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.

Brand-new, I'm so retro


Oh goodness, where do I start? I'm a firm believer in those Sunday stalwarts, in traditional cooking, the cooking of my mother and my grandmothers... You could transport me to the 1950s and I'd be perfectly happy puffing away on a cigarette, in some waist-cinching dress in my loungy interior as I swirl my cocktail. It's like Mad Men redux, really, but I digress.

In recent weeks, I've been revisiting some of the dishes of my youth. The unctuous, creamy chicken and mushrooms of a bouchée à la reine (or vol-au-vent, as it is sometimes known) and some French fries made up today's lunch. It is still one of my favourite quick lunches.

Then there was the tomate crevettes, or tomatoes with shrimp.
Now I feel that it is my duty to enlighten you on the shrimp wars that are waged in this household. My SO, who hails from the US, firmly believes that a shrimp should be a large, pink object, which we call a prawn. Here, in Europe, however, we have grey shrimp, which live in the North Sea. (Never mind that after being caught, they are routinely shipped to Morocco for peeling and then shipped back to us in here in the EU. Then again, we don't believe in that, we never did and we never will (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Instead, in this household, the shrimp are bought cooked and we spend an inordinate amount of time peeling them ourselves.)
This dish involves scooping out a tomato, tossing the shrimp in some mayo, spooning it into the tomato and then sprinkling said mixture with some chives. Usually I set said dish on the table, only to watch my SO crinkle her nose and say something along the lines of 'but they're the grey shrimp... they smell so fishy'. Cue my incredulous look. Yes, you will remember that they hail from the North SEA (!).
These days, however, I take a bit of dry sherry, some oil, some white wine vinegar and beat it quickly into a dressing. Mix in the shrimp. Cut up and deseed some of our home-grown cherry tomatoes. Scoop out an avocado and spoon in the mixture and devour it. Yes, let's face it, we all need our vitamins.
And then, my grand finale, the dish which guided me through many a Sunday lunch as a child: poussin à l'estragon. Unfortunately, my first girlfriend's nickname was petit poussin. Imagine her horror when she found out what I ate one Sunday lunch and the ensuing two-day cataclysm of silence. These days, I borrow from a Nigella recipe, and toss them in the oven with a few sweet potatoes, cinnamon and cumin and a liberal sprinkling of olive oil.

So there you have it, just another old-fashioned girl ragging on about her old-fashioned taste in food...

Now tell me, do you like old-fashioned food?

PS - photography is not up to scratch, but I wasn't really paying attention as I was trying to juggle getting dinner to the table and thinking about my blog...

It's been a while...


Of course, that's not to say that I didn't eat in the past few months. Those of you who have seen me/know me in real life would confirm that this statement is true. For, dear reader, the past months have been a bounty for me.

I have spent hours, nay days in the warm sun of a Belgian summer, forsaking the lure of London (and its swine flu) for greener pastures and sandy beaches. I have eaten freshly-caught fried fish, excellent salads, delicious courgette flowers, succulent peaches and extravagant desserts. In short, I did not waste away. This was also the first year that we used our garden space to our advantage, growing figs, lemons and tomatoes and garden herbs. The tomatoes, it must be explained, were our munchkin's idea. On our forays in Florence, she ventured into a beautiful flower store near Piazza della Signoria, lured undoubtedly by the divine perfume of the gorgeous flowers in it, and then pitter-pattered over to the wall full of beautifully packaged seeds. Cherry tomatoes and courgettes, she chose, and I dismissed the packets as an illusion by its nature sweet after we returned to the homestead.

But, no, my SO and the munchkin decided to flex their green fingers and sowed them. The harvest (which is still ongoing) yielded a bumper crop of tomatoes and many a delicious pasta was concocted with them. After all, in this house, oil, onion, garlic, tomatoes, basil and black olives are enough to satisfy the hungry horde.

So below, I leave you with a photo of some home-grown freshly picked tomatoes and basil and the promise of a next post on the retro girl that I am. But first, I must venture out and enjoy the Indian summer.


Le perroquet bleu?


