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This “update” has been a long time coming. Or, should I call it, a wrap-up. Our Dutch adventure is over, for the time being. It was an unsatisfying ending. More an unravelling. And here we are, six months after our exodus, living on Cape Cod temporarily while we put our American life back together.

We are grateful for the experience. And our health. And the new family member we brought back home with us. (Lillian will be a year old in just a few weeks!)

But the past year has been a challenge, to put it gently.

Last October, after Mike’s graduation when it was clear we couldn’t stay in our campus house much longer, I booked a flight for myself and the girls to stay with my parents while Mike remained on campus (in a single dorm room) to continue looking for work in Holland. Despite my hopes to spend our last weekend in Europe finishing packing up the house, maybe spending a last afternoon exploring Amsterdam or Utrecht, and making a video recording of the bells that rang in the school’s castle each hour (and were the soundtrack to our Dutch lives that year), I instead caught the flu. There are friends I didn’t get to see before leaving, and a home and life that I could not muster the energy to bid goodbye. I almost didn’t make the flight (I asked about the possibility of rescheduling for a few days later – I felt that badly – but the $1,000+ cost was more than enough for me to suck it up and HOPE and PRAY that I could make it through 15+ hours, two layovers and about 9 hours in-air time with two small children and the flu). Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. The girls were wonderful, and when we finally arrived at my parents’ house, I had help and care while I spent the next weeks recovering.

And then, when the sickness faded away, the real trouble became clear. The postpartum depression that had been lingering in the background for the previous months emerged fully and clearly, and finally it demanded attention. Treatment. Help. Which I got, thankfully, under the worried wing of my mom. My treatment continues now, but I am so so much better and I am so grateful.

By mid-November, we made the difficult decision that Mike would need to return home from Holland. Our savings was nearly gone, the nearly two months apart were terribly hard for us and the kids, and we had no idea how how long it might take for his job search to work out given the declining European economy.

So he flew home, to Boston. The girls and I flew out to meet him a few days later. It was wonderful to be together again. And yet. Nothing has worked out the way we expected. It’s been a period of adjustment. We are incredibly thankful to be living here, in Mike’s parents’ cottage near the beach. We’ve spent the winter pulling ourselves together a little bit at a time. We still have a long way to go, but we’re working on it. We have each other, and our families’ support, and wonderful friends who call and visit and check in.

We’re not ruling out returning to Europe again someday. But for now, we’re focused on building a life however it happens. We’re still at the mercy of luck, or timing, or fate, or whatever uncontrollable force you imagine pushes and pulls our lives away from the path we expect it should take. As the saying goes, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” This is life.

I’m not going to be writing in this blog anymore. This adventure is over. Thank you for sharing it with us, for keeping me company during some lonely times, and sharing in our excitement and fun as we lived our Dutch life.

I just can’t give up this kind of outlet, though, and have been trying out a new blog. It’s giving me a reason to learn more about photography, and a place to share my stories. I’d be honored if you’d like to check it out.

Journaling Joy

We hope you are all doing well. If we haven’t been able to see you or catch up yet, we hope to soon.

 

Summer 2011

I’ve been on hiatus. I’m sure you’ll understand. New baby (more on that in a minute); the last months of Mike’s MBA; 6-week summer break for Anna’s preschool; and not much sleeping for, well, anyone in our house. I’m not promising real regular posting quite yet. But soon. Once we know where we’ll be living after this (we can stay in our house on campus through the end of September, and where we go after that will depend on when and where Mike finds work), and we settle into our next adventure, then I will be back to blogging regularly. Hopefully the baby will cooperate with lots more sleep at night by then too.

Introducing (for those who haven’t seen or heard the news already):

LILLIAN GRACE UKSTINS

6 weeks old

2 months old

Lillian was born on May 24th in the Netherlands, in a hospital just outside of Utrecht. She will always have a Dutch birth certificate, although will only have U.S. citizenship (she could only have dual citizenship with the Netherlands if one of her parents were Dutch citizens). She was born at 2:37 in the morning, and we were all home by noon that day. I had no pain killers during the birth, and am seriously proud about that. She is a sweet little girl, and her big sister loves her to bits (as do we, of course). Anna asks to hold Lillian in her lap every day, shows her toys and reads her stories, brings her a blanket when she’s cold or crying, and helps us by getting diapers, burp clothes and bringing rubber duckies into Lillian’s baths. We couldn’t ask for two more lovely little girls, and we feel incredibly lucky.

All of that said, however, it’s been a very grueling year for us all, and it won’t let up until September 16th. That is Mike’s graduation day from his MBA program, and I cannot wait to sit in the audience with our two girls and watch him receive his degree. I am so proud of him, his hard work and dedication this past year, his ability to project calm even while being pulled in too many directions and never feeling that he had enough to give — to school, his classmates, his family, nor himself. He has excelled in his classes and has shown so much passion and enjoyment for what he has learned. It makes me so happy to see him in a place that feels right for him. He’s found his path. Now the only steps remaining are to complete his thesis, and to find a company that will pay him to do what he loves (with holiday time so we can take a lot of exciting, um and relaxing, adventures).

Just before Mike began his thesis, we were able to take a 2-week vacation to Cape Cod in July. Well, it was two weeks for me and the girls, but Mike had to spend the second week in Chicago with his classmates for a marketing focus week at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School. But we managed to fit in some nice beach time together before he left, as well as lots of time visiting with MIke’s parents, and Anna’s cousins and Mike’s brother Peter and his wife Kerri. When he returned from Chicago, we had a weekend together before we all flew back to Holland, and so my mom and Dan came out for a visit as well. It was a great two weeks. Several friends made the long drive from the Boston area down to the Cape to visit us as well, and I’m so grateful to have gotten to spend that time with them. To be honest, it was hard to return to the Netherlands after that kind of love and sunshine for two weeks. But we’re back now, and getting into the swing of things again. And starting to really think about where this next step will take us. I can’t wait to find out.

Annual lobster dinner with Omom & Opop

"Let's Go Fly a Kite" -- Daddy teaches Anna to fly a kite for the first time

Lillian with Amie (my mom)

Lillian with grandpa

Lillian with Omom and Opop

Me and my girls

Sisters

Mike getting in a solo swim

Jennifer's birthday party

Daddy and his girls (Lillian's onsie says "Nyenrode MBA Material" -- it was a gift from his entire class, so sweet!)

There are a LOT more photos from our Cape Cod vacation. If you’re interested in seeing more, I’ve uploaded them to our Picasa site (you can download and/or order prints for any photo from the site):

Our Picasa Photo Site

I’ll be back here sporadically for the next couple of months. Miss you all…

 

 

Countdown

We’re still here. Why haven’t you heard from us then, you’re probably wondering? Well, April was a busy month. Mike had one of the busiest blocks of his program so far, Anna decided that going to bed (and staying there) at bedtime just wasn’t fun anymore, and I started needing naps in the middle of the day, to be rolled out of bed and helped up from seated positions, and was working on a couple of freelance projects.

Phew. Glad that’s over with. Well, Anna’s still leaping out of bed every few minutes until 9:30 or 10 at night… but it’s hard to blame her really when the sun is still shining and the birds are singing at full volume until 9:30 these days. It’s lovely. The weather has been just incredible. I never really understood before why people obsessed over spring in Europe (wasn’t it the same as spring everywhere else?). Now I know.

Spring here is like autumn in New England. It’s dry, warm, sunny, and in bright fragrant bloom everywhere. The crocuses came up in early February, and since then something has been blooming constantly. Right now, the lilacs are just beginning to fade, the rhodedenderon are just opening, and acres of white queen anne’s lace fill every grassy field.

So, about our countdown. Well, I guess we’re working on two at the moment.

11 days until my due date. Baby girl Ukstins can come any day. Really. Are you listening in there, little one? We’re ready. So come on out. Mommy is huge, and tired, and slow, and achy. So please feel free to let us see you sweet face. Not today? Sigh. Okay. We’ll keep waiting.

