Sunday, September 19, 2010

Foodie Adventures

This past week I've had a spur of creative energy that was reflected and had a positive impact in all areas of my life, from work, to exercise, to going out and meeting new people, to blogging, and finally to cooking.

I still carry on with my cookbook project - at least the culinary portion of it, for the discussions I will have to wait - but to be honest I didn't do much cooking here in Zurich. I mean, I cooked everyday, but just the basic and simple recipes that would allow me to eat a fast and nutritious meal, but I didn't let my creative side express and didn't invent or tweak new recipes. To be fair, I really am not in Zurich that much either, because between traveling for work and for fun and visiting family, my weekends here have been limited - something I want to fix though, because I am really starting to (finally) be comfortable in the city.

Anyway, I had the chance to discover new food places and do some fun grocery shopping in preparation for a cooking weekend. First, last Thursday I visited the Viadukt, a new market and series of stores built in what was a tunnel and an old train station. I had a drink and a bite with my friends from the English Forum, and made the delightful acquaintance with The British Cheese Centre, which I hope will turn into a long-lasting friendship. I love cheese but had no clue about British cheeses, until now. Tasting and buying bio cheddar and goat cheese from Somerset prompted me to write my own recipe for plum chutney, which will be tried at the earliest convenience. I even have all the canning equipment that I brought with me from California, I just have to buy a couple of empty glass jars and then get to work.

Squeezed in between outings with friends, gym, and other pleasant activities, yesterday I went and explored new grocery stores so I could find ingredients to make all my recipes, and also to find inspiration for new ones. Finding ingredients is always an adventure, and my philosophy is that I never completely follow the original recipe, but adapt it based on the availability of ingredients, personal taste, and inspiration. I like to experiment a lot. I was hoping to find clams to make pasta alle vongole, which I like to enrich with cherry tomatoes, but no luck, so I bought mussels instead and we'll see how I can use them. On the other hand, I bought two wonderful, already cleaned octopuses, which are always tricky to find and that I will make  tapas-style, with potatoes and garlic, and serve cold. Finally, I was able to find three different types of mushrooms at a great sales price, so I will turn them into a creamy sauce and eat them with my chicken.

As I was heading home, I finally went to a store right next to me, where I always wanted to go but I never did, Aggarwal. I found rose water, poppy seeds, coconut oil, and other fun stuff. And, best of all, I treated myself to some good, fresh naan...Life is quite good. Now, back to the kitchen!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tourist in Zurich

A few weeks ago, I took a couple of days off work and spent some good time with my brother and his girlfriend, who came to visit me and see Zurich for the first time. It was a very delightful couple of days, followed by two days at our parents' home, and we had the chance to talk a lot and catch up with each others' lives. It might sound like an obvious thing to say, but I dearly love them both. They are intelligent, down-to-earth individuals, people with whom you can actually have a conversation ranging from soccer to philosophy, movies, art, etc. Did I say that I love them???

Anyway, I picked them up at the train station, and we went home briefly, then off to discover the city. We were extremely lucky because it was a gorgeous day, and we went on a tour of the downtown area, including Banhofstrasse, Paradeplatz, the Zurichsee, the Limmatquai, the Fraumunster with those gorgeous, gorgeous Chagall windows - I am very partial to Chagall, everywhere I go I look for his works, as it warms my heart like few others. Then, at a leisurely pace, we headed outside of Zurich to catch a cable-car that took us all the way up to Felsenegg, a cool place in the mountains where you can enjoy a superb view of the city. We walked around, took pictures, enjoyed the sun, and then we had some amazing desserts at the restaurant. We went back by boat across the lake, and then had a short ride through the Gold Coast to get to downtown Zurich again.

In the evening, we went and had a majestic and humongous dinner at Zeughauskeller, a place recommended by a coworker for some typical Swiss food. I honestly thought it would be more of a touristy place, given the location, but I was pleasantly surprised because there were all kinds of people, local and non local alike. Also, they had a very large selection of foods and drinks to accommodate any dietary restrictions, individual taste, etc. and their special beer was to die for! We were pleased. Afterwards, we headed for a stroll in Niederdorf, one of the oldest parts of town, full of cool little stores, art galleries, and plenty of bars and cafes - a true favorite of mine. When I want to think and sort of wander around on my own, I go there and take random turns on the narrow streets and hills, and I always find some very cool places I've never seen before.

