We had already decided last year that this year, holidaywise, would mean an ‘ in-between’ year. Meaning somewhere between home and away, only not too far or too long: tightening those strapping belts around the suitcases, after last year’s expensive, but worth-wile, USA road trip.
Like the cliché says, it’s not where or how far you go, it’s the journey, the experience and Lady Luck clearly decided to grant us some more experiences as both husband and me won a weekend break, how much fun is that?!
Some careful planning and scheduling and must admit the calendar looks quite inviting the next couple of months, and after that, well, we’ll see, first mission is surviving Winter and am extremely looking forward to these up-coming Spring breaks!
End of March we are heading for a b&b near Namur, capital of Wallonia, Belgium. Only heard great stories of those who already visited Namur, so am anxious to explore the city and region ourselves, which might also involve a visit to close-by abbey of Maredsous, well-known for it’s beers and cheeses.
In May, somewhere around Ascension, our wandering feet and hearts will bring us to Lenk in beautiful Swiss Bernese Oberland. Childhood nostalagia for my husband who has visited the region as a child with his family many, many times and since the first time I,myself, laid my eyes on the lush green pastures and lovely mountains covered under their snow blanket, it is also my place to exhale and relax! We were always fortunate with the weather when going in May, so do hope the good luck continues, can’t wait to be there again!
Somewhere in April of early May, still to decide, we’ll be heading for the Dutch city Den Haag (The Hague) and seaside with a stay on the pier of Scheveningen. You can take that litterally as the hotel with it’s Pier suites is located on the far end of the pier and all suites offer private terraces with perfect view on the North Sea which is just at and below your feet, which should be a unique experience.
Think for the next months, in my book and with a little help of Lady Fortune, this is a perfect match of countryside, mountains and sea. A perfect balance between city and nature, time for new experiences and time to exhale! I am ready…
To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.
(Hans Christian Andersen)
Any leftover cranberries after the festive season? Always fun to sugar-coat them…
Make a syrup of sugar and water, turn off the heat, add the berries and let them soak at least a couple of hours or overnight. Point is to reduce the extreme sourness of the cranberries.
Then drain using a colander and make sure to keep the liquid as you can still use that when making cocktails!
Dry the berries lightly with a paper towel, they shouldn’t be completely dry, otherwise the sugar won’t stick.
Time for the fun part! Pour some sugar in a bowl, add some berries and toss them around until coated. Do not add too many berries at once, it will make the sugar clump and that’s not what you want at this point.
Leave them to dry on a rack or plate and that’s it!
I used mine decorating a chocolate mousse and added some in my morning oatmeal bowl.
Well usually there’s not much point in looking back, with this new year in full swing now, we should look ahead and hope for a year of light, laughter, respect and kindness in the way we live, in the way we treat our planet and the way we treat others. A warm pair of arms like the warmest blanket to comfort us when we need it most, a listening ear to tell our story without being judged, whatever that story may be, as every story is unique and deserves to be told. And maybe, maybe, that story gets a happy ending or closure, just because there was someone to listen or just be there, to help, to not judge, wouldn’t that be great?!
When new replaces old, it’s a strange mixture of hope and melancholy and I allow myself just for once to look back on what the past year has brought us, to me personally, and to our little family, being my husband Bert, son Nick and our stray cat Wiskie, living with us for more than five years now.
The year started off for me personally in January with lots of medical examinations and hospital visits: the ongoing tinnitus, which I am still coping with, sometimes ok to deal with, sometimes a burden, stomach problems and examinations, and no, not as a result of too festive meals… blame it on too many pills for the chronic back pain, but as I can not alter that situation…onwards we go…
February was a month were nothing really happened, that twilight zone, were your heart and the shop windows make you long for Spring but looking outside only brings grey, cold and wind to freeze your brain. That meant seeking refuge inside and luckily had my hands full and mind distracted with the planning of our Summer holiday road trip.
