Saturday, December 28, 2013

American Christmas vs. Spanish Christmas

The Christmas season is my favorite time of the year. I love the cold weather, the decorations and the general happy feeling everyone has. I have been lucky enough to be able to spend Christmas in 3 different countries. My first year abroad I was in Bologna, Italy and last year I was in Bethlehem, Palestine. Both very different and very enjoyable! This year, I decided it was time I spent my favorite holiday with my own family. Since I haven't been home in such a long time it made me start to really look at the differences between Spain and the US in regards to Christmas.

My family and me, together after many years apart!


One of my family’s traditions is going to look at Christmas lights. There is a house close to mine in Colorado that has SO many decorations outside. Dolls, lights, trains, music. Literally, their entire yard is covered with lights and moving pieces. Just driving around you can see some incredible house decorations. And what would Christmas be without the tree? Everyone here has a tree that they decorate. We have always had a live one which adds a great smell to the room!

Our tree in Colorado
A house in our neighborhood
A very decorated house
Decorations in Spain, while very pretty, don’t compare to decorations in the US. The center of every city is nicely decorated and often has a tree. Some of the side streets might have lights as well. But, people generally don’t decorate the outside of their houses. Inside decorations are different, too. The most popular decoration in Spain is a nativity scene. Months before the holiday season the stores fill with little parts to build your belen. Some of them are really intricate and include a real river! The trees are not as important here.

The center in Valencia
In Valencia
A nativity scene in my school in Almeria


This is a big part for both countries. In the United States people usually have a huge meal on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day resembling Thanksgiving. Typically, it is a turkey or a ham. One of my favorite things to do around this holiday is bake A LOT and decorate cookies. I think this is why people generally gain a lot of weight during the holidays. Winking smile

Yummy cookies
The holiday food in Spain is not that different than the US. Turkeys are becoming more popular, so a lot of people eat turkey dinners. My favorite part is the sweets! Starting mid November the grocery stores clear their shelves for the holiday treats. Polvorones, a sweet crumbly almond cookie and turron de almendras, a hard or soft nougat with marcona almonds are my favorite. (Click the links for recipes). The king’s cake is also a really fun and delicious part of Christmas in Spain.


Turron de almendras
Bringer of the presents:

Weird title I know. But, it was the easiest way to explain the difference. Everyone knows it’s all about Santa in the US. Kids start making lists for him early in the year. All the decorations include a Santa and lots of arts and crafts are about him.

This is starting to change a little in Spain. But, for them the Reyes Magos (The Three Wise men) bring the presents! Working in the elementary school in Almeria was always fun to go back after winter break and hear what different gifts the kids got from which king. This is also an added bonus for an American expat, because the Christmas break doesn’t end until after 3 King’s Day!

So, who is the winner? Maybe it’s because I grew up in the US, but I am going to have to stick with my mother land on this one. I just love the whole atmosphere of Christmas in the US a lot better than Spain. But of course you be the judge.

Monday, December 16, 2013

It's Contest Time!

Hello! Remember my post about being interviewed for ExpatBlog? Well, they are having a contest now. And I need your help to win!

Here's my entry, just read it and leave a comment of at least 10 words (on the contest page, not here for it to count) and then confirm your email (it will not sign you up for any email lists, don't worry!) That's it! Also, if you would like to share the link on your social media I would be very grateful!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Super Expat Thanksgiving

When I was growing up Thanksgiving was never a holiday I really understood why people got excited for. My family is full of good cooks, so we had gourmet meals practically every day. So, for us Thanksgiving was just a day to eat dinner at 3pm and in the dining room instead of the kitchen.

My feelings on Thanksgiving took a 180 turn once I moved abroad. Suddenly, I was very excited to share this American holiday with all my new friends! I have been lucky enough to be able to celebrate my 3 years here with people from all over the world. Here is the story of my first Spanish Thanksgiving 2 years ago, a very eclectic mix of food. Last year was a small celebration with my good friend, Roisin, who was visiting from England.

My vegetarian Thanksgiving with Roisin
This year I wanted to make Thanksgiving as traditional as possible. Since we don’t have a break here, we had to celebrate the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I spent the week preparing the menu and gathering the ingredients. Going off tradition, I didn’t get a turkey because I didn’t order it in time (oops!) So, we ended up with 2 chickens instead. The funny thing about poultry here, is it isn't as clean as it would be in the US. Sometimes there are still big feathers in the skin and little feathers that need to be burned off. Friday night, I went through each bird with a pair of pliers to take out the rest of the big feathers. Then, to get the small feathers off, Mo made a blow torch with the stove. I was a little worried we would explode, but it all worked out in the end. Winking smile


Saturday morning I woke up early to start preparing everything. First thing to hit the oven was a pumpkin pie made from homemade pumpkin puree (actually a butternut squash.) Thanks to King Arthur Flour for the amazing recipe.

