When I’m in Holland I eat the…

‘When I’m in Holland I eat the pannekoeken.’  -Beastie Boys

Well, that had to happen.  Now I can move on.

This is set up to be the first in a series of five posts on our recent trip to Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  Z had a work trip scheduled for South Africa coming up and a couple of things happened as a result.  Thing 1.  I figured if he could get the health clearance to go, I would try to go too.  I mean, South Africa!?!  Thing 2.  The flights can be brutal.  Nothing direct from Orlando per se so we decided that since the trip fell around our so-called anniversary, that we would layover in Amsterdam for some tourist time.  We are not those people who can just hop the next flight.  We have to get medical clearances, tie up loose ends at work and find someone (thanks mom & dad) to watch our little beast, Walter.  But this trip should definitely be worth it.  iamsterdam

I recommend stopping in to the tourist bureau at the airport to get the I Amsterdam card-it makes museum and transit a breeze.  We walked out of Schipol and the gust of cold air took our breath away!  We caught the GVB bus into the city for €5 each.  Our foray into local transport begins!  We dropped  our bags with the hotel after pulling out jackets and headed out for the day.  Our first stop was the Van Gogh museum to get our fill of Sunflowers and his assorted portraiture of selfies.  He was the first master of duck lips, which I so don’t get.  After the museum we headed out for the obligatory I Amsterdam shots and then started our march towards Dam Centraal constantly OK Googleing for directions.

pannekoekkenWe made it to the unlikely Upstairs Pannekoeken house in about 15 minutes walking.  I looked at the said stairs and nearly didn’t make it.  Historically they they used to tax by window widths so the buildings  are crazy narrow and tall but often deep.  The near vertical stairs opened to a tiny four table closet sized restaurant that had one tiny two seat table meant just for us.  Sitting shoulder to my neighbors back and my back to the warm radiator we got the menu and chose our poison.  Giant plate sized pancakes that are super light and airy.  His topped with bananas and powdered sugar, hers topped with cooked unsweetened apple slices and salty back bacon cooked in.  Their was a bottle of super dark Stroop syrup on the table that went perfectly with the apples and bacon.   I’m pretty much in love with these pancakes.  Light, serious, interesting-like I’m beginning to find this city.

Key West, never changes. Bad old town.

full disclosure.  The title should read, “Istanbul, never changes.  Bad old town’ and is a line from a William Gibson novel.  I’m not going to lie to you.  I love that cyberpunk genre although I don’t read it much anymore.  We went on vacation a few weeks ago–took a cruise that made stops in Key West, Nassau & Freeport, Bahamas.  We aren’t what I’d say your typical cruisers are as we don’t love the food, the smokey casino or, in general, port towns.  All the shopping is the same and the food is actually bordering on brutal in quantity.  We love to sit on a breezy deck by the pool and consume books (& magazines) and rum punch napping at a whim and taking a break from the email of it all.keywest

All that said, I really enjoyed our stop in Key West.  It was the one part of our trip I had planned and really looked forward to.  We walked off the boat and made our way to Duval street.  It was about 9AM so the full contigent getting their beer on at Sloppy Joe’s were definitely not out yet.  Duval is just another shopping street filled with bars.  We picked up our one of our slim vacation purchases, coffees at Starbucks, and headed over to the Southernmost point of the US that is the big ole landmark that points the way to Cuba.  We got our photo snapped in the tourist way by our line waiting compatriots and then headed up the street to find Papa Hemingways not-so-humble abode.  After shelling out $26 (total) for the tickets we definitely jumped at the offered tour.  You can chalk that up to professional and/or plain curiousity.  I didn’t really know much about Hemingway prior to the visit and can’t claim to have read any of his books.  It was interesting to learn of his life and get a little bit of info about the island in general.  The famous cats on the island (45 at the home) are all descendants of his son’s cat, Snowball.  We chased down a cat (ok, chased is a strong word, we tried to coax her out for a photo) with seven toes.  Those cats own the place and have the total run of the house in that standard kitty way.  I am totally inspired by the gardens at the home, full of lush green plants and a great big pool.  I’ve decided I want a pool and a super shady yard.  Right now I have neither and  we’ll see how that goes.

We also learned about the chickens that free roam the town and are everywhere.  There used to be cock fighting in the Cuban community in town and at one point they outlawed it and told everyone to release the chickens.  It’s a $500 fine to pester the chickens and as a result they are like sparrows and just about everywhere you look.  We saw loads of little chicks, mama’s and great big red combed roosters.

We paused at the Audubon house and briefly at the Pirate museum.  I’m totally enamored with pirates.  I know they were terrible and all that but I have this romantic idea of sailing ships and desert islands and tend to forget the pillaging and thievery.  Audubon is a class unto it’s own and I just love the illustrations.  I purchased a very small one recently (postcard size) and framed it in my office.

Key West is a bad old town that has more than it’s share of revelry and rabblerousing, oddity and audacity too.  I miss the trade winds and the idea that the island is there but can’t be quite conquered.

