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2014 Grateful 47

I don’t have a television in my flat and I don’t have a fireplace. And because I don’t have either of these focal points, my centre points are my tables – my kitchen table and my dining room table. Around these two pieces of furniture (one a modern glass/chrome construction, the other a 1920s art deco piece), the world has been set to rights on numerous occasions. Conversations have been parsed and analysed. Lives have been rebuilt. Attitudes readjusted. Perspectives changed.

One of the great joys in my life is food, and it shows 🙂 I find cooking  therapeutic. I cook every day, even if it’s just for me. I make an effort not to eat on the run but to sit and enjoy. It’s relaxing. It grounds me. I’m even learning to eat more slowly. To savour. To pay more attention and be in the moment. I don’t always manage the recommended 25 chews per mouthful but trying has become a new form of meditation.

Way back in the 1980s, when the fondue craze hit Ireland, I was there. I loved the communal cooking. Sitting around a table and trying this and that, all the while chatting and debating and even at times arguing to a backdrop of tantalising smells.

Before

Before

I’m coming in on the end of the raclette craze, having just discovered the concept while in Zurich late last year – but better late than never. Raclette is a semi-hard cheese made on both sides of the French/Swiss Alps. Individual pans sit underneath a grill where you can grill to your hearts content whatever combination of cheese and vegetables you like. The plate above is reserved for larger meats and vegetables.  All the host has to do is supply the raw ingredients and then everyone else does the work.

During

During

This evening was my first raclette dinner, prompted by the cheese I’d stocked up on at Christmas nearing its use-by date. I hustled up five friends who were willing to join the experiment. My instruction book helpfully came in Dutch, Hungarian, Italian, and Slovenian so it was trial by picture – a little like looking at the picture on a jigsaw box and having some vague notion of how the finished product was supposed to look.

They came. They saw. We ate. And the world was set to rights…again. Around the table sat America, Australia, England, Hungary, and Ireland. I wonder how successful international negotiations would be if they were held around a dinner table.

This week, with the sounds of the Mediterranean still rattling around my head, I am grateful that I have friends who will come sit around my table and freely share their thoughts and opinions on everything from Ireland’s legendary performance against Wales yesterday to the merits (?) of the annual February 11th commemorative walk of the 700 in Budapest. They come with questions and leave with answers (or more questions!). That’s one of the joys of being an expat in a city that has so much to offer. The variety of backgrounds and the diversity of cultures that meet and form lasting friendships make eating together much more than simply fun – it’s also an education.

After

After

 

Wishes do come true

What to do? Shops exhausted. Christmas markets all ticked off. Singing Christmas tree marveled at. What I needed was a dose of mountain air and some snow. So we headed to the hills – the Alps – for lunch. As you do. When you’re in Switzerland.

My Swiss geography isn’t great so it wasn’t surprising that I’d never heard of Glarus. All I knew was that it was in the mountains and had some vague connection with the great Emperor Charles the Fat (what a fantastic name!). Apparently the town was practically wiped out in a fire in 1861 and few buildings remain that are older than that time.

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While the signature neo-Romanesque Church is something to behold, and the town itself pretty as a picture, one of the things that fascinated me most was a pair of cowhide boots I spotted for a mere 790 CHF. That’s a lot of money in any currency. And someone was trying them on. There’s no shortage of dosh in Switzerland but I suppose with a quasi minimum wage hovering around €20 per hour, depending on what you read, it’s only to be expected that prices will match accordingly. Switzerland doesn’t actually have a minimum wage written into law but enough signatures have been collected to vote on a proposed minimum wage of CHF 2500 per month next year (about $2800).  Interestingly the first ever labour law in Europe was introduced here in Glarus, back in 1864, forbidding people to work more than 12 hours a day. And last month, the general populace voted down the 1:12 proposal which would have ensured that the highest paid worker was paid no more than 12 times the lowest paid worker in a company…

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It was here in Glarus that I first tasted raclette. This cow’s cheese is perfect for melting and indeed has given its name to the dish that is primarily melted cheese. The term itself  term comes from the French word racler, meaning ‘to scrape’. It was so good that I went back for seconds and just last week, on my return to Budapest, actually invested in a raclette grill which is guaranteed to produce just the right degree of melting complete with room to grill the accompanying veg. A little fancier than the pickled gherkins on offer at the market but hopefully just as tasty. Watch this space.

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So there we were, wandering through the Christmas market in Glarus, sipping gluhwein and scoffing raclette. All we needed to complete this rather typical Swiss picture was a yodel or three. The words were literally just out of my mouth when my raclette guy abandoned his cheese and stepped outside to join a rather motley looking crew of carolers that turned out to be the local yodeling group. When they finally started to yodel, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I couldn’t have ordered a more picture-perfect afternoon. There’s a lot to be said for wishing out loud… you never know who might hear and oblige.

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