Sevilla has been such a colorful and rich adopted home city for this year. In this post, some of the things I’m grateful Sevilla has introduced into my life…

Thank you Sevilla for perfect riverside days

For incredible sunsets

For your beautiful antiquities

For your brilliantly attired inhabitants

For the gourmet delights

Chocolate and churros day and night

For your excellent people-watching opportunities

Family on their way to Feria

For the whimsically decorated recycling containers

There are many of these unique containers which artists have been invited to decorate around the city

For your aromatic orange trees

Orange trees after a heavy springtime shower

And for our beloved Dos Jotas apartment

Typical aperitif in the Dos Jotas apartment: picos (bread sticks) and olives, with our “J” tiles that have adorned the kitchen all year

View from our kitchen window. Doesn’t that smokestack/vent thing kind of look like a “J”?

For all these things and more, like late-night flamenco serenades from the crowds at the bar below our window, the clip-clop of horse hooves pulling their carriages, discotecas where you can dance the night (and early morning) away, breakfasts at Bar Alfalfa and dinners at Café Levíes and the constant cacophony of Spanish filling the streets, I give Sevilla mil gracías. I’m so glad to have gotten to know this city. It will be hard to say good-bye on Wednesday. For now, I’m trying to enjoy what remains of our time here while coming up with a suitcase strategy that doesn’t end up with me in tears on the way to the airport!

And finally a thank you to those who made it possible for me to be here for this year- that includes my dad! Happy Father’s Day!!!

Besos,

Jenna

Berlin: a city saturated with so much heavy history that, at the same time, feels young and alternative with its international reputation for street art and off-beat dressers. What culinary curiosities could such a city hold? Here is my report of 5 days eating like a Berliner.

Take-out currywurst

An evaluation of the city’s gastronomic offerings would not be complete without mentioning currywurst, the strange mix of ketchup and curry powder liberally poured over sausage, and usually served with fries or bread. Currywurst stands are ubiquitous in Berlin, like Starbucks in the US (and sadly a growing amount of the world), and it is an excellent option for budget travelers, as the average cost for a serving is between 2.50-3.50 euros from a take-out stand (don’t bother with any currywurst over these prices- there really isn’t such thing as a gourmet currywurst).

Interesting tidbits about currywurst: it was invented as early as 1949, by a Herta Heuwer in Berlin, who obtained curry powder from the British soldiers in the city at the time, and concocted her unique mix. The currywurst first became popular among the many construction workers rebuilding post-war Berlin.

Coming from a background of summer BBQs, I found currywurst comfortingly familiar on one hand, and satisfyingly spicy on the other, as we are deprived from spice in Spain, it is always treat to find it in other places.

Beautifully sculpted Amorinos cone. One nice feature is that you can ask for as many flavors as you want in any sized cup or cone

I recommend always going for the cone- where else can you get an ice cream flower?

On the sweet side of the spectrum, Amorinos ice cream has been a delicious discovery. This franchise with shops in many European cities serves gelato in vibrant flavors and with creative presentation. It is the best ice cream I’ve had in Europe this year. For now, they only have a shop in New York stateside, but I figure its only a matter of time before they expand to the West Coast. One of their flavors is an Ecuadorian chocolate with 70% cocoa content, it is swoon-worthy!

White asparagus (spargel in German) in hollandaise with schnitzel

White asparagus was the talk of the town while we were in Berlin. Germans are crazy for their white asparagus, and its brief season serves to heighten their passion to an obsession. Stands devoted exclusively to fresh white asparagus dotted the roads around Berlin. Julia and I had some in hollandaise sauce with an Austrian classic, schnitzel. While the asparagus was really yummy, I didn’t find it too different from our California variety. However, it was refreshing to indulge in some vegetables as we spent most of the trip steering clear of any potentially e. coli-bearing veggies! I hope they will get to the bottom of that mystery soon!

Apple strudel at Wiener Café

We had a glorious apple strudel in Potsdam, which was overstuffed with a super juicy filling and had delicious accompaniments of vanilla sauce and vanilla ice cream. Unfortunately the popularity of apple strudel has spawned many unfortunate bland bakery varieties, but this strudel served in the leafy patio of one of Potsdam’s chic cafés is worth a gastronomic expedition from Berlin (as are Potsdams’ impressive Prussian palaces). Potsdam offers a peak at the slower-paced small town life outside of the hectic city of Berlin that takes place amidst the shady covering of German fairy tale forests.

