Friday, July 31, 2009

Spain Day 3 Lunch on the Ramblas

Yesterday we took the twenty minute bus ride into the center of Barcelona. It dropped us a half block from Plaza de Catalunya’s famous fountains and the top of the Ramblas, Barcelona’s famous walking street. We lasted twenty minutes before we succumbed to the heat and our empty stomachs and the lure of an invitingly shaded alley where we had an exquisite lunch at Xarcuteria La Pineda. It looks like a hole in the wall and indeed has only four small tables. We hesitated but the dark interior with it’s cracked tile floors, hanging meats and stacked bottles had us at hello.062

Its surprising how far a few badly pronounced words can get you when a kind person faces you across the counter…and how hard it is to stop eating when you’re enjoying some of the best charcuterie you’ve ever tasted, washing it all down with cold Sangria.

054We travel to experience the new and unusual to see the historic and beautiful and to enrich our lives. Surely the best way to do this is to take some of these experiences home. This casual way of dining strikes me as the perfect summer meal. Nothing to heat, fast and delicious.


Spanish Charcuterie Lunch

for four

1/2 lb Spanish Jamon; sliced but not too thin.

1/2 lb Spanish Chorizo

1/2 lb Manchego Cheese

2 small baguettes

Olive Oil

One fresh tomato

Slice the Chorizo and place meats on separate platters; cut the cheese into unpredictably sized cubes (neatness doesn’t count) and plate. Cut one baguette down the middle. Slice the tomato and plate, leaving the juice behind. Press the baguette cut sides down in the juice to moisten. Slice the other baguette and drizzle with olive oil.

Mix up a batch of Sangria and enjoy.

(Adapted from Taberna del Alabardero and Josefina Clara Alberti)
From The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2007, article by Eric Felten

This taste’s exactly like the Sangria we had at La Pineda

1 bottle Spanish Grenache wine
2 oz. Spanish brandy
2 oz. Cointreau
2 oz. peach liqueur
1 peach, 1 green apple, 1 orange, all peeled and diced
1 pinch ground cinnamon
6 oz. orange juice
4 oz. Sprite or 7UP
Soak the fruit in the liquors for up to a day. When ready to serve, add wine, cinnamon, orange juice and soda. Pour over ice into tumblers.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Spain, Day 2 Per Molts Anys


Per Molts Anys  Happy Birthday in Catalan.  J turns 6.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Home Exchange to Mataro Spain

Hola from sunny Spain. We arrived yesterday in the midst of the town's annual fete. Last night we danced in the town square with all the families, teenagers and little old couples, the older ladies fluttering their fans. White lights crisscrossed the square and a 10 piece brass band played everything from ABBA to Spanish National songs. The singers wore flamenco gowns then switched to ball gowns then sequined dresses. The square was packed and the genteel older couples tangoed, waltzed and pasodobled (think bullfight music) with a wonderful mix of dignity and frivolity.237

J danced with a charming Spanish girl most of the evening, until we headed back to our apartment at 2am , (the dancing started at midnight and went until at 4am.) 244

Its warm here but not unbearable (unlike Seattle 100!) and the nights are balmy. The clock just struck midnight (we can hear the church bells chime from here) and now there are fireworks above town! OMG I love this place!   I can hear people laughing and talking through our open French doors.  We really can't believe our luck.

We're in Mataro an authentic, charming seaside town. It's off the tourist maps  and we feel like we're really seeing Spanish life.

This is our first trip to Spain and I never thought I'd find a country I like as much as France but so far Spain has delighted us. Keep watch on this blog as we’ll be posting a pic a day.168

Lemons growing on our terrace.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Food Friday

 Food Friday Thai 023 It’s probably inevitable that if you’re passionate about food and like to cook you’ll become pretty darn good in the kitchen. So good in fact that you’ll come to really like your own cooking. It is after all, a reflection of what you like, made just the way you like it, served promptly in amiable surroundings. The downside of all this proficiency is that it takes really good food to impress you.

