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.

June 8, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine

Another week without a big adventure, and yet, as usual, so full of adventures! The first important news is that it FINALLY stopped raining!!! The bad news, however, is that it is cloudy again today and may rain for the next three days….one step forward, two steps back I guess. The other good news? The light at the end of the tunnel? They finally got my name right at Starbucks!!! A big “muchas gracias” to the creators of the movie “Erin Brokovich” who must have really pushed hard with the publicity here in Spain. I’ve learned that if I say “como Erin Brokovich” then everyone knows my name! Small victories people!!! Although, I am still trying to decide if I should be concerned that I am being associated with a women who dressed like a prostitute….

So what could have been the disaster of my week pretty much turned out to be the highlight. Cooking/baking here has continually been a challenge for me, so I thought cinnamon rolls seemed like an easy enough item to bake in a foreign country, right? I’ve nearly given up on exotic Asian foods, but everyone has butter, flower, sugar and so on, don’t they??!!! It never seems to quite sink in for me that it is actually impossible to make anything here without a massive struggle to find ingredients (much less cooking equipment like rolling pins!). The smallest things can pose the biggest challenges – like the butter (there are no marks on the outside to measure the quantity! It’s just a big brick!), vanilla (no extract!!! only powder!!!), or powdered sugar (it comes in a container that is the equivalent of a spice jar – yes, I have to either crack the thing open or sprinkle it into a bowl for several hours until it measures two cups). But, all’s well that ends well – last night, after being completely certain that my cinnamon rolls would turn out to be a disaster (I actually had Jacob go to the store and buy ice cream because I was just that convinced!), I ended up making the most insanely delicious rolls on the planet – frosting and all!!! It was no small feat, but in the end it was worth it!

Poco a poco, little by little, it’s feeling more like home here. I really look forward to seeing everyone when I visit my other home, in CA, this summer though!

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!