There are love stories, and then there are love stories. Luisa Weiss' falls into the latter category, an honest-to-god tale of love lost, found, and happily ended. And, as a bonus, there's food. My Berlin Kitchen, which Weiss reads from at Rakestraw Books (522 Hartz Ave., Danville) on Saturday, September 27, is subtitled A Love Story (with Recipes), and, indeed, every page is more delightful and delicious than the one before. Brimming with forty recipes borrowed from Weiss' friends and family and from famous chefs like Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver, then stripped down and perfected by Weiss herself, the book is a mix of travelogue, memoir, cookbook, and a touch of fairytale.
Weiss' Italian mother and American father raised her in Berlin, but when they divorced, Weiss moved with her father to Boston, and several years later went back to live with her mother in Berlin. Thus, her childhood identity was a confusion of Italian, German, and American language, travel, and cuisine. And when neither parent showed much culinary promise, Weiss took it upon herself to be the family chef. As an adult seeking like-minded cooks, she blogged as "The Wednesday Chef," which, as readership grew, gave her a blueprint and a built-in audience when she decided to turn her life story into a book chronicling her return to Germany to reunite with the love of her life and reclaim the home country she left as a child. "The stories were the focus of the book, and the recipes grew out of the stories of the chapters," she said. She starts in Berlin, post-unification, eating omelets with jam filling and sour cherry quarkauflauf, a cheesy baked breakfast dish. "When I was telling the story, I realized this was the recipe I associated with that time. When I wrote about my nanny, my earliest memories of her were associated with the jam recipe."
A delectable dish of braised baby artichokes and potatoes recalls memories of Weiss' mother; a simple tomato sauce with carrots and onions characterizes her time spent in Boston with her father. There are a few mind-bogglingly intense recipes like poppy seed whirligig buns and, when Weiss is happily making a life with the man she'll eventually marry, a German Christmas labor of love, roast goose. But for the most part, the recipes are deliberately simple, serving one or a small group of people, and using fresh, seasonal ingredients. "When you cook for yourself alone, you don't want to go to a lot of trouble — that's when people revert to microwave dinners and frozen pizzas," Weiss said. "You can have a really easily put-together meal when you're just cooking for one. It doesn't have to be elaborate."
Weiss paints beguiling stories around each recipe, working through her homesickness, lovesickness, sometimes just plain sickness, and giving each one such a personal touch that you'll feel that you've been allowed access to a treasured family heirloom. Her Depression Stew soothed heartbreak, for example, while Poulet Sauté à la Paysanne Provençale (chicken with olive oil and white wine) bonded girlfriends in New York. Trust me when I say that you'll be tempted to at least try one of the recipes. "I love to motivate people to cook who think they can't because it's too hard, complicated," Weiss said. "I'm on a mission to change people's minds."
In the end, she has just one piece of advice for first-time cooks: "Figure out what you like to eat! If meat's your thing, learn how to broil a nice steak, or veggie. Pick what you like and learn how to do that really well." Noon, $10 (lunch included). 925-837-7337 or RakestrawBooks.com
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