No Horsing Around, The Horse Meat Scandal

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Have you ever eaten something and then regretted it?  Since moving here, I’ve occasionally eaten horse.  I buy it for American visitors to taste.  If you’ve watched the news lately, you can understand why I might be regretting it.  If you haven’t seen news stories about Europe’s horse meat scandal, here’s a recap.  Horse meat has been discovered in European beef products sold in supermarkets in countries including Britain, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Ireland.  Here, eating horse (particularly in countries like France and Switzerland) is commonplace; it’s estimated that each person in Switzerland eats between 600 and 700 grams of horse meat each year.

From The Swiss Watch Blog

There are two types of horses, ones that are given the powerful and dangerous veterinary drug called phenylbutazone (also known as Bute and banned for human use because to cases severe side effects) and those without who are issued health certificates certifying they can enter the food chain.   Can you guess what happened?

from afp.com

Spanghero, a French company, labeled the horse meat it received from a Romanian slaughterhouse as beef.  According to officials, Spanghero should have identified the meat as horse from its Romanian customs code, as well as its appearance, smell and price. The company said it acted in good faith, never ordered horse meat, and never knowingly sold horse meat.  Parisian prosecutors are now investigating it as fraud.

From Business Inquirer

The geographic scope of the scandal expanded this week.  While the quality of food and the food chain in Switzerland is quite high, Swiss company Nestle (the world’s largest food company) is now embroiled in the scandal.   It suspended deliveries of all products supplied by German subcontractor H.J. Schypke alleging they sold the contaminated meat to one of Nestle’s suppliers.  German discount retailer Lidl pulled products from Finnish, Danish and Swedish stores after finding horse meat in products labeled as beef.  German ministers met in Berlin earlier this week to discuss the scandal.

Horse meat scandal dominating the front pages

Horse meat scandal dominating the front pages (Photo credit: Gene Hunt)

But, wait, it gets worse…. The Swiss program, Kassensturz, showed emaciated horses being beaten, neglected and transported in cramped conditions without food or water before being slaughtered.  Apparently it was pretty disturbing.  In response,  several grocery stores, including Coop, Denner, Aldi, Spar and Migros, pulled most horse meat products off their shelves.  Coop and Migros continue to sell some from suppliers (mostly in Canada or France) in whom they have confidence.  It’s almost enough to make me a vegetarian again.  It’s definitely enough to reduce my meat consumption and be choosier about where I purchase it.

 

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Epiphany/Three Kings Day

We Three Kings

We Three Kings (Photo credit: pixieclipx)

Once again, I’m ashamed to say that I was in my late twenties before I ever even know this holiday existed (commemorating the day when the three kings presented their gifts to the baby Jesus).  Here’s how they celebrate it here.

P1060042

P1060042 (Photo credit: keepps)

You knew it. You knew there had to be one. You were right; they have a special pastry.   Every holiday here seems to have its own special pastry and this is not exception.  It is a ring of buns, one of which contains small plastic kings.  If you get that roll, you win a crown and the right to tell everyone what to do for the rest of the day.  Carolers dressed as three kings also roam the streets singing (known as Star Singing).

The bread ...

The bread … (Photo credit: pedro_cerqueira)

Who doesn’t love a great loaf of bread?  Before we moved, we would sometimes go to our neighborhood’s French bakery and buy a nice loaf of fresh bread.

Swiss bread and chocolate

Swiss bread and chocolate (Photo credit: ellengwallace)

Since we moved, we have been buying great bread at local patisseries.  It is made fresh each morning and we buy a loaf to eat over the next 2-3 days while  while it is still fresh.  Ymmmm.  This is dangerous because you have to go there several times a week (only a block away).  When it’s no longer really fresh, we feed it to the ducks on Lake Geneva (except for when our niece visited when we bought loaves to feed to them).

Like Most Swiss Cuisine, The Valaisian Plate Is Definitely Not Vegan,

Visitors to Switzerland probably want to taste some authentic Swiss food.  For many, this means fondue.   It’s a great cold weather dish, but a bit harder to eat in the middle of summer.  The Valaisian Plate (Assiette Valaisanne in French and Bündnerfleisch  in German) is great in summer, but perfect when the weather turns. It is a savory plate of charcuterie and good choice year round.  Consisting of paper-thin slices of local dried meats such as salami, bacon, and/or dried beef it isn’t a vegetarian dish.  People order it as an appetizer or side.  Since it usually comes with bread on the side, I’ll order it as my main course (as it is usually an affordable option) in more casual restaurants.

