The Thirty Days of Christmas 19

I knocked off my last bits of shopping satisfied I had ulfilled my duties as a generous human being, and comforted by the thought that if I hadn’t managed to find just the right thing for that special person in my life, I could always count on Plan B, which was the Feast of the Epiphany, the Three King’s Day, or just plain Reyes. You see, in the same fashion that Spain cheerfully incorporated both seasons in Christmas to suit its citizens’ needs to party for an extended period of time, so had two major gift-giving traditions merged. Well, that’s not exactly right because it suggests they became one, when in fact both were adopted but kept as separate events. First comes Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, or what have you, then a dozen days later, the Three Kings come plodding through to do their thing.

     The intrusion of the former into Spanish tradition irks more than one conservative Spaniard, but it has been certainly embraced by the retail sector which sees not one, but two opportunities, to cash in on our fears of getting it all wrong when it comes to sliding that present over to a loved one. It’s a terribly stressful way to wrap up the year, and a no less tense manner to kick off the next. Our paranoia and neuroses are the wind that blow life into the burning desire to not screw up. One might say that the good thing is that you always get a second chance to make up for the mess you’ve made, but, alas, it is never that simple.

     Anyhow, I left behind the increasing mayhem of the Goya shopping district and headed over to where I was going to meet up with some friends from the gastronomic society for the annual Christmas aperitivo, one of the truly great moments of the season. An aperitivo is sort of like a pre-lunch drink and snack, or at least that was its original design, but just like the universe spiraled out of control once the Big Bang got things started, so can aperitivos develop into a full-blown meals themselves…on the spur of the moment. You can snack on a tiny dish of paella, pop an olive into your mouth and, before you know it, end up eating half a side of a pig. There is just no telling.

     Since we had no intention of making lunch that day in our homes, in this case, unabashed gobbling was part of the plan. The only factor hovering over us was where.

     Not very long ago, maybe ten years or so, by three o’clock in the afternoon, Madrid was by and large a much calmer city on Christmas Eve. Workers who had ended their workday early commuted home as quickly as possible, and you would have been hard-pressed to find a single store open, save maybe the Corte Inglés, and most bars, cafeterias and cervecerías were shut so tight you could have stored the family jewels in them. They sent a clear and unequivocal message: See you on the 26th. The streets showed little signs of life as if word that a wild animal roamed the streets in search of a victim. Except for individuals making hurried steps towards their flats for a little rest before the great celebrating started that evening.

     I remember back then there being just one bar just up the road from my place which is now one of those 100 Montaditos low-cost beer and tapas franchises. Though I am no fan of those places because it pains me to see standard establishments succumb to generic gastronomic offers, I have to admit they are cheap, and thus keep the college population drunk and happy for a dime. Anyway, on December 24th the atmosphere was electrifying and the joint packed. Oldies from classic rock blared out the speakers, people laughed louder, sang stronger and celebrated with greater intensity than your average day.

     Years went by and other establishments, aware that there was no need to close their doors so early given the fact there was a dire need by the clientele to hold one full-scale blowout before dinner. Nowadays, the Christmas Eve aperitivo is a recent phenomenon that has turned into a rage. The streets come alive at hours which were previously reserved for a more sedentary approach towards life. It’s called the siesta. Before you could let the pale winter sunlight slowly set and set up a game plan for the feasting ahead. Oh, that’s all gone now.

     It just may be that getting together with friends has become popular because it allows people to celebrate Christmas with the ones they want to be with before moving on with their families. Or what’s worse, their inlaws. And with any luck, they can get home a little inebriated and make it through the evening without any serious consequences.

      Regardless, we had been doing it for years because it was just plain fun.

      We reserved a table at a place just near Goya. It wasn’t my first choice; that had been the Italian restaurant with the beer taps in the middle of the tables. Something fun and family-oriented, you know. I had tried to make a booking there because just outside there was a small playground with a swing set and those springy animal things which children could bob back and forth for hours. It is remarkable how resilient they are when under such an intense workout. This was ideal for parents who wanted their own playground by a keg and at the same time mildly comply with their obligations as a parent. In fact, it is as close to paradise as a mother and father and more could come.

      That explained why, when I asked to reserve two tables for the 24th, the waiter began to laugh before I had finished the request. “Not a chance. The place has been booked since last Christmas.”

