Tinto de Verano

This is what we've been drinking lately. It's a childhood favourite. Yes that's right. When we visited Spain when we were kids, we were always permitted to have a small glass of wine cut with some gaseosa, a sort of 7-up /Sprite style drink that is slightly less sweet.

Later on,  but still many years ago, when I worked at Expo in Sevilla, now a grown-up, I rediscovered this drink and discovered it had a name: Tinto de Verano or Summer Wine. The bartenders would always ask 'Con limón' or "Con gasesosa?" giving you the option to have it with lemon Fanta which became my preference.  Sadly Lemon Fanta is hard to find in Canada, but I have found some good substitutes.

 Tinto de Verano. Photo by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

Santa Cruz Lemon Soda or Good Drink Organic Spritzer seem to work well. Both are slightly sweet which makes a good combination with the wine. Although excellent on it's own, I find Lemon San Pellegrino to be far too tart for this particular tipple.

I'd take this drink any day over Sangria which is far too headache inducing for me. When it's really hot, it's the only thing that I want.

 

Tinto de Verano

Red wine of your choice

Lemon Soda such as Lemon Fanta or Schweppes Limón

Fill a glass with ice, fill halfway with red wine. Fill in the rest of the glass with lemon soda.

Sip and enjoy.

 

Tarta de Santiago

I've said it before. I don't really need an excuse to make a cake but in case you do, here's one. It's the  25th of July which is the Día de Santiago  (Feast of St. James), and also Galicia's National Day. It seems like an opportune moment to share this recipe for one of my favourite desserts: Tarta de Santiago.

 Tarta de Santiago © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Every pastry shop you pass in Galicia, is sure to have one in the window, no matter what time of year, the top dusted in confectioners sugar save for the the distinctive cross of Santiago.

In Spanish St. James is called Santiago. Yes I know. It's confusing and I could probably do another post just on the variations of the name James. That's St. James the Great, one of the 12 Apostles of Christ and the patron saint not only of Galicia but also of Spain. 

 Tarta de Santiago in a La Coruña cake shop. © 2014 Helena McMurdo

St. James has had a long association with Galicia. Tradition and legend has it that after St. James' death in 44 AD his relics were taken secretly to Galicia where whoever did the taking, seems to have forgotten about them for some time. But in the 9th Century AD, his burial place was rediscovered in what legend says involved a spectacular display of lights in the night sky. On the same site, several chapels and the present day Cathedral of Santiago were built which has since become one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Christian world, surpassed only by Jerusalem and Rome. Today, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims religious and otherwise make their way to Santiago along the route that bears his name.

But back to the cake, because that's why you are really here. Isn't it?

I'm not sure I remember the first Tarta de Santiago I ever had. I've been eating them for too long. But it almost certainly came out of the ubiquitous blue box, found all over Galicia,  of the Tartas Ancano. They are available in every supermarket and gas station in Galicia. On our recent holiday, as we stopped to say goodbye to some neighbours and one of the slim packages was pressed firmly into my hands with the words, "this fits easily in the suitcase". I found this to be quite appropriate as, some say, the recipe for the cake originated with a pilgrim on a his way to Santiago. A travel cake! This makes sense because it keeps well and I would imagine if you found yourself walking for days from France to Spain you'd be pretty happy for a piece of this.

In May 2010, the EU gave Tarta de Santiago Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) status within Europe which allows only cakes made within the Autonomous Community of Galicia and containing at least 33% almonds, to be marketed as Tarta de Santiago meaning  that if you were thinking of starting up your own Tarta de Santiago bakery,  anywhere other than Galicia, think again.

 Metal Cross of Santiago for making Tarta de Santiago © 2014 Helena McMurdo

But fear not, your physical location won't diminish your enjoyment of this cake. If you believe the British newspaper reports, even HRH Prince George had one for his birthday. Even if you are not Galician or Spanish, or aren't lucky enough to have a Spanish nanny, you can still enjoy this one.

With nothing but eggs, sugar, almonds, and a pinch of cinnamon and a zest of lemon, this cake appeals to me based on its pure simplicity. It is  filling and satisfying. I love to eat this on its own but topped with some fresh cheese it is truly divine. Some recipes call for a separate crust which is then filled with the cake mixture but I prefer this version - all cake!


 Tarta de Santiago © 2014 Helena McMurdo

I finally bought one of the special cross templates this year in Spain but you can easily substitute a printed piece of paper which is what I did for many years before I had the fancy template. I've made a template for you to use which you can download here.


