Happy Thanksgiving 2020 – A Different Kind of Celebration With Same Meaning As Ever

ThanksgivingThis Thanksgiving will be a different kind of celebration with same meaning as ever. Traditionally Native Americans saved Pilgrims from starvation back in 1620 by teaching them to tap maple trees, plant corn and fertilize soil.

T-giving has always been a day of gathering bounty from fields, sharing with others, and giving thanks. However, this year, due to the pandemic, families should celebrate separately, which to Americans sort of defeats the whole purpose of T-day.

Ever since I moved to Europe forty years ago, I have been trying to thank my European hosts for accepting me into their countries. But not matter how I try to explain it, they remain bewildered by our Thanksgiving, a journée de remerciements. They think it is the only day of the year where Americans prepare a hot meal and eat slow food.

ThanksgivingMy first year abroad I invited French teammates and they ate the food in courses, one dish at a time. The next year in Germany, the team turnout was so great, there was standing room only; we never sat down to dine. Another year French relatives replaced the giant Tom Turkey with Chicken Little. Now living in Switzerland off I go again every November on the Great Turkey Hunt through the Swiss Alps.

ThanksgivingLast year I didn’t have to explain anything when Gerald and I celebrated our first extra special Thanksgiving in the states with our kids and sister and her family. My brother in law smoked a turkey, my son and daughter in law made a British speciality Yorkshire pudding, my niece added a broccoli salad. My sister brought the traditional pumpkin pie and my daughter contributed a gluten free apple crumble.

This year still in recovery from brain injury and like so many others dealing with Covid depression; I lament to my psychotherapist, “I am so sad, I can’t see family.”

“But isn’t the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday to give thanks?” she reminds me. “Can you reframe your perspective and focus on what you do have to be grateful for?”

“Even though you can’t see your family, are they safe? Healthy?” She asks. “Is your husband still with you? Are you recovering?”

So many people have lost cherished family members and dear friends. Thanksgiving 2020 must be marked in different ways. I will start by celebrating with my loved ones in a Zoom call to surprise my parents.

At a safe distance separated from each other one end of an extended to hold a dozen people we will social distance and share a simplified T-Day. We will lift our glasses with a neighbor couple, part of our pod here, and I will whisper thanks for :

1. Health care workers worldwide who continue to battle a devastating pandemic.
2. Family who remain steadfast and loving for the long haul.
3. Friendships that sustain my spirit in hard times.
5. Frenchman – my life partner who picks me and puts me together after every fall.
6. Internet that instantly connects me between continents, cultures and time zones.
7. Words- books, cards, emails, calls that keep us connected especially now when we cannot reach out physically,
8. Summit Lake a place to dream of returning one day where sacred waters restore my soul.

Thanksgiving

This year in our modified Thanksgiving, we won’t dine on a whole Tom Turkey, just a turkey breast and though it will be a small, subdued celebration unlike the big noisy gatherings of Thanksgivings growing up in America, the blessings will be the same. The bird is secondary. It’s the stuffing — family, friends and memories — sharing and caring — that sustains me.

La Maison Cailler -Switzerland Synonymous with Chocolate

Cailler chocolateSwitzerland is synonymous with chocolate and it comes as no surprise that the world’s oldest chocolate maker Cailler is arguably also the world’s best. In ancient times, chocolate, once considered the “elixir of the Gods,” was believed to have magical properties. I agree.

No trip to Switzerland is complete without sampling one the nation’s finest offerings, yet I never toured a chocolate factory until my niece came for a visit. Boy, was I missing out. A trip to a chocolate museum entertains all ages. It is worth it just for the free samples.

The most well known of Swiss chocolates, Cailler claims to be the oldest brand. Cailler produced chocolate in Vevey as far back as 1819 and since 1889 in neighboring Broc where today millions of tourists visit the La Maison Cailler du Chocolat. In 1929 Cailler became part of the Nestle group, but it still functions independently.

