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

The Bridge Of Tea - Morocco

Better a handful of dried figs and content with that, than to own the gate of peacocks and be kicked in the eye by a broody camel.
— Moroccan Proverb

A Feast Of The Senses - Morocco. I have been traveling to Morocco with Peggy Markel's Culinary Adventures for 6 years now. Each trip expands my heart and mind further. The delicate weaving of flavor, tradition, artisanal craft, and community are what these programs are made of. This particular trip was especially unique as it we brought in an emphasis of photography by our amazing teacher Stephan Smith, and a daily spiritual practice of yoga taught by myself. The rest of our days were spent connecting with our Moroccan teachers and friends as a tight thread of our being was connected with permanence to the country, landscape, individuals, and cuisine of Morocco.

Today there is much conversation about the "wall" in our world. With the political noise on constant echo in our minds and on our social media pages as the US prepares for changes in November 2016. This particular trip to Morocco carried a significant weight to it, as many things could change for how Americans travel and connect with other countries such as this one in the very near future, depending on the direction of the elections. 

I was reminded often of the kindness of strangers. To be a foreigner and a traveler, we must be sensitive to differences that set us apart. We are indeed the minority and we are just visitors here. So subtle and yet profound the gestures of kindness from the Moroccan people were constant. Simply placing their hand over their heart and asking questions of concern;

"Are you hungry? Are you tired? How is your family? Tea?"

One is never far from the tender care of Moroccan hospitality during our 10 day stay in their country.  Generosity flows endlessly from teapot to cup. Here is one of my favorite flavors and traditions of Morocco- Berber Whiskey.

 

Recipe: Moroccan Mint Tea (a.k.a. "Berber Whiskey")

Perfect for snuggly winter days under a blanket, a pick-me-up and mellower in equal measure. Recipe via Peggy Markel's Culinary Adventures.

  • one 6-8 cup teapot
  • 1/3 cup gunpowder green tea
  • freshly boiled water (quality will determine the quality of your tea)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or to taste)
  • one bunch fresh mint (spearmint or your favorite variety)

 

Cover the tea with boiling water and pour off the first glass full. Save aside. Pour boiling water over the tea again and swish around. Pour off second glass and discard. This cleans the tea. Put the first glass of tea back into the pot, with the sugar, fresh mint and boiling

water to desired level in your tea pot.

(If you have a metal teapot that can be put over a flame, it is traditional to bring the tea to a boil again at this point.) Pour from on high to aerate the tea. 

May we continue to make choices that build more bridges between us and brew more tea together. Inshallah.

Costa Rica & Gallo Pinto

Traveling as a family to the rich coast.

 

Pura Vida!

Pure Life is in fact what they pride themselves on most over in Costa Rica. This sweet strip of land on the central coast, buffers up to both the Gulf of Mexico and the great Pacific. It's approachability, safety, geographical scale, surf and turtles are probably it's biggest tourist pulls. Or simply put- La Pura Vida.

It was May when we traveled as a family to Costa Rica. From LA, a flight to San Jose (the capitol of Costa Rica) is cheaper than most flights to our closer neighbor, Mexico. 

With only 8 days to vacation, we chose to go to the Manuel Antonio province. Specifically to a town called Quepos. A short and beautiful Island hopper plane gets you from San Jose to Quepos in 45 minutes. Manuel Antonio is a national park, and the mix of extensive wildlife and clean beaches are what attracted us to choosing Quepos as our home.

We decided to pick a place and stay put for our week stay with our 14 month old daughter. The regime of packing and unpacking should only be exercised so many times on a short vacation, in my opinion.

Tulemar is the private beach community that we called home. 

The walk down to the beach each day was accompanied by monkeys, giant iguanas, and sloth sightings. Having a clean beach with it's own source of kayaks, baby beach toys, and floatation was a huge plus for us. If we tired of the sand, then we spent the day at one of the pools in the community instead. All with an ocean view. We recommend the Villa Cielito house, where we stayed. The staff of Tulemar were incredibly accommodating to make this tropical treehouse safe and baby-proof.

Sunset from the Villa Cielito balcony.

For the coffee fix and great food we were looking for, Cafe Milagro was our favorite, and a 10 minute walk from our front door.  Quality ingredients, and only smiles from the staff as our restless toddler ran around, stealing stuffed monkeys and keychains  from the cafe's boutique. What parent can resist a restaurant that serves you food while the servers carry your baby around? I'll take two mojitos. Thanks.