In other news, our ancient wine opener caved in the other day. Well, to be honest, it was an accident waiting to happen given our excessive consumption of white and red ambrosia (and that's not including the prosecco we imbibe). There's no better wake-up call than a trip to the bottle dump... It's a true walk of shame in this household.

So the munchkin and I took ourselves over to one of the swankier home stores in the city, after deciding against the traditional Laguiole opener. Let's face it, you're talking to the woman who managed to stab herself in the leg with a Leatherman tool only last week in a feisty slapdown with a Disney toy. At this point, I'll take safety over tradition, any time.

As we walked in, and I gripped my wallet tightly, hoping to minimize damage on my credit card bill, my daughter pounced on a bright blue object in the display.

- Munchkin: Look mummy, it's a parrot!
-Me: Yes, dear, but can it open a bottle?
- Shop assistant: It *is* a wine opener. It's by Alessi. (she said that just a little too emphatically for my taste).
- Me: Alessi, did you say?
- Shop assistant: Yes, it only costs *nominal amount*.
- Me: (trying not to pass out, squeak)
- Munchkin: We'll take it.
- Me (glaring at the munchkin and coughing up the dough to the evil grinning shop assistant).

On a good note, it *is* indeed a wine opener and it does indeed open a bottle. Effortlessly. But why did it have to be a bright blue PARROT?

Ah Antwerp, how I love thee... and your beer...


Only in Antwerp will you see a tram like this - straight from the past, but more importantly, with a sign for Antwerp's own brewery, De Koninck, the brewery of the hand. I could tell you a lot about it, but all you need to know for now is that it is established in Antwerp since 1833, and that they make the 'bolleke'.

How should I describe this amber-coloured ambrosia, its velvety flavour and the rich foam which greets you as you lift the typical bolleke glas to your lips? Oh, and by the way, on tap, please, never from the bottle.

Drink it in one of Antwerp's brown cafés and you will never want anything else. I recommend some cheese and mustard as a side.

PS - sadly the tram team did not have bollekes on board. Shame on them all!

You can never be too rich...


or have enough lobstah!

Especially when you're hitched to a New Englander.

My new kitchen wear


When I don't look like an Italian housewife from the 1940s, I simply wear an apron to cover up my daily garb.

My SO found me this little gem - matches the blue of our kitchen, and as far as I am concerned was made for me.

Pizza - the lazy way


In the same Italian vein as my previous post, one evening I decided that I needed pizza. Rather than venture out on a balmy evening to our local Italian charmer and his tiny, but hot pizzeria, I decided I would try to put together something similar myself.

But, I am the natural sloth. And a fan of the express way. So rather than slave over a ball of dough in order to create the right type of pizza base, I hemmed and hawed and pondered how to make life easier.

Now in Antwerp, we are fortunate to have our weekly double feature market - always a Moroccan or Turkish stand around, always some flatbreads to be had. Except that there is one stand, at the top of the theatre square, which not only serves good mint tea, but also sells a range of different flatbreads. More specifically, a flatbread, that resembles a pizza base.

Once I had my base, I realised that I would have to compensate for its foreign nature with some good Italian tomatoes. Thanks to La Tomaterie, I found some excellent hand-peeled San Marzano tomatoes from La Motticella; the true taste of old tomato varieties, that are grown organically and treated with love. The kind of jar that you open and when the scent hits you, you suddenly are transported to another country, to a country where slow is a way of life, and where ripe really means falling off the plant. These tomatoes are so good that you can eat them raw, and it was all I could do not to attack them.
With that, I had something to work with for a tomato base. Add some freshly grown basil, garlic, tomatoes, carrot and dried oregano (yes, we forgot to plant some!) and you almost have a pizza.

The last ingredient: mozzarella; shredded. Since this was an express pizza, I resorted to the bagged stuff from the supermarket. But it worked for us, and since I couldn't immediately lay my hands on the recipe for my dad's old cheese mix, it had to suffice.

Below is the finished result, pre-oven:

Given that there was none left to photograph afterwards, I would say it was a hit?

