Spotlight on Inge Drenthen

This month we talk to Dutch-born, former transport agent, flamenco and yoga teacher with a flair for belly dancing and fine food: Inge Drenthen.

What did you do before you came here in 2010?

Before we came to Madrid, we spent 3 years in Turin in Northern Italy and 5 years in Brussels. I grew up in the Netherlands and was a shipping and land transport agent for 17 years.

Your father is half Indonesian, did your Asian heritage influence your upbringing?

Not really except that I definitely have a penchant for Asian cuisine. I have never felt typically Dutch and embraced Spanish culture as a child when we used to come here on holiday.

Dancing has always been a huge part of your life, tell us about this lifelong passion

I have been dancing since I was tiny! I took up ballet at 4 and modern dance at 6 years old. At 16 I joined a Palestinian dance group and later on I took flamenco lessons. As an adult I continued with flamenco and Oriental dance, even when we moved to Belgium and in Italy I also kept up with Oriental dance which I love. Moving to Spain meant I could return to flamenco and I also learned sevillanas. I have had different teachers, each with their own style which has been fascinating.

What´s your favourite dance and why?

My favourite dance is flamenco because it is very passionate, beautiful and emotional, every “palo” type of flamenco dance has its own rhythm, emotion and energy.

How did you come to teach sevillanas?

At the request of friends and INC members and I absolutely love it!  In September I am adding a new beginners’ group. It´s great fun and you can dance sevillanas in two´s as well as in a group of 3 or 4 and even with more people in a circle and there are accessories such as a: “mantón” (shawl), “castañuelas” (castanets) or “abanico” (fan).

What sort of yoga do you practise and how did you come to teach it?

I practise and teach Vinyasa Flow yoga , Yin yoga and Hormonal yoga. I started to practice yoga about 35 years ago because I had hyper ventilation issues. When we moved to Spain I deepened my connection with yoga and was fully inspired by my teacher.

After my training, some friends asked me to give classes and that´s how I began. My students’ enthusiasm really energised me and it was so gratifying seeing them go home happy and grateful. I still give lessons at different places in Madrid and have continued my career development with a Hatha yoga course and a hormone balance teacher training.

What does yoga bring to your life?

I heartily recommend yoga to everyone, it has brought me so much, more confidence, energy, peace in challenging times, reflection, and so much more…. I prefer Vinyasa because it feels like dancing, flowing and synchronizing with one´s breath.

How do you find living in Madrid compared with Turin?

Northern Italians are more detached than the Madrileños and whilst Spaniards are louder than the Italians, the latter gesticulate more dramatically when they speak. Italians are more fashion-conscious and most of them like to dress up, high heels are not uncommon in an ordinary pizza restaurant! I prefer the Madrid weather and the opportunity to dance flamenco being in Spain presents.

How did you enjoy living in Brussels?

I loved it. We lived in a beautiful forest just outside of Brussels in the French-speaking area which is quite different to the Flemish side.  I think the food is better than in the Netherlands, the Belgians are more gastronomically-minded, just like me actually!  

You´re an avid reader and a member of the INC Book Club, name a book that has inspired you

That would be “Light of Life” by B.K.S Iyengar. This is a wonderful book I had to read for my first teacher training about Iyengar ‘s insights after years of practising and teaching yoga.

What book do you most recommend to others?

“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman which we read in the INC book club. It´s a beautiful and heartbreaking story about loneliness and explores the loyalty of children towards their parents and the serious consequences of neglect by foster-parents.

If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next in your life?

I´m already starting it: the launch of my retreats with a nutrition, life coach and aromatherapy specialist in September.

I would also very much like to learn to how to play the “cajón” which is a flamenco box drum originally from Peru

As a keen chef, I also would like to do more cooking classes or organize a cooking club.

Oh My Cod – Postcard from Portugal

The holidays are almost upon us….which means Madrid´s Saharan temperatures are about to sizzle our pavements. Time to leave the city.

One summer destination only 6 hours’ drive from Madrid, known for its refreshing Atlantic breezes is Lisbon. Last August we had a very illuminating few days there before riding the waves further south in Alentejo. Lisbon´s tourist scene has mushroomed since I was squashed like a sardine into a tin-sized room at the Residencia Dublin for a month in 1987. Having spent part of my gap year enjoying the tail end of hedonistic “La Movida” movement in Madrid I found it hard to adjust to Lisbon pulling down the shutters on their nightlife at 9 pm.

These days it´s always wine o’clock in Lisbon

Back at university in the UK my Portuguese professors were less amused by my fixation with maps adoring the walls. On one occasion, whilst sitting through the nuances of the future subjunctive in Portuguese, long since defunct in Spanish (for good reason), my attention wandered aimlessly over to the elongated outline of South America on the wall next to me. Dona Manucha interrupted the class to inquire about my fascination with South American geography. To which I replied sheepishly that I was merely planning the route for my forthcoming summer trip from Lima to Rio. “Perhaps if you spent half the time concentrating on Portuguese grammar as you do scrutinising the Amazon river you might even become fluent”, she retorted. I took great pride in showing her my Distinction with Merit in Spoken Portuguese as part of my Final Degree 4 years later.

Today the historical hotly disputed rivalry between Portugal and Spain is very much alive and on our way in from the airport our taxi driver wasted no time in telling us drily that Spaniards “only looked after themselves”. Nowadays, the recreational gap between the capital cities has narrowed as day and night, the cobbled streets round the Praça do Rossio are teeming with tourists and E-scooters.

