Wednesday recipe: Apple & Pear Cakes and an Etiquette Poll on Tipping…

30 09 2009

It is apple harvest times at the moment, which I notice on the blog as the most popular post (by search machines) at the moment is my recipe for apple cake from last year. I decided to make my favourite apple cake on Monday, and when I read the recipe posting, I realised that it was in parts almost identical to my text from last Thursday… Opps, I am apparently repeating myself every year around the end of September – I seem to have an idealised image of autumn in my mind! Anyhow, today is Wednesday and you are getting TWO recipes for cakes:

  1. Try my best ever apple cake recipe (see link, the Swedish version of the recipe is at the end of the post) but use both apples and pears (I also used Half-and-half as we didn’t have sour cream at home). O described the flavour yesterday: “The first flavour and texture that you notice is the pear, but then right at the end the taste of the apple hits you” – I think he could become a food critic!
  2. For the yummiest Pear-Almond Cake with Chocolate Chunks (see link to Rachael Ray’s Everyday web-site) – this cake is soooo good that I made it three weeks in a row and we had to get more Belgian chocolate brought from Belgium (as I just refuse to cook with American chocolate, sorry!)

Gateau aux pommes et poires

And now to the etiquette question of the week: Do you tip at the hairdresser’s and if yes, how much?

Of course this depends on where in the world you live – in Europe, the US or somewhere else… In Europe I have never tipped a hairdresser, as I always assume that service is included when comes to a service, if you see what I mean! Maybe it also depends on whether you go to a big hairdress salon where different people take care of you (washing the hair, cutting it, colouring and styling it etc), or if you go to a small place where the same person does everything?


El Beauty / Old San Juan
In Puerto Rico the beauty parlours are quite simply called El Beauty – this one is located in the Old San Juan

O and I went to the hairdresser on Saturday – we actually go to Sears where O has his favourite, German, hairdresser. It is funny, I always end up with male hairdressers and O with female ones! I don’t know if this is a Puerto Rican phenomenon or if it is just coincidence?? Anyhow, we are always a little stressed about how much we should tip the hairdresser afterwards, and on Saturday we both paid $5 each in tips. It meant that I tipped my male hairdresser 25% and O gave 33% to the female counterpart. Afterwards we discussed if this was not a little too much, but O, who by the way hates tipping, referred to an article he had read in Women’s Health*:

Tips on tipping:

  • Stylist (I guess the one cutting your hair): 15-20% of service
  • Colorist: 15-20% of service
  • Stylist’s assistance: $10-20
  • Shampooer: $3-5
  • Blow-out person: $10
  • Coat-check girl: $1

Phew!! That’s a lot of tipping (and a lot of money!). However, our hairdressers shampoo and cut our hair, we declined el blower service (funny, in French it is called le brushing) and well, we don’t wear coats in Puerto Rico… I was happy to give a big (?) tip to the guy cutting my hair because he did a really good job – much better than the Spanish girl in Zaragoza who did my hair in less than 30 minutes (including washing and drying!) this summer. So, how much would you have tipped?

Barberia Venezuela, Old San Juan
A closed down barber’s shop in the Old San Juan…

*) He reads whatever he finds next to the toilet – one of his favourite magazines is the Swedish interior design magazine Sköna Hem – unfortunately he can’t pronunce the name  😉

Nationality? Citizenship? Ethnic group?

18 08 2009

Yesterday, just before boarding the plane to Newark, there was an improvised passport control which was quite surprising since you are not passing any borders between Puerto Rico and the United States. The control actually confused a few Puerto Rican passengers who didn’t know how to answer when asked by the immigration officers:

– ¿Ciudadanía? (citizenship)

After a few seconds of confusion, they answered hesitantly ¿Americana? and then corrected themselves and said ¡Estadounidense!”

Flags at the San Cristobal fortress, San Juan

Flags at the San Cristobal Fortress in San Juan – a Spanish Naval flag (the so-called Burgundy Cross), the Puerto Rican flag and the flag of the United States

I found the whole exchange very interesting for two reasons:

1) Quite a few Puerto Ricans see themselves as puertorriqueño even though officially there is no such citizenship*. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and carry American passports (for good or for bad, I don’t want to get into a political discussion here)… which leads to the second reason:

2) In Spanish you make a distinction between “americano / a” and “estadounidense”, which is actually the most correct way to express yourself since everybody who lives in America – North, South and Central – is American! Only citizens of the United States of America are “estadounidenses”.

