Fresh herbs bring something special to a meal in its flavour, colour and the way it can highlight the taste of a meat or vegetable dish. Pairing herbs with fruit is something I’ve only done in salsas, so coriander plus fruit plus some other things and it’s quickly finished and delicious.

When I first arrived in Geneva, I was wandering around near our neighborhood and saw a small shop with a sign in the window about their sorbet for sale. I went inside and in the middle of the usual summer flavours, there was a fraises et basilic, strawberry and basil. It’s the one I chose, and I ate it with delight all the way home. The taste was wonderful and summery, fresh, and the basil brought a beautiful flavour to the strawberry. That was almost two years ago, and I have never tried to replicate the experience, and I have not been back to the shop.

But last week I knew I was going to be making brunch for a big group of people on the weekend, and I saw this recipe for a strawberry and basil syrup. I remembered the shop, the sorbet and my walk home gobbling it up, and I knew I had to try this syrup. (Tomorrow, I’ll share the french toast recipe.)

The recipe is easy enough to follow (go to Confections of a Foodie Bride for the short details), and as she says, the strawberries and basil roasting in the oven was delicious to smell. The finished product was a great syrup for the french toast (it would work well for pancakes or waffles for breakfast or brunch, or use it as a syrup over a dessert). I wanted a stronger basil taste in the syrup, and it wasn’t there. That was a bit disappointing, but in the future I’ll try it again with more basil leaves or perhaps find a way to puree a bit of the basil and mix it in with the syrup. We’ll see.

If you’re surprised by the number of winter food items that appeared here in April, I am as well. We had an unseasonably warm March, but April brought with it rain, winter temperatures and even a bit of hail. The mountains around Geneva are covered with fresh snow. It’s nice that the cold can bring with it such beauty because other than that, well, it is just plain cold. Cold as in I can’t get warm enough in the flat, cold as in the legs of my jeans are wet from freezing rain and now so my feet are wet and cold when I get inside, cold as in without gloves on my hands freeze around the shopping bag handles.

Yes, it has been cold. Way. Too. Cold. There is only one upside to this weather, and that is the continued presence of winter food in our lives, and this simple chicken and leek soup is one of them. It’s easy to make, and at the end of it, you have a warm pot of wholesome, hearty chicken, veggies and pearl barley in a delicious broth. One pot lasted several days for us.

  • Chicken Leek and Pearl Barley Stew (from delicious. magazine)  I followed the recipe and skipped the dumplings. One note about the pearl barley – I made this the night before, and the next day the pearls soaked up so much liquid. In the future I will make this when we need to eat it and put the pearl barley in 30-45 minutes before eating time.

Top thoughts in my head this week in no particular order:

1. It’s awesome to have seasonal yoghurts for sale in Switzerland. Today I thoroughly enjoyed my rhubarb and elderberry concoction. 

2. Should I put vegetable stock in the potato, pea and fennel tagine? I skipped it and went with salt and doubled all the spices. It was a good decision.

3. The Texts from Hillary website is probably the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time, and  this and this made me laugh so hard.

4. Norwegian justice, and yes, it’s probably a bit judgmental to start forming opinions before Anders Breivik is properly tried and convicted, but IKEA-style maximum security prisons with flat screen TVs and personal trainers for murderers and rapists? Really? 

5. To make and decorate a complicated first birthday cake for Small One or not to make…that is the question.

6. For most of the week, I thought about Hillary Rosen’s comments about how Ann Romney “never actually worked a day in her life.” Being a stay at home mom does not qualify you (or me) to be a political adviser, and Ann Romney raising five boys on her hubby’s multi-million dollar salary does not  give her the ability to speak to the economic woes of all women. 

7. Also. I need to limit my consumption of American politics. Too much of it is bad for my health. 

8. Tomorrow I get the day off to do whatever I please. Here’s to lots of shopping and eating. 

Pizza is probably one of my most comforting comfort foods. When we have more children and when they are older, we hope to make two Fridays of the month pizza and activity nights. Maybe one day I’ll learn how to make my own crust, or maybe I’ll just keep buying the pre-made ones at Coop.  I’m not a crust snob, for me it’s all about the toppings.

I’ve done the gourmet pizza thing, and it is easy, tasty and unique, but there’s nothing quite like the grease and taste of good, old-fashioned pizza ingredients. Today I picked all of mine up at the grocery store – mushrooms, pre-grated pizza cheese, onions, sliced salami and chorizo. It was gooey, meaty and delicious. I made the base sauce out of passata from a jar. I warmed it on the stove and added salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and dried oregano.

My parents made us eat our veggies, and it wasn’t just one serving of carrots that we’re talking about here when I say veggies. There were usually two or three vegetable dishes or lots of veggies mixed in with our meat and fish. For several years we had a garden maintained by my father that had all sorts of Filipino greens. I guess you could say this was one of the benefits of living in a tropical country; vegetables and fruits were readily available. All kind of squashes, beans, okra, Asian greens, eggplant, and others I don’t have English names for, we had to eat it all.

I had many clever ways of getting out of eating the green stuff, the slimy stuff and every other stuff in between. Every now and then I would take the veggies in my hand, yawn and stretch and throw it across the room. I am not even kidding. And I did this as a 12 or 13-year-old. I don’t know how I did not get caught. Other times if I had an empty chair pushed under the table next to me, I put the veggies on the seat, and our dog, Champ, would come and eat it because he was a veggie-eating dog. (He also bit my sister during one of these episodes; she must have been trying the same trick as well.)

There was a season when we had a vine growing on our calamansi tree, and this vine yielded wing beans. We had a mighty crop of wing beans, and it was the ever-present veggie at our lunch and dinner tables. The problem was that we (my sister and I) hated it. So one afternoon I decided that we were going to do something about this to keep the wing beans off our plates and out of our mouths. While my parents were napping, I convinced my sister to go out to the tree with me, and we plucked as many of the wing beans off the vine and threw them over the wall into – I guess – the neighbor’s yard.

We still marvel at our brilliant kid minds.

I can’t remember when I made the switch to becoming a veggie lover, but I’m there now, and I need, crave and love to eat my vegetables. But meat is still my first love, and often when I eat one of my all-vegetable meals, I feel shortchanged. This is not one of those meals. This Chard and White Bean Stew by Smitten Kitchen leaves me feeling wholly satisfied, and the taste. Oh it’s amazing. I actually think adding meat to this dish would ruin it.

  • Chard and White Bean Stew    (from Smitten Kitchen)   I’ve made this dish so many times, I could make it with my eyes closed. It is easy to make, and the only reason why it takes 15 to 20 minutes to prepare is because you have to chop the shallots (I’ve used shallots and onions – I can’t tell the difference), carrots, celery and separate the green part of the chard from the white. I’ve never used white beans because I can’t find them at my Coop. Any kind of bean I’ve used has been more than fine. Make sure you use a good vegetable broth – I use Vegeta stock powder. The result is a simple, hearty, tasty stew, and we eat it with bread or sometimes over rice. It’s great with a poached egg but without one is also fine.