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While I was traipsing around South Park last weekend, a restaurant named Brabant peaked my interest, because I was born in the Netherlands.

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Yes, I know Brabant is in Belgium, not the Netherlands (although North Brabant is a province in the Netherlands, whether the waiter at Brabant believes it or not). I thought the food at this restaurant might have Dutch flavors, because the country of Brabant borders the Netherlands (not Holland, which also is a province in the Netherlands and not the name of the country, whether the waiter at Brabant believes it or not).

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When I saw that the menu listed croquettes, a Dutch (OK, originally French) fried and breaded street-food snack traditionally filled with meat, I took a seat in one of the wooden booths and ordered the appetizer. Unfortunately, they did not taste like the kroketten I remembered.

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However, the French fries (originally from Belgium, not France — go figure) did bring back memories of the delicious patat at my grandmother’s Amsterdam apartment. Long before the food truck reached her front door, Oma would hear the telltale jingle as the truck made its way down the cobbled street. She’d call out, “Patat,” fetch her portemonnaie (wallet), and the two of us would clamber down the stairs to flag the driver for patat met: French fries wrapped in a paper cone and served with special mayonnaise.

Here, people eat French fries with ketchup; but in our family, we smothered our fries with yellow mayonnaise. In fact, non-Dutch families would probably find a lot of the food we ate baffling: Chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) on bread were popular at lunchtime; rolled pancakes with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, were a dinner item; Gouda cheese on bread was an option any time of day, but especially at breakfast. Once, when my husband, Joe, and I were stuck at Schiphol because of weather, KLM offered to feed all the weary travelers breakfast; and I heard the lady behind me say, “If I have to eat one more slice of cheese on bread, I’m going to keel over.”

I’ve eaten stranger things in the Netherlands. Part of a calf’s tongue comes to mind. There’s also raw herring, sometimes eaten with onions. I recall Joe watching in awe (or maybe it was horror) as my mother lifted a herring up in the air, tilted her head back and took a big bite of the slippery fish. Joe stuck his raw herring in his coat pocket “for later.” (He forgot about it for the rest of the day until, when he hung his coat up next to the radiator at my uncle’s house, my uncle asked, “What is that smell?”)

At Brabant, you won’t find herring or calf’s tongue (or horsemeat, which used to be popular in Belgium and the Netherlands, whether the waiter at Brabant believes it or not), but you will find rabbit. For more on what to expect at Brabant Café, check out Stephen Silverman’s restaurant review in the upcoming (September) issue of San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles.

Eva Ditler, Managing Editor


Choro

Corina, Lia, Elisa and Eduardo Ferreira

There’s a mockingbird in our neighborhood that does imitations of our phone ringing, our doorbell ding-donging and our alarm clock buzzing. To serenade us with even more tunes, he also steals trills, tweets, peeps and chirps from several other birds on the block. His repertoire just might be charming during the day, but since this little insomniac begins his litany at midnight and doesn’t quit until 5 a.m., his repetitive routine annoys rather than delights.

I was beginning to feel guilty that I was cursing a bird (after all, what kind of person doesn’t love birds?), until the other night when I was at a backyard choro concert in Kensington hosted by photographer Gary Payne and his wife, Zoraida. It was here that I heard the group Choro das 3 performing “Bem Te Vi Não é Canáro” (a bem te vi is not a canary). Apparently, there’s a bird in Brazil commonly known as a bem te vi, whose tune is so irritating that Brazilian musician Paulo Fasanaro found it amusing to illustrate that fact by giving one of his instrumental pieces this title.

Just like I’d never heard of a bem te vi, I’d also never heard of choro or the San Paulo group Choro das 3, a family quartet consisting of sisters Corina, Lia and Elisa Ferreira and their dad, Eduardo Ferreira. They’ve been playing choro professionally for 12 years, and they’re on a mission: to keep the choro tradition alive by getting other young people excited about it and spreading this music worldwide.

Like the original 19th century performers of this Brazilian folk music, they simply enjoy spontaneously playing their instruments — Corina, 25, on flute or piccolo; Lia, 22, on the seven-stringed guitar (to extend the bass range); Elisa, 19, on the mandolin or clarinet (she also plays banjo and piano); and dad on the pandiero (the Brazilian tambourine). By the end of each piece, they strum, drum and flute at such a dizzyingly fast tempo that they’re up on stage practically giggling with each other as they improvise to the choro’s rondo form (AABBACCA) while keeping up the pace.

