El albergue

El albergue

Friday, June 28, 2013

This is the end

It’s so strange. In three days, I and two of my best friends here in Madrid will be flying home, leaving behind two years of life and experiences. So much has happened. So much has been seen. So much has been said. So much has been eaten. So much time and happiness. So many people and friends. So many places and things.

We have lived here. LIVED.

And it is coming to a close. This season of our lives is ending. Admittedly, I could very well see myself coming back here in the nearish future, but this moment in my life can never be repeated. This wonderful group of friends would be disbanded throughout the world. I wouldn’t be in this memorable little apartment with our lovely landlady and friendly concierge. I would have a different job. It would be different.

And so here I am in my little one-butt kitchen, waiting for one last baking project to finish up in the oven. This evening we’ll have one last picnic in the park. Tomorrow we’ll go on one last excursion outside the city and have one last little group dinner. On Sunday we’ll have one last day at church and one last lunch with a huge group of friends. Early Monday morning we’ll go on one last drive through the city as we head to the airport, and then take one last look at the place that has been our home as we sail up and away towards far off lands.

And it will be finished. Over. Done. And gone.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A little foodie inspiration

The past two weeks or so, I feel like there has been a whole lot going on in my life foodwise. Practically every other day something amazing has been finding its way into my mouth and into my brain, infecting me with a desire to either recreate it or apply its flavor combinations to new dishes. And since food is so important to me, meaning it obviously must be to you too, I couldn’t resist sharing a few of these recent delights and maybe share a little bit of my kitchen inspiration.

First, we made a satay peanut sauce that is absolutely delicious! Creamy and really rich in flavor, it was the perfect way to make Stir Fry Night special. You can get the recipe here, if you feel at all as curious and tempted as I was.

Then, the other weekend I found an intriguing Blondie recipe, and when we decided to go on a picnic with a few friends, of course we had to make Blondies with Dulce de Leche and Roasted Hazelnuts. You can change the toppings all you want, the list of possibilities is endless!

Unfortunately, we had no recipe for this next one, but it would be so fun to try to make it at home! Imagine this: Carrot and Beet Ice Cream. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? It kind of was, and yet it was so good too! As my roommate Kels put it, “It tastes like they scooped it straight out of the earth, but in a good way.” Honestly, you should seriously consider it.

Next, Tahini and Lemon Salad Dressing took a big salad dinner beyond the basics. Just mix a big spoonful of tahini with a little lemon zest and the juice of an entire lemon, add a little powdered garlic, pepper, and paprika if you like, and you can sit down around the little wooden table in your miniscule living room packed full with six other warm human hearts and savor the flavors together.

A couple nights later, Kels and I went to dinner at a Moroccan friend’s house, and we not only got to wallow in the deep flavors of an authentic tajine, we also were blown away by the Bastela that he brought back from his last visit to Marrakech. Imagine a nice layer of shredded curry chicken topped by an incredibly dense and moist layer of ground almonds with cinnamon and sugar and heaven only knows what other delicious ingredients, all wrapped up in a delicate pastry dough and liberally sprinkled with toasted almond slices. Oh. My. Oh my oh my oh my. Maybe an exact recreation isn’t really feasible, but that magical flavor combination set my mind whirling down the path of kitchen possibilities.

And finally, because I spied the bag of coconut and the container of cocoa in my cupboard the other day, I realized I couldn’t go much longer without making some coconut brownies. I found an amazing recipe for a basic brownie here at the Smitten Kitchen blog and tweaked it a little to accommodate the things I had on hand (substituting some coconut for sugar and some cocoa for flour). And the result was… well, the friends I shared them with wouldn’t let me take the leftovers home.

….aaaah. I feel much better now. All these marvelous things were just weighing me down and I had to share them! Now… anyone out there feeling inspired?

Friday, June 7, 2013

When we go...

