Sunday, March 31, 2013

NaNoWriMo camp!

Happy Easter everyone! Here in Switzerland, everything pretty much closes up for both Good Friday and Easter Monday, so B and I have been enjoying a quiet weekend. I actually finished my crochet basket already - largely aided by the hours that B and I have been sunk into Battlestar Galactica. We made a big run on both groceries and gardening supplies yesterday, the only day out of four (Fri-Mon) that places were open. I've become a true Swiss, much to B's amusement; I knew we wouldn't be able to get to a grocery store for two whole days (!) so I ended up with a page-long shopping list. We've been doing a fair amount of cleaning and straightening to prep the apartment for viewing.

From tripadvisor. I forgot to take pictures.
There are still some restaurants and bars open - on Friday night B and I went to tibits, a restaurant near the Opernhaus that a friend introduced me to earlier this week. They are open throughout Easter weekend, and we very well might end up going back tomorrow. The restaurant is a self-serve buffet, entirely vegetarian, and has an amazing variety of food - cold, hot, veggies, fried - that is constantly replenished. You pay after you fill your plate - by weight - and it's one of the few places I've been to in Zurich where you can eat your fill for around 20 CHF (1 CHF is around 1.1 USD). Even B, carnivore that he is, very much enjoyed it. It's the first place I've been to that has gone on my mental list of definite places to take visitors.

Also from tripadvisor.
We woke up to daylight savings time and snow this morning - I'm hoping that tomorrow April will usher in more spring-like weather (still no start on the balcony garden). April also ushers in Camp NaNoWriMo! For those who may not be familiar with National Novel Writing Month, it's a sponsored event in November in which people (regular people, not fancy real novelists) attempt to write 50k of a story over 30 days - an average of 1,334 words per day - while continuing their regular, craze-filled life. I've attempted it twice in the past three years, and failed both times - I got to around 35k words, but inevitably laundry, chores, or my experiments and dissertation got in the way the last week.

In addition to the official NaNoWriMo, their sponsors have started virtual "camps" at two other times during the year - April and July. These camps allow writers to set their own goals - a certain word count, revising or finishing other stories, etc. I've got a story outline and plan to go traditional - 50k words written in 30 days. Hopefully without a dissertation and with the support of B (who always does the dishes), I'll finish this time! As always at the beginning, hopes are high and views are optimistic. I'd love for anybody who is interested to join me - I have one friend who has expressed interest in making it her goal to finish a scientific paper manuscript. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Craftsy goodness (and bonus move date)

Just some randomness today -

First off, I added a couple more gadgets on the right side of this blog page, including a way to sign up for automatic email alerts whenever there is a new post (yay!), and a translation gadget. I make no guarantees for the accuracy of the translation, especially since my posts have a smattering of other languages in them. But some of B's family are much more comfortable in Spanish than in English (Hola!), and I've heard through the family grapevine that they are interested to know what's happening in our lives. I hope it works!

Second, I am one of the world's slowest and distracted crafters, but I just wanted to share that I finally finished a project! Celebration time! Woot! And not just finished-the-fun-part-but-still-need-to weave in ends/finish the backstitching/glue together the boards. REAL finished-finished. Of course, this is a scarf that I was supposed to give as a Christmas gift, so it's about four months late. In the grand scheme of my crafting, that's equivalent to being early (just ask my friend who is still waiting on her apron that is close to 2 years late - I still have to finish the "sprinkles" on the last cupcake). Now I just need to mail out the scarf - which, realistically, will probably take another month, minimum (even in the US I was bad at mailing things - I have many, many birthday/anniversary/christmas cards purchased with the best of intentions that languished in a drawer waiting for "next year"). Hopefully next winter will be just as cold as this one (although if it wants to stop snowing before April, that's ok), and it will be useful to the recipient then.
It's a scarf! Crocheted by moi, super soft (the yarn is bamboo/silk), and no large errors (no, the center is not black because I was about to run out of the other colors! Where would you get such an idea?). Ripple pattern is from here.

