Yesterday evening, by some strange turn of fate, I caught the end of a programme that I had meant to watch: Travels with Vasari. The item I was specifically interested in, and which I have craved to see since I was about 15 years old, is the Corridoio Vasariano, or Vasari's Corridor.

Those who have been to Florence might know that this overhead passageway runs from the Uffizi, along the Arno, over the Ponte Vecchio and right up to the Pitti Palace in the Santo Spirito neighbourhood, thus linking the Offices (or Uffizi) of Francesco de Medici to his residence (the Pitti).

What makes this corridor so special is the fact that it contains approx. 1,000 paintings, all self-portraits, by some of the most famous masters from the sixteenth century to the present day. Some name-dropping: Rubens, Ingres, Rembrandt, Ensor and many others... Although I did study in Florence, and have visited it on several occasions, the Corridoio is notoriously difficult to visit and I have never been fortunate enough to walk through it myself. These days, access is largely reserved to politicians and other such luminaries.

Another thing that I love about Florence is the Bistecca Fiorentina. Think of it as the Florentine version of a Porterhouse steak. Its secret lies in the low-fat beef, which is sourced from Arezzo (Chianina) or the Maremma (Maremmana).

It requires a grill, some bloody hot coals, and a fantastic T-Bone steak.
Heat the grill, slap the steak on the grill, cook for 5 minutes on either side. After taking it off the grill, you can season to taste with salt and pepper, and eventually some oil.
Think rare, or even moo for the right taste on the inside, and brown on the outside. Serve with some vegetables (rocket salad, or if you so prefer some garlic sautéd spinach).
Not for the vegetarians among us.

Finally, if you ever head to Florence, walk down to San Lorenzo, where I used to live and visit the Mercato Centrale for some delicious extra virgin oil, truffles, funghi porcini, etc. You will not regret it.

Nigella.com: finally

And yes, the moment you(?)/I (certainly) have been waiting for. Nigella's website is at last relaunched and how!

Recipes, forum, Nigella's knick-knacks, you name it, it's there.

Pardon me, but I have more important things to attend to today. And tomorrow... and all the next days!

(We've been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday, but to all you turkey diners out there, thanks for finding your way here, staying a while longer, and even becoming friends. And to Miss Velveeta in Kansas: hope that organic turkey was as succulent as it should be!).

Partnership: the PTA


Interesting discussion this weekend during the quarterly meeting of gay and lesbian parents: several of us feel the need to overcompensate. Many of us have volunteered for the parent/teacher association and almost of all of us had volunteered to bake cupcakes, help wash up, clean up after painting classes, etc.

Why is it that we do this, I wonder? I can think of a myriad of answers, but I'd like to hear yours... And as a straight parent, reading this blog, do you feel just as duty-bound?

*gearing up to (wo)man the glühwein stand at the Christmas concert in a few weeks and prepping 450 bags for Sinterklaas in ten days* it's tough being a parent...



Ever so gently at first, the flakes rolled in. Then a dusting. Next thing you know, packed snow, excellent material for snowballs and snowmen (we tried it) and scary driving. Today is the first time ever that I drove in snow myself. I'm that much of an idiot that I had to take a pic to document this, rather than keep my hands on the steering wheel...

Forgotten vegetables: the saga continues...

Come autumn, this domestic demi-goddess is in her element as she peruses the shelves of the supermarkets and farm stands. Pears and parsnips, maple syrup, hare, pheasant and partridge, wild mushrooms: you name it, I love it. The fresher the spoils of the forest, the better although I do tend to draw the line at foraging for them myself. My grandfather used to shoot rabbits for Sunday lunch and to this day I still cannot bring myself to eat this typically Flemish delicacy.

This preamble brings me to the subject of today's post. In October, Jerusalem artichokes become a staple ingredients of our menu. These gnarly looking fellows are reminiscent in taste of garlic or mushrooms.

Sautéed, they become soft like potatoes. If they're early in the season, you can leave the peel on. As the season progresses, you might consider peeling them.

Tonight's fare was pretty simple:
Peel 600-700 g of Jerusalem artichokes and put in a large oiled pan. Sautée on medium heat until golden on all sides. Finely slice two cloves of garlic, grab some bay leaves and add to the pan. Splash with some white wine vinegar. Cover and let sautée until soft. Shift the artichokes to the side. Add a handful of sage leaves (we always grow some in our window boxes, wards off the evil spirits and is a great friend of pork chops) and 12 pancetta slices (we don't believe in scrimping here) to the pan.

