Our Visit to the David Bowie Is Exhibition

David Bowie exhibition

The first thought that crossed my mind when I was propositioned with attending the David Bowie Is exhibition in Groningen Museum was, “Am I hipster enough to attend this?” I know it may sound ridiculous but until David Bowie had died, I really didn’t know much about him, his life or his music. After his passing on the 10th January 2016, I had become acutely aware that in comparison to other people of my generation, I had no idea about his enormous contribution to music. My thoughts were fueled when on a night out in town a week after his death, I saw lots of party-goers with lightning stripes painted on their faces in commemoration of his passing, and me, in my ignorance, couldn’t believe that young people my age could be such huge and devout fans.  Despite this and all my hesitations, I headed off to Groningen with Jacob, Bram and Barbara, his parents and Coen and Mitchell, his brother and brother-in-law. Little did I know that I would return Tuesday evening to Utrecht with more knowledge, amazement and admiration for David Bowie and his life than I ever could have imagined.

UC- GRONINGEN

I am one of those people who is cursed with knowing the words to every song in every different kind of genre imaginable, without necessarily knowing who sang it or which decade it came from. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise to me (although it actually did), that I knew a lot of David Bowie’s songs without ever knowing that it was him who sang them. Cliche of course, I knew all the big hits: Heroes, Ashes to Ashes, Starman, Let’s Dance and Space Oddity to name but a few. While a lot of non-musically inclined individuals might know Heroes as sung by U2, or Under Pressure more notably famed as a legendary Queen anthem, little do they know that Bowie was the mastermind behind the lyrical and musical production of these records. Barbara Streisand, My Chemical Romance and Red Hot Chili Peppers are just a few other notable names to have covered his records. In summary, the man was a lyrical genius and his influence in the music industry is perhaps incomparable with any other individual of his time.

Groningen Museum’s presentation of the David Bowie Is exhibition was, in short, exceptional. On arrival we checked in our coats and bags and went to collect our headsets which we would listen to for the duration of our time spent in the museum. The tour began with an introduction into Bowie’s early life growing up in Bromley and his first forays in music before his breakthrough as a game-changer and innovator in the music industry. Accompanied by clips of Bowie interviews from the 1960’s onward, displays of his genuine costumes from his performances over his 50 or so odd years as a musician and preserved lyric sheets and music scores, it was really incredible to immerse yourself in the life of a man who aimed to spread so much happiness and inspiration through his music.

Bowie was undoubtedly the mastermind behind his own success. We learned at the exhibition that his first hit Space Oddity, was played to the background of visuals of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon in 1969, and so Bowie found instant fame in a gaining a wide audience garnered from such an event. From visiting the exhibition it was made very clear that he was a visionary of his time, who saw more to a musical performance than standing on his stage with a microphone and singing. Bowie was concerned with the music, staging, costume design and overall aesthetic purposes of his performances. I was quite honestly fascinated to watch his transformations throughout the years of his career. From Ziggy Stardust to The Thin White Duke to returning to his own persona in his later years, Bowie ultimately transformed how pop music was viewed in the 1960s and 1970s.

The above clip of Bowie performing Starman on the BBC on Top of the Pops in 1972 , showcases Bowie undertaking the Ziggy Stardust persona with the crazy red-brown hair and brightly coloured outfit. In many ways, this performance marked the beginning of Bowie’s intentions as a musician, artist and performer; his androgynous appearance blurs the lines between masculine and feminine. One of Bowie’s earliest costume designers,  Kansai Yamamoto who collaborated with Bowie on many of his outfit designs, noted that Bowie suited his flamboyant designs as he had the face of a man, but also that of a woman and so he raised the question in people’s minds about what it meant to be masculine and what it meant to be feminine. Over the years Bowie returned to lyrics and personas concerning outer space and aliens and in many ways the alien motif greatly sums up what Bowie tried to do in the music industry throughout the years; he created characters that were eccentric and outsiders, but characters who had so much to tell the world.

I could go on and on about how talented David Bowie is, his contribution to the fashion world and of course, his success as an actor, but the exhibition really speaks for itself. If anyone has a chance to visit it, it runs in Groningen Museum until the 10th April.  If you don’t get the chance to visit, I would highly recommend taking half an hour of your time to watch his clips on YouTube or read up on his incredible life, because you won’t be disappointed. Undoubtedly David Bowie has left an incredible impression on millions of fans around the globe, and having visited this exhibition and learning about his life and career, I can safely say that I too can now classify myself as a fan.

bowie

Integrating Into Dutch Life: Finding A Home.

Views from the Dom Toren, Utrecht.

Views from the Dom Toren, Utrecht.

When a person chooses to make the life-altering decision to move to a different country, perhaps one of the first things they will search for is a new home. When immigrating to Holland however and trying to find a home, unless you have the detective skill level of Sherlock Holmes or the Dutch fluency of King Willem himself, such a task can prove quite difficult for the average immigrant. While finding a home in The Netherlands may seem like a daunting task, I have compiled a short list to help you not only to find a home, but also to find one which is authentically Dutch and will make you feel like a real Dutchman.

