Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Things I like: Americas obsession with food

When I say America is obsessed with food I am not talking about burgers and fries and Coca Cola. I am talking about good, healthy, gourmet food.

I actually wrote a whole blog entry about it a few days ago but didn't publish it because I wasn't happy with the way I wrote it and then today I see this article from the New York Times. And they did a way better job at describing what is happening here in the US right now.

I have always believed there are two kinds of people in this world - people who love food and people who don't care much about food. Those people who love food are usually also into cooking or of they aren't into cooking they at least go to very good restaurants. People who love food are picky - not with the kind of food they eat but with the quality of food that they consume. 
People who don't care much about food think that a Big Mac makes a good dinner. They can eat the same food for two weeks in a row and not feel deprived. They don't see a need in trying new foods, new cuisines because they are quite happy with what they know.
I believe that wether you love food or not is 50% determined by your personality and 50% by your upbringing. I believe you can learn to love good food. There are also of course various stages of food love.

In my "research" (which consists of having lived with many different kinds of people) I found that people who like food and people who don't care about food come in all shapes and sizes. I did find that people who don't care about food are often very skinny or very big and that they are very often not healthy because they don't care about the nutrition they put in their body, they just want a quick fix and thus resort to ready meals and fast food.
People who love food most often are a normal weight, sometimes a few pounds overweight but usually still quite healthy. But of course - there is no "standard".

One sign of Americas obsession with food is the Food Network. This TV channel used to have a viewer-demographic of mostly 50-80 year olds. In the past two years this has changed drastically. Not only did they increase their ratings by 10% - just this past year - they now also appeal to younger people. Maybe it's just that they have insanely hot cooks like Giada de Laurentiis and David Lieberman but I have another theory. I think in an attempt to not get fat, a lot of food lovers deprive themselves of what they really would like to eat. Watching the food network is like window shopping for eating.

Chicago especially is a food mecca. You have Wisconsin close by - the Diary State - which produces wonderful cheeses (even though I still prefer French cheeses) and the German influence is definitely noticeable (I have never been to Wisconsin but I have had a lot of food made in Wisconsin).
One of the best restaurants in the US - Alinea - is in Chicago.
There are a few different food festivals in Chicago.
There is a Korea town, a China town, an Italian village, an Ukranian village, a German neighborhood, an Indian neighborhood ... 
And let's not forget about the farmers markets. 

Personally I really enjoy that. I am one of those people who love food and America's obsession with food has really pulled me in. I love that I have a fantastic German butcher close by. I am all over Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. I feel like the use of Kosher salt has seriously improved the quality of my food and making and freezing my home-made chicken stock has revolutionized my cooking.

When I first moved to America I wanted to try everything. I tried the processed foods like Hamburger Helpers and Rice-a-roni but I didn't like it. It also made me feel kind of ill. American ready-made food is stuffed with bad stuff like high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fat and MSG

It is really funny how split this nation is on the topic of food. On one side you have to check all the labels to see what you are eating and on the other hand you have a humongous selection of healthy, organic food, readily available and much cheaper than in Europe.
When New York announced a ban of trans-fat I saw people on the net complaining how this would eliminate all tasty food - this is how used to processed foods people have gotten. They can't imagine food being tasty without all those evil ingredients!

I for one hope for the food revolution described in the New York Times article. I want my future children to get healthy food in school. I want to be able to go to a non-organic supermarket and not having to carefully observe all the ingredients because I can't trust a label that says "all natural". I want more farmers markets and less genetically enhanced food.

And America seems to be with me on that one.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Spring has arrived in Chicago. 

Long anticipated warmth. The sheets of ice on Lake Michigan have finally yielded to the glistening rays of sunshine and ceased into the cold waters. The lakeshore beaches look so deliciously inviting that only reminding yourself of the consequences a jump would cause keeps you from immersing into the icy waters.  People are playing with their offspring in  the long neglected back yards. Beautiful bourgeoning trees adorn Lakeviews streets. Children are playing catch and basketball in the alleys. The lakeshore cycle/jogging path is crowded with Chicagoans soaking up the light, the warm air and the smell of the fresh, sweet water. 

A phenomenon I have always liked about Holland and that I now like about Chicago is how incredibly thankful people are for the warm, sunny days they receive. Of course there are many more sunny, warm days here than there are in Holland (thank god, otherwise I would be seriously disappointed) but we do have the grueling, hostile winters and of course Chicago is not called the "Windy City" for nothing. So when it got warmer and sunnier about a week ago everybody wanted to enjoy the weather. 

Remember the job I blogged about last time? Well, I didn't get that job - not surprisingly. But I did buy myself a bike and I did enjoy the weather, biking around Chicago. And this is why I have been absent from blogging for a while.

