Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mince Pies

With all the fruit last summer I almost ran out of recipes. So I made some plum mince meat with the plums I got from Bernard, and my own early apples. The recipe for this is in France, and anyway it is too late now. I was a little worried about my own mince meat, as the apples had to be added at the end, so it was bottled when it was not hot anymore. But it came out fine after all these months. So here is the recipe for delicious pies, courtesy of the BBC!

Mix 350 grams of flour with 225 grams of cold diced butter. Add 100 grams of brown (castor) sugar plus a pinch of salt and work with your fingers and hands until it has formed a ball. Grease 18 holes in your muffin tins and push a walnut sized ball into each of them for the base. Spoon in the mince meat (from about one jar) and cover with a flattened smaller ball to make a lid. Brush with beaten egg and bake in a 200 degree oven (180 for a hot air oven) until golden. About 20 minutes. Dust with icing sugar.

My mince meat was quite watery, but caramalized during the baking. For safety I left my pies in the tin, so now they come out whole. Not that it matters if they crumble: they are yummy!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Over Pedofilie Gesproken

Onze ouders waarschuwden ons niet voor oude, vieze mannen. Ik denk dat het niet bij hen opkwam.
De vriendinnen verderop in de straat waren beter ingelicht. Zij kenden de dreiging van kinderlokkers, die snoepjes aanboden. Wat daar gevaarlijk aan was, begreep ik niet, maar zij des te beter.
Op een dag .... Ja, op een dag werd ik wijzer.
Ik speelde met een kluitjes meisjes bij ons in de voortuin. Er schuifelde een man langs op de stoep. Een sjofel geklede man, een beetje gebogen, die angstig uit zijn ogen keek. We waren ervan onder de indruk, en stil stonden we te wachten tot hij voorbij gelopen was.
Toen werden we dapper. We dromden het hek uit en keken hem na, terwijl hij al twee straten verder was: een stip aan de horizon.
Hij keek nog om, schichtig, met bange schrikachtige ogen. Toen haastte hij zich weer verder.
Dus toen wist ik dat kinderlokkers bange mensen zijn, die ook geen snoepjes bij zich hebben.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Swede and Potato Dauphinoise

I like swede, but it is a vegetable with a very distinct taste, for which I am not always in the mood.
So I consulted Leiths Vegetarian Bible for inspiration.
As always I adjusted the recipe!

Fry a sliced onion in oil. Add a crushed garlic clove and some paprika at the end.
On a mandolin slice a peeled piece of swede (a whole one may turn out to be too much), and a few russet potatoes.
Mix half a cup of milk with half a cup of cream.
Mix in the vegetables with salt, pepper, grated nutmeg, and the fried onions.
Turn into a greased oven-proof dish and bake covered at 180 degrees for about an hour.
Take off the cover, and either sprinkle some more paprika on top, or a few handfulls of left-over grated cheese, and brown uncovered for another half hour, or as long as is needed.
Serve piping hot with a fresh green salad.

Note: my thyme and rosemary have died. Otherwise I would have left out the paprika and mixed in some herbs.

A real comforter!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Agnes's Jacket

In nineteenth century Germany a madwoman stitched her diary into a jacket, thus uttering her true feelings. What painstaking labour to sew her soul onto a piece of garment! To wear it like a skin, like an enormous tattoo. Even across a century and a half her strength of character cries out to me!
In her book Agnes’s Jacket Gail Hornstein uses her story as a symbol to rehabilitate the mental patient as a person.
I find this extremely moving. I have seen mental illness from close by, and I have always been struck by how the true nature of the patient is inescapably there under the psychosis: the gentleness, the ambition, and the traits that make him lovable in spite of all the misery. Hornstein’s book goes beyond that.
It is not written by a lay person like me, with a psychiatric family member. She is an expert with enormous empathy and the courage to view psychiatry from a patient’s perspective.
For me it opens wide vistas of imagination.
For patients I hope it will eventually lead to a different approach to mental illness.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Emperor's New Clothes

