Transforming the House into Our Home (with Chandelier Update!)

The move has happened!! It was weeks of taking small loads in our minivan and then a long and hard 4 days of “real” moving with a moving truck (and a few very excellent friends), but we managed to clear out our rental house and move to our new home.

Our house looks like Boxlandia rather than the Carlson Household, but we are starting to win the battle on the boxes. With my Mom’s help I got the kitchen tackled first. Then we moved into the dining room and got the bedrooms sorted out.

I even got my youngest’s room finished! He’d picked out a Marrakesh stencil pattern he wanted done on one wall in yellow and grey. Stenciling is trickier – and slower – than it seems. You can only do so many repeats at a time until you have to stop and let the stencil dry out. If you don’t, you risk having wet paint smeared across the lovely grey surface that you’d just gotten all nice and pristine.

Considering I could only do about 3 or 4 stencils in a session, it took me over a week to get his wall done. But it is spectacular! He is so pleased. “It turned out better than I imagined it could.” The boy sure knows how to get me willing to commit to more fussy projects.

The unpacking is a constant chore. Just this week I finally got the boxes unpacked in the living room. Now it is clean! And I feel calm – or at least a lack of stress – when I sit in the room.

Today I went down to the basement and got some entertainment gear out and put away – dishes, glasses, grilling equipment, etc. And now we can see most of the bar top. The likelihood of having a housewarming is looking better and better.

I also got a new TV stand delivered! And it was brought as an actual piece of furniture. Not a flat box with pieces of MDF that I had to put together myself. The boys were delighted to help get the television set up on top and then, with the unerring accuracy of a bloodhound on the trail of an unwashed convict, they found the Wii in the bottom of some random box and got it set up to play in record time.

This inspired Mark to get his stereo equipment out and set up as a unit with the TV as well. We are almost ready to start having family movie nights again!

And then there is the CHANDELIER!! We have a winner and it isn’t anything that we thought we’d get. But that’s what happens when you walk into a lighting store to check out a your two favorites in person and end up hating them. This is (a) round and with (b) gold tones. Two things that would never, ever be in my Boolean search parameters. But I ended up really liking it.

What we have left are the rooms that are easy to avoid. Like the office and a section of the basement family space where I avert my eyes as I pass by to get the laundry. Many of the boxes are full of mementos. Or things that we shoved in there in moments of desperation during any one of our last 3 moves that would should now really and painstakingly go through and purge.

And on top of that there is the decorating aspect of making this house into a home. Pictures to hang. Mirrors to position. Furniture to nest (and purchase). The foyer needs painting, too. There was a great hanging shelf in there that the previous owners took with them. I filled the holes and I need to repaint the wall to cover some other incidental scratches and dings. And I would LOVE to find a shelf like it again.

And clearly I need to buy another orchid. And a basket.

But we are far enough along that I can look forward to an actual house warming party! The plans are in the works and we would love to have you all over to see the house once we are finished unpacking. xoxo

OY! My LIFE!

Things are crazy here. Spring break was a disaster. We were supposed to fly back to Iowa and Minnesota and got caught in that whole Delta Flight-Canceling Fiesta that was going on. We were there. Ready to go. Bag checked. Mickey-D’s food choked down. And then ….

Flight canceled.

We were alerted to this fact by a woman behind us yelling FFFUUUUCCCCKKKKKKK!!!!!! At the top of her lungs.

Eyes swiveled to her and then towards what she was looking at, eyes and mouth twisted up into full-on bitch-face mode.

CANCELED flashed next to our flight number and the fine print below informed us we would be rescheduled to the next available flight. Yeah, right. If the 100 foot-long line at the customer service desk – evidence of the previous day’s cancellations – in the check-in area of the airport was any indicator the next available flight would be in June.

A seismic groan echoed through the concourse and a gate attendant clicked on his microphone. His tone as he went through the typical apology was only quasi-apologetic and mostly pissed off. This had been going on for days and, as he peevishly told us, “I was here for 16 hours yesterday and I’ve been here for 8 already.” So buckle up.

I immediately called Delta’s help line and was just as instantaneously put on hold. Seeing no hope there I got up and stood in the line for Mr. Cheerful.  As I stood there watching our hopes for seeing our family fly away, Delta cheerfully told me all the ways that I spend more money with them. Not bloody likely, Delta.

I actually reached Mr. Cheerful before I was helped on the phone. I suspect everyone in the help room was cowering under their desks and waiting to wake up from this nightmare and no one was getting help anywhere.  He gave an attempt at a gracious smile as he asked what he could do for me. I told him I needed re-booking for 3 tickets.

He turned white and broke into a sweat. Then he literally rubbed his face with his hands and said, “Oh, God.” Then he clacked some keys and looked at me with a severely down-turned mouth. “I can’t get you out until Monday afternoon. Maybe. At the earliest.” This was a Friday and we only had a week of break to see 2 different families and there was driving to do in the middle.

So we had to cancel.

Everyone was devastated. But we did try to make the best of our now stay-cation. They had a fine time with museums and movies and sleeping in. But it wasn’t the same.

And then, instead of blog (I’m stuck on a Berkeley Chronicle), I got focused on a new project of summarizing some conference videos (more on that in another post), getting pre-schoolers enrolled in Rock Creek, and writing another 2 or 3 parenting articles. All for pay.

In reality I did that for about 40% of my time. The rest of the time I read, watched movies, and cruised around home decorating sites fantasizing about my new house. I have narrowed it down on that chandelier – we have a top 4: 3, 5, 7 & 9 in case you are keeping score at home.  We need to go to a lighting store to see them in real life just to make sure. That might happen this weekend. Maybe.

