Friday July 06, 2012
“Come y bebe, que la vida es breve" ...my madre española, or Spanish host-mom, used to say this phrase to me as we would sit down to eat. Translated it means “eat and drink because life is short”. I was fortunate enough this last year to spend nine months living and studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. As you can imagine, it was an amazing and life-changing experience. I could go on-and-on about Spain and its interesting history, unique culture and amazing food! Spain is somewhat of a “hidden treasure”. Most people seem to pass over it during their travels and only in recent years has it started to gain recognition. However, after having lived there I have learned how vigorously Spain maintains and treasures its traditions and culture. Ironically, or tastefully in my opinion, many of Spain’s traditions revolve around food. To begin with you have the traditional paella; historically a workman’s meal that is eaten year round and continues to appear at every town’s Fiesta Mayor (Major Festival). When made for these festivals it is large enough to feed thousands of people! Beyond the Paella, Spain is well-known for its Sangria and Tapas dinner (an appetizer-style dinner). And finally each holiday has some kind of traditional food to go along with it. The Spanish are fond of food and love to dine-out with friends. Nevertheless, some of my greatest food memories were at home around the table of my madre española.
(A traditional Spanish meal my madre española made.)
Spain’s food scene is uniquely diverse. Each region has its own specialties. Living in Barcelona I was in the providence of Cataluña, a politically and culturally unique area from the rest of Spain. However, my padres (Spanish host-parents) were from Valencia and so I got to see a unique blend of the Spanish food traditions. From the time I arrived my madre introduced me to a plentiful array of Spanish food and eventually let me assist her in the kitchen (a rare occurrence by a Spanish madre). The kitchen was my madre’s domain and it was how she showed her love and affection for those closest to her. It was over the food that I bonded with her. I spent many days sitting on a little stole in the kitchen watching her cook and talking with her. She loved food and was particularly appreciated really good, fresh pan (bread) doused with good Spanish olive oil. Almost every morning she would wake-up and go down the street to retrieve freshly baked pan. Greeting people along the way she had been going to the same bakery for the past 30 years and the family considered her a friend. Some mornings she would come home with a surprise croissant for me. I am convinced that Cataluña has better chocolate croissants than France. You may hesitate to agree but Cataluña is known for its bakeries and I could not stay out of them!
One of my favorite things about the Spanish cuisine is the freshness of the food. Each neighborhood has their own Mercado (Market) heaping with fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. During our trips to the Mercado my madre taught me the best tomato is always the heaviest one because they have the most “meat” to them. The Mercado was a meeting place; everyone knew each other and in addition to the food stands there was a bar where people would grab lunch or coffee after their shopping trip. My madre was an amazing cook but the fresh foods only made it better. Often while I sat in the kitchen watching her cook she would come up to me, place a tomato below my nose and tell me to smell its freshness. As I sit here trying to think of my favorite dishes my madre would make I think of the traditional Spanish flavors such as garlic, olive oil, chorizo, rice, onions, seafood, etc. The Spanish flavors remain a prominent memory in my mouth but it was the approach my padres (host-parents) and other Spaniards have towards food that I’ll carry with me.
(Fresh fruit at one of Barcelona's Mercados)
I would frequently come home between classes to sit down and eat lunch with my padres. This is a common practice in Spain and children still make their way home from school to eat lunch with their families. While in Spain I learned how to slow down and appreciate the simple things. For the Spaniards, sitting down to a meal or having something to eat is not just another check on their ‘to-do’ list but is something to enjoy. I’ve make a pact with myself that as I return to Smith College this coming year I will make an effort to sit down for lunch with friends as often as possible. I want to take that little extra time to enjoy the food and the people instead of racing off to complete the things on my checklist.
As I finish up this blog post I must admit that I have only brushed the surface of Spanish food and its culture. If I had more space I would talk about their unique summer dishes such as gazpacho or jamón iberico with melon. I would share the uniqueness of the Catalan pastries in their bakeries and the sweets they made for different holidays. There are also fun, little stories behind different dishes and Spain is brimming with freshly cultivated foods. The more I learned about Spanish food while I was abroad the more I wanted to know, and the more I realized how connected food is to culture. So much of understanding the Spanish culture is understanding the food and the customs around it. For the Spanish, food is connected to tradition, history, family and friends and it is an experience that should be enjoyed everyday. As my madre would say, “Come y bebe, que la vida es breve”. After hearing this for nine months I don’t think I can approach food in any other way!
(My madre and I when I showed her my family's apple pie recipe)
Friday June 29, 2012
I grew into adolescence a picky eater. One incident my mother is fond of retelling involves the two of us when I was fairly young, about two or three, and ends with me being fed ice cream, quite reluctantly. New tastes were a trial. Acquiring a new taste for something, required years of pressure, threatening, and frustration from my parents. Often, it the trial would end with me hiding the food in a napkin or feeing it to our cat under the table.
