Picking Peaches and Plums at Fishkill Farms

I love nothing more than sweet, tart, wonderful stone fruit. That’s right, it’s the season for peaches, plums, and nectarines – the glory of mid summer. So one lovely Saturday afternoon, I headed out with my housemates Shelly and Terri and Shelly’s dog, Pacey to Fishkill Farms to pick our own fruit!

Fishkill farms not only had a great selection of pick your own fruit available, they also had a great little market with their vegetable crops for sale (as well as a few other local gems like Coach Farm Goat Cheese – where Terri works).

I fell in love with this great big, beautiful bunch of bok choy. Seriously, I had to be pulled away and reminded that there was fruit to be picked!

We were a little shocked by the orchards, which were a little…unkempt. Shelly’s poor little puppy was almost lost in the tall grass, and we had to hike our way through to find the best fruit.

The nectarines were huge, and quite flavorful, though they were still a bit hard. We picked some anyway, knowing that their flavor would only improve!

The peaches were as hard as apples, but were still incredibly peachy in flavor. I had major jam plans, so I grabbed the softest ones I could find.

Fishkill Farms is pretty expansive. It has the little market, a small cafe, and lots of room for a group of girls to play tag.

They were totally hyper off of too much stone fruit! Oh, wait. No such thing.

Pacey eyed the tag, but was pretty exhausted in the early August heat. He sought refuge in the shade of a blueberry bush.

The blueberries were perfect – sweet and a little tart. The only problem was they were quite picked over. We mostly ate the berries right off the bush, and didn’t bother taking any with us.

After we’d had our fill of blueberries, we found our way to the blackberry bushes. Unfortunately, they looked more like raspberries. We were too late for the blueberries, too early for the blackberries! We still found a few amongst its unripe cousins – they were wonderful.

Ok, ok, so it may seem like our trip was relatively unsuccessful – hard peaches, no bluberries, unripe blackberries…but we had a blast eating our way through the bushes and orchards. Check for jam recipes at The Apartment Kitchen.

What happens to peaches behind closed doors? All things delicious...

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The White Cliffs of Dover

div>The end of the trip was eminent…but that did not stop me from photographing the last leg of the journey – a ferry from Calais, France to Dover, England. This was quite a ferry. Luxurious to say the least. Perhaps it was our recent accommodations, but we would have happily ridden the boat back and forth all day, lounging on the couches that overlooked the water.

I wonder how many pictures I have taken on this trip of Matt drinking a beer? Well, here’s Matt drinking a beer on a BOAT.

Then I made the mistake of giving Matt my camera, which he proceeded to use nonstop for about 15 minutes, shooting nothing but me. On a boat.

He makes me laugh. On a boat.

As we got close to Dover, we were able to get some amazing views of the white cliffs. They were really beautiful.

My camera doesn’t capture it too well – but they are absolutely, wonderfully snow white. The water and sky were so blue – it was pretty incredible.

What a nice way to end such an amazing trip. On a boat.

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The last leg of our trip was a quick stop in Brugge (or Bruges, or Bruge). I could tell from the moment we started walking through the winding cobblestone streets that I wished we had more than an afternoon. We were in the home of chocolate, waffles, mussels, and beer. What could be better?

Street vendors sold elaborate waffles. Chocolate stores lined the streets. And charming bakeries sold incredible tartlets and elaborate pies that were lined up like candy, mirroring the confectioner’s nearby.

There were a lot of shops on the main drag that led towards the bell tower in the city’s center. I find these smaller cities so charming – so easily navigateable that you can easily discover the true gems – even in a short period of time.

After looking in the windows of a couple chocolate shops, we selected this one. It ended up being a great choice – good quality, beautiful pieces, and a variety of flavors without being overly pricey or boutiquey as some of the other places (which thrive mostly on flashy packaging to impress the tourists).

