Gorgeous Gingerbread

Switzerland is home to many fine confectionary products. One crunchy—as opposed to creamy—treat comes from Kambly, a cookie company. Tucked in the small village of Trubschachen, the factory, like many in Switzerland, offers tours and programs for the public. We recently ventured there to make gingerbread houses.

IMG_3861 When we arrived, the workspace was laid out with large trays and bowls of tools. Each cookie sheet has a laminated template covered by a sheet of baking paper. There were five in our group and two other families, for a total of twelve. Our head cookie chef was was Patricia Zimmerman, who demonstrated for us. We were each brought a sheet of rolled gingerbread. Using a series of heavy duty metal templates, we cut out base, roof, gables, a door and a chimney. There was a bit of extra dough so I also cut out some extra doodad decoration using the various shaped cookie cutters. There was also enough dough to sample! Nicely spiced and flavourful!

IMG_3863We placed the pieces on the tray, in their correct places of course, removed the template and put them in the oven. (I would love to have an oven like that in my kitchen!)

While they baked, we worked on marzipan ornaments, Patricia demonstrating. Her hands fluidly produced perfectly round balls that were quickly assembled into a witch’s body and shoes. A fourth ball became her head, then she quickly acquired a crooked nose, complete with wart, and eyes. Needless to say, when it was our turn, we were a bit less skilled but nonetheless we all created something respectable. We branched out a bit beyond witches, with teddy bear (complete with bow tie), snowman, penguin, musicians, and an elf.

Patricia had obviously done this a few hundred times before. She would simply pluck, pluck at the marzipan to take a ball in each hand and Voila! produce a pair of eyeballs, then pluck, pluck again, fingers working while talking all the while and Voila!, a pair of perflectly matched pupils to pop on the eyes.

IMG_6191Armed with piping bags of delicious icing (we checked!), we commenced assembly. Piping icing onto the edges of the gables and section of roof took mere minutes; we then added the other roof piece. It created quite a stable structure – a credit no doubt to its Swiss design.  We then set the house on the base and were ready to embellish.

Patricia demonstrated varoius techniques with icing, how to mount decoration etc and then let us at it. We had a selection of cake deco items—stars, snowflakes, knobby balls, Smarties to incorporate into the finished look.When finished, we each received a special clear plastic carrier for our houses (They’d obviously done this before!)

Our creative juices depleted, we explored the factory’s retail area. The shelves were stocked with large bags of cookies—samples right alongside so you could be extra sure that what you were buying was as delicious as it looked.

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Happy bakers

Our ace gingerbread team

Busy Town Basel

When I started this post, I don’t know for sure, but I had every reason to suspect that Richard Scarry got his inspiration for Busy Town from a Swiss city like Basel.

I loved Richard Scarry’s books—as a child, teen and parent. Remember Lowly Worm, with his little hat that, now that I think about is, definitely has a Germanic air to it, appearing on each page? In Busy Town, everyone is busy. And in Basel, people are busy in the same way.

Men at Work

Men at Work

On any given day you’ll come across mail carriers, bus drivers, painters, masons, plasterers, police officers, tram drivers, road workers, etc. etc., all working to keep the city running smoothly.

There are even work crews that clean the the bulbs in the street lights!

Another parallel to to Scarry’s characters is that all, Scarry’s pigs, cats and foxes and Basel’s people alike, wear uniforms appropriate to their task and occupation. The painters, gardeners, construction workers and sanitation crews have specific uniforms with special pockets and reflective tape. They also sport whatever protective gear is needed for the job at hand.

Swiss cities have special vehicles and machines for specific tasks, too: mini trucks that creep along walking trails for garbage crews, vacuum trucks to clean the tram lines, mail motorbikes, and so. Given that Swiss chocolate is so famous not because of the cocoa beans but because of the conching machines developed here, these specialized machine should come as no surprise. The machines and the people all work to keep Basel working like, well, clockwork.

Upon doing a bit more research into Richard Scarry, I discovered that he bought a chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, in the 1970s and lived and worked there until his death in 1994. So there just may be something to those lederhosen-wearing cats after all!

