Day 46: Plan de Dieu.

Some of you might have seen the post that went up earlier this week titled honesty & anxiety. It’s private now. It was a little too much to share, but it was cathartic to get off my chest. Mostly it had to do with the nerves surrounding the job search and flying home into  unemployment. I’m not a girl who likes having a plan, I’m a girl who lives and dies by having a plan. It’s just my nature and I can’t do much about it. (On a related note, I could feel myself being annoying in Italy when I kept asking what the plan was. Sorry about that, E. haha)

I’ve got a whole pile of job applications out there. Some I like a lot more than others, some I think I’m much more qualified for than others. But it’s summer, so it seems like many orgs are dealing with the hiring process post holidays. One position that I really loved is listed alongside HR manager… so I’m not holding my breath there.

I was in a crap mood after work so I went to the food store to de-stress. Don’t laugh. It’s like clothes shopping but much more practical, haha. Right before I left I decided to wander down the wine aisle, and one of the bottles caught my eye: Plan de Dieu. I wasn’t 100% sure if plan was the same word in English and French but I thought, huh. God’s plan. (Turns out I was right.) My friend recently reminded me that I can only help my future so much, I’m not really the one in charge here. So I thought what the heck, it’s a good reminder. I bought it.

I came home and checked my phone, and there was an email for me requesting an interview. I literally leaped for joy. 😀

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Since most of my colleagues are going on holidays within the next week, we had an ice cream send off party today. Here are some of the people that make work so darn enjoyable. 🙂

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Day 45: You’d think I was hungry or something.

I really, really enjoy cooking. My living situation right now is not terribly conducive to doing so however (sharing a small fridge with 6 other people; no real oven; not much counter space), so I’m afraid my skills are heading downhill. I’ve been making lots of sandwiches for lunch (mozz/prosciutto/roma tomato/ciabatta) and lots of veggie things for dinner.

For example, last night:

Step 1, Cut your veggies. (Zucchini, onion, mushroom, tomato.)
Step 2, Heat in an oiled pan on the stove, in that order. Add spinach.
Step 3, Break a few eggs over the top. Curse yourself for not using the non-stick pans.
Step 4, Melt mozzarella into it. Eat the whole pan guilt free.

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And I’m still not very used to the food shopping situation here. I talked about my first food shopping trip here; I think next time I go to Carrefour or DelHaize I’ll take more pictures to show you my progress. Or non-progress, since I discovered Tiramisu gelato, haha.

There have been a few times that I try something and say OH MAN that tastes just like ______. Or I was looking for something for a recipe, and I had to come up with the closest thing because graham crackers just plan don’t exist in Belgium. So of course these equivalents aren’t exact, but I’ve been trying to come up with a list of acceptable substitutes.

Spa Citron = Sprite

La Beurre crackers = graham crackers

Toast and cheese spread (la vache qui rit! translates to the laughing cow :)) = bagel and cream cheese

Nutella = peanut butter (of course)

I’ve also swapped in fresh mozzarella for pretty much every instance I eat cheese now here, shredded cheese is so expensive! And cheddar isn’t easy to find sadly.

Fortunately I’ve been trying to eat more veggies and less processed food here, which makes shopping easier as long as you know the french word for flaxseed is graines du lin and zucchini are courgettes and what not. I did get busted the other day for printing a price sticker for zucchini and sticking it on cucumber but in my defense concombre AND cucumber were not listed as options on the price-sticker-printing-machine. I didn’t think I could explain that quickly enough in French so I pretended I didn’t know my vegetables, haha.

Other food quirks I’ve noticed…

The loaves of bread are made on site, and not sliced. Most grocery stores worth their salt have a free machine you push the bread through and it slices it automatically. I haven’t tried this yet.

I wish I actually liked orange juice because some of the stores near me have a fresh juicing machine. It’s got a pile of oranges near the top and you have to crank the machine and hold a bottle at the bottom to catch all the fresh juice.

