Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Confetti time in Belgium

I am not a carnaval girl. Never been so. Already in kindergarden I made my elephant masks but when we were supposed to do little dances in the afternoon and party I withdrew in the corner and watched it from the sideline. As a grown-up I still link in my mind carnaval with artificial fun and drunk roudy crowds.

But some of you (non-Belgians) might not know that carnaval/Mardi Gras is celebrated big time in some of our cities as well. Every year I have colleagues that take the first 3 days of spring break off if they live in/nearby Aalst, Binche, Mons, .... because they can't miss carnaval and their hangover is too big to even consider coming to work.

Firt of all Belgium always has a school vacation in the week of Ash Wednesday (all are vacations are still related with a roman catholic calander). The last day before the vacation most schools have carnaval parties that allow the children to dress up, make masks, put make-up on and costumes and dance. So children grow up with it.

Carnaval historically originates from the start of lent (40 days before Easter) on Ash Wednesday (=tomorrow) and the tradition to party and eat without limits before the sober period of lent starts. If you look at the maps where the world's biggest carnaval celebrations take place, they all have links to latin/catholic traditions: Brazil, New Orleans, southern Netherlands, East-Southern Germany, Belgium, Venice, ....

So it was confetti time in Belgium too. In Flanders the main carnaval before the start of lent takes place in the city of Aalst. Many carnaval societies work all year in preperation of their floats that mock Belgian & international politics and any trend in society. Big election campaigns in the fall elect a "Prince carnaval" who gets the city keys for 3 days and rules over the city from Sunday until Tuesday night. On Sunday afternoon a big parade goes out attended by all main Flemish politicians under the sight of thousands of spectators and tourists. The next days the carnavalists from Aalst party all day and night and have some more parades and a big closing event. Obviously all of it is accompagnied by the most horrible silly humpahpah music. (enjoy online here)

Other cities have similar events on a much smaller scale: remember the parade in front of my sister's house later on during lent and here's some pictures from the parade in Lokeren.

In the east of the country in Limburg, the carnaval celebrations are later on during lent as well and tie in with the nearby Dutch and German traditions. I found this funny article with pictures of all elected princes carnaval of that region. Wow, talk about a lot of them!

Leuven itself has carnaval later on as well (7th of March in 2009) but it's so widespread that you usually go shopping and notice some confetti on the street and wonder what happened and then you see some drunk dressed up people coming out of a pub and you realise you've just missed a carnaval parade :p. But that might be once again my own fault as there's some organisations that are quite involved after all, which do get in the local media. And we have an elected prince too :).

But most famous is the carnaval in Wallonia however. The carnaval celebrations in Binche are even proclaimed "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO.
they are charchterized by the Gilles who march through the city in their colorful costumes, heralded by drums. Also other Wallonian cities have Gilles. Being a gilles is quite an honor and can only be fulfilled by male inhabitants of the city. They start getting ready 4 AM and the the drums go and pick up the first Gilles and then gather more and more Gilles in their homes to an ever growing group gathering in the city centre. They are received in the city hall and only afterwards put their masks on. As you can see it are all very strictly ruled traditions. The famous costumers can only be worn on Mardi Gras. The weeks and days before there are however a lot of other festivities and rehearsals. I found some great pictures here on Flickr from Karolien Taverniers and by jeroen Tiggelman.

So maybe I should review my years-old prejudice that it's only about getting drunk and roudy ;)....maybe next year or so.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I was lucky yesterday...

  • ....that although the mojito's weren't as good in Villa Ernesto as on the Old Market in Leuven, the company was as good :)
  • ....that although I tripped down from the sidewalk border in a very awkward way (and that was before I had the mojito's!!), I was able to walk back home.
  • ....that although the pain in my anckle kept me awake part of the night and although I had to think of Carol's little slip all the time, it only turns out to be (lightly?) sprained.
  • ....that wearing my hiking boots with firm anckle support, reminds me of vacation.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Inviting spring in the house

Although the trees and plants seem to have tiny buds ready to burst open as soon as the first warmer sunny days would arrive, it's still grey and drizzling outside. But that shouldn't stop us preparing for spring and getting that winter mode outside of our houses. :)

A bowling night out with random bonus points

We celebrated a friend's birthday yesterday with a stone grill dinner out and a few bowling games. Clearly we were not the only ones with that idea as in our section of the restaurant, all but one table had the lights turned off with the waiters serving some fireworks desert accompagnied with loud "happy birthday" music. That poor one table must have really felt left out!!

