Nibbling at the Edges of Eclipse Day: The Moon Bites Back

Everyone is talking about today’s solar eclipse.  It’ll draw its dark line diagonally across the US today, but the inky darkness will bleed out across most of the country– even those of us who aren’t in the line of total eclipse.  It’s been the big story for days now, leading a news cycle that has contained other chatter that included stories about North Korea and Russia: a big old stew of news that brought to mind two posts from a couple of years ago; posts about Moon Pies, Cold War, Russians, and North Korean politics.  Strange bedfellows, maybe . . . maybe not.  

Seemed an appropriate time to bring out that original post (Moon Pies and Moon Landings), as well as it’s follow up on the saga of Choco Pies in N. Korea.  Happy reading, bon appetit, and Godspeed on eclipse day!

 

Moon Pies and Moon Landings (Modern History and the German Grocery Store)

I began writing this post under the title “The Perks and Perils of Shopping Abroad.”  However, I soon realized that the insights you are about to read are much broader than my mishaps in the grocery aisles.

The larger story starts in the years after the Second World War.  (Or even after the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution.)  It gains steam in the Cold War and the Race for Space.   However, the more immediate story starts in the aisles of my local German grocery store, Edeka.  And like the larger story of political machinations, it’s fraught with perks and perils.

For example, it was recently brought to my attention that the lovely, fragrant German laundry detergent I’ve been using for about three months is actually fabric softener.  Who knew?  Well, in fact, I had suspected for a few weeks.  My clothes were so fragrant and soft!  But were they clean?  Well . . . they weren’t not clean.

These things happen when you shop abroad.
But great things happen too.  This morning, I was meandering the aisles of our grocery store, picking up jam, sorting through coffee, and pondering fish, when I stumbled upon the most amazing thing on an Eastern European/Russian shelf.  Moon Pies!    Well, okay, Choco-Pies–but they were Russian Moon Pies!    Eureka!   For all of you non-American (or non-Southern) folks out there, here’s a little lesson:  Moon Pies are chocolate, graham, and marshmallow pies that are a Southern staple and made in Tennessee.  Before the markets were flooded with snack cakes and convenience food, there was the Moon Pie.  Apparently, they were produced beginning in the 1920’s and they were certainly big stuff in the sixties and seventies.  (My mother loved to pack my lunch with Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies, but my heart, and my taste buds, yearned for Moon Pies.)   They were iconic.  And delicious.

And here I was, in Germany, staring down a Russian doppelganger!  At first I laughed, and then I greedily stuffed a box into my shopping cart!  I considered my good fortune as I walked the streets of town, heading home with my grocery bag and its treasure.  But as I walked, I started thinking about more than my good fortune.  I started thinking about the doppelganger-ness of the little chocolate pie: the shadowy counterpart, the ghostly (and ominous) double.  The American Pie/the Russian Pie:  forever locked in a shadowy dance.

For sure, I’ve watched too many episodes of “The Americans,” the Cold War spy drama, lately.  But my odd brain was playing out this Spy v. Spy (Pie v. Pie) drama  and finding it fascinating.

By the time I got home, I was mad to know more.  I ripped out the Choco Pie box and scanned the label for clues–amongst the Cyrillic  (Russian) script and German sticker stood out something I could decipher.  Original since 1974.  Ha!  It wasn’t the original then–we got there first.  Not only did we get to the moon first*, but we got to the moon pie first.  I chuckled as I opened the box and saw that the pies were smaller than their American counterpart.  Well, what did I expect.

But then I took a bite.  Oh my.  I took another bite.  They were delicious.  So fresh, so chocolaty.  I felt conflicted in my patriotic soul.  There had to be an explanation for this;  no way the shadowy double could rival the Southern staple.  Think, think!  (Take another bite.)  Think some more!   Oh–of course–the problem is that too many of the American Moon Pies I’ve eaten have been plucked from dusty lower shelves of rundown convenience stores or seedy Stuckey’s truck stops.  Who knows how long they had lingered there, gathering dust and grime?  That’s it.  That must be it.

