Sunday, March 29, 2009

Flowery Experiments

I've been sick for a few days and wanted a good bowl of soup for dinner tonight.  Sad news for me:  canned soup sucks here (many might believe it sucks in the US, but you need to try it in Belgium to know how much soup can really suck).  So I did a bit of research and decided to make myself some french onion soup.  No time to consult my uncle so I went with an old favorite:  Alton Brown.  A mixture of his advice and some of my random side steps and we've got a solid bowl of happy warm onion broth.  
At the store I ended up with a bag of onions, I didn't look for anything specific.  I got a nice baguette and some cheese.  I can't remember what I got, but it was a nice soft french cheese to melt on the baguette.  I got a bottle of white wine.  I got some bouillon cubes.  I was specifically told not to do this by Alton, but he wasn't shopping in Belgium so I've gotta work with what I've got.  
The overall process was really easy with the only painful part being the onion cutting.  I followed Altons process of prepping all the onions to start and leaving them cut side down on the board.  This meant that the major pain was during a relatively short period of time.  I sliced the onions in a radial manner to make nice little half moons... not sure why I was supposed to cut them this way, but it was fun.  While I was doing all this I had a diluted chicken broth started on the stove.  Then I put a bunch of butter in a big pan and used the "low and slow" cooking method for the onions.  After about half an hour of light sauteing I ramped the heat up to get some caramelization (or almost burn) on the onions and then put in a bunch of the white wine.  After letting the white wine reduce I added the chicken stock.
The final addition was the cheesy toast... it ended up really good, and not too salty at all.  The color wasn't great because I didn't caramelize the onions enough to give it the nice deep brown, but otherwise it was hearty and made me feel warm.
Anyone who's enjoyed the food editions in the past should go back and find the older food posts and head to the comments.  My uncle has finally "stopped by" to comment and you can see some real criticism in place.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

To do list:

I'm sick so I'm gonna keep it real short tonight... but i've got a to do list that will hopefully provide some interesting future posts.

#1.  Acquire a work visa!

#2.  Look for a new apartment.

#3.  Sign up for real French classes.

I should also mention I don't think I'm sick, but maybe allergic to some mutant European vegetation.  I've never really been one with allergies before... but this sickness comes just in season.

Also, fun story... I forgot to sign into my blogger account in English so the spell check is correcting me straight into Dutch.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I enjoy hot chocolate too often.

I'm a sucker for hot chocolate, I won't lie to anyone about that.  But when I saw this new hot chocolate medium... I was astonished.  Simple concept:  put Belgian chocolate on a stick and melt it into a cup of hot milk.  Not hot water, hot milk.  Also, while stirring the choco-stick you can sneak a bite or two of the melty chocolate bits straight off the spoon/stick.  I first saw a stack of flavors in my favorite chocolate shop near my office metro stop.  
I soon found a tourist locale where one can purchase both the stick AND the hot milk at the same time.  I ventured with the Honey & Seasalt which was probably unnecessary, I should have gone with a simpler flavor.  There wasn't enough salt to cut the sweetness the honey added to the whole business.  Never the less, it was thick, creamy and a great warming treat on a cool day.  I noticed that there were also liquor based concoctions that I may try on another occasion.  As the chocolate melts it allows the liquor to flow freely into the brew.  This said, I think we need more innovation in warm chocolate beverage delivery.  Thoughts? 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Another co-worker is leaving. Goodbye Liz, you leave a big American legacy behind.  I was invited by Liz to a Girl Talk show and having been to the show before, I knew it would be a good time. Brussels was nice, we went to the Botanique venue.
Now, this venue was awesome.  The show itself was in a rotunda (a big cylinder) that couldn't have been more than 40 feet across (or 12 meters for the Europeans).  This meant that the "standing room" was about as large as the stage and by the end of the show they were one and the same.  Also, I was standing in the back... and During the show Gregg Gillis (girl talk himself) decided to grace my shirt with his man sweat.  He jumped down from the stage and hopped around into me... I may never wash my shirt again I'm so honored.  Then again, I got chocolate milk on the shirt today and I don't want it to stain.
Also, instead of french tonight I'm mentally roaming around online classes.  I'm watching a class on "Introduction to Starcraft and Competitive Gaming."  Droz was right (16 years ago) when he said, "you can major in gameboy if you know how to bullshit."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sell everything you own.

