Monthly Archives: November 2013

Annual Tapas Competition – Round III

I just got back home and here we have it: The eagerly-awaited (by me at least) final installment of Toledo’s annual tapas competition (La Jornada De La Tapa), which finishes on Sunday. We had some pretty interesting things, let me tell you…

It certainly helps to have a really dedicated team. Just look at the concentration:

Delfin

What we had: Morcilla (= black pudding/blood sausage) croquettes with apple, pistachio, matchstick potatoes and red pepper jam
Verdict: Not terrible, but not overwhelming. I found it too sweet overall, and the sweetness drowned out the flavours.

If there were an award for the most adventurous tapa in this contest, this one is it:

What we had: Coca-Cola and tamarind jelly topped with potato mousse, sprinkled with shavings of fried foie gras  Verdict: Out of this world! We were a bit apprehensive at first, The flavours worked fabulously well together. Top marks for originality!

What we had: Coca-Cola(!) and tamarind jelly topped with potato mousse and sprinkled with shavings of fried foie gras
Verdict: Out of this world! We were a bit apprehensive at first, but the flavours worked fabulously well together. And despite having probably 10,000 calories, it was as light as a fluffy summer cloud. Top marks for originality!

What we had: Bacalao (salt cod) dumplings with saffron and olive oil Verdict: Opinion on this was divided. Olga, who doesn't like bacalao, though it was OK. I found it too fishy (though I like bacalao). Carmen didn't like it at all.

What we had: Bacalao (salt cod) dumplings with saffron and olive oil
Verdict: Opinion on this was all over the place. Olga, who doesn’t like bacalao, though it was OK. I liked the texture, but found it a bit too fishy (though I do like bacalao). Carmen gave it the thumbs down.

The winner of the night for me was this one:

What we had: Deep fried squid filled with mushrooms and smoked alioli Verdict: Totally glorious. It did not look like much on the plate, but it was DIVINE.

What we had: Deep fried squid filled with mushrooms and smoked alioli
Verdict: Totally glorious. I admit, it did not look like much on the plate, but it was DIVINE.

To view Tapas Comp Round I, click here, and for Round II, click here.

OK, time for bed… tomorrow, we’re doing a sushi raid in Madrid 🙂

 
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Which Way? There Once Was A Bridge… And Some Pretty Cakes…

For Cee’s Which Way photo challenge this week, I’m offering up the remnants of a bridge that once led across the river Tagus in Toledo.

Bridge

The black specks on the ruins are cormorants sunbathing

I took the pic above on Tuesday, which was a special treat day for me, enjoyed in the lovely company of Debbie from travelwithintent, who came up to spend the day in Toledo.

To my great delight, I was amply compensated for my hap-hazard tour guiding services:

CakesThree guesses as to Which Way these delectable little beauties went…!

Let’s just say they’ve a lot in common with the bridge… only remnants remain.

Urban Language Myths: “You Just Pick It Up!”

“Have you heard? Dave’s moving to Egypt.”
“Does he speak Arabic…?”
“No, but he’s good with languages, he’ll just pick it up!”

I take it we’re all familiar with this conversation.

OK, let me hand it to you straight: A language is not a bunch of keys you’ve just dropped onto the floor or a box of washing powder. Nor is it a venereal disease. You do not “just pick it up” by casually passing through a supermarket or someone’s bodily fluids.

The harsh truth is this: Learning a language is darn hard work. There are days when you just want to hammer your head against a pebbledashed wall.

A widely held – and wildly unhelpful – misconception is that one must possess this magical quality called a “talent for languages” to learn a second language in adulthood.

Let me tell you this: Talent is hugely overrated. To succeed at something, to acquire any kind of advanced skill, what you need is an incentive and a strategy for staying motivated. Unlike passing a driving test, just focusing on the end goal is not enough when it concerns a skill that takes years to attain. The learning process has to be peppered with enough bouts of gratification to see you through the dry stretches.

bunraku

Apparently, playing with dolls is a lot harder than it seems…

Languages do take a long time to master. The same is true for playing musical instruments, lacemaking, professional level sports, etc. I read once that a bunraku (traditional Japanese puppet theatre) puppeteer needs a couple of decades before he can competently operate the puppet’s left leg.

In my observation, the difference between somebody who succeeds at something and someone who doesn’t is down to plain old perseverance and determination. A high aptitude, aka “talent”, might push an individual’s performance above the average, but it’s not a prerequisite, especially where languages are concerned.

I do want to stress this: we all have an innate aptitude for verbal communication, proven by the simple fact that the vast majority of us is able to speak our native language with a fair degree of competence. It’s an inherent human quality,  we are social beings and we have to communicate with others in order to survive.

Yes, sure, the world is littered with freaks. Like uncle Fred, who, despite puffing his way through three packs of cigarillos a day, was as fit as a fiddle until he conked it aged 95 after tripping over the dog bowl. Or that gap-toothed kid next door who can take one swift look at a jar filled with beans and know exactly how many of those you’d need for making a string long enough to circle the moons of Jupiter. Mozart started composing aged five. In the language realm, I’m sure we’ve all gawped in mute impotence at YouTube clips of “hyperpolyglots”, reeling off an interminable list of things they like to do in their bedrooms by themselves in 35 languages.