Four months left of school. Surprising that we’ve been here for eight months already. We’re into our routines here now. We’ve gotten used to many of the differences, come to really appreciate some of the amazing experiences (like riding our bikes everywhere and still enjoying sunlight at 9 p.m!). And yet this school year and this program are still intense, for Mike especially, but for Anna and I as well. We’re all so very glad that we’re here, and it’s been an incredible experience for all of us, but we’ll also be very glad to be finished and return to a more normal state of life in the fall. All of that means that in the next four months, Mike will complete two more blocks of classes, travel for two international class trips – to China and to Chicago (with a week stopover in Cape Cod with Anna and baby and me to visit with family in July, yipee!) – one 4-6 week thesis project and 50(ish)-page paper, a focused job search, and graduation. All in the next four months. And then, with fingers crossed that Mike’s job search will work out well and he’ll have a new career and exciting new job in the fall, we’ll begin the house-hunting process, and pack up and move ourselves to someplace new. Again. With an infant and toddler in tow.

Wow, that made me tired just typing it. But excited, too. So very excited for all that the future holds for us. Just wish I could see into a crystal ball and get a hint at what that future might be. Cause I’m a planner, and I can’t help it.

So, how have you been this last month or so?

Us? What have we been up to? You mean, besides the boring school, work, returning-the-toddler-to-bed stuff? Well…

Learning to make mud soup…

Swinging on the big girl swings for the first time…

Playing at the playground at the zoo with friends…

Coloring eggs for Easter…

Enjoying a visit from good friends…

Checking out the new baby things (and maybe regressing, just a bit)…

Playing at preschool and learning songs in Dutch…

Sliding with daddy and playing on a lot of different playgrounds…

Eating ice cream…

Stopping to smell the flowers…

Practicing for baby sister…

Growing hair (oh, the sweet little curls!) and trying out pigtails for the first time…

Riding her first carnival ride all by herself (on Queen’s Day in Breukelen)…

Growing a human being…

Becoming a big sister…

… and enjoying an amazing Mother’s Day brunch, followed by a day at the park in Amsterdam, ice cream, dinner at an outdoor cafe, along with flowers and incredibly thoughtful cards.

Have I mentioned how lucky we feel? Busy, but very lucky.

I think my next post will be to announce our new daughter to you, so stay tuned. :)

Spring

It seems that the rest of the world is falling apart. Yet here in the middle of the woods, in the middle of Holland, the rest of the world seems, well, a world away. I feel horribly guilty for feeling as detached as I do. I read every day about other people raising funds to help Japan, praying and lamenting and entirely shocked and horrified. As they should be. Yet somehow, I haven’t been able to summon the emotion that seems fitting. I turn off the TV, fold up the newspaper, close the browser window and return to the tasks at hand. Laundry, wrangling Anna into socks, coat, the bathroom, the sick to brush her teeth, back into bed again. I heft my already-huge belly up from the couch to get another drink, another run to the bathroom, another pillow for my aching back. I plan meals, and errands, and scan Facebook updates. But despite all of the time I spend with social networking, I’m not feeling very socially connected this year. I try. I Skype. I catch up with friends (but not often enough). But I still frequently feel a world apart from pretty much everyone and everything else.

So the last few weeks, instead of focusing on the horrors of the world, my mind kept returning to flowers.

You see, we’re living in one of the – if not the – world’s leading flower exporters. Everywhere you look now, that the days are a bit longer and the sun warms the ground a bit, are flowers. The very earliest Spring varieties. Those that can withstand frost, and frigid rain. It’s surprising how the hearty little purple and white (and yellow!) crocuses are also so fragile and the petals so paper-thin.

The lawns that stretch nearly as far as the eye can see at the entrance to the school’s estate are covered in blooms. The grass is barely visible except as a backdrop to the soft purple and white that blend together into a pretty pastel Easter blanket.

The crocuses have been here for a little while now. Much longer than I expected. Much longer than I remember the handful of bulbs in my childhood backyard sticking around. While Anna and I were wading through foot-high swells of snow in my parents’ backyard in Western NY at the beginning of February, Mike emailed me photos of our backyard in the NL covered in pale purple spots. At first, I couldn’t tell what was littering the yard. Was it mushrooms of some kind? But another photo, up close, showed the hundreds of flowers that had popped up seemingly overnight. Along with the 50-degree weather that he bragged about, we’d have yet another reason to come home, he teased.

Our backyard.

Those crocuses are just now starting to fade. More than a month later! And perfect timing, too, as the daffodils have just opened. Bright, sunshine yellow. I’ve picked a few and had a bright little bouquet on our kitchen table for the last week.

