Hay-Zoos


Kitschy Jesus statues aren’t limited to US thrift stores or the front yard of that one weird neighbor. Nope. They show up in Dutch hairdresser shop windows, too. This one is in the window of a shop on Voorstraat. I pass it regularly and today I decided to get a shot of it to use in my Project 365.

I’m continuing to love this project, because it’s definitely making me look at my surroundings in a whole new way. I pass this statue all the time, but it never occurred to me to get a shot of it until today. I knew I would be dealing with window reflections, but it turned out to work in my favor. At first glance, when I was looking at the shots I got, I thought this one was going to end up deleted, because the reflections distorted the image too much. But with a simple adjustment of the contrast (ramp it up!), I ended up getting a fun, quirky, psychedelic image.

It almost looks like something that might be hanging in Stairway to Heaven, a local restaurant/bar/club here in Utrecht. I finally went to it on Thursday when I had a Tweetup (a meet up organized on Twitter) with some new friends, including a couple of fellow expat/immigrant bloggers I follow. The service might have been a bit slow, and the burger a bit cold, but it was very tasty and the company was excellent. I really enjoyed getting to meet some new people, especially such a fun and interesting group. I’m looking forward to future Tweetups with them!

Oh, and continuing my habit of injuring myself somehow while G is out of the country, I slipped on a small patch of ice as I was leaving the restaurant that night. I ended up going down hard onto my left knee. That would be the same knee that I injured last spring while trying to stop Lola from making a break for it over the garden wall. The one that had me laid up for three weeks. Fortunately, I was able to walk home and ultimately only suffered some tenderness, bruising and a bit of scraping. Still, I’m glad G’s arriving home this evening!

The Written Word


It’s 3 p.m. and -3 C, and I’m thinking about having my third cup of coffee. Despite the sun making an appearance today, glinting off the light dusting of snow we got last night, I’d just as soon stay inside where it’s warm.

Since I haven’t been inclined to spend much time outdoors, with or without my camera, I’ve been getting a bit more thoughtful indoors with my subject matter for Project 365. Instead of just shooting whatever catches my eye, I’ve been thinking about arrangements and groupings. Yesterday, I did a collection of some of my glass and ceramic figurines, inspired by Tennessee Williams’ story, The Glass Menagerie. As I was pulling out my copy of Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, to serve as a base for the figures, I thought of an idea to do for today’s photo. Today, as you can see above, I went with a grouping of some of my favorite Southern writers. Neither photo is a favorite, or particularly strong, but I am learning through my mistakes, which is one of my main goals with this project.

I had multiple bookcases packed and stacked with books before we moved. Leaving behind the bulk of my books was one of the hardest things to do. I had lots of memories associated with so many of those books and just simply being surrounded by them was often enough to make me happy or calm. I brought such a small segment of my collection when we moved; mainly my art/art history books, a few small sets of books by certain authors, and a handful of individual favorites. I try not to dwell too much on all the ones I left behind, or I start regretting my choices.

Perhaps I should have thought a little more carefully about leaving so many books behind. It’s not as if there are lots and lots of English-language books here, after all! While The Building of Renaissance Florence is quite interesting, it’s not necessarily the kind of book you reach for when you just want to relax. That goes for a lot of my art history books. They also tend to be a bit big and unwieldy for reading in bed late at night.

Fortunately, we’ve found a few used-book stores here in town, which are good for picking up thrillers and such in English, and there’s usually a used-book stall at the market on Saturday, but obviously, the selection is a bit limited. Amusingly, we’ve actually been rebuying some of the books that I left behind in the US. I seem to be rebuilding my Elizabeth George collection these days. Still, now that I’ve pulled out this handful of books, I think I might start rereading some of them. It’s been a while since I read A Confederacy of Dunces or any of my Lee Smith books. If only I could find a copy of Smith’s Black Mountain Breakdown. I knew I should have picked up a copy before moving!

Carolina Blue


We seem to be working to a schedule of one overcast day/one beautiful day. Today was a beauty. As you can see, the sky was a stunning shade of blue — what might be called Carolina Blue in North Carolina.

Of course, that stunning, crisp blue also comes with temperatures in the negative Celsius range today. I gather other parts of the Netherlands are getting a fair bit of snow, but we haven’t gotten any today, despite what the weather widget is currently saying for Utrecht. They never seem to get it right, anyway.

