I love Utrecht. It is a lovely town and a short train ride away from me. There are lots of restaurants and things to do. I often walk by the Domkerk when I visit. The Pandenhof is the cloister adjoining the church.
Utrecht also has several canals. There are cafes along many of the canals. One of my favorite wine bars overlooks a canal. At some point I want to rent a boat to tour along the canals.
I am a huge nerd (no shocker to those of you who know me) and I love museums. The Speelklok Musuem is pretty cool and one of the more unusual museums I have visited. They have a variety of mechanical music devices from music boxes on up to precursors of the jukebox. You can still see speelkloken in town markets and festivals all over the Netherlands. The ones in town are usually the size of a keyboard and operated by one person. I love listening to them as I go about errands in town.
Nijntje is one of the more famous Dutch residents; she’s been around since the mid 1950’s. Her name comes from the Dutch word for little rabbit (konijntje). English speakers know her better as Miffy. I totally missed it last time I was there but there are Nijntje traffic lights in Utrecht. There is also an adorable Nijntje store in downtown Utrecht.
This year I have tried to do more cooking with typically Dutch ingredients. Fall is amazing because pumpkins are available everywhere. I discovered last year how much I love pumpkin. I’ve made pumpkin black bean chili, pumpkin curry, and pumpkin risotto. Pumpkin chickpea stammpot is next on my list to make. This year I decided to expand the variety of vegetables I cook. I began with an aardpeer soup.
Aardpeer – I discovered this vegetable after seeing it in a recipe. Aardpeer is a small, ugly root with a bark-like skin. Peel off the skin then roast them or blend them up in a soup. Roasted they take on a nutty flavor but I found that in soup they taste similar to potato. Mike was underwhelmed by the flavor.
Boerenkool, or kale to English speakers, is a Dutch staple. They will put it in everything from stammpot to ovenschotel (a hearty casserole style dish). I recently made a boerenkool stammpot with fennel seeds. It tasted strongly of fennel which is great – if you like fennel. Next time I’d replace the fennel with another herb or seasoning. At some point I want to try boerenkool in a quiche or casserole.
Next on my list to try:
Venkel (fennel root) – A friend swears it is much milder and tastes better than the seeds. He suggested to chop it up and roast it or saute it. This is almost always available at the store or market and the Dutch put it in everything from salad to casserole or even by itself as a side dish.
Also popular this time of year are
Paddenstoelen* (mushrooms) – The Dutch will often refer to them as champignons** (yes, they use the French word and no, I don’t know why). Originally I thought this was to differentiate between the plain button mushrooms (paddenstoelen) and chanterelles (champignons) but then I saw a bag of button mushrooms labeled champignons. So who knows? I really enjoy the flavor of mushrooms and would cook them more if Mike liked them.
Mussels – Given my dislike for shellfish and paranoia about cooking seafood I will not try to cook them.
*Interesting side note in Dutch padden are toads. So paddenstoelen are literally toad chairs which is similar to the English toadstools.
**To my Dutch friends reading this: if you know why people use champignons instead of paddenstoelen let me know.
In looking back through the archives, I realized that I haven’t discussed one of my favorite holidays: Halloween. Unlike in the US, Halloween isn’t as big a deal in the Netherlands. There are no seasonal stores dedicated to creepy masks, fake blood, and costumes for every member of the family (including the dog). No one turns their front yard into a graveyard or hangs cheesecloth ghosts from the trees. I have never seen children go trick or treating* in my neighborhood. Halloween is primarily an adult holiday here.
What you will find are haunted houses, theme nights at pubs and cafes, private parties, and of course whatever spooky movies are in the cinemas. Businesses will sometimes host Halloween parties for their employees. Some stores have a small selection (read a couple shelves) of Halloween goods. You can buy costumes, skull shaped lollipops, or cookie cutters and baking dishes in ghoulish shapes. There seems to be less emphasis on sexy costumes and more focus on the scary side of Halloween. I find that a refreshing change. If you want to deck your halls in blood and bones, buying decorations online or making them is your best bet.
*On November 11, Sint Maarten’s day, children go out with lanterns and sing in hopes of receiving candy. This is mainly celebrated in the Noord-Holland province. St. Maarten is the patron saint of children and the poor.
Today Mike and I decided to explore a nearby town: Naarden, a fortress town dating from the 1300’s. From Google maps you can see the starburst outline of the town’s canals and fortifications. Obviously, this sounded amazing so we had to check it out.
As you approach the city, the fortifications are striking: angular high green berms rise from the ground beyond a beautiful moat. When you enter the fortifications, you can easily see the church spire. We followed the spire of Grote Kerk, past charming buildings in brick or the traditional Dutch green, to the heart of the city.
