Monthly Archives: December 2013

Adventures in Ham

Let me just start by saying that when I hear the term “beenham” or literally “leg ham” I am expecting some sort of Game of Thrones leg. And an order of 1.5 kilos of beenham seemed to me that it would be one ham that weighed that much. Well, no. I have three small beenhams, each weighing 500 gr. Or as the meatman said to me “Perhaps they came from very small pigs” which I so did not want to hear! Luckily, I had a pair of gloves in my first aid kit and I assembled three legs of ham with clementines, fresh pineapple, mustard and cloves. Putting the cloves in was creepy. In some places, they just wouldn’t go in. I guess if you are used to cooking meat, it probably doesn’t phase you much. All covered and sitting in the fridge until tomorrow. I was worried that I didn’t have a meat thermometer. But the highly practical Dutch have figured out this little pop up gadget that is inserted in the ham and when it is fully cooked, it pops up. Weird.

In more comfortable for me cooking, tonight I made the dressing – thank you, PCC for having your recipes online! I also got everything else grated and ready for the Kale Caesar. All that remains for tomorrow are the green beans and to heat everything.

After picking up the ham, I went to De Vegetarische Slager (The Vegetarian Butcher) to pick up the bitterballen for tomorrow. Sadly, they didn’t have the party pack of 54 so people will have to make do with only 36. On my way to DVS, I ended up walking next to a lady that looked a little bit like my mom. And boy, did she sound like my mom. She was talking up a storm about the weather, the miserable grey days, how she thought it was really terrible and crossing the street, you could never be sure that cars would stop for you. I walked with her for a while and said to her that we were headed to the right time of the year, the days would now be getting longer and summer was around the corner. Which is totally something my mom would say. Just like in July she would say winter was coming, get out the fleece. And the lady said that she was 72 and she had lived a long life and had enough of this craziness that the world was coming to. I said to her that obviously she had alot left, because here she was walking around, independent. She said it was good to be reminded of that. For a moment, it was like talking to my mom. It helped too that she looked like her. After I left her company, I went to a little coffee bar and ordered a “coffee chocolate”. It is more of a party coffee than a mocha. I posted a picture of it. It reminded me of Mom because when she would really splurge, she would order a mocha and her favorite part about it was the whipped cream.

Since I was all the way over in Oud West, or Old West (really 3 km away from my hood), I decided to see if my cousin, Sjoerd, was up for a coffee. He was and we had a quick espresso while discussing the menu for tomorrow. He’s in charge of the dessert and I think he is bringing an organ meat pie with raspberry sauce or something like that. After that, back on the tram because I still needed to get beer for tomorrow. I did get beer and I managed to break a beer open in the store. The amount of glass bottles here is dangerous to someone like me. Sometimes I get so worried about knocking a bottle over, it manages to fall off the shelf. However, it must happen more often because no one made a drama out of it and my stinky dog sneakers now smell like brewery sneakers.

I finished cleaning the house tonight. If you can’t tell, I am sort of restless. I already took the dogs for their last walk. Maybe I need to go take myself for one. For Christmas, the boys are getting a chicken and a duck. Each one makes completely different noises. And they are getting the equivalent of a Slim Jim. I am really fortunate to have all of my pets. If it weren’t for them, I am not sure how functional I would have been over this past year. I was going to give the boys a Christmas bath but I decided that wasn’t really a gift for them. While thinking about this, I filled the bathtub which I have never used. It has what looks like jets in it so I pushed the button. Wow, they work – as evidenced by the water that went shooting out all over the bathroom floor and all kinds of funk came out of the jets, resulting in a second scrubbing of the tub. So, apparently, I have a jacuzzi tub. Which I will never use.

And I finally figured out how to turn the outdoor lights on. And last night, I discovered that there was closet space above my bed, that what looked like part of the wall, is in fact cabinets. It is a never ending mystery tour around here.

Think I am going to walk myself for a bit. Merry Christmas.


