On a cold winter’s morning

Winter set in with an icy enthusiasm yesterday. The country is covered in white, and I had to break off a meeting with Cardle’s creative director early yesterday afternoon in order to get back home safely and before dark – the average speed on the roads, which had not yet been cleared, was about 15 Kph, and there was some slip-sliding here and there.

This morning provided us with some stunning views. I couldn’t resist the urge to go out and click a few photos (in my pyjamas without gloves at -9 C – I did wear a jacket, though).

Here is an impression of Zoetermeer (NL) – or Sweet Lake City, as we like to call it – on a cold winter’s morning in February, 2012.
















Bright Lights, Big Messe

My friend Yvette Scheltema is a product designer. She used to be an architect, until a little over a year ago, when she found herself downsized out of her position. When that happened, she spent some time trying to figure out what to do next, and she decided to pursue product design, because she is just unable to look at an object and not wonder how she could tweak it so that it would perform better or differently. And then she started toying around with paper design. Not one to do things halfway, she then proceeded to invent an object that didn’t actually exist as such, and while she was at it, she successfully patented the thing as well. And now she’s building up her own company, centered around her patented invention: the Cardle.


Since we’re friends, and I like to help my friends every once in a while, I helped her out with some copywriting, translation and legal advice from time to time. But, not being one to do things halfway either, I found myself working with her as an external consultant for her new company.

Putting a new product on the market requires some going out and getting things done. One of the things that need doing is attending trade fairs. Yvette asked me to accompany her to the Paper and Convenience fair in Rosmalen, the Netherlands, last year September to launch the product on the Dutch market, and I did. We spent three days on our feet, accosting pretty much everyone that passed our booth with flyers, promoting the Cardle like crazy people. And it worked: the Cardle has been selling very nicely in the Netherlands, thanks in no small measure to Denis Bégin’s (Yvette’s husband, a talented graphic designer, among other things) beautiful graphic design for the Cardle’s first two series.

But Yvette is ambitious – and me too – so the Cardle was destined for a greater audience. Some enthusiastic marketing was done, and international interest in the Cardle was expressed from countries around the world. Now, the way to reach a larger market for a product like the Cardle is to show it off on an international trade fair.

And this is why I am writing this blog post from an apartment in Frankfurt, where I am staying with Yvette while we’re attending Paperworld at the Fankfurt Messe.

Before I say anything else, let me say this: the Frankfurt Messe is enormous. Good lord: the buildings – there are 11 – stretch for miles and each building has several levels. Paperworld only occupies a few buildings, the rest is currently being taken up by ChristmasWorld. This place is so professional and efficient, the staff is kind and competent, the atmosphere is very good and the contact between the exhibitors is fun and friendly.

But more about that later. Let’s start at the beginning.

The Frankfurter Mess(e)

Have you ever had that dream where you walk out of your house to go do something and you’re wondering why people are looking at you funny, then you look down and you see that you forgot to put your clothes on? Right, that feeling. That’s about the feeling we had when we arrived at the Messe on the 28th of January, around 10:30 AM, to set up. We imagined we would comfortably build up our booth, then spend some time in town and visit friends later in the afternoon. After all, the fair itself would only start on the 29th. We were wrong; a mistake in the dates. The fair had already started that morning – setting up should really have been done the day before…

More than a little embarrassed, we quickly remedied the situation, and with the help of some very friendly staff members at the Messe Yvette set up the booth while the first visitors were already strolling around through the exhibition halls. Meanwhile, I took care of some administrative things and parked the car.

And so, with some slight delay, we were in business.


We had a very productive day after our rough start, and today was a truly excellent day: we barely had a moment’s rest. The Cardle has been doing very well so far. Distributors, wholesale companies and retailers alike are truly enthusiastic. And, as we did last time, Yvette and I are on our feet almost all the time, promoting the Cardle like crazy people (but in a charming way, naturally).
And we’re really quite proud of how lovely our booth looks!




Carpe diem and little Bo Peep

While the Rosmalen fair was a fairly Netherlands-centered affair, this trade fair is a truly international event. Exhibitors from all around the world are here showing their products. The hotels are full up with both representatives from companies displaying at the Messe and visitors, who – like the exhibitors – come from all across the globe looking for new products to sell or distribute.

