About Chris Ciolli
Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer, translator and artist with Midwestern roots. She shares her escapades as a Missourian in the world at Midwesternerabroad.com, and writes about Barcelona from a guiri-gone-native perspective at Barcelonaforidiots.com. A closet foodie and self-proclaimed art addict, Chris typically blogs about the drinks, eats and other cultural attractions she encounters on her travels. In her spare moments, she reads obsessively, slurps excessive quantities of coffee and tea, and plays with art supplies and kitchen tools. Oh, and travels as much as humanly possible.
Latest Posts by Chris Ciolli
As an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to study in India. Of all of the places I’ve been, India is the most mind-boggling, heart-breaking and exciting. By leaps and bounds it’s my favorite destination. Color figures high on my list of things I loved about India. Handmade paper, and elaborately embroidered saris and salwar kameez in every hue imaginable and fragrant dishes to match.
I loved the food in India so much, that even though I had the much-feared Delhi belly during the majority of my stay, I still gained like 5 pounds (thank god for drawstring salwar pants).
Strange as it may seem coming from someone that spent only a month there, for me, Indian food is comfort food. Scalding hot curried vegetables over rice, or mopped up with roti or naan (Indian flat breads) make me feel happy and safe.
Here’s one of my favorite easy Indian-esque recipes to make at home, no ghee required.
Vegan Coconut Curry (Serves 4)
This is a healthy, easy recipe that can be made ahead and frozen. I usually make a double batch and freeze it in smaller two-serving containers.
Ingredients Vegan Coconut Curry
- 1 and ½ cups cauliflower, chunked
- 1 and ½ cups potatoes chunked
- 1 cup carrots in thick slices
- ½ cup red peppers, diced
- ½ cup green peppers diced
- ½ cup white onions, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1-3 tsp yellow curry powder (to taste)
- 1-2 tsp dried red chili flakes (to taste)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 8 oz can of coconut milk
- 1 cup of water
Instructions Vegan Coconut Curry
- Wash and cut your vegetables
- Put the olive oil on low heat
- Add the onions and potatoes
- When they begin to brown (5-10 minutes), add the cauliflower, garlic and the carrots with a pinch of salt, and the water.
- Cover the vegetables and steam for 5-10 minutes.
- Add the peppers, the coconut milk, and the spices and cook on medium heat for another 5-10 minutes.
Serving Tips Vegan Coconut Curry:
- Garnish with fresh cilantro (coriander) and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes
- Serve with naan or roti (available at international groceries). Pita is an okay naan substitute in a pinch, even though it’s really not quite the same.
- Accompany with steamed rice (I like wholegrain basmati) for a gluten-free dish.
Traveling with dietary restrictions can be a real pain in the you-know-where. While I’m not allergic to anything, and eat pretty much whatever can be foraged, I have lots of friends and loved ones who are vegetarians,celiacs, diabetics, have religious restrictions on what they can or can’t eat or in some cases are just plain old picky eaters.
Finding vegetarian options in the Mediterranean isn’t impossible, but diners should be careful as food descriptions don’t always include elements like chunks of ham used to season beans, or chicken broth used in rice dishes.
Fortunately, while traveling with these restrictions (no meat, no wheat, no sugar) can be inconvenient, it’s far from impossible. Here are a few suggestions to make sticking to your dietary restrictions (for whatever reason) more doable when you’re not at home.
- Bring your own food. I can’t stress this enough, especially for people spending a lot of time in airports and trains, and people traveling to isolated and less-developed countries, or even just smaller towns. It may seem like a waste to take up valuable packing space with edibles, but your stomach will thank you later. Besides, after you eat the food, you’ll have extra space for souvenirs and other items. Some of my favorites for ease of transport are dried fruits, raw nuts, beef jerky, and tuna pouches. For a great gluten-free portable try corn tortilla shells.
- Go for accommodations with a kitchen. Rental apartments are great if you’re traveling in a group, but even if you’re not, some bed and breakfasts allow guests to use a kitchen. Being able to cook your own food will make it easier to stick by your guns when it comes to what you will or won’t eat.
