Archive for the ‘Belgium’ Category

It has been a bit more than a month ago when we had an exclusive all-girl weekend getaway. It was meant to be a fun-filled and stress-free weekend for 7 girls for a getaway with great food, quality bonding, lots of laughs and just having the best time ever. Oooops… forgot baby Z, the only XY-chromosome in our girly group! 😀

On 5th Nov, I have posted Part 1 of our weekend getaway to (O)Porto, the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. By the way, Portugal’s famous port wine is named for Porto, and Portugal, is one of the world’s most beautiful countries! 

Oh dear, it has been 3 weeks since, and Part 2 was still not out … hmmmm

I’m sure the girls were wondering, and I was right. Last week I met up with X for lunch and here’s our conversation:

X (curious): When is part 2 of our trip going to be ready, or have you decided to stop…?

D: Definitely not stopping. In the pipeline … 😉

X: Ha ha …. I thought you have decided to stop !

D (smiling): Nope, am collating the photos first and that’s one big hold-up! The App I’m using jumbled up my photos and they are not in chronological order anymore and mind you, I have more than 10k photos on my iPhone! Argghhh …

X: My condolences to you, then …

D (grinning): Humph! 

Pre-Mortem 

With the majority of us working and/or travelling, AO volunteered to do a research on Porto a week before our ETD. She had BIG plans for us 7 girls and her baby. It sounded just too good, but was it doable? The main point of discussion was whether Duoro Valley was a go or no go in our Weekend getaway. Places of interests and links were attached in an email for us to revert with our feedback.

While X and G had replied, here was my feedback –

Hi ya’ll !

Hey AO, a massive thanks for the great research, indeed. Well done, charbor! I was re-reading your message and noted that getting to the villages would take at least 2.5 hours. That means to and from the villages would take 5 hours and that’s just the travel part and not taking into account the actual time spent there. We would easily lose three-quarters of a day just to get there and back. It’s a pity because I would love to visit the breathtaking Duoro Valley, but due to time pressure (short weekend et al), with a heavy heart, I’ll give this visit a miss. I’m sure Porto city has a lot to offer especially so when it’s a first time for most of us. Oh by the way, I just checked the weather forecast and it’s not looking great, It’ll be 17 to 18 deg C with 60% to 70% chance of rain!!! Hope the forecast is wrong ! So it looks like X, G and I are saying “no” to Duoro Valley. Not sure about C, O and AM. Anyway, since you and AM will be staying a day longer, hence, am assuming you girls will be going on Sunday, if we’re not going in a group, right?. And if you’re going, don’t forget to share your experience with us after the trip, k? 

Cheers and counting down to our Porto trip!!

D

So the road trip plan to Duoro Valley was dumped, as C and O were also not keen, due to time constraints. That meant, AO and AM, the last girls to leave Porto, would be going on Sunday, right?

Erm … afraid not… 

Just a day or two before our departure, AO, the littlest, but feistiest girl in our group (Lolz!) decided a last minute change in plan, i.e. to go on with the trip to Duoro Valley, with or without the group not on Sunday but on the day of our ETA in Porto! The reason for the change in schedule was because of …

 …This !!!

Sunday, 23rd Oct was to be the bleakest of all days. Cold and wet at 14 deg C! Driving along the winding roads to Duoro Valley under a heavy downpour would appear to be too dangerous, so it would definitely be a no go on Sunday to Duoro Valley … BUT… feisty AO was determined to make that trip!

Now the question(s): Did AO go to Duoro Valley or not and if she did, who came along? 

I left the office at almost 9 pm the evening before the trip. I was absolutely knackered and dog-tired; hence I was 100% looking forward to an easy and stress-free weekend with the girls and a baby …

Bem-vindo ao porto! Welcome to Porto!

We left Brussels Airport at 10:50 and arrived at Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport at 12:20. As soon as we touched down, our group had to split into two! Yup, the trip to Duoro Valley was decided at the last minute and AO managed to ‘lure’ a victim and who izzit?

The group that left to Duoro Valley took a rented car whilst the group that headed straight for the city took the Metro. Before we said our temporary goodbyes, we wanted everyone to meet for dinner together. We suggested and agreed to meet at the hotel lobby around 7pm, all 7 girls and a baby!

Did we make it? That’s the question … 😉

By the way, it was C who volunteered to accompany AO and baby Z and she was happy to be the ‘chauffeur’ for the entire journey up the wine growing valley of Duoro

The 5 of us had initially wanted to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel. We queued on the taxi stand, but it was just hopeless because there were 5 of us. The cabbie allowed max 4 passengers per trip. A minivan-type taxi would be perfect but they didn’t appear very often, so we changed our strategy and went for the Metro instead. 

The journey to the city centre took about 35 minutes and a single fare was Eur 1.80. For the first time, we needed to buy the Andante ticket which included the 0.60 cent rechargeable Andante card

Taking the metro is by far the cheapest and quickest way to get to the city but I remembered well we had to wait for about 40 minutes for the metro train to start moving. We had lost precious time playing the waiting game .. 

Porto Trindade Hotel

Trindade station is the 15th stop from the airport. The hotel was not an obvious find as the sign was virtually non-existent. We had to cross the road from the Metro and walked uphill all the way to the hotel while at the same time, dragging our luggage. It was probably a blessing in disguise that AO and baby Z didn’t have to go through the gruelling walk that afternoon. 

Goodness gracious!  It was almost 3 pm and we had not had our lunch. Before we checked in our rooms, X asked the receptionist where we could eat the famous Porto signature dish, francesinha. Without a smile on his face, he gave us the name of the restaurant (Café Santiago) and to remember the landmark “Coliseu do Porto“. The restaurant’s just opposite the theatre which is a local landmark and a leading venue for music and cultural events in Porto. Oh-Kay… with a landmark in mind, we shouldn’t get lost, right? 

If I remembered well, I didn’t recall we being greeted by a friendly receptionist. I would describe the staff as professional rather than friendly, except for one super friendly barman, whom we got acquainted with that evening when we redeemed our welcome drink at the bar. He was very helpful and went the extra mile to give us tips on places to visit during our stay in Porto.

When we checked-in into our rooms, we had only 10 minutes to orientate ourselves in our respective room, after which we had  to gather at the lobby and left the hotel in search for that mysterious francesinha

It was not an easy peasy search for that specific Café because we still had to acquaint and orientate ourselves with the city and her surroundings. 

Avenida dos Aliados

From our hotel, we started at the monumental central avenue, Avenida dos Aliados, aka Porto’s ‘reception room’ right in the heart of the city.

It’s a lively avenue during the day, but what a pity the skies were quite grey and it was quite chilly that afternoon as well. The avenue would have been a great place for a relaxing promenade, but of course we did not miss a photo opportunity next to the statue of D. Pedro IV on a horse. He was a symbol of courage and affection for the people of Porto. Behind us in the distance was the City Hall of Porto, situated at the top of Aliados Avenue, at the heart of downtown.


We could not dilly-dally too long there as time was the essence. In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that our group was splitted into two. We came as one and we should have stayed as one. With two splitted groups, timing became a challenge. We hadn’t the clue if C, AO and baby Z had the rented car and/ or if they had started the journey direction Duoro. We could only hope and pray that the 2 girls and a baby were danger-free and fine. Therefore, the only right way to do was to respect our agreed timeline prior to our going separate ways. 

