Friday, March 30, 2007
So, having a separate kitchen, living room, and home office will be lovely. As will have a second bedroom for people to stay in when they come to vist, rather than having them sleep in the front room and then having to tiptoe past them to make a cup of tea in the morning. I don't need to see my guests in a state of undress at 7.30 a.m. -- and they certainly don't need to see me before my first cup of tea of the day.
I'm also looking forward to having a "garden" -- okay, a postage-stamp-sized yard. I have a recurring fantasy of stopping work each day at 10.30 to sit outside and have a cigarette and a cup of coffee -- a bizarre fantasy given that I don't now and never have smoked. (I think it's a throwback to those 50s movies I grew up watching, when smoking looked so glamourous and healthy, something ladies did while chatting about which of their neighbours was having an affair and worrying about their daughter hanging out with the bad boy in town.) Sadly, that Doris Day-style fantasy is not the only reason I'm keen to have some outdoor space. I'm also keen to be able to put rubbish outside, rather than having to keep it in the apartment until bin day. It's rather restricting, diet-wise: We only have fish on Wednesdays or Sundays -- the days before bin day -- as otherwise the flat stinks to high heaven. But we will have outdoor bins and room for a wormery and tubs of fresh herbs and a teeny-tiny table and chairs! I will be able to leave little bits of fish out to tempt cats into the yard, thus not really violating the terms of our rental agreement.
And, finally, I'll have an airing cupboard. A real-life cupboard in the bathroom with the boiler in it and shelves for towels and sheets and duvet covers. As an avid reader of Martha Stewart's Web site and someone who can be distracted for hours by the laundry gadgets in the Lakeland catalogue, this is very appealing. The kitchen also has a tiny pantry -- not quite the walk-in chamber of my dreams, but still -- a pantry!
I am hideously domesticated. What a shame I've never wanted to have kids: I'd make a great stay-at-home mom/housewife.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
I think I've written before about my love for Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. One recipe has been a particular standout -- red mullet baked in olive oil, vermouth, saffron, and mint. I decided to adapt this combo for potatoes. From Albert Heijn I bought some organic, kruimig potatoes and some fresh mint. I peeled the potatoes, cut them into chunks, and boiled them gently for about 15 minutes with a good pinch of saffron. After I drained them, I stirred in a hefty tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, a splash of Noilly Prat, and a handful of chopped mint. I tossed this together gently, left it in the pan on the cooling ring until the tortilla was done, and then turned the yellowy, fragrant cubes into a bowl. A little more mint and a sprinkling of rock salt just to finish them off.
I guess it is somewhat extravagant to use the most expensive spice in the world for mere potatoes, but the results were excellent -- and I do have to empty my cupboards before the move. I won't be losing this recipe though.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
The chickpea fritter recipe is from my Mediterranean Street Food cookbook, beloved provider of the excellent Moroccan flatbread recipe. It's also extremely simple (and vegan), although stirring the chickpea paste is exhausting work.
Put 2 cups of chickpea flour in a saucepan and slowly add 3 cups of cold water, beating well with a whisk to get a smooth mixture. Season, and then place over a medium heat and cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly. The paste gets really thick really quickly and your arm will start to ache after a couple of minutes, so see if you can rope someone else in to help out.
After 10 minutes, take the mixture off the heat, stir in some oregano and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil -- or some finely chopped parsley -- and quickly pour out onto an oiled plate (I covered mine with cling film first). Working quickly, spread the mixture out to about 1/2 inch thick and leave to set. It sets firm really quickly, so don't tip it out and then answer the phone or have a cup of tea. At this point, you can leave it in the fridge overnight and it's fine.
Cut the paste into shapes, or sticks, or cubes. Heat up some olive oil in a pan. (The recipe says enough for deep-frying, but I just had about 1/4 inch in the bottom of a large frying pan and that was fine.) You want it to be hot enough to sizzle when you put your first fritter in. Add the paste shapes and fry on both sides until they're crispy and golden-brown -- about 4 minutes in total if your oil is hot enough. Scoop out, drain on paper towels, and then sprinkle with salt. And don't forget to turn the heat off under the oil.
