Food Lover’s Companion

My sister and brother-in-law recently sent Karl and I a Christmas package full of wonderful things like clothes, seaweed to make sushi and eat Korean BBQ, and most importantly the Barron’s Food Lover’s Companion. The book is a reference guide to over 6,700 foods, cooking techniques, drinks etc. Anyone who loves food and watches the Food Channel day and night should buy this book! My favorite game when I am bored is to open the book to a random page and read an entry. Here are some of my favorite random items that I have come to learn about due to this fantastic gift.

Filé Powder: “…seasoning made from the ground, dried leaves of the sassafras tree. Its since become an integral part of CREOLE COOKING and is used to thicken and flavor GUMBOS and other Creole dishes. Filé has a woodsy flavor reminiscent of root beer” (257).

(I have also learned that Creole cooking and Cajun cooking while both from Louisiana are very different. Creole cooking is thought to be more refined and use oil and butter while Cajun cooking is much spicier and relies on the use of Pig lard.)

B’steeya: “A Moroccan dish of Phyllo dough surrounding a mélange of shredded chicken, ground almonds, and spices. The “pie” is baked until a crisp golden brown, then sprinkled with powder sugar and cinnamon. Also spelled bastela, bastila, bisteeya, and pastilla” (92).

Lavender Gem: “This citrus fruit is a white grapefruit-tangelo cross with a pale pink skin and flesh and a sweet flavor. It’s usually available in specialty produce stores and can be used in any manner appropriate for grapefruit. Lavender gems are also called wekiwas” (381).

Syllabub: “This thick, frothy drink or dessert originated in old England. It’s traditionally made by beating milk with wine or ale, sugar, spices and sometimes beaten egg whites. A richer version made with cream can be used as a topping for cakes, cookies, fruit etc. It’s thought the name originated in Elizabethan times and is a combination of the words Sille ( A French Wine that was used in the mixture) and bub (Old-English slang for bubbling drink)” (681).

Varak;Varaq: “Edible, gossamar-thin sheets of pure silver and gold that for centuries have been popular decorations in India for special occasion desserts, confections, nuts, and rice dishes. Varak sheets, which are flavorless and odorless, can be found in Indian markets and cake decorating supply shops…Varak sheets are so fragile that they can dissolve easily with human touch and can be torn by the barest breath of air” (721)

If I am ever in charge of a bringing food to a fancy party I am going to bring something that I can put Varak on to make it look pretty. Also how amazingly magical is the description of its fragility…its like a fairytale. Have you ever seen the 1990’s film version of the “The Little Princess”?

If you have, don’t you agree you were semi-transported to those scenes when she is telling the Ramayana? Pure gold…no pun intended. 



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Spain the land of Public Service Announcements

Spain has started a new safe sex campaign that is aimed at high school and possibly college students. It’s a pretty hilarious rap. When I first watched it, I thought it would be a failure. However, I think I gave the Spanish health ministry too little credit. Not only have I heard the high school students singing it but I also have even begun to sing it after the commercial comes on. Even though I still think its ridiculous and the teens who sing it do it in a semi-mocking tone, the health add has successfully penetrated daily life and continued to influence long after the television turns off. Anyhow, I am including it here so that you can all see it. I find the ‘hip’ (I have no real idea) slang particularly hilarious as well as the fact that it just doesn’t flow all that well.



Spain seems to be overwhelmed with many government ads and public service announcements. For instance, there are poster campaigns against domestic violence. The woman’s face (seen below) states, “Don’t even think about laying your hand on me ever” while the man’s face says “One stops being a man when he hits a woman”. I think it’s a great campaign and it was the first thing I saw when I landed in the Alicante airport. I like how the add attempts (possibly succeeds) in creating a new imaginary in which domestic abuse is neither a man’s right nor a sign of his masculinity but rather a cowardly and emasculating action. That campaign seems to be limited to only posters but they are in very public places that seem to not discriminate or focus on certain populations.



The other ads have a wider reach because like the safe sex announcements they are on television. The first is the very colorful and beautiful commercial against child abuse. The commercial does not reveal what it is about until the very end. Until then it simply a colorful world with a child’s dark shadow and hands that become part of the world. It is difficult to explain so just click play so that you can see it. It is very beautiful and seems almost like a combination of an ipod commercial or maybe an Of Montreal music video.