Tang ad, 1966

I was raised in the 70’s with a taste for Moon Pies and Tang.   In my mind, that era will always be  about playing kick the can, catching fire flies, eating Moon Pies, and drinking Tang like the astronauts.  I remember some of the Apollo missions; I coveted the GI Joe astronaut dolls (Barbie never had the astronaut get up, although her house and pink convertible weren’t too shabby); and I marveled when Skylab sustained people and research in space.
I didn’t cheer on the Cold War or Nuclear Proliferation– they scared the hell out of me– but I was  a product of a culture and a time.   I didn’t know whether I was an observer or participant, but I felt the adrenaline of the Race.  The Race for Hearts and Minds, the Race for Space, for Superiority, for Survival.   And then I tucked my head down into a Moon Pie  or  Mad Magazine and took refuge from the noise of it all.

Only to find today that, maybe– just maybe– my youthful Soviet doppelganger was doing the same thing in 1974.
Only she couldn’t call her treat a “Moon Pie”. . . because we got there first.
Just another lesson learned at my German grocery store.

*Sort of.  We put a man on the moon first.  But before that, the  Soviet Sputnik program beat us into outer space and the Soviet Luna program reached the moon with unmanned crafts.

Time Magazine cover, Dec. 6, 1968

 

Update to “Moon Pies and Moon Landings” (first posted just a few days after the Moon Pie post)

This may come as a shock, but apparently my Moon Pie post was not as loopy as it sounded to many of you. Turns out Moon Pies (or Orion Choco-Pies, their Russian/Asian doppelganger) really are a propaganda piece in the machine of Cold War.  The present tensions between North and South Korea, that is.

My sister sent me a link to this very interesting article from The Daily Mail (UK)–looks like it was published today.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3119500/Chocs-away-North-Korea-unleashes-latest-weapon-against-rivals-South-counterfeit-Choco-Pie-cakes-rival-delicacy-available-border.html

The opening lines of John Hall’s article read like this:
*Chocs away! North Korea unleashes latest weapon against its rivals in the South – counterfeit Choco Pie cakes to rival delicacy available over the border
*North Korea has a roaring black market in the popular Choco Pie snack
Sweet treats change hands for £3.60 in Pyongyang, but only 17p in Seoul 
*So popular they are even used as alternative payment by some employers 
*But Kim Jong-Un is angry at the North’s love of a South Korean product 
He is now making his own Choco Pies in order to bring down their value 

Well, Mr. Kim Jong-Un, the joke is on you.  You are just putty in the hands of the universal Moon Pie awakening.

 

 

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Epicurean Update

I woke this Saturday morning to find that Epicurious.com had left a delicious morsel in my news feed:  a short article by Sam Worley,

Stretchy Turkish Ice Cream Now Available in U.S. Grocery Stores

What?  Is this possible?  You know I have a thing for stretchy Turkish ice cream– if you were paying attention, I sang its praises last fall in a blog post called “How We Eat . . .”.  You can imagine Mr. Sam Worley’s article quickened my pulse more than a little. It has arrived on my shores!  Turkish Dondurma!  I squealed, I celebrated!

But then I wondered.   Can I eat Turkish dondurma from the local grocery aisle, or would it be wrong, and certainly disappointing, to pull it from my upright freezer in my air conditioned Floridian home and eat it with a spoon and dish in my breakfast nook?  Would it betray every memory I have of sassy dondurma sellers in Istanbul or on the Turkish Mediterranean, paddling out the stretchy treat, only to whip it out of your grasp at the last moment. . . only to finally relent and offer up the treat,  which I would greedily gobble before it (or I) melted into the hot walkway of a Turkish summer day.

Would my favorite sweet Turkish treat suffer if it wasn’t fresh, and if everything about its presentation and circumstances was decidedly un-Turkish?  Decidedly mundane.  Bought at the local grocer.

Yes.  I think the answer has to be “yes.”

Still, you know I’ll look for it in the stores.  Maybe I’ll purchase some.  I hope it will be delicious.   It’ll certainly be a treat and a novelty . . . but scooped from a store carton  it will be an anemic facsimile.

I’d rather enjoy it by the Sea of Marmara or the Mediterranean– who wouldn’t?

