The feasting outranked the skiing on our recent trip to the Swiss Alps. During our almost week-long visit we had only one day of glorious sunshine. The rest of the time it was foggy, overcast with heavy gray clouds, even a bit of snow. After this winter of incredible snow falls with a meter and a half already on the ground, more was not needed. The clouds meant the mountains were no where to be seen. And, my bad knee gave me problems which kept me off the slopes most of the time. However, thanks to our friend Ortrud, we ate very, very well.
Ortrud and her husband Kurt are German friends who have a home in a Provencal village not far from us. They invited us to their Swiss "cabin" in Radons for winter fun. Radons, elevation 1,900 meters, is a tiny hamlet of no more than 20 houses. It is located in the Swiss canton (state) of Grisons in eastern Switzerland bordering Italy to the south and Austria to the north, about 40 kilometers from that jet set haven, St. Moritz. In Grisons, they speak Rhaeto-Romanic, Switzerland's fourth official language after German, French and Italian.
The weathered wooden houses in Radons were built by farmers about 200 years ago. They came to the hamlet in summer months so their livestock could graze in the mountain pastures. Kurt and Ortrud's house is the only "new" structure, built some 40 years ago by Ortrud's father. Today there are about 50 inhabitants in Radons, but no one lives there year round. All are Swiss, with the exception of Kurt and Ortrud, and many from Zurich who come for ski holidays or summer vacation. There are also a few farmers whose cows still graze on the surrounding slopes in summer.
Getting to Radons and the cabin was a challenging adventure. The one road leading to it is buried under snow in the winter. There is a snow-trail from a parking lot at a ski lift about 15-snow mobile minutes from our friends' home. We parked there, then loaded all our gear (lots as we had both downhill and cross country skis, boots, clothes and food supplies) onto the local "taxi," a trailer with eight open seats and a compartment for luggage pulled by a snow mobile. It was a chilly ride through the woods to their house, the last in the village and atop a hill. The taxi stopped at the bottom. We had to lug all our stuff up the slope through deep snow. The access path had long been buried in white stuff. Reaching the top was tough enough. Loaded down it was an athletic feat requiring stamina and coordination. I am lacking in both departments and fell more than once, dropping my charges.
The cabin is cozy and inviting, wood-paneled with three bedrooms upstairs and the kitchen, living and dining area on the first floor — all warmed by a wood-burning stove. We celebrated our arrival and conquering the wicked hill with an aperitif of champagne, foie gras and bread with a white truffle spread.
The first day was the best with plenty of sunshine and spectacular views of the surrounding mountain peaks. I joined Axel, Ortrud and Kurt's son who is a student in Sweden, and his girlfriend Carolina, both snowboarders, for a trek to the slopes. Those above Radons belong to the ski area Savognin. Unfortunately the nearest lift is a lengthy jaunt from the cabin, but once there the skiing is excellent, mainly wide-open red runs accessed by chair lifts with no waiting lines.
The next day Bicycle Bob, who much prefers two wheels to two boards, joined me and Ortrud on the ski mountain, but the weather and visibility worsened during the day. We took refuge in a mountain restaurant. Another sunless day Bob and I got out the cross-country skis for a few runs around the prepared track which passes right at the bottom of the cabin. We hiked on a snow trail yet another day.
We didn't need sunshine to enjoy our evening feasts. Ortrud is a cook extraordinaire. She was a dietician in a hospital, then took a special course to become a chef and was the head of a hospital kitchen of 20 employees. I loved helping her in the kitchen. Unlike me who follows recipes, she cooks from instinct — a little of this, more of that — and dreams up tasty concoctions using the supplies on hand. There's the challenge. There are no stores in Radons. The closest shops are at the bottom of the mountain, the snow taxi ride followed by a trip in a car, at least a half-hour and expensive. A one-way trip in the taxi costs about $60. A less-expensive alternative is the Snowliner, a type of snow tractor with an indoor cabin which makes several roundtrips a day from the ski lift to Radons, cost about $8.50 one way. However, there's not much room for shopping supplies.
Ortrud fills up the freezer and attic store room with supplies during summer months when access is easier. Still, much must be transported in winter. I was impressed with her culinary ingenuity. Spaghetti bolognaise, rack of lamb, steak, fish rolls, and reindeer filet were among the main courses we savored.
Axel brought the reindeer from Sweden. I helped with "surgery" on the raw meat. All the tiny tendons must be delicately removed. Ortrud browned it, then roasted it, and made an exquisite sauce with the meat scraps, chopped onion, grated ginger, cinnamon, pieces of tangerine, rosemary, salt, honey, Preiseelbeeren (German cranberry) sauce and red wine. At the end she added fresh chanterelles.
After a first course of escargots with garlic butter, we relished the reindeer served with poached pears and cranberry sauce, red cabbage and dumplings. I had brought brownies and lemon bars which made dessert for several evenings. It was a three-star meal.
The men did their share in the kitchen, too. Kurt was the "bread engineer," using a package mix to whip up different kinds of delicious breads. My favorite was ciabatta. After rolling out the flat dough, he smeared it with pesto, then rolled it. It was a fabulous midnight snack one evening, warm from the oven with red wine.
Bicycle Bob, also dubbed "Mr. Health Himself" by one of his daughter's former boyfriends, begins his day with a health melange of grains, yogurt and fresh fruit. We brought an ample supply of fruit. He meticulously cuts up the fruit for an exquisite fruit salad, which not only served as a breakfast addition, but also filled in for desserts several nights — after the brownies and lemon bars had been consumed.
See photo gallery for more.