Tuesday, December 28, 2010

holidays in nc

it snowed the day after Christmas!

Christmas break is flying by. The flight back was one of the easiest ever (I made a new friend on the big flight!), my friend's wedding was gorgeous, and my dad once again made the best peppermint candy ice cream and cuban sandwiches in the world for my birthday.

I love Raleigh, guys. I love it so much that during the confused, rambling movie junkfest that is Elizabeth: The Golden Age, when Sir Walter Raleigh says something about building a shining city in the New World and someone makes a snide comment about how he'd probably name it after himself, I yelled "whoo!" I love the barely-two lane roads that wind through the residential sections of town. I love how Fayetteville Street is finally taking off downtown.

All through high school and college I felt like I couldn't get out of this town fast enough. Right now it seems like the only place I could possibly wind up.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

17 hours.

Tomorrow morning at 7:20 AM, I get on the first of many airplanes that will eventually take me back to the Land of the Free.

What I'm looking forward to:

- Airplane food. I cannot even explain how much I love airplane food. I understand that it's gross; I understand that if you were to serve that same food to me in any other context I would be grossed-out at best. I don't care. I love the anticipation as the cart gets closer, I love getting to choose between pasta and chicken, I love the miracle of that ridiculously tiny amount of food somehow filling me up. Love it, love it, love it.

- Someone in the Frankfurt airport talking to me in German. After a few months in a country where I stick out everywhere I go, where no matter how much I shop at Mango and Zara and no matter how little eyeliner I wear I'm still so obviously foreign, it's oddly comforting to have someone mistake me for a fellow countryman. Even if all I can say in German is "Away with the ugly thing!" and "Damn it all anyway!" (thanks, Mom and Dad.)

- Kara's wedding. My friend Kara, who is one of my very favorite people I've ever lived with and also generally a beautiful person, is getting married on Saturday. I'm so lucky things worked out for me to be able to go living in another country!

- Seeing my family! Obviously. And Christmas. If I'm honest, spending Thanksgiving away from home was not that big of a deal for me, but I am so grateful to be able to spend Christmas with my family.

What I'm not so much looking forward to:

-Traveling sick. Why does "traveling" not have two L's? Anyway, I had a fever for about 8 hours last night, which doesn't always make for the very finest air travel experience. Hopefully this thing will have improved by tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

medieval fair, bilbao

The smell told us where to go. That perfect smell of meat roasting outdoors, the smoke blowing over in the cool winter air.

Oh yes. We had found Bilbao's medieval festival in a long row of tents strung out along the riverbank.

And there was bread, fresh baked by these guys, who kneaded & churned out about 10 loaves a minute.

Lovely afternoon.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

olentzero is coming to town...

It started last Thursday night. I was walking home from the bus after work and suddenly something sounded very familiar. Very familiar and very Christmassy. Joy to the World was blasting from the department store El Corte Inglés. The front of the building was now covered in light-up snowflakes, which were turning on and off in a rhythmic dance to the song.

Soon after, thousands of twinkling blue lights went up around Gran Via, turning the main shopping street into an enchanted forest.

And, of course, Olentzero - the Basque version of Santa Claus, who comes down from the mountain to give good children presents and bad children coal on Christmas Eve - has been popping up in window displays everywhere.

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Zorionak.

And I fly home in 5 days!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Give the people what they want

I promised you all photos of delicious donostiarra food after the long weekend. Here I go making good:

the spread at Zeruko

golden artichokes, Zeruko

Cheese bouquet (order one and they brown it up for you so it's flaky and the cheese is melted), Zeruko.

The standby at A Fuego Negro: poppyseed baguette crunchy, sundried tomato, goat cheese, jamon.

I've found a favorite mussel. La Mejillonera.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Basque Disney?

Hondarribia feels, and I mean this in the most respectful way possible, a bit like Basque Disneyland.

Not in that it's too clean or packed with tourists or full of employees dressed as characters or anything. It's just that you hit a certain street and suddenly you find yourself looking at what Basque Coastal Town Perfection must look like. You don't want to use the words "quaint" or "picturesque" because you know they're too cliche but... this town is all of that. Even cliche, in a good way.

I mean, look at the adorable green-and-white painted fishing village-style houses. It's just a little too perfect.

