Austrian Food Memories

Food always shows up in my memories I have realized. I am currently taking a cooking class at a local community college, and we were asked to write about our food memories. I noticed how many of my food memories are connected with growing up in Austria and the desire to find the same flavors and dishes again even when living abroad. Our instructor asked us to write about foods we hated but now love, special foods, and foods associated with the seasons.

Foods that I Hated but Now Love

I have noticed that most of my loves and hates in connection with food have stayed the same over the years; the only exception is foods that I first ate prepared differently from what they were meant to be.

For example, I have never really understood the excitement about fried chicken (and now I cannot believe I ever thought that). I did not really hate it, but if I had a choice, I would have eaten nearly anything else rather than fried chicken. I found the breading rather tasteless, rubbery, and greasy covering dry meat. That was when I ate the European version of fried chicken, which usually means a thick layer of breadcrumbs and panfrying/roasting in about half an inch of oil. Then, I had fried chicken in a U.S. military messhall and prepared by a chef who grew up in the South. It was a revelation – the chicken was moist and not greasy at all and the breading actually added to the taste. Now I love fried chicken – if it is prepared well (which for me so far means made by a chef who uses Southern recipes).

Another example is fries; the only American-style fries I knew from Europe were McDonald’s fries since McDonald’s was the only U.S. fast-food restaurant I have known. I actually liked those fries, but when I moved to California, everyone always mentioned how I had to try the fries at In-N-Out since they were so great. The first time I tried the fries, I thought they were too dry and too thick; I was not a fan, but people continued to tell me how good they were and always wanted to eat at In-N-Out instead of any other burger place. After a few more visits, my taste changed, and I actually started to like the fries. I have not eaten at a U.S. McDonald’s in years, and I am one of these annoying people now who always try to convince others that In-N-Out has the best fries.

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Fries and burgers at In-N-Out; photo by pointnshoot from Oakland, California, USA (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Foods that Remind Me of Special Occasions

One dish that always reminds me of family dinners for Christmas or Easter is my grandmother’s stuffed veal breast. It is a traditional Austrian dish and pretty common, but it is a large piece of meat that is rather expensive, so we usually ate it only for special occasions. The boneless veal breast is cut open to create a pocket that is filled with a mixture of parsley and  old bread soaked in milk and white wine. The stuffed breast is sown shut and sitting in a liquid of wine and butter is then roasted in the oven for two hours and regularly moistened with the liquid. It is served with steamed cabbage, bread dumplings, and boiled potatoes that soak up the juice from the meat. Since the death of my grandmother, I have never eaten this dish again because I am nervous that it would not be as good as her version (she never shared her recipe) and that I would “ruin” my memory of the amazing taste.

 

Foods Associated with the Seasons

Since I grew up in Austria, many of associations are still made based on the weather and local ingredients there, which is very different from California with its much warmer weather. This has sometimes become frustrating to me since I cannot find the same foods and puzzling to friends, who become excited about pumpkin in fall for example, which as a vegetable has really no special memory or season associated with it for me.

Spring:

It can snow in mid-May in Austria, so I do not necessarily associate fresh vegetables and lettuce with spring. In fact, many of the greens that can be grown in California in February would not show up in Austria until April and even then most likely from a greenhouse. I am still amazed by what can be planted when here in Northern California. So when I think of spring, I think of special dishes associated with carnival, Lent, and Easter, large celebrations in spring. The dish associated with carnival is called Faschingskrapfen, a type of donut filled with apricot jam and powdered sugar.

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Faschingskrapfen – Photo by Wikimedia Commons/KarlGruber

Lent is connected with creamed spinach and a fried egg, the typical dinner for Maudy Thursday, which is focused on green foods.

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Creamed Spinach and Fried Eggs (photo by belu1004 on Pixabay)

Easter is associated with Osterzopf, which at first glance looks a lot like Challah bread but is much sweeter and a dessert by itself or a breakfast bread.

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Osterzopf – Photo by Capri23auto on Pixabay

Summer:

I associate summer with red currants, berries that grow like weeds but do not do well in the heat of the Sacramento Valley (I have tried growing them here). I remember there were weeks and weeks of summer where I would pick and de-stalk currants nearly every day. Most of the red currants were made into jam or thick juice to be mixed with sparkling water all through winter till the next summer. My favorite way to eat red currants is as a yellow sponge cake with a layer of the sweet-sour red berries topped with thick waves of meringue. The recipe does work with frozen berries, so I can recreate it with frozen red currants usually found at Russian supermarkets in Sacramento, but it does not taste quite as good as it would with fresh berries just picked from the backyard.

