Thursday, December 26, 2013

Chicken in Riesling

     With the break from school/work, I have been trying out some new recipes.  Many have been quite good and I want to share as many as possible.  So perhaps for some posts, I will just send out a recipe for you to try.

     Many of you will know about Coq au Vin, which is chicken cooked in red wine.  A sister dish to this is Coq au Riesling or Chicken in Riesling.  This dish, native to the Alsace region of France, uses the local wine, Riesling as the base of the sauce.   I remember visiting Strasbourg last December with the family and we had a wonderful lunch at a very traditional Alsatian restaurant.  Dear Husband had this dish and it was wonderful.  Recently, I found the recipe published back in 2008 in Gourmet magazine.  While 88% of the reviewers said they would make it again, I was still surprised at some of the negative comments.  This is an easy "company" dish that is one-pot and you can easily bring the pot to the table and serve from there.  Not too complicated and wonderful flavors.  We were lucky enough to serve this dish with a bottle of our favorite Riesling, purchased in Eguisheim last May.  

Chicken in Riesling
adapted from Gourmet, 2008

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken cut up (backbone discarded)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 to 4 leeks (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped (2 cups)
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped shallots
  • 4 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1 1/2" slices
  • 1 cup dry white wine (preferably Alsatian Riesling)
  • 1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream
  • Fresh lemon juice to taste (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F with the rack placed in the middle of the oven.

Pat chicken dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Heat oil with 1 tbsp butter in a large ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat until foam subsides.  Brown chicken in several batches, turning once.  Take your time with the step as you want the chicken to brown nicely.  Watch the pot and don't let the oil start to burn.  If the heat is too high, lower it.  The browning should take 8 to 10 minutes each batch.  Transfer to a plate.

Pour of the fat from the pot and then cook the leeks, shallot and 1/4 tsp salt in remaining 2 tbsp butter over medium low heat, stirring occasionally until leeks are pale golden, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the wine and boil until reduced by 1/4 to 1/2 cup, scraping the bottom of the pan to get all of the good stuff loose.  Add the carrots and the chicken, skin side up.  Cover pot and braise chicken in the oven until cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.

While chicken braises, peel potatoes and place in a saucepan.  Cover with cold water and add 1 1/2 tsp salt.  Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are just tender, about 10-15 minutes.  Drain in a colander, then return to saucepan and add parsley.  Shake to coat.

Take chicken out of the oven.  Stir creme fraiche or cream into the chicken mixture.  Watch at this point.  If the sauce is not thick enough, take out the chicken and heat the sauce at medium heat until it starts to thicken.  Season with salt and pepper, and lemon juice, if desired.  Add back the chicken and the potatoes and serve.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas - Sweet Potato Casserole

Merry Christmas from Belgium

     We have had our tree for a couple of weeks now.  Last weekend, I managed to put on the lights but we were saving the actual tree decorating until a later date.  A very good friend of ours, who lives near Antwerp, came down for the weekend and we wanted to show her some American Christmas traditions.  Her one request…that we make a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  So, we planned a bit of Thanksgiving and a bit of Christmas. Shortly after her arrival, we introduced her to Egg Nog and began the tree decorating party.  While decorated trees are also part of the Belgian custom, it was still fun to share this experience with her.  As you can tell, Dear Daughter also had a good time.  Yes, it is a small tree but it is quite lovely.

     Throughout the course of the evening, we learned that our traditional Thanksgiving meal is not so different than what our friend would have each Christmas.  In her family, the turkey was stuffed.  There were mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.  But she was quite excited by the Sweet Potato Casserole.  I have to admit, it was quite tasty.  I also had to admit to her that it was the first one I had ever made.  While Dear Husband loves sweet potatoes, Dear Daughter and I are not big fans.  However, this dish was tasty enough to change my mind.

     Now, it is Christmas Eve.  The weather is incredibly blustery and the wind woke us up at various times last night.  It is nearly 9am and the sky is still dark and grey.  It feels that it should be evening instead of the beginning of the day.  It does make sleeping late luxurious…and easy.  There are no strong sunbeams shining through the windows.  Dear Daughter is still asleep - enjoying a few days of nothing-ness.  I asked her yesterday if she was bored.  "Absolutely not!"  She realizes that she will only have a few days of this and really, we all need a bit of downtime, right?

     Last Saturday morning, Dear Husband and I were lounging lazily in bed trying to decide when to start the day.  It was nearly 8am and still very dark outside.  Suddenly, the doorbell rang and I popped quickly out of bed and ran downstairs.  I threw a jacket over my pajamas and went out to meet the lumber guy who was delivering a load of firewood.  He must have thought we were nuts…and quite possibly, very lazy.  He dumped the large load in the driveway, collected his money and wished us a "bon weekend."  It took Dear Husband nearly two hours to haul and stack the wood.  Given the current weather, it sure is nice having a big load of firewood.

     So more rambling... I received an email from Dear Daughter's best friend last night inviting herself over for a sleepover.  She gave me the specific date as she said that was the only time she was available.  I chuckled a bit when I read the message as I have not received one like that before.  But unfortunately, her only available date doesn't work for our schedules so I quickly sent her off an email letting her know that we would have her over in January.

     Anyway….we wish you all the best this holiday season.  Have a wonderful 2014!

Bonne Fete!

Best Ever Sweet Potato Casserole
(found somewhere on the Internet and tweaked)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Breaktime!

     Four more days, three more days, two more days...I count down the days each morning not only to myself but to Dear Daughter as well during breakfast.  The end of the semester is near and I keep stressing to her not to lose focus...nose to the grindstone and all of that.  Can I really expect a 12-yr old to understand?  Is my focus as strong as it was earlier in the school year?
     The days and weeks have flown by since we moved to Belgium.  In some respects, I think that we all feel that we have not really had the chance to get out there and really explore.  It isn't because we are lazy. It isn't because we have just wanted to stay at home (although on some Sundays, that has been a glorious alternative).  It is that we are really busy right now.  Every weekend for the last month has been taken by swim meets and the daily practices are a bit of a grind at the moment.
     However, the end is near.  Two more school days and then two weeks of vacation.  Friday, we will celebrate by visiting our favorite town, Ghent.  I am looking forward to strolling through the tiny Christmas market  and visiting one of the cafes along the river.  While it might be too cold to sit outside, I am guessing that the outdoor heaters will be in full use - making it possible to enjoy a light lunch or coffee.  Our first stop will be the soap store to visit the owner - who remembers us every time and rewards us with new restaurant recommendations.  Then I suppose, we will visit our favorite little bar along the river to try a new Belgian beer.  We will stroll down one of the longest pedestrian- only shopping districts in all of Europe and visit favorite stores.  Dear Daughter will obviously want to visit the frites stand and have a huge paper cone filled with hot, steamy, delicious french fries.
     A friend of mine has told me about a farm about 30 minutes away that sells the most delicious foie gras and various other duck products.  I am hoping to have time to visit in the next few days as I envision foie gras on toast with a glass of champagne as Christmas Eve's first course at dinner.  Today, Dear Daughter and I will shop for Christmas Eve dinner and the meals for Christmas Day.  Here is what I have planned thus far:  For Christmas Eve, we will have a wonderful cheese fondue.  Our brunch on Christmas Day will consist of Crabcake Benedict - a crabcake topped with a poached egg and hollandaise and served with a small potato gratin and bacon.  Dinner will be a hearty Veal and Chestnut Ragu served with a big, full bodied red wine.  The wood guy comes on Saturday so we will have plenty of firewood.  Eggnog is in the fridge.  Our favorite Christmas movies are ready.  the tree is up, lights are on and everyday a few more presents are added.  Saturday, we will have our own little tree decorating party.  We are so...so...ready. 

