Sunday, December 21, 2014

A surprise from Suzy, show cooking with a Master Chef judge, massacre at a school in Peshawar, the US to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, Dinner at Dstage, the Yoigo children’s Christmas party, Christmas dinner at home with Julio and Fátima, time with the girls in downtown Madrid, a lamb was born and other stories.

Sunday 21st December 2014
Happy with my two girlies in Madrid on Saturday
Hi everyone

Here I am on the last Sunday before Christmas writing my blog. The family is complete and nearly everything is ready for the festivities.  Eladio just commented to me from his desk next to mine that today is the first day of winter but you wouldn’t think so if you looked outside as the sun is shining and there are many leaves still on the trees in the garden.

Monday was a happy day for us.  That day Eladio took my Father to the hospital for a scan after his operation a few months ago.  The good news is that he is completely clear of the small tumour he had on his bladder.  We are so happy for him and I think he was very pleased too.

At lunchtime that day I went to have my nails done at a beauty salon nearby.  I had heard about “permanent” nail varnish treatment and wanted to try it out.  I was very impressed with the results but not sure how permanent they would be.  However, so far so good; today is Sunday and they still look perfect.  The 15 euro investment was therefore worth the effort and if they last longer than 2 weeks I shall certainly be repeating the experience.

I was on edge all morning on Monday because I knew that Suzy was coming for Christmas five days earlier than planned but I had been sworn to secrecy.  I later admitted to Suzy that I had told Olivia.  However Eladio and my Father had no idea so when I had to go and meet her off the plane arriving at 16h I had to invent an excuse for leaving the house.  Off I went on my own with butterflies in my stomach to meet my beautiful daughter Suzy who I miss so much because she lives in London. 

Her plane was early and very soon we were home.  We hadn’t planned the entrance, so in we walked and the first person Suzy greeted was my amazed Father who was sitting in our study watching the BBC News.  Next we went upstairs.  Suzy hid in her room and I called Eladio and asked him to come into it to “look at some curtains”.  He had the fright of his life as he walked in and saw her.  This is a photo of that wonderful moment of pure love.
Pure love, Suzy gave her Father quite a shock with her surprise early arrival
We spent the next hour or so having a cup of tea in the lounge to enjoy the Christmas decorations and it felt like having a visitor except that Suzy is no visitor, she is our daughter.  The dogs joined us and here is a lovely photo of the occasion. 
With Suzy and the dogs the afternoon she arrived

I was to miss Suzy and Oli’s moment of reuniting as that night I had to leave for a very special Christmas event.  Had it been any normal event I would have stayed behind to be with the family but it wasn’t.  I had been invited together with my friend Fátima to a show cooking party at the Kitchen Club in Madrid where the chef would be Samantha de España a famous caterer but also one of the members of the jury of the popular TV programme Master Chef. It was a great evening and here you can see me supposedly cooking side by side with Samantha.  Actually I was only peeling an apple!
My Master Chef experience
I was able to get away early and spend some time with Suzy and Oli before we all went to bed.

On Monday the big news was the siege in Sydney where an Islamic gunman entered a Lindt Chocolate café in the city centre and took some 20 to 30 people hostage.  Being so busy that day I only learned the details later.  Thankfully the siege was over the next day when commandos stormed the café to free the hostages.  In the shootout 2 people were killed as well as the gunman, Man Haron Monis.  The story made me think just how vulnerable we all are to these fanatical Islamists and that there seems to be no way of stopping them.  This is the new type of war.
The Lindt cafe in Sydney. 
On Tuesday we were all up early and had breakfast with our girlies.  Both girls joined me on my walk which was great.  Olivia had to work of course which was rather sad so we opted to drive her into Madrid where she works in the centre.  On our way home we stopped at La Vaguada to have a coffee.  It had to be there as, unlike most cafes in Spain, it serves soya milk.  Suzy being a vegan cannot drink cow’s milk.  Whilst at the shopping centre we had a little look in Zara.  I was on the lookout for an elegant black coat.  There were quite a few but both Suzy and I agreed that I looked best in the one I finally bought.  This is it:

My new black coat from Zara
We were home for lunch with the men, a short siesta for some (I had to work) and then out for a second walk.  It was on Tuesday that we heard about the terrible massacre at a school in Peshawar in Pakistan.  Taliban gunmen stormed a school there killing 148 children and leaving many more injured.  The attack was apparently in retaliation for the continuing military intervention against a group in the North Waziristan tribal region. This was certainly Pakistan’s 9/11 and the world is still revealing from the horrors of this ghastly group of terrorists.  They are the same group who targeted Malala and are against educating girls.  I was not surprised to hear that even ISIS condemned the massacre.
Pakistan is in mourning after the Peshawar school massacre
Wednesday was a quiet day. I had lots of work to do, some of it related to the Yoigo employees’ children’s party the next day.  On Wednesday a news bombshell was released when the world heard that the United States and Cuba were to restore diplomatic relations.  I’m not sure whether that means the blockade will be over but it does mean the USA will open an Embassy in Havana after more than half a century.  Both countries which are so near to each other yet with regimes so far apart began secret talks some 18 months ago, some of them in Canada.  They were encouraged by Pope Francis who hosted the final meeting in the Vatican.  In a telephone call between Raul Castro and Barack Obama the two countries agreed to put an end to 5 decades of hostility and to build a new relationship between the two countries.  The news came after the release of an American prisoner and the release of the last three of the so-called “Cuban Five” from a jail in the US who are considered national heroes.   My nephew Miguel is living in Havana and witnessed live this historical moment.  He was interviewed on a Spanish radio and also met with one of the previously released prisoners who had spent time in jail in the US, "Rene"; one of the "Cuban Five".   He told the journalist he found out about the news when a woman neighbor started shouting out of the window.  He then explained that as there is very limited access to internet shouting out of the window is a typical communications tool in Cuba.  Hopefully when and if the blockade ends Cuba can catch up with the rest of the world and enjoy internet, a better form of finding out the news than shouting outside the window!
My nephew Miguel in Cuba with one of the previously released prisoners from a US jail; Rene one of the "Cuban Five".
That evening I had another Christmas event. This time I was invited to Madrid’s number one culinary spot, a new restaurant called Dstage. The owner and chef Diego Guerrero is more than a rising star.  He was the chef at the 2 michelin star Club Allard where I once tried out his culinary creations.  Dstage, opened in July and where there is a three month waiting list to reserve one of the 8 tables, it is a different concept to Club Allard. It has the same high standard of gastronomic creativity but in a more relaxed atmosphere. I can’t begin to describe the 14 miniature courses we had which were beautifully served on the most creative and attractive plates, so here is a collage of just some of the dishes.  If you haven’t been yet, you really must go.  I think Dstage comes into my top 3 meals ever.  One was in Shanghai some years ago with Nokia when the best Chinese chef and top French chef created a meal especially for us.  The second was at the famous Arzak restaurant in San Sebastian and my third is now Dstage. However I cannot put the three in order of preference as they were all just as good.
Just some of the dishes we had at Dstage on Wednesday night
Thursday was the Yoigo children’s Christmas party.  We have only 100 employees but over 180 children attended which proves that the Christmas parties we organize are hugely popular.  This year we set up everything on the outside car park. There were inflatable castles, a stand for painting the kids’ faces, a magician show and many other attractions, not least the Father Christmas set.  Father Christmas was very authentic, in his 60’s at least, quite paunch and with his own real long white beard and moustache.  When I told him he was the best Father Christmas I had ever seen he replied “that’s because I really am Father Christmas”  He was so good the children did not feel duped.
With Father Christmas at the Yoigo Children's party on Thursday

Suzy came along to help and had to dress as an elf.  Here is a great photo of her and me together.
With Suzy at the children's Xmas party

I invited our ex home help Fátima (not to be confused with my best friend Fátima) to come and bring her children who are 6 and 10 years old. They are really poor children who do not get proper nourishment and live in a flat without heating.  I think the party was more special for them than for any of the “richer” children present.  The food was not halal but for once Fátima gave in and her children enjoyed hamburgers and sausage dogs for the first time ever.  Even she did!
Fatima with her children at the Yoigo children's Christmas party

I felt very privileged coming home with the company Christmas hamper in my car which I took up to our room to open on our bed with Eladio as the girls had slightly invaded the kitchen. 

On Friday, with the last of my big events under my belt, it was time for some more Christmas shopping and off I went with Suzy and Eladio.  Eladio came to buy my Christmas present which I had reserved for me at El Corte Inglés.  I thought that at least he ought to pay for it.  As we were running late we decided to have lunch out. It was such a pity Olivia wasn’t there to join us. 

Once home, Suzy joined me on my weekly food shopping outing to Mercadona and our local little supermarket at El Bosque.  We were home by 6.30pm. After putting everything away I had to concentrate on making dinner for Julio and Fátima who were coming that night.  Thankfully I had Gema to help as the kitchen skivvy (what a luxury).  For the record I made spinach salad with mushrooms, pine nuts and fried bacon for starters.  The main course was baked salmon with asparagus and dessert was meringue with red fruit berries and whipped cream.  Everything was quite simple but delicious.  Once the table was laid and the food organized I had to get ready myself and then put on all the lights and candles in the lounges.

