Category: Food

Required Eating: Cal Ticus, Sant Sadurni d’Anoia

“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird

If you’re feeling peckish but tired of the main city of Barcelona, how about–and I seldom suggest this–heading for the suburbs? Hop on a train and ride it to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia–the heart of cava country–and take the short walk into town. It’s not a large village and there are signs everywhere leading you to the most prominent sites. The fact that this restaurant is included among those sites is not an accident.

The lunch we had at Cal Ticus was easily one of the best of my life and at about 15 euro a person, a steal bordering on criminal. Don’t let the simple facade fool you.

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There was a semi-set menu but we could choose between course options and there was not a single bad choice to be had. The ingredients were seasonal Catalan selections and the emphasis on cooking technique. It sounds basic but was in fact pretty mind blowing.

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Mushroom soup with a slice of gooey cheese and Spanish olive oil.

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Handmade pasta. Technically Jeff’s but I ate a decent bit of it…while we’re being honest.

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A gorgeous slice of beef and perfectly roasted potatoes. Again, sounds basic. Again, could not further from the truth.

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And finally, a traditional Catalan desert of a type of cheese covered in local honey. Its taste and texture was was similar to a less sweet and more crumbly cheesecake and it was both dense and refreshing at the same time. Paradoxical, yes, but true.

Do yourself a favor on your visit to Barcelona and swallow the train fare for the ride out, or make a day of it away from the city and take in the vineyards and olive groves. But seriously. Eat here. I mean it.

Crum, Barcelona

“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
― A.A. Milne

On the Carrer de Parlament is a delightfully hipster sort of joint that is worth checking out. Let me introduce Crum.

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The menu is in Catalan, but they do have English versions for those of us whose European languages veer a bit more northern. True, embarrassing story about how French functions as my default language pretty much all of the time and I had to bite my tongue all week to avoid saying “bonjour” when I meant “buenos dias,” and uttered “trois” instead of “tres” to a bemused waitress at one point before finally deciding to keep my mouth shut and let my more Spanish competent compatriots do the majority of the ordering. Setting self-consciousness aside, this place does one thing and one thing only: potatoes.

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Whoops, I lie. It does potatoes and sauces; you essentially order the type of spud preparation that tickles your fancy and the sauce that you want to accompany it. There are handy suggestions but you are mostly given free reign–though the staff will voice their alternative opinions if you ask for feedback.

We pushed the boat right out and ordered one of nearly everything. Patatas bravas is a local dish of thickly chopped potatoes, roasted, and served with a spicy sauce that any tapas bar in the city worth its salt will offer…but this was an exemplary specimen. And it’s a good thing we got a bunch of things as it turned out we were more than a little hungry.

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Pardon the dreadful photo quality but I had to move fast you see, because…

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…approximately seven seconds later.

Barcelona: The Food

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

When discussing what we wanted to do on our holiday with friends in Barcelona, we narrowed it down to three major priorities: 1) eat, 2) hang out with them, and 3) precious little else. Tapas, traditional Spanish and Catalan food, seafood, random weirdness–we wanted to try as much as we possibly could.

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We were beautifully situated for local dining as we were in a residential neighborhood that had about a million bakeries and coffee shops, gastro pubs and tapas joints, and even a massive produce and meat market about two minutes away from the flat. We were spoiled, no question about it. But again, thanks to Kelsey’s boss travel prep skills, she had already mapped the gastronomic system of the city and we knew we had some spots that simply had to be hit, but we also knew where playing it by ear would most likely pay off in a fantastically good meal.

Welcome to Barcelona Food Week on SDS!

Carrer de Blai

This is a street full of almost exclusively tapas restaurants where a mini food culture or trend seems to have originated. All the food is bite sized and served on slices of bread, held together with a skewer. You can eat as much or as little as you want as you pay based on unit and your skewers are tallied at the end of your meal–prices can be indicated by different colored sticks–and you can either call it a night…or head to the next joint to see what they have on offer. Guess which choice we made?

It turned out to be prescient as we also discovered a bodega specializing in empanadas and indulged in those as well.

