London calling 2019 (prologue)

Fernweh.

A beautiful word in German that can’t be properly translated into English. One of my favourite words in my mother tongue, and one that describes a yearning I know all too well ever since my teenage years. Many try and use “wanderlust” instead in English, but it doesn’t have the same connotation. Because we do have the word “Wanderlust” in German, as well. It describes an excitement, a passion for travels. The desire to wander off.

But “Fernweh” means something entirely different. It’s an ache that’s hard to put into words. It’s a yearning for places far away. Sometimes for distant places you can’t even describe, places you don’t even have a name for. A vague destination that can only be described as “somewhere, but not here”. It’s the call of the foreign. It describes the dreaming of distant places that appear magical and irresistible, and sometimes only because they are so out of reach. It’s the tearing sensation in your chest when you look at the horizon, or when you watch cars and ships and trains moving towards destinations unknown to you.

Sometimes, the charm and magic of the foreign disappears the very second you are there. Then the foreign isn’t as foreign anymore. The curiosity is satisfied. The charm is gone. The charm of Marseille, for example, disappeared the very second I saw garbage in the stinking water of the harbour many years ago.

Some places lose their fascination once you’ve visited them.

Some don’t. Some are still calling you, even after you’ve seen them, after you’ve been there. The UK has been one of those places for me.

Leadenhall Market London
Leadenhall Market, London

I don’t travel nearly as much in my life as I’d like to. But I love it. I’ve been to Italy, Austria, Poland, France, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark and the US. Not an impressive list, I know. But the country I love most, the country that makes me feel so at home and at the same time so far away from my every-day-problems and worries is the United Kingdom.

So whenever we have that bit of extra money left… we go there. Again, not nearly as often as I’d want to, and not nearly for as long as I’d like to, but it happens from time to time.

So the reason why it’s been so quiet around here lately was a quick trip to London that began exactly one week ago.

view of London from the Royal Observatory Greenwich
view of London from the Royal Observatory Greenwich

It was only a short stay of four nights with little time to see all the things we wanted to see, but it was a much needed distraction and escape anyway.

We weren’t all too lucky with our transports this time, so we lost almost two whole days for the actual journey. Which is a lot, considering we live in Germany and not far away from Great Britain. We had to deal with several delays, cancelled buses, unreliable timetables and even a medical emergency on our flight back which caused yet another delay. And because of that, our list of places to see and things to do was cut short.

Underground sign at St Pancras Station London
St Pancras Station, London

So now that the post-travel-blues has set in, now that the “Fernweh” – this vague ache and longing for the distant world – floods the heart once again, I’m sorting through countless pictures, thinking of the places I’ve seen. And the ones I didn’t manage to visit.

phone booth at the Old Naval College Greenwich
phone booth at the Old Naval College Greenwich

There will be proper reports about our days in London soon. But I still need to sort through photos and edit them before I can write and put it up. And that might take a while.

Especially when the heart gets lost while looking at pictures of a place that’s still calling…

a recipe for cold days: broccoli cheddar soup

Five years ago, pretty much exactly around this time, I visited a friend in the United States. It was the first time for me to leave my continent behind to cross an ocean. And, oh boy, was it an adventure! Me, alone in a different country, in a place where nobody spoke my language, among people I had never met before in person. And although this was five years ago, it feels like it was yesterday.

And that first night, after being on my feet for about 20 hours, when I was still terribly insecure and incredibly jetlagged and tired, when everything was new and strange and a little overwhelming, I had broccoli cheddar soup at a TGI Fridays with my friend and his friends. At the other end of the world. I hadn’t known TGI Fridays before. And neither had I tasted a soup this rich and creamy and cheesy before.

bowl of broccoli cheddar soup with bread chips

And while, sadly, this friendship doesn’t seem to exist anymore and my friend walked away – as life happens sometimes along the way while you’re busy making other plans – this recipe remains. I make it every year around this time. I make it every year in late January, when the memories are vivid and my heart is heavy.

The base for this recipe was one of those Panera copycat recipes for broccoli cheddar soup that are floating around, but I adapted it.

So, this is my own take at a classic that is surprisingly little known in my own country. And while it certainly can’t live up to that first taste, that first bite of adventure, it will always taste a little like friendship and excitement to me.

bowl of broccoli cheddar soup with garlic bread

Do yourself a favour and use freshly ground or grated nutmeg for this recipe. Any recipe, to be honest. I know so many people who use powdered nutmeg and trust me, that little extra work – let’s face it, it’s only a matter of 30 seconds, and maybe you’ll grate away a bit of your fingernails – will be so worth it.

Ingredients

(yields 4 portions)

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 480ml or about 2 cups of milk
  • 725ml or about 3 cups of vegetable stock
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg, ground
  • 1 pinch of red chili flakes
  • 1 large broccoli head (about 4-5 cups), cut into small florets
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 250g grated cheddar

In a large pot, melt the butter and sauté the onion until it’s tender. Add the flour and whisk until everything is combined. Let it brown a little before adding the milk and the vegetable stock. Whisk very well so that no lumps of flour remain. Bring to a boil and let it thicken before turning down the heat.

Add the bay leaves, nutmeg, chili flakes and pepper. Salt to taste.

Add the broccoli and carrots and let everything simmer for about 20 minutes. At last, add the grated cheddar and let it melt before blending the soup until you have the preferred consistency. Sometimes I like it a little chunky, sometimes I prefer a very smooth consistency, but it’s delicious either way.

I prefer using an immersion blender, but a regular one works just as well.