The World is a Book

Vienna Scene. by Mr KB - Second Prize in Minolta Contest

Vienna Scene. by Mr KB - Second Prize in Minolta Contest

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." [Source]

Mr. KB and I travelled a great deal in our youth - and less so in recent years - though that’s another story… But here’s my positive take on that.

Inasmuch as travel adds pages to the book of one’s life, the bonus of travel in one's youth is that you get decades to read and re-read those pages and chapters, and the experiences that weave their way into the fabric of your life are enjoyed countless times.

#TBT – recognize that hashtag? “Throwback Thursday” - when people post on social media about memories. Here’s one of my travel throwbacks. 

I made Linzer Cookies – surprisingly for the first time. Where, I’m thinking, is Linz? West of Vienna. Ah Vienna - and then that darn song pops into my head. Why is it in my head??!!

"As the years roll on, After youth has gone, You will remember Vienna
Nights that were happy and hearts that were free, All joined in singing a sweet melody
When your race is run, Whether lost or won, You will remember Vienna
You will recall evenings in May… Whence did they come, where did they go
Vienna will never let you know."

Turns out these lyrics are from the song “You will remember Vienna” featured in the 1930 Hollywood Viennese Operetta called Viennese Nights. I was not even alive – how is that song in my head? I've no recollection of ever seeing that movie whose cast included Bela Lugosi as Count von Ratz, Hungarian Ambassador - yup. Have a listen if you’re curious.

Vienna. It’s about two hours from Budapest – a city that has figured in my life as someone with Hungarian heritage. Traveling there seemed at one time to be “exotic”, but now, what with Viking Cruises and all, I’ve lost count of how many friends and acquaintances have visited there. Almost weekly in the change room where I go swimming, someone is going on and on about Budapest. I admit to (hopefully imperceptible) twitches when they talk about the city that I always felt belonged to me, to us. It was Mr. KB’s birthplace and home until the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Once the Iron Curtain softened, we visited often. Truth be told, the dollar was good during the Communist regime and it was a very affordable way to vacation and visit family.

So these days it seems like everyone is going to Budapest. But what about Vienna? In the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was the seat of power, leaving a royal legacy - a beautiful city. In our earliest travels, Vienna was the gateway to Hungary. One would take a plane to some place in Western Europe, rent a car, and rest a bit in Vienna, before crossing the well-guarded border with passports and visas and dire warnings to check into the local police station once each week during one’s stay.

I was charmed by Vienna. I took breaks from listening to the rock music of the time to play a Strauss Waltz LP over and over. And then there was the food.

  • Sacher torte mit schlag (with whipped cream) - will share my recipe one day. Since it uses almost a pound of chocolate I only make it when there are enough guests to share the calorie count.
  • tea with lemon in glass cups - yes there was a coffee house culture, but I own several Ritzenhoff tea glasses to capture the memory of tea in Vienna.
  • bouillon mit ei - broth with a raw egg yolk that is stirred into the broth rendering a rich texture and taste. We used to serve this to guests until I began to worry that they'd freak out about being served a raw egg.
  • wiener schnitzel - the closest I could ever get to matching that experience was at Toronto's Coffee Mill - sadly, now closed.
  • wieners - elegant Vienna is dotted with street vendors selling hot dogs, with your choice of mustard and a slice of rye bread - and the veal wieners at Denningers rekindle that memory.
  • and... Viennese cakes - treats for the eye and tummy. One year, traveling with our two young boys, we returned to our hotel with a "sweets feast" – and no cutlery – so we proceeded to eat using Playmobil shovels!

I won’t turn this food blog into a tour guide, but there was one experience that will, in a moment, lead me back to food. One day in Vienna, we walked for a while next to a wall. There was a moment in that walk when - had we glanced to the left - we would have missed an amazing sight. (see photo below) A dark passageway, a small archway - that opened onto glorious light and an amazing park - the Belvedere Gardens and Museum  The museum (at that time) housed artwork by Gustav Klimt that included the wondrous portrait featured a few years ago in the movie, Woman in Gold.

Gateway to Belvedere Gardens. Look the wrong way, and you miss this sight! [Source]

Gateway to Belvedere Gardens. Look the wrong way, and you miss this sight! [Source]

Fast forward to 2016 - hot day, exhausting walk in NYC. We desperately needed a break and followed KB Son#2 to a mystery destination. On that day it felt like the walk ended at heaven on earth - Café Sabarksy which perfectly replicated an Austrian coffee house - the décor, waiters’ uniforms, the newspaper holders - and of course the sweets, AND since 2006, the new home to Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (Woman in Gold) - our paths crossed again, decades later.

What a wonderful food experience. It had us “re-reading” pages from our book of life and travel. It also led me to purchase Kurt Gutenbrunner’s impressive cookbook “Neue Cuisine”. I mean, his name incorporates the German word for "good"! It has been praised in a NYT review “New York never knew it needed Austrian Cooking. Now it may not be able to live without it.” This cookbook holds the promise of many baking adventures (and is the source for the Linzer Cookie recipe), but it also features starters, soups, salads, mains and sides. I’d be happy to open it randomly and make anything from that book.

IMG_5892 (2).JPG

So that’s my “Throwback Thursday”. Am I reminiscing too much? “Sometimes the path forward begins with a journey back.” [Author Unknown – appears in many NL Tourism sites]

In case you missed the link to the Linzer Cookies recipe here you go.

P.S. Still no idea why that song is in my head. As a young child, I inherited many of my Uncle Henry’s possessions after his tragic death. They included a 78 rpm record player and records. I thought maybe that’s how that song entered my life, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Those lyrics are an earworm I can’t shake. "Whence did they come, where did they go, Vienna will never let you know." Yup.

