Travel Highlights from the First Six Months of 2012

It really hit me when I was saying goodbye to my students last week – time really does fly when you’re having fun. I’ve been so busy with everything that I never even stopped to take it all in, and what I’ve done the most in these last six months is travel. Menudo vida, ¿no?

January

On the tail end of my trip to the American Southwest with Kike in tow, I spent three weekends in a row out of town. First up was a trip to visit Hayley in Antequera and celebrate her birthday. Amongst other things, we went to Málaga to have a seafood cumple lunch at the famous El Tintero, where there’s no menu, just a live auction for your food! I don’t know what was better - fresh espetos or Hayley’s red velvet cake!

The following weekend, I got a cheap trip to Alicante to visit my dear friend, Julie. I’d never been before, so Julie showed me her sleepy seaside town – the tapas scene, the dominating Castillo Santa Bárbara and I even snuck a night in Valencia in!

February

One of my favorite places in Spain is Kike’s village of San Nicolás del Puerto. Nestled between the hills of the Sierra Norte de Sevilla and the acorn trees that feed the pigs, this pueblito of 700 people has become a treasured weekend getaway. This time, we took Susana, Alfonso and Luna, who loved the horses and piglets at Finca Los Leones.

March

I was thrilled that Kike would be spending time during a three-month training course in Galicia which has become like a second home to me in Spain. Our trip took us to Santiago, La Coruña and El Ferrol and included stunning weather, surprise run-ins and even a broken car. It’s all cake when you’re with the one you love, though!

Following that, I finally realized my dream of traveling to Turkey. Though we didn’t get to explore anything outside of Istanbul, I was taken by the warmness of its people, the monstrous monuments and the sumptuous food. I’d love to go back one day and see parts of the interior and coast.

April

After arriving from Turkey, I took a train out to Zaragosa, capital of Aragón and one of Spain’s largest cities. The weather did everything but let the sun come through, so we spent a lot of time relaxing and cooking while we stayed with Gonzalo, a friend of Kike’s from the military. Am I willing to go back? Sure, but not anytime THAT soon.

May

In 2012, I wanted to change up my travel routine a bit, so I went along with Audrey’s idea to do a giant obstacle course. She had exaggerated on obstacle course, but inversely: I signed up for the Tough Mudder, a 10-mile run with 25 obstacles somewhere along the way in the fields outside of the Boughton House. My body ached for days afterwards, but it was worth it. We got to see Oxford, too.

The weekend before, we’d gone to Murcia, a little forgotten corner of Spain where nothing happened but a wine tasting and a fight on the beach, all wrapped up into a lot of time in the car.

June

June has been quiet, comparatively. Between ending my current job and starting a new one, I’ve only made it to Marid for a weekend for a conference and a few goodbyes.

So, what’s next? The only big trips we’ve got on the horizon are this summer and at Christmas, but I’ll have three-day weekends to enjoy from September on. I’m heading to La Coruña Monday to work for the same summer camps I’ve been at the last three Julys (my apologies for the lack of posts), then making my yearly trip to America for the month of August. While I’m there, I’ll visit NYC and Boston for the first time in my life before heading back to Spain in early September. I’m also heading to the Travel Bloggers Unit conference in Porto with Lauren of Spanish Sabores.

So what’s been your travel highlight of these first few months of 2012, and what’s up next for you? Leave me a message in the comments so I know where to expect a postcard from!

Strange Food Spotlight: Ears in Madrid

I’m thrilled that my dear foodie friend and ex-sevillana Lauren Aloise suggested we do a series of blog exchanges. Lauren is a talented writer and brilliant cook, and her blog Spanish Sabores is a great resource on Spanish food, recipes and dining in Madrid. Our first exchange? Writing about strange foods in our respective cities – mine is a reprise of my springtime favorite, snails. Be sure to check out her Madrid Food tour if you’re ever in Spain’s capital for an authentic food tour with someone who knows plenty!

Spain is full of bizarre foods, including insect-looking shellfish, any organ you can imagine, slimy snails and Madrid’s famed specialty, pig ear.

El Tapón: Oreja a la plancha

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Oreja a la plancha (grilled pigs’ ears) is a Madrileño delicacy and you can find the dish being served in the city’s most authentic tapas bars and neighborhood taverns. Other establishments opt to serve oreja en salsa, a tasty dish of stewed ear served with either a mild tomato sauce or a spicy brava sauce.

