Sunday, 28 September 2014

Wenn du vom Stricken sprichst, ist das so schön...

Having left my trusty sewing machine behind in Germany, my fingers began itching to MAKE something soon after I arrived in Amsterdam and I urgently needed some craft project to occupy myself. Sewing by hand was not an option, as I simply lack the patience for that and I would still have needed too much equipment.

Well, knitting it was then - I did know at least the basics, although so far I had only been able to knit socks (which I had actually been taught over the phone) and didn't know any terminology for anything I'd been doing, let alone was able to read knitting patterns. And there's only so many socks that I need anyway, time to expand my knowledge!

Off to the nearest yarn store I went, which was was in this case Penelope's Craft Boutique, where the friendly owner recommended a pattern for beginners like me and helped me pick the right needles and yarn for it.
I ended up with the Herbivore Shawl by Stephen West, who is apparently quite known in the knitting-scene and is living here in Amsterdam, and some Madelinetosh Light Merino in the colour "Flashdance" (why, of course I'm doing my experimental first real knitting project with an expensive yarn! *rolleyes*)

In the beginning there was a lot of cursing, unravelling und tutorial-video-watching involved, until I had gotten the hang of it and was able to knit away happily and frustration-free. Also, thanks again to my friend Nadja, who was there to help me in my initial confusion over knitting, purling and back loops!

All in all it took me around 2 weeks to finish, mostly while binge-watching Veronica Mars. Once finished, I first attributed it to my lack in skills and experience that it did not look as smooth and even as the sample piece in the shop - until a wise person told me, that it still needed to be blocked. For those who are as unfamiliar with the term blocking as I was until a few days ago: This involves gently washing the knitted piece, then stretching and fixing it into the desired form and letting it dry over night.

Considering how windy it is here and that university is a 20 minute bike ride away, this probably won't be the last scarf/shawl/cowl I've knitted. At the moment I'm still putting off buying yarn for new projects until we've somewhat finished picking/assembling/arranging furniture and unpacking boxes in our new appartment, but as soon as we're settled I'll probably start hoarding wool and producing one garment after the other. While sewing will always remain my No1 crafting activity, knitting is a nice way to make something without having to mess up the whole apartment.

Monday, 22 September 2014

De Taart Van M'n Tante - having cake with Pippi Longstocking

As we were told on our first day at university in the Welcome Lecture by a speaker from the alumni association: Amsterdam is a city with many temptations.
While most people will now probably think of cannabis and prostitution, my favourite temptations here are of a less frowned-upon nature and usually contain a significant amount of chocolate, sugar or fat. And so every day I find myself trying to resist the countless chocolatiers, artisan bakers, patisseurs, pancake stalls, burger bars and sushi places whose windows I have to pass...

But, as Oscar Wilde put it so nicely: The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it, which is why I used a visiting friend as an excuse to finally pay a visit to De Taart Van M'n Tante, a cake shop and café around the corner from our temporary sublet in De Pijp.

The place is especially known for it's over-the-top novelty cakes and lots of these fancy designer cakes (or rather plastic models of them) are on display in the windows. On the inside, the café might as well have been designed by Pippy Longstocking: no two chairs or plates match, everything is
decorated with kitschy plastic flowers and even more cake models and it generally looks as if a candy factory had exploded inside a dolls house.

Please note especially the Super Mario cake on the left!

I decided to order a rather light wild berry cream tart, while my friend Isa went for the "chocolate slut" - dark chocolate, cranberries, pecan nuts and chocolate chunks. Yum!

Above the café is also a bed&breakfast and apparently you can also get married inside the café, as it is registered as municipal marriage office - at least you won't have to worry about the cake!

Konditorei De taart van m'n tante
Ferdinand Bolstraat 10
1072 LJ Amsterdam
Tram 16/24 "Stadhouderskade"

Monday, 8 September 2014

Oh, I do like to be beside the sea side...

While the rest of my weekend was mostly unspectacular (well, not quite: I found an amazing Vintage store, but I'll probably get to that in a later post), we decided to make the most of the good weather (no rain!) we had today and go to the beach. The closest beach resort from Amsterdam is Zandvoort: from Amsterdam Central it was just a 30 minute train ride, which took us past the picturesque town of Haarlem, and which also featured the first pleasant surprise. Free Wifi in the train - in Germany it'll probably take another 10 years before that happens!

