Friday, December 31, 2010

Oliebollen Gebakkraam

It’s past 10PM in the Netherlands and in less than 2 hours it will be 2011!

This afternoon I went to the centre of Utrecht to buy oliebollen for the new year’s celebration and this is what greeted me when I stepped out of Hoog Catharijne: an Oliebollen Gebakkraam with quite a long queue of customers.

In the Netherlands, oliebollen (oliebol - singular, fried doughnut balls with raisins and apple bits, usually sprinkled with powdered sugar on top) is the symbol for New Years. New Years Eve and New Years Day are not complete without oliebollen.

I bought 2 packs of oliebollen and a bottle of Prosecco (boycotting champagne this new year for a change). Hmm, I think its time to warm up the oliebollen...


Oliebollen and Appelbeignet, taken at work last week.

A quick visit to Minganilla Market in Cebu

As part of my re-integration to Filipino culture last October, I visited a couple of markets in Cebu and I’ll have to affirm that the ‘Minglanilla market’, especially the uber busy market street outside the fish and meat covered market hall was a delight to re-witness and re-experience.

Public markets in the Philippines particularly the Minglanilla market in Cebu have a sundry of ready-to-eat food items to offer. I never thought markets these days have moved to a different genre but I guess we arrived late at the scene, just before dusk when vendors selling fresh produce from the mountains and catch from the sea have left or trickled down in numbers, replaced by a new set of merchants peddling already cooked fare for the dinner table.

My camera quickly became the popular visitor in the market and in no time I have some of the friendly vendors voluntarily posing for me. FUN =)

L to R then R to L: woman butcher; puso (hanging rice); old woman with mangoes; man breading the chicken; girl with spices (spring onions, tomatoes, garlic); 2 women with tobacco leaves; gulaman drink; barbecue stand; woman deep frying chicken; man with green lemons; rice sacks; dirty ice cream; vegetables for lamas (spices for cooking); woman with puto (rice cake) and biko (sticky rice cake); fried chicken stall; and woman with pancakes.

Pork and chicken barbecue (grilling on a spit) has always been a Cebuano tradition but I noticed that more and more people are going for the fried chicken trend which is a new thing for me as we did not have this before. Probably an offshoot from Jollibee Chicken or KFC. Filipinos love their chicken so much, I noticed.

To view more fotos and to see them in bigger versions, go here: Minglanilla Market, Cebu - Philippines

L to R (per line foto): Balut (cooked chicken egg with embryo); fish soup; gulaman drinks; lanzones fruit; bananacue and kamotecue (fried caramelized banana and sweet potato); pork and chicken barbecue; tempura street food style; various ready-to-eat viands for dinner already packed; fish soup; tobacco leaves and bananas; lechon inasal (pig on a spit); puto (rice cake); lechon inasal again with the head of the poor pig; budbud (sticky rice); and various peanuts.

All the meat stuff here. Notice the guys, they are loving the camera, haha.

And the fish section of the market. Those on the upper left are eels I think.

Travel Period: October 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jordan Calling

OMG, what have I done today? I booked a flight ticket to Jordan for April and I can’t seem to get over from the excitement!

Jordan is one of my key travel destinations for 2011. The whole travel itinerary has been planned and laid out and will probably need a few pinches here and there but I am so over the moon and looking forward to a travel of fun, adventure and discovery of culture, history and nature, lots of art & architecture finds and food thrills, mmm.

So here’s how the journey will look like:

(1) Do Amman of course, the capital city of Jordan and visit the mosques, palaces, gardens and the gold souqs.
(2) Hop on a rental car and drive down south on the Kings Highway to bask in the beautiful countryside landscape of Jordan.
(3) Experience Petra! The stunning hidden ancient city and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
(4) Race back in time with a 4x4 jeep together with Lawrence of Arabia and conquer the deserts of Wadi Rum.
(5) Check out the Red Sea and view Egypt and Israel and perhaps if there is time, enjoy some marine life in Aqaba, the summer resort of Jordan.
(6) In the evening, have a traditional Jordanian dinner with the Bedouins in a tent in the desert and be serenaded under the stars.
(7) Follow the Bibilical trails of Moses by climbing the famous Mount Nebo where he looked over to the ‘The Promise Land’ (Israel).
(8) Then follow the trails of Jesus Christ and John the Baptist as well along the Jordan River and on to Bethany Beyond Jordan.
(9) Check out the ancient city of Madaba (Moab) for the mosaics.
(10) Then conclude the holiday with a stay at one of the lovely Dead Sea Spa Resort Hotels. Pamper myself with Jordan’s famous mineral, the black mud spa and have my foto taken floating in the Dead Sea while reading a book =)

To guide me in this leisure, discovery and historical trip is the Bible (thank you mom!), and now all I need is a Quran in English. I would like to be able to compare both books in terms of history and information about the area. I understand that Jordan is the setting of 5 books in the Old Testament but not sure about Quran. Thus, these will be my company and treasure books for the entire holiday. It has always been my wish to visit the important places in the Old Testament book, and I will, one at a time.

