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Cultural Concubine Blog

Neither here nor there…

Category Archives: Things I think I will miss…

Wet feet on the stairs...

After earlier negative posts on English plumbing I should now eat humble pie and pledge my eternal devotion to bathtubs…

Last week my course on Building Conservation at West Dean College started in earnest.
Apart from the actual course I really looked forward to spending more time at the house itself…

The house is a wonderful place to just be. It is the ideal space to learn (in all her studios), study (great library in the old billiards room, including a nook) and spend time with a large variation of creative and cultural types (especially at the cheap college bar!).
The wet footprints of Tilly Losch (the last lady of the house) woven into the carpet on the stairs are only one of the many eccentric touches that surprise you when wandering around.

But this time for me the largest attraction must have been the shared bathroom.
In it was the most enormous Edwardian Bath.

It is me...

It was the first time since I was a little girl that I actually could float full length in the tub.
And just to add to the experience the original fittings revealed a strange looking tap, with a sweet note on it:

But it is me, I am your plug!
If you turn me and drop me I will hold your water.
Lift me and twist me and I will GULP it!

Imagine this one steamy and filled with bubbles....

All of a sudden I remembered the incredible bath described in ‘The Bolter’, a freestanding green onyx monolith at Idina Sackville-West’s Kenyan house.
She made it part of the daily attractions of being her guest.  As part of the experience she would invite her guests to witness her bathe and dress before dinner…

Lying in that West Dean bath I could imagine how roaring the 20’s really must have been.

The tank...

Hahah, shows you the importance of actually experiencing old buildings and places for yourself.
Even if the National Trust now occasionally allows visitors to sit on their sofas, it will take a little more before we will be allowed to have a proper soak!

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Cages at the White Rabbit tea room.

Some time ago a good friend of mine from Paris told me the most exquisite story. It was one of those stories, where the pictures never ever really leave your head again:

She told me about her grandmother who had been a Persian noble woman, who had moved to Paris  with her Russian husband. The story she told me about her was that she would frequently go to a special Tea house in Paris where all the ladies would bring their birds, in their cages.
The birds would be hung up on the ceiling to sing to each other, while the ladies were seated below, gossiping and sipping their tea…

Admitted the walls need some help...

Needless to say I have searched for such a place, but never found it. Only online did I find a contemporary art gallery in Sydney that has antique cages in their tea room… I found the picture through a great tea blog: The Tea Urchin.

When living in Newport there was the most elegant tea house in the garden, with a domed ceiling, and windows on the four corners. The walls were covered in old Zuber hand painted wallpaper, showing birds and greenery. It had been my dream to change this tea house into a functioning room again. With antique cages on the ceiling and comfortable seats and tables scattered round below.

The original interior... Love the lantern.

This tea house in Newport is an early 20th century copy of the 18th century original summerhouse, designed by the great Salem, Massachusetts carver/architect Samuel McIntire for Capt. Derby’s summer farm in Danvers Massachusetts in 1795. A young lady who visited the estate in 1802 wrote of going upstairs to the room above, “The air from the windows is always pure and cool and the eye wanders with delight over the beautiful landscape below…The room is ornamented with some Chinese figures and seems calculated for serenity and peace.”

How wonderful would it be to drink tea there on a summer afternoon, listening to the birds while catching up on the latest news.

Well, one can dream, no? Tweet tweet.

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Sweet!

I have many weaknesses. But this has to be one that never  goes away, how ever old I get.

Borstplaat… (the direct translation: Breastplate, doesn’t quite work)

This original Dutch treat originates from times when sugar was an expensive commodity that was only used in abundance on special occasions.
The upcoming feast of Sinterklaas is one such occasions. Apart from the extremely addictive texture and flavour, the general gesture is so sweet.
If you have been good the Saint will reward you by going through the enormous trouble of handing you his sweet and brittle heart.

So often the rush of the holidays results in disaster, breaking hearts all over the place. And lets be honest: you can’t give someone a broken heart, no?

borstplaat

Hard on the outside, but melting inside...

