Sunday, December 30, 2007

The five days of Christmas...

Happy Holidays, everyone! I hope this finds you and your loved ones feeling stuffed full of joy, love, and good food.

Dave and I stayed in Amsterdam this year, taking advantage of our own encouragement for folks to come vacation here. We stayed at Helen van Herengracht the whole time and enjoyed the peace and quiet of our neighborhood. Our urban neighborhood turns rural during the holidays, with empty streets, markets closed, and- a few fireworks excepted - an atmosphere like Sunday morning under a warm blanket.

Starting with Christmas Eve, we've had five days dedicated to holiday-ing and don't plan on stopping until New Years Day.

In addition to lots of cat (or dog) naps, our holiday has been filled with leisurely walks in the alley, LOTS of backgammon, many movies watched (we covered the whoe spectrum...from Elf and the Grinch to Scooby Doo Christmas special, to Muppet Christmas Carol and White Christmas), a delicious meal prepared and eaten on Christmas Eve (our Hannumas meal...a combo of both Christmas and Hannukah some doggie pasta for 5), gifts opened (5 also got in on the 3rd present, he was shredding up paper and going crazy for whatever was inside), putting together a 1000 piece puzzle (talk about leisure time!!!), and a cozy tasty dinner at Koh-i-noor, our favorite Indian take out place, on the 2nd day of Christmas (no turtle doves's what the Dutch call Dec. 26th, which is as much of a holiday as the 25th).

There was a big gaping hole in the Christmas experience that can only be filled by friends and family. But we did our best with video chats and phone calls, which in themselves seemed like Christmas miracles from so far away.

Regardless of what holidays you celebrate and how you go about it, I truly hope you had a chance to experience a touch of the magical transformative power of the holiday season. Seeing a few extra smiles on peoples' faces. Noticing the lights on the trees and in the windows. Hearing a child (or dog!) squeal with delight over a new Christmas toy. Offering a warm handshake to the Grinch around the corner and witnessing his edges soften, even if just for a moment. Finding bliss at the bottom of a cup of cocoa. Getting lost in the thought that there just might be a Santa after all somewhere in your life.

Dave and Five and I wish you the very very best for your new year. Here's hoping that 2008 is a happy and healthy one...


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dutch apple pie...

Okay...for many years, I have boasted over my grandma's homemade apple pie recipe. And I'll still stand by it.

However, I think the time has come for me to pave the way for the new Queen of Pies. To welcome the new ruler of that supreme dessert.

That's right, folks, there's a new tart in town, and she's absolutely divine.

There are a few places in Amsterdam that feature the best of the best traditional Dutch apple pies...tall with a sweet crumbley crust, with apples that are perfectly straddle the border between Sweetsville and Sour Town. Winkel, a small cafe conveniently next to the Noordemarkt (near our huis), has decidedly been our favorite. We've been known to consume said pies on more than a few occasions, meeting friends from all over Amsterdam who will come our way just to get a slice.

And as good fortune has turned, I have a new Dutch friend who has the inside track to these delicious pies. She offered a small group of us a hands-on lesson in making The Pie...with ample taste-tests included, of course. :)

Donna, the Pie Goddess, is in the second picture. Her humble pupils joined her in the last picture. L to R: Christina, me, Aurelie, Donna, Jenn (the host), and Carly.

What a fun night. What a great pie.

For those of you interested in trying, here's the recipe:

Hollandse Appeltaart.

600 gr zelfrijzend bakmeel (this is "self-rising flour")
350 gr real butter this has to be at room temp - and has to be a mix of salted (275 gr) and unsalted (75 gr) butter
250 gr brown sugar (if you like it sweet go for 300 gr)
2 eggs
about 8 big apples (Goudreinet or Braeburn) also add 2 softer apples.
1 lemon
1 orange
Little glass of Calvados (not essential, but very yummy)

Now if you like other ingredients, like nuts and raisins, add them to you apple mixture.
Don't like raisins, but would like to try something else, try dried apricots.

As with any recipe. You like it sweeter, add more sugar.
You like it less sweet, use less sugar ;-)
But please don't use a margarine or any other low fat butter. Just use the real stuff.

