August 2015

barcelona

Posted on August 29, 2015

The first stop on our honeymoon was Barcelona. Perched above the Mediterranean on the north eastern corner of Spain, Barcelona just might have the best vibes of any city I’ve visited yet. It’s just cool. Cool in the way that makes you feel welcome and relaxed, the very best kind of cool. Hundreds of tiny, twisting alleyways are bordered by massive tree-lined boulevards. Café tables line most sidewalks and fill the plazas, and they’re usually full of people enjoying what’s best in life. Somehow it feels beachy and a like big city all at the same time. In the summer, the sun doesn’t go down until 11 pm, which means you can take a nap at 7 pm and still have a whole day’s worth of fun ahead of you when you wake up.

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Though we didn’t plan anything in advance other than where we were staying for the whole trip, there were two reasons we wanted to go to Barcelona: the food and the Gaudí architecture. We let the five days we spent there unfold in front of us unscheduled, led by recommendations from friends and family or by our curious eyes and able feet. It was a glorious string of restaurants and museums, architectural landmarks and parks, markets and cafes, beaches and bars, all enjoyed at the leisurely pace that 17 hours of daylight affords.

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Usually I come back from trips with plenty of photos and blurry memories, but I wanted to try something different this time around. At the end of each day, I took notes on what we’d done that day, what we’d eaten, what we’d discovered. I realize that this might be par for the course for some folks (ie: better writers than I), but it was quite the accomplishment. Armed with the specific details that often float away from me immediately after returning from a trip, I give you our favorite things to do, eat and drink in Barcelona, and a few stories to keep it interesting.

To Do

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La Sagrada Familia. Gaudí’s stunning and ongoing masterpiece. I was brought to tears by the beauty of the Sagrada Familia. I’ve never been inside a building so transcendent. While the outside is interesting and impressive, organic weirdness juxtaposed against gothic tradition, you must go inside. The light inside, colored by panels of stained glass and bouncing off of treelike white marble columns, baths you in a rainbow. It is unlike anything I’ve even experienced, transcendent. Tip: Buy tickets the day in advance online so you can skip lines, and if you can get a ticket to go up one of the towers, do it.

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Park Guell. Another Gaudí project, Park Guell aspired to be a multi-home oasis for wealthy Barcelonans, but was never completed. However, what was finished, is absolutely beautiful—full of experimental landscaping, phenomenal mosaic work and amazing views of the rest of the city. My favorite part of Park Guell was the community meeting area, a terrace filled with columns covered in white mosaic. Tip: Buy tickets in advance online, and go early in the day. After you go to the main part of the park, exit and hike up to the top of the mountain for wonderful views of the city and sea.

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La Boquería. A food lovers paradise. La Boquería is a semi-covered market filled with hundreds of tiny stalls, and even more people doing their shopping and/or gawking at the incredible spread. Fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, cheese, charcuterie, bread, pastry, candy, and everything is beautiful. If we could have figured out how to smuggle in a leg of jamón ibérico back into the US, we absolutely would have. I’m still a bit sad we didn’t manage it. There are also small tapas bars scattered throughout, which are absolutely worth eating at. Tip: Go more than once! Eat at a bar inside the first time, then go back and get picnic supplies another day.

Museu Picasso. If you like Picasso, you must go. What I liked best about the Museu Picasso and Fundación Joan Miró was that I was able to see the evolution of the artist’s style over their whole career, and experience their work in so many different media—painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, photography. Seeing a body of work beyond just the “greatest hits” is a very different way to experience an artist, and I really enjoyed it. Tip: Don’t skip the room with the series of pigeon paintings.

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Fundación Joan Miró. I loved this museum. A good portion of Miró’s work, though not all as I discovered while viewing this collection, has a playfulness and lightness to it that I really respond to. It was neat to see how the symbols and color pallet he’s know for evolved. Tip: Have a coffee on the terrace and smile at the bobble-eyed ceramic figures sitting out there with you.

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El Born Neighborhood. We stayed in this neighborhood and it was a perfect home base. Narrow, twisting alleyways are lined with restaurants, bars, cafés, shops and apartments, almost no cars can squeeze their way in. I felt lost all the time, but in the best possible way. Jordan, of course, always knew where we were. We spent a lot of time meandering through the streets, coming up on a new little plaza or cafe or shop that looked interesting, poking in, grabbing a drink or pastry or an ice cream, and then kept on strolling. Tip: Don’t try and get anywhere on time or any a hurry. Relax and enjoy yourself.

