Challenge 1: Marmorgugelhupf

It’s 15:00, you’ve worked a long day in the office and have hit the slump of productivity. You stare at the clock wondering how only 3 hours have gone by since lunch when you ate the leftover pasta from last night’s dinner, regretting the choice given how sleepy you are now. You stand up, stretch, and meander into the office kitchen where you start a cappuccino from the machine. As you turn to find the sugar, you see… oh my… your coworker’s Gugelhupf! The little handwritten note in front says “for all,” at which point you’re already slicing through the perfect bundt-shaped cake with a knife and head back to your desk, ready to finish the last 2-3 hours of work.

While I’ve never worked a 9-5 office job while living in Vienna, a Gugelhupf is always standard procedure in any office kitchen in my mind. This mildly sweet, fluffy cake, pairs perfectly with a warm cup of coffee or cappuccino. The mixing and zig-zagging of two different batters, the chocolate and plain one, make it look like Marble, hence the name Marmorgugelhupf. The Gugelhupf is fairly simple, making it a great first challenge for the year, while also providing the sweet comfort of hometown smells and sights that I’ve been longing for.

I was surprised by how long it took me to finally attempt this challenge. With shifting work schedules, project deadlines, and you know, a pursuit of some social life, I’ve placed this on the back burner. When I was finally motivated enough, I’d search for recipes with ingredients that I simply don’t have here in the U.S. I was determined the make those here, but I realized that I didn’t have $20 to burn to purchase two vanilla beans that I could experimentally soak in sugar for 2 weeks in a sealed container (in an effort to make the in-Austria-readily-available “Vanille Zucker”). I settled on a slightly more Americanized version with vanilla extract. With all my concentration on the freaking vanilla, I forgot to purchase a key ingredient that this recipe did not use – rum. I like boozey baked goods and I unfortunately forgot to purchase and add it to the recipe.

I completed the challenge on a cloudy Sunday afternoon after talking to a high school friend on facetime (Hi Kedrick). I made some small mistakes in the process, like switching the chocolate and regular batter proportions, making an inverted marble (but is anyone actually complaining over more chocolate??) and the aforementioned omission of rum. Recipes usually take me a solid three times longer than expected, so from start to finish it was around 2.5 hours (I was also distracted by a friend’s phone call). As you can see in the pictures, it actually turned out looking really beautiful. While I didn’t have enough powdered sugar left to garnish on top, it still looks pretty good. I’m very satisfied with the results and so grateful that I decided to start with this one. Now that I know how to make it, I can avoid using the 8 bowls for mixing that I did and get it down to less than 1.5 hours. I am definitely making this recipe again.

Recipe link:

Playlist that I was listening to while baking: Donny Hathaway
Because in my mind, soul music from the 70s pairs perfectly with Austrian baking.


Introducing: Baking Challenge

Throughout the past couple months, I’ve been exploring what it actually means to take care of myself – physiologically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. It’s been quite challenging to practice mindfulness about how I spend my time and if that is generative and restorative. In this process of learning, I’ve also committed to investing time and resources into pursuing an interest I’ve had since childhood – baking.

Growing up in our apartment in the 14th district of Vienna, we lived across the street from a Felber Bäckerei. The smells of this bakery greeted me every morning on my walk to school and in the early hours of preparing to go to church on Sundays with the family. Breads, pastries, tarts, pretzels, cakes, tortes, and what seemed like an infinite expanse of freshly baked goods under the glass I often pressed my little elementary schooler face on, provided me with comfort. Even when made in large quantities, the bakers of Vienna never failed to prepare each item with masterful care. My experiences of baked goods mirrors my cultural experiences of growing up between two countries. I got equally excited when American friends would bring us bags of chocolate chips (which we didn’t have access to back then in Europe) and Mom would make a (large) batch of these reminders of our other home in the States. I would savor each time I got ahold of the ‘good’ kind of brownie mix and pretend to be a chef baker with a friends in front of our old video camera. All this to say – baked goods carry memory, culture, and narrative for me.

