Thursday, April 29, 2010

Salmon Feast

As a “thank you” for making us feel so welcome in Córdoba, I wanted to prepare an American dinner for our Córdoban friends.  Many have already experienced a Thanksgiving, so this time, I wanted to prepare an everyday meal.  At first, I had thought to make a pot roast as that goes straight back to my southern roots.  But finding a pot and oven large enough to accommodate a roast for 26 proved problematic, so I decided to focus on the Pacific Northwest and prepare a Salmon Pesto.   (I know, many of you will tell me that “pesto” is Italian and I do not dispute that fact.  But Scott and I have traveled over a good portion of Italy and I have never seen Salmon Pesto prepared anywhere other than at McCormick’s in Portland.   As you simply cannot get more “Northwest” than McCormick’s, I felt that this recipe fit my requirement.)

Of course, this is Spain and I did not realize the difficulty that I would have finding fresh basil in April.  It is spring after all.  But this year has been cold and rainy.  We have actually been experiencing weather closer to that of Portland.  There was no basil… anywhere.  I think that my Spanish friends have a good laugh when I go off on one of my food quests.  But after weeks of searching, I finally found some very small basil plants.  I bought 14, and proceeded to pamper them.  Luckily, basil grows very quickly.  The plants doubled in size in two weeks, even though it was quite grey and cloudy and after 3½ hours of plucking leaves late Saturday night (I do not recommend this method…) I am happy to announce that there was sufficient basil to make the pesto.  

Preparing this meal also underlined some basic differences in belief about food storage.  In America, we refrigerate many dairy products that are normally left out in Spain.  I am aware of this.  So when my friend stopped to pick up the food Saturday afternoon, I pointed out the creamed spinach, the cheeses, the homemade Ranch Dip packaged (and labeled “Ranch Dip”) in an old butter container and a few other items, and asked that she put them in her refrigerator.  Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication.   She refrigerated the spinach, but looked at the rest and decided that it was more important that we have cold beer.  Cheese will survive a night on the counter, but mayonnaise and yogurt (the main ingredients in Ranch Dressing) spoil.  It was an honest mistake, the Ranch Dressing was in a butter container.  Even though she speaks very good English she didn’t see my label.  Who refrigerates butter in Spain?  Luckily, I had brought most of the ingredients with me to make some fresh dressing and had had the foresight not to send my 3 dozen refrigerated eggs the day before.  Cultural differences are an adventure to navigate.

So the meal began with basic party hors d'oeuvres, Veges & Ranch Dip, and Potato Skins and some other favorites.  The Spanish reaction to the food was interesting.  They looked at the raw vegetables, taken aback and said:  “You eat the vegetables raw?”  I explained that the vegetables were meant to be eaten with the Ranch Dip.  I had prepared more than 2 cups of Ranch Dip (fresh that morning).  It was gone in less than 15 minutes.  Likewise, the Potato Skins disappeared.  When asked for the recipe, I explained that you start by baking the potatoes, which baffled my friends.  “You just put them in the oven… nothing else?”  It is always fun to share food.  

Needless to say, the meal was an enormous success and a good time was had by all.  This may actually have been the first Spanish event that we have attended without Iberian ham, goat cheese and olives. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Translation of an actual article from a newpaper in Andalucía:

A resident of the village of San Roque has solicited compensation for the death of a cow, while it fled the sexual harassment of a burro owned by the municipal government. The owner of the cow alleges that the donkey entered his property chasing his animal with dishonest intentions. The cow, trying to escape, fell down an embankment, and subsequently died.

The story began when the village of San Roque decided to acquire a burro for a live Nativity scene that is staged every year at Christmastime. The burro spends the rest of the year on a local farm, which borders on that of the owner of the deceased cow, who dedicates himself to the production of milk.