The moving is going to happen soon! We can start at the end of the month! I already have some things in boxes – things we didn’t bother to unpack when we came back to America. I kind of feel ahead. It’s a luxurious illusion that will pop like a soap bubble in about 2 weeks. Then I will be scrambling to purge out what we don’t need and pack away what we don’t need right now.

We have the truck scheduled. And my parents are coming to watch the kids while we haul boxes and then drive that obscenely huge metal box on wheels to our new house and unload things. Mark is insisting I get a back brace. He has even threatened to get it for me for Mother’s Day. I asked for a Roomba instead.

In the meantime, I am getting the boys reassigned to new schools. (Oh, yeah! I have a phone call to return!) And I’m trying to put off buying anything large that has to be delivered until our new house is officially open to us and the previous owner has moved out. — Like a new bed for Mark and I. I am totally not moving that thing more than I have to.

But all this will be soon!! Soon! Soon! Soon!

Soooooonnnn!!!!!!

And I promise that I will finish that Berkeley Chronicle and a couple other projects I’ve been working on for you. Uh … Soon.

Oh My Actual God! We Bought A House!

As you may recall, we had put an offer on a house and had it accepted. It was like my boyfriend and I deciding to go steady.

Well, today we got engaged!

I know, I know. We actually bought the house so shouldn’t it be the wedding? I’m waiting to declare nuptuals until after we move in. Which won’t be until June.

So. Engagement.

We had a walk-through of the house and I love it even more than I did when we had the inspection.  The room are generous, the ceilings are tall, the light streams in from every window no matter the time of day. I’ve been watching Grand Designs on Netflix and so I’m trying extra hard not to slip into hyperboles of sweeping vistas and the surprising cozy warmth inside an example of modern architecture.

I finally get to fantasize about decorating. About what kinds of flea market finds could look amazing right there. What kinds of floor layouts will allow the kids to gallop through the room without barking their shins.  Walking through the rooms I envisioned entertaining our book club. Having the girls over for sushi and wine. Grilling with friends on the massive gas grill that we are inheriting.

I eyeballed the space available for the chandelier.  “Eyeballed” because I forgot to bring a measuring tape. Of course. Mark, being taller, had a more level view and declared it 2 & 1/2 feet long. More on the chandelier will be coming in a future post.

I also got to explain some plans to Mark for a window seat in what will be H’s room, layout a wine cabinet, request several new bookcases, and figure out bed-to-room assignments.  (We will have a guest room.)  Ooo! And a really awesome idea that has been fermenting about a work space that can be disguised as art when company comes over.

And did I mention we have a cedar closet?? We do!!!!!

It was hard for us to leave the house and get to the signing. Well, it was hard for me. Mark had an agenda that included food before we showed up at our noon title appointment and so he sailed out of the house, pulling me along behind him. In just a bit of a similar fashion as when we walked down the aisle after saying “I do.”

We got our sandwiches at the cutest little market that is biking-distance away and headed to the title company where the most efficient and dapper man I’ve met since moving back from Switzerland greeted us and started walking us through signing about 50 different documents.

And one of the soon-to-be-previous owners was there, too! She was delightful. She and her husband are moving back to Holland for work. They were sad to be moving, but it’s to move back home so there is a bit of joy there, too. And I know exactly where she is coming from. We had a great conversation about moving overseas and kids and pets and Dutch architecture. It was lovely.

And she gave us a key.

To our house.

And before I knew it I had signed documents. One of which said that I have such aliases as Mark’s name and his mother’s name. Government at its finest, ladies and gentlemen.

Being pros at all this title stuff, they got our chatty and bewildered selves out of their building by shaking our hands, giving us a bottle of champagne they order by the crate, and pushing us to the elevator before we could wake up out of our fog of happiness.

And we were done! It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining. It was warm. We had champagne.

So we went home and drank it.

The whole bottle.

And we finished it just in time to stagger to the kids’ school and pick them up like the responsible, home-owning parents we are.

House Hunters: Maryland Edition

One year ago this week we were skiing in Kandersteg as a part of a typical day in our Swiss lives. Now we are almost 8 months into our lives back on the east coast of the United States.

And it seems we are likely to remain here.

Because we’re buying a house.

We originally moved here in 2001 for Mark’s career, so it’s not like this unexpected, but it does make me wonder: When does one become “from” somewhere? Are we marked as “from” a place because we are born there? Or is it after we’ve lived in a place for X number of years?

Our kids were born here. Their whole lives are in Maryland. They are “from” Maryland. Is that enough to anchor us and make us “from,” too?

These existential questions aside, we are buying a house here and it is such a lovely house.

isynknxtuikz6k1000000000You walk right from a small foyer into a large and open living room. The windows face west and get tons of light.

Then you can either go into the kitchen (complete with an induction burner range) …

or into the generously spaced dining room. (The chandelier does not convey.)

img_1010And we even have our own office space!

We have an embarrassing number of bedrooms – 5 in total. There are 4 on the main level and 1 on the lower level. The one the boys are fighting over has that neat built in “cozy spot” with the closets and shelves.

We have what I’m calling a lower level. “Finished basement” doesn’t seem to really convey the feeling of the space. The full-sized windows make it bright and airy. The faux wood floor and fireplace make it feel like a real living room. And the doors walk right out into a huge back yard with a large slate patio.

The laundry room is the only part of the house that feels kind of basement like. Even then it is dry and clean and has the potential to be another kitchen if we wanted.

Check out the back yard!

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The boys have tons of room to run around like dogs! I’m already sketching out improvements in my mind. Like a pergola. And a veggie garden.

