Fin de Semana Delicioso

A Gorgeous weekend in Valencia. Saturday was windless on the beach. Micro waves, no wind. And it was warm enough to be out and about until the mid afternoon without a jacket. And the water wasn’t too bad after you got used to it.

It’s nice to get back to normal. Or what feels like normal. A little Spain. a little bit of the US. It’s a good combo. Jeff always says if we want to meet people who like to do what we like to do, we need to get out and do it. So we did. And he’s right. It was a weekend of making new friends.

On Sunday afternoon, we joined a group that plays ‘Padel’ every week. We had never heard of this game but it’s big here. The court is like a half sized tennis court, with a plexi-glass back and a tennis net. The balls are like tennis balls only they don’t bounce as much. And the padels are small, and are filled with holes.

Padel Rackets

We had a great time learning something new – rules sort of like tennis and racket ball combined – and meeting a bunch of international people. I played alot of tennis when I lived in San Francisco. I’ve got a mean forehand (the rest of my game is rubbish). I wasn’t sure if it would show up for me after all these years. But it did.

Jeff is really good at Padel. He’s tall, with long arms. The perfect combination for racket sports. He plays a much more well rounded game than I do. We will definitely be back.

After that I walked up to an Indian Cooking class I signed up for and learned to make Emilie’s favorite – Chicken Tikka Masala. The class was great – the food even better. It was right up there with the best CTM I’ve ever had. We made both spicy and sweet. And the mix of people at the class was great. It was low key and filled with mostly other American’s I had never met. One of the participants teaches Thai cooking so I’ll be signing up for her classes too. I came home from my class and Jeff enjoyed the results for dinner, garnering his stamp of approval.

One other important find this weekend in the food department was goose eggs. Finding duck eggs has been impossible this winter, as they rarely lay when the nights are cold. So El Corte Ingles has had no duck eggs and the farm near by hasn’t had any in months. But at Consum in Benimachlet – this weekend they had goose eggs. Big beautiful goose eggs! I can eat a goose egg. They come in packs of 2 and they’re 8 euros.

That sounds like alot but they’re the size of 3 duck eggs and those are a euro a piece so this is just a bit more. This morning I got up and decided to treat myself to a omelet, complete with the herbs from my balcony garden and avocado, English cheddar, sour cream and salsa. Heaven.

So overall, the last 2 days have been fun filled, with new friends, and delicioso! Just how a weekend should be.

Fa La La La La…

Chopping nuts with my Great Grandmother’s nut chopper. Listening to the greats – Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra – singing the Christmas songs from my childhood about Santa, drummer boys, and SNOW!! Flour and powdered sugar everywhere, and cookies on every surface. It must be Christmas!

Mom’s recipes and GG’s nut chopper

Finding some of the ingredients have been a bit of a challenge. You can always tell how many recipes here might use certain things based on the size of the package. Finding powdered sugar at the local Mercadona was very difficult. Finally, I found it in these small bottles and the instructions show that it’s mostly just shaken on Santiago cake or the like. In the US, we buy powdered sugar by nothing smaller than a pound. Usually, I would buy it at Costco in 3 pound bags. When I took 3 pounds worth to the check out the woman actually stopped and looked at me before shaking her head and scanning the many small containers. She didn’t even bother trying to find out what it was for. I could almost hear her thinking ‘No wonder American’s are so fat.’

Powdered sugar in Spain. 

Here, powdered sugar comes in 300 gram containers. I have had to buy a food scale here to measure things. It’s a pretty common thing to use a food scale here. 

Baking the cookie recipes that have been made in my family for generations at Christmas is not optional. I’d be letting down the Field Family side if I attempted to get out of it. Jeff wouldn’t have cared, but I would know. So my traversing the length of Valencia, multiple times, for ingredients and supplies has been met with a ‘We need to go where now?’.

