Sunday, December 6, 2009

Just a taste - or several

Back in Switzerland and behind on my blogging - as usual. We've recently returned from two weeks in the US, most of which we spent showing Dani and Steph as much of the "real" America as we could without either scarring them for life or convincing them to move... We did, saw, ate, and bought so much that, honestly, I'm just not sure where to start.

Which means - food. When all else fails, we start with food.

I'm just going to run through this in list format and will be back later to expand on the more memorable meals and activities - think of it as a "to-do-been-done" list. Or ignore this post and come back later for the meatier versions.

  • Thursday Mr K and I arrive. Pick up rental car. Hit Chipotle. After Chipotle, Mr K goes back to hotel to pass out. I head to Falls Church to meet up with the amazing Asharah and see Amanda Palmer in concert. Go to bed at 2 AM after having been awake 30+ hours.
  • Saturday we all head to the Mall to see some museums and monuments. We watched Dinosaurs 3-D IMAX. That night, we went to Texas de Brazil for a really spectacular dinner.
  • Sunday Dani tries to recover from the spectacular meal. Steph helps. Mr K and I head to IHOP to brunch with our old gaming buddies. Dinnertime comes and Dani is still recovering. Steph joins us and some other friends for yummy dinner at an Irish Pub. Everyone else goes back to hotel while I head to IHOP for the second time that day to catch a late night (11-1 AM) dinner with my old boss.
  • Monday everyone is recovered and it's time for some shopping - Leesburg Outlets. Pre-shopping sustenance provided by Panera Bread. Post-shopping recovery dinner care of Red Robin.
  • Tuesday Dani and Steph sleep in while Mr K and I meet up with his coworkers for lunch. After lunch we return for Dani and Steph and head to air and space museum (Dulles version). Dinner Tuesday night is at a Japanese hibachi restaurant. Dani scores a 66% at aerial-shrimp-catching.
  • Wednesday we breakfast at hotel and pile into the car to drive to York. Our luggage and the four of us just barely fit in our rented SUV. We arrive to hot pepperoni pizza, which we promptly destroy. We rest a short while and then pile back into cars to head to Reading for more fajitas and the Brian Setzer Holiday Extravaganza of Festive Ear Destruction (hee hee) courtesy of my dad - thanks dad! Great show but way louder than I expected. A holly jolly time was had by all.
  • Thursday we woke up and skipped breakfast in preparation for the approaching Turduckengeddon. If you haven't tried one, do so - greatest turkey ever!
  • Friday is spent in recovery. Leftovers for lunch and soup and salad for dinner.
  • Saturday we polish off last of leftovers. dad shows us his fire trucks and ambulances (yay Super Truck!) Dani drives the Mustang and Steph drives the lawn tractor. Saturday night = Medieval Times - the most fun activity ever in the history of jousting-related mealtimes.
  • Sunday Mr K and I head back to VA. We meet up with friends for "New Food Sunday" and I eat a tasty but complex sandwich involving a corn hoagie roll, smoked pork, lime crema, roasted peppers, jalapenos and cheese.
  • Monday Dani and Steph head to New York. Mr K and I head to the dentist. Mr K retires to a bar for a short Happy Hour while I meet a friend for a super tasty Italian dinner. After dinner, I meet up with Mr K, who is continuing the short Happy Hour... for a couple more hours.
  • Tuesday Mr K consumes some Gatorade, some Tylenol and a cheeseburger and is pronounced fit for duty, so we go shopping some more. We eat kebab at the Mall and we love it. Tuesday night we and another friend meet up with Papa C at the Cheesecake Factory for dinner. we all wish Mama C could have been along. I eat a tasty pasta dish involving breaded chicken, pesto cream, prosciutto, and lemon-dressed arugula.
  • Wednesday we wake up and pack, while continuing to eat my pasta dish from the night before. We pick up last minute items, mail packages, head to airport. Return rental car, check in, go through security. Drink. Buffalo chicken salad. Flight. Bulkhead seats - the galley light is bright.
  • Thursday we land in Zurich. Eat Egg McMuffins. Grab groceries, catch train. Come home, snuggle cats, eat lunch. I pass out while Mr K unpacks.

Give or take a few more days for recovery and here we are!

That turned out much longer than I planned - I have a feeling there is much more writing to be done! What am I missing?

Monday, November 9, 2009


I haven't had much blog-worthy going on recently but that all changed last Friday, oh yes.

Last Friday we were invited to go for dinner at a new Tex-Mex restaurant in town. You might remember our last foray into Swissified Mexican food. Well, just over two years later, we were ready to try again and we were not let down.

The restaurant is located a short walk from our apartment and the first thing I noticed when we walked in was that it smelled wonderful. The next thing I noticed was that there were only four other people in the place despite it being eight on a Friday night. We went to our table and settled in. I got the giggles right away - on the table was a flyer advertising their Friday happy hour, which features "New York Hot Dogs" all-you-can-eat! The walls were painted a warm orange and decorated with "Californie," "Nouvelle Mexique," "Texas", "Kansas," and "Missouri" in beautiful olive-green painted text.

The real fun started with our drink order. Mr K and I introduced Steph to frozen margaritas when we kidnapped her from work a few weeks ago for a random happy hour. The waiter approached and asked what we would like for boissons. Before he even finished the question, Steph cries out "Margarita! Margarita!" The waiter furrowed his handsome brow in a look of confusion - a look we would be seeing much of that evening.

"No margaritas. Mojito? Caipirinha?" The waiter offered. That's right - the Tex-Mex place chose a Cuban cocktail and a Brazilian cocktail as their signature drinks...

We ladies opted for the mojitos while the boys drank bieres. Well, we tried to - a moment later we were informed there were no more mojitos...

While we looked over the menu, the waiter brought us two tiny plates holding 8-10 chips each and about a tablespoon of salsa. The most eye-catching items on the menu were the beef and pineapple fajitas (which I totally ordered) and the chicken fajitas with coconut and banana (which I totally considered). I was also particularly intrigued by the offering of chicken wings in the "Sandwichs" section. We tried to order the crazy chicken fajitas only to be told there was no chicken - and yet Steph's chicken chimichanga and Mr K's chicken burrito were available. Quelle cauchemar!

Overall, the food was pretty good in an entirely non-Tex-Mex way. A couple ingredients made me smile, including the use of yogurt sauce rather than sour cream. The fajitas were served with yogurt sauce, bitter greens, salsa and Parmesan cheese as well as both flour and corn tortillas.

Despite the oddity of the food, we all cleaned our plates. After dinner we went to the McDo for some sweets as the restaurant's dessert offerings weren't too enticing. While Steph and I enjoyed the Marron (chestnut) and Crumble Sundae (seriously swoon-worthy) Mr K and Dani opted for McFlurries, which Dani complimented with a cheeseburger.

With most meals, it's the company that makes it a memorable experience... this time it was the pineapple in the fajitas. Aiiee!

P.S. The company, of course, completely rocked as well.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shake, Battle, and Roll

This story took place nearly eleven years ago. If we talk often, you've probably heard it before, but for me, this one never gets old so I wanted to share it here.

After Christmas break my freshman year of college, I came back to find I had been assigned a new roommate - Lara - and would no longer be living alone. It would take me hours and hours to explain how it happened, but against all reason and all my expectations, this bubbly former-sorority-girl and I became BFFs within a year.

One afternoon, we were sitting around our room chatting when my dad called and asked if we wanted to go to a reenactment of the Battle of Aiken. I was in the middle of declining when Lara, the kind of Southern girl who could make Scarlett go green, picked up the other end of the Swatch twin phone and declared that we would LOVE to go. This was how I ended up cold and cranky and trudging through mud at seven in the morning just a few days later. In contrast to my crabbiness, Lara was downright jubilant, skipping ahead of me and then doubling back to breathlessly report on what she had just seen. "Oh look, a rabbit purse - I want that! Hey, sassafras soda - I want that! Look, a petticoat - I want one!"