In March we were fortunate to spend a weekend in lovely romantic Bruges, weather wasn’t that great but had a wonderful time exploring tiny streets, new restaurants and coffee houses. Life was wonderful and we were all starting to dream of Spring when time and life were abruptly stopped on the 22nd when our capital and hearts were under brutal attack.
Was counting down in April to have a pain clinic treatment, which meant a lot of ‘bad’ days in that month prior to the treatment and just after, a lot of staying inside, resting and dreaming of better days.
It’s just a ride, it’s just a ride No need to run, no need to hide It’ll take you round and round Sometimes you’re up Sometimes you’re down It’s just a ride, it’s just a ride Don’t be scared Don’t hide your eyes It may feel so real inside But don’t forget it’s just a ride
(just a ride – Jem)
Early May brought better weather, which my back and joints were extremely thankful for! Lots of things to do in the garden, my head full of plans and ideas, some seaside trips, Spring at it’s best.
June meant tiptoeing through the house with a student hitting the books, or pretending to be…all ended well and finally ready to start that last year of secondary education after holiday break. If not tiptoeing or baking something as a treat for the above one I hit the books myself, tourist guides, websites, whatever I could lay my hands on to prepare ourselves for our upcoming southwest USA trip.
July was all about that big adventure, a three week trip, bringing us from San Francisco to Phoenix with stops in Monterey, Yosemite NP, Mono Lake, Death Valley NP, Las Vegas, Valley of Fire, Zion NP, Bryce NP, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Grand Canyon.
The trip was on all levels wonderful but exhausting, so August meant rest, rest, rest and another pain clinic treatment. With husband back at work and son joining him making some money as a working student the house was empty, leaving me plenty of time to go through and edit the more than 5000 photos we had taken.
September meant back to school for Nick and I started taking yoga classes…still haven’t figured out if it’s my kind of thing considering my back condition and history. A smaller group with more focus on the limitations some people are facing would be more favourable. Have raised the issue with the physiologist of the pain clinic, maybe they are aware of other programs more suitable for me. We celebrated Nick’s 18th birthday, another page turned and new chapters to write.
October and November granted us the most perfect Indian Summer, we did some re-arranging in the garden and had a lovely relaxing Halloween break in Durbuy.
Early December meant another trip to the pain clinic and some unexpected and at first upsetting news after some random cardio tests. Further tests luckily meanwhile showed the problem is existing though minor. Step one, as not completely out of the woods yet, trying to determine the cause and reason why I went to a cardiologist in the first place. However, needed a break of the whole doctors and hospitals world that was becoming weekly business, will deal with that one of these weeks to come!
So here we are, we made a full circle again, from pain clinic to pain clinic, from season to season, from end to beginning.
Let’s start dreaming again and hope this year brings lots of pleasantries on our path, the small ones, the big ones, the unexpected ones, the ones that make our hearts jump, our eyes twinkle and put a smile on our faces!
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of the twinkling lights of Christmas in homes and streets, reflecting in our eyes and making our hearts glow. However, when that last week before the big day sets in and craziness and too many people hit the shopping streets and the supermarkets get overrun, I seek refuge: in our own home, the kitchen, nature, smaller less crowded cities and sometimes that little peace and quiet I was looking for is just in the very heart of busy city life!
On all the many occasions we visited Lier, situated southeast in province Antwerp in Belgium, we had never paid an actual visit to the local beguinage, which is a true shame as it is on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site! The beguinage itself found its origin in the 13th century though most houses date from 17th and 18th. The last beguine died in 1994 but walking the alleys gives a pretty good insight on how life must have been. Once you walk through the monumental gateway it’s like walking inside a history book and the peace and quiet are such a lovely companion on this discovery walk!
You might even, with a little imagination at a certain moment think you’re in London’s Notting Hill, well Flemish style, of course!
