Fossilized Tree Sap

Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why. -K. Vonnegut

New Anywhere Road Column

Here’s a sneak peek of the new column up on Triple Crankset:

Winter in Austria is spectacular. Every Hütte and Gasthaus offers gemütlich warmth with cozily intricate carpentry, fireplaces and hearty dishes, but the real party is outdoors – from the unparalleled natural beauty of dramatic mountain pistes and snowy Nordic trails, to the shining holiday markets in every town square, bustling with crowds, lights, music, hot fresh waffles, roasted chestnuts and steaming Glühwein. There is no cowering from the elements, no huddling away from the cold. Instead, people embrace the outdoors as enthusiastically in the dead of winter as they do in the heat of summer (perhaps even more so).

… to read the whole column, click here.

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For the Love of Leftovers

The leftovers: two baked-but-firm sweet potatoes, a head of radicchio, some onions, stock, and the sad-looking remainder of a head of garlic.

I wanted to use everything up in a healthful dish, and since it looks like this outside,

Snow on Hauptplatz

I also wanted the dish to be hearty.

My solution: brown rice risotto with sweet potatoes.  For a dish made completely from leftovers and whatever was in the cupboard, it turned out tasty enough that David requested we make it again sometime. A compliment that good warrants a recipe post, so here it is.

Brown Rice Risotto with Sweet Potatoes and Radicchio

Sweet Potato Risotto

2 cups short grain brown rice
5 cups stock*
2 cups white wine
3 small white onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 large yams, baked but still firm, cubed
1 medium head radicchio, shredded**
4 tsp smoked paprika***
2 TBSP olive oil
120 grams (4-5 oz) spicy pork sausage (Cevapcici)
toasted pine nuts for garnish (optional)

In a heavy stock pot (or large, deep skillet) over medium heat, cook the sausage, breaking it up into small pieces as you do. Once it is cooked through, drain off the fats and oils, then set the sausage aside in a separate dish.

Wipe the residual oil from the stock pot, then add olive oil, onions, garlic and 2 teaspoons smoked paprika. Stir over medium heat until onions begin to soften.  Add the sausage and mix until combined.

Add the rice and stir until each grain is coated with olive oil/onion/sausage/garlic mixture. Add a cup of stock, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down to low.  Allow the mixture to simmer on low heat until the stock is absorbed. Add a cup of white wine and simmer on low heat until absorbed.  Add another cup of stock and another cup of wine, and simmer until absorbed. Add the third cup of stock, and again stir and simmer until absorbed.

The rice should be a tad chewy at this point (think al dente). Add yams, the fourth cup of stock and another 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika (more if needed); stir to combine. Simmer until stock is absorbed.

Fold in the shredded radicchio, and stir in the remainder of the stock. Continuing stirring over low heat until the moisture is absorbed and the risotto has a creamy texture.

At this point, do a taste test. Check if the rice is cooked through (you want it cooked, but not overdone and mushy; it should be chewy, but not raw in the middle of the grains). If the rice isn’t done yet,  add more stock 1 cup at a time and continue stirring until rice is cooked, all moisture is absorbed and the risotto has a nice creamy texture. If needed, add more paprika or salt to taste (whether or not you need salt will depend on how salty your stock is). Stir until well combined.

Serve warm with a garnish of toasted pine nuts.

Mahlzeit!

{images by me}

* 5 cups stock probably sounds like a lot for risotto, but brown rice takes a long time to cook, which means a lot of moisture will evaporate as you make the dish. You may need more or less than this, so let the rice be your guide. You need enough to make sure it gets thoroughly cooked, but not mushy.

** David thought the dish could use more radicchio. If you try this, let me know how you like it!

*** It is key to use Smoked Paprika (not regular Paprika), and I heartily support liberal seasoning for this dish.

Heute

Uhrturm

Hofkeller

Glückwünsche

Opernhaus

Am Eisen Tor

Engel

Herrengasse

Eisskulptur

{images by me}

New Gallery

I recently added a Photography link to the sidebar (see the heading Photography to the right), which links to a gallery of selected photos that I’ve posted here on the blog. If there are specific images you like, you can purchase prints. The gallery site is still under construction, so if there are particular images you would like to see there, please let me know (either in the comments section here or in the Guest Book on the  gallery site).

