Tag Archives: Food

This August tastes like October (and pumpkin soup)

In one of my old posts I called autumn my favourite season, and October my favourite autumn month. But I don’t recall asking for August to become October, and this August has been very much October-like in my corner of Europe. I’m sure this has its bright sides somewhere, but they are damned hard to see behind the clouds. One slightly less dark side I could find is that pumpkin soup goes really well with this weather.

Red kuri squash (image by Schwäbin http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Schw%C3%A4bin)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Red kuri squash pumpkin (this variety you can eat with skin and all)
  • 2 small potatoes (or sweet potatoes if you want everything orange)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp vegetable bouillon

Cut the pumpkin in half and spoon out the seeds. Make sure you take all of them out, because I’ve missed a couple of seeds once and had to spit them out piece by piece afterwards (there’s a blender involved later in the recipe). Chop the onion and the carrots and fry them in some oil in a large soup pan. Chop the pumpkin and add it to the pan. Pour 1 litre of boiling water (or more, at least enough to cover the vegetables). Add the skinned and cubed potatoes, the vegetable bouillon and the thyme. Cook until the pumpkin in soft. Add the orange juice and using a hand blender, mix the soup into a smooth mass. Be very careful here – the soup has a very high heat content and flying drops can be dangerous (my wife still has marks on her arm from a soup accident years ago). If you want to make the soup look fancy, decorate the bowls with a spoon of crème fraîche or yoghurt, and a parsley leaf.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Go easy on the potatoes, otherwise you’ll end up eating very orange potato puree, like I did the last time.

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The 7 things I now understand a little bit better about Americans (in Europe)

My post titled “7 things I don’t understand about Americans in Europe” keeps drawing new comments, and not all of them are friendly. But I welcome them all, since the goal of the post was, in fact, to learn more about Americans in Europe and why they behave the way they do. Thanks to all those people (mostly Americans) who took the trouble to comment, I have indeed learned a few new things.

  1. Why don’t they drink tap water?
    Still unexplained. Possible answers were “Maybe it’s because we’re next to Mexico”, blaming low quality of tap water in some parts of Europe (and extrapolation to other parts), and more generalizing “American paranoia” (the last one is from an American, I merely quote here).
  2. Why do they think Europe has a “low season”?
    I was duly pointed to the fact that “Certain parts of Europe do in fact have low seasons, they just tend to be tourist magnets.” So yes, some sea-side resorts have low seasons, but the weather then is rather bad, and most businesses are closed, so in fact, they have no season at all then. If you’re going to Ibiza or Dubrovnik in the “low season” be prepared to visit a ghost town.
  3. Why do they use money belts? and
  4. Why don’t they use ATM’s?
    Commentators combined answers to these two questions, so I guess they are related.  I can live with the explanation that (some) Americans are not used to the crowds – “In America, we usually drive in cars and don’t walk much or use public transport.” Another commenter says that “pickpocketing certainly exists across the globe but is pronounced in Europe due to social problems.” I tend to disagree with this broad statement – social problems anywhere in Europe are nothing compared to India or Latin America. Perhaps, indeed, as another commenter suggests, “Money belts are a combination of paranoia and ignorance.”
    As far as ATM’s are concerned, apparently, “For Americans, ATMs often have very high fees for foreign transactions.” On the other hand, it does not apply for all Americans, as these comments clearly show: “Money belts are stupid. My wife and I use ATMs.” “I have never owned a money belt! They’re totally useless. I find that you’re better off with a little bit of street smarts and an ATM card with no international fees.”
  5. Why are they in such a rush?
    The most common explanation is the one I originally came up with myself – limited vacation days. But, as I’ve written in another post, the shocking truth is that Americans don’t even use the little leave they have! Why they insist on choosing quantity instead of quality? One commenter explains it as follows: “I could sit around in cafés or parks lounging and relaxing but how is that any better than moving at a fast pace to see as many sights and museums as possible?” Personally, I think a good vacation is exactly the opposite of “moving at a fast pace”, and is actually intended for relaxing. But has made a career out of writing about it, so I’ll refer all further questions to him.
  6. Why don’t they have a clue?
    Still a bit vague here, even though my question seems justified. Apparently, “most Americans think of Europe as Disneyland”. This is perhaps explained by “They don’t have a clue because they are never taught to be curious about what the rest of the world is like”, although it seems a broad generalization. But, as one commenter rightfully pointed out, “99% of them won’t even come over to Europe for not having enough time so, support the ones that do!” I couldn’t agree more.
  7. What’s up with Paris?
    As one commenter puts it, “there’s an unhealthy obsession in American culture with Paris as the capital of romance and beauty. Personally, I think it is neither.” On the other hand, another commenter says “I don’t know if I can explain Paris if you haven’t been there. I don’t think I would want to live in Paris, but as a tourist, I love Paris. ” According to others, “Paris is dirty, overhyped, and overrun with tourists”, “Paris is incredible but it’s also a dirty, angry city with tons of social problems.” So there’s definitely something about Paris, I just didn’t have the chance to check it out for myself yet.

