Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Cookies

Honestly, the title of the post should really be Christmas cookie, as in, I only successfully made one type of cookie this year.  The ingredients for Niek's favorite holiday biscotti are still in the cupboard, and I've set a goal of getting them finished before Valentine's Day.  If I'm lucky, I just might make that deadline.

Although it wasn't a full-out baking marathon (those days may not happen in this house until Johanna is a bit older), I did get to introduce my sister-in-law to the pure joy of making Christmas cookies.  I'm not sure what she knew she was getting herself in for when she accepted my invitation to come over and bake.  I made her pour through my back issues of Bon Appetit and Martha Stewart Living while I simultaneously perused's list of "must bake" cookies.  In the end, we settled on the yet-to-be-made biscotti, a chocolate thumbprint cookie, and some Corn Flakes wreaths

My sister-in-law was really fascinated by the picture of the wreaths, which is why we chose them.  Just a heads up in case you are planning on buying food coloring in the Netherlands--it's not easy.  The stock room manager at my local supermarket told me they don't sell it anymore because artificial coloring isn't healthy.  Seriously, that is what he told me as he stood in the grocery aisle full of candy.  I suppose it was as good of a reason as any he could come up with on the spot.  On the walk back home, feeling a little defeated about having not green food coloring, we dropped into the Indian market just on the off chance they might carry the scourge known as a combination of water, propylene glycol, Blue #1 and Yellow #5.  I'm not quite sure what the ingredients were, but he sold us a powdered form for €1.  Nothing much to lose there.  Unfortunately, it did not color the Corn Flakes well.  At least we got to have some fun with "American" marshmallows, even if the marshmallow mixture did not hold everything together well.  I gave up in the end and just made a big, Corn Flakes colored wreath.  Our efforts ended up in the trash later that evening, but it was festive while it lasted.

Our other attempt at Holiday baking seemed to come together at little better than the other one.  Surely, it's almost impossible to go wrong with chocolate on chocolate.  My sister-in-law apparently has never really baked before, but she did a great job.  I am also, admittedly, a little difficult to work with in the kitchen, and I was proud of myself for not letting my over-bearing and controlling tendencies get the best of me.  I made the ganache while she rolled out the dough.  Lovely, easy cookies that everyone seemed to love.
Once the cookies were finished, Niek and his brother finished decorating our tree.  Without my brother-in-law and sister-in-law we wouldn't have any cookies, and I'm pretty sure our tree would still be bare.  Nothing like Christmas and baking to bring a family together.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I just got Baked!

My parents are flying in at the end of the week, but they sent a box of gifts ahead in the mail.  The problem with a reading family is that most people ask for books as presents, and those tend to set suitcases over their weight restrictions rather quickly.  None of the books were wrapped yet, and I saw that one of the cookbooks I requested was in the box:  Baked New Frontiers in Baking.  OMG (am I allowed to write that?  Maybe I should also write that I luv it and think it's gr8).  So excited to try out some new recipes--after this coming Thursday's Christmas cookie extravaganza, of course.
Until I'm ready for a kitchen post, here is a picture of le bebe after our walk today.  I've been afraid to walk with her in the wrap, but our strolls have been cut to a minimum due to a certain miss cranky pants not loving extended periods in the stroller.  Luckily, my friend sent her a slightly too large pair of fleece pants.  Perfect as an outer layer during our chilly jaunts outdoors.
Bring on the cold, North Sea.  My baby's ready for it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving abroad

Unlike in America, I did not get to celebrate Thanksgiving last Thursday.  In some ways I wish the American cultural imperialism that Europeans are so fond of disdaining would also apply to Thanksgiving.  Who wouldn't want to celebrate such a glorious holiday?  Maybe it's because they don't like to watch (real) football here.  Turkey and family with a side of Packers/Lions is a nice way to spend a cold, Thursday afternoon.  Our big gathering was Saturday instead, and it turned out pretty well.  Preparation only involved one trip to the American store this year.  Buying canned pumpkin cut down the time it took to make a pie by at least half, thank goodness.  Have you ever tried baking two pies with a ten week old?  Try explaining to a baby that no, mom can't pick you up right now or she'll overcook the eggs for the custard filling.  It did not go over well.  But we both survived and got some pretty good pies out of it, too. 

