Gimme Some Oven


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Wow, it feels like an eternity since I’ve written about anything other than food and travel here.

If we were grabbing a drink to catch up together, I feel like this is the moment when I give you a big hug and apologize for being so MIA lately. ♡  Life has definitely been a whirlwind this year. But after a busy season of traveling, and also hosting lots of friends and family at our place here in Barcelona (I just did the math — 60+ days of visitors in 6 months, to be exact), we officially hugged our last visitors good-bye last week. And now, it’s just us here for the next four months! Which feels totally bittersweet, and also, wonderful.

We’re ready for some downtime. And ready to get back into some regular routines again with work and wellness. And, perhaps more than anything, ready to just stay put for awhile and “nest” deeper into friendships and rhythms we’ve grown to love here in this beautiful city of ours. As it turns out, this whole country basically takes the entire month of August off anyway. So this feels like the perfect time to slow down and do some recharging, Spanish-style. We’re ready.

Speaking of recharging, I’ve also been feeling the itch lately to get back to writing more again more about life besides food. So now that our calendar has opened up, I’m hoping to dust off this little section of the blog and finish up a dozen posts that I’ve half-written this past year. I feel like I have so much that I want to try and articulate about this past year that has turned our lives upside down in some of the best and hardest and surprising of ways. But to be honest, I keep getting paralyzed trying to figure out where on earth to begin. As they say in Spanish, I suppose, poco a poco. So for today, I thought I’d mesh up my old “Currently” and “Favorites” series and at least begin with a few updates on life here in our little corner of Catalonia.

Thanks as always for tuning in, and here’s the latest!

With our friends Sonja, Alex and little Larson (of the blog, A Couple Cooks) getting our gelato on in El Born last month.

Our “Air A&B”

So if you couldn’t tell by my Instagram feed these past months, our theme for 2018 up until now could probably be summed up in one simple word — hosting!

Before we moved to Spain, tons of friends and family members promised that they were planning to come and visit. But realistically, we know international travel isn’t easy, and Barclay and I were curious to who all would actually make it. Turns out, ha, lots of people. (With more on the way this coming year!)

We’ve jokingly dubbed our flat our own little AirA&B (Casa de Ali & Barclay), since it’s been regularly filled with visitors since the beginning of the year. But while the full calendar has definitely been a lot, oh my goodness, it has also been so fun. For years and years, I’ve loved any chance to gather friends around my table for dinner together. But this has actually been the first time in my adult life that I’ve had a legit guest room too, and could offer friends and family the chance to actually come and stay for days at a time. So to have people we love make the investment to come all the way here, and have our place (hopefully!) be a nice soft place to land in a foreign country, and get to explore and experience our new country through their eyes? It’s just been the best. And through the process, we’ve become more convinced than ever that our friends and family are the absolute best. We love them so much.

Also? Turns out that you learn a lot about yourself (and your visitors!) while sharing a tiny European flat together 24/7. I may share more about that in another post to come. (Especially coming to terms with the facts that: 1) I love to host, and 2) I’m definitely even more of an introvert than I realized, two realities that I’m still learning how to balance.)  We’ve also learned that we really enjoy being guides around Barcelona too. Barclay specializes in all things Spanish/Catalan history, I specialize in navigating and food, so we make a good team.

But the main thing we’ve learned? Just how special it really is to get to spend this kind of quality time with friends and family. They always say that traveling is when you really get to know people. And we’ve found that to be especially true with our visitors here this season. These were easily the longest stretches we’ve spent together with our families in years, and definitely more 24/7 time than we’ve ever spent with most of our friends who came to visit. And man, that kind of concentrated time together is sacred. In our first year abroad, when life still feels foreign and hard and lonely at times, it was really comforting to have familiar faces here to help bridge the transition. Their presence here meant a lot, and we’re so thankful for all of the memories made together.

And now?

Our little flat is strangely quiet again, which feels a bit disorienting but good. We’re ready for our little “off-season” and whatever new rhythms and surprises it may bring. And I have no doubt that come fall, we’ll be itching for familiar faces to show up on our doorstep again!

Five Feel-Good Routines

Speaking of rhythms…

Between all of the moving and hosting and traveling, plus trying to run a small business and non-profit in a foreign country, Barclay and I both admittedly totally fell off the wagon with many of our usual daily routines this year. And oof, our bodies and minds and spirits have been feelin’ it.

