Le current mood - whoa! Thumping!


Le current mood - annoyed


Sources of annoyance include a skin eruption on my chin that makes Mount Vesuvius pale in comparison (in spite of some very fancy-schmancy new skincare products by some South African skin guru who worked with Christian Barnard), the need for a mani-pedi, a haircut, some relief for my persistent throat ache, some time to do some invoicing, some good TV (it's the year end for Chrissakes), etc.

I'd like to say something more profound, such as, the state of the world bothers me, etc. but tonight I am just in a shallow mood. No apologizing. Nah.

On the upside, we had some lovely pancakes this afternoon at a charming old place, and I got to sit next to the open fire.

We've spent a lot of time at the Antwerp Winterfoor, a nostalgic carnival, with 1930's rides, which the munchkin enjoys.

We're eating healthily (if you exclude the pancakes and syrup and hot cocoa with cream), even though it may resemble prison gruel at times.

I'm reading Charlotte Moseley's edition of the letters of all six of the Mitford Sisters.

A whole New Year is just around the corner.

sunday night quick fix - macrobiotic prison gruel

Risotto with zucchini and cashews

Peel and slice/dice
1 large onion
2 celery stalks
1 zucchini (you can leave the peel on this one if you wish)

Chop a handful of flat-leaf parsley

Ground some coriander in a mortar and pestle

Heat up 500-1 l of vegetable stock

Heat some oil and butter in a large saucepan
Add the celery and onion
Make sure it doesn't catch, while cooking for 5 mins.

Add some carnaroli rice
Add the zucchini

Start ladling in the stock, and stir... and keep stirring while you add ladle after ladle of stock.

Towards the end, when the rice is 'al dente', drop 150 g of cashews in a pan, and heat them (make sure they aren't burnt), until the oil in the nuts is released. Remove from hob.

Add the coriander and the cashews to the risotto when the rice is to your liking. Stir and add salt and pepper if needed.

Spoon into bowls, adding some parsley.

Et voilà, you have tonight's healthy dinner following the Temple Food approach. Be nice to your body, feed it all the good nutrients, and treat it with love.

New Year's Day - the prequel


Following the whole Christmas Day hullabuloo, my charming sister, now known as the Christmas terrorist, as she manages to hijack every Christmas, has decided not to join us for lunch or anything else. The less, the merrier, is my feeling, or does that seem too cruel?

The old adage, you can choose your friends, not your relatives, rings sooooo true.

oh she was gorgeous - Penelope Keith


Words completely fail me when it comes to this woman. I am and have been in love with Penelope Keith since 1979 when she first graced my parent's ridiculously large Grundig TV screen in To the Manor Born.
And now the BBC were kind enough to give us a Christmas special this year. Oh the bliss, oh the ecstasy of it all.

I never was able to figure out whether I preferred Audrey fforbes-Hamilton DeVere or Margo Leadbetter née Sturgess (from The Good Life, another BBC hit series with Paul Eddington of Yes, Minister fame).

My levels of Anglophilia are rising to new heights every day... I am pathetic, but non-apologetic.

And by the way, don't you all think that Marjorie Frobisher is a real fox for being 68???

Christmas - the sequel


Christmas was uneventful, barring my sister's meltdown during dessert and accusations flying about me being the new Nigella (and knowing no limits when it came to food). Pretty rich coming from a gastric bypass patient, who until recently, knew no limits herself.
The fireworks were set off by my extra dollop of double cream on the apple crumble. Tcha.

Attached a photo of the beast before it hit the oven for several hours.

The menu:
Prosecco with a splash of pomegranate

Gravad lax with blinis and sour cream
Fried cashews with chillis
Parma ham bundles with goat's cheese and figs

Turkey prepped with pancetta and rosemary
Stuffing of pancetta, dates, sausage meat, sage
Oven potatoes baked in goose fat
Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, marsala, and pancetta (yes, we love this particular type of Italian meat)
Brussels endives (for our Belgian link)
Apples with cranberries
Cranberry sauce

Apple crumble

Marcolini chocolates + coffee

wines: 2006 Hermitage (viognier grape) and a 2005 Côtes du Rhône

Needless to say that we are no longer interested in food for a few weeks.

