Friday, September 13, 2019

Belgium + The Netherlands: Days 5 & 6 -- Antwerp

Although Bruges may be the holder of my favorite vacation day, Antwerp was definitely my favorite city in Belgium. I think this blog post I'd scoped ahead of our trip totally nailed it: "I see this as a city which sits culturally somewhere between Paris & Scandinavia and it has a hipster scene which feels less about display and all the more alluring for it." I absolutely loved it and wish we'd had more time there than anywhere else on our trip.

We made some adjustments to this city visit on the fly based on our first few days in Belgium. Our transfer ride to Bruges was so easy that I decided to book another from Bruges to Antwerp. I found a ride in just a few minutes with Daytrip, which is kind of like a European Uber for longer rides and even sightseeing trips. It was incredibly easy and reliable and I totally recommend it if you find yourself if need of a ride like this!

After getting stuck at a barge coming through bridge on the outside of the city, we were quickly on our way and at the door of our Antwerp B&B. I happened upon Boulevard Leopold randomly while looking for a larger hotel suite that could accommodate a family and decided it was so quirky and opposite of where we'd normally stay that we had to do it. And it was amazing! Boulevard Leopold is a 19th century house in the middle of the still functioning Jewish quarter in Antwerp. We were able to nab the Master Suite and had a whole apartment for ourselves.

I generally loathe how B&Bs make you feel forced to make nice with random people, but Martin who owns and runs Leopold could not have struck a better balance between being helpful and accommodating and then disappearing. There were a few other guests while we were there, including some models in for a photoshoot (the B&B has lots of photoshoots, including one in our apartment shortly after we left). Kane could not make heads or tails out of the scantily-clad leggy ladies and when I prompted him about it after, he said he thought they'd come to breakfast in their pajamas!

But we actually arrived mid-day in Antwerp and Martin directed us to nearby PAKT, a former industrial site turned a sustainable, creative hub surrounded by rooftop gardens. It's in the middle of what appears to be a block of warehouses, so it took us a minute to find it, but it was super cool! We grabbed a quick outdoor pizza lunch at Standard and then grabbed moon pops for the kids from Racine. We explored PAKT a bit more and popped into a crossfit gym to inquire about a drop-in workout (although we ended up not needing to go!). Emboldened by our bike ride in Bruges, we decided to rent Velo bikes right outside of PAKT (everyone needs their own account, so it took a bit to get it set up on our phones, but then we had no problem).

I'd planned several museums for the following day, so we decided to stick to the outdoors and rode in search of the Art Nouveau and Victorian architecture districts. The kids liked the architecture but they were much more into just riding bikes. After navigating a few streets with both Joel and I screaming and sweating, I finally safely landed us at Koning Albertpark close to our B&B.

Do you divy up duties while traveling? I am primarily the planner and the navigator -- I have the sense of direction. Joel handles all the day-to-day interactions with local people -- he has a penchant for communicating in other languages I do not understand at all.

We headed back to Boulevard Leopold for a little rest. Our tour in Bruges reminded us how big of an asset a tour guide can be -- especially when traveling with kids. I try not to overbook us ahead of time so that we can be flexible, but I'd also booked us a private tour of Antwerp while we were in Bruges. I thought the kids would love the Legends of Antwerp tour I'd found and I was right. We met our tour guide at Grote Markt (and were immediately glad we'd stayed out of the touristy area all day).

Our wonderful guide Anna took us on a 2-hour walk throughout the city, telling the kids legends as we went, including the symbolic significance of hands to the city and the sad story of Nello & Patrasche (pic at top of post). It was a great way to get our hands around the city layout. We'd worked up quite the appetite after all the bike riding and walking and I was very glad I'd made a reservation at Fiskebar in the south of the city away from all the touristy stuff. Fiskebar was touted as the best seafood in the city and we sat among locals and ate the most bizarre (to us) seafood tower I'd ever had. The kids were troopers and tried all kinds of shellfish we'd never had -- cockles, snails, clams, and other  bivalves. And they were rewarded with insanely delicious creme brûlée.

