A Belgian Journey: Part I – Brussels

Only three days away from Paris and it feel like I was completely displaced from reality. For my first trip out of France of the semester, I went off to Brussels for the weekend with some friends and somehow it seemed so much longer. It was an absolutely amazing trip that I wish never had to end, but in a way, it’s nice to be able to call Paris home now and walking into my apartment last night after three nights in foreign beds was quite the lovely (albeit cold) feeling.

We started off on Thursday night to Brussels. I found an apartment on airBnB, which was seriously amazing. Anyone who wants to travel should really look into it – it’s cheap, easy, and instead of hostel or hotel, you have a real apartment to go back to with amenities and such. Awesome find! Anyway…

Our first evening in Brussels was spent walking around looking for a bar, but after realizing Brussels in not quite the happening on Thursday night, we ventured back to our place with some beers and cookies in hand. The beer selection here is really out of control. Even in the tiny corner bodega, they had at least 45 varieties of beer and interesting ones too. I should preface this all by saying I have been on antibiotics this week fighting a bronchitis type infection, so unfortunately, my alcohol consumption was greatly impeded this weekend, although that doesn’t mean I could look at all the pretty bottles!

Friday morning we started the day by walking towards the Mannekin Piss and a place that I heard about which great waffles. (New thought in life – only in Belgium does one find true authentic waffles). Lets just say the walk was worth it for the waffles, but not the Mannekin Piss. Seriously, I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s a little boy, perhaps a little more than 2 feet tall, peeing. No great shakes, although there were certainly enough tourists around to make you think other wise. 

More exciting than Mannekin Piss himself are all the chocolate statues made out of him…

Now to say it was cold during our stay in Brussels was an understatement. It was freezing! And there was snow and ice on the ground, making walking treacherous at times. So after our early morning waffles, after which our fingers almost fell off trying to eat them, we went into a cute little cafe to grab some coffee and warm up. 

Perhaps one of the biggest tourist draws is the Grand Place, which unlike Mannekin Piss, is actually a beautiful grand piazza with old buildings gilded in gold. We spent a few minutes ogling the buildings and trying to get some good pictures, but once again, the cold forced us to move on somewhat quickly as standing anywhere for too long was not comfortable. 

Our next stop was the Magritte Museum, dedicated to the works of the surrealist artist Rene Magritte. I really had no knowledge about who or what he did before we got there, but I left feeling a whole lot smarter about surrealist art. I don’t mangle up what he believed in completely, so I highly recommend you take a look at his wiki page and ponder this thought…

This is not a pipe:

Now once again, the lovely thing about having a nice apartment to go back to and not a dingy hostel was that at 4 in the afternoon, feeling exhausted and cold, we decided to head back to the apartment and take some well deserved naps. Of course, we didn’t make it all the way back without a stop at a chocolate shop first though!

After some lovely naps in a gloriously heated apartment, we made our way to dinner at Fin de la Siecle, near Grand Place. Now, I don’t know who here has been to Brussels before, but somehow the streets do not make sense! We were walking down towards the middle of town and then I see on the map that the restaurant is off to the right a bit, so I say, “hey, why don’t we try a new direction and walk right?” 15 minutes later, after stopping to ask for directions, I discovered we had somehow gone in the complete wrong direction even though the map seemed to say otherwise. Being a big fan of maps and having a generally pretty good sense of direction, I was incredibly distressed. All was well though when we finally got to the restaurant and had a delicious and cheap meal. 

We rounded out at the evening at a tourist trap of a bar called Delirium Cafe. They are famous for having over 2000 types of beer. All I honestly took from the place was that it was loud and crowded. Apparently I was the only one who was unimpressed though, as it was  packed with hundreds of people! 

Even in our one day in Brussels, I felt like we accomplished a lot. Although we were in a foreign country from our host home of France, and especially from home home in New York, it was nice to still be able to speak the language. I’m realizing more and more that I have not really done a lot of traveling in countries where I don’t know the language at all. Through my travels in France and Swizerland, French has always gotten me by and in Israel, I can understand and speak enough Hebrew that I don’t feel like a total stranger. As I do more traveling in Europe I guess I’m going to quickly have to accept that it’s going to probably happen more often than not that I’ll stick out like a sore thumb not knowing the language or knowing my bearings. I guess this is just another excuse to learn more languages, although French, Hebrew and Arabic are hard enough as it is now!

