My wave of East Coast nostalgia continues. Two weeks ago a cold snap nipped at the neighborhood, freezing my basil plants and fogging up my breath, convincing me to unearth a wardrobe that until lately I wasn’t entirely convinced I would need again. You’ll have to indulge me as I dust off my pea coat, boots, pashmina, and a few favorite recipes that served me well in Washington, D.C.

The capital has—or at least had upon our departure—a bevy of Belgian restaurants: the gritty Granville Moore’s on H Street, all exposed beams, brick, and low lighting; the flashier Brasserie Beck downtown; and our favorite and D.C.’s first, Belga Café, on 8th Street SE between Eastern Market and the Navy Yard on Capitol Hill.

Before moving into our rental in Arlington, Virginia, my husband Mike stayed in a rowhome in the same neighborhood as Belga Café for a month. Through Craiglist he had worked out an arrangement with a journalist reporting from Iraq. He watched her three nocturnal cats that lived in the walls. She gave him a month’s free rent while she was overseas. Crazy, right?

Years later, for our second anniversary, Mike and I finally reserved one of the slim sidewalk tables at Belga. By the end of the evening, after one more bottle of smooth Abbey-brewed ale than we could really afford, we were toasting the chefs of Belgium along with our wedding bells.

Pause to consider the gastronomical contributions of this small country: Belgian chocolate, waffles, and beer, to name the obvious ones. Then the more obscure ones: Belgians will tell you French fries are misnamed—pommes frites, served with a house-made mayo, hail from their homeland. And don’t forget the subject of this post, mussels steamed in Belgian ale with crusty bread for mopping up the broth. This is what we dined on at Belga that first visit.

If the dish itself was an epiphany, the fact I later learned we could make it ourselves (on the cheap!) was a radiant discovery.

My first pot of Belgian steamed mussels came topped with chopped asparagus and bacon, a combination I still intend to recreate; but this basic recipe from The New York Times is bomb-proof. Excepting the beer, it’s also inexpensive—two pounds of Maine mussels can cost as little as $5—and quick—15 minutes to dinner, if that.

You have to eat this meal gloriously steaming hot, so I apologize that I have no “before” photos. Only empty mussel shells in a bowl and a satisfied appetite.

Ale-Steamed Mussels with Garlic and Mustard

Adapted from The New York Times

2 pounds mussels in shells

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 full sprigs of thyme

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 large shallots, chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup good ale (don’t skimp here; we buy Chimay)

1 to 3 tablespoons butter, to taste

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or parsley

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Crusty bread, for serving.

1. Rinse mussels under cold running water. If you see hairy clumps around the shell (called beards), use a sharp knife or your fingers to pull them off, then scrub shells well with a vegetable brush.

2. In a soup pot with a tight-fitting cover, heat olive oil, then add thyme, garlic, shallots and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté until shallots and garlic are softened, 3 minutes. Pour in ale and bring to a simmer. Add mussels and cover pot. Let mussels steam, stirring once or twice, until they open; check after 3 or 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer mussels to bowls and cover with plates or lids immediately. Discard any that have not opened.

3. Add butter, herbs and mustard to pan juices and bring to a boil. Whisk until butter melts, then taste and correct seasonings (add more butter if liquid tastes bitter). Pour over mussels and serve with bread for sopping up juices.

Yield: 2 servings.

p.s. Most of these photos are from my last travel writing project before we moved. I updated a previous author’s work and took a great many photographs.