Despite assurances from the poelier that there would be a turkey ready on Thursday for pick-up, my father-in-law was sadly informed that some other person had bought his reserved turkey earlier in the day.  Confusing to all involved, unless there is some other Dutch guy with the same name wishing to have Thanksgiving at the exact same time.  Instead of twelve pounds of turkey, we ended up with a 15 1/2 lb. turkey (the only one the poulterer could arrange on such short notice).  I'm not opposed to a bigger bird, really I'm not, it's just that they don't fit in the oven.  The one we got fit, but just barely.  And I mean that--the breast roasted about half an inch from the top of the oven's heating element.  I'm shocked the white meat didn't turn into a dried out, jerky-like disaster.  I supposed I have tin foil, a little bit of luck, and plenty of butter to thank that it was a success. 

And thanks to the mysterious stranger, who bought our turkey, we had plenty of leftovers for the next day (and the next, and a carcass for soup too!).  Niek wanted to know the proper protocol for making a sandwich for lunch.  I'm not one  to smush all the side dishes between two pieces of bread.  Just give me a little meat with some good mayo and I'll call it a day.  Lets all praise the deliciousness of Dutch mayo.  So good!  Do you see Niek diving into the mayo jar?  Yeah, just as it should be.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I can't believe it's almost December.  Did someone say cookie recipes?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why I sometimes miss Target...

Step 1: Bundle up baby.  In the process, cause baby to start screaming.  Unbundle baby and calm her down.  Re-bundle baby and put her in the stroller.  Hear baby start crying.  Respond wryly, "Sorry, baby.  It's time to stop living like shut-ins and go get these errands done."

Step 2: Walk to tram stop.  Pick up stroller with baby in it and walk up a flight of stairs to the platform.  Ride in tram for fifteen minutes.

Step 3: Walk to the "green" supermarket that sells the dishwashing liquid I like.

Step 4: Walk to my favorite coffee place.  Realize I have to walk five minutes out of my way, because I can't get to the coffee place that is literally across the street from where I'm standing due to construction on the tram tracks.

Step 5: Drink coffee and eat almond paste-filled cookie.  Decide the five minute detour was well worth it.

Step 6: Walk ten minutes to another grocery store to get carrots for dinner recipe.  Sing the praises of Dutch design as my small stroller fits between parked cars on the incredibly narrow sidewalks.  Curse the Dutch for having such uneven and narrow sidewalks

Step 7: Walk five more minutes to the drugstore to buy toothpaste and shower gel.

Step 8: Five more minutes of walking (ugh I'm so tired) to the HEMA (kind of like Target but sooo much smaller, and they only sell their own brand of goods) for a baby brush and hand soap.  Wait in line while baby starts screaming.  Look apologetic while feeling annoyed that the lines are so long.

Step 9: Walk to tram stop and ride in it for ten minutes.

Step 10: Hoist stroller with baby and various bags of life's necessities down the flight of stairs.  Wonder how people with mobility issues ever get anywhere.

Step 11: Arrive home.  Unbundle pissed off baby.  Crash on couch.  Fantasize about hiring live-in help.  Realize that is not an option.  Feel triumphant about getting out of the house and completing all errands.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Easy Chocolate

I fear that too often this blog becomes just a long litany of the things I find wrong with the Netherlands.  It's true that I do tend to write when I'm upset about something.  Take yesterday, when I came home crying after three teenagers laughed at me.  I was walking behind them on my way home from the store when one of the girls tossed her empty energy drink can into the bushes.  (What is it with those energy drinks?)  I'd like to think that most people would say something when confronted with such a blatant act of littering, and I did.  Maybe my Dutch sounded terrible, or maybe they were just assholes.  Either way, they looked at me laughed in my face and just kept walking.  I did tell them in English that they were assholes as I walked past them, and I'm not sure they understood me.  I'm not sure why I let three teenagers get under my skin, but I cried about it off and on for a good hour.