One of my coworkers puts cottage cheese in her soup. Which was orange. Sorry if you just ate. hah

It’s becoming progressively more difficult to avoid chocolate in my every day life. I have mixed feelings about this, haha.

Food packaging needs a major overhaul here. I thought we were bad, until the bananas and broccoli started coming shrink wrapped here. Or I’d open a package of crackers to find several small individually wrapped packages inside. Not necessary!

 

All the Way to Day 43. Darn.

I never like to plead for forgiveness when I don’t get around to blogging regularly like I should. For one, I’m not getting paid to blog. (Is that the economics student in me? haha.) Second, that means I’m having too much fun to spend time in front of my computer. So don’t forgive me! 🙂

Here’s some speed blogging for you:

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Italy Day 4: Perugia

On my last day in Italy, before my flight, my friend and I went to the town where she went to university. We stopped for lunch, where I tried some tomato-basil pesto pasta, then I had one more caffe gelato (I mean come on, it’s Italy) from GROM. She did that on purpose so if I really miss it I can actually go to NYC and grab some. Much cheaper than a flight to Italy, haha. Wasn’t that kind? We got some super last minute shopping in too. Yay presents!

The little bridge-looking thing is a Roman aqueduct through Perugia.

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Back in Brussels

Since coming back from Italy, I’ve been trying to get a grip on writing the rest of my thesis. Today I found a place that was not only open on a Sunday but they sell BAGELS! I didn’t realize how hard they were to find until I looked. No picture necessary because you know what bagels look like. I knocked Chaochow City off my bucket list Saturday though. That would be 3,80 euro for lunch thank YOU.

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Thursday was one of the intern’s last day, so we celebrated Friday night with a dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. (On the life bucket list, trying food from a new country. Check.) The whole process was so strange, but it was delicious!

I finally saw the little pissing dude. He’s really small for such a major symbol of the city, haha. Next on the list is zinneke pis, the peeing dog.

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And pissing bees, which just cracks me up. I’ll never look at honey the same way. (Completely non-scientific judgement on my part of course.)

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Otherwise, I have deadlines squared coming up at work, so back to work! Ciao ciao.

Oh ewwwwwww I just realized my flight is a month from today.

Italia Part 3: Castillo & Bagno di Romagna

This is the third in a series of posts about my recent trip to Italy. Read Part 1 and Part 2!

When it comes to the city versus the country, I definitely consider myself a country mouse. I like having so much to do and try and see in the city, but I much prefer the quieter sanctuary of living with more trees than people. Preferably palm trees.

Sunday in Italy was a whole new level of country mouse though.

My friend’s family owns a farmhouse in their hometown, perched on a hill far from the downtown area. In the early morning, her dad picked out squash, zucchini, and herbs from the garden, and her mom put together a stunningly elegant lunch to bring up to the country house (shocking, I know). There’s no kitchen quite yet, so everything was cooked at the main house and carted up there. This time, lunch was prosecco (cin cin!), olives, homemade spaghetti with truffles (…once again my favorite meal in life), squash sliced into strips and cooked with herbs and zucchini, only to be followed by the actual meal of duck breast (I don’t even know how it was cooked but it was unreal). I was so. full.

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Nonno told me this was the “key to paradise,” isn’t he so adorable?

After lunch, my friend asked me if I wanted to take a walk around and see the area around the house. This was one ‘YEP’ I should have kept to myself… I was in a dress, work ballet flats, and a bathing suit, and sort of anticipated a ten minute walk at the most. Mmmm nope. I should have brought water, sunblock, and my inhaler at minimum, haha. I forgot that I had been silently praying on our drive to the house that the car could even make it uphill… thank the lord for manual transmissions. It was seriously a 50 degree gradient in some places. But it was all worth it, check our the scenery.

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Those long things growing on stalks are onions, and sunflowers grow for miles around here… in addition to the Tuscan vineyards of course.

At the top of the hill, embedded in the stone wall around the house, is a statue of Mary. We both crossed ourselves and said thank you once we got back up, haha.

NBA! haha

If you look closely you can see the handpainted NBA sign, haha.