We woke up the next day in time for Martin's delicious breakfast and Kane school me on how to properly eat soft-boiled eggs and soldiers (he watches a lot of Gordon Ramsey's cooking shows so I'm glad he's picked up something else beyond curse words). Then we headed out to our first museum of the day: MAS. Located in the city's revitalizing Old Dockyards neighborhood, this beautiful modern tower (designed to look like stacked shipping containers and secured with over 3,000 metal hands "holding" the tower together) had a variety of cool exhibits showcasing Antwerp and Belgium's history of trade and cultural exchange.

Most of the exhibits were really interactive and almost each one had some specific activity that appealed to the kids. We could have spent much more time here than we did, but we had an additional museum planned for the day. So we spent a few hours on the exhibits and then made sure to take in the view from the top.

The Red Star Line Museum portrays the "other end" of Ellis Island, which we'd taken the kids to a few years earlier. The Museum has a scavenger hunt activity for kids that lets them follow along the harrowing journey of a young girl as she tries to get to America. It was remarkably well done and a really timely visit given the current state of immigration in the United States and the President's abhorrent treatment of those seeking shelter in our country.

We walked to nearby Brood & Co. for lunch and, softened by a lunchtime brew, we acquiesced to the kids' begging to rent bikes again. We grabbed Velo bikes and I took a minute to find an actual bike path to our destination -- we were heading to the train station to change our train tickets to later the next morning -- we wanted more time in Antwerp!

Everyone did much better on bikes this time and we made it there in no time. You can really see why bikes are the way to get around the city. We switched our tickets, located where we had to be the next morning, and then set out to check out the diamond district. The kids had a fabulous time window shopping and picking out all manner of ridiculous jewelry for me.

But I knew that Antwerp was also a fashion hub (hello Antwerp Six!) and I wanted to do some real shopping. It turned out that we mostly shopped for Cami and Joel -- the city's unique sense of style was just so Cam. She cleaned up at Space and Bellerose. Joel loved Denham and we spent a lot of time there chatting with the nicest guy who gave me suggestions for a stationary store (I had the hardest time finding someone who knew what I was talking about, but he was like, "you mean a hipster stationary store?" He got it) and wrote down a bunch of recommendations for dinner away from the tourist hordes (turns out, we had the right neighborhood with Fiskebar). After a quick visit to Stationary Stad Leest (a pop up of a local bookstore) and quirky Flying Tiger (a chain, but still cute), we headed to eat at recommended Dansing Chocola, which was delicious. We did the long but now familiar walk back to Leopold for a great close to our stay in Antwerp!

Other things on my list!

Activities + Sights:

Food + Bars:

Monday, September 9, 2019

Baked Salmon Cakes + 140 Days of Dinner

As is quite evident by the title of this post, it's been months and months since I posted a meal plan. Nevertheless, we've been cooking and eating our fair share! (Not like you were worried, I know). Since I last posted our meals, I've generally been following a plan of intermittent fasting and tracking macros. I've expanded my food options a bit, but still been keeping it healthy. I also kept trying a few different meal services, but was never completely happy with them. So, it's back to recipe surfing again for me.

Our family LOVES salmon, but I often find that different recipes come out tasting pretty much the same. Not this one though. It was delicious and full of all the savory goodness our kids love (Cami could eat jars upon jars of capers). The recipe had them as an appetizer, but I served them as the main protein and they were a good quick meal because of the size.

p.s. there is something slightly creepy to me about going back through this many months of what we ate, but also fun to think back through what we were up to! I left out a few vacations where I didn't do any cooking at all, but for the most part, this is what we've been eating since last March.

Baked Salmon Cakes
(slightly adapted from SkinnyTaste)

- 1/2 lb wild salmon filet
- olive oil or cooking spray 
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
- 3/4 cup small-cider red onion (1 small onion)
- 1 1/2 cups small-diced celery (about 4 stalks)
- 1/2 cup small-diced red bell pepper
- 1/2 cup small-diced yellow bell pepper
- 1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tbsp capers, drained (plus more for serving if you're Cam!) 
- 1/4 tbsp hot sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning 
- 1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs 
- 3 tbsp light mayo 
- 3 tbsp Greek yogurt, 0%
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 3 large egg whites, lightly beaten

1. Season salmon with salt. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat; when hot lightly spray with oil and add the salmon. Cook until browned on one side, about 4-5 minutes, then turn and cook an additional 4-5 minutes or until salmon flakes easily. Set salmon aside to cool.

