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The Oscars - Behind the Sparkle and Gold

February 26, 2015

The Oscars [Credit: Link]

Last Sunday, February 22nd, was the 87th Annual Academy Awards show.  For my Austrian friends, this is a very big awards show for Hollywood... very big because if an actor wins this award, he or she will forever be introduced as 'The Acadamy Award Winner... so and so'.  This is similar to when once one is the President of the United States, one will always be 'President... so and so'.  Same but different, obviously.

And for my friends back home, I'm sure many of you watched it... or at least read the recaps the following morning.  Who won what award... Who wore which designer... and so on and so forth.

Some people are pretty serious about the show and maybe even hosted their own 'Oscar Party'.  It's like tail-gating at a sports event... only, it's in your living room (and you're dressed better).

[Credit: Link]

People seem to have welcomed this trend - it's officially a thing.  It's a fun way to get together with friends... to drink and be merry... and feel closer to what's happening on the tellie.  Same but different, again.  If you have the time and the energy to do it... I say, have fun with it!! (It's a reason to get dressed up, right!?)

This year, I didn't get to watch the show (being six hours ahead and asleep!).  I did read the recaps.  I did look at some of the ladies fashions.  But, more interesting to me was how Austria was connected to the Oscars.

Did anyone notice the Scarlett Johansson and her green embroidered Swarovski collar? Some were surprised it wasn't emerald... some were excited by her mix and match of high- and not-so-high-end pieces.

Scarlett Johansson @ 2015 Oscar's [Credit: Link]

 At last year's Oscar's,  Cate Blanchett, who won the award for Best Actress for her work in Blue Jasmine, wore Armani Prive - a sleeveless nude gown covered in Swarovski Crystals.

Cate Blanchett @ Oscar's 2014 [Credit:Link]

Besides, the jewels and the sparkle, Swarovski also has a backstage presence to the Oscar's Show going back eight years?!  Take a look at this year's stage for a hint of the Swarovski magic!

The Stage [Credit:Swarovski]

Crazy, right?  This year's production used 95,000 crystals!!!

Early Stages [Credit:Swarovski]

Work in Progress [Credit:Swarovski]

Behind Rita Ora [Credit:Swarovski]

For those of you who don't know Swarovski's history in crystals... read more here.  The founder, Daniel Swarovski, would be excited to know of the world wide presence of his crystal legacy.

So, back to this stage!  The set designer, Derek McLane, is the mastermind behind the last three Oscar stage designs.  What an incredible job to create an atmosphere for events and shows - he has one lengthy resume!  See Derek's collaboration with Swarovski below:

Derek McLane [Credit:Link]

I am most fascinated by the model he created for this year's stage.

The Stage Model [Credit:Link]

Host Neil Patrick Harris in the Model [Credit:Link]

Side View of Model [Credit:Link]

McLane apparently stumbled into set designing as a Harvard undergrad.  I hope to see more of his inspirations and models.  Like this one!


Typically, the show is very long... filled with comedic banter, musical numbers, montages, and applause - and award presentations.  I think most people endure the full length of the show to get to the three main awards of the evening - Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress.


But did you know?  The iridescent, gold paper for the envelopes is made close to my current neck of the woods in Upper Bavaria, in the town of Gmund, near Lake Tegensee.  GMUND Paper is a family-owned fine paper manufacturer founded in 1829.  Their high quality standards, eco-friendly production process, and inventiveness make them one of the most sought-out resources for elegant papers.

GMUND Paper [Credit:Link]

“The paper has a marvellously shimmery gold colour. It looks glamorous and extraordinarily elegant. Touching its surface is a delightful experience. The texture is enthralling and enchanting”, says Marc Friedland in praise of the Gmund Treasury collection.

Oscar envelopes were once frumpy and made in plain, old cream color paper until Friedland redesigned them five years ago.  Finally, the golden statuette had its golden envelope counterpart.

