Seville Snapshot: Christmas Lights at Town Hall

When it comes to Christmas, I’m typically a Scrooge. My ears bleed when I hear Christmas Carols or their Spanish counterpart, and the only redeeming part of the season are peppermint flavored ice cream, coffee and candy canes.

But Seville’s Christmas lights make the city look even better, I’ve always loved Christmas markets. Typically lit at dusk on the Día de la Constitución, December 6th, I was amazed to see them go on while waiting for some friends in Plaza Nueva on November 30th. Like watching the portada of the Feria light up in the Real, my childlike wonder of Christmas lights returned for a brief moment on a rainy evening, the rain splattering my face the way snowflakes used to in Chicago. I was suddenly thaknful that my parents had gotten cheap flights to Europe to be able to share the season with me. On the municipal Christmas tree, the reflection of the ayuntamiento, town hall, shone on a Christmas ball, dressed up for the season.

Got a photo of Seville or Southern Spain to share? I’d love to see it! Send me the photo, along with a short description of where you took it and links to any pages you’d like included, to sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] come. Look for a new photos every Monday, or join me at my Facebook page for more scoop on El Sur! What’s your favorite Spanish holiday tradition?

Seville Snapshot: The Feria de Belén

One of my favorite Christmas traditions in Spain is the nativity scene, called a belén. It also happens to be my favorite Spanish name for a girl, though I wouldn’t name my daughter after the Little Town of Bethlehem.

Again, at the risk of sounding un-American, I don’t like Christmas, either.

But the belenes, a household nativity scene, fascinate me. Tiny villages  are constructed out of figurines taking the form of primitive buildings, the Holy Family and even working mills, crops and animals. My own family has the same nativity scene under our tree that we’ve had every year – plastic Holy Family with two faceless sheep, an ox, a plastic angel that balances on a nail up top. I once told my mother I’d do the Spanish tradition of buying one new piece each year, much like I did with my American Girl Doll years back.

Seville holds an annual Feria del Belén, a month-long set-up of small, artisan stands that sell all of these tiny cattle, baskets and shepherds.

Over the years, I’ve marveled at the small effigies and menagerie of barnyard animals, but my long-distance lens caught something quite by accident just last week: the Virgen Mary nursing.

Thanksgiving Turkeys and Triumphs

Can I admit something, at the risk of sounding like a bad American?

I never liked Thanksgiving as a kid. My mind keeps going to the hours of preparation at my grandmother’s house, clipping off the ends of green beans and trying to ignore bickering. I’d eat far too much, fall asleep watching football and feel groggy for days straight. Aside from the long weekend, I didn’t see the point of spending a whole day eating and watching TV, all in the name of spending time with family and glorifying a bird.

Then I moved away from America, to a land where cranberries, pecans and even turkeys are scarce (after all, pavo is the Spanish way of say a buck).

All of the sudden, Thanksgiving became a good excuse to get together with those closest to being my kin.

Our Thanksgiving celebrations in my ever-changing group of friends has never been just about us Americans and our traditions – we teach Spaniards about the hand turkey while drinking the garnacha-based wines (which, according to Ask.com, are the best matches for turkey!) and chattering a half a dozen languages.

Yes, I am thankful for my amoeba of culture in Seville – something that is just as much Spanish as American with a smatter of German, Mexican and everything in between.

But this year, I promised Kike a turkey, cranberry sauce and everything that my grandmother made him as breakfast last Christmas in Arizona (he no longer scoffs at my weird breakfast choices – mine is the type of family that eats waffles for dinner and cold leftovers for breakfast). He played his part by bringing back over a few cans of pumpkin and gravy mix and urged me to call on a turkey from a neighborhood carnicería. I began gathering recipes and making a rudimentary plan for how I’d make a full-on Thanksgiving dinner with one oven and two hands.

Then his dumb job sent him abroad nine days earlier than expected, effectively missing Pavo Palooza.