It was nothing that a bout of baking couldn't fix, which is the reason I found myself going to the store in the first place.  My brother-in-law and his girlfriend were coming to dinner, and it was high time for me to get back into the kitchen and dust off those baking skills of mine.  I picked a nice and easy chocolate cake for our mid-week meal, one that didn't even involve melting chocolate.  The recipe didn't even need a mixer, just two bowls and a box of really good cocoa powder.  In the world of chocolate, I know the Belgians get top billing, but when you think of cocoa, you really have to go to the Dutch--all because of that famous "Dutch process" some inventive nineteenth century Dutchman came up with.  I took Niek at his word a few years ago when he told me the Dutch were the largest exporters of cocoa in the world.  Apparently, the Dutch really are that important when it comes to moving cocoa all over the world (with 25 percent of the world market), although I hope they thank their growers in West Africa.  (If you're bored, you can check out this study done on the demand for Nigerian cocoa in the Dutch market.  So many Dutch companies tied up in the economic developments of that country.)  This is all to say that it's easy to find good cocoa here, easier even than in the States.  Also, I love the packaging.  Check out the sweet looking nurse on the front of the Droste box:
Full disclosure: I ended up using the last of the fancy cocoa from Fassbender & Rausch, which is not Dutch process cocoa.  It felt so great to make a cake again.  It was an easy three layer cake, and I think prepping the cake tins took longer than mixing the batter.
My assistant was less than helpful.
The baking time should have been twenty-five minutes, but it ended up taking three times that long thanks to my tiny oven.  It really is a pain to bake only one layer at a time.  I should be grateful that we have an oven, since landlord's aren't required to provide one.  I think it turned out well in the end.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gobble, gobble

Two years ago I didn't make any plans to celebrate Thanksgiving.  I didn't think it would bother me, and I didn't think it was possible to find a turkey here.  I was completely wrong on both counts.

Last year thinking that I had prepared enough in advance, I ordered a 10 lb. turkey from a butcher at the Albert Cuyp Market three weeks before the big day.  The day I went to pick it up, I had my choice between two birds: a 7 lb. turkey or a 17 lb. turkey.  What oven in the Netherlands is big enough to fit a 17 lb. turkey, I would like to know.  So there I was, two days before our meal, stuck with the scrawny one.  That butcher will never get my business again.  The meal was a success, but there were no leftovers for sandwiches, which everyone knows is the best part.

This year, my father-in-law and I started making provisional plans in August.  Yes, in August.  He buys his chickens from a fabulous butcher, who specializes in poultry and wild game.  The word in Dutch for such a butcher is a poelier.  According to my dictionary, it's called a poulterer in English, but I'll admit that I've never used that word before.  Before moving here, I never had the need to go to a butcher to buy a turkey, although I sometimes bought chicken from my "chicken lady" at the farmer's market.  I guess I should have called her my poulterer.  Anyway, my father-in-law's poelier assured him that she could get us a good bird, guaranteed to be the right size.  Here I am, then, three weeks away from our big feast, making my shopping list and remaining calm as the "to do" list for the day keeps growing.  Yea for Thanksgiving plans!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Transportation irritation

Not too long ago I realized that I have been driving a car for more than half of my life.  As a girl growing up in the boonies of the rural Midwest, getting a driver's license was a pivotal moment.  I can imagine teenagers living in densely populated urban centers also feel a great sense of accomplishment when they pass the driving test--a milestone moment in American culture to be sure--but it's so much more than a rite of passage when you live in a sea of cornfields.  It means that you finally have the freedom to get out of those cornfields.  I don't live in rural America anymore (or Los Angeles for that matter), and my need for a car has been drastically reduced.  In fact, I'm not legally allowed to drive a car here.  The Dutch government has deemed that my American driver's license is not transferable, and I'd have to go through a rather expensive process to get a Dutch license, so I just don't drive our car.  This has never been an issue for me, because I absolutely love my bicycle.  Correction, it never was an issue for me until I had a baby and could no longer hop on my bicycle to run errands or basically go anywhere.

Funny thing about babies, you can't leave them at home even just for a quick trip to the store.  Also, newborn babies can't ride their own bicycles.  This leaves me with three options for getting around: walk and carry her, walk and push her in a stroller, take the tram.  I utilize all three of these options, although walking takes a long time.  Public transportation in Amsterdam is pretty good, and I can get just about anywhere, but it still takes longer than riding a bicycle and something about the hustle and bustle of it all exhausts me.  Last week I needed to go to the store to get cabbage for a recipe.  It was a lovely fall day, and I enjoyed the walk to the grocer, but the whole process took about an hour.  I could have accomplished the same task on my bike in about fifteen minutes.  I am happy I got out of the house and got to enjoy all of this, even if it felt like it took forever to run a simple errand:

Super cute baby, just hanging out in the stroller.

