June plans

I moved my blog to a new address. You can find more of my recipes, travel adventures and book reviews there.

For various reasons my favorite month of a year is June. When I was still a student, June was the end of the school year and it meant that summer holidays are just around the corner. Few years ago I successfully defended my thesis in June. My best friend’s birthday is also in June. And its half way to Christmas.

June also means that the days are the longest, the sun shines more often and temperatures are finally just right for skirts and dresses. There are strawberries, raspberries and cherries to be eaten and summer vacations to be planned.

I like to make plans for any month to have something to look forward to and June is no exception to that. Some of my plans are more personal and some are very region specific. But maybe you will get inspired to also pick up a book I plan to read or to visit a city I plan to visit if you live in Belgium like me. Or maybe at least I will inspire you to make your own very personal and very region specific plans for June.

So here they are, my must do, see and read in the next month.

1. Visit Dinant or Mons

These two cities have been on our list for such a long time already and we are really looking forward to go there. I have seen beautiful images of both cities on the web and cannot wait to go there. The longer, warmer summer days are just meant for city trips. So one of the weekends will be visit Dinant or Mons. Or maybe if we are lucky we will make it to both of them.

2. Dive into The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

Recently I finished 168 hours by Laura Vanderkam and the next self-improvement book on my list is The Art of Work by Jeff Goins.

I bought the book in March and it was patiently sitting on my nightstand, waiting to be read. Meanwhile I signed up for Jeff Goins’s newsletter and I listen to his podcast when I’m running. Both are inspirational and interesting and interviews with fellow authors and motivational speakers on the podcast are often amusing.

In the end waiting with the book was a perfect decision because Jeff is just starting a free book study this June and I’m happy to join the group of enthusiasts who are searching for that important gift within them they are meant to share with others.

3. Visit family and friends

I am looking forward to this one specifically. I used to visit my family and friends more often but since I started to work full-time in Brussels it became more difficult. We e-mail and skype regularly but it’s just not the same.

It’s also funny that I started to appreciate and love my hometown more when I moved away. It’s combination of nostalgia and the fact that I look at it from a different perspective with new eyes. Now I appreciate and value more all the things it has to offer. And since almost all of my favorite people still live there I’m always super busy when I’m there, making sure I see, talk and spend as much time as possible with everyone.

4. Participate in Brussels Yoga Day

June 21 is the International Yoga day and the Brussels outdoor yoga session will take place on Sunday the 19th of June in the Bois de la Cambre. It’s free for everyone and if you are in Brussels at that time you should join. If you want to join you just need to register on event website.

I participated last year and it was unbelievable how much energy, positiveness and good vibes I felt there. There were hundreds of people doing yoga and having positive self-loving thoughts. It was also great motivation for me to do yoga more often by myself at home. I’m really looking forward to this year’s Brussels Yoga Day and all the yoga lovers that will gather there. I’m sure it will be great event.

 

What are your plans for June? Will you travel some place new or have a book waiting to be read? Are you vacation planning or just enjoying well-earned rest after busy school year?

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Book review: 168 hours

I moved my blog to a new address. You can find more of my recipes, travel adventures and book reviews there.

168 hours cover

I just finished the book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam and I would like to share with you what I learned from it.

We all have 168 hours in each and every week of our life. Question is: How do we spend this time? Usually big part is spent sleeping, working and taking care of people and things in our lives. And we often feel we don’t have enough time for ourselves, our hobbies and passions. But there is always potential to optimize our weeks, and reschedule them to be able to spend time (or more time) on things that matter to us or with people who we love.

The book is based on stories of dozens of people, Vanderkam’s personal story and statistical information on current and historical time use. Throughout the book Vanderkam introduces us to outstanding people who are successful at their work, spend quality time with their families and fulfill their passions.

The good news is, we all can revamp our time schedules and have beautifully balanced weeks and life where there is time for everything that matters to us.

In her book Laura Vanderkam describes these steps which might help you analyze how you use your time and find the ways to optimize it:

  1. Log your time
  2. Make a list of your dreams
  3. Know your core competencies
  4. Minimize, outsource and ignore
  5. Fill small windows of time with bliss
  1. Log your time

    It’s difficult to change or improve anything if you don’t have a starting point. That is one of the reasons why you should keep a time log. Laura Vanderkam recommends  to write down every activity you do during at least one week (168 hours).

