Friday, June 29, 2012

Red, white, and blue expressions


Large Independence Day Mat from SquareCircleWorks


As the US’s Independence Day nears, I have been considering our red, white and blue flag.  I don’t think that many Americans realize that red, white and blue is not only popular in the US; this color combination is common around the world.

Red, white, and blue creations from SquareCircleWorks

How many countries have red, white, and blue flags?

I was surprised to learn that 28 countries have national flags of red, white, and blue.  (Answers.com, 2012)  Of course, many of these flags are descendants of the Union Jack, and the days of the British Empire.  Still, Russia and many Slavic countries also use this combo on their flags.

Independence Day creations from SquareCircleWorks

Why has red, white, and blue been so popular?

I went to The Straight Dope board to find out what some folks thought.  One person guessed that the choice was purely practical.  She wrote, “In the days before synthetic dyes, madder (which makes red) and indigo (which makes blue) were relatively affordable natural dyes, which made clear and durable colors."  (flodnak, 2011)  Another suggested the combo was popular “...just because it looks good flying from a ship.” (Isosleepy, 2011)  You may question the credibility my sources; the thoughts are interesting nonetheless!

Independence Day bowl from SquareCircleWorks

Whatever your flag color and whenever your national day, I wish you peace.

-Valerie





References:

Answers.com. (2012). Which countries have red white and blue flags? Retrieved from: http://wiki.answers.com

The Straight Dope. (2012). The red, white and blue color combination. Why is it so common? Retrieved from: http://boards.straightdope.com

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Apple Fennel Salad


Fennel bulbs and apples


Growing up in an Italian family - and in an agricultural region - fennel was one of those vegetables that you’d often find in our fridge.  We called it finocchio.  (Yep. Like pinocchio, but with an f.)  Today, you can be sure I keep a few bulbs on hand.  They are sweet and fragrant, wonderful raw or cooked, and they make a delicious substitute for celery!

When the hot days of summer arrived in Vienna recently, I knew just what I wanted: something fresh and crunchy and with a natural sweetness - fennel!

With that in mind I created a new salad of fennel and apple.

Apple Fennel Salad


Ingredients:

1 head of baby romaine, chopped or ripped (your preference)
½ bulb of fennel, sliced thinly
1 apple, cut into small chunks
Gorgonzola cheese chunks (the amount is up to your taste)
1-2 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
1-2 tbsp. dried cranberries or raisins

Preparation:

Layer the ingredients in a shallow salad bowl, in the order listed.  Add your favorite dressing.  I chose to drizzle with olive oil and balsamic creme.  Oh so good!

Sweet elements!



Not sure how to cut fennel? Check out this New York Times video.

If you are looking for another summer salad, you may enjoy my Stay Cool Fruit Salad.

Happy Summer!


Friday, June 22, 2012

A secret in my neighborhood




On my birthday I learned a secret.  I discovered a hidden treasure.  It wasn’t tucked away in remote courtyard in an ancient quarter of the city.  It was in the very neighborhood I live, along a path I walk daily.

Freyenstein Gourmet Gasthaus

At Freyenstein we experienced a culinary spree, a trip to new tastes and textures.  We had at least 12 dishes in all, from caviar with lime cream to baby squash in a bed of couscous.  Each dish arrived accompanied by a fresh and surprising herb complement.



The staff was welcoming and friendly, and more than willing to try to translate – from German into English – each complex dish as it arrived to our table.  We left sated but not overly so.  This was, hands down, the best meal out I have had in my three years in Vienna.



If you decide to go, be sure to make reservations ahead of time.  It was a week night, and every table was full.  


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stay Cool Fruit Salad – perfect for summer


Stay cool!


It is hot in Vienna this week.  So hot.  There is no way I am turning on the oven.  (If you follow my blog, you know that is a BIG deal for me!)

What does one eat on a hot summer day?  I have just the treat – Stay Cool Fruit Salad.  (Yes, I made that up.)