There are even cute, fuzzy woodland creatures with big, watery eyes (OK, he's a puppy named "Gudari," or "soldier").

And these potted plants! Are you kidding me?

Just when you're about to be overwhelmed by the fairyland adorableness of it all, you remember what that lady you met earlier told you: you must go to Gran Sol. She told you to order whatever you wanted and promised it would be good.

So you find Gran Sol, which is exactly as packed as an excellent pintxo bar on a pretty holiday afternoon should be. You order the first hot pintxo on the menu, the "medieval."

And just like that, the Disneyland metaphor dies. Because while Disney has plenty to offer with respect to picturesque almost-otherworldliness, it is a known fact that theme park food is overpriced and generic.

This is neither of those things.

"You eat this one," the barman explains to you, pointing to the layered green cup, "and you drink this one," indicating the foggy shot glass. You look back at the menu to remind yourself what you're eating/drinking. "Medieval: Mushroom stew with vegetable game, little quail egg, air of spinach and Jaizkibel mist."

Then suddenly it occurs to you: if this were Basque Disneyland, the food couldn't be mediocre or it wouldn't be Basque. You remember that all fairy tales have a magical component: Cinderella has her fairy godmother, Snow White a magic kiss. Here, the magic's all in the food.

You take a bite.

Maybe that lady who sent you here was your fairy godmother...

Friday, December 3, 2010

ask me a question

Tomorrow I'm heading off for the long weekend to Donostia. Prepare yourselves for more photos of food, because that is what happens on my camera when I go there. I think I will get back Tuesday.

I had an idea for while I'm MIA stuffing my face in the culinary capital of the planet: Q&A.

OK, I did not have this idea, I saw it on another blog, but it's a great idea. It's pretty simple:

Ask me any questions you want about my life here in Bilbao. I'll do a post answering them on here after I get a few.

And go!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

second time's the charm

Kwali the koala visits the Guggenheim

I'd been meaning to do it for a while now. Go back to the Guggenheim museum, I mean. One of my roommates had given me a bunch of free-entry passes she had lying around, so I had no reason not to. Except that the only time I'd been before, the featured exhibition was all about Frank Lloyd Wright, which is great unless you're like me and can't stand Frank Lloyd Wright. Then it's 2 hours of "I wish I'd just stood outside and looked at the museum from out there."

No matter, I decided, as an adopted Bilbaina I had to give it another chance. Anyway, the current exhibitions were photography and Dutch art. I loved it. A couple things struck me as I wandered around the museum. One is relevant to life and the other is ridiculous. Ridiculous first:

1) One of the Dutch paintings (still-lifes with flowers and fruits and dead game and stuff) had hacked salmon. You know when a fishmonger takes a whole tuna or salmon and they chop it down the middle so you can see a cross-section of it the fish's meat/spine? Can't stand it. Like, I go into markets and have to look at the ground in the fish sections because the possibility of seeing hacked tuna/salmon is too terrifying. I didn't say it made sense, I just said I was scared of it. Anyway, it's also scary in a painting.

2) What if I treated Raleigh like I treat Bilbao? Here, I'm always seeking out art exhibits, concerts, festivals, markets, restaurants I haven't tried. I start every week with the expectation that I'm going to have some kind of great cultural/food/etc. experience. Of course I do, and of course much of it is the wonderfulness of Basque Country, but a lot of it is the effort I put in, too. In Raleigh, I generally take life there for granted, get into a routine, and don't bother to seek new things out. Why bother to go to that farmer's market I heard was cool this week when I could go next week, or next year, or in 5 years? There's no urgency to soak up your home culture because your time there isn't limited by a visa. But what if I acted like it was? What if I kept up with art exhibitions, local food trends, festivals, and other events in Raleigh? What if I woke up every Monday expecting to discover some awesome new facet of my own culture that week?

I have a serious suspicion that any city can be interesting and captivating if you put in the effort to discover.

The urge to get in a zinger right now along the lines of "any city except Madrid" is pretty strong, but I think I'm going to leave Madrid alone tonight. My favorite love-to-hate-it city took enough of a beating yesterday when Barcelona FC handed Real Madrid their fancy, overpaid bottoms on a platter 5-0.

