Amsterdam: A quick guide

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I thought I’d do a quick post about our favourite places in Amsterdam. We so love Amsterdam, and it is our favourite European city. We find the people to be friendly and happy, with generous spirits, and I feel a major affinity to the people and the culture. I could go on for hours about my love for Amsterdam, but I won’t bore you with that. Instead, I’m just going to give you a run down of where to eat, what to eat, what to drink (I’ll give you a hint: it’s always beer), and things to see. I’ve even done the work for you and added all the links you need!

  • Stacey’s Pennywell – The best place to have lunch. Have a Stacey’s All Time Favourite Sandwich. Trust me. It. Is. The. Bomb. Located very close to Rembrandtplein.
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  • Café Luxembourg – Some of the best Croquettes and a very good Eggs Benedict, located on Spui.
  • Coco’s Outback – Out favourite spot for Bitterballen and beer. It’s an Australian pub with very reasonable prices (quite cheap actually), with a good vibe. It’s located right by Rembrandtplein. Bitterballen is an absolute must on your trip.
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  • De Brabantse Aap – Another favourite for Bitterballen, but a little more pricey than Coco’s Outback, located also on Spui.
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  • De Ysbreeker – If you recall, I did a post about our Croque Monsieurs, and I mentioned where the best Croques I’ve ever eaten was. This is the place. Do it. You won’t be sorry. They are pricey, but well worth it. You could also do an Uitsmijter, which is amazing too. Located on Weesperzijde.
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  • De Biertuin – Amazing burgers for a decent price. It’s a little bit further from the centre of the city, so it’s not very touristy. It’s where the local young people hang out, and reservation is a must. Find directions here.
  • Café Stevens – A lovely little bar with an amazing variety of beers to try. It’s quite close to the bustling touristy red-light district (De Wallen), so if you take a stroll down there to have a look-see, Café Stevens is the perfect place to fill your belly with plenty of beer.
  • Café Kale – This is our favourite place to eat Vlammetjes, which is also a must have while you’re there. Located on Weteringschans.
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  • Bar Lempicka – A bar with a great atmosphere, day or night. It’s situated right on the Amstel river in Sarphati straat.
  • Vooges (Harmsen Restaurant) – A lovely place to have dinner, if you’re looking for something that doesn’t include burgers and run of the mill food. The cuisine is exquisite, the service so friendly, and the frites are to die for. Located on Utrechtsestraat
  • McDonalds. Don’t shoot me. Yes, I just suggested you go to McDonalds. But hear me out. The franchises in the Netherlands have a speciality not available anywhere else. And I am recommending that you have it. It’s the McKroket. Try it. Please.
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If you’re staying in Amsterdam for an extended period – and not necessarily in a hotel, then you might need to buy some supplies. Our favourite go-to shop for anything from bread, milk, cheese, to surprisingly tasty ready-made Creme Brulee, meat, wine and everything in between was Albert Heijn. Just a traveller’s tip though – they won’t let you pay with a Visa card. Even if it’s a debit card. There are ATM’s in the shop though, so it’s not that big of a deal.

For more of a farmer’s market feel, you should definitely visit Albert Cuypmarkt. It has fresh (FRESH) fish, homemade breads, cheeses of all shapes and colours, poultry, fresh vegetables and flowers. While you’re there, stop by the Stroopwafel stall, and get a fresh and hot Stroopwafel. It will change your life. It is crispy on the outside, made with a ginger and cinnamon infused dough, filled with a sweet, all-butter, very sticky and sweet caramel. Mmmhmmm. You can also find almost anything else at the market, from socks, to beads, crockery, fabric and upholstery, clothing, shoes and bags. It’s a lovely outing.
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You can’t visit Amsterdam without doing the historical and cultural circuit. So here’s a quick run down. I’m going to start with the Anne Frank House. We go every time we’re there. I’ll keep going. Every time. It is something so powerful, a humbling experience like no other. It teaches us what humanity can be if we let it. It’s a somber reminder of what cruelty truly is. It also teaches us that the human spirit is an unyielding and beautiful thing. You really should visit. You can (and I recommend that you do) book your tickets in advance online. And try to book it for the earliest time slot possible. It gets busy, and it’s really an experience you want to have when there aren’t that many people around. And please, if your children are not old enough to understand the gravity of the place they’re standing in, keep them reigned in. The people who go there have an emotional experience, and unruly little brats running around screaming, not only lessens – nay, ruins – the experience for other visitors, but makes you look bad too. (Preaching over) When you’re done there, you can pop in right next door at the Westerkerk. There is also the Oude Kerk to visit, which is located right by the red-light district. Two museums worth seeing: Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. You can buy your tickets online. Try to get there early too, to avoid the masses.

