Friday, December 21, 2012

Feliz Navidad!

Last blog post of the year! Ever since my return from my fabulous trip to Asturias, things have been FANTASTIC. A person shouldn’t be allowed to have so much fun in such a short period of time… but I’ll take it! But, I suppose having food poisoning and getting a cold within 3 days of each other balances that out. In my schools I presented a PowerPoint on Christmas in the U.S.A…. there is always one kid in each class that will read the title out loud and they always say “Christmas in the usa” as if it’s one word… it’s kind of funny. Just like my Thanksgiving PowerPoint, I included old pictures of my family and me. It makes it more entertaining for the kids because they can make comments like, “Hey! You’re missing teeth in that photo! I just lost a tooth last night too!” What makes it fun for me is seeing the kids’ reactions to traditions that we consider completely normal. For example, GINGERBREAD HOUSES. A subject I’ll follow up on shortly…

Last Friday was a big day. I had a comida de navidad, a Christmas lunch, with my coworkers from El Arco in Logroño. We went to this relatively new restaurant called Dharma and the food was absolutely amazing. I would recommend the restaurant in a heartbeat. By the end of the lunch, which was about 5:30pm, I was EXHAUSTED. I needed to take a siesta STAT because about 2.5 hours later I had to meet up with my coworkers from Las Cuatro Villas for a cena de navidad, a Christmas dinner. Having experienced past dinners with this crew, I knew I could not enter this dinner tired. The dinner was so much fun! There were 22 of us there. The food was great; we ordered big plates of seafood and such to share. As per usual, after dinner we stayed out…. for a while…needless to say we had a FUN night. 

The next day, I had to force myself to wake up to cook a “traditional Polish dish” because my friends decided a week before that it would be fun to do an international lunch and every person had to represent a country and present some interesting information about that country. We named it the 6th Grade Cultural Report Day. I was ordered to do Poland since I’m mostly Polish and I know how to sing the birthday song in Polish. I had told my friends in the past I didn’t want to sing it alone and so by assigning me Poland, I had no choice but to sing it. I had thought about making pierogies, but upon looking for recipes I knew I was way out of my league. I settled for making a traditional Christmas mushroom soup. It turned out pretty good! The lunch was fun and semi-educational. The countries that were represented: Poland, Sweden, Hungary, Ghana, Argentina, Cuba and Spain. We enjoyed some DELICIOUS food. In addition to teaching them the Polish birthday song, I also taught them some Polish palabrotas, swears. Those are the only words I know haha! After eating our scrumptious international lunch, we did Secret Santa! I received a Spanish novel which maybe I’ll try to read on the plane…and a recipes notebook since I’ve been trying my hand at making different dishes.

Following the international lunch, I went to a Christmas cookie party!! Our friend Caroline loves making cookies and she made quite the spread…. I could have eaten those cookies all night. So, hats off to her on being a fantastic cookie-maker. We did a second Secret Santa, and I got A GINGERBREAD HOUSE KIT! I was so excited!! I immediately messaged my coworker and said we were going to make it on Wednesday at the school so we could show the kids what a gingerbread house is!

On Tuesday I went to get gingerbread supplies… so much candy and I had to attempt to make the frosting. I think my frosting turned out splendidly because it was VERY sticky. On Wednesday however, it proved more difficult than I was expecting. First, let me start by saying that trying to obtain a plastic bag to serve as a makeshift pastry bag was a near to impossible task. I had no plastic bags and I realized after stores had closed. I texted my coworkers and friends and my friends didn’t have any and my coworkers had no idea what I was talking about!! I had a 30-minute conversation with them via text describing to them what I was looking for. It turns out there was a message I hadn’t seen which caused the confusion. It was hilarious though, for a while I thought my coworkers were playing a trick on me to pretend to not understand my Spanish. We were all laughing about it the next day. I did eventually obtain one. Then during our free hour, three of us started to build the gingerbread house. I can’t remember the last time I made one, but I realized an hour wasn’t enough time. The frosting needed time to dry, but we rushed it. It became comical…. the candy started to slide down the walls. The REAL problem was the roof…the walls had needed more time to dry and by trying to put the roof on we were risking it falling down. My coworker told me to try and repair it a little and to bring it upstairs to show the kids even though it wasn’t completely finished. I told him it would be a bad idea because by bringing it upstairs it would be guaranteed to break. My other coworker said no, watch I’ll bring it upstairs…and what happened….it broke. Completely. All of the walls fell down, the roof fell down, and the candy was splayed out all over our cardboard base. In the classroom, I was laughing so hard at our completely destroyed house that I could barely breathe and was crying. So were my coworkers. The kids were still content and basically we ate the house… the kids, my coworkers and I. I will say the gingerbread was delicious. Every student would break off a piece of the house and say, ‘mmmmmmm!!! Que rico!!’ Basically, that means it was so delicious… for them, gingerbread is very rare to come across and I think not one of my students had tried gingerbread before. Although the house was an epic fail, I was still content to have the kids eat the gingerbread and watch their reactions after trying it. After school, my coworkers and I jokingly texted about whose fault it was that the gingerbread house broke.