Though there is a meaning behing the colour scheme, it was custom that the house closest to the church had the colours of it’s patron saint, in this case Margaret yellow…
The system of long-lease makes it possible for civilians like you and me to even ‘own’ a house there, or at least the use of it as the ownership returns after the stipulated time, which is the thing with these long-lease contracts. Many houses have already been restaured, within very strict limititations and keeping authentic details of course…and you need a serious budget!
The entrance to the beguinage is free and will lead you through 11 alleys and 162 houses and at the centre you will find St Margaret’s church. Throughout your walk you will discover some references to Felix Timmermans, Flemish writer and poet, born in Lier who often came to the beguinage in search for inspiration. He nicknamed the place ‘The almond bean of Lier’.
A lot of water pumps to be found too in the lovely alleys, or as Timmermans once wrote about them ‘statues dedicated to no one’
If you find yourself close to Lier, do visit this unique place, you won’t regret!
And for those not into the peace and quiet, no worries, plenty more things to see and do in Lier, more on that in another post!
Not sure if I will find time to write another post before Christmas, so wishing you all already everything you wish for, peace in your heart, joy and passion in what you do, peace for the world, love and warmth to fill the lonely, cold or aching hearts, all those small and little things that should be obvious and don’t need a shiny paper or much bling bling, just a genuine smile and twinkle in the eye.
This week, two days in a row now, keeing an empty belly for some blood and health checks…not my thing…I am the kind of the person only mentally and physically functioning on a breakfast: a little bowl of oatmeal, some fruit, some tea or juice and my pain medication, that get’s me started!
The blood check was done yesterday, nothing painful there, though you never know in advance with my veins. They are very tiny, invisible and jump away when a needle gets close, a nurse’s nightmare!
The examination scheduled this afternoon then again is not my idea of fun. They need to have a closer look at the mitral heart valve as there appears to be a leak. I already had a normal echo last week, that’s how the valve problems and leak were discovered, but to determine the severeness they need to examine through the esophagus to have a better view on the heart, valves, and the veins leaving. My cardiologist explained the procedure could be somewhat compared to a gastroscopy, which I had earlier this year,and not a big fan by the way, but this should be somewhat more comfortable as they do not have to reach down as far as to the stomach…comfortable is not exactly the word I associate with any of these examinations, it always seems so much easier sitting on the other side of the room and wearing that white coat!
I initially went to see the cardiologist as lately I start to experience more and more shortness of breath in daily activities, which are already limited in my case due to my back and chronic pain condition, by activities I just mean doing stairs, riding the bike, lately they all left me gasping for air as if I had just finished a one hour extensive workout! Besides the valve leak some other issues were discovered too, when in activity modus, my heart rate goes sky high too fast, that could be just a separate thing and no link to the valve issue but depending on how great the leak is and how the valve exactly behaves when in higher activity, there might be a link, so at this point this seems like the most urgent thing to further examine, so I just follow and listen…
…for when it comes to matters of the heart, I still want mine to continue to beat normal, feel, love, explore, wonder for a very very long time!
No worries, I haven’t disappeared from the blogger’s great universe, just needed some mind and mainly body recovery time…when I know my mind is on food again and thinking of Christmas preparation and deco I know I’m on the mend…well at least for now, as that’s the curse of chronic pains, but hey, we’re in the up, so staying cheerful today!
A usual dinner conversation at our home always includes the options for the menu the next day…earlier this week this recipe came up. It had been ages since I made it, albeit in a slightly different version, so on general family members request, here we go!
This is what you need:
chicken breasts filets (1 normal sized per person should do)
a few slices other cheese like old Gouda or you can use Parmesan too
bacon to wrap it up
salt and pepper
This is what you do:
Preheat your oven at 200°C and oil your baking dish
butterfly the chicken breasts and spread them with seed mustard
layer with mozzarella cheese, season with pepper, and another layer with cheese of your choice
close the filets and wrap them with bacon
give them another seasoning with (a little salt) and pepper
finish in the oven for about 30-40′ depending on thickness of the filets
I serve them with grilled green asparagus and cherry tomatoes.
