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.

Why My Appliances Fit in Barbie’s Dream House

Switzerland is one of the smallest, but most densely populated countries in Europe.  It has a population of approximately 7.3 million, with 173 people per square kilometer.  Here, space is at a premium.  In all other European countries, appliances are 60 centimeters wide. Here, they are 55 centimeters wide.  Why?  Space. There is a lack of it.

When we were looking for apartments, I noticed all the elevators were the same (tiny) size. This appears to be a pretty standard size that is just large enough to fit appliances in one at a time.  Our kitchen is packed like the blocks from a game of Tetris, but it all fits. We are lucky to even have appliances like a dishwasher, oven, washing machine and dryer.

They are also smaller than we were used to in the US and only hold about a half to a third of what our washer in the US did.  It also takes a bit longer to wash and dry a load here, clocking in at about 4 hours. The result, we wear things a little more before throwing them in the wash.

By the way, everything seems larger in the US.  Check out the size of the US toilet paper roll compared to the Swiss role.

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.

 

Baby, Baby, Baby, Oh

Our friends are having a baby so a bunch of us got together for a baby shower.

Baby showers in Europe are not like in the US in that, well, they don’t have them. People may send or give a gift after the baby is born, but don’t get together to celebrate of give presents before the baby.  Since you can’t go to the stores here and purchase baby shower invitations, I made the invitations.

It was a couples shower so we focused less on games, decorations and incredible cuteness.  Instead, we had food and drinks.  I made and individually wrapped Rice Krispie Treats for favors.  Some of our European guests had never tasted them before.  We were proud to introduce them to a new guilty pleasure.

Since we are American and can only adapt so much, we had one anyway.  In deference to the multicultural nature of this shower, we did not play any of the following games:

  • Guessing the circumference of the expectant mother’s tummy
  • Smearing melted candy bars in diapers and have people sniff to guess the brand
  • Tasting jars of baby food to guess the flavors
  • Collecting baby pictures of guests, putting them in a slide show and have guests guess whose picture it is
  • Making guess drink from baby bottles. Yes, I realize this is technically not a game.  They may have drunk from other types of bottles.
  • Have guests guess how much an assortment of baby supplies costs.  In Switzerland, I think this would only scare the parents to be…and everyone else.

In fact, we didn’t play any games (unless you count the impromptu Chartreuse tasting as a game).

The parents-to-be opened presents, many of which had an adorable Swiss theme.

Congratulations and best wishes guys.  We can’t wait to meet her.

Snow Report Geneva

“First we’ll make snow angels for two hours, then we’ll go ice skating, then we’ll eat a whole roll of Tollhouse Cookie Dough as fast as we can, and then we’ll snuggle.”- Buddy the Elf.
They don’t have Tollhouse Cookies here, but we finally have snow!  It was our first time seeing snow in Geneva.  Winter in Geneva, it is grey and cloudy.  The beautiful snow was a welcome change and no one seemed to mind the mess it made.
I didn’t bother getting dressed or putting on makeup, but downed a quick cup of coffee, put on snow pants, tied up my snow boots and ran out quickly with my camera.
Severe snow storms covered southern Europe and extremely cold temperatures are forecasted in the upcoming days.  North and east from where we are, people have gotten stuck in cars.  A few have actually frozen to death.
There was already a good amount of snow in the mountains, but it’s always nice to have more when you are skiing.  It snowed into the afternoon.  We got quite a bit, but I’m sure the Alps got even more. Unfortunately, they have also warned of strong avalanche danger in the alps.  Last week, someone was killed by an avalanche in Chamonix.
Today’s newspapers did not make it into their boxes.  At 8:00, the boxes were still empty.
Genevans were sledding, having snowball fights, and walking their dogs in the snow.  I didn’t see anyone on skis.
The city busily cleaning up the snow (a nice change from cleaning the streets) and by mid-day, the worst of the mess was over.  Although I didn’t see a single snow blower, people were out with salt and shovels, clearing the walks in front of every building.