Cheap date in the flower fields

Hubby and I always love our cheap spring date where we would normally drive around the bulb field areas in the Noordoost Polder, have coffee by the flower fields sold by some enterprising farmer’s children and have lunch of fries and kroket in a snack bar that we would find open in one of the village centers along the flower route. We don’t see the need to go to any fancy restaurant for what can we ask for when already surrounded by so much beauty that we are literally drowning from the sight of millions of tulips in full bloom.

It is kind of funny that this activity that we do every springtime comes as too corny and tacky to a lot of people. Many Dutch would not want to be seen in the flower fields, more so, to have their pictures taken in such a setting. I don’t mind being branded as corny and tacky in my appreciation of this incredible beauty. To me, seeing this amazing wonders of nature every spring is a testament of God’s existence and infinite love for us.

Hubby enjoying his coffee sold by an enterprising farmer's daughter who had a thermo of coffee and biscuits for visitors like us. A cup with a piece of cookie costs a mere Eur 50 cents.

Tulips (part 4)

April is about to draw to a close but this month which used to be in recent years the nicest time in spring has been for the most part wet, cold and grey. I still can’t say “Adieu” to my winter coat with the temperature still too cold and oftentimes unpredictable. Still, spring is inching its way forward but I haven’t really managed to take new pictures.

Here are spring pictures from last year, a continuation of my Tulips series.

Everyone’s favorite Chinese egg rolls (Lumpias)

Chinese egg rolls

This recipe is lifted from Steamy Kitchen and ever since the first time I tried these egg rolls, I’ve never made them any other way. Being Asian, I love spring rolls and in the Philippines, we have several versions. I’ve been making 2 versions of spring rolls for as long as I can remember, the vegetable version and the minced meat version and both have been very popular. Last year, I’ve decided to be more adventurous in the kitchen by trying out new recipes and new ways of doing the dishes that I’ve learned from way back.

I came across Steamy Kitchen while in search for the recipe of Vietnamese Pho and became so excited when in searching the site, I saw a lot of interesting new recipes. I tried these egg rolls and was amazed at how wonderful the combination of flavors were from the ginger, sesame oil, a bit of sugar, soy sauce, rice wine and shitake mushrooms. Soon, I was making these egg rolls in huge quantities as they became huge favorites of family, friends and colleagues.

Last Saturday, I made huge quantities again and they are now in the freezer, saved for the upcoming family reunion on my mom-in-law’s side of the family. They are big fans of my egg rolls and introducing them to this new version with amazing flavors will surely be a big success no doubt.

Ingredients:
50 Spring/Egg Roll Wrappers (about 2 packages), defrosted unopened at room temperature for 45 minutes or in the refrigerator overnight
1 tablespoon cornstarch (or flour) mixed with ¼ cup of cool water
Oil, for frying

FOR THE GROUND PORK
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon sugar
freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE VEGETABLES
2 to 3 cloves garlic, very finely minced
½ head of cabbage (about 11 ounces)
3 carrots, shredded
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
10 fresh shiitake mushrooms (or dried black mushrooms soaked overnight), stems discarded
1 tablespoon cooking oil (canola, vegetable, peanut)
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
1. To make the filling, combine the ingredients for the ground pork together. Marinate at least 10 minutes. In the meantime, shred the cabbage and the carrots using your food processor or by hand. Slice the mushrooms into very thin strips (or you could use your food processer and pulse a few times to get a fine dice.

To the ground pork meat, add the corn starch, soy sauce, sugar, ground pepper, mix well and marinate for at least 10 minutes.

Shred the cabbage using the food processor or by hand.

Shred the carrots using the food processor or cut them in matchsticks size. Other ingredients are finely minced garlic, grated ginger and thinly sliced shitake mushrooms.

2. Heat a wok or large saute pan over high heat. Add the cooking oil and swirl to coat. Add the pork and stir-fry until no longer pink, about 2-3 minutes. Turn heat to medium-low, push the meat to one side of the pan. Add the garlic, cabbage, carrots, ginger and the mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute, until the vegetables are softened. Add the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and black pepper. Continue to stir-fry for another minute. Scoop out the filling to a baking sheet and spread out to cool. Prop up one end of the baking sheet so that it tilts and will allow all the moisture to drain to one end. Let cool for 15 minutes.

To the hot oil, add the pork to stir-fry.