Benazir Bhutto

Here's a photo of Benazir Bhutto during her visit to Brussels in 2000.
Today Mrs Bhutto lies dead in a hospital morgue after some militant decided to shoot her and then blow himself up.
First, let me say that I cannot understand suicide bombers' motives. The idea of unlimited sex with 72 virgins in heaven? As usual, not very woman-friendly, in the sense that 72 poor virgins are to be ravished by an exultant man, as he opens the gates to heaven... And I have to wonder, how someone who murders, is given the right to heaven's door? But that's just my old infidel self speaking up.

I'm not too familiar with Bhutto's politics, but I admired the fact that she was the first woman PM of a muslim state after a life of hardship (including five years under house arrest and the hanging of her father).

When I read that the UN Security Council 'unanimously condemned' the attack on Bhutto, I found myself wondering, like my SO, what the world has come to. Pakistan is in complete disarray, and the world, as usual, just stands there and looks on. No reaction. Dictatorship thrives. Oh well.

oh she was gorgeous - Emma Thompson


It's the weekend once again and I find myself craving an Emma Thompson movie. I don't know what it is about this woman, I just can't put my finger on it, but there's something inordinately sexy about her. From the moment she first burst onto my retina, in the Tall Guy (with Jeff Goldblum, if memory serves me well) to subsequent movies such as Peter's Friends, the Remains of the Day, Sense & Sensibility (for which she wrote the script as well as acting the role of Elinor)... then there was her pole dancing with Ellen, Nanny McPhee, Dolores Trelawney (in the Potter movies), Angels in America (where she got to kiss Meryl Streep)... Needless to say I like watching movies with the great Emma...

But what makes her so interesting? I just can't tell you. Except maybe, if you look at Love Actually, where her character listens to a Joni Mitchell song of the CD that she received from her husband, who is two-timing her... She simply stands in her bedroom, next to the marital bed, listening, as her world falls apart, picks herself up, smoothes out her skirt. And in that precise gesture lies the genius of Ms. Thompson... It's that unique blend of down-to-earthness and her ability to portray characters who are shaken by deep, inner conflicts.

And what better way to start 2008 than in the knowledge that she will be Lady Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited... That and the fact that she's also a friend of Stephen Fry... Oh, and, unconfirmed as yet, the filming is to take place at Chatsworth, the homestead of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire aka Debo Mitford. I love it when things come together like the pieces in a puzzle.

'tis the season to be jolly - but not in Belgium, we're code red!

Look at all the shiny, happy people in this photo*. Incredibly enough, our Kingy has sworn in a new government this morning. Wonders will never cease. You would think that this would be cause for joy, but nothing less is true.

Incredibly enough, Belgium is 'on edge' after a thwarted Al-Qaeda jail break... which could have led to a possible terrorist attack... Are you also laughing at all the potentials in that last phrase? Cos I am.

Fourteen suspected Islamic militants were arrested this morning. Apparently they had been planning an armed attack to free the convicted Al Qaeda member, Nizar Trabelsi, a former Tunisian footballer, who is suspected of plotting attacks on US targets in Belgium (specifically an airbase in Belgium thought to house US arms). Now all of this has never been confirmed, mind.

Anyway, our threat level for the Yule period has been raised to critical on the premise that if these people managed to acquire the necessary heavy-duty arms to free a suspected terrorist, they could also plan a terrorist attack. Police is now swarming the streets, Christmas markets, airports, stations etc. and the public is asked to be vigilant (not vigilante, we're too busy living up to our reputation of being bons vivants in this country and spending money on Christmas gifts). SO is already grumbling, as she's in charge of the turkey but she's also on call on Christmas day, meaning that if something happens she will have to be outta here at cruising speed, leaving me with an uncooked three-course turkey dinner and hungry relatives on my hands.... Ack.

