Searching for Holiday Spirit

The Oudegracht and the Stadhuisbrug shortly after Sinterklaas sailed through.

I’ve been trying to get into the holiday spirit, but even with the couple of days of snow we had this week, I just haven’t felt it. Thinking that if I didn’t get the tree up this weekend, I might not end up putting it up at all, I set to work cleaning the house and getting the tree and decorations down from storage. Much sneezing later, I set to work, with a glass of homemade eggnog and some GenX Christmas songs to try to help set the mood.

The tree is up and it’s nice to revisit the memories behind each ornament and have the glow of the lights add such much needed light as the daylight fades so early now. I’m still not sure I’m in the holiday mood, but I’ve got a Christmas and Advent philharmonic orchestra concert to look forward to next weekend, and probably a visit to the kerstmarkt in town, either at Janskerkhof or Twijnstraat, since they’ll be set up in both locations in the coming weeks. Hopefully, all of that will help get me in the holiday mood. If not, there’s always gluhwein and oliebollen!

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

Gelukkig 2012

Bacchus, the God of Wine
We went for a walk today, as I like to do on the first of January when it’s quiet and there’s just the leftover remnants of the night’s celebrations. Usually, there’s the remains of the fireworks, although I think the city cleanup crew got there before I did, since the worst of it seemed to be gone already. Still, as we walked past Janskerkhof, I saw the perfect symbol. The fountain of Bacchus, empty, with an empty wine bottle sitting in his lap. I couldn’t resist this shot, of course!

Our New Year’s Eve was a bit of a bust in some senses. Our lasagne dinner was delicious as always, but we couldn’t fully get into the spirit of the evening because Pippo was a quivering, shaking mess for about nine hours. When you see your dog in such misery, it’s hard to feel like celebrating. We gave him some light anti-anxiety medicine, but next year he’s going to need a stronger dose. In fact, he was so tired today that he seemed quite content to stay home while G and I went for the walk around town. Since yesterday wasn’t such a great evening, we’re doing a New Year’s Eve 2.0 tonight. Instead of lasagne, we’re doing the traditional Southern (US) New Year’s Day meal of pork, greens (kale, in this case) and hoppin’ John (rice and black-eyed peas). But with some more sparkling wine to celebrate, and hopefully room for the oliebollen we never got around to eating last night! And I’m sure we’ll have an earlier bedtime! But at least we’ll all be happy and calm and can have a nicer start to 2012.

Gelukkig nieuwjaar! Happy New Year!

In the Lap of the God

Tweede Kerstdag

Kerstmarkt in Amsterdam
The Netherlands doesn’t just celebrate one day of Christmas; they have Tweede Kerstdag, literally Second Christmas. That doesn’t mean you get a second day of presents, though. In fact, Eerste Kerstdag (First Christmas) isn’t even that big on presents, since Sinterklaas (Dec. 5) is the bigger gift-giving day. I’m not sure what the background/basis for the second day of celebration is, or if there are any traditional things done on this day. It doesn’t seem to be a big shopping day, either, as many of the stores are closed today.

For us, it’s just an excuse to enjoy another fun meal. Tonight we’ll be doing another round of gourmetten. I think the cheap one we bought last week has more than paid for itself already! We used it first while my friend was visiting and we used it again after she left. It’s a fun way of grilling at the table and gives you a variety of different dishes to enjoy. Tonight we’re having chicken in Thai chili sauce, steak in a sesame/soy sauce, and mini slavink, along with mushrooms and red bell peppers.

To round out this second day of Christmas, I figured I’d post a few more of the Christmas-y photos I took in Amsterdam last week. These were all taken around Leidseplein, an area I’ve gotten to know well due to seeing shows at Melkweg and Paradiso. The first photo above is a small kerstmarkt (Christmas market) set up on one side. The second photo is the other side of the square and shows one of the many oliebollen stalls you’ll find throughout the country. The last one is just a side street with some of the typical lights you’ll see hung across the street. Many of the streets in cities and towns all over have similar lights, varying only in design.

Leidseplein Oliebollen

Amsterdam Xmas Lights

Oh, and one last photo of Pippo in front of our tree. Just because!
Pippo en de kerstboom

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

That's gotta hurt!
It’s pumpkin season! In the US, I’d buy big pumpkins specifically to carve them up like this for Halloween. It’s tradition! However, I rarely actually cooked the pumpkin. Any pumpkin I needed I got from a can. Libby’s canned pumpkin puree to be exact. The recipe for pumpkin pie (the only way I ate pumpkin) was right there on the can’s label! Easy peasy!