Apple strudel close-up

Trip conclusion: Berlin has no shortage of things to do, nor things to eat. I recommend a visit!

Besos,

Jenna

Just finished my last day of teaching this week! Remembering how uncertain and alienated I felt walking around the halls during my first week at my school made a dramatic contrast with my last week of reluctant and warm-hearted farewells.

My last week of teaching coincided with a visit by a group of British exchange students. I chaperoned one of their field trips to Baelo Claudia (a Roman ruins site) and Tarifa. Here are a couple of pics from the trip…

North Africa’s coastline in the distance/ Forlorn seaside ruins of Baelo Claudia/ Flock of sheep using a palm tree as a windbreaker

Julia and I are off on a field trip of our own to Berlin this week! So excited to celebrate this year, and the end of our heinous commutes!

Besos,

Jenna

A couple of weeks ago, Julia and I spent a weekend with fellow auxiliar and friend, Sireesha, in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Sireesha teaches in this city of 65,000, situated where the Guadalquívir River (which runs through Seville!) meets the ocean. Today, Sanlúcar is known for its manzanilla wine production, and is a popular summer getaway for Spanish citydwellers.

Here are some shots from our time there…

Manzanilla bodega/ Sireesha scaling 15th-century castle walls/ Palace gardens/ Walking on the beach/ Julia and a friendly ladybug/ Color explosion

If you’re in the Cádiz province, and want a relaxing day trip, Sanlúcar is an interesting mix of ancient cobblestone mazes, bodegas and a cute “downtown” square with a sleepy small town, beachside cool vibe.

Thanks to Sireesha for sharing her city with us!

Besos,

Jenna

During my year here, the two events that generated the most intense anticipation and hype were Semana Santa (and you all know how that turned out!) and Feria. Fortunately, the raging storms that plagued southern Spain during Easter week cleared up in time for the ferias to display their full spectrum of charm and splendor two weeks later.

“Are you going to dance Sevillanas?” “Have you tried rebujito?” “Are you going to wear a gitana dress?” These are a few of the questions my students peppered me with in the months before feria. There is an entire vocabulary connected to the ferias, and I think my students would be flabbergasted if they knew that 6 months ago, these questions would have been meaningless to me. So, for my non-Spanish readers who find these words senseless as I did, here is a glossary guide to all things feria…                         In some ways, ferias resemble fairs in the US

Feria: First thing first- what is a feria? It can be translated as the similar-sounding word “fair,” and in some ways, ferias do resemble typical fairs in the US. They have a vast section of carnival rides, and lots of deliciously unhealthy food to eat, though chocolate and churros stands take the place of funnel cakes or corn dogs.

Girl in flamenco dress on the “coches locos,” or bumper cars

Historically, the ferias were connected to commerce, and were a place and time to trade livestock, horses, foodtuffs, etc. Lots of cities in Spain have a feria, which is usually dedicated to a commercial product such as manzanilla wine (Sanlúcar), ham (Aracena), horses (Jérez de la Frontera), etc. Seville’s is simply called the Feria del Abril (April Fair), which was dedicated to livestock trading, and is today considered the grand ancestor of all the other ferias.

La portada, or entry gate, to Seville’s feria, lit up at night

The ferias last for one week, and certain days have special themes, or events. For example, at 12am on the Sunday before feria begins, there is a lighting ceremony, called the “Alumbrao,” when the vast light displays covering the feria grounds and gates are switched on simultaneously. Some ferias have a Kid’s Day, when the prices of rides and attractions are reduced, or a Ladies’ Day, when all of the women make a point to dress up and attend in large women-only groups. On the last day of some ferias, like Seville’s, there is a fireworks show to conclude the festivities. During the ferias, there are also bullfights, and some commercial activity, like buying and selling horses, continues today behind the scenes.

