Madrid: A Gloomy but Pretty Visit to Spain’s Capital

A couple of weeks ago I boarded a 7 hour overnight bus with two architect buddies to the gorgeous capital of Spain. After interrupted sleep and awkward bus temperatures, we arrived on a narrow street in the middle of the city, in front of a boarded up (definitely under construction) hostel at about 6 am. With only the name of the hostel’s alternate location, we roamed around for a couple of minutes until we came across a group of people coming back from a bar. One of them drunkenly gave us directions, and miraculously we arrived at the new hostel just around the corner! After napping for a considerable amount of time (nothing important in Spain ever begins before 10 am), we set out to explore the city. Taking a tour of “Hapsburg Madrid” thanks to TripAdvisor’s handy Madrid app, we ran into some beautiful squares and churches. We ended our self-guided tour at the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) which offers entrance to students for 5 euros. While we weren’t allowed to take photos, the palace was one of the highlights of this trip. Room after gorgeous room, we stepped through a life of lavish royalty that must have been a dream to actually own. Once we finished seeing the palace, we headed back to our hostel to go on a tapas tour. Wandering around the city and stepping into cozy restaurant bars along the way with a guide who knew just what to order was so much fun! I would highly recommend staying in a well rated hostel while in Madrid, because there is so much day-time stuff to do that it’s nice to have a hostel that provides food and bar crawls for the night-time. After the first night, we got some great recommendations and went exploring on our own. We stayed at “Cat’s Hostel” which, in regards to the name, did not contain any cats. Through the food sampling, beer drinking, nightclub going (Teatro Kapital, a multiple story & multiple music genre nightclub l is a MUST when visiting Madrid), and park sitting, Madrid was everything I could ever hope for. The ambiance is relaxed, the people are kind, the culture is compelling, and the food is wonderful. If you’re looking for an old city with a cool vibe, Madrid is the place to be.
Here’s a sampling of some of my photos from the weekend:
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Leaving Plaza Mayor, a tiny staircase that leads to another road.
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Sampling some delectable seafood tapas at Mercado de San Miguel. Smoked salmon with a mustard dill sauce and Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician style Octopus) are a must-try when in Spain. While you can eat a whole meal at one shop in the market, sampling a tiny dish from different stands (usually 1-2 euros each) is much more fun!
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Gloomy but beautiful visit to the Royal Palace (Palacio Real)

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 Watching the sun set over the Parque del Buen Retiro while eating delicious ham sandwiches.
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Stunning church near the Prado Museum.

Still can’t get over this European adventure,

M

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American Soup & Confusion on Cooking in a New Country

Before I delve into the wonders of soup, I’d like to apologize. While I may not have followers by the thousands (or even hundreds), I made a personal pact to document my traveler’s life on this blog and I haven’t been doing a very good job. While I don’t know why I feel like I have to say sorry, just putting it out there makes me feel a bit better and gives me more motivation to keep working on this journal/space/tiny piece of the internet that is mine.

For my first couple of weeks in Spain, I convinced myself that I was invincible and proceeded eat ,basically, everything in sight. The food here really is amazing and I was really content for a couple of days. After indulging in too much street food (although there is never such a thing as too much street food), my stomach basically yelled at me and I realized I had to cut down on the awesomeness.

Exhibit A. Churros: Death by sweet, crunchy yet soft goodness. Yes that is literally granulated sugar on top of fried dough (best combination ever).

Exhibit B. Fried Ham/Bacon – i’m not really sure. Delicious but more thirst-inducing than any potato chip I’ve ever eaten.

Exhibit C. Whatever this mouth watering dessert is.

Taking on the challenge of making homemade chicken noodle soup (something that I had , surprisingly, never done before), I was pleasantly surprised with the tasty outcome of this nice recipe, the fact that it was incredibly cheap to make, and that it definitely did the trick in helping me get over my stomachache (confirming the idiom that chicken soup is really Jewish penicillin).

