Orange juice

I suspect that the way I eat has been permanently changed by my time here in Austria.  The things I eat, the way I shop, the way I think about food have all been affected by seeing the things I eat through a different lens.  Food here is simpler, in general.  The produce section at the grocery store is smaller, with fewer varieties of things.  But the food is more likely to be organic and at least relatively local, and the selection is guaranteed to be more seasonal.  There are about 3 varieties of chips at our closest grocery store (which is in our building) and the soda aisle, while sizable, is stocked equally with varieties of sparkling waters and fruit-juice flavored beverages.

Austrians, of course, also have their specialties.  I worry I’ll never be able to eat another donut after being spoiled by the Krapfen here.  Potato salad from elsewhere is unlikely to measure up.  My standards for hot dogs/sausages have been raised.  And my travels beyond Austria mean that I’ll never eat spaghetti, a chocolate croissant, or a ham and cheese sandwich, with the same indifference again.

And then there’s the orange juice.  It’s not exactly something that’s synonymous with Austria or the Alps, but the orange juice we drink here — all of it — is fresh squeezed.  Our corner grocery store has an orange-juice squeezing machine (almost all grocery stores do) and that’s how we get ours.  (After a few months of drinking this fresh-squeezed awesomeness, and wondering where it had been all my life, I looked up information on the manufacturing process of typical store-bought orange juice, and I learned a lot.  And now I know why it’s not nearly as good.)  Of course, the lack of homogenization means that sometimes, we get a bottle that isn’t super lovely — it’s a little sour, or overly sweet — but even that has become comforting, because it actually tastes like oranges.  (Hint:  in general, it’s not as good when the oranges are out of season.  What a concept.)

Today, several of us (myself, Benjamin and Liam) are a bit under the weather, with spring sniffles and sore throats (it figures, on the first decent spring weekend we’ve had) and we stocked up on orange juice.  I’ve already enjoyed a couple of bottles today, and I don’t think the loveliness of it will ever cease to impress me.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to the processed stuff.  I’ve been completely spoiled.

The food in Italy

Italy is like France, in that its reputation for food seems unrealistically good. But, like so many other things I’ve encountered (especially when traveling) I wondered, in both cases, whether it would be possible for the locales to live up to the hype.

20130307-151358.jpgThey do. The food in Italy was fantastic. It was fresh, simple and amazing. I was left wondering, on several occasions, how it is possible to make a meal out of a handful of basic ingredients and elevate it to something decadent. I mean, how many times have I eaten spaghetti and tomato sauce?!? Apparently only once that really counts.

The pasta was beyond any I’d ever had before. The cappuccino has nearly ruined me for all other coffee. The gelato was the best I’ve ever had. I think I might have a certified tiramisu addiction at this point. (And then we found the place with the tiramisu gelato . . . )

20130307-151453.jpgWe had a marvelous time in Italy, and the food made it even better. We had some remarkable meals. As we found when we went to Normandy, more money doesn’t always equal better food, and some of the things we’ll remember best were some of the simplest. It lived up to the hype. It actually managed to exceed my expectations. The only problem is that my culinary bar may now be set entirely too high. I’m not sure dried pasta and sauce from a jar will ever be satisfying again. If that’s the price I pay, though, it was totally worth it.

Heurigen, again

We’ve tried out a heurigen (a Viennese wine tavern) before.  We’ve been intrigued by the idea since we first saw the concept recommended on the Rick Steves episode about Vienna — in theory, they’re small restaurants (often buffet style) attached to micro-vineyards located within the city of Vienna.  They are only allowed to sell the wine that is produced by the vineyard associated with the heurigen (again, in theory — I’ve read that this is usually, but not always, the case, although that is part of the historical context for them).  The originally developed as a way for the vintners to showcase their wines, the young wines in particular (which is a Viennese thing), without paying tax on the sales.  Generally, the wines are good, and the food is ok, but the setting can be beautiful — a cozy outdoor courtyard with live music, a set of picnic benches with a great view, a warm dining room with candles and a lot of ambiance.  (There’s a lot of variation, of course, but this is the general idea.)  They’re very popular with both tourists and locals — last time we went to a more touristy one, this time we wanted to try one that catered to locals.


We met our friend, Krishana, for lunch today at Heuriger Wieninger, a heurigen I had read good things about, in the 21st district.  It was a long Strassenbahn ride for us (nearly an hour) but we found success.  It definitely catered more to locals than tourists — no one spoke English to us the entire time we were there (I don’t doubt that they could have, but it’s a sign of how far outside of the tourist track we were that they didn’t snap into English, even when we struggled a little).  The food was quite good.  The wine was amazing (I had an Orange Cinnamon Prosecco).  Benjamin and Liam both enjoyed the food (no wine for them) and running around in the pretty courtyard.


I love the idea of the heurigen, and so far, we’ve enjoyed all of our visits.  I really had fun being a bit further off of the beaten path this time.  Every time I explore a piece of Vienna that I wouldn’t have seen if I’d just been here for vacation, I feel more at home here, more connected to this place.  My next project — a heurigen with a great view.  I’ve heard there are some which are really remarkable, so that’ll be next.


