Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My 3 Days of Dutch Christmas-I had a good time. I did! REALLY! I DID!

It is late. 2:30 am. Jur is asleep. The third day of my first Dutch Christmas is done.  I had a wonderful time. I did. Despite the way this may read at times. I had a wonderful time. (My New years resolution will be to write only joyous things from now on about Holland!) For now, however, I am kind of relieved my first Dutch Christmas is over. I am having many difficulties tonight. Maybe it was too much Hollandse Garnalen, or to much Sjoelen, or Knuidnoten. I would translate these words for you but I am so tired and at the moment describing them might make me a bit nauseous. Plus it gives you all another opportunity to step closer into my Dutch world experience, right?

Part of why I can't sleep is that on the third night of Dutch Christmas dinner (tonight) between the second and third course and during one of the many rounds of Neuken (which I think also means something dirty) I hit a Dutch Christmas mental wall. I needed coffee and I started to uncontrollably drink it. Switching between wine and coffee is not a good thing. Can you get drunk and wired off coffee and wine at the same time? I never fully felt the coffee "perk" I wanted, which was, at that time, my new Christmas wish.

Well I may not have thought the coffee was working but when I got home tonight I went straight to bed  and I could not for the life of me sleep. It was definitely the coffee. I tried so hard to fall asleep. Sleep was now my new Christmas wish. Please let me sleep Santa or baby Jesus. Please! That was when the Garnalen Stomach rumbles started. It was embarrassing. I laid there wide awake making these loud LOUD gurgle rumble combinations. They sounded like one of those aborigine blow pipe instruments. I was sure they would wake Jur up.

At one point I nudged him awake and said "Jur what are those little gray shrimp things we ate called?" (btw we ate them at Dieneke's on Friday, then again on Saturday and then tonight at Frits and Edward's)

Jur slurred "You mean Hollandse Garnalen....?"

I couldn't fully understand him because he was half asleep and when he said it I had an enormous rumble but I tried to repeat what I heard him say "Well I think I have Holse Garnail poisoning...I am worried"

He said nothing and I then let out my longest rumble yet. I got up to get some milk but when I opened the refrigerator I saw a large tupperware container of creamed garnalen given to us by Sjan. The sight of that combined with the strong stench of Jur's French cheese only made me feel worse!

Hollandse Garnalen are these little itsy bitsy grayish colored (sometimes) shrimp. The Dutch love them. THEY LOVE THEM. I have seen them at every major gathering I have been to since I have arrived here in Holland. I am just not the biggest fan. I can eat them but I would prefer not to. I prefer an occasional jumbo shrimp but not a big bowl of tiny shrimp which most often are covered in some sort of heavy cream and which always seem to upset my stomach. When I look at the bowls of shrimp it just looks like chum. Something I have seen being thrown over a fishing boat to attract "edible" fish. Or they look like something you would see in a vending machine at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere Arizona or something being thrown to the penguins at the Sea World exhibit. I had a lot of time to think about Hollandse Garnalen as you see. This past holiday weekend these shrimpy shrimps were first served at Dieneke's Christmas Eve dinner. I took one piece of bread with the Garnalen and some curried mayonnaise to be polite and smiled as I chewed it (as fast as I could). I still had the cognac, mayonnaise crab appetizer to go, which Jur made so I HAD to eat that, and, then, of course there was salmon for the main course. Did I mention I don't really like sea food?

Back home everyone was having ham, turkey, tamales, Mexican, BBQ, cookies... You were, right? Don't lie! I read all your facebook postings! Did you ever think how painful it was for me to read about your delicious tamale meal or lovely beef Wellington, huh, did ya?

After this tricky meal I was introduced to sjoelen. A Dutch wooden sort of table shuffle board game, but you do not knock people off. You are just going for points. It is loud! LOUD! You shoot these wooden discs down this board. I liked this game though. It was fun and sjoelen signified the end of the seafoodfest meal. I never understood the points system of the game and since in Dutch something like 128 is Een honderd acht en twintig (or something like that) and I was surrounded by eight Dutch people yelling out all kinds of numbers I just kept shooting my discs down this board and playing my own version of the game. I came in last every time. They kept pointing at places where I should try and shoot but it was hard and I had once again been comfort drinking. Also after two rounds of shooting these discs down this board my tennis elbow started kicking in. I think we must have played 25-30 rounds of this. At one point I was sweating from all the excitement. This was almost as physical as rushing to gather the kruidnoten that were thrown in the window on Sinterklaas Day.

The evening was fun tand my first Christmas day at Dieneke's was an enjoyable experience! Danku Dieneke, Wilfred and Angelique. It was very joyous! Oh and Dieneke's Christmas tree was beautiful! Heck she had more decorations then the ladies in Steel Magnolias!