Some cheese will run out, that’s the yummy part, if you don’t like that, stick with the harder cheeses or use thinly sliced mozzarella.
Make some hours in advance and put in the oven when your guests arrive, easy! This dish leaves you several opportunities to mix and max and play with the stuffing:
use pesto, mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes
drop the cheese stuffing, use lots of herbs and pesto or sun-dried tomatoes and cover the filled filets in egg and panko before putting in the oven and you’ll have a yummy tasty crunch
replace the bacon with Parma ham
add herbs like sage or basil or other flavour makers of your choice
The word foodie, you see or read it a lot nowadays, right?! It seems to me lately everyone with a latte or salad posting a pic adds the foodie hashtag. And that’s just fine by me as long as you are savouring it with inner joy and an even bigger outer smile!
‘Foodie: onewhohas an ardent or refinedinterest in food; a gourmet.Alsocalledfoodist.’
If this definition is the standard, then yes, I tick the box, consider me a foodie…when in a book store, I head straight for the new releases on cookbooks, I adore tv shows mixing food and origins and culture like the Rick Stein series and The Two Greedy Italians. I love it when a recipe doesn’t only show the ingredients and how to proceed but tells a background story, like for example in Nigella’s books or Flemish Pascale Naessens, oh and need I say I adore cooking and baking, that is when my back allows me, and do not forget the eating experience!
Yep, I’m probably an addict: when breakfast I already think about lunch or dinner, when throwing a party, putting together all the pieces of the food puzzle gives me joy and thrill, and okay I admit stress too sometimes, and drop me on a farmers market or a food store or in a restaurant and I’m in heaven!
Even the small town I live in has the luxury to have access to farmer market produce, due to the rising awareness that we are what we eat. Food isn’t just about keeping us alive, keeping our body engine up and running, it’s so much more than that: it brings us together, that moment around the table, the great expectation, all the senses on sharp as to not to miss the aromas and colours revealed when the dish is served! That’s what gives me joy, it’s the total package: the food, the table setting, the company, the occassion: it may be just your daily lunch or dinner or a family or friends get together, make it something special, food shoul be fun! If the mood is perfect, any dish prepared with care and love tastes great!
I don’t have to convince you of the benefits of healthy food, enough studies have been published on that and there are people far more qualified than I am to tell you something on those topics. I am not a fanatic, not in my general everyday life and behavior and not in my food. I don’t buy the expensive so-called superfoods, I believe in a balanced food plan, I like my piece of dark chocolate when I drink my afternoon tea, I appreciate a glass of red wine by the fireplace. Like another Flemish cook and author Jeroen Meus, recently said, it’s all about using your common sense. Keep it in balance, there’s no harm in eating a cookie or two or a piece of cake, just not the whole cake! Invite some friends over to share and enjoy the goodies of life 😉
That being said, all this food thinking made me really hungry, so made some of Jeroen Meus’ apple muffins today, the recipe is in dutch, however think it’s pretty clear and if not, just ask me, then I’ll translate for you. The apples have been diced and caramelized in a bit of butter and maple syrup before adding to the batter. The recipe mentions brown sugar, but I used half brown, half white, only because I was running low on brown sugar and it is pouring outside so another run to the shop was no option.
Belgium’s little gem Durbuy, situated in the province of Luxembourg and nicknamed smallest town in the world, could not leave you more enchanted than on the last day of October when the medieval town centre becomes the magnificent open-air stage for the annual Halloween celebration. Think Captain Jack Sparrow parading in the winding cobbled 17th century streets, fairies and witches, jugglers and other costumed street artists performing, lots of food and drinks of course, musical acts and a show with light and sound effects and fireworks to end the festivities with a sparkle.
Halloween not your thing? No worries, Durbuy and this region have so much more to offer: nature lovers can stretch their legs and catch some oxygen in the surrounding woods or tiny hidden villages. Those searching for some more adrenaline can go kayaking or head for the outdoor adventure parks and if you are searching to excite your taste buds, look no further, this region has a large number of gastronomy level restaurants and chefs using excellent local produce.
