January 18, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

Yesterday we spent the day at a friend’s ranch (la finca) and what a treat it was! We had been trying to make it happen for a couple of months and finally managed to get everyone together yesterday – which included Juan Pi (whose family owns the ranch) his wife Laura, their darling daughter Carlota and a few other couples. As it turned out though, not everyone could make it after all – Almudena went into labor, so she and her husband of course stayed behind…as far as we know, their little boy has yet to make the official arrival though :).

The ranch is located southwest, about an hour from Madrid, in a town called Fuentidueña. The drive there was beautiful, especially with the sun beaming – we could tell it would be an exceptional day.

When we arrived in the little old village we managed to get somewhat lost trying to find the ranch and ended up driving down a long road to what Juan Pi called “the ugliest part of town”. So after we were finally redirected and no longer driving just based on Jacob’s memory of how to get to the ranch, I saw a mother and son with a small dog. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – it was a shiba inu! Now I know most of you have no idea what I am talking about and, if you do, you are thinking why would it be such a big deal. Well, my sweet puppy Kobi back in the States is a shiba inu and it so happens that I have never once seen a shiba in all of Europe. In fact, Jacob and I even asked at the pet shop just the other day if they knew if we could get one (I desperately want a puppy – Jacob on the other hand is not so keen on the idea….we’re merely in an exploratory phase, wink, wink). Anyway, when I saw the dog in that random village in the middle of nowhere, I flipped. I made Jacob drop me off while he and the other couple, who joined us for the drive, searched for the ranch. The lady and her son were so sweet and I would like to think that they didn’t think I was completely crazy as they had been told by many that their dog had never been seen before. Anyway – seeing this puppy was so exciting for me! I am now officially on a mission to find a shiba of my own here (don’t tell Jacob!).

So, the ranch, what a wonderful and relaxing place! When we arrived we took a tour of the ranch itself, visiting the horses, chickens, vietnamese pigs, peacocks, rabbits and even a little turtle! It was Dear Hollow all over again (hopefully someone from the South Bay knows what I am talking about here). After a tour of the ranch we went for a stroll down to the Tajo River, one of the most famous rivers in Spain.

Then it was time for lunch and boy were we in for a treat (as is usually the case here in Spain). The weather was actually so nice that we ate outside in the warmth of the sun – what a change from a few days ago when it was snowing! Lunch started with a bunch of yummy aperitivos – jamón, olives, various cheeses, sobrasada (a meat sauce on bread) and even some empanadillas made by Juan Pi and Laura’s nanny from Honduras! After filling ourselves up on the aperitivos it was time for the first course – a shrimp bisque. With the freshly baked bread (from a loaf the size of an extra large pizza), the bisque was pure heaven. Following the bisque was a meat dish made from pig – at this point though, I was feeling a bit full (and honestly saving the last morsel of space in my stomach for dessert), so I enjoyed bites of Jacob’s dish which were of course delicious. Now for dessert, my absolute favorite Spanish dessert, arroz con leche. If you don’t know the joys of this dessert, then you are really missing out – and a homemade version is just plain off the charts!

Several glasses of wine later and I was just about tuckered out. I am lucky enough now that I understand pretty much everything in Spanish, so I have no problem following along with the conversation throughout the day – but after eight hours, a switch just turns off and my brain needs a rest. And so it was, we got in the car with our two other friends and I slept the entire way home. What a lovely day!

January 9, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Uncategorized

I woke up this morning at 7AM, it was dark outside like usual. I got ready and hopped in the elevator to head to my car in the garage. I saw I had a missed call from Jacob, so I rang him up to see what the deal was. He then told me that it was snowing outside at his work in downtown Madrid and that I may not be able to drive to work. Sure enough, when I opened up the garage door of our parking structure I saw that the ramp was just starting to get covered in snow.

