Amsterdam 2013- Windmills, Cheese and a Fat Cat

You can’t bring someone on their first trip to Holland without showing them a windmill or two or even three.

Windmills at Zaanse Schans

Windmills at Zaanse Schans

On our previous visit we had taken an afternoon excursion from Amsterdam that took in the towns of Zaanse Shans, Marken and Volundam. This time we took one that left at and it turned out to be a much better trip. We booked the trip (€36 each) at the tourist Information Office just opposite Centraal Station and arrived at our pick up point outside the Tours and Tickets shop at Damrak 34 in time to get a pretty good English Breakfast (€7.45 plus latte for €2.50) at the Allstars Steakhouse next door (Damrak 32). This worked out to be much cheaper than having the breakfast buffet at the Ibis (€16) and it was cooked fresh to order too.

Houses - Marken

Houses with royal changeover bunting – Marken

Hunger satisfied we boarded the bus and within about twenty minutes we were driving along the dyke that links the former island of Marken to the Dutch mainland. Thankfully the weather was glorious and I spotted hares, lapwings, greylag geese and herons on the polder land while on the lake there were lots of great crested grebes. Now one of the reasons the morning tour is better is that it works in the reverse order, so after our demonstration of hand-making clogs on a traditional electric pattern lathe,

Clogs hand-made by machine!

Clogs hand-made by machine!

we didn’t have too long to hang about in this pretty, but not very exciting town,

Sadly the Duck and Clogtree wasn't a pub

Sadly the Duck and Clogtree wasn’t a pub

before boarding the ferry to Volundam. As we cruised the Ijsselmeer there were plenty of local sailing craft out on the waters of the former bay as well as some massive Rhine cruise ships.

Traditional Dutch sailing boats

Traditional Dutch sailing boats

Disembarking at Volundam we were taken to a cheese factory for a demonstration of cheese making

Cheese Factory Volundam

Cheese Factory Volundam

and more importantly a chance to sample the local cheeses with various jams and mustards. Unlike the cheese factory at Zaanse Schans that we visited last time they were a lot more generous with the samples too. I have to say that the aged cheese goes very well with mustard, if only there had been some beer and old jenever to wash it down.

I don'tthink this fellow is lactose intolerant

I don’t think this fellow is lactose intolerant

Cheesed out we had time for a swift pint before getting back on the coach to Zaanse Schans and the windmills. You can read about them on our previous trip here

Windmills Zaanse Schans

Windmills Zaanse Schans

Of course the object of the trip was to see the windmills, but I could not resist taking a snap of this little fellow,



who was sweltering in his fleece or this chap enjoying someone’s dropped ice cream.

Everybody likes ice cream

Everybody likes ice cream

So after a brief walk around the windmills we were back on the bus heading back into Amsterdam for an appointment with a big plate of Old Amsterdam cheese at Cafe Hoppe.

Old Amsterdam Cheese and Bittabalen

Old Amsterdam Cheese and Bittabalen

Smoked Duck Pasta and Purple Salad

If you are lucky enough to have a local farmer’s market you should be able to get a good quality smoked duck breast, if not you might find one on the deli counter at your local supermarket. Duck has quite a rich flavour so I usually find that one beast will do for two to three people.

But first the purple salad.

Purple Salad

Essentially this is shredded red cabbage, a grated carrot, about eight sliced cherry tomatoes and half a finely sliced red onion. Sling in some pine nuts for crunch and a sprinkling of sumak and some sesame seeds. Then make a dressing from the juice of a lime, and an equal quantity if sesame oil and soy sauce, Sling in a dash of Tabasco and you are away.

Smoked Duck Breast Pasta

For the Pasta. Remove the coating of fat from the duck breast, cut it finely and add it to hot pan with some olive oil.  Then fry off a sliced onion and a chopped leek with some garlic and a sliced chili (for heat if you want it) in the rendered duck fat. Add the finely sliced duck breast and some sliced mushrooms and give it a stir about. Chuck in some basil leaves and a grind of black pepper, let it fry for a bit, then chuck in a glass of white wine to deglaze the pan. Turn the heat down a bit, then add a teaspoonful of French mustard and  a pot of single cream.  Let it reduce down a bit, but not too much as you will want it to coat the pasta.

Once it’s done serve over a bed of pasta and grate some cheese over the top.

Amsterdamned Fine Boozer – Cafe Hoppe

‘And how do you pronounce that?’ I asked pointing to the part of Amsterdam’s map labelled Spui.

‘Spau’ answered the lovely receptionist at the Falcon Plaza Hotel.

I’m glad we finally settled that, especially as we had been calling it ‘spewey’, ever since I narrowly avoided a stream of projectile stoned student puke when disembarking a tram in that very location back in 1985.

