I leave this town on Thursday and I thought I would share a few thoughts before I go. Top of mind is how summer happens outside. Almost every weekend we have been here there has been some kind of three-day summer event Thursday to Saturday. When we arrived there was a music festival that that ran over three or four weeks with outdoor concerts at the Dom, the city’s cathedral. The first weekend there was a three-day Ritterfest, a medieval fair. Then the Pflasterspektakel, street performance art. This last weekend was the Krone Fest. I am not really sure what that was, but it included wine tasting and musical performances. This coming weekend there is Wein und Kunst, wine and art, which I will sadly miss. Although I feel that this is quite a conservative city these events give the town a sense of life and engagement. People are having fun. I feel that this is in part because after summer comes winter with extreme cold and snow. But perhaps they just wrap up and keep having fun outside. I know Austria is famous for its Christmas markets.
In the cafes and bars people eat and drink outside. Along all of the streets there are tables set up outside. You just sit down and someone comes and asks you what you would like to eat or drink. Actually sometimes they hand you a menu and ask what you want at the same time, which is a little disconcerting. It takes me a few minutes to decipher the menu. Sometimes it turns out the bar isn’t really a bar. On Friday the bars are full from midday when work finishes for the day. One evening we were walking along the Herrenstrasse planning to stop for an Aperitif. Most places were full but we found a building with three or four tables outside and one was free. I didn’t notice what it was called or what kind of bar. We just had our drink, paid and left. When I was walking that way a few days later I noticed that it was in fact an upmarket dress shop which serves drinks and snacks outside in the evening. Seems very enterprising.
In cafes and shops there are common expressions that threw me at first. Especially because they are not all standard German. I have already reported on grüß Gott. When you say danke schön, they say bitte schön. At first I was confused. Why do they say please when I say thankyou? But I think it means, your’re welcome. And in fact often people say the “you’re welcome” phrase before I have had time to say thankyou. And sometimes they say even longer phrases after that I don’t understand. I smile and nod and hope that is the correct response. They don’t say auf wiedersehn, they say wiederschau’n which translates as “again behold” so I guess it also means goodbye. Sometimes people in cafes are very helpful and just speak English. When I was asked if I had any wishes I immediately thought of the Psammead and was tempted to ask for wings. I was warned to be prepared to be asked if I had a lust for action which fortunately I never was. Those phrases serve to remind me to be careful when I use a dictionary to make a literal translation from English to German. I may ask for something I don’t want.
We discovered the market and learned about summer fruit and vegatables. I enjoyed cooking with Eierschwammerl and Preiselbeere. Eierschwammerl are the golden peppery mushrooms that grow in Europe from summer through autumn. I used them in risotto. There were many other magnificent mushrooms I have never seen before. I have felt a little daunted. Perhaps I’ll try them in Italy.
I had seen Preiselbeere sauce on the menu with schnitzel but never had it. When they turned up at the market and there were queues to buy them at 12 Euros a kilo, I had to find out what they were. They were lingonberries, which I knew as a Scandinavian berry popular in a sauce served with meatballs. I bought 250g and made a sauce to go with our schnitzel. It was so simple. Add 1/4 the quantity of sugar to the weight of berries and simmer with a small quantity of water for 10 minutes. Put the saucepan in cold water and stir 2-3 minutes. Result a delicious tart sauce perfect with schnitzel. I imagine it would go well with any cold meat. Perhaps the Christmas ham.
As many of you will recall from my “using up things in the pantry” effort before we left Wellington I am used to having all the ingredients at my disposal. Here, I bought three staple items when we arrived and prepared all my meals around a minimal pantry. I have one kind of vinegar, one mustard, salt, pepper and chilli flakes. I just cook with what is in the fridge. This was not a limitation. I discovered some wonderful meals. It didn’t get much simpler than spaghetti and onions. Sauté a thinly sliced white onion in olive oil about 20 minutes until caramelised. Add 2 sliced garlic cloves and a sprinkling of chilli flakes and continue to cook until the onions are a rich brown without burning. Add some halved cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs. I usually have parsley, thyme and basil. I would have added olives if I’d had any. Cook for a minute or so then stir in cooked pasta, 1/2 cup pasta water and a knob of butter. Serve with a lemon wedge, Parmesan and a little chilli flakes sprinkled on top. The chilli comes in this nifty little container with a grinder and I sometimes grind one turn too many.
The star meal from the minimal pantry was the quinoa strawberry salad. This meal contains all the things I have on hand everyday in Linz at the height of summer, with a couple of treat items. I did splash out and buy some sliced almonds. I added the remainder of the packet to the muesli. I also bought feta cheese. I have been using cottage cheese instead of feta but I just thought the salad needed the extra saltiness you get with feta. We have mostly eaten vegetable meals and I grilled some chicken to accompany this meal. Make a dressing with olive oil plus lemon juice, honey mustard and fresh thyme. I happen to have honey mustard but if I didn’t, I would add a tsp of honey. I usually make my dressings 3 units of oil to one of vinegar or lemon but I have been reversing that here. It seems to work. Cook 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups of water until water is absorbed. Mix through the dressing while the quinoa is warm, reserving a little to drizzle over at the end. Mix 2 cups rocket, the cooled quinoa, 1/2 a thinly sliced red onion, 1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds, 250 grams halved strawberries, 100g crumbled feta. Serve topped with slices of grilled chicken and drizzle a little of the dressing over the chicken.
I started making a weekly meal plan twenty-five years ago when we were living in Liverpool with five children and I could only get to the supermarket once a week. I made a plan for the week and a shopping list and shopped only for the meals on the plan. I still do that today. I think I might extend that to incorporate the minimal pantry approach. Only one kind of grain or rice or vinegar in the cupboard at a time. Spaghetti with things I found in the fridge is a delicious user-up meal. And I will miss this owl tablecloth.