Not as safe as you might think

A word of caution about the latter mode of transport. A few years ago, a Lisbon resident friend of mine from Colombia hired an E-scooter with his teenage children just before Christmas. Having crashed into a curb he broke several bones and was set to spend several weeks in hospital. One frantic call to Bogotá was enough to persuade his ex-wife to get on a plane just before Christmas Eve so the kids could enjoy some semblance of the festivities with at least one member of their family. Ignoring her new boyfriend´s advice to remain in Colombia the ex-wife duly arrived in Lisbon and whilst out on New Year´s Eve she fell head over heels with the owner of the restaurant next to the Cathedral in which they were having dinner … and there she remains with him, to this day, still smitten.

Cod fishing is a solitary affair

One of the capital´s newer attractions is the Centro Interpretativo de Bacalhau or rather the Cod Cultural Centre near the Praça de Comercio opposite the banks of the River Tejo.  This fascinating museum champions the determination and grit of adventurous Portuguese fishermen willing to navigate challenging waters and unchartered territory near Newfoundland and Greenland in search of tons of cod so highly prized in Europe.  Not found in their own waters, Portugal´s love affair with this cold-water species started when they supplied the Vikings with their copious quantities of home-grown salt so that the Scandinavians could preserve their large catches of cod. The dish started to gather momentum and as a cheaper and more practical alternative to meat, salted cod soon became more widespread further inland in the Iberian Peninsula.

The grandiose shop at the Cod Cultural Centre

During the Salazar regime, the brave “bacalhoeiros” fishermen were so highly esteemed that they were granted exemption from compulsory military service. Frankly, I don´t know what was worse, zig zagging round freezing North Atlantic icebergs in one-man boats 2 kms out from the huge whaler boats they depended on for 6 months at a time or playing at toy soldiers in warm barracks on home turf.

Crispy cod fritters at Bacalhau restaurant

Today the Portuguese consume 20% of all cod that is caught worldwide and it comes in all shapes and guises. Our children enjoyed nibbling on the salty cod fritters known as pataniscas de bacalhau whilst my husband and I preferred the potato fishcake version called pastéis de bacalhau.

There´s something fishy going on with these pastéis de bacalhau

Cod main courses have also undergone a facelift and Casa Lisboa does a delicious high-end version of Bacalhau à Brás in which the cod is shredded and placed in a pan with olive oil; finely chopped fried potatoes; onions and scrambled eggs. The dish is then topped off with a sprinkling of black olives and chopped parsley.

Bacalhau à Brás goes upmarket at Casa Lisboa. Photo credit: Casa Lisboa

Next to the Cod Centre is the Museu da Cerveja, the Beer Museum, which shows how the canny monks commandeered Portuguese beer production. Highly nutritious, this amber brew provided an attractive refreshment for the friars to offer passing hungry and thirsty pilgrims and was also, like cod, conveniently exempt from catholic fasting rules.

Tuk Tuk Touring

By this stage the kids were starting to get undeniably restless so we flagged down a Tuk Tuk and saved ourselves a barrage of puerile complaints and demands for ice creams as we did a whistle stop tour of the top churches. A definite first for me to be conversing in Portuguese with a Bangladeshi tour guide on a hair-raising mission.  

If you´re after a different type of kicks, as in making the earth shudder for you in true Meg Ryan-style, then there is a great 4D earthquake museum for the seismologically-inclined looking to relive Lisbon´s catastrophic 1755 Quake which razed part of the city.

Not even a cannonball would get him out of bed these days

All in all, despite its chocolate box clean-up there´s still an authentic edgy undercurrent that punctuates the polished visitor-centric veneer and provides a glimpse of Lisbon´s pre-touristic charm. This year my son will be returning to the Portuguese capital with between 2 and 3 million teenagers as they welcome the Pope at the beginning of August so you may wish to defer your trip outside of those dates!

Ps – The word “cod” comes from the Middle English term for bag or scrotum as in “codpiece”, the medieval genital protector, in reference to the fish´s bulging shape. As a keen collector of antiques and artefacts my grandmother acquired a copy of Henry VIII´s codpiece currently on show at the Tower of London. It still comes in handy as a jockstrap when the family badmington matches become a bit heated.

In cod we trust

Breakfast Diversity

I can and have eaten snake´s blood for lunch and worms for dinner but breakfast is sacred. On a weekend, ideally it would include lashings of Bovril drizzled over hot-buttered brown toast…I could push it to the Holy Grail of crispy crumpet at Christmas….or perhaps even a sneaky scone with a full height glacier of Rodda´s clotted cream on a whistle-stop trip over to the UK.

Bovril and crumpets – a winning duo

However, let´s face it, we´re less adaptable at this mealtime.

Felipe González, Spain´s Premier from 1986-1992, shrewdly observed at one heated European Summit he hosted in June 1989 that it wasn´t surprising the delegates couldn´t agree on the agenda, considering the diversity of breakfasts they had all undoubtedly consumed that morning. Whilst their heads locked horns over the EU monetary system, the attendees’ bellies were busy digesting anything from German Bircher Muesli to French Pain au Chocolat, Greek Spinach Pie, Irish sausages or even a British Triple Whammy of eggs, beans and black pudding on toast. “How can we settle on common policy at the end of the day when they start it so differently.” 

Mitterand and Thatcher – poles apart

According to Julio González de Buitrago, head chef at La Moncloa Felipe González, enjoyed taking over the kitchen to prepare bream baked in sea salt.  Although, “he loved a tuna-and-tomato sandwich when he was watching a soccer game”.