In order to not make this the longest post in history and as I’m far to lazy to edit all my photos at once, I shall post about our two days in Bruges later this week.

I leave you with the quote and the realization that I must have been born on a farm because I loved Bruges!

“Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” -Colin Farrel in In Bruges

Long forgotten, but still remembered

I must apologize for my lack of updates in the recent months. I’ve had a few recent bumps in the road in terms of my health that have kept me from updating as often as I would have liked (take a look here for more information on that side of my life – http://abvdinnyc.wordpress.com/) I’ve been baking a bit here and there still, but with summer upon us, I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things baking-wise!

Instead of backtracking to find all the recipes I’ve used in the past month, I thought I’d just share some pictures that I have taken of my creations. We’ve had a few birthdays in the apartment, Passover, and the usual baking adventures. I also hosted a baking birthday party for some 6 and 7 year olds along with my roommate. It was loads of fun and if anyone is interested in having a baking party, let me know!  With school over in just a few days, my time will be opened up once again to try some new things this summer!

Coconut brownies made during a ski vacation in Vermont. 

Chocolate cake with caramel butter cream, chocolate ganache, and salted praline for my grandfathers birthday. 

Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for my grandfathers birthday. 

Adventures in juice making with our lovely new juicer. 

Carrot, pineapple, and apple juice made at home. 

Lemon cheesecake cupcakes with glazed blueberry topping for a roomies birthday party. 

The birthday spread. 

The start of the most amazing meal I had while on spring break in France. 

The most perfect steak. 

Leading a six and seven year old baking birthday party. 
A sugar cookie baking adventure at a birthday party. 

Nutty Granola

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to head upstate to spend some time at my uncle and aunt’s country house with a friend from school. I was so nice to be able to get out of the city for a bit. Their house is so nice and relaxing. We played in the snow, had a feast of a dinner on Saturday night and got to take a NIA class that my aunt teaches. It was an excellent way to spend any weekend, and if I could, I would go up all the time. Not as much homework was done as I would have liked, but oh well. The view up the Hudson was far too nice to allow me to sit down and write my essay 😉

One of the my favorite parts of our Saturday evening cooking escapades was the fact that I got to use my uncle’s nice big camera to take lots and lots of pictures of food. My aunt was making fun of me for taking pictures of food and not people, but there is just something about a good camera and food that seems to go together so well. I took so many photos of just about everything we were making – granola, ribs, veggies, even the butter. I can’t wait to someday get a good camera to use for taking pictures of food. I added a few of the other photos in addition to the granola at the end of this post. As I said, it was quite a feast. And no, I did not eat the ribs, I’m still vegetarian,  just incase you were wondering.

My uncle is the master of making granola. Everytime I go their house upstate, there are always huge canisters of the most delicious granola ever. I’ve made it with him before, but have never watched carefully what goes in it. This time, we made it together and he showed me the techniques for how he makes the best granola. As he reminded me over and over again, it’s very easy to customize granola to however you like it. If you like it extra nutty – add more nuts. If you like it more fruity – add more craisins or raisins or any other dried fruit you like. We made a huge batch, but given the rather intensive baking time it takes, it’s worth it to bake a whole big batch at once so it can last a longer time. When baking, be sure to keep an eye out on it as the edge can burn rather quickly. Once again, it’s nice to have a recipe, but granola is very adaptable, so have fun! 

UNCLE DOUG’S NUTTY GRANOLA

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 3/4 cup flax seed meal
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 3/4 cup cashews
  • 3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (Don’t chop to finely)
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup water
  • up to 2 cups raisins or dried cranberries

DIRECTIONS:

1) Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F

2) In a large bowl, mix together the oats, wheat germ, flax seed meal, coconut, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans, almonds, and cashews.

3) In a separate sauce pan, bring to low simmer,  the oil, honey, molasses, brown sugar, maple syrup, spices, vanilla and water.

4) Slowly pour the wet ingredients over the dry, and mix until evenly blended. Spread in 2 9×13 greased cookies sheets.

5) Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, stirring every 20 minutes, or until toasted. Beware of granola browning too much a the edges.

6) Reduce heat to 200 degrees F for 30 minutes

7) After 30 minutes, turn oven off and let sit for another 30-90 minutes

8 ) Store in an airtight container

9) Enjoy 🙂