One and a half days to go!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

France: Saturday in Paris; Sunday at Home - Crab Quiche

     I used to think that it was awesome to say, "Hey, I was in Paris this past weekend."  But after yesterday, it is much cooler to say, "Hey, I was in Paris YESTERDAY!"  Yesterday morning, we boarded the train at 7:30 a.m. and arrived at Gare du Nord just after 9:00 a.m.  How cool is that!  After a quick breakfast of coffee and croissants, we finally tried the Paris metro station for the first time.  It was not that difficult to navigate but all day, we were so surprised at how heavily it is used.  I really cannot imagine boarding the train during rush hour…it was jammed throughout the day on Saturday.
     Our first stop was the Musee Marmottan in the 16th Arrondissement.  I had only just recently heard of this museum and we have never ventured far from the neighborhoods along the Seine River.  However, hearing that the museum housed some 130 works of Monet that were donated not only from the artist's son but several other benefactors, I was intrigued.  What a wonderful small museum!  The ground floor contained a current exhibition on Napoleon and his sisters.  It was an intriguing collection of art work and history and who would have thought that Napoleon would have been so devoted to his family.  The second floor, contained works by the female Impressionist painter, Berthe Morisot, who was a great friend of Claude Monet and was married to Eduard Manet's brother.  While I had seen some of her work in the past, I learned a great deal more about this fabulous painter.  But where were the Monets?  We wandered again through the first two floors trying to figure out what we had missed.
     Finally, we took a staircase to the basement and there they all were…a room full of his work!  It was truly awe-inspiring.  We actually saw the piece that the movement "Impressionism" was named for - "Impressionist - Sunrise."  "Now that is something that you do not see everyday," I told Dear Daughter, who was actually holding her own.  We viewed wonderful, personal paintings that he made of his two sons and you caught a different glimpse of Monet.  It was a wonderful two hours in this small intimate gallery.
     Upon exiting, we realized that we were a short 15 minute walk from the Trocadero and since we had never visited it before, we decided to take the stroll instead of the crowded metro.  I have no idea what the Trocadero is but standing at the edge of the square is the most magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower.  It is absolutely breathtaking and while the skies were grey, I could not help but take a few photos.  We walked down to the river and across the bridge to the Tower itself and noticed the as yet, undecorated Christmas trees lining the Champs du Mars.  We strolled through a flea market on our favorite street, Rue Cler, and jealously starred at the buyers at the wonderful cheese shops, fish shops, the Italian butcher, etc.  Hungry, we made our way to our lunch reservations…a wonderful little restaurant that I found on my last visit.  The owner stopped by and greeted me with the bisou - a kiss on each cheek and welcomed me back to the restaurant.  My family was duly impressed.  We had a lovely meal and enjoyed the atmosphere and entered the world much later that afternoon.






     We debated what to do with the remainder of our time but then came across the Paris Christmas Market which had started that day along the Champs Elysses.  Wow…the streets were lined with booths selling all sorts of crafts and food.  A giant Ferris Wheel was set up in the Place de Concorde and we stood in line to catch a glimpse of Paris from the top.  Walking back up the Champs Elysses, we boarded a very crowded metro and arrived at Gare du Nord in time for our train home.  It was a fantastic day and another one for the memory bank.  
     So today, we slept in and I made a three course brunch for us to enjoy.  A shop along Rue Cler had a sign saying that it really wasn't breakfast if there was not champagne, so I made sure to start chilling a bottle last night when we arrived home.  First course consisted of foie gras on toast and a pain au chocolate for Dear Daughter.  Crab quiche, salad and a small serving of potato dauphanoise made up the main course and a wonderful chocolate covered chocolate mousse had us over the top for  dessert.  It was a wonderful way to end the weekend!

Crab Quiche

Sunday, November 10, 2013

France: Paris - Le Cordon Bleu - My Afternoon as a Chef

     "Remember this," the chef's interpreter translated.  "During this afternoon's practical, you will want to do this."  Practical?  What does she mean by "practical'?  I am just here to learn a bit more about cooking.  Am I going to have some sort of test?  From that point on, I took notes on everything the chef said.  If there was to be a test, I wanted an A.

     As an early Christmas present, my mother had enrolled us in a day long course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.  Earlier that morning, we traversed Paris by taxi and would have never stopped at the unassuming building if it wasn't for the fact that various young people  dressed up like chefs were standing outside the front door having a smoke break at 8:15 in the morning.  We had enrolled in a class entitled, "En l'Honneur de Julia Child" (In Honor of Julia Child) and the course promised to concentrate on traditional French cooking.

     Having never been to a cooking class before and certainly having never been to Le Cordon Bleu, I did not know what to expect.  After signing in, we were given a plastic bag which contained the materials that we would need over the course of the day.  We were instructed to don our aprons and then we were led upstairs to a large classroom.  This was no ordinary classroom; however.  At the front was a kitchen.  A large mirror hung from the ceiling so we could see exactly what the chef was preparing.  If you didn't snag a front row seat - no worries.  There were also televisions placed in various locations.   The dozen of us took our seats and patiently waited.  In front of us was a flurry of activity.  The chef inspected the work area and his two assistants flew around the kitchen making sure that all of the preparations were complete.

     Our Chef Instructor looked exactly what you would imagine - an older gentleman with a kind smile and a dry wit.  After his introductions, he gave us a few Julia Child anecdotes and dove right into today's course.  The menu consisted of:  mussels in a curried cream sauce, a traditional lamb blanquette with seasonal vegetables and an apple tart.  We were to watch him make these dishes and then in the afternoon, we would be expected to make the main course.  Yes, the practical…the test…oh my…what is blanquette?  I took out a pen and my reading glasses and prepared to write down everything.

