August 23, 2012

2 days in zermatt

Questions asked (not answered) while hiking along the base of the Matterhorn:

Does it make it's own clouds? Or are clouds attracted to it? Is it like a cloud magnet up there? Do all mountains have their own weather patterns? Do mountain peaks have a greater gravitational pull? Would I weigh more or less at the top? How cold must be up there? How do you even get up there? 

If you know any of the answers to these questions please feel free to chime in. The Matterhorn seems to exist in / create its own weather patterns. The sky will be crystal clear blue like you've never seen blue sky before, but hugging the edge of the pyramidal peak will be a fluffy white mass. And trust me next to those rigid peaks it looks pretty damn fluffy. 

We are continually amazed by Zermatt. Call it Swiss Bliss, but the minute we arrive I feel rejuvenated and alive and present. You know? That feeling where it all just feels right and you are relaxed and everything seems to have fallen into place. Well that is how I feel when we go to Zermatt. Granted I feel something similar whenever we go to the mountains, but there is something about that peak, and that valley and those glaciers that just get me. We were only there for one night and two days, but that was enough. 
Right after we dropped our bags at the hotel we hustled up the mountain for lunch with a view. It was our friends first time in Zermatt, so we just had to take them to Chez Vrony. Surprise, surprise they loved it as much as we do. Zach convinced everyone else to get the burger, but I stuck to my favorite and ordered the lamb knuckle. There is just something about a giant bone sitting on my plate as I stare up at the Matterhorn that makes my soul and my stomach happy. It is one of those meals for me, where I slow down and appreciate every little moment and every little taste. 
On our second day we did the same hike we did last summer, right around the base of the Matterhorn. I think I said this last time, but it is like walking on the moon; the landscape is rocky and barren and the colors are muted and grey with spots of red.

August 13, 2012

August chard

I am here to tell you that Europeans really do take August off, like off off. Last week I tried to make a doctors appointment and I was met with six subsequent answering machines informing me that the office is closed until the end of the month. The end of the month! At that point the end of the month was still a full three weeks away. 

I can't tell you exactly what Europeans do or where they go, but I imagine most of them go to the beach, to the Mediterranean, and soak in as much sun as they can before hunkering down for another eleven months of early dusks and cold days. 

We, however, are not European and are not at the beach. We are here in Zürich. I don't think Americans have it in them to take an entire month off from work. Zach has five weeks of vacation, but the the thought of taking more than one week at a time is only rarely a topic of discussion. He could take it, but he won't, and I understand that. Is it the American dream and ambition being lived out in Europe? I'm not really sure. Perhaps if we are here long enough we will come to treat August as four weeks off in the midst of eleven months on. We'll see, I'm not going to start dreaming of a Tuscan retreat and fried zucchini blossoms quiet yet. 
So yes, here we are in Zürich, trying to make the most of the nice weather and long days while we can. We've been eating simple meals on the balcony and taking post-dinner walks along the lake. We've also been eating a lot of chard. Mostly sauteed and mostly alongside eggs. The stalks are so bright and the leaves so perky that I can't help myself when I see it in the market. I guess it only makes sense to eat Swiss chard while in Switzerland. 

Funny enough the Swiss don't call it Swiss chard. Or maybe it's not that funny. I guess the Belgians probably don't call waffles Belgian waffles. Anyway, Swiss chard is Krautstiel, which literally translates into herb stalk. And what beautiful stalks they have. I usually go for the yellow and pink stalks, thinking that those bright flavors must be full of good-for-me vitamins. 
August is about lots of Krautstiel and lots of long walks where I try and get lost and then find my way back again. I'm comfortable in this city and in my habits that I rarely explore new neighborhood or wander down unfamiliar streets, but I'm trying to change that. Summer is the perfect time for aimless wandering, winter, not so much. 

Summer is also a great time for easy simple meals, simple meals that incorporate farm fresh chard. Here is what I do, but feel free to adjust and add and interpret as you want. 

