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 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 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 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

Monday, August 12, 2013

Belgium: Chateau de Seneffe: Our First Picnic in Belgium

     It was only a matter of time...while unpacking boxes, I had found my picnic backpack and I knew that soon I would drag my family to parts unknown in order to experience the Belgian countryside "pique nique"-style.  Still not knowing much about the area, I did a bit of Internet research and came across a festival at a nearby chateau scheduled for this past Saturday night.  Surely, this would provide an excellent backdrop and as I "sold" it to the family, I informed them that fireworks were on the agenda.  Oh, and did I mention that the evening also included classical music - six hours of classical music?  Dear Daughter rolled her eyes but with the knowledge of food and fireworks, she packed an activity bag and off we went.

     La Nuit Musicale (The Musical Night) was the title of the evening and the location was the expansive Domaine du Seneffe, an easy 25 minute drive from our house.  As we got closer and closer to our destination, we noticed more and more cars.  This was a big event - actually, it was a huge event.  We followed the line of cars around the outside grounds of the chateau, through cornfields and eventually to a large field, which tonight had been transformed into a parking area.  Grabbing our gear, we followed the crowds and Dear Daughter noticed that we were in the minority - no one was carrying picnic supplies.  No worries, I informed her, I had sent an earlier email to the organizers asking if picnics were allowed.  Of course, came the reply.  

     We were a bit disheartened by the long line at the entrance gate but it moved quickly and soon we were inside the main courtyard entrance to the Chateau.  I cannot tell you anything about the history of the house but the structure was very impressive.  The entire courtyard had been transformed into a large cocktail area with small food and beverage tents and hightop tables.  The fashionably dressed were intermixed with the more casual.  Quiet strains of music added to the ambience.  We exited the courtyard to do a bit of exploring and of course, to find the perfect picnic spot.  Directly behind the house was the main lawn and it provided an ideal location.  We quickly spread out our French tablecloth, tonight a picnic blanket (with matching napkins) and I started with our first course, shrimp cocktail and sparkling wine.  Passersby wished us "bon appetit" and we settled in for our evening of music and food.

     Scattered around the grounds of the chateau were musical venues of varying sizes.  Each area was numbered and around each stage, seating was provided.  Some areas were large enough to also hold small cafe tables and chairs.  The idea was to visit each venue and listen to the music.  When the concert was over, you could take a small break, eat or drink something and then head off to the next location.  Each concert lasted about 30-40 minutes - hence the title, The Musical Night.  Of course, we did not learn this until much later in the evening.  We leisurely enjoyed our first course while listening to a fabulous choral group.  It was during our second course, tasty baguette toasts topped with goat cheese, prosciutto and arugula, that we realized that we were listening to the exact same piece of music.  The choral group sang, took a break and then sang the same piece of music again...and again...and again.  Oh well, we really did not feel like transporting our picnic throughout the grounds in search of new music so we continued on with our meal.  Following our pasta salad main course, we decided to start the musical rotation.  We sampled our delicious chocolates for dessert while listening to a small orchestra perform a piece by Schubert.  (Have I mentioned that we have a wonderful chocolate shop in our village and that we are making weekly visits for the mini boĆ®te - a small box of chocolates?)

     By now, the sun had descended and the pathways around the chateau were illuminated with citronella candles.  Being Belgium, the main beverage of choice was Leffe beer and we sampled one while listening to a small chamber group. We never made it to all of the venues but what we heard was really quite good.  At 11:30 pm, the music ended and we found a spot on the great lawn and settled in for the fireworks extravaganza.  All in all, it was a very pleasant evening and a lovely first adventure in our neighborhood.

     Now let me digress and give you two other observations of the evening.  The main reason that most people were not carrying in picnics was because they obviously knew about the food being served.  No standard festival fare here...Classical music has its standards.  We saw individuals dining on oysters, foie gras, crepes, skewers of shrimp and various salads.  And while, you could toast the evening away with champagne or wine, again, the beverage of choice was Leffe beer.  And while you might be sipping that wine in a plastic cup, you drank your beer in the typical Leffe glass.  Can you imagine the expense in collecting and washing all of those glasses.  No wonder the cost of admission made Dear Husband raise his eyebrows!