Local day trips to Manuel Antonio state park where black sand beaches, and wild life amuse your senses. The reptile and butterfly park (also walking distance from our front door) kept our toddler curious and enthralled. 

As a Californian needing a recharge from the drought-ridden, succulent-clad terrain of our home turf, Costa Rica is the perfect tropical fuel.

 

Gallo Pinto (the Spotted Rooster)

This classic Costa Rican breakfast is abundant everywhere in the country and in a myriad of ways. Red beans, black beans, fried egg, or scrambled egg. First of all, grains and eggs are truly my preferred pairing any time and all the time. The toddler ate it for every meal and even my coffee-and-bread-ONLY-for-breakfast husband dug in.

(recipe adapted from Boulder Locavore) serves 4 to 6

  • 2 cups cooked black beans
  • 1/c cup bean stock or ½ cup chicken stock if bean is not available
  • 3 cups cooked white rice
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
  • Sour cream, if desired as topping
  • 4-6 eggs
  • salt and pepper
  1. Fry onion and bell pepper in vegetable oil, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and sauté a bit more.
  3. Pour in the beans and the stock, bring to a simmer.
  4. Avoid the mixture drying up.
  5. Add in the rice and stir thoroughly, gently.
  6. Don’t mash the beans!
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  8. In a separate pan, fry the eggs one at a time to desired liking (dot forget to season with salt and pepper!)
  9. Right before serving stir in the fresh cilantro and top with sour cream if desired

 

The Health Transition

 

So you survived the airport hustle drinking only EmergenC (American vitamin C sachets) and using hand sanitizer as a second skin without getting sick. For me, the big immune compromiser is not the dome of shared international air, its weather changes. Serious weather changes. Like going from a warm, coastal, high-desert climate to wet, grey, and really cold. It feels like no amount of layers and North Face down can keep the chill off.

We've been here in Switzerland for 3 weeks now, and the past 4 days have been spent inside. Counting the bumps on the ceiling, binge watching Downton Abbey (ok, just me really) and building elaborate blanket forts as opposed to hiking the forest trails and collecting sticks.

First Chris, then Mila, and now me. I, of course get hit the hardest it seems. Why is it that when the momma gets sick, she goes down hard. As if our invincible-force-field-ozone layer of health is compromised by some crack in the shield. Maybe it's our excessive use of hairspray? I don't even use hairspray. Regardless of our contributions to global warming or immune instability. It's not fair to have the momma get so sick!

The following are my personal health tricks and tips that wont weigh your suitcase down...

My go-to health tips while traveling:

*Note, I am not a doctor (a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker). The following are simply suggestions of what has been effective for me and for my family. If you have any serious health conditions, allergies, or questions, then please consult with your health professional first.

Onions For a Fever- Sliced onions in socks. place a small handful of sliced (thin, but not too thin. Ya feel me?) onions in the socks of your sleepy, feverish patient. Move those little half moons down to the soles of the feet and leave those socks on overnight while they sleep. An added bonus would be to add a drop of lemon oil and oregano oil to the bottoms of their feet before putting on the socks. Your room may smell like soup in the morning.... In fact, it will. 

Ginger Bath- You can find ground ginger in most countries around the world. It's cheap and effective. Dump a good tablespoon or two into a hot bath and sweat away. This is great for releasing toxins and detoxifying. I always feel that the more I sweat and the more I pee my sickness out, the faster I'll get better.

Propolis- I always carry a tincture or spray of propolis around with me. Plus I can find it in nearly every drug store in Europe and Asia. Highly regarded for it's anti-bacterial & anti-viral proporties and various ways that it supports the immune system. More info here.

Lymphatic Massage- I always carry a lymph rub oil mix on me at all times as my lymph are my first alarm of a growing sickness. Citrus oils are stimulation for lymph glands. Massage them down in a repeated motion from where your earlobe meets your jaw bone and down the side of your neck using 2 fingers and a significant but not painful amount of pressure. I recommend using pure therapeutic grade essential oils and not the cheap stuff with fillers.

Vitamin C- I am a believer in the powers of vitamin C. Load up! When the body has had too much, it will let you know while your sitting on the loo. Then you back off.

