Friday, August 12, 2011

Baby Beer

About two weeks ago Niek and I took a trip to the baby mega-store, known here as Prénatal.  I imagine it's probably something like the American behemoth, Babies"R"Us, except on a much smaller scale.  We had yet to visit the place, and we only went for one thing: the free box of crap they give you.  If you sign up and agree to have annoying e-mails sent to your inbox, probably for the rest of your kid's life, Prénatal will send you a voucher for "The Happy Box."  I didn't really think much of the name, until Niek informed me that "box" can also be used as a euphemism for female genitalia in Dutch.  Got to love the marketing genius who came up with the free giveaway.  So, we made our way to to the superstore cracking jokes about my happy box along the way.

We didn't buy anything, and we spent very little time looking around.  I just wanted my free stuff.  Lots of standard things in the package: coupons for things I didn't need, advertisements for things I didn't want, a few newborn diapers, a pacifier, blah, blah, blah.  But then, at the bottom, I spotted something pretty amazing.  Among the ruins of ads for shampoo and formula were two miniature cans of this:

That's right.  I got two cans of alcohol-free beer in my free box of baby stuff.  And not just any beer, witbier.  It almost tastes like actual beer, but it doesn't quite cut it.  I'm not going to complain, though.  I never would have thought that I would be getting beer, even the non-alcohol kind, in a box intended for pregnant ladies.  Do you think they would put something like this in a giveaway for pregnant women in America?  I'm going to say no, but it's a great idea.  What a great market for this product.  It really made my trip to the superstore worth it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hamburger Haven

For the past few months, the barrista at our café downstairs has been asking me every time I come in how I am feeling and if I am having any strong pregnancy cravings.  I understand why she asks me how I'm doing; I complain constantly about my sloth-like activity levels these days.  It's the question about the cravings that has me a little confused.  Isn't that stuff all a myth, the pickles and ice cream stuff? Actually, here the it's not pickles and ice cream, it's herring and whipped cream.  Whatever turn of phrase you'd like to use for pregnant women's eating habits, I hadn't noticed any significant changes in my food cravings...until a few weeks ago when I couldn't stop thinking about meat.  It's seriously become an almost out of control issue for me.  My sensible dinner menus based heavily around grains and vegetables have given way to crazy last-minute trips to the grocery store for a steak, simply because the thought of eating whole-wheat pasta suddenly becomes abhorrent to me.  I've made all my best recipes involving black beans or lentils, but even that hasn't helped.  There are days I feel like Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby when she tears into her steak prepared bleu while creepy music plays in the background.  It's been like that around here, except that my steak isn't raw, we don't play music with screeching violins on our stereo, and as far as I know the fetus doesn't share any DNA with the devil.   

All of this to say in my very roundabout way that on Friday evening during our run, I turned to Niek and said I really felt like a hamburger.  Actually, maybe he suggested it first, but I definitely thought that a hamburger was a great idea.  Problem: Dutch people do not appreciate good burgers or know how to make them.  Since there is no Hamburger Habit equivalent anywhere nearby, Niek and I decided to make burgers at home...without a grill...seriously, without a grill.

Armed with my trusty Cook's Illustrated America's Best Recipes (which is looking pretty well-used these days), I tried to do this institution of American cooking justice.  CI offers pages and pages of commentary on creating the best grilled burgers and throws in a recipe for cooking burgers in a pan for the "high-rise dwellers" at the end of the section, but you can feel the pity oozing from the page.  Yes, poor me and the regulations that don't permit an open flame on my balcony.  Also, grills here are expensive!

My favorite part of the evening came when Niek and I were standing in the supermarket.  He picked up the pre-made burgers, and I balked at the price.  Why should I pay more per kilo for meat cut with filler when I can make a patty myself in about thirty seconds?  Salt, pepper, shape patty and you are finished.  I think it never occurred to him to make his own.  As far as I can tell, it doesn't occur to most Dutch people to make their own burgers.  I've been to a few backyard barbecues here, and I've only ever seen the pre-packaged patties.

After seven minutes in my fabulous cast iron pan (3 1/2 minutes per side as per the CI directions), we set to work making our double cheeseburgers.  No hamburger buns here, but the ciabatta rolls from the store were a decent substitute.  We may have gone a little crazy stacking them:
According to Heston Blumenthal, crazy British chef that he is, hamburgers shouldn't be more than two fingers high.  As you can see, we failed that test by a rather large margin.  Still, it satisfied my craving for a hamburger.  We watched Heston Blumenthals' In Search of Perfection hamburger episode and laughed at his hoity-toity burger.  Um, if I were going to use American cheese slices, I wouldn't make them myself with a pound of comté and a bottle of expensive wine.  This is the Netherlands, so we opted for the simple solution of Gouda.  It was a good burger.  I'm afraid we're going to be eating them a little more often in the coming weeks.