switzerland

How to Make Fire

I wrote this in April of 2016. I don't know why I never posted it.... I just can't believe how tiny my little squirt was back then. Almost two years already that we have lived in CH. Time flies, when you're building fires and fuelling up on würst regularly. Enjoy the flashback.

- Ash


Now that Spring has arrived to warm our bodies from the winter cold, we spend most of our day in the forests or lakeside in Zurich Oberland (Zurich countryside). My husband grew up in this landscape and valley and knows it well. When we booked our flights from California to Zurich I asked him what he was most excited about showing our daughter in his home country. 

"Building a fire in the forest"

Our daughter is two, mind you.... And I come from a place where building fires outdoors is really never encouraged, and ONLY allowed in serious campground enclosures, on wide beaches away from any and all tree life, and in a permitted outdoor chiminea. Too many people I love have been effected by loss from wild fires in California. The near idea of striking a match in a heavily wooded area brings on anxious discomfort for me. 

In Switzerland though, the art of foraging for sticks and building a fire under a blanket of trees in the midst of your afternoon walk is highly encouraged and practiced. 

As for teaching your budding piro-happy toddler about safe fire practices. Here's a few tips from a Swiss pro;

Begin with a walk.

Begin with a walk.

  1. Begin with a walk in the woods. It's important to build your hunger while searching for the perfect place for a fire.

Prepare your space.

Prepare your space.

2. prepare space

Stick collection

Stick collection

3. Collecting sticks

teepee

teepee

4. Create a teepee

light

light

5. Light

tend.

tend.

6. Tend the flame

stick collection matinence

stick collection matinence

7. stick collection round 2

the wurst placement

the wurst placement

8. Wust placement

cook, hovering over flame until blistered

cook, hovering over flame until blistered

9. cook and eat

walk home

walk home

10. Clean up your fire and walk home

Apricot

"Aprikosen, 7 Juni". -The sign read for over a week.

It's funny how even a word written in a language not your own can still strike a strong cord of an almost edible nostalgia. Have you ever tried a Blenheim apricot? It leaves it's mark.

Stone fruits are a pretty big deal here in Switzerland. Year round, perfectly firm, tart and ripe plums and apricots are sold in the frozen department of the general supermarket for your mid-winter kuchen (cake) cravings. And not a single block of old, over-frozen, post season fruit barely suitable for the occasional smoothie, like I once found in the states. I'm talking about ruby-skinned, perfectly cut in half at their peak, and flash frozen for ease of cake baking. But when they are ripe and ready here, people don't hold back, and they are sold in no less quantity than over 2 kilos.

I was there at apricot man's stand on the 7th of June, ready for my bunddle. 2.5 kilos for 19 francs. That afternoon, my sous chef and I went to work. 

Apricot jam is a no brainer as I think it profiles the golden globes best. Tart and not too sweet. A PB&J is almost exclusively sworn to the raspberry, and a summer pie seems to always be peach territory. I prefer my apricots in a jam for my morning toast with my tea, and in a rustic french-style gallette with ground bitter almonds (apricot kernels). Of which I am currently cracking open and drying out the lot from the leftover 2.5 kilos of fruit. More on that process later.

The apricot jam recipe I love and have put into practice for years is this one by David Lebovitz. This time I added ground cardamom to the mix, because it's great friends with the apricot.

Here is my variation on his recipe:

Apricot Jam with Cardamom

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz. Yeild 3-4 jars

  • 2 1/4 pounds (1kg) fresh apricots
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) water
  • 3 cups (600g) sugar
  • 1/2 t fresh ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • optional: 1 teaspoon kirsch

1. Cut the apricots in half and extract the pits. If you wish, crack a few open and put a kernel in each jam jar you plan to fill. I highly recommend this as it gives the jam a slightly bitter almond flavor (think marzipan).

2. Place the apricots in a stockpot or Dutch oven, and add the water. Cover the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until the apricots are tender and cooked through.

3. Put a small plate in the freezer.

4. Add the sugar to the apricots and cook, uncovered, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. As the mixture thickens and reduces, stir frequently to make sure the jam isn’t burning on the bottom.

5. When the jam looks thick and is looks slightly-jelled, turn off the heat and put a small amount of jam on the chilled plate. Put back in the freezer for a few minutes, then do the nudge test: If the jam mounds and wrinkles, it’s done. If not, continue to cook, then re-test the jam until it reaches that consistency.

