Friday, November 30, 2007

Ta da!

Ta da!
Originally uploaded by hellomizk
Earlier today I was rereading one of my favorite books about food by food critic Jeffrey Steingarten. In one of the articles he had an excessively long and detailed recipe for a Gratin Dauphinoise that makes me positively drool every time I read it. Today, as I reread the recipe for the tenth or eleventh time, I thought, "Why not." It's Friday and I have nothing overwhelming pressing to do, though I probably should have hit the Post to pay rent, but that can wait until tomorrow. I made a list of ingredients and hit the grocery.

When I was younger, we got Potatoes au Gratin in a box - it was delicious and one of the foods I begged for. It never occurred to me that there was any other way to make them before I read Steingarten's article. I've always been a pretty good eater, but it wasn't until I spent several years working in restaurants that I really got into food.

This recipe was easily one of the most detailed I have ever read - it was two full pages long. When Mr K walked in the kitchen and saw me, ruler in hand, measuring my potato slice, I thought he was going to hit the floor laughing. Following the directions in the book exactly, I sliced potatoes to 1/8 inch on my mandolin slicer and buttered my casserole dish. Four tablespoons of butter, one cup of tasty swiss milk, one and a half cups of heavy cream - swoon. I lightly crushed a garlic clove and added it to the milk along with a bit of nutmeg and salt and pepper. I brought the milk to boil once, let it cool, and then boiled again before pouring gently over my potato slices. Before the milk was poured, however, I had to tile my potato slices exactly as described, even going so far as to "throw away the small end slices" as the book instructed. This mix baked, covered for several minutes, during which time I boiled, cooled, and boiled again the heavy cream. So many steps!

I think this could be one of the more complicated things I've cooked to date and it was wonderful. Next time I would probably give it another five minutes in the oven, but as you can see from the picture, the top browned perfectly and the cream and butter oozed out from between the thin potato slices. With this we had ham and a cold bean salad. All in all I was very impressed and no, there isn't any left.

Between intense cooking today and finishing my 50k words last night - the novel isn't done, but NaNoWriMo is - I'm utterly exhausted right now. It's just a bit past 7:30 in the evening and I think I could fall asleep right now. Mr K is playing Playstation as we finally got the doodad to plug it in.

I'm off to eat the last three gooey potato slices and try to stay awake!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Originally uploaded by mrphrtq
This picture has nothing to do with Fribourg, I admit - I was just going through older photos today and came across it and it made me laugh.

Over the summer, Mr K and I went to Hilton Head, South Carolina for a nice vacation courtesy of his parents. My parents were there, too, for a conference my dad was teaching at, so the timing could not have been better. Mr K and I ended driving around and exploring one day and we found a pond - or maybe more of a small lake - full of life. Gray shapes moved under the surface of the water, looking far too big for the pond they lived in. These carp must have been well into the 3-5 foot long range and they loved cheese crackers. Lots of small turtles also dropped by for a snack but left when the alligators showed up. Yup, alligators. You can click on the picture to the right to see some more pictures Mr K took of the turtles, alligators, and several of me looking like a completely goofball on the beach - feel free to ignore those.

I find it funny to look at pictures of sleeveless shirts and flip-flops after coming in from a long walk in the chill outside. I can see snow on the mountains, and the weather keeps telling me to watch for more snow a bit closer to home.

Thanksgiving in Bern with Mr K's coworkers and family was really a lot of fun, though I really missed my family. Watch for a Thanksgiving-related post later on this week. Got a question about this fabulous American holiday? Leave it in comments and I'll expand on it for you in that post! Remind me to post recipe for tasty ham glaze!

I'm off to make some salsa! Ole!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Gobble gobble!

Happy Thanksgiving! Poor Mr K had to work today as Thanksgiving, as all of you not-natural-blonds know, is an American holiday and thus not celebrated here. We are having Kasia and Peter over for a little non-turkey dinner tonight and then going to the home of Mr K's coworker to have Thanksgiving tomorrow with said coworker's wife and kids and sundry other Americans imported for the holiday. I wish I could be home with my family for the holiday but maybe next year we can make the trip back.

