Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's Time for Dessert!

I love all things sweet, so this post is right up my alley! In Austria, some kind of dessert is served with every meal. Apricots were in season so many of the desserts we ate included apricots, whether it be a jelly roll type cake with apricot filling or a coffee cake with apricots, all were delicious! Here are some of the more interesting desserts we had while we were there:

This was a dense cake that was made in a bundt like pan. The cake was then covered with a chocolate pudding like sauce. This is a true Burgenländishe dessert! (sorry that the picture is a little dark!) We enjoyed this desert with the Peck's in Andau.

We had this one night at Martin's and Ilse's. My mother had requested it special. It's like a vanilla pudding with meringue on top.

Assorted Desserts in Bratislava

The one in front is a Sacher Torte; let's just say "chocolate decadence!" The dessert on the right is a cherry poppyseed strudel. The other two were like a cheesecake and another type of chocolate torte.

Cake with Red Currants and Meringue
I don't remember if this one had a special name, but it was delicious. Interesting combination of flavors and textures. The cake was sweet and the berries were tangy, the meringue was delicious!

One day, my mom and Ilse made Balasn. My mother remembers her mother making these. Traditionally, these are usually only made on Christmas Eve as these are really a special treat. They are made using the same pastry that one would use to make apple strudel. The dough is cut in circles and folded in half; they are filled with apples and then are fried. They are dusted with powdered sugar before serving them! Delicious!

Trust me, this plate didn't last long!

See the happy faces after enjoying a sweet delicious Balasn!

Raspberry Torte
Another delicious dessert made by Ilse. Ladyfingers, raspberries and some type of pudding like sauce to hold it all together.

Now as I think back, there were other delicious desserts that I didn't take pictures of -- twice we had Burgenländische Kipferln. These are little nut filled cookies. Both times we had them they were really good.

One gift that we received that we will really treasure is a cookbook that was published locally. It only has 14 recipes in it (including the Balasn, Gsottener Strudel, and Salzstangerl - see earlier post), but the best part about the cookbook is that there is a CD. They recorded several different Burgenland women making these authentic dishes. It is so much fun to watch these cute little ladies making these Burgenland treats!

Well, that's it for today. Hope you are staying cool and enjoying your weekend!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Budapest and Vienna

Thanks for your kind comments in recent days. This will continue to be a "travel" blog for a few more days as this is an easy way for me to share our trip experience with family and friends who are interested. We will resume "regular" programming (needlework) in a few days!

Today's focus is on the big cities of Budapest and Vienna. We flew into Budapest this trip. Vienna is closer, but we were using some special passes that I had and they would only work into Budapest.

We departed the U.S. on July 9, had a short layover in New York (JFK) and then from there, flew nonstop to Budapest and arrived around 11am on July 10. Our cousin Martin and his wife Ilse met us at the airport. We loaded up our suitcases and off we went for a little bit of sightseeing in Budapest!

It was hot there that day; temperature was about 95 degrees. Fortunately though with less humidity than what we experience in Minnesota on a 95 degree day. The Danube River runs through Budapest, so there are many bridges. I believe this is a photo of the Chain Bridge. Note the lovely flowers!

We admired some other lovely buildings up in the hills in the vicinity of the Chain Bridge:

But this is probably my most favorite photo taken from the Chain Bridge. This is the Parliament Building in Budapest. It sits on the Danube.

We then headed downtown and did a bit of walking and had some lunch. The outdoor shops were ready for us (but we resisted this first day!)

Martin and Ilse:

We enjoyed seeing some of Budapest and would certainly go back some day to see more of it. It's a beautiful city!

Now moving on to Vienna...we visited Vienna on the first Friday that we were there. Martin and Ilse drove us and we met up with some cousins from the Fischer side of the family (Maria, Werner, and their daughter, Nora.) My mom and I have been to Vienna several times, but we never tire of it. It will always be one of our most favorite cities in Europe!

