Monday, September 22, 2014

Five Great Venues to See Awesome Live Music in Barcelona!

Originally published on 

Barcelona is known for many things, among them art, history, industry, tradition, trade, food (of course), and night life. The Barcelona locals, as well as party-hungry tourists, have an international reputation for doing everything a bit later in the evening than their other European counterparts. Notoriously, dinner in Barcelona (and many parts of Spain) is around 9:30pm, and “no one” goes out to the disco (note: that the term “disco” is still cool here and refers to a night club. Don’t laugh) until at least 2am. Understandably, if you’ve come to Barcelona and only have a few precious days to take in the city, you probably don't want to be out until 6am (I live here and I don't want to do that). The good news is, there are some wonderful places to see live music that are full of great energy and cool vibes that are inexpensive (or free), open earlier than midnight, and offer sounds that span the globe. Barcelona, after all, is about as international a city as you can find, with the convergence of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Latin America, and North America providing a energetic melting pot of not only food and language, but of music; it's not always easy to find, but well worth the search. While jazz has a deep tradition throughout Catalunya, you can find any type of act imaginable here, from international superstars playing to thousands of fans at festivals like Primavera Sound and Sonar (not the focus of this particular post), to virtually unknown gems that spew forth pure magic from their collective fingertips upon tiny stages in dimly lit bars and venues across Barcelona.

Here is a list of five places to for great live music while in Barcelona

Sala Barts concerts. Barcelona

Sala BARTS: Short for Barcelona Arts on Stage, Sala BARTS (pronounces the way it’s spelled) offers performances that run the extreme gamut between international dance troops, to acoustic folk, classic rock cover bands, and intensely funky world beat from Brazil to Nigeria. On the iconic avenue of Paralelo with average ticket prices ranging from €15-€35, take a look at their concert schedule and discover something classic and familiar, or new, strange, and amazing! With a large venue that fits up to 1,500 people on the lower level and an intimate lounge/bar venue above for cheaper/smaller acts, Sala Barts prides itself on true cultural expression through a vast variety of music performances all year long. Shows start around 8pm or 9pm. Check concert schedule. Days and prices vary.

Café Principal:  Blues jams, Afro Cuban Beat, Brazilian samba hip-hop, modern funk, North Brazilian dance and more make up the billing for Café Principal in September alone. In addition, similar to our other featured venues, Café Principal also showcases local art and culture in their historic, “Art Nouveau” café that opens by day (9a.m), serving typical breakfast and lunch fare on their terrace. Though the location is actually on Las Ramblas (an address sure to raise the eyebrows of anyone has has spent any amount of time in Barcelona and knows the inherent touristiness of this veritable human zoo), the concert schedule is fresh and exciting, with a fairly diverse offering from Monday to Saturday in an intimate space that fits around 100 peoples. And the best part? Free entry to the live music! Connected to the cafe is the famous Teatre Principal, which features ticketed events from big name acts throughout the year. Music starts at 10pm Monday-Saturday. Free Entry

Heliogàbal: Opened in 1995, Heliogàbal is a cultural association dedicated to the development and promotion of arts and culture in the neighborhood of Gràcia. Gallery shows, poetry, and small-format concert of everything from pop and indie rock to folk and jazz have made Heliogàbal an indispensable part of the unique Gràcia experience. If you’ve visited Barcelona and have yet to wander the streets of this upper area of the city, put this excursion (just a few metro stops from the center of the city) at the top of your trip's “to do” list. Among other things, Heliogàbal is a great place to experience Barcelona’s unique blend of cuban rumba, gypsy flamenco, and rock and roll dubbed Rumba Catalana. If you’re so lucky as to be in attendance at one of these tiny, intensely energetic concerts, you’ll never forget it. Concerts usually around 10pm or 11pm, Wednesday-Sunday. Prices €0-€8

