Monday, July 26, 2010

Araneus diadematurs, At Home in a Smaller World

Please CLICK ON THIS PICTURE To see all the lovely details

What am I in a spider's world? A cloud that passes over her sky? A tremendous gust of air? Is something smaller than the bud of my ear-buds, aware of me as a threat, a presence or with any kind of interest?

I encountered this little beauty hanging out on one of her own silky threads on the bathroom wall. That's usually where I meet up with her kind, right about tooth-brushing time.

She's commonly known as a "Cross Spider". I was so pleased with myself because I recognized her. That's because one of her sisters came to visit my porch on Halloween night. My trick-or-treat Cross spider was much, much bigger than this little darling. I was able to see her markings with my own eyes, but for this babe I couldn't tell what she was until I enlarged the photo in Photoshop. A magnifying glass would have done the trick as well.

I posted pictures of both these girls to the spider identification web site, where both were identified by entomologists who frequent the site. (It's a very to join this site for free, and to post your photos there .) This tiny lady was verified by a charming man, "Bug Eric". He has a great blog ( that really brings out the romantic side of insects, spiders and other arthropods, and the people that work with them.

* One of the tricker-or-treaters pointed her out and after that all the kids came to see her.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Spain, Pensamientos finales

Is this Segovian Cupid waving Hasta Luego,

or simply thumbing his nose at me?

It’s time to bring my illustrated journal about my trip to Spain to a close, and return my blog to it’s regular form, as an art-journal of my daily life here in California.

The pieces I wrote about my trip are short themed entries, and are not intended as a blow-by-blow description of my trip. I've listed them below, with links for each entry. Or you can locate them by clicking on particular calendar days above the "About Me" section on this web page.
Each short piece I’ve written since I returned, includes one to four photos that I took there early in July and than brought home to alter in Photoshop. The details in these altered photos show up much better when you CLICK ON each individual PICTURE (try it with the cupids above).
It was hot and I learned to deal with that like a Spaniard. I increased my Spanish speaking confidence and reminded myself that there’s always some way to communicate what I need to – even if that means using ten words instead of the one I don’t know. The colors reminded me that I wasn't at home. When you find a good park, stick with it, and go back as often as you can. I’ll always remember visiting with a group of Madrillenos at the turtle pond at the Palacio Cristal. I gained a new appreciation of sola, when I traveled to Segovia.
Sincerely yours,
The Simple Romantic
A Bit of Beauty from the Alcazar Palace(A printable luggage tag I created from an altered photo)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Modern Edificios y Negocios (Madrid)

PLEASE CLICK on these pictures to see the lively detail.

Modern buildings and city businesses in an unfamiliar country, are just as intriguing as the historical ones. They look so similar to the ones I know at home but, then again, something tells me that I'm not in Kansas any more.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Mystery of Trenta (Madrid)

As always, PLEASE CLICK ON these pictures to see more lovely detail.

Window of Horno La Santiguesa

I looked all over the web for a recipe for a wonderful little braided sweet bread I found at this bakery on Calle Meyor, not too far from Palacio Real.* It's called 'trenta' (not treInta - the baker in the panaderia edited my hand-written note).
The only recipe I found was one for some Slovakian bread that is totally different. I know it was kind of like brioche but not as rich. It also had a little cinnamon twisted in.

the mysterious trenta

My search on recipes for "spanish bread" did turn up a wonderful recipe for camote, a sweet potato bread (recipe below). It was NOTHING LIKE THE TRENTA, but it is delicious. I found it in a great blog called Kusina ni Manang, which is a lot of fun to read. The author describes her entries as, A Filipina's unabashed chronicle of her adaptations in the American kitchen. The bread is extremely good. I made the dough - only, as I always do, in a two-pound loaf bread machine, then shaped it in pans, let it rise once more in a 200 degree oven, and baked it in a regular oven at 350 degrees. With the alterations I made to the recipe (removing the butter and increasing the sweet potato, changing milk and water to buttermilk) it baked very fast. Two loaves done around 25 - 30 minutes after the oven rise.