The bowling was a bit confusing.....apparently the rules must have been changed without our knowledge as we were quite surprised to see that rolling the bowl in the gutter could give you zero, one or two points. Also the other points seemed a bit at random sometimes. We must have been getting bonuspoints for good behavior, perseverence in gutter bowling, style or something else but we've never really figured out what was going on. Thank goodness we were not taking the points competition too seriously.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What's your perfume??

I am running around without make-up on most days. Most mornings I find it too much hassle. Most days I have a dry itchy crusty face thanks to some allergies alternated by days with red swollen itchy eyes and then I don't feel much motivation to put some extra powders or cremes on top of it even though I buy all my make-up from special brands in the pharmacy.

Wearing nailpolish would be allergy safe, I suppose. But one of my host dads in Canada once described my nail polish application skills with the following quote "you might as well dip your fingers in the pot and it would give the same result, so why bothering using that little brush". Over the years I've improved my skills a little but I've mostly been so smart as to switch from dark brown nail polish to transparant color. And that of course is not much use either.

But something I do put on perfume each morning with great diligence. And for 8 years I use mainly the same brand "One" from Calvin Klein. And all of a sudden I was curious this morning and I was wondering:

"what's your make-up habits and which parfume are you wearing?".

So that's my question to you all my dear readers. Do feel free to write your own blogpost or to leave me a comment....the comment button is right below and it won't bite so even if you are a silent reader, feel free to answer ;). I am quite curious.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The deadline is there:
if you want to haiku too
you need to hurry!

No stress for me though
both my entries were posted
in mister linky
I wish you goodnight
and sweet evocatif dreams
about haiku posts

Last day of the new Haiku Buckaroo contest going on at MyMommy's place. Be sure to check out the other contestants!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A late happy new year

2009 is the first year that I can't go to my godparents anymore to wish them a happy new year. But 2009 is also the first year that Jan's godchild Léon could come to visit us for the new year. He's a bit too young to read a new year's letter and he had to go to bed really early but he was adorably cute nevertheless.
And Luisa had just turned 4 as well, so reason enough to distribute some more presents :).

And the chef in the house had made an excellent meal with sausage/black pudding& apple appetizers, fresh asparagus soup, duck breast slices with selery mashed potatoes, fresh red cabbage, potato gratin and a apple/butter mousse and raspberry cake as desert. Mmm

Ah what an excellent family Valentine's evening :)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Some more haikus

A cold sunny day
warms my heart through the window
softening winter


A tv program
full of dangerous species
makes me quite anxious
it seems a wonder
that people are alive still
in Australia
A new tourist guide
brings dreams for our vacation
while turning pages

Heavy eye lids drop
Sounds around me fade away
I am dozing offfff

There's a new Haiku Buckaroo contest going on at MyMommy's place. Be sure to check out the other contestants!

I surely hope that all social websites will stop spamming me by tomorrow with all those annoying "It's Valentine"


Not wanting to take part in social pressure fake holidays either? Go and check at Jenn in Holland for more singular saturdays entries!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Jan came home with the message that his mobile phone wasn't working anymore. We realised we both didn't have network connection and when phoning the helpdesk (with the landline), there was a message confirming network problems.

It's 2,5 h later and the Proximus network is still down and the newspapers mention that "no spokesman of the company could be reached"....Whoaaahaaa, of course not, I wonder why.

No pity needed

If you've read the other post first:

Don't pity me:
  • we worked so late on the server problem that I did not have traffic jams anymore to go home
  • I've baked some very good lamb chops
  • Jan came home
  • It's "Van Vlees en Bloed" on tv now, last episode.
  • The surgery scar that was irritated and painful starts to ease again and I got new nasal spray to unplug my sinusses.

