Thanksgiving vs giving thanks

Delivering Thanksgiving meals

Sorry for participating in the Thanksgiving overkill, but I figured this was a good a time as any to write about this.

While I am a fan of giving thanks, I am not a fan of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is another exaggerated and incongruous element of American culture. The other 364 days money and work take precedent over gratitude and even family. I know this as I consistently survey my students to see how many have real sit-down dinners with family, few do. I do not celebrate Thanksgiving, but I try to be grateful every day. An example of this might be the daily gratitude diary that I have written for years now. It is quite simple and rewarding, here is how it works. Find a blank notebook and then you write:

Monday – Three things that you are grateful from the weekend.

Tuesday – A good thing that you did or that happened to you, now or in the past.

Wednesday – Write down a resolution… and then fulfill it!!

Thursday – Letter of thanks. To anybody dead or alive, real or fiction, whatever.

Friday – Three good things from the week.

Weekend – rest

I use this as part of my evening meditation practice, and I find it extremely calming and satisfying.

Now, back to Thanksgiving. While the holiday does nothing for me, I love how quiet it is! It is the quietest day of the year! So, I can go for a run or a walk, stay home and watch a movie, cook, or write my blog.

We are blessed at work, because our kitchen staff led by Philippe from Bordeaux cooks an amazing Thanksgiving dinner for lunch a few days before the break, so I do get my share of turkey, stuffing, pies, etc. Also, this year my friend Manuel invited me on Friday to have dinner with his kids, so that was fun.

This year I celebrated Thanksgiving by delivering dinners to low income or sick people. It was organized very well by my parish, and I drove around all over Boynton Beach delivering meals. People were really grateful, which made it all worthwhile. Oh, for myself? I cooked some killer spaghetti!!

The New Yorker magazine

New Yorker covers

Confession time: Many, many years ago, when Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the planet what I loved about the New Yorker was the cartoons, I paid no attention to the amazing writing.

During the 70’s I lived in NY as a preteen so that does not count. But then I moved back to NY after college in 1987 and that was my first introduction to a lot of great writing like The Village Voice, The New York Times, and The New Yorker -although at the beginning I did confuse it with New York magazine, not the same thing.

After working in Boston for a few years, I moved back to Madrid, where lo and behold, my amazing corner kiosk (read that blog here) carried the New Yorker. Eventually the price made it prohibitive to buy, but I would still buy it occasionally. Once I remember a colleague at my university in Madrid brought in a couple of issues. After waiting a few days, I asked to borrow them, what a refreshing read!

You see The New Yorker has local news of events, which means reviews of the best gigs in the world, whether they be music, theatre, ballet, exhibits, etc. as well as book, cinema, and other cultural write ups. It also has restaurant reviews which of course is limited to NYC. But the real meat are the amazing articles and profiles, deeply researched, exquisitely written, and although heavy on the social justice theme, nicely varied. Recent articles included: the situation with the Safer oil tanker in Yemen, Brené Brown, stash-house stings, Jasper Johns, the glass ceiling in chess, Master Class, and on and on. There is also a humor column called Shouts and Murmurs which is usually hilarious! And there are always a couple of brilliant poems. Add to that an always eye-catching cover and you have a treasure. Every week.

Chapel Hill had a great magazine exchange and I always found New Yorkers to cleanse my palate from all the reading I was doing for my PhD! Now in Florida, I am lucky that my next-door neighbor subscribes, and she generously gives them to me when she finishes reading them, so I am back to enjoying the best written magazine ever.

New Yorker covers

The elusive and mythical paella

Unbelievable, in over ten years (wow this is an old blog) I have never dedicated a post to paella. This must be corrected at once.

You see, paella -the right paella- is a divine dish, it combines earthy flavors with spices, and rice, what is there not to like? Now to be clear I am speaking here about the original paella, Valencia paella which has as main ingredients: chicken, rabbit, snails, flat green beans, and local flat white beans, Garrofó. Ah yes, I hear the murmurs about seafood, and chorizo, and all kinds of ingredients… in time, my dear reader, in time.

Like everybody else in Spain and around the world, I have always eaten paella. But it was not until the early nineties that I started travelling regularly to Valencia that I discovered the real deal. Once you have that experience you will never feel the same about paella. I was lucky to have friends and customers that indulged me in taking me to real paella places, where it is prepared outdoors, on open fires of orange tree wood!

