Please read this book, I'll never think about food or disease the same way ever again and I'm only half way through
January 18, 2011
I was really looking forward to Amsterdam, and not for the Red-light-district-pot-smoking-cafe reasons but because it looked beautiful online when I looked it up before my trip. Unfortunately from the time I got to the hotel in the evening until the time I got to the train to the airport in the morning was only about 14 hours - and it rained the entire time. Hard.
I watched some special on Oprah a couple of years ago (yes Leah, I get all of my learnin's from Oprah and the Today Show) that rocked my world - I seriously don't remember if it was Norway or Sweden or Denmark or the Netherlands...but the people were all tall and thin and happy and they leave their babies out in their buggies in the winter for fresh air. Oprah said, aren't you worried about someone stealing your baby? And the tall gorgeous blond looked at Oprah and said, who would want to steal our babies? (she looked quite offended and stupefied at the thought) Their unemployment was super low, everyone gets to go to college, and yes their taxes are high but everyone looked so happy that I promptly announced, I'm moving to ________ whatever country that was which some took as un-American (um, Leah). I like seeing other ways of life, different than ours, and wonder if I would enjoy living there.
update: the fab Jamie of Santuary Home reminded me it was Denmark and she was right. It was part of a show about the Happiest People on Earth. So eventually I'm moving to Denmark. Or maybe Paris.
Anyway...my German vendors insisted on sending me to Amsterdam by car which probably ended up taking an extra hour with traffic and then the bellman basically called me out on it (you took a taxi? from Germany? Why???) and I wanted to say, dude, not my fault! I'm not a dumb wasteful American! I would have taken a train, I swear! I didn't want to offend my hosts! On my drive into the city it was dark and cold and raining yet there were people riding bicycles everywhere! People just cruising along. Some had their babies and they weren't even decked out in plastic covers. The dirty tourist guide in my hotel room said it is rumored there are more bicycles in Amsterdam then people. Based on what I saw I could totally believe that. Every time I looked out of my hotel window there were bikes cruising by. I must have passed 2,000 bikes sitting along the streets on my 5 minute walk to the train station in the morning.
I tried to find a place for dinner but I couldn't find the spot the concierge sent me to or anything else for that matter and after an hour I was cold and wet and went back to my room for room service. Had a great room at the Renaissance - a lot of my pictures are from my hotel window. From what I saw, Amsterdam looks fabulous and I will definitely add it to my list of places to visit. For real next time.
a little restaurant outside of my hotel
so many bicycles...
The picture below was a church outside of my hotel room that was abandoned (by the Lutheran's maybe?) but has recently been restored, the round base is in the pic above to the right of the bikes. Neat to see the other buildings attached to the church. I really love that about all of the cities I was in - separate buildings built side by side, together but completely different.
a little dinner - cheese and figs
a little breakfast - Belgian waffles
Unfortunately I was not on this train to Paris...
...but this one to the airport
I've saved the best for last. Stay tuned for Paris and macarons!
January 16, 2011
Going a little out of order here, feels like I should end this trip summary with Paris so here are a few pics from Germany first. I took a train from Brussels to see some equipment I purchased. I wish I had the opportunity to take some pictures on the short little site seeing drive we went on as it was truly beautiful seeing this small city on the border of the Netherlands - the Rhine over flowing its banks, ducks and swans a plenty, people walking and riding their bikes everywhere, old houses with thatch roofs, the castle in Kleve....instead you get to see blurry pics out of my train window which very well could have been Belgium for all I know.
I've been working with Germans for the last 7 years and I've been to Germany twice now to two very different regions. Here is what I know - it's a beautiful country with a lot of history. The hotels are utilitarian beyond belief. The food is fried and heavy and not to my liking. They drive their VW's down the highway at 200km/hr in the rain. (slower traffic actually drives on the right, a concept Americans can't seem to grasp) The people are logical which can be trying at times. Try explaining to a Germany why we have to plan for someone to make a mistake and then try not to be offended by the look on their faces. But the people are also the best part of Germany - kind and well mannered, courteous and hospitable and accommodating. And everyone I met spoke at least 3 languages - German, Dutch, and English. We asked about turnover rate in the factory and it was almost like the concept didn't translate.
Let's start with the bad...I'm not sure if married couples get a double bed but as a single lady I get this luxurious suite. It was so low it reminded me of the futon I slept on in college. When you walk into the room you have to put your room key in a slot to complete the circuit for electricity. So there is no way in hell you can leave a light on and waste energy. There is no clock in the room and the tv, well, it works. If you stand too still waiting for the elevator all the lights shut off around you. Fabulous.
The typical breakfast served at hotels is cold cuts, cheese, muesli, breads, etc. I guess I didn't take pics of any other meals - but schnitzel and fries topped with mayo were common, or beef or pork covered in a heavy mushroom sauce. And lots of beer and wine. That part wasn't so bad.
Now just a little bit of the good part, as seen from my high speed train.
