The Magic Flourish at Dinner

Since Sandra Boynton has pointed out it is National Cheese Soufflé day, I thought it would be fitting to provide some words of inspiration on one of my favorite dishes to cook. Inspiration is the proper word, since souffler is French for to blow or to breathe, and one definition of it is a “low murmuring sound heard through a stethoscope.” Inspired, meaning to inhale and breathe in; creating, we exhale, breathe out, and offer our culinary creations to the world. The execution of a soufflé is to blow air into a pancake; to take the familiar –eggs, milk, butter, and flour – and transform them into a light puffy honeycombed framework on which to hang flavors of tangy cheddar, mysterious dark chocolate, or exotic Grand Marnier or Meyer Lemon.

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Fond Memories
The first soufflé I ever made was with my dad’s second wife, Mary. She was experimenting with the cookbook and wanted a challenge. She was very nervous because making a soufflé has always had a reputation for being complicated and easy to ruin. I remember us checking the cookbook every five minutes or so, hesitating at choosing which pans to use, peering over the mixture we stirred in the skillet, and later chewing our fingernails watching it in the oven.

Continue reading “The Magic Flourish at Dinner”

The Idea of Waterloo

I don’t know why I find Waterloo so fascinating; the Belgians don’t really seem to. It was the last of the planned highlights of our trip for me, and I had read about it and thought about it for months.  Yet compared with other tourist sites we visited, it had minimal infrastructure and sparse attendance. It left a lot to the imagination.

Typically Belgian
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Granted, they have a nifty little museum underneath the site, as well as a “4D” movie experience that really makes you feel the smoke of the soldiers’ campfires and the charge of the horses over the ridge. But apparently this museum was built only last year for the bicentennial, and prior to that there was only this high, oddly designed “Lion’s Mound” that had a small observation deck, with an old map and a couple pay telescopes. You have to climb up and down 225 steps to get there, which would be difficult for a lot of people and downright awful in any weather that had the slightest wind, rain or worse.  When we were there, there were a handful of Germans and maybe a few locals at the top, even though it was a beautiful day and a holiday to boot. The signs on where to enter the museum and observation deck itself were confusing, causing you to walk around a long fence, only to be redirected back and down these other steps that turned out to be right off the parking lot. (Why not have a sign when you come out of the lot, “MUSEUM THIS WAY”?)  Margot, a friend who agreed to guide us, told us that was typically Belgian. She said that often while she was driving.

Lest you think I am just throwing shade on Belgium, I will say Margot took us to one of the best lunch places (Stoemp and Sausage) of the trip, and we spent several hours enjoying the sunny Grand Place at a cafe. But, to be fair, the day before we also had one of the worst dinners I’ve ever eaten, found the museums and gardens we wanted to visit were closed, and couldn’t find a single market to buy a soda after 8 pm. This was all after Karin lost her phone right between the metro station and the two blocks to the hotel. And there are no T Mobile stores in Brussels.  I’m not throwing shade, this is just what happened. We got off to a rocky start.

Still, we were in a good mood embarking out to the Waterloo site the following day. I was particularly happy that Margot had agreed to take us because frankly the directions to get there were fairly obscure. The website for tourism for Waterloo and the little town, Braine l’Alleud is not particularly robust. There are buses that go out there, but they stop at various places that are miles apart, and most of the logistical explanations were in French. There are no guided tours other than private ones you could plan in advance for several hundred dollars. This was in marked contrast to the other sites, like Keukenhof, which had dedicated buses packed full of sightseers, or the museum with multiple exhibits at the Nobel Peace Center, or even the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, which was mobbed by cameras. In contrast, Waterloo didn’t seem to have the same draw. Continue reading “The Idea of Waterloo”

Fish Slappin’ III: Amsterdam- Gotta Go

May 1, 2016. Amsterdam is a bustling city. It is a city full of bustlers. Because the city is full of canals, the constant movement takes multiple forms. Cars, buses, trams, trains, BICYCLES, pedestrians, big boats, little boats, motorboats, windmills, wind turbines… if it was winter, there might even be skiers, skaters, and snowshoers whizzing by. This is a city with things to do and places to go.

