Who Do You Think of When You Think of Chocolate?

A friend of mine saw this sign somewhere and I am pleased/embarassed/delighted that she thought to send a photo of it to me. I guess my reputation as a chocoholic is spreading….but why have it any other way?

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Our Lady of Chocolate

Notre Dame in chocolateParis’ Montmartre neighborhood, as I am no doubt not the first person to discover, is a wonderful place to wander. Full of cafes and shops of all kinds, it seems to me to be quintessential Paris, an area where people actually live rather than one that tourists occupy. I loved peering into the shops, both essential and quirky, that lined the road up to Sacré-Cœur.

There were even enough patisseries and chocolate shops to keep even the most afflicted chocoholic content. (Those, of course, fall into the “essential” category.) Chocolatier Maison Georges Larnicol fell into the quirky category as well. Along with its many treats and specialities, it featured exquisite chocolate sculptures, including a replica of Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris.

Winter Ephemera

IMG_4334Winter brings with it many things that pass with the season. Here in Basel, we enjoy Zermatt Bacara, a fabulous fondue restaurant that makes its appearance at the beginning of November and stays until the end of March. Those in the know request reservations at the beginning of October because, yes, the fondue is that good.

Each year the entire restaurant is assembled at the beginning of the season and disassembled at the end of the season. The first time we ate there, we looked around in disbelief. How could something so solid looking, so cozy and so warm, be temporary? But it is, down to the ball chains dangling from the the lamps and the deer skulls and old-time photos on the walls. While I have not witnessed it, I have no doubt the building is assembled and disassembled with absolute Swiss efficiency and fits very neatly into a container or two.

The menu seems to stay the same from year to year, so maybe they even pack those away to use again too!

Further afield, we checked out, or into, another temporary winter phenomenon this year, the Ice Hotel.

IMG_3149 Located in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, the Ice Hotel is constructed each year from the River Thorn. The ice, 5000 tons of it, is harvested in deep winter, stored through the summer and shaped and sculpted in the late fall. The ice is used for ornament, sculptural details and yes, the beds. The hotel’s Art Suites are, literally, works of art and change each year. Hundreds of artists from around the world submit designs for them; just a handful are chosen. The hotel also features more basic rooms of three standard designs, all magical in their own way. The hotel’s superstructure is created of “snice”, a combination of super cold snow and ice blasted over a temporary frame. Inside, it appears white. The ice, on the other hand is crystal clear, and shimmers. If you look closely, in some of the large blocks you can find the occasional bubble or leaf caught within.

The Ice Hotel offers both cold and warm rooms but the cold ones are the ones to see and ooh and ah over. Our night there was definitely a cool experience, in both senses of the word.

This year the hotel is open until 12 April. After that, it is left to melt and return from whence it came, the River Thorne.

If you go
Zermatt Bacara
The Ice Hotel

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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