And, of course, I have immediately started on another project (never mind the half dozen unfinished ones in dark corners throughout the apartment and storage space). I'm claiming this one is vaguely utilitarian, since I am crocheting a basket for my yarn collection (that I use to crochet with - how meta.) Anyway - I'll probably post another picture in a year (or more) when it's done. Nobody hold their breath (but I promise that finishing that apron is top of my list post-basket!).
Partial basket bottom. I'm using a very thick jersey cotton "yarn," and I've never before had crocheting feel like such a wrestling match. Idea/vague pattern from here.
Other items - WE HAVE A MOVE DATE! We pick up the keys on April 26th to our new place!! Now we just need to find some potential tenants for our current apartment by May 1st. Which means some hard core cleaning to spruce this place up before we open it for viewings.

And finally...there is still snow on the ground and temperatures are below freezing. This is seriously cramping my balcony garden urges. Get it together, spring.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Deutsch vs Francais

Remember that post last week where I commented it was spring? Yeah, I was wrong.

And we've had steady (though not heavy) snow all day, so there's another good inch by now.
The above picture is the view outside our window this morning. Apparently, I am a not a groundhog (how did Punksataw Punxsutawney - yep, had to google that spelling - Phil do this year, by the way? Did he successfully predict the half-dozen spring snowstorms on the east coast?).

Meanwhile, I am still attending daily German classes - I'm currently just over halfway through my second month. Unfortunately, any German I retain appears to come at the cost of my poor long-disused French skills. When I first started class, I would think "Ah! I totally know how to say this in French, why can't people here just speak another of this country's official languages? Then I could totally communicate." Now, however, my thought process is more akin to "Oh, in French that's...wait, why can't I remember how to say this? Did I ever even know it? Is this word French or German? What's happening to me?!" It's as if my brain only has room for one foreign language, and it's performing a slow, steady 1:1 replacement of French with German.

Unfortunately, some French words insist on sticking around, particularly prepositions and conjunctions. So I often pepper my stuttered German sentences with mais ["but"], ou ["or"], or sans ["without" - not helped by the fact that this is also used in English]. Some German prepositions make sense but most rarely line up with the ones we use in English (I hang out with my friends, but German uses bei, - however, I go to class by tram, while in German I go mit the tram). To make it more confusing, the French prepositions often paralleled English, so it was never a part of speech that caused particular problems for me previously. And, of course, I am not even starting on the dativ or akkusativ articles for nouns in a prepositional phrase. That's a whole other post (or just several long, inconclusive rants).

As far as I can tell in German, prepositions are idiomatic usage - thus straight memorization. At the beginning, I tried to draw parallels ("Hmm, so bei is by, um is at, and am is in." Yeah, wrong. One of my favorites - auf is "on"). I've since abandoned that approach.

The Australian girl in class (the only other native English speaker than myself) went to Paris this past weekend and missed class on Monday. The teacher inquired as to where she was, and I replied with a garbled "Elle - sie - ist in Paris avec - mit - ....ihr Freund." I then gave an even more incomprehensible attempt in German - my goal sentence was "She went to France" (we learned the past tense this week). I did not succeed in saying that, although I did manage to remember the German name for France (Frankreich, in case you need to know). I think I said something akin to "You go towards France went [incorrect past participle]." Does he really expect me to be able to discuss France or French topics in German? My poor brain is melting. In related news, I've abandoned the Swiss habit of saying Merci as a way of thanking people and just insist on using Danke. If I'm going to go German, I'm committing, dammit.

As for functionality in German, it's been a mixed bag over the past few weeks.

I successfully understood when a cashier asked me if I wanted a bag (Ja, bitte), but later that same day failed to comprehend when another cashier asked me if I wanted my receipt for a croissant purchase (unrelated tangent: what on earth is the difference between a "croissant francais" and a "gipfeli"? They appear the exact same, but have different prices). I answered Nein, despite failing to understand (interactions are still at least 60% guesswork for me), since I figured I had everything I needed, so whatever she was offering, I could safely decline. This led to an awkward moment where I held out my hand for the change and kept hovering it there as she ripped off the receipt and...turned to put it in the trash. Light bulb moment for me, as I realized what I had just refused, but awkward, as she turned around to see my outstretched hand waiting for the item that five seconds previously I had refused. Oops. Hard to make it look smooth, so I left.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A church and some donuts

Last week, I visited Sibler, a specialty store in Zurich that is a virtual kitchen mecca. It was so fun to wander around, and I purchased several items to help me play around with fondant (I believe I mentioned this as a future trip in this post). The shop is in an area of town that I don't usually get to, but I luckily had my camera with me and the weather was beautiful.

