Thursday, February 12, 2015

Show Me Around Your Neighborhood: Mons, Belgium

Here's my latest blogging activity.  Today's entry is a part of Piri-Piri Lexicon's "show me your neighborhood around the world" project. I first participated in this project last year when I shared pictures of the city I (then) called home: Tirana, Albania. Fast forward and year and I'm now in Mons, Belgium. Life here couldn't be more different than Albania and in this post, I'm sharing a bit of my current world with you.





The rules are simple:  Post a minimum of six pictures of typical scenes from around your neighborhood.  Photos must be taken by the blogger (in this case me!) and include a typical mode of transportation, a school or educational facility, a market or shopping facility, a typical house, a nearby street, and a playground.


Typical city houses are attached and made of brick, stone or a combination
of both. What they lack in street presence is often made up for by small
rear gardens. Many streets are pedestrian only or vehicle traffic is limited to
residents only. Parking is either on street or in very small garages that may be
attached to the houses or located nearby.




Belgians love their cars. Compact cars that is since streets are narrow, parking spaces
are even smaller and parking garages, when they exist, are designed with low ceilings
and narrow entrances. But as much as cars are loved here, there is a robust public
transportation system in Mons. Trains can whisk you to Brussels in less than 45
minutes and the  bus system that has routes through even the smallest villages making
it possible, although a bit inconvenient, to get just about any place you want to go.


Mons is a university town with the school having campuses spread
throughout the city. This, however,  is my neighborhood public school.
Like the houses here, schools are made of brick and stone and blend in
with their surroundings.  Any outdoor space is located in inner
courtyards out of view from the public.



This is a local playground. Playgrounds attached to schools tend
 to be small and for the use of their students only. Neighborhood
parks provide a small amount of play space for kids.

Belgians love their markets and Mons is no exception.
Sundays and Fridays are market days in Mons and you
can buy everything from fresh flowers and antiques to
plants, vegetables, meats and cheeses at the markets
which are set up throughout the city center. This picture is
of the herb market on the city's Grand Place.


Many of the streets in the center of Mons are
cobblestone. 


The Mons Belfry is a UNESCO World Heritage site....

....and its grounds often serve as a pubic gathering place. Here, the Belfry's grounds
play host to a World War I camp. The reenactment commemorated the opening  battle
of Britain's involvement in the War.


The heart of the city is the Grand Place. Each September
the Mons hosts "Tanks in Town" a celebration of the
Allied liberation of Mons during World War II.

Mons' grand cathedral: the Collegiate Church of Saint Waudru 

Mons is a 2015 European Capital of Culture and as such, festivities are planned for the entire year.
The opening ceremony was held in January to kick off a year of celebrating the arts.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday: Maine Snow Days

For those of us living in places where "snow" means a few wet flakes that disappear within hours, if not minutes, here is a snowy treat courtesy of my mom's backyard in Maine. Now this is winter. Do I miss it? I'm surprised to say I do.




Monday, February 2, 2015

Our Belgian Beer Road: Brasserie Dupont

It all started with this:

The book that started it all
I first spotted the book when we were sitting on the patio of a brasserie in Waterloo. The man at the table next to us was consulting the book before ordering and I was intregued. So much so that I made note of it and surprised Glenn with his own copy for his birthday. And since he received it, he too has been pouring over it and plotting out our Belgian beer adventures. And I first one took us here; to Tourpes, Belgium (a short 20 minute drive from Mons) to Brasserie Dupont.

So many beers (including five organic varieties) to
taste and chose from
The DuPont family got their start in 1920 when Alfred DuPont, with the hope of preventing his son from emigrating to Canada, gifted his son Louis with a farm and brewery in the Belgian countryside. The original brewery dated back to 1759 and Louis worked under the tutelage of the original owners to learn the craft of brewing beer. He started out brewing two varieties of beer using locally grown barley which he laboriously malted on site. The beer was originally distributed locally with horse drawn carts and it wasn't until after World War II that the brewery purchased their first truck. As the brewery changed hands from one generation to the next new techniques were introduced and the variety of beers produced expanded. Under the next generation of ownership the brewery began producing bottom fermented beers in addition to their traditional top fermented ones. The brewery has expanded their production capacity and modernized with each generation and after a fire in 1988 they began purchasing their malted barley rather than making it themselves.

