In the second week of the grilled cheese competition between Betsy and Kim, we’ll see cheers, we’ll see tears and someone will win the highest honor, “Winner winner, chicken dinner!” as proclaimed by the right honorable judge, 3 year old Liam.
Betsy and Kim began the competition in the Leiden market, each choosing a cheese and agreeing on a single loaf of bread. Betsy settled on a hunk of Groene Hart Oud cheese after just a few samples and Kim was also a bit quick on the draw when she selected Trots Pikant. Both cheeses came from the abundant supply found in the friendly stall that can be found in the market on Saturdays and Wednesdays.
From the baker, a local sourdough was chosen, though much to the dismay of our competitors, it neither looked, nor ultimately performed like a San Fran. sourdough.
The judges, Louke, Dani and their son Liam arrived at the appointed grilling hour and settled in for what promised to be a delicious evening. Our judges came prepared with a highly technical rating system as seen below in the construction paper signs.
Betsy and Kim got to work, slicing and grating cheese, slathering butter and pouring a flight of three randomly selected beers to pair with the sandwiches (and chocolate milk for judge 3, of course). Beer 1 – a nice seasonal Bok from La Chouffe. Beer 2 – an IPA from The Flying Dutchman. Beer 3 – a white from Ginette Beer.
After a rather frantic grilling where both chefs shared a tiny Dutch kitchen, the sandwiches were quartered and served to the judges.
Within moments, the decision was in…
For Kim, who presented a less than stellar grill with somewhat gooey cheese on the dense bread…
For Betsy who plated the superior grill, using a salted mayonnaise to catapult over the competition…
And the highest honor went to Betsy when Liam exclaimed “winner winner chicken dinner!”
Tune in next week as both chefs are allowed to add one veggie to their grilled cheese creation.
PS – Three out of four lesbians preferred Ginette, beer that is.
Every Saturday morning, after our first cup of coffee, we weave our way over and along the canals of Leiden to the amazing Street Market. Stall after stall offers an amazing array of fresh fruit and veggies (the 1€ bowls of avocados are our favorite), fish, flowers, clothes and spices from around the world…and cheese, glorious cheese! As we wander by the numerous cheese vendors, it’s practically impossible not to snatch a sample, or ten, from the piles of savory cubes. We’ve fallen in love with the truffle, mustard, cumin and other cheesy goodness we can’t yet pronounce.
As the days grow shorter and colder, and the rains keep us inside more than outside, we’re cooking up new ways to entertain ourselves. With all of these cheeses at out fingertips, it makes perfect expat sense to have a great grilled cheese cook off! The Dutch call these toasties, grilled sammies all buttery and pressed to scrummy perfection, invariably dipped in a sauce that is some variation of mayonnaise…fancy ladies call this concoction an aioli.
For five weeks, Betsy and Kim will each pick a different cheese, prepare a sandwich and present them to the esteemed judges…our hungry friends and neighbors. The rubric is random and solely based on the tastes of the judges. Bribes of beer and chocolate are encouraged.
Last week we had our first cheese-off as a test-run – we were both the cooks and the judges and here’s what happened. In an effort to clean the fridge we limited ourselves to the cheeses left over from the progressive dinner. Betsy chose the risky red pesto option, while Kim settled on the mustard cheese, sadly the slightly moldy brie and dried up parmesan did not make the cut. We used the same freshly baked bread from our neighborhood grocery store, the Dirk.
Slathered in fresh butter and piled high with cheese, each chef pressed the thinly sliced bread to golden perfection. While Kim’s mustard grilled cheese was pungent and delicious, both judges agreed that the rich color and striking flavor of the red pesto grilled cheese won the night! Betsy is sure her grilling technique is also responsible for the superior slice of heaven. And though we may or may not have been enjoying a little fruit of the vine, we both agree that cheese is integral to the grilled cheese experience, here’s looking at you, Hannah Hart, lol.
Tonight, with fresh cheeses and a loaf of local sourdough acquired yesterday, we’ll present this week’s toasties to Louke, Dani and their son – the first victims, uh, friends, willing to be our judges.
