Cure

You’re welcome to listen to the Cure while you read this post – I won’t stop ya and besides I love a good pun.
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This past weekend my good friend Emily and I went to the rural town of Valdemanco, nestled in the Sierra Mountains outside of Madrid to learn the centuries old craft of meat curing. To say that I was excited would be an understatement – I’ve been on the waitlist for the course for over a year and at risk of sounding hip it’s true, I am a foodie! Chorizo, salchichón, morcilla, jamón, these are the meats that can turn a bad day in Spain right side up. I often find myself eating a little cured something with bread and wine for dinner. Food for me was one of the reasons I came to live here, and dammit I was not going to leave without learning how to cure a pata de jamón. So now I know, now I can leave (just kidding! Sorry Mom I love you).IMG_7639 (1)

Juan, our instructor/comedian led us through two days of dicing, slicing, mixing, salting, cleaning, stuffing, wrapping and hanging. We made the basics and then some, we learned how to commercialize our home operations and we learned how to take short cuts for faster home results. Cured meat, I came to find is a real waiting game and at its core is a way to preserve and feed through hard winters. It’s traditionally a woman’s craft, a knowledge base passed on from mother to daughter and characterized by the flavors and spices at hand.

Why November? Because it’s cold. Why paprika? Because they had it. Why cinnamon in salchichón? Because cinnamon hides bad flavors, it’s strong enough to mask whatever imperfections may arise during the cure. We learned Juan’s grandmother’s secrets and the recipes that have come to be the classics all around the country. In Asturias they put parsley in some of their sausages because it’s seasonal there…who knew?! IMG_7604

That evening Emily and I were pretty wiped out. We wandered back to the town where we were staying and posted up at an even smaller bar and had a glass of wine. Next thing we knew a guitar player showed up and what must have been every person that lives in Bustarviejo was at there to hear him. It was one of those moments for both of us, we said, that reminded us why we live here. The shared sense of history, the community and of course the culture. It’s something you can begin to miss in Madrid since it’s bigger and has so many expats. We had a glass of wine too many and yeah, we even danced – how could you not?!

At the end of two full days we tasted some of the most delicious charcuterie all together as a class. Venison chorizo, pumpkin morcilla, and of course jamón ibérico de bellota, Spain’s top tier hazelnut-fed Iberian ham. We exchanged numbers (I got some great restaurant contacts and ranchers/purveyors in my little black book now!) and headed home. The trip of a lifetime and I’m certainly out of my slump now. I’ve got a little morcilla hanging in my fridge doing it’s thing until January and when I slice it open I will absolutely share! For as many hard days as there are in Madrid looking for a job and getting with the hustle of the city there are absolutely times when I remember what a gem it is to be here. I learned a new thing. Spain is rad and this cooking adventure cured me, that’s a fact.

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imageWaiting for my trainI ride the metro in Madrid a lot. In fact, not a single day goes by when I don’t ride the metro. Most days I shuffle down into the damp and dimly lit rattling tube four or five times. Up and down the escalators, dodging dudes with too many bags and teenagers making out to reggaeton. I watch people look at their phones, sometimes people pan handle, lovers caress, kids drop yogurt and dads yell, even sometimes I watch the occasional person watching another person. It sounds drab and I’m making it out to be that way because today on the metro I’m writing and reflecting a little bit on what it is to me and what it all means. This is a philosophical article so get out now if you’re not in the mood.

I have had the insane privilege of growing up in an evergreen wonderland with parents who…wait for it…loved their jobs. To be realistic, they’re academics, so they’re lucky to get paid to do exactly what they love with their minds glued to a subject matter in pursuit of the greater common knowledge. Dreamy. They helped me with my homework. My sister and I worked summer jobs and by no means we’re we ever told that we deserved something special but we certainly learned that playing tough, playing fair and asking the right people for help would get you somewhere. My sister is now an academic. I’m still on the metro I’m not at my stop yet.

I got a spot so now I can sit down, next to a guy that smells like garlic and I’m reflecting on a pretty measly LSAT score and yet another Spanish company that can’t find the will to make a job contract for me. I’ve been in Spain for four years so you’re right to doubt me; perhaps I’m not trying hard enough or maybe my standards are too high or that I am simply unqualified for the jobs I want. There are plenty of Spanish people who might ask me what I’m even doing here and that if I want to complain about the job market I should just go home. I don’t know if this is complaining, per se but rather accepting defeat and maybe in a larger sense (since I’ve got the time, lord knows I ride this metro way to much) reflecting on what a job means to me. I want to feel a larger sense of purpose. I want a job that’s hard, a job that challenges me and that challenges my coworkers in the best and worst ways. I want to wake up in the morning and get to work and feel like the people I am with have faith in me and I want to trust them too. My train rolls into a stop called Velazquez and a bunch of folks wearing really nice suits get on. They’re trying to ignore the girl with the dreadlocks and the dog.

