Norse Legends – VI

Hold on to your Sleipnir Dr Spo the Viking stuff will come shortly in the meantime there’s more to the Rijksmuseum than saintly wooden statues. Here’s a few more things that caught my fancy.

Having seen perhaps the most famous painting in the Rijksmuseum on our first visit – in juxtaposition with Franz Hal’s of the same name – it was interesting to see it at a greater distance and surround by the modern paraphernalia of restoration. Very helpful guides are in place to explain both the need for and the process of restoration. I had not realized the painting had been attacked several times and required extensive restoration in 1975.

Pierre Cuypers, the Rijksmuseum architect, designed this piano as a wedding gift for his second wife Antoinette. The gift reflected their deep Catholicism. The images on the piano case show two scenes from the story of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music. It alludes the sacrifice Antoinette made in giving up her musical carrer for marriage. Rather oddly it took an extensive search to find out her name – the label certainly did not mention it and neither did most online biographies of Cuypers.

Two Mothers: When I first saw the title of this terra cotta by Frans Stracké I was a little puzzled and then I got it. As Laurent mentioned the labelling on the various pieces are great examples of what museum captions should be. I was fixated on the human and canine figures until my attention was drawn to the fisherwoman’s bad luck at fishing – she has only two fish in her pouch and her net is empty.

Painter Thérèse Schwartze was known for her portraits of Dutch royalty and the prosperous bourgeoise of Amsterdam society. With a touch of irony we know the name of the dog in this painting but not the French model who posed with him. It appears Schwartze started this painting in 1879 while a student in Paris and finished it five years later????

This rather foreboding figurehead graced the frigate Prins von Orange. Built in Rotterdam in 1828 the warship was armed with sixty canons.

And we end Willy’s tour with Intrigue – James Ensor’s rather grotesque if carnivalesque painting. His signature masked figures were an open challenge to bourgeois society of the time. Needless to say they did not meet with public approval.

I only wish I had more time to spend as I only saw two floors of two wings of this remarkable collection. Ah well the next time.

September 7th has a plethora of celebrations but I think I’ll forego World Beard Day and National Salami Day (oh grow up!) in favour of a favourite sport of Canadian drivers: Tailgating Day.

Mercoledi Musicale

To the great relief of our neighbours we finally got a TV in our house in 1961. Until that point if there was something special on I would coerce people on our street into letting me come over and tune their set to the programme of my choice. Poor Mary Michaelski suffered through the Royal Ballet doing Cinderella, Katherine Cornell in The Barretts of Winpole Street and lord only know what other esoteric offerings. I was a very persuasive little tyke!

When we did get it our reception was pretty much limited (it had rabbit ears – honest!) to local stations plus a few pulled in from Buffalo. Several of the channels prefaced their National Anthem sign-off with brief programmes of a religious nature. My favourite (and my mother’s too as I recall) was Mahalia Jackson on CFTO. Each night they would broadcast a short film: she would stand on a bare backlit set in a simple choir gown and to the accompaniment of an electronic organ sing one of the old hymns or gospel songs that I had grown up listening to and singing.

I was reminded of those late night broadcasts when a CBC jazz programme played her version of Just As I Am the other day. Though Ms Jackson refused more than one offer to sing “popular” music the debt one genre owes to the other is readily apparent in any of her recordings or broadcasts.

What I find fascinating is the tempo that she takes this old hymn and so many others at – it seems at times to be almost at a standstill but I never feel the urge to nudge her onward.

August 14 is Creamsicle Day. Apparently there is a “creamsicle” cocktail so let’s raise a glass of orange juice, vanilla vodka and cream (which satisfies all the food groups I believe?) to a favourite childhood treat.

Not Moussaka It’s MOOssaKKa!

We were fortunate that Laurent’s posting to Italy also meant that he was accredited to Greece which meant regular trips to Athens during our time there. We had made our first visit in 1997 to catch a cruise of Anatolia and several of the Greek Islands on a four-masted schooner. It was the first time we used Matt Barrett’s Guide to Greece – and it was a gold mine of valuable information that we referred to frequently over the years.

Fast forward to 2007 and the first of the regular trips that allowed us to become familiar with the city, the countryside, the culture, the people, and the food. Ah the food – we had so many good, often simple, meals in Athens, Corinth, Napflion, Delphi and Arachova (where we spent our 30th anniversary) including some very good moussaka. However I honestly think that this hearty vegetable-meat dish is best prepared at home; and at our house I use a recipe from Akis Petretziki.


