Monday, September 28, 2009

The Wetlands of Amsterdam

It's been quite a hectic September between travel for fun, travel for work (and fun), getting socked with a triple whammy of a ear infection, eye infection and upper respiratory infection, and, if that wasn't enough, packing up and moving out of New York City (more on that later).
Needless to say, I haven't been doing a lot of cooking. So while I get my new place set up, and plan for my first trip to the local farmers market, here are pictures from my canoe tour of the countryside around Amsterdam a few weeks ago.
After watching a segment on 60 Minutes featuring Rick Steves paddling through the canals around Amsterdam, I knew I wanted to do the Wetlands Safari tour. The 60 Minutes segment aired in 2005, right after my first trip to the city and right before my second visit. I tried to make a booking back then, the trips were filled, so I ended up waiting four and a half years to get my chance.
On a cool and cloudy Sunday morning, I met a group of tourists from Australia, Austria, California, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland and yes, Holland, at the local TI and boarded a bus a few minutes outside the city limits for what turned out to be a five-hour tour through small villages, part of a major canal, and then a nature preserve.
And despite a little rain and wind mixed in with sunshine, it was worth it for the combination of scenery, wildlife and sound of the water. During the lunchtime pit stop, I even picked some wild blackberries.
So if you've already hit the Rijks Museum, toured the cramped Anne Frank House, bought your van Gogh Starry Nights poster and gawked your way through the Red Lights District, a canoe trip is not a bad way to spend an afternoon in Holland.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Foodie Day in Amsterdam

You know, I could really see myself living in Amsterdam. The people are friendly, just about everyone speaks English, the canals are charming and the food is good. True, you need to hunt down the good food, unless you have the munchies and even a treat from the FEBO automat will do.

My first stop on Saturday was the Noordermarkt. I love this organic farmers market, meets clothing market, meets bric-a-brac market. In addition to picking up some cool souvenirs, you could cobble together a meal out of the prepared food items offered -- from pizza to sushi to Vietnamese food. Or, if you have access to a kitchen like I do, you could pick up bread, cheese, vegetables, and even pate and actually cook. But this time, I just chose to wander versus buy (although I did pick up a cute Miffy toy for my niece).

Just beyond the market is a small shop I stumbled upon during my last visit to Amsterdam (circa 2004) -- Delicious Food. And the name says it all. Picture a gourmet food shop lined with bulk dry good containers filled with unusual treats, a variety of olive oils available by weight and even an extensive raw food section. I restrained myself and got a few grams of mixed nuts, another small bag of museli and a container of salad sprinkle to take home (looks like a combination of dried cranberry, dried apple, seeds and nuts to toss with a green salad). From the market area, I meandered down the Prinsengracht and found Pancakes!, a tiny restaurant that got high marks on and on for its many varieties of pancakes. But it was packed, so I continued all the way down to Wagmama. I know, overpriced ramen seems like a cop-out, but I love the chilli chicken and so rarely get to Wagamama, so I went for it. Stuffed, I continued to follow the canal ring to scout out De Waaghals, another highly rated vegetarian restaurant. It is only open for dinner, so I just looked at the menu and made a mental note to go back someday. One block east, I passed the cutest tea shop -- Taart van Mijn Tante. With elaborately decorated styrofoam cakes lining the windows, and mismatched tables and chairs, the shop has a lot of character. But after over 20 minutes of sitting an outdoor table without being waited on, I bailed (this was after I went in and asked if I could sit outside). Tsk, tsk, but to be fair, they were busy. Sad, but still seeking a sweet, I found another patisserie. During my long walk, I noticed several people carying bags from Holtkamp, and figured it must be a local favorite. It was clear the shop was closing by the time I entered, but I did get a slice of the apple tart and another slice of an electric green and pink cake (which ended up being a delicious sponge with strawberry cream. Wish I had gotten two slices of that and passed on the apple). The shop had really nice looking chocolates, which I noticed after I paid. But in the time I entered the shop and paid, no less than five other people had crowded in, so chocolates would have to wait for next time. Despite the sweet treats in my bag, it would be a while before I would sample them. I got the bright idea to drop by the VVV (Tourist Information office) to ask a few questions, and ended up waiting 45 minutes to speak with someone (the VVV staff also help with hotel bookings, and apparently, this is one of the busiest times of the year due to a huge conference going on. Most hotels were fully booked, so I was very lucky to find the accomodations I did, and felt very sorry for those looking for a room last minute). By the time I left, I was exhausted, and in no mood to dine out. The one bright spot during my 45 minutes at the VVV was that I had time to read the September issue of Time Out Amsterdam cover to cover, and noted that Small World Catering, a catering outfit with a small deli storefront, was right around the corner from my flat. So I swung by and picked up a sandwich and salad to go. The store is very small, and in fact the name does not even appear on the awning outside, so it's easy to miss. There are about four seats inside and four outside, so it's more of a grab-and-go kind of place. The sandwiches (I got a tuna melt on cibatta) were huge and at 6.75 euros, enough for two (or two meals). I know the Dutch love their sandwiches, and I have sampled a few broodjies during my visits, and I can definitely say this one was the best. So I set out for home, carrying a huge tuna sandwich, a small container of couscous salad, a container of Greek vegetable salad and two pieces of cake, when I virtually ran into two people coming out of a small shop carying ice cream cones. Despite my load, I could not resist stopping at Jordino for a gelato. For 2 euros, I enjoyed a small scoop of yogurt and a small scoop of a champagne citron flavor. Some people come to Amsterdam to drink. I think I prefer to eat champage flavored gelato. Lest you think I am a complete glutton, no, I did not eat everything in one sitting, or even two for that matter. That's the benefit of staying in a flat with fridge -- I have lots of leftovers to take on the plane home with me. Bet the other passengers will be jealous that I am bringing a taste of Amsterdam home.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Live Blogging Amsterdam: Dutch Flat

