Living the Fairy Tale

Swans in the Oudegracht
Look! Those big white birds in the canal are swans. Honest-to-goodness swans! And yes, that’s a 13th century castle, Stadskasteel Oudaen, in the background on the left. (Sorry it’s not the best of photos, but it was done with the camera phone rather than my real camera.) It’s all a bit like a fairy tale setting, and yet this is what I passed by on my way to one of the tokos (Asian market) to pick up some black beans and okra for tonight’s dinner.

The morning had started dark and rainy, with the threat of snow in the forecast. By 9:30 this morning, it was still quite dark out and I was wondering if my plans for dinner might have to change, since I didn’t feel like heading to the other side of town in the rain just for two items. Fortunately, the weather cleared and I had a nice little walk to do my shopping. I like to cut through Neude and across the Oudegracht, and down Zakkendagerssteeg to get to Vredenburg, where the toko is. It’s a scenic walk and on a Wednesday morning, it wasn’t crowded at all. That’s when I saw the swans. We see swans occasionally in the various canals, but it’s just rare enough that it’s still fun to stop and admire them when they do make an appearance.

I still had to visit the regular grocery store after picking up my harder-to-find ingredients at the toko, so I headed back the way I came and this time, I finally stopped at the oliebollen kraam (oliebollen are a sort of sweet fried dough that’s sold mainly during the holidays from special stalls). I’ve been wanting some for ages, but kept resisting when I’d pass the stall at Neude. I had hoped to get some at the Christmas market we went to this weekend, but they were sold out when I finally decided to get some. So today, I decided it was time. No more resisting. I would give in to their fried siren song!
The first winter we were here, I didn’t really know much about oliebollen, so I never tried them. The second year, I’d heard about them, but just bought the ones from the grocery store. This year, I finally bought some from an actual stall, and I managed the entire transaction in Dutch. Simple though it was, there were a few unexpected moments, but I understood! I think that was almost as pleasurable as the warm oliebollen themselves. I’ve still got a long way to go with the language, but positive moments like that are an encouragement.

By the time I eventually made it home, not only was it not raining or snowing, but it was actually sunny! Almost blindingly so at times. I couldn’t resist this quick shot of that glorious Dutch light glinting off the wet brick pavement, while casting shadows from the bushes. All in all, it was a surprisingly nice outing.
Dutch Light

9 thoughts on “Living the Fairy Tale

    • I see them at such random times that I don’t even think about whether it’s the right season for them. Maybe they’re Frisian swans and figured Utrecht was actually warmer.

      I forget sometimes that Utrecht’s lower wharves are kind of unusual. They’re fantastic when the weather is nice and you can sit there and have drinks or a meal.

    • Thanks for the recipe! I generally try to avoid frying anything at home, but every once in a while I get the urge, and fresh-made is always even better than the baking mixes, although those can be handy. Fortunately, since I love to cook, I’ve learned a lot of cooking terms in Dutch and can read most recipes enough to understand.

  1. i’m a fan of OlieBollen, especially when they were only available at New Year’s in Arnhem. Down south, the stands seem to come out much more often, so the temptation becomes less irresistible (Meer te weerstaan ?). But I give in periodically: they are such a gut-bomb that I feel them all afternoon…but they are so good (especially warm).

    • In general, I appreciate the seasonality of so many food items here in the NL. It makes them all that bit more special and enjoyable, although it also leads to moments of wanting to gorge to make the most of it! The warm olibollen truly are the best. I’m so glad I finally tried them that way. Just as well that they’re slightly out of my way on a daily basis. 😉

  2. I think the most interesting part of this post to me is going to the Asian market for black beans and okra! It would have never occurred to me to check an Asian market for those items.

    • Beans are popular here, but oddly enough, black beans are harder to come by. If they’re carried by a regular grocery store, they’re often in with the “foreign” foods. We do have a little market at the end of the street that carries them and black-eyed peas, but they don’t have okra, so I had to go to the Asian market for that. That’s also where I buy my baking soda, since it’s not used in cooking here. There are various odds and ends that if you can’t find in a normal grocery store here, you’re best bet is to check a toko or one of the smaller middle eastern shops. Grocery shopping is definitely a bit more challenging. 😉

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