Thursday, November 19, 2009

Misfit Thanksgiving

It’s 5:30 in the morning in South Carolina and I have serious Time Zone Confusion.  I’m wide awake and ready for lunch and the rest of this country is still sleeping.  We came home for Thanksgiving.  We decided we would rather be home for Thanksgiving than Christmas.  Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that you don’t know you are going to miss until you move somewhere where it is not celebrated.  Who knew it was possible to wax nostalgic over a tin can of jellied cranberry sauce?  Anyway, the logistics of preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Switzerland were so mind-bogglingly insurmountable, it was easier and less expensive just to fly 8,000 miles and cook it there. 

Let’s begin with my teeny Euro oven.

It is the size of an Easy-Bake.  Remember those?  You cooked mini cakes and pies with the heat from a little light bulb?  My Swiss oven has two little racks that fit a 9” x 13” baking pan each.  In order to roast a turkey, bake the stuffing, make the pies, brown the rolls, etc., I would have had to begin cooking Thanksgiving dinner in, like, August.  This is assuming that I could even find the raw ingredients.  For a solid month, every other question on the Swiss website has been from American ex-pats trying to procure the following:

A turkey.  Answer—Must be ordered from a  butcher well ahead of time.  Cost approximately 7 dollars per pound.  Not unheard of to pay 170 dollars for a large bird which will, of course, be Swiss and not frozen.
Brown Sugar.  Answer—Doesn’t exist.  Make your own using white sugar and molasses or special order online at astronomical prices.
Cream of Tartar.  Ditto.
Vanilla Flavoring.  Ditto.
Self-Rising Flour.  Ditto.
Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce.  Answer—Available at the American Market in Geneva.  Cost--$7.30 per can.
Don’t even get me started on Pepperidge Farm Bread Cubes.

Do you see why we have come home?  By the time I got my act together enough to order everything online, it would be Valentine’s Day.  One poor guy on that website was looking for Kahlua to make White Russians for his guests.  He had ex-pats all over Switzerland checking every grocery store and liquor store in the land.  The only place anybody could find Kahlua was in the Duty Free Shop at the Geneva airport.  The problem was that the shop was located inside the security check.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I would change my cocktail choice before I purchased a plane ticket just so I could buy a durned bottle of Kahlua. 

Besides, if we didn’t come home, Domestic Son, Charming Daughter and Small Son would be left to fend for themselves.  I have visions of Small Son eating Ramen Noodles or Kraft Mac & Cheese looking forlornly out over an emptied-out college campus.  Since we have no extended family in South Carolina, every year we invite all of our friends and neighbors who also would be eating by themselves to our house for Misfit Thanksgiving Dinner.  It has become a tradition, Misfit Thanksgiving.  I never know who or how many are coming, so I just set up tables for about 20 and we play it by ear.  We eat, we drink, we play cards, we drink, we dance stupidly to the soundtrack from the Big Chill and then we uh, drink.

One year, Domestic Son, back when he was still Juvenile Delinquent Son, introduced a number of the ladies to Jaegerbombs.  One of the ladies subsequently drove her car into a neighbor’s backyard swimming pool which involved various First Responders.  Domestic Son is no longer allowed to mix the drinks at Misfit Thanksgiving.

One year, we set the house on fire.  The ladies were all in the butler’s pantry dancing and singing along with Charming Daughter’s karaoke machine.  The men were consuming large quantities of brown liquor and watching football in the den.  No one was left in the dining room except one poor chap who had yet to realize that dinner was long over.  Right after “I Will Always Love You” finished and just before commencing with a stunning rendition of “Leavin’ on a Jet Plant”, I heard a little voice coming from the dining room.

“Hey, your mirror’s on fire.”  And then, a little louder, “I said, HEY!  Your MIRROR is on FIRE.”