Is there any other language that makes this distinction or could it be that because Spanish is spoken in South America, there’s been a need to create a distinction between Americans from the USA and the rest of the two continents?

The American flag

The American / United States flag

I assume that most of us wouldn’t have any trouble with knowing what our nationality is, nor our citizenship, which usually is the same. However, some people have dual citizenships (two passports, sometimes even more!). Do they make the distinction between nationality and citizenship? Instinctively I would say that even if I became for example a Spanish or American citizen, I would still feel that my nationality is Swedish.

The definitions of the two terms, according to, are as follows:

Citizenship – the state of being vested with the rights, privileges, and duties of a citizen.

Nationality – the status of belonging to a particular nation, whether by birth or naturalization: the nationality of an immigrant.

No mention of emotions or feeling a nationality of course, but would you agree with me that nationality is more emotional than citizenship? And did you know that since the introduction of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, there is an European citizenship? You might not feel European (I do, though) but if you are a citizen of a member state of the European Union, you are automatically an European citizen as well. So, in a way you could say that all Europeans have dual citizenship!

A street sign in NJ

Street sign in New Jersey – apparently Spanish-speaking persons don’t drive cars, only ride bikes or skateboards!? (since the “No parking when road is snow covered” isn’t translated)

Another confusion arose the other day when O was filling out a form for a work project and the box “Ethnic / racial group” had to be checked. He asked me, “Am I “hispanic / latino” or “white / caucasian” as a Spaniard? Well, I understand that for him the instinct would be to check “Hispanic” but I think that he is expected to refer to himself as “white”. Hispanic or latino for O refers to the fact that he is a Spaniard (from the Iberian (Hispania) peninsula) speaking a Latin language. I googled it and according to the Wikipedia entry (link above), various government agencies in the United States define “hispanic” differently – sometimes including people from Spain and Portugal, sometimes not.

A Spaniard - hispanic or not?

Filling out a form… A very American form for an European

For most Europeans it is quite strange to have to define your ethnic / racial group. I think that I have only done it once, except for filling out all those forms for the US Immigration, and that was when applying for a job in Great Britain. I don’t know if Europe is heading towards the American and British way of categorising people, but I am not sure that I like putting ethnic / racial labels on people. Nevertheless, I am aware that people are labelled, regardless of whether or not they have checked a box – a name is deemed “foreign” and the job application is put in a certain pile, a person sees a head scarf or turban and associates it with something unwanted… And I guess the checking of a box is supposed to help avoid discrimination, but it all seems very arbitrary.

*) However Puerto Rican athletes can compete under the Puerto Rican flag and today for the first time ever, did a Puerto Rican win a medal in a World Championships in Athletics – Javier Culson won silver in 400 metres hurdles! Felicidades! (and thanks to my dad for telling me the news!)

Wednesday recipe: Arroz con leche + a missing package & almost no electricity

17 12 2008

Some of you might remember my post about the curse of the US Postal Services, which since then has been lifted – my grandmother’s letters are being delivered as well as all the packages my sister has been sending us for Xmas. Well, except for one – I wasn’t at home last week when the mailman called so he left a message that we should go and pick up a package at the post office (strangely enough since he usually leaves the packages downstairs if we are not at home).

On Saturday morning we headed out to find the post office in Santurce, as for some reason the package was not held in the small, local post office in Condado. Of course we didn’t find parking on the busy Avenida Ponce de León so O parked illegally and told me to stay put in the car in case the police came… You know how you shouldn’t leave a small baby or a dog in a hot car, well you shouldn’t leave your wife inside either! Even though I had a book to read, I was very bored and of course very hot before O came back after 45 minutes – without the package!

Not surprisingly they hadn’t been able to find the package and then consequently managed to lose the piece of paper with the references when making a photocopy of it – O was not happy!! This was his first encounter with the USPS (not to be confused with UPS), but after all my troubles with the local postal services I just told him to resign to the situation.

Only one xmas present under the tree...
The Snowman and Father Christmas seem a little lonely, but there are actually 5 packages under the tree now!