Today Dupont remains a family run business, is a member of the Belgian Family Brewers and brews ten beers, half of which are organic. The brewery and shop are thoroughly modern but like so many Belgian breweries, they are nestled behind the original walls and amidst the brick structures of their original foundations. In 1997 the brewery was named one of the ten best in the world at the World Beer Championship. They brew 19,000 hectolitres of beer a year export their beer throughout Europe as well as to the United States, Canada and Japan so chances are you can find a bottle someplace near you. Their top rated beers include a stout, their Saison Dupont and a Moinette Blonde but my personal favorite was their Brune. But honestly, I liked all of the ones I tried and look forward to trying even more from the variety pack we put together.

And if the beer isn't enough for you, since 1995 they have also been making their own cheese--with beer of course. I sampled two cheeses during my visit. The first one was a slightly pungent washed rind spreadable cheese which was quite tasty on top of crackers. The other was a firmer cheese malt and hops Moinette which tasted very much like beer and quite addictive. And as I later found out, made for a great filling for a grilled cheese sandwich.

Tours are available by reservation only for groups between 35 and 50 people. But if you aren't a part of a group, stop in anyway. The day we visited the staff spoke a bit of English and were eager to let us sample their beers and the cheese. You can buy one of the pre-packaged gift sets or put together your own variety pack of beers and glasses.


If you go:

Brasserie Dupont
Rue Basse 5
7904 Tourpes, Belgium
+32 69 67 10 66
contact@brasserie-dupont.com
www.brasserie-dupont.com

Direct sales : Monday-Friday 08.30- 12.00 & 13.00-17.30; Saturdays from 09.00-13.00






Friday, January 30, 2015

In Search Of Mustard In Ghent

Mayonnaise or mustard? For me, unless it is with frites, or French fries (an oh so tasty but not so good for you habit I've developed since moving to Belgium), the answer is always mustard. But of course not just any mustard will do. French's mustard, the standard bearer that is synonymous with mustards in the United States, will never cut it for me. Now give me a smooth and tangy Dijon or a rustic mustard filled with tiny seeds that pop when you bite into it and I'm a happy camper. Actually, with the exception of the afore mentioned French's, there are few mustards I've tried and not liked and I'm always open to trying a new version. So when I heard about a little mustard shop in the Belgian town of Ghent I knew I had to check it out. After all, two of my favorite food and travel resources-- the New York Times and AFAR magazine -- have all written and raved about the mustard. I did and now not only do I know what all the hype is about, I can say I am a fan.

The Tierenteyn's have been making their mustard in Flanders since 1790 and today the tiny Tierenteyn Mustard shop is centrally located on Ghent's Groentenmarkt. Two Tierenteyn brothers started producing the mustard and a popular story has Napoleon and his soldiers discussing its virtues. Who knows if this is fact or urban legend but the mustard's popularity has transcended centuries with the secret recipe has since been passed down from one generation to the next. Made of dark mustard seeds as opposed to the light ones found in Dijon mustard, the seeds were originally hand ground, making the cost of the mustard accessible only to the wealthy residents of Ghent. Today the process is automated but the resulting product is just as delicious and coveted by mustard lovers from all walks of life.

Walking in the door of Tierenteyn is like stepping back in time and reminded me of visiting an old fashioned pharmacy. The mustard "factory" is located in the basement of the building with the small shop above it at street level. As I discovered it can quickly become crowded when a hoard of mustard seeking tourists descends. Floor to ceiling shelves are lined with blue and white crocks of various sizes. You can select the size you want and a friendly shop clerk will fill it with mustard. Or you can opt for a plain glass jar with a screw top but splurge on the crock since it is just so pretty and really adds to the experience.

So what does the mustard taste like? The mustard is smooth and golden but unlike most American style mustards it is tangy and hot; almost biting if you are too eager in your first taste. My initial reaction was that it had the heat of a good Chinese mustard or even included horseradish (which it doesn't). It isn't quite Dijon but it is close; Colman's mustard is similar but again, not quite the same. For me, this is what makes Tierenteyn mustard unique and oh-so good; I've never had anything quite like it. I've slathered it on sandwiches, added it to homemade salad dressings and even used it as a marinade for meat. Any way I use it I love it.

Made without added preservatives it doesn't have a long shelf life but will reportedly keep in the refrigerator for about two months. They don't ship and the only place to buy it is at their shop. So if you're in Ghent stop in with cash in hand (they don't accept credit cards) and try some for yourself. As I've almost finished with my crock I know I'll be heading back soon. After all, I need to get my fill while I'm in Belgium since that's a long trip from the U.S. to buy mustard.




If you go:

Tierenteyn Mustard Shop
Groentenmarkt 3
Ghent, Belgium
info@tierenteyn-verlent.be
 +32 92 25 83 36

Open Monday-Friday 0830-1800; Saturday 0900-1230 & 1300-1800
Cash only; no credit cards accepted