In the words of Nelson Muntz, HA HA!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

so true!

from about.com's tips for conversation with Americans:

Americans love to talk about location. When speaking to a stranger, ask them where they are from and then make a connection with that place. For example: "Oh, I have a friend who studied in Los Angeles. He says it's a beautiful place to live." Most Americans will then willingly talk about their experiences living or visiting that particular city or area.

It's so true! I didn't really realize other people groups didn't do that, except come to think of it no English people I've ever met have been excited to discover that one of my best friends is from London. Weird, I would be totally stoked if I met someone someplace random and they told me their best friend was from anywhere in NC!

fall desserts: apple crisp

a little burned but still good

What's easy to make, tastes like fall and makes use of the produce that's everywhere around Basque Country this time of year?

I'm sure there are others, but I'm thinking of the apple crisp I made yesterday for Thanksgiving dinner. I adapted it from here to be bigger, simpler and not include brown sugar (sigh).


1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup granulated white sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg

12 tablespoons (170-ish grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats


2 kg Granny Smith Apples or other firm, tart-tasting apple (peeled, cored, and cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) chunks) - I used a combination of Granny Smith and the golden apples that are everywhere here right now

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon lemon zest

6 tablespoons white granulated sugar

Large baking dish

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Toss filling ingredients together; pour into baking dish. Place all the topping ingredients (flour, sugar, spices, butter, oats in a food processor and process until the mixture is crumbly (looks like coarse meal) and there are no large pieces of butter visible. (This can also be done with two knives or your fingertips. I used my fingers.) Cover filling evenly with topping. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Remove, wait 30 minutes (if you can), enjoy.

Side note: make sure your broiler function is not on. The black oats you see are the result of me not doing this.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving: Round Two

My first helping

The guests for the Big American Thanksgiving just left my house. All I can say is it was really, really nice to get together and enjoy some American tradition together, eat American food (there was even turkey! Can you believe it?!) and listen to christmas music (hey, it's not technically Thanksgiving anymore, christmas music is now fair game).

Everyone who came, who brought food, paper plates, wine, whatever: Thank you.

There's no place like home for the holidays, but maybe home can be, just for a while, a little corner of the world far from where you were born.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I may have accidentally somewhat joined a "bring the prisoners home" protest today.

To be fair, I thought they were waiting for the bus to go protest in Bilbao or something. Then the bus arrived, no one got on, and I realized they were just picketing there and the line for the bus I wanted was further up. Whoops.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

so much to be thankful for.

Julieta Venegas from the front row.

This week has been crazy hectic but also unbelievably blessed. Here's the rundown:

Monday: Javi, the actual teacher of my "clase mala," stayed in class with me after having a come-to-Jesus last week with the kids about how rude they were being. They behaved awesomely.

Tuesday: interviewed for and got a job in Zornotza/Amorebieta, a town about 25 minutes away. 4 nights a week and more than doubles my income.

Wednesday: Julieta Venegas, one of my very all-time favorite singers, came to Bilbao and did a concert. My friend Jessica and I got there half an hour early; apparently half an hour is all you need to get perfect front-row spots. The above picture was taken on my LITTLE camera with no digital zoom. Besides being only 5 feet away, Julieta was of course amazing. Incredibly sweet, funny, she played at least 4 instruments, and it was her birthday!! Easily best concert of my life.

Thursday: Thanksgiving! I found sweet potatoes (a certain moroccan store gets a big "eskerrik asko" for that one). Cooked them the way my dad always did them, the way I prefer them, which I'll tell you here:

Rinse potatoes. Poke holes in potatoes with fork. Bake in 350-400F (a little under 200C) oven for 40-50 minutes.

Eat. Don't you dare leave the skins, they're caramelized and wonderful!

Yesterday I also started my new job and both of my classes (one of 10-year-old girls, one of adults) were really nice. Then last night was Thanksgiving Round One: Basque Edition. I went with my roommates to a friend's house (actually, the house of Sara, the girl who used to live in my room) for a Thanksgiving dinner party and it. was. awesome. They played (American) Christmas music, made nachos and a "baby turkey" (i.e. large chicken, which I have to say was tender and juicy beyond belief). We each gave thanks for something at the end of the meal, and it was so funny because as the only American I suddenly became the Thanksgiving expert. "Kata, are you allowed to give thanks before the dinner?" "Kata, do you ask for something too, or just give thanks?"

