Madrid food tour

As I mentioned in the last post, food tours are a really cool way to learn about a city and a culture while ALSO eating too much. Most of them are active, though, so you have an excuse.

Our first stop was El Riojano for this little cake and a cup full of chocolate. You are supposed to dip the cake and then drink the rest of the chocolate. I could not bring myself to drink the chocolate as it seemed too early in the morning to be that rude.

a little cake and a teacup full of chocolate on a white plate that reads "El Riojano"

Our second stop was a complete failure in terms of food but interesting in terms of the city. This is the secret cookie shop. Unfortunately, the sign on the door reads “Hoy no hay dulces” (“Today there are no sweets”). This is a convent and the nuns make a bit of extra cash by making cookies. However, they are not always open, and we had unfortunate timing. Still, interesting stop. You are not allowed to SEE the nuns, which makes buying cookies a small challenge, but the nuns have it figured out. Or so our guide told us, as we didn’t get to witness it.

A brown door. There is a small white paper sign on the door and a portrait of Jesus above. A security camera looks down from the left.

Next was Los Ferreros, the oldest grocery store in Madrid. It’s been in operation since 1892. The current proprietor is the descendant of the original. We had some delicious cheeses on top of a sort of cracker. We had a moment of unpleasantness – one of the others on the tour decided that the proprietor was riding the coattails of his ancestors and the location and wasn’t really deserving of his continued operation. This was the most embarrassed by American tourists I was during this trip. Luckily the antagonist aggressively spoke no Spanish, the proprietor either didn’t speak English or didn’t listen, and our tour guide softened the challenge when she translated. I had been a little worried when we started the tour as the antagonist had two young boys, maybe 9 and 11? I was worried they would be disruptive but they not only were not disruptive, they were eager to try the food and chatted with the tour guide. It’s too bad their father didn’t take after them.

A small storefront with a sign above reading "Los Ferreros". The windows of the store are full

Spain doesn’t really do street food, and depsite our tour guide insisting that this was the ONE street food they do, I’m not convinced. We stopped at Cerveceria la Campana (C. de Botoneras, 6, Centro, 28012 Madrid, Spain) for a calamari sandwich. It has some aspects of street food – a fried thing in bread – but no one but us was eating on the street. The place was busy with people sitting down, and when we ate, it was clear why – it’s really difficult to eat an overstuffed sandwich when you don’t have a plate. The sandwich was just ok – it was hard to apply the garlic mayo BECAUSE I DIDN’T HAVE A PLATE and without it, I thought the sandwich was under-seasoned. Nevertheless, it’s tough to go wrong with fried seafood.

A closeup of a hand holding a sub roll overflowing with fried calamari

I will preface this by saying I HATE olives. Hate them. There are very few foods that I hate, and olives are probably the top of the list. But I bravely persevered through our olive tasting. We visited La Queseria de Anton Martin. First was the olive for people who don’t like olives. I didn’t like them. Then I tried another olive that’s supposed to be less olive-y than some, and I didn’t like that either. I stopped there – I gave an honest effort, and this didn’t change my mind about olives.

Next we had anchovies over potato chips. This was much better. Spanish anchovies aren’t the crispy salt-bombs you may be familiar with – it’s a larger piece of fish and prepared by pickling. It’s pretty mild. They served them over a pile of potato chips, kind of like a cheese-less nacho, and they were really nice.

We finished with a vermouth. I have always thought of vermouth as something you put near a glass of gin so you can call it a martini, but drinking it with an orange peel over ice is not unpleasant.

The counter at La Queseria, full of cheese and olive oil and many other products

Next stop – Moega empanadas (C. del León, 26, Centro, 28014 Madrid, Spain). These were not a traditional empanada as I’m used to, but they were quite good. The dough was more like a bread. Maybe that’s Spanish and I’m used to Latin American? No matter, because the chorizo and cheese was delightful.

A closeup of a hand holding an empanada filled with meat and cheese. Blurred in the background is a serving platter with more empanadas

We went to Taberna de la Elisa for croquetas and wine. I used the restroom here and ran into a problem that seems common in Spain – the bathroom lights are on timers, and the timer is set for a time much shorter than your average bathroom break. Two or three times on this trip I was in the restroom and the lights went out, leaving me in a strange place, pitch dark. I survived. The croquetas and wine were very nice, but I didn’t get a photo record.

