Tulips in Holland

Dutch fun fact time! Despite being a super tiny country (comparable to the size of Maryland) Holland ranks 3rd worldwide in value of agricultural exports, earning over $55 billion annually. Considering the limited amount of surface space here, I’d say that’s a pretty impressive feat. And the most significant agricultural export? Fresh-cut plants, bulbs, and flowers – the Netherlands exports two-thirds of the world’s total! If you’re thinking of visiting Holland, I highly recommend coming at the end of April. The trees are full on green this time of year, the sun is our until 9pm, Queen’s Day (I guess now formally known as King’s Day) is right around the corner, and the tulips, Holland’s most impressive crop, are in full technicolor bloom.IMG_6722But let me start from the beginning . . .  Continue reading

Trust, Amsterdam

So for those of you who don’t know, I ride my bike everywhere. I don’t have a car and my bike is my main means of transport. Sometimes this sucks (when it’s raining, when you’re drunk, when you have a ton of groceries, when it’s freezing outside) and sometimes it’s glorious (those first few days of spring when you don’t need a coat, biking to work in the sunshine, never paying for gas). Bikes dominate the roads in Amsterdam, and almost everyone has a bike tale to tell. When their first bike that was stolen. That time they lost their bike after a drunk night out and found it tied to a pole six blocks down eight weeks later. And the bike accident tales. Some people get seriously hurt biking. Broken arms, legs, bike wheels that got jammed into tram tracks, cabs that flew through a red light. Why am I telling you all this? Because I just got in my very first bike accident.

I was ridding down a two way bike lane, and a guy came barreling around a turn hugging my side of the road. I tried to go more to the right to avoid him, but he also went towards my right to try and avoid me, I guess because he was already more-so on that side of the road. Long story short, his front wheel slammed into mine and knocked us both to the ground. I got up and immediately started apologizing, asking if he was hurt or if he was ok, and he just kept looking at the green light in front of him saying ‘this!’ ‘this!’ over and over in a really confrontational tone. I looked him in the eye and asked sincerely if he was ok, and then he just kicked off on his bike, as fast as he had come! He didn’t even ask me if I was ok, apologize, or mention that he had just broken my bike (which I did not see until I tried to ride away and, ohh wait, my front wheel is dented in half). So that was it. I’m not hurt but I’m sad. Regardless of who was in the right or who was in the wrong, it makes me sad that there are people out there who can accidentally knock someone to the ground and not stop to ask if they’re ok.

I think this is a nice segue into Trust, because despite there being some truly crummy people out there, there are also some pretty stellar ones. Like the folks at Trust.IMG_6386Trust is tucked away on the Albert Cuypstraat, about half way down behind the long rows of stalls and canopies. Their motto is simple – come as you are, pay as you feel. The menu is delicious with lots of gluten free options. Selections range from eggs on toast to mint and pea soup to gluten free lemon poppyseed bread.  They also have fresh juices, hot drinks, and salads. None of the menu items are priced. When you arrive at Trust you order, eat, enjoy your meal, and pay as you see fit.  IMG_6382The restaurant is laid back and artsy. The walls are covered in bright, beautiful tiles, and the chairs and tables are painted in vibrant pops of color. There is a wood stove with comfortable sitting chairs and a long window seat with stools for people watching. B and I opted for a small blue table by the door and started our meal with a cool glass of ginger carrot juice.IMG_6352Followed by a delicious wholesome meal. I had the Turkish yogurt with roasted nuts, sweet date sauce, mint and orange slices. It was just the filling breakfast kick my body needed before an afternoon of Bikram yoga.IMG_6359IMG_6368B had the Thai coconut soup, which was served in a large bowl and packed with vegetables.IMG_6363 IMG_6361As the food was delicious, we paid €12 for the meal and a tip for the servers. However, the great thing about Trust is that there is no set price – if you’re short on cash you can pay €3 for your meal and then €10 the next time you swing by. I really like the homey feeling of trust, and the happy vibes in the restaurant. B and I will be back again, for a lazy home away from home breakfast or even as a quick chai latte.

 

If you’re interested in a meal at Trust you can find them at Albert Cuypstraat 210, Amsterdam. I would tell you their hours, but their Facebook page says ‘open unless closed’ which is not very helpful! But if you’re thinking of swinging by, you can always call first to check if their open with this number: +31 20 737 15 32

Have a wonderful day sunshine!

xo

Ali

 

 

5 Simple Tips For Making Sashimi

There are three reasons my posts have been scarce lately. One. Work has been hella busy. Two. I signed up to an unlimited month of Bikram yoga and have been going four times a week, leaving me incapacitated and way to yogi-zen to blog. Three. I started watching True Detective and have been slurping the series up like a sugar-sweet milkshake. I just can’t get enough!! I have one more episode to go and don’t know what I will do with my free time once I’m through. Perhaps go back to blogging I guess ;)

