Archive for March 2010

Eat, drink, Barcelona

March 31, 2010

It wasn’t intended but our trip to Barcelona turned out to be completely food-centric. That doesn’t mean we didn’t do the usual touristy things but we really stopped and ate a lot. Oh and you know when I said I just wanted to have a relaxed time in my previous post? That completely went out of the window because R was just so keen to explore the city and we ended up walking, walking and walking most of the time. I must admit that wasn’t at all easy for me at this stage of my pregnancy but hey I’ve lived to tell the tale.

We caught an early morning flight from Bristol and arrived in our Barcelona hotel by mid-afternoon. The first thing we did after dropping our bags was to go to a small supermarket just around the corner to get some drinks and snacks. I always love visiting supermarkets whenever I travel to a different country, because they can tell you so much about the natives’ diets and lifestyles.

Bimbo obviously has a very different meaning here in Spain. We couldn’t resist chuckling and taking a photo of the brioche this company makes. Along with water and juice, we also picked up some traditional potato crisps (produced in Spain, we checked) and some Filipinos – a brand of chocolate biscuits for R’s Filipina colleagues at the hospital. Apparently, the Filipino government was quite pissed off with the Spaniards in 1999 for allowing these biscuits to be produced and named Filipinos – something they found offensive.

We were hungry by 7pm but discovered that Spanish restaurants didn’t open till 9pm! So we first snacked on some delectable mini-pizzas which were priced by weight. I think this is such a great idea! You just tell them how big a slice you want and they’d weigh it for you. Food in Spain is often available in small portions (I love their montadito – mini sandwiches!) and that’s absolutely perfect for me since I can’t eat a lot at one time.

Still feeling peckish, we chanced upon a lovely tapas bar in Las Ramblas serving a large variety of open sandwiches. We took a plate and picked what we wanted and stood around the crowded premises to savour them. They all cost 1.80 euros each and the staff counted the number of toothpicks left on your plate to total your bill when you were finished.

I have no pictures to show but the amazing Mercat La Boquiera nearby has completely left me in awe. They have the freshest and most handsome looking fruit and vegetables on display, including torpedo-sized avocados, giant grapes and beautiful tangerines. I bought a cup of passion fruit gelato there and it simply is the most delicious ice-cream I have ever had. You could really tell it was made using all natural ingredients because I could taste the fruit’s sharpness, sweetness and its signature pungent fragrance all in a mouthful! It was so good that I had to go back again for another serving on the last day of our trip.

So anyway, having finally stuck it out till 9pm, we headed for Restaurant Culleretes for some traditional Catalan cuisine. It is according to the Guinness Book of Record, the oldest restaurant in Spain, having been established since 1786. Catalan cuisine is often very rustic and rich. Fish and seafood are popular here and so is the pairing of meats with fruits. I ordered goose with apples as my main course. It was beautifully cooked – the skin was slightly crispy and the meat was tender. The only problem I had was that my goose had a lot of fat (but that’s how the animal is) so I spent quite some time cutting away the fatty bits. The apples were a good complement, perfect for taking away that greasy taste in the mouth.

On the second day we checked out the quirky Gothic Quarter in the centre of the old city Barcelona. I enjoyed strolling down the cobbled lanes and sitting down in Buenas Migas to enjoy a lovely slice of Catalan sausage foccacia. In the evening, we hunted down a vegetarian restaurant, L’Illa de Gràcia, recommended by the guide book. Sadly, we weren’t at all impressed by the food. I had the stuffed avocado as the starter which was not too bad, but it got a bit too salty and overwhelming toward the end. R’s spinach tart turned out to be just spinach with mushrooms, with no tart! My main was brown rice with grilled tofu and raw vegetables. It was very, very bland and although I kinda like that fresh, detox taste, I don’t think many others would appreciate the dish. We’ve both had better quality and better value vegetarian food, especially in Singapore, so this meal was quite a disappointment.