     By the end of the demonstration, I had a book of notes and was exhausted!  I had been concentrating so hard over the past several hours, trying to catch all the nuances, all the little tidbits.  During the short lunch break and with a glass of wine and a plate of food, I reviewed my notes.  I would be ready… Upon returning to class, we were escorted to another room - this time, it was an actual kitchen.  A long island separated the room in half.  At the front of the room were two large sinks.  On the sides of the room were a series of four burner stoves - our workspaces.  A 2-lb lamb shoulder was plopped down on our cutting boards.  Nearby was a pan holding most of the vegetables.  Our knives were close by.  We had everything we needed to create our main course.
"My" Burners

Each student had her own pan of ingredients

Our Chef

How the Rest of the Line Looked


     The chef bounced around the room regularly checking our progress.  His translator bellowed out several times…"Get the meat cooking.   Get the meat cooking.  It needs two hours to cook!"  My meat was cooking and I had moved on to peeling the baby carrots and turnips for the vegetable garnish.  I made a bouquet garni from leeks and other spices.  I shelled peas, prepped mushrooms and peeled pearl onions.  I cut parchment paper to make little tops for the pans so the vegetables could "steam". Then I heard the chef yell excitedly, "Accident, Accident."  (When reading this, you must say these words in a French accent in order to get the full effect.)  I quickly turned around, panic-stricken…was he talking to me.  Had I done something wrong?  Luckily, no.  The young girl next to me had forgotten about her onions.  All the water had cooked away and the onions had burn marks all of them.  Aha….I was safe.

     By 3:30, my dish was finished.  I have to admit, that I was too afraid to have the chef taste it although I am sure that he told everyone that theirs was wonderful.  I packaged up my meal and looked forward to serving it to my family the following evening.  You know what…they loved it!  It was an wonderful experience and perhaps, I should have tried to have more "fun" but I think that my version of fun was to learn as much as I could learn.

     This weekend, Dear Daughter and I are in Brittany.  Our vacation home does not feel like a vacation home.  It feels like home.  I find it impossible to go to bed early here as I love being in this apartment.  So, while Dear Daughter slept, I enjoyed looking outside at the river, watching people depart the fancy restaurant across the street and wondered why our neighborhood bar was already closed.  We slept in late on Saturday morning and then casually walked up the street to our favorite bakery and then a stroll through the small weekly market.

     It is always a sort of homecoming.  The baker's wife recognizes us and while she does not say much to me, she gives me a smile that suggests, "Welcome Back".  The market, while small, has a few new vendors.  I see beautiful, tiny mussels that were harvested just a few kilometers away and decide that tonight, we will have mussels for dinner. I will try to create the other dish from my cooking lesson.  We buy a few more essential ingredients before getting into the car and driving to Dinard for their expansive Saturday market.  It was amazing to see how crowded it was - no tourists here.

     It is scallop season right now and a town close to us is the Scallop Capital of Brittany (and perhaps all of France).  We patiently wait in line and when our turn comes, we order 2 kilos of scallops.  They are still in shell and you pay an extra 50 cents per kilo to have them prepped.  We watch the fishmonger quickly do his thing and those 2 kilos quickly become 12 scallops ready to be cooked.  The price of the mussels were only EUR1.50 and the scallops were only 11 Euros - so we will be dining like kings tonight!

     After a brasserie style lunch, we are back in the apartment working on school stuff.  Dear Daughter has decided to run for Student Council office and we spend the rest of the afternoon preparing 20 campaign posters.  As I take a break, she works on her speech.  This is when it really feels like home.  We celebrate our hard work with an appetizer of Scallops with Garlic Confit followed by Mussels in Curry Cream Sauce.  Our favorite dessert from the baker finishes a wonderful meal.  We stay up late and sleep in once again on Sunday morning.  It does seem that all we do here is think about food and then consume food.  We head up the street to purchase some house made foie gras to take home to Dear Husband and make a stop at the bakery. I forego breakfast as I know that lunch will be delicious.  We drive a short distance to our favorite Sunday lunch location.  Then it is back home to do more work and have more relaxation before making the drive back to Belgium on Monday morning.

     So, the mussels.  This was the appetizer dish that the chef created at Le Cordon Bleu.  I didn't have the recipe with me but after searching the Internet, I found a reasonable copy and with a few tweeks…created a really tasty dish (if I do say so myself)!

Mussels in Curry Cream Sauce


Mussels with Curry Cream Sauce
(adapted from Le Cordon Bleu)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween - Belgian Style

     I am not a big fan of Halloween.  I am not sure why but it just isn't my favorite holiday.  Dear Husband loves it and almost every year since we have been married, we have to have our own pumpkin carving contest.  One year, he even had the trick-or-treaters vote.  I have to admit that part is fun.  I am just not into all of the costumes and scariness.
Pumpkins from last year


     When we lived in the States, Dear Daughter was able to go around the neighborhood with the kids that lived nearby.  That was certainly better than just me taking her around the houses.  But soon, all of the children moved away and Dear Husband was adamant that she still have Halloween with friends.  As a result, as Halloween approached each year, I had to find a friend and invite ourselves over to walk in their neighborhood.  It was a lot of fun but required some amount of driving.

     Then, we move to Germany.  We continued with our pumpkin carving last year but most of the children in our neighborhood, being Americans, headed over to the Air Base to wander the neighborhoods there.  We had a few children but it was a bit of a letdown for Dear Daughter.

     Now we are in Belgium and…I really totally forgot about the holiday.  Dear Daughter did manage to meet some friends and go to a Haunted House, which resulted in her sleeping in her parents bed.  But there was no pumpkin carving and no talk of trick or treating.  It was as if the holiday did not exist.

     The one thing that I love about being in another country is seeing how the host country celebrates a holiday.  Evidently, Halloween is celebrated in Belgium but it is very different - or at least, it is very different in our town.  First, I received a flyer in the mail that indicated there was going to be a Halloween Fest in the parking lot of our local small grocery store.  The Fest would begin at 6pm.  The children would arrive in costume.  From the grocery story, they would walk (promenade) to our neighborhood and would visit houses in hopes of receiving treats.  If you did not want to pass out treats, you could either leave them at your door or place a sign (which was included) that indicated that the group needed to move on.

     So, last night we waited with anticipation.  In the States, I always bought too much candy and we never had many children stop by.   This year, I purchased four bags and figured that I would have a lot left over for us to enjoy.  Around 6:45, we saw flashlights bouncing down our dark street.  Soon, we heard the voices of children.  We opened the front door and were swarmed by costumed kids of all ages.  There was even a photographer!  There were even adults looking for candy.  For the next 10 minutes, we frantically passed out candy.  The lucky ones were the first ones, when I gave them four to five pieces.  Then we panicked as we saw more and more children coming down the street.  I had to rationed the goodies - only giving one piece to each reveler (although a little toddler refused to take her hand out of the candy bowl until she had the exact pieces that she wanted).  They were all very polite…"Bonne Halloween, Merci," they called out as they left.  As quickly as it started, it ended.  No stragglers, no children coming at 10pm and constantly ringing the doorbell.  It was all very civilized once you got through the mob at your front door.

