City blog (well sorta): Big Sur


It's strange to think that almost one month ago we were driving that big red Jeep down Big Sur, but yes, indeed, we were basking in the gorgeous Cali sun.

I do remember that the beginnings of that leg of our trip were rather shaky. The rain as we landed in San Francisco, the interminable trip on the airport train to the car rental place, the reminder that road lighting is optional in much of the US and the fact that the overhead lights in the damn car didn't work... We arrived in a wind-swept Pacifica and all I could think of was that after the blissful sun of New York we were going to be cloaked in fog for the next week.

But the next morning, I woke up to this.

No fog, no mist, just sublime waves crashing on the beach a few metres from our window.

It's hard to resume what we saw in one blog post so I will just leave you with some random impressions.

- our picnic on the deserted beach at Carmel-by-the-Sea framed by beautiful cypress and pine trees, white sand and phenomenal waves. They have a great deli in Carmel by the way.
- the wild avocado flower honey that we tasted at a farm stand in the hills just outside of Pacifica.
- the pumpkin patches.
- Gilroy, garlic capital of the world (no giant garlic, sadly).
- Driving past the esalen retreat and realizing that their hot springs must indeed have quite the view.
- being generally stunned by the raw beauty of California's nature.
- being generally nauseous because of the hairpin turns on Big Sur and the way my SO was negotiating them with the big red near-Hummer.
- vowing that I would actually camp in a cabin next time (sockets a must for hairdryer or you'll have to pay me to deliver on this promise)
- gorgeous, gorgeous Cambria's Moonstone Beach and Robin's fusion restaurant
- the blissfully lazy elephant seals on the beach as well as the zebras (!) grazing on the Hearst ranch.
- the beef of the Hearst ranch which is actually very good with barbecue sauce.
- huge quantities of vitamin water

Our main aim was to reach San Simeon, W.R. Hearst's mountain retreat near Cambria which he created with architect Julia Morgan. I was a bit taken aback by the extremely professional manner in which you are herded (the word is entirely appropriate, given the nearby ranch) around the estate by two guides, one always tailing in the back to make sure that you don't walk off with any of the persimmons or christmas baubles (I kid you not). Some thoughts:

- the ketchup bottle on the table at Hearst Castle (it seems to me that he would have used something more elegant in view of the rather dazzling display of silverware)
- the beautiful faded two-toned shoes in one of the guest rooms at Hearst Castle
- the guides at Hearst Castle, who I'm sure are all former actors or similar.
- the Bavarian woodwork of Hearst's floor.
- the deer that skittered away among the fabulous orchard trees.
- the gothic living room where the glitterati of the day partied the night away (I cannot imagine what it must feel like to down a cocktail while sitting in a choir bench imported from Siena).

Conclusion: I think that I wouldn't mind a honeymoon in Cambria some time, doused with a lot of Coppola wine and excellent fish but most of all I wouldn't mind a swim in Mr Hearst's indoor pool.

On one final note: I've just started reading Hearst's biography, but I do feel as if he was taken to Bavaria in his youth and fancied himself a latter-day King Ludwig of Bavaria. Then again, he wasn't prone to fits of paranoia and was rather gregarious so maybe the book will prove me wrong.

I leave you with the munchkin doing what munchkins do best at that age: relaxing by the outdoor pool of Hearst Castle.



Some of my more regular readers may have noticed that I changed my frock recently. Of course this isn't entirely due to the fact that the imagery of my previous blog design went belly up because the designer forgot to upgrade his/her photobucket account. Nor is it due to the fact that I'm so lazy that I forgot to save said aforementioned imagery.

No, dearests, since I've been to Californi-A, I've turned over a whole new leaf. I've become a convert to the wholesomeness of it all. The bright sparkly teeth that shine in pretty smiles, the sun-blessed produce (I still haven't figured out what all the water billboards were about, but I vow to go back and find out on a tax-deductible fact-checking trip like most Belgian politicians), the keep it simple attitude to life and food.

If my jaws were hurting during said trip from smiling so much - I am, after all, naturally prone to despondency of the darkest kind -, then they have been positively smarting since we got back. Yes, dear readers, I am making a valiant effort to be a shiny, happy, wholesome person.

Now all I need is a teeth whitening treatment - all those years of imbibing coffee and PG tips and the odd smoke here and there - and I'll be one step closer to the real thing. In the meantime, hold your horses while I go quaff some more wine. After all, can a leopard change its spots?