Purse, not purslane...


Some of you will remember my monster purse from last year... I still find it amazing that I lugged all that around, and that did not even include the curtain!

Well, the purse was entered in a competition and won a prize for messiest purse around: a purse organiser or a Hopper as it is known.

One year later, I would just like to share my purse with you:
What a vast improvement, wouldn't you say?
If you need some order in your life, go to for your own.

Finally - the porchetta post


Where do I start?

The porchetta post took shape somewhere last year, when I realised that my local deli stocked porchetta. I hadn't eaten it in aeons and once I introduced my SO to this delicacy, she was of course convinced that I had been hiding this delectable pork dish from here on purpose.

Then we travelled to Italy and on my first day, I entered a little family restaurant, where they just served the last sandwich with porchetta. It was a weekend, I was hungry, my nostrils and taste buds suffered. We then hit up Dario Cecchini's butcher shop in Panzano, where I became convinced that I could and would give up an arm, a leg and maybe even my first-born for his arista di porchetta... subsequently, everywhere I looked during our trip, there was porchetta.... gorgeous pork, whole loins, shoulders of pork, whole pigs even, stuffed with fennel and other delicious herbs.

And thus, when I returned and realised that life in Belgium meant being separated from one of my favourite dishes in the world, I felt that I had to try my hand at it at least once.

Matters were complicated by the secret ingredient, fennel pollen, which is hugely expensive and naturally hard to find. Literally an hour, before I was ready to start preparing it, on a Sunday, I finally found the elusive stuff only to discover that I could lay my greedy hands on it on... Monday. A small defeat, but at least now I know where to get it.

And so, a pork loin was procured from the Irish organic butcher. It was butterflied and the fat removed.

I then proceeded to hem and haw for one day about which herbs I would or would not use. I finally decided rosemary was in, bay out and that my secret ingredient would be Dario's salt, which does contain fennel pollen.

After a slight battle with a loin and a lot of string, this is what the result looked like, pre-oven.

Don't be fooled by the clean kitchen surface. I actually did tidy everything up before daring to take this photo.

As the pork and the herbs started to do their magic in the oven, I realised, 1.5 hr in, that the scent of garlic and herbs was familiar to the scent of the fresh porchetta that I tried in a farmer's market in Florence.

And here you have it: the final product.

Served with loads of raw vegetables (fennel, celery, carrots, cherry tomatoes, good bread, olive oil and Dario's salt for dipping).

A delicious dinner was had by all.

Next time: with fennel pollen. And maybe a different cut of pork.



Once again I've been awfully remiss about updating this blog. For once, it is not due to my natural slothness. Instead, I've been trying to juggle work, a four-year old, and incredible summer weather over the last month, meaning we have literally lived on the street.

Did we eat? Yes, of course. Was the food delicious? Yes.

Coming up - a post on porchetta, another one making rose ice-cream, and one on the delicious drink known as Pimm's. I kid you not. I will be updating this blog in the next 48 hours.

In the meantime, I have a swimming-pool that is beckoning.




Occam's razor: the simplest thing is most likely to be true.

A salad of steamed broccoli, red onion, cucumber and vinaigrette is delicious.
A.N. Onymus surprised me with some strudel from the Jewish bakery.

A Mega Mindy balloon can make a four-year old's day.

Yes, it is true that I've always been a proponent of the simple things in life. QED.

PS -- the salad served as a side for Nigella's steak slice or post-marinaded steak (use lemon, lemon zest, thyme, oil and garlic for the marinade... oh, and good meat of course). We matched it with a Chapel Down Rondo pinot noir 2004. Yes, that is a Kentish wine.

Salad days


When one is just returned from a holiday and single parenting, one has no choice but to inject souvenirs and health in one's food. Yesterday's offering:

Mini San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, young salad and beet leaves, arugula, and home-grown basil. Drizzle with some real Italian oil (not that Bertolli Spanish crap).

When food cultures meet...

Last Friday was the highlight of this shopping district's calendar: customer day. The shopkeepers set up a little stage in the little square off the main drag, arrange booths along the pavements, and generally stay open later. The local politicians stroll around (half the socialist party was there) in view of the upcoming regional elections.

