Jenever – not so terrible, after all. Kopstoot!

Buigen Voor Een Borrel - "Bending to the present for a drink"

Buigen Voor Een Borrel – “Bending to the present for a drink”

Perhaps its the cozy fireplace I’m sitting next to while I write this post from my many starred hotel in Brugge (thanks much, Hotels.com points) that makes me feel imperious and thereby impervious, but dammit I must speak my own truth… And frankly, I’ve always thought jenever was horrible. I first tasted it back when I was working as a brand ambassador for Martin Miller’s Gin, a lovely little London dry. So naturally I was biased towards English gins, and certain that the primitive ancestor of gin, jenever, was a spirit best left in the past, to those with sentimental ties to it (and thereby biased palates), or to those about to die in war (the Dutch famously consumed it before fearlessly plunging into battle). Over the past six years I have avoided the category with great success, save a punch or two at an industry event. This past week I found myself in Amsterdam, and may have made a casual remark on Facebook concerning jenever, that did not go unnoticed by a dear friend and talented (native Dutch) bartender. I received an aggressively punctuated message asking me if I had been to a certain “Wynand Fockink”, and having only gained a slight command over Dutch street names and pancake varietals I was not certain I had. Or perhaps I had been, possibly, completely unbeknownst to me. As long it was not a “coffee shop” or a brothel, I was down. Any invitation given by the talented and lovely bartender (and recent blogger) Tess Posthumus must not be passed up. Tess, in all her passion to educate and enlighten me, invited me to the distillery and tasting room of an old, renowned jenever house in Amsterdam. Just off the Red Light District, home of many zombie-like, pizza/waffel-ravenging millenial touristas, sits an institution, and the most badass place to have a happy hour drink in town. The tasting room is everything I have been looking for and hadn’t yet found – intimate, local, quality – and well hidden in an alley from the very people I was attempting to avoid. I stood, jaw agape, at the shelves buckling under the weight of the multitude of bottles, everything from genres to liqueurs to fruit brandywine. Hans, the bartender on duty smiled gently and then arched an eyebrow in my direction. As it turns out, much like the wildly varying botanical profiles of brands of gin – jenever can be equally diverse.

If you don’t happen to be Dutch, you may be wondering what genever or jenever is, exactly. Jenever (also known as genièvre, genever, peket, or in the English-speaking world as Holland gin or Dutch gin), is the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which gin evolved. As Martin Miller’s liked to say the Dutch invented it and the English perfected it, which I very much believed prior to this visit. Jenever, still a popular spirit to imbibe in both the Netherlands and Belgium, was originally produced by distilling malt wine to 50% ABV. The resulting spirit was not terribly palatable and herbs were added to mask the flavor, specifically our familiar friend the juniper berry, which was purportedly chosen for its alleged medicinal effects, but it may have had something to do with its aggressive flavor masking abilities. As it turns out there are two types of jenever: oude (old) and jonge (young). The difference between expressions is not a matter of aging, but rather of distilling techniques and available resources. Jonge jenever has a neutral taste, like vodka but yummier and more complex, with subtle aromas of juniper and malt wine. Oude jenever has a smooth, aromatic taste with significantly more malty, earthy flavors. Far more nuanced than memory serves. Sometimes aged in wood, its flavors are quite reminiscent of whisky. During the Great War, lack of imported cereal grains (malt, specifically) grew the category of jonge by default, which contains more grain than malt. Different cereal grains used in the production process – barley, wheat, spelt and rye to name a few – produce different flavored jenevers, go figure.  Ketel One is quite well-known for producing vodka in the states, but it started out as – and still is – a jenever distillery (!!!)

