Getting the Hang of This

Daily, I am starting to feel more and more at home. In fact, today it’s even snowing! I’m considering making a snow angel on my balcony. I’ve done a lot of this this week, I should have updated them at the time because now it’s starting to become a jumble of beer and fine restaurants.

My weekend got off to a good start, as a surprise care package arrived for me at work. It contained a

Swedish Fish, Body Pillow and Blanket.

Swedish Fish, Body Pillow and Blanket. Also, someone had to emphasize that the contents of the box weren’t regulated as the place for a hazard label suggests.

body pillow, Swedish Fish candy, a blanket and a photo of my and my friends and a card signed by just about everyone. It really meant a lot to me to get such a thoughtful gift from my friends and I ended up tearing up at work. Here’s a photo of my package minus the photo which I’ve left on my desk at work. Now I have some things to cozy up with in my nice but rather barren apartment.

As for food, a colleague from work took me out for drinks, dinner and good company on Wednesday. The bar was actually an Irish Pub called The Snug. I had to translate the name for him. In a decidedly un-Belgian tradition, I ordered a black and tan, which somehow tasted mediocre and thin. It’s usually a solid choice for me, so now I wonder if my pallat is getting spoiled by heavy Trappist tripels. Dinner was at a hidden Italian restaurant called Chez Rino. We had a hard time finding it because it was really dark and unassuming from the outside. You walk in right past the pizza prep area complete with wood burning oven. The seating was cramped and rather unassuming. When I say an Italian restaurant, don’t confuse it with what you get at an Italian restaurant in the US, this place was 100% authentic. The staff spoke good French with heavy italian accents and ordering a dessert mouse meant it would be whipped up at a small station in the corner of the eating area. This is legit italian food in a way I have never experienced. The menu was in italian with some French translations splashed here and there. Really helpful, right? I ended up ordering a pizza and some Croquettes aux Crevettes. This is a deep fried dumpling filled with teeny tiny shrimp in a sauce that can only be described as mana from heaven. Apparently it is a Belgian delicacy, I’m glad I was pressured into ordering it because it isn’t an experience I will forget. The pizza was really something else. The dough was hand made and it was covered  in piles of fresh tomatoes, mozzerella, mushrooms and assorted meats. The edges of the pizza were singed as is appropriate for preparation in a good hot wood burning oven. It really was something else.

Fancy Kwak Glass

Fancy Kwak Glass

Through the end of the week, the study I have been preparing since I arrived was finally released for execution, which means the actual work I’ve laid out carefully for weeks can be started! It felt very rewarding to complete all the preliminary work considering the challenges of the language change, facility change and project change presented me with. Then end of the week was spent observing the execution of the study I prepared in the lab, which felt very rewarding and I’m learning new things. All around a big plus.

Once I finally got out of work on Friday, I had to fight through thick city weekend traffic to get home. I then met another new friend for dinner. We went to a local Belgian place and had to battle through an incredibly foreign menu. The menu was heavily Flemmish with some splashes of French that I could translate. Often the translations didn’t seem to make any sense. I read one as “feet of pig in the house”. I laughed that one off until we looked it up on the internet and sure enough, it was pigs feet slow cooked in house. I guess I should have more faith in my French :). Also splashed here and there over the menu was my LAST NAME! Apparently its the name of a city which has a cooking style that the kitchen was using frequently. I was struck at how I am a Dutch American living in Belgium who can only speak English and French. This mash up of cultures is really a Belgian staple if nothing else. I ended up ordering Waterzooi with chicken. Waterzooi is a Flemish stew that is set with vegetables, meat and a cream sauce that is too delicious to describe. The chicken was moist and tender and I could not get enough of the sauce. If you ever go to Belgium, give it a try! Everything in the Sablon area is dead after 11:30 so the Cafe Leffe gave us our check and clearly shooed us out the door by midnight.

Saturday I met up with some other ex-pat Baxter colleagues for dinner and drinks. We walked to a local place called Chez Leon which is a Belgian restaurant that specializes in seafood and of course, mussels. They got me to try raw oysters as an appetizer. It didn’t taste chewy, it mostly tasted of the seawater from inside the shell and the lemon that was poured liberally all over. I’m glad I tried it, but I don’t think it is something I would order on my own. The main course was MUSSELS! We got a bucked of mussels steamed in a tomato and vegetable broth and also a tray that was baked with tomato sauce and cheese. I was feeling nervous as I didn’t know how much I would like mussels and I was commited to sharing a large number of them with a colleague. Fortunately, I loved them. Fantastic texture and flavor. They were also a whole lot of fun to eat. You take the shell of your first victim and use them like pincers to dig out all the rest from their shells. They tasted wonderful and I was entertained. Such fun!

Following dinner, we spent a few hours at Delirium cafe. This part of town is much more lively than the Sablon tourist area closer to my apartment. We had to hover for a while until we captured a free table. I tried a few different beers on tap based on recommendations of my new friends and enjoyed some new flavors to add to my beer review list. Unfortunately, one of my new friends will be leaving Belgium this week after spending a year here. She’s ready to go home, but I’m sad we did not overlap for longer. The area of dinner and drinks seems like a younger and more active area. I’ll have to go back sometime. I haven’t even finished describing my weekend but I’m spent, I’ll have to wrap it up another day.

Leffe Brune – I was not impressed

Floris Pomme(apple)- Light and sweet, tastes a bit like cider. Can only drink in small quantities due to the sweetness

Floris White – Sweet while beer

Delirium Tremmens – You have to try this beer! Classic crisp Belgian ale.

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