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Santa Claus has already made his entrée in Belgium

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The final season is approaching and the first of the season’s months draws the family together. Almost eleven months have already passed with probably too few table occasions, however November and specially December see the grand finale of the year, holding a true spirit of festivity as our preparations and gatherings lead us to 25 december.

But in Belgium the festivities traditionally begin each year in mid-November (the first Saturday after 11 November), when Sinterklaas “arrives” by a steamboat at a designated seaside town, supposedly from Spain. (Okay he traditionally rides a white horse. In the Netherlands, the horse is called Amerigo and in Belgium, it is named Slecht Weer Vandaag, it means “Bad Weather Today”.)

In the Netherlands this takes place in a different port each year, whereas in Belgium it always takes place in the city of Antwerp. The steamboat anchors, then Sinterklaas disembarks and parades through the streets on his horse, welcomed by children cheering and singing traditional Sinterklaas songs. His Zwarte Piet assistants throw candy and small, round, gingerbread-like cookies, either kruidnoten or pepernoten, into the crowd. The event is broadcast live on national television in the Netherlands and Belgium. Following this national arrival, every other town celebrates its own intocht van Sinterklaas (arrival of Sinterklaas). Local arrivals usually take place later on the same Saturday of the national arrival, the next Sunday (the day after he arrives in the Netherlands or Belgium), or one weekend after the national arrival. In places a boat cannot reach, Sinterklaas arrives by train, horse, horse-drawn carriage or even a fire truck.

Sinterklaas is assisted by many mischievous helpers with black faces and Moorish dresses. These companions are called Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”). His colorful dress is based on 16th-century noble attire, with a ruff (lace collar) and a feathered cap. He is typically depicted carrying a bag which contains candy for the children. The Zwarte Pieten toss their candy around, a tradition supposedly originating in the story of Saint Nicholas saving three young girls from prostitution by tossing golden coins through their window at night to pay their dowries.

Traditionally, he would also carry a birch rod, a chimney sweep’s broom made of willow branches, used to spank children who had been naughty. Some of the older Sinterklaas songs make mention of naughty children being put in Zwarte Piet’s bag and being taken back to Spain. This part of the legend refers to the times that the Moors raided the European coasts, and as far as Iceland, to abduct the local people into slavery. This quality can be found in other companions of Saint Nicholas such as Krampus and Père Fouettard.  In modern versions of the Sinterklaas feast, however, Zwarte Piet no longer carries the roe and children are no longer told that they will be taken back to Spain in Zwarte Piet’s bag if they have been naughty!

Over the years many stories have been added, and Zwarte Piet has developed from a rather unintelligent helper into a valuable assistant to the absent-minded saint. In modern adaptations for television, Sinterklaas has developed a Zwarte Piet for every function, such as a head Piet (Hoofdpiet), a navigation Piet (Wegwijspiet) to navigate the steamboat from Spain to the Netherlands, a gift-wrapping Piet (Pakjespiet) to wrap all the gifts, and an acrobatic Piet to climb roofs and chimneys. Traditionally Zwarte Piet’s face is said to be black because he is a Moor from Spain. Today, some prefer to say that his face is blackened with soot because he has to climb through chimneys to deliver gifts for Sinterklaas!2014 Xmas in Belgium and France 079

Sinterklaas is said to come from Spain, possibly because in 1087, half of Saint Nicholas’ relics were transported to the Italian city of Bari, which later formed part of the Spanish Kingdom of Naples. Others suggest that mandarin oranges, traditionally gifts associated with St. Nicholas, led to the misconception that he must have been from Spain. This theory is backed by a Dutch poem documented in 1810 in New York and provided with an English translation



Caramelized, braised pork with red cabbage

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Ingredients: 800 g finely chopped, red cabbage, 500 g pork, 150 g pearl onion, 100 ml fresh orange juice, the zest of it as well 1 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp vegetarian oil (hazelnut), ½ teaspoon of Provençal spices, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 100 ml white wine, 100 ml water, salt and pepper to taste


Smear the pork with honey (with the help of a brush). Season with the Provençal spices then salt and pepper to taste. Heat the oil in a frying pan or a pot. Fry meat on each sides for three-to five minutes (be careful because of the honey it can burn very easily). Take out meet and put aside. Put pearl onions into the pan and caramelize until they get a bit of golden color. Place pork back to pan, pour over white wine and water. Cover pot and let meat simmer for 45 minutes under medium heat. Control regularly the tenderness of the pork.

