Hats By Katrinka

Kate Brown Pernia is a Milliner on sabbatical in Switzerland. She has been designing hats and teaching millinery under her Katrinka label since the 1980s. Kate is also the founder of Houston Hat Net. View Katrinka hats and hat patterns at www.hatsbykatrinka.com.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Delicious Switzerland

Just before moving to Switzerland in December I was eating fish and chips in a restaurant in Falls Church, Virginia. Someone told me to enjoy my meal because it was the last good one I’d have. After all, the Swiss are not known for good food, I was told. Oh how wrong that was!

Switzerland is a farming country and I am told that the farming is heavily subsidized here. There is a large emphasis in the grocery stores on buying local. I’ve not found molasses or brown sugar in the stores yet but I can find many varieties of mushrooms, pastries, breads and chocolate. Leeks are a staple (at least this time of year) and delicious. Beets come in shrink wrapped packages already roasted and ready to eat. There is a wide variety of pasta and pastry doughs fresh made in refrigerated sections and never before have I had milk or yoghurt that is this tasty! The butter is heavenly and pie or quiche crust is a whole new experience when made with Swiss butter. Don’t get me started on the cheese for I am ruined forever! The Farmer’s Market sets up on our street twice a week and we go to the cheese stand to watch what the locals are buying. My current favorite is a very stinky but silky and delicious Scharfer Maxx cheese from the Appenzeller region just up the mountain. Well, it is just heaven!

Meat is expensive so we eat it sparingly but it is delicious. The chickens are free range and I’ve never seen such fresh and beautiful orange egg yolks. There seems to be an unlimited range of pork products and the bratwurst stands on the street have completely changed my mind about "fast food." I’m just getting started here but I’ve had great food in restaurants as well. Thai and Indian food, Japanese sushi as well as Swiss specialties like rösti and wurst. For brunch this morning in a local restaurant I had "toast" served with slices of paper thin ham and sliced banana with a thin layer of cheese. This was served in a light curry sauce with other sliced fruits - star fruit, grapes and pineapple (ananas) topped off with a delicate and beautiful tomatillo.

On Friday I rode through the Alps to Zurich with my friend Starr to take an Indian cooking class. Simi taught us to make Chaamp ki Biryani, a layered fragrant rice and lamb chop dish made with cardamom, cumin, fresh mint, rose essence, saffron and other spices. We also made a potato and beet raita (yoghurt dish) and Karahi chicken with fresh fenugreek which is in season now.

No, I don’t think I’m going to be going hungry here!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Spring Fashion

Spring clothes are popping up in the store windows here tho' we had snow this morning and it's still freezing. Saw a very interesting jacket in a store window shown with white jeans turned up at bottom for a 4 inch cuff. The jacket looked like sand colored linen and was monochromatic, short and shaped with rows of lace on high neck and lower sleeves bound with rows of ruffles and lots of trim swirled back and forth down the front like a Russian soldier's jacket...all in the same sand color. A mere CHF 899 will get me the jacket to wear this Spring. Ooooooooooooooor not! Time to get my antique Singer treadle Nahmaschine working. I have time. It's January and I understand it won't begin to warm up here until April.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Exploring Castles

We went for a ride in the countryside last weekend and travelled to Austria, Lichtenstein then back into Switzerland. It had warmed up a bit last week so much of the snow had melted but the Alpen views were still awesome. We stopped in Austria at Feldkirch to walk around the medieval town and up to the Schloss (castle) then drove on to Lichtenstein where the castle is still owned by the Prince and is under reconstruction. We ended our day hiking up icy stairs to the castle at Werdenberg for a view of the town, the pink church and the lake with the Alps in the background. The medieval wooden buildings are still owned and occupied and windows have catwalks from street to windowsill so the cats can warm themselves by the windows. I don't have a working camera at the moment but here is a link to see this last adventure. Enjoy! http://www.swisscastles.ch/StGallen/werdenberg.html .

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Swiss Adventure

Here I am in Switzerland and what a gorgeous place this is! I arrived about 6 weeks ago to join my husband who is on a working sabbatical here. Since we left family and great friends behind in Texas and elsewhere I hope to keep you posted on what we are doing and seeing in this midlife adventure.

We have an attic (they say penthouse!) flat in the Old Town section of St. Gallen in a wonderful old building just blocks from the Klosterhof. The Kathedral bells ring every quarter hour and no cars are allowed on the streets after noon. Window shopping is a treat but actual shopping is more of a challenge since we don't yet speak German. The Swiss are not part of the European Union so no Euros here. We use Swissfrancs (CHF). Clothing is very expensive so perhaps it's better to window shop anyway. We left our cars behind in the U.S. and walk or use public transportation which is excellent here. Did you know that if a Swiss train is 15 minutes late you get your money back for the fare? Our little town is a one-hour train ride from Zurich, Switzerland's largest city, and all of Switzerland is smaller than the State of Texas.

St. Gallen has been important in the textile industry, they say, for a thousand years. In the beginning it was linen production, then lace and embroidery. There is a very nice Textile Museum here with gorgeous samples of St. Gallen's past finery. You don't see much lace and embroidery in the stores here anymore but there are a number of fabric companies still producing exquisite fabrics used by Paris couturiers. When I spotted a tiny basket of Swiss lace at a knitting shop the Proprietress told me it had come from the factory where her mother used to work and that if I wanted to see Swiss lace I should go to Schaepfer. My new American pal Starr (fluent in German) and I went hunting. We wandered into a lace school and got directions to the boutique of Jakob Schaepfer where I saw the most beautiful fabrics and laces I have ever seen! The prices were out of sight too but they did have small sample pieces (mostly less than a meter) on sale from CHF20 to over CHF545. One gorgeous embroidered black silk taffeta sold for over CHF1000 per meter. We left with some tiny gorgeous silk swatches and the hope of going back with lots of Swissfrancs someday.

Well, I am in the right place! This is enough for starters. More to come.