 A decorated horse carriage in front of a row of casetas in the Feria de Abril

Caseta: A caseta is a temporary 3-walled, roofed structure set up en masse at feria to create miniature cities. The little “streets” are even named, in Seville after famous bullfighters, and in Jerez after famous flamenco performers. Each caseta contains a kitchen, dining area, and often room for dancing. The casetas range from super simplistic to elegant and elaborate, and each year prizes are awarded to the best-decorated casetas.

One of the prettier casetas at night

I attended Seville’s Feria de Abril and Jerez’s Feria del Caballo, and a major difference between the two is that in Seville’s Feria, the casetas are private, and in Jerez, they are public. What does this mean? In Seville, individual families, companies or organizations own the casetas, and personally invite friends and colleagues to come spend time in their caseta. In this case, the food and drinks served are usually at the cost of the people who own the caseta.

Julia and I inside a public caseta in Jerez

In Jerez, the casetas operate much more like little bars and restaurants. Anyone can enter the caseta, and then pay for his or her own food and drinks. There are some public casetas in Seville, and some private ones in Jerez, but in each case, they are a small minority. As a visitor to Spain, Jerez’s feria makes for a much more interactive experience. At Seville’s feria, I felt like an observer, while in Jerez, I felt like a participant.

Two girls in matching gitana dresses

Gitana dresses: Gitana (gypsy), or flamenco, dresses are the traditional clothing for women to wear at ferias. One of my teachers explained to me that it is the only traditional Spanish dress that is subject to trends and changing currents of fashion. For example, a cascade of ruffles at the bottom of the dress may be trendy one year, while the next year, a more simplistic design might be favored, or long sleeves with flared cuffs may make way to short sleeves with a cropped jacket.

Matching mom and baby

Family uniform

Helpful older sister in a knee-length flamenco dress

Riding sidesaddle in a flamenco dress! I can attest to how difficult this would be- because the dresses are so tight, they’re quite uncomfortable to move around in!

And sidesaddle on a moto!

Two kind teachers let Helen and I borrow their flamenco dresses to wear to the Feria del Caballo.

The accessories, an indispensable part of the outfit, undergo the same fluctuations in popularity. For example, this year it was very stylish for young women to wear their flowers directly on top of their heads, while the more classic way to wear it is behind the ear.

My hairstyle for the ferias was very conservative- flower behind the ear, and only one peineta (little decorative comb). Women create very elaborate styles with multiple flower, peinetas, pins, etc.

I asked this teacher how women know what the flamenco dress trends are for a given year. Are there magazines? Websites? She said though flamenco dress fashion shows exist, the trends primarily spring from trendsetters who debut new looks at feria each year. This trend is subsequently copied in larger and larger numbers over the following years. Once the trend becomes totally diffused, it ceases to be fashionable, and new styles take its place.

Men in equestrian clothing

Men usually wear a nice suit (navy is a popular color choice), or equestrian clothing with flat-topped hats. Young boys are sometimes dressed in traditional equestrian clothing, though Julia and I think they look like little pirates! To me, the men and women together gave the impression of attending a Spanish prom.

A little “pirate”

Sevillanas: The Sevillanas are four dances that blend Spanish folk dance and flamenco. It seems that Spanish people, or at least those from Seville and Jerez, have these dances programmed into their DNA. Everybody dances these at the ferias. They are danced in partners, and consecutively in a series, first the first, then the second, and so on, and the series is repeated until the song is over. I didn’t learn the Sevillanas, though the teachers from my school tried to give me a crash course during our school’s luncheon at the Feria del Caballo. I can’t say it was very successful! Even without knowing the dances, however, it is a lot of fun to watch other people dancing them.

Me with a glass of rebujito, and a woman dancing Sevillanas in the background!

Rebujito and pimientos: Rebujito is the traditional feria drink, composed of Sprite and Vino Fino (a type of Sherry wine). It is really refreshing, especially on hot days, and I think people rightly warn of the need to take caution with this drink because the Sherry’s strong punch is well hidden behind the Sprite!

Pimientos

Pimientos, or green peppers fried in olive oil, are traditional feria food. I loved them, especially because they were like a little taste of Mexican food to me, and we have been sorely deprived of good Mexican food here!

Interestingly, though everyone I talked to loves rebujito and pimientos, they don’t drink or eat them outside of the ferias. I suppose this is akin to our only eating pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. There’s something about reserving it for a special occasion that makes the food even more special.

