Comfort Food for Family Day

Food that brings the most comfort are those that evoke strong positive memories.  The foods we ate at our grandmother’s house regardless if we called her Gramma, Oma, Nana or Nagymama are like culinary hugs. February 15 will be Family Day in parts of Canada. It is a day to celebrate family. What better way to celebrate than to enjoy those comfort foods that bring back warm family memories.

This February at The Pantry we are celebrating comfort foods. We are starting off the month by featuring Dutch Meatball Soup. We have all the ingredients to make a pot of soup that tastes like Oma’s. Need some help putting comfort into your pot?

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Pick up our Dutch Meatball Soup Kit!  And Honig Vegetable Soup will be on sale at $1.99.  That is the cheapest price in over 2 years!

Have you got a comfort food you would like featured?  Message us!

Want the recipe for Dutch Meatball Soup?  click here

Brush Cut!

It’s a new year. Time to embrace new things!

IMG_5259Christmas starts early here at the Pantry as we work to help our customers get ready for the holidays. After September the months fly by. Doing diIMG_5256shes, brushing one’s teeth are among the tasks that are squeezed into spare moments. I went to the dental hygienist last week and realized my electric tooth brush needed a new brush head. This morning I noticed my dish brush was looking even sadder than my tooth brush.  Actually I should say brushes because I have a “good brush” for doing the dishes and then an “old brush” for doing gross clean ups. To the right is the “good brush”.  You IMG_5253know how plumbers homes don’t always have the best plumbing? Well I understand because I sell these brushes and I still forget to bring a fresh one home! If you think that brush looks bad here’s my “old brush”. So I as soon as I got to work I put a new brush in my carry bag to take home tonight.

What about you? Is it time for a new dish brush?

 

Oma’s Favourite Tipple

Advocaat BolsThe Christmas season brings back memories of visiting Oma where tiny little glasses of advocaat were served together with little “teelepels” (coffee spoons) to eat it with. For those of you who are not quite as old as me or born after Bols no longer exported the “good stuff”, advocaat is (or should I say was) a thick brandy laced custard which was the favourite drink among the postwar Oma set.   Whether it was because our Calvinist Oma didn’t want anyone weaving down the road on the way home or because it was so expensive that one had to be voordelig (sparingly frugal) this drink was always measured out in very small quantities. However, it usually made an appearance at Christmas and birthdays. That is, until Bols stopped sending the good stuff to Canada!

I am not the only one who gets reminiscent during this season. It doesn’t take much prodding and family Christmas memories are being shared by customers as they visit “The Pantry”.  Today an advocaat story surfaced because of a case of mistaken identity.  Our customer did a double take of our bottles of IMG_3786 Monari Federzoni Balsamic Vinegar because she thought we had started selling Baileys. Not surprising since the two bottles do share a resemblance.  Baileys bottleIt wasn’t much of a leap from there to Oma’s favourite tipple.  Back a few years, our customer and her brother Peter were beginning to feel a bit peakish as they waited in the kitchen for the grownups to finish visiting.  There was an attractive bottle of “vla” pudding on the counter so they decided a bowl of that would take the edge off their hunger. Surprisingly the bottle was not as big as the usual one that mom served dessert from but they carefully divided the rest of the bottle between the two of them. There is a Dutch expression, “Honger is de beste saus” that means hunger makes everything taste good so there was no need to add any bessensap (black or red currant sauce) for those bowls to be licked clean. It didn’t take long before Peter didn’t feel so well.  His sister ran into the sitting room with more than her usual energy and enthusiasm to tell the grown ups that Peter was sick and it probably was because the vla had gone bad. Peter’s stomach quickly did what stomachs do in these situations but his sister was “punch happy” for another 6 hours!