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2017 Expectations

Expected a towel - got a smile! (Cafe Sabarsky: NYC)

Expected a towel - got a smile! (Cafe Sabarsky: NYC)

January 1, 2017. 8:10 a.m. Horton’s drive through – on the way to visit my mom with coffee and her favourite donut (old fashioned plain). “We don’t have that donut. We have no donuts – we just opened.” (The website for this location noted their holiday hours and said they were open 24 hours.) And so 2017 begins by not meeting expectations – and expectations apparently have something to do with “happiness”. (More on that in a moment.)

Happy New Year??

Well at least it’s a “new” year. I was among those happy to see the end of last year. By now you’re likely tired of the moaning over 2016 so I will aim to focus more on looking forward, but… must admit that “pooping” on 2016 was a bit cathartic.

I first became aware of the “f*ck2016” hashtag on the John Oliver Show that aired about a week after the US election.

Since then, that hashtag theme was (over)used by every imaginable media source – some trying to counter-balance the excruciatingly painful happenings of last year by inviting people to share positive things about 2016. 

I do buy-in to the idea of "gratitude journals” – though I don’t record my lists. A frequent insomniac, I sometimes try to lull myself to sleep with gratitude lists. Professionals advise thinking of at least three things. My lists can be much longer. If they begin with “I slept through the (last) night” that’s already a good day. I can make the list long-ish by identifying every little micro event of the day – a perfect cup of coffee made by Mr. KB, stoplights synchronized to green, finding the sweater I want to wear, hearing from a loved one, a great meal... I remain convinced that the gratitude focus is a good idea, but – and perhaps this is my own failing – the list is not always effective in determining the overall rating for the day / week / month / year.

For 2016, the death toll of notables in the arts alone lasted almost 20 minutes (CBC Lives Lived) – even though most names got only a few seconds airplay. The compilation aired on December 28 – and did not include Debbie Reynolds who died hours earlier. With three days left in 2016 – what more could happen? A “GoFundMe” campaign was begun to protect 94 year old Betty White from the curse of 2016. She made it through!

More importantly, we cannot ignore the (non-celebrity) strife experienced by humans all over the planet.

The planet. Brings to mind the UN. Did you know they publish a United Nations World Happiness Report? Some years ago they declared that “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal,” and designated March 20 as World Happiness Day

So there you go! Be happy in 2017! – especially on March 20. (Although, before then we have to get through Blue Monday – January 16 - apparently the saddest day of the year.)

As promised, a word about the role of expectations. Some experts - most notably the psychologist Martin Seligman - postulate that there is a "happiness equation". (Not to be confused with the book by the same name, written by Neil Pasricha from “Book of Awesome” fame.)

I’ll take a pass on offering a synopsis, and dissecting the related debates. In brief, the idea is that happiness (or unhappiness) exists in the zone where reality collides with expectations. It must be said that drawing the conclusion that “low or no expectations is the key to happiness” is incorrect and unintended.

"The strategy with the best promise for enhancing happiness is one that has little to do with managing expectations. Rather, it has everything to do with how one responds after a 'below expectations' event has occurred. This strategy involves spending as little time as possible ruminating about the negative consequences triggered by the 'below expectations' event." (Source)

Similarly another writer urges us to "…not be in the story of how it should have been. But to live in deep acceptance with how it is. I think the only time we can really be unhappy is when the way we think it should be and the way it is are different. So keep finding the ways that 'the way life is right now' is full, and full of joy…” (Source)

Walnut roll / Beigli - ok..., but...

Walnut roll / Beigli - ok..., but...

Macarons with dulce de leche filling - made by me!!

Macarons with dulce de leche filling - made by me!!

Since this is a food (not philosophy or psychology) blog let me note that the difference between “what is” and “what is hoped for” – aka happiness – is front and centre whenever I’m in the kitchen. This Christmas I tried old family recipes. A few are still not quite right  - the beigli - aka walnut roll. Yet others turned out great - my mom’s liver stuffing and creamed peas, for example – which I’ll add to the blog soon!

I scold myself for being a bit discouraged when my attempts to resurrect old family recipes are not optimal. Ridiculous to imagine first time will be perfect. One day soon, I’ll share my experience making macarons, under the tutelage of Mardi Michaels. On her blog and in her course, she talks about how she worked on her macaron recipe, sometimes weekly, for several years!

So in 2017, I will aim to be “Zen”, “in the moment” and will make sure I feed the right wolf.

"One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that was going on inside himself. He said, 'My son, it is between 2 wolves.  One is evil: Anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego... The other is good: Joy, peace, love, forgiveness, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith...' The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, 'Which wolf wins?' The old Cherokee simply replied, 'The one I feed.'" (About)

Ok 2017 – bring it on…

P.S. Here's a recipe that is guaranteed to meet expectations and make you happy - Hungarian Cabbage Soup - I think I might declare this to be the year of the cabbage!

P.P.S. Don't you think that life is better with a soundtrack? My absolute favourite group is Pink Martini and their "Get Happy" album is my driving soundtrack. I especially like the "Happy Days Are Here Again / Get Happy" duet done by China Forbes and Rufus Wainwright. Hard to find a good video of that (so buy the CD!), but I was astonished to learn that the original duet was done by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. Listen and be "mellow happy". (Advance to 1:09 to get right to the song.)

Click on the word "Comments", below, to share your thoughts about 2017: Happy New Year. If you enjoyed this read, please take a second to click on "Like"!

[This time last year... Backward and Forward]