Tuesday, January 31, 2012


There was a quiet calm that accompanied yesterday's light dusting of snow. It was too cold for the kiddos who are normally screaming and chasing each other around the park, and it was certainly too cold for camels.  And yes, it was too cold for me, too. When I walked through the park on my way to run a couple errands, I felt like I was transported to another place - it was so tranquil and completely deserted, as if everyone went into hibernation. I quickly got my errands done and ran home to warm up with a hot cup of tea, and spent the afternoon curled up on the couch under a blanket browsing recipes for soup. I'll be making a big pot of chicken and corn chowder tonight... and if it goes well, I'll share the recipe with you tomorrow.

Stay warm, dear friends.... unless you are in LA - in which case I hate you just a little. And my parents who are soaking up the sun in Key West.... I *really* hate you guys. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Weekend Briefly

This past weekend seemed to fly by - as is too often the case when you're having fun. In short, the past couple days consisted of an incredible meal (all you can eat meat!) at a Brazilian restaurant in Brussels, going out for beers with friends, and hosting a little mimosa brunch on Sunday morning... I didn't take too many photos - but here's just a few:

Chicken, beef, pork, sausages, chicken hearts.... fresh off the grill 
And lots and lots of beer
Robbie and Didz

Brunch might be one of my favorite meals - to eat, and to host. I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy a long, leisurely mid-day feast complete with mimosas and friends on the weekends. I'll be sure to host another brunch soon and share some tips and tricks I use to making it an easy, laid-back morning.

Mimosas and tulips - two of my favorite things
I hope you had a wonderful weekend! I woke up this morning to our first little bit of Belgian SNOW! Which means, this little displaced California girl is going into hibernation....

The view from our bedroom window
(And a BIG happy birthday shout-out to two of my favorite girls in the whole world - D & Ingy, I love you!!!)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Say Cheese!

When Stella came to visit, it was like Christmas all over again... She showered me with gifts and now anytime I wear/use/enjoy any of them, I'm pleasantly reminded of her stay here.

I've been wearing this necklace non-stop lately - it's quirky and cute and I pretend it captures all those magical moments my real camera misses out on.... the little moments of Didz and I sitting around the apartment together, or the cute old couple bickering at the grocery store about which line is shorter (I imagine that's us in 50 years).

Say Cheeeeeese!

Thanks again, Stella! Miss you so much!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Snickerdoodles for the soul

Growing up, snickerdoodles were my favorite cookie - I'm not sure which part I loved more, saying "snickerdoodle" (often repeatedly until I got tongue tied), baking, or eating the cinnamon-sugary treat. When Didz and I first moved in together, the poor guy had NEVER had one before - I remedied that immediately, and we've been enjoying them together ever since.

I made them last night, because sometimes having a cup of tea and a snickerdoodle is the only way to end a cold, rainy January day. They're not a glamorous cookie. They're not complicated, they don't require any fancy ingredients, and they certainly don't require a huge time commitment - a few minutes to mix up the cookie dough, 8 minutes in the oven, VOILA! The result is pure delight, every time.

For the past few years, I've been using this recipe (cutting down the butter and the sugar just a bit). I like it because it doesn't use cream of tartar like other classic snickerdoodle recipes require (because who actually has cream of tartar in their cupboard?).

They certainly did the trick last night - the cozy, warm, cinnamony smell in the apartment made everything better.

Today, however, I think we'll have to invite some friends up for cookies, otherwise I will eat all of them. Every last one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


The little park next to our building is always bustling. Sometimes what I see is totally normal - kids playing on the playground, guys throwing around a frisbee, couples canoodling, teenage punks smoking dope after school.....

Sometimes, however, I see something like this:

And I wonder what the hell is going on in this crazy little Belgian town.....

Camel rides? In the middle of our little park? On a chilly January afternoon in Leuven? Sure. Totally normal.

Not... strange... at.... all....

