El albergue

El albergue

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Make them. Eat them. Now.

Oh my goodness.  You simply must try this amazingly delightful recipe.  It’s not Spanish at all – I think it actually comes from New York, but it doesn’t really matter where good food is from, right?  I’ve been following a few food blogs from the States recently, and when this particular recipe came up, I knew I just HAD to try it.  They’re called Potato Knish, and as we found out last night at dinner, they’re absolutely phenomenal.  Imagine all the hearty goodness of mashed potatoes with a generous portion of caramelized onions mixed in, all covered in the gloriousness that is pastry dough, and then baked to a golden brown perfection.  Now imagine breaking open the beautiful flakiness of the crust and watching the steam swirl up and away from the piping hot filling of potatoes and onions.  Oh yes.  Now your fork is gently breaking away a bite…it’s magically raising to your mouth, which is waiting in ecstasy, begging to get even just a taste of what smells like heaven.  Drooling yet?  I certainly was as I waited impatiently for the potatoes to cool just enough for me to stuff my face – as anxious as I was to eat every last crumb as soon as possible, I listened to my roommate’s advice of “The steam is telling you something” and decided not to wantonly burn the roof of mouth.  But those moments of waiting were definitely worth it.  As I finally savored the creaminess of the potatoes, the deeply rich flavor of the caramelized onions, the flakiness of the crust, and the hint of curry I had added to the mix at the last minute, I was happy – supremely, utterly, consummately happy.  And I decided that these are a definite repeat.  Definitely.

Now it's for you to try them.  Check them out at:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A scene from Rhapsody in Blue

Okay, first, you have to see this video:

It’s the “Rhapsody in Blue” segment from Fantasia 2000, and although I highly recommend watching the entire twelve minutes and 42 second, what I really want you to watch is the portion from 3:50 to 4:25 – the subway scene.  And that for no other reason than that I lived that highly creative bit of animation earlier this afternoon. 

I hopped on the metro on my way home from work, but despite everyone’s promptness in boarding, the train sat in the station, motionless, for several minutes.  Whenever this happens, as it sometimes does, I mentally chalk it up to the driver needing to take a potty break, which doesn’t make any sense when I actually think about it, as there are no bathrooms in the metro stations.  It’s still always the first thing to pop up in my mind though whenever it happens.  The mind is a silly thing I guess.  But I digress…  After a few minutes, the warning beep beep beep went off, the doors slowly slid shut, and we eased into forward motion.  Everything was going well, with the normal shudders and bumps that I sometimes like to ride like a balance test, my knees slightly bent and my hands hovering at my sides, ready to grab the support pole at a moment’s notice.  Then we came to rest at the next stop.  And we stayed there.  And I have to admit that the first thought in my mind was that that driver’s bladder had to be the tiniest one in the world, silly as that thought was.  After a minute or two, an announcement came slurring through the loudspeakers, letting us know that service on our line was momentarily disrupted and that the entire metro machine was “Sorry for the inconvenience.” 

Finally, the warning beep sounded, the doors slid shut, and we once again eased into forward motion.  All good.  Except that when we got to the next station, it was packed full of people who had been accumulating in semi-rush hour numbers as they waited for the unexplainedly late train.  And of course, they all packed themselves in with those of us already inside – there was no way they were going to wait one more minute, man.  It was when we got to the station after though that things got interesting. 

At the next station, the number of people waiting was at least equal to the number that had just piled in like sardines at the last stop.  And they equaled the previous crowd in their willingness to cram into any space available, one man precariously perched nearly in the oncoming path of the shutting doors as the people behind him formed an impenetrable and immovable wall of human flesh.  And wouldn’t you know it, I was pinned way at the back of the crowd, with no visible hope of getting through to the doors to get off where I needed to, at the next stop.  Luckily though, after exchanging a few little expressions of incredulity at the packed-ness of the metro with the women next to me, I was able to connect with them on the deep level of fellow commuters, and we somehow started to act as a team, to move in what I had just decided was immovable.  The woman next to me and I sort of did a slithering little side step dance to switch places, as she didn’t have to get off yet, and the petite brunette in front of my nose positioned herself to make a move once the doors opened.  I don’t know exactly how, but there was a slight shift in the body positions around us, and suddenly I felt that there might actually be the possibility of getting out of the sardine can we were in.  We came to a stop.  Ding ding ding.  The doors crept open.  Carefully, bending under the arms and around the bulging bags that stuck out from the mass I assume was made up of individual people, we made it closer to the light.  Then, right on the edge of freedom, some girl with the nerve to not be paying any attention was blocking our only open space by trying to board!  Thank heavens she looked up and realized how things stood.  She stepped back to join the others who had actually had to disembark in order for us to get off, and we were finally able to breath!

