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.

in-n-out_burger_cheeseburgers_and_fries

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.

faschingskrapfen

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.

Creamed Spinach

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.

Osterzopf

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.

red-currant

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.

Starbucks Pumpkin Meme

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.

mushroom

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.

Vanillekipferl

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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Shopping at the Mercato Centrale in Florence

Even though I was tempted to sleep in Friday morning, I am glad I got up early to go on a two-hour food and tasting tour at the Central Market before I went off to work. I am not usually a chipper person in the mornings, but there was so much to see and taste that even I had a smile on my face by the time we were done and I headed off to work on a very brisk but sunny morning.

Florence is really at its best in the early morning before all the tourists are out and when the city wakes up and bread, wine and water, cheese, table linens and more are delivered to stores and restaurants. The Central Market, Mercato Centrale, is north of the Duomo in the San Larenzo neighborhood, which also meant another gorgeous view of the Duomo’s cupola glistening in the morning sun on the way to the market.

Ceiling of Mercato

Top of the Building from 1874

Mercato Centrale, built in 1874, is packed with stalls selling fish, meat, cheese, olive oil, wine, fruits and vegetables, bread and sweets and more. The top floor used to be reserved for fruit and vegetable stands but is now full of little restaurants that serve the Italian version of “fast food” which is still wood-fired pizza and fresh pasta or fresh fish.

Our tour allowed us to stop at some stalls and taste the ware. For example, we stopped at a bakery and tried different pastries. I loved the fried rice balls called “frittelle” that are a specialty for Father’s Day on March 17 and are thus also literally called “St. Jospeh’s Balls.”

The fish stands highlight that Florence is not far from the coast and that fresh fish is an important staple.

Fish Monger

Fish Monger

Of course, there is also olive oil and balsamico. We got to try unfiltered olive oil as well as balsamico of a variety of ages: ten, 15, 18, 20, and 25 years old. The 25-year-old balsamico was thick and syrupy and it was recommended to put it over large shavings of cheese and just enjoy. We did not get to taste the 40-year-old balsamico but it was interesting to know it even existed – I always thought age was just important for whiskey and wine.

The fresh pasta was really made fresh just in front of our eyes:

The butchers offered not only the typical cuts but different parts of the cow’s stomach, including tripe, which is a local favorite and at every butcher stall. Most offer organ meat including brain but also bull testicles and penises.

Since it was still barely above freezing this morning, we also stopped for coffee and hot chocolate at a stall in the market. I am usually not a fan of either; hot chocolate is either too milky tasting or too watery, but this one was rich and thick and decadent. It tasted and had the consistency of a molten expensive European chocolate bar. I hate getting up early but this hot chocolate could turn me into a morning person – it is that good! Good thing it is served all day long.

I enjoy shopping for food at the little supermarket around the corner, but I look forward to coming back to the market and do more shopping here. The tour guide also taught us some basic phrases to ask for specific amounts and to interact with the vendors, which definitely helped ease any apprehension we may have had to shop at the market and actually have to talk in Italian (I am sure plenty of the sellers do speak English).

 

Food Stamps

Austrian Stamps Celebrating Austria's Beer Culture

Austrian Stamps Celebrating Austria’s Beer Culture

Stamps have long been involved in the history of nations and highlight the nation’s culture and its values. Many stamps show important historical figures, current rulers and other political figures, and famous landmarks. Stamps also celebrate holidays and highlight plants and animals. Current stamps on sale in the U.S. show Paul Newman, Elvis Presley, Maya Angelou, Wilt Chamberlain, the forget-me-not, and the battle of New Orleans.

U.S. Stamp in Honor of author Maya Angelou (found on usps.com)

While Austrian stamps celebrate famous sights and people as well, they also show how important food is in its culture (I wrote about food in my last posting). I was excited to see that the Austrian postal service is paying homage to beer and food. Of course the Wiener Schnitzel is famous enough and important enough to get its own stamp!

Schnitzel

Austrian Stamps Celebrating Food – The Wiener Schnitzel Is the Stamp in the Upper Left Corner

Who Consumes the Most?

Cake Buffet at an Austrian Potluck after Several Other Courses

Cake Buffet at an Austrian Potluck after Several Other Courses

Which nation consumes on average the most calories per day per person? The first guess will most likely be the U.S., known for fast food, large portions, and unfortunately obesity. And the guess is not far off as U.S. Americans have consumed on average 3,733 calories per person per day from 2004 till 2013 according to a study. So who eats more? Austrians!

So-called "Bratl" or Roasted Pork with Two Types of Dumplings and Potatoes (meant to be enough for about 5-8 people)

So-called “Bratl” or Roasted Pork with Two Types of Dumplings and Potatoes (meant to be enough for about 5-8 people) – for a recipe, go to this site

Austrians consume on average 3,769 calories, and based on how much we love deserts, beer, and fat, I was not completely surprised. Germans are only in 8th place. Even though Austrians consume more calories, the obesity rate is lower than in the U.S. According to the study, Belgians consume on average the same amount of calories as U.S. Americans, but only every tenth person is considered overweight in Belgium while in the U.S. every third person is. The difference is linked to the quality and price of food in the article and study. The higher the cost and quality of food, the lower the obesity rate even if the amount of calories is the same.

