Food and the City #1

I’ve been here for almost two weeks now and, unfortunately, I haven’t been to as many restaurant as I’d like but that’s what happens when you’re on a student budget.

First_pancakes___pancakes__brunch__newyork__uptown__morningsideheights__foodSo far I’ve only been to Henry’s and had delicious lemon-ricotta pancakes. One of the best thing about this place is that they offer free complementary muffins (two small muffins per head).

Also, in one of my walks around the city I stopped by Levain Bakery and had the best cookie of my life. It is a bit expensive ($4) but certainly worth it once in a very long while if you want to treat yourself.

So far, I’ve been mostly cooking at home. The first few days I had almost nothing to cook with, which gave rise to some interesting combinations such as: stir-fried tofu with summer squash, cheese, and teriyaki sauce. I know it seems like I’m breaking the Law by doing this, but it is delicious!

Going to the supermarket has certainly been an experience. For one, some items are way more expensive than in Spain:

  • fresh meat
  • fresh fish
  • most fresh vegetables (mushrooms!!)
  • nuts (those are hell of expensive)
  • yogurt
  • cereals
  • cheese
  • salads (the cheaper I could find was plain mixed salad for $4, around 200g)

There are, however, some things that are cheaper:

  • oats (hello future breakfast for the next five years)
  • peanut butter (yay!). Incidentally, there are around two dozens of different types of PB?
  • kale
  • sugar-free and low- or non-fat foods

And I think that’s pretty much it. However, I must admit the variety of fruits and vegetables is far greater than the average Spanish supermarket.

So far I’ve discovered summer squash, Californian avocado (looking forward to try these), kale, sweet potatoes all year long!, all the different types of non-dairy milk you could possibly imagine, infinite types of cereals, swiss chard, and many other things that I haven’t noticed yet. And, of course, the sweets section is quite enormous. Also, the sizes/portions are larger than in Europe.

So, back in Spain I usually had oatmeal in the morning, but for some reason I was able to eat them warm. I’m not able to do so in this country, so I had to turn to overnight oatmeal, which is still pretty good.

Prepare the oats the night before. You’ll need:FullSizeRender-2

  • 1 cup of milk. I usually only use 1/2cup milk and use water for the other half. Perhaps it is less flavourful but you can compensate that by adding other stuff.
  • 1/2 oats (traditional, not steel-cut)
  • optional: 1 or 2 tablespoons of chia seeds
  • optional: vanilla extract or beans, cinnamon powder, chocolate powder.
  • optional: sweetener of choice.

Put the oats on a bowl, pour the milk/water, cover, and let it refrigerate until next morning. Incidentally, I’ve actually let the bowl stay for two nights and the result was as good.

In the morning you can also add some toppings:

  • fruits: berries, banana, mango, apple, pear, etc.
  • all kinds of nuts (I wouldn’t go with PB, it mixes better with warm oatmeal)
  • coconut flakes

Pretty much anything that may add some flavour or crunchiness is usually a good topping!

FullSizeRenderFinally, as I have mentioned before, one of the good things of this country is that peanut butter is so, so cheap.

One of my most recent culinary mischiefs is to mix greek yogurt with crunchy peanut butter.

Pure by Andrew Miller, Stacking the Shelves #1, and a guideline for buying books.

Pure by Andrew Miller was one of the two books I bought during my visit to the United Kingdom. I usually track the HF section in Goodreads and this one got my attention some months ago since it was set a few years before the French Revolution.

The main character, Jean-Baptiste Baratte is a newly-graduated engineer who is given to perform the strangest of the works: destroying one of Paris’ cemeteries, Les Innocents. The atmosphere is rather eerie and it has an effect on the characters Jean-Baptiste meets there.

The Fountain of Les Innocents, the only thing remaining from the cemetery nowadays.

In Paris the engineer is exposed to the so-called “party of the future” through his new friend Armand. I suppose the author meant to use this as a hint of the future revolutionaries but, to be honest, I didn’t feel an atmosphere of incipient revolt throughout the book.

