Monday, July 28, 2008

Food and fit

Dani ski jumps
Originally uploaded by Arsmor
On Saturday, Dani and Steph picked us up and we all headed to Olivier and Celia's for a nice BBQ dinner. The weather was starting to look stormy, so the guys got to grilling immediately after our arrival (stopping only long enough to feed a snack to the neighbor's horses and to grab more beers) while the ladies hung out in the kitchen, Steph and I sipping drinks as Celia prepared a tasty pasta salad to compliment the grilled meats. As in keeping with nearly every meal we've eaten since we arrived here, it was wonderful and we were all happily filled up by the end of the meal - even the Fromaginator (Dani)!

What's the best way to wind down after a great meal? Lots of physical activity, of course! Olivier and Celia have the much-coveted Wii Fit and we were all eager to give it a try. I've read a ton of reviews on the thing, but this was the first time I actually got to use it - and I have to say it's even more fun and much more exhausting than I expected.

(On a totally unrelated note, I have to say most rap and reggae sounds even more lame in French and I'm seriously considering going down to make this point to the little Swiss gangsta-wannabe blaring his car stereo outside. Hey you kid, get off my parking lot - or at least spring for some decent speakers - your car stereo stinks and you should be mortified that other people can hear that tinny mess.)

End rant. Now where was I... oh yes!

Wii Fit is amazing and we all had a great time playing with it. I don't think it's technically meant to be a party game, so the little scale inside the thing was in a state of perpetual confusion as Dani, Steph, Olivier, Chris and I all took turns. We had a great time playing with the Hula Hoop game - I think you could convincingly argue that the people heckling from the couch were having just as much fun as those of us swirling around like crazy people, precariously balancing our imaginary hoops. Maybe even more fun, now that I think about it. The ski jump game was also entertaining and the yoga moves were just plain hard - it's humbling to see how unbalanced your center of gravity really is.

We have to get one of these things!

Friday, July 25, 2008

More Friday Fill-ins and a lift in the block!

You know you want to play along, too!

So between all my whining yesterday about writer's block and the time I went to bed, I managed to start two more blog posts (saved in draft to be cleaned up before being released later this week.) This afternoon I got yet another idea that I've been playing around with, also in draft, so maybe I get a break from the block for a little bit. (Now before you get your hopes up, notice I didn't say I got three great ideas for blog posts ... or three good ideas... or even three passable ideas - I just said I got three so, you know, keep that in mind.)

On to the fun (my answers in bold, as usual):

1. I believe whatever doesn't kill you would probably taste good on toast with tomato and mustard.

2. If you're good at something, you still don't have to do it.

3. Why so many verbs in French have to be complicated, yo!

4. Something is out there, it's hiding behind the door.

5. If my life were a sitcom, it would be titled something with three words or less.

6. Sitting on my balcony [if you don't have one, use your imagination] I see a big ugly hotel, a small stage set up in the park, surrounded by Cardinal beer tents and, behind the haze, the Alps.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to Faux Pho and Guitar Hero, tomorrow my plans include a nice walk and taco salad and Sunday, I want to continue playing Guitar Hero and eating random things!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rewind almost one year...

Our first meal in Switzerland
Originally uploaded by Arsmor
So yeah, the writer's block is still hanging on. I've been sitting at my computer, staring at the screen and trying to think of anything at all to write for the past one and a half hours. As a last ditch effort, I started going through Mr K's Flickr stream to see if anything caught me eye. If you're at all familiar with Mr K's photography (he's really really good) then you just know something will catch my eye - and here it is! This picture got me not because of what it shows, but because of the memories it brings back - this picture was taken a matter of hours after we landed here.

The day we arrived was easily one of the longest days of my life. For our 12 hours flight here, we were seated in the very back row of the plane in not one, but TWO middle seats. Our flight left in the evening on the 17th of September and arrived the morning of the following day. I managed to not sleep at all on the flight and Mr K only slept for about two hours, meaning we were pretty much dead when we arrived at the oh-so-tiny Bern Airport.

