Celebrating Birthdays

Earlier in June, just a few weeks after the passing of my MIL, we invited my FIL over to celebrate his 60th birthday with us. We had been planning to celebrate his birthday with my MIL and a big joint retirement/birthday party, but since that’s all been cancelled and my FIL is on his own for his first birthday, we wanted to make sure he spent time with family.

Because his birthday was during the week and he insisted that we keep things simple, I stuck to our weekly plan with a Cooksmarts meal. I had seen that they had one that week with slow cooker BBQ, and that’s always really easy to put together on a weeknight, so the morning of his birthday I chucked a hunk of pork in the slow cooker with a bottle of BBQ sauce.

I’d already shredded the veggies in the food processor the night before, so when I arrived home, all I had to do was bake up the gluten free breads in the oven, mix the dressing into the slaw and shred the cooked pork. We served the sandwiches and slaw with pickles on the side like Cooksmarts suggested and the boys had some normal beer with their meal.

I had baked my first gluten free pound cake on Sunday so that I could serve strawberry shortcake for dessert. Growing up, I was always requesting strawberry shortcake with cool whip for my birthday, and I thought it would lend itself to gluten free pretty well. Even if the cake would be a little drier than normal cake, you cover it with strawberry sauce and cream, so it’s all good!

To make the sauce, I sliced the strawberries the night before and put some sugar on top to bring out the syrupy juice. Since I didn’t have a bundt pan to bake the cake in, I split half the batter in my banana bread pan and the other half in muffin cups. The muffin cups made a good individual portion size to top with strawberries, cream and a little peppermint from the garden.

The birthday boy was very pleased with the meal. We really love him a lot!

Of course I had to light a candle for him and demand to take photos, but I did not sing because neither of these boys really like birthday singing.

It was an emotional day to be celebrating the 60th milestone without a key member of the family. Little things like taking three plates instead of four or taking photos without her because it’s something she would have done really cut to the heart. It is still really hard to believe that she is really gone and we miss her every day. But still, I am happy we could celebrate together as a family anyhow!

Funny flower pots

So, I found these really cool flower pots at Migros and they kind of persuaded me to buy a bunch of flowers to fill them up with. Yes, the flower pots told me to. Shhh.

Sigh, I fall for flowers every time.

I chose all my mixes based on what is supposed to do well with a LOT of sun, because that’s what this balcony gets. Also, preferably not daily watering. I’m a little lazy, y’all. 😉

I also chose some roses to add into the mix since the climbing roses have done so well from last year.

Now, onto the pots. These are for the banisters and they are different in that they kind of sit like a saddle on top of a banister, so you don’t have that sad probably of a wobbly, slanted hanging basket that I always had with our other row pots.

Plus, look at the cool colors they come in! Lime green and purple! Those are OUR colors! 😉

My roses are still going crazy. I’m really loving them. 🙂

View from the banister below to the courtyard.

 Yup, good purchase here.

The only problem is that they only fill up like a smidgen of our terrace. I could seriously buy like twenty more of these pots to fill the whole banister.

Right now I set them on the side next to my flower area so that I can see them from the kitchen window, and that makes me happy. 🙂

Also, check out my gorgeous roses over here. I am really in love!

We’ve had a lot of thunderstorm nights lately, but it’s great to finally be enjoying the balcony at summer again.

A warm night with a caipirinha on the terrace… ahhh.

What parts of summer are you loving so far?

Gluten Free Lasagna

As requested, here is my gluten free traditional lasagna recipe.

If you are still fine eating meat and cheese, subbing some gluten free noodles into an old recipe will work just fine! I based this on a popular one from All-recipes that I used to use for years before switching to a gluten free lifestyle. I also heartily recommend the make-ahead option at the bottom. 🙂

Yield: 12 servings… or if you’re like us, more like 6 servings. 😉
Oven: 190ºC / 375ºF


  • 450g (1lb) sweet Italian sausage
  • 340g (3/4) pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 800g (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 100g (3.5 oz) tomato paste
  • 500ml (16.9oz) canned tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil cuttings
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano cuttings
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 12 gluten free lasagna noodles, like from Schär
  • 450g (15oz) ricotta cheese
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 340g (.75lb) mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Same Night Directions:
1. In a big pot, brown the beef and sausage with the onion and crushed garlic.
2. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, water, sugar, fresh basil and oregano, Italian seasoning, salt, black pepper and two tablespoons of the parsley. Simmer for 1.5 hours.
3. Fill a bowl with hot water and soak the noodles while you start preparing the pan for layers. Preheat oven to 190ºC. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta with the other 2Tbs of parsley, nutmeg, and salt. Adding an egg is optional, but not necessary.
4. To assemble, use 1.5 cups of sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 inch (23×35 cm) baking dish. One layer of noodles over the sauce. Break to fit. Spread one half of the ricotta mix over the noodles. Top with 1/3 of the mozzarella slices, do another layer of sauce, add 1/4 of parmesan on top. Repeat those layers and top with remaining mozzarella and parmesan.
5. Cover with foil and avoid letting the foil touch the cheese. Bake 25 minutes covered, 25 minutes uncovered and then let the lasagna rest outside the oven for an additional 15 minutes before serving.