Being blessed on this little getaway of ours with plenty of sunshine and temperatures around 18 degrees Celsius have our batteries recharged. Nothing beats a wonderful yummy breakfast, some nature exploring and lunch and dining al fresco when end of October/early November, right?!
Just like four years ago again we stayed at b&b La Lisière, just outside Durbuy city centre. They have three lovely cosy and spacious rooms, one gîte and one cabin in the garden, all offering nature views. Bénédicte and Stéphane, your hosts, are keen on reducing their ecological footprint, this also translates into fresh local produce at breakfast and promoting local beers which you can enjoy relaxing in the cosy bar.
Well, Halloween has left us for this year, peace and quiet have returned, but plenty of good excuses remain if you want to plan a trip to Durbuy: November hosts a lot of hunting season concerts and December says Christmas market of course! Just check out the city’s tourist info page for more detailed info on upcoming activities or nature inspiration.
Fall…of all seasons surely the one with the most vibrant colours, the purest emotions, the strongest contrasts…we said goodbye to those long warm Summer evenings carrying the sounds of crickets and playing childern. We start cocooning again and it’s the sound of wood cracking in the fire place that brings comfort…that and the aroma of a beef or lamb stew!
‘Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autum tree’ (Emily Brontë)
Though I am a big fan of the changing seasons, it’s a double feeling as for me it usually announces a period of more back pain. The combination cold and wet weather just doesn’t match my bones and joints and consequently my mood. So far we have been extremely lucky as we are blessed with a dry and sunny fall, keeping that blues and those aching joints under control and leaving more time to enjoy and observe the changes in surrounding nature!
Our tree of gold in the garden
Of course you can schedule a walk in the woods or countryside somewhere remote and sometimes it’s truly worth it covering the distance by car to get there but very often, well, just stepping outside is sufficient. These photos are all taken in our own garden and local communal park so whenever that ‘fall of the leaves’ blues get you in its grasp, just start walking, let your eyes wander and let them lead you through the wonders of this season…enjoy!
From all desserts made in this home over the past many, many years, I think clafoutis definitely ranks number one when it comes to made most often. It definitely wins when it comes to easiest and quickest one, that is if you cheat a bit and use a jar of sour cherries. Personally, it ranks absolute top on comfort food too!
Traditionally made with cherries but you can use apples or, one of my personal favourites, the green reine claude plums…you get the idea: just use what’s in season! But let’s get back to the real thing! As the name gives away, we are talking a French dessert, mais oui, finding its origin in the Limousin region where local griottes, sour cherries, are used. The name is said to come from the Occitan dialect word ‘claufir’, which means to cover or fill. you can find many recipes on the internet or in culinary magazines or books, some use butter, some don’t, this is how I make it…The combination of fresh juicy fruit and the sweet batter will transport you to dessert heaven, promised, so head towards your kitchen!
What you need:
1 round baking dish and a little butter or oil to grease
4 large eggs
4 tbsp of flour
100 gr sugar + extra 2 tbsp for baking dish
185 ml cream
125 ml milk
+/- 400 gr cherries
I usually add a little Kirsch too
Optional: a few drops of almond essence, two or three, just to give a hint, you don’t really need to flavour
What to do:
Preheat the oven to 180° C.
Grease a baking dish large enough to hold the cherries in one layer, add two tbsp of sugar. Spin the dish round to coat the inside with the sugar, remove any excess if any, then set aside.
Mix the dry ingredients, then add the milk and cream and next add the eggs.
Layer the cherries in your baking dish. If you use a jar, let them go through a sieve first, but catch the liquid, you can use this for a nice gelato sauce or to accompany your clafoutis.
Pour the liquid (not to worry, it’s a very liquid batter) over the cherries and place in the oven for 30-35 minutes until golden and puffy.
Dust with icing sugar and serve lukewarm or lightly chilled depending on your own preference.