‘You’re going to like it in Amsterdam,’ says the text message from my husband three months before we fly out. He is already there, having flown out just after New Years.
Photos of a market flood through, fresh fruit and vegetables. ‘All organic,’ he says. And a butcher’s display. ‘Organic!!’ he says.
‘Looks good,’ I type back, followed by a list of questions I have for the butcher, about the type of cuts, and the farms he sources his meat from.
‘I’ll do my best to find out,’ says my husband but I know he won’t ask the questions, it’s one area in which he embarrasses easily.
‘This is the organic grocer that’s walking distance from our house,’ he sends a little while later.
Something softens between my shoulder blades. Food is my biggest concern. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to eat normally, and so finding regular, reliable sources of the food I can eat is the difference between my life being tolerable and well, me melting into a puddle of my own tears.
The intolerances happened gradually, starting in my twenties. First gluten, then fructose, and by my thirties lactose had begun to wage war on my insides. After my second daughter was born, I developed an infection and was put on high dose antibiotics for 6 weeks. It decimated the lining of her gut and mine and I’ve spent the last two and a half years learning how to rebuild a healthy gut lining for us both.
My daughter can now tolerate gluten and dairy, in small amounts. I still cannot tolerate dairy, but I’ve finally reintroduced everything else. At my worst, I could eat only quinoa and millet, about 8 different vegetables (nothing starchy), and meat. No seeds, no nuts, no herbs, no spices, no sugar, no nothing. I was starving even while surrounded by food. If I broke, and ate something I couldn’t, I would be in pain for a week.
We head out to Noordemarkt the day after we arrive in Amsterdam. The seven of us, piled into an Uber van, loaded with bags and what feels like the equivalent of a deposit on a house in cash. No one here seems to accept credit cards and we have no idea what everything will cost. We buy beanies and scarves and
We buy beanies, scarves and gloves because it’s 8 degrees and we are freezing. My husband stocks up on extension cords, tools and all sorts of other bits and pieces. I just want to get to the food. I feel like a kid in a candy store. Stall after stall of delicious produce in all the colours of the rainbow, and all of it organic. I’ve never seen so much variety. The first strawberries of the season have arrived, so I load a bag with several punnets, which the girls demolish before I finish ordering. I order more. I try out different things from different stalls to see who has the freshest and most tasty produce. My husband shakes his head when he finds me, but says nothing. Just dutifully carries the overflowing bags.
An old man, with wild grey hair that looks as though he has stuck his finger in an electrical socket wheels up an old-fashioned cart. He turns the handle and it pumps out music. He sings along, spittle spraying like a tap turned on hard and collecting in the corners of his mouth.
‘I can’t look at it,’ says our nanny’s fiancé. He hides from the spittle in the cafe on the corner and consoles himself with slices of Amsterdam’s ‘best’ pie.
At the butcher, there is everything. It’s a carnivore’s dream. The signs mean nothing to me. I order only what I recognise, chicken legs because they’re obvious, but then I’m stuck. I have no idea whether what I’m looking at is lamb or beef, I think I see pork belly, but I’m not sure. I let others order ahead, trying to listen to what they are saying but it means nothing. I berate myself for being pathetic and finally step up to the counter.
‘Is that pork belly?’ I ask, pointing to the lump of meat.
‘Yes,’ says the tall, blonde man, with a kilowatt smile. He looks like he laughs a lot.
‘Does it have the skin on it?’
‘Email me on Mondays,’ he says, I can order it for you.
‘And lamb shoulder?’
‘Monday,’ he says, handing me a card.
‘Do you deliver?’
‘Not normally, but can do,’ he has an ineffable charm about him. I like him immediately.
‘You’re new crush?’ says my husband coming up behind me. I smile, happy. I love a good butcher. My husband says that about any man who works with food.
It started with Mathew Evans, the food critic turned gourmet farmer, who upped and moved from Sydney to Tasmania. I love him. His passion for good food, for going back to basics, for his courage to learn how to farm knowing nothing. ‘You should have married someone like him,’ says my husband, a born and raised city boy who is more comfortable in a board room than in gumboots. Oh, to have a piece of land, just enough for an orchard, a vegetable patch, a poly tunnel, chickens, ducks – for the orchard, bees, maybe some goats and pigs.
Within months, the butcher and I have an email friendship.
‘Your crush is upset you didn’t come to the market today,’ says my husband, returning laden with goods. I laugh, cough, laugh again and haul myself up out of the chair and begin the post-market prep for the week.
Later, when I email him on Wednesday because I’m useless and can never remember to do it on Mondays, he sends his usual lighthearted message.
‘Thanks for this order, I will save the best I got… 😉’
We travelled a lot during that summer and so, had not ordered anything for nearly a month. At which point, an email turned up in my inbox that read;
‘Good morning Sabine,
Hahaha, have a nice day.’
It made me laugh, out loud.
I sent him this email.
When I forgot to transfer his money, I received this.
‘I know I can trust you paying off your debt. If not, I will take your husband as my hostage, he will work for about 1 week in the butcher shop! 🙂 After that I will bring him back to you, LOL.‘
It was tempting not to pay, just to see my husband forced to do physical labour for an entire week. He went off for a massage after helping me shovel dirt into the garden beds for an hour.
Turns out my husband was right, though. I do love Amsterdam, the food here is amazing.