“I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”—The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath (via story-dj)
You may have caught on by now that this blog is definitely not in chronological order. (Or maybe not. I’ve had more than one person ask me if I went to Paris again recently. I WISH! No, I’m just that bad about making the time to write about it all. Please forgive.)
Speaking of another thing I finally got around to… I went to New York City for the first time this past weekend!!! Thirty years on this planet and I just now got there?! A native Pennsylvanian (but honorary Coloradan), I grew up with a father who loathed travel (I know, how the hell are we related, right?) and a mother and step-father who - with the exception of lovely two trips to Disney World - insisted on dragging my ass camping until they finally got sick of the whining and gave up.
So, I made it happen. Actually, Dean and Lauren deserve tons of credit for being my sponsors/tour guides. Dean, an old friend from high school, and Lauren, his lovely fiance, offered their couch upon my return to the East Coast eight months ago. Not only were they gracious hosts, but I couldn’t have asked for better guides. I’ve traveled alone quite a lot, and it was so nice for a change just to have someone(s) lead me around so I could focus on checking stuff out, eyes wide, mouth agape, and not have to pay attention to maps, taxis, weather, time, and all that pesky stuff.
I am always interested in historical this-and-that, famous landmarks, etc., but when Lauren asked what I’d like to do in the city, I told her that I was dying for some real food. Like, serious food. While the Pennsylvania Coal Region can do some decent Italian, I’ve had my fill of calzones and pizza. Imagine my extreme delight as I sat down on the couch next to her and she announced that she made reservations at Bar Boulud and Buddakan, and we could squeeze in Magnolia Bakery and a couple other places she knew if that was okay with me. If that was okay with me? I was speechless. Literally, words would not come out of my mouth for a second or two. I felt as though I was a fish who didn’t know I was outside the bowl until someone splashed me with water. With a gasp, I felt my old self coming back. Ohhhhh, this was going to be a good weekend…just what I needed.
Therefore, introduction made, I will attempt to blog chronologically for a few posts…
Upon telling someone that I’m a baker, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Oooooh, do you make cupcakes? They’re sooo popular right now!” Uh huh. I know. I knowwww.
I’ve never exactly been able to put into words why I didn’t particularly warm up to the cupcake trend in this country, but I probably should substantiate it, I suppose.
First of all, let me just say that I love, love, love cake! I love to eat cake, I love to make cake, I love to talk about cake. I love the great big canvas that is a full-size cake and the awe-inspiring opportunity it gives me to put something substantial down on the table so I can share my favorite thing with friends. I think it’s a wonderful thing that this cupcake trend encouraged a lot of small business and I think there are a lot of great shops that popped to offer cake to the masses - often (but by no means always) encouraging good quality and introducing lovely flavor combinations. Tee & Cakes in Boulder, Cupcake Royale in Seattle, and Sweet Mandy B’s in Chicago are all shining examples of everything that is right in this department.
Therefore, I suppose my gripe with the cupcake trend is a complaint with trends in general - they overshadow so many other good things and are a breeding ground for opportunists. (Yeah, please don’t put Crisco frosting on a box cake mix and sell it to me for $2.75. I have taste buds. Thanks.) There are countless other individual hand-held options in the world of pastry that have been overlooked and need our support, people. And let’s bring glory back to the old standbys - the simple buttery scone, golden shortbread, the perfection of a tender yet toothsome biscotti. As the link below states, the charming Americana of pie is coming to the front of our consciousness, in all it’s variety and personality. (Although, I realize it will surely be the next trend, which will make me roll my eyes and sigh.)
Hopefully, the outstanding cupcakeries will remain, the quality pie shops will come to stay, and slowly, over time, we will have an array of sugary options laid out before us. One can only dream.
oh my god…………flying down the streets of paris on a motorcycle?! you were right. my eyes bugged out, but you did survive and im ok now. the palpitations are slowing down as i type. really, is it your goal in life to kill me with your adventures?
