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.


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

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.


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


A Little Clove Goes a Long Way

I have four jars of ground cloves in my cupboard. Contrary to what that quanity indicates, I use very little and so, apparently, does everyone else.

I have a jar or two of whole cloves too! Photo: Wikipedia

Three of the four jars I inherited. People moving to the US are often suprised to learn they cannot send food products of any sort in their shipping container. Much to their chagrin, their carefully curated collection of wine, olive oils, and herbs and spices cannot accompany them. Many a foodie friend has generously (?) given me the remnants of their pantries and spice cabinets. With each donation, it seems, I acquire yet another jar of ground cloves.

I’m therefore on a mission to use more cloves. I’ve started adding a little dash to what I’m cooking: cumin and cloves to the chicken for burritos, a dash in cranberry muffins, etc. But at this rate, it will still take me years to get through more than one jar.

If you have any recipes that use cloves, please let me know. Particularly if you have one that calls for more than 1/4 teaspoon at a time!

The First Supper

Celebrating 16 years since moving overseas and feeling a bit nostalgic… 

I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of producing a meal as I was the night I prepared our first “real” dinner in Zagreb.

We’d probably been there 2 or 3 days and I’d just begun to figure out not only where the grocery store was, but  also what was what inside the store. Ever mindful of the time in Slovakia we’d purchased a liter of apple cider vinegar thinking it was apple juice, I proceeded cautiously.

Kitchen in our Zagreb apartment - April 1996

Kitchen in our Zagreb apartment – April 1996

Thankfully these were not grocery stores a la suburban America, but more like corner stores in New York City. With a fairly limited selection, I couldn’t go too wrong. The local products were the hardest to decipher – I spoke no Croatian of course – so I gravitated toward international brands that had ingredient lists in multiple languages. Pasta was no problem; penne is penne, and canned tomatoes, onions and olive oil were easy to figure out.  The dairy case was a different story: I’d never heard of kefir (but came to love it), couldn’t find any milk (it was all UHT milk, and thus not in the cold case), and had to guess what might be sour cream.

But, determined not to live on pasta forever, I went searching for inspiration in the aisles and found something I thought might be paprika, or cayenne, or some other red spice. I thought, heck, I’m in Eastern Europe – something like goulash should be possible! Sure enough, coupled with the excursion in the dairy section, I  managed to serve chicken paprikas on egg noodles that night. Victory was in hand!

It’s always seemed to me that the people who had the most trouble adjusting to expat life were those who didn’t know how to cook. Staple ingredients such as rice and pasta, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, are available pretty much anywhere; Rice a Roni and cake mixes, not so much. If you know how to cook from scratch, you will not go hungry, even if you can’t pronouce the names of any of the products you’re buying!