Luncheon of the Beast
Food and drink firsts this holiday
Here are some foods and drinks I tried for the first time this 2009-2010 holiday season.
Veuve Clicquot champagne
A real champagne, and a real treat. It's pretty strong and a notch above the champagne I've been lucky enough to drink from time to time so far, Moët & Chandon. This bottle came in a special jacket with a zipper, to keep it cold(ish) for up to 2 hours if you take it outside. Beats your basic bubbly.
Green mustard with tarragon
Made by a company called Edmond Fallot, this poison-green condiment is not just wasabi-like in its color: handle with care!
Burro di Bufala
As far as bovine butters go, this bison-based concoction beats the common cow in my buttery competition. Oh give me a Rome where the buffalo roam!
Morning Reviver tea
Chock-full of citrus fruits, but zingy rather than sweet, this tea from Whittard of Chelsea is to die for.
New Year's Tweet
Tweet for 1 January: Someone switched all the hall doormats outside my girlfriend's apartment. Happy New Year, stranger, and a great way to meet the neighbors.
Follow me on twitter as stonesnow.
A winner is me!
This post explains my prolonged absence on this weblog. You see, I've written a book.
Now, loyal readers of snowstone may have discovered the prose section, which contains a number of short stories, often very short ones. But I had never before written anything near the 50,201 words that I wrote now, and all of it in the span of one month. Credit where credit is due: it was NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, but you can take the 'National' with a block of salt) that made clucking noises in my direction, while flapping its arms up and down, and nobody, but nobody calls me a chicken and gets away with it. Except maybe a large group of heavily armed neonazis who work out a lot in prison.
To write this book, I had to abandon a lot of my usual writing techniques. I normally write carefully, weigh every word, and keep things short. This novel, however, is pretty messy, cliché-ridden, and is definitely not all 'show and tell'. But it's also 75 single-spaced A4 pages and with a lot of editing, it might just become something serious. It has more characters than I've ever written. It's got an actual plot, which even twists. In short, it's a new and exhilirating experience.
Just checking to report that I have drunk my very first Estonian beer. It's called Saku and it's quite tasty.
Heaven and Helsinki
Luckily, Hotel Arthur in Helsinki has internet access for a modest fee, so here is a posting from this utterly fascinating city. I can recommend this place to anyone: the weather is beautiful this time of year, the people are extremely friendly and helpful, and the reports of excessive prices are grossly exaggerated. It isn't a cheap city, but hey, neither are Paris or London.
Having no preconceptions about Finland or Helsinki to begin with, I was surprised to find that this city has large, broad boulevards with imposing buildings. It's not squeaky clean either, but to me that is a plus. It's a mystery to me why the people of this country, which in many respects is at the end of the world, have mastered the English language to a startling degree of fluency, especially if you realize that Finnish is as different from English as Korean is from either-- in fact, Korean and Finnish are somewhat alike, I just read. Also, the vast Academic Bookshop contains not just novels in English, French and German, but also in languages like Dutch and Czech.
I'll report more about this city, or about St Petersburg and Moscow, as internet access warrants.
Helsinki, St Petersburg, Moscow
snowstone will be on hold for the next two week, as we take the route above, beginning and ending in Amsterdam. This vacation will take me both to the northernmost (St Petersburg) and easternmost (Moscow) points I've ever traveled. I will attempt to access internet from time to time, reporting from the area, but there are no guarantees that you will hear from me prior to August 28th, 2006.
Overheard: women vs men
She: "Look at that girl.. the handbag with the roses on it! Man, that's ugly!"
He: "I read in the paper today that women always criticize each other. You know, clothes, appearance.. Men don't do that. Men are not so competitive about this stuff."
She: "Yes... that's why men always dress and look like crap."
UPC sucks ass
Eerily similar to this guy.
Last week, a delivery guy showed up unannounced at our apartment with a big box. My girlfriend was home but she had no idea if I'd ordered this whatever-it-was. The delivery guy wouldn't divulge anything about the package, and since it listed us by name and address, she signed for it.
As it turned out, the box, which was about the size of a small refrigerator, was an attempt by our cable company, UPC, to lure us into digital television (which, apart from being digital, is just like normal TV, which is why nobody wants it). We could try it for a month, after which it would be tacitly assumed that we adored this big box and would be willing to pay several Euros a month to keep it.
