wwoofing in Switzerland

Hello!

I’m back from my 1 month wwoofing experience in Switzerland and experiencing withdrawal symptoms, simply because it was just so amazing!! (wwoof stands for world wide organisation of organic farming which is established all over the world. basically you work for the organic farmers and get food, lodging and friendship in return!)

541A8346

541A8262

541A8111

541A8116

I’m so thankful to God for blessing me with a wonderful host family who welcomed me with open arms and shared their stories with us. We felt like friends right from Day one. And even though we were there to work for our food, we had a good balance of work and rest. We had afternoons and weekends off, and even hot days off! I can imagine how different things could have turned out; perhaps getting a family that treated us like workers and doing manual labour the whole day with few breaks.

VSCO Cam-7

VSCO Cam-8

IMG_4765

VSCO Cam-2-1

Being in a farm for 4 weeks was so eye-opening. Just imagine a city girl, growing up in the hustle and bustle of Singapore, going to the quiet, serene rolling hills of Switzerland. What a contrast! Elka (the mama) commented that we city people are the best wwoofers to have because we are amazed by everything we see. Like everything. That was so true.

541A6941

VSCO Cam-1-1

We saw our first double rainbow while driving back from the meadows in the 30 year old golden Audi and it was such a perfect moment. It was the first time I ever saw the start to the end of a rainbow because in Singapore, the rainbow is bound to touch some building and disappear. Such an amazing sight!

We got excited by the abundance of wildlife, from the cute little cunning fox we spotted while driving past the forest to the occasional Bambis (deers) that wander into our fields with their little ones. And so did we love the cows, big and small. The big cows just ate all day (apparently they eat up to 70kg of fresh grass every day?!) but they were endearing in their own ways; mooing at us for more food or letting us pet them or visibly enjoying our daily scrubs. The small cows were more adorable though, they would lick us and chew on our clothes thinking its food.

IMG_4652

Or simply how raw milk even looks like. Did you know that raw milk will naturally split into 2 layers, the cream above and the remaining milk below? So the full cream milk that we drink is actually homogenised, meaning that the fat molecules are broken up so that it remains with the milk and there are no two layers anymore.

Well, I was so sad when 4 weeks came to an end. I almost teared when I said my final goodbyes and left. Never had to say goodbye to home because I study locally, but I finally understood those emotions because the farm really did feel like home for 4 weeks. Really can’t wait to go back another time (earliest is 2 years later though/:) when the cherries and apples can be harvested, and the cows are happily chewing away in the meadows!

IMG_4696

Upon returning to Singapore, everyone asks me, “So what have you learnt?”

And to be honest, I haven’t really learnt much because I was just there to provide manual labour. Misunderstand me not, real farming is not just manual labour but also involves brains (which obviously isn’t part of my job because I have zero clue about cow health / milking). But as a wwoofer, my main role is to just do labour-intensive jobs like weeding, feeding, cleaning. So I guess, I’m a super good weeder now? Give me your messy garden and it’ll be clean in no time, haha.

IMG_4219 
IMG_4217

 

Though I did not learn lots, I took away lots from this experience.

Firstly, I definitely made new friends and strengthened old friendships on this journey. Meet the Berger Family! 🙂

541A8374

VSCO Cam-5

We first met Bruno (the dad) who came to pick us up from the bus stop in his golden Audi. He is like the Big Friendly Giant in Roald Dahl’s books but only friendlier. And he doesn’t really speak English so it gets really funny at times because he randomly throws out English phrases that he knows. Eg. when we comment that the food is piping hot, he goes “Hot and Spicy”. Or when Elka was talking about how their neighbours were not very nice, he went “Nobody is perfect.” And the funniest was when we talking about cows and their shit, he piped “Shit happens.” HAHAH He is such a funny guy. Wished I could speak German so that I could talk to him more ):

IMG_4191

Then we met Elka (the mom) who hurried us in for lunch when we first met her, which kind of set the tone for the rest of the weeks because she was always cooking up something yummy! It was amazing to see her cook up a meal in half an hour for 6 people or make her sourdough bread. She’s the kind of cook who just opens her fridge, takes out whatever there is, eyeballs the quantity and whips up something quite amazing.