Tarta de Santiago

250 grams sugar

250 grams ground almonds, preferably Marcona

5 eggs, yolks and whites separated

pinch of cinnamon

zest of one lemon

Grease one ten-inch or two seven-inch springform pans and set aside. Preheat the oven to 320 F/ 160 C.  Beat the yolks and sugar together until they are well mixed. Add the almonds to this mixture along with the the cinnamon and lemon zest and mix until the almond is evenly incorporated, being careful not to overmix. Beat the egg whites until they have stiff peaks and then fold this into the yolk/almond mixture. The batter will remain slightly lumpy, but it should be evenly lumpy. Spread the mixture into the cake tin, place on a baking sheet and cook for approximately 40-50 minutes. The top of the cake should be a beautiful golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and let cool completely before removing from the pan. To decorate, place the template on the top of the cake and lightly dust with confectioner's sugar. If you decide to use another design, don't worry, it will taste the same. But it won't be a Tarta de Santiago. Enjoy!





Arde Lucus: My Roman Holiday

I wanted to share one of the really special things that we experienced while we were in Galicia this time: The Arde Lucus Festival in Lugo. Now I had been to Lugo once or twice before. As some of you may know, I was born there so this wasn't my first trip. But to see it in this way was an extra special treat.

 Roman Costume at Arde Lucus. © 2014 Helena McMurdo

The area of Lugo was originally a Celtic settlement, dedicated to Lugos, the Celtic god, of among other things, light. Depending on your point of view, the area was either a) conquered, or b) pacified by the Romans in 13 BC who built the city which they named Lucus Agusti. By the 3rd century they had surrounded the city with fortified walls mostly to protect the city from the local tribes. The walls still stand and today are described by UNESCO as "the finest surviving example of late Roman military fortifications".  In 2000, the walls were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Arde Lucus festival is a celebration of this Roman heritage. If you have ever been in Spain for festivals like Pamplona's San Fermin or Sevilla's Feria de Abril, you will know that they are spectacles of colour and pageantry. And Arde Lucus is no different in that respect. This is no sweaty fraternity toga party. This is the full set of Gladiator. With 600,000 visitors over 3 days, it is a sight to behold. 

 Catedral y Muralla de Lugo © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Romans catching up with the news at The Arde Lucus Festival  © 2014 Helena McMurdo

For me one of the highlights was the way the families approached this event, all dressed up together and coordinated. We even saw baby carriages decked out like Roman chariots. They went to such great effort, each putting their own spin on things. It was lovely to see everyone getting into the spirit of things. Of course, there were events and spectacles like a Roman Circus to behold, but for me, the fun part was the people watching. The variety and quality of the costumes was astonishing. And of course today, Romans and Celts mingle in the streets with little animosity. 

 A young gladiator at the Arde Lucus Festival © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Celts at The Arde Lucus Festival © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Family at the Arde Lucus Festival © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Roman Warrior at Arde Lucus. © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Roman Hair. Arde Lucus © 2014 Helena McMurdo
  Lugo, Arde Lucus Festival  © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Calle de La Cruz, Lugo, Arde Lucus Festival  © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Of course, we joined in the fun in the bars and restaurants. As we stopped in one restaurant in the narrow street above, we sipped our wine happily, while past the doorway marched legions of Roman soldiers, with their drums and cavalry to boot. For a brief moment I thought of what it must have been like to be a Celt living in a straw covered hut, seeing the Romans marching in and wondering how life would change. But then I took another sip of wine. And everything seemed fine.

A truly special display, and if you find yourself in this part of the world around the middle of June, you might want to consider investing in some Gladiator sandals. In 2015, Arde Lucus will take place June 19-21.

Pulpo a Feira

Pulpo A Feira ©2013 Helena McMurdo

One of the classic items to eat in Galicia is Pulpo do Feira. Translation: Octopus-"Market Style". In my grandmother's local market, the women working the Pulpo tent dip their sticks rhythmically into the huge copper pot, their hands seemingly immune to the scalding water below. Then using scissors, they snip the legs into pieces so quickly it's amazing that any of them still have fingers. You take your seat in the covered tent and someone plunks down a bottle of wine and a huge loaf of bread and you order your ration. It's drizzled with olive oil,  and sprinkled with salt and pimentón. Y ya está. (That's it!) Meaty deliciousness.

Galicia: Te gusta?