I stretched out my legs as I mounted to steps leading away from the boarding platform, watching the windows slide by as they displayed that awkwardly squashed jumble of heads, elbows, arms, and coats filling every available inch inside.

Watch the clip.  Then you’ll understand.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Oh man, I’m so tired.  I’ve been playing hard the past two days, and now, like a little kid, I’m all tuckered out and ready to collapse into bed.  The fun started on Sunday, when we went with a big group of friends from church to a village near Toledo for a BBQ in, wait for it…..a castle!  Well, it’s not really a castle castle, more like the home of a uniquely quirky member of our congregation, but it did used to be an old fortified dwelling of the type used by lesser nobles that he converted into something a little more modern.  It’s also not alone on the top of a windswept hill or buried deep in the shadowy bowers of the forest.  Rather, it is closed in on every side by other gently crumbling homes in the middle of a very small, very quaint town.  It’s a lovely spot for a group hang-out though, with a porch and living room just big enough for close to 30 people to mill about, as well as a terrace on top overlooking terracotta roofs jumbled together into a charming little mish-mash and a beautiful view of the sun setting on the gentle swell of hills in the distance.

You can just see the turrety-thingy-ma-jobby
on the rooftop terrace.

That was probably my favorite part of this excursion – being able to look out over the countryside and see wide-open sky.  I did have a whole lot of fun playing tag and Capture the Flag that evening in the sleepily empty main square with the other seven people who stayed the night, as well as our bit of Charades and all the light-hearted laughter we shared over silly nonsense, but in the background of every moment was the feeling of being able to breath more easily and stretch out a little more.  I hadn’t thought about how I missed being able to see all of the sky without it being cut off by buildings on every side.  But today, as we trekked around the town and relaxed on the roof terrace of the little castle, I reveled in the glorious expanse of blue stretching out over my head, in the endless parade of perfectly tinted clouds floating across the sky.  It felt good.  It felt right.  It felt as though I was coming home in a way, returning to the wonderfully open skies of my little hometown with its plethora of almond orchards and other agricultural enterprises.  I still feel like Madrid is my home for now, since that’s where I live, where I work, and where I have so many friends, but going out into the countryside again felt like an intimate homecoming, a return to my natural state of being.

Ahh, beautiful open skies

Friday, March 16, 2012

La Granja

Ok, so imagine me alternately feeding like a queen and being mobbed by ecstatic little children, the warm sun shining down on the open scrub of the countryside.  Do you have a good picture?  Now, where do you think I am?  You probably can’t guess, so I’ll tell you – I am at La Granja, a farm camp/get away for school children and their teachers, where the children learn all sorts of fun things and have free license to get completely dusty from head to toe and the teachers trail around after the counselor-led groups when they’re not relaxing on the porch with some delicious breakfast/snack/appetizers/oh-my-gosh-it’s-another-meal.

While here, I get to feed a three week-old lamb, pet one week-old kids, hold a chicken, chase a rooster, and make fun of the strangest looking fowl I have ever seen.  I get to pretend to play soccer with some of the boys and volleyball with some of the girls.  The kids get to feel proud over how much Spanish they are “teaching” me as they dog pile on me in the middle of the heavenly-smelling herbs I’m trying to help them gather.  All of us teachers get the chance to get to know one another a little better over the never-ending parade of meals.  And as we leave, I get to look forward to the chance to come again next year.  Heck yes.

It was so lovely to get out of town and breath country air.
How can a chicken have any self respect with so much fluff???
(The rooster had even more - we couldn't see his eyes!)

It was so freakin' adorable!

The bull wasn't very into getting petted.


Springtime is beautiful!!!

All those really little, bushy, light green shrubs in the foreground are
called cantueso in Spanish - I think it's related to lavender.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Training Day

Yesterday was our epic day of training.  Training for what, you ask?  Well, that’s just it – it was training.  A day of train rides.  That wasn’t, of course, the main goal of the day, it just ended up being a rather large portion of it.  Funny how things work out that way. 