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Red Currants – Photo by danigeza on Pixabay

 

Fall:

Fall is connected with roasted chestnuts and new red wine – a combination that is particularly popular in Northern Italy and in the Austrian state of Tyrol (see a previous blog posting). In the US, most people think of pumpkin when they think fall – as seen with the excited social media postings about pumpkin flavors being offered again at Starbucks and other places, but I am not used to the pumpkin obsession. For me, pumpkins are associated with a dark pumpkin seed oil available and used all year long and roasted pumpkin seeds on breads and as snacks, also eaten throughout the year.

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Starbucks Pumpkin Meme Found on the Site Your Tango

 

As a child, I associated fall with hiking through forests to collect mushrooms, especially mushrooms of the Boletus family such as Bay Bolete and Penny Bun. I learned early on as a five-year old how to identify the edible mushrooms from the poisonous ones, how to cut them correctly, so they would grow back next year, and how to clean them. Fresh mushrooms would be made into a thick sauce that was a meal by itself with bread or bread dumplings. We also dried pounds and pounds of them to be used in soups and sauces throughout the year.

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Mushroom from the Boletus Family – Photo by czu_czu_PL on Pixabay

 

Winter:

Winter is closely connected with gingerbread and a variety of cookies that are made only around Christmas time, but usually so many pounds are made and received as gifts that we ate Christmas cookies till long into January. Many of the cookie dough recipes include nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts. One famous Austrian cookie is the Vanillekipferl, shaped like a crescent moon (see a great recipe here). Another popular recipe is cinnamon stars (see a recipe here). All the cookies seem much less sweet than American desserts and a lot drier; an American chewy chocolate-chip cookie seems undercooked to me for example, but my American husband compares Austrian cookies to wood chips or bread, and the possibility for Austrian cookies to stay fresh in an air-tight container in a cool place for weeks is not a good sign for him.

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Vanillekipferl – Photo by Blueeyes on Pixabay

 

Reflecting on foods has shown me how closely all of my especially favorite memories are connected with foods. One of the main reasons why I have become interested in cooking and taking cooking courses is because I want to recreate flavors that are connected with special memories, places, and people . Since I have moved around quite a lot in my life, I have learned that it is often futile to try to find a restaurant or bakery that offers these flavors from my past, so it just seems easier to learn how to create them myself instead of looking for someone else who might be able to do this.

PS: When I am around food, I seem to be more focused on eating than taking photos, so many of the photos in this posting are from Pixabay, a site with free, high-quality images. Thank you to all the artists who make their work available for free (and also take much better pictures than I can).

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Lake Attersee: Where Klimt Spent His Summers and So Should You

The water of Lake Attersee in Upper Austria is crystal clear but changes its color by the minute from a near Caribbean-like sapphire to bright azure and dark navy; I watch the clouds race and the swans jockey for bread from the tourists walking past. It is easy to understand why Austrian painter Gustav Klimt spent sixteen summers at the shore of this lake and created 45 of his 50 landscape paintings based on the views around the lake.

The Gustav Klimt Center in the small town of Kammer am Attersee celebrates and explains Klimt’s fascination and works connected with the lake as it brings together facsimiles of some of his landscapes and provides a handy map of the lake indicating the locations of the views from all his Attersee paintings.  A short documentary explains more about Klimt’s life at the lake and his friendship with Emilie Floege, the sister of his sister-in-law and a fashion designer; many of her pieces remind me of the loose and colorful robes in Klimt’s paintings.

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Outfit Designed and Worn by Emilie Floege, the Sister of Klimt’s Sister-in-Law (on display at the Klimt Center)

The Center provides a nice summary and starting point, but do not expect too much; it is a very small exhibit and none of the paintings are the originals. Of course that is understandable considering that Klimt’s paintings are worth millions. For example, the painting “Kammer Castle at Attersee” sold in 1997 for 19.1 million Euros according to a sign in the Center. However, the Center’s exhibit would greatly benefit from at least one original painting that maybe could be a loan. So I recommend not expecting more from the Center than a starting point and inspiration to go out and explore the lake and its shore, especially via the Klimt Artist Trail starting right outside the Center.

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Map of the Lake and its Surroundings Indicating the View of Each Painting

The trail is an easy walk of about 1.5km or a little less than a mile along the lake shore from the Center to Villa Paulick, where Klimt spent some time.  Other parts of the trail are on the southern shore of the lake. Along the trail are panels/kiosks with details about Klimt’s life as well as photos of paintings based on the particular view and often a square cutout/view finder to imitate Klimt’s process, who used a simple cutout/frame to look for motifs.

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Close-up of sign along the Klimt path with square view finder looking at Castle Kammer similar to Klimt’s painting.

