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From Bay Area to Barcelona

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños Fogbear! [ Sunday, 02 Sep 12 | 06:48 ]
ursine1
[My Location |European Union, ]
[My Mood |happyhappy]

Happy Birthday from Barcelona!

Chuck
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This year's caganer [ Saturday, 31 Dec 11 | 08:18 ]
ursine1
[Tags|]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

I thought that this being the last day of the year, I had better post a journal entry. And what better than to provide with this year's caganer. Each end of the year I buy a caganer for my collection. I know how have seven, since I have been living here in Catalunya for seven years. Here is my collection:


This year' addition is Mariano Rajoy, the new "center-right" president of Spain who took the beginning of last week:



Just to prove that he is, in fact, a caganer, here's the view from behind:

Photographer’s note: EXIF data intact.

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2010 was the year of guindillas [ Wednesday, 09 Mar 11 | 13:09 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]

Spanish food is not “hot” or picante like Mexican food. We have lots of pimientos (capsicum, peppers) here, but most are of the “sweet” kind. Guindilla is used for piquant peppers here rather than chile. Two years ago Ruben brought over a pepper called campanilla, which means “little bell”. It’s not very “hot”, but it has more “heat” then the normal pimientos here. It’s a popular “home variety”, I haven’t seen it sold in markets.

I planted some seeds from that original campanilla and was able to collect some peppers in the late summer and fall. The plant survived the winter and last year became as big as my dwarf lemon trees. More than a hundred peppers appeared last year. And that was from one plant! Again, the same plant has survived this winter and last weekend was replanted in a larger pot. So maybe it will grow some more.

Campanillas or bell-shaped peppers

A year ago we decided to plant some more “hot” varieties of peppers. We did find a few varieties of seeds to buy. One problem is that the seeds are very fertile and have close to 100% germination, so ended up having to buy more pots for the peppers.

Although several varieties were planted, it turns out one can classify the chile-shaped peppers as big and little. The flesh of all them is not that piquant, but the seeds are pretty potent.

Campanillas and two “chiles”

We ended up with too many plants and way too many peppers. This year we will see how many of last year’s plants are still viable before planting more. So far, the two campanilla plants look OK, I am not so sure about the other varieties. There are plenty of seeds so no problem to plant a couple more, just not so many as last year.

In case you are wondering, I use the guindillas in pasta sauce, pizza, and nachos. Also in dishes that call for pimientos, I’ll add some of the red ones for color.

A happy face of guindillas

Photographer’s note: EXIF data intact.

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The last marmalade [ Tuesday, 08 Mar 11 | 17:39 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, , ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

As you may recall, last week I made two types of marmalade:

  • Kumquat with vanilla bean
  • Calamondin.

I still had the fruit from my other dwarf kumquat tree to use, so I decided to make a kumquat and ginger marmalade. I really like the Orange and Ginger “Fruit Rhapsody” of St. Dalfour that is sold here. And this was a chance to use much more fruit than the commercial variety.

When I previously made the kumquat and vanilla bean marmalade, I threw away the seeds and pulp and only used the peel. After reading some more recipes on-line, I decided to boil the flesh and seeds and use the resulting liquid instead of just adding water to the kumquat skins.

Kumquat pulp and seeds cooking

While the kumquat pulp and seeds were boiling, the ginger was finely cut. Here you can see the ginger ready to add to the kumquat peel. There was probably double the amount of kumquats versus ginger.

Ginger and kumquat peels

After boiling the flesh and seeds for about 15 minutes, they were passed through a colander. The liquid was then added to the skins and ginger. Also, sugar was added for sweetness and the juice from two lemons to help the marmalade to “set”. The kumquat peel itself is sweet and doesn’t need much sugar, but the juice is slightly acidic—more than an orange, but less than than a lemon.

After nearly two hours of gentling boiling, the mixture had reached 105ºC and was ready.