Hit the road

Have you seen all the things that are within, say, 200 miles of your house?  I’m guessing most people have not.  Life gets busy with any and everything to suck away time and energy.  Our mid-late winter has been busy and I am surely exhausted.  One of our friends is working on his list of 30 before he turns 30 and one of those things was to go to St Augustine.  Florida celebrated 500 years since the Spanish landed in St Augustine last year and this was a fun place to go to catch a little history and to get a little bit of fun relaxation and help our friend celebrate within his 30th year.  We hit the road by 8:30 am for the roughly two hour drive to the coast and made it with a brief stop for a doughnut and coffee en route.  We bought trolley tickets that were for an on-off at will ride around town that were actually good for up to three days.  A fair deal if you are spending the weekend in St Augustine.  We jumped on and headed for the fort.  In my imagination I can romanticize the days of the fort trying to hold back the wily French with my modern notions of running water and flush toilets but I’ll bet it wasn’t the most comfortable place to be.  The Spanish battle flag still flies high.  I love history!  St Augustine is a bit of a double edged sword because it is clssically historical (in an America old sort of way) but it has also gone commercial in that sort of schlocky touristy kind of way.  battleflag

Our next stop was the old market street and the best part of this for me was actually a gourmet fruit ice pop (ie Popsicle)  from Hyppo.   I had strawberry datil (a locally grown hot pepper) and it was really nice.  Z and our friend picked up other weird (and I can’t remember) flavors and didn’t fare as well as I.  Actually, theirs both had stringy mangoes which contributed to their less happy purchase decision.  Hyppo is literally 10 square feet in an outdoor closet in a tiny courtyard.   There were quite a few Spanish shops and tapas places.  I’ll have to put more work into seeing those in the future.IMG_3599

After lunch at a funny beach place called Barnacle Bills where we had various shrimp & burger baskets (not bad and we picked it because it was there.) we jumped back on the trolley and …got off on the wrong stop.  So, we walked up to the San Sebastian Winery.  San Sebastian is a tiny offshoot of the local to Orlando Lake Ridge Winery and I have to tell you something.  I don’t like muscadine grapes.  There was one red – a blend that I could imagine served cold over ice with fruit a la Sangria that I didn’t mind.  The rest.  Meh.  But, here’s the winner.  Same street.  Brand new.  Local.  Distillery.IMG_3601

The St Augustine Distillery is brand new.  Literally had only been open for tours for five days.  They have so far made and bottled only Vodka in giant gorgeous copper pot stills (is that really the name-feels so bootlegger) and at the end of the short (15 or so minute) tour that started with a cute small one room history of the building, which is an old Ice Plant and a video that includes how they got started and how they are working with and helping local farmers and ending in a kinda random would-be speakeasy bar where the tour guide turned bartender and make us a Florida Mule.  Vodka, Ginger Syrup, Bubbles and Mint I think. Like any good museum, they got our emails (good job marketers!) and emailed us the recipe.  It is a well done and super cute hipster kinda place.  I totally had a weak moment and bought a bottle of vodka, some Jack Rudy tonic syrup and a bottle of celery bitters in their oversized, well curated gift shop.  I appreciated the overall Exit through the gift shop and well thought out merchandise strategy.  The building is history come alive again and they mention the restaurant housed in the other half and give a good plug for their shared space neighbor.  We decided to come back and have dinner after we finished our trolley tour.IMG_3610

After the trolley tour wrapped up and made it’s way through beach town end of day traffic we headed for the Ice Plant.  It is styled like a speakeasy and serves up all manner of exotic complicated cocktails and very tiny (6 items I think) dinner menu but a fair sized starters and bar menu.  The bar menu explains each drink and gives a visual view of the type of ice you will find in that drink and the drinks are built around how that ice works in the drinks.  They show five varieties right on a dedicated page of their website-shaved, rock, long rock (!), sphere and pebbled.  I ordered the funnest drink with shaved ice.  It came out in a cutey coupe glass heaped with shaved ice and thyme leaves and they poured my drink over and let it melt into cold ginnyness.  I love gin.  That’s weird.  But here’s why.  It’s herbal and it’s clean and it vaguely tastes of piney Christmas.  It pairs so well with lime which is decidedly my favorite flavor.  So, I had a ‘Snowbird’ which encompasses all those things.  Death Door Gin, Lime, Sugar, Thyme and Shaved Ice in a Coupe.  Funnest. I so enjoyed it and the ice gives some glamour.  We ordered a couple of starters, notably one of medjool dates stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon.  I’m going to say that everyone should eat that once in their life.  Salty. Sweet, Dense. Savory.  It has all the notes.  I had a great big crafted burger with a fried egg for dinner and that should have put me straight into a food coma.    No room for dessert for me.IMG_3625

After supper we got a little bit sketchy and drove out to the lighthouse for a quick walk through someones side yard to see the rising moon hanging low in the sky over the lighthouse which was closed to the public although there were definitely some people and lights playing in the windows at the top.IMG_3636

