Sunday, April 29, 2007

Beetroot, two ways

The vegebox has been a hit. We have eaten so well for the past few days, thanks to great and varied ingredients that are really challenging me in the gastronomic arena. Friday night was mushroom and Lancashire cheese crumble, Saturday was pan-roasted cod with wilted spring greens and carrot/potato puree (outstanding), and today was all beetroot all the time. I roasted four of the beetroot for more than an hour last night, bathed in orange juice, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, and water. After leaving them to cool overnight, I peeled them this morning -- a somewhat messy operation that left me looking like an extra in a Uwe Boll movie. I pureed 2 of them and added them to a chocolate cake mix; PJ ate one for lunch; and I sliced the other and used it in a beet-feta tart for dinner -- accompanied by a watercress/sprout/orange salad, thanks to a timely recipe from Nigel Slater in today's Observer Food Monthly (also, I gathered today, a fan of the Riverford delivery scheme).

Now, I'm not a fan of unadulterated beetroot, but it was a nice addition to the tart and utterly fantastic in the chocolate cake -- especially when liberally daubed with whipped cream. And I mean real whipped cream. Cream that whips straight out of the jar and remains whipped when left for 30 minutes. Dutch slagroom needed to be chilled for ages, along with the bowl and beaters, and it was always rather thin, lacking the comforting fattiness of proper cream. Look at it below, thickly cascading down the side of the rich, dark cake ... Sorry! Didn't mean to go off on one about all things dairy, but boy have I missed double cream for the past six years! Anyway, the cake was lovely, slightly earthy note to it, well worth trying -- particularly if you're trying to sneak extra veg past demanding children (and adults).

Tomorrow night will be mushroom-stuffed peppers with spring greens and the remainder of the carrot/potato puree, with possibly watercress soup for lunch. I can't wait for next week's box!

Chocolate Beet Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, Canola or corn oil
1 1/2 cups grated cooked beetroot (about 2 medium-size beets) (I pureed them as grating was very gory)
2 teaspoons vanilla
powdered sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 350°.
Combine flour, baking soda, salt, sugar and cocoa in a bowl; set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs and oil. Beat in vanilla and continue beating until well blended. Slowly beat in dry ingredients until well mixed; stir in beets.

Pour into a greased and floured 9x13-inch baking pan (I used a round 10" pan). Bake at 350° for 25 to 35 minutes, or until cake bounces back when touched lightly with finger.

Cool in pan on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with lashings of softly whipped double cream.

My apologies, dear readers

PJ has just complained that it's been a slow month for posts on my blog. I guess moving country, being able to sit outside again, and vast numbers of exciting stores to shop in have driven me away from the computer. If you also feel cheated, I'm very sorry. It won't happen again.

Grauniad Unlimited

One of the biggest challenges of the British weekend has become clear to us: how to read the weekend Guardian and The Observer with their myriad, ink-depositing sections, in just 48 hours -- particularly if you get up late on both days. It's a Herculean task.

Norwich 0: Southampton 1

Several people have asked if I will be switching allegiance from Norwich to Southampton now that I'm living in Winchester -- just 15 minutes by train from the Solent. I have always responded that one doesn't stop supporting the team of your birthplace just because one moves; I was never an Ajax supporter so would not support Saints. But on yesterday's performance, I might live to regret that decision. I can't wait for the season to be over.

Greener than thou

Off to the giant Sainsbury's at Badger Farm yesterday -- on foot. This involved a gentle stroll down past St Cross, enviously admiring Victorian villas that are out of price range. Then, up across the main railway line and along a shaded country path with a 5% incline for about 30 minutes, before emerging suddenly onto the Badger Farm Road, which lacked any pavements. We'd clearly missed a turning on the path and instead had to march along the overgrown verges, looking like deranged ramblers. However, this ignominy was well worth it. Sainsbury's was fab. No wonder everyone is fat here -- the supermarkets are brilliant. We emerged an hour or so later, laden with bags of stuff that wasn't on my original list, but all absolutely essential. Particularly the set of mini solar lights for the "garden." And the posh varieties of sunflower seeds. And the toasted sesame oil. It's just a shame that the weight of our (nonplastic) bags meant we had to get a taxi home.