Finished kumquat and ginger marmalade

I baked popovers on Sunday and we tried all three types of marmalade. The favorite was the kumquat and vanilla bean variety. Definitely will make that again next year, but use the pulp and seeds like I did for the kumquat and ginger version. The ginger was a little strong, next time will have to halve the amount. The calamondin marmalade was very acid, not much I can do about that. You could still taste the tangerine flavor long after you had eaten the marmalade.

Photographer’s note: EXIF data intact.

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Calamondin marmalade [ Wednesday, 02 Mar 11 | 18:02 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, , , , ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

Yesterday it was kumquats. Today it is calamondins. Calamondin (scientific name: Citrus ×microcarpa) is a fruit tree in the family Rutaceae that was developed in Southeast Asia. In the west it is variously known as acid orange, calamondin orange, Chinese Orange or Panama orange. The calamondin is usually described as a cross between Citrus reticulata (Tangerine or Mandarin orange) and Fortunella japonica (Oval Kumquat).

The fruit of the calamondin resembles a small, round lime or tangerine, usually 25-35mm (1-1.5in) in diameter. It has the color of a tangerine with a thin peel. Despite its appearance and aroma, the taste of the fruit itself is quite sour, though the peel is sweet.

I have two dwarf calamondin trees on my terrace. Usually I treat them as ornamental plants. They are be especially attractive when the fruit are present, which is most of the year. Also the flowers have a nice citrus scent.

Rather than having the fruit go to waste, I decided to make marmalade like I did for the kumquats. The picked fruit weighed just over a kilo. My dwarf kumquats are larger and more prolific.

Calamondins ready to prepare

Preparation consists of cutting the fruit in half along the “equator” and removing the seeds. I then cut them into small pieces.

Calamondins ready to cook

I looked at several recipes on-line and found that all I needed to do was to add water, sugar, and some lemon juice. I have lots of lemons on my two lemon trees so that was easy to do.

I boiled the mixture for about an hour until it reached a temperature of 105ºC (210ºF). After it cooled down, I took a taste. The flavor was like tangerines, but very acid. It reminds me of bitter “Sevilla” orange marmalade. I will have to try this marmalade along with the kumquat marmalade this weekend when I make popovers.

I still have the fruit from my other kumquat tree to deal with. Ruben suggested that I try to make a kumquat-ginger marmalade as we both like the orange-ginger variety (St. Dalfour brand) that can be bought in stores.

Calamondin marmalade ready to eat

Photographer’s note: EXIF data intact.

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Kumquat marmalade [ Tuesday, 01 Mar 11 | 19:43 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, , ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

I have a number of dwarf citrus type trees in my terraza, incuding two kumquats. This year they are loaded with fruit. So I decided to make kumquat marmalade today. I picked the fruit from one tree and ended up with 2 kg of kumquats. This is about twice the amount than previous years.

Kumquats ready to cut

I decided to just use the peel and throw the flesh away. I will probably make some more marmalade from the other tree and retain the flesh and boil it and use that for the added liquid. I ended up with a kilo of peel, half of the original weight.

Several recipes suggested using lemons or limes to add acid. I used two limequats from the terraza for that purpose. Also I added a vanilla bean for a flavor accent.

Kumquats plus limequats and vanilla bean
Ready for cooking


I added water and about half of the amount of sugar the recipes listed. It took about an hour to cook to the required temperature (105ºC). It tastes really good and is not too sweet.

Kumquats marmalade. Done!

Photographer’s note: EXIF data intact.

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I have a new range top [ Thursday, 24 Feb 11 | 18:14 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, , , ]
[My Location |el Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

After living here for six years, I finally replaced my gas range. Previously I had a cheap Balay range with 3 gas burners and an electric hotplate. It always annoyed me I had to use a lighter and that there weren’t four gas burners. Of course I have never used more than three at one time. The two smaller burners are rated at 1.75kw and the larger one at 3kw.

The old Balay gas range top

I replaced the old range with an Electrolux with four gas burners:

  • 1 x 1kw
  • 2 x 2kw
  • 1 x 4kw “triple crown”

This new range has electronic ignition and a safety switch that requires flames for 5 seconds, or the gas is automatically turned off. The old Balay range required a lighter and of course you could just turn on the gas and wait until either there was an explosion or you were asphyxiated. They do add an “odorizer” here to the gas, but it is much less apparent than in the US.

