At some point on the bus ride home from Granada last week, it occurred to me that this bunch of Presquitos that I hang out with all the time because they’re there have somehow turned into a group of friends. I’m not sure when it happened, I’m not sure how it happened, and I still haven’t gotten any closer to knowing what marks the magic moment that differentiates friendship from mere acquaintance, but something changed, and now I feel that we’re friends. A month ago I knew that I liked these people, and wanted to be friends with them, but I don’t make friends quickly, and was worried that no matter how hard I worked at it, the special whatever wouldn’t really manage to kick in before it was time to leave. But it has. And you know what? Having friends is AWESOME.
Last night I hosted a party. It was not a large party, but it was more people than I am accustomed to fitting into my dorm room at Smith on a regular basis, and there was food, so I’m going to consider it a party. (I think that this magic number is four, counting me. One person in my room is a friend over, two people in my room are two friends over, and three guests is a party. Especially if there’s food.) And the food in question was pumpkin pie. Okay, orange squash pie. Close enough. After making the apple pie, I knew that I wanted to make a pumpkin pie, too. Or sweet potato, or whatever. There aren’t many pumpkins here (although people did find some for Halloween), but I knew there was orange squash because Pepi has made me squash soup a couple of times (she calls it sopa de verduras. I generally translate verduras as greens, because that’s usually what it is, but I occasionally run into problems; things like orange squash soup is not green. But I deal). I also saw sweet potatoes or yams (does anyone actually know what the difference is? Because I sure don’t) at one of the produce stores yesterday, so I know that they have those, too, but Pepi had already bought the squash.
I’m not entirely sure how this party came about. Pepi and I have been planning the pumpkin pie thing for a few weeks, and at some point I mentioned to Vanessa that I had made apple pie, and she exclaimed that I knew how to make pie! She wanted to know how to make pie!, so I told her that she was welcome to come over and watch with the pumpkin pie, but that pie-making here is not quite like pie-making in all the luxuries of one’s home kitchen. And then somehow Kelly got incorporated into this adventure; I don’t know how. And I asked Pepi if she would mind if people came over because pumpkin pie es una cosa muy propia nuestra, que estamos acustombradas a comer durante el otoño, and she said of course, of course, she loves having people over, and I only wanted to invite two?, that was so few! And then Kona wandered over at some point when Kelly and Vanessa and I were discussing logistics and became incorporated into the plans as well. You’ve seen pictures of Kona and Vanessa recently, and I think that there were a few pictures of Kelly a while ago (not many – she says that she always looks bad in pictures and has decided to be an active agent in looking bad in pictures, rather than just standing there and letting it happen to her, so many pictures with Kelly in them involve everyone else standing there smiling, and Kelly draped sideways over someone making terrible faces . . . I generally follow her wishes and don’t take pictures of her. At least, I don’t take pictures of her when she’s aware of it).
So after the cooking class last night (we made paella (which was not very good and thoroughly disappointing; Pepi makes it much better and I should get her to show me sometime), and gazpacho (have I mentioned that gazpacho here is different from gazpacho at home? It’s mostly blended tomatoes, olive oil, and salt (lots of salt), and is a drink. I like gazpacho at home better), and a fruit salad which looked AMAZING as we were making it, but would have tasted more amazing if we hadn’t ladled liquor over it in one of the final steps, and an alcoholic beverage whose name I’m too lazy to look for made from chamomile wine (yes, I know, but I’m pretty sure that manzanilla is chamomile) and seven up, which wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, but still wasn’t actually good), Kelly and Vanessa followed me back to the piso, and Kona showed up a while later with the brown sugar (for the extra pie dough and brown sugar and cinnamon yummies. Brown sugar is different here; I think that instead of being white sugar with molasses added, it’s cane sugar with molasses added, or something like that).
We had a grand old time. There was, of course, the usual interestingness of cooking in a Spanish kitchen (we discovered that a double recipe of pie dough is Way Too Much – if I make pie again I’m going to try one-and-a-half; and there wasn’t quite enough squash so we added some apples (we cooked them with the squash so that they were mushy; we didn’t have apple slices floating in the pie), only we didn’t remove enough milk from the recipe, so we wound up adding more flour to the pie after it had been cooking for close to an hour and still showed no inclination to solidify, and every time we needed an extra bowl, or a dish to cook the extra filling in, or a dish to cook the extra dough in (since we doubled both recipes we had extra of both, but Pepi doesn’t have an appropriately sized dish to make mini-pie, so we had to bake them separately)), but it turned out to be quite a success. The flavor could have been a little stronger, and the dough could have been a little thinner (I was aware of this as I was rolling it out, but there was way too much dough and I didn’t have any more space on my little square of counter to make it thinner), but it was really good. And I found cloves as well as cinnamon, which made me happy (I also found nutmeg, but it was whole nutmeg. ALSO, Pepi has three variably full containers of ground cloves. And two half-empty containers of whole cloves. I was pretty impressed). And when we dumped the cinnamon and the cloves into the batter, the amazing smell of cinnamon and cloves and Thanksgiving and mulled cider and Christmas and cold winter nights in front of a hot fire wafted through the kitchen, and we decided that cinnamon and cloves is holiday spirit in a jar.