Here’s the recipe
Pro tips/Modifications:

  • Instead of buying the vegetables in their general quantities, buy a soup-ready fresh veggie mix that is easily found in most produce sections as a combination of celery, carrot, and leek. In my version I used one of these packages (which was around 1 euro) and it contained 3 carrots, 1 leek, and 2 stalks of celery.
  •  I decided to double the recipe, which made converting everything to the metric system even harder, but ended up with not enough chicken broth and had to add more later – so I guess you should cook soup with the mantra “more broth is always better”
  •  A new kitchen often comes without the tools you’re used to cooking with, so I had to peel my lemons with a knife and chop the rind up. Not ideal, but still resulted in awesome flavors!
  •  Substituting orzo for macaroni shaped pasta made this soup a little less classy, but reminiscent of my late nights fueled by Easy Mac (impossible to find in Spain, by the way) – so it kind of made it even more comforting.
  • I bought some cheap chicken breast from the grocery store and boiled it before putting it into the soup. Not the most flavorful way of cooking, but definitely cheap and effective.

The day I made this soup, my flatmates put together an impromptu dinner party and decided to combine a bunch of random foods that we had all made to have a gigantic, delicious, feast. As expected, the soup was part of said feast and has been dubbed by my Japanese flatmate as “American Soup”.

Last but not least, I want to mention the fact that ,in total, it only took about 8 euros to make this GIGANTIC pot of soup which fed me for about 5 days (including serving it at a dinner party). I am definitely going to making a lot of soup this semester.

– M

New Year, New Everything

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After a semester-long hiatus, I’m back! I’m writing this post from my adorable flat in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona. I’ll be studying here until April and I’m so excited to getting back to this blog. 

This is my first time in Europe and every changing minute I’m amazed at how different life here is. I notice certain similarities to Miami culture (where I grew up), but overall people are just so incredibly relaxed. So far, I have had all positive experiences while exploring the city these past couple days and would like to share some interesting observations.

– My exchange program has a lot of international students and I met some recently during a mixer at a bar. What I learned: Norwegian girls look like supermodels and every other person is an Economics major (unlike my home university where Econ majors are a minority).

– Spanish pigeons are relentless and also very fat. 

– Sitting at a bar for coffee and a croissant makes me feel very grown up and receipts/change are routinely served on a pretty, tiny plate with a money clip which I find endearing and  practical. 

– There are street cleaners, window washers, sidewalk sweepers, and litter-pick-er-uppers everywhere. They are easily spotted by their highlighter yellow jumpsuits.

– The metro is quite easy to understand and police men are all really well orientated and are very nice when you ask for directions!

– Everyone wears nice, or at least semi-nice clothes EVERYWHERE. I went downstairs to pick up a snack in a sweatshirt and sweatpants and felt like the whole world was staring at me.

– Ham-flavored chips exist.

 

*Photo taken as the sun was setting over Passieg de Colom

 

 

vegan cupcakes can be delicious and the Pacific Northwest is pretty amazing

Lately, someone has been bringing the cutest cupcakes to work (see crappy cell phone photo below) and I have happily indulged in a couple of them. They weren’t that tasty, but sure made up for it in adorable-ness. During a recent dinner-making party, I decided to look up a chai based cupcake. Why would anyone ever think of putting chai into a cupcake? BECAUSE, internet, it’s like rainbows touching your tastebuds. While I didn’t have all of the raw ingredients to make chai, I had some nice Stash Chai tea bags, so I decided to go the chai frosting/chocolate cake combo – heavenly.

I promised you all a recipe for cupcakes that will knock your knickers off and here they are:

RECIPE: http://kokoskitchen.com/occasional-indulgence/vegan-chocolate-chai-tea-cupcakes/

Sadly, this is not my photo (or recipe) because, well, I’m not an experienced vegan baker and the cupcakes were eaten so quickly I didn’t even have time to snap a photo. Yeah, they’re that good.

Pro tip #1: I used vanilla-flavored, unsweetened, almond milk. It adds a more flavorful twist to the cake.
Pro tip #2: Add a little extra cocoa powder, I used closer to 1/2 cup as opposed to the suggested 1/3 cup. It makes for a more dense cake.
Pro tip #3: I don’t have the patience to learn how to properly frost cupcakes, so mine never look like the perfectly piped ones in the photo.  Also that isn’t really a pro tip but I thought it was applicable.

I also took the most amazing trip around Northern California and later spent a week in Oregon (for work). I tried to soak up all of the crisp air, mountainous views, and sky-high trees, but I already want to go back. The food in Napa & Sonoma valleys was spectacular, the views near Lake Tahoe were breathtaking, and Cannon Beach in Oregon was one of the mistiest, most magical places I have ever seen. Photos to come in my next post!

