Madrid Christmas Lights

February 17th, 2010 by matt

So we have tons of photos from Madrid, so I think I’ll break them out some more. Today, let’s look a little more at the Christmas lights Madrid has to offer the holidays. Like many cities, Madrid goes all out with their festive spirit. Let’s see what they have, shall we?


Here is the famous Plaza del Sol and the ‘mascot’ of Madrid, a bear with a tree (the Tio Pepe sign, the other icon of Sol, is next to the bear). You can walk into the big tree. Note how few people are there — normally it’s rammed full at all hours.


These were some cool-ass snowflakes on the side of a building (I think it’s a Cortes Ingles). There were also long vertical lights that ‘dripped’ down the building.


This is a cool closeup of the snowflakes hovering over Plaza Mayor, the other big square in Madrid. They almost looked like flying saucers.

This grand building used to be the post office. Now the mayor uses it as the city hall. It was under heavy restoration for over 10 years, so this was the first time Carolyn got to see it.


We have no idea what the purpose of this building is, but it is beautiful and I love anything called Metropolis :). Jim took this excellent nighttime photo of it with some of the lights on the boulevard next to it.


Many of the streets had massive amounts of lights draped across them. This is a fine example with the lights acting as rugs or something.

It was fun to just wander and see all the wonderful lights all over the place. The Spanish gave the Parisians (and Londoners) a run for their money!

Burns Night 2010

February 15th, 2010 by carolyn

The 25th of January marks Burns Night, celebrated annually in Scotland as well as in other locations throughout the UK.  Burns Night Suppers celebrate the life of Robert Burns, Scottish poet and lyricist, and take place on or around his birthday the 25th of January.  Burns was considered the Scottish national poet and will be recognized by those less familiar with Scottish poetry by his works such as Auld Lang Syne, A Red, Red Rose and O Once I lov’d a Bonnie Lass.

I first heard about Burns Night Celebrations, such as the Hackney Cyclists Burns Night fundraiser, last year and was really eager to go to it.  Unfortunately, it had sold out before I could get tickets.  So this year, I kept a close eye on the website and saw the Hackney Cyclists celebration was to take place on the 30th of January.  Matt and I managed to get a few of the last tickets.  Since it had sold out before some other friends could get tickets, we ended up finding another celebration at the The Flask in Hampstead on the 25th.  So two Burns Night celebrations in one week.

The basic structure of a Burns Night Supper is as follows:

Welcoming speech

Entrance of the Haggis  (accompanied by bagpipes)  If you don’t know what haggis is – read here

Address to the Haggis (The address is recited and the haggis slashed open with a knife)

Supper (includes haggis, neeps (turnip) and tatties (potato) – these days veggie haggis is a regular option)

Toasts with whiskey, usually including a toast to the lassies with a response toast to the laddies

Other toasts, speeches, recitation of poetry and/or singing of songs

Closing with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne

The Hackney Cyclists event included all the main components as well as some hearty Scottish dancing after the supper.  And yes, Matt did participate in the dancing (maybe that was down to the whiskey).  The whole event took place in a Hackney primary school and was a fundraiser for cycling projects.  It was a fun night full of a great sense of community.  I couldn’t help but be reminded of a good old square dance in an elementary school gym at home.

The address to the haggis


The bagpipes


The supper (veggie version)


Unfortunately, there is no photo evidence of the dancing!

International Food Festival

February 9th, 2010 by carolyn

Over the past few months we had a chance to learn about making traditional holiday foods with some London friends.  In December, Gerry taught us to make Costa Rican style tamales that her family made to celebrate Christmas.  It was an all day affair that started with shopping for ingredients at Borough Market and the local supermarket.  Followed by reviewing several recipes to come up with the best way to make corn and bean and pipian tamales.  Next step was to prepare the masa, banana leaves and filling and finally the whole event was topped off with the best part, eating them.  Here is some photo evidence of the effort:

Prepping the banana leaves


Preparing the masa and fillings:


Enjoying the finished product


Then few weekends ago, Susan and her cousin Cecelia taught me to make Swedish semlor, a decadent pastry dessert used to celebrate Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) before the start of Lent.  Susan made a stop at a Swedish shop to pick up the ingredients which included special flour, almond paste, double cream and cardamom.  Here is some more photo evidence of the efforts.

First the dough was mixed and buns rolled out, brushed with egg and baked to be soft with a crispy outside


Then the cream and almond paste was mixed, the tops of the buns removed and filled with cream


Then the tops were placed back on the semlor


Filling up on cream and dough

Its been an enjoyable few weeks of eating.  Thanks for the lessons ladies!