Monthly Archives: September 2013

Who Eats The Most Butter? And The Most Cream?

Aaahh butter… and cream! So right and so wrong all at the same time…

Growing up in Germany, I was reared on liberal lashings of both. Two kinds of butter enjoyed permanent residency in our fridge: ‘sweet cream’ butter and lactic butter (made from sour cream).

butterbrotOven-fresh sourdough bread, crust still crispy, slathered with a lavish layer of butter… what could be more delicious?! Unless you’re my dad, who liked to cut himself half-inch thick slices of butter,  and eat them without bread.

But those blissful days just couldn’t last forever. In the early 90’s, I moved to the UK, where I encountered the sacrilege that is salted butter. The salt, I’m convinced, was meant to disguise the fact that it was half rancid.

A baffling phenomenon, especially as I remembered my Dad often buying Irish butter in Germany, and that tasted great. I was at a total loss to understand the UK butter debacle. Right next door, there was good butter (ditto across the Channel in France), and English people were putting up with candle wax dragged through sweaty armpits?

From the 2000’s onwards, thank God, the islanders started to see the light, and a better selection of unadulterated varieties started appearing on UK supermarket shelves.

ClottedCream

Scone topped with jam and clotted cream – heaven!

Moving onto cream. Well, on my planet, ice cream and cakes were not considered complete without a tower of sumptuous whipped cream artfully erected on top. In the UK, they would just pour it, unwhipped, over their desserts. Fine, I could live with that. Despite their beastly botched butter, they had some pretty good cream, including this most marvellous of concoctions called clotted cream. It tastes like a mixture of butter and cream, and it’s way more delicious than that description makes it sound.

But then… about a decade ago, it all started to go horribly wrong. ‘Cream’ dispensed from spray cans took over in UK restaurants and cafes. Now, what’s in those cans is not cream, but some aerated type of white sludge, emulsified within an inch of its life. (Is it even still dairy?!) Within three minutes of hitting the plate, it melts into an insipid puddle that looks like cum. They serve this aberration in Spain as well. Sigh.

To my great relief, when I was back in Germany this summer, I found that ice cream and cake were still accompanied with what I recognise as the ‘real stuff’ – dense-textured, full-bodied creeeeeeeamy cream, whisked into a shape that holds up in all weathers as it slowly glides from your spoon down your throat and directly into your arteries.

So, who does indulge the most*?
The world’s top butter consumer is Denmark with 5.7kg per capita in 2013, followed – oh yes! – by Germany with 4.9kg. Here’s the rest of the top ten: Finland, Austria, Belarus, Azerbaijan (really??), France, Switzerland, Czech Republic and Georgia.

The UK is in 16th place with 2.5kg, and the US is even further down with 2.0kg. Spain managed a paltry 0.4kg. (Spanish butter, by the way, is awful.) New Zealand’s butter consumption (2.6 kg) is double that of Australia’s.

On the cream front, Sweden leads, slurping and spooning down 11.1kg in 2013 per capita, followed by Belarus with 10.3kg. In third place, we have Canada, with 9.1kg, which, curiously, is far ahead of the US’s 4.0kg. Can anyone explain this…? Next in line are Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Finland, Norway, Estonia and Lithuania. The UK and Spain trail far behind with just 1.7kg and 1.2kg, respectively.

Well, people, butter or cream or both?! Go on, spill all your dark, delicious dairy fat indulgence secrets…

[*For data source, click here]

Sunday Sunsets: Views from El Parador De Toledo

The Parador Hotels (“Los Paradores De Turismo De España”) are a chain of luxury hotels dotted all over Spain. Toledo has one, of course!

It has a lovely terrace where you can enjoy a meal or a drink and watch the sunset. And that’s just what we did a couple of weeks ago.

Toledo Alcazar SunsetParador umbrella

My friend Sara

My friend Sara

Parador lamp

Toledo at sunset

Parador sunset

Toledo – Vespa Capital Of The World

Move over Rome – Toledo’s got a whole squadron of Vespas!

Aw, all whimsical cuteness right next to the butch police bike

Aw, all whimsical purply cuteness right next to the butch police bike

Red vespa

As an aside, see that weedy guy walking past there in the background. He accosted me (albeit not very aggressively) in the supermarket on my second day in Toledo. And no, I did not cut his head off on purpose - the camera must be controlled, at least in part, by my subconscious :)

See that weedy guy walking past there in the background? He tried to chat me up two years ago, in the local supermarket, tinned fruit section. And no, I did not chop his head off on purpose. The camera must be controlled, at least in part, by my subconscious 🙂 I was so focused on taking this shot, that I didn’t even notice him until I looked at the photos at home. But I’d recognize that whippetty frame anywhere *shudder*. If you’re wondering what his face looks like, it’s very much like a gerbil’s. After applying hair removal cream. *triple shudder*.

