Saturday, January 31, 2009


Romanesco is cauliflower's better-looking, cooler cousin. We've been ogling it at the market for a while, so today we decided to pick up a head.

Check it out - an edible fractal!!
(click picture for big version)

We are psyched.

We've been too busy taking pictures of it to cook it yet, but supposedly one cooks it the same way one would make cauliflower or broccoli (ie steam).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

In Europe...

... this would have been mayonnaise.  And no haz-mat would be required:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Re: Flemish vs Dutch.

Katie and I live in the Flemish part of Belgium, so that means we have to learn Dutch. This is confusing because a savvy foreigner will know that the Flemish speak Flemish (or "Vlaams" as they say). So I asked my boss what was up. As an authoritative scholar and expert on everything Flemish (by virtue of his being an actual Flemish guy), he said that the Flemish will definitely get offended if you confuse them culturally with their northerly neighbors, but since Vlaams is not an official language, it can only be considered a dialect of Nederlands, and so it's fine to call it Dutch.

Other things had also led me to this conclusion. First of all, I keep calling the Flemish people's language Dutch, and nobody (except my savvy American friends) has corrected me yet. Moreover, in a couple of weeks Katie and I are going to begin a course subsidized by the Flemish government, and taught by a native Flemish speaker, called "Dutch for foreigners." Other governmental documents and signs refer to the language as Nederlands or in English translations, Dutch.

That said, there are big vocabulary and pronunciation differences between the Flemish and Dutch. Even between Flemish townships you end up with dialects that make the language sound completely different -- news programs on the Belgian public TV often have to translate what someone is saying because their dialect is so strong.

More about Beguinages:

For those of you who are curious, the NYTimes has a good article all about the "remarkable women" that lived in beguinages.  Our groot begijnhof in Leuven isn't mentioned, but we get enough tourists anyway.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

kooky playground

To do stuff on Sundays in Belgium you have to be resourceful -- everything, save churches and a few restaurants and bars, is closed. So this past Sunday we decided to check out the Klein Begijnhof in Leuven.

As we live in an old beguinage, Katie and I are generally interested in Belgian beguinages (begijnhofs, in Dutch). Our previous beguinage tour in Brussels was kind of anticlimactic for us -- there was no clear line saying "you're at the beguinage," and after a few walks around the block we weren't sure whether we should think of the place as a beguinage or just "a place that was built on what was once a beguinage."

In Leuven, the situation is better. There are two beguinages: the Groot Begijnhof, where we are fortunate enough to live, and the Klein Begijnhof, on the other side of town center. For those without background in the Germanic languages, the former means "big beguinage" and the latter "small beguinage," and their names reflect both their size and celebrity.

However, the Klein Begijnhof and surrounding area is nothing to sneeze at. At the center is a large church -- nothing new to Belgium, but pretty. Across from the entrance to the church is a cute little bar / brasserie place that was closed but Katie and I will definitely re-visit. And there is an abbey-turned-university housing, with a secluded common garden in the center -- definitely would be sweet to get one of these apartments.

The church -- like many medieval buildings, is made of a limestone-like material that weathers rather ungracefully in the sootty Belgian rain.

The one road of the Klein Begijnhof, looking toward the church.

At the end of "beguinage row," there is a beguinage-shaped hole in a brick building. Not visible, below the view of the camera in the footprint of the last unit of the beguinage, is a parking lot. Reminds me of that Joni Mitchell song...

The small beguinage itself is really just one road lined with the entrances to the beguines' old homes -- cute but if you were walking by and didn't know the history of the buildings you wouldn't think much of it.

Of note though, is the kooky playground. On the left, as you're walking down the beguinage street away from the church, a break in the beguinage apartments form a little alley. From the street looking down the alley, you see what appears to be a garden. And there is a garden, surrounded by a short brick wall, with a few benches, sparse shrubbery, the mossy gound typical of an unkempt Belgian lawn.

Outside the garden is the kooky part. There is a steel frame of what looks like a two-story building-in-progress. However, it turns out it's a playground!... With just two swings. And the playground has this crazy sign, with weird numbered pictures that (according to google's translation) don't correspond at all to the numbered warnings below it. Nor do they seem to depict situations that could ever happen in reality...