DavidHaving said that, even those who are considered bonafide geniuses didn’t get to the top of their game by watching Prison Break re-runs. There’s a famous quote by Michelangelo: “if people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”

So, it would seem that he didn’t just tumble out of bed one morning, and, after dispersing his hangover with a hearty breakfast of salted oat gruel and mutton fat (or whatever the Mediterranean equivalent is), took the chisel to a block of marble and, by lunchtime, a luminous David emerged in all his titchy-wienered glory.

Now, let’s bring this back to my original point: No pain, no gain. Sure, if you’re actually living in the country where your target language is spoken, certain things, like the appropriate greeting for the time day, as well as handy vocab for daily living, such as “special offer” and “not drinking water”, do sink in without having to strain one’s grey matter all that much. However, being able to discuss the environmental merits of drip irrigation, or why annual badger culls may not be effective in controlling TB in cattle – or any topic that requires the ability to argue a technical point or opinion to a fair degree of sophistication, are not going become part of one’s conversational repertoire by mere osmosis.

Perpetuating the myth that “you’ll just pick it up” does nobody any favours. It makes those, who’ve not managed to get to grips with a language after several years abroad, feel stupid, when there’s really nothing wrong with them, save for lack of dedication, and it belittles the dogged tenacity of others, who have accomplished their fluency goal by constantly pushing themselves further and further out of their comfort zone.

I’m guessing that at least three quarters of the people who stop by my blog regularly have first-hand experience with this, or some sort of an opinion at least, and I would sure love to hear what you have to say. I’m still developing my (half-baked) theories, as you can probably tell. I hereby declare the comments section (indefinitely!) open. Get to it! 🙂

Annual Tapas Competition – Round II

Those of you who read last Sunday’s post will know all about Toledo’s annual tapas competition “La Jornada De La Tapa“, and how I’m sacrificing myself to participate 😉

I just got back from stuffing myself with these delicacies:

Roast (I think it was pork) with tzatziki in a mini bun

Roast Pork with tzatziki in a mini bun

I already sampled the above tapa last week, but forgot to take a picture out of sheer greediness. I made up for it today, phew! Unfortunately, the meat in my bun was very fatty and I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as last week. A cracking tapa, though, the flavours really work!

Roast courgette filled with venison and topped with manchego cheese. Divine! ...but sadly a tad out of focus ;-)

Roast courgette filled with venison and topped with manchego cheese. Divine! …but sadly totally out of focus 😉

There was a third tapa, but it was a total disappointment on all fronts, visually as well as organoleptically. To console ourselves, we stopped by the ham shop:

My partners in crime: Begoña (beige coat) and Alfonso, tucking into his ham baguette

My partners in crime: Begoña (beige coat) and Alfonso, tucking into his ham baguette

A world of chorizo....

A world of chorizo….

If you want to take a look at last week’s tapas delights, click here.

Toledo’s Autumn Glow

This week’s entry for travelwithintent’s Look Up Look Down photo challenge heralds from Toledo once again. (I don’t get out much.) I took this pic looking down one of its many steeply inclined narrow little streets.

ToledoAnd of course, there’s street lamps 🙂

I Know I’m In Spain When… It’s Muzzle For Dinner

Been meaning to take this snap for ages, but there’s always a queue at this butcher’s. Today I got lucky.

What do you make with those...?  Roast Sniff? Snout au vin? Snot pot?

What do you make with those…?
Roast Sniff?
Snout Au Vin?
Snot Pot?
Muzzle Moussaka?
Nostrils Napolitana?

 

Annual Tapas Competition – Round I

Every year in November, Toledo mounts a tapas competition, “La Jornada De La Tapa”. Bars and restaurants create their own special tapa, and our job is to trawl from place to place until we cannot squeeze in another morsel for fear of bursting out of our seams.

Of course, a glass of wine or beer is mandatory with every sampling, I leave it up to you to imagine the state of the judging panel by the end of a 3-hour assessment round. But someone’s got to do it.

The tapas are priced at €2 this year, and there are 82 participating bars and restaurants in Toledo.

This is serious stuff, you understand - this is the voting slip.

This tapas contest is serious stuff, you understand – here are the leaflet and the voting slip.

My co-judges Olga and Carmen

My (already a bit tipsy) co-judges Olga and Carmen

Olga can't wait to tuck in to hers ;-) Steak cooked in soy sauce, with foie gras and and fig salsa.

Oh, the anticipation 😉
Steak cooked in soy sauce, with foie gras and and fig salsa.

Fried Iberian pancetta, chickpea stew with vinaigrette.  Sounds like a weird combo, but it was delish!

Fried Iberian pancetta, chickpea stew with vinaigrette. Sounds like a weird combo, but it was delish!

I didn’t take pics of all the tapas we snarfed, but the one below was the definite winner for me:

Iberian pork glazed with hummus and onions

Glazed Iberian pork with hummus and onions. The meat was melt-in-the-mouth tender and the flavour out of this world.

We finished off with cake, of course:

La Malquerida has probably the best carrot cake I've eaten anywhere. And I've eaten a lot of carrot cake in my life...

‘La Malquerida’ has probably the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten anywhere. And I’ve eaten a lot of carrot cake in my life 😉 This one’s very moist and not too sweet, and I even love the frosting, which I usually just scrape off.

We’re planning on another tapas judging expedition next Sunday. I hope to be a bit more consistent when it comes to taking photos of those lovely creations before gobbling them up.