Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What if it falls here?

That's the literal translation of the Christmas lottery campaign here in Spain.

It's August! And that slogan's already covering the bus billboards (busboards) here in Granada.

And I thought that the US was Christmas-crazed. Here, however, they're already selling Christmas lottery tickets. A guy on the street (one of the ONCE people) was selling them today.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Pad Thai Weekend

When I was in the States last month, I was very happy to, over the course of three weeks, eat Thai food three times. I returned to Granada particularly dejected at the lack of culinary diversity in this fair burg.

Naturally, I decided to see if, given the lack of Thai restaurants between here and Tarifa (that's the closest one I could find on the Internets), I couldn't make a close-enough approximation of Pad Thai at home to keep the withdrawal jitters from kicking in.

I noodled around on the Interweb until I came upon this. Naturally, I hopped on my bike and got to the Asian supermarket just before it closed. They didn't have tamarind of any sort, and they only had industrial-sized bags of sprouts (which I knew I wouldn't get through), so I went home with rice noodles and the idea that I'd somehow still manage to make a Pad Thai.

I'd bought a kilo of yellow plums a couple of days beforehand, and some of them were starting to get mushy, so I made a batch of tart plum jam (the skins were delicious with sugar) and figured that some of that would be a suitable, if inauthentic, substitute for tamarind paste. Anyhow, I made some, and it was pretty good, with a nice combination of tangy and sweet, but it still wasn't what I was looking for.

This was about a week and a half ago.

I mentioned my tamarind quest to Marisa, at Páprika, figuring that she would have some ideas. She was the one who knew about the Asian supermarket, after all (she told me about it when I noticed that they were serving Thai black rice.) Anyhow, she had a jar of tamarind paste that she said she never used, and she gave it to me.

I made myself Pad Thai for dinner on Friday, for lunch on Saturday:

and then again for lunch yesterday:

Delicious! Now I have to ration the tamarind paste, until I manage to get myself a dealer.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Memo

ATTN: Spain
RE: Your Overuse of the Refrigerator

So, Spain, we’ve been on pretty close terms for a while now, and there’ve been many things we’ve been able to talk through. I’ve come to accept your ways of shutting down all functions during, inexplicably, the middle of the day, and your bizarre notion that during the summer, people should only work in the mornings, if at all. I appreciate that you’ve been willing to throw my American ways the occasional bone; I thought it was pretty nice of you to make at least a few bars and restaurants smoke-free. But sometimes, you just don’t know how to do things right.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m aware that the death of your longstanding Fascist regime is an event branded upon the memories of even your younger middle-aged inhabitants. I mean, I remember when they showed the news that John Lennon was shot, so it’s not like I don’t have experiences with the end of an era. But seriously, while a refrigerator is a pretty handy thing to have, you don’t need to use it for everything. Some things actually taste better at room temperature.

In particular:
We’ve been over this several times. Bananas, from tropical climes, are ideally to be suspended from a hook. Not only does this remind them of their natural habitat, just beyond the reach of the fingers of hungry monkeys, it also prevents them from getting bruised. They are not to touch plastic, and they are not to be put into the fridge. Ever. Not even when there are many bananas, and you think that, just this once, it will help them to last longer by storing them somewhere cold, dark, and humid.

Putting the bananas into the refrigerator does not enhance their flavor, increase their longevity, or add in any way to the experience of eating one. It just makes them get disgusting and brown. I know that this is you in general, Spain, and not just one of your denizens. Just a month or two ago, after eating lunch at a friend’s house, she offered me fruit, and one of the things that she did was that she took bananas out of the refrigerator. Then she said, (I’m translating here) “I don’t know why they’ve turned brown. I refrigerated them and everything.”

Now, Spain, hear me out. I really like gazpacho. I find your chilled raw tomato-based soup a refreshing addition to my summertime diet. However, your insistence upon refrigerating a perfectly good tomato when it’s not even threatening to go mushy is, I’m willing to bet, one of the major reasons for the general weakness of your economy. Compounded with your missteps in the New World, your expulsion of the moriscos between 1609 and 1614 and your consequent loss of a labor force, and a century of epidemics, I’m pretty certain that someone’s dim-witted idea to keep tomatoes somewhere cold instead of, again, somewhere room temperature, was what brought your standing down in the world stage. Big time.

You know why? It makes you lose credibility as a potential culinary superpower. And, as we all know, no one wants to do business with a place with no respect for the integrity of ingredients. The thriving economy of Silicon Valley? It’s all because of Alice Waters. Your insistence upon refrigerating tomatoes, even ones that I, not you, purchased, for use in salad, makes the inventions of paella and the delightful small plates that are tapas seem like flukes.

Even the New York Times thinks you should never refrigerate a tomato. As we both know, they are never, ever wrong.

Thanks for your attention, Spain. I knew that you would understand.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day of Croquetas

Yesterday, I walked a lot more than I usually do: I went up to the EEA library the long way (the walk that takes a half hour instead of 20 minutes), rode my bike around a bit, and ambled around downtown. A lot. I haven’t been doing that much exercise lately. Everything in Granada is too close for an in-town bike ride, and it’s still hotter than the sun out in the middle of the day, making a ride outside of town seem like a terrible idea. Also, I keep meaning to join a gym, but I haven’t, because they are depressing and they make me just think of the RSF at Berkeley and how much I loved Total Athletic Conditioning, Abs and Back, and Cardio Kickboxing. Come to think of it, I was ripped! (I definitely, definitely had a six-pack under a layer of fat.)

But I digress.

Because what I mean to write about is this: yesterday, I had four different kinds of croquetas. This started off when I left the EEA library to go home and cook (it was my turn.) Oscar had left a note saying that he wasn’t coming home for lunch, which kind of messed up my day, because I had actually been so productive in that last hour before I left the library; I could have stayed another hour and worked. By the time I got home, of course, I was hungry and then by the time I ate there wasn’t enough time for me to get back to the library (even on my bicycle) and have enough time to request a book.

I ate some leftovers (salmorejo and tortilla de patatas) and noodled around for a little bit, mostly reading up on Anton van Wyngaerde and sixteenth century depictions of cities/trying to justify my academic reasons for existing, but then I got hungry.

What I had really wanted all along was spinach, so I sautéed up some onions, and added what fresh spinach we had. Naturally, it made a pitifully small amount of food, so I decided to stretch it by making a béchamel, processing the spinach and adding it, breading it, and frying it. Delicious.

In the evening (after moping around the house some more), I met up with María, the little 82-year-old lady who rents rooms out, and whom I know from my first visit to Spain five years ago, for tapas. We started off at the Salon 2004; I suggested it, even though it’s not my favorite, because she’s so ridiculously enthusiastic about it. The tapas there are always slices of ham (“very high quality!” exclaims María) and some kettle chips.

We continued to Regio, a bar in the neighborhood behind Puerta Real, very close to the Ayuntamiento. I had a tinto de verano (refreshing!) and María had a Rioja. All of the employees there know María, and the young guys there call her “guapa” and she gets a big kick out of it. At some point, on of the staffers brought over a plate with a couple of croquetas. “Try these,” he says, “they’re not like the usual croquetas here.”

So we did. They were vegetable, with onion and fried green bell peppers in them. They seemed to be based on semolina, or maybe even had a bit of cornmeal in them, instead of just regular flour. They were pretty good. They were just room temperature, though.

And then (even though we hadn’t ordered a second round of anything), they brought over another plate of croquetas. Those, apparently, were the real tapas: the first batch had just been to taste something different.

Round two was chicken croquetas, and they were the most chicken-laden croquetas I’ve ever had: I’ve definitely had croquetas that are purported to be chicken, but just taste vaguely of chicken fat. These had lots of shredded chicken meat in them, and were a much softer béchamel than the first, and were on the hot end of the warm temperature range. They were delicious!

We finished those, and (still on what would be our only round of drinks at the Regio) one of the cooks emerged from the back and asked María if she’d ever had the eggplant there. María answered that she hadn’t.

“I’ll taste you some,” said the cook.

So, we each had a fairly thick, but buttery soft and not at all bitter, lengthwise slice of battered, fried eggplant, served with a drizzle of molasses. Delicious.

And then it was off to Los Migueletes, a bar near Plaza Nueva that is always packed and in the middle of a row of restaurants that, from my understanding, are tourist traps. María popped her head into the kitchen and waved to the cooks, who I saw waving back, and then we staked out a spot. We ordered a round there (tinto de verano for me, again) and were handed what seemed to be bits of stewed white meat (this being Spain, I can only imagine that it was pork) in a bit of sauce, but María sent it back and asked for croquetas instead, which we were given in short order. “These are so much better for you than meat!” exclaimed María, without a hint of irony.

These were huge; each was about the size of a spring roll (not the kind in Chinese restaurants here in Spain; that’s a different blog entry altogether), Their crust was crisp and light, and the middle was an oozy, soft béchamel. There were a couple of tiny ham squares in the middle. Over all, it was a pretty good croqueta but frankly, I was pretty full by that point.

I may never eat croquetas again. Then again, there’s still some spinach béchamel in the fridge.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Photo I Like

This is of my dad, painting, in 1978 or 79. (Presumably) after this painting, he made another one, very similar to it, but with some key differences: a man is walking by, there is a flower pot in one of the windows of the building, there is a box in the storefront, and a hyphen in a sign is changed. I like the two paintings together, and am going to convince my dad to have giclées of them made.

His studio is in a different room of the house now, and he paints sitting down (I can't remember if he always stood to paint then or not; I was three.