Zermatt

There seems to be a common theme to this trip, which is that of each city we visit we have one beautiful day and one horrible weather day. Zermatt was no exception. We arrived on Monday afternoon to rain and began our short walk to our hotel. We quickly realized that what sounded like a bunch of tourists with rolling luggage was actually thunder. Nonstop thunder. It was black and thick clouds hung low all around us. The rain picked up. We had maybe 4 minutes left to the hotel when the sky opened up and started to not only soak us, but pelt us with hail. We were absolutely drenched when we got to reception.

Our room was not yet ready, which meant dropping off our stuff and heading back out into the rain. We found a delicious Italian restaurant called Molino that took us in and served us pizza. In a funny twist, the family had been in the same train car with us on the ride up ended up sitting down at our table 20 minutes later. They seemed far less wet. In the bathroom, I took off my shoes and wrung off my socks in the sink, and then returned them to my sloshing shoes.

We stopped at the local grocery store and stocked up on the essentials: wine, beer, chocolate, chips, and candy. A few hours later when the rain was less downpour and more mist, we took a stroll along some streets near our hotel. But with the steep hills and me still having this stupid cold, we didn’t last long.

Dan and I spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening snacking in our room, using the hairdryer to (attempt to) dry every article of clothing we brought with us. All that did was make the room smell like hot feet. The plan for Zermatt was to see that Matterhorn and do some hiking, but that didn’t seem even remotely plausible looking at the weather forecast for the remainder of our time there. Instead of venturing out into the rain again, we skipped dinner and went to bed.

By some Christmas miracle, Dan woke up at 5:30 am and noticed it wasn’t raining and that it was only partly cloudy. Part of the Matterhorn was actually visible! We rushed outside to snap photos (in what turned out to be the best view of the Matterhorn all day).

We figured this good weather wouldn’t last, so we took one of the earliest cog trains to the top of Gornergrat mountain. It was one of the most stunning views I had ever seen. 10,000 feet in the air and surrounded by 29 fourteen thousand foot mountains.

Dan and I seemed to the only ones dressed appropriately and saw more than one tourist wipe out on the snow and ice, wearing flats or heels.

Instead of taking the train all the way back down, we got off at Riffelap and decided to hike the rest of the way down. The weather was still cooperating so we took advantage.

On our way down, we encountered Switzerland’s cows and their famous bells!

 

We stopped for lunch at Donner Take Away. The food in Zermatt, and all over Switzerland we hear, is very expensive. Raclette is upwards of $40 per person, vegetarian pad thai was $38. But we got takeaway wraps for $12 each–a steal. By this time it was mid-afternoon and it hadn’t rained all day. We were so happy to get a break and be able to see more of this beautiful town. We walked around town, visited the museum, and went in search of the sheep we could see from the hills (no luck).

Around 5:00 pm, it began to lightly rain. We picked up sushi and Ramen noodles from the coop and more snacks ($16 total), and ate dinner in our room–after an extremely satisfying day!

Before heading out of town, we took one final stroll to the hill to see the sheep. There were so many of them and they were so cute!!

Of course, it’s beautiful and sunny here as I type this from the train and we travel to our next destination. But what I think is so great about travel is that it forces you to make the best out of every situation and seize the day–whether that’s walking in the rain, or eating Toblerone in your room, or hiking down a mountain.

Onto Lauterbrunnen for the next three days!

Annecy, France

Saturday morning, we took a train from Lyon, France to Annecy and arrived around 10:00 AM. Annecy was a town I’d never heard of and learned about through one of those 5 minute travel videos that pop up on Facebook. I think the theme was “lesser known travel destinations.” As soon as I saw Annecy on it, I sent the link to Dan with a comment along the lines of, “Oh my god, we need to go here” and 10 exclamation points. It looked so gorgeous. I wanted to visit Annecy, and after doing some guided iFit workouts in Interlaken, Dan really wanted to visit Switzerland. Thus how our France/Switzerland itinerary was born.

[Just as an quick aside – folks keep asking us if this trip was another one of our amazing deals. It was and it wasn’t. It was in the sense that we got amazingly cheap plane tickets through TAP Air Portugal: $630 for two people from NYC > Paris and back from Zurich > NYC, with short layovers in Portugal on each end. But it wasn’t one of those all-inclusive, everything-is-planned-for-you trips. Dan did most of our planning once we knew where we wanted to go. He’s sort of the best like that.]

