Children’s Day – Día del Niño

May 8th was Children’s Day (Día del Niño) in Madrid.

No? Me neither!

Well; recent posts have discussed both mother’s day and father’s day so it is only fair to give this one a mention.

Apparently it happens every year in most countries. The UK is one of the few (maybe only) not to celebrate it. Children’s day came and went without anyone noticing as far as I could tell.

Apparently there are two Children’s Day celebrations recognised across the globe and countries celebrate the one they identify with most so the dates vary from country to country. The main (original) Children’s Day was supposedly founded in Paris around 1950 by an organisation working for women’s rights, called the Women’s International Democratic Federation.

The second was some United Nations invention from 1954 called Universal Children’s Day and supposedly celebrated on November 20th. Again; me neither!

In Madrid, Children’s Day is supposedly celebrated on the second Sunday of May – exactly a week after mother’s day (día de la madre). So we missed it this year (and every one before that actually).

The reason I am writing all this is that I only found out about it by chance. Yesterday I was out doing some of that shopping therapy; or is it called retail therapy? – that shows how unaccustomed to it I am. Anyway; I passed one of my favourite stores Toys-R-Us and popped in for a quick look (as you do).

I noticed some posters advertising the store’s latest offers. Big discounts on certain lines for something called “Día del Niño” (Children’s Day). The offers lasting from May 27th to June 7th. I raised an eyebrow or two and left the shop. The day obviously hadn’t gone completely unnoticed in Spain.

Then when I arrived back at my trusty PC I googled it and found we had just missed it. By nearly two weeks in fact.

I can honestly say I had never heard of it. Have you ever heard of it?

It turns out that in Spain it is mainly celebrated on April 15th apart from Madrid where it is supposedly celebrated on the second Sunday of May. Both dates completely passed us by. Also the dates used for the toy store offers do not cover either of these dates. Very odd. I do not recall hearing anything about either date. I use the word “celebrate” very loosely here. As you should now be aware the Spanish need very little excuse to celebrate anything – party animals that they are. But there is no fuss being made of Children’s Day here from what I can see.

I am not sure why it is not “celebrated” in the UK. Does anyone know?

Really that is the sum total of it. If you have read this blog post you now know as much as me about the subject.

To be fair the idea behind Children’s Day is quite an honourable one in that it is meant to initiate actions to benefit children’s welfare globally. Of course in some countries children have a much harder life and I am sure the intentions were aimed at those less fortunate kids.

Anyway here’s a thought. Shouldn’t every day be Children’s Day?

Spanish Driving

Anyone who drives will have had this same thought: “I am so glad that I do not have to learn to drive now.”

With the number of cars on the road increasing exponentially each year it certainly is a daunting task.

Now put yourself in Dani’s small shoes. In 15 years time this poor kid has to learn to drive in Spain. Imagine that. I can hardly bear to think about it.

Spanish driving is a subject that should be taken seriously but I make no excuses for quoting this excellent text from John Hooper’s book The New Spaniards (details below).

Taken from a chapter called “High Stakes” which talks about gambling habits in Spain, this paragraph sums it all up so well; I have quoted it myself many times. It is cleverly worded and unfortunately so true. Anyone who has driven in Spain will identify with this and even if you haven’t driven in Spain you should find it amusing.

“Forget gambling for a moment. Just take a drive through any Spanish city. What is it that makes the experience so unnerving? That the Spanish drive fast? No; the Italians drive noticeably faster. That the Spanish Drive selfishly? Not at all; compared with the French, they are consideration personified. What distinguishes the Spanish is their readiness – their compulsion, almost – to gamble with their lives and, regrettably, those of others in order to gain a few seconds or metres.”

I hasten to point out that Spain is still far better than a lot of countries when it comes to safe driving.

You can often see the Spanish overtaking, undertaking and indeed, completely piss-taking! It is quite common to see someone drive across three motorway lanes at the last second just to make an exit road. It can be worrying, infuriating and even funny all at the same time.

It is fair to say that statistics show a drop in traffic related fatalities in Spain. From a peak in 1999 there has been a downward trend. So much so that more recent (2013) figures show Spain ranked as 5th (safest) for traffic related fatalities in Europe with a fatality rate of 36 per million of population – down from 53 on the previous 2010 study.

Incidentally Spain ranks better than France and Italy with figures of 50 & 58 respectively – take note Mr. Hooper . In comparison the UK figure was 29, down slightly from 30 in the previous study.

The reasons for such a fall in fatalities has been put down to the more widespread wearing of seatbelts and a reduction in driving under the influence of drink or drugs – something which had been fairly common in Spain.

