Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Things I love about the Netherlands...

Fava beans are just a regular veggie that you can find in the frozen food section of any supermarket.
Name in Dutch: tuinboontjes (little garden beans).  I've seen them fresh at the grocer, but I was in a hurry today.

It's gloriously warm, and I feel like salads for dinner almost every night.  This one I thought would be easy, and for the most part it was, until I realized I would need to shell each individual bean.  As I stood in my kitchen for twenty minutes spitting flat beans out of their waxy coating while simultaneously trying to entertain a teething baby, I completely understood why some people prefer to eat fast food every night.  Enough with this whole foods movement, let's go get some french fries.

But then it all just came together: the lemon slices, the crisp radish bits, the creamy avocado, and yes, those hearty fava beans.  Even the baby seemed to appreciate the effort, diving into the salad with gusto.  I felt so happy.  Thanks, Amsterdam, for making my dinner enjoyable tonight.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dutch Barbeque

A friend of ours called this week to invite us over for barbeque.  You never know how long the summer is going to last here.  If it's warm, you'd better get your white beers on the patio in while you can, because the rainy, fall weather could start before you know it.  We don't have a yard, and I'm not dedicated enough to the art of grilling to lug supplies to a nearby park.  I'm so lucky that one of our friends lives to grill in the summertime and also that he has a backyard to unwind in.

Barbeques are meat-heavy affairs here.  Not that they aren't in the U.S., but you're pretty much out of luck here if you're a vegetarian.  At least in the U.S. you stand a chance of finding some potato salad or maybe even some vegetable kebabs.  At a Dutch barbeque I have been offered hamburgers (which are more like sausage patties), chicken kebabs, bratwurst, and pork chops.  Get ready for animal protein overload.  It's all delicious, but it's not something I can handle more than a few times a year.  I suppose that's why I find it such a treat; it feels so decadent and slightly irresponsible of me to eat such a protein-dense meal.
Someone is not a fan of her new sunglasses.

While the meat may take center stage, it would really be nothing without the important lineup of condiments.  Forget your standard ketchup and mustard (although those were on the table, too).  It was time to get crazy with garlic cream sauce and satay.  Everything gets dipped in the sauces, absolutely everything.  I'm not joking, you dip every bite in a sauce.

Dear God, whatever you do, don't forget to serve bread.
I realized once we got Johanna to sleep that this was the first evening we've been out with friends past eight o' clock since our baby was born.  Does that make me boring or responsible?  I do love that we still had the requisite cup of coffee/tea after dinner and that it was served with stroopwafels and gevulde koek (cookies filled with almond paste).

Probably one of my favorite moments of the night: our friend's dad starting the fire in the outdoor stove with a blowtorch.
Brings new meaning to the slogan,"be prepared," doesn't it?

No, we were not cold.
What an amazing start to our three-day weekend.  It's Pentecost here tomorrow, which means we have Monday free for Second Pentecost Day.  Hope the sun is shining wherever you are.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

RIP, my dear converter

When you decide to move to another country and you also decide to ship all of your kitchen appliances to the aforementioned new country, there is absolutely one essential piece of equipment that you must purchase: a converter.  I'm not talking about those little, adapter thingies you buy at Target before going on a trip.  You can slap those on your cell phone charger and gleefully plug it in willy nilly all over Europe.  When I studied abroad in Germany, I thought an adapter was all I needed to get my hairdryer to work.  Guess who may have started a small fire and ruined a nice hairdryer?

For appliances like my Kitchen-Aid and my Cuisinart, I've relied heavily on a converter.  The thing weighs about as much as I do and takes up some prime real estate on my kitchen counter.  It has done its job well, so I don't complain much when I have to lift it to clean (which I do just about never).  Unfortunately, it's been  quite sick these last few months, and I'm afraid that it's finally given up.  It's bought the farm and is probably frolicking through the open spaces of transformer heaven, relieved to no longer work long hours as the Crock-Pot hums or to convert all that energy while the mixer paddles swirl around.