These were their flashy products – a tequila liquor cordial and a chocolate lip balm. We selected a couple of plain bars (to sample the true quality of belgian chocolate) and I couldn’t resist a homemade marshmallow covered in thinned dark, dark, dark chocolate.

We chose a cafe in a tiny square off a side street.

We sampled the infamous Belgian fries, called frites, which are deliciously crisp because they fry the potatoes twice.

We also ordered their special lobster soup. It was tasty – with tiny spiny lobsters and lots of fresh herbs. We enjoyed it, but were a bit burned by the price (9 euro for one bowl of soup). Brugge is small, but pretty inundated with tourists, making it hard to find a good deal.

We finished with a quick stroll through the town to see the bell tower…

And some of the other architecture. It was drizzling rain, and we ate pieces of chocolate as we walked through the city. It was one of my favorite afternoons.

I remember thinking I didn’t want it to end. Luckily, the chocolate lasted until we got into France.

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Amsterdam – The Food

By the time we met up with Willie and Brenda, it was after nine thirty, and we were all starving. Megan, Brenda’s friend who lives in Amsterdam, suggested we just wander a bit to find a place for a bite. In the end, we selected an Indonesian restaurant on a plaza near my hostel. There are a huge number of Thai and Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam due to a diverse population. It is as common to find these restaurants as it is to find any serving traditional Dutch cuisine. I leaped at the opportunity – as much as I’d loved the rich foods of Eastern Europe, they felt very heavy, especially in summer, and I longed for some spiciness, some acidity, and I had been craving Asian food.

The smells greeted us the moment we entered. It was a tiny restaurant, with room for just a few tables, 2 of which were outside. We took an empty table (9:30 is quite late to be eating by Dutch time – even in Amsterdam, shops and restaurants close quite early). Looking over the menu, I was immediately taken by bapao – steamed buns filled with spicy meat mixture. I love steamed buns, and have developed my own recipe at The Apartment Kitchen, but restaurants use the deliciously light and airy Hong Kong flour, which is sometimes hard to get ahold of commercially. The bun was delicious – amazingly light, you feel as though you have to push your teeth through air to get to the filling – it was delicious.

Willie chose loempia, or Indonesian spring rolls. This is a simple, classic roll that also makes its way into Dutch street food. Dipped in a tangy sweet chili sauce, it’s the perfect snack. Crisp, warm, chewy, and satisfying.

Brenda chose another kind of loempia, which is fried using a dough rather than the flaky spring roll wrappers, which gives it a softer texture, though it’s still delightfully crisp from the fryer. Our first loempia had been filled only with vegetables, this second had a heaping amount of a deliciously seasoned meat mixture. After the wonderful crispness of the loempia, I appreciated the tenderness of this appetizer.

The last appetizer we shared was Indonesian chicken soup. It was good – powerfully flavorful broth with thin noodles, green onions, cilantro, and fried shallots. But Willie said it wasn’t nearly as good as they’ve had from other restaurants, where the soup is swimming in fresh herbs and is delightfully fragrant.

Entrees are a bit of a blur, so I’ll just tell you what I know. Willie chose one of the house specials – pork in a thick sauce made with coconut milk, and a saucy chicken satay over Indonesian fried rice. Willie pointed out that they make the fried rice with long grain rice, but smash the cooked grains when stir-frying them, making the grains seem short and the mixture have a unique texture. It was really good – not very many ingredients like Chinese fried rice, just simple, highly flavored grains. All meals were also served with the airy shrimp crackers that everyone loves.

I picked pork belly that was cooked in an array of spices, and served with a thick sweet chili sauce. My dish seemed very Asian fusion rather than pure Indonesian – I picked up flavors and tastes from China and Thailand as well. The pork was unbelievably rich – even with the lightly acidic sauce balancing the fattiness, I couldn’t finish even half of the dish.

Two other dishes were ordered – but they were all specials of the restaurant as well, and therefore made up of similar components to Willie’s coconut pork and saucy satay.

