Saturday, December 6, 2014

Esthpana: Ya, let's go ahead and put toothpicks in everything.


Thanksgiving rolls around, and I really am thankful. It's been a charmed life these past few years, and I'm surrounded by so many good people on both sides of the ocean.

London is a tough city in a lot of ways related to how comically expensive things are (though no Scandinavia), but even when you're scraping pences together, you sometimes wake up and you're in a hostel in Barcelona.

When the roundtrip flight costs £39 ($60), it's like you're making money, right?

View out our hostel window.
I literally ran off the RyanAir when we landed in Spain. I was first through the passport checkpoints (because there are prizes for this sort of thing), sprinted for the Aerobus (again, gold star), and Lincoln was there to meet me at the finish line in the Plaça de Catalunya.

I don't even know what a viguèta sandwich really is, but there are suddenly so many country sausages in our mouths, and I chug a Fanta Limon before we walk into a flamenco performance inside the Palau de la Música Catalana.


As soon as the lights dim, we upgrade ourselves to nice box seats like we own the place, trying in vain to capture the stained glass bulb that's been my wallpaper for months. Sweat sprays from dancers in arcs as they whip their porn star locks back and forth.

A drizzily walk back with a gander at the Sagrada Familia at twilight, and we split four pintxos (mm, tuna-stuffed peppers) and an Estrella Damm before checking into Hotel One Paralelo.

Pinxtos are basically tapas, but they're €1 each and they charge you for how many toothpicks you have when you pull your face out of the feeding trough.

Yes, that's the tiniest frying pan in the world, and it has a small pancake with smoked salmon on it. I am in love.
Some Spanish tortilla before bed because you aren't in Spain to get skinny, and I don't fall asleep until 4 am amidst the moist bedding and Lincoln's snoring/whale song.

We're up by 10 am to get some epic Chinese lunch, and yeah, based simply on the cheap noodles/dumplings alone, I'm ready to move to Barcelona.

Posing in front of ham seems like it should be an American past time.
The problem with growing up in San Francisco is that whenever you see a fancy food market, you immediately compare it to the Ferry Building.

Borough Market: "Ferry Building, but with English accents and everything costs 60% more."

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria: "Ferry Building, but we're obsessed with moldy ham."

¿Pero dónde está mi café helado de Blue Bottle (Botella Azul)?

This emergency kit at the hostel by the elevator never ceased to amuse me.
So much walking, and if we didn't both train like speedwalking champs on a daily basis, the endless promenades would have slapped us down. The toughest day on little sleep took us to the top of Montjuïc, and can someone explain to me why the medieval locals named it JEW MOUNTAIN?

I saw no reference or presence of Hebraic populaces. Lincoln and I fell onto a couch, napped, and then we split up to run around the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya until closing.


My high school Spanish is somehow intact enough for me to read most signs, and Odesza is floating me on a summer state o' mind through galleries of Catalan art across the last thousand years.

I'm alone in the medieval gallery caves, so I just nap on the big stone slabs under the murals dating back to 1123 from a little church called Santa Maria de Taüll. The Virgin Mary, the magi, and their anthropo-zoomorphic buddies glare down at me, and it's incredible to just slumber under the weight of all that history.

And besides, the artist's nickname was the Master of the Last Judgement, so pretty badass.


In the rest of Barcelona, Gaudí hero worship is slathered over everything, and by the end of Casa Batlló's audiotour, Lincoln and I are so sick of hearing about what a genius the dude was.

Since his most popular quote is "The straight line belongs to man - the curve to God," I can already imagine how insufferable he must have been to work for. 

Roof of Casa Batlló
So obsessed with the street tiling in Barcelona

So many little alleys with so many alcoves for saints and churches, and we nurse little coffees as we alternate umbrella arms.

I get in some journal time from the front pew of the incomplete Sagrada Familia while Jesus parachutes in on a canopy of candles.



The Gaudí glass stretches up into the heights, and I can see why religion makes sense sometimes.


Bosque Palermo dishes out excellent chimichurri'd churrasco and paella, and we end with a crema catalana (which seems like ice cream made of pure yolk?).

My vows of no-dairy collapsed in the face of Catalan pudding.

Socarrat is a word that's been stuck in my craw for years now. Also known as rak-rak (damn boy, that onomatopoeia!), it's a Spanish word to refer to the crunchy crispy layer of rice at the edges and bottom of a well-done paella.

You know what I'm talking about, Gordito.


Clearly something with universal appeal, since the Chinese call it 鍋耙, and the other East Asians have terms as well (お焦げ and 누룽지).

Clearly I fall into Wikipedia abysses sometimes, and it's hard to escape adding to my pedantic nature. "Actually, ..." being one of the annoying things I chime into conversations with.