Sure enough, the candles on the mantle had set the wooden frame of the mirror hanging over the fireplace ablaze.  Well, let me be the first to tell you that throwing a vodka cranberry on an open flame is not really effective.  We eventually put out the fire without the aid of any First Responders.  I was later able to salvage the mirror by scraping off most of the charring and painting the gold frame black.  It’s hanging in the bathroom now and every year on Thanksgiving we have to share that story with the newbies and take them into the powder room to see “The Mirror That Caught On Fire in 2003”.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How the Swiss Eat

I’m not referring to physically how; they eat with utensils just like everybody else, although they do eat with their fork upside down in that veddy British way.  I’m referring to the mindset of eating over here.  They eat according to what is in season.  Take, for example, this week.  I just found out today that it is now “Metzgete” Time and everyone is really excited.  This basically means all of the restaurants and all of the many, many festivals will be featuring pig and all it’s trimmin’s.  Not yummy trimmin’s like applesauce or sweet potatoes.  No, no, no.  I mean trimmin’s as in utilizing all of those odd bits and bobs of pork that us wasteful North Americans feed to Mr. Garbage Disposal.  Their favorite is blutwurst.  (It means blood sausage.)  Just saying it makes me gag, nevermind eating it.  Here is a picture of a typical Metzgete platter:

Yum!  Notice the poor forgotten tomato and zucchini slice tucked under the pigs’ trotters.  Those are the only vegetables, folks.  You can go months in Switzerland without seeing a veg.  The Swiss think a few lettuce leaves and potatoes done 381 ways count as vegetables.  Whenever Mr. Big and I see a side of vegetables listed on the menu, we order it because we never know when we are going to see another one.

The changing of the seasonal foods is a Very Big Deal.  Restaurant menus change and they announce it in large letters on their chalkboard sidewalk signs.  People want to know when, as in what day, these special foods will arrive at the markets.  The street markets become crazy around the farmer’s booth who is the first to pick his WHATEVER.  OK, lady, step away from the peaches.  There are plenty to go around.  That’s it, Lady!  Back off!  No peaches for you today!

This is what took me awhile to understand.  There is such a frenzy because it’s like Cadbury Chocolate Easter Eggs.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  If it’s out of season, it ain’t happenin’.  So, you really like that watermelon?  Well, you better gorge yourself, because we don’t believe in importing any foods and you will not see another watermelon until next July.  Sorry.

I didn’t take any of this personally until they stopped selling my favorite rose wine, (that “e” should have an accent over it, but I only have a dumb American keyboard—it’s pronounced ro-zay).  See, in Europe, pink wine is called rose and it is a perfectly legitimate thing to order.  It is very dry and refreshing and doesn’t give me a red wine headache.  It is not that crap sweet White Zinfandel that they sell in the states.  It is, in a word, delicious.  So, I go to the market one day in October to get the stuff for dinner and a bottle of my local rose wine and it’s not there.  Not only is the one I like from a town up the hill gone, THERE’S NOT ANOTHER BOTTLE OF ROSE WINE on the shelves.  I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.  Like, only yesterday there were cases of the stuff in this exact same store.  Sold.  Gone.  I must wait until next year to have it again.  I had to channel my newfound Europeaness in order to remain calm and not demand to see the manager.    Ahh, but I learned, you see.  Next year, when it is in season, I will buy it by the case and hoard it all winter like a friggin’ squirrel.

Other seasonal foods which are here and gone are dent de lion salade, (dandelion greens), white asparagus, Valencia oranges, wild game including goat and horse and kurbis (squash) soup.  I can’t say that I will miss the goat.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Long Live The King

Sorry to have been gone so long.  We had a family tragedy back in the US.  It is every ex-pat’s worst nightmare.  To be so far away when disaster strikes.  Here’s my advice.  Keep a strong support group back at home.  Whether it involves your home, your children, your parents, your extended family or whatever, you need to have people in place to deal with anything and everything because, here’s the sad truth, you cannot get there as soon as you would like.

I cannot describe to you the feeling you fellow Traveling Spouses will have when you get the word that something really, really bad is going on back at home and, even if you book your plane tickets within the hour, you know that you are not going to be back there for another day, at the minimum.  Thank God, I live in a small town back in the US.  Those Southern Mommas rallied around all three of my children like they were their own.  As the Secretary of State once said, “It takes a village to raise a child”.

