Gluttonous and theatrical in London

I am a huge London fan. Ever since my first visit a year ago, I have been absolutely in love with the city (if you click on that link, I apologize for the extremely bright pictures – I’d just discovered the ‘creative’ mode on my camera!). Something about it is just so inviting, so welcoming. You step off your terrible airport coach, sweaty, groggy and carrying a backpack twice your size, and yet somehow you just feel like you belong.
I also happen to love my amazing friend Steph. So when she moved to London about a month ago, there was only one thing for it: I was going to have to get myself over there, and quickly.

Needless to say, it was an amazing long weekend. There are so many bloggers out there who know so much more about London than I do (and I shamelessly used their knowledge this weekend!), but I hope you’ll bear with my enthusiasm as I highlight some of my favourite parts of my time in that wondrous city.

london

Oh London, you beautiful thing!

After a hectic first morning spent apartment hunting (for Steph, not me!), the eating palooza began at Borough Market.
Steph had raved to me about this raclette stand that made amazing grilled cheese.

london, borough market

As you wait in line, the odour of melting cheese wafts up towards you.

london, borough market

The sandwich did not disappoint. And I’m not even really a grilled cheese kind of a person, as I typically find the bread only gets in the way.

london, borough market

After I’d devoured my sandwich and half of Steph’s raclette plate, we wandered through the market, sampling all we could. We left with bags full of kale, berries, cheese, brioche, and – somehow – fresh donuts filled with creme anglaise. (They were amazing – wish I’d taken a picture, or at least remembered the name of the stand!)

london, borough

There is such an amazing selection of fruits and vegetables, too. If I lived in London I would definitely spend half my paycheck on organic this and local that … I just love Borough Market!

That evening we went out to Taqueria, which I’d been dreaming of since my visit last year. Honestly it was slightly less delicious but still magnificent – and so inexpensive! We ordered starters, meals and – ahem – several margaritas each, and it all came out to under 20 pounds per person. Unheard of in the Netherlands.
I went for the beer-battered fish tacos again … How could I resist?

london, taqueria

Side note: I loved meeting Steph’s friends. They are so open and welcoming and fun!

The next day, we did what Steph calls her ‘yummy mummy’ routine (though why she calls it that I’m not entirely sure). We took a leisurely stroll to Notting Hill, where Anja was waiting for us, and then grabbed little boxes of heaven from Ottolenghi before continuing on out way to Hyde Park. Pretty much my stereotypical idea of a day in London – and I loved it. I so wish we had Ottolenghi in the Netherlands! Until that day comes, I’ve decided to master the entire contents of Plenty.

We may also have stopped at Harrod’s for a highly touristic and extremely expensive ice cream sundae … When in London?

london, harrod's

(Stolen from Steph’s instagram.)

We spent that second evening at an incredible incredible show called The Drowned Man.
If you can go – GO. Seriously. It’s what they call a ‘promenade performance’. Without spoiling anything: as a spectator, you have to check all of your belongings at the door and are given a mask before you can enter. They highly encourage you to go in by yourself and to lose track of your friends. You’re essentially released into this entire new world and left to fend for yourself, and to discover what there is to see. It’s terrifying and exhilerating at first, and then it becomes strangely familiar. There is a main story but there are also secondary characters and so many details to see in the set alone that you just immerse yourself completely. Also, even though the story is definitely spooky and dark, nobody at any time jumps out at you or anything so it’s not too scary, even for me!
Highly recommended. I would actually go back to London just to see it again. (You can check out their trailer here.)

The rest of the night was decidedly less cultural. Steph’s friend Jill had tickets for a party at Cirque le Soir … Definitely an interesting evening! Excellent for people watching.

Our food tourism resumed the next day with brunch at Granger & Co (yum yum yum) and a Sunday roast at Lara’s. I’d never even met her but she was so welcoming and so flexible with my vegetarian needs. I must say that the chicken smelled pretty delicious.

london

Lara set a gorgeous table – very romantic!

My final day was spent around Oxford Circus and Soho, with Steph highlighting the places she knew would be right up my alley. I fell in love with Carnaby street, it’s just so charming and (to me) so typically British.

london

I also loved Joe & the Juice – delicious, fresh and surprisingly inexpensive – for London standards, of course. We grabbed lunch there before I scrambled to catch my coach back to the airport.

london, joe & the juice

Apple, beetroot and pineapple juice

So this is a major novel, and I apologize! In sum:
I ate everything in London. I love Notting Hill. You must go see The Drowned Man. And Steph is an amazing hostess.
Aaand tomorrow the Easter long-weekend starts! Whether or not you celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful few days!