     That hardly seemed fair. It’s like the bully who stands by the video game and keeps dropping quarters in while you wait. “Got a problem?” Or the woman who keeps adding tasks on to the bank teller as they go. You feel like a victim.

     So we needed another place and my friend Javier voted for a restaurant where they had gone before and which had an upstairs which could be closed off to the rest of the public, making its use exclusive to our interests. This included a rather large contingency of children under the age of seven. In fact, there were eight between 2 and 6, a veritable platoon of TMDs – Tots of Mass Destruction. While the enclosed area may have seemed like a good way of maintaining a controlled climate during the event, it would have all the more effective if the walls were lined with thick padding instead of about a hundred bottles of wine. In fact, those shiny glass containers were the first they went for and within minutes we had four bottles, former bottles that is, on the floor and red liquid flowing in all directions as if the Mob had just paid a visit. In a way, they had. They just couldn’t tie their shoes yet.

       After the initial debacle, we were able to settle down and enjoy the yuletide atmosphere. We were served several bottles of cava while we stood, toasted and exchanged light conversation. Then we got down to business.

       First came three tortilla españolas, so wide they could have served as manhole covers, slices of cheese that came on platters by the dozens, the full pans of eggs mixed with potatoes, peppers and chorizo, three bowls of steamed onion-stuffed black pudding, and three plates of sliced steak with fries and green peppers. The last were so good, we ordered another three. To keep us from choking, we ordered four bottles of Ribera, to go with the other four on the floor, a couple of desserts to be shared and a round of coffees. That was it.

      We didn’t want to go overboard. After all, dinner was the main meal of that day…and was just five hours away.

The Thirty Days of Christmas 14

Many of my friends were turning forty this year and celebrating it as if they had no plans of reaching forty-one. On top of that, each and every one had to be greeted with a surprise party to the extreme that my daughter finally told me, “For the next friend, if you really want to surprise him, don’t have a surprise party.”

     Of course, she was absolutely right, but that reasoning was of little good to the rest, and this was the final one of the group, and a Saturday night event was scheduled. My friend’s wife had requested we take a brief video and send it to her so she could put them all together in a large movie. She had begun to remind us a month in advance of the party. She re reminded us several more times till the point at which she said, approximately ten days before the event itself, that she would no longer admit videos beyond this point. I decided to send mine off that morning, of the party that is, with the faint hope that my contribution would be accepted at such a late hour. After all, this was Spain, and things like this were not unknown heard of. Plus, I had been so overwhelmed with work those weeks, I was sure they would understand.

     I also made the most of the morning to try and get some Christmas shopping in.

     I stopped at the corner of Goya and Velázquez, a very artistic meeting point, if you think about it, and gave up. Too many people at the crosswalk waiting for the light to turn green. This can be done at a different time.

     The party had an additional surprise for those of us who were doing the surprise. It was a theme party. A 1970s party, I think, or an amalgamate of the 1970s in the U.S. and the 1980s in Spain. Both equally legendary periods. For Spaniards, the early 80s marked Spain’s big cultural liberation. Actually, it had begun a few years before right after the death of Franco, but things got up and running during the same years Reagan was pulling in the reins and turning back the clock on America. Madrid was in the midst of its now classic cultural explosion known as the Movida Madrileña, which initially refers to the frenetic nightlife that turned the city upside down, but went far beyond that in almost all forms of art and music. The hairdos and funky clothes might be something Spaniards in their 50s and 60s might look back at now and cringe, but once they open their eyes again, they sigh and recall it all with nostalgia.

       I had no plans to dress up, but remembering I had one of those funky white pimp hats at home, don’t ask what it was doing there or why, and, starting there, created a character who would have fit in nicely at Studio 54’s 1979 New Year’s Eve party or played a bit part in the movie Shaft. Though I was hoping for the contrary, it came as no surprise to me that most of the other guests didn’t engage the challenge of the fancy dress motif with the verve that I had. In fact, I have a feeling many didn’t even give it a second thought. And I, being the oldest at the party, came to the conclusion that one of two factors came into play: either I was the only one with a spirit of youth, or the lame crony at the fiesta who no longer had a sense of shame.

      This should have come as no surprise since the Spanish aren’t always willing to go the extra mile for a little laugh of their own dignity. They often refer to this inaction as “sentido de ridículo”, which is used quite often in a derogatory manner to describe their inability to behave foolishly in front of others, but it just as easily be interpreted as a safeguard against acting like an jackass in public. Seeing me at the party pretend I am a member of K.C. and the Sunshine Band merely reaffirmed their faith in this measure of self-imposed prohibition.