    We humans are not good at estimating the time spent on any activity. We tend to underestimate the time spent on things we like to do more of, such as sleeping or spending quality time with our family and friends and we tent to overestimate the time spent on things we don’t enjoy doing, such as working or cleaning the house.

    When you are finished with your time log go through it and put the hours together. How much time do you spend working, commuting, shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking care of your family and taking care of yourself, doing your hobbies, exercising, sleeping etc.? Keeping the log and its analysis will give you a better insight into how you really spend your hours and that is the key to optimizing it.

  2. Make a list of your dreams

    Next step is to make a list of your dreams. The things you would like to spend more time on or the things you would like to try, learn or accomplish. It can be anything as simple as going on a date with your significant other twice a month to anything as huge as earning a PhD. degree. Make a list of as many dreams as you can and identify those that you can and want to include into your busy life right now.

    You may not be able to move to Italy tomorrow but from tomorrow morning you can start to learn Italian from audio lessons on your way to work.

  3. Know your core competencies

    Do you know what core competencies are and what are yours? As Laura Vanderkam writes it in her book core competencies are “the things you do best and that others cannot do nearly as well”. Don’t think only about your competencies at work but also your competencies as a parent, friend, sister or member of a community.

    Every one of us excels at something. But no one excels at everything. Realizing what you are really good at is not only confidence boost but it will help you to optimize your life to do more of these things. When you do what you are good at, you love it and when you love what you do you are happier, healthier and more fulfilled. This holds true in work and also in personal and family life.

    Find your core competencies and find the ways how to spend more time doing them, in work and at home.

  4. Minimize, outsource and ignore

    Your to-do list will grow infinitely if you let it. When you know what you do best and what you would like to do more of, you also realize what you would like to do less of. Is it possible to spend less time on these tasks and chores to free up your schedule for more fulfilling activities?

    At work there are unnecessary meetings or conference calls that should have been an email or inefficient processes and tasks that add no real value to your product or service. Revise your work assignments and responsibilities. Find out if they add value to the company, if they are aligned with your core competencies and find the ways how to optimize them. Any reasonable boss would like to hear your suggestions. Many of the tasks can be minimized or outsourced to people who will do them better and faster.

    On the home front there are also activities that have to be done but may be done by someone other than you. You can hire people or subscribe to services that will do your laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping or cooking. All the things you detest can be done by someone who will be happy to do them.

  5. Fill small windows of time with bliss

    You may not have an hour a day for reading a book but you may have 10 minutes here and there. You can read a book while commuting, during your lunch break or while you wait for someone. Or you can listen to audio books or language lessons while driving or biking.

    Instead of on Facebook spend your 10 minutes to organize some small are in your home, or clean vegetables you will need later for dinner. You can call a friend, write a thank you note or letter, brainstorm Christmas presents ideas or meditate.

    All these things are small enough to fit into your otherwise busy schedule but big enough to have impact on your life enjoyment.

What I liked about the book

I found many thought provoking ideas and suggestions, inspirational real life examples and encouragements in 168 hours. Not every part of the book or every suggestion is relevant for me, but there are definitely parts that made me thinking and rethinking how I spend my time and which elements of my life can be optimizes. And it also made me realize I have enough time to do anything I want. It only needs to be my priority to do it.

Next I plan to dive into Laura Vanderkam’s book I know how she does it for more stories of successful women who understand that you don’t have to choose between your career, family, and passions. You can have it all and still not lose you mental health. And these woman not only understand it, they live by it and are living examples of how it can be done.

Who is Laura Vanderkam

Laura Vanderkam is an author, writer, and speaker. She talks and writes about time management, life, career and family. She published several non-fiction books filled with stories of real people. These books will not only make you wonder how these people are able to manage their time so wisely and balance all aspects of their life but also provide actionable tips how to do the same in your life.

You can follow her work and connect with her on her blog, Twitter or Facebook.


book cover image source

Avocado chocolate mousse

I moved my blog to a new address. You can find more of my recipes, travel adventures and book reviews there.

I crave chocolate almost all day every day. I can have a chocolate smoothie for breakfast, a piece of chocolate with my coffee, a chocolate brownie after lunch etc. Also my friends noticed that if there is chocolate cake on the menu I will have it.

So this weekend for an after lunch treat I decided to prepare this avocado chocolate mousse as a healthier option for my chocolate addiction. I even used a banana as a sweetener and no added sugar. The mousse itself is not too sweet but with raspberries the whole dessert is sweet enough.