Our final stop was Estela Hojaldre for dessert pastry. I didn’t catch what it was called, but it was about 1,000 layers of flaky pastry with a custard in the middle. It was, again, not something easy to eat without a table and a plate, but the flavor was excellent and I am a big fan of the texture. Soft custard with layers and layers of crunchy, flaky crust in between. I made a mess of my shirt but it was totally worth it.

I would absolutely do another food tour sponsored by Devour Tours. Our guide was great. She and the other guide had to pivot last minute because there was a group of maybe 12 split across the two tour guides – they switched it up so the large group could go togehter and all of us (me, two couples, and a family of four) shared a tour.

Again, I highly recommend a food tour when you’re in a strange city. You have instant friends. You learn about the local food and culture. And you’ll be well-fed. You can’t go wrong.

Food in Spain

I recently had the opportunity to spend about a week in Madrid and Barcelona, and in that time I ate a lot of food. I was there to retrieve the older child after her two week student exchange program. I arrived in Madrid Monday morning, March 18. I picked her up Wednesday (at 4am before the rest of her trip left for the airport, the things we do for our children).

That first day I was tired and unable to check in to the hotel until 3pm, but I could at least drop my bags. I headed to the Reina Sofia, which may be considered the Prado’s little sister museum, but it’s fantastic. This is the first time I’ve been to 1) a foreign country and 2) a museum all on my own. It was fun, I recommend it, though I was happy to have company later in the week.

After the museum, I wandered for a bit, looking for some food. I ended up at La Buga del Lobo (C. de Argumosa, 11, Centro, 28012 Madrid, Spain). This was the first time I expereinced the wonderful Spanish tradition where if you just order a beer, they bring you snacks. This time it was just a little snack mix, but I was starving and it was salty. I ordered the degustacion de croquetas, which is a plate of all three types of croquetas they serve. This was my first opportunity to try out my rusty and very limited Spanish. I wanted to know if what I was ordering was appropriate for one person or if I was about to get a mound of croquetas. I wasn’t honestly sure what a croqueta was at this point. I managed to express myself effectively enough that she was able to answer, and I was able to understand her answer. This was one of my most successful interactions with anyone in Spanish during the whole trip and I was quite pleased with myself.

Six croquetas on a white plate on top of a colorful tablecloth

If you haven’t bothered to click through to read what a croqueta is, they are essentially a béchamel sauce, breaded and fried. They are delightful, and I recommend them unless you have food texture issues. I wouldn’t mind a little more structure to the béchamel, but the flavors were really nice.

That night I ate dinner at the Hotel Catalonia Atocha where I was staying. It was pleasant but the food was sort of boring. The wine was really nice, and I had a chat with the server about wine, and how the Spanish wine is excellent and inexpensive and wine back in the DC area is not quite so excellent. People in Madrid were much more willing to speak with me in Spanish than people in Barcelona were. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to dig in to what this says about each city (hint: it says nothing, it’s just a small anecdote from someone who speaks a little bit of Spanish, poorly).

Day two was my Madrid food tour, which deserves its own post (link to come once I write the post). I really like doing food tours when traveling to other cities. It’s a great way to see a bit of the city you might not otherwise and you’re bound to learn a little bit about local culture and tradition. And the food, of course. It’s also a nice way to have some company in a strange place if you aren’t the type to just make friends with strangers. This was my second European food tour that had a couple from Belgium on it, so I could talk about how my last name is Belgian, brought over to the UK in the early 1600’s by my 10th or so gre

After the food tour I took a nap and then went to the Prado. At my food tour guide’s suggestion, I started in the basement with Goya’s Pinturas Negras, which are fascinating and a bit out of the ordinary for the museum.

I had seen a brewery pop up on Google Maps at some point (La Osita, C. de la Cava Baja, 10, Centro, 28005 Madrid, Spain), and I had to try it out, knowing that it would be less of a traditional Spanish experience, but not caring. Turns out literally everyone there, customers and staff, spoke English. I briefly chatted with an American who was thinking of moving to DC when his girlfriend was finished her degree in Madrid. Small world.

A beer in a pint glass on a bar in front of a row of beer cans. There is also a small plate of bread and meat

Here I got another little snack with my beer – bread and some kind of meat. This is a custom that we could adopt here in the US, just putting that out there. The beer was good if you like American-style IPAs, which I do. I can tell myself that I wanted to get the Spanish take on an American style, but really it’s just that’s what I like to drink. I tell myself that it’s not at all like the stereotype of Americans traveling the world to complain how you can’t get a decent hamburger.