Onion & Garlic Soups- Make a giant batch of french onion soup : 3lbs of onions sliced thin and caramelized in oil for 30 minutes (be sure to put some raw slices aside for your socks!) add plenty of salt and pepper, some cayenne (to clear the nose) a sprig of thyme, and top with beef, veg or chicken broth. Top with baguette and gruyere at your own risk. OR I make a creamy garlic potato soup: Roast 2 heads of garlic in the oven until soft and golden brown. cook off 1 chopped onion or leek, or mix of the two until translucent but not brown in the bottom of a heavy stock pot. Add 3 large chopped and peeled yukon gold potatoes, the extracted remains of the garlic, and enough water to cover. Controlled boil until the potatoes are soft and blend with an immersion blender. Don't forget the unmentionable, but always assumed- plenty of salt and pepper. Top the potato soup with finely grated sharp english cheddar and some chives if you wish. 

Reflexology- I travel with a printed chart of the reflexology points. It's much easier to give yourself a foot massage rather than a back massage.

Lay Off The Triggers- At the first sign of sickness I get everyone to lay off sugar (immune system), and dairy (mucus production). Oh, and alcohol (the poor hubs...) 

Sleep- Oh wait, I have a toddler. Sick or not, sleep is still just a suggestion.

 

 

 

Your First Journey

A letter to my daughter about flying with a child;

You were 7 months old when we packed up all your favorite things for a month away from the land you were born in. Your father and I hovered over the piles of soft cloth, sweet smelling stuffed animals, and every "necessary" baby item we owned.

We had never traveled with a baby before. This was by far the most complicated, and fragile piece of carry-on luggage we had ever considered adventuring with, and frankly we were incredibly nervous.

Our flight was to depart at 9  pm from the east coast to cross the pond and have us into Switzerland by mid day. We paced anxiously in front of the gate, bouncing you back and forth. Four other couples with newborn to 12 month old babies were practicing the same monotonous jig. One partner with a baby attached, the other hovering close with a bursting diaper bag full of tricks, burp clothes, bottles and blankets.

When another child would rear their head from their cozy pouch, let out an anxious cry of demands and protest, and you, our angel child would stay quiet and sleeping in our arms. Our faces would fill with pride as we gazed adoringly at one another and you, our sweet quite baby. Of course, at one point you did make your opinions heard, but we survived the journey feeling relaxed and victorious.

Now, on the second trans-atlantic flight of your life, you were a bit older. Your arms, legs and opinions have all stretched out in your 23 months of life. We knew we had to up our game this time around. We planned every diaper change in the airport accordingly. Ran you up and down the escalator to burn energy, and generally kept you moving until the bitter end when it was time to board. Two diaper bags were packed and organized with all your essentials for instant happiness. Tiny toys, magic markers, the $50 Woody doll I ran out to buy last minute, the bloody tablet I swore I'd NEVER buy, a felt folder full of surprises, and those freeze-dried strawberries that get you out of any carseat rage. We felt powerful and prepared.

An hour into our flight and surprises were being pulled out like stuffing from a gift bag. Joy turned to contentment, then to boredom and frustration in what felt like 5  short minutes with each new treasure given to you. That was until, the breaking point. The point of what felt like an eternity. The struggle that topped all past struggles before. No amount of rescue remedy or lavender oil could pull you out of this one.

You were done. Just plain DONE.

"All done. Auto. Nana's house" was on repeat and there was nothing we could do to console you. Your body twisted out of our arms like a contortionist, your screams grew louder and your protest more intense by the moment. Slowly the patrons around us on the plane found new seats to occupy, But distance could not hide them completely from the disturbance. You were every where.

2 straight hours of rage and you tired out. I never sat down once in nearly 3 hours of juggling your moving, screaming body in my arms, or keeping you quiet once asleep.

After 10 hours, many apologies, little sleep, too much Toy Story, and ZERO friends made, we arrived to Zurich from LA. It was the worst flight of our lives. I am now only willing to board a long distance flight with potent baby tranquilizers. I am also actively researching deals on a trans-Atlantic cruise ship. And I hate cruise ships.

On the flip side of things, the crew members on Swiss airlines were incredibly kind and helpful, plus they kept a constant flow of beer and chocolate for us in-between meltdowns. The only saving grace.

I still love you,

-Mom