It is true, however, than the destruction of the cemetery could be seen as a metaphor for the arrival of new times that will sweep away the old order. On the other hand, I personally see it as a symbol of the absolute power of the King and the nobles. They are set to destroy the cemetery and they don’t care about how it is done or how it may affect the lives of people who live nearby, but they want it done fast or there will be consequences.

Let me clarify my previous point: The lack of revolutionary atmosphere does not mean that there’s no atmosphere whatsoever. Not at all. The feeling of being in constant danger, of being watched, of people being at the brink of collapsing, is present throughout the novel. There’s an asphyxiating atmosphere surrounding the cemetery that affects almost everyone. It doesn’t mean that the author didn’t do a thorough research on the era or on the destruction of the cemetery, quite the contrary!

Although the plot was interesting, and it is based in true events, perhaps I was expecting more historical context, more “revolt”. Dr Guillotin is one of the characters of the novel, but it’s still not enough.

However, I must say that Miller has a very particular way of writing that specially enjoyed. It is almost scientific, impersonal in a way, and yet it manages to lure you into the story and the characters.

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This might come as a surprise but I’ve bought some books in the week I’ve been here. In my defence, it is difficult to walk for ten minutes and not stumble upon a second-hand book stand.

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The first book I got was due to an email I got from BookDepository. They were selling some books at a really low price and I was surprised to find The Wars of the Roses by Trevor Royle. I find The War of the Roses a pretty fascinating topic and, since it is quite difficult to come across decently-priced non-fiction History books, I decided to buy it!

I got Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson at The Strand, it’s a book set in late 19th century England that I’ve been meaning to read since I read Magrat’s review of the BBC series.

When I was at The Strand I couldn’t help but looking for books by David Mitchell. I’ve already read all of them but since I borrowed Cloud Atlas and Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoët I still need to add them to my collection. So, Cloud Atlas was there and… the price was no different than in Barcelona. But I checked on Amazon and… they were selling it at half the price! I really couldn’t resist.

Some days later I was walking around Central Park when I saw a stand of The Strand and, again, some mysterious force drove me to it and I started browsing. I found three books that interested me: The Recognitions by William GaddisA hero of our time by Mikhail Lermontov, and Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov – a classic of Russian Literature dealing with the decay of the aristocracy. In a fine exercise of self-discipline I ended up only buying the latter.

A few months back I took a sort of oath to stop buying so many books. I think it’s quite impossible to do so without some sort of rules or principles to guide you when you’re in a bookshop. Incidentally, I’ve completely given up on the idea of not entering a bookshop when I see one.

In no particular order, these are the questions I ask myself when I find a book I’m interested in:

  • Is it available in the library? Can you get it on your ebook at a better price?
  • Do you really want this book? And by this I mean:
    • Have you already read it, loved it, but do not own a physical copy.
    • It has been on your Wishlist for some time, has good reviews, etc.
  • Is the book written in a language you don’t speak? In which case, is this book an exceptionally good translation? (probably not available on ebook).
  • Is the book really long? (Having it on your Kindle would be much comfortable) Or is the edition especially beautiful?
  • Is it cheaper to order it through Amazon? If it is, I save it for a day when I feel like treating myself.

Settling in

It has been almost a week since I arrived to NYC and I still have another one until the craziness starts.

During these days I’ve been going around submitting files, signing papers (my first apartment lease, I almost feel like an adult!), and general administrative stuff.

I also had to move in to my new apartment, which I share with someone else. My room is larger than the one in Barcelona, it also has a window facing Broadway. Besides a desk, chair, bed, and drawer, my room was completely empty. So I went three times to Bed, Bath, and Beyond (the US equivalent to IKEA I guess) to buy all sorts of stuff.

I admit, three times may sound like two more than a normal person should need, but for me it was the first time I moved into somewhere new. For my whole life I had been living in the same apartment (with my parents) so there were a lot of things like rubbing alcohol, dishes, kitchen paper, trash bins and trash bags, that were simply there, in apparently endless supply.

Therefore, it was a gradual process for me to realise what was missing or what I needed.

