Tuesday, August 31, 2010

At the Copa...

Copa Kagrana....Not quite the Copa Cabana but in Vienna, as close as we're going to get, and also on our list of "Things to Do for People Without Summer Homes".  Right off of the Donau-Insel is a strip of restaurants and bars (some of which I would have found infinitely more seductive and entertaining in my early 20's than I do in my pregnant, married 30's) and a festive atmosphere for a mellow summer afternoon and dinner.  Note that the area around the Donau Insel is so clean (though not "seaweed-like growth free"), and so compulsively tested by the Austrians, that you can swim in it due to the high wasser qualiteat - and from what I could tell, many Viennese do.

I confess I made my husband take me out there so that we could search for the fabled "FKK" - the "Frei Korper Kultur" (free body culture), which is a free body (read: nudist) recreational area on the island itself.  I was promised thousands, thousands of naked people! Not that I wanted to be naked myself - I was there for observational purposes only.  I even made us rent an electric "motor" boat (total max cruising speed: 1.23 knots) so that we could get to the nudists faster, only to leave empty-handed.  We saw but one frei korper, and while he had a lot on diplay, it was not quite the thousands I was expecting, a la a Spencer Tunick photograph.  I clearly need to do some supplemental field research for my next FKK investigative outing.

Dejected, we returned our watercraft, and picked a nice Argentian outdoor grill for some amazing pollo asado, and a steal at 8 or 9 euros.  While sad I couldn't enjoy a mojito to go with it, we watched the sunset right into the Danube.  Not bad at all.

To access the Copa Kagrana: Take the U1/Red line to the Donau-insel stop, exti and follow signs for "Sunken City".

All photography by the New Diplomat's Wife.

Monday, August 30, 2010


We were lucky to be able to get the last two seats in the last row for the very last performance of The Magic Flute for St. Margarethen's Opera Festival...one wouldn't know it by the total lack of information available in English, but it's actually the largest open-air opera festival in the world with over 200,000 visitors, and takes place on a pretty dramatic stage set against the backdrop of an old Roman rock quarry. 

The performance was excellent from start to finish, and the venue surprisingly accomodating - lots of choices for catering and handicapped accessibility.  Because it's open air, the production itself takes on a very classic dramatic aura, complete with fire-breathing dragons, live animals, and moving sets that reveal even more sets behind them - all while the show is still set to a live orchestra, and the vocals of the stars carry across the night, and a grand finale of fireworks set to music from the opera.  Our only complaint would be that as it's traditional opera, the shows are long, and there is a lengthy introduction (in German - and yet another fine example of why microphones should be distributed to Austrians selectively) and long intermission, which while required in a venue of this size, does make for a long evening so make sure you sleep in the morning of. 

If you plan on an outing next year, here are a couple of helpful tips:

1. Information regarding the festival is on their website at http://www.ofs.at/  - however there is no translation on their site.  I couldn't figure out their online purchasing system but you can buy tickets for the festival once their available through http://www.oeticket.at/ (available in English).  Get started early as there are some aficionados at these functions, and most shows I looked into were sold out well in advance.  The following video provides a good orientation to the festival and venue, click the third option for the English version.

2. When you book your ticket, you can also book a "busfahrt" for transportation to and from the venue, but note that you'll arrive very early and leave very late.  The easiest is to come by car and it's roughly 45 minutes to an hour outside of Vienna. 

3. Austrians love their outdoor festivals so for the most local - and also least stressful - experience.  While the shows are typically at 8:30, the doors will open about 6.  Arrive before seven, get a good parking space (back in so that you'll be in good position to make a quick getaway), and then slowly make your way to the food stands - enjoy some dinner and wine and goodies.  You can take a visit of the sets and get situated in the seats.

4.  This is an outdoor venue to pack accordingly - this is no show to get dolled up for but you will see some very nicely dressed people.  Depending on the weather, pack layers accordingly and don't forget a seat cushion for the cold metal chairs, blankets, scarves, and fleece.  The temperature will drop as the night goes on and you'll enjoy the performance a lot more if you're not shivering.

5.  Last but not least, enjoy the fireworks!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Flower Power: Part III

Despite the good advice and guidance that I recieve from sources in the know, like the Little Flower School, and friends in the savvy, like Ms. Lujo, I still find that the idea of arranging multiple kinds of flowers in a single container of some kind largely gives me mild anxiety...I know I should simply just practice, or perhaps take a class, but it's always somewhere in the bottom 20% of the "to do in my spare time" list.

For that reason, I found last year's article on the vases you should own and the perfect flower to go in them in House Beautiful particularly helpful. Despite occassional attempts to "arrange" - my favorite go-to being white gladioli in as big a cloud of baby's breath in a clear glass cylinder which always looks awesome when lit up by candles at night on a buffet table - I end up leaving the store with just one kind of flower. Best not to confuse myself.

