Comfort Food

Food is a hobby of mine, but mostly from the receiving end. I like eating.

I like trying different and new things. I’m also quite open minded when it comes to what can be defined as ‘edible’.

Tragically, I suck in the food-making department. I am lazy and impatient. On top of that, I am really clumsy.

When I moved into my current home a few years ago I quickly realized I had to improve my cooking skills (and willingness), given the fact that I moved to a part of town with a very high takeaway density. My budget, my health and the environment would all suffer if I gave in to all that temptation.

So, I signed us up for one of those meal-kit providers. We started receiving the ingredients for three meals a week. At first, my boyfriend and I endured the food making process by cooking together.

After about six months we were confident we had learned how to cook. We even dared invite friends over for dinner (cooked by us!) and they hardly ever complained of stomach cramps afterwards.

One of my favorite dishes I learned how to prepare in that time was the Ptitim with mushrooms, tarragon and lemonzest ricotta.

So yes, this is happening, I am going to share a recipe with you.

I’ve seen a variation of this dish in a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, which is more of a stew but features many of the same ingredients.

Ingredients (for 2 people):

  • 4 medium sized shallots
  • 1/2 lemon
  • fresh tarragon
  • fresh chervil
  • 100g ricotta
  • 250g cremini mushrooms
  • 600g pecorino or grana padano
  • 170g Ptitim / pearl couscous
  • 600ml of vegetable stock
  • oliveoil
  • butter
  • salt
  • pepper

About the ingredients

Ptitim, which is also known as pearl couscous or Israeli couscous, is not an ingredient I was familiar with previously. It has become a staple food at our place ever since we learned about it though. If you can’t get your hands on this variety of couscous, any type of pasta would work for this recipe.

The dish also includes tarragon, which in Dutch is called ‘dragon’. As if that isn’t reason enough to put into a dish it also happens to be superduper yummy. It has a sweet, anisey taste which I really recommend you get acquainted to, if you’re not already. If you can’t get the fresh variety, the dried stuff also works.

Chervil is not as easy to find where I live, especially not in the fresh variety. I have been forced to leave that ingredient out completely on several occasions and the dish was still really good, so no sweat if you don’t have it. The tarragon is quite essential though, so do try to include that one in some shape or form!

Step 1 – the choppy stage

Cut the shallot into small pieces. The original recipe advised to cut them in quarters, but I prefer them diced into smaller bits, but that’s just a personal preference.

Grate the lemon for some lemon zest. The recipe recommends half a teaspoon, but zest is such a specific flavor I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want a bit more or a little less of that.

You will also need approximately 1 tablespoon of lemonjuice and I recommend making lemonade from the rest.

Cut the mushrooms in halves or quarters, depending on their original size.

Chop up the fresh herbs.

Step 2 – the part with the fire and the pans and the stirring

Heat a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan and add the shallot until soft (low heat, about 10 min) and then add the mushrooms. Add some salt and pepper to the pan and let it simmer for a bit (10 more minutes).

In the meantime, prepare the pearl couscous according to the instructions on the package. Make sure to use vegetable stock and not just plain water to cook the couscous in.

Step 3 – mixing the lemony lactose bomb

Mix the ricotta with the pecorino cheese, the lemon zest and the lemon juice. Add in a sniff of salt and a generous amount of pepper.

Step 4 – bringing it all together

Decide which of the two pans is going to be the cometogether pan. I suppose this depends on the size of the pans you have and which one is your favorite.

Add a tablespoon of butter to the appointed pan and then throw it all together. You can keep some ricotta and some of the herbs separate, as a garnish (but I usually don’t care much for that).

My boyfriend doesn’t like his dish as lemony as I do, so I usually hold some zest behind for my plate.

Don’t feel disheartened by the way it looks, I assure you it tastes really good!

This recipe of my favorite Comfortfood is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month.

Bird buddies

When my boyfriend and I moved in together, we were lucky enough to do so in a lovely little house in the center of Leiden. As if that wasn’t enough, the house was also equipped with a tremendously luxurious extra; a garden.