IMG_4561

Together, they have 3 kids- Christin (the oldest), Bianca and Toni (the youngest). Christin is funnily sarcastic but so warm and welcoming. She’s really tall (like 1.8m) and enveloped us in a huge hug when we first arrived. She also brought us on a walk in the forest where we talked about everything under the sun and laughed at us waddling / sliding down (with our butts on the floor) a very very steep slope. We Singaporeans aren’t very good at hiking. On the other hand, the Swiss are naturals.

VSCO Cam-6

Bianca’s the responsible middle child whose main job at the dinner table is to pack the leftovers in the most suitable box. Sounds funny? It actually requires skill hahaha. She’s the artsy one who paints and dries wild flowers for her biology university project and also the one who always gets bullied. Toni is their youngest child who is in the Swiss army and only comes back for the weekends, so I only saw him a couple of times but because of him, I’ve tried the Swiss army chocolate and it is so so good. It is a milk chocolate bar with bits of crunchy cereal in it to cheer tired Swiss boys up. It’ll definitely cheer me up any day.

IMG_4789

I did farming with 2 of my good friends at different timings. The first 2 weeks were with Esther, my good buddy from primary school (oh gosh, look how well we have grown!). We ate lots of cakes (7 slices in 2 days), travelled like we were in The Amazing Race (rushing everywhere), plucked some Elderflowers for syrup, weeded a patch of grass for a new pumpkin patch and cooked up a Singaporean meal for them. The next 2 weeks were with Joy, my newfound good friend from medical school. It’s really funny how our friendship developed because we were actually friends since 11 years old but only started properly talking to each other last year. We cleaned up the farm, came up with a Cow Wellness Program (scrubbing the cow clean while they were being milked), battled the Nettles, and made a damn awesome Earl Grey Tea Cake 🙂

541A8121

VSCO Cam-4 
VSCO Cam-3-1

 

Secondly, I’ve learnt so much about the farming world and come to envy how close-knit the community is. Neighbours will come and go at the dining table, bringing with them food and laughter. One neighbour, Peter, organises farm parties for the city people. He makes fresh sausages to supply at the party while his wife and daughter would make loads of cakes for dessert. Anything leftover gets directed to our farm and it is a w e s o m e. One morning, we came home to a tray full of blackforest cake, cheese cake etc. We also get nice fresh sausages occasionally! Another neighbour, Barbara and her 11 year old son, Noah, help out at the farm every week and we got invited to their house for cheese fondue! 🙂 Noah is super cute, he wants to be a farmer when he grows up and is best buddies with Bruno. (can you imagine a 50 year old and a 12 year old being best friends?!) They can talk about tractors all day!

541A7287

541A7313

Thirdly, this experience has definitely changed the way I see loads of things. For example, now I’m way more thoughtful about the waste I produce and the plastic bags I use. A wonderful thing about Switzerland is that everyone is so environmentally conscious. It’s ingrained into their culture. Everyone brings their own bag to the supermarket for their groceries. Everyone splits their trash into recyclables and non-recyclables. It’s something I wished Singapore would start doing. I’m actually quite disgusted by the number of plastic bags we use whenever we go on a huge grocery shopping trip. So I’m making sure that we bring our own bags to the supermarket from now onwards. Also, I bought a compost bin so that I can turn all my food waste into nutritious soil for my garden!

