Backside of Berlin

An Unexpected Side-Effect of Unemployment

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I have so much time these days. Weekdays start with a leisurely rise and stretch, surveying my kingdom before deciding what to do that day. Should I pop down to the markets? Do some writing? A little German revision, perhaps? Not since my heady student days have I had such time to contemplate the deep and ineffable nature of the universe, and my own navel.

On certain very adventurous days I make Grand Plans. These may include epic campaigns to open a bank account with Deutsche Bank, visiting a real-estate agent, or writing all my newly acquired German nouns in pictorial form on the back of tiny pieces of paper which I shuffle around my desk and organise excitedly into categories. (‘Masculines to the left! Feminines to the right! And Neuters, stay out of my way!’). Yesterday I may or may not have made little models of coloured clay people (coloured clay that is, the people themselves were of mixed race) so I could practise various verb conjugations and greetings.

The saving grace of these little episodes is that they are Improving Me As A Person. I can take comfort in the fact that these are not useless activities – shut up, you in the back! – they are rounding me out, improving my language ability, my General Urban Infrastructure, my soft skills. I’m still not sure what hard skills are but I don’t think I have any. And the crowning achievement of my developments is this: I am cooking.

Potted History of My Cooking Skills

1995: I learn to cook two-minute noodles.

1997: I learn to add things to the two-minute noodles, such as onions, beef strips, and seasoning.

1998: I perfect the art of bacon and eggs. This is to remain my staple dish throughout the next ten years.

2001: The Toast Era. I am living with a guy called Hugh in Penrith. Every day after classes, we share a secret glance. Then we buy a loaf of bread and go home. We spend the next half hour making toast with butter and vegemite, comparing notes on how to spread the vegemite, and challenging each other on the precise layering of butter. We invariably finish the loaf that day. This continues for four months.

2004: I decide that it is time to expand my horizons and ask my mother to teach me how to cook spaghetti bolognese. With the added bonus that I can make large amounts and store them in the freezer, bacon and eggs is temporarily displaced as my cuisine of choice.

2007-2009: The Vietnam Period. Owing to the ubiquitous, wonderful and cheap street food, in the whole time living in Hanoi, I cook three times. Bacon and eggs once and spaghetti bolognese twice.

Now, I am sitting in my living room with the smell of roasting aubergine and capsicum wafting in the air. I have just added halloumi to the mix. Two years ago I couldn’t even spell halloumi (truth be told I still can’t), now I am debating whether to add cherry tomatoes or sundried tomatoes. Ruccola will be artfully arranged on the side, with a little beetroot salad. Yesterday I bought couscous and home-made gnocci. Last week I had mushrooms and eggplant. I have decided I need more implements, like a lemon zester and rolling pin, maybe a spork as well. I am starting to understand the phrase ‘food porn’ and quietly downloading episodes of Jamie Oliver‘s shows and The Iron Chef.

This is all thanks to the miracle of unemployment, which sadly will end tomorrow. (Or at least slow down; nobody in Berlin has a full time job). In a couple of months it’ll be cheese on toast and TV dinners. But once in a while, I will look back on this golden age of culinary delights, and dream of what could have been.

Bugger, the halloumi’s burning.

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