Hilariously, we can see the golden spires of the Mormon Tabernacle looming up from beyond the treeline in our back yard. Mark is hoping we can hear the choir from the yard.

We’ve already had the inspection and the results were great! There are just a few things we will have to do, but nothing horrendous, and nothing that would make us back away from the sale.

I will need to shop for a new chandelier and I will be exercising some non-existent design muscles in figuring out where our stuff needs to go and keep the house looking beautiful. I like antiques and I like finding potential diamonds-in-the-rough, which sometimes get rougher after I’ve worked on them. Stay tuned for all that hilarity.

We will settle at the end of March and move in after the boys have finished the school year.

But yay! A house!

6 Months Back

I can’t believe it, but we’ve been back for 6 months. In a lot of ways it seems like we just left. In other ways it seems like we’ve been here forever.

Life is filled with the mundane right now. The boys need to go to school. The laundry needs to washed, folded, and put away. An increasing amount of groceries need to be regularly purchased and cooked to satisfy the boys’ appalling appetites.

Falling into the mundane is proof of acclimation, I think. Of going about having a quiet and meaningful life in the society where you live. I’m no longer shocked or stunned by the wide roads or the large houses. Climbing into a car doesn’t feel so wrong anymore. The grocery store is slowly becoming the right size. We even have a regular pizza place we order from. It’s all becoming The Usual.

Today, though, is a Very Serious Cleaning day. And even that is semi-mundane, usually happening after big holidays or celebrations. This is spurred on by the little Lego landmines my feet have been encountering. Well, my bare feet have found these tiny Lego bits nestled into the carpet for the last time! (For this week.)  Plus there are still Christmas baubles gathering dust around the house. And I am NOT doing it alone!

Everyone has a list. If we had a dog, even the dog would have a list.

We are packing away all the detritus left from the Christmas holiday. The tree has been hauled away by the mulching crew and the decorations are boxed and back on their shelves in the basement. The presents that have been displayed in messy piles of possession in the living room have been carried away to their new owner’s room. And hopefully put away. I don’t have the heart to look.  I am adopting the “what happens in their room stays in their room” philosophy of parenting.

I guess when the smell becomes too much I’ll glove up and dive into the filth.

Until then, however, I will thrive in the mundane.

Settling Into a Target Christmas

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve been back in the states for 5 months now. In some ways it feels like we just got here and in others we’ve been here forever.

I still dream about Basel, you know. I still dream through bizarre conversations with my friends Barbara, Kate, Rachel, and Sunrita. I close my eyes find myself walking down my old street or on a tram car going to Marktplatz. Knowing that the Christmas Market, with their Gluwein and crepes and lovely shopping booths, is in full swing makes me feel even more glum.

We have heard of Christmas Markets happening around the area. I might track one of them down and make a family outing of it. I did find a recipe on the Swiss embassy website for Gluwein and I am totally going to make it. I just have to buy some star anise and then I’m in business.

But life is moving along here. We are starting to travel more by taking a quick trip to Chicago soon and looking at other places to visit. Mark is back into the DC commuting and work routine. The house we are renting is becoming more lived in (i.e. messy) and the boys refer to it as “home”.

The boys are also completely settled into their schools and I’m so relieved. We’ve even passed the first quarter of school and gotten report cards to commemorate the event. We have gotten through Halloween and had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Now we just have to conquer Christmas and we will have finished up the holiday trifecta for 2016.

As part of conquering Christmas I went shopping at Target. It was only my third trip to Target since moving back. I still feel slightly disoriented and my head whips from side to side as I try to take in the cacophony of stuff available to buy. Then when I was going to check out and actually buy the mounds of stuff that had sifted their way into my cart I was nicely told off for trying to get in line.

It turns out the lines for the register weren’t actually at the registers or even near the registers. Instead I was directed to a row of those black tape crowd controllers that you see in airports that compress people into efficient snake-like rows of rage.

I joined the line behind 15 other people somewhere beyond the greeting cards and into the office supply section. The general snarkiness and grumbling under the breathe that is required of those standing in snake-like rows of rage commenced and about 20 minutes later I was being rung up by a lovely clerk.

We were just about done when we found out that I’d picked the only pair of boys sized 12 pajamas without a price tag on it. She looked a me and then at the pajamas and asked, “Do you really need this?”

I took the question more philosophically than she intended and gave it long and careful thought before answering with incredible sincerity, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

That was not probably the best answer. I spent the next 20 minutes squeezed up to the front of the register line as she checked out 4 more people and a shy boy sporting thin wisps of a wannabe beard ran off into the Target Hinterlands to figure out what the price might be.

I got home having spent about $100 more than I intended and so worn out I needed a rest and a martini.

So things are almost completely back to normal for me, too!

Joking aside, I am starting to integrate back into US society. But while time is going by fast, our re-acclimation is slow. We don’t have time to process anything. I feel like we are being rushed around in about a dozen different directions and finding our “slow times” is almost impossible.

Even the boys notice things here are on a quicker schedule. They have a hard time getting playtime with their friends because everyone is signed up for an activity every day of the week and no one is home before 7pm. And there isn’t so much time with Dad in the evenings because his commute is longer now.

It is provoking some philosophical thoughts for both Mark and I about how we want to live. What is possible for us within the limitations or boundaries of the US culture? What lifestyle are we modeling for our children?

We discuss these and other questions after the children go to bed over glasses of wine. And right now we haven’t come up with any answers. One day we might. One day a spark of an idea might flare up and we will finally have the answer.

Until then we have joined a wine club and are stocking up for the foreseeable future.

Hiking to be Swiss

Life has been moving at breakneck speed lately.  So much faster than when we lived in Switzerland.  So fast that I feel like I’m dropping my Swiss-life intentions behind me as I’m rocketed along.