The following has served as a great go-to list for indecisive days - I pick what looks good at the flower stand, and then match to the appropriate vase - or, to the closest I have to it at home. I'll conclude with pretty much the best tip I've read on flowers - I think it came from either Thom Filicia's or Nate Berkus' design book which is that you should buy twice as many flowers as you think you'll need. With flowers, more is more and that's all there is to it. When I bring flowers home, they're never as full as the bucket that I saw them in and if I don't go with the twice as many rule, I often find myself scurrying back anyway. In the worst case scenario, if you find yourself with too many, just make two arrangements - now that's a good problem to have!
BOWL + Gardenia
FOOTED BOWL + Hydrangeas

PITCHER + tulips

GINGER Jar + Delphiniums

CYLINDER + Flowering Branches

BUD Vases + Anemones

TRUMPET + Sweet peas

MUG + peonies

All photography from House Beautiful.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Flower Power: Part II

As promised yesterday, I'm very excited to share the tips and perspectives on flower arranging by the very creative and very savvy Ms. Lujo.  She got her start in floral arranging by joining the "Flower Guild" at her church, and with a little patience and practice, learned the basics of arranging so that she now does arrangements for social functions and friends (including my own very fabuloso safari themed baby shower - more on that to come!).

Here is the insider's perspective on the in's and out's of making flowers look good at home! Enjoy!

When you started wtih the Floral Guild, did you think you would be surrounded by “purple-haired ladies” potting poinsettias?
Unsurprisingly, the flower guild is made up [mostly] of “mature” women. That said, there are a few of us that are younger, and one of my younger friends from flower guild is actually very experienced in flower design and does the flowers for lots of fundraising events around DC as well as weddings.

What’s the most valuable lesson when it comes to arranging flowers?
Oh, boy. I don’t know about the most valuable lesson. I think it is important to remember to include greenery or other filler – it will make your flowers pop more. More isn’t always more, you want to be able to notice a really beautiful bloom in an arrangement. Also don’t be afraid that you are going to mess anything up – these are flowers, and they look great no matter what you do to them.

Where do you go to for inspiration?
Since I am not terribly skilled in arranging and am usually not a big planner when it comes to my arrangements – I go to the flower wholesaler or Eastern Market [my two favorite flower sources] for inspiration. I usually buy whatever I think looks good that day – I look for blooms that will last the longest and open at the right time. Then I decide what my color scheme is and the number and size of arrangements I want – one high arrangement and two low for example. I usually bring it all home and sort of play with it until it works for me or my guests have arrived, whichever comes first. I have never been able to look at a picture of an arrangement in a magazine and recreate it, nor have I tried. I have a whole new respect now for florists that are able to do that well.

What do you need for a good home floral arrangement? Do you really need foam or a frog? What if you don’t have access to buckets and buckets of flowers?
At home I tend to do simple arrangements that will last a long time. This means avoiding particularly delicate blooms [unless I am only concerned about having an arrangement last through dinner or a party]. In the spring I love to use flowering branches because they last a long time and are nice and tall. In the winter you can do a lot with greens, which also last a long time, and a few red blooms and berries to brighten the arrangement. Cabbage flowers and other big, sturdy pieces give you great texture and depth.

I don’t use a frog, but I will sometimes use foam bricks [oasis]cut into small wedges when I am making a large arrangement at home. Oasis is great, but it takes a while to fully soak and doesn’t look very nice when you can see it in the bottom of a glass vase. More often I make a grid [like a tic-tac-toe board] over the top of the vase with floral tape or even scotch tape and use that to keep the flowers in place. That said, most home arrangements don’t require anything to keep flowers in place because they are smaller and you are hand placing things.

Other than that, you will need a few low containers and a few high containers. My favorite ones are inexpensive low glass cubes and a high glass cylinder. I find that most arrangements I make at home look great in one of the two of those. You will also need a good pair of clippers to cut the stems after you purchase them and to get the length/height you want for your arrangement.

As far as access to flowers – work with what you’ve got. In some ways having narrower selection allows you to really be creative. Having too much to choose from can be overwhelming. If you have a narrower selection it is probably because you are only seeing what is in season – that is probably the best quality stuff and what you want to be working with anyway

Best arrangement on a budget?
I think the best arrangement on a budget is the most simple. Usually for me this means a monochrome arrangement. If you are buying inexpensive flowers [even carnations] you can afford more of them and they look quite nice in large bunches; they can actually look very chic when they are paired with a few nicer blooms of the same color.

Any floral faux pas the amateur should avoid?
I think the great thing about amateur flower arranging is that anything goes! This isn’t always the case in church, where you have to arrange in concert with the church calendar and account for feast days. I’m sure if you are doing formal arrangements for high-end events where the pure volume of flowers overwhelms there are also some rules of thumb, like making sure you aren’t killing people with certain scents. But arranging on a small scale really allows you a lot more flexibility – do what you like!

