Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving abroad

Unlike in America, I did not get to celebrate Thanksgiving last Thursday.  In some ways I wish the American cultural imperialism that Europeans are so fond of disdaining would also apply to Thanksgiving.  Who wouldn't want to celebrate such a glorious holiday?  Maybe it's because they don't like to watch (real) football here.  Turkey and family with a side of Packers/Lions is a nice way to spend a cold, Thursday afternoon.  Our big gathering was Saturday instead, and it turned out pretty well.  Preparation only involved one trip to the American store this year.  Buying canned pumpkin cut down the time it took to make a pie by at least half, thank goodness.  Have you ever tried baking two pies with a ten week old?  Try explaining to a baby that no, mom can't pick you up right now or she'll overcook the eggs for the custard filling.  It did not go over well.  But we both survived and got some pretty good pies out of it, too. 

Despite assurances from the poelier that there would be a turkey ready on Thursday for pick-up, my father-in-law was sadly informed that some other person had bought his reserved turkey earlier in the day.  Confusing to all involved, unless there is some other Dutch guy with the same name wishing to have Thanksgiving at the exact same time.  Instead of twelve pounds of turkey, we ended up with a 15 1/2 lb. turkey (the only one the poulterer could arrange on such short notice).  I'm not opposed to a bigger bird, really I'm not, it's just that they don't fit in the oven.  The one we got fit, but just barely.  And I mean that--the breast roasted about half an inch from the top of the oven's heating element.  I'm shocked the white meat didn't turn into a dried out, jerky-like disaster.  I supposed I have tin foil, a little bit of luck, and plenty of butter to thank that it was a success. 

And thanks to the mysterious stranger, who bought our turkey, we had plenty of leftovers for the next day (and the next, and a carcass for soup too!).  Niek wanted to know the proper protocol for making a sandwich for lunch.  I'm not one  to smush all the side dishes between two pieces of bread.  Just give me a little meat with some good mayo and I'll call it a day.  Lets all praise the deliciousness of Dutch mayo.  So good!  Do you see Niek diving into the mayo jar?  Yeah, just as it should be.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I can't believe it's almost December.  Did someone say cookie recipes?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why I sometimes miss Target...

Step 1: Bundle up baby.  In the process, cause baby to start screaming.  Unbundle baby and calm her down.  Re-bundle baby and put her in the stroller.  Hear baby start crying.  Respond wryly, "Sorry, baby.  It's time to stop living like shut-ins and go get these errands done."

Step 2: Walk to tram stop.  Pick up stroller with baby in it and walk up a flight of stairs to the platform.  Ride in tram for fifteen minutes.

Step 3: Walk to the "green" supermarket that sells the dishwashing liquid I like.

Step 4: Walk to my favorite coffee place.  Realize I have to walk five minutes out of my way, because I can't get to the coffee place that is literally across the street from where I'm standing due to construction on the tram tracks.

Step 5: Drink coffee and eat almond paste-filled cookie.  Decide the five minute detour was well worth it.

Step 6: Walk ten minutes to another grocery store to get carrots for dinner recipe.  Sing the praises of Dutch design as my small stroller fits between parked cars on the incredibly narrow sidewalks.  Curse the Dutch for having such uneven and narrow sidewalks

Step 7: Walk five more minutes to the drugstore to buy toothpaste and shower gel.

Step 8: Five more minutes of walking (ugh I'm so tired) to the HEMA (kind of like Target but sooo much smaller, and they only sell their own brand of goods) for a baby brush and hand soap.  Wait in line while baby starts screaming.  Look apologetic while feeling annoyed that the lines are so long.

Step 9: Walk to tram stop and ride in it for ten minutes.

Step 10: Hoist stroller with baby and various bags of life's necessities down the flight of stairs.  Wonder how people with mobility issues ever get anywhere.