   Here is how it worked.  The children, with parental escorts, strolled through our neighborhood stopping at the houses that wanted to participate.  When they finished, they went back to the grocery store parking lot where two small tents were set up.  Each child received a cup of pumpkin soup and a cup of hot chocolate and the adults could have a vin chaud (hot mulled wine) to go with their soup.  Music played and young dancing groups performed to songs such as "Thriller" or "Ghostbusters".  At precisely 9:00 pm, there was a short fireworks display.   Very different and very cool!

     The days are shorter now as we set our clocks back last week.  The wind has picked up and there is that certain chill that tells us that winter is on the way.  We are on a one week fall break from school and today seemed like a good day to make a bit batch of soup, spend the day in PJs and watch television or read.

     Tonight, we will put a log in the fireplace, savor delicious foie gras that I picked up last weekend in Paris and hopefully indulge in a wonderful lasagne.  In addition to the soup, I have been making the sauce for the lasagne all day.  Then the world crowds back in as Dear Husband goes to the States tomorrow and Dear Daughter and I head to England for a swim meet.

Cheers!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Belgium: Ypers, In Flanders Fields



     We live in Wallonia.  When you tell that to most Belgians, they tend to scrunch up their noses and tell you that Flanders is better.  From an outsiders point of view, the country seems very much divided.  Sure, in the United States, we have North and South or East and West.  Sure, if you are from New York, then your accent is much different than if you are from Alabama.  But here in Belgium, it isn't about an accent. If you live in Wallonia, then you speak French.  If you live in Flanders, then you speak Flemish.  I do not really know which is better.  The more I get to know both areas, the more I like them both.  Except for the roads...I have to admit the roads in Wallonia, thus far are terrible!

     Anyway, we have ventured to a few places in both Wallonia and Flanders.  In an effort to make sure that each family member gets to see something that he/she really wants to see, last weekend we made it Dad's choice and headed to Flanders.  Dear Husband, a history buff, had located a tiny town which was completely destroyed during World War I and was painstakingly reconstructed.  Today, the town of Ypres (in French)/Iepers (in Flemish), has declared itself a City of Peace.  Its museum is dedicated to the futility of war.

     The museum is called "In Flanders Fields" and it is housed in a spectacular building in the town's Grand Place/Grote Markt/Main Square.  The name of this museum may sound familiar to you as it is the name of a famous poem.  The poem was written by a Canadian doctor and artillery commander, Major John McCrae.  During the second battle of Ypres, a young lieutenant who was serving in the same unit as Major McCrae was killed when an artillery shell landed near him.  As the Chaplain had been called away, MAJ McCrae had been asked to conduct the burial ceremony.  Later that evening, it is thought that he went back to his tent and began his draft of this poem.  If you have never read the poem, I urge you to seek it out.  It is simple yet poignant and provides a telling example of the horrors of that war to end all wars.  "In Flanders fields the poppies blow...between the crosses, row on row..."

     The town of Ypres was stuck in between the battles of the British and German forces.  Later in the war, more Commonwealth soldiers were committed to these battles.  The first chemical attacks took place here and little by little the town was destroyed.  At the end of the war, the British were against the rebuilding of the town as  a young Mr. Churchill wanted the area to be a remembrance - a zone of silence.  But by 1920, the town was being rebuilt and it was decided to rebuild the town as it had once been.

     Another site that is particularly moving is the Menin Gate that stands at the entrance of the old town.  The massive stone arch is a moving memorial dedicated to the Soldiers of the British Commonwealth who fell and have no known grave.  There are over 54,000 names etched into the stone work divided by country and unit.  As you walk through the gate, wreaths of poppies, flowers, candles are placed upon the stairs by those visiting the site.  Each evening, since 1928 at precisely 8:00 pm, the traffic is stopped in front of the Gate and "Last Post," the traditional final salute to the fallen is played by buglers.  While we could not stay late enough to experience this moving tribute, the Gate itself is probably the ultimate reminder of the devastation of war.

     While Dear Husband loves to investigate all things historical, I have to admit that my interests are in other things.  However, I am glad that we experienced one of his choices.  I think that we all learned and were moved by the whole experience.  (Well, maybe not Dear Daughter...but at 12 years of age, perhaps history isn't yet her thing.)

The Museum "In Flanders Fields"

View of the town from the Clock Tower

Names of the Fallen on Menin Gate




Friday, September 27, 2013

France: Brittany - What Are They and Do They Taste Good? Plus: Seafood Paella

View of St. Malo

     We spent last weekend in France celebrating Dear Daughter's 12th birthday.  The trip was timed perfectly.  We arrived late Wednesday evening and spent an enjoyable morning cruising around the large indoor/outdoor market in the coastal town of Dinard.  We purchased food items for our dinner, early Christmas presents, sat outside and drank coffee like the locals and even managed a seaside stroll along the promenade.  That evening, we made a very nice seafood paella (recipe to follow).

     The weather was cool but mostly sunny on Friday.  After a slow and lazy start to the day, we headed to our favorite beach at St. Jacut de la Mer.  This time of year, the beach was nearly empty and the vacation houses, all boarded up.  I think for us, it is a great time of year to experience the area.  After our picnic lunch, we headed out to walk to the island.  The tides are very extreme in this area and during low tide, you can walk a mile out to a small (and inhabited) island.  As we walked, you could see locals and vacationers loaded down with various types of fishing equipment:  rakes, small shovels, buckets, and nets.  We are always amazed at what they will search for whether it be small clams (cockles), mussels, oysters or the occasional crab.  We have never been that lucky but we did manage to find several two scallops one year.  But since the bad oyster incident, we are hesitant; that is another story.

    We do like to walk and we do like to watch those who seem to know what they are doing do what they do.  Sometimes, we will try to ask questions but most of the time we quietly maneuver around the "fishermen", looking inside of their buckets and figuring out the daily catch.  

     On this particular outing we noticed for the first time, people carrying containers of salt.  They wandered not to far from the edge of the tide, their eyes glued to the sand.  Every few moments, the individual would stop, sprinkle some salt on the sand and then, a few seconds later, something would poke through the sand and the person would quickly grab it and put in a container.  We found a group of young Spaniards clearly engrossed in the activity.  Each of them were practically squatting on the sand, barely moving except for pouring salt and pulling out these sand creatures.  Their shells were long and straight and when you pulled them out, their bodies would partially hang from the shell almost like jelly.  It wasn't a pleasant sight but it was intriguing.

     I had to figure out what these things were and what you do with them.  I ventured over to the group and began in my pathetic French to ask one of the girls.  I have no idea what she said that they were but evidently you grilled them with oil and butter.  She then plunged one of creatures back into the sand indicating to me that it was too small.