How do you take care of your arrangement at home?
I usually change the water after two days and I always put a few drops of bleach [yes, bleach!] in the water to keep it from getting green and stinky. Don’t worry, if you just use a bit it won’t kill the flowers – it will actually make them last longer! Wrapping leaves around the inside of the vase to hide stems looks nice for a day or so, but then they start to rot in the water. While I might do this for a one day event or occasion, I usually try to avoid it at home for longer-lasting arrangements. I also pull blooms out as they die or wither, a smaller arrangement of the most hearty blooms will often last several days longer than the full arrangement.

What’s the best way to a great floral arrangement when you have guests on the horizon? (ie. what’s the best way to arrange something pretty for the home that you know others will see?)
It is nice to have flowers throughout the house when you are expecting guests. What I will often do is buy enough flowers that all work together and make one large arrangement, usually downstairs in the living room or dining room. I use the remnants of that arrangement in the bedrooms – sometimes just a single bloom in the guestroom. Fresh flowers are one of those little luxuries that you really notice. You don’t have to have a huge arrangement, a little goes a long way.

Pictures below of Ms. Lujo in action, her flower supplies and finished goods for her office Christmas party.  Note the very chic Mariniere she's sporting!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Flower Power: Part I

Earlier this month, an article from the New York Times caught my eye.  It was on the subject of floral arranging and its resurgence among the younger set.  I frequently wish I was more adept at arranging my own flowers, especially since a reasonable florist in Vienna is very difficult to find (and certainly if one is not willing to consider bankruptcy).  Making the euro go far for flowers is key here as often a single stem of something as simple as a tulip, even in season, can cost 2-3 euros, roses 3-4 euros, and more elaborate flowers, such as hydrangeas between 7-9 euros - for just one!  Trial and error is a bit less forgiving at these prices.

The article made me think of our very own Ms. Lujo.  Ms. Lujo has been learning the art of floral arranging by signing up at her local church's group and took some time to interview on the basics of floral arranging and her advice.  Look for the interview in tomorrow's post but in the meantime, here are some tips from the Little Flower School as told to the New York Times.  While these particular arrangements that were coming out of the school were a bit too "English garden" for my taste, these are some good basic rules to follow when creating your own arrangements at home.

Step 1: Pick the base material — bushier foliage, branches, flowers with sturdier stems — and place it in the vase so that the stems cross over one another. This is the infrastructure of the arrangement, the web that will hold the next flowers you add. (We also used a flower frog, or spiked disk, taped to the inside floor of the vase to help anchor the stems.) The base also determines the size and shape of your creation, which should typically be one and a half times the size of your vessel.

“It’s like cooking,” Ms. Owen said. “This is the foundation, the broth for your soup.”   The teachers encouraged us to turn the arrangements around as though they were on lazy susans, the best way to fill out all sides.

Step 2: Add “face” flowers, which are the larger blooms, the attention-getters. Peonies, dahlias, hydrangeas and roses are all face flowers. Do not put your bigger flowers on the same plane; it looks strange and makes the arrangement appear flat. Fill out the middle with flowers of different heights.

Step 3: The tall flowers added last, like scabiosa, with its slender stem and small, contained blossom, are what Ms. Owen and Ms. Ryhanen call the “wispy gestures,” the more delicate forms that draw your eye upward.    But, Ms. Ryhanen added, rules can always be broken. Purple basil — a fragrant, richly colored herb — “could be a base flower, but one with an especially nice structure, with interesting curvature to it, could be used as a third-tier flower.”

All photography from the Little Flower School.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Under my umbrella...

Woke up this morning to gray skies and a rainy day, but after all the sunshine of Cannes, it didn't even phase me like it normally does.  In fact, it just made me enjoy the twenty minute snooze even more, since there's something about rain and sleep that just go together.

But in Cannes, there was a different kind of umbrella altogether...

All photography by The New Diplomat's Wife.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A lunch to remember...

Ahhh the South of France....Sunshine: check.  Beautiful people: check.  Gourmandises: double check. Three nights and two days in Cannes managed to translate into seven very excellent meals, and who knows how many kilos, but leader of the pack (after our hosts' amazing five-star barbeques of course) was lunch at La Bastide.

I have to say in recent years I've been somewhat unfaithful to classic French cooking - eschewing some of the heavy sauces and complicated (though gorgeous) presentations, and treating my wandering eye to less high maintenance Italian cuisine and younger Japanese delights.  But one lunch at La Bastide will have you running back into the arms of a true original, begging for forgiveness.