During these days I’ve also had the time to familiarise myself with the neighbourhood I live in. It is certainly not such a frantic and exciting environment as in Downtown but I actually don’t mind much!

See? They even have a green top like zucchinis!

There are two bookshops five minute from where I live and the most-admired New York Public Library (I plan to become a member really soon). On the practical side, there are also several supermarkets.

But then there are the huuuuuuge supermarkets where you can find everything. I’m still in awe of the 10-meter corridor full of all the types of milk you could ever imagine. They even had Downton tea! I did not even see it when I was in the UK! Despite having a much wider variety of pretty much everything in the US, there is one aspect where I’m sure to miss Spain: meat and fish. In big supermarkets you can, of course, find fresh meat and fish, but most of the time it is already sliced (never trust already sliced fish!) or frozen. Also, there is certainly less variety, especially for fish. I’m sure I’ll manage to survive and I’m looking forward to the new types of food I’ll discover!

But there is nothing like a good Spanish jamón.

Just a short note, I’ve just seen a video where someone claims they can make sushi filled with chips. NO. I’m all for trying new things in the kitchen but this is a sacrilege akin to butter-fried oysters.

I’ve mostly eaten at home but yesterday some friends invited me to have brunch where I had some amazing lemon-ricotta pancakes. Yes, I know two lines above I was criticising American cuisine but… this is completely different! Right? It’s not as if I’d go for pancakes or french toasts (which I must admit are far superior to the Spanish torrijas) every morning but it’s certainly something I’d treat myself to if I wanted to celebrate anything.

Anyway, today I’ll be (almost) done with all the productive stuff I had to do so hopefully I’ll be able to explore a little bit more of the city.

Doctor Pascal by Émile Zola and the end of the Rougon-Macquart series

Eight years ago I took out Germinal by Émile Zola from my high school library. Yesterday, during my flight from Barcelona to Oslo, I finished the last volume of the Rougon-Macquart series, Doctor Pascal. Perhaps the most well-known series in France, this set of twenty books tells the story of a family but also of that country during the Third Empire (1851-1871). He carefully examines every single socio-economic and political aspect of the regime and devotes a book to it. There are also some more psychological books, such as The Dream or Une Page d’Amour, and yet those convey a clear picture of the moeurs of the society at the time.

I must confess it took me some years to decide to read the whole saga. After Germinal I soon read The Ladies’ Paradise, which still remains one of my favourite novels of the Rougon-Macquart’s. Then followed The Fault of Abbé Mouret, The Dream, and Money. I felt such a strong dislike for the latter that I discarded the idea of reading anything else by Zola.

Fortunately, a friend of mine who at the time was studying French Literature at the Sorbonne suggested me to read the first volume, The Fortune of the Rougons. It was completely different from the other books of the series, and I loved it so that it gave me the determination to read the remaining fourteen.

A nice thing of the series is that each book is self-contained. Of course, reading it in order (be it the chronological order o the suggested order) will make the overall experience more enjoyable, as you’ll be able to track what characters from other books are up to.

Throughout the years there have been some disappointments, as I mentioned before, but some of his books are simply brilliant. For instance, The Earth  – a novel about farmers – the  is not very well-known and I find it one of his most accomplished works. In general, Zola is not known for being bland or indulgent. He can be rather crude in his descriptions of human nature. But at the same time you can feel in his words that he is in love with life and that he loathes society for imposing some rules that seem to be a hindrance to happiness.

The last two books are, in their own way, paramount examples of these two
characteristics found in Zola’s novels. In La Débâcle – where he narrates the Franco-Prussian war through the eyes of two soldiers – there’s a ferocious criticism to Napoleon III’s reign, his incompetence as a ruler (you end up pitying the guy) is evident, and there’s also a lot, a lot, of drama (1).

In Doctor Pascal I believe he tries to set an example of what should be a healthy lifestyle, that is, of living happily, without consuming ambitions or (unromantic) passions, and he establishes love as the only way to achieve happiness. It is also where he explicitly writes down his theories on the inheritance of physical and moral traits within a family. Predating genetics, Zola had an intuition that some characteristics were passed on from parents to children, and even guessed that a generation or two could be skipped or that this inheritance could be from uncle to nephew, for instance. He had no idea on how this process took place but was certain of its existence. I haven’t got any idea on genetics myself, but sometimes his theories seemed a bit too far-fetched; it almost looked as if an individual was doomed from the very beginning to be the combination of her ancestors. I guess that’s naturalism for you.

