2006 – Feeding Amsterdam

14 April 2006 – Preparations

This year’s Amsterdam tale is starting a bit early because the preparation itself is providing some… moments. Well, see, after the failure of the latest “procedure” on my neck to provide any significant improvement, I fell into one of my sloughs of despond and sat around the house uselessly for pretty much the entire month of March, my mood not improved by record-breaking levels of rainfall both in number of rainy days as well as total quantity.

But then I had a routine appointment with my wonderful internist, and she cheered me up as usual, my cheer augmented by a return to the warm embrace of bupropion. So I went back to the gym to try to get into a little bit better shape before my trip, most particularly to get some muscles together so I’ll be able to keep up with Rina while we’re bicycling all over Amsterdam gathering food for the continual round of dinners we’re planning.

At the gym the other day, I had a wonderful little aha! moment. There’s this new kid at the front desk some mornings, as good-looking as usual, but particularly well defined. And since he was friendly I realized that I could go ahead and lay some of my jelly or something on him like I do nice people in straight places, so I asked him if he liked chutney. He got this worried look on his face and apologetically allowed as how he tried it once but it was just a little too, ummm, different. Then I told him I also made jams and jellies. Ummmm, grape was about as far as he got, he admitted.

I stood there in exasperation at first, and then it hit me. No wonder his body fat percentage is a minus point oh two percent. No wonder his very face is defined: He doesn’t like anything! Does he have any inkling of how lucky he is? If nothing tasted good, I’d still have abs!

I slunk home (if one can slink on a Segway), profoundly frustrated and feeling like the serpent upon discovering that Eve dislikes apples. But then it struck me that the chocolate sauce might do the trick, and so I stuck a jar in my pack.

At the gym two mornings later I’m telling him how much fun I got out of my aha! experience over the reason behind his definition, and he laughs and volunteers that well, he does like chocolate.

I whip the jar out as he’s finishing his sentence. This morning he tells me the jar didn’t last the night. He’s my boy…well, in a culinary sense. I don’t want him; I just want to contribute to his delinquency.

And what does it say about me that this person who I keep referring to as a “kid” and a “boy” is at least thirty. Sigh.

Meanwhile, the packing begins. This year I’m taking a variety of chiles and mole ingredients and stone-ground cornmeal again so I can make the Chile con Carne and cornbread as well as the Mole Poblano that went over well last year, but so that I’ll have the critical New World ingredients to make Chile Verde, which I’m expecting to be this year’s hit, I’m also taking tomatillos, some fresh and others that a couple of days before my departure I’ll shuck and pureé with fresh pasilla chiles, boil briefly, and jug in the expectation that they’ll keep in my Amsterdam refrigerator for a couple of weeks for a second dinner.

And oh, already packed is a bottle of dark agave nectar and a variety of the finest New World chocolates. I remember when I was young the really good chocolate all came from Europe. When I arrived in Germany in 1964 and discovered the Swiss and German chocolate bars in the PX and “on the economy,” I thought I was in heaven. Well, we’ve caught up with them, and I’ve been taking to Amsterdam Joseph Schmidt and Scharffen Berger chocolates (both of whom have been recently bought out by Hershey, so I despair over how long quality will remain their primary criterion).

I’m taking some of both again this year, as well as some of Michael Recchiuti‘s confections. I met Michael five or six years ago when he was brand new at it and peddling his initial creations from behind a card table in the Justin Herman Plaza. Now, of course, he’s so famous he’s no longer behind counters, and I’m sure he wouldn’t even remember me. Boy, have his confections ever caught on. Now he has a store in the Ferry Building, and his stuff is sold at select gourmet locations all over the Bay Area as well as in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and Santa Fe. Sorry about that, Texas.

This year I’m also taking El Rey chocolate bars, just pure, single-bean Venezuelan chocolates in a range of strengths. Yow! This is highest quality chocolate that I know where to buy, and if we buy their oil, we can damn sure buy their chocolate.

Today’s pic, the back window (on Noe Street) of the Market Street Gold’s Gym. See, some of them bodybuilders get so muscled up they have to be lowered to the street with a winch.

Amsterdam access, SF

Woensdag 26 april 2006 – Arrival

Well, her majesty’s royal airline got me here unscathed even though I had to sit with the commoners. Actually, the problem was not who I was sitting with but rather what I was sitting in, as I sure did miss those business class seats. Still, if you take enough pills, you will sleep, and I pretty much did. Besides, the non-stop polar route on KLM certainly is an improvement over having to travel the extra distance and change planes on the east coast like I no longer have to do on Delta since I finally exhausted my frequent flyer miles and am free to fly a decent airline.

In the early part of the flight while they are serving supper, I watch some of the movie without the audio and am just delighted to see that I can still read Dutch subtitles well enough to pretty much follow the plot line, which is a great relief since the only actual study of Dutch I’ve made since last year is a few hours of browsing around in Donaldson’s A Comprehensive Dutch Grammar. Well, that and reading some Dutch novels in translation.

And bless Rina, I’d told her that by now I know my way around well enough that there was really no need for her to go to the trouble to meet me at the airport, but this time, sure enough, she’s there with Hans in tow and furthermore has driven out to meet me, so I get to go into town in the luxury of her old Citroën.

After a preliminary unpacking and gift distribution, I am still so jazzed over my arrival that I can’t sit still, so I set out for Albert Heijn to lay in some groceries. It is such a pleasure to be back here, especially in this part of town where I feel completely at home.

I take a scenic route to Albert Heijn, going through Mosterdpotsteeg in hopes of seeing a new Morcky Boy opus, but alas the steeg seems little changed, as does Albert Heijn although I can’t find that wonderful fresh chilled spinach-gorgonzola soup that I found so seductive last year.

Oh, and speaking of seduction. I’d said that I’d taken my Wires of San Francisco series about as far as it should go, but what I hadn’t realized is that I could also do the Wires of Amsterdam.

I promise not to dwell on this, but here’s one I took this afternoon of the back of the palace from in front of Albert Heijn.


Donderdag 27 april 2006 – Albert Cuyp Raid

Rafaël arrived in town about eight last night just after Rina had returned from the New King with takeout of its chicken with snow peas, peiking duck, incomparable babi pangang, and tons of rice. That really is a fine restaurant.

We eat and talk until ten or so and then call it a day. To help fight jet lag I take a handful of sleepers, and they knock me cold.

This morning Rafaël comes around for coffee, and then we set out for the Albert Cuyp Markt. Since it’s way out of his walking range and, OK, a bit out of mine, we take the tram, which is what Amsterdamers call their streetcars.

The market is just as I remembered it, a mixture of stalls selling pretty much everything, and it’s great fun even though Rafaël and I scarcely seem able to even see the same things since he doesn’t look at food and I, at nothing else.

Careful buyers, we walk all the way through the market to see what’s available so we can make our purchases on the way out. And of course my hidden agenda is for us to eat at De Bazar since I’ve been dreaming of their falafel since my last visit.

It’s still the best I ever ate, better even than that in the place in San Francisco on 16th near the Roxie that my Palestinian friend Sami recommends, but this year I notice a major negative. There’s a line at the bottom of the menu saying their meats are halal (prepared according to Islamic religious rules) which is for me a total turn-off. When I want my food blessed by an iman, I’ll let him know.

Why I’m such a contrarian? I have now reached an age and a state of health at which I might be expected to start singing “Nearer My God to Thee,” but instead I am becoming increasingly opposed to organized religion. So much so that I passionately resent being dragged into the ignorance and superstition of religious dietary laws.

On the other hand, I have to admit that my fondness for gourmet food is far greater than my dislike of religion, so I quickly overcome my outrage and feed on the falafel with my usual enthusiasm. Just as I likewise grit my teeth in San Francisco and buy Scharffen Berger chocolate in spite of its being labeled Pareve (which I take to mean, among other things, that mumbo jumbo has been said over it by rabbis.) Don’t worry, Mr. Scharffenberger, I’d buy your chocolate even if you paid enough to get it blessed by Jerry Falwell, the Dalai Lama, and the Pope.

Or would I? It occurs to me that since I have discovered the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan single-bean chocolates, I can use those instead of Scharffen Berger, just as I got my new laptop from Hewlitt Packard instead of from Bush Pioneer Michael Dell.

After lunch, we drift back out of the market, making our purchases. Mine include half a kilo (what was I thinking?) of the best milk chocolate almond bark I ever ate from this stand I discovered in 2001, the most totally Dutch toothpaste I can find…not an English word anywhere on the tube, a smoked mackerel from a small fish stand to compare with the standard set by the Volendammer Vishandel, fresh coriander for tomorrow’s Chile Verde, and a Hass avocado for the dinner Rina is doing tonight.

Before we get back on the tram, we walk down to the Heinekenplein and hit Dirk van der Borg, the Albert Heijn alternative that advertises itself as “11% goedkoper” and does seem to be noticeably cheaper. There, we buy staples like sugar and salt and flour (and, well, a couple of brands of chocolate milk), and I marvel again at how much cheaper most groceries are than in San Francisco. And realize again that, yes, the Dutch don’t have to support folks like the Waltons and Ken Lay in the style to which they have become accustomed, so of course universal health care and cheap groceries abound.

For supper, I join Rafaël and Hans and Rina for New King leftovers augmented by a fresh salad, and fresh fruit, and afterwards we nibble at that milk chocolate almond bark. Well, they nibble. I get right into it and somehow among us a third of a kilo disappears.

One last treat before bed, though – my new Parodontax tandpasta met natuurlijke plantenextracten. I squeeze a generous line onto my brush and eagerly begin the test run. Aaarrrgggghhhhh!!!!! Every taste bud recoils, screaming. Ajax toilet cleaner cannot be worse than this stuff. It is the toothpaste from hell, unspeakably vile, overtones of salt and soda with a lingering, nay, clinging aftertaste of bitter herbs. Somehow in all that scrutiny of text, it never occurred to me to even think about the taste.

Oh, do come visit me sometime. The guest toothpaste will be attractively positioned at the left front edge of the lavatory.

For a pic, here’s some more Amsterdam wires. That other thing is the clock tower on the Beurs van Berlage.


Vrijdag 28 april 2006 – Morcky

Out Sick. So much for the dinner Rina and I’d planned for tonight.

spuimorckyBut what I’ll share for today’s entry is that about fifty meters north of me on Spuistraat I’ve spotted a nearly-pristine new opus by Morcky (who apparently no longer styles himself “Morcky Boy“).

I cannot resist crowing that last year when I was sending my draft Amsterdam by Foot tales, I Googled Morcky and found no hits on his work. Which means you loyal readers heard it here first, and it just delights me squishy that a year later, Morcky has his own site and many people have posted some fine photos of his work. Google him. I posted only a few in Amsterdam by Foot, and there’s lots more.

Oh, and I might as well throw in a little tale of our times. Last fall I was offered a ride down to Fresno in a two-engine Cessna, and since I hadn’t been in an airplane that small since the sixties and figured it would offer an entertaining experience as well as a panoramic, low-altitude view of the upper half of the San Joaquin Valley, I gladly accepted.

The flight was every bit as enjoyable as I’d imagined, and it also provided yet another little insight into life in neo-America.

I gave the pilot and the other two passengers a Prius ride over to the Livermore airport, where the plane was kept, and while we were readying it for the flight offered to pay for the fuel as my contribution. The pilot graciously refused, but I insisted that I’d enjoy the flight more if I felt I were helping pay for it. He eventually accepted my offer, and we filled up on my credit card.

Later, with my usual voracious curiosity, I was questioning him about various aspects of the plane and inquired about the record-keeping needed to distinguish business from personal use of the plane. With admirable honesty, he admitted that under the current administration the rules have been simplified and all expenses are now deductible as business expenses.