Felipe González at work

What happened to fried bread? I would like to start a Bring Back Fried Bread Movement. I could happily ditch those deep-fried mars bars; just bring me back those crispy caramel-brown triangles drenched in oil. Their sharp tip makes for the perfect weapon with which to go pricking those runny fried egg yokes.

Grease rules

Whereas every high street from Canterbury to Calcutta showcases global “To Go” brands such as Starbucks and Subway most nationalities tend to stick to home turf when it comes to breakfast in their own kitchen.

In the Middle East falafel and hummus bulge out of freshly-baked pita bread. Whereas in China and other Far Eastern countries a steaming bowl of rice porridge congee and pickled mustard stems is the preferred matutinal choice.

One of my most exotic daybreak meals was a spicy coconut noodle soup with fried beef lung at a roadside stall under a flyover in Kuala Lumpur. Just the ticket to tickle those sweat glands into action in the oppressive humidity.

Authentic porridge

Whilst lunch is the star culinary attraction, most Spaniards settle for biscuits and instant coffee dissolved into microwaved long-life milk of a morning. I am proud to divulge that I have managed to tempt my husband into following my Scottish ancestry by loading up on rolled porridge oats, or Scottish cement as he calls it with a dash of banana. I have fond memories of my grandmother stirring pinhead oats on the stove, spurtle in hand, until they congealed homogenously on our annual summer pilgrimage to her house near Dornoch. Once in a bowl, she would then sprinkle over some brown sugar, a pinch of salt to accentuate the natural earthiness of the oats before pouring a generous white moat of single cream round the edges.  All in all a tantalising tingle of contrasting flavours and textures that ensured we stayed out of the raspberry cage until lunch.

Poncho fashion on the Camino de Santiago

My family and I have embarked on a pledge to complete the Camino de Santiago with a group of Spanish friends by doing 3 sections or “etapas” a year. Having started in 2019 and been rudely interrupted by the pandemic we shall probably all be elderly grandparents by the time we stagger into Santiago de Compostela on zimmer crampons.  At times we have congregated together for breakfast and I have not found many takers for scrambled eggs at 7 am on a Sunday morning or for a bowl of mushy beige oats either. Instead, our friends favour a potato tortilla sandwiched into a white baguette and by 10.30 am they are sharing packets of almonds and Oreo biscuits or squeezing tubes of condensed milk down their children´s gullets in a bid to stave off those gastro grumblings.

Busy bodega workers

The other point to note about Spanish breakfast is that it´s often eaten nearer the British lunchtime. Office workers start on an empty stomach before congregating at the nearest bar for the three C´s (coffee, croissant and a cigarette) at about 11.30. When I worked in the sherry industry I used to watch enviously as the strapping bodega workers perched on the barrels while they devoured orange sobrasada slathered generously onto baguette, washed down with dry oloroso to cut through the porcine fat at 11.30 am while my stomach rumbled through the second tasting of the day of 30 sherries before 12 noon. As the Jerez saying goes, “If you haven´t had one by 12 you will have to have 12 by 1pm”.  Incidentally, farmworkers in the UK and Ireland were the initiators of the great Breakfast Fry up now equally ubiquitous in cafés in coastal Spain and the islands.

Unctuous sobrasada

Perhaps one of the main reasons Spaniards can´t eat a heavy meal early in the morning is because they´re still digesting their dinner that they may have only finished around midnight the night before. And that´s another story…..

Spotlight on Margarita Gokun Silver

This week Susannah talks to Moscow-born, American national: Margarita Gokun Silver, formerly a public health consultant in Uzbekistan and later a cross-cultural coach from Athens to Argentina and now a full-time writer. A successful author of a novel and an essay collection; prodigious freelance journalist and accomplished painter, Margarita is about to collect a second Masters to add to her Ivy League credentials.

At school on Lenin´s birthday

What was it like growing up in the USSR in the 1980’s?

I started that decade by proclaiming my loyalty to the USSR as a Young Pioneer and I ended it by giving up my Soviet citizenship and leaving the country for good. In between there was everything that usually happens in a life of a young girl coming of age during the end of Brezhnev/Andropov/Chernenko stagnation era and Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost. We marched, we protested, we held kitchen discussions about Sakharov and Politburo, we queued for butter, and we hoped things were going to change for the better. Spoiler alert: they didn’t.

You left your Mechanical Engineering degree course in Moscow and emigrated with your parents to the US, what surprised you the most when you arrived in in 1989?

First impressions: way too many streetlights (Moscow had close to none); the size of their supermarkets, the friendliness of people. The fact that no one walked anywhere (we ended up in a small town—NYC would have probably been different) and the cost of tuition in a local liberal arts college.

Exhibiting in Cuenca

After pre-med you went to Yale to do a Master’s in Public Health and later worked in health consultancy in Uzbekistan, how did that experience shape your life in hindsight?

I understood working in health care wasn’t my thing and I just wanted to write.

Enjoying Italy

As the spouse of a US Diplomat on the move you decided to become a cross-cultural coach in Argentina, Greece, Russia, Spain and USA, do you draw on any of those skills and experiences as a writer today?

Curiosity is a big one. You have to be curious about people to be a good coach —and you have to be curious about the world around you to be a writer, to want to tell stories.

Do you have any funny stories about settling in Tashkent?

We bought our car in Tashkent on a Christmas Day by bringing a suitcase full of cash to a market on the outskirts of the city and hoping we’d leave that market driving that car and not stuffed into a trunk of another.

