Wednesday, January 26, 2011

hey, Ferran Adria hates bellpeppers, ok?

so pretty, and yet they repulse me

Circa 1991, a 5-year-old me was confronted with something that, to my little girl mind, was truly terrifying.

My parents had ordered pizza with artichokes on it.

Of course, I had no idea what artichokes were, only that they were green and must be gross. Mom and Dad quickly nipped that one in the bud, telling me I didn't have to like them, I just had to try them. You can see what's coming next: little Kathy (yes, I was Kathy then***) tastes artichoke pizza; little Kathy loves artichoke pizza; little Kathy grows up to order artichokes on her pizza all the dang time.

The valuable lesson I learned there was, of course, my parents' philosophy on food adventurousness: you don't have to like everything, but you ought to give everything a try. This has served me well and maybe later I will do a post on the weirdest or most interesting things I have eaten and liked, but for now, I want to talk about the failures. The foods where I tried them, usually really wanting to like them, but couldn't stand them just the same.

First up: raw tomatoes and raw onions. It's a tie for these two - raw onions taste abrasive and have a horrifying texture, and raw tomatoes are gag-inducing and have a horrifying texture. The tomatoes one causes me a lot more grief, though, because people are always getting good tomatoes in the summer in NC and making sandwiches out of them and I know I'm missing out.

Second: Chorizo. I know, I know, I live in Spain and don't like chorizo. The horror. Actually, come to think of it....

Second.five: all cured meats. That's right, country ham, jamon serrano, proscuitto, bacon that is not from America, and all their cousins. I don't actually hate these usually, but never do I love them. Of course I suck it up here: I will eat jamon on things, and obviously when someone gives me a piece of their jamon I eat it and praise its deliciousness. I'm still Southern, people. But sometimes when those cured meats taste really stinky, I do hate them. I'm looking at you, you nasty piece of Virginia country ham messing up that biscuit I was going to eat.

Third: bleu cheese. I go through phases where I am OK with it and where I hate it, and right now I hate it.

Fourth: horseradish. I can't even explain to you how much I hate horseradish. Except you know when you have mustard on something, and the first bite is just a little sour and spice, and then you taste the horseradish in the mustard in that second bite? Yeah, I can't go past bite 1.

aaand fifth: canned tuna on or in anything but tuna salad. Which I made. On a tuna melt. Here tuna winds up on everything: salads, pizza, you name it. True story: once I went with my roommates to a telepizza (think Domino's but much, much worse) to get pizza for a party. They started looking at jamon and tuna pizzas, and I, thinking I was getting around this problem of pizzaingredientsKatadoesn'tlike, requested a 4-cheese pizza. Guess what one of the 4 cheeses is here? BLEU. Cultural adjustment fail.

So... there it is, the embarrassing edibles a self-purported foodie can't bring herself to get on board with. Feels freeing to get that off my chest.

***side note for people who only know me from Spain/this blog: you most definitely canNOT call me Kathy. I go by Kit in America (or "real life"), which you may call me if you promise not to introduce me to a Spanish person as Kit, because then they will forever call me "Keet" which, let's be real, sounds like an ugly bug.

Friday, January 21, 2011

adventures in medicine

x-ray of my happily pneumonia-free chest

I'd had a sore throat the past couple days. Overnight, it went from "just sore throat" to sore throat, earache, fever, terrifying cough - the whole nine yards. So I called my insurance company, they sent me to the doctor's office, and let me tell you, it was ON.

First the nurse took my blood pressure, temperature, and all the standard stuff. Then it was back to the waiting room, then on to the X-rays (see above).

By the way, visiting the doctor's office really highlights the gaps in your foreign language proficiency. I made everyone repeat instructions twice ("I'm pretty sure she just said to take off my shirt and lie down over there, but what if that wasn't what she said at all and now the funny American is stripping and lying down?").

After a game of musical doctor's rooms (I believe I went to four, including a brief but exciting visit to one wrong one - who would have thought there'd have been another Katherine in the clinic?), I was informed that my throat and right ear were indeed infected, but on the bright side I didn't have pneumonia like apparently a lot of other people had. Prescription in hand, I marched to the pharmacy, then straight back home.

How much did all this cost, you ask?

...21 euros. And that was for the prescription, which apparently my insurance will also reimburse me for. Basque Government, I'm sorry I ever doubted your ability to hook me up.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

que será, será

The question on every language assistant's mind, starting in November: am I staying here next year?

OK, not every language assistant. Some are definitely going home because their contracts are nonrenewable; others are definitely staying because they're in love with a Spaniard and/or this has become more their home than their home back home. If you know what I mean there. But the choice was definitely on my mind.

Time off, a visit back home to Raleigh and settling back into my routine made the decision easy for me.

I'm moving home next year.

Actually, to be honest, the decision was pretty much made before Christmas break. So why, you ask, am I leaving this 22-hour-a-work-week-living-in-Europe gig to go back to America, where food is processed, the work week is 40 hours, and none of those hours get cancelled because of a strike?

Well... lots of reasons. Life in Europe is still life, first of all. Yes, Bilbao is still awesome; yes, I still love it here. But when you live somewhere, it's not like you are a constant tourist; you are settling in, going to your job, coming home, cooking dinner, watching TV or reading, going to bed. Also, I have discovered that I don't terribly like teaching. Go figure. The kids are still entertaining sometimes and I have another job at an academy in the afternoons, both of which are fine jobs. I just don't dig teaching all that much.

But the main reason is this: I have the strongest desire to nest EVER. This has been the case almost since I got here. In the past 5 years, I haven't ever spent more than 1.5 years at a time living in the same place. I feel myself reaching the end of that stage. I want a dog and some kitchen appliances. I'd like to see my family more than once every few months. And, maybe most importantly, when I went home for Christmas I felt like I belonged. Spending some time away from Raleigh has taught me to appreciate that.

