Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Great Dinner at KW 106

Katwijk Sector Album

We typically try to go out for one nice dinner with everyone while on vacation. This time we went to KW 106, a fish restaurant at the beach in Katwijk. The restaurant was recommended by my mom's friend and it was one for the best dinners we've had in a long time.

The restaurant is one of the fancier "beach cafés" that line the boulevard in Katwijk and server everything from breakfast to dinner. So on a nice day you may find a hubbub of people and families who take a break from the beach to grab a quick snack and a glass of wine on KW 106's patio, while it transforms into a more sophisticated space at night.

The interior is elegant but simple, with a comfortable beach feeling and a great view. The open kitchen is tiny, and there may have been a total of four cooks. I don't think the space would hold any more. Most restaurants in Katwijk offer menus that are translated into German and English, not so KW 106. I thought this was a very good sign, but it completely threw my extended family. They had a hard time ordering when they didn't know every single item that would come with the dish. Dutch is somewhat of a mix of German and English and we all could figure out what needed to be figured out. Nevertheless, ordering took forever.

The menu was small and simple. The restaurant offers a three-course menu with choices for every course for 34.50 euros. I had eyed the half lobster with pink grapefruit dressing as appetizer (I couldn't guess the other ingredients of the dish by trying to decipher the menu) but then decided on the bouillabaisse. It was excellent, with a variety of North Sea shrimp. It took quiet a long time for our food to get to the table, but the soup tasted like it had been made just for me.

I had no trouble choosing my entree. All I really knew is that it was a piece of fish that was prepared with the skin on (op de huid) over rhubarb with beurre blanc. I LOVE rhubarb. Now you may think that rhubarb is out of season, and yes, eating rhubarb in July is stretching it a bit even here, but growing seasons are a little different here.

When my mom inquired what fruit she should get for us to have for the weekend when we first arrived in Essen, I ask for strawberries and blueberries. She said that we may not yet have blueberries and that we might not have strawberries anymore.

I think the fish may have been flounder, but I'm not quiet sure. It was absolutely superb, served on top of a small mound of poached rhubarb with three very small, peeled and perfectly tournéed pieces of steamed potato and a thin slice of crispy bacon topped the dish off.

Eric ordered the red mullet also prepared op de huid with a ragout of peas and mint. The flavor of the sauce that went along with it was slightly bolder than the subtle beurre blanc that accompanied my dish-- both were excellent.

My brother also ordered the red mullet, but not until he confirmed that fries with mayonnaise would be served as the side dish. The waiter laughed and said "of course, this is Holland." Think of it as being a restaurant in Memphis, trying to get away with not serving iced tea. I'm sure the guys at KW 106 despised having to send fries with mayonnaise to every table, but that's what the guests expect and request. The friess here were hand cut, of course.

For dessert we all had espresso that came with a to die for coconut macaroon and a variety of desserts: the chocolate duo, a ultra rich chocolate ice cream and chocolate mousse, coffee Creme Brulee and red berries with yogurt ice cream, which was by far the best.

The ways of the Dutch

Holland Vacation Album

Our vacation in Katwijk is almost over. We'll pack up our bikes and beach gear tomorrow and head back to Essen (my home town) for a few days before leaving for Helsinki to visit my friend Anna next Wednesday.

This was our second time in Katwijk and overall the Dutch and the German ways are very similar. This time we stayed at a very nice campground in the Noordduinen, where we rented a house in the dunes that we shared with my parents. My brother and his family stayed in the house next door. The weather is somewhat unpredictable. The day might start with rain but it'll likely clear before too long and the sun will break through. It often is very (very) windy, which makes it hard to ride the bike especially if you are pulling a trailer with two toddlers. Temperatures are in the low to mid 70s.

Naturally we took it easy most days, strolling into town for our morning coffee when the kids didn't sleep past 6 am or taking everybody on a ride for after dinner espresso, hoping the kids would go to sleep on the way home, which worked sometimes.

I don't think I ever drink as much coffee (cappuccino that is) as I do when here on vacation. For one, the coffee here is pretty great and you always get a little cookie to go along with it. There is also no escaping the Dutch equivalent of burger with fries: Frikandel with fries. As a matter of fact, it almost seems like the Dutch and everybody else who spends an extended amount of time in Holland (more than a day) eats fries (usually with ketchup and mayonnaise) during every meal of the day except breakfast. We successfully avoided the Frikandel and tried our best to keep the fries at bay.

Interesting is also that at all restaurants and bars in this area, waiters use electronic hand-held devices to take your order. It may be that this is done all across Holland, but I can't really says that for sure.