This quantity will make a lot of fritters; I managed to quarter it by mistake, but there were still plenty for two hungry beasts.
What me? Emotional? No! I've just got some dirt trapped under my lens. Better go and rinse it out before anyone sees.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Keep your fingers crossed for me.
* Harry was a white dog with black spots who liked everything, except having a bath. So one day, when he heard the water running in the tub, he picked up the scrubbing brush and he buried it in the back garden ...
Monday, March 26, 2007
*I'm hoping he Google's his name each morning and will thus find my bitter little rants against him. Book smarts, you see!
"Shall I give you my customer number?"
"No. Our computer system is down and we can't look up at any information."
The woman did take all my details and did seem to understand that this was urgent. She might also have detected the note of hysteria in my voice as I outlined the problem. She promised that someone would call me back today.
I'm not holding my breath.
I sent an extremely stroppy email to the president of Whirlpool International -- one Mike Todman -- last night, complaining about the inefficiency of his Dutch operation. Not that there was an email address or even list of board members on the Whirlpool site; you can only get a number for customer "service" or press. But I figured that firstname.lastname@example.org might work, and nothing has bounced back so far. Of course, it's highly likely that Whirlpool's global computer system has ground to a halt under the weight of so many complaints.
I am only one more phone call away from going down to Breda and taking the customer service center hostage until they get someone to fix my oven. Or setting up a word-of-mouth campaign to blacken the name of Whirlpool globally. I wonder if "Whirlpool are a bunch of frakkers.blogspot.com" has been taken?
Sunday, March 25, 2007
When the lands and goods of Ivar Gjesling the younger, of Sundbu, were divided after his death in 1306, his lands in Sil of Gudbrandsdal fell to his daughter Ragnfrid and husband Lavrans Bjorgulfson. Up to then, they had lived on Lavrans' manor of Skog at Follo, near Oslo; but now they moved up to Jorundgaard at the top of the open lands of Sil. Lavrans was of the stock that was known in this country as the Lagmandssons. It had come here from Sweden with that Laurentius, Lagmand of East Gothland, who took the Belbo Jarl's sister, the Lady Bengta, out of Vreta convent, and carried her off to Norway...
Blimey! There are two endnotes in that first paragraph, one of which is three pages long, outlines the typical setup of a Norwegian manor house in the 14th century, the development of masonry chimneys, and has diagrams! It's not what you'd call a gripping opening. However, I've started so I'll (attempt to) finish. Let's hope it gets less confusing and less wordy as it goes on.
*Not that winning a Nobel Prize for literature in 1928 means that much. After all, the Nobel committee probably handed these things out to anyone writing in Norwegian -- a bit like all Norwegians are on Olympic teams at some point in their life. What? It's true!
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Have a go; you won't regret it.
I also really like buying shoes, particularly stilettos, despite my inability to walk in them. (This picture does not include the 5 pairs of boots that I also have.) I've always loathed the image of 30-something women being obsessed with shoes and finding a man, as propogated by irritating TV programs like Sex and the City, but it might have a grain of truth in it.
Although PJ is just as obsessed with buying trainers -- and this is after discarding several pairs.
I ended my session feeling lighter in both wardrobe and soul, and with several bags ready to go to our one local charity store. I just hope there's a 5'1" Gap size 6 homeless person out there who'll appreciate all my castoffs.
However, yesterday at the gym, I had a great run. 35 minutes, up around 9km per hour (not fast, I know, but I've got little legs), Green Day blasting on the new nano. (American Idiot always takes me back to driving Route 1 in California last year, so I was imagining blue skies, the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur.) I didn't get tangled up in my headphone wires, my towel didn't fall off the machine, and I felt great. After 20 minutes, the endorphins kicked in, and I just wanted to keep going. So I did. Woo-hoo! I'm PUMPED!!!!