But he’s come along to carry the 10+ pounds of things I needed for the best cookies on the planet from the Taste of American store. As I said, I had already found my powdered sugar and then the guy at Taste of America just threw in 3 pounds of American powdered sugar for FREE. At that point I didn’t need it – now I have too much.

‘Why would he do that?’ I asked Jeff, who was schlepping it all home.

‘Are you kidding me?’ He said genuinely surprised, I was surprised. ‘You bought a carpet knife yesterday at El Chino and the guy gave you a free beer. It’s you. You get free stuff without asking.’

He’s right – I do. But I don’t need anymore powdered sugar- and we don’t need more random beers.

So I’m set. Now that I have all the ingredients I can bake the three mandatory cookies for the holiday season. Raspberry thumbprint cookies (Scottish shortbread with sesame seeds and jam), Russian tea cookies with pecans. And finally, the pis de resistance – the Chocolate Peanut Butter balls. People my Mom hasn’t really spoken to for decades – except a letter at Christmas time – know that staying in touch gets you chocolate peanut butter balls at Christmas.

Raspberry Thumbprint cookies – shortbread.

At our house, my Mom had an assembly line. My Dad is a perfectionist so he rolled and my Mom dipped them each in chocolate. We transferred and swapped out cookie sheets so they could keep going. Every surface in the kitchen and dining room would be covered in wax paper so that, night after night, they could do the balls and she could ship them all over the country before Christmas. 

Our kids ask for them every year and last week, my Mom shipped the balls out via FedEx. I can’t supply them to my family in the US from Spain, but will be sharing them with our neighbors and friends here. They don’t know what they’re in for. Eating them is like heaven. But making them with my kids was always the best. Ours were never as pretty as my parents but they tasted just as good. I don’t get to experience it with my kids anymore, but the smell of the ingredients coming together takes me back.

We’re heading out to spend the holidays with Emilie in Ireland. But, before we go, I’m glad I got to experience a little bit of tradition again this year. And to share it with our neighbors who have been so nice to us. Our coffee lady at El Horno on the corner. the people on our floor at home. Wonder what the guy at El Chino will do when I walk up to the counter and give him his box of cookies. It’s not a Cerveza Navidad, but after he eats these cookies, I’ll be getting a free 6 pack with my next purchase. I’m pretty sure about that.

Tonight, our house smells heavenly. It couldn’t feel more like home. It just goes to show you that the Christmas spirit isn’t in stuff we buy. Its in traditions, and family and friends. The most important ingredients of all.

Interactive Tapas

Last evening was all about Tapas! I”m not an expert on Spanish food and since we’re surrounded by tapas everywhere, it was time to get educated. Our friends, Nick and Tatiana, organized the evening for us all.  The chef at Ahuevos, Jose’ Simon, and his lovely wife hosted a night of ‘Interactive Tapas’. It was basically like a Tapas Nursery School for those that are Spanishly challenged and yet love yummy food.

wp-1532689909508.jpg

My friend, Pete and Ryan joined the group. They just moved here from Seattle a month ago, and they are also in the infancy stages of learning about everything Valencia has to offer and widening their circle of friends. This was a great opportunity to do both and we had alot of fun.

We started out learning to make Sangria. It’s a pretty simple recipe and was actually the signature drink at our wedding all those years ago. We made it in buckets for all our guests (but we served it in lovely glass wine jars). And I screwed up and instead of putting sugar in them, I grabbed a salt container and our first batches were so bad they’re legendary amongst our friends. My friend Curt laughs every time he tells that story.

Well, if I had used the recipe I learned last evening, I wouldn’t have had that problem because you make a simple syrup in advance and pour that into the mixture. It dissolves faster and helps to masurate the fruit quicker. And we were very pleased with our results. Ryan did all the chopping, Pete did all the selecting of ingredients. And Me? Well, I supervised from afar – or not at all and took some notes.