But I do try to keep all those life intentions clutched in my hands and tucked inside my head. One of those intentions was to go hiking regularly. And it’s one that we can actually do with minimal effort.

Actually, there is a great website called Hiking Upward that has extremely detailed maps to lead even novices through hikes for Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland. Routes, topography, altitude changes, and a step-by-step guide through the trail. I not only have the page bookmarked, I pretty much have it open all the time.

There are loads of great hiking places around the DC area. Some right by DC. Some about an hour’s drive out. This time we went to the Catoctin Mountain, which is just outside of Frederick, MD on the east and next to the famous Camp David on the west. This is a link to the map we used.

catocin-map-1I marked out the route we took in red. We intended to go much further, but the boys were having none of it. Oh well. It gives us more places to see on the trail when we hike there again.

img_0254The hike was full of young, thin trees, which makes the forest seem younger than it is. This range of forest has been here forever.

Part of the mountain was mined. Both by the Native Americans for rhyolite to make tools and by modern Americans for coal and iron. You can even find remains of Depression Era Works Projects and even an Iron Furnace where they used to make car wheels. It’s rumored that this furnace made some of the cannon balls that were used in the Revolutionary War by the colonists.

The Catoctin Park (pronounced ca-TOX-in) was initially bought by the state of Maryland to demonstrate how eroded, over-mined land could be turned back into fertile forest again.

Then the federal government came in and the WPA came into make camps for crippled children and family camps for government employees.

The Feds also used part of it to create a vacation spot for Franklin Roosevelt. While he was rich and had his own home in New York state, the Secret Service started to get a bit jumpy about him going there so often. Especially after the bombing at Pearl Harbor.

And especially since he couldn’t stop talking about his yachting trips on the Potomac and all the time he spent at his home.

So, they decided to build something for him here. It’s close to DC so he could get back in a hurry if he needed to, but has the aura of peace that he wanted.

After the war was over and Roosevelt had died everyone wondered what to do with the land. Do we keep it all as a national park? Do we have Maryland take it over as a state park?

President Truman decided to split it up. Part of it would be used as the presidential retreat that we now know as Camp David. Part of it would be a public park operated by the National Park Service. The other part would be given back to Maryland as a state park.

Everyone’s happy!

img_0255The hike is really rocky at the start. The footpath is somewhat up-hill, but not too steep. By Swiss standards it’s darn near flat!  The boys, thinking they had left weekend hiking behind them, were not terribly thrilled at the start. But by the time we had lost sight of the parking lot they were jumping from rock to rock and telling us all about Pokemon and Superheros.

I’m not sure they paused long enough to noticed the beautiful nature, but I did.

img_0251I do have to admit, I was a little disappointed that I could still hear road noise for the first 30 – 45 minutes of the hike. The trail is somewhat near the road and this park is so popular you hear cars whooshing by at regular intervals. I couldn’t wait until the trail turned north and we headed further up into the mountains.

A lot of people come to the park just to hike up to Chimney Rock. It’s an easy hour-long hike up to one of the most beautiful views in the park. People bring lunches in their backpacks and sit on the rocks to eat and enjoy the view. We shared our lunch spot with about 10 other people and 2 dogs.

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This is also the picture that everyone takes at Chimney Rock.  Or, if you are a bit bolder, you climb out to the rock with the reddish top to it and sit there looking over the sheer 500-foot drop.

img_0262I did not go out there. E and H tried to convince us they could make it. I said Hell would have to freeze over first. “Winter is coming,” they said.

It is a beautiful view. Perched high up away from the hum of cars and chirps of cell phones we enjoyed our ham and cheese sandwiches. I didn’t even mind all the other view-seekers since they had the same level of appreciation for the landscape’s beauty that I had.

And they also chewed quietly.

The boys were stunned to find that we were going to continue on with the hike rather than turn around and go back. What were we? Sadists?

Apparently, yes, since we continued on towards Wolf Rock.

Wolf Rock isn’t that far away from Chimney Rock, actually. It’s only about 15 minutes on and a little bit lower in elevation. Wolf Rock isn’t just one rock or even a bank of rocks. It’s an entire line of rockiness that ends in a rock that vaguely looks like a wolf’s head.

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It is steep, but that doesn’t stop people from finding the hiking trail up and doing a bit of climbing to get to the view. It did, however, stop us. One boy absolutely refused and the other was so eager we were worried he’d accidentally fling himself from the top of the rock in an attempt to climb to the top.

img_0266As you can see the path down from Wolf Rock is wide and clear and sandy. It is an easy and entirely enjoyable hike. I could look at the sky and the leaves without tripping on a tree root. (And walk backwards to get a good picture of Mark and the boys.)

We are in October now, which is a perfect time to go and hike this trail. The park rangers actually have Fall Color Hikes during the weekends in October. The rangers give you history, botany, and biology to enrich the hiking experience. I think we might go on one of these hikes! They are free and open to the public and then it’s not us forcing the boys to keep walking!

I hope to see you there!

Cooking Curry!! A Swiss Family Carlson Adventure

In an effort to cram in as much as I could into my last month I took an Indian curry cooking class!

Basel has a fairly large Indian community. There are a number of specialty food shops and quite a few curry restaurants around. I have always loved curry and I was excited to be able to find one of my favorite cuisines so readily available.

img_5517My friend Sunrita is the chef behind Curry in a Hurry and SpiceitUpp (@SpiceitUpp on Twitter). As part of her blog she also offers cooking classes! She will host you and your friends in her home or she will come to you.

In this case, she held a class with me and several other people I’d never met before. Sunrita is great at keeping the atmosphere light and friendly and warm. In no time we were all friends.

