Sunday, April 29, 2012

Coca and flan

coca cooked
The other night I made the parsley coca from Teresa Barrenechea's Cuisines of Spain. According to Barrenechea, cocas are "crusty, mainly square or rectangular flatbreads prized by everyone who lives on or visits the Balearics." They can come with a variety of toppings, including, but not limited to, tomatoes, peppers, and onions.

Here's what Colman Andrews writes about cocas (or, I should say, coques) in Catalan Cuisine: "The coca (plural coques) is more or less the Catalan pizza -- a flat pastry base for a wide variety of toppings (both sweet and savory), usually made of simple bread dough and usually in the shape of an elongated oval (except in the Balearics, where it is often round). The word itself apparently derives from the Latin coquere, to cook, and is used not only in Catalan but in the old Occitan tongue of neighboring Toulouse."

Here's my question about this particular parsley coca: Is it really supposed to support so much greenery? Barrenechea called for two bunches of parsley and when I looked at the bunches of parsley I'd bought, I immediately put one back in the refrigerator. I am guessing that a "bunch" of parsley isn't the same in Madrid as it is in Mill Valley because this was SO MUCH PARSLEY and I momentarily wondered if she'd meant to call for 2 sprigs of parsley. Eating this coca was like eating a pile of rough, dry, roasted leaves -- think kale chips -- mounded on a thin piece of crust.  Not disgusting, but not something you'd crave.
coca before cooking
Well, the topping wasn't craveable. The crust was. I had misgivings about the uncooked dough, which was grainy, fragile, greasy, and slippery, but it made a fantastic, rich, fatty bread -- half pie shell, half pizza crust. Interesting that the coca dough in Catalan Cuisine contains no oil or fat at all.
Moisturize while you bake.
I'm going to make another coca this week with (I hope) a more functional topping and will share the recipe.

That same night, coca night, I also made a Barrenechea endive salad that entails stuffing the stiff, pale leaves with blue cheese and yogurt, topping with toasted almonds, and serving with orange segments.
not sure this was how it was supposed to look
It was refreshing, but needed something drizzled on top. Not a lot of salads in the Spanish repertoire. Maybe not the region's forte.

For dessert after this so-so meal, I served a quivering golden ingot of flan.
beautiful, underappreciated
As flans go, this one was excellent -- satiny, sweet, not too eggy.

But no one likes flan in this household except for Owen and me and even we can't eat an entire flan on our own. The other two family members will not touch so much as spoonful and eventually I'm going to have to get rid of the flan, which is tragic because Natalie and the hens put so much work into producing the raw ingredients and I put so much work into extracting them and cooking them. I shouldn't have made flan, but it seemed like a requirement when trying out a Spanish cookbook.

My husband has called The Cuisines of Spain a "testing" cookbook, as in "testing our tolerance."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sopa de ajo y leche frita

the spartan white basis of a robust brown soup
Spanish garlic soup is a miracle. You fry garlic cloves (Teresa Barrenechea calls for just six) and stale bread in olive oil, add hot water, paprika, and salt and cook until the bread falls apart. In just over half an hour you have an easy, frugal, and hearty soup dinner.
truly a miracle
For me anyway. Not for anyone else in my family. Last night's garlic soup was loathed. Midway through the meal I looked over at my husband and thought he'd gone and gotten himself seconds because his bowl was full. He hadn't gotten himself seconds.

Isabel said, "I'm just not that into soggy bread, Mom."
soggy bread, chorizo, cheese.
I love soggy bread. There are a lot of recipes for garlic soup on the internet, but many of them call for chicken or meat stock. Why use stock when water works fine? I wouldn't. If you want to try the recipe from The Cuisines of Spain, you can find it here on page 161.

Fried milk for dessert. Extremely seductive concept and Barrenechea writes that it's one of her favorite desserts.You make a milky cornstarch pudding and chill it in a brownie pan until firm. Cut in squares, dip in beaten egg, and fry in olive oil.
so far so good
The fritters should have looked like this, but I was sloppy and rushed and put too many squares in the hot oil so the temperature dropped and the egg coating slipped off. The leche frita was greasy and disgusting looking, though very tasty.
Then I blew it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cuisines of Spain

empanada in progress
Two nights ago I started cooking from The Cuisines of Spain by Teresa Barrenechea, which I chose because . . .  because I was spending too much time thinking about which Spanish cookbook to use and just had to pick one. Plus Cuisines has to go back to the library soon. It's a large, handsome hardcover with lots of Saveur-style photographs and a library warning on the cover that says "Do not check in until checked for damage" which means I can't use it as a cutting board.

