Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Earthquake Fundraiser

Pretty soon after I returned from Amsterdam, there was some horrifying news coming out of Nepal of a huge earthquake that had killed thousands of people. I suppose as a defence mechanise, it becomes necessary to maintain a distance from all the horrible things that happen in the world. It's too easy to become hopeless and feel helpless in the face of never-ending tide of bad news.

However, I had been there. I had visited Everest Base Camp and Kathmandu. I had hiked the Kathmandu Valley rim. I had seen the remarkable buildings before they were reduced to rubble, and I remembered the beautiful vistas of a lush country. It was impossible not to do something.





I decided to try to raise money by holding a bake sale. J's office has always been so generous, and they agreed to let me bring in some things for an in-office fundraiser. It was on a "take what you'd like, leave what you can" basis, and we managed to get around £500 in donations over just two days!

J and another partner agreed to match the amount, which meant we got a total of £1500! I was genuinely stunned with how generous people were, and I was so happy to donate that money to the Humane Society International. Their aid workers were already on the ground in Nepal and ready to assist with animals in need as a result of the earthquake. I remembered seeing how important animals were to the lives of the locals, especially those that lived out of Kathmandu. They needed the mules to get goods through the rough terrain to their homes that were otherwise unreachable, and their livelihoods often depended on their goats and chickens in addition to their farming.



I also remembered the sweetest dog that had followed us for a while we were trekking. All it took was a few scratches behind his ears to have him follow us before we had to leave him behind. I really wished I could take him home with me, and I hope he made it through the earthquake and is happy and healthy in a forever home somewhere.

I was really grateful to the partner that also agreed to match, so I ended up baking a few birthday cakes for her husband's birthday the following week. The birthday man was German, so I wanted to try a few new German items I had never tried before. I'm still not quite sure they came out right, but they seemed pretty happy with it so I'm going to chalk it up to a win.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tulips at the Keukenhof

I was keen on checking out the Keukenhof, which is the second largest garden in all of Europe and is open only two months out of the year. It's about an hour drive away from Amsterdam, and we signed up for a bus tour that would take us there and bring us back with ample time to explore the gardens. 

The gardens were absolutely breathtaking.

It was still a bit too early for the outdoor plants to be in full bloom so it was a bit meh when we first entered the grounds. However, once we got into the greenhouses, the riot of colours and gorgeous smells were just stunning.





It was a lovely day of wandering from pavilion to pavilion, and the weather was absolutely perfect, a bit chilly but sunny.

The focus was on tulips, of course, but there were boatloads of other kinds of flowers and plants to examine and sniff. I discovered I love hyacinths! J treated me to a little boutonniere that I pinned to my coat, but I got mugged for it by a goat in the petting zoo.

Look at him, just munching away on my posy. 

We treated ourselves to some waffles and strolled around watching people crouching among the flowers to take a picture.

It's funny what beautiful flowers can bring out in people - grown ass men were revelling among the blooms and posing for selfies. Hilarious. 

We had just enough of the gardens when it was time to hop back on the bus and head back to Amsterdam. Once we reached the city, we grabbed a cab to head over to dinner at Blauw restaurant. Everyone had advised me not to eat Dutch food, but instead to sample the Indonesian cuisine, which was supposed to be phenomenal. I dutifully obeyed, and we sat down to a veritable smorgasbord of absolutely delicious Indonesian fare. I didn't always know what exactly I was eating, but it was all super delicious! 

We were both pretty bushed by the end of the day, but I wanted to make one more attempt on the Anne Frank House. No such luck, the queue was longer than ever. J promised we could come back and do it again, which is great since now we know where to eat! A friend of mine is running the Amsterdam marathon in October, so maybe I should go ahead and make the Anne Frank House reservations and restaurant bookings now...

Easter in Amsterdam

I was still sad about Kitty by the time Easter rolled around, but I was feeling a lot better compared to before she died. I stopped bursting into tears and managed to make peace with my decision to let her go. I realised that it was for the better, and the idea that she was no longer suffering or in pain soothed me more than anything else.

It was a welcome distraction when we took off for Amsterdam for Easter weekend. 

We landed at the airport quite late and hopped into a cab to the hotel, the Andaz, on Prinsengracht. I was glad we had paid a bit more for the canal view - I felt like I could see the essence of Amsterdam right outside my window.


