Pepernoten yummmmm.

My family is really getting into the sinterklaas spirit. This week’s little activity was making pepernotten, the little cookies that Black Petes give out. They are about the size of pennies and spiced with something similar to pumpkin pie spice. I’m in the beginning stages of addiction to these little koekjes, so when 8yr asked to make them I was more than happy to help.

step 1

step 2.

 We needed the help of all 4 kids to finish these cookies. They’re so small we  rolled out over 100 little cookies. I probably spent more time making sure the kids didn’t eat too much dough than making the cookies. The end result was fabulous, they were little crunchy cinnamon bombs and I ate them until I was sick, then had a few more. I think we give Zwarte Piet a run for his money on these tiny treats. This is the recipe we used.

the end result. aka a tray full of delicious

NDT Programma II

Last week I was fortunate enough to see the Nederlands Dans Theater perform for a second time. It turns out that they have special 10euro youth tickets for people under 27. 10euros! That’s less than the price of a movie ticket to see one of the best dance companies in the world. In addition to the dance performance the ticket includes drinks before the performance and during the intermissions. Just my drinks for the night would have cost as much as the ticket.

But then there was the performance and it was worth far more than the 10euro price. The first piece was “Chamber” choreographed by Medhi Walerski. It was everything I wanted out of a NDT performance. Other than great lighting there weren’t many theatrical elements, even the costumes were minimal. The whole focus was simply on the dancers and their incredible bodies. Next were two pieces from Jyri Kilian’s Black and White Ballets. I probably watched the Black and White ballets video twice a year in university and even wrote a paper on the choreography. When I first saw the dress on stage I let out a little squeal of delight.  I was happy as a clam, but it only got better with the last piece “Swan Song” by Sol León & Paul Lightfoot and  was one of the best contemporary pieces I’ve seen. This piece emphasized the beautiful technique in addition to their flawless movement quality. Everything came together perfectly the choreography, music, and set pieces to create brilliant story telling and visual stimulation.

I was speechless at the end of the show. It was difficult to take in so much awesome in a 3 hour span. The good news is, there’s more shows to see and at 10euro/ show I can afford to be a regular at the Lucient Theater. I already have tickets to see Momix in December, and there’s a possibility of some Romeo and Juliet action next week.

Thanksgiving results

it tasted better than it looks

Well Thanksgiving was a success. Its probably my favorite holiday and best American invention. Last year’s thanksgiving was a great time, but celebrating it on the actual day was even better. And this year, I made the dinner all by myself. I’m slowly learning to cook, so making an entire Thanksgiving was like tackling Everest after climbing a 14er, it is a pretty big jump. Somehow I did it all and nobody got sick. We weren’t able to get a turkey last minute in Holland, so we had a chicken instead. I would call roasting a chicken a good start before tackling an entire turkey. I did manage to crank out mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, gravy, chicken, cranberry sauce,  and a pumpkin pie, all from scratch (with a little help from the Joy of Cooking)

Joy of Cooking, almost as much as help as my mom.

Even better,  my host family even liked it. The parents and I had a few plates each, while the kids were all satified with something on their plates. It was pretty satisfying to make a huge roast dinner from scratch that people actually liked. I’m keeping my culinary skills in perspective though. I won’t be trying to tackle another “Julie and Julia” kind of thing anytime soon.

empty dishes always a good sign at the end of a meal

That can’t be what it looks like. Oh, it is.

Generally I try to keep it clean on my blog, but I couldn’t not share this gem. This fine statue can be found in Eendracht Plein, Rotterdam. Its not down a back alley or tucked away, its right in the middle of life in Rotterdam. He’s known as Kabouter buttplug, as in the Butt Plug Gnome. Yeap, true story. Apparently Kabouter bp, is a fairly divisive figure in Rotterdam. Some people absolutely hate him, and others think he is a wonderful example of the freedom and tolerance of the Netherlands. I can’t really make a judgement call, all I can really say is WTF Holland?

