Grimentz: Geraniums galore and more

 

And the winner is — Yvonne Rouvinet. The competition: Geraniums.

Grimentz, a tiny Swiss hamlet high in the Anniviers Valley in southern Switzerland, is the Shangri-la of geraniums. The fiery red blossoms are the village claim to fame – brimming from boxes on houses, apartments, hotels, shops. Tourists clog narrow cobblestone lanes with their cell phone cameras.

Yvonne Rouvinet and her prize-winning geraniums.

Every August the village sponsors a geranium contest. This year there were over 170 entries in three categories: apartments, businesses and chalets. Rouvinet took top honors in the apartment category, beating out 130 other competitors.

Grimentz, a quintessential Swiss village,  was my destination for a solo mountain break. Husband Bob stayed home with his daughter who was visiting.  I miss the Swiss Alps where Bob and I had so many amazing adventures. We biked, with panniers, six of the country’s nine national bike routes. We hiked, often spending nights in gemütlich mountain lodges and huts. We skied its challenging slopes. I enjoyed several terrific press trips to different parts of the country. Those were the days. We were younger and very fit.

The Grimentz-Sorebois cable car ascends to  2,700 meters.

At times it was all too nostalgic. I could not hold back the tears when I saw cyclists loading their bikes on the trains. How many times had we done the very same thing? I hate growing old. I still yearn to soar down black runs (red would do), hike to high peaks, bike those three remaining Swiss bike routes. Merde!

Reality really set in when I set out on a hike which the guy in the tourist office recommended as “flat and easy” – supposedly an hour and half trek to the Hotel Weisshorn. I rode the funicular from St. Luc to the start of the trail. I had a backpack, but unfortunately no hiking poles. The trail was stoney. From the onset, there were ups and downs, not steep, but not my idea of flat. I progressed slowly, stopping to take photos. This was the Planets Trail with markers for the various planets along the way. After about 45 minutes I reached a large clearing where an imposing planet-like structure stood at the edge of the mountain. A woman sat on a bench underneath. I approached and asked her about it.

Marie Claire takes a rest under Saturn.

“Saturn,” she answered. I told her I was on the way to the Hotel Weisshorn. “Oh, it’s up there,” she said, pointing to a distant building atop a mountain. No way. This was not a “flat, easy hike.” I was devastated. I was already tired and my knees hurt.

Marie Claire is from Belgium and has been coming to nearby Zinal every year for many, many years, this time with a son.  Her husband died in 2006. She hiked to the hotel two years ago, but intended to take a pass this year and head back down. Her son had charged ahead.  She invited me to join her for the descent. She saved me, lending me one of her hiking poles.

Flat?  How naive was I?  Nothing can be flat in the Swiss Alps.

We talked about our old and broken bodies. She has two knee replacements. I have one. We both have hip tendinitis. I have a decaying back. Marie Claire was also an inspiration, very positive about everything. “You have to keep moving.”

I failed at the Weisshorn hike, but certainly I could master the hike around Lake Moiry. Clement Vianin, a Grimentz native and the manager of the charming Hotel Meleze where I stayed, suggested I take the bus to the Moiry glacier, then hike the trail around the lake to the dam and bus stop at the other end. Bravo. I did it.

Moiry Glacier.  Climate change has taken its toll.

Like all mountain glaciers, this one has suffered from climate change and has receded significantly.

The lake is a marvel of intense, vibrant turquoise. Minerals from the glacier’s melting ice give the lake its gorgeous hue.

Lake Moiry

I relished hiking around the lake at a snail’s pace, stopping for lots of photos. I even tried macro on some wildflowers. This is the Switzerland I love.

I was in heaven the first night when I entered the cozy, woodsy restaurant of the Hotel Meleze permeated with the aromas of Switzerland – fondue and raclette. I ordered one of my favorites, the deluxe version of Croute au Fromage, bread topped with ham, Gruyere and an egg, baked so the cheese melts and the egg cooks. This called for several glasses of Fendant (Swiss white wine). During my visit I indulged in other Swiss favorites, Rosti, grated potatoes with any melange of other ingredients. I chose one with lots of melted cheese and an

Cheesy Risotto

egg. I had another cheese bombshell, a Risotto speciality at the Becs de Bosson restaurant. Parmesan is pounded smooth in a big bowl as you watch. Grappa is added, then the hot rice. That was my Swiss cheese farewell. I savored it all, but by then I had had enough cheese and was ready for a return to fish from the Med.