And by the way, we still have not found the landmark the hotel receptionist was directing us to, so we walked and we walked and we walked …

The Quest For Francesinha 

In order not to have too many people doing the same thing, G and X were the map readers or navigators.  Girls being girls, little arguments and banterings were the norm. One said north, the other said south. So we walked and walked and walked until we came to Porto’s lively shopping street, Rua Santa Catarina. Part of the street is closed to traffic, making it a mostly-pedestrianised shopping street. Well of course we did not stop there to shop (not yet) BUT we had a closed glimpse of the most renowned “Harry Potter‘s” Café Majestic.  

Harry Potter

Yup! Will talk about that in a bit, because the priority quest then was to monitor the landmark, Coliseu do Porto and our francesinha !!!!

And we finally found the landmark!!!

Yay!!


Café Santiago 

If this café was recommended by staff at our hotel, then it must be good. It was full house when we arrived, so it’s a good sign that it must be more than good 😉

We had to wait for a vacant table. What made it more difficult was we were with 5 people. First of all, 5 is an odd number and 5 were too many to get a table in a packed café, so we waited …

We finally got a table meant for 4, so we had to squeeze one of the girls. When the waiter brought the menu card to us, I goggled at the photos of the menu. Only 2 shades of colours: yellow/brown and orange! Where are the greens? Reds? Purples? Whites?


I suddenly felt constipated gawking at the photos. To be honest, that’s not my kind of food, but, hey we walked more than 10,000 steps just to experience a typical Porto dish, so game on!

Francesinha is one of the most typical dishes in Porto. It’s a type of sandwich (toasted bread) stuffed with different layers of meats (cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage, beef steak) and covered with cheeses and then oven-grilled until the cheeses just slightly melted. The sandwich sits on a spicy tomato-beer sauce, which secret recipe will never be revealed… well, that did not bother me, because I would not be craving for francesinha in a long while …

We ordered 3 different items on the menu and shared those amongst the 5 of us. We had to be careful not to eat too much as we promised to meet for dinner, all 7 girls and a baby that evening.

By the way, I was glad I got to try the infamous francesinha. For me, it’s once bitten, twice shy. Don’t get me wrong, it was a tasty dish, but it was way too heavy for my liking. I think the other girls shared the same sentiment as I did, right charbors? 😉

São Bento Railway Station

After the heavy late ‘lunch’ of francesinha, we were in dire need of more walks. Our next stop was worth the stop. It was a railway station but it was not just an ordinary one. São Bento is the oldest and is claimed to be the most beautiful railway station with its 20,000 dazzling blue-and-white Moorish tile panels, known as azulejos. The painted tiles on the walls illustrate the evolution of transport in the area, as well as depicting scenes of the history of Portugal. 

Oh by the way, we were lucky to be entertained by the local military orchestra that afternoon 😀



Churches and Cathedrals 

It’s amazing to see how many churches and cathedrals in quite close proximity with each other in the centre of the city. We have probably been to most of the churches, which looked amazing on the façade as well as the interior. 

It was good to have those peaceful and silent moments once in a while after the fast pacings and stresses of the day to recharge our batteries 😉


Birthday Girl

The clock ticked and we were wondering about AO, C and baby Z. Before we headed back to our hotel, we stopped at a pastry shop in the hope of buying a cake for birthday girl, AO, as a surprise, however, the cake shop ran out of cakes. Instead, we agreed unanimously to go for 7 mini cakes (mix of chocolate, passion fruits, raspberries and mangos) at a Specialty Cake Shop on the way back to our hotel. 

Two weeks before our departure to Porto, 6 girls were discussing about giving AO a birthday surprise. In a way, it was good that AO was not around when we planned the small do later in one of our rooms. 

Going back to the hotel was more civilised as we had internet connection and free wifi. X and AO were in contact with one another to get more information about their ETA at the hotel. 

When the 2 girls and the baby finally arrived, the 7 mini cakes were lighted from the candles which G brought with her, and we sang the birthday song in unison while greeting the birthday girl. 

Happy (belated) birthday, AO


2 Girls And A Baby

We were glad to see C, AO and baby Z again after 6 hours or so of separation. Surely there were lots of stories to tell. If not, then what happened in Duoro remained in Duoro 😉

And most certainly the 2 girls managed to know each other a bit more, too. What those 2 girls had gone through were completely different than what the 5 of us had experienced that afternoon. It’s like the clash of 5 ‘city’ girls vs 2 ‘country’ lasses. Lol

However, when C shared with us some of the photos, we could see why the Duoro Valley is called the enchanted valley with her magical landscapes. There’s no wonder why this cultural landscape is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO

While the 5 ‘city’ girls had their tastes of francesinha, the 2 ‘country’ lasses had a go with Portugal’s most renowned pastry, pastel de nata (Portuguese egg tart pastry). C, with the golden heart, bought some grapes and a bottle of local Duoro red wine that she would later share with us. Obrigada, C!


Full Quorum Dinner @ Restaurant Antunes

Like Café Santiago, Restaurant Antunes was recommended by staff at our hotel. According to the receptionist, the restaurant served local Portuguese cuisines, hence, were not to be missed. Booking was essential, so the hotel staff made a reservation for us. 

The restaurant’s located behind the Metro Station (across from our hotel). It didn’t look much from the street, however, when we got inside, it was packed to full capacity as the locals patronise the restaurant daily. 

Oh boy, it was 8 pm and the francesinha and the mini birthday cake were not fully digested in my tummy and there we were, dining again! I ordered for a fish menu (grilled hake with baked potatoes … yes, boring …) and so did C, G, O and AM whilst X and AO eyed for the roasted pork shank. 

And guess what? THE star of the evening was actually the roasted pork shank, the iconic Pernil de Porco, which was the house specialty. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. The pork shank was HUGE, man!  It was actually very good, 100 times better than my tasteless hake 😦

Good choice, X and AO (Y)

We ordered sardines as starter, which were excellent and we also enjoyed the couvert. I’m glad we were recommended Restaurant Antunes because for me, it was a Portuguese eating experience. The service was fast and excellent even though the waiter spoke limited English. Somehow we managed to understand and communicate with no problem 😀

If I were to go to Restaurant Antunes again, I would go there with an empty stomach and order their Pernil de Porco

Good thing that there’s someone in our group who’s a meat eater, so we could see what’s on each other’s plate. The culprit will know who I am referring to here 😉

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and went straight to the bar to redeem our welcome drink. I had their red Port Wine. What else ?! 😀

I think we must have hit the sack at almost 1 am. It was going to be another long day the next day …

Mercado do Bolhão (Porto’s Colorful Market)

After a stuffed and almost dog-tired day the day before, we gathered at the hotel lobby at 9.30 am (after a scrumptious buffet brekkie with a fair choice of cold and warm dishes). AO and baby Z missed the headcount that morning as AO had to return the 24-hour rented car that brought the 2 girls and a baby to Duoro Valley. While waiting for AO, the 6 of us walked to the nearby Trindade Church to have a peaceful and quiet moment. 