At first, this didn’t seem quite right, but then I made some inquiries, and a Party spokesman explained that, as part of the Fairness Doctrine, the opportunity to deduct recreational aircraft costs as business expenses has been extended equally to all taxpayers, the poor as well as the rich.

Well, of course, we all get to deduct our airplanes, be they large or small, a fleet or only one.

Similarly, folks who purchase the larger SUVs (but not smaller SUVs or automobiles) can deduct the entire purchase price as a business expense, and I had to agree with the Party guy that it just wouldn’t be equal treatment to give these tax breaks only to the poor.

Back to art: here’s a mailbox down the street from my door.


Zaterdag 29 april 2006 – Queen’s Day

It’s Queen’s Day and I’m still sick. I became violently, violently ill night before last and spent yesterday in bed.

In the late afternoon, Rafaël and I totter past Edward’s on the off chance we’ll catch him, and to our mutual pleasure, he and I see each other through his remaining living room window as I crunch up his steps, which are covered with shards from the other window. Nothing serious, I later learn. You can’t make a truly boisterous party without breaking windows.

He has just dragged himself out of bed and is fumbling cautiously through the wreckage, pawing at forlorn, half-crushed packages of cigarettes in hopes of finding a survivor. I can scarcely bear his suffering as his hope dwindles, so it is good that I cannot stay, but we agree to get together for dinner on Tuesday.

Rafaël and I continue over to the Black Tulip to see whether Frank and Andrew have braved the crowds and taken the train from Schipol. They haven’t, and I return home to bed.

Just as well. It is downright cold today, and the only way I can wear a bright orange tee shirt is to wear both of mine under my little black coat, which I am able to keep open only part of the time. Luckily, one of the shirts is so big that it hangs down beneath the coat and thus displays at least some orange.

queensboatI’m not the only one to notice the weather, and I get the feeling that the number of celebrants is only about half that of last year. Still, some folks are brave enough to take to open boats on the canals, and here’s a boatload on the canal through the Oudezijds Voorburgwal. Note the absence of bare flesh, normally featured in abundance on Queen’s Day.

After a couple of hours in bed to recover from my stroll, I get up just in time for Rina to ask me to join her and Hans to a party a few doors down the street. Well, I have enough energy to put in a cameo appearance, I realize, and it turns out that I’m sure glad I do.

For the hostess, I take a spice bottle stuffed with the leaves of Umbellularia californica (California Bay Laurel) that I plucked with mine own fingers last summer at Saratoga Springs and dried with mine own sun at home after my return to San Francisco. Anything to indulge my passion for treating folks to foods they never heard of. At the party I re-meet Elly, a neighbor I met last year shortly after she had had a very serious bicycle accident, and I compliment her on how much her face is improved without the purple and yellow discolorations and the stitches hanging out. I clear it with Rina and invite her to tomorrow’s dinner.

I chat serially with a number of others in a mixture of English and my pidgin Dutch/German (which I would love to refer to as “Nederduits” or “Nederluits” or “Nederdeutsch” for entertainment value except that so far not one of the Dutch I’ve tried my clever coinage on has been amused. Nor, now that I think about it, should I really expect my German friends to find it all that funny since many of them are already aghast at my wasting my time on Dutch when I could be improving, or at least maintaining, my grasp of the language of Goethe and Schiller).

Note: Turns out that “Nederduits” is a term already in use for several centuries to describe various dialects of Dutch and German. (Not to mention a South African branch of the Dutch Reformed Church.)

Anyhow, I discover that even though I don’t already know any of the neighbors but Elly, they all know me from having seen me on the street during my visits. Well, yes, especially last year, when a guy zipping up and down Spuistraat on a Segway did stand out a bit.

A man named Leo is particularly entertaining, as we seem to share quite a few interests, among them exotic personal vehicles, and I ask Rina if he might also be included. She observes that since he’s Elly’s husband, he’s already been invited. Hey, how could I know? They’re not wearing name tags.

Oh, and why not. I’ll close with another pic, this one from my Hinges of Amsterdam series, a subset of the Doors of Amsterdam. These are on the Beurs van Berlage. I do love that building.


Zondag 30 april 2006 – Aftermath

Out at noonish with Rafaël to view the Queen’s Day aftermath. Not a pretty sight. Streets full of trash, broken glass, and puddles of vomit. Enclosed areas reek of piss…at best. Very few people are out, and the pathetic thing is that some are clearly remaining on the street from last night, only semi-ambulatory but still drinking.

We stroll down nearly deserted Kalverstraat so I can check out Blackstone’s, that fine British bookstore on Kalverstraat at the Spui that Edward thinks might have the English translation of Geert Mak’s My Father’s Century, which I am unable to get back home and am eager to read.

They’re nice but don’t have it. We drift through the Spuiplein on the way to the Athenaeum, hoping to catch Sunflower playing or one of the art vendors who have the excellent postcards. Alas, none of the above is present. The Athenaeum, though, is open and does not disappoint even though they don’t have the Mak book. What they do have is the information that it is currently out of print but will be reissued later this year. They also let me know that a new edition of the computer version of the Van Dale Engels/Nederlands – Nederlands/Engels dictionary will be appearing soon, which will solve the problem of my not being able to get the old version to install on my new laptop.

The clerks there are downright crisp. What they don’t know, which is not very much, they can look up instantly, and all too frequently they somehow manage to add a little extra tidbit of information that is above and beyond what might reasonably be expected. That place is the finest bookstore I’ve ever frequented. And now that I think about it, on a per-diem-in-proximity basis, I’ve spent more there than in any other bookstore. All it lacks is my friend Paula, who now manages the bookstore in San Francisco’s Ferry Building.

newrokinOn the way back, I take a few pics of architectural innovations, like this stunning new addition plunked down on top of a centuries-old building on Rokin. I love the way they use the setbacks to increase utility while getting around the height limitations. And since I honestly couldn’t avoid the wires this time, I figured I might as well get the crane into the shot, too.

Later, we stop to take a pic of the window display in an upscale trendy men’s shop called “Chasin’ Denim”, male mannequins dressed in the latest casual chic but wearing handkerchiefs like the bank robbers did in the old western movies. Nowadays, of course, the echo is Moslem fundamentalist rather than cowboys robbing banks. Bizarre. As I focus my camera, a guy leaps out shouting at me that photos are forbidden.

I’m so gobsmacked I can’t think of a pithy rejoinder, since I cannot imagine how they expect to prevent photos when the street is packed with shoppers. But hey, I’m a visitor and must be nice, so I reassure the guy that the photo in fact failed and that my wanting a picture was actually a compliment even though what I really wanted to do was organize a flash mob of hundreds of people swarming around taking pics of their damn window.

I must get off my butt and do that in San Francisco in front of the Federal Courthouse there at 7th and Mission. The building is a registered national landmark that had suffered some neglect but was lovingly restored to its full glory after the Loma Prieta earthquake had forced some structural reinforcement. I went by last year, but discovered that “for security reasons” the public is now allowed to view the restoration our taxes paid for only during monthly escorted tours. Stifling my outrage, I went back outside, and while I was taking pics of some of the architectural detail, a guard came running out and told me this was forbidden.

Oh please. This thing is no World Trade Center. It has no symbolic significance to anyone other than a handful of history and architecture buffs. However, I was able to think fast enough to realize that the guard was just doing his job, so I politely asked to speak to his supervisor.

When the supervisor came out, I established my credentials as a Vietnam-era veteran and patriotic American, and then went on to observe that it was utterly preposterous to forbid photos of a building that 1) was already photographed from every conceivable angle and the photographs published for three-quarters of a century in countless books and periodicals and 2) was sitting on a major bus line where thousands of people every day could easily snap pics out of the bus windows and 3) was across the street from an apartment building where any of the occupants or their visitors could use high-powered cameras to take detailed photographs.

I may have gone on to ask a rhetorical question or two about the fascist fools who set him there to enforce such stupidity, but since at that time I was not quite ready to be hauled off and locked up forever in one of our anonymous confinement facilities with no charges being filed, I didn’t make a fuss. Ummm, more of a fuss.

I’m getting ready now, though. If there is anything good about being old and sick and in pretty much continual pain, it is that with every passing day I have less to lose.

I also have less and less time to do something for my country. The Rev. Niemöller was right. I need to follow his example and start speaking out in public and actually doing something rather than just preaching to the choir. If you don’t know about Niemöller, Google on “when they came for me”.

As the sign above the flower box outside the window of an ancient gentleman up the street says, “Onz kostboorst bezit is frijheid“. I’ll translate that as “Our most precious possession is freedom”.


Maandag 1 mei 2006 – Chile Verde

kolkwindowsTime we looked at some windows. These are on the Nieuwezijds Kolk:

Since almost all food shops were closed yesterday, Rina and I have to do the shopping for tonight’s dinner this morning. We set out in a drizzle on an expedition down Haarlemmerweg. We are on bicycles, and oh, am I ever glad I peddled my butt off for a month in the gym before coming here, because I’m better at keeping up with Rina than I was last year. Not only that, this year I can actually walk immediately after dismounting.

Food shopping begins at the Marokkaanse shop, where we pick up a tub of that 10% fat Turkish yogurt for the dessert. To supply my own kitchen, I pick up another tub plus various odds and ends like the fine Egyptian version of the mango nectar that I don’t let myself buy in SF because it’s so rich.

Then we hit the butcher, and I build some vocabulary while the butcher is cubing a couple of kilos of frikandeau, which is what they call “fresh ham,” the upper part of a pig’s hind leg that has not been cured into a ham. For Chile con Carne Texas style I use pork shoulder, but for Chile Verde, I’ll pay for the good stuff. The butcher throws in a generous slab of the fat for me to render myself after I’ve inquired about buying some lard.

Then it’s back home and I start cooking while Rina hits Albert Heijn for more ingredients.

At dinner tonight it’s Hans, Rina, Otto (introduced in last year’s tale), Rafaël, Elly & Leo (from Queen’s Day), and me.

For voorgeriche (appetizers): South American toasted corn nuts, cashews, and some dainty fried pork rinds I generate while rendering out the lard for browning the pork cubes.

Then a salad of lettuce, arugula, green onions, and tomato with squeezed avocado as a dressing. I introduced this last year, and the Dutch love it. A little puréed garlic, some salt & pepper, and a few spoons of lime juice are all it needs.

Then the Chile Verde with black-eyed peas and cornbread. I use dried black-eyes because I couldn’t find pinto beans this year, but since it’s been decades since I’d cooked dried black-eyes, I forgot that they get done a lot faster than pintos. Alas, by the time I do the first taste, they are already overcooked. Reheating them at dinnertime turns them to mush, and I don’t think fast enough to try to convert them to a variant of frijoles refritos. The cornbread, on the other hand, turns out fine even though it sticks very badly in the pan we tried.

For dessert: Turkish yogurt with California dried strawberries and apricots, accompanied by a little pitcher of dark agave nectar that can be drizzled on to taste.

Rina has the sense to ask me to save one whole tomatillo to display since the Dutch have never seen them. For that matter, none of the guests has ever heard of agave nectar, and most of them have never eaten cornbread…or corn nuts. North America takes Dutch taste buds by storm.

And since I’m not going to start writing more recipes until after I’ve finished Feeding Amsterdam, I’ll include a rough version of the Chile Verde recipe here. I built this recipe by reading a couple dozen recipes online and then talking with some Chicanos from LA I know.

Cut 4 pounds (1,8 kilos) of trimmed fresh ham into approximately 1-1½ inch cubes (3 cm.). Dry them and lightly brown them in lard or oil a few at a time in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. (Lard is better as long as your doctor doesn’t catch you.) Drain off the remaining fat and return the browned cubes to the pot.

