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.

Museo

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…

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¡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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Paris – a tour of cars?

18 Nov

Paris must be full of wealthy people.  I guess rich people from all over the world do choose to live in Paris, so maybe this isn’t so surprising, but I have never seen such a concentration of exotic cars out on the road in my life.  I’ve never been to Monaco, maybe there it is even more extreme.  Anyway, in our short two day visit we saw several Ferrari’s, including this Mondial that was for sale on a street corner.

We saw two Lamborghini’s, including one that you could rent for 20 minutes for “only” 85 euros.

There were more 911’s than you could shake a stick at, this over the top AMG Mercedes,

and these TWO Bentley’s parked next to each other.

Right next to our hotel was the Telsa dealership.  This fully electric car can go from 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds!  Only 95k euros.

For the commoners, if you walked the Champs-Élysées, you could visit the “local” Renault, Citroen, and Peugot dealerships with their exotic and not so exotic offerings.

We preferred to stick with the bikes.  Paris has a very sophisticated bike rental program where you can pick up and drop off the bikes at different locations all over the city, and the first 30 minutes is free.

Francesinha (or gravy on our pizza)

8 Nov

We were in Porto (or technically, Gaia) recently on our boat, and we never miss the opportunity to eat stupidly good pizza at the local pizza place, no more than a stone’s throw from the boat.  This time, we opted to order one of the specialities – “Francesinha da Forneria”.  We had noticed that most people order a calzone that had a brown sauce, and after asking the waitress (in Spanish…our Portuguese leaves a lot to be desired!) about the dish, we decided to go for it.

When the expected calzone showed up, complete with brown sauce, we really had no idea what to expect – but it turned out to be a carnivore’s dream.  The gravy was tasty, although I think I would need to feel anemic before attempting to eat that much meat again.

Francesinha da Forneria.  Lots of meat in the dough, covered with cheese and gravy.

Curiously, the pizza that Justin normally orders ALSO came with the interesting gravy, and it wasn’t too bad, surprisingly!  Different…

An unexpected touch. This pizza does not normally come with gravy, but perhaps we looked a bit ambitious?

After a bit of searching on the internet, it turns out that “Franceshinha” means “little Frenchie” and refers to meaty sandwiches served with cheese and beer gravy on top – see more information here.  It’s typical of the Porto/Gaia region of Portugal, and we can attest to its popularity with the rest of the restaurant patrons.

Another adventure in eating!

Spain Road Trip 3

2 Nov

The last part of a whirlwind trip through Andalucía and back into Madrid…

Tammy and I finished off our day touring the white hill towns in Granada.  As is the norm with Granada (at least for us), it took an extra 90 minutes or so to find the hotel, and I fully expect to get at least one friendly letter from the city asking me to send them money since I was probably driving where I was not supposed to.  But…we found the hotel, checked in, and then headed out to find some of the really good tapas that Granada is famous for.  We ended up finding place #1 – a gritty bar that I insisted we try since there looked to be “real” people inside – the tapa was some potato chips alongside a few pieces of cheese drizzled with olive oil (this tapa became known as “the oily cheese”).  We left.  Tammy chose place #2 – a swanky wine bar that took a while for the tapas to show…but it was definitely worth it – the two of us (mostly vegetarians) each gobbled up a mini hamburger with fancy sauce and swilled our delicious wine.  Pretty soon, we had decided we needed to see what the next tapa might be, so we ordered another glass of wine and were rewarded with a pretty little open-faced sandwich with pork and a green pepper….just as tasty!  We were convinced that the food would be excellent and opted to order a great rare tuna salad.  The place was a find – Puerta del Carmen.

The next day, we toured the Alhambra – the third time I had been, but the first time I was actually able to tour the palaces.  It was lovely, to say the least.  After our tour, we made our way back to our hotel to fetch the car.  Getting out of Granada was even more of an adventure than getting to the hotel – I think I was driving on sidewalks, while Tammy tried to hide under her seat.  But – we made it out of the city, somehow, and we drove back to Sevilla to return the rental car and hop the AVE back to Madrid.

Back in Madrid, Justin got to play tourist with us, so we visited a few museums, went spelunking for lunch in El Molar, and did a lot more eating and drinking…to show Tammy what we’ve learned about Spain!

It was a super visit.

Spain Road Trip 2

30 Oct

After a day and a half in Sevilla, Tammy and I rented a car to drive to Granada, via some of the white hill towns of Andalucía.  At the rental car place, the guy mentioned to me that I really should have my international driver’s permit on me when driving – this was something I had inadvertently left behind.  Both Justin and I have one, but in the last 15 months, we have never been told to have this or asked for this – so we had assumed it was a scheme by the local AAA back in Austin to make a little pocket change!  However, apparently not, as Tammy found in Rick Steve’s guide that technically, all drivers should carry one, in case they are stopped by an official, but it is not required to get a rental car.  Alright then.

We headed towards our first stop – Arcos de la Frontera, after putting the name of the town into the GPS and hitting “Go!”.  We soon found ourselves driving on what Rick called, “a dangerous, narrow road full of curves”.  It was, but we saw perhaps 2 other vehicles and were treated to some fantastic scenery (well, I was mostly trying to keep the car on the narrow road).  The route probably took a bit longer than the suggested toll route, but paid off in a “road less traveled” sort of way.

Our first destination: Arcos de la Frontera, where we wandered the streets, found an artist’s workshop, and bought some more nun cookies!

Winding up for our walking tour with Rick Steves in Arcos de la Frontera.

Magnificent entryway for the Church of Santa Maria.

At the Church of Santa Maria in Arcos, we learned about an old design in the rocks in front of the building where to this day, some people still do exorcisms!

Driving in Arcos de la Frontera was not for the typical American car, unless you wanted to bring home some authentic Spanish rock gouges.

Here is the window where you ring a bell to buy cookies from the cloistered nuns. Unlike Seville, we had to do the negotiation and selection of cookies with a real-life sister.

After successfully buying cookies through the convent turn-table, we had to go sample them!

We stopped by the workshop of Señor Andres Oviedo Vidal and enjoyed perusing his tile work (he did tell me I could take the picture, although it doesn’t quite seem so, does it?).

The view from the tiny city center in Arcos de la Frontera.

We continued on, and after stopping by a farm where we bought olive oil and some wine that *hopefully* will be good (we did not get to taste it, and since I have very little experience as a translator, I somehow agreed that we would go ahead and buy some of the wine…oops), we found ourselves in Zahara de la Sierra.  The town was spectacular, perched in the mountains overlooking a reservoir.  We started a short hike up to the very top of the mountain to an old watchtower, but our stomachs got the best of us when we realized it would be a 30-45 minute effort…and decided to find lunch instead.

In Zahara, there is a reservoir off to one direction, and then the city in the hills nestled in with old buildings off to another direction.

After we climbed up to Zahara, we were rewarded with a lovely view of a nearby reservoir.

Sopa de tomate…this was not what we expected tomato soup to be, but it was delicious!

After lunch, which starred two delicious surprises (carrots with pesto and a bread salad dish that had been named “sopa de tomate”), we took off down the mountain to find Granada…

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