It's that most wonderful time of the year again...


and this time, I'm beginning to wonder if my sister read past posts about Christmas. Because so far everything is going smoothly. We have a bird. We have consensus. And I may use double cream, when I finally get around to deciding what dessert I can concoct with it. My god, is this finally one of those years where the words, Christmas: food, family, festivities will not inevitably be associated with fiasco?

So far Shanghai Lily is still standing and our cat hasn't delved deep down into her feral being to molest our tannenbaum. My SO made it back from the Bermuda Triangle, otherwise known as Brussels Airport where luggage inevitably is lost (4th time this year). And my outlaws are on their way to the airport to pre-empt the 'worst snow storm in five years' and hopefully fly out on time.

I may just have to sit down and have a drink now because I can hardly believe all of this good fortune.

Beer here!


With the Oktoberfest behind us, it is time to reflect on that other nectar, known as beer. It is a rare event when beer is served at this house, and I don't know if it is due to the fact that we are too lazy to carry a whole crate home or if we simply only appreciate at certain times of the year.
At any rate, this week's nifty and tasty shepherd's pie called for some beer.

Now I am actually fortunate enough to hail from the village next to the Westmalle Trappist Brewery, meaning I was practically raised in the pub across from the abbey. I kid, of course, but you get my gist. So the choice was easy: both my SO and I have become extremely fond of Westmalle's Dubbel over the years. Not only is this one of the only dark trappist beer to be on tap in most cafes and restaurants, it is also the beer that is closest to the beer that the monks have been brewing for themselves for centuries.

So what else can I tell you about this beverage? Its hue is reddish-brown and its flavour has been described as fruity, herby, bitter, and fresh. It's safe to say that you have to try one for yourself to appreciate the adjectives. What I like about it, is that it's a mild beer, with a dry aftertaste, and I especially enjoy it with bread and the cheese from the same abbey.

And on a final note, yes, I did poach a glass from the pub and yes, I do know it's not the regulatory glass (which is also in my possession). Some people nab Starbucks mugs, I go for beer glasses.

Asparagus risotto


What else can one do? I have a kid who is obsessed with asparagus and Brussels sprouts.

I reworked a Giorgio Locatelli recipe, which I'm sure is somewhere on the net, leaving out the asparagus cream, as I only had the tips and no full spears to render in my trusty Magimix. I did however create a compound of vegetable and asparagus stock for the rice.

Trust me, it went down a treat!

And note that we are so asparagus-obsessed that we have asparagus placemats (I plead completely not guilty on this one).

City blog: New York


Oh possums, where do I start? It was gloriously, ludicrously glorious. A slight glitch, you know like the one where the needle slides on the record, as the munchkin collapsed just before we hit the bridge into NYC and I had to carry her, wrapped in a blanket into the hotel, in the pouring rain. But other than that: splendour all around.

What a city. It leaves me breathless. And this morning I was vehemently reminded of it again, as I opened my new book on W.R. Hearst and the ginkgo leaves that I had gathered near the Dakota after our stroll through Central Park fell out of it.

We stayed in Washington Square. Neighbours to SJP, natch. But more importantly, on the cusp of the SO's hood when she lived in NYC. Perfect for travelling uptown, but also for SoHo, Nolita and the rest of it. Our Meatpacking days are over, but instead we got Babbo... Just across the street from us, no less.

Now Babbo, Mario Batali's restaurant, had been a figment of my imagination that I had been nursing for quite some time.

It all started with the chance discovery of Dario (remember Dario near Florence, dear readers?) and his delicious meat. Then my SO brought home a book - Bill Buford's Heat - which her colleague had been telling her about. Halfway through his long-winded review of the book, she interrupted him and said, Dario? The butcher? In Panzano? Cue the green-eyed monster, as the foodie realised that we had just dropped in for a MacDario one sunny May afternoon. The challenge was to do the same in New York at Babbo. Of course, this is New York, where in some places you have to work the phone for a whole hour one month ahead of your desired seating. The link? Mario and Dario had worked together. And they redefined Italian food as we know it.

Did we succeed? Yes, dear reader, we did. Our kid's face got smushed against the glass partition of a yellow cab on the way downtown but at 5:05 p.m. on a Sunday we waited on the kerb to score one of the six walk-in tables.

What follows was gastronomic heaven: culatello and a heavenly finocchiona. Goat cheese tortellini with orange and fennel pollen. A duck that melted in my mouth. Deliciously matched wines. My God. And what's more, an angelic child, who sat through this and who wolfed down her own papardelle.

