Thursday, June 21, 2007

Out of Town

Tomorrow morning, we will travel to Pisa for the weekend and then on to Cinque Terre (Italy) for the wedding of our friends Andrea and Fiammetta. We'll be back the first week of July with new pictures and stories! Until then, "Ciao, bellisimos!"

Monday, June 18, 2007

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day, Markus! We celebrated with a day of something-different-and-fun all day long. In the morning, we drove to Rotterdam and took a Spido boat tour of the harbor and shipping port. Spido's central location also took us past several of the world famous modern architecture Rotterdam has to offer, including the Erasmus bridge and those crazy yellow cubist apartments. The boat was probably the most fancy we've ever been on for a simple tour, and it was well-equipped for tourists, giving an audio tour in four languages (Dutch, French, German, and English) broadcast over the PA with detailed videos on the monitors and lots of interesting info as we passed the various sights. In typical Dutch fashion, it rained off and on, and almost everyone sat at little tables inside drinking extremely strong coffee from a machine on board. Still, there was plenty of space, quite a few other small children for Ellie to watch, and room to run around. What else is needed?

The last leg of our tour took us past the New York Hotel in the old Holland-America Line building. That little island is the up-and-coming spot for yuppies, with a huge residential tower (called Montevideo) that contains six restaurants (and you never have to leave home in the rain...bonus!). We figured that would be a safe bet for lunch, so we drove over the Erasmus bridge and fought against the suddenly-strong wind to eat at Odyssey, a ground level cafe in the Montevideo Tower. It turned out to be a great choice. Despite its spartan decor and lounge-feel, there were already two other families with very young kids inside who were running around and screeching like mad things. We figured this meant we would be safe to bring Ellie in (although thankfully she doesn't usually go wild in restaurants, the owners don't always appreciate this). We snagged a low, comfy couch for our table and ordered up some tasty sandwiches on freshly baked bread. Yum.

By the time we were all done, Ellie was completely exhausted. She'd skipped her morning nap (increasingly common), and the boat/lunch/weather combo had sapped all remaining resources. This is a touchy zone, because if she falls asleep in the car, she won't keep sleeping if you take her out again before her nap is done. To dodge this, Markus suggested we drive to Haarlem (an hour or so away) to see what we could see. Excellent choice!

After having spent most of our weekends in The Hague and Amsterdam, we forgot that most cities close up on Sundays. Haarlem is such a city. All shops were closed, which turned out to suit us fine since the weather also cleared quite a bit when we arrived. The center is very pretty, and there is a large open central square near the cathedral where children were running and playing. Because everything was closed, there was very little traffic or people about, making city walking even more pleasant. We discovered some truly beautiful little spots completely by accident, including Ellie's Italian gelato shop that also serves Belgian waffles (what else is there in life?). There were a couple of irresistable photo ops you'll see below: one of Ellie seated on a bench outside an Ellie-sized house (she found it and sat there; I just snapped the picture) and the other of Ellie and Markus strolling past a particularly good sign for Father's Day.

We drove home in time to make some dinner. I tried two new recipes (half-someone-else's, half-my-own-invention), and even that worked out fabulously! It had been fairly cool, grey, and rainy most of the day, so it was extra-good to have pasta with creamy tomato sauce (I added goat's cheese to my homemade sauce) and freshly baked beer bread topped with sea salt and blended with fresh rosemary from the garden. Beer bread is so painfully simple and so amazingly good that I highly recommend you stop reading and go bake some right now. Really.
All in all, we enjoyed a fabulous Father's Day as a family, and we wish a belated Happy Father's Day to all of you out there who find themselves in the category.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

New Friend

This afternoon, we took Ellie to Blijdorp to see the animals. We visited the fish in the Oceanarium, the elephants in the Asia house, and the birds in the pond. Just before we headed home, we decided to make a last stop to see the giraffes, who were all inside because of the afternoon rain. The tallest giraffe was leaning up and over the enclosure and letting some older children give him a gentle pat. Ellie was sooooo excited! She kept reaching towards him and shrieking "NICE!" (what she says/we say about friendly pets so she won't be scared). I took her over to see the giraffe. He regarded us for a moment, and then he leaned down to lick the sleeve of my raincoat and let me pet him. This terrorized Ellie to no end, but it made my day! I made friends with a giraffe...not something that happens every day!