Another good ad that is near and dear to my heart is the one concerning Romanian immigrants. I have only seen that commercial in Alicante but I find it both effective and interesting. Spain has recently experienced an influx of immigration from sub-Saharan Africa, Morocco, Latin America, Poland and Romania.  The add I saw was solely about Romanian but it was a commercial dedicated to integrating Romanian immigrants. I think its particularly amazing when compared with US rhetoric concerning Mexican immigration. There (USA) as many scholars have noted the rhetoric concerning immigration uses negative connotations such as ‘flooding’, ‘tides’, ‘invading’. Furthermore immigrants are often characterized by the stereotypical idea that they are ‘lazy’ and sucking up welfare and social security. On the other hand, the Alicante add portrays a very dapper, elegant, man that is the heart of a very successful and luxurious hotel. The narrator is the owner of the hotel and he is explaining that his employee is hardworking and professional. The tone of the commercial draws in the spectator in such a way that one almost expects it to be an ad for some hotel  but instead it ends with the hardworking employee stating, “ I am Romanian”. The add ends by extolling all the hard work that Romanian immigrants are doing in Spain and how they should be respected and integrated as important members of Spain’s population. Having only seen US ads (that tend to come out in California during elections) of broken fences, dark shadows, and litter, I was pleasantly surprised to see an alternative view of immigration. Here is the ad so you can form your own conclusions. 

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Lara’s Magical Timepiece

My friend Lara recently told me she is getting an old-school, pocket watch.  Lara has a long history of having magical items of which I am deeply jealous of. My favorite was a giant white, rainbow jeweled medallion that caused quite a stir where ever she went. For instance, a crazy ( or possibly a witch from another dimension that knew the power of Lara’s medallion…we may never know) woman tried to rip it from Lara’s neck and demanded that Lara give it to her. We promptly ran away but were left with the feeling that possibly the medallion was something more than a necklace. I am not sure what happened to the medallion but I hope Lara still has it tucked away somewhere safe just in case all those incidents were foreshadowing some event in the future.

Anyhow when Lara mentioned her pocket watch, I realized that it too will probably be magical. I hope it will be some sort of time machine that will allow her to take me around time like theses guys and make her an awesome historian/lawyer. 

(Lara-I totally get to be Ted) 

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Christmas Time in Spain

Its here! The lights are coming up, the stores are getting busy, turron and polvorones have their own aisle at Mercadona, and the lack of separation between Church and State becomes more apparent at the public school where I teach with each passing day! Oh yes, its Christmas time!  Here in Vera (my small town) nativity scenes and in some cases nativity mini-worlds are popping up everywhere. On my way to work a family has actually constructed a sheltered gazebo in their front yard to display their nativity. Its amazing. Forget the manger and the animals this nativity has it all!

My personal two favorites are the butcher and the man taking a dump in the field. yes…a man taking a dump. Before getting into that figurine let me explain the butcher scene that lies mere centimeters from the manger. First there is the slaughtering table where two figures are holding down a pig or possibly a sheep and attempting to slit its throat. To the left of the them is the figure of the butcher emptying out or gutting another, already dead pig/sheep. The detail is amazing. I am sure many of you will not find this as amusing as I did but I have to tell you it was a shock when I first saw it.

My other favorite figure is the  is the man taking a dump. Apparently, this is a Spanish or more precisely a Catalan tradition. Anyhow, this figurine is called “El Caganer” and according to Wikipedia it is placed in the nativity scene for the following reasons:

  • Tradition.
  • Perceived humor.
  • Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
  • The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. However, this is probably an a posteriori explanation, and few cite this reason for including the Caganer in the Nativity scene.
  • The Caganer represents the equality of all people: regardless of status, race, or gender, everyone defecates.
  • Increased naturalism of an otherwise archetypal (thus idealised) story, so that it is more believable, taken literally and seriously.
  • The idea that God will manifest her/himself when s/he is ready, without regard for whether we human beings are ready or not.
  • The caganer reinforces that the infant Jesus is God in human form, with all that being human implies.

Every Saturday there is a giant market with clothes, CDs, food etc. Last weekend there was a very busy stand dedicated to nativity set/universes and this weekend my goal is to get my own little pooping man. 

Here he is:


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Muses, Icons, you can call them what you will…

There are some women in this world that have changed the way the world dresses and have with their style been able to define the character and ethos of decades, movements, etc.  I mean Bridget Bardot’s tossed sexuality was not just a way of wearing hair and make-up just like Audrey Hepburn’s elegance was not simply some black dress that you can buy…well at least not to me. Both those ladies’ styles reflected something more. We can buy and try to imitate them but its really, their sensuality, their courage, or aloofness that we are trying to mimic. Its quite magical really. I am not sure if I alone in this but for me clothes are just a form of dressing up. In other words, when I wear a mod dress and I look in the mirror I think well I sure as hell don’t look like Twiggy but I sure can feel the essences of what she was and the era she represented in this dress. That piece of cloth becomes my moped, my pills, The Who, old school blues, or whatever. It sets me up with a dream for the day or for the night. These are some of the women who inspire me. 

Margot Tenenbaum



Edie Sedgewick (the  ‘the party doesn’t start till I arrive’ kind-of mood minus the tragic ending) 



Francoise Hardy


Audrey Hepburn 



Technically not just a single person or woman but every person in Fruits as well as the film Wasabi! Color color color. 


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