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Monday, November 17, 2014

Fall Fair Basel

Halloween is over, for us adults it's just s short while until Christmas, but if you're a kid, almost two months seem like a long time.

Good thing many regions have their annual fall fairs with crafts and food booths, fairground rides and other money traps entertainment to offer.

Even before we were married and had kids, a couple we are friends with, my boyfriend / hubby and I have been meeting for the Basel fair almost every year. 

Basel is the city the two major pharma companies Roche and Novartis have their HQs, and it's also the region where Roger Federer is from. Some Swiss trivia just as you're reading my blog, you're welcome.

Now on to the fun part!


One vendor we never miss is the evil witch's candy stand.

First the window shutters are closed. Just you wait, though!


It won't take long, and they go open, and the evil witch makes her appearance!


They sell roasted almonds, butterscotch toffee, a special kind of gingerbread and - our favorite - chocolate covered strawberries or pineapple pieces! 

Lately they've gone fancy and started using marshmallows, too!

 

This is probably the most classic ride, and I remember when we took C for the first time, I had to stay with him and hold him. Our baby was less than 14 months old!


Look at him now, climbing on his horse all alone!


I liked the retro tin boxes they were selling at this booth. The prices weren't retro at all, though, so I was a good girl and didn't buy anything there.


Speaking of retro, those folks are really from another time:



If you're asking yourself where you've heard this melody before… 

Maybe here?


If the Mom song was new to you, surely you want to know what the Dad song is all about:


Allright. Back to our fairground. Some Dalmatian balloons went for a walk flight, too.


There are several areas all over the city to where you can walk or take a tram to.


A good opportunity to pay attention to the nice old houses all over town.


Before you know it it's getting dark! Time for the highlight of the day!





Spending our last money on "dinner"


See you next year!


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Grittibänze

This post is one that I've been meaning to do… for a year! 

But then - you know how it is - once December had begun, I got busy!

So this year… ta-daaaaa! 

Little Swiss yeast men, called Grittibänze!




But then - you know how it is - in our tiny country, every region is proud of their own dialect and their own names for the same thing. So the folks in the Zurich area where I live call them Grittibänze. Drive an hour and you'll get to Basel where they are called Grättimänner. Cross the border a couple of miles away, the German neighbors say those are Weckmänner or  Stutenkerle, the Alsatians Männeli, and our French speaking fellow Swiss bake their Bonhommes.

And just as many names that are out there - at least the same amount of recipes exist. Some almost double the measurements for butter, others mix in sugar, experiment with curd as an ingredient, etc.

I say save the sugar for the cookies! Here is the recipe that I use:

Grittibänze Recipe

4 cups flour - all purpose flour is fine, if you can find anything finer ground, even better
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup whole milk, warm
8 teaspoons liquid yeast or equivalent dry yeast

Mix, knead well, cover with a cloth and let rise for 60 - 90 minutes.

Form little guys ("freestyle" or roll out your dough and use a gingerbread man cookie cutter) and  decorate with chocolate chips, nuts, raisins,…

Let rise for another 30 minutes, coat with egg yolk or egg wash.

Bake at 350°F for 20 - 25 minutes

This is how nice the dough looks after rising for at least an hour
Shape as best as you can

The rising process may pop out your little guys' eyeballs…
Just squeeze them back in ;-)
My cute little helper in 2013
My cute little helper in 2014



It drives me crazy how they turn out sometimes.

So I use the cookie cutting method

Less is more ;-)

Once the Holidays are over, you can use the same recipe and shape braids. It's a very typical and yummy Swiss breakfast pastry. There is even a recipe on Allrecipes.com (she forgot to mention that the dough needs to rise until doubled in size before shaping)













A word to the braiding… there are people out there who use 6 or even 8 strands!! I am challenged enough with 2, but you'll be fine ;-) Otherwise you may watch this video. Some Swiss (Bernese) guys camping and baking in Alaska!




Did you catch that technique? Here's another one, closer up:





And if you don't want to do the braiding… just use cake loaf pans, works fine, too:


There's not many things smelling nicer than freshly baked Zopf. Cinnamon rolls, maybe. But that's it!

Give it a try, will ya? Let me know how it turned out! 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Use Your Words - School of Life

Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. All words must be used at least once, and all the posts will be unique as each writer has received their own set of words. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.


My words are: 

power ~midlife ~ keyboard ~ publish ~ mobile ~ college
 
They were submitted by Battered Hope  - thank you, Carol!



All right, friends! I am sure all of you know the feeling:

It's Friday, aka prompt day, you get your email from Karen on your mobile phone, look at the words, snap the phone shut and think "oh-oh, those are tough, I'll deal with them later. I have all the time. Two full weeks till publish day!" 

A week goes by, and you haven't even started yet. But that's OK. Your secret subject swap just went online, and you're busy visiting your friends' posts. 

As a blogger blessed with a vivid imagination you are confident. Inspiration will hit eventually. It has to. Right?

