Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Finding My Feet - and Learning the Art of Italian Cooking - in Antwerp

The last few days have been some of the nicest of our time here in Benelux. There's a point in every "expatriation" (if I can call it that) where you finally feel so settled and secure, that you begin to do things just a little bit differently.

Yesterday Lukas and I drove out to the Antwerpen suburb of Braschaat to spend time with a girlfriend and her children. The afternoon felt like a spa retreat. The children entertained themselves, while I tricked myself into thinking that I was, indeed, enjoying a glass of red wine (it may have only been 5 sips, but it sure felt nice to hold the glass and swirl it around a bit). :-)

The sun was shining, and Annemarie and her husband have a house (and a garden) that is to die for (in addition to our farm here). We did the prep-work for our meal - Veal Scaloppini & veggies - out on the veranda, on the vibrant red cushions that adorn her huge rattan chairs. I've never enjoyed preparing a meal that much (although in truth, my only role was to trim the green beans). Such a gorgeous setting, and the trimming and peeling was complimented by good conversation and tasty tapas.

From every friend, on every continent, I learn something new. Among other things, Annemarie has taught me the art of cooking and meal preparation - Italian-style. Start early, sit back, enjoy the sunshine, and make it fun. (So often, we Americans have a tendency - if we cook at all - to want to get it done fast. How popular are those 30-minute recipe books?) And dinner was simply divine. I must admit that I was sceptical, as I'm not crazy about the concept of veal, and sage has an overpowering flavor before it's cooked. But WOW. That was some meal.

Meanwhile, the kids spent most of the time on the trampoline, (tenderly) tackling each other and laughing as the hours passed. Watching them, I was smiling so much that my cheeks began to hurt. It was Lukas' first real trampoline experience, and he and his little friend Guusje just couldn't get enough of each other.

I didn't want to leave, but the time quickly came for me to rush home for my 8PM Lamaze course. Rush as I may, I returned to Zeeland relaxed and recharged. What an incredible way to start the week.

Today I was visited by the Kraamzorg, a Dutch organisation that provides 49 hours of home care after childbirth (the norm here). They come a couple months before your due date to talk to you about your expectations, and ensure that you have everything necessary for the big day. The meeting went well, but some of the things she requested I purchase or loan were completely new to me - such as stilts for my bed and a special heating bottle for baby's crib. We discussed how often the (qualified maternity) nurse should walk my dog, change my bed, and prepare my meals.

Later in the afternoon, I decided to make dinner early, setting aside a large portion of the meal for a friend who just recently had a baby. Then we hopped on the bike and delivered it - before darting off to visit a little boy from Lukas' class... who seems anxious to make new friends. And of course, we couldn't return home to eat dinner until the dog had been walked (which we now do with the bike, to really wear him out). But the bike is the only thing keeping me relatively fit, so I'm thankful for every opportunity (i.e. good whether) to ride. A productive day, if I do say so myself!

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