For the vegetables

  • olive oil, for brushing and extra for vegetables
  • 2 potatoes, cut into thin slices
  • 1 onion, cut into thin slices
  • 1 eggplant, cut into thin slices
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into thin slices
  • salt
  • ground pepper
  • thyme

For the ground meat mixture

  • olive oil, for sautéing
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 500 g or roughly 1 lb ground meat (beef or lamb)
  • salt
  • ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 400 g or 14 oz diced tomatoes

For the béchamel sauce

  • 750 ml or 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 100 g or 3.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 100 g or 3.5 oz butter
  • ground pepper
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 100 g or 3.5 oz grated Parmesan
  • plus additional Parmesan for sprinkling


  • Preheat oven to 200* C (390* F)

For the vegetables

  • Brush a 25×30 cm baking pan with olive oil.
  • Peel the potatoes and onion and cut into thin slices.
  • Transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and some thyme. Toss to coat.
  • Spread in a single layer on the bottom of the baking pan.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, until they soften and turn golden.
  • Thinly slice an eggplant. The vegetable slices need to be thin in order for them to cook correctly in the oven.
  • Transfer eggplant slices to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Toss.
  • Remove pan from oven and add the eggplant slices. Spread them in a single layer over the potato and onion. If your eggplant looks a little dry, drizzle with some more olive oil.
  • Bake for another 20 minutes.
  • Cut the zucchini into thin slices. Once again, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Toss to coat.
  • Spread them in a single layer over the eggplant and bake for 20 minutes.

For the ground meat

  • Pour a small amount of olive oil into a pan. Mince an onion. Add it to the pan and caramelize over high heat.
  • Mince a clove of garlic. Add it to your pan and mix. Sauté until it softens and turns slightly golden.
  • Add ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of ground cloves. Mix and sauté. It makes such a huge difference when you cook your spices before you add the meat.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Sauté.
  • Add the ground meat. Use a wooden spoon to break it up into small pieces. Season with salt and pepper and brown over high heat.
  • Add a can of chopped tomatoes. Sauté for 5-10 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates. The mixture should be quite dry. Set aside.

For the béchamel sauce

  • Place a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter. As soon as the butter starts to melt add the flour and start to whisk as you sauté.
  • Start to add the milk slowly and in batches. Whisk continuously throughout this process so no lumps form in the mixture. As soon as the first batch of milk is absorbed in the flour, you can add the next batch. Repeat process until all of the milk has been added and completely incorporated in the mixture.
  • When the sauce finally starts to bubble you’ll know it’s ready. It should be smooth, creamy and delicious.
  • Remove from heat. Add some freshly ground pepper, ground nutmeg, grated Parmesan and 3 egg yolks. Stir and set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 180* C (350* F)

To assemble

  • Add 1/3 of the béchamel sauce to the ground meat mixture. Mix together to create a sticky filling that will hold the dish together when serving and eating.
  • Spread filling over vegetable layers.
  • Pour béchamel sauce over meat filling. Use a spatula to smooth the top and sprinkle with some grated parmesan.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Remove from oven. Allow to cool for at least 1 hour.
  • Cut into pieces, serve and enjoy!

This goes well with Horiatiki the traditional Greek Salad and one of Akis’ recipes for this favourite can be found here.

We found out about Akis from our good friend Yannis who appeared with him on the Greek version of Master Chef. Yannis was one of the semi-finalists and currently works as part of the Kitchen Lab team.

On this day in 1968: Apollo 5 lifts off carrying the first Lunar module into space.

Uncharted Waters

Well even as this post makes it’s way through the ether and by the magic of whatever voodoo that the internet does so well on to your screen Laurent and I will be wending our way on the first leg of our trip to Portugal.  Since we are doing this on airline passes our first challenge is getting off the Island.  There are only two flights a day to Toronto, two to Montreal, and several (on a small aircraft) to Halifax.  Traditionally they are always full and travelling standby is a challenge – and today there appears to be no break with tradition.  So we did the sensible thing – booked on points to Toronto.

A “humorous” map from the 1860s when King Ferdinand II of Protugal was offered the throne of Spain.  He rejected it so the “pet mules” were not fattened????

And the other sensible thing we did was to get to Toronto the day before our onward flight to Lisbon.  Leaving this sort of thing to the gods on the day of a flight is always a dicey matter – during my years with the airlines I saw too many people have their vacations ruined by delayed flights during the winter months.  So we have a Sunday night to spend in Toronto – which brings to mind the old joke:  I spent a month in Toronto one Sunday.

Strangely with all the travelling we have done the Iberian peninsula was never one of our destinations until our first trip to Barcelona in 2010.  Since then we’ve made several trips to Spain but that little corner that is Portugal has been overlooked.  It would seem that is not unusual touristically or historically. 

Though we learned a bit about Vasco de Gama in history class the story of the vast Portuguese trading Empire in the East was largely overlooked in favour of all the was pink and British on the maps of history.  My good friend Dr Spo thought that before we go a little history lesson would be in order and sent along this little video for our edification:

I am only taking my iPad with me so there is a good chance that any posts will be sparse but I will try and post a few pictures here and there.  However, and please dear faithful reader don’t take this personally, there are at least six wine producing regions in Portugal so there will be perhaps more pressing matters – or rather at the point I get involved “pressed”.

Você é bom e nós estaremos conversando em breve!

On this day in 1865: Mark Twain’s short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is published in the New York Saturday Press.