Road Food

29 Oct

29 October 2019.

We get tired of restaurants. Yes, food lovers that we are, when we are on a long trip food-fatigue sets in. Figuring out where to eat every meal becomes a chore. In parts of Europe, a very casual evening meal (other than pizza) is hard to find. Sandwiches and salads in the evening in Paris? Forget about it! There are nights where we just want to stay in after a day of hiking or touring. When I have >16000 steps on my pedometer, going out to dinner is less appealing than pajamas, a movie, wine, and a homey meal.

Occasionally, we just want some hummus and veggies or wine and cheese. Or wine without the cheese. Even a piece of toast with peanut butter sounds good now and then.  Other times, we want to have something satisfying yet not too time-consuming.

Finding ingredients can be a challenge. In Italy, we have never found hummus pre-made. Only in the U.K. (or rentals in Switzerland owned by Brits) do we consistently find a toaster. Peanut butter is sporadically available and we like the Italian one but then there are seldom toasters in Italian apartments. Luckily, everyone has cheese.

Parisian markets are always so orderly and colorful.

Over time and extensive travel in Europe, we have collected some recipes and adapted our cooking style to the equipment we find in rented digs, products available in the markets, and limited ingredients to keep it simple.

Sometimes there are great pans and sometimes there’s one battered old frying pan and small saucepan. Seldom are the knives sharp: We now carry our own set. Ovens are rare, microwaves are ever-present. One lovely apartment we rent each year in Switzerland has a slow cooker. Sometimes there are mixing bowls, always a colander (at least in Italy). We move in and assess the tools before deciding on a plan or going shopping.

Then there are condiments. Some apartments have those that are left behind by prior guests. Sometimes these are of indeterminate age and one sniff tells me that the oregano is beyond its use-by date. Never trust coffee that has been left behind! Ric considers it his community service to seek out and dispose of expired food items in apartments we rent.

Here are a few limited-ingredient recipes we turn to depending on the tools in the apartment and the products we can find. These do not call for a lot of ingredients you might have to abandon when you move on. If I can, I will squeeze that newly purchased oregano into my bag to take to the next place.

Salads

    • Everywhere we go we can find mixed greens, gorgonzola, a crisp apple (Pink Lady and Granny Smith are my faves), some nuts, dried cranberries, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. We sometimes buy a trail mix for the nuts and dried fruit. Many places sell pre-cooked salad chicken which is a nice addition. Boom! Great lunch. Sure, you have to buy oil and balsamico, but far less than paying for a couple of salads in a restaurant. Extra points for Ponte Glassa. Yum!
    • The same pre-cooked chicken mixed with mayonnaise, salt and pepper, dried cranberries or raisins, maybe some pine nuts or slivered almonds. Serve on a bed of fresh arugula. Very satisfying.

Pasta

It is so easy to make a limited ingredient pasta almost anywhere as long as you have a couple of pots and a colander.

    • We love this one from The New York Times Cooking website. Pasta with Burst Cherry Tomatoes and Mint. I alter it a bit, substituting caramelized shallots for the raw scallions. (I cook them along with the pancetta.) I omit the butter.  For two people, one box of pasta makes two good meals.
    • In Italy, you can find frozen seafood for pasta or risotto.

      Frozen seafood pasta sauce. Just add spaghetti!

      It is amazingly good and very economical. All you need is a €5.00 package and a half-box of pasta to feed two very well with no leftovers. I have seen a similar product in the U.K. but not in the U.S. 
    • My favorite, when Romanesco is available, Orecchiette con broccoli e salsicce. Takes no time at all. I have included the recipe below.

Soups

    • You can find the basic ingredients for chili almost anywhere. I have substituted Italian fagioli for kidney beans and if I cannot find chili powder, a liberal dose of paprika plus cumin, oregano, and pepper does the trick. A small batch will do it. No sense eating it every night for a week.
    • In most European markets you can pick up a bag of pre-cut veggies, called minestra in Italy. What you add to them is up to you, but it is a fine start to a batch of soup without having to buy all the veggies and chop them. I plop in some chicken breasts that I cube, herbs and seasonings, add broth, zucchini, mushrooms, and during the final half-hour, farro (aka, spelt).

Of course, sautéed fish or chicken is easy, but I find it boring. A tuna sandwich hits home when you are sick of what is in the cafes at lunch. Seriously. When we are traveling for six-to-eight weeks, simple things mean a lot. We have, in desperation and exhaustion after a long day of sightseeing in London, even picked up a bake-at-home pizza at Sainsbury’s. It was pretty good!

When all else fails, one can heat up some Crack Sticks…if you have an oven.

Apartment breakfast is one of three things: scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and bread (toast if we are lucky), yogurt with berries (followed by a late morning pastry in all likelihood), or toast with peanut butter. Ric also loves hard-boiled eggs, especially in Switzerland. 

