Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Marrowfat Peas

These rainy dark days I felt like eating an old-fashioned dish: marrowfat peas with bacon, onions and molasses.

Soak the peas overnight and boil them in water with herbs: bay leaf, sage, rosemary etc. You can also add a carrot and half and onion if you like.
Fry smoked bacon cubes in a little vegetable oil until crisp, add lots of thinly sliced onions and cook until soft and fragrant. You may add a little chopped red pepper for some zest.
Toss in the drained peas, from which you have fished the herbs, and warm through. Adjust the seasoning.
Serve with molasses drizzled on top and a green salad.

Not entirely vegetarian, but I don't know what can replace the smoky flavour of the bacon. It goes so well with the sweetness of the molasses!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Better Deal

Some encounters can light your day in a flash.

We were taking leave of our friends. Dog into the boot of the car, bags on the backseat. In the confusion our friend bumped into a young man who was cycling on the pavement.
"Oh, sorry," said our frined.
"No, no," answered the cyclist, "I'm doing something that is illegal."
"So am I," said our friend, while he kissed me goodbye.
"Ah!" returned the man, as he bumped off the pavement. "But you are having the better deal!"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A's Neighbourhood

A’s neighbourhood in London is mixed: mixed race, mixed class, mixed established/trendy. About half the corners in her street are occupied by newsagents-cum-local stores, invariably run by South Asians. They sell a lot of sweets and potato chips, cigarettes, liquor, an occasional apple or onion, and watery milk. It is a miracle they survive, but they do have a clientele.
Around the station the level of yuppiness rises: a French delicatessen, selling wine, croissants, cheeses, and rillettes in glass jars. The shop across from it is harder to place: fresh espresso in paper cups, meat, tinned vegetables, and fresh bread. I don’t get it. What’s their formula?
But hey! Who cares, if they offer good bread. . . .
From there we go to the shop on the hill, which caters for the environmentally conscious. Next to it an Indian restaurant with Formica tables, and further down a supplier of household goods – brooms and light bulbs –, and another of faucets, or television screens.
Thank goodness for the yuppie quasi supermarket, that has fresh local produce, eggs, good coffee, and all the other daily necessities. It also offers espresso in paper cups.
But hey! Who cares!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Chanterelles on Toast

Last night we had not enough left-over sauerkraut for a whole meal, so I added an appetizer:

Fry some finely chopped shallots in butter with a little oil.
Add cleaned (with a brush) and chopped chanterelles and cook for a few minutes on a high heat.
Stir in some crème fraîche or double cream, loads of chopped parsley, salt and lots of pepper.
Serve immediately on freshly toasted slices of whole grain bread.

To me this brings back wet autumnal walks, looking for mushrooms. Then bringing home their woody smell and cooking them for lunch.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Meat Maffia

Meat is the norm. Wherever one goes for a meal, there is meat on the menu. Or fish for that matter. Vegetarian? Sometimes, for the nerdies, the weird people who whine about animal rights etc.
In an article in the NRC by Dr. H.M. Prast, she argues that our enormous meat consumption is leading to hunger. She suggests that this mentality could be changed by giving people a choice: meat, fish of neither. She tells how at a dinner she was offered a choice, and that her very selection gave her the opportunity to explain why she chose not to eat meat or fish. In itself proof of her theory that meat is the norm.

And so it is. When ordering sandwiches for a meeting, they automatically include lunch meats. Would anybody complain, if they were offered a vegetarian lunch?

Good vegetarian meals are delicious. But even I, when I cook for a crowd, cave in, and offer an animal.

Right! So that is a thing of the past. From now on I will invite the discussion by making non-animal the norm at my table. Even for carnivores!

I’m not weird, just trying to change a mentality.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nettle Soup

With gloves on, cut the young shoots of nettles to fill a collander.
Wash carefully to get rid of sand etc.
Fry onions in a little oil.
Add salt and herbs like bay leaf, sage, thyme, etc.
Add a peeled and cubed potato or two.
When the vegetables are done, fish out the herbs.
Add the nettle shoots and cook a few minutes longer. It may seem there are too many nettles, but no, they will shrink.
Puré the soup. Check the seasoning, and serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and soldiers.