Back to those geraniums. I plant them every summer, but mine never looked like those in Grimentz. “It’s the climate,” Rouvinet said. “Not too hot. That is not good.” She also pointed out that the old dark wood of the village buildings “gives a good effect” to the geraniums. Many of the ancient houses date from the 13th to the 15thcentury.

The villagers use a special fertilizer for geraniums. They caution against over-watering. Dead-heading the faded blossoms is also critical. Many chalets and apartments in Grimentz are not occupied year round. Thirty village volunteers visit unoccupied residences to care for the flowers.

Wooden houses were built upon a base of stone where grain was stored.  Wine now replaces grain .

Grimentz is in the French speaking part of Valais, a  bi-lingual canton in Switzerland.  The town, elevation 1,570 meters, is a ski resort as well as a geranium Mecca. It has just 450 permanent residents, but the number skyrockets to as many as 4,000 in winter when  skiers arrive. Summer and geraniums bring almost that number, but many just come for the day to admire red blossoms and take  photos.

Rouvinet’s prize? Not a bottle of champagne. Not a bottle of Fendant, but a bottle of fertilizer and a coupon to buy geraniums next year.

Scroll down for more photos.

Road to the Moiry Dam and glacier at right.
Picnic at Lake Moiry
Sunset in Grimentz
Name this flower

 

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Ship Ahoy Norway

fullsizeoutput_1ac0What a jolt.  Icy water was poured down my back.  Ah! Ouch!  And I volunteered for this? I was on board the MS Nordlys with some 300 other passengers cruising the Norwegian IMG_3117coast. This was our baptism, a rite of passage for crossing the Arctic Circle.   It was a chilling experience, but fun with lots of laughs, shrieks and photos. Participation was not obligatory.   Many, including husband Bob, passed on the baptism.

The Nordlys (northern lights) is part of the Hurtigruten fleet.  “Hurtigruten is not just a cruise ship. It is a unique hybrid, a cruise ship and a ferry,” said David Lam, a member of the expedition team on the MS Nordlys. “It’s a ferry with nice facilities.”

The ship was our home for 11 days as we embarked on a unique voyage exploring the stunning coast of Norway. Our cruise began and ended in Bergen, sailing all the way to Kirkenes on the Russian border and back. Passengers  representing seven different nationalities were onboard during our cruise. Many, like us, were senior citizens.

Days on ship begin with announcements in four languages (Norwegian, English, German and French) about 8:30 am. No sleeping in. If you want breakfast, it is time to get up. The ample buffet of all the usual breakfast goodies, including different kinds of smoked fish, ends at 10 a.m.

 

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Days are filled with interesting lectures, relaxing in comfortable lounges, marveling at the ever-changing scenery, and shore excursions. Announcements alert the passing of noteworthy sights. Passengers gather outdoors on deck7 (the Nordlys has 8 decks) for explanations and photo opps. We were blessed with several warm, sunny days, as well as cool and cloudy days, but only one rainy day.We experienced rough seas once. The boat rocked. We rocked when walking as if we had had one too many — but that would have been costly on the Nordlys.

Norway is very expensive. The cruise was very expensive. Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, not covered in the cruise price, are expensive.KiZfEnLSRYWAfF8GRdJBGQ

When crossing the Arctic Circle and entering the region of the midnight sun and northern lights we were invited to toast the event with a glass of champagne with a strawberry. I naively thought this was gratis. No. That champagne cost 125 NOK (Norwegian krone, about $12.50).

No matter. It was fun minus champagne. The return Arctic circle crossing celebration involved a spoonful of wretched cod liver oil followed by a spoonful of a sweet liqueur. Grimaces and laughs this time. You could keep the spoon. Plus, have a glass of champagne for a price.