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Barceloneta Boardwalk and the Beach. Barcelona’s beach boardwalk is awesome—wide and well-paved, and the beach is beautiful. I was so excited to put my feet in the Mediterranean; it was colder than I imagined. Our second day, we bought some penny skateboards (knock-offs for $20) and skated all around the boardwalk. I’m terrible at skating, Jordan is much better, it was ridiculously fun.

To Eat
Cal Pep. Cal Pep was a recommendation from our friends Josh and Erin. It’s a gem. A tiny shotgun style restaurant with just about 14 seats at the bar, it’s super lively and really fun. If there’s a wait, you can stand behind the seated guests and have a class of wine. When you sit down, the waiter/chef/barman will ask if you’d like to order or let him choose. We let him choose. Pan con tomate, sautéed cockles, fried baby artichokes, roasted fish with potatoes. Though they specialize in seafood, we had the best tortilla española of our lives at Cal Pep—runny eggs studded with bits of smokey ham and potatoes then slathered with a layer of pork fat when it came out of the pan. Muy bien.

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El Quím de La Boquería. Located in the heart of the Boquería market, it might take you a while to find El Quím, but as we’ve previously mentioned, it’s worth getting lost in La Boquería. El Quím was a recommendation from Jordan’s uncle Jeff, and serves traditional spanish tapas. We had the garlic shrimp, blood sausage, patas bravas and probably a few more dishes I can’t quite recall—cava at lunch is a wonderful idea—and everything was delicious. Not to mention, you have the bustle of the market around you and the ingredients are just so fresh.

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La Boquería. Get snacks a La Boquería and then find a plaza and picnic. You’ve got to try the jamón—they have several varieties and you can get slices fresh off the leg. Of course there is the manchego, and why not a baguette while you’re at it. There’s also little cups of cut tropical fruits. I was able to try wild strawberries (frais du bois, alpine/woodland strawberries) for the first time. They are the cutest and have a texture strangely similar to pop rocks.

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Cafe con Leche. I love the leisurely coffee culture of Spain, it was one of my favorite parts of living in Argentina too. Sit down, have your coffee, and then sit some more. There is no coffee to go. Chat with your friends, read the paper, smoke a cigarette, eat a little snack. It’s a good reminder to slow down, and we took Barcelona up on that plenty.

Helado. You can get pretty decent helado all over the place and when you’re walking 10+ miles a day in the summer heat, why not stop at least once a day? My favorite flavors were passionfruit (aren’t you surprised) and coconut, and Jordan’s favorite was dulce de leche.

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Other things you should try and eat. You can find these dishes at many restaurants, and the place you stumble upon will most likely be pretty darn good. Patatas bravas, grilled razor clams, fideos with seafood, chicken croquettes, grilled asparagus. It’s hard to eat poorly in Spain.

To Drink

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Ohla Hotel Bar. Another recommendation from Jordan’s Uncle Jeff, Ohla is the most over the top/amazing cocktail bar we’ve been too, and that is saying something since we come from San Francisco. They serve classic cocktails but with a twist. Each cocktail is expertly prepared and garnished to the hilt. Jordan got the mojito and the martini, I got a passionfruit tequila drink complete with a bruléed passionfruit garnish and tiny spoon to eat it with and their piña colada. Not just any piña colada though, my ‘circus’ colada was garnished with caramel popcorn, a tiny cone of cotton candy and sprinkles. Jordan’s mojito was dusted with gold. His martini, now that was prepared table side. It was an experience.

BierCab. A beer bar with 20 taps. They had Jordan’s long lusted after Cantillon on tap (the reason we ended our trip in Brussels), along with other craft beers, mostly from Belgium but some from the rest of Europe. We went twice, both times in the mid-afternoon and it was super mellow and delightful. If you like craft beer, it’s absolutely worth a visit.

Lambicus. We ended up at Lambicus by accident, though Jordan had heard of it while researching the Barcelona beer scene. We were on a long stroll back from the Miró museum and heard a woman singing jazz in the street along with a small band, and decided to see what was going on. Turns out, it was the bar’s anniversary party. We had a few beers – they have a few taps and large selection of bottles – while listening to live jazz and eating corn nuts. If you happen to be in the neighborhood after museum-ing, why not?