So what does pig’s ear taste like? Well, it is actually pretty delicious! They are crunchy on the outside because of the cartilage (but not too chewy either) with a great flavor that is really complemented by the spicy brava sauce (my recommendation). I know they aren’t for everyone, but why not try something different with a group of friends the next time you are in Madrid?

The best place to try oreja a la plancha is definitely La Oreja del Oro, located at Calle de la Victoria, 9 right in the center of Madrid near the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol. It is an authentic Madrid tapas bar, so if you don’t like the oreja you have plenty of other delicious Spanish specialties to choose from.
casa toni patatas bravas

Source

A Quick Recipe for Salsa Brava 

1/2 onion

1 garlic clove

1 chopped medium tomato

1 t sugar

1 t cayenne pepper

1 t smoked Spanish paprika (hot or sweet)

A splash of sherry vinegar (you can substitute red wine vinegar if you want)

1 t flour

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

 Instructions: 

1. Brown the onion and garlic in the oil at a low heat.

2. Add the cayenne, flour, and paprika and stir constantly for 1 minute so that nothing sticks or burns.

3. Add the diced tomato and season with the sugar. Cook at medium for 15 minutes.

4. Add the vinegar and mix.

5. When it is reduced to the right texture, take off the heat and let cool.

6. Season with salt and pepper then puree in the blender and you have your brava sauce!

Lauren Aloise is the founder of Madrid Food Tour. An optimistic entrepreneur and self-proclaimed professional tapa taster, shewrites,tweets, andcooks out of her tiny Madrileño apartment.

Seville Snapshots: Flamenco Recital

It’s 9:32 when Carmen strolls in, still tightening the straps on her flamenco shoes.

Bueno, chicas, empecemos. An air of confidence has blown in with her, though you’d hardly know on such a hot night. The cante cracks on the old stereo, and we roll our heads and stretch our fingers. I’d argue that they’re the two most important conveyors of emotion in the baile, so we spend extra time making sure they move gracefully but with tension. One of flamenco’s contrasts.

I roll my ankles, tapping out a tiki-tat, ending with a golpe, the stomp that produces a great, flat sound. It’s Tuesday night flamenco class, and I’m ready for the arte, the duende and the emotion that accompanies flamenco.

A year later, I’ve bowed out of the class, but Cait is still tapping away three or four nights a week with Carmen. The outdoor stage is set up with an array of microphones, lights and gadgets, but flamenco needs no introduction or fancy equipment. Carmen’s master class takes the stage and I raise Camarón to my face. Lights, camera, arte.

If you’re new here, check out my first few entries in a series on photogenic Seville, which will be posted every Monday. If you’d like to participate with your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of the recital on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

Sampling La Bulla

Here’s a piece of advice: go to places where you know the chef.

Kike’s been prodding me to go to both Oveja Negra and his friend Jesús’s bar, La Bulla, for ages. For someone who staunchly refuses to go to the city center for the crowds and traffic, I was happy to oblige him. La Bulla is the center’s answer to La Pura Tasca, a gastrobar worthy of a mention. At La Pura Tasca, I was the neighbor down the street who was always given a morsel or two as I passed by.

Now it was Kike’s turn to wow me.

When we called to speak with  one of the waiters, he told us to pass by around 10pm. In reading the reviews online, I was a little skeptical about a place with “overpriced tapas at half the size” and poor service. Scrolling for one semi-positive review took a few clicks of the mouse, but Kike had his mind made up.

Good thing he knows the chef.

After our traditional pre-dinner beer, we strolled past swanky tapas places that line C/ Arfe. La Bulla is on Dos de Mayo, wedged between the bullring and the Maestranza theatre, just steps away from the river. The neighborhood, El Arenal, has become preppylandia, thanks to its cocktail bars and upscale dining options, as well as age-old abacerías and ultramarinos, and this dining mentality that given La Bulla it’s much-talked about reputation.

A coworker had told me that the place had a NYC-like vibe due to the exposed pipes, mismatched picnic tables and mod chairs. I marveled at the red-doored ice chest, similar to one we have at home in America. There was a quiet buzz amongst the clientele.

¡Buenas, Cat! I had been admiring four antique mirrors on the wall when I discovered that not only was the chef a dear friend of Kike’s from childhood, but so was the waiter. David had run a successful chiringuito in their village of San Nicolás del Puerto and was now explaining apple compte reductions to eager eaters. Beaming, I sat purposely with my back to the chalkboard menu.

There was no question about it for me: I wanted whatever was good and came recommended by the staff. I sat in a comfortable red chair, a color theme echoed throughout the restaurant’s cavernous interior. metallic greys and silvers meshed seamlessly with fire engine red.

