Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Letter to my Son

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Dear Tay,

Your Great Gram didn’t have a lot.
Not when it came to materialistic things.

She had her books.
Like your Mama, she always had a shelf full of books and she loved to read.
She had her recipes.
Like your Uncle Scooter, she loved cooking and when we were growing up she was always trying new baking recipes.

But nothing could beat her brisket and oven brown potatoes and her brownies and mandel bread.

She was always baking for friends and neighbors.

There were few people in this world as loyal to those she cared about. She did almost anything for those she loved, regardless of the cost or the effort and in her own way she was the glue that held our family together although, I really can’t explain how.
Maybe it was because her children grew closer together after your great grandfather died in his early 50’s. The way they rallied around your Great Gram made them and their families closer than a lot of others.
Maybe it was because your Great Gram buried her brother and sisters, her husband and two of her daughters and still kept smiling and working and reading and baking and loving her family, despite all the hard times.

And when we brought you to her, so she could see her great grandson, she was so very, very happy.  I was so proud to tell her how we gave you your middle name, Lukas to remember her baby Lynn who died before you Grandpa was born.

I wish you could’ve spent more time with your Great Gram, baby, I wish that with all of my heart.

But your Great Gram died this past Friday evening, in her sleep, and she’ll be buried next to the Great Grandpa I never got to meet tomorrow morning.

I wanted to write you something beautiful: something that could bring my Gram off the page and bring her to life for you, but I can’t seem to do any better than this right now.
My heart is so very, very heavy and when I think about her I can hardly breathe.
Every fiber in me is screaming to be with your Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle. I keep thinking of the last years of her life and how I’ve missed most of it and how tomorrow I’ll be missing my last chance to say goodbye.
Seeing your face, your big round eyes and your smile, and everything about you that is just so alive is what’s making being so far away from home possible right now.

So I’m writing this, not only to tell you about the Great Gram you’ll never get to know, but also to thank you. Thank you for making her so happy in the brief time she knew you. Thank you for reminding me of why I’ve been so far away from her the past few years.

She loved you.
I love you.

Both of us always will.

No Cutting in Line

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And I’m talking about Belgians here, not the unschooled masses in immigrant hell**, where you could safely make the assumption that most of the people around you didn’t even know what deodorant was, let alone how to form a civilized line. I mean, have you ever seen the Grand Bizarre or those street markets in Aladdin? That’s not a lie, that’s how the market places work where many of the immigrants here come from. I never could figure out why people who dealt with so many immigrants ever made the assumption that forming a line was somehow a skill that people were born with rather than a culturally taught behavior.

Especially because Belgians can’t figure out how lines work themselves.
Mostly in grocery stores, it seems, since I’ve never seen this phenomenon anywhere else.

It drives me up a wall because it’s so presumptuous and self entitled and just makes me want to punch the perpetrator in the neck: people who get in line to check out at the grocery store, realize they’ve forgotten something, leave their basket on the floor in line and then expect to get their place back when they return.

Bull. Shit. I say to that crap right there.

If you don’t have the presence of mind to make a shopping list or you’ve realized you’ve forgotten something, you know what? Too damn bad! Take your basket with you (or really, if it’s that heavy that you have to leave it, leave it off to the side so people can file through and buy their food or better yet, if your basked is that heavy, use a cart next time, schmuck).
And if you do leave it in line? Don’t expect me to just stand there like a fool waiting for you to come back to your “saved space.” This isn’t grade school. You can’t be all “ooh, save my space” and then expect a whole line of people to just hang out because oops, you forgot your cantaloupe.

Okay, well apparently you can expect it, but you shouldn’t. You forgot something, sucks to be you, go get it and get in the back of the line. Do not even try to push your way in front of me or demand that I let you go first cause your basket was sitting there unattended. Your basket is not a magical bookmark that saves your place for you.
See this frozen stuff I’m holding? It’s defrosting.
Do you have frozen stuff in your basket? Why no, you don’t. I’m in more of a hurry than you are and look! I brought a list with me so I wouldn’t forget anything.
And if I did?
I’d get it and go to the back of the line.

It could be that I’m the only one who finds these people to be selfish, rude, and self-entitled.
Or maybe it’s just me as a westernized immigrant.

I have no clue.
But this one?
This one falls soundly on the con side of living in Belgium.