Deutschland, Deutschland

Off to see a foreign film at our local -- literally, just 5 minutes away -- cinema. We can now take advantage of having French, Korean, and even Dutch films subtitled in English. Hurrah! I was a little nervous, as our chosen film was German and therefore didn't have the giant time-traveling robots that PJ usually deems essential for a successful cinema outing. The Lives of Others instead is set in a 1980s GDR and portrays a sympathetic Stasi agent who spies and falls in love with a potentially dissident playwright and his actress girlfriend. Very gripping, very moving, and with lots of rather appealing 1970s vintage Commie furniture and wallpaper. And, you can now take beer and wine into the cinema -- a civilized progression since my days as an usher at Cinema City in Norwich, where I had to ask people to down the remains of their (real ale) pint before entering the movie theater.

So, a successful outing and one we will repeat to see Paul Verhoeven's Black Book in May. Yes, it turns out you have to leave the Netherlands in order to see a decent film about the Netherlands.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Not feral yet

It's the end of my first week of working from home, and I'm still showering daily and wearing (clean) underwear. I consider this a triumph; I have been waiting for my inner slovenly beast to emerge now that I no longer have to physically interact with people -- other than PJ -- on a daily basis. However, daily contact lens usage is dropping off quite significantly; too much faff. What will be next?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

You couldn't make THIS up

In response to Clive's post, this is my favourite headline of the week -- taken from People's site:

"Hugh Grant Arrested In Alleged Baked Bean Attack
A paparazzo claims the Music & Lyrics star threw legumes at him on Tuesday"

I think it's the use of the word "legumes".

Vegetable-y goodness

Our first organic vegebox arrived today. It was very exciting! What's going to be in it? What exotic foodstuffs are going to challenge me culinarily this week? Hmm, cauliflower, potatoes, peppers, onions, mushrooms ... not much of a challenge so far, although they did contribute to a good veggie soup at lunch. But wait? What's this hiding in a paper bag? Beetroot. OK. Not so keen on the beetroot, but I have found a rather nice recipe on Orangette for a beetroot and feta tart, along with some recipes for a chocolate beet cake. No, it's not chocolate cake sandwiched together with slabs of the foul pickled stuff, but pureed beetroot mixed in with the cake batter -- a bit like carrot cake, which I adore. I will keep you posted on this one. I am, though, very pleased with my vegebox. The quality looks great and it will motivate me to try new dishes and ingredients.

Tonight, however, we had salad, the potatoes that I cheekily asked to be doggy-bagged from a restaurant on the South Bank last night, and Moroccan fish from my Mediterranean Street Food book. You marinade chunks of white fish in a mixture of onion, garlic, oil, parsley, lemon juice, cumin, paprika, and chilli peppers for 2 hours, toss lightly in flour, and deep-fry till brown. It was very good. And relatively healthy -- other than the deep-frying, and we almost offset that with our run. Fat offsetting: the culinary equivalent of minimizing your carbon footprint, only with fewer organizations letting you pay them to assuage your guilt.

Keep on running

Two runs this week, albeit short ones. Down the road, round the corner, along another road, turn left, turn left again into the water meadows, along by a pretty stream, round the college, back past the pub, and into our street. I can safely say that it's better running at 7.30 a.m. than an 5.30 p.m. Why? Fewer people around. And the fewer people there are, the less often you have to pick up the pace and pretend that you're not dying inside, not ready to vomit up a lung as soon as you get indoors. Oh yes, running outside is very different to running on a treadmill in front of The Bold & The Beautiful at the gym.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The postman always rings twice

Not today, he didn't. The postman -- or rather a selection of postmen -- actually rang our doorbell FOUR times! It was very exciting, rather like what I imagine Christmas was like in PJ's only child household: all presents all the time! Only these weren't presents, but Amazon deliveries. Having next-day delivery again has gone to PJ's head, I think. For the love of God (and our bank account), no more!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Every silver lining has its cloud

Things I like about our new house:

1. Lots of natural light. The Amsterdam pad had only a set of windows at the front and a window at the back, which was overshadowed by the achterhuis. This place has windows everywhere. Natural light in the bathroom is a revelation -- I actually look younger!

