Can you have four favorites? Or does that defy the nature of the word “favorite?”
I’m talking about gelato, so it certainly could be possible:
- Lemon Basil
|Marina holds the photog’s gelato, and her own.|
And that’s just the proverbial tip of the culinary iceberg.
Where do I start? Well, we started in Brussels, where, “It’s impossible to find a bad restaurant,” Dirk, a long-time resident and world traveler told us. He’s not the only one who thinks so. The city named 2012 the year of culinary delights, with Brusselicious the campaign slogan and the plump green Brussels sprout the poster child. From restaurants to museums, parks to trams, Brussels is all about food.
To celebrate her graduation, Marina took us to dinner at La Villette, specializing in “cuisine belge,” where we dined outside along Place Sainte-Catherine. An old pro at cuisine belge, Marina ordered Anguille au Vert/ Paling in Het Groen, aka river eels in a green herb sauce of chervil, sorrel, spinach, and parsley. Others in our group ordered seafood, Flemish beef stew with beer, and the classic chicken Waterzooi (meaning boiled or stewed in water) and finished with finely chopped onions, carrots, leeks, celeriac, and potatoes in a buttery cream sauce and a dash of nutmeg.
Waffle and friterie stands are found at every town square and market. At a farmer’s market I visited in Stockel with Dirk’s wife Tracey, I found a flower I had never seen before, Asclepias ‘Moby Dick’, and a vegetable I had never seen before, wild asparagus. One night, we sautéed the asparagus in olive oil and garlic, and tossed it with pasta.
Another day, using Dirk’s pick-a-restaurant-any-restaurant theory, I asked to return to Place Sainte-Catherine with the boulevard of plane trees shading outdoor cafes. Our tummies were grumbling and raindrops were falling. We needed shelter fast, but wanted to stay outside. Row upon row of restaurants assaulted us—so many choices, so little time. Then I spotted one with a little sign at the door that said “Slow Food”. I’ve espoused the slow food movement for years; we found our spot.
We sat at a table protected by an awning and chose the blackboard special of the day: Gazpacho with Chicken Kabobs and Frites. The whole meal was flawless, but it was the Gazpacho that made it memorable. That and the fact that the sun broke through the stubborn gray clouds midway through the meal. We were ready for an icy tomato soup, but to our surprise the burgundy puree was comprised of luscious spices and beets, not tomatoes, with a cube of goat cheese in the center.
In Antwerp, we ate traditional Moroccan dishes from Ziggy’s mother’s homeland. We had a sweet mint tea early on, then Harira, a traditional soup, and finally, Chicken Tagine (cooked in an earthenware pot called a tagine). When I asked Ziggy for his mother’s recipe, I had to laugh. The basic recipe, he told me, could be found at www.moroccanfood.about.comChicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives. Except that Thea substitutes raisins for olives, she uses saffron powder not threads, she leaves the skin on the chicken, and, oh yes, she adds coriander, always coriander. Sounds like a woman I’d be happy with in the kitchen!
Then, there was Italy. Like a lusty tomato sauce, the foods of Italy will spill onto the next blog. Until then, I will forget about geography and finish what I started:
- Lemon Basil gelato, light and refreshing, with flecks of green basil which gave the lemony flavor a WOW! punch.
- Hazelnut is as ubiquitous in Europe as the peanut is in the States. I was 17 when I first tasted it—I spent a summer with a friend in the Netherlands where we’d start each day with a chocolate-hazelnut spread slathered on bakery bread—love at first bite. Hazelnut gelato goes great with people-watching in a piazza on a summer evening.
- Melon is a big flavor in Europe, whether you’re talking fresh fist-sized melons at the market, melon at the gelato stand, or melon throat lozenges! Looking for something to soothe Marina’s cold and sore throat at the Delhaize Supermarket across from her kot (house with 9 kots or bedrooms which share a kitchen, shower, and toilet) I found Swiss-made Bonbons aux Plantes. The melon candies soothed rather than numbed, like the American menthol types, and I fell in love with the cute little box they came in. The box had a Swiss-engineered flip top that locks with a snapping sound, using only the miracle of folded cardboard. I’m still intrigued and keep playing with it, popping the lid open and shut, melon lozenges long gone.
- Apricot. Apricots were in season and Richard couldn’t believe he was eating a fresh apricot. “Isn’t it a peach or a plum?” He was used to dried apricots or mealy fresh ones. The ones we sampled at the Rialto Market were perfection—and apricot gelato captured that burst of fresh flavor.
Until next time, bon appetite/smakelijk — Laurie Lynch
Ooops: Shortly after we returned, I was on the phone to my nephew/chef Wille describing the meals we encountered. Then he asked a simple question: “Did you take photos of them?” No, I was too busy eating! Looking back over the almost 500 photos, there are definite themes: cobblestones, laundry drying on clotheslines, and rooftops (well, I work for a roofing company), but few food shots. Yes, I was too busy eating!
Straw Bale Garden Update: While we were traveling, it rained in State College almost every day. On the days when it didn’t, my sister Larissa hauled out the hose and watered the straw bale garden. The entire regular garden was filled with weeds upon our return; the straw bale garden was weedless, but also pretty ratty looking. In the weeks I’ve been home, I’ve continued to water and pamper, but the plants are stressed. So stressed that I added backup plantings of Poona Kheera cucumbers, squash, and pumpkin in the “ground” garden.
Garlic Garden Mystery, Solved: The beauty of gardening is that no matter how many years I’ve done it, I’m always learning and always learning how downright dumb I am. A week or so ago, I noticed something strange—a whole row of my garlic was flattened. It was if someone slid over it with a toboggan load with firewood. All the other rows were fine. Was it drought stress in that narrow patch of clay soil? A disease? Did Belladonna the llama take a sudden interest in the garlic garden and step on each plant? Do we have an especially fat raccoon roaming about now that Richard is shooting all of the groundhogs? Hey, a black bear was spotted nearby…could it be bear damage?
|Destiny’s Wedding Slate Garden|
Honestly, all of these thoughts raced through my brain. Then I used it, my brain, that is. I looked at my garden “map” to see what variety was planted there. Hmmm, Chet’s Italian Red. A soft-neck variety. I usually plant hard-neck garlic. So, why is it called soft-neck? After a little research I found out that soft-neck garlic is ready a few weeks before hard-neck, and the leaves fall over when it’s time for harvest… Blew that one!
Written on Slate:Destiny emailed a sweet note and a photo of her new garden with a wedding slate from Fleur-de-Lys. She wrote that every time she looks at it she’s transported back to Kutztown to the lovely day she spent at the farm. Ahhh.