Add a mixture of the following that you have chopped fine in a food processor but not pureéd: 2 pounds (0,9 kilo) husked and stemmed tomatillos, a pound or more (½ kilo) of mild seeded and deveined green chiles (I especially like Pasillas or Anaheims. What you do NOT want to use is bell peppers), a bunch of fresh coriander (large stems discarded), a bunch of green onions, and, if available, a stalk of fresh green garlic. Otherwise, the peeled cloves of a head of garlic.

How big is a bunch? Well, I’ve noticed that in supermarkets (say, Albert Heijn here and Safeway in San Francisco) the bunches are pretty damn dinky whereas in farmers’ markets they tend to be much larger. “Bunch” in this recipe means a farmers’ market bunch.
The only additional seasoning this needs is salt and, depending on how hot your mild green chiles are, some hotter chiles. Ideally, you’d use fresh green jalapeños or another fresh hot green chile. Here, I cheat and use a bit of the habañero powder I brought since Pasillas are very mild.

To get it going, you will need to add some stock or water, but not too much because the vegetables and meat will yield some liquid as they cook. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the meat is almost falling apart and the vegetables cooked down into a thick green sauce. You may have to add a little more liquid, but remember that you want the sauce to be quite thick at the end. When the sauce gets thick enough, it will start to stick and burn if left unattended, so just before it burns is a good time to call it done. Well, assuming that the pork is fork-tender. Cooking time varies according to the pork, how well you browned the pork, and the altitude – around three hours.

As the dish cooks down, I decide it could be a little hotter. I give Rina a taste, and she says the hotness level is perfect. I back off since my purpose is not to tear out their tonsils but rather to give them a dish they enjoy.

Tolerance for pepper varies enormously. Rafaël eats by the spoonful sambal that to me has no taste but is just bottled fire. Andrew, on the other hand, starts whimpering before I can even detect hotness. It’s not easy being perfect in the middle.

And finally, to exhaust the cooking fumes, how ’bout some Amsterdam flues visible out my windows on the house next door…for those who don’t have enough of my San Francisco flues:


Dinsdag 2 mei 2006 – Keukenhof

Today I escort Frank and Andrew down to the Keukenhof since seeing this shrine is at the top of their list, and I did not sate myself last year.

Getting there provides some moments, as Frank needs to lead even when he doesn’t know where he’s going. And since I don’t mind standing in lines, i don’t know how to avoid the lines for the ticket windows by using the ticket machines, we waste a good deal of time trying to learn how to operate the machines…and ultimately have to give up and stand in line.

And then when we have our tickets and are about to go up the stairs to the departure platform, Franks spots a small machine with a slot in it beside the entryway, decides that this is somehow critical to our journey, and even though I assure him that on none of my previous train rides have I ever used this machine he insists that we stop while I translate the signage. Luckily, I can read enough Dutch to understand that the machine is for persons with specialized multiple-use tickets rather than our simple return tickets.

This is absolutely bizarre. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him that it doesn’t impact us, and yet he does trust my translation of the words on the machine. I’m trying to understand this.

Still, we get to the Keukenhof, and it is as superb as always. This thing is a world-class treasure.

A feature I had somehow missed in previous visits is the delightful hedge maze with an elevated platform in the center so you can climb up and get an aerial view. Getting to the center is actually quite easy, just keep turning inwards, and there you are. My respect for the designer ratchets rapidly upwards, though, when we try to walk out because, as with all traps, this is much more difficult than getting in.

The damn thing is actually subtle enough that at one point frustrated cheaters had forced a hole through the hedge. Not us, so it takes a while.

Here’s a Keukenhof flower bed:


And a closeup:


On the way back to Amsterdam, I fail to notice that the track number listed for the Amsterdam train is for a train that is in the process of departing, so by the time we get up on the platform, it’s gone and I panic since there is now on the platform no clue as to how to get to Amsterdam.

Luckily, Frank figures this out immediately and leads us back downstairs, where we see that the Amsterdam train is now scheduled to depart from a different platform. Alas, I am freaked out over my stupidity, especially since I was feeling rather huffy over his lack of trust. Now he has some reason not to trust me.

Back in Amsterdam, we walk over to Edward’s. He’s on his stoop with three friends, and I make introductions. My hope is that I can get Andrew and Frank to join this delightful man and me for dinner. However, Edward is not ready to be rushed, and Frank insists on eating immediately, so Frank and Andrew leave and I stay. I cannot understand anyone being so eager to eat that he would pass up an invitation into the home of a local, especially if he had been complaining this morning that the other guests at the hotel were not as friendly at the breakfast table as he would have liked.

After stimulating conversation over a couple of beers, the others drift off and Edward and I go to Centra. As usual, we order the octopus and the zarzuela. The octopus is good, and I am so enjoying Edward as we eat the zarauela that I fail to notice at first that something is wrong.

Every year since that first wonderful visit in 2001, the zarzuela has been somewhat less spectacular and the restaurant somewhat less crowded. By now, the place is nearly empty and the zarzuela is barely even good, and we do not finish it. It’s terrible to watch a fine restaurant go down, but I’ll no longer go back. Favorable review retracted.

Afterwards we walk down Lange Niezel to the Casa Maria for a nightcap; and I learn that Edward has accepted invitations and will leave town day after tomorrow morning, not to return until the evening before my departure. Alas, I have already committed to spend the day tomorrow with Andrew and Frank, so Edward and I will not get to see each other again during my visit. Bummer.

We say our goodbyes on Warmoestraat at the spot where in 2001 his little white dog showed his courage and the skateboardling, his true colors.

Woensdag 3 mei 2006 – Old Acquaintances Discovered

Sick. Nevertheless, I go out to meet Andrew and Frank in the morning, but the day’s adventure starts with such a nightmarish post office visit that we agree that a day of rest would be in order. The good news is that I got this shot of the post office interior:


I return home and spend the day in bed, but in the early evening decide that I’m up to going over to Edward’s to say goodbye on his last night in town. I’m glad I do.

staalstraatbridgeHe’s on his stoop with his tenant Wouter, who is the day cook at Staalmeesters over on, strangely enough, Staalstraat. Speaking of Staalstraat, here’s that impossibly cute little Staalstraat bridge that I’m so in love with. This time shot from the south.

I get distracted talking with Wouter about Southwestern American food and lose track of Edward for a few minutes. Then I go inside to discover that Edward is in the process of throwing together an impromptu dinner around a noodle stirfry dish.

I pitch in to help, and a former tenant named Wayne drops by. I’d been introduced to this guy in years past, but we never got a chance to actually talk to each other. Luckily, he joins us for dinner, which is quite tasty, but it is overshadowed by my discovery of what I’ve been missing by not having got to know Wayne.

It has been some time since I enjoyed a conversation so much, as it ranges widely in Dutch, which I still understand only parts of but then get brought up to speed with quick summaries in English. What I discover is that Wayne is as interested in language as I am, and I sense that he will be joining Edward and Dani as one of my primary resources.

We are joined later by Sandra and Meinard, who have been tenants of Edward’s for years but who now have a baby and are moving to a more child-oriented place than the Oudezijdsvoorburgwal. I had briefly met these people before, but as with Wayne, somehow we never really had a chance to get to know each other.

It turns out that we are all Gunter Grass fans and are excited about his recent work. We’ve all read Mein Jahrhundert (My Century) and Im Krebsgang (Crabwalk), me of course in English translation, and I find it wonderfully reinforcing that we all loved his first four novels and then found there to be such a falling off that fairly soon thereafter we’d stopped reading him until somehow we all read glowing reviews of Mein Jahrhundert, read it, and returned to the fold.

It is such a joy to find folks who’ve enjoyed the same literature, and somehow finding them in a foreign country makes the enjoyment even sweeter.

Donderdag 4 mei 2006 – Dappermarkt

At noon I peddle Rina’s guest bike over to Frank’s Smoke House, where Rina and I plan to meet after she deals with her granddaughter’s birthday party.

veiledpelikaanHere’s a pic of the Pelikaan Brug right across from Frank’s, modestly veiled by new foliage:

Frank, alas, is not present, but his counterman remembers me, and this time we have a nice chat while he makes me a sandwich and I buy some eel, foie gras terrine, and their astonishing warm smoked salmon.

Rina arrives and we peddle off to the Dappermarkt, oddly enough located on the eponymous straat. I learn that “dapper” has nothing to do with fine clothing but rather is an adjective/adverb mean “brave/bravely.”

This market is overwhelmingly North African, and Rina and I stand out in the crowd as we buy ingredients for tomorrow’s dinner for Andrew and Frank and An. Still, it’s a fine market with a rich variety of produce, including some vegetables that neither of us recognizes. We both count this as a plus. We shop till we nearly drop, stop for coffee, and then hit the butcher Cora has recommended for its lamb.

In the afternoon, I give my friends Frank and Andrew a bit of a walking tour of the center of the city past the Dam since they are curious about tonight’s Herdenking celebration. After I describe how several hundred thousand people jam the Dam and the surrounding streets, they agree that it might be best to just walk through the Dam earlier.

We walk over to the Homo Monument and the Anne Frank house, conveniently located more or less at opposite corners of the Westerkerk. Alas, the Anne Frank House is closed to the public owing to some sort of special event, and it takes very little time to examine everything the Homo Monument has to offer. Andrew is having some trouble walking, and I’m totally stressed over constant concern from Frank as to whether I’m leading us the best way, so I get us a cab back to Geldereskade 29, across the canal from the Black Tulip.

It’s Entresol, a French-Dutch fusion restaurant with an emphasis on the French. The waitress apologizes that the menu is only in Dutch and offers to translate. I suggest that it might be easier if I just read it to my friends and then ask her the words I don’t know.

To my great relief, I perform splendidly. The only four words on the whole damn menu that I don’t know are two Atlantic fish whose names I barely recognize in English (and which I forget immediately), the others are the Dutch words for Guinea hen (parelhoen) and fennel (venkel, which i should have cognated from both German and English).

And somehow, at that moment, we all relax and have a delicious dinner that everyone enjoys. I highly recommend this restaurant.

One rather strange incident, though. Frank has read somewhere that at 8:00 P.M. on Herdenking the Dutch observe a two-minute silence, and he has the idea that this is universally observed. In my experience, most of the people who are at the ceremony on the dam stand quietly for the two minutes, but people off the square don’t.

The restaurant workers don’t even understand what Frank’s talking about when he mentions the silence to them, but this doesn’t deter him, so at a minute before 8:00 he leads us out to the street in front of the restaurant, where in fact nothing special seems to be happening. But we stay out there until the two minutes is up, which is after a group of people have walked past us into the restaurant.

I wish I had his conviction.

Then again, so many times when I’ve had what I thought was conviction, it was actually, like Frank’s, passionate intensity. The kind of thing that made it possible for him to be so full of the Holy Spirit that he was able to speak in tongues back when he was a minister.

My passionate intensity, at least currently, is with flues. These are absolutely the last, I promise:


Vrijdag 5 mei 2006 – Moroccan Dinner

kattengatdoorLet’s start this tale with a pic of an Amsterdam door, this one on Kattengat. The building is part of a church that has been repurposed owing to the lack of believers for a couple of generations.

First thing in the morning, Rina and I start prepping everything we can for tonight’s dinner, getting every dish as far along as it can possibly be taken ahead of time. By the time we finish, it’s 1:00, and we’re both tired.

We crash for a couple of hours, have refreshing baths, and meet again in her kitchen at 4:00. We work together well in the kitchen and everything goes smoothly….well, almost everything.

