Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tortilla de patata

Spain is roughly the same size as North Dakota and South Dakota put together.  For a country that small, it would seem logical that there would be little to no variation between its regions.  Talking to any Spaniard will refute that idea.  Each region of Spain has its own culture, its own traditional foods, and even its own dialect or completely different language.  

Spanish is the official language of Spain but in the Basque region to the north they speak Euskera, in the west they speak Gallego, in the east they speak Catalán, and so on. Of course, almost everyone speaks Spanish, but even that gets tricky.  There are so many regional dialects that it gets a little crazy.  I'll be heading to Andalusia, in the south of Spain, in a few weeks, and all my friends say I won't understand a thing, despite having spent nine months in Spain.

There are a lot of differences between regions here, but there are a couple things that hold them all together:  soccer and the tortilla de patata (potato omelette or Spanish omelette).

Soccer is popular on an international level--I think the United States is one of the only countries where it's not wildly successful. Almost all Spaniards love soccer.  The two richest soccer clubs (teams) in Spain are the Real Madrid and FC Barcelona teams.  They play against each other twice a year in the "Classic" and it's a big deal. Since I'm not into soccer I can't tell you much else.

I can tell you more about the tortilla de patata, however.  It looks like this:


The most basic tortilla de patata is made of eggs, potatoes and onions.  The potatoes are cut into small pieces and fried in olive oil until soft.  The excess oil is drained off and the potatoes are mixed with beaten eggs (usually it's an almost equal egg to potato ratio) and chopped, fried onions.  Once the ingredients are mixed together they are cooked in a smallish (I think) frying pan on medium heat.  The trickiest part is flipping the omelette over halfway through the cooking process.  Once cooked it can be served immediately or eaten cold.

Tortilla de patata is eaten all over Spain.  I don't even think there are regional variations.  Most people eat their plain, but I eat mine with ketchup.  I think Antonio and María secretly think I'm ruining the tortilla de patata, but they don't say anything.

My version of the tortilla de patata :)

One of my goals before I leave is to learn to make this delicious staple of Spanish life.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Holy Week

In Spain, Holy Week means a ten-day break from classes as well as processions all week, leading up to Easter Sunday.  Although I spent a large portion of my Holy Week attempting to do homework, I did manage to get out of Burgos for awhile.

On Saturday, the 16th I went to Bilbao with my friend, Yana, who is from California.  After the two-hour bus ride we walked along the river in the sunshine to our destination:  the Guggenheim Museum.  The Guggenheim was amazing, with sculptures and statues outside and really interesting contemporary art inside.  Apart from being a really cool museum, the Guggenheim is worth seeing just for its architecture. The building's architect designed it so it would evoke the image of a boat, and he designed the curves to seem random.  After the Guggenheim we took the tram to the old part of town (el Casco Viejo), had lunch, and wandered around a bit.

The Guggenheim Museum!

Sculpture outside the Guggenheim

"Puppy" statue--the colors are real flowers

Aside from sightseeing, being in Bilbao felt like coming full-circle.  I flew into Bilbao in August when I came to Spain and had a minor meltdown in the bus station there, after missing my bus to Burgos.  I was scared and clueless and suffering from a language barrier.  Going back to that same place in a different context made me realize how far I've come since then.  I sat there and told myself, "I've got this now." And I do.

The bus station where I cried on my first day in Spain.

Yana and I also visited Asturias, a region in northern Spain known for its natural beauty.  We took a five-hour bus ride the morning of Holy Thursday and arrived in Gijón, a port city, at about eleven.  I loved Gijón.  The first thing we did was look for a place to sleep.  We settled on Hostal Manjón and went out to explore the town.  In the Plaza Mayor (Main Square) we found an open-air market with artisan and organic products.  I was in heaven. I bought a honey/hazelnut spread and Yana bought some pastries made with walnuts and spelt wheat.  In Asturias spelt wheat is gaining popularity as a "health" food, so all the artisans use it in their products.  Content with our purchases, we headed to the beach...

The bus station in Gijón

The artisan market!
 The beach in Gijón was beautiful.  It was a little chilly out, but we took our shoes off and walked along the shoreline for 45 minutes.  We saw surfers and an old couple holding hands while walking in the surf, and then headed to lunch.  For lunch we ate fabada (a traditional Asturian dish made with white beans and meat) and fish soup.  To drink, we tried sidra, an Asturian apple cider.  It was kind of strong and not sweet at all, so not really my cup of tea.

The beach :)

Yana at the beach

An old couple holding hands at the beach

In the afternoon we wandered around and at dusk we saw a Holy Week procession.  After the procession we bought pizza; it was supposed to be for breakfast the next day but we couldn't wait and ate it for supper instead.

Friday morning we took the bus to Oviedo, only half an hour away.  We saw the cathedral and an archeological museum, and decided to look for lunch.  Also, it turns out that Oviedo has a lot of statues. As we wandered around, we came across an exposition where they had 40 types of Asturian cheese, along with wine, cider, salad, and bread made from spelt wheat.  Yana loves cheese, so she wanted to do that before lunch.  After some convincing, I agreed to try the cheese expo, thinking that we'd just grab lunch afterwards.

We paid our euros and walked into a big room with a long table covered with plates of cheese.  Trying the different types was exciting but scary for me--I hate blue cheese and was always worried about eating some by accident.  After about twenty types of cheese, we were both looking forward to the end.  Forty kinds of cheese is a lot.  Dessert was cheesecake :) We left the cheese expo in a cheese-induced stupor, but completely content. Lunch never happened.

The bus ride to Oviedo

The cathedral


Thinking fisherman..

Thinking fisherwoman..

We spent the afternoon hanging out in a park, watching a male peacock trying to court a female, and then got on the bus back to Burgos.  We got back at 11 p.m., just in time to see the end of the Good Friday procession.

Statues in the park


On Easter Sunday I was at home with Antonio, María, and the kids.  We had my favorite food for lunch:  arroz a la cubana (Cuban rice).  It is white rice, tomato sauce, a fried egg, and fried banana, all together on a plate.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but it is absolutely delicious.

Staying in Spain for Holy Week (as opposed to traveling Europe) was a hard decision for me. I wanted to travel somewhere else in Europe, like Germany or maybe Budapest, but in the end I am glad to have stayed here, relaxed a little, and traveled as well.

I am always glad to see new places and try new foods.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Jesús María

Today was my last day of "teaching" at Jesús María Elementary School. I was with the third grade. They have been the worst group overall--there is no way to control them, and today was no different. It's ironic because they're so sweet and interested, but at the same time they just can't stop talking or focus for more than a minute. It was a frustrating last day but before I left they all mobbed me and gave me hugs, which made up for it.

Since chocolate chip cookies are super American, and since all the Spanish people who have tried them have loved them, I decided to make some for my students.  So--tonight from 7 pm to midnight I made three batches of chocolate chip cookies, and ended up with almost 400 cookies. There are around 300 students.  I'll bring them the cookies tomorrow morning and the rest I'll share with Antonio, María, and the kids, and with my Spanish friends :)

Being done at Jesús María is, like most endings, bittersweet.  I enjoyed going there more than I expected and found out that I might actually enjoy teaching. However, going there took a lot of time, and I need that time now in the three weeks before finals. 

I am glad to have had this experience, and I will miss riding my bike there and feeling the uncontainable energy that only children have.