A Cheese to Remember

I love cheese. I always have. I must admit, however, that I didn’t have the most respectable start with this fine dairy product. See, I am one of those special brand of people that really likes radioactive cheese: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, American, Nacho. It’s not pretty.

As I’ve matured in age though, my palate as become more refined. I introduced such concepts as smoked, fresh, and even goat. Now I like to think of myself as a cheese-fanatic-addict. With every country I visit strive to sample some of the local flavor. This always involves trying various cheese. Need a snack? Grab a chunk of cheese! Hoping for good dreams? Think cheesy thoughts!

The choice of Switzerland had only part to do with the fact that this is a cheese-lovers paradise. Psych! It was actually a total chance circumstance that I moved here, but still. Being here has done wonders for my commitment to cheese. I feel this will be a lifelong affair.

Today as I was strolling through the Niederdorf after a glance through the Helmhaus Museum, one of my favorites, I happened upon a Raclette stand. Honestly, I was walking, the booth came in sight, and I was powerless against my feet. It was a gut reaction: See cheese, close in for the kill. Raclette is a Swiss tradition, one that I will most certainly enjoy. It’s a giant hunk o’ cheese that is warmed by a flame. The resulting melted gift from the gods is them poured over bread or potatoes. Each patron can decide how much Raclette seasoning to put on top and whether one wants pickles and/or sweet onions on the side. It’s amazing. Warm cheese over carbs? What the what?!

You probably need a bib right now.

I waited 2.5 seconds for it to cool down and then I dug in. At first bite, an involuntary, “Mmmm” escaped my cheese-covered lips. Had anyone else been around, well, no, even then I wouldn’t have been embarrassed. It’s that good. All social-graces go out the window. Just focus on the food. I chose the potatoes and enjoyed my afternoon snack, while watching the shoppers stroll by. Certainly the perfect mid-day pick-up for a frigid day like today.

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Secret Santa

In the past I have taken part in many “Secret Santa” gift exchanges: dance team, dance studio, ADPi pledge class, groups of friends, education organizations, you name it. I was a little bummed to be missing out on the tradition this year. Never fear, however, because Michelle had the great idea to do it within our au pair group. So eight of us got together and using Elfster, picked names and began shopping.

Last night was our exchange. It was originally designed to have an ugly sweater theme, but that proved a little difficult to find in everyone’s closet or in Zürich. So the limits were loosened and one was allowed to wear a Christmas sweater, bought or homemade. I stretched the boundaries a little more and did away with both the “ugly” and the “Christmas” part of the sweater description. Instead, I wore mom’s San Fransisco sweatshirt from over a decade ago. This sweatshirt has some spectacular illustrations on it, including the Golden Gate Bridge, anchors, a compass, and a sailboat. Maybe not festive, but definitely awesome.

We met at a beer hall inside the main train station (where else would you exchange holiday gifts??) and enjoyed trading gifts over some brews. Thankfully, Nicole is such a good sport and found humor in the “wrapping job” of the present I gave her. It was cleverly wrapped in a “Drinks of the World” shopping bag, with the handles tied in a bow to give a least a little flair. It’s the thought that counts, no?

Rachel was my Secret Santa and she gave me a most incredible gift. As a reader and fan of my blog (thank you!), she will be editing it and turning it into a book. I heard this was possible, but hadn’t looked into how to go about it. Thanks to Rachel I will have an amazing keepsake of my travels here this year. Thank you many times, Rachel!

Nicole, Rachel, Michelle, and Rebecca

Anna, Shelley, Me, Whitney, and Zoe

Another special part of my day yesterday was visiting the store, A Cupcake Affair (read more about it here) in the Old Town. On Wednesday my friend, Anna, and I went looking for this store, searching high and low. We walked the Niederdorf three times and were out for well over an hour trying to find this confectionery. We had to give up and go our separate ways for the day, but I would not lose hope. That night I looked up how to get there, and turns out we were within 100 feet of the place numerous times throughout the day. Yesterday I finally went there and was not disappointed.