Café Royale: Excellent live music in a central location, every night, for free. Need I say more? Regardless, I'll elaborate. No big neon signs or blaring music advertises this loungy venue that sits right at the heart of Barcelona. On a admittedly dingy side street off of the even dingier Plaça Reial, a single door man, black curtains, and a circular emblem with the letter “R” in its center is the only indication that you are indeed entering Café Royale. That’s not to say that it is hidden, not by a long shot, but it is a little more discrete than the rowdy, "all-nighter" spots by which it is surrounded. Known for funk, flamenco, experimental jazz, world beat, hip hop, and more, Café Royale is a spot I consistently recommend for a lot of fun with a group. Music starts are 11pm, and though entry is free, you’ll see why when you go to buy a drink. Maybe make this a stop after enjoying a few at a more reasonably-priced local. Concerts begin around 10pm Monday-Sunday. Free entry

Harlem Jazz Club: Opened in 1987, The Harlem Jazz Club is a Barcelona venue with a legacy longer than the line at the Picasso museum... Thousands of concerts have filled this small hall with blues, jazz, funk, and salsa music, quite often opening their stage to impromptu performances during their frequent jam session nights. A fairly spartan local with a basic bar and low stage, people come for the music; one moment swinging with grace and swaggerer, the next assailing you with powerhouse blues riffs that crank from vintage amplifiers. All the while, the tattered and worn Harlem Jazz banners sets the backdrop at this "NYC-style" musician’s club house. Located in the heart of the Gothic neighborhood of Barcelona, Harlem Jazz Club played a pivotal role in welcoming modern jazz and blues rock to the Catalan capitol. Monday-Saturday. Concerts begin around 10pm. Price €8 average.

As you can see, options are many, and in all honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Besides these excellent bars and concert halls, Barcelona is ripe with endless musical gold, many times in the form of concerts that spill out from official venues onto the very streets, rocking plazas and alleyways late into the night. These neighborhood block parties, festivals, and cultural events are a must, as they are a major part of what makes this city a year-round delight for the senses. In general, going out for a night of music in Barcelona is much more affordable than doing so in many other international cities, and the caliber and dedication of the city’s local musician cadre is impressive to say the least. Enjoy! Sam Zucker On a final note bases on personal preference, if you get a chance to see a gypsy jazz concert (of which there seem to be a multitude), don’t pass up the opportunity to be transported back to the pre-war times of old Barcelona and Paris, when clarinets and bass strings danced in harmony to the lighting-fast lines of acoustic guitars. There’s nothing like it.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Sunny and Special Chiringuitos: The Best Beachside Dining in (and around) Barcelona

First things first: Barcelona is NOT a city where you can walk into any random restaurant and expect an “at least decent” meal. Yes, this food Mecca is full of amazing cuisine, culture, craftsmanship, tradition and innovation; however, it’s also full of businesses (restaurants and otherwise) that are operated with the sole purpose of capturing tourist dollars by selling inferior products at a brutal markup (troubling, I know, but true). 

One of the worst culprit neighborhoods for tourist price-gouging (after Las Ramblas) is the Barceloneta. Cafes and restaurants line the Passeig de Joan Borbó with photographic menus and overly-animated sidewalk hustles promising a delicious lunch of pizza and paella. Along the beach itself, plenty of Chiringuitos (beach huts) dot the sand, offering sandwiches, salads and seafood of varying quality levels.

In general, eating at a Chiringuito (Xiringuito in Catalan) is more about the weather, the view and your companions than it is about looking for an amazing gourmet experience. Chiringuitos are often limited in kitchen space and serve simple food. In choosing one of these seaside eateries, you’ll need to determine: Is the simple food well-prepared and fairly priced or carelessly cooked and expensive enough to metaphorically cloud a perfectly sunny day?

Here is a list of five “seaside” places—beach restaurants in and around Barcelona—that offer something worth trying and take the guesswork out of picking a Chiringuito. Whether they are on the sand, above the beach, down a side street, or a train ride away, all of these spots shine as something special in their own, delicious way.