I am staying in a Dutch flat for the weekend. I actually prefer to rent an apartment vs. stay in a hotel because you get more space, a kitchen so you can breakfast at your leisure and overall, a better taste of local life. My current digs are on a busy street in the Jordaan neighborhood (which I really like). No canal view, but it's right around the corner from the Prinsengracht. Of the flats I've stayed in over the years, I give this one pretty high marks for amenities. In fact, there's free Wifi, the mini fridge came stocked with a bottle of Cava and OJ, and there was a hair dryer in the bathroom. But the feature I am most impressed with is the bedroom "open wardrobe." Plenty of room to spread out my junk, but the unit itself has a very compact footprint. Could use something like that at home! P.S. Yes, that's the full content of my suitcase. And yes, that's a vintage-looking KLM travel poster over the faux fireplace. Kind of ironic, considering what brought me to Amsterdam!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Live blogging Amsterdam

36 hours ago, I was at the Delaware shore. Now, I am canal side in Amsterdam. Isn't jet travel grand? I had a work meeting today and decided to splurge on a weekend here in Holland since my beach break was cut short. Even though I've been up for almost 30 hours, I feel very chill and relaxed after my hectic week. And I have not even sampled the local treats (the local coffee shops don't just serve java)! Just a glass of organic wine at De Bolhoed.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bethany Beach, DE Farmers Market

I am spending part of this week at the shore -- Bethany Beach, to be exact. On Sunday, my mom and I took at walk down the beach to the town's small farmers market.
It was the last market of the season, and it was kind of fun to literally see the fruits of summer (e.g., tomato) alongside the first signs of autumn (e.g., gourds, acorn squash).
It's not like we needed much food. In fact, my parents had literally packed and hauled most of the contents of their cupboards, fridge and freezer. Case in point, they packed two kinds of couscous (Israeli and whole wheat), an immersion blender and a panini press.
But we needed some garlic, and who doesn't love watermelon at the beach? The sweet corn was picked that morning, and the tomatoes were too gorgeous to pass up. The green beans were so thin, "almost like haricot vert" the farmer claimed. And I had never seen the green-and-gold zephyr squash, so of course we had to get some. Finally, the sample of pumpkin mushroom soup convinced us to pick up a few cremini.
Did we go overboard? Perhaps, but I've already enjoyed roasted vegetables and shrimp over orzo and a zucchini-corn-bacon-cheese quesadilla. Despite the sun on Sunday, the weather has turned cool and damp, so soup at the beach now doesn't seem like an oxymoron. The watermelon? Well that might have to wait until the sun shines once again (here's hoping).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Berryfields Farm: One of New York Times Places to Visit in 2009

Happy September! Nine months ago, The New York Times published a list of 44 places to go in 2009. Now, I've been to a few of those destinations over the years, but never would have included number 43 on my list of "must sees." But when I saw the entry quaintly titled "a farm in Pennsylvania" I knew I had to check it out.
Unlike Bhutan or The Red Sea, Berry Fields Farm, outside New Albany, P.A., is a bit easier to get to (particularly as it's a 90 minute drive from my parents house). However, finding the farm proved just as challenging as getting into Cuba (let's just say Google Maps is apparently not reliable out in those parts). But after making a few loops on back-country dirt roads, and asking some locals for better directions, we winded our way up the steep driveway to the farm.
Nestled on the hillside (all the better for the goats) with the actual berry fields below, the farm looks more like a country home, albeit with ducks and pigs and a rooster.
The day I visited was originally supposed to be the annual blueberry fest, but due to heavy rains the night before, the festivities were cancelled. But that did not stop us from touring the farm, and enjoying some blueberry treats, including:
Blueberry crab cakes...

...a farm-to-table salad with blueberry vinaigrette...

...and blueberry ice cream with blueberry topping.

One of the owners admitted to me that they never really wanted to get into agrotourism, but that it helps sustain the farm and their current way of life. And it helps us city folk (or even suburb folk) see what country life is all about...that is, if you can find the farm in the first place*!

*From Route 202, turn up Overton Rd. After several miles, Overton Rd. actually bears right (the road headed straight becomes another name) and takes you up the mountain. If you hit a series of hairpin turns the locals call "Devil's Elbow," you're on the right track. Turn right on Cahill, which is a hard pack dirt road, and follow for about a mile.