For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by Vienna. My fascination began at a very young age when I fell in love with The Sound of Music. Laugh if you will, but to this day all I need to hear is one note of Edelweiss and I will instantly become teary-eyed.
What can I say? I’m a sap that way.
But it’s true that I grew up in a household that appreciated the Austrian culture. Much of this had to do with the fact that for many years my father worked for a business that was owned by two very colourful Austrian men. My parents would attend social events organized by Austrian immigrants and my father would regularly stop at a wonderful Austrian deli near his work. He’d bring home all sorts of smoked meats and the most delectable little sausages.
My brother and I loved it! Until the dancing lessons, that is. I blame it all on the Viennese Waltz.
You see, my parents believed that part of being a well-rounded individual included the ability to dance. So on Sunday mornings, after one Italian League soccer game had finished and before the second one started, my brother and I were forced to submit to dancing lessons, in our basement, given by our father.
You can only imagine how thrilled we were.
Whatever love I may have felt, whatever affection I may have harboured, whatever dreams I may have had of one day visiting Austria, they disappeared as soon as my father hit play. Like the resentful adolescent that I was, I begrudgingly submitted to the lessons, making it as difficult for my father as I possibly could. Eventually, the lessons stopped and I reveled in my small victory.
If my father was disappointed, he never let me know it. Whenever we went to weddings or parties, he’d always dance with my mother and then lead me onto the dance floor to dance with me. However bratty I had been during those lessons, he always asked me to dance.
Looking back on those days, it’s hard to believe that very soon, we will mark the fifth anniversary of my father’s passing. There are still moments when I’m amazed that he’s gone. But lately, I seem to feel his loss most when we’re at weddings and I know that he will not be asking me to dance. And it never fails to make me think of those lessons.
This longing for a place I’ve never been inspired me. So for twelve days in December, I will be visiting three cities that I’ve always longed to see: Berlin, Prague and finally, my beloved Vienna. Between work and other commitments, I haven’t really had much time to think about my trip, but now that I am barely three weeks from departure, it’s time for the reality to sink in.
And to help get me in the mood, I decided to bake one of my very favourite cookies from one of my very favourite cookbooks: Rick Rodgers’ Kaffeehaus. I usually make these at Christmas time, but I simply couldn’t resist making them now. They are buttery and rich Austrian cookies, fragrant with vanilla bean. Over the years, I’ve intensified the vanilla flavour by adding extract and also a drop of almond extract. Sometimes I’ll even add orange zest, but not always. Piled high on a beautiful dish, it’s impossible to resist these cookies.
Just as I suspect it’s impossible to resist Vienna.
When I’m there, I know I’ll think of my father. It’s funny because when we were in the midst of those dancing lessons, I used to wonder to myself if my father knew how lucky he was to have a daughter who would actually dance the Viennese Waltz with him.
But really, I was so lucky to have a father who would dance the Viennese Waltz with me.
Berlin, Prague and Vienna … I’m on my way!
Note: The cookies pictured above are Vanilla Crescents (Vanillen Kipferln) from Kaffeehaus by Rick Rodgers.