Saddo abroad

Saddo abroad: January 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Teal we meet again

My daughter Tessa is in town for a long weekend visit to celebrate her 24th birthday, along with her BOYFRIEND James. They're staying in the spare room, door firmly shut and me wondering whether I should have bought some earplugs. So far though all has been quiet though, thank heavens.
It's hard for someone like me with control-freak genes to let them wander the city and see what they want to see. I'm too easily inclined to say "go there, avoid that!", though I have made my opinions clear on some things; for instance that anything with Madame Tussauds on it will be utter tripe and a waste of euros.
Her birthday treat package from me includes tram passes, a museum card (James is borrowing mine), a boat trip and, best of all, a lovely dinner.
I took them both to Borderwijk, a restaurant on Noordemarkt that I last visited about fifteen years ago. It has the same owners but, I think, a different chef. Our meal was terribly good. The bread was so fantastic that I asked where they bought it, but it's made by the owner's wife on site and isn't for sale, dammit.
James and I started with a carpaccio of raw halibut with scoops of crab meat, slices or artichoke heart and various other garnishy bits, while Tess, who doesn't do fish (yet) had her baptism into the yummy world of foie gras - a substantial slab in which you could see the separate nodes, served with a wonderfully tangy, chopped Muscadet jelly that balanced the fattiness of the liver so well I quite wanted to cry (yes, of course I was leaning over her plate and helping myself to the odd chunk).
Next we all had Dutch teal; a sliced pink breast served with a confit of the tiny leg and a mound of the liver, accompanied with scoops of mash, wafer-thin turnip slices, some wild mushrooms and an intense reduced gravy, rich and yeasty ("Marmitey" said Tess, but I think that was the fungi making themselves known - like fish, something she doesn't yet do).
Tess and the BF took a cheese course. Very cleverly, sensibly and generously, the restaurant offers a choice of three, four or five course menus. Each one includes pudding but they don't make you commit to how many courses you want from the get-go; they ask you after the main course what you want to do next. I was happy to move straight to dessert but the kids liked the look of the cheese trolley so much that they opted for four courses. They had about six chunks each, mostly French, but I got to steal the odd mouthful off Tessa's plate.
Our desserts were based around a "white chocolate crème brulée pie", which really meant that they'd made a crème brulée enriched with white chocolate (I'm not a great fan of white chocolate but here it brilliantly gave density and richness to the custard) on a terribly thin pastry, which makes it easier to serve I should think. With it were a spoon of chocolate sorbet, some biscuit and chocolate decorations and small slices of mandarin and blood orange, peeled of course.
Like all good meals I felt I'd had exactly the right amount to eat - replete yet not stuffed. What else is there to say?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shanks for the memory

There's quite a lot of doom-and-gloom at the Netherlands Opera thanks entirely to the massive cuts they are about to suffer. Fees are being slashed and the word is that if you're not singing a major role then your only hope of working here is if you already live in Holland and are prepared to work for a pittance. So, a bit like England then. The new Dutch government wants the Arts to follow an American model of funding where rich patrons hand out vast endowments and have their names stuck on theatres as a reward. That's all very well but I'm not sure that Holland boasts too many of the sort of billionaires who fund opera in the States. And besides, flaunting your wealth is not really a Dutch characteristic. I don't see it catching on. There are very few statues in Amsterdam; people, even the eminent, are expected to know their place. Ostentation is greeted with derision and though the Dutch are rarely religious these days, the spirit of Calvinism still rules. 

Still, things aren't too bad at the moment. This production of Billy Budd is set in what is basically my old school, a naval college. When I heard that at the director's introduction, I almost blacked out, so overcome was I by a sudden sense of panic and nostalgia. 
More exciting though is a new branch of the "farmers' supermarket" Marqt, just around the corner from the opera and en route back to my digs. It has a proper butcher's counter and fish slab and the best selection of vegetables I've seen outside the Saturday market on Prinsengracht. The cheese table is also excellent. 
I bought a couple of lamb shanks (not cheap though - £9 for them both) and slow-cooked them in red wine, onions, carrots and garlic. I ate one last night. It lay on a duvet of polenta, the dark gravy puddling around the edge, and was so tender my only cutlery was a spoon.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A question of size

Well obviously, after so long an absence from the blogosphere, the very first things I want to blog about are bogs. No, I didn't misspell that. Bogs.
Loos. Lavatories.
There's something that has puzzled me for some time and after a couple of pints in the opera's local boozer, the Blaubrug, and a couple of visits to the smallest room, I felt compelled to bring it up. So I asked Clive, our Claggart: "these loos with two flush buttons, which do you reckon you're supposed to press? Is it small button for small flush or big button for big flush?"
Clive had no doubt that small for small and big for big was the correct flushing etiquette.
"Ah," I said, "but what if they're trying to encourage us to use only a small flush, so the bug button is the obvious button to push rather than the extravagant small button?"
"No, no, it's obvious. Big button, big flush."
But then Jacques, our Billy, weighed in. "No, it's big button, small flush!"
In comes John Mark, our Vere: "oh, what the hell, you just press both buttons."
So which is it? I side with Jacques, especially when you bear in mind the cisterns that have a very small flush button with a tiny, independent nipple set in them. The nipple is too small to find easily when making a blind stab at flushing so I can only assume the big button is the default and the nipple is an extravagance.
Still, I'm not entirely satisfied and I'm afraid I'm going to have to waste gallons of water (but there's no shortage of it here at the moment) and an unnecessary amount of time finding out for sure and making a definitive judgment about this, just, if for nothing else, to encourage some harmony amongst my fellow shipmates on the good ship "Billy Budd". Whatever I discover though I'm inclined to side with Vere. One button is very rarely enough.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Back soon

Blogging services will resume from Jan 24th when I start rehearsals in Amsterdam. I apologise for the lack of posts in the last several weeks but the title is Saddo ABROAD and as for most of that time I've been at home (or on holiday - give me a break!) I think the name speaks for itself. So... ner ner. 
Besides, I've had a book to plug. Oh, have I just done it again?