But of course there aren't really any Thanksgiving rules except that you must eat too much, which we dutifully did.

Now I'm gearing up for Thanksgiving Round Two: American Edition on Saturday.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

sevilla: a week in images 3

Best. Olives. Ever.
These little spheres of goodness come from Bar Manolo in Alfalfa.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

sevilla: a week in images 2

rows and rows of tiny donkeys and camels at the Feria del Belen, or nativity scene expo/market.

I adore nativity scenes. Specifically, I enjoy the giant tacky plastic light-up ones that go in your front yard. The ones where Joseph is always wearing a snappy bright pink getup I'm pretty sure they didn't have back in old-time Galilee.

Spain, being a Catholic country, takes the nativity scene to another (tinier) level. First off, "nativity scene" does not really begin to describe the scope of the Spanish belen. In America, the nativity scene pretty much consists of the Holy Family, and if it's really involved might have a couple of barnyard animals, a little drummer boy and the three wise men.

Here, it's the entire town of Bethlehem in miniature. Townspeople, donkeys, chickens, houses, fruit shops. Tiny stews for Mary and Joseph to enjoy if they're hungry after all the labor and angelic visitations. Sheep, cats, trees, angels, fried eggs. You name it.

Obviously, the minute I settle down and live in one place for more than a year I will have two. One detailed, indoor Spanish-style diorama, and one giant glowing American-style one. Because you've gotta have that.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

sevilla: a week in images 1

this is the incense I was telling you about. You smell it before you see it, and it's one of the best smells on the planet.

Monday, November 15, 2010

you can't eat the oranges, by the way.

I even got a little sunburn on my nose on Friday.

After a week of rain and at least three hail storms in Bilbao (we're enjoying a fourth right now, by the by), the clear, warm Andalucian sun was just too irresistible.

It was delightful. The incense on the streets (wipe away all memory of that gross, musty Nag Champa stuff - Sevillano incense is sweet and pleasant and somehow exotic and comforting all at once), the fried food, the crazy beautiful architecture, the old friends.


So I'm devoting a week to my old city. Instead of a long photo post, each day for the rest of the week will be a bit of "Sevilla: a week in images."

And the sunburn was gone by Sunday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

today's post brought to you by blank palate.

My friend Marti (recent transplant to Donostia, cook, teacher, wife, mother and all-around badass) invited me to share something about the Bilbao food scene on her blog.

Actually, I believe her words were "if you can find something worth writing about in Bilbao."

Challenge accepted, and you can read my guest post here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

heading back to the south

No, not that south.

This south.

Possibly I have not mentioned it on this blog, but I studied abroad back in 2007 in Sevilla. Now my oldest stepsister is studying abroad in the same program in the same city and I'm off to visit her this weekend.

Sevilla, where oranges fall in the streets, cars run over them and the whole city smells like juice all winter, until the orange blossoms form in the spring (then the city just smells like heaven). Where bullfights and flamenco and machismo and all the things you think of when you think of Spain are a real part of life. Where you head to the old part of the city and are constantly clobbered over the head with how outlandishly beautiful everything is, as opposed to what I think of as the gentle lulling of the beauty here in the north.

I will go the baños árabes and eat 2000 Bar Manolo olives and relax in my favorite restaurants and maybe find Scottish Donald and see if he will do his "upper Michigan accent" for me again.

Friday, November 5, 2010

learning curve

I was out for dinner and drinks with my roommates and kept noticing myself zoning out because I was having difficulty following the conversation. I could swear my Spanish is actually worse than it was a few weeks ago because it feels like I am so often missing the words I need to articulate myself. What's going on? A few weeks ago I was positive I could understand any conversation in Spanish, and now it feels like all confusion, all the time.

I've hit that point in language learning where I feel like I'm at a plateau, where it feels like my spanish isn't improving at all even though I'm using it all the time and goodness knows I'm immersed. The tricky thing about this period is that although it's the easiest time to get discouraged and retreat into an expat circle where all you use is English (or the Spanish that everyone understands because, claro, we're all English speakers first), I really believe it's also the time when the most growth happens.

It's only at this point, having lived here for a month with Spanish (ok, and Basque, but that doesn't help me a lot)-speaking roommates and encountering new situations, that I'm becoming unable to coast by on my casual conversation abilities. It's not all "hello, nice to meet you" and "excuse me while I order this pintxo"-type conversations anymore, and I'm noticing my weaknesses because I'm being challenged more.