At sixty euros a head, La Bastide's four-course lunch in an absolutely charming setting with impeccable service is a steal, given the quality of the ingredients and preparation.  On the must have list if you go is the Mitonee with lobster and shrimp, a melt in your mouth risotto, and the sea bass, done with a caviar sauce atop a bed of steamed cabbage.  The cheese course is decided for you, and the choice of dessert spans the whole spectrum, though particularly notable are the strawberry souffle, baba au rhum, or peach millefeuille options.  That being said, we were 8 people at the lunch, most of us ordering something different and the entire menu seemed to deliver without fail.  Every dish comes out gorgeous, and I regret I wasn't forward enough to do a bit more photo-documentary of the dishes.

If it's nice out, the terrace is the place to be so be sure to book a table if you're in the area.  Have a light breakfast that day and make sure you have nowhere to be afterwards - you'll want to savor these kinds of flavors for awhile...

PS - if you're feeling particularly flush, you can actually stay in one of the suites on the property as it's also recently gained it's fifth star at Relais and Chateaux.

La Bastide Sainte Antoine de Jacques Chibois
48, avenue Henri-Dunant
06130 GRASSE
Tel: +33 (0) 4 93 70 94 94

All photography by The New Diplomat's Wife.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Because we Cannes, Cannes, Cannes!

We're off for a whirlwind weekend in Cannes - ahh, it's good to have friends with summer homes!  Be back on Monday - happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dinner and Movie...

If you've been keeping up, you know that a couple more visits to the Rathaus Film Festival have been on my Summer List.  Truth be told, I've been a couple of times already, but I like to make it as often as possible before the summer nights fade away.

The festival is both for food and film.  Many of Vienna's restaurants host booths, and it's probably the most concentrated area of diverse cuisine here in town.  Austria isn't exactly known for embracing the cooking traditions of the orient, or frankly anywhere else in the occident.  It's schnitzel and frankfurters around here, Italian if you're lucky.  So it's nice to be able to go to one spot and be able to choose from all types of Asian cuisine, Iranian, Indian, even Australian- basically all the types of food we take for granted in the US.  This year's big addition is a Mexican restaurant! Hurrah!  No margaritas this summer for me! Boo!

The movies are recordings of famous concerts, sometimes ballets, and are shown at sunset at the jumbotron in front of the Rathaus building.  Wine is readily available and Ottokringer has their own booth - and all alcohol is served in real stemware- as it should be.  And somehow, there don't seem to be piles of broken glass about - it just doesn't happen here.

If you're looking for both dinner and a movie, check it out - the film schedule can be found here.  The best is to work in teams: one to collect the food and one to scout for available tables to eat, the competition can be fierce!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

O, Canada and frenchie toasts....

Earlier this summer we had two good Canadian friends of ours stay for a long weekend in Vienna, and as a parting thank you gift, they left us with a bottle of REAL maple syrup (contained in a glass bottle in the shape of a maple leaf no less, ay?).  One might take this for granted in the US (or North America), but real maple syrup is not easy to come by around here, and several passersby have been salivating over it when visiting our apartment.  We've been saving it for a special occasion, and since we were actually in town this past weekend, we decided to celebrate our treasured bottle by serving up an impromptu brunch featuring french toast.

This was my first stab at french toast, and due to some ingredient limitations at the grocery store saturday afternoon, I ended up mixing a recipe from Gale Gand's Brunch book - my go to favorite for morning meals - and the Challah French Toast recipe from epicurious.com.  I'm glad to report that the french toast was a success, minus one mishap when I thought I could save time by working a batch in my nonstick pan and my regular pan (n.b. lesson learned = use nonstick only), and the finishing touch in the oven allows you to take out all the french toast at once for guests and serve warm.

We offered it with the syrup, butter, and Gale's strawberries in syrup as topping options.  Rounding out the menu were prosciutto and salami platters, Austrian butterlaugencroissaints, fresh melon, and a fruit salad, courtesy of one our guests.  The syrup, needless to say, was a hit for the homesick, and we even managed to salvage a bit for the next brunch!

Diplo-French Toast

For the batter:
6 large eggs
4 pinches salt
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp of vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

Whisk eggs well in large bowl.  Whisk in next three ingredients, and then gradually whisk in milk and then cream.  Pour mixture into shallow baking dish.

For the toast:
1 loaf of store-bought brioche (the long braided kind) - slice into 1/2 inch thick slices

Preheat oven to 350°F. Soak bread slices in 1 layer, turning once, 8 minutes. 

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet or griddle over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Transfer 4 soaked bread slices to skillet with a slotted spatula and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute on each side. Cook remaining bread in 2 batches, adding more butter as needed. Transfer slices as cooked to a large shallow baking pan (using a clean spatula) and, when all are browned, bake in middle of oven until hot, about 5 minutes.

Gale Gand's Strawberries in Syrup
1 pint strawberries, hulled and cut
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine ingredients in bowl and toss.  Cover and chill until ready to serve, at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.

All photography by the New Diplomat's Wife.
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