So! We decided to stay put in Spain this month and keep our calendar as empty as possible, save for a few little day trips around Catalonia and hopefully lots of hangs with local friends. And we’ve challenged ourselves to get back in the groove with some healthy daily routines again. I chose five in particular to focus on this month, which include:

  1. Getting my heart rate up for at least 30 minutes/day.  I love that we walk a ton here in Barcelona. But I’ve fallen off the wagon with any sort of regular cardio or strength-building workouts these past few months, which my body (and mind) have really missed. So I’ve been getting back into my routine of doing Barre3 every other day. And then on my off days, I’ll usually join Barclay for a YogaGlo date (along with Henry, who as you can see above, never wants to miss a good down-dog). We subscribe to both programs online and workout from home, which I really love. I always get questions about Barre3 too, so if you’re considering trying it out, here are three 30-minute classes I’d recommend:
  2. Actually studying Spanish each day. As in, not just relying on our Spanish class two nights a week, and hoping that I’ll get some decent practice in with the clerk at the grocery store or a meetup with friends. I want to make a point of actually studying Spanish at home each day. Even if only for 10 minutes, it all adds up. My latest discovery has been this podcast, which I really enjoy listening to while I cook and photograph recipes for the blog.
  3. Always keeping water by my side. I’m terrible at remembering to drink water during the day. But I’ve been taking my cues lately from our European friends, who literally always have a bottle of water with them at all times. I’m trying to get in the habit, and the simple fact of having water nearby really does seem to make a difference. At home, we’ve also been keeping lemons and limes and ice stocked here at home 24/7, which has been a big motivator for me too. I love, love, love iced lemon water.
  4. Taking care of my skin. As in, consistently doing my skincare routine first thing in the morning and right before bed. And actually using all of the products I buy, ha. My skincare routine is nothing complicated and literally takes just a minute or two a day. But when I get busy or tired, it’s the first part of my daily routine that I skip. So, adulting 101 — take care of that skin.
  5. Reading before bed. Final thing? End the day with a book. Even if it’s a busy day and I only get two pages read before lights out, I just love the rhythm of ending the day in bed with a book. Feels good and intentional, and a million times better than scrolling through my phone.

Anyway, I’m about ten days into my little challenge, and so far it’s all gone surprisingly well. I always forget how healthy habits build momentum, and also how quickly regular exercise and consistent sleep can improve my mental health. We’ll see how the month unfolds, but so far routine feels great.

Spanish cheese board (with a Manchego tasting)

Spanish Summer Lovin’

In every season, it seems that Spain has something to teach us about livin’ the good life. Especially summertime. Here are a few local traditions lately that we’ve been loving:

  1. Going on holiday: We’ve always heard that Spain “shuts down” during the month of August while people go on holiday. But it wasn’t until our local friends celebrated their last day of work this past week that the idea of taking an entire month off work really began to sink in.  An entire month!!! (Not to mention that people typically have more than 4 weeks of vacation a year here, plus more bank holidays than we have in the States, so…yeah.)  It all seems almost unfathomable to us, coming from the States. But it’s actually our European friends who can’t believe how Americans survive with so little time off. To them, time off is an essential balance to working hard. We can get on board with that. :)
  2. Al fresco everythingMost homes and many restaurants/offices/buildings don’t have air-conditioning here in Spain. So this time of year when temperatures are soaring, every possible door and window is flung open, and patios are packed. Which brings this extra energy and camaraderie on the streets everywhere you turn. I get it — locals hate the heat. But as newbies here, it’s actually been kind of cool to see people finding ways to cool down and rest in the shade besides just flipping on an easy a/c switch. And it definitely brings a new appreciation for the climate control we’ve taken for granted back home most of our lives. Perspective.
  3. Summer siestas: On that note, when the heat gets too unbearable in the summer afternoons, people here actually do take siestas on their lunch breaks. Which I just love. I mean, nice lunch, glass of wine or a caña, hot summer afternoon…it just makes sense. :)
  4. Gazpacho: Speaking of the heat, it’s been fun to see that gazpacho truly is everywhere in Spain during the summertime. People here also talk about doing “gazpacho diets” to get their bikini bods in shape, ha, which actually sounds pretty delicious to me. Fresh gazpacho every day — yum! If you need a recommendation, my recipe for classic gazpacho is one of our faves.
  5. Tinto de verano: Also, want to drink like a local during the summertime in Spain? Nix the sangria, which is really reserved for tourists, and order a glass of tinto de verano instead. It’s the half-wine, half-soda (usually La Casera) drink that’s locals love ordering to cool off during the hot months. Or, of course, there’s always vermouth, which has easily been our favorite drink discovery here in Catalonia. Both are delightful and only about $2/glass here. Spain, man.

He always insists on carrying my book to class. :)

Español Progress Report

Lots of you have alsoo been asking how Spanish is going since my last post. To be honest, my response still varies wildly depending on the day.