Our first dish came served in a soda fountain glass. “Prawn in tempura with an apple-orange foam, topped with sesame seeds…” David recited the same speech he’d just given at the next table with an amusing voice, even switching to English for me. By this time, I’d already swatted Kike’s hand away to take a photo of it and its partner in crime, a so-named golosina de La Bulla. At the end of a long pincho came a juicy medallion of chorizo fried in tempura with a touch of the salsas. I greedily fished the whole-grain bread (where do that get that stuff in this town, anyway?!) out to sop up the juice.

Flashing a thumbs up at Jesús, I said, My compliments to the chef! The tastes were traditionally Spanish with a twist, just as Jesús is Spanish with an American twist. His father, Diego, runs a campsite and rustic restaurant in San Nicolás. After studying and working at the renowned Taberna de Alabardero in Sevilla, Jesús went to Washington to learn techniques and work alongside some of America’s best chefs, and this is evident in his cooking.

Our chef sent a bruschetta our way next, paired with a fried fish, again in tempura with the creamy apple sauce. David announced that the bruschetta was carpaccio de salmón with steamed bits of octopus and a plum cherry. I tend to not like salmon, but the texture between the thin carpaccio and the coarse sea salta made the morsel tangy and sweet all at once. The merluza next to it was crispy but bland, comparatively, and helped me prepare for the next dish, which was one of the most inventive I’ve seen in Seville.

David served us another soda glass with what looked like cinnamon ice cream. ¨Foie gras in a foam cream with raisins and candied fruit,” he announced, setting the pack of regañá, a flat, crispy bread, in front of me. My eyes widened, never having eaten anything like it before. The blend of tangy and sweet was overpowering, balanced by the regañá. While foie is not something I eat on a regular basis, Kike and I fought like kids for the last morsels, scooping what we could onto the bread.

“This is like Seville’s version of El Bulli,” Kike said, mouth full. Spanish cuisine was put on the map by Fernan Adrià, whose creative genius turned earthy, simple Spanish cooking into an inventive palate. Just last year, his restaurant – considered one of the best in the world – closed so that Adrià could open a food studies school. I don’t care whose version of El Bulli it was – La Bulla was exceeding my expectations.

Jesús put his hands on the wide bar next to us. “Fish or meat?” Feeling already full, we agreed on the fish and got the surprise oft he night: David cooked us a creamy parmesan risotto while Jesús set out to prepare our fish. To my delight, it was one of my favorites – octopus, which rested on a bed of au gratin potatoes and was covered with a light saffron sauce. Good enough, in fact, that Kike even talked with his mouth full to give his complements.

Struggling with the last morsels of both dishes, Kike announced he needed a smoke. “Pssssst” I whispered to David, “bring me that desert tablet!” Like La Pura Tasca, the desert came in minis, looking like sliders, and were served on a wooden cutting board. Instead, he brought two dessert wines which were less calorific and even better on my full tummy.

I’ll just settle for next time – after all, I know the guy who runs the joint.

La Bulla     Calle Dos de Mayo, 28     954 219 262

Seville Snapshots: La Giralda

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The Moors had control over a large portion of Spain for some 400 years before the fundamentalist Almohad Dynasty built the Giralda in their most-favored city in al- Andalus. Originally a minaret to the mosque in Sevilla, Catholics repurposed the Giralda after capturing the city in 1248. It was modeled on the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, and symbolized both the power and piety of the Almohad Dynasty. After a series of architectural alterations and additions following the capture of Sevilla, the Giralda now stands as a symbol of Spain’s rich cultural heritage and its long, victorious struggle against Islamic rule on the Iberian Peninsula.

Taken on an unusually cloudy day in the summer of 2011, this photo details the upper third of the tower that was added during the sixteenth century.

Text and photo © A Painter of Modern Life (http://apainterofmodernlife.wordpress.com).

Twitter: www.twitter.com/apoml Facebook: www.facebook.com/APainterOfModernLife

If you’re new here, check out my first two entries in a series on photogenic Seville, which will be posted every Monday. If you’d like to participate with your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. Don’t forget to follow Sunshine and Siestas on its new Facebook page!

Saying Goodbye

You might say my mind has been made up since last August. For the first time in my six flights from America to Spain, I cried boarding.

Normally, I’m equipped with a travel magazine, a bottle of water and a nervous stomach at going back to a place that I love so much, but this trip was different. Spain no longer held the same excitement and romanticism for me as it did during my first few years there, and I wasn’t looking forward to going back.

