Snooping around in Amsterdam.

The long-awaited Europe post is finally here, and A is for Amsterdam!

I have been to Amsterdam once a few winters before, and thought that since I was visiting in summer this time, my wardrobe can be slightly more lightweight. Little did I know that we would be experiencing slightly freakish weather – even the locals said that what we were experiencing this June was pretty much winter all over again. However, it being me, I still trotted out in the tiny shorts that N (the beautiful bride whose wedding I was attending) gave me; then proceeded to brave her wedding in a backless dress. I think I have acclimatised well. Bravo.

Since I was on bridesmaid duty this time round, I only had two days to head out – which was okay by me, largely because I had no exact agenda. I just wanted to snoop around, explore.

How lucky was I that the two days I headed out were filled with sunshine and surprises!

Along this lane I’d turn into was a pretty little vintage shop.

But guess what? I didn’t go in (Surprise, surprise!)… because I was distracted by its next door neighbour…

Now I’ve always preferred cosy, quaint, little shops over large institutions and malls. So I was absolutely delighted when I chanced upon Cine Qua Non, a film shop that is stocked and stuffed with everything film related – DVDs, photos, posters, postcards, books, calendars, collectibles…

The Fifty-Foot Woman guards the door.

The space itself, I think is most accurately described as a physical manifestation of the word ‘paradox’. It is messy yet organised; simple yet overwhelming; utilitarian and functional, yet wild and imaginative.

My dream study/workspace. Right now, I just have a mess.

Dying and going to heaven? This is pretty much my version on earth, sans the dying bit of course. I love the creaky flooring – wooden boards with chipped faded mint green/baby blue paint. I love the haphazard lighting – a few spotlights, a few fluorescents… I could camp in there until I’ve gone through everything. (Yeah. Could.)

The DVDs don’t come cheap – at least the ones that caught my eye, were around 30€ on the average. But they are pretty unique titles and many come with great features – not the sort you’ll get on discounts at megastores. I would have drawn up a list and do some research before going in for the kill, but I didn’t have the time to head back this trip, so I decided to leave with a few postcards for Bestie and other worthy recipients. A return, for sure.

Before I left, I had a chat with the lovely owner, who lamented that shops like these are closing all over Europe because of… well, the usual: high costs of operations, illegal downloading, piracy, competition from industry giants, etc. I absolutely empathise, and I truly, truly wish him well. There is something intimate and personal about these small operations that will always draw me to them. That these people who run these businesses have so much love, faith and passion for what they do is already something worth applauding; and that they will take time to share with you a little nugget of information of that postcard that you are holding, or the director of the film you were checking out just makes the experience so much more special.

Cine Qua Non is at Staalstraat 14, 1011 JL Amsterdam.

You can all them at +31(0) 20 62 555 88, email them at cine.qua.nonsense@gmail.com

Or visit them virtually at www.cine-qua-non.nl or www.cinequanonline.com

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Scenes from Sunday’s Rehearsal.

Remember that first huge combined Dream Country rehearsal last Sunday that I didn’t write about? I couldn’t find the right words then. But if a picture paints a thousand words… here’s a lot for you to think about. Sunday’s Rehearsal. … Continue reading

The Arsonist.

I have been trying for over 10 minutes to start this post with just how much I love Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain.

I can’t.

I love it that much. As I’m sure billions of people do.

But I loveeeee it.

Okay, sure, I’m sure you loveeeee it too. I’m sure you have limited editions of this and that, and posters and coasters and stuff.

But I LOVEEEEEE it.

So let’s just call it a truce and leave it as that.

I’m aching so badly from not allowing myself to go into why I love it and how it has come to mean so many things to me, but any attempt to put something so intense and so personal into words just seem to dilute the whole experience.

In fact, I get all gooey and gushy and OMG-y when I think about the show… (not so much Audrey Tautou per se, but all the character and the story and the intimate details…) Okay. I gotta stop.

Moving on.

[Abrupt and awkward break]

Amélie turned me into an arsonist.

