A few days after our apartment burned down, we went grilling in Tempelhof. “We don’t have to buy coals,” I said. “We can just shovel up the remains of the bedroom.”
Hey, I like a joke as much as anybody.
Nevertheless, we did buy a bag of non-homemade coals, and – after discovering that the grill I’d been storing in the damp basement was rusted beyond use – a new grill, too. The humor of a grill being the first household good replaced post-fire is not lost on me.
Tempelhof in the summer is a haze of smoke from the barbecues clustered in the two sections of the park where grilling is allowed. The air is scented with pork fat spitting from the paprika-spiked belly kebabs, sausages, steaks, and good char smell.
Not the toxic char smell that currently blankets the old apartment.
Our barbecue was smack-dab in the middle of the denial phase of my grief process, and it didn’t seem real to me that when the guards came around kicking people out of the closing park at dusk, we didn’t have a home to go to, didn’t have covers to crawl under, wouldn’t have a sleepy Sunday morning to lounge into.
But I also remember how deliriously happy I was, between scoops of salsa and a bratwurst dipped in mustard. I was so thankful to be alive, thankful I was living the life I’ve built for myself in Berlin, thankful for the people who surround me, so sappily thankful for the city itself and all the beautiful people in it.
Long ago and before there ever was a fire, one of those people gave me a recipe for a sun-dried tomato butter called, in German, Tomatenbutter. It’s a very simple thing, but sometimes it’s the simplest things that feel the most revelatory.
I made some recently – before the apartment burned – intending to write a post about it, but never got around to it. These pictures are some of the last I took in that space, and I kind of like to think that though I didn’t have Tomatenbutter at the post-apartment barbecue and still had an apartment while I ate the Tomatenbutter, that there’s a continuity in the two events.
It’s been a busy few months, and there’s so much good I want to write about – trips to Mallorca and Japan and Alaska, the new kitten who arrived on Sunday (!) – and yet so much of my energy has been devoted to cleaning dishes and glassware, honing my online shopping skills, and hanging out at the laundromat that I haven’t had much time to write, much less participate in social life or even rest.
But I’m writing this now at the laundromat, with the last fire-stained load on spin. At home, there’s just a box of knick-knacks to sort through and some frameless art to re-frame. Last night, I read before bed (in the hallway, because not all the rooms have light), and I’ve been cooking again, the surest sign that equilibrium is returning.
Sun-dried Tomato Butter (Tomatenbutter)
This compound butter is perfect melted over grilled steak, with eggs and toast, in lieu of mayo on sandwiches, or as a dip for bread if you’re unafraid of excessive butter consumption.
9 tbsp. (125 g) butter, softened
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. tomato paste
6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, finely chopped
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 heaping tbsp. finely chopped basil
1 heaping tbsp. finely chopped dill
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
Mash all ingredients together (ideally with your hands) until well incorporated. Adjust flavor to taste.
Either serve immediately – soft is better for spreading on toast or for using as a dip. Or roll it into a log inside a piece of wax paper and store it in the fridge, cutting off chunks as needed (better for melting on top of steak). Butter will keep for about 1 week in the fridge.