Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Across the Diagonal
The street lights have finally been lit! 

I've been eagerly awaiting the holiday lights since the city started draping the lights across the streets several weeks ago.  Each neighborhood has a different pattern... and I'm gonna photograph them all.  Well, maybe not all... but most... or as many as I can.

Looking down the Diagonal

Felices Fiestes!  The small El Corte Ingles at Villaroel & Diagonal
Looking up Calvet from Tranverserra de Gracia

Calvet @ Traverssera de Gracia

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In the Kitchen

My little Spanish kitchen is very different from all the kitchens I'm used to using at home.  Oops... this is home.  I mean back in L.A.

First off, my mother was never much of a cook, so the kitchen tools are seriously lacking.  All of my accumulated bake ware, mixing bowls, ramekins, wooden spoons, measuring devices, etc. have been left behind... some I put in storage, some I gave on indefinite loan to friends, some I just gave away.

How many times have I cursed myself out saying "damnit!  I wish I had my ______"? 

Secondly, some of what I would consider to be "staple pantry" ingredients are hard to find.   Brown/molasses sugar?  took me 3 weeks to find it.  Now I know of 2 locations that sell it.  Vanilla extract?  I'm not picky - I find that imitation vanilla works just as fine as the pure vanilla extracts... but just finding any liquid form vanilla extract is a challenge in itself.  My local walking distance markets don't sell it.  That's why when I found this bottle, I had to buy it, no questions asked.

as if this little bottle will last me into 2012?  yes, i got in the habit of dating my spices
After I bought it, I asked myself - would a label like this be considered acceptable in the USA nowadays?  I'll file this under "lost in translation".

Baking now requires extra planning.  Do I have the right sized pan?  If not, what kind of substitute can I use to make it work.  Ingredients - what do I have, what do I need, what have I not found yet, what can I use as a substitute for what I can't find.

If I'm ever gonna want to enjoy food here, I'm just gonna have to learn how to cook with what's available.  Who knows, I might like the new version better?

This is what I made today:  Smitten Kitchen's Jacked-up Banana Bread.  I sorta did a hybrid of her recipe with a technique I'd read about in Cook's Illustrated - regarding using overripe bananas that have been stored in the freezer, then cooking down the watery liquid into some thick, flavorful reduction... Amazing!

well, it tasted much better than it looks... damned lighting.

not much better in the photo department... just look at smitten kitchen's pictures - she's a pro. i'm using an iphone

 Speaking of photographing in the kitchen.  Some of my friends might be wondering why I'm not photographing my food as much anymore.  Well, for one thing, the lighting's all wrong.  The backdrop is rather hideous as well.  My Ridgeley apartment had decent light.  The Windsor house had amazing lighting, and a great backdrop - everything looked better there.  Same with the Dahl house.  Of course I took tons of food pictures there.

But here?
60's era harvest gold with an 'updated' granite countertop.
I love old kitchens.  I also enjoy some modern kitchens.  Sometimes updated kitchens can be tastefully done.  But a "modern" black speckled granite countertop in a 60's harvest yellow kitchen?????  If you are only changing one aspect of a kitchen, don't fight against what you're given - work with it - install some countertop that doesn't stick out like a sore thumb... Mind the context, please!  Oy.  And with the unflattering fluorescent lighting, and no natural light... well, I hope I've made my case. 

Alas, my favorite cheerful red and white cherry patterned oven mitts also don't fit in this kitchen.  My old tendency toward all things green and orange will work, however.  Too bad they're all in California.

Will this rain ever stop?  It is chucking buckets right now!  Maybe this is why I'm writing:  I have a sore case of cabin fever.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All this Catalan is killing my Spanish!

Why hasn't my Spanish improved much over the past few months?  Because I'm not immersed in the language. 

I thought I moved to Spain, but what happened, in effect, is that I moved to Catalonia.  Or is it Catalunya?  Whatever... I think they're making the rules up as they go along. 

