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Bonnie Scotland

16 Mar

I finally managed to get the photos organized from our weekend trip to see a wee bit o’Scotland. Apologies to the Scots, but I was so happy to hear “wee” and “bonnie” often…although they’re not likely to make it into my normal vernacular, as I can’t say the words without giggling, I simply loved hearing them used.  We did hear some Gaelic spoken, but occasionally it was when someone spoke English with the strong Scottish brogue that I wished for wearable subtitles.   The Europcar man who took in our rental car at the end of the trip told us that the Lowlanders can hardly understand the Highlanders – how they preserve these regional accents is curious to me considering what a small country Scotland is and that the news media seems to be national. I hope they can keep those local identities – the culture and language are richer for those differences.

In a word, Scotland was incredible.  We were lucky with the weather, and since we opted to visit in the least-touristy time of year, the only issues we had were some of the distilleries that we might have visited on our road trip were closed on the weekends.  We had three days to amble from Aberdeen to Glasgow, a right-hand drive rental car to keep things exciting, our GPS to frustrate us, and a loose itinerary that required we make nightfall in both Inverness and Oban to use the free hotel stays I booked.  Our “loose” itinerary included mandatory stops at Loch Ness, as many castles as we could find, and two distilleries from different whisky regions (Highlands and Lowlands).  The rest of the time, we wandered!  The main goal of the trip was to enjoy some natural beauty, as a most of our other getaway weekends while being in Europe have been to learn about the old cities with their history and culture.

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We did learn a bit about Scottish culture by making an effort to learn about whisky. Scottish whisky is double-distilled (except for Auchentoshan, the lowlands distillery we visited), and depending on the region where it is made, takes on flavors from burning peat (e.g., Islay whiskies) or the barrels where it is aged (e.g., Auchentoshan whiskies).  The stills where the spirits are distilled are each a special shape, which apparently imparts something different into each whisky, as well.  We’ve really enjoyed getting to understand more about the “scotch” that until last September, neither one of us had been particularly interested in.  Now, Justin is particularly fond of Islay single-malt whiskies (which can be rather strong in terms of the peat-smoke taste that you almost feel like you just drank a campfire).

Justin and our wonderful tour guide at the Glen Garioch distillery are checking out the mash tun.

Justin and our wonderful tour guide at the Glen Garioch distillery are checking out the mash tun.

We stopped at Glen Garioch for a tour at 9:30am, when they opened, and the lovely woman in the shop blinked at us a few times as if trying to decide what kind of people we might be coming in so early…before whisking us around on a ‘wee tour and giving us a ‘wee tasting of their Highlands style single malts for free.  It was fabulous, and we were able to visit another distillery our last day to see a rather different way of making whisky.  We paid for the tour and tasting at the Auchentoshan distillery on our way back to the airport, and it was worth the price of entry, as the guide was extremely knowledgeable.  Those whiskies take more of their flavor from the casks and barrels where the spirit ages (either American bourbon casks or Spanish sherry wine barrels).  We’re learning to spend the time tasting the various flavors – and really, you need to, unless you are accustomed to gulping firewater.

Enjoying our wee tasting.

Enjoying our wee tasting.

Justin is demonstrating how to give yourself "monkeyshoulder" which is an actual condition that the whisky workers have after moving all of the wet barley around.

Justin is demonstrating how to give yourself “monkeyshoulder” which is an actual condition that the whisky workers have after moving all of the wet barley around.

We’ll be back.


Magic Kings

8 Jan

Somehow, another holiday season has come and gone…even in Spain, where the season lasts through the most important day for the children – el Día de los Reyes Magos on January 6th. This year’s el Día de los Reyes Magos was going to be a quiet one for us – we had just returned from a trip to the boat and were looking forward to a day at home that included going for a run, eating our Roscón de Reyes, and lots of reading.


Imagine our surprise when the Reyes Magos turned up – a true surprise – the house was a mess, and I was demonstrating yet another fashion faux pas with red knickers and black cycling socks!  Jokes aside, we were super happy to see our friends Begoña and Javier and quite overwhelmed with the goodies they brought to remind us of the fantastic foods in Spain.


The best gifts are those of great friends (but amazing organic Spanish cheese, jamón and a gran reserva from Rioja rate a distant but notable second!).


Ho ho ho!

2 Jan

Excuse our absence…we’ve been busy removing squeakers from our new toys.  Hopefully your holidays were merry and bright!

Stockings for doggies Jordan Haley


18 Dec

Happy holidays, Feliz Navidad and Merry Christmas!

Recently, I got to see Madrid’s own Christmastime public display that is put on each year by El Corte Inglés (a huge, overpriced department store that has almost everything – kind of like Wal-Mart, but classier…).  This display is at Corte Inglés de Preciados, downtown, and it is worth going to see everyone’s faces light up at the songs and the animation.  The show was about 15 minutes long.  I understood some of the lyrics (with help from my friend, Yani) and almost learned the refrain for the Cortylandia song, which is in the video below – catchy, isn’t it?

A tooth fairy named Pérez (or García)

3 Dec

At the age of thirty-something, I just found out that the tooth fairy was not who I thought she was!  Imagine my shock and surprise when I learned (SPOILER ALERT!) that the tooth fairy is not a dainty little ballerina fairy who exchanged the teeth that I lost as a child with quarters and dollar bills, but in fact….

…a MOUSE named Pérez!  Well, his name is Pérez if you are in Spain or South America, but apparently he goes by García in Mexico.

It turns out that children here in Madrid with a newly-plucked tooth have the option of:

  1. Placing the tooth under their pillow,
  2. Throwing the tooth onto the roof, or
  3. Bringing it to the museum of el Ratón Pérez (conveniently located on Calle Arenal, here in Madrid).

