Archive for the 'Food' Category

Where To Marry In Paris (Part 3)

(This is part 3 of 3; part 1 is here, part 2 is here)

We returned from Paris late Sunday evening (March 25th).

What remained was images, shreds of memories, and many of them, in spite of the short time we were there:

The Nautilus-like decoration of the Arts & Métiers subway station.

The American girl in the brasserie too close to the Eiffel tower (but we were too tired to go any further), shouting, “Sir, you’re from Philly, sir?” at an unsuspecting Frenchman wearing an Eagles cap.

The closed doors of the Fashion museum that we had wanted to visit after the Eiffel tower and lunch; apparently, the museum is now closed for visits altogether. We were lured to it by an entry in the Lonely Planet guide, promising “some 100,000 outfits and accessories from the 18th century to the present day”. Instead, we kept walking along the Seine to the Museum of Discovery (Palais de la Découverte), hoping to find traces there of the turn of the 19th century world exhibition that took place there in 1937. However, besides the building itself, very little reminded of that historic fact. The museum houses several themed exhibitions, some very entertaining (animals, visual tricks), some extremely boring. In the animal exhibition, a little rat was showing how it had been trained to run around in a maze and get a tasty snack at certain intervals. Somehow, that reminded me of our own wanderings across Paris.
Continue Reading »

2007-05-11. 2 responses.

Where To Marry In Paris (part 2)

(This is part 2 of 3; part 1 is here, part 3 is here)

There’s a lot in Paris to be seen besides museums. Unfortunately, most of these things are outdoors and can best be visited with a bit of sunshine and a pleasant spring temperature. As we had neither of these on our short trip, we had to spend a lot more time inside the shops on the boulevard des Champs Elysées than we normally would have. We had to admire the view of the Eiffel tower from underneath it. And we had to extrapolate what it’s like to spend a day in the park from sitting on a bench in the tuileries for 10 minutes in the only rays of sunlight that we did get.

There is however another very important indoors activity to be done in Paris, as in every part of France: eating! At lunchtime, heavy rains were usually poring down on us, making it impossible to sit down in a park with nothing more than a baguette and some Coulommiers or other cheese. At dinnertime, we were forced to eat out as we stayed in a hotel room, so we really were unable to do some shopping at a nice Parisian market and have a go at the local ingredients ourselves. In short, we couldn’t help but eat out twice a day; and as we felt obliged to do as the Parisians do, we just had to eat a hot meal twice a day as well. What a punishment…
Continue Reading »

2007-04-01. One response.

Ceci n’est pas un sherry

Sherry has never been my favorite drink. Not only does it have unpleasant connotations: of England, the 1950s, Agatha Christie, brown, dull, mouldy; or worse, in Holland: where in the 1970s desperate housewives got drunk on cheap supermarket sherry — but also I just never liked the taste of it very much.

The last time M. and I bought a bottle of sherry was to cook Delia Smith’s recipe of chicken in sherry (a chopped up chicken braised for 45 minutes in half a liter of sherry and sherry vinegar, with lots of whole shallots and garlics and tarragon). Per Delia’s instructions we asked the shopkeeper for amontillado sherry. The shopkeeper looked at us in awe; it seemed we had instantly become connoisseurs to him. With great care he unlocked a special cabinet behind him and took a dusty bottle out of it which he put on the counter. I was expecting an equally special price, so I was surprised when it only cost about 15 guilders (8 dollars), which only confirmed our prejudice that sherry is nothing but a cheap way to get drunk. We didn’t dare to break the spell and tell him we were going to use it for cooking. Of course we did taste it before pouring it into the pan, but fortunately it tasted a lot better after 45 minutes of cooking with the tarragon.

