Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fiesta para mi Familia

Inside the Alhambra. Granada, Andalusia

Rather than bring back a suitcase full of tchotchkes - destined to gather dust and take up space - Phineas and I decided to cook some of our favorite tapas from our trip for my family. So, on Saturday, we trekked into Brooklyn, laden with a mobile pantry of Spanish treats - cheese and jamon, chorizo in cider, spring onions with romesco, asparagus and mushrooms each cooked a la plancha, patatas bravas, garlic chicken wings and pork with a citrusy sauce. We ended the evening with the marzipan that I bought in Toledo and chocolate con aceite y sal (dark chocolate, melted over bread with a drizzle of fruity olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt).

Here is the recipe for Pollo al Ajillo (garlic chicken). The beauty of this dish is the amount of flavor that you get few ingredients and simple preparation.
  • 12 chicken wings, cut into wingettes and drums (24 pieces)
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed open, skin removed
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive or other oil
Heat 2 tbsps of oil in a large skillet and brown garlic. Remove garlic. Season chicken wings with salt & pepper, and add to pan, browning on boths sides (about 5 min each side or 'til appealingly golden). Add the sherry, bay leaf and thyme, along with the garlic. Stir until the pan drippings and sherry have emulsified (1min). Add chicken stock and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Serve with crusty bread to sop up the juices.

If you don't have sherry, you could use dry vermouth or another white wine. Also, you could use dried thyme instead of fresh - about 1/2 tsp should be ample.


Monday, March 30, 2009


Public Service Announcement: If you've got a bottle of Phineas' limoncello, Calliope reports that it is ready for drinking.

If you are not in possession of a bottle of this magic elixir, you are in good company. Phineas and I don't even have one. But I think it is safe to say that we will be repeating this experiment, and you may enter your bid early. Bribes are happily accepted.

For those of you lucky enough to have the bottle stashed away, you can drink it like the Italians do - simply pour into an ice-filled cordial glass - or if you don't like your liquor straight, mix 2 parts selzer to one part limoncello and garnish with lemon. However, if you are like me and crave something that will elevate this humble home-brewed hooch into an elegant quaff, then pour 1 ounce of limoncello into a flute, fill with prosecco and garnish with black- or raspberries.

Cin cin!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Madrid: Flamenco and Jamon

City life outside the Placa Mayor
Madrid is a bustling city, larger and grittier than Barcelona, but with a wealth of art from the Spanish crown. Like most capital cities, you can find cuisine from all corners of the country. I live in a big city with wonderful art and all kinds of restaurants. So, these things didn't overly impress me. Don't get me wrong; the Prado is wonderful and Guernica is most definitely worth seeing. However, without a doubt my two very favorite Madrid experiences were Flamenco and Jamon 10; not necessarily in that order.

Phineas - since he just told you about my first experience with jamon de bellota - will update you on my carnivorous escapades in Madrid. I will just leave it by saying that the woman who runs Artesania Iberica Jamon 10 is my personal hero... and drug dealer.

Now on to Flamenco! I had heard that the best place to see good flamenco was Madrid. I was not disappointed. Casa Patas - part restaurant, part performance space and part flamenco conservatory - was just a short walk from our hotel. On our last night in Spain we saw Guadalupe Torres and Jose Maldonado (Bailaores) perform to the crooning of the cantore “El Trini” (apparently the singers like to have nicknames) and the music of a superb ensemble of classic guitars, winds and percussions.

En fuego!

I'm still not exactly sure whether "flamenco" refers to the music, the dancing, the hand clapping or the whole she-bang. Is it still flamenco without the tortured, fiery dancing? I don't know. But the singing is throaty and emotional. And the guitar? heavenly. The classical flamenco playing is so much more subtle and complex than anything on US radio. It is hard to explain how it all blends, but somehow the percussion - hands clapping, dancers stamping and drummer drumming - pulls it all together. The show was half over by the time I realized that I didn't have any clue what El Trini was singing about - forbidden love? love gone wrong? the end of an affair? Somehow it didn't matter; I was mesmerized.

I was sad for our trip to end, but we did leave on a high note. And I have decided to induct two honorary Spanish muses into the pantheon: Guadalupe, Muse of Flamenco, and the woman from Jamon 10, Muse of Jamon. Ole!

Bar Mut

Phineas here... Where were we? Oh right - off we went to Bar Mut. A little hole in the wall tapas bar on the nice side of the tracks. Plenty of regulars and genial folks having a copa or two, a quick smoke and a nibble to while away the early evening. You know the drill by now-order a couple of glasses of wine, kick up our feet and ponder what to order next. This being the last stop in Barcelona, it was going to be Jamon with a plate of pan con tomate to accompany.

