Lunchtime

After Ben and I were married, we moved into the same apartment building as his sister and her family and his parents. Or, to put it another way, I moved into Ben’s apartment because he was already living there. I heard from many well-meaning friends, about how bad it was to live too close to your in-laws: it won’t work out, you’ll fight all the time, you won’t have any privacy, you’ll be sorry, no one thought it was a good idea. I gave no heed to the warnings, I threw caution to the wind and did it. Ben said it wouldn’t be a problem and after all, he grew up with them, he should know. I found it great. Built-in family and friends, I can only recommend it.

Lunch is the main meal of the day and lasts about 2 hours in Switzerland. More often than not the stores and shops are closed then, too. None of that 45 minute lunch break stuff here. The Swiss take their meals seriously although that attitude has changed somewhat in the past decade or so. At any rate, at that time Ben was working and couldn’t usually come home for lunch. My sister-in-law always had lots to do: playing with her kids, cleaning up after her family, going grocery shopping, doing the laundry and changing diapers, in spite of this she asked me to have lunch with them when Ben wasn’t there. I gladly accepted, it was perfect for me; it was fun, I wasn’t alone and had people to talk to.

Every day she would throw together something Swiss to eat, while managing all the other tasks at hand. At 12.15 her husband would come home from work and we’d all sit at the kitchen table, listen to the 12.30 news on the radio and eat lunch. Sometimes I’d have no idea what I was eating and other times I would recognize what lunch was immediately.

Like spaghetti, who wouldn’t recognize that? Although the spaghetti I knew, always was smothered in a meat and tomato sauce with cheese on top, hers was always plain and had lots of butter on it so that they never stuck together and had a spice on it that was fantastic (I still use that spice today, in fact). This was the Friday meal: spaghetti along with what I will call a Swiss apple pie. This is NOTHING like an American apple pie, not as sweet and has no crust over the top but is just as good. It is only a bottom crust with one layer of apples lined up perfectly in the pan and a milk, egg and a bit of sugar sauce poured on it while it is baking.

All the meals my sister-in-law made were, without fail, delicious. One time she said she would be making Swiss pancakes for lunch. I love pancakes! On the table were dishes filled with a variety of things, meat sauce, cucumbers, sweet jellies and things like that. She brought over a plate stacked with pancakes and gave me one. She had never made this for me before and everyone was curious to see if I liked it or not. They were all just sitting there waiting, even the kids. But I had a problem. There I sat with one pancake on my plate and I wasn’t sure how to eat it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know how to eat pancakes but there was no butter, no syrup and no bacon on the table, just a lot of other things. Okay, the lone pancake on my plate was getting cold and everyone was still waiting, I looked up, smiled rather helplessly while all the different possibilities of how to eat it were running through my head. Should I grab a second and third one and layer “stuff” in between, sort of like a lasagna pancake? Or maybe…  Then my sister-in-law saved the day, somehow she sensed what the problem was. She said something like ‘Oh, you just take this’ picking up a pancake from the pile, ‘put whatever you want on it, meat or jelly, roll it up and eat it.’ With that she put something that was on the table onto her pancake, rolled it up and picked it up with her fingers and took a bite. Honestly, of all the different ways I was contemplating how this could be eaten, that was not one of them. True to her style, the meal was fantastic.

I had obviously a lot to learn about foods. I have since found out that the Swiss pancakes I was served that day are also called crêpes although to my defense, she did call them “pan-cakes” in Swiss German. And, no, I really had never had them before. You can fill them with just about anything and eat them as a hardy meal or as an exquisite desert. While in Paris years later, I saw vendors selling crêpes on the street. Those are usually filled with chocolate or some other sweet filling.

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