Friday, January 7, 2011

Twelfth Night In Madrid; Deya; Tres Sopas Tipicas

MADRID.- A fireworks display during the Twelfth Night procession in front of the Cibeles palace in Madrid, Spain, 05 January 2011. The Cabalgata de Reyes is a parade held on 05 January, the eve of Epiphany, in most Spanish towns and cities. It celebrates the coming of the Three Kings with their gifts for the infant Jesus. During the parade the Three Kings throw sweets into the crowd. EPA/ALBERTO MARTIN

     I saw this Twelfth Night picture yesterday morning on and thought it was so beautiful that it must be shared.

     It's nice to feel positive about something -- anything -- these days, and after awhile 2010 Christmas finally and firmly asserted its influence on our family.  Thank Heaven.  

     Our Christmas tree, which we always buy on the late side so that it can last until Caroline's birthday, is still in splendid shape and very soft and full.  Caroline and Jane vary the decorations considerably every year, and at this point Caroline and I have been married for so long and have collected so many ornaments from different stages of our lives that they have a considerable palette to work with.   

     Jane's "big" presents this year included a metal detector and a radio-controlled helicopter and both of these have already supplied considerable pleasure. (The metal detector, we believe, will be the foundation of our family's financial future.)  This year we also finally began using the pizza and soft ice cream making equipment we gave Jane as presents last year and we are happy to report  enormous success there.  (We haven't tried out the deluxe Magic Bullet blender-juicing system you've probably seen on infomercial tv yet, but will keep you apprised of progress.)   Our Christmas cookies were a complete triumph, as they always are, but Caroline is never perfectly satisfied with them.  That aspect of her mother lives on in her and I wonder whether Jane will inherit that part of Caroline's personality.  Jane is a quiet perfectionist, but also infinitely confident when it comes to her areas of natural strength, which include baking. 

Pecan puffs

     The Twelfth Night picture of Madrid summoned up my own Spanish memories, which included long-ago annual travels throughout that wonderful country and the island of Mallorca.   As a result of Caroline's job at ABC Records, we became friendly with the musician/composer Kevin Ayers, who used to live most of the time in Mallorca in the legendary bohemian village of Deya, which was mainly known at that time for its associations with the English writer Robert Graves, its British/European artists colony, and the local and transient beatniks, hippies, musicians and mystics.  This was before Deya was transformed in the late 1980s into the height of chic by an influx of investment banking fortunes, property speculators and movie stars taking up residence in the village and surrounding countryside.  



Two views of Deya (it's a difficult place to photograph properly)

     For young Americans like us, who didn't have a lot of money but had a friend to stay with, the old Deya was magical and, certain negligible negatives aside, we loved it there.  We met a lot of unusual, interesting people of the sort you certainly won't find in Manhattan and learned more about the phases of the moon and their effects on human behavior than you can imagine or, possibly, would care to know.  

     I remember especially the sopa mallorquina, the grilled rosado and the cigalas, foolishly drinking strong hierbas in the mid-day sun and still trying to function, the Soller railway, cava champagne fountains in nightclubs, and early morning ensaimadas after late night crazy mountain road drives.  It's impossible to forget Kevin expertly cooking paella, the best food in the world, over an outside grill on his terrace, casually constructing the dish as though he hadn't a care in the world.  (The man, of course, had nothing but cares and worries, which are all reflected in his brilliant art, but cooking, entertaining and steeping himself deeply in  Mediterranean lore genuinely relaxed him then.) 

Daevid Allen and Gilli Smith (Gong) -- Advert for a performance at 
"the French" restaurant in Deya, 1978



     Those days are long gone, but I would like to visit Deya again (and Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Granada, Valencia, Alicante, Murcia, etc., as well as Galicia and other parts of Spain also.)  We would need to stay at one of the new, small but grand hotels because Kevin, ever the loner, decamped first to Menorca and then to an obscure "village du livre et des arts graphiques"  near mysterious Carcassonne.   Some people really mean it when they say, "I want to be alone".   

