Monday, March 31, 2008

Long, Last Days

Daylight savings heralds long, light-filled days. We have a lot to pack in - packing and the subsequent worrying about how to fit in so much into two little bags, organising, researching our new city, a quick haircut at an African Latino hairdresser (fantastic), sending a few small things home, enjoying some last Dutch dishes, buying a book for the ferry (Delizia! The epic history of Italians and their food - I have been looking forward to reading this for a long time), realising we will never have to see our idiot flatmate again.
This wonderful anecdote from today will remind me of Dutchland for time to come.

We go into a shop that is filled with health products and drugs and medicines behind the counter and a woman in a white coat to buy ventilin and contact lens solution.
Dani: Hi, do you sell ventilin?
Lady chemist: What's that?
Dani: The puffer for asthma?
Lady chemist: No.
Dani: Do you know where I can buy one?
Lady chemist: You have to go to a pharmacy.
Dani and I, speechless. Lady chemist stares blankly at us.
Dani: Um, what is this?
Lady chemist: This is a drugstore.
Dani: What's the difference?
Lady chemist: A drugstore sells drugs. A chemist does not.
Dani and I, seeing the boxes of prescription drugs behind the counter and her white coat, decide it is best to leave.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

White Asparagus Soup With Coriander Pesto

White asparagus is hitting the markets now and I knew I had to make something of the fat white stumps before we left. I wanted to make a soup with it, and since it has a milder flavour than it's green counterpart I thought a dollop of pesto would give it a nice contrast.

It couldn't be simpler: for two, saute a small, diced onion until translucent and add one bunch of white asparagus (about 500g) chopped into inch pieces, along with one quartered potato. Add enough hot chicken stock to cover, about 3 cups, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Blend with a stick blender until super smooth, and serve with a dollop of pesto; in this case I made a coriander pesto.

The result is creamy without any cream, a delicious seasonal soup.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Great Food + Great Company = Great Afternoon

We caught up with Susan one last time (here, that is) and spent a lovely few hours pottering around Haarlem in the sunshine (ie it was cold and windy, but there was sunshine). Lunch at Loca proved to be a big success, each of us swooning over our gorgeous sandwiches. The chef used to have his own cooking show and it is quite the cool restaurant.

On our way to gelato, we saw the Grote Kerk had a Slow Food show so of course we had to check it out. The church itself is absolutely beautiful and the stands had some delicious local foods to try and buy, which we did, including maple butter and plump cranberries. Filled up on samples, we still managed two scoops of the fantastic gelato next door, including the very popular marscapone cinnamon. A walk around the markets, and then a rose beer, aka the most delicious summer drink, before saying our goodbyes. Hope to see you soon my foodie twin!

The girls, with gelato

My sandwich, naan with smoked salmon and rocket, with pickled cucumbers and roast tomatoes

Summer carrots from the Slow Food show

The Grote Kerk with it's stunning organ

Rose beer = delicious

Thai Stuffed Omelette

Another recipe to test from The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook, this time a Thai stuffed omelette. Like the aloo parathas I made a few weeks ago, this dish isn't something I would usually make but turned out to be an instant favourite, something I know I'll make again. It's so quick and easy to whip up, a perfect mid-week dinner, and surprisingly so delicious with so few ingredients.

Thai Stuffed Omelette, serves 2
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon fish sauce
Dash of white pepper
125g pork mince (I used half beef-half pork and it was fine)
1 firm tomato, finely diced
4 long green beans, finely chopped
1 large shallot or small onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
Coriander for garnish

In a small bowl, beat eggs with 1/4 teaspoon fish sauce and a dash of white pepper. Set aside.
Preheat a frypan over medium-high heat. Stir in pork and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until no longer pink. Reduce heat to medium and add vegetables, followed by remaining seasonings. Stir-fry until green beans are cooked and the mixture thickens a little, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm while you make the omelettes.To make the omelets, wipe the frypan clean with a paper towel and heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium heat. Swirl in half the egg mixture to coat the base of the frypan in a thin, even layer. Cook for about 1 minute until omelette is almost cooked but not quite dry on the surface.
Spoon half the filling into the centre of the omelette. Fold 2 opposite sides toward the middle and then fold in the remaining 2 sides to form a neat square parcel. Press down with a spatula to seal. Flip onto a serving plate, folded-side down. Repeat with remaining egg and filling.
Garnish with coriander and serve.

Note: The recipe calls for one omelette per person, to be served cut in half over rice. I doubled the recipe and served two omelettes each without rice for dinner.

