dutch indonesian heritage cuisine

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A recipe from the heart by Annette

Although she lived on the other side of the world, I took comfort in the knowledge that I could always start a video call via my smartphone. Or I would actually make that trip to Indonesia one of these days and give her a big warm hug again. That door is now forever closed.  Suddenly, you are confronted with aspects of human life from which there is no escape. My dear cousin and ‘big sister’, unexpectedly passed away last February. As I am slowly coming to grips with this tragic event, I realize that another person, who was witness to my early childhood years, has disappeared.  Another branch of our family tree has broken off. Antoinette Syams Anahar Sulilatu (Annette or Nenet for family and friends), was the daughter of late aunt Nessy Keasberry and late uncle Fajakoen Saleh. She was named after our late grandmother Marie Antoinette a.k.a. Oma Keasberry.

Annette was my living link to my Indo Dutch Heritage in Indonesia, her ‘fatherland’ as she called it. She moved back to Jakarta to be with her future husband Ardi (John) Sulilatu, whom she met during a short vacation in the early 1970’s.

Annette came to Holland as a teenager, together with her parents and younger brother Tjandra, in the early 1960’s. The family planned a short trip to visit our grandmother, who had to have major surgery on her eyes. That visit turned into a permanent stay in Amsterdam. The family lived on the 3rd floor, in the building where our grandmother had her restaurant.

While processing the loss of my cousin, little things come to mind. Memories go back to the times when she was my babysitter. Annette was part of my first eight childhood years, growing up carefree and surrounded by loving family in my grandmother’s restaurant in Amsterdam. I remember she would pick me up from kindergarten. I can still see myself walking up the steep and narrow stairs to the 3rd floor, when I was invited on Sunday mornings to have breakfast with her – I got porridge. I recall feeling sad when she announced she was moving to Indonesia. We saw each other a few times when she came for a brief vacation to Holland and many years later we met in Indonesia, when I was visiting. Whenever we got together we reminisced, we laughed while exchanging jokes and reciting the rhymes she taught me, like: “In de Winkel van Sinkel is alles te koop, potten en pannen, mosterd en stroop, hoeden en petten, ook dameskorsetten, drop om te snoepen, en pillen om te poepen.  (In the Shop Sinkel everything is for sale, pots and pans, mustard and syrup, hats and caps, also ladies corsets, licorice to taste , and pills to defecate).” We laughed out loud!

Annette and I shared a special bond and a special sense of humor. No matter our age, we were always in touch with our inner-child. Whether it would be cracking jokes or farting around. We got into mischief while in the supermarket as self-proclaimed ‘food inspectors of the health department’ – a role we took very serious.  We would test the crispiness of cookies by pressing hard on the package, crumbling the cookies inside. Or testing bread for freshness by squeezing hard and leaving a dent or hole.  Our loud laughter caused many fellow shopper’s eyebrows to frown. “Ey Joeprie!”, she would call me!  “Test this…!” And there she went pressing hard through the packaging, and say: “Lekker ja toet, èh èh!” A popular family expression that she and my father often used. So, if you now remember you once bought a package with crumbled cookies inside in either Amsterdam or Jakarta, it was Nenet! Bless her soul! I can already hear her say to me: “Kurang Ajar!” (Indonesian for “very rude!”).

In many ways, Annette  reminded me of our Oma Keasberry. She was the matriarch, strong willed and dominant. She wore her heart on her sleeve. Better not mess with her for she will not tolerate disrespect. She was spiritual and not materialistic. She knew when she was around friendly people or in enemy territory. Nenet could be stern at times, yet she had a good sense of humor, was fun to be with and very caring. I remember an episode that made an impression on me, when Annette was disciplined by our grandmother. She and Oma were sometimes at odds.  Yet, Annette always spoke of her with empathy and great respect.  She would remind me that Oma was a strong woman, an entrepreneur, who lost her husband at the end of WorldWar II at a very young age and as a result had to take care of her children by herself.

Annette experienced her share of hardships. She lost her oldest daughter Chimène in 2004. She survived a couple of serious strokes, the last big one in 2013, after she returned from Holland. This one permanently affected her speech. Whenever she got emotional she had trouble speaking. A tragedy for someone who was always very much in control.  As a result she had to change her lifestyle and lost significant weight.  But the sadness and frustration of not being able to communicate the way she used to, was visible. She was supported by her husband Ardi, daughter Joanna, son Carlo and her two grandkids, who brought her great joy. As well as her brother Tjandra and sister-in-law Bea. Despite her setbacks she also kept caring and helping others.

The last time we were together was in Holland during the month of September in 2013. She traveled with her aunt Lies for a vacation in Holland, after many years. I timed my visit to surprise her in Amsterdam. Good times were here again.  She was in great spirits and looked healthy. I was working on my second cookbook for Holland ‘de nieuwe Indische keuken’. Of course we talked about food all the time.  As a tribute to her, I decided to include a recipe that gave her much joy; Annette’s Krispy Fried Chicken.  We were sitting at my mother’s dining table, reviewing and documenting the recipe, which took us a while as we got easily distracted, as usual.

Annette will be remembered for many things, including her passion for cooking. And her Ajam Kremes will remind us of her, as is often the case with comfort food that triggers fond memories of those we love and with whom we shared a special meal. “Lekker ja toet, èh èh!”

I would like to end with the following poem:

Those we love remain with us

For love itself lives on,

And cherished memories never fade

Because a loved one’s gone.

Those we love can never be

More than a thought apart,

For as long as there is memory,

They’ll live on in the heart.

– Author Unknown

Annette I love you!