Thursday, December 8, 2016

Week 50 - Umami

Umami, the "fifth taste" (which wasn't taught as one back when I learned them in elementary school), was the Week 50 challenge. I wasn't sure what to make, but mostly because there were lots of options. In the end, I decided to concentrate on a couple of Asian ingredients commonly associated with umami - miso and fish sauce.

The recipe that I was immediately attracted to was Bon Appetit's ginger miso glazed eggplant. It sounded so good, and after seeing the photo, I really wanted to make that. (I'm easily convinced by cookbook and recipe photos...)

The ingredients I used, slightly adapted from the original, were:

- 4 Japanese eggplants (about 1.3 lbs) ($1.82)
- olive oil (enough to brush all the eggplant slices) ($0.40)
- 1/3 cup miso ($1)
- a couple tsp of ginger paste ($0.25)
- a couple tsp of toasted sesame oil ($0.20)
- a tsp of reduced sodium soy sauce ($0.10)
- a tsp of white vinegar ($0.05)
- a few grinds of black pepper ($0.05)
- a few shakes of sesame seeds ($0.10)
- 1 bunch of scallions, chopped ($0.75)

(Is it obvious that other than the miso, I didn't measure anything precisely and just eyeballed it?)

The steps were:

- wash eggplant and cut into slices about 1 inch thick (I don't know if they really were since I didn't measure but they didn't look nearly as thick or cover as much of the eggplant as the ones in the photo)
- brush both sides of each eggplant slice with oil and put on parchment lined baking sheets
- bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through

- make sauce: mix miso, ginger paste, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and pepper, along with 1 tbsp of water
- once sauce is well combined and miso has broken up, add 2/3 of the chopped scallions and the sesame seeds, and stir well

- after the eggplant are done baking, add the sauce on top of each slice, covering as much of the eggplant as possible
- bake at 425 degrees for another 10 minutes or so (the original recipe says broiling, but we still haven't figured out how to use the broiler on this oven so I just baked it)

The eggplant came out so well, and as soon as I ate the first piece off the baking sheet, I knew I wanted to make this again. Even if I don't use Japanese eggplant in the future, I can see using this miso sauce for lots of vegetable applications, or even as the basis for sautéing things in general. The sauce was just so good, and it went so well with the eggplant. I just wish Japanese eggplant were easier to find closer to home.

For the second part of dinner (which I decided on that afternoon without much advanced planning), I made some tofu and mushrooms with a marinade that I found at A Love A Fare after googling tofu and fish sauce together.

The ingredients for this portion were:

- 1 package of tofu, cubed ($1)
- 6 large mushrooms ($1.94)
- 2 tbsp fish sauce ($0.10)
- 2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce ($0.10)
- 1 tsp sesame oil ($0.10)
- 1 large spoonful minced garlic ($0.10)

The total for the tofu portion was approximately $3.34, which when added to the eggplant and the brown rice we ate with it, made for a grand total of just over $9.

After making the marinade by mixing together the fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic, I marinated the cubes of tofu for at least 20 minutes (wasn't really keeping track). Then I added the tofu to a large pan with some olive oil (and whatever liquid marinade was left), let it cook for a few minutes, and then added all the mushrooms and cooked them together, stirring every so often, until they were done.

The tofu and mushrooms were really good, and you could definitely taste the fish sauce from the marinade. The marinade is really simple, and I think I should use it again sometime when cooking tofu with lots of vegetables. Overall, the umami dinner was pretty successful in our opinion!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sriracha Chicken

It was late afternoon yesterday when I went for lunch thanks to a bit of a doctor's office fiasco, so I wanted something quick. There was a Wendy's nearby, and they're probably my favorite of the big 3 fast food spots, so I stopped in there, lured in part by the giant sign for bacon sriracha fries. Once inside though, I saw that not only were there bacon sriracha fries, but a sriracha chicken sandwich. That sounded even better to me.

