Archives for Veggies Category\

The Cabbage

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

 The Cabbage

 The weekend is here.  That means I have my projects lined up.  It’s been a successful year in my garden and for last month or so I spent my weekends ‘putting up’. That means canning.  This weekend’s projects are canning more zucchini pickles, making jam, and to do something with a massive cabbage that was given to me last weekend.  As an active member of our local Slow Food chapter,  I helped man our stand at a food fair in Rotterdam.  The stand was decorated with fresh fruits and vegetables in order to drive home our Fresh-and-Local message. All day long I was admiring this cabbage for its sheer size.  It was massive and I was totally intrigued. At the end of the day I was asked if there was anything I wanted in return for giving up my weekend for the Slow Food cause.   With a wry smile and a sideways glance, I was heading to my car with it like a proud parent, arms barely reaching around it.  Now, after a week of rolling it around on my kitchen table I have to find something to do with it.   Either cabbage rolls or coleslaw for my entire town or a barrel of sauerkraut.  Make my own sauerkraut.  Four to six weeks of fermenting stinking cabbage. Sounds attractive.

  To tell you the truth, I’m not the biggest kraut fan but as I sit staring at this enormous green globe, I just can’t help thinking of our trip to the Alsace region of France this summer.  Choucroute l’Alsacienne or as I call it, the Alsacian Mountain of Meat.   This is a massive platter of 6 or 7 types of meats (mostly smoked pork) served on a bed of super-fine sauerkraut cooked in Riesling.   I’m drooling as I think of it.   Hmmm, Alsace, that’s story I have to write up later.  Yes.  Sauerkraut it is then.

So what does one need to make sauerkraut?  Immediately, I go to my canning bible: an ancient copy of the Ball Blue Book of Canning; it says 25 lbs of cabbage and salt.  That’s it? I asked surprised, “No vinegar?” Apparently through the fermentation phase it makes its own.  Ok, sounds easy enough.  Next problem, what to put it in?  I could buy one of these wicked expensive special sauerkraut barrels with plungers, double walling, and valves to let the fermenting gas escape.  This is interesting, but for this one shot deal, I’m not willing to make the investment and besides it just doesn’t match the décor of my kitchen. (That’s right, I should tell you this, sauerkraut needs to ferment at room temperature, and so putting it in the shed is no option).  I need something I can reuse in case this is a total flop.  I also need something to keep the stink inside, but not airtight. I googled this subject only to find horror stories of exploding sauerkraut vats caused by too much built up gas. If that would happen to me, my ever patient goddess of a house keeper, Betty, would quit for sure.  

 Aimlessly, I wonder around my town going from store to store looking for inspiration.  It has to be plastic, double walled, not transparent (I don’t really want to see this being made), and has to be the perfect shade of blue.  I walk into our local housewares shop, a sort of 5 and dime selling bits of this and that. Storage containers?  No too transparent.   Jars?  Too explosive. Then suddenly…I see it…a COOLER!  OF COURSE!! 

 To your surprise, I will admit that I don’t have a cooler at home.  I know every American has at least 1 cooler in their garage but we don’t here.  This is because we can’t buy ICE anywhere here!  You have a better shot of panning for gold in the middle of the Amstel River than finding a place that sells ice. Sure, I could make it but I don’t have the space in my freezer.  Dutch refrigerators/freezers are less than ½ the size of the ones we take for granted in the US.  But anyway, the Dutch kitchen…that’s for another story.  Back to my sauerkraut.

 I get it home, wash it out, and try to hack my way through this monstrous cabbage.  Inside, this beast is thick and rough. “I was afraid of that”, I think to myself.  But the thinner outer leaves are useable.  I’ll save the rough stuff for something else, coleslaw maybe.  Taking the thinnest leaves, I slice by hand because it’s just too big to fit in my Cuisenart. Besides, our pioneering ancestors didn’t use a machine, did they? They didn’t have a perfect blue cooler either, but hey.  It takes about an hour of hacking and then I have a coolerful of salted silver slivers ready for their 6 week transformation.  Putting the lid on, I tuck them in to peek at in about a week…I’ll keep you informed.

