A Rabbit Surprise

daianehemerichthinkerwashington

I love getting emails from people who read my blog. Especially when they’ve seen something that makes them think of Utrecht/me/my blog. The other day I got just such an email from Daiane. She’s a Brazilian/Italian student working on her PhD in Utrecht, but currently in the US for an internship.

She wrote:

I was visiting Washington two days ago, and I was surprised when I found another Thinker on the Rock, and immediately reminded of the beautiful pictures on your blog and missed Utrecht instantaneously… so I’m sending you a picture of me with the thinker here on the other side of the ocean 🙂

She remembered that there were a couple of other copies of the statue in various locations, but wasn’t expecting to see one, which made it a nice surprise. I love getting to see one of them in situ in the photo! Thanks again for sharing this, Daiane!

Pride and Remembrance

IMG_3613Cities around the world have been remembering those who were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last week. While it is heart-warming to see the outpouring of support and love, it is heartbreaking that atrocities like these continue.

I was born in Orlando and lived there for the first 16 years of my life and while it has been a long time since I lived there, it will always be home. Having something so hateful and violent happen in my hometown makes it that little more personal, though I have LGBT friends who have sadly been the victims of violence on a much smaller but more frequent scale in a variety of cities.

Back in 2012, I wrote about the gay rights memorial here in Utrecht on the Domplein. At that point, gay marriage hadn’t been legalized in the US. In fact, one of the other states I used to live in was trying to make it very specifically illegal. Fortunately, that was something of a last gasp in the fight against marriage equality for all and gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states. Of course, the rights of transgendered people have since become the new battle. One step forward, two steps back is how it sometimes feels.

Yet for all the ugliness, there have certainly been large steps forward overall. IMG_3614Pride parades continue to grow and more people stand in support of equal rights for all. Utrecht has an annual Midzomergracht Festival, in its 20th year, celebrating sexuality and gender diversity. At its start on Friday, it included a remembrance at the memorial in honor of those who died in Orlando.

Early Saturday morning, while Charlie and I were out walking, we ended up at the Domplein. The street sweeping machine was out cleaning up the square, but the flowers, cards, figurines, and candles remained atop the memorial. Many of the candles were still burning. It was a sobering, yet touching display. It is awful that so many innocent lives were taken, but it is heartening that they are being remembered and honored around the world.
IMG_3612

A Taste of New Orleans in Utrecht

okra

This morning, before lethargy and two jobs could distract me, Charlie and I headed out to the market at Vredenburg in search of some okra. I knew that there used to be a vegetable stall there that always had okra, but it has been a while since I’ve been to the Saturday market and I was worried they wouldn’t be there today. Fortunately, my concerns were soon allayed and I was in possession of a nice bag full of okra. And I only had to wrestle Charlie back to his sit position twice!

(Charlie is relatively well trained, but when he’s out in the world with lots of distractions, he gets a bit overwhelmed. I’m trying to get him more used to crowds and all the associated smells and such and he’s definitely making progress. I’m very proud of him!)

As for the okra, the reason I absolutely had to get some today is because I’m turning Vino Veritas into a Creole/Cajun restaurant for one night only on Tuesday, which happens to be Mardi Gras. This time of year, I always get nostalgic for my years in New Orleans and I’ve had a hankerin’ for some authentic gumbo. Since the Klein New Orleans event last summer was such a big hit (although I still question some of the recipes), I thought I’d host my own Klein Mardi Gras — on a much smaller scale, of course.

This has been a really last-minute decision, so I’m sadly short of purple, green, and gold decorations, but at least we should have some mighty fine food and a good Mardi Gras/New Orleans music playlist. I brought a small selection of some of my Mardi Gras beads with me when we moved, so maybe I’ll hang some off the cactus we have at work, in honor of the trees covered in Mardi Gras beads in New Orleans. We had one such tree right outside our dorm room freshman year. I have fond memories of sitting on the balcony and watching the plastic beads catch the light.
Mardi Gras [Day 47/365]
Oh, but the food! That’s what y’all want to know about! We’re going to be serving up gumbo, jambalaya, and shrimp etouffée, and I’m thinking about a marinated avocado and crab salad and/or a corn and black bean salad for starters. And if I can scrounge up some food coloring, I might be making mini king cakes for dessert. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it! And if you’re wondering, I have my own recipes, but also got some recipes from my friends from Louisiana, just to make sure I’m doing it right. Seriously, y’all. This is going to be the authentic taste. I guarantee! Ooo weeee!