On a brighter note, I broke my Christmas shopping record this year. As always, I wait until the last three or four days to do ALL my shopping. I managed to find 75% of all my gifts in one hour flat. I could have managed 80% were it not for the barista who was preparing my frapp' yacking on her mobile.

So as we ready ourselves for the onslaught of Christmas, we look forward to two weeks of relative peace and quiet, as you can see. The munchkin is tired from a whole term at school and it's beginning to show. Lots of long sleeps, low immunity (ear infections are back, so a visit to the ear surgeon is in the works) and a slew of new words (such as stommerik or schtoopid). Lovely. SO is counting down the days to her surgery, which will result in improved health conditions for her. Even catso has a cold, prompting a visit from the vet and homeopathic remedies. I'm the last (wo)man standing!

* Photo courtesy of Thierry Roge - Reuters/Yahoo News. Belgium's King Albert II poses for a family photo with the members of the new government at the Laeken Palace in Brussels December 21, 2007.

Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue



OMG, at last. After 192 days we have a government.
Well, sorta... à la belge, it is as usual a compromise.

Belgium's new intermediary government will be sworn in on Friday. Not the final government of course, because they have until March to negotiate that one.

Interestingly enough, this government is made up of winners and losers of the past election, and it is asymmetric (meaning the number of parties is not equal on either side of the language divide, as the Flemish socialists declared that they preferred to be in the opposition).

The new prime minister is the old prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt.

And the French liberals must be feeling extremely blue that the French-speaking socialists somehow managed to wheedle themselves into this government, in spite of considerable wrangling on everyone's behalf to keep them out of the coalition.

So where does the borrowed part come in? I think we could say that those are the French-speaking incontournable socialists, who were used as some kind of super glue to make this coalition work.

Enuff' said: time for some decision-making. And there are a lot of hasty decisions to make: before the end of the year an agreement has to be reached with GPs so that next year they cannot charge up exorbitant amounts for normal care... before Friday, Belgium has to request an exemption from a European Directive regarding the non-discrimination in insurance, or women's insurance rates of every type will soar through the roof... and the list goes on...
Nose to the grindstone dearies!





Coming up gasping for air.

The tribute 'heard round the world'


... “my beautiful Cydney who sticks with me through all the rotten and the bliss"...

The perfect way of coming out without actually coming out per se.
As a full card-carrying lesbian, I felt I couldn't ignore this groundbreaking moment in 21st century LGBT history. Not that we didn't already know this, but still...

Photo courtesy storm_ns.

Oh she was gorgeous - Lillibet

Oh heck, all the white stuff on my tree was on my mind, when I saw this photo.
So I just chose to elect HM QE II, ER by the grace of God this week's piece of loveliness.

Webcam magic

Night light... everyone's in bed, even the cat.

Fallen angels in the Christmas tree

Old Lula herself

Everything was beautiful at the ballet...


My old ballet company contacted me, on the pretext of celebrating a 20th anniversary, to organize a reunion of the first generation of dancers, as it were.
I contacted my former dance partner in crime, and both he and I agreed that it was a case of 'past our prime'. Neither of us felt any compunction to crawl back up on a stage and make a spectacle of ourselves.

Funny though, how dance still remains a part of my life. I try and catch performances time permitting, or simply enjoy it on tv. And since our munchkin has discovered the 'ballerientjes' on youtube, she has added another demand to her already long list of demands.

So now and then I search for interesting clips to show her (modern and classic dance alike). Today's search yielded this interesting clip. Or how senior citizens can still be astoundingly graceful... just like their toddler counterparts.

The clip was shot in Newcastle to Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.

The climate - a source of worry

In light of news today that the climate conference in Bali is heading for a big flop, I think we should reflect on the fact that the WMO (World Metereological Organization) announced today that the past decade has been the hottest ever since the beginning of meteorological observations.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century the average temperature has gone up by 0.74 degrees centigrade. Opponents will venture that the rise has not been constant. Others will counter that the rise has doubled in the five last years, compared the 100 previous years. Sea levels continue to rise, and ice continues to melt.