We moved in in November of 2016 and quickly got acquainted with the neighbors. And the neighbors I bonded with the quickest were the ones that don’t pay rent. They can be noisy sometimes and sometimes sing “in the dead of night”. Yes, that Beatles song is based on a true story; I’m talking about birds.

Handsome and charismatic Patrick struts his stuff around enthusiastically every winter, but we now know that he spends the summer elsewhere. Scandinavia I’ve been told. We get quite sad each year when the realization kicks in that he’s left. Patrick is a fierce little robin.

Zwaantje (which translates to little Swan, and is an actual name for women in the Netherlands) was the lady Blackbird that lived in the impressive hedera ivy bush at the far end of the garden when we moved in. When she was seduced by an extremely friendly male, we named him Romeo. We were thrilled to see their romance blossom.

Romeo and Zwaantje raised several young and we grew closer to them than I ever thought one could get to a bird. Both were extraordinarily tame, but Romeo most of all. I learned that my human neighbors had a similar experience with this blackbird couple and we often exchanged endearing stories over the hedge.

We had quite a laugh when one of my neighbors confessed to me she had given all the birds names as well, but quite different from ours. She had named the male first – Koos-, and then decided the female was ‘Koosje’, which is the feminine version of the same name. A ‘Romeo’ is obviously not the same kind of character as a ‘Koos’ (a very mundane Dutch name). 😀

And as you can tell I am speaking about them in the past tense, because at some point, something happened…

We hadn’t seen much of the blackbirds during the winter months but when spring arrived and there was still no singing to be heard from the rooftops, we knew they were no longer with us. And it wasn’t only our rooftop that was quiet. The whole neighborhood (perhaps even the whole city) was silent. It was eerie. And sad.

It may have been the Usutu virus, a disease that targets blackbirds and has decimated populations in other European countries in recent years. Maybe a cat got hold of one of the two, and the other flew off. We don’t know, but there is no denying it was an odd season without them around.

And then last winter, to our utmost delight, a new couple moved in.

My neighbor is convinced that the male is actually our old friend, Romeo. I am not so sure, all though I do find his friendliness remarkable. Maybe one of his sons? The female is definitely not Zwaantje, we all agree on that.

The new lady blackbird is a bit skittish but that’s OK. She peaks at us through the trees when her partner hops over to the garden door to claim his breakfast raisins. She joins him as soon as we step back inside. I haven’t named her yet.

It may sound crazy but it really fills my heart with joy when I see Romeo (or his successor) taking elaborate baths in our little birdbath. He does so with so much passion and love of life. I can watch it all day.

And all though the blackbirds are definitely our bbffs (best bird friends forever) the cutest ones are without a doubt the blue tits.

Their big beady eyes in their tiny heads make them look like kid’s toys. Their little eye masks give them a bit of a samurai look, especially when the male raises the little tuft on his head, to look extra tough (but not really).

And don’t get my started about their young… Adorable. Just heartrendingly adorable.

The blue tits enjoy taking little splashy baths as well, after which they sit on a branch nearby and elaborately groom themselves. And then they fluff up their little feathers and become little feathery balls of squee.

Apart from the robin, the blackbirds and the blue tits, we have daily visits from several turtle doves, sparrows, great tits and sparrows. Less visible (but I know they’re there) is the wren and the dunnock.

Also jackdaws, magpies and jays stop by sporadically, all though I would prefer they stayed away. The turtle doves usually fight them off bravely, oftentimes at the cost of a few feathers.

I have become very protective of my feathery friends. The other day I scolded my neighbor for delousing his roses with a poisonous liquid. Doesn’t he know he’s not only killing the lice, but also the birds that feed on them? I didn’t explicitly call him a murderer to his face, but I did show him my meanest frown when he told me what was in that spraying apparatus… There are natural ways to shoo lice away, you know?!

