31 March 2015

Windy, Windy, Windy

As far as weather is concerned, most people think that the Netherlands is just full of rain. It's true that it rains a lot here, but for the most part, it's a light rain. It's annoying to ride a bike through but it doesn't stop you from going out. The Dutch simply employ their amazing balance skills and ride with one hand holding an umbrella and the other checking their mobile and go about their business. 

Except when the wind comes through. You know all those windmills the Dutch are famous for? Well, they don't work unless you have a lot of strong wind, and often. Great for grinding wheat into flour, not so great for cycling against. Today, depending on which weather app I consult, the winds are expected to blow around 50 kph/30 mph with gusts up to 80 kph/50 mph. Let me tell you how excited I am to ride to work...

I'm not.

This cutesy "wind" symbol doesn't properly express the dread
you ought to feel about leaving the house today.


A day like today can more than double a cyclist's commute if riding against the wind, and increase the travel time by about 50% if the wind is at your side. Admittedly, riding with the wind at your back gets you where you're going faster, but at the risk of taking flight if you hit a bump. Even living and cycling in Chicago, the Windy City*, doesn't prepare you for this sort of wind. The wind tunnels from the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago have nothing on the relatively open streets of Tilburg. Even as I'm typing I'm watching the tree tops stay bent at 30 degree angles for what feels like an impossible amount of time. 

Will that stop the Dutch cyclists? No. They'll look miserable going against the wind, but they'll be out in regular numbers because that's just what you do. I'll be along side them today, with bricks in my bags to keep my wheels on the ground.

Have you ridden through the Dutch winds? Or experienced some crazy wind elsewhere?

*As a history geek, I NEED to point out that while Chicago does get a lot of wind and can have strong gusts, the real reason for the nickname is the "windbag" politicians of the mid- to late-1800s. Know your cliches, kids.

26 March 2015

Medical Advice Purgatory

Monday afternoon the weather was fine and Little Man was playing with a friend after school. They were playing on the "big kids'" climbing thing at the school, and per usual, Little Man was jumping off the top of it. While this usually induces a mild heart attack in any adult witness, the Little Man's flying squirrel imitations typically end with him landing on his feet and climbing back up for another go.

But Monday, instead of landing on his feet, he landed on his arm. His friend's mother checked him out and took him back to their house, and checked him again. There was nothing noticeably wrong, but Little Man couldn't stop crying and didn't want to bend his elbow. The friend's mom sent me a What's App to let me know what happened and that she was bringing him back home. She gave me the whole story (and apologized profusely, she felt terrible about the whole thing) and then I brought him inside, preparing to make a visit to the huisartsenpost and find out if his arm was broken or just banged up. 

And then we hit our problem. I called the huisartsenpost and heard on the recording that the office didn't open until 5pm. Even though the huisartsenpost  is closer to our house than our doctor's office, I decided to call the doctor's to see if they could put us on the huisartsenpost's appointment list for when they opened up. As it turns out, our doctor's office stops taking phone calls at 4pm so staff can focus on the patients in the office. I called at 4:01pm.

So we waited through the hour of Medical Advice Purgatory - the time when non-life threatening emergencies just have to wait until the right phone line opens up before you can ask a professional about what you should do, and there doesn't seem to be any way around it. We sat on the couch and Little Man got more treats than a normal afternoon as we read books and kept the distractions coming.

As soon as 5pm struck, I was on the phone dialing again. I got through and got an appointment for an hour and a half later. Luckily, the doctor said that the Little Man's arm wasn't broken, just a deep-tissue bruise that would heal as it was ready and we should give paracetamol as needed. While Little Man didn't move his arm much the next day, you can tell he feels better and that there isn't any lasting damage. I just hope we don't ever have to sit through purgatory again.

Have you ever needed advice abroad and had to wait to get it? 

23 March 2015

Pannenkoeken: Dinner as Big as Your Face

Pancakes are pretty awesome. Americans have a very specific idea of pancakes, too. Fluffy. Sweet. Butter and syrup. Breakfast. Breakfast for dinner is okay, but it's still fitting into all these other categories. That's how we like them. 

So Dutch pannenkoeken can be a bit jarring for the American taste bud. Dutch pannenkoeken may be sweet. Or savory. They are not fluffy. They are not breakfast. And they're big enough to wrap around your face. But as long as you don't eat one expecting a Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast, you can still appreciate a Dutch pannenkoek

Mark was away at a conference last week, so I decided to treat Little Man and myself with a trip to the pannenkoekenrestaurant for lunch on the half day of school. He's a fan of pannenkoek with powdered sugar (or more accurately, powdered sugar with a side of pannenkoek) and I'm a fan of not cooking and cleaning my own dishes. 



The pannenkoekenrestaurant opens in time for lunch and closes mid-evening - again, this isn't for breakfast - and offers an overwhelming number of ingredient combinations for your dinner plate-sized pancake. There are so many options on a typical pannenkoekenrestaurant menu that you give the server the identification number of the pannenkoek you want to each - which can reach to over 900 identification numbers. Luckily, we both knew what we wanted going in, so ordering was fast.




