Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I'm a pretty health-conscious person: I make pretty healthy foods for the most part and I typically walk everywhere--the last is, ironically enough, a measure of pure laziness on my end, because ever since we cleaned out our storage unit, I've moved my bike inside, and the hassle of getting it out for a 3-minute ride to the Albert Heijn isn't worthwhile to my mind. We have a fair supply of junk food, but that's mostly nibbled at here and there, to the tune of a bag of chips a week.

Now that I've signed a contract and we've agreed to a start date for me, I decided that now would be a good time to get a gym membership. There are several within easy distance of where we live, and the university's sportcentrum is open to the public for a really low price. Commuting five hours a day wasn't exactly conducive to making time for running, and the laundry issue in Maastricht managed to flummox me. (Laundry issue being that the basement where the machine was, was so gross and spider-full that I absolutely would not go there if I could help it. Plus, even with workout clothes, I simply don't generate that much laundry.)

So today I screwed up my courage and went in search of a gym. I realized a few things: first, they're really full even in the middle of the day. Retirees and well-off-women have that kind of luxury, so it didn't surprise me to see them all there. What did creep me out a little, though, was the fact that the populace in the weight section of the gyms were solely young men. And all of them were staring at me when I took a quick tour of the place with the instructor.

The other thing I realized is that there are no antiseptic wipes/bottles anywhere. In order to understand why this skeeves me out like no other, you have to realize that in 2005-6, I came down with a mild case of what I suspect to be staphylcoccus, picked up at the gym at Temple (which did have antiseptic wipes, which everybody--including myself--used). It gave me a rash which was misdiagnosed by my family physician as "just another eczema flare-up", darkened the skin around my eyes so that I looked to be wearing permanent eyeshadow (not an altogether unappealing look, to be quite honest), and opened up sores on the corners of my mouth. In the six years that have passed since then, most of the issues have quieted down and gone away, although I still get occasional sores at the corners of my mouth. You might wonder that I actually ventured into a gym again after that.

But in any case, having toured two facilities and seeing nary a spray-bottle in sight, I asked Karel about this when he woke up (late night), and he confirmed that Dutch gyms typically do not require that you sanitize after yourself. Simply wiping off the equipment with your towel is considered enough. The equipment is, of course, sanitized by the staff at the end of the day, but during the day, you could be sitting in the sweat traces of fifty people. I'm not a germaphobe--at least, not a very big one--but that just seems, well, excessive to me. And, in light of my skin conditions, REALLY REALLY REALLY GROSS.

It's strange if you think about how clean the Dutch are in almost every other aspect of their private and public lives (in general--exceptions are students and the hapless sod that ends up on the Dutch version of Hoe schoon is jouw huis?). There is of course the neverending mystery of why nobody picks up after their dog, and why people let their cats poop in other people's gardens, but you could argue that poop is at least biodegradable. The Dutch may have one of the lowest rates of community-acquired MRSA, but frankly, just having regular staph is pain enough. The gym is one place, at least, where you'll not be finding me...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Working working working

It's taken me exactly six months, but I've done it: I found a job.

Forgive me for withholding the details, but I expect that, as I keep blogging, I'll leak enough little details that, if you really wanted, you could find me with enough time on Google. There aren't that many Americans in Nijmegen. But that doesn't mean I need to make it easy on you ;-)

But I'm really excited about this, not because it's that exciting a job, but because it doesn't involve me taking a train to the other end of the country every day. I'd joked with Karel that I'll probably get an offer from Groningen one of these days--well, thank God I didn't: it's in Nijmegen, and so close to where we live that I can walk there, stop by our vet when the Tweeb is out of renal food on my way home, AND take language courses! It only took four years to work that out...

And honestly, after six months, I was starting to run low on topics to write about. Without a constant diet of low-grade frustration and bureaucratic shenanigans, and only Michele Bachmann to make fun of (and it's so easy it'd be downright unchivalrous) in the news these days, it's been hard coming up with Dutch-stuff. So hopefully there will be a new round of interesting observations about life in the Netherlands in the near future. None of them involving sick cats.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Missing You

The Tweeb has pulled through! I didn't have to force-feed her (much) this time--once she got the idea behind the rich fatty food, she couldn't get enough of it. There were a few trying moments (especially when she pooped on the bed) but after Friday morning it became pretty clear that she wasn't in any more danger of passing prematurely. And by Friday evening, her squawking had resumed its full volume and frequency. She even demanded a treat.