This little shop is run by a woman originally from Basel. Her store is unique, as little cakes like these are not traditional desserts for the area. It’s only been open for three weeks, but after chatting with the owner, it turns out business is doing really well. Her treats include specialties such as chocolate with raspberry frosting, a seasonal gingerbread, vanilla cake with chocolate frosting, and the one I had yesterday, vanilla cake with passion fruit frosting, aptly titled, “Casanova.” If you are looking for a sweet treat to help you re-energize after a long afternoon of shopping for presents, or just a way to unwind, I certainly recommend one of these little delicacies.

Cupcake Affair
Spitalgasse 12
8001 Zürich
Switzerland
http://www.cupcake-affair.ch
+41.76.461.04.64
Monday to Friday: 11am to 7pm, Saturday: 10am to 5pm

Finally, a new holiday song to put you in good cheer. If you listen to the lyrics, they are not what you are used to hearing in a Christmas song. I like the melody, however, and I can’t resist a good Coldplay tune. Enjoy!

Want You Some More?

What a fantastic weekend! Despite the almost-unbearable chill in Vienna, we had a great time exploring and seeing some sights in this beautiful city. In addition, the Kings of Leon concert was out-of-bounds awesome. I promise to tell you all about when I’m feeling a little better. I’ve got a bit of a tummy bug that the Mom enjoyed last week. Honestly, I believe this family is slowing trying to kill me with all these little sicknesses. Either that or they’re building up my immunity to be so strong as to be able to take on 1,000 robots in immune-system-to-immune-system combat.

For now I want to share a funny moment from this morning. After putting together breakfast for everyone and cleaning it up I knew I needed to come back upstairs to lay down a for bit. Luckily the grandma is here so I can do this and the kids will be supervised. I came down to make a cup of tea a couple hours later. I sat on the sofa with Little Bean while I waited for the tea to cool. She asked me if I was hungry and if she could feed me. Giving in to her squeaky voice and unfailing charm, I said yes.

She sat on my lap with a bowl and a spoon and proceeded to shove “food” in my mouth. As she happily filled my belly with her imaginary food, she laughed and giggled, exclaiming that the meat she was giving me, “is so alicious!” I always ask her if he food is delicious when we we’re eating, and this is her two-year-old take on the word. She then scrapes the remaining food off the plate and yells, “last bite!” as she pops it in my mouth. Little Bean hops up and asks, “Want you some more food, Bistina?” Of course, my little friend. How could I deny her?

After four more plates of food, she determined it was time for me to sleep. She pushed me down on the sofa and covered me with nooshies and toys for a good night’s rest. “Gut nacht,” she said as she patted my arm, rubbed my back and ran away screaming that I was schlaffen on the sofa. I love her. So much. I am going to miss her terribly when I leave. I asked her last week when just the two of us were eating breakfast, right after she smashed our heads together and threw her arms around my shoulders, if she wanted to come back to America with me. She laughed and said no. Naturally, I’m a little upset she doesn’t want to become my adopted daughter but I can somewhat understand her reluctance to leave behind her family. But, she still has two weeks to change her mind…

Happy Thanksgiving!

What? It’s not Thanksgiving?! I’m late again? Fair enough, but while you’re all sick of turkey and can’t think of eating poultry ever again, I indulged in the feast on Sunday and I must say it was wunderbare. I was invited to share in a Thanksgiving celebration hosted and attended by a few people Adam works with. I am so grateful to have been included in this family tradition. I tried not to think too much about what the holiday would be like at home, and instead enjoyed a new memory I made of eating fondue last Thursday, sufficiently stuffing myself with bread and cheese. And although I was sehr sad to have missed out on making my stuffing, I was so content on Thanksgiving and felt only the tiniest pang of homesickness.

