Holiday Lights and Trees

Christmas Tree Lot
During the year, Janskerkhof is home to the weekly bloemenmarkt (flower market) held every Saturday here in Utrecht. However, during the Christmas season (but after Sinterklaas), you can find kerstbomen (Christmas trees) for sale every day, even into the evening.

It’s picturesque enough during the day, but I knew it was even more charming at night with the lights strung up overhead. Looking for a mental distraction, I headed over this evening to grab a few shots. It’s been foggy today and I would have liked to have gone a bit earlier when there was a bit more natural light, mixed with the fog, for a more ethereal atmosphere. Maybe tomorrow!

Speaking of tomorrow, the kerstmarkt (Christmas market) will be taking place at Janskerkhof from 11-18:00, so you can get a tree and some goodies.
Bacchus en de Bomen

Kerstmas Decorations

Kerst Kleuren
When we moved here, we left behind the bulk of our possessions (which my parents helped us get rid of. Thank you again!). I left behind most of my Christmas decorations, as well, including the skirt I had made for the tree the year before. I did, however, bring almost all of my Christmas tree decorations, specifically the ones that had personal meaning or that we’ve had since I was a young child. My mother has given me ornaments most years that have something to do with what is going on in my life that year, or that have some sort of meaning behind them. As a result, every time I decorate our Christmas tree, I’ve got a wealth of memories to go with each decoration.

For the past two years that we’ve been here, our tree has been about the only Christmas decoration we’ve had. It’s a small house, so I don’t really miss having a lot of decorations, otherwise it just starts looking cluttered and is bound to tempt the cats into some sort of destruction. Yet I found myself wanting a few more decorations this year. Fortunately, some of the craft/design blogs I follow provided me with some inspiration for my own decorations.

The wonderful How About Orange … inspired me to make these multipoint star decorations. Rather than buy special paper or even use up perfectly good printer paper, I went through the 2010 IKEA catalog and found colorful pages to use. I was going to toss (recycle) the catalog anyway, so it seems appropriate that a decorating catalog should be used for decorations! I’ve made two so far and may well make more. I might do a bigger one to hang in the front window.
Handmade Star Ornament

Another design blog mentioned Scandinavian Christmas decorations, which somehow inspired me to make a garland of sorts out of Sculpy/Femo clay. The original was simple stars, if I remember correctly, but I couldn’t find a star-shaped cookie cutter that I liked, so I went for a mix of snow flakes, trees and shooting stars. With the help of some duct tape and twine, I ended up with a simple little garland to hang on the wall for a small but cute bit of decoration.
Christmas in New York

I’m feeling a bit more holiday cheer this year as I get used to the little differences and find new ways to enjoy the holiday spirit. It didn’t really feel like Christmas to me the first couple of years, because I realized that there were so many social/societal triggers that I responded to, which were primarily American, and thus missing here. It can be as simple as tv movies and specials, or the sound of the Salvation Army bells ringing in the shopping centers. It’s not that the Dutch don’t have their own holiday traditions. They certainly do! They’re just not the ones I grew up with, so they don’t create the same feelings in me. I’m having to learn a new set of stimuli to get myself into the spirit of things. With this my third Christmas here, it’s starting to work. Making these little decorations — and finding the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade online — have helped me feel a bit less bah humbug.
A Personal Favorite
(This was my favorite little spot to decorate in our last house. It was particularly nice at night with the lights glowing softly.)

Eggnog and Spirits

Homemade Eggnog
After thinking about it all week, I finally put up our Christmas tree today. Part of the delay came about because I couldn’t decide which eggnog recipe to try. I don’t think I’ve made homemade eggnog since I was little and tried the recipe for it that was in my Betty Crocker cookbook for children. Normally, the only time I drink it is while I’m actually decorating the tree, so in the past, I’ve simply bought a carton from the store.

Sadly, though, I’ve been without eggnog these past two Christmases in the Netherlands, as it doesn’t seem to be sold here. The Dutch have a drink/liqueur called advocaat, but I don’t think it’s the same. Can anyone who has had both eggnog and advocaat tell me the difference in taste (other than advocaat having the alcohol already added in)? Since it didn’t look like I was going to get any eggnog help from the grocery store, I figured this season I would finally make my own eggnog to help get me into the holiday spirit — with the addition of some spirits, of course. I searched foodgawker, looking at all the different variations of the recipe, going back and forth on which one to try. I eventually settled on a combination of a couple of recipes that seemed simple and that didn’t have quite as much sugar as the others. One of the reasons I rarely drank much eggnog in the US was because it was so sweet.

In the end, I was quite please with how the eggnog turned out. The addition of some dark rum made the aroma complete, taking me back to past holiday memories. With eggnog in hand, and Christmas music on the stereo, the tree went up fairly easily. I even got to dance with Lola to Elvis’ Blue Christmas, a tradition that I love to do, but I’m not sure she’s as thrilled with it. Especially when I pulled her off the heater today in order to dance. She had a death-grip on the heater, but I won in the end. I’m sure she’ll look back on it all with a laugh some day.
Merry Freakin' Christmas

Eggnog Recipe
serves 2 decent-size glasses or 4 small glasses

2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1.5 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg or to taste
rum or bourbon to taste

Whisk together eggs and sugar in a sauce pan and then slowly add in the milk and then the nutmeg. Turn the heat on low and continue to stir until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon. When it’s the right consistency, take it off the heat and stir in the vanilla, then refrigerate. You could add in the alcohol before you refrigerate it, or simply add it to the glasses when you’re ready to serve it up. It will take a bit of stirring to combine the alcohol and eggnog, so leave room in the glass. I like to top the glasses off with another light sprinkle of nutmeg.