After doing a quick check online to make sure there was no broccoli slaw hiding anywhere in the sandwich (I've been surprised by it before), I ordered it. The sandwich (which is technically called the "spicy sriracha chicken sandwich") had a sriracha-infused bun, spicy crispy chicken, sriracha jack cheese, a few slices of applewood smoked bacon, creamy sriracha aioli, spring mix, and red onions. It seemed like they pretty much added sriracha to every single component that they could. It showed, as the spice of the sriracha was definitely there. There was a bit of a burn (in a good way) from the sriracha. I liked the sandwich.

As I thought about the sandwich more and more as I was eating it, I realized that this might be the closest thing I've had at Wendy's to the wild mountain chicken sandwich that they offered more than a decade ago and that I still miss. I think I mention this sandwich every single time I try something new at Wendy's, but I can't help it. It was so good. That one had a southwestern pepper sauce instead of sriracha aioli, and because of it, the spice there was more zesty than the burn of sriracha. There was also colby jack instead, which I preferred to this cheese. But otherwise, it was close. It was good on its own and even better because it came close to the best sandwich they've ever made.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Light Salad Snack

Our visit to San Juan was nice, although brief. It's always tough when you're only in port for less than 6 hours, and those hours are in the evening. It really limited what we could do since attractions started closing and there really wasn't enough time or daylight to travel much. Working with the schedule we had, we did have a good time strolling the city, touring the governor's mansion, and having some dinner (that delicious mofongo!) and yogurt.

Once we were back on the ship, for some reason I felt like I really wanted a light snack. I don't know how I could have possibly been that hungry after eating a full dinner and then some yogurt for dessert, but maybe it was that whole "always eating while traveling" feeling I've mentioned before. (To be fair though, it had been at least 2.5 hours since dinner.) The easiest thing to do to try to satisfy those cravings was to head back up to the Windjammer.

I got some more of the tabouli, since it was my favorite thing from lunch, along with some of the chana chaat from the day before and some vegetables from the taco bar. Looking at what I got, it was clear that what my body wanted were things that were light, fresh, and full of vegetables. It was a pretty big contrast with the meat and potatoes people we were people-watching were eating while we were there. (It was truly amazing to me how people could eat solely meat and potatoes and in such a large quantity. I'm clearly not built that way.) It was definitely the type of clean snack I was looking for after our time in San Juan and hit the spot. An hour later, we were back in Sorrento's eating some (less healthy) pizza, but after 26,000+ steps and 100+ floors (according to my Fitbit) that day, we earned it.

Monday, December 5, 2016


After our tasty dinner at El Jibarito, my parents told us that they wanted to take us to an ice cream place that they had discovered on a previous visit to San Juan. A was pretty excited since he loves ice cream, and I'm always happy to try someplace new in our explorations. We walked around Old San Juan for a little bit since they couldn't remember exactly where it was, and then we ended up at Frozenyo on Calle Tetuan.

Our first thought was, "This isn't ice cream..." We don't have any issues with frozen yogurt, but we were expecting to see an ice cream shop and this wasn't that. Frozenyo was one of those yogurt shops where you filled up the cup yourself with the flavor you wanted and then added toppings to it (we think), not like Pinkberry. Since getting ice cream or frozen yogurt on the ship was extremely unreliable (machines constantly broken), we were happy to be getting any type of frozen treat.

While we remember going to Frozenyo and we remember eating frozen yogurt, this is the point where this review is going to fall apart. It's a perfect example of why we should have finished all of our Quantum reviews prior to the date it shipped off to China. We barely remember anything about the yogurt. That's not to say it was bad. It's just been two years. And unfortunately our memories aren't what they used to be. And our notes for that trip were scant, and in the case of the yogurt, nonexistent.

Did we get one frozen yogurt or two? We think we got two, but why didn't we take a photo of the one A got? We think he got something chocolate-flavored, because I have a vague memory of eating chocolate with cookie dough toppings that looked just like this but I don't remember for sure. What flavor yogurt did I get here? Pink lemonade? Kiwi strawberry? It looks pink to me. Did we try different flavors before we chose? What did we like? What did we not like? I know that my toppings were strawberry, kiwi, and cookie dough because that's in the picture, and I remember the cookie dough being good, but that's about it. I also remember that we sat outside eating our yogurt, which was quite a pleasant experience on a warm December night.