When we got out of the church, G, the ‘navigator’ and timekeeper, shepherded us to Mercado do Bolhão, which is considered to be Porto’s most colourful market located in the heart of the city. The exuberant market is found in a 2-tier, rather old building. The market opens daily from 7am until 5pm except Saturday when the traders called it a day at 1pm. Sunday is a day of rest.

The Bolhão market is not a very big market, unlike the markets I have been to in the Provence (South of France). Nevertheless, it has its own charm as everything traded at the market was locally produced from fresh fruits, breads to household items. 

All of us bought some souvenirs to remind us of our stay in Porto. AM was, undoubtedly, the happiest girl on the planet as she bought oodles of fridge magnets to add on to her colossal collection of magnets. Lol


We adjourned to a Café in the marketplace spotted by G, of course 😉

In less than 30 minutes, AO and baby Z joined us. And we were full quorum again …

Now off we strode to the meeting point of the Yellow Bus!

Hurry girls ….!!!

Yellow Bus Hop-On-Hop-Off (HOHO)

A week before our ETD from Brussels to Porto, AO volunteered to order 7 HOHO Porto Vintage tickets online for us. It’s cheaper buying online at Eur 11.70 per tix as opposed to Eur 13 buying at location. 

Our tickets were valid for a day and we could HOHO in Porto as many times we wanted anywhere along the Porto bus tour routes, which were either the Purple or the Orange route/ line. The Porto Vintage included free access with wine tasting to Espaço Porto Cruz, which, unfortunately we did not use, due to a few non-drinkers in our group plus time constraints. 

By the way, we were supposed to take the Purple Line that morning with the aim to go to Matosinhos, but somehow, we boarded the wrong line, the Orange route. 

Wrong line or not, I thought that was a blessing in disguise. To be honest, I’m not a sea person so I did not mind missing the trip to Matosinhos, although one or two girls might be disappointed… Well, we knew when travelling in a group of 7 double X-chromosomes, there’re bound to be some ‘negotiable’ contretemps. Anywhow, Matosinhos was the less recommended place than the other side of the riverbank, Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia by the friendly barman at our hotel. That, I remembered 😉

For me, I know I would be back to Porto and I could visit all the places I have missed. It’s not the end of the world 😉

Ribeira and Porto River Bank

It was 12.30 pm and the stop at Ribeira was just perfect. Excellent timing for our midday lunch. 

The old town, centered at Ribeira, was built on the hills overlooking the Douro River. I absolutely adore the long promenade along the Duoro riverbank. In fact, the site is listed as World Heritage protected by UNESCO, and represents the famous postcard image of the city. 

The Cais da Ribeira (the Quay of Ribeira) is the soul of Porto, where one can climb aboard one of the many typical boats and take a mini cruise down the river. We had thought of taking a cruise but had to quit the idea because of time pressure. 

I loved the look of the charming pastel houses stacked like blocks of Lego and the narrow medieval streets and seedy alleyways, and of course the spellbinding Dom Luis Bridge. 


We found a nice restaurant on a hilly slope but with 7 and a half people, finding a table was almost near to impossible in a touristic area if pre-booking was not done. Anyway we waited like predators 😀

C double-checked with the waiter and he promised to set up a table for us as soon as a group of people left. 

When we finally got a table after waiting for some 15 to 20 minutes, everyone sighed with relief.

Phew

After the more than positive review of the sardines we had at Restaurant Antunes, we ordered them again as our starter. They were so moreish and finger lickin’ good 🙂

Before the Porto trip, I have heard a lot about Bacalhau (dried and salted cod) dishes, which are common in Portugal, but have never tried it. Out of curiosity, 5 girls went for the house specialty bacalhau dish, recommended by the waiter. AO went for the squid dish with tomato rice and X, for the pan-fried salmon. 

The verdict? 

I would rather have 20 sardines on my plate than that one piece of bloody hard, chewy and salty cod fish! I was totally disappointed, and so were some of the girls…

In hindsight, I should have ordered that salmon 😦  Drooling …! 

X, I want you as my personal food advisor. Lol!


On the other side of the riverbank, I saw the famous Sandeman Porto Wine Cellars, which wine I have used in my cooking or just drink it as apéritif. Too bad, we did not do the wine tasting tour. Well, I’m even more determined now to return to Porto 😉

Palácio da Bolsa

After the amazing time we had at Ribeira and the riverbank, we took a walk to Palácio da Bolsa, literally translated as Stock Exchange Palace.

Our visit to the Palace was probably one of the most memorable and flattering moments. 7 girls and a baby were standing at the cashier counter waiting to pay the entrance tickets and guided tour. Guess what? The friendly Portuguese girl thought we were students and charged us student rate which had a 50% discount! Wow! That’s amazing innit … we looked like students *feeling flattered*

When the 40-minute tour started, we met the girl again. She was our bi-lingual guide who spoke in both Portuguese and English.  

I’m not sure about the rest of the girls, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the guide’s stories.

I was busy taking photos, of the floors, ceilings, walls, doors, pillars and what have you. I could see there’s a great mix of architectural styles and decorative arts and the highlight of the Palace was undoubtedly, the Arab Room. I felt as if I was transported into One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. The room is decorated in exotic Moorish Revival style. It was breathtakingly spectacular with all the golds and glitters! Simply Wow!


Porto Cathedral (Se Catedral)

After the Arabian Nights’ tour, the girls were debating to either climb the 240 steps of the 75.6 metres high Torre dos Clérigos (Clérigos‘ tall bell Tower) adjacent to Igreja dos Clérigos (Church of the Clergymen) or climbed a few steps up to Porto Cathedral. 

We agreed to go for the latter, as some of the girls were showing signs of exhaustion. Porto is a very hilly city, by the way. Which reminded me of Rome.

With Romanesque roots, the Porto Cathedral has undergone many changes throughout the centuries. What’s lovely from the square in front of the Cathedral was the panoramic views of the city. There you could view in a distance the Torre dos Clérigos, which we had to forego, most unfortunately…


Livraria Lello – Finding Harry Potter in Porto

We did not climb the Clérigos‘ tall bell Tower, but we definitely walked across the plaza to the most enchanting bookstore in the world, the Livraria Lello Porto. Does it remind you of a scene in a Harry Potter movie? 

Did you know that this spellbinding and unique bookstore inspired the Harry Potter’s library in Hogwarts?

Did you know that J.K Rowling lived in Porto teaching English in the early 1990s and that rumor has it that her inspiration to write Harry Potter began at Livraria Lello?

I did not, until I entered the bookstore. Wow!!

It’s not a big bookstore but the stunning interior and the exquisite swirling stairway with its red-carpeted steps and banisters, impressive mouldings and wooden walls did not prevent tourists from taking non-stop photos. It’s simply dreamy and eye-catching!

Oh by the way, there’s an entrance fee of Eur 3 which is fully redeemable if you buy a book. I bought 2 books, not Harry Potter. Ha ha ha …


Remember Café Majestic which I linked to Harry Potter earlier in this post? 

J. K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone while spending countless hours in local cafés, one of which was Café Majestic along the lively and busy Rua de Santa Catarina.