When we arrived in Annecy, it was too early to check into our hotel, so we strolled the streets and looked around. It was picturesque: Old buildings sitting on top of the canal, swans and ducks swimming, restaurants, cafes, and bridges at nearly every intersection. It was definitely a slower pace than the hustle and bustle of Paris and Lyon we had just experienced.

 

We made our way to gorgeous Lake Annecy. Because we had time to kill and because it was a sunny day, we ended up renting a boat. As we cruised the lake, we could see snow-capped mountains and lush green terraces all around us.

 

Annecy’s nickname is Venice of the Alps. I don’t think that’s really a fair comparison because they are so different–and Annecy is much larger and has a giant lake–but I can see what people mean.

Later in the day, we decided to rent bikes and pedal around the lake. We biked 6.5 miles, watching people tan and swim on the shores and stopping to watch some older men play bocce.

Our dinner that night was a baguette, a hunk of sharp, delicious cheese, and vin (for me, Coca Cola for Dan) picnic-style in the park. We people-watched and felt the last of the sun on our backs.

Unfortunately, the second day was a washout and I woke up with a cold. I thought maybe I felt like crap due to the fact that we inadvertently took up smoking here (literally everyone smokes. It’s impossible to avoid it). But no, legit cold. We made the most of the day and visited an old castle and prison, both now museums.

We walked around in the rain window shopping and of course eating. I also took a nap in the middle of day and I think that is the first time in vacation history I can say that. I blame it on the cold.

We finished our time in Annecy strolling through an old cemetery and having dinner at an Italian restaurant. Because of the proximity to the Italy border, Annecy had a surprising number of Italian food spots. I got truffle mushroom linguine and Dan got gnocchi in a cream pistachio sauce. Both were tremendous!

 

Overall, the bar was set high for Annecy and it absolutely lived up to those expectations, and more. I would encourage anyone traveling to southern France to add it to your list!

Onto Zermatt, Switzerland!

Paree!

Oh, Paris, I was so wrong about you.

Out of all of the cities Dan and I planned for this two week trip to France and Switzerland, Paris was the one I was looking forward to the least. I had it in my head that the people would be stuck up, crime would be rampant, and I’d be disappointed with the cuisine. I was thankfully wrong on all accounts. Here are some of my favorite things from Paris:

  1. Our cab driver from the airport.When we told him the name and street our boutique hotel was on, he answered back in French what I can only assume is, “Where the hell is that?” Thus started about a 15 minute conversation in which he didn’t speak a lick of English and we spoke the 20 French words we knew.  It was a pretty one-sided conversation. He must have said “Aye, aye, aye,” sprinkled in with a few “mama mia”s and the “get out of here” hand gesture forty times, as he flipped through a street book on Paris and we watched the pouring rain come down. After an eternity, something clicked and we were finally off. For a guy who drove cars for a living, he really, really hated traffic. We heard another twenty “ayes,” and sighs, as Dan and I chuckled to ourselves. I think my favorite part though, was when he nearly ran into a bicyclist, and instead of either of them screaming at one another, the bicyclist gave the driver a smile and a thumbs up, and the driver sat back to clap and laugh at the near miss.
  2. Drinking coffee and people watching. Parisians seem to have invented people watching and enjoy it as much as they like to smoke (which is a lot). At every cafe, the chairs face the street instead of the person you’re with, so that you can sip your espresso and openly stare at everyone walking by. It’s awesome.
  3. Macarons.

    HOW HAD NEITHER OF US EVER HAD A MACARON?! And why did we both think they would be hard as a rock? They are delicious, magical creatures and might just be my new favorite thing. Like getting gelato in Italy, I think we might need to start a daily macaroon count. I’m up to 10. I must do better.
  4. The architecture.
    Everything is so old and so beautiful. We stopped countless times just to point out some decorative feature of a building to one another.
  5. The Seine.
    From strolling along its bank, to seeing the people who came out at night to wine and dine on it, the Seine was absolutely beautiful. We took a 1 hour cruise at night that brought us by the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and many other beautiful buildings and bridges.
  6. The Eiffel Tower.
    It’s bigger and more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I don’t know why it looks so small in photos, but it’s just slightly shorter than the Empire State Building. Dan and I braved it and took a ride all the way up to the very top! I got a little wobbly in the knees (having a touch of Vertigo at the moment and that wasn’t helping), but Dan was a champ and walked the entire perimeter. Pro tip: visit it at night in the pouring rain — no lines, no waiting, no one trying to sell you shit!
  7. The rain.

