May 25, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

This week brought many new adventures – most of which included me getting drenched in more rain. Yep, it’s still raining here. I simply don’t get it! Having to walk everywhere in the rain after having my own car since learning how to drive has been a hard pill to swallow for sure. So I spent my week trekking from class to class getting to know new students and learning which shoes I should and shouldn’t wear when I have to walk for miles (eh hem, kilometers) in the rain. On Thursday we had the opportunity to go to another cata de vinos (wine tasting) which of course was amazing! I still can’t get over the fact that we are able to try six fabulous wines every two weeks for free (with aperitivos too!). Then last night we went to a concert of a friend of Jacob’s in Madrid which was followed by a delicious impromptu dinner at Carolina and Jose’s house.

Today brought the biggest excursion of the week. I have been lucky enough to have visited most of the charming cities within an hour’s drive of Madrid, but Ávila was one that I had not yet had the opportunity to see. Despite the bad weather, Jacob and I headed out to Ávila this morning. The first thing we saw when we arrived was la muralla (the wall) that surrounds the city. With its many towers you can’t help but imagine what kind of fortress the city must have been hundreds of years ago. Once inside the city we walked around a bit, visiting the cathedral, the charming balcony lined streets, and we even had the chance to see a small parade (something religious – not sure exactly what the specific celebration was though).

After a quick walk around the city we headed to lunch at a restaurant, El Molino de la Losa, which one of my students actually recommended. This was definitely the highlight of the trip! The restaurant was in an old mill from the 15th century – once inside the restaurant we were actually able to see the water running underneath. One of the speciality dishes of Ávila is the chuletón (basically steak….more meat, what a shocker!). Obviously a bit much for me, so Jacob took the “bull by the horns” 😉 and ordered it. Quite delicious! I opted for a salad…

A couple of chocolate desserts later, we left the restaurant and headed back inside the city walls. This time we actually walked on top of the wall that surrounds the city, which provided stunning views in every direction.

On our way home we made a quick stop to drop off the chuletón bone to Mateo, Jose and Carolina’s dog (it’s Mateo’s third birthday today!). Now we are back in Madrid where of course the sun has been conveniently shining and mocking us after a day of walking in the rain!

Please send some sun and warmth my way! Missing you all from Madrid!

May 18, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Traditions

It’s been another week of getting settled here in Madrid. The week began with me finally getting started teaching English. It’s definitely not my calling, I’ll just say that much. It’s a good thing for me to do right now, but not at all an easy change after working in the corporate world. We’ll see how it goes…

Thursday was another bank holiday here as it was “El dia de San Isidro.” San Isidro is one of the patron saints of Madrid (I won’t go into detail on what that means!) and as a result everyone gets a day off to celebrate the fiestas. Jacob’s aunt Ana Maria, the Spain history buff, went with us to the fiesta in Madrid. It was there that all of the little children (and many adults too) dressed in the traditional dress for San Isidro (chulapas/chulapos). For the girls, that entails a carnation (I am still trying to cope with the fact that it is such a popular flower here) in the hair, a floral shall, and a long dress. The boys also have an adorable little outfit as well. Another tradition that you will find at the fiestas is the food (they have a specific food for everything here – cities, holidays, you name it). During San Isidro the traditional treats are the rosquillas. Rosquillas look similar to donuts, except minus all the grease and thick frosting. Beyond just the traditional food for the holiday, the fiesta was filled with many other Spanish favorites – chorizo, tortilla and lots of churros and chocolate (don’t even get me started on that one!).

Another quest during my week was my never ending hunt for ingredients. The basic rule here (developed by me) is that if it isn’t an ingredient in Spanish cuisine then you pretty much won’t find it. As a result, I have spent countless hours roaming the aisles of various stores throughout Madrid usually to no avail. My only option in the end is to just get creative, which much to my surprise has always worked. On Friday I made my mom’s famous Chinese chicken salad and it turned out perfectly!!

Typically I don’t cook much, so when I do, it’s probably for a reason. Friday’s occasion was that our friends Jose and Carolina came over for dinner. Aperitivos included standard Spanish tapas – manchego cheese, jamon, olives, mejillones (muscles), bread, and lots of wine! For dinner I served the salad as well as rice with my Dad’s recipe for teriyaki sauce (I do what I can to make it feel like home here!). And then, best of all, for dessert Carolina brought homemade flan!!! It was soooo good!

We ended the week by spending Saturday at El Parque del Oeste (The Park of the West) in Madrid – a place I had not previously visited. We were able to take the teleferico over the park and see beautiful views of Casa de Campo as well as the western side of Madrid which included the Royal Palace and Almudena (the main cathedral in Madrid). The park also has an amazing rose garden, which I spent probably a good hour roaming through inspecting each of the roses. I posted a small album of the day’s pics in the “My Album” section of my site.