In one sense, I should be over the moon about the fact that I haven’t written a post in over three months. As I look back over the span of my work, I see vast portions that were fueled by pain, fear and, truth be told, 32 flavors of frustration. Now I find myself in the fortunate conundrum of re-learning how and what to write as a deeply content woman living a life beyond my dreams with the woman who is my soul mate.
It’s true that while settling in over here I’ve done my dead level best to ignore the swirling shit-storm that is The US at this point in time. I’ve seriously curtailed my consumption and engagement of social media, but more than that, in the past 90 days I’ve seen little more than about an hour total of news from any corner of the earth other than what is going on within a 10 mile radius around me. Yep, this is negligent and must soon come to an end, but it has been life giving to step back and live, really live, in the here and now.
So before I start blogging regularly again, I thought I’d catch y’all up on what we’ve been up to the last little while…
Walking and Riding
Everywhere. We get everywhere a gal’s gotta go on foot, bike or public transportation.We ride our bikes about 9 miles two and from work most days, unless it’s piss-pouring rain, which as it turns out happens far less than the expat guides scared us into believing. Of course Betsy still splashes into work, poncho a’flyin.
Early on, I had a nasty little splat when I misjudged the physics between bicycle tire and concrete curb. But over weeks and months of getting back on the horse what threw me, I have come to adore sailing all over town on my trusty blue bicycle. Now we are learning how to be really Dutch by trying to carry far more than is reasonable as I peddle through town. Five bags of groceries, sure! Dog food bag the size of a love-seat, no problem! Modest haul of produce from the market + new broom + fire pit (some assembly required) – you got this, babe!
Working and Playing
Betsy and I spend our weeks fully immersed in the life of the school where we both work – Betsy as a 9th and 12th grade teacher and I happily splitting my days as an admin in the athletics and communications/marketing departments. The work is wonderful and the culture is fantastic. We’re making good and true friends and find affirmation anew each day that we have indeed chosen wisely.
Nearly every Wednesday we enjoy happy hour at a different pub in Leiden with a little crew of faculty and staff who live in our college town. Some of our favorite stops this fall have been Cafe De Bonte Koe, Lot & de Walvis, Waag, The North End Pub, Café de Keyzer (where I will be co-hosting Pub Theology on Nov. 17!) Olivier’s and Grand Café De Vriend.
We’ve – lost miserably at Astronomy on Tap bingo, been to a beer festival at Brouwerij de Molen in Bodegraven, celebrated Leiden’s Ontzet on Oct. 3, enjoyed brews and burgers at The Jopenkerk (brew pub in a church) in Haarlem, taken in a few flicks at The Leiden International Film Festival, enjoyed walkabouts in Amsterdam and a slow stroll through the Van Gough Museum and even climbed to the top of a windmill with a friend visiting from the States.
We recently participated in progressive dinner that had us traipsing all over Leiden to a few homes of our colleagues. Creepy Cocktails and simple snacks began at 5:30 at our house then we moved on to sample delicious dishes in some truly covet-inducing apartments around the city. Since it was the weekend before Halloween, I may or may not have been donned costumery for our roving affair (and I may or may not have been the only one sporting a costume).
We’ve also introduced a handful of new friends to a bit of American culture with our NFL Sunday nights (complete with wings, sliders, chips and buckets of beer) and an evening of pumpkin carving with a neighboring couple and their little boy.
But we’re not just social butterflies flitting about the local environs…
Nesting and Traveling
We spend a lot of time making this house, street, town and country our new home, just the two of us, ever astonished that this is the life we get to live. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t turn to one another and say, “Wow, I love this life.”
The house is our pride and joy and the time we spend together continues to be sacred and central to our happiness. Many an evening approaches where we’ve planned to go visit a new pub or take in a sliver of Dutch life, when the urge to snuggle up in our home, light a few candles and fire up a bit of Netflix wins out over traipsing about our beautiful city.
Nearly every Saturday we take a couple of hours to stroll through the Leiden Market to shop for yummies for tummies. Holding hands, talking about all the things and taking in the sites, sounds and smells of a bustling Dutch market, is our chance to start the weekend right – fully present to one another and the gifts we’ve been given. And one of my favorite moments has been sitting in the park on our little wooden beach chairs, enjoying a snack of local cheeses and a sip or two or local beer on a warm Sunday afternoon. Sabbath indeed! How odd (and satisfying) it was to be the leisurely locals spied by the flotilla of tourists gliding past on “our” canal.
