World Piece: Two Weeks in Switzerland

I left off with my blogging (and again, my apologies for not keeping up with it!) in Switzerland, where I arrived on July 29. I landed in the country’s capital of Bern, depleted from a debilitating stomach bug I picked up somewhere between Lebanon and Greece, and stayed with my lifelong friend Uschi Kamer for two weeks. We called her apartment “Kurhaus Kamer” as it really did serve like a true Kurhaus, a medical-spa-like place to recuperate.

Once I got rested enough, I boosted my immune system with exercise, biking around the medieval cobblestoned city, hiking up the Gurten Mountain (2800 ft above sea level) behind Uschi’s apartment to view the Alps, and –my favorite– swimming in the glacial waters of the Aare River, bobbing downstream at a pace faster than a bicycle, only to climb out, walk back upstream, and float down again.

The magical glacial waters of the Aare River.
Swimming in this river is not for sissies!

After I weaned myself off my restricted diet of boiled white rice and Gatorade, we ate healthy homemade meals with staples that included Gruyere cheese, chocolate, red wine and apple pie.

The pies of Switzerland. So many choices, so little time.

Looking toward France.

We made some day trips to the countryside, to the Jura region on the French border, where we toured castles and cheese factories, lunched on trout, and practiced our French. Tout va bien! We made apple pie at Uschi’s family cabin and invited other family members up to share it.

Uschi’s mom made a Schlafrockaepfel.  An apple stuffed with sugar & nuts
and baked in a “bathrobe.” This was the most-viewed Facebook post on my trip.

We made a banana cream pie and took the bike to the train to the bus to the Land Rover to get to Uschi’s friend Monika’s farmhouse where we ate it with lunch. At the farm we got to meet Monika’s animal kingdom, tallying up the count to about 24 between the 3 sheep (freshly sheered by Monika to spin the wool and knit sweaters, of course), 4 new baby goats, cats, dogs, chickens, and turtles. We worked off the pie — and Monika’s homemade apple-hazelnut cake — by hiking up a boulder-strewn river bed.

Swiss Gothic.
Lunch in the mountains was a cultural exchange:
Uschi, Monika, Monika’s mom, with American pie…and Swiss cake.

In between all the outdoor adventures, I took in plenty of Bern’s cultural offerings. Uschi and I spent an evening watching jugglers, musicians, acrobats and other street performers at the Buskers Festivals.

Then I went to a free outdoor concert with another friend, Bobi, and we bumped into an acquaintance of hers, an older woman named Susanne. When I told Susanne I was currently on a round-the-world trip she said, “Oh, I did that. For my 70th birthday.” Just when I was thinking I had overestimated my strength and stamina, wishing I had done this big trip in my 20s or 30s and not at 53, along comes this beaming ray of light who I am convinced was placed in my path to remind me: You are NEVER too old. It is NEVER too late. Get out there and do it. Keep going.

It was the message I needed to hear at exactly that time, because after being so ill, as well as drained from hauling my 50-pound beast of a suitcase from country to country, I was contemplating cutting my trip short. But Susanne’s positive energy gave me the impetus to keep going.

This is the world traveler Susanne. She doesn’t look over 70. She doesn’t even look over 50!

I needed all the motivation I could get, as my next stop was Germany, the place I had been anticipating with a quiet dread. It was the place where my late husband was from, the place we had lived together, the place I had not been back to since his funeral six years earlier. But Marcus’s frequent flyer miles had made my round-the-world trip possible. And I was determined to honor him. And so….I booked my train ticket, left the peace and beauty and healing place of Bern behind and headed north to Deutschland.

Continued in the next post….


World Piece Recap — 2/3 of the way through

I’m two-thirds of the way through my 3-month World Piece journey and I finally have a moment to update my blog. I had every intention of posting here regularly but the trip got away from me and there was never enough time, energy or Internet connections. I have, however, managed to post on my Facebook business page nearly every day — a lot of photos and captions to help you follow along with my travels. You don’t have to be signed up for FB to see the posts. If you are not signed up for FB you will be able to read everything but just won’t be able to add your comments. If you are following me already, please know I read all the comments and I appreciate them so much. Here is the link:

Here is a recap my journey so far. I have had some ups and downs, but overall the trip has been exceptionally positive.

New Zealand was so beautiful, but was so cold! It’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I lived in my down jacket, wearing long underwear underneath my bib overalls, wrapped in the wool prayer shawl made by my host Grace Bower that was the impetus for traveling there in the first place. We put a lot of miles on Grace’s Nissan station wagon, and visited the Yummy Fruit apple orchard in Hawke’s Bay, made pies from the apples they donated in a pie class for 20 at a local college’s culinary school, and saw a lot of stunning untrammeled landscape. Soaking in NZ’s hot springs and drinking endless cups of “flat white” helped warm the bones.

Australia was all positive — I spent time with and made pie with very dear old friends, Kate Hayward and Foong Broecker, gave a presentation to the Sydney International Women’s Club, met former prime minister John Howard (my dad’s name too!) at a luncheon celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, and got to bottle feed a baby kangaroo. And I sampled a lot of Aussie’s meat pies, some with mashed peas and potatoes on top. Talk about comfort food!  But it was in the friendships — new and old — where the real comfort was found.

In Bangkok, I had a cold for the first 4 days but I bounced back quickly (I credit the fresh fruit and healthy Thai diet for helping speed up my recovery), but after that I pushed full-steam ahead making 75 pies for the American Embassy’s 4th of July party. In order to accomplish that I moved into the pastry kitchen at the Grand Hyatt Erawan where I baked side by side with the Thai staff and came away with some very good friendships. They spoke Thai and I spoke English but we spoke the same language through our baking and our smiles.

India was a big challenge for me. They say you either love it or you hate it. I didn’t love and didn’t hate it, I just didn’t understand it. I did not experience a bad stomach like I had expected, but I cried every single day, which I had NOT expected. I don’t know why it was so challenging…I don’t think it was the poverty as much as it was the grime and garbage. If cleanliness is next to godliness then I wonder why this place is deemed so holy. I did, however, fling myself headlong into it. I taught two pie classes at the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai that were such a big hit they requested I teach a third. Instead of teaching another class I spent that day, courtesy of the lovely Deepa Krishnan of Mumbai Magic, touring India’s largest slum. I was impressed with the industriousness and work ethic there. These people are not hanging around, they are working 10-hour days and making money!  “Don’t call it a slum,” I was told. “It’s a neighborhood.” That was one part of India I actually understood.

After India, I was in Lebanon, in Beirut, a place the American government has placed on the  “do not travel there” list. Alas, I went, because I had an incredible host, cookbook author Barbara Abjeni Massaad. I stayed with her and her family (husband, 3 teenage kids, 2 dogs and 2 cats) in their  apartment. There was evidence of the war, now past, with ongoing effort to ward off any future uprisings. There are barricades, road blocks, military check points, and sandbags surrounding various places and numerous abandoned buildings. Still, it felt safe — except for the driving. There are almost no stoplights so each intersection or onramp is a free-for-all, which was very unnerving.

Barbara took me to a Syrian refugee camp about an hour from Beirut, toward the Syrian border. Talk about not heeding the “do not travel there” warning! We delivered 12 homemade apple pies (that took me 9 hours to bake in a 90-degree kitchen) to people living in tents. I am sorry to say our effort didn’t feel as noble as it sounds. There was tension in the camp and a fight was just breaking out in the very spot we were headed to, where friend’s of Barbara’s lived. (She spent two years visiting the camp, building up trust and relationships, and then photographing the people for a humanitarian aid project and soon-to-be-published cookbook called SOUP FOR SYRIA. You can pre-order it here. We had to leave the camp so there was no time to tell the story of the symbolism of the pie, and how we wanted to promote peace. But we can only hope that that little taste of comfort will lift the spirits of a few. You can never really know what impact you’re making. It’s a lesson in trust, humility, gratitude and so many other things.

One of the refugee families we visited was educated and had been successful in Syria. This family of 11 is trying to use their skills, both creative and business, to make a difference. The eldest son, Wissam, was a third-year mechanical engineering student when they had to flee their homeland. He is now a budding filmmaker, documenting peace efforts in the camp. I was very moved by this video he showed us. In Arabic these kids are saying, “We miss peace. We want peace.”

Who knows if the pies had a direct effect, but it was pie that led us to this filmmaker and his message, and by sharing this it keeps the effort moving forward. So it all matters.

I arrived in Greece, my shortest leg of the trip, with a traveler’s “bug.” I won’t go into the gory details about my compromised health, but sadly, I slept the entire five days I was in Athens. I finally saw a doctor, got on an antibiotic, and tried to change my flight so I could stay longer and make up for the lost days. If you’ve ever been to Greece in August you will know that the airline practically laughed in my face. There were no seats available for 2, even 3 weeks out. There was no outward sign of the country’s financial crisis with this summer tourism season in full swing. And happily the media’s fear-mongering about tourists getting mugged didn’t keep travelers away. I had to stick with my schedule and fly onward, to Europe. I will just have to return to Greece another time. In fact, I loved the teeny tiny bit of it I glimpsed — seeing the islands from the plane, the landscape out the window of the airport train, and the historic streets around my bed & breakfast near the Acropolis—enough to know it warrants its own separate trip. I mean, this was the birthplace of pie and I was too sick to even eat one bite! So yeah, returning is a must.

