Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy new year!

Happy new year from the swiss alps! Yesterday the broken clouds provided some fantastic scenery, today the weather turned the usual - sunny.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The annual glaciology christmas fondue dinner

Last Thursday, VAW ("fau-ah-weh"), equivalent to but smaller than the Geophysical Institute, had their Christmas Aperitif (with plenty of both red and white wine), and later that day the glaciology group had their fondue dinner.

Tinu was telling me that this is the night that he is not allowed to sleep in the same room as Elsbeth. And then he told me why: a year or two ago during the fondue dinner, they ran out of bread but still had plenty of cheese left... so, since there was also a lot of garlic left, they peeled the cloves and dipped the garlic into the fondue instead of bread. Apparently they ate a lot of garlic that night. Even Tinu couldn't stand his own smell. I can see why Elsbeth would banish Tinu from the bedroom. Would be a great experiment for summertime in Fairbanks, to see if mosquitoes bite less if the smell of garlic just oozes out of one's skin.

This year, (my) Martin was doing the fondue. Martin Funk started peeling the whole head of garlic that (my) Martin brought in, and chopped it up, but apparently Martin refused to put all that garlic in. And I ate the fondue as well, so both of us would have smelled equally anyways.

Ingredients for fondue:
flour or cornstarch
white wine
cheese mixture
and of course something to dip into it. Garlic is not recommended for that purpose.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

4 months

So it is four months ago that we welcomed Emily (officially spelled Emilie) into our family.

At that time, she was 7 lbs 12 oz (3.5 kg), now she is 6 kg (13 1/4 lbs). Just about 50th percentile according to the charts. She is in some 3-6 month clothes, and some 6-9 month clothes.

When she was born, she did not sleep through the night. Now she does, sometimes. But she still has problems sleeping during the day, or falling asleep by herself. She generally does fall asleep in the sling when we go for a walk, but she wakes up when we get back home the moment I try to lay her down on the couch.

Sonja was initially very jealous of her. Now she is for the most part a nice older sister.

Emily nursed like a champ before, and now she does too, though unlike the beginning, she manages to find the nipple herself if it is within a reasonable distance of her mouth.

She also started discovering her voice. She is entertaining us with her screams and babbling, though last night at 4 am I could have done without all that.

Her fingers are no longer clenched into tight little fists, and are instead pawing at anything within their reach, be it Sonja's hair (not a popular activity from Sonja's viewpoint), or the plate on the table if she is on my lap when we eat (not a popular activity from my viewpoint).

She can almost roll by herself, and can hold her head up if she is on her tummy. And she always manages to get out from underneath the blanket. Those little feet are pretty amazing in being able to transport anything that's on top of her away.

And, best of all, she flashes these wonderful beautiful smiles at everyone around her most of the time. Even herself in the mirror, as Martin tried out.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More zoo pictures....

From Monday, when we went with Elsbeth and Lena to the zoo, to watch the penguin parade. Apparently in winter months, if it is cold enough (below 10C is what I heard), they let the emperor penguins out on a supervised walk through the zoo.

Lena and Sonja:

The penguins:

Christmas cookies: Almond cookies

So based on what I can see, these cookies are rather similar to the cinnamon stars except for the preparation, but so that we don't loose the recipe, here it is...

4 egg whites
200 grams sugar (1 cup according to this)
200 grams ground hazelnuts (so about 1/2 pound)
whole almonds for decoration

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold in sugar and hazelnuts. Put into a pot, and heat on a stove top over low heat until the whole thing is a thick sticky mess. Drop by small spoonfuls onto a sheet, push an almond into the center, bake at 180 C over for 10 minutes.

Christmas cookies: Orange cookies

These cookies are sort of regular butter cookies with orange flavor.

125 g butter (tiny bit over 1/2 c according to this)
100 g sugar (1/2 c based on the same source)
2 egg yolks
zest from an orange
1 Tbs orange juice
250 g flour (1 3/4 c based on the same source)

Whip the butter until frothy, add the sugar, then the yolks and orange zest and juice, and finally the flour. Cool the dough to make it easier to work with. Roll the dough out 1/2 cm thick (1/4 inch), cut out diamonds. Bake in 150-180 degree C oven for 10-15 minutes. While the cookies are baking, prepare the icing. Brush the hot cookies with the icing immediately after they come out of the oven.

