Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Gluttony - it's my favorite sin

I have unduly fond memories of Devil's Advocate, the 1997 movie about a small town lawyer (Keanu Reeves) who's got a preternatural ability to get his clients off the hook. After successfully defending an obviously guilty man, he's invited to join the big leagues in Manhattan. Life's good... until he discovers that he's quite literally sold his soul to one of the partners at his new firm: John Milton (Al Pacino), the devil in disguise. (John Milton, get it? Snicker, snicker.)

The plot sounds completely silly, and Keanu Reeve's role as the lead isn't exactly a confidence booster, either. But the script is witty, and Keanu's clueless demeanor actually works well in this film, much as it later would in The Matrix. Even if it didn't, though, Al Pacino's show-stopping performance would more than compensate. As Lucifer, it's his job to exploit people's weaknesses, and he does it with a zest that's downright enthralling.

So how does he trap poor, bewildered Keanu?

"Vanity," Pacino informs us with a smirk. "It's my favorite sin."

He wouldn't have too a hard time snagging my soul with that one, as vanity is certainly one of my vices. But he probably wouldn't bother with it. Of the seven deadly sins, the easiest way - by far! - to get to me is gluttony. And on an overcast Saturday like today, this particular sin gets indulged. A lot.

It started this morning with buttermilk pancakes. Earlier this week, I'd made oven-fried chicken (which though tasty, is encountering some technical difficulties... I don't translate very well into convection oven-ese), so I had enough buttermilk left over for a special weekend treat. We haven't made pancakes since we were in New York, and I was really looking forward to having them.

Then I opened my old reliable Joy of Cooking, which reminded me that the acid in buttermilk needs to be offset with baking soda. And that reminded me that I hadn't been able to find soda last week, when I wanted to make biscuits to go with the fried chicken.

Scheisse, I thought. Oh well, I guess we'll be having regular pancakes then.

I opened the refrigerator again, only to discover that we were out of milk, too.

In short order, Swissy Pie was dispatched to search for baking soda, which he discovered is called Natron in German. But did that help? Nope, at least not at Migros or Coop. No Natron on the shelves, only Backpulver (baking powder). But on the way home, he realized that since it's plain sodium bicarbonate, the friendly neighborhood apothecary would certainly carry it. (He never did explain why the pharmacist has sodium bicarbonate.) So we were able to have our buttermilk pancakes after all!

After breakfast, we headed off for our weekly smuggling session. Today we headed straight for Germany, as there was a bike shop there we needed to visit. Swissy Pie has grand plans for a 137 km, 6 pass bike ride through the Vosges tomorrow, and since I'm a wimp, we needed to purchase a cassette with bigger (easier) gears, to reduce the likelihood of me having to walk up the mountains. While we were there, we also stopped by a charming little Italian store, where we got some wine and some truly excellent olives, as well as an amazing butcher's shop, where we stocked up on meat, reh-pastete, and liverwurst. For lunch, I tried fleischkäse for the first time.

Fleischkäse, for the uninitiated, sounds repulsive. (It doesn't look all that great, either.) Who wants to eat something called "meat cheese"? It sounds like a cold cut gone horribly, terribly wrong. But the name's misleading. There's no cheese in fleischkäse: it's only finely ground meat that's been formed into a loaf and baked. For serving, it's sliced into finger-thick portions, and (in our case at least) wedged in a crusty roll. The end result has the texture and consistency of a hot dog, but it's got a much heartier, meatier flavor. And yes, it's actually quite tasty!

We ran a few more errands before heading back home for dinner, where a couple of nice salmon filets were waiting. Initially I was just going to glaze them with some honey, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil, but by the time we finished unloading the car, I'd decided that I wanted to show off with something spontaneous and spectacular. (Oops, what did I say about vanity earlier?)

So after some digging around the refrigerator, I pulled together some ingredients that were just screaming to be made into a salsa: oranges, onions, parsley, and some red chilis from the freezer. (A good trick for hot peppers, ginger, and many other spices you can't use right away: chop it finely, freeze it in ice cube trays, and pop them out into Ziploc baggies. Later, pull out as many cubes as you need.)

At the last minute, I remembered that I had a basket of physalis lying around, so I cut up a few and threw them in, too. Physalis are tiny orange fruits that come beautifully encased in parchment-like sepals. At their best, they're quite sweet; when I tried them once, in some fancy restaurant back in the States, they'd been delectable. Unfortunately, the ones I got here weren't as tasty as I would've liked, but at least their firm texture worked really well in the salsa.

The salmon itself I marinated in a mixture of sweet chili sauce, orange juice, mustard, and garlic. After roasting it, I nestled it in a bed of white wine and lemon risotto, and spooned the salsa over. The result was heavenly, if I do say so myself. Unfortunately I was so eager to taste the experiment that I forgot to take photographs!

Yes, gluttony is certainly my favorite sin. But at least we put something on a diet today: our energy usage. Yep, we've sprung for a bunch of those energy-saving lightbulbs and installed them all over our apartment. So tonight, at least, I can go to bed feeling virtuous.

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Blogger Greg said...

You can often find baking soda in France at Geant. I think it is by where they have the salt. It is a reasonable sized box at a reasonable price.

April 1, 2007 at 6:39 AM  
Blogger Alexandra said...

omg you MADE baking soda!??? now that's taking "cooking from scratch" to a whole new level! :)

and i'm going to call you Alton Brown from now on!

April 1, 2007 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger Un-Swiss Miss said...

Greg - Thanks, that's helpful to know. The apothecary charges A LOT for a tiny bag, so I'm sure we'll soon be out.

Ale - No, afraid not, my boyfriend found it at the pharmacist. I'll have to earn the AB title some other way!

April 2, 2007 at 1:24 PM  
Anonymous jessica said...

Hey, thats a great tip about the ginger etc. so how was the ride?? you can get baking soda at the migros silly

April 3, 2007 at 11:49 AM  
Anonymous jess said...

aww you are sweet, when is your birthday??

oh, i was wrong. sorry. no you can't get it at migros. but you can get it in lausanne, or geneva...if you're voyaging.

April 3, 2007 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger Eva said...

the english shop in basel said they had it but this turned out to be baking powder. I ended up bying mine at migros in basel just before xmas but perhaps its somehow associated with baking those biscuits??

on another note, I remember you asked me about the vanilla extract and I came across this post which I thought you might be interrested in. http://onceuponatart.blogspot.com/2007/03/homemade-vanilla-sugar-extract.html

April 4, 2007 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Un-Swiss Miss said...

Jessica - It's happened to me, too - a lot of people think it's baking powder.

Eva - Hmm, I wonder if they bring it out just for the holidays? Or perhaps they only sell it at the biggest shops? Fortunately I'll probably never have to explore - Geant is closer to me than M Park. And thanks very much for the link! I expect a liter of vanilla extract will keep me for a while. =)

April 5, 2007 at 9:32 PM  

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