Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Matzo Ball Soup and 80+ Days of Dinner

To say that a lot has changed since I posted last would be an understatement. We're going on our fifth week self-isolating at our house and I've been cooking like a maniac (both because everyone is now home for every meal and because it's a great outlet for me). And I've apparently taken up baking. It started out with Cam wanting to bake more cakes and then I hopped aboard the sourdough train when I was able to scoop some starter from Chef Johanna Hellrigl who has generously given out an insane amount of starter to folks quarantined in DC. I'm still working on making an actual loaf of sourdough bread, but I've been crushing the discard recipes!

Most of these Days of Dinner are from before we started staying home, but the last four weeks are Quarantine Meals! So the recipe I'm sharing this time is straight comfort food. It's a lot of directions, but honestly, not at all difficult. So don't get overwhelmed. I usually balk at any recipe that calls for a whole chicken, but there's really not a way to screw this one up. And it's so worth it.

I highly recommend splitting the work over two days. First make the chicken stock. Refrigerate it and then you can skim the schmaltz (chicken fat) the next day to use in making the matzo balls. If you have enough stock pots, make an extra batch of stock because it freezes well and you can save the schmaltz in the refrigerator for the matzo balls when you're ready.

Matzo Ball Soup 
(slightly adapted from Bon Appetit)

Chicken stock
- 1, 4-5 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces
- 1 lb chicken wings, necks, and/or backs
- 2 large yellow onions, unpeeled, quartered
- 6 celery stalks, cut into 1" pieces
- 4 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1" pieces
- 1 large parsnip, peeled, cut into 1" pieces
- 1 large shallot, quartered
- 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
- 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns

Matzo ball mixture
- 3 large eggs, beaten to blend
- 3/4 cup matzo meal
- 1/4 cup schmaltz (chicken fat), melted
- 3 tbsp club soda
- 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt

- 2 small carrots, peeled, sliced 1/4" thick on a diagonal
- Kosher salt
- 2 tbsp coarsley chopped fresh dill
- coarsley ground fresh black pepper

Chicken Stock
1. Bring all ingredients and 12 cups cold water to a boil in a very large (at least 12-qt.) stockpot. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken breasts are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

2. Transfer breasts to a plate (remaining chicken parts are strictly for stock). Let breasts cool slightly, then remove meat and return bones to stock. Shred meat. Let cool, tightly wrap, and chill.

3. Continue to simmer stock until reduced by one-third, about 2 hours. Strain chicken stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large saucepan (or airtight container, if not using right away); discard solids. You should have about 8 cups.

You can refrigerate stock for up to two days. If you're keeping it for longer, freeze it, including the shredded chicken breast.

Matzo Balls
Mix eggs, matzo meal, schmaltz, club soda, ands alt in a medium bowl (mixture will resemble wet sand; it will firm up as it rests). Cover and chill at least 2 hours. You can refrigerate it for up to a day.

1. Bring chicken stock to a boil in a large saucepan. Add carrots; season with salt. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender, 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat, add reserved breast meat (if you didn't freeze stock and already add), and cover. Set soup aside.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Scoop out 2-tablespoonful portions matzo ball mixture and, using wet hands, gently roll into balls.

3. Add matzo balls to water and reduce heat so water is at a gentle simmer (too much bouncing around will break them up). Cover pot and cook matzo balls until cooked through and starting to sink, 20-25 minutes.

4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer matzo balls to bowls. Ladle soup over, top with dill, and season with pepper.

*          *          *

Day 1 (W) - brinner -- egg tacos + salad
Day 2 (Th) - Bruschetta Grilled Chicken; farro
Day 3 (F) - Backpocket Bolognese
Day 4 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 5 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 6 (M) - NY strip steak; green beans; salad
Day 7 (T) - Greek Lamb Burgers; cauliflower gnocchi
Day 8 (W) - leftovers
Day 9 (Th) - Matzo Ball Soup
Day 10 (F) - dinner out
Day 11 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 12 (Sun) - Superbowl! ordered in

