Ghent, mon amour

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The sun is out and it’s Saturday, Vera needs shoes and I need Vera. We both need fresh air and something to feast our eyes and palates on. No place better than Ghent then.IMG_2076

First rule: Avoid the ‘dead men’s alley ’ (the Veldstraat and Lange Munt, that run from the Kouter, to the Korenmarkt and then onto the Vrijdagsmarkt. You can’t miss it, a thick crowd of tourists and teenagers in a zombie-like procession, stumbling from window to window past very last century shops) You can do so much better, as Vera will explain in below lines:
Well, OK. For some real shopping then: We started at Schleiper (Onderbergen 31), to have two canvasses we had bought during the holidays framed for us. Expensive…but these paintings have some value too and we’d rather have the job done by professionals than to clown around with it ourselves.

Onderbergen is a good place to start hop&shop: Take “A.Puur.A”, for instance, for shoes, clothes, jewelry, ceramics, and interior design. Or “Black balloon” (young clohtes label), “Art Nivo” (interior design), “Gallery Ilunga” (tribal arts), “Deco 48” (gifts and decorations), and “Surplus” ( young design in the Zwartezusterstraat, just around the corner). Feet hurt? Dehydrated? There’s plenty of places for coffee or a pint of beer, try “Petit Coeur” or “Het Brood-Huys”. Then, refreshed, turn into de Hoornstraat and discover the world of “Au Bon Marché” (all kinds of accessoires), “Javana” (more coffee and tea) and fashion designer “Jo De Visscher”. Cross the Veldstraat (don’t even look, but watch out for the passing trams) and continue via de Volderstraat (“G-Star”, “Sacha”, “Marc O’Polo”…) and follow the Sint-Niklaasstraat to the Korenmarkt and the Groentenmarkt. Marvel at the goodies in bakery “Himschoot” (the best mattetaarten and very good bread), at the musterd varieties of “Tierenteyn”, and buy a sachet of Gentse neuzen if you’re a sweet tooth, from one of the two little stalls on the pavement.(sworn enemies, competing for the right to call their ‘cuberdons’ the best. They taste pretty much the same though.)

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Take a right into the Hoogpoort, where you will find original gifts at “Huiszwaluw”, original jewelry at “Elisa Lee”, shoes at “Zoot” (where I bought mine), interior design at “Aksent”, urban fashion at “Cream”, and jewelry at “Mayenne”. Tired of looking at all these things you can’t really afford? Then turn to the other side of the road and feast your eyes for free at the most beautiful town hall of Belgium! (yep, that’s where we got married, a few years back.)
Walk into the Belfortstraat on your left and then left again in de Onderstraat and then right into the Serpentstraat where “Zsa Zsa Rouge” and “Petit Zsa Zsa” (great gifts), “Zoot” fashion (great clothes), “Studio Woot Woot” (retro interior design) are waiting for you. On the other side of the Vrijdagmarkt we found “Antiek-Depot” in the Beaudelostraat, a great place to browse for antiques, vintage and design stuff. Another store where you will surely find that exceptional present you did not find anywhere else: Pur Sens in the Meersenierstraat, a small cosy shop full of original clothes, jewelry and more. Thirsty? Try “Pink Flamingo’s” (Onderstraat), we didn’t, but it is on our list for next time!

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After Vera dragged me through all these place, we found ourselves near the Gravensteen and agreed it was time for good coffee.

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Well now; if you fancy a nice piece of cake, great music and a relaxed ambiance, find your way to the ‘Jardin Bohemien’ (Burgstraat). We rate it miles above ‘Julie’s House ‘ (Kraanlei). Julie’s House may have great ratings on TripAdvisor, but we’ve tried it twice, the first time it was so packed that we lost patience, the second time the staff was so rude that we lost intrest. 
Julie’s house is now earmarked in our book as just another ‘tourist trap’ and we advise it to move address and join the hodgepodge of other mediocre venues in the Veldstraat.

For ‘Le Jardin Bohémien’, we refer to a different blog with more detail on this Bed&Breakfast&Coffee&Cake heaven.

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Then we did more shopping, we bought a lot of things almost and Vera’s shoes at ‘Zoot” for real. So, Vera was super happy, which in turn made me super happy too and we decided to celebrate with a cocktail somewhere.

Somewhere is called “Bar Popular” and sits on the St. Jacobs markt. A great pub with a very cool looking barman who boasted he could make great cocktails. He didn’t exaggerate and I enjoyed my Gin Fizz while watching how – as she downed her glass – Vera’s cheeks slowly got the same color as her Strawberry Margherita. (Great prices too, all cocktails at around 6.5 euro’s a glass.)

