One of our favorite activities in Vienna is to pass the afternoon in various cafés and coffee houses. Vienna is famous for them, I suppose as many European cities area, and most still exude the same old-school style that they have 50 years (or more – one of our favorites looks almost the same as it did circa 1900). Waiters in tuxedo-like uniforms, chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, and glass cases packed with frilly strudels and dense cakes and other confections. Coffee drinks and towering ice cream sundaes arrive on tiny metal trays, each accompanied by the traditional small side glass of water (I’ve heard many reasons for why, all logical but completely different, so I still don’t know the answer). You can generally also order fancy wine spritzers, coffee with Gran Marnier and whipped cream, a sip of brandy, or a variety of other beverages destined to make your day feel a little more elegant.
We’ve been in Vienna for over a week now, the longest we’ve been anywhere since we left Claremont last July. Being here for five weeks has meant an entirely different rhythm of travel, one that feels a lot more comfortable as we’ve gotten more and more exhausted over the last ten months. We keep saying that it’s 50% normal travel – venturing out into the city to see and do things – and 50% normal life – grocery shopping and cooking, slow mornings and early nights, and lots of time at our computers catching up on work and life and getting things done.
On our second night here we cooked dinner for ourselves, made a cocktail, and watched a DVD on the television in our apartment’s living room. It really set in, then, that we’d get to have a fairly domestic little experience while we’re here.
Brett’s going to a five hour opera this evening (five. hours.) which means he’ll be gone for about eight, so I’m solo for the rest of the day (it’s early afternoon here). Because I’m such a party animal, I’m taking advantage of that time alone to tie up a bunch of loose ends that came along with switching the host for this blog. Beware of impending technical difficulties. There may be old posts that show up on your feeds or in your email, or pictures that don’t show up in posts, or broken links, or any variety of scary things. My goal is to have everything as good as new by the end of the day. (Which means something like mid-afternoon Wednesday back in the States.)
Spending the next million(ish) hours working on HTML is really not as bad as it sounds – I have good music, an open window, a new cocktail recipe to test (meaning drink, obviously – and it’s a good one, so get excited for the coming post) and three seasons of Friday Night Lights (which I’ve never seen) on DVD to keep me company. I have plans for a big salad for dinner to counteract all the döner and schnitzel and everything else we’ve been eating, and a slice of sachertorte for dessert. (Yes, I see the contradiction in that sentence, and no, I don’t care.)
That said, I do wish I were still wandering around the Wienerwald, as we did for much of yesterday …
What I really want to tell you about is how I managed to cook this entire meal without getting a speck of anything on my shirt, particularly notable since our kitchen in Vienna did not come supplied with an apron (or many other things).
And there’s certainly a lot more to say – about our time in Vienna thus far, about how amazing it feels to have our own kitchen space, and about all the little confusing things about going grocery shopping in another country. Or about how easy it is to burn things in the thin, aluminum pans that sorely stock our kitchen here, or how the stove really only goes down to medium-high, and that effectively using anything lower requires some MacGyver-like manuevering. But for now I have a few more important things to move on to. Read more
Another spring one, from the same meal as yesterday’s post. We served this one alongside grilled salmon, roasted brussel sprouts, bread, and salad, and ate our first outdoor family dinner of the year. There was a heater, to be certain, and it was too dark outside by the time dessert was served, but it was still lovely to start the evening outside.
Oh boy. I have a lot catching up to do. I mean this mainly in terms of things to tell you, but I suppose it also applies to life in general, at the moment. We’ve been away from normal life for a long time, and that means we generally always have a lot of catching up to do.
First, the big news – we decided that we’re moving to Madison, Wisconsin at the end of the summer (!!!), where Brett will start his PhD program (at UW-Madison). We’re both really happy and very much looking forward to getting back to a sort of normal, stable, stationary life again (we’re not ready for it quite yet, but a few months from now sounds perfect). During our short visit to Madison earlier this month we found a cozy, homey flat to rent, and along with plenty of room for guests it has a huge screened-in front porch and a big colorful kitchen. I’m particularly excited about having the space and the stability to work on projects I’ve been wanting to do for a long time – like home-brewing, and canning, and making cheese, and setting up the smoker I got for my birthday this past fall. We always knew we’d be leaving Claremont at some point, so for the last two years or so we were there we avoided setting up some of these more labor- and time-intensive projects that would require new equipment and space. But now we have the perfect space to do it, and things like canning will make a lot more sense when we’re living somewhere with actual seasons, somewhere we won’t be able to access most produce throughout the year.
