Is it 2017? Oh yes, it is. How is that possible? I cannot say. But the last 6 months have felt like a blur. A glorious, always-new-horizons kind of blur. So it seemed like the right time for a post. Do I have any New Year’s resolutions? Nope. But we DID have a fantastic Christmas season which is much more important than pretending I’m going to drink less beer this year.
My mom came for a nice extended visit here in Switzerland. I met her at the airport in Geneva and we spent the day cruising the city. The city is a feast – of wealth as seen by Ferrari FF’s and tangerine sized diamond necklaces in store windows. But also of food – as enjoyed at the lunch joint named Au Pied de Cochon or The Foot of The Pig, which instantly appealed to my inner meativore.
The hamburger and dessert were decadent. But we started with a bowl of soup that sounded like beef bone broth, which it may have been. However, I glossed over the word “marrow” on the menu and – along with the soup – was greeted with a large beef bone, sliced long ways and served up with a toast point. As you might now expect, that bone was chock full of gooey, cooked marrow which as it turns out, is definitely NOT on my list of meat related favorites.
Over the first couple days, we visited Christmas markets while the kids were still in school. The markets in Bern, though smaller than the local one here in Montreux, had a better selection of the traditional Christmas gifts we had in mind. Continuing the lifetime theme of a focus on food, we came upon a traditional Swiss chalet-y spot serving raclette. This warm pile of delicious cheese is likely enough on its own. But the quick witted host suggested I was “young enough” to eat this along with a plate of sausage. I think he meant “portly enough” but in either case, he was correct. And when we asked about purchasing a pair of the unique beer glasses we drank from, he simply wrapped them up and donated them to us. When your life revolves around meat and beer, this is a great day.
Sarah had the win on a Christmas tree this year. There is a company here that delivers the tree, set up in a pot of dirt, to your door. You decorate it, add lights, plug/unplug it 31 times and then put it back outside to be picked up after the holidays. We get to further remove ourselves from human interaction thanks to the internet and the tree folks replant our beau sapin to save the planet. Merry Christmas indeed.
But that’s about as far as we got on the decorating front. Having zero ornaments or holiday doodads to hang about, it seemed like too much work to go further than a tree. I mean, we bought a couple boxes of ornaments made from chocolate so that we could eat them in January rather than trip over boxes of stuff. Got to have something on the tree.
Enter Linda, Savior of Half Assed Christmas Decorators everywhere. I say everywhere because I confirmed this with my sister Caroline. I love Christmas but adding all the little flourishes – greens, ribbons, table centerpieces, etc. – is something I am totally incapable of doing. That being said, I enjoy the festive spirit such things bring about and Linda excels in this department. One day, our apartment looked semi-holidayish with a strand of lights flung on a potted tree. The next day, it was Santa’s workshop. Caroline has experienced this same phenomenon. And it is all thanks to the Mother.
At school, the children had been preparing for a holiday performance to wrap up the year. This 15 minute show was a treat for us to watch. We already knew half the song and dance routines since Milan and the twins had been singing and dancing them at home for weeks leading up to it. But some highlights would be Milan correcting the teacher on whose turn it was to sing – hers. And all 3 of them doing Jingle Bells number as a trio – Milan singing, Maren and Hendrick bopping along with tambourines. Precursor of things to come?
Chateau de Chillon, a favorite castle of ours, was all done up for Christmas with performers decked out in medieval costumes. There was a strange man in the courtyard acting like a buffoon, with some kind of flute display. There was guy walking around with a terrifying goat mask, possibly some sort of pagan/satanic worship throwback. A magic show, in a large tent, was mostly solid except for the children complaining that the magician was speaking French. But the highlight was inside the dining hall area where they were cooking up soup in a huge witch’s kettle and roasting hunks of meat on an open spit. The beer was being dispensed from a keg – which I don’t believe is period correct – but no matter, as it was “Biere Noel”, brewed with spices and oranges. A new one to me and worth revisiting.
A regular bonanza of baking took place in our home thanks to Sarah and Linda. Cutout cookies – of which I ate probably half the dough – are a personal favorite. Aunt Mamie’s thumbprint cookies follow at a close second. The gingerbread cookies were improved with frosting as we had to improvise on the ingredient front. The gingerbread CAKE on the other hand was nearly impossible to stay out of. I also discovered Panettone, minus all the weird dried fruit. So just a gigantic fluffy cake. Win. But the pièce de résistance had to be the Buche de Noel. Linda was looking for a traditional Swiss treat and this was a REALLY good one. Basically a chocolate cake, rolled up and filled with chocolate mousse then topped with whipped cream, you really need to loosen your belt before diving in.
