Towns in Canada are typically named in one of three ways:

  • Angliciziation/Francization or translation of the native name for the area (Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Saskatoon, Kamloops, Ottawa, Toronto, Ontario, Medicine Hat)
  • appropriating parts of the Old Country (Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax)
  • invoking saints, royalty or heroic explorers (Victoria, Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Regina, St. John’s, Hudson’s Bay)

These formulas are easily modified for use with Dutch spelling and geography!

Yellowknife → Gelemes (translation)
Whitehorse → Wittepaard (translation)
Vancouver → Nieuw Couverdeyn (guess where Vancouver’s ancestors were from?)
Victoria → Wilheminastad (Queen)
Calgary → Jirsum (itsy bitsy town in Friesland)
Edmonton → Usquert (itsy bitsy town in Friesland)
Saskatoon → Saaskatoen (Dutchification of a native word)
Regina → Koninginnestad (Queen)
Winnipeg → Beverstad (couldn’t resist making an exception to the rule)
Thunder Bay → Den Donder (translation)
Toronto → Torrantoo (translation)
Ottawa → Ottaua (translation)
Montreal → Koningsberg (translation from French)
Quebec City → Kebbekstad (translation from French)
Iqaluit → Ikaloeit (Dutchification of an Inuit word)
St John’s → Sint Janstad (saint)
Fredericton → Willemstad (royalty – also a town in Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles)
Halifax → Nieuw Enkhuizen (itsy bitsy town in North Holland)
Charlottetown → Sofiaburg (royalty)


Ever wanted to go on a European road trip – without taking a passport? You can see a lot of major European cities without ever leaving Saskatchewan or southern Ontario!

View in Google Maps

In Amsterdam, Saskatchewan, you could lose yourself for days on the many narrow and twisting streets.

Amsterdam, Saskatchewan was named by wistful immigrants who looked out upon the bald expanse of frozen prairie and were reminded of the qaint canals, the leaning buildings and the bustle of commerce in the cultural nexus of their homeland. This image from Google Maps evokes the smell of stroopwafels and the clank of bicycles wending their way over cobbled roads.

Reizigers voor Rotterdam Centraal worden geadviseerd om de thema uit “Jaws” te neuri├źn.

station rotterdam haai - met dank voor de mooi foto aan

met dank aan voor de mooi foto

Desondanks de vergelijking met de haai, het nieuw gebouw van Rotterdam Centraal ziet leuk uit.

For Sinterklaas this year some of my coworkers challenged everyone to bring a treat containing speculaas – the Dutch version of gingerbread spices. So what’s an expat Canuck to make? Obviously: Speculaas Nanaimo Bars!


As a Canadian, Bringing Food From My Country presents a challenge because, well, Canadian Food usually ends up looking Italian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Ukrainian, etc. But the Nanaimo Bar is truly Canadian. They were originally concocted by somebody in the town of Nanaimo during the phase after WWII when people went from cooking their food to engineering it. Nanaimo Bars don’t require baking and so they are perfectly suited to the oven-less Dutch kitchen: my Dutch colleagues at my old job probably still think that Canadians eat Nanaimo Bars on their birthdays.

The traditional recipe consists of a layer of Graham crackers, grated coconut and chopped nuts (all welded together with egg, cocoa and butter), a second layer of vanilla butter-cream icing; and a third layer of dark chocolate. However, somebody else has modified the recipe to use a cinnamon filling and a white-chocolate topping. With these recipes as starting points, I did some experimentation and came up with the following:

Speculaas Nanaimo Bars

bottom layer
450 g cheap speculaas biscuits
1/2 cup (125 mL) fine-chopped pecans
2 teaspoons (10 mL) cinnamon
1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) cloves
1 teaspoon (5 mL) speculaas liquer
1/2 cup (115 g) unsalted butter
1 large egg

middle layer
2 cups (230 grams) powdered icing sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 tsp (10 mL) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons speculaas liquer
1/2 tsp cinnamon

top layer
2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter
4 ounces (110 grams) white chocolate (about 1.5 Verkade packages, which means you can eat half of the second bar yourself)

11×7 inch (27×18 cm) baking pan or plastic container

If you don’t have speculaas liqueur, you can probably leave it out or use Goldschlager or J├Ągermeister minus the gold bits. Graham crackers or digestive biscuits will also work in place of speculaas biscuits.

