Mo Loose Aboot This Hoose

On Saturday night we held – or staged – a Burns Night for two and a half Scots,* five Spaniards and one American. Clearly my life in a foreign country as a mum, English teacher, translator and aspiring writer isn´t complex enough; I just had to have a party for a dead poet writing in a language I can barely decipher myself (Scots). I just had  to serve up a soup containing prunes, eighteen small haggi (six veggie) and a “clootie” dumpling, flown in from the Braveheart territory of Stirling itself, to friends used to the superior Mediterranean diet.

The underlying psychology of this endeavour remains rather fuzzy to me.  Did I want to share Rabbie Burns with my friends? Did I want to shore up my own identity? Did I just want a bit of attention? Whatever the deep-seated motivation was, I went at the preparations like Wallace against Proud Edward´s Army. There just had to be a proper Burns Supper, Scottish drink, traditional music, themed invitations and decorations. Easy enough in Scotland.   But here?  How did I go about it?

Food. Burns Night revolves around the haggis. No haggis, no Burns Night. This was the biggest problem to solve. I could (a) make it myself, which would be cheap, but daunting, (b) ask a butcher to make it for me and risk the finished product being more chorizo than Chieftain o´the Puddin´ Race, or (c) order it online from Scotland and pay the outrageous postage for the sake of peace of mind. I decided on (c) and Scottish Foods Overseas did the rest. The whopping £40 delivery fee meant I threw in tinned neeps, oatcakes, a clootie dumpling and some whisky fudge to make it worthwhile.  Then I had a wee lie-down to recover.

Fortunately, the rest of the food was easy to get, especially the whisky, of course. El Corte Inglés had all the ingredients for cock-a-leekie soup, a veggie lentil broth, Scotch trifle and Scotch eggs.  We also got smoked salmon and cheddar cheese (English) there for canapés and shortbread petticoat tails. The cheap and easy mashed tatties were no problem.

Decorations. Having decimated my meagre budget on the haggis delivery, I couldn´t justify spending another forty quid on having a Scottish party pack sent (though the online tartan and Scottish flag bunting were really cute!).  So I eschewed the kind of company that made Kate Middleton´s parents rich and tackled the decorations myself.  It´s amazing what you can do with eight metres of tartan ribbon from your local mercería (haberdashery), two packs of serviettes from Carrefour (blue and white) and two packs of balloons from the chinos,  also blue and white.  I picked up two large sheets of blue cardboard and made a Scottish flag out of one of them with white poster paint and cut out little flag bunting from the other. I stuck a big X on each rectangle from a roll of cheap paper ribbon and strung them up on blue thread.

By this time my enthusiasm was running away with me like the De´il Awa´ Wi´ Th´Exciseman and I bought cheap tartan material to make a tablecloth at Alcalá´s fantastic fancy dress shop, Christys.   Incredibly, I was able to get three  fabulous Jimmy bunnets there!  It seems we Scots are a source of mirth the world over.

I decided to make a portrait of Burns as a welcome message on my front door. This was easy. I downloaded a silhouette of his face, blew it up, printed it, cropped it and coloured it with a black felt tip pen and stuck it on a blue background. A wee ribbon bow, FAÍLTE copied in Kelt script and one paper curlicue later and my guests were welcomed in (very amateur) style by the handsome rascal himself.

I used a glass jug full of lavender as a table centrepiece  and Rab´s your uncle. Finally, I realised I had a number of Scottish knick knacks I´d forgotten about –  a pair of salt and pepper thistles such as your  granny might have – and requisitioned them for the rerr terr.

Music. This was also easy, thanks to my portable computer, Spotify and a small cable lent to me by my friend Antonio. (I´ll get the cable number from him tomorrow in case any of you are as technologically inept as myself). I took out a month´s free subscription to Spotify Premium so as not to have adverts and made up a long list of Scottish music. Via the cable,  the computer was connected to the TV and again, Rab´s your, well, DJ.  We had Jimmy Shand and His Band, Runrig, The Proclaimers, The Corries, Paolo Nutini, The Tannahill Weavers, Simple Minds,  and even nonsense like “Campbeltown Loch I Wish You Were Whisky”, “Donald Where´s Your Troosers?” and “Hoots Mon, There´s a Moose Loose Aboot This Hoose.”  Not to mention a lot of musicians I´d never heard of.  (I´ll probably keep the Spotify Premium subscription for its  breathtaking, advert-free store of music from all cultures and countries.).

