De bakkerij, en de teloorgang van de Belgische samenleving (Or How the Bakeries Have Marked the End of Belgium)

This is a little story about traditions. And how they disappear.

Belgium often shares its traditions with other countries. There is Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet (Saint Nicholas and his helper): on the night of the 5th of December, Sinterklaas and his white horse Slechtweervandaag (Badweathertoday) walk over the rooftops to bring the children presents. Zwarte Piet jumps through the chimneys to deliver. So on the morning of the 6th of December, all children in Belgium are happy, playing with their new toys, eating their chocolate figurines, speculoosjes, and all the other yummy stuff Sinterklaas brings with him. The same goes for all the Dutch kids, and in a slightly different setting, the German and Austrian kids. There is also Carnival, usually sometime in February. And the easter egg hunts with crazy amounts of chocolate. The summertime festivals in every city and on every field. All of those traditions, we share with our neighbours.

But I’m talking about smaller traditions now. Like how the English like their tea and have a Sunday Roast every Sunday. The Belgians, we do Sunday Breakfast. The early riser of the family gets up to go to the bakery to get rolls and maybe some sweet breakfast buns. The others set the table with spreads like cheese, ham, and of course chocolate spread. The occasional egg gets cooked, bacon might be fried. There is coffee and fresh orange juice. The whole event can take all morning, if we feel up for it. But it happens every Sunday.

When I still lived in town, I was gutted to find out all the bakeries nearby are closed on Sunday. Whoaaaat?! I figured it was because Leuven is very much a student city, and therefore dead in the weekends. (All Belgian students go home in the weekends, to Hotel Mom, where dear mom and dad do their laundry and cooking.) Luckily, I had a grocery store around the corner that was open on a Sunday (even though usually ev-ve-ry-thing is closed on Sundays, except the bakeries of course). They had fresh roles, so I got to keep my Sunday Hurray.

We Belgians do really like our bread. The Italians might skip their breakfast, have some pasta or mozzarella for lunch, and a big dinner. The English do cereal or porridge, maybe a sandwich for lunch, or a hot meal, to have another one for tea or dinner. We (and again, our neighbours), we do bread at least twice a day. Sandwiches in the morning, sandwiches for lunch, maybe one when we get home from work, and then a hot meal for dinner. You might find this odd, but wait until you’ve tried our bread. There is one bakery for every two streets, and often families even bake their own bread. None of it is factory made and stored in plastic bags. In the bakery, we pick our favourite kind of bread, fresh from the oven, it gets cut, taken home, and then devoured. Ah, the deliciousness of fresh bread with chocolate spread in the morning, or a simple sandwich with cheese to maybe dip into some soup over lunch!

Now I moved out of the centre, to the streets where families live. Young, old, with cats and dogs, and apple trees in the gardens. We have been living there for one month now, and finally our new home has stabilised as such that we get to pick up the traditions again: Sunday Breakfast here we come!

Ah, the disappointment. The two bakeries nearby were both closed. I had to find a supermarket, one of those rare ones open on a Sunday. It was mayhem in there, I think the whole town was fighting for the last roles in the little corner of the shop that had bread. Picture it as follows: zombie armageddon in the bread section.

Belgium, you have let me down.

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Brainfood: A Night Between Books

Yesterday I felt like it was time for some brain food. In one of my previous posts, I have told you about my favourite coffee place in Leuven which is no more. It was a book cafe: a cafe that happens to have a book shop, De Dry Coppen. It has been replaced by a book shop that happens to have a cafe: BarBoek. Sligthly different atmosphere, but still a wonderful place to relax. Books everywhere, a few corners with big and small couches, and the same delicious coffee as in the last place.

Yesterday night, they had their opening event. They invited a writer to come talk about her new book: Isabelle Rosaert’s Dat is wat ik bemin. So as you do, I invited my mom for a date to the new book cafe.

The night had a high level of living room feeling to it. A very crowded living room, but still. The writer had invited a lot of her family and friends to support her, and so did the Barboek team. So everyone sort of knew someone, and everyone had a very positive and open mindset. The set-up was totally living room as well. A homely feeling of different couches, and a single lamp on the ceiling that everyone kept running into. And a nice cuppa.

