Fiesta de San Juan

So first and foremost, I have been having problems connecting to the internet this past weekend.  It’s been extra-frustrating because I wanted to share my San Juan experience with you all!  (I also need to post updates of my weekend in Malaga.)

 

The fiesta de San Juan is celebrated in many Spanish-speaking areas and countries, but in Galicia the traditions are especially important.  The holiday is linked to the summer solstice.  Bonfires symbolize a “cleansing” for the people who see them – meaning they are starting the year off anew.  And it’s not just branches that you’ll see burning; you’ll find students eager to burn their textbooks in the bonfire.  I’m sure that after passing their exams, they’d also like to start off new!

 

In Galicia, at midnight on the 24th day of June, massive bonfires are lit on the beach.  Additionally, it is very traditional to eat sardines for dinner and to drink queimada (a mixture of orujo, fruit, and sugar that is burned – but as you burn it you have to recite some wiccan chant).

 

Melinda and I headed to Playa America to celebrate San Juan.  There were so many people!  The evening was definitely geared towards the younger crowd, with lots of boardwalk games and prizes to keep everyone entertained before heading to the actual beach.  Although I didn’t see any queimada prepared on the beach, there were lots of mojitos and caiprhinas to be had.

 

The bonfires themselves were quite a sight to behold.  The flames were at least 10 feet tall and throwing off A LOT of heat.  (Which was good – the beach gets quite chilly at sundown.)  Kids on the beach were making mini-bonfires of their own.  Apparently, jumping over the bonfire means that you will have good luck in the coming year.  I didn’t do any jumping, so I hope this does not put a damper on any luck I may or may not have…

 

I was unable to camp out on the beach overnight (many people just sleep in tents), due to an exam the next morning.  Bummer, I know.  But at least I finally experienced one of Galicia’s most important festivals.

 

The fires will burn all night.

A Day in the Life…

What a busy week it has been!  I’ve just completed my first week of classes; it’s mentally exhausting to sit in class for 4+ hours every day, trying to absorb as much information as possible.  Most of the time, I need an afternoon nap to feel refreshed enough to tackle the assignments and review my notes.  It’s really important that I do not fall behind though – on August 19, the Cervantes Institute administers an exam for a certificate in Spanish (DELE) that is globally recognized.  If I want to study at IE in Madrid for a semester, I need to pass this exam!

 

In the midst of all of the studying, I’ve been able to go on a few small excursions in Vigo and Gondomar.  The pictures below were taken at the Count of Gondomar’s mansion.  The mansion was constructed in the 16th century; the park and surroundings have the feel of an old horror movie (especially since we visited at dusk).  It’s a shame that the buildings have not been maintained over the years; I believe that the property could make for a great museum.

Oriana knows of the best places to find churros in Vigo.

 

 

Speaking of hiking through parks, I’m convinced that walking around Galicia is better for you than a P90X workout.  All I do is walk up hills with a minimum of a 30 degree grade (or so it seems).  At least I can be one of those parents that will tell their kids, “When I was your age, I walked uphill to class, 6 kilometers under the beating hot sun…”

 

Ah yes, and I’ve been eating very well.  Jose, the father of the host family, is an outstanding cook.  We’ve made a deal that he will teach me a few of his specialties (apparently top-secret) if I do the cooking one day.  No pressure or anything!

I’m here!

The past few days have been really hectic, but I’m getting settled in.  After struggling with a major bout of jetlag, I decided to be adventurous and try my hand at the public transportation system here in Gondomar.

 

New York it is not, but there are buses that run each hour and take passengers to nearby destinations such as Nigrán, Vigo, and Baiona.  My host family thought it would be a good idea to familiarize myself with Nigrán and A Ramallosa.  

 

I am much more relaxed now that I have arrived.  After months of spreading myself very thin from MBA applications, work, alumni council things, and a whole laundry list of other activities (which I do enjoy!), it was mentally refreshing (and a bit odd, to be honest) to focus on a single task completely (e.g., reading a story in the newspaper and understanding it) and give it 100%.  Let’s hope this illusion of relaxation is not fleeting because tomorrow I head to the university in order to understand the bus routes and locations of various buildings along campus.  I have no problem sleeping because I am barraged with so much information!

 

 

 

Hasta pronto!

I am at the airport; ready to board my flight.  I’ve been a bundle of nerves the past few days, but I feel much calmer now that I’m here and on my way.