(It was on the connecting flight from Munich to Bern we learned an important lesson - when the seventeen little old people on one's flight, all laughing and chatting together in Swiss German, pause their conversations just long enough to press their hands against the seat back in front of them during landing, rather than giggling, one would be wise to follow along otherwise one will smash one's face into the seatback in what can only be described as an uncomfortable manner - the landing is that abrupt.)

So, rubbing our recently-squashed noses and grabbing our bags, we leave the tiny customs-free Bern airport and head to our hotel. After nearly destroying a cab with the weight of our massive amount of luggage, we checked into our hotel. Just as I was preparing to collapsed on the gigantic and fluffily-made-up bed, Mr K insisted we go to open our bank account and also find some food. Though I really wanted a nap, I grudgingly agreed as I had been wearing a pretty healthy amount of travelers checks around with me and was a bit nervous I was going to lose the whole pouch of them at any moment.

We managed to open a bank account despite some linguistic complications and then had one more item to deal with before Mr K would finally let me sleep - food.

(By this point I had been awake well over 30 hours in addition to several nights of next-to-no-sleep right before we left. All our furniture was gone, so we were sleeping in blankets on the floor of our house right up until the day before we left.)

The problem with us wanting to eat was we weren't hungry during the nationally-sanctioned-times-of-meals (noon to two in the afternoon and six to late in the evening). It was around 3:30 or so in the afternoon and there was no way I was going to be able to wait until six in the evening to eat. Fortunately, Mr K remember we could get some hot food at Migros (grocery and department-type store chain) and there was a location located between the bank and our hotel.

The food was served cafeteria style, so we grabbed trays and tried to make a choice. I was so hungry I couldn't make up my mind, so I just got the same thing that Mr K got - pork on a stick. With gravy. He was good and got veggies but I also got noodles with mine - I was dying for comforting-carbs. Throw in a couple glasses of orange-kiwi juice and a kinderegg for me and I can honestly say it was one of the top five most enjoyable meals we've had since arriving here - not as much for the food quality as just for being hot food - I was almost in tears. After a heavy meal like that, we headed back to our hotel, too tired to even pay attention to the elephants out front, and collapsed.

We actually haven't eaten at a Migros since that day, but that meal will always be a memorable one for me.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Writer's Block

It's what I have!

Ugh - I'm rested up, my chores are done, I'm at my fabulous desk, it's nice and quiet so why aren't the words coming? For the past week, I've noticed I keep starting and stopping other writing projects I'm working on and all my paintings have switched from squid to fat birds, which is all fine and good except I have a project to work on that requires people... and I don't really paint people. Not even cartoony people. Sure there have been one or two exceptions, but in general, no people.

So, not feeling the people-painting thing, I sit down to catch up on the blog. Then...... nothing. It's isn't that we don't have news, it's just that the news isn't getting my brain going.

1. We finally sold our house in Virginia - yay! (Problem: Excellent happy news, but not that interesting to write about.)
2. We had a great visit with Mr K's parents! (Problem: Mr K already wrote it up really really well!)
3. I have new recipes and new cookbooks! (Problem: Ya'll don't wanna hear about it!)

We have French class tonight, which always has a numbing effect on my brain. Our instructor is pleasant enough but for various reasons we just hate and dread the classes. She moves too quickly and we never review. She doesn't speak English so even the most basic question of grammar leads to a 30 minute explanation as she tries to basic-French and pantomime her way through it for us with the end result that we nod and wait to look it up after she leaves... These are questions that 3 minutes of English explanation would instantly clear up but instead end up completely derailing the lesson. Topics seem to be chosen at random and nothing ties one lesson to the next. One week we did reflexive verbs... the next? Fruits and vegetables. Stuff like that.

