Where’s Holland?


 For those that don’t know where the Netherlands is, it’s a small mitten-shaped country in northern Europe that borders the North Sea. Edged by Belgium and Germany, it’s capitol is Amsterdam. For some reason, some Americans think Amsterdam is the capitol of Copenhagen.  (psst, Copenhagen is the captol of Denmark). It’s about the size of my home state, Connecticut and has over 16 million inhabitants.  To most adequately describe the landscape,  its best to look at a painted landscape from the Old Dutch Masters.  Rembrant, Vermeer, etc… What you see is lush green, pancake flat land dotted with fluffy white sheep and motionless grazing cows.  The most prominent landscape feature is the sky.  Big sky.  Dramatic sky.   Water is another prominent feature of the Dutch landscape.   

The Netherlands is at or just above sea-level and in some places below.  The dyke and drainage system of the Netherlands is a global feat. Water is everywhere. From small creeks to rushing rivers, all carefully monitored and designed to keep our feet dry.  To minimize danger, all children are required to attend swimming classes at a very young age.  For their efforts, they are rewarded with a series of diplomas.   

 Because of the high population of Holland, space is at a premium. Most of the land is reserved for practical use; housing, agriculture, wetlands.  There is very little space for forests and wild nature.  During World War II, most of the forests were destroyed.  After the war, trees were replanted in neat rows, a probable symbol of returning to order.  What they have now is a landscape completely controlled by the public works department.  Neat and orderly. Every tree, bush and blade of grass is lovingly beaten into submission. 

 Real estate  here is expensive with the average middle-class dwelling costing about 275,000 euros (about $325,000). An average middle class family will live in a home of about 1000 square feet.  This house will usually be 3 floors including an attic and share at least one wall with neighbors.  You can think of condominiums.  The back yard will be the width of the house (about 18 feet) and about 30 feet deep.  Because of the high water table, houses rarely have basements.  For me, this was culture shock #1, Space. 

 While most people complain bitterly about it, the Dutch transportation system is actually  quite good.  The maintenance of the roads is the best in Europe with 3, 4 and 5 lane highways of perfectly flat non-spatter ashpalt. If  even a small crack apears, large signs are put up and construction crews immediately fix it. The public transportation is top notch with buses and trains going to every town at a most cost effective fare.  Cars, trains and buses aside,  it’s not difficult to tell that the #1 method of travel in Holland, is by bicycle.  The best advice I ever had when I first got to Holland:  “If you hear pling-pling…get the hell out of the way!” And it’s true. In Holland, bicycles rule.  Get out the way.

Below is a recipe for Dutch pancakes called “Pannenkoeken” .  They are more a relative of a crepe than the pancakes that we know in the US.  Except they are bigger, thicker and hartier and perfect for practicing your flipping technique.  Most of the time, they are eaten for dinner and can be eaten plain, sweet or savory.  Enjoy!

Pannenkoeken (for 4 people  – not including the ones that fall on the floor while flipping)

 2 eggs

2 cups of milk

1 1/2 cups flour

¼ teaspoon of salt

Butter or magarine

Add ins:  crisp bacon, sliced appled, mushrooms, cheese, ham, or use your imagination. 

 Add all but the add ins in a large bowl. Mix thougoughly but do not wisk.  The idea is to be smooth without incorporating too much air in it.

For plain ones: 

Melt about a tablespoon of butter or magaring in a meduim sized non-stick frying pan over med heat.  Using a soup ladle, pour one ladleful of batter in the pan, swirling to to cover the bottom of the pan.  It should not be too thick but a bit thicker than a crepe.  Wait about 1 minute or so until golden brown on the bottom. Loosen sides with a small spatula or a butter knife.  Now…the hard part…take the frying pan by the handle…swirl the pancake around a little…then jiggle it to the end of the pan.  Using a push/pull motion, flip it to the other side.  At this point you will either “TA-DAA!”  or hear a greasy splat as if hits the floor.

It will take practice.  Better make a double batch just in case.  When it’s golden brown.  Its done.  Slide it on a plate. Dont be afraid to stack ém high. 

 For apple, banana, mushrooms or bacon ones:  Put the fruit or bacon in the pan and cook a bit before you put the batter in.  Proceed as above.

For cheese:  after the flip, sprinkle shredded cheese over the top.  Cover to let the steam melt the cheese. 

Rebecca's Favorite Pannenkoeken

 Traditional toppings are brown sugar, powdered sugar and/or a carmalized sugar syrup called ‘stroop’.  I’ve never seen it in the US.  However, maple syrup, jam, or honey work just as well.  Try them rolled up with  Nutella,  bananas and chopped hazelnuts inside – AWESOME!

Got a favorite way to eat Pannenkoeken?  Let me know 🙂

One Response to “Where’s Holland?”

  1. Marko Says:

    hmm…. I know what I’m making for dinner tonight…

    With above recipe the batter may be a little too thick and the kitchen full of grease spatter. Great patterns for Dexter to analyse, but not so nice for the cleanup crew.

    the base recipe is:
    1 egg
    90 grams of flour (100% ‘bloem’, or 50/50 ‘bloem/meel’ for a heavier version)
    250 ml 2% milk (‘halfvol’)
    * multiply this recipe by the number of people you’re serving + 1

    about the buttering… use just enough butter, when melted down, to cover the bottom of the pan. The butter will be absorbed by the pancake, leaving a nice dry pan for flipping and frying the other side.
    Use high heat, make sure the pan is really hot and stays at en even temperature
    Flip when the top is no longer a liquid.

    For 4 people, I would use the 4 or 5 five egg version, depending on the size of their stomachs. Of course having left-over pancakes makes a nice cold pancake for breakfast the next morning…

    So, how would you like yours tonight?