Mix butter and sugar together until soft.
Add eggs (safe some egg to brush on top of cake)
Sift the flower twice (separately) then add to butter and sugar mixture.
Then mix together and let it rest.

Peel your apples and mix with a scoop of sugar and a little bit of Calvados.
Add the zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange.
In a pan add a little butter and heat up your apples (and raisins etc.). The softer apples will start falling apart.
Heat the apples only for a short 2 or 3 minutes.

Meanwhile. Butter your cake dish and cover the bottom with baking paper.
Then line the entire dish with your cake mixture. Safe plenty for the top.
Fill with the apple mixture.
Cover the cake with the rest of the mixture, make strips and align as followed #
If you want you can add some brown sugar on the strips.

You should still have some of the mixture left.
Make different shapes of fruits or just apples and bake these separately.
You will end up with some nice butter cookies that you can use to decorate your cake.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Met poeiersuiker?...

Sent from our neighbor Ton, who is an actor/entertainer and has a regular act called "Jaap and Betty". Those pastries in the picture are oliebollen...deep-fried doughnuts, basically. Served only at Christmastime.

"Gelukkige kerst en een knallend 2008 van jullie eigen Jaap en Betty!"

(Come on...join me for the chorus..."Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhood...")

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Happy Hannumas...

...Or Merry Christukah! However you want to slice it, we've got the holidays going on here in good fashion.

This will be the first year I have spent away from my friends and family in MN over the holidays. To compensate for this in-compensate-able gap in December merry-making, we've turned Helen into a beacon of Christmas and Hannukah cheer.

We had planned to get a full REAL tree this year, but considering biking our way through a tree lot and dodging bullet-like crowds on the Kalverstraat, we thought the peace might be better kept if we blew the dust off of our 2-foot tall artificial and kept it simple.

(As a side note, I learned of a nursery in Haarlem that offers Christmas tree RENTALS. The trees come in pots and are recycled year after year. No heartbreaking trips to the trash with your beloved holiday treasure. I don't know if this is becoming a trend in the US, but it really seems like a great idea. Maybe next year.)

Hannukah came earlier in the month, and we lit the menorah every night on schedule after starting one day late (D travelled right in the middle of those eight nights, so we got a little off track) - and having yet to light the last one (seems so final...we keep putting it off).

D said a prayer and sang a song in Hebrew the first night or two, and after that we added a totally goy-accessible feature to our ritual. Every night, we (or I, if D was out of town) listened to music by different Jewish composers each night (kicking off with Adam Sandler's famous Hannukah Song, ramping up to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sid Robinovitch, Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Lerner and Lowe).

(Needless to say, Hannukah could last a few years straight and we couldn't get to all of the fabulous Jewish composers in history. But nice to start somewhere.)

Our tree is as sweet as ever. Sitting on our dining table, it has a constant view of the canal, watching the world go by morning, noon and night. Brenda gave me a table runner as a wedding shower gift that is a perfect tree skirt. And for a little tree, it's boasting quite a few ornaments, including the plastic keyboardist that mom bought for me years ago and the (ahem) star of "David" that I bought last year at Macy's.

With great sincerity, I wish this blog entry was accompanied by real live hugs and laughter and sugar cookies with you in the US, but in the warmest electronic kind of way, we want to wish you and your families a wonderful holiday season and a fabulous 2008.

Fijne feestdagen,
Lynn, Dave and #5

Monday, December 3, 2007

Life imitating art imitating life...

After waiting a year or two to do it, Dave and I recently had three pieces of ours beautifully framed by a local frame smith.

Here's our gallery:

1) I love Pringles. Without doubt, I have got the fever for the flavor of a Pringles' and there doesn't seem to be a cure.

This ailment over my love of the tennis-ball-can-wielding snack chip is no secret. So when D and I had dinner two years ago with his firm's chief marketing officer, it wasn't altogether shocking that the topic came up. And in a strange stroke of good fortune, it turned out that he had been part of the marketing team that launched THE original Pringles product and its accompanying campaign ("newfangled potato chips...great taste and less waste").

Forget Graceland. I was in the presence of a Pringles man.

Out of complete goodness of heart, he shipped us this piece. An original mock-up of the the first Pringles advertising campaign.

I want to be buried with this some day.