The air was thick with anticipation as the bread appeared and then the jamon! A square plate covered with translucent slices of the silkiest, ruby colored jamon yet to be spied by Clio. Before I knew it, most of the plate was gone, Clio stating it was the best ever!!!!! Oily-but not greasy, nutty flavored, and glistening - the most succulent jamon to be had in all the land. No more Boars Head, no more baked ham - for Clio it was destined to be jamon bellota or nothing! Not to be outdone, the pan con tomate was absolutely devine-crusty ciabatta-like bread slathered with honey-sweet tomato. All mine, since the jamon was definitely off limits.

FYI-I kinda like eating in a place where the bread was MORE expensive than the wine! No kidding. Lest you think it was an extravagance, the entire "Clio Happy Meal" of a couple glasses of wine, a very large portion of jamon, and the bread was less than a large pizza and a couple of beers. Way more tasty and way better for the waistline!

Clio, Clio's tummy, and Clio's brain were all happy as we picked up our luggage and made our way to the overnight train to Granada. The cabin, dinner, breakfast and all the free drinks in the pre-departure lounge cost less than the regular high speed train from Seville to Madrid in tourist class. Go figure?!?!

Made it!

Itsy bitsy cabin, bunk beds for two and a toilet and shower to boot! Dinner was included, so shortly after leaving the station the attendant knocked and said dinner was being served. Oooh! Dinner on a train. So Bond-esque. Quickly dressed in our best evening wear (Jeans,shown below and T-shirts) off to the movable feast. We sat at a lovely table for two, Deborah as our server(and it turns out our sommelier and chef), for a quiet dinner for two on the rocking train as the night cruised by our panoramic window. Really good dorado ala plancha for me and some braised chicken for Clio-by far the best meal I've had on a train. Now granted Amtrak stinks (how do you screw up a hot dog?), but this was really good, something I wouldn't have minded paying for in a restaurant.

My foot as a reference point

After finishing the vino(bottle of white rioja) and an after dinner cerveza for me, off to bed. The next morning we were treated to scenery like this:

actually from the Alhambra, but its the best i could find

Refreshed, fed and ready to go, we're off to tackle Granada, the albaicin and the Alhambra.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Toledo. Definitely NOT Ohio

The one and only picture of the two of us together from our trip

We spent our last full day in Spain on a day trip to Toledo, a 30 minute train ride away from Madrid (I'll get to Madrid last). After being in Madrid for two days, it was really nice to see some open space again.

Toledo is basically a walled medieval city on a hill overlooking the sun-baked plains of La Mancha with narrow winding streets. It is the city of El Greco, Cervantes and El Cid, and is largely unchanged since El Greco painted it around 1600.

However, one thing that has changed is that Toledo is the most overtly touristy place we visited - souvenir shops abound, admission fees at every little place (churches, houses, monasteries and even a synagogue!), upscale boutiques on the main squares, etc. Yet, somehow, Toledo was still charming and fun to explore. I've already gone on about Sagrada Familia, but Toledo also has a great Cathedral with a treasure trove of art by El Greco, Caravaggio, Velasquez, Raphael and more - worthy of any museum. But of course my favorite experience was getting lost on the narrow maze of streets, finding a local restaurant (it smelled good, so in we went) and enjoying a little local color.

Oh, and did I mention that Toledo is famed for its marzipan? Yeah. Given my nut "problem", I know it won't surprise you that I not only sampled the marzipan while I was there, but before heading back to Madrid, I snagged a box to take with me. It will be opened and devoured on Saturday with enough other people around to ensure that I don't eat it all myself. Then again, no one would know if a few pieces went missing before then...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dusting Off the Craft Lounge

Well, it's been a month. A whole month without any kind of crafting whatsoever.

What? Don't you wear a french maid costume
when you clean your craft lounge?