DO: Pretend to be Dutch

DO NOT: Admit you are a foreigner

The Dutch for the most part are an extremely welcoming and friendly country… however, trying to get an invite for a hospiteeravond when you are not Dutch is like participating in a real life version of the Hunger Games. In this version of the games, the ruthless killers from the movie are replaced by the equally ruthless Sannes and Daans of the real Dutch world who are skilled and clinical in their search for the kamers across the country. My advice is to find a willing Dutch man or woman who will help you construct a standard Dutch email outlining your name, age, cleanliness, affinity for drinking tea (if you’re Irish like me) and “series te kijken”. You must then proceed to copy and paste this email into every available kamer within your budget and area until you receive a reply. The following is a REAL LIFE STATISTIC regarding reactions to kamers that I did not just make up…

80% – do not respond

15% – respond to say that you don’t meet their ridiculous house requirements and that you are not invited to their fantastic, amazing hospiteeravond that will be the best avond that has ever occurred in the whole WERELD since time in memorial.

5% – will reply and say that you have cordially been invited to a hospiteeravond… with all Dutch speaking nationals… sh*t.

Amsterdam

DO: Mentally, physically and linguistically prepare for your hospiteeravond

DO NOT: Back out at the last minute and fail to show up

Congratulations, you have succeeded in receiving an invite to a hospiteeravond! Now the real training must begin and should you fail to reach the mark of expectation you should probably not even bother to show up because the Sannes and Daans have already won. Secret sources have confirmed that Dutch children have been undergoing a rigorous training schedule since birth to ensure that they will beat every non-Dutch international at hospiteeravonds across the country for generations to come. The following is the mental, physical and linguistic factors which must be included in your training while you prepare for your hospiteeravond:

  1. Practice drinking a whole pot of groene thee as quickly as possible
  2. Be able to go for a run without getting winded after 500 meters
  3. Laugh and make small talk about series such as Onderweg naar morgen en GTST
  4. Be able to pronounce Scheveningen and Koninginnedag flawlessly

In order to fit flawlessly into the Dutch conversation you must know some simple phrases and habits of Dutch speakers. Please see below for common words and phrases which you can randomly say at perhaps any moment of any conversation:

  • Upon entering: “Hoi! Ik ben Shauna!”
  • To express positivity: “Wat leuk!” or “Lekker!”
  • To react to something which you believe is negative: “Nee” or “Jammer”
  • To answer a question with yes: “Ja…”
  • To answer a question with no: “Ja… nee”
  • For all other eventualities just smile and nod and laugh.

 Amsterdam

DO: Accept the most authentically Dutch house

DO NOT: Settle on any old room

So you’ve made it through your hospiteeravond and wat leuk (see what I did there?) you have been offered a room. Before accepting your room you must first compare it to a simple checklist so that future visitors will notice how authentically Dutch your house is and so that you will complete your second stage of integration into Dutch life. If your new home has 75%+ of the following checklist then you are free to accept your new room with open arms.

  1. A ridiculously narrow and steep staircase that you most certainly will break you neck on when you miss a step after one too many biertjes.
  2. A front room with a wide, clean window with beautiful curtains which are never closed to showcase your beautiful interior but an interior which no one from the outside should ever look into despite the curtains always being open…
  3. A kitchen with a marvelous ovenmagnetron; a machine from some futuristic land that contains an oven, microwave and grill all in one.
  4. A toilet with barely enough room to get into. Your knees should touch the door when it closes.

You have successfully made it through stage 2 of initiation. With your brand new kamer you are now a little bit more Dutch than you were when you arrived. But stay tuned however as your integration is not yet complete and you must now venture to your next stage… the supermarket.

 

 

Homemade Vegetable Soup

Homemade vegetable soupAs my graduation is coming up I have decided to go on a no-sugar cleanse for two weeks, ending with a 4 day juice cleanse for the last four days leading up to the big day. However, as juice alone does not and never will provide enough sustenance for any working individual to survive through two hours of work without a grumbly tummy or hallucinating that your colleagues are donuts, I have allowed myself to have a chunky vegetable soup for some of my meals.

This soup is absolutely delicious and is so cheap and easy to make. You can literally add any vegetables you want and can make it whatever consistency you like simply by adding or not adding more water to the pot. Conveniently enough, this soup is perfect for the cold weather that has recently hit and I also love to dip some homemade fresh Irish soda bread into the bowl… mmmmm (recipe to follow). While I don’t normally add potatoes to the soup, this time I did, leaving the skins on so that when I was eating the soup I could crunch through the soft skins. Although Jacob didn’t like the potatoes in the soup as he thought it made it taste a bit bland, I found that it was very tasty and especially the next day after all of the flavours had combined! Because of all the vegetables it does actually leave you feeling full after a bowl as well as providing those essential vitamins and your 5-a-day.