Consisting of two parts—upscale dining on the promenade of Bogatell beach, and a casual “cabana” below on the sand—this oft-mentioned establishment stands up to its reputation. The Escribà family is now in their third generation of chef-owners, having begun in 1906 with the Escribà bakery (still found at Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes 546). Today, the family business is run by three brothers: Christian, Jordi, and Joan (the latter in charge of the restaurant). Famous for paella, seafood, and top-quality, creative cocktails (try the “electric mojito” with shiso leaf and kumquat), Xiringuito Escribà carries a slightly higher price tag than its neighbors, but the food—combined with the breezy, fun, energetic atmosphere—makes this beach hut a star.
Avenida del Litoral, 42, 08005 Barcelona - 932 21 07 29

This restaurant is set back from the sand but offers wonderful views of the sea from a street-level patio (and even more so from their bright, second-floor, window-filled dining room). The food philosophy of Executive Chef Xavier Pellicer is simple: Take his knowledge and passion gained while at the helm of Michelin-starred restaurant Can Fabes (2 Michelin Stars during his tenure) and apply them to a casual environment that focuses almost exclusively on rice dishes! When asked where one can eat a truly excellent paella in Barcelona, Barraca is always my first recommendation.
Passeig Maritim de la Barceloneta 1. 08002. Barcelona 633 241 253

If you have never tried a ‘Bomba de Barceloneta,” La Cova Fumada is the place to consecrate this sacred moment. Though not really tied to the sea, the bomba is a Barceloneta tapas staple; a large fried croquette of potato with a ground meat filling, topped with white aioli and spicy red sauce. Legend has it that the bomba was invented at La Cova Fumada, and regardless of historical accuracy, they are surely delicious. The reasons to eat at this tiny place with no signage and a constant crowd of regulars are many: Obvious historical value practically drips from the walls, the seafood is ultra-fresh and simply prepared (a common theme), and the owners can be easily seen with sauté pans in hand!
The squid a la plancha is exceptional, as are the clams, cockles, and sardines. Catalan specialties likecap i pota (calf’s head and hoof stew) are an acquired taste but much in demand. In the fall, huge boxes of wild mushrooms grace the marble bar top. The opening hours are less than reliable, and to enjoy an afternoon of tapas at La Cova Fumada, patience is most certainly required when dealing with the crowd of locals that pack into the tiny space as soon as the heavy wooden doors swing open. Note: This restaurant is a few blocks in from the beach
(Open 9:00am-3:15pm, then 6:00pm-8:15pm)
Calle Baluard, 56. Barceloneta, 08003 Barcelona - 932 21 40 61

A recently-opened beach bar that serves refreshingly-good food, La Deliciosa achieves its goal of “vintage” appeal and quality food at non-nosebleed prices. The iconic, modernist tiles of Barcelona are a recurring theme in the casual, pastel decor, and the chilled-out music sets a relaxed tone without requiring a conversation to be shouted over a deafening, thumping bass line (as in many beach bars in the Barceloneta). Nothing on the menu is overly elaborate or overwrought. On the contrary, La Deliciosa focuses on light, refreshing dishes that make you feel good after a day on the sand. Typical beach dishes (sandwiches, salad, and tapas) are given a youthful makeover, and plates like salmon tartare with apple, dijon mustard, and soy sauce are full of flavor but still “bikini-worthy” (as is the crudité of veggies with a dish of fresh hummus and tahini). If you fancy breakfast by the beach, a simple list of pastries, yogurts, teas, and sandwiches is available to help start your day.
Platja de Sant Miquel. Paseo marítimo de Barceloneta - 93 309 12 91 (Pantea Restaurant Group)

About 1 hour north of Barcelona (on the train) is the beautiful fishing village of Sant Pol de Mar. Home of the famous Restaurant Sant Pau by Michelin-starred chef Carmen Ruscalleda, Sant Pol de Mar is a quiet place with lots of charm. Warm, pebbly sand offers plenty of room to lay back and relax without the chaos of the city beaches. At the corner of the main beach (just across from the train tunnel) is a shady beach restaurant, with a dining area roofed by lush green leaves; vines trained to trellises to protect hungry diners from the midday sun. Terrassa Voramar is beautiful, calm, and inviting. The plates of grilled sardines—that will surely be gracing tables as you pass—bid you to opt for the whole bottle of crisp, cold white wine instead of just a glass. Maybe you’ll just catch the later train back to Barcelona…
Avenida Doctor Furest s/n 08395 Sant Pol de Mar - 937 60 06 54