The act of baking is a chance to step away from a busy life and stay focused on one thing only – the magic of mixed ingredients, an oven, and anticipation of delight. In many ways, I also feel that my creative outlets have been limited lately. So like many people in this world, I decided to become a proficient amateur baker after watching some of The Great British Bake Off. I know, I know… I’m so predictable.

As this year is, once again, another year of moving and transitioning, I am excited to embark on a baking challenge that will help me stay rooted in the narrative I love so much. Much like in 2012 where I completed the 364 Photo Challenge, this will act as a constant to hold on to. Within the next 12 months I will attempt 12 recipes where I am required to make everything from scratch. No store bought dough, icing, etc. These recipes represent different parts of my life that I want to treasure and I will repeat the recipes until I feel that I have successfully made them. So here’s to good bakes and a year of transition!

  1. Marble Gugelhupf
    Best during the 3pm afternoon work break with a cappuccino.
  1. Buttermilk Biscuits
    Because store bought biscuits are stupid and I’m leaning into my Nashville roots here.
  1. Kaiserschmarn with Elderflower
    The old Vienna International Airport restaurant always had the best Schmarn and I don’t go a month without craving it.
  1. Victoria Sandwich
    To commemorate my visit to the UK last year and because TGBBO requires this bake every season.
  1. Biskuitroulade
    Many fond memories of post-church coffee hour with this refreshing apricot Swiss roll with powdered sugar that got all over my face.
  1. Sunflower Bread
    A cornerstone of my elementary school lunches – often topped with gouda cheese, salami, and peppers.
  1. Chai Tea Spice Cake
    In honor of my sister and the many Chai Teas we have had together.
  1. Krapfen
    Nothing quite like the anticipation of a box full of Krapfen and accidentally inhaling too much of the powdered sugar and choking. Very fitting for the month where we celebrate Fasching (Austrian Carnival).
  1. Vanille Kipferl
    Nothing screams (and smells) like Austrian Christmas as a bowl full of these goodies and Glühwein.
  1. Sachertorte
    Probably one of the most famous Viennese desserts – very dense with a layer of marmalade. Curious to see if I am up to the challenge.
  1. Brioche Striezel (Braids)
    Because 1) it’s beautiful and 2) sweet bread is a necessary part of my baking repertoire.
  1. Apfelstrudel mit Vanillesoße
    The mother of all difficult baking for me. I am extremely picky about how I like my Apfelstrudel, so attempting it with the ingredients here in the U.S. will challenge me to embrace risk taking.

I’d love to do this with some other folks. If you are interested, just send me a message and we can embark on this together!


inspiration // jailbreak

by Maya Spector

It’s time to break out —
Jailbreak time.
Time to punch our way out of
the dark winter prison.
Lilacs are doing it
in sudden explosions of soft purple,
And the jasmine vines, and ranunculus, too.
There is no jailer powerful enough
to hold Spring contained.
Let that be a lesson.
Stop holding back the blossoming!
Quit shutting eyes and gritting teeth,
curling fingers into fists, hunching shoulders.
Lose your determination to remain unchanged.
All the forces of nature
want you to open,
Their gentle nudge carries behind it
the force of a flash flood.
Why make a cell your home
when the door is unlocked
and the garden is waiting for you?