Lucky kids!  Similar to the deal we have with the tooth fairy in the States, el Ratoncito Pérez leaves money in exchange for the teeth.

I was incredulous when I learned about the story from my friend, Yani while eating churros and chocolate.  So incredulous, in fact, that since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to go check out the museum.  It turns out that it is a busy place – when we showed up, it was closed for a school visit (visions of 30 desperate kids wiggling their teeth the night before immediately came to mind).

The story behind el Ratoncito (the little mouse) Pérez is a nice history lesson.  Alfonso XIII was a king in Spain, and his father had died when he was young.  After young Alfonso XIII lost his first baby tooth (or in Spanish – diente de leche…a milk tooth), his mother asked a Jesuit priest to write a story to help calm the young king.  So, el Ratoncito Pérez was born in the imagination of the Jesuit priest, and after the priest told the young king the story of el Ratoncito Pérez, the little mouse paid a visit to the young king that night.  The tale also mentions that the little mouse lived at Calle Arenal, 8 (where the museum is today), in a metal box of cookies.  A great write-up about the story is on the Secretos de Madrid blog.


Outside the museum of El Ratón Pérez. Children can bring their teeth or their letters to drop off for el Ratoncito. I am curious to know what happens to the teeth!

And why el Ratón García comes to visit kids living in Mexico?  I have no idea yet, so stay tuned…

¡Feliz Thanksgiving – have a batata pie!

22 Nov

My favorite American holiday is Thanksgiving* – like last year, we are in Madrid for the holiday.  Last year, we celebrated at a Mexican restaurant here in Madrid who made a pretty good Thanksgiving dinner, but this year, we are super fortunate to get to spend time with some American friends who have invited us for dinner. Life is good.

In the spirit of the season, I thought it would be nice to make a pumpkin pie with the one can of organic pumpkin that we were sent from the US (this is a very special can, as I have not found canned pumpkin in Spain yet) for Justin to take into work to share a bit of Thanksgiving with his coworkers.  Last week, Justin thought so, too.  However, yesterday, he decided that maybe one pie would not be enough for his work.  I also realized that my kitchen arsenal was not properly equipped for pies, so in addition to improvising pumpkin, I improvised pans.

Luckily, I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to food – I want it to taste good, but it’s never going to make me cry if I can’t create something as beautiful as the cooks and chefs on HGTV.  In fact, I’d rather have a story to remember why things were a bit different (or so I tell myself).

So, he’s bringing in a pumpkin pie and a sweet potato pie.  I was able to find sweet potatoes (not the yellow garnets that my aunt always raves about, but “batatas“).  The pumpkin pie was cooked in a slightly too small shallow cake pan that my grandma gave me, and the sweet potato pie was cooked in an enormous, brand new silicone cake pan that caused the pie to swell up and engulf the crust during the baking.  They’re not perfect, but perfectly recognizable as pies – plus Justin has instructions to use the can of whipped cream ad libitum (or until his thumb gives out)!

Pumpkin pie with walnut streusel.

Sweet potato pie that I have renamed “batata pie”.

Since the pumpkin pie was cooked in too small a pan, I *HAD* to make a mini pie with the leftovers (and we quite happily ate it last night!).  Hopefully Justin’s coworkers enjoy them today.

Happy Thanksgiving!

* I am referring to the spirit of the holiday for giving thanks for family, friends, health, and the amazingness of life….I try not to think too much about the history of the US and colonization of an already occupied land (and everything that entailed), since that would be a bit of a downer…

45 hours in Paris

19 Nov

After watching the start of the Vendée Globe, we headed to Paris to see for ourselves if the city of light was all that and more.  We had a full day, plus a bit more before and after, for exploring.  I had downloaded a Rick Steves’ guide (thanks again, Tammy) through the Kindle app on our phones, and we had selected a few of the “must see” sights to commit to seeing.  The rest of the time was allotted to wandering and eating croissants, of course!

What we loved about Paris…

  • Musée d’Orsay – We both enjoyed the art (lots of impressionist and post-impressionist art) and spent our time really marveling at the talent, creativity and beauty inside the old train station.
  • Musée du LouvreAlthough we enjoyed seeing some of the “important” pieces of art at the museum, we had more fun joining in on the art…
  • Eiffel Tower – We planned to save some euros and climb the stairs up to the second level, where we would then take the elevator to the final 900 foot-tall viewing platform, but security closed the stairs access before we were able to purchase tickets (we had decided that we wanted to see the tower at night, with all of the lights, but apparently climbing at night is not allowed!).  So, we hopped on the diagonal elevator to the second level, and then took the normal elevator to the top.  The view was fantastic – maybe not totally worth the 28 euros total, but definitely not too bad!
  • Riding the Vélib bikes – Paris has a fantastic bike rental system, and we used the bikes every day we were in Paris.  The bikes were in good shape (without coaster brakes which tend to do their best to throw me, since I am used to being able to back pedal!).  There were lots of Parisians out and about, using these bikes, too – so great to see!  Unlike Madrid, the streets in Paris are much wider, so bike lanes are an easy addition to make.
  • Escargots – We Chris just loved the escargots (Justin was a sport and tried a snail, made faces, and ate the bread on the table instead while Chris polished off the rest).
  • French bread and croissants – We were told that the bread would be different, and until this trip to France, we had not noticed this.  Apparently lots of butter and a different kind of flour make a huge difference – bread was chewy, super-flavorful, and a terrible distraction for anyone trying to eat a more Paleo diet.

A few pictures of our trip are below…

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