Pregnant and camping: Why not?

The camping holiday we took in early summer of 2007 raised a few eyebrows for obvious reason — I was five months on the family way. Hubby and I are so fond of camping that my condition did not deter me then to enjoy the pleasure of an outdoor holiday. We’ve camped in a few countries in Europe, spent our honeymoon camping in Denmark and we even went on holiday in the United States camping in five states (Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico).

With our new tent, I could stand inside

Our tent

Enjoying a drink before dinner (I abstained from alcohol though)

We made a few adjustments though from our usual camping routine. First, we bought a bigger and taller tent to replace our small tent so that I can stand inside it and need not crawl to get in. Next, we plan the camping trip in such a way that we camped in just 3 places during the entire holiday instead of hopping from one camping site to the next on a daily basis like what we used to do in the past. In that way, we didn’t have to set up the tent in the afternoon and dismantle it in the morning as we move on.

We opted to go camping in France as on the holidays we’ve spent there in the past, we either stayed in hotels or holiday houses. It is also one popular camping destination for the Dutch which we’ve never validated if deserving of its popularity.

At Chateau Chenonceau which spans the river Cher

At Chateau de Chenonceau with the garden of Catherine de Medici in the background

My tummy looks like the topiaries at Chateau du Amboise

Our first camping stop was in the Loire Valley. As I love castles and is such a history and royalty buff, the Loire Valley was an obvious choice. More so, I’ve just finished reading Catherine de Medici’s biography by Leonie Frieda which with all the intrigues and drama of Renaissance France, made the desire to visit the castles of Chenonceau , Amboise, Chaumont sur Loire, etc. so compelling. We camped in the town of Chenonceaux itself, on the banks of the river Cher. Camping Le Moulin Fort was just 15 minutes walk from Chenonceaux Castle and literally almost a stone’s throw because we could even hear the outdoor music from the castle during the weekend’s music festival.

We enjoyed our stay in this camping site. What we also learned is that we can have electricity in our tent, we just needed to pay an extra Eur 2.00 per day and place a deposit on the special electrical cable and socket. This was a big improvement compared to our previous camping experiences were we literally have to rely on gas lamps and flashlights. Now, we can charge our mobile phones and even use the laptop.

Because of my condition, we also chose to set up the tent not so far from the toilet/bathroom. That’s another thing that we took into account and for the rest, it was business as usual.

Oh, I loved our breakfasts out there. The nice thing about camping in France was that we could place our orders of croissants and French bread in the evening at the camp shop. Hubby would pick them up there fresh from the oven at 8:30 in the morning. That was really heaven for me. I was eating like a construction worker according to him as I would eat between 3 to 4 of those lovely croissants slathered with butter and strawberry jam.

The Loire Valley must be the castle capital in the world with the highest number of castles per few square kilometers. In the beginning, we were visiting 3 to 4 castles a day (can you imagine that?) and that was because there were just so many of them and all with their own special attractions. At one point, I guess that castle fatigue knocked me off big time. Each castle especially from the inside started to look the same ;-)

Anyway, I will try to cover the castles in my upcoming blogs and give you a bit more insight into each and every one of them.

We stayed at the Loire Valley for 5 days before moving to the Drome which hubby wanted to show me. He spent a few weeks in the area doing field work many years ago as an Engineering Geology student. We would stay there for another 4 days and then it was the choice of driving further to the Provence in the south or heading to the French Alps. The latter prevailed because we didn’t have to drive a lot further and the weather forecast was excellent weather on the French side of the Alps.

At the Drome having fun


At one of the passes in the Drome

Rocky cliffs in the Drome were such breathtaking attractions

At the Alps

At the Alps, with snow still left in early summer

Life is about taking chances and thinking outside the box. I did not allow myself to be restricted by my pregnancy to enjoy a great holiday. Camping is fun and it is an adventure that we will carry on.

Christmas celebration Dutch-style

It is not an exaggeration if I say that at least 50% if not more of the Dutch did “Gourmet” for Christmas dinner. Gourmet in the Dutch way is the exact opposite of what the French mean with this term. From Wikipedia, Gourmet is defined as a cultural ideal associated with the culinary arts of fine food and drink, or haute cuisine, which is characterised by elaborate preparations and presentations of large meals of small, often quite rich courses. The term and its associated practices are usually used positively to describe people of refined taste and passion.

Gourmet Dutch style


Gourmet Dutch style on the other hand, requires very little preparation except for the slicing of the different types of meat (beef, chicken, pork, turkey) or they can also be bought pre-sliced and gourmet-specific from the supermarkets that will later go into a Tefal grill-like cooking stove that runs on electricity. Then, there are the different types of sauces to prepare, oftentimes the shortcut is to get the powdered sauces that can be mixed with mayonnaise.

Compared to Filipinos like me who love to toil in the kitchen for hours to prepare the Christmas dinner (in the Philippines, roasted pig called lechon, fried chicken, noodles, various types of cakes, fruit salads, meat rolls, ham, etc. will be at the dinner table), the Dutch like to keep things easy. The least time that is spent in the kitchen, the better it is for them. Hubby for instance, can prepare a complete Dutch meal in 20 minutes. I need twice that time although I’m now learning to cut corners but still not top hubby’s 20 minutes.

With the busy week we had at work and the rather little time to make dinner plans, I was very happy that my parents-in-law suggested to have Gourmet at their place on the first Christmas day. By the way, we observe 2 official Christmas days here being the 25th and 26th of December. Hubby’s birthday will be on the 31st of December anyway, so I’ll be doing the dinner then.