     Dear Daughter and I were totally engrossed in the activity and vowed that the next day we would return and search for what we now called razor clams.  Dear Husband was a bit more skeptical.  "What are we going to do with them?"  "We will cook them and have them as an appetizer," was my response.  He was not totally convinced.

     The next day, looking the part in our new water boots and carrying a large container of salt, we made our way to roughly the same location and we started looking for holes and pouring salt.  Nothing happened.  We walked a little more and poured a little more salt...nothing happened.  Really?  It looked so easy yesterday.  What was our problem?  We tried over and over again to no success.  

     Finally, we spotted two small holes almost together.  We poured in the salt and the sand absorbed it and the hole gurgled a bit.  Excited, we poured a bit more salt and the same thing happened.  Then it stopped altogether and a second or two later, out popped the clam, its gelatinous head popping off.  We quickly grabbed it and then squealed with delight.  Shortly after that, we had "caught" almost a bucket full of these things.  Even Dear Husband was getting into the spirit of things.  He did still have one question..."What are we going to do with them?"

     I looked around and found a group of older women nearby.  I walked over to one and told her that we wanted to give her our catch.  "Non, c'est bon."  No, they are good.  She wouldn't take them!  I asked her how to cook - actually, I only knew the word for "Cook" and she seemed to understand and began to rattle off cooking instructions.  I understood most of her directions.  Off we went back home with at least 40 of these odd looking shellfish.

     I have heard that the Bretons will eat anything in a shell.  I know that I now eat certain shellfish that looks absolutely terrible - not just the cute little shrimp and lobsters but things like bullots (they look really gross but taste really good).  But as I started to cook whatever it was that we found, I realized that there was no way...no way...that I was going to eat these.  I didn't even show them to the rest of the family - into the trash they went!  But here is a video of the adventure!


     Our seafood paella didn't contain any strange looking shellfish but you could always add some if you wish!

Seafood Paella

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ode to Joy

     Twelve years ago today after a very long day, Dear Daughter decided to present herself to the world.  Wow, what a wonderful trip it has been thus far.  Sure, there are rocks in the road and bumps along the way but I do not think we would change anything.    These dozen years have gone by at lightening speed...how do I slow the next twelve?

     I stepped into her room this morning and sang "Happy Birthday" to her.  In true "tween" style, she informed me sleepily, that it was actually her cat that woke her up and perhaps I should stop my singing and dancing routine, as I was embarrassing myself.  It is that witty sense of humor that is so endearing.  Really, she was saying with it with a smile on her face...as she can have a witty sense of humor.  While I contemplated this post today, my thoughts were of specific memories of the past twelve years.  However, rather than write them all down...here are a few photographic memories - in no specific order.
























And today - the birthday girl!  We love you.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Belgium: Liege and Meatballs!

     I have a whiteboard in our home office and it lists all of our "free" weekend days between now and the end of the year.   Amazingly, as of last week, we only had three entire weekends free.  How did we manage to get so booked when we only just moved here?  Frankly, I think that we like it that way.  Even when we lived in the States, it was hard to go through a weekend without anything planned.  Since our football time is relegated to Sunday nights at 7pm (when we can see the 1pm game), that really leaves the entire weekend for activities.

     So while this past weekend was a free weekend, we also thought that it would be a great idea to have our first dinner "party" and sleepover for Dear Daughter.  On Friday night, we invited a couple that we have known for years (and now live in Brussels) over for dinner and Dear Daughter invited her new BFF to spend the night.  It could not have worked out better.  Adults were entertained; children were entertained.  It was a very easy night.  I have also learned a great deal about entertaining...KISS...keep it simple, stupid.  While keeping it simple, I also wanted to give our guests something a bit different.  I think that we achieved both.  Over drinks, I served a combination of appetizers:  melon balls wrapped in prosciutto, sun-dried tomato and mozzarella skewers, small slivers of brie topped with a peach slice and a drop of honey and endive filled at the tip with roquefort.  We lingered over these while sipping a typical French aperitif, a Kir (creme de cassis with white wine).  

      And while we were catching up, the girls were having pizza...from Dominos...even in Belgium.  Our salad course consisted of a wonderful summer melon salad with prosciutto and arugula and I served a Cremant (sparkling wine) from Burgundy.  The main course....soupe de poisson...was made from the fishmonger in town.  It is similar to bouillabaisse without all the chunks of seafood.  You take a large crouton and smear rouille (a garlic condiment) on top; drop it into the soup and add grated cheese.  Fabulous.  For dessert...easy-peasy...chocolate from the local Belgian chocolate shop and macaroons.  Lovely company, lovely food and very easy...a very enjoyable evening.  Of course, I have no idea when the kids went to sleep as I was purring comfortably in my bed by midnight.

     With one day left of the weekend to explore and the weather looking favorable, we decided to take a drive to the university city of Liège.  About 90 minutes away, it sits on the River Meuse - one of the main rivers in Belgium.  Evidently, the Emperor Charlemagne was born in the city but I have to tell you that we did not sightsee one bit.  I wanted to explore the Sunday market at La Batte...the oldest and largest market in Belgium.  It extends one mile along the river and frankly, you can find everything at this market.  Need flowers; see one of the many florists.  Looking for Italian pasta or cheese; I saw at least five different vendors that "specialized" in all things Italian.  Need some live chickens; take your pick...old ones, chicks, black ones, white ones.  What about that lovely eggplant caviar that you just received as a housewarming gift....yep, it is there.  Need a new bra?  Well, have no fear...the man will guess your size and slip one right over your blouse.  Shoes, vietnamese food, records, jewelry, cleaning supplies...REALLY, it is all there.

     And it had no impact on either Dear Daughter or Dear Husband.  Their comment..."how many times can you see the same thing for sale?"  Ok, maybe they have a point there.  To diffuse the situation, I took them to the one cafe at the border of the market that almost everyone on TripAdvisor raved about...Cafe Lequet.  When in Liège, you have to eat Boulets à la Liégeoise and evidently, Cafe Lequet is the place to have them.

Cafe Lequet - Guy is on the left


     There is nothing special about the restaurant.  It is long and narrow.  There is a long bar at the entrance and the tables are long rectangles seating up to 8.  You do not receive a menu but can view the offerings from a chalkboard on the wall or via the pop-ups on the tables.  We sit at the back of the restaurant and peruse the offerings.  One boulet avec frites; two boulets avec frits; two boulets avec frits, salad and compote...and a few other offerings.  But evidently, it is all about the boulet.  We hear a man bellowing across the restaurant...taking orders and yelling back to the staff.  He finally makes his way over to us and I assume he is asking for our drink order.  I hear "Voulez-vous" and "boire" which I know is "would you like" and "drink".   Drink orders delivered, he asks us what we would like to eat "manger"...mais oui...boulets.  Dear Daughter opts for one, Dear Husband and I split an order of two with fries.