The park I have to walk through to get to the store.
Enjoying some nice color on the trees.
I couldn't help but think about how much longer everything takes, not just because of the baby, but also because I have no car and I now essentially have no bike.  It makes me feel a little cut off from the world.  Going somewhere requires so much more time and effort now that my transportation choices have been reduced.  Granted, it's still pretty easy to get around, so I am not really isolated.  I can't begin to imagine how I would feel if I were living near my parents in rural Indiana without a car.  I don't even know how I would get to the store.  Here I'm just annoyed that I can't easily bike to my favorite coffee place to get some work done (not that I'm getting a lot of work done with a baby).  Now that Johanna is getting a little bigger we take her along in the car for our big weekend grocery shopping trips.  For the first month, Niek did the weekly shopping by himself, leaving me at home with the baby.  Talk about feeling left out.  Until Johanna is old enough to sit in a bike seat, I'll be taking it slow.  Perhaps it's good that I have to walk everywhere since I can't leave a little baby at home alone to go for my runs.  Once she has good enough head control, watch out.  We'll be whizzing by on our sweet, two-wheeled ride.  Maybe something like this fancy, blue number I saw on my walk.

Happy Halloween, everyone!  Enjoy the costumes and candy!  No costumes in the Netherlands but here is a picture of me and Johanna hanging out in our cloud pjs, which are kind of like costumes, right?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Comfort Food

Now that the weather has turned the corner and has decidedly committed to a fall forecast, we've shifted our menu to one better suited for sweaters and early evenings.  Something about those first crisp days just makes me want to get my soup pot out and warm up the oven.  In general, fall foods are just a bit more comforting--probably because they employ the use of a lot more butter and heavier meats.  Unfortunately, we've had other reasons to need a little comfort food around here lately.  Our wonderful dog was rushed to the vet a week and a half ago, and after undergoing a battery of tests we learned that his kidneys were not operating well.  Despite the grim news and an overnight stay at the vet, he returned home much happier and more vital.  We were told that he could live many years with his condition, but it was not to be.  He died very suddenly on Monday.  I didn't know it was possible to feel so heartbroken, and Niek and I have had a very difficult week.  We're sad that he's gone, and we're especially sad that our daughter will never get to know him.

Newborns, I have learned, leave very little time to wallow in grief; diapers still need to be changed and hungry babies wait for no man.  For all the seemingly mundane tasks of early motherhood I am grateful.  Even with a little one capitalizing on all my waking hours, I felt compelled to take the time to make at least a little food to make us feel better.  That is why I forced my tired self into the kitchen yesterday to put on a huge pot of chili.  Even more importantly for me, I found the time to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  While a good friend of mine sat on the couch holding my baby, I stood in the kitchen baking cookies with my imported supply of baking supplies.  It all felt so wonderfully calm and normal to make such an easy recipe even if I also felt rundown and sleep-deprived.

Making recipes from my childhood did make me wonder what the Dutch consider comfort food.  The day we took Dantes to the vet, my father-in-law came over and made stewed rabbit with egg noodles.  I would put that in the category of comfort food (definitely amazing food) but I wouldn't call the recipe typically Dutch.  I asked Niek about this last night, and he couldn't come up with a single dish.  I thought it might be something like stampot, the dish of mashed potatoes with kale and smoked sausage.  Maybe a nice apple pie?  Whatever the Dutch comfort foods might be, I'm not sure I will ever turn to them in a time of crisis no matter how long I live here.  When I have an emotional emergency, I'm pretty sure I'll always turn to the foods of my youth.  I'm surprised I didn't make a casserole.  If they sold condensed cream of mushroom soup here, I probably would have.  If there were to be a cornerstone ingredient for American comfort food, I do believe that would be it.

While we miss our sweet pup, our lives continue to be very full and busy.  I am grateful for all the good things in my life, and I'm grateful for my kitchen when I need a little cheering up.  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Suriname in Amsterdam

This is the very last thing I ate before I went into labor and had a baby:

I'm afraid the picture does not do this meal justice.  In fact, the picture makes it seem a little unappetizing.  Believe me, however, when I say that this is probably one of the most delicious take-away dishes I've ever had in my life.  It's called Roti Kip, and it's a Surinamese specialty.  "What the hell is Surinamese food?" you might be asking yourself.  To be honest, that's what I wondered the first time a friend of mine served up a delicious helping of chicken, potatoes, green beans, and warm potato pancakes.  I wish I could answer in detail what Surinamese cuisine is like, but my knowledge is mostly limited to what you see in the picture above.  However, I always appreciate seeing some good flavors of the Caribbean foisted onto the traditionally bland food of the Low Countries.

