Comfort and Joy – In a Nutshell

by NAA

The holiday season is upon us, as are – consequently – the corollary holiday treats. Somewhere, Starbucks is selling a pumpkin spice latte and a peppermint mocha with sprinkles. Here in Graz, Adventkalendars (neatly packaged tests of willpower) fill grocery store shelves; bakeries offer the dense, fruity-sweet Kletzenbrot; and the Christkindlmarkt sparkles with lights and Keksebacken and smells of warm Punsch and Gluhwein. The celebratory spirit is almost enough to warm your insides through, but there’s nothing quite like having a hot drink or warm little snack steaming in your hands on a cold city night.

Among the tempting variety of less-than-healthful options, I’ve found a new training friendly holiday favorite: roasted chestnuts.

I can smell them before I see the little Heisse Maroni kiosk, cheerfully lit among the festivities. The Maroni Man tosses the next batch over the coals with casual flare, then scoops a steaming cupful of the aromatic nuts into a carefully folded newspaper cone and hands it to me. My bare fingers wouldn’t venture from my wool pockets for anything else, but the warm paper cone fits perfectly between my hands, cozy and steaming with the rich, roasted chestnut smell. Each little chesnut – split open from the heat of the coals – is hot and smooth against my fingertips as I peel away the shell to find the waxy, warm center, chewy and sweet in my mouth.

Like a morning cup of coffee, a Viertel of heisse Maroni tastes better as part of a ritual. The buttery-rich flavor is inextricably linked with the Frohes Fest, with plunking down a coin on the ceramic plate at the Heisse Maroni kiosk, next to the hot coals and roasting nuts, among the bustling market and sparkling lights of the Hauptplatz. The little paper cone has become as integral a part of my holiday experience as pumpkin pie, though perhaps a bit more healthful!