One last Madrid snack with drink at Bar Benteveo (C. de Sta. Isabel, 15, Centro, 28012 Madrid, Spain). Bread with something like hummus but it probably had meat in it.

A glass of wine on a red bar top with a small plate containing a piece of bread with a spread on top

And my dinner – a lomito (pork) sandwich with chips. I don’t know if I’m supposed to have sharper teeth or something but this was a little hard to eat. I kept getting more meat in a single bite than I was really prepared for. But it was quite good. You can get this with an egg on top as well – that sounded great but a little more than I was looking for at that point. Maybe next time.

A glass of wine on a red bar top next to a plate containing a meat sandwich and a small cup of chips

Next – food tour!

A little weekend getaway

Originally uploaded by thetejon

The wife had the brilliant idea of heading out on our 84th babymoon before this kid finally arrives. Not that it hasn’t traveled enough in utero – it’s been to San Fransisco, NYC, Paris, LA, Boston, Las Vegas, Nashville, three MLB stadiums, an NBA finals game . . . And now it’s been to a nice little bed and breakfast near Charles Town, WV. Our first stop was Harpers Ferry. We wandered around, had lunch, and took some pictures. We passed on the hiking, which is supposed to be nice, but since the wife is 39 weeks along, and my foot is still not totally recovered (The only shoes I can get on my foot at the moment are flip flops and my work shoes – my running shoes and hiking shoes both require more flexibility in my toe than I currently have), we didn’t walk too far. And there were a ton of people tubing on the river, which looked really nice. The B&B; is in a town called Berryville, which unfortunately closes down at 6pm. Since we arrived at about 4, we didn’t really get a good feel for the town. But we had a nice dinner in nearby Winchester. The B&B; itself was really nice. We’ve been encouraged to come back with the baby, as the proprietor is waiting to be a grandmother and has apparently tired of waited. However, it’s not a really large place, and the sound tends to carry a bit (I could hear Law and Order all the way down the hall, even with the door closed), so I’m not sure the rest of the guests would appreciate it. The next day, we were served a great breakfast and then we headed out. Our first stop was a consignment store in Charles Town. We passed it on the way in and it was closed, so we went back and bought some baby clothes and two books (One was a Harold and the purple crayon book, which perhaps only my mom will appreciate). Then we were off to the wineries! We stopped at three – Veramar, Bluemont, and Willowcroft. All three were very nice – much prettier than the average wineries. Bluemont, for example, is high up on a hill and offers a view of Tysons Corner thirty miles or so off in the distance. We stopped at the Leesburg outlets on the way back, which was probably a huge mistake given that it was Labor Day weekend, but we survived. And then back home. The cat didn’t even seem too irritated with us.

My wife is the good kind of crazy

So it looks like I’m going to Boston this weekend. The wife has orchestrated a huge family-and-friends get-together at Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday. All the details aren’t yet in, but it looks like my father-in-law and at least two brothers-in-law will be there, plus some other friends. We’re taking the train up on Sunday, in part because we have a wedding in Annapolis on Saturday. Then back home on the train on Monday to go back to work Tuesday, since we’re missing the following Monday for our Vegas trip. I thought Paris was our babymoon, but I guess I was wrong. Games at the Garden when the wife was living in Connecticut have achieved legendary status, so I’m looking forward to this. I’ve never been to a pro sports playoff game. I guess Celtics-Lakers is a good way to start. Of course, we’re busy at work right now. So I’m going to be working on the train, which should be interesting. But at least I have that option.

Security Theater is getting literal

BoingBoing | European airlines test spycams in every seat that “detect terrorism” in your facial expressions

The European Union’s Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project uses a camera in every passenger’s seat, with six wide-angle cameras to survey the aisles. Software then analyses the footage to detect developing terrorist activity or “air-rage” incidents, by tracking passengers’ facial expressions…

This is SUCH a good idea. I can’t wait until they implement this and they start diverting flights because stoned idiots on the way to Amsterdam are making faces at the camera, or maybe someone who’s agoraphobic is sweating and tense. This will be even better than detaining infants who have names on the terrorist watch list.