Ponte de Dom Luís I (The Dom Luís I Bridge)

It had been a very, very long day for all of us: walking, a bit of shopping, window shopping, sightseeing, eating, more walkings, etc. Poor baby Z  was in dire need of a nappy change, hence, AO and baby Z returned to the hotel whilst the 6 of us adjourned for coffee/tea at a nearby Café in the vicinity of the magnificent bookstore. 

And then, it started to rain! 

We had planned to meet for dinner on the other side of Duoro River, all 7 of us and a baby. In order for the 6 of us to get to the other side of the riverbank, we had to crossover walking the double-decked metal arch bridge, the Dom Luis I bridge, that spans the Douro River between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. 

Due to time constraints, 6 very headstrong girls braved the heavy downpour and walked the bridge’s top deck from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. It was a 5 km walk. None of us thought of stopping or thinking of giving up and going back to the hotel. We just walked on wearing the skimpiest and most lightweight disposable ponchos. Only G and AM had umbrellas with them. I could feel my shoes ‘flooded’ with water. It was an uncomfortable feeling; wet and squidgy, and my pants from knee down were totally drenched. So was my hair. I just hoped not to get sick, that’s all.

And we walked on and on and on …

It was a blessing in disguise (again) for AO and baby Z. It would definitely not be a comfortable walk for both mama and baby, that’s for sure.

 

The night scenes of the bridge and the views of the Duoro River dividing Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia were breathtakingly magnificent. 

By the way, Porto’s iconic bridge was completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel, best known for the world-famous Eiffel Tower in Paris.

After the seemingly long and unending walk to the other side of the bridge, we were not famished but we just wanted to sit down in a dry place and enjoy some light and fresh seafood.

We found a lively seafood restaurant, Duoro Velho


AO and baby Z uber’d their way comfortably from the hotel to meet us at the restaurant. It was good to see them again and gorgeous baby Z slept through the entire evening at the restaurant closed to his mama’s chest swaddled in his baby carrier.

We spoiled ourselves rotten, stuffed with barbecued seafood and chicken dishes; our last meal together in Porto. Oh by the way, the sardines were huge and not as nice as the tiny ones we had at Restaurant Antunes and Ribeira

We had probably spent a good deal of time at the restaurant because I could feel my pants gotten drier as well as my hair, except for my feet and shoes!  Couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel, though. 

With 7 of us, we took 2 taxis, while AO did a test check on prices of the one uber’d and the other normal. AO, baby Z, X and D uber’d their way back to the hotel in one cab paying a total of Eur 3.80 which was almost 50% cheaper than the normal taxi taken by G, C, AM and O.

Good to know (Y)

Pyjama Party @ Room 702

It was good to be back in the hotel, or to be more precise, my hotel room.  I’m sure the other girls felt the same way. It has been a while and my room was so immaculate, meaning the presence of housekeeping was there. Brilliant!

C invited us for a nightcap of one of Duoro’s local red wines which she got while spending time at the wine growing valley of Duoro on the first day with AO and baby Z

It was a good wine. Thanks heaps, C! Thanks for sharing the wine with us. Hugs xxx


No worries, no one was tipsy. There was only one bottle and 7 glasses of whom 2 had to decline the offer for obvious reasons 😉

The evening was still young and we played a ‘game’ initiated by C.

And the game went like this …


Nah …. what happened in Room 702 remained in Room 702…

Hint: We got to know each other (even) better  and thanks heaps, O, for sharing with us the ‘scary’ story 😉

And for the … Erm … sorry, my lips are sealed . Shhhh…!!!

It was our last night in Porto together, all 7 girls and a baby, and we hit the sack at 2 am in the morning !

Blue-Black: The Winning Colour!

Sunday, 23rd Oct. 5 girls were flying back to Brussels.

Strange but true, 5 girls met that morning at the buffet breakfast wearing, uncannily, the same colour tops. Blue! And – honestly – it wasn’t  pre-planned.

That colour was to become the magic moment of the day!


X‘s son, DJC is a professional footballer playing for one of Belgium’s First Division Pro League decorated clubs, Club Brugge that dons the  Blue-Black home kit. 

And even stranger and truer, the team had a match while we were flying that afternoon, against one of their major rivals, Anderlecht. 

And the result? 2 – 1 for Club Brugge. Awesome! 

The Last 2 Girls And A Baby

The girls said their goodbyes at the hotel, leaving 2 girls and a baby behind. 

It was a lovely Sunday day and Matosinhos was explored and the girls’ boxes were ticked.

And I made sure to buy a port wine at the airport. It was a 20-year old Tawny Port. One of the finests 😀

Goodbye Porto, see you next time!

The 5 girls parted ways at Brussels airport only to be reunited for quick lunches at work weeks.

And life goes on as usual …

Carpe Diem, girls! 

Cheers!

11th November is a National Holiday in Belgium and France to commemorate the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of WWI. This took place at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year 1918. Armistice Day is how it’s called in Belgium and France, which coincides with Remembrance Day in Britain and Commonweath countries and Veterans Day in the USA. 

97 years later … 7 girls (or nearly 7) decided to get together on 11/11 at around 11 …

You have probably read about 3 of the girls in a post I have written in 2010 in “Murphy’s Law or was it just …?” and in 2012 on “The MasterChef in X, C and A …” and a more recent write-up, “Coconut Pandan Chiffon Cake – First Successful Attempt”

Since then, our group has grown to 7, including myself. It is not easy to assemble all 7 girls at one time, since almost all of us are working/ living at different locations in Belgium and Germany. Our plans to meet up were usually confined to a weekday lunch during lunch break, and that spelled QUICK lunch! We would love to have a LAZY lunch at our own LAZY pace. Weekends can be tough to meet as well because we all have our own lives to lead!

And by the way, 11th November was a Wednesday and a National Holiday in Belgium … so we decided to meet, all 7 of us.

Erm… me think it was C who started the ball rolling that time round – a week before 11/11.

C : Anyone wants to watch Crimson Peak? Let’s all meet, please..!

G : Me! I’m free on 11/11

X : Count me in

AO : Oh no, not Crimson Peak… I have a very strong imagination … I pass, but if you girls are meeting in Antwerp, let’s lunch at DJL..

AS : Yes for Crimson Peak and DJL

O : I’ll let you girls know my availability later ..

X : Let’s watch Spectre then to have a full quorum

AO : No Bond movie for me please. I usually sleep watching a Bond movie … You girls go ahead with CP after we lunch at DJL. I’ll drive home …

Me : I’m not a fan of 007, too. The movie’s really quite predictable .. How about Martian? LOVE Matt Damon and heard the movie’s brilliant!

G : Martian is EXCELLENT, but I’ve seen it already. We can all watch different movies when we are at the Cinema. I’ve done that with other friends …

AO : Oh, I love Matt Damon!

C : No Bond for me. After lunch, I’ll drive home …

AS : No Martian for me, please! I’ve watched it already with hubs and it was brilliant!

Me : Excellent! Brilliant! Must watch lor…

G : Oops…. Timing issues. 

O : Ooops … I wish I could make it with you girls but hubby has to work on 11/11 and no one’s taking care of my boy. So sorry ladies 😦

Oopsie! …. now which movie did we all agree to watch OR did we get to watch a movie at all? That’s the Question!!

