Monday, July 25, 2011

Waffle recipe

If you want to make some 'real Belgian waffles' I will share this recipe. These are not the famous Brussels waffles. (will need to put that recipe down another time, but I need to work out the yeast issue first). These are waffles that are described in my mother's cooking book as 'hard' waffles that you can keep for a longer time.

16 gram baking powder = 3 teaspoons
500 gram flour = 4 cups and a bit
400 gram sugar= 2 cups
350 gram butter 1 1/2 cup of butter
5 eggs
2 dl melk = slightly over 3/4 of a cup
dl olie = slightly over 1/3 of a cup.
1 teaspoon of vanille aroma

Soften butter, stirr eggs in, add milk and oil, stir well, add flour, then the rest, baking powder last. Oil waffle iron and bake according to your waffle irons' directions.

These came out really well. Do not overfull your iron as they will rise. Now I need to see how they are tomorrow!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The National Holiday Party

When I lived in Belgium, it would never have occurred to me to do something for our National Holiday. Patriotism, or open patriotism is not part of the culture. This has complex reasons that have to do with history, culture and different languages in one country. When you bicker among yourselves so regularly, it is hard to build up that feeling of pride. And yet, the longer I stay in America, the more I also feel my love for Belgium grow. My roots become more and more precious to me, both Flemish and Belgian.
That's why I decided to throw a National Holiday Party. I invited a befriended couple and figured out that waffles should be the obvious choice. Since I could think of nothing else that went with waffles aside from breakfast (in Belgium waffles are a stand alone snack, or vijfuurtje -five o clock snack), I decided to marry two countries together and make breakfast for dinner.

On a whim, I decided to get some cardboard plates at Party City in the colours of the Belgian flag. I chose yellow plates, red small plates, and black cutlery and napkins. Displaying the Belgian flag, even on the National holiday is very rare. I doubt if even one percent of the Belgian households has a Belgian flag. Though the current political crisis is making more people aware of whether they feel Belgian or not. Maybe that is what inspired me as well.

I was happy to find an old red tablecloth that made everything stand out prettily and then I remembered.. for my bridal shower more than five years ago the ladies had chosen the theme of a "Worldwind" romance, and there had been American and Belgian flags for decoration. And I had saved those! Some cream earthenware cups were filled with rice and decorative stones and I put the Belgian flags in there for centerpieces. I added our St. Joseph statue as well, since he is the patron Saint of Belgium

We had a fun evening, in which I shared about my country, we discussed culture and difference, made waffles together, and chased children. The crunchy bacon was actually a huge hit. It barely made it to the table!
Looking over the pictures I am charmed at how effortless and fun everything came together. And I noticed afterwards, that even the food on my plate was black (grilled sausages), yellow (eggs and waffles) and red (bacon and strawberries for the waffles.) I hadn't purposely planned it that way, but it delighted me to see it!

How do you honour the cultures that are part of your heritage?

Pretty, happy, funny, real


I managed to French braid my hair for our outing to the sea. Vanity it may be, but I was so happy to look at these pictures and not see the usual hair escaping and hanging like limp spaghetti's around my face, making me look unkempt.


I managed to have a party for the Belgian National Holiday. Two friends came over, and I set the table with the colours of the Belgian flag, added the Belgian patron Saint (St. Joseph) to our table, and had a great evening. When looking back on the pictures, I saw that the food just colour coordinated so well: it had the colours of the Belgian flag too: yellow for the eggs and waffles, red strawberries and bacon, and the black grillmarks on the sausage. Unplanned, and so much fun!

Michael's first time trying paints. He kept insisting on putting the little crayola brush thing in his mouth. I kept putting it back in his hand, he kept putting it back in his mouth. And so on. His blue lips go well with his little green onesie, don't they?