And while we spilled a little of the pie getting it into the oven (Have I mentioned Pepi’s oven rack? It’s like a dish, with solid bottom and two-inch sides, and you can’t pull it more than halfway out because it will fall out; we all determined that we missed proper oven racks, especially since we were using this giant round dish with vertical sides and no proper handles, rather than an actual pie plate which had a bit to hold on), no one got burnt or cut, and nothing exploded (Kona claims that she makes things explode in the kitchen, but she showed up after we had put the pie in and there were no explosions that we were aware of). And we had a good time, and the pie was yummy.
We were just finishing up our pieces of pie when Pepi got home (she worked the late shift last night), so we gave her some pie, and she was thrilled, and hung out and talked with us for a while before heading off to do some reading before bed. We had a good time, both before she arrived and after she came, and I arranged that Kelly can stay with Pepi over January before the program starts with only a minimum of obviously leading comments (Kelly had been telling us earlier about how she wants to come back early in January, and how her host family will be on vacation so she can’t work something out with them, and I mentioned that she could maybe work something out with Pepi and she didn’t seem averse to the idea, so when a plausible conversational opening came up, I mentioned to Pepi that Kelly needed somewhere to stay in January, and as soon as we had established that the next semester’s students aren’t showing up until February, Pepi was offering Kelly the spare room and of course they can work something out . . . (Have I mentioned how wonderfully hospitable Pepi is? She loves having people around.)), and then we babbled long into la madrugada after Pepi went to bed. And Kelly, Vanessa, and Kona all told me how marvelous Pepi is, and how they’d only known her for half an hour and they were in love with her already, and generally confirmed the suspicion that I’d already had that I Have Landed On My Feet And No Mistake.
And did I mention that Pepi has invited all three of them to lunch someday next week for paella? (Since we mentioned that the paella at the cooking class wasn’t very good, and then it came out that Kona has yet to try paella in Spain . . .)
So yes. I have now been responsible for people not getting home until 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning, which I’m sure most if not all of you will find rather shocking. Spain is certainly an experience.
Spanish pumpkin pie (warning: this is not a pie-dish-sized recipe. What I’m giving you is one and a half of the dough recipe and twice the filling. I think that I can mostly convert it back to English measurements, though.)
3 c. four
large pinch salt
7 T. water
3/4 c. oil
Mix everything together and put the dough in the fridge to chill. Now would be a good time to preheat the oven to 350F.
1 c. sugar
2 c. winter squash
1 c. milk
1/2 T. flour
lots of cinnamon
nutmeg or ginger, if you have it.
– Cut the apples into quarters and core them (you may also want to peel them at this time; they need to be peeled eventually and I don’t know if it’s easier before or after they’re cooked) and wash the squash, hack it into reasonable-sized chunks, and put both in a pan to boil. Fish the apples out and drain them when they get squishy.
– Meanwhile, beat eggs and mix eggs and everything else in a largish bowl. When the squash is tender, drain it and remove the skin. Mush squash and apples with a fork; if it looks wet, dump it in a sieve for a few minutes to remove excess water. Mix the squash/apple with the other filling stuff.
– Roll out the dough. This is probably easier with waxed paper in addition to flour, but I have yet to see waxed paper in Spain.
Put the dough in the pan, and trim and crimp (do pretty things to) the edges of the dough. Stir the filling again and pour it in the dough and put the pie in the oven, with something underneath in case it spills (it shouldn’t make extra liquid, but it’s kind of sloshy).
– Cook for 50 minutes or until it gets firm. If you’re having serious solidification issues, it’s okay to sprinkle on a bit more flour and stir it in.
– Extra dough can be cooked with cinnamon and sugar (preferably brown sugar) on top. Extra filling can be cooked in extra dough, or just by itself in a dish.
– Enjoy. It’s good with milk. It’s even good with funny Spanish milk.
This is more of a delicate-flavor pumpkin pie than a hearty pumpkin pie.