Choosing faithfulness over comfort in the immigration debate

For those of you that know me, you know that I don’t like drawing attention to myself. I also do not like talking about politics. However, in the last couple weeks my heart has been in mourning and I feel like now is the time to share my perspective.
I’m struggling to find the words to describe this moment in the picture at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna about a year ago. The lighting of the candle was a prayer and it was the only thing I knew I could do in that moment. Last January, I was wrapping up my time working in Vienna during the height of the mass refugee migration into Central Europe. Between September and December 2015, Austria (which for you Americans is about the same square mileage of the state of Maine) experienced around 600,000 refugees come through its borders in search of safety from the terror and trauma of their home countries and overcrowded refugee camps. During those months working with social services and churches, I bonded with a Syrian 6 year old over our common knowledge of SpongeBob SquarePants, held a weeping 30-something man who had lost his best friend in the Mediterranean Sea, attended my first (and probably only) Mexican-American/Iranian wedding, accompanied a 10 year old during his first day of school in a new country/language/culture, and was blessed by the generous hospitality of a small family crammed in a studio apartment who insisted on sharing their limited food supply (and black tea of course) with me after a long day. You see, when I hear the words “refugee” and “immigrant,” I see my friend’s faces, their stories of courage and resilience, and their hope for safety and opportunity. So with tears streaming down my face, I lit that candle in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, because I wanted to lift up all of that pain, resilience, and hope.
And so today, I am angry. Angry because the way in which people of power (read: current U.S. presidential administration) has manipulated the public about issues of immigration is by dehumanizing people and instilling fear. I’m fully aware of the complexities of immigration – it’s not easy or economically always efficient. But I’m also aware that as fellow human beings, and especially for people that claim the Christian faith like I do, we are called to faithfulness and not comfort (as a wise mentor reminded me this week). I’m angry, because I have friends who live in fear of having law enforcement break into their private homes at any moment and separate them from their families because we’ve decided to label them as “illegal,” though they have lived, worked, and paid taxes for longer than I’ve been alive. I am angry, because people who go through the most rigorous immigration vetting process are being denied opportunity and safety at the cost of their lives. I am angry, because there are private prisons that are making a profit on the detention and incarceration of immigrants and people of color, who are also paying and supporting national politicians. I am angry, because every time that I use my right to protest in the streets I am questioned and ridiculed by community members for being naïve, “brainwashed,” and ignorant of the “real American people” (and I have it easy compared to other folk). I am angry that the existence of my friends is politicized and fighting with them is a partisan issue. And finally (well, there’s a lot more, but for the sake of brevity…) I am most angry that there is so much silence from the majority of the Christian community and its members. Isn’t one of the most fundamental components and narratives of the Bible to take care of the foreigner, refugee, and sojourner (Mt. 25:35)? I will fight these executive orders, I will continue to pressure local government to be welcoming and loving, and I will continue to remind people of the human suffering and harm this administration is causing.
I am open to be in conversation with you about this, however I do ask that we converse over private message (and in person if possible!). No one appreciates discussion in the comments section where every word and phrasing is criticized – it doesn’t allow the space for honest dialogue. Again, I understand that these are complex issues and that I don’t understand all that goes into it economically and legislatively. As for me, however, I will keep organizing and protesting for the people I love and their God-given value. That moment of lighting the candle at St. Stephen’s reminds me of why faithfulness is worth pursuing over comfort. I hope that some of you will join me in this struggle for human dignity (I have lots of resources to share).
Nashville Resources (to stay updated and know how to get involved):
South Carolina Resources:
Update: Check out this article that describes how Trump’s orders are directly impacting minority Iranian refugees in Austria (some of which I worked with).
PS. Also, many people in my life ARE organizing and protesting, and while maybe not directly for immigrant/refugee rights, they are doing so for Black Lives, women, LGBTQ, Native rights, and the environment. Their work is just as important and this post is not meant to shame them for not being more involved in this segment of the struggle (no one can be involved with everything). ❤
**this was taken from a recent facebook note that I published and I wanted to share it on this platform too

“Diversity” Is A Problem

As someone actively involved in the arts world, I have questioned this problem of diversity without equity. I’ve personally seen arts administrators convince themselves they are doing “good” work for the community by just performing art, while holding on to imperialistic ideas and using valuable resources for “community outreach” (read: low-income communities of color). In a similar vein, how can artists start taking important steps in realizing their role in the gentrification, and ultimately dislocation process affecting so many lower-income communities in Nashville and beyond. Thank you Bitter Gertrude for reminding me of this problem in a community that I have some influence in. I hope it strikes a chord with many organizations.

Bitter Gertrude

In theatre and in academia, my two worlds, we talk a lot about “diversity.” In theatre, we talk about diversity in casting, we talk about diversity in programming, we talk about diversity in audiences. In academia, we talk about “attracting and retaining diverse students” and “the diversity of our faculty.” But there’s a massive elephant in the room that we continue to ignore.

Diversity is not enough.