The next morning I woke at Jur's sister Cathy's home. I was sore but rejuvenated. I came down the stairs and there were her three boys with.... the sjoelen board and the bang Bang BANG of those little wooden discs. My Christmas wish was for a cup of coffee and some ear plugs. I did get some coffee. After two hours of more sjoelen (lost every time again), the realization I had a slight hangover and a growing pain in my elbow, I was ready to move on from sjoelen. Jur's sister suggested to go to the beach and walk the dog. I took this as an opportunity to escape the sjoelen board. As I was dressing there were some concerns that it seemed very cold outside to go to the beach but hearing those wooden discs slamming downstairs caused me to ignore my concerns. Cathy, Jur and I, plus Gabor, the dog, loaded in the car. I was busily putting on my hat, scarf, gloves, adjusting my sweater and buttoning my coat when I noticed it was beginning to drizzle and get dark outside. No one else seemed to notice. I thought I heard Gabor moan in disappointment but wasn't sure. I just kept thinking it is cold and raining and we are going to the beach. Who the hell goes to the beach in weather like this? We will be the only ones there! Wrong again Ken! The Dutch go to the beach in weather like this.

It was pretty crowded. What the hell is wrong with these people? I was shocked. We poured out of the car. Gabor's moan was apparently not one of disappointment because he darted out of the car and headed straight for the ocean.

I did yell to Cathy over the howling wind (Who now looked like some Dutch Pioneer Woman) that "BOY IT IS COLD!"

To which she yelled back "NEE IT IS ONLY 3 DEGREES!"

Now 3 degrees in Celsius is like 38 in American and I am from Texas AND moved here form Los Angeles for God's sakes, so hearing it was 3 degrees SERIOUSLY made things worse! SERIOUSLY WOSRE. We trekked on. Cathy, Jur and Gabor kept getting further and further ahead of me. I was the weakling of our herd. My lips were hurting, my nose was running. I was certain it was sleeting or there were chunks of frozen sand pelting me or something. Something was painfully stinging me all over. My imagination got the best of me as reenactments of the Donner Party crept in my head. You know the Donner Party? Those Pioneers that got stuck in a blizzard crossing the Sierra Nevadas and ate each other in the 1880's? This was my own Donner Party. There was also the constant awareness that the wind, sleet, rain and frozen sand ice was to my back, which means when we turned around it was going to be head on. In fact I was so cold that I was actually wishing I was some where warm playing sjoelen. After a half hour of this march the rest of my expedition team noticed I was staggering and decided to turn around. By this point my new Christmas wish was to just make it back to the car. The good news was that I was so cold and numb that my tennis elbow did not hurt anymore.

Side note for those who know me and my nervous right eye twitch problem, well, as I defrosted in the car my right eye AND my left eye both were twitching. That has not happened for years and is not a good sign.

I vow to never go to the beach in the winter again. (Maybe my New Years resolution)

That night Jur and I met up with the Dutch Spanish friends, Manon and Rudy at Club Amsterdam. I don't remember too much of this except I was so tired, it was pretty, it was crowded (the Dutch party), we were the oldest ones there, they played Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas" and I kept thinking I still had the third day of Dutch Christmas to go!

Day three was meeting for bowling with Cathy and the boys which brought back my tennis elbow. I at least understood the scoring system of this game. I love to bowl and bowling with Cathy and her sons was especially fun!

Now I just had dinner at Jur's brother Frits' house. Sounds simple right? Well the first thing I noticed in the kitchen was ramekins piled high with creamed Hollandse garnalen. This was something I was just going to have to deal with. Unlike previous parties where the garnalen were set out along with many other things, at THIS dinner it was served as an individual course. The moment came when it was served. No one knew of my garnalen struggles. Well, Jur did, but I think he was just beginning to feel the effects of three days of Dutch Christmas. I looked to him for support as the bowl of mayonnaise Sea World Shrimp Chum was placed in front of me but he looked so tired and his eyes were blood shot. I was on my own. I told myself to just get it over with and I grabbed my spoon. I took the first bite and instinctively clogged my nose. It wasn't that bad actually. Only about 10 more spoonfuls to go. Then the second was a bit harder and by the third..... for the first time in Holland.....I almost (ALMOST) gagged out loud. I contained it. If anyone had been looking directly at me I would have looked like my nieces having to eat the dreaded Brussels sprouts or creamed spinach before they could have dessert. My cheeks puffed up and I was all red faced and teary eyed. I felt like one of those contestants on a reality show being forced to eat some crazy concoction. Thank God no one heard me. I ate another two spoonfuls but had to stop or they would have heard me (and worse seen me). I will say the soup, the Pork Loin and citrus dessert were delicious! Edward is a good cook! Danku Edward.

After dinner we then played the new card game Neuken but by that time I was done. I was done! I was sore, tired, worried about garnalen poisoning, my elbow was throbbing, I was drunk and wired on the coffee. I was yawning yet wide awake. Both eyes were twitching (slightly, even my eye twitch was tired) I don't even know what my Christmas wish was anymore. Nothing could help me......and that is how I ended up here, now, in the middle of the night, with a rumbling tummy, writing to you about my first adventurous Dutch Christmas. The Dutch like to have a good time and can party!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Dutch / American Santa Kiss Cookie WAR.