I'm back from a recent trip to Galicia and I wanted to share some of the images I made as well as some of the memories I have from this place. As many of you know, I was born in Spain or more specifically - as my relatives remind me often - in Galicia. Which is different. When we were kids, we visited in the summers from our home in the North of Canada. The differences were dramatic. In Yellowknife, the Frozen North, the chickens came wrapped in plastic on meat trays in the YK Super A, the local grocery store. In Galicia hens strolled around the yard of my grandparents house and baby chicks were gifts from my Abuelo (grandfather) to me and my two sisters when he came back from the local market. Today in North America we would call it a 'Farmer's' Market. In Galicia, then as now, no one felt the need to specify this obvious detail. We were disappointed to learn that grandma's chickens laid no more than one egg a day and sometimes not even any. This did not seem to tally with the pictures in our kindergarden schoolbooks of mother hen sitting on a mountain of eggs. Our relatives viewed us as city slickers (clearly not the case as anyone who has been to Yellowknife can attest), but our words and actions revealed that we ignorant of country ways. They  laughed when my sister tried hopelessly to shake a chicken in order to induce an increase in egg production.

Big excitement happened when one of the neighbours would move cows from one field to another yelling; Vaca Ve!  My sisters and I would copy them, grabbing a stick and yelling the refrain, not really understanding the words but getting the message.  Today there are fewer cows in the village. But they still move back and forth in a rhythm that marks the days. Today they wear ear tags and in the words of one of the neighbours, "they have more paperwork than we do".

Galicia Village Textures © 2013 Helena McMurdo

When we were kids, my grandparents ran a little bar come shop and their little corner of the world seemed a bustling place with neighbours dropping by to have a drink, a slice of jamón or to buy some basic essential like shampoo or the famous black soap from LaToja.

We found it all so very amusing, helping to serve the drinks and being paid in chocolate and Chupa Chups. Much of our time was spent being poked by neighbours and relatives who spoke freely with their pronouncements as to which of us was the fattest, skinniest, best looking, tallest, most intelligent etc. “The food must be very bad in Canada. The children are so skinny” The bar is  no more but the neighbours still have a lot to say. Now they tell me I am fatter but in a good way. “Estás bien ahora.”

On of the first spanish phrases I remember learning was 'Te gusta?'" Do you like it? Someone was always offering food. (What is a local custom became even more impressive presumably because of our perceived state of malnutrition.) Most of the things being offered to eat were too simply too scary for our young and picky palates to consider. Squid? Octopus? No thank you. "No me gusta". We seemed happy to exist on a diet of Fanta de Naranja, Maria Biscuits and Cola Cao with the odd tortilla francesa (omelette) thrown in. But I do remember always liking jamón and chorizo.

Today, I’m making up for my prior fussiness. In fact, there seems to be little that I don’t like. This is simple food; Green Beans with Garlic and Smoked Paprika, Kale with chorizo and a perfect farm fresh egg, a slice of empanada made in the local panadería. Octopus is boiled and sprinkled with salt and paprika and served with boiled potatoes.

Food in Galicia_©2013 Helena McMurdo

The cooking is not complicated. The ingredients are what make it. And nature provides. Y si me gusta!

Galicia : A Preview

Poppies del Prado

So if you've been wondering where I've been, I'll tell you.  I'll skip the usual excuses for not posting earlier and just say here's a bit of a teaser for what's to come  in the next week or so - a recap of my trip to Galicia. I hope that for the meantime, you enjoy these.

Pimientos&Chorizo ©2013 Helena McMurdo
 Sunset Near O Cebreiro © 2013 Helena McMurdo

Sunset Near O Cebreiro © 2013 Helena McMurdo

Galician Headdresses ©2013 Helena McMurdo

Campeones España

When we planned our trip to Spain, we weren't thinking of the World Cup. We picked our return date of July 12th, somewhat randomly.  It was only after I had booked that we realized that the World Cup Final would be on July 11th and that we would be in Madrid and that there was a very good chance that Spain would be in the Final. So from that point, it was very much a case of believe and it will happen. That said, the first game we watched, still in Canada at this point, at Vancouver's Cafe Barcelona, left us a little shaken - losing to Switzerland? But from there, there was nowhere to go but up.

Having watched a few games in Spain, we were cautiously optimistic, but by the time we hit Segovia and watched the Germany Spain semi-final, it was clear that we were on the right track.

So as we reached Madrid, the mood was great and everyone had their party clothes on.

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The morning of the final, we got up early enough and headed to the Retiro, Madrid's beautiful park. Apparently this is a Sunday tradition for me. My dad used to take me here every Sunday, when I was a child and we lived here for a few months. I love that everyone comes here. The old ladies, the young hipsters, the loud-mouthed youths, the families. It's a beautiful park with acres to walk and lots of shade to keep cool in.  This Sunday was different only in the displays of yellow and red and the sound of the vuvuzela which started early.

