Terror in my temporary home

On Tuesday morning I sat drinking coffee and reading through Twitter before going to work, like I usually do. I saw the words “Brussels” “explosion” and “airport.” I kept scrolling, but kept seeing those words. And then “13 dead.” And then I realized that I was sitting a few short metro stops from a terror attack.

A feeling of shock silently crept over me, almost giving me tunnel vision. I grabbed my purse and walked outside to go to work, like I usually do.

When I got back on Wi-Fi at work 30 minutes later, I saw that that there had been another explosion about a 10-minute walk from my apartment at the Maelbeek metro station. So close to where most of my friends are interning this semester.

Right now I feel an overwhelming pressure to be profound, as if my proximity to these tragedies holds me to a higher standard of commentary.

But at 20 years old, how can I possibly comprehend this well enough to comment on it coherently?

I refreshed Twitter every four seconds throughout the morning, watching both the heroic and the ugly side of social media. Hashtags like #ikwilhelpen and #PrayforBruxelles brought me a swell of pride in humanity, but they were unfortunately mixed in with ones like #StopIslam.

I tweeted over 25 times today. Some tweets took a lot of thought, and some were just a simple retweet. But I think Twitter is built to show a stream of consciousness. Thank goodness, because that’s all I think I have right now. A million disjointed thoughts.

I’ve talked to a dozen different journalists from the US, taking a seat on the other side of the recorder than I usually do. Being the interviewee was strange because I have a lot to say but find it hard to speak given how much my hands are shaking and heart is breaking.

When similar terror attacks occurred in Paris in November, I followed them from the comfort of my home in Columbia. I was appalled, but I could fall asleep feeling safe.

Tonight I’m not sure if I’ll be able to fall asleep.

Where are the sprouts?

Contrary to what you may think, I actually do have a couple of obligations over here. For my International Issues & the Media class, I had to write a feature analysis about Brussels or Belgium. Unsurprisingly, I made mine about food. To prepare you, here’s a Julie Andrews gif:

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Okay, now check it out:

No dessert for Belgians: Why you shouldn’t look for Brussels sprouts in Belgium’s capital

Funky, abrasive, bitter…Belgian?

There’s a surplus of adjectives to describe them, but when it comes to Brussels sprouts, there isn’t much in a name.

At the heart of the EU, Brussels is the capital of compromise. Contrarily, the Brussels sprout is one of the least agreeable vegetables out there.

When visiting Brussels, one can expect to try a number of traditional Belgian treats: liege waffles, white beers, and frites, to name a few. However, this small cruciferous vegetable likely won’t show up on a tourist’s radar.

I’m a big fan of Brussels sprouts, so I was disappointed when I moved to Belgium and didn’t find them on any menus. Why are Brussels sprouts so uncommon in the city they’re named after?

To answer this question, I stopped by two authentic Belgian restaurants in Brussels, Volle Gas and Belga Queen, to find out why I couldn’t get my Lapin au Kriek with a side of sprouts.

Volle Gas introduced me to local cuisine when I first moved to Belgium. The menu features the full gamut of classic Belgian recipes from gray shrimp salad to stoempe.

When I asked a hostess about the absence of Brussels sprouts on the menu, her facial expression translated to “Why would you expect us to serve them?”

Similarly, Belga Queen only relies on Brussels sprouts in roasted vegetable side dishes. A consultant from the restaurant described them as “special”—which I’m pretty sure was a euphemism.

When hunting for a traditional Belgian Brussels sprout recipe, blogger Sasha Martin made the same observation I did: The road to classic Brussels sprouts does not go through the city they’re named after. The traditional Flemish recipe Martin eventually found lacked personality: steam, sauté in butter, and add some shallot or lemon if you’re feeling frisky.

Evidently, Brussels sprouts don’t rank among typical Belgian ingredients like endive and mussels. So what’s with the name?

My research indicated that there’s no distinct reason for the moniker other than historical record. The first written description of Brussels sprouts was in 1587 near Brussels, but they were likely cultivated in Ancient Rome and introduced to Belgium around 1200. The slow-growing plant likes cool, wet environments, and since Brussels is one of the rainiest cities in Europe, the Flanders region is ideal.

Today 90 percent of Belgian-produced Brussels sprouts are frozen and exported, according to Bart Debussche, a policy advisor for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Debussche says he rarely serves Brussels sprouts at his family’s dinner table.

“I have three boys who will eat them, but not with enthusiasm,” he said. “Based on my own opinion of them growing up, I’m not surprised.”

