a long time ago in an apartment far away

dirtSeven years ago I wrote my first post.  I don’t have any idea what drove me to write it.  I remember struggling through setting up a blog on the Blogger (Google) platform and wondering why it was hard and if I was out of my league.  I didn’t ask Z (computer genius) for help with it.  We were living in an apartment and I had a really old desktop computer and zero experience.  Looking back I think that it was for myself.   At some point I realized I had a terrible memory and hate to journal.  Blogging would help me to remember and typing is easier than pen to paper.  I never thought of myself as a writer or anything else.  In our pre-marital counseling  they suggested that we might find a hobby together-so we decided one of those could be cooking. A blog is a great way to recount that and our other adventures.   At some point Z was developing a massive WordPress multisite installation and switched me over.  I was mad because I thought it was a lot harder and I’d have to learn again.  It’s worked out though and I’ve used that experience on other projects for work.  I find that I am usually up to it if I put enough common sense into it and use Google when I can’t figure things out on my own.

A lot was on the line in November of 2008.  Z was really sick and had in the previous month been listed for transplant (liver) and we didn’t know what to expect.  I took to cleaning everything to try to be ready for whatever was going to happen, to keep him healthy.  I didn’t know (really know) that his liver was rotting away inside him because how can you know that? It’s so foreign.  In February we would see the old junk liver in a Tupperware container in the pathology department in the basement of Shands hospital in Gainesville and be thankful for a new one.  I thought that was the end of eating out and going to movies and certainly overseas or out of country travel.  It wasn’t.  It’s funny how we only live in the day that we can see right in front of us.

That brings us up today.  Since the last post I wrote, written in South Africa about an Amsterdam vacation we have had a lot of churn and burn.  We took a cruise to the Bahamas, my sister and her family came for their summer visit, Z’s office disintegrated under major turmoil and he was moved to a new department after more than 10 years, bought a new piece of dirt (that’s our dirt in the photo) that will become a house, put our current house on the market and sold it in ONE day.  Then, the week we went to WordCamp in Philadelphia and moved into an apartment, we found out the house wasn’t closing and could they have an extension please and had Christmas.  Meanwhile, I’m working.  A lot.  It feels like there would have been things to blog about during this season but I just couldn’t/didn’t/wouldn’t.  It wasn’t like we didn’t eat or cook anything.  It isn’t like there was nothing to say.  I just don’t think there was margin.  Until today.  After 7 years of blogging I took an 8 month break.  Will this post turn into two, three, seven, seventy-seven?  Hard to say.  But, I think I’m back to writing for myself again and not that worried about the numbers, or the lack of comments.  Finding my voice.  Remembering.  Chasing new adventures and the best dinner I can get.  We’re not so comfortably ensconced in a one bedroom apartment with most of our kitchen supplies in storage and an undetermined wait for the build out of our new house.  The kitchen in the new house is everything I could ask for and I’m looking forward to unpacking and inviting people for dinners, baby showers and potlucks.  Meanwhile, we wait and try to enjoy this time with a handful of plates, a couple of pans and a teeny tiny refrigerator that has a drawer that won’t open because there is just no space.  A carefully curated pile of cookbooks with five (!) new ones for Christmas.  I have cooked a few meals here but lean towards assembly only-salads, sandwiches.  And eating out seems to have picked up a little too much and which I’d like to get back to a reasonable level.  So, I’m sitting here back in an apartment, remembering how to upload photos to my blog, writing a post and a grocery list and thinking about the week.  A new hope.


When I’m in Holland I eat the (part 5-the grand finale)

A lot of what we heard while in Amsterdam, either on the canal tour or via museum, and in our day trip to Zaanse Schaans was about the Dutch golden age.  At first I might have thought they made it up because I’ve never really heard of it before.  But there is quite a lot more to Dutch history than we typically learn in the US.  Or I was out sick that week.  I’ve studied fairly extensively on the topics of the renaissance period but really learned much more about Italy than of the Netherlands.  The Dutch had quite a thing going with trade and colonial rule and all that entails.  Result?  They are still quite fond of Indonesian food and make quite a lot of it.