My postal troubles are starting to seem like a bad joke. Like last week when I went to our post office and was told that they didn’t have any stamps [for Europe] – for the second time! How can the Post Office run out of stamps? Well, they still had the little machine to print out “stamps” but as I wanted to buy some extra ones for the Xmas cards I hadn’t written yet I was told to come back another day. Actually, the first time it happened to me they had changed the tariffs but the new stamps had not yet been delivered… Then there was the time when I had forgotten my wallet, but I acknowledge that that situation was entirely my own fault!

A friend of mine told me that her local post office tends to be closed every other time she goes there, even though it is supposed to be open – and then they lie about it: What do you mean, we were open the whole day yesterday! Somehow I wonder if Puerto Rico would be better off with their own Postal Service (PRPS?) instead of the US one!?

Our adventures with the Puerto Rican public services continued this morning – O asked me to come with him to the electricity board, so hardly awake I had to throw on some clothes and jump in the car with him. Why did I need to go with him? Well, to guard the car again when parked illegally (and pull the hand brake when O forgot to put the car in P when getting out of it!!) 🙂  And yes, the reason for visiting the electricity board was that we were risking getting our power cut off this week!!

Our electricity bills are being sent to our landlady who lives in the US, who then should send them back to Puerto Rico – logic, isn’t it!? Unfortunately we never received the bill for October and when we finally got the November bill yesterday – that bill was already 6 days overdue. I paid it immediately of course and then O called the company to inform that the payment had been made – it wasn’t good enough though that I had paid via the bank and in the end O had to pay again today (however, it will be credited to the electricity account)! He also went back to the post office and they found his package – hoorray! Xmas is saved – we will have both electricity and xmas presents from Amazon (thanks again little sister!)!

Oh well, and at least all my waiting in the car meant that I have almost finished reading my second book in Spanish by Laura Esquivel (called Malinche, the first one was Como Agua para chocolate).

Hotel Christmas decoration
This is what I call a Christmas decoration, maybe something for my parents’ front door next year??

Today’s recipe is fitting the season – only one week to Christmas!! Somehow Arroz con leche sounds more exotic than risgryngröt (as Ulla commented on my last post) but I guess that the recipe could also go under the name Riz au lait / Rice porridge! By the way, I tried to teach O to pronunce risgrynsgröt the other day, quite entertaining actually!:

Arroz con leche

2,5 decilitre medium grain white rice (I am of course using the local Arroz Rico Grano Mediano)
5 decilitre water
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
8-9 decilitre milk (i.e just under one litre)
1 cinnamon stick (our friend M from Cyprus gave us a bunch of long cinnamon sticks that we use for decoration in the kitchen)
1½ tablespoon sugar OR
½ can of condensed milk (for a much sweeter porridge)
Mix the rice, water, butter and salt in a big pot. Boil on low heat for approx. 10 minutes. Add the milk, (condensed milk) and cinnamon stick. Low heat for approx. 45 minutes while stirring (I usually stay very close to the stove, stirring while reading a book). Add the sugar if you haven’t used condensed milk.
Serve with cinnamon sprinkled on top / jam / berries.

Toronto's Eaton Centre
Toronto’s Eaton Centre (do the Canadians spell centre like the Brits or like the Americans, i.e center??) This photo reminds me that I still have to write about our travels to Canada last month

I still haven’t found the usb-thingie for the camera memory… Looking for it is on my to-do list for today! Fortunately these photos had already been uploaded to the computer.

Rockefeller Center, NYC
Rockefeller Center, NYC

Thursday Mystery: The Light Beer

29 05 2008

I am continuing the food theme with a phenomenon that I had noticed, but until my parents were here and my father questioned it, I had not tried to find an explanation:

What’s with the light beer??

It seems like all the common beers (i.e lager for a Brit / European) are LIGHT in this part of the world (read: the US and Puerto Rico). The local beer is called Medalla Light, but the same goes with Bud Light, Coors Light etc. However, the popular beer from our neighbours in the Dominican Republic – The Presidente beer is just cerveza tipo Pilsener, and does not claim to be light.

But not the Presidente from the Dominican Republic...

So is there a normal non-light version of these beers? No, not necessarily and that is what makes it an even more intriguing issue! So, this is how our light beer discussion went last week:

Is it light in taste? Most Europeans would say that yes, American beer doesn’t have a lot of flavour… but no, that can’t be it!

In what way is Bud Light light?

