Spotlight on Evelyn Nackman

This month the Spotlight falls on seasoned lawyer, amateur flamenco dancer and budding novelist, Evelyn Nackman who is also a Lieutenant Colonel with an artistic flair and a mother of 3.

Tell us what prompted you to pursue a legal career within the US Military

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C., one of the most politically charged places in the USA. Where some people grew up with favorite sports teams, my world was divided by political parties. I’m a believer in being the change you want to see. After attending law school in Chicago, I joined the military, and became a lawyer.

The law and the military are two institutions that have traditionally been dominated by men. Women have a powerful stereotype-defying perspective to bring to all institutions. I have been a part of that institutional change within the US military and globally as the US forces interact with the forces of other nations for peacekeeping and coalition building missions. The military’s rigorous professional training helped launch my legal career in the civilian sector.  

Flying high

Are you still involved with the Armed Forces? 

Public service has been an important aspect of my life. I continue to serve my country.  

The strict lockdown in Madrid gave you an opportunity to complete your first book, what prompted you to write a novel? 

My family’s numerous postings meant that I needed to reinvent my career. As an English major in college and a lifelong reader, I’ve always wanted to write fiction. My time in Spain has given me that opportunity.  

Walking like an Egyptian

You have 3 daughters, including twins – how does your husband cope with so many females in the household and are any of the telepathic myths about twins true? 

My husband is one of those rare men who has the gift of charm and grace when it comes to dealing with personalities. At home, he’s treated like a celebrity, so it’s a win-win for him. 

The twins have whatever the opposite of telepathic connection is. They couldn’t be more different. They look nothing alike and act different. They have separate interests, etc. That said, my three girls are best friends and fiercely protective of each other.  

Do you have any stories about adapting to life here in Madrid?

Americans use imperial measurement for the most part and all of our produce, in the US, is weighed at the checkout till. So I have no idea how much a gram of anything is or how much a banana (or anything at all) weighs in either metric or imperial. During the pandemic, I used Hipercor’s online order service which proved just how little I knew.

The metric system drives Evelyn a bit bananas

How has painting been a creative outlet throughout your life? 

Art is just another language trapped inside you. Everyone has art in them of some sort whether your medium is words, paint, clay, or performance. Just like you can say some things better in Spanish or Greek to express yourself, the arts are another way of communicating that which can’t be spoken directly. As such, the best art makes you feel or remember or understand something better about life, as well as being a release for the artist.  

Alexander the Great

I use all types of mediums: pastels, water color, oil paint, etc. Painting is another way of capturing how I see the world, like writing. The creative process connects parts of my brain that were never connected before and expands my understanding of the world.  

I spend as much time as I am able in art museums absorbing the messages and language in the works there. I’ll photograph a painting that strikes me and go home to recreate it with my own colors. Going through another artist’s creative process helps me understand what they’re saying in a way that simply looking at a painting can’t. In this way, Goya and other infamous painters and I have spoken to one another. In the process, I create something new and improve my own expression.  

The Belle at the ball in Vienna

As someone who has been in Madrid for a year how has being a member of INC been beneficial to you? 

INC has been a great way to connect with other women, professionally and personally.  

What is your secret Madrid?

I love finding nooks, interesting views, one-of-a-kind artisanal products, and meeting people in their element. Not the easiest to do right now, but rewarding when I am able to do it. Some of my favorite place are: My art class held in a studio on Calle de Fucar, the view from the RUI Hotel rooftop, Ferreterría by EGO (a restaurant with yummy jamón) anything in Mercado de Paz, and my flamenco classes in Pozuelo. 

Fun times in Santa Barbara

If you could go anywhere, where would you like to live next? 

I’d love to live in France or Italy next. I studied French for years and love both countries. 

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

I waved it! My wish was granted! I’m starting my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with NYU in Paris this January. I’ll be on my writing journey for a while, hopefully capitalizing on my experiences since I left full time legal practice.  

Brihuega – enveloped in the heady aromas of lavender, larger than life Hobbit caves and some Guinness record-holding miniatures

“And if you don´t come out by 1 pm I´ll be putting you through the mince grinder” quipped the seasoned butcher-cum-custodian of the Arab caves to my daughter who was dawdling in the labyrinthine tunnels under the main square.  Visitors to the sprawling caves have to negotiate the swinging carcasses in his shop next to the main entrance in order to request the key.

Hide and seek in the Arab caves

Images of 7-year old Claudia being ground into Anglo-Spanish meatballs prompted me to give her a prod as I checked my watch anxiously. The children had been spending a merry hour scampering through the 8 km maze of tunnels dating from the 10th Century.  Originally built to provide sanctuary from invaders and religious persecutors, the constant temperature of 12 degrees had also rendered the caves under the main square a convenient storage facility.

