4 surprising things about Zurich

We all have some preconceptions about famous cities or tourist destinations. Certain expectations may arise from reading many tourist brochures or perusing pictures on the Internet to the point that it feels like you have seen the real place. I surely had a few set ideas about Zurich. But, I am happy to say that in just a few hours of walking around the city, I noticed 4 things that you can never read in any tourist booklets.

1. Zurich feels like a very short city. Churches still remain the tallest buildings proudly displaying their bell towers. Buildings are located on the slopes of the bay, so the ones on top have bird-like views, but they are still around 5 or 7-floors-tall. I found it to be very charming.

Zurich

Zurich

2. Even though Zurich is not a stranger to huge corporate brand name stores, it was great to see that preserving the original architecture is of high importance to the city. Try playing “I-spy-the-store-name” with these pictures.

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3. Love for recycling and renewable energy is visible anywhere in Europe. And this city turns it into an easy, fun and simple activity in which to engage. This is a wall near the entrance at a supermarket.

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4. Guess what kind of a building this is? A hint – it is public. A hint – it provides essential services for citizens…. Answer: a police station. Yes, I know you saw that coming…

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Narita (Tokyo) airport vs. Zurich airport

Near Norita Airport (Tokyo)

Near Narita Airport (Tokyo)

As I said yesterday… when traveling on a budget, it makes sense to use free shuttle services provided by the hotel you are staying. But there are shuttle services and then there are Shuttle Services. In Tokyo you will find the latter. In Zurich we experienced the former. Among a few other things, we noticed that a few smaller hotels near Zurich airport cut back shuttle services for the weekend (!?!). Besides, overall, the frequency of runs is not that often compered to Tokyo where shuttle services have a feel of departing subway cars: often and on time.

Near Zurich Airport

Near Zurich Airport

Final note of comparison: airport in Zurich leaves very much to be desired. Granted, there is a bit of construction (maybe on a different day it would have been better), but compared to Narita or Incheon (Tokyo or Seoul), it is really not well planned out, not equipped to handle crowds, no designated smoking areas (so entrances are involuntarily turned into free smoking zones!), not enough information booths… Had I not known anything about my current location and judging by the airport only – I would have never guessed that this is Switzerland…

 

Tips on traveling to Japan

IMG_20140705_213744Well, it was never our goal to see or visit Japan this time around. We are simply in transit, but I have just learned two important things for those considering coming to Japan. First, they drive on the left side of the road – much like in the UK. And second, if you visit – do, do consider booking a hotel with a free shuttle service. What a treat, even though it is free – I am impressed: runs on time, easy to locate the parking, next to the airport exit, comfortable and…..FREE (as a part of a hotel service).

Healthy cooking for busy moms – pasta with pesto

Wonder what to cook on a hot summer evening after working all day? Pasta is your go-to dish. Look at the nutritional value of pasta: a serving has 13 gr. of protein. A daily protein intake can be 10 gr. In short, one serving of pasta – and you can skip meat!

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Now, let’s add some blended basil, green onion and parsley, olive oil and lemon juice – and you got yourself a symphony of vitamins and minerals. (Tip: add water to make pesto less think. Salt to taste).

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Confessions of a Busy Mom

The truth is that sometimes you just order take out for a meal.

To balance out all my posts on healthy eating I want to write this confession saying that sometime you are just too sick or tired or both to cook anything. So, you go out or order in.

It is a rule, by which people try to live: “pay it forward,” and it applies brilliantly to a healthy diet. Meaning, there is no need to be a 100% vegan or vegetarian. The research shows that as long as you keep a ratio of 95%-to-5% (with the animal product of 5%), your diet is super-healthy. So, on my bad days I like to tap into my allotted 5% of unhealthy reserves.

