Summer in the USA

A while back, Lauren from Spanish Sabores asked what our ideal summer looked like. I think she mentioned a beach somewhere in there, but I know how I responded: with corn on the cob and margaritas on the porch, with fireflies in the fields and long walks on the trail. She told me that my summer sounded kinda American, and … the truth is, that’s what I was craving! Luckily, I’m here for a good two months, and I’m loving it!

What have I been doing?

  • Snacking on summer produce. My parents’ garden is plentiful, what with its cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini, green beans, peas, cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, regular tomatoes, eggplants, broccoli, cauliflower, and all its herbs—basil, lemon basil, mint, cilantro, oregano, and dill.

Tomato Garden

  • Walking “the trail.” In my town, the trail is a former railroad converted into a bike path. It’s tranquil with lots of shade, a.k.a. the perfect place to have a chat.
  • Margaritas on the porch. Porch drinking in the best drinking. (See also: wine on the porch, mojitos on the porch.)
  • Cooking. Since I have the blessed gift of air conditioning, I don’t mind turning on the stove and/or oven. I love cooking, especially in the summer, when it seems everything is in season. It’s also quite nice to take ten steps out my front door and snip some fresh basil or oregano or mint.
  • Farmers marketing. Farmers markets are the best! In Bloomington, my former college town, they have a really great one. There are always live bands, iced coffee, and an amazing variety of fresh produce. You can get stevia plants and sunflowers and Japanese eggplant and okra and rhubarb. And if you’re feeling hangry, try the focaccia made of spinach, feta cheese, and pine nuts. You won’t regret it.

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  • Planning for our wedding party. Oh, you thought it was over! N-O! We’ve still got a second, US-based wedding party to plan for … it’s going to be epic. August 30, 2013! Be there or be totalllllly square.

Kaley Mario Wedding 2012 Zamora

The Foreigner at the Table

I’ve eaten many a meal with Mario’s family. His friends, too. But it wasn’t until recently that his cousin pointed out to me that, well, I eat funny. No, no, my chewing habits are just fine, thanks. But what’s up with your hand?

Think long and hard about what you do with your hands while you eat. Inspired by this post about Spaniards’ eating habits, I came up with my own list of the way Spaniards find us guiris weird at the dinner table:

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Truths from Spain

This post is basically just a smattering of “facts” I’ve encountered during my time in Spain.

  • Mercadona is the best. Do not argue, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

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  • Eating cookies and milk for breakfast is perfectly fine. Okay, these cookies are digestive-type cookies and milk isn’t unhealthy, but it’s always shocking when a child tells me he/she has had cookies and milk para desayunar.
  • Dryers are not necessary. Okay, I agree with this—to a point. Dryers are wasteful, take up a lot of space, and are fairly unnecessary during the summer. But they are so, so nice in the winter, when your clothes take three days to dry on your clotheshorse.

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Me with my hair done for a friend’s wedding in September

  • Getting your hair done for weddings is a must. That is, if you’re a woman. Going to the hairdresser, though you are not a) the bride, b) in the wedding, or c) related to the bride in any way is very common. I heard a cousin of Mario’s tell the other women, “¡Nos vemos en la peluquería!” / “See you at the hairdresser!”
  • An herbal liqueur after a meal helps you digest. I really don’t know if this is true or not, but whatever—who doesn’t like a good crema de orujo (like Bailey’s) or pacharán (a sloe-flavored liquor) after a big meal?
  • Fruit after a meal is (almost) obligatory. I did grow up eating fruit, really. But I’m never going to be on Mario’s or Mario’s family’s level, all of who eat fruit with such regularity that it’s astounding. Mario starts each day with an orange, eats an apple for lunch, and after dinner grapes. That’s his routine right now, and it does vary in which kind of fruit he has for lunch or dinner, but breakfast is always, always, always an orange. Sometimes in the States we’d only have mandarin oranges, which were okay, but not quite the same.
  • Las madres love Tupperware. My mom loves me, but she never made me food, froze it, and put in a Tupperware container for me to take back to my apartment. The mothers and grandmothers in Spain are notorious for this. I work with a guy who’s American but with a Spanish father, so he has relatives here in Madrid. His grandmother insists on making him food and putting it into Tupperware for him to eat donde le da la gana (wherever he wants). It’s not that he’s not capable of providing for himself, but it’s just what the matriarchs of the family do. So prepare yourself. When your Spanish mother-in-law comes a-visiting, she’ll be bringing containers of lentejas (lentil stew), albóndigas (meatballs), pisto de garbanzos (chickpeas with a tomato-eggplant-zucchni sauce), and carrillera (chin meat, and yeah, it’s delicious). Get used to it.

