Tag Archives: food

A mini-honeymoon in Amsterdam

I always thought that a proper honeymoon was supposed to involve beaches and sleeping in a lot. But then I also thought that weddings were supposed to involve big, white dresses, ice sculptures of swans, and family rows, and I knew we weren’t having any of that either, so why sign up for a stereotypical honeymoon? Amsterdam seemed interesting, was quick to fly to, and neither of us had been there – oh, and it was possible we might find something good to eat, even if it was just classic Old World bread and cheese. So, done.

As it turned out there was plenty of good stuff to eat. The Time Out guidebook offered an enticing hint: that there were substantial snacks to be had, so that you wouldn’t starve between meals. One dilemma was that I have really been trying to lose a bit of weight. One the one hand we were on holiday so a bit of indulgence seemed OK, but on the other I did find myself making mental notes of calories consumed versus hours walked. And walk we did, until our feet hurt, although lot of that walking involved tracking down recommended food stops. Well, that is who I am.

Houses on the edge of the Vondelpark. You know you want to live there.

Tuesday evening, after getting settled in our hotel and having a quick wander in the Vondelpark, we hopped a tram to the Pijp, where efforts at upward mobility clashed gently with bohemian coffeehouse and immigrant cultures. This was evident in stoned graffiti on building-site plywood – for example, “A city sodomized by tentacles of distrust” – across from a pedestrian-only block filled with a variety of relaxed natives and tourists scattered amongst sidewalk cafés. Here, we learned our first bit of food-Dutch: Vlaamse friet, or Belgian (Flemish) fries, on offer alongside falafel. Yes, please. The menu had a bit of Hebrew on it, so I asked the guy in front of us if it was an Israeli shop; he told us most of the falafel shops in Amsterdam were run by Indians and, sure enough, some of the salads in the falafel bar had a touch of cumin and coriander seed, not what you’d find in Tel Aviv. Good though. More difficult to figure out was the long list of friet toppings; I picked the one that seemed most likely to be mayo, and it was. A satisfying snack indeed; we never got around to dinner that night, but after much walking we did succumb in the hotel bar to a (bad) slice of ‘New York’ cheesecake, which they seemed a bit too eager to get rid of.

Typical shop in the Pijp.

Breakfast was not included in our hotel package, for which I was thankful; I tend to eat too much mediocre food, just because it’s there, blowing my calories much too early in the day. We noted a cheese shop near to the hotel with an offer of belegte broodje met koffie, filled rolls and coffee. What more do you need, really? I chickened out and ordered in English, though, too scared of making a mistake. The choices were old, young and mild cheese; we got a young and an old, and I’m afraid I didn’t write down the names. The coffee, by the way, although obviously not the focus of the shop, was spot on, as would be each of the subsequent cups we drank in Amsterdam. How do they do that?

We had a good chunk of time that morning to explore the city centre, the Dam (main square), the red light district (how could I not? I’m a public health professional after all) and the Oude Kerk, the old church – right smack in the middle of the red light district, and there’s even a statue of a sex worker on the grounds. A classy little bakery with pretty sweets and really good bread was a few steps away, and we stopped in for an almond-curl biscuit, amandelkrull – I got an approving nod from the baker for sounding out the word correctly. Result! OK, that was an easy one. How about koekje? Am I right in guessing that this should be pronounced, approximately, ‘cookie’? We didn’t spend as much time in patisseries scrutinising the koekjes as we should have. Given that each cup of coffee was accompanied by a different one, I suspect that there is a whole new world out there. Anyway, here’s a pic of the window of the bakery in the red-light district:

Let's call it Munchies Bakery, since I can't remember what it was really called.

While we shared our amandelkrull and drank coffee, a young American guy came in. The proprietor threw a wry, knowing (but not unkind) glance to his assistant that said ‘You want to take this one?’ American guy proceeded to order, rather passionately, a brownie and a slice of carrot cake, at 11 am. It seems the many cannabis coffeeshops in the area are good for business.

That afternoon, after a light, leisurely lunch back in the Vondelpark – it’s so easy to get around! – with a friend and her lovely twin babbies, we braved threatening skies and headed over to the Jewish History Museum. We walked via the somewhat disappointing flower market – mostly tourist souvenirs, at this point, and to be honest (eek, don’t hate me!) I don’t even like tulips all that much. But if I lived there, I might pick up a few perennials. Amazingly, though cannabis seeds were on sale everywhere, I don’t believe I saw any growing, anywhere. (Perhaps it’s grown indoors? I ask purely out of theoretical interest, honest.)

