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Archive for May, 2010

Sometimes fun comes at the expense of comfort. Take high heels, for instance. Or roller coasters. Or eating a lot of pie. Or aspects of my weekend.

On Sunday, Wouter and I went to see The New Pornographers play at Melkweg. The show was in the Oude Zaal (the Old Hall) which is the smallest hall at Melkweg. Rad, right? To see such an awesome, popular, rockin band in a venue so small that it is physically impossible to be more than 30 meters (yards, whatever) from the band? And the show wasn’t even sold out!? What’s wrong with the Amsterdamers that they don’t know genius when it’s playing live in their own city? And in a teeny tiny venue to boot?? They sounded fantastic. And they passed the Wooter Test, which is saying something as I had given him very little audio-preparation for this show.

The New Pornographers1

All of this said, there were some disappointments. No Neko Case. Big disappointment. (They played Madison, WI a few years ago without her too. I guess unless I manage to see a show in NYC or something, it’s too much to hope for that I’d see her play with the band.) Kathryn Calder stepped up to sing the female leads. She was very good, but still… sad face. They also picked up an extra female vocalist for backing (one who vaguely resembled Case– odd). Let me just add extra emphasis here: they needed two women to even get close to the sound that Case makes. Someday I’ll see her live, someday.

Despite their animated, pop sound, I was surprised to find that the band member are not very lively on stage. Maybe they were having an off night, but it was strange and awkward. Apart from some cute stories from Calder about living in the Netherlands as a toddler, there was barely any chatter between songs– no commentary, no thank yous, no “this next song is.” Sometimes they even turned their backs on the audience. This didn’t come off as overtly rude– more like they were extremely uncomfortable on stage. The audience tried to cheer them up with woos and whistles, but to no avail. It was so bizarre: the high energy music juxtaposed with such incredible shyness.

The New Pornographers2

Things got notably worse 2/3 of the way through the show when the bassist broke a string. And apparently they didn’t bring any spares. And the opening band was no where to be found to offer up an extra bass (off exploring the coffee shops of Leidseplein, perhaps?). And it was as if this had never happened before! They all just looked at each other like… ‘Ummmm? What do we do now?’ Eventually and reluctantly they started playing again, short one bass string, and honestly it sounded fine. Great even! But the band didn’t look convinced.

As I said, overall the music was fantastic but the vibe of the show was confusing.

I assume they’ve continued to make music together for all of these years because they enjoy it. And their music is so much fun to listen to! (See below!) So it must be fun to make, right? And yet, as far as I could tell from Sunday’s performance, stage fright, awkwardness in the spotlight  and (jet lag-induced?) shyness runs rampant among the New Pornographers.

FOLLOW UP: I’ve done a little internet sleuthing and it seems to be a coin flip of whether you get a tight, high energy performance or a phoned in, day at the office sort of show. Indeed, when it’s “another day at the office,” reviewers echo my confusion over the disjunct between the band’s sound and their stage presence. But, no matter the energy, the overwhelming consensus is that the music is always outstanding! Agreed.

So now I’ll leave you with one last example of fun at the expense of comfort: apparently standing for several hours at the show was enough to set my knee back again. So much of this reporting was done from the couch on Monday. Still, the couch was comfortable, the show was worth it and by Tuesday I had mostly recovered! Woo!

The New Pornographers3

PS: Can someone teach me how to take better concert photos? These are so terrible! I guess a first step would be to get closer to the stage. And shoot with a reasonable camera. And ask the lights guy to bring up the lights a little, heh.

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IKEA has such power over me! I am helpless in the face of that lovely blue and yellow giant! This power, combined with a quick lunch of Swedish meatballs,  an understanding boyfriend, his understanding parents’ station wagon… you have just the right ingredients for a little livingroom makeover. It wasn’t a completely gratuitous makeover: the DVD shelf was over flowing and the CD rack was buckling under the weight of Wouter’s collection. Furthermore, there was no room for my books.

Solution: a 2 meter tall Billy bookcase and a couple of matching Benno CD/DVD shelves. And (again, understanding boyfriend!) I was allowed to give into the urge to reorganize by color… although the CD and DVD shelves were off-limits. As it turns out my understanding boyfriend has OCD alphabetizing urges of his own!

