#DutchScoop

Into the Dutch Woods

“There is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts and other good comfortable things all the time, for we are telling Winter Stories.” ~ Charles Dickens,  A Christmas Tree

We’ve had a lot of rain here, and on a recent rainy afternoon we ventured into the deep Dutch woods. We were looking for chestnuts. I wasn’t at all sure what to expect, but it was a foraging expedition, and I’m always up for one of those.

Kind of like oystering. On dry land.

 My extended Dutch family heads into the woods in search of chestnuts My extended Dutch family heads into the woods in search of chestnuts

I couldn’t get Dickens out of my head. I don’t really read Dickens, because I’ve always found the Victorians a bit ponderous, except for A Tale Of Two Cities. But I knew somewhere in Dickens there were chestnuts, and I knew from the Christmas song that they needed to be roasted on an open fire.

I wasn’t sure how we’d manage the fire part in the waterlogged Dutch woods.

There are certainly chestnuts in New England. They must be distant relations to the ones we were seeking that afternoon. The New England variety are known as Horse chestnuts, and if you look in front of the courthouse in Barnstable Village on Cape Cod you’ll find a magnificent specimen. Of course the American Horse chestnut tree is bigger than the Dutch chestnut tree, but I’ve always been warned Horse chestnuts are not the eating kind, so in New England we just collect them because they’re beautiful.

Now we were going to eat their cousins.

 There is a familial resemblance between Dutch and American chestnuts, just don't eat the American ones There is a familial resemblance between Dutch and American chestnuts, just don’t eat the American ones

The trail through the deep Dutch woods wound through the gray damp chill. We all carried bags with our eyes were glued to the ground where the chestnuts has fallen. It was enough to reveal the inner hunter/gatherer.

 We scanned the ground for these, the chestnut is often found beside the prickly pod that housed it We scanned the ground for these, the chestnut is often found beside the prickly pod that housed it

We hit the jackpot and quickly filled our bags and fled the rain. Once home, we began to cook.

Turns out you don’t need an open fire.

After rinsing the soil and forest debris from the chestnuts, you put them in a pan of water, from which you remove any floaters. Floaters are not good.

 The floating stage The floating stage

Then you simply score each chestnut with a knife in an ‘x’ shape to avoid explosions and roast in the oven.

 The going in the oven stage The going in the oven stage

They smell sweet while cooking.

 The ready to eat stage The ready to eat stage

They taste warm, soft, and surprisingly sweet.

This Christmas I will appreciate the Chestnuts roasting on an open fire song in a whole new way. But I’m still not reading Dickens.

He’s not Dutch anyway.

Mary Petiet is a reporter, writer and story teller. Her work is inspired by both her native Cape Cod, where she covers the local farm beat for Edible Cape Cod magazine, and her experiences in The Netherlands.  Mary is the author of Minerva’s Owls, (Homebound Publications) finalist in the American Book Fest’s Best Book Awards 2017, religion and spirituality. Minerva’s Owls remembers the divine feminine to reenvision the world.  Mary is currently dividing her time between Cape Cod and The Netherlands.

 www.marypetiet.com                                                   www.facebook.com/MaryPetiet/

Amsterdam Pilgrims and Giving Thanks

“She quietly presides at harvest feasts and farm to table events, she is with each of us who revere the earth and the ecosystems it engenders.”~Mary Petiet, Minerva’s Owls

In 1608 the English pilgrim William Bradford arrived in Amsterdam and was taken in by the family of William Brewster. The Brewsters were already in the city, and they meant to establish a church more pure than the one they had left behind.

Anyone who grew up in New England is intimate with the Pilgrim story. Plymouth Massachusetts, is America’s home town, Thanksgiving is sacred, and most of us spent our early years at school donning buckled hats and tracing our hands to draw turkeys. We know the Pilgrims, and the lead up to the Thanksgiving feast seems like a good time to follow them through Holland. It’s pretty well known that in Leiden you can walk Pilgrim footsteps, but have you thought of that in Amsterdam?

 If it looks like a Pilgrim... Outside the English Church at Begijnhof 48 If it looks like a Pilgrim… Outside the English Church at Begijnhof 48

I never did. Yet the Pilgrims were here.

Amsterdam center boasts a street full of bookstores, including the English and American book stores, which are like food in a famine to the recent expat. If you manage to find the nearby Waterstones on Kalverstraat, you are very near an ancient building called the English Church. This is where the Pilgrims worshipped.

