Gratitude. Things I'm Grateful For #1

A while back I started a routine with Antonio that before we went to bed we had to say five things that we were grateful for that day. These affirmations didn't last as long as I would have liked, and we soon got out of the habit of doing so.

Lately I've had some inspiration from other bloggers, in particular a very sweet lady over at The Cafe Cat, who has begun posts recognizing the things she loves. I'd like to start something similar here at Sobremesa In Spain, developing a weekly column to celebrate all of the good around me, all of the deliciousness my life has the gift of receiving, and simply to call out the positive I come across on my adventures. What better way than to share with you all through pictures, if I can't do so in person. Although I'm still challenging all of you to come for a visit already!

1. Impromptu moments of joy. La alegría de vivir.

These darling buskers took advantage of a sweltering hot day in Barcelona to spread a little happiness.

2. A perfect croissant. 

Not too burnt, flaky on the exterior, and doughy on the inside. Tarannà Café Barcelona, at the intersection of Carrer Parlament with Viladomat, bakes fresh croissants daily - one of the primary ingredients being butter from Brittany, France. Heavenly!  (Update March 2013, a reader let me know that Taranna receives these croissant frozen from France and bakes them on premise - still tasty and better than most of the other BCN pastries, but good to know). 

Good Eggs | Rio Grande Huevos Ecológicos, Malaga, Spain

I recently had a friend tell me that happiness is opening a perfectly ripe and perfectly green avocado. She may be right, but I also wouldn't rule out the joy one feels when a perfectly gelatinous, bright yellowy yolked egg falls onto the skillet. Egg-cellent (I'm allowed one bad joke, no?!).

I've found that to increase your chances of finding a good egg, you have to look for small privately owned farms, organically fed and free range chickens. This is purely a personal preference however, I've seen enough videos of poor little chickens waddling and doing their business on top of one another in a constantly lit room that I'd long ago made up my mind.

Rio Grande, an organic farm out of Coín, Málaga, in the valley of Guadalhorce, and yes, in fact bordering a river, creates and markets in their ever so playful packaging the kind of eggs I want to buy. They carefully care for and nourish their chickens from birth to maturity. The animals have access to a full pasture and roam as they please, pecking at the grass and soil, partaking in a feast of herbs, seeds, insects and minerals, on top of their 100% vegetable (also organic) diet. Of course, like all things that take nutrients and flavors from the land, wine, chocolate, etc., the eggs' flavor could change pending the chickens' intake that week. Isn't that cool?! Much more interesting than a laboratory bird in which every egg is engineered to be identical to the one before and after. Besides which, supporting farmers who maintain sustainable farming practices is better for the whole environment, it compliments the circle of life and ensures there is no unnatural run-off after rainfall, erases the dangerous ammonia gases that exist in standard poultry houses and is better for you, me and the chickens - win, win and win.

Locals Only Barcelona | Amazing Ice Cream and Gelato at Gelateria Gocce di Latte

Italian immigration is nothing new to Barcelona, and many centuries ago it was the other way around - or call it "kingdom interests." In fact Catalans often associate the Italian people (generally from the south) as being more closely related to themselves in language and culture than to the rest of Spain. History proves such a theory as the land between Naples and Sicily was once held by the Crown of Aragon; to this day within the island of Sardinia you will find people who parla català.

But I'm talking about a much bigger conquest here, a much more relevant one, for those of us who value putting quality food in our bellies over political mumbo-jumbo. Gocce di Latte, if I dare say is the most delicious gelato I've ever eaten (I take back my 2011 article since there is clearly a new leader in town), and since we all know that gelato is superior to ice cream on any given day, therefore this makes it the most delicious frozen milk product in Barcelona.

It's quite an adorable sight to watch them work side by side together, Rita hailing from Lecce and Matteo from Genoa, and they prove that putting the time, communicating with your patrons and being visionary in your craft, even pushing the limits of flavors - daring the public to jump outside of their comfort zone and try something new and exquisitely awesome - can conquer a population into believers. These two are on to something great here and they've only been doing it since June 2012, their first shot at a gelateria is a success and I expect big things from them. I feel fortunate to be the first English speaking writer to share their glory (go now, come on get on that bandwagon!!).

