Casualties of the Rain


It’s started raining in California, hallelujah! Unfortunately the rain and wind battered my pepper plants and broke stems off two of them.

[image: two green bell peppers and five purple bell peppers]
[image: terrible photo of two green bell peppers and five purple bell peppers]

The purple peppers were already pretty much fully ripened, thankfully, but I don’t know what the green bell peppers were going to turn into. I had purchased a set of six colorful peppers seedlings back in the spring. Three of them went into the hanging baskets, three went into pots. The three in pots did way better, having more space and soil to live in. Since they were just seedlings, though, I wouldn’t know which was which until they ripened. So far, I have successfully been able to identify the mandarin bell, lilac bell, and chocolate beauty. I’m guessing these green peppers would have turned white or neon green, since the other purpley ones showed their color fairly quickly.

I guess it’s time to pickle! I liked the pickled pepper rings I made last year (they basically tasted like non-spicy pepperoncini), so I’ll probably do that again. My only worry is whether the purple color will leech out into the brine and make it look gross.

Free Music in Amsterdam

One of the neat things about the classical music scene in Amsterdam is that every week there are two free lunchtime concerts put on by their professional institutions, the Concertgebouw and the Nationale Opera & Ballet. (This is not to mention all the pretty decent buskers you can hear playing outside the Rijksmuseum at all hours of the day.)

I was able to catch one performance at the Nationale and two at the Concertgebouw on this trip. The Nationale performed the one-act opera in the video above, The Telephone by Gian Carlo Menotti. It was performed in Dutch, and if you think English sounds awkward in an operatic context, well… Dutch. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it! I especially liked the soprano who played Lucy. They all did a very good job at conveying the humor even to someone who had no idea what they were talking about.

I was unfamiliar with the The Telephone, and upon seeing the title, was wondering if it was an opera I had seen in Aspen fifteen years ago. All I could remember was that it was a woman on the phone, she’s really depressed, and at the end she strangled herself with the phone cord. I looked it up later, and that one is The Human Voice by Francis Poulenc, and it is super-not a comic opera. However, both are sometimes performed together, linked by the telephone theme (and the fact that they’re both one-acts and can’t sustain an entire evening program alone).

The performances at the Nationale are at Tuesday lunchtime, and you can basically walk in and get a seat. The Concertgebouw’s lunchtime concerts on Wednesdays require more planning. There is vastly more demand. People start lining up around 11am, tickets are distributed to the line at 11:30am, and then the concert is at 12:30pm.

The first concert I saw was a piano, clarinet, and oud trio performing traditional music from Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. This was sadly plagued by technical issues. I felt so bad for the poor oud player. His amp kept cutting out. They tried to fix it, but it remained on the fritz throughout their performance.

The second concert I brought Zed along with me. It was a performance of the first and last movements of the Brahms Piano Quintet, which is one of my favorite pieces of chamber music (that the oboe doesn’t feature in). Now, I hate to be That Person who is all “You’re Not Enjoying Music Right!” but damn it people, please put your damn cameras and phones away. It’s incredibly distracting! Not to mention against the rules of the venue! Three people sitting in front of us had their phones up the entire time. Someone sitting in our row was taking very loud photos with an SLR and changing lenses. It was all very annoying.

Anyway! This wasn’t one of the movements they played, but it’s my favorite.

Hearth Bread

I made an angry-looking bread.

A photo posted by sarah (@braisinhussy) on

DANG IT ALL TO HECK. This is an old photo of when I made this bread, and NOT the version I made tonight, because that got burnt. I’m annoyed with myself.

Recipe from King Arthur’s Flour. It’s a good bread recipe. Don’t burn it.

Note: this recipe makes two loaves. I’ve made it as one large boule (see above photo), but I like it better in two baguettey shapes.

1 packet active dry yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp table salt
2 cups lukewarm water
5 1/2 to 6 cups AP flour

Using 5 1/2 cups of flour, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Mix thoroughly until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. Turn dough out onto floured surface. (I keep the remaining half cup of flour sitting to the side for dusting and extra integration if necessary.)

Knead dough for 5–7 minutes, sprinkling with tiny bits of the reserved half cup of flour when needed. Roll into a ball. Grease the bowl with some oil then use what’s left on your hands to grease the dough ball. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, one to two hours.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper (I just used one, but you run the risk of your loaves rising into one another). Turn dough out onto work surface and gently deflate. Cut in half. Shape each half in a sort of long oval. Place on baking sheet. Let rest 5 minutes. During this time, boil some water and adjust your oven racks to the lowest and middle positions.

Slash each top diagonally three times and pat with cold water.