It's not all bad today

Thursday 12th

Clogged sinusses
and a painful throat to start
this great new day

A mocking layer
crispy ice on windshield
when rushing outside
Traffic jams everywhere
prevent me from being on time
in early meetings

that turn out to be
cancelled despite my rushing.
I could have slept in.

I find a clean cup,
the machine fills it too much
and spills the hot coffee.

Whimsical servers
don't always show logon screens:
the users complain.

what is the problem?
the supplier has no clue,
it's a mystery.

Too late to order
my sandwich, the cantine food
gives me bowel cramps.

Friday the thirteenth
has come too early this year.
Is it over yet?

It’s time again for Haiku Buckaroo episode IV, hosted over at My Mommy’s Place. If you feel the 5-7-5 rhythm as well, feel free to join this great contest with cool prices to win.
Post your haiku on your blog. Be sure to mention this contest and link back to My Mommy's Place.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Power battles

The media seems to be full of power battles that are going on in Belgium. Very fascinating stuff to follow:

  1. Unilever Belgium wants guarantees from a major Belgian supermarket multinational Delhaize to take their entire product range + execute a price increase.
    Delhaize who operates mainly in the USA (Food Lion, Bloom, Harveys, Hannaford, Sweetbay, Bottom Dollar, ...) refuses to take all of their products and has taken 50 up to 350 Unilever products out of the shelves in the 775 Belgian stores. Those are major common brands like Lipton, Dove, Signal, Solo, Knorr, Zwan, Axe, Rexona, Ola, Sun, Effi, ...

    Both start playing with the media: Delhaize claims Unilever wants a 30% price increase (this includes fines Delhaize'd get if they don't offer the entire product range), Unilever says the price increase would only be 2,5%.
    Unilever invites in big newspaper advertisements to shop for their products in other supermarkets.

    I find this very very fascinating. As a consumer I obviously like a bit of power battle that can temper price increases. I am not particulary brand-minded and I easily buy store housebrands for most products. But some products I value more and for those I do trust the "secure brand" more (sometimes after disappointing experiences with the cheaper brands) eg deodorant, dishwasher soap & laundry soap, ...
    I also know that the severe price ware between supermarkets in the Netherlands have lead to less choice in their stores! I'd hate that to happen and surely in Delhaize which is the store where you go to find those products you don't find in the other supermarkets. So if they keep this up it'd hurt their market positioning in the long run!

    As an employee from a consumer good producer I also know what an incredible power these distributors have gained. Trust me: selling from producer to supermarkets has an almost zero margin already! Giving them even more power would be unhealthy.

    As a shopper I don't feel impacted since I alternate shopping in Delhaize and Carrefour so if I truly want a brand that isn't available anymore in Delhaize, I'll find it elsewhere, but I might as well take an alternative within Delhaize if I'm there.

    Hmmm an oligarchy market....interesting.

  2. Remember our federal government crashing over the bank Fortis? Remember this bank was at crisis and the government intervened, bought the bank and then sold it to the Frensh PNB Paribas resulting in a very much lower shareholder value?

    Well the shareholders went to court and there they ruled (despite the government interventions that made that government crash) that the sale could not be legal if the shareholders could not vote over that transaction.

    Well today was the new shareholder meeting while the sale to PNB Paribas had been frozen. You could feel in the past week the power battle building up: the government trying to propose a slightly changed deal, the Fortis directors sending out doom visions in case of a no-vote, consumer organisations recommending to vote No, lawyers grouping shareholders giving interviews, etc.... This almost felt like elections. Newspaper "breaking news" e-mails were send out "how would you vote?" etc etc.

    The previous shareholder meeting had very heated emotions and most of the newly proposed board members got voted away again while security agents needed to make some interventions. And this time was no less emotional: sheering, booing, shouting, hats with "NO" stickers on them, slogans "No we can't", ...not quite as I imagine myself a "boring shareholder meeting". No a pure day-long power battle with constant newsflashes in all news.

