April Garden

Happy Swiss labor day everyone!

I’m excited that my cilantro seeds are actually sprouting! Last year I tried to start them in a pot outside, but I think that I did not keep them moist enough, so they dried out and sort of burned in the sun. Oops.

But not this year! Look at them!

I don’t think the sage likes having the tree bark around it. Whenever I use this bark in pots, it seems to kill whatever plant is there. It must be messing with the Ph or acidity levels too much. But I don’t know enough about horticulture to know why exactly.

Oregano is looking good.

As is the starter cilantro plant.

I planted my starter parsley in the same box as our bamboo and it seems like it is competing with the bamboo. The bamboo in there has not gone totally crazy, so I thought there should still be room for some other things to flourish, but it might be too difficult for the parsley.

Rosemary doing fine in a pot on top of the bamboo box.

Not sure I put enough soil on the basil, it’s kinda flopping already. I’m a little too lazy to re-pot it though this late.

The thyme probably needs moved out of the sun and rain.

The lavender is going nuts in its little corner of its box, next to the clematis, which looks like it’s also doing all right after being planted last summer.

I think these are my tomato seeds sprouting.

…and these should be my… lettuce? I forget which pot this photo is from. 🙂

So, that’s about where things are at this point. Kay’s been walking around the balcony pulling weeds because he gets nervous that they will destroy the roof of the flat below our balcony.

I’ve also been rearranging garden furniture, but I’m not quite happy with it. I always seem to try a new setup each year. We’ll see what I settle on for 2015.

How is your garden doing?

Planting Time

It’s that time of year!

We haven’t been away on holiday yet, but most of our weekends in 2015 have been spent traveling or busy with other things, so it was a struggle to get some plants in the ground before April was over.

I really wanted to go to a gardening center, but that involves organizing a car rental, so I decided to go ahead and try some more seeds this year in addition to my usual starter plants. I bought a lot more varieties than last year!

I’ve got seeds for tomatoes, Swiss chard, cucumbers, peas, carrots, peppers, and a few types of lettuce. I am also using some more yellow squash and cilantro seeds from last year.

I haven’t planted all the seeds yet because I need more pots and soil. Some are OK to plant in May outdoors, so I think I will wait until then. I also planted already the starter plants for basil, parsley, sage, oregano, rosemary, cilantro, thyme and a cherry tomato plant.

Also coming back from last year is the lavender, mint, chives and even one of the parsley plants seems like it is perking up a little.

What are you planting this year?

Gluten Free Madrid

Again, I looked up a ton of different options for Madrid. For just a few days I had two breakfast places, some tapas places and dinner places so that we would have a wide range of choices and some backups in case places were closed or didn’t exist. Unfortunately like we discovered in Barcelona, sometimes places are closed when they say they will be open… or in the case of two different places in Madrid, they just didn’t exist anymore, even when they had been written about less than a year ago, had working websites and Google had no indications that they were permanently closed.


OH!CELIA bakery: This place ended up not existing. It was not a big deal because it was a short walk from the next place.
Celicioso: Gluten free bakery with sit down option. We had the lasagna for breakfast as well because we were really hungry for just cupcakes and cake, but it was just reheated in the microwave.


El Arrozal: Unfortunately, this place was also closed permanently, but luckily Bar el Taller was close by, so we ended up eating there instead.

La Crêp’: This was a crepe place that opened only around 2pm on Sunday. It was such a cold overcast day and all we wanted to do was go in somewhere warm to eat, but when the place opened up it was so cold inside. Spain is not made for cold weather! The food was very nice and I didn’t have any gluten reactions later. I ordered a mushroom and cheese crepe and later on a dessert crepe as well.

Bar el Taller: I loved this place! We arrived here because El Arrozal did not exist, which was frustrating that two of the places we tried to eat at on Saturday no longer existed, but I was really happy to find out that pretty much all the tapas at this place were gluten free and they even had gluten free beer, which has been very hard to find in restaurants on trips. I ordered two because I was so pleased and we all stuffed ourselves silly. 🙂

Mozzarella stack from Bar e Taller above.  Shrimp carpaccio below. Delicious!!

Complimentary strawberry dessert. Mmm.

Salad from a place near Kay’s brother below. In a pinch, we could do gluten free just by asking them to take care about certain ingredients and ordering the typical gluten-free salad with meat.

Overall, I wasn’t that worried about GF in Madrid. Spain is actually pretty good about celiac disease and they have a lot of options that you wouldn’t find in Germany, for example.

If you go, don’t miss out on the Serrano ham or the Iberian ham!