In retrospect, of course, this is really the best stage someone wanting to improve a foreign language could hope for. Every time I become frustrated that I can't communicate a certain story or view the way I want to to my friends and/or roommates, I learn in retrospect what I was missing.

Leaving me at once frustrated and hopeful every time I open my mouth and my second language comes out.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


After the cemetery yesterday, the rain let up a little and we were on our way to the coastal town of Lekeitio. We parked with a bunch of surfers (heavy winds all day had made for rare, surfable Lekeitio waves) at the end of the beach and then walked along towards the old town. We walked through plazas and stretches of boardwalk that, during the city's festival, are filled with tents, stands and people dancing. Yesterday it was all empty, except one little girl playing in the bright yellow leaves that had just begun to fall.

We climbed up and got some views of the sea and the town, which was historically a fishing village and the site of the Austrian Empress's summer vacations. By 6:30 it was already getting dark- thanks daylight savings! - so we swung by to see a lighthouse nearby and then headed home.

Beautiful weekend.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Thanks to a schedule of no work on Tuesdays or Fridays and having today off for All Saints' Day, I am only now approaching the end of a glorious 5-day weekend. Highlights: discovering my new favorite site for pintxos in Bilbao (Saturday). Classical concert at the Euskalduna concert hall (Sunday). Today I met up with Ismene, one of my roommates, in her hometown of Markina, where she showed me around for a while before we headed to the coastal town of Lekeitio for the rest of the afternoon.

Markina is known primarily for cesta punta - the sport also known as jai alai - and cocotes, little flat, flaky, frosted anise-flavored pastries.


It's a tiny town - only about 5,000 residents as compared with Laudio's 20,000. I enjoyed it a lot, possibly because of how compact and small-town it felt there. Ismene kept bumping into people she knew, and it quickly became clear that this was the kind of town where that's pretty unavoidable.

And, because it was All Saints' Day, we stopped by the cemetery, which was covered in flowers in tribute to the memory of loved ones.

Totally beautiful, and obviously kind of bittersweet.

Friday, October 29, 2010

jappy jalloween

I keep making weird foods here. This one felt appropriate for Halloween because it was inspired by a classic of Adelaide, South Australia known as the AB, which stands for - warning, totally gross - AfterBirth. The original AB consists of Aussie chips, gyro meat and the sauce trio of tzatziki, barbeque and ketchup. The AB "a la bilbaína" I made today was fried potatoes, chicken, ketchup and a garlic-cream-mayonnaise sauce. Completely creepy, completely Halloween-appropriate and completely delicious.

"But what about Laudio," you are surely wondering. "What in the world are those crazy kids at IES Laudio BHI up to?" Well, this weekend being the turbo-American cultural event that is Halloween, my class activities this week were all related to the spooky holiday. By the end this meant kids playing Halloween Bingo, doing wordsearches and competing for Real American Candy Corn.

We also took the opportunity to practice some English pronunciation with Halloween words. Some of the students surprised me with their ability to mimic a southern drawl: I got quite a few Basque kids saying back to me, "VAYUM-pawr." I don't even say "VAYUM-pawr." Awesome.

Incidentally, none of these were the kid who came up to me before class with a flier from a CAROLINA MUDCATS GAME (the Mudcats are Raleigh's local baseball team, and I use the term "baseball team" loosely because they are terrible). And a target from a turkey shoot. I asked him, "are you kidding me??!?", but he was not. As it turns out, he stayed with a family in Raleigh, of all places, to improve his English. Go figure.

I'm gonna set my feet on southern soil and breathe that southern air.

I got my tickets for Christmas vacation this week - I'm coming home December 19th, then staying in Raleigh until January 3, when I leave with my mom for a weeklong (mostly) business trip to Germany and Italy.

And if anyone wants to hang out in Atlanta on December 17th, I'm wide open - I get in the evening before for a wedding on the 18th. Any recommendations for things to do/places to eat in ATL?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Silk Road Lentil Soup

Not many of you (or indeed any of you who are from outside NC) will remember this, but awhile ago there was a restaurant/tea house in Chapel Hill called Silk Road. It was a fantastic little Turkish place. Unfortunately, it had a terrible business model: cheap, good food + comfy couches + college town = lots of people who come in, buy one thing and stay forever, and about ten years ago it finally closed for good.