(I had to throw that Justin Wilson link in. My grandpaw, who used to catch his own shrimp and fish in Florida and cooked a bit of Cajun-style food — despite being from Tennessee — used to watch Justin Wilson regularly and I’d watch with him when I was visiting. It’s one of my fond memories. The last time I saw my grandfather before he died was actually in New Orleans. We ended up going to the Court of Two Sisters for lunch. It was one of the first restaurants I went to in New Orleans and it was always a favorite. While we were having lunch, he told me about visiting the restaurant while he was in the Navy during WWII. They’d been stopped in New Orleans before heading out and he and some friends had dined at Court of Two Sisters. Years later, while we were cleaning out my grandparents’ home, I found a photo taken that night. It’s one of my cherished possessions. That’s him on the right.)
grandpawneworleans

So, anyway, if you’re in Utrecht this Tuesday, 9 February, head to Vino Veritas (Biltstraat 9) and pass a good time as if you were down on the bayou! Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Klein New Orleans Recap

Klein New Orleans
As I mentioned yesterday, Sunday was a warm, sunny day with plenty going on throughout the city. It was also a holiday, as was Monday, so lots of freedom to stay out and enjoy the day to the fullest. The result was that the Klein New Orleans festival was busy right from the beginning. We got there shortly after 3pm when it began and as you can see, it was already wall-to-wall people.

It was held on Breedstraat, which is also the street where the weekly Saturday fabric market is held. The festival was contained along the western end of the street, near the Predikherenkerkhof, where there’s a small square that was ideal for some of the music performances.
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans
It’s a shame they didn’t have more of the street available to thin out the crowds slightly. It was hard to get around, especially when juggling food and drink, and with all the tall Dutchies, it was hard to see over the crowds! Hopefully, if they do it again next year, they can get more space. I’m sure the turnout exceeded their expectations.

The heavy crowds made it hard to see (or hear) any of the music coming from the second stage. A raised stage and a bit more amplification may have helped. As you can see from this next photo, the white tent is the stage area. I was standing on the opposite side of the street with my camera up in the air to get this shot and still couldn’t see (or hear) anything of the musicians, which was a shame. And as I mentioned, tall Dutchies make it hard to see anything, even if I’d gotten closer. I miss the days when I was tall enough to see over much of a crowd.
Klein New Orleans
We had headed to the opposite side of the street to find some room to eat. After all, food is a major part of Louisiana lore. The blend of French, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean cooking styles has created an outstanding cuisine.

I had been a bit disappointed that there wasn’t going to be a crawfish boil. After all, that’s one of the quintessential food parties in Louisiana. They’re popular enough that even when people leave Louisiana, they’ll keep hosting crawfish boils wherever they are. I even got an email today about a Tulane Alumni Crawfish Boil in New York. I went to a few myself while living in New York and always passed a good time!

There were a handful of food stalls, including a few local restaurants. One was serving up hamburgers and one does more Middle Eastern food. Meh. That wasn’t what I was there for. I wanted Cajun and Creole cooking. One stall wasn’t doing straight-up traditional, but they had a beer-batter shrimp dish that I wanted to try. I mean, come on, fried shrimp! Awesome!
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans
They were tiny shrimp, but they were tasty. The Cajun Butter wasn’t very spicy, but was fine (though it was also technically meant for the corn on the cob). Speaking of which, the corn on the cob seemed to be selling quite well.
Klein New Orleans
You can occasionally find vacuum-packed corn on the cob here, though I’ve found it to be a bit rubbery, unsurprisingly. But you don’t usually find corn on the cob sold loose in their husks the way we do in the States. So I guess that bit of exotica is why they’re popping up more frequently at food festivals here. I saw pictures of them at the Food Truck Festival that was also taking place this weekend. We didn’t order any, since it’s not something I haven’t made a million times.

