Saturday, May 30, 2009

Currently Reading... Lots

My latest Amazon order arrived on Wednesday, so I've had my nose buried in paper and ink for a few days. Here's what you might see me curled up on the couch with:

The Secrets of Baking
by Sherry Yard



The Amazon reviews of this one were excellent. Sherry Yard breaks down desserts into "master recipes," which can then be tweaked to get very different results. The book also goes into the scientific side of baking, why certain ingredients behave in certain ways. I bought this one as much for the theoretical information as for the recipes.

Doing Without Delia: Tales of Triumph and Disaster in a French Kitchen
by Michael Booth



This is an amusing inside look at what it's like to be a student at the Cordon Bleu, most famous cooking school in the world, interspersed with tales of life in Paris. The kind of cooking that he's learning (traditional French) isn't really my taste (quenelles of pig ear, anyone?), but it was an entertaining read nonetheless. In particular, the portrayals of the chefs at the Cordon Bleu are priceless. I bought this one a few weeks ago from Orell Füssli to tide me over until the rest of these books arrived.

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?
By Philip Yancey



I've read most of Yancey's books - he was one of the first authors I picked up as a new Christian and never turned back. His honesty about his struggles and questions is what keeps me coming back to his writing - he has no fear of putting down on paper many things I've wondered about. He's also amazingly good at holding the paradoxes of faith in perfect tension with "both sides fierce." Not to mention, he loves C.S. Lewis too and quotes him abundantly. I'm only a few chapters into this one; best to take it in digestible chunks.


Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook




Yeah... another baking book. This one also had great reviews on Amazon. And I have a weird fascination with Martha Stewart stuff. Ok ok... it's the last one! (For a while.)

Color: A Natural History of the Palette
by Victoria Finlay



This one I bought on recommendation from my art teacher friend, who is giving it to all her students as summer reading. The author has some background in anthropology and combines many different disciplines (as well as lots of travel) into this fascinating look at the ingredients, history, culture and people behind colors. I'm in the middle of the first chapter, called "Ochre," and am already totally engrossed.

Williams Sonoma: Breakfast




We're big weekend-breakfast eaters (in contrast to weekdays when all I have before lunch is a cup of tea) and I was sold as soon as I saw eggs Benedict on the cover. The plan is, with the help of this book, to branch out from pancakes, scones, and bagels to something a little more creative - although whether I can actually get my butt out of bed and go right into making a
hollandaise is another matter entirely.

by Jack Bishop



I've been feeling a little bored lately with our veggies - it seems like we just eat the same ones over and over: corn, carrots, peppers, zucchini, salad, tomatoes, blah. I bought this for inspiration! Mom, I'm sure you're glad to see it on the list to make up for all the sugary books above. :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Yes.


Yes, I do have the most beautiful and regal kitty in the world.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Where do I sign?

I've rejoiced a few times on here about the smoking ban for bars and restaurants in canton Zurich that passed last year and will go into effect in October, and just yesterday I heard about another initiative to put an even stricter law to vote. Forty organizations have allied themselves to collect 100'000 signatures by November 2010 and thereby force a national vote to ban smoking in all enclosed public places: bars, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and workplaces. Right now different cantons have different rules, which can be really confusing - if this vote passed, the same law would apply across the country. Let's hope!!

You can read a short article about it in English here. If you have Swiss voting rights, go over to the website of the initative committee, download the signature form, and send it in right now!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Aerial the Mermaid

Talking about the kinds of birthday cakes we had growing up.

Romy: My dad always used his pastry chef skills to make me beautiful cakes.. one year I had balloon cakes, another year I had an Ariel cake....
Backie: An aerial cake?! Like a stunt plane? Cool!
Romy: Umm... *starts laughing*
Backie: *puzzled* Or was it aerial like antennae? A radio cake?
Romy: No! Ariel! The Little Mermaid!
Backie: Oh.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One pot, two pot, puzzle pot, blue pot...

What do teddy bears (2005), lions (1986), benches (2001), and cows (1998) have in common? Zurich! Every few years the city does a "summer campaign" where there are hundreds of the same object all over the city, each one decorated in a unique way. The cows are the most famous and have since become a huge international art project as other cities have done their own exhibitions (now called CowParades) as well. Usually the theme will spill over into other events as well - for example, in 2005 there was a huge teddy-bear-lovers convention that took place at the Schützenhaus Albisgütli.