So that's enough of a mini-rant for one day. Tell me something interesting.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A big brown desk, a small address book, and what it means to be a grown-up

I don't know where it came from, how much it cost, or whether it had any particular significance to my mom, but her desk was a source of fascination to me. It was a small to medium-sized, medium-brown-colored wooden roll-top desk. Two shallow drawers on the top held small items out of reach of little hands, while two wider drawers at the bottom held paper and folders and less interesting items. When the roll-top was opened, it exposed several small nooks and drawers for envelopes, stamps, and other miscellaneous office goodies.

The general rule of the desk was that we ('we' being my sister and myself - dad was probably implied, but not as strictly monitored) stayed out of mom's desk and only removed items from it with her permission or when asked by her. The really sharp scissors typically lived in the top drawer and were the item we would most commonly beg to retrieve. The scissors themselves changed out over the years, but the all-metal, shiny, unbelievably heavy sewing scissors were always my favorite.

The second-most-commonly-retrieved item was almost a sacred relic in my mind - my mom's address book. Small and spiral bound, the book bristled with various scraps of paper - some with neatly cut edges, others torn carefully from a larger something. Each time someone moved, my mom would carefully cross out the previous address and neatly add the new information in her enviably perfect cursive on the following row. The address book was typically only fetched during one of the two prime thank-you-note-writing times of the year (post-Christmas and post-birthday) and was immediately returned to the desk after use.

I've always wanted an address book of my own like the one my mom had - it was a fascinating work, detailing the movement of family and friends across the country and world. It followed the creation of new families and, in a couple sad cases, the dissolution of old ones. The pen changes, the ink color changes, but the handwriting remains the same throughout. I've never successfully kept an address book myself, preferring (out of frustration with my own attempts) to keep all my addresses on my computer - convenient but impersonal, lacking the subtlety and depth of my mom's book. On more than one occasion, I've selected a book and entered a few addresses, only to become frustrated with my inconsistent chicken scrawl and mixed use of nicknames and "real" names.

A beautiful address book, like a handwritten thank-you note, has become a much rarer item these days. Most people I know keep their addresses online or in various digital gadgets, sending emails and texts for all but the most serious occasions (weddings and funerals are still paper-only affairs nine times out of ten). When I was little, my mom's desk and address book were to me the most concrete displays of what it meant to be a grown-up. Now that I'm arguably approaching grown-up myself, I realize my mom, through these two everyday items, taught me a few important rules to live by: be organized and prepared, be conscientious, care for others and follow their lives and lastly, it's okay to keep a couple nice things (like the really sharp scissors) for yourself!

Friday, July 11, 2008

A poem.

So sorry this blog's been neglected-
We have company, as you might have suspected.
Two parents are here
And there's much drinking of beer
And walking outdoors, pink-complected!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Pulling four pounds of chicken is more fun than you think

On Sunday, I set a new personal record - I cooked for seven solid hours. I consider this good practice for the marathon of food that will be this Thanksgiving, when I give it a go.

My goal for Sunday was to give our Swiss friends a taste of a Southern Fourth of July (as close as I could get without an actual grill) and a couple of our local American friends an always-welcome taste of home. The first step was to get groceries - this took about three separate trips, since I have to be able to carry everything home by myself. Then I started prep work on Saturday. I hard boiled a dozen eggs and soaked then cooked a kilogram of dried beans (that turns into five pounds of cooked beans, in case you were wondering.)I chopped a couple things that wouldn't brown and made my Ambrosia Salad, since it gets better as it sits out. Now for the fun part - I proceed to grate almost a pound and a half of cheese by hand on my box grater. I see that it was good, and I rest.

The real work began at 10 in the morning on Sunday. Step one: poach and then shred 4 pounds of chicken breast. Poach in two batches. While poaching, begin browning bacon, onion, and garlic for baked beans. As browning happens, move on to batch two of chicken. Once chicken is all shredded, throw into gigantic heavy-bottomed pot and add a whole bottle of Jack Daniels BBQ sauce (from my stock of imported American delicacies) and then throw in half of a second bottle. Add a splash of ketchup, some molasses and dark brown sugar (also from my stock)and just a splash of cider vinegar. Cook on low for the next 5 hours. Mix up sauce for the baked beans and cook on low for the next five hours as well - this means I'm now down to two burners on the stove.

