Hay Hay Its Donna Day #8: Risotto

I have finally managed to join Hay Hay it’s Donna Day! I have wanted to take part ever since I first read about its inception at Barbara's. I had been charmed by Donna Hay from the very first time I came across her cookbooks in my favorite bookstore. Her simple yet luscious sounding recipes, always accompanied by brilliant food styling and photography, reeled me in. And then came those cupcakes that I, and many others, could not get enough of (it was in fact the theme of the very first Donna Day). And then I finally gave in to fate and got my own subscription. During all this time I tried to join HHDD, but as life, timing, and weird chance would have it, I never made it.

Until now! I was getting more vigilant about checking the HHDD announcements and came upon Cenzina’s posting for HHDD # 8…risotto! I couldn’t believe my luck. As I had started making my own stock, I had been wanting to try my hand at risotto. It would be my very first time to attempt it! So my first risotto and my first Donna Day coincide...

You can find the original recipe at Cenzina’s beautiful blog il cavoletto di bruxelles. She’s the host this month and the winner of last month’s HHDD. Her photos are fantastic!

Choices, choices…what would I do for my maiden risotto (and my first HHDD entry)? I decided to make a mushroom risotto because I seriously heart mushrooms and can eat them for days on end. Unfortunately, this tropical paradise is not exactly teeming with them, so I used a mix of dried forest mushrooms (although next time I will try this with fresh shitake or oyster mushrooms, as those are readily available here). As I had to reconstitute (I love that word…make me feel like Dr. Frankenstein) the mushrooms, I decided to replace some of the stock with the mushroom liquid as it just smelled so good and woodsy. Also, because I was in a celebratory-risotto-initiation mood, I decided to use cava (a sparkling wine from Spain) instead of white wine. Cheers to me! And cheers to Donna Day!

Forest Mushroom & Cava Risotto
(Click here for original recipe)

  • 200 grams carnaroli rice
  • 750 ml chicken stock
  • Dried forest mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water (1 ½ cups mushrooms when reconstituted)
  • 250 ml liquid from the mushrooms
  • 200 ml cava
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 50 grams grated parmesan cheese
  • 25 grams butter
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil
  • sea salt & cracked black pepper
Prepare the mushrooms:
Place dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour hot water (just boiled) over them. Let rest until soft (30 minutes to one hour). Squeeze liquid out of mushrooms and roughly chop. Save the liquid!

Get on with your risotto:
- Place your stock and the mushrooms’ liquid in a heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat and bring to a simmer.
- Put the oil and chopped onion in another heavy bottomed saucepan and let cook for one minute over medium-high heat, until the onion is soft.
- Toss in the mushrooms and stir.
- Add the rice and stir until all the grains are coated with the oil.
- Turn the heat to high and add the Cava, letting it evaporate (watch it bubble and fizz!)
- Gradually add the hot stock one cup at a time, adding new stock when the previous cup has been absorbed, stirring constantly.

The whole cooking process should take 18 minutes. To be sure, taste the rice at the end, it shouldn’t be hard but definitely not too chewy either (al dente). I think I cooked mine a bit too long and that’s why it came out a little dry.

Once risotto is ready (al dente), take it off the heat, and stir in the butter and parmesan cheese. Add salt & pepper to taste, stir well, and let it rest for a few minutes.

Aside from my risotto coming out a tad on the dry side, everything else was just lovely and thrilling. I gently stirred the rice with a wooden fork (as I read here that using a fork avoids crushing the grains) and watched in wonder as it all came together. Pour in the stock…rice sips it up…repeat…watch the little white grains getting fatter and fatter. The smell was just amazing, and the flavor was wonderfully, intensely mushroom, with a mellow depth from the cava.

I’ll definitely be repeating this. Donna’s The New Cook has some interesting risotto recipes...

Thanks Cenzina for choosing such a smashing theme!

Lo que no mata engorda: Sugar High

What’s a food trip without dessert? Or at least something sweet to keep your energy up for all the miles' worth of exploring. Here are some of the sugary bits that kept me happy in Barcelona and beyond.

Chocolate con churros at Granja Dulcinea
This is the place for that traditional chocolate con churros you associate with Spain. This little granja (meaning ‘farm’ or ‘dairy’, what Catalans refer to as a ‘milk bar’) has been around for a long, long time, tucked away in a narrow lane among the warren-like streets of the Barrio Gotico/Catedral area. The chocolate is so thick and unctuous you can practically eat it with a spoon. Definitely an experience not to miss.

