Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sorry for the ridiculous discombobulation (wow, how did spell check not get that...I wasn't even sure it was a word let alone how to spell it!) of my last post; there were too many things to write and no good way of getting it all down (at least not that I could visualize at the time). In other news, I've updated the Metzing Around photo album on facebook. You can view the new and old photos by clicking HERE.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Keeping Up With Tradition

Although I've not really succumbed to homesickness yet, I have become nostalgic for my favorite time of the year back home. Mind you, Metz is going through fall at the moment, but it's more of the traditions of fall in the states that I miss. The football season has been difficult for us to come to terms with during this particular adventure. For those of you who haven't spent more than 3 minutes in a room with me, I am, and have been since I can remember, a die-hard Steelers fan, and have slowly but surely converted Michael over to the black and gold side (a process that was aided by his living in Pittsburgh and being there for their 5th Superbowl win). Before the season started, we had assumed that there would be some way to watch the games on the internet but were faced with a hard blow when we realized that the first 3 games of the year were all at 8:30pm...2:30am our time, meaning we weren't even able to attempt to watch those first few games. Even though I couldn't watch the games, I went to bed at night with my Parker jersey on and would jump on the computer upon waking to see how the game went. Thankfully, the past two weeks have been much more enjoyable; 1pm games mean we can watch it at 7pm our time. And we have been keeping the football season menu the past couple of weeks.On the left is a pumpin pie (tart) that we made from roasting and pureeing courge (the closest equivaent to a sugar pumpkin). As you can see, I have not mastered the communal kitchen ovens yet...it was a little "caramelized on the top".For the football game we made some of my family's traditional chicken wings. At this point though, we had no oven, and since we normally let them slow bake for 2 hours or so, the communal kitchen was really out of the question. This meant that we had to fry them, which is not my favorite method, but it worked and was yummy.
The picture on the right is of the chili we made last Saturday. It is pretty much your basic chili...you can't buy black beans here, so red beans were subsituted. And unlike America, it is very hard to find ground meat here (well, you can usually find it but it is pre-seasoned for sausage) and if you do find it, it is often times as much or more than just buying a chunk of meat, so instead of the ground turkey I usually use, we just used some braising meat and simmered it until it was nice and tender.This past Saturday, we took a chilly ride down to the thrift store again. I was running low on crochet thread for the project that I'm working on (pictured above), it is about 3/4 of the way done and will hopefully be a 3 foot wide table centerpiece when finished. I will make sure to get a better picture with more contrast when it is all finished. Anyway, we rode our bikes down amid sporadic autumn showers. The landscape was absolutely beautiful.

The photo above was taken from our balcony just minutes before getting on our bikes to leave. At the thrift store I managed to find 1 more spool of the cotton I had been using along with 3 new spools in a slightly different off-white color...let's hope these last me awhile. While we were there, Michael managed to snap this (slightly blurry) picture of the store from the top floor. I still can't get over the incredible antiques that they sell here for next to nothing. On this particular trip, I fell in love with an old desk for 150euros...actually, I think you can see it in the bottom left of the photo, it has the white cone-shaped thing on it, not that you can really get an idea of what it looked or felt like from this picture. An just in case you were wondering, the table top felt exactly like someone had written on it for several hours over hundreds of years, it had that smooth wood feeling that you feel when you run you hand along a railing in Disney Land...I love that feeling.

On Saturday night we were invited to a couple of parties, and since we are normally hermits at night, we decided to shake things up and get out of the dorm. The first party we went to was in the GTL undergraduate dorm, Lafayette. The party turned out to be exactly what you would expect from a college party; we played beer pong and foosball. The only difference was that I wasn't in constant fear of being caught "supplying" minors since everyone can drink at 18. At about midnight we all headed into town to a bar near the train station that was hosting a party that night (essentially meaning they cleared the floor for some dancing and brought in 2 DJ's). We had a great time with everyone and I was especially excited that Vanessa, the first Metzer I met, came later in the evening. We had a good time but still ended up leaving earlier than everyone (2am *Gasp*) and made the nice, brisk, 45 minute walk home.