One thing we knew we wanted to try in Amsterdam was Indonesian food, which seems to take the place of Britain’s Indian restaurants, since Indonesia was for a long time a Dutch colony. Our friend referred us to Orient, a family-run business near the famous Concertgebouw and the big art museums. Wednesday was buffet night, which made it easy to try many dishes – the equivalent of a rijstaffel? I managed not to overeat, but I could have done quite happily.

Bloemenmarkt

We shared a fabulously buttery almond croissant, nabbed earlier in the day, on the way back to the hotel. Perfect.

Thursday morning rained buckets on Amsterdam, so it was a good day to hit the museums, but first, breakfast. We had to try Bagels and Beans, if only because it looked like an inviting place for a sit-down. The menu was great, the coffee was again lovely, and some American students were happy to share the shop’s wifi password with us. The only disappointment with the breakfast was, I’m afraid, with the bagels themselves. They lacked that boiled, chewy quality and were somehow a bit crumbly.

Never mind; we survived, and were fed, and braved the queues for the Rijksmuseum. Delftware, check; Old Masters, check (except for the Vermeers, which were in The Hague); celebration of faded imperial glory, check. Truly, though, we love old Rembrandt – he’s a Master for good reason – and it was exciting to experience his work in person.

For lunch Thursday we wandered around the canals in search of a recommended sandwich shop. The wander was worthwhile in itself, but when we got to the shop, there was truly nothing on the long, mostly meat menu I really wanted, and the bread was only just meh.

A Delft violin, with strings and all. I can only imagine it sounds pretty weird.

Andrew bought one and I abstemiously settled on tangy frozen yogurt with berries, in preparation for the inevitable afternoon attack of the friet. We sneakily borrowed a seat outside the yogurt shop where I made myself available to help Andrew consume the biggest, sloppiest sandwich we’d ever seen, a takeaway item that really should have come with its own table, plate, cutlery and napkins.

Which brings me to the topic of mayonnaise. I love the stuff, but not as much as the Dutch do. It’s everywhere! The supermarket deli/ready-meal section we visited had shelves and shelves of mostly mayo salads and sandwiches. As noted above it’s the default topping for friet. Where do they put it all? Why are Amsterdammers not fat? I can only assume it’s because they cycle everywhere.

I found something better than mayo, or even ketchup (another Indonesian word!), for friet. After circling back around to the Portuguese synagogue, which we hadn’t fit in the day before, I did indeed get drawn in by the ubiquitous friet. This time, though, on a hunch, I asked if one of the sauces on offer was peanut-flavoured and, sure enough, I got satay, a rich, dark, sweetish, slightly spicy sauce that was better than those particular friet to be honest.

I wish I’d gotten a larger portion, but it was just as well I didn’t, as dinner – tapas, at Sal Gorda, not far from our hotel – was very filling indeed (the restaurant is much prettier than the website). And even though my Dutch is nonexistent, our lovely waiter was only too happy to speak Spanish! We had the classics here: marinated anchovies, Merguez sausage, a big bowl of olives, patatas bravas (with more mayo, natch), shrimp in garlic sauce, and more. As it was still light, I forgot it was 9 pm and ordered a cappuccino (just to go wash down the crema Catalana of course); amazingly, it didn’t keep me awake.

Friday morning – our last morning – was again rainy, and we breakfasted at Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgian chain that’s really very good, though I did find myself wondering if there was a seamy underbelly. They sell beautiful sourdough loaves, but when I asked the waiter if he’d had a chance to make them, he admitted that the loaves are prepared and shaped elsewhere, and only baked in the local shop. Fair enough…I suppose. It is a chain after all.

We weren’t sure these were the loaves we wanted to bring home, though, so we poked our heads in a few shops in this (very posh) neighbourhood and ended up in an organic grocery, where we bought a sourdough nut loaf and some young geitekaas (goats’ cheese), having previously bought some aged geitekaas, quite different, at a shop in town. And with our last few euros – luckily they didn’t take credit cards as we could’ve done some serious damage here – we bought some fruit jellies for Andrew’s mum, in the most beautiful sweet shop you’ve ever seen, Van Avezaath-Beune.

Café at Schiphol Airport. These wooden loaves looked better than the actual bread, unfortunately, but they had good coffee and free mini-stroopwaffels.

Amsterdam, we love you and will be back, armed with a better knowledge of Dutch… there is so much more to eat!

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Happy St David’s Day

St David (Dewi Sant) is the patron saint of Wales, and he lived, oh, around the 6th century. I really wanted to make raisin-y little Welsh cakes today to celebrate the holiday, but couldn’t find one of these:

None of the modern cooking stores seem to offer much cookware that’s not non-stick, let alone cast iron (at least unenameled), even though it’s one of the best materials there is for durability and even heat distribution.

