March 23, 2011

love lugano: part 1.5

I'm not sure how this is quite possible, but somehow our wedding is right around the corner. I am writing this post from the Frankfurt airport where I have a layover on my way from Zurich to Orlando. Where did the time go? I tried to cherish every minute with Zach in Lugano knowing that I wouldn't see him until the Wednesday before our wedding, but somehow even then it didn't feel real. Honestly, it still doesn't feel real. We said our goodbyes this morning as I lugged my two obscenely heavy suitcase onto the train (I really have no idea what I packed, some of this, some of that and a whole lot of who knows what) and off I went to the airport. The suitcases are so heavy that I think I pulled a muscle in my back. Sugar. Not great time as I get ready to dance the night away at our wedding.
Anywaaaay...time for me to sign off as I run to get two (okay, five) last bags of Haribo gummi bears, buy a trashy Euro mag so I can read about the royal wedding and run to the loo before I board the plane. Oh what a long flight this will be. I take off at 9am US time and arrive at 8pm. There better be some seriously good movies on this flight.

Thanks for reading and I hope to post the rest of Lugano soon.

March 21, 2011

love lugano - part 1

We refer to our trip to Lugano as a mini-moon - a honeymoon before the honeymoon. It was our last weekend together before I head back to the states on Wednesday. It's crazy to think and it hasn't sunk in yet, but I won't see Zach again until the Wednesday before our wedding. All told we had a wonderful wonderful weekend in Lugano and cannot wait to go back. We embraced the Swiss culture of walking and spent almost the entire weekend walking. We would set out on a walk and ultimately find ourselves somewhere we could sit down for a nice meal and a yummy bottle of the local Merlot.
Considering it was our last weekend together we decided to book the room with a view, and thank goodness we did because the view was spectacular and the complimentary breakfast was out of this world delicious.
We inevitably find ourselves on long, somewhat difficult, walks when we travel in Switzerland. It always pays off because we are ravenous when we eventually sit down to eat and the walk, usually uphill, leads to spots with great views.
We were told by tour books and friends that we had to find a grotto to eat at. Our walk led us to this little spot, which we enjoyed despite the fact that the food wasn't that good. It's interesting, though that wine is served in little ceramic bowls. The Ticin (the region where Lugano is) is known for it's Merlots and although Merlot is not my favorite the local wines which we had all weekend were all wonderfully light and smooth and definitely worth a try if you can find Swiss wine outside of Switzerland.
Campari is something I want to like, but I just don't...yet. It's too bitter. I always try and order it, but I'm consistently surprised by how bitter it is. My friend Kerry really wants to like pickles so she wills herself to like them, and I might have to do the same with Campari. (Just a side note inspired by this sign)
I take normal full body photographs of Zach, but whenever I ask him to take a photo of me it always ends up as a head shot. Perhaps he takes offense to my outfits?
Right after this photo was taken the rain started. We were out on a walk to see what was around the corner, towards Morcote, when it started pouring. Fortunately we were only steps away from this hysterically great restaurant. Think 80s interior and 270 degree views. What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon. We ordered a bottle of the local Ticino Merlot and hunkered down to wait out the storm.
Two hours later the rain had stopped and we were able to walk back down the hill towards Lugano.

part 2 to come soon.

March 18, 2011

"cooking is sexy, eating is no sin"

This sign, firmly planted amongst the vegetables, says "Cooking is sexy, eating is no sin!" I love it. What a perfect way to get people to eat their veggies - tell them it's sexy when they cook artichoke and fennel. Cooking and eating veggies might be sexy and without sin, but what about the oh so delicious Swiss cheese and chocolate? Certainly sexy and certainly sinful!
Artichoke never makes an appearance in my kitchen. It's not that I don't like it, I actually do (I think), it's just that I never think to buy it. Considering my current obsession with Swiss butter and finding anything and everything to put it on, artichoke should be at the top of my grocery list. Artichoke leaves act as ladle for pouring butter into your mouth, which sounds right up my alley. I wonder if artichoke still counts as "sexy" if it's slathered in butter, perhaps it's even sexier? ha!

One of my dearest friends Laura is studying in Paris and decided to hop on the train for a quick visit to Zürich! She arrived yesterday morning and left this afternoon. It was so wonderful to have her here even if it was such a quick trip. Laura and I got engaged within a few months of one another so we have been each others wedding planning buddies. She is now one of my married friends!! Hooray!! Anyway even in the little time that she was here she helped me tremendously with crossing things off my wedding to-do/anxiety producing checklist.

1) pick a first dance song! Zach and I have been thinking about this / avoiding this for the entire time we have been engaged. We don't really have a song that is especially meaningful to us. Sure we have a lot of songs that we both like, but nothing we wanted to dance to. Anyway, Laura swoops in and comes up with 2 amazing options within a few minutes. Now all we need to do is learn how to dance...