So long, my invaluable sidekick.  *sigh*  Time to get a new one.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Seriously, I have a lentil addiction

We've been looking for different types of protein to feed Johanna lately.  I seem to have handled daily life pretty well with minimal protein, but those nurses at the doctor's office really like to scare new parents into thinking that their children are all horribly malnourished.  I was told last week that she's old enough for meat and was handed a list of acceptable foods.  Since we're not huge meat eaters--and I don't want my child to wast away to an anemic nothingness--we've gone a little crazy with the legumes.  Yes, it absolutely has something to do with Yotam Ottolenghi, but I really think it's because the "legume" aisle at the Moroccan grocers just looks so beautiful.  I want to take every variety of lentil home and put them in gorgeous jars on a shelf (note to self: buy gorgeous, glass cannisters...and a shelf).

As a huge departure from the typical Dutch bread party that lunch tends to be, here is a lunch around these parts recently.  Red lentil and cheese wedges with veggie and fruit slices.

I even made hummus this week, because I happened to have dried chickpeas laying around.  The chickpeas were left over from my disastrous attempt to make falafel a few weeks ago (seriously, what is up with our middle eastern cuisine kick?).  I'm not sure I'm cut out for frying food.  Every time I'm supposed to cook something in a large vat of oil, it ends in disaster.  So glad the hummus only required the food processor.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Koninginnedag 2012

Yesterday was Queen's Day, a day marked by orange-clad, drunken Dutch people wandering the streets of Amsterdam.  Although our baby wanted to join the crowds in the center, we put our foot down and decided to enjoy the first amazing day of weather in other ways.  I did the mom thing and dressed Johanna in Dutch colors.  Here she is eyeing our  oranjetompoes (thousand layer cake with orange frosting).  The tompoes comes from the HEMA, the Dutch equivalent of Target.  I told Niek that I wanted to embrace the tradition and buy a slice.  Stauch defender of republicanism that I am, I can't quite explain my enjoyment of a holiday celebrating the House of Orange.  Can you really say no to the tradition of buying a piece of cake--and a surprisingly good piece of cake to boot?  Slicing the tompoes in two was about as close as I came to cooking all day.  We had places to be!  Oh wait, Niek sliced the cake for us...

Because...wait for it...we finally made it to the bulb fields!  Every spring we have said we would go, and there's always been a reason we didn't make it.  Yesterday, everything just came together, including the weather, and we hopped in the car.  In less than half an hour we found ourselves driving along seas of vibrant colors.  Honestly, it really is an amazing site.  It looks like someone spray painted fields with swaths of bright colors.

Years ago a friend of mine, who was living in London at the time, invited me to fly over and meet her in the Netherlands just to visit the bulb fields.  I can't tell you how disappointed I was then when I couldn't make it.  I've had Niek's friends scoff at my desire to see the fields.  They think of it as something tourists do.  Yeah, I'm okay with that.  We joined all the other tourists in taking the requisite picture in a field of blooming flowers.

It was definitely the last weekend to enjoy the tulips.  The flowers were really open, and some of the fields had already been cleared of the flowers.  The flowers have to be cut away from the plant in order to make the bulbs salable.  I wanted to say that the plants are deflowered, but no, that isn't the right word. The plants are topped and then look like this:

We saw a lot of farmers out in the fiels topping their plants.  How much do you want to bet that the two boys in the cart were less than thrilled to be spending their Koninginnedag working?  At least they're wearing orange.

When we drove past a daffodil field, I made Niek stop the car so I could jump out and take a picture.

Most of the hyacinth fields were definitely past their most beautiful point.  We did see these still in bloom.  Can you even imagine the amazing smell?  The air was so sweet with the fragrance of hyacinths.

So that was our Queen's Day this year.  We would have stayed longer, but Johanna was less enthusiastic about the outing than I was.  No matter.  We can return next year.