Welsh cakes are also called bakestones (another name, too, for the heavy iron griddle), or griddle scones, and in Welsh are picau ar y maen which I don’t know how to pronounce. They are like English scones in composition, but obviously are baked differently. Here’s someone else’s recipe and perhaps by next St David’s Day I will have myself sorted and make them so I can offer my own recipe, and a photo.

Until then, Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus!

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Things (some) English people eat

Pork snacks with free beer. What’s not to like?

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End-of-summer produce

A few items from our garden. Not quite enough to live on, but we'll get there.

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Curry Laksa – Malaysian revisited

From this, and a few other items:

to this.

I’m not one for hyperbole, but this was seriously one of the best things I ever ate, let alone made. But I really don’t mean to brag; it was also one of the easiest things I’ve ever made, practically no cooking skills required. The work was mostly in organizing a bunch of ingredients, getting them ready in sequence, and throwing them together. (Ingredient list: coconut milk, cooked prawns, cooked chicken – I browned some thighs and threw them in the microwave, cooked Chinese noodles, frozen peas, and boiled egg.)  It had Andrew and me happily slurping, sniffling, and glowing from the heat, and slopping the gravy everywhere – I even splashed some in my eye at one point.

Thanks to Hsien-Hsien Lei for suggesting the curry laksa paste!

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I miss Mexican food

Blech.

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Irish soda bread for everyone

Two equally yummy - and thus equally valid - loaves of soda bread. Both Irish.

So much rancor out there over the concept of what constitutes real soda bread; it’s making me a little dyspeptic, and in need of a bicarb. Heh. Anyway, you’d think it was a political debate, and maybe it is; Andrew thinks the white-flour-with-raisins version may be more typical of Northern Ireland than the brown kind. But come on, people. Soda bread is just bread that’s leavened with soda (baking soda) mixed with an acid, like buttermilk. And from my research and personal interviews, there are lots of soda bread variations even within Ireland, so I’m tossing the idea of an “authentic” Irish bread out the window, and spelling it lower case.

I’ve made the following recipe ever since 1981, when I clipped it from a King Arthur Flour ad in the Boston Globe. But a couple of years ago, when the page went missing in a sea of unfiled paper, I started surfing for a substitute, and discovered very strong voices declaring that true soda bread is Brown and Not Sweet with No Raisins. What? My beloved King Arthur was not real soda bread? I tried a few of the recipes I’d found and none were as good. This year, amazingly given the chaos of the move, I found it again, and Andrew’s mum Angela chimed in. She was born in raised in the north of Ireland, and I was delighted to find out that she makes hers with white flour and raisins; she also gave me some very sensible advice about not overworking the dough.

King Arthur’s Irish Soda Bread, ca. 1981 and updated with real Irish granny input

4 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seed (optional)
1 cup raisins
1 egg (at room temperature)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups (about) buttermilk (at room temperature)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Put first six ingredients in mixing bowl and stir well. Add raisins and stir. Add egg and shortening and stir. Add 1 1/4 cup buttermilk all at once, or a bit more if it seems too dry. Incorporate all the liquid and dry ingredients into a firm dough and then stop stirring. Do not knead the dough, but shape and pat it into a flattened ball on a lightly floured sheet of baking paper, dusting the top with a bit more flour. Make a cross in the top with a sharp, floured knife, forming four quarters, like the four provinces: Ulster, Connaught, Leinster, and Munster (get it? I made that up). Move the dough and baking paper to an ungreased baking tin.

Bake for about 40 minutes. Insert a cake tester in the center of the loaf and if it comes out clean, the loaf is baked.

********************

I did like the idea of brown bread on aesthetic grounds, and vowed to keep searching for the right one. Here’s one adapted from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads. We served it last night for dessert (it is a touch sweet) alongside the King Arthur loaf and with several nice cheeses, and it got gobbled up. It’s dead easy and I’ll definitely be making it again.

Royal Hibernian brown loaf

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour, stone-ground preferred
1 cup all-purpose flour, approximately
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (2 oz) butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a bowl mix together all of the dry ingredients. With your fingers work in the butter until it is absorbed by the flour, and the mixture resembles tiny, soft bread crumbs.

Make a well in the center of the mixture. In a separate bowl lightly beat the egg and stir in the milk. Gradually pour the egg-milk mixture into the well, mixing well with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are incorporated. Do not knead the dough, but shape and pat it into a flattened ball on a lightly floured sheet of baking paper, dusting the top with a bit more flour. Make a cross in the top with a sharp, floured knife, forming four quarters.

Move the paper and dough to an ungreased baking tin, and bake till it has browned and has opened dramatically along the cuts, about 40 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool before cutting in thin slices.


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