Thursday, April 10, 2008

Integration's Strange Face

The other day, I was running out the door for my first class and I hadn't had breakfast. I'm a strong believer that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I didn't always believe that. I used to regularly go until lunch time fueled only by coffee and cigarettes. Breakfast just didn't seem that important. Now it's essential.

I usually have a bowl of cereal (sort of a Dutch Raisin Bran), but I didn't have time to mess with it. So on my way out the door, I grabbed a loaf of bread and some cheese, put a couple of slices of cheese between some bread, threw the whole mess in a plastic bag and ran out the door.

Since I have been commuting around the Amsterdam area for a while now, I've seen tons of people eating their breakfast on various forms of transportation, on the platform waiting for said transportation, etc. And it's very often a cheese sandwich made up of bread and cheese. No mayo, no tomato, no frills. Just bread and cheese. They also often take it to work for lunch - in a random bag, like the bag the bread came in (sort of like it's right after the war and everything is scarce). Sometimes there's meat involved in these sandwiches, but there is rarely mustard or mayo in the picture. It's dry and can sit in a bag all day long with out even thinking about going bad or getting soggy.

I've always scoffed at the cheese sandwich breakfast. It seems so unimaginative, so stale, so boring, so "why can't you just sit down and have a bowl of granola?" But as I was standing on the platform eating my sandwich, I was really enjoying myself. Part of it is that I buy really good bread.

The bread pictured is from a French bakery up the street called Le Fournil. The bread is Céréales Sesame. It's really good. Great crust with lots of grains going on in the middle, which has a perfect texture and is even passably eatable two days later. The cheese is an oude kaas, or old cheese. It's a little sharper and has "more taste," as Fred says, than younger varieties. Usually, these breakfast sandwiches I see on the train are store-bought bread with plain-ole-nothing cheese, just something to fill the belly until lunch time. I'm all about quality ingredients.

When I worked at the hospital in Brooklyn, I ate two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast every morning. I used Ezekiel bread (bread with no carbs - no kidding), organic, fresh-ground peanut butter, and jelly with no sugar added. It was a very healthy meal and every morning I ate them and thought, "This is so good!" I still love p.b. and j.

So when I instinctively grabbed the bread and cheese, I thought, I am so integrated! Good for me. I can't get into everything that the Dutch do, but there are certain things that I really like and this is one of them. Cereal will remain my standard for breakfast (as it is for my Dutchman), but a good cheese sandwich is just the ticket when I'm hurrying out the door.

This bakery and all this bread really speaks to the Dutch love of all things bread. A little sandwich is often referred to as a broodje - pronounced brode-chuh. It literally means 'bread.' But it's so much more.


Mel said...

Actually, Ezekiel (or "Jesus" bread", as I like to call it) still has carbs, just no flour.

I can certainly get into cheese sammiches, though I generally prefer something spready in there. In Paris (forever ago), I remember they smeared it with butter. Oh so yummy.

Andy Baker said...

I thought the whole point was that there were no carbs. (Maybe it's that it's a complete protein?) Anyway, I always attributed the no carbs to why it never put me to sleep, like most bread used to do.

Anonymous said...

I think its the freshness of the bread that the dutch insist on and that I wholeheartedly agree with that is the key to the "broodje".
The ducks on our canal are very well fed due to stale bread being rejected regularly - the breeding season is in full swing and the population of coots is due to explode in the next month!

Anonymous said...

During my summer on a dairy farm in Blokzijl in 1976, we had freshly-sliced bread with stuff on it for breakfast and for supper every day. Lunch was the hot meal of the day.

Every slice of bread had butter on it, and then we would select from quite a list of things to put on top: cheese, meat, peanut butter, chocolate sprinkles, honey. They were eaten open-face, at the table. The cheese was always Jonge Gouda. I asked at one point (imagine American pronunciation), "Is this 'goo da' cheese?" And was told, "Of course it's good cheese!"

A international conference I was at in Elspeet in 1991 had a similar menu, which became an item of ridicule for many of the Americans in attendance, who thought it monotonous.

Crafty Andy said...

I love Ezekiel Bread. CHeese and Bread is usually anice Lunch if you add some Serrano Ham or Proscuitto.

Anonymous said...

I like to thin-slice a good Italian cheese onto homemade bread that we bake into a giant, round sandwich loaf, airy with pockets... MMMM!!!

MsAmpuTeeHee said...

Great. Now I need to go make me a midnight sandwich.