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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Blankets of Rain

Friends frequently ask what crazy, exciting things I’m up to in Barcelona.  So, here is a short response I recently wrote a friend:

Winter here has been really rainy and I’ve officially gone and come back from being stir crazy.  Our apartment, like the majority here, aren’t centrally heated, so even though it never really dips below 40F, its chilly and I find myself hiding under a blanket quite a bit, which, as you can imagine, is not particularly conducive to studying. I returned from my madness yesterday, because the sun came out, and Dmitry and I took the first train out of the city to visit Sant Cugat, a medieval town lying beyond the Barcelona hills, famous for a 13th century monastery. We saw an old man sketching a beastly form within the cloister.  He’d apparently painted nearly all of the 100 columns, according to his friend, also an elderly gentleman standing next to him, seemingly busy distracting our painter with off-color jokes. It made me wonder how my own parents will be spending their retirement years…

Last weekend the city celebrated Carnaval. Its nothing crazy like Brazil, but there is a small gay-friendly sea-side town about 30 minutes away called Sitges that throws a killer parade each year, so we went out to take a peak. Let me tell you, you CAN combine glitter, with faux leather chaps, and velvet. It was pretty awesome. But now, its back to being rainy, so under the blanket I go.

Within Sant Cugat Cloister

Park in Sant Cugat- those support beams have been there since 1970!

Dim gives the Sant Cugat Merce Dolls a Squeeze

Carnaval in Sitges

Drinking mate with our guest Josep at home at 3AM, post dinner paaarte

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Chili Time

Would you believe the Spaniards don’t eat chili in the winter? Come to think of it, they don’t eat any spicy food at all, and I have yet to find a dish containing ground meat.

I’ve been suffering a cooking mental block lately, and went on some recipe websites, where I saw the promotion of chili as a winter comfort food. Of course! How could I have forgotten? I busted out my cumin and spicy red peppers and went to work.  I used real beans, not the canned kind– they are hard to find here, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that this results in less mushy chili. Some oregano, cut up canned tomatoes, and a head of garlic later it was beginning to smell like home this time of year.  New secret ingredients: brown sugar and a touch of cinnamon. Keeps ’em guessing.

The results were dang tasty, but, as always, bummer about the cooking vs. consumption time disequilibrium.

Note to self: don't use phone camera to photograph food if you want to translate its actual appearance.

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Good Eatin’

Question for all my restauranteurs– can you please help a friend find a spot in a NY kitchen this winter?

My language partner Albert, who rules, will be in NYC end of Dec-April to get the opportunity to work at the mecca for foodies, New York, while improving his English skillz. He’s a student at the super fancy Hoffman culinary school here in Barcelona (he is currently #1). Their restaurant has a Michelin star! I couldn’t meet with him last week because he was prepping for a catering event for 50 people, where he went on to serve a seven-course meal. The guy is insane.  So…if you know of anyplace that may take him, please let me know!

Speaking of food, I finally visited, nay, made the pilgrimage, to Boqueria market.  Yes, with Albert. The colors and smells of fresh fruits, breads, fish, and meat are overwhelming. The hoards of tourists are evened out by equal quantities of locals picking and pointing out the ingredients of their next meal. If my memory serves me well, while Barcelona developed and grew throughout the centuries, one of the few buildings that refused to be moved or torn down was the market, because it was and continues to be the epicenter of town. The Barcelonese are absolutely mad about food and quality, the origin of produce and meat, seasonality, and freshness. I love cooking here!

Albert Surveys the Fruit @ Mercat de la Boqueria

Ruski Table at the International Food Fest at Spanish School. The 'sirniki' I made are on the left in the front, behind the sour cream. And that bottle of vodka and its 2 friends were gone in <1 hr. Did I mention this thing started at 10AM?

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Taking a Breather

Its sort of sinking in that we´re going to be on the road for a while, so we finally decided to stay put for more than a few days and are taking it easy in Medoza, Argentina. We have 2.5 really awesome Italian dudes as neighbors at the hostel. I say half, because the third guy is technically Catalunyan, but looks the most Italian of the bunch and his name is Giuseppe. They are forcing us to speak Spanish, since their Enlish is not too great, so I´m trying…
Around Mendoza the area is super famous for its wine, producing more than 80% of the vino in Argentina, so we wasted no time in visiting the source. Yesterday we rented us some bikes and pedalled around the nearby grape growing area called Maipu.

For all the chefs that may be reading– you will be happy to hear we splurged a bit and had lunch at a super amazing farm-masion type place where they grow all of their own veggies and even make their own sour cream. Taaaaaaaaasty. It was also surreal to be surrounded by orange and olive trees, lush grass and roses, considering everywhere else its pretty much a dessert climate. The fact that anything even grows there is magical. They actually use a pretty old school irrigation system where they dig ditches around the plants and flood them with water from the Andes mountains every 2 weeks or so.

I won´t bore you with all of our new found knowledge about the wine making process, but one thing thats crazy is that for wines that have to be aged in Oak barrels (i.e. some higher-end reds), the barrels must be imported from France or America (I guess no oak around here), and cost between $800-1000, each! So if anyone is looking for money making operations, I´m practically laying out a business plan for you. Oddly, the Scotts buy back used barrels to add color to whiskey. Why they don´t just use yellow food coloring is beyond me.

We hope to go hiking in the mountains in the next few days, but so far can´t seem to settle on a route that´s not too crazy. Most peope that we´ve talked to so far as expert trekkers, so we shall see.