The waiters all walk around with these things that look like an over sized remote control, which they use to key your order into the system right then and there. That's pretty smart and efficient. The other thing is that any of the waiters around can pull up your table on his/her system on the spot, which means that you can order that second glass of wine from the first waiter that comes your way and you also don't have to wait for "your"waiter to pay. Pretty cool.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Beer & Autobahn

Eric arrived yesterday after a very uneventful flight. Good for him! Tomorrow we'll be leaving for Katwijk (Holland) on our family vacation, which includes the four of us, my parents, my brother and his wife with Niklas, and her parents. Yes, that's a lot of people, but we'll be spread out in two houses.

So I have been in Germany for more than a week and I have not yet said anything about beer or the Autobahn for that matter. Now, the Autobahn is not as exciting as anyone outside of Germany makes it out to be. I like the Autobahn. Mostly because it's like driving on a race track, which has not that much to do with speed. It's just really tight, the lanes are very narrow, there are a lot of cars driving at the same time. So going 70 mph seems much faster than it typically would.

I'm not a big beer drinker, but will elaborate on beer a little more the next time. Let me just say this much, my dad and my brother are packing beer to take on our vacation to Holland. We are only about 45 minutes (by car) from the Dutch border. It's about three hours to Amsterdam. They are taking beer from Germany because they say the Dutch beer is undrinkable. Here's to Heineken, ha!
We explored my brother's beer fridge in his "party house" and Eric grabbed a bottled of Weissbier, not knowing that it was one of those novelty beers: Weissbier with star fruit and fig. He quickly traded it for a straight forward Pilsner. That's Reinheitsgebot (purity regulations) in action.

As I said, more about beer the next time. Here are some more photos from our adventures:
Germany Week 2

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Idioms: The sick horse

Just talked to Eric and he bought the "Idiom Book" they featured on NPR as we were driving to the airport. Now, there is one caveat. Most of the people they asked to read the idioms from their home country didn't know those idioms. As I said, the author relied on books and dictionaries. So there might be some disappointment.

Now to German Idioms Gone International Part II.

I had to laugh when the characters on a children's television show tried to get to the root of yet another one of those fantastic German sayings:
Ach Du gruene Neune!

This translates into, "oh you green nine." However, it works better if green has two syllables, which is why I would translate it with "oh you greenish nine." The exlamation mark is somewhat crucial as this is an expression of suprise mostly with a negative conotation. For example, you may have forgotton to turn off the stove when you left the house in the morning. Now you're in the office and you remember that there's rice cooking unsupervised in your kitchen and you cry out, "oh you greenish nine!" as you hurry home to prevent the house from burning down.

The horses. This is an unusual one. I just learned today that horse can't throw up, which has to do with how their stomach is "wired." Anyway, the idiom does have horses throwing up and it goes:
Ich hab' schon Pferde vor der Apotheke kotzen sehen (mit dem Rezept im Maul)
I'm only familiar with the first part, which translates to "I have seen horses vomit in front of the pharmacy." The second part is, "holding the prescrition in its mouth.
Now, we know that horses can't do that, and if they could, why would they do it in front of the pharmacy, holding the prescription in their mouth. I think this is the German equivalant to the American "flying pigs" idiom, which I can't remember.

Let's say your friend tells you that Michael Jackson called her yesterday to invite her for dinner, you would say, "sure, and I have seen horses vomit in front of the pharmacy." This would let her know that you think she's full of it. This can also be used if your friend, who is a recreational runer, won the Boston Marathon. Your comment to his success could be, "I have seen horses vomit in front of the pharmacy," which then means, anything is possible.

German Curiosities

I'm not going to start with more idioms, even though I heard another great one on the German children's program this morning. We'll get to that later.

I took the kids for a walk this morning. Our small apartment is in an area with mostly apartment houses (Mietshauser). We walked through a small "garden settlement" (Gartensiedlung) with "Schrebergarten" or Kleingarten (small garden). Those settlements didn't seem unusual when I was growing up here, but now they seem so uniquely German.

As I said those garden areas are located in the metropolitan area, where most people live in apartments and don't have access to a garden of their own. A few of them are public, but most of them are "clubs." Either way, you have to get on a waiting list to be consider for a "small garden." It could be that the public ones are for low income households. Anyway, many of the Schrebergarten areas were established after WWII to allow people to grow their own vegetables and have a more steady supply of food. Most people have nice sheds on their garden patch. On some of them you may even find "real houses." This is also left over from post WWII times, when there weren't enough apartments/houses and people expanded their sheds into small houses. City governments typically didn't crack down on those illegeal houses, and tenants received lifelong living rights in their deluxe sheds.