I love cooking. And baking. And I like to think that I try and make healthy food for my family. Most of the time. Some days however, things go awry. And some weeks are a pandemonium and you end up with not enough time or energy to make what you would want to make. I had lots of things in the house to make complete filling meals, but none of us were really hungry. I ended up making a quick, microwave version of butternut squash soup (not as good as the one I usually make), and some mini muffins from a mix. Then I found out I didn't have any butter, and Joseph really wants butter on his. The best I could come up with was this bag of movie theater popcorn butter. So that's how I served him. But at least I didn't go for take out Chinese for the second time that week. Right?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Belgian National Holiday

Today is the Belgian National Holiday. I am thrilled that all my national holidays are in the same month. America, Flanders and Belgium. Flanders is the Historic region and language community of Belgium where I am from. The language is Dutch and the history goes back before Roman times. Belgium on the other hand is a rather young nation. We won our independence from the Netherlands in 1830 and decided we wanted to be a democracy, but also a kingdom, not a republic. So we chose Leopold of Saksen Coburgh to be our king. He came from a long aristocratic family and was the uncle of the later Queen Victoria of England. On July 21st the King swore the oath to the constitution in parliament.

Currently in Belgium the different communities are arguing, about money, about who has the right to decide what, and who has the right to be elected where. That is why, a year after the elections, we still do not have a new government. Things go on as usual, but no new laws can be made. A year is too long. Like in the US, both parties feel they can absolutely not budge on certain issues and the people are becoming inpatient with their politicians who can't seem to solve problems. But of course they also do not want 'their' politicians to give in.

Despite all that, or maybe because of all the pressures from within, some Belgians start to develop a new appreciation for their country. Coming to American has taught me a lot. It also taught me to show my appreciation for my homeland more openly and enthusiastically.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The waffle edition

After five years (almost) of living in the US, I still have not lost my 'charming' Belgian accent. This seems an invitation for people to ask me where I am from. From the people at McDonalds, the lady who hears me talking to my children in the doctor's office, in the grocery store... everyone finds an accent interesting. I don't mind. I realize it is something that makes me stand out and that it is a conversation maker. Plus it is a chance to speak a little bit more about my country. Aside from the people who have actually travelled to Europe, there are only two things people know about Belgium: we have chocolate. And we have waffles. Some men actually know a third fact and that is that we have beer. There is more to Belgium than chocolate, waffles and beer! (You should taste our asparagus!)

But seriously, while there is more to Belgium than food, food is definitely a part of our culture. You should get the average Belg talking about subject of fries for example. I like to cook. And to bake. It's therefor quite a shock, even to myself, that I have never actually made that worldrenowned staple of Belgian cuisine: Belgian waffles. Now let me start here with a snobbish qualification: there is no such things as Belgian waffles. What is described here in the US as Belgian waffles are actually mostly Brussels waffles. They are light and crunchy and go great with strawberries, wipped cream, chocolate, bananas and a host of other toppings, but are delicious just as is with a little dusting of powdered sugar.

But aside from those Brussels waffles, there are other Belgian favorites. "Luikse wafels" or "Liege waffles" are a lot more doughy and dense and sugary, and in their own way equally delicious. Sometimes they are called 'sugar waffles', though I believe true waffle connaisseurs might not take kindly to that description. They are much more filling and often have sugarcrystals on the ends. And then there are "galetten", a hard, crispy, cookie like waffle that keeps a bit better, and has a distinct vanilla flavor, last but not least something that I can only describe as a hard waffle, which is more of a cross between 'galetten' and the Liege waffle. They are more dense like the Liege waffle, but smaller, slightly.. lighter and with a more destinct vanilla flavor.

There. That should set the record straight. Like there is not just one "European style" (I don't know why fashion editors here keep using that term, when they are mainly refering to French or Italian styles), there is not just one Belgian waffle. There are many. And they are ALL delicious. But if you want to talk about what is called "the Belgian waffle", (the Brussels one), I have to make one more remark: in Belgium, these waffles are never round. Eggo's are round. Brussels waffles are rectangular. I doubt this makes a great difference in the flavor, but I just thought I'ld point it out.

How is that for a lot of grandstanding from somebody who has never actually MADE waffles herself, be they Brussels, Liege, or otherwise. That is about to end though. In preparation for the Belgian national holiday (July 21st), I bought a waffle iron. I did have to chose a round one. The square ones I found were cheap, quite often not deep enough and did not flip. Instead of relying on a mix, or a recipe that I found online, I went straight to the source: my mother. And she went straight to her source: "Ons Kookboek" .

7 waffle recipes in this one basic cookbook alone.

