You, Me and Teddy

Parenting adventures and activities in and around Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


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Evologia

One day this week we woke up to discover it was a beautiful sunny day. We immediately set to work making ourselves a picnic and decided on the Evologia gardens in Cernier as our destination.

historiqueEvologia was initially an agricultural college founded by Frédéric Soguel in 1885. For over a hundred years it was the site of the École cantonale d’agriculture until 1995 when the school was moved to a new location and a committee was appointed to develop the site. Today Evologia still holds agricultural at its heart promoting nature and its related professions to the general public. Throughout the summer there are numerous events that take place up in the gardens and exhibition centre from music concerts to art workshops.

I knew there was an exhibition on currently called Tractorama which I thought would be right up the children’s street but I also knew that what they would appreciate most would be being able to run free around the gardens after being cooped up because of the bad weather.

Cernier is a beautiful spot high up in Neuchâtel in the Val-de-Ruz backing on to the Jura Mountains. I am a mountain girl. I once had a conversation with someone where we discussed there being two types of people: mountains and lake people vs sea and beach people. If I ever had to choose it would definitely be mountains and lakes. Heading up there I immediately got that mountain feeling which causes me to relax and immediately lifts my spirits.

Evologia

We started off with a bit of an explore of the gardens and M was in his element! He has gotten so steady on his feet now and he just loved pushing his way through the slightly over grown bushes, admiring the butterflies and generally running in all directions. I thought at one stage I had lost him to a giant flower pot but he reemerged looking very chuffed with himself.

M's favourites

E found different interests. She was intrigued by bamboo which we found round the back of the greenhouses. I can only imagine at her height how impressive it must look. I explained to her about how we use bamboo in gardening to support plants and even for decoration, when we found some colourfully painted in another part of the gardens, but I don’t think she quite believe me. We also found some “Christmas Trees” which E decided she had to spend a good 10 minutes decorating with dried grass while singing loudly to herself.

E's favourites

It was getting pretty hot so we found ourselves a shady spot for a picnic before we continued our exploration. Unfortunately I forgot our picnic rug so improvised with a towel which actually worked pretty well absorbing all spills and being easier to clean. I suspect we got a little carried away in making our picnic as we had tonnes of food but we had a good selection of sarnies including some jam ones from my batch the other day. There is a restaurant, la Terrassiette, up in the main building but a picnic suited us much better.

picnic

After lunch we went in search of some tractors. The exhibition Tractorama closes for lunch but reopened just in time to prevent WW3 as both kids fought to ride on a tractor just outside of the exhibition room. It turns out that all of the antique tractors are actually all in working condition. They are all owned by one man who has a major tractor addiction (by his own admission). He buys them and then restores them to like new. There were plenty of old American models like the ancient blue Titan and a classic John Deere below but I think M was less than impressed by the fact I wouldn’t let him ride on them in the exhibition with the caretaker observing us.

tractors

It was a lovely free day out with something for all of us and I would definitely take the kids back up there. Enjoy your weekends!

The view


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Back On My Feet Again

I apologise as I completely forgot to let you know how the BCN Tour du Canton went. For those who missed my previous post: as part of a fitness incentive I decided to sign myself up for a series of 6 races ranging from just over 9 to just under 12 kilometres.

I am proud to say that I completed 5 out of 6 of the race “stages” in the top third of my category. Considering I started training 8 weeks before the first race after not having run regularly for over 5 years I am very happy with my results. I did opt out of one race due to the fact it was E’s birthday. We took her out for a big girl birthday dinner with my mum who was visiting for the week. I had a lovely evening and managed to miss out on the most muddy stage of the tour and not feel an ounce of guilt about it.

The races took part every Wednesday evening over a period of 6 weeks meaning you had one week to recover between races. It sounds horrifying but I found that I actually gained stamina and strength as the races went on. In fact the week where I missed a race really threw me for the following race.

I must say the supporters who lined the route were really amazing and I saw some pretty outstanding sites. Let me share some of my pictures. I afraid some are a bit blurred as I was still running but really did not want to miss the photo opportunity.

The first week the race was 9.310 km starting at Planeyse, Colombier with a 210m elevation. You can see the exciting 3D animation of the course here.

1 colombier

Planeyse

It was nice an sunny on arrival but as the race went on the sky clouded and we made it in just before the thunderstorm started. Some of the slower runners were not as lucky. The race was beautiful  as we ran through the wine yards of the Domain de Chambleau. It was also tough running down the winery’s driveway and my friend and I jokingly discussed stopping off for an aperitif with the staff who were out with a bottle of wine cheering us on.