As was noted at the beginning, the weather and who you choose to dine with makes a huge difference in your perception/enjoyment of any chiringuito. So relax, find some good friends, and let the afternoon turn into evening—one glass of wine into three—and be thankful for the simple fact that you are taking your meal along the Mediterranean coast in one of the best cities on the planets (in this writer’s humble yet stubborn opinion) for sun, fun, and fish. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

One Year in Barcelona: I Should Have Known

I should have known this would happen. I said I would run away to Spain and it seems I have. This is pretty much exactly what I had in mind before the seed of the idea of this awesome journey was even planted. I should have known that I would like it here far too much to leave. One year ago last April I stepped off a high-riding cruise ship at the ugly old port of Barcelona, chef's knives and guitar in tow after a two-week crossing of the Atlantic teaching cooking classes to tourists and eating three overly-solid buffet meals daily. To be fair, it was a pretty sweet gig. They even rubbed out my bar tab when I disembarked.

That job never panned out into a full-time "dream" job, but I'm glad. That is exactly what living on a cruise ship eight months a year would be: A dream (but the bad kind where you are naked, late, lost, or at your own funeral in a Tom Sawyeresque out of body experience). And though what I have found here in Barcelona may seem like a dream to some, I am wide awake.

I was congratulated recently on my newest professional advancement on Linkedin recently with the message,

“I guess this means your out of the food world. But congrats, none the less!”

I am quite happy to say that this is not the case, as I am still happily embedded in the “food world” through both work at Barcelona Cooking as a Food and Wine educator, writer, and tour guide, as well as through my freelance writing as a gastronomy featurist in Barcelona Metropolitan magazine, and my gluttonous devotion to spending the majority of my now-larger salary on even more cured pork, sheep cheese, tapas, pickled shellfish, vermouth, Chinese noodles, kebabs, coffee, gin, croissants, and wine.

The Barcelona-based social media marketing startup—with whom I have been very lucky to join in their infancy—has bestowed me the broad-sweeping title of Content Creation Guy. I am writing about food, but also about cosmetics, skin care, make-up, sunglasses, acne, old age, plastic surgery, social media, and even about writing itself. My personal Zoom-PR email sign-off is sure to convey my newfound hunger:

"If you don't value your time, neither will others. Stop giving away your time and talents. Value what you know and start charging for it."

This quote, by social media guru Kim Garst, is meant to inspire me, and it does.

Since I arrive in this beautiful city I have officially realized that I am one of the many “I came to travel but stayed forever” foreigners that enjoy the relaxed, sunny life here without being overly bothered by the tourist carnaval that the city often resembles. Judging by some of the other foreigners I know, I’ll give myself five years before I begin complaining about everything and move up the hill. There the buildings are shorter and locals sporting mullet dreadlocks hold a comfortable majority over the sunburned and sandaled Brits, commonly found bellowing and blind-drunk, making the American couple in Spandex more than a little uneasy as they thoroughly enjoy their anemic paella in Plaça Reial.  

I’m working a lot and am loving my bicycle, friends, coffee shops, Chinese restaurants, new gym membership (it’s been a solid two years since I stepped into one of those), and all the glorious sunshine that I can soak up on my lunch break. When I think about it, I haven’t had a break since July. I can’t wait.

Monday, January 13, 2014

An Ode to Mercadona: Life and Groceries and Chinese Ice in Barcelona

We are five in our flat and we share our food. Not all of our food, of course, otherwise the perpetually-high household members would surely take unfair advantage. But once a month or so, each of our names come back around. The kitchen chalk board, full of smudges, doodles, English, Spanish, and Catalan, is likely the most photographed feature of our home; a handy shopping list/passive aggressive tableau. We shop and share, essentially over-paying rent each month to create a surplus. A “slush fund.” Money to be used on eggs, milk, coffee, dish soap, Halloween parties, and emergency, second-hand washing machines. And, as with all parts of a convivial society, there is a code to be followed.