So how does one properly consume jenever? Traditionally it is served in a tulip-shaped glass filled to the brim – actually over the brim but not to the point of spilling – and Hans does this with remarkable dexterity every single time he pours. Jonge jenever, colloquially a jonkie – young’un to us yanks – was originally served at room temperature with some sugar and a spoon, not unlike an old fashioned. But the kids nowadays like to drink their jonge ‘vodka style’ from a bottle kept in a freezer or on the rocks (jonge met ijs). Yes, I looked that up – my Dutch did not improve with jenever consumption, unfortunately. Oude jenever (and korenwijn), which is generally perceived (by the Dutch) as being superior, is usually served at room temperature. When jenever is drunk with beer as a chaser (or for the trendy set, boilermaker), it is referred to as a kopstoot, or “headbutt”. Tess and I enjoyed oude with lager, maybe a few times. Maybe I lost count. I might have tried a few of the fantastic liqueurs as well, time and space magically fly in the tasting room of Wynand Fockink! I embraced the very Dutch tradition of the kopstoot thoroughly, like a local – better yet, a native – bending, lady-like, over the counter to take the virgin sip of a nearly overflowing glass without holding it (look ma no hands!) then following with a manly gulp of lager. We then proceeded on to a vertical (sugar content-based) taste of the five different bitter liqueurs produced at Wynand Fockink, all with distinct botanical profiles, and all gorgeous. I tasted the Rogge and Spelt genevers, in addition to the traditional Kornwijn. In short, I left stumbling like many a neophyte Amsterdam-er, though feeling slightly superior given that my inebriation was due to higher learning rather than simple recreational pursuits.

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Notes on Amsterdam…

Oude genever with pilsner, a beautiful combination

Oude genever with pilsner, a beautiful combination

A few lessons learned about the Dutch:
1) While they proudly declare that they are “cheap”, they are very generous when it comes to taking care of their friends.
2) Always bring an umbrella, no matter how sunny it appears to be – just trust me on this.
3) Although they do love their coffee, “coffee shops” mean something else here (I just thought they were particularly fond of it and/or maybe constantly tired for some reason).
4) Have a shop cat. Or a pub cat. It just makes your place that much cooler and exponentially increases the odds that I will come into your shop/pub.
5) Though I finally did find some good Dutch cuisine I am prepared to declare that it is not necessarily a gastronomic destination (aside from poffertjes – yum!), I think they are too busy with their coffee, beer and cigarettes to eat much.
6) Genever is good. This I did not expect – post to follow shortly 🙂

A little photo love…

Last selfie just before boarding at LAX. Goodbye America!

Last selfie just before boarding at LAX. Goodbye America!

A little piece of Grandma Helen always travels with me :)

A little piece of Grandma Helen always travels with me 🙂

My "gluten free" airplane meal, which I had no idea I ordered.

My “gluten free” airplane meal, which I had no idea I ordered.

My first Copenhagen meal! Moussaka, naturally. Ha!

My first Copenhagen meal! Moussaka, naturally. Ha!

The kitchen view from my little flat in Vesterboro, Copenhagen

The kitchen view from my little flat in Vesterboro, Copenhagen

First of many shots from Engrave Kaffe, my favorite coffee shop in Copenhagen. I was obsessed with the light, color and decor.

First of many shots from Engrave Kaffe, my favorite coffee shop in Copenhagen. I was obsessed with the light, color and decor.

Enghave Kaffe

Enghave Kaffe

Enghave Kaffe. Awesome book on motorcycles.

Enghave Kaffe. Awesome book on motorcycles.

Enghave Kaffe. Look at that window light!

Enghave Kaffe. Look at that window light!

My inner Twin Peaks fangirl had to!

My inner Twin Peaks fangirl had to!

A gorgeous yellow building in CPH

A gorgeous yellow building in CPH

The canal outside the parliament in CPH

The canal outside the parliament in CPH

The most beautiful orange I have ever seen. The color palettes of CPH were so inspiring. I want to pointers the entire city!

The most beautiful orange I have ever seen. The color palettes of CPH were so inspiring. I want to Pintrest the entire city!

Massive sculpture, at least 18ft tall

Massive sculpture, at least 18ft tall

Maven in CPH. That light! Those windows!

Maven in CPH. That light! Those windows!

Beautifully patina'd piece outside the opera house in CPH

Beautifully patina’d piece outside the opera house in CPH

Church in CPH. I always look at the cathedrals in every city I'm in. Amazing energy there.