Da Jia Le (DJL)

11/11 arrived and some of us car-pooled. X came to my house to pick me up first and then to another location to pick up G and AS. C was on her way to the resto and AO just left her house. Well, at least lunching at DJL was unanimously agreed upon, and besides, it was an all-girls day out! No hubbies and kids tagging along. Yay!

AO has frequented DJL and has shared some of her ‘eating spree’ photos there with us on WhatsApp. The dishes looked mouth-wateringly amazing, which reminded us of foods we could get easily back in Kuching or elsewhere in Malaysia.

I was told DJL was opened for business not too long ago. It’s a pretty small resto in the heart of China Town, Antwerp. The teeny weeny resto can accommodate less than 30 people at one time, hence we made sure that we could secure a table for 6 on 11/11. Reservation was key.

Whoever came first went straight to the resto and it happened to be C! Then X, G, AS and I arrived and finally AO. A pity O could not join us. Hopefully, we could ALL make it another time *wink*

The chef of DJL happened to be a Malaysian, of Cantonese origin who hailed from Kuala Lumpur. He spoke mostly Cantonese and some Mandarin. His wife was a little bit more linguistic as she tried her best to speak Dutch, with the Dutch-speaking patrons (I eavesdropped, btw). We have pre-ordered our dishes which were off the normal Menu card. That way, we were guaranteed of the authenticity of the dishes.

In hindsight, the one dish that put a BIG smile on my face was the Cantonese-style Yuen Yong Noodles (yin-yang rice noodles). Cryptically, that noodle dish says a lot about us girls – in relation to the choice of movie we had to make. The yin-yang noodle dish is a combination of 2 types of rice noodles, ie kueh teow (flat rice noodle) and bee hoon (rice vermicelli). If one can’t decide on kueh teow or bee hoon, then this is the PERFECT dish! And the name of this dish is downright perky. LOL!

  

Besides the Cantonese-style yin yang rice noodles, we had the delectable Char Kueh Teow, Loh Ark, Sio Bak and Kangkong char belacan. If you are wondering why there’re no English translations, well, those dishes are off the normal Menu card, remember? 🙂

  

The Char Kueh Teow was especially good as we had to order a second plate. As you can see, we licked our platters (almost) clean!

  
 

Now, did we or did we not watch a movie after lunch?

THAT is the Question!

Well, we did not plan to drive 130km (to and from home to Antwerp) just to eat! For goodness sake, it was a holiday and it was the only day we could meet – nearly all of us – without any cling-ons 😉

And the conclusion?

We came out of the cinema humming to the tune of Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall. So here we were, standing amidst the walls of the cinema complex … with mixed feelings.

  
 

Watching the movie was like reading a Marvel comic strip. How could he have 2 soft landings? A sofa and a net waiting for him out of the blue?  He is as immortal as the villain. Ah well, it was just a movie…

Anyway, the crux of the day was having good fellowship, a feeling of comradeship and girly talk from 11 am until 7pm.

Oh by the way, X, your photo was picked as the Choice Photo Award on my blog ~ this post, at least! Kam sia! 😉



Until the next time, girls! 

Ciao!

 

 

At the of age of 17, he wrote his first Science book, “Schitterend!” (Brilliant!) about the Universe and the theory of Evolution. He was 18 and the youngest nominee for the Eureka. At age 21, he published his second book, “Fantastisch!” (Fantastic!) on Evolution and Neuroscience. Fantastic! was also nominated for the Eureka. By age 25, he became the author of 3 Science Books and had invented a new food model for his patients to slow down ageing and reduce the risk of ageing-related diseases. This achievement won him the title of ‘Person of the year‘ in his home country, Belgium.

 

Dr Kris Verburgh is the author of one of the most controversial books, “De Voedselzandloper” (The Food Hourglass), which is available in 9 languages.





As you can see on the coverpage of the book, the 2 triangles interlocking at the pointed tips are quick summaries of 2 pyramids (“hourglass”).  One pointing up with its hierarchical strata of foods which we should consume more of and the top half tapering downwards indicating foods we should eat less of. Not many University Professors are in agreement with Dr Verburgh’s theory. As a result, he had to resign from the University he graduated with magna cum laude.

 

I did not buy Dr Kris Verburgh’s “Science” book, but I bought “De Voedselzandloperkookboek” (The Hourglass Cookbook), authored by Pauline Weuring based on the young doctor’s scientific theory of nutrition in slowing down the signs of ageing through what we eat, and losing weight in the process.




 

By the way, there is a catch. According to Dr Verburgh, he says, diets do not work and what does is educating oneself about what to eat with knowledge that is readily available. What we eat determines how fast we age. Basically, discovering thefountain of youth‘ is to avoid the typical diseases of ageing, which is anything from loss of eyesight to heart disease, type II diabetes, cancer or osteoporosis. 

 

Quotes from Kris Verburgh, MD

 

If you want to have the health benefits of healthy food, you have to do it your whole life. Not just for a period of time, but always

 

We can add more than 10 years to our lives if we know what foods to eat and which ones to avoid. That would keep us healthy well into our eighties

 

Ageing is a very complex process. We know that the rate of ageing is influenced by our genes and our environment and more specifically by how and what we eat. Powerful interventions that slow down the ageing process will come to see light in the coming decades. For now, the most potent tool at our disposal to impact the rate of ageing is our diet“.

 

Cakes and sweets should be replaced by dark chocolate and nuts

 

The Food Hourglass will show you how to immediately identify what is healthy and unhealthy food, and how to replace unhealthy foods with alternatives“.

 

 

Fountain of Youth

 

When I flipped through the pages of The Hourglass Cookbook, I saw a cake recipe!!! What’s a cake doing there? I exclaimed!

 

But then I realised it’s not an ordinary cake. It’s a cake recipe based on Dr Verburgh’s “fountain of youth” theory. Very interesting indeed.  No sugar. No flour. No butter. No milk.  Erm…how to make a cake without all the basic essentials?  Well, of course, the young doctor has the answer and the result? 

 

This! 



 

I made this healthy Banana Bread or Cake and was surprised at how moist and delicious the cake remained on the day of baking and subsequently. Anyway, the cake was gone in less than 48 hours! It was really light. I have made the cake twice already and was very pleased with the result both times.



 

Due to copyright, I am not listing the measurements of the cake. If you really want the recipe, leave your comment with a valid email address and I will get back to you personally or for readers who know me, please pm me😉


The ingredients used in the recipe are as following –

  • Bananas
  • Dates
  • Eggs
  • Almond meal or flour *
  • Baking soda
  • A pinch of Salt

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven
  2. Combine the mashed bananas and dates in a bowl
  3. Beat the eggs with salt until light and fluffy 
  4. Fold in the almond meal or flour and baking soda
  5. Grease the cake tin with some baking spray
  6. Pour in the batter and bake in the pre-heated oven
  7. The banana bread is cooked when a toothpick pricked in the middle of the cake comes out clean
  8. Cool the cake on a cooling rack before cutting

*Almond meal or flour is a result of ground almond nuts (with or without skins respectively) which is the healthier option to a normal cake flour



 

Note: For more variations, you may want to add pure chocolate chips or chopped pecan nuts

 

Obviously the sweet taste from the cake came from the bananas and dates.  Very natural and healthy options, indeed. 







