Dutch beers… saved by the Belgians

LaTrappe: the one that redeems them all.

LaTrappe: the one that redeems them all.

Beer is a central part of Dutch culture and socialization and I’ve been meaning to write about it for ages. But seeing as I don’t drink beer myself, I didn’t have much to say. So I asked my husband, a beer aficionado, to write today’s post. Here it goes…

I have been living in the Netherlands for more than a year now, and I can tell you that beer is an essential part of the Dutch way of life.  Whether it’s a biertje (“small beer”) enjoyed after work with colleagues or a free-flowing keg of on Queen’s Day, the precious liquid is never far away.
Beer drinking fits in quite well with the gezellig concept cherished by the Dutch: imagine yourself drinking a beer on a terrace along the canal, watching the boats pass by, and enjoying the sun with your friends. Top!

However, I regrettably admit the beers I’ve tasted here have been quite disappointing. The people behind Heineken might be marketing and branding geniuses, but as for the beer itself, you almost want to send them back to school. The same goes for the two other mass-produced beers, Amstel and Grolsch.

But there is hope: there are a few excellent Dutch beers, notably LaTrappe, the only trappist beer in the Netherlands.  You can only find seven trappist beers in the world, the majority in Belgium, and they are among the best beers worldwide. The micro-brewery trend that you find in other European countries is also growing in Holland – if you are in Amsterdam, visit Brouwerij Het Ij to enjoy their samples.

But what really saves the Netherlands is its proximity to Belgium, a world-renown beer-heaven for connoisseurs. In Utrecht there are two great places, Cafe Belgie and Olivier, that enable you to try dozens of Belgian beers, from the sweetness of a Kriek to the bitterness of a Rodenbach.

If you want to know more about beers in the Netherlands and where to enjoy them properly, check out this website made by a true beer lover.

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Gevulde Speculaas

Almond pasted sandwiched between two speculaas spice cakes.

Here comes the pastry MONSTER!

Winter is coming – the skies have turned grey, the temperature has dropped, and I’ve retrieved my winter coat from the back of the closet. But it’s not all bad news – along with the cold weather come Dutch winter season and Christmas pastries.

The stall selling oliebollen has reappeared on the main square near our house and the bakery at the end of our street has a sign up advertising gevulde speculaas (literally translated as “filled cookies”). I rushed into buy one of my favourite Dutch pastries and savoured it with a cup of fresh-brewed coffee.

Gevulde speculaas is similar in spirit to gingerbread in that it is the traditional baked good for the Dutch holiday Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) on December 5th. But it kicks gingerbread’s ass.

On the outside you have two thin cake layers made from a dough containing the same spices used for speculaas cookies – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and white pepper. On the inside you have a soft, sugary almond paste filling. And for good measure, you throw a few more almonds on top. It’s heavenly.

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Dutch Royalty

The coat of arms of the monarch of the Netherlands.

The coat of arms of the monarch of the Netherlands.

The international image of the United Kingdom is closely tied with the British Monarchy; the British royal family are worldwide celebrities.

But few people know that the Netherlands is also a constitutional monarchy (since 1815) and the Dutch have their own (albeit less famous) royal family, who also appear in tabloids and on post cards.

The royal dynasty descends from a lineage called the House of Orange-Nassau, which traces itself back to William I, Prince of Orange, a nobleman. He was the principal leader of the Dutch revolt against Spain, which led to the formal independence of the Dutch Republic in 1648.

The Dutch Royal Family, looking very Dutch.

The Dutch Royal Family, looking very Dutch.

Therefore orange is the colour of the Dutch royal family and orange has come to more broadly symbolize Dutch pride. On Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag), a national holiday on April 30th, everyone celebrates the queen’s birthday by dressing in bright orange, taking to the streets, and drinking their body weight in alcohol.

The current queen is Queen Beatrix, and her birthday is actually on January 31st. However, her official birthday takes place on Queen’s Day on April 30th, which is the birthday of her mother Juliana, the former queen.


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À bientôt!

I just got back from almost a month’s holiday and I’m off again – this time to France for a week. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to blog more lately! But I’ll return to Holland on Monday and get right back at it.

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Advocaat

What a lovely, radioactive yellow.

What a lovely, radioactive yellow.

Years ago, when I was living in the UK, I went looking for eggnog one Christmas season. Of course, I didn’t manage to find this American holiday speciality drink on the wrong side of the Atlantic. But a confused sales clerk did lead me to the liquor aisle and point out a bottle of advocaat.

Well, yesterday I stumbled upon it again… in the HEMA. Apparently advocaat is a Dutch liqueur and is also known as “Dutch eggnog.”

But the two are hardly the same.  Eggnog consists of whipped egg whites, milk and/or cream, sugar, spices, and (optionally) liquor like brandy or rum; it is mixed together raw and not necessarily cooked. It is frothy in texture and light in colour.

Advocaat, on the other hand, is made of egg yolks, sugar, and brandy (not optional), and is cooked in a saucepan. This gives it the consistency of custard and a disturbing radioactive yellow colour. It can be thick enough to eat with a spoon, although the advocaat that I tried was a drinkable liquid.

And how, you ask, does it taste? Err… interesting. Let’s just say I prefer the American eggnog. Which is probably for the better, since my Dutch friend said advocaat is a typical “old ladies drink.”

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Slide to Work

This will shave minutes off my commute.

This will shave minutes off my commuting time...

One stop away from Utrecht Centraal station is Utrecht Overvecht train station, located in a northern suburb of Utrecht. There isn’t much reason to go there; in fact, it has the reputation of being a “disadvantaged” or “rough” neighbourhood (by Dutch standards, at least).

Well, there wasn’t much reason to go there… until they recently installed an adult-sized playground slide next to the large flight of stairs leading into the station. Now that is worth going out of the way for.

The purpose of this so-called “transfer accelerator” is to shorten journey times for rail commuters and, more importantly, inject a bit of fun into life.

But I should wear trousers to work more often.

...but I should wear trousers to work more often.

 

 

Sadly, not that many people seem to be using it. I had a go (twice) and got a few laughs and stares from the stairs (pun intended).  I secretly wish I lived in Utrecht Overvecht just so I could take the slide on my way to work every day. Yipeeeee!

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Kröller-Müller Museum

The Beeldentuin ("Scultpure Park").

The Beeldentuin ("Sculpture Park").

After nearly one month in the US and Canada, ending in one gloriously sunny week in California, I had fully braced myself for a return to a cold, cranky, wet, wintry Holland. Instead, nature threw a curve-ball and I found myself in the full swing of the summer.  The Dutch “Summer” that failed to appear in July and August had been randomly displaced by Mother Nature to late September.

So I seized the opportunity to visit the Kröller-Müller Museum in De Hoge Veluwe National Park. I didn’t even realize Holland had national parks (in such a small country, where do they have room for them?), but indeed it does, and De Hoge Veluwe is the largest nature reserve (13,600 acres).

Make like a sculpture.

Make like a sculpture.

 

Inside this peaceful expanse of woodland, marshland, and heath is the Kröller-Müller Museum, an indoor and outdoor collection of modern art and sculpture. Eight euros will gain you entry to the Beeldentuin (“Sculpture Park”).

The sculpture garden has to be one of the most underrated activities in Holland. While the sculptures themselves are not amazing, the setting of the national park is gorgeous, and it’s a very agreeable place to spend the day. Another Dutch gem unearthed!

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