Meanwhile heat oil in a pan and fry the finely chopped red cabbage for 3- 4 minutes. Stir it constantly. Squeeze the orange juice over cabbage and add some grated zest as well and flavor it with salt and pepper and caraway seeds. Add a pinch of sugar for more sensational aroma. Cover cabbage and let it cook for 15 minutes.

When the cabbage is ready, cut the caramelized pork into neat slices. Place pork slices on plates and pour over some gravy from the pan in which the pork was cooked. Arrange red cabbage alongside to the pork with a bit of orange juice. Serve dish with cooked or in oven baked potatoes.gekarameliseerd_varkensgebraad_met_rodekool_en_sinaasappel


Soon there is marzipan time in Germany

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The essence of this whole autumn season, with its tones of oranges and browns amongst its scenery of fallen leaves but autumn is also a season of give and take. In Germany the Advent (begins mid or at the end of November) means preparing wonderful selection of cookies. Here is a superb recipe the Bethmann for marzipan lovers (the Germans like to add marzipan to many desserts, creams, jams).

Bethmännchen (German for “a little Beth mann”) is a pastry made from marzipan with almond, powdered sugar, rosewater, flour and egg. It is a traditional cookie usually baked for Christmas Day and is widely available in chocolate shops around Frankfurt. It is a special commodity sold in Frankfurt’s Christmas market, one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany which dates back as far as 1393! The name comes from the family of Bethmann. Legend has it that Parisian pastry chef Jean Jacques Gautenier developed the recipe for banker and city councilor Simon Moritz von Bethmann in 1838.Originally the Bethmännchen were decorated with four almonds, one for each son of Simon Moritz. After the death of his son Heinrich in 1845, the fourth almond was removed. However, this story is unlikely, since Simon Moritz had died already in 1826. After one and a half centuries of manufacturing, its form and recipe has never been changed. Here is the original recipe:

Ingredients: 34 cup almond halve, plus, 2 tablespoons peeled almond halves, 120 almond halves, reserved for decoration, 34 cup prepared marzipan, plus, 2 tablespoons prepared marzipan (a prepared almond paste usually packaged in logs, available in specialty food stores, 1 tablespoon rose water, 7 tablespoons powdered sugar, 2 small eggs, 3 12 tablespoons flour

Methods: Preheat oven to 350°F. Finely grind the measured almonds.

Break the marzipan dough into small pieces and mix with one of the eggs, rosewater, powdered sugar, ground almonds and flour.

Separate the remaining egg and beat the yolk, set aside.

Form marzipan mixture into balls the size of walnuts.

Press three almond halves onto the sides of each ball. The almonds should stand up and down and be evenly spaced around the ball.

Brush each ball with the beaten yolk and place on a cookie sheet.

Place cookie sheet on the middle rack and bake 15 minutes until golden brown.Bethmaennchen-6-web



Fish soup with potatoes and sour cabbage

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Ingredients: 1 red + 1 white onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 red chili, deseeded, 2-3 potatoes, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 glass dry white wine, 800 g chopped plum tomatoes or passata, 500 ml stock, 2 bay leaves, ready fermented cabbage, (rinsed and washed the salt out!)

200 g salmon fillet, from sustainable sources, skinned, 300 g halibut fillet, skinned, scampi, prawns etc.,1 large, handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, sour cream, 1 tbsp flour

1.      Finely chop the onions, garlic cloves and chili. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion, the halved or quartered potatoes, garlic and chili and sweat gently until soft. Add the wine, tomatoes or passata, squash and stock and bring to the boil.  Flavor with bay leaves. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Season and gently break up the tomatoes.

2. Rinse the fermented cabbage with water and put it into a pot. Pour over water and cook, simmer for 15 minutes.

3.  Roughly chop the salmon and halibut and add to the pan. Add the prawns to soup, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until just cooked. Mix 1 tbsp. of flour into sour cream, spoon out some liquid from the soup and stir well with the sour cream, flour mixture. Dense your soup with this.P1130782.JPG 

4. Taste the soup and season it again with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, if necessary.

5.  Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with the chopped parsley.