This photo is the rooftop of an apartment building over behind the Stadsschouwburg (city theater). It’s an interesting contrast architecturally to many of the other buildings on that street, including my old favorite, De Breyerskamers, which are almost immediately next door. I chose this shot for my entry for Project 365, because I liked the starkness of the architecture against the clear, strong blue of the sky, all topped with the stark, black fringe of bare branches just at the very top of the frame. I like the fact that you can find these random, more modern structures throughout the old city center, sometimes where you least expect them.

Dutch Twist


In the southern part of the US, one of the traditional meals on New Year’s Day is pig of some sort (pork chops, ham, etc.), collard greens (or mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, or some other leafy green), and Hoppin’ John, a dish made with rice and black eye peas. The various dishes are supposed to bring you wealth and luck and general prosperity for the new year.

Yesterday, for the actual first day of the new year, we did the Italian good-luck dinner instead, which consisted of cotechino (pork), mashed potatoes, and lentils. Still, just because it’s not January 1, doesn’t mean I can’t still do the Southern version of the traditional new year’s dinner. After the past year, I’m sure a little bit of extra luck and wealth wouldn’t go unappreciated!

Fortunately, I can get the ingredients to make Hoppin’ John here in the Netherlands. Although I think I should now call it Hoppin’ Jan, instead. There’s a shop at the end of the street that sells the black eye bonen. They might even sell the dried beans, instead of just the canned ones, but I’m taking the easy way out this time. A package of witte rijst (white rice), some ontbijtspek (bacon), an ui (onion), and some seasoning are already on hand. (For the record, I cook the rice in chicken broth for a bit of extra flavor, thus the kippen bouillon.) Our celery has turned to rubber, so I’ll have to pick up some more this afternoon when I hit up Albert Hein for the pork chops and the kale. I thought about heading over to the big outdoor market to see if I could find some collards or mustard greens, but today, I can’t be bothered. That’s what a bad night’s sleep will do to you. Thank goodness kale is popular here!

In case you’re interested in the recipe for my version of Hoppin’ Jan, here goes:
1 cup dry white rice
1 chicken or vegetable bouillon cube
1 can black eye peas
1-2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
.5 – 1 tsp dried oregano
dash of Tabasco
dash of vinegar or lemon juice
2-4 oz. bacon, chopped

Bring 2 cups of water and the bouillon cube to a boil, and add in the dried oregano (or any dried herb of your choice). When it comes to a boil, add in the rice and cook according to directions, about 20 minutes or so, until it’s done. When the rice is done, empty it out into a mixing/serving bowl. Add in the drained black eye peas.

In a sauté pan, cook the chopped up bacon until it’s done to your liking. I guessed at the amount of bacon. Really, though, it’s bacon. The more the merrier! When bacon is done, transfer it to a paper towel if you want to be healthy, or just go ahead and put it into the bowl with the rice and beans. Use the bacon fat to then lightly cook the celery and onion, just long enough to take the edge off, but to still leave some crispness to them for texture. If you prefer, you can just skip the cooking part all together with the celery and onion and add them in raw. That works, too. When they’re at the stage that you want, add them into the rice and bean mixture and then give it a good stir to mix it all up. Add in a dash or so of Tabasco and some vinegar or lemon juice to make it pop a bit. Season with salt and pepper, but you probably won’t really need any salt.

I don’t follow a specific recipe, so my version may be different from others. It’s not a hard and fast rule with any of the amounts, either. Just do it to your own preferences and tastes and enjoy!

New Year’s Detritus

New Year's Detritus
I’m going to attempt Project365 this year, in which I take a photo every day. There are some groups where you take a photo of the same object every day, but I couldn’t decide on one item that I would want to photograph every single day. I’m hoping to at least get out and photograph something around the city every day, but for those days when I know I just won’t be able to, at least I can get a photo around the house.

I had a couple of nice shots of the cathedral today (maybe those will show up in future Foto Vrijdag entries), but in the end, I decided to go with this one, which seemed appropriate somehow. It was taken in the walkway beneath the Domtoren and shows one of the many piles of the wrappers leftover from the fireworks that went off all over the city last night. Plus, there’s the ubiquitous bicycle in the background. It’s not a Dutch photo without a bicycle!

I would have liked to have gotten a slightly different angle — lower perhaps — or a bit more focus on the wrappers themselves, but I had Pippo with me, as always, and he was restless. Plus, to be honest, it was quite breezy there, and the day was cold enough as it was!