Tapas on Mount Hood

Yesterday, Catherine I and returned from three luxurious nights with friends at a cabin in the foothills north of Mount Hood. I hope to remember and repeat the way we cooked: We all brought food, so there was plenty. We mostly didn’t coordinate, we just ensured we got our own needs met. It was an open kitchen, so everyone was welcome to graze whenever. Those of us who like to cook, cooked when we felt like it. Those of us who hate cooking did dishes. Some of us brought booze, some brought mixers. With regards to the kitchen, each of us got to feel like we were on vacation.

I planned a Spanish night, with several different tapas courses leading up to a main dish, a sarten. The word is Spanish for “frying pan”, so the word is similar to saying “casserole”; both dishes are named for the dish they’re cooked in. In this case, I planned a dish of garlic, seafood, and black pepper swimming in a sea of olive oil, seasoned at the end by wild peas with a fresh nutty flavor that our new friend Kate had harvested nearby.

I started off making a Béchamel sauce into which went a bunch of garlic and about 2 cups of prawns, cooked and finely diced, plus about a quarter cup of tomato paste and seasonings.

While the prawn sauce thickened, I started on mushrooms, to go with aioli on bread. A few days prior, while camping at Bagby Hotsprings, I had failed miserably at sautéed mushrooms by marinating them in far too much balsamic vinegar. They turned out unpalatably bitter, and no amount of salt or other ingredients we had on hand could rescue them. That dish went so badly that I consulted cookbooks after the fact to learn how I could have been so wrong (a true admission of humility for me, which for the record happens regularly).

It turns out my problem wasn’t too much balsamic, but incorporating it at all. Balsamic vinegar was a bad guess. Sherry was the key! We had packed an impressive bar up to the mountain, but it was stocked for making cocktails. When do you ever need sherry in a cocktail? We had none; dry vermouth intended for martinis worked in a pinch. The mushrooms came out as dark and delicious as I had wanted, with nothing in the way of their perfect mushroom-forward flavor.

I improvised aioli: We had brought Trader Joe’s mayonnaise, the best kind. To it I added a lot of garlic powder that had simmered in as small an amount of olive oil and lemon as I could manage to simmer anything in. I think this would have worked if I had cooled the garlic oil and then whipped it into the mayo. Anyhow, it was a mistake to add the mayo directly into the still-hot pan, as that didn’t result in an emulsion. The flavor was just right, though and it was easy to hide its consistency in the plating: I simply spooned the oily, lumpy, delicious mixture over bread before covering it over with mushrooms. This tapas plate was the first served, and it was a hit.

Before adding the prawns, I had thought to double the recipe, but I didn’t end up having enough prawns for that, so I made twice as much Béchamel sauce as needed and reserved half of it. I offered it up to Zack to use in his cooking if he liked, but he had a brilliant idea: croque monsieurs, which are essentially Béchamel baked over grilled cheese sandwiches. (God bless the French.)

It was perfect. It had to happen. I had purchased two baguettes, and was simply slicing pieces off as needed for each dish, as thick or thin as needed — so we had plenty of bread. We also weren’t lacking for cheese, so I didn’t skimp on that or on the butter to fry the cheese in. While heating the oven, I made bacon, which went right back in after cooking, in between the grilled cheese sliders and their Béchamel blankets. (So these ended up somewhere between croque monsieurs and croque madams, which are like the former but with a hat of sunny side egg atop ham.)

Using the vermouth earlier had reminded me that martinis exist, and I’m afraid one thing led to another and I forgot to mind the broiler. I ended up burning the bacon, but I’ll be damned if these weren’t melt-in-your-mouth perfect just the same. That was a bit of luck.

Something like an hour and a half in, I had served two dishes. This felt about right. I had warned my friends this would be a lazy, casual, gradual evening of gluttony. But it felt time for a bit more variety, and also something a bit lighter, so I sliced up another bowl of bread and served it with oil and vinegar for dipping, mainly to buy a bit of time. Simple bread and oil can be such a treat. After giving the prawn sauce a stir for the dozenth time, I prepared and served a caprése salad, which was simple, light, and delicious.

Then came deviled eggs, which I was quite proud. They were every bit as delicious as they are typically served, but took a fifth of the time to prepare and were quite unique: I quartered 4 hard boiled length-wise to form wedges, and plated them with the hardboiled yolk left intact, yolk-side-up in a starburst pattern. Over that I drizzled what was left of the aioli and sprinkled salt, dried parsley and chives, and paprika. I served this with in true Spanish tapas style: Several forks for sharing and eating directly off the plate. The reaction in the living room restored the blow that the bitter balsamic mushrooms had recently done to my ego.