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We went and we did and we saw a good lot of in 48 hours. Being only the first time here –not the fortunate third time that I mentioned with London—we had to do Tourist things. This included two excellent museums, a canal cruise, dinner with a friend, a trip to the 2nd most luscious and colorful gardens I have ever seen, a walking tour of the church and palaces, dinner at a cheap tasty local restaurant, and laundry. After nine days on the ship with no laundry, the last was most essential.

An Education in Coffee
Also, we consumed many cups of coffee, through which I learned the essential distinctions between a latte, a  frappucino, and a macchiato. I personally drink mostly mochas – your basic coffee and chocolate – or the prebottled Starbucks Frappuccino lites that you can buy in packs at the supermarket. So I was out of my league at all the coffee places. I thought my little Starbucks knowledge was enough, but quickly learned “you know nothing, MK.” Whatever coffee drinks were all good. What I also learned was that the things one eats with whatever kind of coffee drinks are pretty much also all flipping delicious. Continue reading “Fish Slappin’ III: Amsterdam- Gotta Go”

Fish Slappin ‘ II: In this country, we have our own

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Scandinavia includes three countries: Norway, Denmark and Sweden, which happen to be the three countries our ship has been visiting this past week. I always thought that Finland, the country of my mother’s ancestors, was part of Scandinavia, but I learned that it is not –it’s actually considered Lappland, with a different genetic derivation, closer to the Siberians. To me as an ignorant American, that doesn’t seem so logical. Looking on the map, it’s Finland which is a long skinny country very much like Norway and Sweden, and not much like Denmark. It may seem like you can’t draw conclusions based on the map, but after all it was the fact that South America and Africa  look like they could fit together that led to the development of the idea of plate tectonics and Pangaea, when all the world was once a giant continent.

Denmark, as well, feels as if its boundaries are fluid, since it comprises many large and small islands and multiple peninsulas. But now having traveled here, I understand that Denmark shares a sensibility with its neighbors in the North Sea, and not others. It is hard to describe. It’s not like the melting pot of the US but more of a bouilliabaise that has different kinds of seafood, all fighting for supremacy of being the most seafoody but imitative of each other, and each hardly caring if they are not the winners.

Consider, for example, that there are three Scandinavian currencies. There is the Norwegian krone, the Swedish krona, and the Danish kroner. The paper and metal currency look similar but are not identical. They have three slightly different exchange rates, with the Danish being distinct from the other two (.1243, .1246 and .154, respectively). The Finns use the Finnish Mark or the Euro. A local merchant can tell the coins apart easily, of course, and won’t necessarily accept those from the other country. The many coin operated public toilets don’t use the coins from the other countries. Which is, again, why travelers are wise to remember to look for the nearest library where toilets are clean and free. Continue reading “Fish Slappin ‘ II: In this country, we have our own”

Fish Slappin’: In Search of Statues

We embarked upon our Grand Tour this week as only empty nesters can, carefree and with good walking shoes. In my mind, I’ve labeled this the Tour of a Lifetime and, since we are heading to Scandinavia, have dubbed it the Fish Slapping Tour. (See Monty Python). First Stop: London.

Third Time’s the Charm
The third time you visit a city, I am now convinced, is the best. The first time, you had to see all the touristy things because many of them are interesting even if touristy. The second time you brought the new spouse or friend or you saw two new things you couldn’t pack in the first time. The third time, though, you aren’t Obligated to do any of that. You also now have Your Favorite things to see again, and those things– those favorite restaurants and artworks and shops and short cuts to places– are old friends. Karin had a writers’ thing the first time in 2005 and then we brought the kids in 2006, and had to add Stonehenge and Westminster Abbey to the obligatory tours of the Tower of London and London Eye and British Museum. But theis time we didn’t need to do any of those; yet, we don’t live there so we felt free to wander and gawk and it was amazing. We decided to have no specific agenda aside from two unvisited museums and to go in search of statues. It turned out to be my favorite way to see a city.tmp_1916-20160422_1101541726330885

The statue idea came about last fall when Karin happened upon an audio book series written by Charlie Fletcher, starting with the intriguing Stoneheart. Read by Jim Dale, the books are about two preteens George and Edie who slip into an UnLondon where the statues come to life. While the trilogy had familiar battles between light and dark, it didn’t have the overused wizardry that magic stories often do. Instead, George must battle and befriend statues both good and evil—spits and taints as the books label them—to keep the bad spirits within the stones from taking over London. Continue reading “Fish Slappin’: In Search of Statues”