The Dutch and Chocolate

Today a parcel arrived from the Netherlands. Which means it must be Christmas, in a way. My parents send out a shipment of Dutch goodies once a year, and sometimes it gets here in December, but usually it is easier to aim for another less-postally-congested month.

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Chocolate features heavily in the parcel.
There are some reasons for this.
Not good reasons, but… good enough for me.

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I have no idea where historically/culturally our predilection for starting the day with “beschuit met hagel” (crispbakes with chocolate sprinkles) comes from. But I dare you to find a household in the Netherlands that doesn’t have at least one pack of hagelslag somewhere in a cupboard.

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It used to be very difficult to get hagel in Australia. It is getting a little easier, even if the cost if extravagant compared to back “home”. And it always takes people aback when I explain it is a breakfast topping. My parents have been sending annual care packages with hagel for forever, but since it has started becoming available here too, I tend to get sent the more luxury flavours, like Mocha and Extra Dark.

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But the chocolate most directly tied to Sinterklaas (the Dutch equivalent of Christmas) is the chocolate letter. The Chocolate-Initial-Complex is a force unto itself in the Netherlands.

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And those that know me well, know exactly what happens when chocolate letters arrive. I really have no trouble leaving chocolate be, as my former experiments with The Chocolate Drawer have shown at my previous job.

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But when it comes to initials, the only way to consume them is all in one go.
That’s my story.
And I’m sticking with it.

Day 276 – A Dive into Poetry

90 – Top 100 Poems

Upon close count, not quite 100. But I’ll go by the claim, over reality.

Poetry is hard. Often I don’t have the patience for poetry, because it is too short. Where a 500 word article would walk leisurely through its idea, a poem might distil that same idea down to a mere 50. Reading poetry is decompression, writing it is compression. Both take effort.

This makes poetry both harder to read and harder to write. But much more satisfying and meaningful. Often for overcoming the challenge. But often also by having discovered how to hold the entirety of a complex thought in mind at once.

The Link Above

The Road Not Taken – by Robert Frost

We all face significant decisions with insufficient information. We cannot tell what’s wrong or right, better or worse, shallow or righteous up-front. Best to choose the best we can, because we’ll claim we made the right choice in retrospect anyway.

America – by Allen Ginsberg

I cannot claim to understand much of Allen’s poetry. Never had the patience to study it. But I loved the scene in the movie Howl where the equally named poem is performed. There is something hypnotic about the performance; the angry spitting out of words of condemnation and the almost-caressing of others.

I think the power of his poems lies more in the performance of them than the actual poem itself. These are definitely superior when watched rather than read.

A Poison Tree – by William Blake

Not a fan. Although the first stanza promises, the rest doesn’t really deliver to my mind. It appears to take as self-evident that the conclusion is to be avoided; but festering fights with foes would easily lead to a desire to see karma realised.

Well written, and well described, but lacking in enlightenment (to my eye).

The Past Below

I don’t really have a memory for poetry.
I enjoy the reading, and then it slips out of my head again. Same with jokes.


There is one exception. I cannot recall all the specifics, but I think it was on the news, while I was still in the Netherlands, about 20 years ago. There was a youth poetry competition for all ages (I assume it was up to 18).

The winning poem was by a young boy though; maybe 6-8 or so.
I doubt he realised all the ways in which what he wrote was aesthetically pleasing. At least to me, and presumably the jury.

In Dutch (from memory):

Als juf thee drinkt
drink ik water
Ik word meester later!

Rough translation:

When teacher[female] drinks tea
I drink water
I’m going to be a teacher[male] when I grow up!

Just 11 words long in the original, but there’s so much there in symmetry and contrast, sympathy and aspiration, present and future; all three lines mutually interlocked in a precious little gem. Even if everything that is there probably hasn’t been put there intentionally, I really couldn’t care less.

Day 33 – Dutch Treats

I’m a little concerned what connotations the title of this post might have, so I am specifically not entering it into Google for fear of what I might get back. I recommend you do the same… or at least, don’t tell me about it, or complain afterwards what you might have found!

This post is just about food.

I am sure every country has its own specialities food-wise. Things that are hard to get anywhere outside of the country of origin. Things that just do not seem to get traction anywhere else.

When family members first come to visit me in Australia, I delight in letting them sample Vegemite… a true delicacy! Alas, none of them seem to like it. Similarly, a favourite in the Netherlands: Salmiak, seems to be beyond most foreigners’ palates. There is a very entertaining American blog that taste-tests salmiak treats readers send in… Salmiyuck!

But I digress.

Today started with the age-old hunt for Hagelslag in Australia. I have unfortunately eaten through the whole supply we had before. For those not-in-the-know, Hagelslag can be seen in the header image at the right end of the picture. They are chocolate sprinkles for eating on sandwiches. A large part of the Dutch population starts their days with sprinkles-on-toast, or sprinkles-on-“Beschuit”.

We had to go by 3 shops to get some seriously over-priced Hagelslag to tide me over till the other stores stock again. Or maybe it’s time for a trip to “‘t Winkeltje“, the Dutch shop in Western Sydney.

As an aside, Beschuit I think took a bit longer to get stocked consistently mainly because the local retailers mistakenly assumed it was a type of biscuit. After just writing that, it occurs to me that the similarity in spelling might have had something to do with that.

Beschuit is by no means a biscuit. It is a dry baked rusk-type food that also is a breakfast staple in the Netherlands. Without anything toppings, it’s the kind of thing no-drinks-allowed-eating-challanges are made of.

Anyway… I now have some Hagelslag and some Salmiak.

I don’t think it’ll last long.