Day 13 (M) - Garlic Lover's Crockpot Beef Stew
Day 14 (T) - Greek Chicken Kabobs; pesto cauliflower gnocchi; roasted broccoli
Day 15 (W) - Sushi Rice with Miso-Caramel Glazed Salmon (a new family fave)
Day 16 (Th) - leftovers
Day 17 (F) - dinner out
Day 18 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 19 (Sun) - Grilled Steak Tacos with Cilantro Chimichurri Sauce

Day 20 (M) - Spaghetti and Drop Meatballs with Tomato Sauce
Day 21 (T) - Cheesy Stuffed Peppers
Day 22 (W) - Halibut with Spicy Sausage, Tomatoes, and Rosemary
Day 23 (Th) - Balsamic Grilled Chicken
Day 24 (F) - grilled salmon; carrots; brown rice
Day 25 (Sat) - brinner -- eggs and TJ scallion cakes
Day 26 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 27 (M) - dinner out
Day 28 (T) - Backpocket Bolognese
Day 29 (W) - All American Chili
Day 30 (Th) - dinner out
Day 31 (F) - dinner out in Nebraska for my nephew's wedding
Day 32 (Sat) - dinner out in Nebraska for my nephew's wedding
Day 33 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 34 (M) - Easy Steak Fajitas; roasted cauliflower; brown rice
Day 35 (T) - Chicken Enchilada Skillet
Day 36 (W) - Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork
Day 37 (Th) - grilled Sabatino's sausages
Day 38 (F) - Gail Simmons' Greek Style Lamb Meatballs over Orzo from Bring it Home
Day 39 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 40 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 41 (M) - Matzo Ball Soup
Day 42 (T) - Weeknight 20 Minute Spicy Udon Noodles
Day 43 (W) - Sushi Rice with Miso-Caramel Glazed Salmon
Day 44 (Th) - Slow Cooker Meatballs in Tomato Sauce; cauliflower gnocchi
Day 45 (F) - Greek Marinated Flank Steak; sweet potato fries; salad
Day 46 (Sat) - DIY pizzas with store-bought dough
Day 47 (Sun) - California Chicken, Veggie, Avocado, and Brown Rice Bowls

Day 48 (M) - Gail Simmons' Greek Style Lamb Meatballs over Orzo from Bring it Home (I'd made a double batch and frozen one!)
Day 49 (T) - grilled Sabatino's sausages; Crispy Sheet Pan Gnocchi and Veggies
Day 50 (W) - Costco chicken skewers (these were not good); cauliflower gnocchi; salad
Day 51 (Th) - leftovers
Day 52 (F) - out
Day 53 (Sat)* - Flank Steak Tacos
Day 54 (Sun) - leftovers

Day 55 (M) - take out from our fave neighborhood spot Moreland's Tavern -- in addition to running a regular take out during quarantine, you can also pick up beer + cocktails and participate in their new general store boxes. We are trying to order at least once/week from local restaurants to help support them through this difficult time. And we routinely grab a growler or two from Moreland's even if we are ordering food from another spot.
Day 56 (T) - Chicken Pasta; salad
Day 57 (W) - Grilled Flash-Marinated Skirt Steak; grilled vegetables; orzo
Day 58 (Th) - Chipotle Pulled Pork Tacos; TJs Mexican corn; brown rice
Day 59 (F) - Matzo Ball Soup (I told you we've been eating it a lot!)
Day 60 (Sat) - take out from Tiger Fork, including cocktails!
Day 61 (Sun) - All American Chili

Day 62 (M) - take out from Little Coco's, who is also doing groceries and a special Sunday Supper during quarantine.
Day 63 (T) - Extra-Juicy Turkey Burgers (DELISH); roasted broccoli; leftover grains
Day 64 (W) - Spring Break Thanksgiving because why the hell not: I usually make just a turkey breast for Thanksgiving but used this as a low-stakes opportunity to do a full bird. I thought this Dry-Brined Roast Turkey was amazing and I still had one frozen container of Caramelized Onion and Bacon Gravy left from actual Thanksgiving to serve with it. I also made a yummy Easy Green Bean Casserole and Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes (I didn't make them ahead, but you could). And we served up boxed stuffing, canned cranberries, store-bought cornbread, and store-bought apple pie for dessert.
Day 65 (Th) - DIY pizzas with store-bought dough
Day 66 (F) - take out from Gravitas (amazing)
Day 67 (Sat) - Instant Ramen Fried Rice; 12-Minute Chicken and Broccoli
Day 68 (Sun) - Mr. Not-So-SAHM made his famous burgers and taught Kane how to make them too;  salad; tater tots