A few minutes later, she interrupted her recitation to grab my arm and drag me away from my parents, dramatically explaining that she needed a cigarette but that good Southern girls don't smoke in front of parents. As my mom and dad continued on, Lara and I cut through several tents and she fished around in her over-sized purse for a cigarette. "The ground is jumping," she calmly announced as she searched for her lighter. She stopped to light her cigarette as I continued on, expecting her to catch up just a moment later. It took me about four steps to notice she hadn't, so I turned to see what was holding her up. Lara stood still, her lit cigarette clutched loosely in her fingers and halfway to her mouth. I noticed she was making a weird face - one eye was bigger than the other and one side of her mouth drooped down. Assuming she was making fun of some hapless Aikenite, I giggled and turned to see who her target was. I turned back just as she stiffened and headed for the dirt. Somehow, I got to her before the ground did and grabbed her as she fell, dragging us both down into the mud. Once on the ground, Lara stretched to her full five-and-a-half-foot length before balling up and violently twitching her way through the first grande mal seizure I ever witnessed. Not knowing what to do, I crouched over her and tried to hold her down while screaming at her to stop as she spit blood and foam.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up as a tall and hugely bearded man dressed in gray pulled me off of her. A shorter but equally-well-bearded man dressed in blue blocked my view of Lara and the two went to work on her. Nearby, a woman in a hoop-skirted-dress pulled a cell phone from her bodice and called 911. My parents showed up just a moment later, drawn to the crowd. I ran to them, screaming that Lara was dying, because what other explanation could there be. I'm pretty sure that seizure remains the scariest thing I've ever seen.

A few seconds later, the seizure was over and Lara's eyes were slowly coming back into focus. As the haze cleared from her brain, one of the two men crouched over her asked, "Do you know where you are, honey?" Lara looked, wide-eyed from one bearded face to the other before bursting into tears. "I don't even know WHEN I am." (A love of Southern history and a vague belief in reincarnation are a bad, but entertaining, combination.)

A four-wheeler pulled up and the men got Lara and I loaded on the back, as she didn't want to go without me. At the front gate, she was loaded into an ambulance, but again refused to go until she talked to me. Stepping into the ambulance, I leaned forward. "Get my fake ID out of my purse so they don't think I'm the wrong person," she whispered before laying back dramatically, possibly with her arm thrown across her forehead.

My parents and I followed the ambulance to the hospital, as I clutched Lara's purse in my hands and concentrated on not throwing up. We waited a little while before we got to go back to see her. Sitting in the hospital bed, flirting with the young doctor on duty, it was hard to believe this was the same girl who had been twitching and spitting foam just a couple of hours earlier. Feeling better, she was more concerned with getting her hair brushed and going to lunch.

Later that day, we left the hospital with a diagnosis of epilepsy and a bottle of extremely strong medication - Dilantin. The next day, I drove the two of us back to Berry as Lara sat next to me, bouncing along with each bump of the car. Her medication, before the dosage was dropped, made her feel "like a boneless chicken" (her words to a confused professor as she walked out on a philosophy class the next week.) Soon enough, though, we both got used to the changes, and months later she began to randomly make the seizure face to freak me out - her revenge for me making "dead hands" at her in the middle of the night. She also used the diagnosis as an excuse to make me drive us to Taco Bell and Waffle House in the middle of the night, hinting that if she went alone, she might seize and wreck the car - but I can't say that I really minded. More often, I imagine I was happy for the excuse to go for a snack.

Though scary and stressful, Lara's sense of humor and drama eventually turned the episode into a story we loved telling and I have to admit that the line, "I don't even know WHEN I am," still makes me laugh every time. There are many more bizarrely-charming Lara stories, but that's enough for one night. sweet dreams!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

We spent over 200 francs and all we got was a stupid Twix

Well, a Twix and Steph's forgotten house key...

Let's rewind just a little bit... These things happen. We all forget things. Sometimes it's just less convenient than others.

The four of us arrived home from our mountain trip a little past 5 in the evening on Sunday. (A full write-up of the trip is in the works...) I walked in the door, kicked off my shoes, tossed off my backpacks, hugged Chris and settled in for a night of laziness...three minutes later the phone rang - Steph calling to say they couldn't find their house key in their suitcases and asking if they could drop by our place to dig through their bags in comfort. Naturally, we agreed. When I opened the door to two stony faces minutes later, I knew the fate of the key as well as they did, though they insisted on searching anyway. No key. Chris and Dani retreated to the back porch with whiskeys in hand as Steph began making phone calls. Could her apartment concierge help? Nope, no master key. What about a spare key left with friends or family? Nope, no spare key either. This meant two keys were locked in their apartment and one was locked in a mountain chalet that would be uninhabited until mid-October.

So what were the options? Break in a door - expensive. Break in a window - cheaper but still pricey. Skip a day of work and spend eight or nine hours on trains, roundtrip, to retrieve the key in person? That's it - the only option that would work. Thus decided, we grabbed Chinese take-out and all settled into bed (and guestbed) for the night.

The next morning Steph and I got up at six to be ready to head out the door for the seven AM train (160CHF for both) - I was going along to provide moral support and lunch company. The biggest bonus of leaving at this hour was that we would only have to change trains twice on the trip as opposed to our five changes on the way home. We grabbed a couple little pastries and sandwiches as well as a big jug of mint iced tea and caught an absolutely packed train to Bern. In Bern we changed to an equally crowded train to Domodossola where we caught an emptier train to Verdasio. The train to Verdasio turned out to be a panoramic train, so we had to pay a 4 CHF surcharge (8CHF for both) to sit in a train with window that went all the way to the ceiling - something that would have been much more enjoyable had the other occupants of the train not chosen to promptly pull their sun shades down, blocking the view. Once at Verdasio, we took the Funicar cabin thingies to the top of the mountain (27CHF). By this point it was just past 11 in the morning and we had been awake for five hours. Once there, the house was only a 15 minute walk. We arrived and opened the door. Steph stopped long enough to de-boot before running upstairs to look for the key - there it sat, right on the narrow shelf it had been left on. Thusly reunited, we took a brief photo op to celebrate the moment before shedding our unnecessary belongings to go for a nice little walk before lunch. The next train didn't leave until 2:30 and there was no sense in us not taking advantage of the gorgeous weather. We walked for about 45 minutes and then headed to our familiar grotto for lunch (65CHF because we forgot to check our total - whoops!) . Steph had a huge bowl of minestrone while I enjoyed what looked like roughly a week's supply of pasta bolognese. We sat outside as we sipped ice tea and ate lunch, enjoying the breeze. Around us, six or eight retired couples out for a day in the sun munched risotto and sipped wine. I kept a constant eye on people's shoes, making note of how many were wearing hiking boots and how many in sneakers. Since I got my own boots, I'm now obsessed with this.

Soon enough it was time to head back home. Before we left, Steph grabbed a Twix from the restaurant and I bought a jar of mountain honey for our neighbors. In the yellow cabin thingie on the way back down the mountain, we got a sever case of the giggles over the idea that maybe we made the trip just to buy a Twix, hence the title. Back in Verdasio, we caught the panoramic heading back homeward (or other-train-station-wards more likely) we were probably the only people under fifty. Apparently when you retire in Switzerland, you go for long lunches in the mountains and take panoramic trains, because everywhere we look it's socks and sandals and heads covered in white hair - I love it!

An hour later we changed trains in Brig to catch train number four to Bern, where we'll catch train number five to Fribourg. Another packed train - I was really surprised at the number of people traveling during a business day. As an added bonus, this was the fourth time passport control walked right by us. By this point, we had been in and out of Italy twice on Monday and four times this week. The train stank of burning brakes and, faintly, of people. It made me really miss the 'normal' Swiss trains.

Despite the annoyance of having to go back for the key, we actually had a pretty good day full of conversation and laughter, though the last thirty minutes to Fribourg were among the longest in my life. As a final note, after four days of hiking and riding trains, I'm completely sick of smelling people.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hikes hikes, baby...

This was the kind of weekend that makes the thought of moving away from here almost impossible to contemplate.

On Saturday, Mr K and I headed to Vevey for the Street Artists Festival - mimes and clowns and magicians, oh my! I have to be honest - it was nice, but this festival didn't quite stand up to either the yodeling festival or the barrel organ festival. This one was just a bit too organized and crowded. We expected the performers to be spread throughout the city, but instead they took turns performing in set locations that we always arrived at far too late to get close enough to see anything. Still, the weather was gorgeous and it was nice to walk around a bit. (I was very impressed with the guy who managed to climb up and then back down a ladder he had balanced on a tightrope.)

Today, though, was just perfect. Steph and I headed out around ten in the morning (we left the husbands with their computers as is becoming our tradition.) We drove to nearby Schwarzee where we parked the car and hopped on a chair lift for my first chair lift ride - so much fun! Ten francs and minutes later, we were up high above the town. Steph pointed to a white dot of a chalet in the distance. "Our lunch destination." I clutched my tummy, my tiny ham sandwich from breakfast already half digested, and we started walking.