Beautiful color!
Mashed potatoes are my specialty, and something I always have been in charge of for Thanksgiving back home. I FINALLY found “my” secret ingredient (I stole the idea from my mom, who has been nice enough to let me claim it as my own. Thanks mom!) so I was very excited to be able to make the perfect potatoes. I forgot how much time they take to peel! Well worth the time though.


After the potatoes were done I started on the stuffings. There were two vegetarians at the meal so I made one for the chickens and one with a watered down cream of mushroom soup for the base. Man, it turned out good! The stuffings were both flavored with rosemary, thyme and sage. We were very lucky to have some dried sage in the house all the way from Palestine! Although sage grows in the mountains near Valencia, I have, unfortunately, never seen it in the stores here.


After all those dishes were done, I took a quick nap and went out for a coffee to try to get ride of a headache that was bothering me all day. A side effect of some antibiotics for strep throat. Sad smile

When I was ready for the kitchen again, my roommate was finally awake to help me with the chickens. To keep with the flavors of the stuffing we made a butter, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme and dried sage rub for under the skin of the chickens. We had a little too much fun listening to Christmas carols and dancing with the chickens while they were sitting on beer cans to let the rest of the blood drain.

Notice the green twine....
A few hours before our guests arrived we finished the stuffing the chickens. I realized then that we didn’t have any butchers twine! Luckily, she had some string from a craft project that worked just fine. It was colored though, so the only thing that was going through my head while we were tying the legs together was the scene from the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary where she uses blue Christmas ribbon to tie some herbs for a soup and the soup comes out blue! Luckily, our chickens came out a perfect toasty brown color and not green.

The spread!
The desserts! Homemade pumpkin and apple pies
This was probably my favorite of all the Thanksgivings I have had here. It was full of great people and great food. Did I mention we had 4 countries represented?? Talk about a true expat party!

American, Palestinian, Egyptian, Spanish, American, American. A very international Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Recipe: Can-Free Pumpkin Puree

Thanksgiving season is one of the most difficult times for an American abroad. Traditional foods that are easy to find and inexpensive back home are non existent or very expensive abroad. I have been lucky enough to make Thanksgiving work all three years I’ve been in Spain (here is the story about my first year).

Pumpkin is one of my favorite foods to use during this time of the year. I love making pumpkin breads, sweets, soups and pies of course! The problem with this in Spain, is that canned pumpkin doesn’t exist. However, pumpkin puree is INCREDIBLY easy to make.

This year, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a real pumpkin! But, this recipe (and all recipes calling for pumpkin puree) can be made with butternut squash. In fact, most canned pumpkin brands are actually made from butternut squash!

My pumpkin


1 pie pumpkin* or butternut squash
*Normal carving pumpkins (the big ones) are not good for this, you should look for the small ones that come with a sticker saying pie pumpkin or sweet pumpkin.

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit or 200 degrees Celsius
  • Cut the pumpkin or squash in half
  • Clean out the seeds and pulp (Save the seeds to roast if you want!)
  • Put the Pumpkin or Squash skin side up on the baking sheet
  • Bake for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size. It is done with the meat can easily be smashed with a fork
  • Scoop out the meat and throw away the skins
The puree can be kept in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for a month.

All clean and ready for the oven

Now you are ready to use your homemade puree for whatever recipe you want! See, so much easier than using the can! Stay tuned for a Pumpkin Pie recipe!

All finished and smelling delicious!

Nice and squishy. Ready for any recipe!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tourist in My Own City: Mercado Central

As many of you may know, one of my favorite things to do is go to the city food markets and window shop. Most Mondays and Wednesdays after my Arabic class, I will go to Valencia’s Mercado Central to wander around and get some inspiration for meals for the week.



This market is right in the center of the city, just a few minutes walk from the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. It is a huge building with a lot of space to walk around in. So, instead of fighting through huge crowds, like in Barcelona’s La Boqueria, you can actually take your time and enjoy looking at all the delicious food. The market is divided into two parts. The meat and vegetables are in the front and all the fish and seafood are in the back.



Right in the middle of the market is a big open space. Look up when you get here and you will see a beautifully painted dome which reaches up 30 meters. This open space is sometimes used for events. Even Spain’s first season of Master Chef has filmed here!


