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The Traveler and the Cook: Winter Vacation in the Rockies

OUR COOKING INSTRUCTOR, EVA SZIGETI, TELLS ABOUT HER FAMILY’S WINTER VACATION AND SHARES A DELICIOUS RECIPE THAT’S PERFECT FOR A WINTER BREAK STAY-CATION…

Planning a family vacation often starts with a discussion about the destination. For a winter trip, we might consider two very different types of travel destinations.

Some might want to embrace the season and opt for a ski trip. While those longing for a break from the cold and the darkness, might choose a trip to the sunny tropics.

As my family considered the idea of a family trip, our discussion wasn’t so much about the destination, but about participants. The two experienced snowboarders in the family have been planning to conquer some “real” slopes for a while. The question was whether my daughter (an inexperienced snowboarder) and I would join them on this trip.

I must disclose that winter is not my favorite season, and when it comes to mountains, my feelings are mixed. Growing up in an area where the landscape resembles the flat plains of the Midwest, the most memorable hill of my childhood (and the only hill around) was a small artificial sledding hill on the playground.

From a safe distance, I do like to admire the beauty of mountains, but when experiencing them close-up, my respect for them often borders on fear. As for my skiing skills, they are minimal. Because of the lack of opportunity, my hometown wasn’t exactly a town of ski enthusiasts either. Although I’ve tried skiing, I have never acquired skills beyond a beginner level.

The idea of a family ski/snowboarding trip made me more nervous than excited. For me, skiing and snowboarding come with too much hassle and worries (Does everyone have goggles? Where is my daughter’s left glove? Did we leave the helmets at home? Is the lift safe for the kids? Is the slope too icy?). My worries never seem to end…

After a few discussions, we came to a decision everyone was comfortable with: The boys would travel to Colorado and enjoy the mountains, while the girls would have a special “girl time” at home. The division of our family into two groups happened this time along the gender lines: it was time for some father – son, mother – daughter bonding!

My son and husband packed their bags (so much gear!) and embarked on their adventure. My daughter and I enjoyed our time together at home. We had been getting pictures and news from the boys every day. During our calls with them, the adventures of the day were usually summarized by my son into short sentences—exciting shouts from a high-altitude ski resort.

First day: “We gave up after two hours on the slope. We couldn’t breathe. There was no air! This place gets 11 feet of snow per year!”

Second day: “We went down a black diamond! The trail was more than two miles long! The Continental Divide runs through the top of the ridge!”

Third day: “We were really high up. More than 11,000 feet! Can you imagine? Above the tree line!”

Fourth day: “We went to a bar! Really, no kidding… Haha, an oxygen bar.”

Fifth day: “We are coming home tomorrow!”

 

I was glad to hear from them every time. For me, the most important piece of information was that they were well, because to me the majestic Rockies seem a little dangerous even from a great distance.

If being on vacation means, breaking away from the usual daily routines, then my daughter and I had a vacation too. We “camped”, along with our dog, in the guest room, watched movies (something we don’t do too often) during the snowstorm, we stayed up later than usual, enjoyed craft projects, and played lots of board games. I mostly neglected cooking, because this week after all was a departure from our everyday lives. We all had a good time, and we concluded that having a one-on-one parent – child ‘vacation’ experience can be as valuable as a trip involving all members of the family.

Through my son and husband’s experience, I had a taste of their snowboarding trip. It seemed great, but I still don’t long for a winter vacation in the mountains. Perhaps one day I might want to travel to the Rockies in the summertime. I am quite fascinated by the idea of standing in the rain on the imaginary line of the Continental Divide, knowing that the raindrops coming down on the Eastern side of the mountain might one day meet the waters of the Atlantic, while the precipitation trickling down the West slope is destined for the Pacific Ocean.

 

Mushroom Soup for a Winter Day

We eat mostly home-made food. That means lot of time spent in the kitchen. During our unusual vacation-at-home week, I gave myself a little break from cooking. We had mostly salads, sandwiches, and soups. Most soups are not labor intensive and can be made in large batches that last for few days. Many taste even better reheated than fresh.

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound Portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus extra to garnish
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
salt to taste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 – 2  teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a large pot heat the butter and oil. On medium heat, sauté onions until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add mushrooms and thyme, cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle mushrooms with flour, mix well, and cook while gently mixing for 2 minutes. Add stock, mix and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add salt and pepper.

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add cream and bring back to simmer (not boil). Adjust seasoning if necessary. Mix in parsley and lemon juice.

Garnish with parsley. Serve with toast or fresh bread.

