28 December 2010

The Morn of the Eve

On December 24, we woke up to lots more snow.

So much snow that our church's "crib service" was cancelled, so we didn't go to church on Christmas Eve, which felt very strange.

(About the term "crib service": Again, Anglican church. I'm not totally clear on this, but I think it's because all the kids are invited to come dressed up as a figure from the nativity.)

This day we made a lot of things.

1. Words (kind of).

Clara loves to "write." (Quotation marks suggest mocking; I only mean to clarify that she is not, at age two, actually writing words yet.) Here she was writing "my name, your name, your name," etc.

2. A robot.

We repurposed* a box that had held six liters of milk. He spelled and wrote "robot" himself!

*This word conveys so much: craftyness, economy, and, somehow, pretentiousness, when used in the context of home crafts (do you agree?). Thus I use it ironically, until you tell me it doesn't convey being quite pleased with oneself: "I didn't just use it, or reuse it -- I repurposed it!" I don't feel like I had seen it much until the past couple years (m-w.com tells me it was first used in 1984). Do I read too much into this word?

Then again, I am quite pleased with us for making this robot head, and so perhaps repurpose fits the bill.

3. These waffles (which I wrote about here), for the first time, finally.

They are super tasty. I thought I had to let them sit overnight, but it's just about an hour of rising.

I had bought what I thought was pearl sugar a long time ago but it turns out it was lumpy non-uniform sugar cubes (aww, rustic!), so I put my food processor to the test and chopped them up. You can see some little bits of sugar in the photo above.

Despite eating them many times here in Belgium, I had never noticed that they have cinnamon in them. YUM-O!

One note on the recipe: She says to top with powdered sugar. I say no! In Belgium when you get a waffle like this it is handed to you wrapped in a napkin, and you eat with no forks, no cutting, and no extra sugar on top, what with all those morsels inside.

In conclusion, I must congratulate myself on how I repurposed* flour and yeast, etc., to make these.

[*If you will concede my sketchy premise that the original purpose of flour and yeast is plain boring old bread.]

4. Snow angels.

Out of the kitchen (out of the house, even), the rest of the family played in the snow.

5. A sledding jump for Clara.

Matthew did pause to wipe the snow from her face in between runs.

She seemed to love it, actually -- big grins afterward.


25 December 2010

Away in a manger

A few weeks ago, the kids surprised us by building a manger scene in our bedroom.

Mary and Joseph are the large bears on the left.

They had opened their Bibles to the Christmas stories,

written some special notes,

collected gifts from wise men,

left us a cheerful note,

and wrapped little Baby Bear Jesus in a sash from our drapes.

We have several manger scenes we bring out every year but this impromptu creation is the one I'll treasure most.

Merry Christmas to you!

24 December 2010

Choirs of angels, etc.

The children's Christmas program at our church took place a couple weeks ago.

Clara went as an angel. (Like any good angel she's reading her Bible in her down time.)

She was not an angel you have heard on high, though. She kept quiet throughout her Sunday school class's "Away in a Manger."

Here's a video of Lily and Soren's class singing. We go to an Anglican church, and there are lots of Christmas songs we don't know, or songs we think we know but then set to a different melody. So this may be a beloved English Christmas song, but it was new to our family.

Soren's down in front on the left, and Lily's playing the maraca on the right.

Merry Christmas!

23 December 2010

Annual Sinterklaas & Zwarte Piet Distress

St. Nicholas/Sinterklaas day was December 6, and Matthew's office hosted its annual celebration a week earlier. Zwarte Piet seemed nicer this year, with the high fives and candy throwing. They served pizza and mini hamburgers and pannekoeken and hot chocolate and frites. We formed St. Nicholas figures out of colored marzipan. And the kids got a gift from St. Nicholas.

(I'm posting this despite my embarrassment at the awkward grunty half-laugh noises I make while recording our kids sitting on St. Nicholas's lap. )

18 December 2010

Chestnut soup

I thought I'd write about an interesting Belgian dish the kids and I made: chestnut soup.

Then I flipped through a recent Cooking Light and saw a recipe for it!

So, slightly less exotic, but still quite delicious.

Can you buy jarred (soft) whole chestnuts in the U.S.?

Can you buy chestnut puree?

If so, you should try a chestnut soup. This one has diced potatoes, onions, and celery, and lots of sage. It's very fallish and reminiscent of stuffing (mmm, did I mention sage?). You've got two more days of autumn: find a recipe and get to it!