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Ingredients:

  • 4-5 large carrots
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 leek
  • 1 large or 2 small onions
  • 2 potatoes (optional)
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 400ml water
  • Mango chutney
  • Salt and pepper

 

Method:

  1. Chop the carrots, parsnips, leek and onions into small cubes and put in a pot of 400ml boiling water.
  2. Add a chicken stock cube to the water and leave for 20 minutes to boil.
  3. Chop the potatoes into cubes and boil in a separate pot for approximately 15 minutes before draining and adding to the pot of other vegetables.
  4. When the carrots are soft, remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool briefly. Taking a hand blender, slowly blend all the vegetables and the water until the majority of the chunks are pureed.
  5. Alternatively if you are using a self-standing blender, simply take lapel-fulls of soup and blend spoonful at a time, re-adding the puree back to the pot after each blend.
  6. If the mixture is too thick simply place back on the heat and add more water until the soup is the right consistency for you.
  7. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of mango chutney to the soup along with salt and pepper.
  8. Leave the soup so the flavours can set for approximately half an hour.
  9. Enjoy!

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Integrating Into Dutch Life – The Train Station

 

Train - SCLEARY

Every author who writes about Holland talks about the same themes and usually begins by stating that Holland is the land of clogs, tulips, cheese, bicycles, marijuana or something along those lines. However, it was only after hours of pulling my hair out that I realized that all of these writer’s had forgotten one crucial thing in their articles: to discuss what an immigrant really needs to know once they arrive in The Netherlands. When I say what they really need to know, I’m talking about how to integrate as seamlessly as possible into life in the lowlands. While everyone knows the boring facts about obtaining your BSN or finding the best mobile data package, I have compiled a list of the dos and don’ts to living in Holland, to ensure that your fellow Dutch inhabitants will not be able to tell that you have just stepped off the plane at Schiphol. The most obvious place to start on our journey to successful integration begins in the first place you find yourself in after the airport: The Train Station.

The train stations in Holland are incredibly scary and if, like me, you come from a country where you miss the train, think “f*ck it” and go to the nearest pub for a pint until the next one comes along, then being in a train station in Holland will probably send you into a stress-induced coma. The station is a hotpot of lost tourists, time-conscious, working commuters and beautiful blonde-haired creatures, gracefully Olympic sprinting through the station and down the escalator to catch their departing train with a minute to spare. Then… there’s me, one foot below the rest of the Dutch population, squinting at the departure screen, furiously scrolling to find when the next train departs to Amsterdam Centraal, while also weighing up the potential success rate of me obtaining a koekje from the Albert Heijn before catching my train. However, after several episodes in various train stations across the country, I have finally cracked the code of how to blend into the crowd in the train station and have compiled a simple list of dos and don’ts to ensure that you too can fit into this mystifying maze of excellent time-keeping.

 Jacob at Rotterdam

DO: Purchase an OV Chipkaart.

DON’T: Buy paper tickets.

Having an OV Chipkaart is the equivalent of having a backstage pass to the Oscars if you’re a tourist. No longer must you face the embarrassment of carrying around a paper ticket for every journey you embark upon; NOW you hold the holiest of all grails, that shiny plastic card encased in another plastic holder of varying colours and shades. For just €7.50, you too can be the owner of such a magical card and can strut into the station, nonchalantly avoiding the pay machines and arrogantly swiping your card at the check-in point without even stopping in your stride (that is until you realise that you have no credit on your card and have to return red-faced to put €20 on your Chipkaart.) If used correctly, this card will ensure that Dutch people will have a very hard time identifying you as a tourist and if you can manage to find yourself a Dutch friend (with a special discount card that you mere mortals wouldn’t even understand), it will allow you take advantage of a 40% discount on every journey. Kerchang.

DO: Attempt to board the train as soon as possible.

DON’T: Allow on-board passengers room to disembark.

No matter what country you come from, the majority of individuals are brought up to obey certain public transport etiquettes such as letting an old person have your seat or thanking the bus driver on your way off the bus. One such etiquette for those waiting to board any form of public transport, is to allow room for those disembarking the vehicle to safely exit so as to avoid any injuries or potential stampedes. Such an etiquette is not the case in Holland and should you stand back to allow your fellow commuters to disembark, you have failed at your attempt at Dutch integration and must return to your home, pack your bags and head for the airport.  No, this rule is one that is not and probably will never will be practised in Holland and should  you wish to remain living in The Netherlands you must follow these crucial steps to blend in while boarding a train:

  1. Wrap your belongings as tightly to you as you see the train approaching in the distance.
  2. Slowing begin taking steps closer to the edge of the platform, linking up with fellow passengers on your left and right to create an impenetrable, compact herd.
  3. As soon as the train stops, rush with your herd towards the opening door.
  4. Those in the middle may find themselves obliged to create a small pathway to allow those on the train to get through the masses to the platform, however, should you find yourselves on the side of the herd, feel free to continue to push your way towards the door.
  5. If you feel that your herd is failing you and not making progress, you can always jump ship to the next entrance and push from the rear.
  6. Board the train and elbow your way to the nearest free seat in second class.

JacobatUC

DO: Stare at your fellow passengers

DON’T : Mind your own business.

Success! You’ve boarded the train and you have now taken your seat along with your fellow peasantry in second class. Now, to complete the initiation process, you must focus all of your intentions on your fellow passengers. Dutch people on trains have an incredibly annoying habit of staring at anyone who opens a bag of crisps, answers their phone or sneezes and coughs too loudly. To become one of them, you too must stare at these culprits, boring your disapproving, inquisitive eyes into their soul until they are shamed into a cone of silence for their entire journey. Should you find yourself as the culprit, well, I usually just stare back and wink until they look away.

