Cauliflower What?

There is nothing remotely Austrian about fettuccine alfredo. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if there is anything truly Italian about fettuccine alfredo either – but Americans certainly enjoy it! and it is featured in many Italian-American restaurants. Typically the dish consists of pasta that has been tossed in cheese, butter, and cream – a lactose-intolerant nightmare…but not anymore! I made my own much healthier and lactose-free version of fettuccine alfredo using cauliflower as the creamy, delicious base and the results were shocking.

Foto (7)First I cleaned and chopped the cauliflower and boiled it in approximately 2 cups of bouillon. The longer you boil it the more tender it will become but 20 minutes does the trick. I then pureed the soft cauliflower along with most of the remaining liquid in the pot until it was velvety and smooth which took about 5 minutes of consistent buzzing. While the cauliflower was tenderizing I boiled water for my pasta and got it cooking. At the same time I sauteed some finely minced garlic to add a little more punch to the sauce. Into the same pan where I softened the garlic I added the cauliflower puree and allowed it to warm up. At this stage you could either add a few tablespoons of cream to thicken the sauce and add a richness to the taste and texture or you could go the lactose-free route and add a tablespoon of olive oil to a similar effect. I chose the latter route and was blown away by the depth of flavor and the consistency of the sauce. The final stage is tossing in the pasta and then devouring every last bite!

Foto (9)While you do use a number of different pots and pans to cook this one up, I would still characterize it as a simple recipe – the trick is really in the timing so that everything stays warm because once the sauce begins to congeal it becomes less appetizing even though it remains wonderfully delicious. One clear disadvantage is that your home will smell like cauliflower and garlic for days – at least mine did – but this is a small price to pay for a delicious, fresh-made, and healthy version of an otherwise deadly dish. I have lovingly named it Cauliflower What? because it is simply so hard to believe that cauliflower plays such a pivotal role in creating these rich flavors! I have no idea what possessed me to try this recipe out but I’m certainly glad that I did. Cauliflower What? is now one of my staple dishes – now I just need to work on ventilation.

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can, the musical featuring the true life of Frank William Abagnale, Jr., is pure fun and a must see! Leonardo DiCaprio made the role famous in the film version released in 2002 which was then followed by a 2011 Broadway opening. The German-language show is currently on stage in Vienna at the Kammerspiele der Josefstadt just off of Schwedenplatz and makes for a wonderful evening when paired with a delicious dinner.

Catch Me If You Can tells the story of young Frank William Abagnale, Jr. alias Frank Williams, Frank Taylor, Frank Conners, and Frank Adams, who reinvented himself as a Pan Am co-pilot, ER doctor, and Louisiana lawyer before his arrest in France under charges of forgery and fraud in the late 1960s. Frank’s story is unusual, colorful, and emotional and the stage actors hit all the right marks. Rasmus Borkowski who plays the elusive Frank on stage was excellent; his boyish good looks and charm radiated from the stage and really sold the role. The gaggle of girls that attended to him alternatively as bright stewardesses, lusty nurses, sultry back-up singers, and prancing showgirls were equally dazzling and highly entertaining. Finally, Martin Berger played an appropriately crotchety yet loveable Carl Hanratty to Borkowski’s live wire Frank.

The show proved to be a great technical feat as well. The challenges of translating the show for German audiences proved to be conquerable – the dialogue was natural and the references to American pop culture and geography did not appear to be out of place. The song and dance complimented the dialogue well and kept the show – clocking in at 2 hours and 55 minutes – moving at a fast clip. The stage itself was also impressive, paneled walls of light transporting audiences into a different time and space along with the great costumes, hair, and make-up and allowing the stage to transform as necessary from television stage to hotel room to family living room to hospital to bustling airport.

The theater itself is small and nearly every seat is a good seat, however, seating is not staggered as it reaches to the back so those of us sitting behind our taller peers may have to suffer obscured views. To avoid such a fate, sitting on the balcony may be the best remedy. Otherwise, tickets are appropriately priced and the experience truly feels special. I enjoyed a glass of wine in the foyer during the intermission and was eager to return to my seat for the second act. Emerging into the night air after the play, I felt energized and exhilarated by the lights, the music, the show!

