Archives for the month of: January, 2011

Imagine: Chex Mix cereal coated with melted butter, chocolate, and peanut butter and then liberally coated in powdered sugar. Sound good? This is what we called Muddy Buddies in college. They’re the perfect study session/road trip/party snack food. And, as a cultural ambassador, the perfect way to introduce peanut butter to Spaniards. Though it’s hard to imagine, peanut butter is not at all popular here. In fact, several of the people we’ve met have never tried it before, and those who have consider peanut butter and jelly an unthinkably bizarre combination. They’re astonished to discover that most American kids were reared on a steady diet of the stuff.

A batch of Muddy Buddies

Without an oven, it also places among the limited repertoire of sweets that we can make here at the Dos Jotas Mesón. Julia and I mixed up a large batch back in November and brought Tupper-wares full to our school. In the English department, the teachers could be heard puzzling over the mysterious ingredient (peanut butter!) and asking for the recipe, translated into Spanish. Some even declared they were going to serve it at their Christmas parties.

Mixing up some holiday fudge

In December, Julia and made fudge as an encore to the Muddy Buddies. When I was spotted with the tell-tale Tupper-ware, cries of “Are you trying to make us fat?” “Are you trying to make us break our diets?” were elicited as the little squares of chocolate and walnuts rapidly disappeared.

Following in step with the preceding months, we heralded January with some Buckeyes, a candy-like sweet popular at Ohio State tailgates and that is made up of little clusters of peanut butter, butter and powdered sugar coated with chocolate. They are supposed to resemble their namesake nut, but ours have none of this aesthetic value (though in taste I like to think they’re an even match). These we gave to our neighbors and visitors to our apartment (and enjoyed ourselves!).

Our not-so-beautiful but oh-so-delicious Buckeyes

What will February bring? It is the month of chocolate after all, with Valentines Day about 3 weeks away. Without classic cookies, cakes or pies to fall back on, we’ll have to continue to mine the American recipe box for no-bake treats!

Besos,

Jenna

PS: In case you’re in a DIY (or chocolate or peanut butter) mood, the recipe we used for the Muddy Buddies is at…

http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/chex-muddy-buddies/92e4756c-abc1-452a-9b2c-dd124d858050

and the recipe for Buckeyes at…

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Peanut-Butter-Buckeyes-243225

What about the fudge? Well, we used a secret family recipe from Julia’s family, so you’re on your own for that one!

PPS: If you have any favorite sweets that can be made without an oven, let me know!

This afternoon, Julia and I ventured to the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares de Sevilla (Museum of Popular Arts and Customs). One Spanish friend’s blunt remarks on the place were initially discouraging- “It’s really boring.” Hm. But with a wave of visitors beginning in March, Julia and I feel a responsibility to explore all of the city’s attractions, in order to be able to give definitive opinions on visit-worthy places (and not-so-worthy places). After all, a boring afternoon spent between the two of us is not as a tragic as one with a guest who has flown over 5,000 miles to see us.

The museum is located in the beautiful María Luisa park, in an ornately-decorated building leftover from the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. It houses a collection of everyday items, as well as re-constructions of traditional workshops and homes from Spain’s past. I felt like a visitor to planet earth, with plaques sporting statements such as “some decorative objects in homes are purely decorative while others also serve a practical purpose.” Just in case you hadn’t noticed…

However, Julia and I were entertained with some of the everyday objects of bygone eras. So, if you’re up to the challenge, let’s play a game of “Name that Ancient Spanish Item.” See if you can figure out what these were used for in real life…I’ll be impressed if you can!

Mystery Item #1

Mystery Item #2

Mystery Item #3

Mystery Item #4

Other entertaining items included…

Should I have this made into a doormat?

This sign in the section of artisanal tiles. Translation: “Blaspheming Prohibited.”

Perhaps originally used to serve sub-par coffee?

And this cup in the section on housewares. Doesn’t she have a striking resemblance to the Starbucks mermaid?

Concluding thoughts: the museum was lazy afternoon worthy, but definitely not transcontinental journey worthy. I learned some new things about a collection of old things. And I feel a refreshed appreciation for my coffee pot and electric heater!

Besos,

Jenna

PS- Thought I forgot about the guessing game? You guessed wrong! (Pardon the silliness, I really should be taking my siesta instead of writing this!)

Stumped about the items? I was! The Big Reveal…

#1: Heater

#2: Coffee grinder

#3: Olive oil and vinegar containers- can you imagine dressing your salad with these babies?

#4: Ceramic ink/pen holder

And all of them are from the 20th century! How’s that for surprising!