On a lighter note, I was not aware until last week that the current trend among the younger generation is to commemorate a friends’ death by going out and getting a tattoo in their honor.  Who knew?  Two weeks ago my precious 20-year old baby boy still had the skin he was born into.

Today he has a tattoo on his back the size of a dinner plate.  Ah me.  He and all of his friends think it is the bomb.  They think it is flippin’ awesome.  What do I know?  I am just the mother who endured 16 hours of labor and many stitches to bring him into this cruel world.  I also walked five miles every day in bare feet in the snow to school, but that is another story.

So, to all of the folks back in South Carolina who did my job when I could not be there, I am forever in your debt.  Thank you, thank you for being in my village.

Rest In Peace, Reid Andrew Addy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bridge Days

I need to digress here for a few entries and talk about specific things that are happening to me here in Europe.  My girlfriends back in the States are enjoying my general tips for Trailing Spouses, but they are starving for info about my day-to-day life.

OK, as all of my girlfriends know, I am a bridge addict.  The card game, bridge.  Not viaducts.  You know what I mean.  Southern girls in the US play bridge.  We have bridge clubs and we have bridge night and we drink a lot of alcohol and eat a lot of food and play a few rounds of cards in between.  The best thing about bridge night is the prizes.  Whomever is the hostess that evening is responsible for buying a High Score prize and a Low Score prize.  I love the prizes.

Anyway, I learned online that there was an English-speaking bridge group associated with the American International Women’s Club in Lausanne, Switzerland, where I live.  Well, one cannot just join the bridge group.  One must first attend a “Meet and Greet Coffee” at this women’s club, pay the yearly dues, fill out two forms, yadda, yadda, before one can even enquire about the various and sundry “subgroups”.

I am not a joiner.  I hate making small talk.  I am a Corporate Wife.  Small talk is like, my job.  I have to do Small Talk all of the time and I’m quite good at it until I’ve had a few drinks and then the real person emerges and my Small Talk quickly becomes loud, profane, Large Talk.  That is usually when Mr. Big calls for a cab.  “OK, time to go, dear.  You just called that nice 34th wife from Abu Dhabi a Burka Durka.”  And away I am whooshed.

So, here I am at this Meet and Greet and there are only 9 other women there and I drink my coffee out of a dainty cup and saucer, as one does, and mingle and try to look interested when all I really want to know is “WHO PLAYS BRIDGE HERE?!”

I asked all 9.  No bridge players.  I go into the little reception area/office and politely inquire about the bridge group.  Well, you would have thought I was the Second Coming.  The woman in the office looks at me and asks if I am a beginner.  No, if I am being modest, I would say I am intermediate.  If I am being honest, I would say I am a cut-throat, take no prisoners, queen of bridge bitches, but I don’t say that.  C’mon give me some credit!

“Oh!”, this office woman says.  “We are looking for some new (read younger) players for the advanced group.”  OK, great, sign me up.  Then she asks me if there are stairs involved with my domicile.  Huh?  I’m like, yeah, about 20 or 30.  Too bad, Charlie.  The advanced bridge group is comprised of so many really, really, really old ladies that they are dying off like fruit flies and cannot see and cannot hear and, most importantly, cannot walk up stairs.

But, but!  They are looking for fresh blood.  So, there is hope.  In the meantime, I am going to be playing with a bunch of blue hairs who cannot see or hear and have to be carried up the stairs to my apartment.  But I am down with this!  I will install one of those chairs that travels up the walls to get these crones up there.  I will provide magnifying glasses and ear horns.  At this point, I just don’t care.

And then my baby sister pointed out to me that I could just join the BEGINNER’S group and fake it.  Girl, I can do me some fakin’.  I’ll be like, what?  I bid 3 no trump.  I bid 4 hearts.  I bid 5 diamonds.  Right out of the shoot.  I bid BABY SLAM!  I bid whatever it takes to keep me in this beginner group so I don’t have to carry no old ladies upstairs or buy any ear horns.  I don’t even know the word for ear horn in French.

I bet these Swiss women don’t have prizes, either.  And if they do, it’s probably some cheese.  With holes.

                                                                     That smells.