Bratwurst and sauerkraut; the drink is a pint of white wine with sparkling water

Bratwurst and sauerkraut; the drink is a pint of white wine with sparkling water

Dumpling with chanterelle mushrooms in sauce

Dumpling with chanterelle mushrooms in sauce

The article reminded me of how much I love and miss Austrian cuisine and how much food is part of the culture and tradition. I like that it is normal to have a mid-morning snack (often also with beer) and an afternoon coffee and cake break in addition to the regular three meals a day. Many of the dishes call for heavy cream and butter, and every cook knows that a reduced-fat version of the dish will not taste the same. I was surprised when I moved here by how few people ate butter and that a completely fat-free milk version existed, which in my opinion is no longer milk but white water. In contrast, I grew up with the idea to avoid margarine, that milk that is “drinkable” is whole milk, and that lard is a perfectly good (albeit rich) bread spread.

Lard with pork skins as spread on bread; the white "fluff" is salted and cut daikon radish

Lard with pork skins as spread on bread; the white “fluff” is salted and cut daikon radish

A cheese snack and beers for a little pick-me-up midmorning.

A cheese snack and beers for a little pick-me-up mid-morning

Many of the dishes are mostly carbs and fat since plenty of main dishes are a version of sweet dumplings or something along these lines. A Bauernkrapfen, a version of a donut, comes in at 45g of carbs, 22g of fat, and overall 421 calories for example. Thinking about the calories and eating habits of Austrians led to reminiscing about all the Austrian dishes that I would love to eat right now, but I had to stop making my list; it became just too long.

Bauerkrapfen - an Austrian type of doughnut (no filling, just dough fried in oil)

Bauernkrapfen – an Austrian type of doughnut (no filling, just dough fried in oil)

Hawaiian Food

Road stands with fresh coconuts are common and everywhere on the islands.

Road stands with fresh coconuts are common and everywhere on the islands.

One of the pleasures of visiting Hawai’i for me is tasting the foods that are difficult to impossible to get here on the mainland, and I do not mean just the typical Hawaiian dishes such as kalua pork or poi. I am not the biggest fan of poi, the mush of boiled taro stems; I imagine if I would taste wallpaper glue (not that I ever have tasted it or have the desire to do so), it would taste like poi. But to get the Hawaiian culinary experience, I usually eat poi at least once on my trip.

Bowl of poi with its usual consistency (photo found on Wikipedia)

What I really look forward to are the snacks that are not usually listed under Hawaiian cuisine. These include the wide variety of fish jerky. While on the mainland jerky seems to be limited to beef and turkey and possibly deer, fish jerky seems to rule supreme based on the many varieties offered in all supermarkets.

Different versions of fish jerky.

Different versions of fish jerky.

IMG_1251

Some type of fish or octopus jerky – I am not sure; but it was tasty.

Coconut seems to be another favorite – whether fresh or dried.

I guess the idea is that really everything is better with bacon.

I guess the idea is that really everything is better with bacon.

Of course, there are always Spam and macadamia nuts, so the next “logical” step is of course to combine the two for Spam-flavored macadamia nuts.

Spam is one of the favorite foods of Hawaiians, so it is not a surprise that even Macadamia nuts are flavored with spam.

Spam is one of the favorite foods of Hawai’ians, so it is not a surprise that even macadamia nuts are flavored with spam.

A common Hawai’i favorite for tourists and locals is shave ice (no, Hawai’ians do not call it shaved ice). I learned from Wikipedia that the main difference to a snow cone is that the ice is shaved and not crushed for shave ice. In contrast to a snow cone, shave ice is fluffy and seems to retain the flavor syrup better than a snow cone. The shave ice creates a light snow-like substance that rivals the consistency of fresh powder that skiers seek.

Hawaiian Shave Ice - it is never as fluffy and snow-like anywhere else but in Hawaii.

Hawaiian Shave Ice – it is never as fluffy and snow-like anywhere else but in Hawai’i.

The ultimate experience and new find on the recent trip was the Sugarloaf Pineapple Phrosty at the Kaua’i farmer’s market at the Kaua’i Community College. A frozen piece of the white sugarloaf pineapple is run through a juicer to create a frosty without any additional sugar or dairy. The result is divine and should seriously be listed as one of the reasons to consider moving to Kaua’i. I wonder whether Kaua’i Community College is accepting transfers…

I was so distracted by the amazing taste that I never took a photo of the pineapple phrosty. Look for the stand at the Kaua’i farmer’s market or check them out online: http://www.kauaisugarloaf.com. Here is a photo from their website:

Pineapple Phrosty from Kaua’i Sugarloaf Pineapple (photo from: http://www.Kauaisugarloaf.com)

Krampus Day – Demons Rule the Streets

St. Nikolaus and Krampus (found on regionalkultur.at)

“Be Good!” could be the motto for December 5, which is traditionally Krampus Day in Austria. The day is also celebrated in other Alpine regions such as Bavaria and South Tyrol. Krampus is a beast-like demonic creature and the “side-kick” of Saint Nikolaus; Krampus punishes the naughty children while St. Nikolaus rewards the good ones. Krampusse are furry, have horns and a lolling tongue, and carry a bundle of birch branches to swat the kids.