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Entering the legendary Troll fjord, a 2-kilometer fjord with a narrow entrance and surrounded with steep-sided mountains, called for another celebration. Most cruise ships are too large to enter the fjord. Smaller Hurtigruten ships, like the Nordlys, can only enter during the summer months. It was amazing  to witness the ship turn around in the tight space.

This feat was celebrated with a cup of troll coffee. Price: 99 NOK ($11) for a cup of coffee with a splash of schnapps. But, you could keep the souvenir fjord cup. I had passed on the champagne, but splurged on the coffee – shared with Bob.

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Troll fjord

“At Hurtigruten we give you the opportunity to travel with meaning. Building on our explorer heritage dating back to 1893, our explorations are grounded in the likings of people who value learning and personal growth over luxury…you won’t find waterslides, casinos or any sort of dress code,” states the Hurtigruten brochure.

We had booked an Arctic superior cabin on deck 6. It had all the necessities, including TV with CNN (important) but was miniscule. Galant Bob took the window side of the double bed. To get in and out, he had to side step.

A German woman from Augsburg told me she had taken four or five luxury cruises. “This is very different. It is not a luxury cruise, but I knew that. I am glad I came. I wanted to see Norway,” she said.

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The cruise is an excellent way to see Norway, especially if one participates in some of the shore excursions. They too are pricey, but offer the opportunity to see and learn about this Nordic land. We especially enjoyed biking in the town of Trondheim, a visit to the indigenous Sami, feasting on King Crab pulled directly from the frigid waters as we watched, and several bus excursions through  spectacular countryside.

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In addition to organizing entertaining celebrations and leading excursions, the friendly and knowledgeable expedition team conduct lectures covering various topics; polar explorations, birds of Norway, Norway and Norwegians, and more. The latter was enlightening. Norway vies with Finland for having the happiest citizens. Dream on, DT, Norwegians do not want to emigrate to the U.S.

While breakfast and lunch were buffet feasts with open seating, we had assigned seats for the three-course dinners. The food was good, innovative and interesting, focusing on local ingredients and Norwegian specialties.

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Tasty reindeer — better than beef, and said to be “sustainable.”

We received a menu with each meal explaining in detail the ingredients and preparation. The salmon was the best I have ever eaten, and the reindeer was a rare and delicious treat.

As mentioned, Hurtigruten is more than a cruise ship. In the late 19th century, services along the 780-mile coastline from Bergen to Kirkenes, a busy route for transportation of goods and people, were unreliable. Shipping companies were invited to submit tenders for operating an express route between Trondheim and Tromsø, or Hammerfest. In 1893, Captain Richard With’s steamer, DS Vesteraalen, established a regular sea link between the towns which was later expanded from Bergen to Kirkenes, a trip of only seven days. The connection was named “hurtigruten” – the fast route. With went on to explore other Nordic destinations.

“This marks the beginning of Hurtigruten’s adventurous and unique explorer operations,” states the company literature. Destinations now include Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Antarctica, as well as ports along the Norwegian coast.

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In addition to cruise passengers, cars, bicycles, motorcycles and some cargo were on board the Nordlys. We met many “walk-in” passengers who used the ship as a ferry from one stop to another. If their transit is less than 24 hours, they can travel without booking a cabin. Some, with backpacks nearby, stretch out on comfortable lounge chairs and sofas. They are free to use all ship facilities, including the jacuzzis.

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Hurtigruten is at the forefront of sustainable tourism. The company is building the first ever hybrid-powered expedition cruise ships and has eliminated single-use plastic from all its ships and hotels. Their “Coastal Kitchen” relies on locally sourced products.

Yes, it is expensive. But, it is a beautiful and enlightening experience (minus the baptism and cod liver oil). And now I have a Polar Arctic certificate.

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If not a talesandtravel follower, sign up, upper right. Your email is not shared. More about Norway to come: the amazing country, its food, photos of the splendid scenery.. I will also be posting on my trip last winter to Costa Rica. And, whatever else inspires me. Don’t miss out.

