Friday, September 28, 2012

Mi Deberes para Jose

La Semana pasada yo comence lecciones de Espanol con un hombre que se llama Jose. Jose es el maestro de Luke tambien. Esta semana he tenido dos lecciones con Jose y el Miercoles el me dio deberes por la proxima leccion el Viernes. Me dijo, "Escribes una entrada para tu blog en Espanol. Mi primer pesamiento fue, "Que dificil"! Pero quiero aprender. Entonces esta tarde he venido a un cafe que esta muy cerca de mi piso y voy a intentarlo. Jose me dijo escribir solo cinco hasta diez frases pero quiero decirte una historia. 

Ayer fui para comer con dos chicas que son de los Estados Unidos y despues de comer fuimos de compras. Yo compre un jersey, una bufanda, dos collares y una pulsera. Despues de compras los otras chicas fueron a casa. Me encontre con Luke en una restaurante cerca de nuestro piso. Nosotros andamos alrededor de nuestro barrio y tomamos una copa de vino. Cuando llegamos en casa me di cuenta de que no tuve mi bolsa de compras. Estuve muy disgustada porque me gustaron las cosas que habia comprado y me habian costado sesenta euros. 

Entonces esta manana he regresado al ultimo restaurante estabamos. Dije el camarero, "Estuve aqui anoche muy tarde y queria ver si deje una bolsa de compras aqui. La has encontrado? El camarero tuvo mi bolsa y yo estaba muy emocionada. Estoy orgullosa porque yo hable con el camarero en espanol. Despues de que encontre mi bolsa el resto de mi dia ha estado muy bien.

Ese es el fin de mi historia. Manana por la manana Jose vendra a mi casa por otro leccion y le mostrare esta entrada. Espero que le guste mi blog y tambien espero que haria un buen trabajo.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Baking in My Spanish Kitchen

With more time on my hands, I've found myself baking quite a bit, and though I haven't yet tried my hand at any traditional Spanish treats, American cookies, cupcakes and baked goods are quite the delicacy in Spain.  This works out well for me because I can bake them and fill our apartment with the enticing smells, and then send them off with Luke to work or share them with guests so that we don't have trays of cookies filling our kitchen.

There's a large department type store here in Madrid called El Corte Ingles.  They have everything from furniture to electronics to groceries.  They're huge and all over the city. A couple of weeks ago, Luke and I were walking through a section of one of the stores called "The Gourmet Experience," which also happens to have a small section of American items. When I saw Libby's canned pumpkin gleaming brightly on the shelf, I knew I had to have some for the upcoming Fall season. Nothing makes you want to bake more than cooler temperatures, changing leaves and the promise of spicy sweetness lofting from the oven. 

However, I didn't even make it until October before breaking into one of my cans of pumpkin.  This morning I got the urge to bake pumpkin bread, and I pretty quickly gave into it. I started with this recipe but adapted it along the way to work with what I had in the kitchen.

As baking around here always begins, I first Googled "350 Fahrenheit to Celsius" so that I would know where to set my Celsius speaking oven. (For future reference: The answer is 176.667 degrees. One of these days I will memorize that.) Then I gathered my ingredients:

Flour, Sunflower Oil (in place of veg. oil), Pepitas, Baking soda, Sugar, Pumpkin, 2 egg whites, Salt, Vanilla extract, Cinnamon, Pumpkin pie spice, Ground cloves (substituted for nutmeg.)
Upon gathering everything that I would need, I realized that, dang-it, my pumpkin seeds were still in the shell.  Now if I'm being honest, I realized they didn't look like I had expected when I grabbed them at the store earlier this morning, but also if I'm being honest, it didn't dawn on me until I was ready to start baking why they looked different. Ummm, duh.  Instead of heading out on a search for shelled pumpkin seeds, I decided to try and de-shell them myself. 

That didn't work. I couldn't properly crack the shell without also cracking the seed, and I wanted full pretty seeds, not slivers. I'd already mixed the batter together, so I couldn't just save it for another day, and I really didn't want to leave the batter on the counter while I ran around in search of the perfect pumpkin seeds.  (Literally, I would have had to run around. We don't have a car.) I opted for the alternative, said, "oh well", and figured the bread would still be good without the pepitas.

However, as I was mixing together my wet ingredients, I decided why not make a few other adjustments since I already had to forgo the seeds. So into my mixture of wet ingredients, I added 2 tablespoons of Chia seeds. My mom makes banana bread with Chia seeds, and I always love that little addition. I threw them into the mix hoping that they'd help keep the bread from being too dry since there isn't much oil in the recipe. 