Fry bacon and sage until crisp. And voilà, you have a nice autumn salad.

Photos taken with my phone, hence the pathetic quality. The salad, in contrast, was excellent and polished off by all and sundry.

Not that impressed...


Impressing the Czar - Royal Ballet of Flanders.

I will admit to nodding off during the first part (Potemkin's Unterschrift), watching the second more attentively (In the middle, Somewhat elevated -- which I love) and positively adoring the last part (Bongo Bongo Nageela): Britney Spears vs. the Wordy Rapping Hood. The schoolgirls are both male and female.

Amazing though how a body can make a difference to a choreography...

The Lady in Red


Sophia Loren (wartime nickname: Toothpick (!!!))notoriously said:
"Everything you see, I owe it to pasta...".

So without further ado I share her recipe for Spaghetti con pomodori with you.

1 1/2 pound spaghetti
2 pounds tomatoes, not quite ripe, chopped
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
2 medium red or Vidalia onions (or less), thinly sliced
1/4 cup pitted Sicilian green olives, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons drained capers
1/4 cup minced Italian parsley
12 chopped fresh oregano leaves
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese (optional)


Cook the pasta until just al dente. While the pasta is cooking, place in a large serving bowl the tomatoes, mozzarella, onions, olives, capers, parsley, oregano, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the oil over and toss gently.

When pasta is ready, pour it into a colander and quickly rinse it under cold water; drain well and add the warm spaghetti to the bowl. Toss to combine, remove the garlic if desired, and serve. Pass the cheese at the table.

Should serve 6.

Now can somebody tell me what the lady below eats? Oh wait, I know: chocolate.

Logically, I should end this post with a photo myself, but the only red garment I own is a nightdress. I think it's best for all parties concerned that I spare you my night-time apparel.

Family, friends, food


Good food is best enjoyed in the presence of good company. This old adage rings all too true after a wonderful weekend of birthday celebrations for my other half.

With the hunting season in full swing, we all flocked to my mother's to enjoy her take on guinea fowl, which she roasts in the oven and serves with stewed Brussels endives (with that bit of mother magic known as a spoonful of sugar), potato croquettes and of course her infamous grape sauce. That sauce conjures Proustian memories, because for as long as I can remember autumn, I remember this particular dish.

November is also a particularly poignant month for our family, as we commemorate the death of my father, on my other half's birthday. Last Sunday, it will be exactly 11 years ago since he died.

I was in the US at the time, visiting with my future in-laws. After my father woke us to wish my SO a happy birthday, we had gone out for the Washington Post, the New York Times, mulled cider and some fresh pains au chocolat from the local farm stand. It was a cold, grey day and we only had an evening dinner date, so we retreated back to the comfort of the warm bed.

At 11 am my sister rang to say something was horribly wrong and that she was on her way to the house. I rang my mother, who at that time was standing in the street, flagging the ambulance down. By then my father had already died from a massive coronary, but it would take me one more hour to find out as he was only declared dead on arrival at the hospital. It was left to the doctor in the emergency room to break the news to me by phone on remote Cape Cod, as my mother returned home to sleep alone in the marital bed for the first time in 28 years, accompanied by her parents and my sister.

I remember the primal howl that erupted from somewhere deep inside of me; I remember sitting in the shower with the cold water pounding on my face and body in hopes that I would wake up from this nightmare. I remember throwing roses into the ocean that afternoon. Above all, I remember my last visit with him in the morgue, as he lay there tan and peaceful.

Over the next days, family members from all over the world convened to bid him goodbye. We cooked, we ate, we dined out. After the funeral, we had a wake and again we ate. That Sunday, we had a last meal together before everyone, including my other half, left for their respective homes. I do not remember much of the meals themselves, but I do remember the ebb and flow of conversation, the memories shared, the warmth of a family together.

That same Sunday afternoon, after putting my exhausted mother to bed, my sister and I fell asleep on the couches in the living room. At 5:03 p.m. I woke up to the chime of a doorbell. I staggered to the door half asleep, only to find nobody there. I realized, in that same moment, that it was the moment my father must have died, exactly one week ago, on the same sofa on which I had been sleeping... and I wept, for I felt terribly alone in that instant.

Time has passed since, and over the past eleven years, I have implemented a scorched earth policy. I prefer not to look back, not to reflect on the past, but instead to move ahead. The second part of our weekend was spent with friends, over food, during a brunch, and even this evening, we dined with friends.