Catch Me If You Can enjoyed its European premiere in Vienna on October 24, 2013 and will continue to play intermittently until February 5, 2014 so get yourself a ticket!

Happy New Year!

Here is a story that I wrote for a WorldNomads travel writing competition last year. The challenge was to write about understanding a culture through food and I just so happened to tell a story about ringing in the New Year in Vienna. This year I will be ringing in the New Year at Vienna’s Rathausplatz – sans pig head but with big hopes and dreams for the coming year.

Best Luck Pig

I first visited the Naschmarkt in Vienna, Austria when I was a little girl. My father’s hand in mine, I made wide eyes at long octopus tentacles draped on beds of ice and the colorful vendors who gestured and called at the passersby, eager to make a sale and a smile.

15 years later and the sensations are just the same.

The octopus tentacles still dangle ominously from their icy perch and the vendors, aggressive and kind as always, still beckon from countertops stacked high with dried fruits, round breads, and dark bottles of vinegar that bounce bright daggers of the December sunshine into my hungry eyes.

“You like the future?”

His question startles me from my memories.

He signals with his outstretched hand, reaching between low-strung meats and thick garlands of chili and garlic, to offer me a taste. A puckered piece of flesh encased in translucent jelly rests in his hand. He tells me it’s pig’s head and that real Austrians eat it on New Year’s Day to bring good fortune in the coming year.

“It’s a mistake to eat the chicken,” he tells me. “You must eat the pig, you must take the future,” he says assertively.

I ask him what is wrong with eating chicken on New Year’s Day – though I can’t remember with certainty if I’ve ever committed this particular crime, it’s very likely.

I learn that in Austria, chickens are bad luck because they scratch and claw at the ground, unearthing the past and quickly burying it again. In contrast, pigs reveal the unseen, their heads raised toward the future.

That’s news to me, I think, as I finally succumb to his aggressive sales pitch and take the small piece of quivering meat.

As I look closely at the slightly rosy and very gelatinous mass in my hand, I think about my own feet and where they have taken me and I can’t help but wonder where they will take me next. It seems to me that the future is equal parts feet and head, chicken and pig – but who am I to upset tradition?

I thank the man for his good tidings and brace myself; the future looks slimy and I wonder if I should chew it or simply gulp it down like an oyster. I make a face and the vendor, delighted by my unease, laughs, and I wonder if I’ve been tricked, but then I remember the marzipan pigs that wink in storefronts from Vienna to Salzburg and I know the truth: in the land of wiener schnitzel and wurst, the pig is the premier symbol of good luck – of best luck – for the New Year.

So I take a bite – and the future tastes surprisingly sweet.

 

Breakfast Time

One of my favorite luxuries in life is going out for breakfast. Breakfast is a deceivingly simple meal and a typical American breakfast is far removed from a typical Austrian one. While I used to miss some of my staples (pancakes, omelettes, homefries), I’ve grown to enjoy the Austrian variety greatly – and at the Palmenhaus in Vienna’s first district luxury is the word (the other word is delicious).

Foto (5)When it comes to luxury, the Palmenhaus has inherited a great tradition. Located in the Hofburg palace gardens, the Palmenhaus originally served as a royal greenhouse enjoyed by the Emperor and his esteemed guests. According to the cafe’s own website, the structure was rebuilt in 1901 in the Jugendstil style for which it is well known and appreciated today. In addition to the cafe, the structure also houses plants for use at official functions as well as the butterfly house.

Foto (1)The structure itself is impressive flanking one side of the immaculately curated palace gardens:

Foto (2)Needless to say, the Palmenhaus is dripping with ambiance and a style all its own; it is both peaceful and chic, stately and modern. True to its name, the Palmenhaus is home to lush vegetation:

Foto (3)It is, indeed, decadent to say the least – from the exotic collection of tropical butterflies wheeling and fluttering past the windows to the space itself which radiates with natural light…and the food isn’t half bad either! In fact, I was very impressed with the sizable portions and the freshness of the baked goods. The food was presented beautifully and I took my time enjoying it.