We had been planning on escaping the city for a while with a couple girl friends, and we settled on yesterday as our day of action, although what with getting up late and all, the actually level of action is a little debatable.  After the two sleepyheads in my apartment were finally ready, we were running a little late, but it ended up being ok, because we would have had to wait to catch the next train anyways, which didn’t leave until 1.  The first hour and a half of training was pretty uneventful, especially since I swear they were going the speed of that kiddie train ride at Disneyland, although I did almost freak everyone out at one stop because I thought we had to change trains…turns out we didn’t.

The last half hour of training out to location was spent in this older model of train that reminded one of my roommates of elbow-length gloves and elegant little suitcases.  We had heard that the best view of the mountain scenery was to be had from the right-hand side of the cars, so all five of us crammed into one four-seat section so that no one would have to lose any bit of the view.  It was a jolly little train ride, everyone swaying back and forth with the rhythm of the tracks as we occasionally broke out into Beach Boys songs or “Bare Necessities” from the Jungle Book.  (Don’t worry, the coach wasn’t crammed full, so we didn’t embarrass ourselves in front of too many people.)

It was when we stepped out of the train at the final stop that three of the five of us realized they hadn’t known we were going to the actual mountains, nor had they thought about how chilly it might or might not be as they watched the landscape going by the window become more and more piney and less and less oaky.  Let’s just say that they weren’t really wearing all the layers they might have been if they had known.  Hmm, I thought I had told them.  Whoops! 

It was ok though once we got going.  Once we entered the trees, it cut down on the wind, so we were able to sit down on a sunny little knoll and enjoy our picnic lunch in good spirits sans continual shivering.  Of course, trekking up the steeper specimens of slope really got our blood pumping, at which point it was nice to be in cooler air.  We strode along, occasionally stopping for a photo-op at a particularly beautiful spot, and filling our lungs with the sweet, fresh, pine-scented air of the mountains.

Near the end of the mere three hours we had to wander about before the last train back to Madrid left at 6 (next time, we’re leaving earlier!), we all lay down on a lovely grassy hillside in full sunshine, enjoying the gentle kiss of the sun on our faces.  Every once in a while, someone would start a murmured conversation, but it quickly ended each time in quietude.  For the most part, I stared up into the sky with its ever-changing mantle of clouds – I watched as a giant swath of pure white slowly swirled in pompous state away towards the south, leaving behind telltale feathery wisps that quietly dissipated into nothingness, revealing the unadulterated blue of a sky clear of the pollution of the city.  It was glorious.

At six, we were back on the trundling little train, making our way down off the heights, all five of us again smooshed into four seats on the side with the best view.  After the switch back to the line going to Madrid, we just sat back and relaxed, chatting or simply sitting in contemplative silence as we watched the progression of the colors of sunset march across the sky.  In total, I think we spent more time in the train than we did actually out and about on the mountain trails, but we still fully enjoyed our escape from the city.  It was training day, baby!

Friday, March 2, 2012

I forgot

I forgot this past week that sunshine and warm days aren’t quite the norm for winter.
I lost myself in the euphoria of sitting on the grass and drinking in the sun.
And I forgot what kind of weather was lurking just around the corner.
I abandoned myself to the sweet mirage of springtime.
I forgot, like the prematurely budding plants sprouting tender green leaves.
I went to sleep last night, dreaming of an afternoon in sunglasses.
I dreamt of basking in the rays of the sky’s golden orb, of perhaps even toning down the glaring brightness of my white skin.
I forgot to check the weather before I went out.
I stepped out of the door, clad in rather inadequate clothing.
I was wearing my hopes for warmer weather.
But I immediately had to step back inside to pull on my boots, wrap on my scarf, and belt my coat down tightly.
I forgot that we are still in winter, that that season has not yet fled.
I forgot that gray skies are more normal than not at this time of year, that cold toes and the occasional shiver are to be expected.
Yet still I sat down on my bench in the park, a new book in my hand.
I had forgotten, but I was still determined to read.
And soon I forgot the world around me, absorbed in the lyrical fantasy spun out from the words on the page into a shimmering gossamer web.
I forgot that I had forgotten.