2. Stairs. Well, if I'm not cycling, I need to have some form of exercise. And it feels like a proper house (obviously) with two stories.

3. There's a Chinese takeaway at the end of the road. It's a proper British Chinese takeaway, the sort you just don't get elsewhere in Europe. And you can dial in your order from The Green Man pub across the road and pick it up when you've finished your pint!

On the downside, having loads of natural light means I now know just how shabby and faded all my clothes are; it's really irritating having to go downstairs to get a glass of water in the night; and the Chinese food is undoubtedly packed with MSG.

I really am a glass-half-empty kind of girl.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Norwich 1: Ipswich 1

Well, we could have lost to the tractor boys. That would have been far worse.

Bag lady

So, we went to Southampton yesterday to do essential "office supplies" shopping: a printer, filing cabinets, a pinboard for the Chinese takeaway menu -- the usual. It was a relatively successful trip, but I now have my first customer service complaint. None of the stores -- Staples, PC World, JJB Sports -- had plastic bags big enough to contain the items we bought. I wouldn't mind if this were a nod to climate change and they wanted to discourage you from using them, but no -- they had stacks of small bags available; they just didn't have bags large enough to take a yoga mat or a pinboard, for example. As a result, we had to stagger, arms laden with awkward-shaped boxes, across a major road and over two sets of steps to reach the platform for the Winchester train. Oh, the indignity!

Bread of Hampshire

The first loaf of bread in the new home. What a triumph! I thought this recipe was going to fail for a couple of reasons -- adding active dry yeast directly to flour and salt before adding the liquid, thus defying the instructions on the tin -- and yet it didn't. In fact, it was one of the best damn loaves of bread I've ever made. There is no rhyme or reason to this bakery lark.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Every (Fri)day is like Sunday

Off for a stroll round the Peugeot dealership at the end of the road, on for a walk through Winchester, across the river, back round by the college, and into the Wykeham Arms (est. 1755) for a bite to eat and a swift drink. Across the road to the fab deli to buy a Cadbury's Creme Egg and then back home. PJ is currently working in the garden, using his latest bit of consumer technology: a power hose. Mind you, I'm not sure he should really be operating one of these after 2 glasses of wine. It's doing a great job of blasting the dirt off the tiles and onto his jeans. Marvellous. But he's happy, bless.

So, for those who are interested, we've traded in our 17th century canalside apartment for a mid-Victorian cottage. Two decent-sized double bedrooms and bathroom upstairs, large living/dining room and kitchen downstairs. This is it. Cute, n'est ce pas?

And this is the street that it's on. Ditto on the cuteness. There's little traffic along here, despite there being plenty of parking spaces towards the (other) end of the road. The pub is just round the corner on the right, the deli just past that. It's a bit like living in the countryside, only more convenient. And less inbred. Probably. Although, there are a lot of public schoolboys in the area and you know what the upper classes are like. (Ooh,little bit of politics!)

Lead us not into temptation

To get to the shops, I have to walk through the cathedral grounds -- and past a sign that says Books! Books! Books! Damn. A second-hand book stall on my daily stroll. I've already picked up "A Bullet At The Ballet" by Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon (fantastic book by the fantastic authors of "No Bed For Bacon" and in glorious Penguin crime paperback green), despite having boxes of books stashed away under tables and in cupboards and no bookshelves. And yesterday I picked up an Ian Rankin Rebus novel in Help the Aged. This could be the start of a beautiful, if expensive and cluttering, friendship.