Sibler is in part of the old Zurich town, with cobblestone streets and right next to Fraumünster, arguably Zurich's most famous church. The church is perhaps not as fancy as many you may see in France or Italy, but it certainly towers above the local landscape (and now looking at Wikipedia, I find that is has five windows by Marc Chagall - must return and actually go inside). 

Fraumünster church. The former abbey at this location was dissolved as part of the reformation, and the buildings were torn down to make way for the Zurich Stadthaus (city hall) in the late 1800s, but the church remains.
Unrelated, but as I was walking to Sibler through a parking lot, I noticed a super fancy car that was parked at the end of a row, although technically there was no parking space marked (an all-too-common sight in many US parking garages - certainly the one at Boston Logan airport comes to mind). I shook my head in disgust - people are the same everywhere. So imagine my delight when I finished taking pictures of the square and turned around to see a policewoman ticketing the car. I was so strangely excited to see someone get their comeuppance that I snapped a picture...

Notice the lack of white lines on the ground. That means no parking space, fancy car driver!
Yep, she's definitely staring at me. So I quickly angled my camera up and took a picture of the building behind her, as if that was my original intention.

Swiss flags! I do like the blue building on the right.
Then I slunk into Sibler before she started to question me (I don't know how to say "I was just so happy to see you doing your job! You issue that ticket!" in German). I would be a bad international spy. Subtlety isn't my thing - plus I am terrified of authority, so that would be an issue, too.

The Sibler store itself was great fun to explore - they have baking supplies, pans, fancy kitchen knives, woks, fondue pots, and much, much more. Many of the items had descriptions in half a dozen languages - which was good, because there were definitely things that I had never seen and had no immediately apparent use.

Such cute chairs and tables! I wonder if B would let me do this to our future patio furniture?
I took a parting shot of the store as I left - mainly for the adorable hand-painted chairs and tables out front. I have no idea if they were part of the cafe next door, whose outdoor tables had a distinctly different style, or if Sibler itself has a way of serving coffee, but I wasn't brave enough to sit down and see if someone approached to take my order.

I have made a concerted effort for B and I to eat healthy, so unfortunately that means not as many baked goods. However, I needed to use up some fruit yesterday, so I made a pear berry crisp, and then these chocolate donuts with blood orange glaze (the latter used up all of 1.5 oranges, but I'm still counting it). I cannot recommend the latter highly enough. The donuts are baked, so are supposedly "healthier" than fried - although that word goes in quotations because well...the glaze abolishes any attempt to claim these as a smart diet choice. If you don't have a donut pan, please don't let the lack thereof discourage you from trying these - I think they would work just as well in cupcake or even a cake pan. The combination of the rich (not sweet) chocolate with the orange glaze is SO GOOD.

I did make a few changes - I threw some orange zest into the batter and for the glaze I just used the blood orange juice, heavy cream, and powdered sugar (skipping the butter and the corn syrup), but it still tasted great in my opinion.

Hello, delicious chocolate.
The first batch was a little questionable, since my Celsius oven apparently doesn't go down to 325F, and I overfilled the donut pan so they were a bit messy and took FOREVER to bake (but still tasted good). I turned up the oven to closer to 375 (F) and used less batter, and the next two batches were much prettier. I also couldn't get the feel of dipping the donuts, so I just drizzled the glaze over top. Whatever works! (That should be my baking motto).


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Alles ist schön im Frühling!

I'm not 100% confident that this post's title is grammatically correct, but the sentiment is there. Basically, spring (der Frühling) is awesome. Every year, I forget exactly how much, since I do enjoy snowflakes and being bundled up with tea when it's white outside, plus I have an...unusual number of cute boots (In my defense, B totally encourages this habit). But then it starts to warm up, and you remember that the sun can actually warm and it's not just something that makes it painful to look directly at the bright snow and suddenly, all the flora decide that it's time to wake from their nap.

We haven't had daylight savings time yet on this side of the Atlantic, but it's still light until almost 7 pm, and that's another best thing about spring (if you're counting, that's about 3 "best" things. Don't think too hard about it).