Life could not be more perfect... But we digress.

Naturally we did visit a few museums (Guggenheim for the Kandinsky exhibit, MoMa). Naturally we drank exorbitant amounts of coffee. Naturally we made our pilgrimages to McNulty's coffees & teas and Murray's cheese shop. Naturally we eschewed the Magnolia Bakery. Naturally we had a burrito at Benny's Burritos. Naturally we went to Dean & DeLuca. Naturally my kid decided that cucumber maki and edamame made an excellent TV snack to be eaten with bashi in hand. Because everything comes natural in New York.

Never mind what they tell you to do. Just go with the flow. Because when the sun is out and somebody is playing a washboard in Washington Square Park and the Empire State Building lights up in the distance in the golden sun, all you can do is just go with the flow.

First pic courtesy of my SO. Second and last from my iPhone.

We interrupt this blog for an 80s musical interlude


Back in 1984, when I was still fresh and lovely and rather a "fille niaise" as the French would say, I remember being fascinated by this song by Axel Bauer. This was obviously before I had ever seen the Fassbinder film, "Querelle" and before my French was good enough for a second, more attentive reading of the lyrics. The girl's boobs (NSFW), as far as I'm concerned, are just there to convince everyone that this is not a homo-erotic video clip. I leave you to decide for yourself as you watch this excellent video by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. A warning though: the refrain will stick in your head for a couple of days.

Axel Bauer - Cargo de nuit

But then, let's go on to make some assumptions. We know that Madonna worked with Jean-Baptiste Mondino on several occasions, and as early as 1986 (Human Nature, Open Your Heart, etc.). So how interesting that she went on to make the following clip, with David Fincher, based of course, on Fritz Lang's Metropolis, but now take a look at the men...

Back to the present.

Normal cooking will resume today!


Yes, dears! It's autumn and I have the Bake-o-glide ready and I'm rearing to go.

Yesterday evening marked the real debut of autumn food, although in all fairness our meals in the last four days have had orange ingredients in them, the most healthy option being the hamburger with shredded carrots in the mince mix earlier this week, which was a hit all around.

But yesterday came the first of many carb bombs, in the form of a delicious butternut squash orzotto. For some reason, when it matters the most, I'm never able to find a bloody butternut squash. I did however stumble upon a marrow in one supermarket, and something that resembled a butternut pumpkin, all the way from Spain at the Asian corner store. So I settled for the disconcertingly pale little pumpkin and proceeded to hack it up with all of the glee of a mutant ninja housewife.

Seconds later (nah, I kid you, it took a little longer than that, exactly the time to get to the oven to 220°), I oiled up the oven dish and tossed in my little pumpkin squash cubes and microplaned some nutmeg over them. They spent 40 minutes in the oven caramelizing themselves to a delicious sweetness. Did I mention that I'm interminably lazy and did not bother with peeling my little plump goodie?

Meanwhile I cheated and brought some powdered veggie stock to the boil and started gently frying an onion in some oil. In went the orzo or pearl barley, followed by a liberal sprinkling of some Sauvignon Blanc. And then... I screamed with glee because of the facility of an orzotto, which unlike a risotto does not require 20 minutes of arm and ladle work. Simply pour in the stock and let it all sit on the hob for approx. 30 minutes on low heat.

Finally, when the oven's buzzer goes off, toss half of your squash in a girl's best friend (no, not diamonds, silly but your magimix!), add some mascarpone, whizz away and scoop it all in the orzo, which should be pleasantly nubbly by now.

Brown some pine nuts and you have a deliciously filling fall meal known as orzotto. Feel free to try this out with other vegetables.

This afternoon: white chocolate and craison oat cookies; this evening sprouts and chestnuts with bacon. Fall has landed with a bang.

(photo taken on an afterthought as I was carrying the plate to the table and already contemplating its consumption).



12 years already since my father died. 12. Yesterday and yet still today. Autumn is in the air, the colours are ripe oranges, and blushing reds, and the screaming bright ochres of certain trees, which stand out in gardens and parks. I cried for the first time yesterday as I was scouring the sink after breakfast. A friend's father has been given weeks to live and I try to understand my own feelings in the face of her feelings.
I never had the time to grieve. Too many decisions to be made, too much responsibility placed on my shoulders suddenly.
And this morning, as Arvo Pärt's 'Festina Lente' burst from the radio, I cried again.
The scar never heals, the pain never ebbs away.

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