Thursday, December 29, 2011

Oslo is closed

Oslo – is not cold at all. There is no sign of snow but – like Vienna – they say it will snow after we leave. Yeh!

We have a list of restaurants we would like to visit but they are all closed – all closed - until 3 January – so our plans for fine Norwegian dining have been thwarted. It is strange that all the good restaurants go on holidays at the same time – but there you have it.

And it is almost impossible to get into a good café in the middle of Oslo – they all have crowds of people waiting to get in. What is it with these people? Don’t they have jobs? I just cannot imagine what it would be like in the tourist season.

It is - as expected – excruciatingly expensive. I came with a bundle of Euros but no Norwegian woggles and have not been able to find a single place where I can exchange Euros for woggles. What? I hear you say. But these are everywhere in every city!

Well yes – everywhere but in Oslo. I have seen one in two days – and it was closed for renovations. And as for banks – I have seen two – and the one I entered was crowded and required me to take a ticket and wait – which I declined to do.

So for money I am reduced to the limited amount I can get from cash machines – and they are remarkably parsimonious.
Last night we went for dinner to the Grand Hotel café which was a wonderful experience and we just had to grit our teeth at the cost.

Tonight we were more circumspect and went locally to Ali Baba’s which was still scary but within reason.

Tomorrow is our last day in Oslo then we catch the train to Bergen.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hello Texas

Our Christmas Table 
So this below is what the turkey legs looked like when they were deboned and stuffed. The sauce was made with limes, red onions, garlic, ginger and chicken stock.

We served these for dinner with Merisi together with my leek and potato soup which I had supplemented with bacon. The deboned legs were not terrific – but were adequate. I think in retrospect that we should have added some spices.

On Christmas day we added the spices and these were wonderful and we had these with caramelised onions.

In the morning we went to Stadtpark to feed the ducks with some cranberries with which Merisi had provided us when she came to dinner. I regret to say that they evinced no interest  whatsoever. A hooded crow picked up two but spat them both out. The ducks came nowhere near us.
Stuffed Legs

We had some fabulous Austrian Sauvignon Blanc for lunch – which actually took place at 5:00 PM:

I coordinated this with Ernest Boston – as arranged. He advised:

I had a turkey sandwich with toasted bread and pepper jack cheese, and for dessert Butterfinger candy bars with milk. Cooper had turkey!’

So we have arranged the first coordinated Christmas lunch between Austria and Texas. I drank a special toast to Ernest Boston who I count as a special friend who I have not yet met. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It was not as good as it should have been

It was not as good as it should have been due to a loss of focus at critical moments.

When you are about to serve the main course and realise that you have not started to cook the vegetables then you have a significant problem – so the vegetables were a bit – well – on the crunchy side.

And I did leave a few ingredients out of the main dish and did not discover these until later – but they were not really important so had no material bearing on the outcome.

This was due to the fact that I spent time chatting with the guests rather than being in the kitchen where I belonged – so have no one to blame but myself.

But Gwenyth’s Australian specialties were a hit – although due to the inadequacies of Austrian cream the presentation of the Pavlova was flawed. 

Apparently Austrian cream - once whipped - needs help to stay that way. We were not aware of the need for the magic ingredient to make this happen so – much to Gwenyth’s horror - the Pavlova began to slop over the sides of the plate as soon as she had decorated it with cream and kiwi fruit.

But it tasted just fine and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Today Rozalin took delivery of our gigantic Turkey and I collected it from her.

Gwenyth and I decided that – for many good reasons - we should debone it so we watched a video on You Tube and then sharpened our boning knife and set about it.

I can’t say we did it with as much grace and skill as the butcher on the video but it is a pretty damn fine result and we now have a complete turkey without bones – just the legs and breasts.

Miraculously – we both still have all our fingers and thumbs and there was no loss of blood.

It is not something I would want to do more than once every year.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

They will be so drunk they will not care

What a gorgeous day it was in Vienna today. So beautiful that I was compelled to take photos of ducks in Stadtpark – to add to my extensive collection.

While Cate slaved away at work Gwenyth and I walked through Stadtpark and up into the Wollzeile where our first stop was Berndorf to buy Oven Mitts.