My friend Leila in Seattle was the one who connected me with her family in Paris, and along with her aunt, uncle, and cousins who I stayed with, another reference of hers was her uncle Madjid. His hospitality is unparalleled and therefore he deserves an entire blog entry all unto himself.
Madjid has a great little Parisian cafe called Friends (101 Blvd. St. Michel). He insisted I try one of everything and and it was all so satisfying. And I know “satisfying” doesn’t sound like the ideal word to describe something so edible, but it’s the perfect word in this case because I couldn’t have left there wanting anything more. I was fortunate enough to spend a little time in the kitchen with his pastry chef - whose name I think was Pasquale - and they gave me their recipes for financiers and visantandines in exchange for teaching them American cheesecake. I feel I got the better end of the deal, especially since I think I was a little off on converting the oven temperature from Fahrenheit to Celsius and the cheesecakes were not exemplary to say the least. Interestingly enough, cream cheese isn’t readily available in France. Madjid really had to go out of his way to get it, and it only comes in 4 oz. packages. A country that is so synonymous with cheese doesn’t have “cream cheese?” Is it not worthy? This makes me question what I do and don’t know about cream cheese. Hmmmm… Anyway, it was an honor to be a guest in their kitchen and I can honestly say that they’re the real deal.
I took off my apron and Madjid very kindly gave me a lift over to the Louvre. Oh my god, everything about this was exhilarating! It was my very first ride on a motorcycle! (Mom, I already know exactly what you’re going to say and the look on your face while you’re saying it, but clearly I survived, so just relax.) How fantastic that my first ride was somewhere unspeakably spectacular?!!! I was so nervous that I was holding on to Madjid with such an iron grip that I’m surprised I didn’t crack a rib - especially when we were going through a tunnel and he said “This is tunnel where Lady Diana crash.” Ah!!! Still, I have to admit that it was thrilling to be wizzing down crowded Paris avenues, Madjid commentating, past Notre Dame, past the aparment of Jacques Chirac, along side the Louvre and other notable buildings I can’t remember the names of - nothing between me and the Paris of it all! Oh, it was the only way to go, people! It was exhilirating! I still get tingly just remembering it!
We also went to dinner one night at a restaurant Madjid used to work at called Bofinger (pronounced “bo-fin-jay,” not “bo-finger,” American friends). The queue for a table filled up the atrium and went all the way to the door, but not only did Madjid’s connections get us a table immediately, they put a glass of champagne in our hands first! Now, up until this moment, I was pretty proud that I managed to cram enough stuff for two months of traveling into one carry-on suitcase, but I really would have loved to have something a little more swanky at that moment. Well, even if I may have been a little under-dressed, Madjid and our very kind waiter were too nice to make me feel like anything less than a treasured guest. (They did roll their eyes at me when I sent back my lamb because it was a little too bloody, though. In all fairness, I probably had that coming.) I had a rack of lamb with mushroom pate in a baked cheese shell that was as thin as phyllo dough, which was great, but without a doubt the highlights were the rose champagne and creme brulee. Mmmmmm, so sweet and satisfyingly good!!!
My Paris experience was all that much richer for having met Madjid and I look forward to the day when I can repay his kindness. Once again, merci beaucoup to both him and Leila.
I saw the Eiffel Tower and then I saw it some more!
The walk from the apartment to the Eiffel Tower took about 30 minutes, during which time every part of my body sequentially went numb, froze, turned blue, and in some instances fell off. It was all worth it though when I gazed my icy eyeballs up at the Eiffel Tower!!! It is so big! It is sooo glorious!!! Magnifique!!!
Not until I was right under it did I realize that it has all these decorative scrolls on it - or that it was actually brown for that matter! I thought about going up to one of the observation levels, but the wind was so painfully cold on the ground that I just decided to save the Euros and not freeze my ass off higher up. Also, from the moment I saw it, I just knew in my gut that it was one of those things in life that I would see again. I feel certain there will be another opportunity to get a view of Paris from a-top La Tour. I had already fallen more in love with Paris in a few hours than I could have ever dreamed.
With a growing appetite, I wandered around the nearby neighborhood looking for something to eat, and had great success and great disappointment.
