Archive | May, 2011

Un Mar de Olivos

13 May

As you climb to the top of Santa Catalina Castle in Jaén captial, the views are breathtaking. Below lies the compact city with its high rise buildings, nestled in between the sprawling hills of olive trees. The sheer number of olive trees engulfing the countryside, clinging to steep mountains and forming neat, clean lines for miles, is indescribable. And from this vantage point, it’s easy to see why Jaén is the world capital of olive oil. In fact, I’m not sure how I have spent nearly 8 months here in Jaén without commenting on what keeps the city thriving.

But in all reality, olives are more than a source of income here. They’re a way of life. There are olives for snacking as you sit around at the bar. There are stuffed olives, spicy olives, pitted olives, round olives, oval olives – more olives varieties than I knew existed. My body wash is olive scented, my lotion is made of olives and I even brush my teeth with olive toothpaste. (ok, just kidding about the toothpaste part, but you get the point.)

And most important is the product that comes from the olives: aceite (olive oil). What would Spanish cooking be without olive oil? For breakfast there is toast drenched with olive oil and tomatoes. For salads there is olive oil, not ranch or italian dressing. Your sandwich is a little dry? Why not put a little olive oil on it? And olive oil is essential to some of the best and most traditional Spanish food, like gaspacho soup, or the spanish tortilla.

But what struck me the most upon arriving was the sheer amount of oil that is used in cooking. Coming from the U.S., where olive oil is often tossed aside for more affordable products like butter, I used olive oil sparingly. A few drops on my salad, a few drops for cooking some veggies. However I watched on as my roommates dumped olive oil on everything – bottle after bottle being piled up in the recycling.

So now my new quest is to embrace olive oil like a Spaniard and I’ve got just the thing to help me get started: a 5-liter jug of olive oil (about 1.3 gallons). A gift from the director of my department at school, the jug of olive oil came from his very own olive trees. After sending all the olives to a cooperative to be turned to olive oil, he had the opportunity to receive his payments in cash or olive oil. Lucky for me and my other co-workers, he chose olive oil.

My Lesson of the Day: For an olive oil to be labeled ‘Extra Virgin’ (the highest classification of oil) it must be able to meet more that 20 standards, including a taste test by the International Olive Council.

The Griswolds in Spain

12 May

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a family vacation.

Taking a little more than two weeks off from work, school, dogfeeding, and playstation-playing, the Feldman family made the ardous plane ride over to Spain to visit their favorite daughter. It has been nearly three weeks since the family headed back to the states and now I feel adequately recovered to comment on the vacation. So here’s the top 5 moments:

1. Tim Norris

If you know me even a little bit, you have probably already heard this story, seeing as it’s my favorite from vacation. It all happened in Barcelona on a crowded metro stop. The Feldmans were coming back from a little sightseeing when suddenly a gang of unruly-looking men jumped onto the subway train with one object in mind: my dad’s wallet. After a little confusion, one managed to grab the wallet and had it in his hand. Then entered Tim Norris. With the speed of Jackie Chan he managed to grab the wallet back  and with the strength of Arnold Schwartzenager, he shoved the man to floor. As the thief limped away like a wounded animal, my dad stood victorious in the middle of the train, with those nearby throwing thumbs-ups and high-fives in his direction. Real American Hero? This bud’s for you, Tim Norris.

2. Fanta Naranja

If you happened to see my brother upon his return to the states, you may have noticed he had a certain glow about him. No my friends, that was not a tan. The resulting orange glow actually came from the consummation of large quantities of orange soda (Fanta Naranja, if you will). I have never and hope to never again see a person consume so much Fanta. For coffee in the morning, Will got fanta. Pitstop on the road: Will got Fanta. Lunch: Fanta. Drinks on the terrace: Fanta. I think you get the point. You know how the human body is more than 60% water? Well, upon leaving Spain my brother was actually 55% water and 5% fanta, with the rest of the percentage coming from churros and croquetas (the closest thing to chicken nuggets we could find). Could someone please contact the Guiness record book? Thank you.

3. The road to nowhere

With a little nostalgia for roadtrips past, we decided the easiest way to get around the country would be to rent a car and take a road trip. It sounded like an easy idea at the time, however I failed to consider one minor detail: decent maps. As I dilligently sat in the passengers seat and navigated using tiny guide-book maps, I managed to lead us down roads that never existed. Not once, not twice, but at least three times. The best occasion being in a small pueblo called Martos. As we sat at a the dead-end of the smallest, steepest, narrowest street you can imagine, we were lucky enough to encounter an elderly man, who we referred to as the Mayor of Martos. Said gentleman not only helped us turn our car around. After repeating the directions to me several times, he waved his hand and said: ¨Just follow me.¨He then walked us all the way through the pueblo, with us following behind in car. As he arrived at a local bar, he once again repeated the directions and then left us on our own to drive out of the city. We might still be in that dead end if it weren’t for you, Mayor of Martos.

4. Say what?

It wouldn’t be a true trip to Spain if there wasn’t a little fútbol involved. We watched several matches on TV, including two of the most highly anticipated matches between Real Madrid and Barça. But for the live experience, we headed to an Atlético de Madrid game at the Vincente Calderon stadium in Madrid. There were several amazing gols and plays during the game, but some of the most memorable moments occured off the field. The first of which was realizing that there was no beer allowed in the stadium. We’re talking about a country where you can drink beer in the movie theatre, buy beer out of a vending machine, and even walk down the middle of the street drinking a beer. But when it comes to sports, they take things seriously. No beer allowed. My mom also found it quite funny when halftime rolled around and nearly every person in the stadium whipped out a home-made sandwich to snack on. Those kind of things just don’t happen at Great American Ballpark. My favorite moment however, was the fans and their cheers. I got to play translator as everyone around sang the Atlético Hymn and mocked the players. Some of my favorite chants included: Ey, Cabrón. Fuera de Caldron. and Hijo de puta. Saca una multa. You can look those up in google translate if you wish, but they’re not exactly PG. When the 7-year-old behind you is screaming out those chants, try explaining to your family what he’s actually saying.

5. Snow, Beach and Desert

As a testament to the diverse landscape of Spain, we set out one Saturday to see the three extremes. We climbed the highest road in Europe, arriving at the snowy Sierra Nevada mountain ranges and then wound down through the tiny white-washed pueblos. We trecked through the dry desert climate with its numerous greenhouses until reaching some of the most sought-after and remote beaches of the mediterranean. I watched as my mom wiped out in the snow and my dad nearly fell off a cliff. Through the winding mountain roads, my brother gripped on to the saftey handle until his knuckles turned all kinds of white. But I think it was all worth it to see the highest point in mainland Spain, dine at small little villages and dip their feet into the Mediterranean for the first time. I have to give it to them for being pretty adventurous. Not very many people I know could put up with that much adventure (and/or  misadventure) in one day. I couldn’t ask for better travel companions.

My Lesson of the Day: Two weeks in Spain go by quickly when you spend them with good company.