Monday, August 19, 2013

Top Ten Moments from Summer 2013

Top Ten Moments from Summer 2013

1.  Boat trip down Sardinian coast to beautiful beaches and grottos

2.  Celebrating Sophie's 3rd birthday (3 times)

3.  Watching our girls begin their journey into a sport Mommy and Daddy love

4.  Maddie and Sophie trying fresh, home-cooked Maine lobster for the first time as well as tide pooling

5.  Taking Maddie and Sophie candlepin bowling in Webster, MA

6.  Maddie experiencing her first BIG water park ride

7.  Maddie and Sophie riding Shetland Pony and horse bareback

8.  Maddie and Sophie catching their first fish

9.  Getting to be a part of my nephew's adoption finalization

10.  Steve, John and Grandpa going triples on double skis behind the Josti boat (we call it the triple double)...Steve and Kelly also skiied together on slalom but we weren't smart enough to document it

Friday, March 23, 2012

Things to know about Switzerland

I borrowed this from another website and trimmed the list down a bit. Here are some things that you might be interested in about Switzerland:

In Switzerland...
  • almost everyone has the same type of mailbox (two part: top has a slot for letters, bottom section has a door for packages) with an engraved nameplate.

  • curbs are assembled from individual pieces of stone (granite) approx. 1m in length. The surfaces are rough and can cause tire ruptures if you drive against them. In the US, curbs are poured concrete.

  • when you leave (quit a job, move away) it is customary that you, yourself, organize a going away party (une verree or apero). In the US, your friends/coworkers do this.

  • it is virtually impossible to lock yourself out (of an office, of your apartment). This is because almost all doors only lock with a key.

  • almost all doors have handles, not knobs. This makes it easier to open the door (if it's unlocked of course) while carrying things (i.e., just use your elbow).

  • a child's name must be on an approved list. Swiss parents do not have the freedom to name a kid "Moonunit". Resident foreigners can be exempted from this rule, but you must obtain an official statement from an embassy that attests that the name is acceptable in the other country.

  • all stores are usually closed by 7 pm.

  • there are approximately the same number of gas stations and post offices.

  • if you want to buy groceries on Sunday (or after working hours), go to a gas station. Many stations (especially Migrol which is owned by Migros) are mini supermarkets. Another place to shop is at larger train stations, or airports, where mini-markets are almost always open from 6 am to 10 pm.

  • pharmacies sell maple syrup.

  • gas stations sell good bread.

  • vinegar compresses on the lower legs/ankles are recommended for reducing fever.

  • you can buy UHT milk, which keeps for months unrefrigerated.

  • almost all milk comes in 1 liter Tetra-Pak boxes.

  • you cannot turn right on red.

  • FM radio stations are on both even and odd frequencies. In the US, stations are only on odd frequencies (e.g., 105.3 FM).

  • you can purchase insurance for just about everything including "accidental sink breakage", "bicycle collision", etc. In fact, if you ride a bicycle on a public road or sidewalk, you are required by law to have liability insurance as proved by a sticker (vignette).

  • Homeowner (and apartment dweller) insurance policies state clearly that you are covered for theft even if you have left the doors or windows unlocked (or open).

  • fuel economy is measured as "quantity per distance" (liters per 100km). In the US, it is measured as "distance per quantity" (miles per gallon).

  • there are no smoke detectors in apartments.

  • many stores are closed for long lunch (sometimes from noon to 3pm).

  • banks do not charge ATM fees.

  • when you get a package gift wrapped, they put a little address label on the package with the name of the store (this does not help preserve the surprise).

  • you have to weigh fruits and vegetables yourself at grocery stores. Scales are located in the produce section and usual just have a large set of numbered buttons. Once you have selected your produce, you need to look for the sign that says what number to enter on the scale. Then, you take the produce to the scale, press the corresponding button and the scale will print a label. Of course, if you mis-read or forget the number, you may end up mis-labeling your produce.

  • shopping carts are omnidirectional. In order to use one in a supermarket, you have to deposit a CHF 2 coin in slot on top of the cart, which releases the chain by which the cart is attached to the next one. When you return the cart to its place (once done shopping), you get your "deposit" back (i.e., the coin is released from the slot).

  • shopping carts are often for the entire shopping center or mall, not just a single store. So, people walk around with the same cart, going into and out of stores. It's not unusual to see a cart full of groceries inside a clothing store.

  • you have to bag your own groceries at grocery stores. If you want a "good" bag (paper or plastic), you have to pay for it. You can, however, get a small plastic bag (which will rip at the slightest touch) if you ask.