1 chambleau domaine

Chambleau

It was good as I really paced myself but perhaps I went a bit too slowly at the start as I crossed the finish line with plenty of energy despite looking like a beetroot because of my final sprint.

2 Chézard-Saint-Martin

Chézard-Saint-Martin

Week 2 saw us heading up into the countryside to Chézard-Saint-Martin. This race was more a straight uphill and then downhill run with an elevation of 290m. It was 10.360 km with the peak at 5km once you reached that point you knew it was pretty much easy going but from looking at the race animation. I missed one little peak before the final descent which was in fact at the 6km mark so I struggled with motivation  at that last climb before the downhill started! I wasn’t the only one and at the peak I saw many people collapsed around the place with strains or other issues. One thing I love abut running is that runners look out for other runners and anyone I saw in trouble was begin taken care of. Luckily the weather was cool and so the run downhill afterwards was a lovely recovery towards the finish line. Unluckily the weather had been pretty damp the days before the race and the final kilometre was a mud bath and most the people crossing the line were covered! My trainers went straight in the wash when I got home.

3. Les Ponts-de-Martel

Les Ponts-de-Martel

Our third race was up in the Ponts-de-Martel and one of the longest races at 11.314 km. It had an elevation of 197 m which by this stage wasn’t so bad but the main demotivating factor was the fact that the course looped round in a figure of eight so you had a glimpse of the end while you still had half the course to go.

3. Les Ponts-de-Martel countryside

Les Ponts-de-Martel

I loved it though because one of my favourite supporters was there complete with Alphorn to motivate us onwards. Sorry about the blur but I was trying desperately to keep up with a pacesetter for that race and I din’t want to lose him!

3. Les Ponts-de-Martel alphorn

I also saw this extremely house up there which I thought was brilliant. Swiss nationalism is very strong which I do actually love as I think us Brits have pretty much lost it and its a shame not to feel proud of your country.3. Les Ponts-de-Martel swiss house

Once again we finished just in time before a major hail storm hit. As the hail calmed slightly I legged it for the bus for the long journey back home.

4. La Chaux-de-Fonds

La Chaux-de-Fonds

Race 4 in La Chaux-de-Fonds I unfortunately missed as I explained. The weather forecast said snow, rain and freezing temperatures but my friend took part and sent me this picture saying how lucky they had been and despite the cold they got off lightly. It was, however, a complete killer of a race as they had to change the course last minute as there was so much mud and it ended up being not far off 12km with an elevation of 256 m.

5. Couvet

Couvet – Centre Sportif

I was back for Couvet in the Val-de-Travers the next week. It was a scorcher of a day starting off by the Sports centre. The final sprint of the race would be around the running track but firstly we had to get around the 9.560 km course in the heat. By this stage 245 m didn’t sound like that much of an climb but the temperatures changed everything. Firstly I was knackered: E had been sleeping a maximum of 5 hours a night that week and then my hayfever kicked in. Gah! I started struggling to breath and realised if I was going o finish this race it would be slowly and not in a great time. I therefore took my time up on the climbs preferring to walk them and run the downhill bits. The good thing about this was that I had time to really look around and take in the beauty of the place.

5. Couvet fields

5. Couvet hill

Once again there were some fabulous supporters to keep us going!

5. Couvet supporters

I made it across the line. It wasn’t pretty but I don’t think it was a good race for most people. There were ambulances everywhere. People had been collapsing along the course from dehydration and many passed out just after making to the end. I don’t know if it was just because of the heat or because it was a shorter race more inexperienced people turned up but it was carnage.

The final week in Neuchâtel town I was determined to do better. It was my home stretch and I knew that plenty of friends and family would be about to watch. When I arrived I spent a good while warming up properly.It was a lovely day but not too warm. Perfect.

6. Neuchatel swans

 

Just before the race kicked off they even had a stage with two ladies doing a warm up routine down by the lake so I joined in and bounced along to the music with everyone else.

6. Neuchâtel lake

Neuchâtel

The Neuchâtel lap was tough at 11.204 km and with the biggest climb yet of 345m from lakeside up past the train station, into the forest and back down again via Hauterive. The climb was tough but I kept moving only grinding to a stop when the line of runners bottlenecked into the forest. The forest trail was great as I know it well. The shade from the trees keeps you cool and it was soft underfoot. The final kilometre was tough though as I had given all I had to give in the uphill climb at the start. Friends who saw me thought i was limping as I reached the end although I was unaware. All I wanted to do was to get there! I high fives the kids I ran past for the final 100m and then it was over.