Gwenyth had found mine wanting – in that they did not protect your hands from the heat.  An important issue – not mitigated by the rooster motifs.

We accomplished this and then on to Kiehls in Tuchlauben to buy body lotions for Christmas presents. I am not a great fan of these products because I reckon that most of this stuff is just based on sorbolene which costs about €10 per litre with scents and junk added and the price multiplied by a factor of 50.

I have very dry skin and use Nivea which costs me about €6 for a large pot.

However – to show that I can also be gulled I must admit that I do use Kiehls Facial Fuel which is supposed to restore my face to its former glory – which of course it will not  - and I bought a tube of this without looking at the price and when I got home discovered that it was €44.

Stiffen the lizards.

The major victory of the day was in the knife department.

I have two very good German knives and one fabulous meat knife - but this was hand made by Cate’s father many moons ago and cannot last much longer.

So I have been looking for a good knife block – a replacement meat knife, a bread knife and some utility knives. Lo and behold they had just what I wanted in Berndorf in a set. The perfect block with all the knives I was missing.

This and a Sacher Wurstel at Café Diglas and the morning was perfect.

Wednesday is dinner party day so will be rather more stressful.

I have decided that I will not make my soup early. I did a trial run of my leek and potato soup when Cate was away last week and it was just awful.

So I will make it in the afternoon. But I am not going to try to do the Asian vegetables with the honey lemon chicken – I am going with an Austrian variation.

And I am going to try to get everyone so drunk early that they just don’t care.

I have some fabulous Austrian red wine – the best there is. It knocked their socks off last year and it will do the same this year. And for dessert wines I have some of the best I have ever tasted. And Anzac biscuits - and lamingtons – and pavlova.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Now they have whole displays of it

So today Gwenyth and I went to Simmering to complete the Christmas cooking shopping and were almost completely successful. We found everything we needed – with the help of Merisi who I contacted twice by telephone for help with the Austrian names  of substances we needed.

We discovered – for example – that Austrians do not have self-raising flour. The flour has to fend for itself – just like Auslanders.  You can assist it with baking powder and this comes in a tiny packet and is called – unsurprisingly - bakpulver.

The only thing we could not find was molasses or treacle and I was going to ask the same lady I had asked last week about kokos-flocken but she was not there. She was probably on stress leave after our previous interaction.

And would you believe it – today they had a whole gigantic display of kokos-flocken two metres high and two metres wide – and Gwenyth even found passionfruit – but she said they looked a bit weird. 

So we asked Merisi and she pointed out the bleeding obvious that Bobby’s would have stuff like molasses so we went there on the way home and were able to buy golden syrup and bicarbonate of soda.

Gwenyth has now started cooking and has already made Anzac biscuits. The first batches did not come out as planned because she had trouble fathoming  the oven but she finally got the hang of it.

Incidentally – as one of my commenters has pointed out – I could not possibly get the Christmas tree out of the apartment intact. In fact our trees are always so big that it is impossible to get them out to take them to a ‘dead tree’ place unless I cut them up – and then it would take me 20 trips and make a colossal mess.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The tree is a monster

Vienna today
Gwenyth has arrived and has unloaded all her supplies in the kitchen. She did not have much room for clothes but we have plenty of those for winter in Norway so she will be just fine.

Importantly – she has brought additional supplies of essentials such as Bushells Extra Strong Tea Bags.  

Today is beautiful and sunny in Vienna but it is a balmy 5° with a minimum of 0° so I am not even wearing my big coat and woolliest scarves and gloves when we go out.

Molly arrives from Paris on Thursday so we will theoretically have a full house. We actually have five bedrooms but Cate and I use the upstairs ones for our studies so we really only have two guest bedrooms and as Molly was last to arrive she has the bathroom with the kitty litter in it.

It will be just like home as this is what she has in Paris with her cat Merlin.

Yesterday we bought our Christmas tree and as a special treat we took Gwenyth with us as soon as we picked her up from the airport and settled her in.

We bought it from the farmers from Niederösterreich who have the same spot just near us each year in Modenapark.