    I know, I know. Paris in the rain, can we get a little more cliche. But I’m telling you, we found it beautiful and didn’t mind being soaking wet.
  8. Arc de Triomphe.

    I had no idea you could go up the top of it! (Can you tell I did a lot of research in preparation for this trip? TGFD – Thank God For Dan). Yeah, you can definitely go to the top – you just have to walk up 284 stairs. To quote our cab driver, Aye! Our quads were burning and my head was spinning, but we made it. The top gave us spectacular views.  Also, I found my family name carved into it!
  9. Paul and his sandwichesWe discovered some chain called Paul which allowed us to get $4 baguettes with cheese and veggies, as we strolled the streets. We love how passionately people love their bread here and feel right at home.
  10. Escargot.
    As delicious as they are fun to get out of their shell. I had never had them before, but really enjoyed. I couldn’t help but feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman where she sends one flying across the room and says, “Slippery little suckers.”

We’re off to Lyon, France now!

Vegetarians, Day 10: Superfresh!

You may have noticed I skipped right over Day 9. That’s because I’m writing this update three days after the fact, and can’t for the love of God, recall anything I ate on January 9th. Was I in a fog? Or perhaps I was abducted by aliens and the contents of my brain were sucked out? Or maybe I was just a taddd busy and tired? Let’s go with that last one.

On Day 10, I had to travel to Brattleboro, VT for work. If you don’t know a lot about Brattleboro, let me start off by saying that they had a food co-op before co-ops were even cool. It’s hippy, it’s artsy, and it’s a localvore’s food paradise. There were so many great vegetarian options for lunch!

I ended up at this place called Superfresh! Organic Cafe. It’s not only vegetarian, but vegan.  I was torn between several things on the menu, but ordered the Pesto Melt. One of the first signs I was in an organic cafe was when the server asked me if I wanted that on raw or cooked bread. Was this a trick question? 

Photo by Kathia B on Yelp

The Pesto Melt came with tomato, onion, and daiya cheese, which is some plant based “cheese” I’d never heard of that contains no dairy at all. And it was great! The whole melt was tasty– a perfect amount of pesto to cheese and vegetables. My coworker got the Roasted Vegetable wrap that came with hunks of potatoes, beets, and peppers, and smelled delicious. Both of our meals were under $10 each.

Perhaps the real You’re Not In Kansas Anymore moment was the sign hanging in the bathroom that announced they had made the difficult decision to cut ties… with avocados. Their popularity is causing a drought and making unclean water for communities in Mexico. There is also a significant carbon footprint to trek these up from Mexico to places like Vermont. Although the sign initially made me chuckle, in the end it opened my eyes to a food I eat a whole lot of.

Eating at this great organic cafe also made me remember there is a vegan cafe about a mile away from my house! I’ve been only once. The food was excellent, so I really have no idea why I didn’t return. Maybe because I thought, “Well I’m not vegan, so why would I go there?” Time to change that.

 

Vegetarians, Day 8: I Miss You, Delicious Chicken

Today was the day: the first day I actually missed meat. Chicken, to be exact–the shredded chicken inside of the enchiladas at my favorite Mexican restaurant.

Photo via Victor P on Yelp 

I went out to dinner with a friend and ordered the veggie enchilada. I really didn’t think anything of making this swap for my normal chicken enchilada. After all, I’m eight days into this experiment, and things have been going so well. I haven’t once had regrets or thought about saying, “Screw it, let’s rip open a bag of beef jerky.” So I was both surprised and disappointed when I tasted my vegetarian enchilada.

I think what it really came down to was texture. The chicken I normally eat inside of this enchilada is soft and tender, and full of flavor. Instead I bit into pieces of green pepper that were rubbery and probably could have used another five minutes in the oven. I guess there are just certain meals that you come to expect to taste a certain way, and substituting extra vegetables in their place just isn’t going to cut it. But did I go hungry? Of course not! I had rice, beans, and also ate my weight in tortilla chips.