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Every summer I go home and for the past few summers I’ve worked immersed in the forest of the Pacific Northwest guiding children and adults through challenging situations of survival. Lots of my coworkers have dreadlocks, they’ll blow you out of the water with how articulate they are, how many edible plants they can positively ID, how quickly they can build a fire. When I come back to Spain I work with kids and adults outside of the forest but similarly aim to guide them; they choose the questions and I try to help them get to a reasonable answer. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but we always ask ourselves why. I’m that chick that just can’t get enough Montessori in her life. Sue me. So am I hurting the people I teach? Am I actually doing them a disservice if the job markets they are destined for require, even need, them to do things that they don’t fully agree to? I’m only asking because yet another job fell through on me. This time it was a suit job, an office-9-to-5-make-friends-with-the-right-people job. I’m sitting here wondering why I even wanted it in the first place. Why I even wanted to work at a company with an HR team that really could not get their sh*t together. There are aspects of every job that we can’t always love, even if we love what we do. But I feel as though I’m scratching on the surface of a larger itch of mine, this messed up thing inside me that wants to actually sit in a desk, stop asking questions and never guide anyone to their own realizations. Not be academic. Wear a suit. Gotta get off my stop and I think this is getting rambly.

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Maybe it’s Spain. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s just today and tomorrow I’ll feel a little different. The train screeches to a stopped I push my way between an accordion player and a small child with her mom. I’m not sure how to finish this article and as I walk home (but first up the endless set of metro de Madrid stairs) it dawns on me that I don’t have to finish it. Maybe it’s just the beginning of something and I’ll let you know how it ends when I get there.

A Spanish Coming-of-Age Movie

I’m such a sucker for coming of age films, 16 Candles, Virgin Diaries, and even indie films like Electrick Children are just my jam. There’s something so raw about a young protagonist trying on a new identity or becoming independent that inspires me and reminds me of what it was like to try on something new for size. I love movies of any kind but this genre will always be my go-to.
Around the same time this blog came into the blogosphere, 3 years ago or so, I was walking around my neighborhood in Latina, Madrid. A three story bar called El Viajero looked like it had been shut down, it had metal barricades all around it with graffiti and stickers (such is life in the urban center). Bars come and go so frequently in Latina that I didn’t think much of it until one day that same week I saw a film crew go inside. That evening I heard music blaring from the bar and directors orders over a bullhorn mic and with time, forgot completely about the event.

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El Viajero: on the corner of Cava Alta and Plaza de Cebada, Madrid

Flash forward with me 3 years to this summer on my flight home, the annual migration back to Portland that has come to mark time for me biannually. It’s a long trip (2 planes minimum to be exact) and on rare occasion I have a transcontinental flight that doesn’t have movie screens so I put a few things in my iPad to be safe. I grabbed “El club de los incomprendidos” which billed itself as a cute coming of age film (check!) based in Spain (check!) who moves from a small town to La Latina with her mom (wait…what?!). It dawns on me ten minutes into the movie that not only is it a direct inspo from the Breakfast Club but also this bar, El Viajero, actually features prominently in the movie – it’s the restaurant that brings the protagonists to Madrid and the meeting place for the girl and her teenage friends, the “club”. Indeed it’s magical, the terrace on the top of this bar is lush and covered in twinkling lights, just like in reality.

So if you, like me, enjoy movies about daily life in other countries I highly recommend this (cheesy) flick about Valeria and her friends. And if you, like me, love eating good food and you find yourself in Spain you should try El Viajero cause it’s damn good (just don’t get the bravas…they’re overpriced). Or do both! And be that girl.

 

Networking at Leka Leka

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a networking event hosted by a group of internationals here in Madrid. It was at a very cute bar near my place and I roped in a friend to join me too, in short, a great Thursday after-work plan. My American friends and I often remark about how wonderful it is that in Spain that midweek get togethers are so common. So we celebrated juernes (thirsty thursday) and heard stories from some expats here about how they broke into the spanish job market.

I’ve been to a few “How to Make it in Spain” chats and they tend to veer towards similiar ends. Some folks went to graduate school here in Spain, giving them the insta-network you need to branch out, other folks were helped by their Spanish partners to make connections and others shared refreshingly independent paths to landing new jobs here. I was glad that I went and felt inspired to publish my own basic guide to breaking into the job market here!

Step 1: Humble yourself. Spain is a country with incredibly high unemployment rates and landing entry-level or junior positions is extremely hard, not impossible just hard. You will not make as much money at a desk job here as you could Stateside or even teaching English when starting out.

Step 2: Learn Spanish. Really.

Step 3: Polish your resume, look for a few great jobs you want and write cover letters for each one.

Step 4: If you get the interview, be prepared to conduct your interview in Spanish and answer personal questions. What are your long term plans here in Spain? Why did you study “insert your major here” and now you want to work in “job title that doesnt sound like your major”? Are you married? How old are you? Where do you live? You won’t discuss salary until you are signing paperwork, or unless your interviewer brings it up first, in which case they will usually ask you how much you’re looking to make.

Step 5: Never give up and stay connected to people in the sectors you want to be in. That’s easier said than done but nobody got a new job by waiting quietly in their current one. Be persistent and get out there!

 

Hope those are helpful tips. I casually omitted anything about making yourself legally hirable because everyone’s situation is different and that’s another topic all together! There are some great Spain bloggers out there who cover those topics like Young Adventures and Como .