The sun was out but a nice breeze coupled with periods of walking in the shade kept us from getting too hot. The walk went surprisingly fast - we made it to the chalet in just under two hours. Upon arrival, our first goal was to secure a table in the shade. Moments later, the owner of the chalet, a charming old man with a pipe in his mouth and white hair to his shoulders, came out and greeted us warmly. Steph asked him what was for lunch (sausages or cheese) and we both decided on sausages and iced tea. Our lunch appeared a few minutes later - two still-sizzling sausages each along with a couple tomato wedges, some mustard (served in 12 gram packets), and a basket of tasty bread. The sausage were studded with whole cumin seeds and cooked perfectly, with a slight crunch to the skin - I was in food-heaven.

After we finished our lunches, we continued to sit as we sipped our tea. Another couple arrived with their St Bernard. After ordering two beers, the couple settled at a nearby table and the dog flopped down underneath it. I got a laugh when the woman pulled a bottle from her backpack and poured some liquid into the table's ashtray (after checking to be sure it was clean, of course) which she placed in front of the dog. I giggled because I just saw this out of the corner of my eye and I would have sworn she poured beer into the ashtray until I saw the water bottle make a second appearance. Hydrated and fed, we paid our bill (8.50 CHF each for lunch and drink - so cheap) and headed back down the last stretch of hill - the last really steep and small-pebble-covered stretch of hill.

This last hill was the important one. Part of our goal for today's walk was to put my new hiking boots to the test before our weekend hiking trip early next month. Well, I'm proud to say that after 17884 blister-free steps (or 8.45 miles) they passed the test!

Once we reached the bottom of the hill, however, our day was still far from over. We changed back into our sandals and threw our boots in the trunk of the car before heading back to go for a ride on the SUMMER TOBOGGAN RUN! It was way too much fun for words and I can't wait to go again. After our ride, we grabbed cold drinks and sipped them while we soaked our feet in the lake for thirty minutes or so before heading home.

Just when I thought my day couldn't get better, when I got home I remembered the kilo of IKEA meatballs in the freezer! Less than half an hour later, Mr K and I were chowing down on a dinner of meatballs in sauce on noodles with lingonberry preserves on the side. We topped the evening off with a little dvd watching and now, slightly sunburned and thoroughly tired, I'm ready to head to bed. What did you do this weekend?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Caution - mushy ahead

Happy anniversary, mom and dad!

I just thought I would take this opportunity to say thanks for everything you've done and for the amazing influence you've been! When I was younger, I used to always say I would never get married and a large part of this was due to my observations of my parents' marriage. I know kids say that kind of thing all the time, but the difference is most people say it because they come from broken or unhappy homes. I said it because my parents have always had such a solid and loving relationship. Up until a few years ago I had never experienced anything that would compare, and as a result and I wasn't going to settle, hence the "never get married." I did finally meet the perfect person for me, as we all know, but this post isn't about me - it's about my family.

I can only remember one fight my parents had during my childhood and I feel so very very fortunate to be able to say that (I should add that by dinner time everyone was reconciled and laughing about it). Instead of arguments, my memory is full of images of my parents holding hands, laughing and joking, and being visibly in love. Growing up, I remember after dinner, after first taking care of my sister and I, mom and dad would go into the living room to watch the news and have "grownup time." They would sit together on the couch, mom's feet in dad's lap. As a kid, I had a vague notion that this time as important to them even though I couldn't understand why, but until I got married, I never understood how important or how special.

Thank you for always finding the time for Katie and I, but thank you also for always finding the time for each other. I couldn't ask for better parents or for better examples of what a happy marriage can be!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

...but there were NO MONKEYS

On Saturday, Mr K and I returned to Thun for the "International Barrel Organ Festival." First, and most importantly, there were no monkeys. Zero. Well, unless you count the vast army of stuffed toy monkeys that most of the organs were festooned with. Of course we were disappointed, but the sight of a ferris wheel looming over the river cheered us up considerably. Mr K has recently fitted me out with my own camera - he was doubtless getting sick of my "hey come takes pictures of this, hey can we look at the pictures, hey can you hurry and edit them so I can put them in my blog, hey how do you make a magnet, hey can you take a picture of the cats right now" etc - you get the general idea. So there I was, in gorgeous Thun, snap-snap-snapping away with my very own camera and camera bag and memory card and cleaning wipe with a kitteh on it - so nice! I digress...

So first things first, we popped in line to buy two tickets for the ferris wheel - this turned out to be easily the best 10 CHF we spent that day - the view couldn't be beat. I mean, wow. Mr K used his fancy-pantsy camera to make a swanky high-def video of one turn around the wheel - you can watch it on Youtube. I love the way at first you only hear the wind and then the organ music comes sneaking in, followed by some crowd noise and then back to the wind - I could watch that video on a loop all day.

The barrel organs were really interesting - neither of us could remember ever seeing or hearing one in person before - they're oddly beautiful and much more complicated than I imagined. Most of the players were dressed in different old-fashioned-looking styles, ranging from the very complex to those who just added a straw or top hat to a normal outfit. One of the highlights of the day was a mini-concert three organists performed together - again see Youtube for the high-def video. The music was so wonderful and sweet.

When not snap-snap-snapping or list-list-listening, we spent our time snacking, naturally. We started the day with tasty pretzels (one poppy seed and one with raclette cheese) and then later moved on to a chocolate covered banana, a real-sugar-Coke, a beer for Mr K, and whatever else looked good at the time. It was nice, but these people should really visit Texas to get an idea of what amazing stuff fair food can be! (We were slightly disappointed that the chocolate covered banana stand was not a frozen chocolate covered banana stand - I've heard there's always money in that kind of thing.)

Anyway, the festival was charming and we had a great time. This weekend, a barbeque with friends and relaxing because the calendar's looking pretty full for the next six weeks!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One little big step

As you've probably gathered from my overly wordy blog, I like to write. Recently, I signed up for a six-week-long creative writing class from UCLA Extension. While I've participated in NaNoWriMo multiple times in the past, signing up for this class marks my first formal foray into creative writing. My big problem is, though I love to write, I am terrified of letting other people read anything I've done. In an effort to "do better," I'm going to post my first exercise from my class here and you're welcome to (gulp gasp) let me know what you think. Depending on how this goes, I may post more in the future. Our first assignment was "show, don't tell" and here's what I submitted:

The tabletop fan sat motionless, the newspapers in front of it unrustled. Of all the things to miss, it was the silence of the newspapers that was getting to him. Henry Midfield huffed in annoyance - this slight movement sent his glasses slip-sliding down the sweat of his nose where he caught them and shoved them back into place without noticing. The ice in his drink had long since melted and, next to his chair, the papers that needed grading sat untouched.

Across the room, the TV and radio stared mutely at him, their power buttons black and beady, like the eyes of frogs caught in the porch light. The silence sneaking in from the kitchen only made him more aware of how he had grown used to the hum and chatter of hard-working appliances.

At first the silence had been a pleasant novelty – something about which one could make small talk with neighbors and overly chatty cashiers. Now, though, in its third day, the silence seemed to be hanging back, an injured animal planning its revenge and it was making everyone just a little more unpleasant than usual.

Outside, the neighbor's children were sullenly splashing in a muddy looking wading pool. Sunset was approaching. Normally it was about this time that Henry uttered his first curse of the day, directed at but never spoken to the neighbor who installed a floodlight on his garage that burned through Henry's kitchen window, marring the pleasant banality that should have marked his post-dinner washing up. Today there was no floodlight and no washing up – two more things he never expected to miss.

He swayed up from his damp chair in the living room and waded through the humidity into his kitchen. The room felt cramped and the faded blue plastic cooler set directly in front of the refrigerator only made the room seem smaller. The cooler, like some scratched-up modern-day treasure chest, held the last of the food he had been able to rescue from the refrigerator – none of which was even remotely appetizing at this point.

Lurching back to his chair, Henry sat down and placed a cigarette between his lips, but didn't light it – even that flash of fire would be too much. The ashtray next to his chair was nearly overflowing with unlit but well-gummed Marlboros – the sight of it made him sick. Henry wiped the sweat from his forehead and, squeezing his eyes tightly shut, flicked his lighter and inhaled.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

160 for the 4OJ

That title looks like a vanity plate - allow me to explain. This is my 160th post to this blog, which seems like a pretty darn big number to me... and from I learned '4OJ' is the super-cool-way-hip way to say "the Fourth of July" - I think they made that up, but it doesn't matter.

None of that matters when there's food to talk about!

