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Alpine Cooking

Alpine Cooking

Recipes and Stories from Europe's Grand Mountaintops [A Cookbook]
edition:Hardcover
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Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

I was told by a station agent that the ski from Plan Maison station in Cervinia, Italy, to the Riffelalp hamlet above Zermatt, Switzerland, would take “about two hours, if that.” But what I should have paid attention to was the sign posted outside the lift ticket booth. “Weather conditions can change rapidly,” it said. “Please be particularly careful in event of wind, rain, fog, hail, or snowfall.”

And so, for the following hours as I made my way across the Italian border at an elevation of nearly 3,900 meters (13,000 feet), the winds increased, the sky turned black, and I couldn’t see my ski poles in front of me. I felt I was in the Upside Down, with little ability to orient myself. As I inched along, I encountered few people, which eventually turned into no people. The last person I saw was the Klein Matterhorn lift operator, who told me he was shutting down the lifts due to wind and even if I wanted to go back, I couldn’t.

I told myself to keep calm as I started the descent. What would normally take twenty minutes for an average skier like me took a lot longer, but I can’t tell you the specifics because I was scared, but also angry. Angry at the weather, angry because of the lifts, but mostly angry at myself for doing this—all for the purpose of eating Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (see page 212).

Alpine Cooking will take you from the Olympic glory of Italy’s Cortina d’Ampezzo, through the towering Dolomites to the northern Italian province of Alto Adige/South Tyrol, past Ötzi the Iceman’s place of discovery in Tyrol, Austria, down the slopes of Zermatt, Switzerland, and over to Mont-Blanc, ending in the twenty-one hairpin turns of the Alpe d’Huez in France. This book took six years to research, write, and travel . . . more if you count the incubating stages when I was trying to wrap my head around how to capture the enormity of these Alpine mountains and the food served within, alongside, and atop them. After completing a handful of Alpine trips myself, I wanted to share the experiences with my family and friends, who were inspired by the stories—often about food—I brought back home to Montreal. I yearned to buy books, or even a book, that combined the narrative of my past Alpine experiences with actual how-to tips and on-the-ground knowledge. I wanted a book about everything Alpine: from the best rifugios (mountain huts) to kitsch mountain films (it’s a genre!), Swiss folk art, mountain literature, hotels and the families who run them, history, and ghost stories. And, oh yes, recipes too. And maps. Lots of maps. Except that book didn’t exist.

Sure, there are Frommer’s and Lonely Planet and “just the facts” guidebooks. There are also haute cuisine cookbooks written by Alpine chefs. But that wasn’t my speed nor my vision. So, I decided to write this book; partly because no one else had done it yet—fit all of this skiable feast under one roof—and partly because I couldn’t resist the adventure of what lay ahead.

I remember early in my travels taking the chairlift in Alta Badia, Italy. As I ascended toward the church of La Crusc, with the alpenglow of the Dolomites behind it, I looked down, around, and behind me at the rifugios and huts all scattered in the snow like roasted chestnuts, and wondered what set one apart from another? Who served what? Could I ski to all of them? Were they open in the summer, and then could I hike to them? There was so much good eating in just one view.

I have skied and hiked mountains in Canada a few times, but rarely in the United States. The Alps are my first love, and they are all I really know. Upon seeing a photograph of my ski-day lunch, say, a Tiroler Gröstl (golden potato hash with local speck, and maybe cabbage and egg) with esoteric Alsatian bottles of wine sprouting out of the hills of snow behind me, my North American friends would comment about the lack of a Chef Boyardee facsimile served on a red plastic tray with a bag of Lay’s and a soda. As they recalibrated their idea of what mountain lunch could be, I realized how much of a story there is to tell. And so, I started keeping a journal of the people (chefs, hoteliers, helicopter pilots, winemakers, cheesemakers) I met, the best things I ate, the cultural observations, and the mistakes I made. (So many mistakes.) In trying to see, but moreover, eat as much of the Alpine range (200,000 square kilometers/77,000 square miles) as I could, I sometimes overlooked a detail. It usually included overestimating what is physically possible to do in one day without really considering weather conditions; for example, skiing to a hotel over a country boundary with my sleepover bag (and my laptop—how do you think I wrote this?) on my back through a blizzard. (And yes, those Zürcher Geschnetzeltes were worth it.) Or underestimating the amount of time it would take to drive from place to place, not counting the multiple stops for anything that looked remotely delicious.

Even after so much Alpine traveling time, this book is still only an Alpine primer—a two-dimensional account designed to inspire you. I came back from the Alps with approximately 175 recipes stuffed in my mind and proverbial snowsuit. Of those, I whittled down this collection to more than 75 must-haves, either because they are valuable and unique additions to any arsenal, or because the story of them was intrinsic to my Alpine trip. On the foldout pages, you will also find four country maps identifying the mountain-hut locations that inspired the corresponding recipes of my Alpine tour. And I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface here; indeed, I can imagine traveling the rest of my life, writing books of this size, and I still wouldn’t come close to capturing the magic of the mountains. Perhaps I’m just getting started.