The next day I was on the prowl for something warm for breakfast. One of the things I love about Europe is the foods they eat for breakfast. Sure they have the regular cereal and milk, and even eggs. But at the hotels we’ve stayed at there has been very little hot food – primarily thin slices of cheese, ham, and salami served with crusty bread and vegetables. I love this breakfast, but after awhile, it does get dull – and I’m too excited about food to be bored by breakfast. What’s interesting is what replaced it wasn’t too far off – a crispy, toasted bagel topped with smoked chicken, avocado, tomato and arugula. It was so wonderfully good – the warm, toasty bagel was just what I needed and tasted perfect in the cool Amsterdam morning. I love anything with avocado – but it’s wonderful for breakfast. As smooth and creamy and cream cheese with healthier fats, as well as vitamins and lots of energy.

While waiting to meet up with Brenda and Willie, we found a tiny chocolates shop near our hotel. Wanting to sit in their outdoor café area, we popped in and ordered a few. The cognac caramel was my favorite – oozing and gooey, it flooded my mouth when I tried to eat the chocolate in two bites. Our other choices were filled with honeycomb, and a creamy ganache flavored of ginger.

That night for dinner, we chose an unassuming, though very beautiful restaurant about halfway between where Willie and Brenda’s apartment and my hostel. It was a Mediterranean style restaurant with a three course prie fixe menu at a good price. The following dishes were chosen:

Spinach ravioli in a parmesan cream sauce and toasted breadcrumbs. This sauce was heavenly – it tasted of good paremsan cheese and lots of butter. It was an excellent complement to the fresh spinach inside the ravioli, and we sopped up every last bit of sauce with warm, crusty bread.

Beef carpaccio with flaked parmesan, toasted pine nuts, arugula, and pesto. I love carpaccio – and this one was quite well done. More elaborate than I might have expected (at other restaurants it is often the meat with a healthy drizzling of olive oil and a few large, thin slices of cheese), but the flavors were clean and classic.

Dutch croquettes got a modern makeover with this simple, creamy mixture with salty parmesan and spicy arugula.

Entrees included a wonderfully rare steak with roasted potatoes and endive in a creamy tarragon sauce. The meat was juicy and (though it didn’t really need a topping) tasted wonderfully decadent with the cream sauce.

Risotto Caprese was simple but full of tomato flavor. Plus, I’m a sucker for anything with massive chunks of fresh mozzarella. The cheese melted perfectly under the heat of the risotto – swirling through the finished dish. It was as tasty as it was pretty – bright, fresh summer colors and flavors.

Sauteed halibut in caper sauce with braised endive and boiled potatoes. Willie compared this to the standard meals he often had in Germany. The caper sauce was just what the dish needed – vinegar and lemony, it complemented the fish and tied in the side dishes.

Desserts were a strachiatella parfait with honey and fresh berries (smooth and creamy with those delightful stacchiatella chocolate chunks)…

and white chocolate cheese cake, with layers of fruit coulis and and cookie crust (rich and fruity without being overly sweet).

Though I love the food I had been eating in Eastern Europe, Amsterdam was a lovely change of pace. The food I loved most in Germany, Poland, Hungary, etc was heavy. It felt extra heavy in the summer heat. Bright, bolder tastes fill the streets of Amsterdam, and the smells make it impossible not to give in to something new. After just a few bites, it was easy to say that Amsterdam was more than just it’s nightlife.

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Amsterdam – The Sights

The road to Amsterdam was long for many reasons – none of them being the actual distance. A traffic accident had us stuck on the highway for 2 hours, during which we moved a total of 20 km. But more than that was my anticipation to get there to see Willie and Brenda, who were waiting for us. After a delicious dinner and some street wandering the night before, we started our second day in Amsterdam at a huge street market nearby. I love markets like these – so many different types of stands ranging from clothing and shoes to meat and fish. Though it’s hard to appreciate without being there, my favorite are the vegetable stands. You can judge a good one by variety and quality…and, of course, by the huge crowds of people buying their produce there.