(For you pacifists: soldiers are strips of stale bread, fried in butter!)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Clockmaker

In a little street, just off the cathedral of Argentan, the clockmaker has his atelier: Le Diable au Cadran (The Devil in the Dial). It is a small shop, chockfull of clocks that tick and chime like crazy. There is hardly room to manoevre, but the clockmaker is at ease in his domain.
He is a man in his forties, who used to be a journalist. Those must have been his young and wild years, when he drove dashing old-timers and went out drinking with his pals. Now he has become more philosophical.
His French is beautiful, his tongue caressing the words as he speaks . A smile on his face, warmed by the thoughtful wisdom in his heart.
P. and I love going to his shop. To see the craftmanship, to hear the man talk clocks (our clock!) and books, and to hear about his general outlook on life.
And frankly out of sheer curiosity: to see a tiny glimpse of what makes this clockmaker tick!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Renée's Apple Pie

Renée brought us this apple pie not too long before she became too ill to cook. We ate it at the table outside in the mild autumn air.
When we arrived at the house last night, the dark red Calville apples were beckoning me, so I got to work immediately.

Caramelize 10 sugar cubes in 1/2 a glass of water. I.e. cook in a bubbling boil for 2 minutes. Take off the heat and pour into the mould.
Mix 100 grams of soft butter with 100 grams of sugar. Add 2 or 3 eggs, depending on size. Then 100 grams of flour, pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp baking powder (or alternately use self-raising flour).
Peel and slice 2 or 3 apples, (mix with some cinnamon) and lay in the caramel. Top with the batter and bake for about 1/2 hour in a 180 degree oven until golden.

There is nothing wrong with eating home-baked apple pie with morning coffee, after an afternoon walk, and for puds in the evening!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Prison Yard

Z. lives on a council estate. Three U-shaped buildings of four storey flats around an empty space. City planners must have spent many meetings discussing what to do with the secluded space in between. They thought: the people living in the flats need green parkland. They need some benches and a pick nick table. They need a playground for the children.
So they went to work. Grass in the middle, and curved borders full of bushes. An occasional tree to offer some shade. A pair of swings here, a slide over there. The city planners must have been very pleased with the result. They have created a beautiful garden for the tenants of the flats.
Being city planners they also foresaw that on a council estate not all residents really show the respect for their environment that they should. So they made sure the fourth side of the yard was shut with a very high iron fence with spikes on the top. Thus the garden can only be reached through a gate.
Yesterday Z. and I went there with the children. It was a glorious autumn day, mild and sunny. The children loved it. They swung on the swings and ran through the grass.
They were the only ones. No other children, no adults sitting on the benches exchanging gossip. No one, except cats and pigeons.
And no wonder. The place feels like a prison yard dressed up as a park. Once you’re inside there is no way out. And all the while you’re there, you are watched by the nosy neighbours who are lurking behind their luxaflex. The playground is no playground; it is just a few apparatuses scattered about. What mother would let her child play in such an inaccessible place?
On my way home I passed another playground. It was in a small square between the terraced houses. Children were running around. Mothers could watch them from their front doors. There were no trees and no bushes. No beautiful parkland.
But it was welcoming and effective.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dog Talk

They say that animals can understand human talk, but I’ve never seen convincing proof of it.
I did converse with our animals, as most people do, but more for my own comfort than that of the cat or dog.
Kibo has finally shown that there is truth in the idea that dogs can understand human speech.
Last week we went to a play in a castle behind the house of friends about an hour away from us. We were received with tea and cakes, and Kibo happily joined in by sniffing around the garden and being generally gracious.
When it was time to go, we told her to climb onto her cushion in our 2CV. The rooftop was rolled back for plenty of air and the back bench was tilted forward for ditto space.
Kibo jumped in, and sat up expectantly: what now?
I leant over the side of the car to speak to her: “We’re going to the castle to watch a play. You cannot come with us, but we will be back in a few hours, and then we will all go home again.”
Before I had finished my little speech she lay down, curled up in a circle: “You go. I’ll be here, when you get back.”
The performance was a treat. We spoke to the director and some of the actors, had a few drinks and returned to our friends’ house.
I thought Kibo would be alert, and spot our voices from far off. But no, only when we were very close did we hear the cloppity-clop of her rat-like tail against the side of the car.
She was elated to see us, and ran back and forth to lick our hands.
But concerned whether we would come back? No, of course not! I had told her that we would, hadn’t I?

