Category Archives: Holidays

Gingerbread Cookies

Christmas isn’t complete without Gingerbread Cookies.  This tradition of baking, what I consider the best Christmas treat started years ago in my mom’s kitchen.  Every year my mom and I would whip up and bake traditional British treats like Minced Meat Pies (never understood them – never liked them) and Shortbread Cookies as well as Canadian favourites such as Nanaimo Bars, Chocolate Coconut Balls, Sugar Cookies and finally, Gingerbread Cookies.

I have since carried on the baking tradition with my kids, although not the variety that you see above.  We have narrowed down the best of the best and Gingerbread in our house always tops the charts.  This recipe from William Sonoma has been successful with my family so I urge you to give it a try 🙂

Gingerbread cookies

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour (780 g)
  • 1tsp. baking soda
  • 1 Tbs. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (250 g) at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (105 g)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (125 g)
  • 1 cup unsulfured molasses (345 g)
  • 1 egg
  • Decorating sugars and pastes as desired

Directions:

Have all the ingredients at room temperature. Over a sheet of parchment paper, sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale yellow, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the brown and granulated sugars and beat for 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and add the molasses, beating until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the egg and beat until combined, about 30 seconds.Add the flour mixture in 4 additions, beating in each addition before adding more. Beat just until combined, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Using floured hands, form the dough into a smooth mound and divide into 4 equal portions. Shape each into a disk and wrap separately with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.Preheat an oven to 400ºF. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.Remove 1 dough disk at a time from the refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes. Place the dough between 2 sheets of parchment or waxed paper and roll out to a thickness of 1/4 to 3/8 inch. This thickness is important to ensure the baked cookies will fit together.Dip the cutters into flour just before using and cut out the shapes (see tips below). Using an offset spatula, carefully transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheets, putting similar-size pieces on the same pan: snowman bases and reindeer legs on one; sleigh sides, treetops and tree bases on another; and snowman bodies, reindeer bodies and sleigh ends on another. The sides of each notch need to be parallel so the notch will fit into the interlocking piece after baking; if the sides have stretched apart, gently push them towards each other so they are parallel.

Repeat with the remaining dough. Gather up the scraps, reroll them and cut out additional cookies. For best results, do not reroll scraps more than once. Refrigerate the cookies until firm, about 20 minutes.

Bake the cookies until lightly browned on the bottom, 4 to 5 minutes for snowman bases and reindeer legs; 6 to 7 minutes for snowman bodies, reindeer bodies and sleigh ends; and 8 to 9 minutes for sleigh sides, treetops and tree bases.

Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool for 5 minutes. If the dough has spread into the notches during baking, use a paring knife to gently trim off the excess cookie while still warm so the cookies will interlock when assembled. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheets, then decorate as desired and assemble. Makes 4 or 5 of each type of cookie.

This recipe is from William Sonoma
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Hide your Kids. Krampus is coming to town!

Ok so I’ve lived in Austria now for almost two years and yet there is one tradition that I feel is still rather disturbing to me or perhaps more to my kids.  You see I grew up in a country where Santa always knew if you were behaving… “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake”…  My parents would remind of Santa’s watching every once in a while if my behaviour ever got out of line and that’s all I needed to stand up straight and say my “please” & “thank you’s”.

Here however, I guess the kids are hard core.  Santa or Saint Nicholas as they refer to him is way too soft, too forgiving and just well, a push over for any child really.  Nah here in Austria they need some scary ass monster to get their kids to straighten up their shit and behave properly.

Krampus is this frightful beast who visits those children who have not behaved during the year.  He marks his presence using the sounds of chains rattling outside your front door on the eve of December 5th. Children who hear these chains know that Krampus is close and normally this is their que to run & hide in complete terror. Now I am a mother who is always first in line to watch any child’s reaction to surprises but not at this event!  My husband experienced this as a child and remembers how frightened he was. Although he never saw Krampus, the rattled chains noise (which was done as a favour from a neighbour) was enough to scare him into good behaviour.  And all that was needed as a reminder was the name “Krampus” spoken out load. Trying to imagine this scary night through the eyes of a child…

I’ll leave you with some lasting impressions that most Austrian children tend to remember come each Christmas season.

