Archive for November, 2011

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Thanksgiving in Spain

November 26, 2011

As you most likely know, this past Thursday was what we Americans celebrate as Thanksgiving. For everyone else in the world it was just a normal day. I was bound and determined, however, to make it special, no matter what the cost. For me, Thanksgiving is a necessary part of the year, even if I have to be separated from my family. It’s about cooking together, eating together, and enjoying the company of others.

So here’s how it went down. I had been slowly accumulating ingredients for my favorite Thanksgiving dishes, hoping that I’d have the chance to make at least some of them. But the night before, I finally settled on a plan with one of my friends to cook a makeshift Thanksgiving at his friend’s apartment, starting at 7pm. So the next day, since my 1:00 class was miraculously canceled, I had from 11:30am to go out, buy ingredients, and cook. And I literally needed ALL of that time to do it.

First stop: La Boquería (remember it from this blog post from ages ago?) to buy pumpkin pie spices. Un poquito de gengibre molido y clavo molido, por favor! Luckily, I was able to buy them in small quantities there, because really, how much ground ginger and cloves am I going to use if not in pumpkin pie?

Next: A Taste of Home. A brilliant invention of a store, it had all the Thanksgiving necessities in stock, and lots of other typical food, namely from the UK, but also from the US, which you cannot get anywhere else in the city. From there I picked up some stuffing mix, gravy mix, pumpkin pie filling, evaporated milk, french fried onions (I nearly cried from joy when I saw them!), and cream of mushroom soup. This store is literally like walking into a different world: they greeted me in English, there’s a British radio station playing in the background, all of the food labels are in English, and they sell things I didn’t dream were possible to find here!

After that: Mercadona. My favorite Spanish supermarket chain. It even has a fun little jingle that I always get stuck in my head. From here I picked up all the necessities that they actually eat here in Spain. Like potatoes, green beans, and bread.

And then it was time to cook! I turned on a Christmas music station and got to work. It had been too long since I’d made a pie crust, so that definitely took me longer than it should have. Besides the fact that I had to work out conversion charts and try to navigate the ridiculous American system we have (16 tablespoons in a cup, 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, so how many teaspoons in 3/4 a cup? And how many grams does a third a cup of butter weigh? umm…). Also, I haven’t taken a math class in about 4 years, so that didn’t help. But I eventually got it sorted out, and although I had to perform major surgery on my first pie crust because I rolled it out too thin and worked it too much, the Christmas music helped me from pulling my hair out and screaming bloody murder, and in the end, I had two (nearly) perfect pie crusts. Really, whoever invented the expression “as easy as pie” has obviously never cooked one before. But I was determined to have pumpkin pie, and in the end it turned out deliciously.

Mmmmmmm Just look at that!

After that, mixing the pie filling and green bean casserole was cake (yet another misnomer expression, unless you’re using a boxed cake). I made a list of the ingredients I couldn’t forget to bring with me, I checked it twice, and I carried it all in a bag to transport to the  apartment where we were going to cook it and eat it. On the way, we picked up rotisserie chicken. Some may say it’s blasphemy to eat chicken for your Thanksgiving dinner, but really, they taste nearly the same, and one is about 1 million times easier to cook (especially when it’s already cooked for you).

When we got there, we started cooking right away. I put the pumpkin pie in the oven, and we got to work peeling the potatoes. Everyone was asking for jobs to do, so I really didn’t have to do that much preparing once we got there, just delegating.

My friends Chelsea and Aaron, and the happy potato!

It reminded me of home, cooking together in a kitchen: something I hadn’t done in a long time. With the oven and the stove and the body heat from lots of people in a confined space it was pretty toasty and we were all sweating, but it was an atmosphere that is necessary for any sort of Thanksgiving celebration.

Cooking together--with my green bean casserole about to go in the oven!

We managed to get all of it cooked and ready in good timing. We set the table and marveled at its beauty, with hungry stomachs and watering mouths (it was nearly 9 pm by this time… which is about normal dinner time in Spain).

The feast! 🙂

But before we could start, we had to have a toast. We split a bottle of cava between the 10 of us, and I made everyone go around and say one thing they were thankful for. Then, we started to eat. And eat. And eat. And we all agreed it was quite delicious/delicioso/deliciós.

My (first) plate of food.

And, of course, Pumpkin Pie for dessert, with whipped cream, ice cream, and cinnamon sprinkled on top!

In the end, I was thankful for:

  • Beautiful weather. 20 degrees celsius and sunny on Thanksgiving day? Way to go Barcelona!
  • Great company.  In addition to 4 Americans, we also had 4 Catalans and 2 international students, which meant a good-sized group of 10. The 6 non-Americans enjoyed trying new cuisine, and us Americans loved having a dinner that was authentically our own. After dinner, we enjoyed getting to know each other, switching between 3 different languages (Spanish, English, and Catalan). It was a great group and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to meet them and share my cooking!
  • A great 3 months in Barcelona.
  • Friends with whom I share my experiences here.
  • Family and friends at home who are excited to receive me in a bit over a month and hear all about my time here.
  • and of course, the delicious, traditional American Thanksgiving food!!
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El “Invierno” de Barcelona

November 13, 2011

Believe it or not, its almost halfway through November already, and here in Barcelona, they’re gearing up for winter. Sandals, shorts, tanktops all gone into storage and a wide array of scarves, hats, boots, and coats take their place. This is what happens in most places when winter starts to hit, right? So why am I blogging about it? Well, because it still gets up to 20 degrees Celsius here, or higher! And it never gets lower than 12 or so! For those of you, like me, not yet accustomed to celsius, I’ll translate: 20=68, 12=54.

Last week there was a rain storm that lasted about 5 days, and I’ll admit, I got a bit chilly. And when I went to Andorra, which is in the mountains, I was actually legitimately cold. But come on, Barcelona, how can you expect me to wear scarves and boots when its over 60 degrees out?

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my favorite things to do in Barcelona is walk around the city. It’s beautiful here, and I love walking, people watching, and learning the city… Hoping to know at least some parts of the city as well as a local before I leave. But the tough thing is that though I try to dress for winter, after all that walking, layers have to come off. So much for looking like a native.

Apart from that, however, the exciting thing about the winter season, whatever the temperature, is that Christmas is coming soon!! And Barcelona is getting ready. I can feel the rumblings of the start of my favorite part of the year! Every year they put up decorations all over the city, overhanging the streets, strewn on the lampposts and trees. They haven’t lit any of them yet–I hear that doesn’t happen until December 1–but they’re still there, full of potential energy and potential Christmas cheer!

I can't wait to see this lit up!

Diagonal/Passeig de Gracia. Look at all those lights lining the street!

And in mid-December they start putting stands up on Gran Via and Plaza Catedral that sell all kinds of Christmassy items, and… churros!! I hear the best time to eat them is in the winter… Maybe it’ll get cold enough here by december so I can dream of curling up under a warm blanket or eating freshly made churros with hot chocolate!

yumm!

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My new philosophy

November 7, 2011

It’s pretty easy to please me, but I do have some things that make me extraordinarily happy. Among these are (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Sorry. Couldn’t resist): taking walks, speaking Spanish, singing, parks, and coffee shops. I’ll have you know that on Saturday, I got to enjoy going all of those. And I got some homework done too.

It was during one of my many walks wandering around the city on Saturday that I formulated my new philosophy for life in Barcelona: keep your eyes open and wear comfy walking shoes. Deciding on a new philosophy, however, made me think of a song from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (which you can watch here). It’s kind of like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”: If you give a Kristen some time walking around Barcelona by herself…

  • She’s probably going to start talking to herself. She may actually say some pretty profound things, but eventually, she will say something that reminds her of a song she knows, which means…
  • She will start singing to herself. And since she only knows the lyrics to songs in English (apart from “La Camisa Negra” by Juanes and “Waka Waka” by Shakira), she will start to feel guilty for using English when she’s in Spain to practice her Spanish, after all. (Even though she had been talking to herself in English earlier, but she notices it more when people start staring at her singing an obscure American song out loud while walking) So…
  • She will start talking to herself in Spanish. But seeing as it’s quite difficult to express her deepest thoughts in a foreign language, she will probably subconsciously switch over to English, which brings this scenario full-circle.

Yep. That’s my life here. That cycle actually happens pretty much every time I walk alone. Which happens several times a day.

P.S. I did a wordle of my blog! Not sure how it works exactly, since I just typed in my URL and it popped this out, but that’s faster than my copy-pasting every blog entry, so I took the lazy route. Wordle is pretty fun. 🙂

Wordle: Barcelona

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Café

November 5, 2011

Ok. I’ll admit it. I’m addicted to café con leche (coffee with milk). It all started with the jetlag, over two months ago. The 6 hour time difference and 10+ hours travel time was enough to merit coffee in order to stay awake, and my host parents offered it at breakfast. But then they kept offering it. And I kept drinking it. And then classes started, and I started drinking it between classes as well. So now, I’m hooked, and there’s no going back.

For those of you who don’t know, the coffee in Spain is not like coffee in the US. They don’t use filters and medium-ground drip coffee. No, here, coffee is actually a shot of espresso. I used to think I liked drinking strong coffee black, but that was back when I thought Starbucks was strong. So, here, I drink it with milk. Which is all good because most people here drink it with milk too.

The cool thing about the coffee here is that there aren’t as many options. You can’t order a venti double shot soy caramel macchiato with two pumps of raspberry and extra whip. (Unless you go to Starbucks… they do have them here) Usually cafés offer plain coffee, coffee with condensed milk, coffee with milk, lattes, and cappuccinos. And that’s about it. And they don’t offer large sizes either. Believe me, this coffee is concentrated enough that you don’t want a venti of it. But even if you did, you wouldn’t be able to find it anywhere (besides Starbucks).

Another thing is that they don’t drink coffee on the go. Sure, you can get it to-go at most places, but you just don’t see people walking down the street sipping a coffee (unless they’re tourists…drinking Starbucks). It’s all about enjoying the coffee, savoring it. Some places even give you a free piece of chocolate or free small pastries to eat with it.

Here, it’s less about having a complicated favorite coffee drink with the perfect combination of flavors, and more about enjoying the simplicity of strong coffee coupled with the smooth texture of milk and the sweetness of a bit of sugar. And while I love Starbucks as much as the next guy when I’m in the US (actually probably a bit more than the next guy), it’s not the way they do it here.

P.S. The original point of this blog entry (before I got off on this long tangent about coffee consistencies and tastes) was to talk about my new favorite hangout spot. My friend recently showed me this really cool café close to the University, and I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s a cool atmosphere of college students, couches, art, and music. Kind of reminds me of a blend of two of my favorite coffee shops in the US, except better, because it’s in Spain. Everything’s better when it’s in Spain.

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