It does appear that my post has hit a nerve, even though for some it was the wrong nerve – if you want to know more, check out the comments of the original post here. I still don’t understand (some) Americans, but thanks to the feedback, I understand them a little bit better. More comments are warmly welcomed!

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10 ways to tell you’ve lived too long in Rotterdam

While I was working on the list of 21 signs you have been too long in the Netherlands, I noticed that a few of the things I came up with were, in fact, not generally applicable to the Netherlands, but were specific to Rotterdam.

  1. You think it was worth it to stand for two hours in line at Richard Visser’s on December 31st to get the best oliebollen in the country.
  2. You remember the last time Feyenoord actually won something.
  3. You follow the performances of Sparta and Excelsior in the second league.
  4. You refer to the capital of the Netherlands as 020.
  5. You know the bridges in Rotterdam by their nicknames.
  6. When you cross the Maas to the other side from the one you live on, you get homesick.
  7. Which is why you actually avoid the other side.
  8. Skyscrapers built in a couple of weeks no longer surprise you.
  9. Bram Ladage fries are a healthy snack.
  10. You have a favourite modern architecture icon in Rotterdam (mine is the Bergpolderflat).
Richard Visser

Richard Visser

Bergpolderflat

Bergpolderflat

The Maas

The Maas

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21 signs you have been too long in the Netherlands

OK, so the Netherlands is not Japan, the signs that tell you that you’ve been here for too long are not nearly as hilarious. I mean, you don’t find yourself nodding your head back to the newscaster at the beginning and end of a newscast after a few years in NL. But there are some curious, funny moments when you realize you’re turning more Dutch than the locals.

  1. You get annoyed by people calling the Netherlands Holland.
  2. On birthdays of the Royal family you raise the flag.
  3. These birthdays are marked along with birthdays of your friends and family on the birthday calendar hanging in your toilet.
  4. You own a caravan.
  5. When you go on vacation (in your caravan), you bring a 10 kg bag of potatoes, a few kilo’s of cheese and two jars of Calvé peanut butter.
  6. You’re looking forward to this year’s Camping and Caravan Fair.
  7. You can taste the difference between belegen and jong belegen cheese.
  8. Your kaasboer at the market knows your taste in cheese.
  9. When abroad, you get irritated when you don’t get a cookie with your coffee at a restaurant.
  10. To your horror you actually like beschuit met muisjes.
  11. When cycling, you can multitask – read a book, roll a cigarette or even make out with your girlfriend cycling next to you.
  12. You and your wife own 5 bicycles between the two of you (plus two for each child).
  13. You measure distances in minutes of cycling.
  14. You think a pancake is a perfectly normal dinner dish.
  15. You recognize which province someone is from by their accent.
  16. People can recognize which province you’re from by your accent.
  17. You know what VVE, BZN and GVD stand for.
  18. Rivers flowing above the surrounding landscape don’t freak you out anymore.
  19. You can’t remember when was the last time you smoked weed.
  20. You can have a conversation on any topic using only quotes of Johan Cruyff.
  21. You own a t-shirt that says “Hup Holland Hup!” (despite point number 1).

There may be more than 21 signs you’ve been in the Netherlands for too long. If you have some of your own signs you’ve been in NL (or anywhere else!) for too long, I’d love to hear.

This is where you spend the summer vacation

This is where you spend the summer vacation

 

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European myths and legends

Europe is teeming with myths and legends. Tales of kings, gnomes, elves, wolves and witches are everywhere in the castle-filled Europe. But its not only old myths – modern myths are here as well. As you can probably guess, these modern myths hold about as much truth as the old ones. Here are some of those modern myths about Europe.