My Favorite Autumnal Spanish Foods

Eating fruits and vegetables in season is the best way to eat. What’s better than a summer tomato, vermillion red, seeds spilling out as you bite into it, salty and tasting of the earth? What’s more delicious than asparagus in March, seasoned with grainy sea salt and fruited olive oil, roasted to the perfect point between crunchy and soft? Nothing. Nothing.

To eat is to experience. To experience is to understand. To understand is to know. To know another culture, to understand the land and its cultivation, eat. Stop by a fruit stand and buy the pomegranate, eat it its crimson seeds, bite into them lightly, let their juice burst out, filling your mouth with its sweet fragrance.

It’s autumn. There are so many good foods in season this time of year, rich and hearty and filling. These foods are on full display on the frutería stands I pass by daily. Sometimes I stop to watch as the people flood in and out, asking for giant purple grapes, seeds still intact, or kilo after kilo of grubby golden apples. It’s time to eat … but which foods are in season where I am?

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  • Pomegranates—The pomegranate, a native of Persia, has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for several millennia. The city of Granada in southern Spain was named after this luscious fruit. It is a true fall and winter fruit, in season from September to February. I like to eat it plain or in salads, although these recipes sounds delicious.

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  • Persimmons—The first time I had a persimmon was in a classic Indiana dish, persimmon pudding. But I had my first plain persimmon here in Spain, thanks to my husband. He introduced the fruit to me, calling it a “caqui.” To me, the persimmon tastes of dates and plums. (Be sure to know which type of persimmon you purchase, because there are astringent and non-astringent varieties!)

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  • Autumn Squash—Squash and pumpkins alike are referred to as “calabazas” here, so when you ask for a “calabaza,” there are several things you could possibly be given. I like to eat all kinds of squash, but most especially acorn and butternut, the two varieties most easily found here. If you roast them in the oven, they have a sweet taste, but not overly so, and go well into dishes like pureed soups, pizzas, or paired with meat.

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  • Greens—Greens get a bad rap. Done right, they can be nutty and flavor rich. Done poorly, they can be limp and tasteless. It’s next to impossible to find kale in Spain, but you can find spinach and chard. As for chard, the leaves are green, but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find the colored steams, which brighten up my day anyway! Besides being delicious, these babies are packed with health: vitamins A, K, and C, along with minerals, fiber, and even protein. Bet you didn’t think you could get protein from greens! This spinach-salad recipe looks divine.

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  • Chestnuts—In Salamanca, you knew the cold was here to stay when the chestnut vendors set up their stands on the streets. There is nothing like winding your way through the crowds at 7 p.m., the sun set long ago, teeth-chatteringly cold … and then buying a paper cone of chestnuts, warm and comforting as you walk the rest of the way home. Chestnuts can also be eaten in other ways, of course: stuffings, risottos with butternut squash, decadent pasta, and, of course, dessert. In Spain, a popular way to eat it is a purée.

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  • Quince—Ah, membrillo. For me, it is impossible to refer to this fruit as a quince, a word I learned after I’d learned the Spanish word for it, a word that doesn’t roll off my tongue quite like membrillo, especially when preceded by “dulce de.” The quince is an odd-looking fruit, misshapen almost, but please know that looks, in this case at least, are utterly deceiving. The quince is not one that can be eaten right away due to it being hard and having a rather astringent flavor. However, my mother-in-law makes a delicious treat known as “dulce de membrillo,” a quince paste, that is divine when paired with manchego cheese. In my old high school in Zamora, the teachers placed quinces in certain offices, hoping their sweet smell would penetrate the building.

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  • Apples—Apples. They’re not anything new or overly enthralling, but apples are one of my favorite foods. Unlike many in Spain, I don’t like peeling it. I prefer washing it and eating as is. Apples are probably one of the most (if not the most) cultivated fruits and have their place in history. (Just think of the Garden of Eden—and that’s just the beginning!) I love apples in crisps especially, with the browned butter, slightly crunchy oatmeal and brown sugar, and cooling vanilla ice cream set on top. But don’t forget! Apples aren’t just for sweet recipes. They are delicious in soups, turnovers, salads, stuffings, and sandwiches.

So, readers, what about you? What is good to eat where you live in autumn?