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A wonderful surprise from Dani, my intercambio, today. American staples I miss: Heinz Tomato Ketchup, peanut butter, and brownies.
Try explaining what a brownie is to a Spaniard and you will finish feeling exhausted. 

After that failed attempt try explaining what peanut butter is, and you will receive a weird look. 

Then, go to the next level and try explaining the importance of Heinz Tomato Ketchup to a Minnesotan and most likely they will not just give you a weird look but also tell you you're weird. 

This was my experience with my intercambio one of the first times we met. For those who don't know what an intercambio is, it is a concept created by our director where you exchange cultures and languages with someone from the country you are studying in. In my case I practice my Spanish with Dani, my intercambio, and Dani practices his English with me. We talk about cultural differences, stereotypes, ask questions regarding verbs and tenses, and yes gab about ketchup. Our conversations terribly deep and sophisticated. 

Today, after I was having a bit of a rough day in regards to exams my intercambio appeared in our Marquette University office. Much to my surprise I asked what he was doing here and he handed me a bag. Still confused he said told me it was a bag filled of things I said I missed from the United States. I was so taken aback by his generosity I had no idea what to say except one thing: What is it? He laughed and told me to open it but only after he left. The anxiety was killing me. I had no idea what to expect. My friends told me it had to be peanut butter, we all know how much I love that crunchy and creamy food staple. I mean, what college student doesn't? 

Before he left he told me he wrote me a letter and to only read it after he had left the office as well. I was in a state of confusion and had not expected this at all. He said goodbye and quickly ran out of the office, and when I say ran I mean a pace between a speed walk and jog. I think he was nervous that he may have misunderstood my food obsessions months ago. 

After reading the letter I was filled with the longing to stay in Madrid forever. It reminded me of all the great connections I have made here and how much I am going to miss his and I's weekly conversations and excursions to different parts of the city. 
The letter was a great start to the entire gift and after reading it I could not wait to what else was inside. Immediately I saw ketchup. Not just any ketchup either, Heinz Tomato Ketchup. Here in Madrid we all have been having a hard time with the lack of ketchup. And the strange taste of it. Also, the color. It is just really not the same here. I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw the bottle and the label. The first thing that popped into my head was, Now I can actually enjoy my nuggets when I splurged on them for lunch! I kid you not. It's the little things back in the States that you take for advantage. 
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Heinz Tomato Ketchup Fiery Chilli.
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Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter from Dani.
After the ketchup, which later upon further inspection has "fiery chilli peppers" in them, was peanut butter. Those who know me well know I love my peanut butter. Obviously Dani could not get my favorite,  Market Pantry Creamy Peanut Butter from Target, but he purchased the next best thing: Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter. How the heck did he find this when I searched high and low for it over a month ago? Answer: Taste of America, the self-dubbed Original American Supermarket. I should have used Google
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A two-bite size brownies. Scrumdiddlyumptious.
Under the delightful peanut butter and ketchup were ... Wait for it ... Feel the suspense ... Do you really want to know? ... OK, I will tell you ... Brownies! Oh thank Bajesus. I had not seen a brownie in over four months. This summer I baked them all the time in the evenings when it was cool enough and in Madrid we don't eat a lot of junk food. Except for Príncipe cookies, those are deadly. When I saw those sixteen two-bite size brownies with chocolate frosting I about died. OK, that is a little strong, but I did become extremely overwhelmed with joy. Who knew a pastry could make you feel so such happiness. And the desire to eat them all, by myself. Luckily, in public you have to have self-control so instead I opened them and shared them with those who were in the office. However I will not release the details as to what happened to the ones no one helped me eat. Let us just say they did not go to waste. 

Dani made me realize something else today, that one person can really change the way you think about something, or someone. I never thought I would miss our conversations so much. Or the funny way when we both don't know what one another are trying to say and then hover over his dictionary to search for an appropriate word. At first I thought the intercambio would be awkward and was nervous, but we became friends within minutes once he tried to crack a Simpsons joke without success and I had to break the news to him that Bart Simpson is not the badass he once was on primetime T.V. He then broke the news that my chances of Pasapalabra were slim to none. A girl can dream though, can't she? 

Now, 16 two-bite size brownies later (don't worry there are some left), with two unopened containers of condiments I am going to wait to open until I get home, and four months of wonderful experiences here I am glad that I have stepped out of my comfort level and had an intercambio with Dani. Sure, he may not understand my love to peanut butter and jelly minus the jelly, but I also don't understand why going to Arizona to see the desert is on the top of his bucket list when he has been to Egypt. We all have our quirks and he and I laugh at them. Maybe I will make him a peanut butter sandwich to show him what he is missing out. Then we can talk about a rendezvous in Arizona. 

If you're in Spain and want to try a brownie, hit me up at my piso, I'll be nommin' on them. 

 
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My beloved jar of peanut butter. You served me well.
I love peanut butter. I don't care if the peanut butter is organic, processed with preservatives, crunchy or creamy if it's peanut butter in any shape or form, I will eat it. 

If you have a peanut allergy, this post is not for you and I advise you not to read on, because I will be talking about my love for the delicious, peanut-y paste.  

This weekend I finished my jar of peanut butter that I brought with me in August. The jar of Market Pantry Creamy Peanut Butter, "creamy fresh roasted peanut taste" as it says on the label, was purchased at Target and opened in the beginning of August and lasted three months. That is a long time folks. Almost everyday I would come home, take a cracker or two and spread a little bit on top as a treat to myself. It was not the highlight of my days, but it was pretty darn close. 

I'm not sure where my love for peanut butter began but I think it stems from the late night snacks my dad and I used to have when my mother worked the night shift at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center as a nurse and I was in kindergarten. The four saltine crackers with a light coat of peanut butter were stacked one on top of another to make a saltine-peanut butter sandwich. The tower of crackers and peanut butter made a thick paste that called for a glass of water after two bites, but let me say it was delicious, and probably didn't help my waste line one bit. 

What many consider to be strange is my strong dislike for jelly to accompany the peanut butter. I never understood how people could mix the two together and make a PB&J, hold the jelly and you have a deal. In fact, all through high school I lived off of peanut butter sandwiches. Everyday for lunch that is what I had: a PB&J sandwich, hold the jelly, a banana or another fruit, and water. So scrumdiddlyumptious. If you cut the bananas up and put them on the sandwich it was ten times better. 

In Spain, there is no peanut butter. I have looked and cannot find it. I asked Irene, my señora, as well as Dani, my intercambio, and they had no idea what I was talking about until I explained it in grave detail and even then they thought it was a strange thing to put on bread. Irene said, "Este es un condimento muy extraño," (This is a very strange condiment) and Dani just stared at me and said I was weird. I guess both responses are correct. 

It is strange to think about all the things you miss, especially the little things. Here the group misses ketchup, you don't get it a lot and when you do it is a single packet like you would receive at a fast-food drive thru. The same goes with mustard. We also miss free water at restaurants. Madrileños say they have the best water in the country because it comes from the mountains, so why don't they give it to us instead of bottled water?  Ice cubes are also missed by the majority of us. They are just nice to snack on. Oh, and hamburgers. Red meat is not very common to eat here; chicken, fish, croquetas are all the norm but red meat is expensive. 

In summary, if you wanted peanut butter, ketchup or mustard you should bring it to Europe. Emily, one of the girls in the program, had her mother bring ketchup for us, we are forever indebted to her. A friend of mine is sending me peanut butter in a care package, bless her soul, and as for the free water, ice cubes and red meat - that all will have to wait until December 22, 2012 when we step back on American soil. 

Lastly, for you peanut butter lovers and for pure amusement, check out this amazing song about peanut butter that I found on this underground website called YouTube