Monthly Archives: August 2009

amsterdam, part two: a quest to experience all the city’s local (and legal) specialties

what’s the first thing you think of when you think of amsterdam? what’s a specialty the city is known for that makes travelers from all over the world flock to this metropolis of canals and churches? what famous item is wrapped up in the identity of this global destination and truly makes amsterdam amsterdam?

obviously, it’s the raw herring. if that’s not what you were thinking of, it should be.

fresh herring in a bun

discovering local foods is one of my absolute favorite things about traveling. it’s a great excuse to talk to people, to make new friends with random strangers, shopkeepers and restauranteurs, to learn new things about food and culture and identity, and to sample some delicious and often deliciously weird things along the way.  sanne, one of our very gracious dutch hosts, recommended we try the fresh herring, which has generally been lightly salted or brined to conserve.  for you history buffs, apparently herring has played a major role in the historical and economic development of the netherlands dating back to the 14th century. unfortunately, we forgot to follow up with a recommendation for a good place to get the herring. luckily, the fantastic foodiefest street of haarlemmerstraat came through for the win as i randomly walked by a classic herring vendor on a bridge right near the apartment. turns out that stubbe haring is actually considered one of the best herring wagons in town. success!

stube herring for the win

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amsterdam, part one: exploring an amazing foodie street in a city of munchies

an insane array of cheese in the dutch cheese shop

i knew i was in a city of good eating when one of my first morning stumbles was into a shop called ‘cheeseland’ with wheels of emmenthaler the size of a monster truck tire or a dog bed for a large-ish golden retriever.  to give you a sense of scale, that wedge has a larger diameter than my kitchen table (not that you’ve seen my kitchen table, but it’s of a good size).  hellooo and welcome to amsterdam.

the reason for my cheese shop visit was thanks to a few days in holland hanging out with my friends rootster and flinner, two of my favorite people who live far away in chengdu, china, whom i clearly do not get to see often enough. these two party legends emailed and said ‘hey we’re going to be in amsterdam next week! come meet up!’ and i said ‘hmm….okay!’ and a week later found myself enjoying all of amsterdam’s myriad sources of entertainment.  i love living on a continent with affordable train travel, even when you live on an island. amazing.

since i got in on a fairly late train, my first real experience with amsterdam’s quality food came on a solo morning tour of the streets around our friend’s apartment near the central train station. i left root and flinner to catch up on sleep in a new time zone and ventured out to get coffee and munchies. and just so you know – it was 9am so i don’t mean that kind of coffee or that kind of munchies –  those came later in that day (remember mom, it’s legal there!). haarlemmerstraat, the street right outside our friend’s place must be some sort of gourmet thoroughfare because i visited two cheese shops, three bread and pastry shops, an olive oil store, a spanish and an italian delicatessen, a lebanese bakery, and two juice bars over the course of the trip.  i knew it was a good neighborhood when i immediately ran into this chocolate and sweets shop:

unlimited delicious shopfront

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an early morning food adventure at the wholesale fruit and vegetable market

unsurprisingly, it takes quite a lot of carrots to make roasted carrot dip for 100 strangers. same goes for the eggplant, red onion, and zucchini needed to make somewhere between 18 and 20 pans of roasted vegetable foccacia. rather than pay regular prices and lug massive bags home from the supermarket, our crew of rambling cooks  – synnove, michelle, and myself – decided it would be efficient, cost-effective, and most importantly, fun to make an early morning trip to the wholesale produce market at new covent garden.

bags of vegetables

despite what the name might suggest, new covent garden market is absolutely nowhere near regular covent garden. in fact, the market is located on the opposite side of the river in the vauxhall area which meant we would need to obtain some sort of vehicle for food and person transport. luckily, synnove’s boyfriend pete generously offered us the use of his car and even more impressively, his services as driver at the ungodly hour of 5am for our fruit and veg quest.