It was a relief to see that the Tweeb was back in form. It's a bit strange, when you think about how much we grumble about her, and her demands, her ugliness (let's face it, she's not exactly pretty), how far out-of-the-way we have to go to get her food, her vet bills. Why do we love this cat? Is it because, or in spite of, these things?

Back when the Tweeb was Tabitha, her adoption page said that she was "a bit clumsy but full of personality". Her picture? A black cat with a pink cast and her face in a food bowl. I wish I could say it was love at first sight. But it was more like, "Well, we'll see if she gets along with Shadow." And then sort of quasi-hoping that she wouldn't.

Truth be told, she never did--she got along with me. She and Shadow will roughhouse from time to time, and play kitty-ping-pong, but if there's a quiet moment, she will come and sit on our laps, and in the morning, it's her anxious little face we see, peering at us from our stomachs, asking if it's time for breakfast yet.

I wish I could pinpoint a reason as to why we put up with her, and her demands, and her tendency to poop on our bed when she's unhappy. But really, we're just glad she's okay, and that she's just as demanding as ever.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Oh Sh*t

So much for getting back to blogging...the Tweeb is sick again--horking and dripping tiny bits of diarrhea, with her limp being ever more pronounced. We'll be dragging her to the vet's as soon as they have an opening, but in the meantime, well, let's hope that she'll be okay.

EDIT: I called the vet shortly after posting this morning, and they said to bring her in, and leave her with them for the day. So I did, and went home, and started cleaning up the myriad little gushy-poops that the Tweeb had left. All. Over. The. Apartment.

The vet called back earlier today and said to come pick her up. They couldn't figure out what was wrong (not a surprise if it's viral) and the basic labs they ran showed that she might have liver problems on top of her kidney issues. We're hoping that the high reading is stress-related, but,'s the Tweeb. If anything can be explained that simply she'd just be any other cat.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


A few weeks ago, I saw a video on YouTube for something that, for better or worse, could be called "hair screws". I immediately wanted to try them, because any product that can hold my hair in place--never mind in an updo, which is my preferred method of wearing my hair, since long ponytails are also annoying to deal with--is worth its weight in gold. See, my hair is straight, thin, and smooth--meaning that any method of holding it in place is bound to slip and fail at some point. When I was eight or nine, I persuaded my mom to let me get a perm, which promptly fell out after a week. Hair products that purport to hold a style in place for hours at a time literally cannot get a grip on my hair. So hair screws, that promised not to fall out and hold my hair without slipping? Too good to be true.

It took me a while to hunt them down--they were hidden on the bottom shelf, behind some bobby pins, at the local Etos (slightly-more-upscale version of the Kruidvat), and they came in only one color, which was dark brown. Fine by me--my hair has only gotten lighter over the years, apparently--but I would have gotten the "blonde" color, because I was that curious, and since it gets buried in your hair anyway, I don't think anybody would have noticed.

I've since found that they don't work that well if my hair is dry--it really has to be damp for the pins to get the traction to hold them in place. If I put my hair up after I wash it, it stays in place for the rest of the day--the rest of the day. Revelation and glory! Most Dutch women either have short hair, or wear it long, so going out with a bun (or a chignon, in my case) seems to be a token of or extreme snobbiness. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn: fiddling with my hair only once--at most, twice--a day is a convenience I will always cherish.

Of course, that means I'll need something else to piddle around with when I have a writer's block. Tune in later to see what I've found...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Don't Mess

It started about three years ago, or thereabouts--I was curious. I wish I had a better reason to try it, but really, that was it: plain, simple curiosity. I'd always thought I was stronger than to fall into dependence, but with that little bit, I found myself completely hooked and wanting more. Every time I went out, I had to get some. After a while, we'd amassed a good-sized stash, so things were okay, but yesterday, I saw them again, a rainbow set this time, and caved--

Is it possible to be addicted to microfiber?

I'll grant you that I have a compulsive personality to begin with: Karel keeps threatening me with a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle--it's the sort of thing that would (and has, in the past) kept me up at night. And I have a liking for online games such as Jelly Cannon, because they have different levels that can be completed. In other words, leaving things half-undone, simply sits wrong with me, and I'll keep turning over the problem at hand until I finally figure it out or get it done. Having a whole set--and microfiber cloths, coming in sets with bright thematic colors, definitely meet that criteria--of something is simply a variation on that.