I think I overdid it a little. By the time I came to cycle home, my legs were aching. After an hour with a cup of tea and my sudoku puzzles, I could barely move. I crashed out after a hot bath, a Thai takeout, and the first episode of Season Three of Battlestar Galactica. Today, to my surprise, I don't feel too bad. I might even make it to yoga later on. And then I will ache tomorrow.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Ahem, where was I? Oh, cars. Right. We want to buy a car when we head back to jolly old England. Our carbon footprint has been sparkly clean for far too long, and now it's time to zoom around the West Country visiting delightful pubs farmers' markets. What to buy? We have a few, simple criteria.
1. It must be reasonably cool, so that our sophisticated friends from the Smoke don't laugh at us.
2. It must have enough "poke" to "get us out of trouble."
3. It must be cheap (me).
4. It must be red (PJ).
Now, What Car? magazine hasn't been much help in narrowing down the field based on these criteria. Clearly, the Mini is the prettiest car, but there are a couple of problems. It's quite small and PJ isn't. And it's the car of choice for estate agents and ad execs, and do we really want align ourselves with these two minions of Satan? (Sorry, Clive.) After that, the cars all look the same. Three-door/five-door. Golfs versus Peugeots versus Renault. 205, 206, 305, 306. We don't have a clue. Our past cars are a Fiat Uno, Toyota Corolla, and Wolesly Hornet (me) and a Fiat Panda (PJ). Our years of watching Top Gear have taught us only about supercars and the folly of driving through Alabama, not about what car to buy to go to Sainsbury's and Cornwall.
The 10-step login process went a little like this:
1. Go to www.upc.nl and enter client login details.
2. OK, user name -- probably ndumpling. It's been years since I logged in.
3. Nope, ndumpling is wrong. Try norfolk dumpling.
4. Wrong again. Hmm, how about Norfolk Dumpling.
5. Damn, I've been thrown out of the system. Because accessing your cable subscription details online is a lot like using an ATM and just as prone to fraud.
6. Go to "Forgotten your client details, muppet?"
7. Enter client number and surname. Ooh! I have this. It's on the online bills they send me once per quarter. Excitedly copy/paste in client number and surname.
8. Client number not recognized. WHAT!?!
9. Try tapping in client number carefully.
10. Still no joy. Give up and phone the call center.
It helped to pass the time. But, as Beckett would have it, the time would have passed anyway.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
In contrast, cancelling our UPC service today was almost laughably simple. After wrestling with their IVR system, a very nice lady told me the service would be switched off in one month's time. Nothing about a final bill or cancelling the direct debit, but I'm sure that will all follow naturally. Ahem.
And to prove that it's not just the Netherlands that suffers from complicated bureaucracy, yesterday I had to deal with First Direct banking application forms. PJ and I want to set up a joint account to pay rent and bills from back in the UK. First up, they need my permanent UK address. I don't have one. Then they need proof of my residence at said UK address in the shape of a utility bill or bank statement -- and it has to be an original, not a photocopy. Again, I don't have any of these. We phone the call center and get a good Northern lass who tells us not to worry, to put down PJ's mum's address (his UK permanent address) and to just skip the proof of residence; as PJ is an account-holder with them, it "should" be fine. Again, we'll see. But at least I understood their IVR system.
So, all we have left are the mortgage company, the contents insurance company, the life insurance company, the bank, the water service, the city of Amsterdam, and our Dutch pensions company. Should be easy!
Sunday, March 18, 2007
We will never take the metro in Amsterdam again. And we will never go to the Amsterdam IKEA again. Sniff ... NOT!
However, this is my dream oven.
