Friday, July 30, 2010

Exams are over and I am back

It seemed ages since I last updated my blog. I have been MIA for 3 weeks or so, millions of apologies for my absence. I had enrolled myself for the Dutch Level 3 summer course at the university. It was really a super-ultra-intensive-brain-burning-kamikaze language crash course, they called it a "taalbad", meaning a "language bath". Yah, you either swim in it or sink in it. There were 3 weeks of lessons, 5 days a week from 9am to 4pm, with the exception of Wednesday and Friday which were half-days. At the end of the 3 weeks, I had to take an oral exam, a listening exam, a comprehension exam and a written exam. And if you fail one, you fail everything. Anyway, I managed to "crash" myself through this crash course, a lot of white hairs popped out, and a lot of brain cells were burnt, but I miraculously SURVIVED.  Phew! :)

Now back to my normal and peaceful day-to-day life. Life without stress and exams. I have a lot of backlogs to clear. Recipe backlogs i mean. There are so many recipes that I want to try out but they are still lying on the table. You see, I am a fervent reader of the local newspaper Gazette Van Antwerpen, and they have been publishing recipes by michelin-star chefs for the whole of this summer. Readers would write in to the newspaper to request their favourite chef to come to their house and cook up a storm (literally) using whatever ingredients available in their fridge. Alles gratis. All for free. Sounds interesting huh? Indeed, I have been faithfully cutting out recipes and so far I have collected 44 recipes since 7 July, an average of 2 recipes were published per day. Do I sound more and more like a housewife? You bet :)

There is also a bit of tidying up to do in my little vegetable garden. Everything has been neglected in the last 3 weeks. I finally harvested my courgette and I used it in making lasagne. It is my one and only courgette, it seems the plant is not growing anymore. The plant is exhausted after producing just one fruit. My dear courgette plant, R.I.P. 

The pumpkin plant on the other hand is growing very well. So far I spotted 3 pumpkin fruits, they are still only the size of an orange. I have to wait til they grow to the size of a basketball before I harvest them. 

Maybe I should place the pumpkin beside His Majesty and see how much he has grown for the past 1 year. We did that last year with a 7 kg pumpkin, and he was only 5+ kg then. Now he is 10+ kg and I do my weight-lifting with him everyday. :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pan-grilled Pork Chop with Pineapples and Sweet Sour Sauce

We have had dry and hot weather for almost a week, without a single drop of rain until saturday night. This must be one of the best summers in Belgium, with temperatures soaring up to 36 degrees. I dunno whether I should feel happy or not. But we have not been able to sleep at night due to the hot and stifling weather. Turn on the air-con or the fan? No, we have neither. Installing air-con at home is definitely out of the question, when there are less than 7 days of weather above 30 degrees per year. Not all offices in Belgium have air-cons installed. My hubby's office has one, he is lucky. Even universities don't have air-cons, not even fans in the classrooms and lecture halls. I was sitting in a bus without windows and air-cons for 30 min and I nearly puked after the long bumpy journey from Antwerp back home, cursing all my way at De Lijn. It was 30 degrees outside but it felt like a 50 degrees sauna inside the bus. I actually jumped off the bus and called my chauffeur (my hubby) to pick me up halfway. I thought I would probably be mentally and physically roasted if I managed to last the whole 45 min journey. :)

Anyway, such hot weather requires something sweet and sour to stimulate the appetite. I had wanted to prepare a cold refreshing dish but later decided to cook porkchops with pineapples and sweet sour sauce. Together with the pak choy I bought from the chinatown in antwerp, it was a good match. 

2 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp sherry / brandy
2 tbsp light soya sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp pepper

Other ingredients
600g pork chops
2 tbsp veg oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 small can of pineapples

1. Wash the pork chop, drain well and dry with a tea towel.

2. Mix the marinade in a big bowl and marinade the pork chops for 3-4 hours. 

3. Heat up a big pan with a little oil and fry the chopped onions until soft and fragrant. Dish up the onions and retain for use later. 

4. Add 2 tbsp veg oil over high heat. Pan grill the pork chops for about 10 min, turning every now and then to make sure both sides are browned. When the pork chops are half-cooked, add in the onions and the canned pineapples together with the pineapple juice. Mix well and continue to bake the pork chops until they are done. Serve hot with steamed rice.

