Food.

I am still very much a fish out of water when it comes to grocery shopping in America, so much so that I might actually quit shopping altogether and give in to delivery.

The grocery in our ex-pat filled neighborhood of Vienna was renovated a couple of years before we left, to resemble an American grocery in style. The variety of choices for most products was limited (the exceptions being pickled vegetables, muesli, and potted meats); but one could at least get in and out of the store quickly, assuming it was not the first Friday of the month when the Pensioners crowded the lanes chatting with one another. If I did not want to drive my wagon to shop at said grocery I could always catch the 40A across the street from our home and go three stops to a smaller, but still mostly useful old-school Vienna grocery. Or I could walk it in about 10 minutes.

The nearest grocery now is either a 40 minute walk or a 6 minute drive from the house. I wouldn’t so much mind the walk if it were interesting. But it is not, except when the wild turkeys are in the meadow along one of the cross roads. So I drive. It is a small consolation that there are big ole American-sized parking spaces for me, though.

Of course, groceries in Austria were closed on Sundays and nearly all of the dozens of state holidays. This nonsense I do not miss in any way, shape, or form. Though, there is a tiny remnant of Austria among grocers in Tennessee in the form of Blue Laws, the colonial law hangovers preventing certain activities (like shopping) on Sundays and holidays.  Including, I have since read, the arcane law prohibiting one from purchasing alcohol in Tennessee on Sundays before 1000.

Before reaching actual groceries at my grocer, one must wade through the flower section and the Starbucks. Chips and Candy and Other Unhealthy Crap are in the front of the store, too; next to these snacks is, naturally, the Soda Lane. Terrible product placement for a state with a spot in the top ten of  “America’s Most Obese.”

Milk and Dairy items are in cases along the far back wall of the store. Yogurt for some reason is in a separate aisle opposite an entire grocery lane dedicated to granola and protein bars.

Too. Many. Choices.

I wandered over by the Seafood section one day in search of supper inspiration. Adjacent is the butcher. In front of the butcher’s section was a shelf with…Cajun Injector?  It just looks like flavored salt that can be “injected” into one’s chicken or turkey or whatever. I don’t think I would want to eat anything that has been “injected.”

This product is wrong on so many levels. I was not one of those parents who “hid” vegetables in other foods. I’ve always accommodated the family’s veggie preferences, naturally (one hates peas; one prefers raw carrots over cooked; we all hate eggplant); but if our children did not eat the other vegetables at dinner they simply went hungry. Funny enough, our son is now dating a vegan.

I will write this about my grocery, though. For as much as I feel like I’ve gone through Alice’s rabbit hole each time I wander the store, desperately searching for an item that just is not where I think it should be, I am reminded that I no longer have to bag my own groceries. And sometimes, I don’t even have to load them on the conveyor belt. 

Not my groceries, but those of the person behind me. Mine were unloaded, as well.

America is amazing.

What’s this? BAGGERS, too?  No longer do I have to race to pack my groceries as the mean-for-sport Viennese grocery clerks hurtle my items along.

There is no end to America’s awesomeness.

By the by Tony and I found ourselves missing Rindsuppe mit Frittaten, an Austrian dish wherein a beef stock is laced with thinly-sliced pancakes. There are numerous variations on this theme; I chose to prepare the stock from some oxtails I had in the freezer (I have found a butcher. Praise be.) and followed a recipe for the pancakes from an Austrian cookbook I had picked up during our seven years in the Republic.

The first pancake was a bit of a disaster, but the remaining were spot on.

And the soup? Köstlich.

Minor minutes of panic when Anna Grace and I could not find Keffir Lime leaves at the Asian market. We poked around the store thoroughly a second time and then all became right in the world when we found the essential item for World Peace Curry.

New Year’s Day began with Huckleberry Pancakes and Mimosas. Huckleberries are like Southern blueberries, I think. The end result won raves around the breakfast table, regardless.

A little later came the taste testing of Chow Chow, a spicy pickled cabbage and vegetable relish that defines the South (so I am learning.) Paired with homemade cornbread it was a surprising hit for everyone.

Before the classic tailgate football-watching spread was prepared came the Sweet Potato Biscuits and Hot Pepper Relish.  Oh, yeah.

Knoxville is home to a number of interesting restaurants. We noticed this particular place near the airbnb that we were in before we closed on the house, and made a note to drop in. Last weekend we found ourselves in the near around lunch, and so, we dropped in.

A diamond in the rough. Not only were our Middle Eastern dishes spectacular, and spectacularly large, but the restaurant is also a mini International grocer. You so know that a jar of Aleppo Pepper and a carton of Bulgarian Shopska Cheese made its way home with me. We are definitely returning for the NYC-style Reuben that we spied on a fellow diner’s plate, as well.

Never did we ever see Happy Cow processed cheese products in Austria, yet look what appeared at the Holy Land Market. Thinking about it, though, why would we have bothered with Viennese Velveeta when we had so much Bergkäse to choose from?

On the homefront I have been inspired by my new cooking best friend, Yotam Ottolenghi. I’m terribly fickle, I know. Julia Child will always be my BFF in the kitchen; the others will come and go of course.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tarte elevated a weekend breakfast to a whole new level.

For the finale of this episode, Mediterranean Lamb Meatballs with Braised Fennel. Another Ottolenghi creation; the braised fennel accented the dish beautifully and made it a most savory accompaniment to a rainy winter evening here in Appalachia.

Early on in Vienna we scoped out the grocery scene and were pleased to find that nearly all of our favorite products were within a bus or U-Bahn ride away. And here in the little hamlet of Knoxville I am so happy to write that my culinary cadre is equally accessible. The only problem is, I have to drive.