The new Electrolux range top

Other differences are that the gas lines are on the outside of the building. There is a main shut-off valve for my place plus individual ones for each gas appliance. Inspection is required every few years to search for gas leaks, correct gas pressure, and proper combustion of the gas (CO, CO2 levels). I have a gas service policy that includes an annual inspection.

The installer was an “old guy” of 62 years. We chatted the whole time he was working. He made an interesting comment about the US: that there is too much individual competition and not enough collaboration. I see this in little ways here. For example, when someone has a baby carriage and getting on/off the train, there is almost always a stranger that will offer to help. Another example is the game show equivalent for “Deal or No Deal”. Once the “player” is chosen, all the other contestants try to help the player win. In the US they are just as likely to be aloof or even antagonistic to the player’s success.

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VDSL Internet connections [ Tuesday, 25 Jan 11 | 10:24 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, , ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |geekygeeky]

I have been using ADSL2+ technology for the last 5 years. I visited my provider's site (Jazztel) and they now offer VDSL technology. Has anyone had experience with VDSL?

With ADSL2+ the theoretical maximum is 20 megabits per second and with VDSL it is 30. I regularly obtain 12.7 to 14.5 megas at my location.
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And this year's caganer is… [ Wednesday, 15 Dec 10 | 17:20 ]
ursine1
[Tags|]
[My Location |el Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |mischievousmischievous]

Homer Simpson
Frontal view


Three-quarter view


Rear view

Photographer’s note: EXIF data intact.

Homer is like last year’s Hello Kitty™, except he’s yellow instead of pink.

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Flytrap traps fly [ Monday, 06 Dec 10 | 18:44 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |dorkydorky]

Several months ago I bought a Venus Flytrap, Dionaea muscipula, as Ruben had admired them. The Venus Flytrap is a carnivorous plant that catches and digests animal prey—mostly insects and arachnids. Its trap is formed by the end portion of the plant's leaves and is triggered by tiny hairs on their inner surfaces. When an insect or spider crawling along the leaves contacts a hair, the trap closes if a different hair is contacted within twenty seconds of the first contact. This redundant triggering serves as a safeguard against a waste of energy in trapping objects with no nutritional value (like fingers).

Originally I placed the plant next to the kitchen sink as it was easy to water. (Their natural habitat is bogs.) The problem is that here in Spain there aren’t many insects inside the home. So I moved the plant outside onto the terraza, where a literal jungle of plants exists replete with bugs. This past weekend we spotted not one, but two traps with flies. Here is one of them…

Flytrap traps fly

Photographer’s note: EXIF data intact.

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Happy T-day! [ Thursday, 25 Nov 10 | 10:09 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, , ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |happyhappy]

Happy T-day to all of you in the US!

Photographer’s note: EXIF data intact.

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GST [ Thursday, 11 Nov 10 | 16:23 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, , , , ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |amusedamused]

It’s been a while, a long while, since I posted for the Green Shirt Thursday meme. That’s because I ran out of green shirts to wear. I even used some of Ruben’s shirts to try to keep the meme going. Last month I bought a couple of polo shirts at Costco, and one of them is green. So here I am, posing with my “tree” of campanillas (slightly hot, bell-shaped peppers). Note that I am even wearing a pair of matching green suspenders.

On the terraza threatening to pick some campanillas

Photographer’s note: EXIF data intact.

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My new grandchild [ Wednesday, 10 Nov 10 | 18:10 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |happyhappy]

This past August I was lucky to have a new granddaughter born to my daughter, Meg. I had to wait a couple of months for things to settle down before I could visit. When I went to California last month my son and I drove up to Petaluma to see Sophia and the rest of the family.

My grandson, Jack, now two and a half years old, is a walking and talking toddler. Fortunately he is very good to his little sister and often shows his affection towards her.

