H/B/F 2017: a slice of life in the Netherlands

Before I leave the Netherlands and the first half of our trip behind, I thought I’d share some observations about life here in Holland with you all.  It’s really very similar to other places in Europe, and the subtle differences seem to make us feel more ‘at home’ than less.  This makes sense when you remember that the Pilgrims actually came from here (Leiden, to be exact) before heading to the new world, and that New York City is modeled after Amsterdam (remember ‘New Amsterdam?’) and it follows suit that our Harlem in NYC is modeled after the Haarlem in which we stayed.  The Dutch are kind, pragmatic and happy to speak in English to visitors without hesitation. (English truly is the ‘universal language’ here, and the Dutch will respond “of course!” when questioned if they speak it.)

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Something I do appreciate when traveling is a good old European breakfast. Many countries here simply offer a croissant and espresso in the morning (I’m looking at you, Italy and France), but the Netherlands embraces the breakfast I saw in Germany when Andrew and I started traveling 10 (!!!) years ago: cold cuts and cheeses, tomatoes, fruit and hearty breads.  These people know how important protein in the morning is!  (It stands to reason–the Dutch are among the world’s tallest and healthiest populations.)  I can’t tell you how much the breakfast issue has come into play on our trips overseas; I feel like I’m constantly in search of a protein option in France!  This is also one of the reasons Andrew and I have started staying in apartments on our trips instead of hotels if we’re staying for multiple nights. Thankfully, our hotel in Haarlem offered a FANTASTIC breakfast with all the goodies, including an assortment of breads, meats, cheeses, an ‘American breakfast’ with bacon, sausages and scrambled eggs (the best I’ve ever had), fruit, tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurts, granola and muesli, as well as juices and an insane coffee machine that basically creates a ‘Starbucks-in-our-hotel.’ We were in heaven every morning.

Meal times are different here, at least for dinner.  Europeans tend to eat later, and the Netherlands seems to be somewhere in between the US (5-6 pm) and France, Italy and Spain, which ascribe to a dinner hour between 8 – 10 pm (at least in the big cities). We don’t even head out until about 7 pm, and even that’s a bit early.  Usually we’re grabbing a drink at a café after 6 pm, then hunting down just the right place for our evening meal afterward.

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The Dutch are also known for bicycling EVERYWHERE, and Haarlem is no different.  There are distinct bike lanes alongside the roads, parking garages for bikes (equipped with ‘troughs’ on each side of the stairs for riders to wheel their bikes up and down, see photo below) and large wooden buckets that attach to the front for small children or things to ride in.  I even saw a toddler and an infant in a car seat tucked away in a the basket riding around town!  No one wears helmets and I’m sure accidents are few and far-between.

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You’ve probably heard that pot is legal in the Netherlands.  Yup, it is.  And while marijuana is indeed legal, it’s not (or doesn’t seem to be) a problem.  (Click here for more info on the drug policy in the Netherlands.) Before visiting, I think I had visions of hippies living on canal boats in Amsterdam, basically, that because pot was legal, the city would be somehow different.  In reality, Amsterdam is just like any other old European city, if not more beautiful.

The only evidence of marijuana I saw, or smelled, was wafting from the doors of ‘coffeeshops,’ not to be confused with cafes, that actually sell COFFEE. It’s legal all over the Netherlands, not just in Amsterdam, so there were some pot ‘dispensaries’ in Haarlem, too.  Coffeeshops are highly regulated, and it’s illegal to have large quantities of pot on hand at any given time. Users can’t grow, sell or smoke pot at home; they must partake inside one of these coffeeshops.

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When we talked to some of Andrew’s co-workers at dinner one night, I asked what the general consensus was on drug use.  While none of the Dutch engineers seemed particularly ‘pro-drug,’ they did take a very laid-back approach to the issue.  They all seemed to think it was fine that pot was legal and that they’d never thought of it as a problem.  In fact, they remarked instead about the drug problems in the US, where pot is illegal (except in some states). This attitude is exactly how our guidebook described it, which aligns with the often pragmatic approach the Dutch take to issues like this.

Lastly, in addition to pot, prostitution is legal, too. Ever heard of the Red Light District?

The photo above is rather tame, as I was careful not to take pictures too close to the action.  And what I mean by action is that of all the tourists, not the prostitutes!

Andrew and I followed a Red Light District ‘walk’ in our guidebook one evening well before the area gets creepy at 1 am.  We were a bit nervous going into it, but the further along we went, the more and more crowded it became.  To be honest, it felt a little like Disneyland!  Yes, there are red-lit windows in which women stand in the equivalent of a bathing suit, most of them paying almost no attention to the crowds walking by and instead playing on their phones.  It felt more like a theme park as we shuffled along with the crowds and less like like a place someone could approach a hooker.  There are streets upon streets in the area that glow red each evening, filled with tourists.  Anyone visiting Amsterdam should do it once, and once is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

savory oatmeal congee-style

Finally!  A post NOT related to our trip!  (Not to fear, more of the trip is coming soon.)

After my speed work this morning, I was craving eggs AND oatmeal (it was rainy and cool, especially after we finished), so I combined them!