We wish we remembered more about this, but unfortunately we don't. What we do remember is that when we were in DC earlier this year, we saw a Frozenyo when we were walking around Columbia Heights. We hadn't known that they started in DC at that time (since we hadn't looked them up yet to write this post), so that was a surprise for us. We had a giant dinner that day and no room for yogurt so we didn't go check them out. Hopefully the rest of our Quantum reviews aren't going to be as lacking in detail as this one.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

El Jibarito

Two years ago today, we were on the Quantum of the Seas, finally arriving at our first port, San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was A's first time in San Juan and M's second (previously there for a business trip). Unfortunately the ship didn't get to San Juan until late afternoon, and with that type of scheduling, you couldn't visit the rainforest or do much sightseeing because it was almost dark. By the time we got off the ship, there wasn't a lot of time to do very much other than stroll Old San Juan and get something to eat. 

We had narrowed down the dinner options in Old San Juan before the trip, and the one we picked was El Jibarito, a centrally located restaurant specializing in local dishes, which had been around for decades. We started off the meal with some juices - acerola/Puerto Rican sour cherry and maracuya/passion fruit. The passion fruit one was nice and sweet, and the sour cherry one had a really familiar taste that we couldn't place at the time (and still can't). A got the sour cherry, and M got the passion fruit, but we obviously shared.

After our double lunch, M wasn't really that hungry when we got to the restaurant (but we couldn't find anything else to do at the time other than to just go to dinner). Instead of getting an entree, she got two appetizers for her meal. (We were sharing anyway so we could try as much as possible, so this meant we could try even more.)

The first appetizer was the alcapurrias, plantain fritters stuffed with beef. These had a general meat taste and were very deeply fried. M isn't as big a fan of just "meat" flavors so she was a little disappointed by these, but overall they were still okay. For A, they just seemed like wonton wrapped, deep-fried meat sticks.

The second appetizer was the bacalaitas, flat, saucer-like cod fritters. We had never had cod fritters in such a flattened shape before, but they were pretty good. Unfortunately neither of us really remembers much about these two years later, but our guess is that we both preferred these more as bacalaitas are more our style than that type of fried ground meat.

M's mom and A both got variations on the same entree - camarones al ajillo (shrimp in garlic sauce). This entree was better than both of M's appetizer choices, and we were glad we ordered it.

The shrimp dish was full of garlic flavor, and featured shrimp mixed with onions and green peppers in a butter sauce. This was so good. It had a heavy but not overpowering garlic flavor that paired nicely with the sweet shrimp. The onions and green peppers also added some nice freshness to the dish.

Each entree came with a choice of rice, plantains, or mofongo, and the mofongo itself had a bunch of options. A chose to go with the trifongo (also called the mixed mofongo), which combined sweet plantain, green plantain, and yuca (cassava). All three were mashed up together and fried, and it paired so well with the garlicky shrimp. M liked this so much that she put it on her favorites list from 2014. A had read about and often wanted to try mofongo so this was a great experience for him, and he's glad that it was so tasty.

We really enjoyed visiting El Jibarito, and it was nice to get some Puerto Rican food while we were in San Juan. While there were some tourists there, there were also locals, so it didn't feel like a total tourist trap. We would definitely go back there for some more shrimp and mofongo if we found ourselves in Old San Juan again.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Week 49 - Spanish Tapas

I was really excited when the Week 49 theme turned up as Spanish tapas. I love tapas and I love Mediterranean food, so even though it meant a lot of dishes in one night (and I'm slow in the kitchen), I couldn't wait. I knew I wanted to make patatas bravas, because I had made them once before but forgot how since I never blogged about it. I decided to add on one of my favorite vegetarian tapas - espinaca con garbanzos - which I've made a couple of times but also hadn't blogged about. For the last piece, I chose something new, a bean and chorizo salad that I found when looking through lists of tapas recipes and which I thought would go well with the others.