And let's not forget the shiny, little guy - the Oscar!

Making the Cast

Off to the Platers

Golden [Credit:Link]

Here's an inside look at how the statuettes are made in Chicago at R.S. & Co., who has been making them since the 1980's.  Cool, right?

How was the 'golden statue of the Acadamy Awards' nicknamed 'The Oscar'?

And, is this really the mystery model behind the Oscar silhouette?  Oscar's real name is Emilio?

I find things much more interesting if we look behind the curtain and see the history and the efforts to make things look the way they look at the moment we are seeing them.  Sure it's fun to be excited by the exterior bits... but it's way cooler to know the story... and the people... behind the object.

I can't wait to see what the Oscar's stage looks like next year!


Tuesday Tidbits

February 24, 2015

Credit: Link

What a week it's been!  This past week on the 19th was the start of the Lunar New Year - the Year of the Goat!!  I've been running around here in Austria and not really been in the new year spirit.  I was briefly bummed about not being home with my family to celebrate with them... and I even wanted to make a few Asian dishes just for the occasion... but, life happened... and I never got around to it... I'll try something soon... because, New Year festivities last for two weeks!!! (I've got time!)

The Lunar New Year is the king of holidays.

While not a typical Asian New Year's dish, I've been saving this for a while now. 

But this, my friends, IS a yummy Chinese dessert that was everywhere in Chinatown.  Sometimes, I would pop into a local bakery and grab a few.

A look behind the 'Made in China' label.

For these two weeks, a mass exodus occurs when the Chinese labor force goes back home to the countrysides.  Sometimes, this will be the one time of the year they get to see their families.  Cities often turn into ghost towns.

The great shift towards industrialization in China has had a great environmental impact to the country... and it's not a pretty sight.

Why Chinese moms flock stateside to give birth.

Western manners - the latest Chinese status symbol?

Secrets behind the bank note.

Well, here's something you can do with those used tea bags.

The sketch artist who eats... and draws.

Well, Valentine's Day just passed me by... but these desserts won't!

The best use for a Wal-mart ever!!!

Sriracha - a brand so hot, they welcome the imitators.

His flame burned out too soon.

To walk in another man's shoes - take him to lunch.

Be assertive.  Hold your ground.  Conversational how-to.

Moms...  Make a difference.

And if that's not enough, make a cake.

American counter culture, at it's finest.

The origins of hip-hop.


Rough winter for the Northern States.

Stay warm, NYC. It's freezing out there.

What to do with all that snow?

Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show.  Say it ain't so!

What will happen to late night??? More thoughts from The New Yorker.

Farewell, David Carr.  He was the genius at the center of media and culture. He was the man.

A delicious farewell to the creator of Nutella.

Thoughts on the fight for free speech in Copenhagen.

History frozen in time.

Jewelry... tells a story.

A tribute to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

"Live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery." - Charlie Chaplin


Quilt No.3 - The New York Nine

February 19, 2015

My first quilt was for Lily and my second quilt was for Ella... so, of course, my third quilt would be for my husband, Harry.  Last September was our ninth anniversary and I had to get cracking on a quilt design.

It takes a few things to happen before the process starts to take off... usually, I first go through a few inspiration photos saved on my Pinterest board.

I found this quilt from a little gray... I was really drawn to the pattern of crosses and stars.  I loved the stars... they always remind me of America - shocker there, am I right?  And, luckily, Amy Badskirt made it seem technically quite easy!

Credit: Link

And, as my mind began to wander... keeping my true inspiration in mind (my husband, of course)... I started making connections... to America... to Harry... to me... to his love of vintage things... and to his unrelenting desire to stop at each and every yard-, tag-, rummage-, estate-, and flea market sales... and of course, to the countless trips we took to upstate New York... and all throughout the coast of Maine.  We have so many good memories from these trips... so many stories to tell.