Spui showing Cafe Hoppe and ' Hoppe the Brown House'

Despite the infantile comedic value of that lone incident Spui is actually a very pleasant part of Amsterdam. Essentially  a small square lined with cafes and bookstores it is very popular with students because of it’s proximity to the university. It’s also the location of one of my favourite Amsterdam hangouts the Cafe Hoppe (Spui 18/20).

Bar at Hoppe, plenty of sawdust not so sure about the spit

One half of Hoppe is a traditional Amsterdam ‘brown cafe’ with sawdust on the floor and the wooden walls stained an even deeper brown by 300 years of cigar smoke. This is a great place for an old Jenever, a pint and maybe a plate of old Amsterdam cheese, but if you fancy a smoke now it has to be outside as smoking is banned inside cafes and pubs everywhere in the city except of course the cannabis cafes.Yes it is a bit of an old man’s pub, but there’s nothing wrong with that in my opinion.

If you fancy a more substantial feed try the Cafe Hoppe next door.

The three of us had an excellent platter of local delicacies: including bitterballe, old cheese, battered prawns and pancake rolls  plus beers and gin for €48.

Plate of local pub grub

Beware the raw beef sausage, it’s literally that, a ball of raw mince rolled into a sausage served with mustard. I gave it a go, it wasn’t horrible, just a bit bland except for the mustard.

The only kind of place you can light up inside smokers

Amsterdam – We take a Trip

It didn’t involve anything illegal but it did involve being picked up from our Amsterdam hotel at 2pm and windmills, cheese, eels, cocoa and clogs.

Windmills Zaanse Schans

When I was at school, way back in the 1960s, the school atlas showed Holland with an enormous great bay called the Zuiderzee extending about 100km into the country.  In truth the Zuiderzee’s entrance to the North Sea had been dammed off back in 1932 to form a freshwater lake called the Ijsselmeer, which just goes to show how old my school atlas was. Mind you my father’s school atlas (which I still have) from the 1940s, still showed half of  Oklahoma as the Indian Territories!

Zaansee Schans is on the coast of this former inland sea and the reclaimed land around the town is famous for it’s lush grass which is the starting point for some really good cheese. Naturally our first stop on our excursion out of Amsterdam was a traditional cheese factory, complete with windmills and wandering sheep. Stepping off the bus though the first thing you notice is the overwhelming smell of chocolate. This is from the cocoa mills further up the coast. Incidentally it was a Dutchman, Coenraad Johannes van Houten who first discovered how to make cocoa powder in 1828.

At the cheese factory a young lady in traditional costume  gave us a demonstration of how the cheese is traditionally made, including the pressing into traditional “plastic” cheese moulds. After that we enjoyed the opportunity to wolf down as many free samples of the tiny shavings of the cheeses on offer in the shop as we could , since the produce on sale was extremely expensive. Cheesed out we stepped outside to enjoy the windmills which in this locality were mostly used to pump ground water out of the reclaimed land and into the sea, except that these windmills and other traditional buildings have been brought here from all over Holland and include mustard, dye, oil and sawmills. Each windmill charges an entrance fee of about €1.50.

Stalking predator Zaanse Schans

Back on the coach our next stop was Volendam. Now a lot of fuss had been made about how the local people in this former fishing village wear local traditional dress and how we would be taken to a local restaurant for the best fish and chip lunch in Holland (though not included in excursion price), even though it was by then mid-afternoon. On arrival the town was enjoying a local festival and every restaurant and pub on the front was packed with drunken revelers, not a clog in site.

Volendam a bit like Walton-on-the-Naze only with Dutch people

I thought Volendam was rather like a British seaside town, similar to say Walton-on-the-Naze. There was even a seafood stall with smoked eels.

Smoked Eels

Given that by then it was about four in the afternoon and that we had lunch before being picked up,we declined the offer of fish and chips and made do with a couple of beers and some bitterbalen ( beer €2.40 half pint, bitterbalen €4.60),


in  Le Pompadour Restaurant  (Hotel Old Dutch, Haven 142, Volendam) on the front, before boarding the ferry to what used to be the island of Marken.

Marken Ferry

The trip across the IJssselmeer took about an hour and since the weather was so good we sat on the open deck enjoying the sunshine and more beer.

Harbour at Marken

Marken, like Volendam used to be a fishing village. The damming of the Zuiderzee changed all that, now the fishermen are gone so the  pretty little green and black clapperboard houses are mostly home to workers from Amsterdam and the local tourist industry. Speaking of which our final stop was a clog factory where we discovered how the traditional wooden shoes were made on a traditional modern pattern lathe.

Clogs seasoning hanging from the ceiling at the clog factory Marken

Our return journey to Amsterdam took us across the dyke which now joins Marken to the Dutch mainland getting back to Amsterdam Centraal Station by about 6.30pm.  All in all a fun afternoon out despite the odd ideas about having lunch in the mid afternoon.

Our excursion cost €34 from Tours and Tickets and included a free transfer from our hotel.

