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.

The perks of last—as in previous—generation consoles

When this year started I shared some ongoing self-improvement plans and, although posts on science or language have been published, there’s not much on the third group, apart from books. Let’s talk about video games.

Plenty to choose from [picture]

Plenty to choose from [picture]

PlayStation 4 is turning 1 next Saturday and I bought a PlayStation 3 a couple of weeks ago. So, PS4 exists and I’m buying PS3? Exactly. I’m never really up to date with consoles. In fact, Nintendo DS and PSP are my current portable consoles, even though Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita were released a while ago. Even some PS2 games are still waiting for me on the shelf…

Being a generation behind has some perks. To start with, prices have gone down and there’s a nice second-hand market because the rest of the world is replacing the old machine and games with the new ones. Additionally, the real potential of the consoles has been revealed —or neglected— and there’s the full range of games to choose from. You also learn to take life easy; there is neither pressure from new games nor shortage of them.

It won’t strike you as a surprise —after the 100 pages of my comic— that I’m playing Final Fantasy XIII. Gamer opinions apart, let me talk about its subtitles. If you understand both the voices (in English) and the text (in Spanish), don’t you get confused? The translation is quite free, which is not necessarily bad because without the voices it would work perfectly. However, I try to keep up with both and I listen to a conversation and read another one that moves the same way, but in a different fashion. Apparently, being a generation behind has no benefit against occupational psychosis.

Tour around Poland 2014: Traveller’s diary

Once again I leave the linguistic experience aside because we don’t talk about serious stuff on holidays. However, next time Poland shows up in the blog, its language will too.

Day 1: The plane lands in Warsaw, the capital, at midday. My first host shows me around the most touristic parts in the centre and I remember those three days I spent there four years before.

Days 2-4: As my host works a couple of days, other friends in the city tourist-sit me in parks and bars. Even so, I stay in one morning to put together a jigsaw puzzle of his flatmate. It’s a picture of the Pope John Paul II—what did you expect from a Pole?

Summer palace at Łazienki park [photo: Alexander Teglund]

Summer palace at Łazienki park [photo: Alexander Teglund]

Day 5: It’s Saturday and Polish night life awaits. It’s not that different from ours, except for prices and the moves. The international move—stepping to the sides ad eternum—is very popular there. With my waist all over the place and the colours of my body, I’m easily noticed and two sentences ensure me lots of conversations: Mówię po polsku (‘I speak Polish’) and Jestem z Barcelonii (‘I’m from Barcelona’).

Day 6: I use every single minute I can to sleep before taking the bus that takes me to Gdynia, at the seaside, in seven hours. My next friend welcomes me with a brief stroll in the neighbourhood to buy pizzas for dinner and we go to bed early.

Days 7 and 8: The most beautiful and important city of the Trójmiasto (‘tricity’) is Gdańsk, but I keep it as a reason to go back and spend my morning on the beach and my evenings walking around Gdynia.

Day 9: After a last morning in the sun, the train delivers me to Poznań in less than five hours. This time I’m adopted by a couple who take me to a stand of delicious hamburgers and show me the city under the moonlight—and specially the lamp posts.

Days 10 and 11: My step-fathers [no mistake here] keep me really busy. We visit shopping centres (they build one every other year), cycle to the lake (and spot a deer!), I ride a one-person roller coaster where I control the speed and… we go to a water park… in Poland!… from 9 to 11 p.m.! Surreal. All that and more in a day and a half, for on the second day I go back to Warsaw and last week’s club; it’s Friday.

Days 12-14: My last host want to share my custody with a friend, therefore on Saturday in the morning a bus takes us to Wroclaw for further walking and party. On the bad side, we miss the musical fountain on Sunday in the evening because some rookies try to have a nap and just wake up next morning.

Market square in Wroclaw [photo: Maciek Lulko]

Market square in Wroclaw [photo: Maciek Lulko]

Days 15-17: Back in Warsaw, I spend an evening by the river, cycle around the city at night and go up to the floors 40 of a hotel and the Pałac Kultury, which offer great views on the capital. I even delight my host with a Spanish omelette and Iberian ham one night and the next we have a barbecue. On the following day I arrive to Barcelona at midnight; and I thought it was hot in Poland…