Valerie and Theresa were guests on Andreu Buenafuente’s popular show on La Sexta (Spanish TV Channel 6). Watch the show here.
I’m not really a back-sliding vegetarian as I’ve never given up fish. In Spain, though, not eating meat is pretty close to being one; a vegetarian that is. What really marked me out as a ‘veggie’ over the years was my baffling refusal to eat Serrano ham – especially the premium quality stuff cured from contented acorn-eating pigs who’ve lived a life of frolic on the sierras and hillsides. The back sliding started a few years ago. At parties and weddings I’d sneak the tiniest of skinniest of slithers – just to make sure I didn’t really like the stuff. And then, after a while, just to make sure I did. I finally decided to ‘come out’ last Christmas at a four-day gathering of the García clan. There’s been no turning back (though only with jamón – I’m not the slightest bit interested in ‘proper’ meat) and now I’m as excited as the next Spaniard about the prospect this Christmas of pairing good red wine, ultra-cured Manchego AND the best jamón Serrano I can afford.
Savoured and raved about all year long, the hallowed ham really comes into its own at Christmas. One false turn in Carrefour and you end up trapped in a greasy sea of swinging forelegs and hind legs. Buy one, along with the special slender knife and the cutting stand that looks like an instrument of torture, and you are half-way to becoming Spanish. If you actually manage to mount the thing without losing a finger AND you master the fine art of sliver-slicing (thick chunks will NOT do), you can start applying for Spanish nationality.
Our Russian asistenta’s Spanish is – how shall I put it? – a bit incomprehensible, but we manage just fine. Every Friday she lets herself in at 7 am and starts in the sala de estar – the opposite end to where we’re all asleep.
One Friday I forgot to tell her that the following week some friends would be staying. So I phoned her: either my friends or I would be sleeping in the sala when she arrived, I said, so she would find that door closed and should start in the kitchen or dining room.
“No preocupas, Valeriya,” came the reply. “No problyema. Yo, rata.”
We know she meant she’d be as quiet as a mouse (ratón). Or maybe she’d made some tenuous but apt connection with the popular Catalan fairy tale. Whatever, we’re still laughing (not unkindly.) This one will definitely be immortalised in our family antología.
“This whole page should be kept in a museum,” said a very recent comment on our humorous article Ten things to know before moving to Spain, which was the most commented of the year (2008) at Expatica.com. Enjoy!
Take heart, everyone. I’ve been here for 39 years and the other day I made the most dreadful clanger at a pharmacy in Granada, where I was having a few days holiday. I suppose my castellano is a bit rusty as I mostly speak Catalan and English, but in fact I could have made exactly the same howler in Catalan.
“Quiere decir, de cera,” said the pharmacist without turning a hair.
I felt such a fool. I’d asked for ear plugs made of steel instead of wax.
San Esteban/Sant Esteve My Catalan mother-in-law could never relax on Christmas Day. Plates with remains of chicken or turkey were whipped from under our noses, earthenware dishes hauled away for scrubbing. While we were still gut-busting our way through turrón, cava, coffee and brandy, or already flaked out, bloated and snoring, in armchairs, terrifying crashes, screeches and yells issued from the kitchen. In those days my Catalan was rudimentary, but there was one word I understood: canelons!!! The 26th of December, St Steven’s day, el dia de Sant Esteve, is a public holiday in Catalunya (and also in Balears where it known as the second Christmas) and the making of the cannelonis that are traditionally eaten that day for lunch (well, only the first course, you understand) was a very, very big deal.
Nowadays there’s a roaring trade in frozen canneloni and pre-cooked canneloni, and of course you can order them from the catering, and even from some enterprising bakeries, where you pick them up freshly made and piping hot on the day. Teresina and Lluis, my parents-in-law, made them by hand, from scratch. They painstakingly prepared the finely minced filling from the remains of the Christmas bird and the meat from the traditional broth and stew, they boiled and drained the individual canneloni squares one by one (pre-cooked? What’s that?), rolled them up and stuck them together, made gallons of real bechamel sauce, all punctuated by slanging matches and threats of divorce. They were the best canelons I have ever tasted. Ever.