Tuesday, November 16, 2010

HAPPY PLUCKING!

Got a call from a friend who said our mutual friend Joan (pronounced joo-un) had a gift for me. I headed to Joan's restaurant and was presented with two freshly shot partridges. After much cheffy banter about how best to cook the beasts I headed off home to pluck.
They were about 5 days old so beginning to wiff slightly which is the desired condition. I plucked conscientiously into a plastic bag to stop my flat looking like I'd had a pillow-fight with 6 teenagers and then dispached the now-familiar looking creatures into a pan on my trusty two-ring kitchenette stovetop.
I braised the birds which effectively gave me a meaty soupçstew which was damn good.
Thanks Joan.


CONGRATS TO CASTELLERS FOR WORLD HERITAGE STATUS!!!!!!!!

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

BEACH WALK AND NEW STATUE DISCOVERY

Went for a walk with friends of friends from UK and took them to a new sculpture I discovered on the rocks outside someone;s house. Here are the pics. Like I have said before.......beats Weston on a wet Tuesday.



Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Em dic Anthony!


No, I'm not being rude or self critical. I've started Catalan lessons and that's how you say 'My name is Anthony'.
The local autonomous government here offers free naturalization language courses to beginners so I'm taking advantage.
Here are the fruits of my first lessons.

Com et dius? What;s your name
Em dic Anthony. My name is Anthony
Com es diu. What's his name.
D'on ets? Where are you from?
Jo sóc d'Anglaterra. I'm from England
De que fas? What do you do?
Faig professor d'anglès. I'm an English teacher
Quant temps fa que hi treballes? How long have you been doing that?
T'agrada la teva feina? Do you like your work?

Any students of Italian French or Castellano can see the connections. Can't wait to build a bit of fluency.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

FESTIVAL SURREALISM





Images from the recent festivals here. Double click to enlarge. And....yes.....the second pic is a naked breasted dragon bird spouting fireworks from her mouth.!!!

Human Castles.....a unique obsession.




The thing I love about the crazy and unique activity of competitive Human Castle Building is the passion and emotion it triggers in the crowds that watch.
I cannot expalin it. I guess you need to be here but I think it has something to do with the incredible combination of strength and courage but above all trust in your team.
It;s very competitive and we stumbled across the local Colla de Joves (youth team) practicising as they do twice a week all year.
Here are a few images


Saturday, October 9, 2010

YEAR 2. I'm back!

Haven't posted for ages, but I'm back now. Many things have happened. I have moved to a lovely studio flat in the Old Town. It's awash with medieval charm and atmosphere. And I'm alone! I love it!
I don't miss the old place. Flat sharing had run it's course. Although I will look back on the madness with a wry smile;
The alcoholic, manic-depressive Romanian girl who never gave up trying to tempt me into bed. Her tactics ranged from straight forward flattery, spontaneous hugs and enforced hand-holding, to drunken confessions of passion and finally the direct-marketing approach of knocking on my bedroom door at 3am dressed in a negligé and smelling of Vermouth.
Then there was the bizarre Brazilian football agent who always greeted me by bellowing in a cod American accent :
'Hey maaaan, Antony Quinn! How u doin?'
This was the sum total of his English.
He was permanently on the verge of making it big......but in the mean time kept asking me if I could pay his rent for the next month.
He also had a huge penchant for eating other peoples food.
"We're a family" he said. "What's mine is yours."
The trouble was I wasn't that partial to out-of-date yoghurt and stale toast biscuits. He, however was very partial to most things.
One day I baked 4 peppers stuffed with tuna and basil and left them in the oven to cool. When I came back several hours later looking forward to dinner there was half of one left. He came out of his room, slapped me on the back and said;
'Damn! Those peppers were good! I could smell them from my room but it took me ages to find them. You're a good cook Antony Quiiiiinn!'
However he had an achiles heel. I discovered by chance he hated spicy food, and as I like it my problem was solved. It was chilli with everything. I kid you not....I even made chilli-chocolate muffins just to foil his pilfering.
Attached are a few pics of my new flat. My balcony has the red towel outside .

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blanes and the rugged Costa Brava



Was kindly invited for the weekend to Blanes, North of Barcelona. It was stunning......as you can see.

More great municipal Art


I just love Spain's initiative to utilize it's creative talents so abundantly.
This was in Sitges again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

LOCAL WINE TASTING







There;s always something going on here. Something to lift a boring week. We had a Tapas festival the other week whereby 20 or 30 restaurants put on special tapas selections with a glass of wine. These were cheaply prices to encourage people to cruise from one to another. I;m not sure if the council subsubized it. This weekend saw a local wine fair which coincided with some very summery weather. It was a tented affair on the main Rambla. 5 Euros bought you vouchers for 5 glasses (150ml) of wine. There were also local food artisans selling hams, cheeses and Fideua ( a kind of paella made with short noodles). There was also music and a kind of horse and trap parade too. All in all a very pleasant Sunday afternoon. Such a simple idea. video

Here's a picture of a proper fideua from our summer staff party.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pastisset, another sweet beauty.