I’ll leave you with the blurb from Epicurious (which includes a fantastic video of an impish Turkish ice cream man at work), as well as my original post on Turkish ice cream.

Happy Monday and bon appetit– or, as they say in Turkey, “Afiyet Olsun!”

http://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/turkish-ice-cream-comes-to-the-us-elastic-stretchy-article

Stretchy Turkish Ice Cream Now Available in U.S. Grocery Stores

Behold the pictures, all over the internet, of street vendors stretching Turkish ice cream just like it’s boardwalk taffy. That’s maraş dondurma, a confection made not just with milk and sugar but with mastic, a tree resin, and salep, the roots of wild mountain orchids, which imparts elasticity. The best and frankly only way to describe this is as stretchy, chewy ice cream. Word on the street is that people have been photographed jumping rope with it; others have cut it with knives and chainsaws. On the street, too—or in the markets, rather, where you get this ice cream in Istanbul—its unique stretchiness enables vendors to play all manner of practical jokes with would-be ice cream eaters, as in the video below.

The metal rod you see there is part of the traditional production process: the ice cream is beaten—kneaded, more or less—so that it sticks to itself. What results is a frozen confectionyou can do some tricks with; it’s also quite a bit slower to melt than non-elastic ice cream, a boon in the Turkish summers.

Something like dondurma is now available in the U.S., but in grocery aisles rather than bazaars. Lezzetli Mediterranean Ice Cream, which has been selling in the New York area for a while, announced today that it’s expanding its distribution throughout the northeastern United States, with four flagship flavors: Chios vanilla, made with a Greek tree sap; chocolate–orange blossom; spiced date, and tart cherry. Lezzetli bills its ice creams as inspired by similar desserts of Turkey and the Levant—versions of dondurma also exist in places like Syria and Greece—and they aren’t thickened with orchids, which are endangered, but with other natural gums. (In Turkey, for this same reason, salep has given way to other thickeners, like guar gum.) Not in your local place yet? Request it! Your grocer might be pliable.

****

How We Eat: Banana Pudding, Banoffee Pie, Songs, and Stretchy Ice Cream

PicMonkey banana pud shoofly

The title is a mouthful:  a delicious, caloric mouthful.  Inspired by a delicious and caloric, if somewhat stressful, week of cakes and puddings at our house.  An actual storm is sitting out in the Gulf, on our doorstep, and making vague threats, while the figurative storm of finding your bearings in a new environment is battering us around quite handily.  Under the circumstances, why not fatten our bodies and spirits for the fight, right?  Cakes and Ale is a fine battle strategy, I say.  Anyhoo, on with the post. . .

When I was young, my mother used to sing a song that would make us giggle and make us hungry at the same time: “Shoofly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy, make your eyes light up and your tummy say ‘howdy.’”  Silly.  I’ve never had Apple Pan Dowdy, but I can imagine the cobbler-like creation with no problem.  Shoofly Pie is harder to conjure.  Obviously sweet and sticky– a fly magnet (yuck!)– but the closest thing I can picture is a chess pie, and I don’t think that’s exactly right.  Which brings me to stretchy ice cream.  What, you’ll ask, is that?  A Floridian taffy-ice cream hybrid?  An over-cooked custard that makes a chewy ice cream?  No and no.  I’m thinking of Turkish Dondurma– an ice cream made with wild orchid extracts and salep ( a milky Turkish drink containing orchids).

Dondurma doesn’t taste of orchids, it comes in many flavors.  My favorite was banana.

Image from website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/
Image from wikicommons and website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/

   I only discovered dondurma toward the end of our life in Turkey, which is a shame because it is silky and delicious . . . and stretchy.  That doesn’t really affect the taste, but it makes for a great parlor trick.  Dondurma is often served in a dramatic way, dished out with a paddle and wrapped around your cone, only to be pulled back at the last moment.  The Turks love a laugh and good food, so why not marry the two?

I’ve been thinking about Dondurma lately.  August in Florida will bring out all of your ice cream fantasies, believe me.  But this week, I’m remembering Banana Dondurma while making a traditional Banana Pudding for my children.  A REAL Banana Pudding– no instant pudding and cool whip.  Ugh.  A silky homemade custard is the only way to go, people.