Light in alcohol? Well, for some bizarre reason Medalla Light has an undefined alcohol level, and I quote: Alcohol by volume over 4%, not more than 6% ! Doesn’t the manufacturer know how strong the beer is??

The local Puerto Rican beer is also light...

Maybe it takes a Swede to wonder this, seeing that in Sweden we have 4 classes of beer depending on the alcohol percentage: Light (lättöl – contains max. 2,25% alcohol), People’s* (folköl – 2,25-3,5%) Medium (mellanöl – 3,5-4,5%) and Strong (starköl – above 3,5%)…

But then we found the answer: apparently it is light like Diet Coke is light… i.e light in calories!! 😯 So, people can drink beer without feeling guilty about their weight? Can that really be the reason? I am completely flabbergasted!!

The beer is light in carbohydrates!

My favourite Medalla Light ad:

A cool way to tell people not to drink and drive!! Si bebes no guies!

And here’s another ad where you can see some pictures from San Juan – the Convention Centre, the Old town and Hotel Normandie… it gives you a certain Caribbean feel, doesn’t it!?

*) Don’t ask me why it is called people’s beer, maybe because Sweden used to have a socialdemocratic government? And it is the only class of beer (together with light beer) that can be found in ordinary supermarkets while stronger beer is exclusively sold in the special state-run alcohol shops called Systembolaget.

The curse of the US Postal Service

9 04 2008

I have lived in many countries where you cannot completely trust the postal service – letters disappear, or just take a long time to be delivered, and in Sweden we don’t even have post offices anymore. However, my postal situation in Puerto Rico must be the worst ever…

The postal mess started last year when O all of a sudden realised that we had been giving out the wrong zip code to family and friends. The strange thing was that all his birthday cards and packages still arrived in September despite the apparently wrong zip code. Oh well, so I changed the address and sent it out to everyone before I headed over to Puerto Rico.

After a few weeks in San Juan, I noticed that all our official mail, bills and letters from our landlady (who lives in the US) had another zip code so I changed it again… In the meanwhile, a friend of mine paid 150 SEK to send us a Christmas gift which was returned to her, as were the majority of the Christmas card. However, one Christmas card with the second zip code was delivered to us in March (sent from the Netherlands 3 months before) and one Christmas card arrived with one digit missing in the zip code (Mary T, it was the card from you and B!)… But actually since the last zip code change, I don’t think that we have received any mail from Europe!!

So, can someone explain this to me: is there a special postcode that should be used when sending mail from Europe?? Because my grandmother has sent me 4 letters and one postcard with the obviously [new] correct zip code and all the letters have been returned to her (the postcard I guess is lost somewhere over the Atlantic). Why? My poor gran is getting really upset about this refusal to deliver her mail to me – she is starting to take it personally, and I am getting really insulted – what’s their bloody problem at the US Postal Service in San Juan?? Apparently they can deliver bills with the zip code that my gran uses, and  birthday packages in September but not Christmas presents with the same [wrong?] zip code… 😕

Culebra Post OfficeThe US Post Office on Culebra (bad quality as photo taken at dusk).

Tomorrow I am going to talk to the building manager, because I am wondering if it is my name that is wrong instead of the zip code – O’s name is on all the bills, and they are all arriving!! There are no names on the mail boxes downstairs (just the apartment numbers)… But if it would be that the postman only knows O’s name, how come then that we every week receive mail addressed to the various previous tenants?

PS. Sorry all friends and family for this mess and I hope that there are not more letters, cards and packages that have been returned / lost somewhere in the mail… 😦

The wild hunt for marzipan and the eternal weekend search

4 02 2008

Another weekend is over, and as usual we spent it searching.. for marzipan, for cheap but nice bookshelves, for Wal-Mart (AGAIN! couldn’t remember where we found it last time), for a Costco (we knew that there was supposed to be one closer to San Juan than the one in Caguas), for nice frames for framing a few posters (our walls are still so bare)… We are like Pippi Longstocking and her two friends Tommy and Annika – they go hunting for things (sakletare) in one of the books but the difference is that they actually find what they are looking for!

