Sedimentality
Food (and wine) for thought. "Lees" is more.

Let’s talk about desserts. Specifically, Spanish desserts. And let’s do ourselves and not mention the f word (flan).

The first time I tried torrija was on the biggest “fat kid” excursion of my life: when I wandered the streets of San Sebastian and tried pintxo after pintxo after pintxo. Traditional pintxos–like tortilla and stuffed red pepper and anything topped with ham–and inventive, new-age pintxos, like sauteed chicken hearts, or foie gras with a black tea yogurt and freeze-dried berries. I was in a special place during that trip. Sigh.

It was during these wanderings that I first met torrija, a once-stale piece of bread that’s been soaked in milk overnight, spiced with cinnamon and honey other “secret things,” and then fried. I love French toast, but torrija takes the concept to another level.

If you can’t make it to the Basque country anytime soon, you can try your hand at torrija. Check out this recipe from The Guardian and this one from Spanish Food.com. It’s easy as pie. Well, toast. Or maybe pudding.

Most people probably think of Rioja or Sangria when considering the beverages of Spain, but I am on a mission to introduce the world to some of its lesser-known delicious drinks: from the incredibly affordable sparkling cava to the now-trendy (but super old school) vermut, the drink options in Spain are classic, yet exciting.

One of the more recent finds is the after-dinner drink Anis del Mono. I’m not a huge fan of anise-flavored drinks, like Sambuca or Fernet or Pastis, but the dulce Anis del Mono (they also make a seco) is special: sugary, sweet, with a licorice flavor that is neither bitter nor overpowering. It’s tasty stuff, my friends. And I almost always crave it after a delicious meal.

Anis del Mono was founded in 1870 in the beach town of Badalona, which is a quick train ride outside of Barcelona. There are many theories as to the name “Monkey Anise,” including a story that a pet monkey (shipped from the Americas, where the founding brothers had businesses) lived at the factory; another holds that the name and label (a monkey with a man’s face) is an ode to Darwin: the man on the label resembles Darwin himself and, according to some, the brothers chose this name to illustrate how “evolved” their brand of drink was. The third theory claims that the brothers were actually anti-evolutionists, and created the monkey/man as a caricature of Darwin.

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The classic (and rather strange!) Anis del Mono label.

The flavor profile of Anis del Mono is as fascinating as its etymological myths. The liquor is made from filtered water, refined sugar, and alcohol, and is distilled in copper stills from the 19th century. The sweet, syrupy drink is perfect as a digestivo, and also goes well with the tasty cakes of Catalunya (particularly the ones with pine nuts, like the Coca de Llavaneres and Sant Joan cakes). A visit to the factory is a fun and unique day trip while visiting Barcelona; make sure to also check out the hilarious statue of the Anis del Mono monkey/man, which is located on the beach.

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Behind the statue is the Anis del Mono factory. And in front? The beautiful beaches of Catalunya. 🙂

If you can’t make it out to Badalona, you can grab a bottle of Anis del Mono for about 7 euros at any grocery or convenience store. Pay close attention to the bottle, which has sides etched in a diamond pattern. A Catalan friend of mine said that as a child, he and his friends would use the empty bottles as “musical instruments” by running a stick along the side of the bottle. Que chulo.

Photos are from Anis del Mono via Facebook. 

Beer, lime juice, salt, peppers, and spices. If you think that sounds delicious, read on. If you don’t, read on anyway . . . and get yourself to the best Mexican bar you can find to try a michelada. I’m obsessed with these tasty drinks after a lifetime in California and three weeks in Mexico, and feel like shouting it from the rooftops.

Finding an “authentic” recipe for a michelada is as impossible as defining the recipe for a Bloody Mary: it’s personal, and everyone has an opinion. As a guideline, a michelada is a) beer-based, b) flavored with lime juice and spices, and c) served in salt-rimmed glass. There are a myriad styles: a clamato includes clam and tomato juice; a chelada is just lime juice and salt; a cubana includes Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, chili, and salt. The list goes on and on, I’m sure.

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My FAVORITE favorite? This tamarind michelada from a bar in Guanajuato.

 

Fun fact: the word “michelada” is a portmanteau of the phrase “mi chela helada,” which translates to “my cold beer” in Mexican slang. (“Chela” is slang for “beer” in Mexico.)

If you’re heading to Mexico, make sure that you know the typical michelada of the area: the preparation tends to vary by region.

Click here for a slideshow of photos from San Miguel de Allende, a photographer’s paradise, and here for an article on how tequila is made (plus a trip to the tequila capital, Jalisco).

 

There’s no such thing as a perfect getaway, but there is still a pressure that accompanies your vacation. While planning your next escape, keep these things in mind. You will arrive prepared and ready for whatever your idea of “perfect” is!

1. Decide what kind of trip you want

What are you looking for? Do you need to relax? Do you want to culture yourself? Are you there just to eat, eat, eat? The expectations you have for the trip will determine the activities you plan, the area in which you stay, and even the clothes that you pack.

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Lost in the streets of a big city like Genova . . . or wandering the vineyards of Tuscany? You decide.

2. Learn the layout of the city

Location, location, location. Knowing what type of vacation you want will determine where you stay. Are you looking for nightlife? Consider the young, hip areas. Do you need some downtime? Stay far away from said young, hip areas. Are you planning on visiting a lot of cultural sites and museums? Place yourself close to the main ones.

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A country stay? Awesome . . . unless you have a long list of “must-sees” that are in the city center.

3. Consider a walking tour (yeah, really)

A walking tour on your first morning in a city is an excellent way to learn the lay of a place (and a little history). True, guides can get kickbacks for sending you to certain restaurants, etc., but so can the hotel concierge or even the owner of the apartment you rent on Air B n B. Offer to take the guide out to lunch or for a drink and he or she will probably recommend a place that they personally love.

First day in Spain? Our guide took us to a place that served snails that were DELICIOUS. Would we have tried them otherwise? Maybe. But they were tasty from this corner bar.

First day in Spain? Our guide took us to a place that served snails that were DELICIOUS. Would we have tried them otherwise? Maybe. But they were tasty from this corner bar.

4. Account for transport expenses (and time)

Getting around a city can be expensive. When planning your trip, take this into account! If you are planning on saving some money by using public transport, it’s not a bad idea to learn the city’s metro and/or bus systems before you arrive. And by “learn,” I mean “download a few pics to your iPhone” of the routes near your neighborhood.

Bella is happy with the public transport in Europe . . . but navigating the rules for pets in each country was tough at first.

Bella gives the European transport system two paws up.

5. Work around the “must-sees”

The museums you must see, the places you simply must eat . . . these will nearly all operate on a certain time schedule or be closed on certain days. Know this ahead of time. You don’t want to miss seeing something because of poor planning!

That being said, get to know neighborhoods, not attractions. (See #8).

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The charming neighborhoods of Buenos Aires were more memorable than any tourist attraction we saw.

6. Factor in wait time

Remember that a trip to any major tourist attraction is exhausting: even just getting there can be daunting, and if it’s a popular attraction, there WILL be a wait. Factor this in, my friends.

Are you buying your tickets online? Awesome. But keep in mind that even the pre-purchased ticket line can be a looooong wait. See #Paris #MuseeDorsay.

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If you’re traveling to a place like Italy or Spain, where the mid-day nap is sacred, factor this in to your planning. Most of the shops will be closed during this time anyway!

7. Pencil in down time

We have the best of intentions when jam-packing our activities into the short time we have in a city, but be realistic. You need your rest! Don’t be a cranky tourist.

8. Leave room for exploring

A schedule packed from sun-up to sun-down with activities? That’s alright . . . for a day or two. But what about the side streets? The adorable boutiques? The street vendor whose goods you simply must sample? These are the things that make a trip memorable. Leave room for them! Go explore. Get lost. Get really, really lost.

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“I have no idea where we are going, but I want to go there with you.”

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Lost in Tuscany? A horrible idea, I know.

9. Leave room (in your suitcase) for shopping

Speaking of leaving room . . . leave room in your suitcase for all those trinkets you’ll pick up. And when considering trinkets and souvenirs, think outside of the box: you might not use that bag that has LONDON LONDON LONDON written all over it, but you will wear that scarf you bought, or that small bottom of perfume, or those earrings . . .

10. Come with no expectations

Expectation is the root of all disappointment. Come to a new place with an open mind. Be yourself. Be ready to learn, not to judge. And enjoy this time in your life and this new place.

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Beautiful Oporto after the rain.

The Paris catacombs are 200 miles of small underground tunnels filled with the bones of 6 million people. If you’re claustrophobic, as I am, then this is quite literally a nightmare to visit. And yet, if you’re a bit of a curious weirdo, like I am, then there is little you can do to avoid the appeal.

I survived, obviously. But barely. Descending the 19-meter spiral staircase, you reach a point where you ask yourself if the journey into the depths will ever end. It’s a little too long . . . a few too many disconcerting steps down into a giant underground graveyard. This is where the panic/internal declension began: a little flutter in the stomach, mixed with confusion about how long you can possibly continue down these steps without becoming dizzy. And, if you’re like me, this is mixed with a little curiosity: who made these steps? Were they in really good shape? I mean, they’d have to be in good shape. Right? And probably Vitamin D deficient. (Turns out these were old mining tunnels.)

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I thought I’d feel better when we reached the actual catacombs, but I was wrong. The spiral staircase ends .  .  . only to be replaced with what seems like miles and miles of tunnels so small, a person slightly taller than me would have to seriously worry about injuring his or her head. This is where the claustrophobia began to sink in, and that little flutter in my stomach became legitimate heart palpitations and shortness of breath. “This is a test of my character. This is a test of my character” I repeated to myself over and over. Also, a test of my sanity. I barely passed.

The catacombs themselves are incredible. I have a sick fascination with cemeteries already, and was a little too excited to see the mummy museum in Guanajuato (or any mummy, for that matter) so it comes as no surprise that I was fascinated by the overwhelming quantity of human remains. Heart palpitations slowly receded. Interest took over. The slow, eerie dripping of water from the tunnel ceiling was almost calming. Amid the bones of 6 million people, you’re faced with the bitter reality of our mortality: the most real thing we, as humans, can grasp. Claustrophobia became a concept of the mind, and an inferior concern when looking upon my fate. Not to sound too down, or anything.

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And, of course (because this is the way life works) as we are leaving the near-empty catacombs, we snap what is one of my favorite photos of us during our time in Paris. A photo of a happily married couple during their vacation in Paris? A perfect contrast to the location in which the photo was shot. Such is life, and its irony.

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Paris Catacombs
1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris, France
+33 1 43 22 47 63
http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/

Bubbles are great. Champagne. Cava. Fizzy water. Ocean spray. Baths. The giant bubbles kids chase in parks. Baby raspberries. Even the word bubble? Adorable. But sometimes, bubbles can be so very, very bad in wine.

But fizz in wine can sometimes be very, very bad.

Our article on fizz in wine is a permanent page. Click here to access it and learn what causes fizzy wine.

Ok, not an ode, per se: this isn’t exactly a lyrical stanza, but it does celebrate one of the things that sparked my love of photography and of things gritty, “real,” and beautiful in their imperfection and decay. Buenos Aires is the perfect place for such inspiration, and its murals beg to be photographed.

These photos were taken from my little point-and-shoot during a six-month period between late 2010 and early 2011. Most were taken within walking distance of my house in Palermo, but some were in Caminito and in parts of the city now forgotten, but chanced upon during one of our many long walks exploring the city of tango, entraña, and tasty Malbec.

What I love most about the murals of Buenos Aires is that they often lack political agenda, which, if you’ve been to Argentina, you know is a pretty tough thing to avoid. Many of the murals are incredibly imaginative, playful, and fun in both color and form.

Seeing “good” street art does one thing to you: it makes you forever abhor “bad” street art and senseless graffiti. Why make something so ugly, when it could be so much more beautiful? I’m not sure when graffiti “artists” cross the line from being vandals to being artists, but I’ll stick with a Banksy quote on the subject, and leave it at that.

“Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.”

– Banksy

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Seen on a sunny day, while walking in San Ysidro.

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How’s your Spanish?

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Palermo

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Hug!

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So much randomness

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One of my favorites

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SciFi

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Even the elementary schools get in on the fun.

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Quite the juxtaposition between “good” and “bad” graffiti. . .

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Outside one of my favorite markets

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COLOR.

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Very Kandinsky

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“My beautiful Holidays-in-Paris vacation ended with a terrorist attack.” Not exactly a phrase I’d ever expect to say.

Our last day in Paris was supposed to have been the typical packing/cleaning day that concludes a vacation, ending with one last delicious meal at a to-be-determined restaurant. We awoke to a gloomy day befitting my “I-don’t-want-to-leave” inner pouting, and I spent the morning writing and editing for several of my freelance jobs, occasionally looking up to sigh at how beautiful our view of the city was. I don’t know how everyone else feels, but I have a hard time not staring at the Eiffel Tower. We could see its top from our window, and I spent many a writing break just looking up and watching the clouds pass by its spire, which at night looks like a jeweled crown with its red and yellow lights.

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And at night, every hour, on the hour, it twinkles for five minutes. Sigh.

And then, just as many others probably learned of the attack, I opened my Internet browser and saw the news.

I stopped mid-breath. Perhaps I would have done this no matter where in the world I had been, but I was here. Sitting in my cozy apartment in the 16th arrondissement, staring dreamily at Paris’ most prominent landmark, reminiscing about the most beautiful three weeks I had just had, and wondering how I could possibly choose a restaurant for our last meal in the City of Love. And out there, in the fog and the gloom of the streets surrounding me, was a manhunt for murderers.

And I was getting on a high-speed train to go back to Barcelona the next morning.

It has only been three days since the attack, but that day is a blur. We spent it in front of the TV, phones in hand while texting family and friends to reassure them that we were OK, and glued to the BBC while the events unfolded. Shock is the only word to describe how we felt, but this word fails to truly encapsulate the emotions, which were akin to a mixture of sadness, numbness, and fear.

Sadly, as an American, I’m somewhat more “used to” mass shootings than many others in the Western world. We have a lot of them: don’t click on this link unless you really want to depress yourself, but according to some, there were nearly 300 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2014. A Harvard study stated that the U.S. has a mass shooting on average every 64 days. I suppose it depends on what your definition of a “mass shooting” is, which is something I’m not interested in debating: regardless of the definition, and even without the data, we all know that America is sadly a place where shootings occur way too often.

Because of this “experience” with violence, as soon as I heard about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, I knew what was to come. Social media was about to erupt, and in a big way: this massacre was a combination of guns, Islam, police shootings, and freedom of speech. Many of the events which caused so much tension in the U.S. in 2014–police brutality, racial tensions, North Korea’s near-successful prevention of a movie opening (and hence, the loss of the freedom of speech in Hollywood)–seemed to culminate in the Paris shootings. I braced myself for the ensuing madness.

Over the last two days, I’ve watched these debates unfold over social media. It was #JeSuisCharlie, which to me, as a writer, symbolizes a unity of the support of free speech, not a unity of support for the singular messages of satire from the magazine. Then it was, “You’re an idiot if you support Je Suis Charlie because do you know what they’ve said about ENTER GROUP HERE” and then it was #JeSuisAhmed and then it was “This is what religion does” and then it was “No, this is what ISLAM does” and blah, blah, blah the noise continues. It makes me want to become an ostrich and stick my head in the ground. It’s all just noise. Lots and lots of noise. I hate how social media makes us lose sight of the heart of the matter: in this case, that people were slaughtered. Does it matter why? Does it matter who? Or by whom? I still haven’t grieved for the dead: I’m not ready to get in some sort of social debate over the issues surrounding it. But how quickly we move in this age of technology.

I suppose, like everyone else though, I manage to make this issue about myself. Not about my feelings on religion, or guns, or freedom of speech, but about myself, sitting in my little apartment in Paris, blogging. My website had malware for the better part of last year. I felt like a small part of me was missing when I did not have Sedimentality as a creative outlet (thanks, Instagram, for becoming my replacement vice). But that time has been a blessing: it allowed me to take a break from the site that I had given so much for four years, and in this absence, I developed a clear concept of the direction I wanted Sedimentality to take. The main pages, I decided, would be for the food and wine articles that receive so many visits. These would be permanent links. But the blog would become more personal: instead of a few photos, I wanted to give my real opinion about a place. Not just “what to eat” and “look how beautiful it is,” but “here was my true impression,” including the things I didn’t love so much about a place.

For a long time, I was scared to do this. I don’t like negativity. I don’t want to be a critic. I despise wine ratings and star ratings and anything that ranks. I don’t care for blogs that rant, and I certainly don’t want the negativity to seep from a post and into the reader. Perhaps I have yoga to thank for this unending desire to be positive in action and thought. But there is so much I wanted to say that I didn’t, out of fear. I wrote an entire post about what it was really like to be an ex-pat in Argentina . . . and never published it. Out of fear. I wrote another on the more annoying traveler types I’ve met (I thought it was pretty funny, and rather tongue-in-cheek), but it sits in my “Drafts” folder. Out of fear.

Fear of what, I can’t tell you. A nasty comment? Someone disagreeing? I don’t know. Fear of having an opinion? Perhaps. I’ve always been so externally neutral: it’s a little bubble I’ve placed myself in to avoid any conflict. And then, on January 7th, people were massacred for saying what they thought. These journalists and cartoonists had valid reasons to fear the consequences of their publications, and they pursued their endeavor. They believed in the importance of free speech, and they believed in the power of satire. It makes my fear of a nasty comment look as insignificant as a single step on a thousand-mile journey.

But journeys begin with a single step, and so as insignificant as my little blog and its posts may be, I will continue them–in my new format–without any fear of backlash from my readers, who have been so faithful over the last four years. Writing has always been my passion: it’s not something I love to do; it’s something I have to do. I’m not making any grand statements on this little food and wine and travel blog, but it’s important to me, and it’s important to me to take this new approach. I think Goethe said “There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view.” Thank you for allowing me to share mine.

My sincerest sympathies to the families of all the victims of the Paris shootings. No one should die because of a cartoon, and the ensuing petty debate over a hashtag takes away from the meaning of your tragic deaths.