Whoever would have thought that getting a bike could change my outlook on life so much? I feel like I can go anywhere now. I know I could have just used public transport or drive if I finally bite the bullet and get my American drivers license but none of these ways of transportation give me the feeling that I get from biking. It makes me feel like nothing can stop me. It is kind of scary to cycle in the city I have to say and I am using a bike helmet for the first time in my life. And that - even though I learned how to cycle when I was three years old (and I should have really used a bike helmet then but it was the early 80s and people didn't use those then). I learned how to cycle this early for two reasons: My mother couldn't afford a car and even if she could, her eyes were too bad and they didn't allow her to get her drivers license (she was however allowed to ride a motorcycle. So did my grandma. I am the first woman in the family since the 1950s to not know how to ride a motorcycle but I am the first one to know how to drive a car). So when I was a kid in Vienna and my friends and their parents would drive down to Italy for the summer holidays or fly to the US to go to Disneyland my mom and I would stay in Vienna and instead take bike tours to Schloss Laxenburg or the Old Danube.
Maybe this is why cycling makes me feel so good today. Maybe I associate it with holidays and family time.

The weather hasn't been as good today. But I know it will get better again eventually. I know that I can expect a hot summer, maybe too hot for my liking. But that's ok. Because how can one not be excited about what is about to come - picnics in the park, outdoor concerts, outdoor food festivals, swimming in the lake, ... 

I often hear people say that Chicago has those harsh winters to keep too many people from moving here because if it would always be as lovely as it is here in late spring, summer and fall, the city would be as expensive to live in as San Francisco. 
And I can believe that.

I am pretty exited about a few things apart from the weather right now - first - one of my best friends ever is coming to visit me this Thursday - unfortunately only for a few days but I am looking forward to showing her all the Austrian and German places (she is Austrian too) and maybe even get her to fall in love with Chicago (and maybe get her to move here!).
And Saturday in a week we are going on holidays! We are driving down to Memphis and staying there for two days and then move on to New Orleans - which is where all of E's family is from. We get to stay in a fancy apartment of E's uncle in the slave quarters (doesn't that sound incredibly inviting?) which I think is in the French Quarter if I got that right. There will be a lot of family bonding time (my in-laws, my sister and brother in law and their baby are also coming down from Ohio - so I get to see my nephew again), Beignet eating (in which I will gladly participate) and seafood munching (from which I will refrain since I don't eat seafood).
Since I am kind of into the paranormal a little bit, I also want to take a ghost tour or at least see the Delphine LaLauries house. I am also interested in checking out a voodoo shop. So I am pretty excited about that! And it should be very warm there too since it is very far south.

So wherever you are - enjoy spring and if I have time - I will post live from New Orleans!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Sound of Silence - Warning! May contain whineyness

My life has been on a bit of an emotional roller coaster these past two weeks.

It all started with my cold. I don't know if that's just me but I always get more emotional when I am ill. I spontaneously start crying at that diaper commercial (and at the life insurance commercial. I love old people). Seeing my cats being affectionate with each other gives me goose bumps and watching a re-run of "The Bachelor" on TV makes me want to throw my water bottle at the TV set (but a lot of women in America feel this way about the bachelor right now).

Being in this fragile mental state, still no luck with the job search, missing my gals and boys back in NL (and Florida and LA and Barcelona and Austria) more than ever - it's been a tough time.

On top of that there has been this whole internal struggle going on inside my head since moving to Chicago. I have been wanting to be a photographer for a long time. I am not saying it's the only job I would enjoy but it is one of those few things I feel like I never get bored of doing. But Chicago is a financial center. What I always really, really wanted to be was a magazine photographer. I also feel that's what I am best at - portrait photography. I was thinking about becoming a wedding photographer but the working hours are horrible. You work weekends and evenings and pretty much all summer but get almost no work in the winter. Taking a holiday in the summer would mean a considerable lack of income but that would mean I would be confined to visit Europe in the winter - something I don't really want to do. On top of that - having a husband who has a day job - when would we see each other? Right now I am NOT working and I feel like I don't see him enough.

And on top of all of that - so many people want to be photographers and there are so many great photographers out there who didn't make it. How could I be successful when I am just now studying it and at the end of my studies I won't even get a fancy title like Bachelor of Arts or anything like that.

Anyway, realizing that my chances of becoming a photographer are very slim here I started thinking about alternatives. Maybe studying web design? Or Fashion merchandise? I am sure there ARE jobs out there I would enjoy.

Two weeks ago I was basically at a point were I had given up my dream of becoming a photographer completely. 

And then I saw these Annie Leibowitz for Vanity Fair photos online. To be honest it first caught my attention because Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen are in it and I love those two. But seeing these pictures reminded me of why I wanted to become a photographer. I thought to myself "Why am I not pursuing this? How could I ever just give up without even having given it ONE SHOT? THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO DO!".
It was almost a magical moment. I was still on Dayquil on that day so that might have had something to do with my euphoria but it did change something in me.

The same day I went on Craigslist - my preferred place for job searches. But when going through the job section instead of clicking on "admin/office" I clicked on "art / media / design". And there was a job ad for a photography job. It was for a beginner photographer and a chance to grow and be trained to be a certified photographer. And they didn't even ask for money (like so many of those ads do)! The ad was 4 days old and I was sure that the job was gone. The Chicago job market right now is like the Amsterdam housing market when I first moved to Holland. Anything that looks remotely ok will be gone within hours of being posted. Sometimes even before it gets posted.