These incredible artichokes were huge…though not as huge as the fist size garlic sitting next to it. Though I was enjoying relaxing with Willie and Brenda, this stand made me want to cook dinner in their kitchen sooooo badly.

The fish stands are unbelievable. Huge variety – huge products. These humongous prawns are the perfect kind to flavor with lots of garlic and have one of the best delicacies (the brains, which you suck out after you crack the head away from the bodies) which are hard to eat in the smaller shrimp.

There was also this amazing spice and tea market which had an incredible selection of all kinds of dry, whole, and spice mixes and also all sorts of kitchen and tea supplies. I’m probably lucky I didn’t have any room in my tiny suitcase, because I wanted to buy up half of the store.

This was one (yes, ONE) of the many stands of packets of herbs. Mmmmm.

Next stop (once we had reached a reasonable drinking hour) was the Heineken Experience. We knew it to be a little touristy, but the bigger breweries always have the ability to give extensive tours with a lot of variety, information, and tastings.

The inside of the Heineken Experience was really cool – self guided and super interactive (good call, Brenda!). I enjoyed seeing the fresh hops – I had only ever seen the pellets.

Though this place is no longer used for brewing, it originally was. These huge copper kettles were a sight to see, and we were able to look inside to see exactly how big the vats were.

Next, we went down to a demonstration. I know quite a bit about the process of brewing but Brenda and Willie’s recent home-brewing experiences made me look like a phony. When we went to the next demonstration, Brenda asked “Is this the wort?” and the demonstrator was quite impressed. We tasted it – it’s the very sweet product of the initial stages of brewing.

Here you can see Brenda and a very sassy Matt grinding the barley at the “Help the Brewer” demo.
After the rest of the demonstration, which included viewing of old – tyme heineken commercials and a make your own heineken music video, we went on a canal cruise around Amsterdam. It was beautiful…the canals are actually quite similar to the winding waterways of Venice. All of the bicycles were another sight to see – apparently each year a huge number of them fall into the canals.

It was also an amazing way to see the city. The 75 minute boat ride took us all around Amsterdam, through the canals and all the way out to the main river.
After that, we walked to Brewery IJ…a brewery in a very large windmill.

The bar and tasting area is in a building off to the side, where you can order beer and sit outside on the patio. Between the four of us we tried all of their 7 varieties, along with some cured meats and locally made cheese.

This was the inside where you could order the beer – it was a magical sight. You can’t tell from this photo, but I believe Willie is drooling.

Here are two of their beers – a refreshing wheat beer and a darker, spicier (though quite crisp) beer – both Brewery IJ specialities.

The day went by in a blur – a bit of a tease as I was wishing I could spend longer with them. But it was lovely and a lot of fun – wonderfully punctuated by lots of food and drink!


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Berlin – The Food

We were hungry from the get-go as we headed into Berlin. We’d elected to sleep in, and missed breakfast at the hotel. Matt found the closest kebap stand to our dropoff point, but I was after something different – a Berliner.

Berliner is the classic name for the filled doughnut (or any doughnut really, without a hole). It took sticking my head into a few bakeries and cafes until I found a place who sold the fresh doughnuts. All of the doughnuts looked irresistible, even the crullers and ordinary glazed – but I had come to try a Berliner, and I was going to. There were two varieties, and one of them only had one left in the bakery case. I knew it was the winner. The doughnut was light and airy and filled with a dense strawberry jam. I think it probably wasn’t meant to be eaten in two bites, but that was essentially what happened – one from me and one from Matt and it was bye-bye Berliner.

The bakery was located on the edge of Kreuzberg, a fun neighborhood in Berlin, a bit away from some of the tourist sights. We kept on walking, but saw some storm clouds rolling in, so we pulled over at a little (and completely empty café). I ordered a Heifewessen (wheat beer). I happen to love wheat beers, so I took the opportunity to drink them all day long. I chose the “Hell” (light) and Matt chose the “Dunkel” (dark). They were both incredibly crisp and delicious. Though the Dunkel was quite dark, it was an easy-to-drink beer with a light flavor. We drank them slowly as we watched the rain come and go, and then moved on.