Overall, I had mixed feelings when reading this book. It’s the story of Pascal Rougon, a country doctor who’s fifty-nine, and his niece Clotilde (twenty-five), whom has been living with her uncle for the last eighteen years. They fall in love. To be fair, I didn’t care that much about the incestuous side of the relationship, but what made it feel wrong to me was how they treated each other. Clotilde always, always, calls Pascal “master”, which is just… no. She constantly refers to herself as being her servant, wanting give herself to him, or him to take her.

This was the more surprising since I always thought Zola was quite a feminist for the time. In his books he usually defends how important is to educate women and for them to know what sex is before entering marriage. He also warns of how vulnerable and easily manipulated women are without education, and how terrible the consequences of that can be. Furthermore, in The Ladies’ Paradise Octave and Denise relationship is one of love and respect, quite modern I think.

Please read the book and then, only then, consider watching the BBC series The Paradise, which has little to do with the novel

Unfortunately, I think Zola heavily identified himself with the doctor, especially given that he also had an affair with a women thirty years her junior, and felt this need of being admired and praised, to mistake the teacher-pupil relationship with a romantic one.

Pascal also seems to be particularly obsessed with her youth, adoring her young and lean body, and her devotion to him. It is true that at some point he says that he also loves her for her mind and independence, but… only once.

I can give it a pass because I guess this was still a pretty healthy relationship for 19th century – he respects her wishes, thinks of her well-being, and treats her as an equal despite her devotion – but some aspects seem weird two hundred years later.

However, this should not deter anyone to read a book from the series. There are great books, great stories, and great characters to be found in them.

This is probably the longest review I’ve ever written, but I wanted to give a proper close to this brilliant series, and I hope it encourages someone to start!

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(1) If you want to read a nice and heart-warming 19th century, Zola is not your best choice. I think that all of his books except one end in tragedy. Not only that, the books are filled with terrible events, cruelty, and the worst people can give. There are also moments of sheer happiness, but it doesn’t last long. Also, I find Zola extremely liberal in his description and analysis of sex, religion, and violence considering he wrote in the late 19th century.

Living Alone and the Culture Shock: An Ex-ante Approach

In less than 48 hours I will leave my hometown – the city where I’ve lived ever since I was born – and move to NYC.

I’ve spent those last two days packing for the journey. This made me realise how much stuff I have. Not only clothes but also… things, gadgets, random objects accumulated over the years. And yet it was tough to decide what to leave behind. 2015-06-27 17.48.33

I’m only carrying a handful of books:

  • Poeta en Nueva York by Federico García Lorca, the set of poems the writer composed while studying at Columbia University and while traveling around the area.
  • Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire, my favourite book of poems.

Also, a general guide to New York, a guide to the “literary” New York, and a couple of novels. And half a dozen of textbooks! (Unfortunately, those are expensive worldwide.)

All in all I’ve managed to fill three suitcases and probably one medium bagpack. Believe it or not sweaters take up a lot of space.

I’ll be back for Christmas so if there’s anything crucial that I’ve forgotten I only need to wait five months but it still feels different. I’m about to become an independent adult. Which is exciting but also rather frightening. It means being completely responsible for what I do, for my own well-being. It means being left out if I ever forget or lose my keys – which already happens way too often in Barcelona. It means deciding to go to the doctor if I’m not feeling well, or fixing things in the apartment.

Incidentally, I will also need to learn to live with someone else, someone I haven’t met yet, and from a different country. Hopefully, everything will go smooth.

