From the Vault: Confessions From A Kissing Failure

What can I say sometimes other than ‘this expat life is no joke’! I know from the outside people see the glitz, the glam, the travel, the benefits, etc., but from time to time, I think it is good if we all ignore that part for a bit and turn our attention to some of the more difficult moments. Yes, I know, this sounds boring but it needn’t be. In fact, most expats you will meet have a wicked sense of humour and humility. We might not have started out that way but cultural barriers, linguistic errors, removal from what we know and who we know, and multiple social blunders have stripped us of our sense of cool. We learn to laugh at ourselves. With this spirit in mind, I’ve decided that from time to time, I will dig a story out from ‘the vault’ and share with you my sometimes bumpy ride as an expatriate. If you missed my last story on Expat Dating, feel free to check it out here.

Moving abroad presents us with so many moments for growth, personal development and life-altering experiences. But, at some point or another, we all learn that it also presents us with moments of extreme humility. I have spent hours cringing in reflection upon things I have said and done since stripping myself of all my cultural norms and moving abroad.

When you haven’t lived abroad, you don’t realise how much of your life you take for granted. Like, saying hello to people. You know how to do that so well you don’t even think about it. However, when you move abroad, this simple act becomes a challenge you didn’t even know existed.

In Canada, firm handshakes and hugs were the norm depending on how well you knew someone. I’m a hugger by nature and this was totally fine with me. What I’m not ok with? Kissing people I don’t know. So what did I do? I moved to Paris. The land of the two cheek air kiss. I took me years to figure this one out. The when and how and whom of kissing was all too much for me. I never quite knew when someone became a person on your kiss list and, to be honest,  I still don’t. I spent a decade in Paris hoping a French person would offer up their cheek first. Most often this worked well. Sometimes, this was a massive failure.

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Pucker up, foreigners! It’s bisous (kissing) time!

Take my school gate incident. I’m cringing already thinking about it. A mum I had said ‘bonjour’ to for a few months greeted me a bit more enthusiastically one day in order to present me with a birthday invite for my son. Cool! At the end of our conversation, she leaned in for the au revoir kiss. Or. So. I. Thought.

In her world, she was leaning forward to scratch her knee cap. In my world, we were going for kissing. This didn’t end well with me kissing her and her not kissing me. She looked horrified and muttered at the end in painful English “oh, you wish to kiss me…”

Die. Die. Die. Melt. Please floor soak me up whole now!!!!

I made my DH take the kids to school the next morning because, well, once you’ve crossed the ‘we now kiss line’ you MUST ALWAYS DO THE KISS! Every time. Hello. Goodbye. Without fail. Dear lord, I wasn’t ready.

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My favourite kind of cheek kissing 

After some time and move to Switzerland later, I thought I had left the kiss and all its stress behind.

Nope.

Not even close.

We became friendly with our neighbours in the early days here and one day the father passed me in the street and said his ‘bonjour’ and asked how we were settling in. All very nice stuff as we’d only been here a week and having someone know us and check in was comforting. At the end, I saw what was definitely the au revoir kiss lean in and I thought ‘I can do this, I am Parisian’ and went for it.

Only…in Switzerland, the kiss is different. When I thought we were done the obligatory 2 kisses, he kept going. Only, I didn’t. In the middle we met, lips touching and a thousand ‘I hate my life’ thoughts coursing through my soul. I made out with my new neighbour. Week One in Switzerland: check!

How could I get it so wrong???

I rushed home and googled ‘bisous Suisse’ (Switzerland kissing). Dang it all to heck, the Swiss kiss THREE times! Not to be outdone by their Parisian counterparts, they went and added a prime number of kissing to the cultural awkwardness!!

I’m not silly enough not to realise in the grand scheme of life that making out with my neighbour and a French mum are minor blips in life but these are the moments that I swear change us the most as foreigners abroad. We step so far out of our comfort zone that stepping back in seems difficult, if not impossible. Take the hug now, my favourite greeting. On my last trip to Canada I was shocked at how intimate it seemed in comparison to kissing someone on the cheek. Well I’ll be darned, I no longer know which one I prefer…

So, the next time you see me, don’t be surprised if I hug, handshake and kiss you all in one go. Heck, I might even throw in a little dance or two. Just blame it on no longer having an engrained, reactionary culture to dictate how I behave anymore (or the wine).

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia

From the Vault: Confessions of Parisian ‘Expat Dating’

What can I say sometimes other than ‘this expat life is no joke’! I know from the outside people see the glitz, the glam, the travel, the benefits, etc., but from time to time, I think it is good if we all ignore that part for a bit and turn our attention to some of the more difficult moments. Yes, I know, this sounds boring but it needn’t be. In fact, most expats you will meet have a wicked sense of humour and humility. We might not have started out that way but cultural barriers, linguistic errors, removal from what we know and who we know, and multiple social blunders have stripped us of our sense of cool. We learn to laugh at ourselves. With this spirit in mind, I’ve decided that from time to time, I will dig a story out from ‘the vault’ and share with you my sometimes bumpy ride as an expatriate.

