Food Memories from Italy and Switzerland

21 Aug

This European trip was organized to celebrate Mom’s 90th  Birthday.  The code words for the trip were “Coleman’s hungry.”  The girls have discovered that if they exclaim over the hunger of my new nephew-in-law they get to eat sooner, because Rhonda, my sister-in-law, is always worried about whether he has had enough to eat. When I was growing up, our favorite restaurant in New York City was LaScala, a restaurant that served northern Italian food, so we had some preparation for what we were to encounter in Milan.

Coleman, Mom, and Anna in Berne.jpg

Coleman, Mom, and Anna in Bern

Aug.2– Osmate, Italy, Osteria-Jerry’s


This dish is risotto, a northern Italian food.  It’s made from rice, butter, and onion.  We were at our first restaurant in Osmate. I took this picture at a stranger’s table and he laughed.  Although Anna didn’t want to admit it, she was the best at figuring out Italian, probably because of her background in romance languages. The proprietor kept bringing out dish after dish, causing Anna to ask him if we could please look at the menu. Although he was very friendly, we were charged for everything he had already brought out, so this was a smart move on her part.

Anna had the above dish mixed with red wine at another restaurant in Osmate, Restaurante della Zucche, and then made it for us at the Air B and B in Bern. She said that it requires a special kind of rice. I googled risotto and found that she was right. In What’s Cooking America, Linda Stradley says to “Use only Italian short-grain rice varieties such as Aroborio, Carnaroli, Vialone, Nano, and Baldo (Arborio is the most commonly found short-grain rice)” (2004). I wouldn’t mind having it again.

Here she is with Mom at Jerry’s:
Mom and Anna at Jerry's--Osmate

Pumpkin Tortelli

Pumpkin Raviola in Osmate.
This is the dish I enjoyed at Jerry’s.

Aug. 3–Milan, Italy

Cup Meringue Pistachio

Cup Meringue Pistachio from ice cream/ coffee shop in Milan. Needless to say, this was my favorite food memory from the trip.  Mom, whose picture appears in the background, enjoyed a parfait of mixed fresh fruit and sorbet.  Most everyone else had some kind of sweet dessert.

Aug. 3–Café Sempione

Aug. 4–Intra and Osmate

Mom with Raspberry and Chocolate Gelato

The next day at Intra, Mom indulged in chocolate and raspberry gelato, while we went swimming in Lake Maggiore.

Tobacco Vending

It seems strange to include smoking as part of the dining experience, but I noticed it because we are no longer allowed to smoke in restaurants in the USA.  I saw one tobacco vending machine in Italy (this one was near the ferry on Lake Maggiore) and one in Switzerland.  Smoking does not occur in restaurants, but often right outside it in the outdoor, café section of establishments.  I used to feel protective of smokers and actually enjoyed the smell, but now it bothers me a bit.  The Swiss people actually look more fit than Americans do on average.  Bern, the capital, is a city of walkers like those in New York City, but there are many smokers.

August 4, 2016–Restaurante della Zucche in Osmate, Italy

Every time we went to a restaurant we would order bottled water and sparkling water and white wine.  Once we arrived in Switzerland we found ourselves “ordering Wasser mit Gas und Wasser ohne Gas.” When I was checking online about ordering water in restaurants, one of the sites mentioned that Americans are known for being too fussy about tap water, and that the restaurants take advantage of this. On one of our bills, I noticed that we had been charged $4.00 for each bottle of water. That really adds up with nine people.

Barth and Rhonda dining out in Osmate

Barth and Rhonda

Breaded Veal.jpg

This veal was okay, not great.  In Italy and Switzerland, they have fewer beef cattle than we do–hence, the veal.

Rainstorm in della zuche

A tremendous rainstorm caused us to stay on at the restaurant and order dessert. The lights blinked on and off several times. I don’t remember the dessert but I do remember the sound of the hail. This picture shows the rain shooting down the side of the restaurant like those beaded curtains from the sixties.

Aug. 5–Lötschberg

This restaurant is highly ranked, which may be the reason that Gwynne chose it for our reunion with Hans and Ulla Olsen. Hans was our former Rotary Exchange student and there have been various reunions over the years in Denmark and in the United States. Hans is a ship broker, while Ulla is in charge of marketing for IBM in Denmark. They were great company, which I’m sure helps them in the business world.

I had Pork Cordon Bleu, which was very good. The portions were quite large. Cordon Bleu was originally an English dish from back in the time of Henry the VIII. The Swiss use pork, which is a staple in many of their meals, while the Americans use chicken. I was able to sit next to Ulla and then to hike with her the next day.

Pork Cordon bleu

Ulla Olson, Rebecca, and Rhonda

Ulla, Rebecca, and Rhonda

Mom and Hans

Mom, Hans

Aug. 9–Interlaken, da rafmi (name of restaurant)

Mitchell, his wife, Sean and Mitchell's mom. Sean and Gwynne

This dining experience’s main purpose was to meet Sean’s family, including his mother, brother, and sister-in-law. His new nephew was not present. I spent most of my time talking to his brother, Mitchell, who works in retail. Like Sean, Mitchell speaks several languages, among them Africans, because the family is from South Africa and has lived several places. Gwynne is very taken with Sean.