Trying to be a hip traveler,

M

PS: Here’s a great quote I heard while watching TV this evening. I feel that it resonates with my whole life motto (however,I am trying to move more towards acceptance and less of a battle over control).

“I believe in controlling everything and putting cheese on stuff”
– Sutton Foster’s character Michelle in the ABC Family Series “Bunheads”.

Swing: The Salsa of the West?

This past weekend was a really fun, quirky, sporadic one. I rushed to my ‘friday night groove’ hot yoga class after work and felt all of my cares (literally) melt away once I stepped into the studio. You seriously melt, it’s HOT in there. After listening to a room full of Malibu Barbie-looking girls chant their size 0 hearts out in Sanskrit (awkward), we plunged sweat-first into a great class. I still haven’t gotten used to how pretty people in California are. It’s almost as if they have some sort of inner glow that causes a bio-luminescence that draws foreign eyes toward them. Oh never mind, that’s called a tan.

After yoga, I headed to downtown Sacramento with a couple of interns to do some Swing dancing for the first time! Once I entered the antique ballroom, heard the sounds of the jazz combo, and saw the immaculately period-dressed hipsters, I was in love. The basic steps were pretty easy to pick up and I got asked to dance so courteously that I could never refuse the nerdiest/sweatiest looking people. For the record, nerdy/sweaty people are the best friends because they know what real life is about.

At a couple of times in the night I became entranced by the beautiful movement sweeping over the unlikely crowd on the dance floor. It was almost as if a bunch of odd misfits got together and decided to throw a swingin’, swayin’ soiree and I felt right at home.

Moving from Miami to Pittsburgh (where I live most of the year due to school) made me miss the vibrant Latin parties full of Salsa and Merengue dancing. I had long wondered what real American people do if they just want to go out dancing. While I may not be a fancy swing dancer (yet!), I can tell that this merge of great music and movement is going on my list of favorite things.

Oh I also went to the state fair, ate more fried goodies, took a long lone stroll through the mall, re-discovered my caffeine dependence, and cooked/baked a ton of things. Stay tuned for some cupcakes that will probably change your life.

Cheers,
M

Photo credit: http://arts2go.org/?q=node/898

Things I currently love

This delicious shower gel that is weirdly relaxing and smells like dreams and flowers and fairies.

This adorable bag that is big enough for long day trips to San Francisco and other places that have bi-polar weather disorder. I can easily throw in a jacket, water bottle, and other gadgets for my daily use.

This amazing sunscreen that has been keeping my face protected from the sun, without causing blemishes (such a struggle).

And lastly, these seaweed snacks from Trader Joe’s that save my life whenever I don’t have time to make Kale chips!

Have a good week!

M

On keeping up a blog and other crunchy things…

This online thought journal has proven to be difficult to maintain, but I’m desperately trying to cling on to what little I own in the blog-o-sphere. Maybe it’s an inner attempt to make myself feel more hip and intellectual. I don’t really know. But what I do know is that once I can finally organize my brain, things seem to flow pretty well. I also know that crunchy food is amazing.

Unfortunately, kettle cooked potato chips, and blue corn tortilla chips pack A LOT of not-so-nice ingredients. Even if they are all-natural, the fried nature of the chips (as well as the caloric value of potato and corn) is something I try to avoid. Most of the time this avoidance is futile, because I almost always end up chowing down on that oily, crunchy goodness. Until I discovered these:

Kale Chips 

Literally just nutrient-packed kale tossed in extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper ~ baked to crunchy perfection. I used this recipe, but have been trying different seasonings as well. Garlic powder adds some nice spice and grated Parmesan cheese adds some nice flavor, but at a fattening expense. I find the taste of raw or steamed kale to be pretty bitter and not nice at all, but these chips have great flavor!

Pro-tip #1: Make sure you really dry your kale leaves after washing them. Baking moist kale will result in a steamed, soft version of the vegetable that isn’t very chip-like.

Pro-tip #2: Kale leaves shrink a lot when baked, so make sure you make a whole lot of these because I guarantee they will be eaten quickly!

Healthy hugs,

M

Thoughts on Java

Warm drinks make me feel great. Work is a tad slow this morning, so I’ve been sipping on my coffee for about an hour now while scrolling through e-mails and finding small tasks to do. It’s not really warm anymore which kind of stinks, but it still tastes awesome because it’s vanilla flavored and anything vanilla flavored is automatically awesome in my book.
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The above image is from http://www.tazzadoro.net/, the website for my favorite cup of coffee in Pittsburgh. I have yet to find an amazing place in California (rec’s are always appreciated!), but I’ll be back in San Francisco this weekend and plan on visiting North Beach just for some cappuccino.