My mother made this Banana Pudding for us growing up, and I’m pretty sure that her mother made it too.  I’m printing the recipe at the end of this post.  It’s simple and satisfying, and I like it best when it’s still a tad warm (but I know people who only like it cold, so this is clearly a matter of personal taste).

Photo from myrecipes.com--sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!
Photo from myrecipes.com–sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!

Like all recipes for BP, this one layers Vanilla Wafers, banana slices, and pudding.  Like all the best recipes for BP, this one features a homemade pudding of milk/cream, eggs, and sugar– with a splash of vanilla tossed in after the pudding thickens.  Believe me, you’ll be licking the mixing spoon after making this one.  (And, as I’m writing this, I’m wondering if I could use this pudding, with banana and wafer bits thrown in to churn up a really delicious–though certainly un-stretchy– ice cream.  I’m going to try this soon and get back to you.)

Banana Pudding is a staple of the American South, a time-tested comfort food, welcome around any pot luck or picnic table.  Why is it Southern?  I have no idea.  It goes well with bourbon?  (There are worse theories.)   If you want a primer on the treat and its history, I’d suggest you read the article posted on the SeriousEats website– an interesting and remarkably in-depth read.  If you’re here for the yummy, not the history, feel free to skip the article, fast forward to my recipe, and judge for yourself.

But not before you consider Banoffee Pie.  It deserves a mention in a travel and culture blog, because what Banana Pudding is to the American South, Banoffee Pie seems to be to Brits.  A perfect comfort food, a sweet banana dessert that pops up everywhere.

photo from commons.wikimedia.org
photo from commons.wikimedia.org

“Banoffee” you say?  Yes– bananas, cream, and toffee.  BAN. OFFEE.

Although it’s a British staple, it’s not one of those long-standing English recipes that dates back to the middle ages (think mincemeat pie).  No– bananas weren’t easy to come by before modern times.  Still, you find it in so many homes, on so many menus, and in endless incarnations these days. Nigella Lawson has a great looking Banoffee Cheesecake recipe, as well a Chocolate Banoffee recipe.  There are Banoffee sundaes and cupcakes and pastries.  If you can think up a twist to banoffee pie, it’s out there.

I have nibbled at Banoffee creations, but haven’t perfected my own version, so I’ll encourage you to find your own recipe.  If you already have the perfect recipe, feel free to share it with me!

* * *

moveable feastI’ll leave you with my pudding recipe and a final thought on comfort food.  On how we eat.  I love sugar, and I love rich puddings, and I love sharing these things with family.  But it’s not just the yumminess, and it’s not just the hospitality, it is the comfort that gets me this week– the ritual of sharing this favorite family recipe. Hemingway spoke of Paris as a moveable feast–a joy and light and influence, a wealth of experiences–that stays with you wherever you go.   Whether or not we have Paris, we all have a storehouse of moveable feasts.

This week, Banana Pudding is my moveable feast.  The world is spinning a bit fast for me, the Gulf is churning a bit violently, but I have my pudding (a tad warm yet) and I have my children with their spoons at the ready . . . and I find that I have a feast of friends around this table — I have my grandmother’s cooking, my mother’s singing, my Turkish ice cream man, and my British bakery, and I sit in the company of these fine things and dig in to my bowl, and I know, with a quiet conviction, that the world will be right soon enough.

*Ba’s BANANA PUDDING

  • For the custard: 1/2 cup sugar, 3 Tablespoons flour, dash of salt, 1 whole egg, 3 egg yolks (save the whites), 2 cups of milk.
  • Cook this in a medium saucepan over a low heat until it thickens.  Then take it off the stove and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Layer vanilla wafers and banana slices; pour some custard over the top; then repeat these layers.
  • For meringue topping: beat the 3 egg whites, gradually adding up to 1/4 cup of sugar (and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, if you wish).  Bake this until browned (at 400 degrees, or using the broiler).
  • Enjoy!

