Crazy farmers market fun in Switzerland

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but there seems to be a trend towards non-traditional vegetable afoot around Zurich’s farmers’ markets. Purple asparagus, yellow zucchini, purple green beans (which I guess would just be called purple beans?)… these Swiss farmers are out of control.

I love going to the farmers markets in Zurich and finding crazy new things. I usually go to the ones at Oerlikon (Wednesday mornings) and Helvetiaplatz (Tuesday and Friday mornings). In addition to seeing how many wacky new vegetables I can find, I’m also busy filling up on zucchini flowers and peas, two of my garden favorites which never seem to make their way to the grocery stores. Plus the cherries and berries and in all their glory at this time of year.

The fruit and vegetables at the markets in Zurich are noticeably fresher and more flavorful than their grocery-store counterparts, and aren’t always more expensive (the market at Bürkliplatz supposedly has the highest prices). And even if they are, the quality and flavor more than justifies the price (listen to me, I’m starting to sound Swiss). Just stay away from the heirloom tomatoes…

You CAN have fabulous Mexican food in Switzerland!

You just have to make it yourself.

I went to El Maiz (a Mexican shop in Zurich) and stocked up on some basic Mexican ingredients: black beans, corn tortillas, jalapeños, queso blanco, and red and green salsa.

Last night I made spinach and mushroom enchiladas, black bean salsa, and fresh guacamole. Scott whipped up some margaritas, Ali brought some fancy chips and salsa from Globus, and we had quite the feast. There were even fresh-picked cherries for dessert. Mmmmmmm.

El Maiz (Josefstrasse 23, closed Mondays) is a wonderful option for when you get tired of the same four Mexican items sold at Coop or Migros. They even sell that most elusive of baking supplies, Pure Vanilla Extract. Things at El Maiz are not cheap, but then again nothing in Zurich is. And I’d rather spend money on good ingredients to make something delicious myself than spend it on crappy food in one of Zurich’s many ‘Mexican’ restaurants.

Let’s all go to the lobby….

Going to the movies in Switzerland is different from the US. Your ticket (which costs around 17 francs) is for an assigned seat, which I like because it means you don’t have to arrive early to get a good spot (assuming you planned ahead and got your tickets online). Before the movie you will be subjected to several commercials (many of which are played at ridiculously loud volume, just like on TV) and then a couple previews. If the movie is originally in English, it will have both German and French subtitles. And at some arbitrary point during the film, it will stop for a 10-minute intermission, during which everyone in the theater will go to the lobby, smoke 10 cigarettes, and buy a packaged ice cream of some variety. Luckily Swiss theaters are also air-conditioned, although not quite as cold as US theaters tend to be.

Yesterday I went to see 2 Days in Paris, a movie about a French-American couple who live in New York. It did a fabulous and humorous job of capturing that this-culture-is-crazy feeling that foreign countries can give you, although it did rely heavily on stereotypes of both sides to get some of the point across. Surely American tourists don’t actually wear Bush Cheney ’04 t-shirts to Paris. Right? Please tell me they don’t.

The cannolis of NYC

First off, for those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, allow me to introduce you to the wonderful pastry delight that is the cannoli. These Sicilian delicacies consist of a deep-fried pastry shell filled with ricotta-based creamy deliciousness. Traditionally there are little pieces of candied citron involved, and a dusting of powdered sugar, and that’s about it. But purists be damned, I like my cannoli shells coated in chocolate. And given the prevalence of this practice in New York, I’m obviously not the only one.

Before we go any further, I’d like to address those of you out there reading this and thinking, “Idiota! it’s one cannolo, two cannoli.” Look, I can speak Italian, too, but right now I’m speaking English, and in English, it’s one cannoli, two cannolis. As in, “Leave the gun. Take the cannolis.” Capeeeeesh?

For the longest time, the chocolate-covered cannolis at La Bella Ferrara on Mulberry Street have been my favorite. Whenever I find myself in the general vicinity of Little Italy, I head straight to this bakery, ignoring all the others along the way. I usually sit in the adjoining cafe and have an espresso and a cannoli or two, and then head over to the bakery part to pick up some more to go. One of the benefits of the chocolate-covered shells is that they don’t get soggy as fast as the regular shells do, so they can be kept for a day or two in the fridge after they have already been filled. Plain-shelled cannolis should be eaten immediately after filling, if possible. But I digress.

On my last trip to New York, I was sitting in La Bella Ferrara, eating my delicious chocolate-covered cannoli, and wondering what made me think this was the best place to get them. The truth was, I didn’t. And it bothered me. I needed to find out if there were other, better cannolis to be had on Mulberry Street. Luckily for me, I had a rainy afternoon full of time and two willing companions, so we set out to investigate. To be continued…

Don’t try this at home (or anywhere else for that matter)

Lest I leave you with the impression that it’s only Americans who are out there dreaming up stupid products, I offer you this: Sputnik Vodka Flavoured Beer (notice how the ‘u’ in ‘flavoured’ precludes this from being an American creation). We came across it the other day while shopping at a Coop that is not the one we usually go to. Actually this Coop had a lot to offer in the beer department, and we went a little crazy with the let’s-try-new-things thing.

I like beer, I reasoned, and I love vodka. So why wouldn’t I love this stuff? Sounds like sound enough logic, no? So we took a bottle (and thankfully, only one) home with us to give it a try.

Here’s the thing: whoever named this beverage concoction obviously has the word ‘vodka’ confused with the word ‘Zima‘. Beer isn’t sweet, and vodka isn’t sweet, so by what logic does Sputnik Vodka Flavoured Beer taste like a vaguely alcoholic extra-sugary Sprite?