Still, the turkey show must go on, I thought, and I extended the offer to his mother and friend Susana again, not wanting to have to eat turkey bocadillos alone until Reyes.

I was not without challenges, from the lack of a microwave to last-minute changes in the menu due to no  fresh green beans, sage and evaporated milk in the supermarket or even a can opener from the American goodies I brought back with me. There’s a reason I’m the go-to giuri for plastic forks and wine at our parties.

Menu:

Pumpkin Pie. Stuffing. Cornbread. Carrots and Garlic Green Beans. Mashed Potatoes. Gravy. Cranberry Sauce. Turkey. Tinto and Beer.

Turkey: 18,40€

Groceries not at home: 51,59€

New can opener: 5,15€

Total: 85,14€

Even the Brits I work with suggested that I start preparing a schedule ahead of time, and I did: cleaning, pie, vegetables, cornbread and stuffing on Friday, turkey and potatoes on Saturday. I was up before the sun on Saturday when I realized that the evaporated milk I’d refused to buy out of principle was going to be necessary for the pie I was too lazy to make the day before.

I wrote on Kike’s Facebook wall for our anniversary, stating that he would have enjoyed watching me fight with a ten-pound bird more than consuming it. For four hours, I set my alarm every half and hour to give the turkey a little broth bath, nervous if I hadn’t gotten all of the gizzards out or I didn’t let it cook enough inside. When my guests – Carmín, Alejandro, Susana and Inma – showed up right on time, I offered them beer and wine, and they marveled at the sudden transformation of an anti-housewife as I shooed them out of the kitchen. The only person I’d let in was Luna, my friends’ two-year-old daughter, who chowed down on cornbread and checked the status of the turkey.

In the end, the meat was cooked, no one cared that the stuffing was a bit cold and I didn’t end up with too much leftovers. We spent the afternoon laughing, telling jokes and finding places in our stomach to fit more food in. Wanting to do everything al estilo americano, I had to teach them the gravy volcano, explain that they’d probably fall asleep after consuming the turkey and look for American football games on YouTube. I felt lucky (thankful, if you will) about having friends and family who were open to trying out my holiday and easing the ache I sometimes feel for being so far away.

What Kike has got is mala suerte, heaved my beloved Doña Carmen. This food is making me think twice about American cuisine!

Tapa Thursdays: Huesos de Santos

As a self-confessed Halloweenie, I love things spooky, from cemeteries to haunted houses. Lucky for me, Spain celebrates a national holiday, Día de Todos los Santos, or All Saint’s Day, so I can celebrate my Anglo holiday with a day off.

Todos Los Santos is celebrated in the Catholic world on November 1st, where family members of the deceased visit their final resting places. Many cities around Spain have their own traditional fiesta. In a country that loves its reliquía, there could be no other dessert on All Saint’s Day served but huesos de santos. These marzipan pastries are rolled to look like bones and stuffed with egg yolk cream, called  yema, or fig, yogurt or chocolate. It’s kind of like a Spanish type of cannoli, made in a similar way.

What it is: An almond pastry typically eaten during the All Saint’s Day feasts.

Where it’s from: The origins of this sweet are still unknown, but it’s believed they were first made in Madird. Still, their popularity is widespread, making it the de facto treat for the holiday.

Where to get it in Seville: Practically any pastry shop will have huesos de santos between the week leading up to Todos Los Santos and up to a fortnight afterwards. I bought a half-dozen at Cafetería Ochoa (locations on Sierpes, Repúblic Argentina and Eduardo Dato) for 36€/kilo.

Goes perfectly with: a hot coffee with milk. Sevillanos have their afternoon coffee often accompanied with something sweet.

If you like tapas, why not tell me which ones you’d like to see featured on Sunshine and Siestas? Alternately, there are more pictures on Sunshine and Siestas’s Facebook page.