It was lovely to host my best friends for the annual Christmas dinner at home.  They were impressed with the table and decorations and Julio kept saying that everything, including our champagne glasses, was very “Downton Abbey”.  I must admit he is right about the glasses as they belonged to my grandmother.
with Julio and Fatíma on Friday at home
We were joined by the dogs in the lounge afterwards.  Elsa behaved perfectly and I think Julio is very taken with her.
With Julio and Elsa after dinner on Friday night at home
Norah, meanwhile, totally misbehaved and I caught her jumping up onto the dining room table.  Thankfully there was no food left on it and the champagne glasses were safe in the kitchen.

It was after dinner that Fátima, Eladio and I discovered or used Shazam, the mobile app that tells you what music you are listening to, for the first time.  A Christmas record was playing and Julio wanted to know who was singing.  He simply clicked on his phone and Shazam told him the record was Celtic Woman singing “A white Christmas”.  We were all impressed.  I had heard of Shazam before but hadn’t used it but will be doing from now on.

And yesterday was Saturday and I wanted to make it really special for my girls, so arranged to go to a spa in Madrid and then have lunch together.  Miguel was coming with us so I wanted Eladio to come too but he preferred to stay at home and have lunch quietly with my Father.  First the girls went to the hairdressers.  At 12.30 Miguel and I picked them up and we rushed to Madrid for our 1 o’clock appointment at Orfila Center.  There we were greeted by the owner Esperanza, a friend of Gloria’s, and she recommended different treatments for us to choose.  My first and only choice was a massage which turned out to be fantastic, one of the reasons being that the bed was warmed.  Oli, Miguel and Suzy all had different facial treatments.  I decided against the latter as once I had one many years ago and my face went all red and bloated so I have never had one again.  Funnily enough this morning Miguel’s face is also red and a bit burned.

After our session at Orfila Center we walked to the restaurant which was to be none other than Casa Carolo where Bea from my events’ agency QuintaEsencia has a stake.  On our way we walked past the PP (Partido Popular Spain’s governing party) headquarters which was surrounded by TV press.  The day before a man had driven right into the main doors with his car on purpose. The owner, a ruined business man, blamed Mariano Rajoy Spain’s President for his problems.

Once at Casa Carolo I realized I hadn’t booked a table so we had to wait but it didn’t matter as we were not in a hurry. Thus we didn’t start our lunch till past 3.30.  Here is a selfie of Suzy and I at Casa Carolo.  On our way back to the car after lunch we ambled into several boutiques.  In one of them called “Nice things” Olivia found a coat she liked and which Miguel bought for her for Christmas.
A selfie with Suzy at Casa Carolo

As we got to Miguel’s car we realized we hadn’t taken any photos of the three of us so there and then Miguel took one. It is the photo illustrating this week’s post.  Just as we had taken the photo a car drove up and the woman inside said “hello, is it really you?”.  For a moment we didn’t recognize Carolina, our neighbor for 18 years when we lived at our previous house.  There she was with her three little girls and her sister Alma’s two toddlers.  Here is a photo of this “super mama” as she really had a handful when we bumped into her.  Her life must be very busy what with working for International Cooperation and bringing up three little girls singlehandedly. 
Carolina with her brood
On our way home, just as we were entering the area where we live, there was a huge traffic jam which is not normal because we live in the country.  We soon realized a herd of sheep was ahead of the traffic and out of control.  As we waited and looked we suddenly realized a baby lamb had been born at the roundabout ahead of us in midst of the chaos and that the mother had left it there and followed the herd.  Olivia and I rushed out of the car just to see a man pick the lamb up by its feet and put in his car.  We can only hope he was going to take it to the shepherd and not eat it for Christmas.  Suzy’s friend Elena and who by coincidence was at the front of the cars just where the lamb was born (she was on her way to our house) had the presence of mind to take a photo.  It is blurred but it is a souvenir of yesterday’s miracle of a lamb being born on the country lane to our house.  In any case it’s a very Christmassy sign.
A lamb was born
After a quiet dinner with Eladio whilst the girls entertained their friends in the lounge, we went to bed early.  I was very tired and must have slept from 10pm until I woke up at 8.30 this morning.  As usual I went for my walk and it was very frosty though sunny. Today the girls will be entertaining their friends for lunch and we shall be having a quiet day.  Gema has just left for her “weekend” and it will be up to me to make lunch for my Father and Eladio after posting this week’s tales.

Next week will be Christmas and I am much looking forward to it. 

I hope you have a great Christmas everyone, cheers till next week,


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