Archives for category: Food

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

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



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!

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