- Scope out grocery-shopping options before you go. Some chains are better than others when it comes to the selection of gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan and kosher items. In Barcelona for example, Mercadona has an acceptable selection of gluten-free items, but for vegan items, you may be better off searching out a small organic grocery in the area where you’re staying.
- Research restaurants ahead of time. If you have a hard time getting enough information about what’s available, call some restaurants, and ask if they do modified recipes for patrons with dietary restrictions, or can prepare items that aren’t on the menu.
When I want to see my friend Carmen, it never fails, I can lure her in with stuffed cabbage. Any variation on cabbage rolls, and she comes knocking at my front door. Since I was recently gifted with a homegrown head of cabbage, fruit of my father-in-law’s gardening habits, and I hadn’t seen Carmen in quite some time, I figured, why not?
Some people have one cabbage roll recipe and that’s what they make when they crave cabbage rolls (yes, some of us do “crave” cabbage) or have an excess of cabbage. Me, I’m a fan of variety, and not rushing to the supermarket because I don’t have this or that ingredient. So while most often my cabbage rolls include some kind of meat (usually ground beef or pork, or chunks of bacon) this weekend I went with a vegetarian version. And since I was running low on rice, I made them with quinoa, instead.
Ingredients Vegetarian Quinoa Cabbage Rolls (serves 4-5 as a main dish)
- About half a large head of cabbage (large leaves are best)
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 white onion, diced
- 6oz of diced tomatoes (canned)
- 2 cups quinoa (uncooked)
- 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 cup strong black olives (kalamata, aragon), pitted
- Put cabbage leaves in boiling water for about 5 minutes.
- Remove cabbage leaves and add quinoa. Cook for about 15 minutes.
- Drain quinoa.
- Mix in onions, garlic, tomatoes, feta and olives.
- Fold quinoa mix into cabbage leaves (I like to use what I call the “burrito” technique, fold top and bottom flaps in, and then the two sides over that.
- Pack in the cabbage rolls close to each other in an oven safe pan.
- Cover with foil or baking paper.
- Cook for 30-40 minutes at 180ºC
- Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- This makes a great side dish for meat eaters. Serve up a roll with a steak or chicken breast.
- Make a vegan version with your favorite tofu or soy cheese, or subbing nuts or even extra olives for the feta.
- Make a meat-eater’s version of this dish with bacon—it combines well with the olives and diced tomatoes.
- This filling also works great for stuffed peppers, tomatoes, zucchini or eggplant.
- Leftovers can be frozen for busy days but they’re best reheated in the oven.
|Cervantes Park is a peaceful stop along one of Barcelona’s
busiest streets-Avinguda Diagonal-Chris Ciolli
Cervantes Park is an oasis of lush greenery and calm perched alongside the constant rush of traffic and noise that is Barcelona’s Avinguda Diagonal. Home to Barcelona’s annual International Rose Competition, it easily makes most locals’ (and my) top ten for Barcelona Parks.
a calico, with spots of black, white and orange. Like a small child, I
excitedly took a step forward–the kittens scurried off into the underbrush
and I went on with my day, rushing to the metro to
get to my next destination.
What were they doing in the park, all by their lonesome?
of feral cats in parks and public places. Beautiful, and only approachable with
something edible in hand, these cats have become dependent on people, but will
likely scratch and bite if you try to touch them.
of tropical plants, and climbing the wrought-iron fence containing the city
campus’ back gardens. But in Cervantes Park I ‘d never noticed any animals at
all, other than birds, and the occasional dog on a leash. After four years of
weekly walk-throughs, the kittens were an anomaly.
through the park at dusk, the kittens popped out from behind the bushes,
again. The black and white kitten stood its ground,
but the calico kitten pranced closer and closer, and then stopped a few feet
away, and let out a plaintive and high-pitched meow. I took a slow step forward
and she danced a few steps back. I waited, loath to scare her away and she came
a few steps closer.
|A calico kitten in Cervantes Park-desperate to be rescued–
or so I assumed- Chris Ciolli
would be late. Onward, I thought, trying not to
frown and wishing for time to spend with the kittens.
tiny cats, I talked to my husband about them. I told my friends and colleagues
about them. Everyone agreed, I should take on at least one of the poor,
possibly orphaned kitties.