They are on Carrer de Petritxol 2. Tel: 933026824. Going out of the Placa del Pi just turn into Carrer de Petritxol.

Barcelona has some very talented chocolate makers that can definitely hold their own among the best out there. Some of these are what I buy ever time I go (and what I ask for from my kind relatives when they visit Manila) and some I tried for the first time on this trip.

Kokoa – These guys carry my all time favorite truffles (shoulder to shoulder with Maison de Chocolat). Don’t let the shiny gold wrapper, bright orange ribbon, and little flower on top fool you. Inside those foil wrappers lay individual hearts of darkness that can bring you to your knees. Despite the truffles being made from dark chocolate, they are called "Trufas de Vainilla". You will find Kokoa in on the basement of Diagonal Mar (two stores away from Toys R Us, kind of across Alcampo supermarket). Diagonal Mar is a shopping mall on Paseo Taulat and Josep Pla, or on Diagonal and Josep Pla. You can take the yellow line of the metro to the stop Maresme/Forum.

Vilaplana – This is where my cousin discovered catanies, and although I am not really fond of white chocolate, even I eat these little treasures. The catanies are caramel coated almonds covered in white chocolate and dusted with unsweetened cocoa powder. They are a delicious sensory mix of different tastes and textures – first the cocoa powder coats your mouth with unsweetened chocolate, then comes the smooth, milky white chocolate rebuttal, followed by your teeth cracking the sweet caramel coating, and finally the nutty goodness of the almond to round things off. These are my mom’s favorite and what we brought home for her. They are on on Plaza de Sant Gregori Taumaturg and Carrer Francesc Perez Cabrero near Turo Park.

Blanxart – This was a small bar of dark chocolate I got simply because I liked the medieval looking wrapper (I can’t help it, I like pretty things). It was a good, solid dark chocolate. We brought some back but it is now long gone, heehee. You can get Blanxart in a lot of specialty shops and chocolatiers about town (including the airport).

Xocoa – This was another new taste. I wanted to check this place out after hearing so much about it. A true Barcelonan venture, they are a happy marriage of age-old quality with a hip, modern delivery. The look is cool and retro and the selection runs the gamut from plain white, milk, and dark chocolate, to delicious and innovative flavor pairings. We got the milk chocolate with cacao nibs, dark chocolate with green tea (intersting!), and 90% cocoa dark chocolate (whoa!). You can find them at Carrer d’En Bot 4, Tel: 933188991 or Carrer de Petrixol 11, Tel: 933011197. They also have a small branch at the L’Illa mall.

AmatllerCasa Amatller is one of the three buildings that make up the famous “manzana de la discordia” (block of discord or apple of discord). The “manzana de la discordia” is made up of what is said to be the three finest modernist buildings in the entire city: Casa Batllo by Antoni Gaudi, Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and Casa Lleo-Morera by Lluis Domenech i Montaner. The three buildings can be found side by side on the Passeig de Gracia, each stunning façade competing for your attention (hence the discord). The building was bought in 1898 by chocolate industrialist Antoni Amatller, and you can buy their chocolates inside. Entranced by their gorgeous packaging, delicious looking offerings, and the girl at the register telling me my Spanish was very good, we happily purchased the following: Amatllons (which are what they call their catanies), more dark chocolate, and a block of chocolate for drinking (which is their own special blend with a touch of cinnamon). You can find them at Passeig de Gracia 41.

Taps from Cadaques
We visited Cadaques, the lovely seaside village where Salvador Dali lived, during our road trip along the Costa Brava. Unfortunately, as in our wedding, it wouldn’t stop raining. To make things a little more, um, exciting, this little gem of a town is found at the end of a winding mountain road...not the best place to be during inclement weather, especially with the fog fast approaching. But we pressed on, it was our honeymoon after all, and what’s a little adventure right? We searched for the tourist office where we could pick up our tickets for our entrance to Dali’s house, only to find the office closed. Wet and soggy, we trudged around the town, taking silly pictures of ourselves and our umbrella. And we bought taps. Taps, a specialty of Cadaques, are like little sponge cakes shaped like champagne corks, powdered sugar dusting their heads. They are sublime! Light, tender, and sweet, the sides still moist and sticky with sugar, they were exactly the remedy for a cold rainy day. Anyone who goes to Cadaques should not leave without a box. You can get them at most bakeshops there.