 Yes, I made coleslaw with the rest.  Lots and Lots of coleslaw.  Here’s my recipe, scaled down to normal size.

 American Cole Slaw

 ½ normal sized head of white cabbage, shredded

1 carrot, peeled and shredded

Handful of shredded red cabbage (optional)

1 Cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sugar (or to taste, you try with less and scale up)

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon celery salt

A dash or 2 of tabasco

 In a small bowl mix mayo, salt, sugar, celery salt and tabasco in a bowl.  Mix well and taste.  The sweet and salt taste should be really pronounced.  If it tastes ‘normal’ it will get watered down with the water in the cabbage. Adjust seasonings if needed.  In a large bowl, mix cabbages and carrot.  Add mayo mixture and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate.  It gets better the next day and is good for about a week.

The Oath

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

The Oath

Ok, everyone.  Repeat after me.  Let’s take our solemn Cooking God/Goddess oath. 

I ,(your name here),  do solemnly swear that I will never ever use inferior ingredients in my recipes  no matter how much I am tempted to save a few pennies or use up that expired product so help me (insert your higher being here).

Yep. I did it again.  I ruined a perfectly good recipe all for the sake of saving a few cents!  This year, I was blessed with a decent crop of tomatoes.  Just as my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother before me, when life gives us tomatoes…we stuff them.  This recipe is really nothing fancy.  It’s basically just breadcrumbs and fresh herbs, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese, a good heavy hand of olive oil and baked for about an hour or so.  Summer, defined. 

Besides the garden fresh tomatoes, the main ingredient is breadcrumbs.  As I rifle through the cabinets, I make the discovery that I’m flat out.  Donned with my ‘shopping’ backpack, I head out the door and off to the store.  Determined, I make a bee-line to the aisle.  There it is…my ‘usual’ brand for 59 cents and there right next to it…the generic brand in its much larger bright red box. For 19 cents!  Nineteen cents I tell you!  What a bargain!  Still, I stand there inspecting each box.  In one ear, I hear all my ancestors whispering to me, “Get the good stuff, Lisa. Quality in = Quality out”. In the other ear I hear my husband, “It’s a tight month, Lisa, so please be thrifty”.  After 5 minutes worth of this mental angel/devil debate, home economics beats out tradition.  The generic brand wins. 

I hurry home full of nostalgia about my mother’s stuffed tomatoes.  Crispy on the top, tender inside, and wonderfully jammy on the bottom. All held together by a thin tomato skin.  I nearly floated home.

As I mixed the squeezed tomato juice with my new purchase.  I noticed it immediately.  Instead of a nice crumbly mass, it was gooey and leaden.  Hmm, maybe if I add more oil it will help.  Ignoring the internal warnings to just throw it all away, I slid them in the oven.  Maybe some alchemy and a miracle will occur in the next hour.  After an hour, I held my breath and closed my eyes as I opened the oven door.  Feeling like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, I carefully opened one eye and then the other focusing to see what occurred in my oven.  Quickly snapping my eyes back shut with a pursed –lipped ‘eeuuuooowww’.  It was the culinary equivalent of a charred-faced Daffy Duck. Instead of crispy, tender and jammy, they look like browned cement balls.  The tomatoes under them flat, black and greasy.  What a waste of my perfect, self-nurtured tomatoes, I think to myself. Yep, and the good olive oil, and fresh basil, and garlic and my time…  All to save 40 cents!  Still dealing with the devil, I wait for a bit until they’re cooled. They taste best at room temperature, you know.   After some time, I stick my fork in my first victim. It barely goes in.  Mental flash to all my relatives doing the ‘I told you so’ dance.   Not worth the calories, I concede, as I shovel the contents of the baking dish in the trash.   Lesson learned. 

For this recipe to be truly authentic, you’re going to have to conjure up the spirit of my thankfully very much alive mother.  She never uses a recipe for this. Neither do I.  It’s all by using your taste.

