Red Dirt Girl Goes to Antwerp

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Antwerp

On holiday recently, while based in Amsterdam, we took a day trip by high-speed train, via the Thalys route, to Antwerp, Belgium.  It’s a little over a 100 miles distance between the two cities.  We purchased 8 tickets in advance of leaving the states to be sure we had seats on the train during the busy Christmas season.  We were a group of 8 which required we have advanced reservations to nearly all of our activities including dining out. Yes, you must plan ahead.

The best cities in the world are founded with a myth, and Antwerp is no exception. The legend has it that, to cross the river Scheldt, you first had to pay a toll to a fearsome giant Statue of Brabo — Antigoon by name – or risk invoking his wrath and losing your hand. Of course a hero was needed, and he arrived in the form of a Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo. Brabo slayed the giant, cut off its hand, and tossed it into the River Scheldt. And given that the Dutch for ‘hand thrown’ is ‘hand werpen’, a city’s name was born. The story has led to a white hand becoming a symbol to be found on many a crest in the city.

The day trip worked out well as we departed on time from Amsterdam Centraal a couple of days past Christmas, around 8:30 a.m., and arrived in a little over an hour at the venerable Antwerp Station. We had the whole day ahead of us to explore the city.  But first, we took time to admire the architectural wonder of the Antwerp train station itself. The Antwerp Central Station, also known as Middenstatie (Middle station), was first used in 1905. The structure is made from a steel platform covering and a stone station building in an eclectic style. In 2009, the American magazine Newsweek chose the Antwerp Central Station as the fourth most beautiful train station in the world.

Our Lady’s Cathedral

After arriving and getting our bearings, we walked toward the central plaza of the city but first stopped off for a visit to the artist’s Ruben’s home who painted around the same time as Rembrandt.  The house contains many of his masterpieces along with artwork from artists that he trained in his studio also located here.  Ruben favored religious figures, some landscapes, a few self portraits, as well as hunting scenes and animals.  Lots of grays, blues and greens — too dark for my taste.  You could still smell the oil paint in the house or at least I imagined I smelled it — the paint was so thick on the paintings and so many oil paintings in such a small space.  Many famous artists passed within these old walls over the years.  If walls could talk, eh?

Ruben’s Home

Afterwards, we devoured Belgium waffles from a local street vendor (if you could only smell the warm waffles, sweet chocolate and winter air) and then, partially sated, we traveled on toward the popular plaza area where the Christmas market is located at the base of Our Lady’s Cathedral of Antwerp.  The north church spire towers into the blue sky above us and we put on our sunglasses for the first time since arriving in the Netherlands.  We welcomed the sun.  Inside the cathedral, the spiritual space is impressive with its grizzly crypt, artwork by Rubin and other baroque masterpieces and architecture.


Outside the cathedral there are ample chocolate, diamonds and lace shops surrounding us on all sides just enough to satisfy the tourist shopper in all of us.  Needing a break, we found an old tavern, squeezed up a narrow, spiraling staircase to a small second floor overhang to sample some of the famous Belgium beers with the locals.  Our favorite was De Koninck bolleke.  We even found the local brewery later in the afternoon, took an interactive, quirky tour and sampled even more of their beer offerings.  The tour ended with purchases from their gift shop for friends back home.

Let’s go home, Brr

The day was so full of festivities for locals as well as tourists.  The trains and sidewalks were packed with families enjoying a day off, eating and drinking samples from the Christmas market stalls and enjoying carnival rides.  Many in our gang, bravely went up on an old Ferris wheel to get a better view of Antwerp even in the cold and windy, late afternoon winter weather.  I tried the famous Belgium fries with curry catsup and mayo dipping sauce and found them top-notch especially eating them from the classic paper cone.

old bar
Antwerp Tavern

After walking miles on cobblestones exploring the city, we headed back to the station for the last train back to Amsterdam.  Sore feet and tired legs but a great day exploring a little bit of Flanders with my sweet family.

