Disclaimer: For those who don't really care about food, you can stop reading now because you just won't understand or appreciate this post, but for my fellow foodies out there, here's the highlights of my vacation:
Christmas Eve dinner was with a French colleague and her family - brothers, sisters, significant others, parents, grandmother - a tiny French apartment filled with kind people, much laughter, and delicious food. The evening started with smoked marlin, a Spanish salami, bellini with herbed cream cheese topped with smoked salmon, and homemade froie gras. These appetizers were accompanied by the best white wine I've ever had. I didn't catch the name, but it was bottled in 1989. The entrée was confit du canard accompanied by a 1995 red wine that was the perfect compliment. We had homemade macaroons that melted in your mouth, and miniature rum cakes that were perfect as leftovers on Christmas morning with a cup of tea. And, in traditional French fashion, we finished the meal with a cheese plate.
I spent Christmas day with a couple of my American colleagues. They made a pot of chili that was surprisingly good - surprising because we bought the ingredients at a little Arabic store that was open on Christmas day, so we weren't sure what sort of spices we were actually getting. While the chili simmered, I made a pie - pear, cranberry, pistachio. In my family we have a pie bake-off at Christmastime each year, and so this was my long-distance entry.
A few days after Christmas I took a 6 hour bus ride from Paris to Antwerp and met up with a friend from Denver that was visiting her family in the area. We spent the day sightseeing and eating our way around the city.
I learned that there are several types of Belgium waffles - all of which are good! And there are more than 700 types of Belgium beer, none of which I tried, but I am still enjoying my various samples of Belgium chocolate!
That evening my friend and her sister made me a traditional Japanese dinner that was perfectly delicious and satisfying after a day of sweets. A big bowl of sushi and some wonderful soup - which I learned how to eat with chopsticks!
The next day we took the train to Utrecht (near Amsterdam) where I met up with a longtime friend who I hadn't seen in many years. We spent the day exploring the town, stopping to warm up with a cup of rich hot chocolate that was served with a beautiful tower of whipped cream. For dinner we went to a restaurant down on one of the canals. It felt like we had stepped into the 1920's. The atmosphere was swanky but comfortable, the service was pleasant, and the food was worth lingering over. The menu was a prix fixe, three-course meal. I had a creamy mushroom soup, tortellini with spinach and mushrooms, and crème brulee... although due to the French influence I nearly ordered the cheese plate for dessert instead!
New Year's Eve day we went to visit some friends who live on a true Dutch farm. They were smoking salmon out in the barnyard and we were invited in to one of the barns, where walking through the door felt like I was stepping into a movie set...... The room was maybe 6'x10' with a 7' ceiling and a large bar built right down the middle. There were about 12 people packed around the bar, some dressed in traditional Dutch outfits and others wearing oversized wooden clogs, music was playing and smoke was wafting around the room. I was handed a drink and welcomed into the circle, and then the hostess made me a smoked salmon sandwich, which was a soft Dutch roll split open and filled with hot, fresh smoked salmon. I've often said I don't like smoked meat, but this didn't even have a hint of ashtray taste - it was just moist and full of flavor. I wasn't able to take a picture, but all of my senses were so involved that I have a strong mental imprint to savor the experience.
Over the next few days I had the pleasure of trying many traditional Dutch foods - mustard soup (for which I'm hoping to get the recipe), olliebollen (kind of like large donut holes), apple beignets, homemade apple flappen (apple turnovers), Stamppot (Dutch mashed potatoes mixed with endive and ham), and a Dutch sandwich - a roll slathered with butter and slices of a creamy white cheese, which was reminiscent of the sandwiches I used to get at a little Dutch bakery in Washington. And for the 5 hour car ride home, a bag of salted black licorice and a package of Stroopwafles. I think of my mom every time I eat black licorice (one of her favorite treats) and I realize this post is for her - because wherever I was living or traveling she would always ask about what I'd been eating, and patiently listen to me describe in detail all of my food experiences.
Many thanks to the friends who were part of this adventure. I appreciate your willingness to introduce me to your culture through food, and your patience as I lingered over a meal and savored each bite.