Sophia, Jack and Mom

You can see that Sophia´s dad is pretty proud too!

Sophia and Dad

Photographer's note: EXIF data intact.

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An early Xmas tree [ Tuesday, 09 Nov 10 | 17:12 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |cheerfulcheerful]

I haven’t bought an Xmas tree for at least 20 years. And this year will be no exception. Besides, I have a “natural” Xmas tree thanks to my campanilla plant. This is the second year for this plant. During the three-month “winter” last year, it was just a green stick with no leaves. I was surprised to see lots of leaves sprout last Spring. Later there were flowers and plenty of “fruit”. And now that all the pimientos are ripe and many leaves are gone, it looks like an Xmas tree complete with red decorations.

Arbol de campanilla
Bell-shaped pimiento “tree”

Photographer’s note: EXIF data intact. Auto-white balance used.

After I took this shot, I collected about 40 of the peppers. I don’t think that it was even half of them. I’ve already used a number in nachos and pasta sauce. They aren’t as picante (hot) as my guindillas (chiles).

If this plant survives another winter and continues to grow, I am going to have to move it again to a larger pot.

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Greetings from 27,000 feet [ Tuesday, 02 Nov 10 | 13:02 ]
ursine1
[Tags|]
[My Location |United States, New York, New York]
[My Mood |sleepysleepy]

I'm on my way back home to Barcelona. Thought I would try out the "gogo" in-flight internet access on this Delta flight. It's OK for reading short mail messages or using Facebook, but don't try any large downloads.

Had an exciting last night in the San Francisco Bay Area. My son and I went to Everett & Jones, a local chain of Southern-style barbecue in the Jack London Square area of Oakland. They were very busy and we were seated in a large room in the back with a big TV projection screen showing the final World Series game. We got there during the eighth inning and it was a only a short time before San Francisco won the Series. The room erupted in hoops and hollers. It was nice to see a mixture of whites, blacks, and Asians enjoying themselves after seeing so many racist political commercials from the US.
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California here I come! [ Friday, 22 Oct 10 | 06:44 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |bouncybouncy]

I'm heading to the airport now to see family and friends in the SF Bay Area. Don't know what kind of Internet access I will have. I'll be back in Barcelona Wednesday, November 3.
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Need a recommendation [ Friday, 15 Oct 10 | 10:29 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |busybusy]

Next friday I will be flying back to California for a week and a half to visit with family and friends. I also have "buy list" and this year I want to purchase some suspenders. The kind that use snaps and not buttons. Let me know if you have suggestions for retail outlets in the SF Bay Area or on-line/mail order sites.

Thanks!
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Dieta mediterránea [ Tuesday, 03 Aug 10 | 17:03 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, , ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |artisticartistic]

Mediterranean Food

Sofia's story, the best chef the world, and the two men who helped her to become a legend. Or how a trio can work.

This is a fun romantic-comedy. Sofia (Olivia Molina) has been raised working in her parents’ small family restaurant. She can't make up her mind between two men she's known since childhood. Toni (Paco León) is faithful, hardworking and perfect husband material. Frank (Alfonso Bassave) is a slick, handsome jet-setter who is in the same profession of food service as Sofia. Frank has upscale industry connections and realizes Sofia has the talent at cooking to be a five-star chef. Sofia wants to follow her dreams of owning an upscale restaurant and knows that Frank has the keys to helping her but she also does not want to lose Toni. The three come to an unlikely arrangement that will keep them all together. So being in a trio does more than raise a few eyebrows from family and friends. Interesting how they at first tried to hide their relationship to finally almost flaunting it.

Interesting that the same actress, Olivia Molina, that plays Sofia, is also involved in a trio in the Spanish TV series Física o Química (“Physical or Chemical)”.

There was so much frontal nudity and sex scenes that I wondered about the film classification. It is recommend for age seven and older here in Spain. It was would be given an “R” in the US.

Filming locations:

  • Arenys de Mar
  • Barcelona
  • Canet de Mar
  • Mataró, Barcelona
  • Pineda de Mar
  • Sant Pol de Mar

All, except Barcelona, are in the same comarca (county) where I live, Maresme.

