Quick Update

In the middle of the night Wednesday night, we returned to Barcelona from a week in Portugal and were welcomed at the airport by Damaris, Albert, and Anna. It was so comforting to walk out and see those three faces. And, it will be very sad to leave them. We’ve been soaking up our last days with this wonderful family before we head back.

I will share about our Portugal trip and our last days in Catalonia as time allows!

Let the Game Begin

Here’s a play by play…well, sort of.

Scott arrived early to make sure he didn’t miss the bus. He was a little excited.

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On the way from Movistar (the company who ran the promotion) to Camp Nou (the soccer stadium), Scott said the people on the street or in cars next to them were taking pictures. Since it is the official bus, some people probably thought the real Barca players were on board.

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This is a group picture before the game began. There were 26 winners.
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They warmed up on the field before the game.
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This is the team’s motto “More than a Club.”

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Since they were all wearing the same official Barca uniform, the players wore a blue or green vest to differentiate the teams.

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See Scott!20140625_191440

See Scott Run!

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And, the night finished with a reception where he got to touch the Champion’s League Champion trophy, or something like that.
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A special thanks to Anna, who performed outstanding journalistic duties! Also, we want to thank Movistar and F.C. Barcelona for this promotion that made dreams come true!

You’ll Never Believe It…

…unless you see the pictures (coming soon). It is a story I couldn’t have even imagined in my fiction-writing class. It came out of no where, but incredible, all the more!

A few weeks ago, our host family decided to change internet companies so that their phones and internet would be with the same company. We have all seen promotions for a better price if you bundle your services, so it seemed like a good time to change.

Two weeks passed, and I was out to lunch with a lady (from Austin, Texas) on this particular day and Scott was home eating with the family. During lunch, Albert and Damaris received a phone call. After they got off the phone, the family was talking quickly, and all Scott could catch were the names of family members, and then his name. They all agreed on him, but he didn’t know what for.

Anna helped him understand that the phone/internet company had called Albert to let him know that part of the promotion to bundle your services included an entry into a drawing. They had won, so someone in the family was invited to play soccer in FC Barcelona’s stadium, Camp Nou, with other winners from the drawing. And, Scott was the was the lucky person from “our family” to get that oppurtunity. Would he do it? Confused but excited, he agreed.

So, on Wednesday night Scott and Anna got picked up by the bus that the real Barca players ride and were transported to Camp Nou for a game. Not only that, each winner received a jersey with their name and number (of choice) on the back. The players got to change in the locker room, shower there after the game, and tour the stadium. Each team had a past Barca player as the coach. Anna got to sit with the other guests in the Presidential Zone of the stadium. After the game, they had snacks and mingling time. More specifics to come with the pictures…

Our journalist, Anna, took loads of pictures that I will share soon, but here is one to hold you over.

Our journalist, Anna, took loads of pictures that I will share soon, but here is one to hold you over.

Anna said that the announcer for the game was calling Scott the “bala” or bullet because he ran so fast. We actually have a video to prove it, but it’s kind of hard for the English ear to hear.

The especially cool part is that before we ever came, I was praying for Scott to get to go to a game at Barca stadium. I knew the season would already be wrapping up when we came, and all of the tickets I looked at were crazy expensive, but also knew he would love to go. We settled with plans to go tour the stadium (which we thankfully hadn’t done yet). Also, Scott brought his cleats but decided recently that he brought them for no reason. Jesus creatively provided even for a seemingly impossible and unimportant wish! In the end, Scott got way more than simply a game or a tour would have included. God is so good to us.

Pizza, Hot Chocolate and Hospital de Sant Pau

This weekend we decided to stay back while the family went camping. We had a lot of school work to catch up on, but here’s what we’ve done for study breaks.

#1 We enjoyed gluten-free pizza at Il Piccolo Focone on Friday night. In Scott’s words, “you could have dropped me in Rome and given me this pizza, and I would have thought it was real Italian pizza.” It’s true. The owner is Italian with two daughters that have celiac disease, so the pizza was legit. The other great part is that it’s only a 20 minute walk from our apartment and they have gluten-free fresh pasta too. Yep, probably going back.