Rosie’s Stuffed Tomatoes

8 ripe round tomatoes (not roma)

About 1 cup or so of GOOD unflavored breadcrumbs

1 fat clove of  garlic – pressed

Handful of basil, chopped

2 teaspoons  of dried oregano (or to taste)

3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese ( or to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil (vegetable oil works here too)

Preheat oven to 350 F or 160C. Cut 6 tomatoes in half from the core, cutting the core in half.  Remove the core from both sides (You can core them before cutting. Just try to keep the hole as smalll as possible)  Remove the core from both sides.  Squeeze the pulp and juice into a bowl.  Use a spoon if it doesn’t come out easily.  Try not to crush the skins.  It’s going to hold everything together in the oven later.   Cut the other two tomatoes in half and squeeze out the juice into the bowl.  Reserve these two tomatoes for another use.  Chop any large bits of pulp small. Add garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and cheese. Add enough breadcrumbs to form a soft, loose mass.  It should squish easily between your fingers. If it doesn’t, add some water.  Taste it.  The taste should have a nice balance of herbs and salt. If it tastes bland, add more salt or cheese.  Pack into tomatoes.  Place in a baking dish.  Very generously add olive (or vegetable) oil over the tomatoes, patting with your hands to flatten a bit.  Bake uncovered.  After about 30 mins, flatten gently with a spatula.  Bake another 30 minutes  or until the tomatoes are flattened and crispy looking.  Cool to room temperature or serve cold.

Dig For Peace

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Dig For Peace

Living in a country where every inch of land is at a premium,  I feel truly thankful for my vegetable garden.  A ‘moestuin’ or ‘volkstuin’ as it’s called in Dutch.  (tuin meaning garden). If I were in the UK, it would be called an ‘allotment’.  My vegetable garden is not in my postage-stamp of a backyard. It’s a mile and a half away. It’s a swath of property that I rent yearly from a lovely older couple named Co and Sjannie.   While my backyard measures about 30 feet long and 18 feet wide, my vegetable garden is about 300 feet by 30 feet.  A virtual field by Dutch standards.  In my garden are a big wooden tool hut and a shabbily built but good-sized greenhouse made with scraps of wood and old single-paned windows, most broken at this point.  (Note to self:  Fix the greenhouse this fall).   My garden is part of a group of gardens, 30 or so, all rented out and in various states of use.  On the property are a few farm animals that the Co owns; a fat horse,  5 or 6 lively goats and a dozen or so sheep.  My kids love to help him feed the sheep and brush the horse.  In exchange for all the rhubarb in my garden, he gives me a steady supply of fresh eggs from the beautiful brown hens he has running free in his backyard.  They are simply the most delicious eggs I’ve ever tasted; large with rich bright orange yolks. 

In our gardens, we all participate in this Urban Barter System.  Someone with a good crop of leek will exchange with someone punished with lettuce.  Cabbage plants are traded for strawberry plants.  When someone’s crop of string beans fails, we all chip in to share our own crop.   In this little social eco-system everyone gets what they need and nothing goes to waste.  

What’s wonderful about this unique situation is the pride you get from knowing that what is set on your  table comes from your own hand.  Earth that you tilled. Seeds that you planted.  In recent years the term “Locavores” has been coined.  This meaning eating what is fresh, local and in season. What’s more local than your own back yard?     Sure, it’s a lot of work digging in the dirt in the fresh air rather than sitting in a stuffy office and then running to some big corporation

Rebecca's Harvest

supermarket . (To buy vegetables  shipped from who-knows-where and sprayed with who-knows-what?)  But it is so rewarding.  When I see my kids eating tomatoes fresh off the vine or arguing with my youngest over when to pick the corn, I know it’s  worth the effort.      Besides, what ‘s better than the smell of a carrot just pulled from the ground, or the taste of a fresh picked raspberry, or the sweet-tart crispness of an apple right off your own tree?  Not too much, that’s what!  

During and after World War II,  many countries, in order to alleviate farm worker shortages in the agricultural industry, made efforts to support their citizens to grow their own fruits and vegetables.  Thus the term ‘Victory Garden’ was coined.  While many farm workers went off to fight the war and the much of the remaining crops used for food for the troops, thousands of families on the home-front turned over plots of grass in their own back yards and started growing.  The plan was simple,  use existing land  and labour of the homeowners.  To support the war effort, home gardens started appearing everywhere. Tilled rectangles of neatly rowed vegetables sprung up in suburbia.  In the middle of cities; rooftops, windowsills, and vacant lots turned into green goodness.  Not only did it support the war effort, for families it meant so much more. Besides the obvious nutritional value of fresh grown fruits and vegetables, it was a way to work together for a common goal. It was a learning experience for children and it saved families money in a time where every penny mattered. 

