Holiday Survey!

Good Morning and Happy Friday!

I’m going to be busy studying all weekend for my Operations exam…exciting right?

DEFINITELY not as exciting as my family…who will be busy doing the annual Christmas cookie bake sesh.  UGH, so jeal.  (Side note to fam – HINT HINT – I’m really looking forward to frosted cut-outs, pb cup cookies, pretzel rings, and of course, the new tradition of biscotti)!

My adorable mom & gam!

Source: My sister’s pic!  HOW fun does that look, seriously!

Speaking of Holiday cookies, I found this really cute Holiday Survey on one of the blogs that I read and HAD to do it too!

25 Holiday Questions:

1.  Eggnog or Hot Chocolate?  

Def Hot Choco, yuck to Eggnog.

2.  Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?  

ALWAYS wrapped (and perfectly, thanks to someone in our fam…)

3.  Colored lights on tree/house or white? 

I prefer white lights outside and multi-colored on the tree.  We’ve never had lights outside, my family always did uplighting on the trees (which I LOVE and think is so classic).

4.  Do you hang mistletoe?

Nope, never have.  Although, at my first party in Belgium, someone gave out real mistletoe, which I had never seen before!

5.  When do you hang your decorations up?

The weekend after Thanksgiving!

6.  What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

Hm, this is tough.  It would have to be Christmas Eve dinner at my house – ham (non-slimy), twice-baked potatoes, veggie, etc.  Always a tradition (and always in the dining room)!

The ham!

Source: My sis!

7.  Favorite holiday memory as a child?

Always dressing up and going to the First Stage children’s play on Christmas Eve in downtown Milwaukee.

8.  What is on your Christmas wish list?

Ann Taylor Loft boots (which I just so happen to know I’m getting –  spoiled, I know)!

9.  Do you open gifts on Christmas Eve?

Nope, not when in Milwaukee.  However, when we are with Joe’s Dad, we open presents on Christmas Eve!  Crete always has a present for us to open as well – one year we got super cute Christmas pj’s! 🙂

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

Beautifully.  Ha, seriously – I have a ton of ornaments.  My parents bought each of us girls an ornament every year – another great tradition.

My mom has created a new tradition now that we are all out of the house.  She LOVES snowmen and has an all snowmen tree this year.

SO adorbs!

11.  Snow? Love it or dread it?

Usually love it for Christmas.  This year I’m hoping it holds off until we arrive in the USA!

12.  Real tree or fake tree?

Real tree at my house, fake tree at our condo.

13.  Do you remember your favorite gift?

Yes, 6 years ago, Joe asked me to marry him.  That seemed to work out well 🙂

Love this pic!

Source: My sister again, hm, she must be majoring in photography.

14.  What’s the most important thing about Christmas for you?

Being with all our family and our MANY traditions

15.  What is your favorite holiday dessert?

Cutout cookies – see above!

16.  What is your favorite tradition?

Holy crap, we have so many.  I think it must be that my sisters and I would wake up in the middle of the night on Christmas Morning (like 2 or 3am) and sneak down to see all the presents wrapped under the tree.

17.  What tops your tree?

An angel!

18.  Do you prefer giving or receiving?

I know everyone will say “giving” as to not sound greedy and I really do love giving! (I LOVE when you find the perfect present for someone and can’t wait to see their faces when they open it).  But, can anyone really say they don’t like receiving?!

19.  What is your favorite Christmas song?

Any Mariah Carey Christmas CD song

The Original CD!

Source

20.  Candy canes, yuck or yum?

I think they are good – but I prefer the rainbow, fruity ones.

21.  Favorite Christmas movie?

This is so hard.  It is a tie between A Christmas Story, Home Alone, White Christmas, and Christmas Vacation.

22.  What do you leave for Santa?

A note and a variety of cookies!

23.  Do you have a Christmas morning tradition?

See #16.  But, we also open presents 1 by 1 and take a break mid-morning for cinnamon rolls!

24.  Do you prefer to shop on-line or at the mall?

Usually the mall, but this year it’s been all online (thanks to my mom for being my shipping department).  I am DEF hitting up the mall as soon as I get to Milwaukee!

25.  Christmas letter or Christmas card?

Christmas card for sure!

Hope you enjoyed – it got me even MORE excited to go home.  Not sure how that is even possible!