Even though the music has basic European classical structure, the joy of its Brazilian, African, Portuguese and Spanish rhythms spreads to the audience. This music is fun, and the Ferreira family wants everyone to know what a delight it is. Eduardo is so happy that he’s whistling while he’s drumming on the tambourine.

If only my mockingbird could emulate that kind of elation. Then, even if this sleepless chirper kept me awake all night, I’d get out of bed with a smile that would match the beaming grins of Choro das 3.


Eva Ditler, Managing Editor


Gatorbythebay

Two or three times a day during Gator by the Bay, musicians
and festival-goers parade around the grounds Mardi Gras style.
Photo by Peter Oliver

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When you go to an event called Gator by the Bay Zydeco, Blues & Crawfish Festival, you don’t expect to see a herd of line-dancing do-si-doers wearing Stetson hats and cowboy boots. But there they were, early Friday evening, whooping it up on the Festival Stage dance floor to harpist Lance Dieckman and singer Annette da Bomb’s bluesy rock ’n’ roll rendition of “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog.”

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. In the relaxed style of New Orleans, anything goes; so a little rock ’n’ roll vibe mixed with dancers in western garb who looked like they’d all taken the same swing, tango and waltz lessons is par for the course. Besides, for me, watching the crowd is as much fun as listening to the music.

Some people were wearing outfits that, like the $20 price tag on parking, were a bit much. A handful of adult women donned twirling, glittery, flair skirts. One even had matching glittery shoes (there’s no place like Gator by the Bay, there’s no place like Gator by the Bay…).

If I had to award a blue ribbon to the person with the most dress-up flair for being outlandishly fun, it would have been a tossup between the over-50, 6-foot-tall, blond bombshell with legs up to here, wearing a shirt that just covered her derriere, black tights and matching black, knee-high spats and the 70-something ballerina/usherette, whose buzz-cut silver hair peeked out beneath a black pillbox hat and whose long legs stretched beneath a many-layered tutu that looked like it belonged to a child.

It seemed as though all of these whirling dervishes, whether age 20 or 100, were having too much fun to sit down for even a minute. I turned to the tattooed, Converse-wearing kid behind me to ask him if everyone was from the same dance group, but he didn’t know. Turned out he was Cajun and Lance’s roadie. When he asked me if I would like to dance, I knew it was time for me to go. The last time someone insisted I dance with him even after I told him I had two left feet, he cut the dance short and said, “You were right. You don’t know how to dance.”

It seemed a little voodooish, though, that when I got off the itchy bale of hay I was sitting on, the first thing I noticed was that the Bon Temps Social Club Dance Pavilion was offering Friday-only zydeco dance lessons. I hope no one sticks pins in a look-like-Eva voodoo doll because I didn’t take them up on the lessons.

On my way out the gate, I passed by people munching crawfish and noticed that Linnzi Zaorski, a well-known, New Orleans indie jazz singer and songwriter, was belting out songs on the Bourbon Street Stage while pouring bubbly for herself and her band. Now, that’s the spirit of the New Orleans I remember.


Eva Ditler, Managing Editor


koi

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I’m standing at the edge of Frank and Susan Oddo’s fish pond in Elfin Forest, gushing over a koi with fluttery long fins and a ruffled tail. Apparently, I’m lavishing my approval on the wrong carp. In the koi kingdom, this one is considered by many to be a mutt of uncertain ancestry.

Frank points out one of his more precious fish. This silky white koi flaunts a red patch on its head that looks like the rising sun on a Japanese flag. Frank explains that this fish has value because the red patch is clearly defined and it doesn’t travel beyond the eyes into the nose area.

I learn that the pattern showcased on the fish helps determine a koi’s worth, but it’s not the only piece in the price puzzle. Balance is a big deal: The pattern should be symmetrical, and even the scales should be lined up uniformly. In shape, a koi should look like a torpedo; and, as any fisherman knows, the bigger the fish, the better. Striking colors are key, too: White has to be pure with no hint of yellow or gray; red’s shade ought to lean toward persimmon, not crimson; black markings must be pitch dark.

With new knowledge, I pick a different favorite: a red, white and black fish that reminds me of a Japanese ink painting. The black markings, which appear on the head and extend vertically throughout the body, look like they’ve been painted on with a fine brush.

