Amsterdam – Part I

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I found Amsterdam to be a romantic city with its canals, old-fashioned street lamps, picturesque shops and cozy coffee houses. Night fell swiftly at 4:30 pm and the decorative lamps cast a golden glow over the canals and cobbled streets. It’s a compact, walkable city, however a word of warning – beware when crossing the street! Squadrons of cyclists advance at a fast clip. I nearly got myself run over more than once.

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Christmas wreaths hung in windows and adorned doors. As I walked along admiring them, I thought to myself – in France, they’d be stolen overnight, along with the bicycles.

There’s a sense of virtuousness about the Dutch which I find deeply appealing. They look virtuous as they cycle energetically along (whole families sometimes, the children in a little cart attached to the bicycle or riding on the crossbar), fresh-faced and smiling, their bodies lean and fit. They also employ a no-nonsense pragmatism in their politics. A progressive city, Amsterdam has the most liberal and tolerant policies with regards to prostitution and soft drugs. Prostitution is legalized. There’s a common sense to this. By working in a controlled environment, prostitutes are protected from violence and exploitation. As for health issues, they must undergo regular medical examinations to prevent the spread of STDs. This sounds safer and saner than what one sees in Paris – male and female prostitutes lurking behind trees in the Bois de Boulogne.

As for legalized hash and marijuana, the benefits are a safer product, elimination of dealers and illicit revenue going towards criminal organizations and drug cartels.

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As is the custom in all northern European countries, coffee and cake (koffie en gebak) is a morning and afternoon ritual in which to enjoy almond and butter cookies, apple turnovers, gingerbread, streusel, different cakes and fruit-filled pies. Coffee shops and tea salons abound.

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My hotel (link below) was perfectly located at number 15 Keizersgracht, a long road that runs parallel to a canal and winds around the city. A 10-minute walk from the train station, the hotel has soundproofed rooms equipped with comfortable beds and a deluxe espresso machine. Small shopping streets, lined on either side with boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants are just up the road. I was charmed the whole time I was there. (If you book your train tickets well in advance, you benefit from a considerable discount.)

Don’t expect sunny weather. Although fairly mild, it’s generally overcast during the winter months and even blustery as winds gust in from the North Sea.

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MORE TO COME – the canal houses, more photos, and the famous Rijksmuseum.

http://www.hotelsebastians.nl/en/

Astier restaurant

Restaurant? Bistro? Brasserie? I’d call it an expensive neighborhood eatery that serves up traditional French food from a limited menu. All Parisian restaurants are expensive, which explains why I don’t eat out much. (To be truthful, I love cooking. I really enjoy buying good wine and produce and making nice meals at home.) But we were celebrating our upcoming shared birthday, Andreas and I, and had decided on this restaurant in the 11th arrondissement near Place de la République.

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Last night was cold and clear, a perfect winter’s night for walking outdoors. I took the metro to Parmentier then strode along the avenue de la République to this place.

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The interior was warm and welcoming … with a décor that hasn’t changed since the 1970s (or earlier.) It’s small inside with tables placed in a somewhat higgledy-piggledy fashion.

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I have a sixth sense about restaurants. I can walk in and pretty much know (more or less) what’s in store. This was my appetizer of snails. (Correction: I thought I was eating a modernized version of the traditional snail dish, because I had ordered snails. But I’ve just looked at the bill again and it’s marked “tartelette champignons” which means I was eating a mushroom tart!) In any case, it was delicious.

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Delicious lamb to follow. Do you see that tiny tureen of gnocchi on the left? That was for us to share. And the wine was disappointing, I’m afraid. I called it “flabby.” “Flabby?” said Andreas. “Unstructured,” I replied. In other words, limp. At 33 euros for the bottle, I had expected something better.

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The cheese tray was a hit.

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After dinner we walked to the Place de la République for a nightcap in the lobby bar of a hotel. I had Drambuie on the rocks. A mouse was scampering around the lobby. The staff saw it and did nothing (actually, they laughed.) We said something, but they still did nothing, other than offer us a drink “on the house”.

Two of my favorite Parisian restaurants – reasonably-priced, delicious food, fun places with lots of ambience – remain the Bistro Paul Bert and Le 6 Paul Bert, both on the same street. I drank a memorable Saint-Joseph Côte du Rhône at the 6 Paul Bert exactly three years ago. Here’s the link to that fun evening and restaurant review –

https://julietinparis.net/2015/01/01/2-gals-out-on-the-town-new-years-eve/

 

Yule log / bûche de Noël

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Yule logs, called bûches de Noël here, are big in France over the Christmas holidays. Light and creamy, they concorde beautifully with a glass or two of sparkling wine or champagne. Prepared in every pâtisserie around the country, they come in different sizes and flavors. I like chestnut flavor. I was watching my favorite New York Times cook and food writer, Melissa Clark, make her yule log (with the help of a pastry chef) and thought it would be fun to compare her log with the log of a French chef.

What Melissa didn’t do, but the French chef did, once the cake was rolled up, but also before it was rolled up, was to brush it generously with a syrup made of sugared water and Cointreau. This moistens the cake and gives it added flavor. If children are eating the log, substitute the Cointreau with a mixture of sugared water, orange zest and vanilla. The French chef rolled his cake a lot tighter than Melissa did hers (I thought her roll-up was too loose.) He also used a silicone cake pan. But what’s really interesting is the icing (or frosting, as Americans call it.) The French chef used a pastry piping bag and piped lines of icing onto the cake. This is niftier than using a spatula. He made the whole operation look, well, effortless. Either way, the end result of both logs is a decorative and delicious work of art.  

a staggeringly huge book list for holiday gifts

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I have never seen such a huge reading list as this one. Just reading the different categories and looking at the titles takes an hour! If you fail to find a single book of interest in this vast, varied and vibrant compilation, I’d be very surprised.

A few of my favorite categories are:

TEN ESSENTIAL BOOKS THAT CAPTURE LOS ANGELES IN ALL ITS SUBLIME, BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS,

IN PRAISE OF THE LOST AND WANDERING GIRLS OF LITERATURE,

TEN WORKS OF LABYRINTHINE LITERATURE TO GET LOST IN, and

TWENTY SHORT NOVELS TO STAY UP ALL NIGHT READING.

Enjoy!

http://lithub.com/category/writing-life/reading-lists/