Cologne Christmas Market!

As you know, we explored the numerous Cologne Christmas Markets this past weekend!

We drove into town and found parking quite easily.  We thought that we might have “beat the crowds,” but wow were we wrong.  It was SO crowded.  So much so, that it was tough to enjoy all the stands and browse/make purchases.  However, we still had a good time and were amazed at the dedication the Germans have to decorating for the Holidays.  It is AMAZING – best I’ve ever seen!

Here are some of our pics!

Entrance to the main market!

The first bite: Melted cheese on bread, what's not to like?!

Rides for the kiddies!

Entrance to the "Altstadt" Market!

Gluhwein stand - LOVED the wood!

Awesome mugs you got!

HAD to get my Lebkuchen cookies!

Of course, no stop in Cologne is complete without taking a little break at the “bierhaus.”

Slightly annoyed with my picture taking...

As we were walking along the Rhein river, we came across a “floating” Christmas Market!  To bad it cost $$ to get on…

Ship Market!

We made one last walk through the main market set beside the beautiful Dom Cathedral.  Joe took over the camera and took some amazing shots with the sun going down!

Look at all those people!

My favorite pic of the day!

Overall a beautiful atmosphere and amazing stands – each market was like its own little village.  Next year I’d prefer to go earlier during the season or on a weekday to avoid the crowds!

A last note – I drove home that night.  My first experience driving on the autobahn and in Germany & the Netherlands.  Boom! 🙂

Off to the Koln Christmas Market!!!

I can’t tell you HOW excited I am to be able to visit an actual Christmas Market in Deutschland!  It’s like the best present EVER.

Today we are heading to the Christmas Market in Cologne/Koln.  It’s a short 2.5 hour drive from Gent.  Here is the link if you want to check it out!

Angel's Christmas Market at Neumarkt Square

Koln Christmas!

Source

I can’t wait to eat tons of LEBKUCHEN!

Source

Of course, I’ll be back and post pics and let you know how it goes!

Happy Saturday! 🙂

Christmas in Belgie, Part 2

If you’ve read Part 1, then you know what is coming:

The BRUSSELS Christmas Market!

I was very excited to go to this market.  It was raining all day Saturday and I was rather blue (ok, understatement – I cried).  I felt that I needed to go back to the USA asap to experience my true Holiday traditions.  I know, seriously, I can be a baby.  I am truly thankful for my experiences here, even if I have my moments….

Anyway, it cleared up around 4pm and was 50F degrees.  It was perfect —> off we went!

Joe's vending machine beer - for the train ride, of course! **Yes, you had insert your ID!

Bear with me, there are a LOT of pictures, so I’ll keep the chit-chat to a minimum.  We entered the Christmas Market (which has +150 little huts).  My favorites are below:

The Entrance - get your gluhwein! Perhaps to get a little tipsy so you'll buy things?!

Mmm, bread anyone?!

Traditional German wooden items...

My fave - glass ornaments!

After walking around for a bit (and of course, buying a couple things – HELLO ornaments), we decided we were hungry.  Joe originally wanted to stop and sit down at a restaurant.  I was NOT having that – how could we leave this magical (I know, gaggish) place?!  I said that I was SURE there would be food to eat.  Except, I didn’t say food…I tried to come up with an exciting thing Joe would want to eat…but, what came out was…”I’m sure there is warm meat available…”  He was NOT enthused, but…look what we found:

Joe's food...warm meat of some sort...!

My food - Roasted potatoes & mushrooms!

And of course, how could we forget dessert?!

AMAZING...I bought a LOT of treats for the week!

But couldn't wait to have hot chocolate and this lil guy!

Belgian "Speculoos" cookies - VERY popular!

This display drew me in...it was adorbs. May or may not have bought some "stocking stuffers" for the siblings!

After meandering around, it was time to head back to the Grand Place for the light show.  I’m going to be honest, it was seriously beautiful.  The show had music playing throughout the centrum with lights darting along all the beautiful buildings.  There were even ballerina’s and an opera singer.  Yes, I may or may not have teared-up here too.  Seriously, what is wrong with me?!  🙂  My pictures do not do it justice, but…take a look!

City Hall...

Ballerina's...supposed to be like a "Snow Globe"

City Hall, again!