Why, then am I not improving in my Spanish?  Because EVERYTHING is written in Catalan.  From the frozen foods section in the grocery store "Congelats" instead of "Congelados" <--- i'm not even sure that is right.  Because I'm not seeing Spanish in the written form on a regular basis.  All I know is that I'm vaguely understanding the signs without knowing how the words are pronounced.  And then when I'm trying to have a conversation in Spanish  - I get so tongue tied - I freeze up... I say the wrong words.  or the right words in the wrong language.

Case in point - I was telling my mom that I needed to go down to the Tabacs to get a targeta to add more minutes to my phone.  All wrong.  Despite the fact that all the cigarette stores are called Tabacs, that's not the Spanish word (which is something similar, but I can't remember it because it's not a word I see written anywhere).  Also, I pronounced targeta like "tar jetta" instead of "tar hetta".  Here I am, thinking I'm speaking in Spanish with my mom, but no.  I'm speaking some bastardized combo of Spanish/Catalan. 

I'm just about at my wit's end in trying to speak the local language.  I spend most of my time speaking English with my American friends here, or my mother... or French with my Aunts and cousins. 

Think you might get some lessons on a menu?  Well, you might get a laugh...

Varied Kitchen? Lids? Embers?  

This English language menu was full of mistakes.  Whoever they hired to edit it only translated the words and didn't take the context into account. 

What are lids
I think they mean charbroiled.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Displaying the Seasons

There's this gourmet food store down the street from where I live, called Semon.  They sell a variety of goodies, from baked goods to delectable, savory side-dishes, to wines, cheeses, and gourmet pantry items like spices and fancy mustards or crackers. 

I love walking by there and checking out their window displays.  These pictures were from October. 

The crown of the centerpiece

I kept hoping for a shot when I wouldn't get a glare, but that never seemed to happen.  Either they were closed, or I didn't have my camera on me.   

The base of the same centerpiece

What you do see are Sweet Potatoes (called Bonitos, or something like that), chestnuts, bay laurel, cookies called Panellots (again, i'm killing the spelling, sorry), and other stuff that I can't quite identify.

They moved on to their Xmas display - at the beginning of November.  Well, they don't celebrate Thanksgiving here, so I suppose it's acceptable.  Their current display is kinda meh, so I'll wait and update it when it gets interesting again. 

Speaking of x-mas, I was walking down the street last week when they were testing out the xmas lights in my area. 

looking down Bori y Fontesta

Looking down Pau Casals toward the Diagonal
Each neighborhood has a different design.  But we're gonna have to wait another few weeks to see them all lit up.  These have been dark since I took the pictures last week.

Maybe Shoegaze Originated Here?

 What is "Shoe Gaze", you might ask?  I'm not quite sure about its origin... 

From what I gather, it refers to a type of music genre in which its fans are just all mopey, and are staring down at the floor, wallowing in their own self-pity.  I could be wrong. But that's what I envision when I hear the term, accompanied by said-music.  But that's not the point of this post. 

I was at a party this past Saturday night - at a flat in a grand, old apartment building in a fabulous part of Barcelona (somewhere on Pau Claris near Gran Via)... my attention had been drawn down to the floor due to some nearby spillage of wine.

Hello!  Someone (me) had a major double take.  I mean, I've seen some great tiles in these residential buildings - but this one was impressive.  Not only did it have a beautiful pattern with 3 colors/tile... it had a border too! 

The other rooms had different tile patterns as well... but I was at a party - I couldn't just ask people to step out of the way so I could take pictures. of the floor. 

Besides, my short attention span had me quickly dropping my "shoegazing" ways as I moved on to some conversations en espanol, with a glass of vino tinto in hand.

Window Shopping

Sometimes I just don't feel like taking pictures...

But other times, the display is so striking that it needs to be recognized, appreciated, and shared.

On the Paseo de Gracia.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

...and the radiator is "on" for the season

It had to happen.  Eventually.  And it did. 

The unseasonably warm weather has finally given way... and Autumn has befallen.  Not gradually, either. 

It was just 10 days ago when I was leaving my friend Mick's place down in El Born - and heading to the subway when I glanced at the giant neon thermometer near Plaza Catalunya and saw that it was 24 degress - at 23:45, no less! (Translation:  upper 70s at 11:45pm.)
Halfway to/from Vegas? not quite.  I always feel like craps when i pass this.
I knew it was gonna end soon - the lovely weather.  That's why I opted to continue walking from Plaza Catalunya up Paseo de Gracia and over onto the Diagonal to my home.  Well, reality is that I missed the last train, and figured that I should walk-off all that wine (or was that the night of the Cynar?). 

