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Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Ikea Weekend

It's been an Ikea weekend again. Friday, on the drive back from a short visit in our former home town of Roquetas, we stopped at the Ikea in Murcia, in a never-ending quest to fill up just a little more wall space with books and bookcases.

Our timing was not good. We reached the highway around Murcia at 2:10 in the afternoon, just as thousands of people were headed home for Friday luncheon and siesta. Or so we thought. When we got into the Ikea parking lot, and then the store, we knew where they really went for siesta. Not sleeping in the furniture display as reportedly done in Beijing, but definitely passing the afternoon time of day.

Though we have practically memorized the downstairs warehouse location of Billys and Bennos, we still had to go upstairs into the exposition part of the store because there was one new (to us) model that we had to check out and get the stats on. A half hour later we were making our way through the warehouse, picking our packages, and then we spent several minutes in line before paying. No recession here! People were buying. Out to the parking lot gymnasium, where strange contortions are often evident as people (including us) struggle to get heavy packages into or onto the car or truck.

We managed to position four units inside our Ford Fusion and then returned to the second floor café for our traditional snack of canapé de gambas (open-faced shrimp sandwich) and cervesa sin (beer without (sin) alcohol). No siesta here! It seemed as though everyone in the store had assembled in the restaurante and were all eating, talking, and laughing with family. One more stop-off at the well-equipped tienda sueca to pick up arenque (herring) in various glass jars to take home for our Saturday smørrebrød. Arenque must not be as popular with the Spanish as the albóndigas and other hot dishes and desserts in the restaurant--they had lowered the price to a euro a jar!

Sated for now, and prepared for the next meal, we drove home single file, i.e., passenger behind the driver, as the bookcase boxes were spread on the entire right side of the car, from trunk through the front seat. On Saturday the man of the house magically turned cardboard boxes into standing bookcases, and the woman of the house prepared a smørrebrød with four kinds of herring. And today, we are emptying boxes under the bed and filling new bookcases in our offices and bedroom.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tomato Country and More

During the brief time that I lived in Indiana, my sister introduced me to Red Gold, a small but excellent canner and processor of tomatoes grown northeast of Indianapolis. We enjoyed finding and purchasing the local brand whenever we had need for tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, tomato juice, or any other tomato something from their extensive brand and product list.

Now, totally unexpectedly on a visit to a rural hardware and building supply store near our Montebello home, I have found my local Spanish equivalent to Red Gold. The huge warehouse had a good-enough supply of kitchenwares that I browsed through while the other half of the family talked wood and a building project with the lumber people. But back in the corner I found a section promoting locally grown products. And this is how I found out that it's not just lemons, oranges, mangoes, and olives that are grown in this area. They also grow tomatoes.

I came away with a 390 gram can of tomate al natural pelado (peeled whole tomatoes) and a 400 gram can of tomate al natural triturado, categoria primera (tomato sauce, first quality) for a euro each. A smaller jar (300 grams) of Dulce de Tomate Extra (tomato jam) was three euros. There was a variety of brands and labels in the store, but I noticed after I got home that all three of my purchases were labeled Conservas Almoradí. Almoradí is a town only six or eight kilometers up the road from our home in Montebello--we had previously been there to get our health cards and to buy a few familiar but hard-to-find-in-Spain items at a British EuroStretcher warehouse store.

The two cans also bore a Gómez y Lorente, S.L. mark. When I checked out the Gómez y Lorente website at home, I found that in addition to tomato products, they do alcachofas (artichokes), pimientos (peppers), cebolla sofrita (onions sauteed in olive oil), brocoli, and habas (baby lima beans, also in olive oil). I only saw cans of various tomato products and the onion sofrita, but I look forward to trying the other local products as they become available. I might even try to like artichokes.

I purchased one other local product from the hardware store: Salt. We knew that they still mine salt from one of the two inland salt lakes in Torrevieja--we can sometimes see mountains of salt as we drive by on the road from Torrevieja to Montebello--but I had been completely unsuccessful in finding local salt from any grocery store in the area. Now I have it: Chaco refined sea salt for the table and cooking, packaged by Rocamora Hnos. in Torrevieja, 40 euro cents (about 60 US cents) for a kilo. But salt is a subject for another Sunday.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rain in Spain

Last Sunday it rained in Spain--not terribly hard where we live, but the thunder was loud enough and the lightening close enough that I didn't want to tempt fate by keeping the computer connected to an electrical outlet, no matter that it is protected. We went out to visit friends in the early evening and remembered to leave a light on because we knew it would be dark by the time we returned home. When we came back at 9:30 the light was off, though street lights were still lit. Fortunately a flip of the circuit breaker restored power to the house.

It rained on and off for the next three days, and the temperatures dipped into the low 70s F. though it seemed colder in the early morning when we went out to play pétanque. By midweek I was beginning to wonder whether it was time to bring out long-sleeved clothing and relocate my summer sleeveless next-to-nothings to my winter undershirt drawer. Procrastination pays off sometimes. I did not renovate my wardrobe, though I did start to wear 3/4 length pants for the first time in three months.

Our garden benefited greatly from the rain--everything is clean and fresh--but the local Euro Weekly News paper is telling us that the rain caused flooding in Orihuela, the largest near-by city. In the Valencia region, it was feared that extended rain could damage the rice crops, but the storms seem to have passed over by now. Grape vines were damaged in the Utiel-Requena wine district west of Valencia, however, and the grape harvest is expected to fall by 50% this year. That's not good news for the local wine industry that we are beginning to explore.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Trip to the Bodega

Last Thursday we took a bus tour inland to the village of Jumilla, in Murcia province. It was pleasant riding up high in a large tour bus; even though some of the roadway was familiar to us, we saw vegetation from a different angle than when passing through the countryside lower to the ground in a common car.

Our destination was the Finca Omblancas, a small winery just outside the town of Jumilla, which is home to at least ten wineries and bodegas. We had a spectacularly informative tour of the winery, which was purchased by its present family owners in 2002, who have made huge investments in modernizing production methods and improving quality.

Our tour started out in the vineyards, where the slightest touch of autumn coolness was making its welcome entry after a long hot summer. We moved inside to see the chute where grapes are delivered, dumped, and inspected for the second time (the first inspection is done by hand-pickers out in the vineyard). Then we went down to the huge stainless steel vats where the grapes and their juice are collected and ferment. It was here that I learned about the monastrell grape, a variety unique to Mediterranean countries, and the only grape that survived the Phylloxera epidemic that destroyed most of the vineyards of Europe in the late 19th century.

We passed on to the wine cellar and tasting room, where we tried three of the Omblancas wines--all interesting and worth a purchase--and then on to a nearby restaurant, where we enjoyed one of those lovely Spanish menú del día three-course luncheons. I had a wonderful gazpacho and finger-licking lamb chops. And this menú featured two more Omblancas wines, in generous quantities.

If I had written this post immediately after hearing about the processing and the monastrell grape, while we were still in the vat room, I would be able to tell you many more facts about wine making and Omblancas. But since we proceeded to the wine cellar and the luncheon, those facts floated out of my head with the flow of wine, so if you want to know more, you will have to follow the links highlighted here, and also, perhaps, to an interesting book called Let's Open a Bottle: My Journey through the Spanish Wine Revolution.

And did I mention how nice it was to have someone else driving the bus on the way home?