Into the skillet went as much spinach as I could get to stay in, with a quarter cup of water and several tablespoons of white vinegar. When it had cooked down I filled the skillet again with more, again as much would fit. A few minutes later I added an entire package of Neufchatel (cream cheese, essentially), half a lemon, and several tablespoons of Penzeys’ Tandoori curry seasoning to taste. About 5 cloves of garlic ended up not being enough to make a difference, so I’ll know to triple that next time. I also forgot to add the ghee, which I believe is what made this such a success the first time I’d experimented with it a week before.

While the spinach cooked, I served some salami and mozzarella on a plate, to keep up the rhythm. By the time I brought out the spinach, I was met by protestations: Was I was trying to kill my friends? No one could find any more room in their stomach, so sadly it was time to stop cooking.

I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more with having so much to do in the kitchen and delighting my diners with such a rich meal. And at the same time, it was healthy: We all ended up eating less since the slow pace and small portions of tapas force you to eat small amounts so that by the time the third and fourth dishes are coming out, you already feel full.

I’ll be cooking tapas more often. How I do miss you, Spain, and how grateful I am to be able to enjoy your cuisine!

What about the prawn sauce, you ask? It spent the night in the refrigerator, and the next day I formed it into small lumps breaded in panko, dipped in egg, and breaded a second time, before frying in a few centimeters of canola. These served for lunch. To my surprise, they needed salt — but otherwise you’re damn right I will be doing that again.

And that next day was Zach’s night to cook, so the sarten never got to be. Perhaps tonight… if only it weren’t 100 degrees in Portland today… maybe tomorrow, for a late breakfast with more bread and chilled white wine.

Our plans for June

Folks, we give you: Valencia.

Folks, we give you: Valencia.

Today we’re winding up our stay in Valencia. It’s bittersweet. We’ve been comfortable and productive here, gotten to know some old family friends better, and also made some new friends (MOTIAFP). We’ll be sorry to leave these folks.

On the other hand, we’ve exciting things to look forward to elsewhere this month. Our bags are packed. The place is clean. Tomorrow, we board a train for Barcelona.

Steve and Catherine on the Mediterranean shore of Denia.

Steve and Catherine on the Mediterranean shore of Denia.

We’ll have a few days there to work like crazy before we take a week of vacation with our good friends Scott and Emily. They’re flying out from the Portland to party with us for a week. It would be difficult to overstate how thrilled we are that they’re making the trip.

On Saturday, FC Barcelona plays Juventus for the European football championship title. The game will be played in Berlin, but I expect the atmosphere in Barcelona will be unforgettable. ¡Vamos Barca!

We’ll just have Sunday (the 7th) and Monday in Barcelona with Scott and Emily. I’m determined to spend as much time inside Sagrada Família as they’ll let me get away with. My parents’ photos of Gaudí’s otherworldly cathedral were the biggest reason I wanted to visit Spain. I’m excited to see it for myself.

The four of us will be in Palma de Mallorca the 9th through the 13th. I know we’ll have fun; it will be interesting to see how much of it we remember later without photos. 😉

The Barcelona apartment we've rented.

The Barcelona apartment we’ve rented.

Then, as Scott and Emily return to real life (sorry, friends!) Catherine and I will continue on to Sevilla, in Andalucia, the southernmost region of Spain. We’ll be there through the end of the month. We’ll enjoy the heat. We’ll attend WordCamp Europe. I’m also hoping for a few weekend sorties to Cordoba — famous for cave homes, which are exactly what they sound like — and Granada — home to the Alhambra, a close second to Sagrada Família on my “must do” list.

Our new friend Mattheus also wants us to checkout Granada’s Muslim tea houses called térrías (sp?) and to experience first hand the origin of tapas: Small plates of food to cover your glass so the insects can’t get to your cerveza. Order a drink, get it with food. Sounds just fine.

We’ll keep you updated as these adventures unfold — although for the next few days, we have a few Valencia round-up posts in store.

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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Week of Panos Day 7: Valencia’s Central Market

Pick your language: In Valenciano you’ll say “Mercat Central”. In Castillian/Spanish, “Mercado Central”. In English it’s “Central Market”. Either of the first two will work in a taxi, and probably so will the third.

180 degrees (or so) of Valencia's Central Market. Click image for a larger version

180 degrees (or so) of Valencia’s Central Market.
Click image for a larger version.

There are supermarkets and produce shops on every other block in Valencia, and few smaller open public markets on the periphery of the old city. Despite all of the choices, the historic Central Market remains relevant as the place with the freshest, greatest quantity, and best quality food.

The number of booths, the variety of food, the size of the building, and its architecture are all impressive. My favorite is the architecture.

This rotunda. Click image for larger version.

This rotunda.
Click image for larger version.

This roof.

