Saturday, December 31, 2005

I love the smell of cordite in the morning. It smells like . . .

... an Amsterdam New Year's Eve. The Brits have Big Ben; the Spanish have their 12 grapes; and the Dutch have their highly expensive and often illegal fireworks. Mmm, illegal fireworks!

Happy New Year! Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 30, 2005

Snow is falling


Amsterdam does look pretty in the snow. You can't see the many strata of dog poop on the pavement, but you can still step in it. Lovely. Posted by Picasa

Last night's dinner


Nigel's kitchen diaries have inspired me to post more pictures of the food that I make and eat. This is yesterday's pasta bean bake. It was yum-oh! The panzarotti disappeared too quickly to be photographed. Posted by Picasa

Thanks a bunch, Nintendo

Apparently, you can't take two dogs out for a walk at the same time. With the acquistion of my new dalmatian puppy Cusworth, I have, therefore, doubled the amount of time I need to spend walking the puppies each morning. And evening. That means I'm spending 90 minutes each day looking after the damn dogs - which is more than I would spend if I actually HAD dogs. Could I find this information anywhere BEFORE I got Cusworth? What do you think!

I'm making: panzerotti (fried bread twists)
I'm listening to: You Could Have It So Much Better, Franz Ferdinand
I'm reading: The Kitchen Diaries, Nigel Slater

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Thoughts on British Christmas TV

1. David Tennant as the new Dr Who - v. v. good! Much better than that overly gurning Christopher Eccleston, and much cuter.

2. What happened to Neil Pearson's cheekbones? And along with them, his career? Why would he appear in Booze Cruise 2 on ITV - and why would I watch most of it?

3. Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas edition was irritatingly addictive. Poor Evander Holyfield!

4. The National Lottery's Millionaire Manor was just bizarre. And a waste of time and money. And I only won 10 quid.

5. There are too many "list" shows: Top 10 comedy moments, Top 10 comedy films etc (all of which date from the past two years as anyone stupid enough to vote in these things is likely to have long-term memory problems).

6. Er, but this blog entry doesn't count as a list. Oh no.

Monday, December 26, 2005

You can tell it's not KLM

As we boarded our ThomsonFly flight to the UK, the perma-tanned stewardness greeted us with a broad smile and a cry of "Evenin' darlin'" -- ah, it's good to be (on our way) back to the UK!

Friday, December 23, 2005

A very Northern Christmas

Off to sunny Doncaster and Manchester for some good old British Crimbo cheer. And the Boxing Day sales - remind me to tell you some time about the difficulty of shopping for clothes when you're 5'2" and living in a land of giants. I will, of course, let all my eager readers know about the manners of my Mancunian fellow shoppers when I return. Will they approach the surly yet highly skilled shoulder-barging ways of the cloggies? Find out next week!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

Off to the local shwarma house to get a falafel broodje for lunch. The floors were spotlessly clean. The obscenely shaped breadcrumbed sausage sticks and frikandels were carefully wrapped in clingfilm, protecting them from stray germs. And the "chef" was wearing the regulation cap to prevent loose hairs falling into my food. However, as he headed back from the freezer with my falafels in hand, I heard him sneeze – wetly. And then cough - loudly. And then – and only then – did he place my falafels in the deep fryer.

Luckily, he proceeded to deep-fry all the life out of those poor falafels, so it seems unlikely that his nasal emissions survived. I should be thankful for such small mercies, I guess.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The gym: where lazy people go to chat

Before I moved to Amsterdam, I had never entered a gym. However, a combination of many blokjes of mighty-fine cheese and the large amounts of alcohol needed to survive the damp summers eventually drove me into the arms of the David Lloyd Health & Fitness Club. Given my UK gym virginity, the following queries might well be applicable to any gym, not just a Dutch one, but in my biased mind, they are peculiarly Cloggie-driven.

To wit: Is it normal to:

1. Apply vast quantities of make-up (badly) before entering the exercise theater?
2. Stand around in the changing room chatting with your friends – completely starkers?
3. Do 2 (slow) lengths of the pool and then sit in the sauna for 20 minutes and regard that as an exercise session?
4. Block the entrance gates by chatting up the receptionists/chatting to the receptionists about what atrocious cowboy boot/overly tight trousers/luminous thong combination you’re going to wear that evening?
5. If male: Do 2 reps on a high weight, admire self in the mirror, chat with friends and flex your muscles for 10 minutes. Repeat ad nauseam, ignoring the queue of people (me) waiting to use said weights machine.
If female: Do 5 reps on an insultingly low weight on the inner thigh machine. Sit back and stare vacantly at the TV. Do another 5 reps, this time using your hands to push the weights. Check nail varnish for chips. Repeat ad nauseam, ignoring the queue of people (me) waiting to use said weights machine.

