Chocolate cake for a rainy Wednesday (+ recipe!)

June 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

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On Wednesdays, school in Belgium lets out at noon. This might seem like a cushy deal (for the kids anyway), but in my experience Wednesday is the craziest day of the week. There’s the mad dash home for lunch, persuading the youngest and soon-to-be-grumpy member of the family to take a nap, and then waking him up prematurely (and grumpy) in order to get to whatever activity has been signed up for. So on a recent gray and rainy Wednesday it didn’t take too much complaining of some probably make-believe malady to convince me to skip the activity for one day—and make a chocolate cake instead.

Not just any chocolate cake, but one made with olive oil. It’s based on this recipe by Nigella Lawson, which I came across recently. I made the version that uses flour instead of ground almonds. I used a little bit less sugar and mixed all-purpose and whole wheat flours. Unsurprisingly for a chocolate cake from Nigella, it is delicious. It’s very moist, and while the olive oil taste isn’t at all overpowering, you can tell this cake is a little different. And because we all know how good cocoa is for us, I think this could even be considered almost healthy, right? (RIGHT?)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nigella says to beat the eggs, olive oil, and sugar until they are a “pale primrose” color. Is this right? I actually have no idea what color primrose is.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Have I mentioned how in love I am with my covered cake plate?photo 1-6photo-78

Here’s the recipe (in metric, but you can search online for cup equivalents):

Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

  • 50 g good-quality cocoa powder (sifted)
  • 125 ml boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 125 g flour (I used all-purpose and whole wheat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 150 ml olive oil
  • 200 grams sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325°F/170°C. Grease 9-inch springform pan with olive oil.

Measure and sift the cocoa powder into a bowl, and whisk in the boiling water until you have a smooth, still runny (but only just) paste. Whisk in the vanilla extract and set aside to cool. In another smallish bowl, combine the flour with baking soda and salt.

Put the sugar, olive oil, and eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat vigorously for about 3 minutes, or until you have a pale primrose, aerated, thickened cream. Turn the speed down and pour in the cocoa mixture. Once it is all incorporated, fold in the flour mixture.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 35 minutes (Nigella says 40–45 minutes, but mine was done sooner), or until the sides are set and the very center, on top, still looks slightly damp. Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, and then ease the sides of the cake with a thin spatula and remove it from the pan.

Off to Lille

June 2, 2014 § 2 Comments

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There are so many places to visit a mere stone’s throw from Brussels, sometimes it’s hard to decide where to go next. So it took a deadline of sorts to get us to Lille, just over the border in France and a little over an hour by car. I’d been eying an interesting-looking museum, LaM (Lille Métropole, Musée de l’art moderne), which was having a soon-to-close exhibition on Meret Oppenheim, the Surrealist artist and muse to the likes of Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. (Unfortunately, her famous teacup wasn’t on view.)

There are only a few galleries of permanent collection on view, so it’s really about seeing whatever temporary show is on. The museum buildings themselves make for an interesting approach—one part of the structure is made up of squat brick buildings, and the other white cubes with delicate cutouts—and you are also greeted by some great outdoor sculpture. We were caught in an absolute downpour on the walk from the car, which quickly gave way to sunshine alternating with cloud-filled skies (hence the fact that these photos look like they were taken on at least three different days).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I would love to see these buildings at night, when they glow like lanterns.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An enormous Picasso,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and an impressive Calder stabile/mobile. (Note sudden lack of menacing clouds!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Daniel Buren cabane éclatée was a source of fun…photo 2-7

…and some unusual behavior.photo 3-3

Stuffed toys in the shape of France seem pretty interesting.photo 4-3OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The Sunday market springs back

May 5, 2014 § 2 Comments

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Oh how we love the Sunday market in our commune of Watermael-Boitsfort. And if we forgot that just a little bit over the winter (even though it was about as beautiful a winter as we could ever hope to have), it is now abundantly clear once again. You can get everything here: fruits and vegetables, cheese, bread, flowers, rotisserie chicken (be prepared to wait in line), fresh pasta, quiches, cured meats, fish, nuts and dried fruit, candy, plants. There are specialized stalls for poultry, beef, pork, and lamb. You can stop for a glass of wine. You can buy socks. I could go on.

It’s not a farmers’ market per se—you can buy pineapples and lemons and bananas—but it is seasonal nonetheless. And when a particular item is in season, it’s everywhere. It being the height of spring there is of course a lot of choice right now, but there is no doubt that the current stars of the show are strawberries and asparagus.