Day 70 (M) - Pasta with Sausage, Basil and Mustard; Shockingly Easy No-Knead Focaccia
Day 71 (T) - Easy Grilled Chicken; grilled zucchini and squash; brown rice
Day 72 (W) - Cold Roast Salmon with Lemony Yogurt Sauce; green beans; farro
Day 73 (Th) - grilled New York strip steak; roasted cauliflower
Day 74 (F) - grilled sausages; waffle fries; Sauteed Shredded Brussels Sprouts 
Day 75 (Sat) - take out from Blue Jacket, including cocktails. The Neighborhood Restaurant Group is also running a pantry and prepared meals delivery.
Day 76 (Sun) - Trader Joe's Pollo Asada; Mexican corn; rice

Day 77 (M) - Turkey Meatballs; cauliflower gnocchi; roasted vegetables
Day 78 (T) - DIY pizzas with store-bought dough; salad
Day 79 (W) - Passover (not kosher): Matzo Ball Soup; Tangy Braised Short Ribs; Apples with Honey and Crushed Walnuts; Garlicky, Buttered Carrots; store-bought Potatoes Gratin; ice cream sundaes.
Day 80 (Th) - Chicken Shawarma with Yogurt Sauce; couscous; leftover carrots
Day 81 (F) - All American Chili; Buttery Sourdough Sandwich Biscuits
Day 82 (Sat) - take out from Chiko (SO good)
Day 83 (Sun) - take out from All Purpose -- just needed a take out double-header this week!

*self-isolation begins!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Beef Ragu over Cauliflower Gnocchi + 140(ish) Days of Dinner

This is the first year in a long time that we haven't done an official January Whole30. I really liked the macro coutning and intermittent fasting program I was doing throughout last summer, but had just really fallen off through the fall and holidays. So I decided to go back to that. We briefly attempted a dry January at least, but quickly adjusted that to dry weekdays and I've been holding to that.

Nevertheless, many of the recipes I cook are still fairly clean (free of dairy products, legumes, and grains), but I add some of those in as sides now. You'll see lots of dinners out and lots of repeats and I knew in my head that we eat broccoli a lot, but OMG we eat broccoli A LOT. It's easy, tasty, and everyone always eats a ton of it. So ....

For the top recipe, I'm sharing one of our favorite cold-day dishes. Although this Beef Ragu takes some time to cook, the hands on time is so minimal that I can still get it done on a weekday -- I just have to remember to put it in the oven or slow cooker earlier in the day. I serve mine over Trader Joe's cauliflower gnocchi and the kids often have theirs over pasta or polenta. Some extra roasted veggies on the side and you are set!

Beef Ragu over Cauliflower Gnocchi 
(slightly adapted from Simply Delicious)

- 2 lb chuck roast
- 2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1, 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp sugar (or sub honey)
- 6 garlic cloves peeled, left whole
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups beef stock
- salt and pepper to taste

- frozen Cauliflower Gnocchi
- parmesean cheese and parsley for serving (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Place beef, onions, tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, garlic, herbs, and soy sauce into a dutch oven. Lightly mix. Add wine and stock and cover.

2. Place in oven and cook for 4 - 5 hours until meat is tender and pulls apart easily. Shred meat with two forks. Then turn oven up to 425F and return ragu to oven to cook for another 20 minutes. If you're roasting veggies for a side dish, I put these in the oven now as well.

3. Cook cauliflower gnocchi. Spoon ragu over gnocchi, top with parmesean cheese and parsley before serving.

*          *          *

Day 1 (M) - Back-Pocket Bolognese
Day 2 (T) - Loaded Turkey Taco Bowls
Day 3 (W) - Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce; brown rice; roasted cauliflower
Day 4 (Th) - All American Chili
Day 5 (F) - dinner out
Day 6 (Sat) - Whole30 Baked Salmon with Creamy Avocado Sauce; Israeli couscous; roasted corn with cotija cheese
Day 7 (Sun) - Grilled Paleo Basil and Cracked Pepper Sausages (I can't get these through Instacart at Costco anymore and it's making me bananas -- everyone loves them!)

