January 27, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Spain, Traditions

Because I’m a person that keeps my promises, I’ve finally brought myself to continue my research at the famous Mallorquina bakery in Madrid. It is an intense research that requires one to have an open mind, and above all else, an empty stomach. Yes, my friends, I would be trying five more desserts in my laborious effort to test all the scrumptious goodies that the Mallorquina serves up.

First up was the ensaimada – a pastry that originates from the Spanish island of Mallorca. When at the Madrid airport, you can always spot the folks returning from the Mediterranean paradise – they’re the ones who are hauling home big boxes of the sweet treat (and incidentally, people I feel I should make friends with). Given the bakery’s name (Mallorquina implies some relation to Mallorca), I suppose my expectations were high when I dug into the famous dessert. Sadly (very sadly!), it seemed rather flavorless and uninteresting. It was entirely unlike the ones from Mallorca, which are often the size of a pizza, and so delicious that I could eat the entire thing in one sitting if someone let me. Guess I will just have to go to Mallorca to get my ensaimada fix…or the airport.

Carefully scoping out the display of plates, we decided on our second dessert, roscón, which is typically served during the holidays on Three King’s Day. The cake (for lack of better words) comes as a large, donut-shaped pastry, sprinkled with almond slices, draped with candied pieces of fruit (ick), and occasionally filled with whipped cream. Usually hidden somewhere in the cake is a little charm of sorts – whoever ends up with the charm will have good luck in the year to come. (One year I ended up with a scary glass clown. I do think it was a pretty lucky year though, despite the odd clown.) Upon sampling this holiday favorite, my friend Sophia declared that it was the best she’d ever had. Confession – neither of us are Spanish (had you fooled, right?!), BUT we are both married to Spaniards, and between the two of us, we’ve lived here for over seven years – so obviously we know our roscón (just go with me on this one). Fluffy, light, and refreshing – the only thing that could make it better would be a cup of Spanish hot chocolate (because EVERYTHING is better with hot chocolate).

As our sugar intake increased, so did our inability to select decent pastries, which I will blame on what I’ve coined as “dessert goggles.” Yep, we ended up with some bizarre creation called tortel de hojaldrehojaldre meaning puff pastry (works for me), and tortel because I guess they got bored of using something more sensible like tarta. Whatever. Round and unimpressive in appearance, we didn’t expect much other than a sweet pastry. And that is was, but with a peculiar flavor and texture, which were apparently attributed to the cabello de ángel – that is, angel hair. I guess it was some sort of stringy, sugary mess of squash (yes, the vegetable) oddly hidden inside of an unsuspecting pastry, resulting in an unsuspecting me. Lesson learned – when it comes to squash-related desserts, stick to pumpkin pie.

After a pastry that contains mushy squash strings, it’s only natural that one would want to compensate with a chocolate-heavy delicacy, am I right? With that in mind, we selected the sugar-encrusted napolitana with chocolate oozing out the ends. My kind of dessert (but wow, that picture makes it look very unappetizing). Remember that chocolate palmera from last time? The one with the frosting that tasted like cupcakes? Well this napolitana seemed to be stuffed with the same chocolately crack-like concoction. If I didn’t fear losing Sophia as a friend, I would have dissected that thing and scooped out every last drop of sweetness. But I’m too classy for that, so I’m just admitting it here for all the world to read. Don’t judge.

Not unlike having too many drinks, having too many desserts suddenly makes you think that you can just keep on eating them and eating them. And because we hadn’t quite fulfilled our cocoa craving, we honed right in on this chocolate cake, which appeared to be covered in a shell of thick frosting. Now, as much as I sing such high praises of my beloved chocolate, for some reason I’m not a crazy fan of the cake (perhaps too many of those sub-par Safeway/Cosco cakes have tainted my love for it), so when this one turned out as delicious as it did, I was pleasantly surprised. Layers of yellow cake doused in a sugary syrup (go big or go home right?) were sandwiched between thick blankets of fudgy goodness. It was a bit much, really, but after that weird squash-tortel thing, the extreme was needed.

If I’m being honest here (which I am because I’m such a dedicated researcher and all that), I would have to say that this trip to the bakery was somewhat disappointing. No major food-gasms were happening, but rather just an unsatifisying sugar high. Because I like to give second chances though, I will push myself to make a third trip to the bakery to continue my hard work. It’s rough, but someone HAS to do it, right? Right??!!!??!

January 18, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain

I’ve been going in circles on this cultural dilemma for awhile (more precisely, having arguments with my lovely husband) – to pick up the cell phone or not to pick it up? In the US, if you are busy doing something, and especially if you are in a restaurant or tied up in any sort of engagement (meeting, get together, etc), you do not pick up your phone. Not only will you get booted out of restaurants (FYI, Spaniards – cell phones by and large are frowned upon, if not prohibited, in restaurants), but your friends will probably no longer be your friends if you constantly pick up other people’s calls and have conversations with everyone and their madre.

Here in Spain, the expectation is that you pick up your phone pretty much no matter what. Don’t recognize the number? Pick it up. Busy having coffee with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile? PICK IT UP. In the middle of dinner at a restaurant? For the love of jamón, PICK IT UP! Apparently, it’s seen as rude to the caller if you don’t pick up their call. But isn’t it rude to the person you’ve actually made plans with to interrupt what you’re doing in order to speak (and by speak, it often means have a full conversation) with someone you haven’t made plans with?

My modified rules for picking up the phone here are as follows: if I don’t recognize the number, there’s a good chance I won’t pick up (especially because about 90% of the time, it’s someone trying to sell me something). If I’m REALLY busy doing something (translation: class, meetings, shower, sleeping, etc), I also won’t pick up – but I promise I’ll call you back!

I’m curious what everyone thinks – what entails proper cell phone etiquette? Do I have it all wrong?? I know we end up playing phone tag a lot in the US, but at the same time, who wants to be a slave to their phone?

January 12, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain, Video

Remember awhile back when I took the road trip to Granada? You know, the one where the sheep hated me and I discovered that my dreams of becoming a shepherd would never be realized? Yeah, that trip. Since it was such a memorable experience (and fortunately, not just because of the little lambies), I’ve put together a video of the adventure. So, while I get accustomed to my return to the Iberian Peninsula after three long weeks in the US, I leave you with this small video in order to whet your appetites for all things Spain.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, please click here.