Bread: A Cultural Study

It’s no surprise that Dutch people like their bread. The filling of a sandwich seems like an afterthought: a few thin slices of cheese placed between two thick loaf-sized pieces of bread.

Having grown up in a very health conscious household (see My Happy Place) and with American bread tasting mostly like cardboard and acting only as a vessel for sandwich meat, I never understood this Dutch love. Since March, my husband has jumped eagerly onto the sourdough baking train. He hums and haws about his bread, and panics if there is even the slightest possibility we may run out.

I shrug, and skip it usually, preferring to save my stomach space for things I enjoy more (like Popcorn). But the other day, I had an epiphany at lunch. I do sometimes actually like bread, but in the less popular, perhaps more provincial kind of way. I absolutely love a fresh and fluffy hamburger bun. That airy, zero nutritional value taste makes my toes curl with joy.

My mom never used to let us eat white bread when we were little. It was whole wheat or bust in our house, perhaps making me appreciate a good fresh, generically made and generically produced meat-holding (ie hamburger or hotdog) roll. When the Dutch and the Germans start a war about who has the better, tastier, more creative bread creations, I come out of left field and vote for something no one really wants or even considers: the bag of bread most people throw away after their cook-out.

But, friends, I had a romance at lunch the other day. I mixed a good ol’ American hamburger roll with some butter and Dutch chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) for a marriage between two cultures, neither making much sense but both being a perfect match together.

A Coffee Mug’s Life

Our mug collection is robust and varied, crammed and stacked on top of one another in two full kitchen cupboards. Each feels important, but when I am having a particularly sensitive day, I always pick the mug with a cow.

I have a confusing relationship with this mug. It makes me contemplate the life of an object in relationship to its owner.

Several years back, I had spent a few days picking out this mug in The Netherlands when I was visiting with my now-husband, then boyfriend, Mark. At the time, Mark and I were both living in the States, one of us in Boston and the other in NYC. As we had both come many times before to the Netherlands separately, this was the first time we came together, as a pair. Our debut.

For this important event, I wanted to pick out something special for my dad. All the weed paraphernalia felt too gimmicky; the tulip key chains too generic. With my dad being a compulsive (instant) coffee drinker all day long, a mug felt just right. I carefully selected one with a cow that spoke to me, projecting a level of absurdity I knew he would enjoy.

When I came back home and gifted him this mug, it immediately became his favorite. I’d find it propped up on his bedside table, by him watching TV, always half full of cold coffee he had forgotten to drink before making himself another cup, in a different mug, also somewhere forgotten in the house. Each time I’d come to see him, I’d look approvingly at this mug, remembering all the trips to The Netherlands I had made, and despite him never having visited himself, all the times I had thought about him there.

Now that absurd cow is looking back at me as I write this post, half full of cold tea. When my dad passed away a few years ago and I was packing up both his things and my own to prepare for my move, this was the one non-clothing item I decided to take with me.

But even though I purchased it here, it still feels strange to use. This mug has made the same journey my husband and I have done many times – from The Netherlands, to America, and back. This cow is back home, yet it had an entire life before this moment. Like me, it sat with my dad outside on the porch smoking cigarettes. Like me, it kept my dad company while he watched the Pats or read a book. Hopefully, we can give this cow even more memories, different than the ones before, but still with the same amount of love. To many more years with cow cups. Cheers.