Seriously.  Before you consider the big move across one of the oceans (or Mexico) please look at the solid objects you own.  Trust me when I say you don't need 90% of them.  Near the beginning of this blog I wrote about "things to do before you leave."  The list talked about banks and other "on paper," things to consider.  I think this is more important, but not as easy to do.  Sell everything... and then when you feel comfortable with how much stuff  you have, sell more.   I certainly didn't follow my own advice and brought WAY TOO MUCH with me.  I'm eyeballing my three pieces of luggage that are overfull with stuff:  Clothing, wires and books.  
It's important to note that I love books, and I read often... my library is unnecessarily large and full of books I want to read.  I knew I couldn't carry three book shelves worth of stuff with me overseas so I put a bunch in cold storage, promising the books I wouldn't abandon them and that someone would read them soon.  I sold a huge portion of the library and sold my entire childhood collection of video games.  This step was very necessary for me to feel the "cleanse" bug and soon after I felt good trashing everything I had.  Not only was this a pretty good source of bonus cash, but it helped me rationalize leaving things behind.  It started the process of mentally preparing myself to change my day to day existence into something new.  I still ended up with a bunch of books that were on the top of my mental "list to read."  The library was a starting point and it extended to a lot of the stuff I had avoided trashing for years.    
I began a process of examining things that I thought I needed at all times.  I brought about 18 paperback books with me and 3 DVDs.  I brought a gameboy, two external hard drives, cameras (digital & slr) and a cache of charging/converting devices, daily clothing & "nice" clothing and some bedding.  One of the pieces of advice I read in a book suggested taking a list of books / movies you want to consume and just rebuy them in the new place when you need them.  This makes a lot of sense as I haven't gotten through nearly as many of the books as I'd like.  But now, when I finish the books I donate them or sell them.  Once I've finished a novel there is no reason to keep it.  If it is non-fiction and something I'd like to reference I plan on scanning the important parts and backing them up.  If I need to reference it in the future, I can probably find the same book in a library.  I've also realized I was a little over-ambitious with the "nice" clothing.  I think I packed about 90% more than I will ever use, and I could have saved myself a few pounds on the trip over.
I'm writing about all this as I begin to look for a new apartment and contemplating moving the same three pieces of luggage again.  All I want to do is sell or donate enough to bring myself down to one large bag and a backpack.
Ok, well today I did about an hour on Rosetta Stone learning a bit about plurals and conjugation.  Its pretty useful to help picking up on the sounds of plurals since its a bit more subtle than I'm used to.  I've also been looking at details the past few days in French, and hopefully soon I'll be able to tell a contractor what materials he should use... but not be able to say "Hi, how's it going?"  Also, this past Friday I went to Pecha Kucha night (a Japanese presentation style for designers).  This was a fun event because there were English, French and Dutch presentations.  Among the francophone presenters there was one Canadian, one French and one Belgian; I was very able to notice the difference between each of the regional variations on French and it was fun to hear them so close to one another.  I also realized that I can get the general idea of a presentation in French, but in Dutch... whoa, I have NO idea what's going on.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spending Report Week 9

*Announcement* Rotterdam won, it will be the first trip though I still don't know when it's gonna happen.  I found out I can take a round trip on a bus up there for 22 Euros which is a very good price.
I've officially been in Belgium for two months today.  Brussels decided to celebrate by having a no-jacket weather weekend.  I had a day planned with a cool walking tour of a neighborhood I haven't been to:  Etterbeek.  I did something dumb though, I checked my camera after walking out of my apartment to learn that it was dead.  Thus, a good day of tourism un-documented.  I means I'm just gonna have to go back and do it again... (maybe it was a good mistake, I really enjoyed the area).
Personal Development:  Not bad, push ups and sit ups were done on schedule.  On the other hand, French... not so good.  At this point I'll chalk it up to laziness and re-plan this whole thing.  Starting Monday I'll put a tiny extra post purely to explain what I've studied on a day to day basis for french.  Maybe the daily writing commitment will help.

Spending = Good.  In fact, I brought it below last week.  I did an average mix of take in lunch and a lot of cooking for dinner.  My "celebratory" lunch today didn't break the bank either.

Overall:  57.39

Restaurant: 19.70
Groceries:  18.47
Miscellaneous Food: 15.82
Beer: 3.40

Restaurant:  This is really only two lunch days and some pizza today.  I went to a place where you order pizza by weight and had a big chunk with some nice buffala mozzarella on top (not melted).

Groceries:  The usual, I'm going to go to Gare Du Midi tomorrow (big market on Sundays) to get some good cheese and some produce to add to the week

Miscellaneous Food:  Waffles et al

Beer:  I had to celebrate St. Pattys with a few Guinness.

This was an interesting week for money though as two opposing events occurred.  #1  I got my tax return back (yay).  #2 One of the largest weekly changes in the dollar EVER (boo).  Essentially all the growth the dollar made in the first seven weeks I was here was erased on the eighth week I was here.  Luckily I pulled a bit of cash out last week so I have a reserve but if I have to pull any out soon I'll lose an extra 10 cents on the dollar UGH.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The BIG map

Check Spelling
I wanted to give a little idea of where I am on the bigger map.  I've marked places I've been to in Green and places I want to go to in Red.  I don't necessarily want to go to Groningen but the first project I completed for the office was there... so I thought I'd put it on the map.  So far I've stuck to the classic Flemish travel destinations in Belgium, with Liege as a Wallonian destination.  Koln (or Cologne for the Americans) is the closest major city within a train trip into Germany.  I've marked Rotterdam and Amsterdam as my northern trips, Rotterdam first.  Then London and Paris are pretty obvious choices.  The most interesting part about this map is that the furthest place (Koln) is Two hours and twenty minutes by train.  Paris is only 1:22 but is one of the only trips you've gotta book in ADVANCE.  If you guys had voted Paris for the sooner trip I'd be outta luck as the cheapest round trip was still over 100 Euro (not worth it).  I found out if I book at least 15 days in advance I can get it closer to 60 Euro on the Thalys (super fast train).

We shall see how all this works out.  Until tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

the expat ARCHITECT.

