Friday, February 22, 2013

Quiet week

The past week has been a rather quiet one. Not many apartment viewings were scheduled, and although we got an email thanking us for one of our applications and informing us that they would choose three finalists for interviews, we've heard nothing further. This may be due to the fact that we have not been sending in a cover letter with our application, a fact that we realized (Ok, I "discovered" and B "remembered"; his response - "Oh yeah, I did do that for this apartment. Hmm. Interesting.") after sending out all but one of our applications. Oops.

Hopefully we'll have better luck with the next round of applications - we have six viewings scheduled for next week. I think that a cover letter will definitely help to explain why B has a mysteriously appearing wife with no apparent background (on paper, it does look like I just materialized in his apartment 6 weeks ago). We can also work in a not-so-subtle references to his job (yay for paycheck security) and my Harvard PhD (Don't we sound RESPONSIBLE? Even if I am unemployed? Plz let us have an apartment!).

German class continues apace. We started on some heavy vocab this week, and I did know heading in that German likes to spread the object gender love, as it has masculine and feminine as well as neuter definite articles (in contrast to English, which has only neuter, and French, which has only masc. and fem.). So I had braced myself for that (and, it turns out, it's not too terrible, since for the indefinite, the masc. and neuter have the same artikel. What I mean to say is that it's not too terrible yet).

What I had not anticipated was the unbelievable variety of ways to pluralize nouns. It's A LOT. And it's not similar to English, in which you typically throw on an 's' or 'es' at the end and learn the exceptions (mice, geese, etc). No, no. There are around TEN WAYS a noun can be pluralized. And to make it better, there are very, very few rules. Yep. Similar to parlay code, it's more what'd you call "guidelines" than actual rules. Much of this week has been spent frantically searching for index cards in stores so that I can make flashcards before the vocabulary gets out of hand (which it may already be, but I'm going to give it my best effort this weekend).

The good news is that although I feel that I may be slowly slipping further underwater in class, I am starting to understand more of my surroundings. I've been able to pick apart some advertisements on the tram (or at least understand what they are advertising), and on Wednesday I was absurdly excited when a girl behind me answered her phone and bluntly asked "Wo bist du [Where are you]?" Simple enough, but still - small victories.

On the other  hand, I've had two instances this week where I was "spoken" at in German, but never quite reached the conversation stage (not counting my second run in with the sweet lady neighbor, again revolving around laundry). On Monday, I ran for a bus that had already closed its doors, and when I got on, the driver decided to yell back at me about...something. Instructions? Berating me for holding up the bus (they do like their timetables here)? I had no idea, so I just sat down. In an attempt that I marked down as "well-meaning," another passenger in front of me turned around and tried to ...comfort? explain?..., but since it was also in German (and I'm 80% sure it was Swiss German), I just sunk further into my seat and gave more apologetic smiles. The bus driver's admonitions certainly worked on some level - for the rest of the week, I have made sure that I am at least 2 minutes earlier than the posted bus time.

The second instance was a tad less embarrassing, if only because it was not a direct result of my actions. I was waiting on a tram when an older women decided, out of all the people at the stop, that I was to be the lucky recipient of her rant. I'm not sure what it involved, but there were a LOT of numbers in it (some of the few words I can reliably catch), so my guess is that she had been waiting for a while for her tram, while other buses and tram lines have come and gone. I tried nodding but she seemed to want more than that, so I gave a few muttered "Yah, yah"s. The first time, she took it and ran. "YAH!" she agreed, and let a few more sentences fly. The next time she stopped and looked at me, I tried it again, but there was an awkward pause after, as if this was not the expected response. At that point, she may have started to clue in that, in fact, I possessed no understanding of what she was saying. She muttered a few more things and we moved away from each other in a slow, penguin-like shuffle, blissfully stepping through separate doors on the arriving tram.
At least in that case, I felt that the embarrassment was likely shared. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

A walk on the Uetliberg

I've been under the weather the past couple days, which mainly involves sleeping and lying about, dragging myself to German class, followed by more lying around (with several apartment viewings mixed in - we applied to another yesterday evening, so fingers crossed!). So our Valentine's day was a bit of a bust - I fell asleep by 9 pm, and that was the latest I'd been awake in the past three days. We'll do something fun this weekend to make up for it - I definitely owe B for putting up with a sick, listless wife all week.