Yesterday we went to the theatre to view performances by young actors who had not yet finished drama school. Before the intermission we saw two episodes from A Streetcar Named Desire. After the break we were presented with a lecture, the Benefactor, by a post graduate student, Julian Hetzel, about his aims for success. Each student had been given 2000 to set up a program to create their own success.
Julian gave us a slide show in which he cleverly lead us from his aims as an artist, through his needs as an entrepreneur, through politics and hunger in the world, to his project of donating the money to a starving child – a girl child – in Africa. This was called a performance, and he had already been awarded an award for it.
At the end I asked “Where is the actor in this?” The actor was the performer who had given the presentation. Thus he had created his own success.
Bollocks! I felt cheated. My daughter, an actress, was also creating her own success, by working as an actress in commercials, by teaching in inner city schools, and by scrubbing toilets, if the need for money would arise. Without a subsidy from the government.
Riding home I realised that Julian had had us all on. He had sat in his student digs with the 2000 in his hands, thinking about the hunger in Africa. He decided to donate his money to a charity, and then spun a whole story about this being a piece of conceptual art.
Clever Julian! And we all bought it: his teachers, who stood there proudly beaming; we, the audience; even the highbrow TV station Arte, who had awarded him his prize.
Is it art? No.
Clever? Yes!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

LOOK TV Schiedam

Zaterdag 19 november werd een vraaggesprek over De Brander uitgezonden op LOOK TV Schiedam.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Presentatie De Brander

Gisteren werd in de Jeneverie te Schiedam de Brander gepresenteerd.
Het werd een vrolijk feest, waarin de jenever centraal stond.
Het boek is te bestellen bij de uitgever, of bij

Ook kun je het volgen op facebook.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Mama Staat; Papa Zit

Ze zijn als een stoel. Een keukenstoel. Mama de achterpoten en het rugstuk, staand. Papa de zitting en de voorpoten.
Ik mag op Papa’s schoot zitten. Er zijn geen armleuningen. Hij steunt mij niet. Ik voel zijn dunne knieën onder mij als ongemakkelijk knoestige takken. Zijn benen wiebelen. Ik moet mijn evenwicht proberen te bewaren. Het hobbelt onder mij. Toch mag ik niet tegen de rug leunen. ‘Ga rechtop zitten,’ zegt Mama. Dus ik wankel.
Ik weet niet hoe het gebeurt. Ik weet zelfs niet óf er iets gebeurt. Maar nu lig ik op de grond. Alleen. Niemand die mij opraapt. Ik wil terug op Papa’s schoot kruipen. Ik weet niet waar hij is. Ik zie zijn voeten niet. Hij reikt geen hand naar mij uit.
Zou Mama nog steeds rechtop staan? Ik denk dat ze over mij heen kijkt, maar ik zie haar niet. Alsof ze lucht is geworden. Koud, als een wind die langs mijn oren giert.
Nee, niet giert, want ik hoor het niet. Het is een gevoel: kil, eenzaam, troosteloos.
En Papa is weg.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Success Creates Happiness

I wasn’t buying it: success has nothing to do with happiness. You, yourself, need to be prepared to be happy from inside. That is how it works. Outward circumstances have nothing to do with it.
Not so! It has gradually become abundantly clear to me that success indeed does lead to a stronger feeling of well-being.
When I got the job I had hoped for, I jumped in the air. When the children tell us good news, I glow contentedly. And now that I am about to publish a novel, I am ecstatic! I am!
All I need to do to get in a good mood is to think about the story I wrote, about what the cover looks like, about how it feels to hold the actual paperback proof in my hands.
Sorry, I was all wrong, and the psychologists were right: success does lead to an intense feeling of bliss!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gooey Chocolate Cake

S. started a cookbook series many years ago: a notebook in which we and our guests would write our favourite recipes, and the dishes that were created on the spur of the moment.
This blog has already seen many of them.
Our guests from the house swap left us this wonderful chocolate cake; not difficult to make, and a winner!

125 gr. really dark chocolate;
125 gr. butter;
3 eggs;
100 gr. sugar;
100 gr. flour;
1 tsp. baking powder.