I decided to loudly contradict that assumption and put in a call to the cable company (at 10 Eurocents a minute). After navigating through three menus and punching in my zip code, I was connected to a service rep, who asked me for my zip code. She then explained that all I had to do to get rid of this box was to sacrifice an hour or two of my working day to wait for the post office to open (it's closed on weekends and opens at 9 AM), and return the package to sender. My girlfriend urged me to get a receipt.
Good thing, too: yesterday, a letter from the cable company arrived stating that I had decided to cancel my digital TV subscription as of a month from now (what an original way of phrasing it) and that I would be receiving a Return Box from them several days before the deadline to put the device in and, you guessed it, drop it off at the post office. So I called the cable company today to explain and was told that... I should wait for the Return Box to arrive and then throw it away. Simply not sending me the goddamn thing was apparently out of the question.
Suddenly, I understand why I'm paying so much for my cable.
Here's hoping that the saga won't continue.
The Other Lesson
After my driving lesson, I chat with my instructor about a story about ticket fraud involving airport staff. 'Well,' he says, 'those airport guys are really scum. They all look like gangsters.' I visualize a bulky Dutch security guy with a crew cut and agree slightly.
But he continues, 'That's what you get with foreigners, they're just corrupt, regardless of where they're from: Africa, Marocco, Turkey.. Poland..' ('...USA, Germany, Australia?' I think.) 'It makes sense, too. Like under communism, if the baker had a bread and the bike seller had a bike, they would just trade... But that naturally leads to corruption.'
'Cheap bike', I think, but I say nothing.
'And then I hear on the news that the police needs to employ more immigrants...' He pauses. 'I'm not saying Dutch people can't be nasty. But differently', he concludes.
In the subway, I give the black man who checks my tickets the nicest smile I can manage while I consider the perks of emigration.
Chinese tastes different everywhere. The Netherlands edition is known as a "Chin. Ind. Rest.", ("Chinese-Indonesian restaurant" doesn't fit on the window). Almost every Dutch town has one, but in trendy Amsterdam, I thought they were extinct. Yesterday, however, my girlfriend and me visited a classic one.
Real "kroepoek" (Indonesian pawn crackers)! Beef with pineapple --I thought cooking with pineapple went out with leg warmers and Wham! For me, it was a trip down memory lane, and for my girlfriend, some true slice of Dutch culture. Or as one Dutch comedian put it, "Exotic food? Naah, just pick up some Chinese."
From the Morrissey concert, I took the subway home. As I came down the escalator at my stop, someone waved in my direction. Eventually, I realized it was a friend I hadn't seen in years. What he told me next set my rationalist beliefs reeling:
- He'd attended the same concert, with his girlfriend.
- She had asked him how he knew Morrissey. He explained that I'd introduced him to it.
- She then said jokingly that he might meet me at the concert, but he laughed it off.
- He works behind the subway station; I live in front of the subway station.
This Charming Man
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending Morrissey's first ever solo gig in Amsterdam. Our present-day Oscar Wilde didn't disappoint. He dwelled only briefly on his salad days, simply commenting after one Smiths song, "However, life goes on." However, his solo work is more than worth the trouble, and at fortysomething, he still rocks better than most. "I'm not as skinny as I used to be," he commented, shortly after flinging his shirt into the audience, "but neither are you." Actually, the crowd was surprisingly diverse, proving The Mozzer's universal appeal (he has a large Hispanic following in the US).
My girlfriend and I celebrated the new year with a group of her friends, in the pouring rain, under a spectacular display of fireworks, and with a bottle of champagne in my coat pocket, that we were careful to prevent from becoming diluted in the rain by drinking merrily to the new year.
As for snowstone, it saw some 20,000 unique visitors this year. Actually it was 19,991, so thanks a lot, you nine bastards who heard about this weblog and did not bother to check it out. The top month was March. I have no idea why, or it must be the porn story I posted that month (loyal readers will remember). Anyway, I refuse to get into corporate-style predictions of doubling the audience this coming year. Just know that snowstone will continue, and will continue to stick it to The Man. Here's hoping for a Bush impeachment in '06, a first step toward Peace on Earth.
