February 28, 2015

Feeling terribly homesick

I'm sitting here back at my desk in Paris thinking: "I'd rather be skiing!" I am suffering of a severe case of homesickness. It is during the winter months that I miss Switzerland the most. I walk the grey avenues of Paris in January sometimes thinking that I can smell snow in the air but unfortunately when it finally does fall it only lasts half a day in the city.

48 hours ago I was standing on the top of the world "literally" overlooking the snowy caps of the Swiss Alps glistening in the sunshine. I was surrounded by a perfectly blue sky and breathing crisp, fresh air while hearing nothing but the snow crunch below my skis. A burst of happiness in the form of a joddle - yes, I DO joddle but only when I ski - I am in absolute paradise!

Slaloming down the mountain, carving across the hill or just standing still taking in the beauty of the nature around me, I feel lucky to have grown up in such a lovely part of the world to which I religiously return every winter to pass on this tradition and this experience to my kids.

Ski Heil - two planks that mean the world!

February 27, 2015

My Swiss comfort food

Did you know that the exact definition of comfort food is: "Traditional food which provides a nostalgic or sentimental feeling to the consumer, and is often characterized by a high carbohydrate level and simple preparation. The nostalgic element most comfort food has may be specific to either the individual or a specific culture."

Switzerland may be a small nation, but that hasn't stopped it from making a name for itself on the world stage. When it comes to food, Swiss cuisine is often described as a blend of Italian, French and German influences. The dishes aren't elaborate, but they are executed well. Switzerland is known for it's cheese fondue and chocolate (try my heavenly mousse recipe), but there's plenty more than meets the eye. For an authentic Swiss meal think Rösti and G'schnetzles (Zürich style diced-veal), Spätzli (an egg noodle "dumpling" dish) or a slice of Engadine nut tart.

Can you tell I've been home over the holidays? Yes, I admit I am feeling slightly homesick.

All recipes can be found on my Expat with Kids Recipe blog.

February 24, 2015

Mia's heritage

Rougemont is as close to home as I can be. It is not my hometown but the family, the memories and the emotions that tie me to this mountain village are just as strong.

In 1970 my best friend's grandmother Mia built a chalet to allow her family to reunite and to be able to enjoy her children's and grandchildren's good company during the holidays. It was a place to gather not only for the family but also for their immediate circle of friends of which I was lucky enough to be a part of.

We were four years old when we met in in a Swiss German Kindergarten which we both hated. Our mums were both Brits living in Zurich and quickly became friends... and therefore so did we. Today we are more like sisters, very different in character but our long year friendship and personal history link us forever.

We learnt how to ski in these mountains, we hiked across many of these hills, we retreated to the green pastures during the summer and spent some wild winter holidays as teenagers. We came back religiously every year as kids and adolescents with our parents and later on - starting off in our careers and becoming independent - we drove up with our gang of friends to spend weekends in this cosy but spacious chalet full of family mementos.

My best friend got married in Rougemont while I held my biggest work seminar ever that same month in the neighbouring village.

We eventually came up to Mia's home with our respective husbands. We brought our babies, whom later on in turn learnt how to ski on the same slopes we did so many years ago. They have started making their memories and this fills my friend and I with immense gratification.

They too feel at home here, no matter where in the world life will take them... and hopefully one day, they will bring their families back "home" to Rougemont were Mia will still be sitting in her white chair on the dark wooden balcony watching us... even if "only" in spirit!

A little village called Rougemont...

... famous for it's "decoupage"

Our art work is still hanging in one of the bedrooms after 40 years!

February 22, 2015

February 17, 2015

Yet another "Au Revoir"

"It isn't fair. It just isn't fair, I know, sweetie!" I keep repeating to my daughter who is desperately clinging onto me, hugging me, her teary face buried deep into my puffy, black parker coat. She cannot see the tears streaming down my face as I hug her back trying to comfort her.

This was two months ago, when her little best friend announced he was moving back home to California. We have been in this situation so many times now, but what do you tell an eleven year old to make her feel better? It is her fourth best buddy to leave in four years. Miraculously, she finds a new soul mate every time she looses one to the other end of the world. We have been doing quite some travelling to keep up with them, if only for a few days' visit. This one will be more difficult.
"It is so far away" she sobs. She's right. A weekend visit might be challenging even for us.