Well, is it?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Baking's an art, right?

My initial attempts at blogging and the food photography below are just the latest in a long line of activities designed to make me feel "creative." You see, I come from a family of highly creative types and I've always felt that I'm the black sheep of the family. We have my brother, who's just directed his second short film - visit the link to El ultimo deseo (His last request). My sister has her own site for the amazing burlesque outfits and lingerie that she designs and makes - check out Miss Katie for some fabulous examples. And my highly talented sister-in-law published her first novel this year, both in Bulgaria and Spain, and is doing TV and press in support. Her blog, Sexperiencias, is well worth a visit. I have a cousin who's a greetings card designer, another one who's a florist, my mother has a great eye for interior decorating and colour, and my father's fab with numbers.

So, what about me? Sure, I can cook, I can train my virtual puppy, and I'm damn good at tidying up, but they're not really creative activities. In fact, I much prefer ripping into other people's creative efforts (hence my job as an editor) than putting my own stuff out there. Perhaps I should just be happy with being able to indulge my "destructive" tendencies in a well-paying job . . .

Maple and pecan biscotti

It was remarkably hard to find a maple pecan cookie recipe online yesterday, so I ended up making these biscotti. I initially thought they weren't sweet enough - I didn't have any icing sugar so couldn't make the maple glaze that was part of the recipe and which would have added a considerable hit of sweetness - but on reflection (and after eating four or five), I came to the conclusion that they were just right. A hit - a veritable hit!

Recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens Web site. Posted by Picasa

5.30 a.m. - and I have my boyfriend's jetlag

While many have accused the Norfolk Dumpling of having a lump of ice where her heart should be, this is not strictly true. Puppies in bike baskets and the unfortunately rare trips to UK supermarkets are among the many things that cause the ice to melt just a touch. The latest and perhaps most disturbing example of this, though, is MTV's "Pimp My Ride." Hitting the treadmill at the gym on Thursday, I was delighted to see that a UK version has now been made; it's fronted by the ridiculous Tim Westwood, but still - I didn't have to listen to his faux wigga act, preferring to read the Dutch subtitles (yep, I do actually read the silly language) while listening to The Killers. Anyhow, the transformation of volunteer kids' football coach Asif's wreck of a Volkswagen was a joy to watch: He was so utterly excited and so grateful - compelling TV that kept me running for a good 5 minutes longer than normal.

Unlike the 25 minutes of obnoxious, entitled behavior demonstrated by the overindulged brats on another MTV show, "My Super-Sweet Sixteen." Is this program supposed to inspire loathing or envy on the part of its viewers? What parents would allow their daughters to take part in such a showcase for avarice and stupidity? I could only watch a few minutes before my blood pressure hit dangerous levels and I had to head to the weights room to work off my ire. Gah!

I'm listening to: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I'm baking: maple and pecan biscotti
I'm donating to: Menu for Hope 2

Friday, December 16, 2005

Note to self

Don't try to put waterproof rain trousers on over a pencil skirt. It's not worth the hassle.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A breakfast haiku

Scent of burnt porridge
Lingers on in the cool air.
Scouring pad needed.

Dumb belles at dawn

“Victoria Beckham was involved in a slanging match with a Spanish TV star earlier this week at an exclusive Madrid gym. Posh told 50-year-old Ana Obregon, who has made no secret of her affection for David Beckham, to leave her man alone. ‘Why would he be interested in an old lady like you?’ Posh reportedly asked Ana. ‘Go get some clothes on and act your age.’”

My long-held admiration for Victoria has just increased yet again – it’s about time someone called La Obregon on her publicity-seeking bullshit, and who better than Posh! Ana Obregon dominated the prensa rosa while I lived in Spain, representing all that was ridiculous in the world of Spanish celebrity gossip. Her overly taut skin and inexplicable fondness for wearing skin-tight high-necked tops over her Zeppelin-esque funbags were permanently splashed over the pages of Que me Dices! and Diez Minutos, along with the latest “secrets” of her relationships with Davor Suker and her equally foul male counterpart, Alessandro Lequio. A friend once remarked “Whenever I see one of these putas with a new fur coat, I know that they’ve sold another story to the press” – and Ana was their queen.