Yes yes, I've been missing the posts based on the title.  There are a few reasons,  #1 once I get home the last thing I want to think about is work.  But more importantly is #2-  Sometimes it is difficult to separate what I'm doing as an architect versus what I'm doing as an employee of an office.  I don't really want this to end up being a blog about the company I work for, but about my experiences learning about a culture by learning how to design for the people within the culture. 
I bring this up after spending quite a few hours drawing apartments for French (Parisian) social housing in the past week.  The new project I am on is fortunate enough to have two completely separate guidelines:  The Master Plan and the developer client.  Each presentation we prepare has to be aimed to appeasing the coordinators of the plan while showing the developer we can make them money.  The rules from the developer are especially confusing and detailed, but have helped me get a 1:100 grasp on Metric.  What I mean is that until now I've been converting meters-feet in my head whenever someone gives me a dimension, I haven't had to be that precise just yet.  But this past week I've been shoe-horning 6 lbs (or grams) of apartments into a 5lb (gram) bag.  This means I've gotten more accustomed to seeing a hall as 90cm  instead of 36 inches.  I did specify that I'm comfortable with metric at 1:100 (or 1/8th scale)... this week I'm starting on details which will help me understand materiality proportions in metric as well.
In order to work on the apartments, the developer designed this fancy little chart which ranges from T-1 to T-5.  T-1 is a studio where a T-5 is a 4 bedroom apartment.  Each of these apartments has specific square meter counts PER ROOM in addition to minimum dimensions for handicapped accessibility.  So, in the past five days I've been drawing and putting puzzle pieces into the footprint of the building we've designed and hoping that they all fit.  It is tedious and boring  but an incredibly effective learning mechanism.  There is also one more little rule that seems increasingly more obscure to me:  There has to be two doors between the living room and any bathroom.  I guess this is the french fart barrier, or at the very least an aural separation between bathroom and living room.  That added rule makes the space planning geometrically more complicated and sometimes my head hurts while I'm trying to make some of the larger spaces.
I'm glad I got a fart joke in there.  Also, European daylight saving is different, but  its also going to be much different for us.  I realized today that the sun doesn't set here until almost 7pm anyway and haven't had daylight saving yet.  Next week the sun will be up LATE... summer late hours should be great with all the extra light.  As long as I'm not drawing T3's.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cool Food

After a long week at the office I wanted to relax a bit on my Saturday.  I also didn't spend much so I thought I'd maybe splurge and go out to a nicer restaurant and try some fun foods.  After looking through my guide book and taking some local suggestions I decided on comocomo.  This is a tapas bar that takes a huge influence from restaurants in Japan.
COMOCOMO is Spanish for "how do I eat," which is fun to say.  The Restaurant serves Pintxos is explained as different from tapas because they are meant to be eaten with your fingers.  What this really means is that they put something normally eaten with a fork, onto a small piece of bread.  This doesn't necessarily work with all the dishes but I mentioned a Japanese influence, this occurs in the delivery (not the bread).  The entire restaurant is like one big bar that wraps around.  What makes it unique is the conveyor belt that also weaves its way around the space.  I went for lunch, I've learned this is the best time to try great restaurants, and was luckily placed right in front of the chef.  He spoke English and was very helpful with the dishes.  The idea is that the chef prepares a bunch of small colored plates of food and places them on the conveyor.  The colors represent a category of food (black = meat for example) and you pay based on how many dishes you've consumed by the end of the meal.  This is commonplace in sushi restaurants in Japan and the system is almost exactly the same.  Pay per dish, at COMOCOMO they have set rates for 3-6-9 dishes and any extra dish is 2 euro.
A quick run down:  1. Pork, Bacon & Potatoes, 2. Quail breast & Mint, 3. Sobressada, Cheese & Honey, 4. Manchego, Honey & Quince, 5. Quail Leg & Star Anise, 6. Lamb Rib & Rosemary, 7. Frog Legs & Sesame.  By far the most memorable dishes of the night were the Sobressada with Cheese and Honey, the Quail Leg with Star Anise and the Quail Breast with Mint.  The rest were very very good, but seemed like something I may cook for myself... pedestrian dishes.  Before the good is the bad: the Frog Legs weren't great mainly because the sesame completely over powered the frog itself, I was basically eating a sesame chip with a little bit of frog.  Also, the lamb rib with rosemary... it was good and is a classic pairing.  Instead the dish needed to be considered a Pinxtos (eat with your hands) so they put it on a piece of bread.  It still has a rib in it.  You can't eat it with a piece of bread underneath.  The redeeming quality was that I watched the chef cook the lamb dish start to finish.
Ok, Sobressada is a Majorcan (Spanish island) pork sausage and with this dish it looked to be taken out of its casing and just used as a ground spiced pork.  The cheese was... unnecessary but the key to the dish was the honey.  The contrast between the spice of the paprika and pork and the sweetness of the honey was beautiful.  I could have eaten seven plates of that one dish and been very happy.  The Quail Breast & Mint was nice.  I'm pretty sure the mint was put into a yogurt or mayonnaise, but the absolute subtlety of the cool sweetness was very refreshing on a nicely cooked savory quail breast.  I liked the Quail with Star Anise because it was a slightly different take on the chicken drumstick that I've had so many different ways.  The flavor of the dish seemed very Indian, but much simpler, I imagined that star anise is a major portion of the spice within a curry based dish.
The food was but one part of the journey.  I got to sit and watch a chef prepare a huge portion of appetizer portions and he explained each one as he placed them on the conveyor belt for me.  I spent an hour and a half drinking some wine, watching him cook and tasting some small plates.  For under 20 Euros... I wonder if a certain uncle of mine would care to comment on the idea as this post is mainly for him.  I want to try some more interesting places about... apparently Horse Steaks are relatively popular here so maybe I'll try to find one.