And, per usual, we were happy with our choices. The pannenkoeken are fairly difficult to screw up - you can only do so by burning one and the combination options are all tried and true, so unless you order something you don't actually like, the flavors all make sense. They're so easy to make you can easily do so yourself at home with this simple recipe. But like I said, I like not having to make the mess and clean up after myself. 

Have you had pannenkoeken? What did you think?

18 March 2015

The Bookstore Experience

Despite an ever-growing list of titles on my "to read" list, I'm always looking for something new to read. Having an impossibly long list simultaneously makes me feel ambitious  because I have lots to get through and extremely lazy because I haven't got very far through it. Apparently, I enjoy internal conflict. 

Adding titles is difficult when you can't just pop into a bookstore whenever you want. I could pop into the Dutch bookstores, but seeing as my reading level is at children's chapter book, that can leave you feeling a little deflated. When we're up in Den Haag (the Hague) or Amsterdam, I like to make a trip to the bookstores to have a chance to look around and thumb through the books, and over the weekend, Little Man and I made a trip up to Den Haag and stopped in the American Book Center to do just that. 

Little Man went into the shop with a purpose: to find the next book in the How To Train Your Dragon series. He's what you might call a "local expert" on dragons and a huge fan of the "Toothless" films and books. I was a little less focused. I wanted something new but didn't even have an inkling about what I might want. Normally I cruise through the history section, but nothing was really jumping out at me this time. I wandered over to the Sci-Fi and Fantasy section and noticed a couple of dragons on covers - I've developed an eagle eye for them while hanging out with the Little Man. I read the back of one and noticed a praise blurb from George R.R. Martin, which was good enough for me.

We may have a bit of a theme going on here...


I do end up paying more for these books at the shop than if I were to buy them online. But I've come to justify it as paying for the experience as well as the book. The bookstore has become something special, a once in a while thing - like an amusement park. We make a day of the trip and do other special things while we're out.  It's also so much easier to browse and find something new to read when you can page through the actual book than when you try online, and there's something intensely gratifying about walking out with a heavy bag of adventures.

We're fortunate that it's relatively easy to make the trips to the bookstore a "special thing" and that the books aren't astronomically priced. Otherwise, I might actually get all the way through my "to read" list - which I don't actually want to do quite yet.

01 March 2015

Simple and Delicious Homemade Granola




We love good granola in this house. In Chicago, I had gotten into the habit of making granola on a regular basis and taking it for breakfast or lunch with a little yoghurt and some berries. When we moved here, the devil appliance wasn't big enough or reliable enough to make granola any more. I had been buying it in the store, but often the prepackaged granola choices are gross, expensive, or both. But I have a proper oven again, and that has meant the return of the regular fresh and delicious granola!

Making your own granola not only allows you to mix in what you like, but it's less expensive than store-bought, especially if you buy your ingredients in bulk. Buying in bulk isn't always possible in the Netherlands, but you can do an excellent job of keeping costs down by buying Euroshopper products at any grocery chain. And it's an easy recipe to boot, which is why I'm sharing it today.

The Ingredients:

4 cups uncooked oatmeal (havermout)
1.5 cups wheat germ or wheat bran (I typically use wheat bran - tarwezemelen - found in the "health nut"/extra-organic section)
1/2 cup sliced almonds (amandelschaafsel)
1 cup honey (honing)
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil (zonnebloemolie)
2 teaspoons cinnamon (kaneel)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla aroma (I can usually only find Dr Oetker's vanille aroma)


The Process:

Pre-heat your oven to 300 F/150 C.

In a large bowl, combine the uncooked oatmeal, wheat germ/wheat bran, and almonds.



In a large liquid measuring cup, measure out 1 cup honey. I then add the 1/4 cup sunflower seed oil on top of the honey, using the markings on my cup. Add cinnamon and vanilla extract/vanilla aroma. Mix everything as thoroughly as you can - remember that there's only so much mixing the oil will comply with.



Pour the honey mix on top of the dry mix. Mix some more. The goal is to get the dry mix as thoroughly covered by the honey mix as possible - you want the whole mix to be a bit damp from the honey - the dry mix will turn a darker shade of brown.




Spread the mix out on a cookie sheet. Cook the mix for 40 minutes, stopping to stir every 10 minutes. This allows you to toast the granola evenly - especially because the granola in the corners of the pan will burn a bit if left in the same spot.



After the 40 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and let rest about 15 minutes. The mix will harden more as it cools.

Store in an airtight container. I even have a fancy Ball jar and scoop that I purchased *specifically* for my granola. You can store this in the airtight container for 2-3 weeks, but to be honest we don't let a batch sit around that long around here.

I'm so classy, I have a jar and scoop designated for granola.


Some Notes on the Recipe:

It's quite easy to add in some additional dry ingredients such as crushed walnuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, dried blueberries, or dried cranberries. This particular recipe is a fantastic base from which to build your granola to your specific tastes. You can easily add up to another 1.5 cups of dry ingredients. If you like sweeter granola, consider increasing the honey by another 1/4 cup.

Try serving with plain or vanilla Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit!

Eet smakelijk!





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