First, the success! I walked by a little butcher shop, run by a son about my age and his parents. They had rotisserie chickens on display out front, slowly turning and releasing their boiling hot juices and fat onto little fingerling potatoes in waiting trays below. This I had to try. They were so amused that I wanted to try just one potato that they wouldn’t let me pay; however, they did insist on watching me enjoy it. All eyes in the butcher shop were upon me as I savored every. single. morsel. I would have smiled and pretended it was good just to be polite, but there was no pretending necessary here. This was amazing! Mmmmm, like liquid gold running down my gullet! Merci, merci, merci!
Next, the disappointment. I passed a restaurant before the butcher shop that said the dinner du jour was chicken in white wine with mushroom thyme risotto. It sounded like exactly what I wanted. But no. The chicken was soooo dry and the risotto was heavy and gluey. More like paste, really. Ugh! There was a really good lesson to be learned from this situation, though. The waiter asked me what I thought of the chicken and I was actually dumb enough to say that I found it somewhat dry. (I’m not kidding. Did they overcook this on purpose just to sell more wine?!?!) After a look that can only be described as “scornful,” he proceeded to tell me that Americans don’t understand how to cook a chicken, or anything for that matter, and this was the proper way chicken should be served. In fact, if I wanted to come back the next day, he’d be happy to show me another classic dish properly prepared. Um, yeah…do I look like I’m wearing Nikes and a fanny pack? I don’t think so.
I walked out of the restaurant and back into the freezing cold, finding my way home by retracing the way I came. Even though it took a little longer, I am so glad I did this because I went back past the Eiffel Tower. It is splendid up close at night! SPLENDID!!!
For the first five minutes of very hour, it appears to have a makeover that - while fun - is more Vegas than Versailles, with flashing lights running up and down the entire structure. The other 55 minutes of the hour, it glows as though it stored up each ray of sunshine gleaming down on it during the day and is dispensing them at a rate that it knows will ward off the bitter evening cold in all of Paris.
Ahhhh. Back to the warm apartment, to a warm welcome, to a warm tub, and to a warm bed. My first day in Paris was so good and long and good.
Oh, how I do appreciate the overnight train! Not only does it kill two birds with one stone (lodging and transportation), but it clearly defines the beginning of a new locale. So Paris, here we go!
I woke up in Paris. By the way, isn’t that the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard?! "I woke up in Paris." Actually, I think that’s what was literally going through my head for the first 30 minutes. I woke up in Paris, I woke up in Paris… I’m sure my eyes (big as silver dollars) and mouth (gaping) were a dead give away that I was not some cool and savvy traveler, but rather a run-of-the-mill awestruck tourist. I paid 0.50 Euro to use the nicest public toilet I have ever seen (worth every penny!) and walked out of the Gare d’ Austerlitz and into the first cafe I came across. I plotted my next move over a hot tea and a package of digestive biscuits. By the way, I know “digestive biscuit” does not sound particularly appetizing, but I LOVE THESE THINGS in all their shapes and forms!
It’s pretty tough to say if I’ve had more good or back luck in my life, but I know for sure that the luckiest thing that ever happened to me was where I stayed in Paris. The night before I left Carcassonne, I got an e-mail from my friend Leila in Seattle. It said that she told her aunt and uncle in Paris that I was visiting, and they had offered me a place to stay. They themselves were at their country home for the week but their daughter, Katia, would be there with her boyfriend, Arnaud. They were lovely hosts! They made sure I was comfortable, helped me figure out where to go and where not to go - even though I didn’t listen and went to the Pigalle at night anyway. That was more of an adventure than I bargained for! Anyway…
Arnaud was so patient with me on the pay phone; I only knew food words in French and a few pleasantries, which needless to say didn’t really help me understand directions very well at all. I eventually found my way over to their apartment in the 16th Arrondissement. On my very first metro ride, a busker hopped on the train just as the doors were closing and his accordion sang out that style of music so synonymous with Paris. Once again, I found myself the owner of a smile I could not contain. He caught my eye, smiled back, and tipped his hat for my spare change.