De Koninck Blond Beer




Red Dirt Girl Goes to Amsterdam

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Amsterdam

We arrived at the Schiphol Airport at two on a cold afternoon, Christmas Eve Day,  after traveling for at least twelve hours before arriving at our final destination –  a modern, light and festively appointed international hub for both air and train travel in the Netherlands. We were officially on holiday with our family including our three daughters, our new son-in-law, our daughter’s partner, and a long-standing family friend making us a party of eight.  We were a mixed bag but all comfortably over the age of twenty-one and ready for some debauchery in the Venice of the North.

all together

Having never been to Venice, I don’t know how Amsterdam compares but I found this city more akin to New Orleans than any other metropolis in the states.  Although, Amsterdam built its city on the water, New Orleans strives, unsuccessfully to keep the water out. Both cities embrace all comers and offer up the arts in all forms.

canal rides

First, the canal houses with gabled facades line the waterways providing you, through unshuttered windows, an intimate peek into the daily lives of the Dutch.  Amsterdamers evidently like living a curtain-less existence, thereby showing the world they have nothing to hide. Take a leisurely stroll down any street and you are sure to notice one startling similarity: a persistent lack of curtains, and hence personal privacy.


Second observation is that bike riders rule in Amsterdam.  Pedestrians are measly targets for sadistic riders either on scooter, bicycle or tram.  Watch the f— out for them, all the time. Seriously or better yet, rent a bike and join them at their own game.  They ride in the wind, the rain, the dark and the snow. We saw them do it with our own eyes as we dashed out of their way. There are nearly 900,000 bikes in the city, four times the number of cars.  This city even has a huge bike parking area in the center of the city.  I have no idea how the owners even find their solitary bike in the vast sea of spokes and fenders.


Check out the city art scene.  Our pick was the Van Gogh Museum.  We felt like we knew Vincent and his family after spending several hours learning about his life, his short but prolific painting period of only ten years, and how the demands he made of his self, his  mental illness all become too much. Vincent felt he had failed as both an artist and a human being. It didn’t help that he sipped on turpentine and was known to eat paint.  Vincent shot himself in the chest, which I found an odd attempt, and he died of his wounds in 1890 at the age of only 37.  Sadly, his art work got better, the more he struggled with mental illness as you could see from the progression of his first great piece, “The Potato Eaters”, to the “Bedroom” and “Sunflowers”.

with jessica

We did take a peek at the infamous red light district one evening after dining at a nearby Indian restaurant, Ashoka. Highly recommend the restaurant for the friendly service, accommodating chef, and fine cuisine but based on my stance on feminism, should I applaud or be appalled by the legalization of prostitution? The women are running their own businesses, so they are entrepreneurs, of a sort. I think they have union. But, on the other hand, they are promoting a trade that is degrading to women and perpetuating a culture in which women are treated as objects.

We drank a fair amount of beer along with other types of spirits during our stay.  The local beer is found at Brouwerig’ Tij a brewery under a windmill to boot.  So crowded but the beer soothed sore feet and we loved their logo. Yes, we bought the souvenir shirt.


We also bought Delft dishes (how can you resist the blue and white patterns?), some cool prints from Gallery Varekamp, featuring scenes from around Amsterdam to remind us of our journey, along with packages of stroopwaffles, two thin waffles stuck together with caramel, and salty Dutch liquorice.

Beyond what I have already shared, it was the simple moments that I will remember best.

  • Tram rides and getting lost and found again
  • The issue of no ice, at all, in our Air BnB — why?
  • Watching Dutch cooking shows on television – they seem to love to cook outside in the snow on an open fire
  • Skip-Bo, lots of Skip-Bo
  • Daily postings to social media
  • Sunrise at 8:30 a.m., sunset at 4:30 p.m.
  • Learning about Banksy, the street artist
  • Listening to the sing-song sounds of the Dutch language
  • Family meals together. Ok, just being together.
  • Our daily uniform of parka, hat, gloves and boots
  • Opening simple stocking stuffers on Christmas morning
  • Walking, lots of walking
  • Having Melina join us from Germany for a couple of days – miss you!
  • Christmas Markets — as many as we could find in a week!
  • Ferris Wheel rides
  • Grocery shopping
  • That time all of us in the our group went right, but one went straight…




Two Cheese, Two Potato Stack

Two Cheese, Two Potato Stack

Looking for a fun appetizer for your next holiday gathering? Try two cheese, two potato stacks on for a try.  They are a great make ahead side dish as well.  I took these to our annual Ashland holiday party and they were gobbled up in a flash.

  • potatoes/sweet potatoes (2 med to large sweet potato + 2 med to large russet potato)
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary divided
  • ¼ cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Gruyère cheese
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream or half-and-half
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Fresh rosemary or thyme, for garnish

I sliced the potatoes in the food processor using the finest slicing disk.  However you do it, make them as thin as possible. A mandoline would be perfect, but I am scared to death to use mine.  Rinse potatoes in water to release some of the starch.

