Amsterdam

Amsterdam

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.

Advertisements
Baking School

Baking School

C3 and I took four days of baking classes at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont.  The class focused on pastries including principles and tons of practice with hands-on preparation of 10 different desserts including blintz pastry dough, tender white cake with swiss meringue buttercream, almond dacquoise, pate a choux, pastry cream, turnovers, blueberry and peach pie, Florentine bars, lemon bundt cake, linzer torte, and chocolate ganache.

In addition to us attending from the Lone Star State, we were joined by fourteen other bakers from Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Vermont, and Illinois. Each day our two instructors, most of them trained in a culinary institute with years of experience at King Arthur, guided us through a demonstration of preparing the dessert, followed by each of us trying to replicate it with their assistance and technical expertise.

We learned several baker’s secrets.  One of our teachers was originally from Newton, Kansas, my dad’s home town, and she learned to bake the Mennonite way before training in the kitchens of King Arthur.   Always a small world when we travel.

The facility at King Arthur is top-notch and each of us had a metal table space equipped with scale, Kitchen Aid mixer, bowls, scraper, bench knife, spoons, and more.  We were trained the first day to measure in grams instead of ounces or cups using a scale and a beaker for accuracy and the best results.  One of the assistants kept our dishes and pans clean for us which was such a treat not to have to do dishes while we were baking.  Not a reality when we came back home!

The amount of butter used in these recipes is arresting but with advice from the instructors we learned ways to modify the recipes to accommodate dietary restrictions like those who may be lactose intolerant or just wanting to reduce the calorie content. It was challenging to figure out how to modify the recipe, substitute alternative ingredients and still make a proper dessert.

Between baking classes, C3 and I explored southern Vermont hiking trails, the quaint little villages, we were especially fond of Woodstock, dined at a great restaurant in Rutland called Roots, please try their appetizer called Vt Cider Braised Pork Belly with grilled watermelon, jalepeno-honey vinaigrette and pickles. We soothed in the cooler temperatures and lower humidity levels. We drove by dairy farms, corn fields, mountain streams, well-tended gardens, berry crops, wild flowers and so many beautiful perennials just blooming for us to admire. Writers and story tellers like Howard Frank Mosher refer to Vermont as God’s Kingdom.  C3 and I learned why.

Get a little closer to nature and try your hand at baking.  Here is one of the recipes I especially enjoyed and want to share with you.

Florentine Bars

Ingredients

  • 113 grams of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 57 grams sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg (cold or room temperature)

Topping

  • 43 grams honey
  • 43 grams unsalted butter
  • 128 grams sugar
  • 113 grams heavy cream (cold or room temperature)
  • 113 grams sliced almonds
  • 57 grams dried cranberries
  • 7 grams all purpose flour

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 9×13 inch pan with pan spray.
  • In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream together butter, sugar and salt until it looks like sand.
  • Add the egg and vanilla (it will look a little gloppy)
  • Add the flour and stir until combined (turn up your mixer to 5 speed)
  • Press mixture into the prepared pan.
  • Prick bottom with a fork – the steam will escape from the butter.
  • Chill 30 minutes before baking.  Don’t skip this step!
  • Bake for 10 minutes until just set but not taking color.
  • Remove from oven, set aside, and reduce oven to 325.

For the topping

  1. In a sauce pan, boil the honey, butter, sugar and cream over medium heat until lightly golden brown, about 240 degrees. Use a candy thermometer for best results.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in almonds, cranberries and flour (mix together before adding to sugar mixture)
  3. Spread the cooked mixture on top of the par-baked crust
  4. Bake until the almonds are well browned and the topping is bubbling (about 12 minutes).

Allow to cool, invert the pan releasing the bars and cut into diamond pattern.  So pretty and yummy good.

 

 

 

 

Chicago

Chicago

Chicago makes you walk fast, drink rivers of hot coffee and throw fashion to the wind for functional and fuzzy stocking caps sporting the red letter, C, and sturdy, waterproof LL Bean galoshes that actually get muddy. Parkas, boots and mittens in March are mandatory along with a hearty outlook on life and a willingness to face the bracing wind off of Lake Michigan. Something transmogrifying about a spring break in the upper Midwest to affirm why I transplanted to warmer climates thirty years ago. But it was beautiful from the top of the Willis and Hancock Towers looking out above 100 plus floors of iron and glass at the city and the lake. Frozen ice reflects across the city scape and appeared false to my naked eye but the city was so very real in some memorable ways.

Top 10

10. Riding electric trains and walking fast on slippery sidewalks while hanging onto RM so he wouldn’t fall down. Oh, yeah, the time when RM nearly punched a middle-aged woman spewing profanity at me for what seemed a very long and slow-motion period of time on a city street between Ohio and Michigan Avenue. I swear I didn’t even make eye contact.

9. Picasso and his public art next to melting snow revealing mounds of cigarette butts exposed after one of the worse winters on record

8. Views of a frozen Lake Michigan slowly beginning to melt around the edges

7. James Beard award-winning Blackbird restaurant and the N.Y. cookbook editor we met and shared a cab ride. I wanted to peek at her scribed notes in her tiny journal but the mystery was most likely the best part

6. Stumbling into the warm interior of the Rookery…oh, Frank Lloyd Wright, you are a complex soul

5. Chicago Institute of Art …we were schooled at the institute

4. The morning knock on the door and arrival of hot coffee and newspaper

3. Day in the burbs with our daughter and the purchase of a 1920’s typewriter

2. Snow in March and jellies at the Shedd

1. Gothic architecture followed by prairie style and home again