How Not To Eat Like An American

This post doesn’t have anything to do with America’s obesity epidemic. It concerns customary fork and knife handling (aka their utensil etiquette).

Years ago, someone told me that it was easy to tell I was American when I ate.  It wasn’t the massive amount of food I shoveled into my big mouth at an astounding rate. They told me that Americans are easy to spot because they tend to cut their food with the knife in their right hand and the fork in their left hand.  After cutting their food, they set the knife down and switch the fork to their right hand to eat.   They told me that a spy gave himself away as an American by doing this and lost his life.  Knowing that my life could rest on this small habit, I promptly changed to the European method and haven’t looked back (just don’t ask me to right-click with my left hand).

If you want to eat like the Swiss, here are some simple rules:

  • Always eat with knife in one hand and fork in the other (except for fondue).  I have seen people eat open-faced sandwiches with a knife and fork.   Although I found it difficult, I did it too.  When in Rome, right?  I didn’t want to be the bad American with horrible table manners.
  • Under no circumstance are you to switch the fork to your right hand from your left.
  • Note the palms concealing the handles of the utensils in the top photo.  Americans tend to hold their fork like a pen.  If you are a spy, don’t let this detail ruin an otherwise seller performance.
  • Do not put your one or both of your hands in your lap at the dinner table. This even borders on rude. Here, people put forearms and/or elbows on the table when they aren’t eating.  That’s also different for me because on the US elbows on the table is considered rude.
  • Take bread and wipe your plate until it is sparkling clean.  The bread here is very good, so this should not present any difficulties.

If this seems like a lot, you could just avoid the knife and fork altogether and live off fondue or switch to chopsticks.

Spring Is Our Yellow Period

When Magglio was here, he was intrigued by huge yellow fields of flowering plants that, from a distance, looked like Canola.  We asked the proprietor of a cafe what they were.  He told us that they had two names.  In France, they are known as “pissenlit,” which translates to “pissing the bed” (and is also another term for dandelion).   In Switzerland, they are known as “dents de lion,”  which translates to “lion’s teeth.”  He showed us a salad of  the greens.  Apparently you can only eat the plant’s greens before they flower.   After they flower, they become too bitter.

We stopped at a field to investigate.  It was beautiful.  Knowing the name, we bought some at the market the next day and made our own.  Tasty.

The plants had just begun to flower and continued to do so.   I couldn’t understand why the fields would be filled with them if they weren’t for some other purpose.  They grew quickly.  On our hike last weekend, two weeks after Magglio’s visit, they were taller than me (not that it’s hard).

Curious, I did a bit of research and determined that they are Colza (Brassica rapa), a type of rapeseed.  I’d never heard of it before.  Looking up translations, it translates to…Colza.  So much for that.

Apparently, Colza oil is big in Europe.  They extract the oil for both industrial applications and food.  Historically, it was used to light streetlights before electric lighting, to light lighthouses, and in lamps in the place of whale oil.  It is also used to calm choppy seas and even as biodiesel.  They use the cake after the extraction as feed for pigs.  Us?  We just like the flowering fields.

The Peanut Butter Crisis Of Today Is The Joke Of Tomorrow

This week, we had a crisis of epic proportions.  We almost ran out of peanut butter!  Actually, it depends on your definition of “almost”, this is what we had left.

We consciously try not to recreate our American lives here.  We’re trying to do things the way the Swiss do and use local products…with one exception.   He loves peanut butter.   He may survive on peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and honey sandwiches (feel free to draw conclusions about the quality of my cooking).

He used to be a JIF man, but when we became DINK’s (Dual Income No Kids) we started splurging.  We love Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter (the kind made from only crushed peanuts). He’s a creamy man.  I’m a crunchy girl.  Since he eats 30x more of it than I do, we buy creamy.

When I saw the “almost empty” jar in the fridge, I went to the nearest supermarket that I thought would have peanut butter that wasn’t completely packed with sugar and oils.  They didn’t have plain crushed peanuts so I bought one that was mostly peanuts with a small amount of oil.  For good measure, I bought one that was made of only crushed almonds and another of only crushed cashews.   Crisis averted.

“Man cannot live by bread alone, he must have peanut butter.” – President James A. Garfield.