1. Melt chocolate and butter -- let it cool to room temperature;
2. Beat eggs and sugar till pale and thick;
3. Fold in sifted flour and baking powder;
4. Fold in chocolate and butter mixture;
5. Pour into greased (and lined) loose bottom tin;
6. Bake at 220 C. for 12-14 minutes. It should just be set on top;
7. Chill in fridge until completely cold;
8. Carefully turn upside down onto cooking tray and remove baking tin;
9. Put plate on bottom of cake, turn upside down (holding on to plate), dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream.

Don't think I put this on my blog for your sake. O no! I want to be able to make it back home, and this is the easiest way to transport it!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Drying the Laundry

I can see why people want driers. But they miss out on so much laundry folklore!

This morning we woke up to a misty dawn that turned into a clear sky. At breakfast we decided on 2 things: to go for a good walk in the morning, and to load the washer. The walk was lovely through the crisp, warming autumn air.

When we arrived home I hung the washing in the sun. However, clouds were gathering overhead, and within an hour it was pouring with rain. Not for long, but enough to soak the clothes in the line. This continued all afternoon: warm, bright sun and showers.

It seems a big price for refusing to move into the twenty-first century. But I know: tomorrow will be a better day, and everything will be dry eventually.

And no drier can beat the smell of clothes-line dried coarse linen sheets on a bed at night.

Absolutely nothing!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The First Day

The first day after arrival
we are always so eager.
Off to the market
to stock up
on honey, butter, vegetables,
fresh walnuts.
Eager for the smells,
the silver mist over the fields,
the apple trees laden down.

At home
we hardly have time for coffee,
but we make it to go
with the boule de meringue that we bought.
Grass needs to be mown and
there is lots of weeding to be done.
Look! We have a crop of raspberries,
and the first fig ever!
The grapes are succulent and sweet,
and the lettuces have not been frozen over.
How lucky we are!
So lucky to be here in the cool, warming air,
the pale light against the house,
the dog lying on the sunny terrace,
the cat strutting through the tall stalks of grass.

The first day is never long enough,
never ending.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Raasdonders met Spek en Uien

Toen de regen raasde, en ik kleddernat door de stad fietste kreeg ik een groot verlangen naar kapucijners met spek en uien. Het was te kort dag om de kapucijners een nacht te weken, en dan te koken. Dat is nog het allerlekkerste, maar dit deed het ook heel best:

Laat gerookte spekblokjes uitbakken in een braadpan.
Schep ze eruit als ze krokant zijn, en al flink wat vet hebben uitgezweten.
Voeg wat (olijf)olie toe, en fruit er een paar uien in ringen in.
Als ze wat aangebakken zijn, deksel op de pan en zachtjes gaar stoven.
Uitgelekte kapucijners erbij, en de spekblokjes. Goed doorwarmen.
Serveren met stroop en een enorme salade.

O, o, wat is dat smullen!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Getting inside a Character

I had a manuscript on the shelf that I decided to rewrite. The plot was there, and the characters, but the whole was not very exciting. So I started tackling it. Not an easy job, but I’m gradually getting my teeth into it.

My colleague writers have had a few bits, and made suggestions. One of them was to turn the third person narrative into a first person narrative. Good point!

But less easy than it seems. It is not a matter of find and replace she => I, and adjusting the grammar. Then turning past tense into present tense. I now really need to get inside her head.

In a narrative you can write: “While she was mopping the kitchen floor, the telephone rang. She stood with the mop in her hands trying to decide whether to answer it.”

Inside one’s head it doesn’t happen that way. “I have filled the bucket with soapy water. The chairs are sitting upside down on the table. I have rolled up my sleeves, ready to dip the mop into the suds. Damn! There is the telephone ringing. Shall I let it go? It might be John. No, he wouldn’t call me at this hour. My hands are wet. I won’t make it anyhow. There, it has stopped. Damn!”

This is a silly example. I cannot think of a better one right now. I just want to illustrate that occurrences inside one’s brain don’t follow a logic of sequence. They happen simultaneously, and in a jumble.

It calls for a lot of rewriting.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Apple Crumble

Apple Season. This year is going to be a record in yield. More apples than ever. So what to do?