From 1899 onward, all of Klimt’s landscapes were exclusively created in a square format, so Klimt favored a format that now has become standard and expected with the popularity of Instagram and its square photos. Inspired by the cutouts in the kiosks, I took several photos of the same view in landscape format and then also in the square format, and I did prefer the square ones (but maybe that is because I have been influenced by the daily use of Instagram):

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Landscape View of Lake

 

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Square View of the Lake a la Klimt

 

Even though the trail leads one to the spots that inspired Klimt’s paintings, often too much has changed to create the same impression on photos such as the avenue leading up to Kammer Castle:

 

A drive around the lake (the road is often right next to the water) offers plenty of gorgeous views reminiscent of Klimt’s landscapes even if you do not spend the time to find the exact spots:

 

At some point, I was too taken by the views to pay attention to the map and possible markers to keep track of the trail on the southern lake shore:

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Southern Lake Shore

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The color of the lake water changes from bright green to teal to azure.

Even if you are not a Klimt fan, the lake is worth a visit for strolling, hiking, boating, and swimming; it is also a very popular lake for scuba diving because of its clear waters and depth.

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Public Pool Overlooking the Lake in Seewalchen (Along the Artist Trail)

Or maybe the views inspire you to paint or sketch (here is how Klimt depicted the water):

 

Lake Attersee is about 2.5 hours by car from Vienna, and a little bit over half an hour by car from Salzburg but pretty difficult to reach by public transportation (no major train stations are right on the lake).

The Klimt Center is near the harbor in Kammer and its opening hours change throughout the year, so check the website for more details: https://www.klimt-am-attersee.at/en/ . The Artist Trail is free and open 24/7; find a great map of all the stops here.

There are plenty of cafes and restaurants with great views along the northern shore of the lake, so the lake is definitely worth a visit.

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View of the Harbor in Kammer from the Cafe at the Klimt Center

 

New Blog Name: The Wandering Austrian

I have decided to try out a new site name for my blog; you may have noticed it: The Wandering Austrian. The URL stays the same, and I might change the title again, but I felt a change was in order. “Austrian in California” was a great fit when I started the blog as I focused on the experience of living in the US and visiting Austria from time to time, but since then I have started to explore other topics especially as I lived for a few months in Italy. Since my blog postings were often no longer about Austria or California or the clash of these two specific cultures, the original name of the blog seemed to limit me. I had ideas for new postings, but they often did not seem to fit the original title and concept of the blog.

The new title hopefully illustrates that postings will be more diverse and focus on more than just two cultures. Thank you to my friend Heather for coming up with the new title and letting me use it.

In keeping with the new name, you may have already noticed a couple of postings about Italy recently, where I will be for the next month.

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Shutters in Bologna, Italy

Not Your Typical Lecture Hall or Library in Bologna, Italy

I have spent plenty of my time in lecture halls/rooms on a college campus since I teach, but I teach at an institution that is barely older than I am (and no, I am not that old). So the buildings are nothing exciting – they are clean, they are practical, and they do their job, but they are definitely not memorable or give the impression that one is at a special place of learning. It is of course unfair to compare a college barely out of its infancy to the oldest university in the Western world, Bologna, but it is hard not to.

The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and was home to some very famous students such as Erasmus and Copernicus. The schools and venues of the university were scattered across town, but in the mid-16th century, the Palazzo dell’ Archiginnasio became the first permanent seat of the university until 1803 (when it moved to Via Zamboni, where it is still today).

Today, the Teatro Anatomico is a big tourist attraction, but oh, how exciting it would be to teach in this classroom (even though I do not teach biology, medicine, or dissection). The building was damaged during WWII but was rebuilt with mostly original materials it seems.

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Teatro Anatomico is the lecture hall for human dissections in oldest university in Europe.

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Teatro Anatomico is the lecture hall where the first human dissections in Europe took place.

Another lecture hall in the same building is Sala dello Stabat Mater; it is still used for talks and lectures today, and old decorations clash with modern chairs, screen, and projector.

The palazzo is also home to the city library, Biblioteca Comunale, which is really a working library and does not allow entry to  tourists but only to serious library users.

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Page of the medical book by Lucantonio Giunta from the mid-sixteenth century on how to take care of fractures.

Just across the square Piazza Maggiore is another gorgeous library that is just a “normal” city library used by residents. Biblioteca Salaborsa is a gorgeous, multi-story building in Art Nouveau style; it was once a botanical garden, military training ground, basketball court, and the Stock Exchange.

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Biblioteca Salaborsa inside the former Stock Exchange in Art Nouveau style

It was built on Roman and medieval structures, which can be viewed through the glass floor of the library or walked through on the lower level.

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The glass floor of the Biblioteca Salaborsa shows excavations of medieval and Roman settlements.