And yet, deep down, among the friends, the family, and over the food, one can never quite shake that feeling of being quite alone.

For my father...



This is a perfect example of a lazy post. Why? Because I was looking for an excuse to post a photo.
This photo was taken from my car, as I approached the Cathedral and Groenplaats and the only reason I like it, is because of the tram lines and the geometric pattern they describe against the clouds, as the tram turns right to head into the centre.

To the left, you can make out the spire of Antwerp cathedral, the nave stretches out to its right (see building in centre of photo).

As I regularly work for the tourist office, and am even featured on one of their websites as an expat living in the city, I never eschew an opportunity for some blatant promotion. And since Lonely Planet recently voted Antwerp as one of the ten cities you must absolutely visit, here is their take on --A--.

"Even the New York Times agrees – Antwerp (Antwerpen in Flemish, Anvers in French) is Europe’s place to be. Appreciated by mode moguls, club queens, art lovers and diamond dealers, Belgium’s capital of cool and the country’s second-biggest city once again revels in fame and fortune.

Antwerp has a rollcall of drawing cards. Start with its manageable size and timeless quality. The old city centre, built around the country’s most impressive cathedral, is as beautiful and intimate as it was centuries ago. Tucked away in cobbled lanes and backstreets are thousands of restaurants and bars, antique shops, art galleries, exclusive chocolate out­lets, designer boutiques and diamond shops where Antwerpenaars enjoy spending money.

The whole city is something of an architectural museum, from the medieval riverside fortress to modern waterfront creations and the famous Cogels-Osylei, where architects ran riot. Most distinctive is its Gothic and Flemish baroque architecture; it was the home of Pieter Paul Rubens, northern Europe’s greatest baroque artist. A visit to his home and studio in the city centre gives fabulous insight into the painter’s personal life, after which you can track down some of his most acclaimed works in churches and museums dotted around the city.

Antwerp’s role as a celebrated fashion hub means it’s a magnet for shoppers. For a city of its size, it boasts an astonishing number of world-acclaimed fashion designers and many have set up boutiques here. Designer-led stores buzz with shoppers looking for the latest in hip clothing and accessories.

On the backbone of the fashion and growing gay scenes, Antwerp’s club culture has expanded. The city runs on party time. Club extravaganzas burst out in summer and the nightly scene in the regenerated docklands to the north and south of town beat to the coolest vibes.

It doesn’t end there. The world’s largest diamond-cutting industry operates behind discreet façades in the Jewish neighbourhood. In the sailors’ quarter just north of the city centre, bored women sit framed in red lights while itinerant Philippino, Sri Lankan and East European seaman wander the seedy streets. Turkish, African and Chinese communities live northwest of Franklin Rooseveltplaats, ultratrendy style victims have taken over the fashion district, and businessmen and upper-class Flemish hang out around Koning Albertpark.

Cosmopolitan, confident and full of contrasts…Antwerp’s an essential stop on your Belgium itinerary."

So go ahead and visit. I'm sure you will enjoy it.

Ode to a pie


I don't know what it is about Melton Mowbray pork pies, but they just hit the right spot for me. If you asked me when I had one for the first time, I wouldn't even be able to tell you. Probably in the days that Marks & Spencer's still believed in having stores on the continent and I was a lot younger.

On the whole, you could say that they do not exactly look attractive. They weigh a tonne, are brown-crusted and are baked without a hoop. The meat inside is grey, rather than pink as it is uncured and only chopped pork is used. Did I forget to mention that they are coated with a lining of gelatin?

A classic case of deceptive appearances, because once you slice a sliver out of the pie, and taste it, you will be overcome by the seasoned taste of pork in its rich crust. In fact, I have to restrain myself from straying near the fridge once I have opened one, which is why I usually only buy one large one, and not the bitesize miniature ones.

Anyway, all of the above has just one aim: to remind me that you need to look beyond appearances to find the soulmate within. A very valuable lesson.

A glimpse of Christmas


Yesterday I had a short but sweet run-in with Nigella. Her newest book that is. As a detractor of this book's cover, I now have to fess up that this book is the splendour of Christmas on paper.

My SO bought me said book as a Christmas gift, which is why, for the present, I am reduced to blogging about it, instead of devouring it from cover to cover. The food looks scrumptious, and though many of the recipes are familiar (rocky road bars, the Christmas ham, the Parma ham parcels, the choco pots, in fact I am told that almost half of the recipes have been sourced from her other books with a few new ingredients) to avid readers of her penmanship, they do work very well for the festive season. And at least, you now have a Christmas recipe compendium for the years to come. May I just say that Christmas has never been so luscious. And add that several of the recipes do not even require Christmas as an excuse?