We didn't have much time before it got dark, but J knew that I was itching to see the Anne Frank House so we walked quickly in the general direction. By the time we got there, the museum was near closing and the queue was so long that it was clear that we wouldn't get in by the time the museum closed its doors. We decided to try again on another day, but at least I got to see the same church that Anne looked out at when she was in hiding. I remember reading how its ringing would keep her up at night.


Disappointed and cold, we headed back to the hotel to have a quick bite to eat before settling in for the night. The hotel itself is quite beautiful and modern. It's got lots of modern artistic touches and little nods to its past history as a public library. For example, our room was stocked with books, and the lobby has a library. I love that!

We woke up the next day raring to go, and we headed straight to the Anne Frank House again before opening hours. You wouldn't believe the queue - it serpentined around until it was difficult to see where it ended! We decided to head back to the hotel for breakfast and try again later that evening.

After a so-so breakfast, we headed over to the Rijksmuseum, which had just reopened after a long renovation. The building was absolutely beautiful, and we had bought tickets beforehand, which meant we could skip the queue. Yay!


We went in and explored for quite a bit. We made sure to check out one of the museum's most famous offerings, Rembrandt's The Night's Watch, which had a large crowded surrounding it. It felt like trying to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre all over again. J and I love museums so we spent a good chunk of time here before we decided to break for lunch at the indoor cafĂ©, and then we headed out to check out the streets of Amsterdam.


It really is true about the bicycles, they're everywhere and they will mow you down if you don't get out of their way!


We wandered around the more touristy areas close to the train station, and we got near the infamous Red Light District but didn't actually enter the area. It seemed like a depressing kind of place and a bit odd to ogle people selling their bodies on storefronts. We stopped by the Rembrandt plaza to check out a sculpture of Rembrandt looking over his most famous painting, which I thought was quite nice!


Later, we walked over to the famous tulip market sitting on the canal.


We ended up returning to our neighbourhood in Prinsengracht, which was a lot more peaceful, to walk around and take in the sights without the crowds.


There are canals everywhere, and it's quite peaceful watching the many boats just cruising along. There are also loads of boats moored alongside the street, and I spotted some homes and restaurants. I love the thought of living on a boat, but J, not so much.


It was a long day of sightseeing, and I think J and I were both happy to sit down at Brasserie Vlaming for one of the best meals we've ever had. It's a teeny restaurant with great service, and I'm serious when I say that we would come back to Amsterdam to eat here again!, 

And we got the added treat of a wonderful sunset on the walk back to the hotel. All in all, a pretty good end to a day that didn't start as well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Christmas 2014

It seems a bit silly to be rehashing Christmas when it's finally blue skies outside, but it was a pretty good Christmas so it seems a shame to skip it.

After graduation, I still had a few weeks left before I was LA bound for the holidays. I had a ton of last minute shopping and baking to do for all of our peeps here in London, and I got to work!

I baked, while Casper wrapped the gifts.

J also had a poker game at work, and I agreed to make a bunch of treats for him and his crew. It went down a storm so I was pretty pleased even if a bit disappointed that there weren't any leftovers.

Pretty soon, it was time to fly back home to LA and get to work on Christmas dinner. On my first morning back in LA, I headed straight to Whole Foods and picked up our goose!

I think it's so much better than a turkey or a ham, and I got to work on that along with all the fixings. I think it's safe to say I spent all of this year's holiday in the kitchen.

But it was totally worth it, since I was also cooking for my soon-to-be-born niece!

I always bitch and moan about the long flights and especially during the hectic Christmas season, but there's so few things as good as spending the holidays with your family. As always, we had a great time opening all the gifts, and I bought a bunch of patisserie books for myself.

We weren't there long before it was time to head back home! But I made sure to leave lots of treats behind for my future niece, who was due to be born in March.

And I didn't stop baking once I got back home either!

I was so happy to see my little rascals again, and I swear Casper gets bigger and bigger every time I go away! J thinks he's a stress eater.

Anyway, I started experimenting more with stuff I'm not familiar with - standard cake baking and decorating. We learn all the fancy techniques and styles of classic and modern patisserie, but we only have a class or two on cake decorating in school. I've been trying to teach myself as I go along with the help of some books, and I think I'm doing as well as can be expected.

I'm pretty lucky, since I actually ended up going back to Le Cordon Bleu for a few weeks to assist for chef Matthew for the cake decorating course, so I could ask him any lingering questions I had. And it was a treat seeing him and all the other chefs again! I missed them!