Some of the exhibitors use gimmicks, and Sheepworld has used the best by far during this trade fair. Their main theme features, not surprisingly, a cuddly sheep. During the fair, they had a life size one wandering around on fair grounds. When I saw it, I had no notice but to cuddle the poor lost thing – I felt just like Bo Peep (well, the opposite really, I guess, since I found the sheep instead of having lost it, but you get the idea).


But the sheep was not the only cartoon image to escape from Sheepworld. One of their other characters is a cute version of the Grim Reaper. He has been skulking around in the exhibition hall, occasionally rather startling some of the visitors and exhibitors – which is pretty amusing to watch (I think I have a mean streak). I caught our friend on camera in a very appropriate setting:



We decided that at the end of this second day at the Messe, a long day on our feet, we deserved some R&R, and so we made our way to a Chinese restaurant very near our hotel. I discovered it purely by coincidence on the night we first arrived; it’s tucked away behind the station on Westendstrasse 1 and doesn’t really advertise itself very clearly. But once you enter the restaurant premises and head down the steps, the most delicious scents float up to greet you. The service is genuinely friendly and the food terrific. If you should every find yourself in Frankfurt and hungry for good Chinese food, go check them out.


We’re halfway through the fair now; there are two more days to go. Then, a visit with friends in a nearby village and a long drive home.

Off to school

My daughter starts school tomorrow. It’s a great day for her: she’s been looking forward to turning four years old so she can go to school just like the other kids in the neighbourhood.

I’m looking forward to it too, for her. But there is another part of me that just wants to keep her home with me, safe. Not because I’m one of those mothers that can’t let go, but because my school days (at my first school) sucked. I was bullied. Not a little, a lot. Every day I would dread having to go to school, to see what humiliation, or worse, what injury was in store for me today. Because the bullying didn’t stop at name-calling either (I was ugly, skinny, stuck-up, a smart-ass, my hair was stupid, why couldn’t I just get hit by a car), it extended to physical violence.I was beaten up on a regular basis. It was a five minute walk home from school, and I would be terrified for every step of it, because I knew there was a very real chance that I’d be chased by bullies all the way to my front door. There were so many incidents that I don’t even remember them all, but what I do remember very clearly was that I was completely and totally miserable. And of course I took every insult thrown at me to heart. What I learned best in that school was how to be utterly alone in a room full of people.
The bullying was unpredictable too: there were days, sometimes even weeks, that I would be left entirely in peace, and that made me wonder whether I had been imagining it all. Of course I hadn’t been; they’d pick the fun up with renewed vigour in due time.
The bullying got so bad that my parents decided to transfer me to another school because there was genuine concern for my safety.
I had a discussion with a friend awhile back about bullying. She blithely said that she felt that bullying was a part of going to school and growing up. I vehemently disagree. I think that bullying is part of growing up in the same way that racism is part of society. Yes, it is part of society, but it shouldn’t be, and pretty much everybody knows it. Such behaviour may not be fully stamped out ever, but there is a consensus now that it is unacceptable, and it should not be allowed to happen or, where it is still happening, to continue.

And now, as the song goes, I have children of my own (well, the one), and tomorrow she goes to school. We selected her school carefully; it has, among other winning features, a stringent anti-bullying policy (which school doesn’t, these days?). She knows some older kids who go to the same school, and those kids like her or at least appear to – peer pressure can have surprising effects on children’s behaviour: it can turn friends outside of school into barely tolerated elements on school grounds.

After all these years, of all the consequences to those years of bullying, this was one I had not considered: that I would be scared to see my child go off to school.

She is now like I was then: spontaneous, competitive, a show-off. I hope she’ll be tougher than I was. No, that’s not what I hope. I hope she won’t have to be.

George Michael Symphonica (Rotterdam, 22 Oct. 2011)

George Michael Symphonica – Ahoy', Rotterdam

George Michael Symphonica – Ahoy', Rotterdam

Perhaps I have gotten jaded over the years, or I may just be getting old. It sometimes seems to me that the age of real stars is past. I’m not talking about divas, mind you – that, today, is mostly a matter of attitude and ego – but about stars, artists with so much talent and purity of performance that they are worthy of the title. Such stardom elevates a performance by someone of that caliber to an experience, rather than a night out.

George Michael may be among the last of the genuine stars. I will be honest in coming straight out and admitting that my feeling this way surprised me. After the last concert of his I attended a few years ago in the Amsterdam ArenA I was sorely disappointed. I had expected more – better acoustics for one – and left the show unsatisfied. It wasn’t his vocals – those are always near perfect and they were that night too – but there was just something…missing. I thought that, perhaps, his days of touring should be behind him.