To add to the array of pastry products there is the pastisset. This is originally from the Aragon region and specifically Teruel, but has become a part of the gastronomic culture of Tarragona and many other places in the region. Its a pasty-shaped product filled with that curious but delicious sweet preserve made from a certain type of squash, the flesh of which, when candied by simmering in sugar or honey syrup, shreds into strands, hence the name capell d'angel or "angels hair" . Anis and cinnamon are the common flavours and the dough is made with either olive oil or pork fat. Sometimes sweet moscatel wine is used to moistent the filling or the dough, and is often served alongside the pastisset as a 'chupito' (shot of liquor). Another variation is to make a sweet filling from sweet potato. Both are baked and dredged in sugar. I often have one for breakfast with a coffee.....hence the need for gym membership!

Monday, April 26, 2010

COCA.....NOT WHAT YOU'RE THINKING!!!!

Catalunya loves the Coca. They claim it pre-dated the Pizza. We will never know. But what I do know is that the town markets and shops are awash with a vast array of items named Coca. But they all seem to be radically different. Basically Coca refers to a wide variety of pastry products, both sweet and savory. Some clearly bear a strong resemblance to the Pizza, others to pies and others to brioche or other sweet nut-crusted breads.Officially there are 4 types, Covered coca (like a pie or pasty) Open....like a pizza or a sweet French "bande", Holey....like a doughnut in shape but much larger (includes the roscon de reyes, see separate post). Look in the labels section on the right margin of the blog for roscon) and "plain or naked....in other words un-garnished.

I haven't tried them all but here are some I saw in a local market and the savoury ones were amazing.








the pizza link is obvious...i'm talking real pizza, not high street pizza.








sweet and nutty with puff pastry






covered/enclosed or pasty-like





plain/nude and sweet

Saturday, April 17, 2010

MENU del DÍA

The Spanish revere lunch. It really is the oasis in the dessert of their day.
And what days. Long days. Hot days.
The history of being a largely agricultural nation meant many people worked the land. The climate that later brought the double-edged sword of tourism, burned a division into the day of the worker. Way too hot to do anything between 1pm and 5pm. So this became pleasure and rest time. The main meal of the day, the gathering of the family and a lengthy rest became a way of life.....and still is. I read that when Spain started to change and become an industrialized nation people were sucked from the land to the growing cities and life changed. People travelled to work which made it impractical/expensive to go home for lunch....even if you are allowed 4 hours. So the government made a law. Every restaurant was obliged to provide an affordable lunch so that people could maintain their tradition without having to go all the way home. And so was born the incredible value Menu del Día.
It is without doubt the best value meal available in Spain. Always 3 courses, often including wine, bread and water....sometmes coffee too.At time of writing the average price is between 8-12 euros. And this is also where the nation;s cooking traditions shine. No-fuss home cooking at it;s best. Don;t expect culinary gymnastics, garnishes, a smile or even conversation. But there is integrity cooked into every dish. A stoic, solid pride baked into each unsmiling cazuela that is banged down in front of you. Blue cigarette smoke still permeates these places, the best of which are packed every day by 3pm. Don;t make the tourist mistake of seeing restaurants empty at 1:30pm and assuming the are bad. Check back at 3pm and revise your opinion!
I still can;t make lunch my main meal. It just doesn;t work for me. I have tried but I can;t eat that much in the day...and I hate sleeping in the day too. And I STILL get caught out trying to do my shopping in the lunch "hour" "al estilo inglés" when everything is closed!!!
Some recent Menu del Día dishes.....

Huevos a la Riojana. Eggs baked in a spicy tomato sauce made with red wine and garnished with two slices of chorizo and some foaming garlic and parsley butter. Delicious, but piping hot which was frustrating. The eggs werent soft which would have been nicer. (Ive had hard boiled egg curry in India to which I would say the same) This, by the way was a starter!