 

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Our first apartment in Paris – that’s us on the balcony. It was our home for 4.5 years (Paris, 1er Arrondissement.

 

Back in 2006, when I was a newcomer to this whole lifestyle in Paris, I was the queen of social blunders. I made mistakes. I mouth-kissed people who were attempting to do bisous (or cheek to cheek kiss greeting as is customary in many European countries). I drank coffee with my dessert (mon Dieu!) and I stumbled daily in navigating Parisian life. I had a certain flair for making a mess of things! I would call home and be told it can’t possibly be that bad. My impression was that it was hard to conjure up feelings of sympathy for people living la vie en rose!

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La vie en Rose

But Paris was, well, Paris. It is tough city to relocate to. I was 29, newly married to an Englishman and kids were not on the agenda yet. How do you make friends at 29 years old?  When you are a kid you can walk up to someone around your age in the park and ask if they want to play. As an adult, that takes a very creepy and inappropriate twist. So, I went on, what I call, expat dates. We weren’t looking for love, we were looking for company.  I met other expatriates living in Paris and we tested each other out. Could we? Would we? Should we be friends? Do we have enough in common beyond ‘we aren’t French’ to keep us together?

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Looking out at the world below. Paris circa 2006.

Sometimes this worked and sometimes it was a big fail. I remember one that went so horribly wrong that when I ran into the woman a few months later in the street, I hid behind a smelly Parisian garbage can. Yes, I was a wildly mature adult living the glam Paris life! She had been the angriest person I had ever met and I felt, at the end of our lunch, that I should have charged her for a counselling session. She hated Paris. HATED it. Lots of people have anger towards Paris but this was something else!

Shortly after we ordered wine and lunch, it started.

“Why would you move here? It’s awful.” Uh oh!
“It smells.” OK so this can be true sometimes.
“Parisians are the worst people ever.” No, they are grumpy and angry and VERY self-important sometimes but they are not the worst people ever.
“Don’t even try to get decent tea here.” I didn’t try this and wasn’t bothered about it, either.
“The restaurants are awful.” OK this was NOT true. There were some dodgy places but that happens everywhere.
“You will never fit in here.” Hmmm…partial truth?
“You will need to diet to live here. You’re a bit big-boned.” Thanks.
“French men are pigs.” I have never dated one, I can’t speak to this claim!
“France will suck all the life out of you.” There’s plenty still kicking around in me.
“You smile too much for Paris. They’ll hate you.” Yeesh!

You get the picture, right? This went on and on and on. She spent 90+ minutes trying to convince me to get out while I could. Like it was an easy option to do so! If I tried to counter with ‘but aren’t the pastries to die for?’ she would shoot that down or remind me I’m a bit fat for Paris (this was PRE-kids, remember!!). Negative Nancy was in the house. I decided that even if I was having some real homesickness for maple-flavoured anything, strangers that greet each other on the street and an easier time getting my point across, I was going to ditch our attempt to become friends and make my way in the city on my own.

Ditch this attempt is exactly what I did. I tried to wrap up our lunch early and I thought she understood my need to leave when I said something like, I must visit the toilet and when I get back I will need to pay and head out. Clear, non?  When I returned to the table, I saw that she had ignored this and ordered another round of drinks. I panicked! How could she possibly have more to say about hating Paris? So, I did what all mature adults do. I threw 40Euros on the table and ran out of the restaurant without saying a word. I know she called my name but I was done. I didn’t want to live in Paris with her words in my head and heart and I wasn’t adult enough to say that.

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Do bad days happen in Paris? Yes. Yes they do. However, in my 10 years living in Paris, I fully admit that this never stopped being an amazing sight to behold!

I avoided a phone call and text from her over the next couple of days. I felt awful and I had done something unforgivable. I know that and learned from it. To her, I’m sorry for my own behaviour. In truth, she was my sole expat dating fail on an otherwise pretty perfect record. However, I was too embarrassed and freaked out by our lunch date gone wrong to try again for a while, so I got a dog. Not just any old French froufrou, teacup sized dog. I got a black labrador retriever. We named him Leni and he went everywhere with me. He became my best Parisian friend for a while and together, we ventured throughout the city. He dined in Michelin starred restaurants, went into Gucci, Louis Vuitton (he was about 20kg too big for that early 2000s dog bag everyone had) and had his photo taken with countless tourists. He made me get over my shyness to explore the city and for that, Leni, I thank you as you were invaluable to our lives in the French capital. I eventually made amazing friends, had kids and life in Paris became a lot more settled but Leni never left our sides. Except for the time he jumped in a prostitute’s van in the Bois de Boulogne. Perhaps that will be my next confession From the Vault…