 

 

**Unfamiliar with Immigrant Hell? It’s a term I coined for the Gent Town Hall’s immigration waiting area. In the first two years of my residency here I had to visit relatively often and in my old blog I had several tales of wrestling to get a number, waking up at 5 am to get in line for when the office opened at 7:30, running circles for paperwork and documents when laws and rules would change with no one knowing or informing me, etc., etc.

Burgundians: No, It Has Nothing to do With The Color

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Right, so, I was supposed to start talking about what I like and dislike about my current country of residence (Belgium for new comers and people with no reading comprehension skills) as well as what I like a dislike about my old and soon to be new country of residence, the United States.

I’ve been busy doing other very important things like not blogging and fishing around in my child’s mouth for stuff he shouldn’t be eating but persists to secretly jam into his face-hole with disturbing regularity.

Anyway, speaking of food (sort of … Tay has a much looser definition of what constitutes edibility), let’s talk about living in a land of Burgundians.

What, you may be asking, is a Burgundian?

Good question! I will demonstrate with the cunning use of wikipedia links.
A Burgundian, in the sense of the word as I’m using it, is someone from the region of Burgundy as seen on this map here:

If you want to read more about it, click on the map.

Moving on.
People in the Burgundian region are people with…how should I say it… somewhat higher expectations regarding food quality and presentation. And also wine and aperitifs and after dinner drinks and appetizers and, well, stuff that, as an American born and raised in the land where the only thing more important than portion size is how fast the giant portion can be slapped on your plate, I was pretty much completely clueless to when I moved here.

Belgium is a country where a relaxed dinner out can easily take 2-3 hours. There’s no hurry to turn your table over, because the waitstaff doesn’t work for tips. The cooks, especially in the nicer restaurants, take time to prepare their dishes according to the proper cuisson (translated it means cooking, but I believe in English we’d say cuisine).

And most people, with exception to non-Belgians and the Belgians who eat at a fry shack every day, can tell you the proper cuisson for plenty of foods. Tuna? Seared on the outside, raw on the inside. Lamb or porkloin? Crispy on the outside, rosé on the inside. Scallops? Middle of the scallop should be translucent, not cooked opaque.
If you go to a decent restaurant and ask for a well done piece of tuna, it’s not unrealistic for the waitress to come back out and tell you to choose something else because the cook won’t “spoil” the tuna by cooking it through.
And if you live here long enough, you learn that when you order things, you just eat them as they come out because the cook knows what he’s doing and he’s making the food in the way it tastes best according to culinary tradition.

When I was pregnant, Piet and I took my parents to a very nice restaurant here in Gent. I really wanted to try the tuna dish, but I knew they tend to serve tuna bleu and I wasn’t supposed to eat raw fish, so I asked the waitress if the cook could maybe cook it through a little more. She misunderstood, went tot he kitchen and came back suggesting I try something else because the cook wouldn’t bake it through.
And me?
I was ashamed, ashamed that the cook was under the impression that I didn’t know the proper cuisson for tuna. I felt like a dumbass for giving the impression that I didn’t know how good tuna should be cooked and bumblingly asked if she could just ask him to cook it enough to be warm in the middle, was all I’d meant, not to actually cook it through.
My parents looked really confused while Piet chuckled and I had to explain to them the conversation. I think they were both pretty amazed that a cook would refuse a customer’s request.

Because in the US if I tell the kitchen to scorch my fish until it tastes like leather and serve it with a side of A-1 Steaksause instead of tartar sauce, they’ll do it in a heartbeat.
If I did that here I may be asked to leave.

Also, everything here (with the exception of the scampis at De Gekroonde Hoofden) comes with some sort of garnish or salad. Plates will always have a nice little pile of lettuce with some assorted veggies and a little dressing on top, pretty much regardless of what you order.
Plates are expected to be warm, especially in restaurants, but for some people (ahem…Piet), it’s also preferred at home. If Piet is cooking and he has time, he’ll warm the plates before he puts food on them and has told me before he really prefers eating from a warm plate.
If you go to a friend’s house for dinner you typically are offered an aperitif with a little hapje (appetizer) before the meal and coffee and some sort of dessert afterwards.
If you go out and order a coffee it is served on a little doily on its own separate tray with a little cookie or chocolate or advocaat along with it.
Asking for your food to be put in a box to go?
Not done unless the restaurant specifically offers take away service. It can be requested, technically at any restaurant, but culturally? No, not done.
Buffets?
No, not unless you’re at a Chinese Buffet or here, which we tried once and it was hideous (or else, I’ve become just Burgundian enough to find it hideous).
Chain restaurants?
Rarely, if ever. You can find McDonalds and Quik, the fastfood burger chains and Pizza Hut and Dominoes as well. We once found a Chi Chis in Namur and a Chilis in Brussels. And I think that’s it. Ninety percent of the restaurants here are individual, privately owned.