This is why, when my sister gave me a ticket to George Michael Symphonica at Ahoy’, Rotterdam for my birthday, I was happy with the gift, but hesitant. My trepidation only increased after reading a review of an earlier Symphonica concert, which echoed my thoughts after the ArenA concert.

Nevertheless, yesterday evening I went to see George Michael Symphonica at Ahoy’, and from the very first note, all my fears were allayed. The concert was, quite simply, stunning. Not an event, but an experience.

When I entered the hall, I sensed a genuine air of anticipation. The view of the stage had been obscured by a red satin curtain, which for the duration of the first song remained closed. Such touches, of course, add to the excitement in expectation of the final pay-off: seeing George Michael do what he does in his own, inimitable way.

When the curtain was raised, the man we had all come to see was revealed: he was in fine form, dressed impeccably as always, in a dark, tailored suit and wearing his trademark sunglasses (possibly not even overkill, considering the brightness of not only the stage lights, but also the projection screen behind him).

What followed was a series of refreshing interpretations of songs by other artists, as well as renditions of his own songs.

His cover of New Order’s “True Faith” – released earlier this year for Comic Relief – was a thoughtful reinterpretation of the original. Since the release of “True Faith”, much has been made of his use of electronic voice modification on this track – he also used it during his live performance last night – to create the sound for the single. I imagine most of the criticism will have stemmed from the fact that hearing the effect will have taken some getting used to, especially after hearing nothing but pure, unprocessed vocals from him over the course of his entire singing career.

“Russian Roulette” (originally by Rihanna) was poignant and intense, highlighted by the addictive percussion mimicking a pounding heartbeat, which in turn was underscored by red lights pulsing in time with the rhythm.

He also delivered a sensitive tribute to Amy Winehouse by singing his version of “Love is a Losing Game”, performed in clear admiration and compassionate memory. The song was accompanied by pictures of her on the screen behind him.

I think that for most people, though, the true enjoyment lay in hearing George Michael perform his own songs. For me, “Cowboys and Angels” stood out, but that is almost certainly due to my favoring that song over almost all others in his repertoire. For the audience, hearing the opening notes of “A Different Corner” after hearing a series of cover songs resulted in an almost palpable sense of release.

At the end of the concert, there was a little treat in the form of a surprise performance by George Michael and his four backing vocalists singing “This Little Light of Mine” in close harmony, producing some joyous gospel sounds indeed.

His performance was superb, if by no means perfect. His voice showed signs of fatigue, especially towards the end of the evening. This is not surprising: he has been performing full force with a symphony orchestra for well over two months now, with in excess of thirty shows behind him, and another thirty shows ahead of him. Certainly his age will also be playing a part here (he is 48 now), but that is not a bad thing at all. His voice is as rich as it ever was, and experience – both happy and painful – has added an extra dimension, lending maturity to his unique sound.

Throughout the whole evening, he appeared to be avoiding the high notes, which was especially obvious during “Kissing a Fool”. No damage done: in the low notes his sound is still full and luscious, but the drop in register on the whole became very clear during the last performance of the evening: an up-tempo medley of “Amazing”, “I’m Your Man” and “Freedom ’90”. The audience, invited to sing along, seemed to have some difficulty making itself heard because the lower key was a little problematic.

For me, what made the whole experience perfect is this: I love watching him sing. He sings with his whole body, his eyes closed for half, maybe even most of the time. George Michael creates right in front of your eyes; he doesn’t just repeat, but infuses each song with genuine emotion and you can see it happen.

The concert itself leaves you with food for thought. Each song seems to have been carefully picked to illustrate an aspect of his life that bears illuminating. And in each song, there is something to think about for everyone. The sequencing of the songs adds to the story, so that the concert feels like George Michael takes you on a personal journey with him, from his struggle coming out with his sexual orientation and being accepted for who he is (“Going to a Town” by Rufus Wainwright), through the loss of loved ones, to addiction, and a failed relationship. Some of the songs are so personal, for example: “Where I Hope You Are”, that I found the concert almost confrontational at times. The result is an intense, thought-provoking experience that still resonates well after the concert has ended.

