Monday, October 31, 2011

Transportation irritation

Not too long ago I realized that I have been driving a car for more than half of my life.  As a girl growing up in the boonies of the rural Midwest, getting a driver's license was a pivotal moment.  I can imagine teenagers living in densely populated urban centers also feel a great sense of accomplishment when they pass the driving test--a milestone moment in American culture to be sure--but it's so much more than a rite of passage when you live in a sea of cornfields.  It means that you finally have the freedom to get out of those cornfields.  I don't live in rural America anymore (or Los Angeles for that matter), and my need for a car has been drastically reduced.  In fact, I'm not legally allowed to drive a car here.  The Dutch government has deemed that my American driver's license is not transferable, and I'd have to go through a rather expensive process to get a Dutch license, so I just don't drive our car.  This has never been an issue for me, because I absolutely love my bicycle.  Correction, it never was an issue for me until I had a baby and could no longer hop on my bicycle to run errands or basically go anywhere.

Funny thing about babies, you can't leave them at home even just for a quick trip to the store.  Also, newborn babies can't ride their own bicycles.  This leaves me with three options for getting around: walk and carry her, walk and push her in a stroller, take the tram.  I utilize all three of these options, although walking takes a long time.  Public transportation in Amsterdam is pretty good, and I can get just about anywhere, but it still takes longer than riding a bicycle and something about the hustle and bustle of it all exhausts me.  Last week I needed to go to the store to get cabbage for a recipe.  It was a lovely fall day, and I enjoyed the walk to the grocer, but the whole process took about an hour.  I could have accomplished the same task on my bike in about fifteen minutes.  I am happy I got out of the house and got to enjoy all of this, even if it felt like it took forever to run a simple errand:

Super cute baby, just hanging out in the stroller.

The park I have to walk through to get to the store.
Enjoying some nice color on the trees.
I couldn't help but think about how much longer everything takes, not just because of the baby, but also because I have no car and I now essentially have no bike.  It makes me feel a little cut off from the world.  Going somewhere requires so much more time and effort now that my transportation choices have been reduced.  Granted, it's still pretty easy to get around, so I am not really isolated.  I can't begin to imagine how I would feel if I were living near my parents in rural Indiana without a car.  I don't even know how I would get to the store.  Here I'm just annoyed that I can't easily bike to my favorite coffee place to get some work done (not that I'm getting a lot of work done with a baby).  Now that Johanna is getting a little bigger we take her along in the car for our big weekend grocery shopping trips.  For the first month, Niek did the weekly shopping by himself, leaving me at home with the baby.  Talk about feeling left out.  Until Johanna is old enough to sit in a bike seat, I'll be taking it slow.  Perhaps it's good that I have to walk everywhere since I can't leave a little baby at home alone to go for my runs.  Once she has good enough head control, watch out.  We'll be whizzing by on our sweet, two-wheeled ride.  Maybe something like this fancy, blue number I saw on my walk.

Happy Halloween, everyone!  Enjoy the costumes and candy!  No costumes in the Netherlands but here is a picture of me and Johanna hanging out in our cloud pjs, which are kind of like costumes, right?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Comfort Food

Now that the weather has turned the corner and has decidedly committed to a fall forecast, we've shifted our menu to one better suited for sweaters and early evenings.  Something about those first crisp days just makes me want to get my soup pot out and warm up the oven.  In general, fall foods are just a bit more comforting--probably because they employ the use of a lot more butter and heavier meats.  Unfortunately, we've had other reasons to need a little comfort food around here lately.  Our wonderful dog was rushed to the vet a week and a half ago, and after undergoing a battery of tests we learned that his kidneys were not operating well.  Despite the grim news and an overnight stay at the vet, he returned home much happier and more vital.  We were told that he could live many years with his condition, but it was not to be.  He died very suddenly on Monday.  I didn't know it was possible to feel so heartbroken, and Niek and I have had a very difficult week.  We're sad that he's gone, and we're especially sad that our daughter will never get to know him.

Newborns, I have learned, leave very little time to wallow in grief; diapers still need to be changed and hungry babies wait for no man.  For all the seemingly mundane tasks of early motherhood I am grateful.  Even with a little one capitalizing on all my waking hours, I felt compelled to take the time to make at least a little food to make us feel better.  That is why I forced my tired self into the kitchen yesterday to put on a huge pot of chili.  Even more importantly for me, I found the time to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  While a good friend of mine sat on the couch holding my baby, I stood in the kitchen baking cookies with my imported supply of baking supplies.  It all felt so wonderfully calm and normal to make such an easy recipe even if I also felt rundown and sleep-deprived.

Making recipes from my childhood did make me wonder what the Dutch consider comfort food.  The day we took Dantes to the vet, my father-in-law came over and made stewed rabbit with egg noodles.  I would put that in the category of comfort food (definitely amazing food) but I wouldn't call the recipe typically Dutch.  I asked Niek about this last night, and he couldn't come up with a single dish.  I thought it might be something like stampot, the dish of mashed potatoes with kale and smoked sausage.  Maybe a nice apple pie?  Whatever the Dutch comfort foods might be, I'm not sure I will ever turn to them in a time of crisis no matter how long I live here.  When I have an emotional emergency, I'm pretty sure I'll always turn to the foods of my youth.  I'm surprised I didn't make a casserole.  If they sold condensed cream of mushroom soup here, I probably would have.  If there were to be a cornerstone ingredient for American comfort food, I do believe that would be it.

While we miss our sweet pup, our lives continue to be very full and busy.  I am grateful for all the good things in my life, and I'm grateful for my kitchen when I need a little cheering up.