Monday, June 15, 2009

Chasing the Dream

I've long had a fantasy of being an expat. I first envisioned myself dressed in white linen from head to toe in some sweltering outpost, sipping something cold and refreshing (i.e. Pimms) on my veranda, and feeling a tad colonial but very fabulous in the presence of a dashing suitor reading poetry to me. [Note: I might have conjured up this image after watching Out of Africa for the first time.] If I could paint the picture now, I think it would be slightly different. For one, linen wrinkles way too much and makes you look completely crumpled unless you're willing to never sit down. Secondly, I'm not really all that fond of Pimms. And thirdly, I'm addicted to my CrackBerry so need access to a strong network at all times. So perhaps drinking a glass of wine in an outdoor cafe in a bustling European city while wearing great leather shoes is more my thing now. 

With each passing year, though, reality has set in and the dream seems more and more like, well, a dream. But with a little creativity, I'm happy to report I've found a happy compromise, which does not involve me becoming a mail-order bride. No, it's basically a chance to rent my dream for a bit. I leave at the end of the month to live in to Spain for five weeks! Yes, I will still have to maintain my consulting obligations and actually work, but I'll be living (albeit temporarily) in a bustling European city and sipping una copita de vino tinto at an outdoor cafe when it's time to call it a day at the office. 

Spain, Spain, Spain. It's one of my favorite countries in the world. It oozes with culture, history, architecture and art — proud but unpretentious. Dining out and wine are two of the strongest parts of Spanish culture and tradition, which is pretty much heaven to me. Any place with a three hour lunch and a mandatory nap time is definitely my kind of place. There is just an attitude of "slow down and enjoy life" that permeates. 

To get in the spirit, I invited a few girlfriends over to feast on some tapas. I love the concept of tapas: small, delicious mouthfuls of savory treats designed to accompany sherry or a glass of wine. To me, they go hand-in-hand with hospitality, friendship and good conversation, which are the cornerstones of the Spanish culture — and why I'm probably so fond of Spain to begin with. It's a lot like the South actually. There is an endless array of tapas to be made and eaten, but one not to be missed (in Spain or in the States) is Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp). Truly addictive. Garlicky, tender shrimp in a smokey, spicy broth that begs to be sopped up with a loaf of crusty bread. 

Manchego cheese is also very prominent in Spain (and can be found now in most grocery stores) and, in my book, is deserving of being the star ingredient. So, I adapted a salad recipe I found in keeping with the spirit of tapas. 

It's basically just shaved carrots and manchego in a ridiculously tasty dressing of sherry vinegar, orange juice, honey and cilantro. 

If you're one of those people who thinks cilantro tastes like soap, I beg you to try this. I'm not really a betting person but I feel pretty confident it's good enough to convert you.  

And I hope these dishes will inspire you to cook up some tapas with your friends and talk about how you can rent your own dreams, even if just for a little while. Because as Dorothy Gilman once said, "People need dreams. There's as much nourishment in 'em as food." 

Buen Provecho.

Carrot Manchego Salad
Adapted from Sunset Magazine

4 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin coins (with a mandoline or the slicing attachment of a food processor)
1 small clove of garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp mild honey
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp minced fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
5 Tbsp fruity extra-virgin olive oil
3 oz manchego cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
10 small, whole Bibb lettuce leaves, washed and dried, for "cups" and some extra leaves to chop as a salad base

Chop garlic, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and mash to a paste on a cutting board with the flat side of a knife. In a small frying pan, toast cumin seeds over medium heat until fragrant (about 2 minutes), and grind finely with a mortar and pestle (or put cooled seeds in a ziploc bag and crush with a meat mallet). In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, cumin, orange juice, sherry vinegar, honey, pepper, 1/4 tsp salt, and minced cilantro; whisk in olive oil. 
In a large bowl, toss carrots with half the vinaigrette, the shaved cheese and the extra chopped lettuce. Spoon the salad mixture into the small lettuce cups, drizzle with remaining vinaigrette and garnish with cilantro springs. 

Gambas al Ajillo
From El Farol Cookbook

1/2 white onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 cloves garlic, minced 
4 green onions, chopped
3 Tbsp Madeira wine
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup chicken stock
Salt to taste
Chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Saute onion in olive oil on high heat until soft; add shrimp and garlic. Saute for approximately two minutes. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside. Add all the other ingredients except parsley and cook down for 2 minutes. Add shrimp and toss with sauce and then remove from heat. Serve on a platter, topped with chopped fresh parsley and sliced bread. 

1 comment:

  1. Your blog permeates with art as well as food!
    We hope you will have time to send us a first-hand "taste" of the tapas....also a bit of info on your favorite wines.