me to see if we could lure the kittens into our custody, and if all parties
were agreeable, take one home to our flat where we would do our best give it a
thing Saturday morning, a can of tuna in hand.
after leaving the bait of a small pile of tuna behind a tree near where I usually saw them, I had a duh moment, that consisted of, oh, I always see the kittens late afternoon, just before dusk. They’re probably hidden somewhere, sleeping because cats are nocturnal.
back with me around five when I most often saw the cats, so we trundled back to
our end of town to grocery shop and like. Ever hopeful, I bought a couple of
cans of cat food for kittens, since all the research I’ve been doing online
since deciding to adopt one of the kittens from the park says tuna isn’t
actually very good for cats. –I also learned really young kittens can’t go to
the bathroom by themselves, and have to have their bowels stimulated by the
5 of them teenagers or adults. There were black cats, black and white cats,
white cats with black spots, tabby cats and even a mottled orangey brown and
black cat with no tail, not even a stump. And there were two calico cats. Apart
from the bold kitten I had seen up the hill, there was an even smaller, shyer
|Here, kitty, kitty- Chris Ciolli|
down just beside the bushes, and backed away. The cats looked at it, and me,
and all around, unsure and uneasy.
to the food, and started to eat. I did some inching of my own and managed to
lightly pet it a little while it ate.
decided to pick it up and the wild cat came out, thrashing and scratching,
leaving me an open wound on the offending hand and fleeing as far and as fast
as it could. Undeterred, a bigger tabby kitten with a white belly came to eat.
He followed the food wherever Jesus took it, but when he tried to pet him,
hissed spit, and raised a paw in a show of miniscule claws. He put on the same
show for any fellow cats that showed an interest in the tin of cat food, from
the tiny calico to a lanky black and white adolescent. We had to take it away
from the tabby and move it close to other cats so that they too, would get a
and given up, but what can I say… sometimes being sensible is overrated. So in the hopes of
successful cat-snatching, we turned our cloth shopping cart on its side
and tried to lure in one of the kittens with the empty cat food container.
Tabby skirted around the cart for a few minutes, but in the end, the cats were
too smart for us. They knew our game.
their distance, and while the tabby kept coming closer in hopes of food, it
wouldn’t let either of us pet it. Rescuing abandoned kittens isn’t the same
as trying to catch and tame a feral cat.
kitten from its harsh outdoor existence, my rescue-scheme was turning into
something more closely resembling a cat-napping. And I didn’t really want to
have to trick and trap a wild animal into being “rescued” and becoming my pet. No matter that I had great plans to pamper and spoil it, none of
the kittens showed any interest in becoming our housecat.
comes down to it, I thought I was planning a good deed, that I was going to be
able to help a living thing, and I was wrong. You can’t rescue a living thing
without its cooperation and consent…. or at least I won’t. It’s a shame because after years of going back and
forth on the issue, I finally felt ready for a kitten, ready for the trials and
tribulations not to mention the fun, of training and taking care of an animal.
|Canal-side drinks in Venice|
About Venice: 118 small islands in Northeast Italy riddled with canals and linked by bridges. The city and marshy lagoon where it is located are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here composer Antonio Vivaldi and explore Marco Polo were born, and Casanova wrote about his romantic escapades.
hole-in-the-wall bar in Venice, leaning against the cement and brick wall that separates the walkway from the waterway.
|In Venice, travel by boat is ideal…|
lost in Barcelona, the city I’ve lived in for over seven years now, not to mention my hometown in Missouri.
|Venetian Carnevale masks in a storefront|
|Pig-shaped sausages, behind the cheese|
|Girona’s Cathedral in the rain–So many steps, so little time – Chris Ciolli|
I attended TBEX, the Travel Bloggers Conference in Girona, Spain in September. First of all, it’s only fair to confess that large networking events are so not my thing.
I find big group settings where I’m expected to interact with hundreds of people exhausting, I much prefer meeting up with people one-to-one, or in groups of ten or less. That said, I know these types of events are often what connects us with new friends that we can then see on our own terms.
But beyond my own nerves and general discomfort with this type of setting, my feeling about attending the conference over all can only be described as mixed, so I’m going to break it down into the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Let’s start with the good, shall we?