Just after the crocuses emerged, bunches of little white drop-shaped flowers sprang as well. Not quite as impressive as the lawns of purple and white, but delicate and sweet and freshing. Anna’s preschool class made a picture of the little “snow drops” flowers using cut out construction paper for white petals and green leaves on a blue background. She was quite proud of it.

So as separated as I feel from the real world, this fairy-tale castle life is a pretty beautiful place to lose yourself.

The three of us had time to take a walk together around campus recently. Anna picked flowers and waved sticks around. I took photos. Mike enjoyed the fresh air and stepping away from his computer.

Daddy and daughter

Anna loves to pick these little caterpillar-like remains from the autumn

These funny, stubby trees line the path alongside our house.

The rose garden. Anna loves to dance in the gazebo.

 

 

I’m not sure how much of this I’ll be able to appreciate this summer, once the baby arrives and I’m living on little more than the wish for sleep, and juggling between the needs of a newborn and an active little girl. So I’m trying to drink it all in now. Less than two months to go.

I hope that wherever you are feels a bit like Spring by now too.

Hi, Mike here with a special guest entry.

From the past six months of Heather’s writing one may think that our life in Europe consists entirely of fairy-tale living in an enchanted forest. Surrounded by deer and other assorted woodland creatures. Fresh baked goodies always coming from the kitchen. Small-town country living in the Dutch countryside.

I feel compelled, however, to remind readers that there is an entirely other side to our life. One which, until now, I haven’t taken time to write about. And, the primary reason for moving to Breukelen in the first place. That is, school.

The Albert Heijn and De Rooij building, where all my classes take place.

People often ask me why, at this point in my career, I decided to pursue studying for an MBA. Why in Europe and, specifically, why at a small business school in the Netherlands. There are plenty of great schools in Boston, they point out. Agreed. But my motivation was more than simply to get a business education.

Life was catching up to me. There was a restlessness I find sometimes inside me to make radical changes in function and environment. I had a growing dissatisfaction with my career and in many ways felt I had hit a dead end not specific to any one employer. I hungered for more input, more control, and the knowledge necessary to enact that.

Alongside this was Heather’s and my dream of one day living in Europe. We love to travel, and have talked about ways to see more of the world almost since our first date. When Anna was born, something inside me clicked. I didn’t want to look back on our lives twenty years later and wonder, “what if?”. And I didn’t want Anna to see her father slugging away at a job or career that didn’t feel right.

After a good deal of exploration in to the possibility of moving to Europe strictly for work (extremely difficult) the idea of attending school came up as a way to both jolt my career and gain entry to Europe. A frantic few months ensued, from researching schools, studying and taking the GMAT exam, completing applications and, ultimately, packing up our life and moving abroad.

The Netherlands appealed to us for several reasons — abundance of people who speak English, great geographic location for travel, appreciation for family life and good work life balance, and a large number of international companies. My school, Nyenrode, has one of the best reputations in the country and, with the offer of a scholarship, my decision to attend was cemented.

That, in a nutshell, is how we ended up in our fairly-tale world. I’ll share a bit more about school itself — my subjects, international classmates, and experiences — in a later post. For those who are tech-savvy, I’ve entered the world of Twitter and occasionally post school-related updates. You can follow me @mikeuks.

This Expat Goes Home

I smiled as I passed the newsstands with hundreds of magazines in the airport. They were all in English! At the same moment, I noticed that I could also eavesdrop on the conversations occurring around me, and I knew I was back home.

Anna and I were both completely exhausted after the 7.5 hour flight, during which neither of us slept a minute. It was early February – just a few weeks ago – and we were on our way from the plane to get our luggage and then to stand in line and find out that our connecting flight to Rochester had been canceled for the night. I didn’t know yet, though, and Anna was well on her way to succumbing to the exhaustion of the trip and the late time. It was nearly midnight Dutch time.

I don’t really consider us to be expats. In my mind, true expats have left their home country for the long term. They marry overseas, raise their children in schools in their newly adopted country, and have no timeline on their expected stay. For me, the Netherlands is a temporary home. We know that we will return to the US in the short-term, likely in a year or two. Yet if we’re not really expats, I’m not sure exactly what this adventure would be called. Not that we need to give it a name.