Steve Jobs – a Touch of Magic

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Last night, I had trouble getting to sleep, so I sat up drinking a glass of wine and browsing my twitter feed on my iPhone. And then, around 1:50 AM CET, I saw the tweet from @BreakingNews. It read something like this: “Apple has announced that Steve Jobs has died.” I was in shock, disbelief even at first. Hoping it was another premature announcement, I began checking out the news sites on my iPad and it wasn’t long before Steve Jobs’ death was the dominant news story on pretty much every news site, network, tech site and – well, everywhere really. And I’ll be honest with you: I cried. This is not something I usually do when a celebrity dies, no matter how famous or stellar the person might have been. But Steve Jobs is, no, was unlike anyone else.

Of course, his death wasn’t unexpected. Everyone knew Steve Jobs had survived pancreatic cancer. Everyone knew he had undergone a liver transplant only 2 years ago. A liver transplant following treatment for pancreatic cancer is usually a bad sign, so logic dictated that he was never going to live another 20 years, but the few months between his stepping down as CEO of Apple and now were far less than anyone would have expected; I think pretty much everyone was hoping for much more time than this. In fact, for a man of Steve Jobs’ talent, vision and ability to do the seemingly impossible, 56 years is entirely too short a lifespan altogether. Steve Jobs was the kind of person – a man who lived his passion, who made the biggest corporate comeback witnessed in recent history, who changed the face of home technology, of digital products, of user experience with machines that had until then been cumbersome and barely tolerable at best – we would all want to have around for at least a hundred productive years.

Now that he is gone (and I know this is going to sound dramatic), the world feels a little emptier, and somehow devoid of a touch of magic. I know for many tech users and fans he leaves a void in no small part because of what he created, and how he changed the game in business and technology development. For me personally, though, it goes further than that. Of course Steve Jobs has accomplished amazing things, not least his almost unimaginably meteoric comeback with Apple – a company he was removed from after having first founded it and which he returned to when his new company NeXT was taken over by that very same Apple in an effort to stave off Apple’s demise – whilst battling pancreatic cancer and surviving for longer than I think almost anyone ever has.

But to me he represented something more. He represented the courage that most of us lack when living our lives. He realized very early on that in order to truly live, choices need to be made and they can’t just be made for the sake of mere survival, they must be made on the basis of instinct, passion, insight and a certain faith that in the end it will all come together. He made what many consider enormous leaps of faith that way: going by feel when creating new products, never market testing but simply acting on what he felt people should and were entitled to require of devices that should make daily tasks fun and easy, and that connect us all to the rest of the world. I know the MacBook Pro made my life a lot easier and more productive, and the iPod and iPad added a healthy dose of fun and interactivity. My current MacBook has helped me finally channel my creativity in such a way that I feel I can actually accomplish something. And last but certainly not least: my current twitter presence can be attributed wholly to my iPhone, which has become what I like to call my ‘mobile communication and productivity center’.

Steve Jobs accomplished what he did, of course, because he had a passion for aesthetics and design, as well as a drive to combine them with pure and consistent functionality in Apple’s products. He made perfectionism the new standard (something I can appreciate, being slightly neurotic that way myself). But it is the fact that he lived every aspect of his life with this passion and this drive that made him nothing less than a force of nature. And to me, his life and career show that choosing to live your life that way can lead to success, accomplishment and a sense of deep satisfaction with what you’re doing. Steve Jobs was living proof of this and I felt better for having him there to remind me that we can all do great things – maybe even the supposedly impossible – while we are here. I feel an almost personal loss because he was the window through which I saw what I could be, what we all could be if we just had the courage to make the choices we typically avoid. Not another Steve Jobs – there will only ever be one – but the best, purest, most focused version of ourselves.

He was a brave man, a talent and a visionary, and his death will leave a void for years to come. I wish his family and loved ones much strength as they deal with his loss.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs. You are missed.

East-meets-West Pilau

Sometimes I look in my fridge and realize that the various leftover ingredients from previously prepared meals really need to be finished now. Today, I had half a bottle gourd, 125 grams of mushrooms and some ground meat with due date today. How to blend that together into something tasty…?

Now, pilau is one of those nice toss-it-all-in dishes, so here it is: East-meets-West Pilau!

