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Cooking with Jesus

I have a passion for Spanish food. I really think it must be in my blood, because it’s not like I grew up eating this stuff everyday.

Living in Madrid, I found it hard to believe how CHEAP things were. A draught beer at an outdoor cafe could run you 1 euro, a glass of wine is a little more. They like to mix their beverages here too: beer+lemon Fanta=Una Clara (or like an English style Shandy), wine+sugared club soda=tinto de verano. Don’t knock ’em till you’ve tried ’em. In this heat, anything cool and refreshing is welcome.

Drink is just the accompaniment to the food, of course. Chorizo and queso Manchego, which are not easy to find at home, are staples of dishes here. Chorizo is like the best sausage you’ve ever had, full of lots of spices and flavors. It can be eaten right off the stick or cooked into a dish or soup. There are lots of cheeses here, but when you say “queso” in Spain, it’s assumed your talking about Manchego. I like mine extra sharp.

I had decided to take a cooking class in Spain, but when I showed up for my first day, I was so appalled by the fact that one of the attendees didn’t even know how to beat eggs, that I beat it out of there quickly. Talk about not having any huevos…(that’s a Spanish joke/yolk for those of you in the know). (sorry, couldn’t resist the puns)

Instead, I made a deal with my friend Consuelo’s husband that, in exchange for him teaching me a few traditional Spanish dishes, we’d speak in English, so he could practice what he was learning in a class. I’m no dummy. I knew I got the better end of the deal.

So, that’s how I started Cooking with Jesus (Consuelo’s husband Jesus, that is). We made a bunch of delicious dishes, that if you haven’t tried them, well, if you’re lucky, I can be persuaded to cook them for you.

That's Jesus there, 2nd from the left and me holding up my first tortilla

That’s Jesus there, 2nd from the left and me holding up my first tortilla

Spanish tortilla I grew up eating, but it’s a tricky potato, onion omelette that needs just the right proportions and consistency to get right. Apparently, you can no longer find a traditional tortilla in a restaurant in Spain, because now, after hundreds of years eating this dish, they’re afraid of salmonella or some such nonsense.

Following were croquetas, empanadillas (small empanadas) and the very Madrileño pisto, which is a caramelized vegetable dish with peppers, onions tomatoes and zucchini. Throw in some bacalao (cod) dishes and a huge Galician style cod empanada that my other friend Gloria taught me how to make, and you’ve got one happy American!

Empanada de Galicia. RICO!!!

Cooking an Empanada de Galicia with my good friend Gloria. Que rico!

Now, all this food I could eat more than made up for the food I wasn’t supposed to eat. The more time I spent in Spain, the more rules I discovered. The one that upset me the most was vermouth.

Vermouth on ice with a side of olives. My kingdom for a vermouth!!

Vermouth on ice with a side of olives. My kingdom for a vermouth!!

They have these incredible sweet vermouth bars with vermouth on tap. I know: dream come true. BUT, you could only drink vermouth before lunch, so even though I searched for a vermouth at 7pm, and even 1pm, no luck.

Also, it seems that paella isn’t the only thing not eaten at night. I would innocently suggest something to eat, and looks of horror would cross my friends’ faces. Consuelo would go so far as to say, “We don’t eat that at night because it’s too FUERTE.” That’s too heavy, for us gringos and gringas. This does make sense, because the Spaniards eat dinner at around 9:30 or 10, so no one wants to go to bed with a stomach full of fried food. Some things just didn’t make much sense to me, though.

Lentils? Not at night.
Dessert? Depends on the person, but most men say “no”
Heavy meat? Need you ask?
Melon? Too fuerte. What, really? Melon?

Killer Spanish melon? Who knew?

Killer Spanish melon? Who knew?

This one stumped me, but there’s even a rhyme for it: Por la mañana oro. Por la tarde, plata y por la noche mata. (In the morning, gold. For the afternoon, silver and for the night it kills). If that’s not a deterrent, I don’t know what is.