The farmer’s lawsuit states that it was the burro that entered his property sexually stalking the cow, while the Ayuntamiento (local government) considers that the cow provoked the donkey. Jose Lara, councilor for the Ayuntamiento of San Roque, explains his version of the deeds: “This is about a strong young burro, and of course, when the cow came out completely naked, with her udders exposed, the animal exceeded himself and attacked.” (Note: the word ‘tetas’ can be translated into English as ‘udders’ or ‘tits’, which may add to your enjoyment of the story)

Now it will be the legal services of the Ayuntamiento that will have to decide if it was sexual harassment on the part of the burro.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fuente Obejuna

Yesterday was the last hike I’ll do with Llega Como Puedas before returning to the USA. And what an excursion it was! I can’t recall a wetter, muddier, yuckier day. Sorry, there are no photos this time; it never stopped raining long enough for me to pull the camera out. It was a shame to finish the hiking season on such a sour note.

It’s been raining a lot during the last week, but they’ve generally been brief rainfalls with sun in between. The forecast was for more rain today, but I can deal with a brief rainfall. I made sure to pack my poncho and an umbrella and my polainas. I saw that other people had done some clever things with plastic bags, but I really think that if you have to go that far to keep your feet dry, maybe it’s better to just stay at home.

The bus left at 8:00 from our normal meeting point. There were a few drops of rain as I walked to the stop, the proverbial Cordoban “cuatro gotas” (four drops). It continued to rain as we drove into the sierra, through Peñarroya, and on into Fuente Obejuna. This pueblo is famous as the site of the play Fuenteovejuna by the famous Spanish playwright Lope de Vega, a contemporary of Shakespeare. It was based on events during the reign of the Reyes Católicos, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1476. The villagers of Fuenteovejuna (as it was called then) rose against the tyrannical Commander Guzmán and killed him. To avoid having the penalty fall on any one villager, the people would only confess to the royal inquisitors, “Fuenteovejuna did it.” They were all eventually pardoned by King Ferdinand. I’m told that the people of the pueblo put on a performance of the play every year.

It was still raining when we stopped for breakfast, and also when we went on to the starting point of the hike. We had seen the sun break through briefly along the way, so we were hopeful that it might clear up. It didn’t. I put on my poncho that I’d bought in Switzerland, the one with the cool white cross. For the first part of the hike, my feet stayed relatively dry. We got to the first stream, which was pretty high because of all the rain. We found a place to cross, and everyone made it across without getting their feet wet. All, that is, except for two that fell into the water, which was a good three feet deep at that point. We continued on to the Guadiato River, which was too deep to cross. My feet were getting fairly wet by this time. We struck out across the riverside meadows, which were filled with puddles concealed by the grass. By the time we got to the highway, my feet were squishing in my shoes.

I had thought that the bus was going to pick us up at the highway, but Paco the rutero said, “It’s only five or six more kilometers (3 to 3½ miles), and we’re past the worst part.” And it’s true that the remainder of the walk was along dirt roads. However, with the continuing rain, the roads were waterways. Some of the muddy areas were pretty slippery. I was being careful, because I wasn’t particularly interested in taking a fall and breaking another wrist. On the other hand, having your feet soaking wet gives you a certain freedom; I didn’t have to worry much about stepping in the water. I had snagged my poncho a few times, and the wind was beginning to shred it into tatters. By the time we got to the aldea (a village smaller than a pueblo) of La Coronada, I just wadded it up and threw it into a recycling bin.

The original plan had been to eat lunch in La Coronada and continue on for a couple more hours. With the water conditions, however, even the indefatigable Paco realized that it was time to call in the bus. I enjoyed a glass of fino (Córdoba’s signature white wine) and a shot of anise with lunch; that warmed me up nicely. You just don’t expect this sort of weather in Andalucía. A month ago, people were telling me that it was the wettest rainy season Andalucía had seen in forty years. By now, they’re saying it’s the wettest in sixty years. It’s a shame, because the landscape was really pretty, although it was a bit difficult to enjoy it under the circumstances. What a way to finish the hiking season!

