Archive for October, 2012

October is the month of terror.  In the U.S. children look forward to Halloween:  The Night where they can dress up and be someone else as they go to parties and walk their neighborhoods, door to door, asking for tricks or treats.  In Latin America November 1st, El Dia de los Muertos, is the day families honor their ancestors with festivals, music, food, and flowers.

October is also the month of stories about ghosts, ghouls, and creatures of the night.  We love the safety of a good scary tale that creates chills of fear under the skin.  Many of these stories, though, were not meant as Halloween tales.  They were teaching tales:  this will happen to you if you do not behave (La Cegua), or watch out for strangers you meet in the forest (Mister Fox, The Grandmother’s Tale), or tales of greed (Sunday Seven).  Witches, ghouls, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and any other critters of our imagination can make us shriek and jump in delightful fear around October or around a campfire.  We love a good frightful tale.

While living in Costa Rica I met some new critters of the night: the siren, La Cegua, who goes after men who should not be out at night drinking and womanizing; the three witches in Sunday Seven who give riches to the one who helped them and, well, other, not so pleasant things to the greedy.  Some of these stories reflect the Costa Rican culture from the changes that were made to tales from Europe and Japan while others reflect the originality of the Costa Rican culture.  Whether re-adapted or original these are tales that were born on the very soil of Costa Rica.

One tale, the one that sent chills of fear through my husband, Guillermo, when he was a child, is El Cadejo (kaw day ho).

There are two versions of how El Cadejo became.  The first is about a priest who did something so terrible that he was cursed and became El Cadejo.  The second is about a boy who would place an ox yoke under his bed sheet and sneak out of his house at night to party, return home in the early hours, and sleep all day in the shade of a tree or bush.  His father, not knowing that he was sneaking out at night, would find him sleeping instead of working the farm.  He finally became so angry that he cursed his son:   “Echado y a cuatro patas seguirás por los siglos de los siglos, amén.” (“You will continue lying down on all your four legs for centuries and centuries, amen.”) And so the boy turned into El Cadejo.

El Cadejo is a dog:  a big black dog from Hell.  His fur is hard, oily, and bristly, not what one would want to touch.  His eyes reflect the fires of hell and around his neck is a thick chain (hence the name El Cadejo) that weighs him down as he drags it along with a clankety, clankety, clank…  He appears before those who have done something wrong as a warning.  He stands there with those flaming eyes staring at the accused—a stare that sends icy chills through the veins.

Happy Halloween!

Clankety, clankety, clank…

Drawing of El Cadejo by Geannina Gutiérrez, ©2012

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Cadaqués, Spain

In the Pedro Almodóvar movie Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), Pepa, played by Carmen Maura, is pregnant, has just been dumped by her married boyfriend and not really feeling so well about her life in general…so what does she do?  She makes gazpacho soup in her blender.

Though…she does add an extra ingredient:  a bottle of Valium to end it all.

As the movie continues with various characters moving in and out of her apartment and getting in the way of her original plans the gazpacho soup becomes a center point in the plot (or plots) of the story.  I love this movie and I love gazpacho soup (minus the Valium).

I first came across gazpacho soup in a small cookbook on Mexican Cookery by Rita Davenport and illustrated by De Grazía, one of my favorite Southwestern artists.  It calls for tomato juice; I used V-8, never considering using fresh tomatoes until I saw Pepa make hers.  The rest of the ingredients: cucumber, onion, bell pepper, one large tomato, garlic and parsley are all finely chopped and added to the tomato juice along with olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.  Instead of parsley I will use cilantro and I found that a small can of finely minced clams added a really good flavor and texture to it.  I will also garnish it with chopped avocado when I was ready to eat it.  Letting it sit over night in the frig helped bring out all the flavors.

My husband just couldn’t get into eating a soup cold and I couldn’t get into heating this one up so making Gazpacho soup has been a special treat for me and sometimes to share with friends.

When I lived in Costa Rica I had to buy 10 small V-8 cans since they didn’t sell it in the larger ones.  It’s been years though since I have made gazpacho soup.  I really don’t know why especially since I now grow tomatoes every season in my garden here in Illinois and this year with the drought they have been really producing.