125 g powdered sugar (a bit over 1 c based on the same source)
1 - 2 Tbs orange juice
1/2 - 1 Tbs water

Combine the icing ingredients until smooth. Martin is always amazed at how all the sugar just dissolves in the tiny amount of fluids.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas cookies: Anis Brotli or Chrabeli (anise cookies)

Anise Cookies

4 eggs
500g powdered sugar (4.5 cups according to this)
2 Tablespoons anise seed
1 Tablespoon kirsch
500g flour (3.5 cups based on the same source)

With a mixer, mix very well the eggs and the powdered sugar. Martin's mom has a note that it takes a long time, but then again that is from before the time there were machines to do the mixing. Add the anise and the kirsch. Mix in the flour. The dough should be firm.

Take some of the dough, roll it out into a long snake perhaps an inch in diameter, cut that snake into pieces perhaps 3 inches long, and cut two notches in each piece. Our downstairs neighbor called these cookies bear paws, and I can see why she named them that. Put the cookies onto a baking sheet, and let them dry for a day. The idea is to get a dry crust on top, so when they expand during baking, they only expand downward through the dough that has not dried, lifting the entire cookie up.

Bake in a 140 C oven (285F, so that's roughy 300F) for 15-20 mins, with the oven door slightly ajar, for example, by sticking a wooden spatula in it.

Martin cutting out the cookies:

Cookies drying:

Baked cookies, with the "foot" they got when they rose during the baking.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A world far far away

With headlines such as the Dec 12 one
No recent wolf sightings in the Interior

The Department of Fish and Game has not received any more sightings or reports of wolves attacking dogs in the Two Rivers/North Pole area in the past two days, according to department spokeswoman Cathie Harms.
in the Fairbanks News-Miner, Zurich sure seems a looooong ways away.

Instead of wolves, we were reminded of cold lands far away when we visited the Zurich Zoo Penguins with Elsbeth and Lena. Lena is on the left, Sonja on the right.

As a separate note, Sonja is starting to use logic. I was trying to tell her at night time that she needs to show us that she is a big girl and can fall asleep by herself. She replied that Sonja is not a big girl, that she is a small girl (and thus that I should stay with her while she falls asleep), and that mama is a big girl. OK, seems like she is not a big girl, but she sure is a smart one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas cookies: Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars)

Martin started baking Christmas cookies.

Zimtsterne (Cinnamon stars)

3 egg whites
200g powdered sugar (slightly less than 2c according to this)
280g ground hazelnuts (a bit over 1/2 lb)
grated peel from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Beat egg whites until stiff. Mix in the sugar. Set a small amount of the whites/sugar mix aside for glaze (1/4 - 1/3c???). Fold in the remaining ingredients.

Roll out the dough 1/4 inch thick, cut out star shapes. The dough is very sticky, so it can help to have a little bit of powdered sugar on the rolling pin while rolling it out, as well as to dip the cookie cutter into powdered sugar before each cut. Transfer each star onto a baking paper lined cookie sheet, brush each with the remaining egg whites/powdered sugar mixture.

Bake in a 350 F oven (180C) for 20 minutes.

PS: Yes, there is no flour in these cookies.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Lötschberg base" train tunnel opened yesterday

A 35 km tunnel through the "base" of the swiss mountains underneath the Lötschen pass officially opened to all rail traffic yesterday, Dec 9. (Search on the swiss maps for Lötschenpass to see where it is.)

Before the Lötschberg base tunnel opened, trains had to first go up, up, up, then through a shorter Lötschberg tunnel, before going down, down, down. The new tunnel shortens the train travel from Zurich to the canton (state) of Wallis in the souther region of Alps from 3 hours to 2 hours, because the trains go nearly horizontally and nearly in a straight line. Can't complain about saving one hour, especially if one is traveling with kids.

More information on this Lötschberg Base Tunnel can be found here, under information and images, as well as in a wikipedia article.

They operated two trains a day in the tunnel, on a very limited basis, for the last five months or so, but starting yesterday it is a train every two hours. We took this "NEAT - Express" (pronounced Neh - at) twice before the official opening, paying 10 swiss franks extra for that privilege of getting there one hour earlier and sitting in first class. (They had no second class wagons.)

Here we are in the NEAT express on Nov 16:

Both experiences left something to be desired. First time, the connecting train left the station where we wanted to get onto it some 10 mins earlier than we were told, and we missed it. Luckily Martin's dad drove us down to the main station, some half hour away, and we still managed to get onto the NEAT Express there. Still, in a country famous for its trains and its watches and being on-time, it was a bad error.