I’ve made a grocery store run, and one of the items on the list is crackers on which to serve the eel appetizer. See, the Dutch are constitutionally incapable of eating eel except on toast or some kind of cracker. At Albert Heijn there is a whole of various crackers, and I have no idea what Rina had in mind when she said “crackers.” Then I see the assorted rusks and remember that often I’ve been served eel on toast, so I get two cylinders of rusks.

When Rina sees them, she is aghast. I try to understand why she is so horrified by my choice. Then she gets a phone call, and I take the opportunity to dash downstairs to the corner Turkish pizza place, where the young man is quite nice and helps me select what he thinks will be the best box of crackers out of their very limited selection. I get it back up to Rina as she is finishing the call, but it, too, is wrong, all wrong, hopelessly wrong. Then I figure out that the problem she sees with the rusks and the crackers is that they are too crisp and will break up when people try to bite them. So I use this serrated bread knife of hers like a rock saw and very, very carefully saw the rusks into quarters…which can be topped with eel and popped into the mouth whole. She’s pleased. Problem solved. More comparative sociology learned. First appetizer course ready. Whew.

We put it out on the table as the guests arrive. Andrew and Frank have brought a very good wine, but as an initial beverage I offer glasses of that wonderful Spa Lemon-Cactus drink that no American has ever had but that I know they’ll like. They do. I take a bottle of that stuff back to San Francisco every year.

The second appetizer course is a sectioned ceramic platter with sliced oranges and kiwis.

The main course is this gigantic platter of Rina’s that she half fills with couscous and then arranges on top of it sliced lamb and sausages and garbanzos and roasted eggplant slices…with a superb harissa sauce she’s made with the lamb cooking juices.

First dessert is melon balls, raspberries, blackberries, and grapes with 10% fat Turkish yogurt and dark agave nectar to taste.

Second dessert is assorted baklava-like pastries. Rina had bought a box of this stuff when we were shopping yesterday at the Dappermarkt, but An brought one as a gift, and so we used that one.

Andrew and Frank are at their best, which is absolutely charming, and everyone finds them great fun. They also bring gifts of San Francisco 49ers caps for Rina and An, which go over splendidly. Hmmm. Maybe I should think about sometimes giving folks inedible gifts.

When she was a child, An’s parents ran a small hotel over in the Jordaan. She told some tales about various visitors, and one of them was especially entertaining because it pointed out one of those little cultural differences that I find so fascinating. What is it about the human race that makes us create different social customs and then all too often use them as reasons for disapproval?

Little stuff like table manners…which hand you’re supposed to hold your fork in and the things you’re permitted and not permitted to do with each instrument. All of it different in various countries. Whew. I’ve got to the point that I’ve almost given up, but not until I’d picked up habits in various places so that I now eat like barbarian no matter where I am.

And various protocols on smoking. What goes and doesn’t go in different cultures. And for that matter, how these customs have changed over time. People my age can remember that in their youth, the thoughtful host and hostess would put out dishes of cigarettes for their guests. Now, of course, at least in California, nobody would even think of lighting a cigarette in somebody else’s home unless the host himself were seen smoking. In California, smokers go into a new place and immediately start looking for exits and balconies…sort of like a fire drill except that they’re looking for a place to smoke.

But anyhow, a Dutch social custom that seems the teeniest bit excessive to Amerians is their utter ahborence of putting a cigarette out on anything ever used for eating…even when it’s already soiled with food and must be washed. An’s father was once so outraged when American military tourists staying at his hotel put cigarettes out in his saucers, that the next day he served them their breakfast in ashtrays – clean ashtrays, but still…

Since we started with a door, let’s close with a window. This one’s on Spuistraat:


Zaterdag 6 mei 2006 – A Full Glass

Rina’s off to the island, and I spend the day resting.

Well, I do walk out to the Moroccan place to pick up some of that wonderful yogurt… and stop at Albert Heijn to get another bottle of “cactus sap.” And I take my camera, so here’s a shot off Haarlemmerstraat of some new apartments. I just love the beams for getting furniture in and out, which they call hijsbalken. See, the internal stairs and doorways are normally steep and narrow, so you need to hoist furniture in through the front windows. Dutch thrift and efficiency. Here’s a spiffy new design for a centuries-old function:

And here’s one of those old facade decorations (gevelstenen) that may be a little kitschy, but I love ’em. “Stadhuys” is the old spelling for City Hall, but I don’t understand the significance of this since the building is on Spuistraat:
While I’m out, I try the noodles with chicken curry at this new Javanese takeout place that opened up the street. €5 and not bad. Well, pretty good, actually, since I ate the whole damn container, unwilling to stop until it was empty and I was more than full.


Since nothing is happening because I’m sick, this is a good day to write about some social issues, like how full glasses are filled in different countries.

For glasses other than wine glasses, which are generally not filled completely, people all over America tend to have very similar ideas about what a full glass looks like: It’s filled to about half an inch (1,25 cm.) from the brim, slightly closer to the top for a very small glass, perhaps a bit less for an extra-large glass.

Not leaving anything to chance, the Germans mark their glasses (and beer mugs) with a line and the precise fraction of a liter that the line denotes.

In the Netherlands, or at least in Amsterdam, they fill the glasses almost to the brim for the tourists. For the locals, they fill it to the very brim. Special customers get an actual meniscus – a word I learned in high school chemistry and frankly never expected to be able to use.

Perhaps the strangest difference between the Dutch and American cultures, though, is with religious attitudes. I’ve mentioned before how utterly astounding it is to an American to hear a Nederlander say, as Rina once did, “My parents forbade me to go to church.” And Hans’ parents were, if anything, more anti-religious than Rina’s. Rina had told me that as a teenager she was curious about this forbidden activity, and since she was a good girl, asked her father for permission to go to a church service, which he granted. Her curiosity was quickly satisfied.

Just a few years after that, she was dating Hans and madly in love. The were inseparable until Hans was drafted into the Army to do his mandatory service. As in all armies, he had no leave during basic training, and the recruits were all locked up tight on base. Well, with the exception of church on Sunday morning.

We know where this is going, don’t we? Yes, since the new soldiers were permitted to write letters, Hans’ very first letter was not to his loving parents. Oh no, it was to Rina, telling her the location of the church the faithful troops attended.

So every Sunday, Rina and Hans sat in the back row of the church and necked through the service.

Zondag 7 mei 2006 – The Black Plum Affair

As Rina enters my room, I start the day out badly by chirping (if one can chirp words containing “G’s”) “Goede Moederdag” and handing her a Mother’s Day present. No, there’s nothing at all wrong with wishing a grandmother a happy Mother’s Day and presenting a present. However, it goes even better if this is done on Mother’s Day. Well, hey, better a week early than a week late, and no, I haven’t turned on the TV recently or the absence of any mention of Mother’s Day might have given me a clue.

Rina’s off to the island again, but I am desperately trying to get down draft versions of the adventures before I forget them, so I stay home slaving away for the pleasure of my readers, of whom I fear I am the most avid.

Late in the morning, I go out to the Internet Cafe on the Nieuwendijk again, where a drunken lout who speaks what sounds to me like fluent Dutch but claims to be Russian snuggles up while I try to read my email. I say “claims” because he says his name is “Vladimir” but pronounces it with the accent on the first syllable.

Afterwards I drop into Al’s Plaice to try the haddock since the plaice was so good last year. Oh, what a difference a year makes. The price has risen, the portion size has shrunk, the quality has declined, and the counterman is downright surly. I retract last year’s favorable review.

Besides, the drink case displays cans of Dr Pepper emblazoned with the question: “CAN YOU HANDLE THE TASTE?” I’ll save you €1,50 by telling you the answer is “No.” See, in smaller print they announce, “NOW LESS SUGAR”, and the ingredient list lets you know they’ve substituted a couple of artificial sweeteners for some of the sugar. Somehow, the taste is wrong, all wrong compared with Diet Dr Pepper as found in America. I should have known this would happen when they let Europeans tamper with the Beverage of the Gods….well, maybe I should just say “the Beverage of the Texans,” including the expatriates.

At four, I drift over to Staalmeesters, the restaurant on Staalstraat where Wouter cooks at lunch. Alas, owing to the hot sunny weather, the place has sold out of all the lunch dishes and the dinner cook is arriving to start early. So I just say hello to Wouter and resolve to return at the beginning of his shift in a couple of days.

At least I manage to get some neighborhood pics, this one of an old doorway:


And this, of some new windows:


Rina and I are going marketing tomorrow, and I’m expecting to find some new items. At the Dappermarkt last week I picked up some interesting looking mangoes of a variety I didn’t know. It’s now clear that they will never ripen enough to eat raw, so I’m gonna make chutney out of ’em. Raiding Rina’s spice cabinets, I find everything I need except cardamom and cloves.

Speaking of markets, I’ve written a good deal about my love affair with the famed Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market in San Francisco, which is so upscale that you are virtually guaranteed that anything you buy there will be organic and of the highest quality. And everything is priced accordingly.

My second favorite market in the United States is San Francisco’s Civic Center Farmers Market, which is in many ways the polar opposite. In the first place, as befits its location on the Tenderloin side of the Civic Center, it caters not to well-heeled, well-dressed foodies but rather to a more downscale clientele: ordinary people, even poor people. Prices are much lower, and real bargains can be had, especially for less-mainstream items like, say, okra or exotic Asian vegetables. You can also get skinned alive because it’s definitely caveat emptor, and somehow I like this.

And finally, what I enjoy most about this market is that Caucasians are in the minority. Like San Francisco in general, it’s a melting pot, and I get to see ethnic interactions at their finest. Like last fall I was buying some black plums from one of my “regular” vendors, a Vietnamese woman from whom I buy frequently enough that we recognize each other, and I got to be a player in an exquisite little drama.

There were three Russians of approximately my age also pawing the plums, a man and two women, and as I was selecting plums, I overheard them bargaining with the vendor, asking for a discount. She played along and offered a small discount for five pounds. As I handed her my bag of plums to be weighed, the Russian man made a counter-offer, quite a lot lower, and as he did so I caught the vendor’s eye and gave her a little twinkle of commiseration.

In quick succession, she announced the price of my plums, turned to face the Russian and barked, “NO!”, and then to drive her point home, grabbed a handful more plums and stuffed them into my bag as I was handing her my money.

Don’t mess with me, tovarich!

Was that sweet or what?

Maandag 8 mei 2006 – Lunch With Dore

Oh, major breakthroughs today. First, we’ll be taking the Metro which, if all goes here like it does in other major cities of the world, will be faster than using the streetcars and a lot easier than the buses.

Well, yes, it’s easier….but just like with BART, there are nerve-jangling complications over precisely which stations, out of all those that the orange and green lines have in common, can be used to transfer between lines.

bijlmerpleinstaationStill, it’s an interesting ride, and I get pics inside some of the metro stations, many of which are functioning while construction is incomplete. Here’s our first stop, way the hell out in Southeast Amsterdam near the Bijlmerplein market:

The market is mainly Surinamese, and while neither of us has been to it, both of us are eager to try it since it had been highly recommended. Alas, we are both horribly disappointed because the Surinamese vendors are totally unfriendly and unwilling to answer the simplest questions about their products when it sure seems to us that we are positively radiating eagerness to buy.

Like this vendor who has corn meal, which I need, but who keeps cutting off my repeated attempts to complete a question about whether it is whole grain or degerminated. Surely he didn’t think I was going to buy it when he wouldn’t let me finish a question about it.