Montolieu, France, "Village du livre et des arts graphiques"

     Someday perhaps I'll scan some of my pictures from those days onto this site.  I discovered a cache during this Christmas season and they seemed to orient me toward the right star.   In the meantime, however, I would like to share three splendid Spanish soups that seem appropriate for the season.  

    Good luck to all of us this year; the jackals seem to be out already.

Sopa Mallorquina

     I am sure that Sopa Mallorquina formed part of my first meal on the island of Mallorca.  Deya at that time had two bars/cafes.  Apparently, changing your allegiance from one to the other carried major significance in this little village.   I don't remember which of the two establishments served me this meal (there was one other restaurant that I recall was referred to at "the French", but the one meal I had there, which was a memorable one since I was absolutely starving at the time after a very long travel day that began in Morocco and took me through Malaga, was definitely Spanish), but I remember that it was a bright, sunny, festive day filled with good wine, lovely aromas, gorgeous Mallorquin light and new friends.  I found this recipe online and it seems quite authentic.

Ingredients for 4 persons:

1/2 lb (200 grams) of thinly shaven slices of country bread.
(A dense country-style bread is needed for this and it should be stale, dry and sliced paper thin.)
Swiss chard, about 8 young leaves and stems, roughly chopped
1small cabbage (Chinese cabbage if possible), roughly chopped
1 onion cut in julienne
1 handful of Italian parsley, roughly chopped
From a cauliflower, a few florets broken in pieces
1 ripe tomato, peeled and diced
2 tsp.sweet paprika powder
4 tbsp.olive oil
2 green peppers, cut in large dice
2 - 2 1/2 cups water
Fresh ground black pepper
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
Optional: chicken stock cube

1.  Put the oil in a shallow flame-proof earthenware or ceramic casserole. When oil is hot, add the onion, green pepper and garlic. Saute without browning.

2.  Add the tomato and the large diced vegetables. Sweat the vegetables and blend in the paprika powder. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

3.  Add the water and let simmer gently for about 15 - 20 minutes, then taste to check seasoning. (Note: After pouring in the water, one may adde Knorr chicken stock cube, broken up and scattered over top or a little chicken broth.)

4.  Once vegetables are tender, turn off stove, remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a warm bowl, leaving the broth in the casserole dish. There should be about an inch of broth.

5. Arrange the thin shaven slices of dry bread over the bottom of the casserole dish so the broth is totally absorbed, and put the vegetables back in the casserole on top of the bread. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving at the table.

6. Serve at the table in the same earthenware casserole dish.

The bread used in this recipe is typical to Mallorca and is a simple bread made of unbleached, partially whole-wheat flour, water and yeast.  It is therefor dense and able to absorb the broth without becoming mushy.

Sopa al Cuarto de Hora 

     I used to eat this delicious, quickly made seafood soup all the time at the much-missed Meson Botin on West 58th Street in Manhattan.  If I could select a "pre-execution final meal", it would probably consist of this to begin followed by Meson Botin's stuffed peppers.  Wines would include a fino sherry, a Rioja tinto and a very good Spanish brandy.  The executed man would probably skip dessert.  This recipe seems sound enough, but I haven't cooked it yet.  What I most remember from Botin's rendition was the glossy red-brown surface of the soup and the intoxicating saffron aroma, which is affecting me even as I type this.


1 1/2 pints water
8 small hard-shelled clams, washed and thoroughly scrubbed, or substitute cockles or small cooking oysters
1 1/2 tbsp.olive oil
2 oz. finely chopped onions
1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
1 small bay leaf
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1 oz. finely chopped Serrano ham, or substitute 1 oz. prosciutto or other lean smoked ham
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 1/2 oz. raw medium, long-grain or short-grain rice
3 tbsp. dry white wine
1/8 tsp. ground saffron or saffron threads crushed with a pestle and mortar or with the back of a spoon
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
8 medium-sized raw shelled prawns cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 hard-boiled egg finely chopped


1.  Bring 1 1/2 pints of water to boil in a heavy medium-sized sauce pan.   Drop in the clams, cover tightly and boil briskly for 5-10 minutes, until the shells open. Transfer the clams to a plate, remove the clams from the shells and discard the shells.  (Discard any clamshells that have not opened during the cooking.)  Set the clams aside and reserve the cooking liquid.  