Spectrum boekenkast

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I live a healthier life-style here in the Netherlands, hands down. I eat smaller portions. I eat out less. I go grocery shopping everyday and eat fresher meats, fruits, vegetables. I cycle more.

But that doesn’t mean that sometimes… every once in a while… now and then… I don’t have a deep-seated urge for something that reminds me a bit of Wisconsin… and takes a few years off my life.

This is *THE BEST* homemade macaroni and cheese recipe I’ve ever tasted! And of course we have Martha Stewart to thank for it. Now if only I could find some good Wisconsin sharp cheddar around here… I had to use Gouda, surprise surprise.

Perfect Macaroni and Cheese
Yield Serves 12

Ingredients

* 6 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
* 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
* 5 1/2 cups milk
* 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons kosher salt
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar
* 2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated pecorino Romano (I used Emmental)
* 1 pound elbow macaroni

Method

* 1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
* 2. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
* 3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère or 1 cup pecorino Romano. Set cheese sauce aside.
* 4. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer’s directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
* 5. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyère or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.

Taste of Wisconsin: Mac 'n Cheese
The links below have better (yummier) photos.

Sources: the original: marthastewart.com; tips: NY Times Diner’s Journal; drool-worthy photos: Smitten Kitchen.

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I’m totally taken with the work of Dutch design duo Jantien Baas and Hester Worst. Their studio, Tas-ka, is based out of the Hauge and their work is based on the theme “House.” Perhaps it’s no wonder I’m into Tas-ka– House and Home have been on my mind of late as I begin to put my stamp on things around here (three spice racks and counting!).

The centerpiece of the collection are several patterns, screened onto fabric and made into various home goods and accessories. The “house” theme also is worked into items like bread boards, prints and brooches. I particularly like the tea-towels and tote bags, both available in a rainbow of colors. And they perfectly capture the look of a Dutch city from above–the red tile roofs, chimneys and occasional green space– in their print  “City.” Charming!

tas-ka tea towels Totes by Tas-Ka

City by Tas-Ka

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On Queen’s Day (April 30th) the municipal waste removal workers in in the Netherlands went on strike in Amsterdam and Utrecht. Their demand? A contract (they’ve gone a year without one) and a 1.5% pay raise (basically a cost of living increase). The strike was originally supposed to last for 24 hours– just long enough that the great masses of Amsterdam could, upon recovering from their hangovers, wallow in the filth they had created the day before toasting the Queen with Heineken. (And boy was it filthy!) And after the 24 hours was up, we got our clean city but the worker’s didn’t get their raise.

Garbage Strike 2010, Before1

Inspired by a longer-term Dutch railway cleaners strike earlier this year and in solidarity with municipal workers in Utrecht, the Amsterdam workers announced an indefinite strike beginning on Thursday, May 6th (kindly after the city’s Liberation Day celebrations).

Garbage Strike 2010, Before2

Things got very dirty, very quickly. Huge piles of trash bags formed at collection points. Glass and paper recycling containers overflowed onto the streets. Garbage that wasn’t secured in bags started to blow around, lining the sidewalks and spilling over into the canals. Fortunately it’s been on the chilly side or else things would be getting pretty stinky too. One little strike and we’re back in the 16th century! How quickly things fall apart.

Flash forward 10 days to Sunday May 16th. The demands are met! The municipal workers are back on the job! And by Monday the streets are looking clean again. Thank goodness.

Garbage Strike 2010, After

But in hindsight, I wonder if people moderated their behavior? Did people pay more attention to what they consumed and threw out when faced with visible (and smelly) evidence of the waste they produce? Did the piles grow at the same rate as the underground trash bins normally fill up? Did people adapt, finding new ways to dispose of their stuff– recycling, composting, Ebay, private waste disposal services? (Side note: Why don’t we recycle plastic, tin and aluminum here???) Or maybe 10 days wasn’t enough time for change?

Well, I’m glad the municipal workers got their 1.5%. The strike proved the worker’s point to me– we need them because at the moment there is no other infrastructure set up for removing waste from the city. And further evidence that they are a classy bunch: despite the strike they agreed to keep the Giro d’Italia routes clean. Nice.

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It is amazing how much stuff there is to do when one lives in a world-class city. Sure, no matter the size of the city, there is always something to do– it’s only a matter of keeping your eyes peeled. But it seems like fun just finds me here– like this Sunday when a world-class bike race just happened to come within 3 blocks of my house!