Nowadays, with more and more of this earth’s agricultural land being used to support  bio-energy and a growing population, is it possible that we can one day revisit the concept of the Victory Garden and subsequently, a barter system?

Tonight we’ll be having the below recipe, using a nice butternut that came from my garden.

 Pumpkin Risotto

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 pound fresh pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice (1 1/3 cups)

2 medium white onions, finely diced

3/4 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

About 1 teaspoon freshly ground  pepper

1 teaspoon salt

7 cups vegetable or  low-sodium chicken broth

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups arborio rice (about 11 ounces)

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a non-aluminum medium saucepan or wok. Add the pumpkin and half of the onions and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until the pumpkin is just tender, about 7 minutes. Stir in the wine, nutmeg, white pepper and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
  2.  In a food processor, puree the pumpkin mixture until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl. 
  3. In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable or chicken stock to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep the stock hot. 
  4. In the same non-aluminum saucepan or wok, heat 2 1/2 tablespoons of the butter until it begins to sizzle. Add the rice and the remaining onions and cook over moderately high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Immediately stir in 1 cup of the hot stock and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 2 minutes. 
  5. Reduce the heat to moderate and gradually add 3 more cups of the hot stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring and cooking until each cup is almost absorbed before adding the next, about 15 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Continue adding the remaining 3 cups stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring and cooking as above, until the rice is tender, about 10 minutes longer. The risotto will be quite loose. Stir in the parsley and the remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons butter. 
  6. Spoon the risotto into 6 warmed soup plates and sprinkle the Parmesan on top. Serve immediately.

The Italian Pickle Press

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010
 

The Italian Pickle Press   

 I’m going to take a small vacation from telling you about my take on Dutch culture to offer something a bit different.  The zucchini (courgette)  gods were very generous this year.  The 2 plants in my garden punnished me with 5-6 per week, sometimes as many as 5-6 a day.  For a while there,  I tried to hide zucchini in everything…chopped in chili, fried, soup, mock crab cakes, and in chocolate cake.  I even made an  ‘apple’ pie from a marrow ( a zucchini that grew so big that it formed a hard shell) .  I peeled and seeded a marrow and used it instead of apples in an apple pie recipe.  No one new the difference or at least didn’t admit they knew.  I sit now staring at  9 zucchinis in front of me.  Its October for goodness sake!  When is this punnishment going to end?!  I decide to make another batch of zucchini pickles.  My family loves zucchini pickes, the bread-and-butter kind. I love the way they squeak under my teeth when I bite them.  I google for another recipe.  The recipe for Zuni Café’s zucchini pickles springs up.  Hmm, it seems to have all the same ingredients.  But there is one fascinating difference.  These pickles are made in this thing called a Japanese Pickle Press.  Another, hmmm.  I don’t have one of those, I think to myself greedily.  Now folks,  I LOOOOOVE kitchen gadgets.  My house is busting with gadgets that I just had-to-have.  After the small fantasy of gloating to my friends that I ‘own’ an actual Japanese Pickle Press diminishes,  my curiousity as to what it is takes over.  The letters get carefully typed in the search engine.  Up comes images of my future acquisition.  I look over this contraption. To me, it looks like a small rectangular plastic, covered fishtank. Afixed inside is a spring-loaded plunger.  To keep the contents under the brine, I guessed.  Price 30 dollars.   $30 for a plastic fishtank with a plunger?  NO WAY!!!  My bubble burst.  When my grandmother was alive she made pickled eggplant. She had what I called, the Italian Pickle Press.  This contraption consisted of:  A stainless steel soup pan. A dinner plate big enough to fit inside the pan, and a 5 pound bag of sugar to weight it down with.  Cost: $1.29.  and you get to use the sugar.   I’ll be using this today, substituting a large jar of peanut butter because I ran out of sugar.    