2) I have a friend in MN named Megan Jackson (married to long ago children's ministry partner and dear friend Kyle Jackson) who is a very talented artist. As a wedding gift, Zanny and Mike commissioned Megan to make a piece for us. It's a beautiful tribute. I love it. We gave it a big new frame to give it proper attention on our wall.

3) From what I hear, D and I totally drew the long stick on this one. Alaina painted this for a school project, focusing on the work of (you guessed it) Van Gogh. There have been more than a few people shocked that a (then) 8-year old painted the replica of VG's "Sunflowers." We weren't the only ones in the family who wanted this painting, but Alaina wanted us to have it as a wedding gift. Beth had it beautifully framed and I shipped it here from MN this summer.

4) In the last couple of years, we've had the wonderful opportunity to take some trips with D's family when they come to visit. One of them was to Istanbul, one of our favorite cities in the world. D and I bought this ink sketch on papyrus from a street artist on a trip with Norm, Brenda, Aud and Craig.

The good times just get better...

Dave and I hosted our second muziekavond last night and are still reeling in afterglow 20 hours later.

The afternoon offered a surprise when, two hours before guests were to arrive (and Carly was up to her elbows in vol au vent pastry baking), Heren blew a major circuit and we were without power...up until 15 minutes before guests started arriving.

(Note to self: Although finishing up the whites, starting a load of dishes, warming the oven AND running all of our recording gear might win me a GE Multi Tasking purple heart, perhaps I should save my Martha Stewart savoir faire for a day when we aren't expecting 30 guests at our door.) (Noted and noted again.)

But with the angel-like help of Daan and Rodrigo (neighboors...Piraat's parents) and their kitchen, and Carly's ability to punt, the night went on. And went on with lots of style and heart.

Because we had prepared to go on in the dark, every candle in the house had been drafted to light rooms and hallways, leaving an absolutely stunning ambience (in fact, both D and I were almost a little disappointed when the power came on and our house was filled yet again with electric light. There's something so quiet and still about a candle-lit room). We kept the candles burning throughout the night.

The program was a highlight of what was happening in French music and art from roughly 1880-1910. Specifically Monet, Debussy and Ravel. I played four solo piano pieces and had the absolute delight of playing Debussy's Sonata for Violin and Piano with my dear friend and violinist Estee Dwan. During the entire music program, Dave had slow-transitioning images of about 20 of Monet's paintings beaming through our stained-glass windows, covering our ceiling.

Since I have such a hankering for witty yet intelligent banter (as I truly find myself altogether quite entertaining), I mixed the music up with some basic explanations of how this music came to be...tracing the roots of tonal music and what that is, to the eventual deviation from it around the turn of the 20th century.

To help with this explanation, Dave helped me create a handout (see above). I was trying to explain the relationship between the tonic, dominant and sub-dominant chords (the I, IV and V), and how the hierarchical structure of tonality started to dissipate and change with Debussy.

(Translation: the I, IV, and V..."Three chords and the truth..." = the foundational composition "colors" for classical music - Mozart, Beethoven, romantic music - Schubert, Brahms, Liszt...not to mention nearly every country, gospel, blues and rock and roll song loved and cherished today).

(Needless to say, D and I iterated more than a few times..."who does this with their spare time?" Apparently, we do.)

Following a brief intermission, Estee and I continued with a few Christmas pieces I arranged for piano and violin which involved much improvisation between the two of us. It was a blast. I think we could've played all night.

There is something pure magic about these nights. Maybe that's just the voice of a host speaking, but I really believe that there's something special brewing. Neighbors and friends from every corner of the globe coming together to enjoy food, wine, music and each other. There are new introductions being made in every corner of the house, each one doing its bit to tighten the belt around this ever-shrinking small world.

And it would be deceiving to omit mention of my joy being able to play at these try new pieces, to talk about the connectivity between art and artists over the last three centuries, to have a reason to think through what communicates have a living breathing canvas. It's an amazing gift to me to be able to do this.

Doing all of this with Dave is the partner in crime, my creative counterpart, technical manager, host-with-the-most, and unabashed cheerleader. I love you, sweets. You're the best.

To those of you reading from overseas, I enthusiastically invite you to any of our future muziekavonden here. We have a glass of wine poured for you...