  • on many buses, you buy tickets and get change from the driver (yes, the driver does carry change!!!)

  • instead of garage sales, the Swiss have regularly scheduled "large trash" days (most communes publish a schedule). On these days, you can see lots of people "skulking about", surretipitiously looking through all the random junk other people have thrown out. It's fairly amusing to watch people put out stuff and then other people wander by and carry it off (sometimes at night using flashlights).

  • there are air canisters (big pots with handles) at gas station for filling tires.

  • apartment buildings rules specify quiet time (usually after 10 pm). If you make too much noise during this time, neighbors may call the police. Heard from a friend: "A colleague once had invited his Swiss neighbors to a house-warming party, where they partook of the refreshments, then promptly departed at 10 p.m. The party continued in full swing. About an hour later the police showed up at his door, asking him to 'keep it quiet please, or else!', all at the prompting of those lovely neighbors.

  • gas stations have "automates" for buying gas at the pump (with credit cards or CASH!). However, you can only use the automate when the station is closed (i.e., at night).

  • all bank tellers sit behind thick plate glass windows. In the US, banks usually do not have plate glass (which is why there are probably more holdups).

  • there are photo radars on the autoroutes and in many towns. If you're captured on film (and your license plate is readable), the police mail you a ticket (but not the photo!). If you protest and demand the photo, you have to pay a bigger fine (if it turns out to be you in the photo). Fines can be quite hefty (several thousand Swiss francs, depending how much over the limit you were going). If caught speeding in a residential area, you can actually spend the night in jail! A less serious offence (but still punishable by a fine) is making a right turn not exactly at the intersection, but by getting into the right lane (usually reserved for buses and taxis) a couple of meters before the actual turn.

  • if you own any radios or tv's capable of receiving broadcasts (over the air, via cable, via satellite, etc.) you have to pay a monthly tax (tv/radio license).

  • the numbers on license plates are all standardized. Passenger cars all have 2 letters (for the canton, e.g., "VD" for Vaud) followed by numbers (e.g., "GE 225 123"). Plates are assigned based on experience, thus low number plates usually indicate someone who has been driving a long time (i.e., an old person). Larger cantons (GE, ZH, etc.) have more cars and so the numbers on the plates are higher. Very low numbers (e.g., "GE 3") usually are assigned to taxis. On government cars have a single letter (instead of the canton): "A" for administration, "M" for military. Up until 2000, all rental cars had a post-fix letter "V", e.g., "SH 6351-V". There are no personalized license plates.

  • you can use a US penny in many parking meters (a US penny is virtually the same size and weight as a 20 centime coin).

  • mosquitos are slow moving, do not bite (usually), and dumb. This is probably why there are no window screens in Switzerland.

  • most windows which open can be swung on two sides: one of the vertical sides (open all the way) and the top or bottom (to crack it open a few centimeters).

  • intercity trains may have a grocery store (Coop) or fast food restaurant (McDonald's) car. Some trains have a cart service with snack foods.

  • Easter is a BIG thing: Good Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays and nothing (except gas stations) are open. Stores close early the Thursday before and are open with reduced hours on Saturday. Some stores are not even open on Tuesday. As a result, many people go away on vacation.

  • everything shuts down in August. Most people in Switzerland have 4 to 5 weeks of vacation per year and take a few of these in August.

  • many day care centers are closed many days because of school holidays (1 week "winter sports" in Feb/Mar, 1 week spring break in April, 3 to 5 weeks during July/Aug, 1 week in Sep/Oct, 1 to 2 weeks for Christmas/New Year's).

  • the deregulated long distance telephone market means that it is cheaper to call almost anywhere from Switzerland than to it. In 2001, many operators let you call the US for less than 5 cents a minute.

  • people always hold a knife in one hand and a fork in the other while eating.

  • movies have intermissions.

  • traffic lights turn green to yellow before red and red to yellow before green (the yellow light almost never appears by itself).

  • parking spaces are small: just enough (barely) space to park and to exit the space.

  • lingerie is advertised on sidewalk billboards so as to easily catch the eye of pedestrians and drivers.

  • it is extremely hard to find a drinking fountain...but not hard to find a fountain.

  • you sometimes have to pay to get plain (tap/table) water in restaurants.

  • the number "1" is often written like a "7" in the US (a "7" is written in Switzerland with a horizontal cross).

  • the thumb is used to indicate "1" when counting with fingers. Thus, if you want to ask for one of something, only hold up the thumb. If you hold up the index finger you will likely get two items.