This cooking book, originally brought out by de "Boerinnenboned" (Farmerswives guild), is considered the mother of all Flemish cooking books. The very first version dates from 1927 and since then it has been sold two and a half million times in it's four updates. Not bad if you realize that the entire current Flemish population is less than 6 million people. It has been bought by generations of people and was one of the most traditional wedding gifts. My mother too got hers (the 1975 edition) as a wedding gift. And while she now mostly cooks without a recipe, for something rarely made she still consults it I believe.

So stay tuned for my first attempt at waffle making. And if they are succesfull I can tell everyone: Now these are REAL Belgian waffles. Except for the shape. But well... who cares about the shape, as long as they turn out delicious!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Oh my... I got an award! Thank you, Matrushka Anna! Believe it or not, but just the other day I was actually wondering about this little blog, and whether or not I actually made a difference sending my words and simple pondering into the vastness of cyberspace. I will think over some blogs that I want to bless with this wonderful token!
I love being the lone Catholic in your sidebar, and I am so grateful for your kind words. Bless your heart, Matrushka, for an encouragement at just the right moment.


My oldest son on the day we moved into our new house,
taking that nap that mommy was praying for.

I love handmade gifts. Love... love.. LOVE them.

Looking back, I do not come from a family where handmade or homemade was a byword. My mother cooked mostly from scratch, but I can not remember any kitchen based gifts from her hands, despite the fact that she was a very good cook. On old pictures I see her crocheting or knitting like crazy, but I rarely remember her with a needlework in progress while I was a child, except for one memorable sweater she made for me out of a teenage magazine. That sweater transcends the ages. It is so eighties that recently it became fashionable again! I don't remember anyone else giving handmade gifts either. For some reason, it just wasn't something that was 'done' in those days.

We did get 'needlework' at school, but I was clumsy and the materials we had to work with were so uninspiring. I remember a horrific pillow and a bag out of rather coarse material and a color that honestly reminded me of garbage bags.

The one reminder of my school needlework, and probably the prettiest: my first year sampler.

My first connection with handmade gifts came through my embroidery. Over the years I started to acquire some skill, even though it is still VERY limited compared to some. And I started to give some things as gifts. To my surprise at the time, people seemed really pleased. I started to see something that had just been a personal hobby as a way to actually create things FOR people. Now I am the cobblers wife with holes in her shoes, so to speak. Twenty years of embroidery, and there are only two embroidered objects in my own house: the sampler I made as a child in school and the partially embroidered baptism stole for my youngest son. I love to make things for people. I love to think about them as I stitch. And I love to imagine how blessed they will feel.

That blessing was brought home to me again a few days ago, because of the blessings others have bestowed on me. My little boy came out of bed and wanted to hold on to a bunny. That bunny had been knitted for him, before he was even born, by a wonderful friend in England.

Michael with the little bunny. He got very attached to it after we started to read
"Pat the Bunny"

That same evening, I snuggled up under a queen sized summer quilt. That quilt was made for me by an American friend when I moved into my first tiny studio apartment by myself while still living in Belgium. I remember when it arrived, at my workplace, with all my colleagues oohing and aahing over it. I really wish I had a picture here, because it is beautiful. She made it in colours that would fit with the interior I had chosen for my first little domain.

When my oldest was born, my English friend made this little baby quilt for me. And another little quilt was made by a friend of my mother in law that I have never even met. For my second son, my mother made the cutest little white knitted coat, to which she added Peter Rabbit buttons that I found.

This jacket is so much more adorable in reality than it shows here on the picture.

More and more I find little items in my house that are the work of loving hands. I am always reminded of a quote from Little Women, about Meg: "So she made her wedding gown herself, sewing into it the tender hopes and innocent romances of a girlish heart." When you make something yourself, you give more than the gift itself, you give of yourself, your time, your hopes and wishes for that person... all somehow end up in that gift. And years later, just seeing those items (because they quite often last longer than store bought too) will make you smile. Like that quilt that was made for a little apartment in Antwerp, that was brought with a new bride to the United States, that covered her when she was pregnant with her second child and could not find comfort in a bed, so she ended up on a half inflated air mattress, and that now graces the bed in the heat of summer when the usual duvet is tucked safely away. That quilt is a story.. and a friendship in itself.