A good drive with all the Florida crazies and tourists and we were home.   We all saw something new and expanded our view, if not just a little bit.  What’s the best day trip from your house?

life long learning

embarcadero so, I’m coming to the end of the San Francisco posts and this one isn’t devoted …necessarily, to the usual.    It’s an ‘I love learning post’.  I have a friend in Denver who loves learning -passionately.  And really, we all should.  Once you stop learning you may as well throw in the towel because in essence, your life is over.  Learning and exploring and extending your boundaries make the difference between life and life well lived.  We stayed a day after the conference ended just to do a little extra sight seeing and some reconnaissance for the Discovery Center and that included roughly a four mile walk and a trip to the Exploratorium.  We started out fairly early in the morning and made it down to the waterfront by the time Boccalone opened so Z could get a meat cone I had the most incredible steamed bun with a splash of chile sauce.  We hung a left and walked up to the giant public art that is a bow and arrow and then turned ourselves around and began to make our way up the Embarcadero.  Our first long stop, the Exploratorium, where we went to both research and have fun.  It is billed as a learning laboratory, an eye-opening, always-changing, playful place to explore and tinker with exhibits, tools, programs, and experiences that ignite curiosity, encourage exploration, and lead to profound learning.  Now to be clear, I lifted that text from their website but it is exactly what it says it is.  A place to explore and learn by doing, seeing, trying, failing and embedding.  I’ve been researching and considering ways people learn for the last six months or so and let me tell you something-the pathway to learning isn’t found through someone talking at you until you pull out your phone and browse the internet. It is found through digging in and finding answers to your questions. Questions that lead to other questions which lead to exploration, embedding and engagement in those things in your mind and heart as you take it all in.  The fact that you do it yourself is part of the key.  As we made our way through the exhibits with very likely 2000 of our closest friends we were able to try things, to be amazed and to get excited about things that might not always be exciting.  It reinforced for me that we don’t need to spoonfeed people.  If you give people tools they will often build something amazing.

 

when the cabbie isn’t sure if he should drop you off…

badgirlI only had one dinner pre-set before our trip so most of the dinners were kind of – see how we feel, where and if we want to walk, how hungry or hangry we were.  Someplace between Orlando and San Francisco as I caught up on my magazine reading I ran across an article about Trick Dog, a mostly speakeasy styled bar serving a small menu.  I thought, well, that sounds good.  So, on our last night we jumped into a cab and gave the address.  The cabbie said something to the effect that it would be hard to get a cab back and that put a bit of drama into my mind but not enough to stop us.  Then, Trick Dog has no sign and no real clues as to what is inside and I could tell that he wasn’t at all sure that he should drop us off having passed some rather intense gathering of locals out for the evening.  But he did and we walked in.  It doesn’t really have a restaurant vibe.  We went upstairs and were seated on the balcony where we could watch all the cool kids drinking complicated cocktails.  There were only maybe eight or nine tables and it was industrially rustic.  From what I had read the bar menu was printed on Pantone color-chip books-this to me, is the height of cool.  But, I missed the Pantone books as the bar menu had recently been changed to 1950’s books of 45s with each drink printed on it’s own 45.  I ordered a ‘Bad Girl’ which was a St George Botanivore Gin with sherry, plum, lime & sencha soda.  It had a sage leaf floating in it and was ridiculously delicious.  So lightly sweet and fluffy.  I loved it.  We ordered a starter to share of something I will not claim to have ever eaten before, peaches & cottage cheese.  Now, I actually like cottage cheese as a rule, but this was over the top good.  I previously really only ever sprinkled it with pepper.  This had grilled peached, honey, ras al hanout and pistachios.  I loved the creamy dense cottage cheese with the char on the fruit and honey on the plate.   Actually, I need to try that at home.  Soon.    I wasn’t sure I needed to eat a full dinner and as a result went totally off the rails and ordered thrice cooked fries manimal style.  Super crunchy fries topped with this goo that they riffed from In and Out burger which is piled with some random american cheesy thousand island dressingy mess.  Honestly.  Z ordered a rice plate which was essentially deconstructed fried rice in a way that no take-out restaurant can compete with.  A fried cake of sticky rice with chewy shiitakes, pickled carrot and daikons, and ginger chicken.  Who thinks of this stuff.  The shiitakes were amazing and the chicken had the best flavor.  We ordered a scoop of burnt popcorn ice cream to finish just because it was billed as burnt popcorn.  Really it tasted of roasted caramel and some kind of a corn finish.  I am guessing they steep caramel corn in the ice cream base and then strain before they churn it.  Just a hint of burned caramel and salty finish.  Lovely. A food experience I would like to have more often.tinyreddoor

We got the name of a cab company from our server, paid our check and went down to wait on the sidewalk. This was a bit of magic in itself as Z spied a teeny tiny red door into the building where I am sure the Littles or a mouse with a motorcycle reside.  The cab whisked us breathlessly off towards home.