While traffic related fatalities are clearly the figures of most concern, such statistics do not tell the whole story. If you delve deeper into the statistics there is a considerable rise in non-fatal traffic accidents in some areas. The evidence is all around and easy to spot. It is surprisingly difficult to find a car in Spain that does not have several dents and other signs of collision. Even the new cars. Many of those will be collisions with walls, bollards and other (often parked) cars.

The reason for this is hard to explain but actually quite easy to summarise. It is fair to say that even the most mild-mannered Spaniard has a tendency to drive aggressively. I have witnessed it myself many times. People who you would never suspect of having an aggressive bone in their body suddenly become crazed maniacs when they sit behind the wheel. It is a staggering transformation when witnessed first hand.

I hope that Dani will be less inclined to be like that. I hope he will be careful; but it is a worry. I am sure that is the case for all parents in any country. Dangerous driving is something that you learn to do – or not to do. At the moment, even at his young age he seems aware of the dangers on the roads. He says things like “este coche va muy rápido” (this car is going very fast) when a car overtakes us. That shows caution. On the other hand he is only too keen to jump into the driving seat at every opportunity.

Who can say what it will be like learning to drive in fifteen years time. Driving in Spain could be – statistically at least – safer than in the UK by then. Although somehow I doubt that.

Many thanks to John Hooper and his team for giving us permission to use text from his book. The quote is taken from The New Spaniards – first edition, 1995. The book has since been updated in 2006.

Hooper’s book is easily the best read on Spain and the Spanish. I have not seen one that even comes close. I do not intend to do a full review of the book here but please look for yourselves at the (mostly) fantastic reviews it has received.

New Spaniards firstNew Spaniards 2nd

1st Edition cover                         2nd Edition cover

 

LEGO – Getting the Bug

What age does a child normally get the Lego bug?

I suppose like everything else in their development it varies from child to child.

It is just over 2 months since I wrote about buying Dani his first Lego (Duplo) set .

He is now building on his own and does not need any encouragement to do so. Ok, he only builds the most basic tower – as in, how many bricks can you stack one on top of another? – but there is some invention there and the main thing is he definitely likes it.

More than that there is a certain pride in the crazy structures he builds. His parting line when leaving the room and pointing to the Lego is: “Don’t touch it! OK?” (I am sure he got that one from me).

Not as much pride as I get from watching him build with the Lego however. This really marks the start of a fantastic journey into the world of Lego. It will just get better and better. Great 🙂

FIrst LEgo build

Twin Towers? Hardly.

Biscuit Disaster

Just over a week ago we made a new batch of biscuits. Then we spent a week in the UK and almost forgot about them until last night when Dani saw the biscuit barrel and asked for one.

For the latest batch we used self raising flour instead of plain flour. Partly as we had just enough of this ingredient left over from the cake baking but also I thought it would be a slight improvement to the recipe.

A good idea?

My great idea was that by using self raising flour I could roll out the dough mix thinner (thinking they would rise) and therefore be able to cut more biscuits from the mix. This I did, although the biscuits did not rise as much as I thought they might. Nonetheless they looked perfect when I took them from the oven.

Even better they were far less brittle. I had been wondering for some time how to make the biscuits less brittle. How to reduce the spread of crumbs when Dani ate them. I am still not exactly sure why but this batch seemed to be the answer. Is it simply rolling out thinner biscuits but baking for the same time? Does anyone know?

Fantastic. More biscuits and less mess! An improvement. What could go wrong?

The answer was simple. Dani does not like them. I don’t understand why but think it is probably just because the texture is different. It seems he prefers – and is certainly more accustomed to – the more brittle biscuits. He certainly does not like sudden changes to his little routines and tastes.

If it’s not broke…

Now we are going to have to make another batch using the tried and trusted recipe. On the plus side I really like this latest batch – so they will not go to waste.

I should have known better than mess with Dani’s favourite biscuit mix. It certainly reminds me of the old saying: “If it’s not broke then don’t fix it”.

Or maybe “That’s how the cookie crumbles” is more apt in this case.

I am sure there are more daft but apt sayings but I will leave it there… Feel free to send in your daft sayings.

San Isidro – Patron Saint of Madrid

Yesterday marked the start of San Isidro (saint Isidro) in the city of Madrid. A five day fiesta which runs from the 12th to 16th of May.

San Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid and the festivities are held every year around the day of Sani Isidro which is May 15th. Originally a religious festival to celebrate the generosity of San Isidro (when he was only a poor farmer) giving food to the poor these days it is more like an excuse for a huge fiesta. Typical Spain! As pointed out in previous posts the Spanish don’t need much of an excuse to party.