On top of that I guess I’ll go through the so-called culture shock. I learned about it days after I was admitted at CU. Apparently every person that starts living in another country goes through four phases of adaptation to the cultural landscape:

  1. Feel completely in awe of the new place you are living in. Well, given that I’ll be living in New York, it will happen for sure. I mean, it’s pretty much the centre of the world in cultural terms, among others. For instance, one of my favourite living authors, David Mitchell, will give a lecture in Novemeber. This would be unthinkable in Barcelona.
  2. Honeymoon period ends and, together with the routine, you start realising that things are different, and this annoys you. Even in US and Spanish culture are relatively similar, I still think there’ll be some tensions. Maybe I’ll see life differently, maybe I’ll be not so respectful with personal space (we Spaniards greet each other by giving a kiss on each cheek), but there’ll be something. Also, I’m already scared about how pricey everything will be, especially food. I’m used to buy very cheap fresh vegetables and fruit… More importantly, the weather. In Barcelona we never ever go below 5ºC (41ºF), I cannot imagine how I’ll be able to cope with the cold!
  3. You eventually learn how to solve your problems and go through daily life without feeling that fried oreos are something very close to heresy. In other words, you just get used to your new life.
  4. According to Wikipedia there’s another stage, mastery, where apparently you’re in full control of the situation. Seems like step 3 to me.
Surprise, surprise: I’m a Whovian.

Well, tomorrow will be a busy day full of last-minute errands and trying to fit everything into the suitcases. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to bring my favourite mug without my father noticing it.

A trip through (a part of) the United Kingdom: York and its whereabouts

This is the last post on my trip to England with littlemily.

We stayed in York for almost five days, devoting the first two to visit this town. It has a very pretty historic centre, although rather small. The Yorkminster is certainly something worth 13 pounds, including the visit to the top of the tower. Other than that, walking around the city and beside the river is quite enjoyable. The narrow streets full of colourful shops and tea rooms and not as crowded as I expected. York also has a couple of nice parks in case the weather surprises you with a sunny day.

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York’s shortest street. I’ll let you find out the meaning of its name!

There aren’t many museums aimed at the adult public only. I went to the Yorkshire Museum because there was a temporary exhibition on Richard II. Sadly, I was very disappointed when I saw that this exhibition consisted of two small rooms and a few facts on the last Plantagenet. For families, the Yorshire Museum can be a fun visit, as well as the York Castle Museum. Similarly, York has a good handful of “experiences” such as the Richard III experience, the Henry VII experience, or the Ghost Walk. Again, the targets of such an entertainment are for families and kids, but not quite a thrill for me.

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One of the many sights in York’s Museum Gardens.

However, the unbelievable amount of bookshops (new and second hand) together with the glorious (although slightly over-priced) afternoon tea I had at Betty’s certainly compensates the lack of interesting things to visit.

Another good things is that there are many day-trips you can do from York. On our first day we took a two hour bus to Whitby, since we both longed to see the Yorkshire coast. Whitby is a small town by the sea that I found quite different to the inland villages I had visited so far. Its center is rather small but is full of quaint and nice little shops the moment you get out of the main street that goes along the river. That street is full of restaurants specialised in fish and chips. Since I already had had some fish and chips at the beginning of the trip (and my stomach did not feel up to digesting that much fried oil again), I went for crab, which was delicious as well (and far more healthy). One thing that may be helpful to remember is that there’s a huge gap in prices between seating-in and take-away, probably in the order of 4-5 pounds.

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After lunch we went to visit the ruins of the abbey, which were quite impressive. Fun fact: it inspired Bram Stoker while writing Dracula, so in the gift shop you can find all the nice editions of the novel you could possibly imagine.

Next day was Harrogate, which was a bit of a fiasco. Harrogate became a health spa in the late 18th – early 19th century so it is a pretty town with broad avenues. We only managed to visit the Royal Pump Room where we got to smell the water and believe that, despite its awful stench, it had medicinal properties. We didn’t do much else in the town. It started raining soon after we arrived and all other potential places to visit were closed, except a cosy art gallery next to the Pump Room. We even tried to find the huge parks that are supposed to be in the middle of Harrogate, but it was to no avail. Summary: I didn’t take a single picture of the town.

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That’s only a tiny part of the abbey!