With my mind now on banana nut bread, I remembered the walnuts and hazelnuts left over from a recipe I made last week. I chopped them up and added a 1/2 cup of nuts to the mix as well, about 1/4 cup of each. I folded the dry ingredients into the rest, and then poured into my greased loaf pan. Unfortunately, I haven't seen, though I haven't really looked, cooking spray here yet, so my pan was greased with good ole butter.

With my pan all ready to pop into my oven heated exactly to 176.667 Celsius, I made the impulse decision to top my bread with old-fashioned oats. I used a little less than 1/4 cup (approximately 3 Tablespoons) and pushed them into the batter just a bit. 

After the addition of the oats, I set the timer for 50 minutes and started cleaning up the kitchen while enjoying the amazing smells of cinnamon and pumpkin seeping from the oven. Of course, your finger is always the best way to really get those bowls clean.

I just pulled the hot pan from the oven, and while I can tell you with certainty that it smells delicious, I'll have to update you later on the taste.  I figure it will be the perfect finish to dinner tonight because along with pumpkin season comes the season of soup, and I'm making this.

Now I'm off to relish the nice cool weather as I walk to the gym for Body Pump. Gotta work off that tasty finger lickin'!

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's All Greece to Me: Athens

After our trip to Paris and an unexpected but awesome, all expense paid trip home to Dallas (Thanks EY!), we made a quick stop back in Madrid to re-pack before heading off on an 8-day Grecian adventure. I've always wanted to visit the Greek islands.  The crystal blue seas, tiny white buildings set atop cliffs overlooking the seas and bright blue doors seemed so picturesque, and August was the perfect month for us to travel here since we needed quite a few consecutive days to fit everything in.  

Before beginning our island hopping adventures, we spent one night and a little more than half a day in Athens.  It's nearly a 4 hour flight from Madrid to Athens and because we saved our packing until late until the night/early morning before our flight, we both quickly fell asleep on the plane (and Luke packed mismatched flip-flops, but we wouldn't discover that until later.) We slept until they woke us up to begin serving lunch. Yes, lunch. We were totally surprised since most airlines, especially these low cost airlines like Easy Jet and Ryan Air, don't even give drinks for free anymore. Though we appreciated the effort and thought by Iberia Air, the mystery meat wasn't too appealing, and we still arrived in Athens with an appetite.

Thanks, but no thanks.
We took the train from the Athens airport to the city center, and then grabbed a taxi to the hotel from there. Driving through the city, we weren't very impressed and maybe even a little scared that I'd booked a hotel in the wrong location.  Most of the buildings that we drove by were run down, dirty and grafitti covered, and holy strip clubs...we passed by an abundance of these "fine" establishments.  Luckily, though, our hotel was very nice, clean and offered a quick shuttle to Syntagma Sqaure, which is the main square in the dead center of Athens, where the Greek Parliament is located and the location for many of the recent protests and demonstrations that have taken place in Greece. After quickly checking in and freshening up a bit, (I think I actually smelled like the mystery meat even though I didn't eat it ;)), we grabbed the shuttle to Syntagma Square. We walked through the National Gardens before wandering through a cute, quaint neighborhood called Plaka for dinner. Unlike the part of Athens that we saw driving through to our hotel, this little pedestrian only area was much more attractive and appealing.

Still stumped by that mystery meat while waiting on the shuttle.

Giant palm trees at the entrance to the National Gardens.

Evening stroll before dinner.

One of the narrow streets in the Plaka neighborhood of Athens.

American beer for sale in Athens. Not Budweiser. Just Bud.

Our taxi driver drove us to see the Acropolis by night before dropping us off at the hotel.

Since we didn't know much about Athens and only had until about 3 pm before needing to catch our ferry to Paros, we booked a walking tour and were able to see everything that we needed to see in a short amount of time.  Our tour guide was personable and knowledgeable, and our total group consisted of us and one other American couple so we were able to hear and follow along easily.  We started early at 9 am to watch the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier in front of the Greek Parliament. The traditional uniforms worn by the soldiers and the way they walked and moved during the ceremony was quite elaborate.  In this video, you'll notice that they wear a big, fluffy pom-pom on the end of their shoes.  Our tour guide told us that when the soldiers actually used to wear these uniforms in battle, the purpose of the pom-pom was to conceal a knife that was connected to the end of their shoe and could be used to kick and stab their enemies. In current days, I believe these uniforms are only worn for special ceremonies like the changing of the guard. 

*Note: Our video from the changing of the guard ceremony wouldn't upload to Blogger, so be sure to click the link above or here to watch it from YouTube if you're interested.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Changing of the Guard ceremony.
After the changing of the guard, we walked through Athens to see the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian's library (not pictured), the Acropolis and Parthenon and several ancient Greek theaters located on the walk up to the Acropolis.  I'm sure it's obvious, but it is crazy when you think about how old all of these Greek monuments are and about how many people still visit them today.  The Acropolis especially was swarming with tourists. An interesting fact we learned from our tour is that Acropolis really just means hill, so when people mention the Acropolis, they are actually just referring to the entire hill. Then on top of the Acropolis are multiple temples, monuments and of course, the famous Parthenon.  We mentioned to our tour guide how we had seen a replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, and she knew about it and thought it was a very good one, so way to go Nashville!