I've been working out. Not at a gym, mind you, just at home. Lugging boxes around tones and bruises upper arms, and using stairs on a regular basis for the first time in six years is great for the thighs. But the muscle that's getting the most exercise is my conversational one. It's chat central over here! Go to the fantastic deli just round the corner? Chat chat chat. Bump into the nice lady from No. 17 on the street? Chat chat chat. Plumber comes round to remove our bathroom floorboards and fix that leak? Chat chat etc, etc. It's both great -- not having to apologise before speaking! -- and exhausting -- what do I say? I haven't done general, idle chit chat for ages and am sadly out of practice. Luckily, the subject of the move is more than enough for the first month or two and then I can always fall back on the old British standby: the weather (which is gorgeous, thanks for asking).

Cooking with Wi-Fi!

Hurray -- I'm wireless! I can now look up a recipe online and follow it in the kitchen, rather than having to dash back and forward between PC and oven. (While I can remember the details of early seasons of Neighbours from 20 years ago, I have difficulties in retaining the quantities of six ingredients in a recipe. Go figure.) Love the Interwebulator, love the kitchen, love Wi-Fi ... and, of course, PJ for setting it up with only a moderate amount of stress. It's amazing what the threat of losing your deposit does to minimize router/wall interfaces.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

She's no Sandra & Leo

I went to my first yoga class here last night. I didn't feel like it in the least, being somewhat shattered from unpacking boxes, but forced myself to go along. First problem? Locating the hall, which was tucked down a back path at the side of a church -- thank goodness it was still light. Second problem? I walked into what looked like the class, only to be told it was too early and that I should leave. Okay then. Ten minutes later, the class exited and one woman told me they'd found it quite amusing that I hadn't realized it was a pregnancy yoga -- given how heavily pregnant they all were. At that point, I recognized that I was so tired I wouldn't have noticed if I were suddenly 6 months pregnant. Oh well, it's always good to embarass yourself at least once a day.

The class itself was fine. I'm trying to be very tolerant and not all "Well, Sandra and Leo wouldn't have taught it like that" and very dismissive -- and that's not like me at all. It's different, change is good, it was both dynamic and relaxing (if overly chatty), and I'll get on just fine.

And if not, I'll sign up at the Pilates studio and learn that instead.

Home, sweet home

We're in! We picked up the keys on Monday and discovered that the house is bigger than I'd remembered, which was something of a relief. Our shipping arrived yesterday -- all 118 boxes of it -- which we're still unpacking. Boxes to the left of me, boxes to the right of me ... it's too much. Despite those 118 boxes, there are still lots of things we need to buy: Food, wine, toilet cleaner (damn!), 5 amp fuses, TV license (if we can ever get a signal), etc. But we're making progress and should have everything sorted out/binned/reboxed and put up in the loft by the time our "vacation" ends. I'm not moving again for at least a year.

[BTW, PJ just asked me to blog about how wonderful he is. It's true: He is wonderful. He got me broadband.]

What is also wonderful is having outside space. It's only a small patio, but I can sit out there, feel the sun on my face, have a cup of tea, and not look at hundreds of boxes -- a rare treat. I've started on the weeding, and have discovered that my OCDness transfers outdoors. Ten minutes of light clearing on Monday turned into a defoliation exercise the likes of which have not been seen since Vietnam. Despite PJ's hippy plea that "weeds are just flowers whose faces don't fit," I was ruthless. I'm planning to get a tomato bag, a potato bucket, some rosemary and some lavender, and then a small table and chairs so that I don't have to eat my fish n chips off my lap. Restful, not oily, is what I'm going for.

What's not so great is the leak in the kitchen ceiling. We'd pointed out some light staining when we first looked at the house, and the landlady promised to get it fixed before we moved in. And she did. There was a huge patch of new plaster drying out when we came in, and it should have been an easy paint job at some point this week. However, water started dripping through the plaster this morning and has continued all day. The plumber is coming back tomorrow to take up all the floorboards in the bathroom to hunt down the problem. It's irritating, but I don't have to fix it -- my landlady does. Renting is fun!