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Leni and I walking in the Marais

Photos: Jennifer Hart

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Raclette

When I first moved to France, I remember my husband saying to me that he was a big fan of something called raclette. Truthfully, I had no idea what it was but he described it as “meal of primarily melted cheese.” Considering my deep love affair with cheese fondue, I figure this could only be a good thing. My very first experience with raclette was in the lovely French town of Strasbourg where I went to the MOST amazing restaurant for cheese lovers: La Cloche à Fromage by René Tourette. This is where I discovered that raclette was indeed “melted cheese” but holy moly it was also SO MUCH MORE!

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The action of scraping the melted raclette onto bread…*drool* 

What IS Raclette: 
Raclette (pronounced: rack-let) is a type of semi-firm cheese, primarily made with cow’s milk ,with Swiss-German origins.  The name raclette derives from the French verb racler, meaning “to scrape.” By some accounts, raclette has been documented in Swiss texts dating back as far as the late 1200s. A typically wheel-shaped cheese, raclette started as peasant food that provided farmers a wealth of calories, protein and warmth at the end of the day. It was originally heated by fire and scraped off onto starchier foods such as bread and potatoes.  Other than the development of electric heating sources and raclette parties, not much has changed since the early humble origins of raclette other than the fact that very few would refer to it as peasant food anymore!

How To Eat Raclette:
Extremely popular throughout France and Switzerland, raclette can be found in many mountain restaurants, warming up skiers after a snowy day on the pistes. If this isn’t within you reach, you can always have raclette at home, although I do encourage you to try the classic ‘mountain chalet post-ski alpine raclette’ indulgence at least once in your life. You can thank me later!

Modern raclette is served in homes primarily using a modern table top electric grill with tiny cheese pans called coupelles. Raclette is served at the table pre-sliced and ready for melting. There are many modern varieties of raclette so feel free to serve a tasting platter of different raclette if you feel adventurous. My daughter LOVES the sheep/brébis version and my son loves the one with added dried chili flakes. I heavily favour the extra creamy version and Mr H often reaches for the peppercorn and garlic varieties. Common accompaniments are: small boiled potatoes, assortment of pickles/gherkins (the sour kind, not the sweet) and dried meats/charcuterie. If you are less into the dried meat part, like me, feel free to add a large salad with vinaigrette and sliced vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms and zucchini/courgette.

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Modern table top raclette grill

Raclette is a self-serve meal that evokes a lot of conversation and fun. I know purists who melt their cheese and pour it only onto their boiled potatoes and I know others that get creative and put dried meats and pickles in their coupelles and heat it all together. This is where your creativity can take over! I like to grill veggies on the top grill and eat together with the melted raclette. Pure bliss!

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Raclette serving options

What to Drink with Raclette:
Hands down, I am a red wine drinker. It is my go to when having a glass at night or when dining with friends. That said, I have spent the last ten+ years between France and now Switzerland and I have learned that white wine does pair better with cheese than red. There, I said it. It pained me to admit that a few years ago as I was very anti-white wine, but I have changed 😉

With raclette, a dry white is what you are looking for. You don’t want a white that overpowers the cheese’s natural flavours. If you are in Switzerland, I would look for the 2015 World Champion Chasselas La Grand’Rue Chasselas Reserve. Trust me, I’ve done a a lot of ‘research’ on this and Swiss cheese and Swiss wine make a perfect pairing!! If you are elsewhere, any light, low acidity, dry white will work. IF you are a staunch red wine drinker, try a pinot noir or other light, dry red. You don’t want something so heavy that it takes away from the cheese. For an added twist, try chilling your wine first.

At the end of your meal, if you wish to have a truly Swiss experience, try serving a small shot of cherry kirsch. Similar to the le coup du milieu that traditionally accompanies a cheese fondue, a shot of kirsch is believed to help break down the fats in the cheese and allow you to digest your meal better. I heavily question the ‘science’ here but who am I to challenge another culture’s traditions? When in Switzerland…!

In addition to wine and spirits, it is quite common to find people in Switzerland having a hot beverage such as tea or a tisane with raclette. Mint tea at the end of the meal is often offered to help digest.

Final Thoughts:
When choosing to host a raclette party or make raclette at home, remember that this is meant to be a social meal that lasts for quite some time. Raclette dining is one of the few things where the Swiss seem to forgo schedules and just allow the evening to unfold. Eat slowly, take pauses, enjoy some fine wine, or a hot tea like you would in a rustic, traditional chalet. Don’t rush eating a lot of cheese or you might pay for it later! The modern grill machines with the tiny coupelles allow you to pace yourself with small tastes at a time. Above all else, enjoy!