For the football game yesterday, we made a Cincinnati Style chili...not that I was cheering for Cincinnati. In fact, the Steelers played Cleveland yesterday, so the food choice didn't make much sense but at least it was a good, hearty, football-type food. For those of you who are unaware, don't be ashamed, I didn't learn about Cincinnati chili until Michael and I started dating. Here is wikipedia's definition of Cincinnati chili:

Cincinnati chili (or "Cincinnati-style chili") is a regional style of chili characterized by the use of unusual ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, or chocolate. It is frequently served over spaghetti or as a hot dog sauce.

Michael has had quite a bit of Cincinnati chili in his time while I've only had it twice (and loved it both times), but when searching for chili recipes last week on www.epicurious.com, I came across a recipe for Cincinnati chili. It had never occurred to me that I could just make it at home rather than having to wait for our next trip to Ohio, so we decided that it would be a good meal to remind us of home. Here is a picture of my plate of 5-way Cincinnati chili, a mountainous tower of spaghetti, onions, beans, chili, and shredded cheese (it should be cheddar, but since cheddar is hard to come by but gouda isn't ,we used a yellow, gouda-type cheese); Michael eats his chili 4-way, without the onions. I'm no Cincinnati chili critic, but I thought the spices were pretty accurate. It was delicious, and, as you can imagine, quite filling.

In other news, we've decided to stay in Metz longer than we had initially intended, which is both a good thing and a bad thing for all of you. If you had put any thought to visiting us here in Europe, this gives you a whole 7 extra months to make it work (until December 2010). If you just wanted us to come home, I'm sorry to disappoint you. There were many factors that went into the decision but essentially, we didn't think that 9 months would be enough time to do everything we want to do (learn the language fairly well, travel, learn about the culture, find me an internship) and adding to that argument was the fact that Michael had overloaded his schedule with a particularly difficult course, thinking that he wanted to graduate by May. So instead of cramming everything into 9 months, Michael has changed course and will now be spreading his 1o classes out over 3 semesters. The really exciting part about this is that we made a couple of purchases after deciding. The first thing we bought was a fitted sheet for the bed (well, I made Michael get this, sheets are NOT cheap here, even poor quality sheets). You can see the pretty green color on the right. Before this, we had been fighting with making two twin-sized flat sheets work; it was OK but I curl up in a ball at night and would always get my feet all tangled up in the sheet on top. We also bought a mattress pad a few weeks ago (and a rope to tie the beds together) so our beds no longer slide apart through the night. And last week we bought a comforter so we weren't fighting over 2 doubled up twin sized blankets (one wasn't warm enough on it's own), so now we finally have a nice comfy bed to sleep in :-)
After our bedding purchase, we went from store to store for hours before we finally decided on a good, middle-ground mini-oven which means now I can make my chicken wings the way I like to make them.

And to prove that our new oven works well, I've included a picture of last week's pizza night pizzas. We still did one on the stove since we don't have a pan big enough for a 2-person pizza. We even managed to find pepperoni for this weeks pizzas...there's something we hadn't had since moving from the states, now all we need to find is some good/crappy Chinese take-out and we will have all of our cravings met!

Until next time, bonne semaine!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Photo Update:

In the past few days I've managed to add a few new photo albums to the facebook page.
General Metzing Around photos can be viewed by clicking HERE.
Bruges photos can be viewed by clicking HERE.

