Eat Up!

Huzzah! Today is National Chocolate Day, my favorite holiday second only to Christmas. I’m kidding. I hadn’t heard of National Chocolate Day until today, but I’m willing to immerse myself fully in the spirit of the holiday._3_

Think about all the ways that chocolate makes things better:

Raisins? Yes, they’re good for you and your digestive system. However, coat them in chocolate and they’re far more palatable.

Ice cream? Yeah, yeah, we know. But with chocolate sauce on it? So much more yummy.

Cookies are fun, but chocolate chip cookies are delectable.

file000517399336A croissant? Sure, it’s buttery goodness. But a chocolate croissant is even better.

A variety of mole (mo-lay) sauces include chocolate, proving that even a meal can use chocolate’s help.

And somewhere a genius decided that pairing fermented grapes with chocolate leads to a more fragrant and decadent vino.

Of course, chocolate stands on its own virtue. As a child in England, I would look forward to my visits to the local sweet shop where I could choose from the many delicious English chocolate bars: Aero (with bubbles), After Eight (minty), Bounty (coconut), Club, Crunchie (honeycomb toffee), the original Kit Kat, Lion Bar (wafers and crisped cereal), Maltesers, Milky Bar (which was white chocolate), Penguin (biscuit), the original Twix, Yorkie (chunky), and any kind of Cadbury (Buttons, Bournville Dark, Dairy Milk, Double Decker, Flake, and Wispa). I couldn’t choose, really. It was too hard. They’re all sooo good! I also indulged in other European chocolate delights, such as Kinder and Lindor/Lindt. (By the way, did you know Kinder Eggs are banned in the USA? Yep, you know, supposed choking hazard.)

Unfortunately, I’ve not found American chocolates to be on par with European ones. Hersheys is pretty much only good for making S’mores. I do enjoy an occasional Three Musketeers, Dove, and York Peppermint Pattie, but that’s about it. American chocolate tends to include nuts (especially peanuts and almonds), and that leaves me and lots of other people unable to consume them. In fact, many of the top-selling brands, such as Reese’s, Butter Finger, and Snickers, all have nuts, along with Almond Joy, Baby Ruth, Mr. Goodbar, O Henry! and PayDay. Maybe Americans love nuts more than chocolate?

Along with chocolates, I also love books, so what better combination? Books about this confectionary delight include Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Chocolat by Joanne Harris, and perennial children’s favorite, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. They’ve all been adapted into great movies, too. Another fun chocolate-themed movie is Romantics Anonymous (Les émotifs anonymous), a sweet story about Angélique, who is a top chocolatier unable to cope with the pressure and recognition. She eventually finds a way to create chocolates peacefully and finds love in the process.

Chocolates, books, and love: what a perfect trio! Happy National Chocolate Day to all, and enjoy. I know I will.

Oh, Vienna! (Travelogue, part 2)

October 2003

We bid Na Sheldanou (goodbye) to Prague and enjoyed a pleasant 5 hour train ride to Vienna. Autumn was showing its true form, as we passed through woods with amber, yellow, brown and red leaves.  Through farmland, little towns, crumbling fortresses atop hills clouded with mist.

And, Gruss Gott (God bless or Bless God; we haven’t figured out which) to Vienna, home of the choir, sausage, coffee and waltz.  Once we gotten our bus-metro passes, we set off to our lovely little pension, which is located just off the fashionable Maria Hilfilg Strasse shopping area.  We
have a metro stop that is 50 ft away and is v. handy.

We decided that as we’d already experienced so much high culture in the last 2 weeks (symphony, opera, museums and cathedrals ad nauseum) that we’d spend our first night in Vienna with some good old American brain candy.  So, we went to see Pirates of the Caribbean at the Eng. language theater just down the street.  Paul liked it a lot, as did I.  And, I must say that Johnny Depp still looks fine, even in flamboyant make-up, and now that Orlando Bloom has shorn his Prell commercial blond locks, he looks really good, too.  But, I digress…

Vienna is a city of contrasts.  It is regal, yet pedestrian. Classical, yet contemporary. Proud of its history and culture, yet cosmopolitan. And, even though we’re in a foreign country, this seems so much more familiar than Prague.  (Paul and I both took Ger. in high school, so our broken Ger.
could be why we feel more comfortable.)  Everything is precise, efficient and clean.  The Viennese are obviously v. proud of their city, as the streets are immaculate and there’s no grafitti (sp?)to be seen. The metro has flat screen TVs inside the carriages displaying the news (no audio, just captions) and there are large screen versions on the actual platforms. In contrast to Prague, there is v. little in the way of public displays of affection.  In P., lots of hand holding, kissing and cuddling; here, v. little of it.  I hugged Paul on the metro platform and got a few curious looks. Little cultural differences are interesting.

We saw a Mozart concert with the orchestra in full dress for the time period, including wigs.  At first we thought it’d be schmaltzy, but they were very good.  The museums are chock-full of lovely art, including a wonderful Gustav Klimt exhibit. Saw just a little of the immense Hapsburg dynasty wealth when we visited the Schonnbrunn Summer Palace.  So much gold, marble, etc.  It’s amazing to view how the royalty lived. As with Prague, we’ve spent much of the time looking up at all the incredible architecture.  A statue here, a fountain there, etc.

I’ve found that central Europe is not an easy place to eat if you don’t eat a lot of beef or pork, such as myself. It is the definite staple here. Heres’s an example of cultural unawareness: I ordered a mixed salad, expecting what I’d get back home.  Instead, it was (a very tasty) potato with kraut salad.  One leaf of lettuce and one wedge of tomato used as garnish.  We encountered a little sticker shock upon arrival.  (Prague is v. cheap–a full meal for two including drinks and appetizer and tip costs about $15, if you stay away from the tourist traps.  Beer is incredibly cheap at around $1.75 a pint.) Really, the only cheap food places here are the wurstel stands–frankfurters, etc,– although beer is also inexpensive.  I’ve never eaten so many hotdogs in a period of 4 days. Fortunately, chocolate is exceptionally cheap, so I’ve been consoling myself with lots of that.

The only down part has been the freezing wind that has chilled us to the bones.  The low to mid 50s temps. and slight rain wouldn’t be a big deal, if we weren’t frozen by the wind.  But, hardy travellers that we are, we aren’t allowing a little inclement weather to slow down our journies.

Off to Venice and warmer weather tomorrow.
Hope all is well with you and yours.
Rita and Paul