2. Add the olive oil to the pan and then add the onion through Old Bay seasoning plus 1/2 tsp Kosher salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are soft -- approximately 18-20 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature. 

3. Flake the salmon into a large bowl. Add the bread crumbs, mayo, yogurt, mustard, and eggs. Add the cooled vegetable mixture and mix well. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. 

4. Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray a non-stick baking sheet with cooking spray. Shape the batter into 15 (scant 1/4 cup each) cakes and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake about 10-12 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. 

*          *          *

Day 1 (M) -- Grilled Chicken with Pesto and Marinated Tomatoes; cauliflower gnocchi; green beans
Day 2 (T) -- Instant Pot Chili; salad
Day 3 (W) -- Instant Pot Pulled Pork (subbed honey for brown sugar); Lemony Avocado Slaw; oven-baked fries
Day 4 (Th) -- brinner - crab omelettes; old bay skillet fries; fruit
Day 5 (F) -- out
Day 6 (Sat) -- out
Day 7 (Sun) -- out

Day 8 (M) -- Easy Chicken Gyro with Tzatziki Sauce; greek salad
Day 9 (T) -- brinner
Day 10 (W) -- out
Day 11 (Th) -- grilled filet mignon; Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes; broccoli
Day 12 (F) -- out
Day 13 (Sat) -- out
Day 14 (Sun) -- slow cooked corned beef; cauliflower gnocchi; Sautéed Red Cabbage

Day 15 (M) -- Herb-Roasted Salmon; polenta; roasted cauliflower
Day 16 (T) -- Crispy Chicken Carnitas
Day 17 (W) -- out
Day 18 (Th) -- brinner
Day 19 (F) -- out
Day 20 (Sat) -- out
Day 21 (Sun) -- Skirt Steak with Chimichurri; roasted tomatoes; cauliflower gnocchi

Day 22 (M) -- Instant Pot Shredded Chicken Tacos; roasted broccoli
Day 23 (T) -- 30 Minute Creamy Lemon Caper Salmon Skillet; zoodles
Day 24 (W) -- leftovers
Day 25 (Th) -- seared scallops; roasted cauliflower + tomatoes; roasted sweet potatoes
Day 26 (F) -- Best Paleo Whole30 Marinaded Chicken; brown rice; salad
Day 27 (Sat) -- Instant Pot Taco Soup; salad
Day 28 (Sun) -- Wild Salmon with Horseradish-Mustard Sauce; rainbow carrots; cauliflower gnocchi

Day 29 (M) -- One Pan Shrimp Fajitas; cauliflower rice
Day 30 (T) -- Mojo Pork in baby lettuce cups; roasted broccoli
Day 31 (W) -- out
Day 32 (Th) -- Plated Steak Frites
Day 33 (F) -- Plated Lemon-Roasted Cod
Day 34 (Sat) -- out
Day 35 (Sun) -- Trade Joe's Bone-in Turkey Breast; cauliflower gnocchi; salad

Day 36 (M) -- Sunbasket Salmon Cakes with Tahini Goddess Dressing
Day 37 (T) -- out
Day 38 (W) -- out
Day 39 (Th) -- Sunbasket Yucatan Turkey Chili Verde
Day 40 (F) -- Sunbasket Seared Chicken Breasts with Zhug and Citrus-Watercress Salad
Day 41 (Sat) -- out
Day 42 (Sun) -- Moroccan Meatballs; brown rice; roasted broccoli

Day 43 (M) -- Shakshuka; cauliflower gnocchi
Day 44 (T) -- Instant Pot Salsa Verde Chicken; roasted cauliflower
Day 45 (W) -- out
Day 46 (Th) -- Greek Fish Tacos; sweet potato fries
Day 47 (F) -- One Skillet Pork Chops with Apples; cauliflower gnocchi; roasted vegetables
Day 48 (Sat) -- Skirt Steak with Chimichurri; twice-baked potatoes; steamed carrots
Day 49 (Sun) -- out

