Monday, July 28, 2014

Belgian Chocolate

Belgian Chocolate

Belgium is a chocoholic's dream come true.  There are over 2,000 chocolatiers in Belgium with most of them being small independent chocolate makers.  Chocolate shops are common with gorgeous handmade chocolates on display in the shop windows that are small works of art and almost too pretty to eat.

In order for chocolate to be labeled "Belgian chocolate" it must be made in Belgium and chocolate making in Belgium is strictly regulated by law.  The composition of chocolate must be 35% cocoa.  Belgian chocolates are most known for their pralines which are like truffles.  Belgian pralines are chocolates with a molded chocolate shell and a soft creamy ganache center.  

Jean Neuhaus invented the praline in 1857 when he covered some of the medicines in his pharmacy with a thin chocolate coating to make them more palatable.  Today Neuhaus is a premier chocolate maker.  Godiva, another famous Belgian chocolate maker, is the official purveyor of chocolate to Belgium’s royal court.   

Belgium produces 172,000 tons of chocolate each year and Belgians have the highest chocolate consumption rate in the world.  The average Belgian consumes over fifteen pounds of chocolate each year.  I think I've certainly done my part to contribute to that statistic during my visit!



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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pin Junkie Pin Party #77


Welcome to The Pin Junkie!  
 I'm on a mission to do the things I pin on Pinterest and try something new every day!
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Here's what I've been up to this week:

our-home-away-from-home http://www.thepinjunkie.com/2014/07/bruges.html http://www.thepinjunkie.com/2014/07/belgian-national-day.html http://www.thepinjunkie.com/2014/07/eating-in-brussels.html

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Eating in Brussels

Eating in Brussels
Eating in Brussels

Eating in Belgium
Eating in Brussels has been much different than what I expected.  Brussels is home to the European Union and there are many nationalities and cultures represented here which is certainly evident in the diverse menu options that are available.  There is such a wide variety of food here!  So far I've eaten a chicken wrap sandwich from a mid-eastern deli as well as Jamaican jerk chicken and fried plantains at a street fair just down the street from our apartment.  I've also enjoyed carbonnades flamandes which is Flemish beef stew and the national dish of Belgium.  Its absolutely delicious and I'm determined to try to make it when I get home.   

I've also tried the Belgian fries which are thick cut fries and usually served with generous helpings of mayonnaise and tiny forks so that you can eat them without getting your fingers messy.  Belgian waffles are served everywhere.  I can smell their sweet aroma at every train station, street fair and street corner I've been to.  They're delicious plain, but they're also served with powdered sugar or melted chocolate.

Sometimes I feel like I'm already in France.  Not only do I hear French spoken just about everywhere, but French bakeries and pastry shops are very common and I've eaten pains au chocolat and croissants almost every morning for breakfast.  Ordering has been a bit tricky since I don't speak French and there's a lot of trying to decipher the menu and just plain guessing.  So far everyone has been very patient and kind.  When going to a restaurant or street cafe, I'm not used to just sitting at a table instead of waiting to be seating, but I'm beginning to get the hang of it.  

Mr. Pin Junkie and I have also been eating some meals in our apartment.  I've been to the local grocery store just down the street and that was interesting.  You have to pay to use the grocery carts so many people just bring their own bags or shopping trolleys.  You also have to provide your own bags and do your own bagging.  The store is certainly smaller than what I'm used to at home.  It has a smaller selection, but certainly has every thing you need.  Presentation of items on the shelves doesn't seem to be as important as it is at home, but definitely the fruits and vegetables are fresher and less expensive.  Not a lot of pre-packed or convenience food or anything sold in bulk sizes. 

It has been a bit frustrating for me not being able to communicate well with people (I really wish I knew more French!) but I have to say that tasting all these new yummy foods has certainly been one of the high points of the trip so far!



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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bruges

Bruges
 

Just an hour away by train from where I'm staying in Brussels, Bruges is a perfectly preserved medieval town in northwest Belgium and a UNESCO world heritage site.  Bruges is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North because of its canals.  The canals connect the city to the North Sea and trade routes.  These trade opportunities made Bruges a prosperous city in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries until the canals became filled with silt which made it difficult for ships to travel through.


The tower of the Church of Our Lady is the tallest structure in the city.


With its narrow cobblestone streets, bell towers, bridges and swans, Bruges looks like something right out of a fairy tale!


Bruges is certainly popular with tourists, but it's more than just a tourist destination.  It's still inhabited by about 20,000 people and many of the buildings now house modern day shops and hotels.




We took a boat tour through the canals which was a great way to view the city.  I was really surprised at how big the city is. 


So many of the doors and windows were decorated with pretty window boxes and I couldn't help taking pictures of a few of them.  There were flowers everywhere!





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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Belgian National Day

Belgian National Day
Belgian National Day
 
Belgium's National Day is celebrated on July 21.  Its a holiday that commemorates the signing of the Belgian constitution and the beginning of the Belgian constitutional monarchy.  It's a day of national pride much like our July 4th.  Mr. Pin Junkie and I had no idea about any of this and just got really lucky.  We popped out of a metro station and there was the royal procession . . .

Belgian National Day

and King Philippe of Belgium!

Belgian National Day

We went over to the park right next to the royal palace where there were many groups that were performing re-enactments and demonstrations like these soldiers representing the Napoleonic wars.

Belgian National Day

Belgian National Day

This group representing soldiers from World War I were great at posing for the cameras!

Belgian National Day

Belgian National Day

Then it was time for the parade.  The king made an appearance again to review the troops.

Belgian National Day

All the troops passed by in their parade best and really looked great!

Belgian National Day

Belgian National Day

There was a lot of military equipment on display too.  These tanks were a crowd favorite and were really loud!

Belgian National Day

We didn't stay for the fireworks show because by the end of the parade, we were tired of the crowds and needed something to eat.  We did get a quick look at the royal palace though.




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Monday, July 21, 2014

Our Home Away From Home

Our Home Away From Home

After eleven hours of travelling, I'm finally in Belgium!

We arrived in Brussels right before a big music festival and the airport and metro stations were packed with young people and all of them speaking so many different languages!  I heard French, German, Flemmish, and a few others I couldn't recognize.  Belgium itself has three official languages:  French, Dutch, and German.  In town, I'm mostly hearing French.  I'm trying to remember to say bonjour instead of hola, oui instead of si, and s'il vous plait instead of por favor, which is much harder than it sounds while my brain is in a heavy fog of jet lag.

While I try to get acclimated to a new time zone and my new surroundings, I thought I'd share a peek at my home away from home in Brussels.  The windows are open and I can hear the sounds of the neighborhood:  people talking in the street, church bells ringing, and music playing.  Our lovely apartment comes with everything we could possibly need including fresh croissants for breakfast!


Later today will be an excursion to explore our neighborhood.  We'll also make a visit to the grocery store to buy some snacks and things to stock our sunny and bright kitchen which is fully equipped and is nicer than our kitchen at home. 




I keep looking out the windows at the views of the narrow brick apartments and people walking home with their shopping to remind myself that I'm really here!   Still can't believe it!



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