The recipe is simple:
Take:
12 tablespoons of (originally cane) sugar
4 tablespoons of cream (water and milk will work too, but why would you if you can use cream, really?)

Add both to a small pan and heat to boiling point. Leave to dilute and thicken while gently boiling for 4 minutes.
You can test the mixture by dropping a drop in cold water, if it becomes solid the mixture is done.
(you can add flavours like coffee, chocolate or vanilla, but I prefer the pure taste myself.)
Pour the mixture in the heart shape or on a marble slab to cool. Fancy animal shapes will also be fun and add in a piece of string to hang them in a tree.

Judging from the recipe it doesn’t sound too extravagant, but I dare you…
There is nothing like the melting sweetness of the heart on your tongue.

A song I can’t get out of my head regarding the sharing of broken hearts:

But once you receive a hart, how can you just start to cut into it?
Sink in your teeth, nibble?

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Got eggs?

After missing Halloween last week I am not getting ready to miss Thanksgiving.
Around this time last year I was wondering why the Americans make stuffing outside of a bird and still call it stuffing?
Curious…  Anyway I digress… (I will write more about those experiences some time soon)

During a chat with an American friend, all of a sudden I had an enormous craving for EGGNOG! Last year, I gained 6 pounds in two weeks because of this brilliant stuff. May be it was the fresh eggs from our own chickens or my native Dutch respect for freshly ground nutmeg… I don’t know, but it is just too good. So try with caution… but for those working out and needing protein, it doesn’t get much better than this…

There are always a trillion variations on a traditional recipe. But in general the best recipes are usually the simplest…
You can spend forever splitting 20 eggs or add all kinds of strange ingredients. But why would you?

The one I found and use is the following, from a site dedicated to this liquid gold: http://www.eggnogrecipe.net, try the Alcoholic version. But if you leave out the booze it is just as yummy. (and great at breakfast too! It only has 3 million calories per sip, so it will keep you going for a while…)

Sink or sip?

Ingredients

6 eggs + 2 extra egg yolks
4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons of sugar
pinch of salt (optional)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup bourbon (optional)

Directions

Start by whisking the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a large pan until well-blended. Keep on whisking while you slowly pour in the milk until it is completely mixed-in. Next, set the pan on your stove’s burner and turn it to the lowest possible setting. Continuously whisk ingredients for 25-30 minutes or until the mixture reaches 160°F (71°C) and will coat the underside of a spoon. (use a thermometer for this, really!)

Next, remove the mixture from heat and strain it into a large-sized bowl, making sure to get out any pieces of cooked egg. Now stir in the bourbon, vanilla, and nutmeg, and transfer your mixture to a covered dish. Refrigerate the mix for at least 4 hours before proceeding.

Finally, when you’re ready to serve your eggnog with alcohol, grab the heavy cream and whip it well. Now just fold in the chilled mix, pour, serve and enjoy!

Makes 14 servings. (or 3 depending on whether you can stop yourself.)

Now I better go and find myself some fresh eggs…

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Golden beeches...

Every morning my mother drops me off, deep in the woods.

So far I believe it is not because my parents are getting fed up with feeding me. (even though I have been looking for a new house made of candy lately…)

Instead, on her way to the gym she drops me off on one of the beautiful golden and copper lanes of the Remmerstein estate. This way I can get my exercise and run back before breakfast.

The smell of autumn in the morning is just incredible these days. It is fresh, earthy and moist at the same time. Occasionally you get a whiff of some mushrooms or sometimes even a fox. (alas no wolves)
Especially on a rainy morning the scents get stronger. So I am starting to see that in the countryside there is no bad weather… Only different kinds.

There is just something magical and mysterious about a living forest like that. No wonder Halloween happens in this witching season.

Got candy?

May be people celebrating Halloween are on to something…

The colours of the lanes do make me miss New England though… The cinnamon laden smell of pumpkin pie and warm Cider…

 

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Trustworthy and straight forward?

But oh so yummy.