Millet salads on my ways

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There aren’t a whole lot of millet recipes around even though millet is such a great gluten-free whole grain. I think it is one of those grains a lot of people forget about or think it is only suitable for birds to eat. However millet is so versatile and a great healthy addition to any kitchen. (Millet is great source for fiber, iron manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and B-complex vitamins). If you can’t find millet or don’t have it ready to go at home, feel free to substitute it with couscous or bulgur.

This is a great make-ahead recipe since the millet will continue to absorb flavor as it sits. If you make this salad a day ahead, add the avocado just before serving. (Pan roasting brings out its nutty character).

Ingredients: 1 cup uncooked millet, rinsed and drained, 4 cups water, 1 teaspoon sea salt, divided, 4 cups fresh corn kernels (about 8 ears), 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1/3 cup fresh lime juice, 2 tablespoons chopped green onions, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, 3 to 4 jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely chopped, 4 cups chopped tomato, 1 diced peeled avocado

Step 1

Cover and chill 30 minutes. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add millet; cook 10 minutes or until fragrant and toasted, stirring frequently. Add water and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until water is almost absorbed. Stir in corn kernels; cook, covered, 5 minutes. Remove millet mixture from pan, and cool to room temperature.

Step 2

Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, cilantro, and next 5 ingredients (cilantro through jalapeño). Add cilantro mixture to millet mixture, tossing to combine. Gently stir in tomato and avocado.

I like using it as a substitute for rice or in baking bread. However, I think the easiest way to prepare this is as a cold salad. I keep the salad in an airtight container in the fridge and can eat it for lunch throughout the week.

Millet with paprika or sambal oelek

Ingredients: 1 cup millet (uncooked Organic Whole), 3 tablespoons Sambal Oelek or you can replace it with grilled and puréed paprika, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, 3 scallions (spring onions, ends removed and diced), 2 bell pepper (any color other than green, I used red and yellow -finely diced), 1/2 cup fresh parsley (chopped), salt, pepper

Prepare millet on the same way like in the first recipe.

Then heat olive oil in a skillet, grill bell pepper over medium heat. Salt and pepper to taste. (Use grill spices as well). Put in a blender and make purée from grilled pepper.

To serve: stir lemon juice to tomato paste. Flavor millet with the tomato juice and add grilled pepper to it. Garnish with fresh, finely chopped parsley and scallions.

Köles-Millet salad



Wild bore fillet with lots of vegetables

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Most game recipes tend to traditional accompaniments-roasted vegetables, cabbage, turnips, carrot, probably chestnuts. This recipe takes a totally different approach, because in the mid to late autumn there are plenty of vegetables to choose from. With this recipe it is not what you actually choose, so much as taking advantage of as many flavors as possible. As you will see glancing at the ingredients list there are lots of veggies to warrant the title of this dish.

One more thing it is in fact a reasonably quick recipe, with the bore, potatoes and abundance of vegetables, simply grilled and steamed all appearing from the one “pot”. The flavored potato carries the autumnal flavors of the nutty, knobbly celeriac tuber, the sweetness of the turnips gives extra aroma etc. Here is the splendid recipe:

Ingredients: 1-2 medium turnips, 1 large or 2 carrots, 2 celery sticks, 2 parsnips, 4 potatoes, Savoy cabbage (or Brussel’s sprout, optional), 12 button or pearl onions, 2 cloves of garlic, 1,2 l beef stock, or consommé, 2 bay leaves, large sprig thyme, salt and pepper, 4-6 wild bore fillets or 1 kg, knob of butter, 1 tbsp chopped parsley, 100 ml balsamic vinegar, 2 tbsp mustard


Cut sweet turnips and carrots, celery and parsnips into rough dice or into baton-shaped sticks about 5 cms. They don’t need to be perfectly neat, but making all of them similar in size helps ensure even cooking. Cut the potatoes in quarters and shred the cabbage or Brussel’s sprouts into strips. Place the onions in a small saucepan and fry them in some oil. Add garlic cloves as well. Place potatoes, carrots, celery etc. and blanched onion in a large saucepan, fry them for 3-4 minutes and cover them with the stock or consommé. Add the bay leaves and thyme sprig and season with salt and pepper. Put them aside.

