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