Fight for Whiskey

800px-whiskeyrebellion

“The Whiskey Rebellion” (ca. 1795 Unknown Artist), Metropolitan Museum of Art: George Washington before his march to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion

Some receive fruit of the month club shipments, others receive monthly wine selections as part of a club or membership, and I receive a monthly whiskey shipment (I am pretty sure it beats the fruit of the month club although I have never received that). Every month, I receive a new bottle of whiskey or bourbon from mostly small distilleries that are hard to come by in regular stores (even those specializing in selling alcohol). Each bottle comes with a booklet about the distilling process, the region, the distillery, the history of whiskey or bourbon and more. So it is actually very educational – or at least that is my justification why a bottle of whiskey a month showing up at one’s doorstep makes perfect sense.

FullSizeRender-1

Bottle of Bower Hill Bourbon

This month’s whiskey proves my point. It has taught me about a U.S. rebellion that most textbooks overlook. How come I was not taught about the Whiskey Rebellion when I had to sit through U.S. History?! This month’s bottle is from Bower Hill, and its name shows a clear connection to the aforementioned Whiskey Rebellion. According to the nifty little booklet that comes with the bottle, the U.S. Government decided to create a whiskey tax in 1791. It was the first tax of the federal government levied on goods produced and sold in the U.S. The main goal of the government was to recover the costs of the Revolutionary War, so I guess people must have sold and drunk plenty of whiskey for the politicians to expect the tax income to be large enough to impact the costs of a war.

Farmers, distillers, and other supports – mostly from Western Pennsylvania – came together to resist the tax, and this rebellion lasted several years. It seems to have been serious enough that George Washington himself led an army against the rebels. In July 1794, over 500 rebels attacked the home of John Neville, a prominent tax collector. His estate was called Bower Hill and burned down during this attack (Neville survived the attack, and it seems only a couple of men were killed). Eventually the rebels lost, 170 of them were arrested, and the whiskey tax was enforced until is was repealed under President Thomas Jefferson.

1-a-29c-139-explorepahistory-a0h9k4-a_450

Historical Marker for Bower Hill (found on Explore PA History)

The Bower Hill bourbon is named after this estate and according to the manufacturer is celebrating the “rebellious spirit” connected to the Whiskey Rebellion. The flags on the bottle are the flags of the Whiskey Rebellion. The bourbon is a blend of bourbons from Lexington, KY and is extremely delicious (smooth and pretty sweet). In addition to receiving a great bottle of bourbon, I also learned a little more about U.S. history – a win-win situation in my book.

BowerHill

Ready to Enjoy a Taste of Bourbon in front of the Fire

Advertisements

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)

The Grinch

The Grinch, a fictional character created by Dr. Seuss, is known by most in the U.S. but an exotic import strongly associated with American culture for Austrians. Most know of him only through the movie or TV show and not the book. In general, Dr. Seuss’s work is not as popular as it is in the U.S. For example, Amazon.de showed the German version of the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas on rank 284,780 in books sold and that during Holiday season when the book can be expected to be more popular than throughout the rest of the year. Amazon.com, however, listed it under rank 161 for all books and number 1 for children’s books on the same day I checked the German site. The Grinch, by the way, keeps his name in the German translation although the spelling is awkward. I do not understand the popularity of Dr. Seuss’s work, but I guess one had to grow up with his books and be introduced to them as a child to really “get” or like the books.

One Grinch next to Another

One Grinch next to Another

I knew about the Grinch before I moved to the U.S. and would think of a green character in a Santa suit when I heard name, but I never knew the details of the story. I assumed he stole or tried to steal Christmas based on the title; based on the illustrations of the book cover in stores and the poster for the movie with Jim Carrey, I also assumed that the Grinch was anti-Christmas and in general not in the best mood and was dressed just like Santa. But when I see green combined with a Santa suit, I do react the predictable way and associate the colors with the Grinch. Thus, I was fascinated by the idea of creating a Grinch out of fruit for potlucks and other meals this season, and it was usually recognized as a portrayal of the Grinch by those who ate them.

Ingredients for Fruit Grinch

Ingredients for the fruit Grinch: green grapes, strawberries, banana slices (soaking in lime Juice so they do not turn yellow, and small marshmallows. Use toothpicks to create the Grinch.

Christkind vs. Santa

The Christkind, “Christ Child” (found on http://www.rosenheim24.de)

For Austrians, Santa is an import that has become well-known through Hollywood movies, American T.V. shows, and Christmas songs in English. We understand his job and his importance to American kids, but traditionally we do not believe in him or ask him for presents; he is obviously not real, so what would be the point. Instead, we have Christkind, who is so different from Santa.

American Santa with my Two Greyhounds

American Santa with my Two Greyhounds

First, Christkind is female and is an angel while Santa is male and rather human looking. Since Christkind is an angel, she has wings and thus flies from household to household and does not use reindeers or a flying sleigh as Santa does. Because Christkind means Christ child, she is also rather slim and definitely not “fluffy” like Santa. She is dressed usually in a white or silver or gold dress and wears a crown or halo. She does bring gifts but does not come through the chimney, and she also helps decorate the Christmas tree (see yesterday’s post). Even though it is important for Austrian children to be nice to receive the gifts they wished for, Christkind does not bring coal; that is associated with St. Nikolaus and December 6.  The history of Christkind is supposedly connected with Martin Luther, the church reformer; he wanted to shift the focus from the saint celebrated on December 6 with gifts to the birth of Christ; since most had a hard time associating Christ with gifts, the gift-giver morphed into a child-like angel. Children do send a letter with their wishes to the Christkind, but in Austria, the Christkind has its own address; letters are sent to the town Christkindl, which is a real town. In Bavaria, children send their letters to Himmelstadt, “Heaven Town.”

However, Santa Claus is becoming more and more well-known through the media and advertisements, and this upsets quite a few. So there is actually a kind of fight going on between Christkind and Santa it seems, and the Christkind has plenty of supporters on the web. There is for example, a site named “Santa-Claus-Free Zone.” I grew up with Christkind, but since I am now living in the U.S., our household has adopted both figures: Christkind brings the big gifts under the tree in the evening of December 24 and also decorates the tree, and Santa stuffs the stockings in the early morning of December 25. No fighting for dominance here.

“Santa-Claus-Free Zone,” a German site (http://www.weihnachtsmannfreie-zone.de)

Frohe Weihnachten – Merry Christmas!

Sparklers, in addition to candles, are popular choices for Christmas tree decorations.

Sparklers, in addition to candles, are popular choices for Christmas tree decorations.

In our Austro-American household, the exact date for Christmas is always a topic for a discussion/argument. For Austrians, Christmas is definitely on December 24 – that is the day we exchange gifts in the early evening and then end the day with midnight mass. For many Americans, Christmas is not until December 25 and the highlight of the day is in the morning, which just seems odd to me. I have never gotten used to that tradition – who wants to wake up early and open gifts on an open stomach?! And who wants to take pictures of everyone wearing pajamas when unwrapping gifts?!! At least, I now understand why shops sell pajamas with Christmas patterns here. For me, Christmas is clearly an evening celebration and that means one gets dressed up – think suit and tie or dress, and try avoiding jeans. The gift exchange is followed by a large sit-down dinner and not breakfast or lunch.

Another big difference is the tree. While most Americans put up the tree shortly after Thanksgiving and take it down a few days after December 25, the Austrian Christmas tree is not even brought into the house until December 24. The tree has been kept secret from the kids and the tree is set up without the kids since the tree is actually decorated by the Christkind, the Austrian version of Santa Claus. After lunch on December 24, we kids were told to stay out of the living room and all doors to the room were locked and the curtains drawn since Christkind needed its privacy. We would try to distract ourselves from the excitement by watching TV, usually Czech fairy tale films, dubbed in German. From time to time, we could not resist and snuck up to the locked doors to listen for any noise behind them or to look through the keyhole to catch a glance of Christkind decorating the tree. It did not seem weird to us that our parents were in the locked room as well since they told us that they would be helping Christkind. After a couple of hours, my mom came out to tell us to get dressed for the evening since Christkind was nearly done decorating. Dressed in our Christmas outfits, we waited to hear the bell ring; it indicated that the Christkind had left and we were ready to celebrate.

Through the half-closed door we could see the glistening tree and hear the crackling of sparklers on the tree. Yes, even though the tree was real, it was decorated with lit candles and sparklers. We gathered around the tree and would oooh and aaah before we started singing Christmas carols. “Silent Night, Holy Night” was always the last one we sang, and then we blew out the candles. The smell I most associate with Christmas is the smell of sparklers going off in an enclosed room and the smoke from the extinguished candles on the tree. I know for most Americans this sounds just like an incredibly dangerous fire hazard, but we did not take the open flame lightly. We always had one or two buckets filled with water in the same room as the tree just in case it did catch on fire or the sparklers singed the carpet; we also bought a tree that was still fresh and not cut too long ago and it was also in a stand with water to keep it fresh like cut flowers in a vase. And because the candles were rather big to last a while, the preferred tree is also quite different from the American Christmas tree; the Austrian tree needs to have plenty of space between branches, so the candles do not singe the branch or decoration above the flame while American trees are much fuller and are not supposed to have clear “levels” of branches.

