Monday, April 25, 2011

St. Jordi's Day: The Day of Lovers

Football, Easter, St. Jordi's Day - oh my! 
Not only are we in the middle of an unprecedented four-time Barca-Real Madrid schedule, but all the important Springtime holidays celebrated in Catalonia fell last weekend. 

St. Jordi's Day is the Catalan Valentine's Day when men give roses their novias and women return the gesture by gifting books to their novios. It's also an important day for Catalan independence.

Roadside rose-sellers pop up in all the towns:

And outdoor bookshops are on every corner:

Legend has it that a terrible dragon was wrecking havoc on Catalonia and eating up the inhabitants. In order to appease the dragon, the villagers sacrificed one villager per day by drawing lots. On the day that the princess of the town was to be slaughtered, a knight in shining armor, St. Jordi, appeared out of nowhere and stabbed the dragon to death.

Later, a red rose sprung forth from spot where the dragon died, which is why every April 23, men give red roses to their sweethearts (and good friends): 

 And women give books to their men.
Books have nothing to do with the legend, but in 1923, a clever bookseller decided use the day, which also happens to be the day Shakespeare and Cervantes both died, to promote literacy and books.

And the tradition stuck. Ted received an eBook on his Nook but he posed this photo anyway:

Since St. Jordi is the patron saint of Catalonia, the fight for Catalan independence is also recognized. Our friend Nuria's Mom made a Catalan-flag inspired dessert:

Holidays, traditions, celebrations - oh my!
More on Semana Santa, Easter, our adventures in the Catalan highlands, and FC Barca coming soon...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Drama and Waterworks

Last night we were jolted out of bed by a sound like an angry bull gorging our front door or maybe the upstairs neighbor pushing her sofa down five flights of stairs.

As it turns out, our piece-of-shit water-heater, formally plastered on the wall in the bathroom, decided to unhook itself and come crashing down. Water squirting everywhere, broken tiles, broken wall. It was 3AM.

Normally, I would have been irritated, but this water-heater has been the bane of our existence here in Spain.

Heated by electricity because our batty landlord is afraid of people dying from gas leaks, the tank allows for exactly 3.23 minutes of luke-warm water before it spews an ice-cold waterfall on your head. In the dead of winter, when we had no heater, this was the simple reason we took no showers for many days and thus realized the true meaning of "dirty Europeans."

In February, Ted let it slip that he joined a gym just so he could take a decent shower and dry himself with a dry towel.

 Sucker! I would never sink to such a level (but I did quit shaving for a very long time).

Now it's Semana Santa, the most precious week of the whole year, and no plumber is going to leave his fiesta to fix our shower. We will be smelly grease-balls until Tuesday, at the earliest. No biggie.

Normally, one could ask a neighbor to borrow a shower, but in Lleo 9, we already know how that will go down.

Water, in our building, is like fine wine. Nobody lets a drop go free.

Case in point: Thursday is stair-cleaning day and each door must put out 1 liter of water so we all share the cost of a bucket of water (which must be like 0.0001E). I guess Spain really is in a "creeee-sis". 

The lady below refuses to do even this. Every Thursday, she marches down to the city fountain and fills up her bucket with the obligatory one liter.

I may seem like I am complaining, but I'm not. I love the drama. All afternoon, I've been hibernating inside our apartment listening to the neighbors chatter about that horrendous noise of last night and build theories about what happened. "Did So-and-So have that large man spend the night?" "I bet So-And-So quit taking her medicine, had an accident..."

I could easily explain the situation, but the neighbors will find out soon enough. The plumbers, when they come, will surely drag in dust and dirt, cause a ruckus and require more water from the cleaning lady who might have to come twice in one week! Heaven forbid! And the drama will continue...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Un Empate (1-1) en Madrid

In a dramatic and emotional game last night, Barca tied Madrid 1-1 and put the Liga Championship more or less in their back-pocket. I was hoping for a win, but Barca fought on Madrid's turf and had a massive, screaming crowd of Madrillenos to work against. At one point, fans threw trash directly at Messi who was prepping for a throw.

The two goals were scored as free kicks by Messi and later by Madrid's Christiano. The reminder of the game was rough and dirty, especially by the white shirts. 

Our guys maintained possession for 80% of the game but were falling over left and right. For Madrid to hang with Barca, they resorted to pulling, jabbing, tripping, tackling and whatever other foul tactics they maneuver. Only one red card was called on Madrid's Raul Albiol for wrestling David Villa to the ground

Meanwhile, the Catalans in our bar were yelling "Franquistas" at the referees who seemed oblivious to Madrid's ugly play. Back in the days of Franco, the dictator payed refs to rig games in favor of Madrid and many believe the refs still get paid.

But in the end, a tie means Barca will most likely earn the Liga Championship. Madrid failed at their obvious attempts to injure our players, and we still have three more opportunities to give the smack-down to Madrid.

Go Barca.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

!!!!!!!!!!BARSA, BARSA, Baaaaaaaaaar-SA!!!!!!!!!!

We're about to go futbol crazy here in Barcelona. 

