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Swiss Kiss #10 – Läbchueche (Ginger Bread)

Gingerbread, traditional Christmas pastryKids usually don’t have a developed sense for time. And because they live in the moment, they are not very interested in time either (except when it’s “time” to go to bed – then they become extremely uninterested). There’s phases though throughout the year, when even kids become alert of specific days. Birthdays, for instance, seem to tickle an instinct slumbering within them. Suddenly they are bright awake and can tell exactly how many days or how many night sleeps their big day is away. Christmas tends to have the same effect.

And for me, as a child, Chlouser (Santa Day) did, too. It was the day when we went to the little fair in town, straight from school, when my mother baked Grittibänze (bread people) for supper and we even were allowed to have chocolate with it. – And there was Läbchueche! Even though the bakeries started to offer them earlier every year, in my family we never touched them before Chlouser. They rang in the Holiday season, and – as every thing restricted or limited – tasted already good just because we had had to wait for them.

verzierter lebkuchen mit zuckerguss

Each region of Switzerland prepares its own version of Läbchueche, and they even go by different names. While I grew up with the very light, yet sticky Bäremutz of the Bern area (the bear in the name and in form of a sugary decoration referring to the name of the Swiss capital, Bern), others were used to slabs – or more elaborate shapes as hearts, flowers or animals – containing nuts, honey, almonds, chocolate and more.

It took me half a century, and a move across the big pond, until I learned about what I now call Barbara’s Läbchueche. I met this wonderful Swiss lady and market goer through cheese – who would have guessed – and immediately was impressed by her energy, wit and, especially, her baking skills. The first time we met she brought me the Läbchueche from Obwalden, a region deep in central Switzerland, where once her home had been. The squares were undecorated and unpretentious, and their texture and flavors down right addicting. Moist, fluffy, springy, chocolatey and spicy all at once, long lasting on the palate yet not too heavy in the belly. Barbara’s Läbchueche are easy and quick to prepare and become even tastier after a few days. What else would one wish for during the busy Holiday season?

gingerbread, wrapped as gift

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The “Stay Calm and Grab Chocolate” Cure

chocolate mousse

I bet you know the feeling: Every thing and every one hits down on you at once. More demands, more tasks, more deadlines, more questions. More stress, more frustration, more aggravation. And on the other hand, less time, less flexibility, less creativity. Aggravation turns into anger. Things go from bad to worse, rapidly, and there is no end in sight.

Well, wait. Stop. Stop abruptly. And now turn around, leave the world behind and step into your kitchen. It’s time to whip up a chocolate mousse. High time!

This little interruption won’t take up much of your precious time, but it will calm you down, let you breathe and allow you to, at the same time, take some distance and come up with a plan. Preparing this simple, quick and delicious dessert involves all of your senses – smelling, feeling, tasting, seeing, touching. And therefore it relaxes and strengthens you. One can call it therapy, I like to call it serenity. Joy in the kitchen.

Since you have experienced moments of frustration before (I can not just be making this up, can I?) and you love good food (why else would you be reading this blog?), there must be good chocolate in your house. And this really is the key to an outstanding chocolate mousse. Use the best ever chocolate you can get your hands on! Personally, my go to brands all are from Switzerland (of course…), but it is best to simply use your very favorite chocolate.

Oh, and try, for once, to ignore the electronic mixer or KitchenAid: Whisking, feeling the textures, noticing the changes, enjoying the smells and putting in a tiny bit of physical effort all are part of the satisfaction that awaits. The few minutes you invest here will pay back. You will feel calmer, be ready to take on your tasks and happily anticipating a grand dessert. (So, while the mousse rests in the fridge, go work. Now that you have a concept.)

chocolate mousse, ready to rest in the fridge

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Past Supper #16 – Courses

moist scrambled egg on toast

We started with little toasts of light, moist scrambled eggs, cooked in the same skillet the bacon had become crunchy, with parsley. Followed by a deconstructed, burrito free and reassembled Taco: Firm and chunky tomato soup, corn, rich guacamole, red kidney beans, dollop of sour cream, cilantro and black corn chip. Then crisp and soft, tangy and sweet at once langoustines with a foamy paprika & sriracha mayonnaise, japanese rice and seaweed salad. A minerally, fresh Sauvignon Blanc to start, a velvety and just perfect Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru 2003 thereafter. For dessert swiss chocolate, plain and delicious. – There’s days, when – although I love to cook – I like to officially be banned out of the kitchen. The meals that happen behind that closed door always are amazing, succulent and surprising. Yesterday was such a day.

deconstructed taco

Pictures at a Fridge #2 – Market

Farmer's market in the old town of Biel-Bienne

This picture (taken by the local photographer Jeanne Chevalier, year unknown, but guessing in the 70ies) shows a part of the old core of Biel, where I grew up and went shopping for vegetables, fruits, eggs, honey and cured meats with my mother regularly. The buildings on the right hosted the city’s government with all its many stuffy bureaus, the police station, the theater (which’s emergency exit lead straight into the bedroom of my beloved aunt Margrit and uncle Fredi) and a little office my dad and I visited on fall afternoons to check the mushrooms we had foraged (and my mom still refused to cook, because she didn’t trust just anyone’s judgement). At the lower end of the street was a Café, a chocolate shop and a shoe store. Mom and I loved both the coffee shop and the sweets place, but we avoided the shoe store.

This market still exists, and it has grown massively. Nowadays there is one stall right beside the next one, and a double row – one facing left, the other one right – through the middle. There’s restaurants and several coffee shops now, a gorgeous little Italian specialty store and a fish monger who carries tons of dry and preserved foods from Spain and Portugal. Oh, and my favorite yarn store still is around the corner, plus now also an old friend’s sewing studio. And the best horse butcher in town. And, of course, the Bichsel family, the one farmer my mother bought all veggies and greens from (because them, she did trust).

So many memories. Such great moments. So many delightful strolls. – Thanks for sending me this post card, mama. It is one of my absolute favorites, ever. And it is the only one who made it onto the fridge.

Pictures at a Fridge #1 – Chocolate

This is the cover page for the April issue of Fizzz magazine in 2005. I used to write for this German “magazine for scene gastronomy” regularly, and it was my favorite employer during those sweet years as a freelance writer. I always, always loved how the graphic team supported the texts and how attractive it made each issue and each page look.

This cover became my absolute favorite shot – and take on chocolate, ever. The picture, taken by Frank Nesslage, puts a little smile on my face every time I look at it. It makes me feel happy, energetic and confident. It makes me want to eat, enjoy and take on the world. Beautiful.

fizzz magazine, cover on chocolate