Thursday, October 28, 2010

Panellets

Yesterday, while David was hard at work, I set off for his parents house. With the absence of my favorite American holiday here (Halloween, obviously), David and I decided to throw our own little costume party. David assured me that we could not have the party without panellets, so his mother graciously offered to help me make some. I have very little baking experience, so I was both hesitant and excited to embrace this Catalán tradition.


You might be wondering what these Spanish treats have to do with Halloween. Well, they don't, not really. They are actually a custom of All Saints' day, a Catholic holiday celebrated on November 1st. Due to its close calendrical proximity with Halloween, which is rising in popularity every year, and "All Hallows' Eve" itself being derived from a mixture of All Saint's day and the Celtic festival of Samhain, David and I are merely embracing the blurring of culture and tradition which will inevitably occur down the line.

You've probably heard of the Day of the Dead, an extremely colorful Mexican holiday that also begins on the first of November. It, too, is actually a hybrid of the Catholic All Saint's Day and pre-hispanic Mexican traditions. With the rapidly growing influence of American culture, Halloween is also seeing widespread popularity in Mexico during these festivities, especially in larger cities. I was bewildered to see this bizarre interfusion of cultures in Mexico City back in 2001. It was a hybrid of two hybrids!


Back to the delicious topic of this post: panellets. The dough is a twist on marzipan, concocted with sugar, lemon rind, almond meal and potato (or sweet potato).


The dough is generally rolled into little balls, however some variations require other shapes.


The balls are rolled in egg white, which serves as an adhesive, and then they're adorned with various goodies. The most common addition is pine nuts. We also used chocolate, cherries, coconut, crushed almond, and even made little mushroom shaped ones with chocolate sprinkles on the stems! Later the yokes of the eggs are used as a varnish to give them a nice golden brown color when they bake.


Fresh out of the oven, I got to try my first panellet! And let me tell you, they are delicious! I'd never tried anything remotely similar! I can't wait to break out the rest for our party this Sunday!


If anyone would like the full recipe, let me know! Happy Halloween, All Saints' Day, Day of the Dead and any combination of the three!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

4 Stories: Childhood Games

A few weeks ago, my dear friend Megan introduced me to a really cool group blog series called 4 Stories which was started on one of my new favorite blogs to follow: Freckled Nest. Every week, she writes four random stories about a given topic, and then encourages readers to do the same in their blogs. Enjoy mine and feel free to link to your own, or even just share them in the comments!

1. Team Green

Though I lived in a pretty rural area, I was fortunate enough to have somewhat of a subdivision with just enough children to form a play group. Lucky for us, our elementary school playground was practically in our back yards, so most of our mischief was dealt there.

One Sunday, a few of us decide to make our rounds. We were shocked and utterly disgusted to find that someone had defaced our playground. Toilet paper littered the entire lot!


An unprecedented sense of moral obligation surged through each of us simultaneously. It was up to us to clean up this mess. And when we did, we would be heros! The principal would surely declare a national holiday in our honor! We rushed to my house, explained the situation to my mother (who was most likely supportive in her ambivalent sort of way), grabbed some garbage bags and swiftly got to work. Neither of us had ever felt so proud. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure I've felt prouder to this day! You know, kids just feel stronger.

The quality of this camera's photos are so bad I can't even tell which is me!

Outrageously, we never did get our holiday. You see, we hadn't really thought the whole thing out. Since the vandalizing had occurred over the weekend, and we cleaned it up before the week started, nobody on the staff had gotten to experience the mess first hand. With the two giant garbage bags full of evidence already resting in some landfill somewhere, our principal surely must have thought we were exaggerating. We rest assured however, because we had been clever enough to take photographs! Too bad the attention span of a fourth grader is marginally shorter than the time it took to develop film in those days. I think in a way we all kind of learned a lesson that day. Don't do the right thing, because nobody will care.

2. It's Morphin' Time

When I was little, my four cousins and I were inseparable. One of our all time favorite and most frequently played games was Power Rangers. We would all fight over which color ranger to portray. Shelly, being the oldest of the two sisters, naturally got to be the pink ranger every time. Ginny was stuck with the yellow one.