Day 8 (M) - Baked Salmon Cakes; roasted veggies; black beans
Day 9 (T) - Shredded Crockpot BBQ Pork
Day 10 (W) - dinner out
Day 11 (Th) - leftovers
Day 12 (F) - One Pot Cheesy Taco Skillet
Day 13 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 14 (Sun) - Ground Chicken Tacos with Chipotle Crema; brown rice; Mexican street corn

Day 15 (M) - Stiry Fry Tofu; veggies; brown rice
Day 16 (T) - grilled New York strip steak; cauliflower gnocchi; roasted broccoli
Day 17 (W) - dinner out
Day 18 (Th) - Freezer-to-Slow Cooker Chicken Chili
Day 19 (F) - Thanksgiving Turkey Meatballs
Day 20 (Sat) - Trader Joe's falafel; carrot spirals; couscous; pita
Day 21 (Sun) - Teriyaki Salmon; jasmine rice; roasted broccoli

Day 23 (M) - dinner out
Day 23 (T) - Crockpot Korean Beef - served ours as buddha bowls with brown rice as quick-pickled carrots and radishes
Day 24 (W) - The Mr.'s birthday dinner! Panko Chicken Parmesean; caesar salad; pasta; and Frozen Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie!
Day 25 (Th) - leftovers
Day 26 (F) - flank steak with Chimichurri; roasted potatoes; roasted cauliflower
Day 27 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 28 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 29 (M) - dinner out
Day 30 (T) - Stiry Fry Tofu; veggies; quinoa
Day 31 (W) - dinner out
Day 32 (Th) - Make Ahead Freezer Chicken Fajitas; brown rice
Day 33 (F) - polenta with Trader Joe's Bolognese
Day 34 (Sat) - dinner party at our house catered by the awesome Sara's Savories -- Red Wine + Herb Braised Short Ribs; Maple Dijon Herb Seared Salmon; Garlic and Lemon Sauteed Spinach; Roasted Potatoes with Olive Oil and Thyme. I made a Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie which was fab!
Day 35 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 36 (M) - Chicken Enchiladas (I didn't freeze these because that seemed to cause lots of issues for people)
Day 37 (T) - Big Batch Meatballs but used this Red Sauce
Day 38 (W) - dinner out
Day 39 (Th) - ginger and garlic stir fried rotisserie chicken and veggies; brown rice
Day 40 (F) - Kane's birthday dinner! Had his favorite Chicaog Giordano's pizza delivered; caesar salad; I made Chocolate Cheesecake
Day 41 (Sat) - leftovers
Day 42 (Sun) - leftovers

Day 43 (M) - dinner out
Day 44 (T) - Tofu Tacos with Black Beans
Day 45 (W) - out
Day 46 (Th) - Freezer-to-Slow Cooker Chicken Chili
Day 47 (F) - out
Day 48 (Sat) - Cast-Iron Pizza with Fennel and Sausage (OMG SO GOOD)
Day 49 (Sun) - Soba Noodle and Steak Salad with Ginger-Lime Dressing

Day 50 (M) - Grilled Paleo Basil and Cracked Pepper Sausages; salad
Day 51 (T) - One Pot Cheesy Taco Skillet
Day 52 (W) - dinner out
Day 53 (Th) - BBQ Cranberry Chicken
Day 54 (F) - dinner out
Day 55 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 56 (Sun) - our neighbor kindly made us this delicious Chaia Mexican Veggie Soup

