Living Abroad: The Evolution of Holiday Menu Planning

Growing up in Canada, our Christmas dining festivities would start with a Christmas Eve tourtière (meat pie). For the actual day of Christmas, I’ve always thought of our dinner as fairly classic. We had the turkey, dressing/stuffing, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes etc followed by an array of desserts. For us, it was normally Nanaimo bars  and a version of trifle my mum made based on the ones she had growing up in the U.K.  When my aunt married into a Ukrainian family, we HAPPILY added his mother’s amazing cabbage rolls to the menu. Did it traditionally fit with turkey and the trimmings? Not really. Did we care? Not at all.  They were delicious and a culturally important addition to the family.

My own version of tourtière made at high altitude one Christmas in the French Alps

Since then, I have moved around the world and experienced first hand the role food memories play in people’s lives. If I taste a Nanaimo bar, I think of Canada. Fish and chips takes me mentally to England. Paris Brest sees me walking down memory lane in France. Food is important to our memories and most importantly, it helps us feel connected to the past.

Paris Brest, I love you!! 

Our very first Christmas in Paris saw me panic a bit at the thought of the large shellfish dinner that is traditionally held on Christmas eve. I’m allergic to shellfish so this new tradition posed a problem for me. Instead, we embraced the addition of caviar, smoked salmon, plenty of champagne and the Bûche de Noël (aka Yule Log cake).

Fish and Chips make me long for the U.K….

When we are lucky enough to return to my husband’s native England for Christmas, a personal highlight is celebrating Danish Christmas with his brother and family! I wouldn’t dare attempt to replicate my Danish sister-in-law’s cooking but I can assure you, that Risalamande (the best rice pudding I’ve EVER had with warm cherry sauce that is actually eaten as part of a game) and the browned sugared potatoes are both part of my Christmas flavour memories now.

Risalamande – and I won the prize. Again. Sorry!

If you’ve stuck with me this long you will start to see my Christmas flavours and ideal menu have not stopped growing!  Each taste represents happy memories in my life and makes me think of the people I’ve been lucky enough to call family and/or friends over the years. In 2015, we relocated to Switzerland and saw the heavy introduction of cheese in both raclette and fondue format at Christmas time!  In addition to cheese, we’ve embraced panettone in our household as staple during the holidays!


Yule log cake on a Christmas table
Bûche de Noël – Yule Log

So, what is an internationally-confused menu planner supposed to do?! In a world without calories my perfect Christmas would include tourtière, panettone, turkey and all the trimmings, brown Danish sugared potatoes, fondue, Cabbage rolls, smoked salmon and caviar, Nanaimo bars, trifle, risalamande and a bûche de Noël…all washed down with a few glasses of champagne! Phew! I’m not sure I could manage that! (Don’t even get me started on the challenges presented by living internationally with trying to locate and buy 90% of the items on my Christmas menu wish list!!!) 

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we have decided when we spend Christmases here in Switzerland, we will continue with the fondue-inspired meal. It’s how we celebrate Swissmas. This doesn’t mean we don’t miss all those wonderful flavours, we just keep them as happy memories, locked in our hearts, until the years when we are able to travel for the holidays.

Swissmas Fondue dinner – 2016


This year, no matter where you are in the world, if you sit down for a holiday meal of some sort, think about how your family’s menu evolved. How have you chosen certain items over others? Who do the dishes remind you of? These same thoughts can be applied to many different cultures, but I can’t speak for others…only for myself. As long as my mouth isn’t too full 😉



Photo credit: Jennifer Hart – StockphotoVideo – Kalim – cynoclub 


Where to Eat in Suisse Romande: A Journey of Food, Wine and Cocktails.

Before we moved here I must have listened to at least two dozen (if not more) unsolicited opinions on how awful food is in Switzerland. Knowing I am a total foodie, some people even laughed at the idea of me ever going out. “Good thing you can cook!” I was told more than once. So imagine my surprise when that turned out to be complete and utter nonsense. I think people confuse the rustic mountain food of charcuterie and cheese with refined city dining. Therefore, my dear readers and friends, allow me to take it upon myself to travel around Switzerland and debunk that myth. Over and over again.

For the most part, I will be focusing on the area that is called Suisse Romande. If you are new to learning about life in Switzerland, allow me explain what that means. Suisse Romande is the predominantly French-speaking area that stretches from Geneva, across Vaud, to the Jura mountains, includes Neuchâtel and extends into parts of Fribourg, Valais and Bern. It represents an area where 2 million people live and either speak French exclusively or are bilingual/multilingual including French as one of their languages used. This is where were live and this is where I will be focusing my dining experiences on. I will do my best to keep you up to date and informed of the foodie scene in Suisse Romande so keep a look out for these posts at least once a month on Thursdays.


As for what kinds of food I will be focusing on, all I can say is being new to this country I want to sample as much as possible. I am not a vegetarian or vegan but I’m very friendly to the veggie way of life and i will do my best to keep an eye out for places that would suit your needs.

Our first dining experience as a couple was at this great place called Osteria Balsamico in Lausanne. I vowed not to work that night as we were celebrating our move and finally settling into Swiss life. Some nights the camera has to stay home and the brain has to shut down. What I CAN say about Osteria is that it was so good I have not stopped thinking about when we can go back. The location was nothing to write home about but it did not matter once you were inside, being cared for by the staff and dining on their amazing Italian fusion menu. For my main dish I had a risotto made with mascarpone cheese and blood oranges. Paired with the Brunello di Montalcino that Mr H ordered put me in sheer heaven. If that was my introduction to dining in Suisse Romande, I cannot wait to see where we go from here!!!

The playful menu with Italian stars featured inside.
The playful menu with Italian stars featured inside.
Hello gorgeous.  Brunello di Montalcino.
Hello gorgeous.
Brunello di Montalcino.

So kids, I may just be getting started here in Switzerland but stay tuned for more foodie news!!

Photos: Fotolia, Jennifer Hart