Other things that stand out: the use of faux deer (yes, I too worship at the altar of kitsch), pretty ribbons, a lot of red, silky dressing gowns, some good styling and a recipe entitled girdlebuster pie. Instead of calling it a cookbook, they should push it as a night-table book for gluttons such as myself.

Expect a post on gammon soon (how can I resist the challenge?) and if you're up for the whole Nigella experience, then invest in this month's Red Magazine, which has the Domestic Goddess herself as guest editor. I am told that a 5-episode series is scheduled on BBC sometime in the next month.

This Christmas, you too will be Nigella'ed!

Back to basics!


As promised, a slight change of wallpaper and content on this blog.

Over the past weeks I have come to realise that food was definitely taking the upper hand in my posts, which is why I chose to focus on that theme and to apply it as the fil rouge in my blog posts.

So back to basics it is: good food (tonight's toast with smoked mackerel paté courtesy of the goddess herself), good wine (a delicate Riesling), good ingredients (fantastic pumpkin seed and sunflower seed bread), and some good company (that would be you!) make for an excellent dinner party.

Consider Lula bites to be just that: an enjoyable dinner party with a bunch of good friends.

So pull up a chair and partake in some of the fun. And do share. It makes life infinitely more interesting, don't you think?

PS - readers who are interested in gay content, drop me a line with your e-mail address and I will forward you the link to my other domain, which is of a more adult nature

Changes in the pipeline


I've come to the conclusion in the past weeks that this blog is a little bit too much of everything and not a lot of something.

In that sense, I think it's time to let the domestic demi-goddess of the leash and give her her own space to ramble, while reserving the 'gayelle' aspect of my blog for another space.

Keep coming back for more developments as Suburban Mum helps me split my personality in two over the next few weeks...

As for NaBloPoMo: yes, yes, I know, I forgot to post yesterday, but frankly after the whole Obama hysteria, I was somewhat uninspired to write anything except a post on my lack of inspiration. That would have been caving in to the desire to write anything.

So there you have it...

Yes, we can!


This morning at 6 a.m. I was fortunate enough to catch Barack Obama's first speech as president-elect of the United States.

What can I say? Such hope expressed in his words, but can he deliver and worse yet, can the haters set aside their griefs to help rebuild the US? Visions of Martin Luther King as I write this. Another age, another era even.

200 years of Afro-American presence on US soil and today one man steps forward to lead his nation.

I leave you on a humorous note: because in these dour days, where the "progressive" folks of California actually struck down gay marriage, thus leaving such honourable people as Phyllis Lyon in the cold, yes we can! It will take a lot of money and effort to launch another effort. But you should always look on the bright side of life!

Knock, knock, knockin' on history's door


Whichever way you slice it, this is an election of firsts: first woman to run for president, first woman vice-president who is dumber than a post, oldest president in office, and... breath-takingly, first black president in office.

So as we all turn our eyes to the United (swing) States tonight and wait with bated breath to see whether Americans will really put their vote where their mouth is, I just want to express my fervent hope that the candidate of the day will indeed be Barack Obama.

Finally, the reign of shrub comes to an end. Will tomorrow dawn on hope?

PS You may have noted that I am somewhat more assiduous than usual about updating this blog. It's all in the spirit of nablopomo.

Arrrr! This one's for Fero


Leave it to Agent Provocateur to know what a real woman looks like. *walks over to a corner and promptly melts into a puddle*. I have always had a girl crush of magnanimous proportions on the lovely Helena Christensen. What's not to love? Danish, gorgeous, intelligent, photographer, dated Michael Hutchence, has a kid of her own and designs a range of bio cotton clothes for kids, which my daughter positively loves.

And now the Brit lingerie brand has kitted her out in some pirate gear with the obligatory corsetry here and there. Yum.

Feast your eyes, me hearteys;-) I'd gladly unleash my inner buccaneer for this one.

Promoting a friend

Belgitude at its best: Garage Sauvage's "Tattooed Eyeball"

Dinner anyone?


Yes, this family has been known to have sticks for dinner.

No, seriously, in my effort to work through the list of forgotten vegetables, here is salsify. 45 minutes' labour later, let's hope it's good.

This was the halfway stage:

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