It belongs to the takeout pizza place I've raved about previously -- somewhere we're very much going to miss when we leave. I cycled past on Thursday night and for once it was empty. Carpe diem! I dashed in, ordered a couple of pizzas, and sat back -- smug in the knowledge that (also for once), it wouldn't take 40 minutes to get two pizzas. And, given that I was the only customer, I risked ridicule and asked if I could take a picture. The two members of staff looked slightly bemused, but agreed. Isn't it lovely?
Saturday, March 17, 2007
We keep surfing.
As an added bonus, I got to meet Mustapha the cat. PJ was very taken with him too, as unlike most cats of his acquaintance, Mustapha was happy to hang around in the same room -- and could even be persuaded to pose for a picture or two.
Tick tock, tick tock. We'd better buy a house soon. I really NEED a cat.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Here it is. It's not that much smaller than my non-functioning oven.
One of the things that I like most about PJ is that he doesn't judge me. I told him I'd bought a new oven in a fit of pique, and he just said "Good for you." No questions about where we'd put it or what we'll do with it when the other one's fixed (oh please!). I'm sure his internal voice is asking those other questions, but I can't hear that. Just "Good for you."
I honestly don't believe that this will be resolved before we complete on the apartment. I have baked my last loaf of bread in the Netherlands.
Bastards. Never buy anything from Whirlpool.
It is an SMS offering me a "gratis ringtone". Damn. I don't want a free tune, I want my oven fixed. I want to be able to bake bread and cookies, roast vegetables, and go to the toilet without worrying about phone calls! Is this too much to ask?
But I still love it. It's just so very, very pretty! Damn you, Jobs!
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
The pain results from my foolhardy attempt to stave off the inevitable dental hygienist lecture by making up for 3 years of not flossing regularly last night. I cleaned, I flossed, I jabbed between my teeth with little wooden sticks, and flossed again. At the end of 30 minutes, my sink was full of blood and littered with dental detritus, and my jaw ached. And it continues to ache. I have taken 500 mg of paracetamol and will now add on 400 mg of ibuprofen in an attempt to overcome this. Work colleagues: please check on me throughout the afternoon to ensure that I haven't collapsed with liver failure.
- 9 teeth extracted under general anaesthetic.
- 3 teeth extracted under local (which involved a needle as long as the dentist's arm being inserted into the roof of my mouth. Nasty.)
- 2 root canals. Because they thought they'd left a bit of equipment in after the first one.
- Double-track braces top and bottom for the sensitive 15-18 teenage period.
- At least 20 fillings. At least.
- 3 amalgam fillings replaced with white composite ones.
- 1 wisdom tooth extracted -- actually the least painful experience of all.
Every time I go to the dentist it is a painful and costly experience. If the dental hygienist starts haranguing me on March 27, I shall rise up out of the chair and declaim: "By God woman, thou shalt not lecture me! Modern management techniques suggest that the best way to get results is to offer praise and encouragement, not to berate your staff as if they were naughty 5-year-olds! Or to jab their gums with painful pointy bits of metal! Amend your attitude or I shall leave and never darken your doors again!" -- a threat I am in the perfect position to make, given that I never will darken her doors again. What with the leaving the country and all.
Alternatively, I might just take one of the kickass painkillers that was included in PJ's medical kit -- designed for the patient when performing emergency open-heart surgery in the jungles of Borneo -- and just try to get over the whole ghastly experience with the minimum of fuss. Which do you think is more likely?
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
And when I called to make an appointment, the receptionist said that I hadn't been since 2004, which means it's going to be a BIG lecture and lots of pain. But at least it will be free. Heaven forbid that I should have to pay for such torture.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Oh well, at least I got the vacuuming done. Now I can go to work!
However, I should be fair: the piquant mushroom and vegetable salad was pretty good. It involved a lot of prepand ingredients earlier in the day (see photo below), such as skinning and pureeing tomatoes, and I'm coming to the conclusion that I really hate blanching vegetables, but it tasted good, with lots of bursts of coriander-ness coming through from the whole seeds.
