Field Notes-Amsterdam

Exploring is exhausting but typing on my Kindle Fire is maddening.  The keyboard I brought for it is not working, so I apologize for skipping out for a while.

We have been spending more time around the center of the city, and discovering that the bulk of tourists seem to be in those areas.  I love it here on Lijnbaansgracht Street, one block from the museum district, but back to where the masses are.  There are a lot of large, elegant hotels on the canals.   We went to the Flea Market and the Flower Market.

Even the mannequin is taller than me.
Even the mannequin is taller than me.





BIKES RULE:  We should have been born with eyes in the back of our head (although I think my Momma might have been an exception).  As a pedestrian, you have to be constantly alert.  Between watching out for cars (which are mostly the minority in the historical part of AMS),you need to make sure you are really on the sidewalk and NOT a bike path.  Most of the time, you can figure it out, but there are times when there are so many parked bikes on the sidewalk, that you are forced to share the road with bikers.  Most of the time, you can hear them coming (like bats coming out of Carlsbad Caverns at sunset), but on the chance you are listening to Dutch folk tunes on your IPod, they will run you over.   One young lady hit Dean as we were coming off a bridge that was lined with parked bikes on both sides (hence no place to walk but the street).  Anyway, this is just a simple warning:  Read up on your tour books. When you arrive here, look at where the bike lanes are located.  Figure out the scene here and you will be fine, except for Dean who has a tire track on his pants.

After banging up my knee, I gave up on the idea of riding bikes.  However, bike rentals are scattered around.  If you are intimidated by the numbers of bicylists, go out in the early evening when the numbers are down (which is the opposite of bats).  Anyway, you may want to familiarize yourself with your surroundings before jumping on a bike with a map.

The Dutch haven’t passed laws on handfree bicycle riding, but I’m betting it is just a matter of time.  Saw a lot of cyclists reading their phones and texting.  In the evenings, it is not unusual to see couples out on a date, the gal on the back, riding side saddle.  Brought back memories of jumping on the back of a friend’s bike when mine was kaput and speeding off.

EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH:  One day, I went up to a sales clerk in a department store.  I had been searching for gloves since my arrival but could only find stores with socks.  (The Dutch apparently love brightly colored socks.)  I told the woman, “I’m sorry.  I don’t speak Dutch.  Can you tell me if you have any gloves?”  A woman standing next to me turned looked my way and said,   “Of course she speaks English.  Everyone speaks English here.”   It’s true.  It’s a blessing, travelers.  It makes life so much easier.

THE DUTCH ARE HAPPY, FRIENDLY, TALL AND BEAUTIFUL:  So what’s wrong with them?  I wasn’t there long enough to figure that out, but if I had been, my negative nature would have forced me to dig up the dirt on these affable and gregarious people.  It just seems, well, unseemly.

WHERE WAS THE DOG POOP?  Everyone warned us, including Rick Steves, to watch where you walked.  The Dutch don’t like to pick up their dogs’ deposits.  Afterall, they pay a lot in taxes (50% TO 60%).  For that, they feel the government should be the ones picking up their dogs’ shit.  Personally, I think politicians in all countries should be responsible for picking up the dog shit of all their constituents.  Just to let them know who really is in charge….the dogs.

Trouble is, there were scant amounts of dog poop when we arrived.  We had just missed King’s Day, which is The Netherland’s biggest holiday.  I gather it is their Mardi Gras.  I think street cleaners (who I assume also speak English) had cleaned up the city right before we arrived because by the time we left Amsterdam, the poop was starting to drop here and there like early cherry blossoms.