The rest of the afternoon we spent being lazy at the neighbor’s pool. It’s a big saltwater infinity pool overlooking the rolling hills and sunflower of Castillo. I felt weird taking pictures because they don’t know me, but this is basically what I was looking at from the float. 🙂

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I couldn’t communicate well with most people there sadly, but I was able to tell them I was American. And I definitely understood when he told me that it’s okay, we can’t all be perfect. Haha

We took pictures on these stone benches on the top of a hill, and the neighbor came over to explain to me that they were actually placed there by Romans 2000 years ago, carried over from Africa. I can’t even take a sit without finding a piece of history, haha. While I was sitting there, my friend offered me a green bulb looking thing and told me to mangia. I’d never seen anything like it before, and it was a little oddly squishy. Her mom insisted I eat it too, and showed me how to tear into. I was like well. When in Rome? Literally? After one bite I said Ohhhhhhh my god. It was a fresh fig. The Italians thought it was hilarious…”haha! Americana! My got!”

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Apparently one pool was not enough for us on Sunday though! Something else on my life bucket list was visiting hot springs, and wouldn’t you know it, those Romans loved a good hot spring bath. Again, not super conducive to taking pictures but this is from their website. We closed the place down (11pm), then went into town for dinner (pizza! quattro stagione is my favorite) and walked around the town. Look at these sweet little mandala-like things lining the streets – they were all made of dried flowers and leaves.

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This should have been a two week long vacation, darn it.

Italia Part 2: Fano & the Mediterranean

This is the second of two posts on my recent trip to Italy. Read Part 1 here!

Saturday morning we woke up bright and early for our beach day. My friend and her mom and I drove over a mountain or two and headed east towards the Mediterranean! [note: apologies for minimal photo editing today, i’m out of time this week!]

Part of the issue with talking in three languages is that I miss a lot of what the plans are, so Saturday was full of surprises for me, despite my friend having told me in at least one of the languages what was happening. What I definitely understood was that there is abig weekend market in Fano, and I would be there. If you know me IRL, I can shop. We’ll call it a strength and a weakness.

il mare, what beautiful words to see.

il mare, what beautiful words to see.

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I was far too busy actually shopping to truly capture the feel of that market, and besides, I couldn’t ask in Italian if I could take pictures. (Puis-je prendre des photos? was a sentence I learned on day one in Brussels, especially after pissing off some fishmongers at Garde du Midi). I’d call it a success though – I may or may not be coming home with a new pair of Italian shoes. 🙂 I felt like Cinderella.

After the market it was time to head to our… campground? Here was surprise #1 of the day. I somehow completely missed that my friend’s family has a campsite on the sea, complete with a car trailer, and that I’d be meeting the extended family over lunch, haha. We showed up and this delicious plate was staring me in the face.

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It was made with all kinds of fish, from shrimp to clams to lobsterlike things to bony white fish from the market. In the top corner is a zucchini salad, and we also had green beans, white rice, and fresh Italian bread. Surprise #2 – Italian bread tastes completely different from home, it’s far less salty but equally as useful for sopping up tomatoes and herbs. Mmmm mmm. They got a kick out being able to talk to me in “francese,” but I liked listening to the Italian surround me while I was eating.

This was my first view of the Mediterranean.

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I did what any sensible ocean lover would do and walked right out to the water and swam. It only lasted about ten seconds before my friend was sent to calmly ‘rescue me’ because ‘people have died swimming after eating as much as I did beforehand.’ Seems a lot more severe than the ‘wait 20 minutes or you’ll have a stomach ache’ I was used to hearing, haha. I didn’t want to concern anyone though, so I “forced” myself to nap in the sun for a bit, haha. Did I mention how much I love this country yet?

We were on the beach for hours, collecting shells and playing with the one year old in our company. One thing that was different from home was the people walking up and down the beach selling things, like knock off purses, bracelets, hair wraps, and pinwheels. The only time I’ve really seen that was in Haiti (and I still wear the necklace I bought from that man to this day). Not only that but they’re walking around in jeans and long sleeve shirts! Eesh.

