El Día de Acción de Gracias – fotopost

27 11 2010

The warm-up.

Serious ambientación courtesy of Emily’s resourcefulness.

Top-notch hostess Sam introduces the best of American cuisine to Madrid:
caramelized corn with fresh mint
sausage stuffing
applesauce
cranberry sauce spiked with orange zest
gooey mac-n-cheese
buttered green beans tossed with slivered almonds and cranberries
pumpkin cloverleaf rolls
crescent rolls
mashed ‘taters
fiery sweet potatoes
green bean casserole
cinnamon apples
brined and dressed turkey (!!!)
brined and dressed chicken
gravy

And the encore:
pumpkin pie
apple pie
pecan pie
fresh whipped cream





Puente de Vallecas

21 10 2010

Madrid’s significant dearth of non-Spanish ingredients is somewhat balanced by the joy I find in dedicating the occasional afternoon to ingredient-hunting. It’s a task best approached with the vaguest of goals – do NOT attempt to find real vanilla – and one that can easily lead to those lesser-known areas that make you feel all hip-and-with-it.

Charleen only has to drop the hint of “plantains,” and I hit the ground running. Today we convene in Puente de Vallecas, an out-of-the-way barrio to the southeast of Atocha. Back in the piso-hunting days, Jaselyn mentioned Dominican influences notable from merely walking around; we are intrigued.

Did you study abroad in Central/South America? Does Madrid need just a touch more Latin rhythm coming from every open door and car window? Do you require… real tortillas? Puente de Vallecas is the city’s answer to your heartstrings’ spicy longings. It’s markedly Madrid: the city center is within an hour’s walkable distance, and four and five story apartments with distinctive metal balconies are the norm. And yet – here hangs a loop of colorful laundry. And there goes a car bumping with reggaeton beats. Are you sure we’re still in Kansas, Dorothy?

It’s impossible to meander far in Puente de Vallecas without running into an Alimentación offering much more than mere frutos secos. We stock up on plantains and black beans, powdered cayenne and adobo seasoning. In one extra-special tienda, we are presented with fresh coconut cookies on the house, and they are absurdly risquisitos.

It feels like an escape, like we’ve somehow cheated the metro system and gone far beyond the B2 borders. But this, too, is Madrid.





Jornada Highlight

3 10 2010

No work on Thursday due to the obligatory, all-day Jornada de Formación de Auxiliares: Orient Harder.

Although a late-afternoon foray into the poetic comes in a close second, my favorite moment of the day is the formation of a fresh-food coalition during a Model Model UN session with my healthy buddies Mango, Papaya, and Avocado. Fried Mars Bars is not invited.





“Tapas” Nite in La Latina – fotopost

19 09 2010





Vespa Fantasies/Cilantro Realizations

19 09 2010

I’m going to guess it traces back to that alluring orange beauty emblematic of imminent success on Piso Day: Em and I have been fantasizing about Vespas.

Lucky us, there is a certified Vespa Store about 10 minutes’ walk from our place. We seek it out and inquire into possibilities.

A new bike runs roughly 2000€; we’re thinking a used one could be found somewhere in Madrid at an even more dangerously affordable price.

Shopkeep José is very helpful, fueling our enthusiasm and offering further information. He recommends we visit the US Embassy to iron out the legal details; we make a note of it as a possible Monday plan.

With no further schedule for the daylight hours, Em and I engage in our most dedicated wanderings to date. Armed with vague aims of “gold heels” and “Mexican ingredients,” we head first to Plaza Angel on a vague recollection of a Latino market.

Paydirt! Black beans are quite the uncommon find in Madrid. I snap up two cans, making a wish known to the universe that I’d like to consume one of them for lunch.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this market very highly – not too much else appealed (although I am glad to know of another location for coconut milk). We recall Fausto mentioning the barrio Cuatro Caminos as being home to many Central/South American immigrants, so I call up Charleen in the belief that she lives nearby and make plans to meet at the metro.

While on the surprisingly lengthy metro journey to Cuatro Caminos, Em and I unfold my rapidly deteriorating map to note that Charleen lives nowhere near the area whatsoever, and that I have absolutely zero idea how such a thought got planted in my skull. Ah well, it’s a wandering day for everyone!

Upon our exit from the metro, sugar-encrusted roasted peanuts from a nearby stall smell far too enticing not to devour. We contentedly munch while productively awaiting Charleen’s arrival by browsing a Carrefour, hoping for shelving and instead encountering a perfect yellow robe, plus tortillas and a baguette for later eats.

Just outside the Carrefour is another entrance to the Cuatro Caminos metro station, and something draws me in for a closer look. It’s common in these areas to to see black market vendors of pirated DVDs, knockoff sunglasses, and arrays of very likely pilfered goods, none of which I’m interested in purchasing – but this man has my number.