Seneca Lake, NY

With that, here’s a shot I took back in September — a glassy day on Seneca Lake in New York. Happy weekend!

[image by me]

Brunch at the Opera

Opern Graz

A couple of weeks ago, David treated me to a brunch at the opera. While we had no idea what to expect, the excursion exceeded whatever preconceptions we may have had and proved a perfect Sunday morning.

The Grazer Oper (Graz Opera) is the second largest opera house in Austria, next to the Vienna Opera, of course. Designed in the Baroque style by Viennese architects Fellner and Helmer, Graz’s Opera house opened in 1899.

Opera Balcony

We toured the building, including some sneak peeks backstage as the crew prepared for that evening’s showing of Singin’ In The Rain.

Opera Stage

Bombing during WWII severely damaged the portico, which was later reconstructed with a simplified (but in my opinion lovely) façade. The interior of the building, however, remained untouched by the destruction endured by the exterior.

Opera Balcony

The luxurious marble and gilded woodwork of the foyer and auditorium,

Opera Seating

as well as the rich textiles and elaborate ceilings, show off the resurgence of the extravagant Rococo style in Austria at the time.

Opera Ceiling

After our tour, we were seated at a table for two, in the lovely Hall of Mirrors near a window overlooking the long palaces that line the Innere Stadt where we live.

The buffet featured a delectable assortment of local specialties from the fall harvest including: fresh bread with local cheeses, cold cuts and a vinaigrette of pumpkin-seed oil and minced peppers; a peculiarly pink and delicious Schilcher cream soup; ravioli stuffed with roasted red beets; Knödel– (dumpling-) stuffed chicken breasts; Kastanientorte (chestnut cake); and Strüdel stuffed with Topfen (cheese curd) and Trauben (grapes).

Frühstücksbuffet

As if the luxurious ambiance and food weren’t enough, our romantic Sunday morning Frühstück included unlimited coffee and a series of live performances — an enchanting cello, piano and vocal ensemble, followed by three captivating arias from Handel’s Messiah.

As we strolled home through the neighborhood, the autumn weather provided a perfect, crisp finish to this sumptuously sensory experience.

[images by me]

Pumpkin Pancakes, or Herbstliche Heimat

Autumn means pumpkins, and for us Americans, weekends mean pancakes. Naturally, a chilly November Saturday calls for an indulgent morning filled with the cozy aroma of spiced pumpkin, so Saturday found us relishing a homemade batch of pumpkin pancakes. Even the simple act of pouring thick, slow batter over a warming griddle feels luxurious, like a good weekend morning should.

I adapted these from the famous Margaret Pancakes (by now probably familiar to most of the women’s peloton), and we topped our short stacks with handmade maple syrup from the Mapstone farm on Seneca Lake, where David and I spent our first-ever visit to New York’s Finger Lakes region this fall. A most excellent combination.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Pumpkin Pancakes

Whisk together:
1 1/2 cups flour (or 1 cup quick oats + 1/2 cup flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

In a separate bowl, mix together:
1 cup milk
1 TBSP cider vinegar
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs
2 TBSP oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 TBSP brown sugar

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined, but don’t over-mix (as Margaret notes, however, it’s not a disaster if you do).  Drop as much batter as needed for the desired pancake size onto a well-oiled pan or griddle over medium heat. When pancakes have bubbles on top and are slightly dry around edges (about 2 1/2 minutes), flip them and cook until golden on bottom (about 1 minute). Serve warm. Makes about 12 palm-sized pancakes.

Mahlzeit!

[image by me]

Petit Déjeuner

Café avec tartine

[image by me]

Naked

One (among many) stereotypes Europeans have of Americans is that Americans tend to be prude, at least relative to European standards. I can’t say for sure how this generalizes, but I have to admit, when we first moved to Austria, I wondered how much our Puritan roots influence our culture as I found myself quietly shocked by the liberal use of nudity in advertisements here.

Sure, we all know sex sells, and American companies aren’t shy about wielding this very effective marketing tool. However, US ads tend to be a bit more subdued in that they don’t generally employ blatant nudity, and those products which do employ blatant nudity are restricted to covered sections of the magazine rack. I rather suspect it isn’t our Puritan heritage, but our heightened sensitivity to sexism and liability for discrimination and harassment that results in less public nudity.