It’s fine if your tomato mix varies a little bit. If you have too much sauce at the end, you can always save it and use with pasta, but I usually use mine up. My tomato sauce always comes in larger packages here than my original recipe, so I use 500ml and then less tomato paste, because that comes in tubes here, but if it’s more convenient for you to use a 6oz can of paste, do that and just use less tomato sauce.

Extra cheese is never a problem either. I usually buy extra parm and just load it on top.

Now, if you don’t have time to watch the sauce simmer for that long, what I really love is to just make this ahead the night before. To do that, follow the instruction above with these changes:

1. Brown the meat as directed above, then mix in all the spices but don’t simmer. Proceed directly to the assembling after you mix up your ricotta mix in a bowl.
2. Skip soaking the noodles and assemble as directed above, but with dry noodles.
3. When the lasagna is put together, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. Refrigerating will blend the sauce flavours for you without the extra work of stirring. It will also soften your noodles just fine without soaking or cooking ahead.
4. The day you bake it, pull the lasagna out to warm up for around 40 minutes before following the baking instructions above.

Good luck and happy baking!

Do you have any secret lasagna tips?

Doing Frozen Pizza Right

Even with the gluten free diet, I am thankful to still have the option to get frozen pizza every once in awhile. It’s really handy when we travel for the weekend and need a quick fix and just feel like pizza, but not the whole mess of making gluten free dough by hand.

But still, just because it’s frozen cheese pizza, doesn’t mean we cannot add our own touches!

Here I added mozzarella, sliced tomato, salami and fresh basil and oregano from the balcony. Drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and I sent that bad boy to the oven.

Nom nom nom.

I love a good homemade pizza, but I also love a good frozen pizza! Sometimes it’s the perfect, no-cooking option after grocery shopping!

If you do frozen pizza, do you dress it up as well?

Firehouse Open House

As part of the local fire brigade, Kay helped host the local open house for the fire station awhile back. It was a great event for families with kids to come explore the station and also useful for adults to see some of the fire demonstrations they put on.

I’m not sure if I’ve explained, but there are only professional firefighters in Zürich and Winterthur and the other fire brigades in the surrounding towns are made up of volunteers. People join and are trained to be a part-time firefighter. They then have a pager and respond to any calls they get unless they are too far away or not able to make it for some reason. The volunteer system works surprisingly well in Switzerland and with every page, you always get enough people to fill up the truck and head out to a call.

At the station below, they demonstrated an oil fire and what happens when you try to put it out with water. Now, I always had been told that water and oil are very, very bad for fires, but I didn’t know HOW bad. They poured a small glass of water into the pan and the entire shed burst out with a balloon of exploding flames!

It was too quick to photograph, but just imagining if this kind of explosion happened in a house was horrifying. All that flame would wrap through your kitchen and living room and set everything on fire. It was scary to see how quickly the fire really ignites and expands!

The station then showed approximations of how long it takes the firefighters to respond and put the fire out. They come quickly, but it does take time and much of your house could be burned down by then. Even Kay who wakes up to calls at 2am and rushes out still takes around 4 minutes to get to the station and then more to suit up and get on the truck to get dispatched.

After the first demonstration, Kay showed his father and me around the station and the different things on the trucks. His father found it really interesting because he used to be in the voluntary fire brigade as well.

Below is Kay showing is Dad the jaws of life that they use to help with accidents on the highway.

For the second demonstration below, they showed what happens to all those who decide to light the traditional Swiss Christmas tree with candles one more time when it is too dry. The firefighters always get some calls about this each year, so again it was important for them to show people the dangers involved with this seemingly harmless idea.

The guy who was under the umbrella said later on that it actually got really hot really fast. He didn’t even have time to take his hat off before he stuffed his fire helmet on top. The umbrella melted in seconds and everything was up in hot, hot flames!

The wood here also makes a really dark smoke because it hasn’t dried out enough to be burned. Probably that and things in the sofa burning that should not… but just imagine that dark smoke in your home again. You wouldn’t be able to breathe at all!

The firefighters demonstrated a rescue and how it’s hard to know where to even put out the flames with so much smoke. They do have some thermal heat detectors, which seem pretty nifty to catch the hidden things still burning.

All in all, it was a very informational day and fun to see where Kay is spending his time volunteering. 🙂