Panses

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

IMG_5143

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

Cream

Encara. 

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

IMG_4924

Continue reading

Truffle

IMG_3741

I wouldn’t call the truffle particular to Catalunya although the local mushroom hunters take great pride in rooting them out of the wilderness each fall, and you see them showing up in many local dishes. The Italians would likely argue for its provenance–for the white variety at least–which is found in the Piedmont region where I sought it out, one fall, over the Thanksgiving weekend. Each fall, the Slow Food organization sets up their annual food festival in the city of Alba to celebrate, among other local delights, the famous white truffle though workshops, tastings, and green markets. Given that I would be missing the Thanksgiving celebration back home, I decided to at least keep food in first place that weekend, and the festival’s focus on excellent food made that an indulgent reality.

Back in Barcelona, I slowly become aware of how ubiquitous truffles are, albeit generally only the black variety since the white truffle is not as easily found outside the Alba area and thus is extremely expensive. I see it most often in the of the most well-known local dishes, canelones, a Catalan variation of the Italian dish that most Americans are already familiar with. Here they are filled with roasted chicken, lamb or beef and the truffle is laced into the buttery, creamy sauce that covers the dish. Yet, the purists at Tapas 24 celebrate the truffle with in a much more straightforward way, in a dish which take some of the simplest and most highly regarded ingredients of Spanish cuisine and melds them together into one sublime bite. A glorified grilled cheese, this tapa is made with good quality slices of cured ham known here as jamon, aged Manchego cheese, which we call curado (as opposed to the lighter semi-curado), and black truffle shavings pressed between two simple slices of rustic white bread with the crusts cut off. Given its write up in every guidebook and blog imaginable, Tapas 24 is most often overrun with tourists and lines out the door. I say skip the lines, walk Barcelona’s beautiful streets, and make this sandwich for yourself.  If you can stand to share, halve them into triangles and serve them para picar (as finger food) at your next party.

Truffled Jamon Sandwiches
Serves 2-4

4 slices country white bread
4 slices cured ham
2 slices Manchego cheese, curado
1 small fresh or frozen black truffle, shaved
2 tablespoons salted butter

To make each sandwich, place a slice of cheese on the bread, top with a small amount of truffle shavings, and cover with two slices of jamon. Place the butter in a pan over medium heat until melted. Add the sandwiches and cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until bread is golden brown. Remove from pan, allow to cool slightly, and slice into triangles.