I hope you cook from this book, sure, but the delicious and authentic recipes are just an excuse, really—a trail of little crumbs, and okay, fine, maybe some Reblochon too—to lure you into the mountains and to follow my journey, to encourage you to breathe in the mountain air. Many of these recipes are classics of mountain cuisine—dishes you’ll find in almost every inn of an area. Others reflect the talent and individual creativity of chefs I’ve met along the way. Still others were created at home, away from the Alps, and dedicated to the regions that inspired them. But all are rooted firmly in the Alps.

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Falling for London
Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

“This … is London.”
— Edward R. Murrow

Murrow was the prototype for a foreign correspondent. From a distance, his heyday during the war seems hopelessly romantic. Under fire with the rest of London, living intensely, drinking, smoking, working all hours. He drank with Churchill and romanced the PM’s daughter-in-law. His resonant voice and powerful words evoked all the life-and-death drama of a struggle for existence. His brow seemed permanently furrowed in passionate commitment to his calling.

What young broadcast reporter would not want to be Murrow?

Many apply, but few are called.

After more than twenty years of local and national TV reporting in Canada, I had thought my time had passed. Overlooked several times for foreign postings, I was resigned to a comfortable and largely satisfying job covering the Ontario legislature, complete with my own modest, no-budget, political affairs talk show, which had won a few awards.

As I approached my midfifties, it seemed that my next move would be into public relations — perhaps making a bit more money than my journalism career had ever offered.

I would think sometimes that maybe it was time to grow up and get a real job before some new boss young enough to be my kid called me into his office to advise that he did not like my face on TV anymore and was calling security to escort me to the door.

Then the lightning bolt struck.

In early 2011 our London correspondent departed in favour of an anchor job back home. Do I apply one more time, I wondered?

“Go ahead,” said Isabella. “Don’t let me stop you.”

For as long as we had been together she had known I wanted to live and report from abroad, with London my top choice. She had never liked it, never wanted it, but equally did not wish to be my obstacle.

When I announced that I was going to Kosovo for a week in 1999 to report on the aftermath of the war, she wept fearful tears when I left for the airport.

When it seemed I was headed to Pakistan in the weeks after 9/11, she was inconsolable. As it turned out I never went anyway.

That was all before we had Julia. She was now in Grade 1, attached to her friends and her nanny. We had a circle of close friends and relatives. Isabella had a job she loved, producing and directing an online design show. We had just committed to a major kitchen renovation, adding enormously to our debt, but finally finishing off our house.

Life was pretty good.

I sat at my desk at Queen’s Park, staring off through the window. My stomach contracted.

Should I do this? If I get it, how will we do it? Am I just too old for this? Time to grow up and get a real job? Fuck it. Not going to get it anyway. Give it one more chance and then give it up.

I applied, pouring my heart into the email to the show’s producers, just as I had for so many other jobs before where I came close but missed.

The job interview was by phone, with me sitting in a deserted hallway of the legislature on a quiet day when most of the politicians were away. They asked me how I would get into Libya to cover the civil war.

“Well, I would just go to the border and start asking people for advice,” I said confidently.

I had absolutely no bloody idea how I would ever get into Libya if the time ever came. And Isabella would certainly hit the roof if I ever tried.

The producers were kind and genial. I respected and liked them both. But this felt different from all the job interviews I had had before — all those times when I knew I came close but was not the choice.

They clearly wanted someone younger, more ready to go into war zones. Someone more conversant with Twitter (I would tweet once a week to a tiny list of followers to advise them of the subject of my talk show). That’s it, game over, I thought. In a way, it was a relief. At least I tried.

***

A federal election was looming and I was angling to turn my provincial program into a national talk show during the campaign. But I was about to be banished to an early morning Sunday time slot that would make it impractical.

The producer who did the London job interview was among the executives I was lobbying to win a Saturday evening time. He sent an email asking me to give him a call. It was mid-March 2011.

“Hi. So, do you think we can find a time for this show?” I asked when he picked up.

“Well, we’re going to take it off your hands because I want to send you to London.”

A beat. I was the speechless broadcaster.

“Well … uh … good thing I’m sitting down,” I finally mumbled.

“I feel really good about this decision,” he said. “I’ve advised the vice-president and your boss that I’m making the offer and frankly they were both surprised, but also happy for you.”

Naturally they were surprised. I’m the one who never got these jobs.

My head was spinning. I looked out the window that overlooked the front lawn of the legislature from our fourth-floor perch. The red-tailed hawk that nested in the tree at our level was ripping apart a small animal that had made the mistake of straying into its territory.

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Travels Through the French Riviera

Travels Through the French Riviera

An Artist’s Guide to the Storied Coastline, from Menton to Saint-Tropez
edition:Hardcover
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The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour

My months of hitchhiking, biking and serving Her Royal Majesty
edition:Paperback
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