Now I’m in the Netherlands and Halloween isn’t that big a deal. Neither is pumpkin pie. But pumpkin as a food stuff actually is quite common. Still, if you want pumpkin puree, you’ve got to make your own. There’s no canned stuff here. Well, the expat stores tend to carry it, but it’s about €7 a can!

As the weather has started to cool off significantly and the first scents of wood fires could be detected in the air today, I figured it was time to buy a pumpkin. Tis the season, after all! But this time I don’t plan on carving it up. I plan on cooking it up and making my own puree to use in a handful of recipes I’ve come across recently. So while I was at the store today, I picked up a pumpkin. It’s a bit smaller than usual, and I do miss the “pumpkin patch” buying experience (even if the patch was just the front lawn of one of the local churches). Still, just having it in the house makes me feel like autumn is really here. Now, I wonder if I have a knife small enough to do a quick carving.
Pompoen Seizoen

She’s a Rich Girl

Amy recently posted a link to an interesting map about names in the Netherlands, particularly the regional differences. It’s fascinating to see the tendencies toward certain names depending on the location, but I was particularly interested in (and amused by) the naming tendencies here in Utrecht.

Red areas would seem to coincide with affluence (or at least elitism), for the first names prevalent here are associated with socio-culturally prominent groups. These names, prominent in and around Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Haarlem among other places, are often Old Testament-y (Daniel, Sarah) come from nature (Luna), or might be French (Stéphanie, Olivier).

Thank goodness my Luna will fit right in here! Poor Lola and Pippo. I hope they don’t get teased in the schoolyard!

Luna living up to her rich-girl name:

Lola and Pippo, the buitenlanders:
Sit Anywhere

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.

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!

Just Another Year

I just don’t like the New Year celebration. Never have. I don’t like the forced pressure of it, whether looking back, looking forward, or simply celebrating. So no end-of-year lists from me or resolutions.

Have fun, eat, drink and simply enjoy the moment. Our oliebollen are purchased, champagne is chilling and the ragú for the lasagna is bubbling away. If you’re in the Netherlands, try not to get blown up by all the fireworks! We’ve got mini ones going off in the street outside our house as I type. At least it’s keeping the dog and cats entertained! They’ve been staring intently out the window at the action below.

Happy Hogmanay and I’ll wish you a gelukkig nieuwjaar tomorrow!


Germany isn’t the only place to have Christmas markets; The Netherlands has it’s fair share of them and we went to one of them yesterday here in Utrecht. De Kerstmarkt in de Twijnstraat (The Christmas market in Twijnstraat) was a one-day event down in the southern tip of the city center. We weren’t really going to do any shopping, we just wanted to get out and enjoy the sights, particularly as the weather was clearer than it has been in a while, although it was quite a bit colder than it’s been so far this winter.

As you can see, the sun was out and shining brightly. This wasn’t late afternoon, though, despite the long shadows. Nope, this was shortly after noon. Of course, when the sun sets around 4 p.m., I guess noon could be considered late afternoon.

This was one of the more surprising scenes we saw. Quite realistic, isn’t it! Although, in this case, it was the dog that I was really trying to get a photo of, because he was just adorable and so calm and placid. There were lots of dogs about, so I think it was a good idea we didn’t take Pippo with us. I think he would have been overwhelmed! I saw a few dogs sniffing closely at some of the food stalls, as it was.

The stalls were a mix of food, Christmas decorations, and random odds and ends. There were some nice star decorations that I’m kind of wishing we’d bought now. Some of the stalls like the one above were representing the shops they were standing before. In this case, it was an Italian delicatessen. I think I read that Twijnstraat is the oldest shopping street in Utrecht, and there were certainly a number of interesting shops that I’d like to go back and visit. One of them is the butcher that was selling these sausages:

Of course, it’s not a Christmas market without some glühwein (mulled wine). There were plenty of stalls selling vats of the stuff. We couldn’t resist and soon had a cup warming our hands (and our insides). There’s just something so gezellig about a cup of glühwein on a chilly afternoon!