Sunrita also keeps a hands-off policy for herself. We do the cooking while she talks about spices and the “whys” of the recipes.  There were 4 of us and we were cooking 4 dishes so we each picked one to cook with Sunrita.

We chopped onion, sliced carrots, and cut up chicken. We did everything.

And Sunrita gave us an education on the different spices that flavor Indian food. From hot and spicy to fragrant and heady.  While she encourages you to play around, she also makes it clear that you don’t need that many spices for many of these recipes.

 

The first thing we made was Potato, Spinach, and Pea Cakes. They were absolutely delicious. In fact, I have a school event to go to this weekend and I am now thinking of making this instead of cookies.  Sunrita also says these are perfect for lunch boxes. The small patty size makes it great for toddlers and younger children.

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Potato, Spinach and Pea Cakes

  • 3 medium Potatoes, cooked & mashed
  • 1/4 cup Peas, cooked and mashed with a fork
  • 8-10 ounces fresh Spinach, blanched and mashed
  • 1/2 cup Coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 Green chilies, deseeded (optional, leave it out if you don’t want it too spicy)
  • 3 tsp Lemon juice
  • 3 T Corn flour
  • Sunflower oil – enough for pan frying in batches
  • Salt to taste
img_5519
The Chaat Masala. It is optional in this recipe, but it is a spice blend you can buy instead of 4 or 5 different spices.

Spices for the Spice Mix

  • 1 tsp Garam Masala Powder
  • 3 tsp Whole cumin seeds
  • 3 tsp Whole coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp Spicy chaat masala (Optional, Available from an Indian store)

To make the spice mix:

Heat a pan and dry roast the garam masala powder, cumin seeds and coriander seeds for 3- 4 mins until it changes color and emits a nice roasted smell. (You don’t need to roast the chaat masala. Add it when the mixture is cool.)

Remove from heat and grind into powder, keep aside for later use.

To make the cakes:

Boil the potatoes. Cool it and peel and mash them. Set aside to be used later. This can be done ahead of time, if – for example – you are hoping to make these are hors d’oeuvres for friends on a Friday after work.

Cook peas (frozen are perfect) in microwave for 2 minutes, then cool and blend it coarsely in a blender and keep ready.

Wash spinach and microwave for 2 minutes or blanch in hot water, allow to cool and keep ready.

Now take a mixing bowl, and add the coriander, chilies (if using), lemon juice, corn flour, and salt and mix to a dough.  If you feel the dough is bit moist add some more corn flour and adjust it. It should be able to hold together like a hamburger patty.

Divide the potato-peas-spinach mixture into 14-15 lemon sized balls and flatten into patties.

Now heat a pan with 1 T of oil and take 4 or 5 balls and flatten it to patties or any desired shape and keep it in pan till browned on both sides.

Enjoy immediately or have them cold with a mint yogurt dip.

The next thing we made was a classic: Tandoori Butter Chicken!

Tandoori isn’t a spice so much as a style of cooking. A tandoor is a special clay oven that can get super hot – about 500F. You don’t need to have one to make tandoori chicken, though. A modern oven will do the trick.

There are spices associated with the taste of a tandoori chicken, however. You can buy a tandoori spice mix or use the same Garam Masala powder you used in the potato, spinach, and pea cakes above. The tell-tale red color of a tandoori chicken comes from the Kashmiri red chili powder. The red powder in the bowl of stuff that is about to become a marinade is that nice Kashmiri red chili powder. It’s so vivid!

You can find this in specialty stores or you can order them from Sunrita’s online shop, http://www.curryinahurry.tictail.com.

Here is the full recipe!

Tandoori Butter Chicken

To marinate the chicken

    • 1 pound of chicken breasts, sliced thin
    • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
    • 2 tsp Ginger paste (fresh ginger pureed with a scant bit of water – this should be the texture of baby food)
    • 2 tsp Garlic paste (fresh garlic pureed with a scant bit of water)
    • 1/2 tsp for mild (2 T for spicy) Kashmiri red chili powder
    • 1 tsp Salt or to taste

2 T oil (Sunrita recommended mustard oil which has a divine smell and adds to the flavor, but vegetable oil is fine)

In a large bowl put the ginger paste, garlic paste, tandoori powder, salt, red chili powder, yogurt, oil and mix well.

Prick the chicken pieces all over with a fork. This helps the marinade really get into the meat.

Add the chicken to the marinade and mix well so that all the chicken pieces are well coated with the marinade. Cover the bowl with cling film and place it in the refrigerator to marinate for about two hours or more. If you don’t have time for this don’t worry. Even 20 minutes in the marinade will give it some flavor.

Roasting the Chicken

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Place the marinated chicken pieces on a greased tray, cover with a foil and cook till half done, about 10 minutes.

Remove and keep aside.

(You can also grill the chicken. We like to skewer it or we use chicken legs. It gets a nice smokey flavor to it that adds to the tandoori oven flavor.)

For the Butter Sauce

  • 40 ounces of tomato puree
  • 3 T butter
  • 4 Green cardamom seeds
  • 1 inch of Cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp Ginger paste
  • 1 tsp Garlic paste
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp Tandoori Masala mix (optional)
  • 1 tsp Deggi Mirch Red Chili Powder (slightly different than Kashmiri, but you an use Kashmiri if you want)
  • 1 – 2 T Honey
  • 1 tsp Salt or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Dried Fenugreek Leaves (look for kasoori methi in an Indian specialty store), roasted and crushed
  • 4 T heavy cream

img_5522Heat the two tablespoons of butter in a deep non-stick pan on low heat. Lightly crush the green cardamoms with the flat side of the knife and add them with the cinnamon stick to the pan and cook till fragrant – 3 minutes or so. Add the ginger paste and garlic paste and sauté for a minute.