Spanish Gazpacho, which we learned to make yesterday.
Dump in blender:
a pound of bread, medium chunks, no crust
three pounds of tomatoes, washed and with the stems taken off
half a cup of olive oil
two cloves garlic
a pound of cucumbers (I’m fairly certain that there was not any cucumber in our gazpacho yesterday)
half an onion
half a green pepper, washed, no seeds
a liter and a half of water
several large dashes of vinegar
Turn the blender on. Keep it on until everything is liquefied.
Serve over ice.
The Spanish always put WAY too much salt in this, to my mind. I suggest starting with a little and taste-testing.
I’m not going to give you the paella recipe, because it wasn’t very good.
From three weeks ago, or whenever the last cooking class was:
This is a dish that’s very Andalusian, and specifically very Córdobesan. Again, I think that it’s good when you don’t add way too much salt, as the Spanish are fond of doing. It’s a little heavy on the olive oil, too.
Put in a blender:
two pounds of bread, medium chunks, no crust
a glass full of olive oil (less! less! If you use this much there’s oil floating on the top, which I find kind of gross. A quarter cup is probably plenty)
a pound and a half of very ripe tomatoes (washed, stems removed, and with any actually moldy bits cut off).
a few cloves of garlic
some splashes of vinegar,
salt (again, start small)
Blend until smooth.
Garnish with small chunks of hard boiled eggs and/or ham
Or just dip bread in it and eat it that way.
Pippirana (yay salad not based on iceberg lettuce!)
Wash and chop into little pieces:
a large cucumber
a green pepper
a medium onion
some cloves of garlic
Let chill, serve with garnish of hard boiled eggs if desired.
Pepi made this one time with shrimp and lemon juice, as well, and it was absolutely wonderful.
Naranjas mosárabes (wanna-be Arab oranges)
Take as many oranges as you have people, and peel them with a knife (slice off the ends, then set the cut edge on the table and slice off the peel around the edges). Slice them like lines of latitude. Spread them out all pretty on a place, pour some nice quality honey over them, and top with almonds.
I would give you the recipe for Sangría As Modified By Miriam To Make It Actually Taste Good, but that would just be to chop up lots of fruit and dump it into cranberry juice. And I haven’t actually tried it yet, anyway.
I’ve had a request for Pepi’s Yummy Eggplant And Tuna Fish, which I will post when I get around to asking her for the recipe.
On other food things, I’m getting tired of a preponderance of fried food, I miss fresh green things. It was Vanessa’s birthday on Tuesday, and we went out to a Chinese buffet. I realized how bad the Missing Fresh Green Food was when I noticed how excited I was by the salad that was basically green peppers, cheese, corn, and maybe something else with vinegar on it. I don’t even like large chunks of fresh green pepper terribly much, but I was thrilled by the salad.
I’m appreciating the Smith salad bars a lot more now that salad twice a day is no longer an option in my life (we do usually manage salad three times a week, but after some months here, I’ve noticed that Pepi’s salads, which distinct from those I am accustomed to, all share much of a muchness with each other, and I miss gourmet salad with fancy greens (it is not, however, so bad that I miss that kind of spicy lettuce that I don’t like, the one that’s almost always in nice salad mixes. What’s it called again, Tonje?)).
Pepi frequently talks about how healthily we eat here. “Con nada de grasa,” with absolutely no fat, is a phrase that I hear at least once every week or two. And they do eat healthily in that everything is fried in olive oil rather than lard, and olive oil is supposed to be good for you, but the fact remains that sauté here means “in a centimeter of oil.”
Just the other week, Pepi was commenting on how much clearer my face is, and praising the wonders of the Spanish diet, specifically the food in her house. I suppose that it is clearer than when I arrived; at that point it was recovering from being hauled across an ocean and dragged all over Spain and being fed all kinds of ridiculous food and dealing with all kinds of soap, and the skin of my face does not like traveling. But I can’t help but notice how much worse it is than when I’m at home. And I think that I’ve put on weight here, because my black jacket-y shirt doesn’t fit as nicely as it used to. And oh, how I miss vegetables. Even when Pepi cooks things with vegetables, she doesn’t use as many as I would. It’s not second nature here to add as much onion as you do meat. Onion is something that you go out and buy.
Perhaps the Spanish diet is better than what most Americans eat, even though it’s loaded with oil and salt. But I’m sorry, it’s not my mother’s cooking. They’re always surprised, when I cook a non-desert dish, at how many vegetables I use, or how I can make this dish with just fresh stuff, and only a dash of oil!
I do like the paella, though.