Foto (4)I do suggest making a reservation as the Palmenhaus is an institution and a tourist attraction. While I can only speak for the wonderful breakfast that I had, the Palmenhaus also serves lunch and dinner and I daresay I’ll be making a reservation soon!

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Those of us hankering for turkey with gravy, sweet potatoes, mash, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie have a surprisingly wide selection when it comes to celebrating Thanksgiving in Vienna.
The following restaurants in Vienna put out all the stops:
Marriott am Parkring has two options: a Candlelight Thanksgiving Dinner for 53 Euro per person on November 28, 29, and 30 or a buffet dinner at the Champions Restaurant (with NFL accompaniment!)  for 29 Euro per person on Thanksgiving Day.
TGIF: Although it may not sound exciting to eat at an American chain restaurant abroad, TGIF does offer “the works” for 19 Euro.
FRANK’S is an American Bar and Restaurant particularly good for steaks (including dry-aged) that offers a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at 29 Euro per person.
For 41 Euro per person you can also spend Thanksgiving on the Danube aboard the DDSG Blue Danube – though the menu looks suspiciously Austrian (blood sausage has never been a staple on my family table).

I chose to eat my Thanksgiving dinner at FRANK’S in lieu of struggling with a frozen turkey and fixing all the trimmings for one – and I was really happy with the friendly service, delicious food, gracious portions, and attention to detail:FotoFRANK’S really got it right with two minor infractions: 1 – as far as I know the standard greens on the Thanksgiving plate are generally green beans, and 2 – the pumpkin pie could definitely benefit from a hit of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and/or ginger.
I would highly recommend FRANK’S to anyone looking to celebrate or even just prolong the celebrations – dinner is also offered on the day after Thanksgiving.
Very thankful for the wonderful meal and looking forward to next year already!

Feschmarkt

The Ottakringer Brewery in the 16th district hosts a variety of different festivals, concerts, and events throughout the year. The Feschmarkt, an event that takes place at least twice a year in June and November, brings definitively indie/alternative Viennese artists together in a space with its very own style and flare – the artists set up their wares and everyone files past, touching and talking and wondering in a very easy-going environment. On tap at the Feschmarkt were textiles, paper goods, jewelry, furniture, lighting, accessories, organic food, vegan and vegetarian meals, desserts galore, and, of course, a selection of the Ottakringer Brewery’s finest.

unnamed

I was really happy to discover a thriving community of artists and inventors in Vienna – the Feschmarkt is at once a glorious event and a calling card, drawing attention to the talent and craft spread about the city. While I didn’t indulge in any of the material goods, I did devour some delicious food including Thai-inspired sandwiches (think fresh parsley and a hint of heat), a cheddar scone, cake pops, and a cheddar-smothered hot dog (I miss cheddar cheese!). The food was just as inspired and alternative as the art and I was very happy to take part in tasting! Additionally, wandering through the brewery itself was fun. It is a great space with a lot of character. I am happy to say that the Feschmarkt was well attended – I visited on two of the three days of business and there was a solid turnout and now I am eagerly awaiting the next event!

Check the Ottakringer Brewery website for upcoming concerts and events!

A Fall Day on the Weinstrasse

Austria wears the seasons very well. Whether she be resplendent with blue skies, golden with falling leaves, sparkling with ice and snow, or flush with budding greenery, Austria is beautiful country. One need only travel the Weinstrasse through southern Styria to be reminded of this lest one forget amidst the bustle and rush of urban life. The Weinstrasse is a narrow, winding road that snakes through the hills of the Styrian wine country bordering on Slovenia.

Foto (1)A view from the terrace of the Tscheppe winery in southern Styria with views of Slovenia.

True to its name, the street is peppered with wineries, restaurants, and stands where you can taste the wares! These include a wide variety of wines – Sauvignon Blanc, Welschriesling, and Gemischter Satz among them! – as well as the seasonal Sturm (young wine with a low alcohol content) and heisse Maroni (roasted chestnuts)! It felt criminal to be eating roasted chestnuts while bathing in such warm sunlight but then again the season is upon us and it doesn’t last long – the Weinstrasse is fit to burst from the end of September until the end of October/beginning of November. 

