Saturday, November 30, 2013

Christmas is Coming

We put up the Christmas tree tonight. I haven't put one up in years now (3? 4?) because we are always traveling in December.

This year I put my foot down because I have ornaments I hadn't seem in years. So we got a real tree from down the road and out came the sparkly Santas and the shiny balls and the many, many giraffe ornaments. And some of favorites still? The ones Fiona bought over a decade ago from Crate and Barrel from when I lived by the zoo.... 

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Instead of the turkey, I present you a pecan pie!  Wishing everyone a wonderful day!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Meanwhile, Back in DC

While I was galavanting across the Continent, Will was in DC, hosting some Danes.  On their last day, he took them to the FDR.  Stirling of course came with and was the hit of memorial.  She posed with Fala and in the soup line.

Severa tourists commented that seeing her in the line was the best thing they had seen all day.  Of course!  Have you seen how cute she is???

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Last Day in Utrecht

 My days in Europe are coming to an end. I have been on the road for about three weeks, it is time to go home.  But before I go, one last day around Utrecht!  To the Flower Market we go!  Every Saturday throughout the year, near the church square is the flower market, selling beautiful cut flowers, small shrubs, and bulbs for incredibly cheap prices.  E tells me that it is because the Netherlands is a flowering-producing nation so flowers have to be cheap.

 There were so many flowers and bulbs that I would have loved to purchase to bring home.  Alas, none were certified to bring into the US.  Instead, I watched E by several varieties of flowers so she could make some arrangements.

 We then wandered around the city and went to the best bakery in Utrecht. The desserts on display were mouth-watering and two more Dutch specialities only available around Christmas were purchased for me to try.

The first was Borstplaat: small discs of sugar.  It is the closest thing to Tablet that I have found.  We ended up having to go back to the bakery so I could purchase some to bring home to Will, the Tablet expert.  In the Netherlands, it comes in three flavors: chocolate (pictured), mocha, and vanilla.  I bought a sampling of all three, ya know, for taste-testing.

The second was Gevulde Speculaas: speckuloos (ginger and cinnamon) cake with marzipan inside and decorated with marcona almonds.  It is a perfect tea cake.

We then had lunch-- cuz everyone knows it is best to eat your dessert first!-- at a very sweet deli where everything is organic.  I had a delectable carpaccio sandwich. 

We then walked around Utrecht and ended up at the botanical gardens.  It is always fun to see gardens, no matter what time of year.  The persimmon tree still had fruit on it, if no leaves.  The Japanese maple was dropping its red leaves and the several reading areas were easier to spot through the bare trees.

The coolest thermometer was spotted: it measures both air temp and ground temperatures.  I have a feeling that one will be appearing soon in our garden.

And what is a last day without a wonderful home-cooked meal of pumpkin gnoochi made from roasted pumpkins from E's house in Freiseland.

Watching her smashing the pumpkin, rolling out the dough, and shaping the gnoochi was fun-- and it was so much easier than the potato gnoochi I have made before.  

 While the gnoochi dried a bit before cooking, we had a few appetizers and a swing in the hammock-- because every house needs a hammock inside.  It is pure brilliance.

 My final (for this trip at least) European meal: pumpkin gnocchi with sage and browned butter, cooked to perfection.

I can't wait to come back for another helping! Thank you E for a marvelous time.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


central train station 
We ended the day in Leiden, a university city since 1525.  The first thing we did in Leiden was eat another Dutch speciality: raw herring with raw onions and pickles.  We walked out of the train station and one of the fish carts greeted us.  My friend was insistent: you will eat this, think of it as Dutch sushi.  I was amazed at just how pretty the fish was in the food truck-- they were selling some nice, quality fish. Then I was presented with the raw herring...  

E getting my Dutch speciality

 ...and I ate it.  It was delicious!  An interesting combination with the onions and pickles, but it works.

Dutch Sushi

We then moseyed along the cobblestone streets and over the canals of Leiden.  We went past the place where Rembrandt was born-- his house isn't there, but someone else's house is.  We walked to the university and into one of the main buildings where a professor was giving a final lecture and staff were preparing for a reception.  

the main canal 

a building built in 1612

a bicyclist going over the small drawbridge

a plaque in the wall

a statue of Rembrandt

Leiden University's main gates
 And we walked into the garden of Leiden, founded by Carolus Clusius, one of the most influential botanist in the 16th century, maybe the world, and responsible for cultivating the tulip. His work in breaking the bulbs and developing different types of tulips helped create the famous Tulip Bubble in the 1630s.  It is a fascinating history.
Clusius garden, from 1593

as the street lights pop on

We ended the day at a cafe across from the town hall, BurgerZaken, where I had yet another Dutch speciality, Bitterbollen.  It looks like hush puppies, but inside is bits of meat and gravy.  You dip the balls in mustard-- trying not to burn you mouth like I did.   We stayed at the cafe for a while, enjoying the Mucha-like ladies on the wall and the shoppers walking by.  December 5th-- St Nicholas Day-- is quickly approaching!

Leiden's town hall

a needed break from the cold!