     They arrive at lightening speed.  Through the door of the kitchen, women bring plates and plates of boulets.  We see very little else being served.  The owner bellows out his orders; bellows out to his friends; bellows out to everyone.  Very quickly, the restaurant has filled to capacity and nearly everyone is eating Meatballs with Fries.  But these are Liège meatballs...a very special kind of meatball.  Why?  It is actually a very ordinary meatball - a mixture of pork and beef.  It is the sauce that is its claim to fame.  The sauce has Sirop de Liège...which, of course, is from Liège.  This is a total Belgian speciality - not found in the US.  It is made from pears and apples and seems to be somewhat like a jam but it is used in all sorts of recipes.  You might spread it on bread in the morning; or spread it over a soft cheese for a snack.  And, you can use it in sauces - for which they do for the meatballs.

     So, it makes for a bit of an odd combination - meatballs with a slightly sweet sauce.  Dear Husband and I liked it but Dear Daughter was not convinced.


     All in all, not a bad trip but I am not sure if we will make it to Liège again for the market or the meatballs.  But I hear that they have a great Christmas Market!!!

     Now on to a service announcement from our sponsors.  Should you be looking for a vacation rental in France...let me introduce you to La Riviére - a wonderful two bedroom apartment situated in a lively yet peaceful market town.  Want to see more information...then head to our new website:  www.plancoet-to-let.com.

Cheers!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Foire aux Vins - Pork and Tomato Skillet Saute

     They start coming on Wednesday of each week.  Over the next few days, the mailbox quickly fills up but not with regular mail or bills.  We are inundated each weeks with advertising circulars!  Every grocery store (and there are about five around us), every Home Depot store, every car dealership sends out these circulars.  On many mailboxes, you will see "Pas de Pub" which is a short and very nice way of saying, "Don't fill my mailbox with garbage".  It doesn't matter...the "Pub" still sticks out of the mailbox, waiting to be pulled out and read.

     The interesting thing about these circulars is that the items are not yet on sale.  This is a sort of advance warning.  The businesses want you to sit down with your cup of coffee and carefully examine each and every item.  They want to give you time to decide, so the promotions will actually not start until a few days from now or even a week from now.  Then, if you are in a particular store on the first day of the promotion, you naturally will find individuals walking around with their circulars...searching for the items.  I think this is a national sport!

     I have to admit that I am sucked into this game.  So imagine my surprise when last week super-sized circulars started clogging up the mailbox.  Why?  Evidently, the "Foire aux Vins" season has begun.  And what exactly is a Wine Fair at a grocery store?  Here is what I have been able to determine thus far.  Each September/October, the local grocery stores start having sales on wine.   The savings can be significant and each store tries to out-do the other.  Normally, you do not receive case discounts when you buy in large quantities here as you do in the States.  During the Foire aux Vins, you can buy any number of bottles and receive the discounted price.  The promotion could be "Buy 4 and get 2 Free" or could just be a discounted price.  Large spaces in each grocery store are dedicated to stocking cases of wine that the store would not normally stock.

     Now, after some research, I learned that in France there is an actual website that tells you when each grocery store chain is having their Foire aux Vins.  They go so far as to produce a bar chart so you can tell that the Super U's Foire aux Vins starts on September 24 and ends of October 6 or that Cora's promotion will only last a week.  I have not found that convenient chart in Belgium.  However, the Belgian stores provide you with much more information on each of the wines.  Our largest store chain, Carrefour, produced a 70 page advertising circular that was ALL wine!  The publication not only tells you the name, type and year of the wine, but it also tells you the food you should eat while drinking this wine and to go one step further - it tells you how long you can keep the wine!

     Naturally, we have to participate in the festival of wines!  Unfortunately, there are no tasting sessions.  We do not want to buy wine that we potentially would not enjoy (I know...that would be difficult in our case).  I did take a chance and bought six bottles of a Bordeaux for all of 30 Euros because the flyer said I could cellar it for 5-7 years.  Last night, we tried a wine from the South of France that you could cellar for 8-10 years and we liked it.  Today, I now have to go back to the store and buy six or twelve.  I have a feeling that between now and the end of the month, our cellar will be growing steadily.  (On a side note, I also think that this is what keeps the retired and those out of work busy.  They are traveling all over the area visiting various grocery stores - in an attempt to get the best deal!)

     Now on to a fast and easy dinner dish that is good enough to make for guests!  I made it a few nights ago and you know that it must be good if the smells from the kitchen pulled Dear Daughter off off the couch and away from her electronic device just long enough to ask me if dinner was ready..."Because it smells really good, Mom."  Maybe next time, she will offer to set the table...

Pork and Tomato Skillet Saute
From Cooking Light, July 2012

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering

     I am not proud of the next sentence.  Frankly, living overseas - I forget sometimes what this day is... 

     I am having my first "dinner party" on Friday and Dear Daughter is having her first sleepover of the school year so I am a bit preoccupied.  Dear Husband commented last night that perhaps I am living in my own little world...and perhaps he is right.  I am caught in limbo...  When we left the States, I knew my purpose and was completely happy with getting everyone (all three of us) acclimated to a new life.  I didn't worry about finding a job.  I didn't worry about finding friends, although that came pretty easily.  I lived within the world of our family for eight months and was ecstatic.  I cooked; I gardened; I played my flute; I walked in the fields.  Then I started writing; then I started working and it was fine...it was more than fine.  So, while I really love being in Belgium and I really feel comfortable with the move - I wasn't prepared for completely starting over again.  This time...it is different because I am in a different place.  As a result, I think I am in a bit of my own world.

     Driving down the road this morning on my way to France to shop for the dinner party (isn't that nice to say - but it is actually cheaper to shop in France), I was listening to the Armed Forces Network radio station.  This is something that I rarely do - opting to listen to the local channels in hopes that I will progress in the language.   But this morning, I thought it might be interesting to hear the news, etc.  As I listened to the DJ, I realized that today was 9-11 (no, I hadn't realized the date) and he had an incredible memorial piece - he talked to NATO folks about their experiences that day.  He spoke to a guy from Italy, who was at university at the time and he spoke to a woman from the UK and it was interesting to hear their experiences on that day.  They were not even there...but this one event changed them and perhaps everyone.

     Driving down the road with the rain pouring down and tears beginning to stream through my eyes, I quickly recovered and began to concentrate on the road and the task at hand.  Back at home, I worked out, started laundry, ate lunch, and completed my daily French lessons.  I started up my VPN and tuned into my favorite country music station in DC just as I began to make the trial-run appetizers for the dinner party.  (Yes, I made appetizers for the family to evaluate.)  It hit me again...I was listening to a channel in DC on 9-11 - what did I expect to hear?  Naturally, lots of remembrances - and it got to me.