Real Madrid Vespa

Yellow Scooter

Red ones are popular....

Yes, red ones are very popular….

Green Vespa

My friend took this one, so ©GMS

My friend took this one, so © GMS

Half a red Vespa, guarded by Dolly

“When I said I just wanted half of one, I meant pizza!”

Vespa T-shirtSince you’ve made it all the way to the end, you’ve well and truly earned the T-shirt 🙂

Look Up, Look Down: Into A Hole Full Of Rubble

A couple of days ago, I looked down quite unexpectedly, and it pleased me no end. Some of you may have noticed that 99% of my entries for travelwithintent’s weekly Look Up, Look Down photo challenge are of the ‘Look Up’ variety.

So, here is how it happened: I was on my way home from buying some yoghurt from the local supermarket, when I walked past a skip tucked away in a side street in the middle of town, in which my pal Rafa was trampling around in. When I asked what it was all about, he promptly dragged me into the dark and dingy building behind.

He’s an archaeologist, working on a dig with a handful of colleagues. I had heard about that project, because I’d met up for a hearty breakfast with some of the crew that very morning, and I noted that they were even dustier than usual…

That's Rafa's brother down there, getting his hands nice and dirty.

That’s Rafa’s brother down there, getting his hands dirty. The bucket behind him contains assorted crumblings of questionable provenance, to be given a good scrub down later in the office.

That ‘wall’ in the back is a compounded pile of rubble, with total height/depth of about 14 metres. (They know this from other digs carried out in the area). So far, they’ve dug out about three metres. The top of it dates to around 500 A.D., and the bottom to 500 B.C. Toledo is essentially a city built on its own debris.

As you can see in the above pic, the lower part of the exposed wall is very dark in colour, which indicates that this layer is composed of the wreckage of buildings that burnt down hundreds of years ago.

In the pic below, Rafa is holding out an item (out of focus, sorry!) they’d unearthed right before I came ambling along. It’s a weight that was once attached to a Roman loom.

Rafa is one of the nicest people I know, and he always seems to be in good humour

You can see the hole on the side of the weight, through which the string passes.

You can see, there’s a hole on the side of the weight, through which the string was passed.

OK, you can all LOOK UP again now. Here’s a swirly lantern that dangles high up above the street from an arch right next to the cathedral:

Lantern

Next week, I’m hoping for skulls and thigh bones. Dig, Rafa, dig!!!

No Pain, No Gain: My Spanish After Two Years In Spain

This morning, it came to my attention (thank you, expatsincebirth), that today is the European Day of Languages – the perfect opportunity for posting an update on my linguistic toil.

So, I’ve been living in Spain now for two full years. The official anniversary was September 14th. My main reason for moving to Spain was to learn to speak Spanish properly, which had been a dream of mine since my teenage years.

Where am I in this process? Well, in short, not where I’d like to be.

After two years, my command of the language is at a point I thought I’d have reached after year one.

There’s one overarching reason for this: lack of exposure. This may sound ironic, considering that I’m living slap bang in the centre of Spanish-speaking country. But the reality is that I work at home on my own pretty much all day, reading and writing in English. Most of the people I see socially want to practice either their English or their German, for at least some of the time, which is only fair (and fun!), seeing as a shared interest in language learning brought us together in the first place.

I do feel frustrated much of the time about my slow progress, but, as I have to keep reminding myself in order not to lose heart, I am making progress.

My latest milestone: I’m reading grown-up books!

About six months ago, I started reading novels, which is something I wasn’t brave enough to tackle up until then. Having to look up every other word is just not an enjoyable experience, and I think it’s better to wait until you can comprehend at least 70-80% of standard written material unaided.

On that note, I still remember reading my first book in English, I must have been about 17. It was Charlotte’s Web (by E.B. White). It’s an iconic classic children’s novel, and I struggled like hell. I understood just about enough for it to make me cry, though I think I was already crying out of frustration before I got to the sad bit. I didn’t touch another book in English for several years after that.

CharlottesWeb

In my humble opinion, e-readers are the greatest invention of all time ever. And it will stay this way until they start making Nutella in squeezy bottles.

Now, I don’t want zillions of comments about the sanctity of paper books, so save it, people. I love ‘real’ books just as much as you do. But for language learning, the e-reader is a gift of the heavens. It lets me download books in different languages, there’s no waiting around for deliveries (which always come when I’m soaping myself down in the shower, and then I’ve got to waste hours in Toledo’s post office, where one lone middle-aged sour puss dawdles away the days until her retirement behind the counter, while one pointless uniformed oaf just stands in front of it, with pretty much the same objective. Why is Spain in the middle of an economic crisis? Spend one afternoon in that post office, and all becomes clear. Periodically, they run out of stamps – and this is the main PO of Castilla La-Mancha’s capital city!!!).

