Elisabeth helps grandma make gingerbread -- resulting in a wonderful gingerbread house.
Every year we make gingerbread cookies and a gingerbread house for Christmas. We've been doing this for as long as I can remember. Our once small children, now grown up, seem to enjoy it as much today as they did years ago. And our grandchildren are starting to share in the excitement as well.
Gingerbread invokes the feeling of Christmas, even when we are simply enjoying Flemish spice cookies, Speculoos, on a Delta flight anytime of the year. Incidentally, the Lotus factory that makes Speculoos cookies is located about a 15 minute drive from where we live -- making our family tradition that much more, appropriately, international.
Some gingerbread houses we have made over the years:
I keep thinking of the song, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" as I watch our family interact around the baking, making and taking-apart gingerbread houses. That is our wish for you. We hope that you had a blessed and merry Christmas -- and we also hope that you have a happy New Year!
Above: a cup of Dutch mustard soup at our home in Belgium. The Flemish like mustard soup as much as the Dutch. (Rhyme unintended.)
November 22nd Jan and I were in Delft, Holland for a little R&R. We were determined to have some mustard soup. Does that sound strange? Actually mustard soup is delicious. It is a winter staple in both Holland and Flanders.
We found what we were looking for at Restaurant Le Mariage. The front of this restaurant faces a canal (surprise!) and is adjacent to the smallest house in Delft.
The narrow house to the right of the restaurant as we see it in this photo is the smallest house in Delft. Yes, that narrow space between the other buildings (one window wide) is a house!
On to the soup. It was served with a dark rye bread and fresh, creamy butter.
Absolutely delicious. Especially on a cold day.
Today I decided to see if the recipe I found for mustard soup when we first moved to Belgium was as good as what we had a few weeks ago in Delft.
Here is a list of my ingredients:
1 liter water
2 cubes of chicken bouillon (European-size)
200 ml of Creme Fraiche (40% heavy cream)
2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard
125 grams of smeerkass (white spreadable cheese)
4 tablespoons of cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste
Easy peasy. Boil the water, add the bouillon cubes, the cream, cheese and mustard. Stir briskly with a whisk to blend ingredients.
I would suggest holding 1/4 cup water back to mix with the corn starch cold. Then add that the the boiling mixture and stir briskly again with a whisk until thickend.
The mustard I used was from Kent, England and not very yellow or strong. Zaanse mustard is what the recipe calls for -- but I didn't have any on hand. I added an extra tablespoon of yellow mustard to give my soup more flavor and color -- something like Zaanse mustard.
Kind of. Oh! I also added a thimble or two of cheap Cognac. It does make a difference to the final taste. Subtle but important.
It's very similar to the soup we had in Delft. Now, I just need to figure out how to make the frothy stuff that was on top of the soup in Restaurant Le Mariage. Maybe some egg white? Beaten and added before serving?
If you come to visit us, and if it is winter, and if you are adventurous and brave -- I'll make you some Zaansemosterdsoep for lunch. We'll have dark, rye bread with fresh, creamy butter.
If all those contingencies converge, you'll love it.
Yesterday I flew to Monterrey, Mexico. Before I left Beligum I had a snack -- a cheese plate -- that was absolutely delicious. From left to right the four cheeses pictured are: Passendale (Belgian), Brie (French), Tomme de Blanche (French) and Chimay (Belgian). While France is known for its cheese, Belgium isn't. "The more's the pity for that" as the old phrase goes.
Charles de Gaule said in a June 14, 1960 television interview -- Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cebt quarante-six variétés de fromage? Or, "How can you govern a country which has two hundered and forty-six varieties of cheese. Probalby most people in the U.S. would be scratching their heads after hearing DeGaulle say that. That is if they could watch French TV in 1960.
As far as cheese popularity goes, how governable a people may be and what that might mean today -- I did a little research while I enjoyed my cheese plate near the airport. In 1960 when France had 246 different kinds of cheese, Belgium had about 51 different kinds of cheese.
Given the difference the difference of the physical size of the two countries France produced 0.0004 kinds of cheese per square kilometer while Belgium produced (in this same time period) 0.0016 kinds of cheese per square kilometer. The Belgiums were producing four times more cheese varities than the French per square kilometer.
What would DeGaulle say about that if he only knew. He probably did know. He grew up in Northern France on the border of Belgium where many towns and villages still have Flemish names. He probably conveniently forgot how difficult it was to govern Belgians -- at any time in their history. DeGaulle was brave, but he wasn't brave enough to tackle that pesty, little country a few hundred kilometers from Paris that is known for its chocolate, lace, beer -- and oh, yes, -- cheese.
Back to cheese and politics -- becuase at this point I had to catch a plane. The screen shot below is of cover page for an article on the inability of the Belgians to form a ferderal government for over 589 days. What were they doing in the meantime? Eating cheese.
I can't resist sharing two more photos of food at the Monterrey Valle Novotel. The photo above is a combination of pear and guava sliced fruit poached in red wine with vanilla ice cream in a thin, crisp almond wafer. The compote was was made of tart, red fruit.
The photo below is a lime sherbet bowl with a mint macaroon with vanilla frosting. Again the compote was a tart, red fruit -- different than the one above -- and the little cream stars are surrounded by a dusting of a crushed KitKat bar.
Each desert cost about $4.50 (I had them on separate nights!)
Queso Fundido Con Chistorra
The queso is melted with white wine; the chorizo was super good, and the salsa is freshly made (it varies depending on who the chef is for the day). I don't know how you are supposed to eat this -- but I made up something that seemed good to me. See below.
A definite plus for staying at the Novotel in Monterrey, Mexico is the bar food. I was there last month and ate several meals at the bar. I go back on Monday and I'm looking forward to trying more things on the menu. Pictured above is a tapas-style tidbit made of puff pastry, herbed cream cheese, smoked salmon, bacon and a cranberry-chili drizzle. The pastry was a little stale. So instead of very nice, it was just nice.