The kitchen is open

I decided to get a head start on cooking for Christmas. Partially because the last thing I want to be doing is having a freakout on the day when nothing is going to plan. And also because my particular brand of anxiety likes to manifest itself by constantly thinking about what needs to be done. Tonight I made five pounds of mashed potatoes with shallots and garlic. I forgot to add the chives but I will do that before they go into the oven to warm up. I also found this recipe on the PCC website for shaved brussel sprouts with hazelnuts and sage. I couldn’t find sage here so I improvised and added a few other things. I tend to think of recipes as guides rather than to be followed exactly. This is precisely why when I try to bake, it’s usually a disaster. Anyway, the brussel sprouts are doing their marinading thing and will be roasted eventually.

Tomorrow morning I pick up the ham. This should be interesting. I managed to find a real pineapple today and I have plenty of cloves and mandarines and mustard. Apparently, you are supposed to trace some sort of pattern on the ham and decorate accordingly. This kind of reminds of that toy “Lite Bright”that I always wanted as a kid and didn’t end up getting. In retrospect, I understand why. I think it had something like 100 pegs. That sort of toy is just asking to have pegs lost all over the place.

I have seven kinds of cheese for the cheese plate. I roasted the pecans for the kale caesar and I did some other prepwork for the big day. And then I had to clean up my mess. Bummer. It is these moments that make me wish George could reach the countertops and really be helpful.

We went to the vet today because George will need a new prescription for his anti-seizure medications and Henry’s eyes looked irritated. It turns out that Henry has an infection in his gum that is causing his sinus to swell up. So, on the 8th of January, both of them will go in for teeth cleaning and George will also get a fatty deposit removed since it is small now. We really liked the vet. He said other than that the boys were a shining example of good health. Nice. When we were leaving, I looked in the other exam room because the lady next to me came out and her cat had obviously just been put to sleep. It was so sad. I remember how hard that was with Mikha. So, I told her right away how sorry I was and I started crying. The saddest part was her cat looked just like Moortje, which really hit me hard for a second. It has been 3.5 years since I went through that with Mikha and all of sudden it was like yesterday. We have them in our lives for such a short time it seems. Mikha was almost 18.

I’ve been reading this book called “Living at the end of life” trying to get a better sense of the dying process and to understand what Mom went through and what I might have missed. But also to see if I can gain an acceptance for how I cared for her. Hospice wasn’t much help for us so I have these thoughts that make me wonder what I might have done wrong. I have been thinking alot about her death and the way that she went. I am glad I didn’t know it was so imminent because I would have treated her differently I think. How could you not? Instead, the last words I said to her were “You did a great job drinking. I am going to make a phone call and when I come back we’ll try some more. I love you, Momma.” And she looked at me and nodded. And while I was on the phone with hospice, she slipped away with the dogs in her lap, face to the sunshine.

It is just really inconceivable to me that she is not here anymore. That while I have things that belonged to her, notes in her writing, her favorite black pants, her furniture, her dogs she is not here. It still doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

