Chronicles of a writer abroad

Expatriation makes the heart grow fonder

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I’ve never been crazy about Valentine’s Day — I, like many others, find it to be too contrived a holiday. So while I’ve often eschewed it, I found it strange that February 14th was not a big deal here. No huge displays of chocolates (well, I guess I mean to say that the chocolate aisle remained unchanged), no signs exhorting you to show your love by buying your sweetheart something.

In my efforts to become a better cook, I’ve been following a number of baking and cooking blogs, and these were all atwitter at the holiday. They featured pastas, and brownies and cookies and candies…oh my. I got a bit caught up in their spirit, and decided that I would celebrate Valentine’s Day by baking and cooking, and thereby killing multiple birds with one stone: earning hausfrau brownie points; reconnecting with my heritage (ha); working on my kitchen skills; creating something that Stelian would hopefully enjoy (dinner), and something that I would enjoy (dessert).

I decided on the recipes – a pesto cheese pasta bake for dinner, and a carrot cake for dessert. I set off to the grocery store with a mile-long list of items, and luckily found everything I was looking for (though there were some tense moments, such as when I had difficulty differentiating baking powder and baking soda — it would have made good TV, I tell you!).

I then spent the entire afternoon working on the damn cake, which didn’t turn out as I’d have liked. Some of you may ask, why was I making a carrot cake anyway? Isn’t chocolate what’s called for by the holiday? Well, yes…but Stelian and I both like carrot cake, and I am irreverent about holidays as I am about everything else.

So there you have it.

Okay, there’s more. In one of the major supermarkets in Zürich, they sell the most adorable little marzipan carrots. I was just waiting for an opportunity to use them. That opportunity could only involve carrot cake. You have to create your own destiny, you know?

I would say I’m an intermediate baker. I have no problem with techniques like creaming and folding. The carrot cake recipe was not difficult, and the batter looked perfect. But then I realized that I couldn’t fit two cake pans into my small Swiss oven. And then I transferred the batter to a springform pan, whereupon it began leaking everywhere. So I resorted to pouring all of the batter into a square pan, where it formed one ridiculously thick layer that I thought I would have to cook forever.

Things went further downhill when I attempted to make a cream cheese frosting sans handmixer. I’ll spare you boring details, but let’s just say I ended up with an overly sweet and still too runny frosting. Ick.

So, in the end, we had a perhaps-not-quite-cooked-in-the-middle carrot cake with runny, cloyingly sweet frosting. But the marzipan carrots looked great. See?

And in other news, I nailed the pasta. Okay, the recipe probably deserves some credit. And because I dithered over the cake the whole afternoon, Stelian was there to help me cook it. But I still choose to believe that I’m becoming a better cook. I think this is my first time liking dinner more than dessert…who knows what might happen now. I could become one of those people who crave potatoes and appreciate bacon! Well…maybe not. But I will consider laying off the fancy baking and just buying some chocolate for dessert next year.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

One thought on “Expatriation makes the heart grow fonder

  1. Marzipan carrots on carrot cake: genius! Nice touch 🙂 I am going to load up on marzipan when I visit Zurich.

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