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!