Thursday, March 28, 2013

Happy Easter!

In just a few hours, we'll be nursing limoncello (in the rain) on Italy's Amalfi Coast. Before we unplug, just wanted to wish everyone a lovely, chocolate-filled Easter.

The 'Old' and the Beautiful

Local markets are a kind of moral and spiritual sanctuary.  They momentarily absolve my neglect of local farmers.  They cleanse my body of the preservatives and/or hormones now common in most food.  They renew my social connection to local community.   They give me free cider.

E and I managed to track down our new market—a five-minute walk from our place—after a short 7 months of living here (her, not me).  The place has incredible energy.  Vendors smile.  The space was open and sunlit.  Patrons were legitimately happy to be alive.   It seemed a rare oasis amidst a sometimes disenchanted world full of grinches.  Like me.

Conversely, I was assaulted by an old person at our regular commercial grocery store (Delhaize): 

I was pouring over my many options of something unnecessary when I saw a woman approaching out of the corner of my eye.  Cloaked in fur and armed with an impressively aggressive disregard of my existence, my elderly friend parked her cart in front of my line of sight, then reached through my legs to procure her items.  I was basically paralyzed.  Undaunted however, I shuffled slightly forward in front of her cart and resigned to a standoff until she acknowledged me. 

She won - after an agonizing two seconds.  

I hustled dutifully out of her way and lost a little bit at life.

Thank you local market on at 60A Rue Des Tanneurs.  And thank you for this delightful Ginger-Lemon Apple Cider (see my improvised recipe below).

-Heat 1 Liter of Apple Juice

  • ·         3-5” piece of ginger (match sticks)
  • ·         1-2 cinnamon sticks
  • ·         zest of 1 lemon
  • ·         juice of ½ lemon
-Serve with dash ground cinnamon

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"I love you like a fat kid love cake." -50 Cent

We don't have an oven in our little Brussels bungalow. It was almost a deal-breaker for me; I'd done plenty of teeny tiny kitchens in my day, but teeny tiny kitchen with no oven?! I carefully weighed my favorite baked goods against 15 foot ceilings and a balcony; in the end, the ceilings and balcony won, so I told myself that a toaster oven wouldn't be that bad (though it would take up most of the counter space) and prepared to sign the lease.

I took a walk around my neighborhood to get a feel for the place and realized that baked goods would be no issue. On every corner there was a chocolatier, on every street a bakery. Godiva, Pierre Marcolini, Cote D'or, Neuhaus, and Leonidas, all a stone's throw away. Visions of toaster ovens were overcome by visions of macaroons, chocolate eclairs, and pralines. It was on this walk that I discovered Wittamer's, the patisserie of the royal family, and home to some of the most beautiful desserts I have ever seen. Indeed, their marketing line is "come taste the chocolate of kings." When Matt finally arrived in Brussels, Wittamer's Cafe was one of our first stops, and it was then that we had the most amazing/ terrible idea ever: we would taste all of Wittamer's delights and determine which one was the best. 

Since then, we've made it a tradition to pick up one or two desserts on the weekend. Here are a couple of our first attempts: 

"Coup de Foudre"
Layman's description: Coffee biscuit, creme, caramel mousse
Letter grade: B+
Very good, especially with the salted caramel touch, but needed some texture contrast (i.e. mushy)

"Mont Blanc"
Layman's description: chestnut cream and meringue
Letter grade: B+ 
Good, but an utterly strange dessert.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Frites with the Grandfather of Gin

Matt and I spent last weekend in Antwerp, the 2nd largest city in Belgium, in the excellent care of new friends. This was our first proper excursion to Flanders, the Flemish region of Belgium, and I have to say, we loved it. The city felt much more relaxed than Brussels with what appeared to be more bikes than cars, and it was definitely a more alternative city, with more funky, independent shops than you could ever visit in a weekend.