Tête de la course in the Victorieplein! The Giro visits the 'hood!8 (Farrar, later to win!)

This year the first three stages of the Giro d’Italia took place in the Netherlands. No, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that the Tour of Italy should make a quick visit to the Lowlands, but I’m not going to argue! State 1, the opening time trial (pdf), took place in Amsterdam, beginning at Museumplein, winding around through the city, over canals and the Amstel (and right passed your hotel, Mom!) before ending up at the Olympic stadium. Stage 2, from Amsterdam to Utrecht (pdf), was a wild ride with loads of crashing, but an American at the front at the end of the day! This was the stage that visited the neighborhood– as a result of continuing knee problems, I was out of commission, but Wouter got out there to take some photos! And finally Stage 3 on Monday started in Zuidas, just outside of the Zuid train station, before heading south along the North Sea to Middelburg in Zeeland, the south-western tip of Holland. Stage 3 (pdf) was another bruiser, with heavy crosswinds coming off the sea and another big crash with 10km to go, making a total mess out of the general classification. I feel a bit bad– these fragile Italian racers, high-strung but with sensitive temperaments, probably weren’t prepared for such chaos in what they though would be a leisurely jaunt up to Holland before the real racing began in Italy. Haha, it takes a different kind to race in the Lowlands, boys!

Jerseys Il Diavolo! The Giro's littlest fan. A bit of Dutch w/ your Italian Bike Race?

Despite continuing knee problems, I wasn’t about to let Dutch Giromania pass me by so I carefully (and somewhat painfully) made my way over to Zuidas for the start of yesterday’s stage. It was quite a show– loads of bikes, pink everywhere and great turnout among the Dutch fans, even if it was the middle of a Monday morning. This was the first time I’d attended a bike race as merely a spectator since my days hanging with the Mavic boys, but it was great fun. Apart from the sponsor tents, everything was open access. Fans walked up and down between the team buses while the racers warmed up. The riders were glad to offer up autographs and had extended chats with the emcee at the sign in. Apart from fences around the start, the course was 100% open and the race staff seemed more than happy to let us edge in a bit to snap photos. Racing in Europe really is different!

Simoni signs in1 Evans turns the sky pink3 Cadel Evans in La Rosa

So that was it, the Giro has come and gone from Holland. But the Grand Tours still have a lot more love to show to the Dutch in 2010– Le Tour 2010 in Rotterdam, baby! Bring it on!

And they're off...3 Rabobank Just another day at the office...

See the whole photoset on Flickr.

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Last Friday the 30th was Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), the Dutch national day. It is celebrated every year in honor of the queen’s birthday… well, actually the queen’s mother’s birthday. One the first acts of the current queen, Beatrix, when she was crowned was to declare that Koninginnedag would remain on April 30th to honor her mother. But really I think it was strategic– you’re more likely to have nice weather at the end of April than in the middle of January, on Beatrix’s birthday.

The centerpiece of the Koninginnedag experience is the Vrijmarkt, a nationwide garage sale. On this one day of the year, you don’t need a permit to sell things, so people flock to the streets to sell their old junk. I find this to be totally weird– to celebrate the queen by trying to get rid of old children’s toys, clothing and vhs tapes. But people are crazy about it– heading out days ahead of time with chalk and tape to mark off their space on the sidewalks. And those vying for primo real estate even camp out the night before to be certain that no one steals their spot.  And great effort is made to get the kids out there selling so they can get some extra pocket money– centrally located parks and streets in Amsterdam are set aside for the kids. Our downstairs neighbor’s daughter made 90 Euro selling cake! Now that’s some serious pocket money!

Apart from the Vrijmarkt, the day is just one big street party. Everyone dons some orange and hits the streets for shopping, eating, drinking(, smoking), and general merriment. This year Wouter and I, along with his brother, sister-in-law and another good friend, hit the canals on a party boat with a group of about 60. This thing was massive, built to hold 100, complete with many kegs of beer, crates of wine, small snacks, a DJ and two toilets (OMG, thank goodness!). We toured the main canals of Amsterdam, blasting dance music and generally making a spectacle of ourselves. I cannot imagine a better way to spend Queen’s Day!

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Flickr Koninginnedag 2010 photoset.

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