It doesn’t come up as often now, but when I first moved back to the United States after living in Spain, I think I annoyed the people around me with how much I talked about it. Just like that friend you have who lived in Colorado or the Finger Lakes or some other ridiculously spectacular place, I felt myself saying “oh that reminds me of…” all the time and connecting back to a place that, for all the memories, was now very far away.
Lately, I’ve been daydreaming specifically about the flavors of spain: the combination, for instance, of crusty bread toasted and layered with olive oil, crushed tomatoes, and just the lightest sprinkling of salt. I’ve been daydreaming of the overwhelming freshness and cheapness of veggies and fruits, of sangria made from overnight-soaking sliced fruits in red wine, of slices of spanish omelette with firm egg on the outside and a gooey wad of potato and oil in the center, nearly liquid. When I look at my fridge in the United States, so many of these flavors are still possible, still right there: I eat eggs and potatoes in so many forms here. However, there is something about the combinations, about eating them under a beating mediterranean sun by a plaza in Cadiz, or of leaning back in the metal-framed chairs that most terrace restaurants had, and just oozing into my meal. I don’t think I’ve been relaxed since I’ve moved back, not really, and it has been years.
So the second dinner party (coming up soon!) carries a tapas theme – I will tell my invitees to bring any food that would be reasonably easy to cut down to tiny portions, but it was my chance to try some of my favorite flavor combinations again, to make a true Spanish tapas feast. It looks like turn-out will be low (I am friends with lots of teachers, and they travel elsewhere on spring break), but so many of the best times in Spain were with only a few others, sharing many foods that came in portions. This style of eating, dubbed “para picar” in Spanish, or “to nibble,” instead of ordering an individual meal for each person you order many different things and everyone tries a bit of each. It is pretty much the definition of a potluck, even if it is more common as a snack-type meal in Spain, and I’m pretty excited to see what tapas-like foods my friends bring.
I will be making (unless my ambition outpaces my ability/time), tomato toasts and spanish omelette, as well as a simple chicken and veggie paella (not traditional; more like a paella-flavoring chicken and rice dish); I’m also going to attempt a fried eggplant with honey and goat cheese that was hands-down my favorite tapa in Madrid, but I have never tried it before. When I write about these recipes, they will be connected to people I shared them with (S, and L, and A, and E are sure to make appearances) not with the people who gave me the recipes, but in my effort to look further and farther with this project, I think this will still be in the spirit of how food and cooking connect people.