November 30, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Traditions

Thanksgiving Thursday came and went – it was so weird to spend the day just like any other day. I was a bit sad about it so Jacob met me for lunch and we decided to go to the local California cuisine restaurant – and sure enough they had a special Thanksgiving menu! It absolutely made my day!

While I was unable to properly celebrate Thanksgiving on the actual day, I had made plans to have people over on Saturday so that I could introduce the holiday to all of our friends here. We were expecting 10 people to come over and share in the special holiday.

And guess what, I did it! I can officially say that I’ve made Thanksgiving dinner. Jacob and I managed to pull off making a gigantic turkey (22 pounds/10 kilos!!), stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie and gingerbread cookies. I would have done cranberry sauce, but believe it or not, cranberries are yet another one of those things that are impossible to find here – cranberries and blueberries actually have the exact same name in Spanish, as if they taste remotely the same!!? And sage, apparently they don’t do sage here either. Someone remind me to buy some when I come home for the holidays.

The craziness began Friday night when I decided I would first conquer the desserts – pie and cookies. I had brought ingredients from the States for both, so they were super easy. Desserts – done.

Saturday morning we began with the stuffing (no, I wasn’t adventurous enough to actually stuff the turkey). I had to do without the sage, but made do with other herbs. With the stuffing done, we moved onto the mashed potatoes. We peeled and diced them and then made a quick run to Starbucks and the gym to take a break.

We returned from the gym to get the turkey started and finish off the potatoes. The turkey was just plain huge, any bigger and it wouldn’t have fit in the oven. Covered in oil, herbs and spices, we managed to squeeze it into the oven. At which time we finished up the garlic mashed potatoes, and then just waited for guests to arrive. And by the way – shame on me for not buying a turkey baster in the States – the only one I could find here cost 17.50 Euros!!! I swear I saw a package of two for $1.99 at Safeway before I left…I’m kicking myself now.

So the turkey took like 4+ hours – good thing Spaniards don’t mind eating late. I don’t think we were eating until probably 11:00. Before everything was ready though, I had to make the gravy, which ended up being the most difficult thing of all. Our kitchen is a bit small (I think it’s about the size of my closet in SF…OK, maybe a little bigger, but not by much!) so between Jacob trying to acquaint himself with the turkey, and me trying to figure out how the heck to make gravy, it just got messy (literally and figuratively). I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that all’s well that ends well! Every last thing turned out perfectly – even the gravy! And while last night the kitchen was a disaster zone of turkey juice and flower, this morning it is finally clean and completely sanitized (I hope!).

And now my friends I have to go to Bucharest, so I can’t even enjoy the massive amount of turkey leftovers :(. It was as good as a Thanksgiving could get though given that I am so far from home. Everyone here loved the food so much and is anxious to do it all again. I am glad that I could share such a special holiday with such great people in such an amazing place.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving as well. Just a couple more weeks and I’ll be home again for the holidays – can’t wait!

November 26, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

I guess it’s been quite awhile since my last blog. Unfortunately it’s been pretty busy around here and I didn’t think just writing about work would be blog-worthy. Last weekend, however, I had to chance to head up north to the La Rioja region – famous for its wine. We headed out Friday evening to city called Logroño, where we would be spending the night. It is there that we met up with four other couples. One of the people we were with pretty much planned the entire trip as he (and a few of the other people) was originally from the area. This meant that we were able to see and do things that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

The first night we went out for pinchos – I’ll explain. In the north it is very common to go from bar to bar having a drink at each bar and eating the bar’s signature pincho (which is usually some sort of yummy appetizer served on top of a slice of bread). The first bar’s speciality was this heavenly mushroom pincho – the north is renowned for their mushrooms (and cheese, and vegetables, and meat…and really anything that is better when there’s lots of rain). Two bars in and I was done…seriously, the second bar’s pincho was like the size of my head. I called it a night early – the American in me just can’t stay up until 5:00 in the morning just having a glass of wine here and there.

The next day we set out on the road to visit a bodega, Ysios, where we would be taking a tour of the winery. The drive there was stunning – I’ve decided that November in Spain is definitely the most beautiful time of year here (although, the coldness kind of cancels that out). The trees and vineyards were all changing color – the landscape was breathtaking with all of the yellows, oranges and reds. We just don’t get change like that in California. I was expecting the bodega to be some rustic old building with age-old traditions when it came to wine production, but what a surprise! It was like being transported to Napa! The building was very modern and the entire tour was exactly like those in the States. I am sure there are far, far more rustic wineries, but this certainly wasn’t one of them. Impressive nonetheless.

After that, we were lucky enough to visit yet another town, Haro, and have a very special lunch. The lunch took place in a cave which is home to an exclusive club of high profile members (one is even the king!). There were several enclosed compartments, protected by bars, each of which housed a club member’s personal supply of wine. We were able to see all 25 compartments, and then have aperitivos and lunch there. The cave itself stretches out under a portion of the town with a pathway to one of the cathedrals. Arabic influences are evident in the way the cave walkways are sculpted – thus leading people to believe the cave is very, very old.

Following our lunch, we continued our drive to another town named Ezcaray. It was there that we spent our second night. That evening we went to dinner at a phenomenal restaurant – this little town has a Michelin star rated restaurant, Echaurren, with food better than any other I’ve had in Spain! What a treat that was! And of course, please keep in mind that every step of our trip was punctuated by lots of Rioja wine :).

On our last day of the trip, we spent our day walking through the few main streets of Ezcaray and doing Christmas shopping at the many artisanal shops (please keep your fingers crossed for me when I go through Customs on my way home for Christmas – I have way too many food products!). We made one more stop on our way home in a city called Lerma just to have a quick lunch. It consisted of multiple gigantic servings of cordero (lamb) for the table to share. This time I really just had to observe because I just didn’t have the endurance do make it through another day of indulgence (well, and if anyone knows me, they probably know that I am not a big meat person).

What a weekend! I continue to be reminded how very lucky I am to have such amazing excursions only a drive away. There is so much yet to be discovered here. These next few weeks will be VERY busy for me. This weekend I will TRY to do Thanksgiving – yes eight people will be coming over and I will be attempting to make a turkey and the whole nine yards. Next week I will be heading to Bucharest again for work, then the week after to Paris for work as well. And thennnnn, home for two weeks!!!! I’ll try to squeeze in a blog on Sunday to report back on my success, or lack there of, with Thanksgiving. Until then, big hugs to all of you at home, especially my family whom I will miss very much during such a special holiday.