We also learned how to make seasoned olives of our own creation, and the different types of olives for eating. Jose’ is from Leon and likes a different type of spice than his wife, who is from Valencia. At our table, we liked a lot of the pink pepper, juniper berries, garlic, red pepper, bay leaf and cloves. Jose’ thoroughly approved of our choices. They were so good and like any good cooking class, we got to take some home so in two weeks I’ll let you know how they turned out.

Then it was on to the Aioli. I’ve made it before with just garlic, salt and olive oil. But I learned some new things last night. Jose’ uses an egg yoke in his (I couldn’t eat it) and he doesn’t use olive oil, but sunflower oil. He says that the olive oil in Aioli causes it to break. I did the mixing and the pounding of the garlic and then the egg separation. Even though I can’t eat them, I still know how to separate egg yokes and work a mortar and pestle, for goodness stake.

20180726_183653.jpg

Finally, we finished off the night with some horchata ice cream. I’ve been clear on my thoughts about horchata in the past, but this was different. It was wonderful! and with a little dark chocolate sauce it was heavenly. Everyone else got a slice of bread under theirs. It was made from day old bread that they soaked in booze and did some other stuff to, but I didn’t pay that much attention because I can’t eat the bread and I was took enamored of my new found love of horchata ice cream.

It was a fun night and we ended it with drinking from a ‘botijo’. It’s a jug that usually contains wine or water. Last night, the one they offered contained water. Pete braved drinking from it and was rewarded, like me, with water down the front. Ryan drank from it like a Spanish fisherman who has never drank from another vessel other than a botijo, in his entire life. He spilled not a drop.

After our tapas night we are looking forward to learning more Spanish cooking. Jose’ is organizing something out on the farm in Alboraya where they grow the food for their restaurant. I’m really looking forward to cooking food in the field where it’s grown. And Tati is looking to organize a trip back out to Manisis – think Fiesta de la Ceramica – where we can learn how to make a Botijo of our own and perhaps I can sign up for a ceramics course.

A great evening with good friend, old and new, good food and the promise of more to come. It doesn’t get better than that!

 

 

 

Got’em – With a Little Help from my Friends

Before posting on my blog about my allergies, I hadn’t really told anyone here. My friends in the US knew about it because they knew me when I was sick. But after I found out, I would try to not make a huge deal out of it. In restaurants I would order around them. I didn’t want to be ‘One of Those People’ who make a production out of placing an order with a waiter. I was sure people would think I was just pretentious, not actually afraid of what I might be eating. It meant I popped a lot of Benedryl in the ladies room and skipped the wine.

Fast forward – I did the same here when eating out. You kind of start to learn the places that are safe and the food – even though the menu is in Spanish – that works for you. It can be limiting and I know being a culinary pioneer isn’t in my future. But I’m resigned to it and just happy when I find wonderful food I can eat.

But then I posted about it and my new friends here came out of the wood work and mounted a full scale Duck Egg hunt.  Sort of like Easter Bunny angels. The results are impressive. Maria – you found me my first dozen at El Corte Ingles.  I brought them the link you sent me and while we heard the one phrase we hear a lot on a daily basis ‘No, Impossible’, we asked other people in the store and Voila! there they were, on a bottom shelve next to the empty spot for Ostrich eggs.

img_7287

And then my English friend, Trish found a store that sells only eggs in Russafa. They have duck eggs! Other people started messaging me too. Sightings around town and Google maps directions to shops where they had seen them.

And finally, the farm got back to me last night. They said they would sell me some duck eggs for a Euro an egg – what I expected to pay. But just this morning, they emailed me back. They had discussed it and decided since it was an allergy and not a preference, they would sell them to me for .50 cents. Now I even have a Duck Guy in Spain. Who could ask for more?

img_7288

So I am flush with duck eggs now. Thank you everyone who messaged, commented and WhatsApp’d me. I’m forever grateful. A little onions, garlic, olive oil and avocado, and I thought of you all and smiled when I enjoyed my first duck egg omelet in Spain. It wasn’t the prettiest one I’ve ever made but it tasted like the best one I’ve ever eaten. My life just got a lot better – with a little help from my friends. Namaste’.