When visiting Vienna, one of the "must-see" attractions is Schönbrunn Palace. This was just one residence of the Hapsburgs who ruled in Austria from the 13th century until just after WWI. From the vantage point we were at, you can see much of Vienna in the distance.

Here's the whole gang!

Next stop - Kärtner Strasse - the famous pedestrian shopping street with lots of shops, monuments, etc.

Our destination was the Steffl Department store. They have a restaurant on the top floor that overlooks the Stefansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral). We stopped and had coffee and good conversation. It was a nice little break from walking! No more resting for us though, we had places to go and people to see!

Next stop: Stefansdom - it seems like they are always renovating or repairing. Much care and attention is needed to preserve these old landmarks!

Our final destination in Vienna was the Rathaus (City Hall). They have a film and music festival on the square every evening during the summer. We did not stay for the concert that night (it didn't start until 9:30pm) but we enjoyed eating our supper on the square - there were many vendors to choose from and it was a nice place to enjoy a beautiful summer evening in Vienna!

I have to include this last photo for my mom as she loves seeing the horse-drawn carriages (Fiaker) in Vienna. On our very first trip there (back in 1977) we took a ride in one of them.

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of our favorite pictures from Budapest and Vienna!

Tomorrow's post? Maybe I'll share some of those "dessert" photos I have been promising! Have a great day!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Burgenland: Bridging East and West

If you haven't heard of Burgenland before and/or maybe aren't exactly sure where it is, pull out a map or Google it. It is the easternmost province in Austria. Burgenland is celebrating it's 90th birthday in 2011. It was formed in 1921 when the Austrian - Hungarian monarchy was disbanded. The majority of the people who live here are German-speaking, but there are also a number of Croation- and Hungarian-speaking people.

My grandmother kept in touch with her family after immigrating to the U.S. We recently unearthed several letters that were exchanged between her and one of her sisters. After my grandmother passed away, one of my aunts continued to connect with the "old country" by keeping in touch via the post. This responsibility was then passed down to my mother (the youngest of her siblings).

Our first visit to Burgenland was in 1977; I had just completed my sophomore year of high school. My mother and I spent a week visiting relatives that we barely knew; we even met an uncle/great-uncle that we didn't realize that we had! (He was born in 1905 and my grandmother immigrated to the U.S. in 1906!) Despite the language challenges and the distance between us, we formed relationships that have lasted almost 35 years! I have been fortunate, this trip was my fifth visit to Burgenland, and my mother's sixth or seventh. It's a special place in our hearts.

Back to that first visit - the borders between East and West were closed. One could only cross after much scrutiny and questioning by the Eastern Block border guards. Since these villages in Burgenland are located on the border between Austria and Hungary it was commonplace to see towers with guards and machine guns. On those first trips to Burgenland we could only travel around Austria. Fortunately, today everything has changed. People can freely travel across the border between Austria and the countries of Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia. And travel we did!

One destination that we were lucky to visit was Bratislava, Slovakia! It's only about 40km from Vienna to Bratislava (so an easy hour by car). It was raining the day we went, but we didn't let the rain deter our plans. We parked near the center of the old part of town and then got out our umbrellas and started walking. I hope that the pictures will convey the beautiful architecture of the buildings in Bratislava!

The opera house in Bratislava:

A little red bus for sightseeing:

The town square:

Walking down the cobblestoned streets of the old city:

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to visit Bratislava!

Another East/West trip that we made was to the Bridge at Andau. Any James Michener fans out there? He tells the story of when in 1956 the Soviets attacked Budapest and the Hungarian people revolted. The Bridge at Andau was an escape route for Hungarian refugees who were trying to flee into Austria. The bridge was destroyed by the Soviets in November 1956. On the 40th anniversary of this event, the bridge was reconstructed, and today there is a memorial on this site.

A reminder of the past (guard tower in the distance):

One more East/West visit - one day we traveled to the border between Austria and Hungary near Sopron. There is a memorial here; the site is known as the place of the "Pan European Picnic." August 19, 1989, between 15 and 20 thousand people demolished the remaining portion of the "iron curtain" on this site and broke through the border gate and pushed their way into Austria.