Folded side down...

...and folded side up. Equally delicious


Bloemendaal is 'the' beach here with a 'reputation' for fun summertimes but since we won't be around then we paid a visit in the cold. The flat beach stretches for miles and is dog-walking heaven. The good thing is you can eat fish and chips at the beach when it's cold without worrying about a bulge in the bikini.

Not just any fish mind you, but kibbeling, or Dutch fried fish, which we'd seen everywhere at the herring stands but didn't think much of it. Especially as it's pre-fried and I imagined oily and soggy. But at Bloemendaal, we had to try it. Oh. My. Gawd. Big chunks of succulent cod - fried first to cook the fish, then a second frying when ordered to crisp up the thin batter. Served with garlic sauce and paprika salt, it was the perfect fish without chips.

Friday, March 28, 2008

From Frites To Chips

Dani got her visa yesterday! She almost didn't get it, as her bank statement said 'Danielle' and not her full name and that wasn't enough proof. But a flimsy piece of paper from the bank in the back of her wallet did the job. The happiness combined with the knots of anxiety in my stomach left me feeling nauseous but we celebrated with a beer and it felt great - we are off to London!

My interview is on Tuesday and we booked the ferry for Wednesday. We spent the afternoon booking a short term studio for the first two weeks while we house hunt - ouch - but this is it. We gave it our very best here, and we're going to give it our very best across the ditch. London, here we come.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Antwerp is only two hours away by train so on Wednesday we excitedly set off for a day trip. It took us four hours to get there after a fire at a station en route, but when we arrived we were thrilled with how pretty everything was. Wide boulevards, intricate grand buildings, a stillness in the air (less bikes/trams/buses).

I had four food goals:
1) Moules-frites
2) Belgian chocolate
3) An assortment of beers
4) A waffle

So after passing through the Meir, the main shopping drag, we went seeking what I thought would be a dime a dozen: a quaint dark bistrot where we could wile away the hours over a steaming pot of mussels to dunk our frites into, while sampling a selection of local brew. We walked down to the port, through the fashion district, past the touristy menus, but couldn't find a thing. Disheartened, we settled in to groovy-looking Cafe Berlin and had a really lovely lunch: Dani a superb cheeseburger and I toasted brioche with sauteed wild mushrooms and herb aoili. Around the corner was Gucci and Cartier and a taste of the Marais with Gerard Darel and Comptoir des Cotonniers, and our chocolate shops. Chocolaterie Sweertvaegher had some creamy pralines and ganaches, and at Marcolini, an elegant boutique that could just as easily have sold diamonds, perfect squares of flavoured chocolate, in our case, gingerbread spices, caramel biscuit and Earl Grey tea.

The area was charming for a stroll, and after a waffle I stupidly tried on a few things at American Apparel. Nothing should be tried on there after a waffle. Or before a waffle, since their sizing went all nonsense. The scent of waffles fills the air in Antwerp, and they cleverly station the waffle joints near women's clothes stores. Who wants to waste their time shopping when there are fresh waffles sizzling on the grill? My waffle was glorious, hot and slightly caramelised on the edges, soft and chewy inside. It was freezing, so we huddled in a pub and tried a few yummy beers before a long train ride home.

A beautiful city that's better suited for a summer's day, when the numerous open spaces would be filled with bustling terraces, maybe even with pots of mussels.

+ Click here teo see more photos from my Antwerp flickr set

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A White Easter

Finally, we've seen some proper snow. This weekend has been all about the white stuff - Saturday it showered tiny white hail like the gods were emptying beanbags on us, and today, proper fluffy snowflakes all day, a veritable snow fest. So what if I was catching them and eating them?

Saturday, we went down to Albert Cuyp and had lunch at Bazar, a Turkish restaurant that just blew me away. In an old church amidst the markets, the high dome ceilings house a two-storey all-day restaurant with colourful tiles, eclectic chandeliers, sparkling lights. We ordered the two person lunch and feasted on crunchy falafel, meaty mergeuz, crispy filo cigars filled with feta and spinach, smooth dolmades and a variety of flavourful dips. I couldn't resist dessert, a small plate of incredible Turkish delight, baklava, dates and pashmak, the Turkish fairy floss which tastes like halvah and is very addictive. With coffees and beers, incredible (especially in Amsterdam) for under 30E.

