The Delightful Dutch Dish

How one can cook oneself back into local reality

About December 2, 2009

I’m not a very bad cook. I’m just a lazy cook. I’d rather not cook. So I end up making sandwiches for dinner. These sandwiches are good, let me tell you! Basically I stuff as much veggies, a little meat and some cheese between two slices of bread as I possibly can. I squish them together and I stuff it in my mouth. Because, despite the fact that I don’t like cooking much, I love eating. I can eat all day. My friends were always surprised by the amounts of food I could manage. They’d eat half of what I ate and they were stuffed, I was begging for dessert.
There basically is one type of cuisine I despise. It’s Dutch Cuisine. I just don’t get how people can stuff themselves with that many potatoes. I was raised on snert, hutspot, and any kind of stamppot. Basically because my mother is a prototype Dutchwoman, as is her mother, and any other woman from that family. Another little fact is that I was actually raised in the Netherlands (and I’m still living there, which makes me utterly Dutch, probably). It’s quite hard to escape Dutch Cuisine when you’re surrounded by potato-fields and your neighbor is a cowfarmer, who sells you fresh milk every other day. Besides growing up in the doomed country itself, I grew up in a very rural part of it. For those who know it, the region is called the Betuwe. And it’s famous for all the fruit that is being grown there, too. You’ll never guess it, but I don’t like fruit either. I hated the juices my mother made from the plums from our own orchard. I still nearly gag thinking of most types of berries. I eat them, no problem, but I don’t particularly like them. The thing is that whenever I get closer to the clay soil that bore life to me (I was born in the house I grew up in, I’m the only clay clad kid in my family), I get weak in the knees, my heartbeat picks up and there’s a tear in the corner of my eye. It’s my home. I could never abandon it, not even if I tried (my parents tried to get me to thrive on sand, it had disaster written all over it).
What I’m saying is that my gastronomically sensitive taste buds have a thing for exotic food. My favorite dish ever, something you can actually disturb my precious sleep for, is Japanese. My mother knows this and she calls me whenever she’s even thinking about buying the fish (to invite me, not to torture me, she’s the sweetest mother there is). It’s a simple dish and the fish in it don’t actually travel all the way from Japan to my salivating oral cavity, but they aren’t exactly caught in the North Sea either (they probably could, but I’m guessing they’re not). Another thing I really love is almost anything Mediterranean. Give me something nice and peppery, something with pasta and a truckload of tomatoes and I’m happy as a clam. I think I owe my exquisite food tastes to my dad’s genetics. (Including the stuffing yourself until you burst and still beg for more.) And my mother’s not exactly against it, so there’s been a lot of these exotic dishes on all of our plates as well.

Recently I’ve decided to do my part in climate change, and it involves my food. You don’t need tomatoes or peppers from Spain, they’ll grow in our relatively mild sea climate as well, just not the year round. Wait, let me say that again: just not the year round. That sounds super easy. It does, but that’s the hard part. There’s no problem during summer, there’s a lot of tomatoes to be grown, even in our rainy shitty country. But during winter, man… that’s sad. Tomatoes don’t stay fresh and edible for a long period, so they’ll wither, rot and you’ll have to figure out something else to eat. And that, my friends, is where Dutch Cuisine kicks in. That’s where the bitchin’ starts. That’s where it hurts. Really hurts.
I don’t want to give up my tomatoes, my zucchini’s, my eggplants, my whatever-it-is-that-won’t-grow-during-winter-s. I don’t want to be stuck with potatoes.  Why? Well, there’s this famous painting by Van Gogh, he’s a Dutch painter. Of course there’s a lot of famous Dutch painters who made some really fabulous & famous paintings depicting the Dutch, but none are so extremely brilliant in depicting the horrors of Dutch Cuisine. His painting is called ‘De aardappeleters’, which translates into ‘The potato eaters’. He painted it in another rural area, the area that he grew up: Brabant. It’s a very dark painting, with lots of browns, and the scene is barely lit. I think some teacher taught me something about it in school, but I don’t really remember. I just remember the painting because it is so incredibly sad. Van Gogh wanted to depict the real deal, rural life, poor peasants. Eating potatoes. The story is nice, but I remember what I thought when I first learned about it: how sad that people eat only potatoes. Where’s the gravy? Where’s the meat? Presumably, there was none. These were poor bastards, they’re ugly, they’re skinny, they work all day, they don’t get old, they’re doomed. They got the wrong ticket in life. Sadness, that’s what filled me when I first learned about the painting, and it hasn’t ebbed away since.
Deep down inside of me, I vowed that I would never eat potatoes. I would never like them. Well, I kind of lost that deep rooted hate against potatoes. But still, eating potatoes seems like a poor man’s gastronomical life. Potatoes suck. They do! I’m not sure if it’s only Van Goghs fault (he definitely never should’ve painted those poor suckers eating potatoes), or if it’s my deep rooted hate for any Dutch food. Because, honestly, I can’t stomach too much stamppot, more than one dose of snert a year or anything that reminds me of the depths of winter, when poor peasants eat only potatoes in a depressingly lit scene. I just can’t handle it. During the most horrible winter days, I just want a reminder of summer. Like a tomato, or an apple, or any fresh vegetable. Instead of something that’s been dying a very slow death because it’s a carrot, or a potato, so that it’s good enough for me to eat, but it’s still overly depressing.