  • an "unfurnished" apartment is *really* unfurnished: there are usually no light fixtures (just bare wires), curtain rods, kitchen appliances etc. Sometimes, not even the toilet seat is included.

  • most toilets don't flush very well (low flow to conserve water). Thus, there is almost always a brush next to the toilet for "cleaning" the bowl when needed.

  • mustard comes in squeeze tubes (looks just like toothpaste). So does mayonnaise.

  • it is not unusual (nor a problem) to use large amounts of cash at stores. For example, the cashier won't even blink an eye if you use a 100 CHF bill to buy a stick of gum or a croissant.

  • few people eat out often (not really surprising since it's expensive to eat out), except for those who live downtown in large cities.

  • personal checks are rarely used.

  • debit (EC) cards are widely used.

  • most drivers will stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.

  • many streets (even busy ones) are pitch black by 11pm.

  • offices usually have funny looking "Swiss" keys (no notches, just a bunch of circular indentations).

  • there are no binder clips.

  • binders have 2 or 4 rings (not 3). Most binders have a lever to open the rings (unlike American binder rings, which you just pull apart).

  • printers use A4 paper, not "letter". Actually, the Ax series of papers is very logical (being based on fractions of a square meter), but the dimensions are impossible to remember.

  • a paper clip is a "trombone" (that's the French word).

  • paper clips do not have rounded ends. Instead, one side is straight (lines up on the paper edge) and the other is pointed (to make it easier to put on).

  • the television standard is PAL (not NTSC). However, almost all VCR's are able to play NTSC format tapes.

  • people take their dogs everywhere: into restaurants (you'll see them sitting under the table), on buses/trains, etc.

  • a very large number of people, teenagers included, have cell phones. Yet, cell phone calling is very expensive (it is 5 to 10 times cheaper to call the US on a fixed line than to make a cell phone call).

  • cell phones work almost everywhere, even in the mountains and on top of the Matterhorn.

  • very few places have air conditioning. Luckily, it's not hot very often in the summer (at least, not for more than 3-4 weeks!).

  • ATM's insist you take your card before you get your cash. In the US, your card is the last thing to come out of the machine.

  • every bank posts exchange rates.

  • newspapers are printed on small sheets: about 1/2 the size of American or British papers.

  • you can read a newspaper and not once see the name of the president.

  • most cars are manual transmission (stick shift) and everyone thinks that Americans only own/drive automatics.

  • you can make a hotel reservation without giving a credit card.

  • when you check in at most hotels, you have to leave your passport for a few hours (this is also true throughout the rest of Western Europe).

  • the common way to pay bills is to pay everything at once. The bills are standardized red or orange forms. When you are ready to pay, you can either pay all at once at the post office or pay online using specific template for color of your bill.

  • cars are often towed using a rope, not jacked up or lifted on to a tow truck. This means, of course, that someone has to stay in the towed vehicle to steer!

  • most glasses at restaurants have the volume marked on them and a line so you know exactly how much liquid is in the glass.

  • elevators are usually very small and cramped. Four-people (but no luggage!) elevators are very common. One wonders how people manage to transport furniture when they move.

  • ground level is floor "zero" and the floor above is "one".

  • a cardboard "parking disc" (which you set to show your arrival time and place on the dashboard) is used for parking in marked, colored zones.

  • it's considered rude (or at least "odd") to keep your hands on your lap at the dinner table. Most people put both forearms or elbows ON the table whenever they are not eating. In other words, the American "good manner" of eating with one hand and having the other in your lap, is perceived to be "strange".

  • people wipe their plates clean (sparkling clean!) with bread. When Swiss eat dinner, it is not uncommon to find the plates as clean after a meal as they were before the meal.

  • dry-cleaned clothes are usually returned folded-up inside a plastic bag, not hung on a hangar (no freebies!).

  • malls are "anchored" by big grocery stores (Coop or Migros) instead of department stores.

  • almost all houses and apartment buildings have bomb shelters, which often cannot be used (because most people use them as storage spaces).

  • Chinese and Mexican restaurants are considered exotic and generally quite expensive. It is very difficult to find "reasonnably" priced restaurants (even though there are many chinese restaurants).

  • you can stay at a Golden Arch Hotel, where you can enjoy fine McDonald's cuisine.

  • the profession of most people is listed in the phonebook, just after their name.

  • employers expect information on your resume/cv that would probably be illegal to ask for in the US: date of birth, place of birth, maritial status, number of children. (note: this information is needed because job offers must consider extra "allocations" for child support, pension, etc.)

  • you generally do not leave tips in restaurants. In fact, if you do leave something, it's usually just enough for the server/waiter to go get a coffee.