Zwolle, Zwanenberg and Antwerpen

If you are wondering where I have been lately, well – I was busy discovering my inner “feest beest” but more about that later.
Since I last wrote, I have been up to a few things and learned some things about myself along the way as well. And I have made some very amusing blunders in the Dutch language. For example, referring to one government department as the “Ministery of Foreign Testicles and Diplomacy” instead of the “Ministery for Foreign Matters and Diplomacy”. In referring to someone’s wife, who I was introducing, I said “his old bitch” instead of “his wife”. This where all the z,w,v,g,j sounds in Dutch start to cause trouble for me. It is a good thing I plan to go the immersion Dutch class in February.
On Thursday, my team at work was scheduled to go to Zwolle to practice collaboration. In Zwolle, there is a very famous restaurant called “De Librije”. It has three Michelin stars. And they have a cooking school. So, my team had the challenge of making a five course dinner that everyone would eat. Before we went there, I had, of course, checked out where I was going. I took the train up to Zwolle and walked around the old centrum of the city. I took pictures, talked the locals and got a sense of direction. And as I was trying to take the last great picture before it got dark, my mobile fell out of my hands and cracked the screen on the ancient bricks. Yep. I had two trains of thought”. The first was that I have become far too accustomed to taking pictures with my phone instead of a camera and now I wasn’t going to be able to take anymore. And the second thought was I should have followed Mom’s habits and bought those gloves that have the nubs on them because not being able to get grip on my phone with my gloves on was exactly why it had fallen out of my hands. My mom used to buy them by the 10 pack every winter when Bartell’s would start carrying them. At 1.99 a pair, they didn’t last much beyond a winter. I found alot of them in the move.
Anyway, back to the cooking school. When we got there as a group, I already had an architectural crush, just looking at the entrance. And once inside, i noticed that all of the doors had viewing portals in them, which i thought was weird and slightly creepy. From my reading, I knew that women had lived there. However, what I failed to translate is that it had been a women’s prison, not a retirement home. And it had been a prison for a long time. They stopped using it as a prison in the 1980s and then turned it into an asylum center for refugees. In the 1990s, they stopped using it. They still have one of the original cells set up. The kitchen that we would cook in was the old prison kitchen. And while everything is quite charming now, it would be completely different experience to be coming in through those massive gates and iron fences as a prisoner, rather than a would be cook.
I have a big team so we were divided into groups of four to make each course and then we would sit at the very long table together and eat one course and then the next team would finish their course and serve it. It was tremendously good fun. My Mom always wanted to rent some big house somewhere in Italy or France with an enormous kitchen where people could cook together. I don’t know that if in reality that it would have worked out as well as her idea – especially since she was not a fan of too many flavors mixing! But I understand the joy that such an idea creates because it was really fun. My team was in charge of the vegetarian appetizer which was a Jerusalem artichoke, mushroom, apple and almond salad with horseradish creme. One of my coworkers has proper chef like skills and a reputation for being a good cook. My partner and I were novices and ironically enough, we have the same Myers Briggs type. We are the only two on the team who are ENTJs. Christian is a perfectionist. And when I cook, I just cook so every time a slip of peel from the Jerusalem artichoke would land in the bowl, I would just keep going. Christian would notice it and tell me “ÿou are getting peels in the bowl again. No peels in the bowl” and then he would go and fish it out. Well, a little fiber never hurt anyone. And then I started trying to see if I could get peels into the bowl without him noticing. Same attention to detail when were making the horseradish sauce and I need to pour the oil in at precisely the right speed. So, I would slow down and slow down even further. Like I said, I was having fun.
I really liked all of us being at the table together. It was cheerful, chaotic and warm. I thought the sommelier would have a heart attack when he noticed Daphne, who was sitting next to me, pour a whole handful of ice cubes in her wine glass. He literally clutched his chest. I think Daphne’s reasons were perfectly sound. As she said, she’s trying not to stress out her liver so she adds ice to her wine! Of course, at one point she poured so much salt on her food, our general manager reached across the table and took it away from her. Being able to be around people like that, without pretense is so refreshing.