Now add the tomato puree, salt, and red chili powder and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until you see the butter rising to the top around the sides of the tomato.

Add the roasted and crushed fenugreek (kasuri methi) to the sauce and mix well.

Add the chicken pieces and cook for further three minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Finally add the cream and remaining butter and mix well.  Cover and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more.

Remove from the stove and serve hot with rice and/or naan. (Naan is a wonderful flat bread. You can find it most large grocery stores in major cities.)

 

Then we cooked a dish I’d never had or heard of before.  South Indian Fish Curry! It’s almost like a stew, but with the refreshing touch of coconut milk that some southern Indian curries have. This is also a quick dish for dinner as it takes only 35 minutes from start to finish. Just get your rice cooking first and start on the fish!

South Indian Fish Curry

Marinade for fish

  • 3/4 pounds of a firm white fish like tilapia, cod, haddock, or snapper
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt

Cut the fish into large chunky pieces. Sprinkle with salt and lemon juice and leave it to marinate while you prepare the curry paste. The marinade actually helps the fish flavor to not overwhelm the other spices in the curry.

Curry paste

  • 1 tsp Turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp Red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp Cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp Coriander powder
  • 1/4 cup water

Put turmeric, chili powder, cumin powder and coriander powder in a small bowl and mix it adding a little water at a time until it becomes a smooth thick paste. Keep aside for later.

Prepare the fish

In a non-stick skillet heat about 1 T vegetable oil and fry each piece of the fish on both sides till its half done, about 1- 2 minutes each side. Do this in several batches or you risk poaching the fish instead of frying it.

Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel-lined plate.

Curry Sauce

  • 1 tsp of Ground curry (or, if you can find them 15-20 curry leaves)
  • 1 tsp Mustard seeds
  • 1 Onion, medium sized, finely chopped
  • 3 T Tomato paste
  • 1 tsp Ginger, finely chopped (or you can use paste if you have some)
  • 1 tsp Garlic, finely chopped (or you can use paste if you have some)
  • 9 ounces Coconut milk
  • Salt to taste (probably around 1/2 tsp)
  • 4 T Vegetable oil
  • 1 T Coriander leaves, chopped
img_5504
You can see the green curry leaves in the oil with the dark mustard seeds. It smells wonderful.

Using the same oil used for frying the fish, add the mustard seeds and fry until they start to pop. (If you have curry leaves add them with the mustard seeds.)

Add the onion and saute will it become translucent and soft. About 5 minutes. Then add garlic and ginger paste and cook on a medium heat for another 5 – 6 minutes.

Stir in the curry paste you made above and add the tomato paste.  Now add the curry powder (if you didn’t use curry leaves). Saute till the oil starts to leave the sides of the pan.

Finally add the coconut milk and season with salt. You can also add water if the coconut milk is too thick. Get it simmering and then reduce the heat slightly.

img_5509Then add the fish to the curry. Cover and cook bringing it to a boil for 5 – 7 minutes until the fish is fully cooked and sauce reduced.

Serve sprinkled with chopped coriander leaves, with basmati rice.

(In case you were wondering cilantro and coriander leaves are the same thing. Cilantro is the more popular name in the US whereas you find it labeled coriander in Europe.)

 

As our final dish we prepared vegetable biryani. Biryani looks very similar to Chinese fried rice, but it could not be more different. The rice is not fried and the vegetables are more like cauliflower, green beans, carrots, and the like. Many families add meat to this, but it is a delicious vegetarian entree or accompaniment to the other dishes above.  Plus, if you are looking for dishes kids can help out with, they can chop the vegetables.

Biryani calls for lots of spices, but don’t be intimidated. As they cook they meld together to form a completely new flavor, so if you think you’ve tasted all variations of curry think again.

Vegetable Biryani

For the Rice

  • 1 & 1/2 cups Basmati rice, soaked in water for 30 minutes
  • 2 Green cardamom pods
  • 5 Cloves
  • 1/2 inch Cinnamon stick
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1 Black cardamom pod
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Vegetable oil

For the Vegetable Mixture

  • 2 medium Onions, sliced
  • 2 medium Carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 20 Green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 15 Cauliflower florets
  • 6 Green cardamom pods, smashed
  • 10 Cloves
  • 1, 1-inch stick Cinnamon
  • 1 & 1/2 T Ginger-Garlic paste (3/4 tsp each)
  • 1 tsp Turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp Red chili powder
  • 2 T Biryani masala powder (you can find this in Indian specialty stores)
  • 1/2 cup Yogurt
  • 1/2 bunch Fresh coriander leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch Fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 2 T Vegetable oil
  • 2 T Butter
  • 2 tsp Sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 c Fried onions (optional – take 1/2 cup sliced onions and fry in a skillet with 1 T butter until dark brown)

img_5512To make the biriyani paste mix, take a small bowl and blend together the yogurt, biriyani powder, and red chili powder. Set aside for later.

Next, make the rice:

Get 4 cups of salted water boiling in a large pot. Drain the soaked rice and then add it to the boiling water. To that add all the ingredients listed under “For the Rice.” The cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon – all of it.

Boil until the rice is about 3/4 done – very al dente.  Use a fine mesh colander and drain the water. Pick out the cinnamon and the other spice pods. Set aside.

As the rice is boiling get to work on sauteing the vegetables.

In a large, deep pan (you want a big one, this is going to be a lot of food) heat the oil and the butter together. Once hot add the bay leaves, cardamoms, cinnamon stick, and the cloves. Cook for about 40 seconds or until fragrant.