My main food staples consisted of hamburgers, French fries, beef, carrots, PB and J sandwiches, chicken noodle soup, pizza, Cheerios, and my personal favorite: apples. With these items, and these items in majority, I spent much of my years in elementary school a happy eater. Dinner athome was quite a contrast. Though my mother was, at the age of 42, studying at a local University to get her college degree, healthy, whole food meals for her children and spouse did not strike her as any less of a priority. With her determination that we would be fed well and often, my family and I were treated to pot roasts, chicken cacciatore, vegetable soups, baked chicken, beef stroganoff, and many many mashed potatoes based dishes. For my older sister Emily, food was the gateway to the soul. With each new addition to our dinner menu, she grew brave and assertive in choosing to fight for the last garlic broccoli rather than to let it vanish at the fork of another family member. For me, meals at home were a jack-in-the-box experience. Often times they were filled with too many nasty surprises for them to ever really be enjoyable. When, on the rare occasion, for instance, we got shrimp for dinner, the beady eyes of each tiny shrimp face were enough to make me pinch up my face in disgusted anguish and clamp up my mouth tightly. Should my mother dare command me to either load several small bits onto my plate or go without dessert, I went without dessert.
My approach to food has always been one of distrust. I blame this on the destructive cycle that I applied to any new food that made its way out of one of my mother's cookbooks and into the oven. It began with smells. That was always the first official declaration that we weren't, in fact, having leftovers. Unlike leftovers, daily meals commonly cooked for hours in my home and this gave sufficient time for their aromas to waft though every corner of our living space. Often this would torture my sister and stepfather with the constant smell of food that was, of course, still only half cooked. Leftovers, on the other hand, were really only a five minute preparation in the microwave and thus lacked any genuine surprise or anticipation. With this knowledge, it was then critically important for me to try and identify the meal in order to “custom” a reaction to it. If it smelled of, say, hamburger meat than it was likely to be the beginnings of a spaghetti sauce, meat loaf, or a casserole. In this case, my “custom reaction” allowed me to remain calm. For I knew that the sections of meat would be cut into chunks big enough for me to locate when the dish was served. I could then separate them from the rest of the meal and enjoy them on their own with only so much as a fiery look of disapproval from my mother's direction. If, on the other hand, I was either unable to distinguish, or worse yet, knew and disliked the smells that filled the kitchen, my “custom reaction” told me to it was time to. Get. Away.
When dinnertime finally arrived, I would have either been already present in my own chair for the past half hour in hungry anticipation or else ordered out from under my bed or closet in a state of uncontrollable panic. My food cycle was thus so efficient that by the time the dish was finally placed in the middle of our small dining table, my mind was already made up, either way, about eating it.
Since coming to work for Carole Murko, I have given up many restraints to foods that I swore I would never touch again in my own home. From raw broccoli to fresh asparagus and organically grown cherry tomatoes, Carole’s meals have transformed my inner perception of taste. Though I still hold the right to tread the path of new food lightly, I have learned to disregard any immediately negative judgment and openly embrace the first forkful.
Saturday June 23, 2012
As the title of this blog states today we’re going to be getting a college girl’s perspective on the essentials of every kitchen. Being that Carole Murko is no longer in college you are probably wondering who is writing to you guys today. My name is Rebecca Narum and I am one of Heirloom Meals’ summer inters! Now that we are introduced let’s move on to the good stuff!
The essentials of a kitchen is a hard list of items to come up with. There are so many different things that one has to take into account. Furthermore, as much as I love to cook I am only 21 and I have never had to stock a kitchen on my own let alone been required to cook for myself nightly. That said, I am pretty good at day dreaming and this is a perfect opportunity for me to create my kitchen supply list for the day I leave college and move into my first apartment—frightfully this is just around the corner! Therefore, after a good amount of thought and some web-surfing through William-Sonoma’s online store I have come up with a list of what I believe to be the ten-essential items of a kitchen. But, please don’t be afraid to leave your comments, suggestions and ideas as I will be graduating in less than a year and want to make sure I am not left without something as I build my first kitchen!
So here’s my list:
1. Double-broiler Saucepot
I figure it is a good all-around kitchen essential that can be used for soups, boiling pasta, making the pasta sauce and having the double-broiler add-on will double it’s use!
Although there are many uses for a skillet I have to say my favorite is making eggs and pancakes on the lazy weekend mornings. Therefore, it is a must for my first kitchen.
3. Ceramic baking dish
From casseroles to lasagna to baking chicken, this is another versatile cooking utensil that I think I would find useful.
4. Good knife set
I know this can get expensive and for a recent college graduate I wont be able to go with the best-of-the-best, but I also know good knifes are essential to a kitchen so having decent knifes is worth it.
My primary reason for this goes back to those lazy weekend breakfasts…you need to have something to flip the pancakes and cook the eggs!
6. Cook’s spoon (for mixing and serving)
From stove top to table, a spoon that has two functions is ideal!
7. Locking Tongs
I am taking people’s word on the locking tongs because although I have found a need for them while helping my mom cook but I have not found them ‘essential’. However, I’ve been told they are good for grilling, making pasta and the list goes on.
8. Wooden cutting Board
It’s durable and practical, what more is there to say!
9. Stainless steal mixing bowl
A mixing bowl is a requirement and I figure stainless steal is the most sturdy. Furthermore, if I buy one that can use it to make my own double broiler by finding one that will fit with my saucepot!
10. Cookie sheet
This is purely to fulfill my own love of baking so I can make my mom’s crazy peanut butter, chocolate chip, M & M, oatmeal cookies late at night when I can’t sleep.
Now that you have seen my list I would love your insight! How did I do? Is there anything missing that I can’t live without?!