Life, Travel

Michigan’s own Holland

West Michigan was settled by many Dutch settlers back in the 1800s, so we’ve got cities and counties called “Holland” “Zeeland” and “Van Buren.” The area has celebrated their ancestry ever since, with their annual Tulip Festival, and this year, I decided I’d go. I was expecting this festival to be as unauthentic as fajitas are to Mexico, but I love fajitas, and, anyway, I’d welcome a Dutch-fix of any kind. No matter how tacky vaguely cultural festivals can be, a field of colorful tulips with a classic windmill in the distance is a sight to see.

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And with a Dutch festival so near to me, how could I not go. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of experiencing Dutch culture, food, and architecture, but whatever I got would be good enough. Surprisingly, my family was willing to drive the 3 hours west with me, and we made a day of it. First, the Dutch buffet at The Queen’s Inn. Stampot, mini sausage rolls, Indonesian satay chicken skewers, Dutch apple pie and more. It was exactly as good as I expected – equal in authenticity as Chinese buffets are to actual Chinese food. To be clear, I am neither insulting nor complementing this buffet. It was a good time with my family, and therefore, I liked it just fine. Next we walked around the free part of the Dutch Village, with souvenir shops selling wooden shoes and classy delft products.

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The part of the Dutch Village you paid for was mainly for young families, as it had carousels, windmill mini golf and cotton candy vendors. I would have enjoyed it for it’s little canals and crossroad ‘street’ signs saying “Bruggestraat” and “Kleinestraat,” but I would have had conflicted emotions upon realizing I’d spent money to see this:

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Next on our to-see list was the Art Fair, so we headed to Centennial Park, which commemorated the centennial birthday of Holland, MI. It was nice strolling up and down the crisscrossing sidewalks of the fair, and just as we were as fulfilled as we were going to be from the fair, the Dutch dancing started. Dutch dancers of all ages, dressed in colorful, traditional costumes, filled the entire road – we couldn’t see either end!

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I enjoyed the dancing – it was fun and I loved the sound the wooden shoes made as they danced and stomped on the cement. My brother said he overheard an actual Dutchman, from the Netherlands, saying that he’d never seen anything at all like this before. We concluded that everything that Holland, Michigan celebrates immortalizes what Holland culture had been in the mid 19th century, when the Dutch settlers had come to Michigan, and is as disconnected with modern Dutch culture as, being honest, the rest of America is. It was now time for an early-evening drink, so we headed, by foot, to downtown Holland. On our way, I was telling my family about my wishes that the festival had been even more Dutch – with more Dutch food, Dutch art, bicycles, or at least the popular vendor treat, “Olie bollen” or filled donuts – when my Dad was like, “What, like those?” And he pointed to an Olie bollen stand! It was the one Dutch food vendor that I’d seen yet! Peculiarly translated to “Fat Balls”, my Dad said he’d never let me live down buying one of these. I wasn’t ashamed at buying a Dutch apple “Fat Ball” in the least, but I did ask my Dad to forgive my spending $5 for it.

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I can’t say the festival had no Dutch food, just very little. There was a grocery store in the Dutch Village that sold pannenkoeken, poffertjes and Olie bollen mixes, and even sold a poffertjes pan for the reasonable price of $39.95.

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All in all, the day was a success, and we all had a great time! Even the total of 6 hours driving didn’t seem long at all. Michigan’s agricultural landscape can be very appealing to stare out at, especially in the evening sun. I’d brought Tina Fey’s audiobook “Bossypants” and for the last hour of the trip, we listened to the chapter on her experience portraying Sarah Palin, which we all enjoyed. So we had our faux-Dutch experience. Tomorrow, we’ll have our faux-Mexican experience – Cinco de Mayo and my mom’s birthday!

