I’ve Moved!

Exciting news everyone – I went and bought my domain name and I’ve moved my blog over there. From now on, I’ll be posting on curiousmeredith.com instead of this site which is curiousmeredith.wordpress.com.

I finally decided to take the plunge for a couple of reasons:
1. I wanted to have more creative control over the design and presentation.
2. I’ve wanted to learn more about web design and try my hand at it.
3. Having my own .com address looks more professional.
4. I’m aiming to take my travel and food blog and turn it into a small freelance business.

Thank you to all of my wordpress.com followers and email subscribers please come and check out my new site! Since I won’t be updating this site anymore, any readers who wish to keep up with my travel meanderings will have to re-subscribe for posts to be delivered to their email from my new website. I’ve made this easy and placed the Email Subscription form at the top right-hand corner.

Looking forward to your visit at the new & improved curiousmeredith!

Cream of Celeriac Soup with Wheat Beer and Bacon

Chef Jeroen Meus

I’ve found the Jamie Oliver of Belgium and it’s Jeroen Meus! He’s young, wears cool sneakers, has funky hair, and approaches cooking in a casual way. Oh, and he is an amazing chef! He has his own cooking show called Dagelijkse Kost ( or in English “Daily Grub”) and a great website full of recipes. His descriptions of cooking are lively and sprinkled with Leuven slang that make him very fun to watch. Lately, Billy and I have been turning to Jeroen’s website and cooking tutorials when we are out of our own ideas. He has an array of recipes that range between 15th century Belgian classics to Thai Green Curries.

Celeriac… ugly but tasty.

This week, Billy and I were looking to make a dish with a Belgian winter veggie. Belgium has a WIDE array of winter vegetables. Sure, Belgium is wet and cold in the winter but it only occasionally frosts therefore the growing season is much longer here compared to that of Canada’s. Belgian endives (witloof), parsnips, and celeriac are popular vegetables for Belgian winter dishes. Yesterday, we decided to try a dish with celeriac and found Jeroen’s recipe for Knolseldersoep met witbier, cheddar, en geroosterde pancetta. It is such a great recipe that I have to share it with my English-speaking friends. This is also good opportunity for me to work on translating Dutch text to English. See, everybody is learning!

Cream of Celeriac Soup with Wheat Beer, Cheddar, and Smoked Pancetta
A warming autumn soup that tastes rich but will only cost around €2 per bowl! This recipe is huge and will easily serve 6 people. See his video tutorial here.

2 1/2 litres of Chicken Broth
1 Celeriac
3 big Onions
1 small clove of Garlic
2 cans of Hoegaarden (Wheat Beer)
1 squirt of olive oil
Couple of Bay Leaves
Couple sprigs of Thyme (dried Thyme works too for those who don’t have fresh herbs growing)
Couple of Parsley Stems

6 slices of pancetta (spanish smoked ham) or smoked bacon
150 grams of cheddar
A bit of Thyme

Finishing Touch:
200 g Cream

How To Make It
1. Make chicken broth and pour into a large pot over medium heat.
2. In a separate deep-frying pan, heat up olive oil and toss in your chopped onion and garlic. Be sure to stir frequently here, so the onions do not brown because then you will lose the pale velvety colour of your soup.
3. Wash the celeriac and then peel the outside. Dice into pieces and toss them in with the simmering onions. The the vegetables simmer here for 5 minutes.
4. If you have fresh herbs on hand, gather the thyme and parsley into a bouquet by tying them together with some twine, and toss it in the pot. If not, add your onions and celeriac to the chicken broth in the big pot and then add your dried spices.
5. Add the beer to the big pot and bring to a boil for 10 minutes (this removes the alcohol from the beer).
6. Turn the heat down to low heat, put the lid on, and let the soup simmer for 20 minutes.
7. To make your garnish, grill the pancetta or the smoked bacon, chop up thyme, and grate the cheddar cheese. Set aside.
8. After 20 minutes are up, its time to blend the soup with a mixer. Remove from heat and slowly add cream in between mixing to get a velvety and smooth soup. Taste your soup and add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.
9. Serve in bowls garnished with grated cheddar cheese, bacon (or pancetta), and thyme. Enjoy!

Belgian Football: The Red Devils

Since moving to Belgium I’ve made a concentrated effort to learn about and enjoy European Football. I must admit it took me a while to get over pansy players who dive compared to the rough and tough hockey players of the NHL. I’ve been slow to learn the ‘hard’ rules and still can’t clearly define what constitutes a “offside” call. Regardless of these small details I’ve come to enjoy watching football, especially since the Belgian National Team has been in action competing for a World Cup spot in 2014 taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Belgium’s national team has a long history that dates back to 1904 with their first official game against France. Since then, Belgium has earned itself a reputation as a strong second tier team. While they don’t often win major championships, they are a challenging team to meet during competition. The Red Devils had an excellent track record in the 1980’s and throughout the 90’s. Then, the team didn’t qualify for two consecutive World Cups, once in 2006 and then again in 2010. Belgians have been frustrated with the team’s progress but remained loyal and hopeful.