The tree!!!! Amazing

Again, the awesome tree! I seriously LOVE Christmas trees!

A wonderful evening!

Hope you enjoyed – this was one of my favorite posts and also just happens to be my 100th post!!!!

Christmas in Belgie, Part 1

With the start of December, comes the start of the Holiday season in Belgie!  This weekend, we decided to see what Gent & Brussels had to offer!

Up first, Gent!  

I have to start out with the fact that Joe brought home dessert from work…

Yup, on his desk @ work!

We decided to make dinner (salsa chicken – recipe to come later) and then venture out for a walk to see the lights and the festival we had heard (and saw – HUGE ferris wheel) about.

We were sad to notice that most of the lights hanging down all the streets and the Christmas tree in the centrum were not yet lit.  I’m assuming it is because the Christmas Market in Gent does not open until next Friday.  However, I knew the Graslei would never let me down!  As we turned the corner, here is what we saw!

Beautiful!

The Graslei still amazes me at how beautiful it is…even when I see it everyday!

We then made our way to the “Winters Dream” Festival at Sint-Pieters Square.  I had rather high hopes of this considering the beautiful email I received from the Marriott promoting the fair.  Well, lets just say we walked through it in about 10 minutes.

The entrance!

What is a Christmas festival without a ferris wheel?!  There were many other rides (for those of you in Milwaukee, think ‘carni’ rides at State Fair).  I’ve never felt that “carni” rides were trustworthy – so, we did not partake.

Next we came to the second part of the entrance and what most would say, the appeal of carnivals to adults.  Enter, the Gluhwein stand!

Gluhwein!

This (no surprise) was the busiest of areas at the festival.  Gluhwein is like hot, spiced wine and is DELISH!  It is the drink of choice at all the Christmas markets in Europe (at least what I’ve heard).

We then came to my favorite part: the ice skating rink.  I just love them (no, I can’t skate), but I think they are so beautiful.  It reminds me of the one in downtown milwaukee and of course, NY.  I mean, nothing compares to Madison Garden, but still.

Does that say "Winter's Droom?"

We watched the skaters for awhile and particularly enjoyed the guy wearing women’s skates struggling.  I know, we’re so mean.

Not a shabby start to the holiday season in Gent.  Next week starts the Christmas market by the church, so we’ll be sure to go there.

My next post will be about the Christmas Market in Brussels…it was AMAZING.  Coming soon…

Pumpkin, oatmeal, chocolate, and raisins!

This morning I made myself a hearty-portion of oatmeal (plain this time).  I’m rationing my flavored Quaker oatmeal from the US as it’s diminishing quickly!  I added some brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and cereal to the mix.

Let's be honest...not as flavorful

So…I had some leftover pumpkin from earlier this week and wanted to make something new.  Enter: Pumpkin, oatmeal, chocolate chip, and raisin cookies!  I found this recipe online and was super pumped about it for a number of reasons.

1.  The missing ingredients that I did not have were “findable” without too much struggle @ the Belgian grocery store (you’ll see below that I’m literally only talking about the flour…yes, pathetic, I know).

2.  It was fat free!  Crazy…I have not told Joe that yet.  I want to see his reaction to the taste first 🙂

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies: (adapted from here)

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin (American grocery store)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (American grocery store)
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda (American grocery store)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (American grocery store)
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg (American grocery store)
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips (American grocery store)
  • 1/3 cup raisins

The supplies! Yea, no mixer...my arm seriously hurt.

Preheat the oven to 350F (177C).  Mix the pumpkin and brown sugar together and then whisk in the egg whites.  Next add the flour (I mixed it in 1/2 cup increments) and the spices.  Lastly I added my “mix-ins.”  The recipe called for 3 cups of oats (which I felt was way too much) so I only added in 1 cup and then 1/3 cup raisins.  I also added chocolate chips since I had some leftover and REALLY think pumpkin and chocolate go well together (remember, these?)!  Mix well!

*Note – the choco chips may nix the whole fat free-ness…whatevs still no butter.

Spray a baking sheet with PAM and drop the dough in spoonfuls!  I cooked these suckers for about 13-14 minutes.

So dough-y!

I LOVE the consistency…very chewy! (I only like chewy cookies…shout out to my faves – chewy chips ahoy).  TBD if Joe likes them…

Dessert!