However, I was feeling fine last Sunday, so B and I decided to go for a walk up Zurich's nearby mountain, the Uetliberg. Once there, we realized there had been a slight miscommunication about "walk" vs "hike" - B was ready to head straight up the side of the mountain, while I wanted to walk along a nice trail that circled the base and wasn't nearly as challenging. We did the latter, so we didn't make it up to the top for the spectacular view afforded there (so I've heard), but it was still a beautiful outing.

Zurich has had almost constant snow since I arrived, from light dustings to heavier snowfall that affected transportation. I've been told by those in the know (aka, people who live here) that the amount of snow this winter has been highly unusual, at least for the city itself. Sunday happened to be a clear day, one of the few we've had, so the scenery was just wonderful. The Uetliberg is heavily crossed by sledding and hiking trails, so even the streams are nice and orderly.

The manmade touches were subtle, though, and mixed with nature's beauty well. I was especially pleased when there was an opening in the trees and we managed to get a view of Zurich, even without traipsing too far up the mountain.

We headed back down shortly after, but we will definitely return - maybe once I'm a bit more in shape and am prepared for an actual hike (that means bringing snacks. One always needs snacks for hikes).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

German class continues

Yesterday, we learned "he" and "she" in German class. Our teacher pulled out a series of photos of various celebrities and quizzed us: "Wer ist das?" It led to a lot of red faces - it turns out that there aren't many celebrities that have truly global appeal (or at least not nearly as many as celebrity-obsessed American culture might lead one to believe). We also had no vocabulary to describe what they do (actor, musician, politician), so nobody really broadened their pop culture knowledge.

I was interrogated about Antonio Banderas and managed to come up with his name (I did have a momentary pause, as the picture was probably at least 20 years old, which appeared to be embarrassingly slow, judging by the mutterings of the Spanish students in the class). I was blown away when a Portuguese woman couldn't identify Paul McCartney (from the classic moptop Beatles days), but found myself on the ignorant end when the instructor held up a picture of dancing man of African descent with dreads. "Das ist DJ Bubbles!" several voices called out. I looked at the Hungarian woman next to me. "Who on earth is DJ Bubbles?" I whispered.

Unfortunately the instructor hushed us and I never found out. So, of course, I googled him when I got home. Can a person even be a celebrity without a wikipedia page!? (Please note sarcasm here. I don't really follow music, and the interview I found with him online was in English and referred to him as "legendary," so this is obviously a deficiency in my own personal pop culture knowledge).

However, my ignorance was at least private, since the instructor was not addressing me specifically. I felt for the Hungarian when the instructor pulled up the image of an oil painting and turned to her. "Wer ist das?" The room fell silent. Old dead white guy, I thought - but we haven't learned any of those adjectives, so I couldn't lighten the moment. She sputtered, and the instructor double checked the image, then turned back to her. "Yah, Ungarn [Hungary]!" he urged, as a way of encouraging her. I was still drawing a blank, so I silently applauded her when she hazarded a guess. "Liszt?" she whispered.

And lo and behold, that is exactly who it was! Now, I enjoy classical music, but I wouldn't know a picture of Beethoven from Tchaikovsky, so kudos to her. Perhaps Liszt is the only famous dead white guy that Hungary has produced.

But either way, at least he has a wikipedia page.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My first German class

Yesterday afternoon I started German classes here in Zurich. I arrived (much too) early, as I was a little nervous. Upon entering the classroom, another early student leaned over and introduced himself (possibly in German? I understood nothing). I said my name, repeated it once, didn't know how to ask him to repeat his, and sat down to fiddle nervously with my notebook.

The other student, whom I later learned was Hungarian, started talking to the teacher who was packing up to leave the room. I caught only that this was an A1 class (aka, super beginner class), but the fact that the conversation happened in German confirmed my nerves. I am so going to be the only person who doesn't already know some German. Screwed.

