A Taste of New Orleans in Utrecht


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.)

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!

America Where You Least Expect It

American Bear
Yes, more talk of the carnival from last week. It has served me well with fodder, especially considering the rain we’ve had this week that has kept us indoors. I was surprised to see the American flag popping up in spots I least expected it. There were a lot of very nice stuffed animal toys to be won at the games, and many were more typically Dutch, such as the cows and of course, Nijntje. But I also saw these teddy bears sporting an American flag on their shirt.
Later in the day, we saw this pink caravan flying both the Dutch and American flags. It was a candy van of sorts, although the only American treat seemed to be popcorn. Still, I did hear one little boy catch sight of the caravan and exclaim, “Popcorn!”, so I guess there’s some demand for it.

The US wasn’t the only foreign nation represented. We also saw a couple of stands offering verse Spaanse Churros (fresh Spanish churros). I was tempted by the churros, but in the end decided to make the most of the olibollenkraam to get a mid-year olibollen treat. They’re usually only available around the winter holidays, and they’ve become one of my favorite Dutch treats.
Spanish Churros ... in Utrecht
Keeping with the foreigners in the Netherlands theme, I headed out yesterday to meet up with a large group of expat ladies. In all, there were 12 or 13 of us, with some coming and going at different times. The US was represented by a few of us, but Canada, the UK, Australia and Peru were all represented, as well. It was a truly fun day spent indoors at the Muntkelder pannenkoek restaurant on the Oudegracht. The frequent rain and the friendly staff that didn’t seem to mind us taking up the back room meant we spent four hours talking and laughing and having a good time.

Gone to the Dogs

This fluffy little guy was hanging out at one of the carnival game setups with his owner the day we went. It was still early and most of the rides and games were just setting up, so he had room to just hang out and watch. I tried to get a shot of his eyes, because he had at least one beautiful, light-blue eye (I never did see the second eye behind all the fur).
On Guard
He seemed happy just to hang out and watch people go by and seems like he’d be a nice companion to have during the down time. Still, he might be a pretty good guard dog, because he certainly seemed fairly alert. Just after we’d walked past him — and I gave up trying to get a photo of his eyes — something seemed to get his attention, because he started barking. His bark, in turn, set off one of his neighbors in the next game over.
Tough Tiny
This tiny little fellow was determined to speak his mind and obviously wasn’t going to put up with any tomfoolery! Don’t let his small size fool you; he seemed a pretty determined and adorable little fella!

Dogs are a frequent companion at festivals and carnivals like this, for both the workers and the visitors. Dogs, in general, are welcome most places here in the Netherlands. It’s not uncommon to find them in bars and restaurants and shops. We’d love to take our dog with us more often, but he gets super excited when he sees other dogs, so we prefer not to risk a scene and disturb others. Such a shame. Just consider how many more fans he would have if he got out in public more! Oh well, at least when we’re out without him, we can stop and say hi to some of the other lovely dogs we see out and about.
Another Doggy

Brave Hond

Day of Celebration

There’s so much to celebrate today! It’s International Women’s Day! It’s Mardi Gras/Carnaval! It’s my parents’ wedding anniversary! It’s my birthday! Cake for everyone!

Saturday afternoon, we heard marching bands nearby, and when I peered out the window, I saw that there was a parade going through the main street through the city! Although the biggest celebrations of Carnival/Mardi Gras take place down in the southern part of the country around Maastricht, other cities still put on some sort of celebration. Utrecht had a parade. It took me back to my university days in New Orleans.

Today is the final day of celebrations before the beginning of Lent (if you follow all that), but I’ll be celebrating a bit of excess this evening with another feast of small round foods and a decadent chocolate birthday cake — which needs to be made, so I’d better get a move on! In the meantime, enjoy a few more photos of the floats in the parade.
Tree Stump
King Float
End of the Parade

Throw Me Somthing, Mister!

Happy Mardi Gras!

Between the Saints winning the Super Bowl and now Mardi Gras, these old beads I collected at the various Mardi Gras parades have gotten a lot of use recently! Mardi Gras, or Carnaval, is celebrated here in the Netherlands, although primarily in the southern Brabant region (the southern part of the country), with one of the big celebrations taking place in Maastricht, as well as in Eindhoven and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, among others. Although I haven’t experienced a Dutch Carnaval yet, from what I understand, it’s not that different from the New Orleans Mardi Gras with which I’m familiar. People dress up in costumes, there are parades, and generally it’s one big party. Having experienced the New Orleans version, someday I’d like to experience the Dutch version (and the Venetian and Brazilian versions, despite the massive crowds).

If you follow the religious aspect of this holiday and are giving something up for Lent, make the most of this fat Tuesday and enjoy yourself! Me, I’ll be noshing on chocolate eggs until Easter.

Night of the Dirty Song

Romance — of one sort or another — was in the air Saturday night at the Potdeksel, as the fifth Nacht Van Het Vieze Lied (Night of the Dirty Song) was held. The café was decorated with sexy lace curtains, red lights, and feathery hearts. Bow-chicka-wow-wow! It only got hotter and steamier from there! We went last year, although it seems I never got around to blogging about it as we were expecting company soon afterward. Oops. Oh well, at least I won’t be repeating myself this time!

The event always takes place right before the beginning of Lent, and is what I like to think of as our neighborhood’s version of Carnival. (Carnival here in the Netherlands is a whole other post, which I may get around to later today. Or not.) Anyway, the event is a night of well, dirty songs. Anyone can sign up in advance to compete, and they generally take an existing song and change the lyrics about a bit to make it fit the theme of the evening. It’s not a night for the faint-hearted and prim and proper! Penii, dildos, masturbation, oh my!

Each act performs a song — special costumes are not unheard of — and is then given a critique by the judges, Sjarrel and Sjaan. At the end of all the performances, boxes are set out for each act and the audience can put in money for their favorite(s). A winner is then chosen. (The money goes to a charity.)

Last year’s winners had a great song — a variation of Ramses Shaffy’s Zing, vecht, huil, bid, lach, werk en bewonder — and I still find myself singing their version. The original translates basically to Sing, Fight, Cry, Pray, Laugh, Work and Admire. The Vieze Lied version was a bit different. Their title changed to Lik, Zuig, Trek, Neuk, Glij, Kom en Bewonder. Let’s just say that the first two translate to Lick and Suck and I’ll let your imagination go from there, particularly as there’s not a straight translation for some of the others.

This year, we stayed for the performances but were tired and went home before the winners were announced (plus, this way we could more easily watch Sven Kramer win gold in one of the mens speedskating competitions!). That said, I suspect that it was the Double Ds, who won with their trio of naughty songs, not to mention their sharp gold lamé suits. It looked like they had the most money in their box as we were leaving. (We voted for Vader Abraham’s (NSFW) brilliant take on the concept of swaffelen, although the song has been stuck in my head ever since!)

The evening is one of those events that even if you don’t understand a lot of Dutch, you still have a good time. With a bit of studying before the event, as we had last year with the help of a friend, it’s amazing just how much you can understand!

My set of photos from the past two years can be found here.