Fry the bore in some oil or butter for five minutes on both sides. Season with salt and pepper. Smear it with mustard and pour over balsamic vinegar. Remove meat from the pan and place onto a skillet. Surround meat with the fried vegetables. Cover with alufolie and bake for two-three ours at low temperature (180 degrees) until meat is tender.

To serve, lift the bore fillets from the roasting tray. Add a knob of butter to veggies, if you wish before spooning into plates. Place the fillets into the centre of each plates, ladling the cooking liquor over and sprinkling with chopped parsley. P1130706

Berkeley and the Verbena tea

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When I lived in Berkeley my favorite café was the Chez Panisse Café where I fell in love with the verbena tea. At first when I randomly popped in that nice place it was cold so I decided to order some herbal tea. The tea arrived in a large, clear, glass teapot, filled with green leaves and hot water. It was lovely – light, lemony, minty. After I finished it, my curiosity got the best of me and I started fishing out the leaves from the pot, wondering what was in this tea anyway? M waitress noticed this odd behavior and quickly came to the table offering to provide us with fresh leaves.

“These leaves here are mint, but what are these long green ones?”- I asked. -“Lemon verbena,”- was the answer and she happily addressed my battery of questions about this herb.

Lemon verbena is a bushy shrub that grows quite well in Northern California but the best one can be found in France. It originally comes from South America, but has been cultivated in Europe since the 1600s. It has a strong lemon scent and it is used to add a lemon flavor to many dishes. Here’s the method for making simple mint tea with lemon verbena:

1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves (not the stems, they’re bitter), rinsed, lightly packed (about 20 leaves)

1/2 cup of fresh lemon verbena leaves, rinsed, lightly packed (about 10-15 leaves)

2 cups of waterIce tea kaamillával

Liver and digestive support

The verbena plant is also a potent herbal remedy that is sometimes overlooked. The medicinal uses of this plant date back to ancient Roman times for the treatment of a variety of illnesses, and thousands of years later the herb is still implemented as a natural remedy and detoxifier that is perfect as an addition to certain colonic cleansing techniques. Verbena’s effects range from bodily purification to the treatment of psychological or neurological problems. Generally, the aerial parts of the plant are used to brew a tea, or a tisane. The herb is easily grown in the garden and can be picked to create homemade verbena tea, or it can be purchased as a stand-alone product. Herbal specialists suggest beginning treatment with verbena to promote a healthy liver by drinking large amounts of the tea once per year for a small period of time. It can also stimulate the body to better absorb the nutrients from food. If you experience digestive issues on a regular basis, drinking a cup of this tea every day can help you improve digestion and resolve minor problems such as diarrhea, bloating, nausea, cramps and flatulence. You can also enjoy a cup of this tea with or after a meal in order to encourage better digestion overall.

Other speculated benefits of this tea are yet to be confirmed by research however they include the stimulation of milk production in breastfeeding women and its topical benefits on the skin.

Verbena and Guy de Maupassant

The world famous French writer Guy de Maupassant who was the master of the short story, -depicted human lives and destinies and social forces in disillusioned and often pessimistic terms – among of his brilliant short novels my favorite is the Window, in which the verbena has a key (sexual) role but not in the form of beverage rather a parfume.

Return to the verbena tea it can be a great drink to enjoy any time or whenever desired. If you have found an interest in giving verbena tea a try, you may be able to find this brew for sale in the tea section of a local health food store (bio shop). When it comes to organic herbal teas, the best one the Buddha Teas as one of the highest quality merchants as far as I ‘ve known.

To prepare verbena tea, simply take one verbena tea bag and place it in a cup of boiled water. Allow the tea to steep covered for a period of 3 to 5 minutes. Afterwards, sugar, honey, or lemon can be added for flavor if desired!

Verbena liqueur

Ingredients: 1/2 cup lemon verbena leaf, tightly packed, 1 strip lemon zest, about 5 inches long, 4 cups vodka, 2 cups sugar or maple syrup. Lightly bruise the lemon verbena leaves.

1.     Place the lightly bruised lemon verbena leaves, lemon zest and the alcohol in a large jar with a tight fitting lid.

2.     Leave for at least 2 weeks in a cool, dark place before straining out the solids.

Other recipe or tip: Verbena-camomile cream brulée

chamomile cream brulée