Last night,we dined in an amazing place, Bo Cinq, at Prinsengracht 494.  It was sort of a Moroccan place, but not really.  First of all, they had the best bar drinks.  The bar scene was cool and hip beautiful people, which is why we were immediately seated in the dining area.  For an appetizer, we had fresh tuna with salted cod, which I will be trying at home.  Our entrees, seabass and a seafood tangine were perfectly prepared.  (I almost ordered the Ray dish like in sting ray, but when I asked our server about the dish she gave me the wink-wink servers give you when they are trying to telepathically tell you, “Run for your life”.  Later, she pointed to a guy two tables over who had obviously and foolishly ignored his server’s crossed eyes and hand gestures . This poor guy was hacking away at his “ray” with a gardening tool, while trying to put on a happy face for his date.

OK. Time to pack for our departure tomorrow morning, then, we are going to an Indonesian restaurant that was highly recommended and we won’t be getting back till late, like in vacation late, after 11 or 12, so I need to get this packing out of the way.  I don’t know about you, but I do not pack well after a few drinks.

I have switched to Dean’s IPad and should be able to report back more timely.

PS:  I still love this place.

Day 2- amsterdam-it

I love this vibrant, young, picturesque city with it’s unique architecture, canals, cyclists in biblical numbers, with countless appealing shops that warrant a good face print on their dressed-up storefront windows.

Today we went to the Rijksmuseum which is only one block away.  Worth it but DO buy your ticket online to avoid the on-site ticket line. It will be an open ticket so no reservation time to be locked into later.

However, avoid any sudden burst of spontaneity after your museum tour.  When you see the ground level water fountain, a circle of revolving frigid water where people are standing in the middle, just shy of getting wet, walk away.  First of all, under most cicumstances, you would never mingle with any of these folks unless they married into the family.  Look straight ahead.  Keep walking to the cafe with the sign that reads, “wine and beer.”

Now I sit here with ice on my knee., limping on the second day of a 16-day vacation.  Nothing is broken– just a swollen knee missing a  lot of skin.  There’s a shop nearby that sells walking canes.  They open at 10 am tomorrow.  I bet I won’t have to wait in line there.

Philadelphia’s South Street, etc .

Ben Franklin garage doorWe traveled to Philadelphia, PA recently for a wedding. I worked at a client site in Philly for about six weeks several decades ago. I was on a ridiculously lax expense account so I dined like I suspect members of Congress do when they cross paths with a lobbyist. It was a fun six weeks except for the actual work I was doing: interviewing employees of our client, and ultimately making suggestions for the ones who needed to be laid-off.

I had good memories of South Street back then, so we rented an AirBnB apartment off of South Street. Like most things in life, it has changed into more of an eclectic neighborhood by day: lots of restaurants and sports bars, hat shops, sex toy shops, consignment stores (some good, some skanky), and a Whole Foods.   Continue reading

What does a Mississippi Gal do with Left-Over Grits? Make salad.

Put left-over grits in a container. Pack it down so when it is cold it will lift out of the container in one piece.  (My mom used to put the left-over grits in an open ended left-over soup can.  That way when she wanted to use the cold grits, she just pushed them through to the other side, then cut up the cylinder of grits into slices.)Grits-Houlimi Salad

Cut the grits up in slices and cook slowly(medium heat) in a combination of butter and canola until crispy. (If you do this too hot and fast, it won’t work, although you could put it into a fryer and be done with it but the grits would absorb more oil and butter – less healthy. Anyway, cook until crispy. Then cut into cubes. Allow about 10-15 minutes for this.

Another Unexpected Ingredient:  Halioumi cheese. It is a weird sheep cheese from Cyprus that you can grill and it doesn’t melt. This is the best way to eat this cheese. Served cold, well, it is like doing penance. Grill it on the grill or cook it on a high temp cast iron skillet, which is what I do. (You can also put it on a non-stick pan on high and cook very quickly till brown.) Cut up into squares and put aside.

Make your salad dressing. I did a basic balsamic vinegar salad dressing with a bit of orange zest and smoked salt. The latter is not necessary.

I cooked two slices of bacon and chopped up the crispy slices afterwards. Chopped up some tomatoes (not too much), spring mix salad, and tossed all the ingredients. (Gently put the cubes of grits on top. They tend to crumble if you just toss them with all the ingredients.)