We enjoyed the lovely Christmas dinner. The dinner was also adjusted to Francesca’s preference with pancake also cooked in the Gourmet stove. Mam Sil and Francesca made their own pancake mix. There were also several types of fruits (kaki, mango, melon, pineapple), bread and salad vegetable. Dessert was ice cream.

Pouring the pancake mix into the mini-pan

What about you? How did you celebrate your Christmas dinner?

Going cheesy in Gouda

I never thought that a word that I used to encounter when doing crossword puzzles will be as real and tangible as a place on the map. I’m sure that those who love crosswords will agree with me. It is always a choice between Gouda and Edam when the puzzle is on “Dutch cheese”.

Two summers ago, I went to Gouda one Thursday morning to witness the cheese market at work. It is one event which after so many years here, I’ve only seen in postcards and read about in travel guide books. I decided that it was time to witness this spectacle for real. I went on my own because hubby being Dutch, was not so keen to see this event.

The weather was great, just perfect for playing tourist for a day. From Amersfoort, Gouda was just a half hour’s train ride with a single stop in Utrecht.

The walk from the train station to the town’s square took me less than 10 minutes. Then arriving at the square, I was so glad to witness what this whole cheese market was all about. Huge cheeses were laid on the ground, cheese farmers dressed up in their special costumes, blond Dutch girls in their milkmaid costumes, horse-drawn carriages laden with cheeses, stalls selling wooden clogs known as “klompen” and a demo of how these clogs are made, demo of cheese-making, a stall selling “poffertjes” or the Dutch mini pancakes served with butter and dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

Gouda is known for 3 things:
– cheese
– candles
– “stroopwafels” or caramel waffles

On the candles, there is one day in the year (recently last 13 December) when the city switches off its light and candles are lighted all over. I still have to witness this event which I learned from another friend who hails from this city.

To anyone visiting Holland in summer, I am recommending Gouda as a must-see place. The city is well-preserved and simply great for sightseeing. The cheese market is every Thursday from end-June to end-August from 10:00 to 12:30.

For more information on Gouda, here is the link: www.gouda.nl

20111226-195117.jpg

20111226-195134.jpg

20111226-195148.jpg

20111226-195204.jpg

20111226-195220.jpg

20111226-195246.jpg

20111226-195305.jpg

20111226-195340.jpg

20111226-195356.jpg

20111226-195409.jpg

20111226-195420.jpg

20111226-195433.jpg

20111226-195444.jpg

20111226-195456.jpg

20111226-195506.jpg

20111226-195518.jpg

20111226-195534.jpg

20111226-195542.jpg

20111226-195552.jpg

20111226-195602.jpg

20111226-195611.jpg

20111226-195617.jpg

20111226-195628.jpg

20111226-195640.jpg

20111226-195648.jpg

20111226-195702.jpg

20111226-195712.jpg

20111226-195729.jpg

20111226-195741.jpg

20111226-195754.jpg

20111226-202349.jpg

20111226-202404.jpg

20111226-202421.jpg

20111226-202439.jpg

Driving through what once was the bottom of the sea

We are celebrating this year’s Christmas day with my parents-in-law and they live in Dronten, a place that not so long ago (roughly 65 years ago) used to be the bottom of the sea. This may sound a bit strange so let me elaborate a bit to put things in perspective.

During WWII, Holland experienced famine. The country is small and two thirds of the land area is below sea level. Farming at that time was small scale and labor intensive. After the war came the baby boom and the country has to cope with feeding a huge population. Thus, land reclamation became imperative in order to pursue large scale farming. It helped that the US Marsall Plan also delivered tractors to Holland which made possible the farming of huge tracts of land.

Reclaiming this huge land area from the sea called polder involved first the creation of dikes. Then the sea was eventually emptied of its water. A few years later, the land was ready for farming.

This reclaimed area now known as the province of Flevoland is Holland’s bread basket. The land with all the silt from the earlier sea is so fertile that food production here is excellent. In winter, driving through this area with that unbelievable flatness and seeming emptiness feels like punishment. The standing joke is that we already need a passport to come here because this place is so foreign.

Don’t get me wrong. This place has its redeeming factor in spring and summer. With the price of land around Lisse and Harlem in the west of the country having gotten so expensive, many flower farmers have relocated here. Thus, this area is one amazing tapestry of tulips and daffodils in spring. (The pictures were taken two springtimes back.)

My parents-in-law moved here over four years ago to be closer to us (45 minutes away) so that once a week they could babysit Francesca. They used to lived up north in the province of Friesland and that was a good three hours’ drive.

Dad Wout’s sister and brother-in-law live here in Dronten as well. Oom Jaap is a retired farmer and one of the pioneering farmers in the Flevo polder. Much has already changed in the area. When he and Tante Tineke came here over forty years ago, houses were few and there were no trees at all. It was all flat emptiness in the horizon. Dronten is now one bustling town and many city people have relocated here especially those in search for bigger houses and more garden spaces. Improvement in transportation infrastructure also means that Amsterdam will be easily accessible by train, already expected by 2012 when the Hanze line is completed.