At this point, I'm feel hot and yucky from so much leaning over the stove and my arm is beginning to ache from stirring so much, so I move on to cooler tasks - deviled eggs. I made two different batches: one hot and spicy and the other with a hidden surprise - an olive underneath all the gooey yolk-tasticness. I got the recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks ever. Seriously, if you like deviled eggs, PLEASE buy this book. I've now made five different recipes and they've ranged from fantastic (springtime herb eggs) to sublime (spinach and bacon eggs - these almost made me cry). Once eggs were done and in the fridge, it was time to drag out ye olde box grater once again for some coleslaw-makin'. I grated a whole head of cabbage, a carrot, and cried my way through an onion. I should also mention that all this kitchen work was made much more fun by the slew of NPR podcasts I downloaded to keep me entertained while I cooked. One episode of radio goodness later and I'm sliding a bowl of fresh coleslaw into the rapidly-filling fridge.

Honestly, at this point, everything is starting to become a blur. I'm a clean-as-you-go cook and it was even more important to do so for this meal as I don't own enough big pots, pans, and mixing bowls for a meal of this size without using and reusing. All this cleaning means my fingers were completely pruned up by about four in the afternoon - this was a boon as it meant when I nicked myself with a paring knife or with my guillotine..sorry... mandolin (both of which happened) I didn't bleed at all! At some point I made a big batch of bourbon iced tea from Everyday Food magazine that was a huge hit.

Now that I think of it, ours was a very Martha meal (except I bet she's never run out of mixing bowls). My coleslaw recipe, macaroni and cheese recipe (cheddar, gruyere, and tilsiter cheese for me), drink recipe, and baked bean recipe (sauce section only) were all from various Martha publications.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!

Happy Fourth of July! Tiny Playmobil Guy is asking you all(ya'll) to briefly lower your weapons and raise high your burgers and dogs in thanks to all our buddies in the military (past and present) who do so much for us. (I know I know - we're not all this heavily armed or thin. It's just that my Playmobil collection is still pretty limited, so this is the best pre-party reenactment you're going to get. Personally, I was just excited I had a little guy with a "4" on his shirt!)

Due to various scheduling conflicts, we won't be having a party today (the 4th) or tomorrow (the 5th) however on the 6th we'll finally get around to celebrating the fourth American-style! We're going to be having friends and a couple of Mr K's coworkers over for dinner and games. I have my menu picked out and about half my grocery shopping done. In the interest of keeping it a surprise for any locals who might be reading this, I'll wait to post the menu til Monday or so (not that anyone reading this cares - I saw the ZERO votes for food writing and recipes) but suffice to say I'll be spending almost all of tomorrow cooking - hurrah!

Back when I was an obnoxious little teenage (nothing personal against me - all teenagers are obnoxious at some point, right dad) Miz K living in Tennessee, the highlight of every Fourth of July was the neighborhood Pig Roast - a yearly tradition big enough to dictate tee-shirts be printed and distributed before the big event. The event centered around an entire pig (approximately obnoxious-teenager sized) slow-cooked for upwards of 24 hours in a humongous grill rented specially for the occasion. While all the men-folk were tending the pig (read: guzzling beer while sitting or standing near the pig), all the mamas in the neighborhood were busily putting together a mountain of side dishes: casseroles, salads, sauces, desserts.

