Happy Valentine’s Day

While Valentine’s Day isn’t anywhere close to as big in Switzerland as it is in the US, it’s still possible to find signs of it.  It’s kind of nice because there is no way I would go out to dinner in the US on Valentine’s Day.  The restaurants are too crowded and it somehow seems stilted.  Here, where things aren’t quite as commercialized (or mainstream), it’s quite nice…until you get the Swiss-sized bill and are reminded why you don’t do this very often.   Oh well, at least the chocolates are to die for.

 

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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.

Buon Appetito! Eating Our Way Through Milan

Although we saw some cool stuff in Milan, one of the main reasons to go to Italy is for the food and drink.  They are an attraction in and of themselves and did not disappoint.

We had at least two cappuccino for breakfast every day.  Italians only order cappuchinos until 10:00.  Although italians only drink cappuccino until 10:00 a.m., they pop in for expressos all day long.  If you run into a friend in the street, it is customary to pop into a café for a quick espresso at the bar while you catch up.  Ten minutes later, you’re back on your way.  Perfect for caffeine addicts like us who don’t always like to linger at a table.

Before dinner, Italian tradition is to have an aperitivo.  It is a pre-meal drink meant to stimulate appetite, but seems to be an excuse to go out for a drink, relax and chat with friends.   When in Rome, or Milan…

I loved the Antipasti, the appetizer course, because I usually hadn’t gorged myself yet so I could eat while I was actually hungry.  The food was so good that I did a good amount of eating when I wasn’t actually hungry.  It was so tasty that I just had to eat it.   Who knows when I’d have another chance to taste something like that?

One of his favorites was a cheese plate that included burrata, a fresh artisanal cheese made from mozzarella and cream.  Although people eat cheeses that are older than some of our nieces and nephews, you are supposed to eat burrata within 24 hours after it is made.  Ours came on a plate with fresh buffalo mozzarella and ricotta.  De-lish-us!

In Italy, pasta is usually the next course, known as Primo Patti.  Although they sometimes serve soup, rice,  polenta, etc., it’s usually a rich pasta dish.  Carbalicious.

Secondo, the main course, usually consists of chicken, meat, or fish.  With so many courses, thankfully the portions aren’t too large.  Most Italians don’t eat an antipastoprimosecondo and dolce at every meal, but the selections are always on the menu.  Just because we pigged out doesn’t mean you are required to.

The dolce (Italian for sweet), dessert, ends the meal.  People often order an espresso to help digestion and to finish off a meal.  Plus it gives them more time to sit and talk over food and drink.

Sorry, we couldn’t wait to take a picture before taking a bite out of our daily gelato.  We weren’t the only ones who liked gelato, just check out this cute little guy.  He was going to town on his gelato.  Notice how he is inside the restaurant.

Remember, friends don’t let friends serve each other packaged food.  Viva l’Italia.

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.

 

How Hot Was It?

Mid-morning hydration break. I drank all of it and, well, let’s just say I wasn’t running around in search of a bathroom.

We had heard that December through March is the best time to visit Dubai and to avoid going during Ramadan.  July and August have average temperatures mid-30s to 40s Celsius.  We went at the end of June.  Oops.

You can see where the drip irrigation lines are located.

I’d been warned about the heat.  People actually used the word boil.  Knowing about the heat and actually experiencing it are two different things.  It was 48, 45 and 47 (118, 113, 116 Fahrenheit) on the three days I was there.  I melted.

Bus shelters are air-conditioned.

I have run marathons where I hydrated less.   Like Jane Austen, the heat put me in a perpetual state of inelegance (which unfortunately seems to be the status quo for me).  More accurately, I was dripping, a hot mess.  Luckily, I wasn’t the only one.  Anyone I encountered walking around outside was melting as well.

The inside. Not frigid air-conditioning like in the US, but it kept me from melting.

The heat is incessant.  It doesn’t let up.  Even after dark it is intense.  When I went to the airport at 5:00 a.m., it was already over 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) intense, even after dark.