My last few projects before leaving on vacation were great successes - confidence building and appreciated by the recipients. On Sunday, I found myself eager to get back into the flow and pick up where I left off. So, I took stock and selected which of the (intimidating number of) projects that I have lined up to tackle next. The winners are:

  • A Birthday Gift for Magenta - Magenta, my lack of keeping track of the date while in Spain and not sending you a message on your birthday is translating into a gift that requires 300 inches of ruffles. That's 25 feet. Sadly, it is not a flamenco costume for you. That would still be well beyond my skill level. But I think you will, nonetheless, enjoy what I am making for you.
  • Pants for my nephew Orpheus - He is difficult to fit and so I bought a pattern making kit for children's pants. It is basically a dumbed-down version of the pattern making class I took last summer. I actually started drafting the pattern/sloper before I left, but when I saw my nephew on Saturday I realized that he has grown since I took the measurements. Uuuugh.
Anyway, those are the first two things to tackle. After that (in no particular order) I have to make pants for myself, shirts for Phineas and a bunch of other gifts that were promised ages ago.

*** Don't worry: there is still more to come from our Spain trip. Phineas, now that he has been roped into blogging, just has to catch up.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The last Jamon standing in Barcelona

So when I(Phineas) last left you, I was deep in slumber soaking up some rays in the park. The ruins were opening at 4, so off we went in search of some old bricks. The museum resides above the site of Roman ruins from the first settlement of Barcelona, encompassing a compound and some outer walls. Ruins, ruins, ruins, this being Barcelona, we found out that the ruins were in fact a wine making facility! Can't escape it - when we travel, food always seems to get in the way. Sigh. They were quite impressive and after getting our fill, it was on our way back up to our bags in storage and the upcoming train ride to Granada.

Random doorway to somewhere

Time out! Outside the Museum-Ruins underneath my butt

Hummm. Train leaves at 9:30 and its only 6:00. Time for Tapas! Up we trod back up to "our" local cerveseria for a little nibble before leaving. Some nibble! We plopped down on the counter, and right in front of our faces was the specials board and a huge platter of chanterelles and oyster mushrooms. Striking while the iron was hot (actually seeing veg), Clio pounced; ordering a racion of asparagus a la plancha and mixed shrooms a la plancha. Simply grilled vibrant green aparargus with the requisite Spanish shower of oil and sea salt. Game and match. Ah but more to come in a meaty platter of mushrooms, dressed with the Spanish shower and releasing a wonderful aromatic smoke filled with hints of citrus and thyme. Veg for the day: check!

I looked to the chalkboard and spied bacon wrapped dates(oooh so good!) and a couple of skewers of cod served with a small piece of bread and covered in a silky bath of oil, tomato and salt. Down the hatch! Hunger quelled, Clio remarked "I really should get some jamon before leaving". Quick check of the clock and I replied there was one more place I'd written down to try-Bar Mut. (now known as the first date for Clio and the word Bellota)....

Cerveza: Spanish for "Mmmmm.... beer "

Window of a local wine store in Madrid.

Since Phineas and I seem to be tag-teaming our travel posts and he needs some time to catch up to me in Madrid, here is another slice of Americana in Espana. In case there was any doubt that the Simpsons have universal appeal, let this window display set your mind at ease.

Barca: Take 2

Hola again! Phineas here (completing a post started in Granada...just channel the time-shifting qualities of Lost and it'll be ok). When last we left our food adventure, Clio was still in a Jamon-induce coma. Well she's up and we're heading out to eat, with a bit of touring in between. Just an FYI- I only have scenery shots from here on out -no food- because we were just too busy eating to think about photos! Remember: no drinking and shooting photos!)

First, we headed off in the crisp, cool early morning air to the museums located on Montjuic, over looking Barcelona.

flags flying at the base of the hill

Barcelona from the top (while we walked a little, we did avail ourselves of the escalators!)

After an art-fix at the Catalonian museum and a long walk, we headed off for lunch. (I'm hungry!!). Off down Las Ramblas to the central market of La Boqueria, filled with stalls and stalls of fruit and vegetable vendors, olive shops, sweets and chocolates, butchers, fish mongers and mostly importantly eateries! We quickly decided on Bar Pinxtos as Clio spied the copas (glasses) of Cava being drunk, so off we went. Waiting for our seats, we chatted (OK, I muttered, smiled and used gestures) with two older women who despite their best efforts to the contrary, were being plied to giddiness by the food and Cava being thrust upon them by the efficacious counter man. After stumbling away, we took our seats and proceeded to replicate the karma created by the giggling duo!

