Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

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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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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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America in Spain?

October 10, 2011

Last night after dinner (and after my blog post, of course–for which I must apologize, since it contained far too many exclamation points and far too few insightful comments… but I was tired and out of practice with writing in English), I decided to watch Grease with my Canadian housemate. Believe it or not, before last night, I had not seen this American classic. It got me thinking. What other distinctly American things have I done since I’ve come to Spain?

American Classic. First viewing: in Spain. Something smells fishy...

As much as I want to be someone who is engaged in the culture (just see this silly pre-Spain blog post from ages ago), it’s a simple fact that I’m going to bring American-isms with me, and I’m going to do American things while I’m here. But the funny thing about me is that most of my early years were lived inside the bubble of a Christian home, so a lot of classic American music, movies, TV shows, activities, and pop culture in general are outside my knowledge or experience. And it just so happens that I’m learning about them and experiencing them for the first time with my American friends in Spain. Exhibit 1: Grease. Which is even more ridiculous because I saw it with my French Canadian housemate who had only seen the movie in French before.

A lot of my American friends really like nineties music. And sure, I’ve heard a lot of it, just from growing up in the nineties and having two older brothers. But most of it is unfamiliar to me. During the nights of the merced, when we were all kind of chill, my friends and I spent a couple hours sitting on the grass in a park, listening to American nineties music on portable speakers. So I got to know more of the music of my era in my country. While I was in a country halfway around the world. It was kind of surreal.

Also, while we’re on the topic of music, I’m going to my first real American concert (that weren’t free tickets): Red Hot Chili Peppers! They’re playing in freaking Barcelona, man! It’s gonna be awesome. I started getting into them this past summer, and a bunch of my friends like them a lot, so we’re going together.

Red Hot Chili Peppers!

I also speak English more than I wish that I did, considering I’m here to speak Spanish. Yesterday I spoke practically only Spanish all day until about 5:30 PM, and it was very difficult. I found myself missing English. I realized that I speak more English than that during a normal day, which is kind of sad.

I could go on about this subject, but I don’t have much time, so I’ll leave it there. ¡Hasta luego!

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Barcelonian buys

September 8, 2011

Although I’m sure to spend lots more money here on clothes and other possessions (especially since I keep walking past really great stores that I know I’ll go back to later), here’s a short description of some of my favorite things I’ve bought so far.

1. The Rey Beris. Best €5 ever spent. Especially because originally the sales guy at the beach in Sitges said they were €12. I said, “No, that’s okay, I don’t want them.” And he said, “How much would you pay for them?” And I said “€5”. He kept insisting and lowering his price, and I kept saying that I really wasn’t all that interested until finally he said, “Okay, €5.” And so I bought them. Price negotiating win, for once in my life. Also, the r and the i make it really look like “Rey Ben”, so it looks like the real deal from far away. Not that I care that much about names; I just needed sunglasses.

Rey Beris!

Convincing, eh?

2. Menorquinas. These type of sandals are SUPER popular here. It makes me feel like a local whenever I wear them! However, I have really bad blisters on my feet from the first time I wore them, because I think the size I got is a bit too small, so I have to wait to wear them unless I want my feet to start bleeding again. But anyway. They’re really cute!

Look--its a fish! 🙂

3. Tortuga from Parc Güell.  I know. So touristy to buy something from one of the street vendors in Parc Güell, but I couldn’t help it! It’s Gaudí style, and it’s a turtle. Impossible to resist. (Also, only €4, which isn’t too guilt-inducing).

So cute! And it even came in this convenient box!

4. Dress from Desigual. This was kind of an impulse buy, thanks to my friend Elizabeth, but totally worth it, I think. Desigual is pretty famous here in Spain, so I can totally justify it. It’s still too hot to wear it since it’s long sleeve, but it’s a fun dress, and I look forward to wearing it soon. Quite possibly one of the most expensive articles of clothing I’ve ever bought, but that’s just because I’m super cheapo, not because it was ridiculously overpriced.

I love the colors!

5. Phone from “Happy Móvil”. My host mom took me out to buy a phone, of which I am incredibly greatful, because I’m pretty sure I got the cheapest plan out of everyone in my program. We went to “The Phone House”, which is really fun to say in a Spanish accent, because native Spanish speakers have problems pronouncing the English “h”. Anyway, this phone ended up being essentially free, and I still have lots of money left on my phone even though I’ve used it a fair amount.

My trustee Happy Móvil phone.

Who knows what I’ll buy next?! 😛

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Recordando

September 7, 2011

I went back and looked through my blog a couple days ago and it made me smile. Overall, it’s been a super easy transition. (Almost) Everything I worried about was silly and unnecessary. The whole “culture shock cycle” or whatever… hasn’t happened. At least not yet. They say you’re supposed to experience a “honeymoon” phase where everything is exciting, a freakout/depressed/withdrawal stage where life basically sucks, an adjustment phase where you get your routine down, and then a belonging phase where you don’t want to leave.

I feel like I skipped over the sucky part, and have moved on to the belonging/not-wanting-to-leave part. Already. After a bit more than two weeks here. But that’s me, I guess. I was in love with Spain before I even came here. I had my withdrawal period before I even left–mentally, in my worries. But, who knows, maybe it’ll hit me later. All I know is, I LOVE it here.