Even if it hasn't hit so far, you say to yourself it might be a good time to sit down and type at least your words and the links of the other bloggers. Being prepared is half the battle.

Then you watch the cursor blinking, hit an occasional key on the keyboard to prevent your computer from going into power saving mode. 



Actually those words aren't too hard. Heck, I went to college! There, I used it! 

But midlife? I only know this word in connection with crisis. I am lucky enough not to have experienced one. You can never know, though. I'm pretty sure I might have gone through one if I hadn't become pregnant and had Colin. 

Wait a minute, midlife. Google says the average life expectancy in Switzerland is 82.7 years. (78.7 in the U.S. by the way.) I am past it! Geez!! Time to take stock. Where am I, what have I achieved, what is still on my list? 

Nah.

Instead I am going to talk to you about something I've been wanting to blog about for a while. Now that I've used my words, I am free to write about what ever I please, right?

Summer Jobs

That's right! I am not just saying that because our heating is busted, and I am freezing my a** off at home. 

I had a bunch of student jobs, and I think I have gained valuable experience from them:

  • Money doesn't grow on trees, haha, I knew that. 
  • Work is hard, especially getting up early. Earlier than going to school. No cutting class!
  • Being on my feet all day almost killed me - but didn't.
  • Fitting into a working environment
  • Punching in and out
  • Wearing a uniform
  • Working on the other side of what so far I only knew as a customer: on the other side of the sales counter, on the other side of the coffee bar. I'll go into my different activities in just a moment.
  • Exercising mental calculation: "I've been here for three hours so far. How much did I make?" Telling the guests how much they have to pay for two coffees, a sparkling water, an OJ and three croissants sometimes took longer than getting them all that stuff ;-)
  • Having a very diverse crowd of coworkers I wouldn't usually meet.
  • Feeling awkward about being "smart". Some seemed to think only because I was a college student, I was the next Nobel prize winner.
  • Dealing with all kinds of people in general. Supervisors, coworkers, customers, vendors. Nice ones, stressed out ones, generous ones, complicated ones.
  • Using my languages. Not reading F. Scott Fitzgerald in the privacy of the school library or writing an essay in French - actually talk to real people about everyday stuff, giving them directions to the zoo, simple sales talk

I'm sure there is more, but now you're curious where I got all this experience:

I have untangled miles of cords for mini blinds and glued sand onto countless sockets, and these were only the factory jobs. 



They were kind of monotone after a couple of days, and I admired those people who have been doing it for years and would continue to do so long after I would have gone back to school. They seemed fine, though. As long as they could actually stay on their assigned section. They told me about stupid managers who wanted to introduce job rotation. Big no-no! 

I was a newspaper delivery person for a couple of summers. Every Thursday evening I picked up my box with about a hundred copies of a weekly paper from the publishing house and cycled to my assigned neighborhood.

For a short while I was a storewoman with the Swiss main importer of Steiff stuffed animals.


Sounds fancy and cute, right? I thought so, too. In reality I was (un) packing cardboard boxes in a small, dusty warehouse with a nasty draft. Pay was bad, but on my last day I got to choose a teddy :-)

The more varied jobs were the ones in retail and gastronomy:

I worked for a deli one summer. Not just any charcuterie store, the one at Zurich main station. Imagine union station in Chicago - only smaller. Large enough for Switzerland with its 8 million citizens, though. Up to 0.5 million passengers a day arrive and depart in and from Zurich.


Lots of them do their grocery shopping before catching their train home. Back in the mid-/ late 80s when I worked there, the "Shopville" stores were the only ones with extended opening hours, so the time between 4 and 8pm was hectic and busy but went by really quickly. 


I preferred the tourist hours to the business people hours. Tourist hours were between 10am till lunch (then the office people would get their sandwich, burger or salad from us), and it was cool. They would ask for directions, advice on sightseeing and - after all they came to a charcuterie store - about typical Swiss products, and I told them about Bündnerflesich, air dried beef, the most expensive item.

With one customer I must have done such a great job he asked me how to get to that region where that famous Bündnerfleisch is from. "Well, you're in luck, you're at the train station…" 


Allow me to introduce you to Mr Merz at this point. He was one of our seven federal councils, usually an earnest guy. 

One day a couple of years ago he was talking to roughly 200 national councils about new rules and regulations on customs tariffs for seasoned meat - as an example "Bündnerfleisch". 

He read the text to them, as best as he could, and even if you don't understand a word of German you can tell that he didn't have a clue what he was reading, and that he thought it was ridiculous. It was written in the most terrible official / lawyer language with lots of mentions of chapters,  paragraphs, subparagraphs, you get the picture.


Anyway. He and the 200 ladies and gentlemen of the national council plus the TV team and eventually the whole country had a good laugh that day!

We also sold pet food, and after some time I remembered the name of the customer's cat or dog and asked how they were doing, and did they enjoy their food?

Moving on. 


