>> Monday, 31 March 2008
We've been in Holland for the weekend, catching up with family and friends. Now, there are a number of things I fully expect to happen when we visit the Netherlands.
Firstly, I expect to eat twice my own body weight in unidentifiable fried brown stuff. In my limited experience, the Dutch do fried snack food better than anyone else - with the exception, perhaps, of the Indonesians. But that's OK because, having appropriated Indonesia as a colony back in the 17th / 18th Century (right through until after World War II), they then took the next logical step and appropriated their cuisine as well. The Dutch found Indonesian food so delicious that they were unable to choose between the various dishes, so in a typically Dutch fashion, they found a very practical solution. Why choose at all? Why not have all your favourites on the table at the same time, and call the resultant meal a 'Rijstafel' (no prizes for guessing that means 'Rice Table' in English).
But even without all the yummy spicy stuff, the Netherlands could hold their own in a 'How to use up every conceivable part of a pig / cow / sheep by wrapping it in a potato / batter / bread covering and tossing it in a deep fat fryer until it resembles something you really shouldn't touch with a barge pole but then you do and oh, god, it's good' competition.
What else do I expect? I expect to have the pants scared off me when driving on their motorways. The Netherlands is not a big country, you understand. And they don't have that big a population (around 15 million, I think). But boy, do they like their cars. (To be fair, they also have a pretty good public transport system, and in addition about a zillion bicycles that they actually use, which is why they can eat the afore-mentioned fried snacks with impunity and not put on an ounce, blast them). But - probably due to what not long ago seemed an inexhaustible supply of oil - they have a love affair with their cars. Now, we're not talking flashy 4 x 4's here - though I must say that there are more of those every time I visit - because it's not traditionally Dutch to flash your cash, but even so, they drive what they have like race cars once they hit the highway.
Perhaps it's because there's not much space, but the motorways are always busy, and often filled to the brim with traffic jams. The result? Well, it's my experience (and apologies to any Dutch readers who are blameless in this respect, Sweet Irene), that a large number of people have given up taking the jams seriously and simply treat the whole driving thing rather like an arcade game. They switch lanes without hesitation; once that indicator light is flashing, anyone in their way better get the hell out of it because hey, like it or not, they're coming through. Never mind if the gap is only 2 meters long - it's a gap, isn't it?
I knew about this - but yesterday was so freaked out whilst on the A12 to Utrecht that I had a fit of most unseemly feminine vapours, and had to pull off the motorway to let my big Dutch husband finish the journey. Most disappointing of me, I know.
Oh yes, and I expect Rain. With a capital 'R'. When the sun shines in Holland there's nothing to beat it (apart from England, of course), and on Saturday it did just that. The sky was blue, the sea air crisp and bracing, and the hot chocolate in the cafe on the beach topped with sweetened cream. Who could ask for more? Certainly not the Boys, who ran around with their cousins shrieking in the stiff breeze, chasing bouncy balls and sliding down sand dunes like children from a 1950's postcard. But other than that? Well, when it rains in the Netherlands, it doesn't mess about. And it rains a lot. A LOT. (This is something of which we have yet to convince our friends over there, who react to news of good weather in South East England with an incredulity which would be a little insulting if we didn't know it masked their envy...).
So, fried stuff. Traffic jams and crazy driving. Rubbish weather. I expect all that. But what I did not expect, sitting at a friend's house yesterday afternoon, was to be hit by a blast of nostalgia from my 1970's/80's childhood.
Did your mother - or you - ever get involved with Herman? Before you start picturing big beefy German types with blond hair and rippling muscles (always vastly over-rated, muscles, in my limited experience), I'm talking about - wait for it - a cake. A Friendship Cake, to be precise, which my mother used to make. And there it was, in our friend's fridge, with the instructions for use stuck on the front in what I swear is the same type-font that was used in the instructions my mum had stuck to our fridge around 30 years ago.
In case you never heard of this, Herman is basically a yeast-based cake that you create from a starter portion of gloop given to you by - you guessed it - a friend. You then added to the gloop, fed it, parcelled up a few tupperware boxes for other friends, and used the remainder to make your own cake. What a nice idea, hey?
Except of course, when I got home this evening and called my mother with the news that Herman is not dead but alive and well and living in the province of Utrecht, she said "Gosh, yes, I remember Herman. Nice idea - but I seem to remember he tasted pretty horrible."
Obviously I didn't call my friends in Holland and tell them that. Why rain on their parade?
(But if you still want to give it a try, there's a link to Delia's site with a recipe on it here. And don't say you haven't been warned if you don't like the result...)