Immune to the rain, we had a walk around the markets then caught the tram over to Waterlooplein so we could peruse the flea markets together. Some interesting vintage clothes but the prices left me irritated. 45E for a simple summer dress, 20E for a peasant skirt that I wanted to turn into a dress - although Dani nabbed a bargain with a lovely pair of knee high boots for 25E.

Today we went back into Amsterdam through the soft snow to see Juno. Underwhelmed, it was ok but I found these teens and their punchy-one-liners-around-the-screenwriter's-wetdream-of-a-soundtrack too two-dimensional. What was lovely was cosying up in the small cinema at The Movies, comfy chairs and a delicious hot chocolate with whipped cream.

On the way back to the train, we stopped by Kaasland (ie 'cheese land' - the best land there is) and picked up a baguette and a calvados camembert and a peppered fromage blanc for dinner. Salads are for weekdays. There are few things better than French bread with good cheese.

Thanks to Dani getting Dexter copied onto my laptop, we had marathon sessions watching the second season (don't worry Kath, I won't say anything - but ohmigod you have to watch it!). Thank goodness The Hills starts this week. Oh yea.

Oh, hello there

These smiles mask how hungry we are


Hot plate - filo cigars, crispy rolls, falafel, merguez, squid

Cold plate - dolmades, dips and olives

Is that a puppy, a beard or the most delicious dessert?

Friday, March 21, 2008

So, How 'Bout This Weather?

You wake up, it's bright blue sky, five minutes later it's hailing little sharp ice bullets that cut at your face. Another five minutes, the heavens have cleared and there's not a cloud in sight. Then it snows, and it's the fluffier, flakier snow I hoped to see.

The flatmate tells me the French call it les giboulee de mars where the weather changes from one extreme to another, all the time, and it's incredible.

Not a dirty lens - that be snow

If He Can Do It can I. I love this slideshow of David Lebovitz' Paris kitchen. If he can cook, and produce cookbooks, and take lovely photos in this itsy bitsy thing, anyone can.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Work The Line

If you:

* have any interest in cooking
* have ever eaten in a restaurant
* have a crush on Tony Bourdain (what's new)
* have a new crush on Eric Ripert (why you looking at me?)

...then you must watch Tony Bourdain's Into The Fire special, where he goes back to Les Halles and cooks the lunch and dinner shifts. Brilliant, compelling viewing.

Part One here, then follow the links. (what are you doing? Go and watch it now).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring On A Plate

Cut the stumps off a couple of handfuls of brussel sprouts, and continue to slice them thinly. Warm a sliced garlic clove in olive oil, then add the sprouts. Saute until the leaves are pick up some golden colour. Season. Add toasted pinenuts, a nob of butter and stir through spaghetti. Shave a little parmesan over the top.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Suriname And Then Some

Ex-colonies always come up with the most delicious food. Suriname in South America used to belong to the Dutchies, and since it's not a cuisine we're likely to find anywhere else, I thought we should definitely try it out. It also coincided with watching a travel cooking show on Suriname and it's interesting food, a mix of Chinese, Javanese, Indian and much more.

We picked a popular restaurant in Chinatown, Kam Yin, a typical dive with big serves and cheap prices (rare for Holland, even in Chinatown). Missing greasy Chinese, we ordered fried wontons and chicken satay sticks to wash down with cold Tsingtao beer. We had to try Pom, a baked dish of chicken and root vegetable similar to potato, which was yummy mush, and moksi meti, a selection of different meats - roast pork, grilled chicken, Chinese pork sausage and chargrilled pork. It wasn't anything spectacular, but very filling and cheap, worth another visit to try more of the extensive menu.

Afterwards we seeked out Bar Gollem, a favourite brown cafe near the Singel with something like 200 beeers, mostly Belgian. A cosy, typically smokey bar, we tried a citrusy white beer and a slightly spicey honeyed San Bernardus. Each beer is served in it's own special glass. A must on the Amsterdam circuit.

Green and gold

Some entrees to kick-start the cholesterol

Moksi meti, aka meats on a plate. No need to complicate things

Pom Special - the special was that you got more of it. No oil painting, but pretty delicious

And I'd just like to report that Dani and I are officially creeps. Yesterday was a balmy 12C and like the rest of Haarlem, we cooled off with a gelato. A gelateria opened up by the church in Grote Markt and we enjoyed two scoops while walking around the Saturday market: amarena cherry and vanilla bourbon for me, amarena cherry and coffee for Dani. Smooth and delicious.


Happy Birthday Kath!!!

