International Women’s Day

Since today is International Women’s Day (Vrouwen Dag), I’d like to say thank you to the women in my life. Thank you for listening, loving, teaching, supporting, and inspiring. And a special thank you to the women who befriended me and helped make my transition to living in the Netherlands easier.

 

 

Halloween in Holland

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.

My Halloween centerpiece. Floral arrangement was done by Mike.
My Halloween centerpiece. Floral arrangement was done by Mike.

*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.

Koningsdag – Hilversum

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.

Oranje kleding

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.

Water spelletjes
Water spelletjes
Me, enjoying fries from my favorite fry stand
Me, enjoying fries from my favorite fry stand

*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.

Vrolijk Pasen

Vrolijk Pasen! (Happy Easter!)

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.

Food
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.

Paasontbijt - breakfast tart and wentelteefjes (French toast) with banana
Paasontbijt – breakfast tart, wentelteefjes (French toast) with banana, strawberry-orange juice, and coffee

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

Holiday Decorating

A week or so ago Mike and I went out to pick up Christmas decorations. Mike is a HUGE Christmas fan so this was an important errand. Last year at this time we had just moved in and had no furniture or decorations. Now that we were all moved in (obviously) and had the space, we could get a full-size tree with all the trimmings. In town Christmas trees, or Kerstbomen, only come with their roots so Mike decided to get a fake tree instead. (Not to mention you can’t buy real ones until after Sinterklaas Dag.)

kerstboom
We picked up colored lights for the tree but they weren’t bright enough for Mike. So I went back to the store for white lights which are currently on the tree. (Still not completely sure what to do with the multicolored ones…)

ornaments
All our Christmas ornaments are in storage in the States so we had to buy new ones. (We didn’t think the ornaments would make it to the Netherlands in one piece.) We kept it simple and went with red and gold balls. The crown and thistle ornaments are from our travels to the UK. Mike was indifferent to garland but I really wanted garland on the tree. I’d seen a tree wrapped in ribbons somewhere and thought it was a nice garland idea so I bought some ribbon. Below is the end result.

Kerstbom met decoratie

Homemade tree topper
Homemade tree topper

In addition to the tree, we have other holiday decorations scattered around the house: a poinsettia at the market, a silver sleigh to hold cards, a cheery bird garland to decorate the bare wall in the living room, and a Lego Advent Calendar.

Homemade garland
Homemade bird garland
Mike's Lego Advent Calendar
Mike’s Lego Advent Calendar

Happy Sinterklaas Dag

Tonight is pakjesavond (gift evening) where children get gifts from Sinterklaas in their shoes*. There is a lot of singing songs too. This morning I awoke to a chorus of children singing to Sinterklaas. (I live by a school and Sinterklaas and Piet** visited the students today.) While the holiday is mostly for children, Sinterklaas and Piet have been known to visit businesses from time to time to hand out treats to the employees.

Sinterklaas zakje - or Sinterklaas sac
Sinterklaas zakje – or Sinterklaas sac – decorating my wall.

*Some people replace the shoes with burlap sacs featuring a cartoon Sint or Piet design.
**This year not all Pieten are zwarte or black but many colors including stroopwaffel (not kidding). It is a big debate that I won’t get into here but if you are curious there are plenty of articles elsewhere explaining the debate.

Koningsdag (aka King’s Day)

This year April 26 marked the first ever Koningsdag (or King’s Day). Previously, the day was celebrated as Koninginnedag (or Queen’s Day) however since the queen abdicated last year the Netherlands now has a king. The Dutch celebrate by wearing orange (the national color), selling things, and partying.

Since Koningsdag fell on a Saturday many people began to celebrate Koningsnacht (King’s Night) on Friday. In Amsterdam, carnival rides and food vendors set up to help people celebrate. Every other shop sold orange clothing or accessories. Streets were lined with orange balloons, garlands, and Dutch flags. Hilversum also had a carnival and food vendors along the main street. Mike and I forgot it was Koningsnacht and decided to head down town for gelato. We grabbed gelato then ran into some of Mike’s coworkers so we stopped to have a beer or two with them. I don’t know if that counts as celebrating Koningsnacht but I am going to count it.