They were known for their Turkish desserts and wide tea selection, but the flavor that still transports me back to Silk Road is red lentil soup - theirs is still the best I've ever tried. Stuck at home with a cold, some red lentils and a serious craving for comfort food, I used up my red lentils in this homage (and I have to say, it's pretty close, although I reduced the onions in the recipe because the one I made had too many).

Silk Road Red Lentil Soup (serves 2 hungry people, or 4 starter cups)

1 cup red lentils
4 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 lg onion (chopped)
5 cloves garlic (minced)
3 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

bring stock to a boil. add red lentils. Cover, then cook on meduim-low about 20 minutes. In a separate pan, heat olive oil, then add onion and garlic. Cook until onions translucent. Add onions, garlic and cumin to lentils. Stir, cook until desired texture (about 5 mins for me - try not to cook the lentils too long as they lose their texture pretty easily and it becomes an exotic split pea-type soup.). Stir in lemon juice just before serving.

(Recipe adapted from here.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

these kids put the "loud" in Laudio (if you pronounce it right).

My first day of "real" classes was yesterday, and for the most part it went really well. I had a food-related storytelling activity put together for them (fact: one of their stories started out, "Hello, I'm Lady Gaga" and concluded with a dissatisfied Lady Gaga marching into the kitchen - her salmon was raw - only to discover the chef was Barack Obama, whom she then, as the student put it, kicked "in the bottom"). The activity went really well in 90 of my approximately 92 classes (another fact: this number may be slightly exaggerated), but two of them were totally out of control.

When I was in high school, my favorite teacher, Ms. Greenwalt, had an amazing trick for students who were not paying attention in class. She would walk up to their desk and grin at them until they either looked up and got embarrassed or another student yelled at them to shut up/look up and they got embarrassed.

Yet another fact: this only works when less than 50% of the class is not paying attention. Ai ama.

However, as I said before, most of my classes were both manageable and fun and most of my students are awesome. In one of my classes I taught them the term "pork loin" (I swear, one of them is going to visit England and be SO HAPPY their teacher Kata taught them that one). Then they taught me the Basque for "pork loin." Actually, that is not true. None of us knew the Basque for "pork loin," so one of the girls looked it up in the dictionary and we all learned that too (see below).

Euskera of the Day:
Ai ama. "Good gravy" (rough translation). More like "madre mia."
Azpizun or (much funnier!) solomotxo. "Pork loin."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

hit me, baby, one more time

That's right, two posts in one day!

This morning I woke up with the beginnings of a cold and it was raining and chilly outside, so of course I went out to the outdoor plant market by the river. My friend Marti (you'll know her from such posts as the last one), with all her legit cooking materials, inspired me to get herb plants, so early cold symptoms and all it was off to the market I trotted. I got these guys:

Their names are Antxon and Patxi, and the wire contraption you see is so they stay in place on my slanted windowsill. If you're interested in buying any of their brothers, they were €1.50 each. Score.

On my way back from the river saw a "Tastes of the World" tent and went in. "Random Whatever of the World" would have been a more accurate name, and it was awesome. I wonder if anyone has ever thought to himself, "Now let's see, I need to buy some dried beans, new age crystals, earrings, cheese, sardines, a Communist T-shirt, and maybe an empanada or two." That guy would be so happy there. Anyway, I bought some red lentils. I have no idea how to prepare them, but I love lentils and the color coral so that was really bound to happen one way or another.

foodwise, it is just another animal.

(peppers a friend ordered)

I stayed Thursday-Saturday afternoon this week with my friend Marti (see "Blank Palate" in "Blogs I'm Reading") in Donostia-San Sebastian. We mostly just hung out, cooked, ate, went to a couple restaurants and ate some more, and I realized a couple things.

1) that city EARNS its reputation for having a) the best food and b) the most expensive food. There you're lucky to get a legit one for under €3; here in Bilbao, anything over €1.60 is highway robbery. You'll possibly pay €2 here if you want a culinary foam (you probably don't, you trendy thing. I'm still a sucker for them.). Of course, theirs are usually a bit more inventive (i.e., plated, with maybe some balsamic drizzle or something), whereas here what you get is typically a treat on a piece of bread, period. Different ballpark.