     I was pregnant with Dear Daughter - only two weeks away from my due date.  I worked in Arlington in a high rise building that overlooked the Potomac and within view of the Pentagon.  Back in those days, I used to get to work before 7am.  I had an interior office that "overlooked" our Trading Desk, which I loved as it was the hub of activity.  Our CEO and COO were not in the office that day - traveling to parts unknown, which was a regular part of their jobs.  I vaguely remember one of our Traders yelling out about a plane hitting a building in NY.  We all came out from our cubes and offices and went over to the television.   At first, it seemed like a horrible tragedy that a plane would have a mechanical issue and crash.  Then, we remembered that we had organizations that we worked with in the building and perhaps at that point, one of our traders tried to call one of the brokerage firms, I don't remember.  But, we all seemed to disperse and just thought that it was a tragic event.  As the news continued to unfold, we slowly began to divorce ourselves from the work we were doing and congregated back at the trading area.  There we saw the second plane...then the one closer to home.

   We heard that another plane hit the Pentagon.  We ran to one side our building and we could see the smoke generating from the area (we were that close).  Not much longer after that, one of Partners told me to tell everyone to evacuate and go home.  We quickly left the building only to be met with massive traffic jams.  I could not get in touch with Dear Husband who was working at the National Guard Headquarters.  Surprisingly, however, I was able to get in touch with my father, who lived out of town.  He told me to go home and stay there.  He told me again...go home and stay there.  He told me a third time...go home and stay there.  I took a detour and drove to the National Guard Headquarters - of course, only to find the gates shut and locked.  (Later, he explained that he had heard that there was another plane in the air - the one that crashed in Pennsylvania and he wanted me off the streets.)

     I drove home to our townhouse in Alexandria and positioned myself in our basement TV room and prayed over and over again, "Please let this child stay in my belly", "Do not come out, dear girl".  Much later that day, Dear Husband called and he was ok.  He had been scheduled to be at the Pentagon that day but had not gone.  I did not see him for another 24 hours as he was locked down in some sort of operations center.

     Dear Daughter was born 13 days later.  I went back to work three months later and developed "Shelter in Place" plans, stocked emergency food supplies and had company-wide drills.  Every year, the maintenance guys would lower a huge American flag from our balcony that overlooked the Potomac.  We all went on with our lives and remembered the event at different times...when a container didn't make it through security, or when we would hear about some idiot on the news or being delayed at security --- or when we saw the flags draped all over DC or we would  hear the annual presidential 9-11 speech.

     I have no real story...I have no family nor friends that died that day.  My beautiful daughter was born; my wonderful husband continued...but perhaps we should all remember what so many had taken away that day.  How difficult can our lives be - when so many of us only went through seeing it on the news or reading about it in the newspapers.  I watch it all again tonight via the television and think that perhaps even writing about it is not paying enough reverence.  

     Thank God.  Do a dance in the kitchen.  Kiss your kids when they come home.  Tell your "sig" other that you love him/her.  Remember where you were that day; pay remembrance to those that lost that day.  Go out and make a difference - (help yourself or help others) - get out of your own little world!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Belgium: Discovering Ghent - Chicken & Sausage Gumbo

     Yesterday was Labor Day and alas,  Dear Daughter had to go to school.  It seems that even though she attends an American school, the holidays align to a more European schedule.  It seemed a bit odd to send her on her way to school and then for Dear Husband and me to have the rest of the day together.  We decided to do a bit more exploring and the town of Gent (or Ghent) was on our itinerary for the day.

   
   Wow, what a gem!  Located only an hour away (via car or train), it is similar in some ways to Brugge but without the throngs of tourists.  It is also home to one of the largest universities in Europe, so the town had a nice vibe to it.  Together with the beautiful blue skies, we quickly fell in love with the town.  We wondered along the cobbled streets and admired the beautiful architecture.  It seemed that with each corner we took, a new and impressive square awaited us.  Since many of the shops are open on Sunday, that meant that they were closed on Monday.  Perhaps that was for the best but I did manage to drag my dear one into a small soap shop that looked so charming from the windows.  Upon entering, we were greeted by the owner, who then spent five minutes explaining all of the different types of soaps.  He gave us a bit of time to look around and once we had made a choice, he spent the next ten minutes telling us all about Ghent - why it is better than Brugge - where the best restaurants were - when was the best time to come...  He was truly delightful and he sold a wonderful product - and not just the soap!

    We relaxed at an outdoor cafe and sampled a Belgian Trappist beer that we had not yet had.  We found the recommended restaurants and vowed to return.  We even found a popular sushi restaurant that we knew would capture Dear Daughter's attention.  And of course, we found several great picnic spots.  I think that we could have stayed much longer but Dear Daughter's school bus was calling.  It was a nice day.  It was nice to share it with DH.  It was nice to be enchanted by a town.  It was nice to know that we would definitely return.


     Now for food.  I have had this recipe for nearly four years now.  I downloaded it from Food and Wine and have made it so many times that the pages are spotted with sauce and smudged fingerprints.  I have not written too many notes on it...at the top of the page in big black letters - I wrote "GREAT" and to me, it is.  It isn't authentic to Louisiana but it is tasty, easy to make and you can make it ahead of time.  In fact, I just finished making it - and sampling it - and it is only 9:00 a.m.  I cannot wait for dinner tonight!

Sausage and Chicken Gumbo
Adapted from a recipe which appeared on www.foodandwine.com

Monday, August 26, 2013

Arroz Con Pollo

     From a culinary standpoint, last week was a disaster.  Making a good meal is almost an obsession with me so if that first bite isn't mouth-watering, then I have the potential to become very sulky.  That happened twice last week.  I had such high hopes for both meals and in the end, they were just not that good.  The amount of time that I am devoting to cooking and the way my mental state adjusts to the quality of my cooking clearly proves that I have WAY too much time on my hands. My schedule is another subject altogether and perhaps I will share in another post.  For now, I have thirty minutes to tell you about my culinary success on Saturday night.  Then, I have to move on to my next task. Monday is "clean the house"day.  Yikes, I am digressing already.  On task...on task.

     Do you remember certain meals that you loved as a child?  Every kid always asks Mom, "What's for dinner?"  Being a picky eater (I hate vegetables), I was always anxious to hear the response.  I came from a family where you had to eat everything on your plate before you could be excused from the table.  I came from a family that loved vegetables and not just the regular ones like corn or green beans.  I am talking about broccoli and cauliflower.  I remember the year that my parents grew kale...ugh...I still shiver just thinking about all of those vegetables. 

