Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Traffic Park on Seattle Center Grounds?

Driving toward Interstate-5 through the Rainier Valley or New Holly neighborhoods of Seattle, we often see a group of African immigrants, both adults and children, waiting patiently to cross the street. More often than not they smile, perhaps they hope to charm drivers to stop, but they must wonder why no cars come to a halt. Positioned only 30 feet away from a pedestrian crossing, they seem oblivious to the meaning of the white stripes on the tarmac.

Long ago, when I came to Los Angeles on a student visa, I myself showed my ignorance concerning traffic regulations in the United States. The very first time I drove a car in this country I was halted by a motor cop.
"You drove through the stop sign," he said.
"You know that you're supposed to stop," he stated pulling out his ticket pad.
"Why should I stop if there was nobody coming from any of the other directions?"
"You have to stop. You have an accent, I take it you're not from here?"
"I'm from Holland."
"And in Holland you don't have to stop for a stop sign when there's no other traffic beside you?"
"No, Sir," I said, omitting that we didn't even have stop signs in the Netherlands.
Apparently he thought that was pretty funny, and a good enough reason not to give me a ticket. Pocketing his pad he said he'd let me go with a warning. "Remember, in America you stop each time you see this sign, whether there's traffic or not," he said before riding off.

Concerning the stop sign I learned quickly. But for at least two decades, I was under the impression that the word for the white stripes on the tarmac that we refer to as "zebra" in the Netherlands, was PedXing in America, and pronounced [pedzing]!
It took me twenty years to realize that PedXing was the abbreviation of Pedestrian Crossing. And that while I come from a country where children are taught "Veilig Verkeerslessen" or Safety (in) Traffic Lessons.

As a child I worried that I wouldn't be allowed to go on the school outing to the Youth Traffic Park if I didn't learn the traffic signs and rules in class. The Youth Traffic Park, the first of its kind, was founded in Assen, a small provincial town in the Netherlands in 1957. The prospect to go there was exciting, for we'd get to peddle around the miniature roads and roundabouts in small cars. In 1988 the Youth Traffic Park was moved to the outskirts of Assen and in 1992 it was renamed Verkeerspark or Traffic Park. More and more attractions have been added to make the Traffic Park a destination for the whole family.

I'd like to see a Traffic Park in Seattle. A perfect location would be at the foot of the Space Needle, in the place of the Fun Forest. It would be a wonderful venue for parties and outings and a great opportunity for the city of Seattle to commission the work of Public Artists. A playful answer to the Sculpture Park!

The Traffic Park in Assen has partnered with ANWB the Dutch equivalent of AAA, and the ANWB offers junior memberships for children, that allows them yearlong free admittance to the Traffic Park. Hey, AAA!

Have you been baffled by foreign traffic rules or are you still by those in your own country? Wouldn't it be fun to go to a Traffic Park where you'll learn the rules by (the right) example?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Gremchelich, Matzah Balls and Easter Eggs: Recipes for a Dutch Seder

During my childhood in the Netherlands, spring was heralded by my mother's birthday on the 22 of March, followed by "grote schoonmaak," the thorough spring-cleaning of our home, and the delivery of two oversized boxes of Hollandia Matzos by Van Gend & Loos, the Dutch UPS of the past.

My Jewish father taught me about the 10th plague inflicted upon Egypt, which would cause all firstborn children and livestock to be killed. By smearing the blood of the sacrificial lamb on their doorposts, the Jews saved their firstborn from death; the doors of their homes were "skipped," in Hebrew "pasach," which was why the holiday was called Pesach (Passover)

My non-Jewish mother told me that Pesach was the Jewish Easter, and Easter a heathen celebration of spring. Spring, of course, was the end of the long cold winter, and a new beginning, which was symbolized by eggs. Each year my mother presented me with a string pouch filled with egg-shaped sugar candy, and a colorful basket with fluffy yellow Easter chicks, chocolate eggs wrapped in colorful silver foil, and an Easter bunny.