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Barraca on the beach

We wanted paella and we wanted it in the most appropriate setting: seaside. My photo quality may be lacking, but the food was not! Traditional dishes like gazpacho and seafood, expertly done.

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Pasapalo

I wasn’t blown away by this place, in spite of a plethora of good reviews, but I was also the lone group member to not have a burger and so my review may be suspect. The ambiance and style, however, were great!

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Street food

There is so much good and cheap food in this city that it’s almost unbelievable. On every street corner we saw sellers roasting sweet potatoes and chestnuts, to be wrapped in newspaper and taken to eat on the go. And on every street there seems to be a place where you can get an excellent cut of meat grilled or roasted up for your pleasure. Meanwhile there is no end to the tapas options, and you can wander into the vast markets and come away with cones of traditional cured Spanish meats and cheeses. I repeat, handfuls of meat and cheese. Nirvana exists, kids.

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Desserts

And finally: pudding! I shan’t overdo this one expect to say that there is a traditional dessert somewhat similar to creme brulee called crema catalana, and that your life is incomplete if you have not yet partaken of it.

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Food Find: Hawker House

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”
― Orson Welles

We happened across Street Feast entirely by accident–specifically we saw a ton of (I assume) event goers decked out in 1940s dress with a military theme apparently heading into a venue once. Then I did some googling out of curiosity. Then I discovered the conglomerate of street food venues scattered throughout the city, one of which was nicely near our apartment. Meet Hawker House!

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In winter the food is indoors and heat lamps keep people cozy, in summer the party moves outside to food trucks.

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Burgers, brisket, tacos, barbecue, Korean food, deserts, Pizza, and mixed grill all mingle happily.

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Hello brisket, my old friend. You have been missed.

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Southern Food, British Style

“We all like chicken.”
― Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Sometimes you just get a craving in your bones…for finger-lickin’, deep fried, calorie dense, proper American Southern food.

Then reality asserts itself rudely and you recall that you live in Britain, which is not wholly conducive to the getting of said food. This may or may not trigger a quick series of emotions (irritation, maudlin despair, angsty regret for what you have lost, etc. etc.) culminating in a tiny moment when you consider if the food grass is greener on the other side–of the Atlantic.

Then you remember that The Lockhart exists and calm down because everything is fine again; plus your existential alarm over food was a little unnerving, no?

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It’s tucked away on a little side street, disconcertingly near Selfridges. The upstairs is almost Spartan with a hipster-appropriate exposed brick wall and genuine antiques, but downstairs is a slightly edgier (while still incredibly homey) space for larger parties and entertaining. As a rolicking party of two, we have always been seated up top, which bothers us not a bit. There are fresh flowers, mismatched furniture, constant refills…all the things that I like. Also, while always peopled, it is never crowded and we have never once had an issue getting, or wait for a table.

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Full disclosure, we have only ever been to brunch here, but has been enough to earn our ringing endorsement. We do intend to try their other meals at some point, but in the meantime, they hold one fundamental reason for our Most Important Meal of the Day devotion:

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Chicken and Waffles.

Although the cornbread cooked on order, served piping hot with bubbling butter, smothered and covered biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, pork belly and hash, and more are all worthy of honorable mention. If you happen to be in Marylebone and craving something deep fried, stroll over to Seymour Place and indulge. It’s what gyms are for.

A Ramen Break

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”
― Orson Welles

I am not a huge ramen fan…unless it is made by Bone Daddies. The same group behind one of my favourite fun food joints, Flesh and Buns, Bone Daddies recently set up what appears to be a semi-permanent pop up in arches along Old Jamaica Road. Which happens, handily, to be within easy walking distance of us.

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Various sections of train arches throughout London are undergoing some development these days. They’ve always been used as shopfronts of various types, but lately they are serving as venues for markets, restaurants, bars, and concept shops of a slightly more eclectic and upscale style. And not in a snobby way in the slightest. The results have been a lot of dis- or underused areas turning into genuine foodie or lifestyle hubs. We seek them out shamelessly.

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Bonus husband objectification, but the real prize…

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…is the food. As usual.

If you’re south of the river, it’s definitely worth a look in!

