El albergue

El albergue

Sunday, December 25, 2011

More Christmas!

Here are a few more highlights from the days before Christmas:

My little 3rd graders did such a good job singing!
Highlight number seven:  On Tuesday, the entire school convened for their annual festival of Christmas carols, in which each grade performed two carols, one in Spanish and one in English.  It was so much fun getting to participate with my 2nd and 3rd graders by trying to help them remember the little bits of choreography (although they remembered some parts better than me) and watching the creativity of rest of the school come to light – never before would I have thought Mama Mia could be made into a Christmas carol.  But apparently it can.

Very Spanish shepherds, I must say.
Number eight:  Wednesday morning, we got to see a couple of the different grades perform their little Christmas plays – my little students were so proud to be able to wave to me from the stage before they had to get down to the serious business of their acting.

Number nine:  Loads of great food!  Seriously.  On Thursday we started the day with churros con chocolate in class, then after the kids went home early, the teachers went on to eat this lovely feast provided by the company who runs the cafeteria.  My favorite from that?  Sorbete de mandarina.  Think creamy slushy with the wonderfully bright flavor of mandarin oranges mixed with champagne.  So good.  Then Christmas Eve was a smorgasboard of potluck deliciousness with a group of people from church.  Besides our twice-baked potatoes, there were also roast lamb, Russian dumplings, seven-layer dip, besides various other scrumptious things. 

The fabled sorbete de mandarina.......yum

Christmas Eve deliciousness

Monday, December 19, 2011

A couple Christmas highlights so far

 Ok, so as the Christmas season gets farther and farther along (oh my gosh! There’s less than a week left before Christmas!!!), and more and more Christmas activities come up, I feel like there’s so much stuff I want to tell you about.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to adequately relate everything, nor do you have enough to read about it all.  So, I’ll give you just a few highlights here and there, letting you get a little glimpse of what this Christmas is like for me.

Heck yes!  An advent calendar!
First highlight: My roommates and I made our own advent calendar, with a little activity or verse or saying for each day.  Danielle and I had loads of fun being crafty and creating each individual day, and it’s exciting to know that each morning there is a new card waiting to be read.  Some good ones so far include Manicure Monday, watch a Christmas movie, give someone a hug, backrub train (heck yes!), and a silly Santa joke (What do you call someone who’s afraid of Santa Claus? …Claustrophobic!)

Second highlight:  getting to walk around at night and see all the Christmas lights, which are everything from creative to silly to simply beautiful.

Third:  watching all the Christmas decorations go up around the school and getting to see all the little kids gleefully spread glitter everywhere as they make stars and trees to put in the hallway.

The halls look so festive :D
Good food and good fun :)
Fourth:  Last Friday, a large number of the teachers from my school went out for a Christmas dinner.  So.  Good.  I’m not going to describe the food beyond saying that it was scrumptious, departing a little I know from my typical obsession with what I eat, because I would rather focus on the fact that I really enjoyed getting to hang out with some of these women outside the work arena and get to know them a little better.  We even went out to a bar afterward to get a drink and hang out some more – it was the director’s birthday, so we all toasted her and sang Happy Birthday.  Then she started asking me about guys and threatening to set me up with her nephew hahaha.

Fifth:  Yesterday was our church’s (Amistad Cristiana) Christmas program, in which I participated as a member of the angel choir that appeared to the shepherds.  (I know know all three verses of Joy to the World in Spanish)  I got to watch most of it, only missing out on the comical Wise Men when we had to leave our balcony staging area and go backstage.  I really enjoyed how the program as a whole involved a lot of different people from the church – teenagers, adults of all ages and talents, and the most adorable children – and how it was stylistically different from any I had ever seen before (Mary was a flamenco dancer, and there was some awesome lyrical dancing too, as well as some astounding jazzy numbers). 

Sixth: the most amazing light show and fireworks display I have ever seen.  Danielle and I managed to squeeze through the crowd for a decent spot in Plaza de Cibeles across from the giant government building they were projecting it on, which was nice, and during the entire thing I was grinning like a little child completely happy and overawed by the wonder of it all.