  1. Holland is all about drugs and hookers
    When I told my grandma I was going to the Netherlands to study, she started crying. I said: “But grandma – why? You’ve always wanted me to study, so what’s wrong?”. “Its all drugs and hookers there”, the old woman cried – “I’ve seen it on TV!”. I did my best to reassure her. I said: “But grandma – its all drugs and hookers here as well”. That brought her right back to her senses. She stopped crying and said: “You’re right. The TV is all lies anyway”. Despite both prostitution and cannabis being legal in the Netherlands, the consumption of both here is actually around or even slightly below the European average.
  2. London is full of rich people
    This myth is fuelled by the high concentration of Russian billionaires and football players in London. The capital of the grandest Empire of all times is also full of Imperial Glory in the shape of grand buildings, museums and fancy shops. Sad truth is, that most Londoners are poor people. Even those with a good job in the City pay half of their salary to rent a shared apartment (not even their own!) and endure an hour’s ride each way in the rush hour Tube to and from work. You can’t call that being rich.
  3. Eastern Europe is poor
    This myth is especially popular in… Eastern Europe! True, on average, income is significantly lower in Eastern European countries. But the reality is not as black as some would make you believe. The GDP per capita in Bulgaria, for example, is about 7,000 USD. Corrected for Purchasing Power Parity (that is, the actual prices of goods, which are significantly lower in the East), the GDP PPP in Bulgaria is over 15,000 USD! That is still rather low compared to Western Europe, but the differences are not that big anymore. And another thing – the more one moves to the East (and South) of Europe, the higher the share of non-documented economy – the untaxed, unreported income. In Russia it may be as big as the official economy according to some reports! So no, Eastern Europe is not as poor as you might think by looking at the dry numbers.

    Eastern Europe? No, Holland (at -12 C)!

    Eastern Europe? No, Holland (at -12 C)!

  4. Europeans are skinny
    Mostly believed by Americans, this myth is only partially true. Yes, compared to Americans, Europeans are skinny. But Europe is competing with the U.S. for first place in the obesity crisis. In every country in the EU, more than 50% of men are overweight, and almost everywhere more than 40% of women. The UK is hit especially hard, with numbers approaching the USA. Even in France and Italy, countries praised for their healthy food, more than 10% of the population is obese and the numbers are rising dramatically.
  5. Europeans are well-dressed
    Again, a myth mostly believed by a specific group, this time visitors from SE Asia (and, again, many Americans). Compared to SE Asia, where its nothing unusual to do your shopping dressed in a pygama (mint green, with blue teddy bears or purple, with yellow chicks), Europeans are haute couture. In reality, almost everywhere on the continent, people dress casually. Business districts see more suits and there may be less sweatpants and sneakers on the streets that in North America, but outside the city centre in any European country there is plenty of Adidas fashion walking around. Geographically, as you go Eastwards, sweatpants become less and less the exception until, in Russia, they become the norm.

These are just five of the many, many modern myths about Europe. Have you heard any myths you found out to be untrue? Or have a myth you particularly like? Do share it please!

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Caucasus – a spicy bite of adventure

I have to admit – the last time I’ve been to the Caucasus was more than 30 years ago. I was 3 years old and I’ve spent a summer with my family on a bee farm in Dagestan, or so they tell me. I have very limited recollection of the events myself. Nevertheless, the countries that now compose the Caucasus – Russia, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan (and the multitude of semi-countries like South-Ossetia or Nagorno-Karabakh) were part of the Soviet Union, so technically, I once lived in a “Caucasus country”. The region has been at the top of my wish list for a while, so I’ve gathered sufficient knowledge to write about it (*).