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a rambling feast of strangers at the treehouse gallery in regent’s park

theodore zeldin leading the feast of strangers

this last weekend i spent one of the most beautiful saturdays i can remember in a truly magical place – the treehouse gallery at regent’s park in london. this dreamy fantasy land, filled with the tallest of towering structures and the humblest of tree stump seats, played host to an open gathering of food and conversation called the feast of strangers. over 150 people showed up to share a meal and some of their most intimate thoughts at this community event organized by limina, a social enterprise dedicated to ‘creating transition spaces and events between the rural and urban’ through journeys, workshops, and other events.

synnove, ed, and the wonderful other people of limina were kind enough to invite rambling restaurant to prepare a feast for the feast. food for 150 in the middle of a park with no electricity? luckily, there’s nothing we like more than a challenge. after a 5am wholesale produce market trip, an evening carrot-chopping get-together,  a late night focaccia-making and wine-drinking party, and a morning put-everything-together-right-before-mealtime activity, we managed to put together a lovely spread of food for the park wanderers. here michelle puts together the information table for the food, all up for grabs by donation.

michelle and the rambling feast

the meal consisted of several dips and salads, a harissa lamb, and a truly massive amount of focaccia bread. here’s the roasted carrot and caraway dip topped with feta cheese, fresh mint, and a teepee seating structure:

roast carrot dip and treehouse installation

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the unexpected illumination of the rambling banqueteers

rambling banqueteers at the fifth plinth

following up on the last post about the oubliette arthouse and the fifth plinth, here’s the second half of our eating-as-performance installation: the unexpected illumination of the rambling banqueteers.  squeeeezed into the tiny above entryway were 11 intrepid diners facing a confused array of passers-by and a toasty warm mealtime surrounded by spotlights and burning candles. however, as reward for their bravery and endurance, these banqueteers were rewarded with quite the serious spread.

regard exhibit a: the whole salmon.

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the mad hatter tea party at the oubliette arthouse

the red queen serving tea out the window

behold the red queen, serving tea via extra-long straws out the letter box to mad hatter's tea party at the fifth plinthtourists on oxford street! in honor of tomorrow’s rambling feast of strangers, i’m finally getting around to posting photos from the last rambling restaurant event: the mad hatter’s tea party and the unexpected illumination of the rambling banqueteers at the oubliette arthouse.  the 24 hours straight of serving, prepping, dining, and drinking can only be described as one of the most bizarre food experiences of my life, sandwiched with other customed revelers in a miniscule doorway dressed as the white queen and nibbling ‘eat me’ cupcakes on full display for the shopping tourists on one of london’s busiest thoroughfares. and that was about 2pm, before everyone started drinking…

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the go game street food adventure takes competitive eating to a new level of creativity

the go game is running a street food adventure to celebrate the first san francisco street food festival! talk about an amazing event – it’s the best of san francisco street food, a benefit for the amazing non-profit incubator kitchen la cocina, and a chance for eating-obsessed SFers to show off their foodie knowledge, their devotion to track down the best bites of the SF urban jungle, and most importantly, their crazily culinary creativity.

it’s an online game where people play in teams to solve foodie puzzles online and on the mean streets. teams (with awesome names like soup sluts, trans-fatso’s, and deep fried twinkie) win points for correct answers and also for submitting creative missions which people watch online and score. i ‘ve just barely skimmed the surface of photos and videos submitted by the 277 teams(!) but the current personal favorite of the UK office is this rap about the creme brulee cart by team fatty boombatty. seriously, this video is a delicious work of  genius.

creme brulee on the street corner combined with a coolio parody video? that’s some sweet stuff right there. check out the best submissions from the game here and read what an nbc reporter/go game player has to say about the street food obsession here.

we’re so inspired and excited by the overwhelming commitment, competition, and creativity from the SF street food devotees that we’re considering running a london game! what do you think, londoners? are you up for it? we’d have you sampling spinach & agushi and violet cupcakes at broadway market, scarfing down scotch eggs at the upmarket, and of course, diving into a hot cheese avalanche. and you’d solve puzzles, take wacky photos, film short movies, vote online, and have a total blast while filling your belly along the way. no mid- 90’s rap music knowledge required, we’ll find an appropriate equivalent for iconic music videos starring michelle pfeiffer on this side of the pond.

to reverse paraphrase kevin costner: ‘if you will come, we will build it.’ seriously london, if you’d be interested in playing, let me know! i have a serious street food obsession and i think london’s got an absolutely incredible street food and market culture. let’s play with our food!

a-brief-interlude-of-cupcake-glorification-violet-cupcakes-at-broadway-market-are-lovely-bites-of-heaven
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the go game street food adventure takes competitive eating to a new level of creativity

the go game is running a street food adventure to celebrate the first san francisco street food festival! talk about an amazing event – it’s the best of san francisco street food, a benefit for the amazing non-profit incubator kitchen la cocina, and a chance for eating-obsessed SFers to show off their foodie knowledge, their devotion to track down the best bites of the SF urban jungle, and most importantly, their crazily culinary creativity.