Leading off, after topping off with Cava, was a plate of complementary croquettas. Easily matching the ones ingested last night, they were shimmering nuggets of gold leading to oozing jamon-spiked bechamel goodness. Really, burn your tongue-I don't care-I want some more now kind of goodness. Cooled the burn with cava and moved on to a plate of cumin spiked garbanzos with spinach, dressed with fruity Spanish olive oil, red vinegar and a final shower of sea salt. Next up, razor clams a la plancha (just caught this morning). Hummm...briny, tender and oh so lipsmacking good. Yummmmm! Clio also ordered the house specialty of sauteed baby squid (think size of pinky nail) with beans dressed with the ubiquitous olive oil and a shower of sea salt. Now if you're thinking that squid should be fried and beans should baked, well think again. Salty, sweet, savory and succulent all at once-the plate was cleaned up with bread (we would have licked it, but that wouldn't have been pretty :)) Finally, if you see something bubbling on the stove at these types of places, chances are its gonna be good. Today it was Spanish beef stew, redolent of wine, smoked paprika and spice tempered by the sweetness imparted by the accompanying carrots. SO good...the bread is now gone!. One cafe cortado later, we went off into the afternoon a little heavier, a little buzzier but altogether happy to waddle away into the sunshine and blue skies of Barcelona.

Looking back down Las Ramblas from the top-la boqueria is about a 2/3 of the way down on the right

On to the next museum which, in the basement, held the remains of the first Roman settlement of Barcelona. By the time we got there, it was closed for siesta, so we decided to just walk around the old town and then take our own personal siesta on the benched-lined Parc de la Ciutadella. Perfect! People running, playing, sitting in the warm and sunny 78 degrees afternoon air. We got a bench, Clio popped open the guidebook and Phineus....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Back through the parc, looking vaguely similar to the Jardin de Tuilleries in Paris

Bikes for rent. Tough for me to sleep while riding!

This was not our only food adventure of the day. But I think this is enough for you to digest for now. Next up: Clio's jamon habit reaches new heights and on to Granada.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

al-Andalus Paradise: Seville

The Real Alcazar in Seville.

Every time I was asked where we were going in Spain and I read off the list of places, people immediately responded that we would love Barcelona and Granada. So, it's difficult to explain why Seville, the capital of Andalucia, was the most magical place for me. It wasn't that the Real Alcazar Palace was more lovely than Alhambra, or that there was more beautiful art than in Barcelona or Madrid, or a more impressive Cathedral than Sagrada Familia or Toledo. It was not the signts or monuments at all.

Almost every day in Spain I took a late afternoon siesta while Phineas took his afternoon stroll before we headed out for our evening tapas crawl. On our first day in Seville, the weather was so perfect that I left the window, which overlooked the hotel courtyard, wide open. I fell asleep to the sound of gurgling water from the courtyard fountain. As the sun began to set, I gradually woke up to someone playing classical guitar and a woman laughing in the courtyard below. It wove it's way into my semi-sleep dreams. I can't even describe how gorgeous and peaceful this sleep was. As Phineas arrived back from his walk, the cathedral bells chimed the hour. It was a perfect moment.

La Giralda, the bell tower of Seville Cathedral

This is how Seville was for me. We would be walking down a street lined with orange trees and someone would open a door - out would spill water-cooled air, the sound of a courtyard fountain and the soapy scent of jasmin. To me, Seville felt like the place where the Spanish, Catholic and Moorish merged. Bull fighting, lace mantillas, Lenten fasts and feasts, Mudejar architecture, fountains, orange and jasmin, tapas and siestas are all still part of the vernacular.

Plaza de Toros de las Maestranza - Seville's 18th century Baroque bullring

However, Seville is not solely living in the past. It is a university town with a young and lively night life. As we walked home on our last evening in Seville, we passed small bands of students sharing a last cerveza and a small army of men practising for the famous Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions throughout the city. They were practicing carrying the base of what will be an elaborately decorated wooden float, walking in unison and blindfolded. This perfectly summed up how I felt about Seville - young and old, modern yet steeped in tradition, fun and serious at the same time.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Modernisme and Mudejar

We are currently in Madrid, but since we haven't really had internet access since Barcelona, I feel that some backtracking is necessary. Phineas - incredibly pleased with the 7 comments on his post about our tapas crawl - will, no doubt, update you on our culinary happenings.

We could not have picked two more unlike cities for our first two stops than Barcelona and Granada. Barcelona has a unique look as the epicenter of the Modernisme movement, led by Gaudi and his peers. I loved the organic forms and the exuberance of color.

The Dragon in Park Guell

Casa Batllo, which from across the street looked to
me like a melting wedding cake

Inside Sagrada Familia
I really found Sagrada Familia to be the most stunning of the churches that I have ever been in - and trust me, that is saying something (ie: that includes St. Peter's Basilica, St. Paul's in London, St Pat's in NY, Notre Dame, the Duomo in Florence, and many many others - this blows them away).

