Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sangria Memories

Greg made me the most delicious sangria yesterday. I think sangria is one of my all time favorite drinks in the whole world. For those of you who are uninitiated in the joys of sangria, let me explain. Basically, you take wine and pour it over fruit, ice, brandy, and triple sec. The flavors combine in a marvelous dance to create the perfect drink. Sangria can be red or white, but he decided to make white sangria, mostly because we had an already opened bottle of Riesling in the fridge.

This sangria was so special it required an extra run to the store to procure a pineapple. Pineapple gives sangria an extra little something. Nick went along for the pineapple journey, but he unfortunately did not get any sangria as a reward. He was allowed to have some fresh pineapple, though.

I should say that I'm not much of a drinker, especially lately. But the sangria brought back special memories, and every sip reminded me of the past. Suddenly, I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, eating tortilla espanola and sharing a pitcher of sangria with my classmates. This picture was taken in July 2004, during my month in Spain. I was there, ostensibly to learn Spanish, but also to master the art of eating dinner at 11 p.m. and drinking pitcher after pitcher of sangria and glass after glass of wine. . .

I feel I should mention that I am second from the left, in the black tank top, with the curly hair. I say this because I was all of 25 when this picture was taken, and I perhaps might look just a tad older now, even to the point of nonrecognition. (Deep sigh of resignation at my unfortunate aging.) What do I remember from this picture? Well, it was July of 2004, and I was halfway through my stay at the University of Santiago. I was staying at the dorms just up the hill from the cathedral. We walked everywhere, and my legs were more toned during that month than they have ever been, before or since. I do believe we walked every single street in the central part of town at least once.

Along with other teachers from the Chicago area, I'd written an essay and won the opportunity for a course at the university. We lived in the dorms and took Spanish classes each morning, then had the chance to travel and practice our Spanish the rest of the time. Did I learn Spanish? Well, um. Let's just say that I struggled, and that if I ever hope to learn a second language, three weeks is not enough. I spoke Spanish with a French accent, due to three years of high school French interfering with my learning. I also mixed the two languages. For example, I might say, "Mas buerre, por favor." (More butter, please.) The problem is that the sentence is in Spanish, but the word buerre is butter in French. I did the same thing in France, using montequilla instead of buerre to ask for butter. If nothing else, I learned a greater appreciation for the struggle my students have when learning English. I loved staying in Santiago de Compostela, and I really want to visit again one day.

In Spain, meals are quite different than they are in the US, and far more leisurely. For example, in Spain, their breakfast usually consists of coffee and some sort of sweet bread, as in a croissant or a sweet muffin or bread with chocolate inside. One of the sweetest and most caloric breakfasts is something called "churros con chocolate." I tried it once on my trip and my blood sugar is still recovering. Basically the churros are fried dough dipped in sugar. Then, you take the churros and dip them into a Spanish hot chocolate. Only thing is, the hot chocolate isn't thin like it is in the states. No, in Spain, hot chocolate tastes like they actually melted chocolate into your cup. It is thick and very rich. Anyhow, that's breakfast.

The Spanish, like most Europeans, have a very different attitude about food. They eat much smaller portions, and eat more slowly than we do, because they're not in a hurry. In Spain I learned to eat tapas, which are small portions of dishes that are shared around the table. I still love eating this way, because you get to try a few bites of multiple delicious dishes without overdoing it. My favorite thing to eat while in Spain was a dish called gambas al ajillo, which is shrimp in a sizzling garlic butter sauce.

In Spain, dinner is much later than it is in the states. That's because most businesses close in the afternoon for lunch and a rest. Then people work later, and thus have dinner later. Most people tended to eat dinner after 7:00, and it was not unusual to see families sitting down to eat in a cafe after 10 pm. The Spanish have wine at the table for all meals, and, at least in my experience, refill your glass when you're not looking. The wine was actually cheaper than ordering water, and my friends and I often ordered by the bottle. My alcohol tolerance hasn't been very high since my surgery, but that summer I built it up quite a bit.

I wish I had a picture of some of the sangria we were served there, because it was just perfect. The fruits were usually from a local farm, so it was super fresh. We drank our sangria seated outside as we chatted and relaxed. I love the leisurely way that Europeans drink and eat--the atmosphere is very welcoming.

Anyhow, I wrote part of this post while actually drinking a nice glass of sangria, so if I seem a little sentimental, blame it on that. The sangria made me nostalgic, and I wanted to share just a little bit about my fabulous trip, seven years ago this month.

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