Expat Girl is starting to gather experience in farewells despite her young age. Today she admitted that although she might have waved goodbye to other best friends in the past, this Californian buddy was her soul mate. He made her giggle like nobody else ever has. Nevertheless, she held it together when we saw the family off at the airport this weekend. Surprisingly so did I!

Is it possible that after years of waving your "Au Revoirs", you just get used to that gaping hole that opens in your heart? You let your brain take over before your emotions get the better of you? Because if it were up to our hearts we would still be crying. We know it is the name of the game in Expat circles and we are getting better at it, that does not mean we like it. However as Anais Nin put it so nicely: "Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."

Therefore, we are grateful for the close friendships we forged over the years because it is not what we have lost but what we have gained by crossing paths with the people who will forever have a special place in our hearts.

February 8, 2015

Words cannot describe how proud I am

Three months ago Expat boy didn't know how to turn on the oven. He is half Italian and his passion are football and food, although the latter always got served to him!

Then came along a personal project that needed to be completed for school. He was asked to produce a truly creative pieces of work of his own choice and demonstrate the extent of his independent learning skills.

Mummy had one more condition: it was not to be about football!

After some brainstorming over the summer holidays in the middle of the Aegean Sea where we went from Argentinean heritage - Expat boy was born in Buenos Aires - to Italian immigrants across the globe, we came up with the idea of combining my boys love for food along with his Neapolitan roots - where his father was born - and conquer the Neapolitan cuisine with the help of his Nonna!

This project would also strategically fit in with his goal to enter hotel school in Switzerland after having accomplished his IB.

Over the past three months Expat boy has been cutting onions, squashing garlic, roasting eggplant, cooking tomatoes, melting mozzarella, throwing in a dash of origano here and a bunch of basilico there.

He is learning the secrets of the trade while skyping his Nonna following her recipes that she has been using for over 60 years!

This weekend Nonna came to visit in Paris. Last night Gregory was to cook for the family, turns out we had some unexpected guests and he ended up producing a meal for nine people.

Ciambotta (vegetable stew) and rotoli di frittata (omelette rolls) were on the menu. We realised at about 7pm that we would not have enough to go around for all. In Naples there is a saying: "Where there is enough food for 10 there is enough for one more." My boy turned around calm and collected saying: "Don't worry, Mummy. I'll just make some pasta with pesto as a starter." I looked at him and smiled. At that moment, I was the proudest Mummy that can be! Not only was my baby cooking, he knew how to improvise, come up with alternative ingredients (we didn't have any pine nuts at hand) and serve a truly authentic - and delicious - Italian dinner for a party of nine.

Ma quant'è bravo quel bel figlio mio!

Expat with Kids in Paris

Preparing the pesto

Expat with Kids In Paris

Ciambotta ready to serve

Expat with Kids in Paris

Rotoli di frittata with spinach and ham

February 7, 2015

Two girls with a sweet tooth

Once again, I was walking through the metro station when a poster caught my eye, primarily because it was pink and was written in a fancy font. "Salon Sugar Paris" was all it said. The message was supported by a picture of pink macaroons stacked to form a tower and a few éclairs covered in pink icing. That's all it took, I had decided where I was going to take Expat Girl this weekend.

We hopped into the metro on Saturday and crossed Paris from one end to the other, all the way to La Villette. Expat Girl astute as always asked me: "Mummy is this area more modest than the West of Paris?" This made me think for a while and I contemplated, once again, how safe Paris actually is. Given the size and cultural diversity of this city, I have never felt out-of-place on the metro or any of the arrondissements and I have ventured into all of them over the past four years.

We emerged from the metro to be greeted by blue skies and an impressive modern complex called Parc de la Villette. We ventured into La Grande Halle formerly a slaughterhouse and now a cultural center constructed in 1867, made of cast iron and glass.

We bought our tickets and arrived in cake decoration heaven. Every colour fondant, every single mold, every gadget and every accessory you can think of for baking and decorating cakes was to be found.

We ate our way from stand to stand by tasting the chocolate, the candies, the fondants, the marzipans, the mousses and the caramels. We bought a vintage baking pin and had a long conversation with a charming English lady who was demonstrating how to mix and roll fondant properly. A Spanish chef thought us how to form roses to decorate the cakes and a pair of Dutch ladies tried to sell us pink t-shirts saying "I survived Salon Sugar Paris 2015".

As I am writing this post Expat Girl is baking a cake and very excited to try all the new techniques of decorating that she has learnt this afternoon.

I'll tell you a secret though: our favourite stand was - I dare admit - the Chapon Mousse au Chocolat bar!

Welcome to Paradise

La Grande Halle de la Vilette 

A Mummy - Daughter outing

Parc de la Villette

Candy everywhere

A British invader with loads of handy tips

A Spanish concotion

Now, let's try to make these at home

KitchenAid - it's on my secret wish list 

 Yumm - too good for words

February 6, 2015

17 friends for 17 months

It is Thursday night and I am sitting around a huge round table in the trendy Buddha bar and can hardly hear what my friend next to me is saying thanks to a trumpet player at the top of the candle lit staircase performing live jazz. But it does not matter a bit. I am looking into 16 smiling faces, all happy to be here and feeling part of something bigger.

It is difficult to believe that at a certain age you can still make buddies. Your Best Friends and Soul Mates date back from school or college. You met the love of your life in your 20s/30s and your life seems set.

I believe it takes an expat to understand one. All 17 of us would have never met, had we not been catapulted to Paris for family or work reasons. Some have more in common than others but we all have a bond that sometimes turns out to be stronger than family. Because that is what we become to each other: family.

When there is an emergency, who do you reach out to when your real family lives in another country sometimes on a different continent? Who hops in when you most need it? Who lifts your spirits when you're feeling down? Who drags you around town when you don't feel up to it? Who translates that document you received from the authorities? Who helps you with explaining to the plumber, the electrician or the telephone guy what your problem is? It is that girlfriend you met, SHE is an Expat just like you. And all of a sudden you realise you have made a best friend. Someone you can count on and whom will be there for you. Someone you KNOW you will stay in touch with even if you might not see her in the coming decade. Why? Because the experiences you've lived through together are strong and unforgettable. They have marked you and changed your life. Going back home will never be the same. That is if you ever manage to get back home. Many of us just keep on going. Home becomes a whole new concept ... but I won't even go there in this post.

So here we are united - Americans, Dutch, Belgian, Israeli, South African, German, French, Singaporean, Swiss, Philippine and Swedish - not to wish farewell to a dear Californian friend who is leaving us after only 17 months in Paris but to celebrate a friendship that we will treasure and remember in years to come.

February 4, 2015

From the Bronx to Paris' metro station

A few months ago some photographs exposed in a metro station caught my attention. I thought: "Trust the French to plaster culture wherever they possibly can." It is in fact a cultural programme invitation by the RATP (Paris transportation services) to give passengers the opportunity to discover original artistic works within its transport areas.

"Sometimes I feel like the world is a place I bought a ticket to."

Walking through the underground tunnels connecting the various Paris metros, is like reading the cultural section in a newspaper. Not only will you find Department stores, holiday destinations and dating sites advertised - these are always nicer to look at than the odd car ads - you'll also find billboards for theatres, exhibitions, shows and special events. Many a time I come home to buy a ticket online after having seen the advertisement in the metro.

This is how I came across Garry Winogrand's exhibit in the Jeu de Paume, an arts centre for modern and postmodern photography and media I have been meaning to visit since my arrival in Paris. It is located in the north corner of the Tuileries Gardens. Did you know that the Jeu de Paume was used from 1940 to 1944 to store Nazi plunder looted by the regime's Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce in France?

Anyway, back to Garry (1928–1984), a great American photographer, who chronicled America in the post-war years. Winogrand is still relatively unknown because he left his work unfinished at the time of his death, but he is unquestionably one of the masters of American street photography. Dying suddenly at the age of fifty-six, he left behind approximately 6,500 rolls of film (some 250,000 images) that he had never seen, as well as proof sheets from his earlier years that he had marked but never printed. Roughly half of the photographs in the exhibition have never been exhibited or published until now; over 100 have never before been printed.

My absolute favourite photo was the one below. If only pictures could talk, this shot would speak volumes!

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