A Little Obsession

Funny thing, I have had three drafts in my blogger file for the last month and I just didn't have the time to post with pictures. So sad! I've been busy with work, and everyday stuff. Now, I am playing catch up.

I've had several magazine projects published in the last little while. American Patchwork and Gardens had my "be Merry" quilt on their cover and now my pincushions are in their current issue. They are quick and you can still make them for gift-giving. Unbelievable, I know.

Quilt It & More had an interview of me plus some holiday cards. They were so much fun to make. Really quick and cute.

Quilter's Home issue has me in their horoscope column in the current issue and their previous issue there was an article where I shared all of my sewing room necessities, wish list and fantasy list. It is such a fun publication and Mark is a hoot. Go and get yourself a copy because it is a refreshing read.

I wish you all Happy Holidays!!!!

This just in: Box of Goodies from Spain!

Let me interrupt the Spain posts to say...it's finally here! At long last, my box has arrived! Oh joy!

Ok, I guess this happy occasion actually is related to my Spain posts because all the goodies in this box were lovingly packed away by C and I in Barcelona, to be shipped back to our little home in Manila. We wrapped all our treasures in a ton of bubble wrap, secured everything in place with a bunch of old Hola magazines, and sent them off on a wing and a prayer...and much finger crossing that nothing would be broken on the way.

After much debating about purchases and weight limits, we decided to just ship a box home. So we procured a box at our friendly neighborhood LBC office and proceeded in our mission to fill it up (we wouldn't want the contents to jiggle around in there now, would we?). As you can see in the picture above we stuffed it with all manners of things. Among which are (from what can be seen in the picture):
  • Cola Cao for C - Along with much of Spain's kids, C fell in love with this chocolate energy drink.
  • Cuajada mix fo me - As I mentioned before, I adore this! The best, of course, would be made fresh and not from a mix, but beggars can't be choosers, and with the lack of actual cuajo (the substance used to curdle the milk) here, I will have to settle for this. You can also find ready made cuajada in the groceries in Barcelona (and believe me, I had more than my share when we were there). The best I've tried, barring homemade, are the ones that come in the clay crocks that say "de leche de oveja" (sheep's milk). When I try to make this I'm going to try doing it with carabao's milk...
  • Small clay crocks - From our trip to La Bisbal, in the Costa Brava. This is the place to go for pottery! These little ones would be perfect for individual dessert servings...and for my cuajada. The green pitcher you see is also from La Bisbal.
  • Arroz Bomba - Said to be the best rice for cooking paella. Am I fixing my self up to attempt this finally? Hmmm...I am still convincing C that this should be his forte, as he is the lover of paella between us.
  • Our booty from Zara Home - Now you can dress your house in Zara! Beddings, funky towels, serving utensils, adorable kitchen towels...suddenly you feel like your little flat can also aspire to be a tall, thin, Spanish (or otherwise) model.
  • Chocolate Muesli - This may seem a little off, but for some reason, I cannot find chocolate muesli here. And I mean chocolate, not "mocha" or "chococcino". Chocolate muesli (the crunchy type!) and frosted flakes have been a guilty pleasure ever since I discovered the combination one cold morning in Zurich. Now I buy boxes whenever I can.
  • Toothpicks or palillos - So help me...we had a box! Why not? I love these toothpicks that you find in a lot of the tapas bars in Spain. They are shaped like an elongated oval and will be great for a cocktail party spread.
We also tossed in a lot of Spanish supermarket items that caught our fancy like sopa de cebolla mix, demerara sugar, paella spice mix, little sugar "cubes" in different shapes...and all sorts of odds and ends.

These are water bottles we got at Vinçons, an amazing home store along the Paseo de Gracia. These are glass versions of a popular mineral water bottle. We discovered them through my godmother, who has a couple of them, and immediately went to get ourselves some...aren't they hip? Much like Vinçons itself. Their selection is great...just the right note between functional and cool. The window displays are awesome! Behind the bottles you can see a cute argyle print towel we got at Zara Home.