Blogging will remain intermittent until we have everything sorted out. Be patient.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

For those who were worrying about this...

The sourdough starter survived the flight. I decanted a generous cupful into an "airtight" plastic container, wrapped it in a towel, sealed it in a plastic bag, and then wrapped it in PJ's sweaty gym gear and buried it in his suitcase -- I'm not daft. On reaching our hotel, I took it out and discovered that the manufacturer of the airtight container should have been sued under advertising standards legislation, but only the towel was damaged -- and easily binned. It now sits, malevolently, in our hotel bathroom, waiting to be fed and emitting noxious fumes. All will be well.

Goodbye Amsterdam, Hello Southampton!

Well, we had to start somewhere. And it's not been a bad start. We arrived at Schiphol yesterday to see one of the longest queues at passport control ever. Smugly, we waltzed through using our Privium cards, thus justifying the 100 euro per year fee. In fact, it was almost worth exiting the airport and then going through again, just to be annoying (but we didn't). The flight was on time, Southampton Airport is small but decent, and the rail link very efficient. The station is just a short walk from the terminal, and trains to Southampton take 6 minutes -- to Winchester, just 10. Not, of course, that we plan to be taking lots of flights, but it's good to know that we can get to Dusseldorf, Paris, Amsterdam, Majorca, Murcia, etc quickly and easily.

Southampton itself is also not bad. Yes, it's full of pale, flabby Brits and Yates Wine Lodges -- you were right, Alan -- but it's got a great park, cycle racks everywhere, and lots of shops. Borders! M&S! John Lewis! PC World -- all just a short walk from the railway station! People don't walk into you as you walk through the mall! Parents say thank you when you hold open doors for their baby buggies! Stores have stock on the shelves! This must be a bit like how it was for East Germans after the fall of the Wall -- shiny consumer goods everywhere! And then we got The Observer this morning and it's yet more consumer goods porn, but this time it's all ethical. Because that's less damaging than pikey working-class rampant capitalism, oh yes. It's all lust and satiation and endless guilt and I wonder how long it will take before i tire of it and long to live in a country that doesn't have "shop shop shop!" as its national mission statement.

So, a new blogging template, a new start, a new set of things to worry about. The rantings and ravings will have plenty of life here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Tot ziens!

OK, we're off. We had a great farewell dinner last night with Bill and Beth at a Korean restaurant -- it was just a few hundred yards from the flat that PJ and I first lived in when we moved to Amsterdam more than six years ago, but we had no idea it existed until yesterday. I'm sure there's a gag in there about Alanis Morrisette and irony but I'm exhausted and can't be bothered to find it. But I will post a pic of our meal.

We're in sunny Southampton for the weekend and will be up in Winchester on Monday. Not sure if Virgin Media will have us online by Monday evening -- can't wait to see how UK service compares with the Dutch lack thereof. I'm well aware that I will have lots to complain/blog about when we get home.

So, what will I miss? Cycling, yoga with Sandra and Leo, friends, the view of the canal from our living room, cycling, our gym, puppies in baskets, outdoor life, laughing at tourists looking miserable on tour boats in the rain, oud kaas, jong kaas, Sushi Me, De Via Portare, cycling ... but not smoking in restaurants. At all.

So long!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

You'll never eat lunch at this desk again

Off to buy my last office lunch today, and a trip to local supermarket Deen -- which has been "delighting" me with its vast and varied selection for the past 5 years, 9 months, and 13 days. (Actually, it has a great cheese buyer, so it's not all bad.) I purchased bread and old cheese, which I am eating as a sandwich accompanied by a class of milk, an homage to the traditional Dutch business lunch. From now on, it's home-made soups and salads, interspersed with the occasional expensive trip to M&S or Pret for sandwiches. Huzzah!


