31 January 2013

I Heart Holland: Reason #2 - Stroopwafels


We. Love. Stroopwafels.

What are these? Amazing discs of delicious that come in 10cm diameter or "mini" sizes. Two thin layers of waffles with a thin layer of sweet syrup in between. The grocery store pre-packaged types are very good, but the fresh ones from vendor stalls at markets are amazing. Little Man and I will frequent our neighborhood's Thursday market for fresh stroopwafel. Yup, that's right, I've even got a stoopwafel guy.

Even with the store down the street and the markets every few days, this may be one of the first Dutch recipes I learn to make

Mmmm... stroopwafel.

29 January 2013

Another Chance for Vacation!

"What? Weren't you gone for a month?"

Yes, we've only been back for a week officially, and we're already making plans to leave again. But not so dramatically as my "cleverly" devised post title would suggest.

Now that we feel pretty settled in Tilburg, what with pictures on the walls and everything, there's less things that require urgent attention. Since living in Europe is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most North Americans, we plan to take advantage of seeing things and places that wouldn't be that easy/affordable if we were still in Chicago.

Mark is looking forward to an opportunity to visit Abu Dhabi in the UAE next month on business. He gets to take care of business, see some sights, and see a friend, all of which will be great!

Last night I finalized our travel and accommodations for a short trip to Dublin in March. We got to walk around the Dublin airport on our way to Chicago last month, and that was a huge tease for me with my hyper-excitement for Irish history and fairy tales and general love of Guinness. I decreed then and there in the terminal that we would be visiting officially in the spring. And now we are. So there, my decrees do have some sort of power.

Also in the works are the beginning plans for a trip to Paris or Versailles in the late spring, but the details on that are more like happy thoughts than actual details at this point. Again, sitting in the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris was a bit of a tease when we were returning from the States. "Isn't it great that we got to see the airports for all these places you've always dreamed of seeing?" Mark said... Yes, it's been splendid, but I think we can do better. And we will. And we'll share our experiences. So it's all good.

28 January 2013

I Heart Holland: Reason #1 - Bicycles

Sometimes there are just fun little tidbits of information we learn about the Netherlands. So we've decided to start sharing them as the fancy strikes us. Enjoy.

I Heart Holland: Reason #1

Population of approximately 16.5 million people.
Approximately 18 million fietsen (bicycles) in the country.
And a plan to potentially start heating bike paths.

25 January 2013

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Confusion and Mischief

We're back in our home in Nederland after a one month grand tour of the US. Rather than the usual IKEA Vrijdag, here's a brief recap of what we've been up to over the last few weeks while we've been traveling and unable to make regular updates. Warning: the following is text-heavy.

The Preparation

About a week before Christmas we made a deliberate effort to clean up around the house and use up all the food in the refrigerator and freezer. We were almost completely successful for both, and only had to throw out a few things from the freezer.

The cats were escorted to the kattenpension (cattery) the evening before we left. They weren't very happy about being shoved into a carrier together, less happy about their ride on the bike in the carrier, and even less happy about being "dumped" in some strange place where they understood even less of what the humans were saying and could hear dogs barking...

Flights, V1.0

We got up very early so we would have time to walk to our neighborhood train station to catch the 5:52 AM to Breda, which would get us on the FYRA (high speed train) to Amsterdam on time. We flew Aer Lingus to Dublin and then Dublin to Chicago. Little Man did well on both flights, though only catnapped a little which was impressive since he was up around 5:00 AM... but we expected that since those little TVs in front of your seat are so enticing for a 3 year old, even for 7 hours straight...

When we landed in Chicago, we were greeted by freezing mix. For a while we wondered if we were going to be able to land at all, but the pilots took a less fuel-efficient route to shorten the trip and landed at a point that was okay for the weather.

The Midwest and New England

We spent and evening with a friend in Chicago, then drove to Cincinnati for the days leading up to Christmas Eve with family. Made various trips to Columbus, Indiana (where we enjoyed a whopping 7 inches of snow the day after Christmas), St. Louis (including a little more snow and a trip up the Arch - or "the big grey rainbow" as Little Man referred to it), Saginaw, Michigan (where we experienced more snow and Little Man got spoiled by Grandma and Grandpa), and Chicago (again, and surprisingly without snow) to spend more time with family and friends over the next 2 weeks.

Little Man learning to play floor hockey with Grandpa.

Grandpa pulling Ace and Little Man on a sled. =)

After the grand Midwest tour, we flew to New Hampshire and drove to Massachusetts, where we mostly stayed put with family, and enjoyed a Sam Adams brewery tour (where Ace geeked out about seeing her favorite master brewer featured on the commercials and in action during our tour) and Little Man got spoiled by Mormor and Bumpa. The time in New England also included a trip up to Maine and, you guessed it, more snow.

Little Man's "moose hunt" with Bumpa
We saw master brewer Bob Cannon at work at the Sam Adams brewery! 

While the details here are minimal, we would like to again extend our thanks and gratitude to all that put us up for a night or longer. We appreciate those that assisted us during our nomadic wanderings.