Ta-da! My outsider’s guide to ferias.

If you have any questions about these unique traditions, ask away and I’ll do my best to answer (or consult Wikipedia)!

Besos,

Jenna

Semana Santa, the week before Easter, is a really big deal in southern Spain. The kind of big deal that is talked up starting in Fall by all of the teachers as one of the must-see events of the year. The kind of big deal that has churches preparing their religious floats and the city preparing the procession routes months in advance. The kind of big deal that is reflected in astronomical price jumps in plane ticket and hotel room rates during the days its celebrated.

What I had gathered beforehand was that Semana Santa consisted in a continuous succession of religious processions throughout the city of Sevilla. The processions consist of elaborate religious floats bearing sculptures of Jesus and Mary, accompanied by musicians and people who belong to religious associations affiliated with the particular churches and floats. These people are called “Nazarenos,” and they wear an outfit that for Americans makes a frightening and disturbing first impression, because it is the outfit that the KKK borrowed since it grants anonymity to the wearer.

Nazarenos in procession

Julia and I returned from a trip to France on the Wednesday evening of Holy Week, and were invited out to see the processions, or pasos, by one of Julia’s teachers and his family. We almost didn’t go due to being tired from our trip, but decided to at the last minute. We got to see a couple of processions and they were so unique from anything I’ve seen in the States.

Nazareno holding a standard

The floats are all extremely beautiful artistically, and are decorated with candles and flowers. And they’re extremely heavy, usually weighing more than a metric ton! The floats are carried by teams of men called costaleros. Though the work is brutal, they consider it an honor to carry the floats, and the crowds love how the human movement gives the statues life.

Pentitentes are characterized by the crosses they carry and their non-pointy hats, and are marching to make public penance.

I was surprised by the universally reverent attitude that the watching crowds held for the processions. Without fail, the crowd became totally silent when one of the floats passed by. Whispered conversations and cell phone rings were hushed by other onlookers. A chaotic complement to this quietness were the children who ran around to the Nazarenos when the procession paused to ask for candy and wax from the Nazarenos’ long candles. Apparently, the kids form the wax into a ball which they save as a kind of Semana Santa souvenir.

A young Nazareno

People in Sevilla also told us that it always rains during Semana Santa, so we weren’t too worried when a couple of rain drops fell on Thursday morning since this seemed to comply with the superstition. However, a couple turned into a torrent, and a series of violent storms settled over Sevilla inundating the city most of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. As the floats are extremely valuable, the processions are always canceled when there is the threat of rain, and so as of Thursday, not one procession took to the street! The last time that the Thursday night processions didn’t take place was 1933, for political reasons. So Julia and I witnessed a very historical non-event. What we thought was a preview on Wednesday night turned out to be the whole show for us!

I wish I had more pictures and experiences of Semana Santa to share with you all, but the weather dictated otherwise. The next big celebration in Sevilla is the Feria de Abril, which takes place in two weeks. It is also said that it always rains during Feria too, but I’m hoping that we’ve filled our quota of rain and canceled events!

The Easter message is all about hope, love and joy- wishing everyone all three this Easter!

Besos,

Jenna

This last week, Julia and I were blessed with the best kind of busyness that visits from friends bring.

First, my bubbly, eternally optimistic and adorable friend since the 4th grade, Lindsey, flew in for a couple of days before continuing on to see her sister who is studying abroad in Rome. Her trip could aptly be described with the word “whirlwind.” We fit in a lot in the few days she was here as she admirably adapted to the time change while sight-seeing, tapas hopping and dodging rain drops.

Lindsey enjoying the audio guide and scrutinizing the bricks in the Alcázar, to determine if they were originally carved or molded.

I’ve found that I have not become tired of visiting the sights in Sevilla yet. They seem to take on fresh aspects through each person’s eyes with whom I share them. For instance, Lindsey is currently a Museum Studies grad student. Her thoughtful observations and scrutiny of detail deepened my historical appreciation for familiar sights such as the Alcázar, Cathedral and Plaza de España. She also fell in love with the tile that is abundant in the architecture here. On her last day, we went on a quest for keepsake tiles that she could take home, and she ended up with two tiles from the 1820s that we found in an antiques shop! Now I can’t stop noticing the beautiful tile everywhere I go.