We went up into the mountains, a place called Rochers de Naye, to see Santa Claus in his alpine home. We had taken this train ride before and it’s quite lovely as it zig zags up the hills offering glorious vistas. We sold it to the kids as a real life Polar Express. Perhaps Sarah and I even deluded ourselves into thinking it would be like the eponymous story book. But oddly, a train car packed with children going to see Santa is decidedly, uh, different, in real life. If Chris Van Allsburg is a parent, he wrote that story while eating a plate of purple mushrooms. We did have fun up there however and this Santa was the best one I’ve ever seen.
After much consternation on my part at having to buy It’s A Wonderful Life – since I was out voted 2 to 1 on watching it – I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I have seen it before, many years ago, but had mostly forgotten it. And having had just read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how Jimmy Stewart’s return from World War II and subsequent state of mind impacted the way he performed in the film, I really enjoyed it. Also, kudos to Google for their annoyingly perfect plan of removing the option to RENT the movie, knowing full well there would be loads of homes (like ours) willing to BUY it just so we could see it over the holidays. We shall now watch it EVERY year.
Although Christmas dominated the last few weeks, Maren and Hendrick also turned FOUR. Which doesn’t seem possible. I’m fairly certain they thought we were just extending Christmas given the additional presents. You see, on Christmas morning, once we cut them loose on the pile beneath the tree we immediately had to blow the whistle several times, call time out and all but physically remove the little chickens from their bounty. The feeding frenzy of tearing wrapping paper off everything in sight was a sight to behold. Once we restored law and order, presents were opened one at a time, meaning gift giving lasted an hour instead of 3 minutes.
Trevor, Jeannine, Jeannine’s sister Meredith and her husband Owen were in Europe on a lovely holiday tour and made a stop in our neck of the woods for a fun visit. We got more or less skunked on Day 1 with a visit to Gruyere that ended with way too much fondue and not-good vin chaud. This was followed by a stop at Cailler for some death-by-chocolate only to be greeted by a 2 hour wait for the tour and 10,000 of our closest friends. No thanks. Fortunately, we ended the day on a positive note with a visit to the beer store on our way home.
That night, we went out to dinner on the lake and had an interesting experience on the cocktail front. Owen ordered a Belvedere on the rocks with a twist of lemon. Pretty sure they gave him a glass of fresh squeezed lemon juice with a shot of vodka. Trevor asked for a dirty martini garnished with a bleu cheese stuffed olive. He may as well have asked if an egg is a fruit or a vegetable. His attempt to clarify the situation by explaining a dirty martini is made with olive juice was met with a look of total bafflement. And my Moscow mule had a solid quarter inch of granulated sugar resting on the bottom. The bagel burger however? That was tasty.
Naturally we watched the Sound of Music during my mom’s visit which led to learning about Julie Andrews maintaining a home in the village of Gstaad, about an hour by train from us. We did a little reading on the place and then made a day trip out of it. My mom bumped us up to first class on the train which unlike the commuter trains, was worth it for this scenic tour of alpine glory. It was easy to imagine Maria dancing about, belting out Do-Re-Mi in her nunnery gear.
We’d read about Gstaad being a favorite spot of celebrities but it didn’t prepare us for the all-out blitz of off the wall wealth on display. My measuring stick is always the type of cars being driven. When I saw a dealership with TWO Bugatti Veyron’s, I was somewhat in a state of shock. We also had a very nice lunch of fresh crepes and something quite tasty called Greenchaud – hot chocolate with Chantilly crème and Chartreuse. But TWO BUGATTI’S? Mon dieu!
On a final food note, we made new traditions this year that we’ll carry with us no matter where we live.
- Smoked salmon with crème cheese and crackers. I love it but watching all 3 kids devour it makes me wonder if they are half feline.
- Fondue is another family favorite that will be on the Christmas Eve meal plan.
- Pink Champagne was new to me and admittedly quite pretty for a festive brunch.
- And to cap it off, small cups made of chocolate filled with Gruyere double crème and topped with a berry. My body is happy there was only enough for each of us to have 2. I would have eaten 20 otherwise.
And to cap this tremendously long narrative, a brief history on Santa Claus in Switzerland. Instead of Santy Claus they have Samichlaus. Sami has a sidekick named Schmutzli. Every Dec 6th, this pair emerges from their forest cottage – with a donkey – and visit children. Good kids receive tangerines and Turkish delights. But the BAD children…they get tossed into Schmutz’s bag and taken away. On a happy note, Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg makes a beer named after Forest Santa. It’s 14%, tastes like figs dipped in caramel and heaven with a dark chocolate pairing that is divine. Can’t wait for next year’s release.