Well, waddaya know? The daily writing prompt is “Recharge“, just as I was getting ready to write about refueling as an immigrant. Another term I learned recently, from Akhtar’s book Immigration and Identity.
What do you do to refuel (or recharge) as an immigrant–to get your home fix, as it were? Going back for visits is an obvious one, of course. I haven’t been back to the Netherlands for fourteen years now. At some point we just felt like spending some more of our time and money exploring America rather than going to Holland every few years. And friends and family can also come and visit me.
During the first years in the Rio Grande Valley, I would get incredibly homesick for a simple cheese sandwich. Decent aged cheese on real bread–not the sweetened, floppy goo that sticks to the roof of your mouth, but a good, hearty slab with grains you can still taste individually. Cheese and bread that aren’t so
awful tasteless that you have to add turkey, tomato, lettuce, mustard, mayonnaise and bacon, and then toast or panini the whole lot, just to give them some actual flavor and substance.
Nowadays they have aged Gouda and Beemster cheeses at the grocery store, and you can get halfway decent bread, too. Now that we live in a larger town, we also have a World Market store, which carries drop (Dutch licorice) and stroopwafels–though the latter are stale and hard. Stale, hard stroopwafels were still better than nothing, but now there’s someone in town who makes them fresh at different farm-to-markets on weekends. I still have to chase them down, but some coffee shops also sell them. They’re called stroops, which rhymes with loops. There are variations, like chocolate stroopwafels and honey stroopwafels, but those aren’t the real deal. Not for refueling purposes, anyway.
A few months ago I discovered Dutch peanut butter at World Market, and that was wonderful! Not as sweet, not as fatty, it’s darker brown and it tastes a lot more like peanuts. Yes, even something as American as peanut butter is better when Dutch. And better for making saté sauce. However, it must have been a fluke, because I have not found it since. But I’m hell-bent on getting more (brand Calvé), so I’ll order it online.
Making a good stamppot helps, too, when it’s cool, anyway. Stamppotten are one-pan dishes that combine mashed (stamped) potatoes with different winter vegetables. Boerenkool stamppot is mashed potatoes with kale and smoked sausage, rodekool stamppot is made with red cabbage and meatballs, hutspot is made with carrots and onions and boiled bacon (don’t ask). I’ve made American adaptations of some of them, like my extra red rodekool stamppot, but my favorite–boerenkool stamppot–remains the same. You just can’t improve upon simple perfection.
So yeah, I mostly refuel with food. A visit from a friend or relative does wonders, of course, but that doesn’t happen that often. H came to visit this past May, and we talked pretty much non-stop for three days. I should Skype, but I put it off because it’s too painful. Or rather, I tend to think it’s too painful. Not too long ago I Skyped for the first time with my oldest friend (since 8th grade), and it wasn’t painful–it was nothing but wonderful and warm and intimate. Gezellig, especially when her husband brought her a cup of coffee while we were chatting.
Friends that do come bring Dutch novels and issues of my favorite magazines which I end up not reading. I keep them so I’ll have something for later. I have a pile of Vrij Nederland, Opzij and HP de Tijd issues for when I want to treat myself to the Dutch news and opinions of 2014.
And of course there’s music. I had the foresight to buy a bunch of Dutch pop music before I emigrated, most of which I would never have bought before, but now I love the stuff. Soppy, ridiculously predictable harbor songs by André Hazes, a somewhat edgier take on the genre by Drukwerk, and some halfway decent ska by Doe Maar –the Dutch answer to The Police. I play them maybe once every few years, but I really should do it more often, when I’m home alone, belting along with “Hee Amsterdam, ze zeggen dat je bent veranderd…” and “Nederwiedewiedeweed”. It’s better than beer. Better than chocolate, even. Hey, it’s even better than ice cream.
Most of the music I associate with the Netherlands isn’t Dutch, though. My kids know that the moment I hear a rock or reggae classic from the ’60s, ’70s or early ’80s on the radio or in a restaurant, I will say how this was one of the top hits when I was in such and such grade or in college. I remember exactly who I was in love with, specific classrooms, class parties, slow dancing, college rooms, vacations, jobs, my apartments, my heartbreaks, my highlights… Powerful stuff, music.
So if you’ve emigrated or otherwise changed your surroundings, how do you refuel? Is it easy or hard, and how come?