Now, I am all ready to go back to the United States. I’m currently bored out of my mind in Frankfurt Airport during my layover and figured I would get a head start on posting this blog. It isn’t even 10am here and so far the world is still here, so I guess there was no reason to panic. Feliz Navidad! 

The excellent work in progress....

                                          After bringing it upstairs...womp womp.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Te quiero Asturias!!

Hold onto your hats, because this post is going to be a long one….Asturias: Spain’s best-kept secret…. or maybe I just wasn’t very well informed (it’s probably the latter). I spent my first weekend outside of Logroño in a region of Spain I had never seen before and to be honest I should do that more because a short weekend really opened my eyes to new things. Asturias is a region in the north of Spain. It was a 6.5 hour-long bus ride from Logroño. I went to Gijón to see our friend Nicole with Emma and Andrea. I knew our trip was going to be hands-down awesome as soon as we got on the bus. Our bus driver was British and as soon as the three of us boarded the bus, he came to where we were sitting and said, “Girls, if you ever come on this line again, I urge you to bring anything written in English so I can read it in the hotel” and after that we had a stand-in English bus driving Dad. At EVERY stop without fail he would announce in Spanish where we were, how long a break we had and then at the end he would say something like, “and girls, 5 minutes for the loo” or “Girls, we have a half hour-long break so if you don’t know the city I can show you a fantastic café” and the three of us just died laughing every single time. When we finally got off the bus at about 10pm, we said it was an absolute pleasure to ride on his bus and he warned us to stay away from Spanish boys. Haha thank you new British dad.

We met with Nicole and then waited an hour for Katie to arrive, our friend who is currently working in San Sebastián. The five of us then went for typical Asturian food and drink. We indulged in patatas bravas de tres salsas which is a fried potato platter with three sauces.* The best sauce was the cabrales sauce. It was a goat cheese sauce that had a blue cheese taste…it was INCREDIBLE. I could foresee gaining 50+ pounds if I lived in Asturias just for that sauce. OH MY GOD. While eating that heavenly dish, we drank sidra ... how to explain sidra…. well it’s a typical Asturian alcoholic drink that you have to pour from a height that extends above your head to the awaiting glass that is just below your torso because this “cider” is carbonated and to take full advantage of the taste, the beverage needs to “break” on the glass. You only pour a relatively small amount because as soon as they give you the glass of sidra you have to CHUG it before “it dies” … they really say that. If you wait too long, the proper taste disappears and you are left with “dead sidra”.  The sidra doesn’t taste very potent but when the waiter makes the rounds to your table to pour you more sidra it gets a bit dangerous. After our long bus rides we decided to “cut it short” with about a bottle of sidra per person.

That evening in Gijón was excellent due to the food, the drink, and the company but ALSO the Christmas lights displays around the city. All cities in Spain have an impressive array of Christmas lights, but at the time Logroño hadn’t turned on their Christmas lights so seeing Gijón’s Christmas lights made me very giddy. Especially their cathedral…there were pictures transmitting from a projector of winter/Christmas scenes onto the front of the church. In addition to the pictures it was projecting an imitation of a light snowfall. It was absolutely breathtaking. In one of the plazas there was an enormous Santa Claus figure wrapped in Christmas lights and one building had a mock Christmas ribbon around it to emulate a Christmas present. I just love Christmas it makes me so happy.

The next day we took a bus to see Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. This city was indescribable but I’m going to try my best. I was really taken aback by the architecture because it kept changing! At times it reminded me of French architecture, other times it reminded me of Southern Spanish/Arabic architecture, and then it would remind me of Florentine architecture. It was just baffling and to be honest kept me very interested in wandering around the city. It was so clean and organized. We saw churches, ate more Asturian food (which was equally as excellent and equally as unhealthy), toured the Christmas markets, and took a picture with “G/Voody Allen” (Woody Allen, but that is how they were pronouncing his name here).  There is a statue of Woody, because he publically praised the city; calling it a fairytale, and as though it is not a part of this world and according to a man we met Woody whispered that Oviedo was the capital of Spain because of how much he loved it. For this incredible love he has for Oviedo, he shot a part of the movie Vicky/Cristina Barcelona in Oviedo.