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Life, Travel

Fall in Amsterdam

I did fall today, actually, off my bike. I was hopping onto my bike, and my leg somehow didn’t make it over the bike… My groceries and I were just fine. I’m really glad I waited to get eggs.*

Fall is by far my favorite season. Michigan does Fall very well, as proven in so many PureMichigan advertisements:

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I always felt, that if/when I left Michigan, Fall wouldn’t be the same without cider and donuts at the local cider mill. I googled “Cider Mills Amsterdam” and found ONE in the whole area.

But Amsterdam’s beauty in the Fall makes up for it’s lack of cider mills! Fall is hard to mess up, though.

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The Netherlands can’t decide if it’s ready for winter or not. It goes from winter-coat-cold back to should-I-bother-with-my-jacket warm. Yesterday, I wore a dress and was completely comfortable. That’s something I wasn’t expecting about The Netherlands! An extended season of warm! I like it!

Yesterday I met up with two friends of mine, Tomas and Nazam, for Indonesian food in a nearby city called Haarlem. Haarlem’s downtown is a bit quieter than Amsterdam, and still retains most of the wonderfully Dutch old-architecture, so it’s a popular place for families to move to. Tomas and Nazam know the family from the Indonesian restaurant, which was very cool.

I can’t believe I haven’t discovered Indonesian food before now! It’s delicious! It’s different from Thai, but it does share it’s love of peanut-based sauces, which I love. I feel like there was a missing element of my diet all my life, and Indonesian Satay is it.

I’m headed to Munich for the Christmas markets, so I’m hoping Munich is better at Winter than Michigan! I give Michigan an A+ for the first week of Winter, then hovering back and forth between a B- and a D for the rest of it.

Cheers!
Beth

* Tip for dropping your carton of eggs – if they don’t crack and spread all over the place, but only have little cracks in the shell, boil them up real fast and have a week’s worth of hard boiled eggs!

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Food, Life, Travel

Eet smakelijk! – Eating in Amsterdam.

I feel like Harry Potter in Prisoner of Azkaban when we as staying in Diagon Alley for two weeks by himself, and loving it! It’s been two weeks since I moved to Amsterdam, and I’ve loved every minute.

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When I was moving, people asked me if I was nervous about moving to a new culture. No, actually, I wasn’t. I’ve been to Europe a few times, lived in London for a bit, and have been to Amsterdam twice, so it wasn’t too unfamiliar to me. I think I’m kind of adaptable, anyway, wanting only a few essential comforts – as long as I can get a decent jar of peanut butter, I’ll be just fine. 😛

Speaking of peanut butter. I’ve tried three different brands already:

Calvé peanut butter was very good – slightly gritty and not too sweet.
Dirk van den Broek’s house brand of peanut butter, was very delicious, though extremely addictive for me. I suspect they got some extra ingredients from the coffee shop next door.
I just bought Albert Heijn’s ‘Excellent brand (compare with Meijer ‘Naturals‘, lol) of hazelnut peanut butter – with candied hazelnuts!

Hazelnut Peanut Butter

Hazelnut Peanut Butter

Hazelnoot Pindakaas 2

I mean, just look at that.

Quite delicious. Though it doesn’t go so well in what I THOUGHT would be normal yoghurt… but turned out to be buttermilk yoghurt. I mean, what are those specks?

Buttermilk Yoghurt

Buttermilk Yoghurt

I’m eating a lot more meat than I ever did back in the States. The staples of a Dutch diet seem to be dairy, bread and meat. And you can’t forget the appelstroop! (Appelstroop = apple syrup)

Here’s me constructing a sandwich, with all the goods:

(If the animated GIF doesn’t work, click here.)

Making a Dutch sandwich: brown bread, two kinds of liverwurst, appelstroop, tomatoes, cucumbers & young cheese!

Every country seems to have their form of pancakes, and the Dutch are no exception. They have Pannenkoeken (large, very thin pancakes with sweet or savory toppings) and Poffertjes (little bite-size pancakes with powdered sugar)

Poffertjes

Poffertjes

Poffertjes & Kaffee

Poffertjes & Kaffee

As I was riding by one of the fancier food markets (Marqt), I noticed they were giving out samples! Of course I stopped by and met a nice woman who started this business of making food out of local hunted meat. These were her croquettes made from goose meat. I could taste about as much meat as you can see in the photo below. 😉 But they were delicious! This croquette in my hand costs about €1 in the store though… so, I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t buy it on my own, no matter how delicious!

