Sunday, September 19, 2010

Discombobulated by a Kruidnoten

There are those days. Those tough, confusing, I am walking around and have no idea what the hell I am doing here in Holland days. They are worth writing about but I guess I have been sort of in a daze that I just did not seem to sit down and write. I should say there have also been good Dutch days too. Many of them! I should write about those as well but they are not as fun to tell!  My Dutch "job" (ughh more on that later but keep in mind there is only so much work I can get with an American resume and not being able to speak the language!) has also kept me from writing. Plus we are just catching up from our steady stream  "let's visit Ken in Holland this summer" visitors from America. (which was exhausting but I was so grateful to see them all).

But yesterday I had a day that was so jarring..... it kicked my butt into the seat to start writing.

Now this all may sound a bit crazy (it does in my mind) but here it goes.

Did I mention to you I have started a cupcake business with Jur here in Holland? Oh yeah! It is true. Besides my money making Dutch degrading job I am pushing cupcakes here in Holland.  I never thought I would be a cupcake maker. I LOVE cupcakes but NEVER did I think I would be in Europe perfecting cupcakes and pushing American Baking Goodies on to Europeans. But I am! In fact it has become sort of a therapeutic treatment for me. When I feel lost, lonely, "jonesing" for America or angry at being an immigrant, I bake goodies from America!

This morning it is blueberry coffee crumb cake.  I needed to bake this morning after yesterday.

Yesterday I got up and had to go to the store to buy some ingredients for an order of 18 cupcakes that needed to go out. Twelve red velvet (my most popular) and 6 of a new recipe I convinced our customer to try.

Okay side story here. I wanted to introduce the Dutch to Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes. It is a vanilla cupcake with grape jelly in the middle and covered with a peanut butter cream cheese frosting. Very American and unique.  I find peanut butter and jelly sandwiches very comforting! I always have. I always will! However there are few problems with this recipe in Holland. Those of you who have read about my early experiences here in Holland may recall a whole chapter I wrote on my search for grape jelly. THERE IS NONE! JUST NONE. NOPE! NOWHERE! NOTHING! NADA!  However one of the benefits of having the steady stream of American visitors this summer was that I insisted each of them to bring me a bottle of Welch's grape Jelly!  I am not about to waste my grape jelly on cupcakes for  people who do not actually like grape jelly. That Jelly is mine! So I replaced the grape jelly with strawberry jam and the cupcake is now  called a Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam Cupcake.

The other issue with this new cupcake is explaining Peanut Butter and Jam (Jelly) combination to the Dutch! It seems so strange to them. Despite the fact that they eat Peanut Butter and Chocolate Sprinkles. Despite the fact that they eat all kinds of jams. The putting of the two of them together puzzles them. I also discovered that most of the Dutch have not experienced and are not fond of the combination of Chocolate and Peanut Butter. Like a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup, which I find stunning, unimaginable and almost makes me want to faint. That is like saying you do not like oxygen or, okay,  not so dramatically that is like saying you do not like bread!  This discovery also poses another problem for me with my next cupcake creation.... my chocolate cupcake filled with peanut butter cream and chocolate frosting with crushed chocolate covered peanuts on top.... IT IS DIVINE! I believe in it!

Oh the frustration of cooking American food in Holland! I could write a whole chapter on me explaining and defending the simple gloriousness of a Rice krispie treat. Who knew I  would be forced into spending so much time explaining what a freakin' rice krispie is. How it is not Asian. No it is not an individual kernel of rice that I fried up. It is a cereal! A CEREAL THAT MILLIONS OF MY PEOPLE EAT!

Okay see, I sound crazy....

So anyway we have started a cupcake company here in Holland. We had an order. I had to go to the store for ingredients. So I hop on my bike. Yes, folks, since you have heard from me last I am now a savvy Dutch Bike rider. I can even ride through the city with a bag of groceries. (Well kind of.)  So I head to the store. It is crowded as usual. I am on the hunt for Mon Chou. The Dutch version (from France it sounds like) of Philadelphia Cream cheese. Mon Chou, after many, many, many attempts at cream cheese  frosting (a must for my red velvet and carrot cake cupcakes) I have found is the best product to use. Actually to give credit where credit is due Jur recommended it after he heard me say over and over that Dutch Roomkaas (something I thought looked like American cream cheese was not working)  Mon Chou works, and it tastes delicious I must say. Our cream cheese frosting is just like home.