Locals Only Madrid | La Musa La Latina

Front entrance to La Musa in Plaza de la Paja

Summer is a time to get out in the open and explore the city - preferably early morning or late afternoon. The Spanish custom of sobremesa becomes tenfold when the weather warms up and the desire to show of your recently bronzed legs and shoulders takes center stage. Las terrazas, or the outdoor terraces of Spanish cities across the Iberian region light up with young and old mingling, chatting, sipping beers and munching on tapas. 

One such hotspot is La Musa La Latina, a project of Grupo La Musa who seems to have a golden touch for refurbishing old spaces into design driven hangouts. While I won't be classifying this restaurant/lounge/bar as one of my favorite Madrid sites when it comes to food, I will say that for the atmosphere it serves the purpose of a afternoon gathering with the ladies, sharing a bottle of locally sourced wine, or in the hot hot heat wave (such as this week) sipping a cava, rosado or albariño. It also calls home one of the most beautiful plazas in Madrid's casco antiguo (IMHO), Plaza de la Paja. Not the cheapest option, but split between four as we did made it much more economical, and as I've mentioned before there will be no urgency to get up and leave your comfy spot once you've claimed it. 

Rustic seating, old leather couches and plants lighten the mood. Lots of direct sun light as well.

Live Like a Local: Spain | How to order a coffee or espresso in Spain

If I had to guess I would say that the US became obsessed with Dunkin' Donuts coffee not for the taste, but for the simplicity - it was much easier to simply order "a cup of coffee." Not to mention the to-go factor. As a culture, we've developed a global stereotype (particularly acknowledged by Europeans and Middle Easterns) that our coffee is watered down, dull and hardly enjoyed, sipped or swigged in huge cups at the speed of a 7-Eleven Big Gulp®. It wasn't until the introduction of Starbucks that we thought we got a little more class, that our coffee consumption skyrocketed to include fancy-pants sizes and milk variations with shiny flamboyant Italian nicknames.

Then around 2005 something called the Gibraltar happened in San Francisco to a little (now well invested! as of 2015) company named Blue Bottle Coffee - which if you know anything about being hip has helped spawn a catalyst within the SF coffee movement, as well as along the West Coast, over to New York and popping up in London (although they have a lot of influence from the Aussies, whom also make excellent coffee). But did that really happen? Was that really an invention? Or a renaming of the existing Spanish cortado? All finger pointing aside, coffee and espresso drinks are some of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and the manner in which they are ordered and prepared differs according to countries, backgrounds or the baristas' habits.

The Spanish people have developed quite a taste, or perhaps dependency on coffee since its arrival from Turkish immigrants in the 17th century. The general consensus is that the coffee here is good, although it may be argued that the coffee tastes better in Italy and Portugal, and certainly worse in France.

What do you need to know to order an espresso drink or coffee in Spain?

Spaniards aren't known to eat a hefty breakfast, in fact for a true experience during your stay in the country, steer clear of restaurants or cafes offering an American or British breakfast. On a given day, the local eateries will be filled with common citizens, or even hotshot politicians (if they dare show their faces), munching a pastry, or toasts with tomato pulp with their café con leche, 1:1 ration of strong coffee or espresso with steamed milk, or what we might register as a caffé latte.

That said, coffee in Spain is consumed at all hours of the day, particular after larger meals or in the late afternoon at the merienda hour (5-7pm roughly) served alongside a slice of olive oil or egg yolk cakes. Besides this fact -- you'll soon see for yourself during your time in Spain a culture of tomando un café (or tomar un café -- to have a coffee) via patios, terraces, cafes, bars, gas stations, and restaurants offering all sorts of food stuff but also always coffee, and this practice is not only a time for caffeine, but an opportunity to catch up and meet with friends, family, colleagues, or intercambios (language exchanges).

Café Solo - a very strong and small serving of coffee; generally a single shot of espresso. I have no statistics to prove this theory, but I most commonly witness people ordering this version after lunch for a quick pick-me-up, therefore reducing the likelihood of falling into a food coma, or after dinner for the sobremesa chats and table lingering.