      I was comforted by the thought that maybe some of the other males there fidgeted and felt they hadn’t done enough to impress the crowd. Either that or I had suppressed the notion that their wives hugged them on the way home and said with comfort, “I’m sooo glad you aren’t a teacher. Let’s hang out in the living room and watch some Walking Dead.”

      My new guise did no prevent me from performing previously unassigned kitchen duties. I offered, they accepted, and they stuck be in front of the stove and said, “We need you to make some risotto. Now start dicing.”

      Making risotto isn’t necessarily a trying task, as long as you know how to make the dish. I didn’t but made it up as I went, and pretty much got away with it. We actually had two versions lined up. One was a traditional recipe which included all kinds of mushrooms. In Spain they are divided into two groups “champiñones” and “setas”, the latter being the more highly prized, I guess because they grow on higher quality dung, and because they can be picked out in the wild. Apparently there is only one rule that all must obey: use a real wicker or woven basket to ensure the spores of the fungi cant fall out and spread.

      Picking setas is a popular activity in the fall here, and I know dozens of people who engage in it. I don’t because I know I will be the one who picks the kind that kills you within minutes, and no one wants that burden on the CV.

      The other risotto was made with carrillera meat which is a very tender slab of meat. It’s a the flesh off the cheek, which would not make it far in today’s market expressed as such, but that happens to be the truth.

      Both were delicious. Both were a hit.

The Thirty Days of Christmas 13

There is nothing like a free school lunch to bring out the animal in a staff member. All those years of spreading the importance of generosity and sharing to their students is, in a flash, left at the door the minute the faculty walk in the lunchroom for the annual Christmas buffet lunch. As soon as the pastor has blessed the meal and everyone says “Amen!”, the fight of the fittest is on. There is a rush for the bar to grab the free botellín of beer or glass of wine, hipchecks are allowed, and a dash for the plates at each corner of the main tables. This is not a buffet in the sense that one waits patiently in line as service on the other side fulfills your wishes with a smile and you smile back and say thank you…a lot. Here, it’s every educator for themselves, and I get the feeling that perhaps after all those months of unreasonably insisting that 10-year-old children act like candidates for canonization, teachers have an irresistible need to behave like greedy humans again, and vent that built-up frustration right next to the shrimp salad platter. The table is set with a dozen different delicacies:

  • Ham (surprising good for being the mass served stuff)
  • Lomo
  • Octopus in vinaigrette
  • Shrimp
  • Manchego cheese
  • Dates wrapped in bacon
  • Chicken salad
  • Green salad (bla, too healthy)
  • Fruit salad (even worse)
  • An assortment of canapés
  • Salmon and other goodies

     The food can be accessed from all points, so the impression one gets is not that of a quiet group of civilized professionals filling their plates with the utmost etiquette, but rather a tribe of ravished Comanche warriors surrounding a chuck wagon convoy. Somehow everyone gets a plateful of victuals, but it ain’t easy. The only person in the room who is unhampered by the onslaught is the headmaster, since he is the person people least want to talk to during these events, lest they should have to return to a acting in an inhibited demeanor, and is free to pick and choose as he pleases.

     Then we all sit down to gobble away, delighted by the free grub before us, and comforted by thought that we will not have to deal with school children for approximately 20 days. More if you are the cheeky teacher who mysteriously falls ill the night before the new term commences and bites off another week of vacation.

     At some point during the feasting, four large paella pans are sleekly slid into the ends of the two buffet tables. No mention of their arrival is announced to the general public, and those who are new to the game will naturally miss out. But the veterans are on the ball, and once the tree-trunk sized dishes have emerged, they are up and running for more plates. You see, four paella pans, albeit large ones as they were, are suitable for maybe 40-50 people. There were over a hundred of us, so the, “I’ll wait a few minutes before I go up” approach will only have you end up munching on a sandwich at home an hour later.

     The key at this stage is to stock up on a bowlful which you plan to serve to a group at the table. It’s important to remind others of this when you are piling the rice on so high you can no longer see the person in front of you. You laugh dumbly and say, “It’s for the table you see.”

     Paella is in no way associated with Christmas in Madrid. In fact, it doesn’t even have a relationship with the capital at all. At least in its origin. It comes from Levante, the eastern part of the country that also churns out the turrón, but it has now become anchored in local gastronomy all over the country. In fact, you can find some excellent paella in the heat of the city. This was sort of run-of-the-mill stuff, but we weren’t complaining.