Sunday’s lavish dinner came complete with a gigantour turkey, mashed potatoes, Indian-style green beans, stuffing, rolls, and gravy I could have taken a bath in (too far??). For dessert, there was a choice between pumpkin and pecan pie with ice cream or whipped cream. Really, it was the whole setup. The only thing slightly different were the people around the table. While I wasn’t related to anyone, and have known them all for less than a year, it was one of the few family-dinner experiences I’ve had in Switzerland– despite having lived with a Swiss family for a year. Of course, they are great people, but with every meal there is an expectation; it will be my duty to clear the table and clean up; I am still the employee. It was refreshing to feel like an equal in the group. There was just something in the air. The couple hosting and their two girls, and five other people gathered to celebrate a long-standing tradition. I could not have been more grateful to be surrounded by their company. This dinner reinforced how a family can be created from whomever. I’m so thankful for my family back home, and all the people I’ve met this year who have filled in for them while I’ve been away.

After the fantastic feast, we walked down Banhofstraße to see the Christmas lights. The twinkling, sparkling lights are perfect for bringing people into the holiday spirit.

 

Some of my friends and I on my birthday:

I’m so thankful for them!

UPDATE: I just ate a big plate of Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch and now have no choice but to crawl into my bed for an afternoon nap. These are the realities of my life.

The Time is Drawing Nigh

Today is my ten month anniversary of living in der Schweiz. I cannot believe it has been that long. Honestly, it is not to be believed.

When I think back to where this year has gone and the places I’ve gone with it, I am shocked at all I have accomplished. It simultaneously feels like it’s flown by and yet moved with the rapidity of snow melting in January. How did I squeeze so much adventure into such a small amount of time? Or, how have I managed to go this long without seeing my friends and family on a regular basis? I view these opposing evaluations of the past ten months almost equally, though I tend to favor the zoomed-past-me-and-was-over-before-you-know viewpoint. It looks a little like:

  • Before coming: Romanticized view of what it’s like to be an au pair. The children won’t cry, because when did they do that when I babysat? Rarely. (Psych!) The kids and I will sit around playing intelligent games and enjoying witty repartee and quips… in German. (Bahahahahah) The family and I will become fast friends and I will enjoy lounging around the house, chatting about mutual interests. (Mmm…no) I will attack the continent of Europe and explore every city imaginable. (yes, Yes, YES!)
  • First month: Excitment! Wowza, I live in a foreign country! The mountains are everywhere! The snow is waaaaay more gorgeous in Switzerland! If I thought I liked cheese before… The beautiful picture the family painted of their life, and then discovering the one that actually exists. Wait, I just sit and play for five hours a day? That’s it?
  • Next two months: Homesickness, especially missing my friends. Relearning how to make friends at the au pair meetings in town. Uncertainty pertaining to my sanity when choosing this job and all that it in entails. Overwhelming frustration with Little Bean as she screams bloody-murder any time I come near her. An exciting, new appreciation for skiing. Planning and participating in a trip to Spain (ya Jillatinous!) and realizing that I can easily make a life for myself here that doesn’t have to involve children.
  • Next several months: Reached a “comfort level” with the family. The job has lost all appeal and I completely comprehend the difficulty of living with and caring for other people’s children. Establishing said “personal life” and truly appreciating how amazing it is to live in this city, in this country, on this side of the world, as an expat.
  • Last two/half months: Sadness at the departure of several important friends. This loss exacerbated my irritation with the job as I felt I was losing some of the things that were keeping me above water. Pervasive sense of “how the h-e-double hockey stick am I going to do this gig for x more months.” Gratefulness that new au pairs started coming, and happiness that I really enjoy them and have such a great time hanging out with them. Continue to establish meaning here in the city, as well as explore and get to know more of Europe.
  • Now (Beware, things get HONEST): Extreme excitement when thinking about seeing friends, holding and embracing them like the sweet, integral parts of my life that they are. A rumbly stomach just imagining all the food establishments I am going assail upon arrival (Blue Bird Bistro, Lulu’s Noodles, Okie Joe’s, Jack Stack, Foo’s Frozen Custard, Latte Land, Blanc…). Ecstatic joy imagining never having to take orders from the Mom. Ever. Again. Heartbreak at leaving this beautiful, centrally located country. A feeling of trepidation returning to a country that even my dad says, “is in really bad shape. Things are not good here, especially in the job market.” Reluctance at having to put a halt to traveling at a moment’s notice: no more zipping to Paris for the weekend, no trips to any city in Switzerland in less than 4 hours, no skiing in the Alps, forget about laying on the beaches in Portugal, wine tastings? not likely. A small amount of worry when thinking about transitioning to life in America–whatever that means. Sadness at having to leave behind this life I have created for myself and the people who are incredibly important to me.

