Cooking with nettles

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Anyone who has spoken to me lately will know I am completely obsessed with my new weekly veggie box.  The contents are all fresh and seasonal, grown just 10km away from my house, in the west of Amsterdam (on the polder I spoke about in my last post) before being brought to the center by electric bike.

The contents of the box vary every week and it’s been bringing lots of joy into my life lately, especially in these COVID-19 times. Having lots of fresh greens as well as carrots, radishes and spring onions ready for use, is perfect for whipping up a quick salad between two zoom meetings while I work from home. I also like the fact that most of the veggies I wouldn’t normally buy (or even find) in the supermarket. I’ve been enjoying getting out of my routine and experimenting with lots of new recipes.

Stinging nettles are my nemesis in the wild (somehow I am always brushing a little too close when I take photos of other plants), but I’ve been enjoying preparing dishes with them in the kitchen.  I particularly like how mindful I need to be when cleaning the leaves. It’s possible to use gloves or a plastic bag around your hands, but I’ve found that simply using a fork to handle the nettles works fine, as long as I am concentrated. I enjoy carefully cutting the leaves from the stem and hearing the dry sound the leaves make as I drop them in the colander (it’s hard to describe, the leaves are not soft like spinach or salad, it sounds more like paper rubbing together…)

So far, I’ve made delicious linguine with nettles and sun-dried tomatoes, a nettle risotto, and otherwise just added remaining nettle leaves to my stir-fry.  If you have other nettle recommendations, I’d love to hear them:)

Cycling around Nieuw-West

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #180

In the nearly 14 years I’ve been living in Amsterdam, I’ve never seen such a long stretch of warm and sunny weather.  Yesterday, as it was a public holiday, the city was bursting with people which meant maintaining a safe distance was a challenge, so it was the perfect opportunity for a mini-adventure around the polder in Nieuw-West. It was a relief to escape to escape the crowds and take refuge in a much quieter area.

I love the feeling of freedom when pedaling without haste, being self-propelled with the light breeze and the warm sun on my skin. It felt so good to get away from the constructed part of the city and closer to nature.  We heard frogs croaking loudly among the reeds, passed large flocks of grey geese lounging in the grass by the canals and even saw a tiny baby Shetland pony.

We had a destination in mind, the beautiful Amsterdam Bee Park, but finding it out of bounds (for COVID-19 reasons) didn’t deter us from exploring the area.  Instead, we strolled along the wooden pathways of the poetically named Fluisterbos (Whisper Woods), which turned out not to be as calm as its name might indicate.  Then we found a quiet stretch of grass that we had practically to ourselves, where we could chill in shade and play Frisbee undisturbed:) A restorative bubble of calm before returning to the bustling city.

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Since we have more opportunities to explore close by due to the COVID situation, I really recommend to visit this area if you are looking for a day trip by bike from Amsterdam, there’s loads to do! See more info here, and for more of my own adventures: Fruit picking in Fruittuin van West, Local fresh fruit and Amsterdam Bee Park.

Impressions from the Amsterdamse Bos

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Last Friday, I went for a long walk in the Amsterdamse Bos  to enjoy the lovely afternoon sunshine and magic hour.  I ambled without destination or time-pressure, taking time to breathe and looking closely at the plants along the way.  Spring has done wonders since I took photos there on a cold windy day back in the early days of confinement in March.

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The wild flowers and purple grasses are popping up everywhere, brightening the path with their delicate shapes and burst of colours. I took a break to write my ‘Late-Afternoon Pages’ on a bench by the water, accompanied by the clamorous song of countless birds perched in the trees all around.

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There were plenty of new leaves showing off beautiful patterns and colour combinations. It felt so relaxing to wander without haste for several hours, enjoying the softening of the light, until my stomach started to rumble and I decided to make my way home, the sun low in the sky.