Friday, August 21, 2009


When we were considering buying the house I was worried that it would be too lonely for A, so I called her. “Yes, yes,” she said, ”but can we go for walks from the house?”
Having studied the map, I could reassure her.
Now, after 7 years, we can stay here for a week and go for a walk every day, without ever having to do the same track twice. I thought we had exhausted the possibilities.
Today, after the last guests had been gone a few days, the house had been cleaned, and other jobs done, we felt like going out again.
We’d done it before: studied the map, and ventured out in new directions. But often they led to paths overgrown with brambles, or barbed-wire fences, too hard to cross.
Yet today we tried again, and to our joy our route led to a beautiful winding track that ended in a small paved road. We turned right into a dead-end of well-kept holiday homes. From there an easily travelled path led us up through the fields and across a trickling brook to a small hamlet of farmhouses with flowerboxes in the windows. The road beyond took us to known territory and led us back the long dirt track, meandering home.
We were elated! This is what discoverers must feel. To have gone out on an uncertain adventure, with not quite enough information about the outcome. And then, the delight that it all worked out better than expected!
After 2 hours we came home to well deserved coffee and plum crumble from our own orchard: three happy explorers, 2 persons and a dog!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Sky

The north side of the house is our favourite. It has a terrace, with a small table and bistro chairs. Then comes the grass, sloping down towards the edge of the terrain. We play a wobbly crocket on it with our young guests.
The valley lies beyond. Nothing spectacular. Undulating fields, on which we follow the track of the cows, some apple trees, and a cluster of houses in a copse at the far end.
Above it the sky. The ever-changing sky. It surprises us daily with the drama it has in store for us. Grey clouds with strips of pale blue. Woolly balloons of white against the deepest blue. Dark sheets of evening skies beyond which a firy orange-red glow peeps through. It is always shifting, never the same.
No, I’m not posting a photograph of some of these spectacular sights, though I have in the past. For a photograph could never do justice to the intensity of the moment. The cool air caressing one’s cheek, the pigeons cooing in the distant trees, the smell of wet grass.
And the house behind, where the clock chimes, the kettle buzzes for tea, and footsteps are heard on the tiles.
That is the total experience.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cherry Pie

The guests have left, which means the work at hand may be resumed. After all these years we discovered a cherry tree, with bright red fruit, possibly its first year of generosity.
Bernard had spent the morning picking red and black currants for me, "because I liked making jams."
So I spent the morning making 2 kinds of jelly, and sat down to cut the stones out of the cherries. After half an hour I had enough of it, and decided to turn them into a pie.

Make a pâte sablée with 150 grams of flour, 120 grams of sugar, ditto butter, pinch of salt and the white of an egg.
Role out and line a mould.
Fill with the pitted cherries.
Make an easy custard with the left over egg yolk, 2 more eggs, crème fraîche and sugar.
Pour over the cherries.
Bake in a 160 degree oven for about an hour.

Rich, but worth it!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Two Brothers

Most of the land in our valley is owned by two brothers, who have not spoken to each other for a decade, after the land was divided by their ailing father. This leads to interesting situations. Like the day when Paul saw brother # 2 frantically backing out of the valley on the narrow road after he had spotted brother # 1 around the corner.
The other night a tractor was stolen from brother # 1’s yard, with some farm machinery attached to it. The thieves tried to exit via one route, got stuck and backed down in the other direction on the dark, winding road. They crashed into the fence of brother # 2, ending up in his field. They left the tractor, which was a total loss.
And then a miracle happened. Brother # 1, after having discovered the theft, called up brother # 2 to warn him that his fence was broken. Together they commiserated the loss of the tractor and the fence.
Brother # 2 told us the story, as if this was the most normal procedure imaginable.
Well, wasn’t it?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Ik ben een probleemdrinker. Ik geef het toe.
Ik pas geheel in het profiel: de juiste intake, de goede opleiding, en de postcode klopt ook.
“Voor oudere vrouwen geldt meer dan een ‘standaardglas’ per dag als een probleem,” spiegelt de NRC mij voor. Oké, klopt. Ik ben een oudere vrouw die dagelijks meer drinkt dan een standaardglas. Ergo: ik heb een probleem.
Alleen, wat is mijn probleem? Ik ga niet met mijn meer dan een standaardglas op achter het stuur van een auto zitten, zoals ik mensen in mijn omgeving wel zie doen. Ik raak niet op feestjes zo gegrepen door de drank dat ik niet van ophouden weet. Ik val allang niet meer ‘s avonds ladderzat in mijn bed. Ik fiets de halve stad af, ren de trap op, in plaats dat ik de roltrap neem, ik wandel uren met de hond. Dus wat is het probleem?
Daarnaast drink ik ongeveer drie theepotten per dag. En nog eens een sloot melk bij het slapen gaan. Zou dat ook een probleem kunnen worden?
Ik begrijp best dat alcohol bij een aantal hoogopgeleide ouderen een probleem is. Dat zie ik ook wel. Ook ík erger me aan het gemak waarmee er bij elke gelegenheid geschonken wordt, tot op de lagere school van de kinderen toe. “Oudercrèche”, heette het, en ik vond het ongepast dat de wijn daar rijkelijk vloeide. Dus daar doe ik niet aan mee.
Maar doe effen normaal, zeg! Iets een probleem noemen, zonder dat het een probleem is, gaat echt te ver!
Dat is het calvinisme ten top!
Die zonde laat ik me niet aanpraten!
En dan zal dat wel "ontkenning" heten.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Couscous Salad

Poor P. hates couscous. It was served daily in the Resto U(niversitaire) of Nice, where he spent a year, pretending to be studying.
A non-descript blob of grains, he said.