This past weekend (which feels so far away already) B was out of town. I missed him, but having the bed to myself for three whole nights kind of rocked. Other than being a shameless pillow hog, I had a total self-respect weekend. On Saturday morning I ran errands around the city. Instead of biking I walked, and as the morning went on the sun slowly burnt through the clouds. All of the trees are blooming in Holland, and lately the sun has been poking around until well past 8pm. So I think it’s safe to say it’s officially spring, and I’m loving every moment.IMG_6175 IMG_6187IMG_6205When my errands were done, I decided to continue the self-respect and try something a bit out of my comfort zone. I’ve lived on the Albert Cuyp Market for three years. And I LOVE seafood (see here and here). But I’ve never actually gotten around to buying fresh fish from the market, despite the many stalls pushing fresh seafood. It might sound silly, but as an American I’m intimidated by purchasing food that’s priced per kilo, as I didn’t grow up with the metric system. No thank you am I accidentally paying €35 for one piece of fish. I also don’t speak Dutch, and the fish market is usually quite crowded and loud, which can be somewhat overwhelming for a short (by Holland standards), non-Dutch speaking American.

But on Saturday I said screw it. I wanted a big plate of raw fish, and no way in hell was I chancing the stuff from the grocery store. So after running errands, I ventured to the market and pushed my way up to the smelly fish counter. I boldly asked for €8 worth of salmon and tuna. I told the fishmonger that I was making sushi, and he helped me pick out a few pieces that were especially fresh. The experience wasn’t half as bad as I had imagined – in fact it was quite pleasant – and I think my local fishmonger may have a new regular!IMG_6216I got home and was excited to unpack my bounty.IMG_6220I opened up the packaging, stomach growling.IMG_6224And then . . . I stopped. Because I didn’t know what to do. I’ve never prepared sushi at home, and despite just wanting a simple plate of sashimi, I didn’t know what to do next. Did I have to wash the fish? Was there a special way to cut it? Did I have to refrigerate it first? Would it be weird to eat it with a fork and knife as-is? Yes, it would. So I did the next best thing. I did some research.5 Simple Sashimi Tips

If you’re planning on making sashimi at home, here are the key things you need to know:

1) Make sure you tell the grocer or fishmonger you’re buying fish to make sushi. There’s no specific grade or standard for selling sushi-safe fish, so you’re going to have to be careful. Not all fish is created equal, and you’re going to want the freshest stuff they have. Ask for a recommendation. The fish should smell like a salty ocean (not dead fish) and should be moist, with bright skin and a firm flesh.

2) Once you’ve got your fish, you’re going to need a very, very sharp knife. You don’t want to have to saw back and fourth with your knife as you cut the fish – this will crush the cells. You want a very sharp knife that will cut straight through the fish in one firm slice. IMG_62293) When you’re ready to cut your fish, slice it into long strips that are about an inch wide. Now, cut your fish against the grain into ¼-inch thick slices. You should be left with an even pile of bite-sized sashimi. For taste and freshness, you’re going to want to serve your sashimi immediately after slicing. IMG_62314) The last step is serving. Pickled ginger, wasabi, soy sauce, and daikon radish are all great sashimi accompaniments. Garnish a plate with you favorites, and then lay down the sashimi. I made my own dressing with sesame oil, soy sauce, and wasabi, and served my sashimi with a big helping of ginger and some mango.

IMG_62445) Get creative! Once you’ve mastered the basics of sashimi making, you can then start to make some really delicious and unique dishes. Typically sashimi is served as a starter, but you could make it into a delicious tuna and seaweed salad, as seen here, or a sashimi-cucumber skewer, as seen here. Keep in mind that the fish flavors are so powerful, so you want to pair your sashimi with light fragrant fruits, vegetables, and grains that compliment the meal. IMG_6254Bon appetite!

Dinner at Marathonweg

I really, really dislike flying. When I was younger I was prone to anxiety. Thankfully, as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better at taking a deep breath and finding balance in life. These days, the only time I get that I’m-crushed-I-can’t-breathe-I’m-going-to-die feeling is when I’m on a plane. Usually I squeeze B’s hand so tight, pumped up on drugs and adrenaline. But lately, I’ve been flying more and more for work. At least once a month. This means I can’t take my happy-flight pills because I have meetings. And I can’t squeeze B’s hand because I’m flying solo. So I’m dealing with it, but not in the best way. Every time I get in a plane I have to come to terms with death, which really sucks. I hate not being in control, and the thought of being tossed around in a helpless box way up in the sky with no power over my destiny is a panic-stricken thought. I hate that my mind goes there, I hate turbulence, I hate being scared. But I’m can’t help it, so I’m doing the next best thing – dealing with it. And the best method I’ve found to deal with this fear is via distraction. I read magazines, I snuggle deep into my coat hood, and I write blog posts. So the good part about flying is that I have some spare time where I can catch up with you. Because there’s no wifi or phone reception, I’m not expected to send work e-mails or take business calls. And so it really is a retreat from the real world. A death box sky retreat.