Pesach started with the seder dinner, which was different from the regular Sabbath evening meal because we would have matzah instead of bread, matzah balls in our soup, and gremchelich (thick pancakes made from matzah brei with raisins, slivers of almonds, and sometimes candied ginger) for dessert. The way I remember it, the question-and- answer ritual at the seder had more of a conversational quality to it, perhaps because I was an only child, and most likely because my father was the only one who really knew the hagaddah (book that tells the story or Passover).

In preparation for the seder my father would tend to the beef and vegetable stockpot of soup, while my mother soaked matzah in hot water, and fried a chopped onion in chicken schmaltz (fat) to make matzah balls for the Pesach soup, and prepared the mixture for gremchelich. We would eat those thick pancakes for dessert at the seder and throughout the following week as a snack with our tea or coffee.

For maror (the bitter herbs, standing for the hardships suffered in Egypt) and the vegetable, my parents used radishes and parsley that we dipped in a bowl with salty water (tears shed in Egypt). For charoset (symbolizing the mortar used by Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt) my mother mashed chopped walnuts and tutti frutti (mixed dried fruit) together. A chicken bone was added to our seder plate instead of the traditional lamb shank. Three circular matzahs were slid in between the folds of napkins-- two for the blessing of the bread, half of the third set aside as afikoman (which comes last). But I can't remember ever having played hide and seek with that piece of matzah as is common in American households with children.

The Passover of my childhood was carbohydrate heaven. The morning after the seder we set our kitchen table without plates so that we could butter the large round matzah without breaking it, and although I'm sure the table was covered by a vinyl tablecloth, I also seem to recall newsprint, and the added pleasure of reading while eating matzah with shredded cheese, soft boiled or fried eggs, brown sugar or honey. From early on I knew how to trace the dots along the center line of the matzah and cut mine in half. I knew there was nothing like a sweet or savory filled matzah sandwich.

This annual bliss continued until my father died. Not that my mother stopped ordering matzah, making matzah ball soup and gremchelich after his death. No, I stopped eating matzah when the 16-year-old daughter of my parents' Jewish friends told me eating matzah was terrible for a girl's figure!

These days I tell myself cleaning house will make up for those extra calories. My husband and I continue my parents' traditions. After Purim I've got matzah on my brain and plenty of time to clean house and prepare physically and mentally for our own hybrid Pesach.

Here are the traditional recipes my parents prepared for our annual Dutch seders.

Gremchelich (makes 24 pancakes)
6 matzahs, 3 eggs, 5 oz granular sugar, 3.5 oz raisins (soaked in water), 3.5 oz slivered almonds,¼ teaspoon cinnamon, grated rind of ½ lemon, oil, hot water

Break the matzahs in a colander, pour hot water on the pieces, let cool. Beat eggs together with sugar and cinnamon. Squeeze excess liquid from matzahs, combine matzah mush and egg mixture in a large bowl, mixing well by hand (keep it lumpy). Drain water off raisins and pat them dry with kitchen towel, add to batter together with almonds and lemon rind. If the mixture seems to wet, add some matzah meal (I like to make my own, using a rolling pin or a bottle to crush pieces of matzah folded inside a (clean) napkin or kitchen towel.

Heat oil in a skillet. Using two soup spoons, create balls of mixture and gently put them in the hot fat, flatten the ball with fork or spatula while the gremchelich cook, turn them over with a spatula when golden brown. Serve dusted with powdered sugar.

1 bag of tutti frutti (prunes, dried apples, dried pears, etc.),3.5 oz chopped walnuts, 1 tsp cinnamon

Chop the tutti frutti into small chunks (make sure there are no pits in the prunes), sprinkle with cinnamon and mix in chopped walnuts. If not sticky enough to shape into small balls add some sweet wine or honey.