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Europe

 

What worries me most is the frequency with which I experience respiratory-related problems that are directly caused by the low air quality here. Being a teacher, my throat is my weakest spot: if I get slight cold symptoms, I lose my voice easily. To prevent it from happening I run to a doctor who is happy to prescribe me 5-6 different pills. IMG_20140611_121615Taking that many meds often makes me feel uncomfortable. So, to strengthen my throat I have gone to some lengths, including taking voice lessons and completely changing the diet. In other words, I took control of any controllable factors. However, the result is negligible. I get sick almost monthly in Korea. However, it is not the case in any other parts of the world that I happen to be, which inevitably brings me to the only conclusion – air pollution.

Asia

Asia

There are only a few places that monitor air quality

There are only a few places that monitor air quality in North America

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World data

People in the US are still debating if Global Warming is real. They have that luxury of fact-denial because so far they have never needed to wear masks outside. But this is the reality for the entire Asian continent. Of course, even in China there are those who think air pollution is a good thing because it “brings a nation together,” but being sick is a lonely and terrible business. Wearing a mask feels like a punishment in winter, and a torture in summer. IMG_20140417_114821Besides, I really wonder how effective a mask can be at keeping micro-sized dirty particles at bay… Soon enough the pollution will spread (no country has a glass dome over it), and a few places with clean air will become unaffordable for the majority. Still, if you choose to ignore the facts, data, real examples from around the world about the imminent danger of air pollution (aka Global Warming), on which side is it safer to err: (a) make some adjustments in daily habits to clean up air just in case or (b) leave the shit up in the air and hope for the best?

Healthy Eating Tips for Busy Moms

This is my 1 million dollar invention, and I am happy to share it with you! But not without a story…

As the story goes, anytime my mom, who learned to cook pasta in the South of Italy, would visit me in the US and after tasting any brand of a store-bought tomato sauce, she would lovingly call it “ketchup.” I thought my mom turned into an unnecessarily picky Italian housewife, but then I visited Italy and tasted Italian pasta with tomato sauce…

 

The secret of amazing Italian pasta sauce – is to use only tomato juice, olive oil and salt. In August-September families in the south buy about 50-100kg of tomatoes, put them through an industrial-size grinder and then boil the crushed tomatoes with added olive oil and salt. The result is almost sweet and watery sauce “sugo” that they bottle and share between the family members. Even store-bought sugo will be of a clear red color without any spices! Why? Wait for it……because depending on the pasta type, the person who cooks will add the “correct” spices to customize sugo to the pasta shape. Plain boiled sugo made from ripe tomatoes has a very neutral taste. IMG_0191

So, I recreated the sugo process at home. As a result, I have not used a store-bought tomato pasta sauce from a jar for over a year now, which means I control sugars, additives, food coloring, and preserving agents. There can be a dozen of variations, but this will start you off. Total prep time is 10 minutes.

1. Add pasta in a boiling water (100 gr per person). Let it boil for 10 minutes.

IMG_01922. While it is boiling cut 2-3 tomatoes with some onions and fresh herbs.

3. Blend it all together with a teaspoon of salt. IMG_0194

4. Drain water from pasta, return the pasta to the pot and add fresh sauce to the pot.

 

IMG_01955. Variations by season. In winter I boil sauce; in summer I don’t.

6. Variation by taste. Try adding either red or yellow bell pepper. The color change is terrific! Or experiment with herbs. Have fun!

7. Variations to make it healthier: add blended Flax seeds or other seeds.

 

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms: Breakfast

Kids healthy breakfast idea is….pancakes! If only I could reasonably take credit for inventing pancakes 🙂 No, I can not. However, I can share my “busy mom”  version of homemade pancakes. Yes. Homemade. I simply do not trust hydrogenated and dehydrated ingredients in store-bought pancake mixes, especially when there is another way to make pancakes super-fast every morning.

IMG_0219Are you worried that homemade pancakes may be not healthy enough? Well, let’s compare them to pop-tarts, morning cereals, yogurt and other store-bought-and-factory-made breakfast options. Carbs are present in all, but in homemade pancakes you can control sugar levels, and you can use organic dairy ingredients. Besides, this is kids breakfast, not a supermodel’s meal.