However, Ana has ridiculous artificial breasts, scarily skinny legs, and dodgy hair extensions - you can see why David might find that not only attractive, but strangely familiar.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Indicating is hard to do

The British Way (Cycling Proficiency Test method)
1. Look over left shoulder to see what's coming up behind you.
2. Lift left arm to indicate the direction you wish to turn.
3a. If no one is behind you, turn to the left.
3b. If someone is behind you, slow down to let them pass, then turn left.

The Dutch Way (as practised on the streets of Amsterdam)
1. Get out your mobile phone.
2. Make a call.
3. Slow down and wobble to the right.
4. Turn sharply to the left, into the side of the cyclist who decided to overtake you when you slowed down and wobbled to the right.
5. Grunt "sorrie" in a tone that indicates that you are, in fact, not at all sorry.
6. Rinse and repeat.

Yeah, so I'm not comparing like with like. But I do it the British way and it's my damn blog!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A stitch in time . .

. . . would have saved me a trip to Mr Grumpy's smoke-filled bike shop today. The lone bolt holding my bracket on to the upright came out as I pedalled merrily down the Keizersgracht - do you think I can sue the city of Amsterdam for leaving huge dips in the roads after they send the bricks away to be cleaned? Mr Grumpy didn't bother actually looking at us; his sidekick, Mr Slightly Less Grumpy, provided 2 bolts and the use of a pair of pliers for the grand sum of 10 cents. Who needs customer service when you have low, low prices?

And after mistaking an oddly shaped log for two Scottie terriers today, I'm thinking that I should probably get my eyes tested again soon. All this blogging is clearly leading to blindness.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

I want an IBDB

At our book club meeting this evening, I realized that I really need an IBDB - an Internet Book Database. I want a site that has entries for all books, searchable by author, title, and character. I want trivia about the author - what TV shows they've written, who they're married to, film adaptations of their works. I want to see links to other books that were an influence on or were influenced by said book. And, ideally, I want a precis of the plot and amusing quotes that I can produce pretentiously at dinner parties. Does such a thing exist already? Is it hiding out in some corner of the Web that I've not yet found? If not, why not? Is it that the geeks who developed this mighty Net of ours were more interested in movies than books - if they had loved reading, they wouldn't need to spend all their time programming, right? But what about sci-fi? Surely somebody has thought of this - please send me a link if they have. And no, doesn't count.

Questions, questions - I'm starting to sound like a more intelligent (I hope) version of the idiotic Carrie Bradshaw. But without the fabric flower. Or Manolo Blahniks. Unfortunately.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Like shooting fish in a barrel

Mischa Barton has vowed never to get her melons done - 'cause that would make her too sexy.When the OC star was probed at to whether she'd like bazookas like Rachel Bilson, who plays Summer in the same show, she said:'No!' Oh. There's more.'I feel tall and lanky next to her, but I'd be scared of having her boobs and voluptuousness.'I would never have a boob job.'I like being understatedly sexy.'Rachel's curves make her more overtly sexual than I am.'

I think that's what's called a backhanded compliment. Or is it just downright bitchiness? I'm confused.

God, Mischa Barton makes it SO easy to hate her! She truly is the new Gwhiney.

Baby, it's cold outside

After a week of mild weather, the temperature has dipped - it was just 1C this morning. Yes, I know that 1C isn't that cold, but it feels colder here. A friend who lived in Chicago said she never felt as cold as she did here - there's an icy dampness that seeps into every building and your bones. I'm mightily glad that Buster, my adorable Nintendog, doesn't need real walkies outside; as Buster frolicked happily in ever-warm, ever-clean Nintendog world, I sat and watched a chap across the canal wrestle one of his Jack Russell terriers out onto the pavement - s/he really didn't want to go out. (I am slightly concerned that it was only one dog. Normally there are two - I hope the other one's okay.)

But in general, I love the winter. Not the dark mornings and icy roads, so much, but the food, the clothing, and never needing an excuse just to stay in. Summers here aren't all that warm but you're still expected to sit outside on a terrace surrounded by thousands of beered-up cloggies while the icy winds sweep in off the North Sea, carrying clouds of cigarette smoke over your bitterbollen. Not so in winter. I can retreat to my lopsided apartment, turn the oven on full blast, and get baking - and no, that's not a Dutch marijuana metaphor.