We have a photo after all. Hooray!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Porch Sitting

Whenever we enter or exit the house, Ellie insists that we take a moment to "Sit!" Ellie is a porch sitter. She sits on the front stoop and watches the world go by. Although we live in The Hague, it seems that we are raising a Southerner.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

When Creative Perfectionists Bake

I have been on a foodie binge lately, which has led to discovery of some awesome foodie sites out there in cyberspace. One of today's sightings elicited a huge "WOW!" when I saw Vegan Yum Yum's knitted marzipan cupcakes. I consider myself creative, and I know I'm a perfectionist...and folks, this is what happens when creative perfectionists bake!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A visit with Tony

For the past week, our friend Tony has been staying with us while in town for business. He concluded his work on Friday afternoon, but his flight out wasn't until today. We decided to make the most of his extra day with a day trip to Antwerp. Nothing like good Belgian food and chocolates! And nothing like a good day trip to completely wear out the kids...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Letting it breathe

Wine connoisseurs will tell you that certain fine wines require time and patience to mature, and even when they are ready to be uncorked, they need time to breathe to reach the perfect finish. It turns out desserts can be like that too. Yesterday, I devoted over two hours of Ellie's naptime to baking a new-to-me, multi-step, from-scratch dessert recipe for "caramel slice" (shortbread bars topped with homemade caramel and a layer of chocolate)...only to be hideously disappointed with the outcome. Even Markus the brave intrepid husband man who will eat just about anything I fix couldn't smile through it. It was that sad. With heavy hearts and not much hope, we decided to give it one more chance today before throwing it out, and HELLO! Tres yum-may!
Apparently, it just needed time to breathe.

Big car, small spaces

We live in the center of The Hague, and we own a Volvo XC90. This is not a small car, people. It is a beautiful, comfortable, very-useful-for-long-drives-with-the-kiddo vehicle, but small it ain't. The Hague, on the other hand, is a cramped European city, particularly when it comes to driving. Garage entries are tight. Driving lanes are narrow (and few people feel obligated to stay between the lines), and parking spaces are small (again, see comment about lines). I don't generally mind this because our central location was chosen for the fact that we can walk or cycle just about anywhere we need to go during the week; however, today Ellie and I discovered toddler swim lessons in a nearby town that would require (eek!) driving twice per week. Oh dear. The real question now is whether or not Jennifer has the stamina and determination to cycle it instead.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Jetlag is exhausting!

As many of you have noticed, we have been slightly incommunicado this past week thanks to jetlag. We seem to have made pond-hopping the favorite sport of our family in the past two years, but that doesn't mean we get off scot-free in the jetlag department. This time seemed particularly hard on Ellie, who handled it beautifully stateside. Our nights have been interrupted with two hours or so of extreme wakefulness on Ellie's part between midnight and 2am. Any attempts to ignore this have resulted in screaming jags that put soundproofing between us and our neighbors to the test. Experts (whomever they are) say that children adjust one hour per day, so we should have the worst of it (if not all of it) behind us now. Ellie has slept through the night the last two nights, but only after a late late bedtime. Now Jennifer has the worst of it; being a creature of habit means she now stays wide awake until 2am or so (I suppose to compensate for the habit of Ellie waking up during those hours anyway). Let's hope this week gets us all back to normal!

Meanwhile, I have a recipe to share. My beautiful, Hawaiian-livin', vegan master chef friend has been posting and sharing some amazing recipes of late (you really must try her roasted pepper sandwiches and zucchini bread!), so I thought I should share one too. Once again this week, I made wild rice-cranberry soup, the cover recipe from Paulette Mitchell's a beautiful bowl of soup cookbook. Although the colors and flavors really say "autumn" more than "spring", we can't help loving it anytime. The only real downside is the sheer amount of preparation time involved. I make the vegetable stock in advance (usually in huge batches so I can freeze it for later use), and it's easiest if I make the wild rice a day in advance too, as it takes around an hour just for that. Those of you with food processors should have no trouble with chopping the veggies, but those without have to plan on some time investment there too. But it's worth it! I promise you!

Wild rice-cranberry soup

4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1/2 c finely chopped onion
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 c vegetable stock
1.5 c cooked wild rice (we like to use more)
1/2 c dried cranberries
1 c milk or half-and-half
2 Tbsp dry sherry
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the carrot, celery and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrot is tender, about 8 minutes.
Add the flour and stir until smooth. Gradually add the vegetable stock, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir until the soup is thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and cranberries. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries are softened and plumped, about 15 minutes.
Stir in all the remaining ingredients. Stir occasionally until warmed through. Season to taste.

This recipe is vegetarian, and it should be easy to veganize. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!