Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Doing Dutch Things and Eating American Stuff

In the past week, I've done a bunch of things that have made me feel really Dutch, or at least have given the appearance that I am becoming "integrated" (ugh, I shudder at the use of that word to describe immigrants in The Netherlands, but that's a different post, a really different post). Here are a few of the things I have done after which I realized I would do almost none of those things in L.A.

1) Right before catching the train home from my day at an archive, I popped into the drugstore at the train station and bought candy. I stood there at the buffet of candies just like all the other Dutch professionals looking for a nice sugar fix to get them home.  I even tried again to like black licorice, going so far as to sample one while I was stuffing my pointy bag with gummi bears.  Blech, big mistake.  It was a harder, salty kind that at first lulled me into a false sense of security.  In fact, I almost liked it and thought that would be my turning point moment.  I could write a post about the day I taught myself to like anise.  But then as I was standing in line to pay, still chewing on that piece of candy, because it took like five minutes to chew completely, the flavor went from slightly salty licorice to the taste of ammonia.  It was like I had bleach flavored candy in my mouth.  That was it, I'm done with the black menace for at least another six months.  The other candy was heavenly to eat as I sat in a train and watched the Dutch landscape go by.

2) My bicycle got a flat tire a few weeks ago while I was riding it in the rain (super Dutch thing to do), and I finally got around to fixing it this weekend.  Never in my life have I fixed a flat tire on a bike.  Before coming the Netherlands, I don't think I had been on a bike in years, and I had somehow gotten through my entire childhood without ever getting a flat tire. Niek isn't a fan of fixing his flat tires; he usually takes the bike to the bike shop down the street when there's a problem.  However, I was feeling a bit embarrassed that I didn't know how to solve a seemingly simple problem.  I went to the bike supply store, which is kind of like going to NAPA Auto Parts except this time it's for your bike, and had the nice gentleman behind the counter help me locate a tube repair kit.  It was obvious I had no idea what I was doing, so he told me to bring it in if I couldn't figure it out.  Lucky for me Niek is Dutch, meaning he was born with the knowledge of basic bike repair, even if he doesn't use that knowledge very often.

Seriously, I am beaming at my newly found ability to perform a simple task, and also that I did it in a skirt and a white sweater without getting dirty.  When I told my in-laws that I patched my tire, they told me I am now qualified to be a Dutch citizen.  I somehow don't think tire repair is a portion of the citizenship examination, but it's still a good skill to have.

3) I ate appeltaart...Not really necessary to expand on that since I've made it quite apparent how much I love this food.  Eating it on a terrace on a beautiful summer day is what made it even more of a cultural experience.  I have been waiting patiently through all the cold and rainy months to talk about terrace culture in The Netherlands.  I don't know if terrace culture is really the right word.  The outdoor space a café, bar or restaurant has is always referred to as a terras in Dutch, so I'm just anglicizing the word.  When it is sunny and warm here, which it is maybe 10% of the year, the Dutch flock to outdoor cafés to enjoy the sunshine and a good witbier, or in my case this last time around, a good coffee.  They just sit for hours, talking and watching the world go by.  I love how busy and full outdoor spaces become in the summer, and it is by far my favorite summer activity.  You've got to soak it up and enjoy it while you can, because before you know it, the days will be shorter and it will be too cold and wet to be outside.  Niek was just excited to finally try the cinnamon ice cream.  He was pretty jealous that I had been here with Regan but never with him.  Yes, the ice cream and appeltaart did warrant such an enthusiastic response.  We sat and talked about politics and the economy since those things were on our mind with the big election for parliament coming up, and we basically just enjoyed ourselves.
Those were the three things I've done in the past week to make me feel really Dutch.  When all is said and done though, I can't help but still feel pretty American, especially in the kitchen.  Yesterday when I wanted something sweet, I still pulled out one of my American cookbooks and whipped up a concoction Niek had never heard of before: blondies (kind of like brownies minus the chocolate).  I had never made them before, but a few recipes for them have come up on my favorite baking blogs, so I figured I'd give them a try.  These particular ones called for brown butter, which I had also never made before.  I made sure to get a shot of my excitement after I had successfully created clarified butter, a lot of butter:
Oh they are so good.  Totally worth using up the last of my vanilla extract.  They go really well with Dutch coffee.


  1. Are you sure you used enough butter?

    Two other thoughts: 1. really cool you fixed your flat tire in a skirt :). 2. I albsolutely LOVE salty licorice and can't figure out why. Thought for a second I had found my American soulmate, but, alas.

  2. Ha, even I was a little grossed out by the amount of butter in the pan. Thankfully not all of it went into the recipe.

    Don't hold it against me that black licorice grosses me out. I really am trying to like it, but because I don't, there will be more for you. You can fight all the Dutch people for it.

  3. Your blondies came out looking better than mine ever do - mine tend to have that dry ring around the pan and collapse in a dense pile in the center.

    I was surprised to see my local supermarket carries the salty licorice, which seems always, for some reason, to be in the shape of fish. I also located REAL licorice, rather than just anise-flavored candy; it doesn't taste like anise! It's very sweet and a little woody. I had to add Chinese five-spice powder to my licorice tea to make it seem like "licorice."

  4. Steve, I'm sorry I forgot to reply to your comment before now.
    I cheated with the blondies. I too get the dry ring around the side, but I cut it off.
    Okay, you're right about the licorice. It does taste like more than just anise. Anise seeds I actually enjoy using in my cooking. Licorice just tastes like gross.