I hear it’s been pretty hot at home, so I am hoping some of the sunshine and heat will come our way – it’s been overcast and rainy here for a couple of weeks now (apparently the joke’s on me as it has never been cloudy or rainy here during my eight previous visits). I hope all is well back in the States! I miss everyone!

May 11, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine

No crazy adventures for me this week, well aside from my usual excursions in Madrid. This week I made a couple of trips to downtown. The first was to meet with Jacob’s mother and one of his aunts. We had intended to visit an exposition of tapestries at the Royal Palace, but were unable to when we discovered it was the monthly changing of the guard and could not enter. Instead we enjoyed drinks at one of the terrazas in Plaza de Oriente, followed by lunch at Jacob’s parents’ house (where I discovered that no gazpacho compares to his mother’s – it’s heavenly!). Needless to say, after eight hours of solid Spanish, my head was pretty well saturated.

Thursday brought another outing in Madrid with another of Jacob’s aunts, Ana Maria. Ana Maria is pretty much an expert on all things Spain, so she kindly shared the history of some of the famous buildings and sites in Madrid and also took me to visit a barrio that I had not yet visited. This was all followed by a delicious lunch at her apartment in Madrid.

Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly absorb another drop of Spanish, that same night Jacob and I headed to a cata de vino (wine tasting) at a local restaurant. It was incredible! They provided a full explanation of five wines (in this case syrahs from around the world) followed by appetizers, all at no cost. The wine was fantastic, the food was perfection and the restaurant was totally impressive. As a result, we opted to stay for dinner (even though the appetizers were more than enough) and try their famous Argentinian steak (I know – me, steak?). On top of that, the owner of the restaurant treated us to a dessert plate and two glasses of champagne. Quite an impressive night!

Today we headed a bit out of Madrid for lunch at a friends house in a charming town called Cobeña. I baked a kahlua cake, which was no small feat given how impossible it is to find just about anything I need to cook here. Originally the plan for the day was for all of us to go to their ranch in the country to go horseback riding and enjoy the pool…..but the rain kind of messed up those plans. In the end it was perfect though – we all had a great time.

Other than that, I’ve just been spending my time trying to get more situated here. Everyday brings a laundry list of both challenging and comical experiences whether at the gym, the grocery store or elsewhere. About once a week I like to hit up Starbucks just to have a taste of home, but have decided I should change my name to Maria as the last two times I’ve been there my cup has read “Eri” and then “Eli”. Apparently “Erin” isn’t a common name here ;)….except for the occasional “oh, like ‘Erin Brokovich’?!”. Oy!

May 4, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

In Spain they often have a weekday or two off at a time – when this happens, people go on vacation for those days and then all the way through the weekend. They call this a “puente”, or a bridge. This week Spain had both Thursday and Friday off (their “puente de Mayo” or May bridge), and as a result everyone went out of town for the puente.

For our trip we decided to go to Almeria, a province in the southeastern part of the country (still a part of Andalucia). We chose to go there because a friend of ours has an apartment at the beach that we could stay at.

We left Wednesday evening, but unfortunately, so did the rest of Madrid! It took us seven hours to get there (really should have been 4.5)! Fortunately, when we got there, we managed to find a nearly vacant Flamenco bar that was open and willing to serve us some food. Much to our surprise, they served us the most impressive salad, assortment of cheese, and even some complementary chupitos (shots) to finish it off!

On Thursday we headed out to the beach to enjoy the sun (I have a sun burn to prove it). The weather was perfect! What is so lovely about the beaches there is that most of them have chiringuitos (small restaurants on the beach) where you can get a beverage and lunch/tapas. It was great to break up the day with a tinto de verano (wine and sparkling water) and salad. That same evening we had a delicious dinner on the beach and drinks with a couple of friends, Nacho and Sofia, who were also out in Almeria for the puente.

On Friday we decided to take a small road trip, first heading to the nearby town of Mojacar. This town is built in the rock on the side of a mountain. Such a charming little town with the typical white buildings of the south, as well as many beautiful flowers decorating the houses similar to those that you often see in Cordoba, Sevilla and other cities in Andalucia.

We then drove farther to a place called Cabo de Gata (cabo meaning cape). It is there that we were able to drive to the top of the cape and have a breathtaking view all around us of the rocks and clear blue water of the Mediterranean, followed by lunch overlooking the sea. Doesn’t get much better than that!

That evening we headed to dinner at a place renowned for their seafood. What was so unique about this place is that they have on display all of their freshly caught seafood – from clams, to lobster, to shrimp, and more – and you are able to go up to the display and select how much you want of what and then they prepare it for you. The seafood, especially their gambas rojas (red shrimp) and carabineros (they look like small lobster, not sure of the translation though), was insanely delicious!!! And then desert….I don’t even want to talk about desert because my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

We headed home yesterday, Saturday, to avoid traffic, but not before heading to the beach once last time to enjoy the sun and some paella at the chiringuito. What a trip though!

PS – I spent a couple hours at the gym today :-).