Lindsey’s love affair with tile began in the Alcázar

We discovered a Labyrinth in the Alcázar gardens during Lindsey’s visit. I’ve been to the Alcázar close to 10 times, and had never noticed it before. It was a true challenge to find our way out of the maze!

The day after Lindsey departed for Italy, Julia’s and I’s warm and kind-hearted college roommate, Lauren, flew in from Ghana. She was there on a spring break trip with her Occupational Therapy graduate studies program at USC. She came to us exhausted but entirely enthusiastic about seeing our adopted home city. We toured her around the usual suspects (Alcázar, Cathedral, Plaza de España…) but found a unique way to see María Luísa park, the gardens where the Plaza de España is located. We rented a three-person bicycle and pedaled our hearts out for 30 minutes! I would recommend the experience, especially to travelers weary of walking tours. Another alternative would be row-boating in the Plaza de España, which I wrote about here.

We braved the Labyrinth once more with Lauren.

Our three-seater bike’s dashboard, with map and bell

Of course, Julia and I did our due diligence in sharing the city’s culinary gems we’ve discovered with our visitors. Here are some pictures from some of our sweet times…

It’s beginning to look a lot like spring in Sevilla, which means that ice cream season is upon us! Rayas Helados is a newer discovery for Julia and I, but is currently my vote for best in the city

Chicken with Roquefort sauce and potatoes at Café Levíes (I’ve neglected to write about this place before, but it is one of our go-to places). This is a tapas portion, which costs about 3 euros. It’s a good example of how cheap going out to eat in Spain can be, without sacrificing quality!

These little squares, called Torrijas de Miel, taste like cold French toast dipped in honey. They are a traditional Lenten sweet. We bought these from the bakery Los Angelitos, which I’ve written about before here.

I’ve praised the Spanish tortilla with garlic mayo and the piripis (below) at Bodeguita Antonio Romero before here and here, but I thought Lauren’s pictures of these dishes captured them well.

Piripis from Bodeguita Antonio Romero

I’ve also written about chocolate y churros before when we had them in Granada, here. Julia and I have happily discovered the churro stand on the Arenal side of the Triana bridge in Sevilla. It is open 8pm-8am on the weekends, making it a perfect late-night dance fuel or sugary finish to a Triana neighborhood tapas tour. The chocolate is balanced between too thick and too thin, and the churros, in their greasy glory, stand up well to the chocolate in their complementary role.

Chocolate with its trusty sidekick, churros!

A full week of hosting these fun friends left us with many great memories, new experiences in this amazing city and disbelief that their visits are over already!

We had an interesting finish to the week on Saturday night. Having sent Lauren off on her journey back to the States on Friday, we were having a tranquil night in on Saturday when we heard a commotion outside our window. Thinking it was probably a protest or parade on the main avenue a block from our house, which occur frequently, we were surprised to see this from our balcony…

Wow! It seems that during Lent we will get a glimpse of what Semana Santa at the end of April will look like!

Besos,

Jenna

Previous to this past weekend, if I had been stuck with the word “Carnaval” during a round of Taboo, I would have been limited to the words Venetian masks, New Orleans beads and Brazil to describe this festival to my fellow players. My concept of Carnaval was limited to its popular manifestations widely known in the U.S. Unbeknown to me, Carnaval is also celebrated in Spain. Certain cities are more famous for their Carnaval celebrations, and draw huge crowds, such as the Carnaval in Cádiz. Others are mostly local celebrations, like the one in Valverde del Camino, the tiny pueblo where Julia teaches. Julia and I had the opportunity to witness both of these distinct Carnavals during this past weekend and walked away with a bevy of new buzz words to describe Carnaval.

We first attended the one in Valverde del Camino, which was celebrated on the night of March 4. Julia had been told since September that this night of Carnaval when the town turns upside-down was not an event to be missed. We cobbled together costumes, as per the required dress code for Carnaval, and set off to see what we could see in Valverde…

Valverde’s celebrations kick off with a parade in the streets. Giant floats blaring music overflow with crowds of people. Julia and I estimate less than 3% of the people in the streets were NOT in costume.