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Greeting card action for charity is still on-going – find all the details here and don’t hesitate to reach out:)

 

 

 

Postal joy – greeting cards for charity

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #179

In these weeks of confinement, some of the highlights of my days have been opening my mailbox to find cute cards from a friend living on the other side of Amsterdam, a lovely envelope full of collage materials sent as a surprise, a small package containing a hand-made mask in gorgeous Japanese fabric with swallows on it as a symbol of hope… These gestures have delighted me and made me feel deeply cared for.

Is there someone who you’d like to send a card to in these days? For a cousin’s upcoming birthday for example, or to celebrate how well a friend is handling living alone in confinement, or just to drop someone far away a message that isn’t digital and surprise them when they open their mailbox?

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Here’s my suggestion: I’ll send one of my cards for you and I’ll donate the worth of the greeting cards to a local charity against domestic violence called Blijf Groep (read more about their approach here).

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How it works:

  • Choose the greeting card(s) you like best
  • Send me an email with the number of the card, the address of your loved one and your message
  • I’ll copy your message in my neatest handwriting and pop the card in the post!
  • The greeting cards (including a recycled paper envelope) are 3€ each and postage is 0,91€ for NL/1,50€ for International. If you’re in NL, I’ll send you a tikkie. If you are abroad, you can make a bank transfer or I trust you to donate that amount to a charity close to your heart locally ♥

Let me know if you have any questions and feel free to share with anyone who you think might like the idea! Really looking forward to it 🙂

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Camino cravings

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Recently I picked up a copy of the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed in my local little free library and started re-reading the story of her epic hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.  I thought these adventures would be exactly what I needed to get my mind off confinement, but instead I find myself getting increasingly itchy feet.  As I sat down to write this, I realised that four years ago at this exact time of year I was hiking along the Camino del Norte.  No wonder I’m doubly craving that incredible feeling of freedom.

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I find myself fantasising about getting up at the break of dawn to pull on the same clothes as the day before, with no other plan than to put one foot in front of the other and follow the yellow arrows, open to whatever the day will bring.

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The Camino is nowhere near as difficult or wild as the Pacific Crest Trail, but I recognise that feeling of intense relief when putting down your backpack that Cheryl mentions and those descriptions of gobbling down all the food you can get because you are so hungry after a day of hiking.  I will never forget how every apple tasted delicious, every tortilla sandwich was utter heaven:)

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I loved being alone with my thoughts for hours, hearing just my feet crunching on the path and seeing the landscape evolving with every new kilometer covered. The quiet of the moments of solitude overlooking beautiful landscapes were incredible, as well as the fun times shared with other pilgrims of all walks of life met along the way.  I think I may need to plan another long hike when it’s possible to travel safely again.

Creative energy

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #178

Yesterday I was discussing with a friend how difficult we find it to sit down and write lately.  I alternate between times of acceptance and others where I despair about wasting this  ‘ideal period’ where I supposedly have plenty of time to write.  Interestingly the result is the same whether I beat myself up about my lack of writing or not, so I’m trying to remember that and take the pressure off.

Thinking about it some more today, I realised that actually that creative energy is being channeled in a very different manner lately.  It’s most likely serving me as much as usual, but being used to find inventive ways of navigating these tricky COVID-19 times.

Like devising new routes around the neighbourhood for my daily walk, trying to anticipate where there may be less people to avoid and on the way picking wild flowers  to brighten up the house.

Like finding various ways to recharge, be it a 3 hour nap on the sofa or treating myself to a taiwanese pancake take-away so I don’t have to cook dinner after a long day.

Like keeping in touch in ways that don’t involve a computer or a phone, such as writing a short card to be sent by snail mail, uncertain of when it will land in the recipient’s mailbox.

Like attempting to imagine what life might look like on the other side of this pandemic and journaling to keep track learnings I want to be sure I remember, of new habits I’d like to keep, optimistic plans I’d like to focus on…

I’d love to know, what are you imagining for after confinement?

Small bouquet of wild flowers

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I went for a long walk this afternoon to stretch my legs and clear my head.  As I watched a small sailing boat on the water, I breathed in, deeply enjoying the comforting warmth of the sun on my black jeans.