Stir-fry the pork until no longer pink, about 2-3 minutes

Set aside the meat to one side of the pan and add the garlic, ginger, carrots, cabbage and mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute or until the vegetables are softened.

Add the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, salt and black pepper.

Continue to stir for another minute and then the filling is done. Check the taste and add some more soy sauce or salt if needed to meet desired taste.

3. Discard all of the accumulated juices. Drain in a strainer.

IMPORTANT: Only use 1 heaping tablespoon of filling for each egg roll. These are slender egg rolls, the width of the egg roll should only be 1.25″ diameter.

Discard all of the accumulated juices. Drain in a strainer.

WRAPPING:

Use 1 heaping tablespoon of filling for each egg roll.

Lift the bottom corner up and begin rolling until you reach halfway up.

Fold over the left side, and then the right side towards the center.

Continue folding up with a tuck-roll tuck-roll motion. Dip your fingers into the cornstarch slurry and brush all over the final top corner. Finish up the roll and seal.

The finished egg roll

Keep the rolled egg rolls in neat, single layer and covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying. If you want to stack the egg rolls, make sure you have layer of parchment paper in between the layers to prevent sticking. Keep wrappers also covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying. Refrigerate up to 4 hours until ready to fry or freeze.

4. To fry the egg rolls, fill a wok or pot with 2 inches of high-heat cooking oil. Heat the oil to 350°F (175°C) or until a cube of bread will fry to golden brown within 10 seconds. Gently slide in or lower the egg rolls, frying 4 to 6 at a time, turning occasionally until golden brown about 1½ minutes. Place on wire rack to drain and cool.

Frying the egg rolls in a pan

Egg rolls are done when they turn golden brown

Place on wire rack or paper towels to drain extra oil.

Serve with chili sauce (or I make a sauce from combining soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and freshly ground pepper).

NOTE: To fry frozen egg rolls, do not defrost the egg rolls – just add them to the oil frozen, frying 4 to 6 at a time. Add an additional 1½ minutes to the frying time since they are frozen.

Sunset walk along the dike

Sunset

We first laid eyes on each other around sunset over 15 years ago on the shores of El Nido in the Philippines. Call us incurable romantics but sunset still weaves its amazing magic to us each time.

Being parents to an overly active 4-year old, we are constantly busy and in a rush but we found ourselves enjoying some quiet moments together last month when our little girl was fetched by the grandparents for the weekend. Finally, a bit of time for ourselves and those sleep-outs that we badly needed after many short nights.

On this seemingly warm early spring day, we enjoyed a quiet walk along the dike not so far from our place. On this dike is also a steam mill (Stoomgemaal Hertog Reijnout) which was built in 1882 and drains the water from the polder.

I love it there to just watch the many birds that converge on the flood plains in the polder and the tranquil view of the setting sun in the distance. On this particular day, the birds were mostly sea gulls but there were times when I’ve seen an incredible number of geese. Oh, they’re still in flight this time of the year from Africa where they stay till the cold season is over here in Europe.

Steam mill (Stoomgemaal Hertog Reijnout)

Stoomgemaal Hertog Reijnout

Signs of spring

Signs of spring

Signs of spring

Me

The Mr.

the Mr.

Our shadows

Sunset

Glorious skies

The dike

Eemmeer, used to be Zuiderzee and is now partly reclaimed into the Flevopolder

Birds in flight in the distance

A boat in the distanc

Sunset at the dike

Swans

Sunset

Steam mill in the distance

a little jetty on the Eemmeer

Numerous birds in flight

Birds

Birds in flight

Birds in flight...steam mill in the distance

Birds in flight

A cake that brings memories of home — Orange Chiffon Cake

A slice of chiffon cake - my idea of perfect comfort food

Living in another country does bring moments of homesickness for things familiar. There are days when I simply miss the flavors of home. One of the food stuffs that I really love and miss is the Orange Chiffon Cake. It is the cake that I know from childhood, the cake that I can eat any time of the day. Before the advent of the fancy cakes like chocolate cakes, cheesecakes, apple cakes, etc., there was only the Chiffon Cake that I know of. It is a typical birthday fare for no birthday celebration will be complete without Chiffon Cake and the usual rice or egg noodles, spaghetti (Philippine style), spring rolls, barbeques, marshmallows and hotdogs on sticks, fried chicken, etc.