“Emily. Emily. Look. I think he has cilantro.”
“Qué?”
Cilantro.” [runs, not walks, up to shady seller clutching bunches of green] “Es cilantro??”
“Si. Un euro.” [begins packing massive amount into plastic bag]
“Uhh – no necesito tanto -”
“Un euro.”
“Uh. Vale.”

Yesssssss. My only regret is not snapping a quick frame of the sketchy cilantro huckster. There’s no question I’ll be back…

Charleen shows her pretty face and we begin exploring in earnest.

A foray into an Ecuadorian bakery – which are ubiquitous here, by the way – reveals a Jamaican cornmeal flour that Charleen’s been dreaming about, plus various other goodies. No real vanilla, however; Taste of America may have a run on the market.

Lunch plans come together as though divinely mandated; it is blindingly obvious that the tortillas, black beans, and cilantro in our hot little hands were meant to be together as one. A frutería near Charleen’s piso in Principe Pío provides tomatoes, onions, and garlic; a carnicería offers “queso para sandwich” by the slice. Charleen’s kitchen gets a full workout, and we devour the results, unanimously agreeing that the cilantro is the crowning focal point in the mess of burrito glee.

A full kitchen is a happy kitchen.





No Live Music Night – fotopost

19 09 2010





Couchsurfing El Grito Fiesta

17 09 2010

I awake from my siesta – I don’t think I will ever stop deriving enormous pleasure from spending 6-7:30 PM deep in dreamland – to find the piso transformed.

I’m far from a good Hippiehamite; it never occurs to me to decorate with a few candles. The soft flicker they cast on the kitchen is is gorgeous, though, and a marvelous way to ease towards full wakefulness.

I tell Fausto I love them, and he proceeds to get quite bashful (“ah lo que pasa es que no suelo usarlas, que no son nada, asegurate que las apagas cuando salgas,” etcetera etcetera). They’re so classy-grunge. I love my stylin’ piso.

Tonight I’ve done my research on the Couchsurfing Madrid message boards; there is a fiesta going down tonight in La Latina in celebration of El Grito, Mexican Independence Day! I’ve told Alice about it, and then Emily, and then Sam and Leah and Charleen, and then Jaselyn, and soon enough there is a whole troop of Fulbright ladies hankering for a Mexi-style get-down. I explain what Couchsurfing is, but I get the sense that it’s tricky to understand the vibe of it without experiencing an event for yourself – so plunging ahead blindly it is. Fingers crossed that the Madrid group is as warmly inclusive as the Bangkok bunch.

We convene in La Latina, bustling tapas-central of Madrid (still need to do this! weekend plans, anyone?), and head down Calle Cava Baja towards the deceptively named Chez LouLou, which turns out to be an itty-bitty bar/restaurant completely overflowing with chatty revelers. I approach decisively, stowing my trepidation and boldly introducing myself and my compatriots to some eccentric-looking tall man with a frizzy afro.

A beat passes – then – “Eres de Couchsurfing?”
“AHHHHH CHAN-EL DORK-INK-TOHN!!!”
“Uh. Me investigaste?”

I guess I invited it when I posted on the event listing that I was going to arrive with a plenitude of amigas. Oh Couchsurfing, always toying with that fun little line between informative and creeptastic.

Luckily for all involved, no one else attending is quite THAT well-versed in who I am, although there are a handful of others who recognize my face from the board (“Eres la con las gafas!!“). The atmosphere is totally bumpin’, both in terms of energy and running into other bodies attempting to occupy the same sweaty space, and I quickly move outside with my cool Coronita.

Couchsurfing events are unlike any others I’ve ever experienced; everyone is looking to meet you but (normally) sans flirtatious overtones. There’s a general appreciation of working together to have the best time possible, rather than each-man-for-himself, and just about everyone wants to know your story. Plus, because we’re all connected on this network of references, anyone who makes a bit of a cabron@ out of him/herself is then subject to nothing but the truth the following morning.

As a group of seven attractive chicas (Sam’s brought along a British newbie to Madrid), we are quickly invited out for drinks/dancing following the fiesta. None of us has anything slated for the morrow, so we accept and march our way towards the center.

It is ladies’ night at Dreams, which means the mere presence of your twin mammary glands nets you a free drink every fifteen minutes. None of us go quite that hog wild, but the emphatic booty-shakin’ definitely revs up as the night wears on. Interestingly, the tradition here seems to be that the men dance in front of the womenfolk, showing off their finest groovy maneuvers. For the most part, everyone cycles around the group, trying out different style combinations to the familiar American beats (“heyy! must be the monayy!“).

We duck out around 2:30 AM or so, quite early by Spain standards, but it feels sufficient tonight. The metro’s closed by now, but the 20-minute walk back to Calle de Las Delicias isn’t so bad – although Em and I are certainly enthusiastic about kicking off our heels once happily back in the piso.