The squares I mentioned in the food section of this post, are all beautiful places too. Even if you don’t visit the restaurants, take a stroll through Rembrandtplein, Leidseplein, Frederiksplein and Spui. For shopping I highly recommend going to Kalverstraat. You can find just about anything there, and it includes some of the world’s most popular brands – like Guess, Steve Madden, Levi, Fossil and so on. You should be able to pick up some great bargains if you’re there around the time that they have end of season sales. I also love walking through Utrechtsestraat, which has more of a quirky feel to it, with smaller stores, speciality shops and small eateries. It also happens to be very pretty. If you happen to be strolling through Utrechtsestraat, you should pop into Kaldi. It’s a speciality coffee and tea shop, where I could spend hours selecting teas. It’s lovely. My last little shopping gem is the 9 Straatjes. It is a 3 streets x 3 streets block of little cafés and specialty stores, ranging from a shop that exclusively sells buttons, another selling only board games, vintage shops, toothbrush shops and tea shops. The shops there only open at 11am on a Monday – remember that.

In terms of transport, you could rent a bicycle and do it the way the locals do it. I don’t though. The rules are very different than they are in my country, there are trams all over the place, cars, buses and pedestrians. It’s scary. But if you have the bravery – go for it! Many family members adore cycling in Amsterdam. I prefer using the trams and metros when I need to, but we tend to walk most places we go. In fact, the walking helps ease the guilt of consuming so much beer and Bitterballen. You can buy a chip card to use on the metros and trams, which works on a prepaid basis. You load your card with a certain amount, and every time you use it the card will be deducted with the fee of your trip. This is important though: REMEMBER TO CHECK OUT EVERY TIME YOU GET OFF. Other wise it will deduct about 4 Euros from your card. The trams are very easy to use, super accessible and there are regular trams coming and going throughout the city. There’s a very useful app that you can download which can tell you which tram to take depending on your destination, and their stops, and their times. The app can be downloaded on iPhones and Android phones – just search for 9292 OV app.

That’s it from me, I think. If you have the opportunity to see Amsterdam, you should grab it. It is a magical place.

The Girls Who Bake

Hi guys!

As you know, I’m very much into food and all things baked, dipped, glazed and iced. And so is my sister. So, we decided we would have a bake-and-drink day last Saturday. First we headed out into Observatory to do some vintage shopping. It was pretty much fruitless, so we decided to have a beer instead. That’s how we roll. (I did find a very cool old silver measuring cup with a copper bottom, for R10.00! I still have to clean it and get the copper all shiny though.) After our very large beer, we headed back to my house to commence with the baking and drinking. Incidentally, my future sister-in-law and her hubby just decided to drop by, so we made a space for her at the counter, plopped her down on a stool with a glass of wine and a ringside seat to our possible culinary failure, while the boys settled in to playing their shooty-sweary Playstation game. For our first, of a monthly installment, baking day, we (mostly I) decided to make Cinnamon Rolls and Red Velvet Cupcakes. Both with some form of cream cheese topping. Could you just taste it already?

So we got started with the Cinnamon Rolls first, since we figured that would take the longest. We combined about 5 recipes, but worked mostly from one, that can be found here: http://valleyridgerecipes.blogspot.com/2010/04/cinnamon-rolls_17.html

So, the ingredients first:

3 1/2 c. warm water
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. oil
6 T. yeast (we used one sachet of instant dry yeast)

1. Mix those and let it sit for about 15-20 mins.

2. Then add:
1 T. salt
3 eggs
10 1/2 c. flour

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3. Mix together until combined well (about 10 minutes, but ours took longer because after about 10 minutes of mixing, we realised we forgot to add the eggs and that’s why it was all SO STICKY!) then sit until it doubles in size. We put it close to our heater for about 20 minutes.

4. Oil cupboard, dump out dough. We accidentally missed this part, and floured the surface. It was okay, but the oil would have made the rolling MUCH easier.

5. Divide in half. Roll one half out into rectangle.

6. Spread with ¼ c. melted butter and then with half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Roll up tight, but not too tight. Divide into 12 rolls and place on greased cookie sheet. Repeat with other half of dough. Let rise. (We missed that part too, so the baking time took somewhat longer)

7. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 200°C. (We had to bake for about 20-25 minutes) To be fair, my oven is also a bit wonky, so I think the oven’s temperature wasn’t spot on.

