Saturday, December 27, 2014

Spain Exp'ained: Part 3

Not pictured: Carrot and Mandarin.
In Part 2, I discussed the history of Madrid and pastry. This time, I'll talk about the art of Madrid and gelato.

Retiro Park.
While the Museo Nacional del Prado seems to be Madrid's most famous art museum, from all I read it focused on art I don't care about: portraits of posed rich people, devotional pictures of deifically-rendered saints and biblical figures being lit by the heavens whilst suffering or being blessed. But the museum was free from 6 to 8 that particular day, just enough time for me to rush in to see the works of two artists who differed from the rest of the pack. Hieronymus Bosch did some paintings that look like what Dali would have made were he an evangelical Catholic at his peak. Surreal and whimsical, but at times a little creepy. Most notable is "The Garden of Earthly Delight," a triptych which depicts heaven, an overindulgent earth and hell, which kind of resembles Monty Python animation. Also featured there were some works by Francisco de Goya. He did some paintings of war that, rather than simply depicting spotless heroics, show the inhumane moments of battle, "El Tres de Mayo" especially. He also did the nauseating/haunting painting of "Saturn Devouring his Son" and the striking painting "The Dog."

Equipo Crónica's Espectador de
espectadores. Max Ernst's Red Birds.
Oskar Schlemmer's costumes
for Triadisches Ballett.
More my speed than the Prado was the modern art Museo Reina Sofia, which I went to a different day. This was the attraction that most excited me about Madrid and it certainly held up. It featured some classics (most notably Picasso's "Guernica," along with a lot of Dali and Miro), some lesser-knowns and some up-and-comers. I was excited that they also had some of the dance costumes Oskar Schlemmer designed during the Bauhaus movement, something I'd seen video of in theatre history class. A nice mix of mediums, complete with intriguing head scratchers and obvious masterpieces. Plenty of forgettable things and pretentious b.s. too, just to keep them honest. With four floors in three connected buildings, I was arted out when I left at 7:30. Adjacent to the museum is Retiro Park, whose gorgeous grounds deserved more time for exploration than I left in my day.

Museums are great and all, but the finest work of art I experienced in Madrid was the extraordinary gelato at Giangrossi. I was bummed they didn't have the 40 flavors I'd heard they had, but with 15 or so to choose from I still had trouble deciding. The best two flavors I had were Zanahoria y Mandarina (carrot and mandarin; a citrus blast with a clean aftertaste) and Mascarpone de Frutos Rojos (mascarpone with berries; a subtle base with a tart punch of berries swirled in). The other two flavors were Dulce de Leche (which was sweet sweet sweet and carmelly) and Chocolate con/with Cookies (deep dark chocolate). 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Spain Exp'ained: Part 2

Long lines and a fancy pink sign.
Sculpture in Puerta del Sol.
I began my first morning in Madrid by heading to Puerta del Sol on the Metro. I was running late for my walking tour, so I didn't check out the square. Instead, I was rushed to Chocolateria San Gines for their famed churros con chocolate, which they've served since 1894. I thought they were just okay, but that's probably the chocolate snob in me and the budding doughnut aficionado--churros of course being another culture's interpretation of fried dough. For a better chocolate experience, I'd recommend nearby Valor, where I had an exquisite, thick-as-fondue chocolate-orange drink. (Based on appearance, the churros seem about the same as Chocolateria San Gines.)

Plaza Mayor.
My free three-hour tour, given by SANDEMANs New Europe, began at Plaza Mayor which was in the process of becoming a Christmas market. (Throughout my November trip, this was a theme: Decorated areas that might look spectacular lit up, look a bit anachronistic with the unlit, skeletal beginnings of Christmas decorations exposed by daylight.) We learned that the square once carried out some brutal torture techniques below street level, using a wheel to tighten a rope around a victim's neck and drive a screw into the back of their neck. Other highlights from the tour:
  • We reviewed eight monarchs worth of history from Felipe I to Carlos II. There was a lot of inbreeding from marrying their cousins, resulting in an impotent, deformed and mentally disabled Carlos II.
  • The Spanish Inquisition (which went on for 300 years or so, amounting in the deaths of around 3,000 people and the persecution of countless others) is a primary reason ham and pork are such a point of pride in Spanish culture. When the non-pork-eating Jews and Muslims all converted (or "converted") to avoid persecution under the Inquisition, they decided the best way to prove they were true Catholics was to hang a pig leg in the window. These legs are ubiquitous in modern-day Madrid.
The Royal Palace.
  • Many streets in Madrid feature descriptive pictures of the street names accompanying the street sign to aid the illiterate populace from an earlier time.
  • Though the size of the grounds do not compare to Versailles, the palace itself is the largest in western Europe. The Royal Palace tour, which I did later, was a somewhat quick experience for the cost, but the there was still plenty of awe at the decadent rooms within. Nice views in the courtyard too.
  • We learned about Spain's recent history under Juan Carlos, who in the 1970s used his royal power to turn Spain into a democracy! There was a military coupe a couple years or so later, but it failed, bringing even more public adoration to Juan Carlos. In recent years, however, he has been criticized for his spending during rough economic times.
Napolitana de crema.
After all that walking and book larnin', I had earned a tasty treat. And the place to do that was right back where I started: Plaza del Sol. After a dinner of pinchos (little appetizers served on a slice of toasted French bread), I grabbed pastries at La MallorquinaOf the things I had there, I will point you toward two. First, the napolitana de crema, a croissant with custard inside, but not runny custard like you find in doughnuts. In addition to being thick like bechamel or cream cheese baked into a muffin, the filling was subtly sweet while still bring dense, like an Italian pastry filling. The croissant was flaky with a thin and sweet brush of glaze. Second, I'd recommend the Pringles-shaped almond cookies called tejas. There tastiness is like the buttery cookie part of an M&M cookie, tejas are crispy on the outside, while having a chewier coconut macaroon consistency inside. They might not look like much, but they're great!