Even though my sleep was sound on the train up north, those six hours weren’t nearly enough, so I planned on taking a nap when I made it over to the apartment. My the time I put down my suitcase, it already felt like 10 p.m., not 10 a.m. However, as Arnaud was showing me around the apartment, he pointed out that you could see the Eiffel Tower if you stuck your head out the window and looked to the left. Well, that was it! Second wind! After seeing that little glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, there was no way I could wait another second to see it up close. Shoes back on and out the door!
I looked through my pictures of Carcassonne before starting to write and I was surprised how vividly I remember this day. I feel as though I were just there a week ago. Maybe it’s because the cold and gray weather has been so persistent lately - reminding all my senses of how I felt in Carcassonne? Or maybe just because it was such a singular experience? Who knows. Regardless, it is too fine to question.
This was my first time seeing a “castle.” I say “castle” in quotes because technically it was a walled city with ramparts and a fortress and all that, but technically not a castle. However, it really looked like what one stereotypically thinks of as a bonafide castle and I was damn excited to see it! Walking on the ramparts, I looked out below over the “new” city to one side (only several hundred years old) and down into the ancient village on the other side. And inside one of the quaint little cafes in the village, I laid taste buds on my first authentic French crepe. Dear god in heaven, it was nothing short of a revelation! Thin spongy layers with amazing flavor in and of themselves, with sugar and citron on top. It was like sunshine lighting me up from the inside! It was enough to propel me down the cobblestone streets, through the village, and back to Verzille for one last dinner with The Jans.
After dinner, we went back to Carcassonne for a drink (typical for the region, a kir blanquette - yum!) and to see the castle at night, which can only be described as magical! Before I knew it, we were saying au revoir at the station and I was on an overnight train up to Paris - a belly full of food and head full of champagne!
I decided to participate in Couch Surfing while traveling in France . If you’ve never heard of Couch Surfing, I encourage you to check out the site. (www.couchsurfing.org) It’s a wonderful social networking site founded on goodwill and global hook-ups…except in Italy, where’s it’s strictly hook-ups. You offer fellow travelers as much as a couch to sleep on or as little as a quick coffee if one ever finds themselves in your town, and hopefully someone is offering the same in a place where you want to go.
I wanted to check out the historic town of Carcassonne (okay, everything is historic in France, but this place was especially steeped in old French charm and history) and the nearest Couch Surfer who did not look like a B-movie European stereotype party animal was Jan, a lovely Englishwoman who decided to open a Bed & Breakfast in Verzeille, France. Coincidentally, England Jan had another guest staying with her, New Zealand Jan.
I cannot believe my incredible luck to find this place! Jan’s B&B was absolutely adorable! Closed to regular business as it was the off season, it embodied everything you would think the French countryside would be!
The garden entrance brought me right into a living/dining room with squashy pieces of mismatched furniture by the fireplace, a recently updated but clearly ancient kitchen off to the left, and dinner by candlelight. England Jan served us an amazing meal of pork loin with white beans and tomatoes, braised cabbage, and a pear tart. And the next night was even better - roasted chicken with lemon, carrots, onions, local black olives, and cumin, rosemary potatoes, and chestnut mousse with shortbread!
After dinner, I climbed the spiral staircase and found my room. It was a little jewel box of a bedroom! An exposed beam ceiling, red-orange washed walls that reflected a warm glow from the bohemian bedside lamps on marble-topped tables, a solid-looking dark desk and complimentary armoire, and a dozen other unique touches that added up to absolute perfection. When I peeled back the red and gold duvet cover and dove into those crisp white sheets, there was not a thought in my head as it hit the impossibly soft pillow.
I woke up at who knows when the next morning, feeling like Barcelona had been long past. I felt like I woke up but was still in the dream.