A Typical Austrian Christmas Tree: A Real Tree and Open Flame

A Typical Austrian Christmas Tree: A Real Tree and Open Flame

The idea of candles on a Christmas tree really seems to freak out Americans; I chuckled when I saw the following site about decorating Christmas tress that showed real candles on the tree but then also stated “You definitely don’t want to light them, but place candles on your tree for a cozy, glowy effect.” I am not sure what the point of the candles is if we are not allowed to light them and how the “glowy effect” is created without flames, but this does highlight the American attitude towards Christmas candles for me. See the site here: http://www.popsugar.com/home/Unique-Christmas-Tree-36112702#photo-36113070

American Christmas Tree with Electronic Lights

American Christmas Tree with Electronic Lights

Christmas Eve was always the first time we would see the tree; in the morning, we had still been playing in the living room and in the evening the room had turned into the magnificent display of glitter and fire. I still do not put my tree up before the afternoon of December 24 even though the neighbors have displayed their trees with electronic lights for weeks in the bay windows of their houses. Our tree also stays up until January 6 as it is tradition in Austria while the neighbors have already put their trees to the curb on December 26 or a few days later.

Fantasy Football or How I Learned Football from Joe Montana

Football Santa

Football Santa

While December is usually seen as pre-Christmas or pre-Holidays time, December is also football month in the U.S. This is the time when high school teams battle their way to state titles, plenty of NFL teams have had their hopes for a play-off berth crushed, and the play-offs in fantasy football leagues have started. So while plenty of people are worried about buying the perfect gift and decorating their home, I am keeping track of the health of my players. Apps on my cell phone keep me updated on the status of each player on my teams – yes, I have several fantasy teams. Last week, I received a message on my phone while in the office – Cam Newton was in a car accident and potentially out for the week or longer. In my mind, I tried to come up with a worst-case scenario – can I survive this play-off week with my back-up quarterback or do I have to try a trade and find a replacement?

Grant High School vs Folsom High School in the CIF Northern California Regional Division 1 Football Champiohsip

Grant High School vs Folsom High School in the CIF Northern California Regional Division 1 Football Championship, Dec. 12

I truly believe that my knowledge about football and my participation in fantasy football leagues has made the integration into American culture easier. When I grew up in Austria, football had not been heard of and was not shown on TV. I actually learned the rules of football and football strategy from Joe Montana – yes, that Joe Montana. But it is not that glamorous; I learned the rules of football by playing Sega Game Gear Joe Montana Football before I have had ever seen an American football game on TV or live. Playing the game, I slowly figured out the rules of football – the importance of first downs, the scoring system, the necessity to punt from time to time, and more. And my favorite play became Pray for Rain as it was called in the game – it always seemed to work in Sega Game Gear. I was disappointed to learn later on when I started to watch football with Americans that the play was more commonly referred to as Hail Mary and no coach in his right mind will call it at least two times in a quarter as I successfully did in Sega Game Gear. (I still think I might be on to something with my strategy – the defense seemed to never be ready for another Pray for Rain in my experience.)

Joe Montana Football - Sega Game Gear Cartridge

Joe Montana Football – Sega Game Gear Cartridge

When I spent my first summer and fall in the U.S., I lived in Pittsburgh, PA. My football knowledge helped me connect with Americans quickly (as did my knowledge about baseball, which I learned by watching a dubbed version of Bad News Bears on Austrian TV as a child – but that is a story for another time). I quickly learned that Americans love their home team, especially in Pittsburgh, and my football knowledge and interest led to plenty of acquaintances and free tickets. It seemed everyone I knew in Pittsburgh was ready to make sure “the foreigner” would have a great football experience, so I even received free tickets to a sold-out Monday-night game of the Steelers. And even though I moved in the end to California, the first impression stuck, and if someone asks me about my home team, I always name the Steelers.

Now, I have adopted fantasy football as a fall ritual. I like the fantasy drafts that mark the end of summer; I enjoy the competitiveness and the connections created amongst team owners in the different leagues throughout fall. I have learned more about statistics, players’ health, and difficulty of schedules than I ever thought possible. And I learned that watching games without worrying about how my fantasy players are doing is not as much fun. All that started because I picked up a game by Joe Montana and was too stubborn to put it down even though I had no clue about the rules of the game when I first started.

PS: While procrastinating during Finals Week, I found this great website – it lets me play the Sega Game online, which is great since I still have the game itself but long ago lost the Sega Game Gear handheld console on one of my moves. Here is the link to the site: http://game-oldies.com/play-online/joe-montana-s-football-sega-game-gear#