  • many waiters carry a large black wallet, which they use to make change for people paying their bills with cash. As a result, waiters often carry a register's worth of cash around with them.

  • recycling is a way of life! There are special areas in neighbourhoods where you can deposit bottles (color and white glass separately), plastic, aluminium, paper, batteries etc. in specially marked containers. Of course, there is usually a warning sign telling you not to do it between the hours of 10 pm - 7 am...

  • it is customary in many restaurants (though not the expensive ones!) for you to seat yourself (without waiting for someone to take you to a table).

  • you are only supposed to deposit large pieces of cardboard (boxes etc.) by putting them in a special spot outside the house at a specified day and time only (but never on a Sunday!).

  • shoe stores give large balloons (inflated, mounted on a stick) free to children.

  • the post office is also a bank.

  • snow tires are required during the winter months (you can be fined if you are found driving without them).

  • all cars are required to have a "danger" triangle, which is to be placed some distance (10m or so) behind the car to signal an accident or breakdown.

  • you can be fined if you do not properly maintain the apperance of your property (house, car, etc).

  • house loans / mortgages can be taken out for periods up to 100 years.

  • people have actually been known to vote in favor of tax increases.

  • learning the local language is just that, local. You can drive 30 minutes and suddenly find that you do not understand and cannot be understood by anyone. This is especially true in the mountains and parts of German speaking Switzerland.

  • the grade school system requires students to learn a foreign language (usually one of the 4 national languages).

  • there is a lot more graffiti than you would expect. This is largely because graffiti, particularly "artistic" graffiti, is not considered as much a problem as it is the US. Also, relatively speaking, there is much less graffiti in Switzerland than in neighboring countries (e.g., Italy).

  • you can sometimes watch cow shows (cows paraded in front of a panel of judges) on television.

  • you can make it a condition of your work contract to be allowed to keep dogs in your office. One woman at a well-known business school keeps two Labrador retrievers in their own beds under her desk.

  • some cantons impose a yearly tax on pet dogs.

  • there is no mail pick-up at home (to mail a letter, you have to drop it in a mail box or take it to the post office).

  • the street number of almost all residences (homes, apartment buildings, etc.) is a little, dark-blue metal sign with the number in white.

  • Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romanisch (which is only spoken by less than one percent of the population.

  • Postal addresses often do not include the apartment number, just the street address. Thus, it's important that the last name be clearly printed on the incoming mail and also on the postal letter box.

  • Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Treaty. The new Schengen Visa process has very different photo ID requirements than the standard passport photo. For example there are six pages of instructions on how an acceptable photo must appear to apply for a visa that conforms to the Schengen rules.

  • Banks offer special ATM machines that allow individuals or merchants to deposit large quantities of coins to their accounts.

  • Traffic fines for egregious offenses (speeding significantly faster than the limit, as an example) are based on a percentage of your income.

  • Just about every apartment building has a "clothes dryer room" for larger items (or lots of smaller items) which is a closed room in the cellar with a heated fan and lots of clothes lines.

  • SMS Text messaging in Switzerland (and most of Europe) is free for received texts, only the sender pays.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Soooooo yummy.

Second time to make's that good. Still yet to get pork fillet that looks like this. I think it's better with flat pork steaks anyways. Also used convection this time instead of professional baking...don't know what the substitute is exactly on this new oven at our apartment vs one at corporate apartment.

Fillet of pork in puff pastry

1 roll of puff pastry
1 pork fillet, approx. 450 g
150 g bacon, sliced
2 tbsp oil
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
2 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
100 g dried tomatoes in oil

1 Sear the pork fillet in a frying pan with the oil, season it with
salt and pepper, then remove the fillet and leave it to cool.
2 Pull the parsley and thyme leaves off the stalks, strip the rosemary leaves and chop all the herbs up. Slice the dried
tomatoes into strips.
3 Lay the bacon out on the work surface, overlapping the slices,
until you get a rectangular shape in which you can wrap
the fillet. Spread the herbs and tomatoes over the bacon and
press down. Place the fillet on top and wrap it in the bacon.
Place the fillet on the puff pastry, fold the shorter edges
over the fillet (around 3 cm), then roll it up lengthways. Brush
the edge of the pastry with water and press it down to
4 Cover the stainless steel tray with baking parchment and
lay the fillet on to it, with the pastry seam facing down. Decorate with any remaining pastry.
5 Put the stainless steel tray into the cold cooking space at
level 2. Professional baking 200 °C, 30 minutes.