For dinner, I had pizza; I believe it was the third time. When the pizza comes to the table, it is not scored. The reason for this is that they do not want you picking it up. Pizza is eaten with a fork and knife in both Italy and Switzerland. Gwynne says they think Americans are gauche. I used a combination of cutting it and then lifting it with my fingers.

Interlaken at night.jpg

Rhonda,  Anna, Meghan, and Rebecca  after dinner in Interlaken

Aug. 10–Belle Epoque Restaurant, Lunch in Bern, Switzerland

Barth at Bella Epoque


Swiss Meal--Quiche and Salad

Swiss Quiche and Salad. In Switzerland, salad items are often served separately. I had cold corn served to me in both Italy and Switzerland. I guess the closest thing we have to it is corn relish.

Aug. 10–Dinner by Sean at Air B and B in Bern, Switzerland

rosti-5webSean, Gwynne’s boyfriend, made us rösti, a shredded potato dish,  for dinner.  The food items we have that are closest to it are hash (because of the arrangement of the eggs) and hash browns.  I used to serve hash when I was a waitress and it was served with two eggs on top. Sean served each portion with an egg on top, along with spätzle topped with mushroom gravy.  I couldn’t find a picture that was exactly like his version on the web.  It’s a native Swiss food and used to be considered a breakfast dish.  I was planning to take Rhonda and Sean’s picture cooking in the kitchen, but I managed to knock over a glass from a tall shelf and Gwynne took over with the vacuum instead.

Aug. 11 and 12-Jeizinen, Swiss Chalet in Alps

Mountain  Water

This is where the girls obtained water from a mountain spring and we finally escaped bottled water.

View from Porch attached to Shalet

This is the view from the porch attached to our chalet.  The stone wall and roof you see to the left are part of our chalet.

This time when I had Pork Cordon Bleu I split it with my mother.  We were pretty full at this point.







A Retold Tale of a Clip from _Marathon Man_

20 Jun


Rebecca and Face painting Customer
My Niece Rebecca


clip from Marathon Man, directed by John Schlesinger

Marathon Man, adapted by my favorite screenwriter, William Goldman, (Think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride) from his novel of the same name, has a scene that remains one of my all-time favorites.  In the scene, a character named Christian Szell (played by Lawrence Olivier) who appears to be modeled on Mengele, the Nazi doctor (He is referred to as the White Angel), comes to the diamond district to fence some diamonds.  As he moves from place to place in the district, Jewish survivors of the concentration camps start to recognize him.  The scene works for several reasons–the  actor playing the Nazi, Olivier, is a perfect villain, the associations that we, the audience, have with the Jewish businessmen present in the diamond district in New York, and the quick pacing.

Apparently I gave Rebecca a rundown before, but she wasn’t able to stop my retelling of the story. The reason this topic came up last night is because Rebecca is a jewelry designer in Brooklyn and buys her supplies in Manhattan’s diamond district. She’ll probably give a little yelp (an unhappy one) when she realizes the scene is on her Facebook page.

A Joyful Emotional Trigger

15 May

Mapes Carpeting.jpg



Barth and Kathy at the Old House

Every time I visit Heritage Beauty Salon, I see the same carpeting that graced my grandparents’ farmhouse, the dwelling I called “The Old House.” I’ve never been able to figure out how carpeting produced in the fifties could have made it into a building that is currently used as a salon. It must have been stored away somewhere. When I see it, I always feel a familiar tug that makes me feel that I am about to walk into the Old House. Recently we’ve come to think of emotional triggers as negative journeys into past hurts and crises, but my experience, especially in this case, is that triggers are sometimes joyful, if a little strange.

I can see myself walking up the stairs to the house, and then to the veranda, where I sometimes made a detour to the left to see if anything was happening on that side of the house. There never was, but I always thought I should check. Upon walking through the left front door, (the right side opened into the other side of the two-family house where my aunt and uncle lived), I step onto the carpet with its design of swirls, which as child I didn’t focus on, but must have remained sharply in my memory.

Once inside, I see a piano on the left wall, where after my Grandma Lela’s death, my mother found a Methodist hymnal with a note, “Show to Kathy.” On the right, flat against the highly-polished pine staircase that leads to the second floor is a purple-hued sofa that looks like a Victorian knockoff with a sway back. I can still see my grandmother working on her crossword puzzles there, sometimes with her apron still on. It is almost as though I were viewing my grandmother’s own Pinterest picture, except that it’s mine now. There are also two built-in bookcases with glass doors on them.