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My kitchen space and also equipment is pretty minimalistic. I don’t have a food processor or a traditional blender and to puree or mix ingredients I use an ordinary immersion blender, a hand held mixer, a potato masher or a fork.

To prepare this mousse I used my potato masher at the beginning and the hand held mixer later on. However if I had a blender it would be easier to put all ingredients in and blend until smooth.

Servings: 4 tiny jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 avocado
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of cacao powder
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons of almond milk

To garnish:

  • raspberries
  • shreadded chocolate (optional)

Directions:

  1. Place the avocado and banana to tall container and mash with potato masher until completely smooth.
  2. Add the cacao powder, cinnamon and milk and mix with hand held mixer for 2 – 3 minutes.
  3. Scoop the mousse into tiny jars or small bowls.
  4. Refrigerate for few hours.
  5. Garnish before serving.

Notes:

If you own a traditional blender directions are even easier. Put all ingredients in the blender and blend for 2-3 minutes. Done.

The mousse was sweet just enough and with raspberries it was perfect combo. But taste the mousse just before scooping it into the jars and if you would like it sweeter add 1 – 2 teaspoons of your favorite liquid sweetener (e.g. maple syrup) and mix it one last time.

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Weekend in Cologne

I moved my blog to a new address. You can find more of my recipes, travel adventures and book reviews there.

About two years ago we were changing trains in Cologne and spent about 30 minutes siting on the stairs to the Cologne Cathedral. Unfortunately we didn’t have more time to explore Cologne. Last weekend, we spent three days in Cologne and had enough time for good food, long walks and sights.

For our stay we decided to book a small apartment through Airbnb which was about 10‑minute from the city center. I always prefer to stay in walking distance from the city center no matter which city we visit. It gives us more flexibility, opportunity to go back and rest in our room anytime and we also don’t waste our time in public transport.

I could tell you how cold it was the last weekend and that it rained quite a lot, that the sky was gray all the time and how all shops and many restaurants and cafes are closed on Sundays and national holidays (Monday) in Germany. But I would rather tell you what I liked about our weekend and what might help you you plan to visit Cologne yourself.

The day before the trip we were surfing the Internet for ideas and recommendations on what to do while in Cologne, what Cologne is famous for and what one must not miss. And during the weekend we checked most of the things from our list.

What we did, saw and ate you ask?

  1. The Cologne Cathedral
  2. The Roman-Germanic museum
  3. The whole city from observation deck at the Triangle building
  4. We walked the streets of the old town
  5. We saw the Crane towers and the Rheinauhafen district
  6. We walk along the banks of Rhine
  7. Tried pretzels and loved them
  8. Found a restaurant that serves Flammkuchen
  9. Enjoyed coffee and cakes in some local cafés

 Sights

1. The Cologne Cathedral

Of course we visited the Cologne Cathedral the landmark and the pride of the city. The cathedral is huge, majestic and has this wow effect on a person and you feel small when you are near or inside of it.

It took many decades to finish the cathedral, it was one of the few building that remained standing after the World War II, it has the largest façade of any church in the world and today the cathedral is the World Heritage Site.

You can find the cathedral on every postcards and pictures of the city. It surprised me that it is so crammed between all the other buildings. I would expect a bigger square and space around it, to be able to admire it and see it in its whole glory.

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2. The Roman-Germanic museum

Right next to the cathedral are two museums – the Museum Ludwig and the Roman‑Germanic museum. We decided to go to the latter. Three floors are dedicated to artifacts from the Roman settlement found in the area where Cologne is standing now. It is surprising to see all the things Romans used, such as tools, pottery, glass jars and carafes, jewelry, money, doctor’s equipment etc. All these things are so similar to things we use now that it’s hard to believe how old they are.

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3. The Köln Triangle

To get a better view of the cathedral and the old town we walked to the other side of the river. We crossed the river via Hohenzollern Bridge. The fences of the bridge are full of love padlocks that people have been placing there since 2008.

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On the right bank of the Rhine there is the “Köln Triangle” building, more than 100 meters high with an observation deck open for public on the very top. It is right across the river from the cathedral and it offers a panorama view of the city.

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Walks and wanderings

4. The old town

Right next to the cathedral between the river and shopping streets is the old town. It was significantly destroyed during the World War II and carefully rebuild after. The old town is small but with typical architecture and it’s full of restaurants, cafes and bars.