Patatas Bravas

A couple of years ago, I did a tapas night that included patatas bravas based on a recipe from BBC Good Food. I chose to use the same recipe again this time, hoping I could remember what modifications I made that time since, from what I remembered, it had come out pretty well.

The ingredients for our version of patatas bravas were:

- 5 small to medium potatoes, peeled and chopped ($1.04)
- olive oil ($0.30)
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped ($0.50)
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped ($0.10)
- 1 can of diced tomatoes ($0.80)
- 1 tbsp of tomato paste ($0.20)
- 1 tbsp of paprika ($0.10)
- 1 tbsp of chili powder (planned for a couple tsp but used more than expected) ($0.10)
- 1 spoonful of sugar ($0.05)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.05)
- parsley to garnish ($0.45)

The steps for making the potatoes were:

- add peeled and chopped potato to greased baking pan and roast for about 50 minutes at 400 degrees until golden and a little more crisp
- add olive oil to large pot, heat, add onions and cook until soft and starting to brown
- add garlic to onions, cook for a minute or so, and then add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, paprika, chili powder, sugar, salt and pepper
- simmer sauce over low heat for at least 10-15 minutes
- when potatoes are done, add to the tomato sauce and mix together
- cook over low heat for a couple of minutes
- remove from heat and mix in parsley garnish

The potatoes came out pretty well, but they weren't really spicy like patatas bravas should be. The flavor seemed a little subdued despite all the paprika and chili powder that was added, so it was more like potatoes in a nice tasting tomato sauce. That said, it was still good, but just didn't have the kick that we wanted it to. Maybe next time I'll use smoked paprika instead.

Bean and Chorizo Salad

The new dish that was part of our tapas night was based on another recipe from BBC Good Food (didn't plan for this to be a BBC Good Food night, but just happened that way). I thought a bean salad would be a nice way to balance out two more hearty, rustic dishes.

The ingredients for the salad were:

- 4 large mushrooms, chopped ($1.05)
- olive oil ($0.50)
- 1 small red onion, sliced ($0.36)
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar ($0.25)
- 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed ($0.89)
- 1/2 batch of parsley, chopped ($0.90)
- 1 stick of chorizo ($3.34)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.05)

The bulk of the cost here was the chorizo, which wasn't even regular chorizo but the chorizo seasoned salami from the salami trio gift pack at Trader Joe's. We just didn't have time to go out looking for actual Spanish chorizo and went with that instead. No idea how that would have impacted the cost if we did go looking for it.

The steps to make the salad were:

- heat olive oil in small pan and then add mushrooms, sauté until most of the water has released
- add red onions to pan with mushrooms for a minute
- remove mushrooms and onions to a small bowl and add red wine vinegar, chill for 10-20 minutes (I left it in there until everything else was done and it was time to mix the salad)
- in a large bowl, mix the white beans with the onion/mushroom mixture, parsley, some olive oil, salt and pepper, and the sliced chorizo, and season to taste

I had forgotten that the original recipe called for the onions to be mixed with the vinegar, and I had added them to the pan with the mushrooms to try and reduce the sharpness. I don't know how differently this would have come out if I did that instead but the onions would probably be stronger.

The salad came out pretty well and was A's favorite part of the meal, mostly because the chorizo had a lot of flavor. I thought that the salad tasted better the next day when I ate the leftovers for lunch, after the salad had a chance to chill in the fridge overnight. When eating it that way, the chorizo was actually my least favorite part of it, as I thought the salad was better on its own once the ingredients had sat together for hours.

Espinaca con Garbanzos

I have no idea what recipe or what place inspired me to make espinaca con garbanzos the first time, since I've been making this here and there ever since I first started cooking more a few years ago. Wherever it came from (and there are probably many similar ones to it online), it's one of my favorites.