 

Eating Local: Breaking Bread in Turkey

antik road family
On the “Antik Road” in Cappadocia. (1998) A local family cooking flatbread over an outdoor oven in Guzelyurt, Turkey. They shared the bread with us–it was delicious!

via Photo Challenge: Local

It was a crisp day in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, and my husband and I were out walking through the town of Guzelyurt– a small town set outside of the larger and more tourist-populated areas of Cappadocia.  (“Guzelyurt” means beautiful valley.)

We would often visit and stay in Otel Karballa there: a lovely structure that

had once been a Greek monastery, but was now converted to a small hotel with a fantastic chef and the ability to give its guests an authentic taste of life and history in this enchanting region.

turkey_regions_map3-1

goremeThis area of Turkey is fascinating– so well known for its natural beauty and unusual landscape, as well as its long and illustrious history.   In fact, the two things go hand in hand.  The famous “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia housed the cave dwellers of the Bronze Age, and later housed early Christian refugees and gave rise to the thousands of cave churches that dot the region.

dsc_0060
A fuzzy photo from one trip to Cappadocia: at the mouth of a cave church, with dwelling areas above it.

alanya-turkeye-193Once inside these churches, you are often  met with once-beautiful frescoes that (while still beautiful) are severely weathered by both age and ordeal.  Age, because most of the churches here date to between the 6th and 11th centuries; ordeal, as they were intentionally defaced because of religious aniconic sentiments.

If the cave dwellings and the colorful history weren’t enough to make Cappadocia a fantastic destination, it has this going for it:  it’s no artifact, it’s still living.  The potteries of the region are thriving, the people are hospitable, and many locals still live in the hollowed out cave dwellings (and have wired them for electricity!).

Walking down one ancient road in Guzelyurt, you might look up to see this:

dsc_0059

only to believe that you are passing by empty, ancient buildings (but note the electrical wires that run the length of the road).  Then the next thing you stumble upon, two doors down, is the family from the lead photo on this post, huddled in the doorway of another ancient structure and adjoining cave and making their daily flatbread over a simple fire and dome of hot metal.

 

The ancient meets the everyday in the streets and valleys of Cappadocia,  the modern meets the miraculous.  For my husband and me, who grew up in the tidy convenience of suburban America and were more likely to take dinner  from a casserole dish hot out of a Kenmore oven, or even from a drive-through  fast food window,  this family, hard at work to make their daily bread, kneaded and rolled on a board on the ground and cooked over an open fire on a humble metal dome, this moment was extraordinary.  And so very ordinary too.

We stopped and spoke to the family.  We shared what little language we knew, and they shared some of their bread , warm and crisp from the fire. I don’t think anything has ever been more delicious than those few bites shared on an ancient road.  What an incredible way to eat local.

 

How We Eat: Banana Pudding, Banoffee Pie, Songs, and Stretchy Ice Cream

PicMonkey banana pud shoofly

The title is a mouthful:  a delicious, caloric mouthful.  Inspired by a delicious and caloric, if somewhat stressful, week of cakes and puddings at our house.  An actual storm is sitting out in the Gulf, on our doorstep, and making vague threats, while the figurative storm of finding your bearings in a new environment is battering us around quite handily.  Under the circumstances, why not fatten our bodies and spirits for the fight, right?  Cakes and Ale is a fine battle strategy, I say.  Anyhoo, on with the post. . .

When I was young, my mother used to sing a song that would make us giggle and make us hungry at the same time: “Shoofly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy, make your eyes light up and your tummy say ‘howdy.'”  Silly.  I’ve never had Apple Pan Dowdy, but I can imagine the cobbler-like creation with no problem.  Shoofly Pie is harder to conjure.  Obviously sweet and sticky– a fly magnet (yuck!)– but the closest thing I can picture is a chess pie, and I don’t think that’s exactly right.  Which brings me to stretchy ice cream.  What, you’ll ask, is that?  A Floridian taffy-ice cream hybrid?  An over-cooked custard that makes a chewy ice cream?  No and no.  I’m thinking of Turkish Dondurma– an ice cream made with wild orchid extracts and salep ( a milky Turkish drink containing orchids).

Dondurma doesn’t taste of orchids, it comes in many flavors.  My favorite was banana.