Day 57 (M) - Teriyaki Salmon; rice; roasted broccoli
Day 58 (T) - Lemon Pepper Chicken; couscous; green beans
Day 59 (W) - Cast-Iron Pizza with Fennel and Sausage; salad
Day 60 (Th) - All American Chili; salad
Day 61 (F) - dinner out
Day 62 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 63 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 64 (M) - leftovers
Day 65 (T) - Back-Pocket Bolognese; gnocchi
Day 66 (W) - brinner
Day 67 (Th) - Big Batch Meatballs but used this Red Sauce
Day 68 (F) - dinner out
Day 69 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 70 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 71 (M) - Thai Chicken Curry -- again from our nice neighbor!
Day 72 (T) - White Bean, Sage, and Sausage Soup
Day 73 (W) - Instant Pot Shredded Chicken Mexican Style
Day 74 (Th) - brinner
Day 75 (F) - Back-Pocket Bolognese; salad
Day 76 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 77 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 78 (M) - Nourishing Paleo Chicken Soup
Day 79 (T) - All American Chili; salad
Day 80 (W) - dinner out
Day 81 (Th) - Chicken and Polenta with Broccoli
Day 82 (F) - Thai Beef Drunken Noodles
Day 83 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 84 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 85 (M) - dinner out
Day 86 (T) - Instant Pot BBQ Beer Pulled Chicken Tacos
Day 87 (W) - dinner out
Day 88 (Th) - Thanksgiving!! I put out shrimp cocktail and a monster party board for apps. I made Maple Bourbon Glazed Turkey Breast; Caramelized Onion and Bacon Gravy; Brussels Sprouts with Pistachios and Lime; Crispy-Topped Mashed Potatoes; Grapefruit Apricot Cranberry Relish with Rosemary; Brown-Sugar Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows; Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage and Corn Nuts; and boxed stuffing for the Mr. My mom made my favorite Brownie Pecan Pie and my in-laws brought additional pies and rolls.
Day 89 (F) - dinner out
Day 90 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 91 (Sun) - Sweet-and-Saucy Pork Chops; couscous; broccoli

Day 92 (M) - Teriyaki Salmon; rice; roasted broccoli
Day 93 (T) - Easy Chicken Gyro with Tzatziki Sauce; orzo
Day 94 (W) - filet mignon; mashed potatoes; green beans
Day 95 (Th) - dinner out
Day 96 (F) - dinner out
Day 97 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 98 (Sun) - Loaded Turkey Taco Bowls

Day 99 (M) - Oven Fried Chicken with Honey Mustard Glaze; green beans; quinoa pasta
Day 100 (T) - Best General Tso's Tofu
Day 101 (W) - 15-Minute Lemon Garlic Butter Steak with Zucchini Noodles
Day 102 (Th) - leftovers
Day 103 (F) - Slow-Cooker Pot Roast with Chickpea Salad
Day 104 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 105 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 106 (M) - Pork Lettuce Wraps
Day 107 (T) - dinner out
Day 108(W) - dinner out
Day 109 (Th) - Chicken Bolognese
Day 110 (F) - dinner out
Day 111 (Sat) - Oven Fried Chicken with Honey Mustard Glaze
Day 112 (Sun) - Loaded Whole30 Sweet Potato Fries (we had ours as nachos)

Day 113 (M) - Nourishing Paleo Chicken Soup
Day 114 (T) - Christmas Eve cheese fondue!
Day 115(W) - Christmas dinner! We grilled out some gorgeous filet mignon and my father-in-law made a fabulous sauce for it. I made a big party board for apps, Broccoli Caesar Salad (I LOVED this!), Twice Baked Loaded Potatoes (I used regular baking potatoes), Best Green Bean Casserole, Maple-Bacon Popovers, and Fallen Chocolate Cake for dessert.
Day 116 (Th) - leftovers
Day 117 (F) - Hanukkah dinner -- we always order from Wagshals - chicken matzoh ball soup, brisket, latkes, apple sauce, creamed spinach, knot rolls. And Cam made a cake for dessert!
Day 118 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 119 (Sun) - Nacho Beef taco bowls

Day 120 (M) - Baked Chicken ParmeseanBroccoli Caesar Salad; pasta
Day 121 (T) -NYE dinner out at Little Coco's
Day 122(W) - dinner out
Day 123 (Th) - Easy Chicken Gyro with Tzatziki Sauce
Day 124 (F) - Salmon and Broccolini with Citrus-Chile Sauce
Day 125 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 126 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 127 (M) - Slow Cooker Greek Beef Stew with Gremolata; cauliflower gnocchi
Day 128 (T) - Trader Joe's porchetta; green beans; cauliflower gnocchi
Day 129(W) - Chicken Pesto Stuffed Sweet Potatoes; salad
Day 130 (Th) - Spicy Beef and Lamb Kofta; broccoli; roasted potatoes
Day 131 (F) - dinner out
Day 132 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 133 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 134 (M) - Trader Joe's cabernet pot roast; kale gnocchi; broccoli
Day 135 (T) - Paleo Balsamic and Rosemary Chicken grilled; cauliflower gnocchi; green beans
Day 136(W) - Paleo Jalapeno Popper Chicken Chili
Day 137 (Th) - Za'atar Fish and Chips
Day 138 (F) - One Pot Cheesy Taco Skillet
Day 139 (Sat) - dinner out
Day 140 (Sun) - dinner out