Easy, fancy white pizza with gorgonzola & mushrooms

Hello from beautiful sunny London! Today is my last day in this amazing city after a whirlwind (and very gluttonous) weekend. I’m really excited to share highlights but since I have so little time left, I thought I’d share a super easy recipe idea instead. It’s been ages since my last after all, and yet my love of food never diminishes, so!

Basically, this pizza is a copy-cat of my favourite pizza at Pizzeria Libretto in Toronto. I have yet to find one as good in the Netherlands and Pieter and I have been making our own pizza dough so I thought I’d wing it … And it was amazing.

Whether or not you make your own dough, give this baby a try – it’s sure to impress! Porgy actually assisted me with the dough-making process, that’s how easy it is. I learned with this recipe.

white pizza, recipe

The only other technical component is the white sauce, but it’s actually super easy. You can make it over a stove or, as my mum taught me before sending me off to live in my first student house, in the microwave. Melt about 1 tbsp of butter and whisk in the same amount of flour. Whisk it for a minute or so, to make sure the flour cooks. Then slowly pour in some milk, whisking now and again, until you get the thickness you desire. For me that’s about one cup/250 ml.

If you do this in the microwave, first melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Then pour in the milk and leave to heat for about 30-45 seconds at a time, then take out to whisk. Repeat two or three times until the sauce has thickened.
My mom may not like to cook but she loves food, so leave it to her to have mastered a bechamel in the microwave!

When it’s thickened add salt, pepper, and a sprig of fresh rosemary to infuse.

Then prep your ingredients:

white pizza, recipe

Per pizza you need roughly
2 big handfuls of mushrooms (I used button and oyster)
1-2 shallots
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 fresh ball of mozzarella (75-100 grams)
a couple tablespoons of grated parmesan
as much Gorgonzola as your heart desires

Cover your base in a thin layer of the sauce (remove the rosemary first). Then add your shallots, mushrooms and cheeses … And then finish off by popping the garlic cloves and rosemary on top.
Optionally, drizzle a bit of truffle oil on top. It seriously is amazing.
Bake at 215 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the crust gets nice and golden brown.
Then, simply discard the rosemary and garlic before digging in!

white pizza, recipe

white pizza, recipe

Fancy pants and insanely easy – whether it’s entirely Italian or not is a different story!
Let me know if you give it a go. Happy Monday everyone!

Family celebration at the edge of the world

From the moment I first came to visit Pieter in the Netherlands back in 2011, I’ve felt very welcome not only by his parents but by his entire extended family. They’re a funny bunch – intelligent, quirky, and incredibly generous – and they took me in immediately, my terrible Dutch and everything.
At the head of the pack are Opa & Oma, affectionately called Opanoma. Every year they hold three events: a party for Oma’s birthday, a party for Opa’s, and a weekend in the East of the country to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Outstanding circumstances excepted, everyone (all 20+ of us) clears their schedule well in advance for these occasions, and they are always a good time.

This past Sunday was Opa’s birthday celebration, and all over the country we piled into our cars en route to Dronten, a little town in Flevoland (the newest Dutch province, built on land reclaimed from the Zuiderzee last century – fun fact!). The party was held at one of their favourite restaurants: Land’s End.

family celebration, netherlands

Land’s End is located in a beautiful little harbour in the neighbourhood of Ketelhaven, seemingly removed from all other civilisation. To get there, you drive through fields upon fields of farmland, right on the coast, affording you amazing views. It always feels like such a privilege to see areas that are ‘off the beaten track’ in the Netherlands – hard-to-reach areas where there admittedly isn’t much to do if you’re a tourist but which are nevetherless beautiful to see.
In the fall we trecked all the way out to the most Northern point of the province of Groningen for another family gathering and I seriously fell in the love with the place. I often find myself wishing I could live parallel lives so that I could experience living in a small town – in the Netherlands, but also in the US, or Denmark, or … (Anyone else?)

family celebration, netherlands

Warffum, Groningen (stolen from my Instagram)

But anyway … Land’s End has been the chosen place for several family occasions – notably Opanoma’s 60th wedding anniversary – and it’s easy to see why. The staff are all very friendly and professional (which I must say can be something of a rarity around here!), and the place is decked out in a sort of tasteful sailing theme, with fishing nets, maps and other paraphernalia hanging from the rafters and on the white-brick walls.