As the students filed in, there was a strange energy in the air. Nobody, myself included, seemed eager to talk, but we all obviously wondered what languages others spoke. When there were four of us in the room, one man ventured forth "Espanol?"I shook my head, but someone else apparently gestured that they knew a little. "No mas papas," the student tried. I frowned in concentration. Isn't papa what B calls his father? No more fathers? I shook my head. He repeated it, more urgently and gestured at his phone. "No mas papas!" I reviewed all of my limited Spanish vocabulary - patatas are potatoes. No more potatoes? Was papas something to do with the phone? Maybe no wifi signal in the classroom? I sighed and gave up - without the noun, the conversation, or the attempt at such, was going nowhere.

(Yesterday evening, I asked B about possible translations of this, and I suspect that the man had just read on his phone about the pope retiring. Although I clearly remember it in the plural, B pointed out this is unlikely. The pope (singular) is retiring, but I haven't read that the Catholic church plans to abandon Popes as a concept).

One girl sat down next to me and muttered "Hi" under her breath. I took the leap that she spoke English and inquired. She turned out to be Australian. Overall, there are about a dozen fellow students in the class - the Australian and another American were the only other native English speakers, although I would guess that around eight of the dozen of us can speak English to widely varying degrees. I was surprised (although perhaps I shouldn't have been) that the largest group in the class was South American (Brazilian or various other countries), so there was a lot of muttered Spanish going around as we all tried to figure out what the teacher was saying. There were also three Hungarians (one who was fluent in English, in talking to her after class, while I think the other two spoke Russian). At least two women in the class rattled off four to five languages when asked (in German) what they spoke. Show offs.

A language class where there is no common language is quite a different experience from any other language class I've been to in the US, where concepts and phrases can be explained at length in English. In this class, there can be no explanations, and often the question is only understood when the answer is given. But the teacher is obviously well-versed in this approach and I was impressed at his ability to explain without words (ok, it also helps that a lot of words sound like English with a German accent; mit Respekt, etc). I believe that he does speak excellent English, although I am less confident that he understood the Spanish speakers. He did resort to English at the very end of class so that we all knew what homework to do.

Overall, the class went well and I was pleased that I already knew my numbers and some of the basic questions (How old are you? Where are you from?), which put me ahead of some others, although there are definitely several in the class who can already have basic conversations in German. Our accents are all over the place, so I'm sure future classes will have some interesting misunderstandings.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Exploring Zurich West

On Saturday, B and I had two apartment viewings in the morning (both a bust, unfortunately. I am flexible about many things, but I will not live in a place with a dorm-sized refrigerator) and then a few errands to run. After that, we headed off on an exploratory date to Zurich West, the hottest upcoming area of town, according to Newly Swissed.

I was glad I had read the article and double checked the addresses, because otherwise I would've walked right by the first set of "designer shops" and dismissed them as vacant buildings given over to graffiti. Even after reading that the Freitag store was made from former shipping containers, the reality was stranger than I expected.

The Freitag store, as viewed from its front steps.
Freitag makes its bags from old truck tarps, seat belts, and bike tires, making each one unique. I certainly applaud their ingenuity and some of the bags were quite attractive. I just wasn't fond of the rather large price tag that went along with them (to be fair, there were some wallets and small bags that were under $100).

Had to switch to camera phone, apologies for the blurriness. Lovely bag, I believe it was around 400 CHF (~$440).

Looking down on the ground floor from the first. It did feel a bit like being in a cage.

There were also several other high-end shops in the area, although both B and I found ourselves hesitant to enter stores that looked, at least on the outside, convincingly abandoned.

Does this say "designer shops" to you? It didn't to us. I suppose, in some ways, that was the point. The disconnect between environment and product. They succeeded extremely well.

There was even a shop in a bus.

They actually had a lot of cute items (in my opinion), although no place to try them on, and the lighting was quite poor. This made more sense when, as we were leaving, the salesman asked if we lived in Switzerland. It turns out that they have an online shop with free shipping anywhere in Switzerland - I'm inclined to believe that the "bus boutique" is more of a novelty than profitable venture.

We then headed off to a new shopping district nearby called Im Viaduct. On the way, we discovered more (overly) expensive, upcycled stores, including a furniture store selling items such as file cabinets that already have rust and scrapes (Ok, ok - I know this is a style and I've seen it done attractively in magazine layouts, but to me the concept is similar to buying jeans that already have holes in them. I fix or throw out my jeans when they get holes in them - why would I purchase ones that are pre-damaged!?).