I love Roti Kip, and during the latter part of my pregnancy we ate it fairly often.  That's saying a lot for people who never go out to eat.  There's just something so amazingly comforting and filling about this dish--probably the breaded and deep fried goodness of the food.  My concept of modern Dutch cuisine has changed so much in the last three years.  Mostly I see, at least in the urban centers, that there are vibrant infusions of flavors from other parts of the world.  It actually took me quite a while to notice that there is a market for all those different flavors, even in "mainstream" Dutch food.  That is something to be celebrated in a way, although it's accompanied for me with a wave of guilt about European colonialism, which is strange because I'm not even Dutch.  Why should I feel guilty about Dutch colonialism?  Maybe it's because I don't think the Dutch public feels very guilty about it, so I feel like I should apologize on behalf of others.  It reminds me of the time I took a post-colonial historiography class, and I was the only Europeanist in the room.  When I walked into that seminar every week, I felt like I should profusely apologize for even wanting to study European history.  Obviously, I shouldn't have to apologize for studying Europe, but there's only so much talk about "the other" and dominance a girl can take before she wears down a bit.  Regardless, I can come to terms with it enough to enjoy ordering a serving of chicken for dinner.  And why should I not?  It's absolutely delicious.

When I return to a less zombie-like state--someone please tell me that will happen sooner or later--I will actually start to cook again for pleasure instead of purely for survival.  I may even try to make my own Roti Kip.  I just stumbled on a recipe for it on this blog.  Her photography is so beautiful.  I feel like I could make anything if the step-by-step instructions were always that gorgeous. 

And, obviously, I will leave you with a pic of an adorable baby.  She's so cute!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Biscuits with Little Mice

One of my followers sent me an e-mail yesterday to ask where I've been (Hi, Steve!).  I've been meaning to put up a post for the last two weeks, ever since we got back from our vacation in California.  Two Friday nights ago in the throes of some horrible jet lag, I even made a list of posts I was going to write for the rest of September.  I felt great (despite my sleep-deprived state) and couldn't wait to get started during the weekend.  Everything was coming together: we'd just had a wonderful vacation, Niek's family was coming over the next day to help us move furniture and get the baby room together, I was almost done with a good draft of a chapter for my advisor...and then this happened...

Our daughter, Johanna, decided to make her appearance four weeks early and only two days after coming back from our vacation, I might add.  She didn't come when we expected, and almost nothing about her birth or the subsequent days thereafter has gone according to our "plan," but we are truly over the moon about our little girl.

We ended up in the hospital for the birth instead of home like we had planned, but the hospital staff made sure that we had the obligatory post-birth food: beschuit met muisjes (translated as rusk with little mice).  Rusk is a type of rebaked bread and the muisjes are anise seeds dipped in a candy shell.  The muisjes are held on the bread with a bit of butter.  They're served because, apparently, anise is good for milk production.  I did point out that beer was also traditionally believed to be good for breastmilk, and my midwife responded by saying that I could have one if I wanted.  I passed for the time being.
So now we're home and adjusting to life as a family of three (plus the dog, don't forget the dog).  We have beschuit met muisjes on hand for all of our visitors.  Time to get some of those other blog posts up, although they might have to wait a little longer.  Apparently having a newborn baby is kind of exhausting.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Baby Beer

About two weeks ago Niek and I took a trip to the baby mega-store, known here as Prénatal.  I imagine it's probably something like the American behemoth, Babies"R"Us, except on a much smaller scale.  We had yet to visit the place, and we only went for one thing: the free box of crap they give you.  If you sign up and agree to have annoying e-mails sent to your inbox, probably for the rest of your kid's life, Prénatal will send you a voucher for "The Happy Box."  I didn't really think much of the name, until Niek informed me that "box" can also be used as a euphemism for female genitalia in Dutch.  Got to love the marketing genius who came up with the free giveaway.  So, we made our way to to the superstore cracking jokes about my happy box along the way.