The path up to the top of the Acropolis and the ground at the top is all paved in marble and was very slick, especially when wearing sandals instead of good walking shoes. (I know from experience, so remember this if you ever visit.) During the walk to the top of the Acropolis, our tour guide pointed out several interesting sites, one of which was the rock from where Paul first preached the Gospel to the people of Athens. We thought this was neat to see and think about how that took place so many years ago.  And actually, Luke is currently reading Acts and just read about Paul's trip to Athens, so I'm sure he had a clear picture in his mind to go along with the reading.

The Temple of Zeus in fancy camera mode.

The Temple of Zeus.

The Acropolis from a distance.

Ancient Greek Theater.

Pretty but pretty slippery.

Temple ruins on top of the Acropolis.
Site where Paul first preached the Gospel to the people of Athens.

The Parthenon.
After our tour finished, we had just enough time for a leisurely lunch in Plaka before getting on the ferry to Paros.  Our second meal in Greece included our second Greek salad (of many yet to come).  It is so simple yet so fresh and tasty;. Bright red tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, sweet red onions, strong Feta, olives, olive oil and salt and pepper...yum! Also, many of the restaurants served complimentary watermelon as a finish to your meal, which was also so light and fresh during the hot summer days (and as a natural diuretic, helped with the extra water retention caused by traveling. :))

Our second of many Greek salads.
Juicy red watermelon.
Once on the ferry, we settled in for a friendly game of travel Scrabble while we cruised South through Aegean Sea to the charming island of Paros. 

We can play Scrabble. I will enjoy because I spell well, and I can tell you're bright. So tonight we can engage in quite a fight creating our very own crossword puzzle.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Paris - Days 5 & 6

Since our museum pass had expired and we felt like we'd seen the major sites in Paris, we spent our last two days riding bikes through the city.  Paris has an awesome public bike system that is really convenient and relatively cheap.  You pay a small start up fee, and then there are stations throughout the city that you can drop off or pick up a bike as you want. Every time you get a bike, the first 30 minutes are free, and then a small fee is charged for every half hour beyond that.  It was really convenient because there were stations everywhere, so instead of finding a place to lock up your bike when you wanted to stop for a few minutes, you just turned it back in and got a new one when you were ready.  When we first started on the bikes, it was a bit stressful because there were buses, motorcycles, crazy taxi drivers and one way streets everywhere. We quickly got the hang of it, though, and if you follow the rules (Luke!) and stay in the bike lanes, it was pleasant and safe.

On the first day, we rode over to the Rue Cler, which is a pedestrian only street recommended by the Rick Steve's guide. We had a little picnic-y type lunch and bought a couple of bottles of French wine to take home with us before jumping back on the bikes. After that, we headed across town and through the Marsais neighborhood, where we tried a famous falafel pita. (It even came recommended by Lenny Kravitz. :)) Sorry, no pictures of Marsais; our camera use went way down when we were on the bikes. Safety first. :)

The Rue Cler.

A fruit and veggie stand on the corner of Rue Cler.
After turning in our bikes for the night, we went on a dinner cruise down the Seine River that we had planned as a special celebration of our anniversary. (Thanks, Lukie!)  It was a little bit pricey, but we were not disappointed with our experience. The food was better than even expected, the service was top notch and seeing Paris, the City of Lights, during the evening from a riverboat was priceless. It was a fantastic last night in Paris!

Luke on board the boat with his champagne aperitif.

It was difficult to take pictures on the boat, especially since we only had our small, older camera with us, but you get the gist.
On our last day in Paris, we only had until about 3 pm before we needed to get on the bus that would take us back to the airport. So we made the most of the time and rode bikes down the famous Champs-Elysees and around the Arc de Triomphe, which is where the Tour de France finishes.  We stopped for one last lunch of pizza since we were in Italy (kidding.) and in true Millie and Luke fashion, scrambled to try and make it to the bus station on time.  Unfortunately, we had missed the bus that corresponded with our flight, but fortunately, so had about 4 other people. We got together with them and were able to share a cab to the airport, which was much cheaper than going alone and got us there just in time to check our bag and hop on the flight.