 

Oh by the way, I think I’m feeling young already.  Yay! Ha ha…!

 

According to Wikipedia, a popular Flemish TV chef said his diabetes is stabilized due to the Food Hourglass theory and he claims to have lost almost 8 kg (17 pounds) as a result.

 

Honestly, I am fascinated by the theory, but I have some issues. I do love a good steak with fries, an oven-baked pizza, a bowl of spagbol with lots of grated mozzarella, cupcakes/ muffins, cakes (chiffon, pound, Sarawak kek lapis), and the “bad” list goes on….

 

Oops! There goes my fountain of youth! LOL!

 

BUT… I will not stop baking this light and gorgeous Banana Bread.

 

I’m linking this post to the Little Thumbs Up (March 2015 – BANANA) event organised by Zoe (Bake for Happy Kids)and Mui (my little favourite DIY) and hosted by Faeez of BitterSweetSpicy.

 



 

Homemade Mondays week 123 hosted by Sarah of Frugal by Choice, Cheap by NecessityAubrey of Homegrown & Healthy and Kelly from The Sustainable Couple 

Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking



Cook-Your-Books #21 @ Kitchen Flavours 



Tasty Tuesdays with HonestMum



Have a great week!

Cheers!

Putting to the Test

Two weeks ago, my 13-year old son was telling me about one of his school projects. Yes, they have lots, but that one in particular required my intervention.

Oh…? What could that be? Yep, I was curious 😀

I had hoped it was an easy one because I was really exhausted, mentally, with tons of unanticipated reports to accomplish at work with specified deadlines. The last thing I wanted was another ton of bricks on my shoulders.

That evening, my boy came up to me and said, “Mama, I need a recipe from you for my school project, indicating at least 10 points or steps to accomplish the final outcome

Huh? Is that it? I thought, that was an easy one.

I told my son to go search for THE recipe on my blog he thought would befit his school project. And by the way, to make the quest a lot simpler for him, I have 2 big binders of the printed hardcopies of every single post I have published on my blog since March 2010!

It was such a novel seeing my boy sitting on the couch, flipping through the pages of my posts. For some posts, he seemed to take a longer time browsing than another. I was quite sure he could find something in no time at all. He finished browsing the first binder and went through flipping the second binder. He stopped longer on some of the posts than another. Good. Getting warmer…

When he came to the last page, I was eager to know what his choice was.

But then I saw the grimace on his face, which transmitted a bleak message on my end. Hmmmm….. not looking good.

So, have you found anything? I asked

He frowned briefly, and went through the binders the second time round.

At that point, I was getting fidgety. He wanted a recipe (tried and tested) which he had loads to choose from, with step-by-step photos to boot. And he dared tell me there was nothing. Yes, NOTHING! Grrrrr… I suddenly felt a ton of red hot bricks landing on my shoulders!

THUMP! Thud!

Ouch!

I tried to speed up the quest process by choosing a recipe which involved a few steps. I asked him if the Ngo Hiang” (5-spice Sausage Rolls or Wonton recipe which required some tactics of folding or wrapping would be a good choice. Nope!

How about the Honeycomb Cake Nope!
Or any of the Rice Cooker Cakes? Nope!
Brazilian Cheese Bread? Maybe

Okay, at least we had a “maybe”

Then you tell me what you want, son. I retorted.

At that instant, he was kind of bookmarking one of my posts dated 25th November 2013!

This! He said, pointing to the photo of my Moist Beetroot Chocolate Cake or Brownie

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BUT… on condition that I used apples instead of beetroot! He said the ingredients must be local, as in 100% Belgian produce, and most importantly, that it’s something that he would enjoy devouring. In other words, my son had put me to the test, in a very scheming manner. Oh yes. *grin*

He wanted me to bake fresh brownies using apples, and not copy paste any of the published posts I had on my blog! And OMG, I had wanted to have a good rest that weekend not wanting to do anything, especially, in the kitchen, however, it was not meant to be. Alas! No rest for me. *sob*

Precious Belgian Project

When Venus Williams came to Antwerp, Belgium in 2002 for the Diamond Games, a professional women’s tennis tournament, she was asked this question, “What will you be bringing back from Belgium to the US?”

Lots of Belgian chocolates, of course (besides diamonds…)

Well, it’s not only Venus who had made that statement but that could easily come from any tourists, my family from Malaysia, included. When my younger sister and Mum came to visit us in 2010, she ended up being ‘overweight’ when she checked-in their luggage at the airport in Zaventem heading back to Malaysia. And guess what, she ended up paying Eur 350 for the excess weight which comprised the heavyweight bars after bars of Belgian chocolates! She could have left the chocolates behind with us, and I could have arranged for a separate shipment from BE to MY but she wanted to indulge in the Belgian choc bars immediately when touched down in MY and not wanting to wait for another month for the chocolates to arrive in Kuching. Okey-dokey. Crystal Clear! Understood! If my sister was crazy enough to pay Eur 350 for the excess weight, it shows how precious and indispensable Belgian chocolates are 😉

I made these brownies using one of Belgium’s purest and finest chocolates. The result was a dark, rich, chewy, bitter-sweet brownie.

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Ingredients

2 Haspengouw Jonagolds, finely grated
240g Galler Noir Profond 85% (Dark, bitter chocolate rich in cocoa!)
130g Solo butter
250g Candico organic cane sugar
3 eggs
8g Dr. Oetker Bourbon vanilla sugar
16g Dr. Oetker Backin baking powder
100g Anco self-raising flour
A pinch of salt

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For the detailed direction , please refer here.

Because this was my son’s school project, I took more recent photos of the steps that used the requested ingredients.

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Here were some compulsory photos my son requested me to take showing the end product and a jonagold.

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The Final Piece of the Puzzle

When I have finished baking and letting the cake cooled for at least 3 hours before cutting the brownies in little rectangles, my part was done. The last piece of the jigsaw puzzle was for my son. After all, it was his school project. How he wanted to direct the grand finale was totally up to him. He was the Director. I was only the Actor.

Of course I was curious 😉

And here’s the final curtain…

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This was the result of what my 13-year old son had put together that same evening I baked those brownies. By the way, he took the photo of me grating the jonagolds ;-). He followed me around the kitchen closely and jotting down the ingredients and the steps all by himself! He transferred the scribbled notes and re-typed the entire manuscript on the computer. I was (and is) very proud of my son.

Good job, mama, BUT …. GREAT job, son!

Oh yes, I brought a few pieces of the brownies to work the next day. One of my colleagues commented that she had just experienced a culinary orgasm😊

Amongst all the colleagues’ remarks, I was especially looking forward to the comment of a particular colleague. He’s a fantastic baker. He has baked several birthday and anniversary cakes, complete with fondant decorations and up to 4-tier! And guess what? I got an email from him with the following feedback, “The brownies are so good. May I have the recipe?

I rest my case!