This is a Santa Kiss Cookie. A simple, delicious American Santa Kiss Cookie. Do you know it? It is a peanut butter cookie with a Hershey Kiss in the center. My Sister Kristy in Texas loves them and now for the past few years my Mom and I make them and we give them out to my Mom's friends and neighbors when I fly home for Christmas. We, of course, were going to do it again this year. However, unlike my sister, we decided to not make the peanut butter dough from scratch. We just did not have the time.

My Mom and I made about five dozen of our "short cut" version of the Santa Kiss cookies. (Plus a few other kinds of cookies) We wrapped them on Christmas plates for delivery and then my Mom asked if I would want to take some back to Holland? (I had already thought of this) Of course I wanted to! I would have some for myself and to share with Jur.

Then the little voices in my head started a conversation that went as follows:

"Would Jur like these?"

"Of course he will. He likes peanut butter and chocolate and cookies, He'll like them"

"Yeah but he likes fresh cookies, the Dutch like fresh things and you know how picky the Dutch are"

"Yeah but you can put them in a Tin AND you leave tomorrow"

"I don't know..... you have a lot to bring back already"

"But you can put them in your carry on"

"Yeah but you already have a suitcase full of  tamales, grape jelly, ranch dressing, 6 bags of chocolate chips, fajita seasoning, tortillas, cornbread mix, biscuit mix, 10 boxes of Mike Ike's. Plus your two tacos and your brisket sandwich and all the christmas presents, oh and the box of brownie mix."

"ENOUGH! These cookies are delicious. Everyone here loves them. The Dutch will love them too. We make them only once a year... for Santa! Jur will love them! I am taking them"

Okay, see, I love to cook. I love food! I am passionate about food and cooking. I have cooked (and ate) for years. I am not perfect at it by far but I really try and I have traveled all over the world and I find all food amazing. Which explains my obsession with my weight! I have lost all over 500 pounds in my life I am sure. Anyway moving here to Holland has been hard on my cooking.  The Dutch just have a completely different type of food palate and it is not like there were a bunch of Dutch restaurants in America that I grew up eating at. (I think I know why.) Now I am not going to blame the Dutch (entirely) but I have heard all kinds of frustrating things from Dutch people when it comes to cooking for them like:

"I don't eat breakfast" -  And they just don't! A lot of them. Well there goes a third of the day and delicious things like breakfast tacos, pancakes, monkey bread, waffles, IHOP, omeletes, biscuits and gravy, cinnamon rolls etc..... OUT!

"I don't eat beans" - No comment here EXCEPT to say that I am a half Mexican from Texas! NO BEANS! What the f#*!#K! What's left?  Don't even get me started on the time I was "encouraged" by many of Jur's Dutch family to make a bean-less chili and then watched in horror as they added chunks of pineapple to it!

"I don't eat sweets" - except of course they eat Apple tart and olliebollen (aka a DOUGHNUT with LOTS of powdered sugar (pictured)) or Stroopwafels, Nutella, and of course the famous Hagelslag (aka chocolate sprinkles) (which they eat almost daily!)

Also I am constantly discovering things like around Thanksgiving it became VERY clear to me that Pumpkin was not a favorite of the Dutch! ugh! I carved 8 pumpkins just to make two pies (They have no canned pumpkin here!) and ended up eating Dutch rejected pumpkin pie for three weeks.

I also have to deal with things like Jur not eating pork because they are smart and close to humans or something! (so no cooking with bacon, sausage or ham which NOW seems to be all I crave!)

Plus there is the fact that I am a foreigner. I GET IT. I know. I am not in America anymore. I just get sad when I cook and serve something and I get looks like I have just brought out the head of a Zebra on a platter! Cooking in Holland has given me paranoia. They hate my cooking. I think. I don't know. They're lying to me when they say they like my food. They all called each other to warn each other what I have cooked.  They all told their children in the car over that no matter what that crazy American cooks just eat it. My right eye twitches now whenever I even think of cooking for a Dutch person.

Somehow in Holland I have become that person or relative that brings over the dreaded annual fruit cake!

I tried to talk with Americans back home about this on my visit but they don't get it or they just laughed. My Mom tried to help me when she saw how upset I got thinking about what to cook for Christmas Eve at Jur's sister's house. I was to bring an appetizer.  Mom suggested 7 layer dip.

"My God Mother! Are you kidding? The uproar that would cause! and The BEANS Mother! No Beans! Don't you listen to me?! And where in the hell do you think I am I going to get corn tortilla chips? I can't  pack bags of Tostitos!"  My eye had a big spasm at the thought of the Dutch and Seven Layer Dip.

I actually decided to not make anything for the dinner and explained in a e-mail that Jur would bring something  on our behalf because I was too tired from my recent trip.