Invitations. Again, easy peasy as well as freesy!  I copied some lovely Celtic freeware clipart from Aon Celtic Art, pasted it into a Word document, wrote out my invitation in Kelt and sent them by email.  Fired up with proselytising intent, I decided to compose an “Order of the Supper” since, let´s face it, how many Spaniards have the tiniest clue of what a Burns Night is?  So I listed the Selkirk Grace, Address to a Haggis, The Immortal Memory, a “Best of Burns” section and of course, Auld Lang Syne.  I´m sure it all remained about as clear as clabber to them but don´t say I didn´t try!

As you can probably imagine, dear reader, the over all effect was definitely of the kitsch, shortbread tin kind … but that was what I was aiming for!  Check in tomorrow to read how the Nicht itself went.

*Malassie, of course, half-Scottish.

Scots Wha Hae ….wheyhey!

Scottish brains, looks and talent.

 

Hey, it´s Burns Week (I know it´s only supposed to be one night, on the 25th, but I need more time,  so…).  Look out for my tips on how to organize a Burns Night in España and read about the end result – the rerr terr!

Spanish Men Are Better Than British Ones – 15 Reasons

Well, it´s obvious, isn´t it?  Spanish men are much, much better than British men.  I should know – I married a Spaniard!  And Grrrrls, you should too!  Here are 15 irrefutable reasons why!

Compare ….

… and contrast!

The Spaniard:

  1. Makes a wonderful father. He believes children should not only be seen and heard but dancing the farruca, the sardana and the jota on other people´s heads.
  2. Embodies the dicho, “the way to a man´s heart is through his stomach.”  And boy, can he stomach anything:-  pulpo, octopus, madejas de cordero, lamb intestine and oricios, sea urchins.
  3. Is a general knowledge whiz, ´cos he gets it at school.  S´all he gets at school!   Debating society is for English wimps.
  4. Does not faint at the sight of blood – especially when he´s got a jaw-defying, hunk of bread torn from his granny´s range-cooked hogaza dipped in it.
  5. Will compare thee to a summer ham – easy act to follow!
  6. Is self-assured, and never a Don´t Know.  (Because he´s a sabelotodo know it all)!
  7. Is sartorial style personified, even if he´s dressed in exactly the same brand (Lacoste) as every other Spaniard….. and thinks magenta is a manly colour for a shirt.
  8. Is professionally, and expensively, kitted out for sports. Not for Él the cheap and cheesy Brit-look:  long johns, school plimsolls and an army surplus tee shirt from V Day.
  9. Is better equipped in the bedroom ….hey, dirty mind, I´m referring to his linguistic superiority, o sea, his tongue!  Oops!  His language! (Fluster, fluster).  Since Spanish is all, te amo, te adoro, te quiero, it gets one in the mood more quickly than, say, “´ey oop lass”.  And as we all know, Spaniards have no inhibitions so ….
  10. Is stocky, sure of himself and short – not weedy, lanky or neurotic.  And when he goes bald, one discovers he has a nicely-shaped head!
  11. Does not read Playboy behind your back.  No, he does it waiting for the Semana Santa procession to get moving de una puta vez.
  12. Does not frequent the betting shop in cloth-capped Lowry style.  This vaquero prefers his nags dancing or being gored by toros.
  13. Never needs a shoulder massage.  Since he requires his shoulders just to speak, they get a complete workout every day.
  14. Is uncomplicated – he´ll be del Madrid or del Barça.  Forget the embarrassing British trauma of “Cowdenbeath, Nil”.
  15. Comes complete with a familia numerosísima who will kindly run your entire life for you, whether you like it or not.

To be sure, not everyone agrees with me.  Check out the windswept and very British Mr. Grumpy at  Tumbit Spain arguing just the opposite – that British men are better than Spanish ones!

Then again, it´s probably the case that men are men, British or Spanish.  If you don´t believe me, click here, but don´t ask me for transcripts in Spanish OR English!