I’ve set up some rules. I actually don’t want to allow myself to break them, but here’s the thing: I already have. I’m a rule breaker, but I’ll keep trying not to. So, the rules:
– Every Friday, no exceptions!
-From Scratch. No ‘Oh, I bought this Unox tin of ‘erwtensoep’ and that’s my snert for now’. (exception: some dishes need things like ‘rookworst’, I can’t make those in my tiny kitchen. So I won’t. I’ll just buy them)
-Local produce. That means seasonal. Probably no tomatoes in December. Boohoo. But I don’t want an airplane bringing me my lovely fresh veggies. (See, I already broke this one, with all my wonderful Italian cheeses)
-Spices are allowed. They’re not local, they’re probably flown in, but they’ll last long, and besides, the Dutch do have a relationship with spices all the way back to the 1600’s.
-I can spice things up, ie: alterations to originally unbearable recipes are allowed. For the sake of my own health you know. I just can’t handle depressed foods on my plate. I just can’t.
-Preferably some dinner dishes, but since I don’t know how bad (limited) the Dutch Cuisine is, I’ll allow myself to make some beautiful local baked goods. The Dutch do have some kick ass pies with all those lovely fruits (I do like baked and cooked fruits usually, I’m a sucker for apple pie!).
-OK, I can cheat a little, by working ahead, but I cannot, ever, be allowed to be late! Ever! (You do want to watch this rule, it’ll be hilarious!)
-To please myself (and to avoid depressing ‘Potato Eaters’-scenes) I will post some Salivating Saturday recipes, preferably, but not necessarily, originally Dutch. I’m not Calvinist, but Sunday’s my day off, I’ll be enjoying my mother’s ‘Japanese’ fish.
-Monday through Thursday are not accounted for either, I’ll be doing stuff, and eating sandwiches, salads and, oh yes, some very sinful tomatoes. But I might be enjoying some really good and wonderful tomatoes and wanting (no, needing) to post about it.

I realize I’m such a lucky gal for living in the 21st century. We’ve got greenhouses and I probably will be able to have some fresh vegetables during most of the year. Some veggies grown in Holland. Whew!

PS: the tomato is not my holy grail of food. I like them. A lot. But I can live without them. Not for long, but I can. It’s basically just symbolism, in case you were wondering.

PPS: My holy grail of food is actually avocado. Which is never grown in the Netherlands. Which depressed me so much when I realised it. And then my local supplier of vegetables had them lying in the shop, so I bought them. Oh, and lemons. They just won’t grow here, they’re all from Spain (or Portugal or Italy, or something more South). But who could live without lemons? But they’re not the holy grail of food, only in combination with avocado. You need lemon with avocado. It’s unavoidable that these show up here. I would die without them. (But I’d also die without tomatoes)


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