I used:
40 gr butter
1 fresh red chili pepper, sliced
2 large cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
2 tsp salt
2 tsp dhana jeeru
125 gr mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
150 gr bottle gourd, cubed (small)
325 gr ground beef
1 tsp maple syrup
2 cups rice
3 cups water

And this, my trusty rice cooker:

The preparation is simple: melt the butter in a skillet over a low flame, and sauté the pepper and garlic in about 5 minutes. Next, stir in the salt and dhana jeeru, then add the mushroom and stir occasionally over the next 5 minutes until the mushrooms are nice and tender. Now you add the bottle gourd and stir it through. Stir occasionally over the next 10-15 minutes. When the bottle gourd is tender, add the ground beef and let it cook until the meat is done. Then, the Canadian – the Western – touch: add the maple syrup and stir it through thoroughly. And finally you stir through the uncooked rice.

Now you can transfer the mixture to the rice cooker and add the water. The work will do itself.

Sit back, relax and when the rice cooker is done, you can eat!

I love an easy meal…

Ever After: A Cinderella Story – Review

SPOILERS AHEAD! – Don’t read this review if you haven’t seen the film yet.

My daughter, at her nearly 4 years of age, will happily watch anything involving princes, princesses and adventure. I’m a hopeless romantic and a lover of fairytales, in both their soppy, reworked modern versions, and their much more cruel, child-unfriendly original versions. So you can see why Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998; D: Andy Tennant) would be a favourite in our house.

That being said, not all fairytale adaptations bring a smile to my face as readily as Ever After: A Cinderella Story does. For me, the magic already begins at the very start of the movie, when that grande dame of cinema, Jeanne Moreau in the role of the great-great-great-granddaughter of Danielle de Barbarac (Drew Barrymore), invites the brothers Grimm to her chateau to set them straight on the events that have since become the fairytale of “the little cinder-girl”. When she presents the writers with the actual glass slipper that is such an essential element of the story, the scene is quite masterfully set for the telling that follows.

The fairytale itself begins with young Cinderella, or Danielle de Barbarac (Anna Maguire), in happier days. Danielle is a bit of a wild child and spends most of her time playing with her friend Gustave (Ricki Cuttell). Her father, Auguste (Jeroen Krabbé), is a merchant who clearly adores his only child. Rather progressively, he has taught her to read and instilled in her a love of the written word. When Auguste returns home from one of his journeys, he brings with him a new wife, Rodmilla de Ghent (Anjelica Huston) and her two daughters Marguerite and Jacqueline. It is clear from Rodmilla’s look of contempt at the sight of tomboy Danielle, that there is trouble ahead.

And so there is: a few short weeks later Auguste dies of a heart attack, leaving his new wife in charge of the children, a household and staff. Fast forward ten years, and there is the Cinderella we know from the stories. Danielle effectively runs the entire household, doing the chores with the rest of the staff, while Rodmilla allows herself to be waited on hand and foot. She treats her stepdaughter shabbily, but treats her own daughter Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey) only marginally less badly. It is only Marguerite (Megan Dodds) who is being groomed for life at court. Rodmilla shows admirable optimism in her efforts to push her into the arms of the Crown Prince of France, never mind his engagement to a Spanish princess (Virginia García): “Nothing is final until you are dead and even then I’m sure God negotiates”.

Meanwhile, Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) is proving to be a problem for the King and Queen of France (Timothy West and Judy Parfitt). He is not interested in marrying anyone, nor does he want to succeed his father, and he has apparently made a habit of escaping the palace to evade his duties.

During one of these escapes Henry runs into Danielle. In her efforts to prevent him from stealing a horse she pelts him with apples until she realizes she’s been bombarding the future King of France with fruit. She – or perhaps just the apple hitting him on the forehead – makes an impression on him. Immediately after, Henry meets Leonardo DaVinci (Patrick Godfrey), who has been invited to the Royal Court of France to be honored for his work as an artist. (“Michaelangelo is trapped under a roof in Rome. I am merely second choice.”)

Upon Henry’s return to the palace, the exasperated King sets him an ultimatum: find another woman to marry, but do so before the ball honoring Signore DaVinci; if not the ball will also mark the announcement of Henry’s engagement to the Spanish princess.

It is not long before Henry and Danielle meet again, this time at court where Danielle appears disguised as a noblewoman. Henry has no idea this is the servant he met earlier, but is visibly intrigued by her passionately quoting Thomas More at him and he wants to learn more.

