Exotic food and Canadian eccentricities

Maybe exotic and eccentric are not words you can use when posting something in English on the Internet as somewhere a reader is bound to be familiar with whatever you describe. Well, humour me.

Let’s start with some food you can see on the supermarket shelves. On the left of the picture you can see polskie ogórki, that is, Polish pickles. This is not a fake caused by my Polish obsession; it’s a real picture. You can see French written on the jar because Canada includes all the languages in the country on their products, unlike, say, Spain [Yes, it’s personal; but it’s also true and against consumer rights]. Back to the picture, we can see pandeleche, which is a condensed version of the Spanish pan de leche, literally ‘milk bread’. There are also Maria biscuits, which are British, despite having written galleta Maria (also Spanish) on them.

The adjective exotic might be hyperbolic, but these come from far away for them

When you’re not in a rush, you take silly pictures

Food aside, on my way to work I saw more things than what I showed in my last post. Two of them deserve the spotlight. The stairs in the underground (which they forced me to call subway) were deadly to me. I firmly believe they are inverted —no hate speech here. I had always seen the tiles in the inner part and the anti-slip rough band at the edge of the steps. Not in Toronto. It took me a couple of weeks to master walking down the stairs safely.

On the other side, the smallest building is a skyscraper. See me taking the lift (which they forced me to call elevator) to go up to my flat (which they forced me to call apartment) on the 24th floor. The height of the buildings was not the issue (nor was being forced to use American words). What bothers me is that the last column has multiples of 4 (28, 24, 20, 16) and three prime numbers (11, 7, 3) without changing the number of buttons per line. Witchcraft? Close enough: superstition. For in Canada it’s highly unlikely to find a 13th floor. I bet your face right now resembles a Canadian socket:

Canadian sockets. Are they surprised or scared?

From the highest tower in Toronto

You might have noticed my absence for a few months. Or not. I was in Toronto performing a scientific study, which is hardly news. And you might be wondering… was it cold? You couldn’t care less about my research.

I asked myself the same question every morning. Luckily, the building in front of my apartment showed the temperature on a humongous light sign straight into my living room. So, before going out, I could decide whether to put on my extreme weather clothes or just a T-shirt with a thin jacket —when it was over 10 °C.

When I landed in Toronto on the 30th of January it wasn’t raining and snow was nowhere to be seen. But the following day everything went white. I started taking pictures, which is quite unusual. I decided to document the changes in the landscape during my three months there. See some of the results below.

My morning walk from February to April

The four first images alternated quite randomly for two months and only by the end of April could I take the last picture.

It was one kilometre from the bus to the laboratory. It never felt like a long walk, except for the day of the freezing rain. Freezing rain is rain that freezes when it touches any surface. Hence the whole floor of Toronto acquired a thin ice layer that was as beautiful as dangerous. See the blades of grass with an ice coating. Trees and urban furniture looked the same.

Subtle note on climate terminology

I guess you feel more like searching for pictures of freezing rain on Google now than reading my ramblings. So here is the link to make your task easier and next time I might explain the title of the post.

Vegan birthday to you!

The most faithful readers of this blog might have my birth date marked on your calendar. Or you might not. Anyway, this year my birthday party was vegan—almost.

Indeed, I’ve been mainly vegetarian for a couple of years. The modifier means that in festive dates I might eat a typical dish with meat and that I usually eat a can of tuna a week. I don’t consume dairy, but I do eat eggs. My reasons to be a vegetarian are a combination of the ones you can imagine.

It may seem a hard sacrifice, but variety and creativity have increased in my diet. Should you be curious about it, I started as a weekday vegetarian, which is a very good compromise to get the best of both worlds—like Hannah Montana.

Back to my birthday, the guests didn’t know about the vegan food. There are people with lots of prejudice and willing to mock those who don’t hurt anyone. However, nobody pays attention to the ingredients when the table is ready laid. Some won’t even notice that none of the ingredients of the pizzas and the cakes are of animal origin until they are told.

You won't miss the cheese, not its texture nor its flavour

You won’t miss the cheese, not its texture nor its flavour

In order to make a vegan pizza you can buy the dough or make it yourselves. You just need to pick ingredients excluding meat (fish meat is meat), eggs and cheese. Don’t you worry about cheese; there is vegan cheese. But instead of resorting to imitations, you can do what I do and spread hummus on the base before spreading tomato sauce. Toppings may include pepper, onion, fresh tomato, mushrooms… and don’t forget about spices and a trickle of oil.

The vegan cake is a bit more complex, but not too much. Mix 250 g of flour, 150 g of sugar, 1 packet of baking powder and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Stir and add a trickle of olive oil and 250 ml of soya drink. Keep stirring until you get an homogeneous dough. Let it settle for 30 min and put it in the oven (inside a mould, please). About 25 min at 170 °C should be enough.

