Sunday, November 30, 2014

Oh, so those are poffertjes

If learning the rules of the bike lane is beginner-level expat, and being able to discern which part of the country someone is from by their accent is advanced-level expat, then poffertjes probably fall somewhere in the middle.   Not eating them--anybody who doesn't have a gluten allergy, a milk allergy, an egg allergy, and is capable of willfully ignoring everything you ever learned about butter can eat them.  But making them yourself--that takes a little skill.  Knowing where to find everything you need to make them is something a newbie could do, but the effort expended might not be worthwhile.  But if you've been around the block a few times it shouldn't bee too difficult.  Ignoring everything you ever learned about butter--you're on your own.  

It's worth noting, though, that unless you're a connoisseur of poffertjes, you probably ought to just stick with getting them from the kramen whenever there's a kermis, or else pony up the cash to sit down at a restaurant that specializes in discs of batter fried in butter.  Poffertjes are tasty, but healthy they ain't:  flour, butter, powdered sugar, stroop if that's your thing--everything anybody ever taught you about healthy eating, gone wrong.  Even if you can make them at home, it's probably better for your coronaries if you don't.  

Most of the time, they're sold as little pancakes--adorable little things that soak up the melted butter that they're served with (melted butter and powdered sugar are the traditional toppings) so that you have no visual reference for how much fat is going down your gullet.  But unlike pancakes, traditionally they are leavened by yeast, although if you get a mix from the supermarket it will have chemical leaveners (baking soda and/or baking powder).  You make up a batter following any one of the recipes available (this one is my personal fave); typically the proportion is approximately 1:2 flour:water, BUT that's by weight, and if you're using yeast there's a bit more flour.  Also, the flour is a mixture of buckwheat and reguar wheat flour; I've heard that you can get buckwheat flour at the Albert Heijn, but the only place I've been able to find it is at The Windmill, which sells specialty products for home bakers, so YMMV. 

Now, the website with the recipe uses a cast iron poffertjes pan, which is something we recently acquired as a birthday present.  Cast iron isn't too difficult to work with, actually, once you get some rules down:  season it well, NEVER wash it with dish detergent (I've heard that properly seasoned cast iron can be washed with detergent, and my own cast iron skillet managed to make it through an accident swipe with a soapy sponge unscathed, but seasoning cast iron is sufficiently pain-in-the-ass-ish that I wouldn't risk it unless I had to), don't let it soak, and perhaps most important of all:  use plenty of fat.  In other words, in between every batch of butter-soaked-buckwheat-pancake-y goodness, you need to re-coat your pan with butter.  Doing so will ensure that the puffed side of the poffer is mottled golden-brown, a la the professionals, and that the crust is the right combination  of crispy and tender.  If your cast iron is seasoned well, forgetting the butter isn't the end of the world--the poffertjes will stick a little more, but the biggest difference will be that the outside becomes downright crunchy, which is not ieal.  

Mastering the art of flipping the damn things, though, takes practice.  I am in awe of the people who do this professionally, flipping row after row of these dang things with just a quick flick of their wrist.  There is--as only the Dutch can do--such a thing as a fork specifically used for flipping poffertjes.  Ours is a wooden one--a simple little Y-shaped piece of wood, ever so slightly curved on one side--so that it won't damage Teflon.  Theoretically, it is possible to flip them so that they make a ball--i.e., that the batter thtat used to be on top bellies into the dimple while the cooked side is firm enough to hold its shape while you're cooking the bottom.  I haven't gotten that good at this, yet, but when my husband and Kidlet are both whining for the next batch, aesthetics can be put on hold.  . 

There is a difference between homemade and elsehow-procured poffertjes.  The homemade ones have slightly more bite to them, and (at least when I made them) aren't as salty.  Plus you can fry them to that perfect, rich golden-brown color--you don't have to settle for "done" because you've got sixty more orders.  Worth the hassle?  Absolutely--if someone else is making them.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Inheritance

A few weekends ago the weather was gorgeous.  As in, "take everything you ever heard about Dutch weather and shove it"--blue skies, with a temperature that could best be described as "invigorating".  I.e., it was time to wandelen.

Only this time, I was bringing Kidlet.  Not a big deal--we go out literally every morning, sometimes by bike, sometimes on foot, for at least two hours. Sometimes we go to town, sometimes we go to the country, and sometimes we stay in the neighborhood.  I must confess that it's not entirely because I like going places with Kidlet--a good part of it is because, if he's outside our apartment, he's not making a mess inside.  

So it was splendid.  We went out on the Ooijpolder and dodged cow turds and stinging nettles, and somehow ended up on the bank of the Waal, where we stayed for a while and watched the barges motoring up and down the river.  They kicked up enough of a wake that waves broke on the shore, and Kidlet, almost magically, knew how to play wave-tag.

I'm not naive enough to believe that the Ooijpolder will remain unspoiled and wild forever.  Even if the uitwater is maintained as a floodplain, well, floodplains flood.  There was a time a few years ago where the part we were walkng on this past weekend was under at least 1 meter of water.  And if what they say about global warming is true, then kidlet won't have that many more trips to that country ahead of him. I can hope that it will remain this lovely for another few lifetimes, and I do.  But more than  having the land, I want Kidlet to have that sense of adventure, the excitement of turning the corner and not knowing what you're going to find.

At his age, of course, everything is an adventure.  Going to the supermarket?  Why, we might wander down the soup aisle this time!  But I don't want it to get squashed in the rigamarole of daily life.  When he starts going to peuterspeelzaal (pre-preschool) he's going to be told to sit here, stand there, play now, etc--and it won't get any better as he gets older.  And that's the flip side of living here--you don't get kudos for bucking the norm.

So this weekend, when Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten arrive in Nijmegen, I'll let him go (I've got work--though to be completely honest I'm not a Piet fan, either).  When the letter from the consultatiebureau arrives, I'll make an appointment as it tells me to, and he will get his shots, as he's supposed to.  But in the meantime, you can bet that I'll be taking him deep into the heart of every forest we've got, letting him pick up sticks and handle leaves and throw rocks off of bridges and pet horses.  Thinking for yourself, creating your own adventure--that's something few people know how to do these days.  That's something I want him to have when he's grown.