(You can use a candy thermometer if you wish. The finished jam will be about 220ºF, 104ºC.)

6. Once done, stir in the lemon juice and kirsch, if using, and ladle the jam into clean jars. Cover tightly and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, refrigerate until ready to use.

Storage: I find this jam will keep up to one year if refrigerated. If you wish to can it for long-term preservation, you can refer to the USDA Canning Guidelines for techniques.

I also made a version of my Everyday Cake with apricot, sour cream, and spelt flour. A recipe I am still developing in it's variations and will post when I am ready. Now it's just a teaser to help insist that you put apricots in every baked good from now until August. Your welcome. 

 

-Ash

Green Grün - Muffins -

"bear-geh", in Swiss German"

"ber-gen, in High German"

My father in law patiently explains to me the difference in pronunciation of the word Berg (meaning mountain). I tend to roll my R's too Spanish-like, and I silence my ending vowels too French-like. I am a bit of a mess in learning the ropes and etiquette of Swiss German, all the while enrolled in a Babbel online course of High German. After 4 years of high school french, 8 years of travel to and living in Spain or Latin America, Learning Arabic and Italian for work, and spending loads of time in SE Asia. I end up marrying a Swiss man, and moving to Switzerland. Where I need to speak not only German, but the slightly more rolling, jumpy, and throaty neighbor- Schwiizerdütsch. 

Integration into a new language in a new land is always overwhelming at first, but it will get better. It always does. The saving grace to my constant frustration in language blending is that my 2 year old is fearless in her new language. Yes, she has heard it since birth from her father, but there is a courage that I see in her as she pushes through and attempts her words with family and strangers that I admire so.  

I would not say that I am "good" at learning languages. In fact, I'm terrible and lazy. Plus since I am on the move a lot, I have a much harder time to transition back and forth. Or maybe thats just a good excuse, no? dang.

Here are a few tips I TRY to keep with while adapting to new languages and picking up the ropes:

Rule of 3: I give myself the challenge of new 3 words or rules per day. This is a trick I picked up when I moved to Spain in my early 20's. I thought my Mexican kitchen Spanish could pull me through. But alas, I was completely unprepared for spain. 3 new random words or rules or phrases per day and repeat them as much as possible. 

Repeat, repeat, repeat: Whatever it is that you know and feel comfortable saying. Say it out loud and over and over again. In public or alone. Just keep repeating what you know.

Take a course: Even online, even if it's just 10 minutes a day or 10 minutes a week. Make progress and show others that you are trying to break through and become more confident in speaking their language.

Write it and read it: I need to see the word and even write it down a few times for it to log properly in my language memory bank. The image of the word arrives in my brain before I speak it. If I don't ever see the word written (and know that Swiss german is not a written language... save me) then I've noticed how much harder it is for me to remember the pronunciation.

Accept the challenge: Allow others to challenge you by not speaking your native language all the time when you know they can. 

Talk to small children: My 3 year old nephew has taught me more than any book so far. His language is slow, without slang, simple, and often does that adorable toddler-sentence-repeat-thing. This is golden for me.

*Side tip for saddling up your language skills before a trip- If it's just a vacation or quick trip your embarking on, then it's always good and polite to have a few language tricks up your sleeve. My rule of thumb is to always know and feel skilled with pronouncing a few basics. 

Hello. How are you? Thank you. Your welcome.

Thank you very much - great for when you want to show someone that you are not just on autopilot with your gesture of gratitude.

I'm sorry/Pardon me. How much?

This. That. Here. Yes. No -These are really all you need to know when buying food or goods at a market stall. I use these a lot.

Beautiful/Cute - as a compliment for someones child, a helpful stranger's gorgeous purse, or the cute guy at the coffee shop. All are needed, am I right?

And heres a recipe for green banana muffins that my toddler is devouring these days which gives me immense joy to see something green entering her body when normally all she will eat is bratwurst and fresh bread.... But who can blame her when Switzerland can basically turn any Atkins dieter into a bread believer. I mean.... brot gläubiger.

Banana Spinach Muffins, that just so happen to be vegan

Note that you can use all purpose flour instead of spelt, or even half all purpose and half whole wheat flour. You can also replace the almond milk for any variation descending from animal or nut. I am a strong believer in topping all cakes with a crumb topping, but feel free to omit. You'll regret it. Enjoy!