Fill an 8-inch baking dish 1-inch deep with the boiling water. Place on the lowest rack (or if you don’t have a heating coil on the bottom of your oven, place on the floor of the oven).

Slide baking sheet into cold oven. Turn the oven to 450 and set the timer for 30 minutes. Check loaves at 30 minutes, crust should be well browned and the internal temperature at least 190F. May take up to 45 minutes.

Turn off oven, remove baking sheet and carefully remove very hot dish of very hot water. Take the loaves off the baking sheet and return to oven, placing directly on rack. Leave the door ajar and let oven and loaves slowly cool down together. This results in excellent crust (it also results in burnt crust if you close the door, so don’t do that). After about a half hour, remove loaves to a rack to finish cooling. Cool completely before storing.

Gravity Teapots

The Elder Corgi Sister gave me one of these for the holidays last year. Mine’s the Teavana PerfecTea, but I preferred this video demonstration of the Adagio IngenuiTea. All the major tea people seem to have a version of this teapot (and I’m pretty sure all of them have punny names) (yes, yes, gravi-TEA, I know I could have used a pun in the title of this post BUT I RESISTED). They all work on the same principle. Place loose tea in pot, add hot water, let steep, then place over cup and let piss out the bottom. It’s great. I use the hell out of mine during the chilly months. Also when I’m sick—I’ve had a cold for the past ten days.

I have so much tea. I still have most of my Lupicia Lucky Bag. Plus when the Lupicia in San Francisco closed (BOO), we all went and bought a bunch more on clearance. I think I would need to be sick for at least three months to get through it all. (I really shouldn’t tempt fate by saying that.)

California Capers (Pickled Nasturtium Pods)

I planted one non-vegetable this year, and that was nasturtiums. They have a very pretty flower! They mostly died horribly in my garden.

My nasturtiums have started to bloom! #gardening #flowers

A photo posted by sarah (@braisinhussy) on

You can already see in the background that a leaf is getting chewed up. Anyway, the reason that I wanted to grow nasturtiums was to make these “California capers,” or pickled nasturtium seedpods.

Backstory: a few years ago, my parents and I spent Christmas in Italy. Our traditional Christmas breakfast is bagels with lox, cream cheese, onions, and capers. We thought we had bought regular capers, but they were way peppery-er and totally awesome. We tried to find them back in the states, and to that end we bought actual pickled peppercorns. It was not those. So I was looking at various things on the web and ran across these.

I’m not sure why they’re called “California,” because surely nasturtiums can grow anywhere, but I guess it’s because the climate of California means they can grow for a really long time (provided they don’t get eaten to death or a drought attacks or whatever). So my nasturtiums only yielded about three pods before they kicked the bucket, but my pal Lydia had a massive plot of them in her front yard, and she very kindly let me rummage through hers to pick enough for pickling.

They’re a bit of an acquired taste, but I do have to say, they’re good on our bagel combination. Still not the same as the ones we found in Florence, though.

2/3 cup nasturtium seedpods (harvest them while green and still on the vine, otherwise they’re too dried out for this to work)
1/4 cup salt
2 cups water
2/3 cup distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 bay leaf

Rinse the seedpods to remove any bits of dirt that may still be clinging. Combine the salt and water in a container that has a lid (or use plastic wrap). Add the seedpods, stir once or twice, then cover and let brine for 3-4 days. Shake the container or stir the mixture a couple times a day. (They will not smell good. That is normal.)

Strain the seeds and rinse them in a colander. Place the bay leaf in the bottom of a jar and pour the seeds in on top.

Bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil and stir to dissolve. Pour the vinegar mixture carefully into the jar. Close the jar, let cool to room temperature, and then move to the refrigerator. Let them sit for at least a week before using. They’ll keep a long time in the fridge.

Miffy and Mints

[image: a postcard featuring Dick Bruna's character Miffy]
[image: a postcard featuring Dick Bruna’s character Miffy]

The Corgi Sisters always bring me back souvenirs when they go traveling. I am a terrible friend and usually forget to buy stuff. This time, I made sure I remembered. While visiting Utrecht’s Centraal Museum, I picked up some Dick Bruna-illustrated postcards with our initials.

Miffy, or Nijntje in Dutch, is Dick Bruna’s cartoon bunny creation. She is beloved throughout the Netherlands. Uniqlo had a children’s collection featuring Miffy for her 60th birthday last year. On my last visit, the first thing Zed and I did was take a photo in front of the big Miffy statue at the train station:


Sorry it’s so blurry. I was coming off a 9 hour flight and my selfie game was not strong.

The other trinket I got the Sisters was Wilhemina mints.