Well we don’t sell alcoholic beverages although if we could find a source for the “good stuff” and the LCBO didn’t notice, I am sure there would be many Omas lining up at the door for advocaat during this Christmas season.  However, we have discovered something that could become this Oma’s new favourite.  IMG_5060Yesterday I made rice pudding which I always serve swimming in cream but this time I added an extra special finishing touch by topping it with Cole’s Brandy Butter. John who has never been too keen on rice pudding actually declared with quite edible with the addition of the brandy butter.  I have been thinking of more things that might be so much better with a dab of Cole’s concoction: waffles, pancakes or Christmas pudding.  One customer was dreaming about floating some in a hot toddy!  If you want to introduce an Oma in your life to a new favourite stop by The European Pantry soon…Cole’s Brandy Butter is only available as long as our Christmas supply lasts!

Big Sample Days

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Join us for one of our BIG SAMPLE DAYS Saturday, December 12, 2015.

IMG_5036Come taste some great holiday entertaining ideas & a variety of cheeses.IMG_5037

Scotts Lemon Curd & Campbell’s Shortbreads are a great “made in England”  taste combination. Or try Bella Casara ricotta cheese spread on an IMG_5035oat biscuit made by Nairn’s of Scotland topped off with one of our special preserves. Nairn’s Oat Crackers also make a great base for strong cheeses served at wine and cheese gatherings.IMG_5034

 

 

 

 

We have EXCEPTIONAL entertaining ideas here at The European Pantry! We also still have chocolate letters!

Christmas Tree Chocolates

IMG_5025Chocolate Christmas tree ornaments have been popular since 1880 when Woolworth sold the first chocolate ornaments in their department stores. In England you will find chocolate coins covered in gold foil paper. These coins are an echo of the generosity of St. Nicolas centuries before. Other chocolate ornaments also became popular. In Hungary, chocolate bonbons covered in shiny coloured papers called Szaloncukor will be found hanging in Christmas trees.  In The Netherlands trees will be adorned with kerstkransjes, chocolate wreaths .

IMG_5027The advent of chocolate production in Europe and England was in the 17th century, however, it remained a luxury product that only the rich could afford well into the late 18th century. Early factories only produced cocoa. The first edible chocolate confection did not appear until 1847, the brain child of Joseph Fry. The Fry family together with two other Quaker families, Cadbury and IMG_5024Rowntree, remained on the forefront of the chocolate industry for several centuries. When Cadbury announced in 2014 that they would no longer be making chocolate coins there was much protest. However, import stores like our store,The European Pantry here in Welland, Ontario source their chocolate coins from the European continent.

The most recent statistic that I could find, put chocolate consumption at 7.2 million tonnes IMG_5028in 2009 world wide. At that time it was estimated that consumption would increase to 8.5 million tonnes by 2020.  Without a doubt much of that chocolate is consumed during the ChristmasIMG_5023 season.  Our customers tell us that it just wouldn’t be Christmas without chocolates hanging from their trees. So it is always a joyous day when our Christmas chocolates arrive from Europe!

Forget About Black Peter?????

IMG_4922Tomorrow is St. Nicolas Eve.  In The Netherlands and around the world children of Dutch heritage will be setting out their wooden shoes.  They will be going to bed not with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads but rather of pepernoten, taai-taai and chocolate letters. Yet in the larger world the feast of St. Nicolas is not conjuring up images of innocent children snuggling into bed with excited anticipation of tomorrow’s festivities but rather accusations of racism centered on the character of Black Peter.  All this makes me wonder if in all the controversy we have forgotten whose feast it is.

