IMG_8652I love breakfast. For that reason, I’ll never make a perfect Catalan. I don’t love fuet. I’m not a fan of a morning sandwich, except for the kind you find at the delis in New York. I will admit to gobbling down a half a loaf of pa amb tomaquet–that famous Catalan breakfast (or anytime) item made by spreading tomato pulp, olive oil, and salt on a soft loaf of good breadbefore snowboarding or when the cupboards are growing bare, but I’ll never love it like I love a good savory egg dish. This morning, I collected a variety of foods in the refrigerator that needed immediate attention: the swiss chard that was supposed to become the side dish to a Chinese fish dish, several slightly wrinkled cherry tomatoes, half a forlorn onion. Out of desperation and hunger, It became this.

Swiss Chard Strata


Here, we often use what are called cintas in place of normal bacon. They are small, pre-sliced pieces of pancetta that are smoky and perfect for an egg dish like this one. You can use pancetta, ham, or even American-style bacon as a substitute, if need be. Everything else should be easily accessible in your local market. Continue reading


A flashback. Ten minutes. Car horns blare in the distance. The flash of a firecracker flickers off the building. The night dissolves into a flurry of clanking, tinny chimes, as neighbors beat on pots and pans with spoons. It’s the caceroladahashtagged as cassolada in reference to cassola, the Catalan word for pan, their weapon of choice. Six minutes. Someone begins to beat a statacco rhythm that reminds me a calypso beat. Silhouettes shadow forth from the recesses of dimly lit apartments. Only the flickering blue of a television screen lights many of the apartments across the courtyard. Four minutes. A crowd of people have gathered in the apartment upstairs and their voices carry through the floor. Cheering and yelling float out from somewhere in the distance, but mostly the night is filled with the sound of metal on metal. One minute. The moon is almost full. At exactly 10:15, the world goes silent. It’s three days until 9-N–November 9th–the day the Catalans will vote for independence. It’s not technically a legal vote, mired down in political bureaucracy, punctuated by aggressive moves and countermoves on the part of both the Spanish and the Catalan governments. It’s complicated for those both on the inside and the outside, and tensions are running high behind the scenes. Other than the bright yellow and red posters across the city and the occasional voter information booth in the central plaza, it would be hard for an outsider to tell there was anything amiss. But each night at ten, the people make their way to their windows and beat their pans to show the world what they want. It is a protest, albeit the strangest one I’ve seen here yet. Instead of shattered storefronts, upturned trash bins, and fires burning in the streets, this is a peaceful call. As I sit listening to the strange sounds of the cassolada from my apartment windows, I’m also writing an essay about food for my university magazine. I search through my memories and am taken back to a small village on the coast south of Barcelona where I discovered my favorite seafood dish. I write about the evolution of my understanding of cooking in a foreign place, of Catalan predilections in the kitchen, of the nuances between their home and mine. I wish, while I’m writing it, that it could still be summer, that I could still sit in the sun on a wide terrace overlooking the sea and eat a paella made from fideua, the Catalan noodle-based version of the dish. But sadly, it’s already growing crisp outside, the seasons are already shifting. I have to dig through my repertoire for a recipe to include with my essay that is more seasonally appropriate. I choose, instead, to write about canelons, like the Italian cannelloni, because they are a perfect fall food and also associated with Christmas which feels just around the bend. Not long from now, when the air grows truly cold and the ice rink is constructed in the main plaza, giant ceramic noodles called galets will begin to appear on the street corners, in homage to the Christmas soup called escudella that is eaten each Christmas day. They are  lit from within, like a glowing reminder of your impending Christmas meal. It’s my favorite time to walk the streets in Barcelona, when people are happy, restaurants are warm, and food is the glue that draws people together. I will miss the galets this Christmas, my approved visa status finally drawing me home early, in time for Thanksgiving at that, to meet my seven-month-old nephew for the very first time. I won’t regret it.

Cannelloni with Spinach, Pine Nuts and Raisins

Canelons amb espinacs, pinyons i panses


Brought by the Italians in the early eighteenth century, canelons are now one of the most traditional dishes in Catalan cuisine. This is a typical Christmas dish usually made on the holiday of Sant Esteve which falls on the 26th of December, although it is eaten throughout the year. Canelons are made with a variety of fillings–roasted chicken, veal, or lamb–which are often left over from Christmas dinner. This vegetarian version is quite common, and the filling is often made as a side dish. Continue reading


Every year, when I’m home for Christmas, my stepmother makes delicious spiced pecans. This year was no different. I woke up one morning to find the kitchen lined with hefty 2-pound bags of pecans, giant bags of Publix sugar, and a jar of cinnamon. The eggs of course were in the refrigerator where every self-respecting American keeps their eggs. Odd to me now, but I accept that it’s probably safer that way. In America, at least. For two days straight, she made batch after batch of them on our largest cookie sheet, filling the entire kitchen with the fragrant smell of cinnamon that makes vacation at home feel like a holiday. They’re impossible to keep your hands off of, trust me on that. For that reason, it would probably a good idea to make only as many as would be kosher to eat in one sitting. Luckily, she was making them to give away as gifts in small, handmade bags, to all of the people who help us year after year.