I have learned my lesson: no more anything flavored beer, ever.

When the great art galleries of the world come to Switzerland

Yesterday we went to Art Basel, a large 5-day exhibition of art in – you guessed it – Basel. Around 300 galleries from around the world come and bring work from their hottest, shiniest art stars to display and sell for insane amounts of money.

We arrived at 11 AM, just as the exhibit was opening its doors. We started in Hall 1 of the conference center, which housed several large-scale works (pictured above), pacing ourselves since we knew we had a lot to see that day. By 12 we were proudly ready to move on to Hall 2, where all of the gallery booths were set up.

We browsed through the first row of booths, soaking in the offerings. There were lacquered sculptures, c-print photos, and creative knitting projects. Gold-leafed collages and mirrored concave wall hangings. Abstract video installations and drawings of penises, lots and lots of penises. By 1:30, we were starving, and decided to grab a ridiculously-overpriced lunch out in the courtyard while resting our feet and our brains. Actually my brain wouldn’t turn off, as it danced around full of dreams of going back to art school to learn new techniques and make lots of crazy new things (that would happen to sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars at events such as this one). I loved art. I was an artist, and I was here in my element, hungry to learn more. Yay, art!

A couple hours and several rows of booths later, my attitude was a wee bit different. I think it could be blamed on over stimulation. Who were these freaks and what made them think these things were art? What was wrong with me that I couldn’t appreciate all this art? And where the hell were the paintings? It was time for another break, so we had some coffee and some cheese quiche, hoping it would revive us.

Later we stumbled upon the galleries specializing in 20th-century artists (otherwise known as Artists I’ve Actually Heard Of), but by then we were too tired to really care what we were seeing. Numerous Picassos, Kandinskys, Schieles and Warhols passed before my eyes completely unappreciated. Not even eavesdropping on the discussions around me by people who were actually buying this art could keep my interest. I was fading fast. We tried taking another break and then plowing ahead, but by then it had all just become torturous. Finally around 7 PM, we made our exit, having seen about 75% of the booths (and appreciating about 10% of them).

Despite the agony in this tale, I would actually highly recommend a trip to Art Basel. But set a timer and leave after three hours or at the height of your artistic appreciation abilities, whichever comes first.

Anticipation, Swiss style

Last week this clock went up in the Zurich train station. It counts down the minutes to the kick off at the first game of the Euro 2008, a year away.

5.4 million soccer fans are expected to swarm into Switzerland for this event (which the Swiss are co-hosting with the Austrians), coming close to doubling the population of this little country. At the same time, they’re trying to crack down on forced prostitution before the event. (Apparently large soccer tournaments tend to lead to an influx of prostitutes. Who knew?)

Lindt has been holding out on me

While in Munich last weekend, I wandered in to a Karstadt department store and perused the chocolate section. It really wasn’t bad (and I say this as someone who lives in Switzerland). Of course a lot of it was Swiss chocolate, like the gigantic Lindt display which contained quite the array of dark chocolate flavors. There was my new favorite cherry & chili, plus several others I had never seen before. What’s up with that, Lindt? You think the Swiss are too good for lime & green peppercorn filled 70% cocoa chocolate? Well I’m not…

Lindt wasn’t the only brand sporting the creative flavors. Everyone seems to have thrown their hat into the spicy-chocolate ring now, and ginger was also a popular accompaniment for dark chocolate. Out of curiosity we picked out a wasabi & algae bar and a chili & highland whiskey bar. That’s right, I said wasabi & algae. We like to live on the edge like that.

Turns out that wasabi & algae don’t make for as fabulous a chocolate bar as one would expect, but the chili & highland whiskey one was pretty good. The lime & green peppercorn chocolate was surprisingly endearing. I might even need to go out and find a local source. Anyone seen it?

Mellowing out in Munich

So after being home in Zurich for, oh, less than a week, it was high time to get out of here again. A weekend in Munich, Germany, was exactly what we needed.

Munich is a fun, livable city, especially once you escape the hordes of tourists in the very center. Actually the touristy stuff is fun, too – in a big, drunken, stereotypical Germany kind of way. Pretty much all of the prominent stereotypes about Germany are based on Bavarian culture and traditions: Lederhosen and Dirndls, pretzels, beer served in liter-sized mugs, Oktoberfest, oompa bands…

We spent most of Saturday afternoon in the Englischer Garten, the largest city park in the world and an extremely popular place in the summer. Parts of it feel very similar to Central Park, if you ignore all the naked Germans soaking up the sun. I myself am not such a fan of sun-absorbing (naked or otherwise), so we opted for soaking up some beer and pretzels at the beer garden at the Chinesischer Turm in the middle of the park instead.

Unlike at Oktoberfest, regular beer gardens offer the choice of 1/2 liter mugs, too, which is what we ordered. My excuse is simple: by the time I get to the bottom of a liter of beer, it’s really, really warm, and I’m just not a fan of warm beer. So until I learn to drink faster, it’s wussy little half-liters for me.

It’s fun to people-watch in beer gardens. For some reason it is perfectly acceptable to bring your own food to beer gardens in Munich, provided you purchase your beverages there. Plenty of locals do this, even bringing along tablecloths to make the whole experience more civilized. Of course there were plenty of tourists around, too, notably the drunken American frat-boy type. I didn’t see any of them with tablecloths.

PS – Did you notice the name of the bus company in that second picture? Those wacky Germans…

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