January 26, 2010


It's tea time here, and to help with that I have been gifted with some stroopwafels from Ellen in The Hague. She and Silke visited Leuven last Friday and brought these delicious goodies plus a lovely cyclamen as a housewarming for us. Stroopwafels are hard waffles (similar to pizelles) but have honey sandwiched between them. Delicious!

So this past week has been a lot of fun. Last Thursday we played ultimate with a group here called Jet Set (but I think we played with their intermediate team called the Propellers). We went for practice and scrimmaged. I have never played on such mud-ridden fields and laughed about how many emails would go out on the Carrboro list-serve advising everyone to back off the fields in the condition these were in. The practice was run in English, and was similar to some of the Pleides practices in Chapel Hill, so lots of drills and techniques and general team building. Since it is a team, players are required to show up since we need numbers to scrimmage. Everyone was SO NICE and welcoming to us. It felt great to meet the ultimate community here, and we were invited out to a "ski" party this weekend, where everyone was supposed to show up in ridiculous ski gear, the more 80's the better. There are enough women that play since it's co-ed and a fairly diverse age group. We played 2 small fields splitting up the group into 6 vs 6, 1 sub each side. It was a fun, albeit, muddy game, which made pivoting extremely (dangerous) and difficult. My flicks were fine, and I got to handle a bit, throwing a hammer half-way up the field. I know, what was I thinking? I think Karl and I are going to play with them and try to head to some tournaments here.

Friday was sunny all day so it was my goal to spend the day outside. Ellen and Silke were in town so I met them at a Nepali/Indian restaurant called Namaste. Then headed over to a 2nd hand shop called the Spit. It's like PTA, or wherever you take items you want donated. I don't have a rack on my bike yet, nor a basket, so whatever I found had to get packaged very carefully in a side bag/purse. I like to think I'm not picky about furniture, but that place was a dump. I think the Ikea will be much nicer (and probably only slightly more expensive). Craigslist isn't big here so I'm wondering if there is some other web site that is similiar to Craigslist that would be good for furniture and other house things.

On Friday evening (Vrijdagavond) we ate at a vegetarian (vegetarisch) restaurant called Lukemieke. They featured a lot of organic or bio things, and had a fairly extensive menu. We got the meal of the day which started with a bitter greens creamy soup and sesame grated carrot salad. The main entree came with 5 sides. The most filling were a phyllo dough spinach and leek casserole followed with a lemongrass rice croquette, with sides of creamy saffron cauliflower, a beet, potato, and black-eyed pea salad, and finally a rather boring mixed salad (which was weirdly enough, shredded lettuce that you would use for taco filling), but was drenched in a flavorful olive oil. There wasn't much for protein in the dish, and I wish vegetarian restaurants gave that a little more thought (there is the nutritionist in me coming out).

Saturday morning (Zaterdagmorgen) in Leuven is wonderful! The main city square has a humongous covered market. Vendors include florists, olive vendors, cheese vendors, spring roll vendors, escargot vendors, fruit and vegetable vendors, and bread vendors. Karl found a wonderful coffeehouse called Cafe Onan so we have been getting some good coffee. The plan that day was to head down to Brussels and sightsee and visit the Cantillon Brewery.

I know that I keep writing about the bike-friendliness of this place, but I just cannot get over it. They have AN ENTIRE covered "parking garage" or "Fietsenplaats" for bikes. This covered area probably goes on for 1 mile...and hundreds of bikes. Not like 1,000 dollar road bikes either, i'm talking beaters, cruisers and in general bikes with crazy painted colors, and kid seats, and crates and just everything. And just to rub it in some more, there are bikepaths everywhere. Every road has a bike path and walking path. You can get anywhere and everywhere on your bike!

After securing our bikes in the fietsenplaat we got on the train to Brussels. Here we got off at the Central Brussels station, and walked into a central market area which led into some pedestrian paths. There was also a covered market here, but was closing down as we arrived. I think we were heading towards Grand Place or Grote Markt. After passing through some of the walkways (I think we were on the Rue des Bouchers), we came upon the Galeries St-Hubert which is basically a huge domed glass building with very nice shops inside. This building was put up in the 19th century during the time of King Leopold I (1847). From some of my travel books, I have gathered that this was designed in the Neo-Renaissance style by the Belgian architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar. Their are 3 buildings, called arcades. It is well known that Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas once resided within the buildings. Walking slightly further, we passed many modern day shops including some beer stores, specialty olive-oil stores and candy stores. The candy stores look like they are straight out of Daigon Alley from Harry Potter.

After a snack of curry frittes - we set off for the Cantillon Brewery. The brewery is located near an ethnic neighborhood. So you pass a bunch of warehouse looking shops and some Indian/Pakistani/African stores, and then when you feel like you're lost, you stumble right upon it. Cantillon is over a hundred years old, and the building is as much. They brew lambics, I think one of a handful (or maybe one of 2) within Brussels to brew in the true lambic style. The tour itself is self-guided, and most of the staff are either family members, or probably family friends. They must get a number of tourists becaue they always ask if you understand that the beers are fermented and so on and so forth. Lambics are a helluva beer. They are remarkable and probably medieval if not somewhat ancient in the process. True fermentation. They brew during the week and invite you to come back to watch the brewing process, but on a Saturday, they were fielding questions and serving some of their famous Guezes.