Oath of the household shopper (penned long before my arrival to the flat, but in a constant state of democratic evolution none the less): 

“I promise to never buy anything but Mercadona-brand milk in quantities of no less than 8 tetra-briks at one time. I promise to buy the pink box (not the green or the blue), and I promise to check that it is indeed cow’s milk (a rule carelessly overlooked one fateful day by our distracted housemate who bought us 8 liters of goat’s milk and caused a meeting-worthy, household dilemma because goat’s milk is fucking disgusting).” 

“I promise to buy the ‘regular’ tostadas (none of that multigrain shit), and I agree and submit to the fact that the ice from The Chino is superior to the Mercadona ice (it melts slower, duh) and should be bought on a separate shopping excursion.” 

“I promise to remember and respect the fact that ‘pasta’ scribbled in white chalk in no way means fusilli, rigatoni, or fettucini (or god forbid those multi-colored, far-too-flamboyant farfalle that are clearly guilty of containing vegetables and have that little pinched part in the middle that “never gets fully soft” when boiled). Spaghetti (and maybe ziti) is expected.”  

“I promise to buy Fairy dish soap (better suds).”

“I promise to buy the largest jug of water available, as tap water makes you (apparently) shit uncontrollably.” However, I have found the previous statement to be grossly untrue.

“I promise to buy one gigantic role of paper kitchen towels instead of the slightly more expensive multi-pack (note: this rule has since been revised to include Mercadona-brand single-ply paper towel in packs of 6 or more).”

“I promise to buy toilet tissue in no less than 12-pack quantities, and to buy the soft kind (it’s okay to splurge on your ass, obviously).”

And finally (to keep this short), “I promise to remember what kind of all-purpose cleaner we use.” This is an important one, as asking what the bottle looks like is practically a full admission that you in fact have never cleaned anything in the house to date.

Okay, so you get the picture. But, what happens when you finally understand how to uphold the code, and have honed your shopping trips through the Mercadona maze to stone-faced extraction missions, when they suddenly move the brown sugar? Or when you get to the front of the line and haven't weighed your apple?

It may be the fact that I was severely hung-over this morning and that my drunk housemates woke me up 3 times between 5am and 7am, but by the simple act of moving the azúcar moreno and other baking products to be closer to the bread, filling the previous shelves with baby food, and turning my landmark display of canned tomatoes at a 90 degree angle, Mercadona left me confused and helpless. I sort of had a melt down. I walked in circles and scratched my beard, distracted and disoriented by the mirrored columns and disconcerting proximity of the pre-cooked tortillas de patatas to the deodorant and face wash. I had to ask directions, and also couldn’t figure out why they had zero bags of baby spinach when the shelf is usually overflowing (until I remembered that for the next two days the market would be closed and that the spinach they sell is nearly always developing a slimy sheen before I even fling in into my awkward hand basket on wheels anyway). 

I admit that this was my second trip to Mercadona in two days, and that the first time I forgot the azúcar moreno. But thank god the nearly-empty box was helpfully placed right in the middle of the kitchen table this morning to remind me. I didn’t even need to take a picture.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Who Let the Cat Out? At Home in an Urban Wilderness

As I walked home through the narrow, uneven streets of old Barcelona last night I realized all at once that I know this place better than any place I have ever lived (not counting small-town New England, where the handful of good bars, restaurants, and historic landmarks are easily mastered). I know the streets and the sounds and smells. I know the history. The mystique and disorientation that I felt upon first arriving here nine months ago has slowly, indiscernibly given way to a more nuanced understanding of my surroundings; afforded me new opportunities to step away and reflect on this special way of life.

