Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Chocolate, lobster and (no) wild pissing

When we visited Belgium en famille last year (can't believe it was that long ago already), Brussels was pronounced to be pretty much the most boring place ever by my sister, who stayed behind while Dad and I were off to Spa for the Grand Prix. So when she came for a visit back in July, the pressure was on to find some fun activites to show a different side of Belgium. Basically, as long as it involved yummy food and drink, Jess would be happy.

So on the Saturday, I booked us in for a chocolate-making workshop at Zaabär. I've had my share of fairly cheap and nasty Belgian seashells bought from tourist trap shops around the Grand Place, so I thought this would be a fun way to learn a bit more about how chocolate is made and, more importantly, get to make our own creations. The class started with a brief demonstration of how chocolate is tempered, before we got to go to work making our own chocolate bars, mendiants and truffles.

Tempering chocolate the traditional way, by spreading it out on stone

Jules all frocked up for the workshop

Making some non-traditional mendiants
Making truffles

Our tray of truffles

It's not the world's most flattering look

My very own chocolate bar
Overall, I would say it was a fun activity and good value for money (20€ for the hour and of course you get to take your chocolate home). It's not the sort of thing you'd go and do any old time, but for an activity with visitors, or if you're a tourist yourself, why not? The chocolate bar and mendiants were done with individual piping bags, and it was pretty fun making different mendiant designs and choosing the toppings. The truffles, on the other hand, were made by dipping a truffle centre into a bowl of liquid chocolate (using tongs) and then rolling them in nuts. Our bowl of chocolate was shared with a couple of kids aged around 7 and 10 or so, who had the unfortunate habit of losing their tongs in the chocolate and fishing them out again with their hands. I'm not usually the most squeamish person in the world, but I also view children with a general suspicion, so the truffles we made are actually still sitting in my fridge uneaten.

A big bonus to the chocolate workshop was going into the factory shop afterwards. There were abundant bowls of free samples, and nobody bothered us as we duly sampled pretty much every type of chocolate (whether they're as welcoming if you've just come off the street, I don't know). They specialise in exotic flavours, so it was great to sample chocolate made with all kinds of crazy things, from thyme to jasmine, to chilli to sage to curry powder and many more. Not all of the herbs and spices quite worked for me, but it was fun tasting them. I went home with the less adventurous choices of plain, macadamia and tonka bean (although I looked up tonka beans on Wikipedia later and found out that they're banned in food in the US because they're poisonous in large doses, so that's quite exotic).

Jess doesn't eat meat, but luckily Brussels has some great fish and seafood restaurants, so in the evening we headed to François restaurant for some lobster. I've had lobster before, but this was actually my first time eating a whole (actually a half, but you get what I mean) one rather than in a salad or a soup etc. It was nice, but I don't think it's amaaazing. It came as part of a fixed-price menu, so it was a case of "might as well order lobster" rather than getting cod or something for the same price, but I wouldn't pay squillions of dollars for it.

Fashion tip: always try to match your shoes to the curtains

It was a good day for protective clothing

On Sunday, we went to the Gentse Feesten, a street festival in Ghent. Allegedly, this is one of Europe's biggest city festivals, attracting around 2 million visitors. All I can say is, there was not much going on when we were there. Not many visitors, but more importantly, not much festival. Maybe we were there too early, maybe it was because the previous couple of days had been hot and sunny, whereas the Sunday was a bit grey and drizzly, maybe it was because it was a Sunday (although the next day was a Belgian public holiday). We walked around a bit, had a yummy lunch, a few drinks, and saw the famous van Eyck altarpiece, and that was pretty much that.

Didn't even have the chance to do any wild pissing

Me and Jess in Ghent
So maybe that was not the most exciting event either, but I tried! Before we knew it, it was time to drop Jess back off at the Eurostar, to send her back to the land of Lewis Hamilton.

Is that a pain au chocolat in your hand, or are you just happy to see Lewis?

8 comments:

  1. And a great weekend it was! I ate all my truffles :-)

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    1. Ha ha, I just couldn't get over them having been contaminated by the hand of a child

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  2. Ha! Trust you and Jess to get to share the bowl with kids! And to be too scared of them to nicely prevent them putting their hands in and encourage them to remove the dunked tongs with other tongs. Heehee! :)

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    1. It's not my job to supervise someone else's children. To be fair, they weren't badly behaved, just heedless of hygiene.

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  3. I prefer Jules with the muppchen look!

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    1. He will take that as a compliment to the cute mippchen

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  4. The melted chocolate is so pretty. One says "Jules," doesn't it?

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  5. Did I hear "free" chocolate samples?! The photo of Jules and you with the lobster bibs made me laugh out loud. I think it was the expressions on your faces that did it. I love Ghent.

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