Two of my favorite people live in Amsterdam, and a few weekends ago, Maia and Matt were draining the rainwater from their boat together.
The sun broke through the clouds like a champion on that Saturday morning, and we were off into the waterways as they traded driving duties.
I discovered how cars cease to exist from the purview of the canals,
and then the two introduced me to bitterballen, the traditional crunchy bar snack of Béchamel and diced meat crumbed and fried that arrive with mustard.
For dinner, we shelled purple hulls for the green peas to stir into scallion sauce on soba noodles under roasted chicken thighs marinated in soy sauce and watched the night lights luminate the canal bridge tunnels.
Kevin arrived a few days later, and we took the train to Cologne, stepping off the platform, through the station, and out into the sun, blinking at the beautiful cathedral.
The controversial stained glass inside by Gerhard Richter is startling in real life, as you stand and look up beside octogenarians who have pushed their glasses on top of their heads. You realize you are seeing the same thing they are.
After a proper night of pork plates and Kölsch served in the correct glassware, I went wandering through the rain the following morning, pausing at the women practicing aerial swordfighting on a wall (likely this is an exercise craze that will import to Brooklyn nicely),
and strolled the nearby bridge to read the sets of initials on love locks, fastened onto the gate by couples who then throw away the key together in the Rhine below.
Back in Amsterdam, we sought out herring (also broodje haring, which is the name for a herring sandwich and always on good brown bread), for the annual celebration of Hollandse Nieuwe. The Dutch favor picking it up by the tail and serve it with raw onions and pickles.
My favorite Dutch food is Boterkoek, a type of shortbread, and Kuyt Patisserie makes a perfect version. If you’ve ever made a cake-cookie, this is a shortbread cake-cookie with a chewy center and crispy edges. (I’m working on a recipe for the next Saucy mag issue.)
While front rooms from the 1700s look out over the canals, as Matt and Maia’s stunning apartment does (they were kind enough to let us stay as they traveled for work), rooms on the other side of buildings look out on private gardens,
and Kevin and I talked about the difference of views as we walked to local “brown cafes” that were appropriately “cozy” – the highest accolade in this city culture.
We were also upsold potatoes at restaurants with our friend Matt, and we marvelled at our friend Gary’s colorful rooms when we were invited over for a beautiful long dinner (and I’m cooking in his enormous kitchen next time we visit).
After a week or so in Amsterdam, we hopped a train to Brussels and took the chunnel to London, and I spent so much time riding around on the top of double-decker buses while exploring and then posing as an East Londoner (modeling my behavior after my good friend James, who lives in Stoke Newington and was a perfect host), that I rarely took pictures other than with my phone.
I will admit to a new and abiding fondness for eggs, sausage, chips, and beans at breakfast and that I continued to order black pudding everywhere we went. (More on my favorite food in London in the next Saucy.)
A few days into our London stay, I took a local train to the country to visit my friend Will, who had secured a manor house from the thirteenth century in Somerset for the weekend.
Will has a habit of gathering friends to country houses all over the world, so I wasn’t too surprised to be soon drinking Rosé and walking the grounds as Rachel helped him collect wood for the inspiring fireplaces.
After exploring the manor (I chose one of the secret rooms), we tucked into a lovely dinner planned and prepared by Sherrilynn and Matt in the substantial restored kitchen.
Two roosters battled for dominance outside my window in the morning while everyone slept in, and I crept out to the garden gate,
finding a machine in the garden,
before returning to the manor lawn to find Sherrilynn under a tree, as joyful as I always am to see the leaves filter morning light.
We all pitched in to make a “slap-up” breakfast (another new adjective!) of eggs with crème fraiche, beans, streakey bacon, leek sausage, and crumpet with clotted cream and strawberry jam to ease into the day.
After baths (more of those than showers in the manor), we split into expedition parties and set our sights on the Walled Gardens of nearby Cannington, where the nuns and monks are rumored to have met in underground tunnels in centuries past,
and the gardens now are curated by those who delight in strange succulent varieties.
Driving further into town, we were underwhelmed by Scrumpy at a nearby cidery, but we nonetheless took full advantage of their local dairy specialty, as you can tell from Will staring longingly at not the scone,
but the generous ramekin of clotted cream that the area is known for.
Back at the manor, we greeted the sheep,
and I followed Sherrilynn down the little path toward town (you can see Darrell on the returning end of his run),
to go past the pubs to the medieval church and its gargoyles,
finding the way back past the blackberry brambles and honeysuckle vines.
Rachel was smiling as Matt and Sherrilynn started dinner,
to the accompaniment of a delightful musical group that had produced an entire album of songs about cider.
Will worked his pie crust into the pan to bake it blind,
and I left the kitchen to join Will and Darrell in the garden,
setting up the table in the setting sun.
Sauteed mushrooms over chevre on bread with a port sauce paired very well with the company and the conversation (with Darrell sneaking raspberries into your wine at opportune intervals),
punctuated by corks flying into the air and laughter.
Later, the talented Sherrilynn and Matt would pull their banjos out and fill the old house with music and song, and I would relax deeper into a couch beside a fire that roared, feeling lucky indeed to have such good friends with such good friends that remain dear no matter where we live as the summers come and go…