As has become our tradition, we celebrated the 4th by filling our apartment with non-Americans and feeding them silly. Our menu this year focused on hot dogs and all the fabulous ways you can eat them. We started with a tray of pigs in blankets as an appetizer (along with a bowl of onion dip since I've gotten all our friends hooked now.) For side items, I made pasta salad, potato salad, ambrosia salad, cole slaw, baked beans, corn salad, green salad, and fresh pickles. Taking my cues from a collection of cookbooks and a brief search of Wikipedia, we offered toppings and written directions for six different variations of hot dogs:

  • the Willy Dog: (Alabama) ketchup, mustard, chili, sauerkraut, pickles
  • the Kansas City Dog: sauerkraut and melted Swiss (emmentaler) cheese
  • the Carolina/West Virginia Dog: chili, cole slaw, mustard, onions
  • the classic Chicago-style Dog: tomato, cucumber, dill pickle, sweet relish, yellow mustard, celery salt and NO KETCHUP
  • the Coney Island Dog: chili, onion, yellow mustard
  • the 7-Eleven Dog: a pile of chili and canned cheese
Our toppings bar (supplemented with rare imports provided by my mama) consisted of Cincinnati chili, diced onion, sweet relish, dill pickles, chow chow, Emmentaler cheese, cheddar cheese, Easy Cheese, canned nacho cheese, ketchup, mayo, Miracel Whip, Dijon mustard, grainy mustard, French's yellow mustard, spicy mustard, sauerkraut, Cholula, Tabasco, celery salt, and Old Bay.

Most people tried one or two variations, with chili and cheese being the most popular toppings. Steph "freestyled" her hot dog, pioneering her own unique Swiss-style dog (I have no idea what she put on it.) The star of the evening, as usual, was Dani "the Fromaginator", who made it his personal mission of the evening to eat one of each variation. All got positive reactions but the 7-Eleven style... we'll see what he thinks of the real thing in November!

Obviously all that salt is going to make you a bit thirsty - in order to combat this, our friends were kind enough to bring rivers of beer and wine and various other drinks. Max went so far as to hunt down an exclusive import: Miller Genuine Draft. We added a couple libations of our own to the mix - Lynchburg Lemonade and three flavors of jello shots.

Around midnight we grabbed sparklers and descended on our small playground courtyard for a moving (as in full of awkward movements) tribute to the 4th. Our friends were kind enough to finish the dishes for me and bag up all the bottles for recycling, allowing Mr K and I a much needed day of rest on Sunday. And that's our 4OJ - how was yours?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Through the blinds and over the rail - into the courtyard we go

So last night we had our first major cat drama.

It was around one in the morning and we were just getting ready for bed (normal). I had just washed my face and was brushing my teeth when I noticed neither of my sidekicks were there to "help" me (not normal). I wandered out into the hallway, toothbrush still clutched firmly in hand, and found Waffle, but no Taco. Next I looked under the bed - no Taco. On the nasty nibble blanket? No Taco. Under the futon? Nope. Couch? Nope.

This was when I started to get worried.

In the kitchen I put some food in the bowl and then loudly rattled the box of cat candy - here comes Waffle. Only Waffle.

I woke Mr K up and we really started the hunt. Opening all cupboards and the wardrobe - nothing. Behind the washing machine? Nope. Under the dishwasher? Nope. Out on the balcony somehow? Nope.

Now I was getting really worried - he clearly wasn't in the apartment.

In our dining room, we have a window he likes to lay in - I even have an ottoman set up in front of it so he can look out the window in both style and comfort. I always keep the blinds down and tilted so he can see out but not get out - or so I thought. At this point, it was almost two in the morning and Mr K and I are out in the courtyard with flashlights. Our courtyard, which is probably somewhere around 5000 square feet in area, is really well planted with huge shrubs and masses of flowers. These shrubs, the primary target of our search efforts, play home to vast hordes of spiders and chompy ants who have created a complex metropolis of their own and who also really don't like it when you go throwing your arms through the plants all willy-nilly. One or two intrepid mosquitoes, on the other hand, were delighted to have some company and stuck close by us throughout the search.

Our first trip through the courtyard yielded nothing. Mr K, on impulse, went back up to look at the window sill outside of the dining room window - in the dust he was able to find fresh kitty toe prints - this meant at least that we knew Taco was definitely outside, and so back into the plants we went.

Just past three, Mr K whispered triumphantly across the courtyard, "I found him!" I looked up and there, glowing in the moonlight (and the sickly fluorescent glow of the motion-sensitive lights in the courtyard) was a wide-eyed and only slightly filthy Taco clutched in Mr K's arms.

I whisper-squealed my joy back at him and the three of us piled into the elevator. A matter of minutes later, we were back in the house, where Taco made it his first act to scramble under the futon and not come out. Waffle immediately sprung into action and conducted a follow-up investigation by cornering Taco and sniffing and snorting at all the strange planty-smells he must have been covered in.

As for us, we just collapsed and passed out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Food and Family: The End of Our Trip

A rainy day after a restful weekend feels like the right time to finish up this story!

When I last left you, we were heading away from the concert... but what were we heading towards, at 10:30 PM with a full tank of gas? My parents house in Pennsylvania, of course!

Our final big surprise of the trip was going to see my mom and dad... but it would only be a surprise for mom. Right before the trip, dad sent me an entertaining email about his latest weaponry purchase - as if he knew we planned to bang on the door at midnight in a matter of days or something! In addition to the growing arsenal, mom and dad also acquired a new dog that week - a ferocious beast named "Casey" - a bloodthirsty cocker spaniel of doom. Deciding it isn't smart to sneak up on the retired Army guy and his flesh-rending attack dog, we gave dad a heads-up as to our arrival but insisted he didn't tell mom.

After the concert, we made good time, stopping only once to get Burger King kids meals at 11:45 at night because...well, because we COULD. Still driving, we polished off our burgers, though we ignored the soggy fries and lame Pokemon toys. At 12:07 exactly we pulled up in front of the house and approached the front door, hoping dad was still awake - he was. He let us in and we hid in the kitchen while he went to wake up mom, telling her she had to come downstairs.

Walking down the stairs in the middle of the night, I think she probably feared that the dog had just had one of those new-dog-explosions that only women can clean up, but I digress...

So, we're hiding in the kitchen as mom come shuffling in, all bundled up in her robe. We popped our heads around the corner and she looked at us, blinked a couple times, and just started laughing. Our surprise was a success - she had no idea! She swooped at us with great big hugs and all our laughter apparently excited the attack dog, who proceeded to liberally drench my fantastic new Dansko sandals in puppy piddle - sigh.

Soon enough my shoes were cleaned back up and we were all gathered around the bar in the kitchen, sipping beers and iced tea and eating chips and salsa while mom tried to come to terms with the fact that we were really really there. We all stayed up until almost two in the morning at which point we were all near collapse. At some point, Mr K and my dad had graciously dragged all our luggage in from the car and all I had to do was collapse in bed.

My mom said the next morning she woke up three or four times in the night, convinced it was a dream. She would then get out of bed and peek out her door to see if the guest room door really was closed, signifying guests inside. So cute!

The next day we got up and had breakfast. Mom and I dropped the dog off for a long overdue haircut and fang-sharpening, as his prettiness hadn't been properly attended to at the pound. From the dog salon, we headed to the airport to pick up Mr K and dad, who had been returning the parents' rental car. All together once more, we headed to the mall to run some errands and stopped at Olive Garden for a brief, but really surprisingly tasty lunch. Oh, the big salad. Mmmmmm.

By the time we finished with errands, it was time to head home - we had to get the dog and some groceries. At the grocery store, I grabbed all the ingredients I needed for the meal I planned to cook for mom and dad, all the while giggling over the variety of breakfast cereal and relative cheapness of meat. For dinner, I cooked two Indian dishes - a spicy cilantro and onion chicken and also curried chickpeas. We ate a late dinner around 8:45 PM and all settled back to watch what may be the greatest TV show ever created - "Wipeout".

Soon it was bedtime as we were flying out the next day. It was sad that our visit was so short, but on the other hand, it was beyond wonderful to get to visit at all and to surprise my mom!

The next morning we got up, had breakfast, packed our stuff in to the car and headed to Baltimore. Our flight was delayed by an hour but soon we were in Newark and boarding our flight back to Geneva. We had two of the three seats in a middle row and we watched in trepidation as each person boarded, hoping silently that they wouldn't join our row. This worked out, except we forgot to also hope the woman with the two crazed children with overly-active kicking legs wouldn't be seated in the row behind us. Or that the couple with the crying toddler wouldn't sit in the row next to ours. As we sat, waiting for our delayed takeoff, the kid behind Mr K entertained himself by slamming the tray table up and down as his delightful mother read Cosmo. Fortunately for all involved, as soon as the plane took off, both kids promptly passed out and stayed that way until we landed. Not so for the crying-kid-couple. The father spent the whole flight asleep as the mother walked up and down the aisles with the poor little girl. As long as her mom walked, she was quiet, but the minute they stopped, she screamed and screamed... which meant the mom spent five straight hours just walking the plane.

