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The clocks have gone back, last night’s wind has blown the last of the leaves off the trees and sent them skidding and skating across the pavements, so I make it officially casserole time. There’s nothing quite like the soft comfort of a stew to banish the winter blues. My big sister hates them – it’s her worst nightmare. But for me, a stew is food heaven: add some mash and broccoli and I’m on cloud nine.

This baby is a recipe I associate with Belgium, but it’s just as popular in north-east France. This is a dish designed to bubble away all day in a marmite over the fire while madame tends to her chores (and that’s exactly what I did). A bowl of this will warm the cockles all right.

1 twirl of dried orange peel – simply dry on a baking tray in the oven at a low heat until hard and completely dry

500g stewing steak

2 carrots, sliced

A handful chopped celery

2 onions, chopped

A pack of lardons

1 large bottled of dark ale (Belgian of course)

500ml beef stock

A sprig of thyme

Oil for frying

Season the beef and brown on all sides in a large casserole, then set aside. In the same pan, fry the onions and lardons, then pop the beef back in, pour over the stock and the wine and throw in the carrots, celery, dried orange peel and thyme.

Leave to simmer for two-three hours or pop in the oven at 160C for the same amount of time. That sounds like a lot of expensive electricity (or gas) but I usually double or even triple up on oven time, cooking several dishes at once, then re-heat during the week on the hob or in the microwave.

Serve with mash and a lousy beer as you watch the rain batter against the windows.

Top tip: if you have any orange peel left, pop it in a bottle of olive oil and hey presto, you have orange oil! Great for gifting if you have a nice enough bottle to hand.

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Five minutes of sunshine at The Folon Foundation, Belgium

Five minutes of sunshine at The Folon Foundation, Belgium

Friday

Wake up with: £50

Go to bed with: £29.01

I’m returning to the fatherland (Belgium) to visit my dad this weekend, so I spend my first £20.99 of the week on a keg of beer for the old man and a top-up for my Oyster card; the bike isn’t equipped to lug huge suitcases half way across London. I donate the measely £1.52 I have left from last week to a homeless gentleman who has taken up residence by the cashpoint.

Today is indeed an exciting day: I’m meeting my beautiful, gentle sister at St Pancras so we can travel over to Belgium together. She is eight-months pregnant and I haven’t seen her bump for three months. I know it’s a cliché but she positively glows, radiating femininity like Venus in Botticelli’s Primavera—long, lithe limbs stretching out from the womanly swell of her stomach. We spend the journey gossiping and arrive in time for a very late supper. I miss my sister: I hate that we live so far apart.

Saturday

Wake up with: £29.01

Go to bed with: £29.01

No lie in for me today: the stepmother wants to buy some things for the bump, so we set off to the nearest retail park to look at teeny tiny things. We get back in time for lunch and—as it is pissing down with rain (quel surprise)—unanimously elect for Plan B: a trip to the Folon Foundation to admire the illustrator’s watercolours. The weather obliges us with a five-minute walk around the park before the heavens open once more so it’s back home via Leonidas.

The whole extended family pile round for supper and we feast on produce from dad’s kitchen garden, not to mention his wine cellar. Delicious.

Sunday

Wake up with: £29.01

Go to bed with: £7.56

There’s just time to pilfer some of the fruits of my dad’s kitchen garden before we have to leave for the train. He is mystified; why do I want to carry potatoes all that way? I neglect to tell him that I can barely afford to buy potatoes, so carrying them cross-border is the least of my problems.

I get the bus home and arrive to find the house in complete disarray and the husband covered in paint. I dump the suitcase in the only available space, don my decorating gear and start painting. After three radiators and a coat on all the walls in the hallway, I’m done in. I’m getting too old for this. We right the sofa and promptly collapse on it. The husband begs for a curry and I’m too tired to contradict him.

Monday

Wake up with: £7.56

Go to bed with: £7.56

I almost plead exhaustion and cancel supper club before I discover that the new season of University Challenge starts this very night. Yes, I am very cool. The husband is instructed to purchase a chicken and some salad. There is nothing quite like roast chicken and friends to cheer the soul and make everything alright, I find.

Tuesday

Wake up with: £7.56

Go to bed with: £7.56

The whole company has been summoned to a ‘team meeting’ on Friday. Oh great. Last time I got one of those overly cheery yet strangely vague meeting requests, I lost my job. Note to management everywhere: you only ever send out non-specific, yet bizarrely breezy emails when you are giving some poor bastard the chop. We all know this.