But if it's only paranoia if it's wrong, I'd like to say, in my defense, that if I am addicted to microfiber it's for a very good reason: namely, that they soak up everything like a BAWSS, which is quite nice when you have little bowls of kitty water in places they are prone to get kicked. You might think that the obvious solution, then, would be to put the kitty water in places where it wouldn't get kicked, but that's also the places where we wouldn't see the bowl, and would be likely to forget that the water needed changing.

And, well, it's nice not to need to buy paper towels when you do most of your groceries on foot. I have a hard enough time managing toilet paper.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Left Behind

A few weeks ago I acquired a Galileo thermometer at a thrift store. It's the sort of technology that Karel likes--the kind that doesn't run on electricity--and it's pretty to look at, which I like. Plus I've always wanted one, and watching the temperature transition between cold and hot was never so mesmerizing as when the 22° C bulb is floating halfway, trying to make up its mind as to which direction to go in.

I've mentioned before that the Dutch have some kind of hive mind, where everybody automatically falls into step with everybody else and social unity is maintained. Even with divisive issues (immigration), the locus of discord is often not with whether or not the issue is the problem, but rather the details of the regulation. Nowhere is this more visible than with the inexorable technologizing (is that a word?) of society.

Some time in February, notices began appearing on the buses in Nijmegen that, starting in June 2011, strippenkaarten would no longer be accepted and the only way to get a bus would be with an OV-Chip card. An OV-Chip is a blanket transportation card: you load it up at the train station, and you can use it to take the train, the trams (in cities that have a system), the subway (again, irrelevant in Nijmegen), and buses. And on July 1, 2011, just as promised, bus drivers stopped stamping strippenkaarten, although you can still pay €2 for a one-way ride in Nijmegen. There were probably a few curmudgeonly types who grumbled about this newfangled technology, but by that time the OV-Chip system had been in place for about two years (I was an early adapter--I never did figure out how to stow my strippenkaart in my wallet so that it wouldn't fall out, but still be easy to get to) and about half of the bus riders had already adapted it by the time it was made mandatory.

A more visceral, perhaps, example of how uniform systems are enforced, for instance, lies in the TV: TV in the Netherlands was completely digitized by 2006, thanks largely to nearly-universal cable television. All most people had to do was get a converter box, and Karel's TV service sent one to us when we subscribed. They sent us another one a few years back--somewhat more reliable, but we lost the Nostalgia Channel (footage and commentary about life in ye-olde Holland). But these days, most TVs are LED or plasma screens with built-in digital tuners. In the near future--maybe another five years or so--we'll probably need to get a new TV, not because the CRT will have stopped working (it's been kicking for over 10 years now), but because we won't be getting the converter any more. And TV companies will only broadcast in HD.

Maybe I'm a little pessimistic, but it seems that when we make things more convenient, more dependent on technology, we become a lot more vulnerable to things going wrong. If someone steals my strippenkaart I'm only out whatever I paid for it. But if someone steals my OV-Chip card, I'm screwed: it's linked to my bank card, so they could renew the subscription without my being aware of it, and they could, in theory, use it however they want and have me foot the bill. In the old days (God, I love that I can say that!) if your TV broke, you just took it to the local TV repair shop and they either fixed it or told you to get a new one. Now, if your plasma-screen goes belly-up, you need to send it back to the factory, wait for their response, hope customer service respects your warranty, and wait a few weeks. Or take scientific research: I honestly don't want to know how people wrote anything back in the day, because the amount of time they would have had to spend in the library looking up sources would be a full-time job in itself.

It's awesome what we can do online these days--send money overseas instantly (my bank in the US, alas, is stuck in the stone ages and transactions that ABN Amro approves in one day takes 7 days to complete)--send messages to people halfway around the world, translate Swahili to Japanese with a click of the mouse, and ask others for opinions as to why our cats are deranged. But we do have to ask ourselves, when we invest so much of ourselves online, what happens when the power goes out?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Golden Days

The Dutch word for "old-fashioned" is ouderwets, a word that is laced with connotations of being stuck-in-the-mud and unwilling to change, rather than being antiquated with dignity. If there is such a word for that (in either English or Dutch) I can't think of it right now, but then again, I've also just spent the last 15 minutes baby-talking the Tweeb, so that's not saying much.

