One of the greatest joys that has come of my time here in Belgium has been the opportunity to meet three wonderful (and wonderfully different) Belgians: D, N, and S. After hearing so much about how difficult it is to get to know Belgians, I was delighted to discover that within one month of my arrival last fall I had been invited to various social gatherings by each of them. By November they were loaning me kitchen appliances and offering me rides here and there. And now, even despite my resistance to speak Flemish and send the level of conversation back to "What if your favorite color?", I have achieved the revered status of "good friend."
A week ago Friday I spent the evening with one of my new good friends, D. I have mentioned him (and his fabulous kitchen) before. At last I was able to step (well, leap headfirst) into an apron and revisit my domestic side! The idea to join forces in the kitchen stemmed from a recent conversation on the train back from Bruges one Monday night. Somehow (after nearly five months of America-bashing) we got on the conversation of what's GOOD about the USA. D, who has spent time in Washington D.C., did not even blink after I asked what it was he most missed about living in the states: "Chocolate chip cookies." One week, and one agonizing hour at the grocery store later (with the best chocolate in the world, why haven't the Belgians figured out chocolate CHIPS?), we were in his kitchen preparing a dessert for the ages.
Now, I have to tell you, I was ridiculously excited about the idea of scurrying about a real kitchen, whipping up a batter, and seeing a real live oven in action. We got out all the measuring utensils. (No cups and tablespoons in Belgium: "I use these spoons for my tea, is that what you mean?") We did our best to translate cups to grams, fahrenheit to celsius. We broke chocolate bars into bite-sized chips. And, despite underestimating the baking soda, we came out with twenty-four scrumptious, mouth-watering cookies. They were to . . . die . . . for . . .
Now comes the part where you understand just what it means to be a friend with a Belgian. D was certainly generous enough to offer his kitchen to a clearly-desperate American. But the real treat came during dinner. D had one down to his basement to "grab a couple of beers." He came back with a Westvleteren for me.
National Geographic recently called Westvleteren the best beer in the world. Let's just take a moment to comprehend what this means. The WORLD! It goes without saying that this beer is difficult to come by, even for Belgians. It is not sold in stores, cafes, or most restaurants. The only way to actually acquire some is to drive to the Abbey of Saint Sextus in a remote village in West Flanders, wait in line, and buy a crate. One crate per person per YEAR. So you can see that it's no small thing to give one away, especially to someone who ten years ago thought that Zima was top shelf. Westveleteren itself defies description, at least one that I could justly provide. It is dark and smooth with rich chocolate and coffee overtones. It was, in fact, the perfect accompaniment to fresh-baked cookies.