So, in a country without Thanksgiving, you may be wondering how on earth anyone here knows when to start decorating for Christmas. The answer is.... late October. Yup, my first sighting of Christmas-related decorative goodness was before Halloween, which is also not much of a holiday here. Every day more stores put out more Christmas decor and suggestions for gifts, and things are starting to look very festive around here. The fact that we're expected to get more snow Sunday through Wednesday of next week also doesn't hurt! A nice thing about no Thanksgiving here... no Black Friday shopping... which is a bonus, considering we kind of live above a mall.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving! I'm off to pick up lentils, hams, and other non-turkey items! Entertain me: vote in my new poll!

Monday, November 19, 2007

We finally did it...

We had fondue - and it was wonderful!

Kasia and Peter invited us over for fondue on Saturday and, as Kasia always feeds us so well, we of course eagerly accepted. Peter cooked the fondue and we had bread and dried meat with it. We learned to swirl the bread in the mass of cheese, as opposed to just dunking it, and then to twirl the bread slowly as the cheese cooled to keep it from dripping. Remember that - swirl and twirl. We learned that the best part of fondue is the cake of cheese that browns to the inside bottom of the pan and that you get to eat once all the liquidy cheese is gone. We decided the taste of the cheese pancake from the bottom of the pan was like the world's greatest Cheez-it cracker. For dessert we had a lovely lemon tart Kasia made and we sat around, sipping tea and coffee after dessert until it was time for us to catch the last train home at 27 minute past midnight.

Sunday was spent recovering from having downed over three pounds of cheese and another two pounds of bread. Chris played on his computer while I played on mine. I played Wii for a little while until I somehow managed to blow up the little transformer-thingie that lets us plug the Wii into the wall. This means no golfing for me until we get another one - I'm just hoping I didn't manage to kill the Wii - just the transformer thingie. Keep your fingers crossed!

Note: The picture is purple because it was a bad picture - too little light. I made it purple because purple is fun. The cheese was completely not purple.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mo sno!

Snow in park
Originally uploaded by hellomizk
It has been snowing on and off here for three or four days and I just cannot get over how beautiful it is. Seeing this out the window every morning makes it difficult to have a bad day - despite NaNoWriMo trying to get me all discouraged...

I have reached the halfway point in my wordcount - over 25k words done. Whew! I'm still not feeling my novel but at least I now have less left to write than I have written to date...I guess. I'm doing a stiryfry for dinner tonight and then hopefully knocking out another one thousand words, though that may not happen as Mr K just called me and reminded me today is late shopping day - hurrah! For those of you outside of Fribourg, on Thursday all our stores are open until 9:30 or so rather than until 7 so we get to go shopping and it has become kind of a weekly ritual for us. In Virginia, we used to hit Target for late night shopping all the time and we have notice since we moved that we spend a lot less money when the stores close early. Tonight, though, we shop!

On a completely unrelated note, I have a question for any of you French speakers: So, as you know, language books leave out all sorts of unwritten contextual meanings of phrases. I want to be able to apologize for not speaking French when I have to tell people I don't speak French. I have seen "Je suis desole" and "Je regrette" (I know I'm missing some accent marks...) used interchangeably in my books, but I have a feeling there are slight differences. Which one is a less serious apology, as in "I'm sorry I don't speak your language" and which is a more serious sorry, as in "I'm sorry I just stepped on your dog/child/expensive fur coat"? Thanks in advance for helping me look moderately less silly!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Still Life with Random Junk

Still Life of Random Junk 1
Originally uploaded by hellomizk
Our apartment is pretty much put together, but we still have random islands of things that do not yet have a home - mostly decorative items like these that require us punching holes in the wall to install a shelf we have not yet bought. For now, they live on the floor between the living room and the dining room.

I'm treating myself to a little taste of home today - good ole boxed Kraft mac and cheese. Yes yes yes - I know. It's terrible... the problem is I love the stuff and have since I was little. So that makes it my little guilty pleasure. We have had a busy last few days here! Papa C was here for short visit and, at the train station, we exchanged him for Mr K's friend Andy - they had a 7 minutes overlap after Andy got off his train from Bern but before Papa C hopped his train to Bern. The past week has been full of chatting and exploring Fribourg and cooking and cleaning and sleeping and chatting some more! Mr K acquired a few more bottles of swanky bourbon from our guests, so he's a happy guy.

