Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

It's not even lunchtime yet, and already the sound of random fireworks being set off by naughty boys around the neighbourhood is dominating the air. In Britain, Bonfire Night - 5th November is the main firework night of the year. But in the Netherlands it's New Year's Eve - when at midnight a spontaneous, massive and wonderful firework display goes off around the country. Thousands of people contributing to a public display that would be the envy of any municipal event. It's fantastic to enjoy from the safety of your own home... but on the streets, near bars, it can be a bit scary and feel like you're navigating a minefield. It's not for the feint-hearted. The firework-fest lasts over an hour and then a heavy fug of smoke fills the streets.

New Year's Eve, or 'Oud en Nieuw' (old and new) or 'Oudejaarsavond' (old year's evening) is often celebrated at home with families or friends, and the midnight hour is celebrated with champagne and 'oliebollen'. Directly translated, this means oil balls, which is a sobering reminder of how they are cooked - in the deep fat fryer. They are little doughnuts, mainly plain with no filling, and are doused in icing sugar ('poedersuiker'). Even better is  a version called 'gevuld oliebollen' which contain dried fruit.

Oliebollen are sold all over the country from brightly lit stalls that start to appear near markets and train stations from the end of autumn, marking the changing of the season. As well as the standard oliebollen, you can also indulge in ones with fillings such as apple, cherry, banana or custard - these are called 'berlinerbollen', and are more like a British doughnut. Another variation eaten on New Years' Eve is the 'appelbeignet' - slices of apple coated in a similar yeast-based dough and deep-fried.

All that fat is great for soaking up the alcohol. Fijne jaarwissleing!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Museum Card (Museumkaart)

While in the UK it has been free to enter government-funded museums since 2001, in the Netherlands you have to pay. And prices can be quite steep - €5 - €10 for small, local museums to €15 on average per adult for national museums.

If you live in the Netherlands it's definitely worth investing in the Museumkaart if you enjoy museums and expect to go several times in the year. The museum card isn't cheap either (€49.50 for adults and €22.50 for children), but once you've bought it, you can freely enter as many museums over the year as you want. After just three visits to major museums in the year you're then reaping the value of the card.

There are nearly 400 museums across the whole country, on almost every topic - so seek out the best museums and make the most of your time in the Netherlands as well as the card. And if like me you sometimes need a bit of an incentive to get you out more (especially if it's cold and wet), once you've bought the card, you really feel like you should make the most of it!

There's no information on the Museumkaart website in English. You can buy the card online, but will have to pay €4.95 admin costs. Alternatively - and cheaper - you can buy your card at any of the museums where it is valid, and use it to enter freely straight away.

The card will get you in to the top museums in Holland, including the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijkmuseum in Amsterdam. Closer to home, here are a few examples of the museums you can visit for free with the Museum Card in the Helmond and Eindhoven area:

Gemeentemuseum Helmond - which includes two locations: the Boscotondohal which has a permanent art gallery on ground floor and temporary exhibitions on top floor, and Helmond Castle (Kasteel Helmond)

Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven - which features regularly changing contemporary art exhibitions, in addition to a permanent collection of modern art, including key works by Lissitzky, Picasso, Kokoschka, Chagall, Beuys, McCarthy, Daniel and K├Ârmeling.

Museum de Wieger, Deurne - former home of the doctor and expressionist artist Hendrik Wiegersma. The museum usually shows temporary exhibitions, but also holds his wonderful collection of local folk art (which he accepted as payment from patients with little money), as well as his paintings, which you can arrange to see if you contact the museum in advance.

Museum 't Oude Slot, Veldhoven - a old farmhouse displaying objects of the local culture, and the People's Print Room. Also linked to an exhibition space on the city hall (Gemenntehuis) showing comtemporary art.

Search the Museumkaart website for more ideas.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Homemade pepernoten

Sinterklaas arrived in town a couple of weeks ago. He's staying locally in Helmond castle until 'Pakjes Avond' on 5th December - the evening when children receive presents... if they've been good. A big part of the whole event are the pepernoten that all the Zwarte Pieten (Sinterklaas's helpers) give out to little children, and throw around the place for kids to find. Like mince pies are associated with Christmas in England, so pepernoten are with Sinterklaas. They are spicy little biscuits - the perfect size for little hands.

We decided to make some of our own again this year. they're easy and fun to make and fill the house with a fantastically seasonal warm smell. This great recipe comes from a children's activity book associated with the Sinterklaas Journaal - the nightly Sinterklaas news programme for children that starts about three weeks before Pakjes Avond - helping to get the children excited. There are a couple of very Dutch ingredients in this recipe that you might not be able to find elsewhere. Firstly the spice mix - this is used to make a whole range of Dutch biscuits and pastries - and is called Speculaaskruiden - the key ingredients of which are ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. The other Dutch ingredient is 'stroop' - which means syrup. Here, this very dark, rich syrup is mainly used on pancakes. It's thick and sweet, with a hint of the bitter richness of black treacle.

Pepernoten recipe
75g butter (room temp)
100g brown sugar (called ' basterdsuiker' in Dutch...)
2 dsp speculaaskruiden (the spice mix)
pinch of salt
1.5 dsp 'stroop' syrup
4 tbsp milk
250g self raising flour

1. Put the butter, sugar, spice mix and salt in a big. Cream together until smooth and light.

2. Add the syrup and the milk. Mix together and then add the flour and kneed into a ball of dough. You might need to add a little more milk if it is too dry.

3. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave it to rest in the fridge for 30 mins. Then break off little pieces and roll into them into a ball in your hands. Squash them down a little when you put them on the baking tray to stop them rolling around when you put them in the oven.

4. Bake your pepernoten in an oven warmed to 175 C for 15-20 minutes (the bigger they are the longer they take...), until just starting to brown nicely  Put on a wire rack to cool. Eet smakelijk!