For small children, Krampusse [German plural form of the term Krampus] are truly frightening; for teenagers, they are a challenge to dare each other and show their bravery. As soon as it is dark out, which is usually mid-afternoon in early December in Austria, the Krampusse take over the streets. They run in packs through the streets for hours and are trying to chase anyone, but especially kids and young women. When I was in elementary school, I hated the day and did not want to leave the house when it was getting close to darkness. From the safety of the inside of a locked car or form inside a house, I would watch the Krampusse run through the streets. I could hear the sound of chains and large bells that the Krampusse carry before I could even see them. Later as a teenager, I would walk into town on purpose with friends to dare each other to get as close as possible to one of the Krampusse and then run away quickly without being swatted with the birch branches by a Krampus. The fear was much worse than the pain from the branches since we were wearing layers of clothes and thick winter coats because of the cold.

Krampus and Child (found on arroundtheworldin80jobs.com)

Usually young males are wearing the costume of Krampus, and it must be strenuous to wear the wooden masks with large animal horns and fangs, be completely clothed in furs, and carry large bells around their waists. Last year, I came across an entertaining article by an American, who worked as a Krampus in Austria for a night; see the posting here: http://www.aroundtheworldin80jobs.com/i-am-the-krampus/

Krampus Day also means special treats such as Zwetschgenkrampus, a Krampus made out of prunes (which is a lot tastier than it sounds), and Semmelkrampus, a sweet bread shaped like a Krampus. For one day, demons rule the streets in Austria.

Semmelkrampus – Krampus out of Sweet Bread (found on mayer-baecker.at)

Zwetschgenkrampus – Krampus out of Prunes and Figs (found on media05.regionaut.meinbezirk.at)

Happy Turkey Day!

Vanilla Cake with Frosting to Look Like Turkey with Stuffing

Vanilla Cake with Frosting to Look Like Turkey with Stuffing

Thanksgiving is one of most typical American holidays that do not exist in the traditional American form in Austria. I enjoy Thanksgiving – but who would not enjoy a holiday that appears to be mostly focused around food, and a lot of it. It seems a large part of the tradition for this holiday is to eat as much food as possible in one sitting or day. Of course the holiday centers around the theme of gratitude and giving thanks and this does play its role. Every Thanksgiving scene in an American movie or sitcom seems to include the obligatory part where the characters sit at the table and mention what they are grateful for. And I am sure this scene does happen at some Thanksgiving parties in reality as well.

Other less known traditions that I have learned over the last few years of celebrating Thanksgiving in California are that Thanksgiving includes a game of flag football, plenty of football on T.V., a large parade in New York City but shown on T.V., a wide variety of pies, turkey decorations, and ingenious ways to use leftover turkey meat in sandwiches over the next few days following Thanksgiving. In California, for me Thanksgiving also means eating outside and ending the evening with s’mores over the open fire. I would never associate Thanksgiving with snow since I have never celebrated the holiday anywhere else than Northern California and so far the weather has always cooperated each year with sunshine and warm weather since I moved here.

Small Plate of Typical Thanksgiving Food: Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Stuffing, Sweet Potatoes, Mac and Cheese, Mashed Potatoes, Carrots

Small Plate of Typical Thanksgiving Food: Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Stuffing, Sweet Potatoes, Mac and Cheese, Mashed Potatoes, Carrots

Sweet Potatoes with Pecans

Sweet Potatoes with Pecans

Thanksgiving Turkey Cooked on the Barbeque

Thanksgiving Turkey Cooked on the Barbeque

My friend and her husband are always gracious Thanksgiving hosts that would make Martha Stewart feel inadequate with their effort put into the feast. I am not allowed to bring any food or drinks but always leave with leftovers – the best kind of invitation. They barbeque the turkey, serve every traditional Thanksgiving side dish that I have ever read about online or in a cooking magazine, and bake several pies and cakes. It is always the perfect meal to eat every typical American food dish that I have heard about in movies. This year also included a cake shaped like a turkey with frosting giving the cake turkey the perfect color and texture. And the evening ended with hot chocolate with a kick (scotch) and s’mores. After Independence Day with its over-the-top firework shows, Thanksgiving is definitely my favorite U.S. holiday. Considering that Austrians love their food and drinks, I am surprised that we do not have a holiday that is more focused on food.

Apple Pie, Cheese Cake, Minced Meat Pie, Pecan Pie

Apple Pie, Cheese Cake, Minced Meat Pie, Pecan Pie

Roasting Marshmallows

Roasting Marshmallows