Category Archives: Food

It’s not all about the food – part one

Peach cobbler in Atlanta? Crab cakes in Baltimore? How about pizza in Naples, or sushi in Tokyo?

High-minded folks may tell you that travel is not about the food. I love to travel. And I agree. There is so much more to travel than the different kinds of foods you can find around the world.

But travel’s not not about the food, either.

If you’re not slathering French Camembert on a fragrant baguette in Lyon, or slurping fresh-cut Hawaiian pineapple at a beach resort on Maui, you’re missing a delightful piece of the travel pie:  Food. And it occurred to me that remembering our experiences relative to the food we ate might be a fun way to tell you about our trip to Belgium and The Netherlands with my buddy, Ginny.

Grand Place Brussels

The Grand Place, Brussels

It started in Brussels . . . .

I can’t sleep on an overnight flight. I just can’t. Turns out Ginny couldn’t, either. So by the time we landed in Brussels on Saturday morning (and after standing in line for forty minutes to go through immigration at the airport), we were beyond tired. Fortunately, our room at the Park Inn by Radisson near the Brussels airport was ready when we arrived (nice room, reasonable cost, great staff – definitely recommend). After collapsing for nearly a four-hour nap, we roused ourselves to walk to the local train station and, after deciphering how to actually buy tickets, rode to the center of Brussels to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Late afternoon in the center of Brussels is – magical. There were people everywhere, and honestly, they mostly looked like locals. Families strolled along eating ice cream cones, and friends enjoyed a beer and conversation sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at the many tables perched outside cafes in the city Centrum. Street musicians played upbeat tunes and shoppers clustered around little tented booths checking out handcrafted jewelry, jars of honey and jam, candles, etc.

We were starving and walked into the closest restaurant, the Brussels Grill. I later learned on line that this is kind of a small chain of steak houses in the area, but I’m pretty sure that the restaurant where we ate was on the rue marché aux Herbes near the city’s magnificent Grand Place.

dinner in BrusselsChain or not, that first dinner turned out to be the very best meal of our entire trip. Belgium is famous for its mussels (moules) and French fries (frites), and that’s what Ginny chose. Her order was perfectly cooked in white wine and Ginny said they were the best mussels she’d ever eaten.

I ordered the steak-frites (a ribeye with French fries) and it, too, was fabulous. The steak was juicy and tender, and the fries were an unlikely combination of being fluffy, but very crisp. I know we were really, really hungry, but seriously? If you find yourself looking for a place to eat in Brussels, the Brussels Grill won’t disappoint. Ginny also ordered a beer that she loved, but sadly, we were too jet-lagged to remember to take a picture of the bottle so she could find it again.

The second fabulous food moment in Belgium took place on the last day of our trip in the tiny village of Sint-Katelijne-Waver.

Our European adventure was nearly over and I’d yet to try a genuine Belgian waffle. I’d promised myself that I couldn’t leave without fulfilling that particular foodie dream.

You may be wondering how we ended up in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. I’m pretty sure the residents wondered the same thing, especially after Ginny entered a roundabout going the wrong direction and had to back out of the town square while traffic patiently waited for us to correct our path.

Allow me back up the story just a bit, too . . .

That morning we had packed the car and closed up the Airbnb house we’d rented in Dordrecht, Netherlands. We planned to stop in Antwerp to see the sites before dropping off the rental car and returning to the Park Inn for our last night in Belgium. By then we’d actually gotten pretty good at driving (Ginny – what a pro!) and navigating (me – interpreting the GPS as needed) in The Netherlands. But as we left Holland and approached Antwerp, the traffic became very heavy and progress slowed to a turtle’s pace. Prudence, our GPS, kept suggesting alternate routes and we finally agreed to follow her advice.

We exited the Antwerp ring road to find ourselves immersed in what I’m calling the Bagdad of Antwerp. In addition to pedestrians darting everywhere wearing burkas, head scarves, and assorted caps and turbans, there was construction, buses pulling in and out from the curb, a trolley and tracks running down the middle of the street, and oh, yeah, cars everywhere. There was nothing that felt threatening or uncomfortable about the location; it was just unexpected. At one point we waited for a woman wearing a hijab to park her tiny car in a space roughly the size of the love seat in my living room. I had to lean out the window and give her a thumbs up (I hope that’s understood universally) as we passed around her. I was impressed.

By this time Ginny had been battling this urban free-for-all for about twenty minutes. I turned to her and said, “So, do you still want to search for the center of Antwerp or would you like to explore the countryside?”