Flights, V2.0

We were scheduled to fly Icelandair out of Boston, change planes in Reykjavik, and land back in Amsterdam. When we got to Boston Logan, our flight was canceled for technical reasons. They were able to place us on the AirFrance flight to Paris and get us another flight from Paris to Amsterdam that landed just an hour after our initially scheduled Icelandair flight. And we were got meal vouchers out of the deal, too, so it generally worked out. Little Man was even convinced to sleep most of the flight to Paris, which ended up being more sleep in one trip than all his other transatlantic flights combined. In Paris, Ace was happy to find that she remembers enough high school French to get through Customs by confirming that we do live in the Netherlands and have the visas/residency cards to prove it, and enough to order a coffee, tea, and pain au chocolat. The flight from Paris to Amsterdam was one of the shortest flights we've experienced - about 45 minutes and was so fast that it was surprising that the flight attendants could finish the drink service before the final descent.

The Return

We got to Amsterdam and collected our luggage with enough time to catch the FYRA going back home. Unfortunately, since it snowed that morning, there was an issue with the track, and we sat about a two minutes' ride outside of the station for an hour waiting for the track to be fixed... We even got to watch the next FYRA train (scheduled a half hour after ours) pass us on another track.

By the time we walked from our neighborhood station to the house, we had just enough time to fill our bike tires, clean the chains, and buy milk, bread, and kitty litter on the way to the kattenpension to pick the cats back up. As expected, Zappa was angry with us and Sebastian was concerned that he had done something wrong and avoided us, and both were annoyed about being shoved back in the carrier and "tortured" with another cold bike ride.

Restoring "Normal"

During our trip, the Little Man made it to 8 different US states and 4 different countries during all of our travels. This also meant 8 different beds during our travels. We were all happy to get back to our own beds, especially after our air travel. Since we left right before the Winter Solstice, it was dark late into the morning and early into the afternoon. Coming back a month later, it was nice to come back and still have daylight at 4:30 PM.

The day after we returned, Mark went back to work, Little Man and Ace went shopping to restock the refrigerator and cupboard, and the cats reclaimed their ownership of the "big bed." All was going well until Little Man was taken out by a stomach bug for the rest of the day and most of the night. The next day remained low key, but the Little Man returned to school today for his morning session. And thus the circle of normalcy returns - or as much normalcy as one can manage living in a foreign country with little understanding of the language.


20 January 2013

[Bier]: McChouffe

I really like these beers. They are a Belgium style from the Achouffe brewery. The beers from this brewery seem to be a bit more expensive then normal, so save them for a special occasion. It is a dark, unfiltered beer that is re-fermented in the bottle and the keg.

13 January 2013

[Bier]: La Trappe Isid'or

According to the brewery webpage "La Trappe Isid’or is a lightly sweet amber beer with a hint of caramel. The beer tastes softly bitter and has a fruity aftertaste. La Trappe Isid’or is brewed with the self-cultivated Perle hop." The beer is named after the first friar-brewer at the abbey, Isidorus Laaber. His initial brewing abilities is part of the reason we can continue to enjoy La Trappe beers today.

This is also, so far, my favorite La Trappe offering.

06 January 2013

[Bier]: La Trappe's Dubbel

This beer is from La Trappe, the only trappist brewery in the Netherlands. The rest of this review is by the Little Man (to be clear, the Little Man did not drink the beer).


Little man mostly nailed the review by noting "mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm" and "ooooooooooooooo" (I presume an indication of awe). 

*It is at this point that the Little Man figured out you can hold down the letter to make it repeat a bunch of times.

04 January 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Tullsta Fauteuil/Armchair

You may have already looked at the title for this week's IKEA Vrijdag post and wondered, "Wait, if you did the kitchen chairs last week, why aren't you doing the kitchen table this week?" The simple and honest answer to this legitimate inquiry: The table wasn't nice and neat like the ads in the IKEA catalog, so I couldn't take a picture without embarrassing myself... So, instead we'll keep featuring chair reviews for the sake of forcing some sort of continuity.

This week, we look at the Tullsta Fauteuil/Armchair. We bought two of these armchairs in red for our living room. I think it's worth noting that that the Tullsta Armchairs sold in the US come with a small back pillow - ours did not and are not offered on the IKEA Dutch website. Europeans in general don't mind sacrificing comfort for style; and I think that's okay in this case since I like the chairs without the pillows.

Collecting the chairs from the IKEA basement warehouse was a bit funny if only because you basically pick up a box the size of the chair. The only thing to "build" on the chair is screwing 4 legs into the bottom. They go in easily, and there's no "wobble" issue. It's not a heavy piece of furniture, so it's easy to move around when needed, but the downside is that with the Little Man's acrobatics, I'm waiting for the day he and the chair tip over together.

I like the vibrant color of the red on the chair, but I'm a little disappointed with the fabric. It's hard to spot clean without making a bigger, noticeable spot which has been a bit frustrating with leaking sippy cups, cats, and general child and adult clumsiness. We've managed to keep the chairs looking good, but it's not as easy as I would like considering the frequency with which we have to clean.

We give the Tullsta Fauteil Armchair 3.5 Swedish meatballs on our 5 meatball rating scale. The chair loses points for the spot cleaning issue, but in general, we're happy with the purchase.

Our Life in Dutch rating for the Tullsta Fauteuil/Armchair:

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