Amsterdam – We Have a Lazy Morning

With so many places in the world to visit, a place has to be pretty special to merit the happy crew coming back time after time. Amsterdam is one of those places.

Tourist Boat Amsterdam

There are several reasons for this, we like the food, the pubs, architecture and art are great, it’s easy to get to from London, the Dutch are really friendly and they have a brilliant sense of humour. What’s also quite nice about a return visit is that sightseeing can be a lot more relaxed, there’s no pressure to cram in Rembrandt’s House, the Rijks Museum and a canal cruise and the Van Gogh Museum, etc.

We had booked a trip to Volendam and the fishing village of Marken for the afternoon, but in the morning we thought we’d just take a wander and enjoy some of the city’s architecture and the canals.

Canals and Architecture Amsterdam

Close to the hotel at Waterlooplein we found the flea market. There were no fleas but plenty of clothes, army surplus, old vinyl, bric-a-brac and tourist tat. Some of the stuff was actually quite good, so we picked up some gifts for the folks back home.

Flea Market, Waterlooplein

Still there is only so much shopping a bloke wants to do so we had a bit more of a wander, before we found the Frenzi Restaurant (Zwanenburgwal 232)

Frenzi Restaurant

where we popped in for a beer (well actually sat outside in the Sun) and liked it so much that we ended up staying for lunch. Nick and I had massive Amsterdam Old Cheese sandwiches, which came on black bread with a quince jam (much like Manchego does in Spain) and salad while Mab had a very tasty soup. With two rounds of drinks the bill came to €43.80, not too bad and it was just the thing to set us up for our afternoon of sightseeing.

Feta and Herb Stuffed Peppers

Well the indoor herb garden took a bit of pasting tonight to make these.

Feta Stuffed Romero Pepper

What we have here is a bigger version of those baby peppers I wrote about a few weeks ago. The stuffing is a pack of supermarket feta cheese crumbled up and mixed with some crushed garlic, chopped Scotch bonnet chili pepper, olive oil (just enough to bind it all together) and  a teaspoon of Spanish pimenton. To this I added a generous amount of my window ledge grown and coarsely chopped fresh basil and chives.

I then sliced a Romero pepper right down the middle, filled both halves with the mixture and slammed them in the oven for about twenty minutes. Then served them up with a pea greens, tomato and beetroot salad.


Horseradish Vodka and Feta Stuffed Peppers

Since we had guests today, with some trepidation we opened the bottle of horseradish vodka that I made last month. I needn’t have worried as it was quite delicious. A bit fiery on the lips and palette, but it slipped down nicely with a smooth finish when chilled.

A success so I’m going to have a go at making some ginger vodka next.

I also stuffed some peppers and roasted them in the oven for a starter. I deconstructed this recipe from dishes that I have had in Spanish and Turkish restaurants.

Feta stuffed peppers

Sainsbury’s now sell packs of baby peppers so I bought two of the packs, beheaded the contents and scraped out the seeds. For the stuffing I mashed up a pack of Sainsbury’s Feta style cheese (Its’ only about 80p, no point spending loads when you are going to bake it) with two teaspoons of red pimenton (if you can’t get this ordinary paprika will do), four cloves of minced garlic, two chopped chilis and a slug of olive oil. Then I spooned the mixture into the peppers, bunged them in the oven and forgot about them for twenty minutes. Served four.

They were really good, so now I’m thinking about trying some different crumbly cheeses like Wensleydale of Lancashire and perhaps mixing some anchovy into the filling.

Lincolnshire Poacher and Cote Hill Blue

As you probably know by now I’m a great fan of our monthly Farmer’s Market. Aside from the wonderful cheeses from Wobbly Bottom Farm I also like to stock up on these.

Lincolnshire Poacher and Cote Hill Blue

The two hard cheeses come from the Lincolnshire Poacher, while the soft blue cheese is Cote Hill Farm. Both of these producers use unpasturised milk from their own herds of Holstein cows.

Poacher has a firm texture a bit like some of those hard Swiss and French cheeses like Comte and tastes a bit like a well matured cheddar. There are a couple of varieties, the standard Poacher is matured for about 14 months while the Vintage is for 18 to 22 giving it a deeper flavour. There is also a version cold smoked for 24 hours over oak chips.

My favourite though, is the Double Barrel, which is matured for up to three years for a really strong flavour.

The Poacher farm has been completely organic for ten years. Most of the cow fodder is grown there using only the fertilser that comes from the cows. Lincolnshire Poacher’s philosophy is that happy cows make better cheese, I don’t know whether that is true or not but the cheese is pretty good and I’m glad for the cows anyway.

Cote Hill cheeses are rich and creamy like a Brie or Camembert. They are matured for 12 weeks and there are two varieties the Gold and the Blue.

Keep a look out for both of these cheeses at your local farmer’s market, you won’t regret it.