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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dining Like A Swiss Philistine

A decade ago, my wife and I visited Monterey, California.  One afternoon we toured the Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel, where Father Junipero Serra was buried.  We had toured several missions on the drive up, but this one was by far the most impressive.  Afterward, we didn’t know what any of the local restaurants were like, but we saw several clustered together, and compared the menus.  We decided to eat at a Swiss restaurant, where we had some wonderful fondue.  I had eaten fondue before, but always with other people.  That night, for the first time, my wife and I sat at our own little table.  Two forks dipped chunks of bread into the simmering pot, instead of four or six (or more).  Afterward, as we were leaving, we noticed several signed photographs of World Champion motorcycle riders such as Mick Doohan and Max Biaggi.  Although they heralded from different countries, it seemed they had heard of the restaurant, and traveled from Leguna Seca on a race weekend to sample its cuisine.

I think, every time we’ve made fondue at home, we’ve attempted to recapture the magic of that night in Carmel.  A month or so ago, we saw Emmental cheese on sale and picked up a pound, along with some French bread and an inexpensive bottle of white wine.  That evening, after we had set the table, and chopped the French bread, the raw Broccoli, and the Zucchini that we would dip in the fondue, we cooked the fondue over the stove.  The white wine we had chosen, a variety called Gewurztraminer, was new to us, even though it’s over a thousand years old.  (I’m talking about the type of wine here, not about our particular bottle, just in case anyone thinks we would buy such an old bottle of wine).  We found its flavor far sweeter than we were accustomed to.  To me, it almost had a citrus like flavor, although I’ve come to understand its taste is more akin to lychees.  (Not that we eat lychees enough to remember what they taste like).  Yet the wine refused to completely mix with the cheese.  My wife tried several times, adding a splash more wine, a sprinkle of this or that, but nothing got the mixture to gel.  It tasted nice, even if it had a somewhat gritty texture, so we finally just set it on the burner on the table and started dipping. 

While we love the taste of fondue, we hate the calories.  We stopped before we felt satisfied, after we had eaten about a third of the fondue.  As we never feel satisfied in the evening without eating dessert, the calories were higher than we normally eat: in the seven hundred range (before our customary ice cream and cookie).  So we set the rest of the fondue in the fridge and waited for a low-calorie day on which to enjoy the leftovers.

For various reasons, the fondue ended up in the freezer.  When we got it out again, and let it thaw for a few days in the fridge, we heated it up on a low-calorie day, and added a little more of the Gewurztraminer to the mixture.  Instead of setting it on a portable burner, we poured half the remaining mixture over our cut-up bread and vegetables.  Somehow the freezing process had allowed the cheese to gel more fully with the wine.  Without having to constantly stir the mixture, we also found the dinner more relaxing.  I know we’re philistines when it comes to things like wine and cuisine, but to us, it tasted just as good as doing it the proper way.

Then the fondue sat in the fridge for another week or two.  We just weren’t getting the low-calorie days we needed.  So this last weekend we finally broke down.  We bought more French bread, and declared we would have the rest of the fondue that evening, regardless of how many calories we had consumed before dinner.  This time, we decided to steam the broccoli and the zucchini, and set our chopped bread and steamed vegetables on our plate.  The fondue heated up nicely on the stove, and on a whim, we decided to halve the remaining mixture.  We found that we enjoyed our dinner just as much with half of the fondue, and that the time spent in the fridge might even have improved the flavor.  Sunday night we had the rest of the fondue, the remaining wine, and another delightful dinner.

We probably won’t buy Gewurztraminer just to drink it, although it has a pleasant taste.  But we might buy it again to use with fondue.  As for the fondue, in the past we’ve rarely made it, perhaps once a year.  The preparation is time intensive.  The dinner is high in calories.  We prefer our vegetables steamed.  Also, we like to relax in the evening on the couch, and watch a TV show or movie while we eat.  I think we’ve discovered something through this process.  Perhaps we’ll try it again our new way, even if it isn’t the proper way, and thus enjoy fondue more often.  We certainly enjoyed those two dinners this weekend.  After days spent cleaning the office, it was nice to treat ourselves with something special for dinner.

Dining like a Swiss philistine,
Dragon Dave  

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