It always amazes me how many people are out and about walking the streets so late at night - sitting at cafes or tapas bars or just walking about.  All demographics, too!  From old people to teenagers and everything in between, tourists and locals alike. 

Barcelona truly is a beautiful city, with amazing architecture and grand boulevards, and a fabulous public transportation system, and vibrant cafes on just about every corner.  If you get tired, you can just sit right down at a bar or terazza, and get a cheap cana (beer), or a copa (wine), or an espresso or something for about 2 Euros... and they just let you sit there for as long as you wish. 

Turo Cafe - evening special - 1/2 cana & patatas bravas for 2 euros.
That week, I clocked in with about 12 hours of walking and I probably covered over 20 km (it sounds so much more impressive in kilometers, so i'm sticking with it). 

Today, however, it was cold.  I was listening to the weather forecast and it was talking about how it would be chilly with a chance of showers later.  I was thinking how they got it right because it had jsut started to rain until i realized i was listening to KCRW - and that was the weather report for Los Angeles. 

And then I saw this:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Heavy Metal

It's hard to keep my jeans looking streamlined when I have so many coins in pocket.  Why are there so many different Euro cents? 

Having a 2 cent coin is absolutely ridiculous.  Abolish it. 

What's wrong with quarters?  4 of them get you a buck.  Why have 10 cent, 20 cent AND 50 cent coins?

I'll concede that the 1 Euro coin is a good idea, and that the US paper $1 bill could be phased out (I'm sure exotic dancers in the US would rejoice as this would probably lead to $5 minimum tips). 

2 Euro coin?  Fine, we can keep it. But it's not necessary.  It just makes your purse, or pocket so damned heavy after a while!  Meanwhile, waiting for your change to be dispensed is rather obnoxious - going through all those denominations of coins.  And watch out because they pinch pennies here and there (or more like dimes or, uh - what do they call 20 cent pieces?).

As for the different sizes of paper bills, I will say that's a great idea.  It's friendly to the blind... you can feel how large your paper bills are, and know that you're not being cheated when someone's giving you change. 

Sticker Shock

Import vs. domestic.  Oh, how the tables have turned. 

Keep in mind, the prices are in Euros which at the current conversion rate is 1euro = $1.32 (which is much better than last May when I visited and it took $1.47 to buy a euro).

Usually an Import... at under 15 Euros... ok

Jack Daniels is now an Import to me... and it's more than Jameson?? ouch!

Jim Beam was cheaper than Jack - but not as cheap as 4 roses...
Jameson's is alright... But I like Bourbon... so Four Roses is what I bought for the house.  My mom asked "Who drink's whiskey?".  She's incredulous that people out there (me) like whiskey.  Coming from someone who drinks some bizarre god-awful sherry called Tio Pepe (gag!). Spaniards have strange tastes in booze. 

I'm an American girl through and through.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The smaller the car, the bigger the coffin

Did I ever tell you how it took me about 10 years to finally transfer out of Santa Monica College? 

It's a 2 year community college. 

I was lost. Had no clue what to do with my life.  So I took lots of random classes.  Hoping I would find my calling along the way.  Some semesters were disastrous, and there were many withdrawls & incompletes as I realized I hated the class after it was too late to drop it without a mark on my progress report.

Just in the "A"s alone, I took Astronomy, Accounting, Anthropology, Art History (which eventually became my major), and Automotive.


Yes, Automotive.  I figured if I lived in Los Angeles, I needed a car.  So I might as well learn a little something about this piece of machinery that was such a big part of my everyday existence.  I was trying to be practical.  I was one of 2 girls in the class of 25... and I had to work much harder just so that I wouldn't get laughed out of class by the "boy's club". 

Our teacher was definitely into old fashioned big American cars.  And while he respected the quality & the get-in-and-go of the Japanese imports, he always cautioned us "the smaller the car, the bigger the coffin".  He considered small cars to be deathtraps. 