IMG_4706
IMG_4607

 

Also, regardless of whether you’re staying in an apartment or house or farm, somehow everyone has a lingonberry bush/ apple tree/ cherry tree/ rhubarb plant to call their own. And they make amazing food from their produce, like lingonberry cupcakes or rhubarb tart. This spurred me to come home and revamp my garden so that there’s more edible things growing. So now my garden can boast of a slowly, but growing pumpkin patch, very fertile ladies fingers, an onion that gives us chinese chives for garnishing, some english chives, a couple of zucchinis, a couple of eggplants (but no eggplant yet), random chinese vegetables that we use for stir fry, a crazily growing dill plant/ tree, many basil plants, few pots of rosemary and one pot of english parsley. It seems like loads of plants because it actually is! We actually spend at least an hour a day watering the plants, trimming them and tilling the soil. It’s a lot of hard work but it’s therapeutic at least. And nothing quite beats the feeling of watching your plant thrive and literally bear fruit 🙂

541A6901

If you ever have the time to try your hand at farming, I urge you to do so! It’s an experience I would never trade anything for and one that I would always remember, especially because I grew up in a city. I really hope to return one day, to see the apples and cherries in full produce and the cows happily grazing on the meadows. Till then, I can only relive my memories as I toil in my small little garden.

 

Continue Reading

Chicken Paprikash

The holidays seem ten million years ago but it was only 4 months ago that I returned from my epic Eastern Europe adventure, where I tried loads of cuisines and visited beautiful places. I got so inspired by the hipster food scene that I am dreaming of  setting up my own hummus bar and open face sandwich shop hahahahaha.

My favourite place was definitely Budapest, with pretty grand buildings and a hip culture.

541A3817

541A3885

541A3842

Except they had really lousy ice cream. Ice cream so bad that we just threw it away unfinished because it wastes calories. Anyway, Hungary has more good things going for it than bad. Hungary is famous for its Paprika, something that I didn’t know until I wandered around the local market and saw every shop selling Paprika. I knew I had to buy a few packs back home because Hungarian Paprika is definitely a class above the usual paprika. It has a sweet, nutty and smoky aroma to it, making it so good that it can be the star of a dish. Like Chicken Paprikash.

IMG_1664-2

Chicken Paprikash is basically chicken in paprika sauce. It is a Hungarian classic that I tried once at a Hungarian restaurant. I mopped up all the sauce but left the Spatzle untouched (one of the few things that I dislike), and happily made a mental note to try cooking it in Singapore. It didn’t seem that difficult to replicate.

And it isn’t!

The hardest part of this dish is probably procuring that treasured Hungarian paprika. It’s found on Amazon but I haven’t come across it in actual shops in Singapore. So that’s a bit tricky.

Other than that, all you need is time and patience as the wonderful flavours of paprika develop in that pot.

Ingredients
4 chicken thighs
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, finely sliced
15g of Hungarian paprika
1 cup of chicken broth
1/2 cup greek yogurt

Directions
1. Heat vegetable oil in a pan, fry the chicken thighs skin side down, in one layer, without moving it until deep golden brown, about 8 minutes.
2. Flip the chicken over and fry until the second side is lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
3. Remove the chicken from the pan, throwing away most of the oil but leaving enough to cook the onions, about 1 tablespoon.
4. Fry the onions until soft and translucent.
5. Add in the red bell pepper and fry until soft.
6. Add in the paprika, stir until nutty and fragrant, about 1 minute.
7. Pour the chicken broth into the pan.
8. Nestle the chicken into the pan in a single layer, making sure that all the chicken is covered by the broth.
9. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook for 30 minutes, until the chicken is tender and pulls easily from the bone.
10. Serve this over a plate of pasta, macaroni or spatzle. Serve with greek yogurt for that creamy texture.
Continue Reading

Croatia (I) – Split

541A5070

A beautiful country known for its beaches and islands, Croatia has become a popular tourist destination. More popular destinations in Croatia include Split and Dubrovnik. Day trips to nearby islands or waterfalls are often made from these places, but if you are looking for a chill holiday, you can turn those day trips into overnight stays.

