teresa's blog

Although "cookies" have recently appeared in a few modern-chic pastry shops in Barcelona and Madrid, there is not really any equivalent of the American Christmas cookie tradition in Spain. For one thing, let's face it: cookies are lumpy, loving-hands-from-home things and Spaniards are uptight about that kind of homeliness. They prefer to entrust their sweet endings to fancy pastry shops where they can count on perfect discs of mousse-filled genoises with glossy-gold caramelized sugar glazes. Besides, except in the cooler, cow-studded, mountainous north, people just don't have a lot of butter lying around the house here. What they do have is manteca. Lard. Yes, from pigs.

Forget about butter and jam on your morning toast (and maybe all that pre-dinner double-dipping of bread in olive oil, too). The Catalans have a better idea: pa amb tomàquet, bread with tomato.

Add a smidge of garlic, olive oil, and salt, plus a slice of protein—sheep's milk cheese or dry cured ham—and you've got a complete breakfast. Pa amb tomàquet is like biscuits and gravy: a perfect pairing that got its start down on the farm, but has since made its way to big city tables. Here in the New World it is found on "tapas" menus and recipe pages described as a Catalan specialty but given a new name based on a translation, inexplicably, not into English but into Spanish: "Pan con Tomate."

joan-miquel-waiting If you think the harried shop shopkeepers of Barcelona are ignoring you just because you’re a tourist, you would be wrong (oh, all right, you might be wrong). Maybe it’s just that you don’t know the seemingly disorganized, fabulously efficient, time-honored rules for waiting your turn in Spain.
xesca-with-rebujito-y-torta2 "Oh, no, not me.  I don't drink cocktails," I said, as Xesca mixed up a pitcher of rebujito, her favorite summer potion.  "And especially not cocktails made of wine," I added snootily to myself.  I mean, there's a reason spritzers are so 1970s, and that reason is wine.  Yet here she was, a friend I truly admire, blithely swizzling up a bubbly drink with, of all things, a delicate Manzanilla.
olive-oil-soap As I pulled these creamy blocks out of my suitcase after my last trip to Spain, Ed was standing by as usual, salivating, and asking about how I had eluded the food-haters at U.S. Customs this time.  Then I broke it to him:  "It's not cheese, it's soap." 
I'm working on creating a walking and eating route across northern Spain -- the drizzly part of the country travel marketers call Green Spain.  I realize the pairing of drizzle and green may not sound all that exciting, but we're going in September, close to grape harvest time, so we can take advantage of the fact that entire villages will be praying for good weather.

The New Yorkers I've shown around Barcelona always seem to connect easily to the energy of the Catalan capital. They get its contrasts, I think, of seediness and elegance, of old and new, and its palpable creative and mercantile drive.

When they return to the Big Apple, they invariably find themselves jonesing for more. For a while, that big screenfull of lovesick images in Vicki Cristina Barcelona provided a fix. But now what?

Sheep on the roadside near a Catalan farmhouse inn A few years ago I convinced my husband Ed that spending a week as guests in a country farmhouse in Spain would be the perfect vacation.  We’d be surrounded by history, eat some real home cooking, and get to know the people – and more important now than it was then:  it would be cheap.
Xavier Franco and Anna Doñate, with thanks to Xavier’s brother, graphic designer Joaquim Franco, for the photo. Those Michelin star folks are troublemakers, if you ask me. A couple of years ago, their meddling came between me and my favorite Barcelona lunch date:  Restaurant Saüc. It’s not that Saüc’s star wasn’t well-deserved, it’s just that it brought lots of new suitors to the table. Prices went up and our lunchtime thing had to end. We have “La Crisis” to thank for a recent e-mail from the restaurant, wooing with a 27 Euro prix fixe lunch special. The note also mentions a pumpkin salad, beef cheeks with wild mushrooms, almond and pear tart with sheeps’ milk ice cream.  You better believe I’ll go running back for more.