family celebration, netherlands

We were seated in our own private room with enormous windows overlooking the stormy harbour. The date for Oma’s birthday has already been set and, fingers crossed, we’ll be out on that patio!

family celebration, netherlands

family celebration, netherlands

These family celebrations are a whole world apart from my own family’s traditions – which is great, since I feel like I can love both in their own right without comparison or guilt. (Expat problems.) My mom’s side of the family is French Canadian, so when we meet it’s all about the food, baby! My Mamie & Grand-papa have passed down their love of food and cooking to all of us – we start with appetizers and spend the evening at the table, eating and chatting and drinking, and generally fulfilling French stereotypes. The last time some of us gathered, the night ended with the mother of all cheese plates and literal groans of pain!

With Pieter’s family, there is often a presentation or two, or a musical performance (both Pieter and his cousin are great musicians), and there is always a game. Pieter’s cousins W and M are master game makers, and every event I have attended so far has featured a different homemade game: be it a quiz, a treasure hunt, a puzzle or, this time, a board game. We are always well-fed, but let’s just say that I am always the one who’s most excited to dig into my meal!

family celebration, netherlands

The Opanoma game entailed some rather complicated rules for me, being a decidedly apathetic gamer myself, but it was fun to watch and to generally admire the level of detail the girls went into. How they come up with these ideas in the first place is beyond me!

family celebration, netherlands

The general idea was to get our pawn-selves from a certain point on the map to our final destination, solving transportation problems (such as open bridges or broken-down trains) along the way. There were mini cars and bicycles and also lots of laughs as we tried to decode the cryptic clues.

family celebration, netherlands

family celebration, netherlands

Opa & Oma are both in their nineties now, but they are in fantastic shape and they are so sweet to see together. Oma teases Opa, and he teases her, and they smile so openly. It’s easy to see where the family’s generosity and good nature comes from!
As always happens with these gatherings, the time flew by much too quickly. I definitely miss my family back in Canada, but I’m also so grateful to be so wholly included in to Pieter’s family activities.

Delft blue (skies)

On Friday I did something I never thought I would do.
I squashed myself into a communal wet-suit, slipped on a bright red helmet, and let myself be thrown into freezing cold rapids by a smirking nineteen-year-old. And I forked over a twenty for the privilege.
Barbara invited me to come tubing with her at Dutch Water Dreams in Zoetermeer and I accepted, not really knowing what I was getting myself into but vaguely picturing myself on a lazy river with a pina colada in my hand.
I’m glad Barbara kept me in the dark, because had I known that I would be tossed into a pool of freezing cold water, I likely would have found myself ‘busy’ that afternoon. But that’s only a safety precaution. Once you’ve proven to your still-smirking instructor that you can indeed swim/float and are not a liability, he sets you down into a big yellow tube with your partner and sends you on your way.
Then the fun and the hilarity begin! You paddle your little heart out, bump into the edges of the circuit as well as other tubers & rafters, and nearly tip over a few times – but the satisfaction of making it down to the bottom is immense, and the entire thing is just incredibly fun.

Anyway! All of that to say that come Saturday, I was bruised and sore and generally up for minimal physical exertion. Fortunately, Pieter was also in for a quiet day. So, not wanting to miss out on the sunshine, we hopped onto the tram to Delft to spend a lovely, low-key afternoon.

delft, netherlands

delft, netherlands

delft, netherlands

I’d only been to the city once in spite of its proximity, and Pieter not many more times than that, so we got to play tourists, admiring the big square with its gorgeous city hall and the Nieuwe Kerk (new church) and the hustle and bustle of the market.

delft, netherlands

delft, netherlands

It seemed the entire city was putting on a show. There were people in costumes posing in shop windows and on the streets, and a violinist in full Delft blue attire performed as we took an ice cream break at the incredibly popular Otelli. (Can you spot her?)

delft, netherlands

A few hundred meters away from the touristy commotion, the Dutch were out taking in the sunshine on a square full of terraces.

delft, netherlands

delft, netherlands

It feels like there are beautiful old churches and canals around every corner in Delft. I secretely imagined that we were back in time, when the book Girl with the Peal Earring was set.

delft, netherlands

(How much more ‘typically Dutch’ can you get than houses with doors that open right onto a canal?)

delft, netherlands

delft, netherlands

It was a wonderful was to spend a lazy, sunny Saturday. When the old church bells chimed five o’clock we slowly headed home, warm and admittedly sleepy from the sun, and with my bag full of fresh scallops from a market stall called the Happy Fish. (I love The Hague but I do not like our market, so I jumped at the chance to get my fix in these lovely surroundings.)
There are a lot of museums to see in Delft, and I definitely want to visit them – but the city itself is so incredibly beautiful and historic that simply walking through the centre makes for an excellent touristic experience.