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Family Fun in the USA

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Sailing in San Diego Bay with members of my family, from left: Tom, Joan, Steve, Yoshie and Dave.  Capt. Charley at the helm.

First stop, Winchester, Virginia. Stepson Rob and grandsons Samuel and Lang live outside the city in a lovely country location below the ridge of Big Schloss Mountain, part of the Appalachian chain. Their house, which we had not seen, is spacious and tastefully decorated by Rob – with a few treasures from Germany donated by his father.

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Samuel, Rob, Bob and Lang at the bridge.

Rob drove us around the picturesque area with stops at the Muse Winery Swinging bridge on the Shenandoah River and a visit to the Woodstock Brew House in the town of Woodstock,  Va. The artisanal beer was a treat, as was another German favorite,

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Swinging bridge on the Shenandoah River


sauerbraten at a German restaurant 
in nearby Harrisonburg

On the way home from dinner we passed a Krispy Kreme donut store. They were excited. The red light was on. ?? We learned this means donuts are coming off a conveyor belt to be doused with glaze. Purchase them fresh and warm and enjoy on the spot. “You will love these,” they insisted. The boys had more than one each…   Bob and I failed to share their love of Krispy Kreme. We’ll take croissants, merci.  But, good to know about that red light. And, the German dinner was wunderbar.

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Virginia home of Rob, Samuel and Lang

Bob spent several days with Rob and the boys, then flew on to Ohio for a reunion with six of his seven brothers and sisters, as well as many nieces and nephews. They had a belated b’day celebration for Bob, 80 last October.  I flew west to San Diego for a reunion with some of my family.

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Bob, far right, with his brother John and sisters, from left,  Susan, Judy, Kathy and Sandra.  Missing: brothers George and Tim.

My brrother Tom, who now lives in San Francisco, wanted a reunion in San Diego where he had worked for several years. Brother Steve and sister-in-law Yoshie came from Boulder. Nephew David and his mother Joan came from Kentucky. Missing was brother Dave, Joan’s husband and David’s father, who had work commitments and could not join the fun.

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San Diego from the sailboat

Tom was our guide. He made sure we visited famed Balboa Park, his beloved Coronado, downtown landmarks and more. Thanks to nephew David, who combined business with pleasure, we were fullsizeoutput_14fcchauffeured in style. His rental car was upgraded to a gleaming, cherry red Cadillac. A tight squeeze, but we all piled in for a scenic ride up the coast to La Jolla where we took lots of photos of seals.

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Dave and the Caddy.

More seal photo opps awaited on our sailboat adventure with Captain Charley in the San Diego Bay. We enjoyed superb views of the city skyline, sailed past the Naval Base, and, in addition to seals, watched dolphins training to detect mines. All beautiful, fun and relaxing, until Joan realized her Iphone was missing — not to be found on board. It obviously had disappeared overboard. Although the phone was insured,  most of the photos had not been backed up.  Lesson learned: back up all. 

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I went  overboard with seal photos — too many.  But, I like this one.

Balboa Park, San Diego’s “cultural heart” with 17 museums, gardens, the city’s famous Zoo, plus stunning Spanish-Renaissance architecture, is impressive. Tom recommended a visit to the Botanical Building with more than 2,100 permanent plants, including collections of tropical plants and orchids. Alas, it was closed for cleaning. Instead we went to the Japanese Friendship Garden.

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Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park

Yoshie, who is Japanese, enlightened us on many aspects of this marvelougarden with its streams and pools where vibrantly colored Koi (Japanese carp) swim.PFZfUgbsSI29iZgMpO3x4w

My favorite part of the San Diego visit was the Ocean Beach street fair. It is a regular happening, we learned, a feast for foodies with a range of international culinary treats: Mexican burritos, Chinese steamed buns, paella, lobster rolls, tangy East African specials, pizza – even crème brulee. Plus – lively music — and  dancing in the street. Tom and I joined the dancers.

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Joan went for pizza. This is one slice of a monster.

We ended California family fun at the beach in Coronado watching the sun set with a Margarita in hand. All agreed. We should have these reunions more often.  

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Dancing at the fair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scroll down for more of the family photo album.

