Thursday, January 28, 2010

Life’s Been SO Good, part I

Day 24 and my tongue is still white.

Apparently, a white tongue, (which should eventually revert back to a nice and pink tongue again) is a sign that the body is still de-toxing.

I guess I have a lot of good living to cleanse.

It may have started freshmen year in college, when I discovered Ho-Ho’s. Or Junior Year Abroad, when we ate and drank our way through Germany (yum) and the rest of Europe. Ouzo, anyone? Fond memories of Rahmschnitzel, RitterSport, gyros, and Mandelhoernchen from my favorite Konditerei. Baumkuchen, and tortes and pastries of all kinds. That incredible, fresh bread! And hot pretzels. And hot pretzel buns. Hot, sugar-and-spice cinnamon almonds all winter. And chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.. (I have a whole TWO shelves of German cookbooks. Another of Swiss & Austrian. And all the recipes from my Oma, of course! ♥ )

It got worse during grad school, when I spend a summer as a intern in Bern, Switzerland. And lived across the valley from the Toblerone Factory. It was like coming home every afternoon to an entire valley filled with the inviting aroma of hot chocolate chip cookies.

I tried some strange and interesting new things; learned to make (always stir the cheese in a figure-8) and eat (never, NEVER drink water while eating) fondue, and risotto, and a great salad dressing that I still use; and generally had a great time.

And when I could graciously bow out of the full-fledged hot midday meal with my colleagues in town, I loved getting a fresh roll from the local baker, some chocolate at the Confiserie and sitting on the back steps of the Bundeshaus—the equivalent of the White House in Washington, D.C.—looking out over the river below.

Food didn’t become a big problem until I went back to Switzerland and worked in Zuerich for a year. It was cold, and wet, and rained for weeks and weeks and weeks at a time.

And that was summer.

(I once paid about $3.00—each—for a bag of California apricots. It was like holding the warm memory of the sun in my hands. Every bite was pure heaven.)

I didn’t share.

That winter it was REALLY COLD, and snowed and snowed and snowed. For weeks at a time. The man at the market laughed at me, because I was looking for fresh lettuce, and handed me a head of cabbage instead.

And pointed at the potatoes.

I would’ve dashed from building to building if I could’ve, but the sidewalks were icy. Lethal. The best I could do was a careful shuffle and slip. Or stay inside. A lot.

And eat.

The Swiss eat well—all year round. And exponentially more chocolate—it’s considered food, not an occasional ‘treat’ –than Americans do. (And this is real chocolate, remember. Not the chalk-and-paste stuff that Hershey’s tries to pawn off.)

Rich, full-fat, full-flavor, real cacao chocolate. They even have real white chocolate.

All day long.

Hot chocolate for breakfast. A chocolate bar tucked into the briefcase (just in case). Pick up out a few handmade truffles (mocha, praline’, and white chocolate champagne were my favorites) from the over 100 varieties at the original Teuscher Confiserie you pass by every morning on the way to work. A chocolate-filled Broetchen, or pastry in the afternoon, when the sun goes down at 3:30 and you need a little boost to make it through the rest of the day workday in the pitch dark.

Then a sweet snack for the trip home.

And chocolate fondue (after the cheese fondue for dinner) for dessert on the weekends.

Everyone has their favorite brand of chocolate—and there are jillions of them. Big, international companies like Lindt, and tiny, specialty houses who create only enough for a select, often subscription-only, clientele.

Different chocolates for every season, every occasion, and every possible taste.

On a regular basis the company I worked for took me on tours of their other holdings. Among them, of course, were chocolate and other confectionary companies. And sent me home laden with samples, bless them.

In my free time, I toured a couple of chocolate factories on my own. Like said Lindt. (Very stingy on the samples, they were.)

And it wasn’t just chocolate. Tortes, and pastries, and crispy little cookies (cookies dipped in chocolate, cookies filled with chocolate, cookies sprinkled with chocolate…) Marzipan and real nougat (the soft, chocolate-y hazelnut creme, not the yucky white stuff with fruit & nuts). Rahmcarameli—a Bern specialty—were a particular favorite of mine: little tins (I still have one somewhere) filled with little cubes of of a brown-sugary miraculous confection somewhere between a soft caramel, fudge, and the brown-sugar filling in those See’s chocolates that I can never remember the name of.

And then there were the cheeses—every shape, color, variety. Hard, soft, strong, mild, and those incredible creamy German varieties that are spreadable. And of course the breads—hot, crusty, fresh-baked everyday. Light and airy; rich and eggy; rustic and hearty; chewy and whole grain. (I did miss the pretzel buns from Germany, but I made do.)

In Switzerland (and Germany, and across Europe) people patronize a favorite cheese shop, a favorite baker, a butcher who has the best cuts and makes the best sausages, a green grocer who has the freshest produce.

Every region in every country has their specialties—wonderful things, unusual things.

Things I might not be able to get ever again…

What can I say? I went native. It wasn’t just the food—it was the lifestyle, the camaraderie. The wine and cheese and amaretti on a warm summer evening by the lake in Lugano; or fondue, or raclette by the fire on a cold night in Bern. Fastnachtskuechli and Zwiebeli  at Fasching (Karneval). And Kaffee und Kuchen on a Sunday afternoon in the garden. With friends that became like family.

I spent more than a year living on bread, and cheese, and chocolate, and…

I could go on and on.

And did.

Some really wonderful memories there.

Stuff that no cleanse can ever wash away.

And I think I’ll get my raclette grill out and invite a few friends as soon as this fast is over.