Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tapas en españa y le bistro française

Last night I got back from Paris, the second stop in a whirlwind weekend of work-related travel beginning on Thursday evening in Barcelona. My brain is currently not quite sure which language to tune into, and as my cab rolled to the first hotel a few days ago I couldn't quite believe it had been 10 years since I had come to Europe and to this very city. It was such a different context: I was with a group of 16 year olds whose goal pretty much centered around managing to drink without being carded (in fact thanks to my chaperone I had my first - and fourth- glass of wine)!!

Many wine glasses later, here I was coming to participate in an EU initiative meeting on gender and science with a group of European academics. After checking into a swank bistro hotel (quite the opposite of my little cave at my next destination) and reviewing some research, I set out on a mission - to find really good tapas. The olives in the mini bar were a tantalizing prelude to something better :) The late hour and warm temperature were perfect for wandering - the Spanish, unlike the Swiss, eat very late so the fact that it was after 9pm when I strolled by a small, off-the-thouroughfare restaurant near Avinguda Diagonal made me more like one of the locals. What didn't was that although I know a fair amount of Spanish, I wasn't prepared for the Catalán menu. I ended up ordering two dishes I thought were something else. At least I got the manchego cheese plate right! And the next morning breakfast was phenomenal - the buffet was visual, so no issues there. The spread featured very tasty cured Spanish meats like chorizo and varous cheeses. It helped make getting lost on the way to the venue more bearable ;)

After 48 hours and a stop back in Zürich and to pick up new materials/clothes, I was winding through Charles de Gaulle airport - a very frustrating experience. I am hardly in a place to complain, but let me just put it constructively and say that through trial and error I was able to give a lost French couple directions to Paris. Now I do take some blame on myself for trying go all native and take three trains to my hotel all the way in the 16éme arrondissement (for NYers it's kind of like training it from JFK to the Upper East Side). I did eventually find my box/room. I spent a couple of hours going over my speaker's notes, a half an hour on free Wifi at McDo, and then made it a point to hop the bus to the center of the city. I had dinner and wine on the Ile de Saint Louis. It was the perfect day to be out - 21 June is the summer solstice and a there are literally bands on every corner as it's tradition to make music. I ate outside, struck up a convo with a retiree American couple when I finished my paper, and watched as the sun did not set until after 10. The streets were packed but I caught the last bus back to Sainte-Cloud -which was a completely amusing experience. The bus filled quickly and ran out of space, resulting in the bus driver yelling at us to avancer au fond du bus and the retorts of il n'y a pas de place! We all bonded in our sardine-packed misery...though with the Tour Eiffel and Louvre as a backdrop I have to say it was rather surreal!!

The next day I found my way to the beautiful headquarters of the OECD, where I and a minister from Norway presented to an intimate audience about women on boards. It was fantastic, there is nothing like Q&A with the French who are not afraid to get impassioned and explore the grey areas. And afterward, our hosts took us to a great lunch at a brasserie called Le Flandrin. I won't boast except to praise my appetizer - warm goat cheese melted on toasts and an arugula salad. Mmmmm~! I may have to ask about the wine as well, it complemented the dishes well.

All to say the culinary rainbow is a wonderful thing, particularly in these two cultures where dining is celebrated as an art. Ç'est ça précisement.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two Turkish Breakfasts: #1 Halloumi & Spinach

Last week I went to Istanbul and am now in adoration of Turkish cuisine. While my nutritionist and many others have always said that the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest in the world, I came to personally appreciate this firsthand :) At every meal (and at the conference they really spoiled us) there were trays of fresh fish in olive oil, artichoke and eggplant purées, chickpeas, okra dishes, meatballs (köfte) in yogurt sauce. In typical buffet mentality I gorged, and yet when I pushed back my chair I felt a very atypical alertness - and light!

I will post more on the Turkish delights (of a savory kind ;p) I happen upon - especially as I picked up a cookbook. I went to Globus, a gourmet grocery here in Zürich, to fetch some quality ingredients. That's when I saw halloumi cheese, technically from the Cypriot region of the Mediterranean family. It's quite a unique cheese - it doesn't melt when grilled or fried, it has a distinct salty taste and it..well..squeaks :) It's also made from goat and sheep's milk, which is great for those who don't do cow's milk. It is extremely high in fat and calories, so don't go too crazy, but you must try it for a filling and unusual breakfast.

Halloumi with Spinach

100 g/3.5 ounces halloumi cheese
1 T olive oil + a little extra for brushing
1/2 small onion, chopped
~ 3/4 cup cooked or frozen spinach
pinch of salt (optional)
  • Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and cook onions until they begin to soften

  • Add the spinach and heat through, stir in the salt, then remove from pan

  • Slice the halloumi and brush olive oil on either side

  • Add to the pan and fry until nicely browned (about 2 minutes), flip

  • Serve hot, on top of the greens.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Two Turkish Breakfasts: # 2 Turkish Yogurt

Last Sunday I finally did it - I went swimming in the lake! I'm told that going for a swim in Lake Zürich is the mark of summer, which is the best season. I broke out the new bikini (purchased in three separate places) and the new floatie (called a würmli or "little worm"), braved the water which was 70ish/24 degrees, and hung out. My flatmate is a certified life guard so my complete lack of prowess in the water wasn't a grave issue. That evening her sister, who is virtually a bloody gourmet chef, had us over for dinner - delightful steak, salad, and this creme fraiche mixture that I couldn't stop eating with pitted olives. I passed on the potatoes but the aroma alone was pleasing enough :) I went to bed happily stuffed.