On the front stoop of the furniture store. It made about as much sense as the rest of the store to me.
One interesting observation I found was that about half or more of the books sold in these stores were in English - the highest percentage I've seen anywhere in Zurich (well, outside of the English bookstore). I'm not sure if this is because there are many native English-speaking tourists that come to this area, or if English is just the most likely language that any tourist will speak (Salespeople in these shops spoke at least four languages, probably more - we were not in the shops for long).

Im Viadukt had a wider array of shops - some stores, whether clothing or furniture (or of unknown goods) were open by appointment only, while others were brands I had seen around Zurich and were fairly middle-range (well, for Switzerland. I am still in off-the-boat shock at all prices in this country).

The start of Im Viadukt. There were at least 60 shops in total. 

We didn't spent too much time browsing in the shops, though, since by this point I was starving. At the far end of Im Viadukt is an indoor market (called Markthalle), with lots of little stands selling produce, wine, cheese, and pasta. There is also a restaurant there that has daily specials and (if google translate is correct), uses items from the stands in the market to make many of its dishes. B wisely steered me away from the food stands and we sat down for lunch immediately. The menu turned out to be rather indecipherable (even google translate on our phones often didn't know what to do with the words - perhaps it was in Swiss German?), so we each opted for a daily special that we felt confident we knew what we were ordering. I ordered pasta carbonara, which was tasty if nothing special, while B ordered a cordon bleu that was decidedly delicious, and I thought the potatoes that accompanied it were possibly even better.

The best part of the meal was by far the dessert. We ordered a chocolate creme brulee with cardamom. The cardamom was very strong, the chocolate was almost bitter, and the real sweetness in the dish came from the caramelized sugar on top. It was unbelievably good - the sole problem was that we only ordered one and had to share it.

We did share this - you can only see one spoon because B had his poised to steal more as soon as I took the picture.
We returned home after, tired and fully satiated. 

Overall, I was glad to get to explore a region of the city that neither B nor I had seen before. Fundamentally, we're just not trendy (or rich) enough to participate in the area, but it was certainly lovely to walk around and observe. And I'll definitely return, even if only to order dessert over and over (and over) again.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

First neighbor encounter

Yesterday morning, on my way out, I ran into one of B's neighbors for the first time. Cute little lady with white hair and a nice smile. She was bidding farewell to a few visitors (possibly adult children?) as I fumbled with our apartment lock. I smiled brightly and said "Gruezi!"- the catchall greeting in Swiss German (replacing Guten tag, etc),  although I do occasionally hear Guten abend ("Good evening") here. She smiled and replied in kind, and I started to head down the stairs, pleased with myself that I was such a friendly, if rather mute, person.

But then she started talking to me and I turned back slowly, my eyes wide.

I used my one good German phrase - I'm sorry, I don't speak any German - with an accompanying apologetic smile. I use this a lot, to try to get across the point that I know I am in their country and I really should speak their language but well.... I don't. Not yet, anyway. (How does one say "I am starting class on Monday, please talk to me slowly in a couple weeks"?)

"Ah!" She nodded "What do you speak?" (Internally: "Score! I understood that!")

"English," I replied, adding hopefully, "ou francais?" My French is rusty but still functional, and it makes me feel better to offer another option. Unfortunately, nobody in Zurich has ever taken me up on it.

She gestured to the people who had just gone downstairs in mild regret. I sighed and performed an apologetic shrug (hopefully translated as "Ah, sorry - but what can you do?"), but she wasn't done yet. She started rattling off German - pronouncing it slowly and clearly, as if perhaps I was just a little slow. 

At one point she gestured back towards my door. I thought perhaps she wondered if B was home. "He' work." I replied, realizing that I have no idea how to say "work" or "job" in German, I had no idea if she was even asking me that, and to top it off, she had no idea what I was saying - I was doing the exact same thing to her she was doing to me.

