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).

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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.

Be Thankful For Your Friends But Avoid The Friendship Cup

The object above isn’t the holy grail, an objet d’art, vase, fancy pipe or some kind of crazy teapot, it’s a friendship cup.  As Thanksgiving approaches, one of the things we are most grateful for this year is all of the friends we’ve made in Switzerland.

A friendship cup (also known as Coppa dell’amicizia, grolla or grolle ) is a round container with a lid and multiple spouts made of turned wood.  It is used for drinking special hot adult beverages with friends.  There’s a saying, “he who drinks it alone, will choke.”  Here’s how it works.

Gather your friends, or nearby people you want to become friends (because after you finish one of these you will be.  Traditionally you have at least one more person than the number of spouts on the cup.  Why?   You end up sharing and drinking from a different spout as the cup gets passed around the table.  People don’t worry about the germs for two reasons.  First, it’s your friends.  Secondly, what they put in the cup is strong enough that it could probably be classified as some sort of disinfectant.   You pass the cup around your group, not setting it down until it’s empty.  Trust me when I tell you that this is easier said than done.

We first encountered it when we visited the Aosta Valley in Italy.  Thank goodness no one whipped out a camera that night…  The friendship cup is an after dinner (or later) tradition in Lombardy and the rest of the Italian Alps.  It comes from the “Soldats de la Neige” (which translates into Soldiers of the Snow) who acted as guides to travelers in this rough terrain.   They needed extra “energy” to survive in the cold.   Having had some, it does seem to warm you up.  The drink’s popularity spread to include everyone who needed a little pick me up to brave the cold.

What’s in a Friendship Cup?  Valdostana coffee, a liquor ( usually Génépy, but it can be plain or fruit grappa, cognac, Cointreau, red wine or cum), sugar and spices.  Sometimes people add butter and orange peels.  Just make sure you have friends around to drink it with you.  It sounds delightful.  It’s not.  It’s Trouble.  That’s right, trouble with a capital “t.”

So as Thanksgiving approaches, thanks guys, we’re raising our glasses (or beers from the snow) to you and giving thanks, just don’t expect us to bust out the friendship cup.   Here’s to you, Cheers!  Kippis!  Chin Chin!  Santé!  Prost!  Slàinte!  Skål!  L’Chaim!  Na zdrowie!

Who Is This Betty Bossi Lady?

 

We all know that I am no Julia Child in the kitchen.  When we moved to Geneva, I saw the name Betty Bossi everywhere. I saw recipes, often heard the name and saw prepackaged Betty Bossi items for sale in the grocery store.   I began to wonder who is Betty Bossi?  I thought she was probably a Swiss celebrity chef, like the Swiss Emeril Lagasse, Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver.

Guess what?  The joke’s on me.  She’s not a real person, more of a marketing concept, kind of like a Swiss Betty Crocker.   Since my unfortunate kitchen accident, I’ve sworn off kitchen appliances (especially immersion blenders).   As a result, I won’t be making any of her uber-Swiss recipes that are available on myswitzerland.com.    May you have better luck in the kitchen than I do.

 

Les Incompetents Vol. 11: Our First Trip To The Hospital

From Doe Cooks Stag, who undoubtedly got it from Saturday Night Live and NBC

This morning, I cut the dickens out of my finger while making breakfast.  After applying pressure I lifted the towel to see how bad it looked, blood started gushing out.   I went into the bedroom where he was still sleeping and said “you need to get up because I think I need to go get stitches.”  He jumped out of bed with a look of extreme panic and fear.  Poor guy.  If I ever doubt how much he cares for me or my importance to him, remind me of that look.

Remember the old Saturday Night Live sketch where Dan Aykroyd parodies Julia Child continuing to cook while bleeding profusely from a cut on his hand.  Picture that instead off me posting disgusting pictures of my mangled paw.  To watch the hilarious clip, click here.

I had him take a look at my finger to see if I needed to go to the hospital.  He took one look and said yes.   I snuck a quick glance and almost fainted, literally.  I don’t like blood and I immediately sat down to avoid hitting it when I passed out.