The Swiss consume the most chocolate in the world. 5% prefer white, 20% prefer dark and 80% prefer milk chocolate, which is made from treasured 200 year old Swiss secret recipe. In my opinion the darker the chocolate the better and apparently experts agree the higher the cocoa content the better it is for your health.

Cailler chocolateIn 1911 Alexandre-Louis Cailler developed a different process to manufacture a creamier, milky flavored chocolate. Instead of using powdered milk, he took condensed milk from Alpine milk in the Gruyère region to create a milk chocolate with an incomparably smooth, rich milky flavor. To this day, Cailler is the only Swiss chocolate manufacturer to use this method.

While you wait your turn to enter the museum, you can watch through windows where on the floor below the chef leads a class of visitors in making 5 different kinds of chocolate in the chocolate workshop.

For 12 Swiss francs, visitors enter the museum’s historical journey of chocolate’s development through time in multi sensory audiovisual tours. Chocolate originated in antiquity from Mexico’s cocoa bean. In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors brought chocolate to Europe where it was considered taboo until the pope declared it a wholesome drink. In the last century, the French considered it an aphrodisiac and savored tiny cups of divine chocolate silk while in bed.

As part of the Cailler chocolateMaison Cailler experience, you are allowed to touch the cocoa beans, butter, nuts and raw material used to make chocolate. A replica of the conveyor belt used in the factory shows the process of how Cailler’s signature Mini Branches – hazel nut filled logs – are made, cut and wrapped.

The highlight for any sweet tooth is the free sampling at the end. Just like at a chocolate shop, every sort of bar and cream filled chocolate align the glass counters for free sampling from the sweetest to the most bitter. I skipped the white and milk chocolate varieties and made a beeline for the end of the row to savor the dark chocolates. My niece and her friend tasted a piece of every kind of chocolate except the dark ones.

After the tour, you can savor chocolate-based drinks and desserts in the Cailler chocolatecafé. You can also shop for brand souvenirs and Cailler chocolate bars, pralines and famous brands of Femina, Ambassador, and Frigor.

The only problem with unlimited sampling, a gourmet may suffer from what the French call a “crise de fois,” a liver crisis brought on by too much rich food.

Chippendales For Breakfast ? Heard of the Full Monty ?

Chippendales For Breakfast ? Heard About the Full Monty ? A few months ago in a British pub, a handsome waiter approached my table and asked, “What do ya fancy, love? How about the Full Monty?”

I nearly fell off my chair. Images of muscular, male strippers danced before my eyes reminding me of the 1997 British comedy, The Full Monty.

Chippendales for breakfast?

Here? In a 16th century pub in tucked in the tiny village of Houghton Conquest in the Bedfordshire countryside?Chippendales For Breakfast ? Heard About the Full Monty ?

I never knew that The Full Monty, a British slang term similar to our American phrase for the whole kit and caboodle, describes a full English breakfast, which means filled with the works.

The English are known for their tasty, copious breakfasts. The Full Monty can be made up of over 30 different foods with meat such as fried sausages also known as bangers and bacon cured from pig loin as staples. Add baked beans, 2 or 3 eggs (usually sunny side up) fried bread and fried mushrooms. The acidity in fried tomatoes, also a must, will help cut the grease.

Apparently for this meal, also called a Fry Up, they sauté everything but the kitchen sink. Their popular bubble and squeak consists of Sunday roast and vegetable leftovers mixed with potatoes forming a cake, and then fried in butter until it sizzles and pops. This concoction may be served in homes on Mondays, but usually full breakfasts are saved for brunch on weekends or to cater to tourists in hotels.

Chippendales For Breakfast ? Heard About the Full Monty ?When our waiter brought our plates to the table, I struggled to distinguish a few ingredients, like black pudding – crispy slices of sausage made of oatmeal pork fat and blood – and kippers, flakes of smoked herring. But I didn’t need a medical degree to identify body parts such as the kidneys  rolled in flour and fried in butter.