In my case, it involved watching a botched attempt at trying to set a Guinness Record, having my munchkin's face painted and watching six munchkins devour pancakes cooked by the manager of our local KBC bank branch (which is in very troubled waters these days, but that's another tale of woe).

At the munchkin's request, we also joined a gaggle of Turkish and Morrocan locals near the stage as they watched a bunch of very Belgian pale women belly dance. The women looked uncomfortable, so did I. The men lapped it all up, clapping their hands and whooping to the music. And the munchkin enjoyed the music and the dancing. Help.

At any rate, on our way home, we discovered that we were in fact ravenous. Faced with a million choices, I chose the fast way out: Snack Rapido. The smell of sardines on the grill lured me, I swear. Usually, yours truly wouldn't venture near this place, given the number of men, and men only that frequent it. But the counter looked attractive enough.

So we duly found ourselves a table, ordered a kefteh for myself and something fishy for the munchkin and waited, as I sipped my extraordinarily good mint tea.
For some reason, the sweetness drew me back to the year I decided to trek around Morocco for a good month. I remembered the food, which, for the most part, was actually delicious. Especially the bowls of nutritious harira soup, which kept us going and only cost a few dirham.
Imagine my surprise then, when this dish arrived.
I hadn't even ordered fries with it. Too funny. Or how food cultures can, at times, clash.
We walked out to some enthusiastic rai music, and breathed in the smell of the sardines as they sizzled on the grill.
The rest of the evening was uneventful. No knife attacks, no sirens.

Firenze... Firenze...


I've put off writing this post, because I knew that once I wrote it, I would acknowledge that the holiday is over, that the souvenirs of Florence are there to be committed to paper, photo albums and the web, and that life will never be as good as those six golden days in glorious Tuscany. Such is life, I presume, and we can only attempt to cherish the enchantment for that beautiful instant.

So on to the memories. I will try to keep it brief, as I fear you will all be bored to tears after reading the first of many pages. The photos are by all three of us, including my munchkin, who turned out to be a natural photographer. We actually have photos of ourselves thanks to her!

We arrived in the most gorgeous city on earth on a Saturday. This photo was taken from Piazzale Michelangelo at dusk, after we traipsed up the staircase from our little corner of the city.
Where is the Duomo, you ask?

I didn't want to take the traditional touristy photo, so tried something different.

We were fortunate enough to stay in San Niccolo, a quiet neighbourhood of Florence, a good ten-minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio, or old bridge. Largely locals, the odd tourists strolling through on their way to the Piazzale. Next door to us was a tiny toy store, with a grandfatherly figure, who set sight on our munchkin and adored her presto (potential customer, n'est-ce pas?). He gifted her with a butterfly brooch on day 2 and she insisted on buying a book about La Cenerentola (Cinderella) from him as a return gesture. Across from our apartment was the church of San Niccolo.

We had a corner bar and restaurant, where we headed for our daily cappuccinos and paste (pastries).

Our days were spent eating, strolling around the city, visiting churches, idling away time in the Loggia dei Lanzi statue gallery, which our daughter was strangely obsessed with, and generally enjoying life. Not necessarily in that order, I might add, lest you should think that we were a couple of degenerate food-obsessed pigs.

Above is the munchkin's photo of her favourite statue, the Rape of Polyxena. Yes, I know, not exactly child-worthy, but neither are Grimm's fairytales, which is are, for the most part, grim. Note the composition. I didn't dare take a single photo after that...

At some point, though, we got bored of Florence and its zillions of tourists. It is impossible to venture anywhere near the trifecta of Duomo, Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio, without literally cutting a swath through flocks of tourists herded by their shepherd guide from one attraction to another. Other places were strangely quiet, such as Santa Maria Novella church.