And this, boys and girls, is why I take my camera with me EVERYWHERE. Because you never when there might be a camel in the park.

(I admit, it did cross my mind to line up and go for a ride... kinda kicking myself for not doing it. It might be my biggest regret to date.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Quiet Weekends.

As much as I enjoy entertaining, socializing, and going out, quiet weekends at home are my favorite. Didz was busy with schoolwork, and I was busy doing a bit of design work for a friend's project - we would distract each other, motivate each other, I'd proof-read his paper, he'd critique my designs. We watched two movies - The Artist and Beginners - both were really good, but I especially loved the silent perfection of The Artist. One day we ordered take-out, one day I cooked. We drank coffee, tea and wine, and went to bed early.

Here's just a glimpse....

Chopped brussel sprouts for Pancetta, Brussel Sprout & Mushroom Pasta
Fresh bread, flowers and veggies from the market Saturday morning*
Hot coffee 
Bright tulips to fight off rainy day blues
Sketchbook & design ideas
I hope you had a wonderful, relaxing weekend, too! 

*a HUGE thank you to Alena who has revolutionized my world -- I now peel squash with ease thanks to the unbelievable vegetable peeler she sent me... Seriously, you guys, it's the best.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chocolate Tasting Results

Once we got home from The Official Belgian Chocolate Tour, we plated each bunch of chocolates separately, labeling the plates with the name of the chocolate shop from which they came. 

And then we ate.

Each piece was savored, discussed and ranked in comparison with the others... Subtle flavor combinations were noted... a surprising crunch here, a velvety lightness there... phrases like "a long lavendery finish" were used (as if we had ANY idea what we were talking about)....

It was a really tough job - but somebody had to do it.... 


1. Pierre Marcolini
2. Mary
3. Alex & Alex
4. Wittamer
5. Neuhaus
6. Galler

Neuhaus/Galler are interchangeable in the bottom two spots, and Mary and Alex&Alex were a very close match-up.... but Pierre was the clear winner. I look forward to continuing my research on the subject, and sharing my findings with you in the future... Or come to Belgium and try them out for yourselves!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Official* Belgian Chocolate Tour

It should come as no surprise that one of my favorite things about living in Belgium is the chocolate... It truly does surpass the rest in it's richness, texture and subtle flavor combinations - like biting into a little piece of heaven every. single. time.

Didz sent me this New York Times article a few weeks ago - and Stella and I took it upon ourselves to follow in the lead of the author and do our own Belgian Chocolate Tour. While our outing was not quite as extensive (we stayed mainly in the Grand Sablon area - with only one venture across town to Mary's), we took it VERY seriously, and brought home a lot of chocolate to do the official tasting with Didz (who unfortunately couldn't join us... this MBA is really cramping our style!)

From each of the six chocolate shops we went to, we chose a classic dark chocolate praline (or the closest we could find, since not all the chocolate shops had one) as our "control" and then a few varied flavors and fillings to get a fuller understanding of each chocolatiers capabilities and accomplishments, often asking the salesperson to point out the most popular selection or their personal favorites.

Wittamer (photo cred: Stella)
Our first stop was Wittamer.... with its bright pink awning and display of beautifully crafted chocolate high heels in the window, entering the shop felt like the beginning of a perfect feminine dream sequence. (If only we had busted out a choreographed song and dance routine with the chocolatiers in pink aprons doing the can-can on the glass cases behind us... THEN it would've been the perfect dream... alas...) Because this was our first stop, we were rather tame in our choosing - only two pieces each (a dark chocolate praline, and a cognac flavored dark chocolate praline).

Tough decisions at Neuhaus (photo cred: Stella)
Next, we walked down the street to Neuhaus (which is where I buy a lot of my chocolate since there's a shop just down the street from us in Leuven), where we chose a rather random sampling, including coffee truffles and their "specialty" (which Didz ate, so Stella and I will never know what was so special about it).