And that’s when I realized living here has turned me into a little garden gnome. Or perhaps it’s turning me into my dad. Those two options might even be the same thing. And I’m pretty OK with that!

This dedication to my Bird Buddies is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month.

Zombie apocalypse

This is Blog 26 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies are beings that continue to “be”, despite being dead.

You become a zombie if you get bitten by one, or if you get infected with the zombification virus in some other way or –according to some accounts-, by looking at them.

Zombies supposedly feed on brains.

… And that is all I want to say about that…

This blog is not about zombies.

This blog is about Zeef.

Zeef is my friend.

If grown-ups are still allowed to speak in these terms, I dare say she may even be my best friend.

I know she reads my blog (hai Zeefje!).

She reads it partly because she is interested in my musings, but I think a big part of why she reads it is because she knows it is important to me. That’s Z.

Anytime I find myself facing some odd conundrum, I can’t wait to throw it at her and listen to her beautiful gentle heart and shrewd mind give it a spin.

Her words are always carefully chosen without ever compromising on the message she wants to deliver.

I wish everyone could have a friend like her. As a matter of fact, I wish everybody WAS her, or at the very least had a little version of her on their shoulder to guide them through life.

I tell her this often which she tends to dismiss. She usually does this by pointing out she didn’t go through years of therapy for nothing and that the world doesn’t need more of that…

And that is true. After three decades of life, she has gone through a lot, both physically as mentally.

She is so incredibly receptive that, at times, it hurts her. It’s the fact that others are not so sensitive (and therefore unclear about their own feelings, intentions and actions both to themselves as those around them) that makes living in this world difficult for her sometimes.

All though I think she is one of the best things that ever happened to this planet, her feeling of self-worth is not always on the same level.

So, when a couple of weeks ago she boldly said she was expecting the Z-blog to be about her, my heart made a little leap for joy.

It means she is ready to be put in a tiny (anonymous) spotlight.

It also implies she trusts me enough to bring an ode to her.

Better even, she is ok with the image I have of her and maybe… only maybe… she is starting to believe she is as much of a rockstar as I give her credit for.

With Zeef by my side, I wouldn’t be afraid of the zombie apocalypse. She’d reason a heartbeat back into each and every one of those brain-eaters.

So dearest Z, I’m sorry for not being able to resist the urge to tease you by not naming the blog after you and giving you the impression I had ignored (or forgotten) your request.

I also realize the sudden switch from Zombies to Zeefjes may have caught you off guard. So, take a breath and let your racing heart take it in. You are awesome and I am so grateful that I can call you my friend!

YouTube

This is Blog 25 in my A-Z Blogseries:
YouTube

Social media have become something to love to hate and hate to love. If YouTube is a social medium, I think it’s my favorite one.

It’s so easy to lose half a day just clicking from one silly animal video to the next.

One of my favorite YouTube channels is Simon’s Cat. I started watching these cute animated videos 11 years ago, when they first came out. If you have a cat (or wish you did) then I’m sure many of the scenes will look familiar in some way. The video below is the very first video Simon ever made and it’s still one of the best ones:

When it comes to news and satire I love them all; starting with the Daily Show and the Late Show all the way to Seth Meyers and Bill Maher. I also love Graham Norton from time to time.

When it comes to music I’m always excited to see a new video of the Pentatonix appear or of Walk of the Earth. When I’m looking for a good live version of a song I always go for KEXP, Mahogany Sessions or NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts.

A musical flashmob video, that for some reason brought a tear to my eye when I saw it for the first time, was this one:

Actually, now that I’m re-watching it now, I know why it gives me all the feels. It’s the fact that it’s such an ancient art form, such an ancient song and such a universal message, along the lines of “let’s just have a drink and be friends”.

I also just love it when I run into little faith-in-humanity-restoring vids like this one, that was made 3 days after the Paris attacks in 2015:

Let’s use social media for wholesome shit only, what do you say!?

