Scotland in Love

I feel slightly guilty saying this, but I went on a holiday and I didn’t blog! To be honest, I even forgot about the blog. You see, this holiday was going to be an “away from everything” one. We were staying in a cabin by Loch Ken close to Galloway Forrest Park in the south west of Scotland. There were no plugs, no phone service, no appliances. The whole cabin operated purely on solar energy and some gas for the cooker and the hot water. So it didn’t really make much sense to bring our electronics as we wouldn’t be able to charge them anyways, and as we really wanted to get away from it all!

I can’t tell you how amazing it’s been to be away from all emails and social media! I really haven’t missed it for a second. And now that we’re back home, I really notice how different my day is when I forget about social media for a while! It’s amazing! For the Boyfriend as well, since he is always checking his emails for work and is a mad social media fan. His phone was out of power for a few days and it really changed our days! Sadly, his camera was out of juice as well, so there went his planned past time. But I secretly may have liked it. At least for that big hike we did. 21kms! Booyah! Longest hike we’ve done so far. And there was NO camera, NO phone, just us two and the forest and the sea and the birds and the sun. A whole day of each others company with nothing intervening. Fun fun fun!

Especially because at that point, we had something to celebrate…

Ladies and Gentleman! The Boyfriend is now the Fiancé! He proposed at the shore of Loch Ken at sunset, with the sky all purple and pink and the most perfect peace and quiet and oh man it was SO romantic! And spontaneous! Apparently he’d had the ring for a while and planned to do it in Scotland, and that night he just felt like it was the right moment. It really was. It was perfect! I have never been so happy before in my life, blahdeeblah cliché I know, but I really don’t know how else to say it. I felt a rush of emotions I had never felt before, I was crying and laughing and jumping up and down and kissing him and felt like there were fireworks of fluffiness exploding in my chest. (My  brand new Fitbit put my heart rate at 120bpm! Madness!) I am so happy that I am going to marry this most extroardinary person who makes me smile and giggle and burst with laughter every single day! Who gives the bestest cuddles and makes me feel so comfortable and at home. Who still makes me feel so insanely in love and fluttery just by smiling one of his thousand different amazing smiles of me. And now I don’t only get to tell everyone about how perfect he is for me and how I want to share my world with him, we’ll get to show everyone by marrying each other! I AM SERIOUSLY BURSTING WITH JOY!!!!

I was going to write a whole post about our holiday and what we’ve been upto but oh well, I got distracted again. I might just leave it at this and go cuddle my FIANCÉ 😀

Advertisements

Pinterest Failures – Improvised Cooking

A few months back, a friend introduced me to Pinterest and I became wildly enthusiastic about trying new things, mostly for cooking, gardening and DIYing. But so far, the results are just slightly off course 😉

You see, I lack any sense of perfectionism. Like seriously, if you look up the opposite for ‘a perfectionist’, you find my name. Which comes in handy once in a while. At work for example, you don’t find me stressing about finishing stuff and working until 11.59pm on the day of a deadline. At some point, I’ve simply had enough, and that’s when my work is finished. Which has always worked for me so far. (Although the question if it will actually get me as far as writing my dissertation and actually finish this PhD remains a bit of a wild guess.) Also, I do not get the point of cupcakes. I love baking, but for me it’s all about the flavour. And I do think I sort of got the hang of that part. But cupcakes usually are just boring cakes with insane decorations. And I just don’t have the patience for those decorations! Or actually, I’m not sure if it’s patience related, I might just not see the point for them 😉

Now for Pinterest, this has been a bit of an issue. Whenever I try to make recipes on Pinterest, I just sort of look at the picture and the title, and then go to the shop to buy ingredients. When I come home, I realise there’s more to the dish than its picture told me, and I start improvising. I do this really often, improvising dishes just from a first recipe glance, and usually they turn out fine. But the thing with the Pinterest ones is that I’ve been trying some rather new stuff. And it doesn’t always turn out the way I expect.

The other day, I wanted to make Black Bean and Spinach Enchiladas. Now, I have no idea what black beans are. This happens to me more often when cooking of English recipes. I’m not a native speaker, and when it comes to food, I simply lack vocabulary. For example, I still don’t know what lentils are. I haven’t really come across them in Belgium, so I have NO idea what they are called here and where to find them. Also, I have this suspicion that sour cream, which is really hard to find here, might just be the same as platte kaas (which is something we consider a cheese rather than a cream). But let’s get back to the Enchiladas. I went for kidney beans instead of black beans. Also, salsa verde: never heard of. I asked a friend of mine who studied in Spain for a while. She said it’s a green paste. So I used pesto instead. Another one: green onions. I assumed they were spring onions, but I have to say, the spring onions really didn’t work in this dish for me. They totally overruled all the other flavours. The sauce also turned out way too salty because of the stock I was using. And I could not figure out how to wrap up the enchiladas so they wouldn’t fall apart as soon as I tried transporting them from oven dish to plate. Needless to say: not the best food I’ve ever had. But I will make it again though, this time my way. Mostly, I need to figure out something with that sauce. And get rid of the spring onions.