Monday, April 5, 2010

South Italy

The clock is ticking down on the European adventure. For our last big trip before returning to the USA, we spent Semana Santa in Italy. Depending on how you count the border crossings, this was either the fifth, sixth, or seventh time we’ve been to Italy. On all the other trips, we’ve explored the northern part of the country, which is where most of the tour guides will send you. This time, we decided that we needed to explore the south. It doesn’t have the blockbuster attractions of the north (Firenze, Venezia, Leonardo paintings, and so on), but it has a lot of beautiful views. We didn’t get down to the toe of the boot, but we did make it to the arch. We had a wonderful time. Pictures are at:

It was another driving vacation…we’re far past the point of being nervous about driving in Europe. On the first day, we bombed straight south on a wide freeway that could have been anywhere in the USA (except for the toll booths). The views got prettier after we bypassed Napoli on the far side of Mt. Vesuvius, and began to head down to the coast.

Our first destination was Scalea, a beach town on the Tyrrhenian Sea. This is definitely not the Italy that most American tourists see; I think this is where Italians go on their beach vacations. In the north, you can count on finding people who speak English. Not in the south! The second day, we continued down the coast as far as the town of San Lucido. We ate lunch at a small restaurant which was probably as far out of tourist-land as we’ve ever been. Communication was a real adventure, but Spanish is close enough to Italian that we were able to get along. Scalea is a rather nondescript beach town, comparable to Cannon Beach or Seaside, but probably not as scenic. The beaches were nice, but it was chilly enough that we didn’t consider going into the water. There are advantages to traveling outside of the high season (lower prices, less people), as well as disadvantages (colder weather). The more ancient part of town was old, but really not terribly pretty. Parts of it were falling into rather unromantic ruin. It takes a little bit longer for “old” to turn into “historical.”

We headed north from Scalea along the coast, and had to make a rather long backtrack when we found the road closed before Sapri. If we were locals, we might have known how to bypass it, but our Italian wasn’t sufficient for asking directions. We finally made it onto the road to Salerno, although the road numbers didn’t match those on our map. As we’ve learned, in Europe you have to navigate by destinations, and not get too hung up on being on a specific road. You’ll get where you’re going… eventually.

Before we got to Salerno, we stopped for a few hours to visit Paestum, an ancient site with some of the finest Greek temples outside of Greece. Before the Roman Empire, the Phoenicians and Greeks created far-flung trade colonies throughout the Mediterranean Sea. The most famous Greek colony was Syracuse on the island of Sicily. Paestum was built around 600 B.C. as an outpost to trade with the Lucanian barbarians (at this time, Rome was still a small town under the rule of the Etruscans). It had a strong surrounding wall, and several beautiful temples. We can only speculate what the relations were with the Lucanians, but I have a picture of the elegant, cultured Greeks dealing with the fur-clad barbarians. The Lucanians conquered the city around 500 B.C., and tried to emulate the Greek style of living. This lasted until around 300 B.C., when the Lucanians were conquered by the Romans. The Romans kept the temples, but built one of their characteristically well-laid-out cities alongside. With the fall of the Empire, the site was abandoned due to encroaching swamps, and left to itself for the next thousand years. Today, the site is nearly as well preserved as Pompeii. For me, Paestum was the high point of the trip.

For the next few days, we were on the Amalfi coast for some of the most hair-raising driving I’ve done in Europe. And trust me, we’ve done some hair-raising drives over here. Thin, twisty roads with no center divider, hanging on the edge of the bluffs down to the ocean, with insane local drivers barreling around the hairpin turns. To drive this area right, you’d need to be James Bond driving a red Ferrari convertible, with the henchmen of Dr. No chasing you. The views are beautiful, but you can’t enjoy the view after you’ve had a heart attack.

Tonya timed things out so that we had an afternoon in Rome before flying out the next morning. Of all the cities we’ve visited in the last year and a half, I have to say that Rome is the most pleasant for random wandering. Every time you turn a corner, you see some new wonder. And we made it back to Córdoba in time for the last few processions of Semana Santa. All in all, a perfectly delightful week.