living with a senior citizen, sweet and savory flavors, and Madrid’s best cafés

What do these things have in common?  Follow along.

Lately, living with a 68-year-old has become less charming and more frustrating.  Her increasing senility and unpredictable stinginess have made even less pleasant a situation that was already not ideal.

On the bright side, however, our apartment has an oven (not a kitchen staple here in Spain) and an extremely well stocked spice collection.  So what my landlady/roomie lacks in sanity and youthfulness, she makes up for in the kitchen department (something that is not lost on me).  My longstanding love for sweet and salty flavors seems to have exploded lately, and I have the following dishes to show for it (yes, sometimes blog posts from Spain have little to do with Spain and more to do with things that just happened to have happened while I was in Spain).  Perhaps as an avid baker but less-experienced chef, I am not able to prepare a main dish without throwing a bone to my sweet tooth.

As you can see, in my opinion, fruit fits perfectly with veggies and savory spices.  Fifty-percent of my close Spanish friends agree with me completely, while the other shakes her head and says, “No te entiendo. La fruta es para el postre!” (I don’t get you.  Fruit is for dessert) every time I salivate over such a combination.  In terms of general Spanish gastronomy’s take on the issue, the combination is not everywhere, but it’s not absent either…see dishes such as a honeydew-like melon with jamón serrano, and Ibérico cheese with membrillo (quince paste).  However, a recent menu addition at my dear 100 Montaditos has gone too far: a mini sandwich filled with a Nutella-like chocolate spread and jamón york (normal deli-style ham).  I know a similar concept is trending in the US with the chocolate-bacon pairing, but I just can’t get on board with meat and chocolate together.  Sorry kids.  I’ll dip salty pretzels and potato chips in milk or dark any day of the week, but somehow I just can’t move beyond that to add in pork products.

Although this sweet and salty obsession may seem to be a product of the times, one of the most traditional such combinations is the centerpiece of the classic Thanksgiving meal: turkey and cranberry sauce.  At one of my new favorite Madrid locales, Café La Infinito, among many other delicacies, one can order (and if ‘one’ is me, one has ordered more than once) a twist on this American classic: a turkey sandwich with avocado and gouda, served with a side of raspberry jam for your dipping and spreading pleasure.  The leftover jam is a great condiment for the potato sticks served alongside the double decker delight.

I discovered La Infinito one evening with a friend while taking a stroll after dining at La de Espronceda, my favorite pinchos joint in Madrid.  The discovery inspired me to spend my Sundays (a.k.a. Lesson Planning Day) in different cafeterias around the city that are graced with wifi.  La Infinito is my favorite so far: it’s a charming librería-cafetería (book store/café – a popular trend here), which, in addition to the aforementioned sandwich and various other delicacies I have yet to try, boasts a delicious and unique café árabe (coffee with cinnamon and other warm wintery spices), a mean chocolate chip cookie drizzled with raspberry sauce, and a bustling-but-not-too-busy atmosphere, perfect for preparing lessons while chatting with friends.

Photo courtesy of Yaiza Velázquez, MadridDiferente

Photo courtesy of Yaiza Velázquez, MadridDiferente

Another such spot is La Bicicleta, a “Cycling Café and Workspace,” which is exactly what it sounds like: a coffee shop with an eclectic décor that is themed around bicycles and has a strong wifi connection plus a solid number of outlets (a prized commodity here in Spanish coffee shops), making it a great place to be productive.  They make a mean café con leche, and their sandwich and pastry menu looks quite tempting, though I’ve yet to dip my toe in.

Photo courtesy of Carlota Sultana,

Photo courtesy of Carlota Sultana,

Naif, located just across the plaza from La Bicicleta, also offers up the glory of a wireless internet connection and an artistic ambiance, though the last coffee I had there was unfortunately watery.  The desserts were a bit strange, as their carrot cake had chocolate running through it and a lime-spiked cream cheese frosting (here, three rights sadly make a wrong), yet a delicious salad with caramelized goat cheese, candied walnuts, cherry tomatoes, and croutons was worth every euro.


My “To Try” list keeps growing, as a solid contingent of Madrid bloggers continue to tip me off about eclectic cafés throughout the city.  I will continue to explore, as a warm and jolting espresso, innovative sandwich or salad, soul-comforting pastry, and contact with Madrid’s funkiest and friendliest makes lesson planning a thousand times more palatable.  Plus, most of these places are open late and also serve beer and cocktails, allowing patrons to make the switch from stimulant to depressant at their leisure.


functionally bilingual

Many people ask me if I’m bilingual now.  The answer: a big, whopping NO.  Bilingual, to me, means complete fluency.  It means 100% mastery of all grammatical structures.  It means a vocabulary equally as big (or close to) that of one’s native language.  I speak well.  I may even speak very well.  But there is no way I’m bilingual.

Rather, I consider myself functionally bilingual.  I still make grammatical errors, I still have a lot of vocab to learn, and I still forget vocab words I know after not using them for a long time.  I’ve incorporated a solid amount of slang and idioms to my vernacular, but there are plenty that rest outside of my circle of knowledge.  But I’m functional.  I know enough to express myself in any situation, either using the appropriate terminology or using what I know to describe what I need to say.

I have many situations down to the T: introducing myself, ordering a glass of wine, asking for directions.  There are many others where I don’t even hesitate.  But sometimes, before approaching a completely new situation, I do a quick WordReference search to arm myself with the appropriate vocabulary.

Take, for example, my first Spanish haircut.  Yesterday, before going to the hair salon, I looked up the word for layers (rather than saying “I want some pieces in the back to be slightly shorter than the rest”) and split ends (rather than saying “the ends of my hairs are broken and in pieces”).  Everything at the salon seemed to be going quite smoothly, until the hairdresser asked me to tip my head forward, and I heard  the sound of an electric razor (like the ones men use to trim their beards or sideburns) buzzing over my shoulder.  My heart skipped a few beats, and images flashed before my eyes of my long thick curly locks blowing, model-style, in a spring breeze and then lifting completely off my head and off into the horizon.  And then another image appeared, that of the currently popular rapada hairstyle here in Spain.  In my subsequent moment of panic (did I really say “shave half my head” instead of “I just want a trim and a touch-up on my layers”?!), neither English nor Spanish words came to mind.  As I regained my senses, I started to wonder if perhaps this was just the normal way of trimming hair in Spain.  I soon realized that Carmen, my stylist, was indeed simply trimming my ends with an electric razor.  It would never be my method of choice, but the results seem to be just fine: not the best haircut of my life, but not a train-wreck either.  I will note, however, that after consulting with a few Spanish friends, scissors remain the instrument of choice at most Spanish hair salons.  I suppose this shows that while I’m functionally bilingual, there are still all sorts of cultural quirks I have yet to learn.