A barbed wire fence remains as a reminder:

The memorial:

In the distance, another reminder of the past:

Let me leave you with one of my favorite pictures from our trip. The area around the Neusiedlersee (Lake Neusiedl) is a bird lover's paradise and one of the frequently seen inhabitants is the stork. They build their nests on top of chimneys and power poles. Here is one family of storks that we saw while traveling through Hungary.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Eating Our Way Through Burgenland

Part II of our trip to Austria focuses on FOOD!

My mother is an excellent cook and she has always said that her mother was an excellent cook. My grandmother immigrated to the U.S. in 1906 from Tadten, which today is located in Burgenland, Austria. This small village of about 1500 people is just minutes from the border with Hungary. When my grandmother lived there, there was no border - it was all part of the same country - consequently, many of the dishes she prepared were very typical of Hungarian cooking.

Each day of our two-week stay we enjoyed delicious food prepared by some fabulous cooks (many of them were cousins or friends.) I couldn't help myself; I had to take pictures of many of the wonderful things we ate!

Each morning we started with a simple breakfast at our Pension in Tadten. Breakfast consisted of a Kaiser roll (baked fresh each morning at the town bakery!) We had two types of marmalade to choose from - cherry and apricot - and both were homemade by the daughter of the Pension owner. The apricot was my favorite. Of course it is also customary to have meats and cheeses available. (This is a picture of my mom, too bad we didn't think to take the picture before we ate breakfast!)

In Austria, it is customary to eat the "big" meal of the day at lunch time. In fact, you will find that in many of these smaller villages, businesses are closed from 12 noon until 1:30pm or 2:00pm so that the employees can go home for "Mittagessen."

Here are some of our favorite lunch time meals (in no particular order):

Kraut Knockerln (Cabbage Noodles)

Unfortunately, I don't have a photo (must have been the jet lag) but this was our first "Burgenlandische" meal and it was delicious! The cabbage is chopped and fried then mixed with square-shaped noodles. We also had liver dumpling soup which was very good!

Gsottener Strudel
The filling is "Topfen" which is almost like a ricotta cheese. You then cover it with a bean sauce or a tomato sauce (if you don't like beans!)

Hungarian Goulash with Salzstangerl
Trust me - it was delicious! (Nothing compares to homemade rolls; Pillsbury Dough Boy, step aside!)

As crazy as it sounds, we just had to do McDonald's one day (actually we ended up eating twice at the McDonald's in Sopron, Hungary!) Our fish filet and chicken sandwiches tasted just like at home.

Kraut Strudel (Cabbage Strudel)

This is the day my mother thought she died and went to heaven! Before our visit was over, she had eaten five pieces of this delicious strudel! If you've ever had authentic Austrian apple strudel, this is made the same way, but with cabbage as the filling. We also had some interesting soup with our Kraut Strudel; you've heard of tomato-basil soup? Well we had something different "Basilicum Suppe" - it was Basil soup with tomatoes in it! Interesting taste; it was green in color.

Yep, that would be piece number five (as we were heading out the door...)

Check out this delicious meal - new potatoes with parsley, a salad made with green and red peppers, tomatoes and onions in a vinegar sauce, and pork medallions! Notice the wine on the table - did I tell you that some of the best wines in the world are produced in Burgenland?

What? Burger King? Quick familiar lunch at the Budapest Airport!

The evening meal was the lighter of the two meals and usually consisted of bread (real bread, not the soft white stuff we have in America), cheese, sausage, fresh veggies and fruit from the garden, and wine of course!

The weather was so beautiful we usually ate dinner out in the garden or on the patio of my cousin's house. There was always good conversation too (auf Deutsch!)

Such a "lustig" bunch - check out the spread on the table.

We always gave my cousin Martin a hard time - he always loaded his bread with lots of butter!

I could go on and on about all of the wonderful things we had to eat! I do have some dessert photos to share with you, but will save those for another post. Guten Appetit!