2011 offered a bright spot for the Red Devil’s chances to make it to the world stage once more. Young, hotshot Belgian footballers started to make a big name for themselves in the English Premier League. There’s Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany, Tottenham’s mid-fielder Moussa Dembélé, Everton’s mid-fielder Marouane Fellaini, and Chelsea’s temperamental forward Eden Hazard. Kevin de Bruyne, a hardworking ginger kid, is another favourite who has had two amazing performances in the past two games.

My personal favourite is forward Romelu Lukaku, a giant at 6’4″ with dreadlocks, who has been a phenomenon in the Belgian league since he was 16. When he started playing for Anderlecht at 16 he finished as the league’s top scorer. At 18 years old he was then bought by Chelsea, fulfilling his lifelong dream, but is currently on loan to West Bromwich Albion. To sum it up in two succinct words, he’s dreamy.

Recently, me and a couple of the boys went to the Belgium vs. Scotland game in Brussels. This was an important game for the Devils to win in order to keep their high ranking in their pool. Belgium stomped Scotland, who played like a bunch of wussies, with a score of 2-0. Seeing a game live really increased my interest in football and I would definitely go to another game. Sadly, the next one isn’t until March when Belgium will play Macedonia.

Since I’m finally beginning to understand football rules, club politics, and player gossip the game has become a nice substitute for watching hockey or CFL games at the pub. Plus, the atmosphere at the live game is so fun! People are dressed up, drinking beer, and feeling jolly. Then again, I haven’t witnessed a loss yet…

Is anyone else in Canada starting to warm up to European Football in light of the NHL lockout?

Crowd Control – This is the section of Scottish fans, clearly separated from the rest of the stadium. Wise planning…

Love & Marriage: My First Belgian Huwelijk

The happy couple

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of Billy’s sister, Natasja and her fiancé Jelle. I was really excited for the occasion after hearing all of their plans for the past couple months. This was an eagerly awaited event for me, especially because I was curious to see the differences between a Belgian wedding and a Canadian wedding. I found out that the traditions and ceremonies are quite similar, and like Canada, a wedding’s uniqueness evolves from the couple themselves.

After the civil ceremony at N & J’s local city hall in Brussels

Natasja and Jelle decided to have a weekend wedding with a very clear vision and concept. Family would attend the civil ceremony in Brussels on Friday afternoon and then we all would drive down to the Ardennes for a weekend celebration. This was the first civil ceremony I’ve attended and it was considerably shorter than a church wedding. Although, the couple wed in Brussels, the ceremony was conducted in Flemish rather than French.

Friday, after we arrived at the wedding location, we enjoyed a big three course homemade supper. Natasja and Jelle asked their parents, as well as, Jelle’s sister and her partner to each make a dish and it was divine. Already by Friday evening, I loved their concept of the ‘weekend wedding’. There’s time to relax and visit, as well as help out with preparations.

The villa was the ceremony and reception was held

Outdoor shot of the villa and surroundings

Beginning of the ceremony

On Saturday, they arranged their own wedding ceremony which included speeches from friends and family, their own personal vows, and an original tango dance by N & J. The weather was absolutely perfect the whole weekend, an autumn miracle, because the temperature was above 20 degrees the entire weekend. The leaves of the trees had turned into their autumn hues and we were staying in a beautiful two wing villa, which was both modern and rustic, that we had all to ourselves. Incredible!

The couple’s tango dance

Party People

The night began with bubbles from the Loire Valley accompanied with light snacks. The menu featured seasonal autumn flavours that are typical of Belgian cuisine. Dinner was served in a non-traditional manner, as it was new spin on a buffet. Guests could come to collect any of the six courses but had the flexibility to opt out of a dish if they chose to. There was a bread, salad, and dip table to go with the dishes with many vegetarian friendly choices. Wine and beer flowed freely and soon everyone made their way to the dance floor. The usual wedding dance shenanigans ensued… some thing Belgians and Canadians seem to have very much in common!

Outside of the Villa, located in the beautiful village of Séchery, Belgium.

Sunday Lounging

Many of the guests were able to stay in the villa as it has rooms to accommodate up to 60 people. On Sunday, the guests could meet in the kitchen for a late brunch and leave at their leisure. It was wonderful to be able to enjoy the grounds of the villa in the hot autumn sunshine. The birds were singing and the air was crisp and fresh. This was quite possibly the best hangover cure ever…

The wedding was a truly delightful occasion and I’m grateful to have been invited. It was so lovely to share the day with N & J and both of their families. They threw a fantastic wedding celebration and I wish them all the best in their future and a happy bon voyage for their honeymoon in South Africa!

Smartphone Tips for Expats

Traveling with a smart phone is glorious. However, bringing a locked smart phone from Canada was a terrible decision. I thought I could easily get it unlocked but what happened was the opposite. I had no idea the amount of red tape and rules I would uncover. Nonetheless, my smart phone had become a luxury I didn’t want give up.