Cannot wait but before Jordan I will be off to the Alps for our winter skiing holiday, so you’ll probably hear more about the snow first and other stuff before the desert and Bible stories.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What’s in Naga? Answer: Banana Cue and Kamote Cue

Have you ever lusted for some old-time ‘comfort street food’? Well I have, when I was in Cebu in October this year. My taste buds were desperately yearning for a stick of fried banana cue (caramelized banana) and some fried kamote cue (caramelized sweet potato) as well, but how come these street delicacies were nowhere to be found in the city?

I am honestly fearing the (imminent?) banana cue sold on the streets tradition extinction so kindly pass this on to all the ‘manangs’ and ‘alings’ out there... please, please, please... do not tire from deep frying these yummy caramelized treats at corner streets and at sari-sari stores. As for you, the local Filipino consumer: Buy Filipino! Buy banana cue, buy kamote cue and help preserve Filipino street food culture.

And because I was still craving, we all hopped in the car and went to Naga, just to buy banana and kamote cues. Yipee!

I took a few fotos of the environs there as well, see them below. The rest of the fotos are all here: Naga, Cebu - Philippines

Banana Cue street vendor.

Kamote Cues, YUMMY.

Tricycad drivers and three little boys in a tricycad.

Market scene in Naga, Cebu.

Naga Catholic Church and the old Naga City Hall (there is a brand spanking new modern and big city hall building at the back).

Oil tanker ships along Naga coast and a woman bathing on the rocky coast.

Siomai stands on Naga boulevard seems to be more popular than banana or kamote cues. Next foto, English translation: Do not pee here.

Travel Period: October 2010

Destination: Naga (Cebu), Philippines

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gezellig Valkenburg aan de Geul

Two weekends ago Blondine and I were in Valkenburg visiting the Fluweelengrot Christmas Market and it seemed like everyone had the same idea including our German neighbours. A stream of traffic to the city centre received us and because this is the Netherlands, there was no available parking in sight, unlike in Germany where it is as simple as drive, park, pay and go. The Netherlands is helaas NOT a car country, you get punished here for having one.

But that didn’t distract us a bit because I am a lucky gal when it comes to parking. After a few rounds in the parking lot, we found a spot, along with the leaving occupant giving us his parking ticket that is still valid for another 4 hours. Grand. I am indeed lucky.

Valkenburg aan de Geul in December is a lovely and gezellig place, the Christmas lights and beautifications give it the ‘it’, the punch, the vigour that any city would want. Like a flower that blooms all year round and only gets prettier at the end of the year. Heated outdoor terraces thrive at every nook and cranny and shops selling Christmas ornaments are budding with shoppers. The holiday mood hung in the air. I would definitely come back.

Slow moving traffic as we enter into Valkenburg aan de Geul.

One of the remaining gates of Valkenburg, Grendelpoort.

Heated outdoor cafe terraces.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Being lost in the woods…

...when it’s getting dark is not fun at all. Thankfully this section of Austerlitz forest is relatively small and we have the option to go back and take a different route through a nearby village. To prove the point, we had to retrace our tracks twice because we could not remember seeing the fallen pine tree on the road. It was getting dark and in another 10 minutes it will be pitch black in the forest. You never know, there could be a serial killer sheltering behind the iced bushes and trees waiting for his chance to slay. I know, macabre thoughts always come into the equation eh? Can’t help it, its automatic pilot when dire consternation is involved, plus it’s freezing cold, definitely not my choice of place to be stranded.

So trusting our instincts we followed the path we thought is best and indeed after several minutes we saw moving lights from a distance. Must be the main road! Ah, thank goodness we are almost there, we just need to figure out which side of the road the car was parked.

Here are a few fotos I took before nightfall:

Later we comforted ourselves at a bar café restaurant in the local village—De Jonck Vrouw, which reminds us of typical Dutch bruin cafes—traditionally styled with dark brown wooden interior and fixtures. This café has its own fireplace as well and we are lucky it was lit and a table in front was free. Nice! And so we had a snug place in front of the fireplace while outside is dark and cold. It’s not even half past 5 in the afternoon and it is already black.

January will be the month with the shortest daylight and the longest night time. The winter solstice has truly begun.