The Church of Brunch

“Bloodies are the centerpiece of the Sunday Brunch–they are also, perhaps, the #1 Prep mixed drink…..
1. Place ice cubes in a large glass
2. Pour in two fingers of vodka
3. Fill glass almost to top with V-8
4. Season with: 2 drops Tabasco, 4 drops Worcestershire, 1/2 tsp. horseradish, 1 tsp. lime juice
5. Add wedge of lime, stir and drink
6. Repeat as needed”
― Lisa Birnbach, The Official Preppy Handbook

Starting from when I went to university and getting increasingly worse as time went on, Church attendance had pained me for years. There was a particularly memorable length of time where I came home from every single service either in tears or enraged by something that had been said over the pulpit, taught by a teacher or leader, or even just discussed in the classes that follow the main communion service in Mormonism which is the central part of Sunday worship. I started taking breaks from attendance when we still lived in the States, a week here or even a month there, believing that if I gave it some time and space, the next time I went to services would be better. Almost inevitably it was not and often it was worse. A sermon would be preached proclaiming things to be true that I believed deeply to be false. A teacher would cite centuries of Church leadership stating a position I thought fundamentally wrong. Stances I held because I felt them to be right and good were decried as dangerous or even evil. Meanwhile, my own research into history was complicating the many, more simple stories I had been taught about my faith all my life.

This wasn’t a one-time thing, it had lasted the better part of a decade. It was spiritually and emotionally draining, and the cognitive dissonance was strongest on the weekends. I came to dread the Sundays when we did attend services as the results were usually bad, and Sundays when we didn’t I spent at home whipping myself into a mass of Puritan-descended guilt. I felt for years that something was wrong with me for thinking and feeling the way I did and having the questions I had. I felt ashamed that I had not been able to find the same answers within the faith that almost everyone important in my life had, and embarrassed to be struggling with a problem that, as far as anyone else could tell (whichever side of faith divide you fall on) was entirely in my own head. To a lot of outside observers who shared their thoughts on the matter with me, it should have been easy to decide either to stay or to go. It wasn’t.

I'm also making brunch dates with my husband a priority. For obvious reasons.

The last time I attended services was here in London.

In news which is not in the least groundbreaking, Mormonism has a major problem with racism in its history and in ways that affect it right up to the present day. Black men could not be ordained to the lay priesthood until just eight years before I was born, and both men and women of African descent were excluded from the most important parts of worship in Mormon temples–which is, by the way, fundamentally necessary in the LDS view of salvation. Meaning it was a valid theological question whether or not black people even got into heaven, and if they did, in what capacity. There are decades of recorded statements on the matter that black men and women did not qualify to enter heave except as “servants.” Cringe.

The LDS church has been attempting to formally address some of the troubled or troubling aspects of its past through a series of essays over the past few years, and I give it a lot of credit for confronting many of these issues head on using good scholarship and historical citations. It has not always done so. One of these essays concerns the history of what has been come to be called the “Priesthood Ban,” though I find this problematic since women are not ordained to the LDS priesthood at all and as mentioned women were just as excluded from what are considered saving ordinances. In some academic circles the more accurate term of “Racial Ban” has gained traction, and it’s the one I use. This essay goes on to explain that a number of folkloric justifications for the Racial Ban developed in the LDS community over the years (quite true) and that church leaders today disavowed those previous statements and reasoning (this essay was the first disavowal I have ever seen, and is fairly weak, but I’m willing to take the intention in good faith). It’s a long overdue piece of writing, and doesn’t go far enough in clearing up the decades and centuries of racially tinged folklore and official teachings of the church, in my opinion, but it’s a step forward.

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It was after this particular essay had been released that Jeff and I made the decision to give LDS services in London a real shot. We’d only attended church sporadically for the first few months of living here because I was frankly burned out from leaving services crying or ranting, and Jeff was not far behind me in exasperation, though he was much less vocal about it. Nevertheless, it was worth a shot recommitting ourselves to regular attendance, we decided, and so off we went one December Sunday with a renewed sense of dedication and a quiet uptick in hope. Perhaps all the frustrations were mostly our fault and if we shut our mouths more often and tried listening instead, we’d notice the things that bothered us less and the things that uplifted us more.

