A Week in the Life of a Food Writer

A Week in the Life of a Food Writer

Utrecht view

Hidden not far beneath the surface of every day I live, every trip I take, every move I make, is the desire to discover something new and delicious to eat. Such was the case last week as I travelled from Paris to Utrecht to Amsterdam, back to Paris and finally to Normandy.

My trip had a specific and absorbing goal, which was to see Fiona in her first month at University College Utrecht and make sure she had everything she needed. Hidden beneath the surface, however, was that old and familiar desire.

Let me qualify. My desire rarely extends to what I might find on a plate at a multi-starred restaurant, though I love to go to those.  I mean, instead, something tied to place that has either been pointed out or described to me, or that I stumble upon all on my own.

Dutch coffee
Inimitable Dutch coffee

My delicious experience began the minute I arrived in Utrecht. As I waited for Fiona I sat down on a quaint terrace over a canal and ordered coffee. Coffee in Holland is deep and delicious, unlike coffee anywhere else. It always takes me on a little voyage as I think of the Dutch explorer who, so many years ago, brought it back with them in the holds of their ships. It is always set off perfectly by a little butter cookie, sometimes fresh from the oven.

Bitterballen and Frites

Fiona arrived and we decided to have appetizers. Naturally we chose bitterballen, little fried meatballs. One of the best-loved snacks in the country, a friend had insisted we try them. I thought, after I’d bitten into the last one, about what I’d said to myself after crunching into a silk worm at the night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’ve done it, now I don’t have to do it again.  The fries were terrific!

Preparing herring with onions
Preparing herring with onions
“Haring” with onions

I’m not a snob, I would simply rather save myself for another Dutch specialty, lightly brined herring. I love these small, tender fish that are eaten just like that, held by the tail and dispatched in a couple of muscular bites, or tucked into a fluffy white roll à la Wonderbread, buried in onions, sometimes garnished with a sweet pickle, or for a finer moment, cut into small pieces and eaten with knife and fork.  They are described as “strong” which is as far from the truth as can be.  They are delicate, and delicious.



Another Dutch specialty that I love are broodjes, the sandwiches one can find in every cafe and restaurant, usually open-faced. My favorite is stacked with paper-thin slices of Oude Hollandse Kaas, nutty-sharp aged Dutch cheese, garnished with fiery mustard, tart pickles, onions.


stroopwafel fiona
Fiona wrestling a stroopwafel


We made our way to the organic market in central Utrecht, lured by the vegetables, the cheeses, and the buttery aroma of freshly made stroopwafels. Very thin waffle-like cookies held together with cinnamon-scented caramel, they are sold freshly made in trucks equipped with sizzling griddles. Fiona knew the best one, where the stroopwaffels are the size of a small pizza and the owner makes his own caramel from a recipe his grandmother bequeathed.   They were divine.

Dutch cookies
Dutch cookies

These were just some of my Dutch tastes. Others included delicate little cinnamon butter cookies, perfectly aged, hard goat cheese, bread so heavy and full of grains and raisins it was a meal in itself.

Almond coffee cone
Almond coffee cone

Back in France, where everything is familiar and pronounceable, I found myself in front of Bashir, a Lebanese ice cream stand near the Centre Georges Pompidou.  It was goûter time, that moment between lunch and dinner when you have a little “creux” or space in your stomach asking to be filled. I succumbed to a double cone of gorgeous coffee and almond ice cream, handmade with organic ingredients from a special Lebanese recipe, eschewing my other favorite, ashta, which is scented with rose petals and rolled in green gold pistachios. That would be for another time.

Norman Appetizer
Normandy Appetizer
Norman dinner
Norman dinner


Once home I was invited to dinner at my friend Edith’s.  As I arrived she was just coming in from picking big, black figs off her tree that produces by the bushel because, planted as it is in the corner angle of two stone walls, thinks it lives in the heat of Tuscany.  Dripping with honeyed juice, we enjoyed these with fresh walnuts from her tree and a glass of Cotes du Rhone, the perfect entry into a simple, Norman meal.

And thus goes the week of a food writer.

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Linda Prince

    I just wanted to let you know that I just finished reading your book On Rue Tatin. It was an enjoyable book to read and I will be making some of your desserts.

    1. Susan

      Linda – why, thank you. And enjoy the desserts. The yogurt cake is still a favorite for everyone!

        1. Susan

          Anne, I agree. I make it all the time, varying sometimes with different flavors.

  2. Cathy

    What a fabulous week of diverse eating. Those stroopwafels look delicious.

    Since it is still in the mid 80’s here in LA, this almond ice cream looks like the perfect weekend treat.

    1. Susan

      Cathy – stroopwafels have to be tasted to be believed. Fresh from the griddle, they’re sooo caramely and good! And next time you come I’ll take you to Bashir.

      1. Anne McDermott

        Years ago, my spouse and his team were working day and night on a huge report. One team member was Dutch and he kept them supplied with stroopwafel. So the report was stroopwafel-powered!

        1. Susan

          Anne – great story! Stroopwafels would power any report that I can think of! They’re soooo sweet they almost make your eyes hurt, but they’re so delicious too!

  3. Hallie Smith

    I spent 3 days in Amsterdam last spring following a bike and barge trip in The Netherlands. On 2 of those days I went on a food tour and sampled many of the same treats! A great way to enjoy a new country.

    1. Susan

      Hello Hallie! How nice to hear from you. I love Holland and so enjoy trying everything there. The cheeses are flabbergasting…aren’t they?

  4. Kathee Dowis

    That was absolutely lovely! Love armchair travels!

    1. Susan

      Kathee – thanks, was glad to have you along!

  5. Patricia Green

    Just finished reading ‘on rue tatin’, and can’t wait to try some of the recipes. what a story. I wish I had a ‘Michael’ to help with my renovation. (I also live in France – 87). re the recipe above – can I just check that the ‘half and half’ refers to semi-skimmed milk? Or is it something else? I am English, so some of your references are not familiar to me. Is ‘scald’ boiling?

    1. Susan

      Hello, Patricia = half and half is half milk, half cream, and scalding isn’t boiling! No! It is bringing liquid, usually milk, JUST to a point where it shimmers on top, very hot. Good luck!

  6. Robin Anne Ellis

    Fiona is in college? I remember her when she was 7 years old. She looks all grown up, you must be so proud of her Susan!

    1. Susan

      Robin – yes, she’s in college and, at 6 foot 1, the tallest of the family! But she’s going to school in Holland, so she fits right in!

      1. Robin Anne Ellis

        Hi, Susan. Amazing! Holland is beautiful. She’s in college and 6’1″, that’s wonderful! I hope you, Joe and Fiona have a wonderful holiday season. Take care. Smiles, Robin

        1. Susan

          Robin – same to you and yes she’s all grown up!

  7. May Brawley Hill

    Hello Susan, I was in touch with you years ago when writing my third garden book (Abrams, 2005) “On Foreign Soil: American Gardeners Abroad.” I’m going through my books–as an art historian I have way too many–and really enjoyed rereading “On Rue Tatin,” especially your last chapter on birth of Fiona. I looked you up and how lovely to see a photo of Fiona all grown up and going to university. I don’t do email except with friends, so won’t sign up for yours, but love knowing you and your family are doing well. With all good wishes, May Brawley Hill

    1. Susan

      Dear May,
      What a lovely note! Thank you so much. Happy Holidays!

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