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Monday, April 26, 2010

Mediterranean Breakfast at Ikea

It's been a long time since we made the little trek to Ikea in Murcia, and we have determined that the Ikea food shop has the best prices on marinated herring for our weekly smørrebrød. Of course, we were also thinking of several other small house improvements that could be made. So this morning after an early dental appointment, we headed off through San Isidro to the E15 and then south to Murcia. I examined every white storage unit on the display floor to find something for my office, and the man of the house concentrated on side chairs for the living room. When we both had reached an intolerable point of indecision, we cut through to the cafe. I had noticed earlier that they were offering coffee and a tostada for one euro per person.

Even at 11:30 AM, the special "Mediterranean Breakfast" was still available. The server placed a large baguette and a generous piece of jamón serrano on each plate, and then added two individual plastic containers of what I assumed was jam or jelly. She also gave us each a coffee cup and told us to help ourselves at the coffee bar.
We found a table at the window, looking out onto a striking display of magenta midday-flowers. And as I tackled my baguette, I realized that this was not jelly--the plastic containers cups contained generous servings of olive oil and tomato puree. This was a true Mediterranean breakfast--my favorite media tostada con tomate, with the added luxury of the slice of jamón serrano. Plus the cup of cafe con leche, and we could have gone back for seconds of that. For one euro, this has got to be the best deal on the planet! The normal price of a cafe con leche most places has slipped up to the €1.20 or €1.30 range of late, a tostada is another euro, and the jamon would cost even more. Ikea's Mediterranean Breakfast puts even McDonald's dollar menu breakfast selections to shame.

The placemat on our breakfast tray was advertising another new Ikea menu item: tapas suecos, or Swedish tapas. A selection of three, each for a half euro! The specific tapa promoted here was bacalao con espinaca, a cod and spinach ball. Alas, the tapas will have to wait for another day. Even after we decided on the storage unit, chair, and some new dining room curtains, and got everything into or onto the car, we still weren't hungry again. I barely remembered to rush back in to the food store to buy the herring we had come for, and some bottled water for the trip home.

Friday, April 23, 2010

El hombre propone...

Life was not as expected this week, even in Spain, which is relatively removed from the effects of the ash released by the volcano in Iceland. Our airports were not closed; domestic flights continued as normal. External flights, of course, were a different matter. The first time I realized there was a  problem was on Sunday morning, when we heard reports that John Cleese, needing to make it from Oslo to Belgium, had chartered a taxi to drive him! Three drivers were required to comply with EU travel regulations, and it cost $5000.

Here's a little list of travel disruptions and the rippling consequences they have had on people closer to me than Mr. Cleese:
  • The Sunday market, even though rain threatened and did eventually fulfill its promise, was far busier than usual, with many people on an extended holiday and still enjoying it at this early stage. But we shared a table at the hotdog stand with a lone woman who was supposed to be here with family from Norway--they had been unable to get out before the planes stopped flying.
  • On Monday I heard the chatter of young English children on our street, who had been here the week before, as usual, on Easter holiday. They were obviously still here, past the time when they should have been home and in school, and I mentally pictured schoolrooms across northern Europe graphically revealing which families had done some foreign travel during spring break, and which had stayed home. By midweek the chatter stopped. Perhaps they were part of the coach convoys that were formed to drive holiday-makers to the north of Spain and then be transported by ferry over to Britain?
  • Weekend visitors from Almería, who had been planning to proceed farther up the coast to see a sister on Tuesday, got a text message saying not to come--the sister was in England and unable to get to Spain.
  • An older woman living alone in our neighborhood experienced a break-in and was assisted in her police report by our resident translator. Although her daughter wanted to come for a visit and to help out in this stressful situation, the lady remained alone because of the travel ban.
  • Danish cousins, vacationing in Turkey over the Easter holiday, were stranded abroad, eventually returning by air to Stockholm and then by rail to Copenhagen--a long (an undoubtedly expensive) overnight train trip.
  • I wondered about my Spanish class, canceled last week because my teacher had house guests from the north. Did she still have house guests several days after they had been due to leave? Yes, but nevertheless we met for the lesson--perhaps she appreciated a short hour of normalcy in what had become a longer visit than planned.
  • Johannes canceled his scheduled trip to Berlin on Thursday and further to Copenhagen for his engineering school reunion--travel connections and air quality in the north still too uncertain. This means that I will surely get less work done this coming week than I had planned.
  • And I am writing this Friday morning, missing the scheduled pétanque tournament that started two weeks ago, because this week's match has been postponed--the opposing team has four members stranded in the UK.
  • I am also hoping, this Friday morning, that one regular reader of this blog is having an uneventful return to the U.S. from an otherwise eventful trip to Greece.
As the week wore on, newspaper and TV news reports began to concentrate less on the inconvenience and more on the costs of the fallout. Spain alone is said to have lost €450 million due to the volcano. And how does this unscheduled time away from work get charted, anyway? Does it go to vacation time, sick time, or act of God?

The Spanish have a saying: El hombre propone y Dios dispone. Man proposes, and God decides.

Or, as John Cleese said:

"How do you get God to laugh?"

"Tell him your plans."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Harvesting the Oranges

When I looked outside on Friday morning, I realized that our orange harvest had begun. For the first time in months, I did not see any oranges on the trees in the grove I see from my bathroom window.