Yesterday, I tried making Creamy Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna. Sounds delicious, right? Well, I have to say, it was! I did pimp the recipe a bit though. You see, as I was grilling my mushrooms, I realised the recipe wanted me to make a roux-like sauce out of it. As much as I like my rouxs, I did not see how I would bring this to a good end. I was using a wide low pan to grill the mushrooms, and the recipe wanted me to add flour, and then whisk trough milk. This would end in roux splatters all over my kitchen. So I just threw in some platte kaas which I still had lying around in the fridge and added just a little bit of flour to thicken it. As it turns out, when platte kaas is heated up, it just sort of disappears. There was no sauce to be seen. How mysterious! I also added a tomato sauce to the dish. I figured that both a roux (or not) and ricotta cheese as only sauces, might just make a bit too creamy for my non-cream-loving boyfriend. So the result: a vegetarian lasagne with mushrooms, spinach, tomato sauce and ricotta cheese. Not bad I must say! A lot lighter than your usual lasagna because of the no-roux, and the ricotta cheese makes a wonderful alternative for this! Although since this was a vegetarian lasagna, I might just add a few more veggies next time. Maybe some courgette and fresh tomatoes? Or some celery in the tomato sauce. Umm, I already want to start cooking again just thinking about it!

But thanks to Pinterest, I totally found a love for lasagna. I never used to make lasagne because I always figures it’s waaaaay to much work. But it’s actually quite allright. You do have to make a few sauces, but because the lasagna has to go in the oven for a while, you can clean up the kitchen while you wait for the lasagna to cook and it makes the whole event of cooking a lot less stressful. If you would see the state of my kitchen sometimes when I’m cooking, you would understand. It’s like a bomb exploded in there. And if you then have four pans on the hob of things that need to be cooked at the same time, and then put on a plate before they get cold, and then want to eat them, it’s like freaking armageddon. None of that while making lasagne though!

I also tried a Zucchini Lasagna, where you replace the pasta with courgette (or zucchini, whichever way you like your English) and add loads of veggies. I figured this would add a lot of juice to the dish, and to fix this, they suggest you add a little bit of quinoa underneath each layer of zucchini. Didn’t really got rid of any of the juice it seemed, but man that was a tasty dish! (I did just make a normal lasagna tomato sauce though, rather than the weird turkey thing with a jar of basil tomato sauce like they suggested. Instead: diced onion, garlic, chilly, mince, red wine, canned tomatoes and tomato paste in that order. Perfect tomato meat sauce, I tell ya!) So to remember for next time: this one needs serving in soup bowls, with a big piece of brown bread to sop up the saucy soupness.

What are your experiences with Pinterest cooking? Any recipes I should try? Are you an improviser too? Or do you know what happens if you follow these recipes to the letter? I’m curious to hear about your stories 🙂

Tech and Games for Non-Geeks

I’ve gotten myself a Fitbit! Why? Really, it’s the boyfriend’s fault. Have I mentioned how he loves his tech toys? Not in a million years would I have guessed I’d be living in an apartment with a television that big. Or even a television at all. I always do everything with my laptop and my phone. That’s the only tech I need. I never buy anything new until one of those two falls apart completely because I don’t like spending money on that stuff. But now the boyfriend has all this fun tech that he gets so enthusiastic about and it’s so contagious!

For example: I now watch him play Playstation games. Let me tell you, I am not a gamer and don’t think I’ll ever be one, but watching those story games is just like watching a super long movie and playing a board game at the same time. It’s something really fun to do together if you also happen to have a partner with a much higher level of ‘geekiness’ (which I use in a very loving way) then you have yourself. I for example really enjoyed Firewatch, about a ranger in a national park where someone disappeared, and some weird stuff happens. I also weirdly enjoy Hitman, because it’s kinda like an interactive Bond movie. You go to different places like Bangkok, where you get a target and a bunch of information, and you spend your game trying to find ways to get to your target without being caught and all that. Great fun! I tried playing it myself once but man, those controls are tricky to use! It’s much more fun having the boyfriend do the hard work while I just watch and make suggestions. And that way he gets to do his thing and play games, and I get to do my thing, which at that point is sitting on the couch and figuring out stuff, think riddles like in escape rooms and all that.