When I arrived back in Holland with my tin of Cookies and all my American groceries after a fourteen hour journey I was exhausted. United Airlines Economy Class had squished the Christmas Spirit right out of me. I had grown to hate everyone on the plane (in visible distance). From the lady who went to the bathroom eight times to the girl sitting two seats up and across the aisle, in seat 34B,  that dropped a skittle. I hated that skittle. I had become obsessed with that skittle! I contemplated that skittle for hours. She KNEW she dropped it and she just didn't care. She didn't even bother in the slightest to look for it! She just left it there. I wanted to get up and throw it at her! I needed to get off that plane and I needed to be home.

Jur was at the airport to greet me. I was happy. It had snowed in Holland. It was lovely. When I got home I was greeted by my cats. I, again, was happy. I was feeling good and had become excited about showing all my goodies from America with Jur. I was proud that I made it home with all that I did!  I felt as though I was kneeling before the King of Holland to present my treasures from the New World. I gave Jur all the wrapped gifts first (to be opened Christmas morning). The King was pleased....then he noticed my Velveeta.......

"You brought velveeta?" he said it with what my Dutch cooking paranoia instantly took as condescendingly.

My eyes met his like daggers "Yes I brought Velveeta and I am going to make Queso for New Year's Eve and if you don't like don't eat it. It will be me, my queso, and champagne ALONE and I have no problem with THAT!" Apparently jet-lag, the anger of the skittle girl and months of constant worry about what the Dutch think of my food exploded out of my mouth in response to Jur's judgmental Velveeta "question". He backed off and we moved on. Then he picked up my Welch's grape jelly bottle from the suitcase and I snatched it from his hands and just looked at him. He wisely said nothing.....and then.... the cookie tin.....he opened it, looked at it and what I perceived (still being debated) as nonchalantly said "oh" and put it aside. That was the straw that broke the cookie Camels back!

"You got a problem with my Santa Kisses?"

"What?" he said

"My Santa Kiss cookies. The cookies. My Mom and I made them for YOU. I brought them from America for you. What? You don't like 'em?"

"Oh. No they look good, thanks."

I just looked at him as he fiddled with the bow on one of the many wrapped gifts he had just received......"Well eat one."


"Eat.... one"

"No, I am not hungry right now. I just had coffee. I will later"

I could feel a tremor forming in my right eye. God I have only been back in Holland for two hours and already the damn Dutch eye cooking twitch was kicking in! "Uh huh, okay....we'll see" I said hesitantly clasping my jelly. I grabbed a can of jalapenos and Jiffy corn bread mix out of my suitcase and slowly made my way to the kitchen. Then all kinds of angry voices started up in my head "He doesn't want your cookies."  "He didn't even try them but he doesn't like them!"  "You better MAKE him eat those cookies." "They are trying to destroy you and your cooking." "Defend American Cookies Ken" "The Dutch are American Cookie Haters"..... eventually I calmed down and decided to wait and see.  Just wait and see. Time will tell.

That night, when Jur came home from work, I was aggressively looking for American Christmas music on iTunes radio. The fear of not hearing American Christmas music on Christmas (c'mon cut me some slack it is my first Christmas away from the States) had caused me to forget all about the whole Jur and Santa Kiss Cookie stand off. We greeted each other just like any other night. All was good. He fed the cats and changed whilst I listened to various renditions of a Little Drummer Boy. Then he sat down and ate a piece of bread with peanut butter. Then he had some chocolate covered peanuts and THEN he turned to me and said "what else should I eat?"

Now before I go any further, in Jur's defense, I just want to say that I seriously believe this was an innocent question (although this too is still being debated). To me, however, at the time, this question was the bullet that began what I now refer to as the Dutch American Santa Kiss Cookie War.

"Well there's a WHOLE tin of cookies just waitin' for ya in the kitchen!" All the Dutch cooking anger came back to me as I clicked off the jingles bells playing on my iTunes. My twitch started suddenly and terrifyingly in full force and I started speaking with a Texas twang which seems to happen when I start gettin' riled up.

"I will," he slightly snapped back

Silence as I looked at him ....and he sat there ...... four seconds later I snapped louder back "WHEN?"

"You can't force me to eat a Santa Claus Kissing Cookie Ken!"

"It's called Santa Kiss cookie and I knew you didn't like my cookies! They are perfectly delicious cookies!"

"I just don't feel like eating something like that at this time of night."

"Oh ...okay...I see but you don't mind eating bread with peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles or a handful of chocolate covered peanuts. Do ya? Huh?  Yeah, right, huh? Oh okay well that makes sense! You NEVER like my food (I know that is not true but I was upset at the time) GAWD  I have given up BEANS for you!, BREAKFAST and PORK! BACON. I gave up BACON for you and you can't even eat one damn cookie of mine? My Momma's cookies (I resorted to guilt)"

"FINE" he yelled as he stood up and cursed something stupid in Dutch. (which I didn't understand because I am only on week six of my Dutch class but I will one day!) " FINE Ken I will go eat the whole tin right now" and stormed off  to the kitchen

I chased after him "DON'T YOU TOUCH MY SANTA KISS COOKIES! You don't want 'em then don't eat 'em! You don't deserve them!"

