Hi friends, and happy holidays!
This Christmas felt a bit weird. I didn’t go home to Switzerland this year, and instead sat in several Christmas Zoom calls.
Still, the Christmas spirit was there: lots of food, lots of wine, and lots of people speaking loud and all at once.
Another weird Christmas was 2017, when Clara and I were on a 15-month-long trip in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, the Christmas craze is huge, but it feels very different from Europe. It has no special meaning, beyond it being a popular holiday with lots of shopping involved. Decorations are set up months in advance, and they’re the kitschiest you’ve ever seen. They are even kitschier because it’s 30 °C outside. Christmas music is played everywhere, but not the songs you’re thinking of. Think techno remixes of “Last Christmas” blasting at full volume, everywhere from malls to street food stalls, and on repeat from October to March. It’s wild.
So even though it feels a bit weird to celebrate Christmas on Zoom, I’ve seen weirder, and it’s still Christmas.
This week’s wanderings: annual reviews, micro-traveling, and Berlin’s new favorite pastry.
🗓 Annual reviews
This month I jumped on the annual review bandwagon.
I’ve always loved introspective exercises, and December is a great excuse to spend some time reflecting on the past year and making plans for the next.
I found a lot of inspiration and ideas to guide the annual review process, my favorite being the template at annualreview.life:
It has a chronological structure that alternates between practical exercises and deeper questions:
- Milestones of the year
- Reflections on the year
- Current life assessment
- Intentions for the year ahead
- Planning for the year ahead
I’ve been through the first two steps as of writing this. It takes time, probably an hour or more for each step, and the author recommends doing it over the span of two weeks.
I also joined a Ness Labs community event on doing an annual review. Anne-Laure Le Cunff came up with nine areas to reflect on:
For each area, the exercise was to do a quick “Plus Minus Next” journaling entry. Basically: what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what to do next year.
This time, instead of writing for myself, some friends and I did it together by sharing short audio recordings about one area every day. We did that via our Cappuccino group podcast, and just finished the last area today.
I loved to share my annual review with friends, and hear theirs — it was a great way to get to know them better, on a more macro level, and speak about themes that rarely come up in everyday conversation.
The Ness Labs framework makes doing an annual review very easy, and I would definitely recommend it to you if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the extensive template from annualreview.life.
One of the weakest areas in my annual review was, understandably, travel.
The pandemic and its accompanying travel bans have forced us to travel domestically, and to explore our cities as a form of replacement for travel. Instead of relying on faraway places to expand our horizons, we had to learn to expand them while staying at home. I like to think of it as micro-traveling.
One of my favorite was to explore Berlin is to grab my bike, and cycle somewhere with a culinary goal in mind. A culinary goal can be visiting a new restaurant or, even better, trying a new kind of food (in Berlin, I’ve discovered dozens of Turkish dishes I’d never had before).
Tantuni, one of the many Turkish dishes discovered when micro-traveling in Berlin
Other ideas for micro-traveling could be museum visits (if that’s an option where you are), a street art hunt, or going for a walk in a neighborhood or park you’ve never been to.
Of course, it’s not the same as waking up in a foreign city with everything to discover, but pair micro-traveling with a good travel book, and it can expand your horizons just as much.
🥐 Berlin’s new favorite pastry
Through my favorite Berlin food blogger, I recently read that a new bakery had opened in town. Although there are already three amazing bakeries less than 15 minutes walk from my flat, I’m not going to complain about a fourth.
This was the perfect excuse for a new culinary adventure!
Clara and I visited it last weekend. We walked through the park early in the morning, the skies were clear, the grass frosted. We saw red squirrels chasing each other, birds eating from a birdseed bag someone had hung on a tree, and lots of people on their morning run.
The bakery looked brand new. Color scheme: white and wood. It looked like a hipster coffee shop. Bakers were kneading dough behind a large glass window, and the staff spoke French, of course. We got a loaf of sourdough bread and a selection of pastries: a pain au chocolat, some croissants, and a kouign amann.
While you are probably familiar with croissants and pains au chocolat, you might not know about kouign amann.
It’s a pastry from Brittany, France, that the New York Times once described as “the fattiest pastry in all of Europe”. It’s basically made with equal parts of flour, butter, and sugar. The story goes that when it was invented in the 1860s, butter was abundant but flour was scarce, which explains the high butter-to-flour ratio.
After discovering it on a trip to Brittany this summer, I started seeing it in every trendy bakery in Berlin: Albatross, La Maison, and now Gorilla. Each bakery has a slightly different take on the original recipe, but they’re all delicious and, yes, very fatty.
I should learn to bake it.