So I wasn’t too eager when my dad, the last time we visited him, suggested we drink a glass of sherry with the Coulommiers cheese and goat’s Brie we were about to eat. “No, no, this is special, you’ll like this,” he said; and I know by now I should trust him in these matters. He’s been cooking most of his life, professionally for part of it, and is currently working as a culinary consultant. He taught me long ago to always taste everything, before deciding if I like it or not. And so I trusted him and agreed to try a glass. With great care he brought a dusty bottle out of his wine cellar and put it on the table, just slightly hesitating before opening it, showing that it really was a special bottle. I tasted. He watched me closely. This was not sherry! It had all the sweet and subtle taste of sherry, but without any of the sharp vileness of alcohol that I was afraid to find. It was served cold and fresh, and tasted more of an aromatic dessert wine; a wonderful combination with the salty cheeses. He told me the sherry is made by constantly mixing in older sherry through an elaborative system, the details of which I cannot remember very clearly for some reason. The end result is that every bottle of this sherry contains a tiny amount of very, very old sherry (up to 60 years, the average age is 25 years).

After he saw I really liked it, my dad brought up another bottle as a parting gift (we were leaving the next morning). That bottle is now safely tucked away in our own little wine rack (they don’t build cellars anymore), waiting to be opened, for a special occasion, or just because we feel like tasting that exquisite flavor again. We won’t be cooking chicken in it for sure; we’ll buy a bottle of real sherry for that.

2006-01-29. 3 responses.

The Answers to All Your Questions

Beginning bloggers can often be recognized by their fixation on web server statistics. I don’t mind admitting that I’m no exception. It’s just as satisfying to see that people read my ramblings, as it is to see people use a computer program that I wrote. Besides, the stats can show you some very interesting information, like which posts are popular, and what other sites refer people to this blog. But what’s most intriguing, is the search words some people used that lead them here. With some search words I really wonder how they could have led here, and if the posts here ever gave people the answers they were looking for. (Then again, I guess that’s the beauty of the web: you usually find what you’re looking for, but more often you find ten other things you weren’t after but are still interesting enough to look into.)

For example, how about the person that asked his search engine of choice, literally, “did sauerkraut come from switzerland?” Why did they want to know? Was the answer ever found? Does it really matter where it comes from? Personally, I would say straight away: sauerkraut comes from the Alsace region in France. The best sauerkraut I’ve ever tasted, anyway. But sauerkraut is eaten in many places, and many varieties. In Holland it’s usually mashed with potatoes, baked lardons mixed in, and served with smoked sausage. We had braised cabbage in Slovenia, which looked a lot like sauerkraut but wasn’t sour at all. According to Wikipedia, sauerkraut originated in China. Strange, it’s never on the menu at the Chinese takeaway’s…

Sauerkraut-like cabbage on the Ljubljana market

Continue Reading »

2006-01-07. 2 responses.

On Cheese: A Story of Love and Hate

As a child, I was first introduced to French cheese by the man behind the counter in our local grocery store. He offered my mom and me a slice of Brie on a cracker. It wasn’t the best of acquaintances. I wasn’t a big fan of (Dutch) cheese to begin with, and this was just more smelly and more gooey.
Some years later in life, I got a proper introduction by the woman who is still my cheese guru. She could happily have dinner eating nothing but bread, some salad, and loads of cheese. Foul, smelly, stinking cheese — that more and more often began to taste not so bad, actually. I never saw her eat Brie. (Last time we met her she served us goat’s Brie but I don’t think that counts. After tasting it I realized that I’m still far from being a fearless cheese eater.)
The best tip she gave us recently, was to buy Coulommiers cheese. She did say to buy it at the market in the village nearby where she lives (in France); but during our last visit to France, we weren’t there on market day, so we skipped and bought some in the supermarché to take home. Bringing cheese home from France is another mixed pleasure. Every time I open the fridge, a horrible stench gusts out, best resembling the smell of fresh manure. For some reason, cheese bought here in Holland never smells that bad. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t taste as good, either.
The Coulommiers tastes like Brie with a fierce kick (it’s actually from the Brie region, so technically it is a Brie). I like it best straight from the fridge, that’s soft enough for me — but my cheese guru will disapprove. According to her, cheese should be taken out of the fridge at least an hour before eating it. I guess I still have issues with gooey things…

A picture of the Coulommiers still left in our fridge. You can almost smell it. Note the ‘au lait cru’ sign on the package; unless you’re pregnant, don’t buy cheese without it, or it will (usually) taste as bad as it smells.

2006-01-06. One response.

