Posted tagged ‘Amsterdam’

Old Dutch Masters

August 5, 2012

We were fortunate enough to have a peek into Holland’s past, and I want to share it with you. Although we sailed into Amsterdam, we drove up to Enkhuizen (stopping for an excellent lunch at De Tuynkamer in Hoorn) to the Zuiderzee Museum. It’s a museum that you reach by boat, and sailing in we saw lots of cool watercraft.

Once at the museum, which shows no paintings, no sculptures, I was struck nearly speechless. This is another of those preservation museums, where houses and buildings that show life as it was have been assembled, so that you can immerse yourself in the past.

What we saw there convinced me that the Dutch who lived during the mid-19th century had mastered the art of gorgeous living. Typical activities like drying and smoking fish

are probably just as beautiful today as they ever were. But the recreated village, as a whole, was a tone poem of color and texture that made us want to move there now, to live there then. I’ll show, not tell. Such beauty needs no commentary.

See what I mean? I’d show you far more, if at-sea satellite Internet weren’t so slow, and so costly. For now it’s time to close that little Dutch window, and look forward to England. Rough seas, heavy swells, that’s what our Captain announced. Dramamine, said I.

Playing Catsup

September 18, 2008

As we all know, eating exotic foods is one of the best parts of travel.  But for the less-travelled rat, eating mashed potatoes from a friendly fingertip is as good as a vacation, and much more of a sure thing.

Not counting mashed potatoes, I always find it hard to eat enough vegetables when traveling.  It’s so much easier to just have pastry and coffee.

Although when on vacation one always takes risks,  you can now profit from my mistake.  If you’re in Bretagne and on a quest for kouign aman, don’t shop at Kouignette.  It’s a chain, something I didn’t realize until it was too late, and although their little treats look beautiful, they’re laden with sugar beyond belief.  I never thought I’d throw away kouign aman, but there’s always a first time.

On the other hand, if you’re anywhere near the Mont Saint Michel, try to spend a night at the charming Au Château du Mont Dol, where the food is impeccable and inventive, the house is lovely, and the welcome is warm and relaxed.  Sitting around the table with a group of contented French, German, Dutch, and Belgian diners was a highlight of our trip. 

Sometimes, though, all you want is a taste of home.  A giant can of pickled jalapenos, untasted but well-imagined, captured Shel’s attention in Amsterdam.

They probably would have been delicious with this beautiful smoked fish, but alas, it was not to be.  We made up for it later, though.

Lest you think that the tug of home would be weak and distant were one continuously surrounded by the delights of Dutch and French cuisine, have a peek here to see the meal that dare not speak its name on French Letters.

I hope you’ll still respect me in the morning.

Dutch Windows

September 4, 2008

Time to play Peeping Tom again, with a quick peek into Dutch life via some of the exceptionally clean windows one finds everywhere here.  This Delft shop window looks just like what you expect from Amsterdam, but how about this

window full of iconic American foods?  There are a LOT of Americans in Amsterdam.

There’s also a shop sporting a wacky sense of humor, related to the infamous Archie McPhee’s in Seattle,

more Crocs than you can shake a stick at,

and the ubiquitous FEBO automat selling scary-looking sandwiches to the undiscriminating.

On the more serious side there’s a window full of ancient armor at the Amsterdam’s Historische Museum,

the windows framing this ballad to the lost anchovies of the Zuiderzee in the pretty island village of Marken

and a window world that really gives you something to peep at.

And now we’re off to Bretagne, trading in those tongue-twisting Dutch syllables and our friends’ warm hospitality for…let’s go find out!

Amster (amster) Dam (dam, dam)

September 3, 2008

A look out Klary’s kitchen window says it all: water’s half the world in Amsterdam.  Whether you think of it as the Venice of the north, or whether you prefer to call Venice the Amsterdam of the south, you can’t escape the fact that the city lives and breathes on and in the water in a way that few others do.

On a tiny boat piloted by Captain Maria we got within finger-trailing distance of the canals’ cool waters and set out to gain a new perspective on the city.

Over the centuries the Dutch have built an amazing system of bridges

and locks to tame the tides that threaten to engulf the country.  With that much practice and plenty of engineering expertise they’ve come to a peaceful coexistence with the water that’s everywhere.

Lots of people keep a boat right outside the front door

although some take that proposition a little more seriously than others.

Whole neighborhoods float, often in serene decrepitude

often watched over by more imposing residences, some of which are leaning precarionsly, feet in the water,

while others show a whimsical face to passersby.

If your boat needs work you can take it to the shipyard, and if your house needs work

carpenters are the same the world over.

Or if you’ve always wanted to eat in a floating Chinese restaurant, here’s your chance.

