From LA to Almere with speklappen
One expat from Los Angeles explains how the Netherlands introduced her to snow, strange cuts of meat and speklappen – a dish to please all the family.
Back in Los Angeles there had never been a need for the heavy coats, scarves and hats, items which can be part-and-parcel of the Dutch 'uniform' for months on end in Holland.
She met her husband via the internet and they lived together in the US, before deciding to move with their children to the Netherlands about 16 months ago to be closer to his family.
Tracy and family have settled in Almere, one of the largest new urban projects in Europe designed to ease the housing shortage in Amsterdam. Situated in Flevoland province north of Amsterdam, Almere is made up of four distinctive semi-separate nuclei – Almere Buiten, Almere Haven, Almere Poort and Almere Stad – which are surrounded by greenery and water.
"We live in a nice suburb, which is made up of family and children. The most difficult thing about moving here is the language barrier, but I have made a start on learning Dutch.
"It is difficult communicating with other people and not having someone to sit and chat with," she said.
But life in Almere is also more relaxed. "I have met a neighbour who knocked on my door looking for ingredients. In LA, I would have been suspicious if someone came to my door and asked for sugar."
Tracy admits that cooking food for the family was one of her biggest challenges.
"Initially I tried cooking familiar things but they did not look like anything when I served them up on the dinner table. Meat cuts here are different as they have less fat. Coming from the US, I also missed convenience stores and had to cope with the fact there are fewer frozen foods available," says Tracy.
Luckily she was involved in an internet newsgroup – DAC – and another US expat Suzanne Wolf-Hettenvan was constantly talking about what foods were available in Holland and what wasn't.
"For instance, newcomers need to know it might be a good idea to bring baking soda. And macaroni and cheese in a box is also a difficult-to-find item."
Suzanne went on to establish the Cooking Dutch newsgroup which gave Tracy and other expats a platform to discuss strategies to turn Dutch ingredients into fine food. "I have learned to cook with Dutch food and suddenly my family like what I was cooking. Speklappen, or bacon slices, has been a particular hit. Everyone likes it."
"Summing up the transition from sunny LA to Almere, Tracy says: "I have had dark days, but having a husband – a friend – makes all the difference.
"I am over the hump when it really sets in that you are in an unfamiliar environment and you ask yourself: what on earth have I done," says Tracy.
"This is going to be my life from now on and I have to get on with it, and accept the changes that come with that. I've learned that I can't wait for the weather. Rain and snow won't kill you. And there are some lovely places to live in Holland, despite the lack of sunshine."
· 1 clove garlic, chopped
· 400-500 grams speklappen, sliced in thin strips
· 4 Tbs sunflower oil
· 2 onions, sliced in rings
· 2 courgettes (zucchini), sliced into rounds and then into matchsticks 1 aubergine (eggplant), sliced into rounds (peel it first if you like)
· 1 small can of tomato puree (about 68 grams)
· pepper and salt to taste
- Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan and add the speklappen and garlic. Cook over high heat for 5 minutes.
- Remove the meat and garlic, and set aside.
- Into the same pan, put the courgette and the aubergine and cook over high heat for five minutes, and then return the speklappen to the pan.
- Mix the tomato puree with 1/2 dl of water, and add to the meat/vegetable mix. Add salt and pepper.
- Cook over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, and serve with small boiled potatoes.
[Copyright Expatica 2004]
Subject: Life in Holland, expats, speklappen