Pecans are incredibly expensive here, since they are imported and rarely eaten in Spain, but I buy them anyway from Casa Gispert, a tiny little coffee roastery and market on Carrer dels Sombrerers in the Born neighborhood near the famous Santa Maria del Mar church. I always threaten to make a pecan pie with them, but that usually involves a trip to the basement supermarket of El Corte Ingles, our giant department store chain or to any one of several overpriced American food stores to stock up on corn syrup, because I am yet confused as to how it is possible to make a good pecan pie without it. It usually happens that before I can do anything with them, I’ve eaten the entire kilo bag, pecan by raw pecan. Once, some of them were lucky enough to make it into this couscous salad that I posted this past fall. What I can manage to do with them, however, is to make this wonderfully simple version of my stepmother’s recipe, because there is never a time when I don’t have all the ingredients on hand.

Cinnamon Spiced Pecans 


The recipe below belongs to my stepmother, although to be sure she took it from somewhere else, many moons ago. If I knew the original source, I would gladly give credit where credit is due. If I were to make these again, it would be with the smoked cinnamon from Atomic Spices cold-smoked by Carol Tarr*, a fellow Chicagoan who has set up shop in Amsterdam where I ran into her at a pop-up store one chilly November afternoon. After I ate my way through most of her samples, I went home and ordered one of everything she had. I would recommend you do the same.

*Listed in the Dutch ELLE Food magazine (ELLE Eten) as one of their “100 Favorites” for 2014

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It’s winter, but it doesn’t feel like it. In Florida, it rarely does. The temperature is in the 70s, the sun is shining. I am sweating beneath the shade of an old oak tree. I’m craving a reason to put socks on or perhaps even for a patch of snow on the ground. I think of the gray days I left behind in Maine, where I stopped over to visit two dear friends of mine. The long expanses of white, the leaden purple sky tinged with a peach that was meant to count as daylight. I wear my sweatshirt stubbornly, as if the clouds might roll in and save me.

The days are filled with simple tasks, the way vacation days should be. I drink tall cups of extra strong coffee, read the newspaper while our Dachshunds lace themselves around my feet in figure eights, and watch the neighborhood boys (no longer boys I suppose, most of them married with kids of their own) play round after round of half-court basketball. The squeak of their shoes against the slab concrete feels unerringly familiar.

When heat subsides a bit, I pull my tiny nephew around in the red Radio-Flyer wagon he got for Christmas, listening to the acorns crunching underneath the wheels. He sits up straight and grips the sides tightly with plump dimpled fingers. Most of the time, his seven-month-old face is masked in what could be wonder. I think he’s having fun, but it’s hard to tell. My father waves to him from his seat on the small terrace outside the kitchen. At one point, my nephew lifts his arm in what might be a wave, but his body flags in a way that makes me think of the drunken dance of a charmed cobra, and he grabs the rail again, his tiny fingernails white with the effort. He can’t sit up for long though, and as he loses energy, he begins to slowly slide down into the wagon until he’s a slightly crumpled heap. My sister picks him up again and repositions him. We roll on.

As we walk, I recount the items I have in the fridge to use before I leave: a tube of lemongrass paste (because I couldn’t find it fresh); a brick of red miso that made one meal and many dressings and still I couldn’t use it all; an unreasonably giant tub of tahini (because everything in America is extra large). I sift through memories of meals made and meals eaten, considering all the possibilities. I think of Israel.

Israel is a complicated place; there’s no doubt about it. But when it comes to mind, I try to leave politics behind and think not of its complexities but of its simplicities. I remember the endless stretch of white sand beach in Tel Aviv, a heart-wrenching view out over the water in Jaffa.



I think of the food that we had throughout our journey: the smoky eggplant dish my friend had in Nazareth; the crunchy warm balls of felafel we ate in Bethlehem; the best labne I’ve ever tasted from a perch overlooking the sea.


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Guest post by Tasha Graff

When I lived in Barcelona, I would wake up as early as non-alarm-clock possible every Saturday morning and make myself coffee, toast and a soft-boiled egg. I would sit for half an hour with my toes poking out onto my tiny balcony and read. When I was fully awake, I would get dressed, dab on a bit of sunscreen and head across the street and down the block to a Bicing stand full of bicycles from the citywide program. I’d swipe my card and ride the 15-20 minutes to the Mercat de la Concepció to buy flowers and fresh herbs. It took about seven months worth of Saturdays before my favorite curmudgeonly flower seller smiled at me, and a year and a half before he had a bouquet ready for me when I walked in. Both days felt like victories akin to the elation others might feel getting a job offer or graduating from college. My days are often about small triumphs.

My generous friends described my fifth-floor walk-up apartment in the residential neighborhood of l’Eixample Esquerra as “quirky” or “spacious,” but really it was a pre-furnished relic that, despite my obsessive dusting and mopping and penchant for cooking with fresh ginger, still smelled like stale cigarette smoke from the seventies. I didn’t bring many possessions with me when I moved to Barcelona, and so the only real items that made the place feel like home were the books I accumulated, the food I would cook in the kitchen and the fresh flowers I acquired weekly.

I live in Maine now. It’s cold. There aren’t any flower markets in January. I have to buy daffodils at a grocery store. This winter has been particularly bitter, with little snow upon which to ski and lots of ice upon which to slip. My Saturday mornings here involve emerging from flannel sheets, pulling on thick wool socks, slippers, a sweater and sometimes a hat. I make a pot of coffee, clutch a cup of it and get back under my down comforter to read, all the while resisting the urge to check the temperature in Portland (-2°F/-22°C) and Barcelona (54°F/12°C). When the caffeine and heat kick in, I turn on NPR’s Weekend Edition and head back to the kitchen. Cooking has become a ritual for me, and Saturday mornings have become times to bake.

This morning, I looked around my kitchen and saw a few oranges and a pomegranate but was too cold to eat either of them fresh.


Oranges always make me think of my friend Melissa, Chicago-born Floridian turned Catalan who once announced she didn’t like fruit (it was a bit of hyperbole) and who made the best salad dressing I have ever had while we were cooking a market-fresh dinner together on vacation in western France. Continue reading



Encara as in still. As in not yet.

Encara as in no.

The light creases in geometric angles across the building. It moves slowly with the hours, a sundial of sorts that tells me it is not yet my turn. The comisaría is full of other immigrants waiting for their chance to register for their national identity card. There are not enough chairs, so we sit on the ground. No one talks. We watch the red numbers click over, the sharp lines of light move across the building. We study our hands, our feet. We close our eyes and tilt our faces to the sun. The air is filled with the sharp silence of expectation.

Encara, I wait.

I am two years into a process to renew my identity card that has been marked by meetings, appointments, documents–paper after paper–and the inevitable no. I am always waiting.

At least today I wait outside, under a warm Spanish sun that takes the edge off of the imposing structure of the Comisaría de Policía Nacional, an unlikely marriage of blue tile and white cement. In another world, it would be almost pretty. Here, the weather is still warm, an Indian summer to make up for all the days of rain when the sky soaked the earth, stole the platja, tamped the dust, and made the world fervently green, for a moment.

When I am finally called inside, I am tense with expectation, of what I know will happen, what always happens. Two seconds, a shake of the head, and it is over. I am refused. Again. I come easily undone. There are tears, quiet gulping sobs, a chair pushed back, whispered negotiation, a line on the forehead softened, if only for a second. There is nothing she can do. She pauses for a moment. Puedes regresar el martes? I nod my head. Si. Never say no. Come back on Tuesday she tells me. She bends over and hurriedly scribbles a date and time on the piece of paper I have brought her, stamps it in official blue ink and passes it over to me. It is a second chance. She pulls it away again. Si quieres, puedes pasar por aqui a las 13:45. She writes the new time below it, giving me an extra hour, when I can return to see her. It is a small circumvention, but one I savor. It is a victory. I leave, head bowed, conscious of my tears, of the sound of my quick breath breaking the stillness, of my easy defeat.

It is maddening this process, this puzzle of bureaucracy, of lost communications and contradictions, of one way–the only way–of two languages, both of which say no. I feel helpless. I can do nothing for myself, so I lose myself in language instead, in a place where there are rules that make sense, an intricate syntax of delineated boundaries, clarity in self-expression. I find gratification in a lesson learned, and each one feels like a step forward, feels like belonging in a world still just barely known.

In English, the meaning of encara–still–holds two meanings inside of it, another intention. It has a sense of stillness built into it, a pause. A breath taken and held. There is silence but also possibility. I want that for myself.

Back at home, the seagulls scream constantly now that it is finally grey, the sound echoing off the walls of the inner courtyard as they chase each other in agitated circles around and around, untiring. Eventually they disappear, and only the sound of traffic cuts through.