Times Is ´ard, But …

Woe is Mo, a victim of  ”cultural conflict” – again!

It turns out that when Malassie returned to school after the “Christmas” holidays one of the teachers asked round the class what everybody got for Reyes. The kids responded enthusiastically, listing full Hipercor catalogues of toys, electronics, computer games, ipods, ipads, books … okay, well maybe not books….

Then came Malassie´s turn.

“So what did you get for Reyes, Sara”, asked her teacher kindly.

“Well,” began my shy girl,  ”my Daddy gave me four Spongebob Squarepants biscuits and said Feliz Reyes.  And burst out laughing.”

 

All she got for Christmas

 

I can imagine the tears in the eyes of the seasoned educator in the face of such wickedness and deprivation.  Perhaps it´s a British thing, he might have thought.  A Dickensian thing.  And, of course, he never thought to ask if she got anything for Christmas.  Despite teaching at a bilingual school, perhaps his own cultural assumptions got in the way.

Malassie, unencumbered by any desire to protect her parents´ reputation, proffered no further information.

Like the €300 video camera she got on December 25th.

Happy girl!

 

 

 

Hindu Happiness Along the Henares!

Madras Masala Restaurant

Madras Masala Restaurant

The Preview of the Review…

Some review you´re going to write, said El Husbandito as we left the Madras Masala after Sunday lunch.  You didn´t look at the prices, get the address or phone number, take any of their cards, pick up a takeaway menu, look into the kitchen or even glance at the bill, never mind pay it. You forgot to photograph any of the food and the photos you took of the outside of the restaurant are rotten.

Men.  Wouldn´t give a gal a break.  After all, this is my first restaurant review and I did the main research which was, of course, to eat the food!

I´d been dying for an Indian meal, even to the point of trying to figure out how to bring one from Madrid for Christmas Dinner.  We thought we might get a takeaway ahead of time and re-heat it on the day but we decided that soggy samosas and less than perky pakora just weren´t worth it.

If only we´d known that the first Indian restaurant in Alcalá was providing takeaway less than a mile away! The Madras Masala has been open for a month and, according to Jacob, one of the three owners, it´s going well.  Married to a Spanish woman, Jacob is from Madras and speaks excellent English and Spanish.

On Saturday I wrote this:

“It´s spotless, quiet, stylish and neutral and exudes quality, with a beautifully written menu. The (for want of a better word) maitre is not only courteous and informative but speaks English!  And our aperitivo of chicken pakora was delicious –  fresh, spicy and fragrant”.

Did the lunch date live up to our expectations?  Read on.

Taj Mahal – wish I had taken my own photos

The Review

We were excited about our Indian repast and arrived all dolled up at 3 p.m. on the dot. (Malassie, unfortunately, could not be threatened persuaded to relinquish her red and black-striped, cut-off mittens and black nail polish).  Our table had been reserved for us among the ten or so that fit in the medium-sized dining area and most of them were occupied by Spanish families.  Some poppadoms awaited us with two little sauces, one yogurt with mint and the other – beware here of some highly technical restaurant review jargon – a kind of smooth, sweet, jammy, chutney.  Thing.

It was all delicious so we couldn´t wait to order.  However, the Anti-Spice Squad was on the premises in the form of Malassie, who wanted chips. Fortunately, Jacob reminded her she could get chips anywhere and suggested she try a very mild chicken tikka masala.  He took her small, huffy expression to be a yes.  I read over the definition of curry in the menu with her – the proper term is masala – and with the low-volume Indian music in the background, we were really starting to enjoy ourselves.

Anyone from Glasgow (in case anybody doesn´t know it yet, I´m a wee Glesga burd) has at least a passing acquaintance with Indian food. The city has some fantastic Indian restaurants, such as the Koh-i-Noor, and so the contents of the extensive menu were familiar to me.  However, rather than pick our favourites, we decided to have a bit of an overview to see how the food performed over a range of dishes.  Hubby decided on the Menú de Degustación (which does NOT translate as Disgusting Menu, but Introductory Menu) which came in at €22.95. I went for the Brunch de Domingo at €25. I´ve never seen brunch on offer in Alcalá so it´s possibly a novel idea for Spaniards, though I fear they might pronounce it broonch.