This year's project, called Garden City Zurich (another article here), has 307 enormous plant pots all over the city - on sidewalks, in the train station, everywhere! Each pot cost CHF 1000 to buy. Most of them have been sponsored by different shops and companies and decorated by well-known artists and designers. Each pot has its own plaque listing the sponsor, artist, and a whole paragraph describing the huge plants that fill them. In some ways it's kind of a big advertising gimmick for the sponsors and artists, but... it's still cool!

Here are some of the colorful pots on display between the train station and Rennweg. Sorry for the less-than-stellar photos, I forgot my camera at home and had to use my phone instead.

The Body Shop and Kurz Jewelers pots (there had to be at least one with diamonds - this is Zurich after all!).

I like how the three people in this picture all have colorful/patterned clothes on as well - they look like they belong right there with the pots!




You'll often find me here - Orell Füssli, The Bookshop. The place to stock up on English books!

These two pots are outside Franz Carl Weber, the toystore.




Seeing all these today put me in a really good mood - the sun is shining, summer is here, and I love living near a city that does neat things like this! The exhibit is on display until September 19th.

A Summer Flight Steal

Backie just told me about a flight deal he saw online. Delta Airlines is about to start operating a JFK-Zurich service and are advertising great summer fares of under $500 USD round trip from JFK. Even connecting flights from other east coast cities only add about $100 more. Too bad flight deals of this price were not available last summer during our wedding! For more info check out their international sale website. And let us know if you need a place to stay!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Daring Bakers and Braving Bagels

It seems like every time I turn around, one of the yummy baking blogs I follow (see Lick Your Lips in the sidebar) posts a scrumptious write-up of the latest Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. I would love to be part of this group too, but as I've mentioned before I just don't think I could keep up with something new every week!

Nevertheless, after some hemming and hawing, I finally took the plunge and joined the Daring Bakers a couple days ago. Every member makes the same assigned recipe, and then posts the write-up about it on the 27th of each month and compares experiences. The point is to try recipes that you would not ordinarily try, and to learn to become a better baker from your fellow bloggers. Some of the things they have done really intimidate me (laminated dough, anyone?) but since there's only one recipe a month, that gives me four whole weekends to get my act together. I can do that, right? Keep your eyes peeled for my first challenge write-up on June 27th!

So, while we're on the theme of daring baking, I made my own cinnamon raisin bagels last weekend using this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. If you ask me what I miss about living in the States, bagels are near the top of the list. The specimens I've seen here, well... let's just say that they're motivation to give it a try myself.

The recipe says you can make it a two-day project and that's what I did - right off the bat I'll say it's a lot of work, and time. You'll definitely need a weekend to make these. Secondly, I modified two ingredients slightly. First of all, I used normal all-purpose flour since I couldn't find high-gluten bread flour at the local grocery store. And secondly, instead of malt syrup or honey, I used golden syrup.


The first step is to create a "sponge" out of flour, water, and yeast, and let it sit for two hours to rise. Here's the start of my sponge.

Once the yeast is very active and the sponge is bubbly, you add the rest of the ingredients:

The dough (7 cups of flour!) ends up being very stiff. I nearly killed my poor KitchenAid asking it to do the kneading and when I finally turned it out on the bench, it was hard work to get all those raisins to stay in the dough!

Then you shape balls and let them rest...

...and shape the balls into bagels and let them rest some more in the fridge overnight...

...and finally, the next day, you get to the fun part - boiling and baking and eating!



I would say that if a NY bagel is a 10, these are about a 7 - certainly better than anything I've found here. They lost the points because a) they're not quite as puffy as I like (1 point) and b) they're a bit too chewy (2 points). I think the lack of puffiness is from using only 11% protein flour - next time, I'm going to try with a 13% flour that I found in the city. And the chewiness, well, I probably boiled them a little too long. No matter, they still taste pretty darn good and I'm thrilled to have more than a dozen in my freezer just waiting to be toasted, covered in cream cheese, and enjoyed!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Summer Sippin'

Walking along Bahnhofstrasse, Niederdorf, or Bellevue at the height of summer, you'll see many people at the outdoor cafes with glasses of wine that look rather odd. For one, there's a lot more in the glass than the usual precise 1 dl pour that constitutes a glass of wine here. Secondly, a slice of lemon or orange is floating around in the drink. And finally... there are ice cubes in the wine. Ice in any drink besides a cocktail doesn't happen here, and ice in wine is sacrilege. So what's going on?

