Week 3/2022

Last week was a whopper in terms of work and more extracurricular work. It’s a busy time, and I have no pictures, except for the ones I took during our Sunday hike to Lés Pléiades. I’m sorry to not have taken pictures, because there were still some moments worth registering, at least in my memory.

One of those was a slight detour to the park just after a meeting in town. I had bought my currently favourite sandwich – a very simple small baguette with butter, ham, a cornichon, a leaf of lettuce and a slice of tomato. Nothing special, except for the quality of the ingredients which is exceptional. It hits the spot every time I eat it, which has been about once every work week since December. I even daydream about it. On my way back from this meeting, I stopped at a park bench and, despite the cold, enjoyed my sandwich while reading a few “pages” of my e-book. I had freezing hands by the end, but this pause was priceless. And rare.

Walking back to work, briskly to warm myself up, I listened to Laura Marling. My head is full of things, so I haven’t been much into podcasts these past days, but music gives a good colour to my walks. I’ve also been listening to this album while working, even though my working alone time has been rare.

I bought another cookbook (!), with some nice suggestions for vegetarian recipes. I made the cabbage and carrot fritters last week and it was a great start!

I tried twitching my bread recipe to see if I could get the nice, round and tall loaves that I see on the internet, but I’m definitely doing something wrong because the bread flattens out a little. It’s still delicious, but there is more crust and less dough than I would like. If I have time at home, I would like to do some troubleshooting.

I finished reading Olive Kitteridge and started reading its sequel, Olive, again. I enjoyed the first one very much, and am enjoying the second one even more. I will write a little more about both when I’m done with the second one.

Snowshoeing: Les Pleiades

Being fans of skiing means that we lived in this country for a few years without trying snowshoeing… until we had a baby and skiing became harder to conciliate with our family activities. But, as with many things and situations that come with a baby, we adapted, and by adapting we get to discover many new things that we wouldn’t have been quite interested in before. Snowshoeing is very good example of one of those things. Short hikes also.

After too many weekends staying put at home for all kinds of reasons, it was simply impossible to miss out on the first sunny weekend that came up. We headed out to Les Pléiades, a small mountain location just above Montreux, not very far from home. This is one of the first things that comes with adapting: because we cannot afford to spend hours in traffic or in trains on a Sunday in which we like to wake up relaxed and need to come home early enough for dinner and toddler bedtime, we are discovering more sites near home.

With snowshoes, you can walk in the snow or ice without slipping, even if you are carrying a 15kg backpack. They were very helpful in the first parts of the hike, where it sometimes gets a little steep and icy. Once we started climbing, we were gifted with views of the Pays d’En-Haut region. We crossed some of the ski slopes and might have felt a little pang of jealousy with some skiers swooshing down, but made a mental note to come and visit this station when we will be able to ski as a family in a few years. If it still exists, with the increasing lack of snow at lower altitudes.

After crossing the slopes, we headed into the forest, with its dancing light through the trees, and very icy patches for which the snowshoes were valuable. Out of the forest, we were rewarded with a view over a Lac Léman covered in clouds, with Mont Pèlerin hill peeking out.

After a last and slightly strenuous climb to the summit of Les Pléiades, it was time for lunch, playing in the swings and catching some much needed sun. On the summit there is a little playground, a slight slope for training the first ski moves and a little trail on which you can learn about the planets and the solar system. It’s a very sought out spot for families, both in Summer and Winter.

Heading down, Toddler wanted to walk by herself and to carry one of the walking poles in her own way. This is another thing about adapting to walking with Toddlers: you need to plan for longer timings on the hike. They will want to play, walk by themselves, stray a little from the path, observe the surroundings, interact with the animals and people they cross, pick up little sticks and leaves… the list is endless. This means that a hike that would probably take us around one or two hours to do at our own pace, will now take us four or even five. But that’s OK, because with all these discoveries, we see how much Toddler enjoys herself while doing an activity that we also love dearly.

And back down the hill, with a view over Tours d’Aï et de Mayens (those two little peaks sticking out of the mountain in the foreground) and the Dents du Midi in the background, and the stratus covering the whole Lac Léman.

It was a beautiful and very much needed day out, in one of the nicest family-friendly outdoor spots in the region, to which we will surely be coming back over several (and varied!) seasons.

The hike was called Lally-Les Pléiades snowshoe trail and all the technical details can be found on the website.

Os Vampiros [Filipe Melo e Juan Cavia, 2016]

Os Vampiros, Filipe Melo - Livro - Bertrand

After reading Balada para Sophie from this duo, I also bought this book and started to read it during the holidays. After a few days “resting” while we came back and got back into our routine, I picked it up again and polished it off.