Although the first reported recipe for paella is from the mid 19th C, it was the Moors who brought rice to the Albufera lagoon outside Valencia. Also, the word paella comes from the old Arabic pallac (sp?) which means leftovers. Therefore, it is understandable that the original recipes had no pork nor seafood ingredients!

If you travel Spain’s Eastern shore you are going to find hundreds of rice recipes, with seafood, black rice, with all sorts of ingredients -but they are not called paella, but arroz negro, arroz a banda, arroz caldoso, whatever whatever…

To make paella you need to meet a few requirements: ideally you have an open fire, you also need the paella, which is the name of the flat pan used to make the namesake dish. As far as the ingredients, forget it, you are not going to find the exact ingredients, bomba rice has little starch compared to the closest equivalent, Arborio, etc., etc. Paella is a totally local dish, appreciate that and move on.

I had often been paella sous chef, but I did not venture into making my own paellas until I had a gas grill and a paella pan in Boston around ten years ago. After leaving Boston I had a paella making hiatus until recently. As my followers will know, I bought a grill a few months ago, and then I bought a paella pan at the great purveyor of Spanish food, La Tienda. I love making paella, even if it is a mere imitation paella, it is as close as you can get outside Valencia. Let me know in the comments if you want my recipe and American ingredients, or if you have any other comments.

European School of Economics

The European School of Economics is a great little university. I had the privilege of teaching in their Madrid campus for two years from 2018 through 2020. Elio D’Anna, a visionary Italian founded the university with my kind of philosophy, that the student should actively own their learning process, which makes total sense, but it is not how most universities operate.

As I said, D’Anna is Italian, but the university is accredited in England, with campuses (campii?) in London, Milan, Rome, Florence, and Madrid. Students can rotate through the different cities during their studies.

Even more than the philosophy, I loved the small classes, which allowed me to tailor fit the program for my students. Most times, classes were small enough for us to meet at a local coffee shop. Outside of the sterile classroom walls, in a relaxed environment, students become more engaged and participative, and I would even wager better thinkers!

During my time there I taught all levels of Spanish. The students were actively interested in learning and inquisitive, they really engaged, which added to the immersion factor, meant that their Spanish really took off during their time in Madrid.

The school is really international, I had students from South Africa, Egypt, Botswana, all over Europe, Latin America, Japan, and of course local madrileños. The school has now moved to the quiet Retiro neighborhood, but when I taught there, it was in bustling Alonso Martinez Square!

For the beginning of my second year at ESE, I organized a tour/team building activity around Madrid. We organized different activities at the different stops of the tour. We all had a lot of fun and the students bonded and got to know each other!

Sure, a small university obviously has some drawbacks, but at the European School of Economics, the advantages far outweigh any other considerations, I loved my time there and would recommend it to anyone thinking of studying business in Europe!

Visiting Little Havana in Miami

Miami is about an hour away from me, and I hate driving down because there is always horrible traffic, but once I get there, I do enjoy certain neighborhoods. A few days ago, I spent the day in Little Havana and had a blast!

I started off with a “Cafecito” and a cigar. This neighborhood is full of coffee shops with a window to the street where you can order and get your coffee right on the sidewalk. There are also a handful of cigar factories, shops, and lounges where you can sit and enjoy a cigar while you chat. I stopped at El Titan de Bronze for some cigars. Otherwise, I was very restrained and did not splurge buying Panama hats, guayabera shirts, etc. etc.

For lunch I had a frita at the “El Rey de las fritas”. A frita is a Cuban hamburger made out of ground meat and ground chorizo sausage, topped with string fries. If you have never had one, let me tell you, they are divine. This specific restaurant is a time machine back to the 50s and 60s.

I also did a video for Tonxo Tours, my “side gig” which specializes in tours of Spain, but hey, you have to keep the Insta crowd happy and waiting for more!

In the afternoon I checked out some top-level domino games at a little park made ex-profeso for domino, called, you guessed it Domino Park!

The fun of Little Havana is just in soaking it in, walking around, enjoying the sounds and smells. Although you are in the massive city of Miami, for a few blocks, you might as well be in old Havana, with chickens and roosters running around in the neighbors’ yards!