Packing up and moving on

Gentianes

There’s been a distinct lack of blogging over the past few months, but I can sum up the food side of things pretty quickly: the weekend meals for my Swiss family have been overwhelmingly Valaisan (of Valais, the canton we are in) usually involving terrifying quantities of Bagnes cheese, jambon cru, Gruyère, viande sechée, Fendant, Pinot Noir (the latter two aren’t even food, but are very local, nonetheless) plus some comforting homemade lasagnes, pies and pizzas, too.  But there have also been a few seasonal highlights where I’ve been able to do something a bit different: roast leg of spring lamb from Savolèyres (one of the mountains that rise over Verbier) with garlic, lemon & herbs and capretto (kid goat) braised with tomatoes, black olives & thyme, served for Easter Sunday lunch (another family tradition from the Italian side) with griddled polenta and roasted Provençal vegetables.  For desserts, I’ve often chosen well-loved classics from all over the world that have now become firm family favourites: Pavlova with berries, apple or pear Tarte Tatin, crème brûlée, chocolate fondants with vanilla ice cream…  In the quest for new, it can be easy to forget the sheer brilliance and universal appeal of these wonderful dishes, so it has been good to spend the winter tweaking and perfecting a few of them.

Pear Tarte Tatin

Fresh snow up on Bâ Combe

On the glacier at Les Diablerets, 3000m up
We have just one week left in Verbier and yet, amazingly for late April, the snow still falls, giving us as much as 30cm of fresh powder overnight and huge grins on our faces as we continue to enjoy skiing conditions more typical of late January.  This has, on balance, been the most incredible season for skiing… yet already the Big Swede and I find ourselves yearning for Cornwall.  For the Swede, I know that the lure of the ocean and his quiver of surf boards are the main draw.  Yet, while I long to feel the rhythm of the waves and smell the sea air, it’s the anticipation of the Cornish summer ingredients that is getting me going.  First of all, the seafood: bass, bream, mackerel, crab, oysters, squid, monkfish, sole… served with salty Samphire, the pure essence of the sea.  Endless possibilities for salads and side dishes, with a kitchen garden at my disposal and limitless combinations of ingredients, drawing inspiration from all over Europe and across the Mediterranean to the Middle East, even as far as south-east Asia.  There are also the fruits of last autumn’s labours to enjoy: the 10 litres or so of damson gin (not just a good warmer for the colder months, but also delicious with tonic water in the summertime), chutneys and damson ketchup, which has spent the past few months maturing and mellowing, ready to enjoy with Cornish cheeses, sausages and local cured meats, not to mention the barbecues (thinking positive here: we WILL have plenty of sunshine this summer!)

Dreaming of Daymer Bay, Cornwall

But before we arrive in Cornwall mid-May, we have a few other treats to look forward to: a one-night stop in Épernay to enjoy Champagne’s eponymous tipple, a few days at Mother Chef’s in Dorset and then a long weekend in London, including a dinner at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Barbecoa, a celebration of wood-fuelled cooking in its many guises.  After five straight months of Alpine stodge, our tastebuds will think all their Christmases and birthdays have come at once.

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From sand to snow and everything in between

We’ve certainly had a month of contrast – after our sun-drenched Moroccan holiday, we came back to find Verbier still behaving like it was mid-Autumn: sunny days, mild nights and absolutely no snow in sight.  Worrying stuff for a ski resort, especially after last season’s no-snow…

Sunset over Lac Leman as we took the train home from Geneva

But we needn’t have worried – ours prayers and snow dances were soon answered in a truly fantastic way with the most epic snow dump imaginable.  The snow started falling in early December… and it’s just kept on going, giving us about 2 metres of the white stuff in time for Christmas.  In just a matter of a days, more snow fell over Verbier than in the whole of last season.  
Le Cradzet (the little chalet in our garden) in the first of the snow, 5th December

The view from our apartment after the first couple of days of snow…

Serious snowfall by 16th December – by this stage, some of the chalets on Savoleyres were being evacuated due to the avalanche risk
Although the season officially starts on 1st December, we seasonaires had the place more or less to ourselves for the first couple of weeks, meaning that we were free to play on the mountain in the more-than-decent early snow before the Christmas crowds arrived…
Lac de Vaux before it froze over, 8th December

Me and the Big Swede enjoying our first ski of the season
Christmas has now been and gone – Father Christmas outdid himself this year with some stunning “bluebird” days (when a night of snowfall is followed by a blue-skied, sunny day) – and things are now hotting up in the resort as we approach the New Year, one of the busiest weeks of the entire season.  Accommodation prices go sky-high and the parade of high fashion and luxury cars gets very serious – you will never see as much fur, diamonds, shiny chrome and immaculate make-up at any other time of the year in the Alps.  Tickets are on sale for New Year’s Eve parties in the clubs and bars around town for up to 500CHF per person – for that amount, it has got to be one hell of a party and I’m pretty sure that it’ll only be the tourists paying (the strong Swiss franc means that 500CHF is about £340, €410 or the same amount in US$).  Perhaps they don’t realise quite what they could be doing instead… the smart money is on the locals’ plan: armed with a few bottles of booze, some warm clothes and a group of friends, you can head up to a good vantage point to watch the fireworks over Verbier as 2012 arrives in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

Gentianes

Cabin Montfort

Heading down to Verbier at the end of a day’s skiing
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