We would often take the game to the aforementioned playground. We would climb on the "fort" (shown in the above photo), which had the magical capability of transforming into anything from Ariel's under the sea palace to Zordon's Command Center. We swore that if we jumped from the highest point, we became a streak of whatever color we were wearing, just like a teleporting ranger. We would take turns calling out our respective dinosaur and leap off to find our foe, all of us, that is, except for Ginny.

Ginny was a fragile and somewhat... clumsy child. She would typically shout out her zord and then slowly make her way down the adjacent ladder. Well, one day, in what I wouldn't particularly call my most proud moment, I got tired of Ginny throwing off the whole effect. "Morph, Ginny!" I probably yelled as I pushed her off the edge. Even the other kids seemed to think I'd done wrong as they tried to calm down my cousin, sobbing and with a mouth full of sand.

Shelly and I passed out, probably due to a long day of kicking Putty ass!

3. Magic Carpet Ride

Another glorious past time I shared with Shelly and Ginny was putting on first-rate plays and musical numbers for our parents. We would practice all day long and then hold our premier in the living room later in the evening when our parents were just buzzed enough to feign interest. One of the best productions we ever put on was our rendition of Aladdin. Our version, not surprisingly, had two Princess Jasmines!

The early stages of rehearsal often involved a little R&D. We were pretty bright children, and were one hundred percent determined on creating awe-inspiring scenery and special effects. Unfortunately, sometimes, the logistics did not work out in our favor. Like in the case of the magic carpet scene. How can you adequately suspend a blanket (representing the carpet) in the air so that it will support the weight of two eight year olds? Short answer: YOU CAN'T. Don't try. Don't try tucking one end under the mattress of the top bunk and then tying the other end to a floor lamp! Don't try supporting one corner with a ceramic utensil holder that weighs five pounds at best! You will break shit and you will get in trouble!

4. Awesome Science Genius Kids

Again, in elementary school, when it was too cold to go outside for recess, we would play in the classrooms. A new show called Awesome Science Genius Kids* had become extremely popular with the student body almost overnight and it was the only thing the cool kids were playing. We would all hover around the sink, the area of the classroom which most resembled a laboratory, and we would take turns saying "smart things".

One lunch hour, after a particularly awesome imagination session, on what could have been Chicken Patty day, so I'm going to say that it was. Because those rocked. Especially when you drenched them in ranch dressing. I miss ranch dressing. I digress, big time. So anyway, this kid Shawn showed me a plastic test tube he had gotten out of a home chemistry set. He had brought it in and filled it with water and I thought it was like the best idea ever, because the characters on our favorite show played with test tubes and beakers and stuff all the time! My brain began to tick. I had a chemistry set! I could bring in a test tube! I could be even cooler and put something colorful in it like juice or Kool-Aid so that it looked like a real life, top secret, hazardous chemical! Yeah!

Somehow I must have known that I was doing something wrong, because I remember hiding the orange juice-filled test tube on my way to school. I whipped it out at lunch time and received the exact level of acclaim I'd anticipated. And then I had one of those dumb, clumsy, kid moments. My test tube was not made out of plastic, but glass. And then it was made of a million tiny, little pieces lying in a puddle of OJ on the cafeteria floor. And then I had the death grip of the principal yanking me to her office to scold me—wait, you know what? I'm angry now! Did I really do anything wrong here? Grownups are SO uptight!

*The name of the show was not "Awesome Science Genius Kids". In fact, I'm not even sure there was a show like this at all anymore. I spent literally three hours this morning googling and tracing the lineups of every TV network only to come up empty handed. I believe one of the main characters was a redheaded boy. Circa 1993. Does anyone remember this show? AM I CRAZY?

UPDATE: It was called The Tomorrow People. Another hour of searching did the trick!