Pesto Three Cheese Pizza

Pesto Three Cheese Pizza

#2 We walked La Ramblas and darted in and out of side streets with crazy cool character. I was enjoying it so much I forgot to take pictures. The reason for our break was to go to an old dairy that invented the delicious dark chocolate milk drink, Cacaolat. This place also makes the traditional Spanish thick hot chocolate that I wanted to try, and they offer it with gluten free lady fingers. With the summer heat, Scott opted for the chocolate milkshake.2014-06-21 13.38.312014-06-21 13.38.41

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#3 We toured Hospital de Sant Pau this afternoon. To learn more about what it is, see my post where I explain the history. It was an incredibly different tourist experience. Unlike a museum or a cathedral, it was an attraction of its own. From the underground tunnels to the herbs and orange trees in the courtyard to the artistic tile work, we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the grounds. I love the idea of promoting wellness of the whole person and the emphasis on nature being part of the healing process.

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Unlawful (Gluten-Free) Falafel

Look at our cute young faces from two years ago!

Ever since we left Paris two years ago, we haven’t stopped talking about the tantilizing falafel from the Jewish district that came well-recommended. Rick Steves advised walking past all of the stands until you get to L’As du Fallafel, which is truly the best. We followed his directions, and after eating the-best-falafel-in-the-world, we couldn’t deny that the taste was true to the claim.

I must admit I was a little bummed to miss out on the experience of guarding a falafel-filled pita in hand as we scurry to the Seine to enjoy the view and the perfect mixture of tzatziki, tomatoes, eggplant, vinegary cabbage, hummus and flavorful falafel. So, naturally, I found a substitute. I was shocked I did, but other travelers had raved about the restaurant’s gluten-free options, so I was excited to try it.

On Sunday, Scott and I scouted out my restaurant first. But upon arrival, I scanned the menu and couldn’t find any “sans gluten” items listed. When there was a break in the line, I politely inquired but was told they didn’t offer anything guarunteed gluten free. Though I was deflated, I was surprisingly excited to simply see Scott’s falafel. I wondered if it really was as good as we remembered. Because of the adventure of finding my restaurant, we arrived to L’As a little late only to find a line the stretched past about four stores down. We got in line as we debated if we should wait or go. Within a minute, there was someone taking Scott’s order and promising delivery within 17 minutes. Decision made. You can’t go all the way there and not get falafel! Believe it or not, it was definitely not a let down. Scott sighed from enjoyment with every other bite. By the end of the day, we had made plans to picnic the rest of our meals and return there again the next day for lunch.

This time we made it much earlier and the line was short, so we decided to ask if the fillings minus the falafel would be gluten free, but they said no. It was likely to be cross-contaminated. I appreciated their honesty and became decidely happy for my picnic food.

But, just as Scott was going to order, I decided I would ask the falafel place across the street, Mi Va Mi, about their “fillings.” It looked to be more of a sitdown restaurant with a bigger kitchen, but I was shocked to hear the response. I asked if they had anything sans gluten, and the two waitresses were quick to agree, “our falafel without the pita.”

“And, you should probably avoid the mayonnaise in the tzatziki sauce,” one of them added.

What?! I was shocked. I clarified about three times, using different words like flour, bread, even inquiring about their fryer. But, finally I believed them and ordered up a bowlful of goodness with falafel minus the pita. I watched as the cook showed me he used clean tongs and assembled my takeout box. With my box in hand and Scott’s hands full of his bulging L’As falafel, we made the dash to the river and sat down to enjoy falafel together. I don’t know what Mi Va Mi uses, but whatever it was, it was delicious! The doubting part of me wondered how sick I would be the next day from the gluten. But, several days out, I can assure you that it was safe and gluten-free, as promised. It was almost too good to be true that gluten-free falafel was just a few steps across the narrow street. Now, I just want their recipe!

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Gluten Free at NoGlu in Paris

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Passage Panoramas (Thanks, Google!)

After settling into our hotel on Saturday, we meandered the streets around us taking in the Louvre and Notre Dame with the beautiful late afternoon sun gleaming through the windows. We walked from the Louvre to find our splurge restaurant of the weekend, NoGlu. That’s right, no gluten. No gluten is ever cooked in their kitchen, making everything safe for me to eat. It cost a pretty penny, but you get a three-course meal with about three options for each course. And, the bonus: they always have a vegetarian option.

Since we didn’t make a reservation and the space is fairly tight, we waited for them to open at 7:30. Luckily, it’s in a quaint outdoor mall of sorts with covered walkways (Passage Panoramas), so it was a fun area to walk while we waited. We were the first to be seated (our eagerness to get in paid off), but the upstairs room filled up quickly leaving only bar space on the first floor.