We've done it! The movers packed everything (including half a roll of kitchen towel and a filthy dishtowel) on Tuesday and we completed the sale of the apartment yesterday, proving that there really is one born every minute. We never got to meet our buyer. After Ajaxing my fingers to the bone to clean every cupboard and surface ready for the inspection, the buyer didn't turn up -- she was off in the mountains, ski-ing (I presume), and had delegated a cousin to sign all the paperwork at the notary's office. We didn't get off lightly though. Halfway through signing all the contracts, the notary told us that our buyer's money hadn't yet turned up in their accounts and that we might need to sign over power of attorney to complete the deal the following day -- but hey, we could always sue her if she defaulted. Double-yoo tee eff!? Much to our relief (and that of the two agents in the room), a file clerk poked her head around the door to say that the money had showed up, all was well, and we could head off to Wagamama's for a celebratory lunch.

We are now debt-free and (temporarily) homeless. The latter situation is being assuaged by our staying in the most FABULOUS apartment on the Herengracht, courtesy of an absent friend. This place is gorgeous, crammed full of those designer pieces that you see in Wallpaper*. I hardly dare touch anything -- I like being debt-free -- and have done little more in the kitchen than reheat pizza and make a salad, but it just like staying in the bestest boutique B&B. It's almost tempting to stay and asset squatting rights ...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

De trop

I feel somewhat surplus to requirements at the moment. The movers are here, and Martin, Dennis, and Jimmy are doing a great job. Stuff is rapidly disappearing into boxes, massive dust bunnies are revealing themselves from where the bed used to be, and I can't do anything except get in the way. I headed off to the library earlier to return my last remaining books and hung around there but felt guilty that I was leaving PJ to do all the work. Except he wasn't. He was doing exactly what I'm doing now -- sitting by the window, enjoying the sunshine, and surfing.

My biggest achievement so far today was lugging 12 bags of rubbish over to the other side of the Brouwersgracht. They get rubbish collections on Tuesday and Friday; ours are Monday and Thursday, and of course there was no collection yesterday, it being Easter Monday. We were facing the prospect of having vast quantities of rubbish and nowhere to put it, but I wrestled womanfully with the Amsterdam Gemeente site and figured out the nearest dumping point. Life is good.

I am starting to feel a little calmer about everything. Although, given the number of boxes they've already filled, I am more than a little concerned about where it's going to go at the other end.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Off to the exotic ... Westerpark

When we hit breaking point yesterday, sniping and snapping at each other, we took off for the Westerpark. A beautiful afternoon, although the icy winds sweeping down from the Urals made it less than comfortable to sit outside. However, we did get to take a few pictures (of course).

Kill me if I buy anything else -- ever

I've cleaned the fridge, binned the last of the capers, and have scrubbed away at the rust spots in our chrome bathroom cabinet (never have chrome bathroom fittings). PJ has vacuumed the shelves in the utility room, repainted bits of wall, and dismantled various light fittings. My head is reeling from the fumes from cleaning products and I just want this all to go away.

I am never moving again.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Moving sucks

Whoever said that moving house was one of the most stressful things you can go through was right. There are two main problems:

1. I'm a chucker, PJ's a hoarder. Which mean that we argue over whether to keep just about everything. Of course we need those SIX empty Tanqueray Ten bottles! Why wouldn't we want to ship the world's largest collection of European plug four-ways. Old Amazon receipts from 2004? Well, they might come in handy one day. The house we're moving to had better have TARDIS-like proportions to contain all our crap. And that's another problem in itself. We only saw the house for about 30 minutes in total, the pictures we have aren't particularly useful, and neither the agent nor the landlady can give us room measurements. So, in my glass half-empty way, I think it's considerably smaller than it probably is, while PJ is full of boundless optimism and thinks it's much larger. And everytime PJ points out that there's a lot of cupboard space, I respond that I've already (mentally) filled all that space and there's still his collection of Japanese ticket stubs to fit in! ARGH!

2. Given that we are discarding some small cabinets, we now have piles of stuff in the living room. The movers will also pack for us, which is a fantastic service - I don't know how people pack books themselves, as I get halfway through and then start reading long-last favourites, before chucking as many as possible into a box and then not being able to lift it. However, the piles of stuff started piling up on Wednesday last week and the movers don't come till Tuesday, which means I've got about five straight days of feeling slightly nauseous every time I walk into the living room and am confronted with this.