I get home in time for another scintillating evening playing real life Tetris with the furniture in our flat. Dinner is a leftover special: chicken salad. The decorating continues…

Wednesday

Wake up with: £7.56

Go to bed with: £7.56

The husband is supposed to have the day off, but business has finally picked up so we make an executive decision to get a builder in for the day to finish the painting. He does an incredible day’s work and when I get home, I discover the good news is that phase one of the painting is finished. The bad news is that the house looks like a bombsite, everything is covered in dust, there is paint on the sofa and the hoover has been blocked. This is a living nightmare.

Then I discover that SOMEONE has used the last loo roll without a) buying a replacement or b) telling the Chief in Charge of Household Supplies so they can buy a new one. Reader, this is almost the last straw but SOMEONE rescues the situation by paying for the new pack and a couple of peppers to boot, so I can turn the remaining chicken into a curry for tea. And thus another day of married bliss ends in peace.

Thursday

Wake up with: £7.56

Go to bed with: £0

Thank god for Marks & Spencer’s mystifying approach to customer service is all I can say. For if M&S had been able to deliver the elusive item I have been charged with sourcing for my best friend’s wedding directly to my work, home or even to my nearest branch, then I might not have had to go to Kingston tonight. And that would mean that I would have to spend another night in the house from hell, with no internet and no TV. I charge my Oyster card with the remainder of this week’s cash and set off on a blessedly dust-free mission. I get home in time to unblock the hoover and painstakingly pick the paint off the sofa before bed. The carpet for phase one is due tomorrow, so if all goes according to plan, my husband and I will have survived an entire week of DIY without having an argument. Miracles will never cease.

Tell me reader, how was your week? Thank you ever so much for stopping by!

Leonidas chocolate, Brussels, Belgium and Magritte

I’ll be frank, there isn’t a whole lot of cooking going on in the LoveRichCashPoor household right now. We’re in the middle of re-painting, which means that everything from the sitting room is currently in the kitchen, while the bedroom is filled to the brim with all the elements of the husband’s former playroom study (think wires, decks, multiple pairs of trainers, computers, mysterious black boxes with lots of knobs on, camera equipment, records… you get the picture). Getting into bed is a veritable feat of balance and gymnastic ability.

Leonidas chocolate, Brussels, Belgium and Folon

In fact, it’s a good job I came back from Belgium loaded with chocolates (thanks dad!). Belgium is renowned for its chocolates and there are artisan chocolatiers on every street corner but I was reared on Leonidas and Leonidas remains my chocolate of choice: specifically truffes speculoos.

At Leonidas, chocolate-making is an art. So how better to show off each tiny creation than by photographing these beauteous bites on famous Belgian works of art?

Leonidas chocolate, Brussels, Belgium and Magritte

A visit to Leonidas is an event in my family. We each have our chocolate of choice: at the moment, my sister and I are obsessed with the truffes and coupes. We’ve been through phases of cerise emballee, manons and irresistibles., we’ve branched out into orangettes and mendiants. Heaven knows where our chocolate journey will take us next, but it will no doubt be delicious.

Each of us takes it in turn to voice our request, then we stand back and watch the lady behind the counter leap into action; her gloved hands deftly selecting the gleaming ganaches and laying them in one of Leonidas’ signature gold boxes, lovingly protecting each layer with a sheet of foil. Then the box is wrapped and beribboned and carried home to savour. Yum.

Leonidas chocolate, Brussels, Belgium

Leonidas choclates, Brussels, Belgium

 

To the casual observer, it will no doubt appear that I spend my life flitting around Europe. Said casual observer would be fairly justified, but rest assured I am sticking to the budget; it just so happens that both my parents live overseas. Well, that gallivanting gene had to come from somewhere, n’est pas?

 

Marche du Midi, Gare du Midi, Brussels, Belgium

This weekend was a case in point: I popped over to Belgium to visit my dad. He paid (thanks dad)! Dad is even more punctual than me so, on Sunday, I found myself at the Gare du Midi with an hour to kill before my train home. All the more time to spend exploring Brussels’ largest Sunday market: the colourful behemoth that is the Marche du Midi.

Marche du Midi, Gare du Midi, Brussels, Belgiumv

I love this market. There’s fresh produce a-plenty at rock-bottom prices, plant stalls, clothes and home furnishings and a certain spice in the air that sets it apart from similar markets on the continent: this is a predominantly Moroccan area of Brussels. LoveRichCashPoor was already loaded with bounty from dad’s kitchen garden, not to mention the odd slice of cheese and box of chocolates, so I didn’t indulge this time. But I was tempted, reader, I was tempted.

Marche du Midi, Gare du Midi, Brussels, Belgium

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