The Main Square

The medieval-walled town of Brihuega, at only 90 km from Madrid makes for an interesting daytrip. With only 3000 inhabitants, the population of this historic town in Guadalajara is swelled by visitors flocking to admire the local lavender fields that bloom in July. The rest of the time you can enjoy most of the venerable sights without the ubiquitous crowds more commonly found in Segovia or Toledo. Lavender features heavily in the local economy and its heady aroma is used in soaps and sweets in and around the town´s bustling market and shops.

Another unusual highlight on offer is the world-acclaimed Miniatures Museum* that houses over 65,000 tiny replicas of anything from hats to palaces; dogs; suitcases; cities; shops; furniture and even “The 7 Wonders of the World”, the latter of which are painted onto lentils. A feast for all ages of eyes and definitely a contender for “Most Unusual Museum” prize with its chewing gum sculptures and matchstick paintings. And there was me expecting an aeroplane-size bottle of Beefeater.

San Felipe Iglesia

Brihuega also boasts several notable examples of historic architecture such as the Romanesque Iglesia de San Felipe; the Castle of Piedra Bermeja whose origins date back to Arab times, a 17th Century convent and Textile Factory offering impressive views across the Tajuña Valley. It was at the castle cemetery that we stumbled across some charming Romanians. After a short exchange about our elusive bear tracking exploits there a few years ago and the underwhelming promotion of their country´s fascinating sights beyond Dracula and Transylvania we established that, coincidentally, they were huge fans of my brother´s TV documentary series on the bears and medieval communities in the Carpathian mountains which was took us all rather by surprise.  

Searching for burly bears in Romania

All this talk of Romanian sausages gave us an appetite and if you´re after some authentic Alacarreñan cuisine there are plenty of restaurants with wood-fired ovens serving roasted pork, lamb and fish dishes to choose from. However, if you´re looking for the full gourmet experience then head to Michelin-starred Doncel where you can dine out on Black pudding chips, 4 x 4 Pork scratchings (evenly crisped up on all four sides) and Venison carpaccio with Thyme ice cream. On my next visit I will just have to borrow a concoction from Alice in Wonderland to shrink the kids and donate them to the Miniatures Museum so as to indulge myself on Bambi and fries uninterrupted.

Queen of the Castle

A mere 10 minutes by car from the Brihuega centre takes you to the Tolkienesque abandoned village of Cívica. There is a charming outdoor café at the river´s edge opposite the ruins where you can recharge after exploring the tangled web limestone hidey-holes that may have hosted many a retiring monk or Sephardic Jew according to local legend.

Find Frodo

All in all, Brihuega and its environs make for an enchanting peak into Castillian history against an intriguing backdrop of fantasy and myths.

*Museum opening times may be affected by Covid-19

Spotlight on Isabel Vallejo

This month the Spotlight falls on Colombian Reiki master, IT engineer and now systemic coach with a penchant for aero yoga, mother of 4 and Area 1 Coordinator, Isabel Vallejo.

You were born in Cali in Colombia, is it true that the best salsa dancers come from there?

Definitively. If in doubt look at the Delirio show in:

Was being female quite a novelty on your computer engineering course in Bogotá?

Interestingly enough, I think almost half of us were women.

Norwegian break

Did you find your 6-month period in Germany quite a contrast to your life back home in Colombia?

Adapting to a public transport system that worked like clockwork was a huge culture shock after Bogotá. In Germany there is a sense and expectation of order which doesn´t exist in a place like Colombia where you always have to be ready to improvise. We´re rather good at that.

Time out in Colombia

Why did you decide to do a dual MBA programme in Portuguese at Wharton?

The Lauder School of International Studies, part of Wharton, took a very avant-garde approach for the 1990s in that they championed a country´s culture as part of their courses so I entered the Portuguese program and loved it.

How did you find living in London after North and South America?

Having studied at a British School I always liked London as it´s so authentic, like history unfolding, despite the cold, grey weather at times. I became a mum and appreciated the playgroups and diversity of mothers I could meet there.

Tell us about your 10-year stint in Moscow.

When we arrived in Russia in 2002 we had three children under 4 so we took advantage of the special art and music on offer at Russian kindergartens as well as enabling the kids to learn Russian. The expat community was very tight-knit as it was difficult to communicate with the locals. I realised that some people will feign incomprehension despite any linguistic attempts, whereas others understood me quite well with sign language.

Leisure time in Moscow

Meditation is very important to you; how did you get into it?

I am the daughter and sister of 3 drs in my family. Yet I´ve always been curious about different faiths and other elements that defy logic. Having seen that a Bio-energetic practitioner solved my niece´s chronic sore throats I decided to investigate and subsequently did a Reiki course as well as other energy therapies.

When I lived in Moscow the Damas Latinas Club offered meditation courses. I saw meditation as a way to understand one´s self. You have to take care of yourself first, and then you can guide others take care of themselves.

Isabel with a Russian friend

You are now a coach, what area of coaching do you focus on?

We all operate as individuals yet we are also part of many systems. I am now a systemic coach which focuses on understanding the system as a whole so that you can analyse what areas can or need to be improved.  We help de-clutter all the relationships between those systems, getting to the root of our present-day situations to comprehend what we really want and need.

Flying high

In 2016 you came to Madrid and managed a wellness centre, how did you get into aero yoga?

Our centre´s speciality was aero yoga but it wasn´t easy to find teachers. Once, while on the hunt for a teacher I called up a training centre in Valencia who explained they were have offering an intensive training programme 2 days later. Having found a babysitter, I ended up on the course and despite feeling like the odd one out to begin with I ended up loving it.  Ironically, a week later our main teacher left so I ended up taking her place!

It was a wonderful experience but the timetable was incompatible with my children as most of the classes were after school. However, now that my evenings are freed up once more, I might consider teaching it again as it´s great exercise.

You have just moved to the Sierra Norte de Madrid, what attracted you to this area?

In one of my group sessions we reached the conclusion that it would be beneficial to leave our comfort zone. So, faced with a move in any case, I decided to widen my search area as I work mostly online and don´t have kids in school anymore. So here I am in Cotos, which I used to think was miles away!

Health, herbs and hallowed singers – it´s time to reset our body clocks

After months of compensatory consumption during lockdown we were keen to listen to an expert in Holistic and Natural Nutrition, Tine van den Wall Bake who provided sage tips on healthy, intuitive eating and how to simply Live Younger Longer.

Tine is an exotic mix of Dutch and Peruvian by birth and judging by her sleek physique and boundless energy she certainly practises what she preaches.

As someone who is partial to the odd kilo of chocolate….albeit mainly dark except for the occasional 100g bar of cremoso milk Lindt that gets snaffled by mistake, not to mention the accidental glass (ok carafe) of Ribera del Duero of an evening I decided to tune in.

I should mention that Tine has more professional qualifications than most country´s political leaders (much more than some currently in the news I shan´t single out) and is a passionate advocate of her decade of research into a healthy holistic lifestyle.

Tine´s zest for life is infectious

Far from banning what we crave (phew) Tine advises balancing it with as much raw fresh fruit and vegetables as we can. The closer the food the resembles its natural state the healthier it is likely to be. Fortunately ready-made processed food is not so widespread or as palatable here in Spain as it is in some other countries. Apart from Telepizza perhaps. Why on earth would anyone want to order some greasy chewy soggy bread concoction purporting to be Italy´s best known crispy dough product beats me, yet thousands do it.

Tine mentioned energy. Why oh why did our mothers force us to eat lots of food when we were feeling below par. Digestion requires energy to do the job which should not be diverted unnecessarily from making us better. If we feel a bit peaky we need sleep not a Netflix binge deep into the night. Sleep is the most important medicine as some illnesses are exacerbated by the accumulation of toxins from forcing food on ourselves without giving ourselves a break.

A picture of health in Italy

Fasting was another subject. Intermittent fasting allows the body to detoxify and recover. I remember Dolly Parton once mentioning that she, like Tine does it carefully once a year. In fact Parton wrote one of her most memorable albums ever, Hungry Again (!) in 1997 whilst fasting and praying to activate her creative juices and sharpen the mind. Parton´s enviable hour-glass curves are certainly an example of someone living younger and longer at 74. Although I´m not sure that fasting is going to help me compete with her bra size.

Parton in her prime

Long term fasting is not for the faint-hearted and should be done in consultation with a physician. Whilst I appreciate the merits of giving one´s body a break in theory I have only fasted from chocolate once….only to eat triple the daily quantity once Lent was over.

Better out than in

Stress, illness, grief, tiredness all hit our immune system hard. So to give it a boost we should focus on anti-inflammatory foods. Tine recommends regular cups of ginger, lemon and honey or other herbal remedies. Post surgery, anti-inflammatory raw, vegetarian food is best.  Having had 3 eleven cm screws pulled out of my hip in the last month I wish I´d been able to eat anything at all. The nurses who brought the food managed to leave it on a table just out of my reach and hobbling on crutches balancing a tray full of packet peroxide-coloured pumpkin soup proved quite a challenge.

Herbal blends can also help to keep our rollercoaster hormones on an even keel, especially in and around peri/menopause.  I´m sure my grandmother mentioned that a daily pint of sherry worked wonders for her mood but science has moved on a bit since then.  

Apparently our hearts pump the equivalent of one truckful of blood (7,200L) round our bodies every single day and such effort inevitably has an impact on the efficiency of the filters responsible for the quality of that blood. Fasting is a bit like a computer reset. How many times have we spent half an hour waiting on call to speak to a Movistar operator who has managed to solve our huge technological disaster by asking us to merely switch off and turn on again our modem?? Our bodies are the same, we simply need to give them a chance to reset.

Bio-individuality means that we each have an optimum number of hours in which to rest from food through intermittent fasting.  Sport, meditation, clean food and yoga also improve the filter process. Effective breathing oxygenates and revives us literally.

Tine gave us lots of food for thought and I´m sure that as a result, there will be quite a few liver-cleansing juice machines on this year´s Christmas list.

As for how she´s found the time to carve out a very prestigious longstanding concurrent career as a global strategic marketeer….that´s another story………

Tine van den Wall Bake only takes on 2 clients at a time in addition to her day job.  She can be reached via what´s app +34 637 44 59 32 or you can follow her on Instagram.

Broccoli & Cheddar Skillet Pizza

Being confined over the winter months has led a lot of us to re-examine our pantry and explore other ingredients outside our regular weekly shopping bag. As a result many of us have been experimenting with all sorts of flours which, like toilet paper, became very scarce at one point!

Chickpea flour with its high protein and fibre content is one of those superfoods that hits the low carbohydrate spot and tastes deliciously crispy on the outside with a nutty chewiness on the inside.

As some of you know, I am a hopeless pizza-holic and as the summer heat subsides we can now switch back into oven and stove cooking without wilting in the process.

Broccoli & Cheddar Skillet Pizza


Makes 1 thick-crust pizza (serves 2-4)
Notes: If you want a thin crust, use a larger pan or make two pizzas using half the chickpea batter for each pizza. In this case, you may need to adjust the amount of toppings. The recipe calls for tomato sauce. Use your favourite one here. Some have been cooked down with olive oil, herbs, garlic and onion. But if you use plain tomato sauce I suggest stirring through a crushed clove of garlic, salt, and pepper along with the lemon zest called for in the recipe. Please don´t use my pet hate ingredient: tomate frito – or if you do, don´t tell me about it.

Chickpea flatbread (recipe below)

3/4 cup (180 ml) tomato sauce

Zest 1/2 lemon

1 small head of broccoli

Large handful sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

½ red onion, thinly sliced

Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional for some, essential for me)

Make chickpea crust following recipe below.

Preheat oven to 425F/220C. Chop broccoli head and tender stem into bite size pieces. Place on foil baking tray and toss with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and drizzle of oil. Roast in oven for 10 minutes, or until broccoli is crisp tender and browning around the edges.

Stir lemon zest into tomato sauce.

Once chickpea crust is cooked, layer over tomato sauce, spreading evenly to the edges. Scatter around roasted broccoli, cheese, and onion if using.

Set oven back to broil and return skillet to top third section of oven to melt cheese (for 4-6 minutes).

Slice pizza into quarters and serve immediately. 

Chickpea Flatbread

  • 1 cup (164 gr) chickpea flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) warm water
  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (plus 1 Tbsp for coating pan)
  • In a medium bowl whisk chickpea flour, salt, and cumin. Add warm water and 2 Tbsp. oil and whisk well until very smooth (it should be the consistency of pancake batter). Set aside on counter for 30 minutes so flour has time to absorb the water. Alternatively make batter 6-10 hours in advance and leave on the counter, covered with a clean kitchen towel, until ready to use.
  • Turn oven to broil, set oven rack in the upper third section of the oven, and place a 10-in (25 cm) cast-iron skillet (or other heavy non-stick pan) in oven to preheat for 10 minutes.
  • Remove skillet, pour in 1 Tbsp oil, tilting the pan so the entire surface has a generous coating.
  • Give the batter one last good whisk and pour into the pan, tilting pan so entire surface is evenly coated with batter. Place in oven and cook 7-9 minutes, or until edges are golden brown and curl up slightly. 
  • Loosen flatbread by running a thin spatula around the sides and underneath. Proceed with pizza

Spotlight on Narges Tabatabai

Newcomer Madrid Susannah Grant author

Today we speak to one of our bubbliest members, Iranian-born Narges Tabatabai, selfie professional and INC photographer extraordinaire and former translator and beautician. Impressively resilient, Narges talks to us frankly about growing up in the Iranian Revolution, the War with Iraq and why she talks to the moon.

What are your early memories of Iran like before the 1979 Revolution?

Prior to 1979 Iran was an idyllic place, a haven of ancient culture where people were highly educated and had a good standard of living.

Happy family times in 1977

What impact did the 1979 Revolution have on you and your family?

Everything changed. I had to switch from a prestigious mixed private school to a public school for girls only. We had to wear a headscarf and a long tunic, in certain drab colours. Nail varnish was banned, and girls’ lives were very restricted. Then, the following year, the long war with Iraq broke out and we spent 8 traumatic years running to bomb shelters every time the sirens sounded. It was terrifying as many houses very near ours were bombarded.

40 years later, many restrictions have been lifted and women are freer to wear more variety of colour.

Narges carries off Iranian attire with her usual flare

You are a natural with children and looked after your baby nephew from the age of 14 following your sister´s death. What was that like?

I have a natural nurturing spirit and have always cherished children. My two sons are hugely important to me and this is why I came to Madrid in 2017, to give them a better opportunity in life. To compensate for the choices I never had at their age.

You have always been fiercely independent, what was it like working as a maths and Arabic tutor from the age of 15?

Times were hard in Iran at the time and I had to earn my keep, this has made me very resilient and enabled me to stand on my own two feet despite it not being very common for Iranian women to work back in those days; it has changed a lot since then. There are a lot more women in the workforce, in all different sectors.

Narges and her two sons

Where have you lived before?

My original idea, before coming to Spain, was to emigrate to Italy to offer my sons a better quality of life but after 4 years of commuting backwards and forward between Tehran and Rome I returned to Iran for good as moving there with my sons looked impossible.

What significance has meditation and the moon in your life?

Since I was very little, I have always loved gazing at the moon since I was a child and I enjoy being present in the moment, connecting with the cosmos and expressing gratitude for all that God has blessed us with. One of the main reasons I enjoy the moon more than God’s other blessings is because it’s at night, and while it shines in the darkness, it makes it even more beautiful. Another reason why I enjoy looking at the moon is because of its different shapes. For example, how it changes from a crescent to a full moon. I always try to pray towards the moon in order to send it to my loved ones.

Narges has the moon in her hand

Tell us about your special energy

Ever since I was a little kid, I have always possessed lots of energy and I was always advised to cultivate this vitality. Currently I am doing a Reiki course, which will allow me to cure people with my energy from long distances.

Your ability to capture the atmosphere on camera is legendary, what is it about photography that draws you to it?

I have always loved taking pictures, especially of portraits and nature. Encapsulating a memory in a photograph preserves it for life.

Do the Spanish people share any similarities with Iranian people?

Yes, the bars and restaurants in both countries are always full! However, I feel that the Spaniards enjoy a slower pace of life, whereas Iranians seem to live their life on fast-forward.

Narges is the life and soul of any INC gathering

If you were shipped off to confinement in a desert island what 3 items (apart from a phone) would you take?

My camera, my favourite speaker so I can listen to some music (I also love dancing in any mood), and my make-up.

You have worked as a tutor, a translator and a beautician, if you could wave a magic wand what would you do next?

I always wanted to become a model, or an actress, or a professional dancer. But among my previous experiences, I would definitely go with becoming a beautician. I actually would like to pass the industry-specific courses in order to work in this profession.

Narges applies some artistic license to our interview during lockdown

Live from the Homefront – time to dance ourselves delirious

Susannah Grant walks up and down her garden on crutches

This the 14th post since we embarked on lockdown and now that the Covid situation is easing up and summer is approaching it´s time to look forward, not back.  No one more than me as I have spent the last two months in a wheelchair mending a fractured hip. In April I reported on Captain Tom, a 100-year old UK Army Veteran who raised a whopping €36 m from donors for health charities by walking 100 laps with his zimmer frame. Now that I´m now up on crutches, I´m wondering if anyone wants to pay me even a tenth of that sum to the very worthy cause, alias the Susannah Grant Chocolate Fund to ensure I remain in high spirits throughout the summer.

Swiss heaven

In between the frenetic zooms, hangouts and google parties a lot of us have had time to reflect on our own happiness and how that relates to our own purpose in life. Recently there was a worldwide happiness survey in which Switzerland came out top; I imagine the endless supply of quality chocolate and shiny ski slopes mitigate the high cost of living. Yet I pondered on why Denmark had taken the number two spot and asked former long-term resident, Char Tamason to enlighten me.

Lots of happy Vikings

“I believe Denmark ranks as one of the happiest nations because nearly everyone has their basic needs met. The minimum wage is one of the highest in the world, and people that need financial assistance can readily get it. This practically eliminates a primal fear of physical survival. And helping others in society helps ourselves because at the end of the day, we are all connected.”

Josephine chose her moonshot literally

I hope that Covid has kick-started a lot of our own dreams or moonshots or given us an opportunity to progress them. This has certainly been the case for Gladys van Oosterum from Area 1 who runs a successful coaching business that lends itself to virtual consultations. I asked Gladys how she´d made her own moonshot idea come true in her mid-50´s.

Gladys teases us out of our rut with a smile

Gladys was drawn to coaching after she noticed she was often being called on for advice by friends and family so she left her travel company, did a Masters in Psychology and trained as a coach. Having found her true purpose, Gladys set up The Feminine Tide with her business partner at the age of 58 in which clients learn to silence their hidden critic and lead a more fulfilling life.

The sky´s the limit

I am a stronger believer that if you wait for the right time to do something in your life, you will never do it. Fitness Trainer, Melanie Pomford bit the bullet and has spent two months connected to a virtual Hatha Yoga school in California during this confinement. Now a certified instructor, Melanie has tapped into a global clientele and is now giving yoga classes round the world from her house and peaceful garden.

Isabel, Area 1´s coordinator flies high in white on the left

Isabel’s impulsive decision to do an intensive Aeroyoga instructor course in Valencia at three days´ notice led to a new career. On her return to the Wellness Centre she was managing at the time, after her week-long course she discovered her Aeroyoga teacher had resigned and found herself replacing her!

Pharrell is a certified mood-changer

And if you´re ever looking for a quick happy fix, there is absolutely nothing…but nothing like this rendition of Pharrell Williams´ Happy Song set against the iconic shots of sizzling Chipiona. Bring some of the beach atmosphere to your living room while you bop along with Tiziana´s recommendation of ice cream that can be delivered all over Madrid: Bibí e Bibó, c/Joaquin Bau 1, 28036 (Chamartín). Tiziana´s top flavours are Zabaione, Bacio, Spagnola, Calvados, Maracuyá and Pistacho.

Everything you love about Spain in a nutshell

It might seem crazy what I’m ’bout to say
Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break
I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don’t care baby by the way

Looking forward to dancing with you all after the Summer!

Live from the Homefront – idyllic desert island dreams and the best of Madrid´s ice creams

Rainbow coloured ice cream scoop

This week the weather is feeling distinctly tropical and Madrid´s best-known ice cream parlours are restoring our spirits with their refreshing array of pastel colours and fruity flavours.

Whenever I feel the sultry breezes calming the balmy heat it reminds me of a trip to the Fijan island in the film, Castaway a few years ago whilst en route to a trekking holiday in New Zealand. I was expecting to relax in a rustic hut on a deserted beach but to my surprise I ended up in a communal backpackers´ dormitory the size of an aeroplane hangar in the middle of a palm tree forest where the only respite from the extra ravenous local breed of mosquitos and the sweaty plastic-coated foam mattresses was to submerge myself periodically throughout the night in the 28-degree peacock sea.  

During the day I managed to entertain myself with such games as “count the falling coconuts” or “who can get the brownest armpits”. In the evenings we were subjected to various Fijan harmonies sung by the chefs who then doubled up as bingo callers in which I won a coral necklace…narrowly missing out on the lottery jackpot I was hoping for so that I could upgrade to the aircon bungalow Tom Hanks might have enjoyed. Since the beer was overpriced and lukewarm I decided to settle for the local speciality, Kava, a delicious non-alcoholic narcotic liquid that tastes like mud and numbs all your muscles until you become fossilized in your hammock. Never let it be said that paradise is over-rated.

Down the hatch for Harry on a royal visit to Fiji

One item that wasn´t on offer was ice cream. Apparently our love affair with the silky smooth combination of this rich, sweet delicacy harks back to our yearning for the similar formula of fat and sugar found in breast milk. All this nutritious information makes it rather tempting to take a trip down to my farmer father in law´s milking parlour to see if I can reactivate my own diary production.

Sani Sapori in Lavapiés does delicious creamy shakes as well as top notch ice creams

Ice cream dates back to biblical times where Nero was reported to have enjoyed iced drinks and later the Chinese mixed buffalo milk with rice and ice to produce their own creamy version. The Arabs also came up with their sherbet (sharabt) version, flavoured with cherries, pomegranates and quince. The first ice cream parlour was opened by a Sicilian in Paris in the 17th century and in the summer of 1790 George Washington reputedly spent 200USD in a bid to quench his craving for this iced delicacy.  