In the Netherlands, ouderwets is sometimes used to describe the cheap/tacky blue-and-white decorations you can find sometimes in places like the Blokker or Xenos: items meant to invoke the Delft blauw of ye-olde-Holland. I think most of these items end up being sent overseas to Dutch expats or given to tourists--but only because I've never seen anybody buy such a thing. We were given a cushion decorated in the blue-and-white tile motif, which the Tweeb promptly appropriated. Even if the word is used in a positive sense, it's not entirely rid of the extreme industriousness, thriftiness, and Reformed-ness of times as recent as fifty years ago.

So it probably isn't exactly correct to describe jamming as ouderwets. Even if it has its origins in the need to preserve fruit against the rot, with the herbs/spices/liquor that Karel adds to his jams, they become too decadent to be simple preserves. I don't think it even saves us that much money: what I spend for the fruit (besides the berries, which I get from the woods) and gelei suiker--or regular sugar adds up to the cost of two pots of jelly/jam from the store, one pot if it's the fancy stuff, as Karel is oft wont to make. Whatever we do save from the extra pots that Karel makes gets detracted from the cost of Karel's time--though he considers it entertainment, much the way I consider sewing.

All I know for sure is that a row of translucent golden jars in the window is a lovely sight, especially since this summer has been cold and rainy--autumn practically started in July this year. Nothing quite like that to remind you of a summer you never had.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


One of the quintessential school lunches that I loved as a kid was grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. The grilled cheese was white bread and Kraft's Singles (which has no business calling itself cheese, but makes a grilled cheese like none other), fried in butter. The tomato soup was red salt from a can. And to top it all off, it came with chocolate milk.

It was heaven.

It still is.

These days, I can't imagine that schools would dare serve this stuff to their students and call it a "lunch". More like a premature serving of hypertension. And yet, the combination of grilled cheese and tomato soup is still embedded in my mind as the equivalent of Mac 'n Cheese from a box, or whatever you think of when it comes to food that's terrible for you but hits all the right emotional chords.

I still make grilled cheese, and I still make tomato soup, but it's marginally healthier, in part because I rarely make them together, but also because the grilled cheese is usually made with whole wheat bread, real cheese, grilled in a sandwich press, and might even have a tomato slice or two melted in. The tomato soup is made with real tomatoes, fresh herbs, and one or two charred red peppers.

Grilled cheese sandwiches are called "tostis" by the Dutch, and oddly enough--or perhaps, it should be expected, as the Dutch are a people of sandwiches--they are more refined here. You can have brie-walnut-honey tostis, or salami-mozzerella tostis, with all kinds of fillings melted into the cheese. The bread is spread with butter before grilling, but it's not smothered, and if you're especially hungry, the Tosti World makes theirs with three slices of bread, and two layers of filling. They are not served with tomato soup, unless you're at a sit-down place. And in any case, Dutch tomato soup is sweet and contains meatballs (horrors!), and is all wrong for a tosti.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Just Like Mom's

My mother is a simultaneously wonderful cook, and a very bad one. She can make really good food if she wants to, but most of the time, since it's just her and my father, she doesn't really want to. Most of their meals, near as I can tell from our weekly phone conversations, involve lots of vegetables, a little fish and rice, and no sauce. Healthy stuff--boring stuff, even by my standards, but as this was what I ate growing up, mostly, I'll make something similar for myself if Karel's out working. Karel, on the other hand, was spoiled by his professional-chef-brother-in-law since he was eight, and a main course of vegetables without adornment is not only boring, it's damn near inedible. Personally, I'm willing to put up with boring if it means getting things chopped, cooked, and cleaned up in 30 minutes or less. Karel would rather eat cardboard.

But when she wants to cook something well, oh boy--not even Karel, finicky though he can be, can resist her dumplings, though now that I've learned how to make them, I suppose they really should be "my dumplings" all other family recipes, there is no recipe, just a bit of this and a smidge of that and a whomping serving of some other thing. Happily, I've been able to replicate the dumplings and the dipping sauce even in the relatively food-restricted Netherlands, and when we have space again in our freezer Karel can stuff his own damn dumplings.

