On October 19, 2010 I moved from the US to The Netherlands. This is a love story many years in the making.

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Wierd Dutch Town-Names Tour #1

Hello, my friends. I’ve missed you, and owe you a brief explanation for why this blog went dark with no notice. Last year starting in May my life got very complicated, what with personal illness and family drama of various flavors. I put all my energy into my family and had none left for creative endeavors like blogging (or anything else either). Things seem to be settling down now – I can’t bring my father back, but my Mom appears to be alright now, and my own health is improving steadily, so I can breathe out and start making things again. So here’s the blog again, now with new Spring Crocus masthead.

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I’ve been hearing complaints from various corners of the world about the fact that I need to start the blog again. So, with no further ado I present to you the wonderfully named Dutch town of Urk.

Yes, Urk. Ever since the first time I saw the name on a road sign I’ve been giggling helplessly at it, and demanding that we move there so I can have an Urk postal address. My love is a cruel man and refuses to indulge my desires, but did happily embrace the idea of a road trip to investigate what sort of a place a town named Urk could possibly be, so today we packed up the hond and drove down there. On our way there, we passed another town whose name I like:

(I was going to make a leek thing for dinner, btw, and I thought Id share: get a few leeks, and cut off the green parts. Blanche them until half cooked, drain well, and then wrap in nice slices of some good salty ham, and arrange snugly in a Pyrex pan. Cover with beschamel, a generous layer of grated Parmesan, and pop into the oven until nice and brown and delicious.Serve with salad and a rich dessert. Something chocolate.)

Anyway, back to the road trip. We arrived at Urk and made our way to the old town center while I read some facts from the wiki article about it. It seems that Urk began its life as “Urch”, lo these many years ago. Noone speculates, but I imagine the name was the Lord Du Jour’s name, which stuck and envolved slightly as the town changed hands a half dozen times over the centuries. It was an island until 1939 when a dike was built that connected it to the mainland. As such the local dialect remained static up until today, and it is apparently one of the odder ones in the Netherlands, which boasts no small amounts of oddity in general and in dialect in particular. Among other influences, young women would go work in Amsterdam for Jewish families, then return home to Urk with some Yiddish, which was duly incorporated…

So. Urk!

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Urk, and I was really surprised to discover that it looks like a wealthy little town, with a certain amount of modern growth around the old former-island-city-center, and the center itself being extremely well and carefully preserved. It turns out that the rising price of fish and increasing tourism are benefiting this formerly isolated fishing community greatly. Witness this car:

With gas prices at NINE DOLLARS A GALLON I cannot imagine how this person can afford this vehicle.

Prosperity notwithstanding, some shop owners seem to have opted for low-tech security systems:

This little dog took his job very seriously indeed, and barked his fool head off at us until we were out of sight. Once we turned the corner, silence fell briefly, and then he spotted the next boarder to repel. Daisy was not impressed. Amused, we walked on past this cute little tea house.

It turns out that Urk is smack in the middle of the Dutch Bible Belt. Yeah, you read that right. I bet you didn’t even know the Dutch HAD a Bible Belt! It is a deeply religious and very conservative place, boasting no less than 3 Dutch Reformed flavor of modern churches within easy sight of each other – this is not something you see in NL, generally. Old cathedrals in the town center, yes. Churches that are clearly in regular use? Not so much. I sort of despair for them since they put all this religious fervor into backing Wilders, a frothing lunatic that is the Dutch equivalent of Berlusconi – a national embarrassment.

Aside from the churches, our first clue was a religious bookshop, with a very graphic and entirely disgusting anti-abortion poster on the door. Good thing I hadn’t eaten recently, as it made my gorge rise. And of course, it was an American image they’d chosen to use for their propaganda. At this point I came up with the idea of carrying post-it notes around with me, so that I could leave my opinion without defacing public property. I’d have left two or three stuck to that door saying “yuck”. Another one would have gone on the door of an Italian ice cream place called “Gelatos”. No, no, no. Ur Doin’ It Rong. The plural of Gelato is Gelati! Ah, well, lacking post-its I just ranted at Carel as we walked, much to his amusement.

Another clue about the religiosity of this place came with one of the weirdest Jesus Fish I’ve ever seen.

The moss encrusted chair and clog was disturbing. It looked like it had just been dredged up from the sea bottom – perhaps this was deliberate, and I don’t know what the desired effect was, but I found it creepy. We stopped at the museum to get a look at a map to see where we should go.