Antwerp: With Friends pt. 2

Another Late night, but after a quick nap I'm making an effort to still make my "Monday" post.  Its St. Patricks day and we've got two Irish folk in the office so I may be celebrating tonight and didn't want to miss another two days.  Also someone mentioned that my posts seem to be "slowing down."  That's motivation right there.  Also, 4 votes for Rotterdam... If there happen to be 5 people looking for Paris they'd better speak up in the comments today as I'm planning on going this weekend.
So, we last left our architecture heroes at Hangar 26 where they looked at the architecture building.  Little did they know, but in the near vicinity was a brand spankin new piece of architecture by Neutelings called the MAS Museum.  We got to see it mid-progress and I think we all decided if they stopped building right where they were it would end up as a better building.  In the photo (and rest of the photos in the album) you'll see that there is this cool spiral void cut out of the mass.  Unfortunately you'll also see that they're beginning to close off the awesome void with stupid wavy glazing.  One of the most impressive (and unshowable) parts of the project is the site:  On a platform in the middle of a secondary canal heading out towards the main river.  This makes it partially isolated and providing the visitors with awesome views of lower Antwerp.  Unfortunately, the stupid curved glass will ALWAYS be in glare.  It would be like surrounding the top of Rockefeller Center with frosted glass so you only get a blurry view of Manhattan.
After the mini excursion we headed back towards the "downtown" area of Antwerp to catch the end of a cattle show.  I met a Belgian Blue here... This is a cow with a mutation including a secondary layer of muscle that has been breed mainly in Belgium, hence the name.  Awkward and true story:  After seeing the cattle, our native Belgian tour guide (and co-worker) decided to show us the Red Light District.  We weren't the only group on a tour, but that didn't make it any less awkward.  One of the reasons he brought us was that one specific corridor was designed recently by a Belgian architect specifically to function within the district.  Lots of tiny "storefronts" with the ladies standing by the door.  No photos though... for obvious reasons in addition to the fact that a member of the group brought out a camera and an angry larger woman popped outta nowhere to yell, "NO CAMERAS!"  Fun times.
Like any tour of a city by a group of architects, you eventually end up at the cities architectural book store/museum. We were determined not to go in the museum, but I still took a pic of the cool entrance space.  We also just did some aimless wandering, and I'd love to include some more pics but in reality there are just too many.  At the top I included a picture of a cool graffiti park, there should be a bunch more in the album.  Also... Obligatory waffle photo.  It was good, but my waffle guy does a better job.
From this point on a bunch of people went their separate ways, a few remained to continue trekking through Antwerp.  There was nothing of note to comment about, just a few cool projects that you can see in the album.  We ended up getting pizza at a relatively inexpensive pizza place, but were very confused by the menu in the process.  It turns out Prosciutto pizza is just the name of the pizza as it does not include prosciutto, just ham.  I wasn't sure what to make of this, but the pizza was good anyway so I was happy.  We took a later train back and got to see the station lit up, which was again impressive.  
Everyone enjoy their St. Pattys day and drink something green... preferably alcoholic.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spending Report Week 8

*Announcement*  I'm going to go on a weekend (instead of day) trip soonish.  Its up to you guys to determine where I'm going.  Vote in the comments on Rotterdam or Paris.  Rotterdam is supposed to have a ton of beautiful contemporary architecture where Paris is... well Paris.  *End Announcement*

Ugh, another bad week for Personal Development.  I did push ups and sit ups Monday but then stayed in the office all night Wednesday and Thursday so I slept through Friday.  I'm not doing well... I'll keep you updated, but I'm still going to push myself to finish everything.  On the other hand, I did finish a book.  This is the first book that I've started and finished while I've been here.  Sometimes I need a motivational (meaning easy to read) book to get me into a reading mood, I'm already 20% of the way through another book since finishing the last.  

Money was good this week as I spent most of my time in the office, and as a group we didn't go out but cooked in.  I decided to go out for a cool meal on Saturday, but otherwise my spending was minimal.  I'll post about that meal later this week, after the conclusion to Antwerp.

Overall:  63.36

Groceries:  27.06
Restaurant:  24.80
Miscellaneous Food:  11.50

Groceries:  This was last Sunday and this Saturday, a bunch of veggies and rice and some good protein.

Restaurant:  I went out for a lunch once with the office and then I spent 19 Euro on a cool lunch Saturday

Miscellaneous Food:  This is covering the stuff I bought to help cook dinner every day of the week.  In addition my post all nighter routine is to walk home with a Waffle from my waffle guy at Schuman.  If you don't have a waffle guy, you should get one.