XXX

This is Blog 24 in my A-Z Blogseries:
XXX

The town that I live in in the Netherlands is called Leiden. The city’s coat of arms looks like this:

The emblem features on buildings and structures all over the city, including streetlights and bollards, as is customary in the Netherlands.

As Leiden has many of the same urban features as Amsterdam does, scenes for TV series and films that are meant to take place in Amsterdam, are often re-enacted in Leiden.

You can imagine that elements such as the ones featured in the pictures above, need to be temporarily replaced with their Amsterdam counterparts before filming begins. For Leideners, this is always kind of painful to watch, as any Dutch city’s fear is to “become Amsterdam”.

Now, to get to the point of this blog…. Amsterdam’s coat of arms looks like this:


Determined
Courageous Compassionate

In the current composition, it is believed to date back to the 13th century.

When we see the three X’s positioned vertically like that, we all understand we are referencing Amsterdam. It turns out though, that the meaning and origins of these X’s are a bit of a mystery.

Online historians and Amsterdamologists tell me that the three X’s are actually three silver Saint Andrew’s Crosses (which also features quite prominently on the flag of Scotland). And that’s pretty much where the story ends.

Nobody has been able to think up a good explanation as to why the city thought St Andrew, or the cross he was crucified on, were so important that they should pay tribute to him thrice on the city’s emblem.

According to Amsterdam’s own website, there are two other cities in the area that also feature the cross in the same fashion on their coat of arms, which is an interesting fact but still doesn’t really offer any clarity.

The only theory I could find, led back to the coat of arms of a powerful family from the region, van Persijn, that looks like this:

It is possible that this family owned so much real estate in the area (which they apparently did, including in the area around Leiden) that Amsterdam honored them by referencing them in the coat of arms. It’s still hard to believe that somehow we managed to forget all about this fact in the centuries that followed, don’t you think?

Fast-forward to the 21st century where somehow, the term “triple X” has also became intertwined with sexual imagery, prostitution and pornography, which has also just happened to become part of Amsterdam’s identity.

How? Why? Coincidence? You tell me!

Wunsiedel walkathon

This is Blog 23 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Wunsiedel Walkathon

Wunsiedel is a small German town not far from the border with Czechia, which carries with it the burden of being a place for neo-nazi pilgrimage.

Why present day nazis are interested in this particular East German town is irrelevant for this story.

What is awesome is how locals have reacted to these unwelcome guests that insist on visiting their town each year. Instead of confronting them in anger or repulsion (which would be understandable) they chose the path of pacifism and fun (and reverse psychology).

Upon arrival, the neonazis started being met with joyful faces and streets adorned with glitter, confetti and silly string. The counter protests started in 2004, making sure that anywhere the neonazis went, a colorful party of diversity and happiness erupted.

-“Wunsiedel ist bunt, nicht braun

In 2005, the neonazi march was banned. Small groups of
baldhead-and-army-booted youths continued to show up every year though, inspiring Wunsiedelonians (?) to take their counteractions to the next level

In 2014 they reached level “truly epic” when they turned something that initially was being referred to as the yearly Nazi Memorial March into the Most involuntary walkathon.

At the beginning of the route paint was applied on the road, signalling this was “the START”, in the same way this would be present at a marathon.

Colorful banners unfolded as the neo-nazis passed by, thanking them for their contributions to the good cause… I’m sorry, what?

Yes, Wunsiedel had turned the march into a sponosored walkathon, donating money for every meter the participants walked. The organization being funded with the money raised was an organisation called EXIT Deutschland.

EXIT Deutschland is there for people who have been part of a neonazi group but have decided to leave the hateful lifestyle behind them. Besides mental and financial help, Exiters often need protection from the people they used to call their friends. Also, you can imagine there might be tattoos that need removing (or covering up).

In short, EXIT was an awesome organization to sponsor with this most involuntary walkathon as it meant that with every step they took, they were essentially walking for the support of their defectors.

Check out the video below to see the whole thing unfold:

Supporters cheered as they reached “the finish line”. A large banner displayed the exact amount they had raised. They even received a cute little certificate, to remember their accomplishment of that day.

