Sardinade à Hendaye, France

24 07 2011

” — hold on, let me check. Hey, do you want to go eat sardines in France tonight?”

Do I.

Summer means sardines in just-across-the-French-border Hendaye. It’s still Basque Country, but Frenchified; architecture sprouts Parisian flourishes, pastisseries seem infinitely more exotically attractive than their pasteleria counterparts, and syllables suddenly begin to slide languidly through nostrils.

Even I end up busting out French 101 remnants: “Bonjour, catre, merci!” Only one selection on the menu, and we want four of them.

Ten chargrilled sardines, freshly fished from the ocean just beyond the above-pictured Bay of Chingoudy. These are oversize puppies, designed to be nibbled by hand in the style of an ear of corn, delicately nursing each shred of fish flesh from out the spine. Everyone ends up eating a few dainty bones; follow them with a swig of Rioja and it doesn’t matter. The cheese is local, nutty and rich, and the Basque pastry at the end is pure butter.

And it’s sunset on the coast of France. Le sigh.

Mientras Tanto

19 11 2010

The brilliant gleam of the new in Madrid has worn thin: the seductive beckon of unremarkable routine can offer too attractive a monotony to brush off like it ain’t no thang. Yet the medley of thangs continues, relentlessly, to occur, whether or not it falls subject to meticulous blogging.

The conversation of how to intermingle working with minors in a government-funded position with the Rights of the Blogger has come up several times, always concluding on a similar note: best to avoid it. I attribute part of my pause in daily wordiness to that phenomenon; this enormous part of my experience here has got to be treated as a bit of a delicate taboo. It isn’t that there’s anything specific I’m omitting – very few students ever get thrown in the Chokey, at least at José Luis Sampedro – but the weight of what I necessarily represent given my unique position can loom, heavy and ominous, when I consider regaling my clamoring international readers with sordid tales of what those sweet little beasties did this time, goddammit.

The other day, I noticed with alarm the extreme frequency with which I was talking about my job while not actually working, and made a pact with myself to immediately staunch that particular river. It grows more obvious with each day: teaching English is a means for me. That’s not what my Fulbright Personal Statement would have you believe, but let’s be straight up here (Straight BlogTalk with Torkington: Like It Ain’t No Thang). With each day, I’m allowing those myriad ingrained traditional understandings of What I Ought To Be Accomplishing With My Life to wither, and doing my damnedest to concentrate all my love and energy on unfurling leafy tendrils into self-development. I am a writer, I am a photographer, I am a chef, I am a linguist – but, more importantly, I am happy, day-to-day and long-term, in a way that makes sense for me specifically.

How ’bout THAT for stinky cheese, dear readers?

It’s okay to be a bit jealous. Let’s go out for cañas and we’ll talk about it.

Vespa Fantasies/Cilantro Realizations

19 09 2010

I’m going to guess it traces back to that alluring orange beauty emblematic of imminent success on Piso Day: Em and I have been fantasizing about Vespas.

Lucky us, there is a certified Vespa Store about 10 minutes’ walk from our place. We seek it out and inquire into possibilities.

A new bike runs roughly 2000€; we’re thinking a used one could be found somewhere in Madrid at an even more dangerously affordable price.

Shopkeep José is very helpful, fueling our enthusiasm and offering further information. He recommends we visit the US Embassy to iron out the legal details; we make a note of it as a possible Monday plan.

With no further schedule for the daylight hours, Em and I engage in our most dedicated wanderings to date. Armed with vague aims of “gold heels” and “Mexican ingredients,” we head first to Plaza Angel on a vague recollection of a Latino market.

Paydirt! Black beans are quite the uncommon find in Madrid. I snap up two cans, making a wish known to the universe that I’d like to consume one of them for lunch.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this market very highly – not too much else appealed (although I am glad to know of another location for coconut milk). We recall Fausto mentioning the barrio Cuatro Caminos as being home to many Central/South American immigrants, so I call up Charleen in the belief that she lives nearby and make plans to meet at the metro.

While on the surprisingly lengthy metro journey to Cuatro Caminos, Em and I unfold my rapidly deteriorating map to note that Charleen lives nowhere near the area whatsoever, and that I have absolutely zero idea how such a thought got planted in my skull. Ah well, it’s a wandering day for everyone!

Upon our exit from the metro, sugar-encrusted roasted peanuts from a nearby stall smell far too enticing not to devour. We contentedly munch while productively awaiting Charleen’s arrival by browsing a Carrefour, hoping for shelving and instead encountering a perfect yellow robe, plus tortillas and a baguette for later eats.

