Saturday, July 16, 2011

"To Work or Not to Work?" and "Edible Distractions... "

Well, I have been seriously considering the possibility of adding to my already too-long list of shit to do, by maybe getting a job... something that doesn't involve changing diapers or praising people for using the toilet. As such, I was contacted a couple of weeks ago regarding an open position for a "cook" in the Marines' residence here in Brussels. It was a "part-time" job, which is what I am after since I made a conscious decision to stay home with my kids until they go to school (which is getting terrifyingly close, by the way). The job requirements included making dinner for 16 Marines daily and breakfast and lunch per order, as they make their way out of the house for a day of dutiful service to our country. At first, it sounded perfect, but then, I started doing the math and it sounded less and less perfect. Of course, even though it technically is part time, at five hours a day, five days a week, it felt more like full-time to me. Having to be there at 7AM each day would mean leaving long before the girls the got up and getting home at 1PM would mean I would return just in time to put them down for their midday nap. They nap for about 2 hours, sometimes more, sometimes less, so I would only see them awake for about 4 hours a day, those hours between naptime and bedtime. Ultimately, my momma emotions got the best of the decision. This time in their lives is too fleeting and since my husband's career choice has afforded me the considerable luxury of actually being able to be home with them, I think I will take advantage, at least for now.

But this whole process did get me thinking about what kind of job would actually work for me and I returned to a time in my life when I was my own boss and in charge of my own destiny-- when I was running a small, but lucrative, catering business out of my home in Northern California. Stefan has mentioned my career history to Ambassador Kennard (a good subject for awkward small talk) and he suggested I throw my name and credentials into the pool for catering embassy functions while I am here. At first, I thought: nah, I want to take advantage of being in Europe and work with Belgian chefs and learn from them and see how they handle the topsy-turvy service life here in Brussels. But now that I know a thing or two about service in Belgium, I think I might be better off sticking close to the embassy, at least in this regard. So, that's what I have decided to do: this week, I will get in touch with the Protocol Office and let them know that I'd like to be considered for future events. It will interesting to manage event planning in a foreign country and I hope it works out.

Speaking of catering and event planning, I have become completely addicted to the outdoor markets here in Brussels, particularly the huge one in Stockel at Place Dumon. I have made it a custom to take the girls there on Friday mornings, under the pretense that we are getting waffles for them. My friend, Eve, who many of you may know from her foreign service blog, has been having a torturous time trying to acclimate to an inclement post and as such, has been asking her nears and dears to share their food experiences, so she can daydream, wistfully, about life after Luanda. I was hesitant, at first, because I feel shy about touting the many blessings of life in Brussels to my friend who was posted to Angola at the same Flag Day. It doesn't feel fair, but since she asked, I did and I told her the following story about the World's Best Waffles:

On Friday mornings, I have made it my habit to go to a 10AM yoga class at my gym and then quickly retrieve the girls and run for Stockel Market before it closes, or more likely, all the goods have been picked over. Its an awesome outdoor market, open three days a week, but Friday is its best day. The produce here rivals California, if you can believe it (in quality, if not variety) and right now, the place is loaded to gills with tiny, sweet-like-candy-Belgian strawberries, all manner of lettuce (peppery arugula, lush watercress, bitter dandelion greens, little gems!), sweet, tart grape and cherry tomatoes (of course, the big mommas aren't ready yet). Its a wonderful market and has everything you could possibly want or need for your basic grocery shop, which is awesome, but the REAL reason for going there is for the Jean Gaston Waffles, literally the most amazing waffles I have ever conceived of, let alone eaten.

Now, I know you asked for pastry porn, but anyone can give you that. Who else but me can describe the way these little babies come off the iron with a perfectly caramelized exterior, having been lovingly sprinkled with extra large crystals of turbinado sugar before being placed on the hot, 100 years old iron where they are then turned constantly to ensure the perfect, crispy, toothsome outside will make way for the steamy, sweet, doughy interior. They sell them "chaud" or "froid," depending on when you plan to eat them, but the girls and I can't save them for later, so I always order "4 gaufres chaud" and hope there's at least half of one left for Stefan when he gets home later in the day (yeah, right). Then we walk through the market, talking about food and flowers and sometimes, monsters and elephants (depending on who is leading the conversation) and we will pull apart our perfect, steamy, sticky waffles and eat them bite by bite, never wanting it to end, licking our fingers of gooey caramel between bites. Before Jean Gaston, I didn't know what a waffle was. I though it was just some dried-out alternative to a pancake. But now that I know how delicious a waffle can be, I may never be able to leave this place. I wish they traveled so I could send you a bunch. They are, after all, the best substitutes for friends, family or community I've managed to find here. When I'm eating one of these waffles, I completely forget all my troubles and think that life is just perfect, if only for the five or so minutes its takes me to devour that perfect dough ball of love.


  1. trying this for the 5th time....
    Glad you decided to post this. Like I said before, it'll be great for you to read when you're having a crummy day whether next week or next year. What a wonderful experience to have with your daughters. And I swear I can smell burning sugar when I read that last paragraph. Amazing!
    I'm sorry to come across as having a "torturous" time- I try to stress how ultimately life in Luanda just makes me feel seriously rich with all of the blessings in my life that I've had absolutely nothing to do with (like being American). And I'm trying to manage it all with as much grace as I can muster at 37 weeks pregnant. I always feel like a total jackass for complaining at all, even though it is an undeniably challenging time for me.
    Anyway- beautiful description of your waffle escapades! I encourage you to keep them coming!!! It's good to be reminded that things so perfectly sublime exist. (and weekly no less!)

  2. Eve: I guess once again, I didn't write so well what I was ultimately trying to say: I meant that it sounds like torture, not that you necessarily process it that way. That said, you are totally entitled to bitch about it. My god- I would think you were completely numb if you didn't. Talk about grace: I COULD'T do what you're doing. I would have run home to my mommy long ago. Not only are you "handling" it, you're doing it with gratitude and creativity. I hope my friends and family will follow the link to your blog because it's all so fascinating, made most so by your ability to write so well about it.

  3. Do they have the waffles in late December? (:-)

  4. Thought of you girls today. Did you have your Friday morning waffles??