Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cookies for Saints and Dead People

I'm missing Halloween this year: the one day a year that you can give free rein to your fantasy life in public. However, I was heartened to see, on visiting a Barcelona costume shop, that the Spanish fantasy life appears to incorporate rubber-clad nurses, French maids and sexy devils to the same degree as does the Canadian fantasy life--that is to say, mucho. Unfortunately, except in certain English speaking enclaves of Barcelona and some nursery schools (where presumably the fantasy life tends more in the direction of pirates and My Little Ponies), Halloween isn't really celebrated here. October 31, or All Hallows' Eve, hasn't taken on the proportions of the North American Halloween. It's November 1, All Saints' Day, that's celebrated as a holiday. And, since celebrating All Saints' Day really means spending the day at a graveside, it doesn't have the same kind of resonance in the imagination.

On the upside, there are treats. These are known as panellets: tiny cookies of varying shapes and flavours, traditionally accompanied by sweet wine and eaten on November 1, and really, throughout the fall. The basic recipe for panellets requires the preparation of a paste of ground almonds, sugar and mashed potato. The paste is subsequently flavoured with more almond, coconut, chocolate, coffee, pinenuts, orange or whatever else leaps to mind or hand and baked into tiny (usually circular) shapes.

The provenance of panellets is somewhat obscure--that is to say, the internet doesn't have anything definitive to say on the subject. Some say that the cookies have origins in Spain's Moorish past because of the use of almonds. Others relate them to ancient funereal or religious rites celebrated during this time of year. Luckily, no one's going to test you on the subject before allowing you to eat them.

If you are buying panellets, be prepared to drop a lot of cash on some very tiny cookies. Bakeries in Barcelona (the panellets pictured are from La Boulangerie at Bailen and Corsega) typically charge by weight and a kilo of panellets can cost between 30 and 40 euros. Don't worry. It's money well spent, particularly since you won't have to spring for a costume.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Japanese Lunch in Spanish

I may not have mentioned this before, but I'm taking a Spanish class. It's kind of an obvious thing to do, living in a Spanish city. Speaking the language, as you can imagine, is helpful.

Actually, my class is a little more than just a class. It's four hours of Spanish a day. And, between discussions of the subjunctive tense and what it means to be a putero, you get to know people. As it happens, the people in question are virtually all girls. Beautiful French, Swedish and Brazilian girls learning a foreign language. Oh, and one gregarious 60 year old American stock broker whose name is Tom--Tom, who is a very happy man.

Now, don't misunderstand, I'm still telling people to close down the sea port instead of shut the door, to shoot instead of disappear and that there's a masturbator outside my window instead of a bird. The subtleties of the language have not caught up with me, as it were. But at least I know that I may not be perfectly understood.

By way of continuing on my path toward self-improvement (at least in Spanish), the other day I suggested to my classmates that we continue our Spanish conversation over lunch. We settled on Japanese, fearing that so much Spanish may be demasiado.

We were all girls--two French, one Brazilian, one Swedish, one Romanian, one Japanese and me, the Canadian. Tom, I think in fear for his own well being, declined to join us.

Between the 7 of us, we spoke 12 languages perfectly, none of them Spanish. The situation was complicated by the fact that some of us also only had a passing acquaintance with Japanese cuisine. We were all, however, very enthusiastic.

All this the waiter at Kibuka (C/Verdi 64, tel. 93 415 9217) came to understand quickly. While he wore a slightly stunned looked for most of the meal, the man was also a paragon of patience and good humour. We got more or less what we wanted, none of the mistakes being the fault of the waiter, you understand. We learned the word erizo (hedgehog)--for the shape of the sushi. We got to know the details of each other's love lives. And our broken but sincere Spanish was like a free trip to the comedy club for the other diners.

We have plans to repeat the experience.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

More Cures

Last night I was holed up at home with my orange juice and a half eaten baguette when I got an email from my friend David offering to bring me soup--for the plague, you understand. Where are you going to get soup, I asked. Leave it to me, he said. I know a guy. I'll be over at 930.