it’s an online game where people play in teams to solve foodie puzzles online and on the mean streets. teams (with awesome names like soup sluts, trans-fatso’s, and deep fried twinkie) win points for correct answers and also for submitting creative missions which people watch online and score. i ‘ve just barely skimmed the surface of photos and videos submitted by the 277 teams(!) but the current personal favorite of the UK office is this rap about the creme brulee cart by team fatty boombatty. seriously, this video is a delicious work of  genius.

creme brulee on the street corner combined with a coolio parody video? that’s some sweet stuff right there. check out the best submissions from the game here and read what an nbc reporter/go game player has to say about the street food obsession here.

we’re so inspired and excited by the overwhelming commitment, competition, and creativity from the SF street food devotees that we’re considering running a london game! what do you think, londoners? are you up for it? we’d have you sampling spinach & agushi and violet cupcakes at broadway market, scarfing down scotch eggs at the upmarket, and of course, diving into a hot cheese avalanche. and you’d solve puzzles, take wacky photos, film short movies, vote online, and have a total blast while filling your belly along the way. no mid- 90’s rap music knowledge required, we’ll find an appropriate equivalent for iconic music videos starring michelle pfeiffer on this side of the pond.

to reverse paraphrase kevin costner: ‘if you will come, we will build it.’ seriously london, if you’d be interested in playing, let me know! i have a serious street food obsession and i think london’s got an absolutely incredible street food and market culture. let’s play with our food!

a-brief-interlude-of-cupcake-glorification-violet-cupcakes-at-broadway-market-are-lovely-bites-of-heaven
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the veg bag game: easy roasted tomato zucchini bread soup

note: parts of this (the non-rambling, correctly punctuated parts) were originally published here at eat.drink.better. read there and support an awesome green blog.

roasted tomato potato soup

one of my favorite parts of the week is picking up my growing communities veg bag from hackney city farm. every time, i still feel really lucky to live in a place where i have access to locally grown and organic produce from an incredible organization and i can pick it up less than a block away.  i also still feel a little weird using the phrase veg bag – it sounds like an insult (you dirty veg bag!) – but hey, when in rome…

this week, i’ve got:

potatoes, onions, and zucchini from ripple farm organics in kent

carrots from hughes organics in norfolk

cherry tomatoes and eggplant from wild country organics in cambridge

and finally, a salad bag locally grown in my very own borough of hackney. amazing!

this week’s salad bag had numerous unidentifiable bits of greenery including baby lettuce, basil, what looked like yellow chard, and a bizarre mottled green lilypad-esque leaf with a peppery bite. hilariously enough, i tweeted about it, and a farmer from georgia randomly told me that it was probably nasturtium leaves. after a quick google search, i think they’re right.  man, these interwebs.

following on my veggie burger and carrot potato explorations, i’m doing more fun kitchen experiments figuring out how to use all the random vegetables that come my way.  it’s the veg bag game! can’t beat anything that combines games and food: two of my favorite things on the planet besides panda babies.

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ice cream sandwich cookie #3: accidentally awesome honey cinnamon squares

honey cinnamon cookie squares 2

i’ve gotten a pretty quick schooling in american vs. british english since moving to london. trash = rubbish. bathroom = loo or toilet or ‘the ladies’. cell phone = mobile phone (had to make that conversion fast considering i run a business based on mobiles). and on the food side:  zucchini is courgette, arugula is rocket, eggplant is aubergine, cookie is biscuit, jello is jelly, and so on and so forth.

all this is a fun vocabulary game that i actually enjoy until the point that it MESSES WITH MY COOKIES. see, i went to the local grocer and purchased granulated sugar for my honey walnut cookies. because granulated sugar is granulated sugar, right? well, in fact, it’s not. what we in america bake with and call granulated sugar is called caster sugar in england. and what they call granulated sugar here in england are the massive boulder-like rocks that people stir into their coffee as sweetener.

i discovered this upon pouring a cup of allegedly granulated sugar into my honey walnut cookies and sticking a fingerful of batter in my mouth and finding it…crunchy. gritty. like someone had poured sand into my cookie dough. WTF england!?! i figured out the problem after googling around and finding this very helpful translation/glossary of US vs. UK kitchen terms.

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