The living room opens into the dining room, still with the same carpet. A big oval table with a lace tablecloth adds a touch of elegance to the family eating area, along with a wood and glass door hutch that holds the china and cut glass. I can see my grandmother leaning over the table, even now. This table is the place where she daily offered up her two of her legendary desserts made from scratch, one for lunch and one for dinner. These were very feminine rooms, not unlike the pink and blue bathrooms with their pink and blue towels whose colors she chose for the new house, even though she never got to live there and the rose-hued carpeting she chose for the new living room, even though she never got to walk on it.

My Grandfather

14 Feb



My Grandfather

You said you’d be pushing up daisies soon

and not more than a year later you were dead.

You were a stalwart man, not even lightning could kill you.

I try to decipher what it was like to be you–


to get up every morning at 5

to feed and harness the horses and to milk the cows

to teach your sons to farm and how to live.


“When I was a boy, I was a towhead,” you’d always say,

as you rustled the tobacco pouch and filled your pipe,

and reconstructed what it was like to be an only child.


The day the lightning struck, you were filling your pipe

under a tree. Maybe that was why you survived the bolt from the sky–

You were too relaxed to die. It went right through you.


Now the black-eyed Susans are taking over–

I imagine you beneath them, pushing up.







Cultural Touchstones

29 Jan




I went to see the film “Joy” the other night with my mother and niece, Meghan. As we left the theater we remarked on how much we liked the movie and how wrong the critics had been.

Meghan exclaimed, “I loved Jennifer Lawrence.”

I replied, “She was good, but so were the other actors. I liked Isabella Rossellini.”

“Who is she?”

“She played Robert de Niro’s girlfriend.”

“Oh, Trudy.”

“Yes, she’s one of Ingrid Bergman’s twins.”

I start to see a glaze cross Meghan’s face. In my mind, I see the beautiful Ingrid in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious adorned in a long, sweeping black dress with a key behind her back.

“Ingrid Bergman was a big star who became pregnant with girl twins by the director, Roberto Rossellini. She was married to someone else. It was a big scandal.”

I realize I’m having this conversation with myself.

For a long time I have been seeing signs that my cultural touchstones are quite different from those of the younger set. It doesn’t stop me from communicating with my niece, but in conversation with younger people I often find myself adrift. I think of myself as quite young, but more and more I am having these “senior moments,” when the content of my conversation doesn’t always match up with those younger than me

In the obits there are more and more people dying who are my age. Each time someone passes, there are fewer people alive who knew of Ingrid Bergman, wore pedal pushers, or watched all of the Watergate hearings.

When I started teaching English full-time at a Wisconsin school in 2000, I was suddenly struck that I was teaching a different generation than I had expected to. I had taught students at the University of Minnesota who were younger, but they were mixed in with older students. Now I was teaching four courses and found myself immersed in Generation X. When I dressed in my jeans, I probably looked fairly contemporary, but I often wore the dressed-up outfit of my growing-up years–a peasant style shirt and long cotton or nylon skirt–I found out later on evaluations that I’d immediately marked myself as older. I also found out that students are more critical of women’s clothes than men’s and that younger women often receive better evaluations than older ones. Two of the older teachers told me that they had received better evaluations when they were younger.  The choice of clothes is in itself a language, but I have mixed feelings as to whether or not one should try to change clothes just to suit an audience.  Coupled with these problems was the fact that when I opened my mouth I instantly pegged myself as someone-not-of-their-generation. Part of it involved those cultural references that I used naturally without thinking too much about it.

However, some of these cultural touchstones are symbols that I have used on purpose with the younger generation, not necessarily successfully. When I was working as an adjunct in Wisconsin, I often taught an essay called “Drugs” by Gore Vidal. I had started using it the University of Minnesota where I taught as a graduate student. One of the reasons I thought it worked well was because it contained all the rhetorical aspects that one uses when teaching argument–all this in a page and a half. However, I also knew that students would probably respond well to an essay that argued on behalf of the legalization of drugs. I knew that they would have a lot to say about the topic. What I didn’t realize was that it would look like an attempt on my part to get down to their level by trading in on a cultural symbol of my generation that was most often referred to in music–”White Rabbit,” by Jefferson Airplane, “Cocaine,” by Eric Clapton, or references to getting high by the Beatles. It was clear to me that my students were still using drugs like my generation had, especially pot, and talking about it, so in an attempt to be “cool,” the use of which already indicates that I come from somewhere back in a distant time, I had included references to the use of drugs in my generation and that part of my teaching had backfired on me.  I was actually someone who stayed away from most drugs, except for alcohol.  If I were still teaching, I would continue to use the essay, but I might not talk about myself so much.

Still, maybe the shifting of cultural touchstones is something that  cannot be resolved.  Certain things become part of how ones sees oneself in relationship to one’s generation and there will always be a difficulty between generations in terms of changes in colloquial speech. Furthermore, when I was writing this essay, someone reminded me that the movies I often reference aren’t necessarily something I share with everyone my age, so even within a generation there are gaps in conversation.


Bill Carpenter,director and writer

22 Jan

Will Geer and Bill Carpenter

2015 in review

2 Jan

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


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