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And the winner of the best San Diego sunset photo, brother Steve who shot the scene with a Panasonic Lumix LX100.  “I love this little camera,” says the photographer.
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In Ohio:  Bob’s niece Tammy and husband John.

 

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In California: The “boys”:  My brother Tom, nephew Dave and brother Steve.
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In California: The”girls”: sisters-in-law Yoshie ,Joan…and me
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In Ohio;  Bob’s niece Kim, husband Alan and nephew Jim.

Coming soon:  Rajasthan, the best of India, and then, Costa Rica, which followed this US trip.  If not a talesandtravel follower, sign up, upper right.  Your address is kept private and never shared.

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In Ohio:  foreground, Bob’s nephew John and wife Cindy.

A new taste — trout for fish lovers.  See recipe, click on photo above right,

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Spicy Sri Lanka

 

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Banana leaves are used as wraps.

“Add a pinch of chili powder,” Iran instructed, then explained that Sri Lankans would add far more, at least 3 teaspoons. That would definitely pack a punch.  But then, Sri Lankan food is not for sissies. It is HOT.  Well, we thought so.


Happy New Year.  Happy Travels. May 2018 be filled with joy, good health, serenity and discovery. 


Chef Iran prepared seven different dishes for us at his home near Ella in the Sri Lankan hills where he gives cooking lessons.  We helped…and learned.food,21

He adjusts the spices, i.e. the heat factor, to western palates, he explained.  We had a fabulous meal of all his delicacies which we found tasty and just right on the heat scale.

During our two-week tour of the country, we frequently stopped at simple restaurants where buffets of numerous different dishes are the norm. Nimal, our trusty guide and driver, checked with the kitchen staff, then told us which concoctions to avoid — the ones with a fire factor of at least four hot peppers. There were many.  Even some of the supposedly mild ones were too much for us….maybe we are sissies.

Hotel restaurants which cater to international visitors offer both Sri Lankan favorites and western fare.  Sometimes the Sri Lankan specials are toned down, but not always.  I love to try new and different things.  But, after setting my mouth aflame more than once, I learned to start with tiny tastes.

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Fruit salad anyone?

The island nation offers an abundance of fish, exotic fruits, including 20 different kinds of bananas, all manner of vegetables — and spices. Cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, mace, tamarind and vanilla are among the Spice Island’s noted products. They grow in abundance all over the island in fertile and diverse soil types and varying temperature conditions, and are important export products.

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Chilies — a Sri Lankan staple

Yet it is chilies which are the most consumed spice and a key ingredient in the national dish, rice and curry, which Sri Lankans eat three times per day.  The curry can be made with vegetables, meat or fish, usually coconut milk, plus a blend of spices which enhance the dish with intense and exotic flavors.

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Bob gets slicing  instructions.

We helped Iran dice and chop to prepare three curries: bean, dahl (lentils) and chicken.  He also made aubergine moju, deviled potato and fresh coconut sambol. The latter is a condiment made from ingredients pounded with chili.

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These chilies have plenty of fire power.

His classroom is simple, a table and two gas burners.  He cooks in coconut oil and makes his own curry powder, a blend of coriander, cumin seeds, curry leaves and cinnamon. He roasts both curry powder and chili powder to give a smoky taste to certain dishes.

His mother taught him to cook, he says, and he is delighted to pass on her knowledge, skills and secrets to eager visitors, like us, from around the world.  Not all take cooking lessons.   “Guides bring guests here for a homemade meal, traditional food.  Sometimes there are groups of 15 or 16.”

Sri Lankans eat their main meal at lunch.  While restaurants offer numerous dishes, “at home we only have rice, one vegetable and one meat, not five or six different ones,” Iran said. When eating, Sri Lankans usually mix all the different preparations together on their plate, resulting in a mush which would not qualify for a Facebook food photo.   They drink alcoholic beverages before the meal, not with it.food.20

Sri Lanka is a land of many religions. Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians are even known to visit the same pilgrimage sites. Many are vegetarians, although not necessarily due to religious restrictions.  Nimal said his family does not eat beef.  “Cows are gentle animals and give us milk.  No need to eat them.”  They also reject pork because “pigs are dirty animals.”

