Madrid’s Secret Spots

Thinking of coming to Madrid? Like food? Read this.
Those views! That *rice*! To my eyes, the holes in it look exactly like the ones when I do what I call Persian jewelled rice, which is always a hit, although takes hours to do.

Kusina Madrid

This year, I’m celebrating my 10-year “Spaniversary”.

Since moving to Madrid in 2008, I’ve come a long way as a host and amateur tour guide – I’ve evolved from describing the city’s ubiquitous equestrian statues as “that’s a dude on a horse” to dishing anecdotes about Galileo’s mathematical contribution to King Felipe IV’s bronze statue in Plaza Oriente. 

Over the past decade, I’ve also accumulated great intel about clandestine culinary and cocktail spots in Madrid, some of which I will share here. But just so I won’t give away the farm (it took me 10 years to gather the good stuff after all!), I won’t scribble all their names and locations – but if the curiosity is gnawing at you, feel free to send me an email over the next two weeks and I’ll be happy to reveal them to you.

So here’s a roundup of my favourite hidden sanctuaries…

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Pressure Cooker Split Pea and Ham Soup – with a Spanish Twist

This is a great, quick  self-care recipe for low energy days because:

  1. with a pressure cooker, it takes just long enough to wash up what’s in the sink (about 15 minutes)
  2. Split peas are cheap and last a long time in a cupboard, as do potatoes
  3. It uses 5 ingredients (excluding oil for frying first). but could be made with just 2 ingredients.
  4. It tastes great, is very filling, but easy to digest

We got our split peas from a store nearby called Pepito y Grano, which stocks every lentil an grain imaginable – including teff! It also stocks many gluten-free types of pasta, including ones made from lentils and chickpeas. If you love cooking outside traditional Spanish food in Madrid, it’s a must-visit.


  1. Half a cup of split peas. I rinsed these and left them to soak for an hour. Longer in colder weather will help their digestibility.
  2.  Half a white onion, chopped.
  3. 1 small potato, peeled and cubed.
  4. A pack of diced ham. We used a pack of diced serrano, which is sold in Carrefour all over Madrid.
  5. Ham stock, liquid. I could have skipped ingredients 2, 3 and 4, and just used this for a more “budget” or “no grocery shop” version, since it already includes them. We loved the way it tasted and the texture of this version, though.

Bonus Points:

I added about a teaspoon of dried mint to give this a little kick. It doesn’t taste like toothpaste, it just balances the ham taste out and makes a hot soup feel more “right” in the summertime.


  1. Fry the onions in a little oil, until soft and add the potato
  2. Drain the split peas and add to the pan, stirring to avoid having them stick
  3. Add the diced ham/Serrano and then add half the stock (about 300 ml)
  4. Bring to pressure and eave for 15 minutes. Then let it release pressure naturally.
  5. Use a slotted spoon to mash the peas a little bit. You could use a handheld blender, but the mix of smooth and chunky is a feature.
  6. Enjoy!


I didn’t take any pics because this was one of those recipes that came about from needing something easy and quick to cook and we were too hungry to fuss with photos.


My grey wig arrived! I’m still not allowed to wear contacts and mascara for another week, so having an instant change is a mood lifter while I’m waiting for my hair color to fade from my last dye.

With my red lippy.

Also, I get to test out how grey hair looks with different makeup and clothes. Because, with bright hair, I noticed that some of my color pops against my all black clothes (e.g my painted biker jacket, my silver doc martens or metallic backbacks) just added up to “too much”.

With neon pink lippy. 
A little bit too “ZZ Top” with sunglasses and a hat, though, but with a bob would be fine.

It’s been super fun, and I might wear it out in the evening, when I feel like going out again.

I’m definitely going to try for granny hair, although getting it feels like a while side project.

Does anyone have my hair type (Asian, straight, dark coffee color in unbleached state) and have any tips for someone thinking of DIYing it?

Lava Stone Malas for Drawing Strength from Troubles

I’m feeling especially prone this week. Not back at full strength, but thrown back into the wild. Not sure what time and deadlines estimates to give since my productivity is out of whack and I’m unable to predict my recovery. This time last week, I thought I’d be fine by Sunday, and look how great that turned out. cough is feeling worse today and I’m feeling run down again. Only two days off my antibiotics.

It’s like my body just doesn’t have a straight course back to the land of the living.

I’m scared.

By now, you may have noticed my go-to way of self-soothing is to browse for shiny shit.

((doffs my cap and bows low))

Madame, Monsieur- je vous présente…


Half my family are from a tiny volcanic island in a series of islands that are only above water as a result of volcanic activity. So lava stone reminds me that from tumultuous times and seismic fractures, can come abundance and beauty. I also browsed for ones with pearls, too, since a pearl is a very pretty oyster scar.

1. Lava and Rose quarts mala – $98

2. Pearl and Lava mala – $92

Brass Skull And Lava Mala – $375

This is so goth. So metal. So freaking expensive. Because drinking from the skulls of your enemies isn’t practical for the “on the go” destroyer.

Lava and crescent moon pendant mala – £85

For that witch-who-does-yoga, “esbats and puja are not mutually exclusive” vibe.

Black pearl mala – $130

It’s kind of flamboyant, like a rococo pirate, but would probably be just shimmery enough to not blend into a mostly black outfit.


How to be sick: Faking inner sparkle, inner ok-ness, and Planning ahead.

One of the ridiculous things about getting seriously sick when managing your health is already a long-term project is how humiliating it is. Something that’s out of your control somehow feels like a personal failure. How could I let this happen?

On top of which, the main font from which I usually use to get self-esteem – work – wasn’t possible. I wasn’t coherent enough to read all those worthy books I’d been meaning to catch up on.

I felt valueless. A burden. Someone who lets other people down and disrupts plans.  e.g

  1. I couldn’t attend my father in law’s birthday.
  2. My husband cut his weekend trip short (this is when we thought it was a bad cold) to come back.
  3. I couldn’t make a client video call meeting and delivered maybe under half of what I thought I could in the timeframe.

And I sure as hell didn’t look cute.

All I could do is watch Netflix and browse Pinterest and Amazon for shiny things.

In this post, I’ll talk about three things:

1. How to Fake Inner Sparkle

For seeing Doctors

For seeing doctors, I’d recommend just an all in one bb -cream/tinted moisturiser and a clean look. This tinted spf 50 is what got me looking a little less pale than I should have looked while protecting my sun sensitive skin from Madrid summer sun when going from one ER unit (general) to another (I needed a hospital with an Ophthalmologist at one point)

Benefit cha-cha tint helped me fake some kind of non-deathly pallor over the last two weeks. (but I really wished I had a bronzer as well)

While Too Faced liquid lipstick in “It’s happening” made me feel a lot brighter and cheery while distracting from the fact I couldn’t wear eye makeup and my eyes were bloodshot. 

For when you’re recovering

I told you I spent most of the last two weeks browsing the net, too zonked to even read, right? This was from of the vanity portion of that browsing.
This holographic lipgloss

This pink ombre wig

 and this pastel and silver wig

both inspired by Ariana Grande’s lavender look.

What I actually bought, however, was this silver ombre glory.

I also found this video on how to make lace front wigs look more natural

2. Inner ok-ness

Listing out all the things I’m grateful for is something I try and do every morning, but is even more important when I’m feeling bad.

Having food in the fridge

A fan in the bedroom

A hospital so close by I could walk there

Having access to both public and private healthcare

Already having a neti pot and humidifier – both recommended by dr.

The fact that my neti pot is plastic because I’ve dropped it multiple times and it would have been on the “meaning to replace” list had it been ceramic.

Having Netflix

Having enough Spanish to deal with the doctors

That duolingo is free

How lovely hospital staff are.

Having prescription sunglasses (I can’t wear contacts for a few weeks and this climate demands sunnies)

Getting sent photos of epic sandwiches – it’s the small things that distract you that count so much.

Epilating. I may meet my maker but it won’t be as a wolf-woman.

ALL the things my hubs did for me. From cutting his trip short, to bringing me sandwiches in the ER waiting room, to watching Pixar films with me.

There’s also the extremely helpful book called “how to be sick” that has helped me so much over the years. It’s a Buddhist approach to chronic illness.

3. Planning ahead

There was a fair amount of planning ahead that helped me through these last few weeks.

  1. Having emergency, allergy-friendly canned food in the cupboards for situations like this. Ready to be opened and microwaved.
  2. Having a “sick day” bag: a little toiletry bag with various painkillers, paracetamol, antihistamines, and allergy friendly cold and flu meds. All within easy reach in the bedside drawer.
  3. Frozen food and frozen homemade meals. I use a 6 litre slow cooker even though it’s just the hubs and me because it allows us to freeze surplus portions and keep them for days when doing groceries or cooking – or both – aren’t possible. I also buy bags of various frozen veggies.
  4. Marie kondo-ing my all-black wardrobe made getting dressed and looking respectable -aka worth taking seriously- easy even when somewhat delirious.
  5. Having GTD in place for domestic and other things means I didn’t have to get stressed about what I needed to keep on top of. It was all externalised, ready for me when my strength and brainpower was back. Deadlines were firmly in my calendar so I didn’t miss my tax return deadlines.
  6. I have workflows set up for multi-step processes, so things like taxes can be done on autopilot even when near enough brain dead. This was so helpful last week.  I can usually get my quarterlies done in less than an hour this way, although, with brain fog, it took a little longer. I also have documented workflows set up for my birdcare in case I need someone to do those for me.
  7. Batch cooking: making a whole roast chicken when I sensed I was going to be down over the coming days and the hubs was travelling was a good call. I was bored after a few days, but I was fed.
  8. My pink planner with upgraded rings that functioned – besides its usual GTD role – as a:  symptom journal, meds tracker, and historical medical files binder when moving between hospitals in a country without a centralised data centre for health files.

IMG_2503.jpg  I won’t lie: I felt pretty stupid with the amount of cute rainbow shit in it while flipping through various admin staff, nurses and dr’s, but no one could say I wasn’t the most organised and well-prepped patient: handing out relevant past medical tests to the ER dr to help him interpret my xrays that day with more context.

I will scan all my notes digitally into mac Notes app, because I realise having had my original xray scans would have been the most useful thing on the day I had my xray. It’s just, I’m not sure how I would be able to give those files to a dr from on my phone. Paper works really well as it seems they often like to spread all the sheets out and get an overview while looking at the latest results. Having to flick between screens isn’t as helpful. But I do always have my phone with me.

My best advice if you’re managing chronic health issues is: always plan ahead:

  • What kinds of symptoms are most likely to need treatment if you wake up sick or having a bad health day? Can you make up a grab-bag for that?
  • Are there places other than near the bed that are likely to benefit from an emergency pack? Workplace? The car? I have a smaller bag for travels as well.
  • What systems of self-care tend to break down when you’re sick? How can you prep in advance for those?
  • What kind of info do you need to be handed over to someone else who might want to help you/ take care of pets/domestic things?
    • Emergency shopping lists
    • prescriptions to fulfil and locations to get them (if relevant)
    • Household or pet-related tasks that need doing a certain way. These can be pre-written down in a list template or bunched together in a planner for handing over. Many to-do apps allow you to add photos as well if the steps need explaining in more detail and send the list to a third party.
  • What kind of info does a medical person need to know to make sense if you’re admitted in the ER? Can you put that in a place you’ll remember to reference and have on you when you’re not so with it?
  • Perhaps create an online grocery shopping in a store that delivers at home for essentials to get through the week. That way, at the first sign of illness, you can place an order quickly.
  • Dehydration makes everything worse. Make up a 1litre jug with 6 level teaspoons of sugar and half a level teaspoon on non-iodized salt before going to bed, especially if there’s a fever, and extra especially if it’s summer.

Roundup: personalised gif cards, Circus themed tarot decks, parrot pendant, and spaghetti with breadcrumbs & anchovies recipe

This is just a roundup of things I’ve been browsing while sick and on round the clock meds. I thought I would have all this time to read, but my brain was too fried.

  • Make your own printed gif cards
  • This recipe would work great with ground up porcini mushrooms and GF breadcrumbs & pasta. It would be a bit on starches for anyone GF, so maybe with almonds instead of breadcrumbs and some quinoa spaghetti?
    • spaghetti-with-breadcrumbs-14
  • Circo tarot deck: a circus-themed tarot deck that’s very cute, and beginner friendly
Image from Circle of Stitches

Yes, I do like a bit of magic crystal woo-woo, especially since it’s easier to identify and connect unconscious feelings when looking at images.

A female Ferris Bueller might have said:

“life goes by pretty fast. Do tarot every few weeks to make sure you’re not missing recurring themes & unconscious feelings that impact your decision making and impulses.”

I’m liking how many modern takes on tarot cards are being made by young female artists and illustrators! Here’s the Star Child Tarot

and here’s Mystic Mondays , which you can pre-order on its site, or through  PS, the silver bits are holographic!

  • this adorable lorikeet pendant that catches how playful parrots are. I wouldn’t actually wear this because I’d be afraid of damaging it. Look at those delicate feet!lorikeet_parrot_necklace_by_illusiontree-d6x4did

You know what’s actually crazy about the last two weeks? How I managed to keep up with parrot cage cleaning, albeit at every two-day intervals instead of every day. And I’m talking at a time before I felt well enough to go the ER, at which point the hospital was on the fence about sending me home or admitting me. Also, I managed to at least keep my plants alive in this almost-desert humidity levels and intense summer sun.

  • Stickers for your bujo/planner/notebook/laptop. Just cute stuff I found on redbubble.

I did browse a lot more, but that’s enough for today. There was also a very serious wig & nail polish obsession.

Today is my last day of antibiotics and my brain feels less foggy and I’m looking a more natural color. I’m aiming to just have a fun, relaxing Sunday and not even think about all the things I need to catch up with starting tomorrow.

What’s been inspiring you this week?

The problem with potential

I’ve been sick this last week. The kind that had me on my back in the bathroom in the wee hours- the tiles were cool while I was profusely covered in sweat – pondering whether to call an ambulance or not. I didn’t, because I couldn’t deal with paperwork in Spanish at that level of disorientation. Instead, I made 4 litres of rehydration fluid to drink overnight and the next day. But while recovering since then, I like reading. And this quote hit something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while.

“Does a philosophy like Rationalism/liberalism have inherent flaws and tendencies toward making us more certain of our preconceptions? Or did this community just get how it is because of which people happened to be in it?”

My feeling is that this community – which I do enjoy dipping into occasionally-  tends to fill the hole left by religion for many people. No more so than many other online communities, true. Atheism, Yoga, various diets and exercises, even the startup community is filled with people seeking meaning from things that are just not designed to give life meaning, in my opinion.

Unlike some of the other communities, though, it’s easy for people to rationalise ugly ideas with cold logic. Based on rationality alone, the Spartens were right to throw sickly babies off cliffs; the machines in the matrix were right to compare humanity to a virus that might as well be harvested, since we destroy so much; and  women could kill 2/3 of all men on this planet without any impact to future birth rates or genetic diversity, while drastically helping the overpopulation problem and being able to eat the occasional steak without environmental guilt.

It’s just that all of these are so obviously wrong. 

In a world where machines can do many low skilled jobs more safely, more quickly and better than humans, why are we so keen to suppress the one things we excel in? And do people keep coming with such awful ideas they try and justify? Whether under the banner of rationalism or the alt right?

The Unfulfilled Gift

I have this recurring feeling that a lot of unhappiness comes from the idea of failed potential and trying to track down that one thing that lead us astray from our “destiny”.

It has to be a big thing. A hydra.

Because a lot of books in the last 30 years and so much of the internet seem to be devoted to fixing and optimising individuals to achieve their promised potential. To find their one true calling. To finding success, love and meaning.

If you’ve been showing up each day and following the collective wisdom of parents, teachers, lectures, bosses, self-help gurus, self-improvement courses, and therapists and still not seeing results…then what’s holding us back must be really big and unseen.

Cos you’ve done your part, and no one can say otherwise.

If we could only slay that hydra, we could become our promised, successful selves.

What we name the hydra is the only thing that sorts us, politically.

For some people it’s patriarchy. For some, it’s neoliberalism. For some, it’s immigration, for some it’s EU regulations. For some, it’s feminism. For some, it’s communism. For some, it’s liberalism. For some, it’s the class system. For some, it’s white supremacy. For some, it’s globalisation. For some, it’s the medical establishment conspiracy.  For some, it’s global warming conspiracies. For some, it’s cultural Marxism. For some, it’s religion. For some, it’s lack of godliness. For some, it’s the legacy of colonisation.

What if the whole problem was the idea of that potential we were expected to achieve?

What if it only ever applied to three generations in a special, post-war time, and and we took it as a birthright?

When I think of what I expected of myself, I’m ambivalent. On one hand, I never expected to make it this long without seeing the inside of a government jail. On the other hand, I kind of feel like the work I put into my career hasn’t paid of like it could have done for some others.

But who am I really comparing myself to, if I’m honest with myself? Cos I’m not doing too badly compared to the people I graduated with, as opposed to people with verfified accounts on Twitter.

I’ve seen people live in houses made of scrap metal in 40c heat without as much anger and angst as the average office worker in London, just because no one ever told them there was a future semi-detached owner in their future lives. They had no monsters to kill.

Ambition is good. Wanting a better, fairer world is something we ought to be proactive in (no one should live in a heap of scrap metal), but negative comparison to some dream our parents had for us is sucking out the joy and energy away from enjoying what we do have.


Next time, I’ll talk a little bit on why this perception of failure is making people angry.  Spoiler alert, it’s a cognition bias.

Standing in Your Power, Finding the time, and Failing Gracefully

I love this image because it’s so easy to forget this sometimes.

Source: annafernandesss on VSCO, linked

One thing I’m learning as a necessary but undervalued skill is tolerance to imperfection and failure. Sometimes, you need to cut the workout short to make it home when you said you’d be home and that’s better than not doing a workout at all or being late for dinner.

Sometimes, the to-do list will never get scratched off, but at least you’re making a start and prioritising what to do with time, energy and money.

Sometimes, acknowledging that right now, not doing anything at all and just enjoying what you already have with the person you love is the top priority.

I juggle a lot with my time. Client work, cooking for my allergies, keeping a house to both allergy and swiss-standards, finding time to work out, allowing time and pre-planning for illness periods, maintaining a tiny parrot in good emotional and physical health (he has his own chronoboard of daily, weekly and monthly tasks), maintaining my husbands website and the facebook page, and minutia that comes with running a legal business in two countries.

A mantra that helps me a lot is:

“I have all the time I need for the things that matter most to me. “

This brings me right back from my “shoulds” to my choices and priorities. The power I do have.

There is no such thing as a perfect execution of a plan, or a project going exactly as planned.

Asthanga has helped me develop a tolerance for this imperfection. When I started, I was mentally trying to calculate how long I would need to practice to do the flow “properly”. Three months in, I was ecstatic: I was making great progress. Six months in, I was worrying that I wouldn’t be flowing through or lifting up by my self-imposed deadline and started seeking out corrective exercises to help me. I became really unhappy with myself and my practice.

Almost a year in, I felt like doing the full one hours and a half practice at the full expression of the poses was just impossible. This was a turning point: do I stay with something I have no chance of getting good at?

I’ve since realised that “impossibility” is the whole point of Asthanga. 

Once you can accept that the end-point you’re seeking it always just out of reach, you can start to let the destination go and focus on the inner journey.