Another friendly-looking
panaderia window

The author of Kusina ni Manang says about this recipe, "Camote is very cheap in the Philippines compared to flour, and the soft yellowish rolls they create will probably boost up sales and profit.


I don't know about sales and profit but the soft yellow bread is sure good.

The following is my re-interpretation of this recipe.

I run the machine on the dough cycle and bake it in the oven, so it bakes and looks like real bread.

* Spray or oil the bread machine pan first. It's a sticky dough.

Put in the wet stuff.

3/4 cup 2% buttermilk (original was 
1 / 2 cup milk and 1 / 4 cup water

1 / 2 cup boiled and mashed sweet potato
 (this was about one regular sized sweet-potato, skinned and mashed with a potato masher)

1 large egg

Put in the dry stuff.

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

5 shakes from the cinnamon shaker (my addition)

3 cups bread flour (I ran out of bread flour and so did the grocery store. Regular unbleached works fine in this.)

Make a dent (well) in the top of the flour.

Fill with following yeast and sugar mixture

(sugar helps the yeast work, this position keeps yeast dry until wet ingredients are heated up to the right yeast-working temperature)

1/4 cup white sugar

1/6 cup brown sugar (not in original recipe)

2 tsp Fleischmann's bread machine yeast

* Let the machine run on the dough cycle

* Once the dough cycle has run it's course (1:30 on my machine), then shape into 2 greased loaf pans (or one loaf pan for a really, really high loaf)

* Put into a 200 degree oven and let them rise once more for 20 minutes

* Switch oven over to 350 degrees and bake for 25 - 30 minutes. A really, really big loaf takes about 35 minutes. I stick a knife right down in the middle to make sure they are done. Yeah, it leaves a hole but you know your bread is done. If you like to tap instead, go for it.

Very good with some healthy-type margarine and honey

* Yes, I carefully wrote down the address and location in comparison to other well-known buildings in the travel notebook I lost on the airplane home.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Impressions of Madrid, Historic Edificios

Please CLICK ON Each Picture To See The Lovely Detail

Gran Via

As an American, I'm not used to seeing really old, ornate buildings right where I live. I wrote in yesterday's entry about scheduling my trip around early morning and late evening walks.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hace Calor! One Woman's Survival Strategy (Madrid)

Please Click on these Pictures to See More Lovely DetailMadrillenos have their own techniques for dealing with the heat of the city in July.

Those who don't have a long commute back home may still have a big midday meal and an afternoon siesta before returning to work until evening. But many do commute. I imagine they take advantage of air-conditioned offices as much as possible.

A tourist wants to see things, but when it gets to be over 100 degrees, she gets more than hot.

After I more-or-less got over my jet-lag I had forced myself to stay out all day. I was just miserable. After I came close to passing out on the metro, I came up with my strategy for beating the heat. I developed a modified Spanish plan. I set my alarm and got up at 6:00 in the morning to got out walking different neighborhoods, and taking photographs. In the late morning I visited any museums or other tourist attractions. Once it got good and hot in the early afternoon, I went back to my hotel room, showered off the heat, ate my yogur y frutas and whatever I had scrounged from the mercado. Then I had a REALLY LONG nap, really the second part of my nights sleep. I got up really late in the afternoon and went out walking again. This always included hanging out in El Parque el Buen Retiro. That's where the locals were anyway. Once I got tired of walking in the park, I sat on various benches and read or sketched. I also hung out at the turtle pond and chatted to people. (See my previous entry, Getting Neighborly).

Madrid stayed light until after 10:00 at night in July. Several times I stayed out until past 11:00. The Plazas are well-lit and, since I saw other home-bound women walking home at that time of night. From the style of dress of the people I saw, I guessed that the walk back to the hotel was relatively safe. A casual supper in my hotel room, a little English language news on t.v. and I got in another 5 hours or so of sleep.
Early evening at El Lago in El Parque de Buen Retiro

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Enjoying the Frutas (y Verduras) of Madrid

PLEASE CLICK on this picture to see more detail.

