Can You Cut It?

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”  G.K. Chesterton

Called yellow gold, Dutch cheese ranks one of The Netherland’s largest exports, right up there with tulips, and not matter how you cut it, who wouldn’t appreciate a table laden with beautiful cheese and flowers?

 Still life with cheese, almonds, and pretzels by Clara Peeters, 1594-1657. Flowers optional. Still life with cheese, almonds, and pretzels by Clara Peeters, 1594-1657. Flowers optional.

De Gaulle’s ponderings over how to govern a country with 246 varieties of cheese make me wonder where he got the specific number. I can’t find one for Holland, although cheese is ubiquitous and each variety is attached to a specific location of production.  Cheese is a gift from the flat green fields of dairy cattle dotting the countryside. The Dutch landscape is cheese landscape, and has been perhaps since Roman times.

 Cows in a (Dutch) River by Aelbert Cuyp, c. 1650. Cows in a (Dutch) River by Aelbert Cuyp, c. 1650.

Gouda (pronounced by the Dutch with a hard throat clearing ‘G’) and Edam are two popular Dutch cheeses also available in the States. They appear in The Netherlands in great colored rounds, from which you can have a wedge cut to bring home. Leyden cheese, which I have not seen in the US, is a pleasant surprise with flavorful studs of savory cumin and caraway seed for a spicy flavor.

 Beautiful Dutch cheese rounds Beautiful Dutch cheese rounds

The first time I ate Dutch cheese, I was confronted with one of these.

 Dutch cheese slicer Dutch cheese slicer

You can’t eat cheese in Holland without one. We had one in a remote drawer of my American kitchen growing up, but I have little memory of actually using it. When confronted with a thick Dutch style wedge of cheese, the American will invariably cut it into smaller bite sized pieces and place it on crackers, usually in the evening with a glass of wine.

Of course the Dutch have evening cheese and crackers, but I was surprised to find them also eating cheese for breakfast. One morning as I forced the cheese slicer’s blade down into the cheese in an attempt to break off a chunk, a close relative recoiled in horror, demanding, “How could you not know how to cut the cheese?”

Tremendous wording. While the laughter subsided, I learned the proper approach.

 Trim the hard edges of the cheese rind so you can slice evenly across the end of the cheese. Trim the hard edges of the cheese rind so you can slice evenly across the end of the cheese.  Modern still life with Dutch open faced cheese sandwich. The Dutch also make great bread. Modern still life with Dutch open faced cheese sandwich. The Dutch also make great bread.

Cheese sandwiches are consumed for breakfast, lunch, and snack time across The Netherlands. Holland is fueled by cheese.

And coffee, but coffee is another story.

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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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/