Gwenyth chose a 5 metre monster and we sealed the purchase with the farmers by having a glass of pear schnapps with them. The young farmer wheeled it home for us on a trolley and we then had to get it up four flights of stairs – and through our front door.

This was a task of herculean proportions and required every ounce of strength and ingenuity. After much panting, grunting, suffering, sweating and heaving we got the monster – somewhat the worse for wear – into the apartment.

Unsurprisingly – it did not fit so I chopped off the top metre and then we stood it upright - undid it’s net - and it sprang into its full glory and the rear of the lounge room disappeared from view.

It is by far the biggest tree we have ever had and is much too big for the apartment - but is quite gorgeous. Sissi loves it and has been exploring it extensively.

We have weighed up the pros and cons of putting decorations on the tree – because of the Sissi factor – and have opted just for lights.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's only the crazies like us who love it

None of that this year

Yesterday in the never ending quest for foodstuffs I went to Interspar at Simmering – which is not terrific but is a step up from my local Spar. I go there because it is easy to get to and easy to park and I needed to buy some bulky stuff so needed the car.

There to my amazement I discovered dessicated coconut. This was not easy because the dictionary in my iPhone says it is called Kokosraspel – but of course it is not and the shelf stacker – whose entire day I ruined by asking her a question – tried to send me first to the vegetable section (for coconuts) and then to the Asian section (for coconut milk).

She had no idea what I was talking about and I left her to do what she was doing – which was changing the prices on shelves.  I think what she really wanted to be doing was tearing the heads off rabbits.  

But I knew that Merisi was right and that there simply must be dessicated coconut in any decent sized supermarket in Vienna so I commenced a forensic examination of the shelves – commencing with the cake mixes – and there it was – it is called – Kokos Flocken. Why not?

(I have never found anything that is called what it is supposed to be called in accordance with my German dictionary). 

Next door to it were Pine Nuts which I also needed.

I was then on a roll so went looking for the Austrian equivalent of Copha and found Ceres brand Kokosfett.

But I still could not find passionfruit. No sign of that anywhere. But Gwenyth is bringing some of that so there is no need for panic.

So I think we have everything we need for the Australian delicacies.

What we will not be having here is a white Christmas because so far there has been no sign of winter – let alone snow. Today it is a balmy 6° and is raining.

But I am sure we will be able to find some snow Norway – and I suppose it is good for the Viennese – most of whom hate snow with a passion.

It is only the crazies like us and Sissi who love it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

She brings a smile to his face

Gwenyth and I are engaging in volumes of correspondence about her needs for the Christmas cooking.  She is a woman of determination and single mindedness - and is a sailor which gives her a particular edge over most of humanity in that she is accustomed to engaging in death defying feats which would be considered insanity by most of us.

Anyway she has in mind that she will cook a number of Australian delicacies for Christmas. These will include Anzac Cookies, Lamingtons and of course – the previously discussed Pavlova - and I have been foraging for local ingredients to meet the precise needs of these traditional recipes - plus her particular recipe for Turkey stuffing. With not much success.

Well – as you can imagine – food as subtle and delicate as these Antipodean delights require the very best ingredients. Just as La Tour d’Argent requires the finest Ducks in the land – Australian native cooking requires genuine Australian ingredients to bring out the best flavours.

There are a few items that have caused us difficulties – and I must admit this is probably because of my lack of knowledge of local conditions.

Gwenyth needs clementines and up until she told me she needed clementines I had never heard the word before. So I asked Cate and she said she had never seen a clementine in Vienna  and I conveyed this to Gwenyth who said OK we will use Limes.

Lo and Behold I went to Spar yesterday and there is a big basket of clementines! Starve the lizards!

She also needs Copha which I know does not exist here (It being uniquely Australian) and there is nothing like it in my shitty little Spar but Merisi tells me something like it is available and she has given me some brand names so that I can find it.

But Gwenyth tells me she is bringing Copha anyway because there is nothing quite like it.

And passionfruit? Surely they have it in Vienna but I cannot remember seeing it – ever. But Gwenyth has some in a can. She has a boatload of other stuff for us as well.