Ten things I love about the winter:
1. Soups - sweet potato; carrot and ginger; curried parsnip - although parsnips are hard to come by. Annoyingly (no really!), the Dutch regard the mighty white root as animal feed, knowing nothing of the joy of a parmesan-roasted parsnip.
2. Carbs - pasta bakes, risotto, gnocchi, mashed potato, and lots of bread: rosemary and onion cornbread, focaccia, my easy-to-make wholewheat Italian low bread . . . And the cookies: choc chip, choc choc chip, and current favourite, peanut butter and jelly shortbread - with additional chocolate chips. Mmmm.
3. Sixty denier tights from Hema - no shaving required.
4. Fleece - hats, scarves, gloves, sweaters, jackets, blankets, socks - you name it, I have it in fleece. I don't care if that makes me middle-aged, Trinny & Susannah - it also makes me warm.
5. My new winter coat from Zara. Toasty. And cheap.
6. Our new fake fur throw from Habitat. Also toasty. Not so cheap.
7. Dogs in tartan jackets. In paniers. On the back of bikes.
8. Hot chocolate. Particularly the kind you get in Spain, which is so thick you eat it with a spoon. Or with churros, at 5 in the morning on your way home from the bar. Oh churreria on the Calle Zamora in Salamanca - how do I miss thee!
9. No leaves on the tree outside our apartment, making it much lighter - and easier to spot the cute Jack Russells across the canal. And see people removing their clothes in the apartments facing. Fun.
10. Fewer tourists wandering the streets or ineptly cycling slowly on their MacBikes. Fewer frat boys in the coffee shops or hen parties in the red light district - unless you're from Newcastle, it's not much fun wandering the streets in a glittery miniskirt with an L plate when there's freezing fog outside.

Winter - bring it on!

Hulk Smash!

"If I can't find my cufflinks, I'm not going!"

Getting ready for black tie office Christmas parties is so much fun.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Normal service is now resumed

So the new Dutch health insurance scheme has just been explained to the Norfolk Dumpling. Basic message: you pay more, you get exactly what you have now - or less - and this is called freedom of choice. No doubt, it will still be a struggle to get a smear test ("it's not an interesting cancer" as one doctor told me). If you have kids, forget about pain relief for child birth but it does look like they'll be able to get cosmetic surgery. So that means no more ugly children? Bargain!

I really want to move back to the UK. I miss my NHS.


The Norfolk Dumpling would like to take a brief time-out from her usual bitching and moaning to commend ABN AMRO for its extremely helpful customer service center. IVR menu in English and a lovely operator who could not have been more charming. Thank you.

Normal (for Norfolk) service will resume shortly.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Muppet Centraal

Listen, yellow van driver. If you want to park in the middle of the Keizersgracht and hold up all the traffic behind you, be my guest. Just don't pull up next to a van that's helpfully parked right across the pavement, leaving no room for pedestrians - or more importantly me on my bike - to get round. And don't indicate to suggest that you're turning left into a parking space when you're not - it's just irritating.

As for you black van driver, don't be surprised if people get a wee bit pissed off that you parked your car on the corner of the 'gracht, effectively blocking two streets, and then disappeared into a house to get a piece of wood. Car horns will be honked. Particularly if one of those pissed-off people is sitting in a taxi and paying by the minute and through the nose - like me.

And listen, Etos: If you open a new store, make sure the damn barcoding system actually works properly before you let paying punters in. While I was happy to point out two of the errors on my bill - to your advantage, I might add - your tight-fisted cloggie customers won't be so generous.

Must. Not. Kill. Muppets.

Smile like you mean it

It has been pointed out to me, by one of my loyal readers, that my posts so far have been venom-filled rants against the Dutch. Damn right, bee-atch! There's just so much to complain about, so little time, and so few people who will listen. That's why I created this blog - I spent far too much time venting my spleen only to people who agree with me (i.e., expats living over here) and not sharing my bile with the wider world. So here it is.

After a few days back in the People's Republic of Norfolk, I knew what my next outpouring of angst should be - the Dutch don't smile. I walked around Sainsbury's and a lady almost hit me with her trolley. Instead of the Dutch response of glowering at you for getting in their way, the nice Norfolk lady gave me a big smile and apologised. Checkout assistants look you in the eye, smile, and chat - to everyone. Cars stop to let pedestrians cross roads, and the grateful pedestrian smiles and waves her thanks. I love it. Thank you citizens of Norwich for making eye contact and making me feel happy.

Smiling: so easy to do, so rarely encountered (over here). So normal for Norfolk.

I'm reading: The Food of Love by Anthony Capella
I'm eating: mushroom stroganoff with mustard mash
I'm avoiding: the rain - the interminable rain