Saying good-bye to Christmas can be a sad thing. To me, the sight of a Christmas tree tossed in the street, forlornly awaiting the garbage pick-up, is one of the most depressing sights to be found in suburbia. As the lights come down and cities return to their ho-hum humdrum, it’s so easy to become nostalgic for the holidays. And in Spain, there is one more dark side effect to the passing of the Christmas season- the montecado, a glorious repository of sweetness, ceases to be sold in stores.

A chocolate montecado

Montecados are essentially a kind of cookie, made up of super finely-ground almonds, flour and sugar (of course!) and butter or lard. Montecaods have been delighting Spanish palates since the 16th century! Since then, many varieties have developed, so in addition to the traditional cinnamon or sesame flavors, there are also lemon, chocolate, coconut, or hazelnut montecados. Also, over time they have become tightly associated with the celebration of Christmas- unfortunately for those of us prospective year-round consumers!

An assortment of montecados from our fave bakery, Filella

Polvorones are a type of montecado, sharing the same seasonal fate as the montecados. According to Wikipedia, polvorones have a different quantity of ground almonds than montecados, and are supposed to have a distinctive shape as well, supposedly more oval and elongated. However, we found them to be practically indistinguishable. Shopkeepers seemed to share the confusion, as we would often ask for one, and they would give us the other.

A polvorón

Also according to Wikipedia, montecados and polvorones can be found year-round in stores. This may be true. Perhaps, in the larger bakery operations and American-esque grocery stores, we could find boxes of our beloved cookies. But none can compare to the ones distributed by our little near-by corner bakery, which instantly crumbled upon touch (the “polvo” in “polvorones” translates as “dust”), and elicited audible sounds of satisfaction, as everyone “mmmmmed” and “yummmed” there way through their cookie, only to be left with a desire for more and an instant sugar high.

A torta de polvorón; tastes like a polvorón, but in more traditional American cookie shape

Today was the day we found out the little bakery had stopped montecado production. It also happens to the be the one-month anniversary since Christmas. Though this post is a bit of a mournful remembrance, I’ll end on a bright note with the news that there are only 333 days, 10 hours, 58 minutes and about 50 seconds until Christmas! These are definitely cookies worth waiting for.

Besos,

Jenna

Coffee at our regular breakfast spot, Bar Alfalfa

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a national cover-up afoot! Our vocabulary would lead us to believe that the energizing element in both coffee and tea is one and the same, caffeine. Not so! At least, according to the Spanish. Caffeine (cafeína) is in café but NOT in tea (té)…that would be teína, of course.

Julia unexpectedly walked into this debate a couple of weeks ago at a roadside café. As a busy waiter paused to listen to her order, Julia told him ” un té.” The waiter rushed off to complete her and the many other patrons demands, and as he happened to rush by her again a moment later, Julia remembered she wanted to modify her order, and told him “descafeinado, por favor” (de-caffeinated, please). The waiter nodded at her and sped off once more. A minute later, he arrived with Julia’s tea…and a de-caffeinated coffee.

“I’m sorry,” Julia said, “I only ordered tea.”

“No, you didn’t, miss,” the waiter replied, “You asked for a tea. Then you asked for a descafeinado.”

“Actually, I just wanted a de-caffeinated tea,” Julia tried to clarify.

Looking at her with as much surprise as if she had just told him that Spain hadn’t actually won the 2010 World Cup he responded “What are you talking about? Tea doesn’t have caffeine.”

Julia wanted to argue that yes, indeed there was caffeine in tea, but she could see she was in a minority position as her co-worker near-by confirmed the waiter’s pronouncement.

“You’re thinking of teína,” her co-worker said, trying to help, “teína is in tea, cafeína is in café” he continued matter-of-factly.

Sensing herself defeated, Julia held her tongue but later told me the story.

The very next week, one of the teachers in my department offered me some tea, and he added, in Spanish, “I have tea with or without teína. What’s the English word for teína again?” I tried to explain what Julia had attempted, that we use the word “caffeine” for both coffee and tea, but his doubtful look made me suppose he didn’t entirely believe me.

How to solve this difference of opinion? Wikipedia is very helpful. It states that caffeine is obtained by “infusions extracted from the bean of the coffee plant and the leaves of the tea bush.” When “teína” is typed into the Spanish Wikipedia search engine, the page re-directs to the “cafeína” page. And finally, when “teína” is translated by a Spanish-English on-line dictionary,  the result is “caffeine.” Now, none of these methods are exactly scientific or conclusive, but I like to think it at least justifies our non-discriminatory use of the word. Just take care when ordering drinks in Spain…you may end up with a surprise…and a debate!