08 December 2010

One lovely fruit

I am honored to present to you what may be my favorite food discovery of our time in Belgium: the Doyenne pear.

The smell of them alone is magical: like roses. They have pleasant, yielding skin and smooth, creamy flesh.

And they are huge!

They are not leathery, too easily bruised, or boring, as some pears can be.

Beer isn't my thing (I enjoy a Hoegaarden now and then, but that's pretty easy to come by in the U.S.); I love chocolate but you can find delicious versions of that in America, too. But these pears make me want to smuggle a tree and plant an orchard.

06 December 2010

One more from our tree spree

Snow, snow, SNOW!

SNOW! We felt like we were back in Minnesota this past week with lots of snow -- enough to make big snowballs, encourage snow pants wearing, and disrupt driving. It was only a few inches, but lots for Belgium, and delightful to these three Minnesotans-at-heart.

We sang this song a lot, or at least the three lines we can remember. And we bought our Christmas tree!

29 November 2010

Some turkeys

We celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday. Lily and Soren woke up bright and early, ready to start being thankful. They set to work on the decorations. This afternoon we documented:

If you don't know what it is, just read Lily's lips: TURKEY. At one point Soren added a triangle off to the side and said the turkey was walking by the pyramids, but then decided that didn't work with the grass.

Clara had never played with Photo Booth before so she was in hysterics.

?! The comic book effect made Soren look a mime! I couldn't figure what made the beret on his head -- Lily's arm?

We had blue skies over the weekend, a real gift in the colder months in Belgium, and we discovered a beautiful new (to us) path along a stream. It rolled up and down and the kids ran and ran, and Clara cried as they ran away, WHY are you leaving me? and then rejoiced when we caught up again. We spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and just ate Thanksgiving, Part 3 tonight for dinner.

I thank God for blue sky and pumpkin pie and a dear little family, my oh my.

23 November 2010

Julia P.S.

Two follow-ups to my last post:

1. On being an ex-pat here: A dear friend told me this week that she's moving away. Her family might be moving back to Germany (their home) or onto somewhere else. They lived in London and Milan before coming to Brussels, and when they left those places, she was not only sad to leave friends, but also the place itself. They felt they had become part of the society -- they had a certain coffee bar they always visited in Milan, etc. But they've never felt that way here, even after three year. I found this interesting in light of the contrast I felt between Julia Child's passion for France with mine for Belgium. Certain places just grab hold of a person more.

2. On being a chef: Three years and two months into our time here I have finally had success (twice, even) baking pies. The key, it turns out, is not having one's oven set to defrost. I am sort of embarrassed. For thirty-eight months I have been baking almost everything -- cakes, potatoes, pizza, cookies, roasts, pies, turkey -- on defrost. This despite the fact that I have looked up the guide for the Siemens symbols (we don't have the manual for our oven) at least twice online, and that I have a vague memory of my mother-in-law (who designs kitchens, so knows these things) telling me that symbol meant defrost. The information did not sink in. I was a moth to a flame (a low level, defrosty-type flame). The little image of an asterisk (aha! snowflake!) with a drop of water below it conveyed moisture to me, and I want moist food, by golly. Even after my error fully sunk in last weekend, I kept turning to that enticing little drop. I finally put a sticker on the knob as a reminder, and still fight the urge.

Pie is important enough to Matthew and me that this is a pretty exciting turn of events.

And one unrelated 3. I am so excited for April 29, 2011, when I get to watch a prince and a soon-to-be princess get married, with three children who can't hardly believe that there are such things as princes and princesses, which are associated for them with dragons and witches and satyrs and unicorns.

17 November 2010

Julie & Julia & me

Dear friends sent me Julia Child's My Life in France for my first birthday living over here. I loved reading her memoir, so I was very excited to see Julie & Julia. I knew about the blog and book behind it, but hadn't read either. I was just excited to see (a version of) Ms. Child in action.

Oh, I just adored her. I've rarely seen a more appealing character in film than Meryl Streep's Julia Child. She is spunky and awkwardly tall (spunky because she is awkwardly tall?). She is mad for her husband -- it was so refreshing to see a film couple who aren't images of physical perfection be hot for each other. She has this (generational?) attitude that refuses to let failure get her down. (My dad recently said he feels bad for my generation, because he had the greatest generation to look up to, and all we have is his. Then there was awkward silence as I wondered how to respond: "Don't I know it," "You're telling me!", etc., seemed inappropriate.) I love her belief that a cook should not make excuses about less than perfect food: "Don't apologize!" The brief, heartbreaking moments touching on her sadness about not being able to have children just add to the portrait of her as a woman who makes the best of every situation.