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To round off the day, and after another brisk walk to shake off some of the alcohol, we ended up near the Vrijdagmarkt and took our table at the Marc O’ Polo Trattoria (Serpentstraat, 11).
We have great memories of this place. When we were students we already used to hang out here. It was then a Spanish restaurant (Sol y Sombra)with tapa’s and fusion, and it is great to see that the Italians who took over managed to keep the bohemian atmosphere and also put some very decent food on the plate.

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We both went for the tagliatelli with Ossobucco shank and sauce, but not before we enjoyed a Spritz Aperol together. They served it just right, with a lot of prosecco and not too much water. The Ossobucco was tender and tasty, the marrow in the bone succulent and yummy. What a pity that the tagliattelli was overcooked. But we didn’t let it spoil the fun. The Tiramisu (Vera couldn’t resist) was ‘Oh my god so good!’ and the ice-cooled limoncello tasted as if it was home made, which it probably was.

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Vera, Saturday night, Ghent, Vera, great cocktails, magnificent shoes, Ossobuco, Vera, Limoncello…Life is good.

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To eat or not to eat meat ?

Meat, good or bad? That is the question.

I guess I’m not going to convince vegetarians to start chewing on a piece of dead animal and likewise it is not my intention to convert meat lovers into vegetarianism. But the question popped up in my mind again today  while visiting the charming city of Lille, just over the Belgian border into Chti country.

We had left Bruges early morning and now strolled through the centre with our stomachs growling for a meal. IMG_2029We found our  breakfast haven in the baroque setting of Meert bakery and pastry house and then had driven to Lens to visit the satellite museum of the  Louvre. After walking for several hours through the ‘Gallery of Time’ at the Louvre, which was an enriching experience, and worthy of a seperate blog post, we returned to Lille. The weather had cleared out and we marvelled at the many beautiful sites. Why had we never been here before? We certainly would return, because there was plenty left for us to discover, but also because of the many beautiful and original shops, which were all closed because of the holiday. I noticed the twinkle in Vera’s eyes, she even took some pictures of a particularly pretty blouse. Then we realized we had not eaten since the late breakfast at Meert. With a lot of places still on annual leave, we haphazardly went looking for a restaurant and bounced into what was actually a butcher shop turned restaurant with the funny name :”Le Barbier qui fume“. We looked at each other and agreed that we were ready for a hearty piece of red meat.

Very friendly and very professional, the service was impeccable. And so was the meat. For starters we had a nice serving of Iberico pata negra and we let  some crispy toast with fresh bone marrow melt on our tongue.IMG_2042

Vera had  piece of Rum steak, I had the Faux filet and our daughter relished a plate of pork ribs, cured and smoked on oak.IMG_2047

It was all prepared to perfection, the meat was tender and succulent, in one word: delicious.

And then, after the meal, a little bit puffing on our full stomachs, came the unavoidably sense of guilt: “Ouff, that was enough meat for a month!” Or ” Man, I don’t want to know how much cholesterol this added to my quotum” Etc.

Want to hear my opinion? We are omnivores, so our body can really deal with red meat. We actually need a diet that includes meat, we need it for protein, for some essential vitamins too. The real question is “how much meat do we need?” And there I think that we are really overdoing it. (Except maybe if you do very hard and intensive physical work every day) I think that we ought not to have one or two veggy days per week, but probably three or four. Or better still, zero veggy days and meat every day but in much smaller portions.  So, meat : yes. But not too much and not too often.

Furthermore, better a good red steak every now and then rather than these bland and ridiculous meat replacers that are almost invariably based on soy beans (meat eaters are criticised for using up soy beans for animal feed and destroying forests doing so. But eating that same soy in the shape of  ersatz burgers can not be the solution to solve the soy bean issue)

Nothing against vegetarians. I think they’re cool! But it is a first world thing. Only in few parts of the world people are vegetarian (agreed, India is huge, but vegetarianism is part of a religion there, not part of a free individual choice.)IMG_2046

So, my plea: less meat!  But either small portions daily (Like in Asian cuisine) or once or twice per week a nice piece of red meat and sometimes some fish or poultry, and  why not insects for that matter? But at the same time, let’s ban junk meat. The rubbish you find on pizza toppings, and other types of junk food is really a disgrace to the life of the animals who have been killed to provide it. There are multiple ways to respect life. Not all of them are vegan.

 

 

 

 

 

Every day a holiday

During the last fragile hours of my holidays I made a resolution: the best way of not falling back into  boring work routine is through very consciously enjoying every minute of every day and turning each minute into an extension of my holidays.
From now on I make it a point of honour to not let stress and workload spoil my precious time. Don’t laugh! This time I mean it!