Also - sunshine!!
We had a faux spring a few weeks ago, in which I thought I'd get to store away my winter coat for several months. Luckily, I didn't get around to sending it off to the dry cleaners (yes, I can totes do that on my own now!), since last week the weather got cold again and it snowed off and on for 3-4 days in a row. But I'm taking the plunge today and declaring that this time, spring is here to stay.

So cute!
In the US, the small green spaces peppered around cities are often just that - green. At Harvard Medical, the quad was made of sod squares that were replaced at least once throughout the summer (I believe it was just before reunion - gotta make sure that it looks pretty for the returning alums that are now rich and may want to donate). They are mowed, treated, and probably kept within standard regulations that are set by some higher power. Flowers are severely kept to preplanned and oft-replanted beds.

So I was wonderfully surprised to discover that here in Zurich, the green spaces aren't just green. Many of the pictures here are taken just outside our front (back?) door, and all others are yards of apartment houses on the way to the nearest tram stop. For a girl who grew up with an untamed lawn and a mother who never could have enough flower beds around the yard, it just warms my little heart. It appears that flowers may have been originally planted in beds, but then they are pretty much left alone to spread where they wish as the years pass. Regardless, I love it!

Happy spring everyone!! Special thoughts to Boston/New England friends, who are apparently digging out from the third (or fourth?) late winter snowstorm. May your green spaces soon be bright!

NB: I wrote this post yesterday, but it was raining and I couldn't get flower pictures. I didn't plan at all to actually correlate with the spring equinox - Happy Spring for realz!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Workshop week!

Apparently Switzerland has a whole new (to me) set of rhinoviruses, since I've come down with my second severe cold in as many months. In related news, I've now been here for two months!! Where does the time go? Craziness...

Despite being sick, however, I have been able to take advantage of Workshop Week by the American Women's Club of Zurich (henceforth known as AWCZ), of which I am a proud card-carrying member. Ok, they don't really have cards, but I do have a nifty laminated name tag that I get to wear whenever I am in the clubhouse (if they have a secret handshake, I haven't learned it yet - but how cool would that be?). They also have the largest English library in the city, and it's FREE! This is important, as the five boxes of books I shipped over may only last me another six months or so, judging by my current consumption of books (which I now obsessively track on Goodreads).

Anyway - Workshop Week is eight days' worth of classes that range from cooking to self-help to card readings. It's quite the dizzying array - I was amazed when the email first arrived. I signed up for three classes total, and was disappointed I couldn't sign up for more due to conflicting times with German class.

Cupcake with sugarpaste topping.
On Saturday morning, I attended a cupcake decorating class that was run by two lovely women from Ribizli. Over the course of two hours, we learned to roll out and play with fondant and also tried our hand at piping buttercream frosting; I was much more successful at the former. I've seen a good friend (unfortunately the blog is abandoned, but it's worth checking out!) produce some amazing cake creations from fondant that she makes from scratch, and I always was intrigued by the concept - unfortunately her recipe involves marshmallows, which are scarce and absurdly expensive here. So I was pleased to find out that a pre-made form of fondant can be purchased in Switzerland. The woman actually called it "sugarpaste" and I was unclear if this was simply the British terminology, or if it is actually a different item (this confusion actually arises more often than one would expect - I spent wayy too long on the internet last week attempting to compare molasses and treacle).

Sugarpaste items, most from stamps (not the rather sad looking blue rose - first attempt, oh well). I can't wait to try out some freeform rabbits/carrots for Easter. Coz I am excited by such ideas.

Buttercream + sugarpaste shapes on the left (the shapes are hiding where I went too fast and messed up the piping), finished sugarpaste-only on the right.

The class felt a tad basic - the women mentioned that it was an abridged version of their normal 4 hour decorating class, which I would've loved to have done - but I had a great time. They said bring an apron, so - obviously - I showed up with my Star Wars one, although it hadn't made it into the 7 laundry loads over 2 days last week, so it was embarrassingly flour-y (that makes me look authentic, right?). But I did learn several useful tidbits that I would not have known if I had attempted this on my own (including: use cornstarch, not powdered sugar, if the sugarpaste starts to get sticky).