541A5056

Possible day trips from Split include
1. Plitvice
2. Krka waterfalls
3. Omis
4. Hvar

Possible day trips from Dubrovnik include
1. Mljet Island
2. Elafiti Islands

However, I did not manage to fit all these trips into my itinerary for Croatia but I’ll be writing in detail about the trips I managed to make. One thing I realized about Croatia is that there is limited information available about the destination itself, so I’m trying to plug in the gap here to make it easier for future travellers:>

Split
Top things to do in Split would be to

(i) hike up Marjan hill for the great views
(ii) wander around the town
(iii) visit the markets

541A5039

541A5037

The hike up Marjan hill was tiring but well worth it because of the gorgeous view. There are many viewpoints on the hill overlooking the Adriatic sea, making it a relaxing afternoon trip. As the sun sets, head down the hill and have dinner at Konoba Marjan which is conveniently located at the foot of the hill. If prices aren’t to your liking, there are many other good restaurants located on that street, one of which includes Café Sperun.

541A4881

541A4931

541A4886

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wandering around Split by foot is one of the best things you can do in Split. The Diocletian Palace or what remains of it, makes a nice attraction and photo. I suggest passing up on the Diocletian basements because there isn’t much to see. Besides the palace, there are small narrow streets with interesting restaurants and random flea markets. There is also a Zara and Bershka for the shopaholics like me. Prices of these shops are definitely cheaper than in Singapore/ Asia.

Must visit markets in Split would be the daily market located near the bus terminal and the fish market located in the Diocletian palace compound. The daily market, opened from 8am to 2pm, has a section dedicated to fresh produce and local products, and another section dedicated to souvenirs. So if you’re looking for trinkets to buy back, the daily market is the place to go. The fish market is an interesting sight, with the fishermen displaying their catches and using metal weights to weigh the fish. If you stay in a self-catering apartment/ airbnb and love to cook, do consider purchasing some fish or mussels from the market and head home to cook. We did just that, and bought 2kg worth of mussels at only 15 kunas per kg. It was our first time cleaning and cooking mussels but the hearty pot of mussels at the end was worth the effort. Though our airbnb host left a bad review for us for messing up her kitchen. Oops!

Food recommendations

1. Buffet Fife
Very popular amongst tourists and even locals because of its generous portions. Trust me, the portions here are gigantic for the price you pay. I ordered a fish soup and grilled bream, cooked Dalmation style at prices easy on the pocket. Croatian fish soup reminded me of home because soup is such a Cantonese thing and a regular feature at home cooked meals. The fish soup, served in a huge metal bowl, was very tasty and had rice in it. Our fish came in a large silver platter, with 2 fishes for each person. In Croatian standards, 2 fishes is a double serving. Restaurants usually serve 1 fish per portion. In some sense, you win some and you lose some because the fish wasn’t the best I’ve tasted but with that price and portion, Fife still wins my heart.

Trumbićeva obala 11, 21000, Split, Croatia
+385 21 345 223

2. Konoba Marjan
Marjan is THE place for fish. Portions are comparatively small though but the fish you get is one of the best in town. I tried the fish platter for two which was a nice, holistic tasting platter of ocean fish. The platter had scampi, Class I fish like Tuna (with a delicious sear) and Class II fish like hake. Service was fantastic too, with the waiter patiently bringing out the catches of the day on a silver plate and explaining it to us twice with a wide smile on his face.

Senjska 1,Split 21000, Croatia
+385 989 346 848

3. Appetit
This eatery is located on the second floor of the building but do not fret, because it is super easy to spot. It can be found in the same building as Billa in the Old Town. Their prices are standard, about 120 kunas for a fish main and 90 kunas for a risotto. Must tries are their grilled fresh fish and the cuttlefish black risotto. The risotto was the best I’ve tried in Croatia.

Ul. Pavla Šubića 5, 21000, Split, Croatia
+385 21 332 549

4. Kantun Paulina
Looking for Croatian street food? Pauline serves authentic Cevapi, a minced beef sausage that is pocketed in warm fluffy bread, topped with the local red pepper salsa, at 25 kunas. The perfect thing to get if you need a quick meal on the run or maybe some fuel after climbing Marjan Hill.

Matošića ul. 1, 21000, Split, Croatia
+385 21 395 973

Continue Reading