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Whew. I’m sure I overwhelmed you way back up in that ‘to do’ section, but Barcelona really is a stunning city, perfect for all of our favorite things: eating good food, looking at art and architecture, wandering around without a plan. And on top of all that, I got to spend time with my sweet husband, both of us relaxed and not distracted by work responsibilities for the first time in maybe years? Perfection. Let’s go back.

summer barley salad

Posted on August 20, 2015

… And you thought this was going to be a post about that beautiful European vacation we went on. I promised it was coming weeks ago, and here I am with a salad recipe. A salad recipe?!? They went to Paris, and all I got was this lousy salad recipe. Etc, etc.

Someone should really inform her editor.

Her editor says it’s actually a pretty damn good salad. Seasonal ingredients, fun and colorful. Let’s run it.

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Other things are happening around here. Things of the non-salad persuasion. For example:

Realizing I’d ripped a sizable hole in the crotch of my Madewell skinnies tonight while walking the dog. I felt quite the draft. The question becomes, did I rip them earlier today only to notice hours later, or did they rip while I was trying to prevent Willow from eating the mystery food someone spilled in the elevator?

Reading David Bayles and Ted Orland’s book Art and Fear, and feeling just ever so slightly better at my ongoing attempts at writing, ceramics, textiles, photography, cooking. “This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people; essentially—statistically speaking—there aren’t any people like that.”

Listening to This America Life’s ‘The Problem We All Live With‘. We have so much work to do. A must listen, like most things that are tough to hear.

Looking forward to the weekend and the marriage of two of our dearest friends. Two people who we’ve seen grow from AP-class-obsessed skater kids into smart, generous, fascinating gems of human beings who’ll still skate a parking lot, though maybe skip ollie-ing the six stair. Nick and Dena, we love you. Congratulations!

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Summer Barley Salad
2 cups barley, cooked according to the package directions and drained
2 – 4 oz of feta, cut into cubes
1 medium zucchini, cut into batons
1 – 2 bell peppers, sliced
1 cucumber, sliced
a handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced or 2 tomatoes, diced
2 handfuls of arugula, mixed greens or spinach
a handful of parsley, chopped
a handful of cilantro, chopped
2 scallions, sliced thinly
a small handful of pistachios
2 lemons, zested and juiced
2 garlic cloves, grated
1/4 – 1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper

Bring a pot of water to boil to cook the barley. Cook the barley according to the package directions. We like Trader Joe’s 10 Minute Barley – it saves a lot of time. Once the barley is cooked through, drain it and rinse with cold water.

Slice up all of your veggies. You want everything to be bite-sized, but you don’t need to take it too seriously. Cut up the zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, bell peppers. Slice up the scallions and herbs. Assort the greens, herbs, and veggies in a large bowl or platter, except the zucchini. You need to cook that one.

Grill or sauté the zucchini, a few minutes per side and add to your salad platter.

In a small bowl, combine the zest and juice of one lemon, one grated clove of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, some salt and pepper, and several good glugs of olive oil. Toss with the drained and cooled barley. Taste for seasoning and add a bit more salt if needed.

Cube the feta and add that to the platter. Pour the the barley into the center of your ring of veggies and top with a sprinkle of pistachios. Drizzle the veggies with a little extra olive oil and another lemons worth of juice.

To serve, toss everything together and plate or eat it straight from the platter.

-Emily

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fog and toast

Posted on August 5, 2015

This isn’t a post about fog. Or about toast. It’s a post about a cocktail with a silly name.

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Fog and Toast is a tiki drink. It’s fruity, tropical and goes down way too easy—I’m fairly certain those are the sole requirements of a tiki drink. Jordan threw it together on Sunday while we were prepping dinner and after we’d each had a rattlesnake. Inspired by some leftover passionfruit puree in the fridge from these popsicles, he improvised. It was ridiculously good. Almost too good.

Since this drink was a Jordan original, we had to come up with a name. Ever wonder why cocktails have such funny names? It’s because the bartenders have usually had several before they’ve decided it’s good enough to merit naming. Our contenders: Caught in the Rain, Gay Passion (no doubt influenced by our rum brand), Daqui-fury, Summer Lovin’, and lastly Fog and Toast (The Sunset).

Fog and Toast was the winner, despite having very little relevance to the actual beverage, and actually referring to the unofficial motto of San Francisco’s Sunset neighborhood I’d come up with earlier that day. This is just how (alcohol-fueled) inspiration goes.

Fog and Toast
1 oz fresh lime juice
scant 1/2 oz passionfruit puree, find it at latino markets in the freezer section
1/2 oz agave
1 1/2 oz dark rum, we use Mount Gay Dark Rum
dash of orange bitters

Shake with ice. Strain and serve in a chilled glass with a twist of lime. Try not to drink it too fast.

-Emily

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