October 28, 2012

Kitchen Soup (and roast chicken) for the Expat Soul

Last week I told you that living in Zürich isn't that different. 


I wonder what planet I was on last week (hopefully one of the hot ones since it is currently snowing). Life here is different, very different, for a variety of reasons. 

There are the things that are obvious at first, but which eventually slip away and become the background noise that hums this city to life...
...like the colorful buildings and the playful way they touch the sky...
...the long tongue-twisting street names (which simply mean Justice Alley)...
...the traditional Zopf bread, which is braided and fluffy, full of milk, butter and eggs...
...the Alps, most definitely the Alps...
...the farm only a few blocks away from our apartment and the friendly sheep that I greet on my daily walk...

Hovering just above the hum of buildings and bread (and really good butter) are the quirks and ticks, steady and constant, of the people here and how they live. Initially many of the Swiss-isms ruffled me. I wanted to scream Relax! and cut an escape hole in their perfectly constructed box. But, as it tends to go, instead of the Swiss climbing out, I've found myself slowing creeping in and adjusting to life in Switzerland by becoming just a little bit Swiss around the edges (and the edges are sharp mind you).

I used to be fashionably late to parties and now I show up on time with thirty seconds to spare. It's the Swiss way; they are a punctual group, with the entire country running with the precision of a Swiss watch. The perfectly synced and scheduled network of trams, trains, busses and boats can get you anywhere you need to go and exactly on time. It's wonderful for dinner party hostesses: your guests will arrive exactly when you asked them to, if not a little early. Knowing this you can put the chicken in the oven thirty minutes before start time, which leaves half an hour for a cocktail and some gougères before you pull the beautifully crisp and golden bird out of the oven. Ta-da! Hostess-with-the-Mostess! And sober to boot because you didn't guzzle those three compulsory glasses of the-roast-is-cold-beans-are-mushy-where-are-the-damn-guests wine. So invite us over for dinner and we'll be there exactly thirty seconds before you were expecting us.
As I dine on your perfectly roasted chicken you'll notice that I'll keep the fork in my left hand during the meal. It makes for a a nice eating rhythm; fork holds, knife slices, fork lifts and tips and comes down pausing slightly before carrying on. I guess it's more of a European-ism than a Swiss-ism (kind of like changing out of your PJs to take the garbage out - yes I do it too), but I adjusted and now it feels natural.

Another Swiss-ism will strike just as we are leaving your perfectly hosted party. I'll tell you how lovely it was and how much we enjoyed the evening and then I'll proceed to kiss you on the cheek three times (trying to one up the French I suspect), and launch into a bout goodbye diarrhea - Aufweidersehen Merci Vilmal, Dankeschön, Schönes Wochenende, Bis Bald, Tschüss, Bis Morgen, Widerleurge!! Okay so maybe I won't bombard you with the Swiss goodbye at your Haus, especially if you are American, but I will - the goodbyes not the kisses - with the cashier at the grocery store, the vendors at the farmers market and the receptionist at the doctors office. I play goodbye ping-pong until I've run out of goodbye terminology and then I smile and run before it has time to start up again. Ciao Ciao!
So, yes, there are the sheep, the punctual people and the fact that I drink full fat milk and eat veal with abandon, but life is also different because I'm stuck in career limbo land. I thought I had everything figured out - my career, my path, my plan - after three years in architecture school, but then we moved here and the puzzle that I had pieced together was taken apart and the pieces put back in the box and given a good shake. I don't know how or when I'll find my way back to architecture. Everytime I'm about to open my resume.doc and start studying for a German proficiency exam I meet an architect who tells me the road will be tough, if not impossible, and that I shouldn't even bother. Oy! I'm trying not to worry or feel guilty, but that seems to be against my nature. 'What do I want to do with my life' is a question I don't have any finite answers too. I'm guessing you might know the feeling. I imagine we all find ourselves here at some point.
I don't mean to say I'm not happy, I am happy, probably the happiest I've ever been, I just find myself pondering the big weighty issues a bit more than I expected. In the midst of all the confusion though I've found a few interests that I never knew I had. I guess I'm experiencing the clichéd silver lining, a lining compete with good meals, a few trusty cameras and lots more writing than I imagined.