You were already an accomplished self-taught author of two books and many essays and articles, what was the most useful tip you learned in your Creative Writing course at Oxford University?

Sometimes just turning a noun into a verb gives you the exact word you’ve been looking for.

Have you had any feedback from the Russian authorities on your satirical novels?

No, and I really hope I won’t. They aren’t always very nice.

What inspires you to write?

Stories, other writers, conversations with people.

Pushkin does some edits

Is it true that if your great grandmother hadn´t missed the train you might have grown up in Argentina?

Technically it’s true but then again it wouldn’t have been really me because if she did make it to Argentina, she wouldn’t have met my great-grandfather and my grandmother would have never been born.


What made you decide to take up oil painting in your 40´s whilst living in Miami?

I’ve always wanted to paint with oil and always postponed it. Then at 40 I decided that waiting for (painter’s) life to begin was stupid and enrolled into a class. I wrote about this decision and how I made it here.

What is it about Madrid that prompted you to return here after your stint in 2012?

I like the vibe of this city, the friendliness of its people, the immensity of its blue sky, the imprint that sunlight leaves on its buildings. It just feels good to live here and at this point of my life that good feeling is what I need.

Family Trip to Toledo

Which book do you most recommend to others?

Too many to mention and my taste has changed over the years, but I’ve always come back again and again to Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita”.

Susannah goes to Mars

When I first landed on these shores at the end of the 1980s it was very difficult to find any snacks on the street, especially in train or metro stations. I had grown up grabbing the odd marathon/snickers to line the stomach whilst en route to school or to the pub after work. Yet over here Twix and Mars bars are largely confined to bulk packs in supermarkets; the antithesis of spontaneous snacking.

However, Spaniards do have a very sweet tooth when it comes desserts, an unequivocal hangover from their seven-century Moorish ancestry. On inquiring about the correlation between heat and sweet on a visit to Dubai years ago I was informed that sugar boosts flagging energy levels in hot weather. In addition, in Arab cultures sugary treats are offered as a mark of hospitality and generosity.

Still a favourite today

One store which is promoting British stalwart brands from my mis-spent youth is Pepco. With 146 branches all over Spain, there´s bound to be a Cadbury´s Whole Nut bar nearer to you than you think. On my recent foray into the Calle Alcalá branch I was tempted by all manner of nostalgic confectionery including Curly Wurlies, Wagon Wheels as well as those moreish 1980´s favourite: Revels.

Having spent 5 years locked up in a girl´s boarding school in the heart of the Sussex Downs, I very much relied on our “tuck shop”. This was a converted stable filled with our favourite sugary staples where we could buy our weekly treats and make up for the lost calories of many an inedible lunch. Once our house mistress announced she would exchange postage stamps for cash I knew I was onto a winner. So as opposed to writing weekly letters to beloved members of my cherished family I swapped the Queen´s head for prized Bounty bars, Milky Ways and Twix´s. Having acquired something of a reputation for my devotion to confectionery some of the other girls dared me to eat 7 Mars Bars in a row….in order to qualify for a free one….Minutes later, tens of mullet-haired 12 year olds gathered round my bunk bed as the challenge commenced.

Cards and chocolate kept us entertained

One by one the cloying caramel slabs disappeared down into the abyss of my gullet whilst I feverishly peeled off the next wrapper. Unfortunately for my room-mates, I didn´t feel sick at all, indeed, far from it. Egged on by the sugar rush all 7 of them slipped down quite comfortably and I am still extremely partial to a Mars bar or three today. Especially if they are presented to me in the format of a Mars Ice cream which can only be described as a feat of food engineering. How on earth does the caramel centre remain at that silky consistency in a deep freeze?

Another favourite activity was to write to the Complaints Department of Mars Inc. After popping our favoured confectionery for a spin in the school washing machine, we´d enclose it in a grubby envelope with a terse note complaining the Mars bar was faulty and demanding immediate compensation by way of a big box of said product. This deception was repeated with such alarming frequency I´m surprised we didn´t instigate a regional product recall. However, in those days Mars Inc were very generous in sending us endless freebies despite the obvious fraudulent nature of our claims belied by the address of our Malory Towers-esque institution.  Looking back, I expect the Customer Service Director was sorely tempted to fill the wrappers with one of their other brands such as Pedigree Chum.

British Corner Shop staples

Wherever you´re from, if you´re feeling in the mood for some timeless British treats this Easter you can always rely on the British Corner Shop online delivery from their new EU warehouse to egg-sport you some fun. According to their CEO, Tom Carroll “Cadbury chocolate continues to reign supreme, with timeless treats like the Cadbury Flake and Dairy Milk bar still highly sought after by expats in Spain.”

However, if you´re after a fun chocolate tasting on a Saturday afternoon near Ópera you can book one with Helen López who hosted a wonderful Monthly Meeting last year.

Spotlight on Giselle Rouvier

This week Susannah delves into the diverse life of INC´s Rio de Janeiro-born Social Media Editor; former architect; designer; marketeer; childhood ballerina and now mother and yoga teacher, Giselle Rouvier.

Leblon Beach Rio de Janeiro

How has your nomadic childhood in London, Toronto and various Brazilian cities shaped you?

Oh wow, I think it has shaped me in so many ways… For a very shy person like myself, I feel that moving around has given me the opportunity to come out of my shell. One thing I´ve realised is that being pushed out of my comfort zone can lead to growth and personal transformation from a very early age. I also feel that learning to adapt in various settings has make me more flexible, resilient and empathetic.

In the Big Apple

What´s the best advice you’ve been given?

Right now, as a Mother and solopreneur, I’d say it was “you can do anything but you can’t do everything.” So I´d say understanding that I need to make a choice about what my purpose is and what my focus is going to be has been a key lesson.

Giselle dons a hard hat

How has your previous career as an architect and designer helped you in your current profession as a yoga teacher?

As an architect-designer you get to be a bit of a psychologist and to understand how experiences and spaces can shape how a person will feel. I was very interested as an architect in how buildings and cities affect our moods and wellbeing and this has always fed through to how I teach Yoga. I really enjoy designing the entire class experience; the journey of the practice, the bhava or feeling I want you to leave the mat with, the music, the lighting…everything. 

Taking a measured shot

How has your hobby as a photographer evolved over the years?

My keen interest in photography started aged 12 when my father gave me my first camera. I used to take a lot of pictures of nature and I´ve had many moments in my life whereby I´ve considered becoming a full-time photographer. However, I´ve often doubted my talent for it. Photography for me is a way of stopping time dead in its tracks. It reminds me to stay in the present and to be fully aware of the beauty that surrounds us, be it nature, people we love, a kind gesture, a smile….it can be a really therapeutic activity.

Menstrual Cycle Awareness Workshop

What was the most surprising part of the menopause yoga course for instructors you took recently?

How early it can start and how unprepared we are for it!  Also, that (peri) menopause can have a very profound impact on a woman’s life if completely ignored. I have heard tales of women who got divorced, lost their jobs and even started on antidepressants during this transition as they lacked valuable support from a doctor, naturopath, therapist or a yoga women’s circle to mitigate the symptoms. To some extent, it is still taboo, just like the menstrual cycles, to talk openly about these things. I would dearly love to change this narrative for women. 

Younger yoga days

How do you advise people to reconnect with their bodies as they get older?

I love this idea that as we get older, we start to feel liberated from the pressures of how we should be, what we should do and we get back in touch with our inner wild authentic self. Like there is this wise, ancient inner-self waiting to emerge.  

I would advise people to pay closer attention to our own body´s signals.  Do less. Be more and breathe more. Follow your own path of creativity and intuition. Put your phone aside and move your body whether it be dancing or yoga, whatever takes your fancy.

Giselle gets into character from a young age

How do you see the future of social media panning out?

I think it will take over our lives even more… it will become our search engine, our shopping experience, a place of work for lots of us.

You are INC´s social media editor, how do you use social media in your own life?

I use it only for work purposes, to get the information out there but on a personal level I have completely stopped using Social Media for 4 years now… I try to have a healthy relationship with it, as I felt that it could really “rob me” of my precious time here on this Earth and sometimes even affect my mood. I try as much as I can to not be glued to my phone when I am around my daughter so she can learn by example that we are social beings but we tend to feel better and healthier if the interactions are face to face and real.

The Beach Bunnies

Face to Face with David Sáenz of La Melguiza Saffron

From the bouillabaisse fish soup of Southern France to the biryani rice dishes of South Asia there is a common thread (literally); the dried stigma threads from the crocus flower known as saffron. Here in Spain, no self-respecting quality paella would be complete without the reddish hues and earthy flavour of Spanish saffron.

Following our introductory monthly INC meeting last year, Susannah meets up with David Sáenz at his shop, La Melguiza to find out about the heritage of this fascinating spice.  

With a background in consultancy and delicatessens, Sáenz noticed a burgeoning interest in Spanish saffron and now sells it in all its guises; from saffron-infused shampoo to body lotion and even honey saffron sweets.

Rich pickings

What is saffron and where is it grown?

Saffron comes from the dried stigma and styles (threads) of the crocus flower and is cultivated in an arid, windswept belt from Central Spain in the West to Kashmir in the East. Whilst La Mancha with its protected appellation known as the Denominación de Origen Protegida is responsible for over 90% of Spain´s production there is also a small amount cultivated in Teruel.

What´s the difference between Spanish saffron and the Iranian variety?

Three precious threads

The main differences can be seen in the quality. As in all natural produce, time and consistency contribute to the overall quality of the end product. You always need to shorten the time between extracting the product from the land to processing it to ensure it doesn´t spoil.  In Iran the process of extracting the threads from the flower to drying them takes longer as they have vast areas to harvest and a poorer transport system. The saffron threads are then dried out in the sun which means there is less control over how much toasting they receive. Whereas in Spain the threads are dried in huge drums over a fire by eagle-eyed experienced abuelas who ensure the toasting is even.  

La Melguiza´s iconic shop near the Calle Mayor

Has saffron always been popular in Spain?

Yes, about a 100 years ago more than 50% of Spanish cuisine used saffron. For example, it was used in all dishes containing pulses as in callos y garbanzos (tripe and chickpeas), pollo a la pepitoria (chicken with almond and saffron sauce); patatas a la importancia (potatoes with saffron, garlic and white wine); seafood dishes – particularly clams and also puddings. The grassy flavours of Saffron have also traditionally been used in desserts such as flan, ice creams, sponge cakes.

Honey and saffron sweets

Why is there an upsurge in demand now?

People are more interested in provenance, in the origins of good quality ingredients. Up until 6 or 7 years ago Spanish saffron wasn´t selling much but now I have Spanish and a lot of overseas clients. Editor´s Note: I witness some loyal Middle Eastern Embassy customers eagerly stack up a large number of saffron boxes on the counter as we speak.

Isn´t saffron extremely expensive?

Actually the lesser quality saffron is expensive for what it is. Whereas, the top quality version imparts a lot of flavour and colour with just a few threads so it can be used sparingly.

David shows me round his saffron emporium

How should one use it?

I recommend soaking the threads in warm water and adding it all to savoury dishes. You can also steep saffron in milk for desserts.

What´s next for La Melguiza?

In addition to our line of saffron-imbued cosmetics, lotions, candles and craft beer I am about to launch some organic saffron-flavoured pistachos from La Mancha. I have a feeling they will be as successful as our unpasteurized orange blossom saffron honey. Editor´s Note: Beware – these yellow crunchy numbers are very moreish indeed.

La Melguiza shop/showroom – Calle Santiago, 12. Metro Opera. Online orders

Face to Face with Valérie Aucouturier of The Little Green Bottle essential oils

“I am what I breathe”

Last year INC enjoyed an enlightening interactive workshop at Sentidea where we had fun making up our own “winter potion” to ward off winter colds.

This week Susannah returns face to face with CEO, Valérie Aucouturier of Sentidea and The Little Green Bottle Essential Oils to find out exactly how just a tiny drop of these botanical beauties can boost our mind, body and soul.

A real gung ho approach. After 15 years’ marketing experience in the luxury perfume sector for the likes of Clarins, Thierry Mugler, Swarovski and Emanuel Ungaro I felt ready to explore my own entrepreneurial spirit so I took the bull by the horns.

What inspired you to set up your own business?

I´ve always been greatly inspired by famous perfumers such as Jean-Claude Ellena and historians such as Elizabeth de Feydeau to seek out beautiful raw materials and reinvent rituals. So I knew I wanted to harness these values and thus Sentidea, a consultancy in olfactive marketing, was born.

How you can tell the difference between a quality essential oil and a lesser one?

It´s a bit of a minefield as there are lots of varying quality products out there. So always check on the label that it is organic and therefore pesticide-free; 100% pure so that the plant extract is the primary ingredient and not diluted and 100% natural so the plant should appear with its full botanical Latin name as opposed to a perfume made from it which has no beneficial molecules.

How do essential oils actually work?

An essential oil is a plant concentrate, obtained by steaming or pressing various parts of the plant including leaves, flowers, barks, roots and peel. By extracting the plants’ own properties we are effectively transferring the plant´s natural ability to ward off disease into an essential oil for our own health and wellbeing through aromatherapy.

What´s the best way of applying essential oils?

Our sense of smell provides the fastest way of absorbing the benefits from their properties as it is received by the nervous receptors in our nose which sends out a stimulating or relaxing message to our whole body.

As essential oils are rapidly absorbed into the skin so they can act locally with great speed. Try rubbing on eucalyptus oil on the soles of your feet to alleviate respiratory problems.

What about aromatherapy at home?

Essential oils make really handy home remedies, such as Tree Tea oil to treat minor burns, small cuts; Helichrysum which is more effective than Arnica for bruises and bumps; radiata eucalyptus for colds and lemon eucalyptus for mosquito bites. I am also a great fan of grapefruit to combat unwanted odours in my teens’ trainers!

What is the best way to enjoy essential oils?

I recommend using a nebulizer as it transforms the oil into microscopic drops that are so light enough to float in the air so they can be inhaled. Or in the case of Madrid which has such a dry climate you can diffuse them in a humidifier with fresh water that helps to keep your nose and throat lubricated, which in turn, eliminates germs. Please avoid burners!

What cultural differences do you see in the demand for essential oils around the world?

Like wine, demand is usually greater for whatever plants grow locally so in Spain this means the whole citrus family; lemon, orange, tangerine. In France, we are big on lavender, whereas In Asia, they favour sandalwood. I really encourage our customers to choose our Mediterranean Laurel which is as antiseptic as the Australian Tea tree but far more eco-friendly in terms of carbon print and transportation.

Did you have a game-changing moment whereby you realised your professional life started to fulfil you on all levels?

Yes, I felt a real change when I adapted my business model to align with my emotional needs. So my company has two different arms now: Sentidea is the commercial branch and we supply pharmacies, beauty salons and spas with pure essential oil brands that we trust. We also run interactive workshops for professionals and members of the public alike. This has proved very successful and so in 2020 I was able to launch my very own essential oils brand: The Little Green Bottle. It´s very gratifying when I see a sea of smiles in a yoga class perfumed with one of our top-selling products, the Ibiza Vibe blend.

What´s the rationale behind The Little Green Bottle?

We created The Little Green Bottle to offer a collection of our own organic, minimalist and refillable blends of essential oils that help you to own your mood.

We pride ourselves on the fact that the combination of oils with circular economy-based accessories makes The Little Green Bottle a versatile gift for your personal wellbeing as well as a sustainable one.

In these uncertain times, what oils do you recommend to give us a lift?

Our roll-on Insta Confidence from The Little Green Bottle is a nifty blend of 10 essential oils that can calm, relax as well boost and recalibrate you to give you that lift you need.

What´s next for Valérie Aucouturier?

My next dream is to plant helichrysum, the “golden sun” of the Mediterranean, somewhere near my happy place in Deia, Mallorca. I would also like to develop recipes with a chef or write a book about cooking with essential oils for all the family!


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INC is full of diverse talent. This week Susannah speaks to an INC member who has cropped up in her life over and over again either in person or audibly on various podcasts since an Area 4/5 coffee morning at Laura Summer´s house in 2015.