Image from website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/
Image from wikicommons and website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/

I only discovered dondurma toward the end of our life in Turkey, which is a shame because it is silky and delicious . . . and stretchy.  That doesn’t really affect the taste, but it makes for a great parlor trick.  Dondurma is often served in a dramatic way, dished out with a paddle and wrapped around your cone, only to be pulled back at the last moment.  The Turks love a laugh and good food, so why not marry the two?

I’ve been thinking about Dondurma lately.  August in Florida will bring out all of your ice cream fantasies, believe me.  But this week, I’m remembering Banana Dondurma while making a traditional Banana Pudding for my children.  A REAL Banana Pudding– no instant pudding and cool whip.  Ugh.  A silky homemade custard is the only way to go, people.

My mother made this Banana Pudding for us growing up, and I’m pretty sure that her mother made it too.  I’m printing the recipe at the end of this post.  It’s simple and satisfying, and I like it best when it’s still a tad warm (but I know people who only like it cold, so this is clearly a matter of personal taste).

Photo from myrecipes.com--sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!
Photo from myrecipes.com–sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!

Like all recipes for BP, this one layers Vanilla Wafers, banana slices, and pudding.  Like all the best recipes for BP, this one features a homemade pudding of milk/cream, eggs, and sugar– with a splash of vanilla tossed in after the pudding thickens.  Believe me, you’ll be licking the mixing spoon after making this one.  (And, as I’m writing this, I’m wondering if I could use this pudding, with banana and wafer bits thrown in to churn up a really delicious–though certainly un-stretchy– ice cream.  I’m going to try this soon and get back to you.)

Banana Pudding is a staple of the American South, a time-tested comfort food, welcome around any pot luck or picnic table.  Why is it Southern?  I have no idea.  It goes well with bourbon?  (There are worse theories.)   If you want a primer on the treat and its history, I’d suggest you read the article posted on the SeriousEats website– an interesting and remarkably in-depth read.  If you’re here for the yummy, not the history, feel free to skip the article, fast forward to my recipe, and judge for yourself.

But not before you consider Banoffee Pie.  It deserves a mention in a travel and culture blog, because what Banana Pudding is to the American South, Banoffee Pie seems to be to Brits.  A perfect comfort food, a sweet banana dessert that pops up everywhere.

photo from commons.wikimedia.org
photo from commons.wikimedia.org

“Banoffee” you say?  Yes– bananas, cream, and toffee.  BAN. OFFEE.

Although it’s a British staple, it’s not one of those long-standing English recipes that dates back to the middle ages (think mincemeat pie).  No– bananas weren’t easy to come by before modern times.  Still, you find it in so many homes, on so many menus, and in endless incarnations these days. Nigella Lawson has a great looking Banoffee Cheesecake recipe, as well a Chocolate Banoffee recipe.  There are Banoffee sundaes and cupcakes and pastries.  If you can think up a twist to banoffee pie, it’s out there.

I have nibbled at Banoffee creations, but haven’t perfected my own version, so I’ll encourage you to find your own recipe.  If you already have the perfect recipe, feel free to share it with me!

* * *

moveable feastI’ll leave you with my pudding recipe and a final thought on comfort food.  On how we eat.  I love sugar, and I love rich puddings, and I love sharing these things with family.  But it’s not just the yumminess, and it’s not just the hospitality, it is the comfort that gets me this week– the ritual of sharing this favorite family recipe. Hemingway spoke of Paris as a moveable feast–a joy and light and influence, a wealth of experiences–that stays with you wherever you go.   Whether or not we have Paris, we all have a storehouse of moveable feasts.

This week, Banana Pudding is my moveable feast.  The world is spinning a bit fast for me, the Gulf is churning a bit violently, but I have my pudding (a tad warm yet) and I have my children with their spoons at the ready . . . and I find that I have a feast of friends around this table — I have my grandmother’s cooking, my mother’s singing, my Turkish ice cream man, and my British bakery, and I sit in the company of these fine things and dig in to my bowl, and I know, with a quiet conviction, that the world will be right soon enough.