     As we gulped that down, the waiters came by with additional food. In fact, they were mostly waitresses, , as they were the school catering service. It came to me that, when the school holds more formal events, those waitresses suddenly turn into waiters. And the same could be said of weddings, first communions, gala dinners, etc. Isn’t that funny that in a country which has come so far in terms of overcoming machoism, elements of that mentality can still be found in the oddest places and situations.

     The last round of tidbits included fried black pudding (yes that’s slices of sausage filled with blood and rice and other spices and grilled on a skillet), mini-chorizos so tasty (but so greasy they slid off the plate on a flat plane), and battered fish bits (that is, deep-fried seafood, not some poor haddock which was been pummeled to a pulp). Then the assortment of cakes, a cup of ice cream and a glass of cava, Spanish sparkling wine, Spanish champagne.

      But it’s not champagne. Nor is it even Spanish, some say. Few matters in Spain are left unscathed by the heated political controversies that wreak a scourge on this land. Crisis, unemployment, financial and political scandals (not the juicy sexual ones that the British often are embroiled in, the Spanish couldn’t care less about them, but the ones that really get their goat – embezzling and money laundering – in other words, stealing.), and nationalism. Wine, in some cases, is no exception. Cava, as I have just mentioned, is Spain’s most famous version of sparkling wine, and many readers have probably tried worldwide brands such as Freixenet. While the winemaking method is essentially identical to that used to produce champagne, since it does not come from that region the name cannot be used. Ironically, in Spain, where most wine regions are regulated and given names that refer to a specific geographical area, cava is actually made all over the country because it’s the in which it’s produced, not the place, which allows for it to be called cava. As long as it’s approved by the regulating board.

     But that can be a good and bad thing. Cava is predominantly a Catalan drink, and, as such, inextricably associated with that region which, in the hopes and minds of not such a small minority, no longer wishes to be a part of Spain. Over the years, cava producers from that northeast region (they would prefer to be called a nation) of the country have felt a decrease in sales in the rest of Spain, mainly due to a rejection towards Catalan products. So, they go elsewhere, and find solace in toasting to a better life and health by using a drink from another part of Spain.

     The thing is, cava is a name so often identifiable with Catalonia, that many consumers don’t realize that the drink can be elaborated in areas outside that land, so they eschew the product altogether. That is why some bodegas prefer to call their product vino espumoso and avoid the issue and confusion.

     Cava is still the main sparkling wine in the country, and one of the biggest producers in the world. As a standard champagne, it’s quite good, but very dry too. You need to like it.

     The biggest I have with the drink is not its origin, but the moment in which it is imbibed. In Catalonia, they wisely drink it early on in the meal, often with seafood, but in the rest of the country it is poured into cups at the end of the meal when the stomachs are full and there is little room for a glass of highly carbonated wine. That, in my opinion, is why people so often have a conflict with champagne and say that it doesn’t agree with them. They aren’t lying. They are just misguided in their search of a culprit. The ten kilos of food that they have ingested minutes before probably have something to do with it.

Dorset, North of Spain 3

With two teenagers in their room slumbering the early morning hours away, I knew the first thing on my to-do list was to ensure the kitchen was well stocked before they woke up.  This meant making a trip down to the local supermarket, but that was all right with me because grocery stores are one of my favorite places to explore, as they can tell you so much about the country you are visiting.

                There were a number of local stores in Weymouth, but the king beyond compare was Asda.  I am unsure about the right pronunciation of this place, as some would turn the acronym into a words /Asda/, which was my choice, and others would spell out the letters, which sounded a bit off to me, like the name of a syndrome – I suffer from A.S.D.A – or the name of an organization – American Society for Drug Addicts – highly unlikely in southern Dorset and certainly not a place I’d like to buy my powdered sugar from.  It actually stands for Asquith Dairies, a merger of two companies in the 1960s.  Despite being a classic British company, it might surprise you to know that it really belongs to Walmart, which bought it out in 1999 and then sold it ten years later to Corinth Investments, which, in turn, happens to belong to Walmart too.  So there is a lot of corporate incest going on there.