// chard and onions and eggs //

Start with a nice hunk of butter over medium heat. While the butter is melting separate the leaves from the stem of the chard. Line up the stalks and chop them like you would chop celery - nice thin slices cut across the grain. Pile the leaves together and chop them into a few thick slices to make for easier eating later. Once the butter has melted toss in the chard stalk slices and a coarsely chopped onion. Alternate between stirring and letting the mixture sit until the onions are transparent, but on the verge of tan. Pile into 1/3rd of the pan and then add more butter or coconut oil to the empty part of the pan. Add in the chard leaves and flip and stir until they are bright green and have collapsed and then pile them in another 1/3rd of the pan. Beat the eggs with a bit of salt and ground pepper. Butter is your friend here, so add a bit more to the empty part of the pan, let it heat, and then pour in the eggs. Cook the eggs the way you like. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy.
So here I am saying that we don't take vacations and we are getting ready to head home to the states on Wednesday- only for a long weekend, but for an an exciting occasion. One of my dearest of dear friends, Kerry, is getting married!!! I love weddings, and this promises to be a wonderful wedding, perhaps the best wedding. I love these two so much that might heart is likely to explode mid-vows. Good thing my other dearest of dear friends Hannah just finished med school.

August 08, 2012

apricot compote

A quick little post to let you know that the apricot addiction continues. All of my hoarding in July proved a bit aggressive because as it turns out there are still apricots in August. How was I supposed to know? I'm new to the Swiss apricot and it's seemingly endless season. I expected it to be like rhubarb, here with gusto and then gone without a goodbye, but no, the apricot lingers. 

I wonder if I wasn't held behind a massive language barrier if the nice guy who always helps me at the market might have said something after the tenth time I walked away with a kilo and a half of apricots, like, "Hey, we'll be here - same place, same time - in two days, why not lighten your load?" But no, he just gives me a funny little side smile, which I always assumed was a suppressed chuckle about my bad German, but now that I think of it perhaps it's because he's imagining the elaborate feats I have to go through to eat all those apricots before I come back for more. And he definitely knows I'll be back for more. Recently, I've changed things up by ordering a kilo of Italian prune plums as well, but now he probably thinks I have twelve kids or an underground jam business. Not a bad idea underground jam business...wheels are turning...

...Anyway, this is not about jam, but about apricot compote. I slice apricots into my oatmeal every morning because I love the way the sweet, juicy, tartness pairs with the mellow almond-milky flavor of the oats. It's been over a month of apricots in my oats, and I was just looking to jazz things up a bit. Heaven for bid I buy peaches. The thought didn't even cross my mind, so I made compote. 
Unlike jam where sugar does half the work, compote is all about the fruit. Well the fruit, a bit of honey and a vanilla bean. But no, really, it's the fruit and the way it gently releases its juices that make compote so enticing. Piled in a pot over medium heat the fruit slowly loses its proper plump and slips into a more of a slump, a slump of vanilla specked apricots and honey infused juices. And let me tell you, this slump is Ah-fricking-mazing with oatmeal. It's also delicious with ice cream. Be sure to add a few nuts to either your oatmeal or ice cream, because there is something about the smooth slump paired with a crispy nut that makes my heart happy. 
// Apricot Compote //

the proportions are entirely flexible, simply adjust to your tastes and quantities. 

8-10 apricots
2-3 tablespoons honey, depending on the sweetness of your apricots
1/2 vanilla bean
strip of lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice

a handful of sliced almonds, pecans or walnuts (or all three)

Halve the apricots and quarter some but not all of the slices (a little variety is nice), and place in a small pot over low heat. Stir in the honey and add the lemon zest and juice. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrap in the seeds and add in the pod. Stir until the fruit begins to release it's juices and then turn up the heat to medium and simmer until the fruit has begun looks more slump than plump, about 15-20 minutes. 

Remove the pod from the pot and taste for sweetness, adding more honey if necessary. Serve with oatmeal in the morning and ice cream at night. Top with nuts. 
Yes, that is a pool of butter in my oatmeal. I'm not scared of butter, but if I was I'd follow Julia Child's advice and use cream. (Click the link to see the cards my talented friend Ali designed in honor of Julia's would-be 100th birthday next Wednesday - I already ordered 2 boxes!)