For many, the name “Brussels sprouts” conjures up memories of peering across a plate of boiled, slimy, downright disagreeable green orbs while Mom watches intently to make sure they don’t get passed along to the dog.

Personally, even dessert wasn’t incentive enough for me to finish my sprouts when I was growing up.

These pungent memories follow the old joke: What’s the difference between boogers and Brussels sprouts? Kids will eat boogers.

This cabbage cousin has as about as many potential descriptors as it does layers, and most of them have polarity that’s reflective of the public opinion of Brussels sprouts.

BelOrta, a vegetable auction company in Mechelen, sold around 20 percent of Belgian-grown Brussels sprouts last year. According to company spokesman Luc Peeters, most of the company’s customers are home cooks, but he thinks diners will begin to see more Brussels sprouts on Belgian restaurant menus in coming years.

“Some star chefs are introducing it again as part of their ‘back to grandmother’s kitchen’ trend,” Peeters said.

A similar rebranding is occurring on the American food scene, where Brussels sprouts are commonly paired with an equally characterful flavor: bacon.

However in the UK, the world’s largest producer of Brussels sprouts, tradition claims a front row seat for the vegetable at Christmas dinner.

The common theme throughout my exploration of the Brussels’ sprout scene was that people’s opinions were governed by their interpretation of the vegetable’s eccentricity and the nostalgia it provoked, rather than by culture or geography. The Brussels sprout took the city’s name, but not an accompanying Belgian identity.

Whether you call it tangy or tartaric, distinctive or offensive, yucky or yummy, you probably shouldn’t call a Brussels sprout “Belgian.”

Great Expectations…

Don’t be fooled by the title of this post, it’s more De Gaulle than Dickens.

Of all the places I’ve dreamt of visiting, Paris probably came with the biggest batch of expectations. The city of love, where you’ll stuff your face with buttery pastries while admiring the Eiffel Tower in a beret.

To be completely honest, I feel like Paris was so hyped that I could have passed over it this semester and not felt like I was missing anything. Once you’ve seen Funny Face, The Devil Wears Prada, and Passport to Paris you probably know the city pretty well, huh? Nope.

Here’s a breakdown of my Paris expectations vs. reality:

#1 French people are rude… On Saturday night, we set out to find food without any real sense of direction. After walking a couple of blocks, we stopped in a grocery store to ask some locals about where we should eat dinner. For the next 20 minutes we followed a nice Parisian man around the Pasteur neighborhood as he stopped in restaurants asking if they had escargot.

#2 Speaking of snails… escargot was considerably more difficult to find than I expected. The man who helped us find a restaurant asked us why we were so dead set on finding escargot, and when we said that we thought it was a Parisian thing, he said “Yeah, maybe 30 years ago.”

We never ended up eating escargot, but I can’t say I’m too terribly disappointed.

Side note: when I was younger, my mom commissioned me to pick all the snails out of the garden. I would then make a ring of salt around them in the middle of the street and watch the madness unfold. In retrospect I think my parents should have been a little more worried about me becoming a serial killer.

#3 The Eiffel Tower is smaller than you think… I’m not sure who told me this, but they were completely incorrect. When I first laid eyes on it fresh off the Megabus at 23:00 on Friday night, I was floored. It was one of those moments that I thought to myself “This cannot be real.” I’ve had a whole lot of those moments in these past two months.

#4 Quasimodo… The Disney fanatic in me was super excited to pay a visit to Notre Dame…and the sports fanatic in me had to focus hard to pronounce it the French way. We didn’t find a Quasimodo, but perhaps that’s because we didn’t want to shell out 10 euros to go into the bell towers.

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#6 Gluttony… Given the buttery reputation of French food, I was expecting to have to roll myself home, but Paris actually gave me the best workout I’ve had in weeks. We walked nearly 30 miles. I think half of those steps occurred at Versailles because damn that place was huge (and full of AP European History flashbacks). I’m embarrassed to say that my entire body is sore right now.

#7 Falling for falafel…In addition to serving as navigator, I’ve also become the food chief, because when you have a food blog people expect you to know food-related things. My pre-trip research let us down in a couple instances, but I did manage to find the best falafel stand in Paris, L’As du Fallafel.

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My Paris experience was very reflective of my abroad experience so far in general. I had a million expectations as I packed up my Costco duffel back in January.

Everyone says that studying abroad was the “best experience of their life,” which I thought was probably an overstatement, and yet I’m proving myself wrong every day, and I’m looking into how I can extend the experience into the summer.

I’ve officially bought into the cliché of Paris, of Europe, and of studying abroad. I can’t wait to see what expectations I can shatter next.