I took the train down to Amsterdam last weekend. It felt strange.
Amsterdam and I haven't always gotten along. I lived there for a year, studied there for two and worked there for four. During that time, I managed to build up a fair amount of resentment towards the city. I was 23 when I moved to Amsterdam and already, I felt too old for a city that seemed to live in a fast pace and in technicolor. I tried my best to make it work, but ultimately, I always felt out of place. That feeling remained when I was working on my PhD. While my colleagues were kind and fun to talk with - not like my roommates in Oud-West had been -, I never really connected. I also spent a lot of nights at a youth hostel during that time ... Being surrounded by a bunch of girls in their early twenties, looking for pub crawls and soft drugs certainly didn't help with my loneliness and preconceptions. I was lucky to have my friend Marije, with whom I could enjoy simple nights at Gollem, drinking a few beers and laughing about how ridiculously bad we were at their Monday night pub quiz. We still talk about that one night when we were the only team to get a certain question right. (The answer was Brahma; the question is long forgotten.)
When I still went to Amsterdam every week, the regularity of it all toned down all the ugly, sad feelings I had about the city ... they were always there, but just lingering. This weekend was different. It'd been over a year since I last traveled to Amsterdam and the distance made my resentment rise to the surface again. I was looking forward to a weekend away with Thomas, to nights at a nice hotel and to the Food Bandits food photography workshop, but as the train drew to closer to Amsterdam Central Station, I also felt increasingly nervous.
After walking around for a few hours, though, I noticed that the city had changed. Or my perspective had changed. Suddenly, it seemed okay to go slow. Better, even. The tourists and coffee shops and night clubs were still there, but they weren't taunting me anymore. Instead, my eye was attracted to beautiful coffee bars and concept stores. I saw the reflections of crooked buildings and abandoned streets. I saw gorgeous light, even on a dull grey day. I saw time. I saw emptiness. I saw a city that I wish I had known seven years ago. I saw a city that I hope I can still grow to love.
It helped that some of my time in the city was spent in the beautiful Atelier Oosterbosch, surrounded by gorgeous plants, delicious food and a bunch of women inspired by food and beautiful images. It helped that I got to know Suus and Johann from Food Bandits, two people who are talented, honest and incredibly kind and who I hope to see again in the future. And it helped that I got to lie in a hotel bed with crisp white sheets, eating homemade chocolate chip cookies with Thomas while watching The Walking Dead and talking about nothing in particular. How different it was from those six difficult years.
• This recipe is adapted from the talented Tara O'Brady. Because I love chocolate chip cookies with a little extra, preferably in the form of nuts, I added almonds and opted for browning the butter instead of just melting it. I find this enhances all of the delicious flavors already present in these cookies.
• I also like my chocolate chip cookies relatively small, thick and brittle. A chewy center doesn't really do it for me. If you want your cookies to spread out a little more and maintain that moist, chewy center, though, skip the 10 minutes in the refrigerator and reduce the baking time to 10-12 minutes.
• I baked two sheets of cookies at the same time. If your oven can only accommodate one baking sheet, or you end up with more than two, measure and shape each cookie and leave them to rest in the refrigerate until you are ready to bake them. Keep in mind that the longer you leave the cookies in the refrigerator, the less they will spread.
Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Seven Spoons, by Tara O'Brady
makes 24 smallish cookies
115 gr unsalted butter, sliced
200 gr all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
150 gr dark brown sugar
50 gr granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
120 gr dark chocolate chips or callets, or roughly chopped bar chocolate
70 gr almonds, roughly chopped
coarse sea salt or fleur de sel, for finishing
sliced almonds, for finishing (optional)
1. Place oven racks in upper and lower third of the oven and preheat to 180°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Add butter to a heavy-bottomed pan and heat over low to medium heat until amber specks start to form on the bottom of the pan. Swirl the pan once in a while to keep the butter from heating up too fast and burning. After the sizzling has subsided and you start to see a lot of deep brown specks, remove the butter from the heat and pour into a medium mixing bowl.
3. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt over another medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
4. Add both sugars to the browned butter and whisk to combine. Add the egg and whisk until fully incorporated. Stir in the vanilla extract.
5. Add the dry ingredients, all at once, to the batter and use a spatula to fold it in. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl, but don't overmix. It's okay if a few streaks of flour remain. Fold in the chocolate chips and chopped almonds. Let the batter cool down in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes.
6. Use a tablespoon or cookie scoop to measure out 1-tablespoon portions of the dough. Shape them into little balls and place them on the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 5 cm in between each ball. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and sliced almonds (optional).
7. Bake cookies for 12-15 minutes (10-12 minutes if you want a chewy center). Let them cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack.