Jumping over the hurdles…

I have to say that in all of my talk about success and failure if I had to pick one this week, I would have to go with success. I attempted several things I had not done before and while not all came out as my goal intended, the fact that I tried made them a triumph to me. It’s days like these I need to remember to reflect back on during those times when I feel like I’m just floundering. And those times of despair will happen again – I just need to remember that there are more pros than cons to being here.

So my week hasn’t been super eventful but it’s been good. For those that know me, you know that the food here was and has been a little bit of a challenge for me. That doesn’t mean that I’m not eating – most definitely I am. But I’m eating the same things over and over again essentially. However I’ve actually tried a number of new foods and enjoyed them. That’s a big step for me! But when I go to the grocery store, while I’m able to walk thru a lot faster now because I’m becoming familiar with the brands, many are not the brands (ok the majority) that I’m accustomed to. And I’m the kind of girl that when it comes to my food, am very brand conscious. I do think Skippy tastes different than Jif and I dare anyone to tell me otherwise! By the way, they have neither here so at some point I may need to try the Spanish brand. Thank god I shipped 5 large jars of peanut butter here – at least that will last me a while! Anyways, so I decided at the end of last week that I would start attempting to cook. Yes, you read it here… Julie is going to cook.
Many of you know all about my culinary skills. Though I should point out, the lack of culinary skills. My specialty – lasagna or spaghetti. Purdue chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, baked chicken with Italian seasoning on it… umm….ummm… I think that may be it. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Poor Josh enjoys cooking and just isn’t here enough to do it and I’m just a mess in the kitchen. For 15 years he’s been telling me we have this thing called a timer in our kitchen and I should consider using it. Eh…what for???

So I put together my list of ingredients and their Spanish equivalent when I went to the store at the end of last week. My goal this week is 2 things – pancakes from scratch (and I don’t mean Bisquick as I’ve already used my Bisquick mix that I shipped!) and my own spaghetti sauce. So right from the first moment, I’m at an impasse. Not all of my ingredients are readily available here. Now, I may not be a cook but I do know that when cooking, unlike baking, there is some wiggle room as far as the type of ingredients and their quantity. I just figure I’ll wing this. I’ll follow the instructions as best I can and let’s just hope for something edible.
First on my list – pancakes. I know, I know… this isn’t brain surgery right? I follow the instructions to a T. Ok, I missed the vanilla but how necessary can ½ teaspoon be right? Apparently important because they came out a little rubbery and tasteless. Josh said they just needed more sugar. I think I need to find a different recipe for pancakes – feel free to send one along if you have it.

Second on my list – tomato sauce. I’m a pasta addict. But I’m very particular about my sauce. I by no means make my sauce at home. I take it from the jar and that’s just fine with me. It’s easy, it tastes good…it works for me. Unfortunately I’m not very impressed with the jar stuff here. So I asked my friend Sue for her

recipe since I’ve had her sauce and liked it. Took one look at it and moved it to the bottom of the pile (sorry Sue) – looks too complex for a first timer. I need to work up to that one.  
So I went on to foodnetwork.com and found myself a nice, simple recipe. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ellie-krieger/easy-tomato-sauce-recipe/index.html Looks easy to me. Off I go to the grocery store to collect my ingredients. Oh oh…no tomato paste. Hmmm…not at this store either. Ok, looks like in addition to vanilla, tomato paste will also be something hard to find here. Knowing that it gives the sauce a bit more flavor I figure I probably should have it but I can probably do without. I’ll just sub with a can of pure tomato sauce instead. Yeah…that didn’t work. It definitely affected the consistency. It doesn’t taste bad, it’s actually somewhat better than the jar stuff…but it’s a bit (ok a lot) on the thin side. I also found it strange that my yellow onion was actually a red onion on the inside??? Not sure why that was. So I’ll try it again next week. Oh and I tried to add pepper only the pepper that Josh bought is peppercorns, which is fine in the US because to my knowledge if you buy most peppercorns in the US, they come in their own pepper mill. Yeah not so much here. So I have peppercorns and no mill. Which means no pepper in my sauce either.

0-2 now in the cooking department. I have a few on my list for next week – I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. And I may attempt the sauce thing again too. I’m thinking pizza dough and perhaps mac n cheese. I also saw this really yummy looking pear appetizer (that I could then translate into a tapas) that required blue cheese (I’ve seen that here) but also requires apple cider (which I have not seen) so we’ll see if I can get all the ingredients for that.