The sign, letting you know that the steel contraption around you is a playground...

Upon close examination, the cartoons are kind of strange. For instance #2, above here, is un-possible. Look back at the full sign, and you can see that the girl in #3 is also doing the un-possible -- hitting her head on the moon and a star.

This is un-likely. Yet a hilarious concept.

Also unlikely...

... And here we see the playground itself, two swings in all (short brick wall of the garden in the background).

All in all, considering the few shopping / travel / cuisine options we had, it was a delightful outing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Saturday in Brussels

My American labmate lives in Brussels, and after a few beers at the Blauwe Kater on Friday, we all spontaneously decided to accompany him back there for the night. We had a great time wandering around in the city; we saw a whole clan of Scotsmen in kilts (in fact, due to the kilt-wearing, Aaron even saw more of one of them than one might wish), sampled the alleged best mojito in Brussels, and were actually told "c'est la vie" when we tried to go into a bar that was too full.

The best part, though, was waking up the next morning at 9am and being in Brussels so early! We went to the grote market first, and enjoyed the lack of tourists:

No tourists! Only pigeons!

Ok, a few tourists.

It was early.

We were still a little sleepy.

Then we headed to the Moroccan market, where you can get all sorts of basic things for a whole lot cheaper than in Leuven. It's not in the greatest neighborhood...

... but well worth the trip - we got a food processor for half of what they cost in Leuven, but the big story is the Persian rug, which we bought for less than the price of an Ikea rug in the states!

The apartment feels cozier already.

We also went to a cheese shop and bought a sizeable wedge of brie for only 2 euro - I would post a picture of that, but it didn't stick around long enough to have the opportunity to be photographed!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This one's for you, John!

At Wallace's request, here's an example of a Belgian with a funny mustache. As a bonus, he's pushing around a (basically life-size) model of Manneken Pis, which actually had the ability to pee on the parade-goers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

pre-belgium post

Welcome to the blog, everyone who got the mass email and then clicked the link. I'm currently in Texas, going to be in Leuven by tomorrow.

As you can see, apparently I shouldn't have shared the blog yet. I think it's good and interesting at this point, though, I was just wondering how reading the great Belgian novel was coming along, KD?

Friday, January 9, 2009

It's Cold!

It usually doesn't get too cold in Leuven - I'm just lucky that my first winter we've already gotten an unusually large amount of snow. I'm used to it, and actually just grateful that there are no gusting winds like in Boston, but I think Fonske's a little out of his element, poor guy:

It hasn't snowed for a few days, but everything is still covered, which is pretty:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


So I came home today and there was a loaf of bread sitting on my doorstep! It came with an explanation:

The feast of Epiphany ('Derthiendag' literally 'Thirteenth Day' i.e. the day after 'Twelfth Night') used to be celebrated at the beguinage. This was the occasion for many festivities, including the preparation of delightful food...

From the Infirmary, special loaves of sugar bread, called 'Twelfth Night Cake' ('Derthienkoeck'), were distributed to all the beguines in the enclosure. There were four different kinds of loaves, corresponding to four 'ranks' of recipient...

That is why on 6 January... the residents of the Groot Begijnhof find a bag at their door with a tasteful 'Derthienkoeck'.

So, after a brief pause to wonder which rank of loaf I was given, I dug right in - it's great bread, and will make awesome french toast in a few days!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Back in Leuven

Well I'm back in Leuven after a nice holiday.  I've come down with a post-flight flu again, just like in November, but this time I at least know where to get all the necessary ingredients to make a chicken soup!  The market was pretty deserted today, I'm not sure if it's the holidays or the temperature (it's -5C here, which, unless my research was wrong, is very unusually cold for winter) but it made running my errands very quick and easy.  Here are some pictures from Christmas:

Landed at Logan in the middle of a snowstorm - you can see a big line of snowplows heading out to clear the runways.

Lots of snow in MA!!

Yay, Christmas tree.