It's a gschprützte Wisse. A what? Literally "spritzed white", a glass of white wine (either sweet or dry, your choice) is topped up with sparkling water, a slice of citrus, and ice cubes. You won't see this on every wine cards or menu (don't worry, just order it anyway), but it's the thing to drink all summer in Switzerland - cool, refreshing, tasty, and not nearly as pricy as that mojito you were eyeing!
For an interesting and relaxed place to enjoy your gschprützte Wisse, check out My Place, a restaurant/bar just around the corner from the Kunsthaus. It doubles as a furniture store - everything is for sale and the furnishings change from day to day as things are sold, so it looks different every time!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Some Days...

...work is frustrating and aggravating, like yesterday. And other days, like today, I get emails from friendly parents saying: "Dear Romy, thank you so much for all your help this year. We have a holiday house on the beach in Tuscany. Would you and your husband like to use it sometime?"

Huh. The craziness of life at an international school.

PS. For more stories of what it's like to work on a daily basis with the rich and famous of Zurich's social scene (it's not all beach houses in Tuscany!), check out the Young Traveler's blog. She is the private tutor for the son of a such a family and has had some pretty out-there experiences!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Decisions, Decisions: It's Voting Day!

Should every station in canton Zurich have half-hourly train service? Who should be the town ombudsperson? Is it okay for the Zurich power provider to invest 200 million francs in wind energy? Should the Adliswil town council buy a new building? Should it be mandatory that every new Swiss passport issued is a biometric one? Do the people of Schaffhausen approve of a new train station? Should parking cost more in the city of Zug? Do the people of Uri want the voting age lowered to 16?

These are some of the questions that voters all over Switzerland are answering today, one of four or five annual voting Sundays. Some people vote by mail, some people go to the town hall and cast their ballot in person. I belong to the former group - it's more convenient and I can take my time thinking about the issues before I vote. About three weeks before the voting day, a thick gray envelope arrives in the mail. Inside are ballots as well as little booklets explaining both sides of the issues. There are three levels of voting: municipal, cantonal, and federal, so depending on where you live some of your questions are different.

This system of direct democracy is something I love about Switzerland. The majority vote wins, plain and simple, and we get to vote on issues that directly affect our environment - like the smoking ban vote that passed last year and will come into effect on October 1. Can't wait!

Asia Spaahhh

Some people don't like massages - they're ticklish, or weirded out by a stranger seeing them semi-naked, or just aren't so touchy-feely. I've met plenty of these people, and I am most emphatically not one of them. I like hugs. I like exchanging shoulder rubs while watching a movie with friends - if Lyndsey came to live in Zurich I would get nothing done. And I definitely love massages.

They're expensive so I don't get them very often, but when I'm a bachelorette for the weekend and want to treat myself, I go to Asia Spa at SihlCity. It's close, emails are answered quickly, the staff are friendly, there's tea while you wait, the rooms are relaxing and calm, and the massages are awesome no matter who you get. I left this morning feeling like I was walking on a cloud...

Asia Spa
SihlCity (above the Sheraton Four Points)

Kalandergasse 1
8045 Zurich

044 454 2040
info@asia-spa.com

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lemon Bars and a Lemony Confession

Here is the confession: I love lemon curd. Out of the jar. With a spoon and nothing else. I have been known to lick away nearly half a jar of this edible sunshine in one sitting, despite Backie's nose wrinkles and faces at me. Since he doesn't like the stuff, nobody else has to get my spoon-germs, so there. :)

Lemon bars are a dressed-down, bake-sale version of the elegant lemon tartlettes you see in bakeries everywhere. My mom used to make the bars a lot when I was growing up, so they bring back memories. And eating one of these is much more dignified than cuddling up to a jar and spoon!

None of my cookbooks yielded a recipe, so I doubled this one from Alpineberry so as to have enough for a barbecue dessert tomorrow and a bake sale contribution on Saturday. This is a great recipe. In fact, the raw crust was so good that I pressed it into the pan and then licked all ten of my fingers clean. It just melts in your mouth! I think the confectioner's sugar had something to do with that. I also poured the filling onto the crust through a sieve, since I like a nice smooth filling with no zesty bits.