Main course. Classic Catalan cooking. Duck with pears. Slow cooked, (almost confit) Duck (legs obviously) with lightly sautéd pears was a delight. Sticky, rich and falling apart, with just the pan juices as a sauce. Delicious....but don;t expect me to go back to work for at least 12 hours!
Catalan cooking often features meat and cooked fruit, or meat and shellfish togehter (mar y muntanya)(sea and mountain)

Another dish I had illustrates an important lesson to be learned in the appreciation of Catalan cooking. DO NOT JUDGE BY APPEARANCE! Paul Richardson refers to this in his book "A Late Dinner" . Banish any notions of modern food aesthetics. Understand that these dishes are born from a tough survival ethic and cannot countenence any pandering to vanity. In short, don;t be put off by ugly food. This dish looked pretty grim, but tasted wonderful. Broadbeans slowly cooked with morcilla (blood sausage) butiffara (another type of cooked sausage), and pork belly. A fore runner of real baked beans I suppose. The slow cooking had long since rendered any colour out of the beans but created a gravy that was truely wonderful. I have avoided this dish many times due to it's appearance (often in cold tapas counters) but have been thoroughly converted. This was also a starter!

PRETTY SITGES





The seaside resort of Sitges is the Catalan equivalent of Brighton. Once a simple fishing village, it became a magnate for avant garde artists ever since Santiago Rousiñol took up residnce in the late 19C. The 1960's saw this reputation develop further as intellectuals and free thinkers sought to escape the oppression of the Franco dictatorship. It became a residence and holiday destination of choice for affluent Spainards, many of whom had made money in the Americas and concequently comissioned impressive mansions in the Modernist and Noucentista styles which today give the town so much of its charm. It;s about as nice as any tourist-dominated town can be. double click on any image to enlarge.




Tuesday, April 13, 2010

PAELLA SATURDAY


I was invited by friends of my flat-mate to a Saturday paella birthday cook off. It was the same people who kindly invited me to their Calçotada (see previous post).
The format was triumphantly the same; Rustic old farmhouse with no electricity ( and I;m sure no planning permission).Killer views. A great crowd of bubbly people. Some twigs for a fire. A long table. that;s it.
It was fantastic. we didn;t have the sunny weather of the calçotada, but we still had a great time. Such a simple way to have a great birthday celebration.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

BETTER THAN BRISTOL-TO-WESTON ON A WET, GREY SUNDAY.

Took the train to Barcelona last weekend and thought I'd film some of the journey to give you all a flavour of how pleasant a trip it is. Apart from the inescapable grafiti-stewn railway sidnings, and the poor quality from my hand held phone camera and a dusty train window I hope you'll get some appreciation of how lovely a trip it is. It's not all perfect. Some of the towns bear witness to random urban planning and there are a couple of campsites along the way which people say are very nice, but which tend to spoil the 'dessert island vibe'. However the coastline is thankfully devoid big scale tourism. Sitges is possibley the most touristy town but it has managed to retain much or its charm and style. Generally the journey reveales cove after cove of rugged rock, pine trees and scrub, cradling turquoise waters and clean, sparsely populated beaches. Please forgive the video quality, it's pretty bad but hey-ho!

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

DOOMED LOVE!


I have fallen in love.........with a building!
Saw this sorry and forgotten building many months ago and fell in love immediately in the same way you fall in love with a mongrel puppy just because it;s very imperfections make it perfect.
Did some research. It was built around 1910 and was a hotel. It holds an AMAZING location.....perched on a hill, with killer views of the sea on one side and the ancient walls of the Old Town on the other.
It has a wide pavement in front with a fountain and trees.
But it;s clearly in an advanced state of disrepair. The owner fell tired of running it as a hotel wanted to turn it into flats. The council refused permission so he boarded it up.
And the stale-mate continued for 35 years!
I went into dream-mode. It would make a stunning base for quality boutique tourism. None of that package tourism rubbish. I;m talking sophisticated, cultured people who want an insight into the past and present of a World Heritage City. The rich cultural of Tarragona would be there for the taking. You know what I mean.
Anyway whilst I was dreaming about how to find out more, I read in the press that the council had finally bought the property after years of wrangling and were going to demolish it to make a green space!
I must admit I felt quite ill when I read this. Not only are the council missing a quality-tourism-trick.....they are also foregoing the associated provision of jobs that would come with it.
Green spaces might be very 'right-on' and 'eco-whatever' .....but this town (country) needs economic stimulus and jobs.
Damn! I Wish I was Richard Branson sometimes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I'm taking the Hypocritic Oath (sic). Free expression is great, as long as I can control it!


a little bit of sepratism methinks.....
a litle bit of da-da ism methinks



"silence is the loudest shout"

A few pics of Graffiti/street decoration which I like. I still cannot find an answer to the question of whether graffiti is a good or bad thing. I love creativity but there are obviously more aspects to this argument. Until such a time as a definitive answer appears I will continue to enjoy what I find ..as long as it's not on my property...unless it's a BANKSY! arrrrggghh ....what a hypocrite I am!!!

isn't this a bit Chagal-ish?