Zandvoort itself is barely worth mentioning. Several ugly high-rise hotels which have definitely passed their best days a long time ago, some resorts from the same era, bike rentals and tourist bars... The only somewhat noteworthy landmark was an old water tower, but even that is just a replacement for a water tower the Germans blew up in 1943.
However, the town must have had some glorious years as bathing resort in victorian times, after all Empress Elisabeth of Austria was one of its visitors.

Apart from that, there is really not much to tell except showing pictures: the beach is amazing, lined by bars, cafés and restaurants. Several take-away trucks cruise along the beach and sell beverages, ice-cream, and of course a large variety of fresh fish. We bought kibbeling (deep fried cod) with garlic sauce, a perfect snack for the beach. Some children and hardcore swimmers were in the water, we preferred watching it from further away while sipping a beer/cocktail.

I'm already looking forward to spend some warmer days there - having a beach this close to where I live is a dream come true!

Lurking seagulls

Monday, 1 September 2014

Grocery shopping!

Probably my favourite experience when going to another country (or even, region!) is going grocery shopping - being a foodie, trying new food is one of my main motivations for travelling and what better place to get an impression of what locals are eating than in a local supermarket or on the market?

The most common supermarket here is the dutch chain Albert Heijn - nearly everywhere in Amsterdam there's an AH within short walking distance (but then again nearly everything in AMS is within walking distance..). Lidl, Aldi, and some other chains exist as well, but apparently they don't stand a chance against AH ;)

In the welcome session at VU I was already introduced to Hagelslag: basically, Hagelslag consists of chocolate sprinkles that are commonly eaten on buttered bread. Hagelslag is typically made of chocolate, ranging from white or milky until dark chocolate, but comes in all sorts of other flavors and colours as well: fruity and colourful! I haven't tried it yet myself: surprisingly enough, as fond as I am of chocolate in all forms, I can't bring myself to combine chocolate with savory food like bread. However, it might be a good present for all those Nutella-junkies back home.

Huge shelf in the small Coop next door

Something else that dutch people seem to love: Licorice! Now, this is something that I can relate to! I knew that scandinavians tend to love licorice, but didn't know that this applies to dutchies as well.
Just for comparison: I had a hard time locating Pasta in the supermarket, which occupied only about a third of the space that was given to licorice or hagelslag.

Another huge shelf!

Ok, and then of course there's cheese. You can find cheese stores all over the city (although I think some of them are mostly for tourists, you can usually tell from the prices..) and they seem to have nearly everything in cheese you've ever heard of. I don't think I've seen Blue Stilton anywhere in Germany, and they had several loafs of it in the store! My taste in cheese is not as exotic though, so I just bought some young Gouda with cumin in it, yum!

What probably surprised me most, however, was the huge choice of ready-made meals available here. Back home in Germany, frozen pizza, cup noodles and maybe some ready-made salads are all you can find, but here microwave meals contain lots of fresh veggies, come in all shapes and sizes (family-sized!) and cover most popular cuisines (dutch, italian, indian, asian,...).

Ubiquitous Maggi...

Logical consequence: microwaves in the supermarket

In order to provide only the best entertainment to my dearest readers I have selflessly made myself available as a test subject and purchased, analysed, prepared and eaten two of these instant meals:

Candidate 1:
A luxury version of cup noodles, peanut noodle soup. Price: around 3€. Fresh vegetables, chicken, noodles, peanut sauce. Just add boiling water and stir thoroughly. Fast, uncomplicated, delicious, good value for money. Will buy again!

Candidate 2:
Tandoori chicken with veggies and rice. Price: around 5€. Unlike the microwave meals I've had so far, there's no need to prick the package with a fork, it had a built-in valve. 6 minutes in the microwave and I had a steaming pseudo-indian meal that was quite okay in taste, but still tasted like microwave food and could have used some more spices. But then again you don't get proper takeout here for 5€ and for not having to do anything it was quite okay I guess.