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Cinnamon-Sugar
1c. sugar
2 T. cinnamon

Cream Cheese Glaze (We used a different recipe for the glaze)

INGREDIENTS

340g cream cheese

12 tbsp butter, softened

4 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla

METHOD

1. Mix cream cheese & butter until combined & slightly fluffy – ± 1 min

2. Add remaining ingredients & mix until well combined.

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We used 1/2 of the glaze to pour over the rolls as they just came out of the oven, so it would seep and melt into the rolls. We then glazed the rolls with the other half when they were cool.

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You guys. Let’s get real for a minute here… The were so effing good I almost cried after my first bite. For real. That’s why I bake. To get the ultimate pay-off of a well made treat after working so hard to make it.

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How good do they look??

Moving on to our Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Just as a little bit of info, my sister baked these for me for my birthday, and they were epic. And so I’ve been obsessing about Red Velvet since. I really wanted to try to make them to see if they were just a fluke the first time. They weren’t.

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Here’s the recipe:

RED VELVET CUPCAKES

by TAREK MALOUF

INGREDIENTS:

SPONGE:

120g unsalted butter, softened

300g caster sugar

2 large eggs

20g cocoa powder

40ml red food colouring

1tsp vanilla essence

300g plain flour

1tsp salt

240ml buttermilk

1tbsp white vinegar

1tsp bicarbonate soda

FROSTING

100g unsalted butter, softened

600g icing sugar

250g full-fat cream cheese.

METHOD:

SPONGE:

1. Pre heat oven to 190°C & line muffin tins

2. Using electric mixer / free standing electric mixer with paddle attachment cream butter and sugar together until pale & fluffy

3. Break eggs in one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition & mixing the scrapings from the sides of the bowl

4. Separate bowl: stir together cocoa, food colouring and vanilla essence to form a paste

5. Add paste to batter, mix thoroughly until paste is completed incorporated

6. Another bowl: sift flour, salt

7. Add flour mix in batches to batter – alternating with buttermilk – mix thoroughly after each addition

8. Another bowl: mix vinegar and bicarb

9. Add to cake batters & mix until completely incorporated

10. Spoon into paper cases – two thirds full

11. Bake for 18 to 20 mins – until sponge bounces back when lightly pressed

12. Allow to cool then place onto wire rack

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FROSTING:

1. Using electric mixer / free standing electric mixer with paddle attachment, on a low speed beat butter and icing until no large lumps of butter and mixture is sandy texture

2. Add cream cheese and mix slowly until fully incorporated, increase speed to medium and beat until frosting is soft and fluffy

We tried to ice them with a piping bag – but I have ZERO experience with those, and they were looking quite mangled. So I just opted to use my tried and trusted method – spreading with a narrow flat spatula. Much better. And easier. And looks rustic in a I-did-it-on-purpose-to-look-like-that kind of way.

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When the were finally finished, they boys could barely wait to try them, and to be honest,  neither could we… So we dove in. And I swear – I heard Bohemian Rhapsody start to play in my head…”Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” They were THAT good. So light, and fluffy, so moist. And that frosting. Is to die for. My darling sister eats it with a spoon. Just like that.

After revelling in our domestic success, we decided to go out for some (more) drinks. We divided all the spoils between us, and I made sure to document who had my containers. Everybody knows if you don’t know who you lent it to, it is forever lost to the universe! (Ahem, Mom… Take note. You’re not getting any of yours back. Surely they become my property if I’ve had them since University?)

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What a great day. How I love my sister (and my Almost-sister)! Feel free to ask any questions if anything is unclear. And remember: Bake fearlessly, kids. It’s only fun if you do it that way.

Much Love

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A bespoke trip to Amsterdam, Berlin & Paris worth R55,000

Hi friends!

I just wanted to share another GREAT competition with you. (I reason the more competitions I enter, and put out there, the more likely I will be to EVENTUALLY win something.) Right? Right?!

Anyway, this is an amazing prize. And you guys know how I love to travel. Side note – I think my next tattoo should be something about travelling… Any ideas?

Check out the link, and if you feel like it’s a prize worth winning – enter away! Good luck, contenders! May the odds be ever in your favor. (Ahem, Hunger Games reference. Yes, I am aware that I am dorktastic. I also happen to think it’s adorkable.)

http://designereurope.co.za/cnXJPWX0

Much Love