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. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Taco Salads

The summer weather can be hit or miss here; some days we have sun and warm temps and other days, well…all I can say is that it’s the Netherlands.  I knew I wasn’t signing on for weeks of heat and humidity in the summer when I moved here, but every once in a while I have a craving for a sticky day.  I read this post, and it just brought back memories of taking my dog out to the breeder's property a few evenings a week in the summer to train him to hunt.  I loved those evenings in St. Louis when the heat of the day (although not the humidity) suddenly seemed to ease up.  Once I got home from training, I would pour myself a big glass of lemonade and be thankful my apartment had air-conditioning.

Oh, lemonade, just one of the things I can’t get here.  Also, no one believes in ice cubes.  For the most part, I don’t whine about the foods I can’t get here.  Wait, do I?  Maybe I whine here on the blog more than I do in real life.  During my first year in Amsterdam, I would get deeply upset about the unavailability of certain products—the hunt for cake flour was a particularly difficult moment.  As all ex-pats must learn, and as I've said before, you either learn to roll with the unavailability of certain goods, or you decide to fight against the “system.”  If you choose the latter, you will live in a constant state of misery and never truly learn to appreciate all the great things about living in a foreign country.  I might add that learning to love Dutch food—I’m not so sure that I would go so far as to say I love it—does not stop me from bringing back a suitcase full of the comforts of home every time I go to the U.S.  I already have a list for our trip to California in August, and you had better believe it includes such necessities as King Arthur flour, vanilla extract, and chocolate chips.

But what about all the foods I can’t transport in my suitcase?  What about all those freshly made meals that don’t seem to be available, because the Dutch don’t appreciate/know about them?  Anyone who has been around me in the last few years knows how obsessed I am with taco salads.  I blame Los Angeles for this.  All those Mexican restaurants spread out across the city can’t help but invite you in with their colorful tablecloths and fresh salsa bars.  If you then give me an amazing combination of crisp salad, creamy guacamole, beans, and steak all warmly held together in a fried tortilla bowl, how can I not help but fall in love?  I had never had anything like it before moving to SoCal, and I do miss it here on occasion.  A few weeks ago when the warm weather hit, I started getting really intense cravings for taco salads, and I have done my very best to create my own rendition here. What I have ended up making is like the imprint of an imprint of a taco salad.  It’s absolutely not the same, but it will suffice for the time being.  We use store-bought taco shells instead of making our own taco bowls, and I am ashamed to admit that I put shredded gouda on the salad.  To be honest, I accept my version of it because the avocados have been decent lately, and any sort of salad and bean combo tastes better when smothered in guacamole.  We've eaten taco salads for dinner at least once a week for the past few weeks and sometimes we eat them twice a week.  Man, do we know how to live it up, or what?

The rest of my summer cravings will have to wait for August.  In particular, I’m looking at you pitcher of lemonade and heirloom tomato salad with a side of grilled steak.  (Before someone points it out: I know I could make lemonade myself, but it would be expensive and would not flood me with childhood memories of mixing the concentrate with water in my mom’s special pitcher.  And yes, I’m sure some fancy market here sells heirloom tomatoes, but I guarantee no one here knows how to grill steak like an American.  Well, maybe someone does, but I have yet to be invited to that house for a backyard barbeque.)