Towards the end of my week in Madrid, I found this nice grocery store about a three minute walk from my hotel right on the way back from the neighborhood entrance to El Parque de Buen Retiro, which I visited every day.

I waited my turn while I listened to this woman discussing the gazpacho she was going to make with the produce man. There, of course, the produce seller picks out everything for his customer. We don't sully the frutas or the verduras by touching or squeezing them with our fingers. They picked out everything she needed – tomates, pimentón, a little bunch of sweet, yellow cebollas and some nice heads of ajo. I can’t eat peppers, onions OR garlic, and it still sounded good, a nice cold vegetable soup in the ‘midst of Madrid en Julio. Most days it ranged somewhere over a hundred degrees in the afternoon.
La Senora made a friendly joke to me, about how long she'd taken and I told both of them how much I'd enjoyed listening to her cooking plans, since I was just visiting. That seemed to help me out of the tourist and into the visitor category.
This man handed me both a fresh cherry and an apricot to eat while I waited and, after he marked the price on each package of produce, he added in extras to each bag for this, clearly well-known, customer. Grocery shopping in another country is as enjoyable a cultural experience for me as restaurant eating is for the next woman.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Getting neighborly at El Palacio Cristal, El Parque de Buen Retiro, Madrid

Click on these images to see more pretty detail.
My favorite activity in Madrid was walking in the wonderful big city park, El Parque de Buen Retiro. I walked there every day. I chose the hotel I went to, Hotel Agumar on Calle de Reina Cristina, because I saw that park on the map nearby. I have really enjoyed locating near parks in other big cities, with which I was unfamiliar. I’m used to walking a lot at home. Not only is it nice to have a great big swath of shady green, I like getting to see people out strolling, biking, skating and enjoying the company of their pets and children. At home I have a lot of casual interactions with pets and people in my own neighborhood park and this was a similarly comfortable way to interact with people in Espagna.

The spot I returned to most often in the park was the turtle pond by El Palacio Cristal - a beautiful building if ever there was. It was fun going and sitting on the steps there in the evening, to watch the turtles and have low-key chats with children and adults. That's when I really felt a part of the community. And, unlike in the restaurants, when people started to smoke, I could move!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain, Thoughts on Surging Over a Language Barrier

Please CLICK ON THE ABOVE IMAGE to better enjoy the details

One Wet Terrier

El Parque de Buen Retiro

Madrid, Espagna

Photo altered using Photoshop CS4,
Original work is the copyright of, L. Shimer, 2010

Dogs can usually figure me out - humans - not always.

Spanish dogs seemed to understand me easily, no matter in which language I spoke to them. Madrillenos seem to like dogs as much as Californianos do. It seemed like every third person in Madrid, had a dog on a leash during the paseo.

I was very glad that I am comfortable using Spanish on my recent trip to Spain. I think it would be difficult to visit Madrid and the environs, without some proficiency in the language. My most challenging encounters with Spanish came when I was working through the process of buying train tickets within the Atoche Renfe metro/train station. When I became uncertain about where the train left from (turned out I had to get a train to another station - Chamartin- first!) , broke down and asked for help in English, it simply was not available. I just had to figure out how to come up with other words to use, to ask my questions.

Next day in Chamartin, confused by the displayed departure information, I again asked for help in English. My request was met with a shrug and a referral to another clerk who didn't understand my question. As I've learned when visiting other countries, these situations force me to figure out how to communicate my needs. And, Y hola !, did I feel proud of myself when I navigated two trains and a bus on my day trip from Madrid to Segovia. Particularly when an older woman bus driver praised me for traveling sola.

I found the Harper Collins "Language Survival Guide, SPAIN" book in my library and took that along as my travel dictionary. Not only does it have word lookup, but also sections such as transportation phrases and ticket layouts. It was really useful, and I liked it better than other dictionaries I've used.