Churros and hot choco to dunk them in at Xurreria in the Barri Gòtic. Lincoln and I even get into a brief spat when he says "seafood" and I think he says "stupid." The dumb shit you trip up on when you travel is always embarrassing in retrospect.

We're drenched in La Barceloneta, blown by mini-tradewinds as we bounce between closed seafood joints. Frank Gehry's goldfish arches out of the ocean and then we're saved by a small place called Jai-Ca that quickly warms us up with mussels, fried anchovies, and plenty of lemon to keep scurvy at bay.


Lincoln heads off to sleep at the airport before Hamburg, and I have a day to myself in Montserrat. I somehow talk myself into making it onto the first train at 8:36 am, sweaty and loaded down with bread, ham & apples.

I haul ass to the Santa Cova where local children allegedly saw a black Virgin Mary manifested, but the gates are closed for another hour.

Napping with the view below while reading Love in the Time of Cholera isn't such a bad wait.



The groundskeeper finally gets there, we exchange "buenos días!" and then it's silence in the holy grotto. The stations of the cross brings to mind a lot of poisoned gods, crowns of plague thorns, masks, veils. 

There's a children's choir, but before they're done, I'm hiking to the tippy top of Sant Jeromi, where every turn is a magical look down into the valleys. 


My shadow has legs that don't end.
I don't see a single person for an hour and a half, and the nature-loving introvert in me is singing a happy song. 

Stray cats are mewling at everyone that walk by, and I get to practice my French and Japanese with people who seem confused by slopes once I'm on the homestretch back down to the monastery.




I rubbed the black Madonna's Palantír for good luck, and it was tempting to buy a candle, but sorry, I'd rather have two more pintxos.


I briefly amuse myself thinking about what would happen if Catalunya declared independence while I'm in the hills above it all.


Last night is a race through the supermarket buying as much torró for friends and family as my little arms can carry, and also two jars of fig jam that I somehow think I can sneak through airport security. I spend a horrifyingly cold night at El Prat airport, and around 4 am, I'm eating fig jam off my fingers and getting eaten alive by golden mosquitoes when Caga tió falls out of my bag.

Lincoln and I had each purchased one for €2, and I just start giggling to myself as I circle Terminal 2 trying to keep warm.

Here's a description of Caga tió (Shitting Log) to warm your Christmas heart:

tl;dr - The Catalan tell their kids that a small log shits out the Xmas presents.



On Christmas day or, depending on the particular household, on Christmas Eve, one puts the Tió partly into the fireplace and orders it to defecate; the fire part of this tradition is no longer as widespread as it once was, since many modern homes do not have a fireplace. To make it defecate one beats the Tió with sticks, while singing various songs of Tió de Nadal.

The tradition says that before beating the Tió all the kids have to leave the room and go to another place of the house to pray asking for the tió to deliver a lot of presents. This makes the perfect excuse for the relatives to do the trick and put the presents under the blanket while the kids are praying.

The tió does not drop larger objects, as those are considered to be brought by the Three Wise Men. It does leave candies, nuts and torrons. Depending on the part of Catalonia, it may also give out dried figs. When nothing is left to "shit", it drops a salt herring, a head of garlic, an onion, or it "urinates" by leaving a bowl of water. What comes out of the Tió is a communal rather than individual gift, shared by everyone present.

Everyone steals a penguin from the cake. Or a window.

I forgot I live in a place with seasons until THIS happens.
The sun slinks off by four o'clock, and I'm stubborn about walking everywhere, headphones warbling Serial as the little black umbrella David got me from the States gets more and more bent by the rain day after day.

The coming winter is still a novelty to me, and I'm frankly delighted every morning when I act out what someone who lives in a cold place might conceivably wear: YELP LIFE fingerless mittens, Paddington Bear coat, and always the back-up beanie.

Witch fyre all.
I'm making stews and curries, and big leafy beany piles of hippie mush. Two eggs a day still, sometimes four, so on a monthly basis, that's like 70 eggs. Chickens a'laying indeed.

I figure as it gets colder, I'll just have people over to cook dinner together more. Huddling for warmth against the darkness and all those good cave people instincts.


A woman with a yellow origami head wrap chats to me about the jug of smoky pine tea I'm slugging around, and when I'm excited she has a paper sack of scotch bonnet peppers, she gifts me one. I've never cooked with the fruity little blaze of a pepper, but she says I've been missing out. So cheers to Melea, and it made the vegan laksa mighty tasty.

I hate that I watch Into the Wild and the cheesy shit totally gets to me, and I'm like, "Why aren't I in a shrub somewhere?"


Natasha and I went ice skating on Google's dime at Somerset House, and upon arrival, a trio of aristocrats from Panem lift my shirt and tell me that my trousers aren't high-waisted enough to merit a score higher than 3.6.


Waves of cassis & prosecco, and I surprise myself by actually managing to zoom around the rink, even if I'm not the prettiest skater.