Kelly Pietrangeli’s career arc spans wide as she has moved from former music video Production Assistant, record cover Designer, parenting and motherhood Coach to current Author, Podcaster, retreat Host, women’s circle Facilitator, Soul Plan Practitioner, and last but by no means least, she is a fellow hot chilli sauce lover.

Kelly has been running online programmes and workshops for women around the world long before Zoom became mainstream. Her free Project Me Life Wheel® tool for living a well-balanced life has had over 10,000 downloads and became the framework for her book and online membership club. Her High Vibe Journey programme helps women to raise their emotional levels. Women are calling it life changing and transformational. (Editor´s Note: I completed it recently and am definitely firing on Spitfire rather than Freddy Laker cylinders).

How did you end up working as Johnny Depp´s Press Assistant?

As a young girl in Minnesota I dreamed of working in Hollywood and so aged 20 I naively drove out to California with very little money and no contacts. Within a few days I found a job at a Comedy Club, selling tickets in the box office. Soon after, I was promoted to the owner’s PA, which led to meeting Johnny Depp´s limo driver. Back then in 1990 he was a TV heart-throb starring in 21 Jump Street. I went to work for the production company and was promoted to the role as Johnny’s press assistant, opening huge sacks of fan mail from teenagers, sending him teddy bears – and sometimes their underpants!

My naivety became one of my biggest advantages professionally as I didn´t create any mental blocks to my career progression and I really had nothing to lose.

You then worked in music video production and subsequently became a record cover designer, what was it like working for top name bands such as Tina Turner, Boyzone, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey in the 1990s?

Looking back on it now I can see how exhilarating it was to have such a fun and lively job. Back then, the music industry was all about free CDs, concert tickets and parties.  MC Hammer taught me how to do the ‘You Can’t Touch This’ dance behind his trailer. Beyoncé screeched with delight and hugged me when she saw my artwork for the first Destiny’s Child single.  I had no idea she’d go on to become a global icon. In fact, when she and the girls left my office I said to my colleagues, “They’ll never make it.” I could never be a talent scout! I said the same thing about Johnny Depp when he told me he was leaving TV to pursue a movie career…

What brought you to Madrid in 2010 and how did you find settling in here?

By 2010 I had a 10 and 7 year old and had given up my career in the Entertainment Industry. I was definitely restless and ready for new adventures, so when my husband was offered a job in Madrid I was all for it! I helped him conquer his fears and doubts and encouraged him to go for it. Weeks later we were in Madrid and INC helped make the move seamless for me as I had a whole group of other international women to answer my multitude of questions and was able to tap into an instant friendship group with lots of fun cultural activities to attend.

How did Project Me start?

As a new mother, my life felt chaotic and I was wildly out of balance, often taking my frustrations out on my poor kids. One day I noticed on my shelf the perfectly-ordered folder I had put together for our house renovation project in London. It had neat coloured tab sections for each area of the house. I decided to create my own file for 8 sectors of my life, such as health, personal growth, fun, money and love.  

I began to meet with two girlfriends to discuss how we could inject some order, balance and joyful purpose into those areas and be accountable for making change in them. Thus the Project Me Life Wheel was born. 

In 2013 I set up the Project Me website and started teaching other women this framework to enhance productivity and become the empowered experts of their lives and themselves.

What´s the difference between Project Me and Project We?

In 2019 I took Project Me to a whole new level by launching an online membership club called Project WE. Together we lift each other higher! Not only have I gained deeper understanding of how to get the most out of my life, but it has been so successful for others in Project WE that some members are running their own workshops for us in their chosen area of expertise.

Project WE is for women wishing to switch out of auto-pilot and create a life they love.

You are playing your part in making the “woo-woo” make sense. How have you made spiritual introspection more acceptable to explore and discuss?

Launching the Project Me Podcast and sharing my stories of my journey into the wonderful world of ‘woo-woo’ has opened up so many hearts and minds.

A lot of women I work with now say they didn’t have a ‘woo woo’ bone in their body until they started listening to my podcast and doing my programmes. I see myself as the bridge between practical lifestyle management and all else that lies out there beyond what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch.

You are now a certified Soul Plan Practitioner, tell us more

I discovered a couple of years ago that my own Soul Plan Destiny is to bring circles of people together to facilitate change. It was incredibly affirming and gave me the permission slip I needed to step more fully into this work. I trained to become a Soul Plan Practitioner and now love being able to share with my clients what their own soul gifts are, as well as the challenges they were born to overcome. It’s the most fun and fulfilling work I have ever done. Even being Johnny Depp’s PA! 

Which books have inspired you?

I’m a personal/spiritual growth book junkie! I have lots on the go at once and so many recommendations. Years ago it was The Magic by Rhonda Byrne which is a 28 day writing prompts book that really wakes you up to the immense power of gratitude. I gifted it to everyone I knew and so much magic did indeed unfold for them! In more recent years I have recommended The Untethered Soul and The Surrender Experiment, both by Michael A Singer, to everyone who has done my programmes. I recently received his workbook from one of my retreat guests which I’m enjoying too.

What was the best advice you were given?

The words of wisdom I got from Johnny Depp´s limo driver who advocated never holding information too close to your chest. If you know something that could help someone else, share it freely. It might not be that same person who reciprocates, but it will flow back to you in some way when you need it. This has been very true for me.

What´s next for Project Me?

I am feeling called to pivot and move much more deeply in the direction of my soul work. Watch this space in early 2023!

The Spice Girls enjoy some chilli time together

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Susannah soars in the Azores

On a quest of adventure, temperate climes and some dramatic scenery we opted to spend our family summer holiday on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores. With direct flights of only 3 hours from Madrid and many other European Cities the archipelago of the Azores is an attractive option. You can now impress your friends at the next pub quiz with your geographical knowledge that this volcanic string of islands lie 1500 km off the west coast of Portugal in the mid-Atlantic, well above Madeira which lies off of the coast of Morocco.

Whalewatching whilst gripping on for dear life

On our first day, relieved to be out of the intense heat on the Spanish peninsular, we enjoy the gentle sunshine as we step onto a large boat in search of whales. Moments later the clouds have rolled in and the boat is now keeling over. I hastily banish thoughts of the Titanic out of my mind to concentrate on the Marine Biologist´s shrieks of excitement as a 10 metre sperm whale glides past. By the time Moby Dick is in range for my camera the boat is dancing the Bossa Nova at full tilt with the horizontal rain driving everyone below deck where most people are heaving up lunch into small plastic sick bags.  Weatherwise, the Azores and Scotland have a lot in common as you can often experience four seasons in the same hour.

Hydrangeas everywhere

The following day we went out in search of smaller marine mammals. Snorkelling with dolphins requires Swiss horological precision as you have to slide into the sea splash-free to see them play under the water. We caught sight of a mother and a baby with the stripey fetal folds still in evidence down her side as well as some turtles.

After 2 days of seasickness we stay on dry land, visiting the fascinating Gruta de Carvao where we clambered through volcanic rock caves in hard hats. The grotto had previously been used as a welcome cold storage in the days before fridges were commonplace.

Rocking it in Azorean caves

A tasty light lunch of chicharros (fried baby mackerel) ensued with boiled yam and yuca followed by Queijada (bean cake pudding). After which we waddled up to Caldeira Velha thermal springs and waterfall to let off steam. The area is akin to a natural spa with lots of hot pools nestling amongst the lush, verdant vegetation.

Chained up ready to go

Later on, in a desperate bid to inch my way up the scale in the Mummy cool-ometer I booked us onto a few adventurous sports excursions. The first one had us all rappelling down ravines in chains and a giant yellow plastic diaper. The plastic nappy is supposedly to protect your nether regions over your wetsuit as you bump down on your bottom over fast flowing waterfalls over rocks (keeping your arms glued into your sides). This proved a lot less terrifying than rappelling down ravines and jumping into narrow rock pools from vertiginous 5 metre heights but I did feel a tremendous sense of triumph over adversity when the terror trip (mercilessly) ended.

Spa time

After that I felt ready for another bucket list activity to cross off….Stand Up Paddle Boarding. So we took a jeep to Sete Cidades where clusters of Swiss-style chalets cling to the shores of a volcanic lake and carefree cows wander aimlessly through pine forests. Goodness knows why it´s called Stand Up Paddle Board as our guide advised me to kneel down on it until I mastered my equilibrium. As it turned out there was quite a little current going on in the lake and the board had a mind of its own so there ensued a Mr Bean moment as I attempted to steer it away from reeds near the shore whilst in full genuflection. 

The family show me how it´s done

Eventually I got the better of the board and the soles of my feet developed limpet-like suction superpowers so I steadfastly paddled around, half expecting Julie Andrew´s dulcet tones to ricochet off the emerald slopes of the volcanic crater at any moment. 

I´m afraid there is no surviving photographic evidence of me indulging in this particular activity as I discovered, much to my chagrin, that one´s “smattering” of cellulite on the back of one´s thighs is vastly exaggerated when in the kneeling position.

Geothermal cooking at work

The Azoreans are a resourceful bunch and we shall be extremely envious of their ability to make full use of the free natural resources with which to cook their food while we struggle with ever-rising energy bills this winter. It turns out that Sao Miguel´s natural geysers make for a handy free oven. Local chefs in Furnas think nothing of rising at 5.30 am to lower gargantuan pots of “cozido” on chains into gaping holes through the Earth´s core as geysers hiss noisily around them.

Europe´s only tea plantation

Seven hours later the pots are hauled up ceremoniously and a tasty lunch of slow-cooked meat, sausages and cabbage, kale stew is served in the nearby restaurants. As with so much Iberian fare, it is bigger on taste than it is on beauty. Especially when you spatter the soggy cabbage leaves with some local spicy pepper sauce.

The mineral content of the thermal springs also give rise, literally, to the “bolos levados” or fluffy local muffins. Azorean dairy products account for 30% of Portugal´s dairy production with creamy butter and artisanal ice creams enjoying a much-appreciated position in the gourmet fridge section on the mainland.

Feijoada de marisco with limpets

Sumptuous squid, “lulas” and its baby version, “lulinhas” were devoured by our children wherever we went. I particularly enjoyed them doused in salsa verde. Taberna Açor in Ponta Delgada has a delicious Feijoada de marisco e lapas which is a red bean stew with limpets, another local delicacy. Other super foods include sweet potato and stalls of pineapple juice from Europe´s only pineapple plantation which used to be one of the main crops before dairy farming took hold.

Thermal springs at Terra Nostra

So, what type of people succumb to Sao Miguel´s multifarious charm? Well certainly hikers, nature lovers, maritime mammal fans, plucky kids of 7+, adrenaline-junky teens and anyone looking for gentle geothermal adventure, short distances between breath-taking sights and oodles of blue and lilac hydrangeas. Just remember to leave your Dolce and Gabbana bikini behind as the sulphurous hot springs will nuke the elastic of the top half and dye the bottom half oxidised orange.

Lagoa do Fogo viewpoint