The final scene shows the trio opening a new Sofia’s restaurant with Ayer’s Rock in the background.

Since the story was about food service, there were mentions of some Spain’s famous chefs and their restaurants. They also appeared in the credits at the end of the film.

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Nou pont sobre la riera d’Alella [ Thursday, 15 Jul 10 | 17:44 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, , , ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |happyhappy]

A new bridge over the Alella River

It was probably five years ago that they put up a big sign heralding a new pedestrian bridge over the Alella River. Finally this year construction began and it was opened for use last week. Before heading to the mani in Barcelona last Saturday afternoon, we decided to take a look.

New bridge crossing the Alella River
The building in the middle is the Ca l´Aymà also called the Emerald Tower.

The Alella River is really an intermittent stream that only flows when we have cloudburst or significant rain over a period of time. When it does flow, it usually is a muddy rush.

You can walk along the Mediterranean pretty much all the way from Barcelona to Mataró. Here in El Masnou, a couple hundred meters from where I live, the Alella River cut across a dirt path which made it impassible when the river was flowing.

That’s Ruben sitting and smiling
You can spot that sign announcing the bridge construction on the left.

Interesting about the new bridge is that it has benches and trees. It is also at same level as the pre-existing walkway. On Saturday it seemed to be used by quite a few people even after having been open for only a few days.

Me from the other end of the bridge
That’s the marina behind me, which my home overlooks

There have been some additional upgrades along the walkway to Montgat, the next town towards Barcelona. Several new showers have been erected along with benches and trees. This will probably draw more people to the El Masnou beach. The beach at Montgat Nord is very popular as the train station is next to the beach making it very accessible to people from Barcelona. The Ocata beach in El Masnou, located on the other side of the marina, is very popular as well as it being a Blue Flag beach.

Photographer’s notes: Auto WB, EXIF data intact.

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Mani en Barcelona [ Wednesday, 14 Jul 10 | 17:38 ]
ursine1
[Tags|, , ]
[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
[My Mood |tiredtired]

Demonstration in Barcelona

You probably already know that last Sunday 1.1 million people (local police estimate) held a march in Barcelona to call for greater autonomy for the Catalan region. The demonstration came a day after a constitutional court (Tribunal Constitucional or TC) declared that there was no legal basis to recognise Catalonia as a “nation”.

The ruling also said the Catalan language should not take precedence over Castilian Spanish (castellano). The official language of Spain is castellano, but other languages are co-oficial in certain regions, like Catalan is here in Catalunya.

The TC’s decision followed a challenge to the region's new self-governing statute by the center-right opposition People's Party (PP), which favors Spanish unity. Curiously, in the past PP used to be partnered with CiU (a conservative-nationalist Catalan party). But not so much these days. The PP has some its roots from the Franco dictatorship and holds a number of their views.

The new statute of autonomy was approved by Catalan voters in a 2006 referendum. However turnout was not that high even though it was widely publicized. My opinion is that it was more of an issue for local politicians than for many people.

So the theme for Saturday’s “mani” was “We are a nation”. Ruben and I left El Masnou early in the afternoon to avoid the rush. The Rodalies commuter train was very crowded. We did some shopping around Plaça Catalunya before heading up Passeig de Gracia. By the time we got to Aragó street we couldn’t move anymore in spite of the fact the origin of the mani was several blocks further at Av. Diagonal.

We hung around for about an hour. Nothing seemed to be happening much due to the crush of people. So we decided to head back to El Masnou. We went back by way of Rambla Catalunya. After about an hour we got back to my place and found that watching the coverage on TV3 in my air conditioned salón was much more comfortable.

One more observation. There were very few police present. I only saw two on Rambla Catalunya and they were busy chatting with each other. Much different than demonstrations I have attended in California where there were plenty of police and they looked poised for “action.”

Here are a couple of pictures that I took at the corner of Passeig de Gracia and Aragó:



Photographer’s note: Auto WB, EXIF data intact.

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