The parts about Julie were fine; Amy Adams seems appealing in anything, so it's fun to watch her. But there was the looming question at the end of why Julia Child didn't approve of the blog tribute to her (the author recreates each of the over 500 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year). I read a bit to try to get the story behind that. Based on Julie Powell's own writing after the fact and this article by Russ Parsons in the LA Times, Amy Adams's character was more likable, cheerier, and less vulgar than Julie Powell's blog/book persona (Powell admits that). Ms. Child apparently deemed her not serious enough.

Ahh, there is a reason why I am writing about this here rather than on my non-existent film review blog. When I read My Life in France I was a pretty new ex-pat, and I admired Ms. Child's full-tilt embracing of the experience. She seemed to skim right over culture shock and land in utter cross-cultural glee. Watching the movie three plus years into our life here, I was tearing up by the opening scene, watching her husband and her move into their gorgeous Paris flat and hearing her joy and un-self-conscious enthusiasm about it all. Her husband wrote that her exuberant attitude spilled over and colored her view of the French people she was meeting -- that she didn't find them snooty or unpleasant as some foreigners do, because she herself was so cheerful. I feel almost put to shame by her gumption. I'd sort of prefer to attribute her utter positivity about her ex-pat experience to some other things -- the book was written decades after she lived it, with years to gain perspective and remember only the best; she moved when she was 15 years older than I, with no children to find schools for, etc., and lots of free time to fill; and she was living in Paris, not Brussels (for me there's no question: the former is more magical and exciting. I'd like to hear a counter-argument). But really I think her attitude was the thing. If I may get a bit humorless here, in some ways I found the movie a real indictment of the typical American ex-pat -- a person who I like to think I am not. But if there is a sliding scale, and Julia Child's on one end, beaming at nonresponsive butchers and elbowing her way into an all-male, all-French cooking course, and the typical American expat is on the other end, with a pantry full of American food items shipped over, never learning a lick of language, I'm somewhere in the middle, and I'd like to inch down closer to Julia if I could.

15 November 2010

Tram 44, where are you?

A week ago Friday, at the end of fall break, the kids and I went into the city on Tram 44, a beautiful route through the woods and by lovely homes on the east side of Brussels.

We've been on the trains, we've been on the metro, but this was our first time on the tram in Brussels.

Clara was focused.

The forest is the best part of the area around Brussels.

We took the metro to the Grand Place and ran around there for a bit.

Then we ran through the Galeries St. Hubert.

We ate lunch at Le Cirio, the first place Matthew and I ate with our relocation helper, who told us it was "a proper Belgian cafe." We had chocolat chaud and sandwiches.

A cat was sitting on the bench next to Lily and provided some entertainment.

Back in the U.S. we were a "just water, thanks" family for the most part. Living in Europe we let the kids choose something else usually because it costs about the same. (There have been times when my water cost more than Matthew's beer.) Which makes me realize I am thrifty over healthy sometimes. Huh.

Oh, but mmmm, hot cocoa!

Then the kids had ice cream, which they chose over waffles or crepes despite the cold drizzly day.

I had to take this photo as evidence of the Belgian idea of a frites serving. The happy young man in the ad has a cone of fries about the size of his head!

12 November 2010

Rally in the Valley, part 3: Blois

We stayed in the town of Blois, which was so charming and right on the Loire. Here are the kids right outside the house we rented. Well, I guess it was part of a house: it seemed like there were three separate residences around this courtyard. The arched windows behind Lily and Soren were the front of our place; the ones behind Clara are the entrance to the home next to it.

Monday morning we walked around Blois.

I asked Matthew to take this shot of a store window in Blois.

European kids' shoes are soOOoo cute, but so expensive. These all range from 60-100 euros. So I find cheaper, less cute options here and buy what I can when we go back home. If they lasted more than one season (size-wise), I might be able to do it, but otherwise it's hard to justify. Early on, before I had figured out how to clothe the kids while we live here, I bought Lily a pair of raspberry (like those in the upper left) patent mary janes for not quite this much but more than I had spent before or have since on kids' shoes. I look forward to when Clara can wear those. After that, I will make them into chunky earrings for myself to try to reduce their cost-per-use.