I'm looking forward to having some more of that for lunch -- just one of the many joys of working from home. The others are that I'm able to blog and get the vacuuming done before starting work without feeling guilty. And unload the dishwasher, put a clothes wash on, and do some ironing. Hmm, maybe it's not so good after all.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
3 tbs (40gm) butter, softened
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tst paprika
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Mix all the filling ingredients together, with a pinch of salt (to taste). I roughly chopped the onion and parsley, then put them in my mini-blender with the spices to cut them even finer before blending into the butter. You don't want large chunks of onion as they'll tear the dough.
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
Mix the yeast with a pinch of sugar and 1/2 cup water and leave for 5 minutes. It won't go foamy, but that's fine. You just want the yeast to dissolve. Sift the flour and salt together and gradually stir in the yeast water. You probably won't use all of it, but the dough should be slightly wetter than bread dough. Knead for 10 minutes until smooth and pliable. I had to add about another 2 tbs flour during this to stop it sticking to everything.
Grease -- yes, really -- your worksurface and hands. Divide the dough into four pieces and stretch one out into a thin rectangle. Spread one-half with a quarter of the filling, fold over the plain side, and fold again to make a square. Press down with your hands to make it thinner. Helou warns you not to tear the dough, but I found it didn't make a big difference to the final product.
Heat a frying pan and add a little butter. Put one of our parcels in, press down to stretch it out a bit more, then leave to cook for about 3 minutes until golden brown. Flip over and repeat. Keep warm in an oven while you make the rest.
We had ours with fried eggs, a big mug of coffee, and Tottenham versus Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals -- a near-perfect Sunday lunchtime. The breads were yeasty and spicy and worked really well with the runny yolks. No pictures, as I had very buttery hands and was constantly occupied over a hot stove -- and then we ate them really quickly. A veritable hit! For dinner, I'm making a couple of recipes from Gordon Ramsay's Sunday Lunch book -- a piquant mushroom and vegetable salad, followed by sea-bream with broccoli and a sorrel veloute. Only, I'm using halibut and tarragon. We'll see how it turns out.
Even those living on the fringes of the British Isles were deemed primitive by the sophisticates of Elizabethan London. One group was held to be particularly backward -- idolatrous, superstitious, and living in "barbarous ignorance." They were the Welsh.
And after yesterday's defeat on a very poor pitch at Cardiff, I think Canaries supporters everywhere can add a hearty "So say we all!"*
* Yep, I've been watching too much Battlestar Galactica recently.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Later that day, we discovered that it wasn't actually our buyer who went round; it was her dad and a couple of his mates. The father will most likely be living here most of the time, he wanted to show his chums the place, and apparently they love it! In fact, they love it so much in its current state that our wealthy and design-focused buyer may have a problem doing up the apartment as she'd like. Heh! I'm actually rather comforted by the idea of an old boy moving in here, setting up a table by the French windows in the living room, watching the tourist boats go by on the canal, wandering over whenever a police siren is heard, and amusing himself with the arguments in the street below. We've loved it here, and so will he. There have been yuppies in this here apartment for far too long!
Friday, March 09, 2007
"I'm installing a floor in my new rental apartment!"
Cue bemused stares and Jon Stewart-esque utterances of "Waaaaaaaah?"
Yep, over here, an unfurnished apartment means you don't get a floor. OK, not a floor so much, but a finished floor. You get the concrete, but are expected to put in the nice wooden floorboards (or cheap laminate equivalent) and then take them with you when you leave -- because obviously you're next apartment will have rooms the exact same size as the last one. And don't even think about getting any appliances included in the rental: washing machines, driers, are all your responsibility. It makes me feel very lucky that we're getting carpets and a fridge in our Winchester property.
Of course, it makes a little more sense in the Dutch housing market. People are more likely to have long-term leases, and if you're planning to stay put for several years, you want your own things around you. I've lived in enough apartments with grimy furniture, saggy beds, and broken dishwashers to appreciate that. But still, you would have thought that a FLOOR was a necessity, rather than a luxury. I will never understand these people.