I love libraries anyway, but these environments are even more exciting. I wonder if students or library users are/were  inspired by the environment or whether it was just another building to be in to reach one’s goal.

Street Art in Bologna, Italy

Bologna, also known as the Red City, is famous for its many rust-colored buildings, small alleyways, and of course porticoes, and even though the town has plenty of old-time charm, it also offers plenty of modern street art in some parts of town. Many of the pieces are large and intricate and much more than a quick tag and dash (although there are plenty of tags around the city as well).

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A small street with the typical architecture and already some graffiti.

Many of the pieces I found in the university quarter of town are large and intricate:

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Many of the pieces are entertaining and do not offer political comments (at least not as far as I could gather):

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The piece is close to four meters tall.

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A large doorway enhanced by art.

However, some pieces do seem to include more obvious messages, which were still lost on me (but I did appreciate the details in the pieces):

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Several pieces spell their message out rather clearly:

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Technology is phallocentric

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While many of the pieces are painted or sprayed onto the walls and doors,  a few of the pieces are also pasted and hung like wallpaper:

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And then there are murals that cover half a building/block:

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If you are in Bologna, look for more than old churches and palazzi. As I explore more parts of the city over the next few days and weeks, I am curious to find out if more large-scale art pieces exist outside of the university quarter.

Most Fragrant Season in California

A short period of about three to four weeks in early spring (the length is dependent on the weather) is my favorite season in Northern California; it is also the most fragrant season. It is orange-blossom season! Well, it is actually citrus-blossom season but that just does not have the same ring.

In late winter and early spring, all the effort and time to wrap my citrus trees on cold nights to withstand the few hours a night of temperatures close to freezing are finally paying off as the the first trees start to bloom and envelope the backyard in their potent, sweet smell.

Covered Orange Tree

The daily ritual before cooler winter nights – swaddling the citrus trees in tarps and blankets. Once they are taller than 7 feet, the endeavor becomes quite challenging.

The fragrance is hard to describe, and none of the scents captured in bottles ever come close to the real thing; the smell is sweet and potent, even stronger at night, and very different from the smell of an orange fruit or peel. In my backyard, the limes and mandarins bloom first, then come the grapefruit trees, and last but not least the orange trees that seem to do double duty by still carrying some fruit while already blooming and working on this year’s crop.

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Close-up of Blossoms

The white, star-shaped flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to the backyard, and at times “air traffic” becomes too busy for me to sit nearby.

Sure, the golden-orange California poppies cover the hillsides in spring and acres and acres of almond trees blossom in the Central Valley, but nothing is quite as impressive as the aroma of orange blossoms. Walk through the suburbs or through downtown, and you are sure to catch a whiff of the sweet smell every couple of hundred feet or so. This is the most fragrant time of the year in California and nothing quite compares for me.

PS: Last spring came close to this experience as  I spent a weekend in Sorrento, Italy and on Capri, where I was  embraced by the fragrance of lemon blossoms every corner I turned (and that might be the reason why I enjoyed that trip so much).

New Year’s Resolution

With the beginning of 2017, of course I also thought about New Year’s resolutions as so many others do, and getting fit is always pretty high on any list of resolutions. But I know myself well enough to know that these resolutions have a a tendency to fizzle out before too long, so I see no sense in getting stuck with a long-term, pricey membership contract with a gym. Indeed, plenty of memes and articles have made the rounds on social media based on the same idea in the last few days; one that in particular spoke to me was a fake offer for one to two training sessions and four photos of the new member working out on social media. Here is another meme that entertained me:

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Meme found on Tumbler

I have avoided the temptation to sign up for a gym so far, but I could not resist an original vinyl record of Jane Fonda’s 1981 workout record in a local thrift-store ( and with a two-dollar price tag also much cheaper than a gym membership). I mean – it is Jane Fonda, THE original workout maven! The VHS tape that followed and was based on her book and this record is the top selling VHS tape of all time according to several online sites. The record has a cheesy 8os sound track so that alone makes it entertaining; and the cover design is hilarious. I do not think even the thrift-store sold a pair of those 80s legwarmers and the high-cut leotard with matching belt.

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Album Cover of Jane Fonda’s 1981 Workout Record

Even if I stop the workout regime based on the record in a few weeks (which is very likely based on previous new year’s resolutions), I still have the entertainment factor, so I call this a good buy. If you are interested in the original video workout, browse YouTube (see example here).

The record is also an important piece of Americana, artifacts related to the cultural heritage of the U.S. It might not seem worthy of this label to some, but when I think 80s and U.S., Jane Fonda and aerobics always come to mind.

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Christmas Decorations and Workout Record

So here is to a great year ahead; may you stick to you resolutions or at least be entertained by your pursuit of your goals.