Some time ago, I hired a man to do some repairs in my home. (I freely admit to being too clumsy for even the simplest of DIY tasks.) The man brought four handymen with him, they finished the job in about 5 minutes, and because they were paid by the hour, we made them a cup of coffee.
The man then explained to us how he'd done all kinds of construction work all over the world, and launched into an anecdote about how he and his team had been called to Paris to open a safe that the Nazis had left there after the war, and that no one had been able to open for 50 years. His guys could, of course, and the way he told it, they were paraded up and down the Champs-Elysées for it.
Only later did I begin to wonder why the man had told exactly this story. True, it was impressive, but it didn't seem to have much of a point. And then it hit me. Why would someone so innocently profess his abilities to gain access to a hard-to-open safe? Was it perhaps to inform the listener that if he or she knew of a safe that needed opening, they were talking to the right guy? Was this some kind of bank robbery pitch in disguise? Maybe I'm just seeing things that aren't there, but I can't imagine a professional criminal not pricking up his ears when hearing this little story.
If only life were this simple...
I can dream, can't I?
I'm sure that's not what they meant
At my subway station, a poster announced in shouty capitals:
1 TOUCH OF GOD IS ENOUGH!!To which I appended in my mind: 'Anything more, and you can sue for harassment.'
The Barefoot Diva
The good weather here in Amsterdam has been stretching beyond its normal limits, giving us sunny weather even in early October. It was too good to last. Now, in the end, the dreary drizzly season is upon us, and what better cure for the autumn blues than to see and hear the incomparable Cape Verde diva Césaria Evora in a concert hall?
Backed up by a great band (including a great violinist who couldn't stand still while he played --and who could blame him), the 64-year-old's dark and sonorous voice easily rose above even the swinging upbeat tunes. Sitting down halfway through the concert to smoke a cigarette, Ms Evora didn't look like someone who could evoke the kinds of cheers and applause she received. But when she got back up and took the microphone, there was no doubt. Great stuff, I recommend checking her out.
Quoting out of context RULES!
"You shouldn't vacuum fish."
(After dropping a bit of macquerel spread on the kitchen floor, and me dragging out the vacuum cleaner.)
Culinary adventures: homemade tofu
Recently I stumbled upon a Japanese supermarket in my fair city, and apart from a couple of cans of tea (that's right, regular green tea... in a can, cold --truly disgusting) and some Japanese soda pop that I was happy to be unable to identify, I also bought a package of tofu.
Mind you, this wasn't the block of tofu-under-water that you might find at your local supermarket, it was two bags of white powder for making your own. I had the presence of mind to scribble down the instructions in my native tongue, which were displayed next to the product in the store. Had I not, I would be utterly clueless about what to do with this package (I'm sure it would have been spoiled before I mastered Japanese enough to read the instructions).
Like so many people who are easily bored, I have always wondered whether tofu already has that eerily mathematical cube shape when the tofu farmers pick it off the tofu tree. Or was it the tofu herders, chopping the limbs and heads of wild blocks of tofu roaming the Japanese foothills? But now I learned that tofu is actually a mix of two powders which are found inside the buds of the beautiful off-white tofu flowers (tofua asiatica), that grow all over South-East Asia.
That mystery solved, I boiled 650 ml of water (roughly 22 fl oz) mixed with the contents of the biggest package. As it started to boil, a skin formed on the top, reminding me of all those boxes of soy milk I'd seen at my local natural health store. It wasn't until I took the milk off the fire a few minutes later, added the tiny package and poured it into a bowl that I realized that I was simply making a pudding. Over the next 20 minutes, the pudding became solid... or so I thought. The recipe then called for the tofu to sit under water for 20 minutes. I made the fatal mistake of trying to transfer the tofu into another container, causing it to fall apart, just like a real pudding would. I added half of the sizable amount to my stir-fry, and I must confess that it was much more like the silky tofu served in Japanese restaurants than like the rubbery Borg cube found in the supermarket.
My plan is to make it again, but put it into all sorts of weirdly-shaped containers. It's a bad omen that after all these years of desperately trying to sell a healthy meat replacement, no marketing exec has come up with the idea of making more interesting tofu shapes than a block or a suspicious-looking burger.