But wait, there’s more! We’ve also had a chance to travel beyond the borders of Holland since jumping across the pond! We flew to Budapest over fall break and stayed with friends (and former colleagues) of Betsy’s. We rode busses, trams and trains all over the city, saw beautiful sites, ate amazing Hungarian food, soaked in the warm waters of the Széchenyi Bathhouse with hearty locals and sleek tourists and were utterly gob-smacked by the beauty of the magnificently lit parliament house as we floated by on our candle lit dinner cruise.
We have another fun trip planned for Thanksgiving break, so watch our Facebook page for posts. First to guess where we are wins a postcard sent from our destination!
Missing and Not Missing
Y’all, for real, I miss very little from The States apart from family and friends. I do not miss:
The near constant presence of visceral and aggressive homophobia
The perverted marriage of capitalism and health care
The celebration of unhinged materialism
The glorification of busy
Fear based everything – religion, politics, commerce, relationships, eating…
The religious industrial complex that commodifies our relationship to God, self and others
I DO miss my daughter with an increasingly physical ache that sometimes wakes me in the night. I know she is thriving in her own life and that this is the season where she’d naturally be living into her own trajectory, but I still wake some mornings wishing I could make her breakfast or snuggle under piles of quilts while sipping hot beverages and reading important thoughts to one another. Betsy too misses her parents and siblings with whom she is very close. She’s a tender soul and being an ocean away from her folks can bring tears to her eyes, especially when there is so much of this chapter of her life she’s bursting to share and so much happening back home that she only hears about through phone calls.
I can safely say we all miss a yard for the pups. Though beautiful Plantsoen Park is little more than 20 feet from our front door, we miss the lazy days of Sookie and Louie lolling about on the back deck with the freedom to muck about, off-leash, around the sizable old Florida landscape.
Southern fried food. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of fried food here, but it’s just not what my mama made. I was raised in a family that friend anything that stood still long enough – brined, dredged and cast-iron fried is what I’m talking about! The fried bits and nibbles of the Netherlands don’t quite cut it for this southern gal with a tad too much buttermilk running through her veins. And don’t even get me started on the great biscuit fiasco of naught 17!
Whew! Now that we got that out of the way…stay tuned for our regularly scheduled programming of posts.
Next up – the great double Dutch grilled cheese cook-off where Kim and Betsy go head to head fusing an American classic with the cheeses of Holland! Do you know how to pronounce Gouda?
Content warning: Be careful what you ask for, this post is a doozie!
About 12 years before I met Betsy, she stepped off a plane in Florida, jet lagged and hungry after a 12 hour flight from Budapest. She had just returned to the states after teaching abroad for ‘round about 7 years. For the first five, she taught IB and GCSE English in Singapore, the two after that she taught IB English in Hungary. In these years she worked, coached, played and developed life-long bonds with some extraordinarily lovely people who would go on to serve and lead international schools around the world. (I’m sure it’ll come as little surprise to y’all that this period of her life formed her into the beautiful human that swept me off my feet a couple of years ago).
Fast forward to Nov. 8, 2016, just 4 months after the proposal and 4 months before the wedding, we sat stunned and sobbing in our old Florida home. After the sickening reality of who and what had just happened sank in, Betsy began reaching out to everyone she knew abroad to find out if there might be any openings anywhere but here. There were, in fact, positions at a few schools and a few positions at one school in particular that happened to be located in the first nation to legalize same sex marriage – The Netherlands. Throughout the fall and winter she submitted her resume, letters of recommendation and participated in a flurry of Skype interviews (final interview was early in the morning on January 21, inauguration day). A few weeks later, after about a dozen sleepless nights she got the call – “you’re hired!”
In the months between Nov. 8 and Jan. 21, we’d talked to a lot of folks – each other, friends, family, acquaintances and complete strangers – and we kept coming up with the same conclusion; we want this.
Some of y’all have been following this journey and have asked for more insight about the logistics of what we are doing. Lordy be, there are so many moving parts!
The engine driving this hover craft is Betsy’s job. Without this, I have no idea how we’d have the privilege of making this leap. Betsy’s connections, commitment and skills as a devoted high school literature teacher is how we got this ball rolling.
