Last night was a night we had been looking forward to. It was the "Valentines Day" meeting of the American Belgian Association or Antwerp American Club (the plates were engraved ABA but I think we were actually meeting as the American Club). To read more about how the club was founded, click on the title bar of this blog post. It's quite a story.
The sitter arrived about 7, another of our lovely students, and our hosts, Mr. K and his wife, Ms. van H, arrived at 7:30 to walk us over to a beautiful old building on Venusstraat where the club's dinners are held. The club used to have the whole building at its disposal, but the membership dwindled so much that they finally sold the building to a restaurant with the caveat that monthly meetings could continue to be held in a sumptuous back room in the building.
At the beginning of the evening, the assembled members and their guests (about 11 in all) gathered at the bar for drinks and chatting. I was the youngest person in the room by at least ten years, so I can see the concern about dwindling membership. Everyone was sparkling, excited about a great evening ahead. I had a Kier Prinse, which is a Kier Royale with sparkling wine that's not from the actual Champagne region. Next, a lovely cream of broccoli soup was served from the bar in espresso-sized cups. I'd never think to do this as a run-up to dinner, but it was delicious, a convenient way to serve a first course too! The second course was also served at the bar: tiny bowls of escargots in a cream sauce. Each bowl was enough to fit just two scrumptious escargots, which happen to be one of my favorite "luxury foods."
We adjourned to the dining room and stood behind the chairs surrounding the round table to figure out who should sit where. Nobody was allowed to sit next to a spouse, so I ended up between C, the president of the club, and J, a very interesting man from the Canary Islands who has worked extensively for the European Union. We had a fascinating conversation about the differences between Americans and Europeans (he has visited America and is married to an American, so he speaks from experience). We both agreed that sometimes the differences can be surprising because our assumption might be that because we have some shared cultural heritage that we would be more alike. In reality, there can be big differences in how people approach social situations, how they define what is private and what can be shared, that sort of thing. Obviously it differs from person to person within both cultures--anyway, he recommended a book by an American expat called "Understanding Europeans" that sounds worth a perusal.
Dinner was great, a carpaccio of beef followed by a plate of two kinds of fish in a lovely sauce, with vegetables and a bit of mashed potato. Dessert was a sampler of apple tart, a chocolate/sponge layer cake, and a small scoop of homemade ice cream. Then there was coffee and (guess what?) chocolate.
When we got up from the table, I assumed the evening was over. Ha! Back to the bar for cordials! I had heard of this Elixir d'Anvers (Antwerp elixir, a liqueur) which they didn't have, but they did have Elixir de Spa, from the town of Spa in Belgium. It had notes of citrus and licorice and was a nice thing to try once, though I don't think I'd run out and buy a bottle. Too strong--40% alc. by vol.! Anyway, I chatted with C, the president of the club, and we have been invited by him and his wife to visit them at their farmhouse (ca. 1740) in a village not too far from here. I hope we do, as his village sounds like a beautiful place, a place the girls would certainly enjoy. The city is fun, but it's nice to get out into the countryside occasionally.