We struggled for the tin until I finally let go of the tin (Jur is taller and stronger than me)  and  I said "This is ridiculous! I'm going to bed!"

The next morning I woke up and there was the empty tin on the kitchen counter. I was a little annoyed he didn't even save me one! I also considered checkin all the trash cans just to be sure but I was not going to stoop to that level.  As he slept I proceeded to make myself the biggest breakfast I could. Eggs, toast and hash browns with salsa. Making sure to drop a loud pot or two. I also added bacon to the grocery list.

I, of course, made us both coffee. He came in the kitchen. I poured him a cup of coffee.

He said "I liked the cookies. Did you notice?"

I said "Oh, yes.... thanks..... would you like some of my big breakfast?"

He said "No....... Thank you though."

As we sat there in peace it took all the strength I had to not ask him what we should plan to eat for Christmas morning breakfast. A special Christmas morning breakfast is a tradition.

I'll ask him tomorrow.

Merry Christmas Ya'll. Vrolijk Kerstfeest Ya'll

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In the Red Corner Sinter Klaas and in the other Red Corner Santa Claus

Well I don't know. After years of worshipping, behaving for and trying to fearfully catch a glimpse of Santa and his Reindeer the Dutch just expect me to get all excited about Sinterklaas! Santa Claus has been good to me! He has brought me gifts for my whole life! I have photos to prove it. He loves my cookies. He employs millions of Elves according to the movie The Polar Express. He loves animals especially if they are different or have flare like Rudolph! PLUS...I was always told and very much believe that Santa Claus is an equal opportunity Christmas Holiday gift giver. I KNOW he comes to Holland and gives gifts. I never recall Sinterklaas coming to my house in the States to do his business. What?  Does Sinterklaas have issues with Americans, huh, huh?

Okay don't get me wrong. I am very willing to adopt, welcome, and enthusiastically celebrate Sinterklaas. I believe in all Holidays. I support them. Life should be one big celebration! The more the merrier I say! Anything that involves me getting gifts (oh and giving) is good with me! Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, Spain's Caga Tio, Germanys Lucky Pickle, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Posadas you name it. Just give me a date, the day off, have a party and some food and I love it!

This was my first Sinterklaas. I had no idea what to expect. I found myself learning about this very Dutch tradition. There were a few debates or "educational" conversations about Sinter Klaas versus Santa Claus. Often these occurred will sipping coffee and eating Kruidnoten. Kruidnoten are everywhere during Sinterklaas time. They are little pellet size ginger cookies. The Dutch eat them by the handful. They are on office counters in bowls. People would hand them to you as gifts. It was always nice and surprising to receive a handful of ginger pellets from a stranger in black face on the street. They were all over the streets. Pigeons love them. Kruidnoten are just not the prettiest things in the world and I am not the biggest fan of ginger cookies. Although later I discovered a few things.They sell them chocolate covered (milk, white and dark) and I firmly believe that if you cover it in chocolate I will like it! I now love chocolate covered Kruidnoten. Also I realized that these NON-chocolate Kruidnoten resemble a child cereal I used to love called Cookie Crisps. So I have started eating Kruidnoten bowls of cereal. I do this in private. I know the Dutch will not approve. The last few mornings I get up and throw a handful out to the pigeons and then pour some milk over mine and we all enjoy the Kruidnoten!

Anyway Santa Claus and Sinterklaas are very similar in many ways yet oh so different. They are alike in that they both wear red and white, have beards, bring gifts, have helpers. Sinter Klaas tends to be a bit more "religious" than Santa. He is an Arch-Bishop after all. He comes from Turkey but seems to have close ties with Spain (I am not sure why) and his helpers are, well, not Elves. They seem happy but I am worried about them. I tried to ask them if they were happy (and free) but they were to busy wreaking havoc all over Holland to stop and talk! One just gave me a handful of Kruidnoten when I tried to offer him shelter from his oppressor!

Sinterklaas Daag is the 6th and until then it is all and only about Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas has so much power here in Holland that you are technically not allowed to celebrate Christmas until after Sinterklaas. I know this because the American came out in me on December 1st when my NEED for a Christmas tree caused me to annoyingly  harass Jur until he agreed to get one. I saw a Christmas tree seller as I passed by on my bike on the way to my Dutch Class. I almost biked right in to a ditch I was so excited. We went on the third for our tree, this sweet little Dutch man greeted us. I watched as Jur and he talked "tree" in Dutch. There was a problem. I could tell. Oh, hell no! I am getting my tree! We were allowed to "look" at the trees.

I whispered to Jur "What's wrong?"

Jur replied while looking at the top of a tree and trying not to move his lips "nothing" he shook the tree (I think he did this to cover our conversation) "we are not supposed to buy a tree until after Sinterklaas" then he quickly moved on.

I followed him through the mud. It was raining of course. We met up again in the next row and I whispered as I looked down to the ground  "We can't have a tree?"  I was about to get upset.