Life without cooking feels like so long ago, meanwhile it was less than two years ago that we lived on take out, nights out and a healthy dose of pasta. Such is the life of a graduate student I guess. Now I go to the grocery store everyday and find myself cooking something at least twice a day. It's like I'm living the real life Kitchen Soup for the Expat Soul. (If that's not one in the series it should be). I make soup and stock when I'm questioning everything because I find the simplicity and sure success of both reassuring. Soup is a cure-all: good for sniffles, but also for homesick expats. Chocolate cake on the other hand is good for calming me down. I'll make a dark and decadent flourless chocolate cake after a rigorous round of charades with Herr Rüeggi, the haus handyman who only speaks a deeply guttural Swiss German, about the broken dishwasher or sticky lock. (The dishwasher was much easier to act out and for my acting prowess I ate two slices of cake, but I also ate two slices for the lock, because that was tough and I needed a pick me up).
There's more to say - on guilt, impermanence, hope and so-on - but I've been ruminating on this post since Tuesday, trying to express everything just so, but that's turned out to be tough (I'm not sure writing will ever be easy for me), and I decided it was best to post something to get things started. And besides, this post feels miles long, are you still with me? I'll share more another time, when my thoughts are a big clearer and words easier to find.

In the meantime make and eat this roast chicken.

Roast chicken on our table is a sure sign of a life lived differently in Zürich. I'd never handled a whole chicken let alone roasted one before we moved here. Now we eat a version of roast chicken at least once a week. I can't believe I haven't shared a roast chicken recipe here yet. I think it's because it's quick and comes together when it's already too dark for photos. I have time to cook, but that doesn't mean I don't love an easy dinner, especially one that not only looks fancy but tastes damn good. I approach roast chicken like a one pot meal or a one bowl cake, I put the chicken on a baking sheet and surround it with potatoes, carrots and onions, which will all soften and flavor with the help of a little olive oil and the drippings from the chicken. It couldn't be easier.

// Roast Chicken //
note : Swiss chickens are small. The biggest I've been able to find is only about 1.5 kilos or 3.3 pounds. It's a good size for 2-4 people, but any more guests and I need to make two. It goes without saying that you should buy the best chicken you can find, even if that means spending 25chf (!!) on said organic chicken. The taste is worth it. 

Read/use this recipe with the understanding that there are as many ways to roast a chicken as there are clouds in the sky (or snow flakes on the ground in Zürich right now). This is just one way that I like because you put it in the oven and then come back an hour or so later and take it out - no basting, no flipping, no nothing. 

And in regard to how many potatoes, onions & carrots you need will totally depend on how big your baking sheet is. My baking sheet is half the size of a normal baking sheet because my oven is only about as big as the one in Barbie's dream house. If you have a big oven and a big pan feel free to load it up with veggies. Brussels sprouts also make a nice addition. 

chicken - 1.5 kg / 3.5 lbs
apple - 1 small, to shove in the cavity
rosemary - a few sprigs
thyme - a few springs
salt and pepper
olive oil
potato - as many as fit on the pan
carrot - as many as fit on the pan
onion - at least two, but more if there is room

Preheat the oven to 425ºF / 220ºC

Pat down the bird with paper towel so that it is dry. Sprinkle generously, inside and out, with freshly ground salt and black pepper. Place the rosemary and thyme in the cavity first and then follow with the whole apple (feel free to substitute an orange slice). Flip the wings so that they rest on the breast instead of under the chicken. 

Cut the potatoes into chunks, the carrots into slices and the onions into wedges (don't separate the onion wedges or the onions will dry out in the oven). Toss with 1-2 tablespoons or more if using more veggies. You want the oil to lightly coat the veggies not drown them. 

Place the chicken on the baking sheet and surround with the vegetable, taking care to place the potatoes flesh side down so they get crispy. Drizzle the bird with olive oil or smear with butter (either way, both butter and oil will help the skin get crispy). 

Put the chicken in the oven and cook for approximately 45-60 minutes. If you cut the bird you want the juice to run clear not pink. When the chicken is done place it on a cutting board and cover it with tinfoil. Let it sit for 10 minutes before cutting it. While the chicken is sitting put the vegetables back into the oven, but turn oven off, or into a warming drawer if you have one. 

Cut the chicken into leg-thigh and breast sections and serve with the vegetables and a simple salad. 


  1. The three times kiss is not Swiss-ism, I'm originally from Poland (have been living in the US for 14 years) and we do that too :-). And the fork and knife thing :-). I always say that if you see someone in the US eating and using their knife and fork then they must be from Europe ;-).

    1. 3 kisses for the Polish too! interesting. Do you know the history? The USA is 1, the French are 2 and the Swiss/Polish are 3. I wonder what other countries do 3. Do you still do 3 kisses when you meet fellow Poles in the US, or have you all adapted to the one & hug routine? And yes, fork in the left hand means they are either European or former expats!

  2. we are all at the same point :-)..grüße susanne

    1. such a reassuring statement - thank you susanne!

  3. Having only been in Zurich for one month, it is lovely to come across such a gorgeous blog.
    I'll definitely be following you with a keen eye :-)

    1. I'm so glad you stumbled upon my blog! And of course, let me know if you'd like to meet up for coffee one day - I always love meeting new faces.

  4. Amidst your ruminations, you've become a cook, a photographer, and a writer. But while you're resting in the questions, run out and buy "Tiny Beautiful Things, Advice from Dear Sugar" by Cheryl Strayed. She talks about leaning into creating, as opposed to leaning into worry, which is something that you've done unconsciously. You've become an amazing, beautiful, make people feel warm and fuzzy (and FULL) creator. Read this entry as the Hurricane is moving in to hit New Jersey, and it made me happy!

    1. KERRY! maybe in addition to mindful mentors you can become just a mentor? You have an amazing ability to rise above and lead people through the muck. You see it all so clearly. I'm a lucky girl. thank you.

  5. Hi Talley,
    Long-time reader here, but first time commenting, I think! I just wanted to let you know that I love your blog and photography, and enjoy reading all the time! Living in a foreign country and not having a plan nailed down can (obviously) be frustrating, but I learn so much from reading about your struggles with these things. These experiences may make you a different person, but a better one, I'm sure. Thank you for the blog; I look forward to reading on!


    1. thank you for commenting! It is always so nice to know that there are people out there reading. You're right in saying that our struggles make us stronger. I try to remind myself of that everyday. That in the end, if nothing else, this experience has made me a better, more empathetic, person. I'm so glad to hear that my journey has been a learning experience for my readers as well - thank you!

  6. I'm sitting here, awaiting Sandy, pouring through the blog posts I'd missed over the last few months... It is the most incredible site - the photos, the descriptive stories, the food you create so effortlessly. It is awe-inspiring! You have always been so good with words and this recent post reminded me how talented you are on so many levels. You've taken a new, unknown city by storm and those challenges and experiences you have faced will make you so much stronger and fuller. I am jealous on so many levels. Miss and love you and am so proud of you! P.S. When you come back to the states, can I enroll in your cooking school??

    1. LINDS! you are the nicest most lovely person on this planet and this comment absolutely made my day. Thank you. It's hard to step outside of myself (and the blog) and really see it for what it is - an archive our our journey and my journey into photography and writing. Your recognition of that journey makes me feel warm and cozy inside. THANK YOU. And yes, let's start a cooking school, wouldn't that be fun?!

  7. In the US I usually do one kiss when I meet Poles my age (thirty something) but with older generation it is often the traditional three.
    When I visit Poland it depends on a person but the custom is still very much alive over there :-).

  8. Talley, I really loved this post. You're a wonderful writer, even if you find it hard to get those words right.

    I imagine that it must be difficult, trying to find your place in Zurich when it wasn't exactly the life you'd had planned out. Still, you seem to have flourished, and I'm sure you'll find what you're meant to do, even if it takes some time.

    P.S. I don't do much eating that requires a fork and knife, but I'm pretty sure that when I do, I keep my fork in my left hand. Was I just a little clueless as a kid, failing to pick up exactly on forks-and-knives as done in North America?

    1. Katie - thank you! I can always count on your for a really heartfelt comment - a comment that makes it clear you've understood everything while at the same time lifting me up and propelling me forward. I hope one day we can bake cookies together and chat about life (or philosophize in your case).

      interesting to know that you just picked up the fork in the left all on your own - maybe in a past life you lived in Paris?

  9. It's so interesting to read your words on Swiss-isms, and makes me consider all the Irish mannerisms I've picked up from the husband. For example, If you offer him something (cuppa tea, piece of cake, etc.) you must ask him three times. He will say no the first two, but he is waiting for the third time when he will accept. :) I would also say, don't be too hard on yourself. I spent my 20's going through the same sorts of struggles, beating myself up for not fitting into the picture of success I was raised on. You'll figure out what you want.

    1. Seriously? Turn down a piece of cake 3 times?! Oh man that is restraint. What if you just decided the hell with it after the 2nd time and ate all the cake yourself? Do you have to offer a Guiness 3x as well? I imagine 'mother's milk' is accepted on the first offer.

      and you're right, I shouldn't be so hard on myself. I need to reinvent the expectations I place on myself. Thank you!

  10. Talley, I love this post. Life doesn't always lead you where you think it will, does it? But... look at where it has taken you! Swiss adventures! Amazing travel! Jaunts to Paris! A gorgeous, inviting blog! Incredible photography! You'll get back to architecture when the time is right - and maybe you won't but you'll be doing something else incredible.

    I picked up the keeping-my-fork-in-my-left-hand thing in London! So much more practical and definitely European. And I remember being so scared roasting my first chicken but it is such a satisfying meal.

    Oh - and the kissing thing caused me so much social anxiety in Europe! I just could not adopt it and I did not now how to react....

    1. ...no it definitely doesn't...but you're right, I guess that is the fun of it all! And you are so good at seeing the positive side of this journey, thank you for that! It's hard to step outside myself, but when I do there is A LOT to be thankful for.

      and thank you also for being supportive of a possible non-architecture tangent of my life. There are indeed other possibilities, but I often have a hard time seeing beyond the expectations and guilt to know that they are out there. A career does not make a life, living makes a life!

      you're the best, thank you!

  11. This is such a wonderful post, Talley. I loved reading every single bit of it. This may be very selfish of me, but I especially loved reading about the part about settling into yourself and your path and plan. Since I'm in my last year of college the big question hovering over everyone is "what are you going to do after you graduate?" I don't know how to say I have no real career ambitions, I don't want to pursue graduate school (at least yet), and I'm not sure at all what I want to do. It seems that it never gets easier, even as you get older, in trying to shape your life the way you want it-- something always end up jumbling all the pieces and you're right back where you started. I guess there's a sort of comfort in that, that we're all just figuring it out, and it's always an effort to (at least at certain points in our lives). I'd love to hear more when you do get the chance to fix your thought and words around it. And you are a lovely writer, by the way. Whether those words come easy or not, everyone seems to love reading them.

    And I'm so happy you posted about roast chicken. Your pricey chicken shows its worth-- it's beautiful! Especially with those roasted vegetables nestled around it. I'm envious that you present this to Zach at least once a week! I dream about being so chic. This post, along with that new one by rachel eats about roast chicken, are all I think I need to start, though. I love the simplicity of it. It seems that that's how a roast chicken should be.

  12. Amy - thank you! I so remember those days approaching and after graduation when I really had to say, "okay talley, now is the time, what are you going to do." Instead of really knowing exactly what I wanted to do, I just chose something - architecture. I wasn't 100% sure, but it felt like a decent fit at the time and so I went with it. I guess looking back I figured it's better to do something and try it than to not do it. I often think of my friend Crem's husband Jeremy, who really set out on a path of exploration after college. Unable to pin exactly one thing down he tried it all - organic farmer at a few different farms, sauerkraut & pickle maker, Hostel employee in the Headlands, bus boy/waiter at Chez Panisse, MFA student, writer, and back to organic farming as the farm manager at the Yale Sustainable Farm with a writing on the side when he's not harvesting and teaching. I admire his path for it's varied routes and pursuits. He's found his way and he has the benefit of so many different experiences. Had he put expectations on himself right away he might not have found what he was looking for, but he allowed himself to jump and explore and to see what the right fit was. Anyway I guess what I'm trying to say is that you're right, that our path is never truly clear, that we can never really know. There is always something to be said for trying it out and if you don't like it you can leave - we are not chained to anything or any decision, there is always room to leave and regroup and reinvent.

    and thank you for alerting me to the new rachel eat's post (sometimes they get lost in my bloglovin feed) and glad to see that rachel and I are on the same page - love her blog, recipes and stories!

  13. Talley -- I rarely, if ever, leave comments on blogs, but your post and its honestly, the way you lay your heart out to bear, the way you heartbreakingly talk about a career potentially put out to pasture, moved me beyond measure. I'm an ocean away, in New York, and I'm considering a dramatic move to Europe because this carefully-crafted world that I've planned for myself isn't what I want now. I want something other. There's something terrifying about these strange turns that veer you off the road, that take you far, far away from where you've come, but what I'm trying to remind myself is this -- chrysalis is a GOOD THING. Complacency is a BAD THING. Running from the darkness instead of through it to find light, what's on the other side, is what will take us where we all need to go.

    Warmly, Felicia

    1. Felicity - wow! In a few sentences you managed to capture pretty much all of my thoughts and fears and feelings. I'm so glad you did comment, thank you. It really helps to know that other people are struggling with the same thing - that fear of falling of the rails you've laid out for yourself. But you are right, moments of crisis lead us to moments of clarity.

      I just popped over to your site for a second, but now I'm heading back to explore. I can't wait to read your posts.

  14. Talley Talley, oh how I share your sentiments on a daily basis. What am I doing with my life? I ask myself all the time, and then I feel sad because like you, I am happy, so so so very happy, and so I feel guilty about not just enjoying life and my beautiful (devilish) children. I know I will find out what it is that I want to do, but sometimes it feels so hard — I can't imagine trying to figure it out in a foreign country — and my excuse at the moment is children, but I know I shouldn't let them get in the way. If anything they've given me a gift, time at home to discover what I really want to do. Side note, have you read Bones, blood and Butter? If you haven't, I think you would love it. It's inspiring. The book is not about starting a restaurant, but reading it makes me really want to get back into the restaurant world and perhaps open a small café or a bed and breakfast or a hunting lodge with Ben, who would lead the hunts, leaving me at home to prepare post-hunt meals. It will all work out. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves that just shouldn't be there. Thanks for this post and for the lovely photos and recipes of course.