Photo credit: Fotolia

Weekend Getaways: Leysin Part I

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

-Gustave Flaubert

To claim that I love to travel is a bit of an understatement. I am a bonafide wanderlust; craving the new experiences, cultures and moments that travel can bring. However, this doesn’t mean I need to go to the most glamorous and expensive places in the world to experience that feeling of escapism that travel can bring. Sometimes all I need is to head an hour down the road and see what life is like had I ended up somewhere close to home but far enough away to be different. This is why I love the idea of Weekend Getaways. These mini-breaks can provide a wealth of memories and help you return to the weekly grind without wreaking too much havoc on the budget or requiring taking time off from work or school. We are very very very (we know!) fortunate to live somewhere where the weekends can be spent exploring some of the best skiing and hiking in the world. We are lucky enough to be able to do this frequently. Recognising that, I’ve decided to write about our favourite weekend places and hopefully help anyone hoping to plan a weekend (or longer) trip to Switzerland. I will approach each weekend with families in mind but can assure you that singletons and couples will find a LOT to do outside of family activities at most of these places. As this affects many people I care about, I will do my best to report back on vegetarian-friendly locations that I notice, keeping in mind that Switzerland is not the best location in the world for this (unless you are OK compensating your protein intake with simply cheese, cheese and more cheese).

Leysin: Oxygene des Alpes

 

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Swiss Alpine town of Leysin

I will admit, I did NOT know what to expect when I first booked our weekend trip to Leysin. It was one of the ski resorts listed as included on our Swiss annual ski SuperPass and since were decided to spend the first year trying as many places as we could, it made the cut. I hadn’t heard of it before, I didn’t know anyone that had been there but it was an hour from home and in the Swiss Alps and we determined that that must make it OK at a bare minimum.

What a silly idea to have!

Leysin, it turns out, was an amazing weekend experience and we can’t wait to repeat it as soon as possible. Mr H and I had a moment where we looked at each other and said, ‘Why haven’t we been here before?’ We happily stayed at the Hôtel Central-Résidence  and I will be blogging about that experience later in the week. For now, let’s talk Leysin.

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Good morning, Leysin!!

Points Forts/The Good Stuff:
Leysin, one of the amazing locations of the famous Swiss Hospitality Management Schools, is a beautiful town not to far from Aigle. Located in the french-speaking canton of Vaud, Leysin is easily accessible by motorway, running about 90 minutes from the Geneva airport. If you are without a vehicle, there is a direct Aigle-Leysin train that runs hourly to get you to the slopes in the most efficient manner possible.  As Leysin is a proper all-season town with schools, a town hall, university, the world-famous American boarding school and more, the services available are quite impressive. There were several grocery stores, clothing shops, banks, etc. If you need something in Leysin, you will find it here.

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Leysin Train Station
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Coop grocery store in centre ville

What to do? Well, it might be a shorter list if you asked me what you CAN’T do in Leysin!

  • skiing/snowboarding (children under 9 are free)
  • ski school (we overheard English, French, German, Italian and Spanish instructors)
  • tobogganing/sledding
  • snowshoeing (free of charge)
  • skating
  • cross-country skiing (free of charge)
  • hiking
  • curling
  • broom-ball
  • Avalanche training centre
  • rock climbing
  • VTT/Mountain biking
  • swimming
  • night skiing
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Tobogganing Park

Points to consider:
Leysin is built INTO a mountain. It is a town that has developed and grown over time and without much flat land to grow on, the town has spread up and down the side of a mountain. This makes the skiing superb and snow amazing but it also makes the getting around town part a bit challenging. There is a superb navette/bus service that is free and you will use it if you head into central Leysin for shopping or a restaurant. Our hotel was located up near the télécabine/gondola which was extremely convenient for skiing but made our trek into town to shop a bit of a journey. We walked down but absolutely took the navette back home afterwards. Can I blame having a 5 and 8 year old? 😉

Leysin is a huge ski domain yet due to the nature of the mountain, there are very few green pistes. If you are a first-timer, I would suggest learning to ski at a smaller station then progressing to Leysin. There were many blue and red pistes, as well a some black pistes that were very well-deserving of their grading. We were there on an exceptionally busy weekend and on-piste traffic didn’t bother us. The longest we ever waited in a queue for a chairlift was 10 minutes. Pas mal!

Parking. Leysin was not originally designed to be the huge mountain adventure place that it is now. Parking can be an issue so if you are a day-tripper, GET THERE EARLY! If you are staying in a hotel locally, take advantage of the free navette/bus service. They run efficiently and quickly move people up the mountain to the departure point. It seemed overwhelming to us at first and we almost cringed at how many people were waiting for the same bus to arrive but it didn’t seem to be a problem. 10 minutes later, there wasn’t anyone left waiting and tumbleweed could have passed us by. Pretty swift service if you ask me.