Bad news: the recipe that I paste below is difficult, and you must follow it exactly. Good news: this batch lasts 3 days in the fridge. So, you can feed the kid for 3 mornings. My husband is making a batch the night before while I do the bed-time routine. Often he doubles the recipe, and it lasts 5 days. We do not keep batter longer than that. Even though it does not spoil (we have tested it daily during the past year), pancakes become less fluffy with each passing day. So, take your pick: you can just make fresh batter every 3 days.IMG_0218

Here is the pancake recipe, exactly as I make it:

First, place 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan on the stove and turn it to halfway between “Lo” and “2.”

Second, take two eggs and separate them with your hands into two bowls (yolks in one, whites in the other).  Add a heaping tablespoon of sugar and some salt (no more than 1/4 teaspoon) to the yolks and mix them well with a fork.  Then beat the whites until they stiffen a bit.

Then take 1 cup of flour and put it into a large bowl.  Add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of Baking Powder and 1/2 teaspoon of Baking Soda.

Put the egg yolks and 1 cup of milk into the bowl with the flour and use the whisk to mix it together.  Keep an eye on the butter, it should be melted by now and you can turn it off.

Then add about 1/3 cup of sour cream (or plain yogurt) and mix.

IMG_0217Then pour in the melted butter and mix while you pour… or just pour it in and be sure to mix well.

Then dump in the egg whites and mix well.

Put the pan on the stove and turn it on to about 4… let it heat up first before you start making the pancakes.  This way the pancake will not stick as much, although the first one will stick a little bit no matter what.  There is no need to add oil or butter to the pan…

 

 

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms: Breakfast

A healthy breakfast option for adults is a smoothie. IMG_0206No, not from a store or a cafe, but homemade. Why? You will cut on unnecessary sugars and add foods high in energy, which will help you to last until lunch. Obviously, no one has time in the morning to peel fresh fruit, so consider my prep tricks.

IMG_01971. I buy 4-5 pounds (2 kg) of fresh strawberries at a farmer’s marker on Friday. I wash all berries, clean the leaves, and divide between 5 plates. First plate we eat same evening fresh 🙂 Second plate I leave in the fridge for breakfast. The remaining plates of berries I freeze. Depending on how much berries you buy and how many people are going to have a smoothie – you will have to divide berries into your portion sizes. IMG_0198

2. First thing in the morning – take 1 plate of berries out of the freezer, leave it to thaw for 10-15 before blending it.

 

3. Add flax seeds. Find your portion. Mine is a modest teaspoon.

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4. Add bananas. I use 2-3 for 2 people. Bananas make smoothie sweeter.

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5. Add oats. I use about a cup for 2 people. Oats will give you energy. Do not use any Kellogg’s sugary invention, but just grain. If a smoothie gets too thick, add water.

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6. For variations try adding other types of berries.

 

 

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms

Veggie soup is my go-to dish, especially in summer. How fast do you think you can make a fresh veggie soup? As fast as it takes you to peel and chop the veggies because soup really cooks itself. Let me show you my classic veggie soup in 3 easy steps.

Carrot, Potato, Celery, Red Cabbage

Carrot, potato, celery, red cabbage

Step 1. Peel and cut veggies you have in the fridge. DO NOT use any broth from the store. Why do you want cane sugar, canola oil, molasses, carrot concentrate, added flavors, or dehydrated onions??? Just take your fresh onion, carrot, etc. and forego dehydrated cane syrup or powdered flavors.

Step 2. Put tougher veggies in the pot first. Cover with water no more than 1 inch above the veggies. Salt generously. Leave it to boil for 5-6 minutes.

Add water just barely to cover veggies

Add water just to barely cover the veggies

Tender veggies and herbs

Ripe tomatoes, green onion, parsley

Step 3. Add the tender/fragile veggies and herbs. Leave to boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Let it cool a bit before serving.

To experiment with taste try adding one or all of the following: oregano, olive oil, a bit of lemon juice or apple vinegar, more salt :), pepper, sour cream. Try different veggie combinations: broccoli, peas, zucchini, pasta, red beans, and what not. It will always be a new experience and taste for your family.