Church in CPH. I always look at the cathedrals in every city I’m in. Amazing energy there.

Danish modern design heaven everywhere, even in coffee shops

Danish modern design heaven everywhere, even in coffee shops

Trendy little cocktail bar in CPH. Again - the color! And I'm so stealing the sheep skin draped over the chair, which was everywhere. So GOT-chic.

Trendy little cocktail bar in CPH. Again – the color! And I’m so stealing the sheep skin draped over the chair, which was everywhere. So GOT-chic.

Heavenly smoked salmon dish at 56 in CPH

Heavenly smoked salmon dish at 56 in CPH

My shower had a toilet in it! They like to call it a bathroom, but no, it was a shower with a toilet in it. Talk about economizing your space.

My shower had a toilet in it! They like to call it a bathroom, but no, it was a shower with a toilet in it. Talk about economizing your space.

Street scene in CPH... A great biking city

Street scene in CPH… A great biking city

Obsessed with vintage silver and glass

Obsessed with vintage silver and glass

More gorgeous colors

More gorgeous colors

This green with the navy and gold! I am going to paint everything in sight when I get back to LA, basically.

This green with the navy and gold! I am going to paint everything in sight when I get back to LA, basically.

Strolling along in -1 C

Strolling along in -1 C

This old fish house sign...

This old fish house sign…

I warmed up in here with a fantastic hot chocolate with with Havana Club and a touch of anisette - amazingly yummy

I warmed up in here with a fantastic hot chocolate with with Havana Club and a touch of anisette – amazingly yummy

...and then an Irish coffee. I was really cold, you know.

…and then an Irish coffee. I was really cold, you know.

Store I fell in love with - look at those pastel boxes. Heart!

Store I fell in love with – look at those pastel boxes. Heart!

Someday my home bar/winebar will be this. Pin!

Someday my home bar/winebar will be this. Pin!

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The way the window light wraps around him – so stunning.

Stunning coffee shop/store in Amsterdam

Stunning coffee shop/store in Amsterdam

The canals of Amsterdam when the sun breaks through... Just wow. Angels sang.

The canals of Amsterdam when the sun breaks through… Just wow. Angels sang.

Mister Tony making his world famous "biggie" and "little fluffy" pancakes, the best thing I've eaten in Amsterdam

Mister Tony making his world famous “biggie” and “little fluffy” pancakes, the best thing I’ve eaten in Amsterdam

Bikes, canals, beauty - repeat.

Bikes, canals, beauty – repeat.

My fluffies! With nutella!

My fluffies! With nutella!

The kneeler in the catholic church. I love imagining all the people who've knelt on it for centuries in meditation and prayer. Such beauty in simple things.

The kneeler in the catholic church. I love imagining all the people who’ve knelt on it for centuries in meditation and prayer. Such beauty in simple things.

A bar in an old canal bridge house, built in the 1690's

A bar in an old canal bridge house, built in the 1690’s

My first ever glufwein! Hot traditional dutch wine.

My first ever glufwein! Hot traditional dutch wine.

Bar patrons included an elderly group of couples playing cards and a young family with the parents sipping beers and the kids hot cocoa. Everyone is just easy to be around here.

Bar patrons included an elderly group of couples playing cards and a young family with the parents sipping beers and the kids hot cocoa. Everyone is just easy to be around here.

My first dutch bar snacks, all fried. Bitterballen, vlammekjes and kaassouffties. Of course I had to play with my food, I mean the smiley face was already there!

My first dutch bar snacks, all fried. Bitterballen, vlammekjes and kaassouffties. Of course I had to play with my food, I mean the smiley face was already there!

Just another gorgeous old bar cafe in Amsterdam

Just another gorgeous old bar cafe in Amsterdam

These canals at sunset. I just stop and stare.

These canals at sunset. I just stop and stare.

Smiley, happy, frozen me in Copenhagen

Smiley, happy, frozen me in Copenhagen

Finally a pretty journal that fits in my purse :)

Finally a pretty journal that fits in my purse 🙂

A Goodbye Hug From LA

10941916_10153046459166796_4915290060608507823_nI was never a window seat kind of girl.