Soon enough we landed in Geneva, grabbed our luggage, zipped through the "nothing to declare" line and caught our train back home. We arrived to an only slightly disheveled house (the cats like to knock the dining room chairs all over the place) and two very happy kitties.

As I close this adventure, I'm going to leave you with a couple highlights from the trip that didn't seem to fit anywhere else:
  • Great quote #1: Two girls in line in Newark compare passports. One points out her Italy stamp. the other frowns and asks when their tour went through Italy. Girl one responds, "On the train from London to France, remember?"
  • Great quote #2: As we pass a group of college age kids, one girls loudly proclaims, "I got a ham sammich, if you want it!"
  • Great quote #3: At the end of the agricultural scan, we're waiting for our baggage as a rude woman on her cell phone ignores her approaching bag, stating, "I'm having a doozy of a time getting to my kids." After you've slept 4 hours in twenty, "doozy" is seriously about the funniest word ever.
  • Leaving the airport, we pass a guy in a concert tee shirt with long hair. He's dragging a couple pieces of bright pink little girl luggage. Just as I point him out to Mr K, he notices us and see Mr K's tee shirt and shouts out "MISFITS!" while making funny hand horns. We were still giggling about "doozy" at this point and that completely sent us over the edge.
And that's it!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Meeting in Your Town and Rocking Out: Days Three and Four of the Surprise Trip

Sorry it's taken me a couple days to get to this - I've been glued to and Twitter, obsessively reading about the protests in Iran. I'm going to take a short break, though, to get this post up before I forget everything.

Monday morning we got up bright and early (thanks, in part, to our lizard brains still being on +6 Switzerland time) and headed out. Our first stop was the McDonalds drive-through (we haven't gone completely native, apparently) for BDCs (Big Diet Cokes) and breakfast burritos. Six dollars later (cheap cheap cheap!) we headed to drop Mr K off at work with a one kilo (2.2 pounds) bag of chocolate bars in each hand.

My next stop was the bank to close an account I rarely use. One thing we've learned living here is when you do your taxes, you have to report all your wealth, which means all bank accounts. We have two main banks we use, but we've also both acquired a few smaller accounts from various jobs and past locations putting us at a grand total of six banks - this is a pain when you have to track down paperwork on each and every one of them yearly, so one of our priorities was to get some of those closed down. I was shocked to find the bank still closed at 9 in the morning - they didn't open until 9:30, which seems so late to me. I decided to just park and wander around a nearby shopping center for half an hour and was again confused to find each and every store closed until 9:30 or ten in the morning - I didn't remember this being the norm.

Eventually the bank opened and I was second in line, which meant I got the pleasure of listening to a complete moron berate the poor guy behind the counter about absolutely nothing for 20 minutes before she realized he was right... that kind of thing I haven't missed one bit. When it was my turn, closing the account took all of four minutes and I was back out the door, cash in hand. I ran a few more errands, prowled Borders (a really gigantic book store, Max - like bigger than FNAC - dangerous for me) and grabbed a yummy Subway sandwich for my lunch. Soon it was time to pick up Mr K and head to our next big surprise...

A little background: I've been playing a Wii game called Animal Crossing for the past few months. The basic premise is you have a little town and you make it pretty and befriend your animal neighbors and fish and garden and things like that. If you have friends playing, you can meet up over wireless and hang out in each others towns. One of my good friends in Virginia just recently got hooked, so we've been Animal Crossing together for the past few weeks. On Monday, I sent her a message on Facebook asking,
"Still hooked on the Animal Crossing? I wanna hang out in your town tomorrow - you available around 4 PM your time? We can share fruit!"
See how sneaky I was? She quickly responded,
"I'll make sure I have my gate open at 4 tomorrow so you can come visit. I sent you mail today too. Nothing exciting though. See you in Death [her town name - hee hee hee] tomorrow :)"
Mr K and I were dying - this would be great! We planned to be a little bit late just to add to the suspense. At 4:07 we arrived and parked in front of her house. We found out later that their son saw us park and said "Mommy, Miz K and Mr K just parked in front of our house." To which she replied, "No, honey - they live in Switzerland now, remember?" It was about this time we rang the doorbell. She open the door and burst out laughing, calling us freaks. Mission accomplished! We all sat around and played Mario Kart and chatted until her husband got home from work and we all went out to dinner - it was so much fun! After dinner, Mr K went shopping with them while I headed back to have girlie night out with the friend who put us up for the weekend. We got our toenails done and then headed to Benihana for a great dinner and a big pot of green tea. All in all, it was a wonderful day with really wonderful friends!

Tuesday morning we got up early again and once more drove through McD on the way to taking Mr K to work for a half day. I finished up my shopping (walking the mall* for an hour before the stores opened at 10) and joined up with Mr K and 21 of his coworkers for a lovely lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

After lunch, we continued to run a few errands, with Mr K dragging me to my two least favorite stores ever - Guitar Center and Microcenter. (seeing both of those 'centers' is making me wonder if I got the names wrong...) Soon we were on our way to Maryland for the concert. A huge thunderstorm started just as our drive did, slowing down traffic and adding about 45 minutes to the hour and a half we expected to be driving. The rain stopped and we got to the venue right on time, though we didn't get to stop for dinner along the way.

We parked and headed inside , where we navigated the two huge lines to get our tickets from Will Call and then to get patted down at the security check. Soon we were inside and thrilled to see a stand offering burgers, chicken fingers, beer and soda. We bought one of each and then headed to the tee shirt booth, where we were appalled to see tee shirts selling for 35-40$ each - ouch! Oh well - seeing as we flew over for the show, we figured we pretty much had to get a shirt, so we picked one out and made our way into the grounds to see the show. The lawn section was on a large hill, which offered a great view of the stage. The problem with a large hill after a rainstorm is the muddy muddy mudslide it turns into. Our main pre-show entertainment was watching people spill their beers on themselves and the ground as they alternately fell up and down the hill.

The falling continued throughout the show, which was good in that it provided much-needed levity during the slow-and-ballady-and-not-good-for-a-giant-concert songs NIN interspersed between the really loud and screamy rockin' numbers. I've been waiting to see this guy live since I was 16 and not allowed to go to concerts - it's been a long time coming! The highlight of the show was the gorgeous sunset that turned everything flaming orange and burst pink for the last couple songs - Mr K and I joked that you know you and the band are getting old when you're watching "angry bands" play in the daylight. The last song of the set was "Hurt" and I can confidently say it was the worst encore I have ever seen in my life. It's a pretty emotional song until you hear it sung along with by thousands of drunken twenty and thirty-somethings.. then it's just kind of lame/funny.

Jane's Addiction played second and completely made up for our disappointment with NIN - they were amazing! We had another "you know they're getting old when" moment when the lead singer reached for his mug of hot tea after the first song. He self-consciously grabbed a wine bottle and chugged after that, but you know he preferred the hot tea. All joking aside, despite being 50 years old, he's one of the most charismatic, real "rockstar" kinds of performers I've ever seen. It's hard to describe, but the performance was just stellar. We were completely blown away even though we had to leave the show a little bit early - our next stop was 90 minutes away and we had to be there by midnight...

And that brings us to Part Three - come back soon!

* A note for non-Americans... "walking the mall" is an actual thing people do - they go to the local mall before it opens in their workout clothes and sneakers and they walk laps. It's mainly moms with strollers and older people. This is what happens when you have no sidewalks!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Root Beers and Rabbits Ears - Days One and Two of the Surprise Trip

I've never been any good at being spontaneous. You know those people who plan things to death? Yeah, I train them. Our last trip to the US (last Christmas, which Mr K and I manged to spend both sick and stressed) I actually had a spreadsheet typed up of where we would be, what we would do, and who we would see for every day of our trip. I'm not bragging - I'm embarrassed.

So yeah, I'm not good at spontaneous. You may be wondering what this has to do with root beer. Well, for one thing, there is no root beer in Switzerland - that's your first hint.

"Get to the point already!"

Alright, alright - we just got back from a very impromptu trip to the US that all started with a stupid/brilliant idea to go to a concert. Two of my favorite bands from my high school days are touring together and I keep hearing rumors that this is probably "it" for both bands (as Mr K likes to put it, this is their first-last tour). Naturally, there are no European dates for the tour. Browsing a website around two in the morning about a week and a half ago, I noticed there were still tickets available for a show near DC. On a whim, I decided to look up flights, knowing they would be so expensive it wouldn't matter. One Expedia search later, this was not the case - roundtrip airfare was just over 400$ from Switzerland to the DC area...