Sunday I made Barrenechea's marmitako, a Basque tuna soup. Have you bought a pound of fresh tuna lately? I won't be doing that again any time soon. The expensive soup that resulted from the tuna, green peppers and tablespoon of paprika managed to be both watery and oily. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't exactly good. Did I do something wrong? Is this the nature of marmitako? Or is this the nature of Barrenachea's marmitako? It would help if I had eaten marmitako before.

I'm very excited about all the Spanish custard desserts in Barrenechea's book, because this spring we are being crushed beneath an avalanche of backyard eggs and drowned in a river of goat's milk. (Alright, it's a slight exaggeration about the goat's milk, but not the eggs.) The first eggy dessert I tried: crema catalana, which is just like creme brulee, except in Spain they use milk rather than cream, and they cook the custard on the stovetop rather than baking it in a water bath. 
Thank you hens, thank you Natalie.
Flavored with cinnamon and lemon, this was lovely and a very bright yellow, but it wasn't as silky as creme brulee. Possible reasons:

a. cooking custard on the stove results in a less silky product than baking
b. milk yields a less silky product than cream
c. goat's milk yields a less silky product than cow's milk
d. Barrenechea's recipe is off in some way

I think the answer is b, but would be able to assess better if I had ever eaten crema catalana before.
Thanks again for the torch, Dad.
What I have eaten before is empanada. We ate lots and lots of empanada on our trip to Galicia and I can say with confidence that Barrenechea's scallop empanada, which I made last night, is a very correct empanada. Delicious!

There wasn't enough dough for decorations.
On another subject, we have a new milking stand.

It's a huge improvement, although I wish it had a metal floor instead of rug-like matting, which collects leaves and clumps of filth like lint. We moved the milking operations away from the other goats, which has made the process easier, but the stand is now in full view of the street and you feel like you're milking on a stage.
You can see why we needed a new one.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Not for everyone, but definitely for me

There's a delicious but strange Latin American candy that resembles a chunk of sugared spaghetti squash and is, I believe, called chilacayote, although I'm not 100% sure. I've only ever eaten it in Guatemala and by googling various clues, this is what I came up with. It is brown and hard and flat on the outside, but when you bite through the crust, the interior is supersweet and almost juicy, packed with crunchy, syrupy squash strands. It's weird. I love it.

Because of my affection for this candy, the recipe for spaghetti squash turnovers -- fariñosos -- in Delicioso immediately caught my eye. I wish I could beam one of these pastries out to everyone reading this post so you could taste how unusual and mysterious and delicious these Spanish turnovers are. How different in every way -- how subtle and delicate and complex -- from the noisy, gooey desserts we favor in the United States in 2012.

You start with a spaghetti squash. (It's not really the season, but a CSA spaghetti squash had been sitting on my counter since November.) You boil the squash, then scrape the stringy shreds from the rind and cook them down with honey, lemon, and a cinnamon stick until you have a thick, tawny jam.

Chill the jam. Meanwhile, make a sweet lard dough which (in theory) you will roll out and cut into 12 circles that you will fill with squash jam and fold into turnovers. Brush these with olive oil, sprinkle with sugar, and bake.
all that not-very-hard work -- for this?
Well, it didn't turn out quite like that. The uncooked dough was crumbly, and greasy and there wasn't enough of it. I ended up with four turnovers -- and these were fragile and patched together. I was very angry at this recipe.

Until I ate one of those turnovers. Now I just want to adjust the dough recipe so it works better and I can share it. What there was of the pastry bakes up tender and faintly sweet with that almost smoky depth of flavor that you get with home-rendered lard. (Casas says you can use shortening, though the pastry will taste different, probably less.) The squash filling is light and floral with just enough lemon and cinnamon to give it bite and spice, but not so much that you would ever call it a citrus dessert, or a cinnamon dessert. It's definitely . . . something else. You'd recognize it as squash if you did the baking, but you'd spend some time wondering if you didn't.

I ate all four of these turnovers because no one in my family showed any interest. I'm torn between making another batch right now and fixing the recipe so I can post it. This might be as easy as doubling the quantities and very slightly tinkering with proportions. Alternatively, I can pursue my original plan for the afternoon, which was to go to the DMV and take the steps necessary to sell my mother's Toyota.  I mean, the car has only been sitting in the driveway for 25 months. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mozza: earnest summation

Nancy Silverton's Mozza Cookbook veers sharply from the magnificent (pizza crust, meatballs, an incredible dish of mussels with tomato sauce) to the not-quite-right (a bland pan-roasted halibut; a glitchy brussels sprouts recipe, a slushy Meyer lemon gelato), but cooking from this book was never less than enthralling for me. It is full of exciting and exotic dishes (stinging nettle tagliatelle, caramel coppetta with marshmallow sauce and salted Spanish peanuts) that I still want to try on the chance that they'll fall on the magnificent end of the spectrum. And based on the record of the recipes I've already tried, it seems probable that a few of them would.

I cooked 27 recipes from Mozza in January and February:

worth the price of the book -- 3 (the ones I mentioned in the first sentence of this post)
great -- 9
good -- 8
so-so -- 6
flat-out bad -- 1

The book has problems, probably more than it should given Silverton's reputation. But I love this book. It's challenging and interesting and inspiring and I consider it a shelf essential.

Best of the Best from California: earnest summation

A few years ago, Isabel and I had a lot of fun cooking from Best of the Best from Alaska, which was the only Alaskan cookbook we could find at the bookstore and full of halibut recipes. It wasn't bad at all.

This cookbook, however, is terrible. I cooked from it in December and January, when I was starting my big diet, and the dishes were so mediocre it was easy to eat moderate portions, and sometimes nothing at all. The book is a compilation of recipes from California community cookbooks and spiral-bound books. Some of them are so grotesque (chicken thighs dipped in nonfat sour cream and barbecue potato chips crumbs) that you wonder if the book might be a big joke.

It's not.

I cooked 13 recipes from this book:

worth the price of the book -- 0
great -- 0
good -- 4
so-so -- 6
flat-out bad -- 3

My personal favorite recipe was the Hershey's Kiss pie, made with melted Hershey's candies and Cool Whip. It was delicious, but I can't quite give it a "great."

Earnest summation: Tender (volumes I and II)

I just didn't love Nigel Slater's Tender books as much as I wanted to, or as much as other people (like Alice Waters) did. They're very elegant and intelligent and I liked a lot of Slater's dishes, but they're not books that I'll reach for in the future. I know this because in the months since I quit cooking from them, I haven't reached for either of them once. (In the United States, the second volume of Tender -- which is about growing and cooking fruit -- was just published as Ripe.)

Why didn't I love these books more. . . . For one thing, they felt padded to me, with pages of poetic musings about roasting chestnuts and growing potatoes and the history of blackberries and I just wasn't riveted enough to soldier through. This is a matter of personal taste. I like stories and I like recipes, but these are more like reveries and I found myself skimming them. Pages and pages of them.

As to the recipes, there was something overly casual about them. I wrote about this while I was cooking through the books, but I'll repeat it here: I felt that Slater cobbled together some of these recipes in his kitchen with a blob of marmalade and a knob of butter and a few gnarly apples on a drizzly Sunday afternoon. Of course, this is part of Slater's charm. He doesn't write glossy, show-offy recipes; his are frumpy, unpretentious "make do" recipes. Eccentric great aunt recipes. Hobbit recipes. I'm thinking specifically of countless monochromatic unfrosted 1-layer cakes made with fruit, wholemeal flour, and brown sugar. And marmalade. I made a lot of Slater's cakes. Brown and flattish and very tasty, they all run together in my mind.

While I don't need glossy, show-offy recipes, I don't really need recipes like Slater's at this point in my cooking life. I've already got plenty of recipes for cakes that taste like muffins. What I'm looking for are stand-out recipes.

I'm sounding harsher than I actually feel. I liked more of the dishes than I disliked and for all my carping, these are overall very solid cookbooks. If you own them, keep them. If you don't own them, well, check them out of the library for a test run before you commit.

From Tender, volume I (the vegetable book) I made 18 recipes.

worth the price of the book  -- 2
great -- 5
good -- 7
so-so -- 3
flat-out bad -- 1 (the revolting -- and I do mean revolting -- casserole of duck, turnips and marmalade)

From Tender, volume II, I made 9 recipes.

worth the price of the book -- 0
great -- 1 (pear pecan tart)
good -- 7
so-so -- 0
flat-out bad -- 1

The two best dishes I made both came from Tender, volume 1 and they are: the pumpkin scone, which I served with sharp cheese and which was unlike anything I'd ever eaten before, a memorable and brilliant use of boring squash. And Slater's oxtail stew is the best I've ever made.

Still. Shelf essential? In my opinion, no.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Soul of a New Cuisine: Earnest Summation

I threw myself into this handsome cookbook after getting back from Africa last summer because the food in Africa, contrary to my expectations, was so spicy, so hearty, so novel, so thoroughly delicious. I wanted to explore further.

The food from The Soul of a New Cuisine was not quite so delicious. I cooked 18 of Marcus Samuelsson's recipes. I flipped through the book just now and wondered why I didn't try more, because a lot of these dishes -- ginger banana salad, trout spaghetti -- look very, very enticing. Or is that just because I haven't had lunch?

Then I read the comments I scrawled next to a handful of the recipes I actually did cook and remembered why I gave up on the book. After a few disappointments -- like a crushingly expensive rack of lamb with an off-flavored spice crust -- I lost faith. The recipes didn't work as well as they should have; the results were not always delectable. One cake failed completely; so did the injera.

The best dishes were the rustic, stewy preparations, like a delicious pot of mashed vegetables flavored with spiced butter. Wonderful, too, was Samuelsson's lamb curry. Less successful were the dishes in which Samuelsson tried to fuse his high-end chef's sensibility with African flavors. I'm thinking about that Berbere-crusted rack of lamb again. It's hard to forgive a recipe that ruins a rack of lamb.

Recipe tally:

worth the price of the book -- 0
great -- 4 (ginger beer, chunky mashed vegetables, lamb curry)
good -- 6
so-so -- 5
flat-out bad -- 3 (peanut cake with caramelized papayas, Berbere-crusted rack of lamb)

Not a terrible book. Not a shelf essential.

Guy Fieri Food: Earnest Summation

I haven't updated the cookbook reviews in months and it's been bugging me, so here comes some catch-up.

First in line: Guy Fieri Food, which Owen chose for me to cook from last summer. The cover should explain why a 10-year-old boy would gravitate toward this book and a 45-year-old woman would not.

I like Guy Fieri as a personality. I've watched his television show and he's cheerful and generous and seems like a nice man. But his recipes? Not for me. There was no way I was ever going to make his cocktail of vodka, frozen orange juice concentrate, sparkling wine and vanilla ice cream. I was never going to make his firecracker chicken wings  or Irish nachos (tortilla chips, frozen french fries, corned beef) or deep-fried string cheese sticks (wrapped in salami and egg roll skins.)

I cooked 13 of the recipes in the book, roughly 8 percent. Not enough! I should have done a few more. But I'm not going back in. For the record, we thought his gaucho steak with four herb chimichurri was fantastic. His beer can chicken was solid. His Irish Dream cheesecake (Bailey's, choclate, cream cheese) was absurd. His carrot-ginger soup was foul.

It's not a bad book. We were just ill-suited, Guy Fieri Food and me. If you want to meet cooks who  feel very differently, check out the reviews.

Here's the recipe tally:

worth the price of the book -- 0
great -- 2 (pork blade steak piccata, gaucho steak)
good -- 5
so-so -- 3
flat-out bad -- 3 (beef brisket, the baked potatoes rubbed with Lawry's seasoned salt)

Shelf essential? No. Obviously.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's been a hard landing, but we're back

Is this what you would call "setting the table?"
This spider cake from The Essential New York Times Cookbook is fantastic. It's fast and easy and you probably have all the ingredients in your house right now. It is also interesting. You mix together cornmeal, flour, sugar, milk, and eggs, scrape the batter into a cast iron skillet and then into the middle pour one cup of cream. Do not stir the cream into the batter. (See what I mean? Interesting.) Bake. The result is a dense, custardy cornbready cake with a narrow band of creamy filling. It should be served warm and needs no embellishment. Monday night after we were done with dessert, I kept cutting off ragged edges of the leftover cake to "even it out" while I talked to my husband. Finally, I stood up and said, "Get this away from me NOW."

Everyone in the family loved the spider cake and that's saying something. I just had another piece for breakfast, warmed in a skillet. Highly recommend.

homely home cooking
Last night I cooked the zorza -- a spicy ground pork stir-fry served with boiled potatoes and topped with fried eggs --  from Delicioso, one of the many Spanish cookbooks by Penelope Casas, who seems to have a lock on the subject, at least in the American market. I'm trying to decide if this dish was good enough to justify making Delicioso my next cookbook. It was a fine dish, but not great. The spicing wasn't balanced; it needed more salt; it was a bit dry. Very unlike the zorza we ate in Spain. Does anyone have a Spanish cookbook they love?

I've been trying to take a short movie of the goat babies, but so far haven't managed anything I could post. Owen has named the buckling Jack Frost, because he is covered with a light dusting of white fur. The doe, he named Zen. I have no idea why. It's sad that he's naming them because we can not keep them. If you would like a couple of super-cute baby dairy goats from a good family, write me.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

It's all a blur of eels and Albarino

specialty of the house: ears
Do you know what aspect of the Mediterranean lifestyle I can not get my head around?

Wine at lunch. I've tried. I tried yesterday. I looked around the restaurant at all the handsome Spaniards  drinking wine. My sister-in-law Amy was drinking wine and her husband Jaime was drinking wine and Ann was drinking wine and I was drinking wine and it was extremely fun in the moment, but even as I drank I knew that the rest of the day would be ruined. It was. Is there some trick to this daytime wine business?

Let's see what other silliness we've been up to in Spain while other people were midwifing our goat babies.

Oh, right! More wine. The other night my brother-in-law Jaime took everyone -- kids included -- on a Santiago de Compostela bar crawl. The bars we went to on Tuesday did not resemble any American bars I know of. They are small and plain with tile floors. The best way I can think of to describe them is to say that they sort of resemble barber shops and the people who serve you are grave-looking older men. Does this sound unappealing? These places were very appealing. When you drink, you also eat, if only a single mussel with hot sauce. Each place serves a particular snack that people expect when they walk in the door. Kids are both welcome and ignored. Or at least ours were.

Some highlights:

We went to a bar that serves wine the old-fashioned way, in ceramic bowls.
looks like Chinese soup

We went to a bar that serves a platter of pig ears when you order a drink.
The ear was both fleshy and cartilaginous and while there was nothing at all offensive about the flavor, I could not eat it.
The men ate ears.
We ended up at a restaurant with a lot of food on the table, including several plates of mushrooms in cream sauce (almost the best thing!!!), a couple of tortillas, and a bowl of tiny eels. The eels were delicious and reminded me of ramen.
But when I thought about what I was actually eating, I didn't want to eat them anymore. Stupid brain.

I'm not going to describe anything we've done that wasn't food related, but I do want it on the record that we have visited churches and museums and have been all-around responsible tourists.

Yesterday, there was a big, convivial group lunch at another restaurant where we were served peppers stuffed with creamy salt cod (best thing!!), grilled octopus, cheese, cold cuts, squid in its own ink, wine.

And then -- a totally bleary afternoon. That's what all those Mediterranean romanticizers omit! After the gushing description of the crisp white wine and the exquisite pasta or wild boar or paella under the Mediterranean sun in a dreamy olive grove there should be a description of a bleary afternoon.

In the evening, we went out in a big group, again including kids, and walked around this small and magical city. More fascinating bars. One bar consisted of a small subterranean room with a blazing hearth and stone walls on which pilgrims had taped notes and drawings. Another bar was like a trendy American cafe and served tiny portions of paella in cups. Then we went to a restaurant with iron rings on the walls left over from when the building was used a stable and Jaime ordered tiny eels on toast, mushrooms on toast, crepes filled with spinach, ham. Wine. Wine. Wine. Owen and Javier sat at the end of the table, drawing and talking and eating flan until we all went home at 2 a.m. There were still people everywhere out on the streets.

It's very different. I think it would be fun to be Spanish. I might be fundamentally too introverted, but Owen would make a great Spaniard.

Tomorrow, we go home.

My father says they have begun chasing the chickens.

Friday, April 13, 2012

New goat babies

the only picture 
My sister sent me a photo of Natalie's new kids, helped into this world last night by my father back in California. I worried about this timing for months. But when my father said he would stay at our house and take care of everything, I stopped worrying.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Percebes are still on the list

"I'm king of the world!" he tends to say at moments like this. Some teenagers cringe.
Yesterday Jaime took us on a tour of the Galician coast, which he loves with such ardor it made everything more beautiful, and it is very beautiful to begin with.

I'll try to describe the Galician coast without using the word "rugged," which of course I just did while pretending I'm above such an adjective. Ok, I can't. It's very rugged. At various times it reminded me of Point Reyes, California and Maine, but with old stone houses, horreos, and lots of small lots planted with what I think are grelos. I love the way every house seems to have a little garden and fruit trees, sometimes chickens, sometimes a couple of sheep. It's exactly the way I like a neighborhood to look, obviously.
Owen, future outsider artist, does his best work in restaurant toothpicks.
We saw a 14th century church with lots of old tombstones just lying around for anyone to write grafiti on, though no one had. We saw another very old church. And another very old church. I could spend all day going into very old churches. For lunch we stopped in the dreamy town of Muros. We wanted to eat percebes, a very small local barnacle, but couldn't find a restaurant that was serving them.

We ate everything but a few pieces of the pulpo.
Instead, we ate razor clams and regular clams, shrimps, crab, fish, pulpo and fried calamari and, to use an irritating term, the ingredients really did speak for themselves. In American restaurants, it's like the chefs aren't confident of the flavor of the seafood, or they aren't confident that the diners will appreciate fish without breading or heavy sauce. There was some kind of light sauce on the clams, but it was very, very light. Everything was delicious.

We are, including our excellent hosts, a party of nine. In addition to the adults, there are two teenaged girls, one teenaged boy (cousin Matthew from Seattle), Owen, who is 11, and his cousin Javier, who is 10.  You would think. . . well, what would you think?

All I know is that my husband and I are having a great time, and so are Owen and Javier. Owen and Javi enjoy air swordfights and long, loud conversations about video special effects and even louder made-up song cycles. You should have seen Matthew's face when he got out of the car after driving around coastal Galicia with them all day.  Had Isabel been riding in that car, she would have jumped out the window.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Santiago de Compostela


As I mentioned in my last post, we came to Spain for spring break to visit my sister-in-law Amy, her husband, Jaime, and their two children, Javier and Edie. Jaime and Amy are living here just for one year. I haven't had a single conversation with either of my children since we got here, so absorbed are they with their cousins, so I don't know if they're having fun. But I am.

Jaime is from Santiago de Compostela, a small city in northwestern Spain to which people make pilgrimages. Did you see the Emilio Estevez movie The Way? That small city. There's a lot to write about Santiago, but I'll stick to the cuisine about which I knew nothing before we got off the plane and know only the slightest amount more after 36 hours.

1. A specialty here is octopus, which is called pulpo. I think pulpo sounds more delicious than octopus. Yesterday, Jaime took us to his favorite pulpo place -- dark, with stone walls, felt medieval --  for a midday snack. Sitting in a plate of oil and topped with paprika and salt, the chunks of pulpo were as tender as scallops. Superlatives apply.
brave boys, lucky boys
2. Contemplating the range of local cured meats and cheeses is a depressing experience for an American. We have salumi in San Francisco, we have crusty bread, and we have local cheeses, but not nearly as many, and not nearly as good, and we make a noisy fuss over all of it. Here they seem to take it for granted. You go to a bar in Santiago for a snack and they bring out a plate of 6 different kinds of cured pork and 6 different kinds of cheese. Then you go to another bar, a humbler bar, and they bring you yet another kind of local cheese. And then at the free hotel breakfast, there's another kind of cheese -- the soft white tetilla cheese -- plus the local almond cake, fresh orange juice, and croissants. I'm really having to pace myself.

3. Jaime's parents live on an idyllic little farm in the countryside just outside Santiago and they hosted us for Easter. Fruit trees in full flower, camellias, rhododendrons, a pool, a wisteria arbor, grape vines which produce the grapes from which Jaime's father makes wine, etc. I mean, this is Frances Mayes material. The meal, prepared by Jaime's mother, began with his father's special sherry and ended with coffee spiked with a neighbor's homemade aguardiente. In between there was wine. But it wasn't at all drunk-making because it was served in such modest portions and with food.

To start, there were big rectangular empanadas, one filled with tuna, one with tiny, tiny scallops.
I think I could make this.
Then there was  meat rolled around a stuffing of egg and ham and served with potatoes and peas.

I'm not sure I could make this.
Dessert consisted of delicious pastries, all but one type baked by Jaime's mother.

We really overdo the chocolate in the U.S.
I got a recipe for the fantastic cookies at top, which you can't really see. They're called melindres and are crispy glazed donut-shaped biscuits spiked with anis. I've never cooked from a recipe written by hand in Spanish. Having studied this one, I foresee challenges.

Over lunch, Jaime's parents were enthusing about a Galician specialty called lampreia, a parasitic eel-like creature that is cooked in a sauce of its own blood and various other ingredients, like chocolate. To quote the blogger whose account I just read and linked to: "There is something tribal and somewhat barbaric about eating lampreia. Faced with lampreia in blood sauce you should earn a medal just for trying it. This ominous looking dish is not dissimilar to a rattlesnake cooked in squid ink. It has the texture of monkfish and the livery funk of grilled shad roe."

I don't know. Maybe if we stumble across it, I'll try it. But I'm not going to bring it up.

It's a cliche to rhapsodize about Mediterranean countries, the civilized lifestyle and the food and wine and traditions and I don't love it when other people do it, so I'm going to stop right now.

I think they're too old for the Easter bunny, but he doesn't.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Drinking whisky and rye, unfortunately

a very dangerous bar
Yesterday I returned from 36 hours in New York City where I attended some business meetings, missed my reservation at Ko (infuriating and a long story), stayed in an "interesting" budget hotel called the Pod, coveted the pink Oriental rugs at ABC Carpet, and drank two rye manhattans at Bemelemans Bar, which is a beautiful, beautiful bar but if you ever go there you should not drink two manhattans because each Bemelmans manhattan is like two ordinary manhattans and you will regret them, especially if you have to get up a few hours later and board a 6 hour flight and then, on your way home from the airport, stop at the feed store and buy 2 bales of alfalfa hay, 100 pounds of chicken crumbles, 100 pounds of goat complete, and a bottle of iodine in anticipation of a goat birth. The walls of Bemelmans are decorated with murals by Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the Madeline books, and it is very cozy and charming. They give you cheese straws and if you drink two manhattans, I recommend you eat a lot of cheese straws.

Tuesday, pre-Bemelmans, I was in a moderately good mood when I stepped out of a taxi, slammed the door, and realized I had left my wallet on the seat. The cab drove away. I had no money! I had no driver's license! I would be unable to board the plane 12 hours hence! Forty-five panicked seconds later, I found the wallet in an odd pocket of my overly large purse. Elation. I was no longer in a moderately good mood, I was now in a great mood -- much better than before I'd "lost" the wallet. Is there a name for this sudden enhancement of mood following a brush with minor catastrophe? Maybe in German?

I now felt radiant -- light and happy and bouncy because it was a sunny evening in New York City, I was going to meet my nice editor for a drink, and I hadn't lost my wallet. I was wearing my favorite dress and a new sweater, the meetings were over, and, holy smokes, I felt awesome. About one minute later, I tripped. Didn't fall, but staggered and a woman smiled at me sympathetically and I felt briefly silly the way you do when you almost fall in public. But much, much sillier than I would have if I hadn't been feeling so bouncy and radiant a minute before. Is there a name for this? It's what happens to Sarah Jessica Parker in her tutu in the opening credits of Sex and the City. I recovered quickly, though was not quite so light and happy and bouncy.

Shortly thereafter, I went and merrily drank those two manhattans and yesterday I was not at all light and happy and bouncy. There's a word for yesterday.

We're leaving on spring break tomorrow, going to Spain to visit my sister-in-law who is married to a Spaniard and living in Santiago de Compostela. Our whole family is going, plus a 15-year-old cousin from Seattle. It's been quite a stunning travel year for us.

Meanwhile, my father is staying at our house, feeding the chickens and attending to Natalie for 10 days during which time she may or may not kid. He is a great father.