Happy Birthday my beautiful Kath. This is a big birthday and I really, really wish I had been there, but I'm always with you. You'll hate me saying it, but you are kind, selfless, do so much, and so much good. You are the most wonderful mother and I admire that so much. You work hard, cook delicious things, write beautifully, starting to get into fun girl things (yay!) - basically you are just an all-round super fantastic person.

I am lucky to have you not just as my sister but my friend. We'll have yum cha soon x

Saturday, March 15, 2008

When In Amsterdam, Squat

I don't know much about squatting, but it's big here, and many of them have their own restaurants. They're run by volunteers so you call up on the day to say you're coming and they know how much food to prepare. The reviews were good, the NY Times included, so it was time to check one out. We chose De Peper, probably the most well-known of the 10 or so out there, easy to get to near Vondelpark.

De Peper is 100% organic and vegan, and for 6E you get soup and a main, and if you want dessert it's an extra 1.50E. Drinks are also 1.50E, and the biological beer I had was fine. There's no menu. You pick up your dinner from the counter and bring the plates back. Easy. The space is pretty cosy, complete with chilled-out dog on the couch. Our soup was bean, onion and something like seaweed, and was a delicious, hearty clean soup. The main was a plate of different things - beetroot and sesame salad, couscous with vegies, grated carrot salad and a wholemeal pie with...crab. Now, I have no problem with vegan, as long as they don't fake food to make it taste like something else. The pastry was nice but let's leave the faux crab.

So overall not a bad meal out, something different and good value - even with the Burger King burger afterwards.

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

It wasn't, but this is starting to sound like some melodramatic novel with an unbelievable plotline you find in the 75% off bin, so maybe it's a fitting way to continue describing what happened next.

I got out of here as soon as I could yesterday as Petit Tresor had a big oaf friend sleeping on the couch. I took all my papers to the library and translated them. The papers we thought were confirming our residency were actually letters just confirming they'd received our application for residency. So we had nothing that we could show the consulate that we were residents. Dani emailed to say one of the girls she works with who has lived here for two years has never even heard of a residency card.

I emailed the consulate and outlined what we did have, that our work permit could not be granted without residency, that we have a tax file number, and could they confirm exactly what we needed to bring with us to the interview. They replied, ignoring the last bit, and said they can only issue us with a visa if we have proof we are residents. "When you get it, then you can apply".

At this point I realised, who actually are we? We are in some kind of limbo, waiting for a mythical residency card, but until then? Do we actually exist? Are we ghosts? Tax-paying ghosts? So I bit the bullet and called the IND (immigration department) and asked for our status. Coincidently, my letter confirming approval of my residency was sent the day before, while Dani's would be two days later. They would take up to two weeks to arrive, and then we take that letter to the IND and pick up the actual letter saying we are residents (just off the top of my head, you could just send that in the mail while you're at it). But he said I could probably just pick it up directly next week. My interview being in just over two weeks, I thought that should be ok. But since Dani's interview is this Tuesday, and the letter wouldn't arrive in time, I asked if I could come in and get a letter just confirming that she was approved for residency and that the letter is in the mail. He said that sometimes they can do this; I bunged it on, said we urgently had to leave to the UK, and that we couldn't change our interviews with the consulate. The phone was transfered to many colleagues, lots of putting on hold*, and the girl came back and said she would give us a 'return visa' that would allow us to come back within 3 months and that it would show the consulate that we are residents. She missed the point about it being a long-term visa that's up to two years. "That would be an Article 9 letter!" Then when she came back she said "oh don't worry, you are Australian and Australians don't need visas for the UK". When I convinced her we did, she came back and said she needed to discuss it further, and would call me back.

I hopped back on the consulate's interview booking page just to see our options since obviously Dani wasn't going to get anywhere on Tuesday and saw a whole new set of dates, and quickly changed Dani's interview for 28 March. I can't tell you how relieved I was! I never heard back from the IND, but that gives us both two weeks and hopefully both our papers will have arrived by then. Proving that we are residents so we can leave.

And they lived happily every after...not yet, but hopefully soon.

* Why is it when you're making an important phone call you only ever have one bar left on your battery?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Haha Life, Good One, You Are Hilarious

I went for my visa interview this morning at the British consulate. Waiting waiting, only to be told I couldn't apply since I didn't have my residency card. "I have residency but the immigration department said it could take up to 6 months for the card to be sent". "Well then". Never mind that it didn't say anywhere that you had to bring proof of residency, just the forms and your passport. I can bring the paper they sent saying I have residency but had to make another interview - the earliest is in one month. At least they issue the visa then and there, but I'm fuming. I just want to work and get settled well and truly.