On our last day we went to visit Fountains Abbey, a huge, enormous, abbey in ruins next to an 18th century water garden (because apparently people in that time were not impressed by ruins). There’s not much I can say other that we had a very nice time visiting the abbey and its whereabouts. It is also a very good spot to go for a picnic!

All in all, it was a great trip. I will certainly come back to Yorkshire and visit some of its houses (aka. palaces), the National Park, and, as I said before, the Peak District.

Aparté: What did I bring from my trip?2015-07-22 19.21.34

Besides discovering 40958039584 new books I need to read, I treated myself to:

– Pure by Andrew Miller. The French Revolution is one of my favourite historical events, and I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this book since it wa
s published.

– A Brief Introduction to Life in the Middle Ages by Martyn Whittock. I’ve recently started to by interested in NF History books and, after my trip to England, my curiosity for the Medieval Ages 2015-07-20 20.41.42has
greatly increased

– Yorkshire Tea: That’s pretty much the only tea I had in the last five days (I drank something between 6 to 8 cups per day hahahaha).

– Marks & Spencer’s Extra Strong Tea: since a friend of mine gave me a pack that I’ve become completely addicted to it!

– A York mini-flag and pin. The War of the Roses is also one of my favourite events, and I happen to support the House of York. So there was no way I’d visit Yorkshire and not bring back a couple of items with the white rose.

– Four nail polishers… In my defense, my flight back home was delayed for almost two hours!FullSizeRender

A trip through (a part of) the United Kingdom: Peak District

Nottingham ➡️ Chesterfield ➡️ Eyam

And from there walking (with a heavy and inconvenient carry-on) to the Youth Hostel, which is located sufficiently far from the town.


I had a supposedly light and nice lunch at the Eyam Tea Rooms, followed by a nice cup of Yorkshire tea. During this journey there is not a day where I am not surprised by English cooking. It seems that the only veggies used here are onions and button mushrooms. Oh wait, I think potato is also considered a vegetable. And fruit only comes in the form of jam or in cakes. A light lunch is a salad, not half a sandwich. This does not mean that I dislike English cooking, I like it, but I seriously doubt my body could take more than 10 days of it without becoming diabetic.


Anyway, Eyam is in the middle of several footpaths that go to other equally tiny and cute villages. However, the routes are not well signalled and we did not get any map at the hostel. By chance we took a lovely path that, through fields and pastures, took us to Stoney Middleton. We decided to try and follow another route, and ended up walking on a side of the road with cars speeding by.


It was a wonderful tour, the landscape was beautiful, and I even managed to see some sheep!
The day after we went to Grindelford (sounds like a name from Harry Potter), took the train to Chinley, and then walked to Hayfield. This is the town where part of The Village is filmed. I did recognise a couple of buildings thanks to a lovely man at a local shop. Hayfield is an enchanting little town and the road to it has some great views. It also has several footpaths that surround the area with some breath-taking views.


I had a very nice lunch followed by cream tea. I cannot believe I have been able to function for so long without having tasted scones. And clotted cream. I also had one at Eyam, but in this one the clotted cream was heavenly. The texture was soft and fluffy, a great treat after a couple of hours of intense walking.

  

On our last day in Peak District… It rained until 10am. However, given the amazing sites we had in the last two days we decided to set for yet another walk.the person at the hostel very kindly indicated a route that according to her what date is about two hours.

 Unfortunately we are not used to walking around the moors and seen unbelievably beautiful panoramas. So it took us quite longer than that. It was certainly worth it, although at some point I thought I was in the European equivalent of a jungle, and I most graciously slipped and fell in the mud. To be fair to the YH people, one of the employees was very kind and drove us to the bus station. They also accepted to serve us dinner half an hour later, at 7:30pm.

So-called footpaths where you have to climb this type of “stairs” and go through fields and with sheep or cows all around!

But I walked in an open field with a flock of sheep, saw a 360 view of Hope Valley, … It is hard to describe the beauty of what I have seen these last days. The only word that comes to me is awesome, in it’s British sense, i.e. I was filled with awe when walking through the fields and moors.


Final stop: York!