The experience of moving here, adjusting to life in this new country and supporting Mike in school has been at times an incredible challenge, a hugely eye-opening experience, immensely fulfilling, wholly exciting, excuriatingly frustating and isolating, and one of the most incredible growing experiences of my life. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

But damn, it felt good to be on US soil again, if only for two weeks.

I quickly learned that Mike had been tracking our fight to NYC and knew that our connection had been cancelled while we were still in the air. My wonderful husband and my fabulous friend Susan coordinated a hotel room for Anna and I to stay the night, and Mike sent me a text message that my flight had already been automatically rebooked for the next day. I was so relieved that I cried, right there in the endless line of tired strangers waiting to rebook with a Delta desk agent. I wheeled Anna out of line and to the taxi stand. We made it to the hotel, crashed, and woke up promptly at 3 a.m. New York time ready to start our day.

Mike told me before we left that he was a little worried that I wouldn’t want to return to the NL. I had gone through some intense homesickness in the fall after our move, and was very excited for all of the familiarity that home offered. And I honestly couldn’t tell him that I would want to return, for certain. I didn’t know how I would feel.

Those two weeks were wonderful. We stayed with my mom and Dan, and enjoyed every single pampered moment. Every homemade breakfast. Every fire in the fireplace. Every trip to the grocery store (Look! I can find vanilla beans and cheesecloth… and the aisles are so wide I can’t touch either side with my arms stretched out!), every sledding ride in the snow (even though it was frigid outside and snowed nearly every day), every get together with friends and family, every snuggle and afternoon cartoon and story time. It was bliss. I needed that recharge.

Uncle Scott and Aunt Tara gave Anna and me matching aprons. We love them!

 

Anna and Amie on the carousel at Strong Museum

 

Helping Grandpa make a fire in the fireplace

Snow angels!

Story time

Learning about basketball from Grandpa (or hockey? or football?)

Making cupcakes with Amie!

Playing blocks with Aunt Tara

Snuggles with Uncle Scott

 

When I borrowed my mom’s car to drive out to see friends, I relived my childhood in snippets. I passed the highway exit where I took bowling lessons. I passed the grocery store where I worked during high school. I ate the ice cream that I grew up taking for granted, and for which I haven’t since been able to find an equal (oh, Abbott’s chocolate almond frozen custard, how I love you).

 

All of it – the childhood memories, the too-short evenings with friends and family, the late-night chats with my mom – it all reminded me that home is always there. It’s inside me, it’s on the other end of the phone (or computer), and when we’re able to return to the US it will be there as well. The saying is true: you can always go home.

I needed to know that. I needed the reminder. Because with that, it was easier to return here to where my home is for now. Mike is my home. Wherever he is, is home. And Anna and I couldn’t wait to get back here to him. Now that we’re back in the NL, we miss Rochester and can’t wait to return. But here is where we belong for now.

You see, that is the tricky thing about being mobile. About leaving the place that you grew up and creating a life somewhere else. Home becomes a plural word. My love is divided now. Rochester. Salem and Boston. The Netherlands. In each place, I know there are people who love me, who know me, who make me laugh, and offer hugs and a kind ear when I want to cry. There is a place (or several) where I have returned to every night to a warm bed, made meals, folded laundry, and decorated the walls. There are memories. And my heart tugs me to return to each place.

And so I’m always missing someone, somewhere.

Home might be where the heart is, but when your heart is in many places it makes life a bit more difficult to balance.

I had dinner with a few friends from high school when we were home, and one of them put all of these feelings into perspective so beautifully. She said something to the effect of: I haven’t been able to get to the point where I feel lucky or grateful to truly have more than one home. I wish I could. But I’m always missing someone, somewhere. (Thank you, Kristin)

Exactly.

My parents' backyard, with deer eating the remains from an apple tree in the backround.

 

Mushroom Bourguignon

You guys, this dish is just amazing. It’s so much more than mushrooms and red wine. But really, wouldn’t those two ingredients be enough on their own? It comes from my very favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen. Hers is the first food blog that I started following, before I became totally obsessed with these blogs’ modern (and free!) form of recipe sharing. Just like a magazine, but the articles come into my email on a daily basis – with gorgeous photography and beautifully written personal stories to go along with the food. I couldn’t ask for more.