One of the hardest parts of the Big Pig Roast was the wait for the now-cooked pig to be pulled apart and served (for those not in the know, you pull the pig apart, dress it with BBQ or just its own juice, and serve it on a bun). The kids, like small sticky vultures, would get as close to the growing mountain of pork as possible, snatching pieces of meat whenever we thought we could get away with it, and burning our mouths and fingers in the process, our eyes watering as we denied any porcine theft. Meanwhile, the neighborhood dogs were underfoot, fighting over the singed but still curly tail and crispy ears that had been cut off the pig especially for them.

Without fail, even after we gorged ourselves beyond reason (USA!USA!) there would still be a pile of pig left over in addition to multitude tins, pans and bowls still half-full of mac and cheese, baked beans, seven layer salad, ambrosia, and chunks of watermelon. The dogs would be passed out under the tables and chairs and most of the people would be in almost the same state.

I've never lived in a neighborhood quite as close-knit as that one since we left Tennessee (though my parents' current neighborhood sounds pretty close) but I hope someday to be able to organize that kind of feast on my own. What Fourth of July memories do you have?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Catch-up Bloggin' - Sunday

Originally uploaded by Arsmor
On Sunday, Mr K and I had planned to go to Murten to have a little picnic and play around and in the lake, however Mr K turned out to be on call and we had to stick a little closer to his computer(s). We spent a lazy morning in before heading out for a little walk and to feed some bread ends I've been saving to the ducks.

Mr K got some really amazing pictures of Fribourg as we walked around - you should definitely give them a look! It was nice and warm out, but we weren't too concerned about the sun as we planned to only be out for a few minutes. On the way, we happened upon the Swiss Puppetry Museum, which seems to only be open for a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Excited to be there at the right time, we paid our five francs each and headed in.

The museum was small but very interesting - I had no idea there were so many different kinds of puppets. We saw several shadow puppets as well as glove puppets and thread puppets. Some were very funny and some were serious, some were morbid, and some were amazingly ornate works of art.

After the museum, we made our way back out into the sunlight and headed down to the river to search for ducks. As we walked along, the urge to wade became too much and we spent a good hour stomping around in the river. the water was ice-cold and wonderful. We saw an armada of baby ducks and watched them fight with some fish over our bread crusts. At some point I noticed my shoulders were sizzling, so we made our way out of the water and made a bee-line for the funicular. We made one more stop to grab some Chinese (too hot to cook) and headed back into the cool darkness of the apartment.

Catch-up Bloggin' - Saturday

Originally uploaded by Arsmor
Bonjour, y'all! I'm a few days behind here, so let's try and catch up a bit!

On Saturday, Mr K and I headed to Lucerne to join what turned out to be about 349,998 other people to enjoy the Yodeling Festival, which takes place once every three years. The weather was beautiful and sunny, if a bit warm. This was our first trip to Lucerne as well - we'll have to make a return trip during a non-festival weekend to see what else there is to see.

The train ride took around an hour and a half - plenty of time to enjoy our tasty mozzarella sandwiches and the scenery. The train got busier as we went along, with several people in their yodeling garb boarding at each stop. The train was packed by the time it arrived at the station - but that was just the beginning. The station itself was chaos and it just got more and more crowded as we got out into the festival area.

A large portion of the crowd was dressed up, which was really fun to see. Some of the women had the cutest little flat straw hats that I just loved, so when I found a stall selling them, naturally I had to have one of my own. A quick glance at the 200 CHF price tag took care of that problem and instead we had a couple cold drinks and relaxed in the shade.

All in all, we spent a good five hours walking around, listening to the yodeling and people-watching. Five hours in the heat left us pretty tired, so we grabbed some gyros from a stand near the train station and caught the next ride back to Fribourg to nurse our sunburns. Halfway through the day, we found the sunscreen girls - a few girls with giant bottles of sunscreen who would give you a palmful of free lotion but didn't volunteer to apply it for you (maybe our French just isn't good enough yet) - but by that point we had both gotten a bit of pink to our faces, arms, and necks (yee haw) and were past the point suncreen would help and our only choice was to get out of the sun.

Sounds interesting? Next festival in is 2011 in Interlaken!