20111226-074439.jpg

20111226-074449.jpg

20111226-074459.jpg

20111226-074508.jpg

20111226-074516.jpg

20111226-074525.jpg

20111226-074532.jpg

20111226-074539.jpg

20111226-074546.jpg

20111226-074553.jpg

20111226-074559.jpg

20111226-074623.jpg

20111226-074629.jpg

20111226-074637.jpg

20111226-074644.jpg

20111226-074658.jpg

20111226-074651.jpg

20111226-074707.jpg

20111226-074716.jpg

20111226-074735.jpg

20111226-074741.jpg

20111226-074749.jpg

20111226-074756.jpg

20111226-074806.jpg

20111226-074814.jpg

Keukenhof (the world-famous Dutch spring garden) many springtimes ago

Keukenhof is one place which I try not to give a miss comes springtime. When you look at these pictures taken way back in 2004, you’ll understand what I mean. In all the times that I’ve been to Keukenhof, this was the best because the weather was warm and the flowers were at their best — all in full bloom. A visit too early would mean that the tulips are still green buds and only few are in full bloom. Thus, the best time is around the 3rd week of April when everything is blooming and bursting in myriad of colors.

Keukenhof is Holland’s most famous spring garden. With a total area of 32 hectares, it is planted with around 7 million flower bulbs of which 4.5 million are tulip bulbs of more than 100 varieties.

Entrance to the park costs Eur 14.50 for an adult and Eur 7.00 for children. Parking costs an extra Eur 6.00.

In 2012, the park will open on the 22nd of March and will shut its door on 20 May. The park is always full of visitors so it is best to arrive early and to already buy the tickets online and print them beforehand. Busiest period is around Eastertime when Holland have its long weekend.

20111225-173135.jpg

20111225-173158.jpg

20111225-173221.jpg

20111225-173236.jpg

20111225-173311.jpg

20111225-173325.jpg

20111225-173337.jpg

20111225-173352.jpg

20111225-173411.jpg

20111225-173423.jpg

20111225-173435.jpg

20111225-173451.jpg

20111225-173519.jpg

20111225-173532.jpg

20111225-173543.jpg

20111225-173603.jpg

20111225-173615.jpg

20111225-173632.jpg

20111225-173651.jpg

20111225-173705.jpg

20111225-173721.jpg

20111225-173736.jpg

20111225-173821.jpg

20111225-173835.jpg

20111225-173847.jpg

A glimpse of Amsterdam on one chilly yet sunny winter day

Two years ago when my sister came over for a 2-week visit, the two of us went to Amsterdam for a day of sightseeing.  Amsterdam is a must-see place for anyone visiting Holland not because of the soft drugs or the Red Light District as what the city seems to be known for but the city with its many well-preserved buildings is very much like a living museum itself.

There are nice nooks and corners to discover such as museums which are home to priceless collections like Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum or the home of Anne Frank.  And if the weather is nice, sitting outside the terrace of a cafe watching the world go by is just fun to do.

We skipped visiting museums this time because we already did that together when she came over for a visit a few years earlier.  Instead, we just wandered around the city and simply enjoyed playing tourists for a day.  My rule is that when the weather is nice, skip the museums.

While we were at the very center of the shopping area, we discovered one narrow passageway that led us to a charming garden surrounded by old houses.  This place is known as the “Begijnhof”.  The houses in the courtyard were once occupied by devout celibate Beguine nuns and are still home to single women today.

We still included the Red Light District in our must-see list for a visit to Amsterdam will not be complete without that.  The place as usual was bustling with tourists amongst others.

My little kitchen diva

It is just not me who loves to dabble in the kitchen.  My little girl also loves trying her hands at making cookies from time to time.

The little chef

Well, starting early is not bad.  These pictures were taken almost a year ago when I started on my journey into the baking world.  I took my little girl with me on this amazing exploration of the baking dimension and we both had a great time learning the ropes of the trade.  We started with simple ready-mix cookies where the only add-on were water and the garnishing.  Now, we’re baking real cookies…

Home-baked goodies as Christmas presents

Chocolate peanut squares, lemon bars, Oreo truffles (Cream cheese brownies still chilling in the fridge)

In this day and age when a lot of things can just be bought all packed and wrapped from the shops, receiving presents which have been a labor of love is better appreciated.  I told hubby that I will do away with sending out Christmas cards this year because I just don’t find them very personal anymore.

Since the start of this year, I’ve been experimenting a lot in the baking department and I can proudly say that I’ve reached my set goal of bringing my baking skills to the next level.

In between the busy days this week wrapping up many stuffs at work before the Christmas holidays, I managed to squeeze in some baking.  I tried new recipes (lemon bars, oreo truffles, cream cheese brownies, chocolate peanut squares) and they all turned out well so despite being dead tired after the marathon baking, I was pretty much satisfied.

Home-baked Christmas presents

Wrapped in nice boxes, we distributed our Christmas presents to the neighbors on Tuesday evening.  Francesca enjoyed handing out the presents and saying, “Merry Christmas”.  We received a lot of emails the day after from the neighbors who found the goodies to be so yummy and the gesture to be so sweet and heartwarming.

Hubby and I also brought some of these goodies to share with colleagues who also gave the same thumbs-up sign as our neighbors.

For more information on the recipes, here are the links:

http://www.joyofbaking.com/barsandsquares/CreamCheeseBrownies.html

http://www.joyofbaking.com/barsandsquares/ChocolatePeanutSquares.html

http://www.joyofbaking.com/LemonBars.html

http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/easy-oreo-truffles-95085.aspx

Dutch pea soup (always a favorite on chilly winter days)

Pea soup or "erwtensoep"

It’s been some years ago when I made this Dutch soup which I learned from my mom-in-law.  With the grey and dreary weather and since I have a bit of time, having this for dinner tonight is just a great idea.

Pea soup or “erwtensoep” (pronounced as ‘er-te-sup’ in case the spelling seems daunting to the untrained eye) is a national favorite.  Ask any Dutchman if he/she likes “erwtensoep” and chances are, you’ll get a thumbs-up sign.