I was sad to reach the end. I really enjoyed my rather extreme reinitiating into the running world and remembered how much I used to enjoy my runs. Running is addictive. Every time you complete a goal you want to do more; push yourself toward the next challenge. First thing I did was to get a treadmill. I am now training 6 or 7 days a week and have put myself in for the London Marathon lottery with a few charities. Its easy enough to find the time to train if I do it first thing while M is napping. E comes to “workout” with me and we put a cartoon on the TV.

I love that running gives you extra energy and I love the fact that it allows me to eat cake.

Keep your fingers crossed for me for London but if I don’t get a spot I’ll sign up for a local one instead.


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The Apples Are Ready!

Today while I was attempting to tame the garden, and prevent my little boy from eating the rotten apples under the tree, I noticed that they were finally ripe as the healthy ones were starting to drop.

I quickly scooped up a bowl and with the help of E picked the remaining apples off the tree. I reckon we have about 5 kilos in total so not amazing but certainly good enough to do some baking. I have no idea what sort of apples they are but have a pinkish tinge and they turn to purée when cooked. I believe they are something related to a Duchess of Oldenburg apple thanks to this very useful website called the Orange Pippin but I’m no expert.

apples

This week I saw a brilliantly easy Apple and Sage Sausage Roll recipe posted by The Peachicks Bakery, a blog which specialises in dairy, soya and egg-free recipes. I do not have any need for specialist recipes but the lovely lady who runs it keeps her baking appealing to all. This recipe actually popped up on her Facebook page and I loved the idea so decided to give it a try with my new apples.

I adapted Midge’s recipe slightly to our ingredients, for instance, the closest we can get to British sausages is a a Saucisse Vaudoise, but this comes rolled in a spiral as one extra long sausage.

Firstly I made my apple sauce by peeling and chopping my apples and placing them in a large saucepan with enough water to cover half. Then I cooked them on a medium heat until they were soft and pureed. If your apples remain firm you could always puree them in a blender but it is nice to leave a little bit of texture in my opinion.

Sausage rolls
Ingredients
  •  2 Saucisses Vaudoises (or any sausage/sausage meat you like)
  • 10 sage leaves
  • 1 cup apple sauce
  • 1 roll of puff pastry
  • 1 beaten egg
sausage rolls
Instructions
  • Preheat oven to 220°C (200°C fan oven).
  • Firstly lay out your pastry and up it in half lengthways down the middle so you have two long strips.
  • Then spread the apple sauce on the pastry.
  • Tear the sage leaves and sprinkle on top.
  • Place the sausages on the pastry and roll them up into long rolls. Press the join together with your fingers.
  • Cut the long rolls to desired lengths and lay out on a non-stick baking sheet.
  • Lightly brush with beaten egg.
  • Place in oven for 25-30 minutes.

The preparation was simple enough that E could help which she loves and we served them for dinner very simply with some green beans (and ketchup for the addicts). The kids wolfed them down and even came back for more.dinner

They were really delicious, fabulously easy and all I can really say is thank you very much to Midge at the Peachicks Bakery!


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The 1st of August in Pictures

Following on from my previous post on Swiss National Day…

running collage

The view on my run the in the morning. The quiet before everything kicks off.

 

chateau de chillon

The Château de Chillon on Lac Leman by Montreux. (I had to add this one as it is just so pretty)

 

1st august fireworks8

Neuchâtel’s fireworks kicking off over the lake.

 

1st august fireworks6

The are set off from barges and people take their boats out for a closer view. You can see the ring of boat lights.

 

1st august fireworks

The grand finale.


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La Fête Nationale

Did you know that today is Swiss National Day?

This means it is a national holiday and everything is closed in preparation for the festivities tonight (well, not entirely true, some towns celebrated last night and are nursing their hangovers today)! Neuchâtel’s 1st of August celebrations, however, take place tonight and I’m looking forward to it. The Swiss may be pretty straight-laced and rule bound most of the time but when it comes to organised events they sure know how to let their hair down.

Swiss National Day has been celebrated as the 1st of August since 1891. The date was chosen for a couple reasons. The main one that every one quotes is the fact that the Federal Charter of 1291 was signed at the beginning of august. This was when the first 3 cantons (Uri, Schwytz, Nidwald) signed a treaty which was to become the basis of the Swiss Confederation. The second reason is because in 1889 the Federal Counsel wanted to organise a national fête and 1891 marked not only the 600th anniversary of this treaty but also the 700th anniversary of the city of Bern (Switzerland’s Capital City).