     Once in a while, the response would be, "Arroz con Pollo" and I was thrilled.  No fighting over vegetables.  No staying at the table until 9pm trying to figure out creative ways to hide cauliflower instead of eating it.  I do not know where or when my mother found the recipe.  I do not remember how she cooked it.  All I remember is that it was one of my favorite dinners.

     Now, I can make some killer paella but I have never made Arroz con Pollo, chicken and rice.  I ran across a recipe recently and instantly wanted to try it.  Crossing my fingers for a culinary success, I delved right into the recipe, changing bits and pieces here and there.  The recipe called for adding peas (yuck) so out went the peas.  I made a few more changes and the end result?  Fabulous, if I do say so myself.  The family was thrilled as well...no more sullen dinners.

Arroz con Pollo

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Crockpot Italian Surprise

     I am not sure.  Perhaps I am imagining this but I think that the cows are staying closer to our backyard in the late evening and in the early morning.  I think they like the attention that we give them.  I have begun to notice that they are right by the back fence every evening just before we go to bed and then I see them right back at the fence line when I come downstairs early each morning.  I think they like us.  I guess we should give them all names.  I have begun to keep my "good" camera upstairs for the impromptu cow photo shoots.  Maybe I will put together a coffee table book...Les Vaches des Maison de Neuf Souches d'Arbres (the cows of the house of the nine tree stumps).

    I am working on "moving resolution" number three and as a result, I can barely move.  Yes, I have started working out again.  During breakfast on Monday morning, I was reading an article in the New York Times and a certain fitness program was mentioned.  Later that day, I checked it out on the Internet and it turns out that the group has free full length workouts on YouTube.  So now the office has been turned into a workout studio.  I am sure that the neighbors are loving it as this room is right on the street.  They must get a kick out of me doing my jumping jacks, ski squats, etc.  But I am committed...at least for this week.  But when will the pain end?

     Dear Daughter is also in pain...first week of swim practice.  This new team is very big on total body conditioning and swim drills.  Dear Husband and I have been present for the first two practices and we are amazed at the difference in style from her old team to this team.  We are quietly optimistic for a good season for her.  Dear Daughter just wants the pain to go away, too.  "When will this end?", she asks each morning.

     So, we are getting used to the schedule of a new school year, a new swim team (and my work outs).  It is Wednesday and already we are exhausted.   But tonight, we are lucky....NO PRACTICE.  Here is how it has gone thus far this week...Mom and Dad wake up at 6:30.  Dad is out the door at 7:00.  Mom wakes Daughter up at 7:10.  Mom and Daughter walk to the bus stop at 7:45.  Let me digress here...it appears, much to our surprise...but we are the only Shapians in the neighborhood...and we are in a pretty big neighborhood.  So, each morning, a big tour bus marked with the number "5" arrives at the bus stop which is 0.2 miles from our house.  A Belgian woman gets out of the bus and welcomes "Caterina" as she calls her...escorts her onto the bus where yet another women checks her bus pass and escorts her to her seat.  Then the bus promptly departs for the next stop.  How is that for keeping unemployment in check?

     On Monday and Tuesday nights, Dear Daughter has swim practice from 7:00 pm until 8:30 pm.  This means that once she gets home at 4:25, she has to immediately start homework.  Since eating together as a family is important, Dear Husband makes it a point to arrive home early that evening so that we can sit down to a family dinner no later than 5:30.  We leave for swimming at 6:30 and arrive back home around 8:50.  Dear Daughter showers and we all settle down to watching 30-45 minutes of television before heading off to bed.  It is a bit crazy.  Luckily, there is no practice on Wednesday and for the rest of the week, practice is from 4:00 - 5:30.  I am sure than within a week or so, we will all be acclimated.  Dear Daughter seems to be happy with the new school and the new team - and that is what counts, right.

     Monday and Tuesday night dinners have to be filling but not too filling as we do not want Dear Daughter uncomfortable at the pool.  These dinners also have to conform to our low-carb diets that we try to adhere to for two days a week.  Monday night was salad, which was very good but I was starving by 9pm.  On Tuesday, I made a crockpot dish and we all loved it...but it was a bit strange...strange in a good way.

   It is called a low-carb lasagna but I hate to call anything lasagna that isn't really lasagna - so I want to change the name to Crockpot Italian Surprise.  I found it on the website, Your Lighter Side, and the site is definitely geared to healthy recipes.  I was a bit skeptical at first with this recipe but in the end, we all loved it and we will definitely throw it into our dinner routine.  It is so low calorie that you can have two servings and the net carb content is 4g!

Crockpot Italian Surprise (aka Crockpot Lasagna)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Back to Cooking: Crunchy Thai Quinoa Salad



    I couldn't resist - another picture of "our" cows.  Dear Daughter can point them out by name.  We have The Triplets, Abigail, Blackie, etc.  Last night during dinner on the terrace, we could hear them munching away.  It is actually quite amazing the distance they cover each day.  Munch and walk, munch and walk, munch and walk - plus the occasional nap.  What a life...

    Now that we are settled, I can move on from "nesting" to working one those "moving" resolutions.   While I believe that our diets are, for the most part, on the healthy side, I want to put more effort in making sure that we are getting a good variety of foods.  I recently read a book called, "The 2 Day Diet" and while I am not big on diets, I did find some compelling information.  The basic premise is eat a very low carb diet for two consecutive  days per week and for the remainder of the week, eat a more of Mediterranean-style diet.  It actually makes pretty good sense and we have been following the pattern now for two weeks.  I am really not sure if we are losing any weight (and if we aren't, it is probably due to the beer that we have - but remember, Belgium has some great beers!).  I do think; however, that we are having a more complete diet.  Another one of my resolutions is to make sure that we are not wasting food.  Food costs are more expensive here, so I really want to make the most of our food dollars (and euros).  This can be hard when a recipe calls for fresh cilantro!  I bought a container of fresh cilantro only to use one tablespoon of it.  Then, what am I to do?  It has a limited shelf-life.  So, I search the Internet looking for other recipes calling for cilantro.  The same goes for green onions...and the list continues.

     I have done a pretty good job thus far, largely due to the fact that I am unemployed and have an abundance of time.  We will see how well I continue this new found trend once school starts (tomorrow) and nightly swim practices interfere with our normal dinner hour (starting Monday).  In the meantime, I found this wonderful recipe on ZipList a couple of weeks ago.  If you have not discovered ZipList, Google-it immediately.  Not only do I find great recipes on the site, but it also can make up my grocery lists and I get a weekly listing of all of the top food recipes from other blog sites.

     I discovered quinoa awhile back and really enjoy it.  It absorbs flavor and is a great source of protein.  This recipe was adapted loosely from one that I found on the blog site - LaaLoosh.  Try it - it is super yummy and just preparing it makes you feel healthy.  And I used the rest of my cilantro and the green onions!

Delicious - Crunchy Thai Quinoa Salad


Crunchy Thai Quinoa Salad