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Monthly Archives: May 2013

This is not about food.

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My brother died suddenly in December of 2002. It was a horrible time for all of his family and none of us has ever really recovered, but I think it hit my nephew Joe – then 16 – worst of all. It’s not exaggerating to say that we were desperately concerned about him graduating from high school, and what would happen after that.

Joe was a lost soul for a time… not that he was completely lost without hope, but his family was not happy with some of the things he did. But he has found his way. I can’t tell you all how proud I am of him. He will be forever changed when he finishes walking the Pacific Crest Trail in the fall. Here is a video, Glow in The Dark, where PCT hikers walk at night with glow sticks, in support of a woman named Patti who walks the trail inbetween her chemo treatmeats.

I was just thinking that of all the trails in this life there is one that matters most. It is the trail of a true human being. I think you are on this trail and it is good to see. – Kicking Bear, Dances With Wolves.

Joe is at 1:41 and 2:07. 

…Glow in the Dark…the Video….

EDIT: Unfortunately the video is no longer publicly available. But I am still wildly proud of Joe.

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AMSTERDAM FOOD, PART 3

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So, you know, pancakes. There are a number of pancake houses in Amsterdam. The most famous – or infamous, depending on your point of view – might be the Upstairs Pancake House that inspired the Beastie Boys to write, “When I’m in Holland, I eat the pannekoeken.” We walked past it once but haven’t eaten there. We really like Sara’s Pancake House on Rozengracht.

Banana and pineapple pancake.

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Blueberry pancake. You might notice that Dutch pancakes are similar to French crepes.

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If we are out late – say, listening to music at a club – our favorite thing to do afterwards is find a Vlaamse frites stand. Vlaamse frites is kind of a bastardized phrase – frites is French for fries and Vlaamse is Dutch for Flemish. Belgium makes the best French fries in the world and these are the Dutch version. What makes them so good? When you order your fries, you’ll see a gigantic container behind the counter holding a lot of French fries. The counterman scoops up a portion of fries from that container and fries them again. You might think that makes them unbelievably oily, but no, they turn out so crisp and delicious you can never go back to American fries without whining a little.

The standard topping is mayonnaise – which is slightly sweeter and goopier than Best Foods – and chopped onions. You can also get curry sauce, green sauce, aioli, and several other sauces you might not associate with French fries. I once ordered the sate (peanut) sauce and while it was not bad, I feel that I never have to order that again. Peanut sauce + French fries = mouth full of starch that felt like wet drywall. Maybe it’s a Dutch thing.

Vlammse frites also make a good breakfast.  You will need at least two Wet Wipes to clean your hands afterwards.

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Amsterdam also has the best ice cream in the world. There is a small chain called IJscuypje, which is pronounced close to ice-cowp – meaning ice cream in a cup.  The fruit flavors taste like that fruit. The creamy flavors are rich without being sticky or too sweet. There is always a line out the door. We hit them at least half a dozen times.

Below, blood orange.

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Top one, below, is pistachio (my husband’s favorite) and I think the bottom one was names after a type of Dutch cookie that I can’t remember the name of.

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I think this one was rum raisin.

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There is a little Italian restaurant on Rozengracht – kitty-corner from Westerkerk – called Venezia del Nord. I ate there many years ago when I came to Amsterdam by myself and we still are eating there.

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Tomato salad with garlic bread. The “bread” is really just refrigerator biscuits but the garlic butter is heavenly.

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Spaghetti carbonara. LOVE.

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Stracciatella soup. You know egg drop soup? Imagine egg drop soup if a Roman made it with Parmesan cheese instead of soy sauce.

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Spaghetti with marinara.

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Tagliatelle with salmon. God, do I love this.

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One day I really wanted fish and chips for lunch. There are a number of Irish pubs in Amsterdam that serve it, but do you think I could find one? Nope, we just wandered around getting tired and hungry. But we did pass a brewery, Brouwerij de Prael, and then doubled back to step inside.  The lady in the museum part gave us discount coupons toward beer served in their restaurant, which was around the corner in an alleyway. They served fish and chips.

