Month: October 2013

Bucket List: Mountain House

I decided I want a mountain house. I spent two days in El Escorial, in a house nestled in the mountain, and I think I need one. Said house belongs to my wonderful host parents who welcomed me for a night. They chose the location for the views and the proximity to Madrid. Those were great and all, but the calm really grabbed me. Since we set our clocks back last night, I woke up early enough to see the sunrise. As I sat reading and enjoying the amanecer (sunrise), I noticed the silence. Hold on, what is that again? Don’t get me wrong, I love living in the city center of Madrid. If anything, it taught me to appreciate quiet, but nothing rivals the power of complete stillness.

From the deck. Can anyone tell me this doesn't look perfect?

From the deck. Can anyone tell me this doesn’t look perfect?

As if I wasn’t already prepared to start construction on my new house, we spent the rest of the morning hiking up the mountain. Maybe I should consider living in my mountain house full time…

We ran into a few cows towards the top of the mountain.

We ran into a few cows towards the top.

As if this wasn’t enough, my host parents insisted on making squid for lunch, which they know is my favorite. My mountain house lust cannot get any worse!

In the end I suppose I should focus on finding my first house, and then move on the my mountain house. Still, I can dream!

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For the Love of Families

“Hey kids, we have a surprise for you: we’re going on vacation!” always brought a smile to my face. I love family vacations. I had a friend in elementary school who spoke of forced family fun (FFF). Family vacations are filled with FFF. Despite a few bumps along the way, you’ll come out with memories and and a closer bond. 

I’d been wanting to spend more time with my host family, so when my host dad suggested we take an overnight trip, I responded with a clear “yes!” Then it was so. We drove an hour and a half to Cuenca, visited the cathedral, Antonio Pérez Foundation modern art museum and walked around the town. And we ate, of course. What are Spanish family vacations like, you ask? Well, exactly like family vacations in the United States. Everyone wants to do something different, so everyone compromises. We take a break when we start to get on each other’s nerves. A lot of FFF, and at the end, we have  stories!

Traveling with friends is great and all, but there is just something about being with a family. I’m thankful to have a host family willing to take me in!

Fundación Antonio Pérez

Fundación Antonio Pérez

Owner of La Bodeguilla de Basilio

Owner of La Bodeguilla de Basilio

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Also this week, I went to see El Rey León (The Lion King sound more familiar?) at a theater in Madrid. Our seats were terrible. They were worse than you’re thinking right now. I leaned forward the entire show in order to see the stage, and even then it was a bit obstructed. Still, it was so good! I saw the show in the United States when I was younger, and this performance was every bit as moving as I remember. I’m not a crier, so I didn’t cry, but I got goose bumps during a few songs! The magic of Disney continues in Europe.

This weekend: biking along Madrid Rio and hiking in the mountains.

Paella Escentials

My parents told me I can’t come home until I learn to make paella. My visa expires at the end of the year. I had to learn to make paella! After two cooking lessons, I learned one important thing: unless you burn it, paella is hard to screw up. However, that’s not to say there aren’t ways to make a better paella. Here are a few tips I picked up.

Pan: Chances are you imagine using a traditional steel pan, like in movies. This would be a great place to insert a movie reference, but I can’t think of a single paella scene right now. If you have a special burner for your paella pan, then yes, use this. When making paella on a typical stove, it’s better to use a frying pan because the frying pan more equally distributes heat from the burner.

Bomba rice: This is the best paella rice. It’s a medium grain rice that absorbs liquid without becoming soggy. In fact, after about 20 minutes of cooking and 10 minutes of sitting, it’s served al dente. It might be a bit pricier than other types of rice, but it’s easy to find in Spain and with specialty grocers in the United States.

Onions: No matter what, always start your paella with onions. After that, add whatever veggies and meats you have around. All paellas taste different, but every one starts with onions sautéed in olive oil.

Liquids: You’ll need something to cook the rice. The best is to make a wine based sauce and add tomato juice (or squid juice for arroz negro), but you can play around with this.

Saffron: Don’t forget saffron! Just a little bit carries a lot of flavor, and such a good flavor it is.

The rest is up to you. Throw in some chicken, chorizo, prawns, squid, peppers, peas, asparagus, or whatever you prefer. Buen provecho!

Sun, Dolphins, Beach, Volcano, Tenerife

Last week and weekend were so darn great I decided to take it easy this weekend. I watched a movie, ran some errands and slept in. Well, not exactly. Instead, after class on Thursday, I went home for lunch, grabbed my suitcase and set off for the airport. At least this time I didn’t leave at 5:30 a.m. At 5:00 p.m., the flight left for Tenerife, Canary Islands.

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The study abroad program organized this trip for my fellow sixteen students and I. Since I am an expert at beach vacations (I live in Minnesota. I have to escape somehow.), nothing made me happier than hearing we were headed to a black sand beach.