So what does it all mean? To be frank, I don't know. I'm not a scientist. But I do worry about the state of earth, especially the earth on which our children and their children will have to grow up and carve out a life for themselves. We are fortunate to be living in the west (and not in the African continent, say).

It is rather sad then that 27 European leaders flew out to Lisbon today to sign the new EU treaty... with their private planes, only to fly back to Brussels tonight to hold an EU summit there tomorrow... on climate change. Interestingly enough, the leaders of the Benelux countries (Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands) shared a plane.

So how do we go about minimizing our carbon and ecological footprint, if our leaders won't even set the example?

PS - the pic above is of the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lake in the east of Iceland. An unreal sight when you drive across the bridge... But I could have also put up a photo of Cape Cod and its eroding shores (something to which my SO can testify first-hand, as she sees the beach shrink, compared to the endless sand flats of her youth).

Probiotics again


Blast and botheration. It is only the busiest time of the year for me as regards work... and our little mite has an intestinal virus. Which means, no school.
Auuugh! So much for sleeping during the next days. I've invoices to write out, and two horrific deadlines.

Thankfully, my SO will take time off so things are not as bad as they could potentially be.

And thanks for probiotics. Hopefully they kick in soon enough, because intestinal viruses, as we know from the past, can lead to hospital stays...

Nose to the grindstone, with a clothes peg firmly on it.

Christmas isn't quite complete without a row...


Ah, what a heady cocktail. Gastric bypass, full option turkey, traditions, new customs, the search for recipes, celebrity chefs, hormonal SO, and myself, who is used to this drama, having lived with my family for the past 37 years...

Christmas, I love it. Such a perfect horror movie. All it requires is the perfect ensemble cast. I'm thinking Glenn Close in kill the bunny mode (I'm not gonna be ignored!!!), Rosanne post-Rosanne, myself as Mary Poppins, the brother-in-law who communicates in grunts, Catherine Tate's nan and my mother in eternal victim mode. Yup, it beats Home for the Holidays by a mile. Or two even.

All we need is a flying turkey leg as a prop. Dialling Martha as I write this.

To be continued...

--- I just told my SO to think of the following clip on Christmas day...

L'orange bleue est morte, vive l'orange bleue?


Tomorrow will mark the 185th day since the elections without a government.

The coalition broker resigned on 1 December. The former PM, Guy Verhofstadt, has now been assigned the job of running the country (which he's been doing for the last six months anyway) and trying to put together a workable coalition. And frankly, that's all I can tell you because at this point I have no idea what's going on... I'm mystified, everyone is mystified.

Are we to have a government? Is there a coalition in the pipeline? Are they just revamping the previous coalition into something workable? Oh, wait, I get it, this is your typical Belgian compromise in the making...

I watch, eyes wide shut, and wait. This country's regions are on a major collision course, with every statement being used as an excuse to have a major flare-up.

Vaudeville at its best. Belgium as we've always known it. Business as usual.

Oh she was gorgeous - Marlene Dietrich

Vamp, vixen, vampire extraordinaire who managed to suck the life force out of the people who most loved her, as daughter Maria Riva and Svengali Josef von Sternberg will attest.

But still, how can we ever forget Shanghai Lily, the light catching her eyes and strawberry blonde hair, crowning her head like a halo, and that tremulous cigarette...

My first impression of Marlene Dietrich dates back all the way to 1983. Shanghai Express. I bought the autobiography (a cleaned up version of her life) one year later. And since then I have managed to pretty much see every one of her films. The biography by her daughter came as a bit of a surprise, as I discovered a cruel and calculating person. But many a goddess has toppled off her pedestal and Dietrich was no exception.

I leave you with the timeless quote from this movie: it took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.

You can take the girl out of the eighties...


but you can't take the eighties out of the girl :-)
I'm sorry, I simply couldn't fight the urge...

* I should add that this is technically from 1990 but to me it closes a rather emblematic decade.

So Eighties!

Sig's post on 80s music reminded me of TV series that defined the 80s for me (well, this, Dynasty, Charlie's Angels and Wonder Woman, I see a pattern here).