Yesterday, it was kahlua and milk. You see, it's healthy cos it's got milk in it and it's relaxing cos of the kahlua! Mmm. A tall glass of that, the remainder of the fudge, a hot bath, and my first issue of Martha Stewart Living. I think I'm in love. This magazine has a cookie of the month section! It tells you how to organize your linen closet and make the most of a 2300 square foot basement area -- complete with crafting section! Clearly designed for women (and some men) with too much time and money on their hands, it's perfect. Added bonus: the pictures of Martha's cats looking impossibly cute in afore-mentioned basement. Kitty porn!
I hope I can get a subscription when we're back in the UK.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
6.40 a.m.: PJ leaves the house.
6.50 a.m.: Rain starts beating against the bedroom window. Doh!
8.25 a.m.: I stand by the window, trying to guess whether it will rain in the next 25 minutes.
8.26 a.m.: Grey clouds. It probably will. I'm wearing a skirt. Decision time. Do I cycle in wearing the skirt and get wet when it starts raining or do I put my waterproofs on, put my skirt in my bag and change at work? The latter option is the sensible one, but I will attract strange looks from passers-by, given that it's not actually raining.
8.35 a.m.: Still torn. Finally, I decide that I just don't care that much about what strangers think, but I do want to get to work.
8.40 a.m.: Damn. First set of strange looks. I DO care what strangers think.
8.41 a.m.: Is that a patch of blue sky?
8.42 a.m.: Pray for it to rain. Wish strangers would stop giving me odd looks. What's wrong with being prepared? The British Empire was built on this motto!
8.43 a.m.: Hah! It has started raining. I am vindicated! Bet you wish you were wearing your waterproofs now, Cloggies!
8.44 a.m.: That's enough rain to prove a point. Am now feeling cold and damp and miserable.
8.59 a.m.: Arrive at work, soaked. Drip my way into the office and change. In my calendar, mark off another day until I can walk upstairs to work.
The lack of big problems in my life is clearly having a detrimental effect on my decision-making skills.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Why yes. Yes, it is. And isn't he cute? (Shut up! My cat plans have been put on hold for another year as the stupid UK rental market doesn't generally allow pets. I have to let out my feline urges somehow.)
This is great stuff and incredibly easy. Melt together butter, two types of sugar, and (ahem) condensed milk, bring to the boil, leave to boil for about 10 minutes without stirring, preferably while reading the brand-new cookery book you bought earlier in the day, add vanilla, beat till thick and creamy, pour into tin and try to leave alone until set. To this batch I added caramelized cocoa nibs and large flakes of sea salt. I adore salt with sweet things, and this is just perfect. It's sweet and creamy and slightly crunchy and salty and you couldn't buy anything better.
I handed nearly half the batch over to Alan and Jo for safe-keeping, but have still got enough at home to make me thoroughly sick before tomorrow morning's now-essential gym visit. And then PJ gets back -- huzzah x 2!
Saturday, March 03, 2007
No hedges here, just trees. And a dark shadow across the moon.
Click. Click. Beep. Click.
Papa Dumpling is photographing the flat. No corner is left undocumented, no angle to obtuse to commerate in digital format. Apart from the fear that he will capture my worst profile (all of them) for eternity, this is a good thing. It means that I don't have to worry about doing this before we leave. I can concentrate on the important things; getting the oven fixed, trying not to spill anything on the carpet or knock the worryingly loose radiator off the wall. And packing. Lots and lots of packing.
Friday, March 02, 2007
I have also been trying to swear less at work, and I think that generally I've improved -- although I lapsed today and let loose a string of invective aimed at a group of f****** muppets (not present in the office or indeed anyone that I actually know -- but they were still asking for it). A potty mouth doesn't add to the air of professionalism that I'm trying to cultivate, but it's really only for the next six weeks. Then, I'll be in my own little home office, free to indulge my foul-mouthed tendencies. Frak yes!