At this moment, I’m sitting in my mother’s kitchen watching the snow fall outside. It’s colder here than in the NL, and I realized this morning that I’ve lost my “upstate NY’ edge. I’m a softie, and I don’t like being cold. I made it outside for a total of ten minutes before turning into a total whining crank and high-tailing it inside to make hot chocolate. Anna was busy learning how to ride a sled and feed the cardinals, and lasted 15 minutes longer than I did. Guess she takes after me on the cold-front. She had a blast, but was quickly ready to be snuggled in a blanket on the couch and to steal sips of mommy’s hot chocolate. (So I made a second cup to share.)

I’ve mentioned before that my mom and I both like to cook. I learned a lot of what I know in the kitchen from her. And we love to share recipes. I arrived in the US planning to make this mushroom bourguignon for her during my visit. I knew she would love it.

Turns out, I had sent her this recipe awhile ago, and she had bookmarked it to make for me this week. Ha. She knew that Mike and I have been trying out a more vegetarian approach to eating since the new year, and thought this would be a good meal to have while I am visiting.

What do I mean by a “more vegetarian approach”? Well, we’ve both read and hear a lot of information lately about the health impacts of eating meat – the effects of cholesterol on the body – and the associated long term risks. We’ve learned a bit too about cow’s milk, how our bodies aren’t really built to process it well, seen Anna have difficulty digesting dairy in her first six months of life, and are trying to reduce our milk consumption too. We had a really interesting conversation with friends of ours who read the book The China Study, which takes a close look at the health impacts of the Asian diet in contrast to Western diets and concludes that the food we eat is linked to heart disease, cancer and diabetes. I haven’t read the book yet myself, but combined with a lot of articles I’ve read in recent years, the premise resonates with me.

That said, I don’t plan to give up meat completely. Or cheese (mmm…), yogurt, ice cream, eggs. We just decided that when we’re eating and planning meals at home, that we’ll try to make them vegetarian. However, when we go out to eat, or to a friends’ house, or to visit family, we eat what they eat. If we really feel like a steak, we’ll have a steak. My biggest challenge has been finding new recipes that don’t center around meat. For the last 15 years, I’ve been collecting meat recipes so it’s going to take some time to build up a stable of vegetarian meals that we love.

Do you have a favorite meat-free meal? I’d love to hear about it!

We’re also trying to replace milk with soy or rice milk. So far, Anna’s not a big fan of the milk-alternatives, but Mike and I find them just fine on our cereal and oatmeal.

Not drastic changes, but small ones. Something we can feel good about, and commit to without feeling like we’re making a sacrifice.

Recipes like this one make these changes especially easy. It’s a vegetarian take on the traditional Beef Bourguignon made famous by Julia Childs. This version is so rich, so deeply flavored, and so quick in comparison to the beef version that I promise you will not miss the meat. Not. One. Bit.

It would even make a decadant Valentine’s dinner for the one you love. Enjoy. :)

Mushroom Bourguignon

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 pounds portobello or cremini mushrooms, in 1/4-inch slices
1/2 carrot, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup full-bodied red wine
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup pearl onions, peeled (thawed if frozen)
Egg noodles, for serving
Sour cream and chopped chives or parsley, for garnish (optional)

Heat the one tablespoon of the olive oil and one tablespoon of butter in a medium Dutch oven or heavy sauce pan over high heat. Sear the mushrooms until they begin to darken, but not yet release any liquid — about three or four minutes. Remove them from pan.

Lower the flame to medium and add the second tablespoon of olive oil. Toss the carrots, onions, thyme, a few good pinches of salt and a several grinds of black pepper into the pan and cook for 10, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for just one more minute.

Add the wine to the pot, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom, then turn the heat all the way up and reduce it by half. Stir in the tomato paste and the broth. Add back the mushrooms with any juices that have collected and once the liquid has boiled, reduce the temperature so it simmers for 20 minutes, or until mushrooms are very tender. Add the pearl onions and simmer for five minutes more.

Combine remaining butter and the flour with a fork until combined; stir it into the stew. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency. Season to taste.

To serve, spoon the stew over a bowl of egg noodles, dollop with sour cream (optional) and sprinkle with chives or parsley.

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