Yes, and of course there is a federal law (Bundeskleingartengesetz) governing everything "small graden." I think that the "movement" originated in Germany, but it spread all across Europe after WWII and today it is also used in developing countries as a way to ensure steady food supply for families.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Idioms: Climbing in the box

When Eric drove us to the airport we heard about a new book on the radio. The book was bout idioms. Someone had tracked down idioms from other countries and translated them into English, mostly relying on dictonaries.

In the story, they mentioned a German idiom: Wie eine Made im Speck leben
Literally translated it means "to live like a maggot in bacon." This expression is used if you want to indicate that someone has it made. It's an okay translation. However, when I think about bacon I think about those packages of thin bacon strips and that doesn't seem to be the best place to "have it made" if I were a maggot. So I would probably use "to live like a maggot in ham" or "to live like a maggot in lard."

Today my mom used another German idiom, which I hadn't heard in ages. It made me laugh because I was thinking about translating it into English.
In German it is: Mit jemandem in die Kiste steigen
Translated this means "to climb into the box with someone," which means "to have sex with someone." I won't elaborate on the context in which this idiom came up, unless you insist.
It might be an idiom used in southern Germany. That's where my parents are from originally. I assume that it is left over from the days when beds resembled boxes. However, just imagine yourself asking a friend: "Hey, are you still climbing into the box with this guy you met at the nightclub last month?"

Which reminds me of zippers. Now this is not an idiom and some of you guys may have heard of the Zipper Principle-- das Reissverschluss Prinzip or Reissverschlussverfahren. This is a traffic rule. If you are driving on a two lane road and there's construction up ahead, forcing people to merge to one lane, you would employ the Zipper Principle. This means the drivers on the lane with NO construction would slow down, so that each one of them could make enough space to allow for one car from the lane WITH construction to merge. Like a zipper. This way, traffic slows down, but it won't come to a complete halt. Germans obey the Zipper Principle. However, driving homw from the airport I saw a strange sign that read "Reissverschluss in 200 Metern," which essentially means "zipper in 200 yards."

That's all for now on German idioms. Maybe we'll explore "horses who vomit in front of the pharmacy" in German Idioms Gone International Part II.

Niklas' Baptism

My nephew Niklas was baptized on Sunday. I haven't been to church in ages, much less to a church in Germany. There are pretty much only two categories-- protestants and catholics. We are protestants and children are typically baptized in the denomination of their mother. There were maybe 20 people attending on a Sunday morning. Not that there are any more people on any other day. Niklas didn't cry, he was more interested in tearing up the song book.

Afterwards we celebrated in the backyard with my brother(Andreas) and his wife's (Nadine) close friends and our families. It was a beautiful day and the kids had fun playing with eachother.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


We made it to Germany! That's a good thing. Our journey, however, was quiet an odyssee.

The boys and I left Memphis International Friday evening. Eric was able to help us to the gate. Boarding the plane in Memphis went well. When I bought the tickets I requested assistance because I knew I would need help with the boys. I am not super mom and there is no way I can carry two kids off the plane, plus the carry-on (which was not much at all), set up the stroller, shoulder the car seat and roll.
I confiremd said assistance, which was supposed to be a person who would wait for us with a wheelchair, with the airline twice. To get this out of the way, there was no assistance. No person designated to help us. None whatsoever. It really only got worse. There were moments where I felt like crying (and I'm not a big crier)-- It was all extremely frustrating.

In Amstredam we boarded our connecting flight on the airfield, but there was no elevator that could take us to the bus that would take us to the plane. Yes, I did make it down the steps. RIDICILOUS! How can there not be an elevator?

Once at the plane I left Ari in the stroller to take Victor on the airplane, came back out, handed Ari to a stranger so I could fold up the stroller and then board the plane with Ari. After I found our seats, and strapped in the car seat, the flight attendant told me that we couldn't sit in our assigned seats becasue the car seat had to be in a window seat. Yes, we did move. Without the car seat however because we couldn't get it loose.

Thank you, KLM, for knowing the basic safety regulations, because in the U.S. no one really caees about the locations of car seats on the plane. But, KLM, couldn't you have thought about this when you assigned me the seats, right there at the gate, 20 minutes prior to departure? Needless to say that we delayed the plane. The next time you wonder where the heck that plane is or why it is delayed-- think Simone.

The boys were total troopers. They had a couple of brief meltdowns due to lack of sleep, but overall, they were super sweet and extremely patient.

We arrived in Duesseldorf 30 minutes behind schedule without our luggage. But we made it, and that's a good thing, a very good thing.