Three handmade gifts in one picture:
the pillow on which the boys rest, as well as the purple quilt from which you catch only a glimpse were gifts from my English friend Lesley, the animal quilt on top is a gift from a friend of my mother in law.

The bunny knitted for my second son, the little quilt on which he took a nap during our moving day into our new house, all of these memories become precious, and even more so because they are physically tied in with the love and blessings that friends and family members are.
Oh yes, I love handmade gifts, because they are touchable reminders of the love that surrounds us during our every day life.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


So, one more post about the retreat. I hope you are not yet tired. It was for me an amazing and affirming experience.
After arriving at the Oratory at Rock Hill and some confusion with one car with the luggage missing, we all settled nicely back in our little retreat house. I say little, but it honestly was not so little. A nice big kitchen, dining room, living room, two bathrooms and 6 bedrooms, plus a sleeping attic. We started with dinner. A simple pasta with jarred sauce and a fresh salad.
After that, we handed out our jars. They turned out to be a huge hit, as well as a conversation opener. After that, I read "The Love Story of God and Man" to them, to get them situated with their bibles. Then we started our first evening off with a bible study about Loving God, what love means, what God means when he talks of love and so on. All went, not just smoothly, but.. peacefully and unexpectedly deep. I was touched by the willingness of our teenagers to be vulnerable before each other as they contemplated scripture.
Then we played "Jesus hide and seek". Which is just plain hide and seek with the one searching designated as Jesus and us as disciples who are supposed to follow but hide from Him and the truth instead. There were surprisingly many hiding places and we had great fun.
Board games came after and then the evening was ended with an unplanned rosary. I asked if anyone wanted to join into my evening rosary, and.. they all wanted to! It was slightly funny at times, as well as touching, because well, I am used to recite the rosary in Dutch. Now I was supposed to lead it in English. Of course I know the prayers in English, but the.. rhythm so to speak isn't there. So a few times they had to help me out. We went to bed glaringly late, past one am.

The next morning started with showers, breakfast (elaborate and made by us: biscuits, eggs, cereal, fruit), discipleship activities and a workshop on how we tend to put God in a box. Then there was mass, lunch, a water balloon fight, free time and a second workshop about prayer, devotions and traditions. This one was a bit harder as everyone was getting pretty sleepy. After that there was some more free time and dinner. I made chili. The students helped chopping, setting the table etc. Then they went on for some more discipleship activities before dinner. After dinner there was a board game battle, and we went to bed... slightly earlier.

On the third day we had a breakfast again, cleaned out our retreat cottage, had a third workshop about choices that need to be made to lead a truly catholic life, and about the steps they want and need to take. This one was a great success. After that we had mass one more time, lunch with two of the oratory priests and we ended the retreat with a 'web of compliments'.

I know it sounds probably like a boring enumeration of what we did, but the beauty of it were the conversations, the searching, the choice of the students, the quiet and the boldness. We already had several requests to please do it again! I enjoyed it. I felt spiritually renewed. But I was also very glad to be back with my boys again.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Catholic Retreat

To round off my first year as a youth minister at our church, our greatest challenge loomed: "The retreat". We have always spoken of doing this. We always wanted to do this. We had worked on doing this.. but a few months ago it became clear that we were actually -oh help, what did I get myself into?- going to do this.
It's one thing to fund raise or attend a magnificent, everything organized, retreat from the diocesan. It is another to organize a complete retreat yourself. My colleague Anne and I took up the challenge and I must say, our expectations were exceeded. We have already had requests to definitely do this again. And we managed to pack so much in just a few days.

The retreat lasted from Tuesday afternoon till Thursday afternoon and was intended for our 'core group'; the teenagers who would always attend and are ready to grow into faith leadership positions themselves.

Our retreat started at 5 pm on Tuesday when we picked up our five students (T, M, N, E, and V.) Anne and I are the responsible Youth Ministers and Joseph and Emily are our wonderful helpers, university students with a passion for following Christ. That was the theme of our retreat "Follow Me", which was also the ending of our youth ministry video that we made for the kick off of our first year. I like to think that this retreat was the culmination of that first year. More about what we actually did on the retreat later, but here is the video to start with. Be sure to put the sound on!