Each time Gwenyth comes she brings a black sports bag full of stuff for us. It is her intention to leave it with us. What usually happens is that she visits Robertino the shoe man in the Wollzeile. She says she does not have time to buy shoes in Sydney.

Once she bought seven pairs of shoes. He knows her. He loves her. As you can imagine – she brings a smile to his face. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

The real list and the imaginary list

Well I have not heard from Cate since she arrived in that far away hot place and that is either because she has been kidnapped and beheaded or because she has been too busy to call.

I am a glass half full person so am inclined to think the latter - and I am sure someone would have called me if she had been kidnapped. That would bugger up Christmas completely because Rozalin has ordered the turkey – and it is a big one.

In the meantime I am running the household and preparing for Christmas and this involves a number of things that require a great deal of focus - because I have been given a list of things to do.

There are actually two lists.

There is the real list – which includes cleaning the candle (I will come back to that) – and preparing the guest bedroom for Gwenyth – things which I was actually asked to do – and agree that I was asked to do.

Then there is the imaginary list which may include – for the sake of illustration – polishing the toaster. (I know I have used this before but it is a good example of things that can get on to an imaginary list).

So the conversation will go

Did you polish the toaster?


I asked you to polish the toaster for Christmas – did you do that?

No you did not ask me to polish the toaster – and of course I did not polish the toaster  - why would anyone who is not completely insane polish their fucking toaster for Christmas?

And there may be others even more obscure than this.

Needless to say these are real to Cate – bless her little cotton socks – so I am trying to anticipate her needs and will indeed give the toaster a quick rub before she gets back. It may not shine but it will gleam dully.

As for the candle. Well we bought these two gigantic silver and glass candle box thingies with equally gigantic candles – but the candles don’t burn properly – (and I think I know why – they get too hot).

But anyway the candles overflow and splatter wax all over the inside of the boxes so Cate asked me to clean one box - which I did and I tried to fix the candle with some wax surgery and by building a dam around the top of the candle.

Well you can see how successful this was. When I lit it last night it went all Mount St. Helens on me and sprayed wax everywhere. It is a complete shambles and I am not going to light it again. Ever.

I am also washing all the cat’s rugs. The cats have about a dozen rugs which they sleep on all over the house and I wash these all the time but of course as soon as a cat sleeps on one it looks like it has not been washed - so I am anticipating an imaginary task.

I am pretty good at this and should be able to deal with all the other real and imaginary tasks before Cate gets back. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

These are large lumpy men

Well it has been a difficult process but I think I have settled on a fairly classic leek and potato soup for the entrée – but with some slight variations.

While Jamie Oliver can be a bit prattish he has some great ideas and his leek and potato soup with carrots and celery looks really good so I shall try this during the week while Cate is away to make sure it works.

Incidentally the place to where Cate is going is considered to be so dangerous that one of the US lawyers – who was supposed to go - has pulled out for fear of his own safety and Cate is being accompanied by members of the Ducky Pharma Global Security Team.

These are large lumpy men who used to work for the FBI or CIA and can kill people with one blow of their massive fists. Or so I am told – having never seen one. But I can imagine.

Cate is of course made of sterner stuff and has no fear. She is taking Vegemite and one smear of this will render an attacker helpless and incapable of further action for at least 24 hours.

The beauty of this (potato and leak soup) is that it is almost impossible to cock it up so whatever you produce will be edible and even if it is really strange you can say stuff like ‘this is my special version of leek and potato soup with Bavarian snap weed and it may not be to everyone’s taste’ and they will just go along with it.

For the main course I have decided on a hybrid-variation of Bill Granger’s Honey Lemon Chicken. But I am only starting with his recipe and then will use my own variations. We have had this before and the last time it was a howling success.

My problem is that I may not be able to replicate this under pressure. But Gwenyth will be here and she is as steady as a rock! And Pizzeria Grado is just next door in the event of a Goat Fuck of epic proportions.

The secret ingredients in many of my recipes are Tridosha spices. These are absolutely brilliant and complement any dish. They do not ship overseas so whenever Gwenyth visits us she carries a couple of kilos of this stuff for us. It is just magic.