Our stay at the hotel didn’t include breakfast, which was just as well, because it was an interesting experience to have breakfast with the locals in a small cafe on our way to Sagrada Familia. Our meal of a cup of coffee (espressos are very popular here, just like in Italy, and the other coffees are always strong and good) with three mini croissants (I love Spain for everything mini!) cost 2.50 euros. The croissants were crunchy and fluffy and I especially liked the one with a custard filling. Very delicious and unusual. Savoury sandwiches were also popular with the locals and I spotted one table enjoying a bowl of olives as they downed their coffees and sucked on their cigarettes. (It’s okay to smoke in cafes and some restaurants).

In the afternoon we explored Borne, another interesting old part of Barcelona near to the Gothic Quarter. The first thing we saw when we got off the Metro was La Colmena, a traditional patisserie with an amazing display of cakes in their windows. We pressed our noses on the glass with huge eager eyes like hungry children. Submitting to temptation, R went in to get a hazelnut meringue for 1.50 euros which we shared. I could distinctly taste the egg whites used to make the meringue and enjoyed the generous serving of hazelnuts. We walked on to Parc de la Ciutadella, the city’s central park next to the Catalonia Parliament. The park would be a wonderful place to visit in warmer weather. But as it was raining when we visited and I was particularly tired from the walking we did that day, I felt I didn’t really have the opportunity to truly admire the beauty of the place. Never mind, that’s always a good excuse for another visit.

My favourite meal in Barcelona was in La Muscleria, a restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. Mussels are its specialty, but it also serves up a variety of seafood. Mussels are very popular in Spain. On our last night in town, I ordered pan-fried mussels with prawns (11 euros) and it came with hand-cut fries. The mussels were very fresh and I liked the garlicky sauce it was cooked in. I never realised until reading a leaflet in the restaurant while waiting for my food, that mussels are an excellent source of protein, they are low in calories and fat, they contain a number of vitamins and minerals and are easily digested, not to mention they are highly inexpensive and good value for money. They also contain iodine, which is good for my thyroid condition. I’m now a total mussel fan!

Before we headed home, we visited Mercat de la Concepció, a market near our hotel, because I wanted to get some chorizo sausages. The fruit and vegetables were not as impressive in size and quality as compared to the market in Las Ramblas, but it was nowhere as crowded, which made browsing a lot easier. I spotted a whole skinned rabbit at the butcher’s which I felt sorry for and this was followed by a pang of guilt and disgust for being a meat-eater.

I must admit now as I look back to our trip, that I really had a good time! It sure didn’t feel like that when I was dragging my feet and my bump around and the weather was drizzly and gloomy. But it was just brilliant to be able to learn about the differences in culture (I’ve decided eating at 9pm doesn’t work for me), savour so much gorgeous food (Tapas rules!) and visit the interesting Gaudi buildings (He’s a genuis!).

I love Spain!

Just kill me

March 26, 2010

I never knew toothaches could be sooooooo bad.

I don’t proclaim to have good teeth – I have fillings everywhere, but until last week, I have never had such a terrible toothache. Okay, I admit I was in agony for a few days in 2005 because my wisdom tooth had nowhere to sprout but that was just a persistent dull, sore ache which resolved after my dentist pulled out my tooth.

But this pain was something else. It started suddenly a few weeks ago, after I chewed on some gum. And then it just got progressively worse, until one day I could not let anything touch that tooth (air, water, food, spoon, everything) because it was throbbing with pain, I was hyperventilating and I had my head buried in my hands. This was days before we were due to go to Barcelona and I told R there was no way I could go in this state.

I thought at that point what they said was true. Pregnancy could really cost you a tooth. I had no choice but to go to the dentist because I could not get past one day without painkillers stronger than paracetamol and I shouldn’t really be taking them when I am pregnant.

The dentist first gave me a jab in my gum to numb me because he wanted to drill into my temporary filling to see what the problem was. He couldn’t understand why with no decay and with such a small surface area (it is a pre-molar) the pain could be so intense.

The jab really hurt but it wasn’t very effective so he said he had to give me another one at the back of my jaw to block my nerves. At this point I told the dentist to just kill me. He didn’t but proceeded to jab me again in the gum as I let out a helpless yelp.

Then I sat outside feeling sorry for myself and waited with a swollen, numb mouth (and tried not to dribble) for the anasthetic to take full effect. I realised then why I hated going to the dentist – because I always end up leaving in the lamest, shittiest state stripped of dignity.

