Guys, why are vacation posts so hard to do? Between going through all the photos on my camera, photo-editing, collage-making, and post-writing, that Paris post seriously took me the better part of two days finish. And this Amsterdam post? I’ve been sitting on it since Sunday night! All my pictures were collaged/edited/uploaded, I just couldn’t find the words to describe them.
Last night, I literally sat on the couch and stared blankly at my computer screen for a good 30 minutes before throwing in the towel and on-demanding “The Other Woman” instead (which was predictably outrageous but surprisingly good, in case you’re wondering).
I guess I just like being on vacation a lot more than I like writing/telling people about it! Who doesn’t? My friend Sarah’s been working on her honeymoon posts since November! Which actually makes me feel enormously relieved, because it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my slacking (sorry, girl ;p).
Anyway. Before I get too far afield, let’s turn back to Dan and Tina’s Grand Euro Adventures of 2014. I told you about Paris, so now lets talk about the second leg of our trip – Amsterdam.
Before Dan and I found ourselves in Paris, we spent a few days in Amsterdam with Dan’s brothers. We actually got there about a day earlier than they did, ‘cuz they wanted to check out some waterfalls and glaciers with the rest of the family in Iceland first. So Dan and I flew in by ourselves, landing late-ish (though it was still weirdly bright out) – by the time we got settled in to our hotel and freshened up, it was well after midnight. But, it seemed like a lot of people were still out and about on the streets and things still looked like they were open, so we decided to walk around and explore a little bit.
Once we got out on the street, we realized that it was mainly just the “coffee shops”, adjacent snack shops, and a handful of bars that were still doing business. Not a problem. We grabbed a quick beer at a Heineken bar (fun fact – Heineken doesn’t taste like watery crap juice in Amsterdam!), poked our head into a few coffee shops to see what the fuss was about, and got ourselves a light snack of fries and a kebab sandwich to share as we walked around the canals.
Aside from the novelty of seeing people smoking weed openly and casually everywhere like it ain’t no thang, the highlight of my night was accidentally stumbling onto the fringes of the Red Light District and seeing some old lady hookers. Having not expected to see anything like that (at least not on our first day), I was all “Dan, why are there two grandma’s in bustiers sitting in front of those windows? Wait a second…ohhhhhhh, I get it.”
Talk about a “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” moment!
The next day, Dan and I checked out of our hotel and headed towards the apartment that we were renting with Dan’s brothers. Again, if you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen the picture I posted of our place, which was way nicer and more spacious than I expected (love you, AirBnb!). We spent the morning sipping drinks on the rooftop terrace, waiting for Dan’s bros to arrive.
Once Matt and John got settled in, we headed back out for some day-time city exploration. We ate some more kebabs, walked through about a billion different side streets (all festooned with orange flags in anticipation of the Argentina-Netherlands soccer match later in the week), and saw some fascinating street performers in the main square (see above – how are they doing that???).We eventually ended up at Vondelpark, a huge public park where we spent a couple hours laying in the grass people-watching before heading home.
After a simple dinner of bread, cheese, cured meats and beer, Dan and I parted ways with his brothers (who were meeting up with some friends from home who were also in the city). They hit the bars, we stayed in and drank wine on the roof terrace like the old married couple that we are. We may have gone for another walk…I can’t remember, it’s all a blur.
On Day 2, Matt and John’s friends joined us for some touristy activities. We started out by heading to the Rijksmuseum (which has that famous “I amsterdam” sign behind it). I’ve mentioned before that art museums are Dan’s personal hell; I discovered on this day that going to museums with a big group of people is my personal hell. At least when it’s just me and Dan we can move quickly through all the displays to the things we want to see; with 5 other people in the mix, there’s a lot of waiting around and backtracking to make sure no one is left behind. Still, the Rijksmuseum was a good experience overall – there was so much to see, like paintings by Rembrandt and Van Gogh, antique war equipment, miniature silver furniture, and (my favorite) vintage wedding dresses/accessories.
Once we had our fill of art/culture, we headed over to the Heineken factory for a tour. We got to see how beer is made from start to finish and check out all their equipment, and then they let us taste the end product. Pretty fun! From there, we limped back to our apartment to nap and recover.
Later that night, Matt and John hit the bars again, while Dan and I headed to the Red Light District (on purpose this time). If you’ve never been, I have to tell you that the RLD is a fascinating place. Prostitution is viewed with the same casual acceptance as weed-smoking, and there are just endless rows of windows with attractive, scantily clad women standing in them. Meanwhile, clumps of guys (lots of them clearly college-age American tourists) prowl the streets, openly contemplating the ladies like candy in a display case. And, interspersed among the window fronts are an interesting mix of restaurants, strip clubs, coffee shops, and theaters featuring sex shows.