Let’s go, you and me, to Gran Canaria of the Canary Islands. You say you don’t have time? It’s too far away? Too expensive? Those might all be reasonable issues to keep you from coming with me, but please also consider this…

When we go, we’ll sneak ourselves into the family wedding of a friend. We’ll enjoy the friendly familial environment spilling out the beautiful church door and swirling around the radiant bride and groom both as they enter apart and exit together, rice and rose petals in abundant appearance. We’ll eat fancy food and talk with all the aunts and uncles and cousins and friends whose names all sort of blend together in a bright, happy crowd of faces. We’ll soak in the radiant look of devotion on the groom’s face as he sings his heart out to his lovely bride during their first dance. And after all the food and all the talking and all the dancing and pictures, we’ll finally go to bed at 3 o’clock in the morning, extremely tired but happy.

A beautiful day to wander about

The next day, we’ll go on a coastal tour around half the island, driving around all the little bends and twists that suddenly reveal friendly little beach towns peaking out from around corners. We’ll roll the windows down and let the wind blow our hair completely out of any semblance of propriety. We’ll stop for a moment in sunny Maspalomas and look down at the rolling sand stretching out in either direction. We’ll take a break in another little tiny port with a miniscule yet beautiful beach to try some of the local specialty – papas arrugadas. We’ll savor those tenderly boiled new potatoes dipped in mojo picón (one of the very few even mildly spicy things to be found in Spain). And then we’ll head back out, into the heart of the island.

It would be lovely to be able to spend an entire afternoon here at the Playa del Inglés.

We’ll watch the landscape changing from the bare, dry cliffs dotted here and there with clinging plants to a sturdier scene of towering rocks and steep canyons increasingly populated with beautifully hardy bushes and trees. We’ll even marvel at the occasional oasis of dense, lush green randomly placed in some small canyon.

In the center or the island, we'll be surrounded on every side by stunning cliffs and canyons.

When we reach the middle of the island, we’ll imagine how it all used to be as an ancient volcano and how the time and weather have carved out the monolithic rocks and cliffs rising up steeply on every side. We’ll look down from a quiet little garden through a giant canyon out to the sea, snugly backed by sheer stone walls, with the close white buildings of the tiny village spreading out below us. We’ll look out at the sun sinking behind the tall mountain of our neighboring island Tenerife and shimmering on the sea. We’ll feel completely at peace, our very bones replete with the calm and beauty of the moment.

Simply amazing. We could stay here forever and just gaze.

And as we head back to our lodging in Las Palmas on the northeast coast, we’ll look back one last time and marvel at how the clouds come pouring over the sharp peaks like foaming waves of a sea congealed in space.

Then as we come out of the close twists of the uppers slopes, maybe we’ll get to see a majestic, fiery orange moon sinking down into the dense blanket of fog and clouds covering the land below.

Two local specialties - Gofío Escaldao and Papas Arrugadas

When we head out the next day, we’ll go the other way along the coast, North and West, to check out the greener side of the island. We’ll quietly soak in the colorful villages sprinkled along the road as we listen to swing versions of Christmas songs in our little old car. We’ll stop in the tiny fishing village of Agaeta and eat an absolutely delicious lunch right next to the crystal clear waters of the small rocky port. We’ll enjoy papas mojadas with another version of mojo picón, the freshest of fresh fish, and another local specialty – gofío escaldao. We might be a little tentative at first with this new dish, but we’ll be won over right away by the silky smooth thickness of this savory corn porridge. To finish off our meal, we’ll order some mini ice cream bars from a local ice cream parlor and secretly decided that this is the best coconut ice cream we’ve ever had.

Mmmm... fishies!

Next, we’ll take a short side trip to the village of Teror. Why? Because we’re interested in seeing the spiritual center of Gran Canaria, the home of their patron saint. We’ll meander through the sleepy central squares, gaze up at the giant tree in the main plaza, and peak in at the church service attended by the few faithful carefully following the quiet service. We’ll get some coffee at a nearby café/bar and then head back to Las Palmas, ready to call it a day.

We’ll sleep soundly that night, worn out by three days of constant activity and three nights of less sleep than desirable. And in the morning, we’ll drive back to the airport and say goodbye to the endearing ever present gray clouds hanging over the island capital, the panza de burro as the locals like to call it.  We’ll say goodbye one last time to this lovely island as our plane takes off, and then we’ll turn our heads and nap the hours away.

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? So when you start to give me all the reasons why you can’t go, just remember that when we go…

We might even go swim in these awesome natural swimming pools...