Café Solo Doble* - same as above but with a double shot of espresso and maybe a larger vessel (pending the bar/cafe) 

(Café) Cortado - an espresso cut with steamed milk (from Spanish verb cortar), typically 1:1 - 2:1 espresso to milk ration, and served in a short and stout glass. It's similar to the piccolo in Australia, the Gibraltar in US and to the Italian version of a caffé macchiato. Popularly ordered around the merienda hours to give a little jolt as well as the illusion of eating something sweet between meals (with the addition of sugar packets most likely).

Café con Leche - to reiterate from above, this is one of Spain's most popular drinks, and often the favorite for its balanced flavors and comforting sensations, equal parts milk and coffee. Breakfast is a common timeframe for this size, as is the merienda a 5pm snack hour, but it's really as classic as El Clasico (a futbol / soccer match). Sometimes this drink will be served table-side, with the waiters pouring the (very) hot milk into a short & skinny glass, or wide brimmed demitasse cup.

(Café) Americano - an espresso shot served in a larger glass and watered down. Usually ordered by out-of-towners looking to replace their usual coffee routine since you won't find filtered coffee in many places in Spain; espresso machines are the norm, or instant coffee.

Café Manchado - a less common order, but a popular choice nonetheless for those that like their caffeinated beverages just "stained," the literal term for staining a short (café con leche) glass of milk with a small amount of espresso. May also be referred to on some menus as a lágrima - from other Spanish speaking countries like Argentina.

Café con hielo - during the hot summer months the Spaniards cool down with this espresso and ice cubes, served in a whiskey glass.

Café Suizo - a shot of espresso served with a dollop of whipped cream; identical to the Italian 'espresso con panna' although not very common on Spanish menus.  (I like La Granja Viader in Barcelona for this drink because of their homemade cream).

Café Bombon - a café solo (espresso) served with a hefty spoonful of condensed milk, thought to have originated in Valencia, Spain.

Carajillo - a café solo served with a touch of brandy, although whiskey or rum can be substituted.

Trifásico - a less common and often regionally ordered drink along the Costa Brava and Costa Blanca, the trifásico includes three ingredients: coffee, milk/cream/or condensed milk and a liquor (usually anything from whiskey, brandy to Baileys).

Know your caffeine preference upfront, otherwise they will assume you want regular or strong espressos and coffee. Typically decaffeinated, descafeinado, comes from an instant coffee packet,  so if you want decaffeinated and from the espresso machine you must request for example, café _________ + descafeinado de maquina.

AND if you didn't have enough already: You also have the option to speak up about your exact coffee preferences; so with the cortado or the café con leche you could order 'corto de café' (literally short on coffee) or 'largo de café' (long on coffee). 

*Double shots - If you're looking for more caffeine that resembles a ristretto then you'll need to request that your drink be made as a double shot; the standard is one. To do this, use the above terminology but add doble to the end, e.g. Café con leche doble, cortado doble, manchado doble.

Slow Food Served Fast | Sagàs Barcelona


As the farm to table movement rolls across the United States, Scandinavia and the UK, there exists a chef and restaurateur who has never done it any other way. Oriol Rovira the mastermind of Els Casals in Sagàs, a farm, rural B&B and Michelin starred restaurant, has opened along with Grupo Sagardi, Sagàs Pagesos, Cuiners & Co in the bustling - and evermore food conscious - capital of Catalonia. With the intention of bringing high quality, local and fast-service food to Barcelona, he and his team have joined forces to provide for roughly ninety percent of the products on the menu, the rest from nearby farms and providers, while menu inspiration is played up by Catalan influences  such as the house-made sobrasada, as well as from around the world, chicharrón of Mexico or pork buns a la David Chang of Momofuku.

Most of the creations come in sandwich and salad form, however Sagàs has also been gaining attention as providing some of the city's best patatas bravas. Sandwiches or bocadillos can be found everywhere in Spain, they are the go to snack for the country and the mandatory after-school meal of thousands. I recall on my first trip to Spain in 2004 that jumbo sandwiches were practically the only thing I ate (I was naive and walked away from that trip wishing only to eat salads for the rest of my life) - you simply walked into a bar and ordered between a few selections, usually with tomatoes and ham, pork fillets, cheese or tortilla española. Even today this custom is a popular, fast and cheap answer to killing the hunger pains. Sagàs is not this option. Every sandwich is carefully crafted between slices of freshly baked (unfrozen) bread, usually procured from the city's sustainable and quality bread movement bakeries, the filler ingredients are by no means supermarket purchased, the vegetables and roasted pork (which is usually on display along the back bar) have a face to go along with them, a trace back to their origin. Call it more expensive, more dignified or excellent design and marketing, but as the name suggests "pagesos, cuiners i co.," farmers, chefs and company, he's on to something and the city folks are biting. Literally.