Finally, I wanted to try Cocido Madrileño, a hearty dish that is just NOT eaten in summer, because it’s too FUERTE. But I was determined. The complete meal starts with the stock that the whole dish is cooked in. This is a meal in itself and so full of flavor, you want to cry with joy after tasting it. Then, the remaining ingredients follow on a platter: pork belly, chorizo, ham, onion, potato and one of the main ingredients: chick peas.

It was delicious, and I have the before and after pictures to prove it, but Consuelo was right after all!

Before picture: Cocido broth, a nice piece of bread and a glass of wine. I can't wait!

Before picture: Cocido broth, a nice piece of bread and a glass of wine. I can’t wait!


After cocido. I. Cannot. Move. Too fuerte!

After cocido. I. Cannot. Move. Too fuerte!

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Here, there and everywhere

I have been on the move, so I haven’t had much time to write. I left Madrid on Friday the 23rd with my friend Consuelo (who I met while I was studying in Madrid). We drove about 3 hours to La Encina, where she was born, a tiny town of only 200 people near Salamanca and about 15 minutes from the border of Portugal.

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El Bodon

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El Bodon 40.487851, -6.575002
In El Bodon I was queen for a day, since it seems I was the first American who had ever graced this tiny town. The highlight of my visit was bingo outside of the town’s 2 bars, where once we’d finish one drink at one bar we’d go “uptown” about 10 paces to the town’s only other bar for another drink.

From La Encina, Consuelo and I toured the absolutely gorgeous medieval city of Ciudad Rodrigo.

In Ciudad Rodrigo: the outside of the…wait for it…Post office, of course!

I kept imagining that Senor Rodrigo was my distant relative and that maybe, just maybe, my ancestors founded the town.

From there, I bussed it to Porto, Portugal. I love port, so I figured I should go to the city that makes the stuff. Porto itself was stunning. Everywhere you turn are churches and buildings covered in TILE. And, those who know me, know that tiles are my weakness.

Yeah, when I say covered in tile, that is no exaggeration for effect.

I spent my first evening keeping flies from getting into my mouth, because I was awestruck by the architecture in Porto. Day 2, I basically drank myself through the day, touring 4 bodegas/caves where the wine that’s made from grapes grown in the Douro Valley (or the Rio Duero once it crosses into Spain) are aged in the caves along the river in Porto. Three tastings per bodegas at 3 euros each…I had to plan carefully to make sure I could make it up the Seattle-sized hills in the city, since, after drinking, gravity tends to pull the head sideways and down as opposed to the direction it’s supposed to go.

Aiming to stay upright after drinking Porto starting at 10am (oops! There’s a timechange from Spain to Portugal!)

Porto…it’s pretty and pretty steep

From there, another long two bus rides to visit my cousins in Viveiro, Galicia, a small city that’s a few towns from where my grandfather was born. The people here speak a dialect of Spanish that’s a combination of Portuguese and Spanish. It’s sing-songy and beautiful to listen to. My Spanish has (thank god) improved enough that I was also able to understand some of the gallego being spoken, in addition to Castellano (what they call Spanish in Spain).

I have an affinity for Galicia and I feel sometimes like the past lives through me. Seattle or Galicia?
Green year-round? Check.
Mountains? Check (though not as tall).
Surrounded by water? Check (the fishing boats come and go from here, where I am at the confluence between the Cantabrian Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Familiar flowers? Check. Buddleia, hydrangea, crocosmia, brugmansia, dahlias, rosemary, fennel, the list goes on and on!

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Viveiro

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Viveiro 43.634575, -7.589737
Viveiro itself is a pretty Spanish port town. There streets are cobblestone but it feels new and old at the same time. There are still some of the original entryways through the city walls that date from the 17th century.

Juan Carlos V doorway into Viveiro. No plague shall enter thru here!

It’s nice to be with family, that’s for sure. I wasn’t in town 10 minutes when my cousin Pedro Raul’s sarcasm and irony came out in joking around with me about my trip. My 2nd cousins look and sound exactly like my grandfather, father and brother, it’s obvious we’re family. The food here is heavenly too. Empanadas, pimientos al padron, chorizo, jamon serrano. It’s like I haven’t died, but I’m still living in heaven. Why, oh why can’t I eat this well back home?

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