We saw an Anthony Bourdain Layover episode on Amsterdam and he mentioned going to a restaurant called Tempoe Doeloe.  It looked …fancy.  But it also looked …..delicious.   I gave it a shot.  Researching the website and online reviews.  I came to find it occupies a niche I had never heard of called Michelin BibGourmand.  I’m not sure how this escaped my attention before as I read food writings on a regular basis but I never did.  They are self defined as:

  1. Good cuisine at a reasonable price. Defined as “Inspectors’ Favorites for Good Value,” BibGourmand restaurants offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less (tax and gratuity not included), and are often of most value to a city’s residents, who regularly dine in neighborhood restaurants.

So, again I set out by emailing a request for a reservation and received a terrifying and exhilarating email back in confirmation.mill

We spent the third day in happy and stone cold pursuit of adventure.  We tramped to Dam Centraal where we purchased Sprinter train tickets for Zaanse Schaans (€14 round trip).  I never really rode a real train before so between that and a pouring rain hike over a canal during –which I figured I would soon be swept into– from the gale of wind numbing every inch of my being, the trip was exciting!  We made it to a sort of faux historical area outside Amsterdam called Zaanse Scaans where they have relocated windmills and restored them alongside some traditions Dutch craft workshops such a Genever distillery where I sample the local fire water and asked questions about the precursor to gin.  There is a fascinating Klompen shop with a mini museum of amazing examples of wooden shoes including bridal and Sunday best alongside specialized clogs for snowy or icy regions.  There was one windmill we could tour that had barrels of giant cinnamon sticks and cinnamon grinding on the windmills wheel.  That brings me back to the Dutch East Indies.tempoedoeloe

The Dutch found a fondness for Indonesian food that endures today and at Tempoe Doeloe they’ve elevated what I suppose is a somewhat modest cuisine of long stewed meats and spices and stunning street foods by using top notch ingredients, placing them carefully on beautiful white plates, and service.  Fair warning that we heard they weren’t great about taking cards so we came armed with cash and had no problems.  The service would be somewhat slower than we are used to in the US but I found this to be true across all venues and assumed it is really just a somewhat more leisurely pace than we are used to.  I loved the crunchy sweet vegetable salads and small dishes perfectly cooked green beans and greens served alongside the long cooked daging rendang padang – beef in a strongly seasoned sauce of chili peppers and coconut and ajam paniki – chicken in a slightly spicy, fresh sauce of pandan leaves, lemongrass, coconut and candle-/berry- nuts.  The sauces had so much texture from the long cooking process.  It was carefully made well done food.  It made what to us, being very unknown or foreign tastes, very comfortable and familiar.   The entrees came out with small dishes of accompaniments that included some lightly cooked green beans, some greens with ginger, shrimp chips and a quick bright pickled vegetable along with white rice and yellow rice.  Each bite can be composed to cover all the flavor profiles.  If you get a chance at Indonesian cuisine I’d highly recommend it.  Ask questions and  be careful of a potential fiery spice factor if that stresses your ‘system’ but you won’t be sorry.

The next morning we got up at 4am to catch that €5 bus back to Schiphol where we boarded a plane for the next leg of our adventure.    We really enjoyed Amsterdam.  It was refreshingly different from our day to day life and full of new things to learn and experience.    I hope we will be back to see more.


When I’m in Holland I eat the (part 4)

fifteen“What did you say?”  Tom asked?

“I got Jamie Oliver’s pans.” I said.

“What?” He said.

“I got Jamie Oliver’s pans.” I said.

“Pans?  OH!  I thought you said you got Jamie Oliver’s pants!” He said.

And so it goes. I’ve had a fan girl style crush on Jamie Oliver for years.  I have his pans, well, the pans he hawked for Tfal.  I have a shelf dedicated like a shrine to his cookbooks.  I even have a motley collection of UK region specific DVDs of past shows that didn’t really air in the US.  When we talked about places to go and in our research Z realized/remembered that he had an outpost of his foundational training restaurants in Amsterdam.  Called Fifteen for the number of trainees given a shot at a career in food.  I immediately found the Amsterdam version of Open Table and booked a table for dinner.  It was fun and terrifying to see the email confirmation come back in Dutch.