Everyone has asked me recently, “Are you SO excited to go home?” Of course, I am looking forward to going home. Please don’t get me wrong. As I said, I want to see my friends so badly it makes my heart ache a wee bit every time I think of it. On my birthday, Monday, I was choking up reading the emails and messages I received from friends and family back home. I know it’s only been ten months, but it’s difficult. Sometimes I want to send Elizabeth a BBM telling her how awesome the risotto I just made was. I want to call Madeline and tell her how out-of-control, road-rage-mad I am at some people on the road who clearly haven’t learned to drive in the snow. I want Stephanie to text me and tell me where she’s going out tonight because I know, no matter what, it will more than likely be a good time. The reunions will be tremendous. I know this. But, still, in the end, I have loved so much of these last ten months and will be sad to see this world-wise, travel-saturated year go.

 

Oh yes, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY ADAM!!

I really like this picture.

Weekend o’ Birth (or C’est Magnifique!)

Jealous right? You have one measly day to celebrate while I’m claiming an entire weekend. Well, in this case, I think you will understand why I feel I am entitled to this extra-large birthday time. The celebration started at 2:00 on Friday afternoon…

But, prior to that I had to get through one little challenge–the GRE. Thursday night and Friday morning I was psyching myself up and giving myself encouraging pep talks. “You can do this!” “You will OWN the GRE” “Exams ain’t got nothin’ on you!” OK, so my internal dialogue is a little informal. I concede. Anyway, by the time I arrived at the testing center at 8:00 I was ready to Attack and Destroy the test. Registration was scheduled for 8:30, with the exam to begin at 9:00. 8:30 comes and goes without an administrator. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty-five minutes, an hour, nothing. No one comes to administer the exam. Finally, a girl more likely dressed for a night of clubbing than a day at school comes to the examinees’ rescue. She contacts the administrator and find out that he is “stuck in a traffic jam,” which I think is French for “overslept.” Two hours after the initial sign-in time, the young, disheveled man shows up. I lost a little bit of focus and some of my pep talk was misplaced in worrying about the rest of the day’s schedule. Ultimately, I took the test, and it’s over. And, I’m pleased.

Post-test I made my way back to the hotel in a haze of brain fatigue and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. I was so happy to have finished the GRE and be on my way to Paris. I picked up Adam at the hotel and we exchanged our tickets for the train we had missed due to the administrator’s faulty alarm clock or late night of klubbing. A little while later we boarded our train and were on our way. What could make a train ride to Paris better? What makes everything better? Champagne!! I love champagne, just about as much as I love the Matterhorn. And this bubbly was perfect. When we arrived at the train station, we (he, for the most part) worked the Metro like the back of our (his) hand and made our way to Montmarte, where we were staying that night. Our restaurant for dinner was a couple blocks from the hotel so we stopped there first. At Chez Toinette, we indulged in one of the best French meals of my existence (whoa! bold statement). Veal tartine, lamb shank that fell apart when I looked at it, crusty french bread, all washed down with a delicious bottle of wine.

