Friday, December 14, 2012

December Apartment Makeover

Well, I guess we're already halfway through the month, but this blog has taken a lot of work to complete!

The weekend after Thanksgiving, Anna and I got right to Christmas decorating. Now, I love a good Christmas cookie baking session, some light decorating, and Christmas music once in awhile during this time of the year. [Sidenote: I can NOT stand Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas". Christmas DJs do not comprehend the term "moderation" when it comes to this song. I'm proud to say that so far this Christmas season I've managed to only hear this song once. May it stand as so!] As I was saying, I can get into the Christmas mood, to a certain extent. However, my spirit is pitiful in comparison to Anna's!!! She started playing her Christmas playlist as soon as we got home from Thanksgiving dinner, she's been going around the house singing Christmas carols, and she's hung Christmas ornaments and snowflakes all around her room. Hahaha so she has been a positive influence on my own Christmas spirit, and it's been quite fun to get back into the festive mood at a level I unfortunately haven't experienced since grade school :)

So, with that Christmas spirit in tow, we plowed through a local discount store to gather items suitable for our apartment decorating. The bulb ornaments pictured at the top of this blog made up a majority of our purchase, but my personal favorite selection of the day was undoubtedly these creepy Santa Claus ornaments. Clearly, at this point in the entry I have no choice but to display an irrationally large picture of this ornament.

These little guys made quite the fine addition to our tree, and I don't think the final product would be nearly as gorgeous without them!

Along with our Christmas Tree, Anna and I have been tirelessly creating hand-made snowflakes to further liven the mood of our apartment! But really. We've spent several hours total making dozens of them, and hanging them all over the apartment. This really may be what finally caused our 3rd room mate to leave the apartment. (hhahahahah just kidding, she left because our landlords are muy pesados and I'm finally starting to empathize with her but I will get to all of that later...) So in a sense our apartment underwent a bit of a makeover, and now that it's properly decorated I thought I would share some before and after photos!

BEFORE                                         AFTER

Living Room

Second view of the Living Room
The you will notice, there is no difference. Even with boatloads of Christmas spirit, there is nothing that can better the old-fashioned, tasteless kitchen,

My bedroom! I am super pleased with the result
Now, everyone who has seen what I've done to my room has complimented me on a job well done. Everyone, that is, except for the landlords. Rather than remarking about the the great space I've created, they have disapproved of my moving the furniture around, scolded me for hanging something on the wall that could take the paint off, and complained about fingerprints on my wall and the curtains getting wrinkled and dirty when I took them off (both of which only occurred because I had to have a friend come fix my blinds when the landlords took 3-4 weeks to respond to my problem). COULDN'T THEY HAVE JUST SAID "HEY CYNTHIA. THAT 'C' YOU MADE IS REAL NEAT. HAVE A NICE DAY."?? Man. If nothing else, this has taught me that I'm capable of arguing in Spanish, so that counts for something! Language improvement!

So I now only have one week left of work in 2012, and work has really been slowing down because all of my students have exams. What I'm most looking forward to at this point is an itty-bitty reunion with Alex, Jill, and Kevin 2 weeks from today in London where we'll celebrate my birthday, then we'll jet off to Barcelona for New Years celebrations with some wonderful french friends, and finally we'll explore Venice together!! I'm thinking this experience in and of itself will make up for my 5-week bedridden state last winter from ACL surgery, huh? :) :) :) :) :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How to Make a Pumpkin Pie Without Having Any of the Ingredients Readily Available

1.      Put a cup of water, flour, and pie pans in freezer beforehand. (The recipe stressed keeping everything cold for optimal results).
2.      Mix flour and sugar together. (We also ended up adding salt, and putting less sugar. I prefer savory crusts to contrast with the sweet pumpkin filling!) How did we measure the flour and sugar? Pure guesstimate. At first I was trying to be exact about it, trying to measure out the correct amount of tablespoons for 3 cups of flour...but after awhile I looked at my heaping pile of powder and thought "This is undoubtedly more than 3 cups already. I'll stop."
3.      Cut butter into flour mixture. This was difficult, as all I had to work with was a knife and fork. Measuring the butter also proved to be difficult. With the first crust, I tried to guess what a stick of American butter would look like, and just tossed that amount into the mixture. By the last pie we made, I looked up the equivalent online, only to find out that I had been using about 3/5 of the correct amount. Oops.
4.      Slowly add ice water to mixture until just before it forms a ball. Of all the appliances we have, apparently the freezer is the most potent. After only 20-30 min in the freezer, a 2-3 cup amount of water was frozen solid.
5.      Knead dough, put in fridge for half an hour.
6.      Roll out into circle form. We also do not have a rolling pin. We improvised with a can of beans, and you know what, I think the extra design on the crust is quite festive.
7.      Put into pie pan and crimp edges.As lovely as it looks now, the edges kept caving inward during the baking process, lost into the pie filling abyss.
8.      Freeze overnight.