He called at 1000. There were some problems, but the guys are working it out. The guys? The guys at the restaurant. Working what out? It's a little complicated. OK. Don't worry. I'm not worried. We're coming. Who's we? Me and the soup. OK. You'll love it. OK.

A little after 1030, my doorbell rang. It was David and the soup: a seafood stew hailing from a Galician* restaurant called Medulio in Gracia (Avda. Principe de Asturias 6, tel. 93 217 3868). Medulio doesn't typically do takeout, but they obliged David. It's hard to say no to the guy. He has a way.

They gave him enough soup for approximately 12 people, all of it poured into an industrially sized container, which was likely the only thing in their possession resembling takeout ware. For a negotiated price, they also threw in a little something extra, which was to be revealed post-soup.

The soup came with instructions. Under no circumstances was it to be reheated in the microwave. Any application of heat was to occur on the stove top and nowhere else. At David's insistence, we dumped the soup into a pot and heated it to steaming for maximum healing efficacy.

The soup was amazing, a rich garlicky fish stock with mussels the size of my palms, baby clams and what I believe to be haddock, but identifying fish in stews isn't one of my strengths so it could have been just about anything. Small mysteries of content aside, it was delicous.

The soup was followed by the revelation of a bright yellow liquor sent to us by Medulio in a plastic cup. This, I learned, was Licor de Hierbas de Galicia or Galician Herb Liquor, which is a little bit like Jagermeister, but more tasty...and Galician. David insisted that the liquor was purely medicinal in purpose before we proceeded to polish it off--him with a presumably preventative intent.

The next morning, I felt like a new woman. I stopped myself from eating the rest of the soup for breakfast with a well deployed chocolate croissant. By the time lunch rolled around, I no longer felt the need to make such heroic efforts.

The rest of the soup is now contributing to my miraculous recovery. I have Medulio and David to thank for their ministrations on my behalf.

(* Galicia is a region in northern Spain known for its excellent seafood.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Cure for the Plague

I'm sick. It's not an excuse. I promise. I've been sick for the past week. I think it's the flu. Or pneumonia. Or the plague. Something serious, in any event.

Luckily, the plague hasn't prevented me from venturing out in order to randomly spray the air with plague particles (by way of grow-your-own presents for hapless passers-by) and to purchase the best plague cure known to man: freshly squeezed orange juice. It's so good and so available that it hasn't occurred to me to purchase oranges here to squeeze myself. (Actually, that's never occurred to me.) The exertion is completely unnecessary. Nearly every cafe and bar has a juicer at the counter and most will only charge a euro or two for a glass of juice. You can watch them squeeze you a litre at the market for 4 or 5 euros; and they'll even let you take it home.

So, little by little, the plague is abating, which is for the best; so much phlegm does not become a food girl.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The (Personal) Best of Barcelona

Four of my Canadian friends found themselves in Barcelona last week. Not a large number, but one requiring some organization. Reservations were made, itineraries were planned. We walked, we sat, we ate and we drank, rather a lot. The unemployed Barcelona Food Girl was treated to many activities beyond her usual means due to the generosity of her friends, for which she is very grateful.

Over our last dinner, I asked each friend to give me his/her list of Barcelona high points. There were two boys and two girls, two singles and one couple. In no particular order and leaving off the Sagrada Familia and the Picasso Museum, the high points were (more or less) those below.

An afternoon picinic in Parc Guell: Parc Guell in its time was a failed gated community. Gaudi conceived a garden city, but nobody bought in. After his death, the city turned it into a park filled with glittering mosaics and fantastical aqueducts of yellow stone. In a remoter corner, along the top of one of the aqueducts, run stone benches, which vaguely resemble restaurant booths, at least to the hungry. After the climb up, we recovered in one of these with slightly squashed ham and cheese sandwiches and marzipan cookies. Estimated recovery time post 15 minute walk was 2 hours, give or take a few dozy minutes.

Drinks in Placa Rius i Taulet (Gracia): We sat in one of the cafes bordering the square one afternoon. The famous clocktower was the impromptu goal pummelled by next decade's Diego Maradonna and his five companions. That is, until two beautiful Lolitas sashayed over and put an end to all that silly boy stuff.

Dinner at La Candela in Placa de Sant Pere (Born): The square spreads out intimately at the feet of a beautiful old church and is hushed and empty at night except for the candle lit tables of La Candela. It was my friends' first time in Barcelona and they were silent with wonder at the old square (girl friend) and the young French women at the next table (boy friend). [P.S. See update in Losses post.]

Dinner at Pla (c/ Bellafila 5 (Gotico), 93 412 6552): They had given away our table by the time we arrived, half an hour late for our reservation, the fault of some poor planning and obscure directions. However, we tardied happily at the bar until a table was ready. Once installed, and by then quite tipsy, we proceeded to regale ourselves with our fantastic stories. Hopefully, the terrific food and ambient music softened the blow for the other diners.

Deluge: I had made a reservation at one of the famous Barcelona restaurants in the Born. The plan was to have a drink at Gimlet Bar (c/ Rec 24, 93 310 1027)) at about 9 (I hadn't yet been) and proceed to dinner at 1015. By 830, it had started to rain. No problem for those of us who are in the habit of procuring miracles: we found a cab...eventually. It toook us to Calle Rec, location of said Gimlet. The street's entrance being blocked by a truck, we got out early. By this point, someone had opened a giant tap directly overhead and the sky was spilling. We huddled under our umbrellas in pretence that they were more use than a couple of soggy yarmulkes and tried to tiptoe through the pooling water that was by then in danger of reaching our knees. We couldn't see where we were going. The Gimlet Bar seemed like a fantasy. After two blocks and in near convulsive panic at the strong likelihood of drowning or at least being swept out to sea, we all agreed to go into the next place we saw. And we did. I don't know its name, but they had beer and wine. They served tacos and empanadas. There were tables and chairs. The waitress was understanding. And it was dry. We called to cancel our fancy reservation and proceeded to have an amazing night. When the rain stopped and the state of our clothes improved from sopping to damp, we topped things off at the sultry Gimlet, which we had obliviously passed within seconds of getting out of our cab.

Honourable mentions go to our final dinner on the lovely (and well heated) beach terrace at Agua (Passeig Maritim 30 (Barceloneta), 93 225 1272); the mojitos at Elsa Bar (see prior post); tapas at Cerveceria Catalana (c/ Mallorca 236 (Eixample), 93 216 0368); the sights in the Hotel Omm lobby (c/ Rossello 265 (Eixample), 93 445 4000); the Buda Bar (c/ Pau Claris 92 (Eixample), 93 318 4252), where we mistook the Barcelona Juventud for the then visiting Toronto Raptors; and a take out Spanish tortilla from a neighborhood cafe.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Gazpacho - Take Two

It occurred to me as I was travelling around the South that perhaps my last post left a little too much to the imagination. Perhaps it could have shown a little more leg or just a touch of cleavage. Or maybe it could have allowed its thong to ride up instead of primly tucking its blouse into its flouncy skirt. But it was what it was, a coy post. I pondered its coyness at some length while strolling through Cordoba.

When I least expected it, mid-stroll and mid-ponder, I ran smack into my post's louche sister in the form of a postcard featuring not just a gazpacho recipe, but a graphic photograph of a deconstructed gazpacho with its base ingredients splayed out for all to see. Despite my blushing cheeks, I cannot help but picture the postcard and transcribe the English version of the recipe written in three languages on the back of the card:

(6 persons)
Ingredients: 1Kg. of peeling red tomatos [The Spanish version suggests that peeled tomatoes would also be suitable.]
1 clove of garlic
1 piece of bread
Olive oil, vinegar, salt and water
Tomatos, garlic and bread mixed to a paste. [If you're Spanish, feel free to use a blender.] Add salt, vinegar and water. [You're on your own as to the proportions of these and the use of the olive oil, which remain a mystery even in Spanish.] Served cold and garnished (optional) with cucumbers, peppers, onions and bread."

¡Que aproveche!