May 4, 2010

Artichokes, updates, and pictures

This post is mostly about my new found excitement for artichokes and also an update of sorts. It's easier to post pics and recipes then tell you about daily/weekly/monthly happenings.  So first, artichokes! I bought an artichoke and couldn't believe how delicious and easy it was to cook up and eat, especially when you serve it with some garlic butter. You simply wash them, trip the thorns off the leaves, rub the cut parts with lemon, cut the top third off, and trim off the stem, then steam them for about 30-40 minutes until the leaves are soft and can be pulled off.

I've been noticing a lot of healthy looking spring goods at the area markets including Belgian asparagus (which is white and plump), artichokes, strawberries, and alpine strawberries.  Leuven and its surrounding areas have 4 farmers and crafts markets during the week, much like the Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough - except these markets are all within biking distance and are open almost all day.   The farmer's markets in the US really want to show off locally grown foods, and coming from an ag state such as NC, you can show off something nearly year round. The markets here contain pretty much everything you could by at a grocery store, so it made me really happy to see some farm-fresh looking produce around.  The markets also sell sewing supplies, games, crafts, clothes, shoes, jewelry and of course, lovely flower and vegetable plants. The produce tends to be cheaper than the grocery stores, and this weekend we really came away with some excellent finds including ewe's milk brie and yogurt (from this sheep's farm: La Bergerie d'Acremont ), artichokes, and some delectable alpine strawberries which tasted like mushed up strawberry, grape, and raspberry.

A few posts back I mentioned starting a sourdough starter. I named Starter 1 St. John, and never got around to starting Starter 2. This was in inherent fail, and went downhill very quickly.  The smells went from being lightly fermented to puke, and I couldn't imagine that it would come back from the puke smell, so I discarded it (and as Karl knows, I am generally lazy about throwing out stuff).  I'm going to attempt Starter 2 at some point, but will not write about it again until it is successful. In the mean time I will stick to my regular outings to Patisserie Dirk.

My spring garden is out and has been for a few weeks. The best thing about gardening is how infectious it is.  Someone in the building has set out pots next to mine. Sugar snaps, spring onions, lettuce, radishes, and swiss chard are all coming up and growing slowly. The seedlings of summer veggies I started inside are doing much better than I anticipated and will be transplanted to smaller pots.

window box with sugar snap peas and green onions

radishes, lettuce mix, and spring onions

some modest pots

view of the shared patio

As May has arrived, we are getting ready for visitors. Roma will be arriving in 2 weeks and so I've been looking into things to do and places to see.  The job search is going slowly so no exciting news to report, but this means that I will get to spend some quality time with our many visitors. So visitors, plan on home-cooked meals, lots of sleeping in, bike-riding, and listening to me attempt Dutch. Hey now, I do this for you.

Since we are nieuwe inwoners or new residents Leuven's City Hall Council invited us for a welcoming at the historic stad huis (city hall). This welcoming was done to tell new residents about the history of Leuven, tell them more about the population and city, and of course, answer any questions that new residents may have. The majority of the meeting was run in Dutch, and I was able to pick out snippets, but am finding that I'm understanding a lot more than I did in Jan. For instance, Leuven hosts a Badminton Tournament in September, the city used to have one of the largest beer guilds during the Middle Ages, which the French destroyed, the city is proud of Katholiek Universiteit Leuven and beer, and they gave us a tour of the city council rooms, including the mayor's office. They had a reception where they had passed appetizers and served beer from Inbev (Stella Artois, Leffe Blond and Bruin, Belle-vue Kriek, and of course other cola products).  I can't imagine a US city serving new residents alcohol and then letting city hall foot the bill. Amazing. 

Stad Huis or City Hall

During the meeting, I attempted to ask questions. Since most of the sessions were being conducted in Dutch and some English, I figured it would be fine to ask in some Dutch and English as well. Now, if you know me, I talk fast. When I'm nervous, it gets even faster, it's like I'm spitting words out because I can't figure out how to put them together in a sentence. The first question was asked in Dutch, I think it had to do with biking and roads. As a side, there are 30,000 students in Leuven, and about 90,000 residents. It's a huge student town.  My questions were about Dutch courses, allied health professional organizations, and community gardening.  I started off my questions in Dutch (Ik heeft drie vragen. Mag kan ik spreekt en engels? Then I shooted them off in English) The following 5 questions were all asked in Dutch. I'm feeling like a royal jerk at this point.  The majority of the questions had to do with student bikers. They have really worked up a bad reputation in this town.  During the reception I was approached by some very nice people that came up to express their gratitude at congratulate me on my attempt to speak and learn Dutch.  Isn't that nuts? I didn't even really speak any Dutch. I just said, "I have 3 questions, but may I please ask them in English?"  That really sums up how people are here though, if you try and speak and make a genuine effort they really are kind and thank you for attempting, but then, they speak to you in English. Come on city, speed up my ID card process. 

Last weekend we went to Cantillon Brewery for their Quintessence tasting. It is a slow foods-esque beer and food pairing and features lambic and gueuze beers. Karl also wrote a blogel (blog+novel?) on Cantillon at Leuven Groovin'.

Cantillon Quintessence Tasting

Other adventures include a visit to the Royal Greenhouses in Laeken, a quick picture and frites stop at the Atomium, and the Leuven Botanical Gardens. The Royal Greenhouses, built in the 19th century, were commissioned by King Leopold II and were an architectural innovation in that time period because they were constructed of metal and glass. They are, quite simply, beautiful. These greenhouses are only open to the public 3 weeks out of the year.  The botanical gardens in Leuven are in full bloom and the tulips cannot be missed. 

Royal Greenhouses and Leuven Botanical Gardens

Ahh and finally, an update on what I've been cooking and eating these past weeks. I baked a Yeasted Sugar Cake that I found in my Deborah Madison cookbook, but also here.  It's cake that is denser, lighter, less sweet, buttery soft, semi-leavened cake which tastes excellent with whipped cream or yogurt and fresh spring strawberries. I cooked some five-spice Chinese-style noodles and vegetable stir-fry, aloo parathas with channa masala, red-lentil kofta's with a saffron rice pilaf, savory mushroom crepes, and nachos with refried beans.  Links to recipes should be underlined and highlighted above.  Visits will be welcomed with food. Hope everyone is doing well and, of course, eating good food. 

five-spice Chinese style noodles

aloo paratha

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear about your failed starter experiments! I have to admit though, I'd be less motivated myself if I had bakker Dirk's variety of creations just a walk around the corner away. This makes me wonder though, after having been exposed the variety of breads at my disposal out here in Portland and while volunteering at Weaver St. Market in Chapel Hill, how satisfied I still would be in a small Belgian town... In any case, the paratha looks great, so it looks like there's nothing wrong with your baking skills!

    BTW, two thumbs up for your efforts at speaking Dutch at the city hall, I'm impressed (and also ROFL when reading your story!