We were seated near two Dutch salesmen who ordered a sampler of beers. I tried to be really sneaky and take a picture.

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But I wasn’t too successful. Pretty soon they sent over their tray of beef tartare meatballs with caramelized onions. I like raw beef, and I trust the Dutch food safety people, so I happily ate them. My husband was less enthusiastic (or more suspicious of raw beef), but he did like the onions. Pretty soon the two guys gave us the beer they couldn’t drink (they were driving) and we took that too.

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So we ordered food. My husband got these (cooked) meatballs which were excellent

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plus this dark bread with garlic butter and tapenade.

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And me – I got the fish and chips. Some of the best fish I ever had. I don’t know what kind it was – and even if they had told me, it might have been something you can’t get in the US, or the translation might not have made sense. But it was really good.

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Years ago when I stayed in small hotels, the breakfasts served were simple but very different from American breakfasts. Rusks, thin slices of cheese and ham, a soft-boiled egg, toast. There are many places now where you can get more elaborate breakfasts – called American breakfast or English or Australian. Our favorite place is La Grotte on Haarlemmerstraat.

An uitsmeijter (out-smiter) is fried eggs on toast, topped with cheese and possibly meat. All the ingredients are so good that it tastes better than what you could make at home.

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La Grotte understand American-style pancakes.

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Amsterdam is a very diverse city. The neighborhood we stayed in has large populations from Iran, Turkey, Brazil, Egypt, Suriname, India, Iraq, etc. There were many places serving Middle Eastern food, which is good because we are huge fans of it. There was a tiny cafe around the corner from our apartment called Lissabon (dutch for Lisbon) and we happened into it because they were open late one night.

The lamb sandwich on Turkish pita with yogurt sauce and hot sauce was so good it brought tears to our eyes, and not just from the hot sauce.

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I don’t know what the stuffed red bell pepper had in it, but I would sure like to find out. Bulgar wheat, I guess, and maybe ground lamb, but the rest is a mystery forever because I don’t speak Turkish or Dutch and the staff barely spoke English.

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We ordered this by accident or by miscommunication. What we really wanted was just the eggplant, but what we got was a plateful that included rice, potatoes, a kind of vegetable stew that was poured over, plus the eggplant. It was so good we ordered it deliberately another time.

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The Turkish pizza, though – that might have been the best of all. It was on lavosh (I think) bread, rolled up with lamb, tomatoes, lettuce, yogurt and onions, and somehow heated or crisped or something.

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We didn’t buy anything at Jordino on this trip, but I have in the past. Their chocolates are some of the best anywhere, and incredibly inventive.

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Lastly – Perel white beer it Cafe Soundgarden, a place Anthony Bourdain says is “pretty relaxing” and can be accessed by boat if you so choose.

Here is a tip from me: do not order a cocktail in Europe unless you are somewhere like The American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London or Harry’s Bar in Venice or The Ritz in Paris. Order beer, wine, or shots. Otherwise, you will be throwing your money away on something undrinkable, as I have many times in the past. Europe, I love you, but you don’t know how to make a cocktail. The exceptions I listed will charge you more money than you thought possible, but the cocktail will be exceptionally good, plus the American Bar brings you silver dishes full of olives, potato chips, and almonds, so that kind of makes up for the $25  plus VAT you’ll spend on one drink.

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AMSTERDAM FOOD, PART 2

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Like I said before, there is a lot of fine food in the Netherlands, and a lot of it can be had at the farmer’s markets.

Chicken and poultry, whole birds, parts, seasoned – all kinds.

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Fish – some I recognized, some I didn’t.

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Whole smoked fish is widely available.

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There’s an amazing variety of olives, pickled vegetables, and prepared appetizers & snacks.