The event was well thought out. The journalist interviewing the author was also a friend of the author, which made it a very easy going and personal interview. In between the questions, someone read some excerpts from the book, accompanied by some live music. I have to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the live music. I’ll call it “Experimental Double Bass”. The girl was holding the double bass in such an awkward way, it was hard to take her seriously. She had an amplifier and some pedals, so she could record her own playing to play it back to us. That way, she was her own musical accompaniment. I was quite impressed at first, taking an either jazz or classical instrument to a digital level, but I didn’t like what she did with it. She clearly wanted to create a different sound, contemporary stuff, alternative. But the things she did to her double bass simply did not go well on the ear. Or at least not on my ear. It is such a beautiful instrument, with its deep warm tones. The way she played it, it eeped and it creeped. At first I thought she wasn’t very good. Then it started dawning on me it was simply her style. As for the excerpts, they were a bit on the long side. Although I must admit, they suited the interview very well. Afterwards, we were served some wine and sandwiches to accompany the interesting discussion that started brewing right after the interview had finished.

In any case, the night definitely sold the book to me. Usually I am not a big fan of contemporary Dutch literature. Often, there is this idea behind it, “I have to shock my reader”. The stories and language use are vulgar and very much out there, the topics taboo. I can’t say it’s not good writing. It’s just not my thing. What is my thing? Post-colonial literature, like Khaled Hosseini, Salman Rushdie, or for Dutch Kader Abdollah. Or magical realism, like Isabel Allende or the king of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Now, guess which writer has had a massive influence on Rossaert?! Gabriel Garcia Marquez! She even experimented a little bit with the magical realism herself! So to say the least, I am intrigued! I might just actually read this book. Another thing for on the christmas wish list I say!

Cooking or experimenting: My Stew

Lately I have been talking a fair bit about food. I guess that is still one of my favourite hobbies. So maybe I will start posting some recipes on here! I would like to add another page to my blog for all the recipes, but since I have still not figured out how to add posts to a page that is not the main page, I will put my favourite yums here.

Today: my stew! I would like to give it a name, like Guinness and Apple Stew. But I have to be honest, I tend to change around the ingredients a fair bit and sometimes one flavour is so much stronger than another time, so I’ll just stick to My Stew.

As with any of my recipes, feel free to mix and match. My recipes are always based on a sound basic recipe and then you make it your own with a few spluts of this and a sniff of that. So here’s just one of the many ways to go about it:

MATERIALS

  • Large cooking pot
  • Cutting board
  • Potato skinner
  • Something to stir
  • Yup, this is gonna be easy!
  • (Maybe a can opener for your tomatoes)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1kg of diced beef (or stoofvlees as it is called here)
  • 6 potatoes
  • (maybe 1 or 2 sweet potatoes as well, or to replace to of the normal potatoes depending on how thick you want your sauce to be)
  • 2 or 3 apples
  • 1 can of whole tomatoes. Or if you feel confident, try some fresh ones!
  • 1l of beef stock (I use stock cubes in water, not because it tastes better but just because it is easy)
  • 1 can of Guinness (if you want your stew to taste like Guinness a lot more strong, replace some of the stock by more Guinness, and you can also add a little bit of soda-bicarbonate, because oddly, I find it adds to the Guinness flavour)
  • A bunch of carrots
  • You can also add other veggies, like parsnips, … I like to add peas right at the end to add a bit of colour
  • A few twigs of rosemary (or a leaf or 2 of laurel for the more traditional cooks)
  • Oh yeah, and an onion. Duh.

PREPARATION

  • Skin the carrots, potatoes, apples, and anything else you want to add and cut them into big chunks.
  • Cut the onion into pieces and glaze them.
  • Make sure your fire is piping hot when you add the meat: you just sort of want to scorch it closed on all sides (which means almost constant stirring) so that the blood does not come out anymore. On the inside, the meat will still be close to raw.
  • Now add the fluids: stock, tomatoes, Guinness.
  • Add your veggies. Be careful: anything you add now (except for carrots and large chunks of parsnip) will mostly disintegrate into a perfect thick sauce. If you want your stew to have more chunks and less thick sauce, either don’t cook it for a day or leave some veggies out and put them in only one hour before serving.
  • Now you let it simmer for a day. 3 hours works as well to be honest, but then you will have to boil it a bit harder and use your stirring device to sort of mash up the contents.
  • About two to one hour before serving: add the rosemary or laurel. (Feel free to improvise with other spices and let me know how it goes! I usually like it with only rosemary, but who knows what heavenly combination you come up with.) Don’t forget some pepper.
  • About ten minutes before serving: add peas.
  • Serve with bread and salted butter.

I would love to hear how your version of My Stew turns out, did you add anything else or change anything? Have fun experimenting!

A celebratory Meal Out

This weekend I realised it has been exactly one month since the boyfriend left his home country to move over here and live with me! That deserves a celebration, wouldn’t you say?