I’m sharing this because I think it’s important to be honest with yourself whenever you are trying out something new–food, career, relationship–whatever. Sometimes you miss chicken. Sometimes you don’t. It would be dishonest to get to the end of January and declare, “That was such a breeze!” if it really wasn’t. Being realistic about our situations is what helps us learn and grow. So even though I missed sweet, sweet delicious chicken today, I’m sticking with my veggies for now. Onward!

Vegetarians, Day 6: Sweet Potato Hummus

I discovered a really delicious, really easy to make sweet potato hummus that I wanted to share with you all. It’s from America’s Test Kitchen Complete Vegetarian Cookbook. This book has been essential since the start of our vegetarian experiment. I really appreciate how it divides the chapters up into hearty main courses, vegetable sides, salads, grains, and more. Many of the recipes can be tweaked to be vegan (if you’re into that) and many are also gluten free. The best part of the cookbook are the beautiful photos, which makes me want to cook everything in it.

This recipe for making the sweet potato hummus is going to seem oddly specific regarding how long to microwave the potato — but trust it; it will work! Enjoy!

SWEET POTATO HUMMUS

Recipe from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen

Ingredients:

1 large sweet potato (about 1 pound), unpeeled
¾ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice (2 lemons)
¼ cup tahini
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Directions:

Prick sweet potato several times with fork, place on plate, and microwave until very soft, about 12 minutes, flipping halfway through microwaving. Slice potato in half lengthwise, let cool, then scrape sweet potato flesh from skin; discard skin.
Combine water and lemon juice in small bowl. In separate bowl, whisk tahini and oil together.
Process sweet potato, chickpeas, garlic, paprika, salt, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne in food processor until almost fully ground, about 15 seconds. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula. With machine running, add lemon juice mixture in steady stream. Scrape down bowl and continue to process for 1 minute. With machine running, add tahini mixture in steady stream and process until hummus is smooth and creamy, about 15 seconds, scraping down the bowl as needed.
Transfer hummus to serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until flavors meld, about 30 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil and serve. (Hummus can be refrigerated for up to 5 days; before serving, stir in 1 tablespoon warm water to loosen hummus texture if necessary).

lentil bolognese

Vegetarians, Day 5: Lentil Bolognese

One of the biggest pieces of advice I was given for this vegetarian experiment was to stock up on rice, beans, and legumes, as those would becoming the building blocks for most vegetarian meals. Like I good girl, I bought quinoa, brown rice, and a bunch of things I’ve never cooked before, including lentils.

lentil bolognese

Tonight we made a super easy, super delicious Lentil Bolognese and served it over tortellini. Essentially all you do is jazz up a jar of your favorite pasta sauce with some onions, carrots, and celery, a dash of red wine or cooking sherry, and throw the lentils in, cooking until they are tender. It took about 40 minutes, and honestly, we probably should have cooked them for maybe ten more.

Lentils are a little chalky, but they provide a good bite. Plus they’re packed with protein and fiber. One cup has 64% of your recommended fiber intake and 36% of your protein.  My stomach expanded like a balloon after eating this meal. So maybe don’t eat it over a cheese filled pasta like we did, but try it out! It’s pretty tasty.

Here’s the recipe we used.

 

the impossible burger

Vegetarians, Day 4: The Impossibly Complicated Impossible Burger

Dan and I go out to dinner pretty much every Friday night. It’s either because we’ve run out of food, motivation to cook, or both. This past Friday was our first experience in a restaurant as vegetarians. We almost went to our default place – Tiny Thai, which we both agree we could live solely off from- but then remembered that Mule Bar was now selling the Impossible Burger. It was time to give it a try.

For those of you who have no idea what the Impossible Burger is, it’s supposed to mimic a real hamburger without the meat. They tout, “Impossible™ meat delivers all the flavor, aroma and beefiness of meat from cows. But here’s the kicker: It’s just plants doing the Impossible.” I was skeptical, but ordered one anyone.

the impossible burger

My first impression was, Wow, that actually looks exactly like beef. Not only was it shaped like a burger, but it was even cooked to behave like ground beef, with a brown exterior and pink middle. Then came the smell test and it passed that, too. It shockingly smelled like a burger that just came off the grill. So what about taste? Would it taste just like a burger?

Sort of. The “meat” actually didn’t taste much like anything, IMHO.

