Friday, December 16, 2011

'Homage to Catalunya'

Last week Best Beloved swept me out of my bucholic Paphos existence, down the motorway to Larnaca, aboard Ryanair's flight to Girona on the Costa Brava and into the Anba Deluxe B&B in central Barcelona. He did this despite my protests and churlish sulks (after nearly eithteen years together he has developed a leather hide, immune to my behavioural quirks and difficulties) and with the active connivance of Sophia who insisted that looking after the Littles for three days would not be a problem.

I admit: I didn't want to go. The thought of eight hours travelling for three nights and two days away put me off, and I hate driving and flying more with each passing year. Call it age or timidity, but both scare me to death. OK. Call me chicken.

He ignored my tantrums and booked anyway, assiduously researching wine shops and restaurants and sending me a booking form for a cooking workshop. Amid my grumblings last Thursday evening, he loaded me into the car, handed me the keys, and said “Let's go.”

I expected the drive to be a nightmare. It wasn't. I expected Ryanair to be shabby, late, and awful. It wasn't – packed to the gills, yes; charging for extras like the Light Brigade, yes; comfortable, no – but what airline is these days, except maybe, Emirates? We landed near midnight at Girona in a chilly mist and walked from the plane through a miasma of cow smells (I love walking from the plane like in the old days – it gives a whole new set of images about the country that you are entering – the plumeria smell mixed with rain and jet fuel in Honolulu, the dust in Israel, the pollution in Cairo, the goat scent that used to greet travellers in Larnaca before Cyprus got 'civilised' and acquired jetways), to the courtesy bus that took us to the airport hotel.

The next day we bussed into Barcelona and walked the couple of hundred metres to our accomodation. Leaving our bags we started our on foot exploration of the city centre, its plazas, its tapas bars and its shops. I had the Lumix with me, and BB was patient but I was far too excited to concentrate on photography. Wide avenues, narrow streets, trees, shops, vistas, squares, crowds. I was a boondocker, a sticks-dweller, in one of Europe's major cities, and I'm sure it showed. We lunched on tapas, and later stopped by Picasso's hang-out, the Four Cats – but couldn't get a table for coffee. A heavenly dinner came with a Michelin star – the tasting menu at Sauc – where I tried sea snails and learned that even Michelin-starred chefs cannot make cauliflower palatable. The dessert (chocolate brownie) came embellished with gold leaf. We staggered back to Anba, replete.

Saturday was dedicated to wine shopping and cooking class. BB found his wine shop and made his purchases, and we killed an hour or so in a quiet cafe before heading to class at Espai Boisa, a relatively new concept run by Venezuelan Claudia and her Catalan husband Pep which strives to make available – to visitors and residents alike – fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients and the instruction and space to turn them into wonderful meals. Together with California web-designer Joe, and Ohio lawyers Jill and Jeff, we made lunch of a sparkling gazpacho, a Catalan tortilla with eggs, onions, and potatoes, a salad of marinated peppers and eggplants, a paella with elements of surf (clams, mussels, and shrimps) and turf (traditional Catalan pork sausage), and a typical flan. We also consumed several bottles of local cava and wine, and listened to Venezuelan chef Alejandra expound on everything from the importance of organic agriculture and ingredients, to the state of her home country, to the evening's match between Madrid Real and Barcelona. Sparkling, vivacious, well-informed, and with graceful technique, she guided us through the meal and sat with us while we ate before leaving on her motorcycle to 'teach a cooking class'.

Any of my loyal readers planning a trip to Barcelona? I cannot recommend Espai Boisa enough. Not only do they teach cooking workshops, they also do catering and food and wine appreciation evenings with a range of different cuisines. Multilingual, young, passionate about what they do, Claudia, Pep, and Alejandra are a real asset to the cultural life of the city.

The walk back to Anba took us about an hour, and after a short rest, we plunged again into the heaving streets. I had seen some shoes that I wanted, and I wanted to take BB to the artisan cheese and sausage stalls that I had discovered the evening before. We crisscrossed the old city for hours, sometimes in narrow lanes, sometimes jostling along the Rambla with Christmas revellers and football fans. At sometime around eleven – early for Barcelona – we returned to the B&B and tucked ourselves into bed.

The next morning, there wasn't time for much. A leisurely breakfast, the packing of our small bags, a walk through the winter sunshine to the park near the bus station where we sat and read until it was time to return to the airport. A winding down.

We didn't do the touristy things – the almost obligatory visit to the Sagrada Familia Cathedral or any of the museums or parks – there simply was not enough time to savour them. But now I know what to visit if – when – we go back: Gaudi's work is too crazy to miss..

The plane left on time and arrived in Larnaca early, BB drove us home, and I returned to my peaceful existence as a housewife and mother in rural Cyprus. Blessings on two friends who took the Littles Saturday night and Sunday, blessings on my Big Ones for looking after everything in our absence, and blessings on Best Beloved for ignoring my bad behaviour and taking me anyway.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sophia and the Thai Cookbook

A few Saturdays ago Sophia, sitting at the kitchen table drinking morning tea, gestured at the cookbook shelf saying: “Mum, please put that Thai cookbook away. It reminds me of the lovely food that we had at the Chilli Pad in England last month...” And I said: “Well, why don't you have a look through it and see if there's anything you'd fancy making?”

“Is it that easy?” she asked. “Can we get the stuff here?” Sophia has never displayed culinary tendencies – or even interests – before, although left with detailed instructions, she has been known to produce a roast chicken in my absence.

Mili had given me the book, Stylish Thai in Minutes, several Christmases ago, and although I had flipped through it drooling slightly, I had never used it.

She took it down from the shelf and quickly established that we had 'the stuff' for Barbequed Prawns on Lemongrass, “If,” she continued “I can use a griddle and don't have to light the foukou.”

“Yes,” I said. “That is indeed possible.”

So we had prawns on lemongrass skewers (“I am never harvesting lemongrass again!” she harumphed, emerging from our clump with cuts to face and hands from the razor-edged blades) for brunch that day. A few days later, the boys being at school and Best Beloved at work, she produced fried meatballs with a tasty blend of fish sauce, coriander, onion and garlic in addition to minced beef (“These are just Thai keftedes!”) for our midmorning snack. And now that I have found Spring Roll wrappers, I'm sure we are on our way to something else.

“I'm not quite ready to start on the main courses yet,” she said. That's ok, Sophia. We're all enjoying the appetisers...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Gallery: My Kitchen

This week, the Gallery's prompt is 'My Kitchen'.  Please follow the link to see how other Gallery members interpreted the theme.



My friend Cleo came over one morning for some baking. She and her four children and me and my two younger ones made plain rolls, olive rolls, and some wonderful cheesy pull-aparts with a filling loosely based on the recipe from Greek-Canadian food blogger Peter Minakis – but incorporating some of my mother-in-law's jewel-like cherry tomatoes.

I love the hands-on aspect of breadmaking, the texture and feel of kneading, the smell of rising dough. For kneading technique, we freely adopted our own take from Martin Bertinet's Dough, which incorporates a lot of banging of dough onto the table.

It is one of my favourite kitchen memories, and I'm glad that I had my trusty little Lumix on hand to record it.  

Cleo and her family are leaving to return to the UK on Monday, and we will miss them.