And there you have it! You’ve done it. You have passed as a Dutchy in the train station and stage one of your integration process is complete. Stay tuned however as your journey has only just begun and you have long way to go before you can official declare yourself a Dutch national.

Homemade Cheesy Lasagne

A beautiful day on the boat

A beautiful day on the boat

The weather in Holland has been so crazy lately! Last week was rainy, wet and wintery and saw me wearing full waterproof gear just to cycle to work, while this week has been blue skies and sunshine coinciding with cold beers and boat trips. Following a beautiful day on the boat on Tuesday with Jacob, his brother and brother-in-law, we returned home absolutely famished, so I decided to make my homemade cheesy lasagne.

I found this recipe in a cookbook a few years ago and as I never remembered to write down the recipe, I added my own twist by using my own bolognese filling for this delicious dish. It might take a bit of time at the start but now that I am used to making this meal, it takes me approximately 40 minutes from preparing the ingredients to putting it on the table! Even better, this lasagne tastes even more lekker the day after! I use a simple, homemade white sauce for my lasagna which tastes especially delicious with the melted cheese topping. It is very simple and easy to make and it is a healthier option to the prepackaged ones you buy in the shop! Personally I always buy the cheapest lasagne sheets as I am on a modest budget and I don’t notice a difference (so professional lol) but if you would prefer to buy a more expensive brand then that is completely up to you.

Still need to work on my photography :)

Still need to work on my photography 🙂

Ingredients:

For the bolognese:

  • 500g lean minced beef
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 onions
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • Half a jar of red pesto
  • 1 tbsp Italian herbs
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt and Pepper

For the white sauce:

  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • approximately 300ml milk (I never really measure but read below for details) 🙂
  • Salt and pepper

Additional:

  • 1 packet lasagne sheets (of course!)
  • 1 packet grated cheese (although any sort of cheese will do as cheese is just delicious)

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 200C.
  2. Chop the onions and garlic and fry in a saucepan in some olive oil for 2 minutes. Add the minced meat, herbs, salt and pepper and leave to cook for five minutes. Then, add the red pepper and leave for another five minutes.
  3. In the meantime you can begin the simple white sauce. Melt the butter a saucepan. Take off the heat and add the flour. Mix until it turns to a breadcrumb consistency. If you find that the mixture is very gooey, simply add more flour.
  4. Place back on the heat and slowly add the milk. As I said, I never add a set amount of milk, but it should be approximately 300ml. As you add the milk while stirring constantly, you will know when the mixture is becoming too watery. If you feel like you have added too much, then simply leave it on the heat for a little longer while stirring until it thickens. Add salt and pepper and set aside as you finish the bolognese.
  5. Add 1 tin of chopped tomatoes to the bolognese followed by 250ml stock cube. I personally like my bolognese to be thick and sweet but if you like the sauce to be a bit thinner just add more water. From experience I find that a thicker bolognese sauce makes the lasagne easier to cut into slices once it is cut.
  6. To the bolognese mix add the sugar and pesto. The sugar is optional but it adds a sweetness to counter the sourness of the tomatoes.
  7. Bring to the boil and reheat your white sauce.
  8. In a large, glass pyrex dish you will begin to layer the lasagne. Depending on the size of your dish you will normally have 2-3 layers. In my dish, I normally have 2 so I half the amount of bolognese and white sauce to each layer.
  9. The first layer is as follows: 1 layer bolognese, 1 layer white sauce, 3-4 sheets of lasange until the mixture is covered.
  10. Layer 2: 1 layer bolognese, 1 layer lasagne sheets, the remaining white sauce. It is very important to layer the top layer of the lasagne in this order as you will add the cheese on top. Sometimes if done incorrectly, the cheese will burn into the lasagne sheets and becomes very hard. If you are using three layers then simply repeat layer one twice but ensure that the top layer is finished with the white sauce on top.
  11. Add 1 packet of cheese to the top layer of white sauce and pop in the oven at 200C for about 25 minutes. If you want to test if it is cooked, simply stick a knife in the middle. If the lasagne sheets still feel a bit hard simply pop back in for another 5-6 minutes until they soften.
  12. Serve and enjoy!!

I think that this recipe is really simple and it is also very cheap to make. Especially if you wanted to make this dish for a weeks worth of dinners to reheat it grows in taste every day! If I have any cheese that has gone a bit hard I never throw it out and keep it to top a lasagne if I make it as it tastes absolutely perfect when cooked! So please try out my recipe and let me know how you get on!

 

What The Bak?? Our 105km Bakfiets Adventure: The Final Chapter

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Some very ugly and tired pictures Jacob captured on the train.

We woke up on the morning of the 22nd of June and rushed straight to the train station to grab the first train to Purmerend, our bagpack filled with the leftovers from our sugar binge-shop from the previous day. After nearly missing our train switch at Zaandem and trying extremely hard not to fall asleep, we reached our destination with every finger, nipple and toe crossed that our bakfiets was still there and hadn’t been stolen by some local hooligans or a deceptively innocent looking Dutch mother. By some stroke of fortune (or misfortune), our not-so-beloved bicycle was still there and so we hopped on, took a quick selfie, and started out on our 17km journey to reach Amsterdam. The plan when we reached the capitol was to get on the ferry to bring us to the correct side of the city. We had told ourselves that once we could reach Amsterdam as soon as possible, our journey was as good as over and it would be a simple journey home from there.