And the same goes for eating. Life is too short for bad food, so the quest for exquisite fine dining at affordable prices is on. We just returned from a month travelling through Asia, so our palates are ready for some good old Belgian cuisine again.

And this time we discovered a new spot in our home city. “Bistro De Eetkamer” (Eekhoutstraat 6, Bruges) simple Flemish for “The dining room”. But don’t let the name of this restaurant fool you, the plates leaving from their kitchen are anything but simple. Pretty refined, on the contrary.
But before we discuss the food, let’s discuss the atmosphere. I am repeating myself, but I insist: eating out is an experience that starts at the door.  Our experience in ‘Pomperlut‘, where they basically threw us out because we had arrived 15 minutes late, was still fresh in my mind. Luckily, here they got it right; the host was friendly and quick to help us out of our coats and into our chair. We were early but before long most tables were occupied. Still, to my surprise, the room remained remarkably quiet, and almost reminded me of my childhood, when, at primary school, we were not allowed to speak at the table, until we had finished off our plates. Another surprise, when a group of Russian customers – without prior reservation- came asking for a table, they were politely refused, even if a large table was still free. I wondered if the table was booked and the hosts were stood up, or whether they just didn’t want to risk having noisy customers in the room? Or that, unlikely yet possible, they were happy with the attendance and didn’t want to have more customers. Bottom line, we, the guests, felt a little privileged in our quiet private corners.

OK, about the food then: we opted for the menu of the week because it looked very appetizing and because the à la carte choices were rather pricey in comparison.photo 1 Red Mulet on a ratatouille for starters. The red Mulet is a delicate and tasty little fish and it was prepared with much attention to detail. The same could be said for the duck breast and little potato rosti’s, prepared with a very refreshing Banyuls sauce with slices of pink and white peach.photo 3
The trio of ice cream, chocolate mousse and panna cotta and a perfectly selected glass of Merlot made this dinner a well rounded and much appreciated experience.

At 109 euro, it had not been a cheap evening out, and maybe we would have enjoyed it more if the ambiance had been just a tad more lively, but then again, sometimes a quiet night out, with within sight and earshot nothing more than only the tinkling of cutlery on your plate, sweet words whispered from lips to lips and the smile on the lovely face in front of you, is all there is to desire and these precious minutes culminated in another evening well spent during my everlasting extended holidays back home.photo 2

Homemade golden limoncello.

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AH Limoncello! When you have ever visited the area of Napels and the Amalfi Coast, you must have tasted it, since most restaurants give  you a little glass of this yellow liquor after your dinner. And when walking around in Sorrento, and the area of Napels, lemon trees are everywhere, lemons are used as decoration, lemons on plates and cups and aprons, lemon ice cream, … You cannot fail to notice the abundance of lemons when on holiday there! Neil had already tasted home-made limoncello on a previous trip, and knows how good it can taste. So when we visited Sorrento on a weekend break in May, we decided to bring some lemons of Sorrento home and try to make our own limoncello. We bought 5 huge lemons, that had not been treated, since you only need the peel, and insecticides are unnecessary for a good tasting limoncello. (the price was ridiculous: only 3 euro!) (maybe we should have bought more, but our luggage was already pretty heavy)

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I surfed the Internet to find a decent recipe. I compared some of them, and compared those directions with my own experience making liqueur before. I decided to use pure alcohol (96%) together with vodka, for a tastier softer version. For the 5 huge lemons (equivalent of 10 normal lemons), I bought 1 l of alcohol 96% and 75 cl of vodka, and poured both together in a glass bowl. I let the lemons soak in water for ½ hour, and used a new little dishwashing sponge to clean them, and take away all the dirt from the peel.

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I used a potato peeler to thinly slice of the yellow peel from the lemons, taking care not to peel any of the white parts with it. This works quite easily. I put all the peels in the alcohol, and closed the bowl. I stored the bowls away in a dark (not cold) place to make the lemon oil dissolve in the alcohol. This takes about 43 days, and on day 6, 22 and 36 you should stir the mixture and then close it off again. Time to wait….

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On day 43 first check if the mixture is ready to be strained, by plying one of the lemon parts. If the part is still pliable, it is still too early and you should wait longer. If the lemon part is stiff and breaks immediately, it is time for the next step.

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Filter the liquid by straining it through a coffee filter. You will have about 1,6 liter of alcohol left. Mix 800 ml water and 4,5 cups of white sugar in a pot and bring to a boil to make a syrup. Let the syrup cool down and pour it in the lemon-alcohol. Stir and close the jar and return it to a cool dry and dark place for another 40 days in which the liquid will be mellowed into limoncello. If necessary you can strain the liquid again through a coffee filter after this period, depending on the clarity of the liqueur. Then it is time to pour it in bottles. Make sure the bottles are very clean, rinse them with boiling water.