I think we should go for a long bike ride today to get away from it all.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Hull 1: Norwich 2

Another victory, another three points, another season in the "Championship". Looks like being 13th in the table isn't unlucky for the Canaries. Delia's boys should be able to enjoy their chocolate eggs over the weekend.

Lock up your daughters!

The tourists have arrived! Large groups of jet-lagged muppets, wandering between the Dam, the red-light district, and the Anne Frank house. The teenage footballers from Brazil are identically clad in their track suits; the lesbian moms from the US are identically clad in tapered stone-wash jeans and matching baggy shirts. Pack mentality at its finest. I just wish they wouldn't move en masse -- cutting through them on the back becomes a challenge to rival anything on "I'm a celebrity ..."

Oh well, one more week and I'll be cursing the tour groups wandering around my neck of Winchester, pausing outside Jane Austen's house and wondering where Mr Darcy lived. Joy!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Off to the exotic East

We took advantage of a radio interview that PJ did yesterday with BBC World to head over to the east side of Amsterdam. Despite being only a 10-minute cycle ride from ours, we rarely get to this part of the city. What a shame -- it's got some lovely buildings. First stop, the Desmet Studios for the actual interview. Presumably, this was a 1920s cinema, which someone has rescued and turned into a small venue and recording studio. Given the blue skies, it looked more like LA, but the chilly evening meant were well aware it was Amsterdam.

The next port of call was a bar on the Entrepotdok that we'd visited for a reviving beer on Museumnacht. I was extremely pleased with myself for finding it again, given that it had been dark, an unknown area, and six months earlier when we'd previously been. What was going to be a quick libation turned into an extended one, as we enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and bitching about our fellow guests' clothes. The row houses in this area are quite spectacular, far more regular than the ones at our end of the canal ring. Much of this area was labeled slum housing in the post-war years and demolished; the subsequent protests led to the saving of our neck of the woods, the Jordaan -- thankfully.

Like I said, this is one of the areas we know less well, which is a shame when you see what's on offer. I've never been to the Tropenmuseum or the Artis zoo -- nor, unsurprisingly, to the Kindermuseum. (If it were the history of the delicious German chocolate egg manufacturer, I'd be interested; kids, not so much.) Next time I come over here, I'll be just another tourist.

Last stop for pictures on the way home was this rather fun supermarket on the Rapenburg. I remember passing it in Bill's car on the way back from IKEA and cursing the fact that I didn't have my camera with me. No such problem this time. Why can't more city center stores look like this?

I am going to miss the photographic richness of this city. Carrying a camera around is never a waste of time. Oh well, I'll have countryside to photograph shortly.

It's all coming back to me

What am I talking about! Of course I've got plenty to cook now that my oven is functioning again. Yes, we overcame yesterday's dilemma by getting a final falafel and chips plate from the rather nice falafel shop on the Leliegracht, but a trip to the veggie shop in the Hoofdorpplein at lunchtime today secured some rather nice rhubarb. Which meant crumble, of course. I love rhubarb crumble. And PJ loves crumble, so I've used twice the quantity of crumble to rhubarb that's usually recommended. And, we didn't have any bread this evening so I've also made some beer bread. The kitchen smells great.

I [heart] my oven.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The sad thing is...

... I can't think of anything that I now want to cook in my fully functioning oven. Whirlpool has defeated me.

The aga saga is DONE

The oven man came. He fixed the oven. He left. No apologies. It took 20 minutes AND SEVEN WEEKS but no apologies. I hate this frakking country sometimes.

I am spent.

The aga saga

My oven man has just phoned to say that he's on his way -- TO FIX MY OVEN!!!! However, I am not discounting the possibility -- nay, likelihood -- that he will discover that he's ordered the wrong part and that he therefore cannot fix it before we leave. It's not a question of the glass being half-empty as much as the glass has been drained dry and then stolen.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Analysts gone wild

Remember those great chocolates I just blogged about? The ones that Laetitia bought to our party? Well, somebody got a little upset today. Apparently, somebody couldn't find his Bluetooth headset for his phone. And somebody might have tested a chocolate/wall interface scenario or two -- with predictable results.