Much like in the other book, how much the illustrations tell most of the story, and the strength with which they display the characters’ emotions especially struck and moved me. Sadly, I know next to nothing about the Portuguese Colonial War, and this book opened up my eyes to this ignorance, but especially through the story of the characters. In this book, a group of soldiers based in Guinea go on an expedition to Senegal, the neighbouring country, to try to localise a clandestine base for the party fighting for independence. In this expedition, they are confronted with several life-threatening challenges, but also with their own demons and the contrast with the life they left back home.

It is a beautiful book, albeit one that depicts sad historic events, and tragic moments in the lives of these men. I think that Jo did a wonderful job of reviewing this book, one I could not have done myself, and I subscribe to everything she says about how much we have never known about this war, and why.

Week 2/2022

I don’t have many pictures from last week, which for me is a sign of how much routine took over during the most part of the week. Toddler was especially challenging, but luckily whatever was causing all the meltdowns (fatigue? something hurting? growth spurt? a slight fever? emotions related to the state of being a toddler? sometimes it’s a wild, wild guess) subsided by the end of the week.

One of the week’s highlights was going to France to visit some friends whose backyard is the picture above. Can you imagine that? With 20cm of fluffy snow that had fallen during the weekend, there was nothing to do except for… playing in the snow! Sledding was fun, but soft snow is not the best condition for sledding. You have to pack the snow on the first runs down and when you get to the end of the slope, you invariably crash into a mound of fresh, fluffy snow. Needless to say, it was an emotional rollercoaster for Toddler, who laughed during the descent, but cried when receiving all that snow in her face!

At our friend’s house we ate raclette, and the cheese was just delicious, very unctuous, not excessively fat and not at all rubbery. I have been thinking about it ever since and my mouth waters each time it pops in my mind.

This week I also managed to get back to some books. I finished reading Os Vampiros, by Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia. I have also been making progress on Olive Kitteridge, which I’m enjoying more and more.

While I’m cooking, I like to watch series and movies that I don’t need my full attention, but this week I watched Little Women and The Lost Daughter and both of them grabbed more of my attention than what is usual. Luckily, I was peeling and chopping a lot of vegetables to make lentil and vegetable ragout for lasagne and to freeze. I also made lentil and barley hamburgers from this book. This is a lot of lentils, I know, but we are big fans of pulses and beans around here, so nobody was complaining.

On the subject of the Lost Daughter, I stumbled on this little piece about mother rage, which is an interesting subject to think about. And the first one that really comes into my mind is: why mother rage and not parent rage? Anyway, this can be a long discussion, and my toddler leaves me with more fatigue than rage, so I’m just going to chew on that for a little while more.

This week 1/2022

Hello, first week of the New Year!

On the first day of the New Year, we went for a morning walk with my grandfather, who is 91 years old. He walks very slowly, people recognise him on the street, he gets his newspaper, he walks back home and makes comments on things he remembers along the way. It has been the same routine for years and it’s a nice one to join him on. Especially when it’s sunny and it hasn’t been so for two weeks.

Last days of the holidays were spent being with people, doing some last minute baking, eating things we don’t eat all year, such as octopus and arroz de cabidela. It strikes me how much Toddler is a fan of traditional portuguese foods that we don’t especially make at home. There must be something in the genetic code, no? We packed some of the bread I made for the trip back to Switzerland and we might have even taken some of the leftover chicken to eat on the plane. And cheese and olives. Um farnel à tuga. And guess who ate it with delight during the flight?

And then – BAM! Back to work, back to crèche, back to normal life with some sun on the day off to go to the park and a disastrous amount of laundry to deal with, but a very willing toddler to help.

The first week of January in this house is also the time for Galette des Rois and it has been our tradition to eat this for many many years, a little wink to a story of when we first met. We have kept the tradition this year, but with moderate consumption, because of a cholesterol issue that came up during the holidays for one of us. Which means we have been doing some research on how to improve cholesterol levels through changes in diet and, even though we already eat quite healthily (except for cheese, chocolate and butter), we have been trying to include more of these in our menu planning.

The New Year is always a good time to reflect on our goals, but jumping straight back into reality meant no time to make lists or even have time to think about goals. I did order a new agenda (that still hasn’t arrived!), I challenged myself to a few nights a week doing yoga instead of sinking on the couch doing nothing productive, and I’ve been reading a little every day. I got a brand new Kobo reader back from the guarantee, and I am back to reading the book I left half-finished when it broke. Consistency in keeping active and reading might be my only goals, if I manage to keep myself from making a longer list. Maybe this year I need to keep it simple.

This week [24.12-30.12]

The second week of holidays flew by, with a few highlights.