Because it’s February and someone commented that these brownies were a culinary orgasm and it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I’m submitting this post to “My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies/ Valentine’s Day (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

Because I have used 85% cocoa content per Galler bar multiply by 3, I’m linking this post to the February 2015 Little Thumbs Up with the theme “COCOA” organized by Zoe of Bake for Happy Kids and Doreen of my little favourite DIY and hosted by Grace of Life can be Simple.

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I’m also submitting this post to We Should Cocoa hosted by Katie of Recipe for Perfection. I thought the February theme “BROWNIES” was absolutely spot on!

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I’m also linking this tasty brownie recipe to Tasty Tuesdays by HonestMum

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Have a great weekend and Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

Here’s a story worth reading – The Story of St Valentine

Cheers!

6th December is the feast day of Saint Nicholas. In Flanders (Belgium) and the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas is called Sinterklaas. In Belgium, children up to 12 years of age receive their gifts in the morning of 6th December, while kids in the Netherlands get their gifts from the De Goede Sint (The Good Saint) the night before (5th December), on condition that they have been good all year. It is believed that The Good Saint keeps record of the good and naughty behaviours of the children.

Does he not sound familiar to us? 😉

Yup, you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why… but hey no… it’s not Santa Claus, but Sinterklaas came to town! 

By the way, the name Santa Claus is derived from the older Dutch name Sinte Klaas, because Saint Nicholas is the patron Saint of children.

Santa Claus is also known in both Belgium and the Netherlands, but he is known as Kerstman or Christmas man, ie not a Saint but just a good and jolly fat man who brings lots and lots of presents to kids all over the world on Christmas Day.

Here’s an animated version when Sinterklaas (the Saint) meets Santa Claus (the jolly fat man)

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Oh by the way, I have been good all year, too … because Sinterklaas visited us at work!

Yesterday morning, I received the following message in my inbox ….

Dear colleague,

Last night Saint Nicholas secretly visited our HUB. He has brought some candies for you because you have been good.

Enjoy!

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Here’s what I got from De Goede Sint 😊

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A must-have gift from Sinterklaas is a type of gingerbread biscuit, called Speculoos, or is it Speculaas? Lekker

So is it Speculoos or Speculaas?

According to Google translator, Speculaas is Dutch for Gingerbread. Incidentally, Speculoos is detected as a French word and is used by Wikipedia as the source word to define “Speculoos” in English. The definition of Speculoos by Wikepedia differs to the “arguments” between the Flemish-speaking Belgium and the Dutch from the Netherlands. 

 Speculoos or Speculaas – both terms are correct, but it’s the ingredients that went in the product that made the difference. The Dutch – as we all know with the history of the Spice Trade in Asia between the 15th and 17th centuries – battled a bloody conflict with Spain and England to gain control of the spice trade after the Portuguese. Erm…. who do you think won? Well, the winner is judged by the usage and consumption of spices in today’s kitchen, of course! 😉

I daresay the Dutch are more daring with their spices than the Belgians. The Dutch named their gingerbread, Speculaas, which includes the following spices: cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg and white pepper. On the other hand, the “shy-er” Belgians with their less daring palates can only take the cinnamon and a bit of ginger and caramalized sugar to form the crunchy biscuits they called, Speculoos. And there you have it, the difference between Speculoos and Speculaas

Stewed meat or stoofvlees is very popular or perhaps even the signature dish of Belgium. A classic Belgian meat stew is often cooked slowly over medium-low fire with a good glug of Belgian beer. I have cooked Flemish beef stew many times which I learnt from my late MIL. Over the years I have experimented cooking the dish by using different types of beer, which has got to be Belgian, of course😄 

Did you know that beers have colour? The colour is controlled by the malt that is used to brew it. Beer in Belgium varies from pale lager to lambic beer and Flemish red while generally beers are categorised as follows: White, blonde, amber, brown and black. The darker the colour, the bitter the taste. 

I have always used cubed beef stew meat, however, this time, I chose to use cubed Turkey meat by adding two very Belgian ingredients – speculoos and Maredsous 6 Blonde, an abbey beer. The number 6 represents the level of alcohol content, ie 6 %.

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Ingredients
(Adapted and improvised from a Colruyt recipe catalogue entitled Pork stew in Floreffe beer with my own method of preparation) 

• 1 kg pork stew (I used 2 kg cubed Turkey stew) 

• Onions, chopped (I used 4)
• Butter (to brown the meat) 

• Gingerbread cookies (I used 9 Speculoos cookies) 

• 1 Tbsp mustard (I used 2) 

• 1 Tbsp honey 

• 2 Tbsp flour or just enough to thicken the sauce 

• 33 cl Floreffe Blonde (I used 2 x 33cl Maredsous 6 Blonde) 

• 1 Tbsp vinegar (to taste) 

• Cloves (I used 6 cloves) 

• Thyme (I used a few sprigs of fresh thyme) 

• Bay leaf (I used 2) 

• Salt and pepper to taste

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Method (own)
1. Melt some butter to lightly brown the turkey meat. Sprinkle the flour and stir well.

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2. Add the chopped onions, cloves, mustard and honey.

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3. Crumble the Speculoos cookies. Stir well to combine the ingredients before pouring the beer along the edge of the stew. Throw in the fresh thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well.

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4. Transfer the stew to the Slow Cooker. Switch the button to high for 1 hour and then to low for 2 hours. Thirty minutes before serving add the vinegar. You will know when the stew is ready when the sauce is no longer runny and the beer has completely evaporated and the sauce has slightly thickened. And the aroma! So Christmassy with the sweet smell of the spices whiffing passed my nostrils😜

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Note: To have even a richer tasting stew, let it cool before storing in the fridge until the next day. Heat the stew on auto for 45 minutes to 1 hour before serving. Add more vinegar if necessary.

Smakelijk!

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December may have 31 days, but to me, it’s the “shortest” month of the year due to the year end rush. And before we realised, it’s the New Year… Arghh!!!

Christmas is a time for giving and sharing. With Christmas in less than 3 weeks from now, I would like to share this recipe to the following Christmas themed blog-hop cooking challenges –

Janice Pattie’s Farmersgirl Kitchen’s December theme: Slow-Cooked Christmas

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Lavender and Lovage’s “Sugar & Spice (November and December Cooking with Herbs Challenge)”

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My Treasured Recipes #4 – Ho Ho Ho It’s Christmas (Dec 2014) hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

Cook and Celebrate: Christmas 2014 hosted by Yen from Eat your heart out, Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids

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Bangers & Mash’s December’s Spice Trail Cooking with All-spice (WITHDRAWN. For more information, see N.B)

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Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking

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Cook-Your-Books #19 hosted by Joyce of Kitchen Flavours

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Happy St Nicholas’ Day! Hope you have been good😄 

Cheers! 

N.B. I would like to apologise to Vanesther of Bangers & Mash for incorrectly linking this post to her December’s Spice Trail – cooking with Allspice. I had mistaken allspice to mixed spice (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg). Allspice is a spice in its own right, completely different than mixed spice, which I must admit I did not use in this recipe. I have withdrawn my submission of this post to The Spice Trail Challenge for the month of December. Thanks, Vanesther, for pointing that out.

It’s not Christmas Day yet in Belgium, but it is in some parts of the world already, however, chances are you would  probably be reading this post on or after Christmas Day 🙂

Here’s a picture I took of a part of our Christmas tree, with the cherub angel harping glorious message to you, my dear readers.