11 July - a Double Special Day

Today, 11 July, is our wedding anniversary. I was having my breakfast alone in peace at 11.30 am (cos His Majesty has been escorted to church for mass) when I heard my doorbell ring. Strange, usually nobody would call us or visit us on a sunday unless it is pre-arranged. I opened the door and someone handed me a rose. A yellow rose. Luckily my dutch is good enough to understand what he said. The guy was from the N-VA political party, and he was handing out yellow roses to houses with the yellow flemish lion flag. It was really a pleasant surprise. I was really caught by surprise and I forgot to tell him that actually we have been hanging the flemish lion flag, not just today, but everyday for many years.

Here is the thank-you note from them, with a message which reads as follows. Congratulations! On 11 July, the flemish national day, you choose to hang the lion flag : the symbol of 6 million flemish people, regardless of background, origin and political belief. The N-VA Zoersel hereby thanks you with a small token of appreciation and promises to remain working hard for a better Flanders.

11 July is the "officiële feestdag van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap", in short it is the flemish national day. NOT the belgian national day though, which falls on 21 July. Why do flemish people celebrate the flemish national day rather than the belgian national day then? If you ask me, I can't explain to you in just one page. 11 July marks the anniversary of the Battle of the Golden Spurs on 11 July 1302 when an army of flemish people fought the french troops near Kortrijk in Flanders. The french were trying to subdue the county of Flanders which was at that time part of the french kingdom but resisted french policies.

There are historical reasons for flemish nationalism. The flemish people have always wanted to be independent, to split from Wallonia, the southern part of Belgium. The flemish (dutch-speaking) and the walloons (french-speaking) have been at loggerheads for years, they can't see eye to eye on practically everything. The difference between the north and the south, stems largely from language, cultural differences and econonic power. It is not exaggerating to say that the flemish identify themselves more with dutch people whereas the walloons feel more at ease with french people.

During the elections in June 2010, the N-VA led by Bart de Wever, won the majority in Flanders and Elio di Rupo from the socialistic PS won the majority in Wallonia. It is like water and fire, the 2 parties are from opposite ends of the spectrum, one is extreme right and the other is extreme left. The N-VA is for the independence of Flanders while the PS is against it. It remains to be seen how the flemish nationalists and the walloon socialists can form a coalition government to rule Belgium, without strangling each other. Luckily the parliament sessions in Belgium are still quite sober, you don't see people throwing things or beating up each other, like what the people in the Taiwan parliament always do. :)  

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pan Grilled Rosemary Chicken Chop

I made this chicken chop a few days ago, forgot to post it bcos I was too busy with my school work. Now here it is...

For 3-4 persons, recipe adapted from Violet Fenying's old blog

Ingredients A
600g boneless, skinless chicken fillet

Ingredients B
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried rosemary

Ingredients C
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp light soya sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp water

1. Wash and clean the chicken and dry them with paper towel. Rub thoroughly on one side with 1/2 tsp each of salt, pepper and rosemary. Turn the chicken pieces around and marinate the other side with the remaining 1/2 tsp each of salt, pepper and rosemary.  Leave aside to marinate for 1-2 hours.

2. Heat up a non-stick pan over medium fire.

3. Place the chicken into the pan, and grill it for 10 min, flipping them once in a while to make sure both sides are equally browned.

4. Add ingredients C into the pan and let the sauce boil. Mix the sauce around with the chicken. When ready, dish up and serve while hot.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tour de France 4 July 2010 - Rotterdam, Antwerp, Brussels

We caught the Tour de France "live" in action on Sunday in Brasschaat, a belgian village not far from the Belgian-Dutch border. I am not a big fan of cycling and I have always wondered why people in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe are so crazy over wielrennen (speed cycling). All this fanfare and hoohah over the Tour de France was beyond my comprehension until Sunday. Now I can understand why so many people would brave the heat or the rain for hours on end just to show their support for the cyclists, never mind the doping scandals which always cast a dark shadow over the world of cycling.

We arrived at around 2.30pm in Brasschaat, about one  and a half hours before hand. The cyclists were at that time, still on their way from Rotterdam and they had to cycle through a few villages in the Flanders region to Antwerp and then to the final destination, Brussels. On Monday, they would cycle through Spa in Wallonia (southern part of Belgium) to France.