Restaurants

We do eat in restaurants. Wonderful restaurants! We love to try the cuisine of the area we are in or maybe find out what Indian food is like in Switzerland because eating rösti gets old. On a long-haul trip, we eat out two-or-three nights a week and at least half of our lunches. As regular readers know, we try pizza everywhere. On our 2018 trip, we had pizza nine times in seven weeks. Not that there is anything wrong with that. And my jeans still fit. Walking 16000 steps per day helps.

This is rösti, an evilly good Swiss staple. There is a pile of potatoes under that mountain of veggies and cheese. Not a diet-friendly choice.

Orecchiette con broccoli e salsicce

For 4 people

Orecchiette are the “little ear” pasta found most everywhere A particular shape that works well with this treatment. My measurements are an unfortunate mix of metric and U.S. standards. I do not measure when making pasta, so use your own judgement.

INGREDIENTS
4 Italian pork sausages, remove casings and tear into bite size pieces (about 1/2 pound)

400-500g dried orecchiette

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

One large Romanesco (Italian broccoli), cut into florets

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Chili pepper flakes (I use ½ teaspoon full and Ric adds more at table)

½-1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2/3 cup (or more) white wine

Anchovies to taste (I used 5 or 6 chopped finely)

Grated Pecorino, may substitute parmesan if needed but use fresh, not Kraft

INSTRUCTIONS
Add olive oil to a large frypan and over medium sauté the cut sausages until they brown and are cooked through.

Remove from the pan and set aside. The sausage meat will remain in compact shapes unless you break it up with a spoon as it cooks – the choice is yours.

Add broccoli, garlic, and chili to the same pan and sauté the for about 5 minutes. If you prefer your broccoli more cooked, add a splash of water or wine, cover and cook till the broccoli is cooked to your liking.

Start the pasta and cook until al dente, usually a couple of minutes less than the package says.

Increase heat, add the sausage meat, wine and anchovies and reduce the liquid – this should take about 5 minutes.

Drain the pasta (save a little of the cooking water) and combine with the meat/broccoli mixture. If it seems dry, add a bit of the saved cooking water. Mix well and serve with grated pecorino.

Home again

18 Oct

18 October 2019.

Sleep came, at last, on our sixth night at home, signifying the end of jet lag: 8.5 hours Tuesday night had me rolling out of bed at 05:00. The first full night of sleep truly puts a trip behind us except for the memories and 1100+ photos to be sorted.

The final two weeks of our trip were spent in Lauterbrunnen in our favorite apartment. This was our fourth stay in James’ and Michelle’s apartment and it felt like home when we walked through the door. We’ve already booked a stay there in Autumn 2020.

Even in our sixth visit to the area we are finding new walks, new experiences, new corners to explore.

Wrapping up this portion of our trip, I have some photos from a few of our favorite hikes in the valley and mountains. We plan to publish an e-book about easy hikes in this area. Updating the Val Gardena book and writing this new one for the Lauterbrunnen area should keep me out of trouble all winter.

Playground in the mountains

The Allmendhubel to Winteregg hike starts at a fabulous playground. The children don’t seem to notice the view.

WOman in front of snowy mountains

The Mountain View Trail between Allmendhubel and Winteregg is well named.

Tunnel through rock by lake

The trail from Iseltwald to Giessbach hugs the lake and goes through a short tunnel.

Man in trail in forest

We had a couple of steep climbs on the way to Giessbach.

Waterfall

At the end of the Iseltwald to Giessbach hike, a Victorian Era hotel and a fabulous waterfall.

Mountains with a small train

No matter how many times we do it, always a favorite for us is the walk from Grütschalp to Mürren with a view of the little cogwheel train. Oh, and mountains.

Man at a bench with mountains in background

Another fave is Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. Not too difficult and highly satisfying.

Man on trail with rocks in background

We had a surprise snow overnight before our hike on the North Face Trail.

Mountains vie2wed from a road

Descending at the end of the North Face Trail into Mürren. The sun came out as we hit town. We hiked alone, encountering maybe half-a-dozen people in 2.5 hours.

SNowy Mountain Peaks

Our post-hike view from lunch at about 14:00. The mountain restaurants along the trail were closed for the season.

Man surfing

In Thun (pronounced “tune”), Switzerland, a man surfs in the wake created by sluice gates on the River Aare.

Castle on a lake

Thun is one of the larger towns in the Berner Oberland. Our walk along Lake Thun included four castles on a bright Saturday.

Goat

Spotted on a walk near Wengen. One passes from town to farm in the blink of an eye.

View of a valley with waterfall

While weather and lighting did not cooperate to make this the stunning shot I had hoped for, it’s still a magnificent view of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and Staubbach Falls.

