Bad Girlfriend Shallot Gravy

Thursdays are the days that I keep open for exploring the city, visiting museums, watching tv, or generally just doing whatever I want. Monday – Wednesday I try to get productive stuff done, but Thursday is for fun. With that in mind, I offered to make a big Thanksgiving dinner for Trenton and me on Thursday. I love to cook, so spending hours slaving over a hot stove is actually my idea of a fun, relaxing day. Before Trenton left for work that morning, we planned a delicious meal and I prepared to go to the store. Then, I finished my coffee, forgot the entire conversation and went to the photography exhibit at the Rijksmuseum instead. I am not a morning person.

On Friday, I had brussel sprouts roasting in the oven, yeast rolls rising in the laundry room (warm + moist), green beans sautéing, potatoes boiling, the works. The crown jewel was this shallot gravy, the recipe for which I pulled completely out of my ass, making its deliciousness all the more satisfying.

2-3 shallots sliced finely
some butter
some flour
some milk
a salt bomb (bouillon cube)
dash oregano
splash soy sauce
pepper
water

The basis for this gravy (and all gravies, if I remember my Food Network properly) is a roux. A roux is just butter and flour, and although it’s not difficult, it is one of those basics of cooking that is hard to describe and you really just need to learn by doing. Heat up some butter, add some flour and go to town. You’ll figure it out quickly enough. Once your roux is a nice color, add the shallots and cook them down until your mixture is pretty sticky and caramelized. Add a bit of milk to deglaze the pan, and then add the salt bomb, oregano, a splash of soy sauce. Add more milk every 30 seconds or so until it’s the texture/consistency you want. Towards the end, I thinned out the gravy with some water, but you don’t have to. Season to taste with fresh ground pepper and serve over mashed potatoes as an apology to your grateful boyfriend.

There’s no Thanksgiving in Nederland Zucchini and Chickpea Fritters

Hopefully this is not news to you, but Thanksgiving is an American (and, to a lesser extent and on a different day, Canadian) holiday. The Dutch celebrated the arrival of Sinterklaas a few days ago, and before that, there was St. Martin’s day, which apparently involved children going door to door with homemade lanterns made out of root vegetables singing songs in exchange for candy. (Imagine if Dwight Schrute reimagined Halloween, and you have St. Martin’s Day). Aside from those two, which are mostly just for kids anyway, the Dutch don’t really celebrate any holidays between King’s Day in April and New Year’s Eve. Christmas will happen, but people are warning us that it will be a pretty low-key, churchy type affair.

Trenton is not a big fan of zucchini, but I really like it, so I find myself sneaking it into recipes in delicious ways just for the satisfaction of watching him enjoy a dish that contains a food that he hates. This is love. As a consolation for having to go to work the next day, Trenton and I enjoyed these yummy fritters with a side salad of rucola and sliced tomatoes on the Wednesday before we-don’t-celebrate-that-here Thursday.

1 zucchini, grated
1 can of chickpeas, mashed kind of
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 eggs
1/3 cup flour
1 TB milk
dash cumin
dash mint
dash oregano
salt to taste
oil for frying

The recipe I found for these fritters invited me to pulse the chickpeas in a food processor, but let’s be honest, we’d rather pulse our eyeballs in a food processor than have to clean one later. Instead, I drained a can of chickpeas and then used a whisk to mash them up in a bowl. They were still a little chunky and not uniform, but it turned out better in the fritter to have those different sizes. Using the fine shred side of a cheese grater, I grated the zucchini into that bowl, then added the rest of the ingredients (except for the oil). Heat 1-2 TB of oil on medium-high in a pan and then sploop spoonfuls (about 1/4 cup of less) of the mixture into the hot oil. I think if you’re a proper cook, you’re supposed to know exactly how long each side will need to brown, and only turn your fried things once. If you’re a normal person like me, wait at least until the fritter appears to have set a bit on the non-done side before turning it, and then feel free to flip those babies as many times as it takes before both sides look done. Gordon Ramsey suggests adding things to the pan in a clockwise fashion, so you always know which has been in the pan longest. Fancy.

Balance and privilege

Another white girl talking about race relations? You’re welcome, internet.

Up to this point, I’ve stayed pretty quiet about the recent grand jury decision in Ferguson, MO to decline indicting Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown. Mostly because a lot of what I’ve been reading on Facebook and Twitter (and oh god, Reddit, what have you become?) has been sickening and incredibly frustrating. The grand jury’s decision is a bitter pill on its own. That combined with people’s reactions . . . at best, some people’s comments are insensitive and uninformed. At worst, they’re racist. They just are. The comments, that is. I would not presume to make judgments on someone’s character based on some ridiculous shit they said on Twitter. Maybe you’re racist, maybe not, but that shit you said certainly is.

