Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mother of Inventions. And More

Not that I am nostalgic or so, but these days I remembered some events that happened many many years ago, when I came to Holland. To me, that was a great change and I don't mean the new language or the new career, I mean the complete change of life. Although I was married and had a child at the time, that was actually the moment I felt that I left my mother's nest for ever.

It was in fact the time when I had to live alone. Effectively living alone I mean, having to do ironing myself! But as always, mother nature fixes things up in the right way. She introduced me to some other mothers. The first one was the necessity, the mother of inventions.

And so I began to invent things, in all kinds of fields you'd possibly think: cooking, ironing, washing, all those pleasant chores I had never had the privilege of doing. Laundry was quite straightforward, no rocket science. The automatic machine was duly invented to help the helpless guys wear pants that wouldn't stand alone from the dirt. One pile of dirty clothes and that's it, all colours in the same session. Worked like a charm!

Ironing was a complete drama, and it is to this day. But the luck sides with the brave ones and, after a very little while, I realised that actually I didn't have to do it. Just a bit of attention when you hang the clothes to dry and that's it. The university attire was largely accepted with some minor wrinkles and no one seemed to give too hoots if your shirt had never walked the ironing plank.

If I managed to keep these outer activities under some reasonable control, the inner ones were quite a disaster. That's where the real inventions occurred. For the first week I thought I'd found the solution: frozen pizza, canned soup, cold food. Anyway, after a week I was sick of them, so I decided to start cooking. After about a month on scrambled eggs and fried potatoes I couldn't stand it anymore and I began to call the earth for recipes and stuff. Then it got better and better, I even got to make stew one day (of course at the expenses of the kitchen being turned upside down!). The problem of cooking was somehow solved. However, there was another problem that seemed to be lingering around. Bread!

If you've been to the Eastern Europe or some particular countries in the Western Europe (France for instance), you might have noticed the amount of bread consumed over there. You eat bread with everything, including potatoes, it's just a part of the culture you've been brought up with. On the other hand, Holland is a country where cooking and eating are not the people's main concerns. Moreover, the supermarkets have offers for all pockets, from students to executives. Add that to my low income as a post graduate and you'd get the picture of what type of bread I bought normally: one of the cheapest and, invariably, the white one (again part of the culture). Man, to put it mildly, I'd had better. Luckily I'm easy going when it comes to food  so I quite got used to it.

One evening though, coming home quite late, a few minutes before closing time, I could not find any fresh bread in the store. Looking around I saw some bags with white bread rolls, plenty of them. I bought one, highly surprised by the petty price I had to pay for it. At home, I opened it, took one, and realised why they were so cheap! Oh my God! That was the worst bread ever, no doubt about, military service included! Why do they still sell it? Someone should tell the supermarket that this bread is not even edible! But you know what? I got used to it like that, I finished the bag. But I stayed away from it, didn't buy it anymore and made sure my bread provisions would be enough to survive a small-to-medium fallout.

My cooking skills improved tremendously, I came to a point in which I manage to cook some roasted chicken and instant mash potatoes. So I asked some friends over and I'd cook for them. Guess what? I was breadless again, so I went for plan B, the never-to-buy-it-again bread.

My friends came over, we had a glass of wine, I set the oven for the chicken, we got to talk. At a moment one of them (a woman) saw the bread:
"Look", she chirped, "you also buy this bread?"
"Gee, yes, I hate it, it's tasteless, but I was late yesterday and could not find anything else"
"Really? I like it very much", she added and I instantly started to doubt her tastes.  "How long do you keep it  in the oven?"

It was so clearly written on the package, in Dutch (double Dutch at the time for me) and French (kind of a different Romanian, so readable) that the bread should be put in the oven for 10 minutes or so. But I just assumed they sold bread to be eaten, not to play the chef in the kitchen with it. And that was how I got acquainted (yet again!) with the mighty assumption, another mother. Of all fuck ups.


  1. The bread is terrible. Historically, Dutch bread was tough and hard. In fact, it was so hard people had been using it as a plate for their hutspot and boerenkool and a special sharpened knife used to cut pieces of it and feed the Dutch gullet like a stuffed goose. But it was tasty. Then... they decreed a law requiring bread to have a minimum and maximum quantity of dry matter, to avoid fraud (typically Dutch). Since then bread has deteriorated to its current menstruation rag status.

    The secret is stuff called sour dough (zuurdezem), which is still used in Germany and Eastern Europe and in the middle east, but dismissed in Western Europe and the Americas. It makes the bread sour, chewy, heavy, satisfying and healthy. My mom used to add a cooked potato to the dough to make bread even heavier and more moist.

  2. @Micha: the bread you bake is delicious. What do you add? zuurdezem or some pieces of the afore-mentioned rag? :)

  3. :)) am luat si noi paine din aia de o bagi la cuptor! imi dau seama cat poate sa fie de reaaa!!! (noi totusi am pus-o la cuptor si a fost delicioasa!:D)

  4. I think that the only real bread is a baguette and that all the derivatives are not really bread anyway.

  5. Louis, that's very tasty indeed. If you bake it :)))