Sadly, this whopping realization was instantly followed by fear. Fear of leaving and starting over. Where in my home country can I find the fundamental things that make my life in Barcelona so imperfectly complete? The old-world charm with over 2000 years of history and architecture, built on top of each other in a incredible melange of Romanesque, Medieval, Baroque, Modernist, and more. The beach, with refreshing waves just a short walk from my front door. The cheap rent. The never-ending parade of interesting people from all corners of the globe. The proximity to the rest of Europe and beyond. The opportunity to speak in a foreign language every day. The edge up I have as an English speaking trained chef and writer with tourism experience and a strong network of fellow expatriates. That fact that I have found outlets that PAY for my writing. The beautiful markets overflowing with products—local meat, seasonal vegetables, and the freshest fish I have ever tasted—that don't cost you your entire food budget when you want to indulge. A job I thoroughly enjoy and bosses that I respect and genuinely like. The night life that barely ever sleeps. The Mediterranean climate that promises to never burden one with excessive rain, snow shovels, heat waves, or broken pipes, but has distinct seasons, each with their own edible treasures waiting to be explored. 

However, higher wages, a 'career', concrete citizenship, proximity to my family, and love will surely bring me back to the United States. This coming summer in Barcelona will be wonderful, but sometimes I doubt my ability to carry on in this fashion without moving onward and upward to something bigger. If that is not in the cards, so be it, but I hope that when this chapter closes it will be merely capped with a place-marker—a dog-eared page ready to be reopened in the future with new vitality and excitement. 

I am going to try my hardest to procure an Italian passport; my Holy Grail. My golden ticket. My grandmother was born in Italy, and through Italian law, if one can prove that their Italian lineage is unbroken (as I can with the proper documents), you may be granted Italian citizenship without needing to ever live in the country, take a test on the 100 most common pasta shaped, or any other things that one may assume would be required to officially become Italiano

Once I achieve this goal of becoming a permanent citizen of the European Community, the world is wide open. Freedom to work and travel was something I took for granted my entire life, despite working side by side many times with Latin-American co-workers of questionable legal status but undeniable work ethic and drive. 

What it comes down to is that Barcelona is a wonderful place full of daily, idiosyncratic hurdles that— while sometimes frustrating—bring color to an economy-stricken society and make the everyday hustle ever the more interesting. 

As with a house cat that spends its entire life indoors only to one day slip through the cracks and find itself in a vivid world full of danger and beauty, deciding to stay in Barcelona was exhilarating and liberating with a hint of terror and doubt thrown in the mix. And no matter how comfortable life in-doors may be with a full bowl and a warm bed, that glimpse of another life is intoxicating. It makes you so grateful that that door was left open long enough for you to make a foolhardy plunge. You at first feel lost and exposed, but as time goes by you realize that you are in fact where you were meant to be. It took some clever maneuvering, but you have arrived! And for me, with not nine lives but just one, why wait? Though I have never considered myself a "house cat" by any means, one never knows what they are missing until they take a leap into the unknown. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

A New Year: Time to Grow Up?

I have several resolutions for the up-coming year. Focus, exercise more, drink less, eat healthier, cultivate important relationships, and continue to search for my true path. I have been writing a lot, but not on my has taken a back seat to work that actually pays me something. Life here in Barcelona is easy if you only care about making just enough money to pay your rent and go out eating and drinking on a regular basis in order to support your rightfully-accused hedonistic lifestyle.

Eating and drinking in excess is fun, if not down-right excellent, especially when you are getting paid to do it, but I feel lazy. I feel unfocused. At the risk of scaring my parents (sorry guys, but you know I'm fine), does it really count when you say "It's not like I'm getting drunk all the time, just enjoying some drinks with friends," when the reason you're not getting drunk is that normal life in Barcelona has given you super-human abilities to drink wine like water?

Another one of my resolutions is to write for myself more frequently. Just a few paragraphs daily; reflections on life here and maybe creating a little window into what it's like for a young American man living in Barcelona. My budget is thin but I still manage to live life to the fullest. Vintage shops and flea markets are where I score my cool clothes—sweaters, shoes, jackets, and scarves—, moving further and further into the hipster realm; something that is far less scorned here than in the primordial, evolutionary pool of original hipster breeding that is New York City. I even thought about getting a nose ring?! But, in the end that would just be too much explaining.