Potatoes – hash, chips, mashed or fried – remain the mainstay of the Full English breakfast. Coffee or tea usually accompanies the meal, although some hearty mates may prefer to wash it down with a pint. Other diners like to add a dash of ketchup, vinegary brown HP sauce, or Worcestershire sauce to the mix.

So go on, head to the pub for your favorite brew on Saturday night, but you may also want to return on Sunday morning to enjoy the Full Monty. Oh là là les anglais.

Raclette Party Swiss Favorite Event and Food

When guests arrive at our house for the first time, we always throw a raclette party to give them an authentic taste of Switzerland. Raclette is not only a food; it is an event.

This popular mountain dish, made from the alpine raclette cheese, has been around for centuries. Raclette, recorded in texts from German Swiss convents in 1291, dates back to medieval times. Cow herders used to melt this cheese over campfires when moving cows to and from pastures in the mountains.

Originally for this hearty, peasant meal a large raclette cheese round was heated over the fireplace then poured over potatoes. Hotels and restaurants in the mountains still use this method. Most people living in our area own an electric, tabletop raclette grills, which makes preparing the meal easier.

I love raclette because guests cook their own meal by heating sliced cheese in individual metal trays. The cheese is scraped onto small potatoes. Or it may also be served on bread like we do. Dried meats cured in the mountainous regions, such as beef, Parma hams, and viande des Grisons, can be heated on the grill top and served also. Tiny vinegary pickles and onions always accompany the dish.

The French serve raclette with a Savoy white wine, a Riesling or a pinot gris. According to the locals, one should drink only wine with raclette because water will harden the cheese in the belly creating indigestion. However, I have yet to see someone get sick even from imbibing, bubbly Coca Cola with the raclette meal.

At our house, we never had a guest who disliked raclette; in fact most people love it.

“Oh raclette, love it! Best meal of my life!” said Charlotte, Larissa’s sister who clapped her hands in delight and marveled. “Takes potato skins to a whole new level.”

My family enjoyed this so much on visits to Switzerland that I once hauled a bulky raclette machine across the Atlantic, so they could savor the meal stateside. Fortunately this is no longer necessary. You can order the raclette cheese and the grill from where else but a shop in New Glarus, the mini Switzerland of Wisconsin..

Order from New Glarus.

Imported raclette cheese is expensive. So at our cabin in Wisconsin, we use the excellent local products, the Colby, cheddar, or Swiss from Mueller’s Cheese Factory outlet. Although my French husband would disagree, I find the American cheese also suitable for this dish.

Raclette makes the perfect convivial meal to share on a cold winter night. The piping hot potatoes, heat from the grill and wine will toast your toes and warm your hearts.

Bon appétit!

Explaining Thanksgiving to Europeans

Americans know the story of how Native Americans saved Pilgrims from starvation back in 1620 by teaching them to tap maple trees, plant corn and fertilize soil, but I have been trying to explain Thanksgiving to Europeans for decades. They remain bewildered by our Thanksgiving, a journée de remerciements. They think it is the only day of the year where Americans prepare a hot meal and eat slow food.

Decades ago when I moved to Europe, I was a pilgrim at the mercy of my French teammates who taught me their language and customs.

A year later, I became indebted to German friends who shared their homes and meals. Accepted by marriage into my French family, adopted into Swiss culture where I now live, I have always been a guest in someone else’s country.

Yet I remain loyal to my roots. Though every feast I have prepared has been a fiasco, Thanksgivings with my Franco American family has always been sacred.

“Are any European celebrations similar to Thanksgiving,” I once asked my husband. He looked at me incredulous.

“Of course not,” he said. “Native Americans are the only people on the planet gracious enough to thank their conquerors.”

No matter what the circumstances or who shows up at the table, T-day is one tradition I cherish.

My first year abroad I invited French teammates to dinner and much to my chagrin they ate the meal in courses, one dish at a time. The next year in Germany, the team turnout was so great, there was standing room only; we never sat down to dine.

