Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Eyes Have It

In the Netherlands, the norm of the working man is to bring a lunch, in a reusable container, preferably.  This being the Netherlands, though, the norm is to pack a sandwich in a plastic box and add an apple.  Maybe toss in a packet of Cup Soup if you're feeling fancy.  But in a nutshell, the art of having food look nice is lost here.  You won't see pretty bento-box-like lunches.  On the one hand, I understand, kind of--it's food.  You eat it, and it's gone.  What's the point in making it look nice?  .

I've been packing Karel's lunches ever since I moved here--there've been brief hiatuses, towards the end of my pregnancy, for instance, or when the kidlet and work have left me pulling my hair out with stress.  But by and large, if Karel's working, I cut up some food and put it into a box for him.  Karel's particular brand of laziness means that he won't eat fruits or vegetables unless they are pre-cut into neat bite-sized chunks, with annoying things like cores and seeds removed.  For a while, I've been throwing random bits of chopped produce into old take-out containers and Tupperware-knock-offs, but that came to a spectacular halt, accompanied by much indignant squawking on my part, when he came home empty-handed yet again, and we had no more boxes for him.  Somehow the man has managed to lose no less than six containers.  

In a move that might seem counter-intuitive given his penchant for misplacing boxes, I finally had it and bought a pair of sectioned boxes on the right.  They were expensive, at a bit less than €6 apiece, and the little red container you see inside it came in a separate package of two. I don't mean to be a shill for sistema--but bento boxes are in short supply in Western Europe, and this was as close as I was going to get.  But Karel finally got his ass in gear, and has been bringing home the containers.  Probably because I go through some extra trouble to make it look like this on the inside:
 It's nothing fancy:  On the left side, a kiwi, sliced in half.  A handful of grape tomatoes.  A mini candy Two toothpick kebabs, with sausage and candied ginger.  A mini candy bar.  Cucumber, sliced.  Baby carrots.  On the right side, sandwiches of ham and sandwiches of nutella, cut out with cookie cutters, and a small container of cashews and almonds and dried cranberries and apricots.  But arranged nicely, and it looks like I put some seriously time and effort into it.

I didn't.  The whole thing took me maybe 10 minutes to assemble--less time than normal, even, because I didn't peel the kiwi.  But it looks nice, and because it looks nice, it tastes better.

You might think I'm being facetious, but I'm not. According to Karel, his colleagues are actually a bit jealous of his lunches. There's nothing exotic or fancy about the stuff that goes into it--everything I buy is either on sale, in season, or in bulk from Walid's (besides being an excellent source of chicken, he has an admirable stock of dried and canned goods at a reasonable price).  Presentation matters, though--jumble everything together, and it becomes distinctly less exciting, and the thrill of opening the box and finding out what the lovely contents are is dampened.

And that is the point of making food look nice:  when you're excited to see it, it becomes exciting to eat.  And for Karel, anyway, that means he brings the boxes home, because he wants to see what's next.  

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