a very pleasant puente

to do

We’re currently in the midst of a good old-fashioned puentePuente, meaning ‘bridge,’ as I may have mentioned before, is the wonderful Spanish tradition of creating a mini-vacation when a holiday falls in the middle of the week.  Wednesday was Labor Day, bittersweet this year after the announcement that unemployment increased yet again to a record high 27% and that the crisis will probably continue for two to three more years before improvement is seen.  Thursday was a holiday in the Community of Madrid, remembering an uprising against the French in 1808.  And Friday?  Well, in comes the puente.  While I’ve jumped on past puentes to travel around Spain, no trip was in the cards this time around.  Most people have fled to the South to hit the beach, and while I certainly would not complain if I were sunbathing in Málaga or Alicante right now, I have to say, some relaxation and me-time is quite welcomed.  I’ve got a great to-do list, nicely balanced between springtime frivolity and productive monotony, and progress has been made.  Plus, I used the word thrice.

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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, 11870.com

Photo courtesy of Carlota Sultana, 11870.com

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.

Naif

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.

turkey day: a retrospective

This was actually my second Thanksgiving in Madrid.  Two years ago, I spent the American holiday in Spain’s capital with my parents and brother, eating paella and drinking sangria in a fancy restaurant.  A few weeks later, I teamed up with my fellow americanas back in Sevilla to make a traditional Thanksgiving feast for our host families, complete with a full roasted turkey, all the fixin’s, and a delicious cultural fusion of apple cider and sangria, all followed by Salomé’s rum cake whose effect could beat tryptophan any day.

            

In 2011, I was back in the good old U S of A for turkey day, and for the first time, due to familial circumstances, was able to contribute significantly to the meal.  I took on the role of family pastry chef, making a chocolate pecan pie, white chocolate cheesecake with a hazelnut cookie crust topped with cranberry compote, and pumpkin cupcakes with maple bourbon cream cheese frosting.

This year, I find myself back in Madrid celebrating the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest.  The circumstances wouldn’t allow for a comparable showing in the dessert department, but they would allow for me to make a Thanksgiving dinner for some friends who had never celebrated it before.

Thursday itself was all but ceremonious, but today, after trips to numerous grocery stores, a specialty spice store to purchase sage, and an American grocery store to obtain cranberry sauce, I was able to prepare the traditional feast for a few friends.  The menu included: cornbread, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, stuffing with chorizo, honey glazed roasted sweet potatoes, and green beans with caramelized shallots and toasted almonds.  For the gobbler, I went with turkey breasts, pan-fried with traditional Thanksgiving spices in some delicious Spanish olive oil, and topped with homemade gravy and Ocean Spray cranberry sauce (the raw berry doesn’t exist here).  I have to say, pan-fried turkey breasts are a big upgrade from the dry, tasteless roasted bird, and I’ll have trouble going back.

Being a baker rather than a chef, I was a bit nervous about being in charge of all of these savory dishes, but in the end, the main course was much more successful than my apple pie, which my guests enjoyed but I found too different from the classic for my liking.

We even decided to channel our inner schoolchildren and do the same activity that I’ve been doing with my students all week: hand turkeys!  Although it was a bit rough being away from home on this family-centered holiday, I certainly have a lot to be thankful for this year.