So, we decided on a day trip to Siena, with a quick stop in Panzano at a traditional butcher's. I will save this bit for last, as I want to savour it a little longer. In Siena, we were largely unimpressed with the square, which I somehow remembered as more expansive in my imagination. The munchkin, however, used it for the most efficient workout ever, running up and down the square's pathways and expending a lot of energy in the process. She was rewarded with an ice cream, after which we carted her off to the city's impressive Duomo. The storm broke just before this photo was taken.

The next day was a split day, in the sense that I had a museum visit to make, while the munchkin and SO entertained themselves exploring the Oltrarno. But first, we stopped at the temple of fragrance, known as the Farmacia Santa Maria Novella, for some of their heavenly scents. Read more about it here.

In the afternoon, my long-awaited visit of the Vasarian Corridor finally happened. I add the only two photos that I was allowed to take while inside and a photo of the outside. It runs from the Uffizi (Cosimo I's offices) along the Arno, over the Ponte Vecchio, in Santa Felicita Church, and into the Palazzo Pitti.

What can I say? I waited fifteen years, and thanks to an excellent organisation and guide, I finally got to walk through it. It was worth every second and penny.

And now for the part that I, and maybe you, have been saving for last: our visit to Panzano and Dario Cecchini's butcher shop. I had read about this store many years ago and stored this item of food knowledge in the back of my memory. So we drove down, after having bought bread and rucola, on our way to Siena, with the idea of buying some sliced meats and pick-nicking in some field. Well, it took us about 1.5 hours to find it, if only because we drove in a circle for half an hour along the colle of Chiantishire. Finally, we ended up on the outskirts of the village, in front of a pretty chapel, and I managed to get the directions from a guy in combat gear on a Vespa. We walked into the store, our eyes glazed over, and all systems failed. But Dario was hands-on and shoved a menu under our noses with the immortal words: are you hungry? Hell, yeah, we were affamati or starving by then. You can choose from the MacDario or the Accoglienza, he said. And then the magic door opened and we were led up to the terrace with the long tables.

I am ashamed to report that I only have about four photos, none really of the food, because we ate it all before even thinking of the camera. The arista di porchetta almost reduced me to tears and I cannot even begin to describe its delicate herby taste or the crackling. As for the sushi del chianti (raw meat, with lemon, etc., you know me, I love it), it was delectable. So I leave you with a pic and the man's website. Click here for more information and many more photos.
And on that fantastic note, I end my travel report. Something tells me we will be back next April, exploring more of the Chianti region and searching for an excuse to hit up Dario's again for even more tasty morsels of his food.

PS - gelato aromas tested during our visit: zabaione, limone, rosa, vaniglia, cioccolato fondante, zuppa inglese, stracciatella and many more... And yes, I did eat Bistecca while there.

Know me through food


Consider yourself tagged, as I was by Milo.

1. Can you cook?

Probably. If cooking means, putting a meal on the table, then the answer is indeed, yes.

2. Do you like to cook?

Yes, except when any of my relatives are lurking in or around the kitchen.

3. What do you eat for breakfast?

Lots of fruit of late, toast with lemon curd, little scarlet, fig or damson jam, soft-boiled eggs with soldiers, oeufs à la cocotte, a full English.

4. When, where and how do you eat on weekdays?

Lunch is usually at home, unless a lunch date. Anything from salads or a sandwich. Depends on my mood and the time frame. Evenings are usually at home, unless I'm too lazy to cook, and then I have a bunch of venues to choose from in a 2-km radius from our house. Always a hot meal in the evening, as it is the meal we share.

5. When, where and how do you eat on weekends?

Weekends always involve Turkish bread and the evening meal will have a little more oomph to it. It will invariably be preceded by prosecco or cocktails and some antipasti. I don't like eating in restaurants on the weekend, as I find that the double turnaround makes for hasty cooking. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. If out with friends, Japanese or at fusion restaurants. Always in the city. Same radius. We are fortunate that we don't have to stray too far to eat excellently.

6. How often do you eat in a restaurant?

I was recently told too often. But we do tend to eat out on Thursday or Friday evenings and we tend to be lazy.

7. How often do you order delivery/take-out?

Rarely. I do take-out from the Köfteci Doktor, because I have not succeeded in emulating the spices that he uses to make his meat.