The weather was absolutely stunning, so I decided to treat him to a meal in what was recently called one of the nicest restaurants to eat outside in Flanders, Belgium: De abdijmolen in Heverlee. It is a typical Belgian bistro, located in De abdij van ‘t park, a big park surrounding an abbey. The terrace overlooked the pond behind the old mil the restaurant was located in. It is so close to the city (Leuven), yet it was so peaceful. And we even had the best table on the deck! A quiet corner table with a magnificent view, in the lovely shade of a perfectly positioned old tree. And what better way to enjoy the fresh breeze blowing across the pond, the entertainment of playing ducks, and the glorious evening than to start with an aperitief. Wine for me, beer for my man.

The food was delicious. Nothing special, but truly very tasty. For starters, I let the boyfriend try some of my typically Belgian kaaskrokketjes, a thick cheese roux covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried to your heart’s desire. It came with a small salad. Usually those salads are more for decoration. A green leaf of lettuce, maybe a slice of tomato. But this salad was something else. There was a little bit of coleslaw (which is incredibly hard to find in Belgium by the way) on the bottom of the plate, covered with french beans, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and some beetroot sprouts, topped off with a yoghurt dressing. Even the boyfriend liked it! He ordered carpaccio of Belgian beef, and it was a joy to eat.

For mains, I couldn’t help myself and went for the traditional vol-au-vent. It is, again, a roux (with chicken stock instead of cheese this time), with little meatballs, chicken, and mushrooms in it. Typically served on top of a little bun with some (again very tasty) salad and Belgian fries. I can’t really tell you more about it, a good vol-au-vent always hits the spot. And it did. The boyfriend ordered a pasta with chicken, pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes. It was decorated with some fresh tomatoes as well, peas, and a creamy tomato sauce to top it off. He let me have a little try. I know what I’ll be going for next time.

The meals were really quite big, and definitely decently priced. So after our mains and our wine, we felt so full and sleepy, just a small espresso would be the perfect finish. It came with some sort of a tiny smoutebol filled with chocolate. The ideal bite for someone craving desert but simply incapable of eating anything more! And after all that heavenly food, we walked it all off in the beautiful park surrounding the restaurant. (Or at least, that’s what we told ourselves as we were wobbling around the ponds.)

Daydreaming: My “If I Were to Win the Lottery Plan”

I used to love theatre. Watching, playing, even writing. Kinda grew out of it. Used to do a lot of painting, played guitar, went swimming three times a week, read two books a week. I wasn’t really talented at any of those things. But they kept me happy. And the good thing about them was, they were manageable hobbies. Travelling the world as your one and only passion, a little bit trickier to keep up. I think it is time I start a search for new hobbies. Because really all I do now is work and dream about traveling. And spending way too much time watching crappy tv shows and playing silly computer games. Ow boy, I seem to be wasting my free time!

I still like baking biscuits. Maybe I can do that a bit more often. But who’s gonna eat all my biscuits! I also still like sports (trying to pick up running again and I go kickboxing once a week), but not that much that I can balance out the eating of a whole load of biscuits every day. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could find some local cafe that would like to buy my biscuits? Have fun and earn extra money? I do love my money. They say money doesn’t make happy. Well, where I live, it sure does help!

If I had money, ah, I have it all worked out. My “if I were to win the lottery jackpot” plan. Except for the fact that I don’t play on the lotto. But here is it. If I can manage mentally, I’d finish my PhD. While I’m doing so, I’d buy a house in town. Spend my free time hiring people to make it perfect. I’d also buy a massive 4WD. If they would still make them, it would be a Defender. But I’d pick something newer. Automatic. Super energy efficient. Solar panels included. We’d give it a name. Alfie, or Fred. I’d take my boyfriend to a 4WD course and we’d get a book “car mechanics for dummies”. We’d go to all the camping shops in the country buying only the best of things. Super thin and light but warm sleeping bags. A super easy to set up tent for on top of our 4WD. Camp kitchen stuff that we would build into the back of the 4WD. I’d let the boyfriend do whatever he wants to in the meantime. He could work, study, invest in his own freelance business. And then when I finish my PhD, we would rent out our super big house (probably turn it into student housing, and hire someone to keep an eye on it for a small price), and that way keep having a steady income. We’d put away some of the money for who knows what kind of emergency. And then we would start travelling until the money runs out. Which it won’t! (Oh, and of course hand some of it out to family and charity.)

I started out writing this post to come up with some new stuff to do. Instead, I ended up dreaming about the ideal future. Involving travel and only travel. Oh well. Maybe what I should look for is not a new hobby, but different ways to earn money on the side. So that one day… And in the meantime… I Keep Dreaming!