Once we ´d ordered, I took a better look around. The tables were simply done in beige, cloth-feel paper settings and napkins. The mesón features remaining from the previous restaurant were a little out of place, although some nice, stained-glass panels on the doors and windows hinted at the bejewelled splendour of “normal” Indian resturants. We congratulated ourselves on the no-smoking law in Spain, free of the worry that our comida would be ruined by fugs of cigarette smoke.

The waiter service (just Jacob and one other man, from the Punjab, apparently) was well-paced, calm and efficient and our food soon arrived.  Samosas, pakora and other crispy starters were followed by lamb rogan josh, tandoori chicken, mixed vegetables in a sauce, prawn mughlai korma and the tikka masala.  They were served with plain, boiled basmati rice and peshwari naan bread.  We had gulab jamun and mango lassi for dessert and I accompanied the meal with two rosé wines to hubby´s two beers (and Malassie´s two pineapple juices).

Very quickly, the matter of which dish belonged to which menu became a moot point.  The food was delicious!  To my (inexpert) palate the mix of spices and seasonings in all the dishes was wonderful. The korma sauce was absolutely beautiful; light, creamy and pale yellow in colour.  All the meat was tender and, as for the chicken tikka in its sauce, it was incredibly tasty – what we could get of it, since Malassie fought us off!  Indian food now has one small, Spanish convert!

Not our food

 

As for the desserts, the gulab, little balls of pastry in very sweet syrup, was lovely and the yogurt and mango lassi was thick, fruity and gorgeous. To my mind, these really are desserts … better these than all that Spanish nonsense of offering you a banana for pudding!

 

After Lunch Afterthoughts

After the meal, Jacob and the waiter were keen to hear our opinion. They enquired at every table and patrons seemed to be very happy.  Our bill came to €73.95 – pushed up by the cost of the drinks – but in general the prices are good, though perhaps the brunch is a little steep.  Then again, Spanish restaurants offer Sunday lunch at that price per head too.  There is also a wonderful Menú del Díaavailable for just €9.95.  As seems to be a common practice in Indian restaurants in Spain, each day of the week has a pre-set, different menu, in a sort of “It´s Tuesday, so it must be Lamb Korma Day” approach.  I imagine the American students from the nearby Cardenal Cisneros University College, the staff and customers of the Alcalá Magna Shopping Centre and the police from the new Comisaría just behind it will flock to the Madras Masala during the week.

Room for Improvement

While the restaurant is very good, hubby was disappointed that the food we had was distinctly lacking in “hotness”. As I, unlike him, prefer not to have my face burned off, this wasn´t an issue with me.  It´s quite possible these menus are toned down a little to avoid frightening Spanish diners off but tourists might want to request hotter options. My only criticism is that the samosas seemed a little dry and tended to crumble.

Star Performance

Peshwari naanThe Peshawari naan bread was a real hit with me (and child) since I´d never tried this sweet version of the naan before. It was presented in a basket, cut into pizza-shape slices which I preferred to the usual practice of laying it whole on a huge platter, barely leaving room for anything else on the table. I thought that the combination of the minutely-chopped raisins, crushed pistachios and caster sugar in the buttery naan with the savoury food was out of this world. If you want to have a go at making this bread yourself, click for a recipe here.

Jacob informed us that the goal of the restaurant is to offer quality and this was certainly on our plates during our visit.  We will definitely be going back – in fact by the time you read this, we might just be tucking into another Indian feast!

Madras Masala,

José Luis Pereda, 2,  Alcalá de Henares, Spain.

+34 91 125 78 20

¡Masala Alcalá!

Beautiful spicesWell, Mo is excited!

Why?

Because having droned on for fifteen years about the absence of an Indian restaurant in Alcalá, she can now stop.

And start drooling!

Forget the discovery that the earth is round.

Forget the discovery that Iñaki Urgandarín is a thief and a robber and a stealer.

Forget the discovery that the Duquesa de Alba is the result of a hormonal experiment with Tinky Winky gone wrong.  (OK, it might not have come out yet but ….)