And off we wandered, heading for the harbor, which was an interesting mix of antique fishing boats (under sail), modern pleasure craft, and Serious Fishing Boats, fully modernized with powerful engines, winches, and Raytheon scanners aboard.

Some of the boats were wonderfully named.

SNEEK RELAX!

NYAH!!!

We also met a very …dignified Ship’s Cat, who was clearly taking the name of his craft upon himself.

Infantile amusement over, we went in search of the lighthouse, which has been operating in one form or another for about 500 years.We’d spotted it from the harbor.

Along the way, I found a few lovely shots. Look at this door!! The grain, the texture, the reflection in the glass…

A lovely old house, that can’t possibly look more Dutch, and was nice in that it was white rather than the ubiquitous dark brick which no matter how prettily arranged and accessorized, looks a bit depressing to this Mediterranean girl.

As, perhaps, I illustrate here with this photo of a hairdresser’s shop:

After a bit of wandering we found the lighthouse.

Below it was a beach, where I walked around a bit, crushing the skeletons of millions and millions of lives under my boots.

I saw the Loch Ness Monster! Poor Nessie, she’s a long way from home. I wonder if anyone will help her.

Carel took two beautiful shots of an old ship

By now we were tired, hungry and cold. So, we found the car, still being guarded by the Angry Shop Dog, piled in, and spent about 15 mins getting turned around inside Urk trying to find a way out. But, we prevailed, and as we crossed the border I asked Carel to stop and do his best Vanna White impression.

Goodbye, Urk! Time to go home for a nap and some spareribs, followed by Big Bang Theory and Top Gear, cos that is how we roll around here.

Full moon maunderings

In eight hours the moon will be full. It’s there now, riding high in the sky, fat and round and as full as makes no difference. I’ve always loved the light of the moon so I came out to sit in the moonbeam that was conveniently shining on my reading chair in the garden.

Its silver light bathes me in cold radiance, the breezes wrap me in shivery coils of gently moving air.  In the distance is a rushing sound. All is peace here in my garden.  I watch as gossamer wisps of cloud move across the face of it, none of them catching and holding, all slipping away, leaving her shining alone in the late night sky. I play tricks with my eyes, making two full moons and imagining being on another planet – one where two moons would be normal. I think about all the other full moons I have been witness to over my life, who I had been then and what I’d done. There are a surprising number of memories attached to full moons, some good, some great, and some just plain bad that I don’t want to talk about.

Here come the wispy veils again, covering the moon briefly so as to adorn her beauty with their softness.

I’ve been many people under the comfortingly cold and uncaring light of the full moon – I’ve been deliriously happy, whether high as a kite, or sober as a priest. I’ve been shattered, penitent, broken and despairing by the light of the full moon. Ive been hungry and been full, and I’ve found love under her light and what passed for it too.  The moon has seen much of what is important to me.

Full moons mark many significant moments in my life, it turns out. Right now it’s marking  a moment in which I feel entirely at peace in what has become my own garden in our house, eleven months since I arrived. This place has become my home. I smell the brine than comes right in from the North Sea on the wind and breathe deep. I reach inside myself and find one of the definitions of love, and smile as I move to comply with it.

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Sent from my iPad

Inmiddels…bloemenpracht

I’m working on a post about my friend’s visit, and hope to have it done before the next visitor shows up! But, it’s slow going and so, in the meanwhile…flowers!

We were at the garden centre yesterday and Carel turned to me and said with what I think was a certain dismay, “Over there – the most brightly colored flowers ever!” He was right, too. They really are, sporting a nearly embarrassing array of richly colored, wide blooms in an assortment of colors ranging from palest pink and peach to eye-searingly intense purple and hot pink, supported by fat little leaves in a cheerful mixture of red and green, covered with diamond-like crystals that glitter in the sun. And of course, I had to buy a flat of them, despite being uncertain what exactly I am going to do with the little darlings. According to the label they are ice-flowers. It’s an odd little plant, but!  I mean, how could I not buy plants with sparkles? They’re so beautiful! And, well, sparkles. What more do I need to say?

The rest of the garden is looking very happy and flowering energetically as well. This richly orange pansy is one of my favorite flowers:

This little blue guy – I don’t know what it it is called, but it’s terribly cute with its tiny blue florets!

One of the container plantings is looking like it will turn out just exactly as I has envisioned, which is always gratifying.

There is quite a bit more work to do on the garden, after which I will make more posts about it – there is a plan to make a small deck, add some seating, small tables and a tiny fountain, along with the obligatory barbecue. The Dutch are very, very big on barbecuing! Monday, though, I’m going back to the garden centre to return a couple of mistakes and pick up what I now know I need to finish off the planting part. It will look very cosy, I think. I can’t wait.