Also, he now has this super fancy super fast gaming computer (which he got under the pretence of needing a faster computer for editing his videos, as of course, he’s a bit of a vlogger) with some really fun simulator games. (This is when I found out that name The Sims comes from the fact that it’s a simulator game 😉 ) Once in a while, I enjoy a good Cities Skylines marathon. (It’s kinda like a new Sim Cities, but better apparently.)

I even didn’t let my old phone fall into pieces before I got a new one! Well, new one. My phone was starting to get slow and it didn’t really have much space for all the apps I like using (most of them recommended to me by the boyfriend, of course), so naturally the boyfriend had another phone lying around that I now get to use, an LG G3. Bigger, faster, newer. It does the trick 😉

And my latest addition: a Fitbit sports watch and activity tracker! The boyfriend somehow managed to get a free upgrade from his dad’s old broken Fitbit, and ever since he’s been super conscious about his physical health. We’ve always tried to be healthy, go for walks and runs and eat decent food, but only to the point where we enjoy it. We’re definitely not fitness freaks and still love our pizza and chocolate, but we’ve found it does help us to be happy if we’re healthy. And now, we’re really trying to change our lifestyle for the better!

This Fitbit also has a great app where you can have a little energising social network. The boyfriend’s been doing these challenges with his colleagues to see who gets the most steps and all that, and it really makes him get out and about more. For me, I always enjoy going for a run but I never really know if I’m making any progress, because I always end up running longer and longer but never really any faster it seems. Also, rather than just training on cardio, I should really try to burn some fat if I want my general fitness (which isn’t bad at this point really) to get any better. I’m overweight, so the best thing for me to do is train on a slightly lower heart rate until I have a more healthy weight. And then, my general fitness should start improving like a rocket. But obviously, apart from checkin my level of ‘red face’ in the windows of the houses I run passed, I have no idea how hard I’m actually training. So finally, now, my brand new Fitbit Surge tells me all I need to know! It tells me my heart rate, how fast I’m running, and on top of all that it also does the daily activity tracking and it’s super user friendly app totally let’s me keep on top of my health, which so far, I’m really enjoying.

Whether I’m enjoying it because it’s a fun tech toy and the idea of being active is sort of game-ified or I’m just enjoying being more active, at this point I don’t think it matters. All I know is that I feel healthier, happier, and I hope I’ll keep enjoying it like I am now.

So even for people generally suspicious of tech who might think, just like I did, that ‘you don’t need any of this stuff to be who you want to be, or to be happy’, I say true. But it definitely a lot more fun to have than I expected 😉

Budapest Highlights

So I was going to blog day by day as me and the boyfriend citytripped our way through Budapest, but I got stuck after day 1. Not because I didn’t have loads to tell, if anything, because there was too much to tell! And before I knew it, I was back at work being busy. Sigh. But I am not quite finished with my Budapest story, so here are the two things from this holiday I will never forget, for which I thank you my dear Budapest!

The Parliament – On our second day in Budapest, we decided to explore the area we were staying at a bit more: Parliament District. One of the first things I noticed, was that it was very quiet in the neighbourhood. Which basically went for our whole stay. (I guess it wasn’t really the tourist season, but still, at some points I almost started wondering if there was a zombie apocalypse on the way that no one warned us about. So if you do want to take the risk of the weather, which for us turned out absolutely wonderful, visiting Budapest in late winter is definitely a recommendation!) We relaxed a little bit on Liberty Square (Szabadság tér) whilst sipping a coffee in the sun before we headed down to the Parliament (Országház) . And wow, what a Parliament! That is by far the most impressive building I have ever seen! We spent quite a while just walking around and around and ended up ordering some Sacher Torte (I know, not very Hungarian but very Austrian, but I couldn’t help myself) on the sunny terrace of a nearby cafe overlooking the parliament. What a peaceful and wonderful morning that was!

20170227_120218_HDR

The Danube – Most big cities are built around water, and I always think it’s so nice to get that other perspective by seeing the city from the water. Especially at night, when the whole city lights up. I had a chance to take an evening cruise in Saint-Petersburg six years ago now and I can still remember how impressed I was at the different feel I got of the city. So naturally, an evening boat tour on the Danube was a must do for me. It took us a while to decide what tour we wanted to take (so much choice!) but in the end we just went for it and booked a four course dinner one. Every holiday needs at least one fancy splash out, right? Well, this one made it to the top of my list of fancy!