For the first time in history, FC Barcelona will meet Real Madrid in four matches in l8 days. The rivalry between the two teams is beyond fierce. It's political, it's nationalistic and it's personal. 

Real Madrid, represents the seat of the national government. They have lots of money are aren't afraid to spend it on the best (translation = most expensive) players in world, such as Christiano Ronaldo. Booooooooo!

FC Barca on the other hand, represents the heart of Catalonia and is a full expression of the region's pride and desire for independence. This year's team is full of all-stars (including Lionel Messi, the best living player and not just in my opinion), many of which are from Catalonia and have chosen to stay at play football with Barca, even though they could earn more money elsewhere.

Though newcomers to the city, we've been captured by the enthusiasm for Barca and hardly ever miss a game. We have a private table reserved down the street at BJ's 100 Frankfurt Club, which blares victory tunes when Barca scores and an evil "hahahahaha" sound effect (from Michael Jackson's Thriller) when the other team screws up. 

The two teams are playing four times because they compete in three different leagues. Both are at the top of the pack at the end of the season and are now duking it out for the titles.

First up:

Saturday, April 16, 10PM 

Barca already spanked Madrid when they met last November with an embarrassing 5-0 victory. We're still celebrating that win as it ensures that Barca will still earn the Liga title even if they lose this game. 

Here are our friends at the Liga game in November (before the smoking ban). Can you guess who is from Madrid?

Then comes:

Wednesday, April 20, 9:30PM at Camp Nou, Barcelona

Who cares about this match, but it's always fun to kick the ass of your arch-nemsis, which is what we expect Barca to do.

Finally, in the tournament to determine the best football team in all of Europe.....

Wednesday, April 27, 10:45 Madrid
 Champions Semifinal

Tuesday, May 3, 10:45 Camp Nou, Barcelona 

Catch a game if you can! We promise you won't regret it.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cowboy - Catalan Cook-Off

Before the Texans left Barcelona, my Dad whipped up a big pot of his Chili and my Mom made Texas Queso (microwaved Velveeta cheese with canned Ro-Tel tomatoes) - Yum! We wanted to show our Spanish friends how to eat Texas-style.

To bring a little Catalan flavor to the meal, my dear friend / language exchange partner, Caterina, prepared a regional delicacy, Crema de Catalana, which bears a strong resemblance to Creme Bruelee, but is "mucho mejor" (according to anyone from Catalonia). Both dessert and chili recipes are posted below.

Here are the dueling chefs:

No effort was spared in bringing the Texas to Barcelona, and everyone was impressed when the Velveeta log was unveiled:

Not to be outdone, Caterina busted out her grandmother's branding iron, which is used to to caramelize the top of the dessert.

We had our doubts, but surprisingly, Texas Chili and Crema de Catalana make a very good combo!

Crema de Catalana

8 egg yolks
1 liter of whole milk
200g of sugar
120g of white flour
80g of corn flour
1 orange peel
1 lemon peel
3 sticks of cinnamon

Put the milk, fruit skins and the cinnamon sticks in a pot to boil. In another pot, mix the egg yolks, two types of flours and sugar into a thick paste. If the mixture needs more liquid, add warm milk. Once the milk has boiled, add the egg yolk mixture and let it thicken, without heat but stirring it all the while. 

Pour the mixture into small bowls or into one large pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit in a cool place (or the refrigerator) for five hours.

Later, sprinkle sugar on each dessert and heat the top with an iron broiler or butane torch until the surface caramelizes.

Big Daddy's Texas Chili

4 New Mexico Chilis
4 Californian Chilis
2 red wrinkled chilis
2 smoked jalapeno chilis
3 white onions
5 cloves of garlic
2 or 3 pounds of beef stew meat
cumin seeds
dark beer
white corn tortillas

Cut beef into small chunks and brown in a pan without oil, working in batches. Rough cut 2 onions and garlic and sauté, also without oil. When onions are slightly brown, add the meat, one bottle of beer. a bottle of water, salt and pepper to taste.

While the beef is simmering, de-seed and de-vein all the chilies. Put chilies in a saucepan, cover with water and turn the fire on low. Then, toast the cumin seeds. 

After ten minutes, blend the chillies and cumin seeds and add to meat. 

Cut the tortillas into small chunks and add to the meat as well. Let the chili simmer for at least two hours. Serve over white rice and garnish with cheddar cheese, diced onions and tomatoes.


Friday, April 1, 2011

The Babes of the Boqueria

My aforementioned sister had planned on writing a guest post on this blog, but she soon found herself too busy exploring Barcelona to sit around on the computer. She did, however, leave me with some great shots of women wielding knives and sorting sardines at the Boqueria:

Whatever cut of meat or type of fish you desire, these ladies will sell you. And they cut to order - chopped fine, fat trimmed, salt and pepper added at no extra cost.

As you can see, none of them are squeamish about hacking the head off a hen or breaking a pig's ribs in two. Sometimes I get nervous a piece of gut is going to fly into my face from the deliberate whack of the knife. So far, it never has.

We're real serious about our pork products here in Spain:

It is striking how only women work the meat and fish stalls at the Boqueria while the men must be someplace else. The only dude Alyce found behind a meat counter was this guy taking a snack break!