Clear Beef Broth with Spring Vegetables
For the stock: 4-6 cups of water (1 cup per person),2 or 3 meaty beef shanks (cut off excess fat),2 tsp kosher salt, 2 large carrots scraped clean, cut in 1-inch chunks, 2 peeled stalks of celery, cut in 1-inch chunks,1 leek (white and green) cut in length and quartered, washed very well (dirt hides between layers), 2 sprigs of parsley,1 Tbsp fresh or 1 tsp dried thyme, 1 turnip, quartered, 2 peeled cloves of garlic, 5 mushrooms, peeled and sliced.

Vegetables for Soup (to be added after straining of stock): 2 large carrots scraped clean and sliced thinly, or 1 cup of baby carrots cut in half, 1 heart of celery, all the light colored stalks, with leaves, cut in ¼-inch slices; 2 or 3 small leeks, most of the green removed, cut in length, then in ¼-inch slices, 4 mushrooms, peeled and sliced

Rinse shanks, add to large stockpot, add salt, cover with water and bring to a boil. Skim off foam, and continue doing so until very little foam or no foam appears. Add all of the other stock ingredients, bring to a boil again, then lower flame and let simmer for 3-4 hours.

Place clean, damp cheesecloth in colander, and place colander over a large pot. Strain stock through colander. Put the meat (which by then falls off the bone) back in the broth, and add the soup vegetables. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes. After this you may cool the soup and refrigerate, or bring back to soft boil and start adding matzah balls.

Matzah Balls for Soup (makes 12)
3 matzahs, 3 Tbsp (or more as needed) matzo meal (see gremchelich recipe),2 eggs,1 Tbsp oil, ½ tsp kosher salt,1/8 tsp (more or less) black pepper (optional), 1 medium size onion, 1 tsp ginger powder (optional)

Break matzah in colander, dampen with cold water, and shake off excess liquid. Matzah pieces should not be too wet. Fry finely chopped onion in oil until golden brown. In large bowl, beat eggs until fluffy, mix well with moistened matzahs, onion, salt and spices. Let rest for 1 hour. Heat your favorite beef, chicken or even mushroom stock. Divide matzah mixture in 12 equal amounts and shape into balls. If mixture is too damp, add matzah meal. With the help of a soup ladle lower the balls into the softly boiling liquid. Cook for 20-30 minutes until the balls are done and bounce to the surface. If you made large balls, cut one in half to check whether it's done on the inside. Consistency should be firm and dry, not dark and soggy.

Eat well, enjoy, and Chag Sameach!

Previously published by InterfaithFamily.com Gremchelich and Easter Eggs Recipes for a Dutch Seder - InterfaithFamily.com

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Art of Blogging

A blog post by Mia Easton at She Writes triggered thoughts on blogging in general and my blog in particular. Five years ago I launched both my website and my first blog the one you're visiting right now. Thinking of what had occupied my mind for 12 years, I shook the name Hope Filled Jars out of my hat. Can't say I knew exactly what the blog was going to be about. But I did know I wanted the webmaster to include a link on my website before letting it go live.

At that time I'd been writing a column, book reviews and articles for a Dutch web magazine for five years. I was in on the difference in style between writing for paper and for web content. Still, I felt I had to be very careful about what I "gave away" for free on my blog. Anything I saw fit to sell, I kept to myself.

Along the way I discovered that posts about more personal issues, such as hyperacusis, loss of sense of smell, or being an artist and a mother who doesn't get to see her daughter grow up, got more hits than anythings else.

Still it's taken me the five years (my magical destiny number) I've been creating blogs for myself and others, to come to the point where I'm willing, and even aiming at, writing more open-ended posts. Quite a feat for someone who likes to write well rounded pieces (the equivalent of having the last word). It wasn't until dialogue2010 and getting involved with the women writers and entrepreneurs blogosphere that I started to realize why some blogs get a lot of attention, and why mine did not.
The art of blogging is dialogue.

