Monday, April 30, 2012

Boxty, Irish Poor Man's bread

Gullible Geek
The geeky Caucasian male in line behind me at the cash register in my dreary neighborhood supermarket moves with me towards check out aisle #2, in anticipation of the arrival of the supermarket manager, jumping in to slash the queue in half.

I've seen the geek's face before. Like Pavlov's dog we both respond to the manager's rattling key chain approaching from some distance. The store has just opened, and against all logic, it invariably is the worst time to come here for my quick breakfast fix: coffee and croissants. The kids working here, pretty much process customers the way I suspect they have been ripping open cardboard boxes and flinging their contents onto the shelves before opening hours. The store still belongs to them, and it will be at least another hour before they'll even be willing to pretend we could be anything else than deaf, mute walking pieces of meat.

The manager, a tiny overweight woman in her thirties, snugly filling the cashier's cubicle, routinely opens up cash register #2. She has changed her hair to platinum blond. It was black before. She dyed it December 5th 2011. The Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas that day, a precursor to  modern day Christmas, that is why I remember.

That day she was walking around the store fully dressed like 'Zwarte Piet'; a somewhat questionable, character appearing in the festivities at hand. She trotted around wearing a colorful hat with a contrasting feather and matching knickerbockers. Her face (and hair) painted black, her lips painted red. Think minstrel show.

Weary looks from all of us were her part. The rest of the staff, all Muslim girls, didn't dress up.  She clearly didn't bother about this; she was going to have her fun, whether her subordinates liked it or not.

Blind Finches
The geek has one item, and as I am still struggling to put my stuff on the moving belt, I signal him to go ahead and jump the line.

After he pays the manager asks him if she can have a look into his shopping bag. He refuses. Immediately the fuzzy, just-out-of-bed attitude of all people waiting in line focuses on the geek. "There is nothing in there" he mutters. The obligatory "so if there's nothing in it, I can have a peek?" is met with a cornered look from the geek, whose voice goes into a whisper as he says: "okay, I'll pay for it".

When the manager's hand comes out of the linen shopping bag, it contains the loot. It is meat. To be more precise it is two "blinde vinken" ("blind finches"), basically two meatballs with a piece of bacon wrapped around it. The cheapest meat product on the shelf.

Being so close to all that is happening I start feeling embarrassed. It is nothing compared to the shame that is emanating from every pore in the geek's sorry body by now. "Why are you doing this?" the manager shrieks, realizing there is no way back now any more and she will have to sit with the geek in the employer's canteen, holding him until the law arrives.

I am still with the meat. Maybe it is because I am an actor and always look for the story behind the story. The only thing I'm thinking now is: "why on earth did he go for mince meat, and not for the fattest steak he could find?" Something along the lines of: 'if you gonna do it, do it right'.

The manager screams a girl's name into the intercom system and wanders off with the very docile culprit. We, the other customers, don't seem to exist any more by now. 

After a few minutes the girl whose name was shouted arrives. She sits down and takes over where her manager left off. 

"Could I...." I start asking, but the newly arrived interrupts."Who's been stealing?" she shouts. She hasn't acknowledged my existence yet, so I'm not really sure who this question is directed at. The girl at check out #1 responds; "some white guy"

Her blank gaze turns to where her manager just left with the thief as she hisses "whore mother"... It takes a few baffled seconds before I realize she is talking about the manager.

I pay for my coffee and croissants, by now making sure to mirror the girl's behavior, by far the best way to confront people with their own, I find. So, I do not acknowledge her existence and instead of answering her robot question "do you want a printed receipt with that" I make sure to turn away from her and start talking to the customer behind me, smack in the middle of her question. Sometimes it pays to be an actor.

Walking out of the supermarket, there is a guy standing there with two cans of beer. He asks: "I'm waiting for the guy that was in front of you in line, where did he go?"

I tell him it will take a while before his friend will be done, and from his reaction I can tell he is in on it.

I'm confused. The 2€ thief is the bad guy, but "whore mother"-girl is cramping my style way beyond my tolerance levels. The guy at the door looks like the kind of guy the gullible geek would wrongly put his trust in. The manager is probably the reason why her staff take so much pleasure in ignoring their customers.

Walking home I think back to the most successful shoplift I ever witnessed. In this same supermarket in fact. Scrupulous, yet genius in its manipulation of human behavior and prejudice. Even though I saw it happening right in front of my eyes I decided not to act on it. Maybe when you read the story you'll understand why.

Successful Shoplifting
Enter 2 mothers and 5 little kids. They are doing serious groceries. Two big shopping carts,  filled to the hilt with hundreds of items arrive at the register. The cashier girl sighs at the prospect of this daunting task. The kids of course, are running around, screaming, shouting, playing and being obnoxious.

One of them isn't, though. The oldest kid, around 5 years of age, is dragging along a trolley, and positions himself at the end of the conveyor belt. The groceries are starting to pile up. The mothers make the cashier work hard. The amount of groceries is going to surpass the capacity at the end of the conveyor belt. Chaos is every where, most of all with the cashier.

The oldest kid helps out. He has put four cardboard boxes next to his trolley and starts loading. Cheeses and meats, coffee and more meat are carefully wrapped and placed into the trolley. The cashier gives him a thankful smile. With the end in sight, the cashier has to get up to scan the beer crates on the shopping cart. All went well. The job has been done. A hefty 350 € worth of groceries is rung up.

The mothers start squabbling in a foreign language, pointing at each other. Even the kids seem impressed. The cashier looks on blankly, not sure what is going to happen next.

Then the finale. "Ever so sorry, but we forgot to take our wallet". The cashier is not happy. What do they want? If it is okay to pack the groceries, leave them here and come back in 20 minutes to pay?

Yes, that is okay to the reluctant cashier (and a growing line of impatient customers). The mothers set the kids to work to get the last of the stuff out of the way. 4 Kids do as they are told.

The 5th one has already left the building, taking the trolley with the most expensive groceries with him...

I guess this one is for all the kids who wonder whether they maybe shouldn't be doing what their parents tell them to do

Boxty (Irish Potato Bread)




Ingredients
350 gr / 12.3 oz potatoes, peeled & grated
350 gr / 12.3 oz potatoes, boiled & mashed
350 gr / 12.3 oz AP flour
10 gr / 0.3 oz baking powder
1 egg
6 gr / 0.2 oz salt
pinch of white pepper
Preheat your oven to 190°C / 375°F


Boil half of the potatoes, mash them and leave them to cool. Grate the other half raw and squeeze as much moisture out of them as you can with the help of a tea towel or cotton cloth.

Combine the flour, the baking powder, salt, pepper,  grated - and mashed potatoes. Add the egg and knead by hand for a short time to make the dough come together. If the dough seems very dry, add a little (butter)milk. Form into a loaf and make a nice deep slash at a 45° angle to make the loaf open up nicely on top.

Bake in a preheated oven for about 40 - 45 minutes until golden brown. Make sure to rotate the loaf halfway through the bake for even browning.

Right after the Boxty comes out of the oven, I like to brush it with butter. That must have been considered an ultimate luxury, back in the days. This bread performs particularly well under the grill or on the griddle. The coarser you grate your potatoes, the closer you get to a perfect cross over between a potato bread and a hash brown.

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