For breakfast I decided to finally try this excellent Turkish dish I had seen last week during the conference buffet...it all started with my discovery that what we call Greek yogurt actually originates from Turkey. Yogurt is in fact a Turkish word! It's served in every meal, for example on my last day I had lamb meatballs with grilled veggies and yogurt (as opposed to giant bun and fries). As soon as I got back to Switzerland I found a fine grocer and bought several cartons of this yogurt (including some made from sheep's milk), which I used for...

Spinach in Turkish Yogurt

150g (about 3/4 cup) of strained (Greek) yogurt
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 T lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1 T olive oil
1/2 cup of frozen spinach*

  • Finely chop the garlic and add it to the yogurt along with the salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
  • Chill the Turkish yogurt, the longer the better (I left it overnight but even 30 minutes should be fine).
  • Meanwhile, sautée spinach in the olive oil. Feel free to sprinkle a little salt if you'd like. Chill for a little while as well.

  • Whenever you're ready, mix the spinach into the Turkish yogurt and eat! I topped mine with soft goat cheese.
*I bet this would be even better with fresh spinach, which I would rinse, chop quite finely, and braise in olive oil until wilted. In Turkey it's often made with purslane, and I'm dying to try it with grated carrots. This serves 1 as a meal, two as a side. I ate the whole thing :)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ruminations & Recipes

OK, let me give this a try.

Disclaimer: In the endeavour to document the ceaseless flood of observations, ideas, inspiration, dark moods, and simple inertia that I feel on a daily basis, I am giving in to a blog. I like blogs, so you (whoever you might be!) may wonder why the trace of pessimism, i.e. giving in. It's because I cannot guarantee to faithfully post regular updates, nor stick to a certain theme as I've never been great at that when there's so much to say. Also, if you know me I frequently qualify my statements. It's part of my DNA to be fair by considering both sides :)

Another question you may have..why Food? Well since I have been truly living independently (which tends to happen upon moving 4,000 miles from a soul I knew) several things happened. I began cooking 90% of my meals, due to the fact that I have to watch my nutrition quite carefully and also because it's simply $€ in Switzerland! I also began to do my own research on healthy eating with no sugar or gluten. I started to like vegetables, though I still prefer them done up. I went out and discovered the local foods, which are often produced one town away (+) however involve a hefty overrepresentation of sausage and potatoes (-). And, most importantly, with the elimination of old pastimes like watching TV on my weekends I suddenly had something that had eluded me for years: time. (On weekdays this is an entirely different story, says the workaholic).

If your third question is why the Swiss hills, so help you! I have always had something of an obsession with travel and culture, and Switzerland is one of the most unique and misunderstood countries in Europe. Like the UK, it is somehow quite different from Continental 'Europe' but it's hard to say just how. In some cantons, women have only had the right to vote since the 70s and the proportion of stay-at-home wives - quite well educated - is high. In fact, women and part-time is expected in many circles. Still, women wield much power and this is no chivalry laden, ladies in heels society. It is an odd mix of northern European egalitarianism when it comes to the sexes, communitarianism in terms of a very clan-ish, reserved mentality, and yet over time people are extremely polite and helpful. And more relaxed than they get credit for!

It keeps me fascinated indeed. And that concludes this introduction...:)

Cherry Picking

Yesterday was very interesting indeed!

I woke up knowing that I would be participating in a great event, a charity walk for a group called Rainbows4children (http://www.rainbows4children.org/). The goal is raise funds to support a school in Mekele, Ethiopia as well as the students, families, and teachers. My colleague and Allyson and I would be walking three hours in tribute to the distance the school children walk every day. My supervisor sponsored me in part (she's on holiday in the U.S.) and I looked forward to spending the day outdoors in Horgen, Zürich and the dinner and reception afterward.

I decided to make a fortifying lunch, as the right energizing food makes all the difference. Most people would grab a bowl of pasta, but sugar and gluten sensitive would rather not :) The previous weekend at the market I bought a carton of what I thought were cranberries in a rare sale...or so I thought. I actually bought Kirschenbeeren - cherries! Not a low sugar fruit*. But then I got creative, and decided to make something I could pair with savoury dishes - the Cherry Almond Chutney was geboren (born).

Cherry Almond Chutney

2 cups fresh cherries
1 cup chopped almonds
1 T olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 T mustard seeds
1/4 t each of ground cloves, nutmeg, salt, ginger and pepper
2 cinnamon sticks
4 packets Stevia (eq. just under 1/4 cup sugar)
1/2 cup water

  • De-stem and chop the cherries to remove any pits.

  • Chop the onion, though not too finely since you want a nice texture

  • If you haven't, quickly run the almonds in a food processor to chop (again not too fine)

  • Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions for about 7 minutes

  • Add your mustard seeds and all of the spices, stirring regularly as it gets aromatic

  • Add the cherries and after a couple of minutes stir in the sweetener and water

  • Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes.

  • Uncover and simmer for another 30 minutes until sauce has thickened.

This was delicious, I served mine over Cream of Buckwheat cereal as shown in the photo (it's just buckwheat mixed with milk and water). It's sold at Whole Foods and shipped all the way to Schweiz for me by my momma! *Actuallly, cherries are brilliant at regulating blood sugar as it happens.

I'll add more to this post about the actual event, which was a beautiful day. Max and Kathy Robinson, the founders, were humble and warm. And the craziest thing? As we were walking on the course (including through a horse and sheep farm), we came upon what else - a cherry picking grove! Stay tuned for photos where Allyson and I ran among the trees and grabbed several cups of fresh cherries for under 2 Swiss francs ;)