These days, this simple Chiffon Cake had been eclipsed by the more fancy cakes which are often too rich due to too much butter and lots of whipped cream. I can’t help but long for the simple Chiffon Cake which is light, fluffy and quite refreshing.

After a bit of search on the internet, I finally found the version of the Chiffon Cake I remember. I struggled a bit in getting the right ingredients because the Dutch supermarkets do not have stuffs like cream of tartar. I checked some online expat forums on the internet and learned that this cream of tartar and other exotic ingredients like baking soda and shortening are available at the Tokos (the Asian stores). I wasted no time in getting my ingredients and has since then, been baking Chiffon Cake on an almost regular basis. Why? Because friends, colleagues, family and neighbors who have tasted this chiffon cake fell in love with it at first bite.

Here are the ingredients:
2-1/2 cups cake flour*, sifted
3/4 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup oil (vegetable oil or corn oil)
7 egg yolks, at room temperature
3/4 cup orange juice
rind of one medium sized orange
7 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar

*Cake Flour can be substituted by replacing 2 tablespoons of sifted flour with 2 tablespoons of corn starch per 1 cup of sifted all purpose flour.

Cooking Procedures:

1. Preheat oven to 350F (176C). Prepare 10-inch ungreased tube pan.
2. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

3. Make a well at the center of the sifted flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. All the egg yolk, oil, orange juice and orange rind.

4. With a stand or electric hand mixer, beat the mixture until smooth and no lumps occur. Set aside.

5. With a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar. Continue to beat on high until soft peaks begin to form. Add sugar very gradually and continuously beating until meringue is glossy and stiff.

6. Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the meringue until well blended, ensuring that you scrap the bottom of the bowl as you fold.

7. Pour into prepared ungreased tube pan.

8. Bake until golden and middle springs back when touched for about 45 to 50 minutes.

9. Invert onto the neck of a bottle. Cool completely upside down.

Chiffon Cake

Slices of chiffon cake

Tulips (part 3)

We are still to have that annual visit to Keukenhof and our usual foray to the flower fields. Weather lately has been pretty weird as the disturbance up north sent chills our way these last couple of days.

Still, spring is here and frosty nights and chilly days haven’t dampen our spirits. I share with you more tulips pictures from last year.

Easter egg hunt in the dunes

My little girl and her basket of Easter eggs

My blog stood silent in the last couple of days as the frenzied activities during the Easter holidays left me with hardly any time to sit in front of the PC.

We sure had a great time doing this year’s Easter egg hunt though the temperature was not as warm as it was the year before. Thanks to the suggestion of our neighbor, we did the egg hunt in the sand dunes of Soesterduinen, a lovely nature reserve area which is pretty close to our place. The kids had a great time being let loose in a seemingly endless sand box. There were also trees that were just perfect for climbing and before long, all of them were up in the tree.

This place is one perfect paradise for kids and one cannot help but be charmed by everything it has on offer. To us parents, we could enjoy moments of lively conversation without worrying about our kids who are safe in all the games that they can think about in this place.

We will surely be back again when the weather warms up and all of us have a free Sunday to spare. The kids can hardly wait…

The sand dunes of Soesterduinen look like an endless sand box

Pine trees sparsely populate the sand dunes

These low lying pine trees with outstretched branches are perfect for climbing

Under the tree, we could have that perfect picnic

The kids cannot resist the lure of tree climbing

Such a huge area to run around and look for the Easter eggs

More eggs!!!

Too many eggs to hunt

Eggs were everywhere...even up in the tree

There is always that look of wonder and amazement with every egg find

Easter eggs ... both real eggs and chocolate ones

Seeking for more eggs

Tree climbing

Playing in the sand

Sand rolling

Friendly banters

Picnic fare

Easter bread

Orange chiffon cake

Pistolet with smoked salmon

Pistolet with Nutella

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Sometimes it is easy to climb but difficult to get down

My husband comes to the rescue

The rescuer

Our family

Family picture

The kids

The egg hunters minus one

Tulips (part 2)

Still more tulip pictures.

Tulips (part 1)

Busy time right now preparing for tomorrow’s Easter egg hunt. The little ones are already so excited. We will have the egg hunt in the sand dunes of Soesterduinen which is just a few kilometers away from our place. It sure will be a lot of fun because there is so much space to run around for the very energetic and hyper kids. Lots of secret places to hide the eggs as well.

Nonetheless, let me share with you these tulip images which I took last year from a showcase of various types of tulips which we chanced upon while driving through the Noordoost Polder.

