Don’t Touch Me Tomatoes

DSC06743I’m not a picky eater, but there are two things that I’ve never liked: milk and tomatoes. Oddly, I’m ok with milk in cereal, but drinking it straight puts me off. As for tomatoes, I was fine with them in sauces, etc., but not raw. Recently, though, I’ve become a fan of raw cherry tomatoes, particularly with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. I’ve become such a fan that they’ve become part of my daily lunch.

Thus, my reaction was more positive as we were walking down Vinkenburgstraat today, when G noticed a new shop called Tazed Tomatoes, which seems to be devoted to tomatoes. They had staff standing outside, along with a selection of various small tomatoes, but I’m still hesitant with unknown tomatoes, so I didn’t try any. Still, it’s tempting and I will likely stop in the next time I’m over by Neude, though it looks like it may be a popup open only until 15 June.


In Praise of Poffertjes

Somehow, despite the number of years we’ve been here, we had never gotten around to trying poffertjes. I’ve been familiar with them since our first year here and have seen bags of them for sale in the grocery store, and restaurants set up at the summer kermis (fair) dedicated to them, but somehow we’d never tried them. Then, a few weeks ago, I saw that this year, Neude would be home to a poffertjessalon this winter season. I knew the time had come to finally try them.

What are poffertjes? They’re sort of like mini pancakes (silver dollar size, for my American readers), but puffier. They come topped with butter and lots of powdered sugar. You can get other additions, as well, including a few liquor options such as rum and advocaat.
Sorry for the less than stellar photo, but we dived straight in when the plate arrived and I was lucky to remember to get even one photo before they were all gone. They’re really tasty, without being overly sweet, despite all the powdered sugar. They reminded me a little bit of the beignets I used to eat in New Orleans at Café du Monde.
For a temporary structure that is put up and taken down to travel around, it’s surprisingly nice inside. There are rows of long tables with tablecloths and centerpieces, and the décor is full of old-fashioned charm. The poffertjes are made at the very front of the structure, but unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of it. They’re made in a special pan with shallow holes specifically for the poffertjes. You can get small pans for home use, but the stalls use large table-size pans. You can see an example (and read more about the poffertjes) here.
Now that I know just how good they are, I’m sorry we waited so long to try them!

Peace of Cake

Peace of Cake
As I’ve mentioned in the past, the celebrations surrounding the 300th anniversary of the Vrede van Utrecht (Peace/Treaty of Utrecht) are continuing through September, with a variety of exhibits and events to be found throughout the city. One of the more amusingly titled exhibits is Peace of Cake, an exhibit at Utrecht University.

As the university’s website explains:

Take a look behind the scenes of the science behind peace. Together with scientists from the University of Utrecht, the exhibition focuses on three (former) war zones: Uganda, South Africa and Yugoslavia. In short documentaries scientists look for insight into their search for peace.

To be honest, I haven’t been to the exhibit, nor do I have plans to go, but I’ve enjoyed the window display. I also enjoy cake. I have a recipe for a low-calorie chocolate cake that I make regularly so I can have something a little sweet after dinner without going overboard. I thought I’d share the recipe and hope that this doesn’t all come across as a little too “let them eat cake!”

Peace of Chocolate Cake
3/4 cup of flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1 1/1 teaspoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F/200C

Combine the dry ingredients and stir together until all are blended evenly. Then add in liquid ingredients and stir to combine. There may be some lumps, but there should be no obviously dry clumps.

Pour the mixture into a greased glass pie plate (approximately 8 inches) or divide evenly into a 12-hole muffin tin. Bake for approximately 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

I like to play around with the basic recipe, sometimes adding in chocolate chips or a dash or nutmeg/cinnamon, and nowadays I tend to sprinkle powdered sugar over the top before baking to give it a slightly sweet, delicate texture on the top. I eat it plain, but you can also top it with a glaze, frosting, or any other topping you like.

Before any extras and assuming 12 servings, it breaks down to 59 calories per serving. Even 1.5 servings, which is how I tend to break it down, is only 89 calories. It’s not the world’s best chocolate cake, but it certainly helps keep cravings at bay and satisfies my chocolate urges.

Subtle Signs of Integration

Frietsaus of wietsaus?
Deciding to enjoy the nice weather — which turned out to be much warmer than yesterday! — we headed out to take a few photos and then get our hands on the “gratis frites” from Manneken Pis. Since we were over by the Stadhuis, we went to the shop on Steenweg. There was a steady, but fast-moving line of people getting their friet with the choice of wietsaus (weed sauce) or mayo/frietsaus. I asked for wietsaus, but I think we both got frietsaus, which tastes a lot like tartar sauce, to be honest.