Years of business travel – by and large short, domestic flights on a weekly basis – killed the novelty and the joys of flight in favor of pragmatism. Give me the aisle, dammit, so I can freely use the loo, grab my laptop and/or do deep knee lunges in the aisles of the plane should the urge strike me. For my flight to Copenhagen, however, I chose a window seat. Mostly so I could lean against the plane while sleeping (as opposed to drooling on an innocent stranger or slumping over my armrest into the aisle), but at least in part so I drink in every last bit of LA. She has been mine for the last sixteen years of my life, and this is the longest I’ve ever left her.

Leaving felt startlingly raw. Over the past few days I’d felt the warm embrace of so many friends, of dinners and drinks and well-wishes. The goodbyes were emotional, not sad in the least – joyful – but I might have found myself sitting in the middle of my living room floor crying into my stuffed hippo Hector a few times. The planning of my trip has been a staggering production. Twelve cities over six weeks is no joke, and being the cost conscious gal I am, it wasn’t feasible just to “wing it” with a eurorail pass. Well, maybe it was, but I can only accommodate so much uncertainty. So the rabbit hole bits of my journey are the cities themselves, I have absolutely nothing planned in each one. I may know a few bartenders, or a photographer, or a friend of a friend, but by and large I am alone. Left to wander, to follow any rabbit down any hole. Discovery, freedom and possibility will be my home for the next six weeks.

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Fire Sale On My Life

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While I do indeed have the necessary savings/credit etc to head off into the sunset of my european dreams, it is my essential nature to hustle like a squirrel for nuts and do whatever I can do to add to my purse. A spontaneous New Years closet purge became slightly less about a ‘shedding of material possessions’ in the spiritual form and slightly more about a ‘fattening of the wallet’ in a material form. Being funemployed affords you the time to, say, photograph all the overpriced impulse purchases collecting dust in your life. Case in point, one piece of sh*t Coach Heritage Collection carry-on suitcase, priced full retail at $648 (mind you I bought it at the outlet for less). I bought it because I had taken a business with my boss at the time who had made fun of my sturdy, roomy, if not Barney purple colored Samsonite. My shame had driven me to buy this fancy brand super logo-ed, utter piece of crap carry-on sized nicely for a hobbit. Carry-on was an accurate description of the thing as it failed to wheel anywhere and you had to – indeed – “carry” it. The handle extended to about mid-thigh, and at over 6ft (in heels) walking through the airport I no doubt evoked a chic, modern Quasimoto pulling a hapless postage stamp by a toothpick. As it failed to make me feel fancier or superior in life it was an easy item to part with, and I can only hope that it enjoys a future fulfilling someone of a shorter stature’s ego. The Frye over-the-knee riding boots that were so on trend and so covet-worthy online that were tragically more ‘Captain Jack Sparrow’ in person? Ebay became my new best friend! Craigslist too. Even the expensive Atomic skis I bought to learn to ski with my ex-husband back in the day… He bought them for his girlfriend. Score! My place? Subletted. My car? Rented by my carless but insured neighbor. All things must go! Fire sale! It was time to part with a particularly sentimental item, namely my wedding ring. Its been sitting in my bedside table drawer for years, silently bringing bad feng shui into my love life in all likelihood. I was never going to make it into a necklace, or a grill or whatever, and it was time to part with it. Selling it for a mere fraction of what my ex-husband paid for it struck a sad chord because I know how very poor we were, and how hard he worked to come up with the money for it. I think he might have even sold platelets to make it happen. It brought back memories of his sweetness and inherent goodness, qualities I immensely value in him still as his friend. I shall raise a glass to him from my loft in Amsterdam, which it handily paid for. Looking for a once-worn Halston Heritage boho-chic dress? Or a Michael Kors black leather moto jacket? Look no further than my eBay store! I got you, girl! (or boy, equal opportunity seller here) I may be a living late-night used car sales commercial but dammit if it doesn’t feel good. Its funny when you look around, really look at your “stuff” and ask yourself what matters. And if so, why. In all likelihood you’ll find, much like I did, a lot of it is startlingly easy to part with. As someone who values experiences over stuff, my fire sale went from being a busy-body task to a karmic/material liquidation. A transference of energy. You see, when I decided to go on this big dream trip to Europe, it might have appeared on paper to be a tad ill advised perhaps. But the opportunity would be gone, and I knew I would regret not doing it. E-ticket in hand I had faith that the net would materialize, and it has. People have bought my stuff, a close friend gifted me my round-trip ticket, the manager at my yoga studio is even suspending my membership while I’m gone. Everything is falling into place. Sometimes the world bends to your will, not unlike that floppy spoon in the Matrix, you just have to start with the dream to dare it into being.