  • Why go there?
    In recent years, the Caucasus got a lot of bad publicity. Wars, poverty and crime have scarred the region. Most of the Russian Caucasus is a no-go area, where the security situation is best described by “what security?” However, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan have by now mostly recovered from the dramatic events of the past decades and are enjoying a vastly improved security situation, even though the international relations in the region remain very tense. With the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, the area is suddenly in the spotlight as a viable tourist destination. And if you’re ready to look past the dramatic headlines, you’ll find a region rich in sights, culture and most of all, exceptionally rich in excellent food and drinks.
  • What’s it best for?
    This is the place for the adventurous traveller. Of all European regions, the Caucasus has the highest content of what I call “the National Geographic sensation” – when you feel like a true explorer. Most of the region is still virtually untraveled by outsiders, so you’ll be as much of a revelation to the locals as they will be to you.
  • When is the best time to go?
    ASAP. Now. Before mass-tourism arrives and the prices go up, before you can read the menu’s, before the roads are paved. Go now, and be the first of your friends and colleagues to drink from a ram’s horn at a Georgian wedding, the first to pick pomegranates in an Armenian mountain village, the first to dip in the mud volcano’s of Azerbaijan. Amazing travel stories guaranteed.
  • How to get around?
    The transportation system in the region is improving, but is still badly hurt by years of conflict and economic hardship. Many rail and road connections are severed by conflict lines. The road will be a large part of your adventure in the Caucasus and especially in remote areas, hitchhiking might be the best way to get from A to B.
  • Why is it best to avoid?
    If you’re uncomfortable being close to active and dormant armed conflicts – stay away. In any of the region’s countries, having the “wrong” stamp in your passport or photographing a seemingly innocent building may lead to anything from a lengthy interrogation to expulsion, a heavy fine or even imprisonment in the extreme case.
  • Where to go if you just have one week?
    Georgia has it all – beaches, mountain resorts and wine cellars. Unlike many of its neighbours, Georgia is a democratic country, which earns it some bonus points. And Georgia is unique in being the home land of the Chief of all American Tribes, Father of all Nations, the Sun of the People, Jozef Stalin. The museum dedicated to Uncle Joe in his birthplace Gori is a must. Last but not least Georgia is well connected – it has rail connections to Azerbaijan and Armenia, you can get in by road from Turkey and there are even ferry connections to Istanbul and Odessa. Perhaps doesn’t mean much to you, but in the Caucasus this connectivity is pretty unique.

(*) – All images used in this post are from Wikipedia. I’ve done my best to credit the photographers, to all of whom I with to experience my gratitude for providing such beautiful images.

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Falafels for Sharon

Ariel Sharon (1928-2014)

Like many Israeli’s (and people from neighbouring countries) I, too, have a personal story about Ariel (Arik) Sharon.

First time I’ve met Arik was back in 1992, shortly after we’ve moved to Israel from what was then still the USSR. As many of our fellow repatriants, we lived in a caravan on a barren hill above the city of Ariel, in Samaria.  Arik, who was then Minister of Construction, came to our shanty town on Tu Bi Shvat to plant a tree according to the Jewish tradition. With him came Moshe (Misha) Arens, the Minister of Defence and Rehavam (Gandhi) Zeevi, who was Minister of Nothing, and who resigned from doing even that just a few days beforehand. My dad took a picture of me and my brother with Arik, Misha and Ganhdi (all politicians in Israel have nicknames), a picture that I have lost since.

The next time, I’ve met Ariel Sharon in proxy. We were still living in the caravan, and Arik came around again, this time to lay a corner stone for the new student dorms (which took about a decade or two to build). We didn’t get to meet in person, but I saw his picture in the paper afterwards, with in the background a childish, offensive, totally unrelated graffiti I sprayed on a concrete block a few days earlier. I kept this paper, but have lost it since.

A few years later I’ve met Arik again, and again, it was only in proxy. It was in 2001, when I was working at Dr. Saadya, the best falafel place in Tel Aviv. Arik was Prime Minister by then, and every other Thursday he’d meet the Likud Ministers in Metzudat Zeev, the ugly concrete Likud headquarters just across King George street from Dr. Saadya. It was 2001, I remind you, the height of the terror threat, including 9/11, so every other Thursday morning, the street would be filled with guys with earphones and micro-Uzi’s. They’d check the parked cars and the Doctor’s scooter, grab a falafel for themselves and take a portion upstairs. They couldn’t say explicitly who it was for, but hey – it’s Israel, so everyone knew who was going to eat that. The ministers came to get their falafel themselves (I particularly remember the jokes of Rubi Rivlin, who just might be the next president), so I know for sure that if security would be a bit less tight, the big man would have come by himself, but alas. This time, I didn’t get a picture, the micro-Uzi’s tend to put you off picture-taking. The falafel place is still there and I drop by, every time I’m around.

So that’s my story about how I used to cook falafels for Arik Sharon. Perhaps not the most dramatic one, but a very Israeli story, I believe.

P. S. Even thought all politicians, generals, etc. in Israel have nicknames, using them is sort of an Israeli thing. I mean – I planted trees with Ariel Sharon, cooked his meals and served in the same army as he did. I was neighbours with Benjamin Netanyahu. Its OK for me to call them Arik and Bibi. Unless you’ve got the creds, do use their full names, will you?

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