When we got hungry again, my friend took me to the best little piadina restaurant in Italy. I’m not even sure if it was in a town it was so remote. But surprise #3, piadina is REAL darn good.

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Especially when accompanied by Italian beer. I got prosciutto, rucola, and stracchino. Oh look at that, we’re back to the best meals of my life list. Deliciously filling and warm and gooey and quintessentially Italian.

I learned about six or seven words while I was there – per favore, ciao, grazie, si, francese, inglese, and machina, haha. Putting on my (miserable) Italian accent even allowed me to order a meal for myself by pronouncing the menu appropriately and throwing “e vino per favore” on the end. I was a little proud, though I’m sure the waitress choked back laughter when she heard me speak.

In my last post I mentioned our drive to the top of a mountain for a photo shoot. This time it was to see an ancient Roman tunnel carved out of the mountain. The plaque on the outside said 76 AD. Like… thirty years post Jesus, we’re talking. Italy, you’re SO OLD. But you’re aging so gracefully so it’s okay. 🙂

The tunnel was really small, but this picture should give you an idea of how fast you’re supposed to drive through it regardless.

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On the other side we pulled over because the sun was hitting the mountains just right. I love the color of the water and the sun together.

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Too tired to continue our day, we passed out as soon as we got home… again. I’ve never fit so much into a vacation and yet felt so relaxed! Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about the 16th century farmhouse we ate at, with an infinity pool next door. If it sounds like heaven… that’s because it was.

buona notte, italia

buona notte, italia

Italia Part 1: Asissi & Castillo

My poor little blog, how I missed you. I’m back on track, and back in Brussels!

Last Friday I woke up to complete darkness, caught a cab to the bus to the plane and watched the sunrise over Europe as I flew to Perugia, Italy. My wonderful, intelligent, lovely, hospitable friend from UConn invited me to her hometown so off I went. Editing these photos might take ages so I’ll do a couple mini photo essays… I took about 75 pictures a day, so I’m trying to keep it under control here.

my first european sunrise. mmmhm does 4am come early.

my first european sunrise. mmmhm does 4am come early.

Immediately after getting off the plane, she picked me up and we drove to Assisi.

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Francis is one of my favorite saints – being an animal lover and sharing his name with our Jesuit pope and all. (Go stags.) We visited his church and his tomb first. There were so many people, even some in their sweet little nun habits and monk robes. I didn’t take any pictures of them because I know I’d feel weird getting stopped for pictures in my work clothes. Anyway, St. Francis!

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We also visited the Basilica de Santa Chiara. St. Chiara was one of the first followers of St. Francis, and eventually founded the women’s order similar to the Franciscans. She also has a pretty pink basilica. And how about this, she was once a part of the church of San Damiano (Francis is also connected to this church), and that’s the saint my BXL house is related to (Kot St. Dam). Whoaaa full circle.

After the church-visiting, the temperature soared so we went into a little restaurant lined with stone walls. We hid from the thunderstorm and drank coffee and caught up on life.

When the rain stopped we hopped back in the car and drove the top of a mountain for a photo shoot. I mean really, she’s a girl after my own heart. Sometimes I can’t believe my own luck.

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jenclinton/072413jBut the clouds followed us uphill so we went home.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was that I could speak French to my friend’s parents – I was afraid that communication would be impossible. But even getting by on our rough around the edges ‘francese’ and Italian hand-speak (is that the official title? hmm) made for a much richer experience. Everyone got a kick out of talking to the American in anything other than English – I’m finding that a lot in Europe.

Now I try not to be too crazy with the hyperbole here, but for real. The best meal of my life was my first dinner here. It easily toppled my last favorite meal (which was a breakfast, if you’re curious) and was only matched by Sunday’s lunch. Handmade, hand rolled pasta, filled with chicken, beef, and pork, topped with a tomato sauce from home-grown roma tomatoes, basil, fennel, and herbs de provence. I can still taste it. Not to mention the caprese salad, salami and other meats we cut ourselves, and buffalo mozzarella picked up from the nearby farm that morning. The wine was made by a friend. My life, the movie. Welcome to it.