13:20:

Me on the Bakfiets

The 17km cycle to Amsterdam.

As Jacob had done the majority of the cycling on the first day, I had volunteered to cycle from Purmerend to Amsterdam where we would stop and re-fuel before continuing on our journey. After cycling out of Purmerend and hitting the open road, we were both full of the excitement and joy of the prospect of our journey and we took many happy selfies and pictures for the first 9km. To our horror, the remaining 8km revealed that our physical condition had deteriorated quite significantly from the previous day. At any moment on my cycle to Amsterdam, I was expecting my knee caps to explode, showering the cyclist path and wandering ducks with cartridge and bone. I tried to stay positive with the “no pain, no gain” motto running through my mind, hoping that I would have the thighs and calves of a Grecian goddess or at the very least, Beyoncé, upon returning to Utrecht. However the thighs of Beyoncé can only hold so much promise and Jacob soon diagnosed me as being in a critical stage of the bakfiets-induced bad mood and prescribed that my only chance of survival was to get a Big Mac as soon as humanly possible.

 14:13:

AmsterdamLittle under an hour later we reached Amsterdam in record time! Unfortunately we knew that our speedy time was too good to be true and alas, we were in Amsterdam North and needed to travel south to catch the ferry towards the city. With Amsterdam Centraal in sight, we boarded the ferry for the quick three minute crossing and parked the bikes on the other side before heading into the city to grab some food. Wet, cold and hungry just fifteen minutes after finishing our McDonalds, we decided to try and check with the NS staff in the station if it was possible to bring the bakfiets on the train. We hoped that our story and how ugly and tired we looked would touch a nerve and that they would make an exception and send us home in style.  Our eyes glittered at the prospect of hauling this mighty beast up onto the platform and onto the train so we could sit our tired butts in the not-so-luxurious comfort of the second class seats for the twenty minutes that it would take to get us back to Utrecht Centraal.

16:07:

If our story was a movie we would have encountered the nicest NS worker in the entire universe who would have carried our bakfiets up the stairs to the platform and onto the train while we followed behind, shaking hands and signing autographs for the millions of fans applauding our arrival into the station whilst spraying confetti and popping champagne. However, this is not a movie and instead we stood for half an hour at a customer service desk while some short Indian man attempted to find an answer to our question “can we bring the bakfiets on the train?” To say this man was incompetent was a mild understatement and it took him the first fifteen minutes to try and type the question INTO THE SEARCH BAR OF THE NS WEBSITE. Now I’m going to go out on a (tired and weary) limb here and suggest that someone who works for the NS should know what you can and cannot bring on the trains in Holland, especially someone working the biggest train station in the country’s capitol!! Anyway after thirty minutes had passed he informed us that this was not possible and so we left the station extremely annoyed, grabbed the bikes and made our way out of the city.

17:11:

ShaunaCleary/bakfiets.

Taking a break on the bridge.

Me and Jacob

Squinty Bridge Selfies

As it turned out, the cycle from Amsterdam to Utrecht is very straightforward and all you need to do is follow the cyclist path by the Amsterdam Grand Canal for 45km. There was only one problem with this: you need to follow the cyclist path by the Amsterdam Grand Canal for 45km….. There is perhaps nothing more disheartening in the world than staring ahead in the distance and seeing the same sight for 30km straight. When we were just out of Amsterdam we faced the gargantuan task of scaling a very, very high railway bridge only to find out on the other side that we had taken a wrong turn and should go back the way we came. -_- The only plus side was that we got to stop at the top of the bridge, have a break and take some pretty pictures.

Another 10km into the journey our legs were even more tired and it had begun to get cold and windy. After only 24km my body had had enough and I was diagnosed with a full on bakfiets-induced breakdown. Hopping off the bike and kicking the tires I broke down crying and started shouting at the bike while Jacob looked on in bewilderment. After composing myself by eating some jellies (naturally) Jacob came up with an idea: he would use the lock off my bike to tie the bikes together and he would cycle in front, pulling me along behind him.

Jacob's grand plan!!

Jacob’s grand plan!!

As it turned out, this was the best idea that he could’ve come up with. I was psychologically tricked into thinking that Jacob was dragging me along when in fact I was pushing the bakfiets at a far quicker pace than I had been when I was feeling sorry for myself cycling on my own. Before long we reached the Amsterdamsesstraatweg in Utrecht and it looked like we would soon be home, right? WRONG! The Amsterdamsestraatweg is the LONGEST STREET IN THE WORLD – approximately 7km long – and I was soon near another mental breakdown before I saw the beautiful sight of Utrecht Centraal in the distance.

Arriving at our apartment was perhaps the most rewarding experience of a lifetime. We had made it. We had won the bakfiets game.