Now I had a problem - actually going through with it. I was looking at tickets on a Wednesday to fly out on Saturday. I decided to go for it and ordered my concert tickets just about the time that Mr K started hemming and hawing about this not being a great time for a trip. His indecisiveness immediately made me start questioning the idea and, as of our one AM bedtime, we still hadn't made a decision, but we were already out 100$ for the show. I tried to go to sleep, but I just couldn't - I kept going back and forth on it. Around 3, I gave up on sleeping and came back to the computer, where an online chat with a friend convinced me to go for it. At this point, I decided to be brave and make the trip by myself. Naturally, Mr K woke up determined to go and so, at 5:45 in the morning, we booked our flights.

Once everything was arranged, the inevitable pre-flight-getting-stuff-done panic set in. Homework, cleaning, cat wrangling and packing, all in just two days. Before we knew it, we were in Zurich, boarding a plane and hoping we made the right choice. Prior to departure, we had decided to inform only three people about our visit: Mr K's boss for obvious reasons, my dad so we wouldn't get shot (more on this later), and our friends whose house we would be staying at.

We landed, got our car, dropped our luggage off at the hotel and headed out to do some shopping to supplement the two outfits each we had packed. Shopping done, we hit Chipotle for gigantic burritos before heading back to the hotel and promptly passing out.

The next morning, we got up and had breakfast, packed our things and headed to meet up with some friends. After a flurry of hellos and hugs, we all packed into the cars, bags of fresh, hot cinnamon bread clutched in our hands, to head to the Virginia Renaissance Festival. We wandered around, enjoying the sun and eating turkey legs, drinking root beer and participating in authentic renaissance pass-times, such as the classic game "pay-a-dollar-to-throw-a-rock-in-a-mud-puddle."

A few hours and several pounds of kettle corn later, we all piled back in the cars for the 1.5 hour drive home. Once home, we had a delicious taco dinner and a couple hours of chatting before we all passed out.

That's enough for one post. My next post will cover a couple big surprises and the concert that started this whole thing!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Drool factory

Apologies for my delayed posting - Mr K and I have been busy taking turns being sick and we're just finally back to both feeling better.

Way back before we got sick, we took a day tip with a group of friends to Martigny in Valais to visit the Musee et Chiens du Saint-Bernard - the St Bernard dog museum and kennel.

Martigny is a little over an hour by car from Fribourg. When we arrived, our first priority was to grab some lunch so we could explore with no distractions. Fortunately the museum just happens to have their own restaurant - Le Collier d'Or - the Gold Collar. Mr K had a plate of local dried meats and bread while I went for a vegetarian pasta - tasty, but nothing exciting.

Next up we cut through the gift shop and headed for the dog kennel. We saw a couple gigantic puppies and then got to pet a couple full grown dogs, including one of the world grand champions. I learned that the french word for champion (champion) sounds almost identical to the word for mushroom (champignon) to my poor American ears, leaving me a little bit confused for just a split second. I also learned the dogs eat about two pounds of kibble per dog per day. As you would expect, their poo reflects this - shudder. After petting and learning about the dogs, we went back inside to see the rest of the museum.

The main area of the museum displays a number of items related to Saint Bernard dogs throughout history, including a very large number of paintings showing the dogs as well as the stuffed body of Barry, currently on loan from a museum in Bern.

From July through September, it is possible to make a reservation to take one of the dogs for a 1-2 hour walk along the St Bernard mountain pass. The walks cost about 40$ per person, but I'm thinking it's probably worth it - after all, kibble isn't cheap!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

How far would you go for onion rings?

I hadn't planned on blogging again so soon, but events of yesterday (which I'm getting to) dictate I blog and the planned events of tomorrow (which I'll explain later) dictate I blog now if I don't want to be two posts behind...

Okay, so we're in the midst of a four day weekend here, thanks to a church holiday followed by a floating holiday that resulted in Mr K being off work on Thursday and Friday. Thursday was laze-around-the-house day, so Friday we knew we had to get out and do some seeing or we would feel guilty and also probably sit around the house and eat way too much. We called up MrPietBarber, whose first and last name must always be spoken together, and who will be referred to as PB from here on out. His family has already moved back to the US, so he needed some entertaining. Together we planned to head to Thun for more sightseeing.

First, we missed our train, so we waited thirty minutes for the next one. Once in Bern, we changed trains and a couple stops later, we joined up with PB. We arrived in Thun, got a big pretzel, and started our walk. We wandered along the river to the lake and then walked along the lake until the walkway ended at a boat dock - probably a good 45 minute walk. We looked at the time schedule and decided to catch the boat to Interlaken that was scheduled to arrive in 15 minutes.

The boat was right on time, so we boarded, bought tickets, bought beers and Prosecco, and settled back to watch Switzerland go by for the next two hours. We spent the first 45 minutes or so in the little boat restaurant, looking out the windows because, due to the gorgeous weather, there was no available outdoors seating on the deck. Two stops later, most of the people got off the boat and we lunged for their seats before the boarding passengers could get to them. Now we're seated on the deck, watching the mountains go by and reddening nicely. The sky was beautifully full of fat clouds and the constant breeze kept the temperature just perfect.

We arrived in Interlaken just in time for dinner and, after our nearly five hour transportation-odyssey, we were starving. PB lifted his sun-and-beer-reddened nose to the air, sniffed left, sniffed right, and immediately took off for our selected dinner location - Hooters Interlaken.

I should specify a few things before I go any further. Back in high school, I worked at an ice cream shop next to a Hooters - that was the closest I ever got to the inside of one of those places. Second, Interlaken is insanely touristy and possibly the ugliest town we've seen in Switzerland yet, so it's not like we were passing up a number of fine-dining experiences to eat at the Hooters. Third, I really, really, really wanted some onion rings. It's been 18 months.

So we go to Hooters. First thing I notice - no blonde employees. Second thing? All the waitresses were .... organic? 100% natural? Enhancement-free! They looked like real people - in really small shorts. As my super-cool Swiss buddy, Max, put it, "In the Swiss Hooters they're not taking it that serious with the oo in Hooters..."

But what do we care about that? On to the food! We got wings and onion rings and nachos to start with. Mr K got a buffalo chicken sandwich and PB got a vegiburger. I got a small green salad and stole part of Mr K's chicken - mmmm! When Mr K ordered his sandwich, the waiter (yup - a guy... poor Mr K, poor PB) asked how hot Mr K wanted the buffalo sauce, asking if he would like it "hot enough to burn out your ***hole?" We all giggled. (Asterisks are there for you, mom and grandma - see how polite I am?) Lots of food and 90CHF later, we were fed and wiping our hands with "Papstar" (I am not making this up) brand lemon-scented moist towelettes.

Stuffed full, we walked outside and sat in a park for a few minutes, watching the paragliders land before we headed to the train station. Once there, we picked up our return tickets and also grabbed some ice creams as well as some brochures for Interlaken adventures, including skydiving, paragliding, rafting, ropes courses, and canyoning so we could plan our next adventure.

The train ride home took around two hours, making our roundtrip travel time to Hooters just over seven hours.... but with views like these out the windows, who can complain?

P.S. More blog coming soon - tomorrow we go to the St Bernard dog museum!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Finger food

Last Saturday we went out for our big too-many-birthdays-in-May dinner. Last year we went to an amazing local restaurant that I hear has sadly since closed due to a problem of some kind with the location. This year we went for something a little bit different - dinner at the Blindekuh restaurant in Basel.

The Blindekuh is a restaurant where you eat in a pitch-black room, served by blind and semi-sighted staff. We went with Dani and Steph and Scott and Sarah - two friends visiting us from the US.

Upon arrival at the restaurant, your first task is to put all purses, phones, coats, bags, and anything that lights up in one of the lockers in the lobby. Next, you are presented with the menu while still in the lobby and told to study it carefully and memorize what you want as there will be no more referring to it later in the meal - this includes remembering your wines and drinks. We thought this would cause a problem until we went into the dining room and realized the darkness was unnerving enough without adding the disorienting effects of the couple bottles of wine that usually go with dinner here.

If you didn't want to order your courses from the menu, you could also choose the surprise menu (carnivore or vegetarian) - which most of our party selected. I was relieved to hear there would be no sea or lake life as part of the surprise menu.