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5. The crane towers

One afternoon we walked little further from the city center to check out the Rheinauhafen district and buildings called “Kranhäuser” (crane towers). These three building – one apartment building and two office buildings – are the center of the district which was redesigned and developed just recently. People walk here on the promenade next to the river or between the building which host restaurants, galleries, shops and cafes.

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We walked all the way down the promenade and back to the city center but I can imagine spending here much more time in the summer.

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6. Walks along the Rhine banks

We did long walks on both banks of the Rhine. On the left bank, in the old town, it was more crowded and lively, full of people walking by and waiting for their boats. On the right bank it was calmer, we saw few runners and other tourists taking pictures of the city. I found the promenade on the right bank nicer than in the city center and I am sure in warmer months it’s full of people until late hours.

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Food

Germans are not famous for their cuisine. If you compare it with French or Italian cuisine it is very dense, less colorful and quite heavy. What Germans are famous for are their baked goods and you can find bakeries on every corner. They don’t only sell their breads, bread rolls, soft pretzels, milk rolls etc. but often have small cafe on the side where you can have coffee, cakes, baked goods or bread rolls filled with ham and veggies.

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7. Soft pretzels

Everyone eats soft pretzels in Cologne. People buy them all day long. They look like nothing special but if you get them fresh and still a bit warm they are delish. We tried pretzels with salt and also the ones with sunflower seeds on top and we were not disappointed.

8. Flammkuchen

We also tried Flammkuchen, the South German dish, similar to pizza, made of a very thin bread dough topped with all kinds of things, like vegetables, meat, sausages, cheese etc. There are many versions of Flammkuchen and we tried one with ham, sausage, sour cream and rocket in the Noa restaurant.

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9. Cafes and bakeries

Since the last weekend was quite cold we had coffee on many occasions and in many place. I really liked the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf but also Merzenich bakery and Backwerk where we went for a breakfast every morning.

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In retrospect I would say that three days in Cologne was probably too much. Even during Christmas market season, during the Carnival season or during summer where there are more thing to do and explore you can do it within two days at most.

Have you been to Cologne or are you planning to visit Cologne someday? What did you do, see and eat there?

Few hours in Namur

I moved my blog to a new address. You can find more of my recipes, travel adventures and book reviews there.

Thursday May 5th was a national holiday in Belgium. It also happened to be a very sunny and warm day and since these two things doesn’t happen so often we decided it would be a shame to spend the day at home.

The day before we asked our colleague where he recommends we should visit. We have already visited few Belgian cities and some of them multiple times. So this time we wanted to go somewhere new and somewhere in Wallonia. He recommended Namur and mentioned the Citadel of Namur as a nice landmark worth a visit.

When Belgium was organized into three Regions: the Walloon region, the Flemish region and the Brussels-Capital region, Namur became the capital of the Walloon Region. The Parliament, the Government and the Administrative Services of Wallonia are all here. Namur is third largest city in Wallonia but it doesn’t seem big and especially city center is quite small and cozy.

From Brussels we took a train to Namur which is a pretty comfortable and convenient way to get there. During the weekends and national holidays the ‘weekend ticket’ applies so for round-trip ticket anywhere in Belgium you pay just a half of the price.

Going from the train station in Namur you cannot get lost because right away you enter the city center and its shopping streets. As you traverse the city center you find yourself on a river bank and in front of the Citadel of Namur.

This was a highlight of our trip. This old fortress was transformed into a park at the end of 19th century and it is open for public to walk on its grounds freely. Grey stone houses, green trees and lawns and the blue sky contrasted beautifully that day and a view from the hill was breathtaking.

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I took almost the same picture ten times because every few steps the view seemed to be little bit nicer and every few meters I noticed something new.

I fell in love with old, majestic trees with their wide trunks and branches full of leaves. I can totally imagine living in such a grey stone house with an old tree in front of it and with such a beautiful view over the city.

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From the top of the citadel we saw street markets on the other side of the river and we decided to go there to look for some lunch. After lunch we walked along the banks of river to take some more pictures of the citadel and we returned back to the city center where we were walking down the streets and taking pictures of nice store fronts and houses.

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We also planned to go for a coffee and cake and I selected two highly recommended spots on trip advisor but unfortunately because of the national holiday both places were closed. So next time we go to Namur I’ll make sure they are open.

Avocado spaghetti

I moved my blog to a new address. You can find more of my recipes, travel adventures and book reviews there.

When I found this recipe about 2 years ago I loved it right away. Since then it is a staple in our diet. I crave it so often that we prepare it almost every week. It’s very easy to prepare, it calls only for ordinary ingredients most of which we usually have in our pantry and it’s ready within 15 minutes.