So here’s a silly, worried paragraph from a blog entry on August 18, three days before I left:

“I don’t know what to expect about anything, really. I’ll be living with a host family for the length of my stay and I don’t know what it’s like to live in a Spanish home. I don’t know a whole lot about the food or the routine of the average Spanish person. Sure, I’ve heard a couple of things, but reading up on things or watching movies does little to prepare you for the actual shock of the cultural difference. And, really, living with a family that is not my own is not something I have much experience with. I don’t know much about international travel either. I’ve never been through customs… not that I’m worried; I have a passport and a visa and everything will be fine, but it’s still a bit nerve-wracking. And when I get there, if my flight is delayed and I can’t meet with my group I have to take a bus and figure out how to get where I’m going and it’s all a bit frightening.  And how am I going to let my parents know I’m safe when I won’t be able to use my US cell phone? And then there’s the whole group dynamic–how will I fit in with a bunch of other American college students who probably aren’t a whole lot like me? I’m not really your typical American college student, but then again I guess anyone who wants to go to Spain for a semester of intense Spanish immersion must have more than a couple things in common with me.”

Alright so, here we go, attacking my ridiculousness.

  1. My host family is AWESOME. I have un padre y una madre, and they’re both super nice, accommodating, and chill. They have 3 guest rooms so they have people from various programs coming and going all the time. I’ve already had apartment-mates from: Poland, Belgium, Estonia, and Mexico. It’s really cool for me to meet and get to know people from all over the world, because that’s what I’m interested in. So, for me, it’s ideal.
  2. It did take me a bit of time to get accustomed to the eating schedule, but really, with jetlag and everything, it wasn’t hard. I have breakfast at 8, get to school at 9, have a break at 11 in which I eat a snack or something, get out of class at 12:30, walk around some or do something fun with friends, have lunch around 2:30 or 3, do more fun stuff with friends, and then have dinner at 9. It sounds strange to an American, but my body has gotten used to it pretty easily.
  3. Going through customs? Piece. of. cake. I didn’t even have to do anything. There wasn’t a line. I just gave them my passport, and they said I could go. It was too easy.
  4. Ok, the worry about flight delays was legitimate. Read this post and this post if you want to hear about THAT horror. But, sobre todo, it wasn’t so bad. Easy for me to say now, eh? But even though I was tired, hot, and sweaty, I found the hotel where my group was. I survived the tour of the University. And then, after dinner that night, I could sleep. And that really helped with jetlag, that I stayed awake the whole time.
  5. Letting my parents know–piece of cake as well. When I arrived at orientation, after sitting through part of a lecture, I got to send an email to my parents and that was that. And, after I got to my new home, I was able to skype with my dad. No prob.
  6. And, finally, the group dynamic. I have friends! And it wasn’t even that hard! haha. It’s true what I said about people having things in common with me. I mean, we’re all here for the same purpose, so we’ve all got our minds in similar places. Apart from politics and religion, which is something that should be avoided until you’re close anyway, I’m on the same page with a lot of people here. I have more in common with some of my friends here than I do with some of my friends back home!

In sum, apart from travel delays, which are always hit-or-miss anyway, all my fears were unnecessary. See? Don’t be anxious about anything. It’s all good.

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Where to start…

September 4, 2011

I tried so hard to update frequently, but sometimes it’s just not possible. And even though I’ve been really busy doing fun things and taking lots of pictures, I don’t have time to recount it all. So here’s a (hopefully) brief rundown.

In the last 3 days I have:

  • Been to Parc Güell (Gaudí’s famous park), which was a lot prettier than I had expected.
  • Walked around the city one heck of a lot.
  • Hung out with friends a lot, with and without alcoholic presence.
  • Seen the newest Pedro Almodóvar film–La Piel que Habito (mind-blowingly strange, in classic Almodóvar fashion).
  • Bought a semi-expensive but really fun dress from a famous Spanish clothing store (Desigual).
  • Been on a tour of Codorniu–one of the famous Spanish Cava factories.
  • Tasted delicious Cava (the Spanish version of Champagne) at said factory.
  • Walked around Sitges for a good hour and a half on an unproductive search for churros that ended in crepes instead (still delicious).
  • Been to the beach at Sitges–SO BEAUTIFUL.
  • Been to two museums: The Museum of Music (which was cool but less than impressive) and the National Museum of Catalan Art (which was definitely awesome).
  • Had a semi-insane “Ukrainian” waitress.
  • Skype-dated with my good friend Sarah.

So that’s why I haven’t posted in 3 days. Also, I have a lot of schoolwork coming up, since this coming week is the last week of our “curso intensivo” and so I have a paper, a presentation, and a final exam. So that’s why I can’t spend a lot of time elaborating what went down.

But, don’t worry (in case you were). I’m definitely alive and enjoying myself here in Barcelona.

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Unintentional cellphone handbook humor

August 29, 2011

I was getting out the charger for my Spanish cellphone, and I decided to look over the user manual, which caused… laughter? Who would have thought?

I circled some of my favorite “precauciones de seguridad” that I learned from my manual. They’re in Spanish, but don’t worry, I’ll translate for you.

Use the device with caution while you walk or move. Always pay attention to your surroundings to avoid physical harm to you or to those around you.” – Better translation: don’t be an American teenager.

Don’t put the device in outer pockets or around your belt. You could hurt yourself or damage the device if you fall.” – Because falling for no apparent reason doesn’t hurt at all if you don’t have a cell phone in your pocket.

When you use the device in public, try not to annoy the people around you.” – Yet again, don’t be an American teenager.

Don’t allow children to use the device. It is not a toy. Don’t allow kids to play with it, because they can hurt themselves and hurt others, damage the device or make calls that augment your paid charges.” – I guess they kind of have a point here, but it made me laugh. Besides, how many kids actually harm themselves or others by using a cellphone? What, are they gonna throw it at someone?

Don’t put the device in/on heaters, microwaves, kitchen appliances, or any high pressure container, nor close to them. The battery could leak. The device could overheat and catch on fire.” – Aww, dangit! I was just about to try microwaving my phone to see if it’d send a text message faster.

Turn off the device in potentially explosive environments.” – Enough said. haha.

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