Auden asked me what the blueberries were like in California.
“What color are they inside?”
I had never given it much thought — the giant experimental ones I ate in Oregon were slightly green, and the ones back home on the kitchen table are also kind of green. Their flesh is pale and almost see-through. Not at all blue.
He tells me about the blueberries in his Oma’s farm, how their flesh is more red than green or white, and how they’re so red that no amount of wiping with your shirt would hide the evidence. Those are the best, he says.
I believe him. He told me a few other things that he missed from his homeland of Norway, but it’s his love for blueberries that I remember the most.
The custodians at UCSD work early and long, cleaning up whatever mess the university students leave behind. Roberto is one, and I make sure to say hello when I see him. Good man. Plays soccer on the weekends with his local team. Childhood friends, he says.
On the last week of school Roberto invited me over to the custodian’s office to share a cup of coffee. Next to the supply closet is a coffeemaker, and the rest of the custodians trust Roberto to make the coffee for them. For every cup of coffee, he adds:
a spoonful of sugar
a stick of cinnamon
Cream and sugar are commonplace, but I’ve never had cinnamon in coffee before. Tastes fantastic. I told my roommate Victor from France about how Roberto made me a cup of his special brew.
Hannah wanted some bananas for banana bread, and I told her I had a couple to spare. They were a bit brown though.
The bananas weren’t rotten. They tasted fine earlier in the morning with my oatmeal, and they tasted fine earlier in the afternoon with my peanut butter sandwich, but they were brown and mushy enough for me to think twice about offering them to someone else. Good neighbors don’t give other good neighbors rotten crap, right? Would giving someone else a rotten banana suggest that I’m a rotten person myself? I show her the bananas.
Utrecht is a good city for ice cream; lots of people have their favorite place to go to. Mine was IJssalon Vorst, in-between Wilhelminapark and the University College Utrecht. On a nice day I would stop by for a scoop — two or three if I was with good company — and then go for a stroll around the park.
The scoop would be long gone before I even walked half a lap.
The sign outside doesn’t lie. Their sorbets have heel veel fruit, and they put all sorts of spices into the ice cream. You’ll find combinations like orange & clover, coffee & ginger — ingredients you’d never think about mixing together, but they create all sorts of tingly sensations. And at one euro per scoop, it’s one of the best deals in town.
The flavors change every week.
I was a regular customer for a while, but I only had a chat with the owner during my last day in Utrecht. Jan is his name.
I don’t know his greatest hopes and fears, the company he keeps, or the thoughts he thinks on the slow days. (How funny that you can see a person regularly and still not know these sorts of things). All I know is that Jan lives and breathes ice cream, and that he likes to get other people excited about all of its possibilities. He’s very good at that.
I was snooping around the Facebook page and saw that he was recently rated the #1 ice cream maker in Utrecht. Gee whiz, some may think. Less than a year in the business and he’s already top banana in town.
But that’s not exactly the case. He’s been honing his ice cream skills for years. He said something about making ice cream in Paris, and some other places before this. Ice cream is his profession, and he takes great pride in it. He’s unafraid to experiment, to improve his craft. To combine old flavors and make something new, nearly every week.
(an approach like that will take you far in life, ice cream or not)
Jiro Ono, master sushi chef, says he has grand visions of sushi when he sleeps. I wonder if Jan has the same.
The ice cream business is tough. Despite being near Wilhelminapark where all sorts of people and families stroll around, a lot of the business comes from the university students studying down the street at Prins Hendriklaan. What to do then, when all those students pack up and leave for their hometowns or go on vacation for the summer?
Described by my roommate as the “pinnacle of Irish-Chinese cuisine” (it’s hard for me to distinguish Irish sarcasm), the 3-in-1 can be found in any chipper or Chinese takeaway. And by chipper, I mean any place that serves fried delights late into the night.
The 3-in-1 is straight and to the point. You’ll get a plastic or aluminum tin filled with:
A bed of white rice, followed by
A layer of fries (the Irish seem to like their fries cut thick), topped off with
Sate or curry sauce.
It looks like a big blob of goop, and its texture certainly is like that — but trust me, this tastes great when you have a few beers inside of you. Add breaded chicken balls to this concoction and it turns into a 4-in-1.