A modest brick structure, the church is hidden in a beautiful, quiet courtyard accessed by an unassuming passageway. The square is called the Begijnhof, which, in the fashion of most place names, hints at its past. In the fourteenth century it was home to a Catholic lay sisterhood called the Beguines. In 1578, when Amsterdam adopted Calvinist doctrines, the Beguine church was closed until its presentation to Amsterdam’s English speaking Protestants in 1607. These were the Separatist the Pilgrims joined in worship upon their arrival in Amsterdam.

 Pilgrim plaque attached to the facade of the English Church Pilgrim plaque attached to the facade of the English Church

After much wandering around the center of Amsterdam, we found the hidden English Church on a rainy November afternoon. It was Thanksgiving weather, chilly and gray. The church was closed so I was unable to get a picture of the interior stained glass window depicting the pilgrims at prayer on a ship’s deck, with a windmill and billowing sail in the background. We did see plenty of history in the courtyard, which boasts the last wooden house in the city and a Catholic chapel, which was open and redolent of burning wax prayer candles.

 View of the English Church, right, and the entrance to the chapel, white door, left View of the English Church, right, and the entrance to the chapel, white door, left

The Pilgrims did not stay long in Amsterdam. As controversies split the Amsterdam congregation and frustration grew with poverty and poor employment, they decamped to Leiden within nine months of Bradford’s arrival.  Leiden was an industrial center with a Calvinist university,  where Brewster printed religious tracts and Bradford was a member of the serge-weavers’ guild.

Leiden is the Dutch city more associated with the Pilgrims in the American imagination probably because they spent more time there. I visited the Pilgrim house in Leiden years ago on another cold day, this time in early spring, and it seemed far more comfortable than anything I have seen at Plimouth Plantation.

 Exterior of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, dedicated to the Pilgrims who lived in the city from 1608 until their 1620 departure for America.                                    photo credit By Herenld - Own work Exterior of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, dedicated to the Pilgrims who lived in the city from 1608 until their 1620 departure for America.                                    photo credit By Herenld – Own work

Immigration to America ended the Pilgrim experiment in Holland. They left to guarantee their ability to worship freely away from the wars of religion raging through Europe, they left in hope of converting native Americans to their religion because apparently the Dutch weren’t having any, and finally, they left to keep their identities intact.

In my favorite passage from Bradford’s Of Plimouth Plantation, he writes of “the great licentiousness of youth in that country [Holland], and the manifold temptations of the place, [Pilgrim children]were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and departing from their parents.” This expresses the fear Pilgrim parents had of their children becoming completely Dutch, fears justified by the assimilation experienced by families who did not emigrate to America.

 What Pilgrim kids probably got up to. Fun On The Ice by Hendrick Avercamp What Pilgrim kids probably got up to. Fun On The Ice by Hendrick Avercamp

I realized after our trip to the English Chapel that the date was November 9th, the same day Cape Cod was sighted by the Pilgrims from the Mayflower in 1620. This Thanksgiving we are on the Dutch side of the Atlantic, and Bradford’s words about the children going native ring true today as my son tears through the streets on his bike with group of friends, the Dutch language following closely in his wake. Sometimes they burst into the kitchen demanding sandwiches, mostly they are out playing. When it gets cold I expect they’ll go skating.

I’ve cooked a lot of Thanksgiving dinners. If you’ve been at my table, you know who, and you know where. This year is different. This year the fourth Thursday in November will dawn like any other day, which has an authentic sort of Calvinist feel to it, I suppose, as Thanksgiving is not a holiday here. It is, however, a point of interest, and if you are in Amsterdam you can join several expat groups in celebration.

We have chosen to postpone ours to the first weekend of December due to a busy schedule and my daughter’s school exams.  So far I have found four cans of Libby’s pumpkin pie filling and some cranberries, so confidence runs high.

We are grateful and give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Mary Petiet is a reporter, writer and story teller. Her work is frequently inspired by her native Cape Cod, where she covers the local farm beat for Edible Cape Cod magazine. Mary is the author of Minerva’s Owls, (Homebound Publications) finalist in the American Book Fest’s Best Book Awards 2017, religion and spirituality. Minerva’s Owls remembers the divine feminine to reenvision the world.  Mary is currently dividing her time between Cape Cod and The Netherlands.

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Meet the Omafiets

The Dutch word omafiets translates to English as grandmother’s bike. A fietspad is a bikepath, a natural habitat of the omafiets.