*Ba’s BANANA PUDDING

  • For the custard: 1/2 cup sugar, 3 Tablespoons flour, dash of salt, 1 whole egg, 3 egg yolks (save the whites), 2 cups of milk.
  • Cook this in a medium saucepan over a low heat until it thickens.  Then take it off the stove and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Layer vanilla wafers and banana slices; pour some custard over the top; then repeat these layers.
  • For meringue topping: beat the 3 egg whites, gradually adding up to 1/4 cup of sugar (and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, if you wish).  Bake this until browned (at 400 degrees, or using the broiler).
  • Enjoy!

 

 

Christmas in Salzburg and Villa Trapp, Part Two

DSC_0281 - Copy

Our holiday visit to Salzburg was fantastic, but it began with a few grumbles.  No snow?  We wanted flurries and the full picturesque Christmas package, but no snow was in the forecast.  In fact, it was nearly balmy by Alpine standards in December.  (It turns out, however, that “Alpine balmy” is plenty cold as the sun drops low, so we quickly stopped complaining and huddled over our steamy mugs of mulled wine!)

I’ll give you the quick tour of our Salzburg shenanigans here, complete with photos.

We live near the French-German border, and Salzburg is nestled just into the Austrian side of the German-Austrian border.  This makes for a long drive, but we were up for it.  We left early, so we’d have a full half day as we rolled into Austria.

DSC_0266
Hellbrunn Palace

As we rolled in, we made our first stop at Hellbrunn Palace–right on the edge of Salzburg.  In 2014, we’d visited Helbrunn in late November, just as Christmas Market stalls were being built for the upcoming holidays.  It about killed us to see all of the preparations but miss the festivities themselves, so our first order of business was to remedy that injustice.  And Hellbrunn did not disappoint!

DSC_0250
Hellbrunn Palace Christmas Market

Hellbrunn offered a charming market and a petting zoo/nativity area for children, all set in the fantastic gardens of the Palace.  I’ll post a couple of photos here, but say little more about this, as I’ve already written a post about Hellbrunn’s market (here).

After eating and drinking our way through Hellbrunn, we headed to Villa Trapp to check in and have a quick rest–we needed a little energy before heading out for an evening in Salzburg.

DSC_0437 - Copy
The moon and Mozart watch over ice skaters.

The main attraction for us, especially that first evening in Salzburg, was the Christkindlmart (the Christ-child Market, or sometimes called the Weihnachtsmarkt–Christmas Market).  There were a number of spots in the city where you could cruise through markets–Mirabell Gardens (which we did the next day), around the Dom (cathedral), and Mozartplatz (where there was ice skating).

Market stalls, gluhwein mugs, and star-lit streets
Market stalls, gluhwein mugs, and star-lit streets

DSC_0283The markets were charming in the moonlight, with Christmas lights twinkling overhead and warmth, light, and wonderful smells tumbling out of each stall.  We enjoyed Gluhwein (warm mulled wine), sausages, Weihnachts Schmarr’n  in many varieties  (with nuts, apple, gingerbread, etc, this is like big bread or pancake chunks cut up and fried with sugar), sugar and apple pretzels, and white Russians in steamy mugs.

At some point, we wandered into the Sternbrau Brewery and Beergarden for a cozy dinner.  Everyone went to bed happy.

DSC_0306
Horses and carriages, empty of riders in the early morning.

The next morning, we picked up breakfast on  the run and headed for town, with our sights set on the Hohensalzburg Fortress, sat high atop the hill over the city.  But to get to the top, you have to start from the bottom.  At the foot of the hill, we wandered through a town just starting to come to life for the day.  My nephew stuck his head around a corner, only to find that he’d stumbled on the entrance to St. Peter’s Cemetery– a familiar sight to anyone who has watched The Sound of Music. (Although I think  that scene must have been largely reproduced on a soundstage, it is clear that this is the location represented in the film.)   The cemetery is beautiful–set in the churchyard, with its back up against the stone hills of Salzburg. And those stone hills hold their own surprises. There is a doorway in the hills, to the back of the cemetery, which leads into the catacombs.