After a day wandering around Oviedo, we went back to Gijón and made a lovely dinner with Nicole’s roommate, Leti. It was chicken with a rum and carrot sauce, which sounds strange but was incredibly delicious with a side of couscous. Nicole also made hummus from scratch. YUM. We were joined by Laura and Hayley who had been doing their own Asturian adventure. We had a lovely dinner with our group of friends and a few of Leti’s friends. Afterwards, we went out and experienced a bit of Gijón’s nightlife. Needless to say, we had a great time.

Our final day we spent touring Gijón. This day affirmed my adoration for the region of Asturias. Gijón is situated right on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the Bay of Biscay to be precise. The beach was only a few blocks away from Nicole’s apartment and when I saw it I was just so happy. I have to mention that the weather was SPECTACULAR our entire trip. Apparently, Asturias is typically a very rainy region, but during our trip it was sunny and surprisingly mild for December! We walked along the boardwalk and up a large hill where there was an amazing view of everything. Out loud I repeated, probably annoyingly, a handful of times how incredible this was and that if I lived as close to the beach as Nicole did I would have finished my grad school applications awhile ago because the ocean is such a stress reliever! (This is not an invitation to ask me how my applications are going because I do NOT want to talk about them) At the top of the hill there is a monument that locals call, “The Giant’s Toilet”…. I’m not sure the story behind this strange monument, but it does resemble a large toilet.*

After completely losing all stress while gazing at the incredible views and listening to the calming waves, we headed down towards an area of the city called “La Cuesta” which is a cobblestone slope. It is an extremely popular area to drink sidra. There are a couple of bars that sell bottles of sidra and after purchasing them you (attempt to) pour it yourself and chug it as is customary. All of us tried it, and I have to say that we did pretty well for novices. We spent a solid hour there pouring sidra and laughing at our attempts. There are some “tutorial” videos below (which I cannot figure out how to rotate... so sorry about that).

Following our time on “La Cuesta” we went to an American diner for our lunch/dinner. I know that sounds terrible, but honestly it was great. We ordered “Peggy Sue” burgers and played with the mini-jukebox at our table. Were they the greatest American burgers ever? No, definitely not…. but, I appreciated the attempt. The atmosphere of a 50’s diner however was SPOT ON. While we were eating, we saw a couple walking their pet pig through the street as though it were a dog. That was hilarious; it was on a leash and everything!! After our meal, we had to say goodbye to Katie whose bus left 2 hours earlier than our bus to Logroño. After that, we went to a Christmas market where I bought another scarf. (I will say in my defense I have been doing great with my scarf addiction! I didn’t buy one last year at all so that is progress.) We then went to this charming café that sells to-die-for deserts. I got this adorable snowflake butter cookie that I could have eaten all day, while others got various types of cake. This is how our trip ended and I was completely satisfied.

It was sad to say goodbye to Nicole and to Asturias and I was definitely not looking forward to another 6.5 hour-long bus ride. I had enough time on the bus that I couldn’t help but think what an incredible situation I am in living here in Spain. To be able to explore new places that are completely different from an area only 6.5 hours away is baffling. Although, one could say that is equally as true in the United States, which I will not argue with. I think it’s perhaps because in addition to exploring a new region it fascinates me because I am in a foreign country.  Anyway, I am sorry I could not condense this post more. For the short amount of time we were away, there was so much to talk about! 

Escallopines with the cabrales sauce

Fabada Asturiana

Gijón's Santa Claus!


Cathedral in Gijón

A church in Oviedo

A beautiful building in Oviedo

Cathedral in Oviedo

Woody Allen!

Beach in Gijón

The Giant's Toilet

The group :)

Cathedral in Oviedo


All of us :)

Patatas bravas de tres quesos

**Shout-out to Nicole who pointed out some errors I made :) 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Thanksgiving Overload