And it hasn’t stopped since. It’s been snowing like mad here! Massive snow flakes have been falling all day. I would say that we’ve had at least a foot or more of snow. Jacob is fortunately now home safely – the roads are an absolute mess. See it’s not normal for it to snow like this in Madrid. Sure they might have a light snow once every couple of years, but nothing that sticks to the ground for very long. This, on the other hand, is a Tahoe-style winter wonderland. Being from San Francisco and only seeing snow on the rare occasions that I’ve headed to Tahoe or Seattle makes this extra exciting. I’ve been staring out the windows in complete awe all day long. I sense that the Madrileños feel similarly though….the news is covered with people making snowmen, having snowball fights and just plain enjoying the freakish, but fun weather.

Here you can see some of the pics of the snow from our casa: http://gallery.me.com/erin.ridley/100385

January 4, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Spain

Two blogs in two days! I’m on a roll….

Today we went about 45 minutes north of Madrid to a very small town call Rascafria in which there is a quaint little monastery. We arrived a little bit early and had the chance to walk around a bit. It was quite chilly, but in the sun it was so refreshing. We thought the tour of the monastery began at 12:00, but instead we learned that instead that was when the mass began. As a result we decided to attend. It consisted of a lot of singing in Latin, so most of it was over my head (and I guess probably everyone else’s too). It was a nice experience though.

After the mass we went on a small tour of the monastery. It wasn’t very long, so mainly we just passed through the cloisters and were able to see more of the grounds. It was very charming (and very cold!).

Afterward we asked a local woman on the street where best to have lunch, so we took her recommendation and headed to a restaurant called Juanito. There we sat in front of the fireplace and had lunch, which was absolutely delicious and hit the spot. We had manchego cheese and membrillo (if you haven’t enjoyed these two Spanish specialties together, you are really missing something), fresh mushrooms in garlic, and then I had cocido (a Castillian soup that is basically like chicken noodle soup but minus the chicken…Jacob often makes it with garbanzo beans and veggies, which is very traditional as well).

After a small paseo around the town, we hopped back in the car and headed home. I napped the whole way. What a nice way to spend a Sunday!

January 3, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Traditions, Trips to the US

I can’t even put into words how nice it was to be home for the holidays. I mean look at those darling kids in the pictures above! They are growing too fast! They are my cousin Jen’s children, Marley and Donovan. So cute!

I made the trip back to Madrid, arriving last Monday. It was definitely hard to return after two wonderful weeks at home. I have started to get back into the swing of things though. I only hope I can return home again very soon.

The holiday celebrations here are still far from over. Christmas was just a preview of New Year’s and then Three Kings Day. New Year’s was spent at Jacob’s parents’ house, as is tradition. It entailed a big dinner as usual – aperitivos including cheese and my favorite, his mom’s tortilla! Then for dinner we had salad, fish and potatoes (which I suppose could be considered relatively light compared to the usual multi-course meals here). All very delicious! Then at midnight we all sat by the TV with our grapes prepared – grapes? Say what? Yeah, grapes. At the strike of midnight everyone eats 12 grapes consecutively with each chime of the clock in Puerta del Sol (the Time Square of Madrid). It’s one big race to consume your grapes and at the same time try to distract those around you. The grape eating on New Year’s Eve is a national tradition here in Spain. Wikipedia says that the “tradition has its origins in 1909, when grape growers in Alicante thought of it as a way to cut down on the large production surplus they had had that year.”

Now we just await the final holiday celebration of Three Kings Day, or Los Reyes Magos, which falls on January 6th of every year. That day we will be heading to Jacob’s parents house again where the Three Kings will have left gifts for us by each of our shoes. Sounds a bit strange, I know, but then again I suppose a fat man sneaking in your house through your chimney and leaving gifts in a sock while eating your cookies sounds a bit strange too ;). Regardless, Santa and the Three Kings all have the same opinion on what to leave naughty boys and girls – coal!

Tomorrow we’ll be heading outside of Madrid about an hour away to visit a monastery called El Paular. I am still eager to discover new places here, I seem to never tire of it!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and wish you all a very happy new year!