Our boat had a top completely out of glass, and we were sat right at the side with a perfect view. In the corner, there was a small band playing some very agreeable jazz tunes. Romantic set up: check! We were welcomed with a nice glass of bubbles and off went our boat. The views were absolutely stunning! And because the boat did the same tour around three times, you didn’t have to worry about missing out when focussing on the food. Which was totally spot on as well. I started with the goose liver pate, then had a pumpkin soup and as a main both me and the boyfriend went for the duck, which was served with a berry sauce on a mountain of roasted vegetables. So very tasty! The ingredients were superb and the combinations just perfect. The desert was a bit too heavy for me (a chocolate cake), which hardly ever happens , but nothing a fresh breeze out on the deck couldn’t fix. After our coffee, we headed outside to be amazed once more. Seriously though, that parliament building!

20170228_194510

So to finish off my first holiday report of 2017: if you have been to Budapest before, I hope you enjoyed my little trip down Budapest memory lane. If you haven’t: you simply must go! It is such an interesting city that will surprise you in many ways, and there are a thousand and one things to do! Go to a ruin bar in the evening and drink cocktails. Visit the caves underneath the castle if you want to learn about Budapest’s slightly creepier stories. Go to not one but a few spas, because a lot of the smaller ones are just so cheap it would be silly not to end a day of walking this way and that in a hot relaxing bath. Eat, because those hipster Hungarians really know their way around the kitchen! Drink, because they also know a little something about wine! Relax, enjoy, and be amazed 🙂

Budapest Day 1 – The City and The Bath

What to do on your first day in any city? Well, take a free walking tour of course! It’s the perfect way to get to know the city, what’s there and what’s hot, and to figure out what main sights you really want to explore. Generally, these tours take you along all the classic tourist spots and fill you in on their standard need to knows. Not just names and dates, but also loads of interesting stories. Like for example that Disney got some if its inspiration for the castle in its opening sequence from a particular view of the towers at the Fisherman’s Bastion. Fun fact!

We started off with some beautiful sunshine, which, I’m sure you fellow way-north-of-the-equator bloggers can agree with, was everything I could’ve ever wished for on this holiday. So when the sun did disappear later during the day, I wasn’t too gutted because I really felt like I sufficiently charged my batteries for the day 🙂

20170226_110436.jpg
Buda Castle, as seen from the Pest side of the Danube

We walked down to the Danube and overlooked the Buda hills from the Pest side of the Danube, were told about Budapest’s ruin pubs (*added to the to do list*) and its wines and desserts (*also added to the to do list*),  had a quick stop at Saint Stephen’s Basilica which was one of the prettiest cathedrals  I’ve ever seen from the outside (I don’t know the difference between a church and a basilica, but since this one was big, I’m calling it a cathedral). Then we walked over the Buda side on the Chain Bridge and admired the Castle and the views in Buda, before strolling over to the stunning Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion, where we also had an amazing view of the Parliament (*added this one to the to do list too*). The church made me think a little bit of the city hall back home in Leuven, especially its towers, which was really quite surprising because as much as we compare new travel destinations with old ones (even though in basically all cases, it’s like comparing apples and oranges and I’m not quite sure why we do it), I had never compared new travel destinations with home. Which made me kind of proud of our little home base!

20170226_131018
St. Matthias Church

From there, we made our way down to the Jewish quarter where Lonely Planet had told us there would be a farmer’s market in a ruin pub. We had lunch in a tucked away book cafe at the top of a big book shop. There was no one there, but I had the yummiest cheese toastie ever! I think they put sour cream on it, together with two different kinds of cheese! Oh man! After a coffee, we were sufficiently rejuvenated to tackle on. Of course, when we got to the ruin bar, the market had already finished, but it was so worth the trip nevertheless! For those of you who haven’t heard of ruin pubs: it’s basically what the locals did to a lot of abandoned buildings. They turned ‘m into pubs. And decorated it with whatever they could find. Those who say hipsterdom started in Berlin, obviously haven’t been to  Budapest. Or actually, maybe not. Because to me, hipsters always try to hard. Whereas this place was just there the way it was because it was there the way it was. I’m probably not making much sense, but then neither did Szimpla Ruin Bar 😉

20170226_145631
Szimpla Ruin Pub during daytime. 