First, Christmas. It was a busy Christmas, with a lot of cooking (I made octopus salad and it was one of the best things we ate, with my broa de milho), toddler-managing and hopping from one place to the other. My grandfather was with us, some of my cousins as well, and Toddler was excited with all the attention she got. On Christmas Eve, she put out some milk and bolo rainha for Santa. It’s not at all a Portuguese tradition, but we like to adopt traditions that make things more fun. And fun it was to see her face on Christmas morning when she saw the milk was gone, the plate only had crumbs and Santa had left many gifts under the Christmas tree.

Besides all the eating, I even managed to watch a film! We watched Don’t Look Up, suggested by my sister, without having a clue that it was the film of the moment. It’s not at all the kind of film I usually love, but I found it hilarious. I liked how it made fun of so many ridiculous situations that go on in our world right now, and that humans can find themselves in, making it a ridiculously funny movie which really made my day. Or maybe I was just happy to watch a film from beginning to end.

The second highlight of the week was definitely the two days off-parenting that we took. We booked a hotel room in one of our favourite places in this world, which is very close to our homes. Shamelessly, we hadn’t been there in years. The weather wasn’t great, but we managed to walk a little, breathe the mountain air that smells different from anywhere else, and reminded ourselves of some priorities that we need to re-establish. We also slept like babies and until late.

Then we met J & Co, who were around to visit Ponte da Mizarela and it couldn’t have been better if we’d planned it. A perfect walk in the Autumnal colours of Minho, with green moss, leaves and a little blue sky that even showed up amidst the enduring grey.

Despite my plans, reading and running was not at all an accomplishment during these holidays. But I did manage to collect some books to bring back to add to my stash and I even finished one! Balada para Sophie is a graphic novel, so I guess it’s cheating a little. I loved it very much, though. It’s a sad story about the rivalry about a pianist, his rivalry with another pianist and how his life unfolded around jealousy and being forced into a career he despised, ultimately facing his regrets in old age. Superficially, it’s kind of a corny story, but the drawings and how emotions are portrayed are woven beautifully into the story and I devoured the book.

Other things that happened in this last week: I cut my hair and so did Toddler, I visited my godmother (whom I hadn’t seen in over two years at least), I had lunch with J and M, and met a very old friend from Scouts in the park after way more than a decade without seeing her!

This week [17.12-23.12]

Last week started with all the preparations, covid tests, packing and tidying up before leaving for two weeks with a very excited Toddler who had been looking forward all week to catching a plane to see her grandparents, aunts, uncle and cousin. As she is now over 2 years old, she now has a plane seat to herself, which is a huge relief. We just need to keep her busy, which we do with colouring and sticker books, stories, and a few nice passengers who don’t mind playing some rounds of peekaboo.

Coming home for the holidays is all about seeing our family and friends, and making time for Toddler to hang out with them. Watching her interact with them is priceless, but it is also very costly in terms of energy for us. All the changes, the interactions, the to-do lists for Christmas celebrations, the lack of routines had us dealing with some epic toddler meltdowns and, by the end of the week, we were more exhausted than before the holidays. The summit of the toddler meltdowns was definitely when she pulled a 10-minute-shrieker in the middle of the busiest streets in the city and a lady pursued us, worried that we had kidnapped her and stating that I was definitely not her mother because, if I were, she wouldn’t run away from me screaming like that (it didn’t help that she was screaming mamãaaaa)!

Just before coming, I was excited about holiday baking and ordered some flour that arrived just in time for me to… open a bakery at home. As if we didn’t have enough on our plates. Oh well. So, what did I bake?

  • Sourdough bread: at home, I make the bread as quickly and practically as I can, which means that I skip a few steps (no autolyse, no proofing in the basked or shaping the bread). This time around, I decided to take the time to make it properly, using this recipe. It turned out very good, especially toasted with salted butter, but I wish my bread was taller and had less crusty area. Something to fine tune next year.
  • Bolo Rainha: using the same recipe I found and tweaked a few years ago and using my sourdough starter, as I have been doing for the last two years, I baked seven of these babies and gave them to family and friends.
  • Broa de milho: a Portuguese table cannot be missing the broa de milho, a bread made mostly of corn flour, with some rye and wheat mixed in for structure. I made them for Christmas for both our families, and they were used for making migas de grelos (turnip greens sautéed with bread, garlic and olive oil) as well.

The weather was quite rainy for the whole week and so there was no running (or any kind of sport for that matter) and not much time spent outdoors, which was quite hard for me. There was a lot of time spent eating and being by the fireplace. I guess this week was mostly about enjoying the good things we don’t have the rest of the year, despite all the fatigue.

This week [10.12-16.12]

This one is quite late, because… life. But last week, on Friday, Suisse Romande woke up in the middle of a snowstorm. I wasn’t quite prepared for how much snow was going to fall, precisely during the crèche drop-off, and I headed out on the bike. The picture above was during the ride, which wasn’t even slippery because the snow was still soft and we were the first people to tread it. The bike ended up being the best option, even if it meant being almost blinded with large snowflakes hitting my face during most of the ride.