I usually do a couple loops, partly because I get a little turned around and partly because I like to see what’s on offer before plunking down my euros. Thankfully the stands stay in roughly the same place from week to week. Come with a list if you must, but be prepared to find yourself leaving with more peonies than you can carry, a hunk of comté, and the first apricots of the season, because you just couldn’t resist.

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Two Cornwall gems, Stonehenge, and a cool little castle

April 28, 2014 § 2 Comments

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There is far too much to see and do in Cornwall to even scratch the surface in a week, but you have to start somewhere, right? And one thing was clear: we had promised the boys castles, and there would be trouble if we didn’t deliver. So we sort of stretched the truth and told them that Lanhydrock House, a beautiful estate that was built beginning in the early seventeenth century and continuing to Victorian times (when it was updated with all the “mod cons”), fit the bill. And it worked! To our amazement, they both loved touring the house, from the “below stairs” kitchen and servants’ quarters (even though the servants lived upstairs) to the tiger-skin rugs, children’s rooms, and bedpans. (Lest we sound like complete frauds, we did visit a real castle too—see below.) OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The original gatehouse, dating from the mid-1600s, looks rather castle-like.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAimage

The kitchen, where “vast quantities of butter and cream” were put to work.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Back upstairs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAimageimage

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I dream of Cornwall

April 15, 2014 § 2 Comments

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Rugged coast, cozy pubs, lots of sunshine. It may have taken an entire day to get there, but it was most definitely worth it. Our road trip to England began at 7:30 in the morning—that’s right, 7:30—as we pulled away from the house, stopped around the corner for croissants, and hit the open road. By evening, we had arrived at our cottage near Bude in the north of Cornwall that would be home base for the next five days. Dinner was waiting in the oven, and our lovely hosts said the kids could let the chickens out of their coop in the morning and collect fresh eggs for breakfast. There was also a playhouse in the woods, a trampoline, winding country roads for inspired runs, and beautiful views all around. It was the kind of place you didn’t want to tear yourself away from, but the delights of Cornwall awaited. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Emergency wellie purchase turned out to be one of the best of the trip.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto 1-2photo 2-3OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA « Read the rest of this entry »

Birthday weekend extraordinaire

March 31, 2014 § 2 Comments

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This weekend we celebrated Frank’s birthday. And while it was a great weekend, what made it great in part was that is was so ordinary—with one delicious exception (see below). Our days were basically spent within a fifteen-foot radius of our house, save for the kids who were constantly up and down the street (and Frank did ride his bike to fetch some Sunday papers). Instead of a day trip to another town or even a picnic in the park, both of which we considered, it was about impromptu gatherings with neighbors—ranging in age from eighteen months to eighty-two years—sidewalk chalk and bubbles, bikes and scooters, afternoon cake, coffee, and folding chairs on the sidewalk, and then some more cake (this time of the birthday sort). Did I mention it was 72 degrees and sunny?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto 2imagephoto-77

On Saturday night Frank and I did venture out for a pretty special dinner at Comme Chez Soi, a Brussels institution with two Michelin stars that is run by the fourth generation of the same family. We got the five-course tasting menu that included some incredibly delicate seafood dishes, rack of lamb with sweet spices, couscous, green cabbage, and lardons, and a deconstructed cannelloni served in a broth made from exotic fruits. And this being Belgium, after we were “done,” it seemed someone kept passing our table and offering a small chocolate or leaving a tiny plate of something sweet.

After all that celebrating, followed by our traditional Sunday night homemade pizza, it seemed fitting to commemorate it all with a photo. But apparently a good family selfie is hard to come by.imageimageimageimageimage

Day trip to De Haan

March 12, 2014 § 3 Comments

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Though we seem to be the only people in Belgium—possibly western Europe—who didn’t go skiing for the Carnaval holiday, we did manage a quick trip to the coast. It was a particularly beautiful day of warm sun and blue sky, especially given it was only early March. De Haan is a pretty little town, more low-rise and seemingly low-key than the beach town we visited last summer, Knokke (though it’s hard to say when it is technically still winter). There is just something about the beach that makes everyone happy, isn’t there?

The center of De Haan seems like it was planned by a committee of six-to-nine-year-olds. There is a big playground, a carousel, a pavilion surrounded by dirt paths for riding bikes and pedal-powered dune buggy contraptions (actually kids were zooming all over town in these), and of course the requisite purveyors of treats. Many of the houses have names, which is usually a good indicator that a place is well-loved. I can’t wait to go back and soak up more sun, fly a kite, and explore the pretty dunes on the edge of town.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Maybe we should have brought bathing suits (or at least shorts).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One can find sticks anywhere, if one looks hard enough.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beware the children behind the wheel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Relaxen in stijl.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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