Because the discovery of the year, a mere seven days old,  down Alcalá way, is the new, first Indian restaurant ever to exist in Alcalá de Henares!  (All right, all right, Formal Disclaimer.  Don´t think there ever was one before, but am not sure and don´t care anyway, tatatatatá, let the historians fight about it).

I can´t believe it and it´s great!  I often wondered why a cuisine as immense as the Indian one wasn´t present in the town.

“There are no Indian residents,” was the answer given in forums and blogs.

“Well there should be,” was my impotent reply, and prayer.

And here they are!  The restaurant is quite near my house (glory hallelujah) which is all I have as an address as yet, and while it retains something of the look of the mesón it was in a previous avatar,  the feel is completely different.  It´s spotless, quiet, stylish and neutral and exudes quality, with a beautifully written menu.

The (for want of a better word) maitre is not only courteous and informative but speaks English!  And our aperitivo of chicken pakora was delicious –  fresh, spicy and fragrant.

We´re going back tomorrow for Sunday lunch, so check out my review of this new restaurant, the Madras Masala,  tomorrow evening.

I can´t believe my luck – nor should Alcalá!

Duquesa de Alba

Duchess of Alba/Tinky Winky

¡Vivan los Reyes! (de Oriente)

I´m not sure if it´s legit for me to keep on blogging about my early relationship with Spain. All right, we know you´ve been here for donkeys, I hear you moan. However, and at the risk of sounding like Matusalén (who lived till he was 969, so no worries there, really) today I want to go back to 1979, when I came to Spain for the first time.

Picture it.  A young, Scottish couple are visiting Madrid, staying at the affordable, but grotty, Hotel Mediodía in Atocha until the 6th of January.  They venture out the night before their departure and suddenly find themselves caught up in a huge, excited crowd.  Off in the distance, there are some shiny, glittery floats and they wonder what´s going on.

Can you believe it?  The 5th of January, with its Cabalgata de los Reyes parade, meant nothing to me!  I was already at Uni studying Spanish – my first trip to Spain was a Christmas present from my boyfriend – and the peseta didn´t even drop!

There might be an explanation, however.  My secondary school Spanish book was the antiquated, even then, Nos ponemos en camino, written by E.L. Dean and M.C.M. Roberts (who sound more like a couple of rappers than the stuffy, holier-than-thou sticklers for grammar they really were). Lesson Eleven of this 1958 Book of Manners dealt with the Reyes Magos and we read, “Allí por la calle vienen los tres Reyes Magos a caballo.”

The original sense of the word cabalgata does refer to a parade of people on horseback…..but E.L. Dean and M.C.M. Roberts´ description, far from portraying the circus madness of the Cabalgata de los Reyes, complete with screaming children and positively meteorological quantities of caramelos raining onto the spectators, evokes a sort of Sergio Leone scene of three, menacing riders moseying into town past the tumbleweed, the children who haven´t been good quivering in fear at home, only the ones ready for borstal twitching a visillo or two.

To be honest, I don´t think El Deano or MCM Hammer Roberts were ever actually in Spain for Reyes and that´s why they were completely unable to describe the scene for me in a way I would later recognize.  I think their book, the title of which I believe makes reference to the spiritual, Catholic Camino or Way (and is even capitalized, despite this not being required in a Spanish title) has the Opus Dei as its inspiration, instead of the more appropriate Opus Whehey!

Like:

Q. ¿Quienes son los Reyes Magos? (Who are the Three Kings?)

A. Gaspar, Melchor y Baasaltar y se cayó.”  (Here, Baltasar becomes va a saltar (he´s going to jump) … and he fell!

As a child, my husband thrilled to the Reyes riding into town, not on simple horses, or Christ-like on donkeys, but on camels and followed by their armiespages and performers.  They were not wee, wizened, wise and mojigato (prudish) old men, muttering about direct object pronouns, but exotic, magnificent, rich and powerful Kings – Reyes – spreading, not the word of God, but PROSPERITY!

Given the economic situation of Spain, we can only hope that the Reyes this year do, indeed, augur the prosperity the country so desperately needs.

The day the Reyes return alone on horseback, there will be little left of Spain.

 

 

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