After our dinner, which ended around 1130, everyone went to the wine cellar for coffee and tea. And from there, the question came up – “Who wants to go out in Zwolle?” I decided such an opportunity was not to be missed and since I already had to be on the 715am train back to Amsterdam for a 9AM meeting, I might as well go. So, we went to the Zwolle disco. Yes. That was not a typo. Twice I managed to get them to play Macklemore & Ryan Lewis because I wanted to dance to something I recognized. And at 430 AM when the disco closed, I was able to navigate everyone safely back to the hotel via foot thanks to my earlier tourist wanderings. Of course, we made the obligatory stop at a wall snack bar – the FEBO was closed so we had to settle for a knockoff. It was gross. The “cheese souffle” had neither cheese nor souffle flavor. It tasted like the smell of wood chips. I didn’t finish it.
Back to the hotel by 5AM and on the train at 715. A full day of meetings with people from other teams and then an invitation to Daphne’s house in Zwanenberg for potluck fondue and make your own Christmas pot. I wasn’t really sure what a Christmas pot was but since Daphne was kind enough to invite me, I decided to go. I bravely took the train to Zwanenberg and missed the hourly bus from the train station. Setting out in the dark, the map said it was 1.7km from the train station to Daphne’s. But that it would take 28 minutes to walk. I sincerley thought this was a case of broodje aap (monkey sandwich). Nope, it wasn’t. It’s 1.7 km alright, but you can’t get there via a straight line because there is a massive free in the middle that has no pedestrian access and you have to follow it until you get to the underpass. Eventually, I got there. I learned alot of new Dutch at the table, especially about labor and delivery since several of the attendees were pregnant or recently delivered. My little Christmas pots turned out slightly less than impressive – no art skills. However, I gifted them to Marianne for Christmas when I saw her later in the evening.
On Saturday, it was time to go to Antwerp, in Belgium for the work Christmas party. I hemmed and hawed about going because I was nervous, having never been to a work Christmas party and really, I was just looking for reasons to stay home. So, I gave myself a swift kick in the pants and packed up the party dress and got on the train. Antwerp is a beautiful city. And they speak Dutch there, well, Flemish. I am glad I went. The party was actually pretty good. At first, I was worried because I felt like I didn’t know anyone and boy, was it going to be a long evening if that was the case. It turns out the room was just so big, I needed to walk around. And they were serving guacamole!!! This might seem ordinary to you but it is not something that you easily come across here. And then of course, there was the after party. Til 5AM in some Belgian club playing Industrial music in the middle of the red light district. At one point, we were going the wrong way which lead me to question my coworkers as to why in the hell were they assuming I knew where I was going since this was my first time in Antwerp?? Walking back was not so much fun since the temperature dropped considerably.
A few hours later, I got up to wander Antwerp before getting back on the train. And I had the famous Belgian French fries for breakfast. Actually, they are Flemish fries – “Vlaamse frites”.
That was sort of my last weekend of indulgence. I have a terrible craving for kombucha lately which tells me that I am a little out of balance.Luckily, I just bottled my first batch today so it will be ready to serve at Christmas dinner. And I found some very good German kombucha at my Ekoplaza. The small bottles I bought at the coffee shop were so sweet, they taste like soda so I didn’t finish them. The German kombucha smells like sulfur but has a lemon taste – not sure how they do that! And my Goldfinch Kombucha Scoby grew a beautiful daughter SCOBY, two actually so I could start another jar because I promised one to the clerk at Mr. Coffee. So, I am going to go back to more of my usual habits – stepping away from the cheese, etc. Otherwise, there will always be another cheese to try! Especially in this country!
And next week, we are celebrating eerste Kerstdag here at my house. They celebrate two days here. Eerst or first (the 25th) and Tweede or second (the 26th). The 25th is more for immediate family and the 26th is for in-laws and friends. And Dylan, one of my brothers, arrivés on the 25th for two weeks…
So, I talked with Joanne about having it here. Normally, she’s the hostess with the mostest. It should be good. Today, I found the meat for the meat eaters and I ordered it. You might be thinking that I am flush with confidence from my cooking school adventure – actually, it would be more accurate to say I am even more aware of how much I don’t know! What I am hoping for is that we will have a long evening filled with good dialogue, yummy food and warmth. I am going to start cooking this weekend. That way, I have room to fix if something goes haywire. And selfishly, I want to keep very busy because it is going to be very hard to not have Mom here.