Luke's last tea in Paris, and our only picture from day 6.
All in all, we loved Paris, and it was a perfect place to celebrate 3 years of marriage (and ironic since we were married in Paris, Arkansas.) We enjoyed everything we saw, (I especially loved the Eiffel tower) and relished the cafe hopping, leisurely days and refreshing weather.  However, we learned that our French is not very good.  If we're going from best to worst, from this trip we learned that our language order is English ---- Spanish ---- French.  Soon we'll find out that our Italian is better than our French, but our Greek is worst of all. Updates on Greece and Italy coming soon!

Paris - Day 4

On our fourth day in Paris, we slept in a bit and then went for a run through the Luxembourg Gardens, where there were other runners, some odd guy doing something with his hips that looked like hula-hooping minus the hula-hoop, picnic-ers, kids playing with small sailboats in the pond, and people sitting around playing chess and cards.  Nothing makes you feel (or look) more like a local than a run through the town. The weather was perfect, nice and cool, and it felt nice to breathe in the fresh air, especially after running in the Madrid heat.  After running, grabbing a light lunch, and showering up, we headed out to Montmartre neighborhood where the highlight was the Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart) Basilica.  This church was up on a hill with a bunch of stairs that you had to climb to reach it. On the stairs and all over the lawn leading up to the church, there were tons of people sitting around with little picnics and a bunch of people selling souvenirs. As we were just reaching the top of the stairs, some sort of commotion broke out and several of the guys selling stuff took off running with another couple of guys chasing them and throwing glass beer bottles at them.  It was pretty scary and someone could have been extremely hurt. Luckily, though, the police showed up very quickly, and it didn't appear that anyone was injured.

Once we safely made it to the top, there was an amazing view of Paris and the Eiffel Tower, both during the day and at night. We even caught the twinkling Eiffel tower on camera. We enjoyed the view and walked through the church.  The most interesting thing that I remember reading about this church is that at least one person is always in the church praying for Christ to be understanding of the world's sins, a tradition that has been carried out 24/7 since the completion of the Basilica in 1919. Another interesting fact we learned is that 13 WWII bombs landed near the Basilica knocking out all of the glass windows, which have since been replaced, yet no one was killed.  This fueled local devotion to the Sacred Heart and to the church.

The view before sunset.

The sparkling Eiffel Tower.

The dome of the Sacred Heart Basilica from a distance.

The Basilica at night.

The interior. 

After visiting the church, Luke ran ahead to see if he could make it through the Dali museum before they closed, and I stopped to read at a local cafe since I wasn't too interested in the museum and entrance cost $10. He made it in time for a quick walk through, and they gave him a discounted admission.  After that, we walked through the neighborhood before stopping for dinner and heading back to our hotel. Only two more days left in Paris!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Paris - Day 3

Day 3 was a rainy day in Paris. First, we strolled through the Latin Quarter, which was one of my favorite little neighborhoods. Paris is a really big city, so at times it felt really overwhelming and like there was no way we could ever see it all.  The Latin Quarter, though, was pretty small with narrow, cozy streets and that made it seem much more manageable to me. Also, the streets were lined with restaurant after restaurant, most of them displaying their rotisseries in the store front, so everything looked really warm and inviting on a rainy, chilly day.  After the Latin Quarter, we saw the Conciergerie, which is a former prison where Marie Antoinette and other famous people were held before being sent to the guillotine, and Sainte Chapelle,  which was full of colorful stained glass and, in my opinion, the most beautiful cathedral that we saw in Paris.  Again, the museum pass came in super handy this day as we literally walked to the front of an extremely long line of people standing in the rain for the Conciergerie, and Rick Steve's guide didn't fail us either as he offered bits and pieces of information about each of our stops. 

After seeing these two sights and because of the chilly, damp weather, we pretty much cafe hopped the day away, but we did happen upon a beautiful sunset just as we were crossing the Seine River.  It was a good, good day. Here it is in pictures:

Cafe stop for some Olympic watching. Along with Spain and the US, we watched the 2012 Olympics in 3 countries!

Luke trying to take a pic where it looked like I was coming out of the glass. I'm a genie in a bottle pint glass.

Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle took only 6 years to build, which was unheard of in those times. Notre Dame took over 200!

The ceiling of Sainte Chapelle.
Climbing up the windy stairs at Sainte Chapelle.

Beautiful Stained glass covered the cathedral. As we learned through our Rick Steve's guide, from the life of Moses to the crucifixion of Jesus to the coming Judgment Day, many of the glass panels depicted a different Biblical story for a total of more than 1,100 scenes. Very cool!

The biggest beer ever. I'm glad we shared!

Super excited about warming up with his bowl of French onion soup.

Crossing the Seine River.

Sunset as we passed back over the Seine.

More snails!

Concentration is key. They were slippery little guys!
And now I'm off for a meeting about finally getting started on some Spanish lessons, so the rest of Paris will have to wait. (I know, I know. The suspense is killing you!) Wish me luck! :)