Plus, we were a bit lonely. Growing up in the military meant that the Mormon congregations we attended were a massive part of my family’s social structure. No matter what country we moved to, we were assured of finding an instant community of people ready to welcome us with open arms. As adults and expats in our own rights now, Jeff and I were missing that community, having found nothing to replace it with. The congregation we were assigned to at the time was in South London and almost entirely made up of first or second generation African or Afro-Caribbean immigrants to the UK. There seemed to be a couple of expats and a lot of people from “somewhere else” as we were so I was hopeful we’d find a group of people with similar experiences to us who would have a lot of wisdom to share.

The day in question, just before Christmas, it so happened that the Sunday school teacher was a visiting white American man who, rather than teaching the lesson topic he had been assigned, decided to expound to the congregation (of, again, almost entirely black members) his feelings about the recently released race essay. They were not entirely positive and the main gist of this speech was that he was puzzled that leaders had “disavowed” the teachings he had always “known” to be truth. I could have felt more sympathy for him if he had not gone on to lecture the members as to why “you people” were not able to be ordained to the priesthood, citing the very folkloric teachings the essay tried to distance itself from as truth, and growing more animated in the defense of those racist theories as he went on.

I sat there for as long as I could but at some point I got up, found the bishop in another part of the church, apologized profusely for what was about to happen, and burst into tears. After first assuring himself that the teacher got back on track to his appointed teaching topic, that kind bishop sat and listened to me as I sobbed for an hour about how for years, every single time I had entered a church building, I had heard a lesson like this. Racist, sexist, politically tinged in a way to make me wince, anti-LGBT in ways that violated my conscience, and so on. I was (and remain) deeply conflicted that as a white, admittedly privileged woman, I had felt offended where clearly people who had far more cause than me to be were not, but as I explained to that patient man, my reaction was not the result of that one hour, but the years proceeding it. Church did not feel safe for me, and I genuinely felt that there was no place for me in the organization I had been raised in. I fundamentally disagreed with too much of it, and as time went on the disagreements and dissent were getting bigger and bigger.

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He listened. He acknowledged the social/political/historical divides I felt (even validated a few of them as being genuinely hard to reconcile with the faith). He didn’t try to cite quotes from leaders or scripture at me as previous bishops I had spoken to on the subject had done. There was genuine love and sincere care in the way he spoke to me; it was the kindest encounter I had had with church leaders in years.

And as I said, it was the last time I attended services, unless staying with family or escorting visiting friends. Jeff and I decided to take another break after this particular Sunday, this one intentional and for as long as we needed; guilt was not allowed. We found other things to do on weekends: museums, walks, markets, exploring the city, and just generally being with one another. It was spiritually restful. A few months later, a spate of high-profile excommunications took place that cemented for both of us that the LDS church was not where we wanted to be nor aligned with what we support and believe. We did not believe several of the key truth claims, we could not in good conscience support the leadership on the many public stances they had taken, and neither of us were comfortable with the idea of raising a family in the structure–particularly daughters. Even to keep the peace with friends and family, there was no point in even going through the motions of attendance or participation. We were done.

These days we attend what I only semi-satirically call, The Church of Brunch. On Sunday mornings we now usually go to one of a handful of venues that do a proper Yank brunch–or occasionally get adventurous and try to find a new joint famed on blogs or social media for its protein and carb heavy concoctions. We linger over food. We debate, argue, joke, talk news, gossip about work, and plan for our future. We’ve had some of the deepest and most meaningful conversations of our marriage over pots of tea and avocado toast (sausages and waffles on his side). We often include friends, growing the new community we are trying to build for ourselves as proverbial strangers in a strange land, but more often we use it as a time to reconnect after long weeks focused on careers.

It’s not a global network or system of belief, and I suspect most people would probably laugh about it if I tried to explain it to them, but the Church of Brunch has done me and us a lot of good. It’s filled a gap and created a safe space in a time slot that was previously dreaded and painful. It’s reliable, uncomplicated, and good in the way that simple, basic things often are. We plan on including future friends, children, and even strangers (we strike up the oddest and best conversations with our co-diners). And it’s delicious. We expect to be devotees for a long time.

*all images from my Instagram