It is not difficult to understand why this is the best -loved soup in this country.  The ingredients are simple and the taste is wonderful.  Cooking is just about putting all ingredients in a pot and having the luxury of time to wait while it slowly boils for roughly 1.5 to 2 hours.

Ingredients to the pea soup

Hmmm…I can hardly wait for dinner time.  Hubby is also so excited.  One thing is sure, he’ll be fishing out those slices of Hema sausages to all go to his plate.

Pork meat with bones and Hema sausage

Ingredients:

400 grams split peas

400 grams pork meat with bones

1 medium sized carrot, chopped roughly

1 leek, sliced to about .5cm

1/4 celery root

1 big potato (optional)

1 onion

2 bay leaves

a handful of celery leaves, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

2 liters water

1 Hema sausage, sliced to about 1 cm. thickness

Served with rye bread (roggebrood) and bacon (katenspek).  Katenspek is a cooked and smoked bacon which is later hanged to dry.

Cooking instruction:

1.  Put all the ingredients in a large soup pan except the Hema sausage.

2.  Bring to a boil at high heat.  Put heat to low and let it simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours or until the meat falls off the bone and the pea and other ingredients are already mushy.

3.  Around 5 minutes before the cooking ends, add the slices of the Hema sausage.

3.  Check the taste, add salt and pepper if necessary.

4.  Best served with rye bread and bacon.

Rye bread with bacon (katenspek)

How to make the perfect guacamole

Hubby saw the ripe avocados when we were doing the groceries this morning at Albert Heijn, the Dutch supermarket chain where we normally go.  He loves guacamole and especially the one I mastered after a few experiments that more or less approximate to the one we tasted in New Mexico when we were there on a camping holiday many years back.

Guacamole served with tortilla chips

Ingredients of guacamole

Here are the ingredients:

2 ripe avocados, roughly chopped

2 big tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 onion, finely chopped

Juice of 1 lime

A handful of coriander, finely chopped

2 dried chilies, finely chopped  (can be substituted with fresh chilies)

Salt and pepper

Other people would put the avocados in a food processor but I would advice against that. It is best to just make slices with a sharp knife to chopped the avocado in finer pieces but never make a puree out of it.

Coriander is also another ingredient which really makes a big difference in this guacamole.  It is simply refreshing to the taste buds.

Mix all the ingredients together and serve with tortilla chips.  If you have grated cheese, you can also add that as well.

Tips to booking hotel accommodation

Traveling need not be very expensive.  With careful planning, one can see all the best places in the area and have an excellent accommodation that will not break the bank .  I always keep this in mind when planning a weekend somewhere or going for a longer holiday.

We were in Dusseldorf last weekend for the Christmas market and stayed at a nice 4-star hotel.  The NH Dusseldorf City was located just at the right location because it is not in the very center of the city but easily accessible through the underground metro.  The  metro station is also just adjacent to the hotel and the  trip to the city center is all but 4 stops so less than 10 minutes.

We had the option to just the accommodation or to have the inclusive breakfast.  Accommodation alone was Eur 50 and the reservation cost was Eur 15.  Breakfast was another Eur 25 per person.  We opted for the inclusive breakfast because we love the many choices and prefer to indulge once in a while.

How did we came up with this hotel as our base in the city?  We just checked and made the reservation in the Dutch travel site www.weekendjeweg.nl and the site gave all sorts of alternatives.  Prices will always be cheaper and availability of rooms more sure than when booking directly at the hotel in most cases because travel organization have already pre-bought the rooms ahead of time.

Four star business hotels will always have good deals especially towards the weekend.  Two nights stay inclusive of buffet breakfast will always be a steal.  Whether in Germany, Belgium or France, we just rely on Weekendjeweg because we always get a good deal.  A trip to Disneyland last March inclusive of entrance tickets for 3 days to Disneyland was a good bargain.  Same as with the weekend trip we made last September to Movie Park Germany inclusive of the entrance tickets.  The entrance tickets alone had we bought them separately would have been more expensive than the entire hotel plus entrance tickets package.

Not sure how this will work for the non-Dutch traveler because the site is in Dutch but let me know if you have questions.  When booking, the site does not ask for the credit card either and everything is paid at the hotel only upon check-out.

The other side of flower farming

Ever wondered what the Dutch do with all those tulips, daffodils and hyacinths in the flower fields?

Brace yourself for a big surprise — these flowers are cut down (there’s a machine that goes through the fields to cut down the flowers), thrown in a heap to decompose and later turned  that into compost.  Talking of discarded beauty but that’s how these flowers are treated once they reach full bloom.

Oopps, before you get all upset (which has been the case with me the first time I learned of this practice), here’s the rationale:  the flowers are cut off to enable the bulbs to replicate and develop completely without competing with the flowers for nutrients from the soil.  The flowers are not grown to create spectacular scenery out here (this is pure coincidental) but rather for the bulbs which are harvested in summer and then exported all over the world  where their true purpose will be realized.  Flowers and flower bulbs are key export products of Holland.

The best time to enjoy this spectacular scenery of flower fields in full bloom is around the last week of April.  Normally the whole process of cutting down these flowers will be around the end of the first week of May.