The second time we were going in the other direction. We got onto the NEAT Express without problem. Then the NEAT Express waited some additional 7 minutes because one of the connecting train was late, then we finally went, and we were a few minutes late coming out the other side of the tunnel. As you may already have guessed, the connecting train that we were going to take there did not wait for the NEAT express, and left right on schedule. As a result, we had to wait for the next train, one hour later. So much for saving one hour on the trip - simply did not happen.

We were told that the problem was that the main company did not communicate the delay of the NEAT Express to the company operating the connecting train. Considering that they are promoting the new tunnel, saying one can spend one additional hour eating fondue or raclette (another cheese dish) in Wallis thanks to the tunnel, I hope that they improved the communication in the last two weeks since our experience. We will see how it goes this weekend when we go to Wallis and back, now that the tunnel is officially opened.

Overall, the Lotschberg base tunnel is a feat of engineering and we are very glad that it shortens the time to get to the mountains and grandparents.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Scherenschnitte (paper cutting)

We went to Solothurn, a city one hour by train to the west of here, to visit the christmas market, because
Susanne Schläpfer ( was going to be there. I had seen her images elsewhere, and thought they might make a nice gift for the gift exchange in Martin's family. Susanne Schläpfer talked to us even while cutting another image out of the black paper in her hand. Pretty amazing to see the process live.

This is what I bought for the gift:

and a closeup... all of that is cut from just one piece of paper.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

At a market; and visitors tonight

Today, we went to a christmas market in Bremgarten, 40 mins by train each way. Got what we went for, and also spend some money at this shop, on both cheese and salami. These shops are rather dangerous, full of wonderful things, where it is easy to spend a lot of money...

And this evening, we had Natasha and Jamilla over for dinner, as well as their parents and sister. Martin had his hands full, playing with them all.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Preparations for Xmas

So, last weekend my brother said something that made us laugh, thinking he must be hoping for an inexpensive christmas: he said he had to put some plywood into the chimney to barricade it up. No, apparently it was not to stop Santa from coming, it was to stop the draught.

For our preparations, we might try to go to one of the christmas markets over the weekend. Hope it doesn't rain. All the people heading to AGU, safe travels, and have fun!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

In Switzerland, *everyone* rides on the train

In Switzerland, everyone rides on the train. That includes Samichlas and Schmutzli, who sat right across the isle from us tonight. No reindeer in sight.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

St. Nicholas' day: Grittibänz and Samichlas

Tomorrow is St Nikolas' day, which means several things. First, the bread/rolls shaped like little men, called Grittibänz, are everywhere. (Pronounce like Gritty-ban(d)s.) Above is our sample: I tried to shape the dough, then Sonja put in raisins for the eyes and elsewhere, and she painted the finished product with eggyolk so that it would get nice shiny coating upon baking. In case you can't tell, Emilie is holding the Grittibanz by the shawl; above that is the head; below is the shirt covered by raisins. The raisins on the face somehow misaligned during baking. For much nicer samples, use a google-images search for Grittibänz. We also shaped one piece of dough into a turtle, and that one looked much nicer, until Sonja started tearing off the legs off the finished product since she was hungry. At one point, when the four legs were gone but the head and tail remained attached to the body, it surprisingly reminded me of a beaver. Go figure.

The dough is the same dough as is used to make the sunday bread "zopf" that is eaten here - a yeasted dough with butter, barely sweet. (When I went to our local bakery this past Sunday afternoon to get bread for Monday morning, they had almost no regular bread available for buying, everything was just zopf). One recipe is here.

Second, since St Nikolas' day is tomorrow, Samichlas (Sami=Santa, Chlas=klaus) visits the kids and gives them either a bag with chocolates, unshelled nuts, and mandarins, if they were good, or lumps of coal, if they were bad. Apparently the coal tend to be given by Schmutzli, who tends to be covered in coal dust, but I will ask Martin details when he gets back.

At the same cultural center where we made Grittibanz, they had Samichlas today, so we went there again in the afternoon. He had a huge white beard, and was in red clothes. Since apparently all the kids were good, no Schmutzli was present.