Today he and Andy headed to Gruyère to explore the H.R.Giger museum - I stayed home as I'm adept at creating my own horrific nightmares and don't need any outside help... and because I'm feeling a little lazy. Tonight Kasia and Peter are coming over for dinner and we're doing some classic American-style food: Cincinnati Chili, four ways. Depending on how productive I get, I'm thinking Deviled Eggs for a snack and Green Goddess (minus the fishies of course) for the salad. All that depends on me wandering down to the grocery in a few minutes.

Outside, it looks like we may be seeing some more snow soon, so stay tuned!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

First Swiss Snow

Orange umbrella
Originally uploaded by hellomizk
Ever since it started to get cold here, I have been impatiently and constantly checking weather websites waiting for our first snow. Yesterday afternoon, just shortly past 1:30 or so, there it was - fat white flakes drifting down to the ground (where, of course, they instantly melted.) The snow started off very slowly but actually picked up quite a bit and went on for an hour or so before disappearing again, leaving no accumulation. Today is even more overcast than yesterday was, so I'm hoping that maybe just a little bit more snow will fall today.

Mr K's dad is in town and is our first visitor from back home to see our apartment and, soon, Fribourg. As I type this, father and son are still passed out. Our plan for the day is to go to the farmer's market and take a nice walking tour of Fribourg, then to go to the tea shop for tea and hot chocolate. I made chicken corn chowder last night to eat for lunch today - Mr K and I figured soup is always better the next day, so why not just make it a day in advance to start with and then reheat it. I figure after a couple hours of walking around in the cold, fresh bread and hot soup are the way to go. We plan to go out to eat tonight, but I'm not sure where yet. Tomorrow Papa C heads out and Mr K's BFF arrives - whew!

On the NaNo front, I'm struggling along - bleh. Week Two is always the worst. Week One zips by because it is something new and different but, every time, Week Two just drags. Week Two is about survival - just get through it. Week Three eases up so I just have to hold on a few more days!

Au revoir! (or "oh vwah" as we sound when we say it...)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Snow in view, mateys!

More snow on moutains
Originally uploaded by hellomizk
When I awoke this morning and made my daily trip out onto my porch, I pulled out my recently unpacked binoculars and lo, what did I see, but snow snow snow on the mountains! The temperatures here this week have been in the low thirties (F) and I know it is only a matter of time until I see my first Swiss flurries!

In NaNoNews, my novel is progressing along; I've broken the 12k word mark and am starting to feel a little more positive about things. My MC has met one of the villains so things should start looking up soon... or down soon. Either way, it looks like something is about to start happening.

Nothing else too terribly exciting to add. Check out the new poll. Night night!

EDIT: Almost forgot another fun tidbit - The "animals we have eaten this week" list. Mr K and I are really trying to go all out and try a little bit of everything. The past seven or so days have included: two kinds of deer, chicken, goose, ostrich, pork, beef, and rabbit. When Mr K asked what the meat in one dish was (turned out to be the ostrich), the answer was "you know - meat meat."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Hours down the drain...

Originally uploaded by hellomizk
Or I just wanted a way to tie the picture in when I should have just admitted, "Hey I like this picture!"

My NaNo is coming along but I am still a member of the "Under 10K Club." My main character is boring me to the point that I just went off on a typed tangent about how boring she was. I'm fighting to keep her, but every day of writing I get the feeling more and more that I'm going to have to demote her to sidekick and promote someone else to MC (main character).

In super-fantastic-super-nifty-super-great news, our movers finally arrived yesterday and placed all of our belongings in various piles throughout the apartment, put together the furniture our other movers took apart, and in one case FIXED the furniture our other movers broke - not bad! The living room is pretty much put together, the dining room is one bolt short of being done - we packed the dining room table but somehow misplaced all the nuts and bolts and other fasteners we need to keep the legs on it, so Dani took Mr K on a quick late night shopping spree to acquire a wireless drill and four bolts... one of which was defective - sigh. The Wii is working, though, so that helps!