On the good days? I really love it. I can sense the progress I’m making, and notice how I’m increasingly more at ease in conversations, and really enjoy the adrenaline and challenge and excitement of getting to live in a place that operates in a foreign language. Oh, and I’ve been dabbling with the Spain-ish accent lately, trading my Costa Rican “gracias” for a full on “gra-thi-as,” which has been really fun to try and refine. I have no plans currently to abandon my original Costa Rican accent, but it’s fun to try and pass a local on occasion.

On the bad days? I mostly get really frustrated with myself for not being “farther along”. I think I moved here with this subconscious magical “one year” mark in my head, thinking that was the normal amount of time it took to become relatively fluent living in a country that speaks a foreign language. But for various reasons — namely, our workdays and most of our time at home is spent completely in English, and we no longer have those brilliantly spongy kid brains anymore — fluency is totally not going to happen in a year. Probably not even two, which is hard for a bit of a perfectionist like me, who also loves nothing more in the world than a good, deep conversation.

I actually had my first breakdown with Spanish last month, sobbing to Barclay that I was done, and my brain was flat-out exhausted and never going to fully get there, and I couldn’t take another year living as a 35-yr-old in a place where I could only speak and comprehend at the level of a 7-yr-old, and I wanted to go home.  But, before we moved to Spain, I still have this memory of my friend Ian praying for us one morning. And how he had prayed specifically for “that day” — whenever it was bound to come — that we woke up and wondered if we had made a huge mistake and wanted to throw in the towel. He had prayed that we’d be reminded, somewhere deep down, that we were doing a good job and that this really was the place we wanted to be and that we would stick with it.

I felt that prayer in my bones that day. And I’ve made that my own prayer on days since, when the daily, humbling grind of learning Spanish sometimes gets me down. I know that this is where we want to be. And the language will continue to come.

We’re gettin’ there. And even as convinced as I am that these tenses are completely unnecessary, I’m buckling down to try and conquer all of the subjunctives. And I’m making myself speak on the phone in Spanish. And I’m keeping on with our classes twice a week.

And little by little, poco a poco, it’s all helping.

Ali Martin | Boulevard Beer

Just kidding — if only I could bring Boulevard with me back to Barcelona!

Random Stuff I Brought Back From KC

Last month, I flew back to Kansas City for the first since our move to attend my annual girls weekend with friends, which was the best for a thousand reasons. More on that to come. But since that trip, ha, I’ve had tons of you asking what all I brought back with me to Barcelona! I mentioned on Insta that I broke my carry-on-only rule to check a big suitcase full of stuff to bring back home with me. So for anyone interested, here’s my loot from KC!

  • My favorite candle (True story — smelling it for the first in our flat here in Barcelona made me cry. It’s so unbelievably nostalgic to me that I now wish I had brought home more than one.)
  • My everyday lip color (I’m a creature of habit and have used this $7 stuff from Revlon for years and years)
  • My favorite brand of nutritional yeast (for nooch popcorn. So far, the European versions we’ve found aren’t as good.)
  • Ridiculous amounts of chili powder and diced green chiles (both of which are unavailable in Barcelona, and also very necessary for my favorite enchiladas that we make constantly)
  • Natural beauty stuff — deodorant (both my favorite and Barclay’s), toothpasteshampoo and conditioner
  • Yoga shorts and a new pair of Girlfriend leggings
  • My fave seamless underwear (Haven’t found these yet in Europe; perfect for wearing with sundresses this time of year.)
  • My hiking boots (They were too bulky/heavy to make the cut for our move the first time, but I’ve missed them.)
  • An enormous batch of homemade extra-bold chex mix (lovingly made for me by my mom. Chex aren’t available here in Barcelona, which is a small tragedy in my snacking life.)
  • American junk food (We were told by fellow expats that you miss junk food the most when you move abroad, which we totally blew off. But you’d better believe the second I spotted Twizzlers, Hot Tamales, Good & Plenty’s and wasabi peas at Target…holy moly…had to have ’em.)
  • This water bottle (A gift from my parents. We accidentally left ours on the plane when we moved and have missed it ever since.)
  • A replacement 100mm macro lens for my camera (My 8-yr-old 100mm recently broke, and Canon equipment is much cheaper in the States than abroad.)
  • Lots of random paperwork (Our visas here are up for renewal next month, wish us luck!)
Barclay and Ali Martin in Barcelona

Nachos for life! Also, easy Sunday afternoon dates at the park with my love.