Samichlas called the kids one by one. Some got asked if they were good kids. I think I caught something about washing dishes or being nice to a sister. And he also asked them whether they had a rhyme or a song for him. Most did. Sonja was rather unsure of the whole thing, so I had to hold her hand while she went to stand in front of Samichlas. I tried to get her to sing "Schlaf kindli schlaf", a lullaby she knows, but not a single word came out of her mouth. Not even thank you when she got her little bag. Perhaps she was already aware that the bag contained things she does not eat: a mandarin (she only eats canned, refuses fresh), chocolates (I don't know whether she never tried it or whether she tried it and did not like it), and a kind of gingerbread, which she nibbled on for a tiny bit before giving it to me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Kid-less: That is what I am working on accomplishing, for a few hours at a time.

Since the birth of Emilie, I have been in the company of one kid or the other every waking moment, with the exception of half an hour two weeks ago at grandma's - Sonja was sleeping, and grandma said she can look after Emilie if I want to go out for a stroll. And for a brisk stroll I went. It was great. No weight around the shoulder (Emilie, while not the heaviest, does weigh 10+ pounds, and over the course of a couple hours I can feel that). No one wanting to go "up". Being able to go where no stroller has gone before.

Emilie is breastfed, so in order to go kid-less, she needs to know how to drink from a bottle. We are slowly getting there... I am practicing with her once a day or two. She just needs to learn to trust the bottle, that even if there is no breast there to comfort her, that there is food in the bottle, and even the same kind of food. May be in a few weeks she will know that. It has been challenging to find time to pump - of course the solution to that would be to find some time when neither kid needs attention. Formula would be another answer, but why pay for something that one can get free?

Talking of breastfeeding, there was an interesting tidbit about the apparent increase in IQ for babies who are breastfed in the economist from Nov 8, 2007, in an article called The nature of nurture. "What Dr Caspi and Dr Moffitt found was that the increase in intelligence associated with breastfeeding only happened to people who had inherited at least one copy of the C version of FADS2 [gene]."

Per Juneau request, here is the "after" picture of my hair:

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Martin was laughing about this one last night: not only did Emilie have a big toe in her mouth, she was actively sucking on it too.


Martin's godson Lucas visited us this weekend. Martin wanted to get him something for his birthday, so he took him to the Franz Carl Webber toy store, a big store in downtown Zurich, to look at legos. (The first time we went to FCW, Martin noted the pleasant difference compared to the Toys R Us store he visited just two days earlier in Manhattan, where there was constant electronic noise.)

Lucas chose the bulldozer set, and started putting it together on Saturday lunchtime. He had it finished before lunch Sunday. Martin now wants one of those too.

Knowing where the milk comes from...

One of the things that is sharply different here in Switzerland in contrast to Alaska is that you can actually know where your milk comes from. Sure, most of the time the milk that Sonja drinks is just from the local supermarket. But when we go to visit the grandparents, the milk is from that cow over there, which belongs to the uncle. When we went to visit one of Martin's sisters, the milk came from a cow over in the stable over there (we did not visit that one). At Martin's other sister's, it came from one of the ten cows or so that they have. And when we went to visit his aunt (the one who is a hairdresser), we could have bought some local milk at a farm two minute's walk from her house, had we had a bottle to put it in.

It is neat to see such a short supply chain. In alaska, with the exception of hunted or fished meat, or some produce during the summer, the supply chain is much longer (and even most hunted/fished meat is not walking distance away from the house). In fact it felt a bit funny to be showing Sonja the pictures of cows in books when she was not likely to see one until we came here. May be I will try to find a farm here in Zurich area where to get our milk - so far we just go to the supermarket if we are here in the city, but I am sure there must still be a farm in the environs like what we saw at Martin's aunt's.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Bad timing to cut my own hair

The other day I was getting a bit tired of the hair getting into my eyes, and wanted to take just a tad off ... so I took the scissors I bought expressly for that purpose and started cutting a tiny bit. And a tiny bit more. After half an hour in front of the mirror, I did everything in the front. And then I asked Martin to do the back, just to cut it a tiny bit there too. He obliged, though not too happily. At the end, I was pretty happy with the result - not professional, which here costs at least CHF 80 (80 swiss franks, which these days is approaching 80 USD), but not too bad either. Definitely worth the 2.90 I spent on the scissors. Of course my standards are pretty low.

The following day we went to visit Martin's aunt that he hasn't seen in something like 20 years - long enough that he has not seen the younger cousin of his, who is finishing high school if not done already. Unbeknown to either Martin or me for that matter, his aunt is a hairdresser. She has a studio in the basement of her home.

Ooops, bad timing on my part for cutting my hair. She was nice about it though, didn't really say how bad it probably looked.