We're told that mulled wine stops pouring in ten minutes, so we tramp around in damp socks until little bowls of food get snatched up.

And why wouldn't you have a massive cake in the shape of the building you're in. And penguins.


Nina continues to hold the prize for Most Thoughtful Person Ever. As a belated birthday treat, she waves me into the NHV (Nina/Hannes Van or the Something Hippie Van) before we putt putt into New Malden.

Also known as where the Korean food flows cheap and plentiful.

Pretty amazing Saturday, and I started off with some galbitang. Beef bone broth, clear but oh so rich.


We walk off the food stupor, surrounded by deer and autumn at Richmond Park. The sun just ditches us on our walk back, the darkening gates closing behind us. We backtrack, loop, and weave over to Korean products stacked to the ceilings.

Korean grocery fantasies fulfilled, we end with more soup, a seafood noodle in a rich velvet broth, and then a little jug of quince & honey for me to bring to work to ward off the winter.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

If you play any more Tycho, I'm going to hurt you.


That said, play this on a lazy ass Saturday morning.

Violet the dachshuahua (dachshund + chihuahua) may periodically take dumps in my room, but she's the best cuddle buddy for working at home.

I tried my best to quarantine myself while I had the autumn plague, making endless pots of veggie stew with bushels of that hey-good-looking parsley.

We teetered into November and I can still sit with a blanket on the terrace, writing about my Internet provider spying on us for killer robots, watching clouds roll over London.

Our dining utensils for Extreme Garnishing (or was it Meth-Making 101)?
Caviar makin'



My personal piñata continues spewing free candy, and I won three more classes in addition to paddle-boarding the Thames: parkour, Korean fermentation, and Extreme Garnishing.

I don't even know what that last one really was, but we gnawed on oh-so-sweet lemons after taking a big ol' hit of Miracle Berry and I've discovered I'm awful at making faux caviar.

And then there was flaming gasoline in a giant glass urn after we made chocolate banana pixie stix.


We wrote our apologies on slips of paper and the woman cocooned in the corner ate them before waving us forward to the jungle. The guy who was planted in our group as a redshirt was more obvious than I would have liked, but watching him get assaulted by three jungle vixens wasn't so bad.

The woman hidden behind the tree told me I had a nice smile and that I would always have friends when I needed them. You sure know how to sweet talk a boy.


The best thing about my eight months in London so far is that there are always ten cool things to do at all hours of the day.

As long as you keep your FOMO reined in, there's going to be downtempo electronica to wobble to while in church, a French bistro from 1896 to speedeat canapés, cocktail wonderlands behind mirrors, and nine levels of the Aztec underworld with bloody-eyed fortune tellers to meet.





This was right before Ade and I tasted ten types of bitters and liqueurs and you had to guess the ingredients. My cold meant I was great at this, especially handicapped by the Italian bartender's slaughter of English. 

We tasted and tasted for the "silly mango" for a while until it was unveiled that it was chilli mango.

Blood n' Sand and then a pint of Dogfish Head's DNA (omg, this is related to the 90-minute IPA) before I put on my YELP LIFE mittens for the chilly walk home.

Guy Fawkes Day brings some actual cold to London, but even before that, we're gathering in Camberwell around big platters of Xinjiang chicken and slamming bottles of Tsingtao.

It's fun to duck into different parts of the city and guess at where I might be able to find a place to live in early January. Still don't quite have a total grasp of geography here, but I have some solid wanderings under my belt.

It rains chicken liver and salmon sometimes.
大盤雞

I've been to my first Decompression now, and it was hosted in the theatre where I saw drunk American girls throwing up for St. Patrick's Day. 

I spent most of the night in a flowing green wizard gown, and I know I should have returned it to Costume Camp, but I just love it too much. 


Zorah looking Burner-glam.
No one here has been adequately shamed for catwalking London streets with a large Native American headress yet. Feathers billowing MOOPily in the wind even. I was impressed with the attempt to recreate the Playa indoors, and there were enough little nooks for me to scurry into and explore. 

I scarfed down a leaky sack of Indian food at 6 am and ploughed into bed until it was time for the murder mystery dinner.

Such a perfect pub to host this in.
I got to be the shady right-hand man of the mob boss, and I spent the night failing at extortion, though I did succeed at dutifully hitting on my assigned flapper.

Until she tried to demand all my money.


Suspenders/Bracers are so much more fun than belts. I'm going to need to work them into my daily wardrobe somehow without seeming like I'm Amish or a chimney-sweep.

I had to bow out of a BBQ ribs-eating competition because I had already stuffed myself with salmon and burgers. Not that I would have stood a chance at winning anyway, since the two Asian girls who rocked 1st and 2nd place ended up demolishing two full racks in five minutes. I would have busted an intestine.

Meaty carnage
Befriend me, and I'll apparently take you to the land of mediocre meats and beerios.