And that’s about what the rest of the weekend looked like. Tumbling through the streets, eating amazing food, and drinking champagne and wine until we burst. It was perfect. We walked around and saw sights, but didn’t push ourselves. We’ve both been before and seen many “touristy” things, so we could cut a few out. We walked around Montmarte and saw the artists hard at work, painting and peddling. Making our way up the hill, we arrived at Sacré Coeur. The day, beautiful, warm, and sunny was perfect for walking to the top and taking in the breathtaking city.

Taking it easy at the top of Sacre Coeur

Gargoyle eating a car

From the hill, we ambled to the other side of the Seine to the next hotel, at the base of Saint Sulpice. After absorbing the magnificence of this hotel we went to Notre Dame. What an amazing cathedral. I kept peering in corners and glancing into alcoves, hoping to see that sexy Hunchback, but he remained as elusive as ever. More French food, wine, and atmosphere completed the night.

Street art. Some people call it graffiti?

View of Saint Sulpice from the hotel room. What's that in my hand? Yes, more champagne.

Sunday is for culture. Fueled up on breakfast, Adam and I took to the streets on a rainy and chilly afternoon. The Museum d’Orsay was our destination and the art in this remodeled train station was outstanding. While I’ve always enjoyed looking at art and visiting museums, I have gained much more appreciation over this year. Museum d’Orsay is heavily influenced by French artists and it was wonderful to see the extensive collection of Impressionist paintings, sculptures, and architecture throughout. A pleasant couple of hours were spent strolling through the rooms.

Dinner for the train ride home. In case you wondered, the goat cheese is wrapped in a leaf. How quaint.

And so, all good things must come to an end. Now do you see why it was a birthday weekend and not just a day? Oh, and did I mention we were celebrating not one birthday, but two? Adam’s is on Wednesday so we had zwei mal the birthday fun. I had the absolute best time. It was different to not be able to spend the day with family and friends from home, but this was an incredible way to share it. Danke viel, viel mal, my trusty travel companion.

American Night

When Maddie and I were Skyping the other day, she commented on the surreality of some of our emails. One in particular had me apologizing that I couldn’t chat with her last Friday because I would be in Istanbul. Of course I would be. What else would I be doing while living in Europe except visit as much of it as possible?

I’ll admit it, I have been up to some pretty awesome things lately: picking wine grapes in Italy, strolling through mosques and ancient palaces in Turkey, drinking wine directly from the source in Sierre, guzzling beer at the biggest party in the world, sun bathing on the beaches in Portugal. And that’s only in the last two months. Plus, I still have a couple more mini-breaks up my sleeve for the next two.

But, there are some things from home I can’t resist. One major player is pizza. Obviously Europe is home to some outstanding pies, yet they are distinct and unlike those that I grew up with. The love I’m talking about has a thicker crust (NOT Chicago-style, that’s too thick for my liking) with extra doughiness and gobs of sauce– I’m a big sauce fan. Pile on the toppings, serve it piping hot and I’m ready to devour. Last night I was so lucky to partake in this delicious pleasure. A Domino’s Pepperoni Passion Pizza (What?! Is that even legal?), size 40cm, along with a side of cheesy bread was mine for the feasting.

Before you begin to call Over-eaters Anonymous know that I wasn’t alone. I had a partner in crime: Adam. And thankfully he enjoys the all-time best pizza side ever, Ranch. How did I acquire said condiment of the Gods in Switzerland? Well, a special lady, who knows who she is, sent me a couple packets of mix that I could combine with sour cream, (which I actually found!) to create this staple. And what’s ever greater about this story? She doesn’t even like it! And yet, she knew how important it was and still sent it over. Must be true friendship. You are my friend, you are my friend….

It was a taste of America that I most happily accepted. This was out-of-this-world good and necessary. To honor of this If You Only Had One Food to Eat for the Rest of Your Life meal I chose the song “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I’ve been really digging this song lately and it’s become a bit of a go-to. Only two months and I’m there…

Jill, sorry you can’t play this video as I know how much you like the tune. At least you have three copies on your computer.