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Christmas Eve

While growing up in Malaysia, the Christmas Eve dinner and Midnight Mass were the pivotal points of our lives. My parents made sure everyone sat at the dinner table enjoying a 6- to 8-course meal together, after which we adjourned for the Midnight Mass. 

We did not bother to observe the time.  It could be 1 am or 1.30 am in the morning when we got home, but who cared.  It was Christmas Eve…erm…Day!

I missed those days…

Christmas Eve in Belgium is still a family thing, but not as boisterous as the one I knew growing up in Kuching 😉

I made a simple but special Christmas Eve lunch today.

This recipe is adapted from a festive catalogue of Colruyt, a Belgian family-owned retail corporation, most significantly known for its eponymous discount supermarket chain.

I was browsing through the brochure, and chanced upon a small column about Quails and how to prepare them.

Quails are categorised as a game bird and belong to the pheasant and partridge family. Great!  Sounds Christmassy. “… and a partridge in a pear tree…”

I bought 8 Quails, which looked like midget chickens or turkeys.

1. Quail

The recipe indicated only the method: Pan-fry the Quails in a pan to brown before placing in a baking tray. Season with salt and pepper and wrap each quail with 3 bacon rashers. Sprinkle rosemary, thyme and crushed garlic and olive oil before baking in a pre-heated oven of 180°C for 30 to 40 minutes.

Not bad, I thought.  I meant, the recipe looked simple to follow, so why not, eh?

As usual, my creative right-brain got the better of me and whispered to my Grey Matter what I should add or omit from the ingredients 😀

Here were the ingredients I used to prepare the Quails –

  • 8 Quails, washed and cleaned
  • 6 rashers of streaky bacon
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • A handful of fresh basils, torn roughly
  • 1 chicken stock cube, crumbled
  • Freshly milled black pepper
  • Olive Oil

I made a special sauce to go with the Quails.

  • “White” Table Grapes, skin removed
  • 2 small shallots, finely chopped
  • Some Cognac for flambéing
  • Some water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Corn flour, to thicken the sauce

Method –

  • Pan-fry the quails to sear and brown the meat
  • Place the lightly brown quails on a bed of sliced onions, crushed garlic, roughly torn basils, chicken stock cube, freshly milled black pepper and olive oil
  • Cover the quails with the bacon rashers, like you would, a blanket over a child 😀
  • Bake in a pre-heated oven of 180°C for 40 minutes

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2c. Quail2d. Quail

To make the sauce, I sautéd the shallots, then added the alcohol while flambéing the sauce, which in my opinion enhanced the flavour of the sauce. I then added some water and seasoned to taste before thickening the sauce with a mixture of corn flour and small amount of water.  Finally, in went the skinned grapes just before plating up.

3a. Quail

Grapes

3b. Quail

3c. Quail

Our simple yet stupendously noteworthy Christmas Eve dish 😉

I’m sharing this post with the following links –

The December Cooking with Herbs Challenge…AND Christmas Spices!  hosted by Karen Burns-Booth of  Lavender and Lovage

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Cook-Your-Books#7  hosted by Joyce from Kitchen Flavours

 Cook Your Books

Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads – Thinking, Reading, Photographing

Weekend Cooking

MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone!!

Cheers!

Two winters ago, when we moved out from our 3-bedroom apartment and bought a house, we inherited a pretty matured garden – the walnut tree, climbing grape plant, rhubarb, lavender, red berries and the many flowerbeds just to name a few. Little did we realise that our little garden transformed into “Eden” some 4 to 6 months after our move 😀

Spring’s in the air!

Ooops….to be precise, Spring WAS in the air.  This post happened to be two seasons too late 😀

<< Flashback…

The rookie in me went gallivanting around the entire backyard smelling the Spring air and arming with a digital camera.

I could not resist.

The colours were amazing!

1. Flowerbed11. Flowerbed21. Flowerbed3_Tulip1. Flowerbed4_Roses1. Flowerbed51. Flowerbed6_Forget-me-not1. Flowerbed7_Forget-me-not1. Flowerbed8_Forget-me-not1. Flowerbed91. Flowerbed101. Flowerbed111. Flowerbed131. Flowerbed141. Flowerbed151. Flowerbed161. Flowerbed172. Grape tree2. Red berries2. Walnut tree2. Anise Hyssop

A rose is a rose is a rose, until…

Our rose beds did not disappoint us – red, yellow, white – all blossomed immaculately.  Neither my husband nor I have green fingers. We trusted nature and let nature took its course.

3 Red Rose3 Yellow Rose

3 White Rose13 White Rose2

Beautiful, aren’t they?

Picture-perfect, until someone rang our door bell this summer – THRICE! The first one was shorter, and then it became lingeringly longer the second and third time.

*Ding Dong*

*Diiinnng Donnnnnnng*

*Diiiiiinnnnnggggg Donnnnnggggg*

It was Lucas’ Mum.

Lucas is my younger son’s school friend. He was at our place since noon and it was 6pm when it was time for him to go home.

My husband opened the door hurriedly after the 3rd – annoying – ring. Lucas’ Mum did not come in the house immediately; instead, she beckoned my husband to come out of the house.  She was pointing to our white climbing roses.

“The red spots on your white roses are the wicked works of the “valse roos” (which is Dutch for false rose) growing unawares next to your climbing roses”, said Lucas’ Mum. 

4 White Rose_red spots14 White Rose_red spots24 White Rose_red spots34 White Rose_red spots4

Huh?  How did she know all these?

Then we learnt that her Mum had gone through the same thing. She was only sharing with us a similar experience.

“You have to destroy the shoot from the roots.  It’s not the real rose, but pretends to look like one”, retorted Lucas’ Mum.

Oh my…. she sounded dead serious.

“There! There’s the false shoot.  Destroy it before it multiplies!” She continued.

 5 White Rose_false shoot15 White Rose_false shoot2

When Lucas and his Mum left our sight, I started pulling the shoot, but the hardy shoot was deeply rooted to the ground. It did not move an inch.

While hubs was busy with the weeding and pruning in another part of the garden, I focused on the “false rose”. The thought of having all these unwanted clones in our garden scared me to bits.  I tugged the shoot with all my might and it finally came off. 

Whew!

I tried to google to get more information about the “false shoot”, but zilch. Nada. Maybe it is called by another name; however, I only got to know this “alien” in the Dutch language.  This false shoot has nothing to do with the “False rose of Jericho”, by the way.

My tugging ended with a snap of the shoot, which was the less tough end, reminding me of snapping an asparagus at the base to remove the toughest end of the spear, but boy, was that  a giant of an asparagus!

6 False rose shoot16 False rose shoot2

By the way, the most interesting point to note is that the false sucker has 7 leaflets as opposed to 5-leaved cultivated roses. A real rose shoot is thorny whilst the shoot of the wild sucker is thorn-less.

Check this out!

7 Seven leaved shoot

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
-William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet –

Come Spring 2014, do check out your rose garden, that’s if you have one 😉 

Brilliant Blog Posts @ HomestMum



Have a great week!

Cheers!