Slow roasted pork shoulder ala Jamie Oliver

Slow roasted pork shoulder ala Jamie Oliver

Hubby’s birthday falls on a very awkward date — the 31st of December.  I say awkward because it is a case of extremes, either we had lots of visitors or none at all.  In earlier years,   we would have a full house as all of his friends would be in attendance especially when they were still single or married but without kids.  When the kids started coming, the excuses of celebrating the old and new year as a family became the norm.  We fully understand.  We became less social as well when we had our daughter.  Priority has changed though the friendships remain as strong as ever.  Real friends understand without asking…

Pork roast served with potatoes and red beets

To celebrate hubby’s birthday last year, his parents came over which was great.  Francesca was ecstatic to have her Opa and Oma around.  I decided to also become more adventurous in the kitchen, testing out Jamie Oliver’s pork shoulder roast for the main course.  His recipe called for a 2kg. bone-in-shoulder of pork but the butcher gave me a 3.5-kg pork shoulder so I just tweaked the cooking time and added a bit more of the vegetables.  Here’s the link to Jamie’s recipe:

http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/pork-recipes/bone-in-shoulder-roast

Because there were just four of us, there were plenty of leftovers which was perfect for the Philippine “lechon paksiw”, a stew from leftover roasted pork with liver sauce.

Dutch North Sea shrimp salad

For starter, I made a salad from Dutch North Sea shrimps.  The pork roast was served with some roast potatoes and red beets.  Dessert was a very nice creme brulee.  Not sure what I’ll be making this year for his birthday.  A repeat of last year is not that bad considering that I only made this roast one other time at a request of a very good friend for her hubby’s birthday.

Creme brulee

Longing for spring

I know this sounds crazy but I’m already longing for spring. Winter is only to officially start tomorrow but I’m already looking forward to the next season.

I hate the short daylights of winter and the dull grey weather. Winter is only fun when there is snow or ice as that is how I associate the season with.

When friends ask when is the best time to visit, I always tell them to come in spring. Mid-April and onwards are best for by then, the country is exploding in colors. Holland is flat with no mountains to somehow make the landscape interesting. For this shortfall though, the Dutch make up for that by transforming the country into a veritable patchwork of floral beauty.

I’ve been in this country for over a decade already yet every spring is still special, like I’m seeing and experiencing it for the very first time.

We still make our annual pilgrimage to Keukenhof but we also make our annual foray into the flowerfields around the Noordoost Polder. The latter is fun because we just drive around some hundreds of kilometers of flower fields in full bloom. Cheap date for hubby and me because there are no entrance fees to be paid, just pure pleasure of being surrounded by such an spectacular beauty.

20111219-143645.jpg

20111219-143655.jpg

20111219-143707.jpg

20111219-143839.jpg

20111219-143847.jpg

20111219-143857.jpg

20111219-143909.jpg

20111219-143922.jpg

20111219-143931.jpg

20111219-143940.jpg

20111219-143948.jpg

20111219-144001.jpg

20111219-144010.jpg

20111219-144020.jpg

20111219-144029.jpg

20111219-144037.jpg

20111219-144045.jpg

20111219-144053.jpg

20111219-144059.jpg

20111219-144108.jpg

20111219-144118.jpg

20111219-144128.jpg

20111219-144158.jpg

20111219-144205.jpg

20111219-144216.jpg

20111219-144223.jpg

20111219-144229.jpg

20111219-144236.jpg

20111219-144243.jpg

20111219-144249.jpg

20111219-144255.jpg

20111219-144301.jpg

20111219-144307.jpg

20111219-144313.jpg

20111219-144319.jpg

20111219-144325.jpg

Christmas market in Dusseldorf (Germany)

After writing about the Christmas markets in Durbuy (Belgium) and Laren (Netherlands), here’s my take on the German Christmas market.

Hubby and I were in Dusseldorf this weekend, opting for a nearer destination (1.5 hours from our place) than driving all the way to Durbuy in the Ardennes which takes about 4 or even 5 hours depending on the traffic jams in Maastrict or Liege.

Dusseldorf was quite a revelation with the pleasant atmosphere and where everyone just seems to be in a happy mood.  Guys with Santa hats were singing loudly, could be the effect of drinking too much gluhwein.

It was very busy (it seems like we’ve chosen the busiest day of the year to be there with many doing their last-minute Christmas shopping) but it was just pleasant to see the Germans going to the Christmas market which is more of a family outing.

We hovered from stall to stall, curious of the merchandises on the German market scene.   There were plenty to choose from:  food stuffs, woodcrafts, clothing items, home decors, toys, etc.

There were long queues at gluhwein stalls.  A mug costs Eur 2.50 but a deposit of Eur 3.00 is charged for the special shoe-shaped mug.  This is the big difference with how gluhwein is served in Holland or Belgium which come in disposable plastic cups.  The gluhwein was pretty strong so I opted to remain sober by not drinking everything (though I was tempted to).

Our original plan was to have dinner in a nice restaurant but we got seduced by the various sorts of snacks from the various stalls.  We started with the German bratwurst, then it was off to the freshly made waffles topped with whipped cream and dusting of confectioner’s sugar.  Then I got temped to try the “dampfnudeln”, a sort of steamed bread topped with warm vanilla and cherry sauces after seeing a German family of four eating this with so much gusto.  Then, we saw this Dutch couple delightfully eating “reibekuchen” , the German potato pancake which is deep-fried and served with apple sauce.  Hmmm….I promised the hubby that I will check out the recipe and try this at home.  Yes, that’s how good it was.  Dinner plans in the end, got shelved.  We were stuffed but happy.

Dusseldorf is of course known as a shopping paradise.  Chic shops from Prada, Escada, Chanel, Michael Kors, etc….can all be found along Konigsallee.  Hubby reminded me of the Dutch saying, “alleen kijken, niet kopen” which is “just look, no buying”, ha, ha, ha!

