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Archive for the ‘Inspirations’ Category

The week-long gap between posts was due to a trip to Brussels, home of the Atomium and Arno Hintjens, capital of a kingdom that had a king who agreed NOT to be king for a day, in short a special place where part of its population is celebrating independence from the Netherlands today. I attended the kick-off of Time Inventors’ Kabinet, a project spanning the next two years whose goals include creating new units of time using wind clocks and observing the passage of time in urban gardens. The culinary was tangential to the focus of my visit, yet my attention is inevitably drawn to food and its production, and Brussels did not disappoint.

On the first evening of my visit, I tried kriek, a cherry-flavored beer made of lambic and sour cherries (including their pits), at À la Mort Subite, a cafe whose name means sudden death. However, I survived the experience, and on the last evening, I ate penne with hazelnuts and gorgonzola at an amazing bistro named after one of my favorite birds. What more can you ask for than delicious food, good company, inspiring conversation, and fabulous music? The bistro had a jukebox with an incredible selection of ’45s – remember those?

In between, I visited rooftop gardens and an art foundation. Here is a motley selection of pictures of gardens and plants.

I stayed at OKNO and had the pleasure of spending time in its peaceful garden. The berries below I have yet to identify. What are they?

Bees make their home in the hives pictured below. I was lucky enough to get a jar from the latest honey harvest.


The hive above is a top bar hive without frames, which allows the bees to make comb as they like. The hive below is a more traditional model.

The following garden atop an old abandoned brick brewery is in its second year of existence. Unfortunately, the building is condemned and the future of the garden is uncertain.

I think I’ll try zucchini or squash in a sack next year.

I stumbled across this lovingly planted flower bed in the middle of the city.

These thistles are from the prairie of the disturbing Verbeke Foundation, whose peaceful grounds are full of tranquil, natural landscapes and honeybees while inside the building it showcases ethically questionable art making use of animal carcasses and other “ecological” material.

Finally, if Simon and Garfunkel are correct and the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, perhaps we should heed the following advice spotted in Métro Parvis de Saint-Gilles:

If you want honey, support bees!

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If we had sat across from each other Wednesday morning on the train and if you had asked why I was traveling to Ljubljana, I would have answered for inspiration. Food, books, and people continually inspire me, and my trip itinerary included the central market (Centralna Tržnica), a visit to the English-language bookstore Behemot, and a lunch date.

Travel is a process of discovery. At one level, it is a process of self-discovery, but when approached with a calm and open mind, the discovery of other places, other people, and other ways of living becomes possible. This second kind of discovery is more fleeting and arbitrary; I find it more exciting and ultimately more enriching. We can discover a lot about ourselves simply by sitting at home, but when we come into contact with strangers, we enter briefly into a relationship which has the possibility to change us forever. When we travel, we are often more open to the lessons of chance encounters because it is easier to slip out of our everyday identities and habits. I find that my memories of certain individual trips are more vivid than whole periods of my life which lasted much longer. People I only met once have opened my eyes to new ways of experiencing the world that still influence me today.

A journey by train allows ample time to slow down and to start approaching everything with the eyes of a traveler, eyes which are attuned to newness and difference. The train rolled past fields of corn and hops, cows and sheep, small farmsteads with collapsing roofs and cozy houses with vegetable gardens to covet, and kozolec (a traditional Slovenian hayrack), finally coming to a halt and depositing me at the place called Emona by the ancient Romans and Laibach by the Austrians. First stop: the market!


The central open-air market is located on Pogačarjev Square next to the Ljubljanica River. An indoor market on the ground floor of the Seminary building to the west of the square is full of cheese, beans, grains, honey, and meat. It is easy to start up a conversation with strangers at a market. An older gentleman helped me pick out a jar of fir honey, and we chatted about the World Cup. I spoke with a man who was ardently promoting orange and lemon-flavored Istrian olive oil as well as a bear’s garlic pesto. After a brief conversation with the vendor at an organic vegetable and seed stand, I figured out that ajda is the Slovene word for buckwheat. 8 of the buckwheat seeds I bought from her have already been planted on the balcony.

Though buckwheat is quite common in Slovene cuisine, it is not an ingredient in one of the most famous Slovene dishes, the sweet prekmurska gibanica. I was fortunate enough to have a slice for dessert at lunch. Prekmurska is an adjective meaning “beyond the Mur” and referring to Prekmurje, a small region in the northeast part of Slovenia, a peninsula of land surrounded by Austria, Hungary, and Croatia and cut off from the rest of the country by the Mur River, a river I know quite well because it also flows through Graz. The word gibanica comes from an expression meaning folds. The pastry consists of layers of poppyseeds, walnuts, apples, and skuta, a kind of fresh cheese similar to TopfenQuark or biały ser. It is often inappropriately translated into English as cottage cheese.


Prekmurska gibanica lands in the top 8 of 176 Slovenian dishes presented in a small book on traditional food in Slovenia that I picked up at a souvenir shop near the market. While I am on a quest to discover the uniqueness of places and am interested in discovering culinary traditions as the purchase of this book indicates, I am nevertheless wary of the construction of a nostalgic culinary identity that can be sold most lucratively to tourists but also with nationalistic undertones to the inhabitants of a place. As I flipped through the book, what struck me is how many dishes are analogous to supposedly traditional Austrian and Italian dishes. In future posts, I will go into more detail about these similarities.

Summer officially starts tomorrow, so I will wish you a happy summer slightly early. I hope you too will be able to travel somewhere that inspires you in the upcoming months! If not, may you make delightful discoveries in your own kitchen.


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