We love living in Berlin, but the winter here actually can be really depressing. So what to do against the winter blues? Either, you travel to warmer regions, or you get cozy. We opted for the latter unceremoniously and went to the countryside with some friends to get away from it all, to enjoy the serenity and the slow life.
Some time ago we already stumbled upon a beautiful house in Mecklenburg, the ‘Alte Schule‘ (The old school) in Rensow. The owners, Christina and Knut, turned the building from the beginning of the 19th century into something special. They tore out the ugly restorations like plastic windows, laminate, fitted carpets, covered ceilings, woodchip wallpaper and 80s style tiles to show the old structure again and to bring the house’ own charm back to life, just along the Japanese aesthetic-concept of Wabi Sabi. This concept invites the beholder to appreciate the ordinary and easily missed. The awareness of the evanescence of all things is a core point. Every scratch, every dent and rusty spot are a sign of experience and tell stories. Due to natural processes and utilization, objects are liable to chronological change, thus creating beauty through use.
Those who knows us knows that we love things with patina and history. It’s no surprise we fell in love with the ‘Alte Schule’ immediately. Cob walls with paint of the last decades, old ovens, beautiful floorboards and a carefully picked interior consisting of old cabinets, tables, textiles, bowls, dishes and cutlery. Basically, you find everything to make a blogger’s or food photographer’s heart go faster.
Christina and Knut not only take care of the ‘Alte Schule’, but also saved an old manor only a few hundred meters away from decay, in which they live since 2009. For years now, friends and neighbors gather around the big wooden kitchen table to be cooked for. We arrived just at the right evening to find ourselves amidst a group of most interestingly people.
Quite a few of them followed the same way as Christina and Knut and see it as their task to renovate one of the old manors in the area. We also talked to some farmers who have interesting concepts, and we would have loved to visit each and every one of those farms. There were about 30 people in the kitchen, even if only 15 registered. Knut said, this is how it works. One brings his wife along, the next brings a friend, and all of a sudden the group doubled in size. If we could be just as relaxed when it comes to cooking for big groups…
We had a surprisingly great and absorbing evening, which lead to us falling exhausted into our bed at the ‘Alte Schule’, but being unable to sleep. Too many thoughts. And somehow, our longing for a small house in the countryside just grew a bit more intense.
The following day, our friends Kathrin and Simon arrived at Rensow and had to learn immediately that deceleration does not equal tranquility and relaxation. Firewood and coal have to be brought in to fire the ovens, because a heating is missing in this old house. Also, there is no gas or electrical stove, but antique, cast-iron, wood-fired kitchen stoves. Since one of the water heaters did not work, the water for dish washing had to be heated on that oven, too.
As a reward, we breakfasted thoroughly. You accept a bit of work for fresh sourdough bread and pancakes. Actually, this was how all the next days passed. Our days basically were made of collecting wood, heating the ovens, cooking, washing up, winter walks and cozy, chummily evenings. Somehow it was pure relaxation nonetheless, maybe even meditative, but definitely a lot of happiness for the soul. To craft something with your own hands, and be it just some warmth with a bit of wood and fire in the oven, feels different from working on your computer for hours a day and to get lost in the depths of social networks.
For lunch we had a delicious soup of chickpeas and mushrooms. We sliced mushrooms and king oyster mushrooms and sweated them with finely chopped shallots and garlic in a bit of olive oil. Deglazed with a good spill of white wine and filled with vegetable broth. Afterwards we added dried porcini and tomatoes, bay leaves and cooked chickpeas and let the soup cook for about 15-20 minutes. Finally, seasoned with salt, cayenne pepper, thyme, smoked pepper, and turmeric.
On one of our walks, we visited the sheep barn in Vietschow. We were told it was baking day and of course we didn’t want to miss that. Once a week the owners bake bread and crescent rolls in the self-made wood fired oven. They were just taken out of the oven when we arrived at the farmyard. Perfect! Until a few years ago, Claudia and Steffen did something completely different before they fulfilled their dream of a small ecological farm. Their East Frisian milk sheep feel comfortable in this environment and are able to do what they love all year round on this rambling ground: eating, eating, eating. Claudia and Steffen pamper their sheep, because only this way they give the best milk, from which they produce handmade raw milk cheese in their own cheesery.