Winter fun Dutch-style

When the temperature dips below freezing, the Dutch are in a celebratory mood. The atmosphere is festive.  Many even take holidays from work.  Two things are possible then:

  • With snow, everyone with be out with their sleds or making snowmen. Because the country is flat, every little incline like a dike will be converted into an instant skiing or downhill sleighing course.  This is the case in our area because ours is a dike house.
  • With ice, that’s when the temperature remains sub-zero for so many days that the canals freeze, everyone will be out skating in the open.  This was the case almost 3 years ago when we had sustained cold spell at the beginning of 2009.  We drove to Kinderdijk which was about an hour’s drive from Amersfoort to introduce Francesca to her first sleighing adventure.

Skating is a Dutch tradition just like cycling and swimming.  Children are introduced into these activities early on.  No wonder that the Winter Olympics for instance, is dominated by Dutch athletes and the same goes for swimming in the Summer Olympics.

Sub-zero temperature is now eagerly awaited here.  With the crisis besetting Europe these days, most people who normally go on winter holidays to ski resorts in the Alps or in Scandinavia will be foregoing that this year and will just settle for winter fun in their own backyard.

For info on Kinderdijk:   http://www.kinderdijk.nl/

One winter morning at Groeneveld Castle

The first speck of snow is yet to fall in Holland and we can hardly wait for that to happen. In years past, we would have already seen snow at this time of the year but so far, no luck of that this year.

Many points to global warming as the culprit. Could be true…our spring was warm and the dry spell that lasted for months was categorized as drought. The summer months were wet and cold with July and August being the wettest and coldest months this century. Autumn turned out to be warm again and dry that in October, we were at the beach. Crazy, huh!

I’m now in a rewind mode for winters past…

It’s two years ago when these pictures were taken one winter morning in nearby Groeneveld Castle in Baarn, some 10 kms. away from our place. We love going to this castle which is just perfect for a walk and afterwards, reward ourselves with some nice “merienda” in the castle’s basement restaurant.

Info on the castle: http://www.kasteelgroeneveld.nl/

20111216-212839.jpg

20111216-213302.jpg

20111216-213313.jpg

20111216-213325.jpg

20111216-213350.jpg

20111216-213410.jpg

20111216-213507.jpg

20111216-213527.jpg

20111216-213612.jpg

20111216-213628.jpg

20111216-213641.jpg

20111216-213705.jpg

20111216-213720.jpg

20111216-213729.jpg

20111216-213738.jpg

20111216-213748.jpg

20111216-213804.jpg

20111216-213812.jpg

20111216-213819.jpg

20111216-213836.jpg

20111216-213844.jpg

20111216-213853.jpg

20111216-213902.jpg

20111216-213911.jpg

20111216-213925.jpg

20111216-213931.jpg

20111216-213950.jpg

20111216-213957.jpg

20111216-214005.jpg

20111216-214012.jpg

20111216-214021.jpg

20111216-214028.jpg

20111216-214035.jpg

20111216-214041.jpg

20111216-214048.jpg

20111216-214056.jpg

20111216-214103.jpg

Best spareribs ever

If you love spareribs, try this recipe and you’ll be hooked forever.  One thing that I can assure you, nothing beats this simple recipe of just 4 basic ingredients:

  • Spareribs
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sweet chili sauce

Procedure is simple and all you need is patience and an oven.

  1. Preheat oven
  2. Season the spareribs with salt and pepper.

    Season spareribs with salt and pepper

  3. Line them up in a roasting pan and cover with double-thickness tin foil.  Bake at 135 degrees Celsius for 3 hours.

    This is how the spareribs will look like after slow-baking for 3 hours.

  4. Carefully removed them from the roasting pan.  Use a spatula to move them as they are now too soft.
  5. Place them in a shallow baking tray and brush liberally with sweet chili sauce.
  6. Place the baking tray to the top 1/3 of the oven and broil for 5 minutes or until the chili sauce has caramelized.

    After broiling for 5 minutes, the chili sauce has now caramelized.

  7. Enjoy!

    Enjoy this fall-off the bone and very juicy spareribs.

  8. Poor dog!

    This is what is left of the spareribs that even your dogs will be very disappointed, ;-)

Christmas Market in Durbuy (Belgium)

I love going to Christmas markets and one particular place which we have visited religiously over the years is the one in Durbuy.

Why this particular Christmas market?

Durbuy is a very small Medieval city located in the Ardennes, the more hilly part of Belgium. Normally, this place also gets snowed in earlier compared to Holland. We also love the quaint little towns in the area which are rich in history. Dining out there is also pleasurable for the Belgians know how to enjoy their food. That’s where the fundamental difference lies compared to the Dutch who can be happy with a simple fare of potatoes, some vegetables and meat with gravy.

Just as we are loyal patrons of Durbuy’s Christmas market, we also stay in the same place and same hotel — the Quartier Latin in Marche-en-Famene. This 4-star hotel which we discovered some years ago has nice rooms and a great restaurant. The wonderful menu comes with the territory – a French chef in residence.

Added to that, the inclusive buffet breakfast is always something to look forward to.

The nice thing about the Christmas market in Durbuy are the many lovely stalls to choose local delicatessen from the dried/smoked hams and sausages, delish pates and foie gras to the huge array of cheeses, breads, etc. Oftentimes, these stuffs are produced by the farmers themselves which spell the big difference compared to the commercially mass-produced ones that we get in the supermarkets and groceries.