Note: My Momma taught me not to waste. An easy enough concept since I couldn’t feed my leftovers to the poor people in China. I am referring to the mantra of our parents: “Think of the poor people in China syndrome of the 50’s generation”. I am sure that I am not the only person who silently thought that if it made sense to ship over the food we didn’t want to eat on our plate, we would have happily taken the money out of allowance to pay for it: just to not hear that phrase at the end of every friggin meal.

I don’t want to think of what my parents would say about China now.

What’s up today

Getting ready for a four-day trip to the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. We’re heading there for the wedding of Dean’s niece, Sian. We’ve rented an apartment just off South Street in the Old City area. Lots of restaurants and bars in this area and easy access to the city. Many years ago, I worked for over a month in Philadelphia at a client site, commuting from DC by train on Sunday night and returning on Friday evening. That was in the days of ridiculously lax expense accounts and I dined like a queen who didn’t carry a wallet.  Food never tasted so good.

Joining us are Alex and Caroline, Dean’s brother and sister-in-law, who we adore. They also live in Austin (which is one of the reasons we moved here). Anyway, looking forward to exploring the city together. First on my list, the Barnes Foundation, which is believed to be the greatest private collection of post-impressionist and early modern art in America.

I’ve been reading menus of restaurants and have zeroed in on a couple, most within walking distance of where we will be staying. Not certain if everyone will be on board with me, which is OK. There’s a bourbon pub/café nearby and I’m betting Alex (Mr. Bourbon) has already found it on the Web. Although, Alex is in China right now and arriving after we get there.   Perhaps he should be sipping warm water and not alcohol while recuperating from jet lag. Nah….

Yum Yum. I say num-num – Bon Appetit?

What the hell is going on with Bon Appetit magazine?  I have been a subscriber for decades.  (My yearly subscriptions was actually a tax write-off when I was a food critic in Ann Arbor.)  Now, I am questioning whether to renew my subscription, although I probably have paid ahead into 2030 because of the incessant renewal requests.

All of the sudden, the font is size 8 (or less) and often is almost the same color as the friggin background.  Yeah, I know.  BA is going after the younger audience, but hey, I still cook using new recipes.  I still want to crawl in bed at night with my foodie magazine and get so hungry I find myself in the pantry with a flashlight.

However, the most irritating and unjustified offense of the magazine:  size 8 font and often close to the same color as the background.  Right now, I’m looking at directions for making a classic martini.  Under Do the Twist (like in a lemon), the font is size 7, medium gray ink, with a similar background color.  I need a magnifying glass.  I need a martini.

I’ve always enjoyed going to the magazine’s r.s.v.p section.  This is where readers request the recipe of a favorite dish they had in a restaurant, and BA gets the restaurant to let them publish it.  It’s a good way to see what people are eating when they dine out.  This month’s r.s.v.p. section has recipes for stuff like  Tofu Yum-Yum Bowl (I say Yuck-Yuck), Lentil Croquettes with Watercress and Kefir  (Keifer Sutherland?),  Ham and Pea Pies, ….and this month’s dessert,  Miso Doughnuts.  For the love of God, where is this country headed?

More grumbling to follow.  There’s Food & Wine magazine…

The Easter Bunny is a Fraud but It’s OK. He’s the One with the Chocolate.

I’m kind of a grump when it comes to the Easter Bunny. At a very early age, my mother was instrumental in curing me of that holiday myth.  I was around 6 years old. A few of my friends in the neighborhood were over and we were getting ready to decorate eggs in our kitchen. While we were all waiting for the boiled eggs to chill down, my mother motioned for me to follow her out into the hallway. She put her hands on my shoulders, leaned in and said, “I want you to know something. There is no stupid Easter Bunny. It is just one more stupid American tradition that gives kids a bunch of candy.”  (I should also mention that she hated Halloween.) She was angry now, and said, “It’s when Christ died on the cross for our sins.  Americans always have to make religious holidays into something commercial. So, just remember, Christ on the cross, no Easter Bunny. Now. Go back to your friends, and don’t tell them what I said.”