We didn't buy anything, and we spent very little time looking around.  I just wanted my free stuff.  Lots of standard things in the package: coupons for things I didn't need, advertisements for things I didn't want, a few newborn diapers, a pacifier, blah, blah, blah.  But then, at the bottom, I spotted something pretty amazing.  Among the ruins of ads for shampoo and formula were two miniature cans of this:

That's right.  I got two cans of alcohol-free beer in my free box of baby stuff.  And not just any beer, witbier.  It almost tastes like actual beer, but it doesn't quite cut it.  I'm not going to complain, though.  I never would have thought that I would be getting beer, even the non-alcohol kind, in a box intended for pregnant ladies.  Do you think they would put something like this in a giveaway for pregnant women in America?  I'm going to say no, but it's a great idea.  What a great market for this product.  It really made my trip to the superstore worth it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hamburger Haven

For the past few months, the barrista at our café downstairs has been asking me every time I come in how I am feeling and if I am having any strong pregnancy cravings.  I understand why she asks me how I'm doing; I complain constantly about my sloth-like activity levels these days.  It's the question about the cravings that has me a little confused.  Isn't that stuff all a myth, the pickles and ice cream stuff? Actually, here the it's not pickles and ice cream, it's herring and whipped cream.  Whatever turn of phrase you'd like to use for pregnant women's eating habits, I hadn't noticed any significant changes in my food cravings...until a few weeks ago when I couldn't stop thinking about meat.  It's seriously become an almost out of control issue for me.  My sensible dinner menus based heavily around grains and vegetables have given way to crazy last-minute trips to the grocery store for a steak, simply because the thought of eating whole-wheat pasta suddenly becomes abhorrent to me.  I've made all my best recipes involving black beans or lentils, but even that hasn't helped.  There are days I feel like Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby when she tears into her steak prepared bleu while creepy music plays in the background.  It's been like that around here, except that my steak isn't raw, we don't play music with screeching violins on our stereo, and as far as I know the fetus doesn't share any DNA with the devil.   

All of this to say in my very roundabout way that on Friday evening during our run, I turned to Niek and said I really felt like a hamburger.  Actually, maybe he suggested it first, but I definitely thought that a hamburger was a great idea.  Problem: Dutch people do not appreciate good burgers or know how to make them.  Since there is no Hamburger Habit equivalent anywhere nearby, Niek and I decided to make burgers at home...without a grill...seriously, without a grill.

Armed with my trusty Cook's Illustrated America's Best Recipes (which is looking pretty well-used these days), I tried to do this institution of American cooking justice.  CI offers pages and pages of commentary on creating the best grilled burgers and throws in a recipe for cooking burgers in a pan for the "high-rise dwellers" at the end of the section, but you can feel the pity oozing from the page.  Yes, poor me and the regulations that don't permit an open flame on my balcony.  Also, grills here are expensive!

My favorite part of the evening came when Niek and I were standing in the supermarket.  He picked up the pre-made burgers, and I balked at the price.  Why should I pay more per kilo for meat cut with filler when I can make a patty myself in about thirty seconds?  Salt, pepper, shape patty and you are finished.  I think it never occurred to him to make his own.  As far as I can tell, it doesn't occur to most Dutch people to make their own burgers.  I've been to a few backyard barbecues here, and I've only ever seen the pre-packaged patties.

After seven minutes in my fabulous cast iron pan (3 1/2 minutes per side as per the CI directions), we set to work making our double cheeseburgers.  No hamburger buns here, but the ciabatta rolls from the store were a decent substitute.  We may have gone a little crazy stacking them:
According to Heston Blumenthal, crazy British chef that he is, hamburgers shouldn't be more than two fingers high.  As you can see, we failed that test by a rather large margin.  Still, it satisfied my craving for a hamburger.  We watched Heston Blumenthals' In Search of Perfection hamburger episode and laughed at his hoity-toity burger.  Um, if I were going to use American cheese slices, I wouldn't make them myself with a pound of comté and a bottle of expensive wine.  This is the Netherlands, so we opted for the simple solution of Gouda.  It was a good burger.  I'm afraid we're going to be eating them a little more often in the coming weeks. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

I never had this problem in L.A...