*Two weeks later we sold the bakfiets as it had served its purpose for us. Of course we did not mention our journey to our buyer as who in their right mind would buy a bakfiets that had been on a hellish 105km journey? So, if you are reading this buyer, we are very sorry that we lied.

**DISCLAIMER: No bakfiets was injured in the making of this article.

Double Chocolate Chunk Brownies!

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Gooey Chocolate Chunk Brownies (excuse my unprofessional photography skills)

This brownie recipe is by far the best brownie I have ever eaten in my life. When I was in second year of college, my old roommate gave it to me, warning me that it was the secret recipe of her Indian grandmother, and that I must never EVER let this recipe slip under the gaze of another living human being… Fast forward three years later and as I was browsing through BBC Good Food, low and behold I came across the exact same recipe and therefore feel it necessary to share it with everyone who I meet!

I have had my fair share of difficulty with this brownie; the cooking time is absolutely imperative to creating the correct texture and leave it in two minutes short, it becomes a gooey mess, while two minutes late and it burns to a crisp. After attempting and failing several times to perfect this recipe, I now feel like I have discovered the correct formula to make this heavenly brownie a success at every party and event.

While the amount of sugar in the recipe will probably make you have sleepless nights, this isn’t the cheapest recipe to bake, so it isn’t as if you’ll be eating this dessert every week. As a treat, I like to buy good quality vanilla ice-cream and make a nice cup of tea, before settling down to the perfect guilty pleasure after a long day at work.

If followed correctly, I hope that this recipe will bring you the same amount of happiness and pleasure that it brings me every time I make it! You can give this recipe your own twist by adding nuts or marshmallows to the recipe below!

Double Chocolate Chunk Brownies:

Ingredients:

  • 180g good quality dark chocolate
  • 185g unsalted butter
  • 85g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 70g milk chocolate (I use 3/4 of a chopped up Milka bar)
  • 70g white chocolate (also a Milka bar)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 275g golden caster sugar
  • Handful of hazelnuts/ mini marshmallows, dried cherries (optional)

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 160C – this temperature is imperative!!! Grease your tin; the original recipe suggests to use a flat, rectangular shaped tin approximately 20cm but for mine I use a deep, square tin. If you are using a rectangular, shallow tin then you will need to reduce the cooking time for the brownies.
  2. Chop up the butter into small cubes and break the dark chocolate into small pieces. Put both in a microwaveable bowl and heat until melted (approximately three minutes). Take out after one minute to mix the mixture before continuing to heat, always keeping an eye on it to ensure that it will not burn. Once melted, take out and set aside to cool.
  3. Sieve the flour and cocoa powder together to introduce air and to get rid of any lumps.
  4. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and add the sugar. Whisk until the mixture becomes pale and almost doubles in size. I use a regular hand whisk so this usually takes about five minutes but for those who are privileged enough to own an electric mixture, it should only take about three.
  5. Add the cooled chocolate and butter mixture to the eggs and sugar and mix with a wooden spoon. Mix the ingredients slowly and be careful not to over-mix, you should make a figure of eight in the middle about six times to ensure that everything is combined but not overdone.
  6. Add the flour mixture and continue to make a figure of eight mixing motion, once again ensuring that you do not over-mix.
  7. Chop up the milk and white chocolate (as I said in the ingredients I usually just buy a block of white and milk Milka chocolate and chop them up into smallish chunks. A bar is 100g in Holland so I usually just use 3/4 of a packet) and add to the mixture.
  8. Pour the mixture into the tin and cook at 160C for 38 minutes. After this time you can take a knife and stick it in the centre of the brownie dish. If the knife has a very gooey mixture left behind, put it back in the oven for another two minutes but no longer as the mixture will completely dry up. If it seems only slightly gooey then you can leave it aside to sit; as the mixture cools, the centre will harden so that the inside will not fall apart when you begin to cut them. I usually cut the brownies 4×4 to get sixteen brownies as they are incredibly heavy and rich.

And that is it! Easy peasy, delicious brownie recipe!   I hope you try and enjoy them and if you do please comment and let me know what you think! 🙂

 

What the Bak?? Our 105km Bakfiets Adventure Part 2.

“Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.”

Albert Einstein  W. B. Yeats.

And so it was with these wise words from my fellow Celtic brother William Butler Yeats that we set off in the morning of the 21st of June to catch our train to Schagen with my trusty yellow bike neatly folded and packed beside our seat. As the bakfiets only had one seat and there was no way that Jacob was going to cycle me in the front all the way back to Utrecht (much to my disappointment), we had decided to bring along our yellow pal so that we could take it in turns cycling the two bikes on the way home.

The 105km journey.

The 105km journey.

When we arrived in Schagen we were collected at the train station by the lovely couple who sold us the bike. As they had told us on the phone the previous night that they lived a bit of a distance from the station and that we mightn’t find their house easily, they had decided that it would be better to just drive us to their home instead. While I personally thought that this was a bit dodgy, Jacob had assured me that the couple were simply very nice people; however, we had no idea that when they had said that they lived far from the station, they were not joking. It took so long that I was genuinely wondering when the hostess would come into the car and give the on-board safety demonstration. Around fifteen to twenty minutes later we arrived at their humble abode, took the bike for a quick spin and paid the couple before setting out on our great adventure. It is my tradition to always shout “WE’RE GOING ON AN ADVENTUREEEE” every time we go on a long journey or pop to the supermarket or whatever, so that is exactly what we did before leaving on our Google-Maps-estimated five hour and seventeen minute journey. HOWEVER, while all of this seems to be a solid plan, it turns out that we had GROSSLY overlooked four major factors concerning the journey before taking off:

  1. The route that we would take
  2. The fact that we should bring food
  3. The sheer weight and size of the bakfiets itself
  4. The terrible winds in the North of Holland.