The components

Assembled, it looks like this

   I slice:     

 5 thin zuchinis in circles about 1/8 to 1/4 inch think.   

 1 large onion quartered and thinly sliced    

That goes into said soup pan.  I add:     

 about 5 tablespoons of salt.    

   Mix well. Put the plate in the pan on top of the zucchini and the weight (sugar, jar etc…) on top of the plate.  Let this sit at room temp for about 1 hour.  That’s enough time for me to run to the store to buy sugar.   

   When I get home….I put in another sauce pan,   

   3 cups of distilled white or cider vinegar, (I use white because cider vinegar is really expensive here 

A Pack of Perfect Pickles

  1 ½ cups of sugar   

 1 teaspoon celery salt or celery seeds.   

  2 teaspoons ground tumeric   

 A few cloves (do not use powdered or you’ll get brown brine)   

 

 2 tablespoons of mustard seeds.   

 Bring to boil.      The salt will have caused water to be released from the zucchini.  Drain this off, and (optionally) lightly rinse.  Drain thougoughly.  Add the zucchini to the boiling liquid.  Bring to boil for 2 minutes.  Pour into extra clean jars or a large bowl with a lid.  Let cool and place in the refrigerator.  It will keep for about 3 months.  If you want to store them on the shelf, pour in sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  E-mail me if you want to learn more about canning.

No Bitterballen, Please!

Monday, September 27th, 2010

When you think of great Dutch achievements, you think of them as great explorers, travelers and businessmen.  Yes, the Dutch are all those things, but what they are not are good cooks.  Go ahead, name one important culinary achievement made by the Dutch?  OK, Dutch Apple Pie,  I’ll give you that one.   But for the rest, forget it.    

As I mentioned in the last post, the Dutch look at food as a means to stay alive.  My images  of making pasta with my mother and planning Christmas dinner (IN JULY) with my sister are not shared here.  The Dutch eat simply and go into a convulsive shock when presented with something out of their comfort zone. “The farmer doesn’t eat what the farmer doesn’t know” the adage goes.    The diet here consists heavily of  bread, potatoes, cruciferous vegetables, and small quantities of meat (as compared to American diets).  A typical breakfast consists of un-toasted sliced bread, a smear of heart-friendly-fake-butter-spread so light if might not even be there and some sort of topping. ‘Hagelslag’ is a favorite.  Hagelslag can best be described as chocolate sprinkles like the kind you put on ice cream. Not chocolate flavored sprinkles, I tell you,  but real chocolate.  So picture this, buttered bread with real-chocolate sprinkles.  On her visit, my best friend Amy was so impressed she brought  3 boxes of hagelslag home for her family.   

Lunch usually consists of Broodjes (BRO-jes).  Sandwiches basically.  A broodje is a soft bun, like a hamburger bun, a roll , or bread slice, again lightly smeared with the heart-friendly-fake-butter-spread with 1 thin slice of cheese or lunchmeat on top, usually eaten with a knife and fork.  People will eat 3 or 4 of these for lunch (In contrast to Americans who eat one thickly piled sandwich).  I remember this episode of Rachael Ray on her trip to Amsterdam going GOO-GOO over these broodjes and saying how awesome they were.  Hardly , Rachael!  What people do for ratings, I’ll never know!  

Dinner is simple to prepare, takes about 15 minutes to cook and mostly revolves around the vegetable and potatoes.  I have to admit, the quality of the vegetables in the Netherlands far surpasses the quality of the typical American supermarkets even though the Dutch will complain bitterly about the quality.   Here, we rarely eat canned or frozen vegetables.  The question of “What’s for dinner?” , is almost always answered with the vegetable.  The meat on the other hand is terrible; small, tough and tasteless. This is really surprising since a good portion of the land is for livestock.  Export, is the reason.  They get a better price exporting the better cuts of meat rather than selling it here.  You will find meats in nice little perfect 100 gram portion sized packages without a trace of fat.  Meat is usually pan fried in heart-friendly-fake-butter and served with jus, rarely ever cooked in the oven.  Potatoes are usually served boiled or pan fried.  When served, they are feverously mashed by the eater and smothered with the above mentioned jus.  Vegetables are boiled or steamed .  Sometimes the entire contents of the plate is mashed together and eaten.  