The restaurant is a bit removed from the main tourist district.  To be fair, not easy access if you aren’t serious and it’s a cold winded pre-spring evening.  We hit the tram service from our hotel and it got us about three quarters of the way.  The balance of the walk was made in gusty wind blowing off the wide canal at the water edge of the city.  I didn’t know cold wind could do that.   A girl could lose the will to go on!  Trailing behind Z by hundreds of feet but doing my short legged best to lean into the jet stream in my face.  As I handed my jacket to the hostess she said, “oh, you’re wearing a summer coat,” with obvious confusion and something like pity.  We figured for three days en route to the tail end of South Africa summer we could make it work.raviolibeef

It was our second experience with a virtually empty restaurant in Amsterdam.  At this point we know we are the weirdo American early birds.   Only a couple other big parties, likely after work office groups, fill any tables.  It’s decor is industrial and urban graffiti but with chandeliers.  We are handed menus that are in themselves fairly refined, edited.    There are starters, small plates and mains.  I decided I no longer know what to do with that.  Do we share a small plate and each get mains?  Share a starter and eat a small plate?  Is a small plate a few lovingly crafted bites or is it potentially a full dinner?  Throwing all caution to the wind we each ordered a small plate and a main.  Potentially too much but who even cares?   A small plate of a light brown bread and a huge fresh disk of Dutch butter quickly arrived.  I was surprised that there wasn’t much of a cocktail program.  Maybe, with the Amsterdam outpost at ten years old that is a newer concept?  Not really sure but strange.

The first course arrived.  I ordered

What I expected?  Maybe one or two ravioli with a fairly restrained butter sauce and a few walnuts and a sprinkle of gingerbread.

What I got?  A full dinner amount of ravioli, sauce and no restraint spared.  I was actually somewhat surprised.  It was tasty mix of flavors but actually a bit muddled for the sheer amount of sauce and walnuts.  I missed the flavor of the gingerbread.   Now that I reflect on that it may not have made it on the plate.

Z had the largest gnocchi I’ve seen-fairly well dumpling sized and soft and comforting.   The cheese was a soft tangy Dutch cheese that cut the richness of the pork ragu.  I finished his plate.  No shame.

And this was the small plates.  A bit nervous about that.   Then the mains arrived.  I ordered something called kataifi and it is ridiculously craveable.  Finely shredded pastry (think baklava) wrapped around caramelised salsify panfried in what must have been butter with roasted cauliflower and tangy cheese.  I could have licked that plate clean.  I want it right now.  Gah!ketaifi

Z had a more standard steak with interesting accompaniments such as apple compote and chicory tarte tatin.  We were not familiar with chicory being used this way.  It had a not unpleasant bitter taste and an unexpected softly roasted white color.

Overall I felt the mains were more successful than the small plates.  They felt natural and delicious.  I would seek out that kataifi any day.  I am excited to try to reproduce something like this out of my own kitchen.

The concept of giving training to someone who wants it and might otherwise not get it?  Worth it again and again.  Am I sure this has Jamie Oliver’s fingerprints on it?  At the core yes but I’m not sure about the far reach of the years. Am I still a fan girl and would I brave the jet stream again for it?  Yes.

When I’m in Holland I eat the (part 3)

Patat.  When I’m in Holland I eat the patat.   That’s fries to you.  And not Dutch fries, but Belgian fries.  Huge, double fried, and with the best most abhorrent sauces you can think of.  They are served in a paper cone or pouch and as many people walk with them firmly in hand, doused with sauce.  Depending on how refined the purchase place is – simple like ketchup or even better, mayo.  Or if less refined?  You can go to war.  Oorlog is Dutch for war.  Oorlog is Dutch for mayo, peanut sauce and diced onions-AT THE SAME TIME.  War in your innermost being I guess.   A huge list of sauce types from basic mayo to curry sauce to Oorlog.   My shame and joy is that I ate fries for lunch twice. TWICE.oorlog