And also around this time, Harry had donated a ton of clothes he no longer wanted - weekend pants, worn jeans, work clothes, and old men's shirts...  clothes that he had travelled in, painted our four NY apartments in, and basically, lived in.  They, in their own way, had stories to tell too.

So now, I had the inspiration, the direction, the materials, and the motivation...

One of the reasons I have fallen in love with quilting is not only because of the one-of-a kind end product, but also because while I am lost in the process, memories come rushing back to me... with each scrap of material comes a story that brings more character to the quilt. It could be something as small as the store where the item was purchased to something more memorable as 'remember the time when....'

I love this, and it's not only personal memories... but quilting lets you get lost in thought. This is the main reason why I don't use rulers or try to be to nitpicky about precision... I go by feel, use my eye, and just go with the flow.

It is, what it is... What will be, will be.

If I were so concerned with the precision of matching points and perfect pressing, I know I would lose the love that I put into my quilts... and the quilt would become another means to feel not perfect enough.

This is how it is for me, personally, and I'm sure there's someone out there who can do both... but I can not... not yet anyway... or maybe I never will.

So for this quilt, the flash backs hit me hard because the memories span nine years... starting from before we had kids.

Remember when we packed up the car and travelled to a handful of places along Maine's beautiful coast line... For several summers, we went to vacation in Maine - Lubec, Stonington, Deer Isle, Acadia, Ogunquit, and Bar Harbor... We ate our body weight in lobsters, sweet corn, and blueberry pie (Pie in the Sky!).  Summer in Europe has a twinge of pain for me... it occurs around July 4th when I crave all of the classic summer foods from Maine.

Lubec, Maine
Stonington, Maine

Remember when we drove through streets of small town America and back to the mean streets of Manhattan - Hello, Woodstock! Saugherties! Red Hook! Catskills! Cold Springs! Poughkeepsie! Beacon! Hudson!

Remember when we would hit all the flea markets? And we hit them hard... there were quite a few!  Brooklyn Flea, Chelsea Antiques Market (sadly, closed now), Hell's Kitchen Flea Market,  West 25th Street Market, Hester Street Fair, and the Young Designers Market. And the food! Who can forget the food?!

The Brooklyn Flea

Remember when we would spend weekends on Fire Island - we were always a cab, a train, a livery cab, a ferry, and a five minute walk from total relaxation.  Many thanks to Stefanie, who was so kind and so generous to share this little piece of heaven with us.  Remember the flea market they had on the island?!!  If there's a flea, we will find it!

These days our days about something different...

And, we're ok with that!!

Thank you for nine (and counting!) years of great memories of a life in NYC that was full of discovery, travel, hard work, love, and endurance.  All of this created our family... and I am forever grateful!



The Back

The New York Nine

Tuesday Tidbits

February 17, 2015
Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983), Carnival of Harlequin, 1924-25. Oil on canvas [Credit:Link]

What a wild & crazy ride it's been these last few days! And it's gonna hit its peak today with Fat Tuesday!  Hope everyone has a grand time!  I was so busy last week... I saved a ton of links that I want to get into... Wanna join me?

- Ever wonder - what if paintings could text?

- Knowledge is power.  Get some here - and it's free!

- Do you know about Dead Drops yet?

- IKEA's gotta new bag, baby!

- 9 for 90.  It's The New Yorker's big anniversary issue.

- I have only eaten Miso Soup in sushi restaurants, but this recipe looks to be a good one to start making at home.

- They always say that the book is better than the movie.  Here's a peek at some of the books for this year's movies.

- And here are some cool movies to watch on Netflix.  Regardless on if you're a designer or not.

- Ever wanted to applique something by hand?

- Because the American in me loves her condiments!

- How is it possible for U.S. livestock to consume nearly four-fifths of the antibiotics used in America? This is not o.k.

- I am beginning to see the beauty in a studel.

- Girls are taught to be nice... maybe it's time we weren't so nice.

