Top positive review
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Snow and Sugar Plums
on 29 December 2009
When I first heard about Winter in the Alps on a sweetly wistful food blog called Dreaming of Winter, I gleefully scampered over to Amazon to find a copy for myself. It is even more wonderful than I had hoped it would be. Winter in the Alps travels the snowy paths of the Swiss mountains, focusing primarily on the Italian-speaking region the author's family comes from. She occasionally dips into other areas, such as the lovely chapter on Christmas in Zurich, but the book is steeped in the comfortable old Swiss-Italian traditions of Ticino and Grigioni.
About ten years ago, I was lucky enough to spend ten months on a school exchange programme in Neuchatel, and fell beamingly in love with a nation that devotes whole supermarket aisles to the glorious business of chocolate. It's this Switzerland that Darling-Gansser conjures up so beautifully: full of laughter and family and warmth and good food, even when the weather outside blasts freezing cold snow at the bolted door. She has an irrepressibly welcoming tone, as if you were a friend sitting down at her kitchen table as she slices vegetables and tells you about a wonderful mountain inn her family discovered recently. When Darling-Gansser paints verbal pictures of starry nights in the mountains, one cannot help being enchanted by her generosity and sense of wonder at the fairy-tale quality of glowing windows in winter storms and snow.
And quite apart from the utterly magical stories and memories she recounts, the recipes really work. You can tell that they've been tested extensively to make sure absent-minded home cooks like you and me don't lose our way. Unlike Jane Lawson's disappointing Snowflakes & Schnapps, bursting with luxy, over-styled, decontextualised food, Winter in the Alps is full of homey, comfortable and genuinely thoughtful recipes. They run the gamut from traditional cheese fondue to crispy mushroom polenta to beautiful wintery roast vegetables to luscious nut cakes and fragile meringues. Best of all, and quite possibly worth the price alone, is her Nuvolone, or cloud soufflés. You beat egg whites until stiff, and then mound the frothy whiteness on top of ramekins into which you have placed egg yolks, a drop of cream, a sprinkle of gruyère and a pinch of salt and pepper. They go into the oven for five minutes, and when they come out, golden and puffed, they look like nimbus clouds at sunset. And underneath is a delicious eggy mixture cheerfully begging you to dunk a piece of bread in its quiet deliciousness. Genius. Sheer mountainy genius. I cannot possibly recommend Winter in the Alps highly enough.