 I caught one word, washing. "Ah yah, washing!" I nodded. Seemingly encouraged, she started again, and this time I caught four words - the washing dates that we are assigned each month (2 days per apartment). She said both our dates and her dates and several unknown verbs that appeared to end in a question. I nodded hesitantly and she seemed satisfied. I made a mental note to text B and have him talk to her, to figure out what I had just agreed to. She then sent me off with a merry wave and more German, and I realized I couldn't remember how to say "Have a nice day" or "See you later." All my transactions have been purchases at this point, so I always ended with "Thank you."

Let's just say, I'm looking forward to starting classes on Monday, and I have quite a bit of motivation for studying. Especially since we may not be able to do any laundry this month. 

Do they have laundromats in Zurich?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Settling in

I've now been in Zurich for 3.5 weeks, and I'm starting to settle into some sort of routine. The first morning activity after B leaves for work is to spend a solid 1-2 hours on apartment websites. We've been making the rounds of open houses and also gotten bolder (and faster, which is key) about emailing for apartments that don't have scheduled free visitations. We've only applied to a couple places, as we are trying to be selective and make sure we actively want to live in a place, and not just escape the current studio situation.

The rest of the morning is usually spent straightening and cleaning up after the previous day's cooking/baking messes - and, to be completely honest, scrolling through all the facebook happenings of my friends in the US, since I usually am in bed before the east coast gets out of work.

Waiting for the train up the mountain - sleds at the ready.
It's been grey and either rainy (blech) or snowy (so pretty) the past 2 weeks, so it's been challenging to force myself out of the house in the afternoons. However, this past Wednesday I did make it to the German language school I'd chosen after searching around online. I made the mistake of asking for a placement exam - how optimistic of me.

I've been using some podcasts and a (rather poor quality, but cheap) CD language set to try to expose to me to some German, and apparently it hasn't really worked. I thought I was improving - I'm able to say hello, thank you, goodbye, excuse me, and differentiate when the cashier lady asks me if I have a loyalty card ("zuperkarte?") vs if I want a bag (Ok, I don't know what she's saying, but it doesn't have the word "karte"in it). I can ask how it's going informally (which, btw, is a big rub I have with several courses. Why am I learning the informal - do you think I'll be speaking German to all my closest friends?), although apparently you aren't supposed to ask that if you don't really want to know how someone is feeling. I can even read some of the food at the grocery store in German and not depend on the French in tiny letters below ("die Milch-produkt, yah!").

I shamefacedly returned to the school counter after fifteen minutes of guessing what the instructions were telling me to do (there were blank lines for some questions - free form answers? Are you kidding me?) and signed up for the first beginner's course. Two hours a day in the afternoon, five days a week, and it starts on Monday! I am eager to start learning in a more productive setting, and also pretty terrified that I'll be the one ignoramus in class who actually doesn't know any German (yes, even though it's the zuper beginning course).

I've been doing more scientific manuscript editing recently as well, a part-time remote job that I signed up for while finishing my dissertation, but have only really had time for since arriving in Zurich. In my limited experience, the papers are of vastly varying quality, and I think that I obsess a bit more than necessary about changes, but I'm early on in my contract and still intent on making the best impression I can so that the company will continue to send me work. Overall, I'm enjoying it - it allows me to still feel somewhat connected to science as well as have some short-term deadlines and goals.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dinner and a chocolate berry tart

Last night I managed to produce both a main dish and a dessert before B got home - the first time ever I've accomplished such a feat (I even did a round of dishes as well!). Perhaps it wasn't a huge fait accompli in the larger picture, but it made for a lovely, relaxing evening - and both dishes turned out quite tasty. And yes, the week's theme of lime made an appearance in both!

For the main dish, I served up basically this shrimp dish over rice. I've made it several times before (it's on my tried and true board on Pinterest, where I stash my favorite recipes), and it always turns out well.

Since I am a bit gun shy around meat of any type (including seafood), I wimped out and bought tiny frozen shrimp that had been pre-cooked, making the preparation a total breeze (although to be fair, I do like the small shrimp - you get some in every bite and don't have to worry about the tails). I love this dish because it's so wonderfully flavorful - both the lime and the cumin are highlighted.
Yum, shrimp.
I won't take you step by step through the recipe, but safe to say that I encourage anyone to try it out - the marinade has a lot of flexibility in how to prep it. I use much less olive oil than it calls for (maybe 1-2 tablespoons) and usually a bit more garlic. Really, I can't recommend the recipe enough - it's quick, easy, tasty, and probably uses ingredients that you already have in your kitchen.