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Although it isn’t celebrated out here in the Lowland, Happy Day of Thanks and Turkey. After last year’s turkey success, I’ve gotten a little over confident and volunteered to make Thanksgiving dinner for my host family. This could get interesting. I have a feeling it will turn out similarly to the Griswald’s turkey.

This isn’t my first turkey day spend away from home, in fact I’ve only been home for 2 in the last 8 years. That still doesn’t make me miss home any less though. I still think my Mom is the best cook I know. I have so many things to be thankful for this year. 1-the health and well-being of my parents. I may live far away but you are still my everything. 2- skype. without it I don’t think I would be able to live outside America for so long  3- My wonderful host family. I really hit the jack-pot with my au-pair situation, and I certainly don’t take that for granted. 4- my health. Sure I’ve gotten more colds this year than normal, but if that’s my biggest problem, things are pretty great. 5- My friends- you know who you are. I’ve collected them all over the world. Unfortunately I don’t get to talk / see you as much as I’d like but I’m pretty darn lucky to have friends as cool/great as you.  6- Ikea. 1 euro breakfast, free coffee, candles pictures, cheap shopping delights, kiddie day care. Did I mention the free coffee?

I’ll let you know how it all goes down. Hopefully it will be an update and not a accident report.

Hello there Zwarte Piet (black Pete)

After hearing the fabulous story of Sinterklaas and witnessing the growing anticipation of my kids, I had to become part of the Sinterklaas festivities. My friends and I joined my host family for Rotterdam’s Sinterklaas parade. After he arrived in the Rotterdam by boat, every city has a Sinterklaas arrival, he rides his white horse through town. He is surrounded by his helpers, Zwarte Piet, and they hand out candy and cookies to kids in the crowd.

My four year old decided she wanted to dress up as a Piet and took it upon herself to apply the blackface and make a collar for herself. There were several other kids dressed up as Black Pete, but she was by far the best. (I may be a little biased) Even Sinterklaas noticed her on the way by. The kids were riding a sugar high from all the candy and cookies handed out, and even the adults had a moment of belief in the old man from Spain.  We set our shoes by the door tonight for Sinterklaas, if I’m lucky I’ll get some cookies, if not I’ll see ya in Spain.

Sinterklaas is in town

No that’s not a miss-spelling of Santa Claus, I’m talking about the Netherlands version of Santa Clause. I could try to explain it, but I think that David Sedaris did it best in Esquire in December 2002. Enjoy this nugget, its worth reading the whole thing. According to my host family the whole part about Sinterklass is true, he hasn’t made anything up.

“In France and Germany, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, while in Holland the children receive presents on December 5, in celebration of Saint Nicholas Day. It sounded sort of quaint until I spoke to a man named Oscar, who filled me in on a few of the details as we walked from my hotel to the Amsterdam train station.

Unlike the jolly, obese American Santa, Saint Nicholas is painfully thin and dresses not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall hat resembling an embroidered tea cozy. The outfit, I was told, is a carryover from his former career, when he served as a bishop in Turkey.

One doesn’t want to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but this seemed completely wrong to me. For starters, Santa didn’t use to do anything. He’s not retired, and, more important, he has nothing to do with Turkey. The climate’s all wrong, and people wouldn’t appreciate him. When asked how he got from Turkey to the North Pole, Oscar told me with complete conviction that Saint Nicholas currently resides in Spain, which again is simply not true. While he could probably live wherever he wanted, Santa chose the North Pole specifically because it is harsh and isolated. No one can spy on him, and he doesn’t have to worry about people coming to the door. Anyone can come to the door in Spain, and in that outfit, he’d most certainly be recognized. On top of that, aside from a few pleasantries, Santa doesn’t speak Spanish. He knows enough to get by, but he’s not fluent, and he certainly doesn’t eat tapas.

