Thursday, October 27, 2011

Our First Visitor

Last week, our friend Victoria from Toronto came to stay with us. She was travelling through Europe for two months, and spent a week with us before finishing her trip off in London and heading home. As much as I've enjoyed meeting new people here, it was so refreshing seeing the familiar face of a dear friend.

The week flew by... and looking back, I think we struck a pretty good balance between sightseeing, going out, and just lounging around on the couch chatting. Though, I admit, our days mostly revolved around eating and drinking.

Here's a peek at our week:

Our first night together in Leuven
Laurent is excited to meet Victoria

Victoria, meet everyone. Everyone, meet Victoria. 
Sightseeing: St-Pieterskerk
Victoria's first waffle
Coffee breaks at outdoor cafes
Fancy cocktails

Not pictured: Lots of wine, chocolate, beer, laughter, and our couch (where we spent many hours curled up chatting). As nice as it has been emailing friends back home, chatting on skype or staying connected via facebook (where would we be without technology!?), you really can't beat kicking back on the couch with a good friend and a bottle of wine.

Thanks for visiting, Vic! We loved having you...  and I miss you already! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fall Delight: Apple Pie Cookies

Last week, I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first visitor... and upon hearing that she was delayed by a few hours coming out of Paris, I knew I had to get busy or I'd drive myself crazy sitting around, twiddling my thumbs watching the seconds tick by... (yes, I was *very* excited to see my friend).  Since I had just bought about a million kilos of the most amazing apples from the market, I decided to make these incredible cookies -- (was I feeling over-ambitious? Or just plain crazy?)

Probably crazy. But they were crazy good!

As usual, I adapted the recipe just a bit... and used what I had in the kitchen (like a water glass instead of cookie cutters), and I diced the apples into little bits and put a whole dollop-y spoonful in each instead of putting one round slice in each cookie as the recipe suggests. My approach made them a little lumpier and less uniform - but I didn't have another "cookie cutter" that was slightly smaller to cut the apple rounds.

Once I got them prepped, sealed, egg-washed, and arranged on the baking sheet into the oven they went.... And the sweet apple pie smells filled the apartment... Heavenly!

In the oven

And by far, the most difficult part of the entire process was not to devour every last one the moment they came out of the oven... but of course we sampled a couple (just to make sure we could offer them to our guest when she arrived).

Ready to be taste-tested

While these are certainly not the easiest thing to just throw together, I will absolutely make them again - maybe on a rainy, gray fall day... 

These are definitely Didz approved.

...or before our next visitor shows up in a couple weeks! 

Beers & Boogie: A Typical Night Out

Before we moved here, I remember Didz and I being worried about meeting people and making friends. I remember specifically thinking: What if all the people in his MBA program are a bunch of nerdazoids who don't like to go out and have fun??

We quickly learned that we couldn't have been more wrong about this bunch of future CEOs and entrepreneurs -- what a ridiculously fun bunch!

A typical night out with these guys looks something like this:

Chatting, sipping, enjoying

Zaal, Christian, Laurent, Didz & Gautam
It all starts out innocently enough - a few beers, a few laughs... but then someone decides we should go dancing! So we move on to the next bar...

Game faces. Ready to party. 

And before you know it, complete madness ensues:

Marcelo starts dancing on the tables...
Ott goes behind the bar to mix himself a drink...
Christian and Didz show off their dance moves...

And before you know it, the whole place is boogying down! 

Last week, our buddy Robbie decided he wanted to head home and get a few hours of sleep before waking up to finish an assignment due at 9am.... He made the mistake of saying goodbye to some people (when what he should've done is snuck out undetected) because a few of the guys blocked his exit, and carried him back into the bar on their shoulders with the whole bar chanting, "One more beer! One more beer!"

Robbie getting carried back to the bar

Didz and I have learned to sneak away when it's time to go home - yet even when we think we're leaving "early" and everyone else is still dancing the night away, we still only manage to get home at 4am.

I'm getting too old for this.... (but it's SO fun!)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall Picnic

Saturday was a picture perfect fall day - the air was crisp, but the sun was shining and there was not a cloud in the sky. It was ideal for a fall picnic. I went down to the market first thing in the morning and picked up a few picnic essentials - a loaf of bread, cheese, salami, some veggies, and of course, a bottle of beer. At home, I sliced up the bread and salami, made a little tomato-basil salad, packed up a (extra large) slice of pear tart, grabbed our picnic blanket and off to the park we went....

It was such a relaxing way to spend the afternoon - eating, chatting and people watching. When the sun dipped down behind the trees, and it got a little chilly, we packed up, shook out the blanket and headed back home to warm up with a cup of tea. It was a perfect fall picnic, and the perfect way to spend a Saturday in Leuven.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pear Almond Tart

While I'm known to be a summer gal (being raised in LA will do that to you), there are certain things I just love about fall.... scarves, chunky sweaters, the crisp cool air, and smell of fresh baked goodies in our apartment. Fall makes me want to bake. Not to say I don't bake year-round, more often than not there's fresh baked cookies at home... But in the cooler weather, baking just feels better. This afternoon I made a Pear Almond Tart. I used this easy recipe, and it came out better than I could've expected. I made a couple minor adjustments to the recipe - a little less butter (one whole cup is a little much, even for a butter-lovin' girl like myself), and I only used about half the sugar topping (and it was still perfectly sweet). And since I don't have a tart pan, I used the round springform that I have (since I don't think Didz would be too impressed if I came home with yet another kitchen accessory).