Foto

A view from the top: the hills of Styrian wine country.

After so many years of living in Austria not too far from the famed Weinstrasse, my interest was more than picqued – and my expectations were more than met. I had the luck of incredible weather – I still have the sunburn to prove it! – and the luxury of great company, fine food, and delicious drink. The Weinstrasse is absolutely worth a visit but travelers from Vienna take heed: make it an overnight trip as the bubbly is infectious and post-wining and dining all I could muster the energy for was pouring myself into bed.

Vandalism or Art?

When I think of graffiti I envision neon bubble letters spray painted on underpasses or parading across public trains but in truth it takes many forms and as a result graffiti has enjoyed a long and controversial history. What started out as a scandalous, covert operation has escalated to a world-renowned, contemporary form of expression in the hands and cans of so-called street artists like Banksy, Kobra, and Mr. Brainwash. Graffiti begs many questions, primary among them: is it vandalism or is it art? The distinction appears to be that graffiti is vandalism if it is not art. Recently the Kurier posed this same question in considering the stylings of Puber, a sprayer of Swiss origin who has recently tagged his pseudonym throughout the city of Vienna.

And this is why we are here today – because I cannot stand Puber and his – as far as I am concerned – faux art aka desparate attempt at graffiti. There is nothing intriguing, suggestive, or remotely interesting about these careless scribblings that are popping up all over the city. In the four districts that I frequent, I have come across six of Puber’s tags and they are all. exactly. the. same. It looks like they were done in a hurry; there is no style or continuity to speak of among them. “Puber” simply perches on the wall in a black, harried script just begging me to attach a “-ty” to it so I can put an end to these territorial pissings and call it like it is.

Vienna does have some fine graffiti – if I can call it that – although distinctions between street art and graffiti have recently come to light as city streets and public spaces turn into canvases across the world. My own definition is nebulous because the obvious and fundamental question that first requires definition is: what is art? and I do not expect to find a fulfilling answer to this question in my lifetime. In my estimation, graffiti is not restricted to tagging. I find the distinction between graffiti and street art to be slightly condescending as they emerge from the same traditions; I simply don’t see the need to create a hierarchy among creative people choosing to use public spaces for their own expressive purposes. Some people make the claim that there is a distinct difference but I am not sure that it is so clear cut.

I am deliberately choosing not to display a shot of Puber’s  artistry because it is a) so abundant (just take a walk!) and b) I do not wish to promote or encourage it. Instead, I would like to share some images, graffiti, street art, what-have-you that has caught my eye around the city:

Foto

Foto (2)

Foto (1)

Foto (3)

I should note that while I do not find all of these pieces attractive, I do find them all to be interesting, curious, and thought-provoking. So again, what is art? What is graffiti? What is street art? and more importantly, who decides? We all get to decide which is why these questions are so interesting and circular and never-ending. In fact, I’m not sure I want an answer – I just want to keep the conversation going!

As far as the question between vandalism and art? Recent developments demonstrate that if there is no aesthetic value or cultural appreciation at hand, citizens are more likely to cry out against it. Case in point: Puber. Amidst gallery openings on the hip Schleifmuehlgasse, soirees at the Mueseumsquartier, the painted stairs at the Albertina, the restricted visitors to the Palais Liechtenstein…how does Puber make it into Viennese headlines?! In contrast, citizens are more likely to clamor after it if the opposite is true. Case in point: Banksy.  An anonymous street artist from the UK, Banksy has created a market for mass produced graffiti, which, once hung on a wall, assumes valuable aesthetic, cultural, and political dimensions that earn it the title of art (despite the fact that Banksy may be secretly laughing – or crying – because of this).

Whether graffiti or street art correspond to, branch off of or depart from a particular art form is hard to say – it would seem to me that art is form-less, defying these kinds of negotiations and caveats.

In the end, I do like graffiti. I do like street art. I’m not sure what the difference is. I want Puber to go away.