I started to make this salad years ago when I was a college student in California – the land of fruits and nuts.  (Smile.)  It is delicious and nutritious.  And the best part about it – it is simple to make!

Ingredients:

3/4 cup steamed rice (white or brown)
1 banana, sliced
¼ cup strawberry pieces
¼ cup cherry halves
¼ cup plain yogurt (or flavored, if you prefer)
2 tbsp. seeds (I chose pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
2 tbsp. dried fruit (I like raisins and dried cranberries)
1 tbsp. honey (optional)


Fresh ingredients


Preparation:

Add the rice to a deep bowl, and layer with fruit.  Cover the rice and fruit with the yogurt, and then sprinkle on the seeds and dried fruit.  Drizzle on honey as a final touch, if you want it sweeter.

Delicious and...  


This dish is especially good when the rice is still warm!

When the weather is cooler, check out some of my other recipes.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Glass expressions




What is it about glass?  It is the way light reflects upon it, or travels through it?  Is it sharpness?  Perhaps its fragile nature?  Glass can shatter; glass can crack.  

I don’t know.

But these questions came to me when I recently visited the Vienna studio of glass artist Magusia Johansson.  Magusia, originally from Poland, studied glass in Sweden.  Her glass works are expressions of color and light – blues and greens in geometric dance, black and burgundy in parallel and intersecting lines, pinks, greens, oranges…

Magusia showed us her materials and tools, and talked about the process of turning glass sheets into plates, light fixtures, and jewelry.  Everything in her studio is meticulously labeled and stored – glass powders, strips, tubes, and slabs.  The process of and the product say, professional.

Tools and materials


We all felt we'd entered a candy store!  Here are some of Magusia’s pieces…

Glass candy!

We finished the morning with a little celebration of sweets at Magusia's lovely table.  It seemed fitting.

At Magusia's table


To learn more about Magusia and her work, visit her website.  


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The expression of wet laundry


My dryer is broken.  It has been broken long enough that I cannot wait for the repairman.  I am doing the laundry, and hanging it out to dry.



As I look at the product of my labor - the shirts and socks hung neatly in a row, clothespins like small plastic stems, I realize this scene is foreign to me.  I am used to piles, not neat lines.  There is order, structure, and yes, I dare to say it, beauty in the expression of wet laundry.

Perhaps I am thinking fondly of the owner whose clothes I have washed, of the years and memories we have shared.  Maybe I am aware and appreciative – in a different way – of the work he does as he wears those socks and t-shirts.

Now I am off to sweep the kitchen floor.  Who knows what expression I will find there?



Friday, June 8, 2012

A message



There is a place in Turkenschanzpark where delicate flowers bloom amidst heavy boulders.

Soft slender stalks unfurl between the weighty rocks.

I think of the unresisting mammoths, and of the delicacy of those blooms.

Another message from nature.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Traveling Austria - A view of Hallstatt


On a recent weekend we drove to the mountain village of Hallstatt.  The drive through the Alps was beautiful, soft green hills gradually morphing into tall rugged rocky behemoths.

In the Austrian Alps


Our hotel was right on the lake adjacent the village square.  We looked out on the square, its fountain and statue, and the lovely little shops and inns that lined the perimeter.

Hallstatt town square


On Saturday we hiked up the mountain to the salt mines.  The path was steep, but along the way we stopped to enjoy the view, and take photos.  The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and they have placards along the trail, explaining the history of salt mining there.  People began to mine in Hallstatt in 5000 BC.  In fact, the name, Hallstatt, comes from the Celtic word for salt, “Hall”.

View from the trail

Old mine entrance

On Sunday we rented a little electric boat and took a ride around the lake.  The water was like glass, the mountains reflected in it.  I loved seeing all the covered boathouses.

On the lake

Hallstatt reflection - view on the water

Ah... Austrian Alps.

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