Luckily, they still taste wonderful. And chocolate wipes off white walls more easily than you'd think.

Party time

We held our "house-cooling" party yesterday afternoon; put a bunch of stuff we're not shipping back on the table, cracked open the booze, and invited a bunch of friends. Good times -- although many people brought wine with them, so I think we've actually now got more alcohol than before the party -- which wasn't the idea at all! However, we did get rid of some magazines, a bag, the automatic pump for the air matress, and we scored some great chocolates, the afore-mentioned wine, and some very cute Amsterdammatje salt and pepper pots. Result! And we got to see our friends in probably our most relaxed setting of the next 3 weeks. Another result!

Our guests were extremely well-behaved, particularly Beyshen and Alex. No flame-throwing this time, oh no. At the first sign of over-excitement (perhaps the result of ingesting and then drooling chocolate mini eggs), we sat them down for the sedative power of television. But not for them Bob de Bouwer or Postman Pat. They got classic 70s BBC programming in the shape of The Clangers. They were entranced by Major Clanger, Small Clanger, Tiny Clanger, the Soupdragon, and the Iron Chicken. Entranced! And Beth looked pretty interested, too.

Good times, good times. Sniff.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A minor digression

Speaking of Peter Cushing, I spent Friday afternoon editing a document that mentioned Meta Object Facility specifications -- or MOF. I couldn't help thinking of Grand Moff Tarkin from the original Star Wars movie and how Peter Cushing used to wear his house slippers on set with his Imperial costume because his boots were too small and hurt his feet, which is why you rarely see full shots of him. I [heart] Peter Cushing.

And this has to be one of the most romantic quotes of all time:
Since Helen [his wife] passed on I can't find anything; the heart, quite simply, has gone out of everything. Time is interminable, the loneliness is almost unbearable and the only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that my dear Helen and I will be united again some day. To join Helen is my only ambition. You have my permission to publish that... really, you know dear boy, it's all just killing time. Please say that.

Bless! Editing tech research really shouldn't make you want to cry (although it frequently does, but for very different reasons).

Oh my God! There are TWO of them!

We've been promised our first house-warming present -- a framed poster for Twins of Evil, courtesy of Clive. We were of course delighted and touched (in a non-literal sense) by this demonstration of his happiness at having us back in the same country until he pointed out that we were getting it because his wife Pippa wouldn't let him put it up in the house. She doesn't approve of it.

Pippa! Twins of Evil is a very real commentary on the problem of religious fundamentalism and the evil that can result from the best of intentions. As such, it has a widespread applicability to the turbulent, divided world we find ourselves in today. In addition, by using the motif of twins, it explores the Madonna/whore dichotomy oppressing so many women in a pre-feminist society. As the poster says: "One uses here beauty for love, one uses her lure for blood. Which is the virgin? Which is the vampire?" It's not easy to tell!

Plus, big-boobied women in skimpy nightgowns AND Peter Cushing! What's not to love?

I name this table

Out last night for one of our last dinner parties in Amsterdam. Alan and Jo had decided to officially christen their new dining room table, and a very fine christening it was too. Even thought we didn't get to smash a bottle of champagne across the prow of the table, the alcohol flowed freely, great food -- particularly the chocolate biscuit gateau that caused your life to flash before your eyes with every spoonful -- and the setting was beautiful. As we walked toward the house, we could see candles alight in the huge windows at the front; as we sat at the table, we could see people walking past and peering in. I'll miss this ready openess with the outside world when we return to the land of net-curtain twitchers. We left at around midnight, strolling back through the moonlit streets and listening to the sound of James Brown's Sex Machine blaring from one of the houses across the Keizersgracht.

Two weeks and we'll be in Southampton.