Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Invoking Spring: Barrafina's Chorizo & Watercress Sandwich

Barrafina-inspired Chorizo Sandiwch with Watercress salad
Sometimes in the Spring, ever-so-fleetingly, I get nostalgic for London.  This year that was the case last week when I re-experienced the frustration of it being too cold to wear anything but a sweater in the middle of April.  It's just not right.  And it's just what I experienced every single spring in Londontown.  Even now, I shake my head at my British / UK-residing friends' facebook statuses about how they're almost convinced the sun will never shine again, that the weather will never warm up.  I shake my head in dismay, but also in solidarity.  I know their pain.

So this post is about invoking Spring in an otherwise un-spring-y circumstance.

I remember the first time I heard about the then-new Barrafina restaurant in London's west end back in February of 2007.  My hellacious boss (who I'll refer to as " Luca Delcattivo" here for the sake of anonymity) had taken a client to lunch there one day and came back to our offices raving about it.  Tapas.  New, delicious, refined Spanish tapas in London like none he'd ever had outside Spain.  I drooled at his brief but poignant descriptions.  Shortly thereafter, in March or April, Matt and I went there and we were so blown away that we insisted on taking most of our guests there too when they came to visit.  And a couple of Marches and Aprils later, they were all blown away too.  It's such a nice place to eat, but best in the Spring, when the window-walls fly open and you're left to enjoy the ambiance of Soho, crowds toasting glasses of wine as they wait patiently outside the door, wafts of gambas and garlic filling the air.

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Top Things that Invoke that Springtime Spirit 
at Barrafina

watercress in a snowy garden
1. A Glass of Cava
 Maybe it's the stark, modern decor or the white-marble countertops, but, to me a glass of bright, bubbly Cava is the best-fitting drink to start your meal at Barrafina.  There is always a queue so forget the fantasies of walking in to a lovely white-linen-lined table and eating a leisurely meal.  Tables don't exist either (except for a few impossibly-small ones on the sidewalk outside if my memory serves).  You get there, you get a drink, and you stand outside with the rest of the world on the street, drinking, toasting, and feeling bubbly.  The cava brings the sunshine to you.

2. The Ooey-Gooey Tortilla Española (with shrimp)
The Spanish Tortilla is a thing of beauty.  Eggs and potato combined into round sublimity.  At Barrafina they cook individual-sized tortillas in tiny cast-iron pans, finishing them under the broiler so that the outside is set but the inside is an ooey-gooey, runny, eggy mess.  A revelation. Completely, absolutely, delicious.  They offer many different variations - often using seasonal ingredients (perfect for a time like Spring).  We especially enjoyed the one with shrimp.

3. The Pan con Tomate
Dreams of sun-ripened tomatoes haunt me at this time of year.  If you've never tried this uber-simple Spanish-staple, you must.  You will never look at a tomato and piece of bread the same way again. 

4. The Seafood
Nothing screams warm-weather and better-days more to me than a well-cooked piece of seafood.  Barrafina excels at taking fresh fish and highlighting its best aspects.  Get the octopus, the clams, the razor clams - or any of the fish.  They are all cooked simply and perfectly.

5. The Cheery Ambiance
The seating in Barrafina and the fact that you can't make reservations will either make or break the experience for you.  It's hard to sit at a long bar when you're with more than one person.  You are always seated next to a stranger.  There is no privacy because the cooks, the bar staff and chef are all running around in front of you, making food, drinks, taking plates and glasses, offering another round of painfully expensive Jamon Iberico which you will not be able to resist after a certain number of alcoholic libations.  But that's ok.  You'll feel shocked the next day when you remember the total cost of the meal, and marvel at how, truly, you're probably still hungry after having had 6 plates between the two of you.  But that's ok.  Sometimes its worth it just for the ambiance and for a couple of truly amazing bites of food.

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Last week I decided to invoke the spirit of Barrafina by making what was one of our favorite dishes there (though we admittedly loved them all): Chorizo and Watercress sandwiches.  I'm not sure whether they still serve the chorizo sandwiches or not as it has been about four years since we've been there but judging by the reviews on Urbanspoon, whatever they are serving is still as good or better than what we had several years ago.  We loved the sandwich both because of its simplicity and its seamless fusing of Spanish and British cuisine: the Spanish chorizo and bread together with a quintessentially English crop - peppery watercress.

Bolillo and Chorizo
The chorizo I used is Mexican (I like it hot, what can I say?), and I simply formed small sausages from loose chorizo, grilled them, and paired them with a lightly toasted (grilled) Mexican bolillo.  I then placed a small helping of a watercress salad dressed simply with lemon juice, fresh garlic, salt and pepper on top.

Spring in sandwich-form. :)

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gratitude and Beauty.

headed somewhere
We got back from a wedding in Phoenix on Monday - just in the nick of time for it to dump another foot of snow here in Denver.  Yippee.

