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Swiss Kiss #11 – Omeletten

cheese omelette

They are not pancakes and they are not crêpes and they are not omelets. They are something in between all those. They are very Swiss. And they are called Omeletten.

omeletten stack

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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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Swiss Kiss #9 – This Is My Land (or: Another Way To Give Thanks)

meat store in biel

Be alerted: You barely will find any food in this post. – Instead, there will be places and sights, details and beauty. I took all these pictures during my last trip to Switzerland, during the (too short) time I stayed in and around the small town of Biel-Bienne, the area I had grown up in. Which is the so called “lake land” in the western part of the country, 20 miles west of its capital, Bern. I had done all my schools there, fallen in love for the first time, gotten a job – and so much more.

Walking around town, seeing as many changes as familiar spaces, I realized that the longer I am away from “my land”, the more I appreciate and get attached to it. There definitely is a gipsy within me, but there also is this deep connection to the little things I used to live around and that have influenced me.

view from above biel

So today I am giving thanks to the places that bring back memories and emotions, that mean much to me without being pompous, and that remind me of the folks who brought light, laughter and love into my life. And I want to give thanks to you, my friends in food, by the way of sharing those little moments of serenity and happiness. Who would have thought that sometimes they happen without involving food? (But just sometimes.) – Happy Thanksgiving!

apartment with attached tower in switzerland, medieval

Tower from the 13th century in the old core of Biel. It was transformed into cozy and, happily, very affordable apartments.

fountain built in the middle age

Most old towns have their fountains, and there are many that are more famous than this one. Still it is my favorite one, not just in Biel. And it is full of history and stories. Continue reading “Swiss Kiss #9 – This Is My Land (or: Another Way To Give Thanks)” »

Swiss Kiss #8 – Erst August Weggen

August first rolls with flags

To Swiss, August 1 marks what July 4 does to Americans: It is our national Independence Day. And while there are fire works, pick nicks – or barbecues, how Americans prefer to call them -, tons of sausages, potato salads, ice cream, fruit pies and such on both sides of the ocean, my very favorite part about August 1 are Erst August Weggen: Little, light breads with a cross shaped on the top – representing the Swiss flag -, that from the middle of July and until the big day abundantly fill the bakery shelves across the country.

Weggen, or Weggli, depending on the region, are made year round and stand as one of the staples in Swiss bakeries. The day in, day out, regular version is a portion sized, a bit flattened dome with a cut in the center. The crust is egg basted, very fine and very soft, the inside is feather light, smooth, with a hint of a unique, flattering, addictive, slightly sweet flavor. Which comes from the addition of a tiny bit of malt. (Ta-daa, there goes the secret!)

The special birthday edition is prepared with the exact same ingredients and in the exact same technique as the common Weggli, but in honor of Helvetia has the cross shaped on its top. – Which shows how versatile of a bread the Weggen is: It can be shaped into knots, pretzels, pigeons (traditional in some areas around Easter), little porcupines, people, snakes… you name it. Even though there is this slight, slight hint of sweetness in the flavor profile, Weggli adapts both to sweet and savory companions. Served with butter and jam or honey, this mini bread is a luxury way of the traditional Swiss breakfast (slices of bread, buttered and topped with a sweet spread). When then some cheeses, charcuterie and pickles are added, it easily can make for a delicious Brunch or light supper.

So, go and prepare a batch of dough, shape some Weggen or find your favorite form, and enjoy by eating it with what ever suits your taste buds best. – Meanwhile, I will celebrate with plain, still warm, simply traditional Erst August Weggen. Happy 723. birthday, beautiful Switzerland!

egg yolk and milk for swiss holiday bread

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Swiss Kiss #7 – Älpler-Maggronen (alpine style Pasta)

mac n' cheese on steroids

Älpler the people who, seasonally, work high up in the Alps. Farmers, shepherds, folks that during about 100 days in the summer move accept to leave civilization behind them – often also their families – and go tend to the rough and steep land on 5000 feet elevation or higher, and to the animals they bring, to keep the meadows healthy and profitable. They milk, fix huts, make cheese, repair fences, jump in as vets if an animal needs one. They are all rounders, every single day, all summer long. There’s less romance involved in the life of an Älpler than most outsiders imagine. But much more hunger.

Älpler-Maggronen – “the alpine farmer’s Maccaroni” – are Mac n’ Cheese on steroids. Besides the pasta and (true, real, high quality) cheese they also contain potato, onion and cream. They are traditional to the inner Switzerland region – mainly the Uri, Nidwalden and Schwyz cantons. While transhumance – the seasonal move of people and animals to different areas – has been done in many, many centuries, the Älpler-Maggronen came to life less than 150 years ago.

Around 1882, to be exact, when the massive tunnel underneath the Gotthard mountain was built, in order to connect central Switzerland with the southern part, Ticino, and Italy. The Swiss liked the pasta the Italian construction workers brought along, and they quickly realized that they not only were nutritious, but light and robust enough to be easily transported up to the mountains, and that they had an excellent shelf life. The farmers combined the pasta with what was readily available and would keep them full for a good while.

mise for swiss version of mac and cheese

Nowadays the dish is served in all German speaking regions of Switzerland (so mostly in the north and north eastern part of the country). Some people like to add bacon or ham cubes, some serve apple compote with it, others top the robust mixture with caramelized onions. And some even put the mix in the oven until the top forms a crust. (That is Swiss democracy in food, I guess.)

The chives, although quantity wise the most minuscule of all ingredients, play an interesting role in this dish. While most people tend to consider them as garnish or momentary trend – comparable to the leaf of parsley that for decades adorned every daily special of each Swiss train station restaurant – the chive in Älper-Maggronen has its exact reason. Wild chive is a very common alpine herb and therefore used when ever possible. It adds freshness, color, nutrients and zing to any dish. And makes Älpler-Maggronen a perfectly complete meal. What else would one want?

aelpler maggronen, in bowl, ready

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