[image: stock image of wilhemina pepermunt]
[image: stock image of wilhemina pepermunt]

Wilhemina was Queen of the Netherlands from 1890 to 1938. In 1892, a candy company started making these mints with her profile on them. You can’t leave a restaurant in Amsterdam without being offered one of these. I think I still have one or two in my purse.

Belgian Fries

[image: french fries in a paper cone, topped with yellow curry sauce]
[image: french fries in a paper cone, topped with yellow curry sauce]

There was a lot of quick street food to grab while walking around Amsterdam (herring, for instance). Fries + sauce counted as lunch a few days. These were from Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx, the best Belgian fries from Amsterdam.

This place is basically just a hole in the wall with a walk up line (which is always full). They make the fries as the customers order. Zed and I ordered some with Belgian mayo (not sure how that’s different than “the classic mayo,” but it was delicious) and Andalouse sauce, which was more tomato-y. I saw it described somewhere as “kind of like thousand island.” A few days later I went back by myself and got the yellow curry sauce, as seen in the photo up top. It reminded me of the chicken curry ‘n fries I used to get at St. Stephen’s Green in Mountain View.

Fries for lunch today. I was oddly drawn to yet repulsed by the idea of Hannibal sauce.

A photo posted by sarah (@braisinhussy) on

Their menu doesn’t really go into what makes each sauce, unfortunately. What is Hannibal sauce? WHAT IS IT.

Oregano Pesto

#Pesto Saturday! Mostly oregano, some basil. #greenglop #gardening

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Green glop!

This year, my basil plants ended up a bit pathetic, but the oregano grew like gangbusters. It’s not quite traditional, but I used it in my pesto recipe and it turned out really well! I made three batches over the summer. I oversalted one of them, but once I combined it with the others it evened out. In all I have about four cups, which will be plenty for over the winter.

(Sorry, I’m dealing with a cold and don’t have a lot of energy for things.)

Cranberry & Sour Cream Pound Cake

Today's adventure in #baking: cranberry & sour cream #poundcake.

A photo posted by sarah (@braisinhussy) on

Pound cake is a guilty pleasure of mine. I’m really not that much of a dessert fiend, but there’s just something about taking a slice of Sara Lee, wadding the entire thing up and stuffing it in your mouth.

Anyway, this is not a Sara Lee-style pound cake, but it’s veryvery tasty. I got the recipe from a Cook’s Illustrated newsletter and made a couple modifications.

Baker’s Joy or grease+flour
5 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup AP flour
1 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp milk
14 Tbsp butter
1 1/4 cup white sugar
1 cup cranberries, chopped (fresh or frozen—if using frozen, thawing is unnecessary)
1 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
dash of table salt

Prep a loaf pan with Baker’s Joy (or grease and flour the pan) and heat oven to 300. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Whisk eggs and vanilla together in a separate bowl. Whisk sour cream and milk together in a third bowl. In a fourth bowl, toss cranberries with confectioner’s sugar and a dash of salt.

Put butter in a stand mixer and beat on medium with the paddle attachment until soft, 2–3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add sugar and mix until light and fluffy.

Reduce speed to low and add egg mixture, then increase back to medium and mix for a minute, scraping down sides if necessary. (Mixture will look curdled, don’t panic.)

Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture slowly in three pieces, alternating with the sour cream mixture. Scrape down sides as needed.

Gently fold by hand the cranberries into the batter.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours, rotating pan after an hour. Test starting at 1:30 with a toothpick (it did take nearly two hours, but I was paranoid about the long cooking time and hey better safe than sorry).

Cool in pan on wire rack for ten minutes. Remove from pan and completely cool on rack before serving.

Complaining about the Nice Weather in Amsterdam

The weather this trip (so far) has been astonishingly nice. #Amsterdam #rijksmuseum #museumplein

A photo posted by sarah (@braisinhussy) on

I was in Amsterdam for two weeks. It was gorgeous. I went in expecting the weather to be like my 2015 trip (which had taken place earlier in September than this trip). During that trip, there were about two days of nice weather, and then it turned into dreary dreariness. It was cold. I didn’t have enough rain-appropriate clothing. I had to take my umbrella and windbreaker everywhere. I always felt damp.

This time? I was READY. I bought a new rain jacket. I had layers. I had scarves. I had puddle-appropriate shoes. And then… it sort of drizzled twice. And when it did, I was like, “Well, this is it for summer. It’s been nice, but now it’s turning to crap.” But no. It persisted in being the nicest weather I could possibly imagine. If I’d known, I could have packed a hell of a lot lighter.

That jacket’s hella cute too. I’m kind of annoyed that I didn’t get to wear it. Now I have to wait until California gets wet and wintery.