Pirate was a popular costume choice. So was anything involving cross-dressing, such as the pictured male bride. Julia and I estimate about 1/3 of the men cross-dressed.

Julia ran into some of her students and fellow teachers at the Carnaval!

Middle Eastern costumes were also popular. In fact, we saw quite a few “Middle Eastern terrorists.” I thought it was interesting to see a costume that would be so taboo in the United States be completely accepted in a different cultural context.

Valverde’s parade ended in the town’s old train station, which had been converted into a dance hall, complete with bar and live music! This group was one of our favorites they made these scuba diver costumes completely out of household materials!

Found a cow to go with my cowgirl costume!

There was a large chocolate y churros tent outside of the old train station, providing all-night revelers with fuel. Julia and I left the station at 5:30am, and people were still dancing away!

While Valverde’s Carnaval was attended almost exclusively by locals, Cádiz’s Carnaval has become so popular that it is a major tourist draw. During the two weeks leading up to Cádiz’s Carnaval, costumed musical groups called chirigotas compete with sets of musical numbers. The competition is televised from Cádiz’s main theatre. Their songs are filled with political and cultural references, and Julia and I were assured that we would understand not one bit of their content. The official chirigotas participate in this televised competition, and then sing on stages and floats during the weekend of Carnaval. In addition, unofficial chirigotas roam the streets and attract crowds by spontaneously bursting into song. Many Spaniards consider the unofficial chirigotas a bigger draw than the official ones. Julia and I went to Cádiz during the day on Sunday, which is considered to be the actual Carnaval. After the sun goes down, the city dissolves into botellón, or one large drinking party.

An official chirigota on a float.

Another chirigota float. Though both these chirigotas were all-men groups, there were also co-ed, all-women, and junior chirigotas.

An unofficial chirigota, all in piggie suits. At one point, they were holding up a cured ham leg and had the crowd chanting “jamón! jamón! jamón!” (“ham! ham! ham!”).

Another unofficial chirigota. They called themselves the sad bullfighters from Cataluña, a northern Spain province where bull-fighting has been banned.

Julia and I loved that the Cádiz Carnaval crowd included families (despite the extremely racy content of the unofficial chirigota’s songs and the abundant drinking in the streets- as in people with shot glasses tied around their necks with coolers of drinks in tow) and people over the age of 65, like this lady in the Technicolor wig.

As the sun went down on Sunday, the streets were bathed in light with lights like these all over the city!

The week after Carnaval in Valverde, the place become a ghost town as everybody abandons the city for their country homes. It is customary for families and friends to travel from country home to country home, drinking and eating the week away. I imagine in Cádiz, the largest cleaning crews known to man must take over the city streets to clean up the confetti, silly string and remnants of the night’s revelries from yet another year’s Carnaval. I’ve indulged in similar rituals today by barely budging from bed and cleaning up the remnants of a room ripped apart by last-minute packing. The Carnavals were unique from anything I had ever experienced! If your travels in Europe ever coincide with the days of Carnaval, consider making the trip to Spain because it is very much worth seeing!

Besos,

Jenna

Job perks. I was recently striving to think of any that this Language and Culture Assistant position receives. Oh yes…living in Spain! And recently, I realized another one…food! The kind that the kid’s parents’ bring in to school for teacher appreciation. For example, about a month ago, a mom with two troublesome kids casually left a cake in the teacher’s room- I like to think of it as a peace offering, or perhaps a bribe- the teachers certainly weren’t complaining! And then yesterday, in celebration of Día de Andalucía (Andalucía Day, technically on the 28th, commemorates when Andalucía legally achieved its status as an autonomous region within Spain), a corps of kids’ parents made ham and olive oil sandwiches for the whole school! Woohoo!

But the food I am writing about today was made by a kid’s mom who happens to be from Syria, loves to cook and has major kitchen skills! Word of her one-woman catering business has been spreading from teacher to teacher in the school, and I had been hearing about this delicious Syrian food for months before finally, on Wednesday, my bilingual coordinator invited Helen and I to join his family for a catered lunch by this talented lady! They generously let me take some pictures before commencing the feast…

This was the best hummus I have ever tried in my life! It was super thick, and had to be thinned out with olive oil. The garbanzo bean flavor was so intense!

