young lady – if I don’t see you check in here at least twice a week to train, I’m going to put you on the bad girls list, and then Sergeant Mitch is going to give you a call to ask where you’ve been!”

That was pretty much the end of the conversation, and yes, the towel bin was right at the bottom of the stairs, as Mitch had said. The obvious takeway is that you can’t really fool anyone but yourself about something that isn’t reality. Pop Sugar Fitness and less cake may mean lighter weight, but if you aren’t making regular trips to the gym, you better just keep your mouth shut.

(p.s. My plan is to make Saturday afternoons a regular HP workout day as long as my three kiddos are with their dad, but even if that does happen it’s still only once a week, so in the meantime I’ll be ready to hear from Sergeant Mitch!)