El albergue

El albergue

Monday, October 8, 2012

Oh, my love

When I was in Finland this August, I tasted some of the most amazingly, lusciously delicious chocolate I’ve ever had the pleasure of indulging in. I mean, normally I’m a straight-up purist – give it to me real dark and real simple. That’s the way I like it. But sometimes, I find myself seduced by tantalizing flavors that tempt me by their surprising originality… and I stray. The unadulterated wonder of my pure dark chocolate slips from my fingers as I reach out in a childlike daze for the shimmering unknown beckoning me with the mere idea of… I don’t know what, otherwise it wouldn’t be unknown, would it?

This Finnish chocolatier – Fazer*, to state the name – makes a number of incredible chocolates (cue Salted Cashew), but the one that completely stole my heart was the Dark Chocolate with Pear and Roasted Almonds. The idea of putting pear in chocolate was really what made me reach out for that beautifully wrapped bar of chocolate as I passed it in the aisle of the supermarket underneath the Helsinki Central Station. Of course fruit and chocolate go well together…. but I HAD to see how they managed to match the mellow flavor of pear with the raw power of dark chocolate.

Oh. My. Sweet mother of Abraham Lincoln. I just about died when I ate it. As I savored, the delicate pear didn’t back down from the strength of the cocoa – it teamed up with the depth of the roasted almonds in a mind-blowing contest of flavors storming across my taste buds, both undermining and enhancing the complexity of the chocolate. Let’s just say that I was more than a little sad as I finished off the last square of the bar I brought back to Madrid.

Well, just last week was a going away party for a friend from church, and as I sat there, pondering what on Earth I was going to bring to the party, I was struck by the lightning of inspiration and thought, “Wait a minute! That chocolate from Finland! Cookies! What is this magic going on in my brain?!”

Yes, I made Dark Chocolate Pear cookies. And they were awesome.

I didn’t think to write the recipe down until after I had already thrown all the completely un-measured ingredients together into the most heavenly of doughs, but this is the basic outline more or less of what I did, in case you’re feeling curious…

Finely chop those two ripe pears that have been hanging out in your fridge for a while and toss them in a big bowl with ½ cup packed brown sugar.
Slosh in some vanilla extract.
Stir in a pinch or two of salt and roughly two teaspoons of baking soda.
Dump in the last of your bag of oatmeal, which is probably about 1 cup.
Set that aside.
In a saucepan, melt about ¼ cup butter and 100 g (3.5 oz) dark chocolate.
Throw in a generous dash of rum because it’s sitting on your counter, begging to join the party, and you feel like being nice.
In a small bowl, whisk up two eggs.
Once your chocolaty goodness is all melted and perfect, take it off the heat and drizzle a little into your eggs, whisking the whole time.
Now that your eggs are more the temperature of your chocolaty goodness, slowly and steadily whisk them into the mixture in the saucepan. (You had better be whisking like your life depended on it the whole time!)
Next, pour your newly created chocolate custard into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mix it up good.
This is where you add the flour. How much? I really don’t know. Start out with a bit more than 1 cup, then just stir in about a half cup at a time until the dough is looking really thick, but still pretty sticky.
Use teaspoons to measure out small two-bite balls onto the greased cookie sheet.
Bake for about ten minutes at 150C (300F).
Let them cool for as long as you can stand before greedily shoveling these piping hot puppies into your soon-to-be-burned-yet-happy mouth.

*Chocolates are actually only a small part of the entire Fazer operation. The empire includes many cafés, restaurants, bakeries, and confectioneries. 

Time to swim

Today marks the beginning of the second week of the 2012-2013 school year for those of us who work as Auxiliares de Conversación. Or, in other words, all English classroom assistants here in Spain have jumped on in to the inexorable wave of educational madness that is school and have kept their heads afloat for at least one week. It´s nice to be back into the swing of things, but I think this year could definitely be described as that typhoon-like wave I just mentioned. What I mean is, things are a little bit crazy. Due to budget cuts, we have one regular teacher and one floating teacher less, and in an attempt to accomodate the different credentials of all the different teachers, the swirling whirlpool that is second grade looks something like this:

There are two classes, 2A and 2B.
2A has one teacher for Spanish, Math, and English. Their Science teacher is also the Science and English teacher for both 1st grade classes as well as the secretary for the entire school.
2B has a different teacher for Spanish and Math. Their English and Science teacher is also the director of the entire school. 
And the kids are wild, squirming, noisy things that love to shriek and wiggle.
There are, of course, the clueless ones too, and they just sort of float around the class, carried by the waves of energy their classmates exude, adding to the tangled confusion of little bodies because they don´t really know what´s going on.
Oy vey.

Also, there´s been a fair bit of confusion over the Auxiliares this year. First, there are supposed to be four of us, and right now there are only two. How? Well...

There was supposed to be another girl returning (like me) from last year, but she hasnt´shown up. Then, we were assigned someone last minute on the first day (who apparently got a double assignment to a second school without being aware of it, and so is currently trying to figure out where the heck she actually IS supposed to be). And the fourth spot is still a mysterious question mark. 

Now, if those two empty spots don´t get filled, then I´m assuming that the other Auxiliar and I will get new schedules so that every class gets at least one hour of native English help every week, which means that we will be all over the place. We´re already all over the place though - I work with both 2nd grade classes in English and Science and both 3rd grade classes in English, plus one hour a week with one 4th grade class in English and one with one 6th grade class in English. And if this Auxiliar finds out she has to go to the other school that seems to be claiming her, then I don´t know what´s going to happen!!!!!!

Despite the threateningly wild and tsunami-esque aspect this year seems to present though, I think it´s going to be a pretty good one. Why? Well, a lot of the kids have claimed me as a friend (even more now that I´ve come back for a second year), I really like a number of the teachers that I´m working with, and I'm excited to implement things I learned this summer at English camp (even though it was for the kids, it was like boot camp for English teachers!). 

So yeah, I'm ready to dive right in. Sink or swim, baby!

Can they get here any sooner?!

Tomorrow’s the big day!!! After months of waiting and watching as October 9 got closer and closer, I finally get to see my parents! I can’t meet them at the airport when they fly in at 8:30 am because I have to go to work, but as soon as I get home from school, I’m going straight to their hotel. Not even going to go home first. Nope. I’m going straight to their hotel to hug them tight and get in the first bit of parental lovin’ I’ll have in over a year. There’s so much that I want them to see, eat, and experience while they’re here in what feels like my second home. But really, I just want to be able to see them in a more reliable format than Skype (as wonderful as that modern mode of communication is!), to be able to hug them and feel their warmth and love seeping into me. I’M SO EXCITED!!!!!