Thanksgiving away from family is a puzzle to be solved. Not celebrating is just sad and unthinkable, but since people, preferably lots of people, are a key ingredient to the holiday, celebrating does involve some planning and inviting, which can be more or less challenging depending on the circumstances. I've done my share of inviting, but I've also benefitted from some wonderful and thoughtful invitations.
When I did the obligatory unofficial Facebook poll of what to do in London, the two most recommended must-visits were Camden Market and the V&A. Camden Market will, alas, have to wait until a less grey and drizzly day. But as you know, I am always up for another museum, especially if it involves history or the fine arts. Or both, as the V&A does. It is a wonderful museum, and I heartily add my voice to the recommendations next time you are in London.
The 1899 ceremony in which the foundation stone of the museum’s current building was laid turned out to be Queen Victoria’s last public appearance, and it was then that it officially received its name, the Victoria & Albert Museum. It’s a perfect place to explore at random, which we did, although in the end I believe we saw almost the entire museum. The exhibit themes range from time periods (e.g. 1300-1600) to geographical areas (e.g. Korea or the Middle East) to artistic media (e.g. ceramics or glass).
We are coming up on two years in Amsterdam, which means almost one year at our new house, in our new neighbourhood. Are we still happy with our choice to pick a little house in the city rather than a bigger one with a garden farther out? It’s still a resounding yes! The longer we live here, the more we love it.
Schinkelbuurt is a delightful little neighborhood of Amsterdam that is also somewhat unknown. Possibly because it’s so little. It’s just that red-highlighted triangle with a tail in the bottom left corner.
If you look at a map of the Netherlands (which I should do more often, since I know many of its cities only as final destinations for the trains I take), you see that Maastricht sits in what Wikipedia refers to as an “eccentric location” on a little extra tail that dips down between Belgium and Germany. Of course, as always, there are a variety of strategic historical and military reasons for this, which you can read about in Alexandre Dumas novels and various other places. In more modern times, it was chosen as the location for the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, establishing the European Union, which I hope we can all agree to go ahead and continue to keep intact. Please.
It's called melata honey, and has the distinction of having passed through the bodily orifices of not one, but two different species of insects. Small insects up in the mountains eat the sap of trees, which passes through their digestive tracts and is deposited (see how palatable I made that sound) on the leaves of the trees, where the bees collect it and further process it into honey. How wild is that? You can't make these things up.
You may be surprised to hear that our trip to Spain was virtually unplanned. We bought our plane tickets and booked our house, but other than that the only thing we did was book our tickets to the Alhambra in Granada. The Alhambra is on every list of must-do’s in Spain. It’s perhaps the most well-known remnant of al-Andalus, the name given to Spain during its over 700 years as a Muslim civilization. Tickets to the Alhambra tend to sell out, so I made sure to get ours early. It just so happened that some Amsterdam friends from our children’s school were also in Spain for the holidays, and had booked their Alhambra tickets on the Monday before Christmas as well. I’d like to think that my kids would have enjoyed seeing the Alhambra anyway, but having their friends there was a definite bonus.
After a drizzly few months of autumn and winter in Amsterdam, nothing sounded better than Christmas in Spain. Axa and Raj get a whopping three weeks off of school, so we were able to take advantage of extra cheap plane flights to Madrid. We flew in Tuesday evening, and finally made it to our apartment sometime after one in the morning. Our host, Felix, graciously waited up for us to let us in. After three years of trying to understand Puerto Rican Spanish in Florida, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I’d forgotten the Spanish I learned on my mission to Chile. So I was quite pleased to find that I could communicate perfectly with Felix. Strangely, from his lips, the accent of Spain seemed effortless for me to understand. Then he told me he was from Venezuela. Oh, well. At least I still speak South American Spanish.
One of the things we love about living in Amsterdam is visiting the city centre. While Amsterdam is famous for its multitude of, shall we say, earthly delights, there are also plenty of wonderful family-friendly activities here. Shortly after we arrived, we bought ourselves the Museumkaart, a card that allows you to get into most of Amsterdam’s museums and other historical sites like the Anne Frank House for free.
Our first couple of times using the cards at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum were somewhat less than successful, due to a combination of crowds, long lines, and insufficient parental ingenuity. Today I was determined to make a better plan. We started off the morning with hot chocolate and pain au chocolat (keyword: chocolate) at De Bakkerswinkel, slathered liberally with their signature strawberry jam, lemon curd, and pineapple basil preserves.
We’re kind of foodies at our house, so Thanksgiving is generally a gala affair. (See Last Year’s Menu and the Even More Dramatic Year Before) However, I’ve noticed that since I started working full time, I have less and less of a desire to spend my entire day off cooking when it’s a holiday. Go figure. Tony has even less of a desire to cook a big Thanksgiving, possibly due to the fact that nearly all of the everyday cooking at our house currently falls to him.
So this year we’ve decided to pare down Thanksgiving a bit. No, make that a lot. In fact, I’m embarrassed to even say what we’re contemplating, nay have actually determined to do. Suffice it to say that our plans for Thanksgiving do not involve either brining the turkey, wrapping it in bacon, cooking it upside down, or even stuffing it. In fact, they don’t involve a turkey at all. Are you ready for it? We’re going to pick up a rotisserie chicken. It was Tony’s idea, since I wouldn’t have been able to bear coming up with such an travesty. However, once he brought it up and I weighed the merits of a rotisserie chicken against the hours of preparation and the reality of turkey leftovers in the freezer for the next several months, I could see he had a point.
Believe it or not, real life besides books has been going on too. Last week the CEO at the company where I work said he was not opening the office on Friday, so everyone would be “working from home” (his quotation marks, not mine). I was pretty excited to have a whole Thanksgiving weekend with the family.
Our Thanksgiving menu for this year was a little less ambitious than last year’s Thanksgiving menu, considering the fact that I work full time and Tony, while he is more organized than I ever was about everyday meals, has no interest in presiding over an elaborate, three-day cooking project. So yes, instead of, for instance, making my own graham crackers for graham cracker crust (true story), I consented to comb the cookie aisle for something premade with a minimum of objectionable ingredients. Among other things.