Then I went to Costa Brava, Spain.  Whenever the menu had gaspatxo on it I would order it.  I was curious to see how it was made and tasted.  All were blended to a smooth texture making it difficult to know what, other than tomato, was in it.  One had a more vinegary taste to it and another something like Greek olives while others were blander.

     Gazpacho Soup in Cadaqués, Spain

So when I returned home I made my own using the last of the bumper crop of roma tomatoes.  Going by memory I added to the blender a peeled and seeded cucumber, a seeded bell pepper, 2 garlic cloves, a bit of cayenne pepper and salt.  From the garden I also added some fresh basil and rosemary.  Then I added chopped tomatoes to fill up the blender.  I didn’t remove any seeds or the peels from the tomatoes. I also didn’t blend it smooth.  I like it a bit “rustica.”  I garnished it with chopped chives from the garden and eat it with Greek olives and toasted baguette.  It was great but even better the next day when the fresh garlic and cayenne pepper kicked in.

      Homemade Gazpacho Soup

Going through my many cookbooks I found several versions, one even called for adding water to it and cooking it before chilling.  I also found a version that used almonds instead of tomatoes for its base.  (Interesting)

Personally, I believe gazpacho soup is what the maker wants it to be as long as it is served chilled and with a tomato base.  That’s what I encountered in Costa Brava and that’s what I do in my own kitchen…


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Arriving in Barcelona at 8:30 a.m. tired after a very uncomfortable and long flight we (Lanora Mueller and myself) took a cab to our hotel; Sheraton’s Four Points on Avenida Diagonal 161-163. (Very comfortable beds!) The hotel is located in an area of Barcelona called Poblenou, which is Catalan for “New Village.”

Right out the front entrance of the hotel is Rambla del Poblenou a tree-lined street that has a wide center for walking, eating, and sitting.  As with the other ramblas in Barcelona, this one leads from the sea towards the mountains.  Hungry and in need of euros, we walked along Rambla del Poblenou first looking for an ATM (there are several) and then a place to eat (there are many choices on each block).  The street is made up of interesting buildings that define the history of this beautiful rambla.


Ramble del Poblenou began as an industrial textile area in the mid 1800’s; suffered decline; was taken over by squatters and artists who moved into the abandoned buildings; and then in the 1990’s because of the 1992 Olympics it went through a new restoration that has helped define what it is today—a new village that has a vibrant community and a mixture of different architectural styles from the 1800’s to the 21st century.


This vibrant neighborhood with easy access to public transportation was a great place to begin our trip of Costa Brava Spain and ending it two weeks later where our last night was spent at La Bella Mar restaurant enjoying a glass of sangria and paella.




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In October 2012, we, my husband, daughter and I, ended our Paris to the Swiss Pearl River Boat on the Rhone River trip in Barcelona.  We stayed in the World Trade Center located along the shore and near most of the main attractions that this city offers.  I loved the trip and all the places that we went to and the people we traveled with.  Ama Waterway Tours was very good in all that they provided and the food and wine was delicious.  It was all and more that a touring vacation can be in excellence.  Tours though, no matter how well organized can get old and as we approached Barcelona from Arles, France I was becoming overwhelmed with all the information and quick look at sites.  We had booked extra days in both Paris and Barcelona so that we could have family time at our own pace.

And that’s how we ended up lost in Barcelona.

Actually my philosophy about getting lost is that I’m not really lost because I know exactly where I am, I just don’t know how to get to where I want to go…anyway…

We ended up off the beaten path of tourism and into a neighborhood of narrow streets, high buildings with laundry hanging from the upper windows and small shops that sold practical goods (no touristy junk here).  We came upon a small park that was the center of three converging streets; a man was feeding the pigeons when a woman with her son walked by.  The boy, seeing a great opportunity, ran at the pigeons.  This was a moment that has stayed with me for a year now.  It helped bring Barcelona and it’s people into a better perspective.