The marzipan was a real quest; I had been told that it might be sold as almond paste (mandelmassa, which is really what I wanted) (thanks Annika!) but it didn’t help us much (except that O translated it to pasta de almendras in Spanish). We couldn’t find it in Costco (when we eventually had found the branch in Bayamón!), so while we were having lunch in the Costco café, O asked two local women sitting next to us – they were very friendly and helpful – but the best thing was that they thought that I was Puerto Rican!! Ha ha, both O and I were a little confused – was it my accent when I spoke Spanish or my looks?? I told them that no, I am studying Spanish (in Spanish) and they replied, oh, you know Spanish well enough… It was all very flattering but I only did say 3 or 4 sentences in Spanish.

Leaving Costco, we got completely drenched from a sudden downpour, but we continued our search for marzipan in the local supermarket chain Amigo, no such luck but we found the spices we were looking for (chilli & cayenne pepper). Then we thought that we might try Wal-Mart, as we had already found some odd products such as gluten-free pasta in that supermarket. However, we didn’t want to drive all the way to Caguas so we attempted to find the Wal-Mart in Bayamón… Easier said than done – it is not close to the Costco, of course! Once we had found this branch, it turned out that they don’t carry a lot of food, so no marzipan. Nevertheless, we got the best tip of the day: a shop specialised in bakery!! Yes, we finally found what we were looking for, even if we had to pay expensive $6 for 8 oz*.

So, why this desperate search for marzipan? Well, tomorrow it is Shrove Tuesday / Fettisdagen / Mardi gras / martes de carnaval, and I wanted to make fastlagsbullar / semlor, traditional Swedish cream buns with a marzipan filling, eaten before (and during, we are not so picky!) Lent. It wouldn’t be the same without the marzipan / almond paste, but now I have it and hopefully I will be able to post a nice photo of the buns tomorrow!

Yesterday, we continued our weekend search for bookshelves** and frames – back to Wal-Mart as we now know where it is 😉 but the frames were too cheap-looking, Home Depot didn’t have any frames but it took us asking five different members of the staff to find this out (they sent us in every direction possible in the shop!), in Bed, Bath & Beyond the frames were too small and this is where our hunt for the day ended… we were exhausted, frustrated and bored! 

There is nothing more irritating than spending your weekends looking for simple stuff that you take for granted to find – oh, how we miss IKEA!!! (I think that they even sell almond paste in IKEA in Brussels)

Anyway, it is a new week, and our new visitors P & M arrived yesterday evening. Lots of fun activities planned and I promise to add some photos to my posts during the week!

Our huge basil plantWe have at least found a basil plant – huge compared to the ones we bought in Brussels!

*) El Mundo de la Repostería in Bayamón, heaven for someone who wants to bake in this country!

**) We have given up on the bookshelves for now… The books will stay in their boxes in the wardrobes.

I am European, I take the bus…

29 01 2008

I uttered the above words yesterday at our 2nd cross-cultural training day to the surprise (and horror?) of the American trainer! She was absolutely shocked to hear that I take the bus, that I have figured out the bus system (I went to the bus stop and checked the destination, not hard at all!) and that I am patient enough to wait for the bus (I bring a book and my iPod)… She had never heard of anybody taking the bus in San Juan before!

I know that in the US, taking the bus is a class issue – only poor people take the bus… It is the same case in Puerto Rico – except for the American tourists who take the bus to Old San Juan from Isla Verde (one of the resort-dense areas of the capital), I am quite the only foreigner taking the bus here.

For me, it has almost become a matter of principle, yes, I am European and I don’t need a car (and maybe it has to do with my fear of driving here as well 😉 ) and I want to prove that it is possible to live in San Juan without a car! O wants to buy me a car and even though I can admit that it would be practical in some situations, I am considering the cost – of buying the car, the insurance etc. And, I am worried that I won’t use a car that much, c’mon it is easier to take the bus to my Spanish lessons, to Old San Juan (parking is a bitch, and expensive) or to Plaza las Americas (the mall)… and it is only $ 0,75!

In Brussels, I hated taking the bus and the trams, as they would always be late especially when it rained and it was freezing cold… However, in Puerto Rico it’s never cold (it does rain sometimes) and most of the time I am not in a hurry! Nevertheless, this morning I was quite stressed as the bus took ages to arrive and I was afraid of missing my Spanish lesson… it turned out that el profe was later than I! Mental note: in the future get up earlier or at least bring cash in case I need to take a taxi… 🙂

By the way, the Puerto Rican word for bus is la guagua* – I love that word!

*) instead of the “normal” Spanish word which is el autobús. La guaguita is a mini-bus / van.