Day 141 (M) - filet mignon; roasted potatoes; salad
Day 142 (T) - Beef Ragu over Cauliflower Gnocchi; roasted broccoli

    Friday, January 17, 2020

    Belgium + The Netherlands: Days 9 & 10 -- Amsterdam

    Well those three months flew by. I was doing so well getting our summer vacation posts out and then, well, life. I've even had all of the photos edited, but just couldn't get around to writing it up. But seeing as I'm now working on our plans for next summer, I figured it was time to get this trip wrapped up before I forget!

    I'd left our last Friday in Amsterdam purposefully open. We'd toyed with the idea of heading to Haarlem or the beach in Zandvoort for a day, but I didn't want to commit to that ahead of time. Kane was sort of chomping at the bit for some WWII history, so I looked up a guide on the fly and was able to book Al Walet for an afternoon tour (I'd wanted to book Amsterdamsel, but she was unavailable). So we did something unusual for this trip and slept in first! We had brunch at our hotel and then Al met us there.

    Al was armed with maps and tons of historical knowledge. He gave us an overview of the war first and then we set out for a tour of the bulk of the city. We did a trail through the Amsterdam City Archives (a really neat destination in and of itself), Thorbecke Square, Rembrandt Square, Dutch National Opera and Ballet over the Amstel river, the Portuguese Synagogue, through the flea market to the Spinoza Monument.

    We rounded out our walk by heading across the Skinny Bridge (where lovers leave locks) and ending in the Flower Market. All the while Al was able to give us a great perspective of the city during WWII. He also knew a ton about architecture, water management, and just pretty much any and all random subjects. Kane would have liked a little more WWII-focused tour, I think, but it was a great way to get the lay of land (and we probably should have done it towards the front of our stay there).

    After taking photos all day on our tour, I intentionally left my camera at the hotel when we went back out for dinner. We were getting a chance to makeup our planned visit to Indonesian Restaurant Blauw. We had a little bit of a tense ride there as Joel tried to manuever moving money around (remember, my wallet was stolen the day before and we'd canceled all our joint credit cards!) to make sure we could actually pay for dinner. After a frantic search for an ATM, we were set. We knew we wanted to try all the Rijsftaffel (read up on the cuisine here) they offered, so we just let the waitress pick a wide variety for us. I thought everything was amazing and it was such a fun way to try so many different flavors.

    After dinner, we were all totally stuffed. So we decided to take the long walk back to our hotel. We were basically at the top of Vondelpark, the largest park in Amsterdam, so we decided to walk down through that towards our hotel. It was one of the best decisions we made in Amsterdam. Right away we walked into a kids playground that was adjacent to a beer garden (Vondel Tuin). So Joel grabbed us some cold brews and the kids got to get their after dinner energy out. The park was buzzing on Friday night -- full of families and younger groups. We walked along the edge of a lake that had enormous mansions on the other side, all lit up with Friday night parties. I had to know where we were, and after a quick google search, discovered that we were looking at the back of one of the most affluent neighborhoods of the city -- Willemspark. It was really spectacular. We wandered our way through beer gardens and groups of kids partying until we made it back to our favorite ice cream stop by our hotel. Such a great end to a busy day!

    No rest for the weary, though. We were up bright and early the next morning to meet our guide for our Eating Europe Food Tour! If there is one thing this crew will get up early for, it's more eating.

    We met our group and very energetic guide Marjolein at Cafe de Spiegel for the traditional sort-of-pancake-like and totally delicious poffertjes. We got an overview of where we'd be going for the day and got to know the group a bit. Then we headed out for the rest of our tour.