"Shhh" Jur said "it's fine, he is going to sneak us one out the back of that tent over there but we can't tell anyone where we got it, now go! Go to your own row of trees and we will figure out a way to choose one, Go!"

I ran off in the rain and mud. It was all very Euro World War two-ish and filled with feelings of espionage. I was paranoid as we drove through Den Haag with the tree on top of our car that the Politie (Police) might stop as and interrogate us about our tree. Also if we put lights on it and it is by the window will are neighbors turn us in? Ugh Christmas Trees in Holland pre December 6th are stressful.

I get why the Dutch keep Christmas separate from Sinterklaas. The Dutch love Sinterklaas and they want to protect him from being over taken by Christmas. This is does seem to be slowly happening and I could easily be taken as a threat to Sinterklaas with all my Pro Santa Claus propaganda. Especially when I find my self biking through town unaware that I'm singing "Here comes Santa Claus Here comes Santa Claus right down Santa Claus lane". (I need to stop doing that). So I decided to fully celebrate Sinterklaas Dag! On the 5th I went to Jur's Sister house for dinner with the entire family. It was lovely. Food, wine. Then at one point as we all mingled there was a LOUD bang bang bang and then a door flew open and a large bucket of Kruidnoten came flying in the air all over us and to the floor! A kruidnoot came within inches of poking me in the eye. People screamed "Zwarte Pietje, Zwarte Pietje!" Those devilish trouble making (of course black face) Zwarte Pietjes. They are causing trouble all over the place. It was kind of a shocking and awkward moment, I thought, as I found myself rushing with others to gather as many Kruidnoten as I could. I got caught up in Kruidnoten rush. It is instinct for me to fight for sweets when they are thrown in the air.

After we all calmed down from the attempted vandalizing from the Zwarte Pietje and after dinner it was time for Sinterklaas Gifts. Now this was by far the most difficult part. Everyone bought little gifts or I should say Sinterklaas bought everyone little gifts! Just like in the States I thought...but oh no. Little did I know that I was embarking on a two or three hour event. One by one, one gift at a time, a gift would be opened. The first gift was opened and we would sit around the table and pass the gift around and everyone commented on it and then after that the recipient of the gift would get up and get the next gift for another person. They too would open it, pass it along...998 Dutch gifts on the wall, 998 Dutch gifts on the Wall, 998 Gifts,  you take one down pass it around 997 Dutch gifts on the Wall! I mean HONESTLY there were ten of us! That is at least 3 gifts each and some got more! It was exhausting. By round two I was running out of enthusiasm. Maarten (my Dutch Nephew) got a packet of gum. We passed the packet of gum around and discussed it. It is gum for god sakes! I just kept drinking more and more wine. By round three of  the gifts my back was hurting from sitting so long and from all the shoving I did earlier with the Dutch over the kruidnoten that was thrown throw the door. I was trying hard not to make any anti Sinterklaas gift giving slurs. Round five Segher (youngest Dutch Nephew) got a razor! "Oh hurry hurry pass that over here. I wanna see" I mockingly mumbled in my corner of the table as I reached for more wine. Round six Wibrand got socks. Round seven Angelique got a calendar. In round eleven I got a bird feeder (which I love) AND which explained why in round eight I got bird seed that I embarrassingly passed around. Round fourteen I got bird peanuts (see pictue above) which, for a moment,I was hoping were edible because I was becoming hungry again. I, of course, passed them around. It was a long long process.

Finally the last gift was for me. It is called a Dutch Surprise! I received a foiled up long heavy roll that looked like a giant burrito. It was a gift made by Dieneke, Jur and Cathy's family friend. She and her husband and daughter joined us for the evening, which I loved, but I must admit at one point I calculated that their presence added one about an hour and sixteen minutes to the gift giving marathon. Dieneke brought me a Dutch Sinterklaas traditional gift. I slowly started to unroll it and it was a large tortilla shaped piece of leather covered in peanut butter, syrup, cooked noodles, chopped up sausage, I think ketchup and they all yelled "Surprise". I sat there speechless, stuff dripping from my hands and said "what is this, thank you I mean Danku..I don't get it. Wow what a surprise! Jur I don't get it." Well apparently hidden amongst the goop is a trinket. I found it after I dug around a while. I asked if I was supposed to pass it around but NO not that! No one wanted to touch that!

That concluded my first Sinterklaas Dag. It was so late that Jur and I decided to spend the night. I eventually excused myself and said I was tired (too much wine actually) and needed to go to bed. I went up stairs and tried to wash my hands but I could not get that greasy sticky surprise off. I got undressed and three kruidnoten fell out of my clothes. My back was still sore. I laid down and I could hear all the Dutch Sinterklaas celebration still going on. I silently sang myself to sleep.... "Here comes Santa Claus. Here comes Santa Claus right down Santa Claus lane".

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The First DutchThanksgiving was...an experience.

