Shawnee News-Star Weekender Dec 22 2018 Becky Emerson Carlberg Welcome to winter!   Did you notice how short the daylight was yesterday?   The Winter solstice occurred at 4:23 pm. The sunlight lasted about 9.5 hours.   Oddly, our dawn sunrises will not begin earlier until January 8th, but increasing light is now being added to dusk each […]

Shawnee News-Star Weekender Dec 22 2018

Linz Christmas Market

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Welcome to winter!   Did you notice how short the daylight was yesterday?   The Winter solstice occurred at 4:23 pm. The sunlight lasted about 9.5 hours.   Oddly, our dawn sunrises will not begin earlier until January 8th, but increasing light is now being added to dusk each day.

The gingerbread house.   Throughout the years I have created from scratch all types of gingerbread structures using templates and baked dough, graham crackers and cookies, Halloween and Yule.   One year the design was a cuckoo clock, another a strange tree by a decrepit house in a graveyard, and in between dozens of A-frames, cabins, and one Victorian style I vowed never to repeat.   With so many kits available, I bought two different houses to see how easy it was to make pre-fab homes.

The Haribo Gummi Gingerbread House

The Haribo had precooked gingerbread pieces with an impressive amount of nutmeg kept fresh in plastic, gummi bears and icing in a plastic sack one had to snip off one corner to use. Although the doors and windows were deeply engraved, they were only for show.   What kind of house has a front door that can't be opened?  It's a fire hazard.  I welded my ice pick and paring knife and cut out the door and window above it.   My cat took a lick of the window and decided it was good stuff.  Small gingerbread cuttings disappeared after I left the room only a few minutes.   When the house was completed it had to be hidden behind closed door.   Next morning I opened the bedroom door to get something and forgot to close it.   Two hours later I went to get the house and found two gummies dead on the bed, a few more on the floor inside the gingerbread house and one collapsed chocolate Santa, probably from fear. Well, the house was still standing.

The other edible North Pole home also came with sections of wrapped non-descript gingerbread, a plastic base, candy balls, gum drops, sweet snowflakes and a right proper icing dispenser with two decorating tips.   I glued the house together with the icing, piped on the sugar-based 'snow' that secured the candies and let it dry above the portable heater.  The thin plastic base was very flexible.   When I attempted to move the house..let's just say the house now looks like it has experienced a 7.0 earthquake.  Cracking snow means you either have everything in place for an avalanche or you're looking at my gingerbread house.  It has an aged appearance.

While cruising through parts of Europe we saw snow, but not in Vienna.   Four Christmas Markets later, my sack held gingerbreads and Klezenbrot.   The Austrian/ Bavarian fruit and nut bread contains pears and figs, among other wholesome ingredients.   The baker harvested his own pears for this traditional slightly sweet Christmas fruit bread.

Orchards of apples, pears and even apricots surround many communities.   The Abbeys often cultivate fruit trees for the sweet fruits that can be turned into jams, liquors or wines.   When our boat docked at Melk, we walked into the village overshadowed by Melk Abbey which loomed overhead on a hill. Founded in 1089, the abbey was demolished by fires twice in history.   The current 1702 structure experienced yet another fire in 1974 but was restored.   The abbey is serviced by 30 monks.   The apricot orchards are now resting in the quiet of the year.   The town of Melk Christmas Market was also quiet and not yet open.   The climb up the hill to the Backeri Teufner ended with free schaumrollen samples on a plate out front.   Schaumrollern are puff pastry horns filled with egg meringue frosting.   Ancestor of the cream horn, the filled pastry was brought to the US by Mennonites from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

The afternoon we traveled to Gottweig Abbey, shrouded in clouds and fog.   Very mystical.   The paths were gritty and edged with snow.  Gottweig has been a working abbey for over 900 years with 43 monks.   This abbey too was nearly destroyed by two major fires.   Two tall healthy redwoods were growing in front of one building.   Monks had traveled to California one hundred and thirty-five years ago and brought back 20 saplings.   The trees seem to enjoy monastic life.   The Wachau vineyards and Marille apricot orchards were further away.

The Gottweig mountain has several microclimates.   Trees breathe the cool air from the Dunkelsteiner Woods and flourish in the humidity of the Danube.   Combined with the soils of gravel, sand, loam, weathered slate and chalky clay, the positive influence contributes to the robustness of the apricots the Abbey is known for. The monks feel that the flavor is enhanced by the difference between day and night temperatures as the fruits mature.

Linz, another Austrian city on our route, was the place my folks were married.   It is also famous for the Linzer torte. This buttery nutty pastry has apricot filling. The Christmas Market was brilliant even in the light rain that fell throughout the day and evening.

Snow on the hilltops of Passau.   We've now cruised into Germany.   The Viking Longship Ve was anchored on the Danube.   The Ilz River from the north and Inn River from the south joined the Danube at the point just beyond our boat, which is why Passau is also known as 'City of Three Rivers.' Salt was dug from mines near Salzburg and transported to Passau.   Here it was processed and shipped out by the salt traders.   The strong monopoly lasted until the early 1707, which is why salt was called 'white gold'.   Passau is still surrounded by protective thick city walls.

Trifolate Orange in a Passau Church Garden

At the Church of St. Paul grew a Trifoliate Orange tree, complete with leaves and thorns.   What a surprise.   Called the Passauer Gold Pomeranze (bitter orange), they have high hopes this little tree, originating from northern China and Korea, will survive and reproduce in their climate.   It seems to thrive in our area.   Linda Smith and a few others have these tough orange trees growing in their gardens.   Some even live in the Japanese Garden.   The US citrus industry often grafts their plants onto Trifoliate orange roots to assure hardiness.   This orange has become naturalized across the southern USA all the way into New England.

The train trip to Salzburg was through hills of deep snow but Salzburg was relatively clear.   Christmas Markets were tucked here and there.   We flew from Munich airport.   A Christmas Market was set up between two terminals! One vendor had converted an airplane into a stall selling Smokey Joe BBQ!

Snowy Austrian countryside near Salzburg

We left Germany looking at all the snow on the ground.   When we eventually arrived in Oklahoma, a severe thunderstorm was in progress.   Our plane sat on the tarmac over half an hour while we waited for the storm to move out.   The ground crew could not operate if lightning was within five miles of the airport.   Welcome to Oklahoma.

Happy Yule