- Austria isn't known for its shrimp... and this isn't helping my cravings.

- In the States, you can get a bag of six English Muffins in a snap.  Here, not so much.  I think it's time to whip up my own batch - for mini pizzas, for jam toasts, or to just catch melting butter...

- No meat allowed.

- These are a few cute DIY projects to try.

- Folded fingerless gloves - what a good idea!


Carnival in Tirol - A Farewell to Winter

February 16, 2015
Last Friday, as I was walking the girls home from school, I noticed a grouping of some oddly dressed men.  This looked interesting, and I wondered what was going on...

Turns out, it was the start of the Tirolean celebration of Carnival, or Fasching, as it is known in this region.  Little did I know, but the Tiroleans are very passionate about this time of year!  

As related to the Christian faith, Carnival is the three day period before the start of Lent. Traditionally, no parties or festivities are held and people refrain from rich foods such as meat, dairy, fats, and sugar... so before Lent begins, all of the remaining rich food and drink must be disposed of... so why not have a giant party involving the whole community to consume it all?  This is thought to be the origin of Carnival.

However, there's quite a bit of carnival traditions that date to pre-Christian times.  Some of the more lasting traditions began all the way back during the Middle Ages - parades and masquarade balls, feasting, role reversals, masks, rule-breaking, and temporary social equality.  Other reasons for celebrations include greeting the arrival of the sun and the spring season while driving away the evil spirits and final moments of winter.

In the Tirolean tradition, the city of Innsbruck and its neighboring twenty five holiday villages put on parades on the first Sunday... and instead of each village having a parade, they have come up with a schedule that groups villages and each grouping is responsible for a big parade every three to four years.  Each grouping has wildly unique characters that have evolved over the centuries.  These characters each represent an aspect between winter and spring, light and dark, good and evil, young and old.  Remember, years ago when life was extremely harsh during the long and dark winter months, story telling was how people tried to pass the time.... these stories, and the characters they created, were passed down through the generations and loved by many in Tirol.

So, yesterday the village of Absam hosted their Matschgerer Parade to start off their Fasching.

Below are the characters from their parade:

1. Hexen, the Witches

These witches begin the procession which symbolizes the expulsion of winter, the awakening of Spring, and the cult of the fertilization spirit.  The witches use their brooms to 'turn the place' or the shoes of spectators to signify the turning away of evil.   They can be tricky and offer from their flaskes garlic brandy or salt water instead of the traditional schnapps.  They make space in the parade for the Zottler, Tschaggerler and Tux.

2. The Zottler

Considered the one of the important figures in the Matschgerer, Zottlers are noisy, jump and stomp, and have a particular gait.  They carry a knotted hemp rope that was originally used to pull a horse's harness.  They aid give protection from the dark forces of winter and one smack on the back from a Zottler gives good luck and fertility.

3. The Tschaggerler

Similar to the Zottler, the Tschaggerler also gives a good smack to the back for fertility and luck.  For women, instead of a smack, we get our hair tussled (It happened to me!).  These characters carry a bent willow branch to symbolize the coming spring and often catch a hostage to give good luck.  

 Tschaggerlers get started at a really young age!

More recent additions to the character line up are the Klötzler and Flitscheler.

4. The Flitscheler

The Flitscheler is the most recent addition and represents the once extensive corn cultivation in the village of Absam.  Today, corn is grown on a smaller scale.  The costume consists of dried corn plant leaves and the Flitscheler also carries a willow branch to capture hostages for luck and fertility.

5. The Klötzler

Another recent addition to the Matschgerer, the Klötzler, has little wooden tiles sewn to his suit.  He makes such a sound to draw the attention of the spectators... this was my favorite!