Anyway, that’s the update from our neck of the woods! Hope that your summer has been a good one, and that you have a bright August ahead. ♡

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21 comments on “Currently”

  1. Fellow expat here, living nearby in Sweden. ?? I’ve been hoping that you were going to be doing more writing about your experience in Spain! Thanks for opening up about how things have been going so far. Learning a foreign language later on life is no joke. Have you read Davis Sedaris’ writings about learning French? Priceless. Enjoy your break from hosting these next few months and those Twizzlers!

  2. I’ve missed these posts from you! ?

  3. Great update! I love Boulevard’s Lemon Ginger Radler!

  4. Omg, I’d be so curious to hear any tips you have for hosting as an introvert. We have friends and family passing through town regularly and I love it, but by the end I am always SPENT. ?

  5. Great post! As a fellow Spanish learner, are there any novels in Spanish that you’d recommend?

  6. Love reading your updates! A month off-oh the joy that would be!!! We work like dogs over here-lol! So excited for your new life there and wish you the best! Keep us updated :)

  7. I love your posts about every day life! And I have missed them! Happy to hear everything is going great!

  8. I love love love your blog keep it up you are inspiring !

  9. Loved this post. Just returned from Europe and wanted to thank you for your Rome restaurant suggestion of Sora Margherita. We have been to Rome numerous times, but this trip (celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary) was one my husband and I did solo. We did have to search a bit for this location, but it was worth the trip. Wished we had had time to try the other restaurants, but we cruised out the next day. On our stop to Barcelona, we did a lot of walking and I was hoping I would bump into you! Just love your new hometown (our second visit.) Hope you are keeping cool in the heat, wow it was quite hot the day we were there. We were fortunate enough to also visit Krakow, Poland. It was an short and very affordable plane ride from Rome. It was just an amazing place. We stayed in the old town and it was like being dropped in a fairy tale setting. The people were so friendly and tried very hard to speak English. Everything was very affordable. It was definitely a favorite from this vacation. I would highly recommend visiting if you are able. So much of the world to see and being in Europe gives you a great advantage. Enjoy!

  10. LOVE your post. Thanks for including the Chex mix recipe. Haven’t found one I like – going to make this one tonight. I also lived in Europe for 4 years as an expat with my husband and 12 year old daughter. Do what you are already doing – see everything on holiday and enjoy!!! It was the best experience!!! Your recipes and posts bring the experiences to life!

  11. I wish I had your dedication to learning Spanish. Since I live in El Paso, TX, I tried, but Rosetta Stone left me in the dust, because my old brain doesn’t pick up what they expect me to from their pictures. I did give up. And if I weren’t traveled out (for the time being), even though you don’t know us, we would come visit you. Barcelona is one of my favorite cities to visit, and I would love to see it though the eyes of someone who lives there (and is not a professional tour guide). I’m glad that you and Barclay had the courage to move to Barcelona and experience life differently. There are so many wonderful places in the world that deserve our appreciation… I’ve missed your posts like this, so glad to see one again.

  12. Best candle in the world!!! I just ordered a pair of those yoga shorts too. Couldn’t believe how inexpensive they are…thank you for the rec!

  13. Do you have more resources you could share for studying Spanish? I would love something else to go with Duolingo. ;)

  14. You guys are living my dream!!! I know it’s not easy, but it’s been such a cool story to follow. Proud of you guys!

  15. Hi Ali,
    My daughters and I love your recipes and your updates. I’m curious, what products do find best for your face as I’m not very good at taking care of my skin and it always ends up being something I stop doing as well. Thanks so much in advance and enjoy your downtime in August!

  16. Do you guys have air conditioning in your flat? I’d definitely try to convince the landlord to get it, because I don’t know how you survive… the temperatures have been insane. x)

    And I love your place! It doesn’t look small in the photos at all.

    Also yes to all the spritzers!!

  17. Wonderful post. I love reading about your Spanish experience. I lived in Spain many years ago and have visited all corners of the country over the past 28 years. Tinto de verano is my absolute favorite. Fun fact, in some parts of Southern Spain they call that drink “vargas” . Try it out! Sadly, you can’t get casera in the US. One of our friends actually brought us casera from Spain the last time they visited. It is just perfect in that drink. Glad you found it!

  18. I love this post so much!!! I’m really vibing lately with slower vibes and resting and really enjoying the present moment, and I love that you guys are totally LIVING that. Excited for all the lifestyle posts! :)

  19. I’m about six weeks late on reading this but sure am happy to see this update. September edition, please!

  20. At the end of one of your instagram posts, there was a list of where to go and get your face products, etc. It disappeared off of the screen andi cant seem to find it. Any chance i can getva copy of the list? Thank you

    • Yes, I use a brand called The Ordinary. Really love and recommend it! I’m hoping to do a more detailed post about it soon. :)