What is your secret? How do you get readers to respond to your blog posts?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

What an Expat Leaves Behind

Tonight at 10 p.m. a week ago, that is February the 27th I enjoyed a conference call with nine women from around the globe. When I dialed in on Skype to enter the conference call the first voices I heard were of American expats artist/writer Rose Deniz, who as initiator of dialogue2010 would chair the meeting, and founder of expat+HAREM Anastasia Ashman, who hosted the conversation.

For me this conference call was a first, and a little unsettling in that you could hear people "enter" what in my imagination was the foyer of a home or studio, while I myself sat alone at my desk, staring at the document on the computer, that held my answers, correct that, my notes in response to questions Rose Deniz posted Online previous week.

Meanwhile one after the other announced her arrival at the virtual meeting place. Another American expat Tara Agacayak, and Irish Catherine Yiğit said hi from Turkey. Sezin Koehler dialed in from early morning Prague, Karen Armstrong Quartarone from Italy, Elmira Bayrash from New York, Joslyn Eikenberg from Idaho and Catherine Bayar whom I thought to be in Turkey at the time, announced that she and I were both in the same timezone, for she called in from Berkeley, California.

Rose made the introductions and made sure every one of us got a two-minute moment to say something about living in a foreign country. The first question we focused on was what we left behind in order to make the most of our hybrid lifestyle. Hearing all the comments, I pictured thoughts about the expat hybrid lifestyle forming an audible cloud, similar to the tag or label cloud you see in the sidebar of many blogs.

What I jotted down while listening, but forgot to say: The opportunity to see the children of friends and cousins grow up, being part of their developments, that's what I left behind and missed out on.

What (notion) did you have to leave behind in order to live your life abroad to the fullest?

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Silence Between Friends

At times during dialogue2010 the conference call with nine other women, I was amazed to hear the silence —usually reserved for encounters between the best of friends— between remarks, when each of us pondered the effect of what the other said.

As Rose Deniz states: Dialogue is Art

In our virtual expat-HAREM mutual respect and willingness to listen carefully made up for invisibility. The hour flew by and when we stopped I had the feeling we had reached the starting point for future conversations.

After barely six hours of sleep I woke up the morning following dialogue2010 with my mind racing, ready to pick up the conversation where we had left off the previous evening. I wanted to share the notion that I felt found. My situation wasn't so different from that of the others. I, the one who supposedly had it so easy living in America, realized: I as well am a hybrid, the foreigner, the stranger in a strange land, coming in, willing to open up, to honor and respect, hoping to make a difference, honoring her own background, while taking in all that's new.

When did the notion that you were no longer a tourist and visitor in your adopted country hit home?

On the Look Out for Snail Mail

It used to be that hearing the mailman deliver word from friends and relatives was the highlight in my day. Nowadays the bark of Mocha, my twenty-pound guard dog merely announces her nemesis dumping bills and magazines, plus holiday cards and calendars for the previous owners of our house in the box at the front door. Electronic mail is delivered 24/7 in one of the four virtual mailboxes I maintain. I've turned off the "you've got mail" feature, as to not be constantly reminded of new arrivals. What I do look forward to though, is the ringing of the telephone, or the jingle of Skype, telling me I may hear the voice of a friend or loved one.

What makes your day, a real letter in the mail, a phone call from a far-away friend, or a comment on your blog?

Postal Stamps and Overseas Calls

Sixteen years ago, when I emmigrated from the Netherlands to the United States, one of my best friends told me that her daughter, who lives in France, preferred receiving letters over phone calls. "She likes that you can touch a letter and read it again. So I'll be writing you," she said to me. And she did, like clockwork biweekly. I looked out for the imaginative Dutch postal stamps almost as much as her writing.