So, I hope you enjoyed my four stories! They got a bit lengthy, heh? Don't forget to share your own and to check out other contributions!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Labyrinth Park of Horta

One of the less famous attractions in the city is the Parc del Laberint d'Horta. I have wanted to see this place since over a year ago when David and I watched The Perfume and he pointed out the many surreal and breathtaking locations that were shot in Barcelona. Naturally, the scenery has been heavily edited, but just look at this clip! (I didn't realize it was dubbed in Spanish until the DVD was ripped, converted and imported into iMovie, my apologies!)


video

If you're looking for a little whimsy, this park is an excellent resource. The neoclassical and romantic gardens are part of an estate that belonged to a family called Desvalls until it was donated to the city in 1967. Prior to this, it had been the host to many social and cultural events, including open-air theater performances.

The Desvalls palace

The real gem of the park, for me, is the stunning cypress maze, which is the source of the park's name. What child doesn't dream of playing in a real life labyrinth! Seriously! Don't you just love those rare moments when you get to cross one of those "things to do before I die" off your list?


The maze is actually big enough to get you lost! I think the best part is passing other adventurers going in a direction you've already learned is a dead end. Watch for exchanged sinister smiles as you pass other folks, they are telling.


That, my friends, is the face of someone who already knows the way through the maze and is about to dash off leaving his poor, unknowing lover to fend for himself!


To be honest, the labyrinth was the only reason I wanted to visit, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how much more the park has to offer. The maze spits you out at tiered terrace which overlooks the park. Behind the central pavilion on the highest terrace is a pond which draws its water from a natural source.


Once you've successfully made it to the pavilions, from there you can take any of several trails that lead you through the rest of the park. Some will lead you through the woods where you'll find babbling brooks and waterfalls. Fountains and beautiful sculptures are placed strategically throughout.

Others will take you to flower gardens that seem to never end.


You'll be taking pseudo-artistic macro shots until your arms want to fall off.


I fell in love with this place and was so inspired by students from the nearby university who had planted themselves all over the gardens to study or read. I definitely plan to return. And if you ever come visit me, I'd definitely love to take you!


Oh yeah, it should be noted that these photos are all actually from July. Whoops! Better late than never!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Everything's Cheaper in Andorra

I'm going to try to get myself in the habit of writing daily. NaNoWriMo can be especially difficult if you're not used to writing when you're not "in the mood". As demonstrated by the intense neglect of this blog over the past couple months, I'm never in the mood. I don't have any unique ideas today, so I'm going to reflect on a trip we took back in August with David's parents and uncle. Super early one morning, we all hopped in the car and journeyed to a magical land called...


Andorra is a tiny little country wedged in the Pyrenees Mountains on the eastern side of the French/Spanish border. I mean, it's literally crammed into the mountains. Walking through the streets of its capital, Andorra la Vella, might even make you a little claustrophobic as no matter where you are or what way you're facing, the street you're on seems to end a few blocks ahead of you with a slab of mountain.


When I said tiny, I mean tiny. The entire country is roughly the size of Delaware. The population is in the 80 thousands and there is only one University. But more interesting than its size, are its prices. Andorra is virtually a giant Duty Free shop. If you saw the price for which we bought some staple items (like vodka and cigarettes), you might even wee yourself a little bit. "Tourists" flock to the country to stock up on electronics, perfumes, tires, and anything else their hearts desire. The only "tourist" activity I saw in action was the most common: shopping. David's parents scored a Nintendo DS XL for his brother. David I got finally found a reasonably priced sound system for our iPods. It was a good spree.

David looking cute!

The city was beautiful and so unique. As we made our way across Cataluña, I began to expect the capital to look like any one of the many decent sized villages that we passed. The ridiculously close proximity to the steep mountain slopes and totally unique mishmash of architecture were a pleasant surprise!

Dali sculpture!

Before this trip, I had heard of Andorra in passing, perhaps in a geography class, but I didn't really have any idea what it was like. I would love to spend more time there some day, as I'm sure there are many more things to do! The only bummer is that not only is Catalán spoken there (along with Spanish and French), but it is the official language of the country! There's no containing this thing!