That's all for the week.  Oh, almost forgot, TAX TIME.  A good friend of mine suggested TaxACT and he was right on the money (get it... money? taxes? ugh).  I paid 0$ for federal and 13.95$ for state.  I'm pretty damn happy with that versus stupid H&R Block.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Antwerp: With Friends pt. 1

This week a co-worker and friend left the company and Belgium to go back to Portugal.  A lot of the office came out together to spend time with Miguel and to go on a trip to Antwerp.  Hopefully the trip wasn't a one time event, and hopefully we can go see other locations with even more zebra horses.
SO, on to the trip.  We all met at the Central Station around 9am and took a 9:30 train to Antwerp.  It was a 9.80 Euro "weekend round trip" which means one way each direction to be used whenever during the weekend.  If we happen to stay in one of the clubs all night we could come back in the morning.  That didn't happen, but it was an option.  We ended up in Antwerp around 10:30 with very few plans for what to do.  My guide book wasn't very helpful, but thankfully someone had a tiny print map for cheap/free things to do in the city.  We ignored our first destination as we were completely distracted by the intense scale of the central station in Antwerp.  
This station was by far the most beautiful I've been in.  The depth of the space was overwhelming, it also maintained a wonderful contrast in age.  The 19th/20th century steel shed was maintained, but the ground hollowed out beneath to make a massive canyon of train tracks and platforms.  I don't mention it much, but this was truly an inspiring design to see.  I could have stayed there for half an hour, eaten a waffle and came back to Brussels feeling accomplished.  BUT, we did have another destination. The mini-guide suggested we could take a quick detour off the main stretch after exiting the station to see into the Antwerp Zoo.  We were going to go see the giraffe!  Alas, the "free viewing" area of the zoo was mostly under construction but we did happen to catch a glimpse of a zebra horse (or zorse as google corrects me).  While fascinating, I came to see a Giraffe... and was disappointed.  We moved on, aiming for the main pedestrian concourse of Antwerp.  We were determined to avoid any cost based museums and just roam all day.  This is a little bit backwards for Antwerp as the main drag is based on Shopping. 
  I've been told by some of my roommates that if you want to buy things you should not stay in Brussels, you should go to Paris OR Antwerp.  Also, for those of you that have seen Snatch, diamonds do come from Antwerp.  There is a museum... we did not go.  Instead we continued walking until we found a cool church and square and our next destination: Frites.  I won't include a pic because I've already got too many to include but know this:  they were frit-tacular. I split a mayo-based dish with someone while another group tried the ketchup.  I tested their ketchup concoction to learn that it was basically tomato jam... super sweet to the point that it tasted like NutraSweet was added.  I'm not going to lie, it was kinda gross.  Luckily I had some mayo left to remove the flavor.
Our next stop was the water front with a cool dock office building (hangar 46 in the first pic), an awkward Belgian statue and some cool new architecture.  While we aimlessly wandered around on the waterfront, Miguel noticed something afar and whispered, "I think I see an architecture building."  We were intrigued at what this could mean, and while walking towards the destination we first passed this weirdo.  When I receive the photo, I'll post up a strange loop version of the statue (ie a recreation with Miguel and myself looking up at the statue from a similar vantage point).  After this we found our way to the "architecture building," we were heading towards.  It turned out to be an old warehouse building with the ground floor cleared out for parking and the second floor finished nicely for offices (mostly design based).  Along the back side on the waterfront all the old cranes are still in place, probably still functioning and must provide an interesting view for all the employees.  
Well, it seems this post would be quite long if I decided to continue on.  So I've added a pt.1 to the title.  This gives me a way of extending the usefulness of these photos into ANOTHER day.  Fabulous.  I'll say its been a bad week for posts... it was also a 72 hour work week with not so much sleep in the latter half so I didn't even try.  I've got a bunch of things to write about in the back log including something related to being an "expat architect" for once.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