Thank goodness when I went back to the room again I felt absolutely no pain. If the dentist had said he was going to jab me again I would have killed him. So, he drilled away and said there was a crack in the tooth but he had got rid of it and filled the hole with more white temporary filling.

I was glad R came with me because it was really quite a traumatic experience. With my mouth still numb, I couldn’t talk properly but I could finally eat a proper meal in days as the anasthetic was still in full effect. I had a bowl of noodles when I got home.

When the numbness wore off, the tooth still felt sore but it was nowhere near anything as painful as what I had experienced before. Gradually the tooth got better and although it has almost recovered 100% now, I am still cautious when biting and chewing.

The dentist’s plan is for me to get a permanent mercury filling once I’ve had the baby because the temporary filling will only last a couple of months. I’m just hoping this is all the dental nightmare I’m going to get while I am pregnant. Nothing is more terrible than experiencing discomfort and pain but not being able to do anything for fear of harming the baby.

I guess the only consolation is dental work is free for pregnant women and up to 12 months after they’ve had the baby. The correlation between pregnancy and losing a tooth must have some truth to it then.

Conversation with R #6

March 26, 2010

R: How are you today?

C: Okay but I have been feeling there’s something stuck under my ribs.

R: Yes, a baby.

Off to Barcelona

March 19, 2010

We are going to Barcelona for a few days this weekend, as part of my Christmas present to R. It will be my first visit to Spain and the weather is supposed to be quite warm so I am really looking forward to it. With the extra baggage around my waist, we are definitely not going to be over-ambitious with our sightseeing plans. I would just like to see a few key landmarks, such as Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (above), which commenced construction in 1882 and building works are still ongoing!. The rest of the time, I would like to duck into shops in the little lanes, follow my nose into plain unpretentious cafes which serve fantastic wholesome Spanish food and enjoy our last little holiday before the little one bursts into our world.

Enjoy a picnic indoors

March 18, 2010

This is such a great concept at Cafe du Pique Nique, given the constant wet, cold and gloomy weather we experience here in the UK. Unfortunately it will take me years to get off the ground in my current state but once I get rid of my ever-growing big bump, I’d love to check this place out! Via tommy.

Happy Mother’s Day

March 14, 2010

It’s Mother’s Day in the UK today and I woke to a nice surprise after having a miserable night of tooth pain. (I’ll save that story for another entry). R came home at 8am from his night shift and brought me a Sausage McMuffin meal and a pretty card in bed. He wrote “Mum” on the envelope and I got somewhat confused. Who’s Mum?

It was only after reading the card that I realised I’m “Mum”! It was such a lovely gesture from R, who said, “Bean’s handwriting is so similar to mine! Well you know what they say – like father like son!”

This is my first Mother’s Day, and a very sweet and special one.

The days after

March 13, 2010

I was surprised how promptly the girls organised a sympathy plant basket which arrived two days after they heard the news. I was at work when this was delivered and was really touched by the thoughtfulness of this unexpected gift when I got home.

I arranged for a big bunch of sympathy flowers to be delivered a few days later on behalf of my family, who wondered what they could do since they were so far away.

Plenty of cards got to us, by hand and by post, and it was definitely heartwarming to know so many people kept us in mind during this difficult time. I also heard from friends who wrote emails to send their condolences.

I didn’t go to the funeral, mainly because I didn’t think I could deal with my emotions. I stood by the window as everyone, in their sharp, dark suits, move silently to get into the shiny black limousine provided by the funeral directors. In front, the funeral hearse led the way. I sobbed and apologised to my mother-in-law for not being strong enough to be there for the ceremony, and as they drove away, I said my goodbye for the last time.

The first few days of getting used to being in an quiet, empty house was tough. So I busied myself in the kitchen. I made Chicken Macaroni Soup, brewed Bird’s Nest Soup and baked an Apple Tart. R kept himself occupied in other ways. He went on a shopping spree to buy baby-related items and within a few days we have got a pushchair, carry cot, car seat, foot muff, baby carrier, nappies, babygros, booties and tops.

Sometimes it saddens me to know R and I have only got one another now, of course this will change when the baby comes along, but it will take time for us to get used to the idea that there is now just, us.