But I won't go into my bitterness over the further extended winter here - or any of the frustrating random things that have happened lately either - because the topic of my post today is a conglomeration of thoughts and impressions on gratitude and beauty.  It has been an intense and busy past couple of weeks.  Yesterday I sat down and realized how overwhelmed I have been feeling with everything that's going on (and not going on), and realized that I needed to remind myself to appreciate the little things.

Indeed, here lately, I've actually seen and felt a lot of really, really beautiful things.  Much like when I wrote my "Life is So Random" post in Portland, today, in the midst of snow and clouds, I wanted to commemorate the small, random but meaningful things in my life.  Yes, I do it so I don't forget them - but I guess I also believe it's good to occasionally, purposefully, remind myself of the truly, very beautiful and privileged life I lead, and of how much there is to be thankful for in my rather small, but personally significant, world.

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Life Moments of Gratitude and Beauty.

1. On Staying.
Matt and I have spent relatively little time in downtown Denver as a couple.  One morning while my mom was visiting the weekend of Easter we happened to drive down and walk around, drinking coffee and taking pictures.  It was fun to be in a deserted city center and take silly pictures like we used to back in the day.  It feels good to stay and explore for once.

2.  On Miraculous Life.
We met a newborn baby boy a couple of weeks ago.  He reminded me of the wonder, fragility and utterly mysterious nature of life.  And of the irrepressible instinct we humans have, in spite of it all, to take care of one another - even strangers - no matter who, what, where, when or why.

3. On Home-grown Traditions.
For Easter this year I baked Greek Easter bread for the second time.  It's a random recipe I came across that appealed to me due to my eternal-Hellenic-nostalgia and an odd love of hard-boiled eggs.  This attempt came out so much tastier than last year's.  It looked so pretty too - like springtime in a loaf of bread.  It always feels like you've accomplished something special when you bake a truly memorable loaf of bread, in a salt-of-the-earth-with-neon-eggs kinda way.  And I think, however disconnected to us it may be, I'll keep this new Easter tradition.

4. On Random Acts of Love & Rookie Gardening.
A couple of weekends ago, without me asking, Matt built me a raised garden bed, despite the fact that we will have to leave it here and might only get to use it for one season.  It made me so happy and looks so nice.  I immediately went out to buy herbs and seeds, all of which have now been obliterated by the two feet of snow we've had since then (rookie Denver mistake).  But my garden was so beautiful for that one day that it looked absolutely perfect that I just had to share it.  And, hey, in a few weeks I'll start over again with new plants - much like nature, I suppose. :)


5. On Unexpected Splendor.
I'd never been to Arizona before this past weekend, but I was absolutely dumbfounded by its beauty.  It was true desert - hot, dry, and stark.  Here's a picture of an incredible sunset we witnessed the other day.  The picture really doesn't even do it full justice.


6.  On Stopping to See the Individual Trees.
Upon arriving to Phoenix we rented a car and took a beautiful two-hour drive north of the city to Montezuma's Castle National Monument - a collection of ruins of clay and limestone cliff dwellings built by Arizona's Native Americans several hundred years ago.  While the ruins alone were remarkable, in typical fashion, I simply couldn't get past the immensity and beauty of the Arizona Sycamores (my beloved Plane Trees) that grew all around the area. They looked straight out of a painting.  Maybe I'll paint them myself one day.

7. On Growing Up.
Roman will be four years old in a matter of weeks.  He's growing up.  He tells me when his heart breaks.  He tells me when he likes my dress.  He's so much a person now that I almost can't believe I have the privilege to create and raise him.  I'm glad we still get moments like this one, making snow angels together in the mountains, without a care in the world but each other.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Life's Parentheses.

The continental divide.

Funny about life.  Certain things are clear question marks, periods, or even exclamations.  Even ellipses, with their mystery, loudly make it all more interesting. 

But then there are other things.  Things and experiences that are as important as the declaratives, but maybe you just don't want to - or can't - say them out loud.  They are worth mentioning, knowing, absolutely worth remembering, learning from, even treasuring, but they need to be kept apart -- apart from the life that's lived out loud.  Kept forever inside a pair of parentheses.  A worthwhile, notable, pause right in the middle of life's story.

They are forever inside of the private, whispered little treasures of your heart and mind, indelibly a part of who and what you are.  But they need to be given a little private space of their own, held between your arms softly, quietly, and simply kept close to remember, remember, remember.

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Some philosophies fuel a belief in the self
Constructed to keep one's goods on one's own shelf
Built well you're a strong letter I
With the feet on the ground and the head to the sky
Now and then you can bend
It's okay to lean over my way
You fear that you can't do it all
And you're right
Even diligent day takes relief every day
From its work making light from the night

And when you're holding me
We make a pair of parentheses
There's plenty of space to encase
Whatever weird way my mind goes
I know I’ll be safe in these arms

If something in the deli aisle makes you cry
You know I’ll put my arm around you
And I’ll walk you outside
Through the sliding doors
Why would I mind?

You're not a baby if you feel the world.
All of the babies can feel the world.
That's why they cry.

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