OK, end of pet rant, and back to e-reader fangirling. A swift download is only the start. The true miracle lies in the power of the integrated dictionaries. (Move over, talking burning bush in the desert.)

I bought my Spendle (actually, it’s Amazon’s Kindle, but Spendle is so much more apt, sigh…), and the gadget came pre-loaded with dictionaries in five languages. These are monolingual ones, though, and so aren’t of much use in languages where proficiency is still lacking. Luckily, bilingual dictionaries in the world’s major languages are cheap, so a Spanish-English one for five bucks was my first purchase.

Now all I have to do when I  collide with an unknown word is to point at it accusingly (frowning is optional), and the translation pops up. Oh my, what a marvel compared to thumbing through a paper dictionary – a practice abandoned sometime during the late Cretaceous period, I realise! – but I remember those days only too well.

What have I read?

El Esclavo de la Al-Hamrá, by Blas Malo Poyatos: An historical novel set in Spain and North Africa in the fourteenth century. I made it to 38%, then aborted the mission. It wasn’t so much that I found the language too challenging, but I just didn’t care about any of the characters. And I can’t get through a 464-pager just for the sake of accumulating vocabulary about the smells of the souk and bloody medieval clobberings between Moors, Jews and Christians.

Suicidio Perfecto, by Petros Márakis: Who-dunnit set in Athens. I’m not an aficionado of crime novels (which is unheard of for a German – they are famously obsessed with their “Krimis”), but this book was on my book club reading list, so I bit the bullet. The plot wasn’t too convoluted, and I found it engaging enough to keep dragging my weary fingertips across every fifth word until I got to the last page. Hurraaah! Success!!!

Maldita, by Mercedes Pinto Maldonado: May the Lord Of The Rings strike me down, this is the kind of tosh that I detest with every fibre of my being. We’re talking damsel-in-distress romantic effluent. BUT for language learning purposes, it was surprisingly useful. Straightforward plot, simplistic characters, you knew exactly what was going to happen next, and to whom. We both made it to the end – me with the utmost relief, and the damsel duly rescued, married and with a bun in the oven. Phew!

La Tumba Perdida, by Ares Nacho: Discovery-thrillery-egyptological lore. Replete with grave robbers, mummies and royal incest. Set in the 1920’s and 1300 BC. I started this last week, am really into it right now, and confident I’ll last the distance.

For language assimilation purposes, as I’m working my way through those books at glacial speed, looking up absolutely everything and highlighting the new vocab and certain sentence constructions, which strike me as useful. The e-reader lets you do that, oh yes! Once I’m done with a book, I’ll go back over the highlighted matter and transfer it into my notebook. A bit labour intensive, but totally worth it.

Apologies for the length of this post! Anyone care to share their foreign language reading exploits, hits and misses? Would love to hear about it 🙂

The Weekly Don Quixote: On The Run

There’s no end in sight for the feud that rages between our DonQ and the Templars!

KnightsSanchoP: Well, I sure hope you learnt enough about their ‘technique’ a couple of weeks ago for us to dodge it… I’d say windmills are no longer our number one priority!

DonQ: And whose fault is this, if I may be so bold as to ask!? Someone just had make a move on his bird last week, didn’t they?!

[If none of this makes sense to you, check out the rest of the Weekly Don Quixote series by clicking here]

Street Snaps: Brawn, Killer Heels and Sheer Delights

Curious to see what came of last week’s stalking expedition?

Toledo is positively teeming with tourists at weekends, so a half-hour outing usually yields *something*.  So, here we go:

First up is (surely!) an escapee from a Russian prison camp:

Listen KGB, I want my bounty paid out in cakes!

Dear KGB, I want my bounty money paid out in cakes.

And now, the Japanese… aw. At least six busloads are deposited in the old town every hour. They are allowed to roam freely for 59 minutes after the obligatory guided tour, then they flock back to their air conditioned sardine cans.

Anxious of the evil effects of the Spanish sun on their carefully cultivated pallor, Japanese ladies don floppy hats, umbrellas and many also wear these protective sleeves:

...because, you know, tanned arms, now THAT would look totally ridiculous...

…because, you know, tanned arms, now THAT would look totally ridiculous…!

How’s this for a fancy outfit:Woman

Although, one has to wonder how far she’s going to get in her footwear on Toledo’s cobble stone streets.

Just as well she's pushing  that buggy. It doubles neatly as a zimmer frame.

Just as well she’s pushing that buggy. It doubles neatly as a zimmer frame.

I can see your knickers, Madam! And now the whole world can. But maybe that's what she was aiming for...

I can see your knickers, Madam! And now, so can the whole world! But maybe that’s what she was aiming for all along… am always happy to be of assistance.

[In case you missed last week’s street stalk, it’s here]