Finally I can write about THANKSGIVING! Most of my November was spent talking about Thanksgiving. In all 5 of my schools I told nearly every class about Thanksgiving. The difference between this year and last year’s presentations was that I made the PowerPoint myself and included things about Thanksgiving that to us seem so common and normal that it’s not worth mentioning! I went beyond the meeting of the Pilgrims and the Indians and how Squanto did a fantastic job translating between the two groups. I, of course, introduced the Thanksgiving Day Parade. One slide of the PowerPoint was of Tom the Turkey, and in one of my classes in Ribafrecha, one student saw this photo and literally shouted “JOLIN! QUE POLLOZO MAS GRANDE!” I’m not sure I spelt that word correctly…but oh well. The best translation I can give is “HOLY CRAP! THAT IS THE BIGGEST CHICKEN I’VE EVER SEEN!” The English teacher, Jose Ignacio and I were cracking up after that little outburst. Jose Ignacio had never heard about Thanksgiving and he was incredibly eager to learn, which was definitely encouraging for me! The PowerPoint was a hit in all of my schools because I included old pictures of my family and I celebrating Thanksgiving. Of course when I got to the slides with the pictures, all the kids were like “THAT’S YOU!!” One of them said, “You were a kid once too!?!?” That was the first time I felt REALLY old….buzz kill. Overall, it was a successful Thanksgiving in all of my schools.

Now onto the dinners…. as previously mentioned, there were THREE dinners. Yikes. The first dinner was on Thanksgiving when a few friends and I were invited to an impromptu dinner. I had no time to make anything fancy so I made chocolate chip cookies, which were actually extremely popular! Both my roommates tried one before I went to the dinner and now they want the recipe. I think it’s safer if they don’t know it because then, like me, they will want to make them all the time. At this dinner was one of my friend’s students, he was 17 years-old…. He took like 5 cookies back to his house. I told him, please take them by all means; I can’t be eating all those cookies by myself. There was a turkey, sweet potatoes, green beans, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. It was a group of 8 of us, and it was a pleasant evening that ended with me and Emma nearly passing out on RJ’s couch. TRYPTOPHAN ahhhhh!

The second dinner was on Saturday….at my apartment….with 15 people. To those that don’t know, my apartment isn’t big…on the contrary it’s quite small. With this little pickle, my friend Caroline and I wondered how we would be able to host it here. We just decided it would have to work out and that’s that. Caroline and I prepared the 6 kilo turkey the night before with the brine…. which I properly spilled all down my front. I was never cut out to be a chef.  The next day I woke up late and started cooking. I made stuffing for 15 and I monitored the turkey in the oven. Caroline came back over and we finished with the turkey. Anita, Caroline and I started to set up the living room for dinner where we solved the space problem. One table actually folds out, so that was helpful. Everyone started coming little by little with their dishes in total we had: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, mac n cheese, pigs in a blanket, salad, gravy, two pumpkin pies and one blackberry pie. And wine. WE ATE SO MUCH FOOD. A cranky neighbor came upstairs to complain about the noise…. at 8pm on a Saturday night. COME ON LADY. After we emerged from our food comas we went out a few hours later. When I woke up the next morning to my messy apartment I just thought to myself, ‘well this is going to take forever’ but thankfully, my friend Andrea came over and together we tackled the project. Due to the size of the dinner we were left with very few leftovers. THANK GOODNESS.

Aaaaaaand the third dinner. The third and final dinner was on the 30th; so a bit delayed but still good. Andrea and I decided to host a mini Thanksgiving for some of our coworkers. Again in my miniscule apartment. This time however, I did most of the cooking, which was fun, because I don’t cook difficult dishes ever. I made in 5 hours: a cake from scratch (frosting AND cake), stuffing, gravy, and roast chicken. I have to say I’m quite proud of myself. I didn’t burn anything or spill anything on myself. I consider this a small win. Andrea brought green beans and wine, her coworker Javier and Mar brought wine, as did my coworker Satur and her boyfriend Julio. Andrea’s coworker Cristina brought chocolate and my coworker David brought mashed potatoes, which he took very seriously. They turned out GREAT. For hours, we all had a good dinner, good conversation and lots of laughter. They loved our ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving food.  My cake was well received. I’m not sure how exactly, but it’s now being called “Steph Polish Cake” because somewhere amidst the conversation I told them how in my household we sing the birthday song in Polish….which lead to questions like, “so is this cake a traditional Polish cake??” and I said no, this is the homemade version of the Betty Crocker instant cake we buy at home. However, the name stuck and now my cake has officially been named “Steph Polish Cake”.

Now, I’m all Thanksgiving-ed out and I’m in an extremely Christmassy mood. I’ve already watched some of my favorite Christmas movies, listened to classic Christmas tunes and yesterday, my friend Emma and I made hot cocoa from scratch! DELISH, move over Swiss Miss. However, I think I’m going to be doing a vegetable fast for the next week since I feel like I’ve consumed more Thanksgiving food than should be allowed for a human being in these past two weeks. This upcoming week we have a “Puente” or a long weekend. Some friends and I are going to Gijón, Asturias to visit another friend. It should be great!! So stay tuned!!