Anyways, now that you know a bit more about me and my biggest fear (which is very ironic for someone who is addicted to traveling!) let’s move on to the point of the post. Last weekend B’s friend Marshall was in town. B and Marshall went to university together. They’re lad friends who get up to mischief and reminisce about the good old days – before Marshall was a financial hotshot in London and B was a pot-smoking strategist in Amsterdam (I kid). Despite living a 45 minute plane ride away, Marshall has never been to visit us – and it’s been more than three years! But he made up for it by kindly taking us out to dinner, to congratulate us on our engagement, and I think also secretly get B drunk enough to rave with him until 5am. Boys will always be boys.

IMG_1773A Friend had recommended Marathonweg, saying ‘Ohh! They have really good sides!’ I’m a sucker for sides (and condiments!) so Marathonweg made it on the to-try list. After an online poke at the menu, we decided it was just the place to take an out-of-town guest – good wine, good food, and good atmosphere, for good company.

Upon arrival we were taken into a back room and seated at a large booth. At first I thought I might be the one with two dates. But after a while, it became clear B and Marshall were the lovers. They cuddled in the booth, split a meal, and went out together afterwards – so I guess I was the third wheel!!

IMG_1753Although the food (which I will get to momentarily) at Marathonweg was good, the atmosphere was even better. The room was illuminated by candlelight, the space was roomy and comfortable, and there were a lot of natural accents – wooden beams, tall plants, and fresh flowers. Just my kinda place.IMG_1772As I said, Marshall and B slid in on the same side of the booth. Two dates for me?IMG_1745Nope. Clearly these two are the ones on the date!IMG_1746IMG_1747Water was brought to the table in a cute Marathonweg branded carafe. IMG_1751And wine was brought to the table as well.IMG_1755Followed by a platter of fresh bread, with homemade butter, homemade aioli, and a tea pot filled with olive oil.IMG_1759We all got starters – I think B had a salad, Marshall had a meat platter . . .  and I had sardines! Served straight from the can with a few lemon wedges. Smeared on some fresh bread with a drizzle of olive oil, this was a fantastic starter. I often wonder why I don’t try to make such simple and delicious meals myself at home!
IMG_1760And then came our dinner.  B and Marshall ordered the steak for two – it was gargantuan piece of meat – the free range kind that is fed delicacies and massaged every day, before being brought to a humane death and aged gently for 30 days. I don’t know if I buy into the cow crap. ‘Ohh, this cow comes from this valley, and lives by this river and eats this diet.’ Sure, the cow’s heritage plays a small role in the taste, but it’s really about what you do with the meat that matters. How it’s cooked, stored, aged. Anyways, point of the story is that this cow was fan-frickin’-tastic. I don’t know what they did with it in the kitchen, but I must learn how to replicate this at home!
IMG_1766I had the much smaller pork belly from a Limburg abbey, served with pulled pork and potatoes.IMG_1770The whole meal was complimented with fries, green beans, and eggplant. Ahh, the delicious sides :)IMG_1768IMG_1756We cleared our plates and then moved on to coffee, and more wine. Between the three of us we had two bottles, so the cab ride home was giddy to say the least. The boys, fueled on the biggest steak known to man, then went out and danced until 5am. I had a slightly different evening and was in bed, sound asleep by midnight. I’m such a snooze sometimes!

If you’re interested in a meal at Marathonweg (which is currently one of my top five Amsterdam picks) you can find them here: Marathonweg 1-3-5 1076 SW Amsterdam. I recommend calling and making a reservation ahead of time: 020 370 3731.

PS. I have a contributor article on The Blog Wander this week, you can read and check it out here. It’s quite insightful if you’ve ever wondered how I met B, and what it’s like living abroad, being away from family.

xo Ali

Paris Part 4

Ohh gosh guys I’ve missed you!! One post a week is just not acceptable. Work was really intense last week, and as a result my brain feels like a fried egg. I had to work over the weekend, and I know it’s going to be another busy one this week. I love my job and the awesome challenges that advertising presents, but I also miss normal-life things when I work these hectic hours – eating meals at home, going to the gym, blogging, snuggling, and sunlight.