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Being our last day in Spain, we hit the Corte Ingles one more time to see if there was any last minute shopping we could avail of.  Near the Puerta del Sol, the fans were out in force, even Mickey Mouse, who everyone knows is Spanish, was there.  At this point, I was somewhat weary of the Vuvuzela and game time being still several hours away, I had serious doubts as to the lasting power of some of the more ardent fans.

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For the match itself,  I'll be honest, and just tell you that we wimped out of going to Plaza de la Cibeles, a short walk away, with the thousands of fans and opted for the cool, air-conditioned comfort of our hotel bar.  The atmosphere was still very lively with lots of fans and we were close to the action, in Plaza Santa Ana. Our own group consisted of myself, Super G, my friend Jay who lives in Germany or (Yeik as he is known locally in Spain...more on this later), my sister and her fella plus one of her former work colleagues and his wife who are both Spanish. So we had a nice little international but clearly pro-Spanish contingent.

The match itself was kind of difficult to watch, with attrition setting in pretty early, the Dutch clearly determined to stimy Spanish efforts. But with Iniesta's late goal, the atmosphere exploded and the fans went mad.  After the match, there was nothing to do but hit the streets and join the party!

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We joined the action for a while and then headed for a meal, at a local pizza place nearby.  It was perfect, simple and just what was required. The partying continued long into the night and even by morning, there were still a few stragglers around.

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The next day, our flight was delayed by two hours, which delighted us because it gave us another couple of hours to enjoy in Madrid. When we finally did go to the aiport, we learned that the Spanish team would be arriving around 3.  We didn't expect to coincide with them, but as we were taxiing for our flight, the captain indicated that the aircraft carrying the Spanish Team was on our right hand side.  (I think this also explained our long taxi and why we were making a runway change at last minute...)  I have to say, this was a pretty cool moment, and everyone on the aircraft started to clap at this announcement.  It was the cherry on top of a beautiful and memorable trip.

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Taste of Childhood

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I love Fanta de Limon. (Lemon Fanta) I'm not sure why we don't have it in North America. It is the perfect soft drink. For me it's the taste of childhood - I always preferred it to the 'Naranja' or orange variety and there is nothing finer for quenching thirst on a hot summer's day.  And did I mention that it is 37 C today in Madrid.

Madrid – Casa Lucas

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The main roads in Spain are all measured from the Puerta del Sol in Madrid so we have literally arrived at the epicentre. 440kms from Galicia and we are here!

For our first afternoon, we visited Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor area. It was extremely hot and humid and at one point rained, which was a blessing because it cut the relieved the air of its humidty.

For our evening meal we went to Casa Lucas in Cueva Baja, once again, the recommendation came from my friend Bob.  Another great one Bob - thanks alot!

The raciones are creative and delicious but with simple, yummy flavours.

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Segovia

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When I was in about grade eight, we had a social studies text book and  on the cover was a picture of the aqueduct in Segovia. For some reason,  I always imagined it to be out in the country somewhere but the reality  is that it sits right inside and is part of the fabric of the city

It's fitting that we started our journey with Gehry and Gaudi and we are now here in Segovia with the Romans. Surely if these guys hadn't figured out that arch thing, it's unlikely that the others would have been able to achieve what they've done.  And both are equally spectacular.

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We left Galicia at about 4 o'clock and had a lovely drive to Segovia out of the main heat of the day.  We arrived to our hotel about 5 minutes before the Spain / Germany Semi-Final of the World Cup so we headed straight to the bar for the first half.  Spirits were high and compared to the other places where we had watched previous matches (Galicia, Basque Country, Catalunya, who have their own national identities) there was considerably more favour for Spain.

We left at half time to go into town as we hadn't even seen the aqueduct at this point and we wanted to be in heart of the action.  We landed at a small bar which had a relatively tiny 36 inch flatscreen outside on the terrazza.  But the atmosphere was great and of course when Spain scored the crowd went mad.

Later, there were lots of celebrations in the streets and a dance festival, presumabably planned earlier and independently of the World Cup was going on at the foot of the aqueduct.

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This was truly one of our most memorable days in Spain and sitting there in the moonlight watching this amazing performance in front of this incredible structure, it was hard not to think we were in a dream.

The next day we got up early and explored the town a bit and visited the 16th Century Gothic Cathedral. All the flying buttresses you could want!

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