Rumours of Henry’s affections for a mysterious stranger abound, and Rodmilla eventually puts two and two together. On the day before the ball, she misinforms the Queen of France that Danielle is engaged to be married and then proceeds to lock Danielle in the cellar to ensure she does not attend the ball. Henry learns of Danielle’s “engagement” from his mother, resigns himself to marrying the Spanish princess and tells his father to announce the match at the ball.

Leonardo DaVinci finds out about Danielle’s plight from Gustave (Lee Ingleby) and, assuming the role of fairy godmother, he is instrumental in getting Danielle to the ball after all by freeing her from the cellar.

Danielle arrives at the ball just in time to prevent the wedding announcement, but her happy ending is sabotaged by her stepmother who exposes her as a servant rather than a noblewoman. Henry, suddenly seeing that his love interest is in fact the same girl who knocked him off a stolen horse, does not respond well to the revelation and dismisses Danielle. She runs off, losing one of her glass slippers in the process. Leonardo DaVinci, arriving moments after this drama and expecting to see the couple happily united is instead confronted with a sulking, stubborn Henry, whom he quickly puts in his place.

Following the drama at the ball, Rodmilla sees an opportunity for Marguerite’s promotion to princess. Not wanting to take any chances that the prince might change his mind about Danielle, she sells her into servitude to Pierre LePieu (Richard O’ Brien), a despicable, lecherous cockroach of a man only slightly more odious than his surname suggests. As it turns out, Rodmilla’s fears are well founded, because Henry takes DaVinci’s advice to heart, releases the Spanish princess from her promise to marry him and shortly afterwards comes looking for Danielle. When he finds out what has happened, he devises a plan to make Rodmilla and Marguerite pay. Jacqueline, who has by now realized that her mother really only cares about elevating herself and Marguerite to royalty, feels sorry for Danielle and gladly helps him put his plan into action. Henry then goes off to rescue Danielle. He arrives too late for that, however: Danielle has already rescued herself. And the rest as they say, is history.

But that’s not quite where the fairytale ends. Rodmilla and Marguerite still need to get what they deserve. In a delicious scene, made perfect by Anjelica Huston in top form, the King and Queen declare that the schemers should be shipped off to the Americas “unless, by some miracle, someone here will speak for you”. Rodmilla backs away through the hall, looking around her hopefully and finally offering a pretty creative explanation for why no-one speaks up on her behalf: “There seem to be quite a few people out of town!”

After the fairytale ends, we return to the chateau for the final scene to hear the grand dame impress upon the brothers Grimm the importance of realizing that Cinderella and her prince actually lived.

“Ever After” brings an original flavor of to the tale of Cinderella, doing away with magic and instead replacing it with the genius of Leonardo DaVinci and the timid yet brave enthusiasm of Danielle’s childhood friend Gustave. Gustave’s part may be small, but it is important.

Tennant has taken care to sketch his characters well. Rather than just positioning Rodmilla as a cruel, spiteful woman, the movie grants some insights into the motivations of this wicked stepmother. She is born of noble blood, not used to getting her hands dirty, and she has married a man she hardly knows and has come with him to live in his home with his daughter from a previous marriage. She has barely had two weeks to settle into her new life as a merchant’s wife when he suffers a heart attack and dies, saying his last words of love not to her but to his daughter. And so she is left alone in unfamiliar territory, and while she may not have loved her husband she was perhaps hoping for affection to develop between them, because she resents Danielle for having been the most important part of his life. Later in the movie this sentiment of affection and loss is revisited during a conversation Rodmilla has with Danielle: she is almost tender with her stepdaughter, but then as the resentment takes over again, she buries that inclination and reverts to the subtle putdowns she reserves especially for Danielle. All in all, everything she does can be construed as an investment in a secure future. And, it must be said, Rodmilla gets the best lines – Anjelica Huston delivers them beautifully; she is pitch-perfect in her role as the scheming, reaching stepmother.

Prince Henry is mostly put upon. He wrestles with the obligations that every crown prince has and struggles to find himself. Dougray Scott plays the role with complexity and a great deal of charm. Henry could easily be mistaken for a spoilt brat, but the sincerity that Dougray Scott infuses into the character prevents that from happening. Rather, as the story unfolds, you find yourself carried along by Henry’s discovery that life can consist of more than just one’s responsibilities.

Drew Barrymore is charming and sincere as Danielle. She never quite masters the English accent, which is occasionally annoying, but not so as to take away from the enjoyment of the film.

