World weather.

February, March, April 2006 . . . MADRID, SPAIN- fiestas!
Well, one housewarming party just didn't seem like enough, so we've had a couple. And there are more to come. Since Maria and I have several circles of friends, we thought it a clever idea to have separate parties for each group. First a long lunch for our ex-pat friends that we've met through a Madrid-based internet messageboard. Maria cooked up a storm, bean salad, green salad, wild rice, chicken with sultanas, capsicum and mushroom quiche, and a delicious trifle-like dessert. My role was very much that of assistant, a role which came to an abrupt end when I promptly cut off the tip of my thumb while preparing the salad. With the help of a folding table from Maria's mother, and some extra chairs brought by one of our guests, we comfortably seated nine for lunch.

If you've been following The Savage Files from the beginning, you may recognize one of the faces in the photos above. My friend Becky, who I stayed with in Brighton two years ago emailed me a few days prior to our party to say that she and a friend would be coming to Madrid on the day of our party, adding an English influence to the already multicultural mix of Spanish, Cuban, Israeli, American and Australian. Trust Becky to arrive on a day when the vino and cerveza was sure to be flowing freely!

After several hours of gorging, lubricated by wine and laughter, our lunch guests swaggered home, and Maria and I took Becky and her friend Matt on a little tour of the city. Becky insisted that she only wanted to see the inside of as many pubs as possible, but along the way I couldn't resist showing them two of my favourite Madrid landmarks, the Palacio Real, and the adjoining Cathedral Almudena.

We've had another housewarming party since, this time for fellow Couchsurfers and associated friends. We expected fourteen guests- too many to sit comfortably at the table- so I prepared tacos and burritos, something that people could serve themselves and eat off their lap. In the end, only ten guests arrived (thanks very much to those who just didn't show up after I slaved over a hot stove all morning for you! grrrr...)

Since Maria had done all the work last time (and my thumb has healed nicely, thanks for asking) I gave her the day off, and took on this lunch as my personal project. First off the rank was a super nachos, made of of 600 grams of corn chips, layered with cheese salsa, jalapenos, sliced black olives, Italian peppers, Spanish onion, minced meat and diced tasty sausage, smothered in 600 grams of grated cheese. I had bought five packets of grated cheese from the local supermarket. The packaging claimed that the cheese was 'para fundir' - for melting- and a delicious looking photo of gooey melted cheese atop a pile of pasta removed any doubt that this was indeed the cheese I needed for the perfect nachos. But in actual fact, the cheese did not melt. Rather it browned and solidified. Still, our guests were polite enough to come back for seconds.

None of our guests had been to our place for a meal before, and so were unaware of, and unprepared for, my policy of overfeeding. Indeed, I think many of them were under the impression that the nachos were lunch, not just an appetizer. Eyes bulged when I emerged from the kitchen a short time later bearing a huge tub of chilli beans, a kilo of Tex-Mex chicken, a kilo of fried mushrooms, half a kilo of ground beef, bowls of sliced tomato, lettuce and onion, and trays piled high with taco shells and burritos. With my constant encouragement, a valiant effort was made by all, but Maria and I have enough leftovers to do us through the week.

Not to be completely left out, Maria had prepared a delicious dessert. Unfortunately, it failed to set overnight, and had our guests not been told it was supposed to be a strawberry tart, they would have enjoyed it as a perfect strawberry mousse.

I was too busy cooking, and Maria too busy entertaining, to find time for photographs, but if you go to couchsurfing.com and search for members in Madrid, you'll find some of the faces that graced our humble home for housewarming party number two. Amazing that Couchsurfing has grown from a few hundred to almost 70,000 members in just three years.

While on the subject of parties, here's something you might find interesting...

I took these photos at a dinner with Maria's parents. The bowl of flaming liquid in the middle of the table is called queimada, a potent mix of strong spirit and equally strong coffee. It is delivered to the table aflame, and it is then the responsibility of one member of the party -in this case, Maria's father- to stir the brew and keep it burning. As you keep the liquid moving, much of the alcohol burns off, leaving you with a soothing but still strong after dinner brew. If you ever find yourself in Spain, I recommend trying a queimada (pronounced 'kay-mada')

Oh, and there are other tasty cocktail recipes in our Spanish cookbook as well...

Next journal update...