Then add the sliced onions. Cook until they become translucent. Then add all the prepped vegetables. Cover with a lid and cook for 3 or 4 minutes.

Now add the ginger-garlic paste and continue to saute for another 3 minutes. Then add the biryani yogurt mixture to the vegetables. Give them a good stir and get all those veggies coated with the yogurt. If it seems too thick add a touch of water to loosen up the sauce. Cook for another 2 – 3 minutes.

While the veggies are still crunchy, stir in the salt and sugar and give the whole thing a good stir. Add the fresh mint and coriander leaves. Now add 1 cup of water to the pot and bring it to a boil.

Once the water is boiling go find that 3/4 cooked rice and add it to the pot with all the veggies. Gently stir it together to get the vegetables evenly distributed through the rice. Sprinkle the fried onions on top and cover. Cook on very low heat until the rice and vegetables are cooked. The vegetables should be somewhat soft and the rice should be cooked through and soft.

Serve and enjoy hot!

img_5524

Sunrita did mention that if we wanted to use broccoli or red peppers that would be great, but add them a bit later in the cooking process – maybe when we add the rice or a little before – or we would end up with mush!

I highly, highly recommend taking a cooking class with Sunrita if you are in the Basel, Switzerland area. At the end you are seated at a marvelous feast! Complete with great food, good company, and refreshing wine. She even holds classes for kids! (But without the wine.)

She will also answer all of your cooking questions via her FaceBook page, https://www.facebook.com/lazywomenscurry.

I hope you try all the recipes that I’ve posted here. They are fun and easy forays into the world of Indian cooking.

Culture Shock

We are officially back in DC.

Actually we have been here for 2 weeks, but it doesn’t feel that long.

My Mom and I drove across the country from the family farm in Iowa and pulled into the driveway at 7pm on the second day of driving. The first day of driving was filled with horrific rain fall from the early afternoon into the night with massive amounts of semis threatening to spin out of control at any second.  It was so horrific we stopped early in Indiana, a state I make a point to never stop in. (For a variety of reasons, one of which is the lack of interstate rest stops.)

In the last few weeks we’ve gotten 95% of the boxes unpacked and driving is becoming slightly less terrifying. I’ve even found time to go out with some of my old girlfriends and get more drunk than I have been in the last 10 years.

And I still find my head spinning from time to time at different things.

Like the checkout line at the grocery store. I counted 85 different kinds of candy snacks at the checkout counter. And that was only on one side of the aisle.  In my small grocery shop in Basel there was probably a third of that.

And magazines. There were 20 different magazines there. There were 4 at my old shop.

That is a lot of visual stimulation and temptation. Even the kids noticed a difference.

The other thing they noticed was the number of cars around.

So. Many. Cars.

Not that there aren’t people driving cars in Switzerland. There are. People drive all the time and all over. However, 6 lane roads aren’t necessary to carry Basel traffic just through the city and it is small enough, with an extremely extensive public transportation system, that many people don’t feel the need to drive their cars all the time.

I have managed to remember how to weave my way through the traffic. And that killer instinct needed to secure a parking spot is coming back.

I am also remembering how to use GPS and drive. I used the GPS on my phone the first 8 times I left the house. Both driving and on foot.

This was necessary because I hadn’t realized until I was 1 hour from home on the drive back with my mom that I didn’t know where “home” was.  And after that I realized I had no idea where the grocery store, the CVS, or the Chipotle was.

I finally didn’t need it the other day and E complimented me on finally memorizing my way back home. It only took me a week and a half.

Another thing that has been a shock is how easily I’m slipping into eating out again. Eating out often. And wanting to eat out very often.

Until the last month we were in Switzerland we ate out at restaurants other than the BIS club 6 times.  That is 6 times in 2 years.  I’ve been in the country 2 months and I’ve eaten out 14 times.

And I’m about to eat out again on Wednesday.

I’m also tempted to go to Costco this week, but I think I might need a friend to go with me in case I faint or have a nervous breakdown. I just went to Target to get the kids school supplies and had to lay down when I got home. So many rude, spoiled people elbowing their way through shelves of notebook and pencil displays.

There is a Chipotle across from my usual Costco, so that could help bolster my will to live through what will surely be an overwhelming experience.

I am finding I am glad to be back. I’ve missed my friends. I’ve missed my clothes dryer. I’ve missed my regular nail and hair salon. I’ve missed Mexican food. I’ve missed being no more than 3 times zones away from some of my oldest friends.

There will be many more things that I will discover that I secretly missed. And we will be exploring more of America. There is a lot to explore. I hope you come along.

Switzerland has Ruined America for Me

When Mark was first assigned to the BIS in Basel I never dreamed how much living in Switzerland would change us.  Other than the language barrier, I thought getting around there would be breeze. We would move in, live there for 2 years, and then just fly on back to the US. Easy-peasy. How different can it be?

A lot, as it turned out.

Living in Switzerland was an eye-opening experience as to how life could be lived. And it has ruined a bit of America for me.

Firstly, the children there had a ton of freedom! And they had a lot of responsibility.

Our children were encouraged – no expected – to go it alone. To go to the park with their friends and not their parents. To run to the corner shop and pick up a liter of milk or some sugar on their bike or scooter. To walk to school or go on the tram to school by themselves from the age of 7 or 8.

The can do this because children are taught and trained how to behave from the time they are toddlers. It seems like the Swiss have made it a priority to teach their children how society works and to respect the rules of that society. They aren’t isolated and insulated from the rest of society by car travel and so there are a plethora of “teachable moments” and interactions with people.