Anyways, it’s 8pm and I’ve snuck out of work ‘early’ for the night, so I wanted to finally share with you my Paris Part 4 post. Where did we leave off? After a late dinner on Friday and an ambitious Saturday sprinting all over the city, B and I decided to relax a bit on Sunday. We started with a lazy stroll to the Eiffel Tower, which was not very far from our flat. IMG_1577Summer has always been my favorite season, but after seeing springtime in Paris, I may have changed my mind. IMG_1568The sky was a brilliant blue, the air was warm, and there was not a cloud in the sky to be seen.IMG_1573IMG_1590I don’t want to spam you with Eiffel Tower photos, but man, it was pretty.IMG_1604Below is the only photo B and I got together in Paris. An old man who didn’t speak a world of English came up and motioned that he wanted to take our photo. I hesitantly handed over my camera, half expecting him to sprint. He then spent ten minutes trying to figure out how to work the automatic focus. B walked over and showed him how to point the camera at us, press the button half way down to focus, and then press fully to snap the shot. The old man did not get it. So B walked over again, and then again. By the third time we were genuinely smiling, as this guy was so cute and helpful and clearly trying his best to take a great photo. And on attempt number three, voilà! IMG_1616I love that every photo has a story. 

Great photography makes you wonder who is behind the lens, what happened moments before, what will happen after, who the subjects are, what they were thinking, etc. Some photos say a lot. Others, my favorite kind, leave you guessing and intrigued. IMG_1638After seeing the Eiffel Tower, we decided to head over to Pierre Hermé. We took a complete gamble, as 90% of shops are closed in Paris on Sunday. But the adventure was in the journey, and if we were lucky, we would be rewarded with delicious macaroons. IMG_1632Lots of people go to Paris and swoon over Ladurée. Taste wise, I love both Ladurée. We all know I have an insatiable sweet tooth ;) IMG_1644But these days, Ladurée is showing up everywhere. You can find Ladurée in almost every European capital, not to mention countless other major cities around the globe. I’m glad their business is booming, but when I go to Paris to eat macaroons, I want to feel like I’m eating something I can’t find in my backyard - something unique to the City of Light.IMG_1662I prefer Pierre Hermé, which is native to Paris. . . . . and Tokyo. Why Tokyo? Way back when, Hermé originally worked for Ladurée in Pairs. When he left Ladurée to start up his own macaroon venture, he was banned from working in Paris, due to a non-compete clause in his contract! So you’ll also find Pierre Hermé in Tokyo, but with good reason.

I’m also glad we chose Pierre Hermé. . . . . IMG_1655. . . as they were actually open on Sunday! Initially the prognosis was not looking good. Every shop we walked by was guarded by barred windows and locked doors.IMG_1656But half way down the street, we saw a small group of people on the sidewalk. And as we got closer, we realized they were eating macaroons! We swooped into Pierre Hermé, the only open door on the street, and started pointing at this and that, debating our fare.IMG_1648IMG_1659We went for a box of macaroons and some random confections – a croissant filled with raspberry jam,  a salted caramel tart, and a sweet, sticky cinnamon roll.IMG_1660IMG_1665IMG_1669^ ^ This was seriously the best croissant I’ve ever had! It tasted like a raspberry danish paired with the softest croissant I’ve ever tasted. Le sigh!IMG_1685We ate our breakfast outside in a big square, listening to church bells and chirping birds. IMG_1679We found a nearby park and strolled through the manicured gardens. If there’s one thing the French do well (other than creating delicious bread, wine, coffee, and macaroons) it’s building beautiful gardens. IMG_1674Despite our sugar feast, B and I were still hungry! So we decided to take a friend’s recommendation and head towards Bonjour Vietnam. My colleague Christy is from Japan, and she swears that Bonjour Vietnam serves the best Vietnamese food in Europe. After two days of rich, buttery French food, we were ready for something slightly different.IMG_1682^ ^ We knew we were close by when we saw this guy!IMG_1695Bonjour Vietnam really is a hole in the wall place. If B and I were walking by, we probably wouldn’t have given it a second look. The restaurant can only seat 12 people, and there are only two employees – a man waiting on the guests in the dinning area and a woman slaving away in the kitchen. We weren’t too sure what to get (I haven’t had Vietnamese food since I was living in the US!) so we pointed to a few things on the menu and left our meal up to chance.IMG_1690I had fried scallops and B had sweet and sour beef. Both were delicious, but I think we both had pho envy when the people sitting next to us were served huge bowls of steaming noodles. IMG_1692We kept out meal short (I only took the above two photos) as we had to go back to our flat, pack, and catch a cab to the train station.IMG_1642 IMG_1703We enjoyed the view from our flat one more time before grabbing our bags and heading to the taxi stand downstairs.IMG_1714IMG_1706After two days in Paris we were exhausted. We had sun burned noses and VERY tired feet. We also had a whole bag of macaroons to demolish :)IMG_1715Falling into the train to relax for a few hour was literally just what we needed. And to top it off, we had sprung for first class, so we were fed snacks and tea and treated to free wifi.IMG_1717Goodbye Paris, you are beautiful and amazing and delicious, and I can’t wait to see you again soon! IMG_1721xo Ali