It is interesting that the Dutch people so known for their tolerant ways are remaining stubbornly ethnocentric on this point. I myself come from a family that crossed racial lines a long time ago. My blue eyed, blond haired Aunt Elsie married Uncle Ak, a Japanese Canadian back in the 1960’s already. I also have cousins of Nigerian and Jamaican heritage. I anticipateIMG_4921 the arrival in March of a grand-daughter who I hope will be as proud of her father’s Iraqi heritage as her mother’s Dutch roots. Therefore, I suspect that behind all this resistance to change isn’t so much racist bigotry as the influence of several well-known Dutch characters known as kwajong, Meneer Woodenhead and Mevrouw Eigenwijs. Most of us have heard the phrase: wooden shoes, wooden head, wouldn’t listen.  It describes many old Dutchmen that we know who resist any argument that might precipitate change.  You have also probably met some kwajongen even if you didn’t realize.  A kwajong is a mischievous boy who likes to pull monkey tricks. But it also describes someone who acts contrary just for the fun of it.  I have been surrounded by wooden headed kwajongen all my life. I know the tricks they are usually up to. And not to deny Dutch women a place, how many of us haven’t been called “eigenwijs”? I certainly have been called that when I have acted like I knew better than anyone else. So given the Dutch character(s) I am not at all surprised about the “push back” that is happening about Black Peter not just in The Netherlands but also among Dutch Canadians. But in all of this I think we have forgotten what St. Nicolas Day is all about.

The veneration of St. Nicolas can be traced back for more than 1000 years. Christmas caroling door to door and the mysterious, mythical appearance of gifts all have their origin in the traditional celebration of St. Nicolas’s feast day. In The Netherlands the saint is known as Sinterklaas. When I was growing up it didn’t matter if you were from a Dutch Catholic, Protestant or atheist family…everyone celebrated Sinterklas. How that came to be is explored in our article “The Amazing Survival of St. Nick”.  Black Peter or Zwarte Piet as he is known in The Netherlands never showed up in print until 1850 when a poem by an Amsterdam schoolteacher Jan Schenkman: Sint-Nikolaas en zijn knecht (“St. Nicholas and His Servant”)IMG_4929  was published. The Zwarte Piet tradition can be traced back to the early 19th century but doesn’t have the same old roots as St. Nicolas. One theory traces Black Peter to German myths. St. Nicolas’s white horse is not part of the original Christian tradition but is believed to have been derived from the myth of the German god Oden who traveled through the skies on a white stallion. In the Oden myth, the god is accompanied by several black ravens. In real life, St.Nicolas was a bishop of Turkey who never saw the shores of Spain, may never seen a Moor and was unlikely to have had a slave considering his compassion for the poor.

Today Sinterklaas’ popularity has extended beyond Christendom to people of other cultural and religious heritages.  In a Cafebabel article says:

Like many EU countries, the Netherlands has recently seen shifting demographics due to sustained immigration from countries such as Turkey and Morocco. To gauge the appeal of Sinterklaas among these newcomers, a number of Dutch-born high schoolers with one or more immigrant parent were asked for their thoughts. Of fifteen respondents living in the suburbs of Amsterdam and The Hagueten were raised muslimone was raisedhindu, and four grew up in non-religious households. Regardless of religion, the teenagers all confessed to believing in Sinterklaas as children, and all of them celebrated at school. Over half of the muslim-raised respondents even reported celebrating Sinterklaas with their families at home, in spite of islam’s prohibition against the observance of non-muslim holidays. Despite its roman catholic trappings, all but one of these students viewed Sinterklaas as a nonreligious cultural celebration. http://www.cafebabel.co.uk/society/article/sinterklaas-and-black-petes-multicultural-evolution-in-netherlands.html

Sinterklaas has become everyone’s saint. In spite of his “sectarian origins” he has universal appeal. I believe his survival of the Reformation and his appeal to so many people is rooted in the generosity that he represents. In a world reeling from news reports of terrorist attacks and sectarian war, we have this figure who reminds all of us to be a bit more gracious. I don’t think we should forget about Black Peter but perhaps in all the uproar about him we have forgotten what the feast of St. Nicolas celebrates:  the life of a man who gave generously to the poor without wanting any thanks. Black Peter is a fun character whose medieval page costume is bright and extravagant. He doesn’t need  blackface to maintain his appeal. A few smears of soot will do the job. Perhaps it is time we all gave a bit.

 

Marzipan and Piggie Banks

IMG_4942 IMG_4943 By our checkout we have a small container of marzipan pigs. People pick them up and ask what they are. That is when I explain the story of marzipan pigs. For the uninitiated, marzipan is a candy made from ground almonds. It can vary in quality, the best being in the class of the Niederegger classic gift box assortment you can see above.  It’s a very traditional European confection at Christmas although we make sure we have some marzipan around all year round.