Bruges: a collaborative post

Right after we got back from Paris, we received our EURail passes in the mail. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the European rail system, it is all-inclusive and very easy to navigate. They offer an EURail pass to non-European citizens so that tourists have an easy way to see the sights of Europe without having to worry about rental cars, buses, or even buying individual train tickets (which can be daunting when you don't speak the native language). This is especially true for anyone under the age of 26, as a "youth" you get extra discounts on the passes; they are really pushing for those recent college-grads who do European backpacking trips. They offer many different levels of passes: a single country pass, a regional pass (there are 25 to choose from), a select pass (where you choose 2, 3, or 4 countries), or a Global pass which includes all 21 countries in the European Union. After much deliberation, we came to the conclusion that three countries would probably offer up plenty of opportunities to keep us busy for the next two months (passes give you a set amount of travel days within a 2 month span, we opted for 10 travel days), so we bought a select pass to include France, Germany, and BenNeLux (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg...they are so small that EURail considers them one country). So we received our rail passes just after our trip to Paris, but being the general procrastinators that we are, we didn't decide until Thursday night to go to Bruges, Belgium the next day.

(FYI: the following section is written by Michael due to his infinite love and compassion for Lauren and all of the work that she does)
We were planning on riding our bikes to the train station Friday, but as we were preparing to leave, the air valve on one of my bike's tires broke and the tire went completely flat. I guess that's what we get for buying second-hand bikes (luckily new tubes are only a couple of euros as Cora). We took the bus instead and got our rail passes verified at the ticket counter and hopped on the next train to Brussels. In Brussels we decided to wander around and find lunch somewhere. Apparently the main train station is in the middle of the immigrant neighborhood, so we went to a Middle-Eastern sandwich shop and got a chicken plate and a Bicky Kofta (kind of like a Belgian, Middle-Eastern lambburger). We then hopped on the next train for Bruges. The EURail passes are so nice because once you mark down that you're using a "day" of your pass, you can just hop on or off practically any train in Europe that doesn't require a reservation (unfortunately the high speed trains, like the one we took to Paris, and the overnight trains require that we make a reservation and that cost a few euros but can be done at most train stations). We have a little book of of the time schedules of all of the trains between most larger cities and, unlike the airlines, you can count on the train to almost always be leaving on time, so you only have to show up at the train station a couple of minutes before the book says the train leaves. Anyway, we finally arrived in Bruges that evening and were able to walk around and get acquainted with the city pretty easily; it's about the same size as Metz. We checked into our hostel which was located right downtown, met our roommates (two from Mexico and two from Australia), and dropped of our bag. Before we left Metz, we "borrowed" from the give-a-book/take-a-book library at GTL "Rick Steves' Europe 2009". Before we left the hostel, we wrote down the names and addresses of all of the bars, restaurants, and shops that we wanted to go to so that we didn't have to lug the book around with us the whole time. Using our newly formed list as a guide, and being the thrifty travelers that we are, we decided to make a dinner out of french fries and waffles. Unfortunately most of the waffle places that we had written down were either closed for some reason or had stopped serving waffles, as waffles are a lunch food in Belgium and we were now into dinner time. We managed to find a place along one of the side streets that was serving them still though and we ordered one, although I was skeptical that a plain waffle could really be worth almost 2 euros. Needless to say, it was. It was definitely the most delicious and filling half-waffle that I've ever eaten (Lauren had the other half, that's how "thrifty" we are, splitting a waffle for dinner). The waffle was super dense and had a sugary glaze/crust all over the outside. We then went and got fries at one of the little carts that are parked right under the Belfry in the main square. They were good, but not awe-inspiring like the waffle was. Thirst by this point, and being in Belgium, we went to a bar for drinks. We decided to walk to a place that was kind of on the outskirts of downtown but that was supposedly the oldest bar in the city (1515). It was fairly small, with seating for maybe 30 customers, but it had a lovely atmosphere and really made you feel like you were sitting in an "Old Master's rec-room", as Rick Steves put it. After a few delicious local beverages we headed back out in search of some actual food, as waffles and fries weren't going to cut it for dinner. We realized that it was Friday evening, and thus pizza night, so we went on a search for an Italian restaurant with pizza. We managed to find a nice place back towards the hostel and had a delicious pizza. We felt slightly guilty about eating Italian in while on a trip to Belgium, but there seems to be an odd fascination with Italian food in Bruges (lasagna is considered a snack and served at practically all bars), and the fact that the chef at the Italian place was actually Italian made us feel a little better. By that time we were pretty tired and decided to go back to the hostel and get some sleep. When we got in, we realized that our Australian roommates were still there from when we saw them in the evening. They had apparently fallen asleep right after we left at around 19h and hadn't woken up since. They were the last ones up the next morning as well. As they explained later, 1.5 months of travel combined with Oktoberfest and then Amsterdam can do that to you.