During the five days you can enjoy concerts of every different musical style plus theatre and dancing performed in the streets. There are numerous children’s activities, street processions with bands and lots more. The bars are busy and many open street bars to increase their capacity. San Isidro is also a big date in the bullfighting calendar.

Many people still dress up in the tradition 19th century Madrid costumes. For the men chulapos; a black and white dogtooth patterned waistcoat with red carnation (clavel ) and matching flat cap. For the ladies, chulapas; the long dresses with headscarf including the red carnation. The ladies also wear the world famous Manila shawl (Mantón de Manila). The same traditional costume is worn for La Paloma festival in mid-August.

The children also get dressed up in the same costume. This year Dani needed a new costume as he had outgrown last years. Of course it looks cute. But getting a photo? These days the best way to keep him still long enough to take a photo is to let him see himself in the mirror.

San Isidro costumeIMG_9528This year he will miss half of the festival as we will be travelling to the UK.

At last year’s La Paloma festival he was a star attraction in the centre of Madrid. Happily dancing in the street oblivious to the crowds around him. Watch the video. Many of the passing crowd actually asked permission to take his photograph.

San Isidro is probably one of the best times to visit Madrid. For more information about the San Isidro festival and other events visit the following sites:

http://www.esmadrid.com/en

http://www.madridtourist.info/

http://www.madrid-tourist-guide.com/

 

Mother’s Day – Día de la Madre

Oops!. Almost forgot. Sunday 1st May was Mother’s day in Spain (día de la madre). It was a hectic weekend for one reason and another, but while this old dad forgot to add a blog post at least Dani did not forget the day.

Not only did he buy his mother a card and make a small gift (a cute little heart-shaped cactus), he also bought her a small Lego set. It is a little too technical for him at the moment but who knows? In the near future he may well get to play with that Lego set himself. Clever boy.

Mothers day cactus

Mother’s day in Spain is always the first Sunday of May so the actual date varies – unlike Father’s day which always on the same day (March 19th).

Apparently modern day mother’s day celebrations can be traced back to two American women. One of whom (Anna Jarvis) tried to stop the over-commercialisation of Mother’s Day by filing a law suit. She lost. Not much chance of that being successful in America eh?

Recipe: Torta Galesa

It rained all last weekend. Stuck indoors, this was the perfect opportunity to try out a new recipe. Naturally Dani wanted to help.

An old recipe…

In fact it is a very old recipe. While sorting out some things in storage last week I came across an old cake tin. It was from a trip to Argentina over 14 years ago. It was a fruit cake bought in Patagonia called Torta Galesa (Welsh cake) in Argentina. A basic fruit cake recipe much like a typical wedding cake. This recipe was taken over to Argentina by Welsh immigrants in the 1800’s. There are several well known brands over there. This particular one was Tia Beryl (auntie Beryl’s).

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The cake that came in the tin was eaten long ago but the tin had been kept and forgotten about until last week. Inside the tin was a sheet of paper with the recipe for Torta negra Galesa (black Welsh cake).

There was a slight problem. The recipe measures are for a 550g cake – to fit the tin – while we only had a much larger cake tin. The answer was simple: Increase the ingredients by 50% and fill the large cake tin. The worst that could happen was that we would have a lot more cake right?

The cake turned out to be just right. Rich, moist and very tasty. And so easy to make. There are several variations and you can choose which type of alcohol (if any) you want to add. I think a brandy would be best but we only had a small mini-bar style bottle of whisky to hand.

Our recipe is below. Try it and I am sure you will love it.

Ingredients:

450g Flour

375ml Water

600g Fruit (a mix of Raisins, Sultanas & prunes)

300g Brown Sugar

300g Butter (pre melted)

75g crushed nuts (“optional” but we used walnuts)

2 teaspoons bicarbonate/raising agent (less if using self-raising flour)

2 Tablespoons of Molasses

½ Cup of liquor

Method:

Boil the water. Add the fruit, molasses and sugar then boil the mixture for 5 minutes.

Allow to cool then add the butter and the sieved flour with the raising agent, nuts and liquor.

Pour the mix into a greased cake tin and pop in the oven at a medium heat (150°-170°) for approximately 2 hours (or until baked).

Very simple to make. You can also add a touch of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg if you want to spice it up.

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Now I need to buy a smaller cake baking tin so that next time we make one it can be stored in the original Patagonian Tia Beryl tin.

As there is a lot of sugar in this cake Dani will not be trying it any time soon. Poor boy. Luckily he has not expressed an interest in the cake and still wants his biscuits.