Amsterdam is fascinating, y’all.
On Day 3, our last full day in Amsterdam, we decided to take it easy because we had big plans to go out at night and watch the Argentina-Netherlands game with the masses. I think Matt and John rented bikes with their friends, while Dan and I toured previously unexplored parts of the city by foot. We saw the Anne Frank House (which is tiny and had an insane line that wrapped around at least three streets), awesome graffiti, the funny street signs pictured above (which I can only assume translates into “don’t poop on my street, jerk dogs”), and the friendliest stray kitty (which Dan would not let me pick up because he is a jerk).
We had lunch at this tiny neighborhood cafe that made the best sandwiches Dan and I had ever tasted (more on that later). Then it started raining, and Dan and I decided that we were all tourist’d out so we went back to the apartment.
By the time Dan’s brothers got back with their friends, there was just enough time to grab food from an Indonesian restaurant my parents recommended before we had to start getting ready to go out to see the match. The boys really got into the spirit of things and rep’d Team Oranje hard. So did every other person in Amsterdam, apparently – every single bar/restaurant/cafe with a TV was packed to the gills, and the streets overflowed with people wearing orange. Go Oranje! It’s a shame the Netherlands lost the game – the mood in the street was decidedly less festive and not really conducive to partying after that.
We left Amsterdam the next day and headed off to Paris – not much to tell there, so let’s talk about those sandwiches Dan and I had at the little cafe. Dan got a chicken club, and I got the veggie club. Both our sandwiches were made with the most perfectly toasted bread and had the exact right ratio of filling to bread.
My veggie club, which is the inspiration for today’s recipe, was made with buttery toasted bread, pesto, thick slices of mozzarella, grilled mushrooms, roasted zucchini, and…one other thing that I can’t remember now. And it was, without a doubt, the best thing I had eaten in Europe up until then.
It was hearty yet light, had insanely good texture/mouth feel, and despite the very simple ingredients was absolutely bursting with flavor. I could have happily eaten a tub of that pesto with a spoon.
Which is why I knew for sure that I wanted to replicate the sandwich as soon as we got home. Instead of sandwiches, however, I made crostini, because (1) I had just bought a really nice baguette from Whole Foods that I didn’t want to go to waste, (2) I wanted the rest of the ingredients to take center stage, and (3) sandwiches are hard to photograph. And, I made my own pesto, since it was easy and I figured homemade could only be tastier than the store bought stuff.
The rest of the ingredients were super straightforward as well – just slice some mozzarella, roast some zucchini with olive oil + salt/pepper, and saute some mushrooms in butter. Stack it all on a piece of toasted bread smeared with pesto and voila – a delicious, hearty bite (or three, really) that would be perfect as a meal or appetizer.
Buttery, crispy bread with just a bit of chew + bright and savory pesto + smooth and mellow mozzarella + tender earthy mushrooms + slightly sweet roasted zucchini = perfection. Not exactly the same as what I ate in Amsterdam (they must have used magic!), but it definitely hit the spot for me and satisfied my craving. Now I just need to figure out what to do with all this extra pesto I have lying around…
- 2-1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
- ⅓ cup pine nuts
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- ⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¾ cup grated Parmesan
- 8 oz baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 1-1/2 large zucchinis
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into thin chunks (you can really do these as thick/thin as you want, honestly - I got 12 pieces out of my one ball of cheese)
- ½ large baguette (any kind you want, really - I used a French baguette)
- 3 to 4 tbsp melted butter
- 2 to 3 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tbsp minced garlic
- Add basil, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil to your food processor or high powered blender.
- Blend on high until very smooth.
- Add Parmesan and blend again until desired consistency is reached.
- Season with salt/pepper to taste.
- Scoop pesto into airtight tupperware or a jar with a cap.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
- Slice zucchini into rounds, about ¼ inch thick. Spread the slices out in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Toss gently to coat, then season with salt/pepper to taste.
- Bake zucchini for 20-25 minutes (until slightly crispy), then remove and set aside.
- Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
- Slice your baguette into ½-inch thick slices. Brush both sides of each slice with melted butter.
- Arrange buttered bread on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes (until golden and toasty).
- While your bread is toasting, get started on your mushrooms. In a skillet or pan over medium-high heat, saute mushrooms with minced garlic in about 1 tbsp butter until soft and browned. Set aside.
- Smear a spoonful of homemade pesto on top of each piece of toasted bread.
- Layer with a chunk of mozzarella, some roasted zucchini, and then sauteed mushrooms.
- Garnish with chopped green onion or parsley (if desired)
- Serve immediately, while the bread is still crispy.
(Pesto recipe slightly adapted from The Wicked Noodle’s recipe)