(solomillo "a lo pobre": roasted red pepper sauce, sea salt, potato strips, quail egg- this was a €2-something cheapie! Bar Astelena.)

2) watching your (ex-cook) friend make beurre blanc sauce with total ease does not mean you will be able to repeat that maneuver. Mine broke today (and I ate it anyway, how desperate!).

3) I am in the right place! Confession: when I found out my assigned school was nowhere near San Sebastian, I was secretly a little bummed. I mean, the culinary capital of the western world?! Who wouldn't flip at the chance to spend a chunk of their life there? Walking around the city and getting a feel for it, though, I still loved it but didn't get that same nice, at-home feeling I get here in Bilbao.

At any rate, I'm sure I'll be going back pretty often to visit, rival city to my own though it is (think Durham to Bilbao's Chapel Hill). I had a great time on my mini-vacation with Marti and her friends there.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

thank you, anthony bourdain

Just a couple thoughts now that the week (the work week for me, anyway) is over:

I am so glad I get to teach real lessons next week. Talking about myself for half an hour 12 times is, as it turns out, super awkward. I showed them pictures of my family, southern food, Michael Jordan and a Pepsi logo (hey, there's not a lot of internationally recognizable NC stuff out there). Also, watch out, stepsisters, because I think several dozen teenage Basque boys might be in love with you.

I just made what was easily my best pasta ever. Anthony Bourdain's cooking techniques special is incredibly useful and I can't recommend it highly enough. Dropping some starchy pasta water in with the sauce and your almost-fully cooked spaghetti: who would have imagined it was so good?

And I am going to Donostia this weekend.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In which we adventure, spread Basquitude and enjoy a miraculous rain-free vacation in Galicia

Hello everyone. When last I left you, I was getting ready to head to Donostia, a nearby city and my part-time hobby.

Who was it that said when we make plans, God laughs? Soon after I started planning that, my friend Jessica sent me an e-mail asking if I wanted to go to Galicia, another northern Spanish community, and stay with her and some of her family friends for the puente. I did, and about 40 hours later we were on an (11-hour!) train to A Coruña. Rafa and Antonia, the couple Jessica knows, met us at the station, took us to their house and the fun began. If you think I said that last part sarcastically, take your cynical glasses off because it was honestly spectacular.

First of all, let me start off by saying that Rafa and Antonia are probably the awesomest couple ever to come out of Andalucia. Rafa quickly set about entertaining us by asking Jessica about her family, calling me Meryl Streep and telling us Spanish word-play jokes. Antonia kept us spectacularly well-fed all weekend - I can only dream of emulating her cooking. Her churros are the stuff of sappy poetry.

I will not tell you all about A Coruña just yet because it is time for me to go to sleep and back to work tomorrow morning, but in summary: all days, miraculously perfect sunny weather (Galicia is known for rain). Day 1, Rafa showed us around the city and was hilarious. Day 2, we explored, took cold medicine and drowsy naps on benches (whoops!). Day 3, we took a bus into Santiago de Compostela, which I will tell you a little about.

Santiago is the destination of a famous and extremely popular pilgrimage across northern Spain. People hike, typically from France, to make it to the point where supposedly St. James's bones were discovered.

What this practically means is a lot of tourists who never get to spend much time in other parts of Spain. They have a few days in Santiago, though, where they want to take it all in. Gift shops have accommodated this need by supplying souvenirs that have nothing to do with Galicia (or, indeed, sometimes Spain at all) but have everything to do with items people might want but can't go to the appropriate regions to buy. We thought this was fantastic and roamed from shop to shop looking for these trinkets and coming up with slogans like these:

"I went to Galicia and all I got was this Catalan flag."
"I went to Galicia and all I got was this Betis doll."
"I went to Galicia and all I got was this Basque flag knife."
"I went to Galicia and all I got was this Brazil jersey."

Anyway, the night before we left Jessica gave Antonia a scarf and Rafa a Basque boina or beret, which was hilarious (just the boina, the scarf was just nice). Rafa came in to breakfast this morning wearing his boina and we nearly choked on our breakfast we laughed so hard.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

puente, say whaaaat?