On Numbers

An old co-worker (JustFoster) set up a blog and in one of his first "public" posts he wrote about Daylight Savings.  I'd also like to look at Daylight Saving as a way to ruminate on the concept of numbers in a foreign place.  On first glance the most obvious change:  Time Zones.  I am six hours ahead of the east coast (most of my friends and family), and nine hours ahead of the west coast (a select few).  I'm also a full twelve hours ahead of Hawaii (an extremely select two).  This all changed during Daylight Saving.  For a long time I took for granted the idea of Daylight Saving.  Yes, we turn the clocks back and forth... don't know why, don't care why, the sun is nicer in the spring because of it.  This was until I said to my boss last Friday, "hey, its daylight savings this weekend."  He replied, "no... no, its not."  I learned that Europe in fact has a much later daylight savings than the US, and this is only a recent event.  Pre-2007 the US had a later Daylight Saving adjustment, the US moved up the date because of both conclusive and in-conclusive evidence (not sure how this works) that there will be a 1% reduction in energy usage if we pushed Daylight Saving earlier into the spring.  I won't argue, but it got my mind working on other differences.
A co-worker casually mentioned that "numbers are the same everywhere."  For a long time I had a similar belief until I really thought about the differences between Metric and Imperial.  I'm going to go a bit abstract for a moment but bear with me:  Metric is based on the number 10... simple.  Imperial is based on the number 12... also simple.  The truly important portion of this is the factors involved.  Take Metric and 10, it has the factors 2 and 5... and 10 but that's not really a factor.  Metric is an extremely easy system because to change powers you just add or subtract a 0 from the end and halves are easy as well.  Imperial on the other hand is a bit more complex.  There are Four factors:  2,3,4,6.  This makes life easy and complex.  Easy because more factors usually means it is a lot easier to create fractions and teach the addition and subtraction to youth.  Complex because you have to choose between a standard factor of 2 or 3.
Lets look at a ruler.  If you are designing a ruler and take one inch you have two options within your factors for how to split things up.  2 is much easier because every knows a half.  3 is a little tougher.  On the other hand, you can never split a number using the factor of 2 alone and end up with 1/12.  This results in a ruler usually being divided into 16ths or 32nds.  Now we have to do math based on the number 12 as well as the number 16 (or 32... and so on).  Dumb.  
These numbers pervade our existence in many other ways including money and time.  For now I'm much more interested in Money.  There are people who would prefer if the American money system moved to a base 12 system in order to create simpler math for lower denominations.  The issue is that we are in fact close to the system already with our coins.  Even though our money is based on 100 cents in 1 dollar, our coins are still very confused as to which system they would prefer.  The most obvious is the Quarter.  25 is clearly a factor of 100, but 1/4th is not an easy fraction created with the factors of 2 and 5.  The coin is a relic of an older time.  The Euro for instance contains a 20 cent coin (1/5th) as well as a 2 cent coin (1/50th) also a 1, 10, and 50.  The Metric (base 10) system remains consistent in their coins.  
Christ, if you've made it this far you deserve a picture.  That's a picture of a bronze man riding a camel... in Antwerp.  This isn't meant as a lesson by any means... just me thinking about the confusion w/in the American system.  I'll write again soon about how I'm progressing in the Metric system via architecture/food/temperature.  Hint: not well.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I went to the grocery store today and bought:  A Quail.  I was wrong about the partridge, they don't have those.  In addition to Quail they also have Pigeon.  Was I ready to eat the flying rat? No.  I asked my uncle for some culinary aid in preparing these tiny birds.  After he mentioned Mirepoix I had to remind him that I have the culinary training of a 9 year old.  So, he went step by step and this was the result.

Step 1:  Take the birds out of their packaging. DONE!
Step 2:  Boil a bunch of salt in water.  He gave me numbers, I couldn't find measure cups... oh well.
Step 3:  Chill the water and dunk the birds.  Let them sit for a period of time.  I did cover them so they would stay under water and left them for two hours.  This was because I got hungry and decided to cook.  This step is called a Brine and is meant to add moisture and flavor.
Step 4: Prep the birds for cooking.  I decided to do one in our "oven" and one in a pan.  The Oven bird got a big lemon shoved up its butt.  Both also got a bit of oil, salt and pepper.
Step 5: Oven bird goes into the toaster for about 35-40 minutes on 180 degrees (Celsius... yea, again just guessing).  I did this until the "juices ran clear." The pan bird was a little tougher.  I put a bunch of butter in a pan over medium heat.  After melting I let it foam up a bit then seared both sides of the quail.  I left it in the pan on medium and basted it with a spoon.  Basically I just spooned the excess liquid back on top to help crisp the skin.  I'm pretty sure I #1: burned the butter and #2 undercooked the pan quail.  
Step 6:  Rest.  The birds keep cooking for a little while post direct heat.  While I was doing all this I prepared some garlicky green beans.

Result?  Moderate success.  Like I said, I undercooked the pan bird and I think the burned butter didn't help the overall flavor.  The skin was crispy and nice.  The bird was pretty fun to eat but I actually did eat two as they were pretty skinny.  I enjoyed the oven bird a bit more.  I think putting the lemon in the cavity wasn't nearly enough, I should have put some of the juices over top of the bird before cooking as well as continuously basting the bird with the leaking lemon juice.  The left over "gravy" at the bottom of the oven dish was fantastic and I've become a true believer in the strength of flavor acidity adds to food.  I may cook these guys again if I've got a full Saturday or Sunday and go figure out what the whole mirepoix thing is, the price was just about right and if I can prepare a starch I'd only really need a single bird.  Oh, it was 3.25 Euro for the package so they're priced pretty well. 

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spending Report Week 7

I'm going to double up the Spending Report with the Personal Development Report from now on on Saturdays.  I think Sunday is a much better day for me to write about Tourism and such because I should be back home from any trips I take.

Push ups:  I sucked this week, I didn't actually do them Wednesday and Friday was kind of a half job.  I'm going to redo the first tier of week three to re condition myself.

Sit ups:  I'm goin strong with these, Friday was tough as the total was over 130 with all the sets together.

Language:  I'm frustrated that I again didn't go anywhere with French (the Scottish language teachers singing numbers didn't help).  I'm also frustrated with myself because I'm not making an effort to attempt to pronounce anything correctly.  I was talking to an Italian co-worker about cheese and pronounced Burrata as any American would and it took her about 10 seconds of thought to understand what I was talking about.  She kinda laughed and pronounced it in a way that made it sound pretty... I didn't even attempt correct pronunciation before hand though.  On a positive note I have been asking the store owners at my regular shops for the names of products in french and make sure to ask for it in French.  I'm still not communicating, but I'm not ignoring  anymore either.

