It was difficult to start writing this week's article. The Weekender comes out on the day my mom died 3 years ago. I have missed her so much, but this week I found her…..in her cookbooks. My mother had amassed a sizeable collection of cookbooks over the years, but she had her favorites with the best recipes. Several tried and true old standards were written on various pieces of paper and stashed between the pages.

It was difficult to start writing this week’s article. The Weekender comes out on the day my mom died 3 years ago. I have missed her so much, but this week I found her…..in her cookbooks. My mother had amassed a sizeable collection of cookbooks over the years, but she had her favorites with the best recipes. Several tried and true old standards were written on various pieces of paper and stashed between the pages.

Because we were out of the country through Thanksgiving, and, even worse, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, my Oklahoma family had decided to gather together last Sunday for a belated Thanksgiving get-together. The traditional pecan pie was a request. My mother followed the recipe in one specific cookbook. Every so often I need to refresh my memory, but I knew her pecan pie had four eggs. Where was that recipe? Which cookbook was it? I checked through the “Woman’s Home Companion Cookbook” and leafed through the “Settlement Cookbook” before taking down the 1960 edition of “The Best-of-all-Cookbook.” By this time nearly an hour had gone by. I could almost hear my mother’s voice while reading the recipes she had written on the front and back pages of her cookbooks. I knew I had arrived at the right place when I happened upon the spills and droplets scattered across the recipe. I could have put the page in water, brought it to a boil, and had liquid pecan pie!

Comfort comes in many guises. On that day, for me, it arrived as cookbooks. I have many good memories of working with my mother in her kitchen helping fix those invaluable meals that brought together the members of our family. It felt like she was here with me in my kitchen as I put together the pecan pie.

The day before Thanksgiving we Viking Bragi cruise passengers trundled to one Budapest Christmas Market in the mist and fading light. What caught my eye was Flodni, a Hungarian-Jewish cake consisting of multiple layers of phyllo pastry, jams, poppyseeds and apples. In Hungarian, the apple is called Alma, my mother’s name! Wood carvings, soaps, ornaments, food, handmade toys, candles, gingerbreads, coffees, teas and spicy Gluehwein (mulled wine) were being sold from small decorated wooden houses that opened to the front. Tall tables were set here and there as places to prop your arms and gifts while drinking warm beverages and chat with your friends. The atmosphere despite the cold drizzle was inviting, happy and warm. People were having fun.

The next morning, we had to have our suitcases out in the hallways by seven in the morning. Because the Danube was so low, our boat could not sail through the passage between Budapest and Vienna. What to do? Buses were parked at the ready. They carried us across the river to the Pest side where we spent the morning. After lunch of sweet potato soup with coriander and pesto (try it it’s quite tasty), chicken and other accoutrements in the elegant Spoon Restaurant, a modified barge, we began our cross-country journey in the rain.

Our buses crossed into Austria through a lit tunnel with guards looking on. The Schengen Agreement opened the borders between Hungary and Austria in 2007. In Vienna we transferred to the next boat, the Viking Ve. Ve was a Norse god, brother of Odin who, with his brothers, slayed Ymir, an evil frost giant. I knew you’d want to know this. The cruise chefs actually served turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce artistically and strategically arranged on plates. Pumpkin pie was dessert.

Trying to get to the dockside along the Danube from our boat was rather convoluted. Three similarly constructed river boats were tied together. Our boat, the Viking Ve, was on the outside next to the Viking Tor, in the middle, which was side by side with the Crystal Ravel that was closest to the bank. The boats were together in such a fashion the doors opened directly into the next boat with no problem.

Our itinerary kept changing. The Bratislava trip the following morning was by bus instead of our boat docking at Bratislava as scheduled. Bratislava (Pozsony in Slovakian or Pressburg in German) is the capital of Slovakia and the largest city. The iconic UFO Bridge was one of the first things we saw. This communist structure was built in 1972 and indeed looks very alien.

The Christmas Market had several stalls of Gluehwein. Christmas street markets have been held for hundreds of years during the four weeks of Advent. In Vienna, the December Market of 1298 is said to be the ancestor of all Christmas Markets. The markets are usually located in town squares, but in larger communities can be found in neighborhoods, by churches or in business districts. The diverse wares and foods for sale are usually accompanied by music, live or recorded. Stages may be erected for choral groups and dancing. Near many markets are small houses with glass windows through which miniature Nativity scenes can be viewed. These dollhouse-like sets have been carefully created in traditional or modern scenes.

We tried the red wine with ginger honey mint. Only one stall offered the traditional Pressburg pastries of Slovakia shaped as moon crescents with poppyseed filling and the walnut filled C-shapes. While we were there a children’s choir sang in front of the community center.

Vienna hosts at least twenty Christmas Markets and our goal was to try to conquer as many as possible. We had one day devoted to Vienna and the morning tour was on foot to the U-Bahn (underground subway) which transported us to the center of town. Us consisted of four Americans and four Canadians. Two places were outstanding: Demel’s and St. Stephens Cathedral. Demel’s is the premiere confectionery. Inside a storefront window was a pink Jaguar XKE about 2 feet long, in sugar, with wheels that could turn and flashing headlights. Demel is famous for delicate gingerbread, stollen (sweetened yeast fruit and nut breads sprinkled with powdered sugar) and Sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot filling covered in dark chocolate). See why I like this place.

The awesome St. Stephens commands respect. The cathedral has towered over Vienna for centuries. Its south tower is 446 feet tall. Is this a good time to mention the Christmas Market set up on the right side? Number one.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.