       Asda in Weymouth is a huge two-story supermarket well-equipped to handle the sizable floating population fluctuations that you are apt to find at seaside resorts.  It is a terrific major supermarket and provides just about everything a food-lover like me could want from a mass-scale food vendor.  On top of that, it was just a five-minute drive away and that meant I would probably be popping in on a daily basis.

       I parked my car in the indoor parking lot, then entered to pick up food as well as some data.

      One of the first things you have to look for in a place that sells food is the set up.  It was pretty straightfoward.  Ten aisles of sheer happiness.  Upstairs you could find the pharmacy, clothes, paper products, music, home items and basic appliances, and even a café.

      The first aisle was fruit and vegetables and the bakery section.  The former was solid enough and had some good deals, but the latter really caught my eye, offering just about every kind of dough that a human could stick into an oven: buns, rolls, danishes, muffins, brioches, croissants, biscuits, cakes, tortes, pies, pancakes, waffles, scones, bread, bread, bread, bread and more bread.  That delicious sliced bread that is so hard to find in Spain, bread so fresh it begins to go moldy in a matter of days.  In Spain in stays for weeks if not months, which I’m not sure is good or bad.  It all looked so enticing and so cheap – most cost only a pound – that I immediately started to load the cart without the slightest care for budget or waistline.  Dozens of thises and thats.  It was coming home with me.

         As I said, it all went for 1 pound.  At least much of it.  Asda loves to price its products at 1£, which is why you find the distinctive red and yellow tags all over the place beckoning you to invest yet more in their business.  This brought me to one of my first conclusions: the cost of living in this country, at least as far as food is concerned, is not that high, despite the reputation the United Kingdom has for being an expensive nation.  And considering that the salaries here are so much greater, even more so.  Or so I thought.

          Was that the case? More or less.  The average salary in the UK after taxes comes to about 250 euros a month more than in Spain, but the prices on the whole were comparable, and at times ridiculously lower.  Heads of lettuce cost 50p (60 centimes), 3 quarts of delicious fresh milk (3.4 liters) came to 1.93€.  That would have cost 3.06€ at a low cost supermarket in Madrid.  And so on.  So, is this point an indication that England is cheaper than I expected, or does it tell us that Spain is far more expensive than it should be?  I have said it over and over; I think it’s the latter.

        A visit to Asda also gave me clear indications that the economy is in a healthy state of being, as the store was swarming with employees, dispatching, carting, unpacking, stacking, setting, arranging, ringing up, and just generally making themselves available.  You certainly can’t seem to find such an impressive legion of workers in one of those Carrefours back home.  And, if you need assistance finding something, because supermarkets aren’t always havens for logic, the person on the floor is more than happy to accompany you, rather than just call out, “I think it’s in aisle 6.  Check there.”

         I was looking for napkins and they didn’t seem to appear with the rest of the paper goods, as you would assume.  Someone at Asda felt they belonged with party items.  So I asked and a woman took me to the very spot to ensure they really were where she thought and then smiled and asked, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

         I almost gagged.  Offering to help more?  “What?!  No, no.  You’ve done enough already.  Thanks.”  Hats off to their customer relations training.

         This kind of pleasantness is repeated at the cash register, though this time with a slightly different slant.  The woman ringing me up was friendly from the outset and immediately apologized for not helping with the bagging, which was not an issue for me, because I had unloaded half the store on the conveyor belt; plus I was used to doing my own myself.  As she scanned along, she popped a question, “So, have you got any plans for the day?”

        Now, of course, I don’t ever score at grocery stores, so I was a little thrown off.  I mean, I was used to the typical “How ya doing today?”, “Having a nice day?”, and what not, not something that sounded like “I’m off at six.  Would you fancy going for a pint, luv?”

         But the half-natural way with which she asked as she passed my package of pre-cooked chicken nuggets over the barcode reader, made me realize, or at least sense, that she was not giving me a poke-poke-wink-wink, but genuinely asking about what I had in store for the day out of slightly feigned interest and that this must have had something to do with company policy.   A little light chitchat with the customer is a good public relations tactic.  Later visits would confirm that.  That was fine with me, so I replied, “Well, first I am going to eat 24 strawberry jam and white chocolate chip muffins and take it from there.”

        My answer triggered a confused look, but after she had heard my accent and realized that I was American, she must have assumed it was a bit of quirky Yankee humor that no one quite understood and smiled, “Oh, yes.  That’s nice.” Then she returned to her business efficiently and nicely.  In the end, she handed me four tokens for my purchases which I was to use to donate to one of the several charity they supported.  Each token has a certain value, and I was to deposit one, or more, into a plexiglass container for the the charity of my choice, of course.  How cool was that.