Lift passes. Due to Leysin’s popularity, it does attract a lot of day-trippers from France and Switzerland so the queue for daily lift passes could get quite long. The Swiss handle this efficiently (surprise, surprise) but you will still have to wait if you didn’t book your lift passes in advance. Consider this pre-planning step and you will save yourself a lot of time.

Restaurants. With the hospitality school and reputation for great skiing, Leysin tends sees a very international audience and you can really tell that it caters to this mindset. A traditional mountain fare tavern sits next to a Pekin fine dining restaurant. Tastes are varied and as someone that gets tired of cheese after a day or two, I very much appreciated this fact. We obviously didn’t have time in one weekend to try them all but if you don’t mind, I’d like to go back, try some places and get back to you on which were my favourites. All in the name of research, I tell you!

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Loving the cowbells in this traditional Swiss-style on-piste restaurant

As you can see, other than some parking and steep walking issues, there was not much to complain about in Leysin. We’ll be back sooner rather than later, I hope!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Leysin Tourist Information

Things I’ve learned about living in Switzerland thus far…

I’m going to go out on a limb and say I cannot be the only person who really didn’t know much about Switzerland when I moved here. I mean, I knew about Rolex, Cartier, the Alps, Heidi, The Sound of Music and cheese but apart from that, what did I REALLY know about this place? Embarrassingly, very little.

No clichés here!
No clichés here!

To the Swiss, I am sorry. To everyone else, feel free to ask questions if there is something you’d like to know.

So, I decided to compile an early list of things I have learned thus far.

1) This country is GORGEOUS! I mean, I knew that coming in but to be here daily with Mont Blanc standing in all her majesty across the lake, I feel like Switzerland never fails to take my breath away. In addition, the rolling hills of vineyards, the lake, the cities…it is all so beautiful. However, I encourage that you don’t just take my word for it, you should visit it. For more information on travel here, check out the MySwitzerland website. It is amazing portal of information.

View from our bedroom window...Lac Léman with Mont Blanc across the way
View from our bedroom window. Lac Léman with Mont Blanc across the way

2) Switzerland is expensive. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You think you’ve heard that before but aren’t a lot of places expensive? Yes, they are but not like this. The price of things here set my brain on fire the first month and I was coming from Paris where a box of Kraft Dinner/Mac and Cheese would set you back about $10CDN($7US) but there are two things here that help with that. Salaries here often more than make up for the price and the price adjustments that started this summer to combat the Swiss Franc inflation cap disappearing is making a big difference. So, when you DO come here, remember it is just going to be expensive and the Swiss really don’t care that ‘back home’ things cost a lot less. It’s not endearing to hear that over and over!

3) To combat number 2, I have discovered some amazing places to shop and ways to work the system. My favourite on the top of the list is Aligro. Aliwhat??? Aligro. This is Switzerland’s answer to places like Sam’s Club and Costco. The membership is free, the benefits are amazing. If you live here or are planning on a move here anytime soon, bookmark Aligro and check it out. You can thank me later (and a big thank you to my running buddy for pointing me in the Aligro-direction).

4) Cow bells are EVERYWHERE! So, we live in a pretty happening mini-city but you can imagine my surprise on a recent run when I heard all this clanging and chiming up ahead. It sounded like a group of people practicing how to ring a church bell. What was it? Oh, it was the local cattle hanging out that had recently returned from their summer grazing period in the mountains to the warmer and less harsh environment near the lake. So, the dog and I are learning to run to the sound of cow bells now and I really like it. It is almost hypnotic. Also, I have learned the reason for the bells coincides with the liberty the cows have to roam. Since they are not cooped up in factories or confined to small spaces, the cows often wander off on their own and can get lost. The bells act two-fold at this point. 1) it helps the farmer to possibly hear what direction the cow walked off in and 2) it helps hikers, VTT/mountain bikers and joggers hear if a cow is potentially going to cross their path. Cows rule here, us humans just have to go around. No one wants surprise face-to-face with a lost cow! The bells are an appreciated warning.

Well, hello there!
Well, hello there!

5) I knew this one before but I just wanted to reiterate it here: there is no such thing as Swiss Cheese (i.e. the stuff you see in cartoons where the cat is trying to catch the mouse). It is called Emmental after the amazing area it is from. There is, however, an abundance of amazing cheeses here which I am happily testing out.