My kitchen towels! I couldn't resist...we could all use a little inspiration to do the dishes :) That is why I'm always on the lookout for nice "tools" for whatever task is usually considered a "chore".

This is what we were hoping and praying would survive the trip (along with the glass bottles above). The clay pot! We got this beauty at La Bisbal. I can't wait to get started using it! What to make? Beans (Fabada!), stews, adobo, chicken in a clay pot, maybe some cornish hens (thank you S&R!)...any suggestions?

Don't you love getting things in the mail? :)

Lo que no mata engorda: Barcelona Bites

View of Barcelona from the tower of the Sagrada Familia

I’d like to apologize for the lack of food pictures for this post. Either the dubious lighting, the rollicking company, or the amount of wine imbibed is at fault. But I didn’t want to go without sharing my gastronomic highlights of a city with which I fell in love at first sight when I was a teenager, and still love to this day. So I am posting some scenic shots of Barcelona to keep you entertained throughout.

La Pedrera...one of Antoni Gaudi's famous buildings along the Paseo de Gracia.

Lechal at Asador de Aranda
I have eaten in this place every single time I have been in Barcelona. “Old favorite” is an understatement. The restaurant is a former monastery and very beautiful. The specialty of the house is lechal...“suckling lamb”. So flavorful and incredibly tender…it will bring tears to your eyes. Just think cuchinillo, but lamb. It is superb.

For appetizers, you can get typical Spanish specialties like jamon iberico and morcilla (blood sausage...if you eat blood sausage, their's is excellent!). My favorite starter though is riñones (kidneys). They are served on a small rack with live coals underneath, drops of fat dripping between the grills. I love them but they are not for everyone.

For dessert we had hojaldre de la casa (sweet puff pastry, a popular choice). Post-dessert they serve you a small cookie and a digestive liquer...we like to dip the cookie in the liquer. Of course, at this point, you can only imagine how full our bellies are, so our brains in turn, are a little addled.

They are at 31 Avenida Tibidabo (tel: 93.417.01.15). Best to take a cab as there are no Metro stops close by.

More then a club! Yes, Barca is definitely that...this is the Nou Camp, one of C's highlights.

Pintxos at Txacolin

Txacolin is a typical Basque-style tapas bar (in the Basque region tapas are referred to as pintxos). The pintxos are spread around the bar…platters and platters of delicious “small bites” skewered with toothpicks. You simply grab stuff off the bar and in the end they count your toothpicks in order to see how much you owe. It's a lot of fun and the pintxos are fantastic here, and very traditional. You stand by the bar, with your wine or your beer, and just eat your heart out.

This isn't a sit down dinner type of place but I enjoy it. And C enjoyed it too! We had gildas (our favorite, a skewer of olives, anchovies, and pickled chili peppers), pintxos of jamon, mushrooms, beef, bacalao, squid, tuna, and lots more…more then we should have I think. Oh well, all the better to fortify us for a night out in El Borne.

They are in front of the Estacion de Francia in the El Borne area. The El Borne area is a great area to go bar hopping and have a night out on the town. It’s a once-industrial area that has become hip, much like the meat packing district in New York.

A cryptogram on the door of the Sagrada Familia. The numbers can be added in 310 different combinations which always add up to 33: Christ's age at his death.

Bacalao at La Bodega

This is a gem of a restaurant and this trip was my first time there. Great food and over 10 different bacalao dishes. This was on C’s list as bacalao is one of his favorites. The bacalao dish he had, with romesco sauce, was very good. The fish was fresh, succulent, and flavorful…soft and juicy. Very different from the bacalao we get here which is only the dried kind.

I, along with my cousins, had steak which you cook on a hot rock. The meat is from Galicia which is where the best meat in Spain is from. We also had habitas (broad beans) with mushrooms and young garlic, grilled Padron peppers, anchoas (anchovies), pan amb tomaquet (pan con tomate…see my post on El Far), and a terrine/pate of pescado (fish) which was everyone agreed was delicious.

The best part is the waiters who come out when you are ready to order and present the specials for the day. They parade heaping plates of goodies in front of you, launching into descriptions of the food in rapid-fire Spanish. A nice bonus for me: a lot of them are Filipino, and if they know that you are one too, they expertly insert a few Filipino words into their monologues to entertain you.