Just out of the oven...and with fresh lemonade in my beautiful wedding-gift pitcher. My wrist was aching after juicing all those lemons, but it was worth it!

The finished bars were so good. A thin, buttery, crispy crust topped with all that tart lemony goodness... hmmm... maybe next time I'll just use a cookie to scoop my fix out of the jar!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sandra's Latest




Yay, yay, yay - I'm so excited for her brand-new live album, with Derek on harmony! Sample songs are available now on a pay-what-you-want basis (click above).

Or you can just give in to your happiness, head over to her online store and buy the whole digital download for $5 (!) like I did.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lemon Week

I use lemon juice in recipes a lot, but find it rather pesky to haul out the juicer each time I cook and get it all full of pulp for just a couple teaspoons of juice.

When lemons are cheap and plentiful (I got 1 kg for CHF 1.30 today at Coop), juice them all at once and pour the juice into an ice cube tray. After it's frozen, pop out the cubes and and store in a plastic ziploc baggie in the freezer. That way, when you need a little bit of fresh juice, you can save yourself time and energy by tossing a lemon cube into your dish instead of getting your juicer all dirty! Another neat idea is to replace one of your normal ice cubes in coke, sparkling water, etc with a lemon ice cube to give the drink some extra flavor.


PS. I'm kind of on a lemon kick this week. Joy's Raspberry Lemonade will be in our fridge (have you seen her lovely blog? If not, go there right now!) and look out for a post about lemon bars in a few days!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

5 reasons why my mom is the best

1. She is the most practical woman you could ever hope to meet. Got some kind of a difficulty or problem? You can bet she will put all her brain power towards coming up with a creative and cost-effective solution. For example, my grandfather was starting to not like playing card games because his hands would cramp up holding the cards. She went to the crafts store and made a little device out of a ribbon-wrapped foam ring so that he didn't have to hold the cards but could still keep them from the prying eyes of the other players!

2. She survived two bouts of early-stage cancer and radiation therapy.

3. She laughs really really hard at things she finds funny. Yesterday I showed her lolcats because I knew she'd laugh like that. It cheers me up. :)

4. She was a huuuuuge help before and during our wedding. First, she loves Backie, so that made everything much easier! Then, she made my sister's dress and the ring pillow, looked at pictures of me in dresses, flew all the way over here from New Zealand, fixed the train on the dress I chose, made tiramisu and salads for the barbecue, scrubbed my bathroom floor and balcony, cleaned up the kitchen many times, looked for my kitty when we thought he escaped, and many many more things that I can't even count. Couldn't have done it without her!

5. She entered a perfect woman competition "just for the challenge", participated in events like changing tires and guessing beers, and then got written up in the Timaru Herald!

...and an extra one for the road...

6. She gives reeeeally good hugs. :)

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! I love you!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Couch-what?

Some of you observant readers may have noticed that on our recent trip to Stockholm we "couchsurfed" - and wondered, "they did what with a couch?!" You're not the only ones! Just after we got back, a journalist from the Zürichsee-Zeitung (a local newspaper) found us online and contacted us, asking if we would mind being profiled as part of an article she was writing on CouchSurfing. We met up with her for lunch and an interview, and her very informative article was published in the paper this morning.


Not the best pic ever - Schoggi was getting a bit antsy at being held for so long, Backie is barely smiling, and my hair is a giant snarl on one side... but you can see our "couch"in the background.

Here's the original article, and my English translation thereof (both PDF). Ben and Alice, the couple who wanted to try fondue, are pictured at the bottom of this post from last summer. I hope to post profiles of our couchsufing guests more often - with their permission, of course. We have some pretty cool people who visit and you'll get a break from this blog always being about me, me, me!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

ZüriTipp: Menu pour Deux

Eating out in Switzerland is not cheap - anyone who lives here knows that. An average meat dinner at a decent restaurant will run you somewhere around CHF 35-40 ($30-35), soup/salad/dessert is CHF 10-13 ($8-10), a coke is CHF 5.50 ($4 and no refills!), and a bottle of wine CHF 30-50+ ($25-45+). These prices look normal to me now, but just after we moved here and were recovering from sticker-shock, a friend recommended we take advantage of the Menu pour Deux at the Schützenhaus Albisgütli. We really enjoyed our meal there, and it's the perfect place to go for a special evening out that won't break your bank.