The friet were tasty, as always, but also really hot! To give them a bit of time to cool off, we headed over to Flora’s Hof to have a seat and enjoy the friet and scenery. I hadn’t eaten many before I started to feel full, despite not having had anything to eat before heading out. The free size was the smallest size they offered, which is even called the kinder (child) size. The Dutch need to stop making fun of American portions if that’s their child size! G and I both figured we could have split one easily! I guess I really am getting used to smaller portions. Look! It’s a handfull!

Kinder Size

On the way home, we happened to see a couple walking next to their bikes, which were the normal bikes, nothing sporty. The odd thing was that the woman was wearing a helmet. The only time I see an adult wearing a bicycle helmet these days is if they’re doing the full-on sport cycling. My first thought was that she must be a tourist/foreigner.

Between finding the smallest portion of food to be too large and then seeing an adult wearing a helmet and thinking “they’re not from ’round here”, I had to laugh at how I’ve definitely experienced a shift in thinking since moving here. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Free Weed

… sauce and fries!

Remember the other week when I mentioned that Manneken Pis was going to start offering a wietsaus (weed sauce) as one of the various dipping options? Well, now is your chance to try it for yourself. Tomorrow (21 April, although I’m guessing it would have been even more appropriate today if you go with the American way of telling the date, 4/20) they will be giving away free fries and your choice of wietsaus or regular frietsaus.

Running from 12-18:00, they’ll be giving away 10,000 Schanulleke-size portions at the shops located on Steenweg, Vredenburgplein, and Bakkerstraat. The owner is taking this opportunity to introduce the new (non-THC) weed sauce and celebrate winning the Frietopia Awards.

So whether you’re doing some shopping, attending the literary festival, or just taking in the city, you can satisfy any munchies you may have.

Source: DUIC

Weed Sauce and Fries

Plassend Mannetje
Remember the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent and Jules are discussing fast food in Europe, including the fact that the Dutch use mayo on their fries? Well, if Tarantino wants to do an updated version, he can talk about one of the new sauces on offer at Manneken Pis, a famout chain where you can get fries to go.

Manneken Pis is famous for offering a variety of sauces for the fries (frieten/patat) they sell. You can even choose multiple sauces, such as the famous patatje oorlog (war fries), which is usually peanut sauce and mayo, with or without chopped onion. This is more of a traditional Dutch choice, but I suspect the new flavor is going to be a big hit with the tourists. You see, the new sauce is a wietsaus (weed sauce). And no, we’re not talking garden weeds.

However, if you’re looking for a buzz from your fries, think again. It turns out that the hemp flavor used for the sauce contains none of the hallucinogenic elements of THC. All of the earthy flavor, none of the fun. I have to say, the hemp hand lotion I use never makes me particularly hungry when I smell it, but I’m sure someone — gullible tourists? — will go for it. If you want to try, it’s for sale beginning Thursday at the three locations in the center of Utrecht and one in Amsterdam.

Oh, and in other non-appetizing news, Manneken Pis means “little man pee” and is the name for the famous Belgian statue/fountain. Well, the Belgians are famous for their fries. Since I don’t have a photo of the shops in town, I went with the Dick Bruna version of the manneken pis.


Musings on Minor Dutch Differences

Pretty Clouds [Day 109/365]
After living here for four years, I’ve gotten fairly used to life here and don’t really notice some of the little differences any more. But every once in a while something catches my attention and makes me smile.

For example, the molen (windmill) in the photo is here in town in an urban area. It’s also where we went to buy some special cuts of meat, because the base of it is now a butchery. How many people get to go to a butcher housed in a windmill?

On the other hand, while visiting the kerstmarkt (Christmas market) the other week, we got to try a BBQ pulled pork wrap. The guy making the food had a large BBQ grill/smoker like the ones you see in the US at BBQ competitions, etc. Pulled pork isn’t common here, so as he was serving it up to us, he asked if we’d ever eaten something like this before. I had to laugh. Actually, I thought I had misunderstood what he’d said, since we had been ordering in Dutch. It turns out I did understand him, but the question threw me for a loop. Growing up in the South, there’s no shortage of pulled pork. In fact, there are whole regional differences in how you cook and dress your pulled pork. For example, vinegar sauce vs tomato-based sauce.

The funny thing is, it’s not the first time someone has asked me that about a food I take for granted. While visiting a local baking supply shop that also sells some treats, they were giving away cheesecake samples and they asked if I’d ever tried it before. That one surprised me even more, but I guess it was new to enough people to warrant the question! I know my friends at American Baking Company have had fun introducing some American desserts to a Dutch audience, but they seem to be winning them over!

To finish off this look at small differences, I’m going to move away from food. This one isn’t particularly Dutch, but the constant wet weather makes it somewhat typically Dutch. We’ve had rain (more drizzles than heavy rain) for more than a week now. Every time I look out the window, if it’s not actually raining, the streets are still obviously wet. Every time I went out in the past two weeks, I’ve gotten rained on, except for the past two days. That just means I’ve gotten lucky.