I always enjoy picking something from those selections because you know it's fresh and in season. If they have char-grilled Padron peppers (most are not spicy but sometimes you get a really spicy one...exciting!) or habas/habitas (broad beans) on offer these are some of the things I really like and would recommend.

They are at Plaza Molina 2 (near Balmes and Via Augusta) tel: 932378434.

The Sagrada Familia changes every time I go to Barcelona. This is the ceiling, and it was the first time I had seen it. It is supposed to resemble the ceiling/canopy of a forest, with the sunlight shining through the leaves.

Cocina de autor at El Rus

El Rus is an unassuming place tucked away near the Camp Nou. This is a place where you can experience "cocina de autor", an avant garde dining movement sweeping across Catalonia ever since the rise of master chefs like Ferran Adria. Basically, a slew of talented and daring chefs are putting up their own restaurants and serving up their own vision of a dining experience with unique takes on various dishes. The chef of El Rus used to work under Ferran Adria, so he is quite talented. We didn’t order anything. We just sat down and the chef served us dish after dish, creating his own tasting menu for us on the spot.

We started off with coca (Catalan flatbread) topped with bacalao crudo (raw) with tomato and a balsamic reduction sauce, and another set topped with bonito crudo with a sauce made of dates and topped with sprouts. This was followed by gambas a la planxa (grilled shrimp) with fideos con sesame and creamy alioli. It tasted like an Asian fideua…which I of course loved! Then came more bacalao, a la planxa this time and served with couscous con canela (cinnamon) and espuma de alioli (alioli foam…ah, Ferran’s influence no doubt!) with beets. Then we had fish with tomato confit, guacamole de platano (banana) y pesto de piñones (pine nuts). Next came magret de pato (duck breast) con marmelato de pimiento rojo (red pepper marmalade) with a banana “lasagna” con setas (mushrooms). Last we had pan fried foie on a bed of shoe string potatoes. Wine from Bilbao flowed freely during the meal. Siiiiigh...

They are on Comandante Benitez 18. Tel: 934905634.

This is a quiet little square we came upon while wandering around the barrio gotico...the gothic quarter of Barcelona.

Pan amb tomaquet at Paco Meralgo

Paco Meralgo is a kind of higher end tapas bar where you order from a waiter instead of choose from the bar. They are a hip place with an edgy atmosphere. And they have the best pan amb tomaquet I have ever tasted! Their pan amb tomaquet is serious business…drenched in tomato and olive oil just enough to blast all previous pan amb tomaquets out of the water!

We also had solomillo with garlic, similar to what we know in as “salpicao”. The meat was tender and the garlic flavor perfect. We had an order of pan fried foie…no, I don’t ever get tired of it. Of course, a plate of melt-in-you-mouth jamon iberico and come fresh anchovies. C and I are big anchovy lovers and he could not get enough of the anchoas in Spain…which are far, far removed from the tinned variety we get here.

Dessert was a struggle of indecision: The fresh figs with cream (when will I ever have them again???!!!) or the Miel y Mato (Mato is a fresh cheese from Catalonia, here served with honey…another favorite). A struggle, but not for long. I ordered both. And I licked both platters clean.

They are on Muntaner 171. Tel: 934309027.

***note: Again, I am posting culinary highlights only, but if you have a question about anything else, or if you need more information than I have put up, please email me at eighty_breakfasts@yahoo.com and I will answer as best I can.


Paisley Parade

I came back from Houston two weeks ago. It was a whirlwind trip because I have some other deadlines but I had to go. Does anyone know how to successfully balance your life and not feel any stress? I'd sure like to know.

Houston was inspiring and upbeat this time. Brighter colors, and a more contemporary flair filled the air. My line "Paisley Parade" made its debut. I work with Henry Glass in NYC and they filled their booth with lots of samples made from my fabric. They even have a free pattern on their web site. Go and check it out.

It was so cool seeing the Henry Glass booth sign made from "Paisley Parade". People were a little crazy during Sample Spree. Luckily, I was able to get in before the 8 p.m. opening. Once they opened the doors, those of us inside just stopped and looked at all of the people running inside. Mayhem.
We were like deer standing in the middle in the dark in the road waiting, watching a truck barreling down towards us.