Olives to start the meal at Oriol Rovira's Sagàs Barcelona. 

A blend of painted and dark treated wood with cool rustic accents and modern touches, as well as vintage advertising and old farm photographs line the walls, Sagàs Pagesos Cuiners & Co. 

Locals Only Barcelona | Patatas Bravas at Bar Tomás

The potato is one of the world's most plentiful and common raw materials (in fact the fourth, following rice, wheat and corn), it's certainly the most loved of the nightshades and in many cases as well as historically speaking a pragmatic manner of feeding mouths. Spain has quite a fondness with this beloved tuber brought from their South American "explorations" which they shared with the rest of Europe in the mid 16th century.

From the potato, dare I say thousands of recipes have come to life within the Iberian peninsula. At least in the case of my boyfriend's family, potatoes account as an ingredient in roughly four or five of their weekly meals. One of these famed Spanish recipes, patatas bravas, has become a regular menu item throughout bars and tapas restaurants. The bravas are simply white fried potatoes - think french fries but generally irregular cubed shapes and fried in olive oil - with a salsa brava, a spicy tomato sauce. In Barcelona, Valencia and along the La Costa Levante a small tapas plate of papas bravas will come accompanied with alioli, a garlic and olive oil emulsion, or perhaps a blend of both leaving red and white globs (my preference) on top of the recently fried (ensure they are warm when served!) potatoes. In Madrid and north into Burgos, don't be shocked if you are served only the tomato version, and if your requests for alioli go unnoticed or ignored or are completely scoffed at - there is a collision of interest and identity underlying in that tema.

Now onto the task at hand, finding the best patatas bravas. 

Hump Day | Cerveza La Loca Juana, Castile & Leon, Spain


When we travel, for the most part our itinerary blends well together - as we do - and there isn't too much down time or boredom; I don't go shopping, so he doesn't spend time sitting on the couch in the store's hallway, and if by some emergency situation we end up in a computer hardware store, he's quick on his purchases and we are off to a yummy lunch (generally my choice) or driving to a local cave or hilltop vantage point (his choice). However, sometimes something enters our plans that appeases the both of us, and this my friends is travel bliss. Another important piece to this equation was following the footprints of a local, Ruben of Cantagrullas, someone who understood our interests, commitments and had time to share on a Sunday afternoon.

A 13th century Gothic castle, a catapult and some beer for him. Indeed. Small batch craft beer, history and meeting the locals for me. Mmhmm. All together, the perfect afternoon-cap to our countryside agenda.

I'm speaking of Cerveza La Loca Juana of Castilla y Leon, Spain, one of the many microbrewery labels brewing their way onto the social and gastronomy scene by way of a new generation of artisans. Named after the infamous Juana La Loca, queen regnant, daughter of Isabel I and Ferdinand II, mother of Charles I, she suffered a long (living until 75 years of age in the 16th century!) and intense life of love, turmoil, depression, exile and fear. The beer however, is quite the opposite and from my investigation does not cause onsets of unhappiness or your family to turn their back on you.

Hump Day | Vinagre de Jerez Romate, Sherry Vinegar from Jerez de la Frontera, Spain


Good things can come from "rubbish." Case in point this sherry vinegar, vinagre de Jerez from Bodegas Sanchez Romate, of Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz, Spain since 1781 and forming part of the Bermuda Sherry Triangle consisting of Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa María and all carrying their protected D.O. Dominación de Origen.  

Sherries (post to come on this purely southern Spanish drinking tradition), are fortified wines including the popularly seen fino, amontillado and oloroso types. These sherries are used to make sherry vinegar, although the oloroso, typically containing a greater percentage of Pedro Ximénez grapes is typically too sweet for the acidic taste wanted out of common vinegar flavor profiles -unless a sweet vinegar is the goal-  that is more often obtained from Palomino grapes.