The ingredients for this were:

- olive oil ($0.20)
- 1 onion, chopped ($0.50)
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped ($0.10)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- smoked paprika (to taste, but a generous amount) (still using one we got for free, which will skew the totals but is truthful)
- 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained ($0.75)
- 1 bag of baby spinach ($1.99)

The cost for the spinach and chickpeas portion of dinner was $3.59 (since the smoked paprika had no cost), which when combined with the patatas bravas ($3.69) and bean and chorizo salad ($7.34), leads to a grand total for dinner of $14.62. Not the cheapest dinner but there was a little bit of chickpeas, a small bowl of salad, and a large bowl of potatoes left over, so the price covered a couple of lunches too.

The steps were:

- heat olive oil over medium heat
- add onions and garlic and cook until softened
- add chickpeas, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika, combine well, and cook for a few minutes
- push the chickpea mixture to the edge of the pan and add the baby spinach until the spinach leaves are wilted, mixing wilted spinach in to the chickpea mixture (maybe it's because we were using a different pan but it took a lot longer to do this than I remembered and I had to do the spinach in batches)

I tried the chickpeas prior to mixing in the spinach and thought the dish had much more flavor than the finished product, which was odd. There definitely was enough smoked paprika pre-spinach and there wasn't that much spinach. Even if it wasn't as strong in flavor as I was expecting, I still really like this dish and it was my favorite part of dinner.

It was a fun and tasty tapas night, even if we didn't eat until very late because of how much work it was. I tend to rationalize our tapas nights saying that we're eating at a very Spanish time of 10 or 11 pm, but that's never really the plan. At least it was good!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Week 47 - Czech

I searched Czech recipes for a long time before seeing one I wanted to make - a Czech garlic soup (or česnečka) that I found on About's Eastern European food site. It sounded really good, simple but healing, and perfect for a cool fall night.

The ingredients for the soup (slightly adapted from the original) were:

- 1 tbsp butter ($0.15)
- 1 large onion, chopped ($0.50)
- 1 head of garlic, 3 cloves crushed, the rest chopped ($0.34)
- 6 cups of water ($0)
- 3 spoonfuls of chicken bouillon ($0.65)
- 5 potatoes (equivalent of 3 medium potatoes or thereabouts), chopped ($1)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- parsley for garnish ($0.20)
- 1 bag of cheese and garlic croutons ($2.99)

The cost for the soup was about $5.88. We ate it with some panko chicken, but even including that, the total for dinner was well under $10. Always happy to see that.

The soup was really simple to make, just a little bit of prep and then however long it took for the broth to boil and the potatoes to soften. The steps were:

- melt butter
- cook onions and chopped garlic until softened
- add water and bouillon
- bring to boil
- add potatoes, salt and pepper
- simmer over low heat until potatoes are fork tender
- add crushed garlic
- cook for a couple more minutes
- ladle into bowls, add parsley for garnish (not really necessary but we had some parsley that I didn't want to waste), and top with croutons

Really, really simple, but lots of flavor.

This soup was so good. Loved the strong garlic flavor, as that made it feel really restorative. It had a lot of flavor just from the chicken broth and the simple ingredients. Very happy with this, and it was easy for the two of us to finish off the entire pot of soup since outside of the croutons and potatoes, it was really just broth. The crispy chicken tasted good dipped into the broth too. After a week of doing cooking challenges almost every day, it was nice to end with something so easy but so good.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Week 45 - Pacific Islands

For the Week 45 Pacific Islands challenge, I decided to go with a Micronesian coconut chicken curry recipe I found on There aren't really many restaurants that cover the cuisine of the Pacific Islands (outside of Hawaii), at least not here, so we haven't had much exposure to it. I researched this mostly by searching different countries + cuisine on Google and seeing what looked good. Luckily, thanks to my Sporcle geography obsession, I didn't have to research what countries were in the Pacific Islands, so that saved me a step.