Just outside the Carrefour is another entrance to the Cuatro Caminos metro station, and something draws me in for a closer look. It’s common in these areas to to see black market vendors of pirated DVDs, knockoff sunglasses, and arrays of very likely pilfered goods, none of which I’m interested in purchasing – but this man has my number.

“Emily. Emily. Look. I think he has cilantro.”
Cilantro.” [runs, not walks, up to shady seller clutching bunches of green] “Es cilantro??”
“Si. Un euro.” [begins packing massive amount into plastic bag]
“Uhh – no necesito tanto -”
“Un euro.”
“Uh. Vale.”

Yesssssss. My only regret is not snapping a quick frame of the sketchy cilantro huckster. There’s no question I’ll be back…

Charleen shows her pretty face and we begin exploring in earnest.

A foray into an Ecuadorian bakery – which are ubiquitous here, by the way – reveals a Jamaican cornmeal flour that Charleen’s been dreaming about, plus various other goodies. No real vanilla, however; Taste of America may have a run on the market.

Lunch plans come together as though divinely mandated; it is blindingly obvious that the tortillas, black beans, and cilantro in our hot little hands were meant to be together as one. A frutería near Charleen’s piso in Principe Pío provides tomatoes, onions, and garlic; a carnicería offers “queso para sandwich” by the slice. Charleen’s kitchen gets a full workout, and we devour the results, unanimously agreeing that the cilantro is the crowning focal point in the mess of burrito glee.

A full kitchen is a happy kitchen.

Challah At Me Boy

17 09 2010

It’s the kind of day when your energy is such that there is no option but to bake.

Lightly sweet and eggy challah bread is what comes immediately to mind. I’ve never made it before, but it can’t be all that tricky. The braiding looks fun.

One major sticking point is that we lack an oven. No matter, we’ll need to involve nearby friends as baking buddies.

I know yeast is “levadura,” but if you pick up a box of “levadura en polvo,” you will end up with a baking soda mixture of dubious origin. Acquiring this refrigerated fresh yeast means making a special Mercadona excursion while Em readies the rest of the ingredients. If you’ve never encountered fresh yeast before, do not fear – one of these lil puppies is equivalent to the packets Americans are more used to.

While the dough rises for the first time, Fausto makes good on his promise to take Emily out for her very first kebab. We are joined by Leah, Kate, and Sam. Top-notch conversation accompanies the delicious cheap eats in Lavapiés.

On the walk back home, I discover yet another manifestation of Madrid’s constant vigilance.

Our doughbaby is now enormous, and it has managed to fill the entire piso with the sweet fragrance of yeast. It’s time to punch it down, which Em does with fervor. The recipe doesn’t call for a second rise here, but we want a siestita and do it anyway.

Perhaps forty minutes later, the moment of transportation has arrived. Sam runs out to a tienda chino for baking implements in anticipation of our imminent arrival.

Leah snaps a photo of the two giris with dough on the metro. Em and I not only match each other, but also our doughbaby’s blanket. It’s slightly sickening.

In Sam’s gorgeous and spacious kitchen (…), we form three doughsnakes, which Em proceeds to braid beautifully. It cradles snugly into the glass breadpan Sam found in the chino.

I lovingly brush the top bits of the braid with an eggwash, ensuring a shiny golden coat once baked.

Here the recipe suggests a final rise of an hour. We tuck our baby into bed, then know exactly what to do with the time:


The enticing scent of honey wafts into our nostrils as soon as we open the door. Our baby has gotten nearly too big for its britches.

What a beautiful beast. Sam cranks the oven to 190°C, and we pop it in. It needs twenty minutes of direct heat, then an aluminum foil tent prevents the top from charring too much.

We play Uno impatiently. Tragically, Emily has to head out during this time to make it to her very first Spanish class somewhere in the center – I promise her a challah feast upon returning to the piso later tonight.

After a series of unfortunate losses on my part, the time feels ripe.

Our breadchild could not be more beautiful. The product of a drizzly day’s work of slow efforts brings smiles all around, and even draws one of Sam’s housemates out of her room to investigate.

The honey and extra yolks in the dough give this dense bread a richness that pairs most sweetly with the semi-cured sheep’s milk cheese we brought over, and we also sample it with strawberry jam, honey, and a nutella-esque chocolate spread of Sam’s. A very well-dressed Kate comes over from a day at the museum and munches with us as well.

Recipe and abridged post here.

La Noche en Blanco – fotopost

12 09 2010