Sieg LOLs!

Venezuela

This is Blog 22 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Venezuela

…and speaking of uprisings

Have you heard about the crazy revolt / coup episode that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is going through?

As a first year Latin American Studies student, back in 2004, I admit being excited about the leftist wind that was blowing through the South American continent, with Hugo Chavez leading the way.

Chavez’ speech to the United Nations in 2006 was different from anything we had ever seen. It was bold and dramatic. It was actually quite refreshing to hear a Latin American leader choose his own path and turn down the American “helping hand” and all the strings that came with it.

He was a political clown and a populist big spender. Chavez’ untimely death is probably the best thing that happened to him and his legacy. His passing marked the end of an era and inserted a page break in the book of Venezuelan history.

The country was already in a pretty brittle state when he handed it over to his buddy, Nicolas Maduro. That the cracks only burst under Maduro’s watch may have you believe it was the current president’s incompetence that caused the vase that was the Venezuelan economy to shatter.

Most experts are not letting Chavez off the hook though. They continue to stress that it was Hugo Chavez that laid the foundations for the current crisis and that his death should not blurry that fact.

Loyalists say international sanctions and US sabotage is what actually brought his socialist initiatives to their knees. Some conspiracy theorists even suggest the colon cancer that ultimately killed him, was no coincidence either…

To be honest, I don’t know much about how economics work and if one single person can be held accountable for the sad state the country is in. There is no doubt that the country is hurting greatly though. People are leaving the country, choosing a life of uncertainty abroad over starvation at home.

That Nicolas Maduro continues to deny the true state his country is in and seems completely unwilling to let go of power, is criminal. As much as I dislike Nicolas Maduro though and would love to see him go, I also struggle to see this path Juan Guaidó is going down as the right one…

He may very well be a good man, maybe even an honest one. Whoever he is and whatever his intentions may be, I don’t believe he is actually in charge of the course he is currently on. He is definitely being pushed by foreign forces that, imho, should not be getting involved (again).

I wonder what Simon Bolivar (the guy they reference in the country’s official name) would have to say about all of this ?

“Damned be the soldier that turns his weapon on his own people”

Uprising

This is Blog 21 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Uprising

This Muse songs turns ten years old this year and it has aged so well.

You really only need the first two seconds of that intro to know which song you are listening to.

And then, when the synthesizer kicks in after five seconds, it’s hard to not hum along.

The first thirty seconds in that ominous music video leave no room for doubt: this night is dark and moody and something is about to explode!

Tehneewh! (that’s my transcription of the unison bend guitar strum just before the vocals kick in)

Like all Muse songs, Uprising is an uneasy song.

Matt Bellamy’s vocals emit a sense of urgency that I find hard to explain.

The lyrics are rebellious and reek of anarchy.

The video is the stuff of nightmares.

And still, I love this song.

It’s the type of song that makes me (accidentally) break the speed limit when driving a car.

But even though I love this song, I must admit I don’t really know the lyrics and mostly sing along with the guitar bits and let Bellamy take care of the message…

Tehneewh !

Twitter pup

This is Blog 20 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Twitter pup

The other day, my friend Z asked what I was doing with my T.

It took me a second to figure out what she was asking me.

Was she asking me about the way I pronounce my “t”? My tea? My tee?

She quickly explained that she wanted to know what I was planning to write for the letter T. She was particularly interested to know if I was planning on dedicating the T-blog to the current POTUS, so that she could mentally prepare…

I must admit the letter T was indeed reserved for a blond wavy haired Twitter fanatic. Luckily the twitter-feed I have decided to focus on, only spreads messages that mend the soul (and not… you know… the opposite of that).

Yes, I am talking about Thoughts of Dog.

This twitter account is dedicated to the thoughts, feelings and adventures of a golden retriever.

This dog, who I will referring to as a “he” in spite of not actually knowing if he is male or female, wishes me a gooooob morning on a regular basis.