As I make my way through the Dutch crowded grocery store to the Mon Chou section, I come to a complete stand still. I see something that hits me like a brick wall. KRUIDNOTEN.  A giant display of kruidnoten (pronounced crude-note-n). Little ginger cookies that were thrown at me last year by the little black faced elves of St. Nicolas.  OH MY GOD! Is it Kruidnoten time again? I remember Kruidnoten were everywhere. At every party, every office. I was given bags of them as gifts. They looked like cookie crisp cereal and tried to eat them with milk in a bowl which doesn't work. They just turn to mush.  Lord I had so many Kruidnoten  I tried  throwing them out for the pigeons but they wanted nothing to do with them. I, too, like the pigeons am not fond of kruidnoten.

Anyway there we were. The Kruidnoten and me.  Not even Dutch grocery shoppers bumping into me could break my gaze.  I had a flood of emotions and thoughts that overcame me as the Kruidnoten and I stared at each other. My God how long have I been here? Is it Christmas time already? I have been here so long I can  recognize seasonal Dutch food. My God I have been here a long time! How long have I lived here?  Who am I? Where am I? What is the name of the store? How did I become a cupcake maker in Holland? Where did I park my bike?  What is  the date? Do I have enough Mon Chou?

Slowly I gathered up all my confusion and my basket and moved onto to the next aisle. But still keeping my eye on the kruidnoten.  Then in the next aisle, still in shock, I began searching desperately for any Dutch candy like combination of peanuts and chocolate for my next future creation.  That is when I heard a Mother and son talking. They were either British or Australian. The son was expressing his frustration over not recognizing any of the cookies and candy. The Mother responded, sort of out of frustration but also out of sympathy for her son " Darling, I do not know what to say,  I am sorry I do not know either. It is all foreign to me, I just don't know."  I just looked at them from a few feet away. Pfft....newbies. Poor things. They know nothing!

I decided to ask "Where are you from?"

They seemed a bit shocked that I spoke to them but The Mother replied "England"

"Oh nice. How long have you been here?"

"We moved here one month ago" she said

"It is different, huh? So what are you looking for?"

"Oh my son wants an English Biscuit like we have back home but I just do not see it"

Now I wanted to go off here. Hah! Never, yeah well good luck with that one, There ain't no way! Ain't gonna happen lady, sorry kid. Happy hunting!

But instead I made a few suggestions of close alternatives. The little boy did not seem completely satisfied but I felt like I tried my best. I could not believe I was in a Dutch grocery store helping foreigners find food. How long have I been here? Who am I? Where am I?

I began to walk away and then I stopped. I turned back to the British Mother and son and said "Oh and by the way, have you ever heard of a kruidnoten?"

They both nodded their head no and seemed a bit scared of me. I noticed the  Mother pulling her son close to her as I spoke.

I pointed to the display of kruidnoten down at the end of the aisle. "See those? Those are kruidnoten. Get used to them. It is almost Christmas and you are in Holland. they are everywhere! You'll see. Good luck" and I turned and walked away. I am sure they thought I was crazy seeing as how it was September and I was talking about Christmas and strange cookies while carrying a basket full of Mon Chou bars.

When I got home I wanted to tell Jur about my bizarre, eye opening grocery store experience but to be honest I was still trying to figure it all out. Plus every time I come home from the store or ANYWHERE even though it has already been a year and half of living here, I always have some bizarre, eye opening experience. It is exhausting for both of us to hear and experience. So I am kind of at the stage where I keep some of it to myself.  Partially to spare Jur the boredom and partially to not get mad at him for not fully understanding and sympathizing with me. Because if he doesn't he better watch the hell out, cause this is all his fault and and and.... well it is not his fault, but sometimes I get so frustrated I do not know how to channel my emotions.
So this time I chose not to tell Jur and besides, we had things to do like make and deliver cupcakes and also  to go to the printer to run off copies of a flyer to announce our cupcake delivery service.

We made the cupcakes and I must say Jur, who is not the best cook, has become a master at piping forsting and decorating cupcakes. I cook. He decorates. It works. We made and delivered our cupcakes, made the copies of our flyer but all the while my experience earlier at the grocery was weighing heavily on my mind. It was like I was waking up form a deep coma and trying to figure out where I was. Who I was. Jur asked me a few times if I was okay. I still tried to keep it to myself.