First of all, Tenerife is famous for bananas, and they boast about fried bananas. Of course I got excited about banana desserts, only to find nowhere near our hotel served them. Low and behold, my roommate Megan cooked bananas on the stove in our apartment style hotel room. Let me tell you, she is a good. Those things were good.

We stayed in Puerto de la Cruz, and Friday morning we travelled to the other side of the island for a dolphin cruise. After lunch and dolphins, our group all jumped into the ocean. It was exactly the quick escape we needed from the hot sun.

Megan (banana master) and I loving the ride

Megan (banana master) and I loving the ride

We got really close!

We got really close!

After the boat ride we went to the beach for a few hours.

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We ate pizza on Friday night in a town called Garachicho, but beforehand, we jumped into the natural spring. I think it was technically closed due to rough water, but that could have been my only opportunity! I jumped in anyway. Then I went to dinner wet.

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That brings me to dinner. We ate at pizzeria Rugantino. I tried a few pizzas, but my favorite was the one pictured below, with tomato, mozzarella, arugula and parmesan. We ate on the comfortable terrace with an equal mix of locals and tourists. The restaurant opens at 7:00 p.m., and from then until close, diners cycle through. Rugantino was a place I could go wet after swimming, where the service was excellent and the ingredients fresh.

Pizzeria Rugatino

Calle Esteban de Ponte 44

38450 Garanchico, Canarias, Spain

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We woke early again on Saturday for a visit to Teide National Park. Most notably, we climbed the volcano. A gondola took us halfway and we hiked the rest. Any complaints about the long trek were instantly mitigated when we reached the top. We saw breathtaking views in every direction; we were above the clouds!

Just a few more steps!

Just a few more steps!

We made it.
On the top of Spain

We returned to the hotel, went to the pool for a few hours, showered, went to dinner and went out for karaoke. Maybe due to the fact that our fellow tourists were all over 65, we had karaoke to ourselves. I sang La Camisa Negra by Juanes and called it a night.

On Sunday we went to the beach near our hotel. Sun would have been better than the clouds that covered us, but I can really enjoy the beach in any weather. After a while it was time to return to Madrid.

Tenerife was a successful weekend. I relaxed, I was active and I only have a little sunburn on my back. Still, I look forward to a relatively quiet weekend (for real this time) in Madrid in a few days!

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Back to Back Spanish Culture

A long day at school on Wednesday continued into a long night. The night part was better than the school part.

After class I ran home, put on a dress, and walked to the Ritz Carlton Madrid. We all need a one night luxury getaway, right? As nice as that sounds, I did not check in or stay the night. Instead, I attended a wine tasting event called Vinoro. Twenty Seven wine booths lined the ballroom, eager to pass out samples and explain origins and cultivation.

I learned  the Spanish are ashamed that Americans only know of Rioja wine from Spain. They set out to change that, encouraging me to try white wines from the Galicia region. I got some Christmas gift ideas, so look forward to those everyone! The man who owns Bodegas Felix Sanz even gifted my friend and I a bottle of Monte Negro and a corkscrew.

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I admit, I could have gone home satisfied with my night. However, I had Real Madrid tickets that I couldn’t let go to waste! After wine, I went to see Real Madrid take the Copenhagen 4-0 in a Champions League game. Since I’m missing U.S. football season, ¡Vamos Madrid!

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A Paris Visit to Café Constant

I promised to post this two days ago. I know, I’m sorry. This week wifi stopped working at home, and my iPhone broke. Don’t worry, everything works now.

On to Café Constant. Christian Constant, a Michelin Start chef, set out to serve sophisticated food at reasonable prices. With three restaurants along Rue Saint-Dominique, or Rue Constant as some locals know it, Constant succeeded.

Visit the Eiffel Tower at dusk, and continue to Constant, two blocks away, for a late (European timed) dinner, 25 to 30 euros for three courses and a glass of wine.

Since Café Constant does not accept reservations, expect to wait. Just don’t let the wait turn you away. Put your name in, go down the street for a glass of wine and come back after your allotted wait time.

Once seated and perusing the menu, the multilingual staff will gladly answer questions. My vegetarian friend and I chose only seafood. We started with the tartare of oysters, seabass and salmon seasoned with ginger and lemon. The modest glaze added flavor without overpowering. Next, the poached cod with vegetables and garlic mayonnaise. Since the fish had pesto, I used the mayonnaise for the veggies.

Cod with vegetables

Cod with vegetables

Chocolate ‘quenelles’ with crème anglaise concluded the evening. For those unfamiliar with ‘quenelles’ (I was!), they are a form of chocolate ganache. I’m a dark chocolate freak, so this was the best dessert I’ve had  in Europe. The chocolate and cream with a few shaved almonds gives a rich taste.

Bliss! (chocolate

Pure bliss (chocolate ‘quenelles’)

Café Constant

139 Rue Saint-Dominique

75007 Paris, France