Also, we got invited to our first Argentinian BBQ! Ok, granted, its being hosted by the Italians since one of them is leaving, but still. Kinda psyched, still thinking about what dish to make for the festiivities.

Update (5/4/09): BBQ was awesome! There is a chef- Marco- staying at the hostel, and he used all sorts of magical Argentinian ways to tasty up the meat. I will tell you: the grill was heated with coals burned from wood, the 3-4 inch slabs of meat were slow cooked for 1-2 hours, then covered with newspaper to give it more aroma. The only seasoning used was salt, no marinade, nothing else. Oh and besides the meat, lots of the folks (ok, mostly girls) danced it up to salsa music, and perhaps unsurprisingly el chef busted out some super smooth dance moves, 3 buttons open and all. Oh, and the guy in who’s honor the party was thrown, Michele,  decided to not even leave the hostel!

One last thing– Galina boy where you right about coins. Its insane, but the country suffers from a shortage of change. No joke, we heard there is actually a black market for coinage! It makes it uber hard to pay for the bus, and no one every gives us money back from bills!

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I have to try really hard to keep up with Nina´s blogging superpowers..

One of the really nice things about taking an extended trip (or a mini retirement for Tim Ferris fans)  is being able to go to places on a whim.  Based on the recommendation of an American expat we met in Santiago (who previously taught English to Russian oligarchs and was really excited about the chance to reminisce about Moscow), we decided to go into Elqui Valley in the Andes Mountains, known for its cloudless skies and hence a great place for building observatories and growing grapes.

We based our adventures in Vicuña, a tiny town surrounded by Andean Precordillera mountains and the birthplace of Chile´s other most famous poet, Gabriella Mistral.

After a hike up one of the nearby mountain (the Chileans have a convenient habit of putting a statue of Virgin Mary at the top of good day hiking spots, which makes them easy to find and also means asking for directions to El Virgin will get you there) and a ubiquitous snack – a Completo (hot dog with guacamole, tomatoes, and onions) we were ready for the 30 min trip to one of the observatories outside of town.

View of Vicuña from Cerro Del Virgen

View of Vicuña from Cerro Del Virgen

As soon as we got outside the reach of the town´s lights, I realized that I was seeing the most stars I have ever seen in my life.  We were extra lucky since it turned out we were there during a new moon (as you can see the lack of planning really pays off) so in addition to being able to see the milky way, we could also see several neighboring galaxies (apparently known as Magellanic clouds).  The guide who met us at the observatory was a super laid back astronomer whose commentary provided a perfect accompaniment to the amazing views.   We got to use the 18 inch telescope (complete with a dome, whose main function is apparently to protect the telescope) to view Alpha Centauri (closest binary star), Beetle Juice (the next visible supernova), Saturn (the planet with the cool rings that for some reason appeared black and white.. have to get the scientific explanation on that).  In addition during the few hours we were there, I felt like we got to peak into the somewhat twisted astronomer perspetive – a deep hatred of the moon (so boring! plus its light makes it hard to see the stars), the athmosphere (also not good for visibility, which is why the really good telescopes are out in space), our insignificance in the universe, and an absolute certainty that there is life outside of earth, yet acceptance of the fact that it won´t be found any time soon.

Nina with the telescope

Nina with the telescope

I never really got into astronomy while reading about it in textbooks or looking at pictures, but seeing it explained ¨live¨ was pretty damn cool.

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Santiago: Day 1&2

Hey Folks,

So despite ourselves we ended up starting a blog right here in Santiago, Chile, so now you too can follow our travels from New York to this fine city and beyond. Since we’ll be on the road until August 1st,  expect to see lots of updates!

Make sure to sign up for the email alerts (check the right hand column) if you´re not much of a blog reader. This way you´ll receive an email each time we write something new.

Here goes:
We arrived in Santiago around 5AM, and while trying to start the day off early proceeded to pass out for a few hours at our hostel. Whoops.  However, afterwards we managed to walk around all of downtown, visiting the Palacio de la Moneda (sight of the bloody coup of ´73). We thought we´d peek in this presidential palace, but as witnessed by about 30 very formall dressed armed guards, it seems they take the security of their rulers rather seriously.

We proceeded to climb the very lovely Santa Lucia hill, which has great views of the city. It also has guards who love to keep things tidy, no matter what. Dmitry passed out for a bit on a parkbench, and one worker insisted on spending a good 5 minutes raking the 3 leaves directly below his bench.

We got a chance to visit the Museum de Bellas Artes, which housed mostly Chillean modern art, but must say that today´stop at the Precolombian Art Museum was much more insightful. They have an incredible collection of artifacts from the Maza, Aztec and much earlier civilizations that rules Middle and coastal South America from 1500BC to around 1500AD.

We popped by the main fish market, and ate some of the most amazing assortment of wee bit see creatures ever.

Update: eating somewhat raw fish the second day in a new country at a not-too clean market turned out to be a bad idea. Sticking to bread, yogurt, and other boring food for a bit.

The one on the left insisted on pretending to be gayish

The one on the left insisted on pretending to be gayish

We then spent the next 5 hours working it off to climb the city´s much larger hill of San Cristobal.  Its most famous for the humungous statue of the Virgin Mary at its peak,  reminiscent of Rio, but the place is huge. It took us an hour to hike up, and once up there, another 45 minutes to hike out to another recreational area with a basketball court size swimming pool (now green in the off season), gardens, and funiculors– yes they do exist!

Dima unde the Virgin at San Cristobal Hill

Dima unde the Virgin at San Cristobal Hill

More to come soon. Check out the pics for a taste of what we´ve been up to.

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