After trying unsuccessfully to make purchases from a couple of these nasty swine, Rina and I pass in front of a fish stand, where I see the mackerel and ask Rina a question that had been bothering me….how come the smoked mackerel is always labeled “gestoomde” (steamed). I have made no indication whatsoever that I wish to purchase one of them and in fact still have half of one from the Vollendamer in my refrigerator at home, but the caucasian shop girl overhears me and volunteers that the difference is in the processing: only things that are cold-smoked are labeled “gerookte” whereas hot-smoked things are labeled “gestoomde”. I buy one out of gratitude for her kindness…..and wave it across the aisle at the cranky cornmeal creep.

Oh, and I gotta mention that I hate sounding like some kind of anti-Surinamese bigot, but to our surprise, Rina and I found the women vendors no nicer….and we get along just great with Turks and Moroccans and Indonesians and Chinese and every other ethnic group here. Hell, we even get along with Germans.

Then we go into the Lidl market, where we wander through the aisles making impulse purchases, mine including a tall, narrow jar of bockwurst that I am really buying so that I can use the jar to pickle the gorgeous snjibonen that are already in my shopping cart. Snijbonen are these wonderful, really wide flat green beans that I discovered at the end of last year’s visit and am just dying to pickle. The closest thing to them in San Francisco (or, for that matter, anywhere I’ve seen in America) are Romano beans, but these are significantly wider than Romanos.

Next, back on the metro to the station nearest Dore’s. It, too, is working while under construction:


Dore lives in a very nice modern neighborhood. Here’s a shot of the house across the street.


Dore’s husband is an architect who has done some gorgeous buildings in the Netherlands, one visible from the metro station but not photographable with my skills and little toy camera. Their house is totally unassuming, even nondescript, from the outside, but the interior is stunning. Very clean lines and modern furniture but with a few older pieces of obviously very high quality mixed in. The whole back side consists of sliding glass doors opening onto what is, by Dutch standards, a gigantic garden. Hell, the thing is big by San Francisco standards, and is astonishingly eclectic, everything from cacti and succulents to an artichoke and various herbs to dozens of different flowers and several trees to an immaculate lawn. The garden and the house complement each other wonderfully.

Dore serves us a deli lunch of excellent cold cuts. Gruyère, parmesan, a highly-aged goat cheese, mortadella, Serrano ham, the best tomatoes I’ve eaten here, a sourdough bread that rivals San Francisco’s, French butter, and fine teas.

Afterwards, she walks us a couple of blocks to the tram stop. What a gracious touch that is.

Dinsdag 9 mei 2006 – Mushrooms

simpledoorAfter all these ornate doors and windows, sometimes it’s good to look at something simple:

Absolutely nothing happened today, so I thought I’d just post my response to a friend’s sending an email to me with a jocular reference to my supposed agreement to bring him some psilocybin mushrooms (totally illegal in the US) in my luggage upon my return.

Dear R.,

I have changed my mind about bringing you the psilocybin mushrooms that you requested because I have found a local supplier who has offered to mail a free sample directly to your home.

Besides the psilocybin, he also sells mescaline, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, steroids, ecstasy, hashish, opium, LSD, and weapons-grade anthrax – the latter providing, he says, an exceptionally fine high when snorted although it can also be taken orally or in a suppository.

In your case, I can only speculate which might be the best avenue of administration.

I have taken the liberty of giving this guy your name and address and enrolling you in his Drug-of-the-Month program. On or about the first of every month, he will be mailing to you in a plain brown wrapper a free sample of one of the above drugs. He regrets that he cannot specify the order in which he will ship but guarantees that all will be sent during the next twelve months, each accompanied by a price listing of all currently-available items. Quantity discounts are available for dealers.

He assures me that these drugs are of the highest purity and potency, and I anticipate your complete satisfaction.

Your friend,

Woensdag 10 mei 2006 – Conversation!

Oh, tra-la, tra-la. I just had what could accurately be described as a “conversation” with Rina’s granddaughter, Kyra. The little dear has just turned five and has finally got over her shyness with me, so we can now actually talk. Somehow this inspires me to work harder at my Dutch and partially compensates for a very unsatisfactory experience earlier at the butcher on Haarlemmerstraat when the clerk didn’t seem able to say anything I could understand…and vice versa. Grrrr.

What I was doing was shopping for tomorrow’s dinner, for which we are doing the Chile Verde dinner again, so I picked up a kilo and a half of frikandeau. The Americans call this “fresh ham” but it’s rarely seen over there.

A few days before I left San Francisco, I’d chopped a bunch of tomatillos and some Pasilla chiles in the food processor, brought them to a simmer for five minutes in a saucepan, and then jarred them in a squeaky-clean large plastic juice bottle, in which they had stayed sealed in the refrigerator since my arrival. So all I’ll need to do for the cooking sauce tomorrow is add fresh coriander, green onions, and garlic, which I picked up at the Moroccan place a bit farther out Haarlemmerstraat.

I took Langestraat both ways since in all the time I’ve spent at Rina’s, I had never walked along it…mainly because in spite of its name, it is only three very short blocks long and runs parallel to the Herengracht. Its ends are situated so that you wouldn’t just blunder onto it by accident, but I’m glad Rina told me to take it because it’s delightful.

It doesn’t go anywhere, so the street is very quiet, and none of the houses are very tall, so there is a sense of openness. Most of the buildings on it were originally coach houses or achterhuisen, literally “behind houses.” Because frontage on the canals was so precious, the lots were long and narrow, so throughout the old part of the city there were secondary houses behind the main house in front, which were either rented out to the less fortunate or used to house poor relations.

But because of the need for access to the coach houses, a narrow street was left so that in this case, a rarity, the achterhuisen also had direct access to a back street rather than through a narrow passageway to the front street. Also, the whole street is clearly quite gentrified, with all the buildings looking just perfectly maintained and many of them having the old gevelstenen, literally the facade stones, ornamenting the front. There are wbbsites devoted to these things, such as that of Mr. Souer and this astonishing collaborative effort.

Here’s one in my neighborhood that means “Never perfect,” I’m guessing in the sense that we never see life as perfect. That is, we will never be satisfied and will always want a more comfortable chair. Hmmmm. Maybe I’m trying to read too much into this. I suppose I could loiter in the neighborhood and ask people. Well………..:


Another nice thing about this street is the abundance, even for Amsterdam, of street plantings. Here’s a doorway I particularly like:


Donderdag 11 mei 2006 – Chile Verde Again

sintpieterHere’s another pic of a Langestraat gevelsteen. Literally translated, it says Saint Peter’s little boat may heel, and I’ll leave that to you to interpret:

This evening, it’s another Chile Verde dinner, the same menu as last time, but this time the diners are Stijn, Yaël & Hans, Rina & Hans, Rafaël, and me. Stijn is an artist who is my age, Yaël and Hans are a younger couple, and Rafaël is the Rafaël, who’s back in town for a few days.

I just love cooking with Rina because we really do “fit together” in her kitchen, both just doing what we see needs doing at the moment and then, if we see nothing, asking the other where help is needed. We have the pattern down cold now: we get everything prepped as far as we can in the morning, rest for a couple of hours in the early afternoon, and then get together and work until we start serving the food.

The meal is really easy this time since we’ve done it before, and the guests are entertaining. Unfortunately, I spent too much time talking about American science fiction with Hans (Yaël’s Hans, of course) to pay as much attention to Stijn as I would have liked, since I intuit that I’m going to really like her.

And here’s The Fisherman, who’s also on Langestraat:


And finally, a language note. Now that I’m nailing my ui phoneme well enough they barely even flinch anymore, my friends are beginning to bring to my attention in order of dreadfulness some of my other mispronunciations. For example, I’m beginning to take some flak on my eu’s. This is a phoneme that bedevils Americans in most of the European languages, and just like my French and German friends, when demonstrating this sound for me the Dutch purse their lips to an f22 aperture through which the sound is emitted.

Vrijdag 12 mei 2006 – Kroketten with Rafaël

purperhoedOK, let’s start this one out with something nice, a pic of a doorway over by main part of the University of Amsterdam:

The highlight of the day was walking out with Rafaël in the early evening to get a bite of supper. We walked up Spuitstaat to the Neiuwendijk, turned left and walked to Singel, turned left again and walked along Singel and then left down Kattengat. We passed literally dozens of restaurants and shops of a great variety of styles/ethnicities/types of food, but Rafaël turned up his nose at every single one of them. We ended up just around the corner from Rina’s in this little snack place on Korte Lijnbaanssteeg at Oude Nieuw Straat. Yes, that’s it’s name, Old New Street….as distinguished from Nieuwe Nieuw Straat, which is a couple of blocks away across the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal.

Once we get in there, it is clear that Rafael’s hidden agenda this evening is to give me an opportunity to let go of a food prejudice I had made the mistake of expressing and to give kroketten a second chance, it now being several years since I last tried one.
So we order them, with fries. The fries are OK, and the “croquette” looks crisp and brown and tasty, one end seductively submerged in a puddle of curry sauce. Well, Mother made croquettes, I remember, and they were OK.

I bite into it, and the mouth feel is that of warm, lumpy mayonnaise with crunchy bits that had been the crisp shell. The taste is not really all that strong since it is largely overwhelmed by the curry sauce. Then I make the mistake of looking at the end off which I have taken the bite, and a shudder of revulsion sweeps me as the krokette falls from my stunned fingers.

The shell is still an attractive dark golden brown, but the interior is an unspeakably nasty-looking gray. Nothing that could have been put to higher use as dog food has been wasted in making this thing. No good can come of any food this color, and worse yet, it’s slimy. If you press the crisp shell, that grey stuff will ooze out. It looks like raw, roughly pureed earthworms.

Look, I am notorious for eating with enjoyment foods many others find disgusting, but here I draw the line.

Zaterdag 13 mei 2006 – Dinner with Cora and Johnny

touristshotSometimes you get a shot that is so achingly touristy that you flip right past it…and then it keeps coming up for you until you finally just give up and use it because, well, ya are a tourist.

Out at 8:30 to the Noord Markt, where I discover one of these cultural differences that so entertain me. In San Francisco, the weekend markets open officially at 8:00, and most vendors are set up and selling by 7:30, which is the ideal time to get there since they still have all the very finest stuff they brought and are happy to see the serious customers before the lightweights start arriving later.

Here, only a couple of the vendors are fully set up and ready to sell, several are at mid-process, and there are many empty stalls suggesting that still others have not even arrived. What I’m gradually realizing is that here there do not seem to be offical opening and closing hours for any of the farmers’ markets. Don’t want to sound, well, German or something, but this does seem to be yet another manifestation of that Dutch anarchist streak.

Still, it’s a good market even though when they’re all open, it’s a good deal smaller than the Albert Cuyp Markt. My favorite vendors remain an excellent baker who has a huge variety of good breads and a cheese vendor who specializes in young fresh tangy goat cheeses that go especially well with the dried California fruit I bring.

In the late afternoon, we’re off to dinner at Cora and Johnny’s. Since for some reason, their neighborhood is one of the few places in all of Amsterdam where one can readily find street parking, Rina drives us. Well, yes, there’s parking, but it’s metered and the rates vie with those in downtown San Francisco.

They’ve been living in their apartment block for many years, so they have enough seniority to be in one of the best units. An interesting aspect of the block is that the interior garden bounded by the apartments is well maintained with shrubs and blooming plants and even has some resident rabbits, but it is completely off limits to the residents. I didn’t think to ask who maintained it, as frankly if I lived there I’d certainly volunteer to work in the garden some….well, I would have when I was younger.

Actually, I did pretty much singlehandedly maintain the garden when Allen and I rented on 18th Street since I was young, had the interest, and worked an irregular schedule that gave me a lot of time off in daylight hours.

The dinner is this Indonesian-influenced dish that seems like a cross between a salad and a rijstafel (the Indonesian “rice table”). It is delicious. It is also so enormous that I fear I must have eaten like a pig when Rina and I had them over for chile con carne. I did my best to eat more than my share.