At least it isn’t the United States this time. I’m comforted to see that we don’t have a monopoly on totally absurd security theater.

There was discussion at the birthing class of bringing breast milk in your carry-on, and how TSA had initially banned it with their ridiculous no-liquids rule. I think they first amended the rule to allow breast milk if you had the baby with you, and then again to allow it without a baby. That way, women on trips away from the baby who were faithfully pumping and storing the milk for their return would be able to do so.

First, I think it’s good that they allow this – it’s much more of a big deal than I realized before the wife got pregnant. But second, if breast milk is safe on the plane, then SO ARE OTHER LIQUIDS. It is utterly insane to think that six ounces of shampoo will cause a plane to crash into the White House, but a long weekend worth of breast milk is totally safe.

Anyway, I wish the terrorists who hate our freedom would try a plot involving things I don’t like. Maybe they could hatch a plot to put bombs in wheelie bags and drag them around the city! That would be great! Then maybe we could ban those stupid things from getting in my way when I’m walking to work. And I wish these terrorists would have a little concern for MY feelings and MY needs. Selfish jerks.

Back from California

The wife and I got back yesterday from a super-quick trip to California.  The main purpose of the trip was a baby shower (My first, and I have to say it wasn’t bad – males were forced to go upstairs and drink beer and watch tv while the women played all those ridiculous shower games) in Pasadena.  After driving from LAX to their house, I don’t think I could live out there.  LA is just so enormous and car-centric.  And the Pontiac G6 we rented is a prime example of why Michigan and the American car industry is having such a hard time – it was uncomfortable and unmaneuverable (I’d expect a turning radius like that from an 18-wheeler, not a mid-size sedan).  Although the wife liked having the trip counter and stuff in the middle of the dash, so she could reset it at each turn as we followed Google Maps directions.

Before the baby shower, however, we landed in San Jose and spent the night with a brother-in-law before taking the train up to San Fransisco to stay with another brother-in-law and his girlfriend.  Pictures will be up on Flickr later, but this trip especially has reminded me that I need to take another photography class – I’m less happy with each successive batch of travel photos I take, I think.

We also went to see a show at the SF Museum of Modern Art.  Wow.  It was certainly interesting.  The show was Weimar New York, and it was not quite what I was expecting.  The show is mostly drag, not surprising for the area.  But as the night went on, it was increasingly risque.  After three hours, when we decided to call it quits (It was 1AM at this point, and the wife and I were still more or less on East Coast time), they had arrived at full male and female nudity.  It was an interesting show, although I’m not sure I’d recommend it.  We were talking afterwards, and a brother-in-law remarked that he was unaccustomed to being in the top 5% of the conservative end of the room.  I felt the same way – I think I’m pretty liberal socially, but the crowd in there made me feel like Mike Huckabee.  It was liberal even for San Fransisco.

Anyway, it was a good trip, although much too short.

Im back, the cat is back, the wife is gone

Well, she’s gone temporarily.  We got in on Friday (A day late because we missed our flight.  If you’re flying from Dublin to Philadelphia on US Airways, do yourself a favor and get there early.), and she flew out yesterday for work.  She’ll be back Thursday.

Unfortunately, as usual when she’s not here, I didn’t sleep well last night.  I haven’t figured out why I sleep better when she’s here, but I do.  And the stupid cat didn’t help.  She was loud and irritating pretty much all night.  I don’t think I got more than an hour straight of sleep all night.

Anyway, hopefully tonight I’ll sleep better.

The trip, by the way, was fantastic.  I’ll write more at some point, but we had a great time.  Dublin is very expensive, however.  But I sure do love Guinness.

Weekend in Philly

Best idea ever

The wife and I spent the weekend in Philadelphia. I’ve been there a few times, but not recently, and not for long. Philly has kind of a bad reputation, but it doesn’t seem deserved. The city is clean, there’s lots to do, and we had a good time. Maybe if we stayed longer, we’d find some reason to hate the city, but I have no complaints.

As you can see from the photo, the Latham Hotel has a bottle opener in the bathroom. How many times have you been in a hotel, and had to open a beer by banging it on the door hinge? I mean, that happens to me ALL THE TIME. And it’s not a really good way to open a beer. The Latham takes care of that.

Anyway, we got to see a lot of the city. We met up with some friends, had a really great dinner at Amici Noi on Market Street, and walked around a lot. It was a really nice weekend.