So, white privilege. I’m white, my family’s white, most of my friends are white, so chances are, if you’re reading this, you have privilege. Being white, having white privilege, does not automatically mean that you’re racist. Acknowledging that you have white privilege does not automatically mean that you’re racist. Being white DOES automatically mean you benefit from white privilege and, by extension, racism. Racism is damaging to everyone, regardless of race, but you can benefit from a racism system without being racist.

One of the sticky things about white privilege is that when you’re on the side of privilege, it can be difficult to detect. What you’re experiencing is the absence of discrimination, so it’s no wonder you might not know (or agree) that that’s what it is. But when you walk into a store with a group of friends and none of the clerks follow you to make sure you’re not stealing anything, that’s privilege. When you get pulled over for speeding and don’t have to worry if your life might be in danger, that’s privilege. When your differently-colored friends don’t ask you about how you care for your hair, or why you don’t talk a certain way, or where your “people” come from, or what your obviously-representative-of-your-entire-cultural-group perspective on a racial issue is. When you don’t have to have conversations with your young son about what to do if he’s approached by the police. That’s white privilege. There is a disparity of power in America that favors white people. If you’re a white person, you benefit from that disparity.

Some of the reactions to the Ferguson news that I’ve seen frequently are “this black man shot another black man and no one is rioting!” or “this police officer shot this white man and no one is rioting!” Well, yeah. You’ve hit the nail on the head. There is a history of oppression and discrimination of black people by white people because of their race. Even if you think we’ve solved racism in America, you can’t deny that. That history has led to systemic and continued discrimination that results in an unbalanced power dynamic that still exists. When you bring up a case where the races are flipped as comparison, the history of white people discriminating against black people isn’t a factor anymore, and so you’ve created a false equivalence. It might seem like the same thing on the surface, but you’re ignoring undeniable contextual information and it’s a gross oversimplification.

The last thing I want to bring up is for the group of people that I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt by calling “the skeptics.” Normally, I’d applaud your refusal to take media hype at face value, your bravery at voicing an unpopular opinion, or presenting glossed-over facts that paint a different, more complicated and nuanced story. I’m sure your intentions are good. Maybe it’s because I’m overly sensitive that when I see your posts suggesting (however gently) that the national wave of anger is an over-reaction, I get a flush of rage. Maybe you’re just trying to offer a rational, balanced perspective.

[Let’s take a sidebar here, while we’re talking about balanced perspectives. I think the whole notion of “balanced perspectives” has been overblown. Sometimes the issue doesn’t warrant a balanced perspective. Sometimes the evidence or the science is clear and we’re diluting the importance of the issue by allowing nutjobs, and climate change deniers, and racists, and homophobes, and bigots to present “their side” in the name of providing a balanced perspective. It’s not balanced. Climate change is real. White privilege exists. Police officers disproportionately target black men. Giving a platform for the crazies and the bigots doesn’t advance the dialogue and it certainly doesn’t help anyone.]

Assuming the best of intentions, I think the skeptics are trying to offer some rational voices and information into a heated, emotional debate. I get where you’re coming from, but I think it’s misplaced. Because in a 2013 poll, 1 in 4 black men said they’d been treated unfairly by a police officer in the last 30 days. Because police officers are historically not held accountable for their bad decisions, even when those bad decisions result in someone’s death. Because systemic racism does exist. It seems like you’re arguing for a fair, rational, balanced assessment of the facts, but the truth is, this is not a level playing field. It is not fair. It is not balanced. Adding your voice in opposition to those of us who are hurt, angry, and looking for justice is not getting us anywhere. You’re resisting. You’re taking us backwards. Believe me, our country does not need another white person questioning if racism is really that big of a deal, in this or in any other case. The world is already tilted way in your favor.

Pretending like this is an isolated incident without wider implications about our criminal justice system and race in America is short-sighted. Darren Wilson didn’t shoot Michael Brown in a vacuum, in some idyllic alternate universe where racism and abuse of power don’t exist. This happened, and it’s meaningful. People are devastated and enraged that a boy was killed, and that the man who killed him won’t face charges, but it’s also much, MUCH more than that. If you’re playing devil’s advocate about this one incident, instead of fighting for justice on a larger scale, you’re missing the point. Presenting a counter-argument for the sake of a balanced perspective right now – when people are grieving and feeling hopeless and ignored – suggests that you can’t see, or don’t agree, that racism is a deadly serious problem.

And I sincerely hope that’s not the case because it really, really is.

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first impressions

It’s a very humbling experience to be here. Trenton described it as hitting the reset button, and he’s exactly right. More or less every day, I have to work up the nerve to leave the apartment to go to the store around the corner and complete a transaction in a language that I barely know. Crossing the street requires your full attention, and is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It goes like this: sidewalk, bike lane, car lane, tram lines, car lane, bike lane, sidewalk; with little islands of pedestrian sanctuary in between, about 3 feet wide. I’m grateful to have been such a dedicated jaywalker in the past, because those skills of timing and intuiting traffic are tested every time I want to leave the building.

I packed a magazine and a grapefruit in a bag and sat on a bench for a few hours today, looking over the canal (graacht) near our apartment. As stupid as it sounds, at one point I actually reached over to pinch myself. Just to bring me back into my body again. Do you ever catch yourself in one of those completely super-ego-less moments, when your internal monologue has been awed into silence, and then the sudden awareness that your self is miles away slams you back to Earth? It’s happening to me daily. I have these momentary minor panics where I wonder if I might accidentally be naked because there’s such a dreamlike quality to the feeling of walking around this city, having to constantly remind myself “I live here.

To me, everyone is tall. But the Dutch are, like, next level. Imagine if every tall person never felt out of place or unaccommodated and was allowed to grow into the fullness of their height without ever being made to feel like a freak or that they should hunch down just a tiny bit to keep from sticking out. Imagine if every tall person was among other tall people and lived in a world made to fit their shape. These are the fucking Vikings and Valkyries of Holland and they are an awesome site to behold. At once quiet and powerful, massive and unassuming.

To flush the toilet, you either press a large round button or a small round button, accordingly.

I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee since I arrived.

None of the 50+ hours of Rosetta Stone practice has prepared me for real conversation with real Dutch.

The cats are adjusting beautifully. They love looking out the giant windows that overlook the street and canals, and are already acclimated to the constant street sounds coming from the always-open windows (the Dutch don’t do screens).

Last night Trenton and I met some of his work friends for some drinks and then dinner. I shared a cheese fondue with Suzanne’s giant Dutch boyfriend, Jeffrey, and after dinner the group relocated to a table on the patio. I should have been prepared for this–we were told that going out to dinner is a massive, long-term affair with drinks then food then definitely more drinks and possibly if you’ve been there long enough, more food. But after drinks-food-drinks I was bushed, and Trenton and I made our farewells. On our way out, I tried a little Dutch, “leuk je te ontmoeten” and Suzanne and Jeffrey were delighted. It was after 10 when we set out for home, and we passed over lit up canals and cafes. All of a sudden, I stopped for a second in the middle of one of the squares, to look at the dozens of people enjoying what was sure to be one of the last warm nights of the year. Sitting in groups of 3 and 4 around small cafe tables, drinking, smoking, speaking a million languages–none of them English. I LIVE here.

Bored Housewife Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Cooking is a creative outlet for me, and after a week of unemployment I was itching to stretch my muscles a bit. I’ve made two disastrous pots of stuffed grape leaves, but had never tried cabbage rolls. I decided to wing it. Here’s the recipe, a combination of what I did and what I wish I’d done:

Ingredients

For the Filling:
cooked rice (made with olive oil and a vegan bouillon cube)
roasted cauliflower (break the florets into very tiny pieces and toss with olive oil, salt & pepper, roast on a cookie sheet at 400 for about 15 minutes, checking and turning periodically)
roughly chopped fresh parsley
finely shredded kale
some leftover peas you have in the fridge (optional)
dash cumin
dash cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp paprika

For the Sauce:
olive oil
onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
3 cans of diced tomatoes
salt & pepper

For the Cabbage Leaf Wrappers
~6 large cabbage leaves washed and cut in half, with the center rib removed–makes 12 wrappers

This is a beast of a multi-pot recipe, so if you already have cooked rice and/or roasted cauliflower on hand, use that instead. If not, start there. Put the rice on to boil and the cauliflower in to roast while you start on the sauce.

For the sauce, sautee the onions in olive oil until they begin to get soft, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper, and allow to cook for another minute or so before adding the tomatoes, one can at a time. Cook on medium for about 5 minutes and then turn down to a simmer while you work on the filling.

For the filing, combine cooked rice, shredded kale, chopped parsley, roasted cauliflower, and whatever else you feel like tossing in (we added some leftover peas). Mix it all together and then add the herbs, mix some more.

Nuke the cabbage leaves for about 3-4 minutes, until they’re tender and flexible so they’ll wrap around the filling without cracking.

At this point, I wish I’d blended the tomato sauce in the food processor, so if you’re feeling extra ambitious, go ahead and pulse the sauce a few times in the processor.

Now for the fun part! Put a couple dollops of sauce in the bottom of a baking dish and then make little cabbage packets by putting a healthy spoonful of filling into the center of a cabbage leaf and folding closed. On most, I wasn’t able to get them totally sealed on all sides, so they ended up looking more like cabbage burritos with one end open, but still turned out just as good. Place your cabbage packets side by side on top of the sauce dollops in the baking dish, jamming them in pretty tightly. Once you’re done, cover the whole mess with the rest of the sauce and bake at 400 for about 20-30 minutes, or until you get tired of waiting and are ready to eat already.