Cora and Johnny live just next door to the famed housing development De Dageraad, a famed example of the Amsterdam School about which I wrote in Amsterdam by Segway, and we take a break before dessert to go on a stroll through it. Of course I haven’t taken my camera, and it’s getting dark anyhow. Maybe just as well, since I was free to simply enjoy the walk. At one point a middle-age man is sitting in his open window, and we stop to talk with him.

I get a feeling that he’s been in his apartment for some time and that the level of historical preservation in the interior is higher than usual. At any rate, he clearly takes pride in it and points out that the back glass wall is original. It’s good to see folks happy with their houses.

Zondag 14 mei 2006 – Erik and Jostin

As I’m walking up Spuistraat this morning, I catch the octogenarian who maintains a planter box at the entrance to Korte Lijnbaanssteeg just as he has finished a fresh new planting of flowers I don’t recognize. I’ve noticed the planter, of course, and Rina has pointed out where the man who maintains it lives, but I’d never seen him.

At first I’m thinking that our communication will be improved by his knowing even less English than I know Dutch since these are the people with whom I can relax and thus speak better Dutch than I can when I’m speaking to fluent speakers of English. Alas, I quickly discover that he is much deafer than I am, and neither of us is sporting a single hearing aid.

planterEven though I am unable to extract from him the names of any of the flowers, I do manage to scream “HEEL MOOI!” and “UITSTEKEND!” loudly enough that he understands. When I hold up my camera to indicate that I want to snap a pic, he’s so delighted that he facilitates this by ripping away the protective wire that he was in the process of installing. Only too late do I realize that I should have got him in the frame, too.

I just love folks who put effort into beautifying public places, and I am pleased to find them here as well as in San Francisco.

Today’s main event is Erik and his son Jostin coming up from Lisse for the evening. My plan is to take them to dinner at the New King, but they also have plans for me. I don’t know why I didn’t expect this since after all he lives only thirty kilometers or so south of here, but Erik surprises me with his knowledge of Amsterdam, and he leads us to a proeflokaal named De Drie Fleschjes at Gravenstraat 18. A proeflokaal, literally a testing room, is a bar that offers a wide variety of spirits or beers, typically better ones.

And bless Erik. He’s been an invaluable source of information in other areas, particularly the Dutch language, but tonight he introduces me to trappist beers. I’d tried them years ago and been unable to appreciate them, but now I am finally sufficiently sophisticated to find them delicious. They also go right to my head since their alcohol content ranges from high to higher.

After a couple of these (Orval (6.2% alcohol) and Trappistes Rochefort 8 (9.2% alcohol), we walk over to the New King and gorge on babi pangang, etc. Afterwards, back over to the Spaanse Ruiter on at the corner of Lijnbaanssteeg and the Nieuwezijdsvoorburgwal for a Westmalle Triple (9.5% alcohol) as a nightcap.

eriknjostinAll the while, I’ve been marveling at their interaction. I’ve written about how heartwarming it is to see Cyrus with his kids, how wonderfully relaxed and loving he is with them. OK, now I’ve seen a Dutch father ten or fifteen years older than Cyrus with his sixteen-year-old son, and they seem equally relaxed and loving.

American men in my generation are somewhere between blown away and sick with envy over this because the majority of our fathers believed that they couldn’t show their love to their sons without spoiling them. Consequently, kind words were few and far between, making it difficult for us to have a decent relationship with them.

Rather, we were so starved for affection and approval when we were young that at some point we simply gave up hoping for them and turned our backs. Some of us were smart enough to treat our sons differently, but this is a lesson that some American men even in the generation after mine hadn’t learned. Pity.

And to be fair, it’s not just American men. From what I’ve heard, Chinese men are absolutely merciless with their sons. A gay Chinese friend of mine told about finally working up the courage to come out with his father, and just as he’d expected, his father went ballistic. When my friend bleated that fearing this reaction was what kept him from coming out twenty years earlier, his father growled back, “Better that than twenty years of lies.” Ouch.

Maandag 15 mei 2006 – Feeding Danny

The day begins slowly owing to my hangover. I do not seem to be in training for three bottles of trappist beer (two of them over 9% alcohol) plus a glass of pilsener during supper.

I brighten considerably, though, when I take my laundry over to de wasserij. The current proprietor (who bought out the nice German lady I wrote about in previous tales) now recognizes me on the street and we say hello, but he astonishes me this time by remembering my name. The real delight, though, is that I now have enough clothes-washing vocabulary that we can conduct our business without English. Dutch by pre-soak.

But speaking of languages, today’s a red-letter day, as Danny is coming to visit. Yes, my friend from Losser, which is a small town over on the eastern border out from Enschede. She’s been a rich source of information on the Dutch language, not to mention being one of my most enjoyable correspondents. Furthermore, she’s been kind enough to correct some errors in my Amsterdam tales, which I greatly appreciate.
Like me, Danny is also interested in photography. The difference is that while I take pics of parts of buildings, she takes pics of bugs.

I especially treasure her since she’s one of the few people on the planet with whom I can correspond in any detail about language and grammar, and I am breathless with anticipation that she will, like my German friend Chris, actually talk to me about second-person pronoun usage…with enjoyment. You can imagine how excited I am.

She’s taking the train and will walk over from the Centraal Station since it’s only a couple hundred meters and I fear missing her in the chaos of the station. I’m just twitching by the early afternoon, since I’ve been wanting to meet her for over a year. As the expected time of her arrival passes, though, I start to worry, and by the time she arrives, half an hour late, I’m so hysterical that instead of greeting her politely, I blurt out that I was worried sick.

Not a good way to start, especially considering that the reason for her tardiness doubtless has something to do with the quality of the directions I had given her.

But she quickly forgives me, and after allowing her a brief rest to recover from her journey, I drag her out to the Athenaeum. Well, where else for our first date? Besides, I’m thinking that we can have coffee and a pastry in one of the cafés that abound there at the Spuiplein while we decide on where I’m taking her for dinner.

coffeeshopHere’s an early-morning pic of the doorway to the “coffee shop” just four doors toward the Athanaeum from my place:

The Athenaeum goes well. After all, no literary or scholarly person could not like that bookstore, and this is her first visit to it, so we buzz around for a while drooling over dictionaries and such. Such a pleasure to have a companion drooler.
But then, as I’m chatting with her to figure out where our first snack will be taken, there is the faintest tiny chime of an alarm bell.

She mentions she’s vegetarian.

Ummm. So much for the babi pangang.

No biggie, I guess. But then, as walk up to the café at the north end of the Spuiplein and look at the menu and I’m going over the pastry list and proclaiming the undoubted excellence of the cheese Danish, I discover that it’s worse than I thought.

No coffee, no dairy.

Oh dear. See, I was kind of hoping she’d be one of our loose Texas vegetarians for whom a few bits of chicken breast chopped up out of sight in a cream sauce is OK, folks for whom being a vegetarian means you can eat things that don’t have bones in them. I mean, especially if it’s chopped up, it’s not really meat anymore, they feel. And hell, I know Hindus, practicing Hindus, who eat eggs so long as they are infertile.

But she’s a real vegetarian, like the ones in the People’s Republic of San Francisco. And now I’m getting in touch with an agenda that I had hidden so well that I wasn’t even consciously aware of it. I really was thinking that I wanted to see her so we could get to know each other face-to-face while we talked about language and linguistics and sociology. What I hadn’t understood was the depth of my need to be feeding her while we did this.

But I am nothing if not resourceful. My mind whirrs as I review possibilities, and then I think about those Hindus. Of course. A good Indian restaurant with dozens of vegetarian dishes: yesyesyes, that excellent spinach dish with the garbanzos in it, and curried cauliflower, and those potato dishes, and basmati rice, and the raita – no wait, that has yogurt. Well, anyhow, lots and lots of delicious dishes. So I suggest Indian food for dinner.

Too spicy.

Curses, foiled again. Well, we can’t live on talk, so I break down and remember some of my manners and ask what kinds of restaurants she likes.

She doesn’t eat out much.

Sigh. In retrospect, I realize that what I should have thought of was for us to drift by Albert Heijn and pick up some of whatever it is that she eats at home and then take it back to my place, where I could cook it for us while we talked. But nowadays I routinely blow it in stress situations, so I don’t think of this.

And so after strolling around in a somewhat circuitous route from the Spuiplein to the Zee Dijk, I end up taking her into the New King. After all, the menu there is ten pages long with many vegetarian dishes. Well, yes, but it turns out that most of the vegetarian dishes have either a trace of some kind of meat in them (like, say, the broccoli with oyster sauce) or else contain something that she finds too strange to sample. As it turns out, there are only two dishes on the entire menu that she likes…and somehow I know that she’s making a real effort to be adventuresome with those.

Maybe the worst part of the whole evening, though, is that at the end of the meal she insists on “going Dutch.” I mean, how can I possibly feel like I’m feeding her unless I pay for it? Well, I mean short of spooning the meal into her mouth.

I never dreamed that someone so absolutely delightful to write and talk with and hang out with could be so incredibly difficult to feed. Maybe I need to separate out these activities.

Naw. If I did that, I wouldn’t be me anymore.

Maandag 15 mei 2006 – Being Fed

Here’s a pic of a favorite doorway more or less on our route from the Spuiplein to the New King.

alleyrollers[Note: When Danny saw what I’d written about our first meeting, she got back to me with her version of the same events, which I found so delightful that I talked her into letting me post it here.]

I was feeling real anxious, realizing I would finally get to meet the man I’ve been corresponding with for over a year now. Despite having written to him that my knowledge of languages is extremely limited, he keeps insisting I might be able to help him increase his understanding of the Dutch language. Although I was quite worried about disappointing him, I was looking forward to finally meeting him in the flesh very much.

Matte lives in San Francisco, USA, but I visited him while he was staying in Amsterdam, the capital of my home country, the Netherlands.

I arrived in Amsterdam after a comfortable train ride early in the afternoon. Leaving Central Station, I whipped two pieces of paper out of my pocket that were supposed to help me locate my friend; directions to his place, which he had e-mailed to me, and a map of Amsterdam.

After about 20 minutes of walking, I got a little worried. Matte had made clear it should take just a few minutes to get from the train station to Spuistraat where he was staying. I began to realize that my complete inability to follow directions of any sort whatsoever was once again getting me into trouble.

I didn’t want to get him worried by arriving late – although obviously, it was a bit late for that, since I was late already – so I swallowed my pride and turned to others for help. Unfortunately, I have this uncanny talent of asking the wrong people for directions and this day proved to be no exception. Somehow, I always manage to pick out tourists or newcomers who haven’t gotten around to learning the layout of the city and possess only a limited knowledge of Dutch and English.

Eventually, I did manage to locate Spuistraat and assumed I’d get to Matte’s place soon. A quick glance at one of the houses told me I was wrong. Yes, I was walking on the right street, but according to the house number I was still several hundred houses removed from Matte’s home. I don’t think I’ve ever walked down a road that length before. There ought to be a law against making streets that long! If ever I make it into Dutch politics, I’m going to ensure there will be!

[Note from Matte: Remember my complaints about how confusing it is to Americans that the streets keep changing names every block or two? Silly me, I hadn’t realized that the Dutch would expect them to change names.]

At least 40 minutes later than planned, I finally arrived at Matte’ home. He was even more worried than I expected him to be, but quickly recovered and offered me something to drink. Soon we were chatting about the exact same things we usually write about. Oh, there’s nothing like discussing current affairs and bitching about conservative folks!!