Choices made and memorized, we took one last trip to the bathroom (important!) and settled on the couches and chairs in the lobby to wait to be taken to our table. When it came our turn, we were instructed to "form a Polynesian" - a conga line. This is how we were "shown" to our table. We passed through several layers of blackout curtains as we twisted down a long hallway that doubled back on itself repeatedly before we finally arrived at our table. Sitting down when you can't see the seats is really hard.

Once seated, we all began spidering our hands across the table, finding our napkins, two forks, two knives, spoon, variety of glassware, and strangers sitting next to us (whoops). Plates of crostini were placed for us to snack on as we waited to order. We started off with a round of the house appertif - a delicious fruity-tasting concoction we sipped as our eyes tried to adjust to the darkness...something they would continue to attempt throughout the course of our meal.

I can't even begin to describe exactly how dark it is. I tried to raise my hand up in front of my face to look at it and I managed to smack myself in the nose. For 2.5 hours, we saw nothing except one tiny blip of orange light from some mystery electronic device. Later in the meal, we spoke longingly about that light. Because of the profound darkness, I can't tell you how big the restaurant was, how many tables there were, or if they were all full, though it certainly sounded busy. As we walked to our table, I had a moment where my heart tightened in my chest and I questioned whether I would be able to stand this darkness for the duration of a meal. I gripped Steph's shoulders tighter and reminded myself of how lonely I would be in the lobby if I turned back.

A few minutes after we finished the crostini (at least we think we finished them) our waitress came over and, in German, introduced herself as Helen. Should we need anything throughout the course of our meals (drink refills, an extra fork, a helping hand to the bathroom) we were to call out to her and she would come to us. Our first chance to call Helen was when everyone at our table received their first course but poor little Miz K! As the other sat and explored their plates, I fiddled with my napkin and arranged my forks. Just a few minutes later, though, Helen was back with my plate and I eagerly dug in.

I picked up my fork and stabbed at my plate - nothing. Stab again - my entire salad. This is going to be difficult. Next try, I rested my left hand on the edge of my plate and used my fingers to poke and prod at the food on my fork until I had a mouthful. After a couple bites in this manner, I abandoned the fork and gleefully drug my fingers back and forth across the plate, savoring eating without utensils or nasty looks. Marinated veggies, garlic cheese mousse, salad, crunchy bread - it was amazing. Touching the food and smelling it and tasting it was so much fun. It was also easier to identify the food than I though it would be, though not knowing what taste to expect until something is actually in your mouth is a really odd sensation.

Throughout the meal, we would occasionally hear small bursts of tinkling music coming from other tables - the sound of small music boxes being opened. When you can't see, you find yourself listening so much closer to everything around you, and these little bursts of sound were so sweet and welcome against the backdrop of conversations and clinking tableware.

Soon, our second course came out. While most at our table were back to attempts with forks and knives, I was sticking with my hands - it was more fun. Main course for the carnivores was a decent-sized, even big for Switzerland, piece of meat, green beans in a bacon and sun-dried tomato sauce, and small roasted potatoes. We debated back and forth, finally deciding the meat was pork, only to find out as we left that it was actually a steak. We attributed our mistake to the steak being a bit more cooked through than most of us take our red meat - it was still very tasty, just a slightly different texture. As the main course continued, I sat gnawing away at the steak in my hands and listening as my tablemates, one after the other, abandoned their knives and also used their fingers. At some point, we all giggled at the clank of a fork hitting the floor as a man at a nearby table muttered a brief German curse while trying to retrieve the errant piece of cutlery.

Sometime after the main course, but before dessert, a large group of young-sounding girls either arrived or got up to leave (no way to know) and proceeded to scream and giggle and squawk through the dining room, receiving several very Swiss "SHHHHHHHHHHHH"es when the shrieking got too out of control.

Dessert was a fascinating mix of several small bites and left us all guessing until we finally got our menu cheat sheet. In the chilled bowls were a small square of mango lime panna cotta, a fluffy mound of white mousse with cranberries, frozen banana mascarpone balls coated in chocolate and bits of fresh fruit and leaves of mint. Once the meal was over and we were ready to go, Helen returned to walk us to the door. We went back through the blackout curtains and stood in the semi-darkened hallway for a few minutes to give our eyes a brief period of adjustment. We stepped into the dimly lit lobby and it was the same shock you get when leaving a movie theater on a summer day - it hurt. We stumbled and blinked for a moment before rushing, en masse, to the bathrooms. Thus relieved, we retrieved our belongings, settled the bill, and discussed when we could return.

I highly recommend this restaurant if you find yourself in Basel or Zurich and you're feeling a bit adventurous. If you come visit us and want to go, just say "mooooo!"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Catching Up Part One: The Wedding

So it's been a busy two weeks and I have a lot of catching up to do!

The excitement started with the marriage of two of our best friends nine short days ago. The wedding day was one of the busiest days we've ever had - possibly busier than our own wedding nearly three years ago.

At 10 in the morning, Mr K met up with the groom, Dani, and a couple other guys to head to the tailor to get his wedding suit. A few hours later, I met up with the bride, Steph, and a few members of her family. We all got together for lunch and then it was time to get everyone dressed and head out to take pictures. Mr K spent the day being the wedding photographer, while I carried his extra gear, kept Steph's dress in line, wrangled snacks and water, and just plain kept busy. After everyone was dressed and made up, our first stop was a beautiful chapel overlooking the city where we took advantage of the perfect weather to get some great pictures before the ceremony.

After pictures we headed into town for the civil ceremony. In Switzerland, from what I understand, a civil marriage is a must and a religious marriage is optional and usually occurs separately. A group of us were seated in a small room and the bride and groom were seated on a big leather couch, with the best man and maid of honor seated in chairs on either side of them. The whole ceremony was only about 30 minutes long and full of happy tears. Afterward, we all walked outside, with the bride and groom exiting last. Outside the building, a waiting group of friends pelted them with rice before we all headed to a local bar and cafe for drinks and snacks on the terrace overlooking the river. Mr K ran around shooting pictures while I sipped strawberry vodka basil punch and chatted with friends. Halfway through, it started raining lightly, but not enough to ruin anyone's fun - we just moved the party indoors.

Soon it was time to head to our next location. The bride's parents surprised our group with a stretch limousine to drive the bride, groom, best man and his girlfriend, maid of honor and her boyfriend, and photographer and his wife (me!) to the castle where we were having dinner and spending the night.

Two bottles of champagne later we arrived and all piled out of the car. Mr K did several large group pictures of various groups - bride's family, groom's family, friends of bride, friends of groom, friends of both, and so on. After pictures, we made our way inside for dinner and Mr K finally got to sit the camera down for a few minutes. Dinner started with a salad of mixed greens served with a sun-dried tomato tartare and a scoop of fatty, creamy cottage cheese. The main course was a buffet of grilled vegetables, roasted potatoes, grilled fish, chicken, pork, and beef, roasted peppers, marinated mushrooms, and bread. After dinner, various members of the party gave their toasts and we were treated to a retelling of Dani's bachelor party complete with a picture and video show and much laughter. Next we had dessert - a seriously delicious passion fruit cake covered in chocolate and fresh fruit.

After dinner it was time for dancing. Like most weddings, dancing meant we all watched and clapped as the bride and groom danced their first dance, after which the groom and all the other men fled outside to sip drinks and smoke cigars, leaving a big groups of girls to dance with each other.

By this point, it was well past midnight. At two, the music was shut down and the bar packed up. Someone, however, had the good sense to grab a case of wine and another of beer, so as soon as the concierge of the castle was bundled off to her home for the night, a small party started back up. Mr K went to bed around 2:30 and I followed about two hours later. Dani and Steph were kind enough to provide us a room for the night with a gorgeous view and a super comfy bed. The next morning we all had breakfast together before packing up the cars and heading home.

Later on this week, we'll be getting together with the newlyweds for dinner and picture-viewing, so keep an eye out for Mr K to post a couple more shots!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Great Butter Battle of '96

I've realized I write almost all of my blogs about things that are going on now - current events. In the calm before the coming storm of friends-wedding-and-guests, I thought I would take the opportunity to ramble about random events from the past.

One specific random event, to be precise.

I feel like I've written about this before, but it must have been in a journal and not this blog because I couldn't find any sign of it when I went through previous posts. I did find at least nine posts in draft that I should probably attend to at some point, but we'll save that for another day.

Today, though, today I'm going to share one of my favorite stories from growing up.

It's a story of the battle between good and evil - naturally, I was on Team Good, but if you ask Team Evil, she's probably going to disagree.

And she's probably got a right to disagree too.