The Schwanenburg (swan's) Castle is one of the only structures left standing in Kleve (Cleves) after World War II (picture borrowed from the internets)
...up next, Amsterdam!
January 15, 2011
Most of you know that I recently went to Europe for work. To keep airfare down I had to fly in a couple of days early. I know, oh how I suffer. I flew into Brussels Saturday morning and then left for Germany on a train Monday afternoon. I spent Saturday walking all around Brussels, mostly in the rain. As much as I hate rain I'm told just a couple of weeks ago Western Europe was freezing and covered in snow. Ok, I'll take the rain. It didn't make for the best photos but at least I wasn't freezing!
The first two pictures were taken from my hotel room. The first is the Bourse which is their stock exchange building. The second was just a building next to the Bourse I thought was beautiful with its turquoise window frames. I took some advice from Shaboom (more on her later) and actually used photo shop to remove that hideous crane from the background. A skyline like this shouldn't have a crane in the background.
Brussels Town Hall
I was drawn to the figures adorning the buildings. You could spend a day photographing them in just this one square - each is unique. Each is probably a forgotten story. Turns out these are reproductions and the originals are across the place in a museum in the King's House.
Maison du Roi (King's House) in Grand' Place
These gentlemen were on another building in the square
Memorial for Karel Buls, a Brussels politician who started the preservation of Grand Place
The cobblestones in the city are beautiful. I don't know why I didn't get a close up of the cross walks, instead of painting stripes on the road for a cross walk it was done in white marble cobblestones. Perfect.
It started raining so hard when I was walking around the Place du Grand Sablon I jumped into this little pub. I was so wet and cold that the corn soup I ordered could very well have been the best soup I've ever had. Baguette. Vin blanc. Merci! Marble bistro tables. Two old ladies and a pug getting hammered on white wine. The chandelier kept exploding and blowing the circuit breaker. Merci.
After I ate my soup I didn't need nor want the goat cheese and spinach quiche I ordered but I didn't want to be rude so I had a few bites. If I could have carried one of those tables out by myself I would have.
Notre Dame du Sablon
I bought chocolate and macarons from two of the big chocolatiers in Brussels - Wittamer and Pierre Marcolini located in the Place du Grand Sablon. By the time I left this area it was raining so hard I stopped taking pictures. I did a fast walk past the Palais Royal, Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Jardin du Mont des Arts Kunstbergtuin...it definitely warrants a return trip. I saw about as much as one can see in a single day.
I ate dinner at some pretty little French-Belgian bistro by my hotel near Place Ste. Catherine. I found it strange that the concierge sent me to an area that specializes in local seafood when the one thing I said I don't eat is sea food. Luckily I came across this little place. So many of the restaurants only seat about 20 people, I love that. I was lucky to get a seat. I'm a little surprised I don't have any pictures of my food.
I saw a lot of these hanging clear globes around Brussels. It was so pretty with the lights.
January 14, 2011
...if it kills me! I may be shifting towards vegetarian but I will master braised beef dammit! Remember when I tried the famous boeuf bourguignonne? Fail. But why? No effin clue. Then I had beef short ribs at Barolo Grill on New Year's Eve and they were like boeuf butter atop a fluffy sunchoke puree. Heaven. I can do this! Right? I busted out my Tom Collichio cookbook and headed to Whole Foods.
braised beef short ribs and potato puree
Here is a simplified version of the short ribs recipe but it is NOT the one I followed. It reuses the marinade as the braise and shortens the cooking time. Do not shorten the cooking time. Let me know if you really want the recipe.
I reduced the recipe by half. 4 beef short ribs ~ 2lbs and the braising wine from Tuscany
I reduced the recipe by half. 4 beef short ribs ~ 2lbs and the braising wine from Tuscany
step 1 - brown the beef, I did 5 minutes per side. my new splatter shield came in handy
I was patient, and got a nice brown even though my pics don't show it well
creating the marinade, very simple but I forgot I had the perfect pan for this, grrrr. I put the marinade on the browned beef and refrigerated for a day
A fresh marinade and the start of a 3 hour braise, I knew I would get some use out of my Le Creuset!
towards the end of the braise, once complete you strain and degrease the braising liquid and then put the braise and beef together in the fridge for 1-2 days. I waited 2 days. Didn't want to rush it.
gave Cooper a cooked beef bone, lasted about 5 minutes before it started to splinter - bad idea
the last step - remove the bones while cold and then cook another 45 minutes in the oven with lots of basting
short cut on the potato puree, turned out very firm even with lots of extra milk/cream/butter
Voila! It looks burnt but it wasn't
Final result - excellent but not perfect. It was very tender but not like the melt in your mouth short ribs from Barolo. The braise was good but I think I need to find a way to reduce it more to get a sauce instead of a liquid. Bernie loved the potatoes and I made enough so he'll be eating them all week. Better then the boeuf bourguignonne, but still needs practice. Making this meal takes planning, and lots of patience. I'm going to try a second recipe to learn how different techniques result in different flavors and textures. Until next time. Bon Appetit!