SOL: Tourist Indulgences, Cooking Like a Spaniard & Self(ie)-Loathing

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Tourist Indulgences

I celebrated my birthday on a Thursday in a low-key fashion, but I was determined to do something to mark the occasion on the weekend. As it was, I found myself getting up at 6AM on Saturday and hitching a ride with my hosts to Barcelona. While they went off to take care of work and exams (i.e. real-life problems) I wandered off on my own to explore the city.

I had two hours to kill before things began to open so I grabbed a tram from the port and made my way towards Plaza Catalunya. After a short walk I found a café appropriately named TapaTapa and downed two coffees while using their WiFi to map out each destination. The last time I was in Barcelona was a year ago and I never made it to the Sagrada Familia – an error I intended to rectify this time around. After a quick 25 minute walk I was stumbling into throngs of tourists and knew I had reached my destination. Construction of the Sagrada Familia began in 1882 and it became Gaudi’s pride and joy in 1883. It’s still heavily under renovation and I found that the scaffolding and cranes subtracted from the overall impression of the cathedral. I wandered around to the opposite side and noticed it was older and had a lot of character, which can be seen in the photo above. Ultimately I’m glad I went to see it and I will revisit it over the course of my stay here to gain further appreciation for its history.

After posting a photo of the cathedral to social media, a friend recommended that I read The Shadow of the Wind, a novel by Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón that takes place in Barcelona. I was a bit skeptical but I ended up reading the nearly 500 page tome in a matter of two days. The story is a gripping criminal narrative full of twists; all of which is accomplished while name-dropping plazas and streets within Barcelona. I am more than a little excited to venture back into Barcelona this weekend (an hour away by train) to check out a few of the streets mentioned in the book as well as wander through the Gothic District.

Spanish Cooking Lessons

One of the few sentences I have learned in Spanish is “Soy vegetariana.” In a country full of meat-lovers and greasy carnivorous tapas, finding vegetarian food has presented the occasional challenge. One of my hosts is a food enthusiast and is constantly trying to find bio and organic alternatives for me. As it is, I learned how to cook rice à la València methods this weekend using an oven and soup broth. How it’s done is simple: In a pan, heat soup broth to a low boil and then reduce. In a baking pan, drizzle uncooked rice with olive oil until it is lightly coated and then cover it with the broth in a 2:1 ratio. After that the additions are at the mercy of the chef: I added chopped zucchini, pine nuts and garlic to my first dish and it turned out wonderfully. Everything is put into the oven at about 280 degrees for 25 minutes or until all the broth evaporates. Once it is done remove it from the oven, mix it together, and let it cool.

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I made another dish on my own today and went wild with the seasoning; this batch had brown rice, onion, tomato, zucchini, chili peppers and some curry flavour. I tossed it in the oven and due to the larger batch it took about 50 minutes to cook all the way through. It tastes amazing and now I have a week’s worth of meals ready to go (preparing several meals in advance does not seem to be a popular concept in Europe). Next up for my cooking lessons is the local favourite of paella.

Self(ie)-Loathing

I can confess to occasionally indulging in a few habits that are asinine and downright vain. Before embarking on this trip I was determined to document it more than the last time, so I invested in what has become the bane of my existence – a selfie stick. Now, before you cast judgement (which, by all means, do, I can hardly blame you) before purchasing one of these “monopods” I regarded them with a scoff and barely disguised disgust as well. That said, for a solo-traveler and a narcissistic millennial, it is a technological godsend. Considering I have been cursed with T-Rex arms, the length of the selfie stick alone has come in handy more than once. After slight deliberation (and self-loathing, as mentioned) I purchased THIS brand from Amazon.ca.

It arrived a week before I left, and admittedly, I was smitten with it upon testing it out. It extends up to one metre and it doesn’t require you to connect it via wire or use a remote; all you have to do is link it to your Bluetooth and press the shutter button on the handle. One downside is that it needs to be fully-charged every time you plan on using it but otherwise it’s incredibly convenient and if you don’t mind bemused looks, it will definitely come in handy when you visit national monuments on your own (though several museums and public areas have banned the use of the sticks on the premises).

That said, taking pictures of ourselves was popular long before some jackass decided to coin the term “selfie,” thus condemning the action to pop-culture phenomenon hell. If you need to find me this weekend I will be the obnoxious tourist reeking of North American influence, brandishing my selfie-stick with an inane mixture of loathing and pride.

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: Running in the Mountains and Sunday Roast

SOL: Running in the Mountains and Sunday Roast

Sunday was spent in a state of semi-relaxation. We managed to finish all the morning tasks fairly early on and then did some gardening until lunch.

Afterwards we drove to a local street market which is essentially a city-wide thrift store. Overall it was a bunch of random junk, but there were some cool old trunks and vintage furniture that would have been nice to buy. Alas, I only walked away with two new scarves.

Afterwards I sat by the pool and finished reading The Alchemist and then decided to go for a run. It’s so beautiful running here and I’m continuously stopping to look at the mountains and the view. Naturally I got lost and I’m fairly certain my legs will be dead tomorrow.

Sunday dinner is consistently modeled after a “Vegan Roast” and we ate garlic-roasted potatoes, pea soup, cauliflower, oat loaf, homemade bread and cake. Namua’s cooking is going to kill me; not to mention the pitcher of wine that we manage to go through every evening.

French living is truly in a league of its own.

AS

BODY: Quinoa Love Affair

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I have an obsession with quinoa. It is replete with health benefits and is one of the most protein-rich foods available. It is a complete protein, carrying all nine essential amino acids, which makes it excellent for vegetarians & vegans. It also packs a healthy dose of fibre, which helps prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol. Quinoa contains iron, which helps carry oxygen throughout our body, increases brain function and aids in energy metabolism. It is rich in magnesium, which helps relax blood vessels and alleviates migraines. Magnesium may also benefit Type 2 diabetes by helping maintain a healthy blood sugar level.

Not only does it do all of this for your body, but you can use quinoa for everything; it can be a substitute for high calorie/carbohydrate sources such as rice and pasta, it can be used to make patties, “veggieloafs”, and you can use it in lieu of oatmeal and top it with fresh berries for breakfast. There’s a reason it is hailed as a superfood!

I personally love quinoa salad during summer months. It’s light and refreshing, and fills you up without weighing you down (or bloating you during bikini season).

This recipe can use either plain or red quinoa, although I prefer the red quinoa because the texture and taste complements the ingredients better.

To cook quinoa, follow the same rules as cooking rice. Make sure you measure the dry quinoa, remembering the proportion of dried quinoa to cooked quinoa is about 1:3, so 1 cup dry yields approximately 3 cups cooked.

Rinse and drain the quinoa, then put the rinsed quinoa in a pot of water using a ratio of 1 cup quinoa, 2 cups water. Put in some salt to taste if you’d like. Cover and bring to a boil, once it boils, turn the heat down to simmer and leave the lid slightly ajar. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until water is absorbed and quinoa is soft. If the quinoa is tender but there’s excess water, turn off the boiler but leave the quinoa uncovered for another 5 minutes until it is absorbed.

Once your quinoa is cooked, set it aside and prep your fruits and veggies! I use grape tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, avocado, green onion, red onion and garlic. Use whatever amount appeals to you, but the more veggies the better.

As for dressing, I prefer making my own so I know exactly what is going into it, and so it’s fresh! For the dressing, I use roughly three tablespoons of Dijon mustard, a la France, 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 1 and a half teaspoons red wine vinegar. Modifying this per taste, and per serving size, if you want a stronger mustard taste or not. Mix all of this together, either in a large serving bowl or per meal.