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...