First Gluten Free Cakes

I am not a big cake baker because cakes are too much dessert for just Kay and myself, and it’s always tricky arranging Swiss expat schedules to help finish a cake off. (Surprising, no?)

Gluten free baking is also tricky because flour, baking, rising… all that acts differently without gluten, so I was a bit afraid to attempt my first cake. But I knew for my Swiss citizenship party that I wanted to make a real, chocolate cake!

I decided to make Blackbird Bakery’s chocolate cake and frosting, and as you can see, it did turn out OK. (I made a little mistake, so it wasn’t perfect.)

Most of the recipes in this book are pretty complicated and the chocolate cake had about seven different flours in it. This is by far the most complicated cake I had ever made and i was really nervous that the whole thing was going to turn out poorly.It had been over a year since I had made a real gluten cake and since then I had gotten rid of most of our cake pans in the de-glutening, so I had to buy another spring-form pan. I baked two pans of cake, although I could have left them in the oven even a little longer, because they were still a bit gooey in the middle when I cut them in half the next day.

The frosting is where I made my mistake… we don’t have cornstarch syrup in Switzerland, so I tried to substitute sugar and water, but I didn’t dissolve the sugar properly into the water before mixing it in the frosting because Kay and I were both in the kitchen trying to finish a million and one things the night before the party. Failing to do that made the final frosting a little crunchy from the sugar, which was a shame because I took so much care with all the other steps of the frosting.

It was still very yummy though and very chocolatey! This cake is brushed with chocolate liquor before frosting and it gave it a definite alcohol flavour. I loved it!

The party was a success and it was great showing off all the gluten free food we made for the night. We also had bite-size cordon bleu, bacon wrapped potatoes and dates, veggies with hummus and dill dip, guacamole and tortilla chips, dried meat, coconut and chocolate date balls, Kay made his gluten free tiramisu, and plenty to drink.

The next day, Kay and I were invited to his parent’s house for a lunch with some Brazilians from out of town who had attended our wedding. I told Kay’s father I could bring a gluten free dessert, which he was happy to accept because he always struggles coming up with gluten free desserts for me. I decided to try out Blackbird Bakery’s German chocolate cake with my own pecan coconut frosting.

I cut the cake recipe in half since it really called for three pans and I thought the final cake would be too tall for my cake carrying case, so I made a half recipe in one spring form pan and then cut that in half to frost.

On this cake I didn’t make any mistakes and it turned out pretty well. Success! Everyone thought it was really tasty and Kay has been going nuts for the pecan frosting ever since then. It is his favourite frosting of mine. 🙂

I was really pleased with my cakes. Even if I made a few mistakes, they turned out as well as my normal cakes would, or were even prettier in some cases.

Life gluten free is not the end of the world and even if I cannot have the office birthday cake, they don’t know how much of that chocolate cake I devoured every evening as we finished the cake after the party. It was so rich that even with 20 guests, we still had half of the four layer cake leftover afterward!


Mid-March my friend Grace visited Spain from NYC. Since we graduated design school together we have made an effort meet each other usually in NYC or Columbus, but Grace has also come to Zurich a couple times and when she started planning her Spain trip, she immediately asked me if I could meet her for a weekend. We had last seen each other in Baltimore last summer for a friend’s wedding.

Weekend trips in Europe are one of my favourite ways to meet with family and friends in Europe because I get to see and experience a new place as well. I had been to Madrid before, but Kay had not and his brother is actually living there at the moment, so we were planning on taking a trip this year to visit him anyway.

While it was 26ºC the weekend before we came, it did cool down to almost the same temperature at home around 14ºC, but it was sunny at least!

Language was funny. Kay’s brother is fluent in Spanish, so he did most of the talking to waiters. Kay and his brother obviously spoke Swiss German and any time I talked to Kay’s brother alone, I also used German, but with Grace we all spoke English. She also understood some Spanish, so the whole table was a mix of Spanish, German and English at times.

Selfie time! Some of the only time I get photos with my friends… but no selfie sticks for this girl. 🙂


The Palacio de Cristal, which doesn’t really hold up to the Franklin Park Conservatory in my eyes. It had a really creepy art installation in it when we visited.

Streets of Madrid.

The Almudena Cathedral, which was closed when we visited.

Royal Palace of Madrid below.

The train station where Grace left from, filled with trees!

Kay also managed to get us into the business lounge on the way back, so we could fill up a bit on snacks before our flight home.

Overall it was a great weekend. We walked a TON and although it was overcast and much windier and colder on Sunday, we ate well and enjoyed the time.

Do you ever meet old friends in new places?