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The best places to experience the bounty of Sri Lanka are its markets. During our travels we visited several, all scenes bursting with vibrant color and hectic activity.  At the Pettah markets in Colombo huge trucks overloaded with produce drive through lanes crowded with shoppers.

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The Dambulla Produce market, a vast wholesale market, is the place to see an incredible variety of produce – and to stay out of way of the frantic workers.  A vendor at the market in Kandy gave us samples of fruits we were not familiar with — mangosteen and red bananas. There I purchased spices, for myself and friends.

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Iran gave us several of his recipes.  I tried his chicken curry.  Yummy.  See recipe, top right. food.17

In addition to offering cooking classes and home cooked meals, Iran rents several rooms in his home to guests.  He gets lots of kudos on Trip Advisor.  Contact him at irankarannagoda@gmail.com

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For more on Sri Lanka, see previous posts: Wonders of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka: Wondrous Wildlife.

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Nimal De Silva, (ndsilva67@gmail.com and info@dsltours.com) chauffeured us around his country, made hotel arrangements, arranged local guides at many places — and taught us much about this fabulous country.  He is a delight, very patient and accommodating.

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Dried fish find their way into many dishes.

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Please feel free to comment.  Click below, scroll back down to Leave a Reply and add your thoughts.  

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Aiming (and failing) to Cook like a Chef

I am passionate about food and cooking. Cookbooks – I must have 100s.   I love trying new recipes, experimenting with exotic ingredients.  Over the years I have been to many a cooking course, often during travels to learn about ethnic cuisines.

We moved to southern France several years ago, yet I had never attended a cooking course in France.  Shame!  The mother of all cooking schools, Le Cordon Bleu, is French with headquarters in Paris.  It is legendary. My idol, Julia Child, got her start at Cordon Bleu Paris.

On a recent trip to Paris to see our American dentist, I set a day aside for Cordon Bleu.  I was overwhelmed.   This is indeed the Harvard of cooking schools, like no other.


This article, a post for my foodie fans, appeared on the web site: travelsquire.com


“The Art of Cooking like a Chef,” was the title of my all-day course, three hours of demonstration in the morning, followed by an afternoon cooking workshop.cb.3

Twenty-five of us from 11 different countries watched and listened as our teacher, Chef Guillaume Siegler, prepared three different and demanding dishes in the professional kitchen classroom.  He spoke French, but a translator stood by to explain all in English.

First course:  Pineapple and green zebra tomatoes, creamy burrata, basil, olive oil, pomegranate red pesto.

First step:  Peel the tomatoes.  “The skin is disagreeable to the mouth,”  said Siegler. He is right, but at home I usually skip this step — never again if I want to cook like a chef.

The tangy red pesto was a mixture of raspberries, tomato pulp, pomegranate juice, olive oil, pomegranate molasses and green Tabasco, all mixed in a food processor.

chef.blogAs he moved from tomatoes to pomegranates, Siegler, who has worked in many famous Parisian restaurants as well as his own restaurant in Tokyo,  spewed out more words of culinary wisdom: “To cook well, you must think about what you are serving.”

“Respect all products and work only with excellent products.” He put this into practice when he was about to put the finishing touches on the tomato-pomegranate-burrata concoction.  He rejected the basil on hand —  too wilted. — and sent an assistant to the school roof garden to pluck some fresh basil.

The finished dish was food-photo perfect – almost too beautiful to eat.  It went into the frig and he moved on to the main course:  Roasted rack of lamb with parsley crust, pearled jus with rosemary, and summer vegetable tian.

Lamb is one of my favorites, and I have always been in awe of a rack of lamb with the bones parading perfectly to crown the roast.  Even though I adore cooking, this is not something I would ever attempt.

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As I observed, deboning that hunk of meat is no day at the beach.  With skill, precision and speed, he cut away, explaining the intricacies of the task.”Remove some of the skin, but not too much… Get rid of the nerve which is attached to the bone…. Make careful incisions to free the meat from the bones.”