 6. The Fleckler

The Fleckler is an old character who represents the poorer times of the past where people had to sew together bits of fabric to make clothes.  Notice the high top hat.  This 'Pointed Hat' is derived from the 'Zieler-boys' and is a reminder for the old Tirolean tradition of disk shooting.  Until the WWI, the men of the villages practiced their defensive abilities.  Their targets were 'target boys' in the wheel pit... and in order to not shoot these boys as they emerged from the wheel pits, the target boys wore these high hats to make them clearly visible and thus the shooters stopped immediately.

The Flecklers also carry a willow branch to catch hostages to give good luck and fertility.  Once captured, the hostage receives a sip of brandy from a hidden flask.

7. The Flower Man

I can't find any information on this character.  I am sure he's a fairly recent addition.  We called him 'The Flower Man' and he gave us candy from his basket.

8. The Tux

The Tux are the gayous, funny figures in this carnival dance and symbolize youth and the coming Spring.   Accompanied by an accordion player, these guys bring the 'sunshine' to this merry atmosphere.  They are cheerful and youthful and are reminders of the festive drive to bring the cattle down from the mountains in the fall.

Their costumes correspond to the style of dress in the Zillertal, a region in the Alps.

9.  The Spiegeltuxer
The Spiegeltux Head Dress - Front and Back
Another one of the oldest figures in the Matschgerer, the Spiegeltux, is also the most luxurious and expensive. His dance is slow and graceful with arms wide open because his mask is heavy (between eight and twelve kilos).  To support the weight of this mask, the wearer must have strong neck muscles to keep balance and dance at the same time.  They are usually in the center of the parade and are cheerful carnival figures.

On the front of the head dress is a mirror surrounded by ears and flowers.  The mirror is said to blind the forces of evil. The exterior wreath is made of white rooster feathers, while the inner wreath consists of black grouse feathers. Bright decorations and jewelry are found on the surfaces - flowers, pearls, and gold chains.

10. Der Alte, the Old Man

This character embodies a person (or couple) who is getting older in his years.  His movements are slow and cumbersome.  The female counterpart of the couple is not always seen.  Nowadays, this character is seen alone and elderly.

11. The Fasserrössl

The Fasserrössl, located in Hall, were once the great guild of Fassbinder that made thousands of barrels annually to transport salt.  Don't forget, Salzberg, (or salt mountain) is not far from here... and not long ago, salt was king.  The salt barrels were held together by hoops made of wrought iron, and the blacksmiths were the suppliers of Fassbinder. The village of Absam was renowned for their hammers, blacksmiths, and forgers.  

How does that horse relate to salt barrels?

The story throughout Absam is that a noble man came to town and his horse lost its shoe.  He asked a group of blacksmiths if they could make his horse a new one.  They were unable to make it because they were slightly drunk and because the horse would wildly buck at them and throw them to the floor.  Their master would appear and curse at his team and comedic antics would ensue, of course.

12. Der Bock, The Buck

In this village the buck is a horned billy goat.  The scissors on his hat represent the mockery of the tailors' guild.  The story is that a high official ranking officer, Saline, ordered a new dress coat from a tailor.  The tailor's friends then stole the sleeve and nailed it to the front door and door frame.  The tailor, now under much pressure, needed to finish the coat and deliver on time.  He succeeded, but unfortunately, became the ridicule of his friends, who called him the 'sleeve Schneider', or sleeve cutter.

11.  The Four Seasons Mask (Name given by me!)

I couldn't find anything on this guy... but pretty self-explanatory, right?    Hello, Spring!  Goodbye, Winter.

Little did I know, that this weekend I would witness the stirrings of a great mass awakening - of people preparing for Lent, people warding off the evil spirits of winter, or people just happy to welcome the sun's warmth back into their lives! (Like me!!)

For a peek at Carnival around the world, click here.


Bavarian Soft Pretzels

February 13, 2015
After moving from New York City to Innsbruck, I've had to let go of a few things.  First and foremost, my iced coffee.  In Germany, when I asked for an 'iced coffee', the waiter thought I meant 'eis kaffee' (a coffee ice cream shake).  People just don't do iced coffees here... I guess it's so common in America because there is an abundance of ICE...  and Americans LOVE their ice.  However, in Europe, ice seems to be kind of a nuisance - but that's another story... 