Day 50 (M) -- Sunbasket Za'atar Crusted Roasted Salmon with Fennel Artichoke Salad
Day 51 (T) -- Sunbasket French Quarter Steak with Green Beans and Olive Tapenade
Day 52 (W) -- out
Day 53 (Th) -- Sunbasket Smothered Pork Chops with Garlicky Collard Greens; cauliflower gnocchi
Day 54 (F) -- Blackened Mahi Mahi Tacos; sweet potato fries; roasted cauliflower
Day 55 (Sat) -- out
Day 56 (Sun) -- Sunbasket Turkey and Vegetable Minestrone with White Beans and Brown Rice

Day 57 (M) -- Sunbasket Steaks with Arugula Salsa Verde and Green Bean-Feta Salad
Day 58 (T) -- Sunbasket Chicken Paillard with Spiced Summer Squash and Tomato Salad
Day 59 (W) -- out
Day 60 (Th) -- Honey Mustard Glazed Salmon; cauliflower gnocchi; roasted salmon
Day 61 (F) -- out
Day 62 (Sat) -- out
Day 63 (Sun) -- out

Day 64 (M) -- Sunbasket Steaks with Chermoula, Roasted Vegetables, and Pesto
Day 65 (T) -- Sunbasket Mediterranean Turkey Kebabs with Carrot and Squash Ribbons
Day 66 (W) -- out
Day 67 (Th) -- Blue Apron Seared Steaks & Hoison Pan Sauce with Jasmine Rice and Broccoli
Day 68 (F) -- Blue Apron Za'atar-Spiced Chicken Pitas with Tzatziki & Pickled Peppers
Day 69 (Sat) -- out
Day 70 (Sun) -- out

Day 1 (M) -- Sunbasket Seared Tuna with Citrus-Quinoa Salad and Mustard Vinaigrette
Day 2 (T) -- out
Day 3 (W) -- Sunbasket Vietnamese Shrimp Salad
Day 4 (Th) -- Sunbasket Lettuce-Wrapped Turkey Burgers with Tarragon Mayo
Day 5 (F) -- Easy Foil Baked Pesto Salmon; cauliflower gnocchi; salad
Day 6 (Sat) -- out
Day 7 (Sun) -- out

Day 71 (M) -- grilled filet mignon; twice-baked potatoes; roasted broccoli
Day 72 (T) -- Sunbasket Lamb Kofte with Tomato Relish and Tzatziki
Day 73 (W) -- out
Day 74 (Th) -- Sunbasket Shrimp Tacos Diablo with Cabbage Slaw and Queso Fresco
Day 75 (F) -- out
Day 76 (Sat) -- out
Day 77 (Sun) -- out

Day 78 (M) -- out
Day 79 (T) -- brinner -- scrambled eggs; smoked salmon; salad
Day 80 (W) -- out
Day 81 (Th) -- Instant Pot Moroccan Meatballs
Day 82 (F) -- Easy Chicken Gyro with Tzatziki Sauce
Day 83 (Sat) -- steamed crab dinner
Day 84 (Sun) -- out

Day 85 (M) -- grilled burgers; salad
Day 86 (T) -- out
Day 87 (W) -- Sunbasket Cantina-Style Chicken Tacos with Roasted Red Peppers
Day 88 (Th) -- BBQ grilled chicken; quinoa; salad
Day 89 (F) -- out
Day 90 (Sat) -- out
Day 91 (Sun) -- Panko Chicken Parmesan 

Day 92 (M) -- leftovers
Day 93 (T) -- Sunbasket Shichimi-Spiced Salmon with Blistered Tomato and Black-Eyed Pea Salad
Day 94 (W) -- Trader Joe's bolognese; cauliflower gnocchi; salad
Day 95 (Th) -- out
Day 96 (F) -- Sunbasket Pork Fried Rice with Carrots and Peas
Day 97 (Sat) -- out
Day 98 (Sun) -- out

