The dreaded Fremdenpolizei

After I dropped off round two of my application in April, Kay and I went on holiday and I forgot about the whole naturalization process again when I came back to work in May.

May 2014:

One day at work I received a phone call in German. Normally I don’t receive any calls on my office phone unless they are internal and if I do, they are usually in English because we work with a lot of international people, so I was a little startled and was trying to figure out who was calling me. Someone from the Gemeindehaus? Was this about our flat or what?

I had to ask a couple times for them to say it again until the guy was like, “This is about your application, you know… your SWISS NATURALIZATION application.”

Holy F-bomb… it was the Fremdenpolizei!!!! (Immigration police, quite literally.)

These are the people you hear about in the movie Die Schweizermacher, which I have yet to see, and the legends expats tell each other explaining horrifying police visits to check if your marriage is a sham. Pictures of police going through my underwear draw flash through my head. Not knowing any other expats going through the facilitated naturalization process, everything I heard was always a “friend of a friend of a friend” so it’s very hard to separate fact from fiction.

I was quite nervous once I realized who was on the phone, because I knew that meant an inspection was coming up. In fact, the first thing the police told me after that was,

“You are very hard to get a hold of Mrs. Helfenberger.”

Eeep. I wasn’t sure what they meant, but I guessed that they had tried me at home. I realized afterward that they had also tried my cell phone before calling the office and when Kay got home, he found a business card wedged in the crack of our door. So… the police had gotten into our building and now all the neighbors passing by could see that the police were looking for me. Great! I’m now just like that neighbor we had one time who skipped town owing money and the police were looking for him. Lump all us foreigners into one, dirty, non-Swiss category! We’re obviously all criminals. 😉

But really… way to prove a stereotype about the preconceptions of wives in this country guys!! Normally if it’s 2pm and you know someone has a work number, you call that instead of exhausting all the other options first. But nooo, they had to assume I was at home or running housewife errands and they had the gall to give me a hard time for being “hard to get a hold of”. Pfff!

They kindly agreed to meet me again at my house the following week at 7pm, but as I put down the phone I started panicking because I knew Kay had a work event that night and I was terrified of entertaining the police alone. I also had a whole week to daydream about what they would do or say during the inspection.

Luckily, Kay could cancel his event and make sure he’d be there with me and when I freaked out about what they would ask me, Kay sent me “Der Bund, Kurz ErklĂ€rt“, a PDF in German about the Swiss Federal Council. This might have freaked me out a little more… but it was helpful to read in the end.

Over the weekend I cleaned the entire flat, tidied and made things ready for their visit. Hell, if this was a sham marriage, they sure gave me a lot of time to prepare the flat! But on the actual day of the visit, two policemen showed up a little late and told me they’d make this quick and wouldn’t even need to come in my house! I think they wanted to go home and eat dinner soon, to be honest.

Instead, they completed a short questionnaire at the door and were gone within five minutes! So… what did they want to know?

1. Do I speak Swiss German, German, French or Italian, and what is the level of speaking?
I’m always bashful about my German, so I asked Kay auf Deutsch what he thought and the police were already like “Ohh that’s great!” and marked “fluent” in both Swiss German and German, even though I just say a few Swiss German words once in awhile. Whatever. Yay!

I had to laugh later on about the French, because Kay has taught me an army joke where they said “Oops, I farted” or “Oops, I burped” a la Française every time they burp or fart. It would have been really funny (and inappropriate) to tell them, “Yes, I know French… I farted!” 🙂

2. What is the capital of Switzerland?
Bern, duh!

3. What day is Swiss National Day?
August 1

4. Who are three Bundesrat (Federal Council Members)?
I answered Burkhalter, Leuthard, and Widmer-Schlumpf. This is why I was glad I read Der Bund, Kurz ErklĂ€rt, because the federal council members can change quickly compared to US presidents and congress members. I don’t read about Swiss council members that often since I cannot vote and I always think of Calmy-Rey, who has already been out since 2011 apparently!

5. What are three political parties in Switzerland?
This was also easier to answer with a bit of read-up. I answered SVP (Schweizerische Volkspartei), CVP (Christlichdemokratische Volkspartei der Schweiz) and FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei). And no, I didn’t say the whole name… just the acronyms, thank God!

6. What are three newspapers in Switzerland?
I’m a horrible reader in general, but I answered NZZ (Neue ZĂŒrcher Zeitung) although I accidentally pluralized it and said “Neue ZĂŒrcher Zeitungen”. Oops. And I said Blick am Abend and 20 Minutes, which are the two free newspapers in the train stations that I read most often, even if they are really poorly written.