Second, I've given up my everything bagels for brez'n.  Also known as pretzels, these little bad boys have been around for ages...  the Middle Ages, in fact.   Sources vary in the actual location, (Germany, France, or Italy), but they all agree that these were invented in a monestary by monks.  In 610 AD, an Italian monk invented pretzels as a reward for children who learned their prayers.  The strips of dough are crossed resembling arms crossing the chest.  In Germany, pretzels may have been created by bakers who were held hostage by dignitaries... or in response to a ban on heathan symbols on baked goods, like the sun cross.  

Within the Catholic Church, the pretzel was lauded for their religious significance.  Made of only flour and water, pretzels could be eaten during Lent.  Because of their unique shape, they were symbols of good luck and spiritual wholeness.  The three holes created a three-pronged shape relating to the Holy Trinity.  By the 12th-century, pretzels were used as the emblem for bakers and their guilds in Southern Germany.  In 1185, perhaps the first illustration of the pretzel... at a banquet of Queen Esther and King Ahasuerus...appeared in the Hortus Delicarum, the first encyclopedia written by a woman.

12th century Hortus deliciarum   [Credit: Wiki]

Pretzels were so popular that they became integrated into the Christian faith.  They hung on Christmas trees in Austria,  they were worn around the necks of young children, parents would hide pretzels on Easter for their children to find, and pretzels were used like wishbones in marriage ceremonies (the larger half would bring the couple luck).

It wasn't until the 1700s, that German immigrants and Swiss-German immigrants, later known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, brought pretzels to America.   Soft pretzels caught on like a house on fire... due mostly to the new mass production methods as a result of the industrialized age. Pretzels were everywhere - at schools, convenience and grocery stores, and entertainment venues such as movie theaters, arenas, concert halls, sport stadiums, and even, in the the mid-1400s, the first street vendors started selling pretzels on street corners (Some things never change!).

Pennsylvania produces 80% of the pretzels made in America.  The average American eats two pounds of pretzels each year, while the average Pennsylvanian can eat up to twelve pounds a year.  I rarely ate pretzels back home (so two pounds seems a bit much for me)... but here in Austria, where at one point we had pretzels every morning (thank goodness THAT carb fest is over!), a few pounds a year is quite possible!

So, every now and then I crave that just-out-of-the-oven pretzel... and other than waking up at the crack of dawn and trekking to our lovely Ruetz bakery, I think my oven will do just fine.  Ruetz comes from a 110 year long line of bakers... so they know their stuff.  But there's something about making a batch on your own... seeing and mixing all of the stuff that goes in... and tasting something (hopefully, amazing) in the end.  

I've tried a half dozen recipes, (all of which my husband liked) but I just found each previous batch not quite right.  I decided to give it a go with a recipe from Jo Cooks.  She called it the 'World's Greatest Soft Pretzel', so it's just got to be good, right? 

I followed Jo's recipe pretty closely.  My only deviation was that I used 1/3 C of baking soda instead of 5 tablespoons.  That's it.

And, I finally got a nice color on the outside, a soft crumb on the inside, and a slight crackle when you bit into the crust (not all soft from the bite to the chew).  The double brush with butter makes these pretzels extra tasty.

These pretzels are a win-win... my husband likes them and I like them too!  This will be my official pretzel recipe.  Thanks, Jo!

Well, if you don't have time to make some on your own... and you live in NYC... you can go to one of these highly rated pretzel establishments.  Make sure to go on April 26th when it's National PRETZEL Day!!

If you crave more than just a pretzel, grab a date and go to Kurt Guntenbrunner's restaurant, Blaue Gans, in Tribeca for some weisswurst to go with that pretzel.  And, have a beer for us!

guten Appetit!!