But I still adore the cuteness factor.  Give me a totally impractical but stylish little MG or Alfa Romeo spider - swoon!  Here's my newest discovery:

What did my little eye spy?

The Chatenet Speedino - from France
Made in France, and popular in Italy - convertible, and totally up my alley... the Chatenet Speedino...a total deathtrap... and not too big for a coffin either...

I see lots of small cars here in Barcelona... and remarkably enough, I haven't seen an accident... yet all cars seem to be scraped up and dented - just surface issues from rounding tight corners and the like. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

At the Mercat Galvany

I don't quite "get" the point of these "Mercats" around town.  They are not quite supermarkets - as they only sell food items - but they aren't like the "Farmer's Markets" that I am accustomed to in Los Angeles.  They are open daily until around 1pm, and have their fixed stalls with their dedicated vendors... but they aren't Farm-to-Market vendors... they are all middlemen, and buy their produce from other wholesalers.  But they do have interesting things that you don't normally find in Los Angeles. 

In honor of Sabel (a co-intern at Ludobites) who taught me how to clean squid... no, i didn't buy any

Not sure what these are - but they look interesting - and I don't see these in LA

Frying fish?  Sardines? 

I usually avoid the center of the market - that's where all the fish are.  They look so menacing and bizarre.

Some knife!  She was actually the friendliest of the fish mongers... all the fish sold at her stand were from Galicia (to the north) or locally in the Mediterranean.  She was filleting Sole from the Galicia area.
escargots!  fresh live snails!

How would I describe this market to my Angeleno friends?  It's kinda like the Farmer's Market at 3rd & Fairfax, yet not... 

And you think you're gonna get organic and local stuff here?  Newp.  Not quite.  I did opt for Fuji apples from France over the Pink Lady apples imported from Chile.  Think either are organically grown?  Newp. 

When I asked about organic or biologica fruits and veggies - they tell me that it all looks ugly.  There is no such thing as gorgeous organic produce in Barcelona.  I think they just want me to give up, and buy from them. 

Be still my beating heart!
Found:  my favorite autumn fruit!  Persimmons (happy dance).  From Valencia.  These small ones seem to be the Hachiya variety... I didn't get them - I got a single giant Hachiya which I will enjoy tomorrow morning for breakfast.  Though I'm thrilled that I found these.  As for the Fuyu variety?  Well, I haven't seen them yet.  I'm not sure which I prefer - I love them both.  But a season without Fuyu Persimmons will not be autumn to me.  In LA, the Fuyus were always ripe in Autumn with the Hachiyas ready closer to winter. 

But you know what they call these fruits?  Kaki.  Doesn't have the same ring as purrr-si-mon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Barcelona at Night

Most of my excursions through Barcelona have been during the day.  Finally, I dared take out my camera while walking through the Barri Gothic last night - the last night of the festival of La Merce.

A random plaza circled by tapas bars & restaurants - and random street musicians

Lit-up balconies at the Hotel Banys

Near the Cathedral of the city - lit up

Another lit-up tower - near one of the stages set up for the festival of La Merce
Strings of lights in El Born

9pm and 24 degrees (75 F)... perfect night. 
Next time, I won't be toting a bottle of wine in my hand... so I'll probably take more pictures.  Until then, this is a glimpse of the city I traced my way through last night.

On a side note, for a country that's suffering from a "crisis" - they sure throw a lot of festivals and put on impressive fireworks displays.  party on?

What's better than 2-buck Chuck?

94 cent wine!

What is two buck chuck, aka dollar ninety nine wine, aka Charles Shaw?  It's one of the house wines from one of my favorite grocery store chains in the States (mostly found in So California), Trader Joe's.  A few years ago they launched a pretty decent wine for $1.99 by Charles Shaw.  It must be some nom-de-plume for some overstock batches from some vineyard that doesn't want to go on record with their name on the bottle.  Anywhoo - it's ok for a wine cooler, or maybe cooking, or maybe drinking while cooking... or non-serious drinking... it's ok - but you wouldn't take it as a hostess gift at a dinner party.

In years past, Barcelona neighborhoods had little shops that used to sell barrel-wine "a granel".  It was the cheap abundant wine of the season... and you could bring your own bottle, and (re)fill it up.