Kroket or croquette

Kroket or croquette

More photos to come soon! Next I’ll tell you about the parks near me and how beautiful it is riding through Amsterdam!

Bedankt! Tot ziens,
Beth

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Food, Life, Travel

Amsterdam + Bruges + Food + Friends = totaal koel weekend

For my job, we travel occasionally. I work in marketing but I work with lots of sales representatives, who mainly do the traveling. But for the big industry tradeshows, it’s important having the marketing team join them, to meet business partners, to be more connected to the industry, etc.

Which is amazing for myself. I never dreamed of having a job that brought me to The Netherlands! At least this early in my career! I never thought I’d even go to The Netherlands!

This was my second year going on this work trip. It’s great, because all our meals are expensed, and the restaurants we go to are vastly more expensive than what I’d pay for traveling on my own!

This is a journey of the food I ate: “Smakeleijk eet”, as they say in Dutch!

On the first night, a co-worker and I went out to eat, and when asked what I wanted to eat, I said “Something different and unique.” Somehow, I found myself eating pizza, though at an admittedly fancy Italian restaurant. But even the proscuitto on it didn’t liven up this relatively boring meal. AND I couldn’t take the left overs with me, which I love doing.

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I love traditional Dutch breakfast. I love it more than North American breakfast. Even than English breakfast! I love meats and good cheeses and eggs with tomatoes and cucumbers, and of course the sweet jam or Appelstroop (apple syrup, a staple in Holland!). The hotel I stayed at this year even had smoked salmon in the breakfast buffet!

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They also had this wrapped sausage thing, which I found tasty, but didn’t know what it was. I just found out that it’s raw beef sausage. Yum? But actually, it was seriously really great. I wonder if I can find it in the States?

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The presentation of coffee and tea is way more impressive than in the States. At really nice places in the States, the presentation for these drinks can be nice, but in many places in Europe, any standard restaurant makes ordering coffee or tea a nice little experience, with a little Biscoff cookie or other treat! I miss that when return to the States!

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Dutch Stroopwafels (syrup waffles): the simple placement of syrup inside thin slices of waffle – a food originally made for the poor – is quite likely the best gosh darn treat I’ve ever and will ever taste in my life. It’s fantastically delicious! (Fresh or packaged!) I ate so many of these while I was there!

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Cadbury, and other chocolate companies sell what’s called “drinking chocolate” which I’m sure is beyond amazing. But that’s still just measly powdered chocolate. This, below, was a chunk of chocolate that you stir into a cup of hot milk. And you get extra chocolate treats on the side. It’s not, but it’s almost too much.

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Below is a delicious “Dutch Coffee” which involves coffee, a Dutch liqueur and I think someone said something about egg?? I forget, but it was WONDERFUL. I tried looking it up, but Googling “Dutch coffee” brings up mainly “Dutch coffee shop” results.

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Below is a delicious mint pea soup that I got at the restaurant connected to my hostel, St. Christopher’s in Bruges. (Stay there if you go to Bruges! It was great!)

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When I bought this salami panini, I was regretting getting something so simple on my first night in Bruges, but it was quite literally melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I was also sure that I’d only eat half of it, but to my astonishment, I ate that gosh darn entire sandwich.

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And after the sandwich, I still had room for this Belgian Waffle! I’m not huge on too much sweet, so I told him to put less chocolate on it than normal. He acted as if it was blasphemous, but obliged. “But it’s Belgian Chocolate!” I had pistachio ice cream, because I’d deluded myself into thinking it would be less sweet than other flavors, like chocolate.
It was quite good, but, as you might have guessed, very sweet for me. I only ate half and then, sadly, chucked it.

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