This is a salad with guess what? Falafel! I had never seen falafel formed in this almost-doughnut shape, nor ever tried it sprinkled with sesame seeds. They were super crispy on the outside, and the seeds added a nice complexity. Yum!

This is a picture of the crowded table. I liked the Spanish touch of the baguette- the people here eat bread with every meal, even if it is Syrian I suppose!

You can see a tiny corner of one of the desserts in the bottom right corner. It was an almond cake so saturated with honey that it was dripping all over everybody’s fingers. It faintly reminded me of honey-slathered cornbread.

Cheese empanadas and spinach pastries

Syrian veggie pizza. I found the presence of this dish incongruous with the others- I mean, how authentically Syrian could pizza be? But the Wikipedia page on Syrian cuisine assures that manaeesh, the name for Syrian pizza, is popular for breakfast, lunch or dinner!

So now I am in the school loop, and can contribute to extolling this lady’s talents with the other teachers. Here’s to hoping she’ll be catering our next staff luncheon!

Besos,

Jenna

Over Christmas break, I gleaned some menus from my family’s take-out drawer to use in a class activity where the kids role-play a scene in a restaurant , and then answer various questions about their specific menu. The distinction between a take-out and sit-down restaurant was complicated by the presence of some menus from restaurants that offer both options, such as Applebees or Mimi’s Café. One of Applebees’ slogans, “Food fast, not fast food” confused a lot of students. One group’s entertaining answer to my question, “Is your restaurant a to-go restaurant?” was “No, I go.”I obviously had a lot of explaining to do about the types of restaurants in the U.S.!

Julia and I have found an unlikely source of “food fast, but not fast food” here in Spain- Julia’s school! Early in the year, Julia discovered that her school offers an occupational elective for those students thinking about careers in food service. During their lessons, the class creates several dishes, which they subsequently package in plastic containers and drop off in the teacher’s room to sell for about 1 euro each.

Julia also quickly discovered that the teacher’s demand for this food greatly outstrips the student’s supply, so that obtaining these little containers involves a strategic and aggressive offense. The promise of freedom from the kitchen on a week-night moves the teachers into what Julia calls a “furious frenzy.”

First, Julia has explained, timing is of grave importance. If she is not in the teacher’s room when the goods are delivered, she can kiss her chance of nabbing some food “adios!”

And then, even if she finds herself in the fortuitous position of being in the right place (the teacher’s room) at the right time (the moment the students deliver the food), she is not guaranteed to score dinner for that night. Teachers frequently mob the students at the door, leaving only empty trays to be set down on the teacher’s room table.

And then, even if the trays do make it to the table with some containers of food intact, there is the competitive snatching and grabbing to contend with. Julia once picked up a container, indecisively set it down for a moment to consider whether or not to buy it and found it whisked away by another teacher from right under her nose. There is no room for uncertainty in this battle of colleagues.

So what is all the fuss about? Is the food really that good to elicit Black Friday-like throwing of elbows and cold disregard for the fellow competition?

Here are some of the trophy dishes Julia brought home on her successful days:

Smoked Salmon Pasta with Goat Cheese

Roast Pork Ribs with Rice Pilaf

Huevos a la flamenca, or Flamenca-style eggs- baked eggs with a variety of cooked vegetables and ham

“Spring rolls”- a typical spring roll filling in a French-style crepe

Apple strudel

Gachas dulces- toasted cinnamon and milk porridge

Other dishes we have also tried but aren’t pictured include lobster bisque, shrimp fettucine, and ham and cheese Spanish tortilla.

I have been supremely impressed with the good quality of some of the dishes. Others are perhaps not so stellar taste-wise but do give us a glimpses into new Spanish gastronomic territory, such as a stew we recently tried that was surprisingly punctuated with squares of pig fat with some hairy bristles still attached!

All in all, we have loved occasionally having a ready-made dinner after a long day of work and tiresome commute! The students at Julia’s school have unexpectedly blessed us by providing us with some food fast, saving us from resorting to the evils of fast food. Fight on, Julia!

Besos,

Jenna

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