Return to Catalunya

After a few months of work on the house on Cornwall the day arrived when I flew back to Barcelona.

I was really in two minds about the journey – both wanting to see my friends and to be present for Lydia’s second birthday, and also finding it hard to leave Cornwall just when the building works were coming to an end.

And also I was leaving my lovely man behind in a foreign – to him – land.

I had been sleeping badly for the last month and so just the idea of the journey was daunting.  I had a tic in one eye and an anxious knot in my stomach.

So it was with great relief that I arrived in Barcelona airport and felt immediately that warm comforting feeling of gladness at arriving in a familiar and loved place.

Went past Fernando Botero’s lovely Horse with a happy smile

Fernando Botero Horse

Straight into the station bar for a beer and a piece of truita accompanied by pa amb tomaquet. I always feel ridiculously proud to have a train ticket already.   I don’t see myself as that organised really.

pa amb tomaquet

Since being here I have stayed with friends in Granollers and felt so much at home that I got ill and spent a few days in bed!  Thank you Tiffany, Albert, Jett and Lydia for looking after me and being so patient!

I went to Barcelona to see friends and even bumped into someone on the metro – someone I hadn’t seen in over a year. Coincidences always feel good.

I love walking around the streets in the Gotic area. The main ones are busy with tourists but turn a corner and it is quiet and atmospheric

Calle Sant Sever, Gothic Quarter, Barcelona

Amma was in Granollers once again and I spent three days there soaking in the atmosphere

IMG_8177listening to the music, and eating far too many masala dosas.

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I have been back to the old house.

It feels strange to be there again and to walk around the quiet rooms. I have been kicking myself for not taking all my things back to the UK when I had the chance. But it’s not always easy to make that sort of decision is it?  To leave a part behind, just in case, feels somehow reassuring. And perhaps I will be back one day. Who knows?

Meanwhile I took everything of mine and put it in one room – a motley collection of books, pictures and my own sculptures. I realised how much I want everything to be at last in one place. But I also had to accept that unless I cancel my flight and drive back in the Spanish car, for the moment, it’s not possible.

I realised that Granollers feels more like home than Barcelona. That’s funny isn’t it?  In spite of the pollution and the commercialism and the air of small town complacency, I like it here. It feels familiar and calm. And there are some very nice cafes

Catalan cafes
Breakfast in Granollers

Things to feel good about

I can still speak Catalan

I can drive my car with confidence and I know the way without a map

In the six years I lived here I met some wonderful people and have some great friends.

After arriving in Barcelona on the train within two minutes someone was asking me directions, in Spanish. Obviously I have something about me that generates confidence in my friendliness and my knowledge. This only happens in Barcelona. But it happens every time I go there.

And there are the balnearis

balneari
Broquetas Balneari

I have been to two on this visit.  One old familiar and one totally new.

That needs a whole post to itself so I will say goodbye now and be back again very shortly with a descriptions of those.

I had to write this post first – coming back is such a strange mix of familiarity and strangeness. It is a good moment to look at where you are and what has been learned but also it gives you a sense of the passage of time and the anxiety at the root of so many decisions. For me there is always a pull in two directions – to move forward or to stay where I am. To go out or to snuggle in at home. To advance or retreat. Something works in me to get me out and moving but I often have to deal with fear before I can get going.

Moving to Catalunya in the first place, then living here for six years, then going back to Cornwall, and now coming back for two weeks……it all feels quite strange and perhaps not a surprise that I got ill and had to stop for a rest.

Do you know what I mean? Do let me know in the comments if you have felt this too.

 

All about Torrons and how to buy the best!

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Every year just before Christmas I go to the Correus in Granollers to send off several slim rectangular packages to the UK.    Each one is a box containing a slab of Torró, a very special sweet which is an important part of the traditional Christmas here in Catalunya.

I sometimes wonder if the recipients know what to do with them or do they end up at the back of the cupboard as sometimes happens to me with unfamiliar foods?

Before coming to Barcelona I had never heard of  Torrons. It was probably at the first family Christmas dinner that I discovered how delicious and mouth-wateringly moreish they are.

What is Torró?

As with everything in Catalonia there are two options for the name depending which language you are speaking.  Torró in Catalan or Turrón in Spanish but it is the same sweet delicacy a bit like nougat or halva, typically made of almonds, honey, sugar, and egg white, and shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake.

It is a very old confection which originates from Arab cuisine.  Evidence shows they were being made 500 years ago in Xixona (Jijona), a small town about 30 miles  north of Alicante.   Xixona’s economy is focused on the production of torrons and there is a museum  there showing the history and how it is made.   A friend told me that he went to Xixona as a child in the late 70’s and was disappointed to find it wasn’t the little town of his dreams,  filled with small family businesses making torrons by hand with bee hives in the back yards, scented by almond blossom.  Instead it was an industrial town full of factories  producing thousands of kilos of torrons to be sent all over Spain.

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According to legend, honey from bees that drink nectar from wildflowers growing on the mountains around Xixona is an important part of the recipe.   That makes sense to me – even the most built up cities have beautiful wild places just outside the commercial zones.

Every ingredient should be of the highest quality and although I have found no information on this,  I  am hoping that the eggs come from free range organic chickens which scratch and peck around rural farms in the foothills of those mountains. We can but dream ……….

Types of torró and how to chose the best

Torró de Xixona is soft and the almonds have been ground up to form a paste

Torró d’Alicant is hard and brittle and you can see the almonds inside

There are several different qualities of torró.

Strict rules control whether torrons may be labeled with “Suprema” or “Extra.” The best quality is “Suprema” and to get that label, the soft turró must contain at least 60% almonds and the hard, 64% almonds

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Apparently  there is also “Estàndar” (standard) and “Popular”  but we didn’t find any. If it is of lower quality usually it doesn’t say anything on the packet.

Knowledgeable shoppers will look at the ingredients on the package label when they go to buy  Torrons for  Christmas dinner. You don’t serve just any old Torró on such a special day!

If it looks cheap and cheerful then it probably is.  Check out the amount of almonds.  The best ones have 60% or more.  And there should definitely not be other ingredients like palm oil or E numbers. In general if it is cheap the quality won’t be as good.

Chocolate torró  is delicious and a big favorite and it too has qualities including “Extrafino” or “Fino”  depending on the percentage of cocoa and milk it contains.   Some of the chocolate torrons have dried fruits and nuts mixed in and are increasingly popular.

Christmas is the time to eat Torrons and at the end of the meal large plates are brought out with lots of little cubes of  Torró laid out invitingly or built up into a tower or pyramid.

Serve with Cava of course!

Nowadays there are many more versions than just the traditional Alicant or Xixona,  including ones with candied fruit, chocolate, praline, coconut and also the one with egg yolk or Gema.

Where to buy Torrons?

All the supermarkets have huge displays of Torrons  but the quality is variable.  Follow the suggestions above to help chose a good one.  Surely I don’t need to suggest you avoid ones that are made by Nestle?

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But the best places to buy are the specialist shops.  They also make Orxata and ice creams. These shops will have the word Jijonero in their name.

In Granollers the best place to buy Torró is Cal Jijonero in Carrer Corró.

This family has been making them since 1933.  There are now two Jijoneros run by people from the same family but after a dispute they split the business, which is the reason there is one in Anselm Clavé and the other round the corner in Carrer Corró.

The one in Carrer Corró keeps the reputation for being the best but you’d have to try them both and decide for yourself.

How to serve and preserve your Torró

If you receive a packet of Torró as a gift here is what to do.

Cut off a chunk, lay it on a board and chop it into little cubes and lay them on a pretty plate.

You can put some neules in a glass in the centre.  Don’t forget the cava…..

Turrons

You don’t have to eat it all at once – leave the rest in the packet and it will keep for some weeks – or so we think but we have never managed to resist eating it all within a few days.

This one is Torró d’Alicant.   Caution for anyone with teeth which might break as it is hard. But once in your mouth it starts to melt and you come back for more, and more…..

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No need to keep in the fridge, just store it somewhere cool.  And Enjoy!

 

Market Day Granollers March 2014

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It is Thursday so it’s market day!

I like getting ready to go out to the market, my wheelie basket at my side.  Here in Cataluny you don’t have to be an old lady to use a shopping trolley. They are practical and almost everyone has one.  I was laughed at in the UK when I walked with my old wickerwork trolley and of course it isn’t so useful when you are in a car. But here where the market is just five minutes down the road, it means you can buy all the fresh fruit and vegetables that you want and also have a handy weapon to help you get through the crowds

Look down the hallway and perhaps you can just make out the freshly painted walls of our sitting room. We painted it white last week.  I have been wanting to do that for four years!

And in the kitchen there are three fresh baked loaves

 After Bonnie died I got a huge urge to start baking bread.  I lost the ability quite a long time ago and after producing several hard inedible bricks I gave up.  But something has changed and so far they have all been delicious.  It’s good to know exactly what is in your daily bread
I use Delia Smiths recipe for quick easy wholemeal bread.
The two little ones are half wheat and half rye.
The one on the left is half Kamut – an experiment

So, off to the market. I will try to take photos but I am nervous ever since one of the gypsy stall holders ran after me shouting not to take pictures. I need to get over this.

Another Broken Tooth

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Did I tell you I broke a tooth yesterday? 
Another tooth. It is something that happens on a regular basis and probably is the result of having so many fillings when I was a child. I have British mouth syndrome as the dentists call it here. If you are younger than 40 you probably don’t know what I mean but many people of my age have mouths full of fillings.  Black amalgam ones.  And gradually they fall out or the surrounding tooth breaks off.

I have a great dentist here and yesterday they immediately did the filing job needed to make it comfortable to eat and speak. This afternoon I went for the filling itself.  It was one of those dentist visits that need a lot of self control and a graduate degree in calmness under duress. Nothing hurt but the injection made half my tongue go to sleep and then they decided to stuff my mouth with what felt like a frilly latex skirt, splayed out in order to collect any pieces of flying mercury amalgam.

No need to go on with this description except to say that sitting in the dentists chair must be one of life’s most lonely experiences. Thank goodness they don’t expect you to carry on a conversation any more and as the whole procedure is carried out in Catalan I have even more excuse for just grunting.

I kept thinking of this BBC comedy clip and hoping I wouldn’t start to laugh hysterically.  If you watch it, wait for the part with the two monkeys…..

The wonderful thing about going to the dentist here is the view from their building

Down onto the Porxada and across to the Ajuntament building. Or over to Can Clapes

Mitja Marató Granollers

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February 2nd is my mothers birthday. She would have been 103 today.  I woke up this morning feeling cosy in bed and thinking about how she loved to stay cosy in bed in the mornings. It made me feel very connected to her.  That and all the books and notebooks  and diaries and letters that were around her bed. I am like that too.  I don’t usually feel similar to my mother so it was a nice way to start the day.

There was music outside so I got up and dressed and went up to stand on the balcony and watch the first runners passing on the final part of the Mitja Marato – half marathon. A small band had set up on the raised stage on our little square and the street was lined with people clapping and cheering.

This could have been Bonnie’s last day – I wasn’t sure but it was possible and so I was feeling a mixture of intense sadness and tense foreboding. The music was exciting though and I wanted to do something to celebrate the day so I went out to buy cakes.

I find the marathons very moving.  Every year I surprise myself by starting to cry as I watch all those different and ordinary people running along with their vulnerable humanity so visible.
Staggering, red faced, smiling, gasping, floppy arms, sweaty faces, young, old, in groups or alone.
It is as if all the world in its incredible diversity is streaming past me. Such effort, hope, despair, pain, joy, confidence, friendship, determination……. you can go on and on and there is no end to it.  Imagine if we put that effort and love and human power into changing the world!


And the people who cheer them on are also part of the spectacle. It is one of the things I love most about being here – people really get animated and shout encouragement – Venga!  Molt BéMuy bien! Bravo!  Que falta Poc!   They really get involved and today I felt the energy that was passing between spectator and runner. Every time the music paused, the clapping and shouts got louder. Children put out a hand for the runners to touch as they passed – another way of sharing energy.

I have learnt since being here the importance of groups and community. The way you can give and receive support just by being with caring people. I come from a more individualist culture and have a tendency to go it alone, but here people really understand the power of groups. I like that. But still I have that British self consciousness that makes it difficult to join in and call out with gusto. I want to be able to do that and suddenly thought – this is something I love about here and I won’t leave until I can do it!  I want to be like the woman next to me on the street this morning, she was alone but it didn’t stop her calling out to all runners who were flagging ‘Well done!  Almost there!  Go for it!”

This must be the third or fourth time there has been a half marathon passing our house and it has taken me this long to realise that I love them and I want to spend the morning watching the runners and the musicians. Why have I never planned for this day and invited friends round for breakfast so we can hit the streets together and see them set off, follow the route and then be there for the end then go for coffee in a bar?  Next year – this is my plan.  Next year I will not stand there alone with tears streaming down my face, clapping awkwardly and longing to shout “Anims!  Molt Bé! Venga!!!!”

And today was NOT Bonnie’s last day – probably.