Overall:  96.49

Stuff: 20.00
Transportation: 19.20
Miscellaneous Food: 15.59
Restaurant: 15.00
Tourism:  18.50
Beer: 7.00
Groceries: 1.20

Stuff:  I got a web-cam.  It helps a lot to see the people you miss in real time.  I'm not big on photos so the web cam was a lot more natural way to say hi to family and friends.

Transportation:  One round trip ticket to Bruges AND one round trip ticket to Antwerp (post tomorrow)

Miscellaneous Food:  I'm pretty big on waffles when I'm being a tourist, and I had two tourism days this week = a lot of waffles.

Restaurant:  I bought lunch twice this week and then got dinner while I was in Antwerp.  A toasted panini with prosciutto, cheese and tomato is 3.50 Euro at a store right around the corner from the office.  This is my go-to sandwich.  They're also pre-assembled and I don't have to think too hard about naming what I'd like in the sandwich.

Tourism:  This includes the two dumb museums in Bruges.  It also includes a ticket to the Cinema on Friday.  I went to see "Watchmen."  I would have liked to take advantage of the Belgian release date (Wednesday) but didn't' have a chance.  The theater was impressive, but I found it strange that it cost more to see the movie than take a round trip to Antwerp.

Beer:  I got a few bottles (3) from the "Bottle Shop" in Bruges.  There is some stupid number of beers there, and its usually very easy to find the Trappist and Abbey beers but a little harder to find the Lambic beers.  I should have gotten more of the Cantillon Gueuze but I thought it would be cheaper at the factory here.  

Groceries: I didn't go grocery shopping today because I was in Antwerp all day instead.  I'm going to have to go all the way to the Sunday grocery store (most aren't open).  That one purchase was a loaf of bread I got for sandwiches.

Anyway, It should be obvious that I took the planned trip to Antwerp.  I had a good time with a bunch of folk from the office.  I may actually include a picture of myself being a tourist this time around.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I'm a Tourist: Bruges pt. 2

"If I had grown up on a farm... and was retarded, Bruges might impress me," -Collin Farrel in In Bruges.  While in Bruges one walks and looks at pretty things.  I mentioned yesterday Bruges kinda skipped the Industrial Revolution, and maintained its medieval appeal.  I'm pretty sure the short of it is that Antwerp (over Bruges) became the economic capital in Belgium in the 15th century.  Thus, no one built factories or any industry at all in Bruges.  In fact, until 2002 the goal of the planning department was to maintin the "historic aesthetic."  A portion of the people living in Bruges put up signs declaring they wanted more contemporary work.  I'm pretty sure I found every piece.  All four of them.  I found them because I really just wandered aimlessly for about five hours.  I also mentioned that I went to the Chocolate Museum and the Frites Museum.  
The two museums were not worth the entrance fee.  They were relatively small and didn't spend much space on the Belgian aspect of the products but on the overall history.  I would have been much better off just roaming around a bit more and finding chocolate.  Because I wasted a good ten Euro on those two museums I skipped out on one of the obligatory tourism events:  Climbing to the top of the tower at the central market.  It would cost me five Euro to walk up stairs and look at the city from above... but the cost and the incredible line made me avoid it all together.  Basically, I picked a direction and walked till I hit a canal.  Then I spun in circles a bit and picked another new direction and walked till I hit a canal.  I followed a few canals until I hit a waffle.  Then I picked a direction and walked till I hit the hot chocolate place.  I imagine you can see the trip in your head from where you sit.  Eventually I started picking tall buildings and aiming for them.  All in all I think I roamed down a bunch of the secondary streets, which were still just as pretty as the main ones.  
During all this I went through a range of emotions.  The beginning of my trip was, "yay, I can take pictures of all these pretty places."  By the end I so saturated with pretty that I craved angry looking things.  Every moment of contrast became wonderful.  I had a great time looking for those products of contemporary life stuck within a time warp.  The bridge and covered space aren't not really within the main city, they were nice but independent of the city.  I really enjoyed the Toyo Ito pavilion with the honeycomb structure.  I also liked the private moments where Belgians actually made sure to put up something new.  
I realized I didn't have too much to say about my roamings so I tried to keep it short.  I'm going to Antwerp with a few people from the office this weekend so I may have some social action shots for next week.  Also, I didn't get to take advantage of Belgium's early movie schedule.  We got Watchmen two days early, but I just couldn't make it out early enough to catch the movie.  Oh well, Let me know how it is... I'm not sure when I'll get a chance to go.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I'm a Tourist: Bruges pt. 1