Road with snowy peak in background

Another walk near Wengen. Snow overnight made higher elevation walking precarious so we found this nice walk above the valley where we could admire the fresh snow.

Goat with valley in background

Goat pasture with a view, Wengen. In less then 30 minutes we went from touristy crowds crowding mountain trains in downtown Wengen to working farms.

If you are looking for a comfortable, convenient roost in the Jungfrau Region, send me a message and I’ll tell you how to get in touch with James. Pictures are online here but you’ll want to reach out personally rather than book through the site.

Finding peace and quiet in Bettmeralp

2 Oct

2 October 2019.

Imagine a place without traffic noise. No cars, no trains, no buses: just a breeze in the trees, a distant cowbell, the gentle whirr of a gondola. Occasionally, an electric taxi or service vehicle makes its way through the village.

This is Bettmeralp, a tiny village where altitude (2006 meters/6581 feet) is mentioned before its population of 462.

chapel on a hill at night

The little “Kapelle Maria zum Schnee” (Chapel of Maria of tne Snow) as night descends. On the far right, you can see the triangle peak of the Matterhorn.

Matterhorn

You can see the Matterhorn from Bettmeralp when conditions are right.

The village has been on my list of must-explore places in Switzerland for about three years. While many tourists flock to Zermatt, our beloved Lauterbrunnen Valley, Luzern, and the Engadine, Bettmeralp in September is almost devoid of tourists. The first night in our hotel, the Waldhaus, only three rooms of this medium-sized family hotel were occupied. The next night, the shoulder season brought a group of 17 to stay for an entire week of alpine exploration.

It was quiet even with so many guests.

Cows on a road

The loudest noise we heard in 3 nights at the Hotel Waldhaus was this “cow parade” right below our window.

This is hiking country, with several trails offering views of the famous Aletsch Glacier, worth seeing before climate change takes even more of a toll. The Aletsch Arena is quite different from our usual haunts in the Berner Oberland. Bettmeralp sits at and above the tree line surrounded by massive snowy peaks too numerous to name. The light is constantly changing and the village is, like most Swiss villages, bedecked with flowers. It is picturesque, to say the least.

Sunlight on snowy mountain

The view from our room at the Hotel Waldhaus at sunrise.

Swiss villag in mountains

Bettmeralp, nestled high above the valley.

Swiss building

Flower-bedecked, the buildings look lovely even on cloudy days.

We only had two days to hike and one could certainly spend several days exploring more corners of the Aletsch Arena by train, lift, and on foot. We choose to start a rainy day by heading on the paved path to neighboring Riederalp. We were looking for one of the lifts in that small village and could not find it in the fog. We were astonished when after seeking refuge in a cafe for a warming cup of espresso we emerged to find the clouds had broken and the landscape revealed to us again.

Signpost

The signage is good: you won’t get lost but you might be confused at the options.

The second day we traveled by train and gondola to Fiescheralp, almost deserted now in the shoulder season but clearly a major ski-holiday destination. The exposed path we took back to Bettmeralp bore few fellow travelers this late in the fall but the vistas were, once again, magnificent and this hike, in particular, gave us a more complete picture of the area.

Mountain and road

On the road from Fiescheralp, a beautiful view.

Man on bridge with hiking sticks

Ric crosses a bridge on our hike from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp. Yes, it was cold enough for a tuque.

To top off the magnificent scenery, we found excellent pizza as well. Paolo, the pizzaiolo at Pizzeria PiccoBello told me that there are many Italians in the area, working on the lifts. (Italians were also employed in the creation of some of Switzerland’s amazing tunnel systems.)

Building with pizzeria

A lovely Italian experience, high in the Swiss alps.

Pizza

One of our pies at PiccoBello. Truly Italian but with a Swiss-style sausage. The crust was top notch!

Pizza oven and man

Paolo the pizzaiolo plies his trade. A delicate crust that stands up to the sauce and toppings. An art form aided by a wood-fired oven.

The Waldhaus fed us well the other two nights as we partook of their excellent half-board. Mamma mia what a feast: 5 courses! Luckily portion-size was rational. Their selection of Swiss wines gave us a chance to enjoy products seldom found outside of the country.

Hotel bedroom

We had a moonwood room at the Waldhaus. Above the bed, a window leads from the shower room. Shower with a view!

Vew in hotel room

This is the view from our shower room at the Waldhaus.

Mountain view out a window

A little nook in the room at the Waldhaus with a gorgeous view, ever-changing light.

We parted somewhat reluctantly after three nights. An additional night-or-two would have allowed us to visit the pristine alpine lakes or ride lifts to see the glacier from a couple of additional viewpoints.

There’s always “next time!”

Welcome sign

Outside the Hotel Waldhaus where were were made to feel very welcome indeed.