    In what will forever be known as the Amsterdam Pickled Herring Incident, our adventurous eaters followed through on their promise to at least try everything. Kane was particularly excited to check out the Seafood Bar Shop because he loves seafood. Against all our better judgments he took a bite of pickled herring and I knew it was instantly a mistake -- he is a die-hard foodie but also has an incredilby sensitive sense of smell and trigger-happy tummy with certain things. He didn't even get his mouth closed and I knew everything was coming back up. Joel pretty surreptiously scooted him outside and he yakked off to the side like a champ. Then everyone came outside to enjoy oysters and I tried to scoot the vomit away without anyone noticing -- seemed to do the trick. Cami went back in for several humorous photo ops with the leftover herring.

    Kane seemed to have rallied by the time we got to Patisserie Holtkamp and tried out a bunch of yummy sweets. Then we ate outside at Bar Bitterbal, which was delicious, before moving on to Glandorf & Thijs for a wine tasting. Marjolein kindly left the adults to try wine and took our kids on a little adventure to pick up some charcuterie (critically, the kids remembered where the meat and cheese shops were becuse we looped back there later!)

    After biterbals, we all hopped on a super cute canal boat for a tour around the city while drinking the wine and cheese we brought on board -- a perfect end to the tour!

    But given that we are Greens, everyone was still hungry after the canal ride. So we went back in search of cheese and charcuterie (and more wine!) from the handful of shops the kids had visited earlier -- Slagerij De Leeuw for charcuterie and Kaashuis Tromp for cheese and bread. We set up a picnic in Amstelveld Square and the kids eyed up the locals playing a game of soccer. Kane tried repeatedly to work himself into the mix, but reported that the kids were not very welcoming. So then both of our kids, again being Greens, plotted revenge until the locals took off.

    We walked back to our hotel and happened upon the cutest neighborhood playspace -- De Leidse Dwarstuin. The kids got to play a bit longer before and we all followed the rules.

    As he'd been doing the entire trip, Kane tried to hop/walk over all the pedestrian protecting pillars back to the hotel. And continued to give me a heart attack as bikes and cars zoomed by him. It was time to go home. We had dinner at the hotel bar that night, took one last stroll around Amsterdam the next morning, and then we were off! Such an amazing trip. I included my other Amsterdam recs below as I did with the other cities. On to the next one!

    Other things on my list!

    Activities + Sights:
    - Jewish Heritage Tour with Larae Malooly

    Food + Bars:
    Foodhallen (annoyed that we didn't get here!) 

    Wednesday, October 16, 2019

    Belgium + The Netherlands: Days 7 & 8 -- Amsterdam

    We spent the end of this wonderful summer vacation in Amsterdam and while we were sad to leave Antwerp, we were all excited to get to the last stop! We packed a lot into four days here, so I split this visit into two posts. We'd booked ahead (and then changed to a little later) our Thalys train tickets to Amsterdam. The train couldn't have been easier and it was nice to have some forced downtime.

    I thought we'd seen a lot of bikes in Belgium, but it seemed like every square inch of Amsterdam was covered in them -- turns out most people who live there have several and keep them in different parts of the city to use. The kids were immediately on it and begging to rent bikes before we'd even arrived at our hotel. But after seeing how people bike around Amsterdam, I decided to count ourselves lucky with our Belgium biking and nixed their plans.

    I'd booked a family room at the super hip Hotel Pulitzer, which is located in the Jordaan neighborhood and literally down the street from the Anne Frank House. We checked in and turned around quickly to make our reservations at the Van Gogh Museum (you absolutely need reservations and can book up to four months in advance -- do it!).

    We set out walking to Museum Quarter, stopping at the Rijksmuseum along the way to play some chess in the garden. The Rijksmusuem is huge and purportedly has the best collection of Dutch Masters. Even though I thought the kids would love to see some Vermeer (Chasing Vermeer was a favorite book of both a few years back), they'd kind of had their fill of Dutch Masters in Brussels so I thought we'd pass this time.

    I'd booked late afternoon tickets to the Van Gogh, but it was still the most packed of any other museum we'd visited on the trip. We grabbed audio tours for the kids and Kane in particular was obsessed with the art. Cami liked it, but she's more of a modern art gal and we'd both spied the Stedelijk and Moco museums and were sort of jonesing to visit those. Don't get me wrong, the Van Gogh was amazing and we spent quite a bit of time there going through each floor. But by the end, I'd hopped on my phone and purchased tickets to Moco for after.