    And the no-voters got a 50,3% advantage. What now is not clear at all. Despite the no-vote to the government buying the entire bank, they are somehow the legal owners after all, but they can't sell the bank to PNB Paribas anymore despite some contractual engagements already. Lots of legal battles to be followed as well as a new political struggle and the need to find a new solution for Fortis who is now again more at risk.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My weekend in bullets

  • If you google symptoms you are feeling in order to try to make a self-diagonisis, you surely feel more sick after reading the potential diseases.
  • It's worthwile to dig up your nasal spray if you have since weeks a sore/sour throat each morning when waking up and if you have a slight headache that remains for days and if you feel a pressure on your eyes......even if you have no (other) symptoms of a cold.
    I seem to suffer from clogged up sinusses without a runny or blocked nose (except probably at night when snot must be going to my throat), but I sure love my nasal spray now!
  • Bikini's and swimming shorts on the wall are nice decoration on a dive club party
  • It's quite easy to be on bar service according to the planning 2 hours before the guests arrive. Man stress stress stress. I love the guy who made that planning ;).
  • To counter balance that heavy task I also had a washing dishes shift though after the people had eaten. The pots and pans from the local scouts were quite gross when we borrowed them...they sure got it back cleaner.
  • The cocktails were good! Mmm.
  • I loved my lazy Sunday!
  • It's the last episode from "De smaak van de Keyser" tonight. I had to get used to this story full of flashbacks but I learned to like it. Not as funny and entertaining as "Van Vlees en Bloed" which is currently the most brilliant fiction series on tv, but very intriguing after all.

    ...so I'm off to watch tv!

Friday, February 6, 2009

A good cure against a headache: Ellen DeGeneres and Gladys

What if you've woken up 2 days in a row as tired as you went to bed and you remain so all day despite liters of caféine.
What if you've had this simmering headache constantly despite Dafalgan that makes you wondering if it would be a relief to look cross-eyed.
What if you really need to catch up a lot of work.

...then you can click only half awake on a post from Snooker in Berlin (http://snookspot.blogspot.com/) during lunch and despite her warning, you almost choke from laughing during this clip. Gosh this is so hilarious and it felt so good to crack up out loud even though I had some explaining to do then to my colleagues.

Feel like laughing too? Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hype or not a hype, that's the question

She has read it and loved it and took some life lessons from it....
She has read it as well and recommends it to me and clearly thinks the cover is worth photographing as well :p...
She calls it a treat...
She tells me that each city has an opinion after reading the book...
She announced to her readers that she stopped blogging until she had finished the book....a matter of priorities because she was devouring the pages one after another.
She said it was one of the best books she had read that year (and she reads many many many of them!!!!) and it spoke to her in so many levels.
My friend Debbie tells me it is a good one...
Oprah dedicated a full show to this book and its author and readers whose lives got changed due to the book.

....and now it's laying next to my bed since 3 days and I am dreading to start reading in it as I fear it can only be disappointing. A book by someone who's made a journey across the world to find herself? Sounds quite "psychological" and "vage" and "transcendent" , not quite a story that drags you along. It really can't stand up to its expectations.

But for more than a year now it was on my to read list and when I finally found it available in the library my heart made a little jump in anticipation. The book is never there so this was an opportunity!! Of course I brought it home. And now I've read 2 small chapters and it's sitting there and I am dreading to continue.

I'll know in a couple of weeks if it's an empty bubble or not (I must bring it back in 3,5 weeks), after I've truly started reading it. And then I can be the last blogger finally sharing her opinion about "EAT, LOVE, PRAY" by Elizabeth Gilbert.

A book that did progress a lot better last week was "Mijn Vrijheid " (Infidel) , the autobiography by the controversial Dutch/Somalian politica Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I also started the book with some reservations. For as far as I had followed all the fuss in the Netherlands from far in the media, I had the idea she was searching needless controversy by shocking the moslim world with her extreme anti-moslim opinions as a new convert to atheism/western society while traumatised by her African youth. I remembered the fuss when her Dutch citizenship got questioned while she was a member of parliament, I remembered she had to live underground when she had made the anti-moslim movie Submission and the director Theo Van Gogh got murdered by moslim extremists.

