Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Proof in the pudding

A report about our Carnival experience will follow. Meanwhile, Ria van Gerwen sent a few photos from the evening we spent with them. I wanted to share this one of the dessert so that you can see for yourselves how beautifully she presented the food. And aren’t the plates pretty? (Anouk’s Uncle John took the photo.)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Heat wave

To us the 45°F (7°C) temperature outside this morning feels like a heat wave. Maybe spring really is coming. We’re definitely ready for it. As much as we love Amsterdam, it’s been darned cold here this winter (the coldest in more than 10 years, yada yada…), and we’re tired of being tied to the dock. April 1st will see us casting off (weather permitting, of course) and heading up the old Zuider Zee. The plan is to linger in Holland in April to enjoy the tulips and another visit to Keukenhof (www.keukenhof.nl) before we continue on to Scandinavia.

Since my last post, we’ve been to see Anouk’s apartment in Amstelveen, and Esmeralda came to visit us for a couple of hours. It’s always fun to see “the Dutch girls.” They’re both very busy—Anouk with ski vacations and finishing her thesis and Esmeralda with work—so we haven’t seen them often. John keeps reminding me that they have their own lives.

This weekend we’re headed back to ‘s Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) at Lex and Maria’s invitation to experience Carnaval. (Sjoerd is kindly dog sitting, so we won’t have to worry about Märzen getting into the cat food again.) Carnaval is the Dutch spelling of the pre-Lent festival celebrated throughout the Catholic world. In the Netherlands, the north is historically predominantly Protestant, and the south is Catholic. We’re told that Den Bosch is the New Orleans of the Netherlands for the festivities. Of course, it’s much colder here, so we don’t really expect bare-breasted women, but who knows. The Dutch can go crazy sometimes.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Great dinner at the van Gerwen’s

Anouk’s parents (the van Gerwens) invited us to join them for dinner Sunday evening, and that turned out to be the highlight of a very nice weekend for us. We’ve mentioned Jan and Ria and their extraordinary hospitality before, but this dinner exceeded anything we could have expected.

We knew that Anouk wasn’t going to be at dinner and that we would be meeting her aunt and uncle, Ludy and John (who have a sailboat). Beyond that, we assumed it would be a nice family dinner with talk about sailing. And it was a delightful evening with interesting conversation – not just about sailing but also about building and renovation in Amsterdam, which we find interesting since we’re living in the midst of it, and about Dutch food, of course.

The family dinner turned out to be a multiple-course gourmet feast based on traditional Dutch fare, but with an elegant twist, and it was awesome! The amuse was tiny individual pots of Dutch pea soup. The fish course included smoked eel (which I had thought I didn’t care for, but this smoked eel was excellent), smoked salmon, North Sea shrimp, and crab salad. The main course featured huge cuts of beef tenderloin, perfectly cooked, served with pepper sauce and sautéed mushrooms and onions and accompanied by potatoes, sugar peas with pine nuts, cinnamon stewed pears (Ria’s family version), and salad. After all of that, there was a wonderful frozen chocolate mousse in a chocolate shell with whipped cream and fruit. All was served with wine and followed by coffee. Although I risked hurting myself by doing it, I cleaned all of my plates. (Ria warned already with the second course that the Dutch don’t do doggie bags.)

Besides that the food was so beautiful and tasty, Ria served it each course on exactly the proper plates (her dinnerware pattern is beautiful) and with an intimidating collection of flatware. We had multiple forks, spoons and knives on both sides of our place settings plus at the top. I was grateful that my mom had long ago given me guidelines for dealing with the selection. This was the most I’d ever encountered. Even then, when we reached dessert and there were still two spoons and a fork left, I had to ask Ria if there was going to be even more. Thankfully, it was a fork and spoon for dessert and then a spoon for the coffee. I couldn’t have eaten another bite.

Anouk joined us for dessert, and it was very nice to see her. I missed the open house at her new apartment, but John twisted her arm and got us invited for coffee Tuesday, so I’ll see it then.

We had a totally wonderful evening! Wish we had photos to share.

Busy weekend

Our weekend was very busy, which is a bit unusual for us. For me it started with an outing with Marike. We had a nice lunch at the restaurant de Waag and then did some shopping at the Nieuwmarkt and a Chinese store in the neighborhood. I always enjoy spending time with Marike. Mostly we speak Dutch, at least to start. If I slip into too much English, she switches too, so I try to stick to Dutch. My accent is terrible, and my vocabulary and grammar aren’t so good either, but she seems to understand me, so that’s good. It seems to me that I do better if I don’t think about it too much. I’ve never really been able to translate from English to Dutch. My Dutch just sort of is there – or it’s not.

On Sunday we had dinner at Anouk’s parents’ home in Amstelveen. That was incredible, and it gets its own blog entry soon. We took the light rail/subway to get there, and that was a first for us.

By the time dinner was over and we got back to city center, it was time to go watch the Super Bowl. I had investigated places we could do this, and the closest was the Globe Hotel sports bar in the red-light district. (Regular buses and trams don’t run that late – or early – so we were walking home.) Actually, the hotel is in a quiet corner of the district, so we didn’t even see any of the prostitutes in the windows, but we have seen them before. The crowd for the game seemed to be English and Dutch and maybe a few Americans, but not of the tourist sort. If there were any Cardinal fans, they were drowned out by the very boisterous Steelers contingent. It was odd to see the Super Bowl without commercials. I hadn’t been able to decide who I wanted to win, so I wasn’t disappointed that Arizona lost although I’m sure my mom was. It was a good game, and I stayed mostly awake for it.

Amidst all the other activity, John managed to edit and post another video on YouTube. Here it is:

YouTube video link