Alex & Alex (photo cred: Stella)
It was time for a break - so we walked around the corner to Alex & Alex, a champagne and chocolate bar, where we sat for the better part of the afternoon sipping bubbly, nibbling chocolate (the mandarin orange dark chocolate was my favorite), and chatting with Alex (or Alex, we're not sure which one) about the "elegant" champagnes and the "need" for chocolate in our lives... It was charming and lovely and delicious and might be my new favorite spot in Brussels. We chose a wide variety of chocolates to bring home - including their "legend", one called "Love Love" and a chili pepper flavored dark chocolate for Didz.

Glass #1, paired with sea salt and mandarin chocolates
Next, we went to the two story flagship store of Pierre Marcolini....

Pierre Marcolini (photo cred: Stella)
You can't help but feel a little bit swanky, and a little bit cooler when you walk in here... It's sexy, with immaculate displays, and perfect chocolates. We carefully chose a small selection of chocolates upstairs (including an Earl Grey Tea flavored one), and then picked out a small box of macarons to bring home as well (because let's face it, after indulging champagne and chocolate the only reasonable thing to do is also pick up a box of pristine macarons, too. Obviously).

Grand Place at night (Photo cred: Stella)

From there we crossed town, down through the Grand Place en route to Mary's... with a quick pit-stop at Galler....

Galler (photo cred: Stella)
... where I honestly don't remember what we got...

But Mary! Oh Mary! The selection, the choices, the beautiful little chocolates.... Mary stole our hearts. We picked out a gorgeous bunch to bring home - including a couple white chocolate pieces for Didz (he really loves white chocolate), and one called "Manhattan" for Stella (how appropriate).

After another champagne pit-stop (and a bottle for the road!), we hurried to the train, anxious to taste all of our treasured chocolates....
Texting Didz letting him know we'll be a little late... his response? "You stopped for MORE champagne?!?"

The Official* Belgian Chocolate Tour Tasting Results up next....

*Official? Maybe not. Delicious? Definitely. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Artist in the Loft

On Saturday evening, our friends Ariane and Serena hosted a fabulous little party - the first in a series of "Artist in the Loft" parties they plan on hosting. They asked me to come and draw on their chalkboard wall, while guests mingled, ate, drank, laughed and critiqued.... then in six months, they'll wash my drawing away and host the party again with another friend doing the drawing. It's a brilliant idea, and they get a rotating wall of art without having to buy, frame, or hang anything!

Here's the invitation Didz and I created for the event:

And here are a just a few snapshots Stella took throughout the course of the evening:

The children's corner
Ariane - hostessing perfected.
Birthday cakes in the bakery window for ABP 
Drawing juice - G&T with cucumber and rosemary
And then came the jellyfish....

Finishing touches and my biggest critics 

It was a fantastic evening. Didz and I have decided when we buy our dream home the first wall we paint will be done in chalkboard paint so we could host similar parties... and drink, mingle and draw with our friends back home. Consider yourselves invited... 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

it was Stella(r)

Stella's visit was pretty spectacular. She was here for five days, during which we walked, talked, sipped, nibbled, giggled, tried to work out some of the great mysteries in life (topics included: "why men are a**holes" and "what's in store for 2012 and beyond?") and successfully crowned one chocolatier king above all the rest during an extensive chocolate tasting experiment (more on that later)...

We spent Friday exploring Antwerp, popping in and out of vintage shops, warming up with cappuccinos (and cupcakes) in cafes, and taking in the sights...

Antwerp Central Station (photo cred: Stella)
Cappuccinos and sandwiches for lunch
Sculpture - The Legend of Brabo
Grote Markt
The aftermath of our cupcake pit-stop
Showing off her fabulous fur find on the train home

We went out, we stayed in, we played games and drank champagne...

I'll share some more highlights throughout the week, as I slowly detox and recover from this chocolate and champagne coma...

We had a fabulous time and loved having you here, Stella! Come back when the weather is nice so we could sip champagne at outdoor cafes and people watch over cappuccinos....