So while Cate is battling the nests of writhing vipers in the nether reaches of her empire I shall be testing recipes – in the hope that she will return to sample my delights.

And no it is not Afghanistan. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The smell of burning cookbook filled the house

For the dinner part I am not allowed to have what I had last year. Which is a bit tricky because I can’t really remember what I had last year - but I think it was probably my quite special Hungarian goulash soup – followed by  my really special honey chicken with Australian bush spices and the Turkish potato dish that I make with olives.

I have never made a dessert in  my life so probably bought some Viennese cakes and we would have had some nice cheeses - certainly some Grana Padano, Roquefort, Brie and hard Austrian mountain cheeses. They do these really well.

So I have been trying out some new recipes from Bill Granger who is an Australian chef of whom I am very fond. He does simple and exciting food and I have been experimenting  - and indeed so has Cate.

Indeed she tried cooking one of his books. She did not intend to do this – in fact she rarely cooks - but she was trying out one of his recipes and she put his cookbook on the hotplate that was on and the saucepan on the hotplate that was off.

We managed to save most of the cookbook and with some diligence I managed to get most of the gunk off the hotplate.

Dinner turned out quite nicely although it took days for the apartment to lose the smell of burning cookbook. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A famous Antipodean dessert

I have been having trouble getting motivated to blog because of my cold which turned into bronchitis - or something similar - so I went to the doctor.

He almost never examines me but while I was in his surgery I barked like a seal and flapped my flippers a few times and this motivated him to produce his stethoscope - brush the moths off it – and apply it to my chest.

He was sufficiently impressed by my wheeziness to write a rezept and I have been taking some drugs which are now making me better.

I said that Cate would not have to go away again this year unless there was a Goat Thing.

Well of course there has been one so it looks like she will be leaving this weekend and will be going away for a week to a very hot place far away.

In the meantime she has invited her Vienna team for dinner at our place  - to be catered for by Chef Badger on 21 December.

I did this last year and I was quite happy with the menu and the outcome in terms of food and wine. Some other issues intruded on the evening but they were nothing to do with my department.

This year Gwenyth will be here – acclimatising for our trip to Norway – so we will be doing the dinner party together. She is planning on making a Pavlova which is a famous Antipodean dessert – which has probably not previously passed the lips of any of our expected guests.

I will be interested to see what they think of this amazing concoction. It will certainly be a challenge for Gwenyth and I to find all the appropriate ingredients.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Perhaps I can stave Lenny off for another year

Helsinki December 2010

My son has Lenny found a new way to humiliate me – this time by long distance.  A week or so ago when I was in Paris I received an invitation from him to play Chess online through

Cool – I thought – I haven’t played Chess for about 35 years – but I am sure I haven’t forgotten how – and what would he know about Chess.  Well – certainly enough to beat me. I have escaped with one draw and the rest of the time he has crushed me.

I asked him where he learned to play Chess and he said that I had taught him – and I just cannot remember doing that because it was so long go.

There is an evolution in the father-son relationship when at one stage the father can beat the son at everything and finally the son can beat the father at everything. I had hoped it would take longer than this.
I remember the last time I played my son at tennis. He was about 13 years old and it was not a matter of me beating him - it was a matter of me trying to escape death from his serves.

I would try to anticipate where he would serve and at the moment the ball hit his racket I would hurl myself in the opposite direction as this yellow rocket fanged past me at about 200 kilometres per hour - taking chunks of the court with it.

Occasionally – if he faulted – I would get a chance at a second serve and then he would run me ragged - but would occasionally let me win a point.

He could not let me win at golf. Even if he had wanted to let me win I was simply too bad and even on his worst days he could still beat me by a wide margin.

But chess – even with my waning mental powers I still should be able to give him a run for his money – but I seem to have lost the basic skills.

I have – in the basement where else – a beautiful chess set – and some chess books – but it would take me years to find them. So I have written to Amazon - and a book and a basic chess set will arrive shortly. I will gird my loins to see if I can stave off Junior for another year or so before he can really beat me at everything. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Gosh they are people just like the rest of us!

This is one of the best videos on the subject I have seen. It was produced by GetUp in Australia which does a lot of stuff with which I agree – and a few things with which I don’t.