I had port and Dutchman had hot chocolate milk with whipped cream and a kransjes cookie (typical Dutch Christmas cookie). Very tempting to order a plate of cheese but settled instead for some nachos.

So that was our 26 of December, the second day of Christmas.

Visit Period: December 2010
Destination: Austerlitz (Zeist - Utrecht), The Netherlands

Christmas Dinner 2010

This year the family ‘Kerstdiner’ (Christmas Dinner) was held at the second Dutch sisters’ home on the 25th. Christmas in the Netherlands is celebrated 2 days—December 25 and 26.

Each of us had a pre-dinner gift, the Christmas Cracker (actually an English tradition and quite commonly practiced as well in the commonwealth countries, i.e. Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia) which contained some trivias and a paper crown in different colours that we all wore throughout the evening. I had a pink crown.

For our dinner fare, we had a nice combination of meat and vegetarian diets prepared by the host family and I volunteered to make two types of leafy salads: Spinach (with honey, mustard and balsamic vinegar dressing) and Chickory (honey, mustard and cheese dressing). I always make something every year for the Christmas dinner. Last year I did the starters.

It was freezing arctic conditions outside, the streets have even iced and I am glad I wore my snow boots. Half way through the dinner it snowed. Beautiful. It was lovely evening.

The foto collage below is for my mom who is curious to know what the Dutch eat during Christmas.

Left to right: Table setting; Salmon Tartare; Goat cheese with pecan nuts; Braised pork (I think) with beets and boiled potato topped with white sauce; Spinach salad with boiled white eggs, raisins, tomato and pine nuts in honey-mustard-balsamico dressing; Chickory salad with apple, walnuts, radish, onions, celery in honey-mustard-cheese dressing; Tiramisu; Creme Brulee with cranberies and blueberries; and Christmas chocolates to go with the coffee.

Not on foto are: tomato-beet soup, steamed broccoli with cashew nuts, risotto with vegetables and some frites (for the kids).

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fluweelengrot Christmas Market inside a cave

Another Christmas Market I went to is the ‘Fluweelengrot (Velvet Cave) Kerstmarkt’ in Valkenburg, located in the south of the Netherlands in Limburg province.

The ‘Fluweelengrot Christmas Market’ is the only Christmas market in the world held inside a cave. Quite unique, huh? Indeed. I have heard about this intriguing cave spectacle a long time ago and promised myself a gazillion times to trek down south during December. You see I always end up going east, to Germany instead.

This is the chapel inside the Fluweelengrot (Velvet Cave). During the many wars that transpired in European history, both the public and soldiers took shelter in the caves. In the latest war, the World War II, the American troops took cover here as well and many of them inscribed their names on the cave walls.

The opportunity came when Blondine and I went to Aachen, Germany last weekend which is located very near the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. When I checked Google Maps, it showed a mere 10+ kilometers distance between Valkenburg and Aachen. Who in the world would pass this chance up? Not me.

Entrance fee is 4 Euros per person, not really cheap considering the sad quality of the market stalls inside. For a moment there I was transported to the Bazaar in Beverwijk—Hello, what is this bazaar doing in a Christmas Market???

Well, apart from this ancient cave in marlstone quarry with secret inscriptions on the mural walls and a labyrinth of secret passageways (cave is circa 11th century and is connected to the castle ruins), the sweet smelling pine trees and kitschy Chrismassy trimmings they managed to put up, there was really nothing that positive in my opinion to tell about the Christmas Market. The shops outside in Valkenburg Centrum were more entertaining selling pretty home decors and Christmas ornaments.

At the entrance of the cave there are fast food and drink stalls. Right foto is a well decorated and well lighted cave alley.

There is a bar cafe inside the cave which looks like a burial place as well? Spooky? Not.

Here are more of the bar cafe scene inside the cave. Honestly, I do not understand what that rhinoceros sculpture is doing there.

Dutch dried sausages from the Limburg region, and Dutch candies: Drop - they are not your normal candies, they are licorice candies and it usually takes a while acquiring the taste or never at all.

Someone was selling art works as well. Next foto is a sample of the kitschy decors in the cave.

Hmm, I am not really sure what character he is portraying, perhaps Mr. Scrooge, Dutch version.

To see more fotos go here: Fluweelengrot Kerstmarkt in Valkenburg, Limburg - The Netherlands

Tip to the organizers of Fluweelengrot Kerstmarkt:

Please check out your neighbour, Aachen in Germany and their Aachener WeihnachtsMarkt for some ideas on what sort of stalls you should allow to showcase inside the cave. This whole Fluweelengrot thing isn´t a bazaar or a braderie right? This involves visitors PAYING the entrance fee in order to see the Christmas market thus please make this experience worthwhile. Thank You.

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