Bottom Layer: Crush the speculaas biscuits finely and chop the pecans. In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove from heat and stir in the cinnamon, ginger and cloves, and then gradually whisk in the beaten egg. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (1 – 2 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the speculaas liqueur, speculaas biscuit crumbs and chopped nuts. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).

Middle Layer: Beat the butter until smooth and creamy (I always use a fork and my arm muscles, but a mixer works too). Add the remaining ingredients and beat until the mixture is smooth. If the mixture is too thick to spread, add a little more milk. Spread the filling over the bottom layer, cover, and refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes).

Top Layer: Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt in a double boiler with the butter. Spread the melted mixture evenly over the filling and refrigerate for about 10 minutes or just until the chocolate has set. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.

The Netherlands possesses a quaint plurality of towns named “Zevenhuizen” (Seven Houses). There are at least three: Zevenhuizen near Leiden, Zevenhuizen near Gouda and Zevenhuizen near Groningen.

On top of that, there are also Driehuizen (Three Houses, near Alkmaar) Vijfhuizen (Five Houses, near Haarlem) and Negenhuizen (Nine Houses, near Delft). Weighing in for the even numbers is Achthuizen (Eight Houses) in Zeeland. Finally, there are the non-numbered towns of Huizen: Enkhuizen (Anchor Houses?), plain old Huizen and my personal favourite, Uithuizen (Out Houses).

As for why “Zevenhuizen” proved more popular than, say, “Vierhuizen”, I would speculate that seven houses was enough to be a landmark without becoming too tedious to count: “Zevenendertighuizen” is not very punchy. Moreover, a town with 37 houses ought to have a dike, a bridge or some other more noteworthy feature which could be incorporated into the appellation.

Zevenhuizen near Leiden and Zevenhuizen near Gouda are close enough to each other that it would be be possible to spend a pleasant day cycling from Zevenhuizen to… Zevenhuizen. But why stop there? What about an “N-Huizentocht”: a cycling route from Achthuizen to Enkhuizen via Zevenhuizen, Zevenhuizen, Vijfhuizen, Driehuizen and Venhuizen –

Happy trails!

I live in a four hundred year-old house whose quirks include being able to look out the bedroom window and into the living room window. Lying in bed one day, I noticed that the brick wall of the living room has been covered over with mortar – but only up to the height of the ground floor. The exterior wall of the upstairs part of the house has been left as plain brick.

brick wall covered in mortar

In Vermeer’s painting of a street in Delft there is also mortar over the exterior walls of the ground floor but not the upper floors!

vermeer delft street

Our living room wall bows outward in a rather alarming manner, so I figured that the mortar was structural. But why would the mortar layer not also extend to the upper floor of the house as well? Was mortaring over the bricks on the ground floor just something that builders did in the 17th century?

Fairy Bread


An old housemate from New Zealand came to visit last weekend, so we bought some squishy white bread and served up a typical Dutch breakfast. When he saw the hagelslag his eyes popped: “Dutch people eat Fairy Bread for breakfast ?

Dutch fairy bread: brood met hagelslag

“Fairy Bread” is a treat served at children’s birthday parties in New Zealand to keep the guests well-sugared. Like the Dutch mealtime standard, it consists of buttered white bread topped with coloured sugar balls called “hundreds and thousands”.

As for me, I’m going to stick to eating Chocolade Cruesli with yogurt bij mijn ontbijt.

chocolade cruesli

After five years of adventures, my inflatable kayak will have to be retired.

Boyfriend was paddling her with another friend when he noticed that one of her side panels was getting a little soft. They pulled over to the side of the canal and attempted to re-inflate the tube, but to no avail; we knew the leak was a big one because the pressure dropped as soon as we stopped pumping.