So, when I get something in my mouth that makes me want to sing and bounce happily in my naugahyde booth an instant craving results. Before I know it, I’m drooling at the restaurant door five minutes before they open.  Such was the case with some  Chicken Galangal Soup I tasted recently.  I tried a couple of times to duplicate this rich brothy soup but failed so I called a couple friends and invited them over to cook. It happened to be a Friday.

There are few things more pleasurable than a sunny afternoon with boon companions until you add a kitchen and a quest.

Like artists approaching a blank canvas we had our vision and began with bold strokes. We started with two cans of coconut milk and one can of chicken broth. To amp up the mouth feel we added a can of coconut cream which got us right where we wanted to be. We sliced and bruised and soon our pot quietly simmered with all those exotic ingredients. We tasted and compared; the shape was there but we had to fill in the color and texture. In went a teaspoon of red curry paste; a bit of sugar; a dash of chili oil…simmer…taste…add more red curry, sugar and chili oil. Squeeze a lime; squeeze another, more sugar. Until at last…our masterpiece.

We celebrated that night with a Thai dinner on the deck.

The Menu:

Chicken Satay with spicy peanut dipping sauce

Sweet cucumber salad

Shrimp and Tofu Phad Thai

Grilled corn

Chicken Galangal Soup

Food Friday Thai 027Food Friday Thai 019Food Friday Thai 025We paired this dinner with a couple bottles of Bainbridge Island Winery’s Ferryboat White but Hollind makes a mean Mojito with fresh mint from her garden. Once you go there it’s hard to turn back. She also supplied us with a six pack of Singha Thai beer and somehow the wine just never got opened.

 Food Friday Thai 012 Chicken Galangal Soup

Chefs: Hollind, Carla and Veni

Serves 6

2 cans coconut milk

1 can coconut cream

1 can low sodium chicken broth

3 TBS Premium Fish Sauce

2 TBS Sugar

1 tsp chili oil

2 stalks lemon grass cut down the middle then sliced into three inch increments, bruised.

6 Kaffir lime leaves, bruised.

2 TBS cilantro, chopped

4 inch Galangal; peeled and sliced.

1 inch sliced ginger

4 TBS Thai red curry paste

Juice from 1 ½ limes

One can straw mushroom, rinsed.

2 chicken breast, sliced.

Add all ingredients except the chicken breasts. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the desired consistency and flavor is reached. The longer you simmer the thicker and more flavorful the soup. (If it gets too thick you can add chicken stock or coconut milk to thin). If you want you can strain but I like to leave all the bits and pieces. Add chicken and continue simmering until the chicken is cooked through (about 10 minutes). Garnish with cilantro and green onions. Serve with rice. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Strawberry Fields

Ross's Nikon Images 447 - CopyWhen I was a child my great- grandparents would come to visit every Sunday. They’d park their brown Plymouth at the top of the driveway and we’d gather on the porch to greet them. My tall, spectacled Grandpa would emerge first to open to door for my tiny grandma and they’d walk side by side his arm resting lightly on her shoulder up the grassy walk. She always carried their gift, a six pack of soda pop.

Back then soda came in those tall skinny bottles with the long necks. The Six-Pack would contain five Coca Cola’s and one Orange Crush. I have four brothers. Being the only girl, smack in the middle of the brood had its drawbacks but this was one of the perks. The Orange Crush was for me. In recognition of my femininity; my preference for dolls in a house full on Tonka trucks my grandparents always brought me a pretty little tasty bottle of Orange Crush.

Every now and then they’d mix it up a bit and substitute Strawberry Crush. Which is what this blog is about; the smell of Strawberry  Soda Pop on a sunny summer day .