It was so hot that even the wind towers had air-conditioning.

Just how hot was it?

  • It’s so hot, today I saw a chicken lay a fried egg.
  • Birds have to use potholders to pull worms out of the ground.
  • It’s so hot you need a spatula to remove your clothing.
  • Potatoes cook underground, so just pull one out and add butter, salt and pepper.
  • It’s so hot that I saw two trees fighting over a dog.
  • It’s so hot the robins are laying their eggs sunny side up.

They joke that at one time, water was a more valuable resource than oil. I believe it. It hasn’t rained there in over 3 years!

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)

Everything You Don’t Need And Can’t Live Without

In English, terms like into attic sales, flea markets, secondhand, garage sales, car boot sales, all mean cheap prices on used stuff.  In French, terms like brasserie, vides greniers, marche aux puces, brocantes, all mean about the same thing.

In 1754, Carouge, just beyond Geneva’s city limits, was granted to Victor Amideus, King of Sardinia.  It became a refuge for Catholics, less puritanical Protestants, and even Jews.  Its streets are laid on a grid pattern with lots of trees and planters.  The city has low Mediterranean style buildings and interior courtyard gardens.  We like to go for a stroll there and aren’t the only ones.  It’s become a trendy ‘hood.

Some people have a problem with buying or using people’s old stuff.  I have no such compunction and am a sucker for these sales.   This one didn’t have much furniture (which is fine because I don’t have much extra space), but had a lot of everything else including Mexican food (which is a rarity here).   It was great, but perhaps the least spicy Mexican food ever.  The Swiss don’t eat spicy food and so most foreign food is toned down for the Swiss market.   We didn’t care.  I have a supply of assorted hot sauces at the apartment.  If you come visit us, please bring more.

We don’t have children, but I wanted to buy some of the toys anyway.  When I was young I had one of the Fisher-Price castles like the one below and loved it.  It was hard to pass this puppy up.

I think these sales are great places to pick up unusual souvenirs.  We’ve had visitors pick up paintings, books, beer steins, cool glasses, tastevins, vintage t-shirts, Swiss army knives and other cool Swiss army gear at the flea market.

I got a couple of Swiss army knives, a couple of old champagne buckets (to use as planters on my balcony), a leather purse big enough to hold my giant camera (super cute for summer), and a Sherlock Holmes book (in French).    While I didn’t need any of it, apparently I could live without it.

I love these sales because you never know what you will see.  They are like a mini cultural time capsule.  Although you might be able to find an old wheel in the US, you probably won’t find some old spraying equipment or watch parts.

Saluhall

We like to eat and who doesn’t love drooling over food while on vacation.  As a result, we’ve been to some famous food halls (London’s Harrod’s, Boston’s Faneuil Hall, New York’s Fulton Fish Market, Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel).   Saluhallen, is a historic indoor food market in the heart of Stockholm’s old Ostermalm neighborhood.  Saluhall has around 17 small businesses, most have been run by the same family for generations. Here are some of the things we liked about it:

  • It is located in a magnificent building that dates from 1888.   The exterior is neo-gothic.  It looks a bit like a medieval castle and it’s iron framework give allow it the inside to have a high ceiling and enormous windows.
  • The stallholders are very nice and happy to share their extensive knowledge and experience.  They are a wealth of information about the food, how to cook it, etc.

  • The incredible displays of wonderful food are a treat for the eyes.
  • It is a market for locals.  They seem to want both nice quality Swedish food and more exotic foods from other countries.  Therefore, it has a nice variety of foods.

  • It is a great place to grab a wonderful, but reasonably priced bite.
  • Great people watching.
  • Something about it seems to put people in a good mood.  It has a warm, cheery atmosphere.  Maybe it’s the moose heads…

Don’t take our word for it, Bon Appétit Magazine named it the world’s seventh best food market.

We stopped there for coffee and smoked salmon smørrobrød (an open face sandwich).  I would probably have chosen something less smelly if I had known that I would be speaking with royalty.   Never mind, it was so good that I stand by my choice.