Probably because I never rode my bike anywhere.  I attended a lecture a few weeks ago in the center of the city, and when I went to go unlock my bike, I was greeted by this.
At least I can be grateful that I have a cover on my saddle.  Actually, I'm a little surprised it took three years for a bird to poop on my bike.  I hope it takes at least three more for it to happen again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Parisian Weekend (a.k.a. pictures of food)

Niek and I just got back from our mini-vacation in Paris.  As we packed up the car, I was filled with this sense of amazement that I actually live close enough to drive to Paris.  We usually pop down when some good friends fly over.  This time, our friends happened to be working with a group of college students for a study abroad program.  That left them quite busy but with just enough time to squeeze in a few socializing days with us.  We didn't make it to any of the big art collections this time, but if you're in Paris and you're in the mood for a different kind of museum, I can recommend the Musée des arts et métiers (or as my friend likes to call it, the museum of arts and meters).  We're all big nerds, so we enjoyed looking at the air pumps on display and the recreation of Lavoisier's laboratory.  The highlight was supposed to be a working model of Foucault's pendulum, but someone at the museum was too lazy to set up all the metal cylinders along the perimeter.  Still, who doesn't like to see the earth rotating?

I have a tendency of only taking pictures of food while on vacation.  I think that happens because I'm usually so busy enjoying myself, I only pull out my camera while sitting and resting.  Sitting only seems to happen at restaurants or bars.  Hence the lack of pictures of anything other than us stuffing our faces.  I think though, that you can really appreciate some of the amazing food we found in Paris. 

Niek and I were both in the mood for some Asian cuisine, and Paris did not disappoint.  Our first night we went to Happy Noodle, a tiny establishment packed with customers dining on gigantic bowls of soup.  The noodles are made by hand and were probably the best I've ever had.  When we arrived the guy was rolling dough out by the window and cutting it into noodles.  I didn't think to take a picture until we were finished eating, and by that time he was finished.  

The last time I was in Paris all I wanted was an almond croissant, but I unfortunately never got one.  On our first morning, we made it priorité nombre un to get a croissant and a cup of coffee.  Oh, sweet heaven, that was some good almond paste wrapped up in buttery goodness.

On Friday we got to tag along on one of the study abroad program's walking tours of the city.  I wasn't at all sure what to expect, especially with a group of 41 students.  41!  They all seemed like such sweet people, though, and made our walk around the Bastille and Gare de Lyon even more fun.  Now that I live in Amsterdam and have no teaching duties, I miss interacting with twenty-year olds.  Halfway through the tour, we stopped off for lunch.  After consuming a savory North African pancake, I had no room left for the sweet pastries my friend bought with her lunch.  Don't they look so beautiful in the display case?

What would a trip to Paris be without a bit of French cuisine?  I'll just let the photos speak for themselves.  Amazing, cozy restaurant with the friendliest wait staff and great food.  We got there around 7:45 on Friday night and just beat the dinner rush.  Lucky we arrived when we did, or we would not have gotten a table.
Niek ordered one of the house specialties as his first course: Foie Gras de Canard
Amazing bottle of wine.  A little sad that I could only have one glass of it.

I did not know that my steak would come drenched in this creamy sauce.  It was pretty amazing.

My camera remained firmly in my bag all day on Saturday (the day we went to the museum).  That was also the day we hit the children's clothing stores in the afternoon, and I think I would have felt a little weird taking pictures of onesies and teeny tiny sweaters.  After an exhausting afternoon of oohing and ahhing over baby couture, we had our final dinner of the trip at a fabulous Thai restaurant.  No pics (too tired and ravenous), but I tell you it hit the spot.  I could go for some more of the squid salad that I ordered.

Sunday was our last morning.  Niek and I had one more almond croissant after we packed up our car.  We grabbed a few sandwiches for lunch at the bakery across the street from the hotel and hit the Montparnasse Cemetery as our final activity for the vacation.  I had no idea how many famous people are buried there.  Père-Lachaise gets all the attention, but this one is equally as cool.  Highly recommend.
There were too many graves we wanted to visit and not enough time, so we had to make a priority list.

My friend is a sucker for Baudelaire's poetry.  I'll try not to mock her for this.
My favorite grave from the inventor of a safe gas lamp.  See, he's reading in bed by the light of his own invention.
Au revoir, Paris and our amazing friends!  Although too short, it was an amazing vacation.  I can't believe it's over already.