8. Buffet, take-out or sit-down restaurant?

Sit down, of course.

9. What are your signature dishes?

Oy, good question. Bistecca Fiorentina or risotto, or a simple pasta?

10. Have you ever cooked for more than six people?

Yes, family meals.

11. Do you cook every day?

Yes, out of necessity.

12. Have you ever tried recipes from blogs?

Yes, often. Milo's beef stew, for example.

13. Do you cook totally differently compared to your mother/parents?

Yes. Both my parents are/were excellent cooks. My mother excels at French cuisine, my father cooked Italian food. Always from scratch. Always the best ingredients. My sister is a trained chef.

14. Are you a vegetarian or could you imagine being one?

Never. Beefeater.

15. What would you like to cook which you haven’t dared to make yet?

The range of ingredients and dishes exceeds this space.

16. Do you prefer cooking or baking?

I love both equally, but there is something very satisfying about the result of baking.

17. Home-made or store-bought?

Home-made as much as possible. Store-bought can also be good though, if the deli in question is of good quality.

18. What was your biggest cooking disaster?

I can't say I've ever had any but that's probably because I'm an anxious cook.

19. What is your number one comfort food?

White bread with young cheese and a glass of milk!

20. If you were on a deserted island, what one food would you want to have with you?

Bread. Hands down.

21. What is your biggest weakness when it comes to food?

Cold cuts.

22. What food can you absolutely not eat?

Eel. Squid. I've tried, in every possible form, but I just don't like it.

23. What is the most decadent dish you’ve had?

If decadent means expensive, it would have to be a meal at L'Ecailler du Palais Royal in Brussels many aeons ago, paid for by a client.

24. What is your favourite type of food?

Good food.

25. What is your favourite dish?

Fish and chips (haddock), a good steak, roast pork, lemon risotto.

26. If you could go to any restaurant you wanted, which one would it be?

Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in San Francisco.

27. Are you a soup or salad person?

I adore soup. I equally adore a proper salad.

28. What is the most impressive dinner you’ve ever made?

Christmas dinner last year.

29. Do you know what vichyssoise is?

A cold potato, leek, cream soup.

30. Can you name at least three TV cooking personalities?

And many more. Why?

31. Who is your favourite TV cook?

La Bella Nigella, of course. It's that little grunt that does it, every time.

A post on my Italian culinary experiences to follow soon.

Sun! Oh god, the sun!


A quick photo post from my lair because I have spent most of this week in the sun, on the streets, on the squares of Antwerp, smelling lilacs, admiring the leaves of linden trees, hearing children play in squares and rediscovering my city.

So I leave you with some impressions, as I settle down for a relaxing evening.

The Facade Building around my corner: a Flemish author leaves here, hence the lemma for the word, facade, on the building.

The Boat House in the Museum district, which we bike by every morning and evening.

An installation on mobile living on the quays by the Scheldt, near the munchkin's school.

The Scheldt, and the port as seen from the Left Bank (we live on the right bank, where the cathedral is).

Although I love the port and its industrial structures, I am extremely aware of its impact on the countryside around it. At the moment, the inhabitants of Doel are fighting a desperate battle to protect their village from progress. I posted something on this last year here.

I took some photos in Doel last year in November. The quality is not excellent because they were taken at dusk. I chose to add these because last Sunday, when we drove through it, we found a changed village.

The former restaurant in the photo above, the white structure with the cars parked in front of it, has now gone. It has been demolished.

The mill is a heritage site, so they will have to either take it down and transport it brick by brick to the heritage park on the other side of the country. Or their other choice is to leave it there, so it can sit amongst the containers, like the dehallowed church of Wilmarsdonk, as seen below.

Photo courtesy of Hotlar on Flickr.

Either way, you can tell the residents of Doel are now under pressure to make way for the containers and cranes as progress looms on the horizon...

Something to think about on a nice, sunny evening...

Lula bites Copyright © 2009 Designed by Ipietoon Blogger Template for Bie Blogger Template Vector by DaPino