Update:  Success – Joe liked ’em!

Choco-late Festival!!!

As I mentioned yesterday, we went to Brugge to explore the “choco-late festival!”  (The official link)!

We figured – we are in the chocolate capitol of the world (yea, Belgian choco, sorry Swiss) – how can we NOT go to a festival?!  Plus, this festival is every other year so who knows where we’ll be in 2013?!

At first, we were a little skeptical about the line to get in…

I can smell the choco!!!

But, LET me tell you this – well worth the wait.  There was NO shortage on the free chocolate!  DEFINITELY got my 10 euros worth (entry cost)!

When you walked into the building, you were immediately taken over by the smell of all things chocolate.  There were many booths/vendors set up that we demonstrating making chocolate, painting with chocolate, areas to buy chocolate, education areas (how a bean becomes chocolate), etc.  One area left us quite bewildered – they literally had 2 people from South America sitting on the floor behind a poster of an area where chocolate beans come from…quite odd right)?

Anyway, the first exhibit (also quite odd) was furniture with drizzled chocolate.  Yes, these were for sale…

Um, no thanks!

We then stopped to see a demonstration on how chocolate is made into little figurines…basically, liquid choco put into a mold and then cooled in the fridge at a designated temp!  I got a sample!

Dark choco bunny anyone?!

Next up – a HUGE choco block.  Yes, you could seriously pound it and then eat it…those are choco shavings on the floor!

Crazy big!

We also saw some chocolate cakes and chocolate mousse being made.  Seriously, I wish I was that talented at decorating treats!

Mouth watering...

The last exhibit on the first floor was free hot chocolate!  When was the last time you had hot chocolate?!  Joe and I could not remember…but vowed we’d have it again soon.

Yes, that topiary is all chocolate!

Upstairs were more demonstrations and more taste testing…as well as some CUTE gift ideas!

Stocking stuffer?! Check out those little hats! - Those are chocolate blocks to stir in your coffee!

Just chattin on my choco Iphone

As well as some more “artistic” chocolate…

Chocolate marzipan creatures...

AND even chocolate people!

Last but not least…what is a choco fest without a…

Choco fountain!

All in all, pretty fun and tasty festival!  We definitely left with a bit of a choco hangover…but, whatevs, well worth it.

OH – and one last thing…as you exited, you were given a free orange…perhaps to “undo” the overload of chocolate?!  I took one…Joe said, no thanks! 🙂

The answer is…

NO.  (Can’t remember the question…click)?  Oh well!  More for me during the Holidays in the USA! 🙂

We still (of course) got our Starbucks fill!  Here it is in all its glory!  Don’t you think it fits so perfectly? HA.  You cannot read it in the picture below, but the little white sign next to Starbucks shows that it is in the Korenmarkt (probably the biggest market in Gent)!

The line was only about 10 minutes!  I was a little worried as I heard opening day lines were hours long.  I think Joe was a little nervous too because he asked (very hesitantly) how long I was willing to wait while we walked over there.  Answer?  VERY long.

What a beauty.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah!

For those of you “Gentenaars” (locals), we did make sure to walk past Mokabon (the local coffee shop around the corner).  It was alive and kicking.  My opinion is that it really isn’t going to be hurt by Starbucks – market to very different demographics.

It was probably one of the most beautiful fall days, so we walked around the city for an hour or so.  All the historic building (basically everywhere) were decorated with nice fall foliage.

Stadhuis - city hall!

We made sure to stop at our favorite chocolate shop for a little treat!  Honestly, this chocolate shop is my favorite (and we’ve tried a LOT).  Their new flavor (tropical – weird, but amazing) is the BEST.  In fact, we lucked out as there was only 1 piece left. Our selections were:

Me – tropical milk chocolate & dark chocolate chewy caramel

Joe – dark chocolate chewy caramel, chocolate liquor, & a chocolate mousse truffle

He was NOT enthused I made him stand there!

A very nice afternoon!

Restaurant Review: Kaai 14

Restaurant: Kaai 14

 

Location: Gent, Belgium (centrum)

Joe and I have walked past this restaurant several times on our way to the gym and have always wanted to try it out!  Then, one of my friends recommended it.  So, finally, we tested it out!

On the river! Loving the vines!