On July 29, I landed in Frankfurt, Germany and made a beeline for Bern, Switzerland. Medieval Bern at the foot of the Alps is the first city in Europe I ever visited — when I was 22 — and no sooner did I arrive that summer I made some friends with two sisters, Eve and Uschi. Fast forward 31 years, we have been friends so long we are more like family. I was so depleted from being sick I tempted to bail on the rest of my World Piece journey and head back early to the US. Instead, the cure was coming to Bern. Old friends in a gentle, peaceful place (sheep are grazing right out my window and I can hear their neck bells tinkling like music) combined with vitamin C (as in chocolate!), I am in an ideal place for replenishing my reserves.

I fly back to the US on August 27 and I still have a few countries to visit— and a lot more pie to make and taste—before I head home. So keep following along (on Facebook).

I wasn’t sure when going into this project if I would have enough material to write a book about my journey, but I am now convinced that I do. There are many threads that connect the stories, the people and the places. It has all the elements of “the hero’s journey” and all the plot points that fall right into place of a three-act structure — as if it was planned that way. It wasn’t! I will likely be spending the fall back in Iowa where I plan to buckle down and write about the experience while it is still fresh and raw. But I have to get through the rest of the trip first!

Thanks for checking in.

A Letter — and Gooseberry Pie Recipe — from Switzerland

I thought I would share this letter from Eve, my friend from Switzerland who I wrote about in my blog last fall, when I was visiting her. It’s a nice reminder that love of pie knows no international boundaries.

Hi Bethli!

It’s good you write a pie blog or else I would believe you’re dead. 😉 You don’t answer my SMS, my email, you are never on Skype anymore… But now I know you’re in the desert, and not bitten by a rattlesnake! It sounds so nice where you live. I would love to visit you, but we’re leaving for Corsica tomorrow, going by sailboat, which is nice too!

I have a pie story for you: Last weekend my friend Lidwine and I visited our friend Caroline in Basel. She lives in this beautiful house with a huge garden. We had a nice barbeque and for dessert we had this wonderful red currant pie. The next day we plundered the rest of the red currants in her garden. She gave us her recipe, the result of which you can see in the picture. It was delicious!

I doubt you get red currant in your Texas desert, but if you ever get a chance to get some — even frozen ones will do (I have 3 bags in my freezer!) — I’m attaching the recipe. It’s in German — good exercise for you — I bet you don’t use much of your German out there in the desert!


P.S. The picture shows Lidwine and me in Caroline’s beautiful garden.

La tarte aux groseilles (Johannisbeer-Kuchen)

Ca 500 g rote Johannisbeeren, abgezupft und gewaschen
3 Eigelb
3 Eiweiss
180gr. Zucker
1 btl. Vanillinzucker
130 gr. geriebene Haselnüsse oder Mandeln
2 Löffel Paniermehl
500 gr. Kuchenteig
Fett für die Form und Puderzucker zum bestreuen

Gefettetes Blech mit dem Teig belegen. Eigelb, Vanillezucker und ,100 gr. Zucker/schaumig rühren. Nüsse, Paniermehl und Beeren darunter mischen. Eiweiss mit dem Zucker zu sehr steifem Schnee schlagen, mit der Gabel sorgfältig unterziehen. Die Masse auf dem Teigboden verteilen. Im vorgeheizten Ofen bei 200 Grad 35 Minuten backen. Abkühlen lassen und vor dem Servieren mit Puderzucker bestreuen.
Bei der Verwendung von tiefgekühlten Beeren den Teigboden vordem Füllen mit einer Schicht geriebener Nüsse bestreuen.

Yeah, good luck translating that!

Obama Loves Pie!

Here’s how amazing it is to be globally connected with cell phones, Internet and other multi-media miracles. I was sitting in my friend Eve’s house in a tiny village in Switzerland, staring out at the cows grazing in the foothills of the Alps (view pictured right), when Eve’s sister Uschi called from The Maldives. She was vacationing in this tropical paradise somewhere off the coast of India, calling from a sandy white beach.
“Did you hear the news today?” Uschi asked.
“What news?” I replied.
“Obama loves pie!” she exclaimed. “He stopped for a piece of pie somewhere on his campaign trail.”
“That’s great!”I said. “Thanks for telling me.” Excitedly, the minute I hung up, I looked up the article on CNN to verify the story. It was true. Obama had dipped into a diner and ordered Coconut Cream Pie while the Governor of Ohio had a piee of Lemon Meringue.
Still, I don’t know what was more fascinating: the way this news had criss-crossed three continents to reach me or that Obama was promoting pie. All I know is that the White House kitchen staff better stock up on butter, sugar, shortening, flour, eggs, and coconut. And if Obama needs a personal pie chef, I’m happy to volunteer.