I spent weeks preparing for my First Dutch Thanksgiving Feast. My Mom sent me pecans from Texas. Rob sent me corn syrup from Los Angeles. My sister Kristy sent me plastic maple leaves for the table and place cards with Turkey stickers. I saved toilet paper rolls to cover in corn for napkin rings. I searched for a month through every Dutch store for Thanksgiving products and then bought them over a few weeks time (we don't drive and I am NOT carrying large bags of groceries on my bike!) I carved, cleaned, steamed, pureed and jarred 10 pumpkins to make pumpkin pie and soup. I pre-made my pie shells since I could not seem to find them at any store. We special ordered the turkey. Now I was ready....

Or so I thought. I realized the night before, as I was covered in flour from rolling out the pie crust, that this all was going to a bit harder than I had thought. The phone rang and it was my Dutch Sister in law Cathy asking how it was going? I had decided a week before that no matter how I was doing or how stressed or worried I was I would try to appear or sound just like Martha Stewart and say "Oh everything is wonderful, everything is perfect".

So I told her "Oh it is wonderful. Everything is perfect. I am just rolling out my pie crusts"

She seemed impressed and said "You make your own pie crusts?"

"Of course" I replied. "Some people buy frozen but I prefer homemade. Although, I did look for frozen crusts here in Holland but you don't have them so..."

"Oh we have them" she said "of course we do"

"No, no you don't" I shot back "I looked in the frozen section and the dairy section there were none"

"Oh, no, that is not the section they are sold in" she kind of giggled. "We sell them"

And that is when it started... a little twitch. In the lower right hand corner of my right eye.

"Well, well ...I prefer homemade pie crusts.. Anyway it's all going to be wonderful. Everything so far is perfect so I'll see you tomorrow!"

I started to make the pumpkin filling and realized a few other things. APPARENTLY when using real pureed pumpkin you cannot use the pumpkin pie recipe from a Libby's Pumpkin Can. Around this same time I discovered that I only had the use of metric measuring cups and all my recipes were in... the other... measuring system. The American measuring system. Whatever it is called. Also around this time I discovered I only have one pie pan, which I had brought from the States. But I need to make two pies. I HAD to make Pumpkin Pie and I HAD to make Pecan Pie. Apparently the Dutch just don't use pie pans. They just don't! TRUST ME! They DON'T! (and if any of you are reading this in Holland PLEASE do not write me and tell me you know where I can get one. I don't need to hear that now) I did run out to three stores to try to find tin pie pans and I found nothing. I did found one pyrex like pan at the Bijenkorf (Dutch Version of Macy's) but it cost something like twenty five Euro (around thirty eight dollars) I was NOT making a forty dollar pecan pie! So I decided to squish the dough into a tart pan and fiddle with all the measurements.

It was at this time that I decided the new theme for my Thanksgiving Feast was ...Rustic! (What choice did I have)

My eye was in full twitch now. I was in the kitchen with pans pulled out everywhere, splatters of pureed pumpkin here and there, one flour covered finger applying pressure on my twitch and the other hand on my laptop trying to convert 375 degrees fahrenheit into celsius AND Google what a cup converts to in grams. To make matters worse my Asian Carnation milk can was in Chinese or Islamic or something and I had no idea where it said many grams the can was (it was a weird shaped can) and the Libby's can recipe only says add one can...Aghhhh! At one point I checked out Paula Dean's Pumpkin pie recipe on-line but she added all this extra butter and stuff like cream cheese! (Damn Paula, can't you just make a normal pie?) The Food Channels Barefoot Contessa Pumpkin Pie recipe was worse and involved me going out to the forest to find wild Nutmeg.....Aghhhh! So I chose to stick with Libby's!

Around this time Jur called from work and I told him "I'm fine! everything is perfect! Wonderful Although I can't talk right now!"

I started to think about home. You know Thanksgiving was always sort of a communal thing. The very first Thanksgiving the Indians and the Pilgrims all cooked things and then brought them to the table. Growing up my Mom and her Sisters divided up the dishes. The last few years Thanksgiving with my friends was sort of potluck kind of thing. What the hell was I thinking cooking Turkey, Gravy, Cranberries, Stuffing, Green Bean Casserole, Mashed Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts, Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie and fresh whipped cream all by myself? (FYI there was supposed to be sweet potatoes but apparently what I bought at the Asian market that I thought looked like sweet potatoes turned out to be some sort of sticky green fruit when I peeled it)

I almost fell apart at this time....but then I remembered.....The British are Coming...The British are coming.... The one saving grace I had on my side was that John, Jur's friend, a "Gentleman" from England was coming tonight. He had told me over the phone that he loved the Thanksgivings he had when he lived in the States and would so excited if he could come. He also told me he would love to help me with the Thanksgiving cooking. He was going to cook the stuffing and the green bean casserole. Although I was hesitant about the stuffing. I love stuffing. Stuffing is so important. Now out of stress I had decided that he was also cooking the Brussels sprouts.

Thank God I got Jur to make the cranberries before he left for work. I trusted him with that. One good cooking thing Dutch do well is boil fruit with sugar.