That was Monday. Again, adventurous in the kitchen (for me) but not so adventurous outside. I am learning that if I need to go to the store and I don’t know what it’s called in Spanish it’s good to write the translation next to the item on the list. Josh brought home vanilla sugar one day thinking it was salt. I probably would have made the same mistake. I’ll need to find a use for that vanilla sugar at some point too…
Tuesday I decided to make another attempt at making my blackberry work here. I think it might just be a Spain thing that it doesn’t work all the time. I can get calls… I can get emails (most of the time but at least once a day need to turn the phone on and off to reset the email)…. I can get texts. But for some reason I can very rarely get on the internet and I can’t get any downloaded programs, like my translator (essential) to work. The Bright Store which is an English speaking cell store once again couldn’t really help me…you know, unless I wanted to spend 300€ on a Spanish blackberry (I’m using Josh’s blackberry from the US with a Spanish SIM card – mine was not an international one). Um…not really.

Feeling a little put down from the lack of success at the cell store, though I found it quite easily which was good, I decided to take a walk and see if we could find the Godiva which I knew shouldn’t be too far from where Liam and I were. So we walked til we found it. However, was slightly disappointed that they don’t carry the same selection and seem to have an extraordinary amount of praline flavored chocolate. Praline not being my favorite. In her broken English (much better than my very broken Spanish) she explained that the US has different production that Europe. Makes sense. I bought some chocolate just the same and am a happy camper.

Since I managed to pull off getting chocolate I was feeling pretty confident now and decided to walk down towards Placa de Catalunya to El Cortes Ingles (never ended up making it to the store). This place is supposed to be like Macy’s (only not as nice) but is something like 7 floors. And supposedly they carry American/English items. I’m there. But I had to stop for lunch on my way with Liam. I’ll be honest, I’m getting sick of croissants and didn’t want to stop at a pastry shop to get him one. But most restaurants don’t open for lunch until after 1 or 2 here. I did go into a Haagen Daaz like none other I’d been into in order to get Liam a water. It had comfortable booth seating and they had a sign for this chocolate fondue that looked like it was to die for. From what I could gather from the picture (because that’s how I read these days – it’s like being in preschool), they give you mini balls of ice cream that you dip in the fondue. Yeah, I’ll be going back there to do that one night!

Since I really wanted a meal for Liam we continued on down the street til I saw this place advertising frankfurts (hot dogs) and churros con chocolate. Cristy had mentioned I should go in anywhere that advertises these churros with chocolate because I must try them. Ok, so let’s try that. The place was called Happy Bar and Restaurant. Yes, that is the Spanish name – can you tell they cater to tourists? It appears to be like the TGI Fridays of Spain…quality stuff. They had both an English and Spanish menu which was helpful. What wasn’t helpful was the waitress who hated us from the moment we walked in. Keep in mind this is the FIRST time I have gone into a restaurant on my own without another adult – other than a pastry shop where I can just point to what I want and hand over my money. As I’ve mentioned before restaurants here are not like those at home. This is a leisurely process. However, this was a little too leisurely for me.

Upon our seating (ourselves because that’s what it looked like to me), I immediately asked for a leche frio (cold milk… most milk here is room temp or else for small children they heat it). 20 mins later, still waiting for my cold milk for Liam. Another 10 or so go by and I think, this isn’t so much leisurely as she hates us. She finally comes over and I order a pizza and a salad and a water for me. But wait it gets better. I can’t open the water. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a glass bottle so my thought is one of two things – twist cap or bottle opener. I try and try in vain to twist the cap. Nothing. Ok, I’ve got a college education… I can beat this bottle of water and become victorious. At home, I may even joke with the waiter and say, hey, how do I open this??? Here, I have absolutely no idea how to joke with her much less ask how do I open this? I know abrir is to open but I don’t know how to ask How do you open? If I just say abre, I feel like I’m being demanding and saying…Open this. So I sit there thirsty…

Our food finally comes and Liam’s not thrilled with the pizza. To be honest, it’s just ok. Not horrible…I’ve had worse. But ok. I eat my salad and try to convince him to eat his pizza. When Liam is lying on his side of the booth with his feet on the table I take this as a signal that he is now done with this meal and wants to move on. Another 10 mins and I finally spot our waitress and ask for the check. All in all, I thought it went pretty well. We were fed and no one suffered any major trauma. Oh and I brought the water back to the flat and when Cristy came by I asked her… how do you open this. Turns out it’s a pull tab – kind of like you would have on a plastic sports bottle type of water. Whoever heard of a pull tab on a glass bottle? Yeah I felt foolish. But at least it was in the comfort of my own home that I felt that way!

I’m going to call Tuesday my best day here yet just because I tried new things on my own that I wasn’t comfortable with. It was a rush to go in somewhere and while not feeling comfortable per se, felt that I could get the job done somehow. I also met Jami (Sven’s wife) and Sidney (Tristan’s wife) on Tuesday afternoon. So I’m slowly making more friends here.

I had actually been emailing with Jami for the last week and so it was nice to meet her on Tuesday before I was actually supposed to meet her on Wednesday. Weds Liam and I met up with Jami and Gina (another VP wife) who have both been here for 2 years. They were both incredibly nice and we had nice easy conversation which was great. We went up to Parc Guell which is just north of here… like uphill. Yeah, my tush is going to be in great shape when I get home. Pushing Liam (who’s 30 lbs) in his stroller straight uphill. I’m sore today to say the least! Parc Guell isn’t your traditional park though it has some of what you might consider walking trails. There is lots to see like a few buildings that were designed by Gaudi and one that he lived in. It was a beautiful place and Liam enjoyed running around. The challenge being that there were no barriers and as we continued to go up and up, the drop became higher and higher and it wasn’t like it was a hill you would roll down if you fell – these were just drops. Like 20+ foot drops. Some onto rocks. Try keeping a 2 year old away from the edge. Yeah right! But it was absolutely beautiful!

Entrance to the park                   What you see when you enter               Gaudi’s house

The view of Tibidabo from Parc Guell                           Jami and Liam walking up to the best view area
                                                                                         (notice no railings)
View from the top – gorgeous!                                       Liam and I at the top – 20 ft drop behind him
  
 Jami & Liam at the top              Not sure what this is but it’s cool           Jami & Liam beating up the
                                                                                                                 “monsters” he “found”
Liam & I at the bottom of the stairs… watch out for the dragon!

After Parc Guell it was time to start heading back to get Aidan. I had told Jami about my fear of the commuter rail (called the FGC here) and the bus. Mainly because I hadn’t taken them and was unsure of the process compared to the metro which I feel pretty comfy on by now. She had kindly offered to take me as close to the school before she had head off on her own. Only she and Gina forgot what it was like to have a 2 year old in tow with his stroller.

So when we are in the grocery store (an unexpected but pleasant stop since it’s near me and about 3x larger than the store I now go to) and I said, you know, I’ve got to be at the school in a ½ hour, are we good on time? And she said yes… well I trusted her. And why shouldn’t I? I’d do it again. And if we didn’t have Liam with us, we may have made it. So we managed to get on the FGC and I asked Gina the time – 3:35. Shit, Aidan gets out of school at 3:45 and I still need to get to the FGC to the bus and then walk two blocks after that. So I told them, you know, you helped me conquer the FGC, let’s just find me a cab when we get off because I don’t have time to figure out the bus and then walk because I’m already late. Thankfully, I got there right when other parents were doing their pick ups too.  Wednesday was probably my busiest day I have had here so far.

Because after our trip to Parc Guell and then to pick up Aidan, we had our first playdate here. How fantastic! This little girl, Isa, is in Aidan’s class. She reminds me a lot of Lindsey who lives across the street from us at home. And the two of them just hit it off on the first day of school and the mom was the one that totally took me under her wing that first day (go back to the entry about the café after the first day of school). I met up with the au pair at BFIS when picking up Aidan. She’s a lovely girl here for 9 months before she gets married and starts grad school. And you could see how excited Aidan was to go to Isa’s. The best part for me?? We had to take the bus. Now not only did I take the FGC on Wed, I took the bus too. The best part for Big Kid? A playdate with a new friend.

The playdate was a little different from home because they have an au pair and it was expected that she would watch all the kids, including Liam and the adults (there was another mom with her son) were in the formal library (which I think was almost as big as my whole flat) where drinks and cookies were served. We had great conversation and laughed a lot. But the atmosphere overall was very different from what I am used to at home. Not good or bad, just different.

I didn’t realize where the time was going and before you know it, it was almost 7 and my kids haven’t had dinner yet. I don’t know that Aidan and Liam will ever make it late enough for a Spanish dinner…perhaps in the summer when it’s light out later. But normally they are in bed by 7:30 / 8. We didn’t even get home til 7:40. Oh and it was my date night that I was looking forward to. Only now I’m exhausted and still need to feed the kids, get them ready for bed and fix myself up. The last didn’t really happen. But thanks to Cristy and Shawn (thanks guys!) Josh and I got to go out last night which was fabulous. However, we are old and pathetic and were home by around 10:30. Meanwhile we didn’t leave here til almost 8:30. Every restaurant I’ve been to has been leisurely…except the one we went to last night. It doesn’t matter. We had a few great hours of non kid related conversation and that was worth it! We really need to find a regular sitter here so we can do that more often. It’s on my list of things to do. We hung out with Shawn and Cristy for another hour or so when we got back and it was so nice just relaxing with other adults.

And before I sign off for now, I also found out while we were chatting with Shawn and Cristy last night that yes, in fact, Ricky Schroeder’s kids go to Aidan’s school. See I was right…that was Ricky Schroeder I saw back in November (if you don’t know what I’m talking about go to my Nov entry regarding our discovery trip). Well.. I’m feeling a bit on the crappy side today and must save my energy for girls night today. Will update in the next few days to let you know about any more mis-adventures going on here.

Julie

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