Mind you, I had been wondering whether those oranges would ever be harvested. They have been orange ever since December. Almost all the other groves in the area have been picked clean--those orange trees recently have shown just pretty green foliage. As we have walked by our orange grove for the past several weeks, we have seen bunches of bright orange on the trees, and we also have seen lots of oranges fallen to the ground, where they have remained for weeks on end. If the grove were not surrounded by a barbed wire fence and planted a good six feet lower than the road on which we walked, we would have scooted over to the trees ourselves and picked up the fallen fruit from between the rows of trees. We have been wondering whether these particular trees would ever be harvested, and if not, why not? Certainly there is enough cheap labor to accomplish the picking job. Perhaps the market price is so bad that it is not economically worthwhile to pick this crop?
Indeed, I had just about given up hope that we would ever see the harvesting of these oranges.

Well, I still haven't seen anyone or anything picking fruit. I couldn't go out on Friday morning to inspect, but Saturday morning I walked along the path that takes us by the long field. There was no activity in the area, but I noticed that the harvest wasn't finished yet. About three quarters of the rows that I walked past had been picked and no longer showed any orange spots against the green. But a few rows in the back, the farthest away from our neighborhood, still had fruit. I'm hoping that the harvest will resume tomorrow and that I can see it in action. Meanwhile, this morning when we walked over to our neighborhood recreation area, we noticed that most of the trees are filled with orange blossoms already! I had always thought that the time between orange blossoms and orange fruit was relatively short, but I also had thought that the blossoms came first, and the fruit came just a short time later. These blossoms seem to have sprung immediately from underneath the plucked fruit. Now I wonder how long we will have orange blossoms before they are replaced by green fruit.

We had run into the farmer many months ago, when the oranges were still green, and asked him when the harvest would be done. He had told us "May," which seemed like a very long time from then. It has been a long time, but now, in mid-April, we realize that these oranges have a very long growing season after all.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Los Montesinos de Tapas

We have had three glorious days of spring weather, and three fun days of sitting in the sun, having a drink, and eating tapas. Tapas, of course, are the small appetizers accompanying a drink, for which Spain is famous. Some tapas may be eaten by hand, they may come on a toothpick or a mini-skewer, or they may require a fork, and they can range from a single bite of something delectable to a substantial plate or dish that could almost be considered a small entree.

At first I thought it rather odd to have a tapas festival starting on Good Friday, but maybe not. It's a Spanish national holiday, and there were Spanish voices all around as we visited three bar/cafes with friends Friday afternoon, exploring the tapas in the small nearby town of Los Montesinos.

Our first tapa was at the hotel on the edge of town. They brought us a small piquillo pepper stuffed with cod, and a slice of baguette to wipe up the delicate sauce that the pepper rested on. Then on to the center of town, where numerous bars and cafes surround the plaza. Our second tapa was a large toasted slice of baguette with smoked salmon and a sauteed quail egg, sunny side up, arranged attractively on top. The third stop Friday, at el Rincón, gave us a little square tart, filled with cheese and fresh from the oven. By the time we were finished with that the afternoon was drawing to a close, and it was time to play pétanque with the Danish club.

Saturday I read the scorecard and program that we had been given the day before. There were 28 establishments listed altogether--bars, cafés and restaurants, with a map of where they were located in town. Each offered a different tapa each day, so you could choose what you wanted to eat and go in that direction. But now I noticed that there were certain hours that each establishment was serving, and that many were not offering tapas between 4:00 and 7:00 in the afternoon. By the time we were ready to head out, of course, it was 4:00 PM. I scoured the listing and coordinated on the map, and we were still able to find a couple to try. One of the tastiest was a small Mexican tortilla-wrapped warm roasted beef sandwich, offered by a tiny restaurant, Azul Blue, that otherwise appeared to only serve pizza and kebabs. I can't even remember now what our second tapa was on Saturday--the English restaurant, Margarita, had run out of its planned offering and the chef had invented something else, with fish. It was good enough, though, that we stayed here for a light supper and vowed that we would return some time. On the way home we stopped off at a very old Spanish restaurant where we had enjoyed a lovely luncheon a few weeks previously. The atmosphere was mellow as we sat in an interior courtyard, and the tapa was elegant, though the least substantial of all we tried: a walnut-sized ball of pate on a single melba round.

Sunday we spent the afternoon finishing our tax return and only went out for tapas as a reward for finishing that task. We found two places open for tapas that late afternoon. I deposited my scorecard, which I had dutifully had stamped at each establishment, and voted for the last tapa, a very traditional beef in tomato sauce, with bread, as my favorite. Perhaps it wasn't really my favorite, or my only favorite, but it was my favorite at the time.

We were told that this was the first tapas festival that the town Los Montesinos had sponsored, and that it was a cooperative venture in which the eating establishments had done the planning and promotion--there was even a bus to take people around from place to place in case they had too many wines or beers while sampling the tapas. By all accounts it was a big success. They announced the winning tapa Friday morning at the town hall, if all went according to plan, but I wasn't able to attend the ceremony, so I will probbly read about it in one of the weekly newspapers. And no one has called me to tell me that my ballot won the drawing for a free dinner for two at one of the sponsoring restaurants. But we explored on foot many side streets in a town that we had only driven through before, and now we have several ideas of cafes and restaurants to go back to at some time in the future. And we sat out in the sun three days in a row.