I've given you the introduction:  Train ride outta the city on the IC.  I gave you some teaser photos that gave a general overview of what I did.  I've got two posts worth:  Sweets and Walking.  I was recently told I've generated a sweet tooth since arriving here.  I have always enjoyed sweets, but never in as much abundance as Belgium.  I've actually realized that its almost an economic decision:  Waffles and Chocolate is super cheap to try.  Belgium has one of the largest populations of Michelin Starred Restaurants... which I'd love to try, if they weren't over 100 Euro per shot.  Heck, if I don't eat or make any purchases at all next week, maybe I'll go to a Two Star so I don't go too far over my weekly budget.  But I've digressed, halfway through writing this post I was able to edit a sentence in the introduction, "there isn't that much to write" was changed to:  There will be TWO posts.
Bruges is a bit strange in that the train lets you off way outside the main quarters, I imagine this is because the city famously "missed out" on the industrial revolution.   I had absolutely no idea which way to go post arrival so I just followed the crowd.  Yes, there was a crowd of people getting off the train on a Sunday morning at 9am to see Bruges.  Yes this is a good indication that Bruges is pretty popular with the foreigners.  It took about fifteen minutes to make it towards the center, though I could have taken a bus there in about five... for a price.  That price being 1.20 euro, which I didn't want to spend on a three-quarter mile walk to the Central Market.  
The main attraction to Bruges is both in its lack of Industrialization as well as its title of "the Venice of Belgium".  Which is an overly specific way of saying, "there are canals here."  Most of the time the canals are on the outer edge of the main town, but they do break in every now and then.  One could almost consider the canals being polite as to not bother the rest of the infrastructure.  There are boat tours, but I'm pretty sure that is the only function on the canal.  There seemed to be no private access at all save for a back yard fronting the canal itself.  I didn't see any cafes with patios facing the canal.  My photos may have represented them in a better light had it been summer, but I also believe there are well over one billion photos of the canals online.  People also enjoy the city as a relic of older times, everyone except the people living there.  I can imagine it is like trying to live a normal life as a resident of an apartment above the Marrakesh portion of Epcot Center in Disney World. Also, you work in Finance and on your way to the office you have to stop into the Future World for your cup of coffee and Newspaper.
I read up on Bruges in a very cursory way and decided I wanted to do two specific things and two generic things and leave the rest of the day to chance.  I wanted to go to the Belgian Chocolate museum and Belgian Frites museum.  I also wanted to consume some Belgian chocolate and look at some lace (this is not a euphemism, they are well known for lace).  Chocolate and lace are supposed to be very popular and high quality in Bruges in general.  The common problem seems to be the tourist trap versions.  I didn't really know how to avoid the tourist traps so I went into a self proclaimed tourist trap, "the most popular hot chocolate in Bruges," for my chocolate fix.  I produced a photo yesterday of the completed cup of hot chocolate, so today I wanted to give the origin.  For 3.50 Euro I got a hot chocolate a tray of Belgian chocolates and a dish of whipped cream.  The hot chocolate is really just a mug of steamed milk and a dish of melted chocolate.  You are meant to dump and stir.  There was sugar on the saucer... for those who don't find chocolate sweet enough.  The whole process was interesting, but seems like a disappointing waste of dish chocolate.  If you look closely enough at the completed image, you can see my attempts at removing the last morsels of chocolate from the dish without licking the dish directly.
I have to be honest and review the hot chocolate in regards to similar versions I've had in the past.  #1: City Bakery hot chocolate-  I think the belgian was a little better, I had a very strong flavor of the chocolate but the City Bakery hot chocolate looks better while drinking.  One reason I imagine the Bruges shop serves this way is to make it look delicious to start.  Once you pour and stir the melted chocolate it isn't the most attractive mug.  There are bits swimming about and such.  #2:  Starbucks Chantico-  believe it or not three or four years ago Starbucks served Chantico, a very heavy drinking chocolate.  I used to imagine the espresso sized portion as a warm liquid brownie, but I'd give the Belgian drink the tip again because of its texture.  I'm not sure they used whole milk alone as it tasted a little thin.  But I actually enjoyed the viscosity of the drink in contrast to the strong chocolate flavor.  I think with the Chantico you get overwhelmed with the density of the drink itself before you can appreciate the flavor.  Also the Chantico was too sweet... but oh well.
Enough on chocolate, BRING ON THE WAFFLES!  I only ate one, don't worry.  I don't have much to say about the waffle except the vendor was kind enough to mention the waffles are different here.  I mentioned that I did not want my waffle dipped in chocolate and he replied, "well, you know they come with powdered sugar on them."  This is already a sweet pastry with sugar syrup heated onto of it... now covered in powdered sugar.  I'm not sure how they do things in Flanders, but I like my waffles here in Brussels thank you very much.  He also served it with a fork.  I won't go much further, I don't want to get too frustrated with this new waffle experience.  But I did want to share this photo I took of a waffle store.  I'm also curious why there is a Chocolate and Frites museum but no waffle museum.  We actually call them Belgian Waffles.  Maybe someone else invented waffles and they're frustrated with France for stealing Frites so they don't want to steal the thunder from someone for waffles.  New rumour:  Belgian Waffles are actually from Luxembourg, you heard it here first.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In Bruges: A Prelude

I want a good hour to write about my trip to Bruges.  I also don't want to try to link all the photos so today I'm going to upload a teaser of photographs and soon I'll upload the whole album for you to peruse.  You may also have questions about things that I didn't originally notice that I can address when I make the full write up.  I promise the write up will come this week, I would do it tonight but we have work early tomorrow (think normal people mornings).

I'll leave it up to you to decide whats important in there.  That's a pretty typical Scott walking tour of a city.  I was thinking about doing a blog or two on previous trips to give some background on my inspiration for taking this trip.

Oh, last but not least... I'm gonna go to Antwerp this weekend so my Tourist days are continuing at a pretty steady pace.  I only hope I never leave my tourist status behind... if only they still sold fanny packs here in Europe.