Spray a standard 12 cup muffin tin with cooking spray and then layer potato slices in 3-4 alternating layers.  It should come half way up the sides of the cup.  Sprinkle on some shredded cheese and rosemary.  Then layer an additional 3-4 slices of potato on top.  Melt in a saucepan the butter and add the cream, salt, pepper and garlic.  Spoon on the warm cream mixture over the top of the potato stacks.  Cover the pan with foil and bake at 375 for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and sprinkle on some more cheese.  Love that Gruyère!  It may take another 20-30 minutes in the oven to get brown and bubbly.

Remove pan from oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes. You will need to run a sharp knife around the sides of the stacks to get them to come out of the pan intact.  For color and pizzaz, add some more fresh rosemary and serve.

Thankful for caring neighbors and for those that provide daily services in our community. Don’t forget to thank your postal carrier, the trash crew and your community police officer this holiday season.

I have a soft spot for those that bring us our mail. My grandfather Hovorka ran a post office in Topeka and my great grandfather Hauck was a proud letter carrier. He is pictured above.



My brood and I are traveling to Amsterdam for the holidays.  Amsterdam is the same size as Fort Worth, Texas, about 800,000 citizens, and it lies on the same latitude as Saskatchewan province in Canada.  Brrr…   Amsterdam is famous for canals and cannabis cafes and is considered a most liberal place — free, open and permissive.  Just what we need after the last few months living in the land of “make America great again.”  The city is also architecturally unique and culturally important to us in the United States.  New York City was originally called New Amsterdam.

It is also the land of herring.  The Dutch cornered the herring market and this led to an unusual degree of cooperation around water management.  Building up dikes and dredging canals were massive communal activities.  Herring merchants demanded the local government to get involved.  Hence, the canal systems in Amsterdam are often compared to Venice. About 1500, as Michelangelo was working on his David statue, Amsterdam was a lively shipping port and one of the most Catholic cities in Europe.

Amsterdam’s tolerance attracts people with alternative lifestyles, even way back then in the 1500’s.  After many wars and much strife including some gruesome beheadings, Calvinist worship was permitted and then in turn the Catholic priests, monks and nuns were brutalized.  Between 1500 and 1700,  those were dark times in the city’s history with many conflicts, wars and changes in governance.

Rembrandt got his start by painting scenes from the Bible that were highly sought and fairly affordable to homeowners in Amsterdam at the time, particularly women.  Rembrandt even painted himself into the compositions. At the Rijksmuseum,  we can see not only the largest but also the most representative collection of works spanning his entire career.  I look forward to spotting him in these paintings when we visit.  We can also tour his historic home and workshop in the heart of Amsterdam. Dutch born painter, Vincent Van Gogh, has many of his masterpieces, including my personal favorites of sunflowers and Wheatfields with Crows, showcased at the Van Gogh Museum.  No doubt, I am attracted to these particular pieces due to my Kansas upbringing.

Shipping played a huge role in the economy of Amsterdam and made the city rich in the 1800’s. Shipping companies, like the Dutch East and West India Companies, sought resources by sea from places like Indonesia, West Africa as well colonies around the world including a party that landed in an area that would become New York. Multatuli wrote Max Havelaar in 1860 in protest against colonial policies told through the eyes of a coffee merchant. It was an instant success at the time and quite influential in Dutch literature and politics of the day.  I have it downloaded to my Kindle to read during our travels.

These explorations resulted in a large population in Holland who identify themselves as Indisch, Indo-European or for short, Indo.  After the Indonesian revolution, hundreds of thousands of these people, who held Dutch passports, were given the choice:  renounce Dutch citizenship and become Indonesian or leave the country.  Many left Indonesia and settled in the Netherlands.  Indisch now means yummy food while eating in Amsterdam including rijsttafel, the Indo version of an Indonesian multicourse feast.  I am seeking out such a feast as I don’t care for pickled herring.

The Nazi occupation essentially channeled Amsterdam people into distinct categories.  There were the hunted Jews, Gypsies and other undesirables.  There were collaborators, who out of either conviction or self-preservation aided the occupiers.  There was a small section of society, numbering probably in the tens of thousands who formed active resistance. Most people just tried to protect themselves , their families and their property.  Approximately 80,000 Jews were in Amsterdam at the start of the war, an estimated 58,000 were dead by the time it was over, most of them in concentration camps.

The story of Anne Frank and her family weaves in and out of this narrative and provides insight about a surreal world and time that must never be forgotten.  Especially as we listen to influential leaders censoring legitimate news outlets as “fake news” sources. We will visit Dam Square where the Canadian forces arrived after the German surrender as well as a visit to the Anne Frank House where she went into hiding and wrote her diary.