Sometimes I worry that I drink too much caffeine, but usually 1-2 mugs a day is more than enough. Mostly, I love the taste of coffee. Don’t worry tea, you have an eternally special place in my heart too, but morning coffee takes the metaphorical (adorned with cinnamon, sugar, and pecans in my fantasies) cake. Perhaps I could switch to decaf, but the thought of not being incredibly awake and focused after breakfast every weekday morning is downright scary.

I blame college a bit for my quasi-addiction. I do know people, who at 20, cannot function without a cup of joe. This brings me to another thought. Why Joe? Were Bill, Ted, Chris, and Nick (those were the first 4 generic male names I could think of) automatically energized every morning?  They probably drink super-antioxidant-infused kale smoothies with a side of raw nuts for breakfast. Man, that sounds awesome but who has the will to blend themselves a fresh smoothie everyday? After working at a Robek’s one summer, I don’t usually voluntarily blend things.

I guess the free, unlimited, and usually fresh, coffee at work is contributing to this habit. But it’s just soooooo good.
How do you take your coffee, and how awesome does it make you feel?

City of Colors

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Apparently, the way I post on this blog is the way I write in journals: sporadic and only when I’m settled enough to put some thoughts together. So I hereby announce that, upon publishing this post, I’m going to add “blog posting” along with my other midsummer resolutions. Midsummer resolutions are kind of like New Year’s resolutions but not as daunting because a. I just made them up , and b. summer is warm and comforting and full of ice cold drinks that make me chock-full of happiness. Other resolutions include eating less, taking advantage of the California sunshine before I head back to grey-skied Pittsburgh, and kicking butt at my internship.

Now, on to my real blog post. Last week I visited what I think is the coolest city I have ever seen. Sure, some people can argue that I lack reference levels when expressing my love for things, but San Francisco has a magical, quirky ambiance that I might (just might!) want to be a semi-permanent part of after I graduate.

The people are a mix of cool, fun, educated, and bat-sh** crazy, and the neighborhoods I visited were truly awesome. A couple of intern buddies and I stayed in a great hostel on Post Street that offered all kinds of entertainment as well as a day walking tour that was worth the muscle fatigue after trekking up San Fran’s iconic hills. The photo opportunities were numerous and the food was delicious, but the best part was meeting up with friends from school on different street corners. I’ll be back soon, SF!

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I pulled out my nerdy-looking zoom lens for this view of Alcatraz from Pier 39

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Shady balconies towering above Chinatown. According to an eccentric fellow named Jackie Chan who lives in an alley in Chi-town, this is where the word ‘hooker’ originated.

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I wish I was as cool as this hipster-chic lady. Behind her is some historic bar.

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No post about a new city is complete without a photo of mouth-watering food. These are pastries at an Italian cafe in North Beach.

Cheers,

M

Making Bread is a Delicious De-stresser

Sometimes I get a little bored of my usual store-bought whole wheat loaf. Since it only takes a few basic ingredients to make bread (water, flour, and yeast), it’s fun to get your hands a little dirty and make some when you’ve got the time. I frequently enjoy kneading and punching the dough until I’m stress-free. Some people use punching bags, I use food – don’t judge me. The only other bread I’ve ever made is Challah (I use this recipe with whole wheat flour), and I wanted to try something a little more savory. I combined two Focaccia recipes and ended up with this delectable rectangle of bread-ly heaven.
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To make your own Italian Herb Focaccia, use this recipe for Basic Rosemary Focaccia Dough but instead of topping the dough with olive oil and fresh rosemary, I used the Herb Olive Oil from this recipe. The only fresh herb I had was basil, but I added a generous amount of dried Italian herb blend to the garlic infused olive oil. Any herb blend with marjoram, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and basil will work!

Here are some photos of the steps in this recipe:

Gathering of supplies
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 Dough!
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Olive oil simmered with garlic and Italian herbs
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After I waited patiently for the dough to rise, this is stretched, “dimpled”, and covered with the herb olive oil
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Shmeared with some hummus, a little culturally confusing but whatever.

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What kind of bread do you like to make? I’d love to hear your suggestions!