This was my first foray into savory oatmeal, and it was delicious!  I knew I wanted eggs on top and a soy sauce flavor, and that I had green onions in my fridge.  I’ve had congee before and liked it, so I thought I’d go that route.

Other than my egg being a bit overdone (it wasn’t runny enough), the meal was delicious! Tuesdays are my BIG workout days (am running and pm Bodypump and cycle), so I need to make sure I have enough energy for it all.

Here’s how I did it:  Microwave plain instant oats according to package instructions, thin with water or milk and soy sauce or coconut aminos; cook an egg sunnyside up and heat any leftover meat you want to include (we had leftover steak, so I went with that).  Pour hot oatmeal on spinach (to get more veggies, totally optional), top with runny egg and meat (if not including meat, use 2-3 eggs) and garnish with green onion.

I realize savory oatmeal is a departure from the norm and that some might be hesitant to give it a try.  My advice: TRY IT!  You can always omit the spinach and soy sauce for a milder texture and flavor. It’s a great way to eat a low-sugar breakfast by mixing healthy carbs with fat and protein!

H/B/F: best of the Netherlands — food and drink

I was so impressed with how healthy (i.e. real food, lots of fruits and veggies, balanced meals, etc…) some of the menu items were in the Netherlands!  Despite Europeans’ diets becoming more and more Westernized (boo!), those across the pond still tend (seem to?) eat more real food, and perhaps less of it, than us Americans.  However, on past trips, I’ve really struggled with all the heavy, rich and indulgent foods we’ve had while traveling.  On the one hand, of course I want to try ALL THE THINGS. But, when traveling for upwards of a month and not working out (like on past trips), all those multi-course meals can really weigh a girl down.

So, back to the healthy food in the Netherlands.  Coupled with the fact that I was on my own for most of my lunches while Andrew was working, I had a blast seeking out delicious, healthy (yet unique) options.

Here’s our first official lunch, eaten at a little bistro while on an exploratory walk of Haarlem.  As you can see, it’s a beautiful salad with oranges, fennel, avocado, lima beans and pomegranate seeds. Andrew chose beef empanadas, also served with a salad.

Here’s my first lunch on my own, eaten after a long, hot run.  Mackerel salad (like tuna, but way more flavorful) and a local beer.  Yes, there is mayo on that bun. No, I didn’t care, as I assumed it was either homemade or (at the very least) not full of the crap that’s in our mayo here. I still remember how that sandwich tasted.  Delish!

Here’s another lunch on my own, beef carpaccio (thinly sliced seasoned raw beef), atop bread (I actually picked it out as it was just simple sandwich bread), with arugula, pine nuts, pesto, fried eggs and local cheese.  It was super unique and very good. 

Here’s a treat at our hotel lounge, my new favorite beer and carrot cake.  I don’t know where they got it, but that cake was some of the best I’ve ever had.  

Yet another lunch on my own, this was my second lunch at SLA.  It’s a cute salad/soup/sandwich place just a block or two from our hotel.  I LOVED this smoked salmon/capers/pickled onions/dill potatoes/radish combo.  Must re-create.

Here’s one of the best coffees I had while in the Netherlands.  I actually had a lot of trouble getting regular *iced* coffee, as more than once I was handed a cup of cold coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Delicious, but a bit more of a treat than I wanted.  This coffee, from a little cafe next to Reypenear Cheese, was absolutely heavenly.  Iced, barely sweet and topped with a delicate foam.  

Here’s my solo dinner in Amsterdam, from a cute place known for having inventive dishes.  The mention of beets and coconut risotto with mahi mahi really caught my attention on the chalkboard.  

Another thing I wanted to share was SPRINKLES.  Apparently, the Dutch eat sprinkles on buttered bread.  (I never actually saw this happen.)  At breakfast each morning at our hotel, there was a very attractive display of boxes upon boxes of sprinkles–in all sorts of flavors–along with jam, honey and Nutella containers.  I finally asked a local, who told me that eating sprinkles on buttered bread is a thing.  It seemed like she was trying to tell me it’s almost what we’d call a ‘comfort food.’  I tried the combo while I was there, and I have to admit, it’s good!  A little sweet for breakfast, but very good nonetheless.  The sprinkles are less waxy than our sprinkles are; they are much less dense and very dry and crunchy.  After I got home, I looked up the De Ruijter brand and I found a brief history.  I did bring one of these little boxes home, and am looking forward to having a slice soon!  

My birthday fell on market day in Haarlem, so we had a picnic at the local library (one of my finds for reading or talking to Emily on the phone) with items we bought.  Andrew tends to seek out whatever rotisserie chicken is available and strawberries, and I grabbed a cold salad and a green juice at a prepared foods stall.  We each chose coconut macaroons from a baker’s table.

Later that night in Amsterdam, we found a little brasserie in which to eat dinner.  It was SO HOT that day–can you tell by our faces??  I ended up having one of my favorite dinners: white asparagus, butter lettuce, smoked salmon and dill with egg salad. I love dill, especially with creamy salads (egg, potato) and it goes especially well with salmon.  

Close-up shot so I can recreate it!!