I visited old friends. Amy Butler's [www.amybutlerdesign.com] booth was beautiful. I promised her some felted balls made from roving and delivered them. I promised them a while ago [way back at the Creative Circle of Excellence] but I had a legitimate excuse, . I had an allergic reaction over the summer. My hands peeled from touching unwashed fabric. Yeah, freaky, I know.

Mark Lipinski is such a hoot. He's the editor of a fabulous new magazine, Quilter's Home. I love his candid writing and it's so much fun to read. Refreshing! I'm in the October issue in the article on sewing room essentials. Check it out.

Cynthia Tomaczewski, is a super nice lady from Abu Dhabi, UAE. She travels a looooong way to come to these shows. We met at the Creative Circle of Excellence and she also designs for Henry Glass. Super nice lady.

The people from American Patchwork & Quilting treated us to a little party on Friday night. It was nice seeing everyone again. Catching up with someone is always a treat.

I met new friends. Letitia Hutchins of Mount Redoubt Designs and her husband Shaun were sharing our table at Benihana. They're terrific and let me tell you, there isn't a prouder Dad than Shaun of his two girls!

Lots of weird coincidences happened and they turned out to be great serendipitous encounters! As I am boarding, I hear someone saying, "Isn't that Linda?" I look around and I see the ladies from Henry Glass! We had not been in touch prior to the show because I had a zillion deadlines so they didn't know that I was going. What was even more strange, was the fact that I ended up with the seat right beside one of them! I was going to switch seats because I had a middle seat but I was too tired. So what'd we do the entire flight? We chatted, gossipped and I taught Karen how to knit!

Another strange encounter happened as I was leaviing the Hyatt on Sunday morning. I wasn't going back to the show that morning but for whatever reason I did. Then as I get into the shuttle bus, I hear, "Hey, I know you, Linda Lum DeBono." I look up and there was Cheryl Johnson from Leisure Arts. I was supposed to meet her boss but the meeting was canceled because she had strep. We talked the entire way and believe me, it was DESTINY. I have these ideas that I want to publish and I am looking for the right publisher and I think that Cheryl gets it! Gotta love a gal when she's on the same page as you. Hopefully we will get together on these ideas somehow. Their new booth looked fresh.

I just finished a book for Martingale two weeks ago. It was great fun and I am very excited to see it through. I can't wait for everyone to see the designs. Fun and exciting is all that I can say for now. Plus, I have had a seriously bad cold and cough for the past ten days.

My fabric line, Paisley Parade should be available this month. Henry Glass did a fabulous job of selling it in Houston. I should be working on some more soon.

Whew! I think that's it for now. I have some serious making up to do with the family. No food and attention and they get cranky. Yes, that mountain of laundry needs some tlc too.

Lo que no mata engorda: Breakfast at La Boqueria

I love markets…a love affair that started when I was living in Europe some years ago. It was the first time I was to live on my own…which included feeding myself. The first month was disaster…stale bread nicked from the hotel buffet, tomatoes eaten over the sink…and many other exciting culinary mishaps. Until one day I realized that I was, well, simply put, starving. This had to stop and I had to cook. So I went out to forage for more than our hotel’s breakfast remnants. And that’s how I found them. Harbor-side markets selling all forms of salmon and berries I had never even seen before in Helsinki. My neighborhood market in Amsterdam with crates of wild mushrooms and piles of fresh, home-baked bread. The market in the Zurich hauptbahnhof with aisles of cheese and other goodies (including a stall that sold chocolate covered fruits on a stick…I wonder if that’s still there…). The street market in my neighborhood in Athens bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables and vats of marinated olives (and oh-so-charming provedores!). I would spend hours walking about and picking out my meager treasures for flamboyant dinners for one.

***Incidentally, this is when I really started cooking. No, I was not born loving the inside of a kitchen, nor churning out chocolate chip cookies at infancy. Sure, there were the pineapple upside down cakes of my youth, and I have been a voracious eater since birth, but my real love for cooking, and everything related to it, happened later in life, for the very simplest of reasons...I had to eat.

So, it’s no surprise that I was not going to miss a visit to La Boqueria when we were in Barcelona. It is filled with spectacular produce, fresh breads emerging fragrantly from hot furnaces, tempting charcuterie, stalls full of delicious cheeses, delicatessens, jars filled with herbs and spices and amazing meats and seafood. Then there is the adorable modernista entrance that I adore. And, of course, the hustle and bustle that makes a market a market.