6) Efficiency is really, truly not just a stereotype, it is a way of life. My biggest complaint of our 10 years in Paris was the inconsistency and absolute disorderly conduct in which everything was apparently run. Ask any expat in Paris how they feel about a trip to the local préfecture and watch their body language change and their eyes roll. It’s a make-work project at its finest. Here, I could cry with how efficient it is and maybe, just maybe, I have once or twice already. I doubt I would appreciate it as much if I had moved from somewhere else that handled things with a degree of effectiveness but I did not and for that I say I even MORE grateful when I go the local commune with a problem and leave 20 mins later with the problem solved and a ‘bonne journée’ from the person serving me. It’s the little things, y’all!

7) The people are NICE. Before moving here I was warned by people and by countless hours of research online that the Swiss are guarded and unfriendly. I am happy to report I haven’t seen that. They have their way of doing things and it is very very much governed by the need for this to be succinct and controlled but that works for me. I’d rather know where I’m standing than not. We moved in and received flowers, cupcakes and a box of apricots (because they are very Swiss and were very ‘in season’ at the time of our arrival) from our neighbours. My children have been thanked by our neighbours for being helpful with carrying back the communal compost bins and I have been thanked for keeping our garden/lawn looking nice. Our elderly neighbour, a Swiss German now living in Suisse Romande, even asked if I needed help with learning how to plant in extremely rocky soil. She actually also asked if I needed to borrow anything like pots or pans before we had fully unpacked. So, maybe the unfriendly Swiss are coming but they haven’t come my way yet and this post IS about what I have learned so far…

8) The wine is great. I don’t need to go too deep on this one as I have already posted about it here but it is something I have learned so it is worth the mention again.

9) There is a LOT to do here. I mean a crazy amount. I was a bit worried at first that we would have to buy heaps of expensive gear to get our lives established here since were are on of THOSE families that likes to do a lot of adventurous things together. However, they have it sorted out, folks!! Since kids grow every single day I was really worried about buying ski gear every year. No need. We went to Francois Sport in Bremblens and got on the rental scheme. You can rent skis/poles/boots for both downhill and cross-country (as well as other sports like snowshoeing, sledding, etc) for an ENTIRE SEASON and just return them at the end of the year. If your kid grows mid-season? No problem, bring the gear in and exchange it for free. Everything the juniors got was brand new, never been used and is costing us a whopping 100CHF per kid for the season. They also do the same with adult stuff so you can either rent for a season if you can’t afford to buy, don’t want to buy or like being someone with brand new kit every single year. They have it sorted.

Juniors and their rental gear!
Juniors and their rental gear!

10) This one is personal but so is this blog so I will post it. I have learned that after countless years of moving, soul-searching, trying out different lives and trends, I have found ‘home’. I don’t know what it is but the very first day we arrived I felt a weight off my shoulders I didn’t know I was carrying. I have the mountains, the lake, the beaches, the city and a happy family. We are all so happy here that it kind of stings when people say ‘make the most if it while you are there’ or ‘Let’s hope Mr H keeps his job’. Moving here wasn’t a lark. It wasn’t a rash decision. We chose this and had chosen it years before it happened. Mr H negotiated his permit to be one that was not attached to his job and allowed us to stay no matter what. We chose this and we continue to choose it every day. I choose it when I get up and head out to get muddy with the dog on a run along the lake. I choose it when I put on heels and head out with Mr H for dinner. I choose it when I pick up my kids from school looking the happiest they have ever looked. We are allowed to choose this so I hope people accept that means there will be no ‘going back’ to someone else’s idea of what home should be for us. It’s a hard thing for some to accept and we’ve already faced ‘commentary’ on this but we are here and we plan to stay. It wasn’t an accident that brought us here. It wasn’t ‘just a job’. It was a choice to live the life we wanted to live.

Rosé by the lake on a hot summer day.
Rosé by the lake on a hot summer day (Mont Blanc in the background).

So, there you have it.  I can’t wait to see what else I learn along the way but for now I am a very happy student on Swiss life.

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Céleri Rémoulade

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.

– Julia Child

When I first arrived in France, I had a pretty solid background in cooking. I was a fan of a wide array of foods and wasn’t what one would consider ‘fussy’ when it came to eating. Thank you, Paris, for ruining that! OK, OK that isn’t 100% accurate but it is based in a lot of truth. So many things taste inherently better here and for that I bring your attention back to the Julia Child quote above.  Like Ms. Child, I strongly believe that meals made with real, quality, fresh ingredients taste much better than those made from what I like to call Frankenfoods – foods dreamt up by chemists, not Mother Nature.

After my son was born, I quickly enrolled in a programme that brings you a different mixed organic panier (basket) of fresh fruits and vegetables every week. I registered our family for the 7kg box and delighted each week in picking up the panier and discovering what was inside. No two baskets were ever the same as the contents were all farm-fresh and based on seasonal availabilities. It is here where I received my first céleri-rave (celeriac) and boy did that throw me for a curve! I was quite honestly stumped by this knobby, white-ish, brown-ish, lumpy ball in my basket. I had to resort to Google to figure out what it was as the paniers never came with a list, just a box full of surprises that Forrest Gump’s mama would have been proud of. Somehow the search results didn’t help me understand this crazy little root vegetable any better.