I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that by the end of the weekend her Italian mother told me I had a good appetite (read: I ate wayyy too much). We finished with a couple glasses of Pastis and then walked into the downtown area to meet up with more family. I’ve adopted her Italian grandfather, watch for him in tomorrow’s pictures. He offered me coffee, a cigarette, and gelato within three minutes, so I took him up on the first one (it was easily after 10pm, and I don’t drink caffeine even in the morning. Oops.)* I passed out pretty hard when I got home anyway.

I could get used to it here.

 

*My reaction to nearly every “do you want to….” was pretty much YEP before the sentence was even finished. It got me into hot water when I yep’ed a hike when all I had was ballet flats, no sunscreen and minimal shade… but we’ll save that story for tomorrow.

 

For the record, Italy pretty much took her own pictures. Only a few got some stylized editing on here, most were just exposure fixes.

Days Twenty Nine to Thirty One: ACK it’s been a month.

What! Seriously. I let this little gem of a milestone slip by unnoticed yesterday.

Except for the fact that I bought myself ice cream, haha. I mean gelato has been relatively cheap and all, but you get one stinkin’ little boule like (thisbig) for 1,50 or 1,60. I went to the grocery store around the corner to see what I could find, and now I understand that I will need to buy a cooler to sneak a stack of these home.

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Holy moly. Vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce hiding around the sides and like, a pound of cocoa powder. In case you don’t understand this level  of deliciousness yet, here’s a close up.

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I won’t show you the aftermath, haha. (No, it’s not gone. I’m not totally crazy).

I’ve been working and thesis-ing mostly this week, but I’ve also been checking things off my Brussels bucket list. I went to Place Lux on a Thursday night with all the Euro Parliament interns + JB…

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We also ate the fish and chips at Bia Mara… best meal I’ve had in Brussels, besides Soleil Afrique.

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I also had my Guinness at Michael Collins…

jenclinton/07172013awhich was followed up by LITERALLY the weirdest set of nachos I’ve ever had in my life. Now, to be fair, some of the best nachos at home are from an Irish pub. Like, go out of your way to go there and eat tortilla chips and guac and sour cream and olives and peppers and omg. But when I ordered Mexican nachos at the Irish pub in Belgium, I ended up with American doritos, Thai sweet chili sauce, guac and cheese. For real? I was told it was an interestingly misguided decision, and I couldn’t say it better myself.

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My retinas, ow. (And of course there was the museum trip.)

There will be some more radio silence this week, as I’m off to ITALIA! Good thing I’m flying or I might get off in Switzerland or something. Here’s some more of life through my phone this week:

I think I’m hungry. There’s a heck of a lot of food in this post. The best part of traveling is for sure expanding your food horizons, as long as that’s the only thing that’s expanding. Amiright?

Side note, exciting news! I was interviewed by a (pretty big if I do say so myself) newspaper today about my environmental policy work. Can’t wait to share! 🙂

Day Twenty Eight: Natuurwetenschappen

Or the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, I should say. I took my six year old self to the museum armed with a student ID, an empty afternoon, and my camera. Let me just tell you. GAH I fell in love with their little Arctic display. I’ll show you. Warning, tons of pictures. Too late, you’re already here. Here’s a peek.

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First let me explain why I went. A few months ago I came across this little youtube channel called The Brain Scoop. A grad student in Montana, Emily Graslie, talks all about ecology and evolution and why animals are the way they are. She worked in the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum at her university, including helping to prepare animals for their collection. Taxidermy! What makes her story so amazing, besides the whole women-in-science-girl-power-thing, is that her little vlog blew up big time. She just landed a job at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History (big leagues!) as their cultural ambassador. Smart, smart museum they are. Her videos have changed my outlook on museums, especially for natural history. I had to go and see how the Belgians did it! I wanted to ask a million questions about their animals, where the whale bones came from and why did someone donate a tortoise and what happens when their elephant finally falls apart. I didn’t know how to ask in French, and seeing as only the first floor of the museum had english translations, I didn’t know if I’d even be able to understand the answers.