Pie filling:
1.      Cut pumpkin/squash in half, and roast for 30-40 minutes, until soft.
2.      Once softened, scrape out insides and mash up. Prepare to be disappointed with your inability to make it look as smooth as Libby's Pumpkin Puree. Also, prepare to see puree not unlike the peach from the movie James and the Giant Peach.
3.      Mix puree with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Sugar? Easy. Cinnamon? Easy. Ginger? Had to scrounge around 4-5 stores before finding it…and not even ground ginger that we needed, but fresh ginger. So we ended up having to chop it up as finely as possible…which was difficult seeing as the biggest knife we owned was a steak knife. Also, we found whole cloves easy enough, but then had to try to grind them up using the back of a spoon or other hard objects. This pie was becoming quite labor intensive!
4.      Mix evaporated milk into dry ingredients. Mix mix mix mix mix because we don’t own a blender or food processor. Again, prepare for another wave of disappointment as your mix does not come out perfectly smooth.
5.      Pour into pie crust.
6.      Bake at an arbitrary temperature since your oven is temperamental and hope for the best. Check on it every 3 minutes to make sure the crust hasn't lost the battle to the filling. Turn it every 2 minutes.  

Why did we go through this process? Why did we sacrifice our blood, sweat, tears, and hours to this? FOR THE LOVE OF PUMPKIN PIE. And let me tell you, it was all worth it.

We made perhaps 6 or 7 pies over the course of 2 weeks, all of course leading up to having the perfect pie prepared for our Thanksgiving meal. After all that practice, we are kind of professionals. Despite the fact that the pie doesn't look exactly like the ones we made back in the U.S., the resulting pie still has a satisfyingly rich taste! But UGH I will never again take Libby’s Pumpkin for granted.

Our large lunch table at A Farixa
So as I said before, we brought one of our pies to the American Thanksgiving dinner. But I also brought 2 to a party the professors at A Farixa threw. They’d been planning this party for over a month, with the star of the party being cocido, a food very typical of Galicia. The way they described it to me, it sounded like a hearty soup with lots of vegetables and many parts of a pig. ALL parts of a pig. In reality, the focal point of the cocido is the pig itself, which is just flavored by the accompanying vegetables and broth. Apart from cocido, they told me there would also be a dessert called bica, also typical of Galicia. They warned me that it was extremely sweet... Clearly, my co-workers do not yet know my dessert eating habits on an intimate level. I felt no fear in trying this new dessert!

So the party was to be held the Thursday of Thanksgiving, right after the classes let out at 14:30. I had no classes that particular day, so I came in to watch and help out in the kitchen. I thought for sure they wouldn’t entrust the American with any work, but I found myself opening chestnuts for maybe an hour straight. Before you roast chestnuts, it’s  necessary to make a little opening in each one otherwise they will explode from the heat. So me and another professor, armed with peeling knifes, went to work on 4 boxes filled with chestnuts. Afterwards, I took a little tour of the kitchen to see all the different meats being cooked up. And then, I happened upon this tray of meat…
Sliced Pig Ears
…PIG EARS. WE MEET AGAIN. Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly detest the sight of them more, I witnessed the cook flop large ears onto a cutting board, one by one, and slice them thinly before tossing them onto the tray where they wriggled a bit before settling into position. When we finally all sat down to eat, I couldn’t help but notice how quickly the professors pounced on the ears. Meanwhile I stuck to legs and other more common parts of the pig. The food was AWESOME. Along with the meat and chorizo, there was a cabbage/potato slaw, garbanzo beans, and of course scrumptious bread. 

Then came the licor café and bica! The bica was great, although I noted a strong resemblance it had to standard pound cake. Very dense, sweet, and delicious. Certainly a very sweet dessert for a traditional Spanish diet, but nothing that shocked my taste buds. This cake was paired with  licor café, which is supposedly a digestive liqueur consisting primarily of coffee and aguardiente. It’s very common in Galicia, and I had tasted it before, but this kind was particularly strong. One professor had me try dipping the bica into the  licor café, which reminded me quite a bit of tiramisu with the sweet cake/liqueur combo. Along with these desserts, we broke out the 2 pumpkin pies I had made. While a couple of the professors were hesitant to try it, most of them loved it, and some even asked me for the recipe. I also got 2 rounds of applause for making and bringing it haha, but I’m sure some of the gratitude was amplified by the countless bottles of wine and chupitos of liquor café consumed. After some digesting, one professor broke out DJ equipment, and a dance party complemented by gin and tonics ensued. It was a very fun night and very entertaining to see the people I work with in a more relaxed and fun atmosphere!

The very next day we had our big American Thanksgiving dinner at an apartment where 4 other Auxiliares live. There was so much food there…it really was a proper Thanksgiving. There was a delicious homemade hummus and deviled eggs as an appetizer, and then the main course included mashed potatoes, corn, green been casserole, macaroni and cheese, two different kinds of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and of course TURKEY. I was astonished at how successful everyone had been in making traditional American dishes using Spanish food. Of course some people had to make special trips to bigger grocery stores, or happened to have traveled to a bigger city in Spain where international products are readily available, but regardless, the results were fantastic. Oh man I’ve never consumed Thanksgiving food so quickly. While we digested a bit, everyone went around and shared what they were thankful for, which was unbelievably cute. I shared that I was thankful for the kindness of everyone I'd met in Ourense thus far, in particular the people at A Farixa who could not be more welcoming, and then I was also thankful for pie. For dessert we had pumpkin, apple, and chocolate pie, and so of course I sampled them all. I do believe I did Thanksgiving right, if I may say so myself, in the sense that I ate until I felt sickly, and soon after went to sleep. It was a good holiday :)

Happy Thanksgiving!