For the first time in my life, I tried to cook a dish that involved real and actual artichoke. You know, that pizza topping you don't like.
The experiment was a total and utter disaster.
Taking my cue from the Disrobed Chef, my helpful ally in many such an occasion, I went to work on four of these monsters. Look at that top left image and tell me that this things wasn't an extra in "Day of the Triffids". It's like a rose disguised as a cabbage.
Anyway, I cheerily went to work halving the artichoke and "clicking off", as Jamie put it, the green outer leaves. The more I clicked, the more I noticed that green leaves were almost all it was. Mr Oliver then instructed me to remove the choke in the artichoke's core. What my unsuspecting dessert spoon found in the heart of this vile vegetable, I can only described in one word: hair. That's right, there I was, sitting at the kitchen table, scooping whole handfuls of hair out of a vegetable.
I should have realized there and then that this was a lost cause. But I marched steadily on, filling the hollowed-out core of the heartless thing with a mixture of breadcrumbs, almonds, parsley and mint. It was not until 40 minutes later, when I took the artichokes out of the oven, that I realized why I was supposed to do this: it was the only edible thing in the oven. The Nude Head Cook, normally always so keen to point out how to deal with the uncommon vegetable, was utterly silent on which parts to eat, but my girlfriend an I soon found out: nothing of the vegetable looked even remotely edible. The few yellow leaves surrounding the filling had scorched into a tough, charred set of teeth-like triangles. The stems of the 'chokes did not seem like they were supposed to be eaten. In short, what we ate was the filling and not much else.
I am, of course, an unforgivable barbarian for not knowing how to eat a roasted artichoke (I vaguely remember once sucking the life essence out of some of those leaves, but that was a different type of dish). If anyone has any idea of what I did wrong, be sure to let me know (click Respond at top left).
About to return
Farewell to pebble beaches, clear sea water, fine seafood and warm weather. But also farewell to crappy service, scorpions on the wall, cheapass souvenirs, people who don't speak any language you speak, and sunburns. Ah well, you gotta take the good with the bad.
Things I did not know about Bosnia
- It has 9 kilometers of coastline.
- It got these 9 kilometers from the republic of Dubrovnik (now part of Croatia) when Bosnia was still under Ottoman rule.
- Dubrovnik gave it in the hopes of getting rid of the Venetians who were occupying the coast at the time.
- The city of Mostar is beautiful, but one-legged men are disproportionately present.
For the sake of having some culture inserted in what would otherwise would be a beach-and-cocktails holiday, we went to see a traditional sword dance tonight. Apparently once performed throughout the Mediterranean, this involves fairly ridiculously dressed men dancing around each other as they swordfight over a princess. The princess wears a veil and harem-like clothes, which combines with the Red King referring to the Black King as an Arab to produce some historical context to the performance. The fighting itself sounds less silly if you see the sparks flying from what are evidently not wooden swords.
We are still connected, even though we are more than halfway down the continent toward our destination. Soon the possibilities of connecting to internet will be less and less likely. Suffice it to say that I am looking forward to a holiday... I will give you all an update as soon as the opportunity arrives.
By the way, non-US keyboards suck. I am blogging this from a qwertz model and I keep mixing up the keys.
I will be spending the next two weeks in the above location. The fact that my snowstone updates in this period will be rare to nonexistent is solely due to the fact that internet access on this island will be hard to come by, and not all attributable to the fact that I will be basking in the sun, enjoying Mediterranean cuisine, and blocking anything related to computers out of my mind. No siree.
Found this graffiti walking up the stairs of a subway station in Amsterdam.
"If you take..."
"...the time to..."
"...follow this you..."
"...might meet someone..."
"...you didn't know..."
Note that the text moves slowly to the middle of the staircase, and that the same text is coming down from the top of the stairs. Two dreamy types reading the text might thus bump into one another.
One Ring To Disgust Them All
This posting is directed at one of my colleagues. You know who you are, even if I don't.
Here's the thing. When I went to the toilet on our floor the other day, I noticed something icky. No, not that kind of icky, but still. Look at the picture:
Can you see it? Here is a closeup:
That's right. It's a ring left by a coffee mug.