1st august rides

Everything is pimped up swiss style

1 August is celebrated each year with paper lantern parades and music (Alphorn is especially common in the German speaking regions). There are also bonfires where you can grill your Cervelas. Oh and everything is covered in Swiss and Cantonal flags and of course there are fireworks. We are lucky that we live on a lake as we can generally see all the firework displays from the other lake towns across the water meaning. It can be pretty spectacular when the skies are clear.

alphorn

Yesterday: the man playing actually mooed his thanks down the alphorn as E gave the money. She nearly jumped out of her skin (this was that moment)!

What are cervelas I hear you ask? Also know as cervelat, servelat or zervelat (depending on where you are) they are the national sausage made out of a mixture of pork (50%) beef, veal (20%), and bacon. The original sausage contained some brain hence the name from the latin cerebrum but this is no longer the case. A swiss party is not complete without your cervelas which has to be prepared in a very particular way – I had everything carefully explained to me last year after a swiss friend found me cooking my cereals completely wrong. Firstly you must cut a cross in both ends of your sausage which is about 3-4cm deep and then you have to peel off the skin. Then in order to roast it to perfection you must skewer it on a stick and turn it over the flames slowly so that it browns and doesn’t burn. Once it is cooked the cut ends of the sausage should curve out from the centre and it should resemble this picture that I have borrowed of the Swiss newspaper 24 heures:

cervelas

La Fête National, as we call it in Neuchâtel, is a great occasion for the Swiss to celebrate their country and their heritage. While is is a big party it still has its serious note and is probably the only occasion where the head of the local commune gets to address such a large audience. Every first of August the president de la commune gives a speech to outline current political issues and policies (and of course to praise Switzerland). Sometimes these speeches become famous for their content and the newspapers the next day are filled with every journalists’ analysis of what was said and what was meant. I guess it is a bit like the Queen’s speech every year at Christmas except the fact it is so local.

I was tickled to hear that apparently, in Britain, it is also Yorkshire Day thanks to Bettys and Taylors tearooms. This is because Betty’s tearooms were founded by Frederick Belmont, a Swiss confectioner. He arrived in Yorkshire speaking no English (although I probably wouldn’t have understood much as a native speaker with the accent back then either) and set up this very English sounding tearoom, Bettys, in July 1919.

We are going to watch the fireworks from a friends terrace tonight which overlooks the port where they are set off. We will try and keep E up to watch them as a special treat and grill her first cervelas but M is too young to take part yet. Next year we will do the lantern parades all together but tonight should be a blast.

Happy 1st of August!


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Wow! Garden Suprises Again!

Despite my utter uselessness when it comes to gardening we have actually been lucky enough to inherit an obviously previously very well-tended garden which keeps surprising us again and again.

The first summer we bought our house we had tonnes of apples. Seriously, it was insane. I had at least 20kg of them off of one tree and ended up composting all those that were slightly nibbled as there are only so many apples you can use. I even broke my juicer through over use! Since then harvest has been much less spectacular but then the poor old tree did take a beating when it had to be chopped back to put railings up to keep the kids from falling off the wall that runs behind it.

Last summer after we had moved in I also discovered scores of raspberries down the bottom of the garden which I made into icecreams, jams and even ate fresh or in jellies. They had to be used very quickly as they were very ripe when I found them.

raspberries

This summer for the first time we have had cherries (which the birds mainly got although the kids managed to get a fair few of the low hanging ones too). I wasn’t upset about the loss of the cherries though as I enjoyed having the birds in the garden.

This week on returning from our travels we have had the happy suprise of finding out that not only do we have one fruiting plum tree but we seem to have three!

plums

One is a Damson tree, another is a Mirabelle tree and is nearly ready and the other has what I believe to be Greengages on it. I managed to get most of the Damsons before the birds got them giving me about 2 kilos of plums to deal with. Unsure of what to do I started googling and quickly found some interesting recipes.

I didn’t particularly want to make any desserts as I have some other cake ideas on hold at the moment (there is only so much pudding you can eat). However, I did have plenty of fruit I had frozen before leaving to go on holiday and so some of the plums got de-stoned and added to the mix to make some Summer fruit jam.

jam batch

After all that de-stoning I was keen on something which required less work (Damson flesh tends to stick to the stone). It was a toss up between a cordial or a flavoured liqueur… Damson Vodka won!

It was a very simple recipe that I borrowed off Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the Guardian.

Damson Vodka

Ingredients

  • 1kg Damson Plums
  • 500g Sugar
  • 1l Vodka (use good quality or else you’ll regret all your hard work).

damsons and vodka

Instructions

  • Prick the plums all over with a pin.
  • Place in a 2.5 litre sterile container (I used a 5 litre jar which I sterilised by baking  in the oven at 125°C for 20 minutes before taking it out to cool).
  • Add the plums and then the sugar.
  • Add the vodka.
  • Seal the jar and place in a cool place out of sunlight.
  • Invert the jar every week or two for 6 months.
  • After 6 months filter the mixture through a muslin.
  • Keep for another 6 months minimum.

damson vodka instructions

Easy peasy! My jar is now sitting in our cellar room and my phone is programmed with reminders so I don’t forget about it.