As a self-guided tour, you receive a small pamphlet and go through the brewery. The smell is amazing, similar to white wine fermentation at a winery (mom and dad just like the smell at Chateau Michelle). First you visit the Mashing House where you see the mash tun and big old equipment. This isn't a fancy new place, so the age of the machinery becomes quite charming.
The next room, is up some narrow stairs into the hop boilers and crushing machines. The hop boilers are are huge tanks with large red coils snaking through them. The wort is heated through steam circulating through the red coils. They have added in a 10,000 L stainless steel tank as a hot water reservoir. They add 3-year old aged hops for qualities of preservation. From here the wort will travel to a large and shallow copper pan. This pan holds up to 7,500 L of wort. Basically this maximizes cooling and allows the wort to come in contact with the air. The pan is basically on the top level of the building (3 levels), and contains rafters to circulate air. Cantillon utilizes the weather and the local ecosystem (they will never remove cobwebs or spiders, and they have a brewery cat that was lounging on some grain bags) for it's beers. They brew from October until about mid-April. To get the wort chilled, they cool it overnight and open the rafters. This allows inoculation of wild yeasts (Brettanomyces, Bruxellensis and Lambicus) that occur in the area, and causes spontaneous fermentation. Their are up to 86 known yeasts that are present in lambics! I'm not sure how long the wort is allowed to sit there, but it is then moved into a huge stainless steel container, which allows the brewer to control temperature and sugar content (I think a cooling tun).

Next the wort is placed in oak or chestnut barrels. They tell you that during the first days of fermentation it can get pretty violent as CO2 escapes, and some of the wort spills out (the actual brochure states bunghole). In about a month slow fermentation begins in the barrel, and after this point the barrel is closed/sealed, and allowed to mature for THREE YEARS! I think you can drink it after 1 year, but it's weak. The Guezes and fruit lambics are what I found the most interesting.

Gueuze is a lambic that contains a blend of 1, 2 and 3 year old lambics. Basically the brewer is the taste-tester and judge and figures out what blend of these will make a Gueuze. Usually out of 10 barrels, half of them will be picked.

For the fruit beers, they take fruits like cherries (kriek), raspberries, or grapes (the wine making kind), and macerate (again a word in the brochure) it into a 2 year old lambic. It takes about 3 months for the fruits to macerate - where the beer takes up color, taste, and sugar from the fruits. Then they add in a young lambic and filter and bottle the beer. The fruit lambics made in this way are not anything like a "lambic" that you may have tried that are marketed and sold as Framboise in the states. I'm not putting these down, I just want to make the distinction, that this is a time-old tradition that is probably the closest thing to how beers were once made. They are pleasingly acidic, but pick up the fruit tannins or phytochemicals for the taste and character, so they can have a bitter finish. I really enjoyed the raspberry one (Rose de Gambrinus) , and picked up the Saint Lamvinus which contains lambic and merlot grapes - Sara this is the one that you had tried that had grapes on the cover - and a bottle of Vigneronne (which is made of white muscat grapes). Touring the brewery felt like a field trip. They had some Slow Foods stickers up on the wall and you can see photos of past Cantillon family members that headed the brewery. It was just quaint and fantastic.

We each brought back 3 bottles, including several beers which we had picked up in Brussels including some fancy olive oil and white truffle salt. This made for an interesting bike ride home as we were literally balancing all our bought goods off of each shoulder (Karl's being a backpack and probably more efficient).

I think the plan is to visit Bruges this weekend - we have snow in the forecast for the next 2 days, and rode through some flurries just yesterday evening. All in all, we are staying warm and quite happy.

Pictures will follow this post - I am multitasking the remaining adapters.


  1. Ooh, the Cantillon brewery! I fondly remember going there with Allison, father and grandfather: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ngaloppo/2142593407/in/set-72157603561925598/

    We loved the tour, but honestly, my feeling about Brussels' Geuze is well expressed by quoting my grandfather: "I think that this batch of beer has gone awry". ;-) Just not my cup of tea, I guess. ;-)

    So the ultimate competition in Leuven is pretty fierce, huh!?! I had no idea! Are you playing at the 'Sportkot' in Heverlee, just across the ring? My grandmother lives really close to that place. Anyway, I'm glad that you're connecting to some people out there. Belgians aren't always the most openly friendly people, I'm afraid...

    Oh, and your impressions on Lukemieke.. I can't speak out of first-hand experience, but I'm afraid you'll get that experience a lot at Belgian vegetarian restaurants... vegetarians don't seem to have as rich a history as in other places in the world, such as the US or India.

    Have a great week!

    PS. Minor remark: it's wafels, with a single f. But that's not to be over-critical, just because I LOVE the fact that you're picking up a bunch of Dutch really really quickly, and I want to to learn more :)

  2. It's funny how an American praises the cycling lanes of Belgium, while the Belgians generally all complain about the state that they are in. :-)