Given the choice between a letter, a call or the possibility to blog and receive comments, which would you pick?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

From Kitchenwaste to Black Gold

If I ever saw a badly created apple peel it's the one in the photograph. The peel should be so thin, that all you see is the shiny skin, not any of the moist flesh of the fruit. Any excuse? Nah, not really, sleepiness perhaps. My daddy taught me better, I know that much! In "Painting for Life" the book I'm working on, one of the sections is dedicated to "How to Peel an Apple".

The picture shows the empty yogurt container, which so far is filled with:
*a piece of used paper towel on the bottom
*coffee grinds plus paper cone**)
*tea bag
*apple peel and core
**) Gary bemoans the demise of his gold filter but they are available for his new coffee maker, all he has to do is follow the link to wisegeek.

Later today we'll add the veins of lettuce leaves, potato peel et cetera.
Off late the City of Seattle's Utility Department allows (no urges) us to put all kitchen scraps in the yard waste. Cooked leftovers, rice with sauce and even animal protein including dairy. All of which, together with the kitchen waste of all those amazing Seattle restaurants will be made into the most luscious, dark, mysterious life force known as compost. A-ma-zing!

Chicken skin in my kitchen waste though? Don't think so. Perhaps well-wrapped in newsprint, and dumped in the yard waste bin for the good utility folks to dispose of, but most definitely not mixed in with the kitchen waste that will go into our own compost heap. I can well image the wild party we'd have in the backyard, all the meat eating critters would notify their kin and friends. No, I'd rather keep the compost crew limited to worms and toss in some thicker apple peel for them. After all worms are the garden laborers creating black gold from yard and kitchen waste.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Call it a Wrap for Kitchen Waste

Composting is an art and you don't want it to stink. After years of practicing at the P-Patch community garden, I had the creation of compost down. That came in handy when former Seattle Mayor Nickels let it be known that everyone in town had to start separating kitchen waste from garbage.

That announcement coincided with our moving into a house. Soon my aim was not merely to separate and recycle, but to create as little garbage as possible. When you live in an apartment or condo you dump your trash bags down a shoot or in a container, without ever really getting an idea of how much garbage it is you produce, something you can gauge better when you have to haul the bins to the curb yourself. The two of us have always recycled with care; separating plastics, cans and glass from other trash, but once we had our own yard, we, well, I, became obsessed by separating this from that and the other.

Some Friday mornings we don't have any bins to take to the curb.

Greens, peels, teabags, coffee grinds, it can all go back into the garden. That is, after some extra care. You can bury a mixture of browns and greens or dump it all in the composting bin. Don't take the "brown and green" to literal though, the art of composting tells us coffee grinds for instance are considered "green", not brown. This has something to do with nitrogen. Don't ask me what exactly, you can read all about it in this blog post by Interbay P-Patch Master Gardeners.

If you bury your mix, cover it with a foot of dirt and leave it be. Composting materials in a bin have to be turned. You'll find excellent composting advice on the composting blog of the organic master farmers at the Seattle Interbay P-Patch. I especially like their post on "the good and the bad and the ugly" regarding your compost.

My composting routine starts early in the morning as I stand at the kitchen counter peeling and coring the apple I'll cut into my cereal with yogurt. We always have one or two rinsed yogurt containers in the sink that are lined with a small piece of paper towel, to keep things from sticking to the bottom, so I dump the peel in there. As soon as my tea has steeped I toss the teabag on top. Gary drinks coffee in the morning so his grinds land on top of the peel and tea. Later we'll add the hard vein of Romaine lettuce and the skin of a sweet potatoe. By the end of the day, it's a wrap!

I've got a memory of outdoors markets such as the Albert Cuyp in my former hometown Amsterdam, that often comes to mind as I wrap my kitchen waste. Some of the greengrocers would place a cauliflower or a pound of Brussels sprouts or whatever, in newsprint. The image of large calloused hands carefully placing crisp vegetables in the middle of a paper with old news, folding the four corners to the center, turning the package over, to repeat the procedure once more, is etched upon my mind.