Here’s the video of Obama — in case you missed it:

Cause and Effect: A Pie is Born in Switzerland

I love it when this happens! Eve, my friend in Switzerland, read my blog from the other day about our Skype conversation and the subsequent posting of pictures from our Alps ski week in 2005.

In response, I was greeted with an email in my inbox this afternoon which included this picture of Eve holding an apple pie fresh from her oven in Oberdiessbach!

She writes:

Here is the pie in your dish!
I hope it tastes better then it looks!
We’ll have it for dinner soon, I’m already starving…
Big hug, Eve

I couldn’t believe it! I was touched, flattered, and, especially, amused. I think the pie looks great. No doubt it tastes wunderbar. And I’m happy she’s putting my old dish to good use—even if it took making our story public.

(Re: The Dish—Yes, I use rectangular pie plates sometimes. Oval and square ones, too. Basically I’ll use any shallow pan that I can find.)

Switzerland Calling: About Aprons and Apple Pie

The beauty of having an Internet connection (and a pie blog) is being able to stay in touch with friends, family, and news worldwide. Today I had two friends call me using Skype – a fabulous, free phone-like service that also allows you to see each other with video. One friend called from London, the other from Switzerland – to comment on Wednesday’s “Apron Collection” posting. Amazing! This is how pie can change the world, connecting people through a simple, delicious – and no, not that fattening! – subject. (Another friend had emailed from Portland saying, “Yes, the world – but not my butt – needs more pie.” Wrong! Pie is good for you! But that topic is for another day.)

Alayne, whose donated blue and white checkered apron was pictured fourth from the left, called from London to say she loved the pie blog. An hour later Eve Kamer, my friend from Switzerland (who I’ve known for 24 years!), called to tell me she recognized two of the aprons in the picture.

“You wore the red one on the far left when you made Thanksgiving dinner for us in Oberdiessbach four years ago. And I remember the white one too. I had never worn an apron until you showed up with your collection. In fact, I had never learned the English word for apron until that Thanksgiving. And, by the way, we still have your big pie dish.”

Eve brought up some great memories. I had always promised her family I would make them a real American Thanksgiving feast one day. I finally took the opportunity when I was living three hours away from them in Stuttgart, Germany. I spent days preparing ahead of time shopping for sweet potatoes (which are very hard to find in Europe), baking cranberry bread, and making several pumpkin pies. I made one apple pie too, just in case. (To me Thanksgiving is all about pumpkin!)

We indulged in this hearty meal at Eve’s house, a converted flour mill in the Swiss village of Oberdiessbach, 30 minutes outside of Bern. Eve’s mother, sister, two pre-teen daughters and six other friends came to partake in this American tradition. It was Eve’s mother who contributed a Swiss tradition: she taught me how to keep the turkey warm by placing a sheepskin rug over the (foil-covered) roasted bird. During the meal everyone took a turn saying a few words of gratitude – something I insist on at every Thanksgiving to bring home the point that this is, after all, a meal to give thanks – and finally we ate pie.

The pumpkin pie…well, my husband and I helped ourselves to large slices, while the Swiss each took just a tiny sliver, barely a taste. It appeared they were trying to be polite. But after the apple pie got passed around the dish had been picked so clean it looked like it had already been washed. “Next time you could make more apple,” Eve noted as we packed up the last of the turkey and potato leftovers.

While we were still connected on Skype, and since I was sitting at my computer anyway, I started hunting in my document folders for pictures from that Thanksgiving. “I can’t find any photos,” I told Eve. She said she didn’t think she had any either. “But I have the pictures you sent me from our ski trip in the Alps, that February after Thanksgiving.”

“In Visperterminen? Yes, that was the best apple pie,” she said. She remembers the pie I made that week in our rented Swiss Chalet; I remember the fondue. So there you have it: Two cultural food icons, two distinct memories, and one very long lasting friendship.

Before we signed off Skype I told Eve to just keep the pie dish.

* * * * * * * * * *
In the shadow of the Matterhorn… We spent a week (in the house pictured above) skiing, baking pie and eating lots of cheese in various melted forms. Below, Eve’s two daughters and their friends dip forkfuls of bread into Fondue.

Here I am, apres ski (still wearing my ski pants) getting ready to put the top on an apple pie, while in the next room Eve’s daughter and her friend knit. So cozy, so Swiss!