REGARDLESS. I loved this quirky little museum.

They’re really big on iguanodons, as there was a major discovery of them in a Belgian mine.

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look at those plates! and spikes! you’re so odd, evolution

I played with an interactive, attacks-you-when-you-move dinosaur, and I got to draw my own Jurassic creature. (He was kind of ugly, but I’m okay with it.) Instead of going up one flight of stairs like a normal person, I scooted all the way up to the top because I too excited for the hall of WHALES. They’re the best. The skeletons were massive of course.

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And they had this quirkly little diorama/book of whale facts. I took a picture of every page.

But it turns out that the whale room was not even my favorite. To get there, you had to walk through the section on the Arctic and Antarctic. You know those aquariums with tunnel tanks? The ones you have to walk through and you’re surrounded by fish and reefs and anemones? Well it looks like that was the original intention but someone realized that stuffed animals require far less maintenance.

Behold! The life-size Arctic diorama.

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I didn’t know whether to laugh at the earnestness of it, or just soak it in as art. I nearly teared up at any rate. NARWHALS, guys. And there were polar bears and walruses and penguins and puffins and an intimidating looking leopard seal. (This section in particular I wanted to ask about the background of the inhabitants.) This little vignette was one of my favorites – don’t go towards the light little dude!

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Back downstairs, I wandered through the biodiver-city exhibit. Urban ecology was one of my first exposures to environmental studies as a career field, and the backyard-biologist thing is great for kids.

There was a hall dedicated to shells too, but the light was a little wonky for picture taking.

The only no-talking room in the museum was full of tarantulas and cockaroaches. I imagined them trading stories about the obnoxious tourists that wouldn’t shut up. This one had a really messy room.

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I would love to learn more about this process, too: the museum had a little corner dedicated to what animals WILL evolve into, fifty million years from now. This was a capybara in the future. He looks straight out of the Avatar set.

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This little stick was one of the earliest indications that humans could do math! It’s like an early ruler, sort of. I wonder if they hated math as much as we seem to now.

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The mascot of the museum was their beloved elephant, a former resident of the Brussels Zoo He was stuffed in the 19th century (!) and restored in 2007, so he’s got quite a patina, shall we say?

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All in all, I learned a lot and am happy to check this one off my Brussels Bucket List. Thanks R-BINS!

Day Twenty Six: DĂźner Chez Moi

When I worked in Salem, my favorite place to get lunch was A&J King Bakery on Central Street. Incredibly sweet people serving incredibly fresh and delicious food. You should probably go there for lunch… right now. I usually ordered the same thing every time, and it inspired me to make my own salad sandwich here. Except ‘artisan’ is just ‘corner market food.’ (Sort of like how ‘military time’ is just, you know, time. Still getting used to that.)

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The bread’s the most important part. Pick something crusty, preferably still warm. If you pick the bag that calls it nutritious then you can feel better about the amount of bread you’re about to consume. Mmmm.

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Then the greens! (Side note – I can’t believe how over-packaged some of the foods are here. No recyclable boxes here. Even the apples and bananas come shrink wrapped.)

 I forgot to take a picture of the next part, but I made my own salad dressing with 2 parts olive oil, 1 part balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of salt and herbs de provence. Then I let the cheese hang out in the mix for a while.

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Sheep’s milk! I thought it was goat cheese all along. Regardless, it was REAL tasty. Now spread your homemade dressing on your crusty bread, sprinkle the balsamic-y feta cheese on your greens, and admire your handiwork.

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And don’t forget the vino.

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It’s a beautiful day outside, so you should probably open the window and let the breeze in while you’re eating.

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Immediately close the curtains when you see the creep across the street watching your every move.

No, not him. The vampire cat upstairs.

we're not friends, you can't have any.

we’re not friends, you can’t have any.