Niewe Tuin

Spring has well and truly sprung here in the Netherlands, to the palpable relief of the general population. At first you could not tell it by the temperatures, it remained gelid. But the flowers told me what should be happening, anyway…first the crocus came, the tender pale violet ones that are the most brave and flower alone, the vanguard for the rest, which sprawl out in richly colored patterns on the low hillocks of the Sterrebos.

They are everywhere, little lakes and ponds of color, surprise patches of purple,

yellow,

and white

in dark corners, in the medians, on sidewalks, along the train tracks, along the streets, in people’s gardens, all over the parks.

I love them. I plan to plant many of them, this fall. However, today was one of the first really fine days of Spring, and Carel and I had promised each other that we would tackle the garden this weekend if the weather permitted. Well, it didn’t just permit, it encouraged! We went to the garden center yesterday and bought some plants and pots to put them in, and today he took on the job of raking out all the old crap, cutting down the brambles…he basically did the whole cleanup job, bless his heart. I potted the new plants and did a lot of cleaning. This is the corner that gets the most sun, where I like to sit, before the cleanup.

and after!

This is the long side of the courtyard, along the house, taken from the far side

Here it is, afterward, taken from the opposite end:

And lastly the shadiest corner, over by the bedroom, before:

And woo, what a transformation!

I love it! It’s just so nice to be able to sit outside in a tidy space full of color and birdsong – there’s a blackbird who sings entrancingly for us each evening. I plan to add more plants but for now this will do nicely. Yay!

One of my favorite things about travel…

I have met some of the most interesting folks by way of being trapped with them in a metal tube, hurtling through the sky at terrifying speeds…for many boring hours. On my way back from Florida I had the great pleasure of being seated next to an Irish gentleman who was heading for Dublin, back to his home and family after a conference.

We naturally got to talking and sharing iPhone photo archives with each other, and I found out he he’s a chemist – part of a team that has invented a wondrous waterproofing substance – that he’s got a beautiful Thai wife (if I remember her country of origin correctly) who is also a chemist, and two daughters that would give any father joy. I bored him to tears with photos of the dog and Carel in exchange for being fascinated by his camera roll, and asked him if I could swipe a few of his photos for my blog. Being a nice guy, he said yes. I particularly liked these two that he took in Jordan:

He was telling me about their Easter tradition, which among other things involves decorating eggs, like any other one I’ve ever heard of, but the similarity stops there. His eggs are decorated to look like people, and then they are rolled down a hill. I asked him why and he said he had no earthly idea, but that’s how it is done in his village. Anyone know?

Steven, if you see this – it was really great to meet you. I hope you made your connecting flight safely; I did, though it was very close. Thanks for making those 3 hours a whole lot more fun than I had anticipated. Greetings to Teeny!

I also wanted to share a photo taken by Margot from AOL, on her way back from MAAWG. The lucky wretch got a front row seat to the last flight of the Discovery and was kind enough to share the image with me.

Of all the photos I’ve seen in the last few years about which I have said “Wow, I wish I had taken that!”, this one tops the list. Awesome shot, Margot. Thank you for sharing it!

Warm is goed.

Spring is springing, much to my regret. We haven’t had anything like what I call a winter, except for about 3 weeks in early December.  However, Spring does mean flowers, and anyone that knows me knows how I feel about flowers.

I must say, they grow some seriously weird things in the woods around these parts.

We went to Florida for a week. Granted, it was for work, but it was still Florida. Warm. Warm is nice. It may be Spring but it’s still freezing out, and the balmy low 80’s (21C) felt great.

My bare toes and I spent a little time lying on the “beach”, sharing the last rays of the sun with Ivo.

I was lucky enough to get two really lovely shots of the water in the slanting light.

We had hoped to see the last flight of the Discovery, but sadly our attempt was blocked by a huge cloud and all we saw was a little of the contrail long after she’d soared up into space. That was really very disappointing. Wah.  On the way toward our failed attempt to see the shuttle take off, though, I did get a shot of some dramatic sky and trees I like very much.

We had dinner with some FBI guys (They’re pretty much like any other guys. The movies lie.) at the California Grill on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort at Disney. We ate there twice, the second time minus the Feebs, and that time around we had the good fortune of being unable to get a table and thus having to eat at the bar where we were taken care of by a truly excellent bartender named Ray. This man is a master of his craft, and I had a really good time with him. When I asked for the French port with my dessert that was a suggested pairing on the menu, I caught a fleeting pained expression on his face, so I beckoned him back and asked him what he would recommend. He looked all happy and said he’d make me something, but wasn’t going to tell me what was in it until I’d tried it. If I didn’t like it, he’d give me something else. So the man whipped me up something which was utterly delicious and was in fact a much better choice with the molten chocolate cake I had selected for dessert.