This roof.
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This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

Inside the Monastery of Valldigna
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Week of Panos Day 5: Inside the Monastery of Valldigna

A few days ago I posted photos from our trip to the Monastery of Valldigna, about an hour south of Valencia. Here are a few more shots from that day.

Inside the Monastery of Valldigna

Looking towards the entrance towers.
Click image for a larger version.

A Courtyard inside the Convento de Valldigna.

A Courtyard inside the Convento de Valldigna.
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Looking out at the valley of Valldigna from inside the Monastery

Looking out at the valley of Valldigna from inside the Monastery. It’s a sea of orange groves leading to the Mediterranean. What looks like a stone column near the center is the edge of an old wall (recently restored) that extends out for several meters.
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This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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Week of Panos Day 4: Plaza of the Virgen

Today’s panorama: Plaça del Virgen, a beautiful open space of stone in the Northeast quadrant of Ciutat Vella, about a 30 minute walk from our house. We’ve relaxed here on several weekend afternoons.

Valencia's beautiful Plaça del Virgen. Click image for a larger version.

Valencia’s beautiful Plaça del Virgen.
Click image for a larger version.

The Plaça del Virgen panorama from left to right

Wherein I tease you with topics for future posts.

  • At extreme left, difficult to see, a Valenbisi station, part of a shared city bike network system. More on that in a future post (MOTIAFP).
  • Apartment buildings where we’ve observed residents hanging tapestries from their balconies to match the theme of decorations in the plaza during festivals. MOTIAFP.
  • A beautiful bronze fountain in the foreground, which we mistook for Bacchus. MOTIAFP.
  • La Basílica Virgen de los Desamparados — The Basilica of the Virgen of the Homeless. MOTIAFP.
  • La Catedral Metropolitana — The City Cathedral. MOTIAFP.
  • The headquarters of Valencia’s organization of seven irrigation districts. Believe it or not, MOTIAFP.
  • Umbrellas shading restaurant tables. Dozens more extend behind the camera — there are more just outside the left of the frame. We’ve spent hours seated here, enjoying this view, people watching, eating paella, drinking espressos, agua con gás (sparkling water), and pitchers of Agua de Valencia (MOTIAFP).

BONUS Panorama!

Here’s the view from 20 meters further back, including all those tables.

Restaurant tables at Plaça del Virgen

Ustedes quieren cervezas? Entran!
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This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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Week of Panos Day 3: Valencia’s Old City

My panoramas are all just like COMING AT YOU. We’re saving some of the better ones for later, so bear with me.

Here’s Valencia, the city we call home this month. I took this on May 8th, I thought around midday, but the camera reports that it was at 5:36pm.

Valencia's Old City

Valencia’s Old City
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The back side of Torres de Serrano

The back side of Torres de Serrano, viewed from inside the historic Christian wall.

I took this panorama from atop the left turret of Torres de Serrano, pictured here. Torres de Serrano is one of two surviving gate complexes from the late medieval Christian era. They’re named for their view of a serrated mountain range visible to the north on a clear day. I stuck my camera out of a crenel for the panorama; the walls visible at the sides are the parapet.

In medieval times the Ciutat Veilla (“old city” in Valenciano) was walled to keep out invaders — or to keep in tax payers, depending on whom you ask. The Romans, a free republic, the Visigoths, crusading Muslims, and crusading Christians all took turns ruling here — each with their own infighting princes.

Each group in power cannibalized and built on top of the roads and structures left by groups they supplanted. The result today is a labyrinth of streets winding through buildings that incorporate Roman roads in their foundations, ancient city defenses in their structures, and in their walls, weathered marble plaques once blistering with political relevance.

If you blur your vision a bit while looking at a street map, you can make out rough concentric circles where these groups built ever-larger new walls in their times. The Christian wall is the latest, largest, and most distinct thanks to an unbroken ring of busy modern avenues. You can see this on Google Maps bounded by the serpentine river park on the Northwest and Northeast, Carrer de Guillem de Castro on the Southwest, and Carrer de Colón on the Southeast.

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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Week of Panos Day 2: The Epic from Funchal

Today’s panorama is a kind of mirror image of yesterday’s: Viewing the Norwegian Epic cruise ship in port from a park in Funchal.

The Norwegian Epic in port at Funchal, Madeira

The Norwegian Epic (the huge one on the right) in port at Funchal, Madeira on April 27th.
Click image for a larger version.

The epic is massive. We spend 11 days aboard with more than four thousand other people, 9 of those days in a non-stop straight shot across the Atlantic, but we never once felt claustrophobic or crowded. Nor were we eager for the trip to end.

Objects in the photo are larger than they appear, so to give you more appreciation for its shear size, the Epic is 329 meters long, and it’s about half a kilometer away from my vantage point here.

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.