Because of her job and sponsorship, I, her wife, will also have a live/work permit for our life in Leiden. I do not yet know what I will be doing – that search will be infinitely easier once I am there and have my work permit in hand. I am hoping for something new, something that draws on my seminary education while still utilizing my decades of website design and social media marketing experience.
Thank goodness for our sponsor, Betsy’s school, and the folks there who are handling most of the puzzle pieces that would otherwise baffle us in this transition. The paperwork is significant, though not ridiculous. We had to provide serious, double plus, pinky swear proof that we are who we say we are. That meant we needed to both provide birth certificates with an Apostille seal procured from our states of birth. Then, once in hand, for me to be able to live and work there, we had to provide our marriage certificate (thanks Obama) with the Apostille seal. Bets had to submit an FBI background check (thankfully the Panamanian noodle incident was stricken from her record). Our fur kids would require their own reams of paperwork, but we will get to that in a second.
Here, too, we got all flavors of lucky. We were told that a lot of incoming faculty wait until they arrive to spend a couple of weeks searching for an apartment. Everyone we asked advised us to rent for the first year or two and then if we decided if this was our forever nation we might look to buy. I was intensely comfortable to nail down our rental as quickly as possible so we watched the school’s intranet closely for posts about rentals, while also spending countless hours on sites like Funda and Pararius. Pretty early on we saw a posting on the intranet for a place owned by a former teacher that was exactly where we wanted to live (near a park in Leiden) and after a couple of weeks of emails we had signed a one year lease on a perfect place on Rijnstraat just a block from Plantsoen Park.
Stateside, we decided pretty early on that we wanted to keep Betsy’s house that is just a five minute walk from Manasota beach. So we had months of work to get it ready and within a few day of posting it on Craigslist, we hit the tenant jackpot! We moved out of our home on July 1st and have been living on the goodwill of family and Air BnB hosts for the last two weeks. When we get to Holland, we will be staying in a groovy Air BnB in the Hague before we get to move into our for-real home in Leiden.
Quarantine is not required to ship our fur babies to The Netherlands. However, there have been five bazillion hours of paperwork, two extra-large, airline approved crates, 15 digit European chips (in addition to their already installed, 9 digit US chips), a whole new round of shots, a USDA certified health certificate (which had to be government approved within 10 days of the dogs arriving in The Netherlands – thanks FedEx for the paper routing to and from Tallahassee), an embarrassing pile of Benjamins to ship two, 60+ pound boxer-bulldogs the 4,624 miles from Miami to Amsterdam, not to mention a flurry of frantic phones calls to check and double check just about everything. Because our fur babies are of the snub-nose variety, there are only a couple of airlines equipped to ship them safely. With the (required) help of an official (and wildly helpful) pet carrier, we’ve made all the arrangements for Sookie and Louie to be dropped off at their pet terminal on Friday morning, after which we will head over to our own terminal and each take our day-long journey to Holland. We will arrive at Schiphol about an hour before they land.
We have too much stuff….no, really, we have way too much stuff. We still have too much stuff even after jettisoning and storing lots and lots of stuff. After a big old yard sale, about 13 trips to our local thrift shop (NOT Goodwill), selling our camper and cars and recycling what was left of the product from our business, we STILL have too much stuff. About six weeks before our scheduled flight, movers arranged by the school where B will work arrived to pack up our allowed 8 cubic meters of stuff. We are also hauling four huge suitcases, two small suitcases and an unauthorized amount of “personal items” through the airports and city streets of The Hague.
We are still Americans. We will still be Americans when we get there. We will always be Americans. We are not, nor are we required to renounce our citizenship. We will carry our American passports everywhere we go. One day, if all goes as my heart of heart hopes, I hope to apply for dual citizen ship. But that is years off and for another post further down the road.
Whew, that’s all I’ve got for now, y’all. We still have a few more days State-side and about 12 days of errands yet to run!
Feel free to ask about anything we’ve left out..like all the insurance papers (especially those in Dutch), sim cards for our iPhones, shutting off utilities and picking them back up over there, consolidating bank accounts and opening accounts abroad. Bets and I will both do our best to respond. Your call is important to us…please stay on the line.