When we walked in, we were immediately greeted (very friendly) and sat in the lounge.  It was SO cozy with the fireplace and very romantic.  We were treated to a nice aperitif (cava for me & rum & coke for Joe).  In addition, they brought down (complimentary – score!) olives and a small plate of tomato-mozzarella salad.  For those of you who don’t know, that is my favorite salad, so I was immediately won over!

Loungin...pun intended!

Perfection.

After having our aperitif, we were taken to our table upstairs to enjoy our meal!

  • Ambiance – Modern chic and very clean – loved it!
  • Drinks – EXCELLENT.  As mentioned above, we enjoyed our aperitifs.  We then opted for a bottle of red wine (Malbec) for dinner.  It was delicious and paired great with our filet (recommended by our waitress).
  • Snacks – EXCELLENT.  As seen above – we loved the olives and the mini appetizer was a very nice surprise.
  • Food – EXCELLENT.  We opted for the 3 course chef menu – definitely worth it (see below)!  I should note that this is the way to go.  The chef menu was only about 10 euros more than the entrees themselves but you got two more courses.  No brainer!
  • Price – EXCELLENT.  The prices are standard for a Gent restaurant (20-35 euros/entree).  The portions were perfect!
  • Service – EXCELLENT – Our waitress was very friendly and so attentive (not always the case in Belgium).  She made several recommendations (wine) and did not disappoint.
  • Overall – EXCELLENT.  A great place for celebrating a nice occasion or just date-night!  (Would not recommend to bring children here).
What we ate:
  • First Course – Tuna and crab tartar with sun-dried tomatoes and honey mustard.  We were also served bread (multi-grain) in the bag in the picture.  I thought that was so funny – I’ve never had bread brought to me in a bag!
  • INCREDIBLE

  • Second Course – Filet mignon with a cranberry sauce, potatoes, and seasonal veggies.
  • That's a pear on top!

  • Third Course – Whipped custard with Belgian chocolate ice cream.  Do not hate me – I DON’T have a picture of this (oops)!  I was more a fan of the ice cream than the actual whipped custard…so I dug around it! 🙂
As you can tell, we were quite happy!!  A great dinner with the hubby!

Happy Friday!

Choco Chip and Oatmeal Bars!

I got up early this morning to do a quick workout (Hello, Jillian!) and some baking before I headed off to my friend’s house for the day!

I still had this leftover from my trip to the USA!

How I miss Betty Crock!

I really want to make the cookie’s, but realized that my cookie sheet I bought (for our old apartment) does not fit into my teeny, tiny combo oven.  Sigh.  So, I made bars instead…and honestly, am I glad I did!  I LOVE the thickness and the gooey consistency! 🙂  I think Joe did too…I heard a “mmmhhh, wow, amazing” coming from the kitchen once he got home!

Yea - these won't (ahem, didn't) last long!

Like I said, I headed over to my friend’s house for the day!  As I was walking there, I had to stop for some pictures since it was just such a beautiful (albeit, chilly) fall morning.  The weather site said 4 degrees celsius to which my jaw dropped.  I immediately had to look up what that was in fahrenheit (about 40 degrees).  I’m sticking with fahrenheit – 4 degrees is just psychologically so much worse!

LOVE the "row-like" houses here along the river!

Leaves are starting to change!

We had a LOT of catching up to do!  We both had trips to the US to talk about as well as new food recipes, shopping, etc.  PLUS, she is going to teach me how to sew a skirt and a jacket so we had to discuss the styling and fabric.  I’m a bit skeptical at my “skills” in this area, but she ensures me it will be easy!  Next week we will begin the sewing…yay!  My goal is to impress my fam with a cute skirt over the holidays…ha!

She made a DELICIOUS lunch for us!  Home-made pumpkin soup!  The pumpkin was from her OWN garden (very organic)! 🙂  I will definitely attempt to make this myself – roasted pumpkin + garlic + a little olive oil + pepper + stock!  Simply delicious (as you know pumpkin is one of my fave flavors)!

Cute table setting!

Loved the freshly ground pepper!

And of course, our lunch was not complete without a little dessert.  I brought along the oatmeal/choco chip bars and she had made cupcakes with a delicious buttercream frosting.

Helped myself to a little bit of both!

A great day!!