#bucketyear (I think I made that up?!)

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Sometimes you come across a fork in the road in life. Or life hands you a lemon. Say, a bushel of lemons and dumps them on your head then runs away laughing. Or maybe just a fork, lets stick with that. Well I’m the kind of girl who picks up the fork and sets out to find a steak to put it to good use. Especially a steak after a week of green juice in advance of Europe. Can you tell I’m hungry and angry at lemons?
In my own mind I’m a bit of a John [Jane] Wayne. We all have our delusions of grandeur, right? My personal Christmas tradition  over the past few years: days trekking in the Eastern Sierras, blasting some Black Keys as I ascend high peaks with a flask of whiskey and a buck knife in my pack. So hard, so hard. Right – I can’t exactly ski or snowboard (somewhat my choice, I’m impatient and I like my knees the way they are) so I rent snowshoes while my athletically superior family all effortlessly fly down hills humming country tunes to themselves. Yes, I snowshoe with a [fanny] pack, rocking out to pranayama mediation music, noshing on a protein bar and only sipping on whiskey when its below 10 degrees. The knife is in there too but I’m pretty sure the mountain lion/goat/owl/whatever would eat me before I’d get the chance to stab it, so, moot point. Snowshoeing is economically sound, calorically favorable, ACL tear-averse and all around damn pleasant. Thats right, I’m a proud “shoe-er”! Like I said, Jane Wayne over here.

So… 2015 is my bucketyear. Just what is a bucketyear? Well, I could define it as a third-life crisis but that is optimistic math, and I’m a few gray hairs shy of mid-life, so lets just say its what happens when you find yourself with no job, no relationship, some savings and a few credit cards, and screaming the word CHANGE into the great void. As my mother pointed out I should clarify that many people who create a bucketlist do so because they know time is running short, perhaps due to terminal illness, and this is not the case for me. Though we are all dying – not to get too existential on y’all but it’s true. I have no pets, no plants, no children, no spouse. Not a thing in the world to tie me down. So when my job went tits up I decided to leap and let the net appear. The job will be materialize, perhaps a new city too. But I decided to spend the better part of this year doing as many things as I can on my bucketlist because at the end of this year I want to pursue my biggest dream of all, which is to be a mom. Regardless of who is or isn’t in my life its just something I don’t want to miss out on. This year will be filled with adventure – a US road trip! making it all the way through “Shoop” in karaoke! Learning to country line dance! Paragliding in Costa Rica! (okay I made that one up) Burning Man (maybe)! – a beautiful wild ride that concludes with me being ready to bring my own little person on board. Read – major responsibilities and job with benefits and stuff! I want to look my kid in the eye one day and tell him that he came at the perfect moment, exactly when I wanted him (or, of course, her). I can’t wait to see the face of the love of my life, and the closer I get to that moment in my life the more excited I am…. But soon. For now is the moment of indulging in my wanderlust, in my bucket dreams, in me. Time is the most precious currency, and I intend to spend it wisely.

Ticket to Ride [um, fly]

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Strolling through the agave fields in Tepe at Casa San Matias sipping my anejo tequila…

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L’ Arc de What What!

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I’m actually flying a plane. Not on auto pilot. Giddyup!

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Its a great big gun! Hot damn its fun to shoot.

How I drink a margarita on the beach in Mexico on vacation

How I drink a margarita on the beach in Mexico on vacation

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