So – you can look forward to lots of posts about adapting to life in the Midwest and settling into our new home. Read more
Just as I did with South America, here’s a quick roundup of my favorite food-related experiences in Southeast Asia. In terms of food and beverage (as well as many other things), these two months were quite different than the previous two – entirely different styles and flavors, different traditions surrounding food, and different attitudes and behaviors on our part. For instance, by this point in our travels we became far more comfortable with eating street food, which was much more abundant in Southeast Asia than in South America. At the beginning of South America I was generally fairly wary, unsure of how to tell what would be safe. By the time we got to Southeast Asia those feelings were long gone, and I happily and readily dug into anything and everything we saw on the street that looked delicious. More often than not we’d sit down at a place based on the signage, hold up two fingers (“two orders, please”), and eat whatever they brought out. It was definitely to our benefit, since a lot of the non-street food we had was incredibly mediocre. (I’m sure if we had gone to fancier places, there would have been some pretty great stuff.) We also discovered some of our most favorite dishes this way.
Just a quick check-in, and the first recipe in ages. It’s not really a recipe recipe, per se, but it’s still something.
We’re in the midst of our whirlwind three-week United States tour – San Diego, Los Angeles, Eugene, Davis, Minneapolis, Madison, New York, New Orleans, Portland, and finally back to Eugene for a week before we head out again. Right now we’re in the portion of the trip where we’re visiting (in rapid succession) and then choosing the city where we’ll be moving at the end of the summer, which might even involve us signing a lease for our new home. All in the next five days. Whoa.
This comes in the midst of a sort of vicious and sneaky exhaustion that crept up during our last week in Southeast Asia, only to be exacerbated by jet lag and all the rapid travel that’s happened since. It’s all taken a toll on our diets, especially as we’ve been getting together with friends and spending more time in airports than I would like to admit.
So during our brief 18-hour stay in Eugene, 18 hours that included going through our mail from the last five months, doing our taxes, going for our first run in five months (ouch), buying new phones and a new laptop for me (yay!), and reorienting ourselves with our belongings enough to pack for this part of the trip (oh, and sleeping, sort of), I took full advantage of my little window of opportunity to use a real kitchen and made myself exactly the sort of meal I’ve been craving for months.
After Cambodia, we spent almost three weeks – nearly half our time in Asia – in Vietnam, starting from the south in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon and working our way north along the coast to Hanoi. Neither of us would hesitate to say it has been our favorite place of the last four months of travel (of the last eight, it’s competing neck-and-neck with the Canadian Rockies). Across the country people were friendly, travel was easy, and it was easy to relax and enjoy our time in lovely places.
And then, there’s the food. We’re both big fans of Vietnamese food back in the states, so we were particularly looking forward to our time eating our way through the country, south to north. We were not disappointed.
I’ve always said that if I were forced to eat one type of food all the time it would definitely be Mexican food, but I’m honestly not so sure of that anymore. Vietnamese food is the absolutely perfect combination of deep, complex flavors and simple, fresh ingredients, combined in millions of different ways to achieve entirely different things. The number of amazing and amazingly different things they can create with even just a few ingredients is incredible. It can be possible that something made of just broth, rice noodles, and mint leaves can taste like the best thing you’ve ever had, and that’s the sort of simple magic I can get behind.
It struck me the other day that I haven’t really been writing much lately. Here, or elsewhere. For the first four months or so of our travels I kept writing fairly often, but since we’ve been more aggressively abroad (as opposed to being in Canada or traipsing around the US), time has taken on kind of a different nature. It’s a little hard to explain, since I’m used to fitting my daily life somewhere on a spectrum between “time filled up” and “time not filled up,” either end of which manifests itself as “SO BUSY SO BUSY” or “SO LAZY SO LAZY,” respectively. But now that spectrum doesn’t really seem applicable, since I look back on the past few months and feel like it’s been both busy and relaxed, two states of being that have always been fairly mutually exclusive in my life. For the past four months, our time has been filled enough that I haven’t had many chances to sit and write, though it’s not like each day we have an agenda brimming with things to do and see. Most days we have a decent amount of downtime, but usually I can’t bring myself to do anything more taxing than listening to music, staring out the window, reading a book, or just sitting around with a cold beer or a heavily limed gin and tonic and talking about what comes next, or not talking at all.