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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A Plethora of Pumpkins

I often feel like the ibis in Roy Owen’s wonderful story, The Ibis and the Egret, which he so kindly gave my daughter when she was born. In it, with the arrival of each season, the bird declares that to be his favorite season. For these past few weeks, autumn has been my favorite season.

pumpkin wagon at MathishofThe rain held off nicely through October and the leaves were golden as our Wednesday Walkers group headed out to the surrounding hills each week. Best of all, however, was the arrival of pumpkins and squash and their appearance on the menu.

Given the size of Switzerland, we are very close to our food, and with fields and farms abutting the city boundaries, eating locally is a matter of course.  The famous Mathis Brändelistal-Hof farm overflows at this time of year. At their stands are more varieties of squash than you can count on both hands and both feet! I vowed this year to expand my horizons and try some new varieties. I have recipes for butternut squash lasagna, and delicata squash to be served six ways, waiting, and have already tried this delicious recipe for butternut squash recommended by a friend.

As pumpkins appear in the fields, seasonal pumpkin products begin to appear in the grocery store as well. My favourite are the Cappelletti alla zucca, orange pockets filled with ricotta and pumpkin, and the Bergkürbis-Ravioli, filled wth kurbis (pumpkin) and ricotta from the mountains. Both types of pasta are simply delicious doused with sage and pepper in melted butter. Fellow hikers recommended using finely chopped walnuts and parmesan, and that was tasty too. Now I have two ways to enjoy my favourite flavors of the season.

As pumpkin season passes, it will start getting cold enough to fire up the fondue pot. Another wonderful Swiss treat to look forward to!

Falling for the Fair

One of Basel’s most traditional events is the Herbstmesse, the fall fair. By traditional, I mean it’s been around for a long time,  in this case well over 500 years. Five hundred and forty-three, in fact.

According to the City of Basel website, “On 11 July 1471, at the Imperial Diet in Regensburg, Emperor Friedrich III granted the Mayor of Basel, Hannsen von Berenfels, the right to hold the Basel Autumn fair «in perpetuity». It starts 14 days before St. Martin’s day.”

The first day of the fair is traditionally the Saturday before the 30th of October. The fair’s opening is signalled by the Fair Bell of the Church of Saint Martin at exactly 12 o’clock.  This being Switzerland, exactly 12 o’clock means it is rung at exacly 12 o’clock!

Not ones to miss the oportunity to keep a tradition going, we popped by on Sunday. It was a glorious, warm fall day, so all the more reason to go. The fair now spreads through several locations in the city, but we limited ourselves to two:  Petersplatz and Barfusserplatz. Barfusserplatz is mostly rides and food vendors, but at Petersplatz, it is indeed a market fair, with booths selling all sorts of gifts and goods and, best of all, yummy treats.

sweet treats at Basel's Herbstmesse“Do I have marshmallow on my nose?”, asked my daughter after sampling a delightfully fluffy, coconut and chocolate covered, sugary confection. (Yes, she did). The raclette grills were out in force, as were the many stalls offering traditional Mandelbrot (almond bread, much like gingerbread), carmelized nuts, creamy caramels, and chocolate covered fruits. A few new traditions have snuck in over the years: Jeffrey’s has been offering Malaysian treats for a good ten years or so, and now there is a Chinese food hall as well. But Bratwurst stands and sweets stands still predominate.

I have no idea what 18th century and earlier amusement rides looked liked, but the modern Herbstmesse has variations on all the standard rides of today: Frog Hopper, Giant Swings, Pirate Ship, Mousetrap. The crowning glory is, however, the ferris wheel.  It’s always  a fun moment to notice when the ferris wheel appears on the horizon, bit by bit as it is assembled. I was watching for it this year, but it surprised me by appearing fully formed one day last week. It rises high above the Munster and is visible from far away. The views from the top, on a clear day, are spectacular.

The fair lasts two weeks, and then the great wheel will be dismantled, to appear next year and mark the 544th edition of the Herbstmesse.

Basel Ferris Wheel

Photo ©Christian Rüfli Used with Permission

August Abundance

As the pall of September rain falls upon us, I am reminded that just last week we were hiking in the sunshine, and the week before that as well. laden with pearsOur Wednesday walks often take us out through and above pastures, and that day was no exception. Towards the end of the walk as we passed through fields we could see the trees laden with fruit. There were apple trees, pear trees, and plum trees. This being Switzerland, there were, of course, also some cows grazing in the background.

We passed a little stand with plums for sale. Many of the farmers here put their goods out on the honor system. It makes you feel as though you have come across some golden treasure; you never know what you will find. Sometimes there are jams, or local wines, but usually just freshly picked fruit or vegetables. That day it was plums, the small “prune” sort. I had always wanted to try making one of the traditional fruit tarts with custard, and the price – at 2.50 chf a kilo – was more than right, so into the backpack they went.

We nibbled on the plums all week – never quite got around to making the tart. Perhaps next year…

Traditional Cookies

Today is the first day of school and, as is tradition, there will be homemade chocolate chip cookies ready for the first after-school snack of the year. I have been making chocolate chip cookies for years. As a child I made them using half a bag of chips to make each bag stretch further. As I got older, CCC’s, as we called them, were key in celebrations with friends. Over time, I adapted recipes to come up with one of my own and now, I am happy to say, I am internationally known for my cookies — in certain communities in Basel and Hong Kong anyway.

cookies!As I moved I have had to adapt the recipe slightly to accommodate different ovens and different ingredients in different countries. It took me a long time initally to figure out why the recipe I’d used for years created cookies that tasted good, they were different in both tastse and texture.  Turns out, the water content of Croatian butter was to blame. Now when I change countires, and therefore butter, I adjust the amount of oatmeal to reach the batter consistency I like.

At first I would import bags of Toll House Morsels and ask people to bring them when they came to visit. Then someone introduced me to Baker’s chocolate chunks, and I had friends bring those. In Hong Kong I could buy Guittard 60% chips (yum!). I recently learned that the Toll House morsels have ingredients in them I don’t want to be eating (not to mention they’re made by Nestle) so I have switched entirely to the local Schokoladewrüfeli, tiny cubes of a delicious, dark chocolate.

Brown sugar is another challenge and bringing it back with me is still the easiest solution. I understand that in France it’s possible to buy it, so that will take some investigating. Guess I will have to check out a boulangerie or two while sourcing my brown sugar!