 

Celebrations at the Palais Liechtenstein

I recently had cause to attend a celebration at the Palais Liechtenstein in honor of the National Day of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Assuming that I would never have this chance again, I accepted.

Foto

My invitation fluttering in my hand, I walked down that red carpet with my mouth a little agape at the extravagance of it all. A shiny black car pulled up to the end of the red carpet, expelling a diplomat from its shaded ranks. Walking closely behind him, I entered into a bedouin scene recreated in the very well-lit entrance to the museum. A small tent, draped in wonderfully colorful and slightly musky fabrics, was erected in the foyer. Large piles of the Quran in translation as well as children’s books, travel guides, scientific analyses of political events and phenomena in Saudi Arabia, posters, pens, and dried dates were available as parting gifts for the esteemed guests of the event. I made a mental note to take a Quran with me as I left and then proceeded to climb up the main staircase which is wide enough to rival the boulevards of Paris. I passed into the main hall where further tents were erected, emitting warm yellow light and offering plush cushions for sitting, chatting, and sipping small cups of a traditional tea that was too thick, yellow, and bitter for my taste.

Foto (2)The food, on the other hand, was beautifully presented and quite delicious. A large buffet was set up along the side of the room offering fresh cuts of lamb, saffron-infused ravioli in a pomegranate cream sauce, thin slices of fresh tuna, small pumpkin souffles, mixed vegetables, and a myriad of delicious dips and sauces to name a few. The dessert buffet was also beautiful and delicious – note the exotic fruits used as decoration. The event was decadent to say the least and I was very happy to be a fly on the wall sucking up all kinds of exotic fruit juices in the absence of alcohol.

Foto (1)

Although I felt out of place among the politicians and the friends of politicans floating around, I was very pleased to have this opportunity – it appears to be one of the perks of living in a hot seat of international activity.

Happy National Day to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!

Etiquette: A Universal Question?

Is etiquette – and by this I mean the trappings of polite behavior as well as demonstrations of mutual respect – universal or does it change from country to country? culture to culture? family to family?

In considering this question, I naturally turn to my experiences between the United States and Austria and there are some wild differences in polite culture that chronically surprise me. For example, standing in a line has never seemed quite as taxing to me as it does here in Vienna where order does not appear to be valued, rather, it’s every man for him/herself. Similarly, etiquette concerning smoking also appears to operate under a different set of rules. Whereas smoking has long been banned in restaurants and public spaces in the United States, a smoking culture not only thrives but insists on the importance and necessity of cigarettes here in Austria.

On a more positive note, I find that etiquette exerts itself in other more subtle ways in Austria. For example, interactions between people – be they friends or strangers – are monitored by a polite code of speech and behavior in which people are routinely greeted and bid farewell. It is always delightful to me when an exiting patron of a restaurant encourages me to enjoy my meal as it arrives and he/she takes his/her leave. This is not the case in the United States where such an action is more likely to be deemed an interruption or simply an oddity.

With this in my mind, I was very intrigued to see the following headline in the newspaper:

Foto Vienna: 50 Euro fine for kanoodling in public transportation

Vienna is overhauling its public transportation system and, apparently, the landscape of Austrian etiquette. I thought that perhaps this headline was a joke but the article reassures its readers that Vienna’s public transportation system will be cleaned up – both literally and figuratively. Days later I was reminded of this policy at the movie theater where a brief advertisement for the new reaches of Viennese public transportation played before the previews. In it, behavior such as nose-picking, kissing, eating, tagging, and kicking up your feet was deemed unacceptable and the target of this new campaign to clean up the behavior in the public transportation system.

I am not sure how to understand this new strategy. Who gets to decide on the presiding code of etiquette considering all of its contradictions? How will it be enforced? and does this presuppose that etiquette is a shared system of values located at the cultural level? If so, how will the public transportation authority account for the myriad of paying, non-Austrian riders? and finally, is this campaign indicative of a greater societal problem/deficit?

Something that I would certainly like to see less of is people relieving themselves on U-Bahn platforms. Hey Wiener Linien, does that fall under your jurisdiction?