Archives for the month of: February, 2011

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

In honor of Valentine’s Day this past Monday (read: using Valentine’s Day as a pretense to rope together these yummy pictures), here is a review of chocolate stand-outs from my teach abroad time so far:

Best Excuse to Eat Chocolate for Breakfast: Pain au chocolat at Jean Millet in Paris

Most quirky table companions: Chocolate cream pie among garden gnomes at Cafe Gartenzwerg in Lagos, Portugal

Finest reason to eat pinkies- up: Hot chocolate at Angelinas in Paris, France

Best justification to eat chocolate at the holidays: The fleeting chocolate montecado at Filella Bakery in Sevilla, Spain


Quickest way to a sugar rush (and subsequent stomach ache): Chocolate y Churros at Cafe Bib Ramblas in Granada, Spain

Cheapest taste of luxury: Chocolate Tart at Hotel Alfonso XIII in Sevilla, Spain- I highly recommend checking this place out if you visit Sevilla. The hotel is in a gorgeous building built between 1916 and 1928. Having a drink and dessert on their patio for a refresher between exploring the city is an experience in luxury.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated here in Spain, though not with the same fervor as in the U.S. My school had flower grams available to be sent and received during the school day, and many bakeries around town offered little heart-shaped cakes for the occasion. Upon questioning, however, most of the teachers did not have special plans with their significant other that day, and its commercial presence in stores was minimal.

Julia and I added to the above list of chocolate-y moment memories by indulging in these on Monday…

The elegant-looking ones are from Los Angelitos bakery (the same bakery as my birthday cake). They are made up of a white chocolate slab layered over milk chocolate flecked with chopped hazelnuts. The less handsome but equally scrumptious chocolate was made by Helen, the British language assistant at my school. She calls it Tiffin Cake, which tastes to me like fudge studded with candied fruit and digestive cookies. It is really quite good! I’m hoping to get the recipe, which perhaps I can share with you all!

Thank you for bearing with my chocolate-centric nostalgia:-)

Besos,

Jenna

 

 

In your group of friends, I’m betting there is a particular month out of all 12 when it seems that all of your friends, their friends and their friend’s great-aunt’s cousin was born. I’ve heard for some, that it is October, for others, that it is August- for me, it is February. And in the midst of the birthday month madness, yours truly celebrated a birthday last weekend. It was a birthday of firsts for me: my first outside of the States, and my first when I was obliged to go to work. Luckily, ensuing weekend celebrations prevented any lasting trauma from the early morning and long commute on the day of.

Julia, being a birthday traditionalist, bought me a chocolate cake. I became a little obsessive with documenting the candle-lighting ceremony, which resulted in the birthday cake photo shoot below. If models and celebrities get this kind of treatment, why not beautifully voluptuous chocolate cake as well?

Setting the scene

Starting the flame

Almost there…

All a-blaze!!!

The cake is from a super petite bakery called Los Angelitos (Little Angels) located in the center of Sevilla, whose window displays are ever tantalizing. The shop-owner sold Julia on this cake with two words: “pure chocolate.” On this point, we admitted ourselves disappointed. The cake consisted of a genoise/sponge-like cake paired with a light mousse. You can see its insides below…

A cross-section of the cake

This made for a delicate cake that imparted more of a suggestion of chocolate, which may have been sufficient for milk chocolate lovers, but for hard-core dark chocolate users, it was a tease. The rich ganache coating was closer to what we were after. This scruple aside, it was a wonderfully yummy cake. I particularly loved the little white and milk chocolate striped “fan” decorations, which conjured up thoughts of flamenco. Reared on American diets of rich gooey brownies, fudgy cookies and dizzying sundae toppings, I imagine our scale of chocolatey-ness differs substantially from a Spaniards.

El fin!

A sweet way to start the new year!

Besos,

Jenna