It seems like every time I read a newspaper or blog, I see the same end-of-summer blues reiterated. The "I can't believe it's August ___ already!" exclamations. Yes, summer is winding down, and here's to looking forward to fall. Because I live according to a school-year schedule, going from college student to teacher for 2 years, and now back to student, the fall always feels like a new beginning for me. Time to reorganize, reevaluate... refurbish. Also trying to do a little cleansing, physical and spiritual. My regimen involves a lot of writing and juicing. I write to reflect on the past 2 years in Spain, and ground myself before moving on to the next adventure, and I juice to detox from the past 2 years of Spanish wine and travel. I've spent some time lingering on the site of another hispanoparlante, Gwyneth, whose site Goop is sometimes annoying, but slightly addictive. It's a little much when she puts the accent on Nestlé, in her chocolate chip cookie recipe. Who knew? Oh Gwynny, always so proper. But girlfriend does have a few good culinary tips, and invites some interesting voices to discuss her spiritual topics. Today's juice : BEET, APPLE, CARROT, CELERY, GINGER. I add this to my normal diet, which is much less Spartan than the Gwyneth plan.
I'm starting grad school at Cornell in a couple weeks and am excited to have found an adorable, bright apartment, with a little yellow kitchen on one of the hills of Ithaca. Looking at some inspirational design blogs has given me the craft bug. My mother and I have been cruising the Catskills in search of abandoned furniture, like this fabulously quirky wooden coffee table I adopted.
It was looking so forlorn on the side of the road, and I just had to give it a loving home. I've also blown the cobwebs off the basement furniture, and experimented with painting and distressing old pieces. Like this antique night table. I absolutely love the vintage knobs on the drawers.
I bought "night-sky" blue paint, crackle, and another paint that's just a touch off-white. The crackle is a clear goopy liquid that you paint on between the blue and the white, and it gives the top coat a crackly, aged look, and the bottom coat shows through the cracks. I decided on the navy/white combination, to give it a funky, chic look.
Next up: creating a headboard. I've seen some cute ideas, like this. We'll see what I come up with...
Asturias. Gastronomic highlight of the camino. Perhaps you're wondering why I skimmed right over San Sebastián, which receives worldwide acclaim for its gastro-culture and culinary innovation. Why have I ignored such a potentially rich material for blogging? For one thing, the world already knows the reputation of the Basque city. Then there's the post-Marrakech debility of my stomach, no details necessary.
Not to worry - Asturias, land of cheese, sidra, and fabada, merits the special attention of this blogger. Luckily, I had two things in my favor. It was sunny during my 3-day stay, a rare occurence in the north of Spain, and I was well-accompanied by a friend and writer for Spain Gourmetour, who made sure I saw and tasted all of the necessary points of interest.
I started my tour through the principality of Asturias in its capital, Oviedo. It boasts the reputation of one of the most walkable cities in all of Spain, due to its lovely pedestrian streets, one of the reasons for which Woody Allen chose to shoot his recent bomb, Vicky something or other, in Oviedo. There is even a statue dedicated to the diminuitive director on one of the pleasant streets in the city center.
Founded in the 8th century A.D., the Cathedral of San Salvador is a mixture of architectural styles, incorporating Gothic, Renaissance, and Romanesque parts. Pictured below, a statue of a random traveler admiring the cathedral.
Church of San Miguel de Lillo on Mount Naranco, dating back to 848 A.D.
Another necessary stop in Asturias is a cider bar, or sidreria. The sidreria is to Asturias what the pub is to Dublin. However, whereas beer drinking has no standard for consumption, sidra-drinking is a ritual. "Escanciar" is the verb in Spanish that refers to the particular mode of serving sidra: pouring it from way up high and holding the glass low, to make it bubbly. Otherwise, the sidra is overly sour and undrinkable. If you are in a bar, the custom is to signal to the waiter that you would like a "culín" (literally "little bum") of sidra, and he or she pours a tiny bit in the bottom of a cup, which is to be drank immediately, leaving only the tiniest sip that is then thrown to the floor in order to clean the cup for the next drinker. In Asturian tradition one cup is shared by all drinkers.
An Asturiano "escanciando" sidra
During my stay I visited my friend's country home, nestled at the bottom of gorgeous green mountains and a 10 minute walk from countless virgin beaches. Here I was invited to a very Asturian lunch: cheeses from the caves of Asturias, made with milk of Asturian cows (les vaques in Asturian dialect), sidra, and fa-ba-da. Fabada is a stew-like dish made with fava beans, lacón (pork shoulder), tocino (bacon), chorizo (sausage), morcilla (blood pudding), and spiced with saffron. The meat is stewed for a while, so that when the dish is served, the flavors mix together nicely. I'm a fan of bean-y stews, so I really enjoyed this dish, especially with a little Rioja wine. However, it is not light, summery fare, and advisable to leave yourself some siesta time before any physical activity, excepting for sidra escanciando.
3/4 kg Fava beans
1/2 kg pork shoulder
100 g bacon
2 Chorizo sausages
2 Morcillas (Blood pudding)
Preparation: If you buy dried fava beans, you can begin the night before you plan to make your fabada, soaking them in water for at least 12 hours. Place the beans, pork, bacon, chorizo, morcilla, onion (cut into 2 halves), chopped garlic, whole parsley, in a covered casserole with a few glugs of olive oil. Cover all ingredients in cold water, and place over high flame. When water begins to boil, lower heat and partially uncover. While the mixture is cooking, add saffron. Once the meat is cooked, add salt to taste, then let it cook for another half hour. Remove onion and parsley, and serve with meat cut into pieces.
As stated earlier, I decided to embark on one final voyage around and about the Iberian peninsula before returning to the states. I had planned to go to Marrakech, Burgos, and San Sebastián with my brother and sister, but from there I had no clear idea of where I would wander in the 3 weeks before my flight from Madrid to JFK. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had to make it to Santiago de Compostela, the final destination in the famous Camino de Santiago. Originally a religious pilgrimage, this is a path that traverses the northern coast of Spain, through the lush, green (rainy!) regions of Basque country, Asturias and Galicia, and culminates in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The result of minimal planning and paying heed to impulsive whims was an adventure from Morocco to Burgos to San Sebastián to Biarritz (Fr) to Bilbao to Oviedo to Santiago to Barcelona, and finally, back to Madrid. And despite a couple bumps in the road, like the weeklong aftermath of Moroccan cuisine, and some rainy days up north, it was an incredible way to round off my two-years in Europe.
Jake lazing away a hot afternoon on the terrace of Riad Amiris
Mint tea and fresh baked brioche served to us by the lovely French couple that owned the Riad
In short, Marrakech was intense. We stayed in the medina, a short walk to the marketplace- a giant labyrnth covered by straw to block out the north african sun, where one can easily get swallowed up for hours on end. Our riad was the perfect, tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle outside.
Biarritz is in the south of France in the Basque region ... equal parts charming French city, surfer enclive. Perfect for a day at the beach or at a café with le journal.
Bilbao, Spain I finally got around to visiting the Guggenheim museum. I found it an impressive, almost aggressive structure. I recently learned there is another Frank Gehry project at the Marqués de Riscal bodega in La Rioja. Funny. I just imagine a mini-guggenheim in the middle of the vineyards in Spain.
Back in the Catskills in upstate NY, reveling in the quiet and the crisp country air. Preparing to tell you all about my Camino de Santiago. Meanwhile, a snap I took yesterday by my grandparents' lake.
SALMOREJO. So I’m not a dietician, but I seriously believe it has restorative powers. After a long weekend of traveling, eating fried foods for dinner and pastries for breakfast, the only thing I desire in life is a chilled bowl of salmorejo. And did I mention, it’s delicious. Now that it is tomato season in España, and vine ripe tomatoes are plumper, redder, and more tantalizing then ever, it is the perfect lunch for these hot, dry afternoons. The summer schedule has started, meaning stores are closed for siesta (naptime!), and one must be an early bird and scamper on down to the market before 2:30. I will be going on one last traveling jaunt before returning to the states, which will include Morocco, Burgos, San Sebastián, Oviedo (part of the Camino de Santiago), and Santiago de Compostela, so I’ve been taking advantage (aprovechando) of my afternoons to prepare this dish a lot lately.
The basics: tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, garlic, and olive oil... lots of aromatic, tasty, Spanish, extra virgin olive oil. I am lucky enough to live with someone that brings it back by the gallon (literally) whenever he visits his homeland of Andalusia. Sadly, the states do not have the abundance of olive trees that dot the plains over here, but a good olive oil, no matter what the cost, is a key ingredient in salmorejo. And a blender. In ancient times, I’m sure they sufficed with a stone and an earthenware bowl, but nowadays only a blender gets you the creamy consistency of this dish. Unlike gazpacho, which is thinner and generally drunk from a glass, salmorejo is served in a bowl, sprinkled with bits of hard boiled egg and chunks of jamón, and eaten with a spoon, excepting for any bowl licking at the end. It is a specialty of Cordoba, but popular throughout Andalusia. In the past, travelers would carry salmorejo in an animal horn, and drink it straight from the horn. This is not very relevant, nor interesting, but the women who works at the produce stand in my market told me, so I figured I’d share this tidbit with you.