So there I was, a celeriac in hand and no idea what to do with it. Many recipes online suggested to try making it into something that resembled mashed potatoes. That is what I did and having tried it,  I do not recommend it. First, little miss celeriac-novice here must have totally screwed up because I basically made mush, not mash. Second, I have discovered celeriac is SO MUCH BETTER and is worthy of dignified recipes that reach far beyond the depths of mash.

On one particular night out, Mr H and I went to this amazing little historic brasserie called Le Stella. Listed on the entrées menu (appetisers) was this curious-sounding dish called Céleri Rémoulade. It was described as an egg, celeriac and dijon mustard salad. Intrigued by the celeriac I had so clearly failed with before, I gave it a chance. That was about 6 years ago and I’ve been giving it a chance ever since! To say I fell in love with céleri rémoulade is an understatement. It is very basic but works so well on so many levels. Serve it as a side dish, a salad, an appetiser, etc. This isn’t complicated cooking but it IS well-worth it! I have tried several recipes/versions over the years and this is my particular blend and obviously my favourite!

Céleri Rémoulade

Serving sizes are hard to determine based on what you will be using this for but the good news is this makes a lot and lasts for several days in the fridge!

  • One celeriac
  • 2 egg yolks** (3 if your celeriac is large)
  • 250ml/1 cup quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons/15-30ml of quality dijon mustard (more or less if you prefer – also use more if your celeriac is large)
  • vinegar
  • lemon
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

Start with the best ingredients your budget allows for. A quality mustard and oil will taste so much better and really enhance the flavour of this dish.  You will need to peel your celeriac. For this I like to cut it in half to create flat surfaces then slowly cut the outer peel off with a sharp knife. Take your time doing this if you are a kitchen newbie.

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Gather all your ingredients together before you start, makes it less stressful and you won’t have a shock 3/4 of the way through that you are out of something!
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Carefully cut the celeriac in half to create flat surfaces for peeling.

Next peel your celeriac and then, if you are using a hand grater, begin to grate. If you have  food processor,  into smaller chunks that will easily grate.

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Cutting into smaller, more manageable pieces makes it easier for your food processor to handle.
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Weeeee!!!!!

Set aside your grated celeriac for a couple minutes. You can, if you want, toss in some lemon juice to stop from browning but if you work fast enough, that isn’t necessary.

You might notice at this point the sauce you are making is like a dijon-heavy, lemon-y mayonnaise. You would be correct. If the idea of using raw eggs scares you or you are too afraid to make your mayonnaise, you CAN use a store-bought version. Please make sure it is real, quality mayo and not something with the word “Whip” in the name! Substitute the mayo (about 250ml/1 cup) for the egg and oil, add the rest of the ingredients.

Begin by separating your eggs and adding the yolks to a bowl big enough to whisk in (don’t toss the egg whites out, you can store them in the fridge and add to an omelette, etc.). Add the dijon mustard, salt and pepper and start to whisk. Now, slowly, and I do mean slowly,begin to add the olive oil by drizzling in while you continue to whisk. Keep going until all the oil has been added. At this point, I squeeze in a lemon wedge or two to add some liquid and thin it out a bit. If I am I craving an acidic taste, I will also add about a teaspoon (5ml) of white vinegar. If necessary, add more salt and pepper to taste. You want a creamy, mayonnaise-like texture. Fluffy and creamy. Those are your keywords.

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Egg yolks and dijon
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Slowly add the olive oil by drizzling in while you whisk.
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Adding a touch of vinegar gives the sauce/mayonnaise a slightly more acidic taste that I happen to love!

All that is left to do at this point is mix the celeriac and sauce, then place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to marinade. Serve with salad greens, tomatoes, parsley, you name it. This is a versatile and yummy side dish or appetiser that will please you way more than celeriac mush. I promise!!

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Mix, mix, mix!! I add small amounts of celeriac at a time. This way I don’t run out of sauce vs. how much celeriac I grated. You can always add more, you can’t take away!!!
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Mixed and ready to chill!
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Enjoy!!

**PLEASE NOTE: I am compelled to remind you that choosing to eat raw egg yolks is just that, YOUR choice. As a blogger, I am not responsible for your choice and assume no subsequent liability.

Photos: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Soupe à l’oignon gratinée

I’m just someone who likes cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression.

