The Thirty Days of Christmas 15

Rice was not the only thing that we had the previous night. Naturally. The guest could also find plates of Spanish potato omelets, bowls of ensaladilla rusa, which is a kind of Spanish version (with a Russian name) of the potato salad; cheese and cold cuts, finger sandwiches and dips. None of these, like the rice, are especially particular to Christmastime, but they are fiesta mainstays. The Spanish omelet stands above the rest in popularity. Known as the, tortilla española or de patata, they should not be confused with those unleavened disks that you use to stuff your tacos with. To anyone unfamiliar with Spanish cuisine, tortilla in Spain means “omelet”, and the French version, the tortilla francesa, simply translates as “plain omelet”. When prepared for a party, they are usually thick and and wide as a frisbee and then are cut into bite-sized squares.

     So, you could say that, despite dancing until four in the morning, we didn’t go home hungry. Yes, we danced. I know it’s hard to imagine that ever happening back home an apartment, but the Spanish, despite their famous “sentido de ridículo” don’t really have any qualms about getting up from the couch in the living room and dancing with five other people. And no one else has an issue with this. Maybe there are parts of the United States where people engage in this activity frequently, but not in my hometown. So between that and dressing as if you run a three-card Monty scam in downtown Madrid seem hard to differentiate. Oh well.

     I didn’t stay much longer and was home by a respectable 4:30a.m. The next day was low key since there wasn’t much to do, the way Sundays can and should be, and also because we needed to rest up for we still had another meal lined up for that evening.

     Carla told me that dinner was supposed to be a light affair, something to “picar” for the holidays, and proceeded to read off the list of items the different components of the pot-luck supper were planning on bringing, and act she did not complete until a full three minutes had passed. “Do you think we’ll have enough? Marta is bringing five different items. We’re only bringing three.”

     A new angle was entering the scene: pride. How were we going to only bring two pounds of shrimp and a cheese cake? To alleviate the situation, and noting that the meat department had been neglected in the list, I suggested we make miniburgers, sliders as they are known back in the States.
I don’t want to be presumptuous here, but there is a little known fact in this country and that is that I, myself, introduced the slider (la minihamburguesa) into Spain and so humbly let the knowledge propagate until it was widespread…and all without saying a single word. I would pack the little guys with different flavors and then take them to friends’ houses for all to admire. One year later, there were whole restaurants were popping up all over the place mini-burgers were sold in markets in, lo and behold, different flavors. I’ll just have to accept it with dignity.

     But even though the culinary idea was no longer novel, I went ahead a contributed an American food verse to the poem of Spanish eating at Christmas. The great thing about sliders is that you can add just about any taste you want for them. I chose a boletus mixture, a basil, oregano and garlic combo, a barbecue sauce blend and honey-mustard version. Carla worked away at the cheesecake that morning, and it was chilling away in the refrigerator.
We arrived at 8:15, to get things started early. The consensus was that it was Sunday evening and that those not pertaining to the education sector needed to be present at their workplaces the next day. I sheepishly obliged.

     That was the reasoning at least. We didn’t sit down until 10:00. In the meantime, we chatted and organized what would constitute this light meal. Minutes before sitting down, I regarded the layout of the table we had set before us and would be the source of our satiation for the next two hours.

     On the table was: One shrimp from Huelva, a pound and a half of jumbo shrimp, Manchego cheese, Galician tetilla cheese, Canary Island cheese, Iberian ham, gulas, pickled egg plants, foie gras, salad with pomegranate berries, smoked salmon, sweetened egg yolk thread, vegetable pate. We didn’t get through all of it, but sure as hell tried, filling our bellies and stretching our skin to new limits, and, here’s, the thing, complaining the whole way. If taken out of context, you would the meal was awful.

     “Oh, this is too much, but we can’t let it go to waste.”

     “I can’t have another bite, at least, I shouldn’t.”

     “We really overdid it this time. God bless you!”

     “We’re crazy to eat this much for dinner, but it’s Christmas.”

     “No thanks, I can’t eat another blessed thing. Well, okay, but just a little.”

     “This is sinful.”

     And it was. For the love of God, we hadn’t even gotten to the main course to get around, the miniature hamburgers with four different flavors. After that, then came the dessert, cheese cake, and wrap up the meal, a tray of turrón, polvorones, and such. Water, wine and cava kept the gullet lubricated.

      It was a delightful time, and though I was a tad beat from the night before’s discotheque, it was a perfectly pleasant evening. My guess is that we would be out of there by 12:30, based on their original forecast. But as the evening wore on, spirits rose and before we knew it, it was past one, the host was pulling bottles of liqueur out of the chest near the table. That tacked on another hour. I was at ease because all I had to do the next day was some shopping. Such is the life of a teacher.

Spanish Meals: The Second Breakfast or the Coffee Break

At some time between 10 and 12 in the morning, the Spanish stop whatever they are doing and they go for a second breakfast or mid-morning snack somewhere.  They do this because they are hungry, and even when they are not.  This slot in the day, by the way, is the absolute worst time to enter a government agency expecting quick results.  About half of the country’s public servants are across the street ordering a coffee and those little electric signs in the offices that go beep and indicate who is next up and what desk they should go to suddenly come to a near standstill.  This is especially true of post offices.  You are better off taking along a nice book or joining work staff at the bar across the street and returning in an hour.  Unless of course you are at the American Embassy which has a TV screen and CNN running around the clock.  They do this because they want you to be entertained as well as help you integrate better into society by showing you how millions of Americans spend most of their day. 

        So around this time, there is a dip in national productivity, but since this forms a traditional part of the daily routine it is factored into the GNP, or whatever they call that indicator of growth.  Anyhow, the most popular choice is coffee, especially among those who enjoy the drink.  Otherwise they order something else.  In my case, this is the single most important drink of the day.  My first cup two hours earlier had served solely as a way of getting me out the door and to the streets without tripping down the stairs.  I function, but I am not really doing anything.  This second round gets me really going. 

           Other drinks include soda, chocolate milk, water and even beer or wine.  The last two are not commonplace but after I’d say eleven not frwoned upon either…as long as you haven’t had seven.   I avoid the habit because otherwise I start telling my students what I really think of their English and begin to reveal certain radical political views that are best kept to oneself.  Coffee doesn’t do that to me, thank God. 

       People often accompany the drinks with a snack of some kind, like a roll, toast (with the butter and jam), a doughnut, which is pronounced in Spanish as “doe-noose”, trust me, it’ll get you places.  Another classic is the croissant.  This classic French pastry which we so often associate with fine European continental morning fare is quite common in Spain.  The thing is, when left on its own, it’s often terrible when compared to the versions made north of the border (that’s France).  Spanish croissants, which incidentally means “crescent”, are often dry and insipid as if they were made with a mixture of some basic building materials and not enouth water.   The Spanish won’t admit to this but they prove this theory by almost never ordering one in its original state.  They have it done “a la plancha”, which means the cook cuts it in half, smothers melted butter on it, slaps it on the griddle and flattens it with a spatula and it is toasty broan.  Then he puts it on a plate and serves it with more butter and jam which you can apply according to your taste.  This procedure immensely improves the quality of the bun. 

        Other morsels include grilled ham & cheese sandwiches known as sandwich mixto, for your information, and the immortal tortilla española (or Spanish potato omelet) which is this country’s single greatest contribution to fast food, and quite possibly the item of gastronomy that sticks the longest in the memory of the foreigner who likes to eat. 

       Then people return to their workplaces and the nation’s productivity shoots up.  And everything is the way it should be in the best of all possible worlds.