Sometimes it just cooked that way.  The Dutch are crazy about this dish called ‘Stampot’  and it’s just as it sounds.  Put potatoes and a vegetable in a pot, cook it to death and then mash it together.  It’s quick. It’s simple and it keeps you alive another day. 

But what about the title?  What are these bitterballen?  Bitterballen are the quintessential  party food of Holland.  No festivity no matter how formal is complete without these fried orbs.  Bitterballen are essentially  fried golden brown breaded balls of meat gravy.  Croquettes,  if you will.  Perfectly round and about the size of a super-ball.  Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and served with course mustard or garlic mayonnaise for dipping.   I hate the damn things. 

As far as stampot goes, this is one of my favorites.  I keep about a quarter of the chopped frisee leaves aside to be mixed in after cooking.  This gives a nice bite and a fresher taste. 

Frisee Stampot  (4 people)

1 lb of white potatoes, peeled and quartered. 

1 large head of frisee, washed and chopped.

4 tablespoons of butter (or to taste)

½ Cup cream (or milk)

¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons coarse mustard (or to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 onion chopped

6 ounces bacon or pancetta chopped. 

 In a large stock pot, cook potatoes in water and a bit of salt over med-high heat.  In the last 5 minutes of cooking add ¾ of the chopped frisee.  When the frisee is wilted and the potatoes cooked, remove from heat and drain.  Mash together.  Add butter, cream (milk), salt, pepper, mustard, and nutmeg.  Mix well.  In a sauté pan, sauté bacon and onions in a bit of oil.  When bacon is cooked and the onions light browned,  add to the potato mixture.  Add the rest of the frisee.  Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings. For a bit more zing, add another teaspoon mustard.  Mix well and serve. 

Roast chicken or pork shoulder is excellent with this.  Serve with gravy made from the drippings.

Who are the Dutch?

Friday, September 24th, 2010

This question was raised in the classic Seinfeld episode from the last post .  When I first told some people that I was moving to Amsterdam,  I got mixed reactions; Sadness from my family, Happiness from acquaintances, and outright jump-for-joy-envy from my party-animal friends.    As you know,  while Holland is most famous for tulips, windmills and wooden shoes, Amsterdam,  has a more dubious fame: legalized pot and prostitution.  

Before I go into this, I have to give you this little caveat.  I’ve been here a long time.  I think waaay too long and you know what they say…familiarity breeds contempt.  So take what I say with a grain of salt. 

 The first thing you notice about the Dutch is their physical attributes.  They are mostly tall, thin, blond haired and blue eyed.  To a short, fat brunette like myself, they are forever a source of my envy.  When you meet a Dutch person, they seem cordial and business-casual. However, when you live with them on a daily basis, they are a bit chilly and distant. Matter of fact.  This is how they conduct their lives, probably as a result of their Calvinistic heritage. They have a directness that I still can’t get used to.  Sober, controlling and mostly void of enthusiasm.    “Just be ‘normal’  and you’ll be crazy enough”  as the saying goes here.   For an off-the-chart enthusiast like me, it was culture shock #2.  Calvinistic Culture.

Most occasions, from the happiest to saddest,  are met with the same vapid regard.    This year, the Netherlands football (Soccer) team made it to the World Cup Finals.  People from every other country in the known universe would’ve been dancing in the streets for days.  But not the Dutch, noo nooo.  The Dutch treated this event with sober , reserved interest.   “We have to work tomorrow.”  was the answer when I asked why people weren’t more excited about the event.  WHAT?  Work TOMORROW??  But the PARTY is TODAY!!!

Even though they seem friendly, the Dutch are very difficult to make friends with.  Most of their friendships were formed during their youth. People who work together rarely become friends. I don’t make friends with my colleagues, I hear often. They are very clear about who is and who is not their friend.   This is in contrast to Americans , who call everyone their friend, from their closest  friend to the remotest acquaintance.     As a non-Dutch person, I find it virtually impossible to make friends here.  In 12 years of my residence, I can count the number of Dutch friends I have on one hand. One finger to be exact. 