I sent my application anyway. I got an email back the next morning - the job is still available and could I send some online samples of my work. In a frenzy I went and put a bunch of my pictures on Flickr and scanned in another whole bunch which I didn't have on the computer. This is how I created an online portfolio. I sent the link to the lady who I would find out was the manager of a baby photography studio and a professional photographer herself. This company is a business that specializes in taking pictures of new born babies in the hospital. You know, the ones that are being sent out to all the friends and family. 
Five minutes after I sent her the link she sent an email back telling me she wants to meet.
I had an interview with her the next day and she told me that I was one of hundredths of applicants - only 10 had made it to the interview. 

Now, I don't want to give you wrong hope here. The fact is that I had my interview on Thursday - she said she would get back to me on the weekend and I have not heard back from her. At this point I am actually pretty sure that I didn't get the job. The adrenaline from having my first job interview in the US and having it be for a job I actually really want has worn off and I can now see how she rushed me through the interview and didn't really ask all that many questions about me. This indicates to me that she wasn't convinced. 

A year ago at this time I was the one to interview people who wanted to work for ME. I know how it is. I know that if you want somebody to work for you, you'll ask them a lot of questions but if you decide that this person doesn't stand a chance than you will try and get over and done with as soon as possible.

Another indicator for me not getting this job is that the training is supposed to start tomorrow. If she really would want me she would have contacted me already. 

The weather is bad and I am feeling down in general but I am at peace with probably not getting this job. It was pretty amazing to be invited for an interview and being told that I do have some talent by a professional photographer. It also forced me to get some kind of online portfolio up. And looking at similar jobs made me see that I would profit enormously from taking classes in Photoshop. There are a whole lot of jobs out there for people who know how to use Photoshop well. 

So my plan is now - try and stay in a field you like to work in. That doesn't mean I will completely pass up the admin jobs but I will also not cut out the artsy jobs (or the artsy admin jobs), focus more on my photography studies and go take Photoshop classes and become a Photoshop bad ass.

If anybody is interested in seeing my online "portfolio", let me know and I will send it to you by email.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How to become famous as an Austrian in America

If you ask an American to come up with three Austrians, there is a good chance that this is what they will come up with:


Arnold Schwarzenegger 
Governor of California, actor, fitness advocate, Terminator


Wolfgang Puck 
Famous cook, entrepreneur, caterer to the stars


Josef Fritzl
Kidnapper, rapist, pedophile

It's funny. We had Mozart, we had Freud, we even had The Sound of Music but it doesn't matter. Because there was some horrible guy in Austria who did a horrible thing and that's all that matters now.

Even though I always felt more European than I felt Austrian I was still proud to be from a country with a history of Art and Music and exceptional Architecture, a country with a landscape so beautiful that people from all over the world visit to experience it. 

Before we moved here E and I were trying to guess what I would be asked upon meeting new people. He guessed that people would ask me really stupid questions like "So, Austria, which country is that in?" or "So you speak French there?". I have been asked those questions before but not just from Americans but also from Europeans and Australians. In general I give people more credit than that though. I think especially people living in big cities like Chicago are usually more worldly and educated than that and I am glad to say that I was mostly right. 

I often try to avoid the topic, not even mentioning that I am Austrian. But I have an accent that I will most definitely never get rid of completely (and I am fine with that) but that people can't place immediately. When I talk to somebody for a while and it eventually comes out that I lived in the Netherlands for a while I can almost hear a sigh of relief "Ah, so you are Dutch!" (the funny thing is that they react the same way to E, after 5 years with me they can't place his accent either). There are times when I just leave it at that. If it's somebody that I know I will never see again, I might as well leave them in the believe that they guessed where I was from all along. But if I am going to keep on talking to them I will tell them that I am originally from Austria. And recently the reaction to this confession was often "So what do you think about the Fritzl case?".
Well, what DO I think about the Fritzl case? What do you think? E suggested I should say "Yep, that happens all the time in Austria. Happened to me ...".

And funny that people should ask me that here, in the mid-west of the United States, a place where some of the most vicious serial killers of our time are from - Gacey, Dahmer, Gein, ...

Five years ago I bet the first questions I would have been asked would have been "So what do you think about Haider?" and ten years before that it would have been "So Hitler was Austrian, huh?".

I wonder if my country will ever recover from it's crimes. Even Germany gets more credit than the Second World War. When talking about Germany Americans mention beer, food, how nice the Germans they met were and that the Germans make good cars and good products in general. 

When talking about Schwarzenegger, the accent and his heritage are long forgotten. He married a Kennedy and is now as American as one could be. Wolfang Puck is so americanized that I had to google him to find out if he really WAS Austrian - I could hear it from his accent and Wolfgang is one of the most Austrian names ever but it was never mentioned that he is in fact Austrian. He also does not serve Austrian cuisine in his restaurants.

Maybe the secret to being a successful Austrian in America is to try and forget where you come from.

Sorry for being M.I.A recently. I have been pretty sick with a bad cold. I am starting to get better now but am still on DayQuil and NyQuil.