So now, here I was a bit less than a year later back in Barcelona with my friend Lanora Mueller of WritingTravel.com.  We were in Spain for a blogger’s convention in Girona and spending a couple of days in Barcelona before we moved on down La Costa Brava.  We stayed at the Sheraton Four Points in the neighborhood Poblenou, Catalan for “New Village”, and loving it but more on that later.  On our second day we too got “lost” and turned around while walking the side parallel streets around Las Ramblas and ended up discovering a different world than the one that Las Ramblas has to offer.  We were looking for an old hospital that is now a library and a coffee shop that I had gone to the last time that I had been here.  We found the coffee shop but not the right one (same name wrong shop) and the old hospital which is now a school and library with a beautiful central garden.  It was a refreshing moment and I loved ending our walk through narrow streets sitting in a garden watching two men play chess on a large chess board, students standing around talking and birds drinking from the fountain.

Special thanks to Europe TBEX ’12 for organizing the Travel Blogger’s conference in Girona, Spain and the sponsors who made the time there both enjoyable and informative about this beautiful area of Spain and Catalunya:

Costa Brava: Pirineu de Girona: Costa Brava Girona Tourism Board @ www.CostaBrava.com

Catalunya Tourist Board @ www.catalunya.com

Ajuntament de Girona @  http://www2.girona.cat/ca

Palau de Congressos de Girona @ www.auditorigirona.org/eng/pc.presentacio.php

Expedia @  www.expedia.com

Europe TBEX ’12 in Spain @ www.tbexcon.com  (for more information on the Travel Blogger’s network, sponsors, & conferences)

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It was a hot, sticky day and I had been walking through the narrow medieval streets of Girona, Spain taking pictures.  I was alone–no guide, no group of friends–alone.  It was a wonderful feeling.  I could take as much time as I wanted photographing the beautiful streets, buildings, windows, doors, statues and whatever else I discovered as I turned down each street and side road.  I didn’t know where I was on the map and didn’t care.  I felt free.  Then I turned down a narrow dark street that began and ended with an arch and found myself in an open plaza with small cafés and shops.

Fifteen minutes before four in the afternoon and only the cafés were open.  This was the hour of Spain’s siesta where stores close and people enjoy a time of comfort with friends and family over coffee, tea, soda, wine, or beer.  I walked along the closed shops looking in the windows and found a bookstore that looked promising.  I was not only here in Spain to take photographs but also hoped to find books on Spanish and Catalonian folktales.  Fifteen minutes to wait till the store opened, what to do…

Across the plaza was a café with the word Xocolatería over its door.  Chocolate–YES!  It was a hot and sticky day with little air flowing through the streets but Spanish hot xocolate sounded soooooooooo good.  I sat down and ordered some.

I had first tasted this wonderfully thick hot coco drink last year when in Barcelona with my family.  So thick you needed a spoon and a churro to help you drink it.  The Xocolatería didn’t have churros but they did have almendras—almond shaped cookies—that where just as good for dipping in the dark chocolate that had the consistency of Greek yogurt.

 Xocolate with Churro in Barcelona & with Almendra cookies in Girona
So…how do they get this drink so thick?        Cornstarch…or if you prefer arrowroot.  (I prefer arrowroot to cornstarch)

I went on line and there are lots and lots and lots of recipes.  The trick is to heat it slowly on a low heat source and stir and stir and stir.  I like using a large wire whisk to stir.  You also need patience.  It takes awhile to heat up and to thicken (20 minutes when I did it). Then it’s HOT so after it was poured in the cup I stirred it again to cool it down before I could drink it.  I didn’t have any almendras or churros and the only cookies in the kitchen were my daughter’s Oreo cookies.


So I enjoyed the hot xocolate by itself and thought about how I would change it a little for the next time.   With time and many more “tassas” I will have it perfected.

Xocolate boiling and thickening on low heat.

The recipe that I used is called Nana’s Spanish Style Hot Chocolate at:


What I like about this one is that it uses unsweetened coco powder and gives a choice between cornstarch or arrowroot (I buy Red Mill at a local health food store).



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