My Organic Garden

My organic gardenMy splurge for 2013/2014 was an organic garden. I’ve wanted a working vegetable garden for roughly 20 years but I have always lived in an apartment. Now, encouraged by having 3 children, we finally moved into a house with a garden – clad in Astroturf. Not my choice but as it’s a rental that is how it will remain. A few months ago, I received a flyer from Garden Ambrosia for an organic garden scheme. It pictured a family with broad smiles and misshapen vegetables.

I went for it. A friend of mine derided me openly. “What? You are going to pay someone to do it?”

Courgette and tomatoesYes, I am paying someone to do it. I’ve wastefully blundered through attempts at balcony container gardening for ages. Buying books. Lugging 20 liter bags of soil through the house. Managing only to grow a handful of strawberries (usually picked off by the birds) and some tomatoes with inedible skin.

It turned out the happy family on the brochure belonged to Derwent whom I invited to scope out the garden.  Despite our garden being large, the only suitable sunny spot we could find was the gravel driveway (I had also always dreamed of a gravel driveway arrivals and departures accompanied by a crunch crunch crunch noise). Some of it was sacrificed (reversing into it is now a lip biting experience). As the soil was poor, Derwent set about constructing a raised bed and bringing the soil, the manure and the ah – volcanic ash – to me. He told me that a healthy plant needs 98 elements (or was it 89? Everything went blank when he mentioned the periodic table) and volcanic ash is just the ticket.

Twins admiring the gardenWhen I complained that the slugs were turning my lettuces into green doilies he retorted that bugs taking up to 10% of a crop is fair and that the plants are healthy enough to take it. When the beetroot was ready to harvest, he cautioned me against throwing away the leaves and so we prepared them as the Greeks do, with garlic, olive oil and lemon. It was delicious. We have learned to eat plants nose to tail so to speak – whenever possible Read more of this post

Comaxurros, Modern Churros, Sant Gervasi

ComaxurrosOn page 16 of June’s Elle Gourmet there is a tiny picture of some pallid churros with an insert about how they come salty and sweet.   The picture does not induce even minor pangs of hunger but the text is intriguing.

I set off on a mission to a little visited part of town. The street didn’t say much to me, sometimes a new address is just the thing to get me discovering a whole host of charming places and this wasn’t going to be one of those times. The flourescent sign of Comaxurros was easy enough to spot, though the light did nothing to enhance the few churros they had in the window in pink, yellow and brown. Still, I had come all the way to try so I dutifully went in. I ordered a raspberry one and my sister had the passion fruit one.

Churros at ComaxurrosThey look like sharp edged eclaires but taste nothing like them. I like love eclaires but these churros eclaire things are possibly even better. There’s a chew, a tug. There is the vague savouriness that churro pastry always has and when that is coupled with sour and sweet – it’s an addiction in the making. That is without mentioning that it’s fried and fried tastes better.   You only have to have a taste and all of a sudden, it turns out it’s not so much that you want it as you need it. Right. Now. Read more of this post

Brunch at Espacio 88

SKye Coffee Espacio 88My sister was visiting me from London last weekend and it coincided with a weekend of fun events in Barcelona. A pop up brunch at Espacio 88, the 2nd Eat Street by BCNmes and a weekend of open artist studios in Gracia and Poble Nou.  My perfect day begins with a great coffee so the two of us were there, cup in hand by 10:30 a.m.  I had a bagel from the guys at Cloud Street Bakery, split down the middle with two fat slices of foie gras, a drizzle of maple syrup and a fried egg, topped with shaggy rocket and some crumbs of briny feta cheese.

Foie gras, fried egg, maple syrup bagel Read more of this post

Praktik Bakery, Self-Service Bakery / Cafe, La Dreta de l’Eixample

Praktik Hotel BakeryI avoid making bread. Cake, cookies, tarts? Yes, yes and yes. Work clean, measure accurately, get the oven temperature right and with a good recipe, success can always be achieved. Bread on the other hand requires time, commitment, nurturing and being open and receptive to what it’s telling you. Bread making is like taking care of a child. And I have 3 of those so my patience and intuition are worn thin, I am full to the point of bursting in the deciphering mercurial temperaments department.

So bread? Not so much in my house.