I intended to go to Carcassonne that afternoon but decided to put it off a day. England Jan had invited me to extend my stay a day or so and I was in no mood to disagree. I spent that first unseasonably warm and sunny day wandering around the tiny village of Verzeille, up the hillside to the vineyard, and accompanying Jan to a nearby town where she gave me a very enlightening tour of the supermarchet (supermarket). I was so happy and sad at the same time when I found out how accessible chestnut everything is and that almond flour made in California is cheaper in France. Just as in Spain, apparently the French enjoy marshmallows in the shape of all manner of things. And the cheese isle…oh, the cheese isle! It stretched on further than the eye could see! Dear God, let me stay forever!!!
It was so dreary in Pennsylvania today. I woke up to a cold heavy dampness leftover from rain during the night; there was an accompanying mood all day that was impossible to shake. It innately felt a little sad - a feeling which usually drives me to either seek pastries or make pastries. Today I made a dozen almond biscotti and prepared two sweet tart crusts, while reflecting on the last time such a mood and my travel habits combined and led me to an uplifting outcome.
Seven Stars Bakery in East Providence, Rhode Island. I am a big fan of ginger scones and Seven Stars serves up a really fantastic one. It was tender, moist yet crumbly, and very buttery with little bits of candied ginger. The bergamot in a well-prepared pot of Earl Gray tea was the perfect accompaniment. I was definitely warmed from the inside out that afternoon.
If you ever do find yourself in that neck of the woods, I also highly recommend The Garden Grill in Pawtucket for the best vegan fare I’ve had outside of The Chicago Diner. The food was prepared in accordance with the season and packed with flavor.
I was traveling with my cousin Lewis a couple of years ago and we had just landed in Salt Lake City. While walking through the terminal, he was saying how Seattle was better and he was already missing it after our three hour flight. I said that sure, there were many ways in which Seattle was better (food, culture, mass transit, colors in the landscape other than tan) but that Salt Lake City wins big points for playing host to my old friend, Mr. Sunshine, whom I was really beginning to miss of late. He grimaced, rolled his eyes, and said “You’re so politically correct.” That’s not it at all, though. Okay… maybe that’s a little bit it, but the real truth is I’m just so happy to be everywhere.
And if I was happy to be in Salt Lake City, Utah, can you even imagine my excitement for FRANCE?! Unparalleled! Oh my god, it was the 1st of March and I was in France!!!
Here’s the most American thing I’m going to say all blog: My first thought was that it looked just like the movies! The train hugged the coast crossing the French border; the sea was such a bright deep blue that it was hard to believe it was the same Mediterranean as the slate gray waters I had seen in Barcelona the week before. Sandy cliffs with tufts of green grass clutched clusters of simple little square houses with earth-toned stuccoed walls and terra cotta tile roofs. I even saw a few clusters of wild flamingos! Why had it never dawned on me to think about what kind of environment flamingos lived in outside the zoo?! Okay…maybe that was the most American thing I’m going to say all blog. Anyway, flamingos in the south of France!!!
Now, I would have to say that all the Brazilian people I’ve met in my life have been really nice, but the retired couple sitting next to me on the train were by far the most friendly. It was so lovely to have people to talk to and we fed off each others excitement. The woman’s name was Anna Maria, which I felt was a good omen because that’s my sister’s name, and we gathered around the window to take lots of blurry pictures of our first glimpse of France whizzing by.
La Sagrada Familia (The Church of the Sacred Family)
Gaudi’s masterpiece, La Segrada Familia… anything I could say is inadequate.
I’d heard it was huge, I’d heard it was amazing, but I don’t think that any picture can ever truly capture La Segrada Familia (so I don’t feel too bad that my pictures didn’t turn out too great!). “Huge” is an understatement. Heck, “enormous” is a pathetic understatement! Before seeing it in person, I never really connected with La Segrada Familia in pictures, like any Gaudi structure. In retrospect, I think my brain was searching for shapes in it to make sense of it all. Once again, like other Gaudi pieces, it’s fluid and natural. It is a grand display of a million natural elements coming together - like nature itself.
Inside, the columns are meant to be giant knotty tree trunks, so one feels like they’re looking up at the canopy in a forest. Every surface - inside and out - is covered with the shapes of leaves, stalactites, honeycombs, seashells, animals, plants, saints and sinners - it is as though Gaudi was trying to include every single thing that resides on this planet of ours.