The table, hard at work! The array of supplies was quite impressive, and we each got 3 cupcakes to decorate as we saw fit.
They had an impressive selection of stamps and cookie cutters for playing with the fondant, which they had in every color imaginable (some purchased, some made). I would have liked to learn more about playing with the icing as free-form, but they did teach us how to make a rose by hand, as well as many interesting suggestions for making stamps/cutouts more three-dimensional. I admit, as soon as my fever broke yesterday, I ran out and bought both white and colored fondant from the store, although I need to visit a kitchen specialty store (probably Sibler) for the recommended cutters, rolling pin, and plastic tools.

Finished products, including the cute spotted dog that didn't really fit any of my cupcakes, but I took him home and ate him anyway.

This morning I attended a "Road Rules" workshop led by a Zurich police officer. It was very helpful - for most of the 90 minutes, she fielded questions that we all had, and she had a brilliant setup with Google Earth on an overhead projector that allowed her to show us actual examples of intersections, signs, etc. I'm still nervous about renting a car and having my first driving experience here, but I feel a bit more prepared now.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Moving date!!

The biggest news in the past week is that B and I found an apartment! We actually received simultaneous offers on 2 places (cover letters apparently do make a difference), and after some agonizing, we picked one. It's large-ish (for Zurich) and a few stops on the regional train outside the main city. But it has a shopping complex (ie, groceries) right across the street, a bus stop 2 minutes away, and even a sport facility nearby - as well as parking places for rent should we ever decide to get a car. By train, it's less than twenty minutes from the city center, although it is a good 45 minutes away from the airport (that's ok, I promise I'll still meet visitors there). I am SO excited - our move in date is May 1st, so that gives us some time to pack up and also show the current apartment (after a thorough spring cleaning) - since we are moving without three months' notice, we need to find at least two "suitable" candidates for the apartment to offer to the company in order for B to be released from the current lease. I spent all evening yesterday on Pinterest looking at color schemes and decorating and gardening ideas.

A friend asked me last week if we had Kinder Surprises in Switzerland. We do, although they are rather lost in the copious Lindt displays. This was one of three in a small grocery store. Perhaps a stereotype, but it does appear that the Swiss are serious about their chocolate.
My second month of German class started this week. So far the grammar continues to make sense, but I am still horrible at pluralizing nouns and I haven't been studying my vocabulary enough, so I often find myself conjugating verbs that I have no idea what they mean (always an interesting venture when they require additional verbs or direct objects, eg "What do you do when you are hungry?" "When I am hungry, I dance." - No?). It was an epiphany that I was perhaps a tad slow to reach - it took me three weeks to realize that since there is no common language, we are never expected or asked to translate anything. The instructor tries to ensure that we understand a word when it is first introduced, but beyond that, we're on our own. I've made some flash cards, but I desperately need to make more. Typically in reading texts, I can eventually come up with the meaning, but definitely not fast enough for oral exercises.

I've started staying after class to work on homework - the school has a small cafeteria area that is quiet and has fewer distractions than home. Last week, my instructor came in to visit the vending machine and saw me there. He first said something complimentary (yay! Ok, he probably would've said it to any student - something along the lines of Good job with German), and then asked if I was staying for the movie showing that evening. The school was showing "Friends with Benefits" (yes, the one with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, a rather odd choice for a German school largely populated with native Spanish speakers).

"Nein, ich habe ein Besichtigung." [No, I have an apartment viewing - and yes, I was guessing on the gender of "Besichtigung," since I couldn't ever recall learning it. And yes, I garbled the pronunciation and had to try it a few times. But I got it out eventually.]

"Ah! Wo?" (Where?)

I gave him the street name and he shook his head. I was pretty pleased with myself that I had understood his question and managed to come up with an almost-complete answer, so I wasn't concentrating enough on my next attempt.

"Die Wohnung ist....<painful pause> nachts....mein Mann <another painful pause>...arbeitet." I was a deep red at this point and gave up, waving my hand arbitrarily in the air, as if to give what I said some logical context. (What I meant to say was that the place was next to [nächste] where my husband works. What I actually said was "The apartment husband works." Did I mention that umlauts (¨) not only change pronunciation but also entire meanings of words? Languages are tricky beasts.)

"Ah...ok." He left.

I heard him in the cafetera again yesterday, but I kept my eyes firmly focused on my work. I think we were both grateful for that.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Arrivals and (non) departures

When I last left the saga of my boxes, they were being held hostage by Die Post. After several phone calls, emails, and shipping off of scans of my visa/resident permit, all eight boxes were sent back to customs to be re-evaluated.