I also like the fact that it can be easily prepared for just one person which is often difficult with many other recipes. And of course this recipe can be easily adjusted for more people. We also like to prepare each portion of sauce separately as it gives us the flexibility to season it according each person’s preferences.

Only disadvantage is that you cannot make it in advance because avocado doesn’t reheat well. But since preparation takes only 15 minutes, it’s not a big deal. And anyway, everything tastes better when it’s freshly made.

I found the recipe on Oh She Glows blog and slightly adapted it.

Servings: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 serving of whole wheat spaghetti
  • ½ avocado
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 ½ tablespoon of lemon juice (start with one tablespoon and add more to taste)
  • 1 ½ – 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast (also start with one tablespoon and add more to taste)
  • salt

To garnish:

  • 5 cherry tomatoes cut to small pieces
  • 1 green onion sliced
  • sesame seeds

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to the instructions on the package.
  2. Meanwhile prepare the sauce. Place half of the avocado to a bowl and mash it with a fork until smooth.
  3. Add the olive oil, crushed garlic, lemon juice (start with one tablespoon) and salt into mashed avocado and mix well.
  4. Add the nutritional yeast (start with one tablespoon) and mix well.
  5. Taste the sauce and add the additional salt, lemon juice and nutritional yeast if needed and mix all together.
  6. Once the spaghetti are cooked, drain it and add it to the bowl with sauce, mix well to cover all spaghetti with the sauce.
  7. Before serving garnish with cherry tomatoes, green onion and sesame seeds

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Best Coffee Shops in Brussels

I moved my blog to a new address. You can find more of my recipes, travel adventures and book reviews there.

As everywhere in the world these days you can find coffee shops on almost every corner in Brussels. Some are in nice locations, some have well designed interiors and some serve the great coffees and cakes. And sometimes all three requirements are met.

I am no coffee expert and since I drink my coffee with lots of milk and some sugar I may not be the best person to judge the quality of coffee beans used. But if you are like me and you like nice places, milky coffee and something sweet with it I’m sure you will like these places.

All of the coffee shops are in city center of Brussels or very close to it. So it’s always just a few minutes from main sights to any of these places.

I usually drink latte, sometimes I change it for cappuccino and if there is flavored latte on the menu I often go for it. So in terms of coffee I am pretty predictable but what goes with the coffee that’s the question. In all these places you find many tasty looking cakes, pies and cookies so it’s often difficult to pick just one.

Without further ado here is the list of coffee house I like to go to in Brussels.

Café du Sablon

Café du Sablon is located right in front of the Église Notre-Dame du Sablon so imagine sipping a good coffee and seeing beautiful, old church right in front of you.

The place is tiny but they managed to get many small tables inside. Almost every chair and table are different but it looks nice, thanks to huge store windows whole place is bright and the view is priceless. I really like the peanut butter brownie they have.

Café Capitale

Café Capitale is the closest to the Grand Place from this list. The place is tiny but cozy. It has the same owner as Café du Sablon and also the feel of the place is similar. They have nice selection of flavored coffees as well as teas, fresh pressed juices, pastry, cakes, sandwiches and salads. I like to get caramel latte with marble cake here.

JAT

JAT is a very trendy place always full of people and often times it’s difficult to find a table here. They serve also food so often large group of friends share a brunch there. But they have very good coffee, nice and smiley staff and if there’s no empty table you can always take your coffee to go and enjoy it in close by Parc de Bruxelles. They serve the coffee with tiny coconut kisses which are often enough for my sweet tooth so I usually get unflavored latte here.

Charif

We found Charif café and bakery just recently. The place is interesting and has oriental atmosphere. Coffee is good and we were pleasantly surprised by their selection of cakes and pastry as well as the prices (they are on the lower side of what you find in city center). You can also grab a quick lunch here. We tried hazelnut latte and pain au chocolat.

Aksum coffee House

We found this place on TripAdvisor back when we just came to Brussels and were looking for good coffee shop. But only couple of weeks ago we actually made it there. We walked by many times before but it was either full or it was too late for the coffee so one Sunday morning we arrived there right after opening to make sure we will get a table.

In Aksum coffee House they serve organic Ethiopian coffee, herbal teas from Senegal, soft drinks from Côte d’Ivoire etc. Coffee here has really strong flavor and we paired it with a cheesecake.