The fact that the kids get to grow up eating produce from our own garden is fantastic for me – although they definitely won’t be trying the vodka! Can’t wait for the rest of the plums to be ripe and I’m very excited about next summer!

I wonder why some trees don’t fruit every year?

Does anyone have any suggestions for Mirabelle or Greengage recipes? It looks like there are a lot more of them than we had Damsons!


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Goodbyes

A couple of weeks ago we kidnapped some tadpoles from the forest and took them home to try and teach the kids a little about growth and a frog’s lifecycle. This week we returned them home now frogs.

I remember clearly having tadpoles in my Preparatory class at school when I was about 4 years old and watching them grow into frogs. I don’t even know if it is allowed any more in schools. Someone told me something about health and safety a few years ago, I never checked the claim, however for me the experience was magical and when we came across the tadpoles in their hundreds in the pond I couldn’t resist borrowing a few for a little science experiment for the kids at home.

We started off by doing some research into how to give our froggy guests the best home we could. I knew that we needed a container but I didn’t know how big. My research suggested that you needed 1 litre of water for 5-10 tadpoles and we had 7. Unfortunately if you put too many in a confined space they start to eat each other (a bit like goldfish). The research also suggested giving them some sheltered space where they can hide, some plants like grass or weeds so that they can nibble the roots and something they can climb out on as once they are in the frog stages they need to come out the water or they will drown.

Initially I used a pyrex dish we found some pebbles, dug up some grass from the garden (which we rinsed), and used a stacking cup to give them some shelter. We could use the water directly from the tap but if you live in an area where they chlorinate the water you’ll need to either use bottled water or get some dechlorinating tablets from the pet shop. Our little tadpoles seemed relatively happy in there and we fed them on finely chopped over-boiled lettuce. I took care not to give them too much as I didn’t want the water getting dirty but, generally, they seemed to eat about a teaspoon a day.

tadpoles first home

As they started to grow their arms (and legs) I realised that we would probably need a container with higher walls so that our frogs didn’t escape. Luckily my hubby managed to borrow the work fish tank for us, as their goldfish had recently passed away, but you could just use a bucket.

new home for tadpoles

We loved watching the tadpoles develop. At 3 E is very close to the age I was when I was enchanted by the tadpoles but, to my surprise, M was too at only 15 months. Every time we would take any visitors to see our froggy enclosure he would point at them and quack (I think that M believes all pond creatures quack).

tadpole timeline

They did seem to develop at different rates but I guess they must have come from separate spawns. We had our first frog after about 2 weeks. While still young and having a black sheen, rather than the mottled green he later developed, he would attempt to scale the sides. I was very happy about having the fish tank as images of a frog infested house, and random croaks coming from the bathroom, kept springing to mind.

The other tadpoles developed at a similar rate (luckily as you need to decrease their food once they have legs as they ingest their own tails) and suddenly we had an “army” of young frogs – that does sounds very odd but the collective noun for frogs is “army” apparently… It was time to send our boys home.

We took them back up to the forest in jam jars trying not to shake them as much as possible. Frogs are very sensitive to movement. The forest is currently in”periode des naissances” (birthing season). All the young wild creatures are generally born between April 15th and June 30th and so we were greater with numerous warning and were extra careful to remind the children of the Rules of the Forest:

  • No Cars
  • Cyclists must stick to the paths
  • Try not to pick the flowers
  • Dogs should stay on leads to avoid scaring away wildlife
  • Dead wood is dangerous
  • The forest, while fun, can be dangerous
  • Take all litter away with you

tadpole swarm

Finally we reached the pond and saw that it was still full of frogspawn who were once again clustering in the same spot. We let our frogs go and said our good byes.

froggy goodbyes

M was seriously in awe of the whole experience, now being able to totter along and touch everything, rather than having to stay sat in his pushchair. His little finger was pointing and big “ooooohs” were fairly frequent as he wanted to make sure we saw every interesting thing he spotted. E is still unsure what to make of her increasingly mobile brother but she seemed happy enough and enjoyed feeding the ducks at the pond (an activity that M is less taken with for now).

little boy exploring

There will definitely be more trips back to the frog pond in the near future but we will not be disturbing them by taking them home again.

Hope you are all keeping well.