In Part 3, we'll talk about art and Madrid's best gelato.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Spain Exp'ained: Part 1

Christmas lights in Saville, outside a tasty upscale tapas spot, Enrique Becerra.
After spending nine autumn days in three different Spanish cities, I had many stories to tell. The entire trip was notable, whether the Gaudí architecture in Barcelona, the history and art of Madrid or the seafood of Seville. But when measuring the value of each city on the quality of the desserts I consumed--as always, I had done my research beforehand--the winner was Madrid.

Before we can delve into the food, we must look at the pictures of pretty things. Then we can move on to the pastry of Part 2 and the gelato of Part 3.

Gaudí's Park Güell, Barcelona.

Parque del Retiro, Madrid.

Palacio Real de Madrid.

Plaza de España, Seville.
Octopus Galliga at El 3 Oro. Saville.

Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona.
Gaudí's La Sagrada
Familia, Barcelona.

Christmas lights, Seville.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Bobtail Year 2: Cinnamon

December was month seven of Bobtail Year 2, during which I received two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

This month's flavor was Cinnamon. It tastes like Christmas at home and, predictably, is quite good. It also helped inspire the satirical, dessert-free blog below.

• • •

The elf on the shelf is a bunch of nonsense. Kids already get presents under the tree, junk in their stockings, daily trinkets or edibles from their advent calendars and now they have Santa's least stealthy spy watching them more closely than the NSA monitors Scott Stapp's weapons and air fare purchases online. All this consumerist culture brings to mind my first acting role in Ms. Husson's fifth grade winter program in 1994, a bizarre piece about materialism with such songs as "Yankee Doodle Santa" and "Make a Buck." ("Make a buck, make a buck! Spend! Spend! Make a buck, make a buck! Buy, buy, buy, buy!" Stop me in the street and I'll sing this on command.) It could make a person nauseous...or it could get them into the Chri$tma$ $pirit!

I've been thinking: being a feminist, I believe we need a female role model in the Christmas crap-hawking canon. A Disney princess who's also a strong woman. Someone who's good with a bow and arrow, but also isn't afraid to throw down on Master Chef to beat Mrs. Claus. Someone little girls can look up to, but whose outfit can be easily adapted into something skimpy for sexually empowered women doing holiday bar crawls. Finally, there needs to be Christmas magic because WWJD. I present to you Cindy the Cinnamon Witch of the North Pole!

A red hot win for festive fetishism feminism.
This red-haired firecracker waves her Cinnamon Stick Wand to transport her to third world countries to help relief efforts for the underprivileged...or to be the sassy and fashionable MC/DJ of the hippest holiday ho-ho-hoopla! Her presence is immediately known because Cindy the Cinnamon Witch smells like a snickerdoodle dipped in apple cider wherever she goes, appearing and disappearing in a puff of cinnamon smoke! While usually a crossbow-carrying conductor of cheer--in addition to magic, her Cinnamon Stick Wand is good for directing an orchestra in "Ode to Joy"--Cindy is also feisty, punishing bad kids with the cinnamon challenge...and posting video footage on YouTube! Fighting for equality all day and partying all night, it's a wonder when that celestial celebrity Cindy ever has time to go back to the North Pole to do her hair! Cindy the Cinnamon Witch of the North Pole™ will be a spicy addition to your religious and/or secular winter holiday traditions!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bobtail Year 2: Butterfinger

L: Butter. R: Fingers. (Not pictured: Missing fingers.)
November was month six of Bobtail Year 2, during which I receive two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •

I’m no gastro-scientist, but my understanding is that anything cooked slow and low for long enough will break down into mush. Apparently, some time between Dia de los Muertos and Thanksgiving, Bobtail decided to test this out with severed digits.

You may be worried that their new flavor, Butterfinger, is a scarlet red bloody mess, but defying expectation they created a bright, white ice cream. Now, I have no personal experience cooking or eating human flesh—Thanks, Obama!—but, even if the fingers are merely a mix-in, it is pretty dang impressive that there isn’t even the slightest pink tint to the base! How might they have accomplished such a feat?

My guess is their first step was draining the blood from the fingers. Then I think they mixed in some confectionary sugar into the blood and cooked it into a syrup. The result is a soft brown solid that is kind of waxy, but sweet. I believe the next step was cooking down the remaining skin and bones into a brownish-orange crunchy mass. Given how sweet and sticky it is, I’m thinking they used brown sugar and corn syrup to produce such a delicious product, perhaps even a touch of smooth peanut butter. Thankfully, there are no cuticles to be found; I’m willing to eat another person’s pinky, but I have my limits.

We could guess at Bobtails’ recipe for cooking fingers all day, but while these facts are veiled in mystery we at least know one other major ingredient: butter. You don’t have to be Paula Deen to realize that many foods are better smothered in the stuff. Personally, I like my carrots that way with a little brown sugar, so why not fingers? Suffice to say, this flavor's base is more buttery than your average Bobtail flavor with toothsome results.

Suppose you want to test your luck at making Butterfinger ice cream in your home kitchen? You'll be happy to learn that butter is for sale at grocers across the country. As for the fingers, your best bet is probably Mariano's. I mean, they sell python meat* so anything's possible.

*scroll to #7