They arrived back at Die Post last week and had no customs charges this time. Yay! Unfortunately, I was in the shower when the doorbell rang, so we missed our chance to have all eight boxes delivered directly to our front door (they only attempt delivery once, this ain't no Fedex). So, on Saturday, B and I headed off to Die Post to pick some of them up. Luckily, they were being held at a Post that was actually closer than where they had previously been; only a five minute walk or so. We brought along 2 large empty suitcases, as previous experience had taught us that the boxes are often not in any shape for carrying.

Unfortunately, we were right. We first picked up 3 boxes, 2 of them entirely of books, in the morning. The boxes were in abhorrent condition (if you ever move internationally, the "moving" boxes from Home Depot ARE NOT SUFFICIENT), although the books inside amazingly weren't damaged. The third box had clothes and yarn surrounding my deeply buried Xbox and its accessories, which seemed to have had enough cushioning that they were not hurt (although we haven't yet confirmed this, as we don't have a TV to hook it up to). We packed up the suitcases and headed back to the apartment.

Five minutes is a long, long time, when you have an oversized suitcase that is stuffed to the brim with books (yes, many hardcovers). B commented in it as well ("Jesus, what do you have in here, rocks?!" "It's my fossil collection!" ""). We unloaded the suitcases in B's kellar (basement storage unit), which luckily has a nice metal bookshelf on it.

Later that day we went back for round 2 (we need to have them all picked up by March 10th or they get sent back to the US). This time we only picked up two boxes, as they were larger. Heartbreakingly, one of them had my blue willow china collection in it, and even as I carefully transferred the bubble-wrapped pieces into the suitcase, I could tell there had been some casualties. Considering the condition of the box, I was lucky that as many pieces survived as, in fact, did (a testament to my father's packing ability). I lost about half a dozen cups/mugs and about an equal number of small plates/saucers. The biggest loss was definitely a large serving platter with the pattern in black. B has promised to look around for a replacement as a future anniversary/birthday/Christmas present. (Just a note: My collection is a somewhat random assortment of pieces of varying quality, age, and type. The loss is more sentimental than monetary, as it is a group that I have gathered from several relatives, shops, and random places.)

The other box's contents was fine (more books), and on a third trip B picked up another box that had my rolling pin (woot!) and several custom-framed pictures, including a totally awesome one of Maleficent at the top of her tower (best Disney villainess ever - moral: get competent minions), that all survived. I can't wait to get them up in a new space. If we ever get one.

Which leads me to the (non) departures - B and I sent off three apartment applications last week, and another one this morning. They each had cover letters, so we're hoping to hear some potential (good!) news this week. Since starting to include cover letters, we have at least started to receive replies from companies, albeit apologetic, bad ones. Eh, it's something.

Giant, grilled, fake bratwurst outside a meat shop. Sometimes Switzerland is weird.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Kitchen experiments

I've decided not to post any more step-by-step recipes here, since I am having to re-explore a lot of baking/cooking techniques and basics in my new (Swiss) environment. Also, I would imagine that reading about learning to use the uniquely Swiss ingredients isn't terribly interesting for friends and family back in the US. I'd prefer to use the time/space here to tell you more about what's happening in our lives (PS - I love and miss all you guys!).

That being said, I definitely have been cooking/baking a lot over the past few weeks, and I will continue to post occasional finished products and links to recipes that I felt were particularly successful (as well as any changes I made to said recipes). And I'll definitely keep you updated on my attempts for homemade macarons.

I bought a book in my Kindle a few weeks ago that made my baking heart flutter. It's called Ratios and it talks about the underlying ratios present in many dishes, from breads to sauces. I've only tried one ratio from it thus far - I made 3 loaves of bread using different mixes of flour, since I am still unsure about the flours here (they have neither the same naming system as the US, nor the number systems that France and Germany have). They were all very basic loaves, and I was impatient about the rising, so they weren't perhaps the best tasting. But it was interesting to see the difference:

Identical loaves except for the flour used. The one in the foreground used 100% Weissmehl (white), the loaf in back used 50/50 white/Bauernmehl (Fr: rustique) flour, and the far left loaf used a 50/50 mixture of white/Zopfmehl flour. Bauernmehl translates to "farmer's flour," and apparently contains 12% rye flour. Zopfmehl translates to "braid flour" (I think it is often used to make a challah-like braided bread) and contains 10% spelt flour. I am still figuring out how exactly these percentages influence the baking process. Definitely Zopfmehl leads to a lighter dough that requires less kneading and rises faster (makes sense, since spelt flour is gluten-free). And I've only begun to explore the flours available in the baking section.
Mostly I've been just sticking to Weissmehl (Fr: farine blé) in my baking, since it appears to be the all-purpose equivalent. Which is fine for cookies and brownies (eg, I made these Nutella brownies with an extra scoop of Nutella in them - still not much hazelnut taste, but wonderfully fudgy), but I am still trying to work out the equivalent of bread, cake, or whole wheat flour.

Aside from baking, I have been trying to branch out in my cooking. I have phobias about trying to cook meat cuts (out of simple ignorance, not because I think the animals will take their revenge upon me at some point in the future), so I usually avoid them like the plague and before Zurich, I'd stick with ground turkey or some easy boneless chicken. However, B is a big meat eater, so I made a marinated pork loin for Valentine's day dinner (using this marinade as a base - I used brown sugar and added generous amounts of pepper, ginger, and garlic), along with some braised red cabbage and smashed potatoes (add parmesan cheese on top for super tastiness).

Not a great picture, but it was very tasty - and I didn't overcook the pork, yay! (well...not too much. I have issues when meat is still 'too' pink. Yep, I order steak medium well.)

I also made this couscous recipe, replaced the lemon with lime, added more seasonings/herbs, and threw in some extra veggies (onion and bell pepper) and some kielbasa-like sausage for a super quick, easy one-pot meal (Disclaimer: Switzerland doesn't seem to have liquid broths; I've only found boullion cubes, and I'm not sure I'm using them correctly. But it still tasted very good).

I've already made this a second time - with bell peppers. One of the quickest meals that I've discovered - and minimal dishes after!
This pear/dark chocolate tart wasn't actually my cup of tea (B loved it, the chocolate filling was almost bitter, but to me it was too strong and the pear flavor was lost), but there was a ton of leftover chocolate crust, so I made an extra tart with one of my favorite lime tart filling recipes (I use about 3x the amount of lime juice called for) and stuck some fresh raspberries on top. Delicious. I used the leftover egg whites to make some mini cupcakes and topped them with chocolate icing.

Dark chocolate pear tart with some vanilla ice cream on the side.
One of my favorite tart fillings, although it is better with graham cracker crust than the chocolate one, imo. Sadly, Switzerland does not have graham crackers - learning how to make homemade ones is on my to-do list, but of course one should use graham flour to make graham crackers...see my above words re: flour types. It's a vicious circle.
Mini cupcakes! Super cute, and they disappeared quickly at B's work, but they felt a little spongy and not quite right to me. I may have overcooked them (I had no toothpicks, so couldn't test the center). I am also struggling to get my usually-reliable icing taste here - it's odd, but the powdered sugar is almost...sweeter than the powdered sugar in the US, so I haven't been able to make a strong chocolate frosting yet. And it can taste grainy. Works in progress.
I did love the pear component of the tart, though, and we had a leftover one, so I made this single-serving size of pear crisp, and it was so good that I went out and bought three more pears, threw some raspberries in, and made a much larger version. B and I consumed half of it in one evening.

Super tasty, easy, and not even that unhealthy (well, compared to many other links on this post).  I have an allergy to raw apple and pear skins, so I may be a wee biased; this is the first time I was able to eat pears in well over a year.
One of my favorite recipes I've made so far are these lime-cardamom sweet rolls. Yum! I added some cinnamon into the filling for a more robust, rounded flavor. Amazing.

So good. Cannot recommend this recipe enough.

I've made other dishes, but I slacked off in taking pictures. If you are super interested, I keep most recipes that I try (and that work) on my Pinterest board Tried and True, along with notes about what I changed. Pinterest is a pretty huge time suck and probably my favorite form of procrastination, but I've found that keeping all the online recipes that I might want to revisit (because they were just that good) in one place is actually very useful. Recipes that aren't there I probably have stored on my account, a totally AWESOME website (it suggests recipes based on the ingredients you say you have), but I am trying to slowly switch saved/favorite recipes to Pinterest, as they are easier to find there.