Day 1: 12:34pm.

Jacob and the bakfiets

Jacob and the bakfiets

We departed on our journey from the home of our sellers back towards the train station and had been cycling for approximately 30 seconds when I cycled ahead to cut in front of Jacob to allow a cyclist coming in the opposite direction to pass. As it happened I was not used to cycling in the company of an individual cycling a bakfiets and cut across him too soon, clipping the front of the wooden seating area and knocking Jacob off the road and into the ditch. After some swearing and shouting, we were adamant that this early mishap would not dampen the excitement of our journey and got ourselves all sorted and back on the road.

Another three minutes down the road and Jacob had a shocking confession to make: the bakfiets was extremely heavy to cycle. While I was whizzing ahead on my light yellow bike, Jacob was following behind me, using up valuable energy to push the bike, only 300m into our 105km journey doing about 10km an hour. We soon realised that this journey was not going to be as easy as we had thought and that the only people in the world who would complete this journey in five hours and seventeen minutes were Lance Armstrong on drugs or some of his fellow Tour de France cycling pals.

To our horror we faced another major disadvantage: we had no idea where in the world we were going. While we were used to Utrecht and its surrounding areas where everything was nicely signposted for cyclists, we may as well have been in the North Pole when we were in Schagen as every crossroad contained absolutely no signs whatsoever. While we had our not-so-trusty friend Google maps, Jacob’s battery was running low and my Irish phone had no data at all; things were not looking so good.

12:47pm:

We were approximately twelve minutes into our journey when we realised that we were very very hungry. Unfortunately for us, it was a Sunday and in certain holy parts of Holland, everything shuts down on Sunday. There was not a McDonalds or Burger King in sight and I longed for the sweet taste of a McChicken sandwich as an obvious and appropriate fuel for our long journey. Our only choice was to keep on cycling with the hope that we would soon see the beautiful sight of a giant golden M or smell the sweet cooking of KFC southern fried chicken.

Many cycling, much towns.

Much cycling, many towns.

15:15pm:

After suggesting to Jacob that we should switch bikes with the hope of taking him out of his bakfiets-induced bad mood, I took my seat on the coveted bike and soon realised what he had been talking about. Within a couple of meters it became apparent to me how much energy and effort it takes to cycle a bakfiets. While you would think that such an invention would be light an easy to push (seeing as all the Dutch yummy mummies do it with such ease in Utrecht) it is not an easy task, especially when the front is empty and prone to go in whatever direction it chooses. It wasn’t long before  I was overcast with a grumpy and hungry bakfiets cloud and still there was not a broodje nor bitterballen in sight. After what seemed like an eternity, we managed to reach a nearby town with *sigh of relief* an open Albert Heijn. We pulled over the bikes and stocked up on the traditional cyclist’s diet of Auto Drop snoepjes, jam doughnuts, Doritos, Coke and pineapple slices, naturally. It was only as we sat outside that we noticed the angry, dark clouds forming in the sky and in fear of being caught in a tropical thunderstorm (as well as being eaten by the encroaching, randomly located flock of hungry seagulls surrounding our bakfiets) we hit the road once again.

17:30:

Schagen to Noordbeemster

It wasn’t long before the rain came down and before we once again found ourselves lost and without a much needed bathroom. While we tried to keep our spirits high, we found ourselves being sucked into the frustration of having cycled for approximately six hours straight and only managing to travel around 31km. After reaching an all time low and having to take an au natural wizzle along the side of the road feat bush curtain and dock leaf toilet paper, we decided that our best hope was to reach the nearest town and leave the bakfiets, hop on a train and return the next day to finish the rest of our journey. That is exactly what we did when we reached Purmerend and boarded a train back to Utrecht, nearly crying with tears of joy and hopes that tomorrow would yield a more productive day of travel…

What The Bak?? Our 105km Bakfiets Adventure.

When any given individual hears the word “Holland”, they think of several things: tulips, clogs, marijuana and bicycles. Of course, Holland is perhaps best known for it’s cycling culture, SO, for someone who was generally like a magnet to the tarmac when riding a bicycle, you can imagine my apprehension at having to adapt to my life as a cyclist upon moving to Utrecht.

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Being a tourist in Holland 2014 feat clogs.

I remember quite clearly when I first learned to ride a bike; I was four years old and it was a quiet autumn’s day. My father had removed my sturdy stabilizers and I was preparing myself to cycle off into non-stabilized glory; my chunky cankles propping my short, fat legs into position as I gripped the handlebars like a Moto GP rider, waiting with anticipation at the start line of the Grand Prix, sweating profusely and hoping that the cute five year old boy two doors down was inside having his dinner at the time.