Seville Snapshot: Playa Las Negras, Almería

The sun in Seville is deceiving in the month of October. The crisp Autumn days I remember from growing up in the Midwest mean nothing here, as the blustery weather is an afterthought and never really arrives to Seville until Winter begins in late November. While mornings can be cool, the midday sun blazes like it would on a summer beach day.

My friend Jacqui and I have a lot in common, choosing Spain after we graduated from Midwestern universities. We like being outdoors and having a beer midday. We like beaches. I begged her to send me this picture from Almería, a small corner of Andalcuía I’ve never been to.

This photo was taken at the beach in Las Negras, Almería. It is a quaint, charming and peaceful town of less than 400 residents right in the middle of Almería’s Natural Park Cabo de Gata. The town got its name from the founders, a group of widows from a nearby community who had los their sailor husbands in a mysterious shipwreck. It’s a great place to stay on a trip to Almería due to its proximity  to several of the region’s best beaches and natural park.

Jacqui Davis has been living in Spain for nearly six years now, where she is a program Director for a study abroad company. She LOVES travel and languages, running, outdoor activities and her boyfriend and especially trips that include all of the above.

If you’d like to contribute your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of the gorgeous Seville on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

Fisherman’s Feast of Boston

My 27th birthday cake was not actually a cake. Instead, six ricotta-filled canolis lined an old-school wooden box. A package all tied up with string. Yes, sweets are perhaps my favorite thing.

“Yeah, the guy took them in the back and squirted the filling in, so it’s fresh!” my dad quipped, excited to have brought Boston’s North End, a traditionally Italian neighborhood, into my celebration. My big day, celebrated August 15th (thanks for the birthday wishes, jerks!) marks the start of the 100+ year-old Fisherman’s Feast to celebrate the Madonna del Socorrso.

Our suites were located on the corner of North and Fleet Streets, the virtual apex of the celebration. On either end, vendors selling everything from oysters to orchiette, Italian sausage to limoncello stretched along the 17th Century streets once home to Paul Revere and other revolutionaries. The scent of the food was toxic (for my waist, that is) and shouts of Mangia! Mangia! could be heard over the Baaaahstan drawl.

The festival begins on the Thursday after August 15th with a Semana Santa-esque procession of the Madonna from her tiny blue chapel to the waters of the Boston Harbor, where she blesses it for good yield. The next four days are full of raffles, street performers and dancing, capping off with a parish girl flying from a third story window to the blue-draped Madonna to bless her and pray to her.

My family did little else but eat and drink, but I noticed wide white ribbons around the neighborhood in bars, pizzerias and family-run delis. The ribbon framed an image of the Madonnas and saints, and patrons had pinned dollar bills as a donation. I reached into my purse for a buck and pinned it to the picture of Saint Lucy, my Confirmation Saint,  whose stature (eyes in bowl included!) can be found in a small chapel in the neighborhood. Gotta have my eyesight to be able to feast my eyes on Feasts like this one.

The Freedom Trail, marking the hallmarks of American Independence, were just steps away, snaking past Paul Rever’s House long before the North End was home to Little Italy. Even the tell-tale red brick sidewalks seemed to seep up the smell of Italian sausage, which we could smell over our breakfast each morning!

Mangia and music was the theme of the night. Right below our inn, a rickety stage was set up and the over-the-hill band members, dressed in the azue blue and buttercream of the Madonna’s veil, belted out “Notte en Roma.” We settled in for a beer, unsure if our already pasta-heavy bellies would hold any more oysters or pizelles. Stand after stand boasted Northeastern and Italian fare, tempting even the youngest entrepreneurs.

I’m privy to any summer festival – the food, the characters, the carnival rides. While Feria de Sevilla is hands-down my favorite (not to mention most extravagent!), I can’t turn down a good fling. People in the North End seemed to be there for the same reasons: a momentary escape for good food and good company.

What’s your favorite summer festival?

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