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!

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

Julia (on the right) and I in the lobby of the beautiful Alfonso XIII Hotel

I hope you all had a joyful Christmas!

Thanks for reading!

Besos,

Jenna



Sevilla, food, and travels have been the A-list stars in this blog, and I’ve thoroughly neglected Jerez, the city I actually work in! I suppose it is the commuter’s curse to only know the confines of their workspace, and in my case, the train station, in the place they commute to.

Two weeks ago, Julia and I staged our own Bring Your Friend to Work Day, and she accompanied me along the marathon of 2 hours of train rides, 1 hour of walking, 10 minutes of Metro-ing, and the 7 hours of working that is my typical Tuesday.

Here are some pictures from our day…

This is the beautiful Jerez train station. It is about a 20 minute walk from the station to my school, and about 15 minutes from the station to the city center.

This slightly frightening statue welcomes visitors- I’m not sure what his story is.

Julia snapped this picture as we were leaving school. This is the gate to I.E.S. Fernando Savater, the secondary school where I work. This gate is always locked, and there is another locked door beyond this to get inside the building- maximum security- those kids aren’t escaping!

I gave my first test last week! I think was about as nervous as the students posing questions and striving to give them fair grades! When Julia visited, we gave some class presentations about Christmas in the U.S. The kids were horrified that we don’t have turrón and polvorones (a popular Spanish Christmas cookie). I assured them we had our own share of delicious ways to celebrate the season! I don’t think we sold them on eggnog though…

After school, we strolled over to the city center with Helen, the other language assistant at my school .As Jerez is known for its sherry wine production, it was fitting that they were constructing a Christmas tree of sherry bottles in this plaza.

I’ve posted before about the popularity of belenes (nativity scenes) in Spain. Here is Jerez’s main belén. The people figures in the photograph are life-size.

Another perspective of the belén

I have to take the Sevilla metro to get to and from my train station in Sevilla. On our way home we checked out this 3 Wise Men light display…

…and Christmas tree complete with flamingos and Sevilla-themed ornaments. It seems as if no corner of Sevilla has been neglected in decorating for the holidays!

On Saturday, I took a much longer 25-hour journey home to California! I have a couple of back-posts about sweets (surprise!) that I intend to put up while I’m home, so I won’t completely disappear during my break from Spain. I hope you enjoyed this sliver of a look into my daily grind in Jerez!

Besos,

Jenna