We talked with them, who were vegetarian for years, for a long while about milk production. We were impressed how these two newcomers operate their Bioland Farm. Not to earn as much money as possible, but to ensure the wellbeing of their animals being the top priority. The lambs stay as long as possible with their mothers to be provided with the best possible nutrition. This way, there is less milk left for the cheese production, but the lambs jump happily around. Of course, every sheep has its own name and they are truly beautiful. This farm represents the romantic image city people have of farms and it is good to see that farming is not only possible without factory farming, but also practiced.
Especially for our time in Rensow we thought of very simple dishes to cook and never thought the oven vegetables of all things to be a challenge. It is a classic in the winter for us. Spread colorful root vegetables on a baking sheet, mix it with a bit of olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper, put the sheet into the oven, done. If the oven works as you want it to. Knut gave us a thermometer for the oven so we could keep track of the heat. However, the heat refused to rise above 100°C. The coals were gleaming, but the baking oven did not get enough heat. Time to get imaginative. We fired some more briquettes and spread them on the top of the baking oven. Lo and behold, a delicious smell of oven vegetables spread within minutes. We also cooked green spelt to go along with the vegetables, and glazed almonds with maple syrup and smoked pepper powder as a topping. All the trouble with the oven of course let the meal being even more delicious! When you prepare your food more aware you let it melt in your mouth, especially in a dining nook with divine light and together with beloved friends.
Christina and Knut stopped by every once in a while with a bottle of wine. They are full of zest for action and incredibly creative. We thought about quite some plans for projects to realize together in the future. We definitely want to visit those two some more times. They also asked if we fancy cooking together on the last evening before our departure so they and some friends could try our food. There would be only about 20 people. Phew! As said before, we are not as experienced with cooking for so many people, but we didn’t wanted to decline this exciting offer. We let ourselves be infected by their calmness and checked the pantry spontaneously to see what we find and how to cook a varied menu from it. For one, we decided for a roasted carrot soup, and for beluga lentils with rasped beetroot and elder juice, backed red cabbage and horseradish on the other hand. Christina and Knut roasted some sourdough bread with honey and caraway seeds, and conjured a salad of pickled beans, capers, chicories and a lot of garlic. Their son Bendix bustled about between us all the time and helped everywhere. He wants to become a chef. After cooking, we fed the kitchen waste to the sheep. Pretty great, such sheep.
We had to get the horseradish for our lentil dish first. Not on the nearest market, as we would have done in Berlin, but directly from the field. Jörg, a friend of the family, got out his shovel and headed out with us. He is Grete’s husband, who has a organic farm with seed production and vegetable sale. Her goal is to conserve old types of vegetables, and she wants to reach this goal by a rural and sustainable production.
Her farm works as an overall structure with operations complementing each other. Thus, she can refrain from buying fertilizers since the farm’s sheep and horses take care of that in a natural way. The seeds can be ordered at Dreschflegel, for example, and the vegetables can be bought in Berlin, as well: Every Thursday from 12-19h at Kollwitzplatz on the Markt der Grünen Liga or in the Markthalle Neun every Saturday from 10-18h while stock lasts. Grete wants to fashion a varied product line and also offers along the vegetables and herbs seasonal fruits and juices (varied sorts of apple juice, apple-quince, beetroot, etc.).
But back to the evening. A bit of anxiety is always with us: will the food be enough for all and will everybody like it? Actually, Christina’s and Knut’s serenity rubbed off on us. We knew we prepared a simple but delicious meal. Still, we could surprise the guests with one idea or another and inspire them. We really enjoyed the evening, all the days actually in this small village in Mecklenburg.
During the night it began to snow and the next day everything looked enchanted. Christina’s and Knut’s rams made off over the frozen pond and suddenly were at our front door. We fed them some apples before packing bag and baggage into our car, and preferably we would have taken them with us. Farewell was hard. The Great Dane Triglaf came extra close at the manor so both of us almost fell over. We embosomed so many people (and animals), we have to got back north very soon.
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Even though we were paid for this article, we give our own opinion uninfluenced. We had full rein over text and content of this article.