One if by land, two if by sea, under the seven pretty bridges all in a row we glide our way back to shore.

Pom, Pom, Pomtayer,

September 2, 2008

You know, when you live in France or the US, Surinamese cuisine isn’t really on the map.  I don’t know why, as it’s super delicious in that spicy, comforting way that makes me scrounge in the fridge the next day hoping for leftovers to have for breakfast.  Thanks to our friends Mark and Klary, last night we cooked, nibbled, gobbled and giggled our way through a home-made Surinamese feast.

I’m not saying that in Amsterdam everybody licks their plates.

I’m not even saying that our dinner was so good that everybody licked the pots and pans.  But as you can see, somewhere, someone did something like that.

We started with two Surinamese sausages, a pork sausage and a blood sausage, with two spicy relishes.  The sausages were rich and sweet, and the relishes sent some gasping for beer, others licking their glowing lips in contentment.

Next there were pork-stuffed cabbage rolls with this lovely peanut sauce, an Indonesian dish that felt right at home in Surinamese company.

The main event was pom, a dish I’ve been waiting to taste for about a year, since Mark first wrote about making it.  It’s chicken baked for a long time in a blanket of grated malanga root, called pomtayer, mixed with fruit juices, salted beef, and other mystery ingredients.  The pomtayer goes into the pan fluffy and emerges an hour and a half later creamy and a bit crunchy and very reminiscent of Thanksgiving stuffing, in the best possible way.

Seved with long beans wokked with sweet soy sauce and chicken sausage, spicy little pickles, and a cooling cucumber salad, I found it utterly irresistable.  Only the fact that I was a guest kept me from licking the pot myself.

For dessert Klary made poffertjes, a kissing cousin of aebleskiver.

The little pancakes nestled on a plate with her homemade frozen custard and a good pour of a spiced Dutch eggnog, which, if truth be told, was the combination that inspired the lick-fest that ended the evening.

Of course it wasn’t all about the food.  Or the drink, although I have to say that Alsatian wines are a surprisingly good match to Surinamese dishes.  There was music, with the Carolina Chocolate Drops doing a credible a stand-in for something more authentic.  There were the hours spent cooking together in Klary and Dennis’ beautiful kitchen.  There were Mark and Mara being adorably silly together, as I suspect they’ve been doing since they met as teenagers.  And, ok, I’ll admit it.  There was leftover pom for breakfast.

The Little Fan That Could

August 31, 2008

On a hot, hot, end-of-summer’s day we hopped on the train for Amsterdam.  When I say hopped, of course, it’s a mere metaphor for “dragged our hot and tired selves and two enormous suitcases aboard” the TGV, but hopped sounds more sprightly, more vacation-like.  And we are indeed now on vacation, although I’m sure that my mother-in-law is going to read this and say “on vacation from WHAT?” since our normal life is already more or less a perpetual vacation in itself.

The TGV was hot, Paris was hot, the train to Amsterdam was hot, and Amsterdam itself was, you guessed it, also hot. Thank heavens that Marie, in presenting me with a pretty Chinese fan, reminded me that “on ne sort jamais sans son éventail.”  Never leave the house without your fan!  And thus it was that I fanned my way across three countries to a place where neither of us can understand a single word that’s spoken around us.

Stopping over in Paris, we searched for lunch near the Gare du Nord.  If you can recommend a good restaurant within suitcase-dragging distance of the Gare, please do.  If you’re in the vicinity and happen to see a little place claiming to be Japanese, as we did, perhaps you’ll notice that the staff is all speaking Chinese, not that we can understand Chinese, but we know Japanese when we hear it.  Even if we’d been wearing earmuffs, though, we’d have noticed that the tempura was, to put it charitably, not at all lacy.  While it’s true that even I could open a restaurant and call it Japanese, I just don’t know why people do that.  Oh well, we’re still batting about 1000 for eating badly in Paris.  It’s almost getting to be funny.

Aboard the Thalys train from Paris to Amsterdam Shel went off to the bar car in an attempt to save me from melting into a puddle and returned with this consolation prize, reporting that it was actually cheaper than bottled water.  Ok!  That’s undoubtedly because we were in Belgium at the moment

where they really understand beer, although our sojourn was brief.  Being a very small country, we soon left Belgium behind and found ourselves at last in Holland.  The platforms offered us interesting sights

like this guy with his cool antennae coiffure

and this friendly face.  I knew right away that we weren’t in Kansas anymore when I saw this sign in The Hague

which appears to be advertising adventure sports including dog-mushing.  If I hadn’t seen the samoyed on the platform I’d never have imagined dog-mushing in Amsterdam, but now, I’m wondering.  Of course, first it would have to cool off.  A lot.