Step 11: Arrive home.  Unbundle pissed off baby.  Crash on couch.  Fantasize about hiring live-in help.  Realize that is not an option.  Feel triumphant about getting out of the house and completing all errands.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Easy Chocolate

I fear that too often this blog becomes just a long litany of the things I find wrong with the Netherlands.  It's true that I do tend to write when I'm upset about something.  Take yesterday, when I came home crying after three teenagers laughed at me.  I was walking behind them on my way home from the store when one of the girls tossed her empty energy drink can into the bushes.  (What is it with those energy drinks?)  I'd like to think that most people would say something when confronted with such a blatant act of littering, and I did.  Maybe my Dutch sounded terrible, or maybe they were just assholes.  Either way, they looked at me laughed in my face and just kept walking.  I did tell them in English that they were assholes as I walked past them, and I'm not sure they understood me.  I'm not sure why I let three teenagers get under my skin, but I cried about it off and on for a good hour.

It was nothing that a bout of baking couldn't fix, which is the reason I found myself going to the store in the first place.  My brother-in-law and his girlfriend were coming to dinner, and it was high time for me to get back into the kitchen and dust off those baking skills of mine.  I picked a nice and easy chocolate cake for our mid-week meal, one that didn't even involve melting chocolate.  The recipe didn't even need a mixer, just two bowls and a box of really good cocoa powder.  In the world of chocolate, I know the Belgians get top billing, but when you think of cocoa, you really have to go to the Dutch--all because of that famous "Dutch process" some inventive nineteenth century Dutchman came up with.  I took Niek at his word a few years ago when he told me the Dutch were the largest exporters of cocoa in the world.  Apparently, the Dutch really are that important when it comes to moving cocoa all over the world (with 25 percent of the world market), although I hope they thank their growers in West Africa.  (If you're bored, you can check out this study done on the demand for Nigerian cocoa in the Dutch market.  So many Dutch companies tied up in the economic developments of that country.)  This is all to say that it's easy to find good cocoa here, easier even than in the States.  Also, I love the packaging.  Check out the sweet looking nurse on the front of the Droste box:
Full disclosure: I ended up using the last of the fancy cocoa from Fassbender & Rausch, which is not Dutch process cocoa.  It felt so great to make a cake again.  It was an easy three layer cake, and I think prepping the cake tins took longer than mixing the batter.
My assistant was less than helpful.
The baking time should have been twenty-five minutes, but it ended up taking three times that long thanks to my tiny oven.  It really is a pain to bake only one layer at a time.  I should be grateful that we have an oven, since landlord's aren't required to provide one.  I think it turned out well in the end.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gobble, gobble

Two years ago I didn't make any plans to celebrate Thanksgiving.  I didn't think it would bother me, and I didn't think it was possible to find a turkey here.  I was completely wrong on both counts.

Last year thinking that I had prepared enough in advance, I ordered a 10 lb. turkey from a butcher at the Albert Cuyp Market three weeks before the big day.  The day I went to pick it up, I had my choice between two birds: a 7 lb. turkey or a 17 lb. turkey.  What oven in the Netherlands is big enough to fit a 17 lb. turkey, I would like to know.  So there I was, two days before our meal, stuck with the scrawny one.  That butcher will never get my business again.  The meal was a success, but there were no leftovers for sandwiches, which everyone knows is the best part.

This year, my father-in-law and I started making provisional plans in August.  Yes, in August.  He buys his chickens from a fabulous butcher, who specializes in poultry and wild game.  The word in Dutch for such a butcher is a poelier.  According to my dictionary, it's called a poulterer in English, but I'll admit that I've never used that word before.  Before moving here, I never had the need to go to a butcher to buy a turkey, although I sometimes bought chicken from my "chicken lady" at the farmer's market.  I guess I should have called her my poulterer.  Anyway, my father-in-law's poelier assured him that she could get us a good bird, guaranteed to be the right size.  Here I am, then, three weeks away from our big feast, making my shopping list and remaining calm as the "to do" list for the day keeps growing.  Yea for Thanksgiving plans!