The monthly-changing, seasonal menu includes, for two people: a welcome drink, 6-course gourmet meal, bottle of wine, 50cl of water, coffee/tea, and a surprise pour elle. Total cost: CHF 144. Considering that dinner of just two main courses and a bottle of wine would cost about the same at other establishments, this is a real steal. The restaurant is practically a Zurich institution (our annual school Christmas party is held there, and it's also the location of choice for political parties' banquets) and the dining room is cozy and romantic. It's also right on Tram 13 (Albisgütli stop), so nobody has to drive home if you manage to finish that bottle of wine between you! I recommend reservations, and mention the Menu pour Deux when you call - this place will get pretty crowded on weekends.

May's menu includes yummy things like asparagus soup, veal fillet with bärlauch, and chocolate cake with berries. What are you waiting for? Pick something to celebrate, save the lasagne for tomorrow, and surprise your significant other with a lovely evening out!

Schützenhaus Albisgütli
Uetlibergstrasse 341
8045 Zürich
http://www.albisguetli.ch/
Tel. 043 333 30 00

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Butterscotch Remedy

When I was growing up and happened to get a cold while on vacation ("because you weren't wearing socks!"), one of the many homegrown remedies my grandmother would administer was a syrup of honey and whiskey boiled on the stove and then spooned into me as hot as possible. "Honey cleans your throat," she said. I can't remember what the whiskey does, but you don't question a grandmother's medicine!

Maybe that's why, with my recent kitchen blahs and another yicky cold laying me low, I picked a comfortable, not-too-challenging butterscotch pudding to make on Monday. It came out really smooth and lovely, just the thing to soothe my poor sore throat!

This pudding would still be good without the scotch, if you're not the boozy sort.

Real Butterscotch Pudding from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons water
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Scotch whiskey (preferably a strong single malt)

Have six ramekins or pudding cups, each holding 4 to 6 ounces 1/2 to 3/4 cup), at hand. (I just used a big bowl since I don't have 6 ramekins - I just used a couple to serve, as above).

Put the brown sugar and water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, put the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stirring and lowering the heat if necessary, boil for 2 minutes. Add 1 and a 1/2 cups of the milk and the cream and bring to a boil--don't worry if, as it's heating, the mixture curdles.

While the milk is heating, put the cornstarch and the salt in a food processor and whir to blend. Turn them out onto a piece of wax paper, put the sugar and egg yolks in the processor and blend for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the remaining 1/4 cup of milk and pulse just to mix, then add the dry ingredients and pulse a few times to blend.

With the machine running, very slowly pour in the hot liquid, process for a few seconds, then pour everything back into the saucepan. Whisk without stopping over medium heat--making sure to get into the edges of the pan--until the pudding thickens and a couple of bubbles burble up to the surface and pop (about 2 minutes). You don't want the pudding to boil, but you do want it to thicken, so lower the heat, if necessary.

Scrape the pudding back into the processor (if there's a scorched spot, avoid it as you scrape) and pulse a couple of times. Add the butter, vanilla and scotch and pulse until everything is evenly blended.

Pour the pudding into the ramekins (or bowl) If you don't want a skin to form, place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of each pudding to create an airtight seal. Refrigerate the pudding for at least 4 hours.

An Icy Reception

video

Schoggi makes very clear that ice cubes in his water bowl are not cool.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Kitchen of Blah

I realized looking over the last few months that I haven't posted a recipe in ages, and when I started to think about what new or really awesome things I've made lately... well, there's really not much been happening in my kitchen lately. I put it down partly to a case of the kitchen blahs, and partly to busy-ness; the week after break, we did not eat dinner at home for 6 days straight! The couple times I have put my apron on, it's to make old standards like Rice Krispy treats, banana bread, those chocolate chip cookies I already wrote about a while back, and now three batches of pie/tart dough for the freezer - good, but not very exciting. I bookmark things like Chai Cake with Honey Ginger Frosting over at Tender Crumb, and then stare at the recipe and think we'll never be able to eat the whole thing...and Backie prefers chocolate anyway... and it looks like a lot of work... and you can't buy cake flour here... and just go 'blah'. The extent of my cooking effort lately was to buy a little bottle of bourbon so that I can make one of Joy's mint juleps out of my nice bushy mint plant.

Anybody want to volunteer a fabulous recipe that will get my kitchen butt back into gear?
 
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