To add flavour, use chocolate or vanilla soya drink. If you choose chocolate, you can melt black chocolate with almonds and add it to the dough. If you prefer vanilla, you can spread margarine and grated chocolate on it after baking. Nuts and cinnamon are always a nice addition, both before and after baking. These are basic tips with great results.

To keep focused on the theme, avoid placing a platter of cold meats between the pizzas. Nuts and crisps will fill the gaps in the table nicely—I forgot my crisps in the cupboard though… By the way, that almost in the lead of the article refers to a potato and spinach omelette (with 3 eggs) I did serve.

Catalonia inspires Poland

During my last trip to Poland and bearing in mind my nationality, I’ve noticed the Catalan presence in Marie Curie’s country.

There’s the old classic: people speaking Catalan in every city. We’re a few millions, but we travel a lot. Anyway, after running into a Catalan family in Reykjavik, a couple of Catalans in Polish capitals are not that surprising.

Moving to more interesting matters we find Catalan cuisine. First, they sell this bułka katalońska wieloziarnista, or ‘multigrain Catalan bun’; then, you can find a Romesco bar-restaurant. Don’t ask me about the bun. It’s probably just a fancy name. But romesco [pronounced ‘rumescu’] is the delicious traditional sauce for calçots—which deserve their own post.

The Catalan bun and Romesco restaurant through the dirty window of a bus

The Catalan bun and Romesco restaurant through the dirty window of a bus

Other cultural imports are these three books by Jaume Cabré: Głosy Pamano (English title: Voices of Pamano), Jaśnie pan (Honour) i Wyznaję (Confessions). Staying on the culture lines, Dalí stares at us from a guy’s bag.

Polish translations of books by Jaume Cabré

Polish translations of books by Jaume Cabré

Finally, it’s impossible to ignore the Barça T-shirts everywhere—not from other teams. A special one caught my eye, though. It was all yellow with the initials FCB below the four red stripes of the Catalan flag on the chest. However, one can’t manage to discretely take someone’s chest picture.

Dalí's characteristic mustache

Dalí’s characteristic mustache

Unexpected driving lessons

The weekend of the 15th of August, Sant Quintí de Mediona held it’s town festival. I knew I’d meet old friends and family and it’d be great fun. I also knew I’d get there by car, only not that I’d be alone in it…

Let’s call a spade a spade, Sant Quintí is not gracefully connected with public transport and I usually get a lift from someone going there. This time my father’s girlfriend was supposed to pick me up at Vilafranca after work. However, as I waited for her in the street, my phone rang.

Let's see what we've got here... [foto©: srgpicker]

Let’s see what we’ve got here… [foto©: srgpicker]

My father was coming for me. She had a breakdown three towns from Vilafranca. The plan was to locate her and they’d wait for the tow truck together while I’d drive on my own to Sant Quintí to have lunch with my family. The fact that I drive every other year didn’t seem to worry him.

After having the identity of the pedals reminded, I sat at the wheel, closed the door and inserted the key. Then I heard knocking on the window. My father was pulling air from his shoulder down to his waist. Focusing on the pedals I had forgotten about the belt.

I fastened my belt, turned the key, stepped on the clutch and shifted into first gear. Knocking on the window. Now he was turning the key… to the end—those tiny details. But now everything was checked. With the engine running for real, I shifted into first gear again and stepped on the gas. The car stayed still.

The window again and my father miming a lever; the handbrake. Jeez! All the stuff you need to do before actually driving! Don’t worry though—just like my father—everything run smoothly on the road.

A Pole and the Three Wise Men

After going on holidays to Madrid using New Year’s Eve as an excuse, a Polish friend visited me in Barcelona.

It wasn’t his first time here. Last November we visited the city on foot in four days. That time he learnt the details about the Castanyada; this time he experienced the Three Wise Men’s eve and day.

On his first trip, he overcame the confusion of reading signs in Catalan or Spanish that mixed with his French and his bit of Spanish. Moreover, he witnessed with horror how I spread oil and salt on his bread just to end up asking for more. So good does bread with oil taste that in Catalan there’s a song to ask for it.

King's cake and figurine

He found the King figurine in his dessert, so he had to wear the crown [picture by him]

The evening of the 5th of January is the time for the Three Wise Men’s parade. The Poles have Father Christmas and don’t put on a show for him. My friend was amazed by the display and the amount of people clogging the streets, as well as by the confetti and candy that rained on us and covered the floor in several layers.

On the 6th, even though without presents, we had lunch with my Catalan-speaking family. Aided by his French and Spanish, he grabbed some words to guess a context—just as I did in Poland. My sister provided the funniest moment of the meal with her face when she knew he lived in Warsaw. Do you know anything from Warsaw that you didn’t learn from WWII films? She neither.

That evening he and my brother tested their Spanish and English, respectively, in a conversation linguistically monitored by me. But they weren’t the only ones speaking languages. My guest used to ask me about the previous day or our plans for later in Polish. We even spent a morning walking the declensions of the Polish cases around the Gòtic neighbourhood.

It’s kind of cool to begin the year with some cultural exchange.