With Ginny’s relieved endorsement for Plan B, I quickly gave Prudence a new destination somewhere between Antwerp and the airport and we escaped from the city without incident. When we saw signs for Sint Katelijne, it kind of looked like my full name, Kathleen, so we decided to follow the signs to that sweet little village.

waffleThere we walked around the quiet square and randomly chose to stop for lunch at the Ice Cream Parlor De Joppe. The courtly French-speaking gentleman who directed us to our table outside in the sunshine turned out to be the owner of the restaurant. When I explained that I was soon to leave Belgium but had yet to sample a waffle, he convinced his wife to heat up the waffle iron (there was something I didn’t quite understand about the weather being too warm for waffles) and soon was served a gorgeous, crispy, golden waffle topped with fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream. It tasted even better than it looks in the photo.

Stay tuned for more stories about food and fun in the Netherlands. I’d try to say goodbye in Dutch, but after more than a week there, the language remained pretty much incomprehensible to us. Dutch makes German look easy and sound melodious. Think about that for a sec.

As my friend Sue would say, a tout a l’heure!

Many mugs are called, but few are chosen

When I moved to a smaller home (with a MUCH smaller kitchen) last year, I donated what seemed like a ton of coffee mugs to Goodwill. But when it came time to unpack those I’d kept, I realized I still had far more mugs than I needed, or had space for, in my new house.

My current dilemma is twofold. First, nearly every mug that made the cut from Madison to Willoughby is meaningful to me. I find it all but impossible to get rid of any of them because of the memories associated with each one. However, and this is part two, I only want to drink coffee out of maybe four of those mugs.

I feel like Goldilocks, except just with mugs. No issues with beds or chairs or other bear furniture.

There are two adorable mugs that are simply too large. By the time I’ve finished half a cup, I need to microwave what’s left because the liquid has cooled to an unacceptable temperature. I could, and sometimes do, simply pour less coffee into the mug to begin with, but that goes against the grain. I want to sit down with a nice FULL cup of coffee when I invite the dogs onto my lap to read for a while, which is our habitual morning wake up routine.

coffee mugs

You should see the rest of the mugs in the cupboard.

Most of my mugs, however, are too small. Unfortunately, these are my prettiest mugs and most are souvenirs from foreign travel. The two in the photo are from Florence, Italy and the picturesque town of Delft in The Netherlands. Just looking at each one takes me right back to the days I bought them. After visiting the gift shop, my cousin Carole and I sat in the sunshine at an outdoor cafe on the square in Delft and had coffee and tiny Dutch pancakes, poffertjes, sprinkled with powdered sugar. My foreign mugs are all so cute and evoke such great memories! But … I never use those smaller mugs unless I’m sick and making tea. This is because I don’t really like tea and don’t want much of it. It just seems to be the comforting thing to do when I have a sore throat. Thinking about Europe is comforting, too, I must say.

Finally, there are three mugs in the middle, like Mama Bear’s belongings in the story, that are just right. I poured in water to measure capacity and, as it turns out, my ideal mug holds at least 14 ounces of liquid (one is a mug from my sister with pictures of my son and my dogs; the other is the “You Can Write” mug from the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Workshop). My bright red “Who Rescued Who” mug holds 16 oz. and is almost too big. I need to fill it not quite to capacity for the perfect cup. A fourth mug that I picked up at the World Market has a cute dachshund on the side and probably holds a very full 13 ounces. It’s just shy of being in the perfect range, but because of the dachshund, it rates in my top four.

Which brings me to the question of what my answer should be when I’m asked how many cups of coffee I drink each day. I think that’s a trick question, and one I rarely answer honestly.

As a meeting planner, I’ve spent many an early morning grabbing coffee from a group’s buffet or break line. FYI, the coffee cups at a hotel or conference center are a standard five ounce pour. It’s no surprise that I gulp down a ridiculous number of cups, circumstances permitting, when I’m working an event. Should my reply be that I drink a good part of ten cups of coffee some days?

On the other hand, if I’m at the airport, say, and only have time to grab the largest coffee available, does that mean I had just one cup that day?

So I normally admit to having two or three cups a day. I don’t mention that those are 14 to 16 ounce mugs. And since at home I only drink half-caff coffee, I think it’s only fair to claim a lesser quantity, anyway.

If you’re being honest, how many cups do you have each day?

And has all this talk about coffee made you want a cup right now? Me, too.

 

My theory about first born children, sex, and the inability to appreciate delayed gratification

The other night I was eating cookies when I started having deep thoughts about my lack of self-control. I’m confident there’s no need to point out the obvious connection. Let’s just say I find it hard to stop at a cookie or two and leave it at that for now, okay?

I started to wonder, why do I DO that? I know plenty of people who can walk away from a cookie. I know people who will have a sliver of cake for dessert and be satisfied. I know kids who can haul in a pillowcase full of candy on Halloween, and have it last until Christmas without their parents wrapping them into straitjackets as soon as they get home from school each day.

cookie monster

What made me and Cookie Monster the way we are and, better yet, is there anything or anybody else I can blame for it?

cookie home town buffet

You know skinny people just don’t eat here, right?