Top Chef
This market has a long history similar to La Boqueria. It began as an outdoor traveling market, in 1839 it became a permanent market called Mercado Nuevo (New Market). Some years later, it started to become too small for the expanding city. After seeing many architectural plans for a building the government decided on a design form architects Alejandro Soler March and Francisco Guardia Vial. Construction began in 1910 and finished in 1928. King Alfonso XIII was the leader at the ground breaking ceremony.



Both tourists and locals frequent this market every day. It is one of the highlights of a trip to Valencia! But, make sure you go in the morning. It is open Monday to Saturday from 8:00-2:30. But most of the stalls start packing up around 2.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Expats Blog Interview

Hello friends!

I recently did an interview with a great website for expats called ExpatsBlog.

Check it out and let me know what you think! Click Here

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween and All Saints Day

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!! Or All Saints Day since I am technically a day late. Smile Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays growing up. I love to make my own costumes and go out with friends. And of course CANDY!


In Spain, Halloween is not as big as it is in the states, but it is gaining popularity. I remember my first year in Almeria celebrating with the kids being very surprised that no one was dressed as a princess or an astronaut or anything that wasn’t covered in blood. They take their scary costumes very seriously here!

This is me and one of my first grade classes in Campohermoso on Halloween!
This year in my School we had a pretty traditional Halloween for the kids. They all dressed up, played games, went trick-or-treating, and even were able to carve pumpkins! Which are relatively hard to come by here in Spain. It was very funny how grossed out they got trying to take the seeds out of the pumpkins. None of them were excited about having to use their hands. That was always one of my favorite parts! I was smart enough to sneak in a plastic bag to take some seeds home to roast.

My 4 and 5 year olds (Cell phone pic, sorry!)
Love her face! So excited to have her hand in a pumpkin

At night the young people do what they do in the US. Go out to the center and hang out. The kids still trick-or treat. They can stay out as late as they want because November 1st is a national holiday!
Being a Catholic country, the Saints are very important here. Each one has their own day and people receive gifts when it is their Saint’s day. It’s almost more important than birthdays! So, All Saints Day is obviously the most important.

 This day is surprisingly low key for Spain, which is known for it’s big festivals. Today is all about honoring and remembering departed loved ones. All the city cemeteries are open and families gather there to decorate and leave flowers on the graves. Walking though the city this morning the only stores that were open were the flower shops and they were very crowded with people buying huge flower displays.
After visiting the cemeteries and maybe staying for the masses that are performed throughout the day the families spend the rest of the day together. Of course there is food involved! Since it is finally fall weather (at least here in Valencia), roasted chestnuts are a very common snack today. Also, a sweet with a strange name is popular. Huesos de Santos, literally called Saint’s bones, are a marzipan tube filled with a sweet egg yolk custard. They are delicious, as long as you don’t think about what they are actually called.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tourist in My Own City: Día de la Comunidad Valenciana

Every autonomous community in Spain has it’s own special day to celebrate its history. After celebrating for 2 years in Andalucía (and finally memorizing the song!), I was excited for Nou d'Octubre (October 9th) and experiencing The Day of the Valencian Community.

The 9th of October is one of the most important holidays in Valencia. There is lots of preparation and excitement in the weeks surrounding this festival. Bakeries decorate their windows with beautiful marzipan figures in the form of all different types of food. Traditionally these sweets are wrapped in a silk scarf and given as gifts to and from people in love.

This history of this day is not just important in the Valencian Community, but also in the history of Spain. In 1238, King James I of Aragon liberated Valencia from more than 500 years of Moorish rule. He named the newly liberated land the Kingdom of Valencia and has since become one of Valencia’s most important historical figures.

The festival officially starts on the night of October 8th, with outdoor concerts in the Turia Gardens and an amazing fireworks display near the Aragon metro station also in the Turia Gardens. In my opinion, Valencia has some of the best (and loudest!) fireworks displays in the world.

On the morning of October 9th the festivities start outside the Ayuntamiento (City Hall) with the lowering of the Valencian flag to street level. Once the flag is lowered a procession begins through the city ending at the statue of King James where flowers are placed at the base. The flag is brought back to the Ayuntamiento and is welcomed with another fireworks display (Mascletà).

File:Baixada Senyera Coronada 9 d'octubre.jpg

Later in the day, in the Plaza de la Virgen there is traditional dance and music. Around 100 men and women in traditional dress dance all while playing castanets. A band playing traditional songs accompanies them. It’s really cool to see and hear.

After that, another procession passes through the old part of the city ending at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. If you want to read the history of this procession, check out my post on Godella's Moros y Cristianos.