The steep slopes can also be nasty. We parked the car in a mall parking garage for the day, the entrance to which was your average, street-level entrance. After pulling out of the separate exit, we all literally screamed at the sight before us. I swear the car was at a 45 degree angle as David's dad inched us down the most horrifying three-story ramp any of us had seen in our lives. All in all, though, it was a great way to spend time with the family!

Elvis cow!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Autumn Indoors

I think pretty much everybody has a favorite season. I think artists, especially, have a certain time of year they spend the rest of the year looking forward to, a season that brings them more inspiration than the rest. Since I can remember, I've been undecided between Summer and Autumn. Summer has the sun, the beach and its long, warm nights. Fall has, well, fall fashion, bonfires, Halloween, and the most vibrant scenery of all the seasons. I'm particularly fond of the latter, which is why the arrival of fall this year has me a little bummed out.

I was recently stunned to learn that Barcelona is latitudinally comparable to Southern Massachusetts. The Mediterranean climate, however, prevents the leaves from ever actualizing their exquisitely colorful potential. Instead, we just get a sort of dull brown-green shade sprinkling the parks and lining the streets (in addition to the always green palms that are perhaps more abundant to begin with).


This morning I woke up to a bit of a mess that I don't plan on cleaning up anytime soon. For the Halloween party that David and I threw in Columbus last year (in September, mind you), we bought a pack of fake autumn leaves. David was so in love with them that he took them back to Spain with him. When we unpacked the Halloween decorations this year, he spread the leaves all over the table. Naturally, with a kitten in the house, they wound up littering the floors of just about every room.

It's amazing that I didn't even ASK him to pose for these.

Anyway, it seems pretty trifle, but since I spend so much time alone in my apartment these days, it's nice to have one of my favorite parts of the outdoors come inside. It's amazing how something so simple can bring so much joy and inspiration!

Oh! Why am I alone in my apartment these days? David got a job! Sorry I haven't mentioned that yet, I just don't really believe in posts that solely consist of "this happened". Boring.

So anyway, that's what happened! (o_O)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bombings, Whirlwinds and Cheerleaders

Let me begin with a dream I had last night.

I was back at my alma mater: Central Michigan University. I was in a computer lab in one of the quads, working fervently on a generic essay when BOOM! There was a huge explosion. The Towers residence halls had been blown up. Strangely, nobody around me was in a state of shock. The second round of bombings brought down the library and a few other buildings, yet everyone remained calm. "Nobody would blow up this quad," everyone kept reassuring me. I went along with it.

Look at THOSE mad Photoshop skills!

Then the third round struck; I wasn't feeling so assured. I made my way to a courtyard in between residence halls. Someone I was with pointed down to a dorm on the first floor and said, "That's Heather Morris' dorm, did you know she went here?"

"Yeah," I replied, and suddenly I realized why we were safe in that quad; who would blow up the amazing Brittany from Glee?


I've been having many oddly dramatic dreams lately. A lot of them involve tornados, which according to various online (and therefore not the most reliable) dream dictionaries, signal abrupt, life-altering changes. Well, yeah...

The absurd thing about these dreams is that I consistently remain calm through the most terrifying experiences. I attempt to interpret most of them, and often think my findings somewhat accurate.


Have you had any rememberable dreams lately? Do you ever try to find meaning in them? Do you even believe in meaning behind dreams?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cleaning up Nature's Mess

Over the past week, Spain has witnessed some crazy weather. Floods have devastated several communities. Barcelona and other places that didn't see quite that much rain have been smitten with destructive winds.

The wind really got out of hand the night before last. We could here it rattling who knows what all night long. Not long after waking up, a huge gust flew in through the door we keep cracked so that the cat has access to his litter box. Across the room, a frame that holds some awesome Buffy artwork from my cousin Shelly instantly fell from where it had been leaning against the wall. David tried to carefully remove it from where it teetered on the edge of the cabinet, but a large shard fell from the frame, smashing on the floor below it.

The letter S was the unfortunate one

We quickly closed the door before anything else could be destroyed... inside the apartment, at least.