But it’s the supporting roles that really add the great touches to this movie. Patrick Godfrey’s Leonardo DaVinci is simply delightful: intelligent, wise, warm, sincere, kind and honest. Timothy West and Judy Parfitt are wonderful as the King and Queen at the end of their rope (at one point, the King says accusingly to the Queen: “He’s your son!”). Virginia García does a great comical turn as the Spanish princess crying hysterically at her own wedding, and Richard O’Brien’s LePieu is downright evil – much more so than Rodmilla, in fact.

Setting the mood throughout the film is the sweet, romantic soundtrack by George Fenton. The evocative main theme provides a lovely backdrop to the events as they unfold.

Ever After: A Cinderella Story may not be the best movie I’ve ever seen, but it is one of the most enjoyable fairytale adaptations I’ve seen. This movie is worth your time.

Pasta with chanterelles and cream

My parents just came back from a brief vacation in Switzerland and they brought me a little present: 225 grams of fresh chanterelles. I love chanterelles. Naturally, I wanted to do them justice, so I looked up some recipes in South-Tirol cookbooks and some special mushroom cookbooks and they pretty much all seemed to agree: chanterelles are best prepared using cream. Not a problem, I really like cream too!
First order of business then: sorting out the rest of the ingredients:

225 gr chanterelles
25 gr butter
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 dried bay leaf
60 ml white wine, dry
250 ml (soy) cream
1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 tsp salt

The chanterelles need to be cleaned; the best way to do this is to brush the dirt off them lightly, then wash them in cold water and lay them out on a towel to dry.
The smaller chanterelles can stay intact, but the bigger ones should be cut into smaller pieces.

Aside from chopping the onion, garlic and parsley and grinding the pepper, that’s really all the prep you’ll need for this dish.

Next, melt the butter in a skillet on a low flame, then sautée the onion and garlic in it. After a few minutes, the onions should be glazed and golden, then it’s time to add the bay leaf, stir, and pour in the white wine.

Now you can add the main ingredient, the thing we’ve all been waiting for, ladies and gentlemen: the chanterellles!

I’m sorry, I got a little carried away there. Moving on… Stir the chanterelles in thoroughly, then add the cream and stir well. Leave it to stand on a low flame, stirring occasionally, for about 20-25 minutes.

After that time, the cooking liquid should have reduced somewhat. Finally, add in the parsley, salt and pepper.

Leave the dish to stand for about five minutes more after you’ve added these last few ingredients.

I like to serve this sauce over spaghetti, but of course you can use your pasta of choice. There are certainly plenty to choose from!

As they say in South-Tirol: buon appetito (or guten Appetit, if you should prefer to speak German there)!

From Steve Jobs to Tim Cook

News of Steve Jobs’s resignation as CEO from Apple began trickling down Twitter, then the regular news outlets yesterday evening. You know you’re an integral part of ongoing history when the major newspapers can’t decide whether to lead with “4.5 Aftershock in Virginia” or “Steve Jobs resigns as CEO from Apple”. That’s how much of an impact Steve Jobs has made not only on the IT industry, but on society as a whole. I’m not exaggerating: the man has become an icon, Apple products have become the machines to have if you’re serious about your tech (and if you’d like your equipment to make your life easier rather than harder, and your IT-experience more smooth and enjoyable).

The man is a visionary, and has been a CEO that has demonstrated remarkable insight into not only product development, but also into marketing. Of course, the products that come from Apple work, and they work well; they’re innovative; they’re beautiful. But while much has been made of Jobs’s “reality distortion field” when he is up on stage launching new products or a new line of an existing product, what the RDF really is is a man who is genuinely and unabashedly excited about the product he is selling. He doesn’t hide his enthusiasm, he radiates it and transfers it to his audience. Of course, credit where credit is due, few people have the charisma to do this as effectively as Steve Jobs has done. That’s half of what makes people go out and buy every single new Apple gadget and computer that is released. The other half, the half that ultimately matters, is quality.

And that is why it is important to remember that while Apple in its current configuration is Steve Jobs’s baby, in addition to having been its CEO, he has also been a figurehead. The essence of Apple’s performance has been in the hands of a team and Tim Cook has been an integral part of that team since 1998. He has stepped up as acting CEO three times before, while Steve Jobs was on sick leave. The company didn’t suffer at all during those periods, and it wasn’t because Steve Jobs was secretly still running the whole show after all – he couldn’t; the man was seriously ill. The fact is that Tim Cook is more than capable of running Apple successfully. One of the qualities most associated with the now former CEO of Apple is his tendency to personally control every aspect of his company: Jobs is viewed as a perfectionist and a control freak. It’s what makes Apple’s products so successful. People in general, and the market specifically, would do well to remember that fact, since it is extremely unlikely that detail-driven Jobs would have been negligent in paying attention to the massively important detail of transferring leadership of Apple when the time came.