Construction began in 1883 and may be done within the next 50 years. I really hope I can make it back and see the progress or maybe even the completion when I’m in my 80s; although, I somehow sense - like all construction projects - this one may not come in on time. ;-)
"The Great Book, always open and which we should make an effort to read, is that of Nature." Antoni Gaudi
Barcelona is the Land of Antoni Gaudi. I must admit, in terms of Gaudi, I was completely nonplussed before arriving in Spain. I had never seen a photograph that could capture the essence of Gaudi’s architectural style - it had to be seen in person…alive! And that was exactly it - everything felt so alive!
My first experience was at Casa Mila, built as an apartment building in 1910, nicknamed “La Pedrera” (The Quarry) by locals at the time of construction. This place seems to have no right angles; everything was so fluid! The wrought iron railings on the balconies were cast as seaweed, intricate moldings around the doors to resemble knotty branches, floor tiles with reliefs of the sea floor, and an attic that made me feel like I was inside of a rib cage. And the chimneys! They were amazing! My favorite things! They were either standing singly or in a cluster and each unique. The roof was a circle and I must have walked around it 5-6 times in complete awe. Not only were the chimneys completely fascinating, but the view of Barcelona from the rooftop was great, too. I think this was the first of many places I went to that I didn’t want to leave. I just wanted to stay and look, look, look. I finally got Gaudi.
But eventually my stomach let me know it was time to find lunch and so I said goodbye to Gaudi…for the time being.
Wandering in no particular direction, I found a little jewel a couple of blocks from Casa Mila called Mauri. It was one of those charming places that’s been around for a hundred years (112 actually) and everything is fine - fine cheese, fine sandwiches, fine desserts - yet it was very accessible.
I found a little table by the window and started out with a small sandwich on a house-made roll with olive tampenade, goat cheese, and roasted red and green peppers. This was followed by a gorgeous plate of vegetables - my next favorite food group after sugar. Six huge glossy spears of asparagus and two cherry tomatoes - all roasted to perfection. The skins of the tomatoes were perfectly taught, not shriveled or split, and they released sweet hot juice the second they passed my lips. Mmmmm! And all this was accompanied by an enormous slab of sheep’s milk cheese, perfectly warmed to the point of almost melting but not quite, with a few herbs on top. It. was. glorious. Glorious I tell ya! All so simple but so incredibly good.
Although, when the cheese first came to me, I wasn’t sure what kind it was. (I just saw it in the case, knew it was destined to be mine, and pointed.) I asked the waiter and the guy (I think his name was Serge?) at the table next to me joined in on the conversation, both trying to bridge the language barrier.
Me: “What kind of queso is this?”
Waiter: “Yes, is good. Is…um…hot.”
Me: “Si, es muy bonita y caliente. What animal is it from”
Me: “Animal? Uh…mooo? Baaaa?” (Making horns with my index fingers to indicate goat. Shrug shoulders in an inquisitive fashion.)
Waiter: “Ah! Si, si, si. Is animal that makes wood.”
Serge: “Yes, wood.” (as he tugs on the sleeve of his sweater)
Me: “Wool? Sheep”
Waiiter: “No, not shep. Is animal that makes wood, goes baaa.”
Me: “Yes, that’s a sheep.” (indicating fluff wool coat) “Goes baaa, makes wool. Sheep!”
Waiter/Serge: “Is shep? Yes, okay then, is shep.”
I think it’s safe to say that we all found this equally amusing and informative.
Anyway, next up was dessert! I ordered a perfect little marron glace (candied chestnut) tart! It had a sweet crust, chestnut paste in the bottom, generously mounded chestnut mousse on top of that, and one big fat candied chestnut sitting right on top. Words cannot express how happy it made my mouth. Sigh…I officially love Europe.
Day 3 of Europe was spent in bed…and not in a good way. Turns out that what I long suspected was a fish allergy but had been calling an “aversion” was truly a fish allergy. Yep, I’m soooo glad I found that out the hard way in a foreign country… but that’s just how it goes, isn’t it?