The following day, we were not so lucky, because it was raining and cold. After I paid a visit to the gym (yes, I felt bad for the amazing St. Galler Bratwurst I'd eaten the night before, hehehe), we took it easy for a bit, then headed to eat lunch at Lily's - Stomach Supply, an outstanding Asian restaurant with foods from different countries that I had discovered while in Basel - this is the "sister" restaurant. Since the weather was nasty, even though it kept changing and giving us the illusion that it would warm up and improve for good - which it didn't - we decided to stay indoors and went to check out the India!India! festival at the Hauptbanhof. We then strolled more through Niederdorf on our way to the movie theater in Bellevue, where, after a nice tea, we watched "Inception" - I will just say that while my heart hated it (no passion, no feelings, no emotions), my brain was highly intrigued and captivated, over and over again.

Here our "tourists in Zurich" adventure ended, and we headed back to the train station to catch a train that would take us south, to our parents' home, for a weekend of fun. And off we went to another adventure...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Swiss Traveling - Basel

Over the past month or so, I have taken the chance to travel around Switzerland a little bit, both to discover new places and to spend time with family and dear friends.

Two weekends ago I went to Basel to visit two special girlfriends of mine whom I have known for quite a few years. We met in Italy several years ago, as they were classmates of my ex boyfriend and pursuing their masters degree in the university where I studied in Milan. As it often happens, the boyfriend was gone, but the friends stayed! We kept in touch over the years and saw each other in different corners of the world, and now that we all live in Switzerland, I thought it would be nice to catch up, all the while visiting Basel where I had never been.

I took off on Saturday late morning, and after a very short 40-minute train ride, I got to Basel. The weather was wonderful, so I joyfully walked out of the train station and made my way towards the center of the city. I had my Lonely Planet Switzerland guide with me, to be sure not to miss any important spots. I am fascinated with traveling solo and discovering new places, and I am insanely fascinated by travel guides, because I always find out about so many interesting and random facts!

I walked around the older part of the city, which has a very distinct medieval flavor, visited several churches, walked along the Rhine river, and explored some interesting corners. 
A fun fact that happened to me while I was walking around, and which is not captured by the photos. After stopping for a coffee at Fumare Non Fumare (literally "To Smoke or Not To Smoke", my eternal life dilemma) and getting a wonderful planner as a gift at Bookbinders Design - which, by the way, will easily become one of my favorite stores because they have a few in Zurich as well - I was thinking that I probably should buy something for my friend, who was hosting a great party that evening and was nice enough to invite me to stay at her place. As I was walking, I saw a bright yellow stand on the street selling cheeses, salamis, sausages, olives, etc. and I thought I'd seen that before, so it dawned on me that they were the same people that I find every Tuesday and Friday morning at the open market in Helvetiaplatz in Zurich, two blocks from where I live. Sure enough, I asked them and it was them!!! They are from Calabria, in Southern Italy, and their stuff is sinfully tasty, so I bought two types of sausages, testun al barolo*, and giant olives. Never mind finding out later that my host doesn't eat pork, but that's another story...she was happy with the cheese and olives though, and I think the rest of the guests, sauf the vegetarians, enjoyed. They even gave me a good deal, and I told them I'll sure be back to their stand once in Zurich. Delicious.

Anyway, after the shopping, I met with my friend, and we had a wonderful time catching up with each other's lives, then headed home in anticipation of a great party. I met lots of interesting people that night, and I am so happy I got to also catch up with my other girlfriend! The following day, we slept in, had a very fun and weird breakfast with coffee, coke, hummus, crackers, and biscotti, lots of talking, and then in the afternoon we met with the people from the party the night before for a swim in the Rhine. I should say it wasn't technically a swim, because the current was so strong that all you had to do was float, and make sure to swim your way far from the bridges and towards the shore whenever you wanted to get out. Following was a very relaxing time eating, drinking, getting in the water again, and, in my case, napping and meeting new people by the shore in a beautiful, sunny weather.

I finally made my way back to Zurich later that night. I had a lovely, lovely time, and I was completely relaxed. I can't wait to see my girlfriends again here in Zurich - they owe me a visit now, and we tentatively made plans for October!

*Testun al Barolo is a semi-firm mixed milk cheese from the Piedmont region of Italy. It ages for a minimum period of four months in small oak barrel under the residues of the Nebbiolo grapes, the grape to make Barolo wine.