Alpine Transhumance

26 Sep

26 September 2019.

It seems I’ve been waiting until the cows come home to see the transhumance here in Lauterbrunnen, or at least the ceremonial descent from summer pasture to the valley.  Now and then we’d see a farmer going down the street with two or three cows — you can hear them coming for a kilometer or so thanks to the bells — but we’ve either been out on the mountain trails or arrived too late in the year to see what we saw today.

We were advised to be near the Hotel Silberhorn at noon to witness the parade. The cows were arriving from pasture at 1500 meters/4900 feet at Winteregg, a path of about 4 miles.

 

The ceremonial transhumance involves gigantic cowbells and decorative headwear…for the cows. I hope they weren’t forced to wear this gear the entire 4 miles, although that might explain why a couple of them looked so grumpy.

Cow parade

The cows round the curve coming into town by the Hotel Silberhorn, under the Grutschalp gondola. Look at the size of that bell!

End of cow parade

Trailing to cows through town, clean up vehicle and crew following.

Cow Parade

Coming around by the church, traffic is stopped on the main thoroughfare.

Cow Parade

Passing the church, the cows are coming into our neighborhood. We took a shortcut so we could meet them down by the river. This is just 150 meters from our temporary home.

Cow with head dress

One cow gets out of the parade when she spots something tasty after walking through the town.

Cow mooing

As the ceremonial cows pass on the street below, a small herd overlooks the scene and one cow seems to say “What about us?”

Hotel Silberhorn staff greeted the herders and onlookers bearing trays with small cups of wine. A nice touch!

Walking off the pizza

19 Sep

19 September 2019.

It is so wonderful to have fine Italian pizza again! Nothing in the U.S. compares, for us. Here, we each eat an entire pizza and while full, we never feel bloated or grotesque. And my jeans still zip the next morning.

Pizza

The culprit: Pizza Golosa, which means ‘delicious’ or ‘gluttonous.’ Fresh mushrooms and cherry tomatoes with spicy salami and gorgonzola. Ric had a Siciliana with anchovies, capers, and olives.

Italian pizza crust is made from a type of flour that is more digestible. (Ask any Italian about digestibility and you’ll be entertained for hours.) The toppings are fresh and pure and distributed with a light hand. Each ingredient shines on its own and together, well,  Mamma mia what a product!

Pizzeria & Steakhouse La Tambra in Santa Cristina is our favorite in the Val Gardena. Usually, we make the trek to La Tambra in the evening catching the infrequent and elusive night bus back to Ortisei. The other day, while tromping around on Monte Pana and Mont de Sëura, we realized that it was almost lunchtime and Santa Cristina was only a chairlift away. Does La Tambra serve pizza at lunch? Turns out they do, and as it was a sunny day, we could dine on the terrace. But what to do after lunch? It was only 14:30 and we certainly could use some steps to retard the growth of fat cells after eating THE WHOLE THING.

Ric’s idea? Walk back to Ortisei on the Sentiero del Trenino. This mostly level path takes one between the towns of Santa Cristina and Ortisei where the WWI supply train ran from 1916-1918. Eventually, it became a tourist train which operated until 1960. This area was part of Austria when the railway was built and was annexed by the Kingdom of Italy after WWI. Some 6000 Russian and Serbian POWs were conscripted to build the line, which they accomplished in only 5 months of brutal day-and-night labor.

WWI picture

Photo from one of the informative panels along the route. 6000 Russian prisoners and 3500 locals were employed in building the WWI rail line to resupply the front. This was Austria at the time.

We started our walk a bit before the official start of the path, launching our pizza-stuffed selves off the terrace of La Tambra and making our way up to the picturesque church in Santa Cristina. The cemetery is stunning and beautifully maintained by the families. Seasonal flowers are planted on each gravesite.

More-or-less beneath the church, a tunnel used by the narrow-gauge train was reopened in 2017 with informative displays about the line. It is well worth a 15-minute detour to walk the 203-meter tunnel and study the displays. The tiny renovated station house (from tourist train days) has short films of the trains in action.

Click any photo for more detail and a slide show.

Continuing on after the church, one heads steeply downhill. We encountered cyclists going both directions but felt exceedingly sorry for one guy who was pushing a pram uphill while his wife struggled along behind. We’ve done this hill in both directions and would vote to go down every time. Ugh!

S. Cristina pat

This path is steeper than it looks. After this descent the rest of the path is mostly level.

Then the path levels out and it is a delightful stroll to Ortisei, past farms, playgrounds, and beautiful hotels. Sunny vistas are interspersed with forested sections. The 3 miles passed quickly, taking about 90 minutes including the train tunnel detour.

At least we made a dent in those pizza calories since we are back on the weekly pizza plan during out trip!

Click any photo for more detail and a slide show.

 

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