Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

Travel with children | Four days in Amsterdam

4 December 2014

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Ideally, a break should combine some level of discovery, good food that needn’t be a quest, a hotel pleasant for both adults and children, a park, and somewhere to stop for a drink around four o’clock. Not all trips work, especially with mini people. Amsterdam met the magic mark.

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On the way we spent one night in Delft, which lends itself well to treading the cobblestones at dusk, along quaint canals lined with glittering merchant houses, in search of dinner.

Then a day in The Hague with a stop at the Peace Palace and lunch in a surfer café on the beach. It was a blustery Sunday and Scheveningen was alive with weekend strollers and kite-surfers.

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In Amsterdam, we sped along canals in the morning mist.

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We clambered up constricted staircases to an old clandestine church — an intimate museum that conjures one of Amsterdam’s less tolerant chapters.

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At the Rijksmuseum we lost track of time amid the lush collections of model boats, intricate arms, gleaming porcelains, and waggish magic lanterns before rushing up to an obligatory feast of Rembrandt, Ruisdael, Vermeer. The museum is gorgeously restored.

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And offers a very decent lunch.

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We visited the Van Gogh museum, as one must. It doesn’t reveal the artist the way the best museums might (I am thinking in particular of the Museu Picasso in Barcelona). The experience was rather like trudging through a mall during shopping season.

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Whizzing around on bikes is the way to see Amsterdam. It is probably safer than risking it on foot — entitled riders are pretty reckless so it’s best to secure similar swerving capabilities. And cycling around with children makes dashing along the canals, from one museum to the next, very fun. No moans, no hint of a complaint.

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We rode West to Café Restaurant Amsterdam, the best place to have a drink, read the paper, have a delicious dinner of simple plates (tiny grey shrimp, Dutch herring, mackerel fillets, rillettes, lentil salad with parma ham) with a glass of Sancerre, all in a nineteenth-century Pumping Station. Great food, a casual atmosphere, no pretense. Perfect.

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Later we met friends and found the parakeets in Vondelpark.

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We spent a morning at the stunning Scheepvartmuseum.

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And even managed to steal a visit to Droog. There is a cool sweet shop just across the street to occupy less patient gremlins.

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We stopped on a pretty gracht for that four o-clock drink.

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And we cycled along the harbor at night.

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We had booked the room with the swing.

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 Magic!

Christmas cookies | Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars)

22 December 2013

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Maybe I wasn’t being completely truthful last year when I exclaimed that the almond and currant cookies of my youth are my favorite. In reality I’ve always loved Zimtsterne most of all.

As a little girl, cinnamon stars represented the very promise of Christmas. The sweet tinge of icing an irresistible finish to the chewy bite. Nutty. Not too cinnamony. For some years I may have snubbed them a little, perhaps in a flaccid effort at emancipation from too obvious a childhood treat. But why resist the irresistible?

This is another recipe my mother has kept alive all these years. She received it initially, many years ago, from Marcelle, a close family friend and my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland.

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Marcelle’s Zimtsterne
The cookies must rest for a few hours or overnight before baking, so plan accordingly. They are best made a few weeks ahead. (Ahem.
)
Store in an airtight tin box, separating the layers with parchment paper.

450 g (3 cups) almonds

3 egg whites

Pinch of salt

300 g (1 1/2 cups) unrefined sugar

2 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon

Kirsch (1 Tbsp for cookies and 1 Tbsp for the icing)

Star-shaped cookie cutter

100 g (3/4 cup) powdered (icing) sugar

Pulse chop the almonds in a food processor until they reach the consistency of coarse sugar. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until very firm.

Add the sugar, cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon kirsch to the almonds. Fold in the egg whites with a wooden spoon, then knead by hand until the dough holds together (kneading will help extract the almond oil).

Take the dough and flatten it evenly on a slightly moistened wooden board (working in batches if necessary). The height should be approximately 8 mm (1/3 inch), but the most important is that it be even so it also cooks evenly.

Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with sugar. Cut out stars from the dough with a wet cookie cutter and place them on the baking sheet. (Wet the cutter repeatedly throughout the process to avoid sticking.)

Let the stars rest, uncovered (they must dry a little), at room temperature, for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Slide the sheet in the middle of the oven and bake the cookies for 10 minutes. They will harden when they cool but must remain moist.

Make the icing by mixing the icing sugar with 1 tablespoon Kirsch and 1 tablespoon water. The icing should be quite liquid, add water drop by drop if necessary.

Using the back of a small spoon, coat each star, while still warm, with a light layer of icing. Let dry.

Store in a tin box, layers separated by parchment paper, for up to a month.

Merry Christmas!


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