These aurora-esque lights were stunning

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A bit of Valencian gastronomy

This past weekend was a longer than usual weekend due to some lovely Spanish holidays, so my roommates and I took advantage of our extra time off to head over to the eastern coast of Spain.  Destination, Valencia.  I went there last year with a friend before our study abroad program started in September, but I really enjoyed my experience, so I had no problem going back.  In fact, it felt kind of like I was going back and revisiting an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in quite a while.

Even the simple brie with tomato marmalade
looked breathtaking.
Overall, it was a very nice weekend, with a chance to see the city during a different season and with slightly different experiences, but the best part by far was the food we ate.  The first on the list of heavenly delights was pinchos.  What are pinchos you ask?  It’s a traditional Basque food that basically puts almost anything on top of nice slices of baguette-type bread.  But as general and unimaginative as that might sound, believe you me, there is nothing unimaginative about the pinchos over here, especially the pinchos we had our first night in town.  It took us forever to decide which ones we wanted as we drooled over the glass case displaying a bazillion tantalizing options.  When we finally bit into our different selections, our eyes fairly rolled back into our heads with the shear joy of eating.  My choice was a little mountain of sautéed mushrooms and eggplant seasoned to perfection and topped with the tiniest fried egg - I think it might have been from a dove or some such small bird.  And Kelsey’s…I got to taste hers, and oh wow was it ever amazing.  On top of a carefully arranged stack of caramelized onions, typical jamón ibérico, and brie cheese, a delicate blueberry marmalade brought the whole thing together in a way never dreamed of.  Kels felt like she was going out on a limb to order it, but she was more than amply rewarded for her adventurous spirit by that little bit of heaven.

The second most exciting food we got to try while in Valencia was the horchata.  That may not sound so extremely special to everyone from California, since we all know Mexican horchata.  But according to the Valencians, horchata is only horchata if it comes from their town.  In fact, the drink apparently originated there.  Also, this original horchata isn’t made from rice like the one we all know and love.  Rather, it is made using a little root thing kind of like a crisp peanut called a chufa.  We got to eat a bit of toasted chufa, and it was rather an interesting experience feeling the little nodule crunch between our teeth in a manner somewhat reminiscent of styrofoam and jicama.  But I wander from the real point, the horchata….

Horchata - sure to bring a smile to your face.
As you slowly sip it through your straw, cold and creamy waves slide over your tongue, exposing a delicious melody of feel and flavor to be explored.  First, there is the chllly freshness that both soothes and piques you.  Nest, you note the texture, something more similar to almond milk than regular milk in its silky creaminess free from the heavily rich feel of fat.  You feel a delicate sensation of flour-iness that stays behind as the horchata makes its way to your throat, akin to that you experience when licking the pancake batter bowl.  In fact, the flavor tastes somewhat like a good pancake batter, with additional hints of coconut and a bit of the deepness of a good nut.  You also taste the strong sweetness of a lot of sugar and the dreamy shadow of cinnamon hovering in the background.  And as you swallow, the first thing you think of is that you want another drink.

Smiles are also a surety when there's Agua de
Valencia around.
Also amazingly delicious was the Agua de Valencia, a well-loved local drink made from champagne, orange juice, and an orange liqueur.  Why is this particular combination representative of the area?  Well, Valencia is famous for its oranges – in fact, valencias are some of the most-grown oranges in California – so it only makes sense for a local drink to have them as its starring flavor.  And starring flavor it is.  The drink as a whole combined the crispness of the champagne with a slight creaminess and undertones of vanilla to truly display the bright freshness of the orange to its full advantage.  Again, this was another drink that left you wanting more.  So much more.

There were other things we ate too, of course, including buttery muffins with a dry crumb called magdalenas, paella, crema de chufa (horchata in ice cream form) and the world’s best dried melon, but those three things were the best – pinchos, horchata, and Agua de Valencia.  They are the things I would most strongly recommend to anyone who might perchance want to visit Valencia, as well as the things I am most definitely planning on tasting again some time in the future.  Oh yes, they are going on the keeper list.

We had a nice lunch of magdalenas and apple
on our hostel terrace.
Nothing like some paella when visiting Valencia
Crema de chufa, baby!
Heck, even the street art is appetizing in Valencia!