2.  Meanwhile, prepare the sofrito. Heat the oil over a moderate heat in a heavy, medium-sized frying pan until a light haze forms above it.

3.  Add the onion, garlic and bay leaf and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions are soft and transparent, but not brown.

4.  Add the tomatoes, ham and parsley, raise the heat and cook briskly for about 5 minutes, until most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated and the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape lightly in a spoon.  Set aside off the heat.

5.  Strain the clam cooking liquid through a fine sieve and return it to the saucepan.

6.  Add the sofrito, rice, wine, saffron and lemon juice and bring to the boil over a high heat and reduce the heat to low.  Stir once or twice, partially cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes until the rice is tender.  

7.  Add the prawns, eggs and clams and simmer for 2-3 minutes longer until the prawns turn pink.  

8.  Serve at once from a heated tureen or in individual soup plates.

Serves 4-6

Suquet (Catalan Fish Stew)

    This is a recipe from Penelope Casas' The Foods and Wines of Spain that I have prepared with great success.  It is sensationally good.  Ms. Casas writes:  "Toasted almonds give an unusual and very compatible nutty flavor to this fish stew.  It's one of my favorites."


1 1/2 cups fish broth or clam juice
8 large clams
1 dozen medium mussels
1 slice lemon
5 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled
4 slices French-style bread, 1/4 inch thick
12 blanched almonds, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons minced parsley
Few strands saffron
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 pounds fish steaks, preferably of different types -- choose from 
halibut, striped bass, tilefish or fresh cod, cut in  1 1/2 inch pieces, bone and 
skin removed
6 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons peas
Freshly ground pepper


Place clams and mussels in a skillet with 3/4 cups water and the lemon slice.  Bring to a boil and remove the clams and mussels as they open.  Take the clam and mussel meat from the shells and cut the meat in halves. Reserve.  Strain the cooking liquid and add to the fish broth.

Place the oil and garlic in a shallow casserole, preferably Spanish earthenware.  Heat over a medium flame until the garlic is golden on all sides.  Transfer the garlic to a processor or blender.  Fry the bread slices in the same oil until golden on both sides and transfer the bread to the processor.  Add to the processor the almonds, parsley, saffron and salt.  Grind until a paste forms.  Add the paprika, flour, and 1/4 cup of the fish broth and beat until smooth.

Gradually, pour in the remaining fish broth.  Return this mixture to the casserole. Bring to a boil.  Add the fish pieces, wine, peas, salt and pepper.  Cover and simmer about 12 minutes.  Stir in the clams and mussel pieces.  Serve in soup bowls to accompany with a Catalan white wine.

Anonymous luncheon, Deya

2008, Palma de Mallorca, World's largest ensaimada,
Guinness Book of World Records

Twelfth Night Pithiviers Cake


  1. Love the photo in Madrid!

    The historic Post office building (correos) is a wonderful backdrop and whenever they choose to illuminate it the effect is spectacular. They did the same when the Spanish prince got married and the building was like a blank canvas for a 4 hour light show.

  2. Excellent. Thanks so much for writing. Caroline and I look forward more than I can say to returning to Madrid and visiting the places we used to know and love. Happy New year to you. Spain is a beautiful country with a magical language. Curtis

  3. Jane told me about the metal detector. She says it is very fun to point it at metal objects and hear the beeping noise grow as she gets closer.

  4. There's gold in these (Signal) Hills (we hope). Or at least some silver or copper. What do you think of the world's largest ensaimada? It's one of the most delicious pastries in the world. Being the first one in the bakery when it opens just before dawn in Mallorca is the very best feeling (except possibly successfully prospecting for metals). Curtis