As my father held my seat and began to start walking with me, I was told to begin to peddle and before I knew it he had let go and I was free, peddling ferociously down the roadway of our cul de sac, the wind in my hair, the smell of freedom in my nostrils… until the cold, hard smack of the tarmac knocked me into reality and my sniffle-filled roars filled the quiet silence of the day.

Fast forward seventeen years later to 2014 and I find myself working in Bénodet, France for the summer as a holiday courier whose only form of transportation was, of course, a bike. I sh*t you not, it is not an exaggeration to say that I fell off my bike every single day when I was there. My most glorious and perhaps Oscar-worthy fall came one day as I attempted to pull a remorque filled with various cleaning products and a broken oven behind me on my bike, whilst cycling with one hand steering. As I approached the barrier to the campsite I attempted to switch hands on the handlebar in order to brake and instead of coming to a nice, graceful halt, went flying over the handlebars and onto the ground as the remorque become lodged in my back wheel. Perhaps the only funny memory about the situation was the “Oh Jaysus!” roar of a passing-by Irish Mammy, who rushed to my aid and tried to help me back to my mobile home.

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Given my poor track-record with cycling, I did the most obvious thing that a girl in my situation could do… fall in love with a Dutch guy. And so, all these months later I can safely say that with the help of Jacob and a lot of failure, I have mastered the art of cycling. Last April I become the proud owner of my first bike since my childhood when Jacob bought me this badboy ——>

Helmetless and to be quite honest completely disregarding every other pedestrian, cyclist or car on the road, I now freely roam the streets of Utrecht with confidence and a small amount of pride at the leaps and bounds which I have come on my cycling journey.

After my first few days as a fully functioning cyclist in Utrecht, my new found confidence and arrogance was short-lived and in fact completely OBLITERATED when I witnessed what I can only describe as a severe blow to my morale. Beside me, at a traffic light (specifically designed for cyclists of course), pulled up a yummy mummy on her bicycle which held THREE children in the front in some sort of wooden box, rickshaw-type contraption. This bicycle was the most spectacular thing I had ever witnessed and I was quite frankly shocked that the Dutch people have such an abundance of confidence in their cycling ability that they can stick their children in the front of their bicycles and zoom in and out of the traffic like they’re in the lead for first place in the Tour de France.  Here I was barely able to get my short legs to the ground after I braked, witnessing this beautiful, blonde creature confidently taxiing children around the city with the grace and elegance of a swan.

BAKFIETS

A typical Dutch bakfiets.

I quickly learned that such a contraption was called a bakfiets and was just one of the many inventions created by Dutch people to enhance their cycling warfare against the likes of China and other continental European cycling cities. Shattered by the realisation that I would never cycle my non-existent Dutch children to kindergarden in the glory of a bakfiets, I returned home full of failure and dismay.

A little over two weeks later and Jacob had become obsessed with obtaining a bakfiets. As we were soon to move house, we justified the purchasing of a bakfiets as something which we clearly needed in order to move all of our luggage and personal belongings the very long distance to our new home around the corner. A typical bakfiets can range between €500 and €5000 so when Jacob found a bakfiets for just under €200 we jumped at the opportunity to purchase it. The catch however, was that the bakfiets in question was located in Schagen, almost 105km from Utrecht in the North of Holland and as it is not allowed to bring a bakfiets on the train, our only option was to collect the bakfiets and cycle back to Utrecht.

The 105km journey.

The 105km journey.

Being the adventure, thrill-seeking individuals that we are (and due to the fact that neither of us had a job at the time and were completely bored) we set out to collect the bakfiets, completely unaware of the adventure that lay in store…

And I Go Back To… Blogging!

Hello there WordPress my old friend, it’s been a while!

Almost three years have passed since I wrote the last blog post on my old site, and after much cringing, crying and convulsive laughter at the random and ridiculous topics that dominated the writing career of my late teens, the time has come for me to return to blogging.

I literally feel about 100 years old reading back on my old blog and screaming at the issues which dominated the majority of my attention back in 2012. While I love to write to entertain people and make them laugh, this blog will maybe take a different direction, as a blog that has slightly matured with it’s author over the last few years.

Dublin to Utrecht

“From €186. lol”

So much has changed since 2012; I now have a university degree (which will physically be in my hands in six weeks time!), I have upped and moved to Utrecht and I have met the love of my life. After taking a break from writing to focus on my studies, I have come to the point where I feel like I need to return to my passion and, leaving the dust to settle on the celebrity shenanigans of my old blog, I am hoping to begin a new adventure documenting everything from my travels and adventures in Holland and abroad, to my attempted cooking skills, as well as throwing in a few commentaries on topical issues such as Kylie Jenner’s plastic surgery or Amy Schumer’s latest movie (old habits die hard!) After pledging that I would have a book written by the end of this summer (barely got passed the opening chapter -_-) I hope to write snippets of ideas here and there and hopefully get some feedback from readers along the way!

So I won’t waste any more time babbling about my plans for my new blog and just get down to business. I hope I can make you crack a smile and maybe even laugh at my posts over the coming while and as we say, “Let the adventure begin!” 🙂

Shauna.