          I departed a hundred pounds lighter, but with enough food to end up a hundred pounds heavier when I was done.

Spanish Meals Phase 5: The Merienda

One of the daily recurring events for me as a teacher is the sight of a child (often a boy) after school parading around the grounds proudly with a large chocolate crispy pastry known as a palmera in his hand.  I grew up calling an elephant ear.  Such is its width that the kid’s face is hidden from view.  It is about the size of a manhole cover, and weighs nearly that much too.  But somehow, with great determination, the boy manages to transfer all the contents in his hand to his stomach.  He has just finished his merienda.  Finding an exact translation for this isn’t that easy because how a person celebrates a merienda can differ from age to place and calling.  In some ways it is akin to the British teatime with the main difference being that most Spaniards don’t drink tea.  Kids for the most part can’t stand it.  It’s simply that foreign to them.  My daughters accuse me of mistreatment whenever I suggest having a cup. 

       So what should we call it?  An afternoon snack?  Perhaps.  But here’s the thing: the merienda is taken some time between five and six in the evening.  I sometimes used to have dinner then when I was kid.  When I tell Spaniards this they look at me they way they do when I admit to watching baseball and even finding it intensely thrilling at times.  They don’t get it.  It doesn’t fit with their scheme of life.  They think I am pulling their leg.  But baseball can be exciting…it really can.  As long as you have a pitcher and a catcher, you have a conflict which needs resolving.  And when that resolution takes place at the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, the tension is unparalleled.  I tell them about how I remember the Mets winning the sixth game of the 1986 World Series (these are the few tales we fans have to tell so it is up to us to preserve the lore), but it’s pointless.  They say it’s interesting because they want to be kind and feel sorry for me.  Cultural stuff. 

         In any event, the merienda is exactly that; a snack to tide you over until dinner, which still looms hours away.  My job in particular drains a lot out of me, so a nice piece of fruit or some coffee and a shot of sugar does me good.  For the most part, the merienda is enjoyed mainly by students and the elderly.  Cafeterías fill up with women who gather for some coffee and a roll of some kind.  Some even go for some killer hot chocolate they serve in Spain.  It is a steamy cup of cocoa which is sometimes prepared so thick you’d think you were drinking chocolate pudding.  You dip sticks of deep-fried fritters which have been sprinkled with sugar into it and pop it all into your mouth.  Then you wash it all down with some cool water, sit back and wait for the heart attack to start up. 

         Other kinds of food include pancakes, ham and cheese sandwiches, doughnuts and, of course, those dry old croissants which need ironing before being consumed. 

         For kids, there is no limit to what they can eat to recharge their batteries.  The abovementioned qualify, but so do fruit, yoghurt, olives, cookies, salami sandwiches, chocolate spread sandwiches…and even pâté on a roll.  Now, you won’t find to many kids back home thrashing open the screen door and calling, “Mom, can I have a pâté sandwich please?”  

      “Yes, honey.  I’ve also got some fried squid too.  Want two sandwiches?”


        Yeah, right. 

Spanish Cooking 1: The Cocido Madrileño

Boy you guys out there on the planet don’t know what you are missing!  Forget the gazpacho and the paella (pronounced, by the way, /pah-eya/) and make some room for this classic stew from the capital which works great for a day like today, when the sky is so gray and the mist so thick I can barely see the Retiro Park just a block away.  In terms of eating on a cold day, it is as close to paradise as you can get.  The ingredients are the following, grab your veins:

  • Chickpeas
  • A hunk of beef
  • Old hen meat
  • Chorizo
  • Thick fresh bacon
  • Lard
  • Black Pudding (I usually add this on the side so as not to dominate the soup)
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes

As we speak I have two enormous pots stweing the bones, hen, beef, bacon and lard.  And the chickpeas too.  I soaked them in water last night to soften them.  As the liquid concentrates, I extract it from the pots and put it into a bowl and have added whole spearmint leaves to soak.  That is a traditional touch in the Madrilanian cocido which I just learned about yesterday from the woman at a nearby shop which specializes in these things.

I will use the liquid to make a noodle soup.  That is the traiditional first course. 

The next stage will be to add the chorizos and, in another pot, the vegetables.  I stew them last because otherwise they can get overcooked.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!