Do not confuse “diversity” with “equity.” I have been in far too many situations where an organization hires a handful of people of color, plunks them into the lowest rung (either by title or by treatment) and then never thinks about them again. I have been in far too many situations where faculty believe they are “working to retain” students of color by designing classes with titles like “Keepin’ It Real: African American Performance,” taught by a fussy middle-aged musical theatre professor, instead…

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Repost: The Myth of the Lesser Evil

I vowed not to post anything about politics on my Facebook page, so I find this to be a good alternative. I am not going to say anything, because I wouldn’t have anything original to say. However, as an Austrian-American, and experiencing back-to-back elections in both countries, my mind has been thinking about the connections between the two. Specifically, the rise of the extreme-right. I found this to be the best article that I’ve read in this election season, especially as it does compare the two countries. It represents my thoughts and feelings really well. Please take a moment and read it, it’s not long.

Also, when I went to look for the author I found out it was written by a sibling of an old classmate of mine! :O

Why empathy isn’t enough

Several hours ago the Tennessee State Senate voted to pass SJR0467 (a 27-5 vote), a resolution to sue the federal government on accounts of not being consulted during the agreement to accept and resettle refugees in the United States on grounds of ‘state’s rights’. I will be up front and tell you that I am not here to argue for or against the balance of powers or the role of the federal government, and I will also say that I don’t believe the senators were actually arguing for those things either. While these politicians framed the American people as the potential victims of an ‘unjust federal government,’ the individuals fleeing from violence and persecution are truly the ones who are affected by this policy (please note: no refugee was given a formal platform to speak about their perspective during this session; they virtually erased that perspective from their decision-making).


After a call to action from the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition earlier last week, I joined 100 other community members today, including refugees who were resettled themselves, in a stand of solidarity. In particular, I was interested in joining because the American conversation around refugees has been so abstract and reliant on “slippery slope” rhetoric. I was intrigued to see how things were communicated in the legislative chamber (or as I accidentally called it today – The Chamber of Secrets… a Freudian slip I suppose). Having worked in Austria last semester as an assistant social worker, my understanding of the refugee crisis is highly personal and informed by my experiences and relationship from that time. I care, because I have friends that are refugees. I care, because their courage and perseverance to flee their homes speaks louder than any political games. And I care, because their presence is not a dilemma, but an opportunity to be engaged.

Throughout the session, several Republican senators stood up in support of the resolution repeatedly stating that Tennessee cares about refugees and that “this isn’t an anti-refugee bill.” What is it then? It certainly isn’t pro-refugee. You mean to tell me that if the federal government hadn’t made the executive decision to resettle refugees in Tennessee, the state legislators would so happily accept them? You really think the “Volunteer State” would volunteer? I’m sorry if I seem skeptical, but I’m not buying it. By blaming American politics they are sidestepping the issue at hand – the lives of millions of displaced people around the world. The empathy that our political leaders claim to have is not enough. I’m sad that the leaders of this state are satisfied with a shallow “this isn’t anti-refugee, therefore it is okay” rhetoric. It’s not enough to be empathetic. If you are truly impacted by the violence and circumstances of our fellow people, you will do something about it. Our empathy must turn into action. This is a lesson that I have had to learn and continue to learn as person of privilege.

Side note: For our political leaders who are people of the Christian faith. Do we really need to break it down why caring for the refugee is one of the most biblical things to do?

What happened today was xenophobia veiled in American political babble. It peaked its head very briefly with comments from leading individuals stating that “even if” Tennessee were to accept refugees, the vetting process is not trustworthy. Should safety be a concern? Absolutely. Should we let fear guide our decisions? No. (Also, please educate yourself on the American vetting process. It ain’t perfect, but it certainly isn’t as bad as these politicians have framed it to be). My goal with this post is not to make immigration into a black and white issue or to simplify something incredibly complex. But I am asking for Tennesseans to address the issue they are really dealing with – not the federal government, but xenophobia (the fear of the stranger).  Empathy simply isn’t enough when it is not paired with action. The process of systemically excluding ‘the other’ is like an automatic machine that functions independently. Stopping these mechanisms, however, takes intention and action. I ask of you, contact your representatives and let them know where you stand. Let your empathy be paired with action.