At this point, our feet were starting to protest against the extensive citytripping, so we decided to try one of the famous Budapest Baths. After some extensive Lonely Planet Research, we decided to go with the Veli Vej Bath, which is one of the four baths that go back all the way to the beginning of Budapest Bath Culture under the Ottoman occupation. Most impressive feature: the octagonal pool under the old dome. Water temperature: around 38 degrees. Budapest is basically built on an area full of underground hotsprings, with temperatures of up to 80 degrees when reaching the surface. There were also a few Turkish baths and a Finnish sauna, a pool for swimming laps, a few smaller pools with varying degrees of colder to very cold water, and one of those baths where you walk over stones in cold and hot water. After the walking we did, it was the perfect kind of relaxation!

On the way home, we stopped off at the Budapest Barbecue Company, which was a gigantic hip restaurant dealing in meat, meat, and meat. We had a few cocktails and some food, but mostly we enjoyed their music. The drinks and food weren’t that impressive, but the music kept us there for a good while. One classic after another, from Queen to The Bee Gees and the Beatles. Fun ending to a great first day!

Skipping Winter

I think I might just start blogging again. If you’d ask me why I had a break, I’d have to say because I’m too lazy. So please don’t ask 😉 But spring is around the corner and who doesn’t feel inspired after those first rays! Yes, I spent the weekend spring-prepping the garden and going for walks. Scrolling through my previous blog posts, it’s as if winter never happened!

Well, just for the sake of it, let’s say it didn’t. Or let’s say it did, but it was only as long as the holiday season. So imagine this: spring, summer, those first sunny autumn days, the beautiful colours in the forest. And suddenly: December, snow, Christmas and BAM, sunshine and roses and rainbows from the second of January onwards! I’m so ready for it, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it in this blog that-was-hypothetically-never-on-hold.

Things to look forward to: I’m going to Budapest, and also, it’s Saint Paddy’s day soon! Bring it on!

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

So obviously I’m a massive Potter-head. (And then I’m talking about the books. I don’t care much for the films. But the books, oh man…) I mean, me and Harry, we grew up together! I remember the books being totally new, no one at school had heard about Harry. I was about 10 years old when I got introduced into the World of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And from that year onwards, every summer, me and my family had a fight about who got to read the new book first. Mom, dad, brother, me. As I grew older, Harry and his friends grew older and his adventures went from exploring his newly found magic to and playing quidditch to defeating Voldemort once and for all.

I’ve read all the books at least 15 times. I’m not exaggerating. I really have. I even got a Harry Potter-themed birthday party after reading the first book. My mom was Professor McGonnagal and my dad professor Snape, and my brother Pieves. My friends all got an invitation for Hogwarts and we spend the whole evening doing magic tricks and brewing potions out of all sorts of brightly coloured soft drinks. Best. Birthday. Party. Ever.

So naturally, this new “book” has been on my mind. I wasn’t sure whether or not to read it. I mean, it’s not really a book. Seeing the play would’ve been better maybe, but who’s got money for that shizzle, right? I’d heard some mixed things from friends about reading the script. From “fun read” to “it’s just not what you want it to be”. So when I finally did give in and started the first page of the script, I tried to read with no expectations. And after finishing the book, all I can say is I have mixed feelings.

harry_potter_and_the_cursed_child_special_rehearsal_edition_book_cover

First of all, let’s not forget, it is just a theatre script, not a book. And that means that what I liked most about the books, the magical world it creates and makes you become a part of, it just wasn’t gonna happen. The set directions gave only very basic info as to the location (which still, in theatre terms, seemed pretty complicated to make happen on stage), and your memories as a Potter-head would fill in the gaps. (That way it was quite smartly written, revisiting a lot of old locations and stories.) But because it lacked all of the detail that created this wonderful new world, and our familiar characters had changed so much and new characters were introduced, there just wasn’t enough backstory. You know, the fun-in-the-Hogwarts-hallways scenes, the quidditch games, potions class, Christmas dinners,… Far from crucial to the story, but unmissable in the Potter-world.

At the same time, the story was a fun read. Already quite early on, you were shot into the level of suspense we are used to when reaching the final part of each book. What starts out as a little adventure goes more and more wrong, plot twist here and there, more suspense, turn-the-page-how-is-this-going-to-end. Perfectly readable in just one cozy couch session.

On the one hand, it scratched my Potter itch by reconciling me with my old friends. On the other, it left me wanting more. More Hogwarts. More adventure. More silly Weasleys and smart Grangers and loyal Potters. I think more than anything, this script has shown that us fans aren’t tired of Potter just yet. And we are willing to give anything a shot if it means we get to revisit the good ol’ days of Witchcraft and Wizardry.