 

I’m really looking forward to this summer.  In addition to taking courses in Vigo, I plan to take trips to the south of Spain and possibly Madrid to do a bit of networking.

 

Although Spain was “neutral” during World War II (and I put neutral in quotes), it should be interesting to be in Europe for D-Day.  As a history buff, I’m always curious to see how other cultures honor important dates in history.

 

Alright, it is time to shut the laptop down and be on my way.  I’ll be posting next from Vigo and sharing my stories with you all summer long!

Restaurant Review: Caliu

How cool would it be if there was an algorithm to find people who have common restaurant preferences?  It would be a slightly less creepy version of OK Cupid!  Barack Obama and I would practically be best friends and apparently I’d be pretty tight with Lady Gaga, too.  She’s been sighted eating at Caliu, but not on the particular evening that I was dining.

Jamon Serrano was the perfect start…

Thankfully, we were spared having to listen to songs about boys, partying, and disco sticks and were pleasantly surprised to hear Radiohead, Pulp, and The Cure.  Not only did the musical selections deviate from the norm for a tapas restaurant, but the overall experience was quite different from Franco Barrio’s other restaurant, Boqueria*.

 

Our table agreed than sangria was the beverage of the evening.  Although I’m not typically a fan of sangria, this was actually very good and not too sweet.  The Spanish wine selection, although small, is also of excellent quality.

3-4 tapas are recommended per person.  The portions are TINY, so if you’re hungry you may want to order more.  Our table shared the following:

Jamon serrano – A good way to start dinner.  We were each able to enjoy a slice or two.

Pan con Tomate

Pan con tomate – Very nicely prepared.  The bread was crispy and toasty and the tomato, olive oil, and salt balance on top was perfect.

Tortilla Espanola

Tortilla espanola – Also well-prepared, the egg and potato were very moist and fluffy.  Was this worth $10 for two slices though?  The jury is still out on that one.

Bunelos de Calabaza

Squash bunelos – These are excellent!  Sweet butternut squash and a maple yogurt for dipping made these almost feel like dessert.

Calamares en Tinta Negra

Calamares en tinta negra – We were all looking forward to the squid.  Unfortunately, the squid was a little bit rubbery and everything was extremely salty.

Scallops

Vieras de la playa – I felt robbed.  $10 for two small-to-medium sized, gritty scallops in a fairly salty sauce?  Ugh.

Paella

Paella – Everyone has their own method of making paella and the ingredients they include.  Caliu’s paella includes both chorizo and seafood.  The rice was well-cooked and seasoned, albeit a bit liquidy. The pan is very small, but it was the perfect size for each of us to have a taste.

The paella filled us up, so we shared churros for dessert.  There are also not many dessert options at Caliu; perhaps this is something to expand on.  Crispy and slightly chewy, these churros were definitely fresh and made even better with the thick hot chocolate for dipping.

The servers at Caliu are your pouty model types.  At times it felt a bit pretentious, so they’d probably be pretty tight with Lady Gaga (if the aforementioned algorithm means anything).

The menu at Caliu is not extensive, but many of the basics and traditional dishes are executed well.  The prices, however, are a bit expensive for what you receive.  It can be difficult to find well-executed traditional tapas in NYC, but Caliu has done a very good job.

Filloas: Spanish Sweets 101

Food is a quintessential part of any celebration, and Carnival is no exception.  Filloas are typically prepared in Galicia around Carnival, although when I was in A Coruna for a fiesta this past summer, there was a vendor making these delicious crepes on a hot stone. (This was actually my first time trying filloas!)  Just in time for Mardi Gras, I’ll give you the background story on filloas and share a recipe; the custard filling is an extra treat!

Filloas seem like a fancy name for crepes, right?  Filloas are made with flour and water, no butter.  Crepes are usually made on a flat hot plate, but in Galicia you will sometimes see a certain tool, called a parrumeira, which aids in filloas making.  (If Williams Sonoma ever starts selling these, let me know, but I won’t hold my breath.)  There are some areas of Galicia that actually maintain the Celtic tradition of using an actual heated stone, rather than an iron or plate, to make filloas.  If you’re like me, and not fortunate enough to have a hot plate or parrumeira at home, a skillet and good wrist technique will work just fine.