Plate and put a little salad on the side....and maybe a glass of wine.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Beef stroganoff

800 g shoulder of beef, in strips 1 cm thick (try asking for this at a Swiss German grocery store)
1 tsp beef bouillon powder
2 yellow peppers
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
2 onions, finely diced

3–4 tbsp gravy powder
2 tbsp tomato puree
180 g thickened cream for making sauces (still no idea if I'm getting the right thing...full cream?)
Paprika powder

1 Season the meat with salt and pepper.
2 Cut the peppers in half, remove the stalks, seeds and white
membranes, then cut into strips.
3 Put the meat in the porcelain dish and scatter the beef
bouillon powder, peppers and onions over the top.
4 Put the porcelain dish on to the wire shelf at level 2 of the cold
cooking space. Steam 100 °C, 40 minutes.
5 Pour out and collect the juices from the porcelain dish, stir
the gravy powder, tomato puree, the thickened cream and
paprika into the juices, then add this sauce to the meat.
6 Put the porcelain dish on to the wire shelf into the warm
cooking space at level 2. Regenerate 140 °C, 6–8 minutes.
Season to taste before serving.
Serve with polenta.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bread Pudding, Pasta Gratin and Birthdays

The zoo was a hit! Taking the train was definitely the right decision and when we were walking back home later in the afternoon Steve and I definitely gave each other a high five for surviving the day. The girls had their moments but we all had a great time and Maddie definitely enjoyed her birthday celebration. I wish I had recorded the playing lions since it was Maddie's favorite. This is the best I could do. And Maddie with her Zum Geburtstag cake (which translates to 'for birthdays'). Happy Birthday Maddie!

We had pasta gratin, salad and cake for Maddie's birthday Sunday. It was super yummy so I thought I'd post the recipe. Steve mentioned that there was a loaf of "hard" bread in the fridge so I decided to make bread pudding yesterday. I adapted two recipes and I must say that I was very impressed with myself (c; It is soooooooooo good. And it was delicious this morning with coffee (c;

Pasta gratin

300–350 g uncooked pasta (shells or elbow macaro
2 onions, cut into rings
250 g mushrooms, sliced
100 g bratwurst, sliced and slightly cooked
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves pulled off from stalks and chopped

4½dl vegetable bouillon
2½dl single cream
150 g grated cheese

Put the pasta, onions, mushrooms, air-dried ham and parsley into the greased porcelain dish and mix together.
For the sauce, stir the vegetable bouillon and single cream together and season. Pour the sauce over the pasta.
Sprinkle with cheese.
Put the porcelain dish on to the wire shelf at level 2 of the cold cooking space. Hot air with steaming 180 °C, 35 minutes.

Banana Bread and Butter Pudding

4 dl milch
4 dl halbrahm (half cream)
as much sugar as you want (c; (maybe close to 1 cup)
50 g butter
1 becher haselnuss joghurt (1 cup hazelnut yogurt)
4 eggs

A little water
1 loaf of grain bread (cut into chunks...however you like)
2 bananas (sliced)

Grease a baking dish with butter.

Layer the bread chunks and bananas in the baking dish.
Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, take off the heat and allow to cool. Add remaining butter to cream mixture to melt.
In a bowl whisk the eggs, water and sugar, then add the cream mixture into the eggs, stirring continuously. Add the yogurt.
Carefully pour the custard over the bread and bananas. Leave to stand for 20 minutes pushing down on the bread occasionally. The idea is for the bread to soak up the custard.
Put the porcelain dish on to the wire shelf at level 2 of the preheated cooking space. Hot air humid 180 °C, 15 minutes.
Check to be sure that it is not overcooking. Continue with Hot air humid 180 °C, 15 minutes.
Do not allow the custard to overcook otherwise it will scramble.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fish for dinner...definitely will do this recipe again.

Fish in puff pastry

Stainless steel tray
1 roll of puff pastry
1 red pepper
1 courgette
Coriander or flat leaf parsley
4 small portions of firm fish,
around 50 g each

1 Cut the pepper in half, remove the stalk, seeds and white
membranes, then cut into strips lengthways. Cut the stalk off
the top of the courgette, then cut it into slices lengthways.
2 Cut the puff pastry into four equal-sized rectangles.
3 Lay the pepper and courgette diagonally across the pastry
pieces, sprinkle with the plucked coriander or parsley,
season with salt and pepper, then place the fish on top. Pull
the two free corners of the pastry over the fish.
4 Cover the stainless steel tray with baking parchment and put
the puff pastry parcels on it.
5 Put the stainless steel tray into the cold cooking space at
level 2. Professional baking 210 °C, 25 minutes.