Times have changed.  You no longer find these dark little wine shops, as they have mostly been replaced by fancier places.  But down in the neighborhood of El Born, there's this little grocery store called "De Tot al Born", and they still sell bulk wine.

these barrels are above the refrigerator case of fresh veggies
 They have a few varieties - and you can choose "tinto o blanco", red or white.  I didn't know they had moscatel - i love me some sweet wine... maybe next time.

sorry for the blurry picture - i'm trying to take a picture with my iphone whilst balancing my just-filled bottle of white (in the foreground).
As you can see there's a nice menu... and after i finish this wine, I'll bring the emptied (and cleaned bottle) back down to try another variety.  This little grocery store also sells good bottle wine - down in the cellar.  But why pay 6 to 10 euros for wine that's ok - when you can have 94 cent wine that's ok?  Especially when you're on a budget. 

Theoretically, it was a great buy... however I don't live too close to El Born.  I still had a 20 minute walk back to Plaza Catalunya to get to my train.  Did I get strange looks as I wound my way down the streets carrying a bottle out in the open, as I didn't have a bag?  Yep.  And I answered them with a sheepish grin.


Friday, September 23, 2011

"... that way they can cop a feel, unobstructed"

My dear mother just can't seem to "get" the fact that I've lived in a big city all my life.  She was there in LA with me until she came to Barcelona 10 years ago. 

Mom:  "So be sure to keep your keys, and your ID and your money in your pockets.  Don't keep anything of value in your purse..."

My eyes are rolling, and I've completely tuned her out - I've heard this before.  Besides, I've navigated New York City at 3am.  Hell, I've taken the bus in LA at 2am (which is much sketchier than NYC - by far). 

Mom: "did you hear what I just said?"

Me: "yeah - so I should keep everything in my purse, that way my jeans will be completely streamlined with no bulges indicating which pockets have things in them... that way, if any perve or pickpocket comes up to me, they can cop a feel, unobstructed!"

I think she got the point. 

Then I was off to visit my friend Mick down in El Born.  I had a map - but tried not to use it.  We got a bottle of cheap 0,94 euro wine (take that, 2 buck chuck!)  We played ping pong in Ciutadela park.  We got the janky chewed-up table no one else wanted to play on.  It just made the game more fun.   That park is awesome.  I wish I lived closer to it. 

Barcelona can be way fun.  Today was a great day.  forgot my phone at Mick's - so no pictures... sigh.  next time


  I've put the Barcelona back in SharonVioletaBarcelona.

I like collecting stamps.  I even ask US immigration to stamp me back in to the States.  Silly, I know.

And after 3 and a half months of bouncing around from place to place in Los Angeles - living out of my suitcases - They are finally retired (until any road trip/day trip/ski trip?)

Huge thanks to my cousins, my friends, and my employer for letting me housesit, couch surf, guest room crash, and the like.  It's strange not having an address anymore.  I used to be so stable in my living situation. All this is so unsettling.  Let's see what becomes of this trip.  I'm navigating through life without a map.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

About Big Lew...

 Someone I only met once has recently died.

I read the headline "Once promising basketball star Lewis Brown dies homeless in Hollywood" on my Facebook news feed - posted and reposted by some people I know. 

And then I realized who he was.  It was on that night, at LudoBites where I left in tears... no, not the night I had a fever... the other night I left in tears (the onion incident) - August 31st.  I was Hollywood-bound that night because it was a Wednesday - and my friends were working at the Burgundy Room.  I needed some hugs. And a drink.  But on my way there, I saw I was almost out of gas. 

I pulled into the Chevron station at the corner of Santa Monica and Vine - just to get a gallon or 2 of gas (that's an expensive station!).  This big friendly giant of a man walks up, and offers to wash my windows.  He said "I'm not mean, I just look mean", as he noticed how I was a little nervous. 

I mentioned how I was having a bad day, and we chatted a bit.  I told him how the French Chef was being all mean and how I didn't know if I could go back the next day.  He said if I ever needed any help, just look for Big Lew. 

He also told me not to give up. 