This is particularly brilliant and wonderful - and I happen to be quite passionate about gay rights.

A vote for same-sex marriage will come before the Australian Parliament next year and this will finally give Australia the opportunity to  recognise the fundamental human rights of gays and lesbians.

Gosh they are people just like the rest of us!

And Oh Please let’s stop this bullshit about the bible says that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.

The bible is a collection of ancient texts written by who knows who thousands of years ago and altered and amended and added to and subtracted from and altered and mistranslated and reinterpreted a million different ways and those who read and take notice of it take the bits out of it that they choose to and ignore the rest.

Marriage has nothing to do with religion – it is a civil ceremony recognised by the state.

Let's leave religion out of it. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It made me forget my other problems

Well I was working on my Aperture book last night and I think I finally mastered white balance. I did this using the video tutorials on the Apple website – given that I did not have a panda to work with – but Apple showed me how to do it with a wedding dress – which worked just as well.

So I tried it – using the Loupe Tool – and what a marvellous thing this is – on some of the very blue photos we took in Finland last year on the Rib Breaking Expedition.

Now I think the snow was in fact very blue but there were some other difficulties. The first was that when I fell off my dog sled I fell on to my Canon 400D and crushed it beyond all recognition. It was no longer a functioning camera.

Another was that Gwenyth had a camera that was made in 1982 and was – to be frank – not worth a pinch of pelican poo. On a good day – in broad daylight – in perfect conditions – it took bad and out of focus photos.

Our back up camera was my Sony Handycam which I did not know how to use – having barely ever used it before – and not expecting to have to use it – and not being in any condition to use it.  So Cate used it – on the video setting – and I think made 92 one second video films of Lapland.

Our photos are certainly good enough for the MOMA but not good enough to be shown anywhere else.

But anyways – while I was pottering around with this – and dead pleased I was with mastering white balance - I thought I should clean out my Aperture Trash.

Now it is a cunning feature of Aperture that when you delete a photo it does not get completely deleted – it just goes into the Aperture trash bin.

This means that if you have made a mistake you can rescue it from there by telling Aperture to put it back.

Well I had 45,000 images in the trash and it had taken me a lot of time and effort to get them there – weeks in fact – because I had had to merge my almost identical iPhoto and Aperture libraries – each of about 35,000 images – and cull the duplicates – and take out the dead and get rid of the dross - and finally I was pretty sure I was ready.

It turned out to be not as easy as I had hoped it would be - and I am not sure why.

I was idly looking at the trash before emptying it and saw the ‘restore’ button and wondered – as you do – how it worked – so I highlighted a photo and clicked ‘restore’ – and nothing happened – so I clicked it again – and nothing happened – so I did what any rational person would do and just clicked it a few more times on the basis that if clicking doesn’t work the first few times you just keep clicking until it does.

Well it didn’t - so I eventually lost interest and then did what I wanted to do which was to empty the Aperture trash.

So I clicked that and nothing happened. But my little coloured wheelie thing appeared which meant that something was happening so I just went about my business.

A little while later I noticed that a window had popped up and it said ‘restoring photos’ – and the counter was up to 15,000 odd.

Holy Shit I thought – that is no good at all – if it restores all the photos from the trash bin I will have to delete them again – that will take weeks.

But I could not stop it.

There is no Ctrl+Alt+Del in Apple and the little coloured wheelie thing was stopping me from doing  a force quit of Aperture.

By this time my ‘restoring photos’ counter was up to 97,000 and I realised that it was going to restore all of my photos for every time I had clicked the mouse button. EVERY time I had clicked the mouse button. Spare me!

I tried turning the iMac off and back on - but it just kept restoring.

So I sat there watching in great horror – like a white mouse trapped in a glass case with python as the counter reached more than 500,000.

Finally after fours hours the little coloured wheelie thing stopped spinning and I could force quit Aperture.

Fearfully I then opened it to see how many photos I had.

23,000. It was an Apple trick to make me forget about all my other silly problems. It worked.

Of course my trash bin is still full – and I am not looking forward to having to deal with that. But it is better than having to delete 477,000 photos.