Praktik Hotel BakeryI do like to eat it though and watch Anna Bellsolà make it on Youtube. All topsy turvy and not the way I do it at all (the way I do it is stick everything into the Kitchen Aid, mix, put cling film on top and wait for it to rise – no art or beauty in the process. But Anna, to make a ciabatta, she starts by mixing flour, water and salt. She works that dough. She rests it. Later she adds crumbled yeast to it. (!!!) She rests it. Then she pours green olive oil on and somehow coaxes the bread to suck it all in. By the end, having worked with a dough so wet, it would have intimidated me into adding an avalanche of flour  (but not her) –  she has a dough so round, pert and perfect that when she slaps it, it sounds like she is slapping a baby’s bottom. Read more of this post

La Cuina d’en Garriga, Delicatessant & Restaurant, Dreta de L’Eixample

La Cuina d'en GarrigaI visited La Garriga twice before I finally decided to give it a try with my new friend Anjalina of the Barcelona food blog – Rainbow Spoon.  Mostly because this neighborhood has a tendency for well designed shops with mediocre but expensive food.  Garriga has some promising visual cues; they use and sell bread from Baluard, stock tea from Mariage Frères and sauces from Wilkins & Sons.  Meanwhile their chiller cabinet is groaning and perspiring with all manner of delicious things.La Cuina d'en GarrigaMy original plan had been to order some buffalo mozzarella with organic rocket but then I thought it better to test the kitchen and ordered the quinoa salad (€11.30) and the arroz ala cubana (€11.50). Anjalina ordered the lentils with foie gras (€11.40).  Portion sizes were on the small side and prices on the other end of the end of the scale but it was all delicious, unexpectedly so.  The lentils were boiled so that they were tender and not a moment to long.  The quinoa was light and fluffy with the surprising addition of candied lemon peel.  All dressed well.  The lone fried egg atop my rice a la cubana could have used a friend, my stomach certainly thought so.   But overall good and a nice change from all the Tapas and such. Read more of this post

Espai Kru, modern fish with emphasis on raw fish & seafood, Poble Sec

Espai KruWe’ve had three consecutive weekends of friends visiting. After 7 months in Barcelona, we know where to take visitors.  Still, Easter weekend proved a challenge, the city was practically boiling over with visitors and yet many places were closed.  Including the crown jewels in the Albert Adria crown (Tickets, Pakta, 41º Experience & Bodega 1900). Which left the places without the pictures on the Bcn 5.0 website – the ones missing personalised social media buttons; Rias de Galicias (fish restaurant), Espai Kru (modern fish with emphasis on raw fish & seafood), Casa de Tapes.  Long winded introduction – true – but I am fascinated by the marketing.  (Why do the latter 3 fall in a different category with less promotion than the former?)Bread with tomato, croquetas, superlative grapefruit juice, Espai KruOn my last visit to Pakta, the waitress had enthusiastically recommended Espai Kru to me: a la carte instead of Prix Fix, laid back with delicious food. Espai Kru it was, a table for two, for lunch on Saturday. And then we got there.  We climbed the stairs up to the first floor where we were confronted with a big, glossy poster advertising a Range Rover. Martini branding in Bodega 1900 – it works – but Range Rover? And then there was the music. 3 songs in we started wondering if the staff had left their own music playing by accident?  I asked our waitress, Anna (the best waitress I’ve had in 10 years) if what we were listening to was the restaurant playlist (tunes like Bonny M’s Sunny, September from Earth Wind and Fire, Chaka Khan – Ain’t Nobody) – perplexed she answered yes.Deep Fried Turbot / Rodaballo Frito After a glass of the fantastic Blue Fin Mestres Cava it all started to make sense, the poster, the music, the friendly waitress. What is often missing in these big name restaurants is silliness, humor, getting some things wrong – like having a big Range Rover poster to greet guests. Read more of this post

Barcelona Cooking, Cooking Class, Las Ramblas

Barcelona CookingI lived in Paris for 4 years and never went to the top of the Eiffel tower, 13 years in London- I never saw the changing of the guard. Because you don’t, do you? I live in Paella land now but it’s so much a part of daily life here that it’s already been relegated to familiar and uninteresting without me knowing anything about it.  So it’s surprising to find myself really caring about the origins of Paella and snorting out loud at the comedy act that is our teacher chef Javier Morón Uceda at Barcelona Cooking.  “If the rice does not sing, if it does not do this…” claps his hands and cheers enthusiastically “when the liquid hits the pan, stop the paella, start stirring and you will make an excellent risotto – instead of a mediocre paella.”  Javier is full of these one liners. About ham he advises us not to go for the most expensive one and assume it’s the best because “like everything in this life, the best is the one you like.”

Xavier telling us about La BoqueriaIf you take the morning class at Barcelona Cooking, it starts off with a trip to the Boqueria to buy the ingredients for the day. Javier excitedly points out the 3 essential dried peppers to Catalan food (Pebrot “Choricero”, Nyores & Guindilla Picant).  He recounts, as we gather round the salted cod stand, how his great grandmother used to give him a piece of salted cod (with the salt flakes very much still on) and an orange for his merenda every day, “I would take a bite of one and then the other.” he rolls his eyes heavenward with pleasure at the memory.  He tells us how if you cook cocochas (hake chin) at 80ºC and swirl it around ever so gently, you release the gelatin and are left with a dish that has a velvety mouthfeel.  Read more of this post

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