Day 99 (M) -- Instant Pot Chicken Carnitas
Day 100 (T) -- Sunbasket Summer Steak Salad with Strawberries and Spiced Chickpeas
Day 101 (W) -- out
Day 102 (Th) -- Sunbasket Chicken Breast with Charred Romaine and Stone Fruit-Almond Salsa
Day 103 (F) -- out
Day 104 (Sat) -- out
Day 105 (Sun) -- out

Day 106 (M) -- filet mignon; salad; cauliflower gnocchi
Day 107 (T) -- Instant Pot Chicken Carnitas; salad
Day 108 (W) -- Instant Pot BBQ Chicken; Lemony Avocado Slaw
Day 109 (Th) -- grilled chicken; brown rice; snap peas
Day 110 (F) -- out
Day 111 (Sat) -- out
Day 112 (Sun) -- out

Day 113 (M) -- filet mignon; cauliflower gnocchi; green beans
Day 114 (T) -- Lettuce-Wrapped Turkey Burgers with Tarragon Mayo
Day 115 (W) -- leftovers
Day 116 (Th) -- out
Day 117 (F) -- out
Day 118 (Sat) -- grilled steak, pasta salad, corn
Day 119 (Sun) -- out

Day 120 (M) -- BBQ grilled chicken; roasted tomato and broccoli; cauliflower gnocchi
Day 121 (T) -- Sunbasket Bell Peppers with Turkey and Black Beans
Day 122 (W) -- Sunbasket Chipotle Chilaquiles with Black Beans
Day 123(Th) -- Chicken Street Tacos
Day 124 (F) -- out
Day 125 (Sat) -- out
Day 126 (Sun) --  Skirt Steak with Chimichurri; asparagus; cauliflower gnocchi

Day 127 (M) -- brinner - scrambled eggs; smoked salmon; salad
Day 128 (T) -- filet mignon; cauliflower gnocchi; green beans
Day 129 (W) -- Instant Pot Spicy Pineapple Chicken Tacos; salad
Day 130 (Th) -- Black Pepper Chicken Sausages; chick pea pasta
Day 131 (F) -- Baked Salmon Cakes; salad
Day 132 (Sat) -- out
Day 133 (Sun) -- out

Day 134 (M) -- out
Day 135 (T) -- Za'atar Pork Chops
Day 136 (W) -- brinner
Day 137 (Th) -- Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup
Day 138 (F) -- Spicy Shrimp Tacos with Garlic Cilantro Lime Slaw 
Day 139 (Sat) -- Back-Pocket Bolognese; polenta
Day 140 (Sun) -- out

Friday, September 6, 2019

Belgium + The Netherlands: Days 3 and 4 -- Bruges

We had plans to take Belgium commuter trains from Brussels to Bruges and Bruges to Antwerp. But after a mere two days of schlepping everyone around Brussels, we decided to take one of our taxi drivers up on his offer to drive us to Bruges instead (I checked around to make sure it was a comparable price to hiring another private transport). There was definitely traffic, but it was probably still less time than doing the whole train thing -- especially since we prove incapable of packing lightly. The local trains do appear to be quite easy. You don't have to book them ahead of time and they leave about every 1/2 hour. So, maybe next time. But this time, with kids, we chose convenience.

I always like to try and work one apartment rental into a long trip. It's a nice change from a hotel and I only pick rentals with laundry so that we can clean all of our stuff at least half way through our trip. I really wanted to stay on a canal in Bruges, so we ended up picking this Airbnb rental. It wasn't fancy and the lack of air conditioning sucked given the unseasonably high temps, but the location was BANANAS (ivory building with the grey bottom and green door above). We took a tour the second day and our house was a stop as a quintessential Bruges canal house. So we didn't sleep awesome, but worth the excellent spot in town -- away from tourist center, but within walking distance of the sights, a market, and several great restaurants. Plus, I think I did ALL the laundry one could possibly do in two days.