     My second observation is a little less classy but has to be mentioned.  After partaking in all of the food and beverages, at some point in the evening, a visit to the "loo" is inevitable.  And while these toilets looked like the standard portables that no one likes to enter...these were the luxury models.  Again, classical music has its standards.  First, at the top of the queue was a table manned by two attendants.   Your entrance fee is 50 cents.  That guarantees you a clean toilet with an adequate supply of toilet paper.  Upon exiting, you head over to the portable washbasin and using the foot pump, pump water through the faucet and wash your hands.  It is all very civilized, all very clean.

      In our province, castles are everywhere and just this morning, I read that that an organization hosts Sunday picnics at many of them.   Pay for a catered meal or bring your own.  Wait until I tell the family about this!

Friday, August 9, 2013

And Here We Land...

     I have become obsessed with cows.  Every morning, they are the first thing I look for and just before I go to bed, I take one more peek outside to see where they might be.  It's is a bit odd, I admit, but Dear Daughter told me that she does the same thing.  The herd that grazes in the pasture beyond our backyard fence have quickly captured our attention and although we have not yet named each one, I am sure that is only a matter of time.

     We are now settled in our new house in Belgium; new to us but in fact, the house is almost 80 years old.  It is quirky but has a lot of character.  I am sure that it has a bit of history to it but all I know is that the owner and his wife lived here for many years.  Once she passed on, the house was too big for one person.  So, he moved into a nearby apartment and rents the house to "Shapians".  That is what we are called here...almost as if we are some sort of alien and I guess to many we are.  Shapians is the nickname for those individuals who work at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe).  Each time, we visit the installation, we try to identify the country of the soldiers hail from based on their uniforms.  It has become a bit of a game and there are some really wacky uniforms out there!

     Back to the house...the phone is supposed to work today and then I think that we will be officially settled.  It has been a very simple process, quite frankly.  This was the first house that we looked at on the day we arrived in country.  Wanting to get settled quickly, it fit all the major requirements.  The kitchen is ancient (46 years old - except the appliances) and really tiny but I have already managed to cook some pretty decent meals.  Our large, main room is quite rustic with dark, tiled floors, a wood-beaed ceiling and wood burning fireplace.  The house has a warm, cozy feel to it and we have all (including the cats) settled in quite well in a short period of time.

Looking a bit plain at the moment - need to get out the flower boxes

Our main salon

     We have nicknamed the house, "La Maison De Neuf Souches D'Arbres" or The House of the Nine Treestumps.  Driving in from the main road, you can quickly spot our backyard as these treestumps provide the border of our backyard to the pasture.  As much as we watch the cows, we also look each day at the trees, hoping to spot new growth, which will promise a more pleasing view next year.  Less than half a mile away is a nice cafe and grocery store, where we purchase our daily baguette.  The main area of town is just a mile away and we have already visited several good restaurants, a fantastic chocolate shop (it is Belgium, you know) and the twice a week market.  We have a train station with direct service into the main station in Brussels and this weekend, we plan to make the 25 minute trip.

Terrasse and yard...and treestumps

The newest members of our family...the cows!

     Because of the move, we have not been able to travel much but we have managed to visit the city of Mons, the capital of our province, twice.  On Sunday mornings, they host an incredible food market and evidently, a flower market as well.  We have not yet found the flower market, which everyone talks about but the food market is a real treat, which no one discusses.  We have instituted "no-cook Sundays" because of all of the delicacies that we find each visit.  Last week, we feasted on oriental appetizers which we purchased from this sweet old Vietnamese man -  an assortiment of spring rolls, shrimp beignets, little triangles filled with curry chicken and wontons. We loaded our bags with all sorts of produce for the week, ripe cherries and strawberries, huge heads of lettuce, green beans, peppers, zucchini and of course, tomatoes.  Following the market, we headed to the Grand Place for a drink and eventually, lunch.  It was a slow, lazy Sunday afternoon and felt...just right.

     Schools starts a week from now and life will get back to its chaotic normalcy.  But for now, we are enjoying the quiet lifestyle and watching the cows...