The time has come, and Tim Cook is ready; Apple will maintain its quality standards; Steve Jobs’s vision will be continued. I have no doubts about that.

Apple is entering a new phase, and in my mind I can almost hear Steve Jobs saying it: “We’re really excited about this!”*

*Just to be clear, this is my opinion of these developments and not actually Steve Jobs’s statement upon transferring leadership to Tim Cook.

Digging through boxes and finding books and memories

This past week, I’ve been helping my mother sort through some boxes of my grandmother’s things. There’s a lot in there: old books, magazines, photographs, documents, letters, and almost everything brings back a memory – for her as well as for me – or carries a story with it.
We started out easy (or so we thought): books first. We figured: how hard can it be? Clean them, catalogue them, then on to the more time-consuming boxes of photographs, documents, letters, etc.
I should have known better, of course. Very few things evoke so many memories and stories as old books.
There were the books my mother had read to her when she was young. And those books bring back other memories as well. My mother was born just before WW II broke out in the Netherlands, so those memories aren’t just the usual “oh I remember my father read this to me when I was just a little girl”, but rather “this book used to make me feel better when there was an air raid”.
Then there were the books my mother passed on to me to read when I was a little girl, books whose covers instantly transport me back to the warmth of my bedroom when I was 5 years old – not unlike Ego’s reaction to the ratatouille in Ratatouille, really.
There were the translated (into Dutch) works of literary fiction: Louise Alcott’s “Good Wives”, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, Jean Webster’s “Jerry”, all of which had been hidden away in moving boxes for years. These were books I would have loved to read when I was younger, but I never knew they were there.
But there were other discoveries as well – some of them simply delightful – such as the box of cookbooks (I abducted a few of those) and tips for domestic bliss, most of which was apparently dependent on the cleaning and cooking capabilities of the good housewife. One such title, and its cover illustration, I don’t want to withhold from you:


(“Wat zullen we morgen eten..?”, Uitgave NV Universum A’dam, Onder redactie van G. G. C. Beumer, gediplomeerd vleesexpert, H. Elsbeth, S. V. O., bak- en braadspecialist, P. J. Kers Jr., voormalig radio-kok)
(“What shall we eat tomorrow..?”, Publication NV Universum A’dam, Ed. G. G. C. Beumer, certified meat expert, H. Eksteen, S. V. O., baking and roasting specialist, P. J. Kers Jr., former radio chef)

This book just made me smile: its cover so very 50s, as was the sentiment! The illustration shows the woman cooking, and her family just waiting for dinner to be served, and with the help of this essential guide that dinner will undoubtedly be excellent indeed! Such a practical instruction manual for the perfect homemaker…

But on a more serious note, this sorting, cleaning and cataloguing is giving me an opportunity I have been looking for for years: a chance to delve into my mother’s life before she married my father and had my sister and me. I’m finally getting to see and hear a far more complete history of her childhood and early adolescence than I have ever heard before. There was the odd story here and there, of course, but these documents and letters and photographs trigger a much more comprehensive telling of her memories of her parents, and of their parents and siblings. I’m getting some very enlightening glimpses into family traits and talents, tragedies and triumphs, love stories and their happy – and occasionally sad – endings.
I am also learning about my grandfather, my mother’s father, a man I remember loving very much, but whom I barely remember otherwise. A man who survived not one but two world wars, suffered a devastating blow to his health when he was in his early twenties and never fully recovered from it, but still went on to live an active and fairly long life (he died aged 73).
I was so young during visits to my mother’s aunts and uncles that I barely remember them at all, and we stopped going when I was older – most if not all of them had died by then and we never stayed in touch with their children; no connection, I guess.

As I find out more, I know I’ll feel compelled to write down some of what I’ve discovered. I hope to understand my mother’s ‘building’ blocks, to know about my granddad’s life, and to get a better idea of the fabric of what has always seemed to me an oddly fragmented family. But then, perhaps it wasn’t as fragmented as it seemed to me; I just don’t know yet how the pieces fit together.