Dallas, a show essentially built around the character of J.R., was a hoot! I spent many an evening as an impressionable pre-teen watching this show. Funny how people were fuzzier about what children could watch on TV in those days.

What all these shows have in common, was the slick glossiness of the women's characters. The Farrah flick, Wonder Woman's bright red lipstick (to match her mini corset and hotpants) and Alexis' shoulder pads (oh, and the desk with the elephant tusks for legs).

Such glamour, such drama. What a contrast with the grungy Nineties. I lapped it up, of course.

News flash: Damages!


Great news! Damages starring Glenn Close is coming to BBC1 at the beginning of 2008. I don't usually tout TV shows, but this one is simply incredible. Every episode is a cliff-hanger, managing to put you on the wrong foot at the end!

Here's a little taste of the series:

Sinterklaas came and went...


Where to start? Sinterklaas is the original Santa... before the big Red aka Coca-Cola claimed him.

On 6 December, we celebrate the patron saint of children, St Nicholas of Smyrna. The good saint is usually accompanied by Black Peter (very un-PC), and brings presents to all those children, who have been good in the past year.

Our munchkin was beside herself yesterday evening and even more so this morning when she found that the carrots, which she had left in her boots for Sinterklaas's horse had been eaten... and that presents had mysteriously appeared. This was of course followed by a magnificent meltdown of magnanimous proportions, due to the excitement.

And finally, this afternoon, she got to meet the good man himself, as he visited her classroom.

The things we parents have to contend with...

To have or to have not...

Interesting how something so insignificant and small can make such a difference in one's life. In July of 2003 we started down the road that would eventually lead us to the arrival of our munchkin. At the time, we had a discussion, our counselor at the AZVUB in Jette took down our physical characteristics and to some extent our desiderata and then a computer took over. We were matched to an anonymous sperm donor and six straws of his precious sperm were 'reserved' for us.

It is now exactly four years after the first (successful) insemination. Since then, there have been four more attempts at having a second child. One straw remains... and now also the question... to have or to have not.

The mind works in mysterious ways


I was watching this video by Feist. The iPod song, I know, but I like it anyway.

Then I was reminded of this:

And then my brain served me this:

It's on days like this that you know that you definitely need another cup of STRONG coffee.

Wigner release?


Amazing how some days a bunch of information will come together to inspire you to write up something.

This evening a small but significant news item caught my attention. The current deadlock on a government coalition is having a series of consequences: one of them is the fact that Belgians living near nuclear power plants are at present faced with the fact that the expiration date on their iodine pills is only a month away. Due to the fact that we do not have a government, the authorities cannot order new batches at present leaving them effectively unprotected until June of 2008.

My thoughts immediately turned to the polder village of Doel, approx. 10 km from where we live. The photo below was taken by my SO and is a perfect example of how industry (in this case the port of Antwerp) has encroached on agricultural life.

For some reason, the polder villages tend to exercise a huge draw on us. Many of them have disappeared, such as Wilmarsdonk. The steeple of its unhallowed church bears the only testimony to the village's existence, but is now surrounded by containers and the port. Lillo-Fort is another. A little haven of peace and quiet, in the middle of the port, with a small marina, a number of pubs, and the dockers who come to eat there on their breaks. And finally Doel, the last man standing, if you will. Four hundred years ago Doel was reclaimed from the river Scheldt. Today, its inhabitants have left, its pubs are closed but for the mill and people are fighting to keep it alive. Houses are being squatted, windows have been thrown in... A dock has been built nearby and another is in the works. We go there often for Sunday walks along the sea wall, and for a drink at the mill in the photo if only to show our support.

Across the North Sea is our other nuclear destination: Dungeness.

This is Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage, with the Dungeness power plant looming in the background. And what a treasure trove this place is: it is one of the stations along the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch light railway, the 'Listening Ears' or acoustic mirrors in Denge as featured in Coast are nearby and of course the highly valuable nature reserve, in this large expanse of shingle.

Finally, this evening I settled down to some work with the TV buzzing in the background. Gradually I realized that I was watching/listening to a documentary on the Windscale fire, which resulted during a Wigner energy release procedure... It was considered the world's worst nuclear accident, until Chernobyl of course. The site is better known today as Sellafield, a subject of controversy due to the nuclear material processed there.

So what a nuclear day it was.

* I know I probably should follow this up with a remark on nuclear energy but today I simply wanted to focus on the other-worldliness of these places, which I think is what attracts us in the first place.

Statistics have their uses


Every blog comes with its statistics.
One learns interesting things about one's readers, such as where they are reading from, what browser they use, etc. but also the searches that drive people to your blog.

I was somewhat amused to see that a lot of balletophiles and fans of Rudolph Nureyev found their way to my little nook of the world wide web. Other memorable searches include sex in tights (Nureyev-related, but not really), lesbian spankings (I kid thee not), spanking mommies, etc.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the Oprah fans for their interest in her goodie bags, which featured the lovely soaps from Claus, in Portugal.

And finally, I continue to welcome comments, the more the merrier. You readers are very quiet people.

Pomegranate icecream from Nigella Express

It's winter and I don't know what I was thinking. Except maybe, that it is also the season of all things red, especially that luscious fruit straight out of the Garden of Eden, known as the pomegranate.

In recent years, this fruit has become somewhat of a fad, with marketing muppets peddling it left and right in various guises... Great antioxidant juice, etc. My mother loves to eat it alongside baklava, which she buys from the Moroccan and Turkish bakers in our outpost of the city.

My beady eye had spied a box of glowing garnet pomegranates outside the Pakistani grocer's off our main drag. The huge globes bore a promise of delicious juice. I obviously continue to worship at the altar of that domestic goddess, Nigella. So when I found the recipe for pomegranate ice-cream with double cream, my palate took over, ignoring the warning sign in my head, which said 48% fat equals coronary and cholesterol.

Easy to make, this pale pink gelato is heaven in a bowl. So if you're looking for an easy dessert, then look no further. This is it.

Oh she was gorgeous - the American girl in Ruth Orkin's photo

In this week's gorgeousness, I propose a rather interesting girl in a rather arresting image. Ruth Orkin, an American photographer, took this photograph of a young American student named Jinx Allen in Florence, Italy in 1951. The photo was taken for an article in Cosmopolitan which discussed the problems women encountered when traveling alone... obviously the language, the currency, food and of course, dealing with men and their machismo abroad.

The photographer staged the scene to some extent, looking for a group of men lounging near or in Piazza della Repubblica. She claims she only spoke to the two men on the Vespa, asking them to tell the others not to look at the camera. The young subject walked the gauntlet not once, but twice!

And yet, although it was staged to some extent, there is something natural about this photo. The young, winsome girl, walking the gauntlet, her aggressors all smiling and laughing and her visible distress... There is a hint of a suffering yet beguiling Madonna. Or maybe I just had to much Asahi beer tonight.

Anyway, she redefined gorgeousness.

Ceci n'est pas une orange bleue - Let's stick together

No, not a reference to the movie about Tintin and the blue oranges. Nor have I been dipping too deep in Magritte's surrealist oeuvre. Although surrealism is the only label that applies to the situation in Belgium. Incredibly so, yet another tentative to broker a government coalition has failed. So the past 24 hours have been all about colours, about greens, and reds, and purples, and oranges, oranges that might be excluded, blues that will not govern with reds, greens who don't mesh well with yellows... A veritable rainbow fest!

All I know is that if there is a protest march, I'm heavily considering marching along. The revolution which created Belgium started with an opera (La Muette de Portici), and it looks as if Belgium will cease to exist as a result of a farce.

Meanwhile blogger Gerrit Six strikes again: after Belgium, he has now put Belgian citizenship on eBay.

While I was writing this, I was reminded of this rather appropriate song:

So maybe this is something we all need to think about, 175 days after our elections. Cross the linguistic border a little more, enjoy one another's culture a little more. Heck, if the Germans and the British could do it over Christmas during WWI in a football friendly in no-man's land, then why can't we?

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