True to form, we ate our way through the weekend starting with a delicious meal prepared by our friends in front of the fire; later that night, we wound up in a beautiful old bar full of exposed brick and something its hard to find in Brussels: real Belgians. We settled in with a deck of cards, kindly offered from the barman, and indulged in the many flavors of jenever, the Flemish Grandfather of gin. When we had sipped more shots than a human should, we stumbled to the local dive with "the best frites in town". It was frites with ketchup and mayo for the vegetarian (indeed, the best I've had in Belgium) and bitterballen (Flemish meatballs) for the omnivores. Just enough fried food to keep a jenever hangover at bay.

 The next morning we walked to Michel van Tricht and Son, what the Wall Street Journal refers to as the best cheese shop in Europe; for a cheese-lover, it was the epitome of the paradox of choice. So much cheese and so little time! After a delightfully indulgent breakfast (my favorite was a goat cheese with fig in the center), we headed to town. We spent the day wandering through the markets, popping in and out of shops, and sampling the local fare. Highlights included chocolate drinks at Quetzal de Chocoladebar and, of course, street waffles.

Antwerp, I miss you already.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Green Drink

Last summer, one of my very best friends was getting married at home in Helsinki, so M and I decided to make the most out of our trip to the Nordic region by visiting some of my lovely relatives in Sweden (as one of said lovely relatives is Swedish). We arrived in Malmo in mid-July, happy as ever to be greeted by cool air, gray skies, and a bit of rain.  By the time we finished our first round of fresh coffee, flatbreads with jam, and cheese, balmy Washington was but a distant memory.

My cousins, with whom we were staying, were amazing hosts and delighted us with bike rides across the city, hikes in the countryside, wild flowers, and impromptu picnics. Evenings were spent around the picnic table wrapped up in blankets, chatting about travel, adventures, health, and good food. It was in one of these conversations that my cousin Gunilla introduced us to a player that has joined us for breakfast almost five days a week since that very day: the green drink.

We were skeptical at first: a few handfuls of kale/ spinach, juice, apples, bananas, and chia seeds right into the blender. Healthy, yes; but did it taste good? My cousin made it for us the next morning and from that moment on we were believers. It was delicious! And sure enough that kryptonite-coloured beverage became one of our favorite souvenirs from the trip.

M and I both swear that the green drink, with all the vitamins and antioxidants, keeps us healthy even at our most busy, run down moments.  We play with the ingredients from time to time-- mango purée here, a couple of oranges there, and a bit of ginger and flax seed oil-- but always have at least two fistfuls of greens (preferably kale, but spinach works, too) and 1-2 bananas for the consistency.

Try it-- go green! And let us know your favourite combination.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Feast for 'Bros’

Three favorites of mine are root vegetables, dragons and our friends, Jen and Steve.  Prior to touching down in BXL, our January was wrought with a stream of chimp errands performed at the behest of the Belgian Consulate and our Visa application.  One such required a trek to Harrisburg, PA (from D.C.), where we would appear in the early A.M. to request our birth certificates; then wait for 4 hours while it was “processed” (printed out).
Harrisburg around this time could be a cold and unwelcoming place, if not for Jen and Steve who agreed to host us for the night.  Knowing them, we should have anticipated that dinner would not just be fabs, but designed around our respective predilections; in this case, vegetarianism and Game of Thrones. 
Clues about the evening emerged through a series of earlier emails and texts.   Steve revealed that several dishes would be prepared from “A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Cookbook.”  During the drive up, he texted E the following, concerned message: “We are making a veggie stew for dinner on Sunday.  The stew will have turnips in it.  Is that ok?”  We finally arrived and were greeted with an incredible stew (c/o Vegetarian Times) and several fantastical dishes inspired by Westeros and the mind of the gruesome George R.R. Martin.
We made the vegetable stew during our first weekend here with greens and a baguette.  We’ve yet to attempt “Arya’s Snitched Tarts” and “Yoren’s Black Bread” ourselves; however they were also great.  Valor Dohaeris Steve and Jen!