After I’d watch the show, there is nothing else I want more than Mathieu Kassovitz a blowtorch.

Screenshot from movie.

And she is absolutely right. Shattering the brittle crust of crème brûlée with the tip of your spoon is such a simple yet fulfilling experience that you really can’t help but get lost in that brief, magical moment.

But this is one magic trick you can’t perform beautifully (or at least as dramatically) without a blowtorch. So guess what I did?

I went out and got meself a blowtorch.

(Don’t make me angry now.)

That was the easy bit. Conquering my fear of mixing hot liquids into eggs – not so easy. All I have to do is think about the many scrambled carbonara my friends have had to endure, and I’ll convince myself to postpone my arsony assignment.

This holiday though, with everyone being busy/away/sick, I finally needed something to challenge and distract me.

After first trying this recipe from BBC Food, my Guinea Pig and I found it to be great, just a tad too liquidy. I looked through a few other recipes, but the simplicity of the BBC one proved to be the main draw, so I decided to adjust my own version from it.

The Arsonist’s Crème Brûlée

(Serves ? – Depends on the size of your ramekins. I made a good 8 ‘mini’ ones even though the original recipe says this serves 4)

Ingredients

450ml/16fl oz double cream
50ml/2 fl oz whole milk
2 vanilla pods, split, seeds scraped out (or a 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
5 egg yolks
50g caster sugar, plus more, for the caramel crust

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. Pour the caster sugar into the bowl with the yolks. Whisk together the egg yolks and the caster sugar until well combined and creamy.
  2. Pour the cream and the milk into a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat and bring to a simmer.
  3. If using vanilla pods, split the pods down the middle with a sharp knife. Scrape out the seeds with the knife and add the seeds and the pods (or the vanilla extract) to the cream and milk mixture. Alternatively, pour the vanilla extract into the cream and milk mixture. Stir well to combine.
  4. When the cream and milk mixture is coming up to a simmer (you should see bubbles forming along the side of the pan), pour it (including the vanilla pods, if using) into the bowl with the egg yolk mixture. Stir thoroughly for a minute or two to dissolve the sugar. At this stage, you can chill the mixture in the fridge and make the brulees the following day, or carry on with the recipe.
  5. Strain the brûlée mixture to get rid of any lumps or curds.
  6. Ladle the brûlée mixture into the serving dish (or dishes). Discard the vanilla pods.
  7. Place the crème brûlée dishes into a deep baking tray and pour hot water into the tray until the water reaches halfway up the sides of the dishes (this is called a bain-marie).
  8. Place the bain-marie into the preheated oven and cook the creme brulees for about 30-35 minutes, until set firm but still with a slight wobble.*As I have mentioned, Guinea Pig and I preferred the brûlées a little more set, so I adjusted the cooking times according to the wobble of the brûlées.Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to the fridge for about 2 hours.* I expedited this process once by letting the brûlées cool down for a bit before putting them onto a plate of ice in the fridge.
  9. For the topping, sprinkle about a teaspoon of caster sugar on top of the brûlées. Heat the surface with a mini-blowtorch until it forms a thin layer of caramel.
  10. Get cracking (literally) and start feasting!* If you wish to make the brûlées the next day, you can follow the recipe up to Step 5, then cool the mixture down to room temperature, and chill the mixture in the fridge before continuing where you left off the next day.* I’ve also found that after I strain the brûlée mixture in Step 5, I could produce a smoother surface (and hence, prettier custard) if I let the mixture rest for a while before proceeding.

    Was making a ton for Jerm + Fi’s party. Don’t judge. And yes, that’s a bit of white you see. Whateverrr.


    Egg-beating. A lesson in frustration relief.

    Bringing the milk to a simmer.

    My brûlée mixes. I played around with a chocolate version but it turned out too set. 

    Well yea. You try juggling a camera and a blow torch while trying not to burn a brûlée.

    Viola!

    And erm… there are always casualties in war. 

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    All the same, bon appétit!