– Maya Angelou

What fun is life as an expat if you don’t indulge in the local cuisine? Before I jump into any recipes, I want to share with you my history with cooking and where my love of trying new ideas comes from. In thinking back to the start of my culinary ride, I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t cook. Sure I have had cooking fails over the years but I truly feel like my hands have been in the kitchen my entire life. I learned to make pretty complicated things at a young age (yes Dad, I’m referring to ‘could you whip up a lasagna for tonight?’ at 10 years old).  I learned kids basics, too: soup, Kraft Dinner (mac ‘n cheese for my American friends), pancakes, pizza dough, etc. I was always interested in what was going on in our kitchen. I tried some pretty fancy things, too, including learning how to make chocolate éclairs with my amazing Aunt H when I was still a kid. All of these early kitchen moments still stay with me and are quite noticeably tied to my life as a mother of two youngsters who both love to cook, as well.

In 1996 I registered to become a Chef Apprentice under the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. This programme has changed since then but it still operates in a fairly similar fashion. As an apprentice, you must complete around 3000 hours of on-the-job training, working with various chefs, then complete the programme at a designated college or university. I can honestly say that what I learned in that time has stayed with me far longer than a lot of other things I learned in school (Pythagorean’s Theorem, anyone?). I worked professionally for several years before putting my culinary life behind me. I started to dislike cooking. I found myself frustrated by intricate dishes and wanted comfort foods. I lost my cooking mojo and it stayed lost for many years.

In time, I began a new journey. A journey that has landed me here, in what many consider, the culinary capital of the world. Paris has been an interesting place to live as far as dining, cooking and food exploration is concerned. I have learned to give green beans a chance. I have learned about the different butters that exists and how to use them in pretty much everything. I have learned to make things like Coq au vin, Charlotte aux Fraises and ratatouille (recipes coming in time). Yet, I came here with some classics already in my pocket and have learned that sometimes, I like MY version better! Take for instance the timeless soupe à l’oignon gratinée aka French Onion Soup. One of my absolute favourite dishes especially when I am on a ski holiday in the Alps. Nothing is better at warming you up on a cold winter day, except maybe fondue!! However, I have been routinely disappointed in actual restaurants here with their soup. I even complained in a famous Parisian restaurant once about it being too watery to which my polite French waitress replied, “but madame, there is water in soup!”

So, it seemed fitting to me when I decided I would incorporate local dishes in this blog (hungry adventurers have to eat!) that I would start with one of my favourites: soupe à l’oignon gratinée. This recipe is my own take on this soup and you don’t have to agree with how I make it. It’s OK. All I can say is that boy oh boy does this version ever do the trick for me!

**Please do not attempt this soup at 6pm hoping to eat it for 6:30pm. She needs time to really develop her flavours and to rush it would be a sin.  I generally make mine in the afternoon then turn off the heat, cover and let it sit for the rest of the day. I reheat just in time for dinner then add the cheese and bread. At this point, this dish is complete perfection.

Soupe à l’oignon gratinée:

Makes 4 – 6 servings depending on your bowl and appetite size

  • 700g thinly sliced onions (I use a mix of yellow and red to enhance the flavour)
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely diced
  • 30g flour (optional – just makes it slightly less watery)
  • 1-1,5L beef, chicken or vegetable stock (for a veggie-friendly version)
  • 100ml red wine
  • 5ml or 1tsp thyme
  • 30ml or 2tbs Worcestershire sauce (there are vegan versions if you prefer)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper
  • stale bread (day old baguette is perfect)
  • Grated cheese (I use a mixture of Emmental, Gruyère and Comté)

Directions:

Melt butter in a pot over medium heat. Add onions and begin to simmer, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes. You want them soft, translucent and slightly caramelised. Add the garlic, stir, then add flour and quickly stir again to coat the onions, not allowing it to stick to the bottom of the pot. Once all the onions are coated, add your wine and thyme (oooh a rhyme!). Stir again for a minute or so. At this point, at the remaining ingredients (stock, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf and pepper, leaving the salt out for now). Leave simmering for at least 30 minutes. Watch your liquid level doesn’t boil off too much, if needed you can add some more stock or water. When you are done you can either leave it to settle for a while like I do or move onto the next step: CHEESE AND BREAD!

Simmering away!
Simmering away!

You can accomplish this next step one of two ways: traditionally the soup is served into each bowl, topped with slices or chunks of stale bread, further topped with mounds of cheese then broiled to a crisp, salty, golden, cheesy perfection. However, not everyone HAS the right types of bowls for the oven so there is an alternate method. Get a cookie sheet and make little piles of bread topped with cheese for however many bowls of soup you are preparing. Make sure that they will fit into your bowl size after being in the oven otherwise you will create a big mess. Broil these bad boys then use a spatula to carefully transfer them on top of your soup! Voilà!

Parfait!
Parfait!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia