I spent my childhood and adolescence in a small village and I ended up hating it.
I constantly felt observed and commented, having to play a role I had not chosen myself and that I was not happy with. Besides that, it was awfully boring. As soon as possible – right after high school – I left and returned only when visiting my parents.
Four years ago, after living my life in different European cities, I suddenly felt the urge to move to the countryside again. That decision actually came as much as a surprise to myself as to my family and friends! Somewhere along the way I had just started to feel fed up with all the hurry, noises, shops, and cars in cities and developed the need to move closer to simplicity and nature. To breathe fresher air and to live among people I recognised when I met them in the street.
When I moved to St-Martin in the Swiss Alps, I knew nobody and had to start from scratch socially. It was not the first time I did that so it didn’t worry me, because I knew that if you are just open and interested in others you always succeed in weaving a social net, even if it takes a little while.
I must say that people are very open and friendly up here, and even if I will forever remain a foreigner to the other locals, they are quick to acknowledge me with a smile. The second or third time I come across people in the village street or at the little food store we start greeting each other, and soon after we will stop and chat when we meet. Nowadays I often get spontaneously invited over for a coffee or glass of wine (after all, we’re in canton Valais! 😉 and I have them over for a glass or a meal, since I love cooking for more than just one person.
However, a village stays a village, and of course people keep an eye on each other. I’m pretty sure there is some talking going on about me behind my back (“All alone up there?”, “No husband?”, “Hiking every day?”), but there’s a positive side to their curiosity, too: if something would happen to me or if I’d have a serious problem, most of them would help me out without hesitation.
In a village you are not anonymous to each other. I recognise Madame Fournier and Monsieur Beytrison when I meet them outside the bistrot. We acknowledge each others’ existence by greeting each other and we show that we care by asking “Ça va?” and wishing each other a “Bonne journée!”. That is exactly what I have come to appreciate in living in such a small community: I know who the people that surround me are, we exchange little friendly comments, we try to cheer each other up if the other seems sad or offer a helping hand if they look tired. After all, that’s what life is about, isn’t it? To care about and be there for each other. “Man is a social animal”, Aristotle said, and yes, it’s good to know that you are not alone.
My region, the Val d’Hérens in the Swiss Alps, is a very specific biosphere with an
amazing variety of plants, many of them medicinal herbs. The more I learn about these herbs, the more I want to use them. The easiest ways to employ medicinal herbs are to either dry them and use them for herbal infusions, or to make herbal oils.
For herbal oils you can use either the plants’ leaves or flowers – or both – and add ecological oil. If I can get hold of it, I prefer to use almond oil, otherwise sesame oil works well. Both these oils have a discreet smell and good qualities for the skin.
You should pick leaves or flowers for herbal oils at midday, because then the amount of etheric oils in the plants is the highest. The flowers are used as they are, but if you use the leaves you should rinse them and let them dry thoroughly. Then “crush” the leaves between your hands or chop them, which allows them to better let off their beneficial components. Fill the leaves or flowers into a small, sterilized glass jar and cover them with the oil of your choice. Put a lid on the jar and let it stand in a sunny place for a month, shaking it every other day to allow the oil to really penetrate the herbs.
After four weeks filter off the plant remnants and fill the oil into small, sterilized bottles, best if made of coloured glass since the contents are sensitive to sunlight. Then store your bottles in a cool, shaded place, e.g. in the refrigerator.
I have used the following plants for herbal oils:
• Lavender is said to have a calming and relaxing effect, and to be good to cure insect bites. It is very suitable as a massage oil.
• Peppermint has a cooling effect. This is also suitable as a massage oil, but can also be used in the kitchen (enhance your tabbouleh with it!)
• St.John’s wort oil is good for burns and bruises and relieves muscle tension.
• Arnica oil treats muscle ache or rheumatic pain, and is efficient to treat insect bites.
• Rosemary When used as massage oil or diluted in a bath, it can relieve aches, cramps, or a stiff neck. In the kitchen it can enhance your salad or certain pasta dishes.
Nature’s healing power is immense, and being able to tap into a part of it feels wonderful.
I don’t know how much of the positive effect of herbal oils is due to the famous placebo effect, but I don’t really care. I trust in the knowledge of our ancestors who already used them – and on top of that I simply enjoy what nature is giving me.
It is said that the olfactory sense is man’s strongest sense. When the smell of my favourite childhood dish, potato pancakes, reaches my nose I am immediately transported back to the happy little girl I was when my mother prepared it in our sunny kitchen. When I travel to a foreign country where charcoal is still used I just have to close my eyes to revisit my beloved grandmother’s house. Next to a fragrant jasmine bush pictures from my first visit to the south of France directly emerges in my mind’s eye.
If you cannot stand a person, in German the saying goes that you “can’t smell” him or her – “ich kann ihn oder sie nicht riechen” – and I am sure there are many more sayings in other languages that point to the same fact: our noses lead the way. My nose has led me to live in the mountains, because I love fresh air, the smell of larch trees and alpine clover on the high altitudes and of peppermint and roses in my garden.
I am also very grateful to my nose for giving me so much pleasure at the table: try enjoying a good meal when you’ve got a bad cold. Imagine savouring a good wine, or having a handful of perfectly ripe wild strawberries when your nose is completely clogged.
So sad, so very sad.
Some smells make me sad (vehicle exhaust) or disgusted (pig poop), some make me nostalgic (Eau Sauvage by Dior) or happy (fried aubergines and mimosa flowers, and some calm me down (lavender and summer warm pine trees). What smells affect you, one way or the other?
PS: There is an amazing novel dedicated to the sense of smell, “Perfume” by Patrick Süskind. It’s an amazing, sometimes shocking and surprising story that I recommend
to all avid readers.
In a way, every single one of my hikes is a wonder. Already the fact that I live in the mountains with access to a countless number of magnificent trails is something of a miracle and something you think you’d only see in a movie, as is the fact that I have the physics to be able to walk for hours in a row – and on top of it all add the beauty that I come across on my way… However, some hikes are filled with special surprises. These wonders along my way seem to come in clusters – or is it me who is more open and receptive on certain days? Recently I had such a wonderful hike, full of little wonders.
Let me tell you a little about it.
Since I am an eager amateur botanist, I always check at the sides of the path for interesting flowers. This is the season of the light purple field gentian and I had already gotten some nice pictures of it when my eye suddenly fell on a gentian plant with white flowers. It was not the first time that I came across a plant that normally has blue or purple flowers with white flowers instead. These are rare genetic changes, and they always leave me in awe. Nature is already so manifold and on top of that it brings forth these stunning surprises!
Along my way through the forest, down in the brushwood, a big, ripe blueberry caught my eye. Leaning in towards it I discovered that it was full of them down there! A kind of berry euphoria overcame me, and I picked and picked, always seeing more dark blue pearls in the sprigs. The first handful was soon in my mouth… heavenly! Further on there were even more, and all together I surely got about four or five handfuls of these sweet, dark berries, so full of childhood memories.
With purple fingers and mouth I happily continued on my trail, and decided to do some walking meditation. On the flatter and easier parts of my hikes I normally practice it for a quarter of an hour or so, and it is always very refreshing. As I now slowly and consciously walked on I passed close by a torrent. Suddenly I was in a middle of a swarm of butterflies (mainly swiss brassy ringlets and marbled whites) and all fluttering merrily around me! They followed me for a moment, surrounding me with their lightness and grace – a truly magical feeling. Then the butterflies disappeared as quickly as they had arrived, leaving me a bit dizzy and bewildered. It felt as if these elegant little creatures wanted to convey something to me with their dance, and as I continued homewards a message oozed out: let’s get a little lighter, a little less caught up in our worries. Let’s allow ourselves to flutter happily through life every now and then, leaving delicate traces of grace and beauty.
During the two years I lived in Sicily one of the many amazing things I discovered
and fell in love with on this multifaceted island was their extraordinary food. After
all these years, despite having explored many other outstanding cuisines, I must say
that my absolute favourite dish still is the Sicilian “caponata”.
The caponata is a vegetable dish, made with fried aubergines and stalk celery in a
hearty tomato sauce, enhanced with olives, capers, raisins and pine nuts. Most often
you eat it cold as a starter, maybe with a nice piece of bread and some local cheese.
It “triumphs in summer” because it is easily prepared, hearty and fresh, you can make
a big batch and it only gets better after being stored for some days in the fridge.
As with all famous local dishes, every Sicilian housewife has her own recipe and believes
this to be the very best, but I got mine from a very good friend, Eugenio, a wizard in
the kitchen and a caponata connoisseur.
If you (like me) love aubergines, this delicious blend of sweet and salty touches in a
tasty tomato sauce will convince you that Sicilian chefs know the way to a food lover’s
heart. You will probably get as addicted as me, too 😉
1 onion, chopped
5 small tomatoes / 400 g canned tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato puree
½ Tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ Tsp aceto balsamico
1 ½ Tsp brown sugar
1 pinch of cocoa powder
1 ½ dl stalk celery, chopped
2 medium sized aubergines
80 g green olives, pitted and cut into halves
1 Tbsp capers
2 Tbsp pine nuts (dry roasted in a pan)
2 Tbsp sultanas (soaked in water)
20 basil leaves
Begin with the tomato sauce: fry the onion slowly in rapeseed oil. Add chopped
tomatoes/tomato pulp, tomato puree, salt and pepper and let simmer.
Put the tomato sauce aside to cool off.
Cut the aubergines into dices 1x1cm, put them into a bowl, sprinkle well with salt,
and let rest for 15 min. This procedure gets rid of excess moisture and
concentrates the flavor.
Rinse off the aubergine dices well, dry them with a kitchen towel.
Heat up olive oil in a pan.
Fry the chopped stalk celery, take it out of the pan, let it cool off.
Fry the aubergine dices, while constantly stirring. Remove from the pan,
let them cool off.
Blend the tomato sauce with a blender.
Mix together aceto balsamico, sugar and cocoa powder. Stir the mix into the tomato sauce.
Add fried celery and aubergine to the sauce.
Add olives, capers, pine nuts and raisins.
At last, tear basil leaves into smaller pieces and add them too.
Fill the caponata into glass jars and put them into the fridge. It actually tastes even
better after a day, when all the flavours have “married”. If you can wait that long..!
A piacissi! (“Buon appetito!” in Sicilian)
In my region of Switzerland many houses have names. I find it a lovely habit
to give your house a name and thereby adding to its personality.
Once upon a time in a small Swiss village there was a little chalet called “Le Roc”
(“The Rock”). Never mind the story behind that name, but when I was told that
this chalet was for sale and went to look at it, there was no name sign on it and
I doubted if I had found the right place. However, by just looking at it from the
outside and because of its perfect location, I fell in love with the little timber
house high above the road at the end of the village, with huge lavender bushes
covering the entrance.
Half a year later the house became mine, even though I did not like its name: too
cold and “hard” for my taste. Instead I renamed it “Joyeux Soleil” (The Happy Sun)
and now it needed a name sign. Our amazing village factotum Flavia came up with
a beautiful piece of Arolla pine wood, perfect for the occasion: the Arolla pine that
grows on higher altitudes, especially in the inner part of my valley, is one of
my favourite trees.
Next step: to write the name on the plate. Using an old fashioned style did not feel
right, so during a recent stay here, my daughter showed me some clear, bold fonts
and inspired by one of them she made an outline, which I later filled in with three
layers of dark brown paint. The result was not perfect, but quite personal and I just
love it. It reminds me of the font used on the cover of the Tintin books, one of my
favourite comics ☺
Now it was time for the final step, the placement of the nameplate. Again I contacted
the fantastic Flavia, and with her artistic eye we found an excellent place above the
balcony door, which made it well visibile from my local road just below.
So finally my house has shaken off the old, heavy rock image and slipped into the
radiant epithet “Joyeux Soleil”, and since it’s all in a name I feel that we have many
sunny years in front of us.
Everyone loves it, and many have their own recipe: the irresistible banana bread!
I wanted to do a vegan version (for my daughter), found a good starting point on
Internet, subtracted, added, got input from my co-baker – and ended up with this
I always make a small loaf – baking tin size 21 x 11 cm – otherwise I will just eat
TOO much of this heavenly soft, tasty, deliciousness. You can just double the
ingredients, if you want to use a “normal” bread baking tin (31 x 11 cm).
Voilà: the Best Banana Bread!
2 + 1 very ripe, small bananas
2 dl rolled oats + 1 dl oat germs
0,75 dl coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
0,75 dl almond butter
1 ½ Tbsp chia seeds + 4 Tbsp water
½ Tbsp baking soda
½ Tsp apple cider vinegar
½ Tsp vanilla powder
½ Tsp cinnamon powder
¼ Tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Combine chia seeds and water in a cup, and leave for 10 min.
Put 1 dl rolled oats and 1 dl oat germs into a food processor and mix them into
In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients: oat flour, remaining rolled oats, sugar,
baking soda, vanilla & cinnamon powder, and salt.
In another bowl, mash 2 bananas thoroughly and mix with almond butter, chia seed
“egg”, and apple cider vinegar.
Butter your baking tin.
Blend the dry and humid ingredients together, pour dough into the baking tin.
Peel 3rd banana, slice it in two halves and put on top of the dough. Brush it with
a little oil.
Bake the bread for approx. 1h10
*and here comes the hardest part*
Let it cool off completely before slicing it (or it will just crumble apart!)
Enjoy it with standard or nut butter
Try not to eat it all in one go 😉
Waking up at five doesn’t bother me; I just love getting up with the sun. I do my morning
sit-ups, oil pulling, water the garden, have a steady bircher müesli breakfast – blog post
will follow 😉 – and pack my backpack. At seven I am ready to leave the house.
The freshness of the early morning hours is just unbeatable. It feels as if the boost of energy that gets the new day going soaks my whole being. An urge to sing a happy song cannot always be retained. Some cars pass me by – early birds on their way to work down
in the city – but soon I leave the asphalt road for a small, graveled one.
Shortly after, the sun rises behind the mountains, and when the first rays reach me I’m
bathed in light and stop to really take it all in. This is my day; I am responsible for staying open, focused and happy, and this early light bath gives me an energizing start.
I come by a stable on my way, but often my donkey friends are still inside. When I softly
call them they come out, wiggle their ears greeting me, follow me with their kind gaze for
a while and then trot off into their huge pasture as I continue upwards.
After passing some sparse houses I turn off into the forest, and there the path gets stony
and steep. It’s one of the more strenuous parts of my hike, but I’ve found a way to “enlighten” it: I do a walking meditation. Concentrating on my steps I count my breaths,
two steps for an in-breath, three for an out-breath. That not only frees my mind, but also
makes this part seem less long.
Two hours later, I’m up at the mountain pasture & little tavern of La Louère, where the
“real” hike starts. Now the warm hours are here and sunglasses and a cap are a must, but
this fresh start created a centre of cool, sparkling energy that I can tap of
during my whole day.
As a flash it comes – far too quickly – our long longed for mountain summer.
Of course, all sharply defined seasons up here are wonderful, but summer is ….
Pure Paradise. That is why family and friends all want to come during these
three magical months – and I am delighted they do!
So for the next weeks my little chalet will see ex-colleagues, old and new friends
and daughters come and go, and I will be happily busy planning, cooking,
embellishing, and planning hikes suitable for all levels of hikers. I love seeing
my “Joyeux Soleil” as a joyful guesthouse, filled with life and laughter!
When a visit is over, I hike up to the mountain to thank life for its variety and
fullness, and to fill my soul with the spaciousness of higher altitudes. Few visitors
make it all the way up there: they already have to get accustomed to being at 1.300m
above sea level, and then there is another 800m ascent to overcome, so even if I miss
their company I’m happy to return to my favourite places above 2.000m for my dose
of what the Germans call “Höhenrausch”, High Altitude Euphoria.
These intense and active weeks leave me with little time for meditation or writing
and since I have eradicated stress from my life there will be a little Summer Pause
in blogging. Beginning of July I will be back with fresh ideas, reflections, and
Until then I hope you will all enjoy warmer mornings, lighter dresses, the smell of
summer rain on asphalt, a nice cocktail on a terrace, and dipping your feet in a sea,
a lake, a river, or a pool ☺