And everyone parents every child. Whether it’s a stay-at-home parent in the park with their toddler or a pensioner on the tram or me walking through the neighborhood. We watch out for not only our own children, but everyone’s children. That means there is almost always a parental-type adult around.  Someone is always watching and there to help and keep them safe.

And there is an expectation that everyone gets the Benefit of the Doubt. The concept of Benefit of the Doubt is something that has been all but forgotten in America. I find I slip into assuming the worst, especially when I see kids on their own. I have a horror movie involving kidnapping or delinquent behavior running through my brain.  Where are their parents? is the common refrain. As if we should be hovering over them every minute of every day.

In Switzerland, children aren’t automatically thought to be destructive hooligans. They are just kids trying to have fun and who seem to need to be reminded that the tram is not a playground. Corrections are, therefore, short and not personal. And they are taken with seriousness and respect.

There is also the concept that the societal good is everyone’s business.

I don’t believe I ever heard the phrase Mind Your Own Business once in Switzerland. In America, it’s how we live our lives. We mind our own business. Ignore and move along. And don’t even think of correcting a child you didn’t birth yourself. Frankly, it has gotten dangerous to poke your nose into the business of the world around you, even when you should.

It’s so rare that news shows have done countless experiments highlighting people walking right by others in need and celebrating the “heroes” who choose to take the risk, give the Benefit of the Doubt, and do the right thing.

I remember a woman in a mobility cart tipped over getting out of the tram. No less than 12 people rushed to her side to help her; including 4 teenagers who slammed on the “door open” button and ran out to help to get her from behind. Without hesitation. It was an automatic reaction. And it made me very proud.

The next thing that has ruined America for me is the Swiss philosophy of Quality over Quantity.

Quality matters a lot in Switzerland. They don’t do cheap and flimsy. Even the tissues are thick enough they can double as formal napkins in a pinch. Ikea is as cheap as the Swiss get and, actually, you find a majority of the shoppers are ex-pats.

Americans seem like they are more impressed with getting 50 mediocre cookies for $5 than they are with getting 5 of the most delicious cookies they’ve ever had in their lives for the same price. The Swiss value quality and so they produce quality. This is how they have ended up producing the world’s best chocolate and cheese.

I got use to buying fresh bread, still warm from the oven with incredible flavor. I reveled in buying cheeses that were made with in 20 miles of where I lived, each more delicious than the last. I still crave the crammed-with-flavor salami and prosciutto on my cheese platters.  There are some foods and things America does well, but we just don’t do good bread, cheese, and prosciutto.  Don’t worry, America, you still have the pizza and the hamburger.

Family time is also more of a priority in Switzerland than in America. Oh, we can preach about work-life balance all we want, but we don’t ever seem to be able to to achieve it. To be productive and “get ahead” is embedded our culture. We value productivity over everything. Our phones are always in our hands. People brag about sending out work reports at 4 in the morning or responding to their boss at midnight. If you are sitting down or having fun you are lazy. There is work to be done!

In Switzerland, employers, as a rule, don’t call employees at home. They don’t expect you to check your emails every minute of the day and they don’t call you on the weekend. (Exceptions happen, of course, but they are exceptions.)  You are with your families and you are expected to be engaged in family matters.  Family is a priority.

See, in Switzerland you work when you are at work. No posting to Facebook or shopping on Amazon when you should be working. You are given ample time at lunch or vacation to do all that.

Mark was able to take 1.5-2 hour lunches while in Basel. And he wasn’t the exception. Schools in Switzerland give their pupils 2 hours for lunch and it was typical/usual/expected that parents would come home and have lunch with their kids. Some shops with only 1 or 2 employees were also closed from 12-2 so they could enjoy a lunch and get their own personal things done.

We were astonished when we moved there to discover most stores are closed on Sundays. Grocery stores, department stores, the knitting shop on the corner. All closed on Sunday.

Sunday is a family day. The parks are full. People play Kubb, have a beer while laying in the sun, or kick a soccer ball around with a gang of kids. The hiking trails in the mountains are also full of couples and families.

Life is about just living, not about getting ahead or having the most.

As a result of our always working American lifestyles we barely talk to each other. When is the last time you had long leisurely meal or evening with your family free of phones and emails? When is the last time you went outside and played with the kids? In Switzerland this was the norm, not something reserved for a birthday or anniversary.

I will also miss the two solid weeks of vacation that my husband was forced to take every year. Mark had only worked at the BIS for a couple of months when his supervisor came to him and filled him in on the unofficial policy that he take a solid 2-weeks off at some point during the year. Some people take this in the summer and others wait until Christmas to enjoy a ski weekend.

2 weeks. Two solid weeks. Oh, that wasn’t the only vacation he got. He had plenty of other days for us to take a long weekend here and a week there. But 2 solid weeks of just doing whatever he wanted. Resting. Rejuvenating. Morale building. Family time. Traveling. No thinking about deadlines or the unexpected call from work. Just time with us hiking and traveling.

In America, if he were to take only a week off he’d be scrambling before we left and checking his email nightly to make sure things were running smoothly.  Even a 3-day weekend is a stretch for some! And when we do manage to fit in a vacation we have our phones strapped to our eyeballs making sure our desk will still be there when we get back. No wonder we’re so stressed out.

It’s going to be hard to come back into a society that believes if you aren’t “work” working everyday you aren’t productive or useful to society. When did family become an inconvenience? When did enjoying life become an impediment to success? And we wonder why people are waiting until their late 30s and early 40s to have children instead of having a family during their prime earning years. Politicians preach family values, but at the same time do nothing legislative to make it possible to enjoy our families. And that needs to change.

So, thanks, Switzerland. You’ve ruined me for American living.