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What you don’t see much of is red meat, like beef or pork, unless it’s made into sausages.

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I had never seen so many types of mushrooms.

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Of course there are produce sellers.

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but the breads really got our attention. You see the Berlinerbol? When John F. Kennedy made his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, what he didn’t know was that slang term. So he really said, “I am a jelly doughnut.”

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and pastas.

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I’d like to point out that despite this No Carb Left Behind culture of eating, I did not see anyone worried about gaining weight (I never subscribed to that low-carb crapola anyway).

If you get hungry while shopping, there are booths selling crepes (made as you wait), poffertjes (a kind of tiny, fluffy pancake), fresh-squeezed orange juice, and cups of fresh fruit.  At Westermarkt, two cheerful, lively men singing “Rocky Raccoon” dish up cassoulet, split pea soup, and sandwiches of ham or sausage from the biggest frying pan you’ve ever seen.

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Elsewhere, a serious man with a scalpel slices proscuitto off the leg to make sandwiches.

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So did we just look, or did we actually eat any of this? Hell yes, we ate it. Not all of it, but we tried.

Below, a spread from the Ten Katemarkt near our apartment – clockwise from top: Turkish pita from a Turkish bakery, resting on a baguette; French emmenthaler; cippolina (pickled onions); roasted eggplant on hummus; a type of crisp green olive that I have forgotten the name of; garlicky hummus with cumin; tzatziki;  in the center: peppadews (South African pickled sweet cherry peppers, filled with some kind of cheese that was like creamy love).

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More later on eating in Amsterdam!

EATING IN EUROPE: AMSTERDAM

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Well my goodness gracious Ethel, it looks like it’s been about six weeks since I updated this blog! But that’s not for lack of cooking… I was  on vacation in Amsterdam, and then recovering at home from jet lag. My husband and I have discovered that the best of Amsterdam isn’t to be found in expensive eateries (though I am sure the food there is good), but in farmer’s markets and small independently owned restaurants.

Every day (except maybe Sunday) there are at least two or three or more street markets somewhere in the city, and the range and variety and quality of food simply cannot be beat.

From a little place called Gary’s Deli in the Oud West section on Kinkerstraat – blueberry pancakes, light and fluffy.

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My husband got the plain pancakes (they also make banana & walnut pancakes).

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There is a very small chain of restaurants called Burgermeester. They source their beef from one breed of cattle (Blonde d’aquitaine). They don’t serve fries because the owner doesn’t like the smell of cooking oil. But they make incredible hamburgers and innovative burgers and sides not seen in the US. Below is a Merguez (spicy lamb sausage) burger with yogurt, fried onions, and sauteed red bell peppers.

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A trio of mini-burgers: a Manchego (salty dry Spanish cheese) burger with pear-guava compote), a falafel burger with green peppers, green olive tapenade, and a portobello, and a lamb burger (locally raised lamb) with chorizo and Jalapenos.

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Baked potatoes are usually eaten because they take up space on the plate, but the baked potato at Burgermeester is worth it all by itself. They use Dutch yellow potatoes and creme fraiche. They’re amazing.

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We visited Burgermeester twice, and could have easily gone back several more times. Below is a tuna burger with Chinese broccoli and ginger mayonnaise, which resembles a tuna melt the same way a filet mignon resembles a Big Mac.

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Below, the Spanish lamb burger with red onion compote.

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Grilled corn and their potato salad that knocks American potato salad on its ass: potatoes with carrots, apples, basil, and more creme fraiche.

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Okay, we didn’t eat at Burgermeester all the time. We went to cheese shops too. Below are two photos from Kaasland.DSCN0627

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The cheese shops and many bakeries sell something just called Cheese sticks. Puff pastry baked with Parmesan cheese,

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I promise you: after you have eaten cheese as it is meant to be eaten – rich full-fat cheese, young and oozing milk or so aged that salt crystals have formed – you can never go back to Kraft singles.

More on Amsterdam food in another post!

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