Everyone told us that Amsterdam on Koningsdag is a must see sight and very crowded. I did visit Amsterdam on Friday so I feel like I got a taste of what it would be like on Saturday. However, Mike and I aren’t really crazy about crowds so we opted to visit friends in Zwolle. We still got the food, music, and all the orange but less crowds. We also visited a farm (more on that in my next post).

Drum band on Koningsdag.
Drum band on Koningsdag.
Vrijmarkt - people set up blankets and tables with goods to sell, often toys or decorations.
Vrijmarkt – people set up blankets and tables with goods to sell, often toys or decorations.
This was earlier in the day. People added more orange to their outfits as the day wore on.
This was earlier in the day. People added more orange to their outfits as the day wore on.

Food Discoveries #1

One of my favorite things of traveling is trying new foods. Living in the Netherlands has given me more time to find and try new foods. Now it is a widespread opinion that Dutch food is not going to win any gourmand awards. However, I think the Dutch have the comfort food thing down. Here are some of my favorite foods so far.

Stamppot – This is the first Dutch dish I made and it is super simple and 100% comfort food. Stamppot is mashed veggies (with a healthy dose of potatoes or aardappels) topped with cheese and wurst or sausage (though I usually skip the wurst for my helping). I love how easy it is to make and it is the perfect lazy comfort food dinner.

A variation on the traditional stamppot. This one has cherry tomatoes, courgette, and basil.
A variation on the traditional stamppot. This one has cherry tomatoes, courgette, and rucola.

Erwtensoep (split pea soup)- This past year was the first time I tried split pea soup and I have to say I love it. The Dutch do their split pea soup thick making it a good hearty soup and very cozy on a winter day. It also goes nicely with brown bread and butter.

Fries – Ok, so fries are actually a Belgian creation but the Dutch do them well. Go to any town market and there will be a fry truck. The traditional toppings are mayonnaise (none of that Miracle Whip stuff) or speciaal (fritesaus, raw onions, and curry ketchup). You can also get joppie, tartare, curry ketchup, and a variety of other sauces depending on the fry truck. Since Dutch fries are very messy, no skimping on sauce, you eat them with a mini wooden fork. Of course, you can get them plain but really why would you want to?

Stroopwafels – You may have seen the mass produced variety of these in the US, however, nothing beats a fresh stroopwafel. Around the holidays you can get fresh stroopwafels from street vendors. (If you are lucky they are also available fresh year round at town markets.) They are filled with caramel and go wonderfully with coffee.

Oliebollen – Literally, oil balls but don’t let the name scare you. These are basically deep fried donut balls (I think the Dutch like to either mash their food or turn it into a ball) with some powdered sugar on top. Another popular variety has raisins. Sadly, you can only get them around Sinterklaas and Kerstdag (Christmas).

Oliebol

Nieuwjaarsdag

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!

Sorry for posting this a day late. Mike and I had a fabulous new year; we were invited to a coworker’s house for the festivities. (I should preface this by saying that Mike works with a multi-national group of expats in addition to some Dutch folks.) The guest list was largely expats so we were able to converse in English. Everyone I met was fun, interesting, and full of stories about the various countries where they had lived.

The evening began – as I believe all good parties should – with a variety of beers, wine and snacks. There were stuffed mushrooms, chicken wings, mini rye bread sandwiches filled with cream cheese, pizza rustica filled with spinach and ricotta, rum bread, and other delicious foods. Close to midnight the neighborhood filled with bangs and crackling from fireworks. Every member of our party was outfitted with a winter coat and at least one sparkler and we headed out into the street. Colorful lights and loud bangs filled the street and the surrounding air. Around midnight the air was thick with smoke and the sound of fireworks (American readers think the finale of a fourth of July fireworks display and then multiply it by 10 and you will have an inkling of the atmosphere at midnight).

After we had exhausted the supply of sparklers, lanterns etc we headed inside for sparkling white wines and dessert. All in all we entered 2014 with good company and a joyous series of BANGS and BOOMS.