The doorbell rang and it was John. "John, thank God you're here. Okay I am behind! Get in here now! Pie drama, fill you in later. Okay here is your list. Stick to it! By the way you're making the Brussels sprouts too. Oh and our theme is now rustic AND what happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen. I will tell ONLY you that I am stressed, only you, but if anyone asks we are fine. Everything is wonderful, got it? Oh and if you see me touching my eye it is cause I am twitching"

"Hello Dear, sure, fine whatever" John said "I just need a vodka 7-up first! I cook much better when I'm drinking, shall I make you one?"

Okay here is the thing that I have learned...The English like to drink. John can drink. All I can say was that the next day and a half of cooking with John was like being in the kitchen with Dudley Moore from the movie Arthur. In fact John's last name is MOORE!

"John please don't drink! Please. We have no time. I need you to focus. You need to start chopping the vegetables for your stuffing and I do not want you handling a knife drunk."

"Well, no worries, I don't chop my vegetables for my stuffing, I shred everything with my hands and, oh, I need lots of butter (The English drink and use lot's of butter) oh and ice lot's of ice for my cocktails" he said.

I didn't have time to explain to him that the Dutch have no ice. It is a precious commodity.

My twitch was getting worse and worse and now we're having English shredded stuffing. The stuffing is ruined! Stuffing is so important.

I eventually had a cocktail and resigned myself to just hoping for the best.

The next morning I woke up and headed straight to the kitchen only to find John there smoking a cigarette and pouring a vodka 7-up in a Kilt! Had he even gone to sleep I wondered? There was no time. The Turkey had to go in the oven! I was sort of confused about the Celsius vs Fahrenheit cooking time of a turkey but I had to hope for the best. There was also the issue that the Turkey we ordered was straight from a farm and seemed to still have a few random feathers on it but John, my drunk Sous Chef, assured me that no one would notice and they would probably burn off. This situation never happens with a good ole Butterball Turkey.

Everything was in full swing now. Jur was running around creating his Dutch Cornucopia center piece. We fought briefly over the Turkey place cards and toilet paper rolls but reached a compromise. John went out a few more times to the store for more Vodka. Jur was using valuable counter space to assemble his stinky Dutch cheese platter. Eventually the Dutch Pilgrim Guests started to arrive. I was still twitching. Every time the doorbell rang my lip joined in on the twitch too. They all seemed to head straight to the kitchen and I would greet them and say everything is fine. John would be behind me with a cigarette, a spatula, his vodka and often on the floor picking food up that he had dropped. I would hear him mumble from down there "Yeah, fine Wonderful whatever"

It was around this time that I started to feel a bit dizzy. "Please Sjan, Ad, Wibrand, Frits, Cathy, Edward ALL Dutch people get out the kitchen. Everything is wonderful. Please go out to the living room and read the history of Thanksgiving I printed off for you. Dinner will be ready in ten minutes. Danku!"

John slurs from behind me "Wonderful."

Forty five minutes later dinner was ready. I was a bit uncertain about whether the Turkey was cooked enough. During the whole meal I worried that I might give them all trichinosis poisoning. Could you imagine if they all got sick from their first Thanksgiving Turkey? Eight Dutch killed by American made Turkey. To be honest I was too tired to be that worried. I was exhausted. In fact I think my twitch went away from exhaustion.

One touching moment was at the beginning of the meal when I explained that we were to go around the table and say what we are thankful for. I said I was thankful for meeting all of them. For them coming and for my family back home, good health and good times and of course Turkey!

John said he was thankful that everything is wonderful and for the Winkel (convenience store) being so close and for it selling his favorite Vodka.

And then it was the Dutch guests turn....As they made their way around the table they said things like how they loved each other and how they were thankful to be so close to each other after all these years and they are so thankful to be together today, they grabbed each others hands and THEN before I could even sip my wine they ALL started crying. REALLY! Even my sixteen year old Dutch nephew Wibrand was crying. Full on tears!

I was stunned. Even drunk John stopped drinking for a minute.

No no no no nooooo I thought. You're not supposed to cry! You're supposed to say things like...I am thankful for good wine or mashed potatoes! I was too tired to say anything to break the ice so I just got up and got all the Dutch Pilgrims a box of tissues and then softly said "Well, okay then, enjoy!" All I kept thinking was I am so tired, my guests are crying, I hope I don't poison them, please John don't pass out, and that I will NEVER do this again.

Anyway, everything looked good (candle light helped with that). Everything tasted pretty good too (wine helped with that). No one got sick. Ad (pronounced Ot) gets the prize for Best Dutch Guest. He ate everything on his plate, didn't cry, had seconds and asked for food to take home! All in all the Dutch Thanksgiving was nice. A bit emotional, exhausting, stressful but it was well received.

BUT NOW...it's Christmas time! I am SOOOO excited. I invited all of them over again for a Traditional American Christmas Dinner (except John of course). Maybe I will even try to make a chocolate Yule Log or my own Honey baked ham. Or tamales! I can try to make tamales! They can't be that hard, right?