So when I tell you this story, imagine a wide-eyed, curly-haired, skinny kid looking up at her mother who had a very thick Mexican accent. (I often had to translate to my friends what she was saying.) I accepted what my mom said. I had already become suspicious about the whole bunny story, but wasn’t quite ready to give up on an Easter basket full of chocolate. The hardest thing for me that day was going back into that room. Would they be able to tell what had happened by just looking at me? Would they pry out the ugly truth, burst into tears, then run home to their moms crying? My God. I would forever be known as the kid who killed the Easter Bunny.  My mother, well, she would have to leave town. Continue reading

I came for the powdered sugar and the butter.

Last night, my husband and I dined in the kitchen of the wonderful French restaurant and bakery, Artisan Bistro.  We weren’t alone. There were ten of us who signed up for a cooking class on a night when the restaurant is normally closed. Seating was set up around the wrap around bar facing an open kitchen. The area was intimate, cozy and romantic, with low lighting and beautifully arranged place settings. Most importantly, we all had a bird’s eye view of the chef at work.
The Executive Chef, Cesidio d’Andrea, is also the receptionist, chef, owner, sommelier, waiter, and busboy. I’ll get back to the reason for why Chef Cesidio is wearing so many hats in his restaurant, but for now, just know that he can multi-task as efficiently as any soccer mom caring for a family of five.
As our group arrived, D’Andrea was quietly taking care of final preparations, cutting slices of bread, bringing out bottles of chilled water with slices of lemon or fennel, checking off people’s names from the reservation list, all while we took seats at the bar and obediently waited to find out what was happening next. I was beginning to think this was going to be a mime performance, but, finally, he broke the silence by asking if any of us wanted to order wine. Expressions of relief appeared on everyone’s faces.  (No one likes a mime.) Continue reading

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

It seemed like a good idea, taking the Copper Canyon Train to Chihuahua.  The brochure said it had a glass-topped roof. I imagined myself watching the splendid gorges while sipping rice water in clay mugs.

The train was overbooked and I felt lucky to find a seat. An elderly woman, with hips that spilled over onto my seat, ate raw radishes and grilled onions. ChicharronesShe offered me crispy Chicharrónes with fried hair that glistened in the sunlight. I declined. She looked offended, heaved a sigh and her hips multiplied by a factor of ten. She had been holding back.

I tried to imagine being somewhere else, but it wouldn’t work. I got up and looked for the glass roof. My body moved between the swaying cars like a drunken crab. I asked about the glass roof. No one had seen it.

I started regretting giving up my seat. Where was this stupid glass roof.

Then I saw a man greedily sprawled out on four seats, one arm tucked under his head like a pillow. I approached the man and demanded he sit up like everyone else. Looking around at no one in particular, I yelled, “He’s taking up four seats”.

A woman leaned forward and placed her hand on my shoulder with the grip of a rock climber. Her eyes were so far apart that it was hard to stay put on just one. Maybe nature had made room for three, but somewhere in the womb, the Cyclops eye had been forgotten. I heard her say, “Leave him be. The poor soul fell over dead half way across the canyon.”

At that moment, not being able to look this woman directly in the eye was a blessing. All I could think was I had just yelled at a dead man. Someone needed to give me a hat with “jerk” written across the front.

I never found the glass roof that day and I don’t recall much about the train ride after my encounter with the dead guy. I do remember that I never found a seat again but, at that point, I didn’t think I deserved one.

Note to Reader:  Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) is located in the southwestern corner of the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico.  It is larger than the Grand Canyon in Arizona and deeper in some areas.  The canyons were formed by six rivers which drain into the western side of the Sierra Tarahumara (a part of the Sierra Madre Occidental.)