2014-06-14 12.46.06Our meal began with cheese biscuits that even my gluten-indulging husband agreed were delicious, and after that came a steady stream of regular bread. Unlike most gluten-free breads, this one didn’t crumble. It was airy in the best way possible (you can kind of see it in the pictures below). And, it wasn’t stark white. It tasted grainy, nutty almost, but it wasn’t like trail mix in your mouth. Apparently they sell this bread in the mornings, but I read that it sells out fast. I understand why!

The atmosphere was intimate with a trendy modern feel. The service was great and they kindly translated the chalkboard menu (of course, the menu changes daily and they use all local products). For my first course, I had a cantaloupe gazpacho–which despite my hesitation was bursting with flavor! 2014-06-14 12.46.17Scott couldn’t stop raving about his heirloom tomato, ham, and fresh mozzarella platter drizzled with pesto. Both of us thought this first course was the best–not to say the others were anything less than delicious!

My second course was the vegetarian option which included a beautiful array of roasted and steamed veggies (beet, snow peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, mushrooms) with mixed greens, mashed potatoes, and lentils. Scott ordered the broiled cod-fish with lentils, sweet potatoes, asparagus, and arugula. Did I mention they just kept bringing the bread? (I guess that means we just kept eating it.) We were filling up, especially me, since I am not accustomed to eating many grains anymore but dessert was on the way.

The most disappointing part of the evening was an order mix-up for Scott’s dessert. He ordered a chocolate mousse with a grapefruit sauce (another intriguing combination), but received a cherry cheesecake. We could have said something, but the place was bustling and Scott promised he enjoyed the dessert. Meanwhile, I had a peach cake with almonds and strawberries on top, which once again tasted better than any gluten-filled counterpart I could imagine. I wish I had better pictures, but the mood lighting combined with the setting sun prevented us from getting many keepers.

All in all it was delicious. And for me, it was such a treat! However, at the end of the day, Scott and I agreed that D’Aqui in Barcelona is just as good (maybe better) and a fraction of the cost. But, at any normal restaurant, I always run the risk of cross-contamination, whereas, NoGlu was risk-free deliciousness!

The atmosphere combined with the fact that it was in Paris and I was carefree to eat anything I wanted made it totally worth it! And, it was such a relief that the food was delicious enough even for someone who usually eats gluten. Scott and I love this type of restaurant because not only are you in for something different every day, you are also challenged to try combinations you wouldn’t normally make for yourself, but they always wow your tastebuds. To me, it’s inspiring–I want to go home and try to replicate some of this stuff! The fresh ingredients and creative dishes are a refreshing break from predictable cuisine.

If you would like to visit NoGlu, you can find more information at their website.

Sin, Sans, Gluten Free in Paris

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Yes, I am jumping for joy since I managed to completely avoid gluten in Paris, or something like that.

Food matters to me. I have always known that I like food. I like to eat. I like to cook. I like to meal plan. I like to host people. I like gardens.

When I became gluten intolerant, I felt like my enjoyment of food was squashed. But, oh, how I was wrong! Scott mentioned to me over the weekend in Paris that we have had better food since gluten left my diet. It has caused us to be more intentional about what we eat, where we eat, and where our food comes from. When we travel, I research to find “safe” places for me to eat. Lately, I have been especially sensitive to even the smallest bread crumb. Scott used a knife to cut bread, I wiped it off and cut cheese, I got sick. It seems ridiculous, but lately I have stopped sharing butter or even the toaster to eliminate cross contamination.

Needless to say, I was a little nervous about eating in Paris. To the point that for several meals, I happily chose picnicking over eating out. The places I did eat out were well worth it, so I want to share about them for the chance that another person traveling through Paris may benefit. But, I suspect you will find this interesting even if you aren’t planning a gluten-free vacation to Paris.

Over the next couple of days, I will tell you more about our culinary (sans gluten) delights. I know I said one post, but I am pretty sure this is going to take me at least a couple more.

Por qué Paris

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Over the weekend, Scott and I traveled to Paris. Why go somewhere you have already been when the rest of Spain is waiting to be explored? One, we got great deals. Two, we love it. It was one of our favorite places when we went backpacking, and our return voyage did not disappoint.

We found a simple hotel nestled in a street between the Louvre and Notre Dame, and literally only a few steps from the metro. We took advantage of our prime location and visited all of the big places several times each day, whether for a picnic, a chat, or a gaze.

Beyond the culinary delights that I will have to write another post about entirely, Paris is like taking a step back in time. Almost anywhere you go, you aren’t too far from the river which is always a respite from throngs of tourists and inevitable city traffic. For us, Paris is relaxing and refreshing. We were so thankful for the chance to get to go.