Pint sized Theology

My husband's facebook update from last sunday:

"Spent most of mass listening to Joseph's long, convoluted argument about how Jesus could be in the tabernacle and in the bread and wine* at the same time. The short version is that it apparently involves Fr. Lehocky pushing a button on the tabernacle so that Jesus can fly around the church and land in the bread and wine."

Those moments make parenting worth while. (And I needed that moment, because prior to the sweet explanation to my husband, I had had to take Joseph out of the church twice for time out due to willful bad behaviour, including hitting mommy.)
But this story made me happy. While yes, it is not theologically or physically correct, it does my heart good that the visits we make to a church for five minutes of adoration and explanation do make a difference. A few weeks ago Joseph proclaimed at the moment of consecration that this was when Jesus came out of his little heart and into the bread and wine.
I whisper to him during mass (when I get to sit through mass with him that is and do not need to remove myself with a baby to the nursery) and explain to him what is going on. "This is a letter from Paul that they are reading. He was a friend of Jesus. Do you know what he is telling us? He is telling us that we need to be very good, with our words and with our bodies. Like your arms. They are not for hitting, but for hugging." I paraphrase whatever is being read on the fly so it is understandable for him. I try to put tiny little faith lessons throughout our days. And explanations like that make it clear that those lessons churn around in Joseph's mind.

Our anniversary: of nerdyness, practicality and beauty

Oh yes, it is all quiet in the house. And I am taking advantage by writing up a few posts for this poor blog. Ah, I know I have neglected you, but with the retreat coming up as well as my anniversary, I just have barely been near my computer.

I could start about the retreat, which was fabulous and deserves it's own post, but instead, I will start with the most important; my husband. My wonderful husband and I celebrated our fifth anniversary. This makes us mere newlyweds compared to some, but it is never the less a big milestone. It's our first 'big number' anniversary. Halfway towards the double digits. I have told you before about how I came to marry that wonderful man. And about our wedding. It should be pretty clear that I adore my husband.
Now do not get me wrong, my husband is a man with flaws (though honestly, I think he does not have that many). And sometimes I am uspet at things he does. Usually though, if I think about it for longer than five minutes, I usually find much worse things that I have done, which makes it less worth quarreling over. If something bothers me long term, I try to talk it out at a happy moment in a non accusatory tone. "Hey, I was just thinking the other day how much easier it would be if we would...." seems much more productive than "Why do you always leave your pants on the floor?" Especially as .. ahum... I sometimes too leave things on the floor that do not belong there. Like pieces of clothing. However I never do this when I am cleaning up. Putting your own laundry in the basket seems natural, even if it is laundry that should have been in there two days ago. Putting someone else's laundry in there seems like an injust chore, a deliberate inconvenience. Sounds like a sinful and self centered perspective to me.
My biggest challenge in my marriage (and especially in motherhood) is to develop a servant's heart. It is my bullet prayer throughout the day when I am feeling overwhelmed: God create in me a servant's heart.
But despite all that: my husband LOVES me. And I LOVE him. For our anniversary I bought him a Jedi bathrobe. The perfect combination of nerdy and practical.

He has been wearing it a lot and claims it is really comfy! In return, he gave me the Pentateuch volume of the St. John's bible. This gift is nerdy and beautiful. Proof that by now we know one another well. I love the St. John's bible. This is the first handwritten bible since the invention of the printing press. It is pretty expensive, so I am acquiring it one volume at a time. So far I have the gospels and acts, the psalms and now the Pentateuch.

The beauty of this handwritten bible is that, because of the smaller size and the handwritten text (photographed handwritten text of course), it invites you to slow down in your reading and savour the Lord's word, even if- with small children- you only get to do so in small doses.

We celebrated our anniversary with Bill's parents and the children. Then in the evening we went out for a simple meal, a walk along the beach and ended up talking a few minutes under the moon while sitting on a porch swing. The group of teenagers sitting in and around the porch swing next to ours made the moment not less romantic.
Five years. Not nearly long enough. I was so happy to read that Matrushka Anna celebrated her wedding anniversary (fourteen, much further along the path of wisdom than I am) just a few days ago. Her fourteen lessons are a word to the wise! I found myself nodding my head at each one of them. Number three is my particular challenge. There is that 'servant's heart' again.
I hope that as the years go, I will grow in wisdom, in wifeliness (the spellchecker claims this is not a word, but it should be), in patience, in sacrificial love, and in willingness to serve. I hope our love will grow stronger and deeper. After all, I felt as if my heart was ready to burst with love on my wedding day. Five years later, it has only expanded.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I am back from work and vacation, and oh my has it been great. The retreat was absolutely amazing. God really smiled upon us. (more about what we did in a later post). The retreat was sandwiched in between the fourth of July holiday and our anniversary, both of which were celebrated at Hilton Head.
I hope to find time to blog more tomorrow, but just wanted to let you know already what an amazing time we have had.
I can hardly believe that I now am married more than five years. We're not newlyweds anymore. But I still feel like one. No, I take that back.. I feel better than I did as a newlywed. I loved my husband then, but I love him even more now. I feel more at ease as a wife and a mother, and while parenthood is without a doubt harder than anything else, it also has made us grow so much as a couple.
But more tomorrow. Oh, before I forget, my apologies to Mary. I missed your comment on my whitework finish earlier. I answered your question about the pen. I hope you will like it as much as I do.

Be loved and blessed everyone!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A gruesome discovery....

I feel I must point out that what you see laying next to St. Joseph is a Wii lightsaber. Coincidence? I think not.


Okay.. that is not a word. But when my friend Anne and I were preparing for the retreat that will take place next week for our core group of teenagers, we decided that we wanted all of them to have a ... hope chest... or set out for lack of a better word, of Catholic items. It is rare for young people these days to be as surrounded by visual reminders of their faith as they once would have been.
My husband is doing an exercise program and as part of it, he takes these protein supplement shakes. I saved up the huge red jars and over the last weeks we gathered things to put in them. Yesterday we started filling the jars and both of us were happy by this wonderful display of Catholicisity that we had to snap a few pictures.

We wanted a mixture of fun and useful things. You can see some scripture candy (lollipops and mints), the bible (each one of the participants will get their own bible to start using on the retreat and take home afterwards to continue using), some notepads, rosaries (black for the young men, white for the young women), a leaflet on the chaplet of the Divine mercy, and some wooden tokens.

We found some little prayer books to help in asking the Saints to join us in prayer before Jesus' throne. One for male, one for female saints. And for each participant there is also a pen with a scripture verse, and a leaflet about the rosary, as well as one on how to form your conscience. Working with teenagers that are standing before many important choices and decisions, we found that one very important to include.

Some sticky notes to start using in that bible, and some lovely, traditional catholic stationery. We are also going to ask the students to send a postcard to next year's confirmation students, to show them that the Body of Christ is already praying for them. The blue cloth that you see underneath it all is being transformed into a bible cover for each student. While on the retreat we will encourage them to write some of their favorite verses on it in gold marker. The idea is to "walk the stiffness out of that bible" the way you do with new shoes, so it will be something they will reach for much easier once they are at home.

And I had to include this last shot, because well.. it says it all. My vocation is first and foremost to be a mom. I work for the Church ten hours a week. Most of my work however is spend at home when the children are napping or sleeping. And when we have a meeting, most of the times, I take the children with me. We have our meeting in the church nursery, so the children can play. Half the time, the meeting ends with both me and my colleague on the floor playing with the children. My boys love her. Thank you "Miss Anne", for making it so wonderfully easy to be a mother first!

Pint sized Theology

There are days when I worry about my children's religious education. Especially at mass. Or when a toddler, confronted with a plate of food that might not be his favorite, tells us to "stop doing that" while we are praying before dinner. There are other days that I marvel at his faith.
Last week, after I had to take my 16 month old out of mass (we made it throughout the readings, the gospel and partway into the homily), my three and a half year old stayed inside with daddy. Afterwards my husband shared the following with me:
"It was so cute. When Father lifted the host for the consecration, Joseph said: "Now Jesus needs to come out of my heart and go in there!"
Isn't it wonderful? Oh sure, there are theological questions, and God can be everywhere at the same time. But the fact that my whispered explanations during mass sink in on some level, the fact that God is working on him, and making Himself known to my little boy in whatever way he can understand is breathtaking.