Tattoos? None yet, but I am growing my beard and letting my hair get longer on top while trimming the sides. Sometimes I comb in a side part. If people didn't steal bicycles in Barcelona with fanatical passion and skill I might even entertain a fixed-gear street bike with a sea foam frame and ultra-short handle bars...just kidding.

I don't smoke hand-rolled cigarettes (or any cigarettes for that matter), so I'm not quite so cool in the grand scheme of things, but I'm working on it. People now ask me for directions and I am "the guy that knows the hidden spots." Maybe it's because I made it my business to know the spots, or maybe it's that fact that I don't have a bike, scooter, or car and walk everywhere, experiencing the old quarters of Barcelona the way many locals rarely do. I am trying to get back into jogging (lucky me, the park is just blocks aways), since, despite the fact that I walk hours every day, my heart rate rarely rises above a steady kick.

Also, I have a girlfriend and she lives on the other side of the ocean. How did this happen, you ask? Well, I will tell you: It was fate. I have a history of making things harder for myself than need be, but I'm starting to think that I wouldn't want it any other way. How many girls have I met knowing full well that either they or I would be moving away shortly? If you know me well then you know the answer. But what makes this love special is that we have a future and a great story. We have the compatibility of people that have been raised around truth, openness, love, and compassion, regardless of her taste in slow jam R&B songs and my toddler-like reluctance to look beyond the here and now and stop procrastinating (dammit!). I want her more than anything and am working on making that a reality. I know we will both keeping growing and maturing; our lives depend on it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Autumn in Barcelona: Food, Wine, and Reflections on an Amazing Summer

Today is my six-month anniversary of arriving in Barcelona, and I am amazed that half a year has passed. I arrived before the tourists, when the spring air was still brisk and the beach was nearly empty. Then came the summer...

The Gigantes of the Festa de La Mercé
Summer in Sant Pol de Mar

Chinese dancers on a summer night

As anyone who has spent time in Barcelona during the summer surely knows, the city is ever-vibrating with ecstatic energy that is so infectious that it requires its denizen’s nearly complete surrender. Real life (if it can be called that) is punctuated and accentuated by a never-ending barrage of concerts, festivals, parades, and explosives; sun, sand, sweat, and—most notably—the wild, summer solstice inferno that is the Festa de Sant Joan. There is a party nearly every week somewhere in Barcelona throughout the warmer months, and food, music, art, and alcohol are never in short supply. The Coca  de Sant Joan is the most typical treat of the summer solstice; puff pastry, pork, sugar, and pine nuts.

Coca de Sant Joan. Pork, puff pastry, sugar, and pine nuts

Vijazz 2013 was a balmy July weekend of Cava and jazz music in the wine mecca of Vilafranca del Penedès. The Festa Major de Gràcia was a week of streamers, drums, and fire, when the streets of Barcelona’s Gràcia neighborhood were packed till bursting with all-night partiers, dancing euphorically in the smoky haze of the street lights with plastic cups of mojitos in hand. October’s CavaTast 2013 in
Sant Sanduri d’Anoia saw the numerous Cava houses lining the main streets of this, the founding place of Spain’s answer to French Champagne, offering glasses of their best vintages to the thirsty masses. In mid-October, the most famous and well-established vendors, wineries, and restaurants gathered in front of the Cathedral of Barcelona for the Mercat de Mercats (The Market of markets); a gathering of the best local food culture for three gut-busting days of wine, food, and sweets.

ViJazz: Cava and Jazz festival 2013. Vilafranca del Penedès 

CavaTast 2013: Cava Festival. Sant Sandurní d'Anoia

Festa de la Mercé: Festival of wines and Cavas from Catalunya. Arc de Triomf

The Festa de La Mercé is when Barcelona really pulls out all the stops, celebrating their patron saint in their annual fashion. This year, however, La Mercé was celebrated in conjunction with the approaching 300th anniversary of the end of the 60 week siege when the city of Barcelona finally fell to King Felipe V, cementing Spain’s conquest of Catalunya. Though Catalunya lost the War of Spanish Succession, that fateful day—September 11th, 1714—is remembered (if not celebrated) with a province-wide bank holiday, when proud independentistas take to the streets, mounting increasingly powerful civil protests, rally, and cultural expositions in their call for Catalan independence.

El Prego (opening prayer): La Festa Major de Gràcia. Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia

The Correfoc (fire run). Festa de la Mercé. Via Laietana

Fireworks in Plaça Espanya. Festa de la Mercé

National Spain Day protests. October 12. Riot Police at Universitat

This year on September 11th (The Day of Catalunya), the people of Catalunya organized to show their solidarity and hunger for independence with the “human chain”; a unbroken chain of hand holding that stretched 400km from the border of France all the way down to the southern corner of the province. Participants (well over 300,000) joined hands at exactly 17:14 (5:14pm), as 1714 is the year of the Catalan’s conscription into the lands of Spain. 

Preparing for the human chain. Catalunya Day. September 11. Plaça de Sants

2013 will be a year of events and reflection leading up to the 1714-2014 tricentennial; theatrical productions, 18th century recreations, concerts, galleries, and public art displays. The motto of the tricentenari is “Viure Lliure”—or “Live Free”—taken from the saying “We shall live free or die”, a revolutionary sentiment with which I can identify having been raised in epicentral town of Concord, Massachusetts; the starting place of America’s independence movement against Great Britain in the same century. 

1714 encampment. Festa de la Mercé. Parc de la Cuitadella

1714 encampment. Festa de la Mercé. Parc de la Cuitadella

Now the summer has gone, and though the sun still shines and newly discovered love still burns bright, the crowded streets have thinned and the sunscreen, bathing suits, and sandals seem to have made their finally appearance without the least bit of warning. The numerous flea markets that fuel the city’s vintage-clad subculture have kept me flush in fall clothing as the summer’s abrupt end left me scurrying across the cold tiles of our airy, turn-of-the-century walk-up.

Second-hand market. Rastro de la Virgen. El Raval

Chestnut vendor on Las Ramblas

Walking to work—a formally sweat-drenched affair—has become a most pleasant stroll through quiet streets, under gradually changing leaves that blow in the harvest-perfumed breeze. Over night, it seems, the ubiquitous street stalls selling roasted chestnuts and boniato sweet potatoes in paper cones have popped up throughout the city center. Their uniquely-autumn smell is that of sweet charcoal and wood smoke; an inviting aroma for hungry shoppers who wish to shed the chill from their tired fingers. Castanyas (chestnuts) are a Catalan icon of the fall and—most notably—of the holiday Tots Sants (All Saints Day). On November 1st, Barcelona eats warm, smokey chestnuts, moist marzipan cookies called panellets, and sweet muscatel wine with glee. 

Panellets at the Boqueria Market


Makes 24 cookies

1 pound potato, peel
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
3 fl.oz water
1 tablespoon lemoncello (optional)
1 cup finely-ground almonds
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup pine nuts (or almond slivers)
3 eggs, separated whites and yolks

-Start by preheating your oven to 350F
-Place peeled potato in a pot, cover with cold water, and boil until very tender
-While boiling the potato, make a syrup with the sugar, water, lemon juice (to avoid clumping), and the lemoncello. Stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved and simmer it over medium heat until the syrup is thick
-Remove the potato from the water, dry it with a towel, and place it is a bowl. Mash the potato is a fork, then stir in the ground almonds, lemon zest, and syrup. Mix with a wooden spoon until a thick, moist dough is formed.
-Form the dough into small balls by hand, wet the with beaten egg whites, then coat them evenly in pine nuts
-Glaze the balls lightly with egg yolk to coat the pine nuts (use a pastry brush)
-Place the balls, evenly spaced, in a greased baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes (check after 10 minutes). The pine nuts should be just lightly browned.
-Allow to cool completely and enjoy with some fruit, sweet wine like Spanish muscatel!