The church was open so we wandered in. There is a beautiful painted wooden ceiling with scenes from the Old and New Testaments. A nice gentleman offered us a couple mirrors to get a better look at the ceiling without neck strain. On the way out Mike stopped to admire some centuries old graffiti on one of the doors. Some of it looked like it was Latin or Greek letters.
I found poems and quotes painted on numerous buildings around the town.
There are some cafes and wine shops along the main street but sadly most of them were closed. (Monday lots of businesses close or open later.) I think we may go back to check out the wine shops at some point. We did find a nice little place to have some coffee.
Our visit to Naarden was a low key day trip and we loved the architecture and fortifications. I’m really glad we finally got to see it.
Last year, Mike and I planted cilantro, basil, and two types of mint. This year we are expanding our herb garden or kruidentuin. We also picked up peppers and tomatoes. Of course, I picked the rainiest day of the weekend to go to the garden center on the other side of town.
Mike started tomatoes inside in a small container. We didn’t realize how many plants we had until they were transplanted into larger pots. Currently the tomatoes, mint, and bell peppers are flourishing. The hot peppers never sprouted. Oh well.
Last Thursday we visited Rollende Keukens in Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam. As the name suggests this is a several day food truck event. Almost the whole park was end to end food trucks and music tents. We arrived early enough to nab a picnic spot on the grass. You could find pretty much any type of international, fusion, or Dutch food you could want. Our group had bahn-mi, mango-pineapple lassie, seafood burgers, fancy mac n cheese (topped with basil and tomato), stracciatella and churros. I’d love to go again next year.
Last year we spent Koningsdag in Zwolle. This year (April 27, sorry I’m late posting this) we decided to stay in Hilversum and see what the Mediastad does for the holiday. Downtown was full of carnival games, rides, food vendors, DJs, buskers, vrijmarkt verkopers*, and revelers in orange clothing. People donned paper or plastic crowns, orange t-shirts, scarves, leis, and hats. Some people painted the Dutch flag on their cheeks and sprayed their hair orange. I even saw one guy wearing the Dutch flag as a cape.
Near the Raadhuis, a bunch of children’s games were set up: bouncy castles, pony rides, sack races, and aquabubble (see below). Kids could also visit the petting zoo or check out the fire truck. And of course, tents full of pancakes, burgers, and candy.
*Vrijmarkt – The rules for selling are relaxed on Koningsdag so you don’t need a permit to sell goods. Many people sell their old unwanted items in what is basically a nationwide yard sale. Kids often end up manning the stalls (aka a blanket on the ground covered in goods to sell) and some also sell cold drinks or homemade treats.
In the Netherlands, Easter or Pasen is two days long and consists of Easter Sunday and the following Monday. The second day is to allow people more time to visit with family. For weeks shops have been selling chocolate eggs* and bunnies, pastel party goods (napkins, tablecloths, candles etc), and spring decor. Stores and restaurants display signs stating if they are open one or both days of Easter. Shopping on Easter Monday is pretty popular and many places are open for the occasion.
Easter brunch is also a big deal here. This makes me happy because I love breakfast food. Magazines have recipes and menus that include fancy breads, deviled eggs (gevulde eieren – literally filled eggs), pancakes (which are super thin), tarts, and quiches. Lamb and roasted chicken show up frequently on diner menus.
At the market this week, I saw several people buying eggs to dye or paint. For those who are too busy to color eggs, grocery stores sell pre-colored eggs. Colored or chocolate eggs are then hidden for kids to find. One of the cafés in town hid eggs around town and if you find one you get a free drink.
Music and Events
Concerts and music are also part of Dutch Easter celebrations. Bach’s Matthäus Passion plays in churches and concert halls all over the Netherlands during the Easter season. (I only recently discovered this so I probably won’t get to hear it this year.) Paaspop, a pop music festival in Brabant, lasts Easter weekend. Some towns have parades, bonfires, or other special events that vary from town to town. For example, this year Hilversum has a music festival in the city center on Easter Monday.
*I bought an assortment of mini chocolate eggs this year. Many of the eggs available are flavored or filled (ex. mango chili, avocado, praline, and hazelnut to name a few).
Update: Added a photo of this year’s Easter brunch
The Troppenmuseum is a multicultural museum located in Amsterdam Oost. There are exhibits showcasing the native cultures of Amsterdam immigrants from Southern Asia to Africa. The displays explore art, religion, and colonialism. As someone with a degree in anthropology, I knew I had to visit it.
The art and ritual artifacts were amazing! I enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences in the artwork especially the masks and puppets. The most difficult part to see was the section on colonialism. It is a challenging subject to approach but the exhibit handled it decently.
I really enjoyed the Muziekwereld room where you could listen to different instruments. The instruments ranged from wood and skin drums to sitars to accordions. It would be easy to lose hours in this room.