The ingredients for our chicken curry (adapted from the original were):

- olive oil ($0.25)
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts ($3)
- 3 potatoes ($0.62)
- 4 carrots ($0.45)
- 1 large yellow onion ($0.50)
- 1 large spoonful of minced garlic ($0.15)
- a few squeezes of ginger paste ($0.25)
- 2 red bell peppers ($1.98)
- 2 14-oz cans of coconut milk ($1.98)
- curry powder ($0.30)
- chili powder (the Asian ground red pepper one) ($0.15)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- brown rice ($1)

The total for the recipe was approximately $10.68. Pretty good for a filling dinner for two plus enough for lunch another day.

The steps for making the curry (also modified from the original) were:

- prep: peel and chop potatoes, peel and chop carrots, chop onions, chop red bell peppers, trim fat from chicken breasts and slice into cubes, set up rice in rice cooker
- add olive oil to large pot and then cook chicken until cooked through
- remove cooked chicken to a separate bowl and add potatoes and carrots to the pot
- fry potatoes and carrots for 5-10 minutes
- add onions, cook for another few minutes
- add ginger and garlic, cook for another few minutes
- add red bell peppers, cook for another few minutes
- add chicken, coconut milk, curry powder, chili powder, salt, and pepper
- simmer until potatoes are soft and curry has thickened (could also smash some potatoes against the side of the pot to help it thicken like I did), probably at least 20 minutes
- season to taste while cooking (I did but ran out of curry powder)
- serve over rice

We liked this curry but it would have been better with more curry powder (didn't realize how little we had left). It reminded me a little bit of the curry from the Caribbean challenge which makes sense since that also had a coconut milk base, curry powder spice paste, and bell peppers in it. The chili powder here really came through, much more than the curry powder even though we used less. I would make this again, just with more curry powder.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Root Vegetable Galette

In our continuing quest to find a spinach and kale pie replacement, we tried out one of the new fall frozen entrees - the root vegetable galette ($4.99). Unfortunately, the day we had this for lunch A was feeling pretty sick and couldn't really enjoy it that much, but that wasn't the fault of the galette.

The galette consisted of butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and caramelized onions mixed with seasonings and spices on top of buttery pastry. The ingredients listed on the box aren't very specific about the seasonings, but according to Trader Joe's, they use sugar and cinnamon to help bring out the sweetness of the root vegetables, as well as Moroccan rosemary and Turkish sage. All of those flavors definitely came through.

The galette was pretty easy to make - just put it on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about half an hour. Like most Trader Joe's frozen items, you could probably bake it longer if you like it more crusty or crisp, but I was fine with it being on the softer side to go with all the soft baked root vegetables. There was a definite sweetness to it because of the vegetables in it, but the spices they added just made it taste like fall (if that's a thing). It made me think about cozy nights and snuggling under a blanket and fall spices in the air and baking, just aromas and tastes of fall.

Overall, the galette was pretty good. Not sure if it would be a suitable replacement for the spinach and kale pie, as it seems far less healthy, but it wouldn't be bad every once in a while. I think we might get this again if we're looking for that cozy comfort food feeling.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Our 2010 Europe Trip

Growing up, neither of us had been to Europe. All of our international travel had been to Asia, even though we both had longed to see the sights in Europe for a long time. Our first opportunity came almost 10 years ago on our way to Singapore where a long layover gave us a "day trip" in Germany. We absolutely loved it and once our wedding (and other wedding trips) had passed, it was finally time to start our European adventures.

Amsterdam canals

The first real trip to Europe we took was in 2010, when we visited the Netherlands and Belgium. (If we had had more time, maybe we could have made it to Luxembourg and I could just tag this the Benelux trip, but unfortunately that didn't happen.) We flew into Amsterdam and out of Brussels, stopping for a couple of nights in Brugge along the way. It was a wonderful low-key introduction to Europe, and we absolutely loved it.


We did a lot of exploring in Amsterdam. We logged lots of steps wandering the city and the canals (especially on the first day when we got a little lost and then chased a beer bike). We visited 12 different museums thanks to our Museumkaart. We loved riding around on the tram. We took a day trip to Den Haag and marveled at the Peace Palace. We managed to try just about every type of food that we wanted to get in the Netherlands and even some that we didn't even know we wanted before we got there. We fit a lot of stuff into our time in the Netherlands, which was only about 5 days.

More Amsterdam canals

We got frites, lots of them. We started at the airport with Vlaamse Frites, but also got some at Pietersma Snacks, Manneken Pis, and Vleminckx. Our favorite fries themselves were from Vleminckx, but our favorite toppings were from the airport, with that delicious combination of curry ketchup, mayo, and onions. We made 3 visits to breweries - the Heineken Experience and then 2 visits to Brouwerij 't IJ, which we loved for its beer, its bar snacks like ossenworst, and its atmosphere. We got rijsttafel at 2 different spots, the more traditional Tempo Doeloe and the modern Blauw. We went to Frens Haringhandel twice for herring sandwiches. We went to try Dutch pancakes at Pancakes Amsterdam and liked them so much we made a special trip to get some more before leaving for our next destination. We also got the small Dutch pancakes, poffertjes, at the Albert Cuyp Markt. We wandered around on our first night and ended up getting a traditional Dutch meal at De Rozenboom, a meal we had no idea we wanted but turned out to be the perfect introduction to the city.


In addition to all the stuff we planned to get (fries, beer, rijsttafel, pancakes and herring), we also ate a bunch of random stuff: burgers and sandwiches from B&B Lunchroom, giant burgers from Burgermeester, Thai food at Bird Thai Snackbar, Nepali food at Sherpa, stroopwafels and other random drinks and snacks, and 2 stops at FEBO automats. And of course, our visit wouldn't have been complete without trips to the nearby grocery store, Albert Heijn.


Antwerp's Grote Markt

We hadn't focused much on Antwerp when we planned our trip, but it was the place where we had to stop to switch trains on our way from Amsterdam to Brugge. Since we were already in Antwerp, we figured we might as well do some sightseeing, since the one thing we knew was that they had a castle/fortress (Het Steen). We saw that, as well as the Grote Markt and other shopping areas, during a pouring rainstorm. We were only there for a few hours and didn't get to explore too much of the city, but did grab some fast food at Quick Burger.


Brugge was one of our favorite places on this trip. Since we spent most of our time in the older area of the city, it just felt like being transported back in time, strolling the canals and taking in all of the architecture. It was quaint and cute when it wasn't overrun by tourists, but even the touristy things to do, like a canal cruise and a visit to the De Halve Maan brewery, were fun.

Brugge canal cruises are fun

On our first real stop in Belgium, we got 3 of the things Belgium is famous for - chocolate (from Dumon), beer (Brugse Zot), and wafels (from Laurenzino). We also had a wonderful dinner at Cambrinus, full of beer and soup and pasta, followed the next night by a traditional Flemish meal at De Vlaamsche Pot, where we indulged in carbonades, waterzooi, and more Flemish classics. We also got lunch twice at L'Estaminet, some croque monsieur and croque shoarma the first time and lots of spaghetti bolognese the second time. And, as usual, we stopped at the grocery store, and got some other snacks.

Window shopping in Brugge

We were sad to leave Brugge (and our amazing, giant hotel room). It was the type of place where we really felt like we were out of the city and in a place so different from home. Leaving for our last stop also meant our trip was almost over.


Coming from Brugge, with its narrow, winding streets and tree-lined canals, we exited into Brussels and felt like we were back in New York's concrete jungle, complete with all the dirt, grit, and smells of a city. It was a tough adjustment back to the city, and while we wanted to make the most of our time in Brussels, we found ourselves mostly missing Brugge. Dealing with a patronizing waiter at La Rose Blanche and missing out on a bunch of attractions because of bad timing, all on our first day there, certainly didn't help matters. We also felt a little disconnected because we don't really speak French (and every time I tried, the words came out in Spanish), which we also noticed when we visited the Comic Strip Center after a pasta lunch at Brasserie Horta.

Grand Place

That said, there were some nice things about Brussels. We got to see an outdoor festival that we hadn't expected to see. We were at the Grand Place during a spectacular blue hour, and all the buildings were incredibly photogenic. The Musical Instruments Museum was fun. We had one of the best wafels we've ever eaten from one of the yellow vans, and we had a tasty all-you-can-eat mussels night to close out our trip. We were introduced to kriek and got hooked on it. It wasn't all bad.


We flew out to Amsterdam on KLM, having both dinner and breakfast, after already having dinner at JFK (where we just made our flight thanks to an amazing car service guy to whom we will be eternally grateful, since these were the pre-Uber days). The service on KLM was great, the in-flight entertainment was fun, and the food was pretty good for airline food. We were impressed. Our return flight was on Delta, which we didn't like as much as KLM, but it was still good. Lunch was better than we expected, and the snack was more of a meal than we ever imagined it would be (pizza and gelato!). (For other random airport links, here's some grocery store exploration at AMS and our "breakfast" at BRU.)

KLM planes from the panorama terrace in Amsterdam

In addition to our flight, we took a bunch of train trips during our vacation, although we didn't eat much during them. We ended up eating at Amsterdam Centraal at Burger King, and got a sandwich and some candy in Antwerp, but that was it. The Antwerp train station was the only place on that entire trip that we ever saw the Haribo Smurfs which became one of our favorite gummy candies. Mostly we were impressed by the train systems in the Netherlands and Belgium, and lamented why we couldn't have such good infrastructure back home. Traveling from city to city was fairly inexpensive and so convenient compared to the way things are here, and that's something Europe will probably always do better than the US.

Concluding Thoughts

We have some pretty great memories from our first European adventure. It felt so good to be in different countries, being exposed to different cultures and ways of doing things, learning so much at the museums, and exploring so many new foods and flavors. We felt like we had gained so much in such a short period of time, and we couldn't wait to visit Europe again. Although we wouldn't choose to rush back to Brussels by itself any time soon, we would love to see Amsterdam (and the Netherlands more broadly) and Brugge again. There was so much that we didn't get to do there and we were pretty happy being there. Hopefully we'll be able to see them again someday.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Returning from Brussels

The official last day of our 2010 European adventure was spent entirely on traveling from Brussels back to New York. We had a morning flight out of Brussels so we were packed and on the bus to the airport before 7 am, watching the sunrise as we drove through the streets. It was pretty busy at the airport when we got there considering how early it was.

We got a few snacks for "breakfast" while at the airport. The lines were pretty long, so we didn't really weigh the options too much and just looked for something quick. A picked up a "tropical storm smoothie" with mango, apple, and passion fruit, as well as a meat and cheese sandwich. The line was too long where he went by the time I went to get some food, so I went somewhere else and got a cheese salad sandwich. I had a bit of sticker shock; the sandwich was almost €6 (and that was 6 years ago!) and all it consisted of was bread, a slice of cheese, some dressing, and a little bit of greens and tomatoes. A bit pricey just for that. Before boarding our flight, we also picked up a couple last bags of Haribo from the vending machine, lamenting that our vending machines at home didn't offer such good candy.

Since our flight covered the lunchtime hours (European time), Delta served us lunch on board. We weren't expecting much, since we've always found the food to be better on non-American airlines, but we were pleasantly surprised. We don't remember a ton about the lunch itself other than that it was quite decent. There was a salad that was pretty fresh and came with a little squeeze bottle of Italian dressing, some cheddar cheese and crackers, a chocolate cookie dessert, and an entree of grilled chicken with herb butter, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. We still thought our KLM meal from the way out was better, but this wasn't bad at all.

Delta also announced that there would be a snack on our flight somewhere over the ocean. We were expecting some sort of bagged snack like nuts or pretzels or chips, but what actually arrived was so much better. There was a margherita pizza with pesto and a side of gelato, which tasted like vanilla with chocolate sauce (which made sense since the container said Dame Blanche). That was a pretty great snack, and the very last thing we ate on our European adventure. Considering how long it's taken us to write about this adventure, we'll do one last post for a summary and then we'll finally be done!