When in Belgium in general, hubby is most times rendered indecisive by the hundreds of choices for beer which are produced by small and still very traditional breweries whose secret formulas and recipes can be traced back to the Middle Ages. How about that?

Restaurants in the Ardennes also feature quite unusual selections in their menus. Wild boar, deer, Guinea fowl, hare, rabbit and other wild meat are very common because the woodlands of the Ardennes is shelter to these creatures.

20111214-183435.jpg

20111214-183529.jpg

20111214-183615.jpg

20111214-183509.jpg

20111214-183734.jpg

20111214-183756.jpg

20111214-183947.jpg

20111214-183914.jpg

20111214-184305.jpg

20111214-184121.jpg

20111214-190133.jpg

20111214-190144.jpg

20111214-190153.jpg

20111214-190214.jpg

20111214-190227.jpg

20111214-190236.jpg

20111214-190244.jpg

20111214-190252.jpg

20111214-190305.jpg

20111214-190313.jpg

Belgian beef stew in beer

Belgian beef stew in beer

The Dutch prejudice towards their southern neighbor is well-known.  Yet for all the things that the Belgians may fall short on the discriminating Dutch taste, there are a few to which the Belgians can proudly assert their superiority, i.e., Belgian cuisine, beers and chocolates.

We always love it in Belgium especially when we feel the need for some gastronomic splurges.  Hubby always look forward to the fun part of choosing his beer from hundreds and hundreds of choices.  I love the dessert part, always saving a space for  Brussels waffles with whipped cream and drizzle of confectioner’s sugar.

Belgian stews are very popular.  They are hearty brews of peasant origin from which you can taste real flavors in its simplicity.  One tip is to make this dish one day before.  Stews are best eaten the day after.

I got the recipe from Simply Recipes and here is the link:

http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/carbonnade_beef_and_beer_stew/

Leaving the island

The song, “The trouble with hello is goodbye”, kept ringing in my head when it was time to leave the island after 3 glorious days. My little girl was inconsolable when we boarded the ship back to the mainland. She found it difficult to say goodbye to her beloved oma and opa who were staying behind for a few more days.

We made one last cycling trip through the dunes before leaving. Glorious weather made me feel sorry that this weekend was too short. One can’t be this lucky with the weather all the time. I remember other holidays in the island when it was just wet and grey for days.

Dining experience in Terschelling

The island has certainly moved in with the times.  It is no longer isolated from the mainland, thanks to the several trips of both the RORO and catamaran vessels daily ferrying people and goods.  I remember watching a series made in the 70’s on Terschelling showing how the island people being so excited at the visit of the traveling merchant from Amsterdam bringing goods like jewelries, clothing materials, toys, cosmetics, etc.  Now, these things which used to be so precious and rare have become ordinary as travel to and from the island can be made in a day instead of what used to be a gargantuan undertaking.

Dining experience in Terschelling has also moved many notches up.  Restaurants of various themes now abound.  However, I cannot reconcile myself to dining in a Mexican, Spanish or Chinese restaurant for instance.  Call me old fashioned but I don’t mind.  I would still prefer to go to the same place every time I am in the island.

This restaurant in Midsland Noord called “Gasterij d’Drie Grapen” seems to have been there for ages.  My mom-in-law told me that to her recollection, the restaurant has stayed the same in the last 30+ years that she and the family has been going there.

The restaurant has this dark interior — the typical brown cafe style.  Adornments are of maritime theme from mermaid statues to fish nets, buoys, etc.  Fresh flower arrangements provide that sweet and fresh touch to what seemed like an austere atmosphere and the huge fireplace generates both warmth and cozy ambiance.

The menu provided few but excellent choices of dishes.  The family is loyal to the chicken dish of “Kip uit ‘t vuisje” which is half a chicken stewed in Calvados, Normandy style.  I opted for a nice steak for a change.

Terschelling and its many charms

Island life to some may be boring but I just love escaping to this piece of paradise on earth.  Compared to the tropical islands of my youth, Terschelling is pretty flat and bare, the water is cold that even in summer, swimming will still send anyone shivering.  There are no palm trees dotting the beaches nor trees with hammocks for one to sip pina colada.  Instead, the wide beaches are dominated by kite flyers, wind surfers or drivers on four-wheel drives.

Terschelling is all charm on its own.  See the pictures in this blog and you’ll understand what I mean.

Weekend at the island – Terschelling

Terschelling is one of the Dutch Wadden islands and the family’s fave holiday destination. This is pretty understandable because of the family’s connection to the island (the family once lived here for about a year and a half when they just returned from Suriname and at that time, my husband’s grandfather and namesake was the pastor of the Protestant Church in Midsland. My husband was also baptised here by his grandfather.) The fondness for the island has rubbed itself on me and certainly on Francesca whose first trip here was when she was barely a month old. This is now her 4th time in the island in her very young life.

The wide beaches of Terschelling

We were lucky to be blessed with excellent weather during the whole weekend and even on Monday. Just sunshine and blue skies. We spent a great deal of time cycling and just marveling at the splendid beauty of the island. It was good that hubby rented an electric bike for me so I was able to cope, ha, ha, ha!

Jelly fish

Four years ago at just around the same time when Francesca was barely a month old, we were here on the beach and she was sleeping so soundly in her pram with a warm water bottle beside her to keep her warm. Now, she’s running around, collecting shells and daring the chilly waters.

The little girl who loves the beach

The windmill cafe

From the beach we cycled through the forest and headed to the windmill which is now a cafe serving the usual coffee/hot chocolate and cranberry tart. Terschelling is known for its cranberries which are normally harvested in October. I remember some years ago when I got so hooked to gathering cranberries and ended up with almost a sackful. I never brought them home with me for I didn’t know what I’ll do with them. Mam Sil made lots of jellies and jams as well as used them for Christmas decors.

