Archive for the 'holidays' Category

From coast to coast

I spent the summer the way I like to: far from Madrid. When I have spent time here in the summer, it’s always been fun and full of great cultural activities, but I need to get away from the pollution and the noise once in a while.

This summer was a big fat Pyrenees sandwich on coastal bread. I started at the beginning of July in Cantabria and Asturias, two jewels of the northern coast of Spain, and ended up in late August on the Costa Brava, two hours north of Barcelona.

Random thoughts and notes from these coastal spots:

1) Hydrangea are everywhere in both Asturias and Cantabria in the summer and they’re gorgeous.

2) Tip for travelers to Santander: the local train station (FEVE), the national train station (Renfe), and the bus station are all right next to each other. The bus station has left luggage lockers. It’s a traveler’s dream. (Why couldn’t more cities be like this?)

3) Check out Playa Guadamía and also Playa de Ballota and Playa de Andrín (next to each other) near Llanes in Asturias.

4) Barcelona is great for wandering (but avoid Las Ramblas). I re-discovered Plaça George Orwell in the Barri Gòtic with the added bonus of a delicious vegan spot on the corner.

5) The Costa Brava is full of Dutch people. In case you were wondering.

6) The coves in Costa Brava are lovely, but don’t expect solitude (even the nude beach was packed!). Would make a good coastal hiking destination in a shoulder season as there are lots of trails.

Giving thanks


My roommates have been asking me to make a Thanksgiving turkey since I arrived in Madrid more than three years ago. But this September some friends made a proposal for the dinner and, mainly since an American friend agreed to brave the Thanksgiving cooking with me, I acquiesced. Needless to say, my roommates were a bit miffed. But they got some leftovers and my practice pumpkin pie.

Spaniards are intrigued by Thanksgiving, probably because it’s at once strangely foreign yet familiar. (If my students are any guide, they appear to get most of their idea of Thanksgiving from films or TV.) But they are also drawn to the holiday because it has a rather universal appeal: eating with those you care about and giving thanks for whatever you feel like, no strings (in the form of religion and/or gifts) attached. Several students threatened to show up at our dinner after I told them everything we were going to cook and the butcher I bought the turkey from was more than happy to be of assistance in our preparation for the big day.

After weeks of planning, inviting, and coordinating, and a solid 12 hours of cooking the day before, Thanksgiving Saturday began with a 9 am trip to the butcher to retrieve the turkey. I watched, eyes bugged out, as he slung the naked 7.5-kilo bird onto his chest for the short trip from fridge to counter, where, at our request, he hacked off the remaining stump of the neck with one swift blow of the cleaver. And he put our dear pava (that’s right, it was a female) in a plastic bag, swiped my debit card, and sent us on our way with wishes for a happy día de acción de gracias.

And about nine hours later, after stuffing our bird and fitting her into the pan, washing and steaming three kilos of Swiss chard, making several kilos of mashed potatoes, improvising gravy, and reheating sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, red cabbage, and broccoli casserole, fourteen people sat around the table and were thankful.


Happy Thanksgiving

preciadosAnd happy start of the craziness. The annual holiday shopping rites that began this weekend are not limited to the United States. In Spain, where stores are usually closed on Sundays, this weekend marks the first of a month of Sundays with stores open.

abiertoI was in a supermarket on Friday and the woman in front of me was asking the cashier if they were open the following day. The cashier said yes (supermarkets always open on Saturdays), “and the following day as well,” she added with a sigh. “They might as well give us a bed in the store,” she said. I gave her a sympathetic look.

But I’m not going to deny that this is a convenient time of year. For a few short weeks I need not fret about getting everything done on Saturday. In a way, it ruins the loveliness that Sunday is in this laid-back country. That’s life, I guess.

Though the shpieopping frenzy in the U.S. may be similar here, Thanksgiving itself certainly isn’t. After refusing a request from my [Spanish] roommates to cook a turkey in our pint-sized oven, I decided to attempt an apple pie. Our oven is so uneven that the top crust started burning, but the inside hadn’t started bubbling yet. I turned off the top heating element and let it cook for a little longer with the bottom element on. The result was that the inside didn’t really cook all the way. But what difference did it make to my roommates who’d never eaten an apple pie in their lives? We ate it happily.

Halloween en español

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