But this is MY blog, so I get to be Team Good. She's free (even encouraged) to post her own version of events and we can let the world judge...

I'm talking about the Great Butter Battle of 1996.

It was thirteen years ago and I was getting ready to leave for college. All my worldly possessions were packed-and-stacked in the living room of my parents house. We were leaving the next morning to drive the four hours from Augusta to Rome and I was a little nervous.

Even on edge you might say.

As part of my final round of household duties, I was cleaning the kitchen after dinner on that fateful night. I was diligently loading the dishwasher and putting things away when my younger sister came into the kitchen and asked where my sinus medicine was. In my typically helpful fashion, I answered that it was packed along with everything else she owned and I suggested maybe she should just go find her own, doubtless in the kindest of words. She walked out of the room and I put the salt and pepper away.

Back to the dishes. Pulling silverware out from the soapy water in the sink, I heard a rattling noise coming from the other room. I dropped the silverware back under the water and, grabbing a towel to dry my hands, went off to investigate.

In the living room, I found my sister up-ending my boxes one after the other and digging through them. I sweetly asked her to stop, which she did, and I went back to the kitchen.

Five minutes later, I hear the same noise.

Back in the living room, more boxes tipped over. I give my sister a light smack on the arm and recommend in the interest of her own health and well-being that she refrain from such actions in the future. She leaves, I shove stuff back in the box and return yet again to the dishes. The water's cold by now.

Not five minutes later - that familiar noise. I rushed back in the living room.

"Villain," I shrieked. "Disassemble no more!"

My sister looked up, but not quickly enough. Not thinking for a moment, I grabbed hold of her with my right hand and, with the contents of my left, I began to beat her vigorously 'bout the head and shoulders.

"What was in your hand," you ask. "A frying pan? A rolling pin? A Nordic-ware specialty cake pan?"

Not quite...

That's right - it was a tub of Parkay. A tub that had been out at room temperature for at least an hour.

A very soft tub of Parkay.

Can you see where this is going? A couple thwacks in, the pressure of the beating gets to be too much for the little plastic tub, which explodes. Melted butter-food-product sprays up to the ceiling. It slides down the walls. It coats my sister's hair.

I stop immediately, tub still raised over my head. My sister glowers at me as the Parkay dribbles down her face.

This is where I make a critical error. I laugh. I can't help it.

This sign of weakness is all she needs - she quickly overpowers me and, knocking me to the floor, delivers a few swift kicks to my midsection. The kicks are mostly deflected by my clutching arms as I continue to laugh, but it's still a little uncomfortable.

She storms from the room as I pull myself together and begin cleaning up the mess, hoping my parents don't come back downstairs until I've disposed of all the greasy evidence.

Weeks later, I still find spatters and speckles of Parkay on my belongings.

The moral of my story? Sinus pain is serious business.

EDIT: Team Evil has posted her version - lies lies lies! Feel free to go read, but do NOT be taken in by her. This whole situation has made me aware of the necessity to set up a Big Sister Defense Fund to help protect and prepare Big Sisters from the assault of the Little Ones. As soon as Team Evil's oldest, the charming Miss Abbie, is ready (age five, right?), I'll be funding her enrollment in a Krav Maga class. It's the only way to be sure...

Monday, April 27, 2009


Saturday we surprised Steph with a bachelorette party she was expecting to occur in early May.

At 1:30 in the afternoon, her friends began arriving at our apartment. Mr K had been gone since 8:30 in the morning for Dani's bachelor party, the details of which will be posted on his blog as soon as he gets sick of my whining. Before the girls arrived, my buddy Nipun came over to help me with the cooking. We planned a Bollywood theme for Steph's party, so Nipun and I made a couple batches of samosa-inspired baked curry puffs. Just as we finished the food, the girls began to arrive. I had ordered a collection of wraps made from vintage saris to wear, and each girls chose a skirt and got dressed. We poured our drinks and waited for Steph.

Steph arrived right on time - I told her I needed help shopping for a dress for her wedding in order to lure her over. She walked in and followed me to the living room, where everyone was waiting - and where she stood for about 30 seconds before she noticed them! We toasted and dried tears and snacked until it was time to catch our train to Bern...

Which we promptly missed.

The next train came fifteen minutes later and we were on our way to Bern. We all had a laugh when the ticket collector came by and pointed out that Steph had bought a ticket despite the fact she already had a one year Fribourg-Bern pass. We really flustered her!

We arrived in Bern just in time to start our Bollywood dance class. In only an hour and a half, we managed to learn 2 minutes and 40 seconds worth of chreography - the class was even more fun than we had expected and a couple of us are eager to take more classes. I spent about half the class taking pictures thanks to damage I did to my ankle when I fell down for absolutely no reason on Friday afternoon...

After our class, we spent a little while wandering around Bern. Steph was tasked with selling as many of her bangle bracelets as she could to help fund our activities. In about half an hour, she made 25 francs and a beer - not bad! The funniest sale was to three 20-something guys who traded a beer for three bracelets - bracelets that were much too small for them. Steph produced a tube of hand lotion and after a little lotion and bracelet-bending, the guys proudly displayed their new jewelry as Steph enjoyed her spoils.

Next, we headed to a nearby park for drinks and a delicious appetizer of fresh bread and cured meat, olives, couscous, meatballs and a vegetable relish. We picked up one more girl for our group and headed to a nearby Indian restaurant for dinner.

Dinner was just amazing - I may have a new favorite restaurant here. We sat around for a couple hours, eating and sipping wine and chatting. Around 10:30 we caught a train back to Fribourg. Almost immediately, we encountered a relic from Dani's party - a poster encouraging people to get their picture taken with Dani in a Hawaiian outfit and later to join him for some bowling - with Dani as the bowling ball. We had plans of our own and blindfolded Steph before leading her to a small fountain staged with floating candles and a bottle of apple proscecco. We chatted and sipped for a little while longer before calling an end to our party.

After all the excitement, I spent Sunday lounging around the house in my skirt, craving more Indian food. Mmmmm!

Monday, April 6, 2009

So close, yet so far - VEVEY

After three or more snow-free weeks, I finally feel I can safely say... spring has arrived! It's been in the low 60s and upper 50s during the day and the 40s at night... I know to people in Atlanta, this might not sound like spring, but after the snows of the past few months, it certainly feels like it here.

We spent the past Saturday recovering from a particularly grueling jiu jitsu class on Friday night. By Sunday, we were walking again and eager to get out and get some fresh air. We dressed, ate sandwiches and headed to the train station. An hour and 6 minutes later, we were in Vevey, a small town on Lake Geneva.

One of Mr K's coworkers lives in Vevey and was kind enough to walk us around and show us the sites. His drive to work is about 40 minutes, which seems like such a long time after living here for a while and I wondered if it was worth it to live so far from work. About fifteen minutes later, I wasn't wondering anymore - Vevey is gorgeous. We spent a couple hours walking along the lake (with about a thousand other people - it seems that everyone was out to enjoy the weather yesterday!) Mr K and I got a sandwich to split as we walked and he and his coworker both sipped cold beers bought from a lake-side stand. Looking across the lake, you could just make out the snow-covered mountains peeking out of the haze.

Another thing you saw when looking out at the lake was a 25 foot tall fork standing off the shore. The fork was created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Nestle's food museum and was only supposed to be a temporary piece. It was installed, left for about a year, taken down and given to a cutlery factory. Ten years later, it was reinstalled. This time, a petition was passed to keep the fork and it now appears to have a permanent home in the lake.

In addition to the giant fork, Vevey is home to a camera museum and a game museum - unfortunately we went for our visit on a Sunday and both were closed. We're hoping to go back for another visit in mid-May when our next guests arrive. Near the game museum, our tour guide led us up a tower and through a really really tiny door to get a nice view over the town and the lake.

We walked for a couple more hours and then stopped at our friend's apartment for some coffee and water and food talk. He just got back from a couple weeks in the US and brought back a sack of loot for us - hurrah for new books and dvds and slash-proof camera strap and weirdo little flashlight (guess who requested what.....) As it was time for us to head back to Fribourg, we took one more short walk to see the Nestle corporate headquarters (HUGE) and a last view of the lake. As we walked back, we passed several kids playing on a skateboard ramp with their razor scooters (as some grizzled older "kids" with skateboards sat off to the side and sipped their beers). I marveled at the lack of a guardrail or fence or barrier of any kind between the ramp and the lake - it makes you wonder how many scooters and skateboards "accidentally" end up in the shallow water at the edge of the lake if only to give their owners an excuse to splash in and fish them out....