So tasty. This was originally meant to be a serving bowl, but I ate the whole thing. B joined his gym at work this week - I definitely need to start finding my own work out motivation.

For dessert, I made a chocolate berry tart. I started with this recipe for a rustic raspberry tart, but my finished product bore little resemblance to it by the end. Also, I still don't have my rolling pin (I have an extremely nice silicone one that I shipped from the US, but it's in one of the boxes being held hostage by the Post), so things got a little dicey with the crust part. Apologies, I didn't get pictures of the early steps, nor did I remember to weigh anything other than the butter.

This slice was way too small. I had thirds - and I'm not even sorry :)

Combine the flour and sugar, then cut in the butter until it looks like very coarse crumbs. I used a pastry cutter (brought from the US) for this step, since I don't have a food processor or blender, but I'm sure those would work just as well (or better). If you don't have any of the above, I've made do in the past by cutting the butter into small chunks before adding it to the flour, then using a fork to smash it into small pieces. Unlike cookies, you really want the butter to be cold, so that it can be cut in and not just mush together.

Add the milk and vinegar until you can form a dough. Now, the original recipe called for  only 3 TB of milk, but I swear that the "all purpose" flour here is more absorbent or something - I often find myself having to add more liquid to get doughs the consistency I need. But definitely get some vinegar in there - it causes a nice flaky texture to the crust. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and flatten. Put in the refrigerator for an hour or so until it's nice and firm.

While the dough is refrigerating, mix together the zest, sugar, and flour in a bowl. Add the berries and toss to coat. I added a small squeeze of lime juice at this point as well - just because.

Frozen/fresh raspberries/blackberries, which are my two favorites.
After your dough is firm, take it out of the fridge but keep it either in the plastic wrap or on some parchment paper - if you add more flour at this point you'll end up with a drier, not so nice crust. Roll out the dough in a circle-ish shape until it's around 1/4" (<1cm) thick and 12" (30 cm) in diameter (preferably with a rolling pin, but you know - whatevs).

Not a rolling pin.
Place the crust into a pie or tart pan and even it out around the edges as best you can.

The nice thing about the plastic wrap or parchment paper is that you can keep  it attached to one side of the crust when you place it in the pan, then just peel it off and voila! Crust in the pan.
With some re-allocation of resources, the lack of rolling pin wasn't too noticeable.
Add the filling in - at this point, I decided to throw some what-passes-for-chocolate-chips-here (small chocolate chunks) on top, just to fill in the cracks. This turned out to be a wise move.

Bake for 35 minutes at 400F (205C). Take out, let cool. If you'd like, you can dust the top with some powdered sugar (I did this. Do this).

Fresh out of the oven.

The berries evened out well, and the filling was wonderful - not as runny as I feared. The lime taste does come through (B couldn't taste it, of course, but for normal people, it was there), but my favorite part was definitely the chocolate + berries, one of my favorite flavor combinations.

PS - This is a discussion I've had before with friends and coworkers (actually several times - is that weird?), but what exactly is the difference between a pie and a tart? Discuss.

1 and 1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup (114g) cold butter
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vinegar

5 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons flour
zest from one lime
400g (or thereabouts) berries
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Powdered sugar (optional)

Mix flour and sugar. Cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add in milk and vinegar, form the dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, flatten, and put in the refrigerator for around one hour until firm. For filling, mix together sugar, flour, and zest, then add berries and toss gently to coat. When the dough is chilled, roll out the crust to around 12" (30cm) in diameter (try not to use extra flour at this step). Place the crust into a greased pie or tart pan. Spread filling in the crust, sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Bake at 400F (205C) for 35 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes, then dust with powdered sugar if desired. Dig in.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lime ginger cookies

For a blog that takes its name from a baked good, I've been doing a very poor job of sharing any accomplishments in the kitchen thus far. I've made quite a few meals and desserts (pb chocolate chip shortbread, potatoes au gratin, sweet rolls, pasta with pancetta/peas/cream sauce), I just haven't remembered to take pictures of many of them.