 

Fondue In Switzerland = Cheesy, Gooey Goodness

If you come visit, expect to eat fondue.  Fondue restaurants are pervasive and even a non-cook like me can make fondue at home.  Our friends Pitbull and TNT came to visit and we had a fondue extravagaza.  Here’s how we made it:

  • Cut the bread into cubes of less than an inch. Some people like the bread a bit dry (to better absorb the cheese) and will use day old bread and/or cut it a few hours ahead.
  • Split a piece of garlic in two.  Rub the inside of the fondue pot it.
  • Pour a bit of white wine (preferably Swiss, it should be dry not sweet) in the bottom of the pot.
  • Pour the shredded cheese (see below for which ones) in the pot and stir.
  • Add more wine, bit by bit to ensure a smooth texture.  I find it helpful to leave a bit of cheese in reserve to add if the mixture becomes a bit thin and/or runny.
  • Stir the mixture so that the cheese melts and cooks evenly.
  • While you want the cheese to melt, you don’t want it to burn.  Check the temperature to make sure that it is not too hot.
  • Raise your glass, toast and begin eating.
  • While eating, adjust the heat so that the cheese stays at a constant temperature and does not overcook.

Eating fondue is easy.  The largest problem associated with eating fondue is overeating.  Put a small piece of bread on the fork/dipper/fondue skewer, stir it in the cheese and enjoy. Although I can’t help you with the overeating part, here are some tips and etiquette for eating fondue:

  • Even though you will want to pop the cheesy goodness right into your mouth, try to be patient and let the cheese drip/cool for a second.
  • To avoid sharing too many germs, people avoid touching their mouths to the fork/dipper/fondue skewer.
  • Drink only white wine or room temperature water while eating fondue to avoid indigestion.  You will thank yourself if you do this and curse yourself if you don’t.
  • If you lose your bread in the cheese, custom dictates that you buy the next round of drinks or be thrown in the lake (Lac Leman/Lake Geneva).  Given Geneva’s expensive prices, you may be in for a dunking in Geneva’s approximately 5 degree waters (41 Fahrenheit).  You were warned.
  • La religieuse (French for the nun) refers to the well-cooked remnants of cheese that stick to the bottom of the pot.  They are scraped out and eaten.  Yum.

The Swiss debate the best type of cheese fondue.  The most popular types include (in order of popularity):

Sometimes, a shot of Kirsh, tomatoes, peppers (red and green), or mushrooms will be placed in the cheese.  Of course, the French (Comté savoyard, Beaufort, and Emmental or just different types of Comté)  and Italians (Fontina, milk, eggs and truffles) have their own versions.

There is, apparently, a much larger world of fondue out there, just waiting to be discovered (and eaten).  Other types of fondue include:

  • Chocolate fondue, where pieces of fruit are dipped into a melted chocolate mixture,
  • Fondue bourguignonne, where pieces of meat are cooked in hot oil
  • Fondue chinoise, a hot pot, where pieces of meat are cooked in broth.

Although it will be burdensome, we will do the research and report back.

Ricola!!!!!!!!!!!!

 
He’s got a cold.  We’re in Switzerland.  This is a no-brainer. Riccollaaaaaa!    We never bought them in the US, so I can’t tell you if they taste the same.  Regardless, they are surprisingly good.
 

Here’s some fun Ricola info for you.  The mountains on the label are the Eiger (the ogre) on the left, the Jungfrau (virgin) on the right and the Monch (the monk) between them.  Obviously.  


Ironically, the Ricola gardens are outside Zermatt home of the Matterhorn (another famous mountain, but not on the label).*

One more interesting Ricola tidbit, Michael Jackson included them in his pre-concert ritual!

Here’s the link to the commercial, Halloween Ricola commercials, a politician whose aide is coughinga slightly off color European commercial, some funny ones in German featuring typically Swiss things like Heidi, huntingmountain climbing and a goat.  WARNING: If you watch it, you will be bellowing “Riccollaaaa” all day long.

* There are actually five Ricola gardens in Switzerland.

The Case of the Exploding Banana

No room for Costco products here
The Swiss have grocery stores everywhere, neighborhoods have markets multiple times a week and there are tons of corner stores. Why?  They have small fridges.* Even when they have larger ones, they buy only their food for a day or two at a time. In the US, I shopped in bulk. I tried to grocery shop once a week, but if I still had milk and bananas I would push it.
When we arrived, I went grocery shopping for the first time. I bought the largest bunch of bananas they had because that’s what I did in the states. When we arrived home the next day, things smelled funny. I had left my new bananas near the window in the kitchen.  Several of them exploded.** When you food is picked for taste and isn’t crammed full of preservatives, it just doesn’t last as long. Go figure.

*Swiss appliances are very small. I believe the standard width is 55 cm (don’t quote me on this, I haven’t gotten out the measuring tape). Here is a link to apartment differences, including the small appliances.

**We now keep our fruit in a bowl in our entry hall because it is the darkest room in our apartment. I’d put some of it in the fridge, but it is too small.