The summer vegetable tian came next.  Rows of sliced vegetables (eggplants, tomato and zucchini) were attractively layered on top of a bed of sautéed onions. I have sautéed onions zillions of times, and have never given much thought to it.  That will change.  There is professional approach to even this simple task.

“Sweat the onions.  Add a bit of salt.  Don’t color them.  Mix vigorously.  Taste.  Salt and pepper.”

He used a mandolin to get perfect, even slices of the veggies.  He showed how to use this dangerous tool and save your fingers.  Start out holding the chunk of vegetable down with your knuckles, as it get smaller, switch to the palm of your hand.   Having recently sliced off about a ¼ of a finger tip as I tried to slice potatoes with a mandolin,  I will surely heed this.cb7

By now I was starving, and all those heavenly aromas had not helped.  Alas, we were all given small portions of his creations to sample.  “Where’s the wine?” someone asked.  No wine, but each dish was delectable.

The afternoon workshop was held in the state-of-the art, stainless-steel and white teaching kitchen where each student had his own work station. After we donned our Cordon Bleu aprons and chef’s hats, we were each presented with a lamb rib roast.

cb.2Oh No!  The GPS on my phone sent me in the wrong direction when leaving the metro.  I  missed the first 15 minutes of  the morning intro class.  I knew we would be cooking during the workshop, but had not realized we would each get our own chunk of lamb.  So, I had not paid that close attention to the somewhat complicated instructions.  Instead I focused on photography, figuring this was one part of Cooking Like a Chef I could skip.  If I wanted a rack of lamb, I would order the meat prepared from a butcher.

I felt dumb and humiliated, and sought assistance. Alisa, a bubbly young Russian woman whose work station was next to mine, guided me through the initial attack of the lamb.  She in turn sought help from a Russian doctor next to her.  They had met the day before at another Cordon Bleu course.  The doctor was exceptional, applying her knowledge of human anatomy to the lamb, making precise incisions.

I could not expect Alisa to do all my work, nor Chef Siegler who raced from work station to work station, guiding, critiquing, encouraging.  I was too embarrassed to reveal my total ignorance of his instructions.

“Five more minutes to finish the lamb,” he announced.  We had to move on to the jus, crust and veggies. Tension was mounting.cb.4

“I love to cook.  I love to share, with customers and students.  But I prefer students,” Siegler  told me.  “I need to have my eyes on everything here.  Some people have never held a knife.”

My classmates, however,  appeared to have advanced far beyond wielding a knife. The dedicated chef  came around to inspect each student’s lamb.  Star of the class, Anze from Slovenia, managed to perfectly duplicate Siegler’s demonstration lamb.   All were in awe, even Siegler.  The doctor’s efforts were also impressive.  Others, while perhaps less perfect, were acceptable.

Unfortunately not mine.  When he looked at my massacred meat, he pronounced: “You will have a filet instead of a rack of lamb,”   then proceeded with Formula I speed to show me how to remove the bones and fat from the lamb, leaving a filet.

At least I was not alone in failure. Lorraine from Shanghai also ended up with a filet. “We don’t cook like this in China,” she said.

Time was limited, so tasks were divided as we moved on. I opted for chopping and sautéing onions for the tian, figuring I could not screw this up.  And, I remembered his instructions.

We each were given an aluminum container to assemble our own tians with the onions and other veggies which we had sliced. These, and the racks of lamb (and filets) went into the ovens.  The reward:  We each had a tian and our lamb to take home.  My husband and I had rented an airbnb apartment.  I called ahead.  “Get a bottle of good red wine. I am  bringing dinner.”cb.1

I may not have had the perfect rack of lamb, but the filet was superb.  The tian: delicious. Definitely a three-star dinner.  The day had been fun, enjoyable, and educational. I picked up many chef techniques which I have been putting into practice.   Next visit to Paris, I will definitely schedule another Cordon Bleu course… along with our visit to the dentist. And, I will arrive on time and pay close attention to all.

Put on the apron and get out the rolling pin.  Time for Christmas cookies.  See Today’s Taste, above right, and my recipe for Greek Crescents,  a winner of a cookie.

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