Today is our one-year anniversary. There was our brief courtship before, way back when I was a giddy school girl and we were together for a short five months, but that was just puppy love. I foolishly left you to return to my Midwest and for a brief flirtation with Asia. I was cruel hearted to neglect you but needed to explore and to have my space. You understood that, right? Realizing the error of my ways, I returned and fell in love all over again with your frites, beers and smoky art nouveau cafes. This thing called love quickly turned into a full-blown, scary in love, head over heels relationship. We have a very adult-like live-in relationship now – there’s the apartment, the phone and bank accounts, and all of the shopkeepers who know me as a regular. And I love every minute I spend with you.
Sometimes I am sort of scared with how comfortable I am here. Belgium really has become the realization of a dream for me – to find a place with a certain click to my personality. By my calculations, I should have grown bored of Brussels, or hell, at least my apartment, about three or four months ago. But now the mere idea of daydreaming about moving makes me unnaturally sad. I am totally and unabashedly yours Brussels.
One of the things I love about life in Brussels is how uncomplicated it is. And for those of you following the news or with any idea of Belgium’s current political crisis, that might seem like a bit of a joke. But below the political level, Brussels is such an easy city to live in. The Bruxellois are an anything goes, relaxed, cheerful bunch of people so I don’t mind the impossibly long grey winters, or the fact that one day I’m tromping through idyllic pastures and the next I’m wearing a hoodie and my wooly slippers as I write this.
The city itself is such a human-sized cosmopolitan city that I’m never overwhelmed. Chicago, I’ll never get to know you with your continuing clusters of neighborhoods and suburbs. You’re constantly surrounded so I’m forced to only love you from afar. You though, Brussels, you’re accessible. The neighborhoods might alter and shift, but you’ll always give me an actual opportunity to explore everything.
This salad from The Splendid Table is a lot like Brussels actually. It might not be the most attractive thing immediately, but it’s sturdy and satisfying without being blah. The red pepper flakes give it a kick to liven up the palate and the vinegar combination lends a tangy contrast to the cool subtlety of the salad. Plus the dressing is a cinch to whip up and makes a bunch so it’s perfect for storing. Which I’m a big fan of since I’m a busy lady (Um, you remember my giant stretches of silence, right? Yeah…my bad.) And with a hunk of bread and some cheese, it really is a no-nonsense, uncomplicated meal that doesn’t try to overwhelm. And it makes me want more of it. So Brussels, I would like to dedicate this salad to you. Here’s to us, and many happy returns.
Warm Balsamic Bean Salad
The Splendid Table
Serves 2 – 4, but super easy to double.
*yes, that is bagged lettuce in the photo. Don’t judge, it’s insanely cheap and available at 10 pm when you’re hungry…*
1/3 cup good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium to large onion, thinly sliced
4-inch branch fresh rosemary, or a generous teaspoon dried rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
4 large cloves garlic, diced
Pinch of hot pepper flakes
1/4 cup wine or cider vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 14-ounce cans of cannellini or pinto beans, rinsed and drained (I substituted with chick peas, clearly.)
6 large handfuls of washed and dried mixed salad greens
1 stalk celery with leaves, thinly sliced
4 ounces of Asiago, Fontinella, or Manchego cheese, shredded (optional)
Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion, rosemary, salt and a generous amount of pepper. Sauté 2 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the water, garlic, and hot pepper. Bring to a very gentle bubble, cover the pan and cook 3 minutes, or until garlic is soft. Don’t let it brown and be careful not to get spattered by the water. Stir in the vinegars and the beans, and set aside.
When you’re ready to eat, spread the salad greens over a large platter. Scatter the celery, and cheese, if using, over them. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Heat the beans, uncovered, in the skillet just until they are warm. Spoon beans and the dressing over the salad. Serve immediately.