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A trip to Brussels reminds Rachel of the value of quality food and time spent with family

A view of the breakfast platter at the home of Rachel's brother in Brussels. Flavor 574 photo/Rachel Shenk
A view of the breakfast platter at the home of Rachel’s brother in Brussels.
Flavor 574 photo/Rachel Shenk

If you have never been around me, there is one thing you might not know about me: Good food makes me happy and causes my body to go into uncontrolled bliss.

Sometimes I have to stamp my foot over a delicious cheese, or roll my eyes over the smoothest chocolate, or give a tiny yell over that first bite of bread. I know. It can be somewhat embarrassing and some do make fun of me. But I choose to focus on these small bits of joy because they are truly some of the great pleasures of life.

Last week I spent a day back in the country of my birth, my heartland. My brother still lives there as well as many childhood friends, and after the attacks that occurred in March, I wanted to set a solid foot again in Brussels and reconnect.

My brother met us at the train station and, after visiting his workplace, we spent several hours on his fourth floor patio enjoying the lovely morning around his table. He set out a wonderful brunch, one where each bite is worthy of an exclamation. Surrounded by his large pot of purple irises and his potted trees and herbs, we were sitting at a well set table with piping hot coffee and fresh strawberries; life could not get any better.

The view from Rachel's brother's home in Brussels. Flavor 574 photo/Rachel Shenk
The view from Rachel’s brother’s home in Brussels.
Flavor 574 photo/Rachel Shenk

Of course, in that setting, you might expect the food before us to taste delicious. And it did. But there is another reason: the quality of the food. Everything on that table was fresh and unprocessed: bread and pastries from the bakery down the street, cheese from local cheesemakers, salami and sausage from local butchers, fresh picked strawberries and small shrimp from the North Sea an hour away. Each bite carried with it the real flavor of food and enhanced our reunion and conversation around that patio table. We left Brussels with the memory still in our minds, and with the best chocolate in the world in our pockets.

Back over the ocean, we continue to look for that kind of food. It is harder to find here in Goshen. If I want to have carrots that really taste like carrots, I have to grow my own or wait until I can buy them at the farmers’ market. So many foods here have been enhanced by additives and preservatives, or grown with pesticides and herbicides, or changed with colorants and flavorings. What is available is no longer real food, but a cheap imitation.

But we can do it and we do. We try to eat simple and look for foods that give us their true flavor. Just the other night, we sat out on our patio with some fresh food on the table, and I made some of my usual sounds. Good food is like that. It hits you right between the eyes. If you have not experienced it, go looking for it. It’s totally worth it.

Here is the recipe for the dirty steak we made the other night.


A hearty meal of dirty steak with vegetables as prepared at the Shenk home. Flavor 574 photo/Rachel Shenk
A hearty meal of dirty steak with vegetables as prepared at the Shenk home.
Flavor 574 photo/Rachel Shenk

Servings: 2


  • 1/2 pound sirloin tip steak
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 medium baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 red pepper, sliced in strips
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 slices smoked cheddar
  • 2 large slices sourdough bread


  1. Prepare a wood fire in your outdoor oven or fire pit. Let it burn down to nice coals.
  2. Salt and pepper the steak on both sides and let sit at room temperature for a half hour.
  3. In a pan, sauté the onions in the olive oil on medium heat, and fry until they brown nicely. Add mushrooms and red peppers and sauté until soft.
  4. Drizzle with a little bit of balsamic vinegar and let sizzle. Remove from heat.
  5. Throw the steaks directly on the coals, or on a grill set right in the coals. Cook on each side as desired.
  6. Serve the meat on the slices of bread topped with cheese. Cover with vegetable topping.
  7. Enjoy with a fresh green salad.

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