It was mid July, a few days before I changed my Berlin kitchen for the one in the Mediterranean, when I got an unexpected message from Cristina. She said she would be in Berlin for a few days and asked if I would like to bake together with her. She is a very close friend of my Maltese sister Emma, both of them love to bake and I have seen the two girls working on delicious cake and cookie creations quite a few times. Whenever I met Cristina in the kitchen we used to talk about German food as her mother is from the south of Germany and her cooking is influenced by both the Maltese and the German cuisine.
Emma and Cristina became friends on a film set a few years ago, they were booked for a few scenes in a big film production on the island and they bonded straight away. They are both exceptional beauties, so it didn’t take too long for them to become well known models in Malta, and against all clichés, their friendship managed to survive this business.
I was happy that Cristina got in touch to meet for a baking session, a meet in your kitchen changed to a meet in my kitchen! We decided to go for a fruity crumble. She suggested an apple crumble but in the end we went for gooseberries, they are in season at the moment and she had never tried these tart little berries before. I bought very ripe red berries as they are less sour than the green ones, I didn’t want to shock her too much with her first gooseberry experience! She loved them and they were a perfect addition to her cinnamony crumbles, juicy and fruity at the bottom and crunchy on top!
While we were baking and chatting in the kitchen, I asked her a few questions about her modelling, her studies and her recent travels to Marrakesh. Cristina just finished her bachelor of Science in Earth Systems, the past years of studying influenced her consciousness about environmental issues and affected her lifestyle strongly.
Cristina’s Gooseberry Crumble
gooseberries, cut in half, 500g / 1 pound
plain flour 300g / 10.5 ounces
Demerara sugar 175g / 6 ounces plus 2 scant tablespoons for the berries
butter, at room temperature, 200g / 7 ounces
ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon
Set the oven to 180°C / 355°F and butter a 20cm / 8″ baking dish.
Combine the flour and sugar, add the butter and mix with your fingers until you have a crumbly mixture.
Put the gooseberries in the baking dish and mix with 2 tablespoons of sugar mixed with the cinnamon. Spread the crumbles on top of the berries and bake for 45 minutes, turn the oven up to 200°C / 390°F and bake for further 15 minutes or until the crumbles are golden brown.
You live in Malta, your father is Maltese but your mother is from the south of Germany. How did these two cultures influence your life and personality?
I don’t really feel closer to one or the other. Actually I do feel like I am properly half Maltese and half German. I feel inspired by both cultures, I tend to cook more Mediterranean when it comes to savory food. When we’re in Germany I really enjoy how green it is and I spend more time outside in the countryside than I would in Malta.
What are your favourites from the Maltese and German cuisine?
From the Maltese cuisine, I love the typical Maltese Ftira bread with its filling (no fish). This is the food I really miss when I’m abroad, as the type of bread is so unique. From the German cuisine it would have to be the typical German dish called Milchreis.
What did you miss the most about Maltese food when you lived in Berlin? What did you discover here that you reallly enjoyed?
The Ftira. I love that in Germany, in Berlin in particular, there are little bakeries at every corner. I have a sweet tooth, so I love buying all kinds of pastries and cakes.
What was the first dish you cooked or baked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?
I don’t remember, but my family makes quite a big deal about birthdays. Every year, we all bake a special birthday cake for each other and take time in finding the perfect cake to bake and also work a lot on the decoration and make sure each cake looks different from one we had already done.
What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Malta?
I like places that promote fresh foods, preferably healthy ones also. The view and setting of the restaurant is also important. One of my favorite go to places for lunch, dinner or just any snack is Mint, in Sliema. They offer daily fresh options (and vegetarian ones too) and display their menu for the day in large refrigerators, so that people can see before hand what the food looks like. I recently also discovered the farmers market, where you can buy all sorts of local and fresh fruit and veg, straight from the farmer himself!
You’ve just finished your bachelor of Science in Earth Systems, can you explain what this is about? How did your studies effect your daily live and your environmental consciousness?
My course is an environmental based subject, which includes studying different branches of the environment, such as biodiversity, geology or hydrology. The course really changed how I think about a lot of things in our world. Apart from the obvious things such as being more environmentally aware, I am starting to reduce what I purchase, in terms of where things are produced, what I eat etc.
I know that you love to travel and you’ve just come back from Morocco, what were your strongest impressions? Did you make any new culinary discoveries?
Morocco was a wonderful place and very different to what I imagined. In the large cities, the people are not as conservative as you might think, and most citizens are super friendly. With regards to food, I felt that in the main cities such as Marrakesh, there was not much variation, particularly for vegetarian dishes. They mostly served couscous, vegetable tagine or omlettes. All meals however were always colourful in appearance and accompanied by a mix of olives and flat bread.
Besides being at university during the past few years, you also became a successful model. What do you like and what do you dislike about this job?
I just do some modelling in Malta as a hobby, and an easy way to make money rather than a job. Its fun to dress up for a while and play a different character, but I’m not someone that likes to spend time and money on clothes or new accessories. The industry also creates a large demand on animal trade, in particular furs or jewellery made from (for example) rhino horn. I am completely against this, and would refuse to model such items.
What or who inspired you to become an environmentalist?
The course I studied opened my eyes to the problems in our world, but I would say that it originated from my childhood. When I was young (and still now) our family outings always consited of a lot of outdoor activites, such as hikes or picnics in the countryside. When we visit Germany, we always go skiing in winter time and hike different mountains or cycle by lakes during summer time. The school I went to was also situated in a very green part of Malta and a lot of our activities consisted of interacting outside with the environment. This really influenced me.
What did you choose to share on eat in my kitchen and why?
I chose an apple crumble, which Meike interestingly suggested to make a goosberry crumble since the fruit is now in season. I actually came up with this recipe with a friend of mine when we were living in Berlin. We tweaked it so that it would really be ours, and we found it so delicious from the first bite. The streusel, or crumble, is really crisp and just the right texture to complement the slightly softened and flavoured fruit underneath.
If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?
It would have to be Ina Garten from the cooking show Barefoot Contessa. I watch all of her cooking shows and have her recipe books.
You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?
A nice quiche with grilled vegetables, pasta salad with vegetables and crunchy apples and a strawberry cheesecake.
What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?
My mother used to make pasta with sugar for us sometimes. When I have it now it just really reminds me of when I was younger. Something I would always have an appetite for now are my homemade brownies with nuts and white chocolate topping. Once I ate a whole portion in one day!
Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?
I like cooking with others if they know how to cook. It’s not so much fun with people who don’t really know how to cook or who are not really in the mood.
Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?
Which meal would you never cook again?
Once I cooked a chocolate coffee cake and I must have put too much coffee in. Since then the cake put me off coffee.
Thank you Cristina!