For lunch we selected a lunch spot a bit off the main drag, but back near the city center. We were delighted with an appetizer made of the same creamy herb mixture we’d had the day before in Dresden and homemade cheese curds spiced with paprika and herbs. It was served with a fresh pretzel and radishes, and was just about perfect. Cold and creamy met the lovely pepperyness that comes from a good radish, and the chewy pretzel was the ideal delivery vehicle.

My entrée was a German-style pork steak, which was wrapped in salty ham, sprinkled with tangy cheese, and sweet roasted tomato slices. It was served with lightly crisp potatoes which had been pan-fried with bacon and onions. All I could think as the plate was put in front of me was: “This would be an excellent meal to cure a hangover” and it’s flavors reminded me of breakfast (the potatoes were a bit like homefries). But it made a delicious lunch – the layers on top of the pork were perfect complements to each other. I gobbled it up in a hurry.

Matt chose an equally hearty meal made up of German-style meatballs (which were ever so slightly sweet and tasted of cloves), roasted carrots, and mashed potatoes. The meatballs were unlike any we’d ever tasted – a new sort of warm spiciness that went excellently with the combination of lamb and veal. We drank two new weissens with the meal.

We spent the afternoon sightseeing, but the rain kept interrupting us. At one point, we ducked into the nearest covered area, and the scent of cinnamon flooded our nostrils. Though not at all hungry, we succumbed to sharing a crepe from the creperie we were using for shelter. Hey, it was the least we could do, right?

We ended the day with a trip to the supermarket for some water and fruit – that would be all we’d need to dinner, since we’d eaten more than enough that day. Apparently rain isn’t an issue on a vacation, as long as you’re a hungry traveler.

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Berlin – The Sights

Our very first stop in Berlin was the East Side Gallery – parts of the Berlin wall which have been divided up amongst local artists who paint murals in commemoration of the wall’s history and how it effected the people of Berlin. It was really amazing…here are some of my favorite shots:

There was one artist who was actually at work on his mural as we walked by.

Here’s some that he’s finished…

Then there were parts of the original wall that had not been divided up, and simply had graffiti and street art on them.

Then, it was off for a drive through Berlin. We drove down the Unter de Linden, one of the major streets to check out a few sights.

It’s strange as you meander through the parts that were formerly East and West Berlin, there are subtle changes that are still noticeable, and bring you back to the extreme differences of that time. The signage, for example, is different in East and West Berlin based on the variances in German and Soviet norms.

This was one of the city gates. The statue on the top was taken to the Louvre at one point, but has now been returned to its’ home at the top of the gate.

The next day, we were dropped off at Checkpoint Charlie, the check way point formerly dividing East and West Berlin.

We also visited the Holocaust Memorial, which was really unique and a sight to see. Thousands of blocks of various heights and sizes speckle a large park. It is one of the few monuments in Germany that recognizes the losses and tragedy of the Holocaust, as many Germans aimed not to glorify (positively or negatively) German actions during World War II. We also found it extremely interesting to learn that the blocks are covered with graffiti-preventive paint to keep this sight a memorial. The paint is supplied by the same company that supplied German troops with Zyklon B (the primary poisonous gas used in gas chambers) during the war. The paint, needless to say, is provided to the memorial for free.

Once again, our sight seeing was limited by a massive rain storm that came in as we walked from place to place. At one point, we sought shelter in a covered doorway. We may not have seen too many of Berlin’s sights (it has so many – it is truly a massive city), but the rain provided us with a chance to duck into all sorts of cafes, pubs, and restaurants for some Berlin cuisine which we enjoyed so much we almost forget we were hiding from a storm.

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