Food and Friendship

Last night we went for our weekly recycling walk, to drop off the collection of plastics. Unfortunately, the dumpster that is the drop off point was not only full but had a mountain of plastic bags full of plastic recyclables stacked up next to it. I remembered from being here in April/May that there was also a plastic recycling dropoff near the Sarphati Park so we walked over there. I was wrong, it is just glass and paper. However, walking to the park, I walked past a little coffee place called Mr.Bean and guess what, they also sell kombucha! They were closed since it was after 9PM but I put it on my todo list.

Today I took a lunch break to go and walk over and get some kombucha. I have been craving it. And I do have some Goldfinch Kombucha brewing, thanks to my good friend, Jan, who gifted me with a going away SCOBY. However, kombucha takes anywhere between 21-28 days to be ready and I needed something to get me through the wait. What good timing! Mr.Bean sells a German brand of kombucha and they are going to stop selling in the Netherlands, because they haven’t seen the sales take off. So, I am going to give Mr.Bean a daughter SCOBY after my batch is done so they can brew their own. I bought six of the little bottles of Carpe Diem kombucha and I will have to make them last until mine is ready. I tasted it already so I know I am on the right track. So, Jan, Goldfinch Kombucha meets Amsterdam, one SCOBY at a time.

On Friday evening, I met up with Marianne to see the newest Coen brothers film Ïnside LLewyn Davis. What’s different about going to the movies in the Netherlands? You get reserved seats! And no one is eating popcorn either. Prior to the movie, we went to really good organic Indian food. Above the cafes and outdoor ice rink in the Leidseplein, is this amazing Indian restaurant. You would never know it was there unless you were specifically looking for it. It has a very Ayurvedic bent and the chef is actually the one who comes out and takes your order because he crafts the food accordingly to what you are looking for. I cannot wait to eat there again! It reminded me of something my mom used to say about getting spices right in cooking, that it was an art and she didn’t have it which is why she didn’t like cooking. And then I like cooking but if I used too many different flavors and spices, she didn’t want to eat that either – she would tell me that I was mixing too many things together! I probably could learn alot from the chef at the restaurant. Anyway, the food was good and so was the conversation. That’s the nice part about being around smart and multi-lingual people – they can help me through my conversation. It suddenly dawned on me that maybe having a conversation with me in Dutch is like talking to a toddler. Heh, I think that’s funny and probably true.

As if Friday’s dinner wasn’t good enough, Saturday night I went out for Indonesian around the corner with my cousin, Sjoerd. I posted a picture of the rijstafel so you can see what it looks like. All of the grandchildren from my Oma and Opa have straight hair, except for Sjoerd and I. We got Oma’s curls and can equally go to frizz – and I think you can probably also tell the change in humidity by Sjoerd’s hair as well. You can’t go somewhere with Sjoerd without laughing or having some kind of experience of the ridiculous. I think he has that kind of magnet. Or it could be the three double espressos he drank in a row after dinner. From the rijstafel, we went to the krug. A krug is a real old Dutch bar. Lots of wood, lots of interesting inhabitants, and usually kind of dark and small as opposed to a wine bar or some kind of hip place. You sit at the bar, drinking many small beers, listening to whatever musical whim the bartender has and you talk and laugh and cry. And throughout the night, you watch the people. Which is a really great way to spend an evening.

What it really all has in common, this past weekend and so many other interactions, is that I am so very fortunate in the friends that I have. And especially during this past year, each of you gave something to me that I needed or that Mom needed. Please know that I treasure you.


Stormy Weather

like the jazz standard goes, except here in the Netherlands, it is a Code Red day. It has been quite a storm. I am by no means a small woman and the wind was pushing me around. The trains going to the north were stopped because the winds were that high. They were also closing off the dikes. We just managed to make it around the block during a lull before it kicked up again. The boys do not like wind. Of course, when you are that low to the ground, a good gust of wind can easily make you fly especially if you have big ears.
I was going to go out for Surinaams food tonight but in light of the storm, I stayed home and ate leftovers instead. I will try again tomorrow. After reading that there are 178 nationalities represented in Amsterdam, I going to try and find as many different restaurants as I can with cuisines I am not familiar with. This promises to be interesting. Of course, some things just won’t make it on the list like Argentinian steakhouses.
The rain just started again, it is pouring so hard it sounds like hail. Earlier I went out to lock up the shed and make sure that nothing can fly around in the garden and cause damage.
It has been a busy week. Tonight is also Sinterklaas so most people are celebrating it with their families. This is the kind of a bigger deal than Christmas really. This is the day that kids get their gift. Note: I said gift – that’s not a typo. There isn’t a deluge of gifts given because that’s just not done. You also get a stocking.
This week I went to Utrecht for work. I’d like to go there again in the summer. There are canals there from the 12th century or so and in the summer they are all open as terraces. So you are below the street level.
Missing Mom alot right now and having a rough time with other people having their mothers. It is jealousy and sometimes it gets really overwhelming. It will subside a little but right now I am in one of those periods.