It was clear what the problem was: My work situation.

I thought about how many mornings I’d trekked to the foreigner’s office or to the unemployment office or to job interviews during the hot summer months. I remember I told my friend Izzy that I was about to throw in the towel and just go back to America, defeated. Then Refu called back, asking me for an interview. Seven hours, a 13-paged written interview and two classroom try outs later, I was officially given the job at SM’s.

And two school years later, I’m bowing out. Official reason? I don’t want to be a teacher forever. I want to blog. To not have to turn down weekend trips because I have too much to do. To live my sevillano life, lest lose it forever.

Next year will be a transition year: master’s in Public Relations at the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona, 26-hours-a-week teaching gig at a language academy (working in the pm again…weird!) and toying around with this blog. I’ll still be teaching, though I’ve made up my mind that it’s not the career I want forever. At least, not in Spain.

The thing is, my situation – long hours, poor pay, no chance at moving up  – will be the same forever unless I do a master’s in teaching. My school threatened to have to complete a five-year teaching program (as a master’s for primary school teacher does not exist) or to lose our jobs. I did them one better and gave official notice about a month ago, citing that I wasn’t willing to pay for five or more years of schooling for something I can’t see myself doing forever.

Of course, there’s more to the story that isn’t fair to share. No one in my school has been overly abusing of anything else but my time and my self-worth. Sure, I’ll miss my co-workers and the staff at the bar across the street, who never need to ask me how I want my breakfast. I’ll miss the parents, full of compliments and funny stories about the 45 kids I’ve grown to adore after being their tutora for 10 months.

That’s the thing – I’ll miss my kids with locura. Absolute, unending locura.

If I make the count, I’ve taught at least 700 kids in some form – between my five years and three summers teaching. I’ve had kids that make my nerves snap, kids who are mini-mes (and tell me they want to teach English like me), kids who understand where I’m coming from, kids who give me hell. As a director of studies, I’ve put up with fist fights, calls home sobbing to parents, crazy moms who yell at me over the phone…vamos, all in a day’s work. Between the test-giving, the long nights preparing theatres and parties, the endless hours of programming and grading, I’ve found that this is and isn’t where I want to be.

I think about just how far me and the babies have come since September. Having been their English teacher in Five years’ preschool, I already had the confianza of knowing them – and having them know me. They were excited, and I had unhappy preschool parents asking to know why I’d been changed to primary. But I was elated. Finally, my own classroom, a manageable number of kids and a feeling of actually being on the team.

It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies – there were kids who I needed to win over, motivation to keep up and a lot of work to be done. Since my coworker and I have 45 kids, that’s twice the work when it comes to grading and report cards, and an extra class of parents to see. But I enjoyed watching their Aha! moments, rewarding them for using their English blocks of speech (even if just a few words here and there) and how they smiled when we’d play a game (roll the ball in the bucket as a math game? I deserve some kind of award) or take a field trip or make a breakthrough. They, as well as I, have matured and come into their own in these ten months, and I’ll take a piece of them with me when I have to say goodbye next Friday.

The plan, before I gave notice, was for me to continue onto second grade with my minions. Multiplication tables, reflexive verbs and the solar system were all on the docket, and I had many anxious six-year-olds asking, ¿Serás nuestra seño en segundo? Since my move up to first grade was so unexpected, I didn’t have to lie and say I didn’t know who their teacher would be next year, because it’s all up to the boss anyway. But as I take down their adorable drawings, send home their corrected and completed workbooks, I find myself giving more hugs and kisses, pinching more cheeks and wishing that things could somehow be different.

Teaching and I have a love-hate relationship: I hate the work, but love the reward. I find pleasure in creating a challenging lesson and giving it, like standing up and acting goofy in front of a crowd and crave the daily satisfaction that a young learner’s progress garners. It’s all of the extras at my school that was slowing me down, and it all came to a head with the theatre last week. I cried in front of the kids for the first time all year.

My decision to leave is the right one for me.

Maybe some of my kids who finally started getting results will get blocked with a new teacher. Or maybe they’ll like him more. But I’m confident that the right foundation has been laid for them to be successful.

Now that exams, grades and everything else is done, it’s time to enjoy with the kids who taught me that school can be fun and hands-on, with the ones who read my emotions even better than I do, the ones who say ” I want the holidays to Chicago con Miss Cat!” Boogers and all, they’re still really special kids, and I will miss them dearly.

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