Happy Monday everyone!
And PS. I am still sore from the tubing!

Mud walking in the Waddenzee

After writing my post about Ameland last week, I found myself scrolling through old pictures on Facebook and grinning involuntarily as I discovered an album dedicated to an afternoon of ‘mud walking’. The pictures date back to 2010 (oof! where did those years go?!!), when I was living in the Netherlands for the first time on exchange, and before I’d even met Pieter – that wasn’t until his own studies in Canada, even though I was at his school. But I digress!

Essentially, mud walking involves setting off on foot across the Waddenzee when the tide is at its lowest. The entire area is a natural park, and you have to be led by a guide for obvious safety reasons. If you’re really ambitious you can actually walk all the way across the sea to Schiermonnikoog, one of the Dutch islands, treading through water up to your chest at times and taking up to five hours. But, since we were amateurs, we kept the trip to about an hour and a half, enough to get thoroughly muddy without too much physical exertion.

mud walking, waddenzee

The Waddenzee at low tide

The exchange student network I belonged to was really good about organizing excursions, and mud walking was one of them. And so, early one morning, a big group of us bright-eyed, bushy-tailed foreigners piled into a bus, en route towards an adventure.
Since our tour was starting in Pieterburen, we also visited the seal sanctuary and rehabilitation centre there, which is a great cause and is sure to make you squeal for the seals!
(I’m only kind of sorry for that.)

waddenzee, mud walking

Then, once we’d all had a chance to meet the residents and generally gush over them, we made a pit stop for lunch before setting off on our grand journey.
The restaurant happened to have a trampoline – as they so often do, I know. I believe they had to quite sternly tear us away so that we could get on with the day’s feature activity!

waddenzee, mud walking

mud walking, waddenzee

mud walking, waddenzee

I’m clearly not a natural, but Lydia has some serious skills!

We quickly changed into more suitable clothing and met our guide by a dyke at the edge of the sea. A heads up: if you’re interested in mud walking, I highly highly recommend you wear shoes that you don’t care for. My friends and I actually went out the day before and bought the cheapest shoes we could find – and you’ll see why in just a moment!

mud walking, waddenzee

Our lovely 5 euro Converse knock-offs.

The walk started off on dry, cracked earth …

mud walking, waddenzee

But soon enough our heels were sinking into some serious mud.

mud walking, waddenzee

We treaded cautiously at first, getting used to the sensation and some of us (namely: me!) attempting to keep ourselves relatively clean – but then we were knee-deep, and then thigh-deep, and caution was thrown to the wind. As we walked, our guides pointed out little critters burrowing in the mud and changes in the geography of the sea, and helped us manoeuvre the tricky landscape.

mud walking, waddenzee

Tentative steps

mud walking, waddenzee

mud walking, waddenzee

Notice that I am still suspiciously clean at this point – that did NOT last.

mud walking, waddenzee

(Not only were those shoes covered in mud by the end of the day, they also smelled incredibly foul, and when we tried to wash them, it turned out that they were basically unsalvageable!)

When we hit deeper waters, the more foolish among us attempted to clean ourselves off. Needless to say that rinsing mud with mud did not exactly yield great results!

mud walking, waddenzee

All that was left to do was to embrace it, and soon I was slabbing mud all over myself with the best of them. There’s something weirdly exhilerating about covering yourself in cold, goopy, stinky mud.
There’s also something really exhilerating and at the same time peaceful about walking on a surface that is usually covered with water.

mud walking, waddenzee

Mud walking is an amazing experience that I would highly recommend to everyone – even those of us who don’t think getting muddy is our sort of thing.

mud walking, waddenzee

The company we used for our tour can be found here and is based in Pieterburen. However, it looks like a lot of companies offer tours from different points, so if you’re interested there is likely a convenient option for you.

A big thank you to the beautiful Marjolein for the pictures!