Monday, March 8, 2010
February in Switzerland and France
What is it about Europe I love so much? Could it be the love affair I have with wonderful food or is it the fact that meal time in Europe is sacred? Meals mean family time, freind time and a long time to savour and enjoy the chef's creation that day. I have never been to a European home where meals are hurried and great conversation is not de rigeur.
What a pleasure for me, as I am possibly one of the slowest eaters in the world. I take pleasure in each bite of food I take, and do as I was taught by my mum - I actually put down my knife and fork often inbetween bites!
I am so proud of my two daughters, Brooke and Bree. They have hectic lives - Bree often has to travel around the world for her job and has a stressful career, albeit an exciting one! Brooke is 9 months pregnant and has 3-year old Sienna. Anais is Bree's creation and is 12-years old. However, they always sit down at meal time and eat healthy, home-made meals.
I just returned from a marvelous 2 week stay with my daughters in Geneva. And, much of our social time was spent at the dining room table, whether at Brooke or Bree's or invitations out. Our first invite was to Anais's grandparents who live in the Valais. Jacqueline is a great entertainer and her dishes ooze with flavour and creativity. Lunch time at their lovely home was a delightful 4 course meal. However, upon leaving, I did not feel overly full and uncomfortable. Proportions and food combining enable one to be sated but not "stuffed"!
Another evening was spent at my dear friends, the Burke's. Vegetarian fare was made exciting by including smoked salmon, baked salmon and a wide assortment of cheeses and salads. It is always fun to eat at their home and dine buffet style.
Nicole Porte, who is Luc's mum always entertains with such elegance. Her meals are scruptuous and made even more so by the fine Baccarat cyrstal glasses used to drink J.P.'s luscious wine choices and the exquisite silver to gather outstanding morsels of food. Parcels of swordfish topped with scallops and seasoned with fresh tarragon was undeniably delicious.
A drive to Annecy, France for the day was another highlight for moi. what made it even more special was that it was just we 5 girls - Brooke, Bree, Anais, Sienna and me. We walked the charming cobblestone streets of "the Venice of France" oohing and aahing tiny clothing and epicurian boutiques. After walking the old town for a half hour, we chose a local eating spot away from the river where tourists congregate.
Bree and I sipped a kir before lunch. I chose a typical Savoyarde dish "reblechonade" which is made with the cheese of the same name - reblechon. It is served melted atop gratin potatoes and is rather heavenly in one's mouth. It was served with a fresh salad and a delicious vinaigrette.
Once our leisurely lunch was finished, we walked to the more modern shopping district. As if on cue, all the stores open promptly after lunch and the streets fill with shoppers. We enjoyed window shopping and entering specialty shops to browse.
One night, we had my favourite moitie/moitie fondue made with Vacheron and Gruyere cheeses. I could drown in this typically Swiss dish. Brooke and Bree made two pots of fondue together and Luc and I stirred with our wooden spoons until melted enough to whisk them to the awaiting holders on the centre of the table. Sharing a fondue is such a great way to entertain. If a woman drops her bread in the fondue pot, she has to allow all the men at the table to kiss her. If a man drops his bread, he must buy the host a bottle of wine! Normally, white wine or hot tea is served with fondue and never water or cold beverages, for the cheese will turn into a knot in your stomach!
On my last night, Brooke served another of my favourite dishes -- raclette. This wonderful cheese is served melted, as well and is scraped over steamed potatoes and eaten with "cornichons" and pickled onions. One can add cayenne pepper, harissa (the best is made by my son-in-law, Yann), curry powder or whatever spice turns you on. I happen to be addicted to spicey foods, so add the harrissa or cayenne pepper. This is an other example of a Swiss meal served in restaurants and in many homes. It is another great way to socialise while eating. Swiss white wine is the perfect accompaniment to this dish.
Speaking of which, most people have not had the opportunity to savour Swiss wines. The reason? Swiss wines are largely unavailable outside of Switzerland. The 29 million gallons of wine produced each year are drunk by the inhabitants. Only 2 percent of Swiss wine is exported and mostly to surrounding European countries.
The best wines in my opinion are made in what is known as the Swiss Riviera in the Lavaux terraces on the northern shores of Lac Lemain or Lake Geneva. Vineyards grow on steep slopes that drop straight down to the lake. You have to see it to believe it!
Sunday brunch at Bree's was a delicious omlette made with organic eggs and whole wheat toast.
Returning to America is always difficult for me because I miss my kids so much, but also because people do not seem to take the time to savour their meals as much as they do there. I wish I could wave my magic wand and people here would suddenly realise how important it is to take the time to cook, sit down together and take the time to eat and converse.
Maybe one day..........