Dulce de Leche flavour from Argentine-owned Toto heladería in Malasaña

During my childhood the gloopy trio of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry tubs bore little resemblance to the array of stiff artisanal ice creams crafted from premium ingredients. As we emerge from our cocooned confinement we can now discover the rainbow of options on offer in and around Madrid.

Delicious ice cream on delivery

Heladeria Gioelia is on speed-dial with our treasurer, Shalini. Particularly the Cremino flavour of white chocolate with hazelnuts and chocolate praline cream. Most importantly, they also deliver!

Heladeria Los Alpes is one of Madrid´s oldest ice cream parlours, since the Tuscan founders arrived here in 1933 and has a few branches across the city and suburbs including Las Rozas and Pozuelo de Alarcón.

Solo Naturale in Alcobendas, with its focus on premium natural ingredients, has a huge following amongst the northern suburb crowd.

Malasaña is an ice cream hotspot and my favourites here include Popota, whose owner is a graduate from Bologna´s own ice cream university. I´m sure I´d qualify for a PhD in ice cream tasting by now. Look out for their lemon sorbet with lavender and kaffir lime leaves.

Popota´s original refreshing selection

Finally, there is ubiquitous global brand, Amorino whereby exotic ices are fashioned with a spatula into the shape of a rose. Each flavour forming a different petal. My favourite branch is in El Corte Inglés Gourmet section in Callao from which you can admire spectacular views over Madrid´s rooftops.

My son enjoys Amorino in London

Lena Perepelova – founder of the Fun Finance Academy and Women´s Investors Club

Lena teaches 2 children at the table about money

This month we talk to Moscow-born entrepreneur Lena Perepelova who has combined her international business acumen, MBA credentials and passion for teaching into an established finance business for children and female investors: Fun Finance and Women Investors Club

How did you come up with the idea of creating a company that teaches women and children about money and finances?

I´d always been interested in education since having children and I noticed that the curriculum hadn´t moved on over the last 40 years with regards to business and finance. So ten years ago I decided to create my own programme and invited kids to try it out by skype. We both found it great fun and I really enjoyed the challenge of explaining complex concepts to a child. Requests to teach finance came from women later on.

Lena with distributors in Surinam

What was your previous profession?

I am a specialist in international business development. I first worked for a Dutch premium beer brand and later for a renewable energy company. These jobs allowed me to travel in the world and gave me valuable insight into different businesses and learn from their successes and failures.

How does your company differ from a regular financial advice company?

As opposed to giving financial advice I teach people to understand financial products and make their own well-informed investment decisions. My classes are particularly well-suited to professional women as I can relate more readily to their needs and approach when it comes to finance.

What is the strangest request you´ve received from a client?

Probably the strangest thing I have done was to accompany a potential client who turned out to be the consul of a well-known European nation to a furniture shop in Turkmenistan.

Happy days in Holland

Tell us a funny anecdote about yourself moving to Holland from Moscow or to Barcelona or Madrid?

Newly arrived in the Netherlands, I left my wallet behind in the office and had to convince the security guard to let me in over the weekend. I still didn´t know how to say “wallet” in Dutch at that point so I asked if I could come in and collect the “sack with the money”.  Puzzled, the guard looked at me with considerable scrutiny and curiosity before finally opening the door.

Do any of your child clients stand out in your mind?

I used to teach a 9-year old student who was extremely savvy and an avid reader of the business news.  After a long Christmas holiday I asked him how he was doing, fully expecting to hear about his vacation. To my surprise he replied that he was extremely upset by the bankruptcy of a huge British infrastructure company. He then went on to explain nonchalantly what “infrastructure” meant and exactly why that company had gone bankrupt.

Lena in Moscow as a child

What are the key messages children should understand when it comes to money?

In my view it is important to teach kids about the overall economy and business before we talk to them about personal finance. The more they understand that we are surrounded by businesses and what these businesses do, the better they can make their decisions as consumers as well as chose their future professions. We underestimate kids’ intelligence and their capacity to form their own opinions when presented with the right information

Lena gains her MBA from IESE

What are the most common misperceptions you see in women investors?

Women tend to underestimate their capacity to understand finance and / or investment products. I also notice that we tend to place too much trust and responsibility in banks and financial institutions forgetting that these are businesses which need to generate profits. Simply put, “bank employees are not doctors, they do not feel responsible for our financial health”.

What is the key to a successful grasp of investment opportunities?

– Don’t trust an opportunity which you can´t explain in a few simple phrases.

– Take a long-term perspective.

– Keep educating yourself.

– Learn Excel.

Lena´s business was an early-adopter of online learning

What is the key to a successful online teacher/advisor?

Be well-prepared before the class. Earmark alternative activities as back-up to roll out when you see that your students´ enthusiasm is flagging and always keep your students actively involved in the conversation.