When we got Sunny home it became clear that the seam along the top of the tube was splitting internally: the grey fabric layer on the inside of the boat had separated from the rubber layer lining the tube. The grey fabric was intact, but the air was whistling out between the weave. (much as in this video.) I attempted laproscopic surgery to place an internal patch via a nearby incision, but once I cut the boat open it became clear that the interior layer had split away from the fabricky layer over a much larger area:

As sorry as I am that Sunny has reached the end, I have to admit that my sadness is mitigated by the lovely people at Innova and Gumotex who informed me that Sunny was under warranty because of a fabric defect. As such, they are sending me a replacement boat!

But still, I will really miss Sunny. She could fill a lonely afternoon with adventures or make some room for a friend. She’s rescued soccer balls for small boys – and for frat boys. She’s transported crates of beer and she’s conveyed my guitar. She had just enough cargo space to accommodate both Boyfriend and our camping gear – and she still fit neatly onto the back of my bicycle!

kayak on a bicycle

Sunny has been all over the Netherlands, on lakes and rivers and still canals. She has made me adamant about the beauty of the natural places in Holland.

Paddling Sunny through the canals in town, I discovered a completely different city.


oude meelfabriek, leiden

Sunny has portaged through the shopping street in Katwijk and she’s been to the beach at Wassenaar. She’s squeezed under bridges and cleared 20 cm (I only got stuck once). She’s been through the oldest waaiersluis in Holland:


And she’s been past more windmills than you can shake a paddle at.

She’s been on the IJsselmeer and she’s been to the Keukenhof and she’s been to Kinderdijk.

In Belgium she even went over a few rapids without getting swamped! And she picked up this little barnacle near a campground in the Ardennen:

With an enthusiastic friend along, Sunny would develop a gurgling wave spreading in a V from her bow. But she was at her best at a gentler pace and I loved to listen to the dip and drip of the water from the paddle.

Sunny has been oogled by cows and goats and dogs and kittens…

… ignored by a robotic lawnmower…

… and chased several times by one particularly territorial swan. (I was too busy paddling to take a photo.) But mostly the Dutch wildlife abides the stranger with the funny boat.

Sunny was a fantastic boat and I will miss her.

Sunny’s inflatable seats will live on as comfy festival chairs. And perhaps I can reuse some of the straps and cushions… when the new boat arrives!

Delicious, delicious Indonesian eggplant! Everytime I go for rijstafel I secretly hope that these melt-in-your-mouth chunks wallowing in a sweet-tangy-chili sauce will appear in one of the little dishes.

Of course, I won’t always live five minutes away from Toko Mini and Surakarta, so I’ve been working up my own version. Other recipes didn’t really do it justice: many, including this one, exclude tamarind paste and others, including this one, call for deep-frying the eggplant. This nice blogger finally gave up on the internet and phoned her mother, but her recipe includes some dried shrimp (trassi) and I’d prefer to keep things strictly vegetarian.

Spicy eggplant is delicious as part of a rijstafel or as a side dish with fried rice and satay. This recipe makes a nice side for 3 or 4 people.

1 medium-large eggplant
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp ketjap manis (or 2 tbsp regular soy sauce + 1 tbsp brown sugar)
3 tbsp water
1 tsp lemon or lime juice
4 shallots
1 tbsp sambal oelek
1 tomato (1/4 of a 400 g can of chopped tomatoes will do)
1 tbsp oil for frying

Chop the eggplant in 2 cm chunks. I marinate the eggplant with the tamarind, ketjap manis, water, lemon juice and sambal oelek, but I’m not sure that this step is absolutely essential (the salt in the sambal oelek and the ketjap manis will draw the bitterness out of the eggplant).

Dice the shallots finely and fry until golden in a hot wok or large frying pan. Dice the tomato and add the tomato and eggplant mixture to the wok. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is soft (5 min). You can add more sambal or sugar here if you want.

Future experiments with this dish will probably involve adding garlic and lime leaves, since they seem to show up in a lot of other recipes.

Tamarind paste and sambal oelek can be purchased at your neighbourhood Dutch Toko. I like Pantainorasingh brand tamarind and Koningsvogel brand sambal oelek.