Day 4 was my reward. Jet lag was beginning to right itself, so I woke up and set out straight away. It was sunny and brisk, a combination that has become my preference after 18 years living in Colorado. The streets were deserted, which I found rather ominous. Oh yeah, it’s Sunday and I’m in a land that has ENORMOUS churches for a reason. God, I hope the restaurants are open! Like literally, “God, please let me find somewhere with hot tea and some form of sugar because I am otherwise at a loss for how to start my day.”
Panaderia! Bakery! Not bad but not great, this place had the most charming gal at the counter! The dominant language in Barcelona is Catalan and Spanish is secondary. She and I tried to communicate a little, with Spanish being the middle ground for both of us, but we just ended up doing the pointing and miming thing…ya know, like ya do. She knew enough English to apologize for not speaking English, which was very kind of her - especially since I was a guest in her country. Luckily, I was able to reciprocate because I made sure to brush up on the phrase “I’m sorry my Spanish is bad” before I left home. :-)
I hadn’t felt stressed in the previous three days by any means, but this was the moment everything settled down and I began falling in love with my trip. I sat back with my tea and cake, enjoyed the sun, and listened to all the people around me speaking a beautiful language that I didn’t understand a single word of. (sighhhh)
February 25, 2010: Day 2 in Spain was gray and chilly but certainly not without bright spots. I toured the cava caves at Freixenet in Sant Sardurni d’Anoia, saw Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf, the Parc de la Ciutadella, and found the Mediterranean Sea! (Yes, I “found” it. After 40 minutes of walking around and people telling me it’s “right over there,” I finally found it.) I was so excited to finally be seeing the Mediterranean that I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot…an expression I would continue to hold for the next five weeks, actually. A lovely woman came up to me as I was taking in the steely gray waves and said, “Excuse me. Traveling alone. Brazil. Take my picture?” I said “Yes! Traveling alone. America. Take my picture too?!” We smiled, we soaked it all in, we got sand blown in our hair, eyes, and mouths, we waved goodbye and walked our separate ways along the beach.
After a long cold day on my feet, I was really starving for something warm and good, which came in the form of the Tortilla Espana. Pretty much every cafe, restaurant, and bar makes these and I never had a bad one; although, that first one was the best one! It can probably be closest compared to a frittata (is it technically a frittata, maybe?), esentially like a custless quiche, usually with thinly sliced potato. I’m suspect that what makes it so extremely special is the bacon grease and decades of seasoning on the griddle that the potatoes are cooked in before the eggs are poured in. The potatoes are perfectly tender without being mushy and the eggs are solid without being rubbery. So good! So very very good!
Dessert was once again from Forn Boix. I had been seeing a specialty in pastry shops around Barcelona and finally decided to try it. The language barrier was pretty steep at Forn Boix, so as best I can tell it was a rather solid, free-standing pudding made of rice milk, orange zest, raisins, sugar, eggs, etc., glazed with apricot preserves. It was okay, but not outstanding. Better for breakfast the next day. What was excellent was the meringue sandwich filled with dulce de leche - oh. my. god! Perfect, perfect, perfect! The meringues weren’t too eggy, the dulce wasn’t grainy, they were crispy and tender, the flavor was complex - perfect! Perfect!
I have a couple pictures to post from this day but none of the food. This is due to the fact that I was so hungry and it was so good that there was no time for pictures…no time at all. :-D
So generic but so true…my first day in Europe was incredibly surreal.
I had been wanting to go to Europe since I was a teenager and with my 30th birthday coming up, I thought, “That’s it. I’ve waited long enough. I just have to make this happen.”
I arrived in Barcelona late at night on February 23rd. I vividly remember coming up out of the metro tunnel to the quintessential street scene… Tall skinny buildings stacked together, one shade of pastel or another but all glowing the same amber color by the street lights. Teeny little cars lining the narrow streets. Signs in a foreign language. Cobblestones. Cafes. Spaniards! All the hours spent in uncomfortable airplane seats, sleeping in the Frankfurt Airport, lugging my suitcase around were forgotten in an instant.