What is your secret Madrid?

My current Madrid secret is the Monte Pilar forest very close to my house in Majadahonda. Only 15-20 minutes from Madrid, there is a hospital for wild birds and animals which offers excursions for families on Sundays.

What´s next for your Fun Finance Business School or Women Investor Club?

I would like to publish a few books and find partners in other countries.

Lena at Christmas and in action

What makes a shrewd investor in your opinion?

Find the right combination of assets and the strategy which will give you a peace of mind and occupy exactly the amount of time you can afford. Ideally investing should become a habit and a hobby.

Contact: – learn how to invest shrewdly – virtual business school for kids

Live from the Homefront of Happiness

Dalai Lama´s theory of happiness as a skill we acquire from our own actions
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”

As we enter our twelfth week of social distancing I thought I´d dish up a happy pill to keep our spirits up on a more meaningful longstanding level.

A year or so ago I attended a fascinating talk by British former accountant and HR executive, Vanessa King at ICADE on her 10 keys to happier living.  Little did I realise that a year later her evidence-based advice would take on a greater significance as we withdraw physically from our extended network of friends and family.

King explains that happiness is a skill we can all learn, similar to fitness and that compassion and kindness are essential attributes in our pursuit of it. Her website is an invaluable resource on items of particular relevance such as creating happiness in our and other people´s lives, a coping calendar and hosting online groups. I urge you to have a look on:

There is also a free online coaching programme to boost mental wellbeing during this time with daily tasks.

Area 1 is orchestrating a similar meaningful activity via whats app whereby a designated member suggests an uplifting activity or call to action such as “Guess the baby” from old photos of club members, “Send a photo of your top 10 quarantine essentials”, or even, to capture the international flavour of our club, a request to post inspirational messages in various mother tongues such as this Slovak one: “Jedna pozitivna myslienka po ranu moze zmenit cely tvoj den.” “One positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.”

Who is this happy fashion icon?????

My own pursuit of happiness has brought me into contact with some wonderful experts on the subject. Not least, Egyptian-born Mo Gawdat, the former Chief Business Officer of Google (X), the department responsible for many of the visionary ideas that came out of Google´s Moonshot factory such as balloon-powered internet and driverless cars. Spurred on by a feeling of discontent whilst at the peak of his professional success,  Gawdat set about creating an algorithm to achieve happiness irrespective of life´s circumstances.

According to Gawdat´s scientific equation, happiness is greater than, or equal to, your perception of the events in your life minus your expectation of how life should be as he describes in his international bestseller, “Solve for Happy: Engineering Your Path to Joy”. Gawdat´s personal moonshot is to deliver his message of happiness to one billion people around the world and judging by his notoriety he´s well on target.

Both his podcasts on Elizabeth Day´s award-winning How to Fail series: have created seismic waves in my and many other people´s lives. Gawdat talks, very movingly how to handle negative thoughts that inevitably pop up, how to practise gratitude and how to accept a situation and work out what you can actively do to make life better. He is a truly inspirational figure I encourage you to explore.

How to Fail ….and learn from the experience

Fortunately, a short term shot of happiness was served up to me by way of chocolate via Amazon which I have now taken to storing (ok….hiding) away from the children (and my choco-holic husband) in my wardrobe. Once I´m back up on my feet I shall probably have more need of a gastric band than the exercise band shown below.

Dilemma: exercise or eat chocolate?

It is probably not coincidence that Vanessa King has a degree in Zoology and that INC member, Tatiana da Silva taught us to laugh like a monkey during her laughter therapy class recently. I suspect that there are several species that can teach us a thing or two about resilience and sticking together in our community when our safety is compromised.

(Broken) Hip Hop dancing

My own recipe for happiness, contentment and oodles of joy comes from the sweet yeasty aromas of this sugar-free bread recipe from the Sugarcubes´ native land of Iceland courtesy of I.Guttormsdottir, the mother in law of a friend. Ever so often a recipe that´s really worth making pops into your inbox, believe me, this is one of those. No kneading required.

I´m nuts about this viking bread

ICELANDIC BREAD – Heilsubrauđ hjá Ömmu (Grandma´s healthy bread)

400ml brown flour or spelt flour

200ml ground coconut 

200ml mixed seeds

Hand full of raisins 

12 or so dates or other dried fruit cut in half

3 tea spoons of yeast (can be dried)

200ml cold semi or full fat milk

200ml boiling water

Mix it all together and pop into pre heated oven 180 for 25-35 mins 

Tip: to increase protein content: use 50/50 ground almonds and ground coconut

Once you´ve put that on the table you can sit back and reflect on why “It´s oh so quiet”