“Dieter!  Sit up straight I said or shall I call my friend Krampus again?” <child shits himself>

Parenting in Austria is definitely more entertaining 🙂

Krampus blog

Photo Credit: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Bauernhof… the Austrian way

I must admit I do love a luxurious travel experience (who wouldn’t?) however, there is something about getting back to nature that is a part of who I am.  Always a Canadian at heart I enjoy open spaces, fresh air and polite people and I can pretty much guarantee that you will find that in the Austrian countryside.  Here at Ferienhof Gressenbauer not only can you experience country living but you can actually participate in it too! “Ferienhof” means “vacation place” and “bauer” in English is “farmer” so by putting two and two together and I’m sure you have figured out this country retreat belongs to the Gressenbauer Family.

We discovered this Bauernhof in 2010 ago when my husband and I escaped Vienna for a quick mountain weekend get-a-way.  Karen & Florian run this “B&B”, as us North American’s call it, along with his parents (we refer to them as “Omi & Opa”) and their three children. This farm has 60 beef cattle, 2 ponies, 2 bunnies, many cats, a goat and a pig.  When they are not taking care of their guests they are hard at work in the barn feeding, cleaning and so much more.  Guests are welcome to join in with the daily chores too if they wish – hey, it’s always nice to have a helping hand right?  My husband likes to feed the cows in the afternoons and Florian appreciates the help.

Accommodations are simple & clean and your overnight stays includes breakfast, which is what you expect in a typical Ferienhof.  Fresh milk & eggs come from the farm down the road, homemade jams and marmelades change according to the season and freshly baked bread is delivered every morning.  “Omi” normally bakes a “pick of the day” treat for all to enjoy every afternoon and there is nothing like coming home from a 5-hour mountain hike to the smell of fresh apricot cake or apple strudel.

Also included in the rate is a “Pyhrn-Priel Aktivcard”, which is a “free pass” to use for chair lifts up the mountains, admission to the local public swimming pool and discounts on other entry fees to local nature parks and activity centers.  This card in itself will save you a bundle, especially when you are traveling as a family of 4 like us.  My kids favorite is the “Sommerrodelbahn“, which is like a toboggan run ride on a giant slide that’s 1532 meters long down the mountain.  You can also zoom down on the Alpine coaster ride (on a track) too.

Typically, Austrians choose their Ferienhof carefully and once they have found “the one” they become loyal customers.  Thankfully we found “our favourite” right away and we are grateful for the wonderful hospitality the Gressenbauer family provides.  We look forward to our bi-annual holidays and to our children who will grow up with fond memories of their farm experience.

Ferienhof Gressenbauer

Ferienhof Gressenbauer – Karin & Florian Gressenbauer
Edlbach 15
A-4580 Windischgarsten

Tel./Fax +43 (0)7562/5172
ferienhof@gressenbauer.net


Luxury in the Countryside

When you think of the Austrian country side you may picture small hilltop churches, log style cabins and historical castles.  In addition to the traditional settings you will also find hidden gems like the aenea designhotel.   On our way to a weekend trip in Italy my husband and I decided to treat ourselves to the ultimate luxurious experience and spent one night at this Boutique Hotel, which is located in Maria Wörth on Wörthersee (one of Austria’s largest mountain lakes).

The fifteen suites all have lake view with private terraces and the Italian design look is fresh, crisp and clean.  No detail has been spared.  From silk curtains, Minotti furnishings and Etro Bathroom amenities you know that the hotel owners take their hospitality very seriously.

If you wish to escape every day life you will find it easy to de-stress here as they have a full-service spa with an assortment of massages and beauty treatments. Housed in the panoramic view spa is a fully equipped fitness centre, a sauna and steam room, a solarium and an outdoor pool. Guests can relax and soak up the lakeshore atmosphere by taking the hotel’s elevator to their private beach area.

