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.

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