The weather was fantastic, it was a bit cloudy and not too hot, and the street was packed with spectators. It was kind of a party mood, there were a few houses blasting with loud music and some people were sitting in chairs right in front of their houses, sipping cola or beer while enjoying the atmosphere. We got ourselves nicely settled under a shady spot and soon the advertising vans and police cars started passing by, you could see pretty girls waving and throwing freebies to the cheering crowd. We got a CARREFOUR cap for free, a keychain and a neck-band. Souvenirs compliment from the sponsors of Tour de France. The whole entourage was really big, lots of french, dutch, belgian cars, motorcycles and vans passing by, blasting loud music, waving and throwing freebies at us. I wonder why they didn't throw ice-creams or lollipops at us. Or even cans of beer. That would be nice. I was jealous of those people who were drinking beer right in front of me, and was hoping that an ice-cream van would pass by.....wishing thinking of cos!

After a while, people started getting bored and began inching their way to the middle of the road and sticking their necks out to see when the next entourage of advertising cars would arrive. Playful kids started crossing the road to and fro, some even cycled onto the roads, acting as if they were the Tour de France cyclists and the rest of the spectators just played along and cheered them was all good fun.

When the real cyclists actually arrived, you could see and hear all the bustle and hustle and commotion way before their arrival. Loads of police cars and motorcycles arrived first to clear the way, then you could see helicoptors hovering like bees on top. First the leading pack of 3, and a minute later, another pack of 100 over cyclists. Zoom zoom zoom, in a few seconds, before I could react, they were all gone!!! They were far too fast, I couldn't even smell their sweat!!!

When the entourage was gone and the dust had settled (literally), we left and went home to catch the Tour de France on TV. Oh my god, they were faster than us. They had already arrived in Brussels and we managed to catch a glimpse on TV how the whole pack of them crashed among themselves and caused a massive jam just metres before the finishing line in Brussels. What a pity! Aiyah, they were all competing to see who get to shake hands with our King Albert, that was why they all crashed like a domino...hehehe. Well they didn't have to rush, the Belgian monarchy has not yet collapsed!!! ;p

Watching Tour de France "live" was really fun, we should do that again if we have the chance. As my hubby said, it is all a are we the monkeys or the spectators? :)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

My Little Vegetable Garden

When we arrived back from our holiday in Spain last week, we were pleasantly surprised at the the tremendous progress which our vegetables had made during our absence. We had entrusted an elderly neighbour to look after our vegetable garden, to water the plants indoors and outdoors and to feed the chickens, and obviously she had done a excellent job. Even my 2 orchid plants blossomed under her care. :)

Here is a picture of my little vegetable plot. We planted some carrots, celeries, leek, beans, savoy cabbage, parsley, bieslook (chives), rosemary, pumpkin and courgette.

In the above foto, starting from left to right, you will see a row of leek, celeries, and carrots. The orange flower belongs to a plant which keeps away undesirable insects.

These are beans. Can you see the white flowers and the baby beans hanging there?

This is bieslook, I think they are called chives in English. Surrounding are weeds which we really need to clear up.

I took some pictures of my pumpkin and courgette too, look at their leaves hanging limply under the sweltering summer heat, now you know how hot and dry it is for the past few days...This is my pumpkin, you don't see the pumpkin fruit yet, I will post a picture of the fruit when there is more progress...

This is my poor courgette...let's pray for rain ok :P

36 Degrees - Good Time to Make Raisin Bread

Yesterday (2 July) was the hottest day I ever experienced in Belgium since 2008. The weatherman predicted it to be 36 degrees maximum in the kempen (countryside), but I actually captured 44 degrees on my thermometer at 5pm. It was unbelievable. Well, that was largely due to the fact that the thermometer was on a brick wall and the sun was shining right on it. Btw do you know what I did to reduce the heat in the house? No, I didn't switch on the aircon. Not the fan either. We have neither. Yes, no aircons and fans in Belgium. Don't laugh ok? Desperate times call for desperate measures. I stuck some aluminium foil on all the windows on the ceiling on my 2nd floor, so as to reduce the radiation of heat into the house. We are quite lucky to have a house which is very cool in the summer, but the 2nd floor can sometimes be like an oven because of the ceiling windows. And opening the ceiling windows is not a good idea, because we didn't have mosquito nets installed on those windows, and we may end up letting in hot wind into the house.