A winter excursion

Just over a week ago, B and I ventured outside the city for the first time since my official arrival (not counting the short trip to Basel to visit B's family). B's work group had organized an outing near Einseiden, in the Schwyz canton (as may be deduced from the name, the canton was one of the original three that formed the alliance that eventually became the Swiss confederation).

Preparation for the outing was a bit chaotic. Neither B nor I are big outdoorsy-type of people, although in our youth we used to be (at least more than we are now). I grew up near a ski resort and used to frequent it on school trips and snow days, but pretty much abandoned the slopes when I hit my growth spurt in late middle school and my scarecrow limbs made skis a more intimidating experience. B grew up in Lima, Peru and once tried to climb the Andes in his backyard as an ill-advised afternoon venture with his cousin.

Random stories aside, this meant that neither of us had any appropriate gear for an outing to the Swiss mountains (I am fairly sure we were not officially in the Alps, although I could be mistaken. Regardless - definitely mountains). We spent the week prior to the outing comparison shopping for snow boots, gloves, hats, and some sort of waterproof/resistant pants for each of us; luckily it's near the end of the season here, so we were able to snag the boots, at least, on sale.

We were picked up quite early on Saturday morning by one of B's coworkers, who graciously agreed to drive us. B doesn't yet have a driver's license (not unusual for people here), and I am still fairly paralyzed at the thought of driving in a country where buses and trams have their own lanes that aren't always clearly marked and the white/yellow color meanings of the road markings are opposite of US ones. It turns out this was wise, as I am not sure we ever would have found the place - the last few kilometers were on a one-lane, snow-covered road that triggered nostalgia for West Virginia driving perils from my youth.

Our audience for our initial lesson in how to put on snowshoes.
Neither B nor I had ever been snowshoeing before, so we had asked to rent both shoes and poles. I was excited upon arrival to see that in comparison to the other participants, we were dressed totally appropriately. (Yes, I laser in on stuff like that. Although my water-resistant pants were a bit thin (real ski pants cost 2-3x as much), and it did take about 3 hours after the excursion for my thighs to thaw out. But at least we didn't look ridiculous and the shopping had not been a waste. What was important was that we appeared to be ready for such an activity).

B had assured me that this would be a light trek, as other people were bringing their young children and the average age of his coworkers is much older than B. Apparently they all cancelled because there were only three other people (two coworkers and one other wife), and they were all in much better shape than me, despite the couple easily having 20 years on me. We snowshoed for over an hour before we took a kaffee (or schokolade, in my case) break, then headed back. There was at least 2 feet of snow on the ground, and we appeared to be trekking through mainly fields (crossing barbwire fences in snowshoes is quite the experience).

In the morning, with heavy fog still covering the mountains.
I forgot how much fun it is to be out in the snow, and the scenery was breathtaking. There was a fairly heavy fog when we headed out, but it started to burn off by the time we returned.

Heading back. I let the other 3 trek ahead - turns out snowshoeing is much easier when you can follow in someone else's already-formed path (thanks to Jenn for this tip, it saved me much exertion).

Unfortunately my transition lenses make it very challenging to take pictures with my phone (the UV-sensitive darkening makes it impossible to see the screen - and I am so nearsighted/light-sensitive that I can't see the screen if I remove my glasses), so I was shooting pics completely blind. B was more successful, and I will post some of his pictures either here or on facebook in the next couple days.

Almost back to the cows! The house halfhidden by the hill is where we ate fondue for lunch.
We met up with several more of B's coworkers for lunch, which was fondue, complete with potatoes and bread for dipping (what else would one expect in the mountains of Switzerland?). It was a very hearty meal that was perfect after 3+ hours of unaccustomed physical activity. Unfortunately (for me), all of B's coworkers + spouses + children that were at lunch were native German speakers, so the conversation naturally occurred in that language. I actually could follow/guess the topic of conversation in some parts, and it was nice to hear German spoken at a normal pace (vs. my German class, in which listening exercises are done AS....IF....YOU...ARE...IGNORANT - which of course the entire class is).

Between the snow trek and the German, I collapsed into a much-needed nap as soon as we arrived back in Zurich. But I was so glad that B and I experienced a Swiss winter in true fashion before the snow starts to melt.

I took the below picture outside our door the very next morning - spring is definitely on its way!