Unlike most European cultures, Dutch culture does not revolve around the kitchen.  Dutch food is bland, overcooked, and usually takes less than 15 minutes to prepare.   It’s utilitarian. There to serve the sole  purpose of keeping you alive.  Eat to live.  Culture  shock  #3. The Food.   Believe you me,  I’ll spend many a blog complaining…uh…discussing this fact. 

One of the good things I’ve seen here is the overall concern for the family unit.  School kids come home for lunch every day so mother’s (and sometimes fathers)  stay home to receive them.  They work either part time of not at all.  In recent years, there has been a surge of women hitting the workplace. With this, kids are more often placed in day-care  before, during, and after school.  My family is a bit unorthodox.   We both worked in IT,  I drew the short straw and had to work full time with the reasoning that my salary was higher and we would have at least one stable income.  He was given the opportunity to start his own business in web development.  A function that he could easily balance with caring for young kids.   Anyway, enough about my family,  back to my grand generalizations.

Another good thing is that dinner in the Netherlands is served almost universally at exactly 6pm where the entire family is ‘aan tafel’ or at the table.  My family is no exception.  When I’m held up at work, even for 15 minutes, dinner goes on without me and I end up eating alone.   Now that I think about it, it’s seems more about regiment than  family.

I know I’m not painting a very pretty picture about my Dutch hosts.  Actually,  I find their cool directness quite refreshing at times.  I mostly know where I stand with people here.  The roles are clearly defined;  family, friend, colleague, stranger that gets a bit of my time and then gets sent on his way into the grey, rainy, darkness.  Clear.  But once, just once,  I want to jump up in the air in the middle of a busy market and yell “YIPPEEE!!!”  without fear of someone putting me in a looney bin. 

(Excluded from this story are my absolutely wonderful in-laws, Wiljo and Tineke, who are the most talented, enterprising and enthusiastic people I know.  Not only do they work full time jobs, they own their own business making beautiful stained glass objects.  You can see their lovely work at:  http://www.wentglasatelier.nl)

Tonight for dinner is an ancient recipe from my family:  Swiss Chard and String beans.  This recipe has been around in my family for probably over 4 generations and is easy to make.  The chard comes from my garden.  A terrible crop this year.  If you don’t have access to swiss chard, use large leaf spinach (wild spinach, not baby leaf) , or beet greens.   Enjoy:

Swiss Chard and String beans (for 4 people)

½  to 1 lb fresh string beans, topped and tailed and cut in half

A large bunch of Swiss chard or other earthy, leafy greens like beet tops. Washed.

4 large cloves of garlic, sliced  (adjust to taste)

½ Cup Olive or Vegetable oil

1 teaspoon dried chili pepper (or to taste)

Plain Foccacia bread  or Raw bread dough

Fresh grated parmesan cheese

In a large soup pot.  Add string beans and enough water to cover about ½ inch.  Salt generously.  Cook over med-high heat until nearly done, about 10 mins.  While the beans are cooking, cut the stems off the chard and cut to about ½ inch lengths.  Add to pot. Cook another 5 mins.  Meanwhile, chop the chard leaves.  Add the leaves to the pot and cook yet another 5 mins.  The liquid should be about half the depth  of the vegetables.  If more, pour some off, if less, add more water.  Meanwhile , in a small pan over high heat, add chili pepper to oil.  Cook until very hot and the pepper begins to sizzle rapidly.  Remove from heat, and add garlic.  Careful, the water in the garlic will cause a mini-explosion in the oil.  When the garlic stops sizzling, add to the vegetables.  Let sit for about 30 mins to let the flavors meld.  Taste. Add more salt if needed.

While melding, if you are using bread dough, you’re going to make fried doughs.  To do this, pinch off a tangerine-sized ball of raw dough.  Stretch thinly but without holes.  Fry in med- hot oil.  When browned (about 30 seconds), flip and fry for another 30 sec.  Repeat.  

To serve:  place one fried dough or large piece of foccocia on a plate.  Scoop a large portion of srting bean mixture on the bread.  Liberally grate parmesan cheese on top.  Serve as vegetarian main course or serve smaller portions for lunch or appetizers.

 Save leftover dough for the next morning.  Make Googles for breakfast.  Fried dough with either powdered sugar or cinnamon-sugar.