So... what next?

Well... I'll spend the next few months taking advantage of my time and opportunities here. Taste foods I've always wanted to try. Travel around as much as possible. Get to know Basque Country as well as I possibly can in 5 months. In June, if all goes according to plan, I'm hiking the Camino de Santiago. Check that one off the bucket list!

When I move home, I'd like to start pursuing photography. I don't know if this needs to entail an internship, apprenticeship, going back to school, or just starting and seeing what happens, but I'm going to find out. Any professional photographers who read this, feel free to leave tips!

And of course get a dog and a KitchenAid.

Beyond that... who knows?

bermeo and mundaka

Boat in town, Mundaka

Here is what I imagine happened over the past 5 days:

The angel usually in charge of handling Basque weather went on vacation. His inexperienced substitute didn't read the "Basque Country: Only Rain" instructions, and we wound up with a 5-day sunshine spree that ended only just last night. Some friends and I took advantage of the glorious weather and headed to Bermeo and Mundaka, two coastal towns in my province of Vizcaya.

First up, Bermeo. I liked Bermeo a lot, maybe just because I took more photos there.

The feel is a little... ok, the adjective isn't really coming to me, but I'll just say it's one of those places where Che Guevara revolutionary graffitti ("The same objective. The same struggle.") is not totally out of place and leave it at that.

We climbed around the area by the dock, and the views were lovely.

On to Mundaka, where I did not take as many photos because - get this - the sun was actually too bright.

Known mainly as a surf town (historically, the major surf tour had a stop here because they had the longest left-breaking wave in the world. Subsequent sand-dredging messed up their waves, although we did notice that they broke from left to right), Mundaka has a nice feel that I found almost more Mediterranean than coastal Basque.

It's raining again today, but the spectacular weather reminded me of something: winter doesn't last forever. The days are getting longer already. December, the rainiest month, is over. Spring really is coming. That seems like such a "duh" thing to say, but in the middle of weeks of the cold and damp, it can get easy to forget. The winter will end.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

mood lighting

For the past 4 days, the most wonderful, almost unthinkable thing has happened.

We've had sunshine and 60-degree weather (yes, I still think in Farenheit) in Bilbao. It's supposed to be sunny and 64 again today.

I don't think we even realize how much the weather affects how we feel, but this week has brought home to me that the answer is "a lot." Bilbao does not typically manage so well on the sunny winter days front. A typical day is cloudy with a little rain on and off. This is fantastic weather for reminiscing or curling up with a book, and when I visited last year in January there was something almost a little rebellious, brooding and thrilling about all the rain. Every day, however, does not need to be rebellious and brooding. When every day is rebellious and brooding, I frankly get sick of it and it goes from thrilling to depressing.

But the sun has been out all week, and it has been glorious. Yesterday I took a day trip with some friends to Bermeo and Mundaka, both Vizcayan coastal towns, to explore and take advantage of the perfect weather. I'm planning to spend the entire warm part of today outside, too.

So goodbye for now, I'm off to take advantage of that sweet, sweet vitamin D pouring from the sky.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

German food: or, how I saw the light

First of all, let me say that I am pleased to report that my German vocabulary has expanded considerably. I can now with some reliability say "good morning," "thank you," and "a hot chocolate with whipped cream, please."

And now, the food.

You would think someone with as much Anthony Bourdain viewing under their belt as I would not fall into the trap of heartlessly stereotyping a nation's cuisine before even going, but apparently, you would be wrong. I braced myself before I went, thinking, "I don't like bratwurst and sauerkraut very much. I certainly hope I can be cool about all that sauerkraut and bratwurst."

In retrospect, if the nation of Germany had wanted to bar me entry for even thinking such a thing, I would hardly blame them. Because - and I'm sure you saw this coming a mile away - food in Germany is varied, and it is really, really good.

I'm not saying you can't have a bad meal in Germany; I'm just saying I didn't have one.***

Highlights: creamy chestnut soup; wild boar with cherry and plum sauce; baked apple on top of crème anglaise with, get ready for it, homemade marzipan where its core used to be. OH YES.

Parmesan-truffle soup and pheasant ravioli with cognac-saffron sauce, at one of these places:

Currywurst, basically bratwurst (yep, turns out I like that sometimes too) cut up and covered with a ketchup-curry powder sauce. If you know me, you know I 1) won't get drunk and 2) have a special fondness for drunk food regardless. This, my friends, is drunk food at its finest.


Hot chocolate mit schlag, or with a hit of fresh, homemade whipped cream on the side. Love, love, love.

Lots of fresh produce - oranges, apples, artichokes and other local items, but also, interestingly, I saw a lot of tropical fruit around. I tried my first fresh lychee nuts in Germany (yes, duh, they are better fresh, by the way).

tropical fruits at Wiesbaden Saturday market

Mom buying fresh bread

Needless to say, I am fully converted.

***This is partly untrue: in my last breakfast at the hotel, the lady who made our eggs and bacon BOILED the bacon. It looked like big grey wobbly tongues. Exception proves the rule.

oh, hello again

I just took a look, and it turns out I haven't posted for two weeks. TWO WEEKS! Oops.

I can explain: I was in America still, but all that had happened was still snow and Christmas and hanging out with my family. There are only so many ways to say "my dad makes a mean cuban sandwich."

Then I was in Germany, and the internet in our hotel was terr-i-ble.

Then I was here for 4 days, but my old friend Doctor Homesickness announced that he was open for business inside my mind again and really, who wants to hear detailed descriptions of how sad you're feeling? Not a travel blog audience, that's for dang sure.

Anyway, the long and short of this is: the blog is back up and running. Sorry for making y'all wait.

Germany post up next!