My mind races with practical matters; to calm down I realise I need to have things placed in my mind, create some sort of order quickly even if the finer points need to be tweaked later. I thought, Dani can head to London and get started, and I'll head to Rome, study something for a couple of weeks, language, cooking. The irony being that I have two people coming to visit in the next couple of months yet have all this free time now. Haha Life, you are hilarious.

Update: I had a brainwave and went back to the online appointment page hoping someone may have cancelled or changed their interview time - yes! 1 April popped up so I quickly clicked it - I hope it isn't some April Fool's Day joke because the joke has been on us for quite some time already.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


When mum and I studied Italian two years ago, our teacher - an absolute Fellini-esque character who was such a pleasure to learn with - gave us study CDs to listen to during the week. One of the very first lessons was describing bucatini all'amatriciana - you know, un pomodoro, il pomodoro, i pomodori, dei pomodori - and I fell gaga over the sound of this dish. The recipe, yes, but moreso just the name of it. Bucatini all'amatriciana. Like Elizabeth Gilbert and attraversiamo, bucatini all'amatriciana to me is beautiful to hear and say. I'd listen to the CDs in the car (admittedly, not nearly as much as I should have) and sing out the recipe with molto piacere.

One of the ingredients is guanciale, another gorgeous Italian word. And when I saw it at the Italian deli Susan took us to in Leiden on Saturday, I pounced on it. I'd never seen it before, and those lessons - pomodori, cipoli cipolla, aglio, guanciale, peperoncino - came back to me. I couldn't wait to make this Roman, and of course, highly contested, pasta.

The store didn't have bucatini, so spaghetti it was. I didn't want the guanciale crisp, but instead preferred to cook it with the onion and garlic briefly and let the tomatoes warm the fragrant fat throughout the sauce. Lots of pepper, a kick of chili. The unique flavour of the guanciale lingers, with it's sweet-spiced crust. Because it's air-cured, it's not smokey like bacon or pancetta, and I'd love to try it in ragus. I've kept some extra fat for scrambled eggs tomorrow. Squisito.

Ode To Something Delicious

When Andrew and I were in Aix-en-Provence in 2003, we took a walk through the markets and amongst the plump stone fruits and pyramids of spices and all the hues of yellow at the fromagier, was the saucisson seller. He was very happy to hear we were from Australia, as his daughter was studying in Melbourne. He wanted us to try his charcuterie, and amongst a few market buys, we took home a wild boar saucisson for lunch in our tiny sun-filled kitchen in our hotel. It was a typical Provence moment: a spotlight of midday sun, small wooden table, two chairs, baguette pulled apart, crumbs, cheese, saucisson, peaches, knife, beer.

I still maintain that sausage is The Most Delicious Thing I've Ever Eaten. The wild boar had a deeper, gamier taste, probably with a hint of sweetness, thick with fat that left our mouths tacky, and we couldn't stop slicing off just a little more and relishing this new flavour.

I think we both always regretted not buying another. On Saturday in Leiden, at the Italian deli Susan took us to, I spotted a salami di cinghiale - wild boar - so I nabbed it. I knew it wouldn't be that taste, and it wasn't - but it was still delicious, rich and meaty-flavoured. Nothing better than a slice here, a slice there. And maybe one day we'll pass through Provence and get a second chance.

Monday, March 10, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

I read about some cookbook recipe testing and thought it would be an interesting challenge so put my hand up; unfortuantely had to pass on two Cook's Illustrated recipes as I ran out of time (and one involved charcoal grilling a chicken which is beyond my kitchen capabilities at this time). But then a recipe for an upcoming cookbook called The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook came through and I tackled it today.

Aloo paratha is a popular Indian dish of grilled bread stuffed with a potato mixture. I've never had it before but it sounded delicious. You make a dough, and to boiled and mashed potatoes add herbs and spices. Then you fill rolled out discs of dough with the stuffing, seal, and roll out again, so you have a thin bread with a smooth filling. Cook on both sides until golden, and serve with a spiced yoghurt.

What I loved about this is it's a recipe I wouldn't usually make, and it got me out of my usual cooking zone. It was easy to do, although I only got 6 parathas instead of the quoted 12. Hence the need for recipe testing! There's lots of variations for the filling so I look forward to making it again...and hopefully other Asian grandmother recipes.

If you are interested in trying aloo paratha, watch this adorable Indian chef prepare it and other Indian dishes.