Smart phones bought in North America are cheaper because they have a carrier-lock, a pesky nuisance that keeps your phone on the providers network. While abroad, your phone will be roaming, increasing your phone bill to atrocious amounts. To prevent this, many will “jailbreak” their iPhone in order to have the ability to completely customize their phone, find free apps, and install a carrier unlock so their phone will work with other SIM cards. A word of warning, unlocking a phone under contract will make your warranty invalid.

A jailbreak is not so difficult, but updates of your phone can prevent it from working and then it will need to be installed again. The iPhone can be unlocked with relative ease, as long as its modem firmware (or baseband) is compatible. A list can be found with a quick Google search. iPhones with a modem firmware of either 4.12.01 or 4.11.08 are locked with no solution.

If you have a modem firmware that can’t be unlocked yourself, you can call your service provider to ask about unlocking the phone. This is to gain access to the IMEI code. For me, the outcome wasn’t good; I was told I could buy out the rest of my contract for a price of $400 with the option to keep my phone number for an additional $30 a month. I didn’t go with this option because it is ridiculous compared to other mobile providers around the world.

My advice is to do your self a favor and invest in an unlocked smart phone. It’s more expensive but the mobility it provides is invaluable to the avid traveler. Mobile phones in most European countries are all sold unlocked and priced between €250 to €800. Afterwards, it is easy to find a cheap mobile provider to get a SIM card for a number and an affordable data plan. For example, in Belgium, the average 2 GB data + voice + sms package has an average price of €15/month.

There are a few smart phones that are known to be “travel-friendly” such as Blackberry and Nokia, which are typically used for business. If you prefer the higher-end web browsing and camera capabilities of an iPhone, but with more flexibility and a better price, consider buying an Android. Two great choices are Samsung and HTC; both are high-powered devices that are customizable with limitless free apps and more affordable than the iPhone.

Mobile freedom can be yours with some research and investment; believe me, the juice is worth the squeeze!

Belgian Beer Weekend: The 14th Edition

Back in September, the boys and I journeyed out of Leuven for the 14th edition of the Belgian Beer Weekend in Brussels. I haven’t been to Oktoberfest in Munich yet, but I think this could rival the famous German festival in terms of quality beer.

There were three beer stations set up in Central Brussels; the Grand Place tents, Beer Street and Beer & Food. The location of the festival is charming because it’s in the heart of Brussels, mostly outdoors, and surrounded by unique architecture. Beer lovers from all over Europe come to visit. We met Germans, Dutch, French, as well as some Americans. Most of the Americans were noticeably drunk. Obviously, they have become accustomed to what we folks in Canada call “watered down beer” and they simply can’t handle the intensity of Belgian beer.

The event featured 51 breweries who offered over 350 different beers for one to choose from. The selection was immense; I even tried a “Speculoos Cookie Beer”! The feeling of excitement I had must have been the ‘grown-up’ version of a “kid in a candy store”.

The only disappointment we encountered was at the Beer & Food station. The selection of beer and food trios changed hourly, but when we showed up the trio was terrible. The set included an Arend, a Leffe Ruby, and a Reserva dark stout. We couldn’t finish them and decided to skip on the food pairing because it was simply over priced for the portion sizes. On the bright side, I really enjoyed the Stock Exchange setting and I sincerely hope the rest of the pairings were more tantalizing than what I experienced.

Looking back in my blog archives, I’m happy to see that my beer knowledge has evolved considerably in the past year. After some experiments and research, I can say I know the basics of pairing food with beer.

The general rule for food and beer pairing is to keep sweet with sweet and tart with tart. Of course, there is a lot of playing to be done by offering a contrast. It’s important to experiment because this is fastest way to build your knowledge of flavours. Here are some general rules to get you started:

Blonde Beers compliment dishes with lots of spices and heat; Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and BBQ are all fair game. You and your guests are going to need a cool and refreshing beverage with carbonation to soothe the taste buds. As for cheese, blonde beers compliment those that are nutty, tangy, sharp, or pungent like Gorgonzola or feta.

Amber Ales go hand in hand with pork, poultry, and salads. Try one with a weekend lunch, as Amber beer is great with hamburgers, sausages, sandwiches, and soup/stew. Pizza and Mexican cuisine are also a safe bet. The best cheese would have peppery or sharp flavours like a pepper jack or cheddar.

Dark Beer are great for beef, smoked meat, and BBQs. Try a dark beer paired with a fruit and chocolate dessert or a dark chocolate cake smothered in raspberries and you will be in heaven. As for cheeses, bring out earthy and buttery flavours such as brie, camembert, gouda, havarti, and Swiss.

The Belgian Beer Weekend was one of my most enjoyable events of the summer. I made sure to take a bunch of photos as an added effort to convince beer lovers it’s an event not to be missed. Skip Germany and come Belgium if you are on the hunt for some top quality beer made with passion and tradition.

Fall Fashion Trends in Belgium

Fall is the most exciting time of year. Why? Two words: fall fashion. There are a few great Belgian Street Style blogs based in bigger cities such as Ghent, Antwerp, and Brussels. My only question is “Where is Leuven’s?” There are so many stylish people in this town; some of these young, arty college punks need to take their camera out and get it going!

Otherwise I might have to do it…

Here are some of my favourite finds: