pan de calabacin

Yesterday I made a zucchini bread. I have only had zucchini bread maybe three times in my life, and I never liked it that much any of those times, so I’m not sure what possessed me to suddenly crave zucchini bread, but I did. It took me a few weeks to actually get around to making it, but I finally ended with an enormous loaf, beautifully browned and smelling of cinnamon. All my friends were incredulous. It has vegetables in it? No thanks! But I encouraged them to try it. The whole thing was gone last night.

However, in the process of the whole thing, I discovered that British people do not say zucchini – they say courgette. I find this exceedingly strange. Chips vs. french fries, okay. Bisquits vs. cookies, fine. But zucchini is zucchini. There’s just no other way to slice it…literally. British English is annoying.

fogar do santiso

The sky is calm and cloudy as we drive past the gray stone houses with lush green fields and crooked fences. The twists and turns and muddy forest paths seem to lead to nowhere, until the trees yield a clearing with a long, low building and a very large haystack. This was the place they’d been telling me about for months. Finding our way inside is an adventure in itself; waterfalls and boulders obscure numerous hidden doorways. There are no signs, no opening hours, and definitely no doormen. We choose the door next to an antique wagon wheel and a washing-well, across from an uncomfortably large barrel. I cannot imagine what might be inside that barrel…or for that matter, inside the door.

The entrance is disappointing, and our curiosity is further heightened by the fact that the door reveals only a narrow winding stone staircase, lit by lanterns. Descending, the sound of voices grows louder and we suddenly spill out into a very large room. Above rows of long wooden tables and benches, a pig’s head and several spiderwebs hang from the ceiling. Old farming tools adorn the walls, and Galician sayings carved into wooden planks are barely visible in the dim light. Even on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the place is packed; every table is full, and the room is thick with the murmur of conversation, the crackling of the fire, and the creaking of old wood.

Because there is no room here, we are sent back through the labyrinth of hallways and doorways until we come to another large room, this one with space enough for us. Lit only by lanterns and smelling thickly of smoke from the large stone fireplace, this room too is alive with the sounds of a midday meal. We seat ourselves at the end of a long wooden table, where slices of the most old-fasioned bread are already waiting for us. We are served homemade white wine in bowls and we await our feast. There are no plates here, nor silverware; food is served on large heaping platters and napkins are plentiful. Before long our food arrives – three huge platters of pork churrasco (ribs), a plate of potatoes, and a plate of salad. Everything is cooked simply and seasoned only with a little salt and olive oil. It is the best thing I have ever tasted. The saltiness of the pork blends perfectly with the sweetness of the wine and the thick bread. Eating it is a dirty business and we stain our fingers and clothes with oil, but it is well worth the effort and the sacrifice.

Though our stomachs are full after polishing off everything, there is still more. Homemade blackberry ice cream is next, light and sweet and refreshing after the salt of the meat. We order coffee as well, which is served in bowls like the wine and poured steaming hot from a large teapot that could serve twenty. Chupitos, or shots, of a homemade liquor made from a local thorny weed end the meal and clean the palette. Our full stomachs make us drowsy in the warm, dim room, and the whisper of rain outside rouses us to our senses. We pay our bill (10 euros) and step back out into the gray afternoon, where a man is playing a keyboard and singing traditional Galician songs. We step over and around the waterfalls, exagerrated by puddles of rain, and make our way back down muddy roads to the main highway. It would be impossible to find this place again, but it would be impossible not to return, as this was quite possibly one of the best dinners I have ever had. It was just the Galician getaway I needed – close to home, but in another world.

carnaval!

masquerade!
a million faces on parade
masquerade
hide your face and the world will never find you

This past weekend was carnaval. Actually, it started Wednesday night and ended yesterday, so really it was about a week long. I like carnaval because it breaks up that monotonous stretch between New Year’s (or Valentine’s Day, if you like), and Easter. Whereas in Chicago we struggle through the longest winter months without holidays, life here in Spain is just a neverending party.

I was actually expecting more festivities than there really were, but I was told that Santiago is not very big on carnaval celebrations. No matter, we still dressed up, masks and all, and headed out for several nights of reveling. It was like having Halloween twice a year (and you all know how much I love Halloween)! We stayed in Santiago, but many people headed out to nearby towns like Orense, Xinzo de Limia, and Lalin, where carnaval festivities are known worldwide. In these towns, EVERYONE dresses up. And we’re not talking store-bought George Bush masks or a little bit of face paint. No, we’re talking real feathers, leather outfits and masks, wooden carved ornaments, the whole deal. And these towns are serious about carnaval. If you’re caught without a costume, you could be accosted by handfuls of flour, honey, eggs, or even LIVE BITING ANTS. Yes, you thought that was just a Spanish urban legend, but it is fact true. There are carnaval “moderators” called las pantallas who run through the streets banging together balloons made of cow intestine, and throwing live ants at those not conforming to carnaval standards. THESE PEOPLE ARE CRAZY. Luckily, there’s none of that in Santiago. Instead, people set off firecrackers or throw silly string at you. I definitely prefer silly string to live biting ants.

Another tradition is the carnaval parade, or cabalgata. It was cold out yesterday, and the parade passed right down our street, so we leaned out of our windows to watch it from the comfort of our (heated) home. Normally, I think of parades as being one of two things: a celebration of the history/tradition of some holiday, or a representation of city businesses and establishments, or some combination of those two. This parade was none of the above. It included, among other things, a float of scnatily clad, Kylie Minogue-esque dancers followed directly by a float of popular cartoon characters from children’s shows. There were also chickens, checkers pieces, a dartboard, some race car drivers, some Trojan warriors, some Scotsmen, Charles and Camilla, two dead people in coffins, a priest in an afro wig and disco sunglasses, a Yahtzee game, some beach balls, a pig truck, men on stilts, jugglers, wolves, and an “Arab” jazz band supposedly headed by Bin Laden himself. It was the most random, rag-tag display of costuming I’ve ever seen, and we all thought briefly about joining in the parade and seeing how far we could get before someone would notice we weren’t supposed to be there.

We finished off our celebrations by making traditional Italian fried dough, a carnaval favorite. I was really looking forward to making or eating paczki, but they don’t exist here and no one but myself seems to remember having ever eaten them. Aren’t paczki a huge Fat Tuesday tradition in the Midwest, or am I just making this up?

Anyway, it was a good weekend and a short week, dampened only by the fact that Verena left. Details to follow, but for now, here are some pictures of the scandalous revelry Enjoy!