After researching, I’ve learned the Impossible Burger is made of coconut flecks, wheat, potato protein, and heme, which is the secret ingredient that gives the burger its meaty texture…and is also, as I found out, a pretty controversial ingredient.

Heme is a molecule found in all living things, from animals to plants. But you need a ton of it to create anything substantial. The company who makes the Impossible Burger found a way to manipulate soy so that it pumped out heme in mass volume. This is part of why the Impossible Burger is controversial: it’s genetically modified. The other reason it is controversial is because up until very recently, heme was not recognized by the FDA as safe for human consumption. A ruling in July of 2018 changed that and now the FDA considers it GRAS (generally recognized as safe). As in, don’t worry, it’s pretty much safe to eat this. We think. As far as we know. There was that one rat who grew an extra limb out of its head, but we think that was an anomaly. 

The FDA denial and GRAS status is concerning for me because, to be blunt, the FDA typically sucks at protecting consumers. We assume if an ingredient is dangerous to ingest or put on our bodies, the FDA wouldn’t allow it , right? Wrong. Lead has been found in all major brands of lipstick, formaldehyde in baby shampoo, phthalates in food packaging, and bpa in pretty much every plastic. All of these chemicals are known carcinogens that wreck havoc on our bodies, and yet, are still being manufactured. How? Because many of these products are not required to undergo FDA approval and because they can keep the ingredients a “trade secret.”

At the start of this journey, I wanted to eat less meat because I didn’t want animals to die. But there was also a health component – I wanted to find healthy, protein alternatives to fill me up. And here I am now substituting naturally occurring meat from animals who are part of our food chain, for genetically modified food that a scientist concocted in some lab. Is that really a better choice?

Here are some redeeming qualities of the Impossible Burger:

  1. It uses 75% less water, 95% less land, and generates about 87% lower greenhouse gas emissions than a conventional burger from cows.
  2. It’s produced without using hormones or antibiotics, normally injected into cattle.
  3. It contains no cholesterol.
  4. It doesn’t kill animals.

So, the big question: would I order the Impossible Burger again, knowing all that I know now? Probably not. Controversies aside, I wasn’t super wowed with the taste. And if it doesn’t taste that good, and I have moral reservations, what’s the point? I think I’ll stick to typical veggie burgers for now.

Vegetarians, Day 3: That Smells Good, Too Bad I Can’t Eat It

Day 3

At the start of this experiment, I decided I never wanted to be one of those people who make their vegetarianism a big deal. I’m not here to preach, convert, or make anyone go out of their way by adjusting their cooking to fit my lifestyle. I’m just here to eat fewer animals for a month.

Last night, my book club had its monthly meeting and dinner (side note: we call it the Shithole Book Club and we only read books by authors who are from “shithole” countries, according to Trump). My friend who hosted told the group she was going to make a French cassoulet — a casserole, typically made of beans and you guessed it, meat. I called her to ask if I could possible scoop around the meat. She let me know that wasn’t really possible and that the sausage was cut up very small.

Here it was: my first vegetarian conundrum.

Just to be clear, I hadn’t told my friend I was doing this experiment. I really didn’t want her to have to change her plans for 1 of 7 people. I also knew others would bring an appetizer and a side dish to go with the main. I told her not to worry about me. “Worse case scenario, I can just fill up on bread.” So that was my strategy. And then I walked into her house.

I was immediately overcome with the delicious smell of the cassoulet. In a split second, my brain went from saying, “That smells sooo good, I can’t wait to eat it,” to “Fuck! I can’t eat it!” And I realized this experiment might actually be harder than I wanted to admit.

But in the end, I stuck to my plan and it really wasn’t a big deal. I ate cheese and crackers, bread, and huge helping of a delicious walnut grapefruit kale salad. I was full and I was satisfied.

Part of what I’m learning is that more than anything this is a re-conditioning of my brain. I do not need to eat meat, or even a meat substitute, at every meal–that’s just what I was conditioned to believe up to this point in my life. I think I also learned that although I don’t need to push my ideals on others, it might not be the worst idea to mention in advance that I’m doing this experiment to a) not make my friends feel bad if they cook meat and b) to make sure there is something else available.

If anyone has tips on how to broach the vegetarian subject in a non-annoying way when someone has you over for dinner, I’d love to hear it! Also, do folks ever bring over their own food, or is that weird?