You have to sit up straight when you’re riding an omafiets. The classic roadsters’ heavy black frame and wide comfortable seat demands good posture, and if you want to fit in, you ride the omafiets bare-headed. The Dutch do not wear helmets. I guess they missed the memo about concussion, they seem to prefer the wind running wild through their hair.

I have to admit it feels pretty good.

 Bikes populate an Amsterdam sidewalk. Everything you've heard about the Dutch and their bikes is probably true. Bikes populate an Amsterdam sidewalk. Everything you’ve heard about the Dutch and their bikes is probably true.

The name omafiets suggests a lack of style, and I had to wonder, who would be caught dead on their grandmother’s bike?  But they are not nearly as stodgy as their name implies. Equipped with back brakes, one speed, saddlebags and baskets, they embody a gracious classic style fused with function. You can look good on an omafiets while hauling your friends, your animals, or even small pieces of furniture, all while you bring home the groceries.

If you’re going to get an omafiets go for an old one. Flash new ones get stolen. While Holland generally has a low violent crime rate, it does have an omafiets theft problem. My bike’s rear tire involves a built in lock system, which activates with a key. I’ve been strongly advised to lock my bike whenever I’m not on it, anywhere, even in our own bike shed. Bike sheds are as ubiquitous as the omafiets, and while cars are left outside in all weather, the omafiets gets tucked in at night.

 It's fuzzy because I was riding my bike at the time and everything was in motion. Also it was foggy. Look carefully:  The boy is standing up behind his mother rushing to make first bell at school. The bike is standard bakfiets. The bak is the covered box in front. It’s fuzzy because I was riding my bike at the time and everything was in motion. Also it was foggy. Look carefully:  The boy is standing up behind his mother rushing to make first bell at school. The bike is standard bakfiets. The bak is the covered box in front.

If the omafiets has a partner, it is the opafiets, which translates as grandfather’s bike. The opafiets is distinguished by its crossbar. Both bikes work for individual transportation with goods, but if you need to move the kids as well, the Dutch have you covered. The bakfiets is specially designed to haul the kids around with a large front box-like compartment. A bak is a box. I have not ridden in the bakfiets, but my daughter has, and she tells me it’s terrifying due to its speed and close proximity to the ground.

 A high-end baksfiets three-seater. Note the headlight. A high-end baksfiets three-seater. Note the headlight.

To my American eye the omafiets has an Oxbridge-ey, Brideshead Revisited sort of look. I half expect black-gowned undergraduates to swoop Harry Potter-like through the streets of our Dutch town, which my daughter says looks like a fairy tale village anyway, complete with thatched roofs and herringbone patterned brick pavement. The bricks are highly bike-able. If you see bricks, you have probably found a fietspad, and there are fietspads wherever there are roads.

I’ve been following the fietspad on my omafiets for two reasons.

Definitely because it’s fun, but also because I will bike a long mile to avoid driving here.  I have managed to avoid driving overseas for many years, as it seemed all too frantic an exercise. But now I have had to step up to the plate and become a real euro-driver, which involves every man for himself as huge pan-continental trucks resist my attempts to merge onto highways, and cars speed through village streets too narrow and congested and completely full of bikes carrying denizens of all ages. Pizzas and the daily mail are delivered on bikes. There are babies and small dogs clinging to handle bars and kids riding pillion. Some bikes are motorized and some are actually Vespas.  The Dutch are as home upon their bikes as they are in their living rooms.

The bikes have right of way, and they assert it boldly, so when driving the car my main goal is to not hit a bike. I count it a good driving day when I successfully navigate new roads and manage to park the car without having hurt anyone.

 The view from the seat of an omafiets. The view from the seat of an omafiets.

I figure I am much better off on my trusty omafiets and I think I know why the Dutch are so devoted to theirs. A convenient way to traverse a flat country, ecologically sound and supported by a solid infrastructure of connected bike paths, designed to lend the slightest hint of glamour as they buzz along through the fresh air, the omafiets, opafiets and bakfiets are intrinsic parts of Dutch life. And the people riding them tend to be smiling.

The Dutch are having fun.

Mary Petiet is a reporter, writer and story teller. Her work is frequently inspired by her native Cape Cod, where she covers the local farm beat for Edible Cape Cod magazine. Mary is the author of Minerva’s Owls (Homebound Publications, April 2017), a book remembering the divine feminine to reenvision the world.  She is currently dividing her time between Cape Cod and The Netherlands.

www.marypetiet.com                                                          www.facebook.com/MaryPetiet/

Shedding Skin and Moving Cheese

 Dutch cheese lines a shelf. Dutch cheese lines a shelf.