7. What is a local language spoken in Switzerland?
Now, I actually got confused on this one because I think too much into things. Of course I know the four national languages of Switzerland, but they had just started this interview asking me if I speak German, French or Italian. Surely, they weren’t going to ask me if I speak one of the local languages and then have that be an answer later on?!

Kay was looking at me like “Come on, you know this!” and I was thinking “God, what do they mean? ZĂŒridĂŒtsch? BerndĂŒtsch??” before skeptically answering Italian? with a question mark at the end.

“Yeah, yeah that’s fine! S’guet!!” they told me… and then they thanked me for my time and were gone. They wouldn’t have even noticed Kay if he hadn’t gotten up from the sofa and introduced himself, so I’m really not sure how that test was supposed to prove that we are not in a sham marriage. It was really just some simple questions to prove my integration in Switzerland.

“All done with tests!” I thought. But I was definitely wrong… more on that later!

And in case you are wondering, here are the costs until now:
Marriage certificate: 35CHF
WohnsitzbestÀtigung 30CHF X 4: 120CHF
BetreibungsauszĂŒge 20CHF  X 4: 80CHF
Steuerbescheinigung: 75CHF
Train ticket to pick up Betreibungsauszug: 6.60CHF
Post costs: 4CHF
Total Costs: 320.60CHF ($361.09)

Missed something?

 

 

 

Gluten free pancakes!

Pancakes are a weekend staple in our house. I don’t make them every weekend, but Kay often requests them because they are his favorite. And how can I say no to a good looking guy like him?

I was a little nervous to start making pancakes again, but one of my sweet bee friends sent me a recipe book right at the beginning of my celiac journey, so I start experimenting with pancakes relatively early on. By now, I have made them from enough different recipes to have them turn out well when I’m not trying something new!

Batter seems pretty different with GF pancakes. Some recipes they are extremely runny and others too thick. I experiment until I have a nice, normal consistency.

For some reason, I also feel like all my GF pancakes are harder to flip than normal ones. Something like they don’t have as much grip as pancakes with gluten in them.

And with all these new pancake recipes, I’ve spent a lot of time testing which temperature to keep my pans at on the stove. Everything is different, hence the too brown pancakes. Or maybe it was just the recipe I used that day…

These days I cook pancakes in two pans at a time to speed up the process and I store the finished pancakes in the oven on a pan at 50ÂșC so that they are nice and warm when all the pancakes are done. Our steamer oven heats up so quickly that I don’t skip this step anymore!

See, this batch below turned out a bit better.

Pretty good, I’d say!

Some recipes make almost double the pancakes as others. Sometimes we don’t have enough to eat if I only make one recipe. We are lazy and just eat pancakes with no fruit or meat or anything on the side.

Mmmmm!

Here is my basic adjusted recipe.

Gluten Free Pancakes:

  • 1/2 cup brown millet flour
  • 1/4 cup SchĂ€r bread mix B (corn starch and rice flour and some other stuff)
  • 1/4 cup SchĂ€r Farina flour (cornstarch, corn flour, thickener)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp  guar gum
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2- 2/3 cup milk. (Here I ended up needing 1 cup of milk and half of 1/3. Basically added milk until it was liquid enough…)
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Then do the usual. Sift the dry ingredients, whisk the wet together very well and then add to the dry ingredients. Let sit 5 min before using to verify consistency is right. I usually do that part while I’m waiting for my pans to heat up.

This is a nice hearty pancake. I will probably keep adjusting this recipe to figure out the milk portion more accurately. After that I’ll figure out a moister pancake! 🙂

 

London August 2014

London was great. Thanks to everyone for all of your suggestions!

We mainly spent the weekend walking around enjoying the wonderful weather. It only rained a bit on Friday evening and the rest of the weekend was sun and blue skies. On Friday we stumbled upon Shakespeare’s Globe (OMG!) so Kay indulged me with tickets and we went to see the Holy Warriors show there on the Saturday night.

Here are a few glimpses from our weekend:

We were a little surprised how expensive entries to Buckingham Palace ($60) and Westminster Abbey ($30!) were. Even St. Paul’s, the Cathedral, cost $26. Ouch! We didn’t buy one of the multi-museum passes for our short stay and the weather was so nice that I didn’t really feel like visiting any of the free museums either. We figure we’ll be back at some point, so best enjoy the weather when it was actually nice!

We walked all around South Bank, along the Thames, where we ran into Shakespeare’s Globe, between London and Tower Bridge, Covent Garden, stopping at Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus to go shopping at Topshop, among other things. We did pay to see the Tower Bridge museum (not Tower of London) and the Monument and spent the rest of the weekend taking photos of the famous sites, lazing in Hyde Park, shopping and eating lots of great food.