After we’d finished our drinks, Matte decided to take me to one of his favorite hangouts … a bookstore. A surprising choice in my opinion, but I was relieved to learn I’m not the only one with a book fetish. Our lust for the written word does manifest itself in different ways, though, since Matte likes to read mostly literature while I prefer non-fiction.

We stayed at the bookstore for quite a while, pointing out books to each other and discussing our favorite authors…his favorite authors actually. I’m not that faithful to authors but tend to focus on the subject.

After spending a fair amount of time at the bookstore, we came to the conclusion our stomachs were empty, so we headed for a nearby café to have a drink and grab a bite.

At this point I think I have to explain I’m probably in the top 100 of the world’s choosiest eaters and drinkers. I’m a teetotaler, I don’t like coffee, I’ve been a vegetarian since 1985, and I happen to take the veg part of the word vegetarianism very seriously. There’ll be no animal derivatives in my food if I can help it. Because of this, I avoid eating out as much as possible, but since Matte seemed to have his heart set on taking me out to eat, I decided to make an exception.

Over the years, I’ve come across quite a few people who have tried to get me to eat fish or poultry. “Show me the plant they live on!” I find myself exclaiming mentally whenever this happens. Fortunately, Matte appears to have a better understanding of what constitutes plant life than most of my ex-dates. The moment he found out I’m basically a vegan, he started to list all the places where we might be able to find something I can eat.

We ended up having dinner at a Chinese/Indonesian restaurant. It didn’t take me long to figure out I’d just supplied Matte with a new vocation. He had become determined to find something on the menu that I’d be willing to eat. For a while, it seemed like Mission Impossible, but after a long search we managed to find me something undeniably vegan. Since he wouldn’t let me pay for dinner, we went Dutch instead.

After dinner, we went back to his place, where we spent the few hours that were left before bed time talking about language and other things I’d never expected anybody else beside myself to be so interested in.

The next morning, he walked me to the train station – which is a good thing because, as he jokingly remarked, “I can’t be trusted with maps.”

I’m very much looking forward to seeing him again some day, but I do hope that by then I will have found a way to wean him off the idea that he’s responsible for getting food into my stomach.

Dinsdag 16 mei 2006 – Amsterdam Chutney

After a good night’s sleep I have forgiven Danny for being hard to feed, and she has forgiven me for being a compulsive feeder. We talk about grammar until it was time to walk her to the Centraal Station and see her off at 11:00. I look forward to visiting her next year in Losser…and not trying to force-feed her like I did this time.

Back here, I finally get around to addressing the aging mangoes of an unfamiliar variety that had been sitting on my kitchen floor since I’d picked them up at the Dappermarkt because I’ve been too busy to deal with them. Besides, only in the last few days have Rina and I generated enough jars to hold a batch of chutney.

I raid Rina’s spice collection and find everything I need for a chutney even though I’m doing the recipe from memory in a foreign land using strange equipment and different varieties of all the fruits and spices. It turns out fairly good, considering, and I pass jars of it around to friends. I’ll be putting the recipe for my chutneys into the recipe pages on NoeHill….hopefully fairly soon.

Rina brings me a big basket of the first of the season’s Dutch strawberries, and as much as a chauvinist as I am about San Francisco Bay Area produce, I cannot honestly say I have ever tasted a better strawberry. They are so fine, in fact, that I eat half the basket, first just lightly sweated with sugar but then mashed into my fat Turkish yogurt.

And speaking of fat, the Dutch are starting to catch up with us. The difference between this year and last is dramatic. I swear it looks to me like a noticeable fraction of the Dutch population has gained ten kilos since this time since last year….well, other than my friends, of course. For the first time, I actually overheard fat people speaking Dutch rather than English.
Hmmmm. I think if I were Dutch and fat, I’d make a point of speaking English in public.

OK, how ’bout a pic of doorway on Dirk van Hasseltsteeg:


Woensdag 17 mei 2006 – Bulldog

In the morning I drag myself over to the Moroccan shop to get yogurt, mango nectar, and eggs, stopping at Albert Heijn on the way back to get some “cactus sap”, that Spa brand juice drink which I can’t seem to get enough of. I took a bottle of it back with me last year and saved it so successfully for a special occasion that it’s still sitting in my pantry. I’m planning on taking another bottle back this year as a backup.

I have a semi-successful conversation with Kyra this noon when Cyrus drops her off. I say “semi-successful” because it is going just fine until we are simultaneously struck with shyness and neither of us can think of anything to say, a common failing in language neophytes and five-year-olds.

In the afternoon, I decide to try the Bulldog’s free wireless connection. The Bulldog is a chain of “coffee shops,” which means that in addition to the coffee, they sell marijuana and hash. A coffee shop that does not sell marijuana is called a café.

I’ve been walking right past this place for three weeks now to and from the Internet Cafe on Nieuwendijk, where I’ve been going out of loyalty since last year. But hey, the Bulldog is about a third of the distance to the Internet Cafe, and it turns out the folks are friendly here, too, which is not terribly surprising considering that everybody except the staff and me are stoned…and I’m not too sure about some of the staff although they may be just naturally laid-back and mellow.

As soon as I’ve done my email, I join most of the rest of the crowd in watching a Netherlands vs. Germany soccer match, and even though I don’t have the knowledge of soccer or the vocabulary in Dutch (or for that matter, English) to even come close to understanding the subtleties of the game, it is still interesting.

It’s 1-1 until about ten minutes before the end, when Germany scores a goal on what looks even to me like a shot that the Dutch goalie really could have blocked. The crowd in the cafe is screaming for his head, and I get a vicarious thrill from sharing their outrage.

In the evening, Rina drops in with a copy of a local newspaper that has an article listing the top thirty Amsterdam food experiences. Frank’s Smoke House leads the list, but also included in 11th place is the smoked beef sausage from Reinhard’s, right around the corner on Lijnbaanssteeg.

The best thing about the article, though, is that I learned what I’m called here…well, by some folks. I’m a culi-freak. What a delicious borrowing from both French and English to describe what in San Francisco we call a “foodie.” The great glory, though, is that to my utter delight, the gmail address “culifreak” was not taken, and I grabbed it for my culinary address.

Not to change the subject, but here’s a door over on Keizersgracht that I liked:


And a fine pair:


Donderdag 18 mei 2006 – A Visit with Stijn

After the day-care center picks Hans up, Rina and I bicycle over to the market on Kinkerstraat, which I remember so fondly from last year. A good market. I’d rate it up there with Albert Cuyp and the Dappermarkt, ahead of the Noord Markt and way ahead of the Bijlmer Markt. That said, they are different enough that all have something that would draw me back.

We find almost everything we need for tomorrow’s dinner. I score a couple of one-kilo corn-fed chickens for the mole poblano and three aal (the little foot-long eels) for my own gluttonizing. I stumble a bit with my Dutch during the transaction, and the vendor delights us by miming eating the eel off its backbone like corn-on-the-cob, which is exactly what I like to do.

I discovered smoked eel when I was in the Army in Germany in the mid-sixties, and it was love at first bite. After I returned to the States, I didn’t taste it again until I’d moved to San Francisco and found it in the late fall of 1975 at Hans Speckmann on Church Street. I was never all that impressed with the restaurant, but the delicatessen was in its heyday in the late seventies and early eighties. When I walked in there the first time, I knew I was in the Right Place because on the wall was a hand-lettered sign announcing that if you wanted your Christmas goose, you needed to order it by a certain date. The sign was in German, with no English translation. Kein Deutsch, kein Gans.

Alas, in the late eighties business started falling off, I’m guessing because supermarkets started having deli counters that stocked some of the German specialties and folks were less willing to go across town to Speckmann’s for the remaining items. And as business declined, they could no longer stock fine specialties like whole smoked eels, and a downward spiral began. By the time they closed in 2001, it was sad to see the pitiful remnant.

But back to the Kinkermarkt. I also find a full kilo of Old Amsterdam Gouda for my friend David at the lowest price I’ve seen (such a goed kop, in fact, that when I get back to San Francisco and am presenting it to David, I see that it is an imitation and I’ve been ripped off).

In the early afternoon, Rina drives us over to Noord Amsterdam to Stijn Seip‘s house/atelier. She’s delightful and her house is fascinating. It was built about 1930 as a bakery but looks much older like the rest of its neighborhood. What sets the neighborhood off, though, is that it is surrounded by housing built in the fifties, and you get the feeling when you turn the corner that you have suddenly stepped into a Dutch village a couple of centuries ago. Here’s Stijn’s house:


She has a large English garden in the back, so wonderfully wild that it makes Dora’s more orderly garden look like Versailles….well, not that Dora has topiary hedges.

But the best part of the house is Stijn’s art, paintings of hers that she has displayed with placement so exquisite that you can’t imagine anything else being at that spot. And besides her paintings, she has a collection of wonderfully entertaining furniture, most particularly a set of splendidly bizarre chairs, of which, unlike the paintings, I managed to get pics. Here’s one that’s either a stepstool or a chair, depending on how you flip the top.


chairShe serves us cakes and a delicious soft drink that damn me, I forgot to write down the name of. What a pleasant visit.

Vrijdag 19 mei 2006 – Mole Poblano Dinner

lekkerlandLet’s start with a pic from the Lekker Report files since we haven’t had one of these yet this trip:

Tonight’s dinner is for Dorothea, Betty and Ko, and Hans and Rina.

For appetizers I put out almonds and “corn nuts” (those crunchy salted fried corn kernels that I’m thinking folks in Amsterdam won’t know…and they don’t).

For a first course, Rina makes an excellent spicy tomato cream soup.

I do a mole poblano with the mole crumble from Tierra Vegetables and the chickens from the market yesterday. I also braise some frozen spinach in butter, partly because it goes so well with the mole but also as an excuse to put out the small bottle of pepper sauce I’ve made with the fresh little red peppers I brought from California.

Rina does the rice, using a cooking technique I’ve never seen that involves boiling the rice in a lot of water for ten minutes, draining it into a sieve, and returning it to the cooking pan for ten minutes of “rest.” It works, and I may try this technique at home since the advantage is that you don’t have to worry about precisely measuring the water.

She also adds a melange of the dried fruit I’ve brought from California that she’s softened by soaking for a couple of hours in enough water to cover, and I’m delighted to see how well the sweetness of the fruit sets off the mole. I’ll definitely do this at home the next time I make mole.

For dessert Rina has made a Charlotte of apples and dried apricots with wedges of bread instead of the more traditional ladyfingers. She serves it topped with whipped cream, and it is delicious.

The guests are delightful, and the conversation ranges widely. I should have made notes.

After dinner Tutankhamen tries to cough up a hairball in the middle of the table while Rina’s back is turned, and it’s interesting how all the guests pretend they don’t see it sitting in the small puddle of precious body fluid. Still, I can’t help noticing that during the remaining hour as people pick up bottles of wine and juices, the bottles somehow get put down not in the puddle but protectively around its perimeter.

I just love social conventions.

And to conclude, here’s a pic that appeals to me for its cognitive dissonance. This ornate door is on the Kaisersgracht, a very upscale address. The sign to the left of the door, with the logo representing a clenched fist inside a rose, is for the Partij van de Arbeid (Dutch Labor Party) And no, the headquarters of a socialist party wouldn’t necessarily have to be in a warehouse with peeling paint, but still, does this building project a working-class image?


Zaterdag 20 mei 2006 – Dinner with Elly and Leo

ellybalcElly and Leo have Hans, Rina, and me over for dinner. They live just down the street from Rina, in a building that I find fascinating for its central winding staircase giving off onto levels at half intervals. Here’s a pic of their balcony:

As a gift, I take a jar of the chocolate syrup made with Droste cocoa and a bit of Scharffen Berger 62% solid chocolate. For an appetizer, I take a jar of the experimental mango chutney and a tub of roomkaas, the local equivalent of cream cheese. They like it, but it is sure not necessary, as Elly has a bowl of really tasty stuffed marinated artichoke hearts with pine nuts as well as another appetizer I can’t remember.