He was a nice guy.  I didn't know anything about him - but now I'll never forget that night.  Nice guy.  Sad story.  In the big scheme of things, having a rough night in a kitchen at a restaurant just doesn't matter.  perspective.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

and the packing has begun...

well... it never really stopped.

Since I moved out of my last apartment back in March, I've been living out of 2 suitcases (and whatever I could fit in my car).  I took 2 suitcases with me to Barcelona - but never quite got settled there (*cough* uh, mom - care to make some space for me this time?)

I returned with 2 (lighter) suitcases, and re-filled them with clothes I'd left at my dad's.  Now I'm trying to re-pack those 2 suitcases for the return...  and decide what I'm gonna ship, and how I'm gonna ship what's left.  Funny how it's gotten easier to let go of stuff. 

I think I can fit everything I want on a pallet.  Though there is a box of clothes that I'd want sooner rather than the 6-10 weeks via air-sea packing. All this stuff that's for shipping is at my dad's.  I was there for a good 7 hours today.  He hardly said more than 5 sentences to me all day.  Didn't even ask me about my whole LudoBites adventure. 

Last week: 

Me:  Hey dad, I got a reservation at LudoBites on the closing night - for 4.  Mike & Veronica (my cousins) wanted to go - so I got a table for family! 
Dad: Oh, Saturday?  I had plans.  I just changed my trip to San Diego from yesterday to Saturday.  It's a good thing I changed it from yesterday because of that power outage.
Me: uh - you can't change it again?  This is the last chance.
Dad: ummm, no - it's ok.

Wow.  This thing that I was really proud of, and excited to be a part of just wasn't interesting enough for him.  San Diego isn't going anywhere... And he's known that I'm leaving on the 20th... does he ever call me?  It's ok, I can write about it - he won't read any of this.  He likes to say he cares about me, but in reality - his actions speak louder than words... oh wait - he doesn't even talk to me.  We're not fighting or anything - he's in his self-absorbed little world, and I'm just not a part of it. 

Poor Lisa, my whole inventory of stuff has exploded all over her living room floor.  Three days.  I feel like listening to some Jane's Addiction now.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Day of Denial

I'm in a strange sort of limbo here. 

A job that occupied a large portion of my life for the past 6 weeks has ended... And I am one week away from my return to Spain. 

I've been hitting some hurdles...

How did I start off the day?  I re-visited "Doughville"

A single batch of the recipe is very easy to handle. 
I then caramelized some onions (following the instructions that Joon had shown me way back long ago during week 4 of LudoBites), made the mixture of creme fraiche and greek yogurt, and proceeded to make a tart for Lisa at lunchtime. 

Then off to my erranding.  The Spanish Consulate relaxed their rules about getting fingerprints cleared with the FBI since it takes 8-10 weeks... Now I just need to get proof with the State of California Department of Justice that I have an absence of a police record... which takes about 3 days... but just about every place I go - there are issues, and they can't do the LiveScan (come back with the proper form, the person isn't there, the computer crashed, the appointment window is closed, etc.) I had an easier time getting the FBI clearance back in February!  Too bad those are expired now. 

So what did I do when I returned to Lisa's?  Re-visited "Tartlandia"...

But I got a little creative.  Or rather, I wanted to combine a Smitten Kitchen recipe that I love with Ludo's recipe, which I know inside-out.

Yellow & Green Zucchini, with lemon, thyme and the creme melange
perfect crisp golden thin cracker-like crust... not dough-y like pizza.
But I didn't stop there... I then wanted to combine the 2 tarts I made during LudoBites - based on what I had. 
Caramelized onions, thinly sliced fingerling potato coins sauteed in clarified butter & pepperoni slices (we had no bacon)

Great color, perfect crust... but i preferred the zucchini one.
 I'll look for new topping combinations - and if anyone has any suggestions, please pass them on!  Lisa said put an egg on it - to make a breakfast pizza...

hmmmm - the last time I opened my mouth about making eggs - specifically an omelet, French Chef traumatized me (story for another day).

So I'm in denial that Ludobites is over, and I'm being denied on my attempts to get a temporary residency visa for Spain... I hate being in limbo.  and less than a week left.  gahhhh!