Now, I realize I haven’t established whether or not I find this food snobbery (because yes, when you break it down, Burgundians are food snobs) to be a plus or a minus yet.

To answer that question, let me make this post even longer and tell you a story.
A few weeks ago, Piet and I took Tay to the lake here in Gent to enjoy the nice weather and sun (which has since disappeared, but Belgian weather is a whole other topic to discuss). Next to the lake is a large cafe that has an okay view but really crappy service. We went to the cafe and sat and Piet asked if I’d go get him an ice tea.
I figured he was thirsty so I went in, took a can of ice tea from the refrigerator, paid and brought it out to Piet.
Piet looked at the can and asked if I got it at the bar.
I told him I’d paid at the bar but took it from the fridge by the bar.
Piet got pissed off and told me that he meant for me to order him an ice tea at the bar because then they give it to you in a glass with some ice cubes and a little slice of orange and a napkin and that’s what he’d wanted because why else would we sit at this crappy cafe if he wasn’t going to have his drink served nicely.

I got pissed off right back because what the fuck? You order a drink because you’re thristy, not to create fucking ambiance and atmosphere.
Right? Right??

Apparently not if you’re Burgundian.
If you’re Burgundian, part of the reason you order the iced tea is for it’s presentation.
You order your coffee partially for the experience of the little party on a tray with the doily and cookie.
You pick the beer or wine that properly accompanies your food.
A plate of cheese can constitute a dessert. The moldier the cheese, the better.

Food. Snobs.

But at the same time, since living here, I find myself constantly let down when going out to eat in the States. Restaurants I used to love are now mediocre and I often feel rushed when I’m eating. The chipper, peppy wait staff annoy the crap out of me because I will tip you 15-20% unless you’re a complete and total bitch so chill out, quit refilling my enormous cup when it isn’t even empty, stop asking me how my food is when I’m clearly chewing it and no, I don’t want to try the deep fried super chili triple cheese balls tonight. For the love of all that is good in this world, just let me eat!
The portions are too big, too greasy, too bland.
Everything is okay, but very few things are really good.

In contrast, when we go out to eat here at a restaurant, I can rarely complain that the food wasn’t really good. I’ve come to appreciate quality over quantity.

Which I suppose balances out the annoyance with my spouse when he demands a glamorously presented ice tea.

 

Also: Meat cheat sheet if you don’t know bleu and rosé

Nine Months

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My little jellybean is 9 months old.

I’d say he’s been out as long as he was in, but I still have to wait another week for that statement to be true.

But oh, what a beautiful wonderful little boy he is!

And really, at this point I kind of have to say “little boy” and not “baby” because while yes, okay, he’s still a baby, he’s just so much not a baby anymore. He’s looking more and more toddler every day with his wispy blond hair filling in and his squidgy thighs melting away the more he crawls around. About a week ago his first tooth broke through his gums and the second showed up right next to it within the day. He doesn’t seem to be in terrible pain, although he does get clingy sometimes and collapses onto whoever is holding him in exhaustion.
Which could be the teeth or the growth spurt we think he’s having since his usual 200 gram pot of meat and veggies simply doesn’t do anymore. Add a whole kiwi to that. And add a baby cookie to his pot of fruit and a spoon or two of cereal to his bottles and that about fills him up, give or take a rice cake or three.

He’s also growing more mischievous by the day. He understands “no” in both Dutch and English, but you can tell he’s deciding whether to listen to it or not. From what I can tell Mama’s “no” is taken a little more seriously than Papa’s “nee.” He crawls wherever he wants to go, pulls himself up wherever he can, babbles non-stop, claps his hands at Bumba, and I swear the other day he was really trying to say “poes” (Dutch for cat) while watching Luna, although it came out “boof”.

So entertaining and happy and amazing, this little boy of ours.