Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Coffee Break

I’d like to take this opportunity to give a big shout-out to my sister Stephanie, who has very generously sent me an early birthday present all the way from Binghamton, New York. Being the excellent little sister that she is, she remembered my frequent complaints about the unavailability of certain products outside of the United States, and so her package included Wheat Thins crackers*, as well as a bag of Reeses Pieces (though peanut butter is available in Europe, it is not nearly as ubiquitous as in America, I think because Europeans haven’t yet stumbled upon the glorious combination that is peanut butter and chocolate). She also sent me a Binghamton University (from which I also graduated) mug (ah, memories!) and a little moleskine notebook to take notes for my blog. Isn’t she thoughtful? Her birthday’s in May, so now I gotta come up with something equally excellent to reciprocate.

*At the publishing company I interned with back in 2008, the other American interns and I tried to introduce these into Great Britain through our office coworkers, but unsuccessfully apparently, as last year when I was getting my master’s there Wheat Thins were still unavailable. Everyone did rave about the ones one of the girls generously shared from her care package, which contained seven (!) boxes! I’m not the only American abroad who craves them apparently. Oh, and graham crackers are unheard of here, too. How am I supposed to make s’mores in the microwave without graham crackers, I ask you?

Anyway, Steph’s gift of peanut butter delicacies make a nice segue into what I want to talk about today (this entry will mark the first in a series I’m calling “Weird/Intriguing/Charming Things About the Netherlands). Since European peanut butter leaves something to be desired, I have fallen back on the old standby from my London days, Nutella*, the chocolate-hazelnut spread consumed enthusiastically around the world (even in the States, though it’s not as popular and doesn’t taste as good for some reason. Maybe I should start a peanut butter/Nutella culinary exchange program for the benefit of both sides of the Atlantic?).

*Actually if you want to get technical about it, we’re eating Jumbo store brand “Hazelnoot pasta,” or hazelnut paste, which is the same thing only cheaper.

Chocolatey spreads are pretty popular in Maastricht, with most supermarkets stocking a variety besides Nutella, including plain milk chocolate (without nuts), dark chocolate, white chocolate, and various combinations thereof.

That's  alotta Nutella! I also discovered one kind which I haven’t sampled yet but would like to: Speculoos (or Speculaas) paste, named for the flavorings found in the cookie of the same name.

According to Wikipedia, these thin, crispy spice cookies are traditionally a Dutch and Belgian Christmas treat, but have become available year-round and the flavor combination - typically cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg and white pepper - has ben adapted to other confections as well (I had a speculoos-flavored truffle in Brussels last weekend). I have had a speculoos cookie almost every morning since my arrival in Maastricht at, of all places, McDonalds, where they give you one when you order coffee. A pretty sturdy little cookie (what the British would call a biscuit), they’re great for dunking.

This brings me to what certainly falls under the “charming” category of Dutch life: in this part of the world (and that includes the surrounding countries, not just the Netherlands), when you order coffee anywhere, you almost always get a little treat thrown in for free. This is true in restaurants, cafes, bars, even, yes, fast food joints like McDonalds, and is often in the form of a cookie or biscuit of some kind, though I have received chocolates and candies as well.* There’s an ice cream store here called Australian that also makes artisanal chocolates, and when you order coffee there you get a homemade chocolate truffle! It is now my mission to try and get coffee in as many different places as possible to experience the full range of coffee go-withs on offer. I may start choosing my regular coffee places solely based on what comes with the drink.

*At the bar/café across the street, coffee comes with a chocolate truffle and a mini shot of lemon liqueur (I think, not entirely sure, but it was definitely something alcoholic) with whipped cream on top! Weird, but as I am a sucker for lots of little things on a plate, this made me happy, like a little composed dessert for the price of a cup of coffee. Definite points for this place (and because when you order drinks you get a basket of peanuts and are encouraged to chuck the shells on the floor. Apparently it’s good for the wood. Who knew?)


  1. Glad you liked the present! Also I love hearing about how places like McDonalds are different in different parts of the world! I'm jealous that I've been drinking all this coffee and haven't been getting free treats with it all this time tho haha