Here is our weekend in Paris in pictures:

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D’Aqui

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 9.16.09 PMWith a gluten intolerance, an endless supply of organic vegetables from the garden, and a host mother who is a great cook, there is not much reason to go out. We are enjoying the Mediterranean diet. It is nearly a perfect fit for gluten-free eating. In two months, I have eaten more fish (and more chicken) than the sum of times I have eaten it in the rest of my entire life. I cannot complain, of course, because it is always fresh and prepared with care. On top of that, I thoroughly enjoy the variety of nuts and dried fruit, and oh, the cheeses! The yogurt is delicious and even the butter is creamier! Of course, quality olive oil goes on anything and everything too.

Aside from the fact that fresh baguettes accompany every meal, there is very little reliance on grains. We usually have a plate of vegetables, a plate of meat, and end with fruits and nuts. Cheese finds its way to the table on occasion, as does chocolate, making for a well-rounded diet.

Needless to say, in an effort to culture ourselves we force ourselves to explore beautiful Barcelona and experience this incredible city–like we have to have force ourselves. Almost two weeks ago, we went out to a restaurant, D’Aqui. It is a restaurant based on the idea of friends cooking for friends. So the story goes, they were always having friends over and everyone loved the food that they turned it into their day job. For that reason, it is only open from 9 – 5. The menu changes daily but always includes gluten-free options and vegetarian options. I chose it because it is close to my work and g-free. But, we absolutely loved it! If I could have a restaurant, it would be like D’Aqui.

The service staff was incredibly helpful, sweet and patient as we asked for clarification on almost every dish (everything is listed on a chalkboard in Catalan). They also knew what would be safe for me to eat. We ended up getting the same thing because it sounded so good. For our first plate, we had a mixed greens salad with honey, walnuts, and goat cheese (not as strong as in the States). For our second plate, we had a quinoa salad with roasted vegetables and hummus. Our dessert was a yogurt with mint and a fruit sauce. The meal comes with a drink and a coffee for €13. I honestly don’t know how they make money.

20140612-141337.jpgThe second best part (behind the delicious food, local ingredients, friendly people, comfortable environment and affordable price, which all tie for first) is that they are in no hurry at all. Someone with places to go and things to do may call this slow service, but in this case, I think it is beautiful. I love food and inhale it at times. This caused me to focus on the person across from me and not the food before me. Although it isn’t always practical, a slow-paced lunch can be so refreshing, and in the oasis that is D’Aqui, it is!

Today we went back for lunch. Our food was once again downright delicious. It’s a place filled with locals on their two-hour lunch break from work. We’re clearly not locals, but it’s fun to be among them.

 

Around Montjuic

2014-05-30 21.03.28Last weekend, we explored another part of the city. Plaça Espanya is home to Scott’s favorite place so far—an arena built in the late 19th century that was originally used for bull fighting. The Catalonian region did not like bullfighting because of the harm to the animals, so the arena (which is reminiscent of the coliseum) sat empty for years. In order to repurpose the building and conserve the historic red brick structure, they added supports (see below) which included lifting the entire piece off of the ground and (making it a whole story taller)!!

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Support System

Three years ago, it opened as a mall with a movie theater, restaurants, and stores. They even house exhibits on the top floor, so this weekend Scott and I toured the Bodies traveling exhibit (also fascinating). The 360-degree views from the rooftop are impressive too.

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View from Centro Commercial de Arenas

The Olympics that were held in Barcelona in 1992. We have heard that this single event had a significant impact on the city and changed the way it was viewed internationally. Locals attribute hosting the Olympics to the awareness of people to visit. Today, tourism is a huge industry. Barcelona is the second most visited place in Spain.

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Montjuic Fountains and Museum

The Olympic Park was amazing. Sitting on the top of the hill at Montjuic Park, the Olympic park has great views of the city and the sea. We went into the track and field arena, which was designed like a historic building from the outside—gorgeous architecture.  The architects did an incredible job of creating comfortable outdoor spaces. With plentiful fountains, green space, and covered areas with high ceilings and semi-circular concrete benches, we could only imagine how perfectly the space housed thousands of people. Without all of the other people though, I felt small in the expansive space. It was like we were at a park for giants, which in some ways we were.

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Olympic Park

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Olympic Stadium

We meandered up, down, and around that area of town. And, our day ended wonderfully with homemade gluten free bagels—thanks to Anna!