This week after my first day of classes on Monday we have had reception/orientation stuff put on by the Basque government. Yesterday I rode with Esteban, my co-worker/program mentor, to a reception in Vitoria-Gasteiz. This consisted mostly of sitting and listening to some welcome speeches by, as Esteban put it, "big fish" of the Basque education department. Afterwards they provided pintxos, wine, soft drinks and dessert and we all mingled for a little while.

I had a super-exciting moment at school yesterday when we were getting ready to go, though. I was getting ready to meet up with Esteban to head out and I met the vice-principal of the school, and she turns to someone else and goes (in Basque) "he's over there." And I understood it!!! Get ready, complicated agglutinating language isolate, because I am SO going to learn you.

Then today was part 1 of training in Barakaldo, a suberb/satellite city in the Bilbao metro area. Some of it was incredibly helpful (concrete ideas of activities, how to plan classes/adapt material to the classes' levels, etc) and some of it was incredibly NOT (I'm looking at you, 1-hour segment on how to record people using a microphone and your computer and then post it online). A bunch of us (auxiliares) then went to IKEA, and I think I now have everything I need to settle in to my apartment.

The most exciting thing I learned today, though, was that we have a puente this weekend! For those of you not familiar with Spanish culture, a puente is when a national holiday falls on a day one day away from a weekend (i.e., Tuesday) and they make a "bridge" out of it by taking the day off in between too. In this case, the holiday is Columbus Day, which is also the Fiesta Nacional/Día de la Hispanidad (Day of Spanishness), which as you can imagine doesn't always go over so great in Basque Country. The important thing for me is this means I have Astelehena (Monday) AND Asteartea (Tuesday) off work!! Days off DO always go over great with me. Anyway, I may go to Donosti (yes, AGAIN, I know, I know!) and stay with a new friend there for a couple days.

One thing I've noticed is we (auxiliares) hang out in HUGE groups. This isn't necessarily a problem, except that we'll go into a pintxos bar and completely take it over. This makes me feel a little obnoxious, even though we're all good patrons and buy snacks and drinks and are not too loud and everything.

On the one hand, I wonder if now is time for me to be going out and making local friends (join a sports team! take dance lessons! something!). On the other, I remember that when moving to another country there's usually an adjustment period where you're just settling in and you tend to spend a heavier chunk of time with other people in your situation (i.e., expats). Plus, I genuinely like a lot of my fellow auxiliares a lot! Not to mention that I always find study-abroad or program people who won't be friends with their fellow countrymen at all because they're "trying to go local" a little snotty; I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I guess my plan for now is to keep hanging out with my new friends but make sure I make an effort with my church and my roommates (I think we're all going to some open-house event at Mango this Thursday).

Monday, October 4, 2010

"shrimp and grits." "y'all." "Johnny Cash."

These were the important terms I wound up writing on the boards today in my various classes. As it turns out, you can take the girl out of the south, but then she gets approximately 700% more southern. I spoke to about 6 classes today and introduced myself, and when you're supposed to introduce yourself and your culture, it's hard not to become a bit of a cliche of your own region.

Other highlights:

One of my coworkers at the school is also new and she is super friendly and she invited me to her village and to go see an Athletic game with her (her brother is a socio and can hook us up with tickets). Awesome!

The student (a girl) who asked me, "do you like Basque boys?" This was in the most out-of-control of my classes and by far the most hilarious.

The class that got way more entertainment looking for all the Springfields on my US map than I would have ever dreamed possible.

The roller coaster of excitement and confusion that is Basque school. All the professors speak to each other almost exclusively in Euskera, which as it turns out is pretty intimidating. But then, I have short conversations with people and it feels like the biggest accomplishment ever. "Good morning," I say. "Good morning," they reply. Sometimes I say "Hi," and they say "Hello." Most impressively, yesterday I asked the lady at the front desk, "where is Esteban?" She told me in Spanish, but I still felt pretty good about it. I think I'm going to take it to the next level tomorrow and ask "where is Esteban, please?"

Anyway, next week I am planning to do music activities with my classes. My higher-level classes are all getting Johnny Cash day. A selection of the vocabulary I will be teaching them from "A Boy Named Sue": booze, ain't, honky-tonk, stud, cuss, saloon, gouging.

Euskera of the day:
Esteban non dago, mesedez? "Where is Esteban, please?"