During the appetizers Leo leads me down to the garage and lets me take a trial spin on his electric-boosted bicycle. Oh, I may need one of those as a Segway alternative. You still have to peddle, but the boost is significant in all three speeds. Oh yes, I’d love to test that thing in San Francisco on Noe Street from, say, 18th Street up to 21st and watch jaws drop as folks catch a glimpse of a grey-headed old fart bicycling up that hill at Armstrongian speeds.

The main course is salmon fillets that Elly has oven-baked to absolute perfection, accompanied by a delicious cream sauce. With this, she serves good scalloped potatoes and snijbonen that she’s done very simply, and they are excellent. I can’t believe I didn’t discover those beans until Rina served them last year with mild red peppers. We also ate a rugged, hearty bread that is a welcome change from the refined-flour breads I’ve been eating.

For dessert, she’s made crème brûlée, and Leo caramelizes the tops at the table with one of those nifty table-size propane torches. That settles it. I’m gonna make a crème brûlée at home in San Francisco. I mean, I already have a propane torch…a real propane torch rather than one of those little wimpy kitchen models.

Afterwards, we sit around sipping a wonderful Spanish brandy, and the conversation ranges widely. What delightful people they are.

Zondag 21 mei 2006 – A Neighborly Encounter

I spend most of the day recovering from yesterday, but in the late afternoon I go stumbling out to the Bulldog to check my email, passing through a gauntlet on either side of Spuistraat of attractive, barely dressed young women posing provocatively in their red-lit windows.

And then a bit farther on, I spot the middle-aged, nicely dressed Dutch lady who I often see taking the afternoon sun in her doorway, and this time I decide that we’ve been seeing each other often enough that it’s time I was neighborly and spoke to her.
So I do.

And she propositions me.

On few occasions in my life have I been more surprised. Then I realize, well yes, there’s something for everyone. And there are plenty men out there who will happily pay for a short date with Mrs. Robinson’s well dressed older sister.

Later I learn that she lives there with her parents and has been plying her trade in that doorway for thirty years.

To change the subject while still speaking of doorways, here’s one I kinda like behind Stijn’s garden:


And a couple of doors to the right of her place, some folks have tried to make sure nobody misses the fact that this is their garage door:


Maandag 22 mei 2006 – Caravaggio Fiasco

Out in the morning on the Caravaggio Fiasco. The short version is that everybody on two continents who was at all concerned about my artistic enrichment, which was actually several people, had mentioned to me that I really needed to see the Caravaggio exposition at the Van Gogh Museum. So I decided it wouldn’t hurt me to darken the door of a museum this year even though I did go into one just last year. One of my advisors convinced me that best way to arrange my museum visit was to purchase the tickets online so that I could avoid standing in a long ticket line at the museum.

This sounded quite reasonable, so yesterday I did it. But only after I had entered my credit card information and pressed Submit did the museum website inform me that the next step was to print out the ticket. Neither Rina nor either of the Internet cafes I use has a printer, but they all assured me that all I had to do was take my passport and the credit card with me, and the museum would have a record of my online transaction.

So this morning I walk over the Nieuwezijdsvoorburgwal and jump on the tram that goes past the museum, a pleasant ride. And when I get out at the museum I immediately see that yes, getting the ticket online was a wise move, for there is a long line at the ticket window.

But when I step to the gate for ticket holders, the guards have no way of checking whether I’ve purchased my ticket online and refuse to let me in to talk to anyone, suggesting that I go to a local internet café to print the ticket as required. So I walk the half kilometer over to the café and discover the guards were wrong and that they have no printer.

So I give up. Clearly I am not intended to go to Amsterdam museums.

In afternoon I pick up tub of yogurt at the marokkaanse place. The younger guy is there and since for some reason I find him easier to talk with, we have a perfectly satisfactory conversation in Dutch as I tell him I’m taking the yogurt back to San Francisco. He expresses doubt that I can get a one-kilo tub of yogurt back intact, but I reassure him that I’m going to seal it in about five bags in succession as insurance against a really unpleasant suitcase surprise upon arrival.

And by the way, here’s what the store I always call “the marokkaanse place” looks like. Maybe I should start calling it by its name:


Next stop, Albert Heijn, where a young worker sees me fumbling with the statiegeld (deposit refund) machine as it refuses to cough up a € 0,25 coupon for either of the cactus sap bottles I’m returning. With the helpfulness I get over and over from folks here, he makes a remark I don’t catch, takes the bottles from me, ducks into the back, returns with a different bottle, and runs it through the machine twice to produce the coupons. They complain to me about their rudeness to each other, but the Dutch have got to be the most helpful people on the planet when they see a stranger in need of help.

stampsWell, that said, they can be pushed beyond their powers of endurance, as suggested by this sign on a door on the Nieuwezijdsvoorburgwal:

Then I go to my butcher shop, which I’m kind of dreading since the last encounter was such a downer. My heart sinks as I spot the Shopgirl from Hell, neither one of us the last time I was here being able to understand a single word the other uttered in any language. Luckily, she’s working at some job away from the counter, and I get to try another girl. Bingo. She understands me almost without hesitation when I tell her I want one and a half kilos of pork shoulder, and if I’d only used the Dutch rather than the German word for “half,” she wouldn’t have had to clarify the amount.

And I immediately understand her when she tells me that for this amount, I need to wait for the butcher to return. Then I inquire whether she has a chicken liver paté, and she produces a small container. I agree, and she puts it aside. Mercifully, the butcher comes in the front door at this moment before either us can say something the other doesn’t understand, and the girl tells him what I want. I explain that I’m getting the shoulder this time because it’s for a different dish than my previous purchase from him when I bought the fresh ham, and he agrees that for some dishes the shoulder is superior.

At this point he switches into fairly good English, and I remark at how well the Dutch speak English and compare the apparent ease with which they pronounce our two “th” sounds, as represented in Old English and modern Icelandic by the edh (Ð) and the thorn (Þ), with the difficulty that these sounds give the Germans and the French.

This triggers one of those European moments I’ve been noticing for forty-five years: the small, but passionately-held national resentments, and he tartly observes that the French don’t even try to learn anyone else’s language. This is by no means the first little anti-French slur I’ve heard, either, although this is usually the first one mentioned by those who have a list.

And to be fair, I do have to point out that the intensity here doesn’t even approach that with which so many Americans, alas, express racial, ethnic, and religious hatreds. Here, I get the feeling that, at least in most cases, they’re partly joking about stereotypes that they are intelligent enough to know can’t be applied to individuals.

In the early evening, Rina and I make a dash over to Sushi Kings, the new sushi place on Krusemmanstraat right at the end of Singel. The sushi in the display counter looks pretty good, and earlier, before it opened, I had seen a Japanese man making it although he’s no longer present. I buy a selection of nigiri and sashimi, and we take it home to eat. It’s good enough without being great, but my goodness is it ever expensive. At least half again the price of similar things in San Francisco.

No wonder my European friends are so keen on eating sushi in San Francisco. In addition to being better, it’s a great bargain.

Dinsdag 23 mei 2006 – Chile con Carne at Edward’s

Let’s begin with a pic of another Staalstraat bridge, a block from my favorite:


And oh, this impossibly cute little café:


Up in the morning to make a Chile con Carne dinner at Edward’s. I’ll carry this over already cooked. The rest of the menu will be cooked at Edward’s.

OK, I’ve got four different Southwest US chile powders (Pasilla, California, New Mexico, and Chipotle) plus Mexican cumin and oregano, so I can make a Texas style chile con carne (which the Texans call “chili”) using local pork and garlic and coriander.

I also have enough whole-grain, stone-ground yellow cornmeal to make a batch of cornbread from my maternal grandmother’s recipe. I’ve posted recipes for both of these dishes.

These are dishes that Wayne and Wouter almost certainly never ate, at least not at any level of authenticity. I add that last caveat because Albert Heijn stocks in its heat-and-serve counter a dish it calls “chile con carne” that one quick glance tells me is unspeakably vile and only vaguely resembles the version that I made last year for Edward, and he liked it so much he asked for it again, a request dear to the hearts of cooks everywhere.

All that’s really necessary with this is greens and beans. In Texas, the greens were traditionally turnip greens, but since they are my least-favorite green, I’m substituting braised spinach, which I love. For the greens, there will be on the table a container of what in Texas is called “pepper sauce” but is really simply vinegar with hot peppers that I brought from San Francisco steeped in it.

The beans should ideally be pintos or “cranberry” beans, but I’m having trouble finding either in Amsterdam. San Andrecito on Spuistraat had the cranberry beans last year but they say this year it’ll be algunas semanas. However, I fear that the truth is not in them since they lost my trust by trying to pawn off on mean inferior bean, little suspecting that señor knows his frijoles. Wayne brings the beans, and he finds some that work well.

Sandra and Meinard join us, and it’s a great joy to see them again since we bonded so well on literature when I first got to know them. Wayne and Wouter are both delightful as usual.

What a fine evening to end my stay.

Woensdag 24 mei 2006 – Finale

Today’s it. Kicking back and packing. Well, and picking up some smoked fish to take back with me. First, I dash over to the Volendammer on Haarlemmerstraat and to pick up a few gestoomde mackerel. Bummer. There’s been a run on ’em and they have only two, but they kindly vacuum-seal them in this really heavy plastic for the trip.

And not that it’s of particular architectural merit or especially beautiful or anything, but since it is so important to me, here’s what the Volendammer looks like with me taking a pic of it:
Volendammmer Vishandel

And then over to Frank’s Smoke House. Frank really is a delightful guy, and that warm-smoked wild Alaska salmon of his is sublime, which is a pity because I don’t even want to think about how expensive it is….well, to be fair, it wouldn’t be so much if I didn’t buy a whole damn side to wow the folks in San Francisco with.

And that’s it. It’s been a wonderful stay, as always, and I’ve pushed my knowledge of Dutch and Dutch culture a little farther…not to mention feeding lots of folks new foods.

Ummm, well, I’ve got room here to throw in one other observation. I mentioned a few pages back that the most common criticism I’ve heard the Dutch make of the French is that they are unwilling to learn other languages. The second most common criticism is of a behavior I had noticed in my French travels over forty years ago although I found it entertaining and helpful. I’ll give you an example from my own experience.

In the spring of 1966 my spoken French was at its peak, and I was in Paris on TDY for the Army. I’m sitting on a park bench near the Louvre and eating a croissant I’d bought from a street vendor. A man walks up to the stamp vending machine nearby, inserts his coins, and then proceeds to curse and bang on the malfunctioning instrument of the devil. After thoroughly venting his rage, he gives up and walks off.

A minute or so later, a woman walks up to the machine and starts going through her purse. Eager to do my part for French-American relations, I warn her: “Madame! Le machine ne marche pas!” She turns to me and says, “La machine.” And then, once she’s corrected my grammar, adds, “Merci, Monsieur,” and gives me a nice smile.

My ambition is to get my Dutch up to the point that the Dutch can correct minor problems. As it is now, we’re just working on basic understanding.

bedhairOK, one last pic. The current hair style for hip younger men in Amsterdam is a deliberately tousled look, in some circles called “bed hair.” Cyrus is sporting this look now, and of course Rina is appalled since it looks so…..messy. Cyrus will be dropping by later, and I ask her to “style” my hair this way as a joke since I am way too old to have my hair looking so modern. She does:

Cyrus gives no indication that he notices.

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