After lying down on the floor for a bit, we walked to the tram with a towel tourniquet and my hand over my head.  We went to a nearby hospital.  They were great and couldn’t have been nicer.  They had me in and out (and in possession of all 10 digits) quickly.  The Swiss healthcare system is fantastic (our friend wrote about having surgery here if you’re curious).

Just like George Costanza in Seinfeld, my career as a hand model is over (check out a clip here).   I should walk around with oven mitts.

  • The E.T. point from E.T. The Extraterrestrial
  • You can pick your friends an you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.  Well, it least you can’t with such a large bandage.
  • “It’s just a flesh wound” à la Monty Python
  • “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood” from Dodgeball
  • He’s now calling me Captain Hook.

Sad, I know, but I took a painkiller so I’m giggling.

Captain Hook

Captain Hook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

 

Crepes, American Style

We had visitors and made a typically French food for them…Crepes. Yum!  Being American, the finer points of crepes escape us and we used whatever we had in the fridge/pantry to fill them.  We started out with Gruyere cheese, which is pretty typical.  Next, we tried goat cheese, which doesn’t seem too odd here in the land of cheese.
Of course, we had to break out the chocolate.
That made us think of peanut butter.  What goes really well with peanut butter?  Apples and cinnamon.  I’m guessing by this point we have done something that would make many French foodofiles shout “sacre bleu!”
Clearly, we were on a roll and there was no turning back.  Since we had the peanut butter out, what else could we use?  Jelly.   The French food gods might throw a lightning bolt for that one.  As Americans, we loved them and cannot recommend them highly enough.
P.S. We also made, goat cheese and berry. And yes, they were from a mix.  Don’t judge.  Besides, you can’t be all that surprised, we’re American.

Chocoholics Anonymous

Skanky B, Homie G, MC Roni enjoying hot chocolate
Yes. It really was this cool (despite what the lady in pink thought).
Skanky B, Homie G, MC Roni* and I toured the Cailler Chocolate Factory (located in Bulle, near Gruyeres). When you walk up, you smell chocolate. They must pump the smell out there because it was ridiculous. If only I could smell that good…
While waiting to start the tour, we had hot chocolate in the cafe. Yes. We were coloring. My drawing is up on my fridge. After color time, we went to the movie theater (with chocolates purchased from the gift shop) to watch old commercials. They were quite entertaining, perhaps even more so because they were in French.  You go through a Disney style telling of the history of chocolate before getting to the star of the tour, the chocolate itself. There is a room where you get to learn about, smell and touch the ingredients.
The tour just kept getting better and better. Next, you got to see a sample production line for Cailler’s Branches.
What do they do with that freshly made chocolate? They let you eat it! This is where the tour started to get really good. At this point, we were pretty much thinking that this was the best tour ever. We camped out here for a good five minutes eating.
Then, we went to the next room and the tour got even better! They had a giant room with all of their delectable products. You could spend as long as you wanted there and eat as much of it as you wanted!!!This is where we did America proud. We gorged ourselves. It was gluttony at its finest and also a bit embarrassing (not that we minded because our mouths were full of chocolate). They were not going to hurry us out of there or limit our consumption. Nevertheless, we were like Augustus Gloop at Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory stuffing our faces as fast as we could.

 

My personal favorite
You can’t see our teeth because our mouths were full.
We stumbled out of the tasting room in a chocolate haze. Here are some photos from the gift shop:
You can scroll to the top to see the before.  This is the after.
 
Clearly, we were on a bit of a sugar high.
By the way, if you come to visit, the factory also has a kitchen where they give chocolate cooking classes. They fill up so be sure to pre-book well in advance.
*Names have been changed to protect the not so innocent.
 

Le Hot Dog

Sometimes, the food here is just a little bit different than what we are used to eating. He ordered a hot dog. It came in a baguette with ketchup and mustard. He asked for it without the mayonaise, otherwise it comes standard. It was good, but no Portillo’s.