I set off early one morning, leaving C sleeping peacefully in bed (dreaming of Barca no doubt), to “go to market”. Just a couple of metro stops and there I was. A food lover’s paradise. I love going to markets early in the morning, not just for the obvious reason that everything is freshest then (and the good stuff gets snapped up first), and I really couldn’t do any major marketing anyway (as we weren’t home and there would be no place to stow a whole lamb leg), but because that is when you see all the action. Little old ladies pushing their plaid plastic caritons ready to buy the makings of that day’s wonderful meal, customers conversing with their butcher or bakers or fruit/vegetable stall owners, strapping youths slapping raw fish onto beds of ice…things are just starting to come alive and this is the best time.

Breakfast there was definitely part of my plan, stopping at Bar Pinotxo for some sustenance. It is said that Ferran Adria himself eats here when he is at the market. I don’t know if this is true, but the patrons were indeed a motley bunch. I was sandwiched between two stockbroker-looking locals and a couple of German tourists. I had a cortado (an espresso with a dash of steamed milk…my coffee of choice when in Spain…you will be hard pressed to find a lousy coffee in Spain!) and pointed tentatively at a fried looking sweet pastry behind the glass and asked if it was good. The bar’s gregarious proprietor widened his eyes in amazement. It is a Xuxo (chucho) he told me, and it is so good that if I took just one bite I would fall madly in love with him. The Xuxo is a cream filled fried pastry coated in sugar. The pastry itself seems more like Danish pastry than choux pastry (like churros…or their big, cream-filled brothers called porras…also very yummy). It was very, very good…and with a hot cortado even better…but didn’t fall in love with Mr. Proprietor despite his being very charming.

After breakfast it was time for exploring. I think the most painful part was realizing that I couldn’t buy a lot of what I wanted, like the mounds of fresh vegetables and their amazing displays of meat and fish. So I had to be choosy and, of course, headed straight for the figs. As I mentioned in my last post this trip was the first time I had ever tasted (or even saw!) a fresh fig, so that was definitely on my shopping list. They looked like a dream…although I can't say if that was just me in my fig-honeymoon stage. In any case, I procured a bunch that never even made it past the Ramblas!

Next stop spices and dried herbs…something that could travel. I chose a store with a friendly looking girl that patiently walked me through her offerings. I could tell she was amused at my excitement and questions (and my expert Spanish…haha), but she gamely answered everything, giving detailed instructions and cooking advice. So in my bag went portions of Moruno spice mix, paella spice mix, dried herb bunches (like bouquet garni), different kinds of dried pepper, Jamaican pepper, and other goodies.

With my purchases in hand, I stroll the length and breadth of the market. The seafood section, which you will find in the center, is fantastic. Loads of fresh fish and tons of different types of shellfish all lay glistening in the light, resting on crushed ice and waiting for either a talented chef or an equally talented lady-of-the-house to turn on their magic.

The fruits and vegetable stalls were enough to make me tear…so vibrant, their colors looked almost acrylic. Looking back, I should have gotten a bunch of blueberries as well and to hell with indigestion! And the mushrooms! Oy! Fresh wild mushrooms…another favorite. I think though, what riveted me most was the meat. There was so much variety! I was dizzy looking at it all. And all parts were on display. Not just cut up fillets sealed in vacuum packs, but real meat, real parts…heads and tails and everything in between. And every stall with a wizened butcher ready to cut and trim exactly to your specifications. This is my dream…oh, to finally find my soul mate butcher in Manila! Sigh...

Look at those blueberries! I couldn't believe I was seeing that much of them...and not in a tiny plastic container!

Organic eggs and other stalls...where do I go to first? Lovely dilemma...

Fresh chanterelle mushrooms! I wanted to run away with the crate!

Aside from the fresh, there was also charcuterie after charcuterie selling everything dried, cured, tinned, and otherwise prepared. Legs of jamon dangled side by side. Salchicones, salamis, pates, butifarras. And stalls selling wonderful cheeses, from the very fresh soft white cheeses just at their infancy, to old aged articles pungent with aroma. Then there are the bakeries! It was a feast for the senses!

I left the market thrilled and happy…excited to share with C my morning’s adventure…even if I couldn’t share that morning’s figs…heehee :)