One of the things my mom used to make very infrequently was something that you can call "Chinese Pancakes", although they only resemble pancakes in the sense that they're flat and made with flour. The translation literally means "onion and oil biscuit", and if you're going "eewww" right now I can't say I blame you. But to me, these chewy bits of fried dough were like manna from the heavens when I was little, mostly because my mom only made them every few years at most. I loved the way the chewy layers peeled away from each other, and no matter how many scallions she put in, they were always a delicious sweet rarity in the dough. For whatever reason, I got a craving for them last week and called my mom for the recipe. I was afraid she wouldn't remember, as the last time she'd made them for us, I was in high school or something like that. She, in turn, was surprised that I remembered what they were.

But it turns out that she did remember how to make them, and, unlike the mind-maze of instructions required to replicate her dumplings, they're actually pretty easy to make:
  1. Make a dough with flour and water. The exact proportions of flour and water don't really matter, but it's about 3:1--as long as it sticks to itself more than it sticks to your fingers, it's fine. Add a bit of salt. The recipe that I've linked to recommends 1/4 teaspoon; my mother made it without salt.
  2. Roll out the dough into a thin sheet. My mother was terribly vague as to exactly how thin the sheet should be; my own sheet ended up being about 3/8 of an inch thick. Spread both sides with a layer of oil.
  3. Sprinkle green onions (sesame seeds, if you're using them) all over the sheet, and roll it up tightly into a long thin rope. I
  4. Coil the rope into a circle, and then flatten the circle into a pancake.
  5. Coat a skillet with oil and pan-fry on a medium flame until each side is mottled, crispy, and slightly burnt. If you're doing this on a cast-iron skillet, it takes a little longer than 5 minutes per side.
  6. Let it cool and enjoy. Or, if you're like me and haven't had this in a million years, don't let it cool, burn your fingers, and enjoy it anyway.
Karel, as expected, was less than enthusiastic about these. It's one of those things you really just have to grow up in, I guess. But yeah, it tasted just like Mom's.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Remembering the Acorns

Overall the job climate sucks everywhere these days, but that's more true in some fields than it is in others. I've been simultaneously applying for writing positions (not a one of which has bothered to so much as send an autoreply, grrr) and lab positions, mostly to no avail--so far. I've had a few interviews in the past and few more coming up. I'm sure there are hundreds of sites out there in the world about how to land a job in the Netherlands, so don't take the following as gospel. The fact that I've been reasonably successful getting interviews, but far less successful getting offers (I think it was that funk that I'd been in--we'll see next week!) should be an indicator that I don't have all the answers worked out just yet.

But what I have worked out is simultaneously good and very bad news. The very bad news is, most hiring people get a small blizzard of applications for every listing, even when the economy was good. Now that it sucks all over, that's more true than most, so that means your CV and "letter of motivation" (what they call a cover letter, here) has to be VERY VERY good. The good news is that what constitutes a VERY VERY good CV/letter has little to do with your actual qualifications, though that assumes that you actually are competent and not a jerk.

There are a few things that you have to do before you even start looking for a job in the Netherlands. One of them is familiarizing yourself with search terms in both Dutch and English. Job listings could be placed under either word, especially those from multinational companies (which are most likely to hire expats with shaky Dutch). The second is to move to Amsterdam--okay, so it's not something you have to do, but it goes without saying that the coast has a lot more opportunities than the German border.

I've spent most of my career in academia, so most of the job listings that I am interested in are not on the Dutch Monsterboard. I mainly use Academic Transfer to find listings (AT has the added bonus of being one of the Dutch websites that translates well). I've also signed up with several recruiting agencies, but have yet to make use of them--because they often don't list the companies posting the job, it's impossible to write a detailed letter specific to the position. The BCF jobs website is another that I've found somewhat useful, but again, it pays to pay attention to whether the listing is done through a recruitment agency or directly through the company. For me, recruitment agnecues have been nothing but a waste of my time--with the exception of the one person I had a good talk with at the career fair, I have never gotten a good response from any recruiter. So go ahead, try them, but don't say I didn't warn you.

I've found that rather than filling letter with buzzwords like "fast learner" and "hard working", it's more useful to mention the time you got drafted into planning the company skydiving trip--and extra bonus points if you can work in a terror of heights. Of course, such an example would be useless if you were applying to do data-entry work (been there, done that) and didn't have to learn new things constantly, and so you'd have to come up with a new example. You may have figured out the point by now: you cannot get away with writing a blanket letter filled with vague promises of being awesome. You have to show how awesome you are by writing a letter filled with the awesomeness that the company is looking for--and yes, that means writing a new letter for every application...and then, if you are lucky enough to get an interview request, to remember what you wrote.