If I heard Frank right, I think he said my updated pick came with a six-grand price tag (a bargain compared to the $340,000+ someone else paid for a prize-winning fish in 2012). And, here’s a shocking tidbit he shared: Even though you might pay thousands of dollars for a baby koi, by the time it’s an adult, it could be practically worthless. The markings change, and that change can be unfavorable. In other words, buying an expensive fish is a crapshoot (or should I say carp shoot?).

There’s also the gamble that an expensive fish will go belly up before it reaches adulthood. There are diseases like ich and dropsy and parasites like flukes and anchor worms. To make sure your koi live a long life (and they can live 30 years or more), you need to have the correct-size pond with the right depth of water for the amount of fish you own, maintain filters, test the water for nitration levels and algae, make sure the water is the correct temperature, change the water, feed the fish properly, etc., etc.

It’s starting to sound like taking care of your koi is more work than taking care of your kids. But I suppose that if you’re worrying, you can always spend a few minutes with them. They say that watching their Zen-like movements has a calming effect on the nerves.


Eva Ditler, Managing Editor


ArtAlive2014

2014 Members Choice First-Place Winner:
Jolene de Hoog Harris' interpretation of
William-Adolph Bouguereau's The Young Shepherdess.
1885, oil on canvas mounted on board.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin S. Larsen, 1968:82.
Photo courtesy of San Diego Art Museum


My family and close friends know better than to buy me a floral bouquet unless they’re attending my funeral. Watching flowers slowly choke to death in a vase filled with aspirin-laden water is not the way I want to be told they love me, they sympathize or they hope I get better.

They can, however, buy me tickets to view San Diego Museum of Art’s annual Art Alive. Yes, I realize that Art Alive contains flower arrangements (this year there were 120 of the blooming things), but I’m always curious to see how professional and amateur floral designers interpret famous paintings through their own living works of art.

Literal interpretations were easy to figure out. When I was there on April 12, it was fun listening to those around me exclaiming their joy when they made their discoveries: “Oh, those white lilies crossing each other must be her hands!” “See how she used those reeds to represent the fence?” Some people questioned the literal interpretations: “If those sunflowers are that kid’s blonde hair and the red roses are supposed to be his shirt, where are his blue eyes? I mean, after all, isn’t this painting called The Blue eyed Boy?”

I heard some people posing questions that I remembered from grade school, art-related field trips: “How did this designer use negative space? “What movement do you think this flow of design represents?” Oh, please. Just give me the square plant containers that illustrate the buildings in Sunday Afternoon by Hughie Lee-Smith or the rounded white vase that represented the full moon in a different painting whose title escapes me at the moment.

White lilies were a good bet for Betty Patterson del Sol to use for Portrait of a Lady by Alessandro Allori. (I wonder what less-elegant bloom someone might have used for Portrait of a Woman right next to that.) And it was easy to see why Kerry Bauer used a bird’s nest-style base filled with varying shades of green succulents for abstract painter Arthur Garfield Dove’s Formation. Another no brainer? The fake cardinal bird used in the floral arrangement interpreting artist Pompeo Batoni’s Cardinal Etienne-René Potier de Gesvres. Yep, got it.

I heard one lady explaining to a visitor how the floral designer had used lots of wire to get a leaf to turn a certain way. Ouch. And then there was someone who painstakingly painted rainbow-colored stripes on roses. I can just hear the queen in Alice in Wonderland now: “Who painted my roses red, blue, orange, purple, pink and yellow?”

Naturally, I can’t talk about this year’s Art Alive without saying something about the rotunda done by Carlos Franco. I read that in addition to eight date palms, 16 conical cypress trees and 10 rose trees, he used 175 pots of hanging plants, 120 bunches of various types of roses, 175 bunches of ivy and vines, and 300 bunches of yellow-china and white-china mums for his The Gardens of Alhambra: Heaven on Earth display. Need I say more?

Eva Ditler, Managing Editor

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EDITOR'S CORNER

A Bout With Jim

JimStark

You can have your crime, medicine and fantasy TV series. I’m a sucker for competition shows on fashion design, dancing and cooking (not necessarily all in one program, though that would be the epitome of must-see TV for me). My newest interest is NBC’s Food Fighters, so I was excited when I tuned in last week and saw Jim Stark ready to pit his home cooking skills against professional chefs.
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