Let’s Go Crazy

Yeah, let’s!

We watched Love Actually last night for the first time this festive season and it breaks my heart Alan Rickman left for good. One of my favourite actors if I ever had one, his super responsive face made all the impact. And his voice, deep and warm, man, what a voice. And his English, well, to a person feeling shivers down her spine by spoken British English, it was just perfect. He needn’t speak anyway.

Can someone please tell Him to conduct the 2017 with a bit of a lighter touch? We could all do with it thankyouverymuch although we’re pretty much all aware of the obvious and not so obvious.

I promise I’ll keep paying attention, reasoning and questioning, reading books and columns throughout the New Year. I can’t do otherwise anyway. I hope to get absorbed in exciting stories, travels and food. Speaking of food, just recently my man and I hosted two dinners at home. We approached the planning and preparations with lots of care, good will and joy and were working hand in hand throughout. We seem to have had everything going for us: great guests and truly smartly selected courses. Everyone was delighted. Bravo for us!

On both occasions I was asked for the recipes and voilà, my darlings, here they are, all included in the links below.

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Christmas Dinner Menu

The Leftoverist’s Thai Carrot Soup, a fantastic warm-up dish (minus broccoli and rice, plus tomatoes)

Sabrina Ghayour’s Citrus Spiced Salmon from her lovely book Persiana (minus rose petals and lime powder; used a 1,5 kg side of salmon, one piece not filets)

Nigel Slater’s Green Olive Pastries as a side dish – it’s the last recipe and shares a photo with the third one (I used a mix of Ligurian olives not the green ones)

Puy Lentil Salad as a side dish no. 2 from this helpful book (minus goat cheese and peppers plus feta and double on soaked dried tomatoes)

Photo of a recipe in a book Healthy Eating to Reduce the Risk of Dementia by Margaret Rayman et al.

The Delicious Days’ Chocolate Heaven served with whipped cream, the safest, the most delicious and certainly the most popular chocolate cake in our household.

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Post Christmas Dinner-for-friends Menu

Nigel Slater’s Brussels and Butternut Custards It’s the fourth recipe, you’ll have to scroll almost to the bottom (I used hokkaido instead of butternut – no peeling needed).

Rachel Roddy’s Spaghetti with Lemon, Parsley, Garlic and Chilli It might seem too vegetarian a selection especially for the main course but it was supposed to be a bit more relaxed after the Christmas binging for everybody.

Quince and Marzipan Tarte Fine An exquisit dessert. I poached and preserved the quince slices some two months beforehand to save them for this dessert.

Some additional points regarding the menus: every course was planned as to require minimum involvement away from the guests. Most of the food could be prepared in advance, some of it at least up to a certain point. It was completely no-fuss doable and non-exhausting. Several amuse-bouches can be served (and are not listed) and a variety of petit-fours or other sweat treats to accompany the main thing. In my opinion it’s very well worth it to serve one-bites, think cookies, kumquats, dates for instance, as they add even more vibrancy to the festive table.

Nevertheless, the rest of the holiday is for resting and enjoying it.

Happy New Year everybody!

 

Vienna Revisited

As soon as we stepped out of the parking garage at MuseumsQuartier we bumped (literally) into a group of acquaintances we were kind of planning to meet for a drink after dinner. Talk of coincidences! Away from home, in a huge city that Vienna undoubtedly is, you get to stumble across the people the minute you step out in the open.

I must confess, although I know I’m stirring, meeting my fellow citizens abroad isn’t normally welcomed but this act of chance added a whole new dimension to our trip.

Vienna again proved to be a more or less indulging destination for us. We were eating and eating and eating.

Wienerschnitzel at Plachuttas Gasthaus zur Oper with a serving of Kartoffelsalat, my favourite side dish, dressed with mandatory pumpkin seed oil

Advent time is proverbially a perfect time to visit any German-speaking place: they certainly know about the Christmas decorations and their traditions serve them right. Here’s an explanation from the Albertina leaflet of how a Christmas tree came to be in Vienna:

The history of the Christmas tree in Austria began on a day in December, in snow-covered Vienna in 1823. Archduchess Henrietta of Weilburg-Nassau, the wife of Archduke Carl, was busy planning the first Christmas celebration in the audience hall of her family’s stately palace, today’s Albertina. For the sake of her six children, she had decided to continue the Protestant custom practiced in Hessen of putting up a “grass tree” (conifer) […] opulently decorated with sweetmeat, apples, and candles instead of a Catholic crèche. Emperor Francis I. took delight in the “grass tree” and had a festively decorated fir tree put up in the Imperial Palace from 1824 on.

Thus, the Christmas tree had become presentable at court and was ready to take off on its triumphal course through the Austrian Christmas season.

Where best to warm up to Christmas than in Vienna then? In our household we plan to spend a weekend there each December and it’s a tradition I’m sticking to obligingly and without objections.

Vienna is probably one of the grandest capitals even to the pickiest of visitors. There are magnificent palaces lining (and not only) the famous Ringstrasse, there are beautiful parks and elegant pedestrian streets, countless shops, numerous extravagant events, fantastic concerts and exhibitons. Come December she turns into a real imperial princess.

At Albertina we saw another splendid, well curated exhibition, this time on pointillism which is a very luminous and brilliant technique per se, so it made perfect sense to consume it at advent. From Seurat and Signac to Van Gogh and Picasso the paintings and drawings were marvellous, of course, but we were nevertheless expecting to see A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte but it was regretfully not on show.

Although the streets of Innere Stadt are packed throughout the day, one can surprisingly escape the noise simply by venturing into a hidden passage with tranquil antiquity shops.

This is probably what Martin Luther had in mind when he reportedly erected a fir tree for his family sometime in the 16th century to replicate the stars he saw shining through the branches during a walk through the woods.

Anyway, we also had a delicious dinner at Shiki, a fabulous Japanese restaurant cum brasserie just off Kaerntnerstrasse. Apart from food (freshly grated (at the table no less) wasabi anyone? superb sushi! wonderful soup! to highlight only the pre-mains) the service was nice and the ladies’ loo is fantastic. I can’t believe I’m mentioning the food and the loo in the same sentence. It’s the first time I experienced the legendary Japanese lavatory, which self cleans (saw it in action with my own eyes – freakingly unbelievable) and warms the seat for you. If you read this, you should go for the food, please, not the loo.

Unexpectedly, especially for Austria with its rigorous working hours regime, we transformed ourselves to night owls. Remember the little group of people we bumped in upon arrival? Well, we started our Bruderschaft rounds of drinks in the Grand Hotel’s bar, then we walked the deserted streets to  Cafe Hawelka for Buchteln and were glad to have had a chance to get the last 8. It was a night of fun and laughter! Great company!

On our way back to the hotel we finished off a plate of wurst at Bitzinger’s kiosk just for the sake of it. It was something we always wanted to do.