Bordering the path, lots of delicate wild flowers, white, yellow, blue and pink danced in the wind. I carefully picked a stem here and a piece of grass there, risking the tingle of a nettle sting on my pinky, and came home with a small bouquet to brighten up my kitchen table. An unruly and joyful explosion of colour to keep me company as I eat my meals over the next days:)

Half-up half-down

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #177

I am grateful for people who plant flowers in public places for all passers-by to enjoy.  Yesterday during my evening walk I came across scores of these purple and white flowers, billowing out from improvised pots in front of a corrugated iron warehouse.   They’ve been pummeled by the recent rain we’ve been having and are in different stages of withering which to me adds to their beauty.

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I was particularly drawn to the flower pictured below, which looks like an accurate illustration of how I feel in these days of confinement, half-up half-down. Both optimistic and overwhelmed, hopeful and afraid, full of good intentions and struggling to get started, aware of my privilege and self-centered, happy to simply get through the day and thinking I should be ‘doing more’, glad to connect with people and fatigued by video calls…  I’m doing my best to remember that all these contrasting feelings are allowed co-exist and making space for them by being kind to myself rather than judgemental.

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New habits

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Here’s to the new habits that shape my days in this COVID-19 reality. It fascinates me how quickly we adapt and I welcome these fresh habits which definitely help to keep a semblance of balance in these tricky times.

  • Sitting in the sun for lunch with my tupperware of warmed-up left-overs, and then treating myself to delicious cappucino with oatmilk to help support local cafés like Slowth Brunch or Coffee District
  • The weekly Sunday evening zoom call with my family, where we choose a recipe and all prepare it separately, then catch up on how the past week went as we eat ‘together’.  Recommendations for series abound, as well as jokes and play on words!
  • My 30 minute bike-ride home from work has been replaced with simply shutting down my computer and heading out the door to soak up the late afternoon sunshine.  Walking along the canal, I have the pleasure of observing fluffy ducklings paddling with their parents, beaks searching efficiently for food on the water’s surface.  I weave my way, careful to maintain 1,5 meters distance from people enjoying an after-work drink on the grass and to not disturb the geese who hiss at me necks raised when I get too close.  The bluebells hidden among the birch trees are blooming spectacularly regardless of the pandemic.
  • A friend of mine lent me a puzzle and I’ve been enjoying the analog pleasure of searching for matching colours and the satisfaction of fitting the right pieces together. It’s an activity that brings me back to calm summer afternoons spent in the cool basement of my grand-parents’ country house many years ago…

Weeding in the vineyard

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #176

The days are blending into each other. It’s day 41 of confinement for me. Every morning when I sit down to write my Morning Pages I note down how many days its been, otherwise I would have no clue, time seems very elastic.  41 days is actually not much in the grand scheme of things but I had a bit of a melt-down last week, a combination of hormones, stress, sadness and probably remaining too isolated.

So I am super grateful to my friend Nina for inviting me this week to visit the grape vines that she and her husband rent in Amsterdam Noord, part of a communal project bearing the lovely name No Chateau.  We went on a Wednesday afternoon so there were very few people around and we had the vineyard to ourselves.  Keeping the security distance, we chatted as they pruned and tied the first vine branches to the wires and I had the pleasure of weeding. I knew very little about wine-making, so it was interesting to see the first stages of growth of a vine and hear about the process of growing grapes and making wine.

Being outdoors in the warm sunshine was such a welcome break from day-to-day confinement. I felt so grounded as I was digging away and hands in the soil, pulling out weeds is a flow activity for me with little space for thinking about much else.  I felt like I was connecting to my body again. I came across some worms, smelled the manure of the nearby veggie plots, dug up some purple flowers to plant on my balcony…  As I cycled home I felt completely relaxed and that night I fell into a deep, restorative sleep.  Another reminder of Nature’s healing power.