The Search for the Duck Guy

More than 10 years ago I found out I couldn’t eat chicken eggs, amongst a few other things. Apparently I have developed some sort of allergy. I was born on a chicken ranch in southern California. My parents had 10,000 chickens in a big egg operation, before they packed it in and moved to Oregon. So it seems I was rejecting my roots somehow. My Dr. at the time, told me that he had found some of his patients could eat duck eggs instead, but that I would need to be very careful in testing out that potential. I love eggs, so I did, and I was fine.

Finding duck eggs on a regular basis, however, was a challenge. I went on an exhaustive search and finally found a farm in the mountains east of Seattle that was run by two ex-Microsofties who had decided to cash in their stock options, before the 2008 crash, and use their millions to purchase and mountainside, run a water fowl egg operation, and sell those rarest of shelled jewels to the poshest restaurants in Seattle. I didn’t get how software development translated into the dream of farming, but you see, apparently – as I have learned – the best sous chefs and pastry chefs in the finest culinary establishments in the world use duck eggs to make their creations creamy and fluffy, and their sauces rich. And they’ll pay a premium for the pleasure.

So I reached out to them, drove up their mountain on a scary road, and we had a chat. After hearing my story, they committed that they would keep back two dozen duck eggs for me each month, provided I told no one where I was getting them from. And I would drive out there and pick them up and pay through the nose for them. So yes, I had a secret duck egg dealer of my very own.

But, you see, ducks like warm weather and that means that while in the Summer and early fall, eggs will be plentiful – if you can locate a source. In the Winter and early Spring, not so much. So having a chicken egg allergy in WA State meant that sometimes, because my Microsoftie duck dealers were purists without heated pens or barns, that their feathered friends sometimes wouldn’t lay for weeks at a time. So no duck eggs for the girl at the short end of the stick during coat weather.

In Arizona, I found an Asian food market 30 miles away from our house and I would drive the 60 mile round trip to get a couple dozen, packing them in a cooler so keep them safe and cold for the drive home. I made that trip every month and I was thrilled because they always had eggs, so I never left there empty handed.

Now that we live in Valencia, it’s been over three months since I had a duck egg. I used to make an omelet with one egg each morning, adding a little water to stretch the egg and to fluff it up. I savored that omelet. It was part of my morning routine – for years. But I haven’t found duck eggs here. And I have tried.

Today I went back to the Mercat Central with Jeff. I have been there before searching for my eggs, but I always got there later in the day and the stalls for eggs were picked over. Today, we got there when they were opening up at 7 am. The Mercat Central is one of the largest ‘Open Air’ markets in Europe. Even though it’s covered in a stunning glass and tiled structure that is something to behold. It’s a listed building and is art unto itself. They carry everything a foodie might want. It’s actually an assault to the senses, with the fruit, fish, meats of every type, flowers and spices. I LOVE IT!

We walked the aisles and I inquired at many of the stalls about ‘huevos de pato’ and where we might find them in the market. I was instructed on who to talk to and they sent me deeper into the maze, but without success. We finally bought some saffron and some fresh cardamon I had been needing and went in search of coffee. No duck eggs for me today.

When we got home, Jeff did an exhaustive search online and we may have found a farm south of the city, situated in the rice fields, that has exotic birds, including peacocks, and via Chrome’s translation feature, appears to have duck eggs. Don’t worry, I’m not eating peacock eggs. So I reached out to them and asked if I might purchase duck eggs from them – and commit to doing so – on a regular basis. I’m just awaiting their reply.

Just the very idea of finding another duck egg source has brightened my day. And the 40 km round trip will be worth it every time. I want one so badly I’ll pay a euro a piece for the privilege. I just gotta find a Duck Guy.