I’ve saved the best part for last as it involves… what else?  Food.  The restaurant offers two locations.  You can dine the next to the cozy fireplace indoors or in a more casual but still sophisticated setting on the terrace.  We noticed that the entire hotel staff seemed young… almost too young to serve alcohol, however, they all oozed high energy and a professional attitude.  The chef, which had amazing creative talent was no exception. Working with local seasonal ingredients we are told that the menu is constantly changing.  My husband and I stuck with our verbal agreement (practically written in our wedding vows) that we each got a different dish so that we “switched” half way through our meals.

My taste of heaven started from the get go.  The bread.  I’m a simple Canadian girl who would happily make a whole meal out of freshly baked bread so it wasn’t a surprise that I “mmmm’d” the whole way through my dining experience.  Served along the bread rolls were a fresh lemon & thyme topfen spread, assorted sea salts, sliced radishes and fresh watercress (so fresh that scissors accompanied the platter). Course by course we both remained silent and simply enjoyed and savoured every bite. From the Fois Gras with peach, rosemary and sheep milk yogurt, White Asparagus with pan choi, grapes & poppy seed foam, to the delicate Sea Bass & robust Ox Cheek all were presented beautifully and were cooked to perfection.  Finally, the dessert.  We normally split one because by that time we are almost uncomfortably full.  The sweet sampler was the perfect choice, which included tarty rhubarb, creamy topfen cake (sort of a mixture of marscapone & sweetened cream cheese), refreshing lemongrass ice cream and a coconut encrusted fluffy meringue .  They do their own version of “petit four” here too which I thought was brilliant.  Lemon sorbet with Green Apple mash, strawberry and mango mini ice cream cones topped with chocolate dipped popping candy, homemade cassis & lemon marshmallow, celery jelly with chocolate moose and nougat bread.  All flavours worked really well together.

After an espresso (for him) and an English Breakfast tea (for me) we concluded that it was necessary to write a blog about this fabulous hotel.  Tired and satisfied we slept well.

Another memorable hotel experience to add to my list of lifetime favourites and I hope that if you ever make your way to Austria you would consider treating yourself to this exceptional experience at the aenea hotel.

Florian Schaible, Hotel Director, (above)  stood proudly when I took this snap shot before we left.  He personally come outside to wish us well on our journey home.

Now that is service!

aenea designhotel
Worthersee SuduferstraBe 86
A – 9081 Reifnitz / Maria Worth
Austria
T. : +43.4273.26220
F. : +43.4273.26220.20
aenea@aenea.at


Happy New Year World!

It’s the 2nd day into 2012 and I have so far kept my New Years Resolution of creating a blog.  Tah dah….  I’m still trying to decide what exactly I will blog about.  Tasty Austrian cuisine?  Road trip adventures?  A Canadian trying to sprechen German?  I don’t know so bear with me as I go along and “find myself” so to say.  What I do know is that I love photography and prefer that to writing so expect lots of colourful images to describe my journey.

I shall begin my first blog with some photos of my first New Years experience in Vienna.

What better way to start of a new year that to indulge in a luxurious champagne dinner.  The InterContinental Hotel hosted a special New Years dinner complete with live music playing all the favourite classics.  A table near to us, visiting from Kazakhstan was well into the celebration when one of the guests sang a duet of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”.  He sang rather well and after a few songs (and a few more drinks) he returned and convinced the band leader to play “Knock Knock Knock on Heaven’s Door” and sang his heart out.  It was all in good fun and the rest of the guests enjoyed his enthusiasm.  That was our que to make our move to Stephansplatz to ring in the new year.

The atmosphere in the city centre was buzzing.  Tourists from all over the world (a reported 800,000) joined together in happy spirits with bottles of bubbly in their hands eager for the magical moment.

Others followed the Austrian tradition and waltzed to the beautiful music of Johann Strauss.

When St. Stephan’s legendary clock stroke 12:00 midnight celebratory “yeah hoo’s” followed by smooching loved ones was all around me.  Fireworks light the sky.  What a start to 2012!

 


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