This is the simplest way to deal with them:

Melt butter (50 grams, or rather 75? I don't know) in a ovenproof bowl at 180 degrees. Metal of stoneware. In the meantime peel and slice apples into a pie dish. You may mix in some cinnamon and honey.
When the butter has melted add equal amounts of flour and sugar, a tablespoon at the time, until the dough has a crumbly consistency. Mix in some cinnamon.
Spread over the apples and bake in the now preheated oven until golden.
Serve with crème fraîche, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

House Swap

Next week we are going to do a house exchange. We've done it before.
First there is the excitement of looking what is on offer. Where would we like to go, and what kind of house would we like. In the meantime we get offers from others. Oh, Italy, we hadn't thought of that.
Fairly soon we had an offer from Devon that looked very attractive. So then the negotiations could start. When would be a good time for you? Can we bring our dog? How far is Dartmoor from your house? When can we meet and exchange keys?
When all that has been arranged a lot more joy of anticipation has been enjoyed than when you book a hotel or a bungalow. I am imagining myself in the house, what the owners are like. I am imagining them in our house. Will they like the many nooks and crannies filled with small treasures?
A house swap is like crawling into another person's skin for a short period of time. You are still you, but you are clad in another's best clothes!
Try it! I recommend it!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Falling Man

man forever
frozen in
alone in
his past and
the unknown
just him
the building
the air
in his ears
slow movement
of legs
photo of a man falling from one of the world trade center towers, 9/11/01

AP Photo/Richard Drew/FILE

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Zestigers op de Fiets

Herkent u ze, de zestig-plussers op hun splinternieuwe fiets? Ze hebben hem gekocht bij de Mammoet of bij de Gigant of zelfs op internet, want ze zijn nog modern. Ze zijn nu toe aan een fiets die hun gemoedstoestand verbeeldt: “We zijn wel in ruste, maar we zijn nog actief. Wij zijn de Fitte Vutters.”
Ze hebben hun korte broek aangetrokken en hun sneakers. Aan helmen doen ze niet–goddank. Maar wel aan een stuurstanddaard voor de fietskaart, of anders een eigentijds GPS systeem. Ze zitten nog onwennig op hun nieuwe vehikel, ze slingeren nog wat. Want ze waren toch meer gewoon aan de auto of aan het stadsmodel, dat stabieler was.
Het is gewoon nog wennen om niet meer forens te zijn. Ze rijden nog niet zo soepel, ondanks de proefrit. Daarbij heeft hun bel de rrr afgeschaft: hij zegt nu alleen maar ting in plaats van trrring-trrring.
Maar o, wat zijn ze trots op hun glimmende model!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Red Cabbage and Smoked Bacon

When Bernard arrives here, he usually comes laden with good stuff: leeks, eggs, lettuce, red currants. Last year he specially went picking wild plums, and they made a hell of a jam!
Last week his box (like an organic vegetable box!) contained a red cabbage, and I served it when he came to dinner the other day:

Put smoked diced bacon in a cookpot and gently simmer until it has given off its fat and it has shrunk to crispy brown knobs.
Add sliced red onion and fry until golden.
Then sliced cabbage, grated apple, a few cloves, cinnamon and salt.
Simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, until solt. If it tends to get too dry, add a slosh of cider vinegar.
When all soft add enough honey to sweeten, and a slice of gingerbread crumbled up.
Stir until well mixed.
Check seasoning.
Serve with boiled potatoes, and salty sausages, if you wish.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I have not listened enough

I have not listened enough.
I have not paid attention
to the sound of a clarinet
quivering in the quiet room;
the cat on the carpet, purring.

I have not listened
to the soothing mood of rest
above the turmoil around.
I have not allowed
tears welling in my eyes.

I have not listened enough.
I have not sat still.
My ears have not been attuned
to the peace within
the music of each individual note.

I have not listened as I should.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bernard's English

Bernard has lived all his life in the same house. And his father before him, and his grandfather. He has hardly left the départment, except to visit the relatives of his wife in the Mayenne, or his son in the Eure, and once he went with his daughter and her family to the seaside near Bordeaux. He has never been to Paris, let alone abroad. He doesn’t speak any other language than French; he doesn’t even know the word for Oui in English.