As you can see, he doesn’t entirely understand punctuation. But then again, why would he? He’s a golden retriever!

Another thing they don’t teach at the puppy academy is the human numeral system. He does however enjoy making lists, so he just improvises:

One of his greatest passions is monitoring the skittle under the fridge. Sadly I wasn’t able to trace the origins of the skittle or why it needs monitoring. That might actually be the point. Because what is more mysterious than an out-of-reach skittle that just appeared out of no where? I’m thankful he’s keeping an eye on that little bugger on behalf of the world…

Besides his beloved humans, the human’s frens and neighbors, my canine guru also has a companion of his own that he shares all his adventures with. It’s his “stuffed fren sebastian”.

For a long time I thought he was a crab… like the Little Mermaid’s conscientious friend Sebastian, you know?

A tweet that I came across recently (but dates back to Dec 2017) taught me Sebastian has floppy ears, so now I don’t really know what Sebastian looks like. But it doesn’t matter, as long as he’s there for this good boy.

Sweet as he is, he still feels very much responsible for the security of the household. To keeps everybody safe and secure, he upholds a clear scale of alert levels. A factor that does complicate things is the fact that, like all dogs, he is colorblind…

His main purpose in life is however, to give and receive love and joy.

I could go on and on forever and never get bored. I could tell you about his philosophical moods and about his love for zooming. I could tell you about his small neighbor human and his car rides.

So there you have it.

I have now let the world know (quite anonymously, but still) that I am not only a big fan of a comic book series written by a grown man in which a child has all sorts of crazy adventures with his stuffed tiger. I am also a huge fan of a twitter feed, written from the point of view of a dog who talks to his stuffed animal, which I now imagine to be crustacean with floppy ears…

And somehow, I still function.

As a matter of fact, escaping from reality is probably the best thing you can do, to maintain your sanity these days!

Strange Fruit (sorry)

This is Blog 19 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit is a heart wrenching poem, that was converted to a song in the 1930’s.

The lyrics set an eerie scene of “black bodies swinging in a southern breeze”, referring to the corpses of lynched men hanging from trees. It’s a horrific image and the song never seizes to give me chills.

The song has been sung by many great singers, Billie Holiday being the first to bring it to the big crowds in 1939.

That was 80 years ago.

There are very few people left that remember first hand the time that Ku Klux Klan terror was rampant and lynchings were a real threat to people of color in the United States.

It was a time that explicitly racist laws led to explicitly racist behavior. The wounds of that era continue to fester on today.

I am so sorry.

I do not say this as an apology, because it is not my place to do so. I am not responsible nor am I in a position to offer anybody solace, closure or forgiveness. But I am most definitely sorry.

I am sorry that we haven’t learned all there was to learn from the horrors that occurred in the transitional years from 19th to 20th century.

I am sorry that black men are still dying at the hands of white men in acts of hate and fear.

I am sorry a movement such as Black Lives Matter is necessary.

I am sorry that these events form part of our story as human beings.

It is the rendition of Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa that touches me the most (all though India Arie’s version is a very close second).

I have read comments stating a white person shouldn’t touch this song.

Is it possible that, as a white woman, I needed a caucasian interpretation of the song to feel it so deep in my gut?

Or is it possible that a black musician’s proximity to the lyrics and personal pain makes a certain reservation inevitable (and necessary, to avoid breaking down half way through the song)?

I understand this is not a song that should be taken lightly. It is not a song that should be sung to merely show off ones vocal skills, which is why the Ariana Grandes of this world should steer clear of the song (until perhaps they are mature enough and have put on some more clothes).

Beth Hart comes across as a genuine person to me. A person who has fought all sorts of demons, knows the meaning of pain and has found a way to channel that in a productive way. I don’t feel her interpretation of the song would be perceived as disingenuous or disrespectful.

If anybody feels this is an error of judgement from my side, do let me know. It is not my intention to offend, but I am ready to take responsibility for it if I did. For that I would apologize.