Coffee and tea in Granada, Spain

Besos,

Jenna

“Trampantojo” meaning “trick (trampa) played before (antes) one’s eyes (ojos) to deceive.” Julia and I encountered this handy word at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Sevilla this weekend, used to describe the painter’s techniques to hoodwink the viewer into thinking they’re looking at something real, not drawn. We later discovered that this word can apply not only to the artistic world, but the gustatory one as well. This pictured item is wildly popular at one of our favorite places in our neighborhood…

Tarta Vegetal

Though it resembles a cake like its name suggests (tarta=cake), this stack of savory ingredients is decidedly un-sweet. And the vegetable part? Yes, there may be shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and chopped corn and carrots mimicking sprinkles on top of the mayonnaise “icing,” but the bottom layer is unabashedly made up of tuna! The tarta is most similar to our triple-decker club sandwiches offered at diners, but in the fancy dress of a cake. It is one interesting trampantojo!

The transition back to work is always difficult after a good break. When I asked the teachers at my school about their breaks, they invariably answered “It was too short!” Seems to be a sentiment felt around the world!

Besos,

Jenna

I hope that everyone’s New Year has had a good launch! Being back in Spain feels surreal after being home for almost a month. I went to the States with one suitcase and came back to Sevilla with two- how does that happen? Well, I did bring back some children books for my bilingual coordinator’s 2-year-old (some new and some hand-me-downs from our family collection!) and a stack of take-out menus for classroom activities. Not to mention a pack of tortillas- they’re almost a killer $6 here!.

Here is a story I wrote for a contest held by our teach abroad program. The theme was open-endedly “Food.” It’s about Julia and her encounter with an infamous dish, menudo. I hope you enjoy it!

Encounters of the Menudo Kind

I’ve got a friend. Her name is Julia. We like to eat, and we’re not afraid of food. Grilled chicken heart? Bring it on. Pulpo a la gallega? Why not? Rabo de toro? Yes, please!

So when Julia was confronted with a Spanish menu during her first week in Seville, she did not play it safe. She did not order a sandwich. She did not order the paella. She did not order the chicken filet. She zeroed in on one item, the one item she had seen a couple of times before, but had never ordered. She plunged bravely into the unknown, and asked the waiter to please bring her a plate of…menudo. Settling into conversation, Julia was innocently unconcerned about the decision she had just made.

When the waiter plopped her plate of menudo in front of her with a “buen provecho,” she looked down to a plate of squiggly little bits covered in a brownish-reddish sauce. Hmmmm. It certainly wasn’t the most appetizing-looking dish she had ever encountered. Not one to be daunted by a less-than-appealing presentation, Julia bravely plucked up her fork, speared the most harmless-looking piece on the plate and brought it to her mouth. “How is it?” the others at her table asked hesitantly. “Ummm, hmmm” Julia could not respond as she was still chewing. It had an amazing and surprising elasticity! Julia motioned for the others to try a bite. She wondered if perhaps she had just taken a bad bit of the menudo on her first go. After all, it was extremely unusual for her to find a food she didn’t like. In the practice of giving second chances, she speared another bit and gave it a chew.

“Would you like some more?” Julia asked the other diners hopefully. The looks on their faces betrayed their answer before they opened their mouths. “That’s alright, you can have it” they chimed from around the table. Half-heartedly, Julia gave the menudo a third and final chance to win her taste buds. The nodular forms, chewy texture and stomach-turning sauce together overwhelmed Julia’s senses. She laid her fork down in defeat. She just could not like menudo.

Days later, Julia and I returned to the scene of her menudo encounter. The atmosphere sparked Julia’s memory, and she recounted her harrowing experience to me while we browsed the menu. As the waiter approached to take our order, Julia resolved to find out exactly what this mysteriously terrible dish was. Casually, Julia asked the waiter, “Excuse me. What is menudo exactly?” In a matter-of-fact tone, the waiter replied simply, “Cow’s stomach.” “Oh my!” Julia exclaimed as she raised her hands to her face, realizing what she had eaten. The waiter misinterpreted Julia’s sudden action as a passionate demonstration of her love for menudo. “Señorita, I’ll go get you some,” he said excitedly as if offering a favor to a friend, “It’s really, really good here.” As the waiter scurried off, Julia had a pained look on her face knowing that her dining fate was sealed. She had accidentally ordered the very dish she fervently wished to avoid. With a resigned look and a sigh, Julia turned to me and said in a forcedly optimistic tone, “Well, Jenna, at least now you get to try it!”

Besos,

Jenna