A coffee mug. On the TOILET. Someone in my office is having COFFEE on the TOILET.
Now, I would be lying if I said I was the most hygienic person on the planet. I occasionally take a book into the lavatory. But this, this is taking the meaning of 'gross' to a whole new level. Does this guy (now why do I think it's a guy? I wonder) also eat his sandwiches in the loo? Is he a very loud slurper, or does he have some weird phobia about people watching him drink?
You know what, on second thought, I don't even wanna know. Note to self: BUY YOUR OWN PERSONAL COFFEE MUG.
After this horrible experience, our next stop was this island, which has offered us uncommonly good weather for this time of year. The people here are friendly, the tourist industry is comfortable but not intrusive, and the fish tastes great. In short, I can recommend everyone to go here before the peak season starts.
If you ever need to refer a person you hate to a hotel in the city of Leeuwarden (known locally as Ljouwert), be sure to refer them to this fine establishment: Café/Hotel 't Anker. Where 'fine'actually means 'totally disgusting'.
The place featured a shower and toilet outside the room. Not much of a problem, since no other guests could be detected. However, the toilet smelled like an open sewer and the shower could rival the bathing facilities at most Mongolian camping grounds. The light in the hall did not work, nor did the main light in the hotel room. The wallpaper in our room managed to look rusty in places, and soap was nowhere to be found. The breakfast, included in the price, featured stale bread, greasy salami and bitter orange juice.
In short, a truly horrid experience that was only compensated by the fact that we were staying only one night. Once again, that's Hotel 't Anker in Leeuwarden. Tell your enemies.
Out Of snowstone Auto-Reply
I am currently out of snowstone to explore the north of the Netherlands, where they speak a strange local language. Currently in the capital of the province. Hoping to update soon.
Requiescat in Pace
I attended a cremation today. I didn't know the deceased very well, but the various speakers at the ceremony gave me a short summary of his life. It's strange to think that your existence will be summed up in some 40 minutes of speeches one day.
One story that was told was the kind I'd like to hear told at my funeral: the man who died was visiting friends in the city one summer day. When he went to bed, he wanted to open a window. His friends said that, this being the less friendly part of town, it might not be a good idea. The man said that he would deal with whatever situation would occur.
That night, the curtain moved, and a hand appeared through the window. Undaunted, the man grabbed the hand and just shook it. The hand's owner pulled the hand back in alarm, and did not make any further attempts to come in.
When, sitting at the computer, you see your mouse pointer trembling like San Francisco in 1905, and wonder how this is possible even when your hands do not touch the desk, and when you then start to realize that it's the car out in the street in neutral that is making your mouse vibrate, then you have found the joy of living in a house that was built two centuries ago in an old European capital.
I beg your pardon, Watson?!
|Me: So you're invited to an interview!|
She: No shit, Sherlock.
Me: Gee, thanks.
She: Sorry. Damn, I just say that without thinking. Remind me not to say it during the interview.
Me: I will. It might give the wrong impression.
She: 'I have to say you have an impressive resumé.' - 'No shit, Sherlock!'
Me: ...that would probably not go down well.
She: No shit, Sherlock.
Annus Horribilis → Annus Mirabilis
In all honesty, 2003 has not been kind to me. Ours has been a household of slender means, and The Economy has been using me for a punchbag. It was hard to stay upbeat, especially since I'm not exactly the chipper type to begin with.
Whatever will stay the same in 2004, my attitude will definitely change. It's important to stay fresh in life, and New Year's, however arbitrary a marker it may be, is an ideal moment to change. And hey, on the bright side, I don't need to stop smoking, because I never did in the first place.
Chocolate, Comics and Surrealism
I just spent two days in Brussels, sampling the best of Belgium: good food and beer, great comics and brilliant art. I urge you to visit this city, despite the rainy weather.
As the capital of European comics, Brussels of course has some fine comics shops; I visited the best one, Brüsel, where I finally got a hold of two collections of Krazy Kat books: "Love Letters in Ancient Brick" and "There is a Heppy Land Furfur A-waay".
I also marveled at Magritte and others at the Museum of Modern Art, one of the two Musées Royaux. A weekend well-spent.