When I introduced the custom to my French family, my mother-in-law served raw oysters first and insisted a turkey was too big; chicken would suffice.

If left to their own devices, Europeans could butcher our day of thanks.

What American celebrates Thanksgiving by eating an seven-course meal standing up? Who replaces Tom Turkey with Chicken Little to eliminate leftovers? Leftovers are Thanksgiving.

Born in the Land of Lincoln, I consider it my patriotic duty to give thanks on the fourth Thursday of the month, the day Abe appointed as a national holiday in 1863 when he gave gratitude for an instrumental Union Army victory at Gettsyburg.

Expats everywhere create their own special ties to their heritage.

When my Norwegian grandfather immigrated to America, he insisted on keeping the Norwegian tradition of eating lutefisk and lingonberry on Christmas Eve.

“My dad brought strangers home to dinner,” my mom said. “He’d say ‘so many people helped me when I arrived in the United States, I want to return the favor.’”

Every Thanksgiving, I gather family, friends and “foreigners” in a feast honoring my Norwegian ancestors, my American homeland and my host country. To avoid offending guests, I whisper thanks to the Great Spirit who watches over all of us regardless of our religious, national, or ethic affinity.

Apparently, like our Native American friends, she sees the good in man, even in the conquistador.

Idiosyncrasies in American Behavior Healthwise

putzfrauAmericans are OCD about germs. You’ll see hand sterilizers in dormitories, Clorox wipes in homes, and face masks in health clinics. They wash hands obsessively, shower daily, and do laundry compulsively. Yet after living abroad for decades, I cannot help but notice some idiosyncrasies in this behavior.

In Switzerland, guests remove shoes at the door and bring slippers to dinner parties. Even kids comply without question. The no shoe rule applies in some doctors’ offices. My children’s orthodontist provided blue, plastic booties for everyone in his office. Imagine sitting in a crowded waiting room wearing mini shower caps on your feet?

In Europe no one dares enter a sports club or steps on a gym floor without changing to a clean set of sneakers. In my school, kids flunked PE if they failed to leave their shoes on shelves in the corridor before entering the changing room.

Nowhere is the difference in standards more blatant than at health clubs. In France changing stalls are like magic boxes. You enter the stall from the outside fully clothed and abracadabra you step out on the other side in a swimsuit and flip-flops.

One of the biggest absurdities I saw even in the ultra health conscious, St. Paul- Minneapolis area was that people walk into the club wearing their sweats, t-shirts and tennis shoes. They pump iron, ride the bikes, run on treadmills, attend fitness class, and then dash right back out the door in the same sweaty attire to shop at Target.

Even more alarming, they step in the sauna straight from the gym in workout gear while I soak in my swimsuit, the odd man out so to speak. One young woman plopped down in the sauna fully clad in her jeans, sweater, and boots. It gets cold in Minnesota, but really.sauna

Most Americans are modest about their bodies except for that one girl wearing Gucci workout shorts and a halter-top. She turned her backside toward the mirror and snapped a selfie of her booty’s reflection.

But for the most part, the puritan ethic is deeply ingrained. No one undresses openly in public even within the safe confines of the same sex changing rooms. If women do change clothes, they hide behind shower curtains or underneath giant towels.

Bodies of all ages and stages of decline are more exposed on French beaches than in America’s fitness club changing rooms.

As an old athlete, I grew up in the days when the communal shower stall was the status quo. I became even more liberated living in Europe where people sit on towels buck naked in mixed saunas and women go topless on the public beaches

When did the Yankees become so uptight about their bodies?

sauna-2Loosen up, America. Let it all hang out. It is good for the girls to air out now and then. Nobody cares what you look like; people are too busy sneaking peaks at their iPhones.

Besides you can always wash your hands on the way out.

 

 

Thought we needed a lighter look at life this week to brighten our mood.
Now if you really want to lift the spirits try this classic family recipe (Boeuf Bourguignon) from our favorite French Chef.