I want something that comes in a pretty package. I want something made by hand. I want something made with intention, something far from the irregularities of Spanish law, the arbitrary and redundant rules, far from the ubiquitous no. Something neatly wrapped, easily unwrapped, something mine. Here, I belong to a world that is not mine, where I feel half American, where I am still half citizen, where I am still half whole.

Burrata with Figs and Pancetta


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I love grapefruit. Friends claim I have a tendency toward hyperbole, and perhaps it’s true, but this really is my favorite taste in the whole world. Perhaps it is the memory of eating a grapefruit every morning for breakfast with a small serrated spoon, tilting my head back and drinking the juice from its soft shell until my arms were covered in sticky sweet juice. Perhaps it is the memory of spending those mornings with my father who always said, “I’ll get it started for you, and then you have to finish the rest,” as he sawed two perfect slices out of their skin. Perhaps it is that I collected those grapefruits from our own trees in our backyard in Florida, each a richer ruby on the inside because their outsides were mottled and dark, things of rough beauty, far from the supermarket trade. Perhaps it is because the bitter juice is laced with a fine sweetness that feels like balance.

Pink Grapefruit Dressing


My friend and honorary sous chef, Cristine, claims she cannot cook. I know this to be untrue because she’s made for me a delicious pastel de papa, and has–I am sure of it–other South American secrets up her sleeve. In time, she will teach me. For now, we make dressing.

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 ruby red grapefruit, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons riesling (or white wine) vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley or other herbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

In a small bowl, add the olive oil, grapefruit juice, vinegar, basil, fresh herbs and salt and whisk until emulsified. Add the pepper to taste.



The thing about dating an Italian is that you will always eat well. The standards for food–at home, in restaurants, on the road, anywhere, really–are raised to the very highest. These are a people who talk obsessively about food while cooking it, eating it, digesting it. They talk about what they’re going to make, they talk about it while they’re making it, they talk about it when they bring it into the party, they talk about it after it’s all gone. And mostly they’re just complaining. Complaining that the food isn’t as good as it is back home. The substandard water has ruined the pasta. They couldn’t get the exact brand of burrata they were searching for. The sauce doesn’t taste like their mother’s. Yet throughout this litany, they are also really, really enjoying their food. They are complimenting the cook, complimenting themselves, praising the smells, praising the textures, praising the animals that became their meal. In the middle of all of this are no fewer than twenty-five references to Berlusconi. And then it’s onto coffee. Italian. Only. It’s a race to the finish, the whole experience, with hardly an opportunity to get a word in edgewise–breathless, breathtaking, and always fun.

The first meal an Italian ever made me was the simplest one: spaghetti with clams. I was curious to know what else one did with a clam exactly. I never ate clams growing up, despite being a near-native Floridian. Our kitchen, I suppose, was more of an ode to our midwestern roots. I never even remember eating fish at home. So clams were somewhat of a novelty, usually just the pièce de resistance of the rich velvety chowders we used to order in restaurants. Continue reading



I never understood the beauty of a cucumber until I spent two weeks traveling through the tropical climes of the Costa Rican rainforest. We hiked for six to seven hours each day. Only five if we were very lucky and the rain cooperated. IMG_3281.JPG


We lived for a single ray of sunshine.

IMG_3330.JPGMy sister and I shared the physical and emotional weight of the experience together, covered in mud, soaked by a steady rain, and at times carrying up to five liters of water in our packs in the more isolated areas. We spent much of the time bearing the emotional burden in a communal silence of mutual understanding. Continue reading



This dish was born from another dish that I made with my Peruvian friend Cristine called Pastel de Papa, a Peruvian gratin of sorts made with aniseed. I used the leftovers as the base for this breakfast the next morning. I’ve adapted the recipe below so you can make it without going to the lengths of first making the pastel, but I will include the recipe for the pastel in a separate post as well in case you want to try it.

Oven-Baked Eggs

  • 2 potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon aniseed
  • 4 slices queso fresco
  • 2 slices edam cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 onion
  • 3 slices day old French bread
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • handful basil, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees while preparing your ingredients.

For the croutons

Slide the bread into rough cubes. Heat the butter and the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir to keep from burning. Add 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook the croutons, stirring regularly to keep them from burning. Cook 5 minutes or until the bread is evenly golden. Set aside to cool.

For the onions

In a separate pan, caramelize the onion over low heat, adding a pinch of salt, and the oregano. Stir occasionally until golden brown.

For the potatoes

Place the oven-safe pan, layer the potatoes with the edam cheese and queso fresco and the aniseed, top with foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and follow steps below.

For the final dish

To the potatoes, add the croutons, then layer with the onions. Add the sliced basil, and top with two eggs and salt. Return pan to the oven and cook for 6 minutes or until the eggs are done.

Remove pan from the oven and add freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil before serving.