Eels, Aaltjes, Paling, Zee aal, Anguilla, Anguille, IJselmeerder aaltjes, whatever you call it, I mean the kind of fish that has a simple beginning and end and a world of straight taste down the middle.

I still remember the day I was served this delicacy for the first time at ‘de borrel’ in my grandparents house.
On a slightly burnt slice of toast, with a sliver of cold butter (no need to go into this now) and with two thin smoked strips of taste…

Before the taste I mostly remember the smell of fire, fishy water and everything inbetween at the same time.
Still I was to learn that the taste would take me even further. Even the smallest piece exudes a greasy and earthy goodness filling your whole mouth.

Last weekend I had the great pleasure to be reintroduced when a friend and I visited the Noordermarket in Amsterdam and found an old fisherman selling freshly smoked ‘IJsselmeerder aal’. He left the bag open, as they were still cooling off from the smoking the night before.

Smokin'!

Peeling an eel is simpler than you might think.
Even if there are many proverbs in Dutch (and English) for that matter referring to the slipperiness of the nature of this fish.
I assure you there is no need not to trust his character.
As long as you let him lose its head, he easily disrobes, like a banana…
(a whole different world of proverbs comes to mind)
After you peel off the skin, simply remove the backbone, scrape off any oily residue (if you are a purist, but I prefer the whole thing) chop to bits and serve on toast or salad (as long as you use a ‘too white tablecloth’ to wipe your fingers on…)
You can think of adding mayonaise, but quite frankly I don’t see the point…

Enjoy.

Regretfully Eels have been an endangered species, since their numbers declined after overfishing in 2009. So they are getting harder to come by…
So in case you have no eels at hand, may be this song will give you the same sensation:

Second verse:
Dans le port d`Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui mangent
Sur des nappes trop blanches
Des poissons ruisselants
Ils vous montrent des dents
A croquer la fortune
A décroisser la lune
A bouffer des haubans
Et ça sent la morue
Jusque dans le coeur des frites
Que leurs grosses mains invitent
A revenir en plus
Puis se lèvent en riant
Dans un bruit de tempête
Referment leur braguette
Et sortent en rotant

(feel free to use Google Translate in case you need help: http://translate.google.com/)
Jacques knew what he was talking about…

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Americans say it with stars and stripes...

Alas I have had to miss Memorial day last week… (it is traditionally celebrated on the last Monday in May)
In the middle of Easter, ascuncion and upcoming pentecost I guess there are already plenty of holidays to take into consideration.

But to be honest I was very sad to have to miss it from the right side of the pond this year. (Still being in exile in the NL and all… sigh)

As a dear friend explained to me via email, I got the following introduction:

“Memorial Day began as Decoration  Day when a group of southern ladies decided to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers. It spread north and when I was young was still known as Decoration Day. Somewhere it became Memorial Day to commemorate those who had died in various wars. The celebration in Cornwall is typical of a small New England town, with a parade having an honor guard, the local sports teams, the local boy scouts and girl scouts, the grammar school band and a procession of fire trucks, followed by the award of a best citizen plaque, a speech, flag raising and finally a church fair. It’s the beginning of the social season and most of the townspeople are there. I hated to miss it this year, but was otherwise engaged.”

The whole episode about firetrucks parading and flags being raised makes it sound so very American.

Dutch say it with flowers...

It reminds me of ‘Dodenherdenking’ in the Netherlands on the 4th of May, commemorating the end of the second world war, but these days it remembers all the fallen in war.
At 8 PM that day all Dutch hold silent for two minutes to commemorate the people that died for our freedom. (may be because I was raised on the Grebbeberg I grew up learning more about this tradition than some others, singing the national anthem to the veterans with the school choir every year etc.)

A new memorial requires a new logo...

Luckily the Netherlands has an extra day of celebrations the day following, called ‘Bevrijdingsdag’ (=Liberation day).Originally this day celebrated the liberation after WWII but recently it has become a day to celebrate freedom in general.

It is a relieving thought that specific war memorials over time give way to general sympathies of love, peace and freedom…

 

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