“The snake can also shed its skin, which we can imagine as a metaphor for the idea of the stages of life, or even the idea of successive lives.” ~ Mary Petiet, Minerva’s Owls

It would be all so easy if you had a map to the Maze. If the same old routines worked. If they’d just stop moving “The Cheese.” But things keep changing… ~Dr. Spencer Johnson,  Who Moved My Cheese

Two weeks ago we finished shedding our skins and moved the cheese.

We are starting a new adventure. We have given away, sold, or donated most of our possessions. Right now we each have one trunk full of Important Things, one suitcase full of clothes, and six boxes of winter gear in transit to arrive at a later date.

All family heirlooms have been wrapped, boxed and stored in the attic, making me wonder if I am actually a curator for the next generation, but that is another story. We have rented our home of nearly 20 years to another family. We are traveling light. We have divided our time, relocating from my native Cape Cod, where we will return each summer like migratory birds, to my husband’s native Netherlands, where we will spend our winters.

We brought the children and the cat.

Shedding the skin took longer than moving the cheese. I think it started about a year ago, when we first took the idea of moving seriously. We thought about it, talked about it, imagined it, and finally last March we travelled as a family to Holland to really investigate it. We went native. We jumped on bikes, we looked at schools and houses and settled on a town we liked. The bikes offer a healthy freedom, the schools an excellent education in a child-centric world, and the entire place resonates with a safe calm. The Pilgrims left the Dutch town of Leiden for Plymouth in 1620. We could leave New England for Holland in a reverse migration.

Back in the states we decided to make it happen.

Starting this new adventure meant sprucing up the house for renting and clearing out almost 20 year’s worth of accumulated stuff. Each item shed represented another skin, especially my books.  As we shed, we lightened the load both physically and emotionally, and the distinction between owning stuff and being owned by stuff became clear. It was a grand purge of stuff, a viking funeral of sorts, with the hope these things would continue to blaze on as someone else’s treasure. Gifting, yard sales, craigslist, donations and dump runs, for months on end it seemed.

How had a family of four accumulated so much?

Through all the shedding and the letting go, there was one profound moment, one hugely green, green light discernible as we let go of the hardest thing without intending to, our black pointer lab mix Daisy. We had every intention of bringing her with us, which is as complicated as you’re probably imagining, but two months before we left she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She died within two weeks.

I wonder if she didn’t want to leave her marshes and her sand flats. She was an ocean dog and we were heading to inland Holland. In the oddest way her surprising departure was a form of permission, a final shedding of the entire skin I’d wrapped myself in before, the comfortable skin of rambling beach walks and the smell of wet dog in the way back of my big American car.

If you’re heading out on a big adventure, it’s easier to move your cheese after you’ve said goodbye and shed your many, many skins.

In his book ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ Dr. Spencer Johnson presents an allegory featuring four mice who live in a predictable maze with a predictable hunk of cheese in a predictable place-until one day the cheese is moved to a new place, forcing the mice to adapt.

When the kids were little we saw ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ performed as a play by the Sunday school at the Barnstable Unitarian Church. The concept stuck, and every so often one of us would feel that feeling that comes with change and say, “Hey, who moved my cheese?”

We have been in Holland for two weeks. Right now our cheese is probably somewhere at the bottom of the harbor, and the absence of the old cheese is what is allowing the new cheese to age. Cheese takes time, it needs to cure in special places.

My husband ended up with a great job opportunity in the Netherlands. He is opening a Dutch office for his US company. My kids have the freedom of their bikes, are making friends, and have started attending excellent Dutch schools, which is an amazing academic opportunity for them. They’re finding their cheese as they learn Dutch and each Dutch word they gain grows a bit more new skin to cover the tender bits where the old skin shed. We are staying in at my in-laws house in a beautiful town called Laren, which I think of as a sort of Osterville without the sea, until our own house in the adjoining town of Bussum is ready next week.

We have traded the stuff for the adventure. We are making our own shift through a larger world in flux, and we find ourselves fitting into new skins about a half an hour outside of Amsterdam, and luckily, the Dutch excel at cheese.

Mary Petiet is a reporter, writer and story teller. Her work is frequently inspired by her native Cape Cod, where she covers the local farm beat for Edible Cape Cod magazine. Mary is the author of Minerva’s Owls (Homebound Publications, April 2017), a book remembering the divine feminine to reenvision the world.  She is currently headquartered in The Netherlands.

http://www.marypetiet.comhttps://                                                            http://www.facebook.com/MaryPetiet/