Friday, January 13, 2017

My Life As A Hausfrau, Part the First

I pack my husband's breakfasts and lunches for him Monday through Friday. Happily, and gratefully, he has made it clear that he would prefer to eat basically the same thing most days. Through some trial and error we have arrived at the following: one strawberry yogurt and one banana for breakfast. For lunch, a sandwich (typically egg salad or cheese and salami) and one carrot, peeled and slivered. A clementine for a late afternoon snack.

He could eat at his work cafe, but an average lunch there costs 25 chf (Swiss francs are roughly equal to dollars). That adds up.

When we were living and working in Chicago, we would start most mornings with coffee in bed together and then go our separate ways. I would pick up a scone or some other sweet, bread-y sort of thing on my way into the office where I would arrive and immediately pour myself another mug of office supplied coffee. Lunch was typically a sandwich or soup at a chain like Panera or one of the smaller mom and pop restaurants around my office. Sometimes I would bring leftovers from dinner the night before if there had been anything leftover. In the evenings, if we had both had long days at work (typically the case), I would pick up a roast chicken and ready-made salads from Whole Foods, or we would (far too) frequently order delivery for dinner.

When we moved to New York, we ate out a lot. Quite possibly, we could own a vacation home now for what we spent eating out in restaurants. But there were so many wonderful places to eat there! Every food from everywhere on earth was available. And why spend the time and effort making a curry when you could buy one for far less that tasted far better on your way home from wherever? 

Anyway. Switzerland? Not exactly a culinary capital. Though I've had a few nice meals out since arriving in Zurich, it's a bit of a hit or miss proposition. And if you are spending 32 chf for a cheeseburger, you really want that cheeseburger to be just short of mind-blowing. Eating out is insanely pricey. We don't do it much.

As I am not working*, it stands to reason that I can and should shoulder the whole food part of our life here. I do the meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. Three meals a day for 2 adults. This, it turns out, is a not inconsiderable amount of work.

We don't have a car, so the acquisition of sufficient groceries to make all these meals means several trips to the store every week. Which, even without a car, would be necessary given the diminutive size of our fridge and freezer. Which isn't really a complaint. I like our kitchen here, I like the smaller fridge. In all of our apartments in the States, the refrigerator was always some hulking stainless steel monster that stuck out a good 6 inches beyond the countertops. Always bugged me. Why can't these things be produced compatibly? (I do miss automatic ice* makers, though. Sigh.)
I usually annex the kitchen table for additional work space.
Fridge. At least it blends.
Barbie-sized freezer. Those drawers are only about 10 inches deep.
Grocery stores tend to be quite nice (particularly in contrast to our skeevy Brooklyn markets), and the quality of the food is very high. Lots of cheese to be sure and lots of chocolate. The eggs are incredible. The tomatoes are very good. The meat is sort of weird. Instead of the styrofoam tray and plastic wrap you find in US supermarkets, it's sort of shrink-wrapped in a way that leaves a lot to be desired, aesthetically. That's okay, though, because it's got me eating almost no meat as a result. I've been a little disappointed in the bakery/pastry area and I miss American donuts. Specifically the dulce de leche donuts from Dough. I miss American diet coke, too. It's called Coke Light here and tastes not the same. Mind you, I still drink it, but not without bitter complaint.
Kinda gross, right?
And they hang on a wall like socks or something.
The Coop Grocery store. This is one of the largest ones. With sufficient room for 2 carts to actually pass each other! Such novelty!
A side effect of cooking every meal at home is the amount of cleaning up that has to be done afterward. No just chucking the Chinese take-out cartons in the trash like in Brooklyn. I try to clean as I cook, in part out of necessity, as we only brought like 2 bowls with us when we moved, and in part due to the lack of counter space in our kitchen. You can run out of room to work pretty fast if the available space is cluttered with dirty pots and stray carrot peels. Still, there are evenings when I can't face the after dinner mess and just shut the door on it. God, it is so boring to do the dishes over and over and over again. Second-wave feminism got that right, that's fo' sho.

I read a book by Jill Alexander Essbaum shortly after arriving in Zurich. Hausfrau: A Novel is the story of a young American woman named Anna living just outside Zurich with her Swiss husband and children. The heroine is modeled (sort of) after Anna Karenina, and is bored and unhappy with motherhood and the suburbs. She falls into a series of steamy and unhappy love affairs. The reviews make a big deal about the sex scenes as well as the general passivity of the main character. To me, Anna seems quite obviously clinically depressed. But the thought I kept returning to while reading her story was: How is this woman able to care for 2 small children AND keep a house clean to Swiss standards AND still have the time and energy for all her various sexual assignations? Impossible!

*More on these things in a later post.


  1. Lovely to hear from you!
    Things sound like a bit of a challenge & a big change from your previous life. We lived for a month in France, I can relate to the difficulty of obtaining & preparing food. I am not the main cook in our little family, so my meals were flavored with a little frustration & a pinch of resentment.
    I see you are out & about, absorbing the sights & sounds. I hope you are finding some time to sew.

  2. p.s. Good luck with the steamy affairs! ;-)

  3. Happy New Year to you! It's funny because I hadn't looked for a while since the laundry post and tonight I saw your blog name so checked to see if you had wrote again. glad you did. I like your kitchen but I am sure it takes getting used to. it is bigger than cooking in a camper which I did a lot in the 90's so I understand how you feel. that is funny about the Hausfrua, it has to be a novel??? LOL there are always untruths in them. are you sewing any projects? did you take fabric with you? or Is it readily available there? Take care, from Iowa

  4. I don't know why, but I'm always a little surprised when I find your accounts of life so interesting. Well, you write well, and your observations are humanly very relatable. I relate too, since we lived in Istanbul 3 years. Funny, I prefer going to the store often to a 1 week or 2 week foray, which requires too much planning ahead, not to mention so much food going bad that I never got to.

    My friend who left NY said it costs something to live in NY. Obviously. But he meant it takes more than just money, it takes time and a great deal of energy to do everything, go where you have to go.

    You might like a book my daughter-in-law just gave me after I complained at being overwhelmed by food issues and options and nutrition, etc. "One Part Plant" by Jessica Murnane. It's a beautiful book, for one. And she apparently makes eating well pretty simple. I don't know how it translates to Switzerland, but maybe it would be a nice resource.

    And yikes, the cost of eating out there!