I do have to point out that the girls running the stand had a cute little boat-shaped stall that they were working out of. A nod to shrimp boats, perhaps.
Klein New Orleans
Obviously, though, I was there for the gumbo and jambalaya. I knew this would be risky, but I had to take the chance. There was always the possibility I’d be pleasantly surprised. So we got a small bowl of each.
Klein New OrleansKlein New Orleans
Bless their hearts.

They at least had okra in their gumbo (the one on the right), but that was about the best I can say, unfortunately. It was lacking in any seasoning I’m afraid to say. The “jambalaya” had more seasoning, but there’s just no way that is anywhere remotely similar to a jambalaya, thus the quotation marks. It was more like a vegetarian chilli and missing just about every ingredient you’d use in a any variation of a jambalaya. Plus, the rice is supposed to cook in the jambalaya, not be served with the sauce on top. Maybe they misheard the order and gave us something other than jambalaya? I can only hope so.

I hate to be so critical, especially working in the kitchen part of a restaurant now, but I also don’t want people to think that’s how it’s supposed to be, especially if they’ve never had it. They’re going to wonder what all the fuss is about or be really shocked if they eventually try the real thing.

I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but complaining — music too hard to hear/see — crowds too thick, food not right — but I think part of it is just growing pains. It’s the first time they’ve done this event and I truly hope they get to do it again next year and make it an annual event. There’s room for improvement, but I would absolutely go back again next year. And I’m sure plenty of people thoroughly enjoyed it all. I’m probably overly critical because of my time actually spent in New Orleans.
Klein New Orleans
The fact that so many people of all ages turned out means that there’s an interest and plenty of people looked to be having a good time. I’m glad an enterprising group put this together and I’m still happy to have helped out a small bit with the crowdfunding. I’ll help out if they do it again. Though I might make a few food requests or try to set up my own food stall. Po’ boys, anyone?
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans
Oh, and a shout-out to the two guys I saw wearing Jimmy Graham Saints jerseys. What were the Saints thinking selling him to Seattle?!
Klein New Orleans

Klein New Orleans Intro

Klein New Orleans
Sunday was a glorious day and perfect for all of the festivals going on throughout the city that day. There was a food truck festival over at Griftpark, a Jazzfest over at Janskerkhof, and of course, the first Klein New Orleans on Breedstraat. For a new event, it was packed, even early on! I have plenty to write about — and lots of photos — but I also have a raging headache today, so I’ll save the details for tomorrow.

For now, some of the underwear bunting that served as decoration. Not, perhaps, what I would have thought of were I doing the decorating myself, but I suppose it still works. Certainly kind of funny. In the first photo, the two buildings in the background are named Castor and Pollux. That actually seems to fit New Orleans well, as the city has a number of references to mythology, including cross streets along St. Charles Avenue named for the muses.

As for this next photo, I couldn’t resist the combination of the corset and the cross. This also seems somehow appropriate for New Orleans and certainly takes me back to many a late-night discussion, especially one about the architecture of different faiths and our own quirky takes on the symbolism. Thanks for that late-night drive and discussion, Jenny and Lee.
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans

Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

New Orleans This Sunday, come rain or shine — just like Mardi Gras — I’m gonna laissez les bon temps rouler! Utrecht is getting its very own Klein New Orleans (Little New Orleans) for one day. Breedstraat is going to be turned into the French Quarter with food, music, and more that brings to mind the Big Easy. I can’t wait! I went to Tulane University in New Orleans (pictured above) and fell in love with the city. Sure, there’s a lot of corruption and crime, though that’s sadly nothing new. But there’s also so much passion and beauty and fun and a certain joy that’s maybe that little bit more intense because of the darkness that lurks, be it crime or Mother Nature. Certainly, when it comes to music and food, the city is exceptional. I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little worried about how the food is going to be translated at the festival this Sunday. I’ve seen a jambalaya at a restaurant here in Utrecht that was nothing like any jambalaya I ever had in New Orleans. But hopefully I’ll be pleasantly surprised. New Orleans When I graduated, there was a crawfish boil for graduating seniors and their family. Crawfish, potatoes, corn on the cob. Suck the heads, squeeze the tails! I’m definitely looking forward to some crawfish this weekend! I wonder if they’ll have any Abita beer? Oh, and red beans and rice! And pralines! And beignets! Po’ boys! Gumbo! *sigh* Hmm. I just looked at the program and I’m not sure if they’re going to have any of that, except the gumbo. Oh dear. If they do this again next year, maybe I’ll sign up to make a big ol’ mess o’ red beans and rice, at least. New Orleans Well, I’m certainly looking forward to the music. If only they could have gotten Cowboy Mouth there. Seeing them live is like a religious experience. Though there is going to be a band there called the Neutral Ground Brass Band. The name alone makes me love them already. (Neutral Ground is the New Orleans word for a median, or that little strip of land in the middle of the street.) Reverend Shine Snake Oil Co. also sounds like it could be a good one. It also looks like they’re going to Second Line it over from Neude. Maybe I should decorate one of our umbrellas! In the meantime, I’m just going to look through some of my old photos from Tulane and reminisce. I can’t really share most of them without getting a lot of people to sign wavers. I am so glad we didn’t have camera phones back then. I do have a few photos I can share, starting with one of the classic streetcar; the house I lived in my last year, complete with porch (and yes I did stand down below and yell, “Stella!”); a postcard of some of the gorgeous wrought-iron balconies in the Quarter, and a silly picture of me after graduation. New Orleans New Orleans New Orleans New Orleans

Happy Fourth, America

Stars and Stripes
Between working two jobs and preparing for the Wittevrouwenfeest tomorrow, American Independence Day has gotten a bit lost in the mix. Yet being able to celebrate multiple holidays and important events is one of the perks of being an expat/immigrant. Although we won’t be doing the traditional barbecuing this year, I have made some potato salad (a traditional July 4th side dish) for lunch today. It’s the little things in life. 🙂

One of the things that stood out to me on my trip back to the US last year was the number of American flags I saw everywhere — homes, businesses, churches, etc. This is nothing new, but after spending a number of years here in the Netherlands where the flag is only flown on specific dates, it really stood out. Just a short walk through my parents’ neighborhood revealed a number of flags, and this motor inn up in the mountains of North Carolina certainly wasn’t going to have anyone questioning its patriotism!
Stars and Stripes
So, Happy Fourth of July to my fellow Americans and happy Friday to everyone else! By the way, if you’re in Utrecht this weekend, Biltstraat and the Wittevrouwen neighborhood are having a big block party. We’ll be representing Vino Veritas there, so come by and say hi, and try some of our Italian wine and food. Or come by today and enjoy the sunshine on our terrace (or cool off inside). Either way, I’ve really enjoyed meeting so many of my readers so far!
Stars and Stripes
Stars and Stripes
Stars and StripesStars and StripesPatriotism and ConsumerismPatriotic

The Netherlands in North Carolina

High Point Welcomes Netherlands
Apologies for the poorly framed photo, but it was a quick shot in a moving car.

High Point (North Carolina) is home to the International Furniture Market twice a year. People from all over the world attend this largest furniture trade show in the world. As part of the city’s way of welcoming its international guests, there are signs like this for numerous countries lining some of the main streets in town. The Dutch Antilles also gets a flag.

The banner is a nice touch, but not particularly surprising. What did surprise me and, more specifically, make me laugh, was another sight noticed while driving on the highway.
Dutchmen
The Dutch and their camping! Anyone who has spent a bit of time in the Netherlands knows of the country’s love of camping. So, to see a camper called Dutchmen, right here on the highways of the US amused me tremendously. Even better? The two bikes attached!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Saturation

Natural Saturation
This was taken at the historic Mendenhall Home in Jamestown, North Carolina. My parents volunteer with the site and my dad gave me a private tour of it last week. Many more photos to come of the various structures on the grounds of this old Quaker homestead.

As for this week’s photo challenge theme of saturation, the sun was shining brightly, the sky was a pure blue, the grass and trees were jeweled shades of green, and the old barn was a rich, earthy shade of red. I had just walked out of the dark interior of the barn and was dazzled by the view above me.