This week, I'll be featuring lime as a key ingredient. Often overlooked for its larger, more common cousin the lemon, limes are just as versatile and, in my opinion, much tastier. My Peruvian husband has a serious addiction ("Everything tastes better with lime on it!" - and he follows through, from chili to potatoes to fruit), and he's pretty much converted me.

So, when I found this recipe on Pinterest for lemon cookies, I figured it could be easily adapted - and it was. The cookies are sweet yet tart, and a wonderful divergence from the chocolate chip/standard cookie taste (Disclaimer: I have nothing against chocolate chip cookies - I love them and I will post a recipe next week for an amazing oatmeal chocolate chip. Just sayin' sometimes it's nice to branch out).

I've only tweaked a couple things from the recipe linked above (namely, adding ginger and increasing the amount of lime juice), so just want to make sure I give full credit to it.

Just a little shoutout to my kitchen scale. Makes adding ingredients so easy - just tare before each one! I'm quickly converting to the European idea of ingredients by weight. Except it means having to convert each of my recipes as I make it, and sometimes I forget to re-tare.
 First, as with many cookies, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Butter should be at room temperature - take it out and be patient! Go make yourself a cup of tea or vodka and wait it out. Growing up, I always wanted to get my bake ON and just stuck the butter in the oven or microwave to half-melt. Turns out, there's an actual reason this leads to poorer texture in the resulting cookies (although the taste will remain the same, so don't beat yourself up about it).

Mmm, can I start eating the "dough" early?
Add in the vanilla, egg, lime zest, and lime juice. Back in Boston, I had homemade vanilla from beans and vodka that I used in all my baking. Here, I've purchased the beans, but haven't obtained the spirits yet, and I've had a hard time finding actual vanilla extract (as opposed to some weird vanilla aroma thing that is definitely NOT the same thing). The closest I've found is this:

Technical difficulties, blogger doesn't want to upload the cropped, zoomed image.

Smells like vanilla, not sure why it's "en poudre," but I've been using it in my baking for the past week and it seems to do the trick, although it's been lots of guesswork for how much to add.

Mmm, the stars of the show. Post-zesting. Also - if you want to make juicing easier, apply pressure and roll the limes around on the counter some. Really makes a difference if the limes are a bit old or dry.
As for the lime zest, I wanted to use 2 limes' worth, but my zester failed about halfway through, so it ended up being about 1.5 limes' worth (see above). I also used 1.5 limes' worth of juice (about 55 ml - they were very juicy limes). Honestly, it depends how much you like citrus - I love it and B uses it so often that he can't even taste it unless it's screaming strong.

Mix until everything is incorporated - your batter at this point will look like it's curdled. That's ok.

Add in the salt, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, and flour. Stir briefly until everything comes together. Honestly, I used powdered ginger because that is what I had - but I think the cookies would only be better if one used fresh or crystallized ginger.

From here on out, my pictures are a bit off the mark - we had to run off to an apartment viewing in the middle of my preparation - so do as I say, not as I do. :)

The dough should be light and slightly sticky, but you should be able to form small (1-inch) balls with the help of a spoon. If it's too sticky add a bit more flour and try again.

Put the powdered sugar in a bowl and drop the dough into it, rolling it around until the ball is well covered with sweet goodness.

Yep, bowl - not a plate. Bowl definitely works better.

Place the balls on a greased (or parchment paper covered) baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven until the bottoms show the tiniest hint of brown and the tops of the cookies are no longer shiny. I think our oven is painfully slow to warm up, so it took almost 15 minutes for me, but the original recipe calls for 9-11 minutes.

Let the cookies cool on the pan for at least 3 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack, otherwise they will fall apart. Enjoy! Other than the flavor, one of the reasons I love these cookies is because they are unbelievably soft and moist - and stay that way, even after they've cooled.