Once you start to accept that the thing you’re trying to become has moving goal posts, you can let the pressure off yourself and see what you are right now.

A year and a half into Asthanga, my Ashtanga practice isn’t even half the full length, and I’ve given up on ever getting my leg behind my neck or floating through the poses. I don’t practice five days a week as prescribed.

I’ve learned to be ok with this  – and by extension- the other imperfections of my life and job.

It’s better to communicate important things (like if there’s room in the budget for another design round?) in a flawed way sooner rather than let expectations build up.

It’s better to get a project done at the budget you agreed to and make peace with the fact that yes, the design could be better with more time.

I’ll never be as good as I want to be.

I’ll never be a TED Speaker or that a designer with a million followers.

Asthanga teaches you to fail gracefully.

Then stand up and keep trying again and again with a heart of acceptance.

I’ll never be as good as I want to be.

But I deliver what I promise, on budget, and do it better than the others. And I can speak locally and get good feedback on those talks.

I’ll never be as good as I want to be.

But I am as good I used to want to be.

Focus on what you can control, and let go of the rest.

6 things to read, watch, and listen to this July

A little roundup of great things I’ve been reading, watching and listening recently.

1. A Very English Scandal – on BBC iplayer, but also a book

I’d heard it was amazing and the acting was incredible – these are true – but what I didn’t expect was how darkly and absurdly funny this was. It’s also incredibly important because it really hammers home that until recently, simply being gay was a crime, and that people were willing to kill themselves or their lovers over risking exposure.

A great quote from the series is when a character – in a house so surreal I can’t begin to describe it – talks about the suicide of his gay brother and says “this law…we are murdering them with this law“.

2. Reasons to be cheerful – Podcast

Funny, interesting and informative without every being ‘heavy’. Ed Milliband is funny in a sort of ‘peepshow‘ way; unaffected, dorky and endearing.  This is an amazing find as podcasts go.

Example for the uninitiated: Serfs of Silicone Valley

3. Adults in the room-  Audiobook.

Varoufakis is like a politically woke Oscar Wild with his own audiobook. Here he explains his side of how he sees the Greek debt crises, austerity and the Euro, but he’s able to break down complex systems like debt and the European central bank (ECB) for someone like me, in a way that makes sense and isn’t too dense.

He’s so smart, articulate, passionate in his convictions and ludicrously over-educated that I imagine he must have been HELL to try and argue with from the side of the ECB. Miguel has confirmed that people in the room with him report that each meeting was like sitting in a lecture.

When I need a break from screens, I’ll go for a walk until my fitbit beeps and listen to this. I do often need to hit the 15 second rewind to get all of the concepts, but that’s because I’m easily distracted by the flashing green man or cute dogs while walking.

4. Standard deviation –Book

You know those cute, summer romance films where the boring, uptight, or shy guy

meets a kooky, free-spirited manic-pixie-dream-girl who turns his life upside down?

This story is set exactly 13 years after they marry and shows the inner life and perspectives of the husband. It’s really cute because you also start to see the ways he’s noticing how he’s changed because of her and his own amusement and at times bewilderment. Also, there’s something really satisfying of someone giving us a follow up to these kinds of stories, because in a lot of films, while you’re happy at the cute ending, you kind of walk away wondering “but would they really work as a couple?”

5. Revisionist History – podcast

Now in its THIRD SEASON, this podcast is as good as any tv show around. If you haven’t started listening, start NOW. It’s so good. And you don’t even need to pay a subscription.

Example for the uninitiated: a polite word for liar.

6. Yeah, but it’s not as simple as that – podcast.

I probably find the bored-yet-amused, middle-class tones of this presenter as much a topic of study (seriously, how did sounding bored and sleepy come to signal being ‘better off than you’? Should I be sounding like this? No, right? I mean, EW. Right?) as I do the actual topics on a discussion, but this is pretty much what it says on the tin: a topic, and picking it apart. Again, interesting, lots of food for thought, but not in a depressing or rage, or apathy-inducing way.

Example for the uninitiated: Can you get arrested for basically doing nothing at all?