On the first morning we went to a cafe nearby our hotel Citadines Barbican where I could only get a gluten free brownie and some strange lactose-full cream and fruit. It was sickeningly sweet, but the other days there we shopped at Whole Foods and took advantage of the hotel which came equipped with mini fridge, two hobs, microwave, sink and mini dishwasher.

I did have some time before the trip to hastily look up and print out maps of gluten free restaurants. Here’s my quick and dirty gluten free guide to London:

Breakfast: Whole Foods

Lunch/Snacks: (I also carried snacks I brought with me from Zurich which I ate during the day and at the airport.)
Costa Coffee: Ended up only having some prepackaged GF snacks for sale
Pod: Clean, healthy food. Didn’t get a chance to try one of these as it was closed.
Wahaca: Cheap, delicious Mexican. Really wanted to try this!
Pret a Manger: Not much, but you can get a salad or fresh fruit here and they are all over the place.

Dinner:
The Truscott Arms: Pub food with many GF options. Fish and Chips and beer!Vozars: Completely GF restaurant. Eastern European w/ Brazilian influences
Dishoom: Indian in Shoreditch or Covent Garden with dedicated GF menu
CĂąy Tre: Vietnamese in Soho
Busaba Eathai: Thai close to Oxford Circus
Flat Iron Steak: Affordable steak near Piccadilly Circus
Honest Burgers: GF burgers
Tierra Peru: Peruvian

On Friday we had dinner at the Truscott Arms the first night because I really, really wanted GF fish and chips. They were wonderful, but a little on the small side. We also ordered GF cake in chocolate and carrot and it was all delicious. They only had normal beer on lager though and the gluten free beer in the fridge was borderline warm, so I didn’t really enjoy the beer experience as much as I had hoped.

Saturday we ate early before the show, so we went to Flat Iron Steak because I heard it was really popular and doesn’t take reservations. The menu is 99% gluten free because the whole concept of the restaurant is that they just serve steak for dinner with a salad and you can choose some sides, one of which has gluten. Kay was a big fan of this place because he is Mr. Steak and the meat itself was decent for the price. We were lucky to get in and out of the restaurant quickly and have time for a dessert from Whole Foods while walking along the Thames to the theater.

On Sunday we decided to go for Indian at Dishoom because I’ve always heard so many great things about London’s Indian food. It was definitely delicious, although the portions were also smaller than we’d expected. Maybe Kay and I just eat more these days. It was fine though.

Overall, we ate really well and I only wish we had more time to try other places. We had just had Mexican and Peruvian in Puerto Rico and Miami, so it wasn’t imperative that we have those. And it really is true, when I research which restaurants to go to, we do eat at better places than just walking around and picking randomly.

As far as activities, we hadn’t really planned anything beforehand, but I figured we couldn’t go wrong with a first visit and next time we go I’m sure we’ll plan a little more what we want to see on subsequent visits. 🙂

Homemade Corn Tortilla Tacos

We didn’t make any tacos for a long time because Kay and I have always bought tortillas from the store. I just never made them before and it seemed like something hard to do. How wrong was I!

I bought both blue and yellow corn flour from the Mexican grocery and decided to test out the blue corn flour when I made tacos one night.

Following the directions on the flour bag, I mixed 1 cup of flour with 3/4 of lukewarm water and kneaded until not sticky. Then I made them into balls and let them rest a bit before rolling out between two pieces of parchment and cooking in a hot pan on both sides.

All-in-all, they were pretty easy, but the rolling process  definitely made my desire for a tortilla press increase! I would love to make these ahead of time and have a stack in the freezer or something to pull out in a jiffy.

For the tacos I just browned some beef, seasoned it with my All-Recipes recipe  and threw in some corn and beans. We ate the tacos with homemade guacamole, lettuce,  cheese and sour cream of course!

I also made a Mexican quinoa salad with beans to go along and we ate chips with the guac.

I keep hearing there is a growing problem for how many people are eating quinoa, but without the gluten in my diet, I really enjoy having an alternative to boring rice with everything! It is a little bit like wheat pilaf, which I miss. Everyone else, stop eating quinoa! 😉And afterward I made taco salads with my mason jars. Yum!

Have you tried making your own tortillas too?

 

Happy Swiss National Day!

Today is Switzerland’s national day, aka our version of Independence Day. I joked to Kay that since my Swiss naturalization process is still under way, I am rebelling by visiting London. 😉

But to be honest, this is the first time I’ve been here that Swiss National Day is on a Friday and so we took advantage of the 3 day weekend. Feeling only slightly guilty about it…

Next year it will be on a Saturday, but I’m hoping we can throw a huge party to celebrate my citizenship…