1/2 cup (1 stick/114g) butter, at room temperature
1 cup (215g) sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or random pinch of vanilla powder)
1 egg
Zest from 1-2 limes
55 ml lime juice (1-2 limes)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of baking soda
1 3/4 cup (220g) all-purpose flour

powdered sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Cream butter and sugar. Add in vanilla, egg, zest, and juice, mix briefly until combined. Slowly mix in salt, baking powder, baking soda, and flour until combined. Drop heaping teaspoonfuls of dough into powdered sugar and roll to coat. Place onto lightly greased/parchment covered baking sheet and bake until the edges start to brown and the centers are not shiny (10-12 minutes). Let cool on baking sheet for 3-5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Art and living (in a sense)

Exciting happenings are afoot. On Friday, I (finally) finished a paper draft for my PhD and got it sent off (there will be acres of revisions, but at least the initial effort is done). Then I checked the mail and was thrilled to find this waiting for me:

Yay! I'm legally living in Switzerland now! For those who aren't familiar, there are several types of permits for Switzerland (similar to all the visas available in the US, but not quite as many options).

...Ok, I just spent 15 minutes looking around for a nice, simple link to explain the different permits. I can't find one. So bear with me.

Turning old junk into art that moves - Jean Tinguely's modus operandi (see bottom of the post for explanation of pictures)
Swiss citizens are just that - citizens. They get to vote and take part in government and probably have a lot of benefits that I don't know about. Interestingly, almost a quarter of the Swiss population is not, in fact, Swiss, as measured by citizenship or wage earners (this factual tidbit and probably many others in this post courtesy of Diccon Bewes in his book Swiss Watching).

Right below the citizens are the C permit holders. This is what B (the husband) has - he moved to Switzerland when he was a minor with his family and has been here for 10+ years. The best analogy in the US would be the green card. The C permit allows the holder to live and work in any canton in the country (more on cantons in another post - they are similar to "states" but function more independently, making life WAY more interesting if you want to move from one to the other). Critically - in our case - it also allowed him to petition the Swiss government for a family reunification, which allowed me my visa to join him. These permits have to be renewed every five years.

One of the works that was large enough to walk up (sadly not on the spiral staircase)
Because B is a C permit holder, as his wife, I was granted a "B" permit. Usually this permit has to be renewed more often - as in, every year - and it can come either with or without gainful employment or activity (aka, it either has work restrictions or doesn't). It's typically given as a long-term work permit to foreign employees entering into Switzerland, and it doesn't allow the holder to switch cantons willy-nilly, as it is usually linked to a specific job or employer.

Part of the work that was on display in anticipation of the upcoming Fasnacht celebration in Basel.
Another old Fasnacht mask on the work.
Since I am the wife of C permit holder, however, I have several benefits on my B permit, particularly since the husband is actually an EU citizen (yes, he's also Peruvian - his world heritage is a great, albeit rather long, conversation starter). For one thing, I don't have to renew it every year - instead, mine expires on the same day as his C permit. For another, I can search for employment here without having to prove that I have qualifications that unemployed Swiss citizens in my canton do not (I believe this is something usually done by the hiring company in order to get the government to issue B permits for a worker entering Switzerland). However, if we ever moved cantons, I would have to re-register and get a new B permit from that canton (currently we are laying siege to the Zurich canton, though, since B is painfully close to being eligible for Swiss citizenship).

One of Tinguely's earlier works - an abstract piece with hidden moving parts, that allow the painting to change  as the viewer watches.
Below the B permit holders are the L permits, which are even more temporary - less than a year, though renewable - and work-linked, and finally the G permit holders, who are people that work in Switzerland but live in a neighboring country.

I would've taken this chair home with me if I thought I could've gotten it past security.
No interest in taking this home, thanks.
In less technical news, B and I visited his family in Basel and stopped by the Tinguely museum with his mother. It was quite interesting; I'd seen his Stravinsky fountain in Paris, but didn't realize that so much of his other work had a decidedly macabre angle to it. Apparently he witnessed a barn fire near his home in 1986 and made several of his works with remnants from that fire. Creepy. Earlier in his career he set a large inflatable penis on fire and also had a display simply titled "La Vide" that was the art gallery empty, as some sort of representation of "immaterial sensibility," if I remember the quote correctly. So he wasn't exactly well-balanced prior to the barn fire. His wikipedia entry is pitifully sparse - does anyone know of any better sources to read about him?
Skulls were a common sight in many of the pieces. Only disturbing if you remembered that they're real.

I'm not convinced that the man wasn't crazy - but I did enjoy this quote.