And then...... as we were in the car at a stop light on a tiny side street and I stared ahead at the traffic
passing in front of us... it happened..... a yellow NYC taxi passed in front of me. A REAL NYC YELLOW TAXI! Followed immediately by a Los Angeles Police Cop car, followed right after by a light blue Chicago Police Cop car and then finally two big American Police Motorcycles and here is the kicker.... I swear  I SWEAR that Police Motorcycle said San Antonio Police Department. My hometown. I SWEAR! In the Hague. This happened in Holland. Right in front of me. It was like I was in New York, Chicago, San Antonio and Holland all within the blink of an eye! I am going to use a bad word here, so excuse me, but this is what uncontrollably came out of my mouth.

"What the fuck was that?"

Words can not express my fear, my confusion, my utter despair as I was coming to terms with the fact that I am hallucinating and that this is the end. I am insane. I am also aware of my insanity and I am  not sure what to do about it.

"What  the hell was that?"

Now, THANK GOD for Jur. He saw it too. In my hysteria I insisted he weave his way through traffic so we could catch up with my hallucination. We did and, guess what,  those damn Cops bikes WERE from the San Antonio Police Department. WHAT!?!? They were being driven by some old Dutch biker gang who I guess collect bikes and cars from the States. I was so freaked out I could not contain myself. I rolled down my window and began shouting at them   "Hello! HELLO! I do not speak Dutch but I am from San Antonio! I AM FROM SAN ANTONIO. TEXAS! ME!"

The Dutch Biker just smiled and tried to focus on the road.

We came to a stop at a light and again still hysterical I started yelling "Hello! HELLO! ME! I am from San Antonio. ME SAN ANTONIO. (yes I find not using complete sentences sometimes helps in hysterical situations in a foreign country) Your bike is from my town? What are you doing here? This is confusing me! You are confusing me! I am Texas!            
ME. I know your bike!!!!"

Poor Jur just stared at me and the biker just smiled and said "Texas" and then sped off!

Then I could no longer contain myself. My whole day and all my thoughts uncontrollably came out. I started telling Jur everything! Or I tried to. I told him that I am freaking out because of the Kruidnoten display. I said something about Mon Chou but I am not even sure what or why! I told him that I may have freaked  out a British Mother and her Child who were looking biscuits. I said something about me not liking blacked faced elves throwing cookies at me.  Jur looked scared but I continued and gave a passionate small speech about the wonders Rice krispie treats and chocolate and peanut butter as one of the greatest combinations EVER. I gave him a list of things we needed to do to prepare for Christmas.  Finally I explained to him that seeing yellow taxis and Texas Police cars in the Hague is CLEARLY some sort of sign. It had to be right? RIGHT!!!!!!??????

I am sure none of if it made sense and judging from his silence I know it did not.

But I did not say that. Instead I came home and made some rice krispie treats!

By the way our customer LOVED the the Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam Cupcakes. She wants more!

All is well and I am not crazy.


  1. I had to read your experience as though I were a Dutch person to see if I could get how 'crazy' you were. Alas, it all made perfect sense to me, love. I have had many kruidenoten moments.

    Kisses xx

    Jur is a good guy.

  2. hi Kenbo, just found your blog and it made me laugh so much!! I'm Dutch so all the weird things here are very familiair....Gonna read the other posts too today, perhaps while drinking coffee and kruidnoten!! Thanks for the :-)
    greetings, Hanneke

  3. So glad to see you are writing again! We are going to be moving to the Netherlands in the next couple of months and I've really enjoyed reading your blog. I have to refrain from having my tea when reading it, however, as more than once my keyboard has nearly met its demise from its sudden expulsion from my mouth when reading a particularly funny passage.

  4. Ken, I bet that mother and child would LOVE to buy some of your cupcakes! Did you give them a card? I just had a birthday party at my house for my 6 year old and I made cupcakes and one of the moms who is from Spain told me that she is so frustrated because her children always want her to bake cupcakes and she doesn't know how...they don't have them in Spain.

    It made me think of you and your cupcake business...they definitely need them in Holland!