The biggest challenge? Not eating the entire thing in one sitting...

I have a feeling I'll be making this several times this season... maybe even on Monday for the arrival of our first visitor! (So excited.)

Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mind the gap.

Tonight, Didz came home as I was preparing dinner. He, being the sweetheart that he is, offered to help and went to take his wedding ring off... Either his fingers lost their grip, or the slippery little silver band made a jump for it, but all I heard was a "dink....dink...dink..." - the sound of a small metal object bouncing off the hardwood floors. 

I stop stirring the mushroom sauce, and bend down to pick it up... but... I don't see it. Didz bends down and looks around, too.... nothing. It literally disappeared. 

We get down on our knees, and see this: 

Under the counter, above the baseboards, there's a little gap... Juuuust big enough for a wedding band to bounce into. 


I was convinced it was a goner. I was already picturing a scene, 100 years from now: as they're demolishing this building to build some crazy space-aged UFO pod, one of the construction workers would yell at his crew to stop because he sees something shiny, glinting in the rubble.... A relic of a bygone era... a symbol of a love so true... a... 

.... and there's Didz getting to work trying to fish it out with a fork while I daydream away. The fork approach didn't work. Neither did the magnet on a string (who knew a silver ring wasn't magnetic?). But after we got a little crafty, with the magic of double stick tape on the tips of Didz's fingers....


We got the ring, I stuck it back on his finger, and told him to never, ever, take it off again. 

(Pardon the crummy photos, I was in panic mode, not photo mode)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hello, beard.

After my parents got married, my dad didn't shave on their honeymoon... and he's had some form of that beard for 35 years (except for once when I was about 3, he shaved, causing me to cry my little eyes out because I didn't recognize him and I yelled at him to "put it back on!").

Makes me wonder if I'll ever see a clean shaven Didz again... Not that I totally mind, I think the beard is pretty cute, but I'm almost starting to forget what he looks like under all that scruff!

Thoughts on facial hair? Yay or nay?

A little glam...

Gray, miserable days require a big sweater + big bling....

And maybe a big bottle of wine tonight...

And chocolate. Definitely chocolate.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Our Park

There's a wonderful little park next to our building. On nice days, it's absolutely packed with people lounging, reading, picnicking, juggling, jogging, painting... I even saw a gal giving her beau a haircut - just sitting in the grass, snipping away.

With the weather getting chillier, though, I'm sad our afternoons lounging in the park are quickly coming to an end, and we'll be cooped up until spring.

But I think we'll be able to bundle up and squeeze in a couple of fall picnics before winter sets in, even if the jugglers and tightrope walkers have gone home for the season.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Very (International) Canadian Thanksgiving

When I first moved to Toronto, I had a very hard time accepting Canadian Thanksgiving as a proper holiday. Thanksgiving in October? Ridiculous. This past weekend, however, it was a very welcome celebration hosted by our Canadian friend Erik.

Erik in the kitchen
It was a communal effort to bring this feast to the table - complete with lots of wine, and lots of laughter. Christian top and tailed several kilos of green beans, Didz halved the brussel sprouts and chopped onions, Kirsten prepared fabulous hors d'oeuvres, I prepared the stuffing - and Erik did an incredible job pulling it all together with a couple of roasted chickens (since turkey is impossible to find in this country).

Mushrooms, mashed potatoes, green beans

The rest of the guests gathered, the wine was flowing freely, and appetites were awakened by all the wonderful Thanksgiving smells wafting through the apartment.

When the food was ready, our gracious host invited everyone to share what they were thankful for - new friends, our families back home, this wonderful feast....

We ate, we shared stories, we continued to cultivate friendships with our Mexican, German, Belgian, British, and Canadian friends. The evening progressed into morning without us even noticing the hours drift away.

Sometime in the middle of the evening I had a moment of quiet appreciation - thankful for the incredible people we've met, for the opportunity to live here, and for a seriously awesome Belgian Thanksgiving.

Maybe I'll have to host the *real* one in November and appreciate it all over again...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Secret Garden

Last week while wandering around town, I unexpectedly happened upon the Botanical Gardens here in Leuven. It's free to enter, and I plan on spending many afternoons here when the weather is nice. I'm glad I found it on a beautiful day - and though many of the flowers are no longer in bloom, it was still such a wonderful quiet escape.

I wandered through the garden, down narrow paths, through arches and over the little bridges around the pond.

The landscape is dotted with sculptures and fountains...

And plenty of benches to rest, read, draw, or just be alone with your thoughts...

And chickens...

And guardian angels perched above...

I had such a relaxing afternoon: strolling, sitting, thinking, enjoying. Next time I go, I'll be prepared with a sketchbook, a novel, a picnic, and Didz... because everything is better when I get to share it with Didz.

(all together now: "Awwwwww...")