We got quickly settled in and set off to try and make the last hour of the Saturday market -- 't Zand Market. It was a huge market seemingly selling everything under the sun, but was in full break down mode by the time we got there. It was where we planned to eat lunch and everyone was getting hangry, so obviously we set off in search of hard-to-find De Garre -- home of the only sport in the world to serve Tripel Van De Garre on tap (a Belgian Tripel with 11% ABV). We eventually tracked it down and the beer was deeeeeeeelish! The kids were a little like "all they serve is cheese and salami to eat?!" Then they realized they loved both of those and acquiesced. Plus, we hit up Chez Albert just outside for excellent waffles and tried Bruges frites from one of the stands at the base of the market tower (still not as awesome as we'd hoped). You know, just to balance the meal out.

I'd promised Joel we'd do at least one brewery tour on this trip, so we booked it over to De Halve Maan to try and get into the last tour of the day. Again, I wasn't sure when we'd fit this in, so I didn't book tickets ahead of time. But it was no problem to purchase there. Because it was a weekend, they weren't actually brewing anything. It was still neat to check out this family-run facility and the view from the top was fantastic.

We lucked out and snagged a table in the courtyard after for more drinks and snacks (honestly, if you love bread, cheese, and charcuterie, you will never go hungry in Belgium). And the longest-running game of UNO ensued. We played through the deck at least five times with no winner. Eventually everyone's sweet tooth started whining and we headed to Dumon Chocolatier for the absolute best chocolate we'd had in Belgium thus far (and actually would have for the rest of the trip as well). They don't ship to the US, which is probably a good thing because I would have bought the store. Go there.

It was hot out and I was over peak tourist traffic, so we headed back to our apartment to rest and clean up. I hadn't made any dinner reservations for that night, but we passed Spinola on our walk home and it had the cutest outdoor spot on the canal and a tasty-looking menu. So we called and were able to score a late table there. We had fresh fish and real vegetables -- Kane had an entire lobster, of course -- and everyone felt better!

Well into this vacation pattern of staying up late and sleeping in, I dragged everyone out of bed to make our "early" booked bike tour of 10:30 a.m. We were meeting Mieke of Pink Bear Bikes in the market square and grabbed a breakfast from the corner store on the way. We arrived to find lovely Mieke and another American couple (who had previously lived in DC too, of course) and set off to pick up our bikes from Mieke's nearby garage. Mieke was super friendly, incredibly knowledgeable, and great with the kids. And this turned out to be maybe everyone's favorite day of our trip.

We rode along a completely charming canal to the nearby medieval town of Damme. We stopped at windmills (and even got to go up in one!), biked along poplar-lined paths, rode alongside horses, and stopped for much-needed beer and waffles in Damme. The kids were over the moon to ride bikes for four plus hours and I got to let them do it without trying to navigate where we were going while simultaneously making sure they didn't get run over.

It was incredibly fun and Mieke was so knowledgeable about all things Bruges -- the kids loved her story about how a dog saved Damme and now graces the town's flag and architecture. This is an absolute must do if you visit!

We asked Mieke where locals would go to eat a Saturday lunch and she said she'd head to L'Estaminet (which was also on my list of restaurant options, so go me for finding a local love!). This typical "brown pub" is also close to one of the most photographed areas of the city, but after we'd eaten, we had other plans! Mieke had also given us a heads up that there was one spot in the canals that allowed swimming. WHAT!?

She showed us where on a map, but I couldn't find the same spot online. I found something online called the Canal Swimmer's Club, but then we couldn't find that physical location. We popped into a local hotel and they directed us to the only spot one could currently swim. It turned out to be just a few minutes walk from our apartment, but I definitely could not direct anyone to it again. And it seems like it might change year to year. So if you visit Bruges, ask someone in the know!

There was a floating dock and lifeguards and FREEZING canal water that felt amazing after riding in the heat all day. And it was filled with local families, so it was nice to stay out of the touristy path for more time.

I had reservations for dinner at De Stove, but by the time we finished swimming and cleaning up, we'd missed that. We walked a bit and found nearby Brasserie Forestiere for a late and delicious last meal in Bruges!

As with Brussels, here's what else topped my list that we didn't get to:

Activities + Sights:
The Belfry Tower
- Lake of Love
- Torture Museum (Kane was pushing hard for this)
- Basilica of the Holy Blood 
- Lace Center

Food + Bars:
2be Beer Wall (also a museum of beer)
- Bar Des Amis
- Good list of other restaurants