    The main Moco exhibit when we visited was Banksy - Laugh Now (an unauthorized exhibit of private collections) and everyone loved it. We've seen a few of Banksy's works here and there, but this was a huge collection.

    We came up with an awesome Halloween Banksy costume for Cami on the visit!

    We hung in the garden for a bit afterwards, waiting to walk to our dinner reservation.

    On our walk to dinner, we stopped to see what we could pick up for an Amsterdam vacation home. I'd made reservations at Café Wildschut and it was PACKED for happy hour when we got there, so I'm not sure our reservation actually did any good. We waited for a table outside while the kids voiced their displeasure over the number of people who smoke in Amsterdam. We finally nabbed a decent table, although still downwind of smokers, and ordered. The cafe was great, but definitely full of locals who were friendly and curious as to how we'd found the place.

    We made a long trek back after dinner, stopping to reward everyone with ice cream from IJscuypje right by our hotel. Full and happy we crawled to bed to rest up!

    We had a great breakfast at our hotel (was included and was a huge amount of delicious food) and then got out early the next morning. I'd bought tickets for the Anne Frank House three months to the date earlier, setting my alarm for 5 a.m. and purchasing in the darkened Philly hotel room where everyone else slept for Kane's summer lacrosse tournment. Tickets routinely sell out immediately for a particular day, and we didn't have a ton of flexibility on when we were going to visit. So I made sure I didn't screw that up! Anyway, three months later, I knew this visit was going to be heavy, so I made sure everyone got some fresh air in the gorgeous morning Amsterdam light.

    The musuem was so incredibly well done and thought provoking. The kids handled it all well. I was crying at the introductory session (which you have to sign up for separately and is totally worth it) and didn't really stop throughout. The kids knew a lot about WWII and Anne Frank already and we'd read the book together before our trip. But it was mindblowing to walk through the same rooms and imagine how the Holocaust could have possibly occcurred not so long ago all the while thinking about how the US is acting at home and in the world currently. I didn't want to the kids to be unnecessarily scared, but I wanted them to really think about things meaningfully. And I think they did.

    We left in a bit of a daze though and thankfully popped into Nieuws Amsterdam not too far away, which is a random mix of novelties and home goods. It was really difficult to figure out how to mix back out into the world after the Anne Frank House and this shop sort of forced us to giggle a bit and pick out random gifts for people. We kept walking back to our hotel and stopped in to change. We grabbed a quick lunch at Casa Peru and then hit up the stores in the 9 Little Streets District, including a bunch of vintage stores where Cami got the cutest Dutch Boy cap.

    We'd done a lot of shopping for Cami in Antwerp and we'd promised Kane that we'd get him a proper football jersey in Amsterdam. We grabbed the kids waffles at Kwakman and set out to shop for Kane. But then we happened upon the most fabulously random off-the-wall store we'd ever seen: Kunstboer. They make custom apparel neon and metallic, dog and cat flare. We wanted to buy everything! Cami grabbed a great hat and we said we'd be back. Kane was really itching for an AJAX jersey. We walked to Smit-Cruyff and hooked him up!

    We were rushing a bit to get back to the hotel and change for dinner. I'd made reservations at Restaurant Blauw to check out Amsterdam's Indonesian food scene and was really excited. We popped back into Kunstboer for some more gifts and then starting booking it back to the hotel. I was distracted and Cami and I got separated from the boys. I am notoriously (and obnoxiously, ask my husband) hyperaware of being safe. I am highly suspect of everything. But on our walk back, someone stepped on the back of my sandal and I went flying. He bent down to pick up my sandal, steadying me as he did so. I was pissed and my foot hurt, so we just kept moving, but I knew something was off. As soon as we got back to the hotel, I knew my wallet had been stolen. And then I was pissed at myself. I'd been so careful the whole trip and I almost never take my entire wallet out with me when we're traveling. Fortunately we handled all the main things in just about 30 minutes, moved our Blauw reservation to the following night, and were on our way to Satchmo for a super yummy, really fun outdoor dinner.

    Can't keep the Greens down! (although a good reminder to be careful and trust your gut!). I'll share our last two days in Amsterdam and the last of this vacation posts when I get through the photos!