St. Peters Cemetery
St. Peters Cemetery

DSC_0326The catacombs are hand-hewn, carved into the rock of those hills.  For a small fee, you can tour the catacombs–a short but lovely tour, it’s worth the fee.  There are small chapel spaces cut into the rock, as well as windows and overlook perches, where you have a nice view of the church and cemetery.   After we had finished up with the catacombs, we started the climb toward the Hohensalzburg Fortress.

hohensalzburg

Let me say, for the record, that the fortress is fantastic and the views are not to be missed.  Within the fortress, you can wander the walls and interior courtyard, visit the fortress museum, and enjoy the Marionette

View from Hohensalzburg
View from Hohensalzburg

Museum there.  It’s a great place to spend an afternoon.

Still, for me, the greater treat of the afternoon was Nonnberg Abbey, which is tucked around the bend of the hill just below the fortress.  We knew the Abbey was there, but had been told that it’s  not open to enter, so the best we could hope for was to peek into the gates.  (Those famous gates from The Sound of Music— Nonnberg is the Abbey where Maria was a novice.)

Gates at Nonnberg Abbey.
Gates at Nonnberg Abbey.

Imagine our delight when we found the gates to Nonnberg open, and we were able to wander in.  The chapel (which is the actual location where the von Trapps were married) is stunning and still small enough to feel intimate.  The courtyard and garden  cemetery tucked just inside the walls of the Abbey were serene.  It was a great place to linger for a moment above the bustle of the town.

 

Nonnberg Abbey--sign, beautiful chapel, and graveyard. I love the light rays spilling over the Abbey wall and onto this grave--I think someone is trying to send us a Merry Christmas message.
Nonnberg Abbey–sign, beautiful chapel, and graveyard. I love the light rays spilling over the Abbey wall and onto this grave–I think someone is trying to send us a Merry Christmas message.

DSC_0419After visiting Nonnberg and the Hohensalzburg, we headed back down into town and eventually found ourselves at the Sacher Cafe– world famous for its Sacher Torte.   We ordered a myriad of desserts and nibbled off of each plate.  The cakes were brilliant and the coffee was outstanding.  We had no luck getting a table in the restaurant for lunch (reservations needed, at least during Christmas week), but I’m so glad that we made our way back for dessert.  In a city of fantastic food, this cafe ranks among the best of the best.

Honestly, I don’t remember what happened after our afternoon nibbles.  I expect we toddled back to Villa Trapp for a moment’s rest before hitting an evening of Christmas markets again.

The chapel where Stille Nacht /Silent Night was written--commemorated in sugar.
The chapel where Stille Nacht /Silent Night was written–commemorated in sugar.

Another night to wander the markets under the stars.  We spent a lot of time doing that, in various locations, during the Christmas season.  But it never got old.  Salzburg’s market offered so many tasty delights, and so much “eye candy”-old-world-decoration that it was impossible not to be enrapt by it all.  My favorite shop window on our last night in Salzburg was a confectionery shop that boasted a sugary replica of the Oberndorf Chapel, just outside of Salzburg.  This is the chapel where the Christmas hymn “Silent Night” was written.

After an evening of wandering, ogling Christmas baubles, eating, and drinking, it was once again off to Villa Trapp for a long winter’s nap.

We woke slowly Christmas Eve morning, some of us taking breakfast in the von Trapp’s dining room, and then set out (our bags packed for home) to visit Mondsee before the long ride back to the Rhineland-Pfalz in Germany.  Mondsee’s cathedral is probably best known as the wedding chapel in The Sound of Music, and it’s a stunner. It was a treat to see it decked out for Christmas.  And, as always, it was a treat to stop by Cafe Braun before leaving town and eat breakfast and some of the best apple strudel to be found on the planet.  (I ordered the strudel with both ice cream and cream–I don’t know if they make these out of an egg custard recipe or with some liqueur I can’t quite pin down, but they are incredible.)

We left for home with tired feet, full bellies, and a storehouse of  wonderful Christmas memories.  Next year I may be celebrating Christmas far from Salzburg, but I feel certain that Salzburg will be there in spirit– I’ll perfect my strudel and custard recipes, I’ll drink my mulled wine in a Salzburg gluhwein mug, and I’ll carry a certain old world spirit.  Like Hemingway’s Paris, Salzburg in this season will be my moveable feast.

 

 

 

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