Talks by industry experts and bloggers. I attended the following useful and entertaining presentations with a clear call to action.
Title links should go to the downloadable slides at TBEX’s official website we were promised, but I can’t find them, so non-attendees can’t get an overview yet, sorry. I’ve been told the slides will be up soon, and when they are I will link to them below. Presenter links go to their main sites.
How to Write an Effective Pitch presented by Amy Moore and Jessica Parker
How to Effectively Use Pinterest, Instagram and Google+ presented by C.C. Chapman, Kirsten Alana, and Michael Hodson.
How to Effectively Use Facebook presented by Amy Porterfield.
How to Run Your WordPress Site like a WordPress.com VIP presented by Sara Rosso.
- Girona is not well-connected with Barcelona via public transport (oh, the nightmare trains) and Girona’s Fira is hard to find on foot from the train station.
- TBEX was held the same weekend as Barcelona’s main city festival, La Mercé which meant choosing between amazing free music in Barcelona, and the evening events at the conference.
- Many of the presenters seemed unaware that this was an international conference, and that many attendees were second-language English speakers. It would have been a plus for presenters to make an extra effort to speak slowly and clearly so more attendees would be able to understand them.
- Because the conference was organized into break-out sessions, it was impossible to attend all of the workshops.
- A lot of bloggers were behaving like high-schoolers, swaggering around in small, giggly mobs and turning their noses up at writers or sponsors they saw as “beneath” them. Hilarious, really.
- The opening keynote by Peter Shankman was packed with sexist and misogynist jokes, references to American pop culture and of all thing pornography. Not only did he mention Honey Boo Boo to a supposedly international audience, he repeatedly talked about how things in “this country” work obviously meaning the U.S. and paying no attention to the fact that we were in fact, not in America, but in Girona, Spain. All of this filler was made worse by a very elementary main message that came down to three main points that could have been explained in about five minutes, one of which was know your audience. Ironic, isn’t it?
Despite my friend’s harrumphing over the expense (nearly one-hundred euros for less than an hour), I’m dead-set on a gondola ride this trip. Just because I’ve been blessed with a second chance at Venice, doesn’t mean a third visit will come about any time soon.
|Gondola Traffic Jam in Canal off of Piazza San Marcos- Chris Ciolli|
When Carlo lapses into silence, I turn to our fellow passengers. “Where are you from?”
He answers me in a string of fluent Italian and I catch bits and pieces. Living in Venice is very expensive. So expensive, in fact, that he, Carlo, has moved
to a nearby city and commutes to Venice daily via train. “Also,” he says shrugging his shoulders, “it’s so inconvenient.” The canals, the bridges, the stairs, they make grocery shopping, moving, and generally everything more difficult.
My mouth hangs open for a moment, before I clamp it shut, and use it to smile at Jesus as he slides the ring home on my finger. “You like purple, don’t you?” he asks nervously.
This year I’ll attend my first TBEXcon, that’s abbreviated mumbo-jumbo for Travel Blogger Exchange Conference and I’d be big-time fibbing if I said I wasn’t nervous. At such a massive gathering (per TBEX publicity, “the world’s largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers and new media content creators”) meeting fellow writers goes from fun to fear in the sixty seconds it takes my eyes to count the crowd uncountable or decide that I’m inappropriately dressed.
Of course, it’s an hour away on the fast train. On a slower train, the time spent in transport creeps up, and that’s without adding in time for the delays that are par for the course with RENFE train service from Barcelona to anywhere. Which means I’m going to be up before the completely unacceptable hour of 6am tomorrow to make it in time to register and attend the opening which means I won’t even have time for coffee before I leave.
I’m so smart. And by I’m so smart, I really mean, I guess I didn’t think this through so well. But hey, I can buy a cup of terrible coffee to get me by on the train, so all is not lost.
And since I did in fact sign up for this conference to learn new things and connect with new people, I will do my best to do so. Even if it means catching trains before sunrise and doesn’t involve free drinks and eats (in a castle).
Copyright 2010-2012 Chris Ciolli. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce texts or images without written consent.