How Being an Expatriate Can Improve Your Culinary Skills

I miss peanut butter. This is the most common food question for many Americans who come to Spain: Where can I get my hands on some good old American-style peanut butter? Luckily, if you’re in Madrid, the answer is easy. Actually, most towns that have a Carrefour or Mercadona will have peanut butter. (Now whether it’s any good is up to you to decide.)

But there are many other foods we crave. As good as Spanish food is, I know I have a list of things I like to eat when I get home. I crave spice, Ranch dressing, cottage cheese, and mainly anything from Trader Joe’s. (Someone please bring a bottle of their Champagne Pear salad dressing, stat. Oh—and some trail mix.)

So how have all these cravings made me a better cook? Easy—necessity is the mother of invention. Or so they say.

What can the American expat make in Spain instead of traipsing from Taste of America to Al Campo to El Corte Inglés?

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How to Host Thanksgiving in Spain

Having hosted two Thanksgivings in Spain, I now consider myself an expert, obviously. That’s just how these things go.


  • Buy a female turkey, una pavita. I had no idea before 2010, but smaller turkeys are tastier



Mario helped too!

  • Have a pinche, a sous chef. Mario’s father, Jesús, was my sous chef, and the best one there could possibly be. He spent the whole morning chopping, cutting, and just generally being helpful. Also, he is totally relaxed. Find one of those.
  • There will be bread. This is Spain, how could there not be?
  • Stand up to the idea of primer plato, segundo plato. Stay steadfast in your American-type meal and have your guests eat everything off the same plate. The horror!



  • Let someone else make the dessert, even if they make it differently than you would. This year, we didn’t have the traditional pumpkin pie; rather, we had a sort of pumpkin cake. No big deal. We ate some pumpkin, okay?!


  • Drink local wine. Better yet, have another person bring that local wine, especially someone from Toro!

There you go, my recommendations for a Spanish-American Thanksgiving. Go forth, and roast yourself a turkey!

Halloween in Spain

Celebrating Halloween is something relatively new for Spain. Yes, they do celebrate All Saints Day (Todos Los Santos), where they honors their ancestors, but dressing up in costumes? Trick or treating? Carving pumpkins? Eating candy until they achieve new heights of glucose in their bloodstream? Not really. But you see, there’s this thing called globalization and American culture seems to be invading Spain in many ways. For instance, one can now buy pumpkins to carve in the local supermarket. Which is just what we did.

Mario, the poor thing, has never carved a pumpkin, never had the pleasure of digging out the seeds by hand, of seeing it all lit up on his front porch (if he had a front porch, that is). So, after hearing me complain about the lack of autumn-feeling here, he surprised me by buying a wee little pumpkin.

Mario Pumpkin

I was, shall we say, ecstatic.

Kaley with Pumpkin

I’ll be honest, one of my favorite parts is the ooey gooey insides. I love to dig out the flesh and I love the smell. Mario wanted no part in this, so it was allllll mine. Evil cackle.

Pumpkin Guts

He did, however, feel like trying his hand at carving it. He even bought a big knife especially for this. (Oh, we might use it later for cutting vegetables and, as Mario himeslf put it, “to cut the cheese.” You said it, not me.)

Mario Carving

Next on the agenda was pumpkin seed roasting! I coated them with olive oil, salt, paprika, and cumin. They got done a bit too fast, but they are nevertheless delicious. And healthy! They’re high in zinc (protects against osteoporosis), are naturally anti-inflammatory, and even contain L-tryptophan which helps to protect against depression. Good stuff! While we were at it, we cooked the pumpkin flesh with cinnamon and sugar. I think later today I’ll be making Mario something pumpkin-y!

Kaley Mario Pumpkin

Later on, of course, we had to pose with our pumpkin. It’s no easy task, but we did manage to get the picture. Mario claims that Martin, the name with which we have christened our butler, wrote “Scary Halloween,” but I just don’t know if I believe him.

What to do now? We had to put in a candle, light it, and turn off all the lights. Mario found it spooky. I just found it homey. I remembered Halloweens past, sitting in the hallway with newspaper at my feet, carving funny or scary faces. Then we’d set it outside on our porch, walk out to the street, and turn around to see our lovely pumpkins glowing in the night. Ah, childhood. Good thing Mario and I are basically children at heart.

Scary Pumpkin