I’m not sure I remember exactly what was in it, but it involved Hershey’s syrup making the stripes down the sides, Godiva liqueur, some vanilla liqueur, maybe Kahlua? cream, whiskey and God knows what else. It was wonderful. In the course of the discussion that led to the creation of this drink I mentioned I don’t like whiskey, and he flung his hands in the air and said in a despairing voice, “Forgive the girl, she knows not what she says.” So when he came back I challenged him to give me a whiskey I did like. He thought about it and said “Wait. I’ll get you something else to eat, the whiskey won’t go with that at all.”  Off he went and came back with a small dish of grated apple and cheese, and a couple of sips of whiskey. It wasn’t bad, but I much preferred the other drink. He was a great lot of fun to have around during a meal.

While walking through the Amsterdam airport, we spotted this odd pile of items.

We went home, to our newly painted house and a very happy dog. And the flowers. Did I mention the flowers?




Pasta met spullen, als gevraagd (as requested)

Turn the oven on very low, set out an oven-proof dish that will hold all your stuff, pasta included and then…Make Stuff. Once you have made Stuff, put it in the oven-dish, and cover it up. Here’s one version of the Stuff you can make to go in this.

Boil a bag or two of fresh pasta, or if you’re feeling adventurous, make your own. I’m generally way too lazy for that, but it’s unquestionably going to be yummier if you make your own. Well, if you’re any good at making pasta, anyway. When it’s cooked to just slightly less than the softness you prefer, drain it and toss it in a bowl with some butter or olive oil, just enough to coat it and keep it from sticking together. Put it in the covered oven dish. In the oven.

Sautee’ a pile of cut-up fresh mushrooms in butter or olive oil, salt and pepper, and maybe some white wine (or red, if you don’t mind purple mushrooms). I think the wine gives a lovely flavor so it I use it if I have some. Pour in the wine and cover the ‘shrooms, letting them simmer until tender. Remove the lid and raise the heat, cooking off the liquid. Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms. Put them in the covered oven dish.

In the same pan, pour in a bunch of carrot rounds and peas. Cook the same way as the mushrooms, until the carrots attain the desired level of softness and the peas are tender. I like to brown the carrot slices a little, so I turn up the heat just toward the end. Put them in the covered oven dish.

While you’re doing all this, in a small pan slowly cook some really good bacon, sliced into lardons. If you’re Dutch, use the bacony-bits (spekreepjes) you can get at Albert Heijn. They’re awesome in this stuff. When the bacon is good and browned but not crumbly – cook it slowly! – remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and then cook some diced onion in the bacon fat. Remove both items to the covered oven dish.

Cube some meat. I’ve tried chicken, Aimee has tried pork. I bet this would be completely fabulous with shrimp, or some filets mignon.  Cut into 1-2 inch cubes, and sautee in a stainless steel pain with some butter (Butter. Not olive oil, this time. Butter!), salt, pepper, and thyme. As a gauge: For two chicken breasts, I use about a level teaspoon of dried thyme. Sautee until nicely browned, and remove from pan, dividing it into whatever bowls you’re planning to serve your meal in. Turn the heat down, deglaze the pan with a generous amount of cognac, then pour in some heavy cream. If you’re making this for two people I’d use about half a cup. Lengthen it a little with some half and half, sour cream, yogurt, or creme fraiche. Stir in some mustard – a generous teaspoon at least, some salt and pepper, and turn up the heat, stirring constantly until the cream is thick, slow pouring, and richly brown. (Caveat: if your chicken didnt leave enough browny stuff on the bottom of the pan to turn the sauce brown, then add a little more mustard for flavor and carry on anyway). Salt and pepper to taste.

Take your pan out of the oven, and distribute pasta, bacon and vegetables over the chicken cubes, pour the cream sauce over the lot and toss it until everything is creamy and coated and delicious. This is not a particularly attractive looking meal, so I didn’t photograph it, but…be prepared to over-eat.

You can vary the Stuff any old way. If you’re low-carbing, you should skip the pasta and add more veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower. Zucchini. Sweet peppers. Use whatever veggies you have on hand – that’s how this was born:

..oO( what’s in the fridge that needs using up? )

Enjoy 🙂

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