Is it genetic? I know there can be a tendency within families to be fat or thin, so there is likely some element of genetics in the picture. Is excessive eating learned behavior? Again, if the whole family is waddling down the line at the Home Town Buffet a couple times a week, it’s hard to be the odd one out opting for the salad bar.

Then I wondered if birth order could have anything to do with it. I am the eldest in a family with three children. While they have their battles with the scale, too, my younger brother and sister are far more successful at controlling themselves than I am. And growing up, I was the rebel, paving the way so their later escapades were viewed by my parents with far less alarm.

I was the wild child who liked sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And now I like cookies.

So here’s what I think happened, genetically. See if this makes sense to you, too.

wedding

My adorable parents on their wedding day. They were 21 years old. And they were hot. It’s only logical.

Back in the olden days when I was conceived, there was no reliable birth control. The Pill had not yet been invented and young women and girls everywhere were keeping their knees together if they didn’t want to start a family before the trip down the altar. This may come as a surprise to any younger readers, but single motherhood was much frowned upon in those days. And not only was there no daycare, but there were lots of places of business that wouldn’t even hire a pregnant woman. In some jobs, even a really great worker would be forced to leave as soon as she was visibly pregnant. Anyone who does not want to call herself a feminist today would do well to read a little history of what life was like for women as recently as 50 or 60 years ago. Seriously.

Anyhoo, my theory goes on to suggest that first born children born prior to the advent of The Pill were conceived in a virtual firestorm of NEW SEX by two young people who had almost exclusively kept it in their pants up to that point. These early attempts at sex were akin to trying to serve a decent spaghetti dinner without letting the sauce simmer for a few hours. Like getting heartburn after gobbling down a plate of rigatoni with raw sauce, this screwed with the genetic makeup of the baby. Imagine this:

cookie egg

Guess which egg’s going down the chute first?

From Mommy’s point of view:  It’s the big night. The cake was cut, the garter tossed, she’s in her bridal negligee and ready to find out what all the fuss is about. There’s been some serious fooling around up to this point, so Mommy is definitely up for it, though a little scared, too. Consequently, the egg supply is getting mixed signals. On the one hand, everyone’s saying, FINALLY. And on the other hand, the more sedate, cautious, and dare we say, intelligent eggs are holding back a little. “Let’s see how this one goes before we commit to any big changes,” they agree.

However, there is always one adventurous, slutty little egg. The one that’s been waiting for this moment and is wiggling her round little bottom and saying, “Come and get me, Big Boy!” Naturally, that’s the one that will be in the line of fire.

From Daddy’s point of view:  The swimmers are young, strong, profuse, and ready for action. And when things get going, there’s a lot of excitement discovering that there’s something that feels even better than a hand out there. Everybody’s excited, but it’s the most boisterous boys that dash to the front and, you guessed it, it’s the most reckless, rapid tadpole in the bunch who finds his mark on the bravest little egg.

And bingo! We have lift off and the first born is in the oven before you can light a Lucky and say, “Was that good for you?”

cookie clooneys

Oh, dear God. Who WOULDN’T rip off George’s tux? I mean, really.

Is it any surprise that the result of early, possibly inept, but exceedingly enthusiastic sex results in a child with excessive tendencies? I’m not saying that later babies are the result of duty sex, but let’s face it, chances are the early days of wild monkey copulation have cooled down at least a little bit. I mean, even Brad and Angelina probably have comfortable sex by now. George isn’t likely to tear off Amal’s designer duds (or vice versa). After the birth of North West, do Kanye and Kim still perform sexual stunts on motorcycles? I doubt it.

So my theory, as you can see, is that first born children, like me, have a genetic reason for having trouble with relating to delayed gratification. I want what I want NOW. Back in the day, I was a girl who didn’t even want to say no. I was a girl who was up for one more drink before we closed down the bar (and then went off on the back of someone’s motorcycle to continue the party at someone’s place). I was the girl who graduated from college and took a job teaching in Australia a month later because I wanted to have an adventure.

I am thinking not only of myself but of numerous firstborn friends of my generation who were right there with me closing the bar and riding on motorcycles in our youth. I’m not saying only the firstborns were recklessly opting for crazy fun over caution, but – you know who you are, my buddies. Oh, yeah.

cookie duggar

Okay, this is mean. I know. I feel sorry for his wife. What a douche bag.

What will happen to all the wild firstborns now that couples are mostly having all their early sexcapades long before they think about making babies? Will we have to watch out for the babies born to super conservative religious cults? Oh, my gosh! Is that the explanation for Muslim extremists? And what about that molesting, sex-crazy Duggar guy? Isn’t he his parent’s oldest child? Those Duggar grandchildren may turn out to be hell on wheels, too, if my theory holds true.

Once I was a wild child. Now I can’t stop eating cookies. If the Pill had been available a generation earlier, I’d probably be wearing a size eight. It’s only logical.