During my last two years of college I worked at a local café every Saturday during school and 5 - 6 days a week during school breaks. Being on my feet all the time was tough on me, but otherwise it was a fun job. When I arrived in the mornings, my colleague who started earlier would have a batch of croissants in the oven, and it smelled heavenly. We were allowed to eat them, too, but sadly we were just too busy.

The café was being frequented by regular guests, and by regular I mean seriously regular. Like sitting at the same table if it was available, ordering their coffee exactly the way the liked it (and those were times before SBUX started doing business in Switzerland, mind you) and having the same pastry. 

Up to this day I happen to bump into some of those people, and when I see their faces, my mind immediately goes "doppio espresso" or "latte with extra milk".


One day a group of office people pulled a prank on me. It was a beautiful summer morning, and I was getting ready to set the outdoor tables. By the time they sat down I had distributed a couple of croissant baskets on each table, then I took their order. When I came outside, carefully balancing my tray with their coffees, they said "Miss, would you mind getting us some of those yummy, freshly baked croissants?"

I wanted to tell them to help themselves from the baskets, but… there weren't any.
Huh? I must have been dreaming. "Right away" I said and rushed inside. I had to wait until a new batch came out of the oven, then I put the hot croissants into baskets and carried them outside. 

When I arrived, sure enough there were plenty of baskets on the tables, and the guys were enjoying croissants. They had hidden them just to confuse me, and they couldn't stop laughing as they were looking at my face. 

One day my boss asked me to cut class and work on a Monday, he was really desperate, coworkers had called in sick, you get the picture. He promised I could even bring a book to study, cause Mondays were usually slow, he just needed somebody to be there. 

You know what happened that Monday? Snow happened. LOTS OF SNOW! I almost didn't make it on time. The place was PACKED! People whose bus / train was late or didn't show up at all. People who treated themselves after shoveling their driveway. People who just felt like having hot chocolate on a Monday morning. People who took lengthy breaks because their customers didn't call - they may not have made it to their offices!

I think the only people who weren't at the café this morning were the street maintenance guys. Snow plows were going back and forth for hours - no breaks!


Jesus Christ, that café was as busy as on Saturday before Christmas!! Exceptional state would be an understatement. We had one of those industrial dishwashers that only takes a couple of minutes per load. Still at times I had to wait for clean cups and plates! 

(I was just having a thought: we were pretty lucky that there wasn't a power outage that day. Can you imagine?)

My colleague went down to the basement to get some outdoor chairs for the people that kept coming in - cause the others just wouldn't leave… 

We ran out of some pastry items and had to thaw alternatives from the freezer. In the meantime - getting desperate - I tried to suggest the guests had some ice cream. When they looked at me funny, I added "with warm chocolate sauce!?" Hey, I tried!


I had a blast that day! I wasn't responsible for the place, but I really rolled up my sleeves and did the best I could! My only worry was that one of my professors or a family member of theirs might come in and bust me, but I got lucky. 

I think the guests appreciated what they saw and left great tips.

When I came home I wanted to take a shower right away. I forgot to mention: back then people were allowed to smoke in restaurants, and my hair and clothes were terribly smelly. My mom wrinkled her nose when I walked past her. "You can't imagine how crowded that cafeteria was today", I said and made a beeline to the bathroom. School cafeteria - café… same thing. Right?

Two of my youngest café guests whom I used to help climbing onto bar stools so they could sip their juice (from a glass with a red straw, of course) and watch me work gave me an additional job: their mother asked me to babysit them once a week. 
One of the babies is a doctor today! Where did the time go? Definitely midlife...

Oh, and let me tell you about the time I almost made a terrible mistake...
A guest handed me a bill that was folded multiple times. "I am sorry, I don't have anything smaller, can you give me change for that?"
I nervously took the money and went to see my colleague in the kitchen. "I need change for 1,000 Francs" I told her. She grabbed a stool and reached for a box. Aha, that's were they keep the big bucks! She counted ten 100 Franc bills and said "OK, gimme that" taking my bill. I wanted to grab the stash of hundreds when she cried "hold it right there! That is a 500 Franc bill you gave me!!" Ooohpsie!

 


How about you? Did you have interesting summer jobs? Any memorable experience you'd like to share?
 
One last thought before I let you check out what words the other bloggers got and what they did with them:

I had a classmate who made big bucks in his summer job. He was washing corpses at the morgue. I wonder what his learnings were from that experience...


Baking In A Tornado 
Spatulas on Parade 
Stacy Sews and Schools
Follow Me Home…
Battered Hope
Someone else's Genius 
The Bergham Chronicles
Eileen’s Perpetually Busy
Confessions of a part time working mom 
Evil Joy Speak
Crumpets and Bollocks
Sparkly Poetic Werido


PS: 

Speaking of workplaces... I told you about our new desks that we got on Halloween morning. 

The other day I saw something on the internet, and I was immediately inspired by this lady's crafts project: a Computer Fireplace. So I tried making one myself. Not sure how I'm supposed to get any work done now - that crackling fire is soooo relaxing to stare into!