I found the book very thought provoking and it didn't let me go right away. I am glad I know about her background and the context in which she has formed her opinions. She made me think about islam in our western society again and the western attitude to criticise or not to criticise anything out of fear being labeled narrow-minded and racist. I still think she is jumping a bridge too far, yet she is in a position to better know what the immigrant world is like than I do. And she made some interesting statements that stick around.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sea-devil with chorizo , chickpeas and pequillos

I've said it before that when Jan's home I never cook and when he isn't home I usually can eat his delicious left-overs. Somehow he gets going in the kitchen much quicker than I do....while I am still figuring out which ingredients I need (if I already have a dish in mind) he's almost done. And if I do cook when he's at home I don't feel at ease thinking that he'd surely do it differently and quicker with less mess and I feel ashamed to be so dependend on a cooking book or recipe.
But I really enjoyed cooking more last weeks and I seemed to be more in the right rhythm.

Once a month we receive the culinary magazine "Ambiance" which is full of restaurant recommendations, wine critics, interviews with chefs .....and the most delicious modern recipes accompagnied with saliva generating pictures. The fun thing about a monthly magazine as opposed to the many dust-gathering cookbooks is that you always receive something new to discover and to trigger our interest.

So while I was browsing through it at breakfast yesterday I felt the urge to surprise Jan with a big meal when he got home. But then somehow my afternoon made some weird time jumps and by the time I got home with all the groceries it was 5 PM and Jan phoned that they'd be home in 45 minutes and that they'd all go and get some fries to eat (some of them had to still drive on to the Netherlands). Darn, no way I could cook a big meal in 45 minutes and serve for a bunch of hungry men that had their mind set to fries. I felt so disappointed! When I put a renewed bottle of herbs in our herb drawer by slightly bending forward a bit and my lower back muscles totally blocked in a pain flare to tell me that I am not supposed to bend forward like that, my mood didn't quite improve. So we all ate fries together and I had to keep myself still again on the sofa with painkillers again.

Today I kept my lower back nicely straight and warm and I told Jan I was going to make my meal anyway ... and it worked out great and Jan even took his camera out to take pictures :)

Jan thought I was already finished but I still had to add the chorizo

Adding the chorizo

Ready to serve

700 g sea-devil filets
1 can of chickpeas
1 paksoi (I had chinese cabbage....couldn't find anything closer)
100g fine slices of chorizo
1kg tomatoes
6 pequillos (Spanish peppers in cans or glass containers)
1 clove of garlic
3 branches of thyme
1 knife tip of saffran
2 Shallots
1 lemon
1 knife tip of cayanne pepper

The preparation is really in 3 parts:
1) tomatosauce

Bake the chopped up shallots for a few minutes and then add the tomatoes. Let that cook gently for 30-40 minutes. (I took half fresh tomatoes but since winter tomatoes aren't that great, I actually added 500g peeled tomatoes).
Then you need to pour all of the sauce throug a fine sieve so that only smooth tomatojuice is left. Pressing all the juice out took most of my time really....I was afraid I'd not have enought sauce. I guess you reallly need to take juicy tomatoes if you want a lot of sauce!.

Herb the resulting sauce with thyme, garlic, saffran, salt and cayennepepper and if necessary put it through the sieve again.

2) Chop up the paksoi in little pieces and slice the pequillos. Wash the chickpeas.
Stew the paksoi and pequillos in some oil and then add the chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper.
3) Slice the sea-devil in slices of 2cm wide. Bake them in a hot pan with some olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Don't bake them too long or they'll get dry. It's better to turn off the fire a bit earlier and let them continue to become done in the hot pan.

Divide the vegetables in deep plates and poor the tomato juice on top of them and then arrange the slices of chorizo and sea-devil. Finish with a bit of lemon juice.


3 reasons why I love France

....or anyone coming back home from a vacation in France