(Ok, now back to Lauren's side of the story)
Saturday morning was most delicious! Bruge has a quite well-known Saturday market filled with lots and lots of good things to eat. We found a little coffee stand at the market where we were able to get 2 coffees for 1 euro each, a far cry from Paris' 4 euro coffee where you had to pay for them to put milk in it, and it tasted just as good as the Parisian coffee. On the whole, living in Europe has re-affirmed my appreciation for good coffee, everyone here knows how to make it well. After coffee, we found a yummy cherry turnover to snack on while we found something of more substance to eat (a.k.a. meat). All around the outside of the market, there were stands upon stands selling rotisserie meat, apparently there is a large demand for this as each stand had 3 or 4 (or more!) 7 foot tall, 3 foot wide rotisseries going constantly to keep up with their ever-emptying cases. Without even knowing what it was, we ended up buying this because it looked so good and was a reasonable size for the two of us. The lady at the counter told us it was a ham after we had bought it and it turned out to be the best ham that I have ever had in my life. Needless to say, we devoured it; we sat on the bench, eating with our fingers and getting some pretty funny looks from other tourists. After "breakfast" we went shopping...we didn't have much luck but I did manage to get a new pair of dressier shoes. We've both realized that shopping in normal clothing stores is a difficult feat after so many years of shopping at the Goodwill and TJMaxx type stores where there is so little you actually like that you buy whatever fits and suits your fashion; normal stores, where we like most of the fashion, can be incredibly daunting. We wasted enough time shopping though that by the time we were done, we were ready for lunch. We found a small lunch place where Michael had another waffle (good, but not as good as the first), I had a sausage roll (super delicious!), and we both had a Jupiler (the "cheap beer" in Belgium which tastes so much better than any of it's counterparts in the US). After lunch we found De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) Brewery to buy our tour tickets then we killed time before the tour by seeking out the chocolate shops that Rick Steves suggested. I can't tell you what all of the different kinds of chocolates were that we bought. I know we had a bay leaf flavored one, we had some strawberry chocolates, a couple of caramels (both salted and unsalted), a couple of pralines, and one rum chocolate. I can tell you that they were all absolutely delicious. While eating our lovely chocolates, we walked around the southern part of the city and enjoyed some peaceful time walking through the beautiful convent on the left. We walked back to the Brewery to begin our tour where we met up with our Australian roommates, Anna and Goose (real name, Andy) who were going on the same tour. The tour was interesting, mostly going through the history of the Brewery, we probably would have liked it to include a little more on beer-making, but us being the cookware freaks that we are were more interested in the massive amounts of copper and enameled cast iron left over from previous use at the Brewery. In the past, De Halve Maan was one of many breweries in Bruges, but mainly due to the inability to export (very very small streets), all of the other breweries closed and De Halve Maan, which at one point made something like 10 beers, now only makes two. They have also (obviously) salvaged the brewery by pushing the tourism with tours through the brewery. In short, we enjoyed the tour, but we enjoyed the complimentary beer at the end of the tour even more. After the tour we made the trip up to the eastern side of the city to see 2 of the 29 original windmills that used to surround the city (there are 2 more, but they were both rebuilt). I've found that what I enjoy most about visiting European cities is simply walking around to admire the architecture. The churches, fortress buildings, and houses around Bruges, especially in the less-populated parts of the city, are incredibly beautiful and ornate. And there are so many remnants from the past ages left to admire in the city, like the canals and ancient draw bridges. For dinner Saturday night, we went in search of the quintessential Bruges food, mussels and fries, and flemmish stew. And since you cannot get free tap water in Belgian restaurants (they believe you should be enjoying the beer), we of course had some more fine Belgian beer to accompany our delicious food. We shared our entrees and as Michael took a mussel from my plate, he notices something very strange about the mussel. Apparently (as you can see by the picture), the mussel had been halfway through a lovely crab dinner when he was caught! Poor guy, harvested in the middle of a meal. After dinner we fought our reclusive urges that pushed us to retreat to our hostel (we just don't go out much at night) and decided to go to another bar suggested by Rick Steves, 't Brugs Beertje where we samples even more delicious Belgian beers from their selection of 300. We even managed to make friends at the (very cozy) bar, Neville, an older truck driver from Britain, and Rich, a fun, local character. We spent the evening laughing, cracking jokes, and drinking beer with these two until we both were about ready to collapse from exhaustion, which is exactly what we did after the long trek back to the hostel.