We found a cool hipster area of town on accident.  With the purchase of the I Amsterdam card we were given a magazine called A-mag.  I woke up before Z on day two and laid in bed reading by the weak early light.  The magazine filled with blurbs and things going on-new places to check out.  I ran across an item that was seemingly like my favorite food places.  A hall of small, local merchants banding together for strength in numbers.  Shared places to eat and drink with semi-fast foods.  Like a mall food court but so much better.  It wasn’t  far from our hotel or the Vondelpark  in the Oud-West area called de Hallenkwartier, de Hallen is right up my alley.  It gets up and running about noon although we were there on a Monday morning and I was sad that a few things I’d like to try were not open yet.  I really wanted to try bitterballen, which I read is a deep fried beef gravy ball, so I consoled myself with fries and mayo.  Z had a pungent Swiss Alpe and Sharp Amsterdammer grilled cheese.  That was some funky strong cheese but addictive.ah

We were dashing through the rain after visiting the excellent Amsterdam museum.  Amsterdam is a city chock full of museums.  There is one for every taste (even bad.)  The Amsterdam museum is a great collection showcasing the DNA of the city and educates about the spirit of enterprise, creativity, civic virtue and freedom of thought through the lens of history.  I really recommend it for the background to the feeling of the city.  We dodged raindrops popping in and out of shops.  Notably one of the myriad Amsterdam cheese shops where we bought stinky cheese and then into my favorite vacation stop, the grocery store.  I was lucky enough this trip to get into two!  The Dutch chain, Albert Heijn and the British chain, Marks and Spencer.  I love seeing what real people eat.  Where they go after work, for comfort, for indulgence, for everyday living.  It is so interesting to me from a cultural perspective.   Albert Heijn carrying fresh bread and croissants, Stroop syrup and pancake mix, Hagelslag and Indonesian packaged food recalling a time of colonialism priced for everyone.  Marks and Spencer filled with one off packaged food, pricey and beautifully marketed to their young urban audience. My best souvenirs.

Our day three lunch was at the polar opposite side of the spectrum.  Not an ounce of local or  artisanal for miles.  After filling a bag at the market we stopped at Chipsy King for my second day of Patat for lunch.  But decidedly every man, this is where I got a taste of war.   Greasy and quick.  The crisp potatoey fries are fluffy and waiting for that oddly tasty mayo peanut onion combo.  

Two different experiences with total delight infused in both.

When I’m in Holland I eat the (part 2)

hutspotWe had made a few plans and some dinner reservations for our visit to Amsterdam but not for the the first night. We weren’t really sure how we would feel– hungry, tired, or what.  After spending the day arriving, eating pancakes, wandering the museum, dodging Dutch people on rusty bikes, sleepily riding on a canal tour and checking in to our hotel we were definitely in the what category.  What?  We decided we should take one more walk to catch some dinner.  What dinner?  Since we had no real plan we totally relied on social media (thanks Foursquare) and found a close by restaurant serving typical Dutch food.  Since it was called ‘The Pantry‘ how could we not go?

The Pantry is in the Leidseplein area close to our hotel.  It had about ten tables or so and only one was occupied. As there were very few people on the street and we felt we must just be too early for dinner.  We ordered from the fixed price menu and were each served three courses of Dutch specialties.  I had a starter of thick pea soup that was hearty and warm-total comfort food.  It was flavored with smoked sausage wheels.  For my main course I tried a combination of hutspot, zuurkoolen and boerenkoolstampot with a smoked rookwurst sausage.   What?  Three varieties of mashed potato-one with kale and crispy pork bits, one with sauerkraut and one with carrots and pot roast.  So, many potatoes!!  I couldn’t know it then but potatoes will become a defining foodstuff of this trip.  I liked the kale one best although the carrots were sweetly delicious.  And finally dessert-vlaflip.  What?  Unsweetened vanilla custard with unsweetened yoghurt with about a teaspoon of some unsweetened pink (fruit?) syrup. It felt like my standard Greek breakfast yoghurt but lighter.  I liked it.

100% comfort food.  All fighting against wind and water and riding a bike in the dead of winter with no gloves.  At some point I realized that no clearly Dutch person had gloves on – either walking or riding their bikes.  Why don’t the Dutch wear gloves?  Once I realized I looked at every person.  No one.  What?  Why?