Before I came to Spain, David attached some privacy panels all along the railing of our terrace.

See the yellow things there?

Just fifteen minutes after the cleanup of our first little disaster, David watched as the wind ripped one of these panels from the railing. We called his parents, with whom we were to be meeting shortly, in order to delay our plans. We used the ties that had "secured" the panel to reinforce the remaining three.

After lunch we headed to the store where both victims had been purchased. On the way, we passed our apartment and noticed that, CRAP, another panel had broken. We purchased two of the thicker and hopefully much stronger alternative, and headed back to the apartment, where, CRAP, a third had bit the dust.

David is busy prepping for an interview tomorrow, and the wind hasn't completely resided, so we haven't gotten the new panels up yet. As we live on the seventh floor, our cat is now quarantined in the house. We just don't feel all that confident in his... er... astuteness, and believe it would be a matter of hours before curiosity quite literally killed the cat. His litter box remains on the balcony, where we've put the best barrier we could craft to prevent him from going beyond it. He can still jump it, though, so he has to be constantly monitored during potty time. He's great at cueing us to let him out with his not-so-subtle whining/meowing. The only problem is that most of the time he wants to go out, it's not to go to the bathroom, but rather, to annoy us. What is it with cats and closed doors?

Overwhelmed with the money we had to spend on replacing damaged goods, and the time we've spent and have yet spend resolving the matter, I said to David, "You know what? I really don't mind taking care of problems that I caused, or problems that you caused, or even problems that the cat caused... but dealing with shit that the WIND caused? That's just not tolerable." Seriously. Thanks a lot, wind!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Celebrating the Bad Times

Today is a special anniversary for David and me. One year ago, he left. The longest nine months of our lives started on that day.

This is the last photo I have of David in America.


I kinda get sick to my stomach just thinking about that awful day. Even the day before was brutal. I remember being in the car together on our way to Easton Town Center for our personal last supper. The sun began to set, it dawned on me that when it rose again, it would be time to say goodbye. I started crying, but hastily stopped since tears are a serious hazard.


There was a sort of peace about the way we attempted to happily reminisce over two giant margaritas. It was a sad calm, the calm of knowing your fate and not having the capacity to process the adequate emotions, leaivng you with little or no emotions to express at all. It was a pleasant evening, and a brief one.


The next morning was intense. It was all about the mission: getting to the airport on time. Our fragile minds had to focus on the only thing we actually had control over. Saying goodbye to Megan prompted the first tears of the morning. I didn't expect her to be so emotional. I know she would miss "the D", but I think that in that moment she was also just overcome by our grief.

We emerged to the first morning frost of the season. David sat in the warming car while I stepped out to scrape the windshield. I etched a heart in the thin layer of ice just in front of his face. It was about then we both lost it. I did my best to hold in as much of it as I could until arriving safely to the airport.

The airport was a nightmare. I bought us each a pack of cigarettes. Ten minutes later I bought us each a pack of kleenex. We had arrived pretty early, so there was plenty of time to weep and cause a scene. Each minute that passed was torture, but one we were both willing to hold onto for as long as possible. When it came time for him to go through the gate, we stood and lingered. We embraced and kissed, embraced and kissed, stuck in a loop, stubbornly rejecting the followthrough, a silent protest to the cruel and inevitable outcome. Out of nowhere, I released him. I let him walk alway. I honestly cannot tell you HOW I did this, I do not know where this strength came from, as every part of my body and heart was yelling at me not to let go. But I did. And he disappeared beyond the checkpoint. I moved swiftly to the elevator, afraid of catching another glimpse of him.

Wow, I've been crying just in recounting this story. Sure it's depressing, but at least it's historically accurate! I suppose I wanted to write about this because I never really recorded it any other way. I think it's important to remember everything that we went through together in order to truly appreciate what we have today. As human beings we take so much for granted. But right now, reflecting on the worst day of my life, which happened exactly one year ago today, I'm definitely not taking him for granted. Yay! We made it through!