Sunday wasn't very exciting, we wanted to get back to Metz with enough time to get some homework done for the following week. We got up and out of the hostel, found some breakfast (coffee, waffle, and a grilled ham and cheese, I know...strange breakfast food), and hopped on a late morning train headed for Brussles. We had a short wait for our next train in Brussles, so we each got panini (again, the strange infatuation with Italian in Belgium). We had another, longer wait for our next train in Luxembourg city so we got out of the train station and walked around for a bit. Luxembourg city is really a beautiful city, on our short walk we managed to see copper roofed buildings, beautiful gardens and we walked on a bridge that crossed over a huge valley with stone fortresses. We will have to plan a trip there in the near future, it is only 45 minutes away by train.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Quick Update

We will hopefully be hopping on a train tomorrow morning, stopping off in Brussles, Belgium, then hopping back on a train to our final weekend destination of Brugge, Begium where we plan to see some beautiful gothic architecture, eat mussles and chocolate! I've been meaning to post a few pics from the past few weeks updating you on our mission: Mastering the Art of French Cooking on One Burner.
Here is a composed salad similar to one we had at a friend's house in Metz, but with a few additions. I used leafy greens, carrots, bacon pieces, carrot, cauliflower, capers, ementhaler cheese, lemon vinagerette and a fried egg on top...yummy!

This is another version of Chicken Provençal, this time with buttered noodles on the side.

Last weekend, our friends, Jeremy and Janice (fellow GTL married couple), and their adorable daughter, Kimber, had us over for a delicious American meal. We had roasted chicken, green beans, carrots, rolls, and mashed potatoes with gravy. The only French aspect of the meal was the Orangina that we drank throughout the meal and the multiple card games played after the meal. We had been planning to buy a tart pan soon (to make quiche) so for dessert, we made a fresh fruit tart with a vanilla and cardamom pastry cream. The tart shell turned out a little thicker than I had hoped, but all-in-all, I am still pretty confident in what I learned at school.

Speaking of kitchen purchases, I need to say thank you to my Grandma Baker for her lovely Birthday presents that she (unknowingly) bought for me. We decided on Saturday to use the Birthday money she gave towards buying a couple of things we had been eyeing up for the kitchen. The first purchase was a mortal and pestle to use for grinding up the immense amount of cardamom we recently acquired, along with other spices. We have a nice granite one packed up at one of the houses, but that would have been ridiculous to bring.
The second purchase was an immersion blender to be used for making crêpe batter, smoothies, marinara sauce, and blended soups, like this one:
Made out of these:
Potato Leek soup, quite possibly the cheapest, easiest soups to make (and you don't really need an immersion blender) and has now become one of my favorites.