Sometimes people ask me what I did in Ireland, and I always make it a point to say something about the 3-in-1. Is it really that good? Students usually laugh when I mention it.
Perhaps it’s because of the sheer absurdity of the thing. Rice + french fries? Who would have thought? It may not be the most refined dish out there, but it’s prevalent enough that every Irish student has an opinion of it.
And so, the 3-in-1 has a place in my heart. Or my arteries.
Kapsalon literally means “hair salon”, but it’s also the name of one of my most favorite comfort foods. Named after the profession of the first person in Rotterdam to ever order one, the kapsalon can be found in any Turkish snackbar. It’s served all year, and is almost a full meal by itself.
So what can you expect from a kapsalon experience?
A thick layer of fries cover the aluminum tin, followed by another layer of grilled gouda cheese, shawarma or kebab meat, followed by another layer of lettuce, garlic sauce, chili sauce (sambal), and whatever else is in the condiment bar.
The only downside I can think of to this dish is that all the sauces and cheeses layered on top make the fries on the bottom all soggy. But then I ask myself — do I really want fries that stay crispy forever? I’d be pleased and suspicious at the same time.
Thus, like any lasting superhero, the fact that the kapsalon is flawed makes it even more charming. Mushy bottom? Uneven consistency? Dodgy health benefits? No worries, kapsalon. We’re all just trying to do our best.
At five to seven euros (at least around Utrecht), the kapsalon is one of the more premium options for a late-night snack. But if you’re tired, slightly drunk, or “just in that mood”, the kapsalon is your friend.
The oliebol is another Dutch holiday pastry served until New Year’s Eve. It’s soft, chewy, filled with raisins, and is about as big as a closed fist or the average muffin.
The server will ask if you’d like it with powdered sugar on top.That same powdered sugar will give you a miniature white beard after the first bite, or make it seem like all the dandruff from your head fell onto your chest at once. (Hint: say yes to the powdered sugar anyway)
Like pepernoten, the olliebol also comes in different varieties and flavors. There’s the appelbol, which comes stuffed with caramelized apples and applesauce, and the berlinerbol, which looks like a miniature hot dog, except instead of a sausage there’s a squiggly line made of custard.
During the early winter you can find olliebollen booths all over town, lit up with bright lights and a huge sign that looks like it came out of WordArt in Microsoft Word. It actually matters which olliebollen stand you go to, since they’re all different in consistency and texture. There’s one open late at night in the middle of Neude square in the city center, but I’m more partial to the olliebollen stand on the intersection of Maliebaan and Burgemeester Reigerstraat. It’s strategically placed in front of the Rabobank ATMs, and in plain sight of all the schoolchildren and workers returning home.
Dick and Alex run that stand.
(My name means something different for you Americans though, hé?)
The first time I saw them was about a month ago, on their third day of business. Dick says that it’s good that I came on the third day, and not the first or the second, because he says it takes three days before his baking skills come back into proper form. He’s been doing this for over thirty years, and each year he submits his oliebollen to the national fair.
Oliebollen is only sold for two months out of the year — three months at most. I asked Dick what he does with his time after the oliebollen season is over.
During the Sinterklaas parades, Zwarte Piet, or Sinterklaas’ helper, will run around with a big sack of pepernoten to give to all the children.
Pepernoten are these special cookie treats that get eaten during the holiday season. They’re like miniature gingerbread cookies with a flat bottom and curved top, and they’re as easy to eat (and to keep eating) as potato chips. The ones pictured above are just the classic pepernoten, but if you want to get fancy you can get milk and dark chocolate-covered varieties as well.
Grocery stores like Albert Heijn have been selling them since October. I remember conversations with people complaining about how pepernoten and other holiday classics were being sold too early, but people still bought huge packs of them anyway. And when it comes to festive gatherings, it’s not uncommon to have a huge fruit bowl in the middle of the table dedicated entirely to pepernoten.
Store-bought versions are crispy all-around, but if you take the effort to bake them in your own home you’ll be rewarded with a soft, dough-y interior.
You can find the original recipe (in Dutch) over here.