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And there you have your golden drink. If you leave it in the bottles for some months more the taste will become mellower. (great for Xmas and New Year!)

Ingredients:

5 big untreated Sorrento  lemons

1l alcohol 96%

75 cl vodka

800 ml water

4,5 cups of sugar

The best coffee in Myanmar was a tea!

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I am a real coffee drinker and coffee lover. I need my daily caffeine or I get cranky or get a headache. So, was I happy reading in the Lonely Planet before leaving on on our trip to Thailand and Myanmar that Myanmar had a real coffee and tea culture with coffee and tea shops. Hurray, especially since I know that besides the wonderful Caffee Yen (ice coffee), Thailand is deprived of real good espressos or cappuccinos. I am back home now from our wonderful holiday.

But the coffee culture in Myanmar? Really I do not know where LP gets this statement from. When Birmese ask me if I want a Burmese coffee, I get an instant Nescafé with creamer and sugar! Tea culture? We went for high tea in the Strand, and got a mainstream Lipton infusion ( but served in silver teapots….) Really; their coffee and tea was appalling in most places. In hotels they put coffee pots on a heater and leave it there for hours, bwugh, I even got an ice cold coffee once with my breakfast, that really did it. This was not repeated though, after we complained and asked for a warm coffee.

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But there is hope for Myanmar, they just have to realize what they are really good at. On the last evening in Yangon, we decided to take our dinner in Shan Yoe Yar restaurant, recommended to us by Ko Pyay, manager of the Nawaday Tharlar art gallery. The restaurant is housed in an beautiful old traditional teak wooden house. We were the first diners, being early (and hungry because we had skipped lunch that day) at 5 PM. The interior is al wood and very stylish, plants al around the glass walls in the front and side. You can look into the kitchen from the inside, and from the outside, where you can see that the kitchen spans two floors. All staff have ear gear that connects them with the staff in the kitchen. The welcome was warm, and the menu looked ‘over’ delicious especially with our gnawing stomachs. We ordered four dishes and an extra vegetable dish to share with the four of us, and the deep fried sea bass in tamarind sauce was to die for. We further chose Shan style dried pork, sweet and sour chicken, deep fried cuttlefish, and leeks. As dessert we had a fruit platter.

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Then the question: tea or coffee?. I was in the restroom so Neil ordered Shan tea for the three of us. The waitress came back to ask if we wanted Shan tea ( which is just infused tea) or Shan Yoe Yar tea: a prepared tea with sugar. Since I usually drink sugar in my tea I asked for the second choice, the others stayed with the Shan tea (no sugar allowed….) When my tea arrived I was pleased and curious. It was the best tea I had in Myanmar, and the best coffee for that matter. Because although being a tea, it really almost tasted like a coffee. (I think if you taste it blindly you will call it coffee) It is prepared with milk and sugar and is really good! So the best coffee I had in Myanmar was actually a tea!

So there is hope for the coffee and tea culture in Myanmar, they just have to make a hype out of their delicious Shan Yoe Yar tea, really…. By the way I also do not know what LP means with the many coffee and tea shops in Yangon, I did not see them…
PS: I repeat it again: do not go for the high tea in the Strand: if you wish to see the hotel, just stroll through the lobby and the shops and gallery, and you will have seen all there is to see. Then spend your dollars in a restaurant like Shan Yoe Yar, or just have coffee and cakes in one of the more modern bakeries around town, a far better experience, and your money better spent!!

I have been searching around and actually found a recipe to make the Shan Yoe Yar tea, also known as ” lapae yea “-” lah phet yay”. You need black, preferably black Burmese tea. It is possible to order Soe Win tea online from London via mumhouse.com (I think I will try that!) As a replacement you can use black malty Assam tea, Twinings has this kind in their range of teas.

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The tea is made with sweetened condensed milk and whole or evaporated milk (non-sweetened condensed milk, what we know as coffee milk).

First prepare the tea: take a tablespoon of tea per cup, plus a pinch of oolong tea, and a small amount of salt in cold water; Bring it to a boil, boil only briefly, and then keep it on very low heat just to keep it warm, and let is steep at least 20 min. Pouring out the tea it should look as dark as good coffee 🙂

Put about 20% warmed whole milk or evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk to taste, put this first in the cup and pour the hot tea over it, and stir. You can leave a bit of condensed milk undissolved at the bottom as a kind of sweet dessert…

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