Currently, the social welfare system in Amsterdam reflects a real commitment to individual rights with a nod to the understanding that what is good for the whole must be part of the national priority. Amsterdam has found a way to blend economics with social liberalism.  And it helps that it is small and according to writer, Russel Shorto, a bit of a “pokey place”.  I look forward to a week of poking around and trying my best to be a bit more pokey myself with my dear family in the Venice of the North.

If you want to learn a lot more about the history of Amsterdam, please read Amsterdam:  A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russel Shorto.

Furikake Rice Seasoning

Furikake Rice Seasoning

I discovered furikake seasoning when reading a blog by Sean Brock, chef of several great restaurants located in the low-country of South Carolina.  I like his cooking because he is all about the vinegar,  bbq sauces, and other secret ingredients from the pantry.

Furikake is a savory and salty seasoning used in Japanese cuisine for sprinkling on rice.  The main ingredients in a good furikake is dried fish, seaweed and the ALL important toasted sesame seeds which combined emote a sublime salty and umami flavor.

I order my supply of furikake from Furikake Rice Seasoning

Recently, I sprinkled some of this seasoning on my avocado toast along with a splash of soy sauce and srirachi and it took it to new heights.  You can sprinkle furikake on salads, soups and of course on steamed rice.  I  also say out loud furikake, three times fast in a row,  and amaze RM with my japanese vocabulary.







Veteran’s Day Tribute

Veteran’s Day Tribute

My dad was a First Lieutenant in the United States Air Force from 1952-54 and served in Japan.  None of his children or grandchildren followed his path of military service as we came of age during the Vietnam War.  My brothers received draft cards but opted to stay in college to delay a call to active duty much to my mother’s delight.

My dad helped run a commissary and he shared stories of the rebuilding years in Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  He and my mother employed a young Japanese woman to help with my older two brothers, a toddler and an infant, she then traveled home into the country on week-ends but she lived with my parents during the week.  My father talked of the hunger of the Japanese people, especially the children, at that time due to food shortages and a poor economy after the lengthy and brutal war.

Recently, RM and I watched the series The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novak on PBS. If you have a loved one who has a story to share about their experience during the Vietnam War, click the link above where they can upload their personal story or read others.  Remembering and sharing stories are important of this war or of other more current conflicts.

How did you experience the Vietnam era? While this period in our history is often controversial and sometimes divisive, what struck me, while watching the documentary, was how much I had forgotten about the sequence of events, the dimensions of the war, but not the sacrifices on both sides.  During WWII, estimates are 60 million people died in all. During Vietnam the casualty counts vary from 1.3 million to 3.9 million.

This Veteran’s Day, I mourn the lives lost and for those struggling for normalcy after their tours of service.  This Veteran’s Day do something meaningful for a veteran in your life.  Ask them about their service.  Encourage them to tell their story.  Help them mow their lawn or babysit their kids for the night.

Watch the documentary and remember their sacrifice and the many sacrifices of young men and women in other wars. And pray for peace and for the keepers of peace and for no more war.veterans day

Pumpkin Jam

Pumpkin Jam

img_1164When C3 and I vacationed in Boston this summer, we scoped out a restaurant in Cambridge called Sofra Bakery and Cafe,  Our dirty little secret is to  someday co-create a coffee/bakery concept. When we travel to explore new places, we look for  bakeries, cafes and bistros to steal ideas and recipes from for our little fantasy bake shop.

Sofra is a turkish word meaning picnic, a special table preparation of food, or a small kilim rug for eating. At Sofra, they serve aromatic turkish coffee and chai along with a wide variety of middle eastern inspired breads, meze, shawarmas, savory pies and persian spiced donuts.

So, this week-end, when everything is pumpkin-inspired for the autumnal season that refuses to come to Texas,  I attempted to copy Sofra’s pumpkin jam recipe.  I had two smaller sugar or pie pumpkins left from Halloween that I cut up and roasted and then pureed in the food processor before combining with sugar and spices.  Here is the link to the recipe Sofra’s pumpkin jam

This recipe makes enough for gifts for the holidays.  I hanker for a special pairing with soft dinner rolls for Thanksgiving dinner.  I added a pinch of mace to the recipe which I think made it even better.  The aroma alone of the jam is worth the toil of cutting up the pumpkin.

This jam is extra rich and exotic. So, pumpkin jam, is definitely on the menu for our daydream bakery.