 

 

The Traveler and the Cook: Christmas Market In Vienna

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, writes about the nostalgia she feels around the holidays, particularly for the joys of the ‘holiday market’…

The holiday season is a time when we seem to be especially prone to nostalgia for childhood, for the magical time of hope and anticipation that brought light into the darkest part of the year. Nostalgia magnifies moments from childhood and leads to reminiscing about positive experiences. I miss the Christmas seasons of my childhood. No matter who hard I try to recreate the feeling of ‘Christmas’ every year, the holiday never seems to be the same as it was when I was a kid.Adults, do you remember snow globes? Those heavy glass (or plastic) spheres with a winter scene? When they are shaken, snow starts quietly coming down on the town or the landscape encased in the glass. Did you ever hold one as a child and feel mesmerized by the miniature world where snow was just one shake away? I always imagined myself being part of the scene. As the soft snow slowly came down inside of the glass-covered world, I was transported into the kingdom of imagination and dreams. How delightful! But seeing a snow globe as an adult, it seems more tacky than enchanting. I had to remember all the magic it brings, when my daughter asked for one few years ago.

As a child, I loved the Christmas market. I remember a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts warming my hands and the aroma of roasting chestnuts filling the town square. Enjoying the spirit of the holiday in a market is a nice way to spend a weekend day with children. For those who happened to be in Central Europe during the holiday season, Vienna is an excellent choice. Although I never went to a Christmas market in Vienna as a child, I had been to many others that provided a similar experience.

Vienna’s famous Christmas markets were likely the first place where snow globes were sold (and are still sold). Like many other inventions, the first snow globe was an unintended byproduct of a quest for something else – in this case, for a surgical lamp. The snow globe (Schneekugel) was patented at the end of the 19th century by Erwin Perzy, an Austrian surgical instruments mechanic. The hand-painted, manually assembled glass globes encasing a miniature St. Stephens Cathedral were a hit. The Perzy family continues to make a variety of snow globes to this day, and the family business still operates in the same house in Vienna.

Of course, there is no Christmas market without food and holiday treats. In a Christmas market in Vienna, this means stalls with grilled sausage, pretzels, sandwiches, roasted chestnuts and almonds, potato wedges, donut-like sweets (Krapfen), apples covered in red sugar glazing, cotton candy, and marzipan. Some stalls sell nothing but gingerbread decorated with colored frosting; hearts and stars with inscriptions of Christmas wishes.

For the sake of childhood nostalgia, I had to have a Schaumbecher which is an ice cream cone topped with marshmallow cream dipped in chocolate when I last visited a market. As children, we called them ‘winter ice cream’. It was nice to taste one again, although as a child, I had not been a big fan because they failed to deliver the taste of real ice cream.

Possibly more than by food, children at a market in Vienna will be enchanted by old-world wooden toys like pine cone animals, wooden birds, porcelain bells, and especially wooden figures that jump or fly (without batteries) when a string is pulled. And don’t expect to meet Santa in Vienna. In Austria and the Central European region, Christmas gifts are brought by the Christkind (Christ-child or Little Jesus).

In Central Europe, there is no Christmas without what the Austrians call vanilla kipferl (vanilla crescents). We decided to make a batch with my daughter recently. As we were baking, suddenly the wise-woman-persona of my nine-year-old daughter came to life and spoke, “You know, it is the small things that matter in life, like baking cookies or being with your family.” After my initial shock, I had to acknowledge that she was perfectly right. I hope she feels the wonder of the holiday, and one day she will yearn for the magic of her childhood Christmases.

Vanilla Kipferl or Vanilla Crescents Recipe

These are typical Austro-Hungarian Christmas cookies. In Austria, they are usually made with almonds, whereas in Hungary, ground walnuts are preferred.

Vanilla sugar is available at European grocery stores, or you can made your own by burying a vanilla bean in a jar of sugar. Let it sit for about two weeks until the vanilla releases its flavor into the sugar. Nicely packaged home-made vanilla sugar also makes a good gift!

2 cups flour
1 cup finely ground almonds or walnuts
2 sticks unsalted butter
¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar (for the dough)
1 egg yolk
½ vanilla sugar (to coat the bake cookies)

Beat the butter until smooth. Gradually work in the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla sugar. Add the egg yolk. Stir in the flour and the ground almond or nuts. Make a stiff dough. Divide the dough into two parts and form two large rolls. Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 35 degrees F. To form the crescents, cut about two teaspoons of dough. Gently roll the dough to form a rope with tapered end. Form the rope into a crescent. Put the cookie on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough. This batch will make about 50 crescents. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the cookies are light golden around the edges. Cool the cookies on the sheet for about two minutes. Roll each cookie in the vanilla sugar to coat. Enjoy!