A Room Full of Chocolate

My daughter and I ventured down to Zurich last weekend for the Salon du Chocolate. I hadn’t heard of it but once a friend alerted me to its existence, and knowing it was just an hour away, how could I resist? The pull of chocolate was just too strong.

I suppose as exhibitions and conferences go, this was a relatively small one, but there was plenty to see – and taste – during our time there. There were booths from some two dozen boutique chocolatiers, most of which I’d never heard of and some I will now never forget. Yum!

My favorite taste of the day was a very dark chocolate from Suteria. We also enjoyed the Swiss Moments collection from Nobile Cioccolato. This is a sampler that uses a variety of typically Swiss ingredients, including hay! Like fresh cheeses where you can really smell and taste the grass, this treat brought you out to the meadow.

We spent a good amount time chatting with a representative from CBI, an EU organization that helps companies in developing countries find European markets for their products. Of course, cocoa is a perfect example and several growers from Central America were there with them.

Le Salon du Chocolate is a world-wide event. While I am still living in Europe, I shall just have to get myself to the editions in Paris, or Brussels, or Lyon….

 

 

 

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!

It’s a fool who does not read

Love this! Have you seen other book mobiles in your travels?

Travel Between The Pages

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Antonio La Cava taught elementary school students in the little mountain town of Ferrandina outside of Matera, Italy for 42 years. After retiring from teaching, he transformed a trusty  Ape mini-truck into a tiny bookmobile, which he calls thebibliomotocarro-320x191 “bibliomotocarro”. Since 2003, La Cava has travel 500 kilometers every month visiting eight rural Basilicata villages to spread the joy of reading and the love of books to kids and adults alike. With the motto “It’s a fool who does not read” and an itinerant lending library of 1200 books, the retired educator shares the magic of reading with all comers.

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My Big Year

My Big Year has nothing to do with birdwatching, though I certainly wouldn’t mind doing some of that in, say, Ecuador. No, my Big Year has to do with reading.

The first book I am reading this year for one of my book clubs is The Goldfinch. At 771 pages, it’s quite the tome.

When I first learned that was the book we would be reading, I groaned. Not because it’s a Big Book but because I found The Secret History, also by Donna Tartt, so incredibly awful that I vowed never to read another book of hers. Yet here I am. It’s amazing what book club can make you read.

Despite my initial reluctance, I am enjoying The Goldfinch immensely and, halfway through, can hardly put it down. Books to ReadWith this Big Book well on its way to completion, I have decided this year to tackle some of the other Big Books sitting on my shelf. They include Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet (802 pages), Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (562 pages) and London by Edward Rutherford (1152 pages).

Wish me luck. Of course, I can always use the books for upper body toning if I don’t quite get around to reading them….

I May Need to Move to Milan…

There is some serious chocolate in Milan. It’s been a while since I spent any amount of time in Italy—my last visit was well before my chocolate addiction reached its current level of intensity—so for all I know the rest of Italy would be amenable as well, but for now, Milan would be pretty high on my list of places to live. For now, I need to be content knowing it’s just a four-hour train ride away!

chocolate shop in MilanThere are chocolate shops everywhere, it seems like there’s one on every block. The shops have absolutely gorgeous window displays, each one more tantalizing than the next.

From the little (relatively speaking anyway) that I tasted, it’s all good. And it’s a good thing I only sampled a bit. With all those shops, if we’d stopped in each one, we woudn’t have had time to do anything else. We did of course visit the Duomo, and afterwards we visited, as a friend suggested, the cafe at the top of la Rinascente, Milan’s equivalent of New York’s Bloomingdales or Macy’s. The chocolate there was absolutley over the top – I had never before seen chocolate shoes!

But the best is the hot chocolate (cioccolata calda) which is smooth and rich and very much like drinking warm pudding. There’re only two places I know of in Basel that serve it that way, and only caffe HABITU had it in Hong Kong, so it’s not often I can pop into any cafe and order a hot chocolate and get this thick, delicious creamy treat. For that alone, Milan is well worth visiting, even if I can’t live there.

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