2) she helped me gather photos to take to the hairstylist. I have had two hair trials and basically hated both of them. Neither one was what I was looking for. The first fell out within minutes and the second one looked messy. Time for another trial with pictures in hand!

The wedding is in three weeks, literally three weeks from now we will be at the rehearsal dinner down in Florida. It is incredibly close, but I think because I am still in Zürich, it feels ages away. Laura did a good job reminding me that the wedding is basically tomorrow and that it will be wonderful and amazing and I CANNOT WAIT!
Having a visitor in town is always good motivation to get out early and explore. Thank goodness we left the apartment when we did because we happened upon this amazing market in Bürkliplatz, which is only open from 6-11am. We arrived at 10:55 and the vendors were already starting to shut down their stands. After doing a little research it seems like the market is open on Tuesdays and Fridays and is well known for its assortments of goods, from flowers to produce to meat and cheeses.
Speaking of marriage, it doesn't get much better than cheese and bread, except maybe if you add a little fig spread to the brie you've spread on a baguette - delicious!
I didn't buy anything this time because Laura and I already had a bratwurst lunch plan and Zach and I are heading to Lugano this weekend! This is our last weekend together before the wedding. I leave Zürich on Wednesday to head back to the states and won't see Zach until he arrives in Boca Grande on the Wednesday before our wedding. I honestly cannot believe that the wedding is almost here. wow.

Happy Friday and happy weekend!

March 16, 2011

a morning in st.gallen

After yesterday's epic birthday bash cake baking post I thought I'd take a little break today and post some pretty pictures of buildings in and around St. Gallen. A friend and I zipped by train to St. Gallen this morning to visit a fellow American ex-pat who is currently living with her husband in this sweet little Swiss town in the North Eastern corner of the country. We had a great walk through town, up the nearby hill and then back down and through town again to a cute little restaurant. The Swiss really love their walking, apparently as I learned today, it is their national pastime. People walk everywhere, whether it's in the city or in the middle of a cow pasture, you will see people walking.

So far all of the Swiss cities and town I have visited have been composed of a "new" part of town that has risen up against and around an "older" part of town. The old part of town generally dates back to the 1400s, which is pretty incredible. I always enjoy walking through the old parts of town and truly admire the buildings and their decoration. More often than not buildings are ornamented with a painting, but I have yet to see a facade that was entirely painted.St. Gallen is definitely worth a visit and although we didn't see it today the lake, which is just outside of town and borders Germany and Austria and maybe even Lichtenstein, is supposed to be beautiful.

Today is a day of architecture - I'm off to dinner to meet a friend of a friend who is an architect in town! Hopefully she has some good ideas about where I can start looking for a job.

March 15, 2011

labor of LOVE: a birthday cake!!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!! LOVE LOVE LOVE YOU! I hope you are busy eating your way through a delicious cake, not just a piece, but the entire cake. If you haven't had any cake yet, that's okay, because I've eaten enough cake for an entire birthday bash. Today was a day of cakes. I was intent on making a Gugelhopf, a traditional Austrian sponge cake, and let me tell you it was not easy. I started four different times. I figured that since my mom was in labor for 30 hours with me (!!!) that I could at least make a perfect cake for her. At first I blamed it on not having a standing mixer (the $950 price tag here in Switzerland is a bit crazy and I figure if I mix by hand then it counts as an arm workout), but then I realized that it was the yeast that wasn't cooperating. After three tries with funky yeast, I found a hidden fourth packet, and voila a cake was made!

Birthdays are the best and although it is always better to be with the ones you love on their birthdays, sending a little love via the blogosphere is okay too! We are going to have to get used to celebrating from afar, unless everyone wants to come visit us on their birthdays!
Two inspiring Gugelhopfs that I spotted in the famous Sprungli. The chocolate coated one seems dangerously delicious, but certainly worth a try the next time around. Mom's not a huge chocolate fanatic (crazy I know) so I figured I'd keep it simple. The final Gugelhopf fresh out of the oven! The recipe said to leave it for a couple hours to cool, but that seemed excessive. I cut it the minute after I flipped it out of the mold. Hot cake is always better than cold cake. It certainly was a beautiful day to celebrate a birthday!
Everything I bake these days has lemon zest in it...I wonder if my body craving lemons for some reason.
Yeast is the key ingredient of this cake. If your yeast isn't fresh or is funky for some reason your dough will not rise and you will end up baking a brick instead of a sponge. This is what happened to me, three times. I made the yeast mixture as per David Liebovitz's recipe that I was following, and all three times the yeast mixture failed to rise and bubble. I eventually decided to just try one of the yeast mixtures, because why not I had already mixed all of the ingredients, and I ended up with the dough in the picture on the left. It resembled cookie dough and not a yeast dough. I knew something was wrong when the dough turned out smooth and not sticky as the recipe called for. I put my shoes on ready to go to the store for more yeast, hoping that was my issue, but before I left I peaked in the cupboard and found one last lonely packet of yeast - hooray! Back to the drawing board, and back to the internet for a different recipe. Even with new yeast I didn't want to risk a fourth failed attempt using the same recipe. Instead of mixing the yeast with the hot milk and flour the new recipe called for mixing the yeast with water until it foamed and then adding that to the flour just before the hot milk. All in all it turned out well and resulted in a satisfyingly sticky dough.
the recipe that resulted in a sponge!
- 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 tbsp warm water
- 1 cup whole milk
- 7 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 6 tbsp sugar
- 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cup golden raisins (many recipes recommend soaking with a couple tbsps of dark rum and then drain them before mixing in)
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds

If you have a standing mixer, by all means use it! The dough is incredibly sticky and hard to mix. I had to use my hands to mix it at the end.

Pour warm water into a bowl, followed by the yeast and stir once or twice. Let the yeast sit until it foams, 5-10 minutes. If the yeast does not foam, then toss it out and find some new yeast!

Heat the milk, butter and sugar in a sauce pan until the mixture is about as hot as a hot tub - 105 degrees. I don't have a thermometer so I just had to guess. The butter and sugar should be well dissolved.

Sift together the flour into a large bowl. Make a little well in the middle and pour the yeast mixture in the well. Mix with the flour. Slowly begin to pour in the milk and butter mixture and continue beating throughout (At this point I was using my hands to mix it it was so sticky and hard to mix with a spoon). Add the eggs one at a time (yes still hand mixing - almost like pulling taffy) and mix until well combined. Follow with the raisins, zest and almonds. Continue to mix until the dough is elastic and very sticky.

Butter your gugelhopf pan or bundt pan and scoop the dough evenly into the mold. Cover the top with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let it sit until the dough has risen to the point of almost filling the pan, roughly 2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 400. Remove the towel and the plastic wrap and place the gugelhopf in the oven for 15 minutes. After the first 15 minutes, loosely cover the top with tin foil and continue to make for another 20. If you are using a dark pan as I did be sure to check the cake after 10-15 minutes because the darker pan will speed up the baking time. Take the cake out and let it cool for a couple minutes before taking it out of the pan. If you want to dust with confectioner sugar then let it cool, if not then eat right away!
the two different doughs - the one on the left in the gugelhopf pan is what you are after and the one on the right, which I baked anyway just to see, turned into a dense doughy brick.
The Swiss seem to embrace "happy birthday" and even sing the American version of the song. I found these candles at the local Migros and couldn't resist buying them. I lost the "A" in Birthday, only to find it later on the kitchen floor in a couple of pieces.
The cake is moist and spongey and definitely delicious. You would recognize the flavor. It reminds me of the simplest of coffee cakes. Hope you enjoyed celebrating my mom's bday with me!


ps - after sampling a couple more pieces late last night I decided the flavor reminds me of a brioche - soft and light and a bit melt-in-your-mouth.

March 14, 2011


This past Sunday was Fasnacht in Zürich. It is the Swiss version of Carnival, or at least that is what my guide book tells me. It felt a bit like a parade meets Halloween, certainly not like a Brazilian version of Carnival (If only Zurich were located on the beach and it was sunny all year round). Fasnacht is not treated equally in all of the cantons, rather some anticipate the holiday for months while others hardly regard it as a cause for celebration. Luzern is known for their rowdy Fasnacht celebration whereas in Zurich it felt like an excuse for people to dress up and eat fried food and little else.

Fasnacht is celebrated at the end of winter as a tribute to the warm months ahead. The scary masks are worn to drive away the spirits of the dark winter - auf wiedersehen cold and snow!
Artery clogging food, such as fried apples, fish & chips and fried dough, is enjoyed before the fasting period of Lent begins. Bratwursts are also eaten in abundance, but who on earth would ever give up bratwursts for Lent? not this little swiss miss. Considering I've never really given up anything for Lent the bratwurst vendors should not be worried about losing my business in the coming weeks.
The little kids in their Cinderella costumes and animal costumes are really the ones that made me think Fasnacht could be likened to Halloween. Some of the munchkins also have buckets to collect the candy thrown into the crowd. Funny to think that if we are still living in Zurich when we have kids that they won't get to run around the neighborhood dressed as ninjas and ladybugs trick or treating...and then what about Thanksgiving...and summers at the beach in Rhode Island...and..uh oh domino effect.
There was a large Peruvian and Bolivian contingent in the parade.
Zach made sure to sample all of the food offerings. First he had a hotdog with raclette cheese and pickles and then he had fried apples with vanilla creme sauce - some wedding diet he's on! I think Zach had been thinking about the Apfelküchlein (deep fried apple cookie) all weekend because we first saw the stand on Saturday and then on our way home after the parade on Sunday he said we had to go get some. In the end I think it was one of those things that sounded/looked better than it tasted.
Mmmm perhaps Zach should give up something for Lent?