Eating and drinking in Slovenia

We loved the food and wine in Ljubljana. Since we were in a hotel, we had to eat out all the time; which I don’t complain about, but it’s always nice to do some cooking yourself in another country, to get a better feel for the ingredients and recipes there. From the Lonely Planet site, I got the impression that horse meat is very popular in Slovenia. And indeed, most restaurants serve one or two dishes with horse in them. We never ate that though, don’t know why, it’s just not done where I come from. Still, there were enough alternatives to choose from. A lot of meat, game, saucages; fish now and then; but also enough vegetable-based dishes (I’m not vegetarian, but I love to eat veggies). There’s quite a number of Italian restaurants, serving pasta dishes, gnocchi, risotto; and again, meat.

And the wine! Great wine all around; very young red wine that we drank at lunch in Luka Gourmet’s Lunch Café; fresh and fruity white and sparkling wines; and more aged reds, it was all there, all Slovene. Someone told us Slovenia doesn’t produce enough wine to export, so it will be hard finding any abroad. And as we travelled by train, we couldn’t take any with us. Another reason to come back some time, by car.

The restaurants we liked most:

  • Sokol, serves Slovene dishes; I had a big plate with all sorts of saucages, as well as the braised cabbage we often got; a bit like sauerkraut, but less sour. Nice young house wine served at the right temperature: cold.
  • Luka Gourmet’s Lunch Café is an Italian restaurant, always crowded at lunch time, though we always managed to find a table. Good simple pasta dishes, but they also have a daily changing menu that will bring some variation when you’ve got to know the regular menu, when you come there rather often. As we did. Their young house wine comes from a tap, and I could drink this every day. As we did.
  • Špajza has a large choice of Slovene and Italian dishes as well as an extensive wine list. We ate there on our last evening in Ljubljana, and a good choice that was. We loved the venison with berries (maybe a bit too hefty for the Merlot).

2005-11-20. No responses.

Coffee from Canada

It’s surprisingly hard to find a decent cup of coffee here in Holland. The Dutch have always been a nation of filtrated coffee drinkers, but in recent years they have largely fallen for the Senseo-disease. The Senseo Crema, as it’s called, is a coffee pad system, exclusively marketed by Philips and Douwe Egberts (Holland’s biggest coffee brand). The problem is that the coffee made with these pads really tastes like… filtrated coffee. I suspect it’s a clever way of selling people something they already had, but giving them the idea that this must be better because it’s pads. Drink coffee like they do in Italy–but without the too strong taste of Italian coffee. All this at a higher price than filtrated coffee, of course. Maybe that’s what’s really wrong here: Dutch people in general don’t like their coffee too strong.

If you find a place where they serve espresso or capuccino, they usually know how to mess it up properly. The coffee is piping hot, and the foam on a capuccino is just that: a lot of air, with a layer of sweetened cocao powder dusted over it. Espresso is all about how full they can poor the smaller espresso cups, making the coffee as watery as possible. I’ve given up hope that I’ll ever drink an Italian caffè outside of Italy: at most half a centimeter of utter caffein bliss, thick, creamy, with intense flavour.

Not that I have a fancy espresso machine at home, I must admit. The time will come when I’ve saved enough money to buy the Wega Mininovaand have the time to use it. In the meantime I’m using a Nespresso machine, which gives me a nice range of flavours and a reasonable time-per-shot. It may not be a God shot, but for me it’s a Go(o)d-enough-shot. It also saves me from the eternal search for the best beans, including expeditions to obscure Italian coffee breweries like the one I accompanied my friends Chris and Vincent on, last year[1].

You’ll understand I was pleased to find a coffee house here where the coffee is actually quite good. There’s not a lot Dutch about it though; it was set up by two Canadian guys[2] near the Amersfoort train station, where I arrive for work every morning. They know how to make a cup of coffee: it’s not too hot and the milk foam is thick and creamy. Then there’s the un-Dutch service (these guys wishing you a nice day while you’re walking out holding a large beaker of latte really is a great way to start your day), as well as the relaxed ambiance they’ve created with comfy leather chairs and soothing music. I hope they’ll make it; but already they have opened new shops in Utrecht and Rotterdam. Their business name is Social Ground.
Continue Reading »

2005-11-05. 3 responses.