Yesterday I took my children to pick strawberries. As we balanced our buckets a warm breeze wafted across the field carrying the scent of berries and I swear it smelled just like Strawberry Crush. Our purpose on this mild day was to pick strawberries for jam. Bald eagles circled as we picked our way across the field. Little E settled into the warm soil and alternated between placing berries in her bowl and in her mouth. In twenty minutes (adjusted to reflect the two trips to the bathroom required by E.) we’d picked 8 pounds of glossy red berries. As we left the field it was hard to resist the shiny little gems and by the time we got to the car our baskets nearly spilled over. My fingers were stained red and both E an d J had cheerful red stains on their chins (and cheeks and forehead and eyelids for E.) Ross's Nikon Images 449

After dinner that night I made five batches of strawberry jam. As I stirred the crushed fruit the smell of strawberry soda infused the air and I could almost see my grandparents at the table; chatting with my mom and dad a dark haired little girl darting in and out of the room.Ross's Nikon Images 583

Plain old strawberry jam can be bought at any grocery store. Making your own jam allows you to break out of the mold. I wanted my jam to have some pizzazz. To that end, I pondered great strawberry combinations. My first batch was a classic combination of strawberries and aged balsamic vinegar that smelled sweet and musty and earthy and made me think of old, old books. I like my jam to have some chunk so I didn’t crush the berries to a pulp. The result was a glorious ruby colored jam that wasn’t too sweet and tasted of fresh berries.

My herb garden provided the next inspiration. I flirted with Anise Hyssop but decided the licorice flavor overwhelmed my precious berries. I considered fennel, mint, rose petals and even tarragon but chose rambunctious take-over-the-garden Lemon Balm. I chopped up a couple of tablespoons and added it just before ladling the jam into the jars. I worried that the bits of green would turn black but it melted into the jam leaving a light herbal essence and no other evidence.

I was on an herbal roll so the next batch had tiny perfect pungent purple lavender flowers. I wanted the jam to have an almost imperceptible scent as a jam-laden scone reached the eater’s mouth. I wanted the experience to be relaxing and nostalgic and heady…but not to taste like lavender. Using a light touch I sprinkled a few flowers in the cooling jam…no scent…I added a few more…then more and then more and finally I stripped a couple lavender wands and dumped the whole bit. Success.

All this chemistry made me heady…my next experiment combined orange and strawberry. This combination has won two different taste tests so far. It’s J’s favorite and we’ve already eaten two of our four jars. The orange flavor was nearly as strong as the strawberries and tasted like orange marmalade without the bitterness that comes from all the orange peel. The color was a glorious bright red and glowed in its jar.

I’m married to a purist who’d be happiest with plain old strawberry jam.  So the next batch was unadulterated, all strawberry and nothin’ else jam just for R.

As I surveyed my work—16  jars lined up like proud tin soldiers, a warm, happy feeling came over me. I thought of my great grandparents, of warm summer days and thought that one day my children may smell the scent of fresh strawberries in the wind and will remember our day. strawberry jam 030

Strawberry Jam

Makes 4 half pints

I recommend Pomona’s Universal Pectin which uses calcium to activate the pectin allowing you to add as much or as little sugar as you want. You can even use honey.

Smash four cups of berries leaving some chunks. (You can smash them more when you cook the jam them if desired.)

Add 2 teaspoons calcium water (in the Pomona Pectic box) and stir well. In a separate bowl combine 1 ½ cups of sugar with 2 teaspoons of pectin. Mix well. Place your berry/calcium water combination on the stove and stir over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Add the sugar/pectin mixture in a steady stream. Don’t dump it in all at once as this seemed to make more foam. Continue stirring until your mixture comes to a boil. Continue stirring until you can feel it begin to thicken (about two minutes). Remove from heat.

For Strawberry Balsamic Jam: Add 1 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar. Stir well and ladle into jars.

For Strawberry Lemon Balm Jam: Add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh lemon balm. Stir well and ladle into jars.

For Strawberry Lavender Jam: Add approximately 30 lavender flowers (not the whole wand but the tiny flowers that make up a wand). Stir well and ladle into jars.

For Strawberry Orange Jam: Add 2 teaspoons Balsamic Vinegar and the zest from one orange. Stir well and ladle into jars.

Seal with canning lids and process in a water bath for ten minutes. To prevent separation periodically shake the jars as the jam cools.