On the other hand, Moorish influence dominates Granada like the Alhambra standing guard over the city and the whitewashed houses in the oldest parts of town.

The Alhambra is such a different "palace" than what one normally thinks of as a home of kings or queens. The size is modest and there is no gold-encrusted anything, no portraits and no monuments. However, the rooms are so beautiful and the sound of water is ever-present in the many courtyards throughout the complex.

As I stepped out of the afternoon sun into the cool rooms of the palace, I exhaled and let myself sink deeply into the vacation mindset, with everything else - work, cellphone, commutes, housework, everything - a million miles away.

Phineas is tapping his foot since we are still in Madrid with much to do. So, enough for now. Next up: Seville.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tapas aka "how to burst your pants without really trying"

Hola! Phineas here because Clio is currently in a jamon induced coma (or maybe it was the croquetas...) Just returned from Tapas crawl #1: Barcelona edition. Since we walked all over the city today (10.87 miles), up and down and all around, we decided to not try to walk a half-marathon and stayed local for our eating crawl. I scoped out some nearby crowded eating establishments and we wound up doing the following:

Stop 1: Wine, jamon, croquetas, gambas (shrimp) a la plancha and an oddly satisfying tapa consisting of shredded lettuce, "special" sauce and bacon. Let's face it, the bacon makes up for the fact that it included a vegetable! Clio, the avowed anti mayo-based-sauce-anything militant, remarked that it was vaguely reminiscent of McD's "special" sauce. Must have been a distant memory since I'm pretty sure she hasn't had a Big Mac since I've known her!

Stop 2: Erato eat your heart out! Jamon, croquetas (see, a recurring theme!) and wonder of wonders the first vegetable found in Spain! Baby scallions with romesco sauce. In addition,I ordered what I thought was mushrooms, but came out as fried baby clams! See, I tried to eat a veg, but out came clams (which were awful tasty). In my defense, the words are very similar, but my stomach is not complaining.

Calcots con salsa Romesco (see Erato, we can do it Tony Bourdain style)

Stop 3: Intermezzo to take this photo:

Obama fever in Barcelona
Why do the Brits always take credit for things that they don't help do, and never any take the blame for any mishaps?

Stop 4: More wine (this time red and white), Croquetas ( again!), deep fried potato-meatballs (don't ask, they were really good) and the rabo de toro (oxtails with beans-Yummmm!). To top it off, we sat watching the kitchen staff perform in the open. As a result, Clio spied a chocolate concoction being created - chocolate mousse shaped into three quenelles, topped with a sprinkling of sea salt and olive oil. Needless to say, Clio's chocolate center (located in the near frontal lobe) overrode the pleadings of her tummy. Out came the chocolate, down went the chocolate, and then the pleadings of No Mas ensued!

I think Clio's jamon coma is reaching critical. Adios for now!

PS - Clio has stirred from her coma long enough to remind me that yesterday I tried to order a sandwich and ended up with marinaded sardines. Apparently, we have some work to do on our language skills. (BTW- Stomach still happy accepting brain's mistakes.)

Week in Review

Last week was all work and stress for me, but since Phineas arrived in London on Thursday morning, things have radically improved. Here is a Phineas-eye-view of the week:

The Gerkin, my favorite building in London.

Phineas spent Thursday and Friday in London and Greenwich.

A view of Canary Wharf from Greenwich.

The prime meridian, Greenwich, England.

And then we traveled to Bath, where we met up with Catherine S and her fiance, Jamie.

Here is Phineas on the Victorian era balcony overlooking the Roman
Baths, with Bath Abbey in the background.

Here I am "enjoying" the theraputic waters of Bath.
(It smells and tastes like sweaty pennies).

We did visit the spa in Bath - 2 hours of hot baths and steam rooms was very luxurious - helped with the jet lag and got me ready for vacation.

And now we are in Barcelona (it is siesta time). We are thoroughly enjoying the city of Gaudi and Miro. I have already vowed to return if Sagrada Familia is competed in my lifetime. But more on Barcelona in future posts. Adios for now!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Greetings from London!

Um, it's really really wet here. And windy. Too windy to open an umbrella. Yuck. However, my hotel is lovely and leaves the weather report on my pillow each night along with some chocolates. The more rain forecast; the more chocolate on the pillow. I wonder how much chocolate they would leave in the event of a hurricane.

Um, I haven't figured out if there is a way to do a mirror image with Lilly so the text comes out the right way.