The Fondue Conspiracy

This episode of Planet Money about the history of fondue popped up on my NPR One app this morning. I had no clue that fondue was a modern construct! “The popularity of fondue wasn’t an accident. It was planned by a cartel of Swiss cheese makers, which ruled the Swiss economy for 80 years.”

Admittedly, I haven’t put a lot of effort into learning how to make fondue, but we do have it at home occasionally. More often, we gather a group of friends and make a night of it out at a fondue restaurant or our local “chalet”.

For the record, our favourite place for fondue is Baracca Zermatt, a wintertime pop up place whose truffle fondue is absolutely divine. Their Toblerone mousse is pretty tasty too.

Source: Episode 575: The Fondue Conspiracy : Planet Money : NPR

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Cooking the Clocks

After you live in Switzerland for a while, a sense of orderliness and timeliness begins to creep into your psyche. You’ll know it has happened when you realise that the smallest things being out of order annoy you. Here’s the latest….

I have a microwave and oven set above each other in my kitchen. Most of the time, the clocks are in sync. Occasionally they are off by a minute, and when I notice that, I wait and watch to see how long it takes before they display the same time. If it’s just a few seconds, that’s close enough and I let it slide. But if it takes TOO LONG, I check the time on my phone and then adjust the errant appliance as needed.

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The offending appliances, with a 2-minute(!) time differential

The other day, however, I noticed that the clocks not only were not in sync, they were off by three minutes. This, of course, is unacceptable to my acquired Swiss mentality. How do I know what time it really is when I am getting such conflicting information? If the kitchen clocks aren’t correct, it means I will not leave on time, which means I will be either early or late for the tram I want to catch. This cannot be. So I dutifully checked the time on my phone and set both clocks to that time and thought nothing more of it. Continue reading

Faces of Fasnacht

This week Basel celebrates Fasnacht, known elsewhere in the world as Carnival and in Basel as “the three most beautiful days of the year”. The cortege Monday afternoon is a somewhat organized parade of floats, bands playing guggenmusik, and cliques playing drums and piccolos. Every year each clique selects a “sujet”; their costumes, lantern and the ironic verses they write all reflect that theme. The sujets generally comment on a social or political issue. Some of them are readily apparent (Korean missles, anyone?) while others are a bit more obscure unless you live in Basel and, more importantly, follow local news.

Here are just a few of the many photos I took, which in turn are just a few of the great many masks that clique members spent months making in preparation for their three most beautiful days.

 

Safety Sweet Spots

I am sure I won’t live in Switzerland forever, and since I may very well return to the US some day, it is nice to know I will be able to indulge ever so nicely there.

Culture Trip’s new piece on America’s artisanal chocolate makers spurred this train of thought, and I went on to find a few more sources in a Vogue article on healthy artisanal chocolate. With TCHO in San Francisco and Fine & Raw in Brooklyn, I should be covered coast to coast!

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A sampling of the chocolate that happened to be in my cupboard today

Losing a Library

My daughter is graduating from high school this spring. For all the new beginnings such an event promises, for parents there is also a sense of impending loss: perhaps one less lunch to pack each day, or one less person at the dinner table. For me, there’s an additional loss:  access to the school library.

As you might have guessed, I am a big fan of libraries. In Basel, my public library has a fabulous collection—in German. Granted, each branch has a small collection in English—one even has a very nice fiction selection—but access to the school library brought me access to a complete library: fiction, non-fiction, periodicals, databases, etc., all in English.

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As an international school library*, it has a broad scope, and the fiction collection features authors from a great many countries. I have discovered Canadian authors, Australian authors, and a host of other authors whose work had been translated into English.

I have a good relationship with the library staff; I probably check out more books than any other parent at the school. I could read about a book, suggest it to them, and, most of the time, they would not only order it but let me know when it had arrived. Reading a “Best of YA” list would send me to the online catalog to see what they had or to the librarians to check what was on their upcoming order list in order to get books I thought my daughter would like.They were also very nice about renewing (and re-renewing) books for me. Best of all, at the end of the school year, my daughter and I could check out an unlimited number of books for the summer. I think our record was thirty ( yes, 30).

With just seven weeks until the end of exams and thus the end of school enrollment, all that access is also coming to an end, so I am reading as fast as I can. Come mid-June, I may be signing up for my first GGG library card.

*Check out International School Library Month, celebrated each October

 

Travel Fears

We are days away from embarking on the trip of a lifetime.  It’s time to assess my major fears about this trip and my plans to deal with them.

Crossing the Drake Passage, reputed to be some of the roughest open water on the planet. Ugh. I don’t do boats. But I am willing to do this one because I want to see Antarctica. So I am fully loaded with drugs to handle the seasickness of life on board and, I hope, the roughest the seas can throw at me. (‘Cause otherwise, I’ll be throwing it right back at them…)

Next, having enough to read. This was a major quandary. But I recently learned that our ship contains the largest floating library in Antarctica and has both non-fiction, which I assumed, and fiction, which I wasn’t sure about. So now I am fairly confident that the four books I have packed will be enough for the off-ship travel portion of our almost-month-long trip.

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Will all the books in the library published by Penguin?

 

Taking these two biggies off the table leaves me with just one final concern: Will there be enough chocolate on board?

Photo Credit: Flickr Photo by Antartica Bound used under CC License

My Favourite Day

Basel bills fasnacht as the three most beautiful days of the year (die drei schönsten Tage). It’s colourful and great fun and all that, but one of my favourite days of the year in Basel is actually the Anglican Church Christmas Bazaar.

It’s held each year on a Saturday in late November, and for me it’s a reminder that the expat community here is not unlike small-town America at their annual Peach Festival. I see all sorts of people I know – from friends from our Montessori kindergarten days to friends I’ve only met recently.  It’s fun to check in and catch up with everyone…after I’ve visited the upper floor.

My first stop is always the book sale upstairs. This being Switzerland, the books are organized not only by general category but also, within fiction, somewhat alphabetically. Therefore, if you’re looking to read something new by Tracy Chevalier, you can head right to the C’s and cross your fingers you got there before it was snatched up by another fan.

I adore watching the older ladies and gents armed with lists of authors they like and books in a series they’re looking for. I love picking up a book I’ve read and loved and recommending it to the stranger next to me. And I absolutely buy too many books each year, but with 10 for 15 chf, how can you go wrong?!

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Okay, so maybe things are getting a bit out hand…

 

Mountain Man

Another thing to love about Switzerland: Art is everywhere. In fact, when something looks a bit out of the ordinary, I often pause and consider that I may have just stumbled across some “art”. No pause needed here!

Travel Between The Pages

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The Swiss street artist known as Saype recently completed this enormous “land work” in the mountains outside of Leysin, Switzerland. The piece, which is composed of cut and painted grass, depicts a relaxed man stretched out on a mountainside. Who would’t want to change places with this very contented guy for an afternoon.

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