Two years ago he got British neighbours permanently living below him in the valley. They didn’t have any French, although they intended to learn. Bernard has helped them find their way about: where to buy the right machinery, what the local rules and customs are. Most communication was done with gestures, yet they hit it off fabulously. The British couple looked after his garden and his chickens when he was in the hospital, and they brought him plates of their own dinner when he was still poorly. In return he helped them build their fences, and he drops in regularly for a coffee or a glass of cider.

And now a little miracle is happening. Bernard has heard so much English from newly found friends – who revert too often to English in despair – that he is beginning to pick out the words that are of French origin. He is recognising them in spite of their funny pronunciation, and at times he knows what they are saying.

Who would have thought this possible of a man who is almost three score and ten?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More Summer fruit: Elderberry Sirop

I can't resist it. I must tell about the elderberries.
A. saw them glimmering in the tree tops, and remembered a friend in her student house, who had elderberry sirop -- made by her grandmother -- which she would drink, diluted with warm water when she was ill. So A. went out with a few buckets and picked them full.
We boiled them down to juice, strained them through an old tea towel in a collander. Washed and washed the blue/purple/pink mess on the counter top, the collander, the tea towel. Then we measured 1 kilo of sugar to each liter of juice and the juice of 2 lemons per liter. Brought to the boil and simmered for 5 minutes. Then bottled.
It tastes wonderful: sweet and yet earthy. We have no idea how it will keep. Once opened A intends to freeze it in the ice cube tray. But the colour of the juice itself is already a feast!

Monday, August 08, 2011

Miss Mirabelle

Dear Miss Mirabelle,

Could you please give us a break? We try to give in to your every wish: We eat your jam at breakfast with croissants; we drink your juice at any time of the day; we serve your crumble at tea time and your chutney with our meat.

We breathe you eaten fresh; we admire your hue; we dream you, full and fragrant.

Dear Miss Mirabelle and still you push for more. Your tree is still dotted with yellow orange fruit, but what can we do more? Ice cream? Face cream? Can we paint you on our walls?

Dear Miss Mirabelle, we love you. But can you give us a rest and give us a little less of your bounty?


I see.

You cannot.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Plum Harvest

The first plums of the year. We harvested à la Normande: we laid a tarp under the tree, P. did the shaking, we pulled the tarp together and the plums rolled into the bucket.

The first batch has been cooked down for juice for jelly. This takes more plums for fewer jars. Because the mirabelles are on the way! We have already laid the tarp, but please, no shaking yet! I don't have a professional kitchen, and there are books to be read and writing to be done!
However, a nice bread-and-butter plum pudding is waiting for the coffee break.
Warmed up with crème fraîche!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Norman Mussels

- Buy 1 liter mussels per person. Clean and debard them. Discard the ones that don't close on a tap.
- Fry in butter: onion, leek, carrot and garlic until golden.
- Add half a bottle of cider. Bring to a rolling boil.
- Add the mussels. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes until they have opened.
- Serve in a soup plate with the sauce. Stir in some crème fraîche.
- Mop up the juice with coarse brown bread.
- Serve a large salad afterwards on a clean plate.

We concluded the meal with home-made strawberry sorbet ice cream.

A feast!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Catching Mice

Every time we come here we borrow one of Bernard’s cats. She is completely used to travelling in an old pick nick basket, and upon arrival she will immediately claim her spots on the sofa and the beds.

Originally the purpose of this arrangement was for her to catch mice, but she does not quite keep her end of the bargain. She prefers to be stroked and to purr and to contemplate the world from her various view points in the garden.

However, I am not totally fair to her. She does catch mice, with gusto even; but not in the house. No, ma’am! If the doctor told me to get more exercise and I had the choice between running on a treadmill in the gym and a walk in the woods, wouldn’t I prefer the woods?

So now and then she will go out for a nice juicy bit of field mouse, sometimes accompanied by some veggies in the form of grass sprigs that are sticking sideways out of her mouth.

Hmm! Yummy!