Such hot temperature is actually a blessing in disguise, if you think of it in a positive way. I actually enjoyed more success than ever in making bread! During winter time, I always had to put the dough beside a bain-marie in a closed unheated oven and it took sometimes up to 2 hours for the dough to double in volume. But now it is such a breeze, just leave it upstairs which is as hot as an oven or outside in the garden under the umbrella, and it doubles in size within 45 min! So I had been making bread for a few days in a row with some success.

So here is my recipe for raisin bread, I will be making more bread if the weather continues to be like this....

400g bread flour
1 tsp dried instant yeast
3 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp corn/olive oil
250ml warm milk
1 tbsp honey
100g raisins

1. Warm the milk in the microwave or in a pot over the fire, and mix 1 tbsp honey with the warm milk. 

2. Put all the dried ingredients except raisin (flour, yeast, sugar, salt) in a big glass bowl and add in the oil and the honey-milk mixture. Knead it using a mixer (with the dough hook) for about 5 minutes. 

3. Grease a plastic clingwrap and cover the bowl of dough. Let it rise in a warm place for at least 1 hour or until doubled in volume.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it by hand on a floured surface. Add in 100g raisins in batches during the kneading. Knead for 5 min. 

5. Place the dough in a loaf tin lined with baking paper which has been greased with oil. Again let it rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in volume. 

6. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 220C for 20 min. Let the bread cool before cutting with a serrated knife. If you wish to keep the bread for the next day, do not cut the bread but instead wrap it up in a bread bag. That will keep it fresh for at least a day.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It's finally summer and the sun is shining!!!

I am finally back in Belgium, after a super long and fantastic holiday in Spain. That explains why my blog has been quiet for so long. Actually I was back on 26th June (Sat) but after sitting for 14 hours in the car, as much as I missed my blog, email and FB, I was so tired I couldn't do anything else but head straight for the bed. And the next few days was spent unpacking and getting used to reality and wishing how I can spend the rest of my life idling on the beaches of Costa Brava...

Driving to Spain was fun, as long as I am not the driver ;p but I tell you it wasn't easy to sit at the back of the car and entertain a hyperactive 13-month old baby for 14 hours. I had done 13 hours in a plane with him, but that was when he was much younger and much easier to deal with. Nowadays, His Majesty is undergoing what I call the "baby puberty" phase. He knows what he wants and he will do whatever it takes to get the message across. He didn't like to be restricted to the baby seat throughout the trip, so once every 15 min, he would do a David Copperfield stunt and struggle out of the seatbelt and he would give me a victorious smile. He would crawl all over me, trying to reach for his dad in the front seat, or trying to open the door or window, or just standing in the back seat waving at the cars behind.

Well, it was after 14 hours of eat, drink, shit (for the baby) and very little sleep plus a few toilet breaks in between that we finally arrived back in Belgium. Our Spanish holiday was fantastic. The people were nice, the weather was nice (except for 2 days of extremely strong wind) and food was definitely cheaper than in Belgium. We stayed in Empuria Brava and made lots of excursions by car to surrounding villages such as Cadaqués, Roses, Figures, Girona, and we even drove all the way to Barcelona for a day-trip. Spain is amazing, there are so much to see and its tourism infrastructure is fantastic. I think Singapore and Belgium has a lot to learn from Spain in terms of improving its tourism infrastructure.

Anyway back to life in Belgium. This week is hot, really hot. We have been experiencing a "heat-wave". As long as there are 3 sunny days in a row above 30 degrees, they call it a "heat-wave". Coming from the equator, I find it really funny, but if you have been to Belgium, you will know that it's not funny at all. The weather here is always changing and unpredictable, or rather very predictable, since it is always wet and rainy like in the UK, not just in autumn and winter but in spring and summer too. So the Belgians would jump for joy when the temperature starts rising above 20 degrees.

Well, the summer temperature in Belgium is nothing if you compare to Singapore which is always hot and humid at 33 degrees. But then again, the sun over here in Europe is different. It lies very low and emits pretty sharp rays, you can feel the sun's rays literally tickling on your skin and your skin browns much easily. Plus the houses here are not equipped with air-con, and there are no big shopping malls with blasting air-cons to escape the summer heat, not like in Singapore. Anyway, today is 31 degrees and tomorrow (Friday) will be 35 degrees, oh my god, I am not going to bring His Majesty to play outside in the sun. Let's just all stay inside the house and enjoy a spanish siesta....

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