In fact, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with religion at all. For example, Austria is very Catholic. Most businesses aren’t allowed to be open on Sundays. Even so, prostitution is legal here and brothels are common. Nudity is generally far more acceptable – in advertising and at the local pools, beaches and saunas. The local newspaper often features a topless model-of-the-week.

But as with all sweeping generalities, there are exceptions, as noted by one Austrian I met who had road tripped across the US and happened to cruise through New Orleans during Mardi Gras: “I always thought Americans were so prude, but, um, I was wrong!” It’s also hard to make a generalization of Europeans when each country and culture possesses a range of different attitudes toward nudity.

I don’t know what constitutes the norm for nudity in advertising here, nor do I profess to understand all of the subtleties of Austrian norms. What I do know is that there is more public nudity here than in the US, and that statement applies to public ads. When I first moved here and saw some of the more risqué billboards, I would think something along the lines of Wow. That would never fly in the US. Now, I see them and just think Huh. There’s another one.

Which is roughly what I thought when I saw this Hirter billboard on a ride a few months ago:

I figured it wasn’t anything more or less than the norm, but I was wrong. In fact, Austrian feminists were so outraged by the ad that their ire made international news. Where previously I was quietly shocked by nude billboards, I now found myself quietly shocked by the extent of the ruckus. To someone who isn’t used to seeing nudity in mainstream advertising at all, it sure seemed that there was a whole lot in these parts, and what exactly made this ad so much worse than any of the others I had seen?

I still don’t know.

What I do know is that Hirter responded with a sense of humor:

(images from Hirter Bier)

Tomato Basil Soup

This time of year calls for more soup — these were David’s first words as he walked in the door after another chilly day this week. I think we have the same discussion every year around this time (e.g., last year’s Curried Butternut Squash Soup).

This weekend I whipped up a batch of experimental tomato basil soup, and I’m proud to report it turned out well.  We rigorously tested this recipe in terms of post-cold-ride satisfaction and gave it excellent per-calorie ratings in both flavor and satiation. It has a rich, creamy texture with about half the fat and calories of a traditional cream soup, and the simple ingredients make it easy to prepare.

Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato Basil Soup
Makes about 8 cups (about 180 mL)

1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
4 (big) cloves garlic, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
3 cans diced tomatoes (14 oz or 400 g each)
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
3 cups vegetable stock
3.5 oz (100 g) fresh goat’s cheese
1 large bay leaf
pink peppercorns, freshly ground, to taste
green peppercorns, freshly ground, to taste
salt, to taste

Combine olive oil, garlic and onion in cold stock pot. Sprinkle in some salt. Turn the heat up to medium and sauté lightly for a few minutes to infuse the flavors.

Add tomatoes, stir and simmer for a few minutes. Add vegetable stock, stir and simmer for a few minutes. Stir in basil leaves and let simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from heat, add goat’s cheese and blend until smooth. (I used a hand blender directly in the stock pot; but you could remove the soup completely, blend in a food processor or blender, then transfer it back to the stock pot.)

Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.  Add bay leaf and simmer another 20 minutes, or until the soup cooks down to desired consistency, or until you are too hungry to wait any longer.

Serve with a garnish of fresh basil leaves.

Mahlzeit!

(image by me)

Lighten Up

The dismal gray skies of late are cramping my style. Even at midday, our living room window no longer suffices: lamps are needed to supplement the pittance of natural light struggling through the stranglehold of fog over Styria. I’m fighting back with a blog make-over.

By make-over I mean switching themes on WordPress — nothing quite as creative as C. Valentín’s designs, but enough of a change to feel brighter and refreshed. (CV- let me know when you start working with WordPress!)

In other news, a new Anywhere Road column is now live on Triple Crankset. My goal with Anywhere Road is to give an insider’s perspective on cycling, beyond the standard race report. Please give it a read and submit your comments. I want to know what you think and what topics you’d like to see covered in future columns.

With that, I’ll leave you with a shot from Saturday’s bike ride, a four hour loop from Austria through Hungary and Slovenia and back into Austria. No border stops necessary, thanks to Shengen.

Brick House

[image by me]

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