The next morning, I wanted the first thing I ate in Spain to be just as amazing as everything else was up to that point. A friend I was staying with took me down to La Rambla, the main artery coursing through Old Barcelona. From there, I ventured out on my own, gravitating to the alleys more so than the boulevards - I am a sucker for “charm” and they were charming! I didn’t know what I wanted to eat, but I knew I’d know it when I saw it…
Forn Boix. Tucked down one of the alleyways, his bakery has been around 90 years for a reason. I tried a small jam-filled cookie, a biscotti, but best of all - a soft, warm, delicately anise-flavored little doughnut, filled with perfect pastry cream and rolled in sugar. Oh, heaven! I walked down a block or so while eating these things, but as soon as I bit into that doughnut, I turned around and got myself another one. Luckily, I came to my senses, too. This food was too good to walk around with…I found a bench and sat down to fully savor my first European breakfast.
It is a bad day when your metabolism realizes it’s thirty.
I remember hitting my twenties and coming to the realization that I could not eat french fries and milkshakes five times a week and maintain a decent figure. I am now thirty and let me tell ya - my waistline’s response to the two-week-long candy bar binge I’ve been on has really been a slap in the face.
I tried quitting cold turkey, but a rubber band will always snap back when you stretch it too far. I’m considering the relapse I’ve had the last two days part of a new, gradual, slightly less-scary tapering off process.
My plan is to buy only bite size candies and be sure to put the bag somewhere up high that will require a ladder to get to. That way, if I do NEED the chocolate (which, seriously, sometimes I DO!), I will at least burn off a couple calories getting to it. Four hundred calories for a slice of golden homemade apple pie is totally worth it, but to surrender those same calories to a Whatchamacallit? Sigh….shame. A Tastycake though?…Well, that’s borderline.
This is not a story about food or travel directly; however, is does require me to get in my car and drive to the store at one point, so it kind of applies to the theme of this little blog.
I saw a show on the Food Network today and am adding the chef to the list of annoying TV personalities for just one reason…baby talk. Unless you are actually talking to a baby, I have very little tolerance for baby talk, and even then it has it’s limits. One does not take “sniffers” of the rosemary and they’re called “ramekins,” not “rammies.” The only upside is that this reminded me of my ramekin story…
Flashback to 1996. I just got my driver’s license a few months earlier and my mom was taking full advantage of my eagerness to get behind the wheel by sending me on any errand she could think of. “Meg, how about running to Starbucks for me?” Sure! "Buddy, how about picking up some lunch for the office?" Okay! “Take your grandmother on her bi-weekly field trip to the drug store.” Love to! So when mom asked me to go to the grocery store, I grabbed the list, a fist full of cash, the car keys, and was out the door faster than you could say “highway to the danger zone.”
There was a little snag when I got to the store and finally perused the list. There among the usual requests was “ramekins.” Ramekins? What on earth is a ramekin? I am 16. At this point, grilled cheese sandwiches were brand new to my repertoire. And seeing as it is 1996, I had no cell phone to call home and ask if this was some kind of spelling error or just a gross over-estimation of my intelligence, mom.
What is a ramekin?! Well, out of all the things I know very little about, seafood has always been the biggest black hole. “Ramekin.” Yeah, that sounds like it could come from the sea and live in a shell. Why not? Lo and behold, the guy at the seafood counter doesn’t know what this is.
I wander aimlessly around the produce section and eventually ask someone working there if they have any ramekins. She doesn’t know either, but she’ll get the assistant manager - who will surely know which isle to take me down. Up the baking isle, down the frozen food isle, dairy, ethic foods, health food…nope. Half of the staff of the Safeway and I are at a total loss, so I collect the other things on the list and cruise on back home.
I walk in the house, drop off the bags, and tell my mom I had no luck finding ramekins. “Mom, what IS a ramekin?” To which she replies…
"I have no idea. I’m trying a new recipe that called for ‘em. I thought you’d figure it out."