The bedroom is coming along, but we have nowhere to hang our clothing yet so we have a motley inventory of wardrobe boxes, plastic bins, and one rickety clothing rack holding the whole mess off the floor...for now... the clothing rack is threatening collapse at any minute.

My office and Mr K's office are both complete wrecks right now but will be cleaned by this weekend - at least mine will be! I'm hoping Mr K isn't at work late every night again this week because I know he wants to get the house put together, too.

I should either get to novelling or get to cleaning, but I'm not sure which one. If you're bored and feel like helping out with the Nano, leave me a comment with something I can add to try and salvage my MC - give her a hobby or phobia or allergy or something!


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Day Two: Word count on track!

Bonjour again, all you novice novelists and novelistas!

I hope your writing is going well and your snack supply holding out. I'm just over 4000 words and happy to be there. Tomorrow evening my husband is going to a concert, leaving me home alone for multiple hours of blissfully noveling... or painting my toe nails. We'll have to see. I'm loving NaNo even more this year than I did in previous years - I feel like my brain is ticking along well and I adore my villains. My main character, so far, is being a bit bland, but I have a feeling she'll perk up soon. She just moved to a new place and is having a hard time coming out of her shell (sound familiar?) A minor character has also come stumbling out of the woodwork, being way more interesting than I had planned, so who knows what will happen next. I'm still light on plot but if the characters are left alone long enough, much like high school girls, someone is bound to cause some drama.

To finish your novel the least painful way possible, you should be aiming for right at 1700 words a day. Here's a brief breakdown of where you should be for the next few days:

  • Day 3: 5001
  • Day 4: 6668
  • Day 5: 8335
  • Day 6: 10002
  • Day 7: 11669

Which means by Day 7 you should have a nice sized little chunk of prose on your hands. Feel free to gloat and brag about your word count - it's expected! Week Two is a little harder than Week One, so this is a great time to try to get a little further ahead - that way when you get sick or bored or stressed out or arrested next week, you have some padding to fall back on. Two years ago I got behind on my word count and was nervous about finishing but managed to knock out 10000 plus words in my last 3 or 4 days, so anything is possible. Week Three is awesome and Week Four is a breeze, so if you make it through the first two, chances are good you'll finish!

The NaNo forums offer a couple great places to go if you have a sudden attack of writer's block or if your characters start boring you. For sheer silliness, nothing beats the NaNo Dares. Basically, its a list of random things you can include in your novel. Most are just plain goofy, but every once in a while, much like shopping thrift stores, you find something that is just perfect for your needs.

I currently have three weapons for fighting off writer's block and a low word count: I inflict a meal, hobby, or collection on one or more characters. My main villain collects birds. Birds. Thanks to Wikipedia, I can now ramble about his fine feathered friends when my brain isn't working so well. His maid has a penchant for cooking his birds. Thanks,

Enough NaNoNews for a second: I'm sure my mom would like a brief Swiss update. We just got back from an incredible meal at a lovely restaurant called, I think, La Croix Blanche. Our friend who took us to this restaurant explained that the menu was focussed on offering meals of "la chasse" - the hunt. I started with a salad of greens with warm butter-sauteed wild mushrooms. Mr K had a terrine of foie gras, pistachios, and chestnuts. Neither of us had tried foie gras before due to the sad story of its creation, but on this move we're determined to try and taste nearly everything, so we gave it a go. It was wonderful but I still don't know that I could order it again. Our friend explained the two entree choices - two kinds of deer which we boiled down into "big bambi" and "small bambi." I had small and Mr K had big. Both came served roasted chestnuts, a roasted pear, red cabbage, Spätzle, brussel sprouts and a warm brown gravy. Dessert for me was a panna cotta with blackberries.

This was easily one of the best meals I have ever eaten in a restaurant in my life. The place was gorgeous and the service was wonderful. We had amazing food and great company and more importantly : we didn't have to dress up for the experience! We definitely plan on taking the assorted parents when they come to visit, so Mama H, Papa H, Mama C, and Papa C - get ready!