“Why the marzipan pigs?” People ask. Today when one only needs to run to the grocery store to pick up some pork chops, it is hard to imaging a time when only the very rich could afford to keep a pig all winter long without needing to butcher it.  The tradition of giving marzipan pigs as gifts to family and friends arose out of that culture of subsistence farming.  The gift of a marzipan pig during the Christmas holiday season is a wish for a prosperous new year. In Dutch we call such a gift an “aardigheidje”…a little present of thoughtfulness. Who are you thinking of this Christmas?

It would seem that piggie banks would be an automatic extension of the Christmas marzipan pig. However, the origin of piggie banks is totally unrelated. Originally money banks were made of a clay called pygg. When this evolved to making ceramic money banks in the shape of a pig is not known. Perhaps a potter’s apprentice took his master literally when he was told to make some “pygg” banks!  Here are some money banks we brought in for Christmas gifts with a German influence but with a totally different result!

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St. Nick is coming to town!

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No matter what you call him: Santa Claus, Joulupukki, Père Noël, St. Nick, Sinterklas, Jultomten, Mikulás, Weihnachtsmann,  Julenissen, Ded Moroz, Mos Craciun, Siôn Corn…tomorrow he’s coming to Welland.

For some he is a mythical magical figure, for others a historic person with a reputation for generosity or a revered saint. For almost everyone but the most die-hard Scrooge, he represents the spirit of giving.

Tomorrow in Welland, the Downtown Welland Business Development (BIA) Board will be sponsoring our annual Santa Claus parade.  I will be walking the route handing out candies and coupons for the European Pantry. We hope to see you there! It starts a 4 pm.

Learn more about the history of Santa Claus here.

Why Dutch People Give Chocolate Letters

IMG_2859Why do Dutch people give chocolate letters? When we receive our initial on “Pakjesavond” December 5 or at Christmas most of us just eat the delicious chocolate without wondering why this unique tradition is still practiced. The history of receiving a “letter” dates back centuries but originally letters were made of pastry. This is why almond pastry rings are still called “banket letter” by some people. I still remember my mother receiving a banket “C” for her birthday from a friend who was an excellent baker. In the days before gift

banket letter

Still life with Letter Pastries by Peter Binoit, ca. 1615 Museum Amstelkring on loan from the Groninger Museum. Photo: C Myers

wrapping, parents would spread a bed sheet over the gifts for “Sinterklaas”. They would then mark the place of each child’s gift with the child’s initial. Still life paintings of old Dutch masters from the 16th & 17th centuries show these pastry initials.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Dutch chocolate industry began to make letters in chocolate. The shift to chocolate letters was quick and enthusiastic. During World War II, supply shortages meant no chocolate letters but even then letters were made of gingerbread. Once rationing ended chocolate letter manufacturing was quick to resume.

IMG_2862For the Dutch emigres and us, their descendants, the tradition provides a strong connection to our roots. Opas and Omas of large families can give a personalized gift to each grandchild…there is something very special about getting one’s own letter. Of course, the children who got a M or a W always thought they got more chocolate than the poor child whose name started with I. But an I for Ingrid was still better than not getting your letter if your name started with a Q, X, Y or Z. Today, however, all the letters of the alphabet are available…for a limited time, of course. We have already bagged up about 170 pre-orders for our customers on our Chocolate Letter Registry but there are still lots of letters to pick from!

IMG_4884IMG_4883Here at The European Pantry where we have customers that reflect a wide variety of heritages, we find that the idea of giving a letter is catching on with the non-Dutch customer, too. It is such a simple way to give a small personalized thank you to a hair dresser or delivery person. They also can be used as an innovative way to mark place settings at a holiday gathering. Other people use them in the historical way as name tags for gifts.

The chocolate that our letters are made of is all UTZ certified to guarantee ethical production conditions for the chocolate bean farmers and their families. Learn more about UTZ certifications here.