  • 2 cups spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup almond milk (or other)
  • 1 (6 ounce) bag fresh baby spinach
  • 2 mashed banana
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Crumb Topping. Mix all together and hold in the fridge until ready.

  • 1/3 cup turbinado sugar (or brown)
  • 1/4 cup spelt flour
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 2 T melted coconut oil (or butter!)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl: flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a blender, place oil, milk, and spinach. Blend on high for about 30 seconds or until completely puréed. Add banana and vanilla; blend on low just to mix.
  4. Pour puréed mixture into dry mixture and fold together with a rubber spatula until completely combined.
  5. Fill muffin cups about ⅔ full, top with about 1 T worth of crumble per muffin and bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

love from a very green Switzerland. 

White Asparagus Frittata

White Asparagus fritata with arugula salad

Whether you consider breakfast for dinner better than, well, breakfast for breakfast, like I do most days. Then Frittata is or must be a regular in your eggs-for-everything  line up.  I like mine thin, as opposed to the frittata's beefier cousin, the Tortilla Español. The frittata is quick, lite, and versatile as a blank slate for any season. For it's simplicity, it has a way of still impressing your friends at a picnic, brunch or last minute dinner party.  

Right now the white and green asparagus are impressing the pants off me here in Switzerland. My experience with white asparagus in the past was never this tender and flavorful, or the season seemingly this long. Spring here has made the transition from an agricultural abundant California life very easy to digest, as the spring farm stands have my husband pulling the car over every 20 minutes on a drive out of the village. All payments with the honor system, I'd like to add. It is enriching to see small acts of silent trust in the world again.

A Spring Picnic

After a morning of farm stand hopping and a copious dose of much needed Swiss sunshine, we came home for a picnic in the backyard. A quick white asparagus frittata, topped with spicy arugula salad and shaved pecorino was exactly what we needed. On the side, we finished up the Austrian wild deer salami I brought back from being in Vienna for work. That and the sourdough I found which had a 36 hour ferment from an ancient sourdough starter (insert heart eyes) and a hefty chunk of Gruyere.

White Asparagus Frittata

note: Do know that I leave room for intuitive instruction and amounts in my recipes. A place to play and feel for your food and not to be stuck with an exact process that will make or break it. Freely change out the vegetables for others of your choice; zucchini, broccoli, spinach, bell pepper, etc.

serves 2.5

  • 5 eggs, whisked
  • 6 medium or small white asparagus, not the double-wide ones
  • 2 spring onions, or 1 med shallot, chopped
  • 1/2 red chili, seeded or not, finely chopped
  • 4 T olive oil, separated
  • plenty of salt and pepper
  • 2 handfuls of arugula
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 T red wine vinegar, or vinegar of your choice
  • pecorino or parmesan, amount to your liking, shaved

Peel the stems of the white asparagus if need be (if young and small, I don't peel). Slice at an angle 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. You can really slice how ever you like, this cut is always more instinctual for me. Heat up 2 T olive oil in an 8"  nonstick skillet. Your welcome to use a smaller sized pan, just note that your frittata will be thicker and will need to be flipped and cooked longer.

Add your asparagus, spring onion and red chile to the hot oil and turn down the heat to medium. Stir to take the raw edge off the vegetables, then distribute the mixed veg around the pan. Pour the whisked eggs over the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and turn the heat down a bit more to med-low and cover with a lid.

While the frittata cooks, add the vinegar, remaining oil and some salt and pepper to the bottom of a medium bowl and whisk to combine.  add sliced cherry tomatoes, arugula and shaved pecorino (i use a vegetable peeler) to the bowl and toss to combine. 

After about 7 or 8 minutes, check the frittata. It should be cooked on the top just by the steam and golden on the bottom. Loosen up the sides with a spatula, and shake the pan to to be sure the whole frittata is detached from the pan.  Place a cutting board or round platter over the pan ann with your right hand (if your right handed, that is) flat on the bottom of the board, and the left hand on the handle of the pan. With one swift motion, FLIP the frittata onto the board. I like to cut the frittata into portions next, before adding the salad. Top the round frittata with your salad and a few extra shavings of pecorino, maybe an extra sprinkle of salt (I like Maldon finishing salt).

Enjoy your picnics before the spring rain comes!

-Ash