As for the CV/resume part...well, I've read more than I need to by way of craptastic resumes. The best advice I've ever gotten about CV-writing is from Kerry Taylor--although she blogs mostly about personal finance and money matters, her resume and CV advice is right on and I really can't say it better myself. I have a standard CV that I send to lab and lab-related positions, but for writing positions and other sorts of work, anything goes, really. The question is, "What does the hiring person want to read?"

It's a full-time job, looking for work. I wonder if squirrels don't feel the same way about interview requests, snuffling about in the forest floor, and randomly coming upon an acorn that they'd buried oh-so-long ago...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"And then a hero comes along"

A few months ago I snarked about a show Hoe schoon is jouw huis? which was about as useful as nipples on a breastplate. I didn't realize at that time that it was a Dutch spin-off of the British show How Clean is Your House? And as strange as it may seem, I've become Kim and Aggie's self-declared biggest fan. Ever. I mean, come on--cleaning uncleanable windows is infinitely more useful than making sure your electric sockets are germ-free.

I've never been a fan of harsh chemical cleaners. Not only are they terrible for you--nothing like aerosolized SDS to destroy your lungs--but it's known that phenols are toxic for cats. Much more pleasant, to me, anyway, to slice open a lemon. Vinegar is a little strong, admittedly, but it's merely unpleasant, rather than toxic. We still keep a single bottle of Uber-Strong-Like-Bull cleaner in our cupboard, for the truly irremedial spots, but overall it's amazing what vinegar and baking soda ("By our powers, combined!") will do. Therefore, any show that shows you clever new ways to use things like cornstarch and ketchup is awesome by me.

There's been a slight paradigm shift in the content and marketing of cleaning product adverts recently: Stuff-That-Puts-Sarin-Gas-To-Shame is being marketed as "something so simple even a man can think of it, and so easy he might even help you clean!" And indeed, whether it's hot 'n hunky men, goofy guys, or procrastinating dads (I cannot find that particular advertisement anywhere, sorry), men are taking a front-and-center role in cleaning. At least, as the advertisers would have you think. I wouldn't know whether to be charmed at the thoughtfulness if Karel ever bought a bottle of Toxic-Purple-Stuff, or offended on his behalf...

The simplicity of "one-bottle-everything-cleaner (while the fumes melt your face)" is, I must confess, an appealing one. And it's a whole lot less intricate than figuring out when to use a lemon, or how much salt to sprinkle on a red wine stain (note, this only works with the cheaper reds). I have to wonder, though, whether guys--who are presumably the ones buying stuff like that--actually like using them, or if they just don't know about homemade fixes. I mean, when was the last time you saw any advice on how to clean your bachelor pad in Men's Health?

Monday, August 1, 2011

If I Had a Hammer...

One of the things that continually frustrates me about life in the Netherlands (at least, the corner of the Netherlands I live in--maybe it's different in the Randstad) is the lack of baking soda in the supermarkets. Baking powder is sold in little handy-dandy packets, but soda is conspicuously absent from the shelves. I typically have to go to a toko to get some, and even then there's no guarantee that they won't be out.

I have to wonder if this is the reason why Dutch cookies and cakes all taste the same. Besides speculaas, all Dutch cookies and cakes are the same buttery, sweetened confection, in different shapes. Some might have pink icing on it. Some might be decorated with sugar crystals. But for the most part, once you've tasted one, you've tasted them all, and that's a huge part of the reason why Karel's been pestering me to make him more chocolate chip cookies.

Baking soda is how you achieve the phenomenal levels of fluff in American-style pancakes, the secret to getting cookies to crumble properly, and clearing slow drains (carefully dump some soda down the drain, and flush with vinegar, followed by a kettle or two of boiling water). It neutralizes and bleaches armpit sweat stains from white t-shirts (don't ask how I know this), and keeps our litter boxes smell-free. It cakes and takes off baked-on-goodness from the inside of our oven, and when we had a porcelain stove-top, it cleared off the the mess from that. Combined with aluminum foil, it cleans silver. It is so useful, so innocuous, and so cheap, it's strange that it's not everywhere.

I have a theory that the coporations--Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble--have entered into some kind of agreement with the major retailers in the Netherlands to never carry baking soda, in order to drive up sales of the next Super-Cleaning-Oxygen-Bubbly-Antibacterial-Chemical Crap. The loss to Dutch food is, apparently, not a concern.