Inside the windmill cafe

Coffee and cranberry tart topped with whipped cream

Autumn at De Haar Castle

6 November 2011

Weather forecast from Piet Paulusma (the least favorite Dutch weatherman of the hubby because of his very nasal way of talking) was all sunshine and the temperature will hover between 14 to 17 degrees Celsius. He was completely wrong for not only was the sky completely overcast, the temp never rose above 12 degrees.

We went to De Haar Castle (Kasteel de Haar) for our usual Sunday outing, something that has become rare and scarce as of late given our very hectic schedules. I love autumn and being in the surroundings of the woods and of couse, castles. Perfect time for taking pictures of the fall foliage would have been the week before as now, most trees have shed off their leaves and the colors are mostly headed to shades of brown. Never mind, last week was just too hectic with the yearly activity in our neighborhood (collective pruning of the trees and shrubs before the first winter frost arrives and general clean-up) and of course, hubby then had to prepare for his trip to Serbia. He left early Monday morning and was back only on Saturday evening.

Even though I was initially upset that the sun did not show up, in the end I was glad that the day was just the way it was. Autumn weather is typically wet and gray so to capture real autumn moment should be against that backdrop.

If the weather was sunny, I wouldn’t be seduced to do a tour of the castle as the lure of the fall foliage will just be too difficult to ignore. We did the children’s guided tour of the castle where Francesca was dressed in her Cinderella gown and tiara. Other kids were dressed as knights, fairies, etc. which was interesting.

The guided tour started with a bit of lecture on the castle’s history and on some of the house rules during the visit. The castle is huge, perhaps the biggest in The Netherlands with about 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms. It was funny to hear those kids asking questions as to how can the baron and baroness who owned the castle make use of 30 bathrooms.

Taking pictures was prohibited but I managed to secretly take a few without using the flash. We did not explore the entire castle, just a few of the places starting with the kitchen at the basement which in early 20th century was the most modern of its kind. I loved those copper pots abd pans which were custom-made for the castle. The guide also explained the mechanics of the refrigeration system employed then before the advent of refrigerators and electricity. Quite interesting!

From the kitchen we ascended to another level of the castle and on to the dining room which was richly embellished. The guide explained the sitting arrangements especially as the baron and baroness hosted parties and entertained choice crowds from royalties, politics, finance (the first baroness, Baroness Helene was from the Rothschild family which was prominent in the banking world), and the international jetset. Some of the gowns from the previous baroness (Baroness Gabrielle) were on display in the dining, living and bedrooms. Among the names I can recall were YSL, Ungaro, Dior, Madame Gres, Givenchy…

From the dining room, we went to the biggest open space in the building which must have been the venue for those parties that they loved to host in their heydays. The ceiling was richly decorated with real gold leaves used for adornment. There was a marble structure in this area which looked like a tomb but was open on top with a depth of about a foot. When the guide asked the kids as to its purpose, there were all kinds of answers. Indeed it looked like a tomb and would have suited that purpose but the guide explained that the baron found it useful for cooling numerous bottles of champagne.

The next room we explored was the ballroom. Again, several of the designer gowns of the baronness were on display here. It was an interesting room, richly decorated with tapestries, wall carvings of dancing mythical gods and goddesses plus some children’s carriages were also on display.

We next took a look at the baron’s sleeping chamber which was pretty austere and spartan compared to that of the baronness. Interestingly, the baron and baronness did not sleep in the same room. The bed is canopied and as explained by the guide, way back then, the canopy and the curtains served as deterrent for animals like bats which can easily take residence. Never thought of that, huh!

The sleeping chamber of the baronness was more roomy and decorated with more feminine charm. Warm colours and plenty of light characterize the room. Some more of her designer gowns were on display as well. We could also take a peek at the en suite bathroom which was also tastefully furnished. Oh, how I’d love to be a baronness even for a day! No, make that a week ;-)

The last room we saw was yet again a working and sleeping room for the baron with an amazing view to the castle’s spectacular park. Oh, who wouldn’t want to wake up to such an enchanting scenery of trees and with spectacular colors in autumn!

When the first baron and baronness came to restore the castle and create the park, no expense was spared. The Rothschild family fully financed the castle’s restoration which was then in ruins and has employed the famous Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers whose work includes the Amsterdam Central Station and the Rijksmuseum. The baron did not have the patience to wait at least 20 years for the trees to grow from seedlings so he had 7,000 mature trees uprooted elsewhere, transported and re-planted in the castle’s park.

Not only that, the baron also trasported the original village a kilometer away when creating the park. He bought all the houses in the village, tore them down to give way to the forest park. The village is also interesting to explore because it still carries the family’s colors of red and white. Window shutters in red and white will make you aware that you are in Haarzuilens.

The castle’s ownership is now in the name of a foundation although the baron’s family still enjoys a right to stay in the castle for a month every year. Thus, the castle is closed to the public in September. Hubby told me later that the previous baron and baronness squandered the family’s money in their frivolous party lifestyle so the present baronness who inherited the title lives as a simple school teacher in the South of France. Oh well, being noble and mixing with the jetset crowd comes at a price and that’s one point for reflection.

We enjoyed our tour of the castle. Strangely enough, Siefko and I also did this tour 7 years ago and around autumn time as well. I don’t remember much of what I’ve seen then because I was an obedient visitor who did not take pictures.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,651 other followers