Here you have my approximations of the ingredients – I do not have an exact recipe, and what’s more, one must experiment in order to prepare the mixture to their taste. Some like it with more of a bite (more garlic or vinegar), creamier (more olive oil, more blending), or more liquidy (more cucumbers, less bread if any). Thus I give you the outline.
For the salmorejo: 5 – 6 medium vine ripe tomatoes 1 Italian green pepper (long, thin variety) 1 small cucumber 2 cloves of garlic ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil 1/8 cup white wine vinegar 1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste) chunk of hard baguette (optional)
For sprinkling: Tiny chunks of jamón iberico, or a cured meat Hard boiled egg diced small
Peel the cucumber, quarter the tomatoes, and throw all the ingredients into your blender. Let it blend for a couple minutes, until it's a creamy, almost light consistency. It should be a bright orangish-red color. Chill and serve. You can improvise with the toppings. In Sevilla, I had salmorejo with hard boiled egg and tuna. I’ve also seen it served with avocado, shrimp, even goat cheese. If the flavor is too strong, you can use as a spread on toasted bread with a manchego cheese, or whatever you'd like. Buen provecho!
Another good thing about living in Madrid. To see truly magnificent relics of time, and escape the bustle of urban life, all one needs to do is hop on a bus or train for an hour or two, and there you are ... visiting a 16th century monastery , or a 13th century cathedral, or as I did this past weekend, a 1st century Roman aqueduct.
The aqueduct of Segovia, which lies in the capital city of the region by the same name in Castilla y León was used to carry water from the Fuente Fría river to the city for centuries. It continued to carry water to the Alcazar castle until just recently.
This was in fact my third time making the mini-pilgrimage. Needless to say, there were other factors motivating our trip to Segovia. My Catalan traveling companion had never been before. The San Isidro festivities were taking place in Madrid, and we were seeking a little refuge. There is also the Alcazar castle, which to my dismay did not inspire the Cinderella castle, the actual Disney inspiration lying somewhere in Germany, but could pass as a Spanish cousin.
We also stopped by the 16th century gothic cathedral.
But what was the real motivation for this adventure?
Cochinillo. Vegetarians are advised to stop reading here. Roasted suckling baby pig. A gastronomic tradition so treasured by Segovians that it merits a plaque. Tell anyone in Madrid that you're going to Segovia, and they'll ask you whether you've chosen where to have a cochinillo for lunch. The last time I experienced this culinary ritual, I was with my mother. To describe my mother in brief, she's most contented with a delicious salad and a glass of white wine. To her credit, she was surprisingly adventurous during her last visit, and didn't shy away from the plates of jamón, pulpo de gallego, and other such delights that I placed before her. However, the sight of the little baby pig face that was brought to our table side as the waiter sliced into it with a plate (so tender a knife isn't necessary) was too much for her. She held back gags as she watched her youngest darling daughter crack into the crunchy skin and relish in a plate of suckling pig.
This time around, we went to Narizotas, a restaurant in the city center that was recommended by a local Segovian. We barely looked at the menu, and opted for "el menu turística" that included a first course, wine, bread, dessert, and of course, the cochi. When the first course arrived, we were a bit taken aback. What is this red soup? Wow, those are the biggest white beans I've ever seen! But wait, what are those whitish-brownish chunks floating in a pool of red? Don't tell me... tripas! They had to be that poor pig's innards. There we were, sitting on a terrace, basking in the glorious Spanish sun, and I had to choose between manning up and giving it a try, or seeming a completely uncultured American tourist. I chose the low road. The road less traveled, if you will. And it wasn't so bad to begin with. The broth is delicious, beans are a bit unnecessarily large, but also yummy. Then, in the midst of 3 pm lunch chit chat, a silence fell upon our table. It was not a pause of ecstasy. We had both taken a bite of the mysterious other at the same time and were equally appalled by the strange texture, unlike anything I've ever tasted. It took a great deal of will power and slow breathing to continue.
The second course was much less of a surprise, the cochinillo being just as good as I had remembered it, with crunchy skin protecting the juicy tender meat underneath. My lunch date was not thrilled by it, and found his piece too overwhelmingly fatty. I can't say it's something I would ever wake up craving, but as in many foods in Spain, most of the fun is taking part in the traditions, which are ingrained in the culture. Each holiday, or festival, or region boasts a special food or drink. Although consumption is part of the pleasure, the ritual and gathering of family and friends is where the real importance lies. And I am always happy to form new bonds over plates of strange food.
An inventive dessert with a Spanish touch, coconut and saffron icecream, concluded the meal, and after a walk around the quaint streets of Segovia, we were back on the bus to Madrid. Another day well-spent and in good company.
Los Judiones de la Granja con sus Tropezones
Ración de Cochinillo
Helado de Coco y Azafrán
Don't worry ... no excursions this weekend. The salmorejo recipe is still coming... hasta prontito!