Tell me, what do you dream of? Have you managed to make some of your dreams come true so far?

The Future of a Traveller, the Worries of a Traveller

For those of you who are new to my blog: I am currently in between travels. I don’t know for how long. Thinking big travels, at least three years. And I do not like it one bit. After coming back from my last adventure, I decided I needed to stay in one place for a while, build up some stability. Because when I travel, it doesn’t matter how much I am enjoying the thrill and excitement of all the new experiences, I still worry about money and my future. So I decided to work on that for a bit, by signing a 4-year contract in my home country.

So now I am working on my future and of course, as you probably guessed, I am having a terrible case of the post-travel-blues. To ease my suffering, I read travel blogs. Of people who are doing what I have to be honest about, seems like just a little bit too scary for me. Traveling the world with no plans for what comes after. Young couples that cycle across the world with no end date set. Students who graduate and leave the nest to travel through Asia but after three years still aren’t back. Families that sell their house, buy a boat and sail the seas, home-schooling their kids, earning the bare minimum by taking along the occasional well-earning holidayers.

Am I really the only traveller that worries about the future? Does that make me different from all you adventurers without worries? Does that make me not a real traveller?

I’ll give you some examples of what goes on in my mind, right.

Firstly, I do not own anything except for the things in the apartment I’m currently renting. I’m sure I can figure out a way to get rid of all of it if I were to start travelling again, but then what happens when the money runs out and it is time for me to go home? I have no place to stay, nothing of my own, and rely completely on the goodness of my parents and the hope they will not sell the house to buy a smaller place that does not have a bedroom for me and my partner.

Now suppose miraculously I do find a way to make some money on the road, just enough to stay on the road for a good amount of time and even to come back and start over. I will definitely not be earning enough to both enjoy travel life and save up for for example my retirement. Neither will my home country, since I am not paying taxes there. Same goes for government funded health insurance. Or any other benefits.

What happens if you need to go home for a longer period of time because you need to help out your family, what happens if you or your partner get seriously ill, what happens if you would like to start a family and offer your future kids basic financial security and a stable home to grow up in.

It all kind of comes down to the same issues: how to go “home”, whenever, wherever, whatever “home” may be. How to get just that little bit of stability and ease of mind to know that, once on the road, there is a way back. And if you do decide to settle down in that “back”, or anywhere else, to have a future. Doesn’t it all come down to (no matter how much everyone claims to be on a shoestring budget) having a fair amount of money stacked away, or some regular income of some property or other assets?

Please tell me how you see your future as a traveller! What are your long term worries and how do you deal with them?

My eye candy world wonder ♥

(Before I start, this will be the second soppy love post on this blog. I usually write about work and travel, but now I am inspired by love. So do skip this one if this is not your thing, and don’t worry, I have a travel post coming up soon.)

This weekend, me and the boyfriend were invited to a wedding in Bruges. The wedding was absolutely beautiful. It was the first wedding I had been to since I’m older than 6 I think, and I was impressed.

The couple looked so happy. More than happy really. Radiating hapiness and love. And in such a gorgeous dress, that bride! I would describe you the dress, but quite simply, I lack the words for all the different kinds of fabrics and shapes. So I’ll keep it at, she looked beautiful, classy, and perfect.

The priest said some really touching words as well. About the journey of love. For example, how it’s okay to have misunderstandings. Even, how it’s good! Because it makes you grow as people and it makes you grow as a couple. And that’s what love is all about. Making eachother grow and standing by each other no matter what. And how nowadays we can be so lucky if we find someone we feel so comfortabe with, that we want to spend all the moments, good and bad, funny and embarassing, impressive and plain boring, with just this one person. I was well impressed. The weather was beautiful again, the decorations so colourful, I just cannot describe the cheerfulness and utter contentness amazement hapiness that day in every person present.

I also have to admit, here comes the corny bit (yes, I do admit to being soppy and openly very in love), I could not keep my eyes off my boyfriend. He was looking more than handsome in his suit. Light brown shoes and belt, dark blue pants, light blue shirt, dark blue tie. And stunning dreamy blue eyes with a cheeky smile. Sighdreamdriftaway. I absolutely love going to places as a couple. I love his company. But for this wedding, dammit he wasn’t just my company, soulmate, and love. He was my armpiece. Everyone’s eye candy. Eye candy that was mine. And eye candy that was telling the perfect jokes to entertain the crowd. Haha I am so objectifying my own boyfriend, but really, I was just so proud and amazed by having him by my side. He makes me feel like the most beautiful girl just with one look. And I felt more than beautiful standing beside him on that wedding. He is a world wonder. My world wonder.