In the weekend it was my birthday and we celebrated in the snow, with sleds, friends and a birthday cake made by them. I also spent the afternoon making a cake for myself, and I chose Nigel Slater’s carrot cake with mascarpone and orange frosting. The recipe is in his book that I’ve been reading, but it’s also online. I tweaked the recipe a little, taking out almost half of the sugar in the cake, and making the mascarpone frosting with only mascarpone, cream cheese and grated orange peel. It’s delicious and moist, and the orange peel makes the cream really tangy and fresh. I don’t have pictures, I forgot to take any.

This week was so cold in Lausanne that, a week later, there was still a lot of snow hanging around. It was too cold to be out for long, but even so, we managed to ride on the giant wheel and see Lausanne lit up from there, and went to see some of the lights in the city.

For my birthday, I got some wireless headphones, a gift I wasn’t expecting and actually didn’t know I wanted. Three days later I managed to drop them in a sewer grate in the city centre. A few weeks after teasing J for losing hers in the bus, I was sighted looking for mine with a phone torch in a grated pit. I was lucky that a nice passer-by helped me lift the grate and jumped in himself and actually managed to find them!

It was another hell of a week workwise, but on my day off, I made some chocolate-hazelnut toffee to give to the crèche professionals that take care of our Toddler. The result was quite nice, but I have some tweaks in mind for next time, such as making a thinner layer of caramel, using really dark chocolate and chopping the hazelnuts by hand.

This week [3.12-9.12]

I have very little to say about last week, which was mostly spent back in normal routine and catching up with everything after almost a week off sick.

Most importantly, I had my booster shot in the beginning of the week. The virus is definitely not on a break around here and we are happy that we have the possibility of getting vaccinated.

I got Nigel Slater’s new book as a gift in our family Advent calendar. Growing up, we didn’t have this tradition at home, but I saw it in a family we’re friends with and since then thought we would do the same once we had children. The concept is to buy or make little symbolic gifts to open by one family member on each day of December up until Christmas day. Now, Nigel Slater’s book is not a good example of a symbolic gift, but I’m really not complaining. I’ve been reading it since I got it. The recipes are simple, to be made with good local produce and written about in a way that quite resonates with how I feel about food. Not to mention the photos, which are simply beautiful. It’s definitely one of my favourite cookbooks now.

Other than that, I spent most of my evenings making my gift for a Secret Santa exchange with friends, which has an only rule: the gifts have to be handmade. I made some wrist warmers in crochet and sewed a stuffed toy for Toddler to give to a younger baby.

During the weekend we saw some friends, who we’ve known since Z arrived in Switzerland. I babysat for their kids at the time, and now they are both grown adult men. Suffice to say, I felt a little old. Toddler even played with some books they brought up from the basement, which had a little handwritten note from me, from that time. She was mostly happy about feeding the rabbits and guinea pigs in the community garden.

Finally, it’s been really, really cold. It’s night very early, so we haven’t been spending as much time outdoors as I would like. We are now counting down the days to the holidays!

This week [26.11-2.12]

Do not be fooled by this apple tart. It was a hopeful attempt at regaining some normality and action in the kitchen after three weekends with a sick Toddler but, alas, Dad ended up eating most of it, while Toddler and I went down with another round of stomach flu, which lasted most of the week.

Despite spending most of the week moping around the house, barely mustering enough energy to move, some things were accomplished.

The apple tart, of course, which is just a slab of puff pastry, with 5-6 finely cut apples sitting on top and enough minutes in the oven for the pastry and the apple to cook. No recipe from me, but this one here seems to be the one that comes closest (though I didn’t make the puff pastry from scratch. Remember? I have a toddler.)

Also because I have a toddler, sick days are no longer just lounging around and binging on Downton Abbey, which I might have or might not have done a tiny bit, thanks to the fact that Dad took over all the cooking, vomit cleaning, laundry washing and folding. But, unless toddlers are really, worryingly ill, they manage to keep a intriguing amount of energy and still need attention and activities when they are sick.

Our list of sick Toddler activities for this week was:

  • Hand painting
  • Making a plasticine pizza party and animals with pastry cutters
  • Putting up the Christmas tree and getting the Toddler to help with the decorations
  • Making a star for the Christmas tree by cutting out a star from a cardboard and covering it with chocolate foil
  • Dancing in pyjamas and making up silly moves (plus points for Toddler giggles)

After a week in double sick mode with a Toddler, it was refreshing to go back to normal life whilst listening to Neil Gaiman being interviewed on Desert Island Discs.