Filloas have quite the history; evidence of this treat goes back as far as the Roman Empire.  The Romans used flour, honey, milk, spices, and eggs, which are still some of the most common ingredients used today.  As the Romans conquered most of Europe, they took their food with them.  The Romans pushed tribes, such as the Celts, into smaller and smaller territories.  Some of the Celts eventually settled in Northern Spain and Portugal and incorporated their traditions (i.e., cooking on granite).

 

There are many iterations of filloas recipes floating around, but to make one of my favorites, you’ll need the following:

2 eggs

250 grams flour

1/2 liter milk (I find this makes the filloas tastier than using water)

Zest of lemon

1 tbsp sugar

A pinch of salt

The worst part after “partying” is the cleaning up…

Fill the filloas with the custard and then sprinkle with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

 

Have you had the opportunity to be overseas for Carnival?  If so, how was your experience?  Have you tried filloas or any other traditional Carnival/Mardi Gras food?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

 

 

Torrijas: Spanish Sweets 101

Torrijas are typically consumed in Spain around Carnival and Easter.  Many Americans are more familiar with torrijas in their breakfast manifestation, also known as “French toast.”  It appears that torrijas made their first documented debut in Spain in the 1400s and the dish was touted as being suitable for women recovering from labor.  (Can’t make this up.)  In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was very popular to serve torrijas with a glass of wine in taverns in Madrid.

 

There are many variants on torrijas recipes and I will share one that I have tried with you below.  (I am preemptively getting ready for Carnival, as it is arriving pretty late this year.  Oh, and I had a bit too much fun this past weekend.)

Time to eat!

If dairy isn’t your thing, don’t worry.  You can also substitute the milk with a sweet white wine (muscat usually works pretty well).

What do you think of this “hangover cure?”  Are you like me and think that torrijas and churros will help the next morning?  What miscellaneous junk food do you find yourself craving after a rough weekend?

Cava: Spanish Wine 101

Cava.  Don’t call it champagne.  Champagne refers to the region of France where sparkling wine is produced.  Therefore, it is more accurate to say that Cava is sparkling wine made in the traditional French method.  In the same way that the use of the namesake “champagne” is restricted to a particular region of France, “cava” is restricted to production in the Catalonia, Castile y Leon, Valencia, Extremadura, Navarra, Rioja, and Basque regions.  A four-pointed star is printed on the base of the cork of a true cava wine.  (Be on the lookout for it next time you’re shopping for wine!)

 

Cava originated in the 1800s at the Codorníu Winery, located in the Catalonia region of Spain.  At that time, red wine vines were destroyed by a parasite and replaced with white-grape producing vines. Josep Raventos is attributed with creating cava, after observing the success of the French Champagne region and wanting to do something similar.

95% of cava produced is from Catalonia.  The town of Sant Sadurní is home to some of the largest producers of cava in Catalonia.  Annual production is in the 18 million case range (where a case contains 12 bottles).  In 2010, sales of cava increased 10%, primarily due to the price point being much more affordable than French and California sparkling wine counterparts.

 

The primary grape varieties include Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo.  Macabeo provides the sweetness and aroma that is so characteristic of cava.  Parallada gives cava its “fresh,” crisp taste, and Xarel·lo provides body.

But how does the wine get its bubbles?  After the bottle is filled with blended wine, a mixture of yeast and sugar, called liquor de tirajo, is added.  A temporary stopper is added to the bottle and the bottles are stored in a cool cellar.  The yeast causes fermentation to take place.  I’ll spare you the high-school chemistry details of what the fermentation process looks like, but yeast will convert sugar to carbon dioxide.  In fact, cava undergoes a second fermentation while in the cellar and lasts for 9 months.  Throughout the 9 months, the bottles are stored horizontally and rotated by hand.  Rotating the bottles allows the yeast to collect at the neck of the bottle, allowing for easy removal once the cava is ready (i.e., all of the unused yeast is at the neck of the bottle).

 

During that time period, the cava is also aged.  As I discussed in a previous post, there are various aging periods for wine; cava is no exception.  Joven is aged for 9 to 15 months, Reserva is aged for 15 to 30 months, and Gran Reserva is aged for over 30 months.


No two types of cava are alike; similar to champagne, taste and body will differ depending on the sugar content.  Therefore, cava is categorized by “grade.”

Brut Nature: Contains 0 – 3 grams of sugar per liter (no additional sugar is added).  Brut Nature and Extra Brut are the “driest” cava wines.

Extra Brut: Contains 0 – 6 grams per liter.

Brut: Contains 0 – 15 grams of sugar per liter.

Extra Dry: 12 -17 grams of sugar per liter.

Dry: 17 – 32 grams per liter.

Semi: 32 – 50 grams per liter.

Dulce: More than 50 grams of sugar per liter.

 

As for pairings: I’ve noticed that most people in the United States will drink cava with a meal, whereas when I spent time in Spain, cava is typically served after dinner and majority is consumed around Christmastime.  It is very normal to have turron with cava – in fact, for the Feast of Three Kings, children will traditionally present a bottle of cava and turron to the Three Kings. (Makes me which I could be one of the kings and drink lots of cava!)

Aside from turron, I like to pair cava with fatty or fried foods, due to its mild acidity.  Croquetas, salmon, and goat cheese (Garrotxa is my favorite!) pair very nicely with a dry cava, as do spicy foods.  Interestingly enough, the heat of the spice will not amplify the heat from the alcohol.

Pimientos de Padron

Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non.” 

(Rough translation: Some Padrón peppers will “bite,” others will not.)

 

As someone who considers herself to be a pretty big risk taker, it’s only obvious that I’d be taking risks while eating as well.  “These green peppers look pretty harmless,” you may think.  But think again – consuming pimientos de padron is like a game of roulette.  Some are mild, sweet peppers, while others will have you gasping and wishing for a glass of milk.  (Full disclosure: Been there, done that.)  What makes consuming these peppers all the more fun is that there is no way of distinguishing a spicy pepper from a mild counterpart.

 

Padrón peppers are a type of chile, belonging to the same family as serrano and jalapeno peppers.  The peppers made their way to Spain when Franciscan monks from Herbón brought seeds back from the New World in the 1700s.  In Spain, there is even a festival in Herbón, located in Padrón, Galicia (not far from Santiago), dedicated to these peppers.

 

Padrón peppers are in season from May through September.  It is said that those peppers harvested later in the season have a higher probability of being hot due to increased exposure to the sun.  (Hmm, sounds a potential topic for a graduate school thesis if you ask me!)  Traditionally, the last day the peppers can be sold is on November 11, Saint Martin’s Day.  Spain seems to have a regulation for everything and peppers are no exception: all padrón peppers must be clearly labeled with their geographic origin. 

 

 

 

I have searched high and low for true padron pepper seeds, in order to cultivate my own crop and (literally) entertain my friends.  Because I had no luck finding suitable peppers here in the United States, I may have decided to “pull a Franciscan monk.”  I’ve started out with just a few plants this year, to assess the “heat” of these peppers.  If all goes well, I’ll plant a few more, so if you need peppers, shoot me a note.

So what do you do with these peppers?  Other than find some really hot ones to feed to your nemesis?

Pimientos de padrón are quite possibly one of the easiest tapas to prepare.  All you need are the peppers, olive oil (2 cups is more than enough for 1 pound of peppers), and coarse sea salt.

Rinse the peppers in cold water, but DO NOT cut off the stems.  You’ll need them to help you eat the peppers.  Yes, you eat these with your hands.

Pour the olive oil into a pan on medium heat.  When the oil gets hot, put the peppers in the pan and fry for 2-3 minutes.

Drain the excess oil by using a paper towel and sprinkle the peppers with sea salt.

Padrón peppers are served warm and it might be a good idea to have some broa bread (which I will discuss in an upcoming post) around in case you get a fireball.

 

Have you tried pimientos de padrón?  Is half the fun seeing who gets a hot one?

Caldo Gallego: Spanish Cuisine 101

My immune system is failing me.  AND I’m pressed for time.  AND I have zero appetite.  So when I’m feeling under the weather and need to keep my strength, what better cure than an easy-to-prepare, hearty soup?  Most recently, I fixed up some Caldo Gallego.

 

Caldo Gallego is a typical soup of Galicia.  There really is no wrong way to prepare the soup; each person has their own artistic liberty with the components.  Ingredients that are consistent from variant to variant are turnip greens (or kale) and potatoes.  Some people add lard to the broth to give the soup some flavor, but I live the lie of trying to be healthy and use chorizo to flavor the broth.  (You can also use ham.)  Another variant; I like to add fabada beans in order to get protein.

Eating and powernapping – sounds like the perfect cure.

Have you had caldo gallego before?  If so, what are your favorite ingredients to include?  Even if you haven’t had caldo gallego before, isn’t soup a great cold weather food?  Leave me a comment and let me know (techniques to fight a cold are also welcome!).