My little girl’s fourth foray into the flower fields (Spring 2011)

Ask a typical Dutchman if he/she have pictures in the flower fields and you will get that bewildered look. It is also against their “principle” to go to Keukenhof which they say is just meant for tourists.

My husband never really cared about the flower fields nor ever been to Keukenhof before we met. It was like, “Why would I go to Keukenhof or why would I have my pictures taken in the midst of the flower fields?”. Being in the midst of flower fields or standing in front of the windmills are simply the most uncool things to the Dutch, especially the younger generations. They prefer to travel abroad and have their pictures taken in the most exotic locations. Don’t get me wrong there. I was the same, wondering when I was still in the Philippines and my husband (then still the boyfriend) wanted to have our pictures in the middle of rice fields or his pictures on top of the jeepney or among coconut trees.

Human nature I should say… We take for granted those things or places which are familiar and ordinary and we give more importance to those which we do not have or are unusual.

These days, we appreciate what is within reach, what is right before our very eyes. Our daughter provides us with a different perspective in looking at things through her young eyes. She shows appreciation and enthusiasm in everything around her. We hope that she will continue appreciating nature and its beauty and the many simple things in life.

These pictures were taken last year in the area around Zeewolde. We were on our way home after spending a lovely weekend with my parents-in-law in Dronten when we took a different road (a secondary road as opposed to the usual highway that we take) and saw these fields of tulips. It was already late in the afternoon but with the nice weather, we were seduced to have this photo session with our little girl.

Our family

Afternoon sun

Father and daughter playing the statue game

Pink tulips

Papa's girl

Among the red tulips

Me and my little girl

Among the white tulips

Playful pose

I got the odd one out!

Playful pose

Tulip fields

My little girl and me

Our family

Hurrah!

White tulips in the afternoon sun

Can I pick some flowers????

Let's hide from Mama!!!

The afternoon sun

White tulips

The apple did not fall off far from the tree -- A picture of us taken by Francesca

Setting sun

Mama, can you see me????

Our family

My little girl’s third foray into the flower fields (Spring 2010)

Another spring, another foray into the flower fields. Unfortunately, this was one weekend when the weather was not on our side. It has been raining for days so the tulip fields were very muddy. Still, we were not dissuaded to get our feet into the ground and have this photo shoot.

As I am going through my posts this week, it is a funny realization that I had been unintentionally documenting my little girl’s development through the years through these springtime pictures. Before her, I have been going to the flower fields and to Keukenhof almost on a yearly basis but hardly realizing what is different year after year.

Honestly, these forays into the flower fields are our family’s cheapest form of entertainment in spring as getting to these fields does not cost a single cent.

The little girl’s second foray into the flower fields (Spring 2009)

Among red tulips

It used to be that the years went by without us noticing. Spring year after year would seem the same. We hardly noticed the passing of time and the difference in each passing year. All that changed with Francesca as since her birth, she became the benchmark and timescale for everything in our lives.

Certainly all parents will agree with me that children become the focal point of our lives, the beacon of hope on those dreary days, the source of strength when the hurdle seems too much and the source of laughter that cheers us up especially on those times that we can hardly summon a smile.

On this post you will see how much a year means in the life of a child. From the 6-month old baby in the previous post, she was 1.5 years in these pictures. This time, she was running through the flower fields and plucking the odd flowers out.

We spent the Easter weekend with my parents-in-law in Dronten where some of the big tracks of flower fields can be found. There were tulip and hyacinth fields and all were very exciting for our little girl.

Fields of blooms

I got the odd one out!

Among pink hyancinths

Francesca with opa and oma

Francesca and oma

our family

Francesca and opa

Francesca and me

Red tulips

My little girl’s first ever foray in the tulip fields (Spring 2008)

She’s half Dutch and living on Dutch soil so she should connect with everything Dutch. That’s the point I raised to the Mr. when dragging our little girl (she was 6-month old at that time) to the flower fields for this photo shoot 4 springtimes ago. ;-)

What a great spring weekend it was! We were at a nearby family reunion and we could combine a little escape to these flower fields to take some gorgeous pictures.

I will be going down memory lane in the next few posts, showing the springtime metamorphosis of our little girl as we hit the flower fields year after year.

The love for flowers is something that would become natural with her. These days she finds pleasure at picking flowers and have them assembled in a vase at home.

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