The part that makes this somewhat amusing is the fact that our house, which dates to the late 1800s, gets temperamental with this much moisture. More specifically, our front door gets temperamental. It getting a bit sodden, I suppose, and doesn’t want to close properly. Once it is closed, it doesn’t want to open, at least not from the inside. Our front door also is a bit curious in that it doesn’t have a typical handle on the inside. There’s a latch on the lock that we usually use to pull the door open. However, when the door decides to stick, it’s hard to get a good grip on the latch.

For the past two days, when someone has come to the door (mainly delivering/picking up packages for neighbours), I’ve been physically incapable of getting the door open! I’ve been pulling on the latch with one hand and using the other hand to get an awkward grip on the mail slot in the door in an attempt to get enough leverage to open the door. In the meantime I was also calling to G for his help and was tempted to yell through the door to have the other person push!

If the rain isn’t going to stop, I’m going to need some rope to fashion a handle so I can pull more easily. At least we have a back door that works, although even the garden door is starting to get a bit sticky now!

The Principle of the Pecan

South meets Dutch
We were going to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, as it’s meant to be done, but we ended up postponing our celebration because of a lack of nuts. Sure, some people think it’s not Thanksgiving without the turkey or the dressing or the cranberry sauce. For me, it’s not Thanksgiving without a pecan pie. Unfortunately, pecans can be a bit more difficult to come by here in the Netherlands, or at least our corner of Utrecht.

We can sometimes find them at the grocery stores, but they’re often pricey for a small amount. This week, our usual store just didn’t have them at all. In a last-ditch attempt, we did check out one of the organic grocery stores, but I refused to pay €2,95 for a 75 gram bag of pecans. At a minimum, I needed two bags and just couldn’t stand the idea of paying almost €6 for such a paltry amount. I paid that much for a can of Libby’s pumpkin purée the first year we were here and vowed never again, thus the lack of pumpkin pies at this time of year, as well. (I’m too lazy to go through all the hassle with a real pumpkin.)

You see, growing up, I used to pick pecans from the trees in my great-grandmother’s yard in Florida. Even now, my parents were telling me about all the pecans a friend of theirs had given them. I come from a place where pecans are free or at least downright inexpensive! So to pay such a ridiculous amount for a paltry amount of pecans is just wrong.

Fortunately, I knew that the Saturday market at Vredenburg always has a couple of noten kramen (nut stalls), with a wide variety of nuts. So Saturday morning, we headed out to the market and sure enough, we found pecans at a much better price and quality. The stall we went to had 200 grams for €4,50, which is much more acceptable and the nuts were much fresher and nicer. Definitely worth the delay.


Using up just about the last of my Karo syrup, I made my beloved pecan pie. It’s sticky, gooey, nuttiness is one of the great pleasures in life! Sadly, I don’t have enough Karo left to make another. My mother has suggested Lyle’s Golden Syrup, but if anyone else has any suggestions for Karo alternatives, I’m all ears. I usually only make pecan pie once a year, so I’ve got time to find alternatives — or hope someone visits from the US and can bring a bottle or three with them.

Ready to Bake

If you want the bare-bones recipe that I use for my pecan pie, here it is. If you need more tips, I’d suggest Googling for better directions. This year I skipped the traditional pastry crust and went with a simple digestive-biscuit crumb and butter base for something different, since it’s easy and not particularly sweet. As for the actual recipe directions, beat the eggs a bit first and then start adding in ingredients. I leave the syrup for second to last and the pecans for last. I also roughly chop my pecans and save a few whole ones to decorate the top. Enjoy!

Pecan Pie Recipe
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp melted butter
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup Karo light syrup
2 cups pecans

Bake at 350F for approximately 55 minutes
Pecan Pie

Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

Houses in a Row
This photo was taken a few weeks ago on a vividly sunny Sunday morning. I loved the slight curve of the street and the mix of older and newer houses of different sizes, colours, and styles. And it’s not a Dutch photo without lots of bikes! Cars are being phased out of the city center more and more, so the few that you see there are some of the few that remain. Although to be honest, I’ve got lots of photos — this one included — that would be so much nicer without the cars in the shot!

Tasty Street

This is another Dutch urban scene taken last Saturday. We stopped at De Tafel Van 18 (pictured on the left) to try their cheesecake, since they were offering free samples that day. Very tasty, but I still crave a slice of the strawberry cheesecake that American Baking Company makes. On the plus side, ABC is going to be at the Veldzigt Bourgondia markt on Saturday (not far from Utrecht/Zeist) if you want to try their baked goods.

This is a pretty typical urban photo in the Netherlands. Lots of bikes, as well as awnings and umbrellas so that any shop that sells food can make the most of good weather and let their customers sit outdoors, and even a Chinese fast food place, Wok to Go.

Still, when it comes to the concept of “urban” my favourite photo I’ve taken is probably this old one of urban graffiti and urbane students:
Contrast [Day 236/365]