However, last night's salad made it all alright again.

Cook grains (couscous, bulghur or rice) according to instructions.
Boil a good handfull of broad beans for some minutes, rinse under the cold tap and double peel, when cooled off a little, by squeezing the bright green beans out of their grey jackets.
Finely chop (half) a red onion, and 2 or three tomatoes.
Throw all ingredients together with a handfull of soaked raisins and ditto toasted pine nuts. Plus some chopped parsley or cilantro.
Pour over a vinaigrette and mix.
Serve on a bed of rocket leaves.

It contains all the nutrients, necessary for a healthy (vegan!) meal.
And it is delicious!
P. Scraped the bowl!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Our Daughter-in-law

“Do you like your daughter-in-law?” some of our friends will ask.
The question itself gives away their own doubt about the matter. It offers an opening to gossip: she never allows us to . . . ; she always . . . .
We like our daughter-in-law. (And our possibly future son-in-law, for that matter.)
Because she is the woman of our son’s choice.
Because we try to discover what attracted him to her.
Because she must be wonderful, if he finds her wonderful.
Because we see the intense love they feel for each other.

If she would never allow us certain things, I’m sure she will have good reasons for it, and we will respect them.
And if she always does a particular thing that is strange to us, we will try to understand and accept that.

But the funny thing is, that there seem to be no restrictions in how our daughter-in-law gets on with us. And none in how we get on with her.

Well, of course not! We love her to bits!

Friday, June 19, 2009

De Krant Kopt

Werkloosheid stijgt trager dan verwacht, kopt de NRC.

Oei, wat een teleurstelling!
En dat terwijl het CPB dinsdag nog voorspeld had dat we in 2010 dubbel zoveel werkelozen zouden hebben.
Wat kunnen we daaraan doen?
"Om dat te bereiken [die verdubbeling], zou de werkeloosheid de komende tijd met 25.000 personen per maand moeten stijgen," spiegelt de krant ons voor.

Gelukkig, er is nog hoop op slechtere tijden.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Blank Page

In the morning

I open my notebook.

It stretches and blinks,

and finally settles on the blank page.

, it says,
it commands.

It will even help me by suggesting

to write a title before I enter a post.

I stare at the white hole within the dark border.

Nothing happens.

There is nothing to create.

My mind is as empty as the page.

No, not even so.

My mind is as full

as the page is empty.

Full of to do lists,


anecdotes told by the children,

an intended dog walk.

There is no room,

no space for anything new.

There is no

time to murder and create.

All I can do is Ctrl T

— turn the page —

and move on.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Asperagus Soup

Use the peels of white asparagus and the woody ends to boil an asparagus bouillon. Add a stock cube (vegetarian?) for taste and saltiness, and herbs, if you like. (Bay leaf, thyme, parsley)
Strain when the soup is ready. (When the veggies have become softened.)
Add a boiled potato, if you want to thicken, and mini mash.
Test for seasoning.
Serve with chopped parsley, chopped hard-boiled egg, and/or strips of smoked salmon.

Not fattening at all, and delicious!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tomato Chutney

* 1 kg. semi ripe tomatoes, chopped;
* 2 medium onions, chopped;
* piece of ginger root, peeled and grated;
* 1 tsp. harissa or less, if you don't like hot. Pounded together in pestle and mortar with
* 1 tsp. coarse salt;
* 1/2 tsp. cinnamon;
* 3 cloves;
* 2 dl. vinaigre;
* 200 gr. of sugar.

Bring all ingredients slowly to the boil and simmer for 2 to 3 hours, until mushy and thickened. Stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the pan.

Long live the British influence!!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Jerusalem Artichokes

After all these years in the Hague I only discovered the other day that there is an organic market near the houses of Parliament every Wednesday. We did some scouting and bought lots of vegetables. Today I cooked Jerusalem artichokes in our brand new oven:

Scrape the artichokes with a kitchen knife to clean from dirt, and wash them thoroughly. Slice.
Mix with olive oil (I am sure cold pressed sesame oil will do very well too!) and a little salt, a crushed clove of garlic and grated ginger root.
Cook in a 200 degree oven until browned and soft.
Serve over rice with toasted sesame seeds and Tamari soy sauce.

Exotic and very tasty!