Deer crossing

077One of the many things I love about living in Vienna is the food.  One of the many things I love about the food is its seasonality.  When we first arrived, it was Spargl (asparagus) season.  You could hardly order food in a restaurant without somehow getting asparagus involved:  it was on the pizza, in the soups, in the risotto, in the bread, on the side.  It was everywhere.  The same has been true for the other seasons we’ve gone through:  strawberry, chanterelle, blueberry, apple.  It’s great — for a few weeks, every restaurant incorporates whatever is in season, and then, just as you’re getting tired of having asparagus for every meal, the dishes change and you won’t be able to get them again until the next time that season comes around.  I’m really enjoying it — not only is the food fantastic, fresh and flavorful, but it’s making me more aware of the season.

We’re in the best food season so far right now.  It’s fall and harvest time, and several great things are in season at the same time:  pumpkins, chestnuts and game.  We went out to dinner tonight and shared a dinner that included venison, wild boar, glazed chestnuts and baked sweet potato (the first time I’ve even seen that particular vegetable on any menu here).  This particular restaurant gets extra points for advertising their “wild game” specials by erecting actual “deer crossing” road signs on the sidewalk by the front door.

Our dinner was excellent.  But, beyond that, I am quite enjoying the celebration of the autumn and the feel of the season.  I love this time of year, and there is so much to appreciate about it.  All I have to do is find a place that sells hot cider and I’ll be all set.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

It was cold and rainy this morning in Vienna.  I quite liked it.  My weekly Sunday trip to Starbucks was ill-effected, though, because since it was rainy and cold, everyone wanted to drink hot coffee, everyone wanted to sit inside and drink their hot coffee, and (literally) I think a tour bus dropped off an entire load of people while I was there.  Which is all fine, but made for a rather loud and crowded Starbucks visit (I got the last seat at a table when I arrived, and then people started cramming into small, odd spaces — I had one woman standing over me for a significant portion of my white mocha).

It still served my purposes — an hour out, on my own, not worrying about the kids — but I decided to leave a bit early and go on a stroll.

On my way back home, I came upon a chestnut vendor.  Chestnuts roasting on an open fire — for real — served in a little paper cup.  So, I got some (12, to be exact).  Oh, so yummy.  And warm.  And happy in my tummy.  Just the thing for a cold, rainy, autumn day.

I brought them home to share with Dan and the boys.  Benjamin did not care for them.  Liam thinks they’re fantastic (or so I interpret his persistent toddling up to me, pointing at the paper cup and shouting, “Da!”).

Score another point for Vienna:  chestnuts roasting on an open fire.  There are things I really love about this place.

Buying bread

One of my favorite things to eat is grilled cheese with tomato and tomato soup.  My mom offered to make it earlier in the week, but it has been a little too warm for that kind of meal.  Yesterday, however, was a little cooler, and rainy, so she offered again, and I accepted.  We had purchased everything we needed, except for bread — the bread here has so few preservatives that it won’t last more than a day or so.

So, after getting Benjamin down for a nap, and giving up on getting one for Liam, I left my mom to supervise the kids and I went down to the bakery to purchase some bread.  This isn’t as easy as it was at home.  I don’t know what kind of bread I want, there are a dozen or so options, and they’re all back behind the counter, so I can’t get a really good look or squeeze or smell them — and even if I could, I struggle with pronouncing the names.  I contemplated the options for a moment, and then gave up and decided to try my luck with English.  It actually worked out — the guy behind the counter spoke excellent English and was kind enough to use it, and to make a recommendation on “something dark and good for sandwiches”.  He thoughtfully chose a loaf for me, and I nodded gratefully, and then asked, with accompanying pantomime, if he would be able to slice it for me.  (I may not learn a lot of German while I’m here, but I will be great at charades by the time I go home.)

He turned around, sliced the bread and told me the amount, I paid, got the bread and went to leave.  But my bag felt a little light . . . and on second thought, shouldn’t it have been more expensive?  Upon examining the contents of my bag, I realized that he hadn’t sliced the bread — he had cut the loaf in half.  Bummer.  Now I didn’t have enough for grilled cheese sandwiches.  What to do?  Should I interrupt the customer after me (now placing their order) to correct my mistake?  Wait in the line of about 12 people (I swear, I’ve never seen so many people in this bakery, ever before) to fix it?

Nope.  I’m neither that brave or that humble.  I walked down to the next bakery and bought another whole loaf of bread.  Afraid to make the same mistake twice, I didn’t even ask them to slice it.

And that’s the story of how I ended up with a loaf and a half of bread for sandwiches yesterday.

The Little Differences

I love McDonald’s here.  (And it’s not just because you can pretty much count on the cashier speak English.).  McDonald’s here has some menu items we should add in the States, like bacon cheeseburgers, curry dipping sauce, waffle fries and my new favorite beverage, eis caffee (which is espresso and vanilla ice cream).

But they also have a dessert and coffee bar inside — it’s like having a complete Starbucks inside every McDonald’s.  Except cheaper.  (And you don’t even wait in the same lines as people getting “regular” food.)

When we first chose our new apartment here, one of the first things I did was look up the closest Starbucks.  Now I realize there was no need — there’s a McDonald’s on the corner, where I can get (like I did today) an iced chai, a chocolate cupcake and a free babycino (warm milk) for B.

Oh, I’m going to miss that back at home.  Just saying.