 

Leka Leka is a cute-ass bar in Latina on a quiet little street. They have cold vermuth on tap and delicious little hamburger sliders. The menu del día is reasonably priced and very good; best of all they have a great indie rock playlist more often than not. Check it out and lemme know what you think!

Hello 2017!

A new year always seems like a fresh new start and, in the middle of winter something fresh could not come sooner. I went home for the holidays to Portland and was able to visit with friends and family, reconnect with that Wild Pacific and snowshoe through the cascades. I got some great grub and beer too – particularly amazing was this cask-aged Red Chair IPA from Deschutes Brewery (and the homemade pretzel ring) that I enjoyed with my sister on New Year’s Eve.

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So malty and smooth!

I went to the mountain with my good friend Mollee, saw the new Star Wars movie and other than that didn’t venture far from the fireplace. Miguel is in Madrid finishing exams and enjoying his new job, he thinks he might make it for Christmas with my family next year.

Alright the update is over! On the mind these days, dogs. I want one bad but can’t bring myself to stuff a pooch in an apartment that my things and I can barely fit in. Also I’ve decided to join a Bikram Yoga gym in Madrid to get back in shape! I’ve been doing yoga for almost ten years but never had the guts to try hot yoga (for all the obvious reasons, it would be smelly and uncomfortable) then my sister convinced Miguel and I to try it with her while we were visiting her and I was totally hooked! I felt like a rubber band when the class was over. Miguel however I think has vowed to never step foot in a yoga studio ever again. It was, admittedly his first class ever and hot yoga isn’t for everyone. As for me, balancing my schedule this winter with tons of work will prove to be as tough as staying on one foot for tree pose.

Some pictures from the break and fall:

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Flat Top Mountain in Washington as we drove down the Columbia Gorge.

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A beautiful and freezing moon view over a house near SE Hawthorne in Portland.

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Snowshoeing with friends on Mt. Hood in Oregon..I still can’t decide if I should bring my gear to Spain, life without a car is hard on your sense of adventure!

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Miguel in Seattle last September after a Mariner’s game.

Hiking the Sierra

When I get the chance to escape to the mountains I take it! Being in Madrid without a car can make that tough so when Miguel’s friends suggested La Pedriza last weekend we jumped on the chance to get some fresh air and a little adventure! It ended up being quite a lot of adventure when we lost the trail and came across boulders with no foot holds. Some of the more experienced hikers gave it a go but I played it safe and took the long route with my friend Maria. We all ended up at the same peak with spectacular views just in time for lunch!

 

At the end of the route, nestled in the mountains there’s a little bar that has snacks and drinks for hikers. La Sierra de Madrid is the perfect escape if you’re looking for fresh air and most trailheads are accessible by bus with a little walking. Don’t forget sunscreen and extra layers!

Life’s Lemons and Wine

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Spain is one of the world’s largest producers of wine, and best of all it’s the kind of wine that won’t break the bank. A great Rioja or Ribera del Duero here may run you 10 and in the States around $15. What could be an excellent gift or treat for yourself is actually a staple of the Spanish diet and there are plenty of typical dishes that include it to make any wino trade their bottle opener for an apron. On either side of wine producing there are even more traditional beverages: Orujo, a traditional liquor that’s made with wine by-products and Mosto, a fresh and non-alcoholic grape juice served with a skewered olive. For times when enjoying a hard drink just sounds like too much, a wine cooler can be just the thing you were missing. Add these simple combos to your mixology library and quickly become the coolest person at any party.

We’ll start with the world famous and narrow in to the lesser-known bebidas.

 

Sangria

One of Spain’s most popular exports, this is a wine and sugary lemon fizz drink. You know it’s good when it has a hint of cinnamon and lots of yummy drunk fruit. It’s simplified by many here for large parties and family gatherings to simply wine + lemon soda. This drink is, unfortunately not common outside of touristy areas and warmer months.

Tinto de Verano

The tinto is the wine and the verano is typically “Gaseosa”, a sweetened fizzy water. A Tinto de Verano can also be made with lemon soda (just like the “cheap” sangria above) just order to your liking. Lighter than Sangria this can be had at essentially any bar or restaurant, its ubiquitous and hard to get wrong!

Kalimotxo

Popular in North of Spain among all ages, this drink is a combination of wine and Coca Cola. It’s a funny combination that tastes almost savory; ordering this concoction in a classier place and you might get a little scoff – the Kalimotxo tends to be the drink that many adolescents go for at their first parties.

Rebujito

The lightest, sweetest and most “Southern” of the wine mixers is this combination of white wine (typically Reuda or Verdejo) and Sprite. It’s incredibly sweet and pairs great with salty crunchy tapas on a hot day.

In a glass

Of course, one of the best ways to enjoy Spanish wines is to just pop open a bottle and pour yourself a glass with no fussiness added. A wonderful, full bodied red or a light spritzy white tops off any meal or stands alone just fine.

Wine production here is taken very seriously but not so much so that it can’t also be enjoyed! Try these out at home and let me know what you think 🙂