While our Santa flies on a sled, Saint Nicholas arrives by boat and then transfers to a white horse. The event is televised, and great crowds gather at the waterfront to greet him. I’m not sure if there’s a set date, but he generally docks in late November and spends a few weeks hanging out and asking people what they want.

“Is it just him alone?” I asked. “Or does he come with some backup?”

Oscar’s English was close to perfect, but he seemed thrown by a term normally reserved for police reinforcement.

“Helpers,” I said. “Does he have any elves?”

Maybe I’m just overly sensitive, but I couldn’t help but feel personally insulted when Oscar denounced the very idea as grotesque and unrealistic. “Elves,” he said. “They’re just so silly.”

The words silly and unrealistic were redefined when I learned that Saint Nicholas travels with what was consistently described as “six to eight black men.” I asked several Dutch people to narrow it down, but none of them could give me an exact number. It was always “six to eight,” which seems strange, seeing as they’ve had hundreds of years to get a decent count.

The six to eight black men were characterized as personal slaves until the mid-fifties, when the political climate changed and it was decided that instead of being slaves they were just good friends. I think history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet times beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility. They have such violence in Holland, but rather than duking it out among themselves, Santa and his former slaves decided to take it out on the public. In the early years, if a child was naughty, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would beat him with what Oscar described as “the small branch of a tree.”

“A switch?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. They’d kick him and beat him with a switch. Then, if the youngster was really bad, they’d put him in a sack and take him back to Spain.”

“Saint Nicholas would kick you?”

“Well, not anymore,” Oscar said. “Now he just pretends to kick you.”

“And the six to eight black men?”

“Them, too.”

He considered this to be progressive, but in a way I think it’s almost more perverse than the original punishment. “I’m going to hurt you, but not really.” How many times have we fallen for that line? The fake slap invariably makes contact, adding the elements of shock and betrayal to what had previously been plain, old-fashioned fear. What kind of Santa spends his time pretending to kick people before stuffing them into a canvas sack? Then, of course, you’ve got the six to eight former slaves who could potentially go off at any moment. This, I think, is the greatest difference between us and the Dutch. While a certain segment of our population might be perfectly happy with the arrangement, if you told the average white American that six to eight nameless black men would be sneaking into his house in the middle of the night, he would barricade the doors and arm himself with whatever he could get his hands on.

“Six to eight, did you say?”

In the years before central heating, Dutch children would leave their shoes by the fireplace, the promise being that unless they planned to beat you, kick you, or stuff you into a sack, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would fill your clogs with presents. Aside from the threats of violence and kidnapping, it’s not much different from hanging your stockings from the mantel. Now that so few people have a working fireplace, Dutch children are instructed to leave their shoes beside the radiator, furnace, or space heater. Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men arrive on horses, which jump from the yard onto the roof. At this point, I guess, they either jump back down and use the door, or they stay put and vaporize through the pipes and electrical wires. Oscar wasn’t too clear about the particulars, but, really, who can blame him? We have the same problem with our Santa. He’s supposed to use the chimney, but if you don’t have one, he still manages to come through. It’s best not to think about it too hard.

While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively simple. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you’re bad, he leaves you coal. If you’re good and live in America, he’ll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, “Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before you go to bed. The former bishop from Turkey will be coming along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don’t know for sure, but we want you to be prepared.”

This is the reward for living in Holland. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution — so what’s not to love about being Dutch?”

Read more: Six to Eight Black Men, by David Sedaris – Esquire

Home for the Holidays

(sung to the tune of “home for the holidays) Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays and this year that’s exactly where i’ll be. Cuz I’ve got parents that are awesome, its home in December for me!!!!

That’s right. For the first time in 3 years I’ll be home for christmas, and I couldn’t be more excited. If you’re in the the Grand Junction area December 18th-30th, mark your calendars because I have some serious catching up to do.Grand Junction you have 7 to prepare…