Back to the Start

Hey guys … Remember me? I’ve not been posting much lately, have I? Well, there’s a reason for that. A big one.

Mario and I have moved to the U.S.!

As you can imagine, we’re both really excited to see what this new stage in our life together has in store for us. The past year has been filled with bureaucracy. You thought Spanish bureaucracy was bad? I got news for you: you have no idea.

I’ll have more details soon, including our spousal visa timeline, but I would just like to thank all of you for reading. I kept the news on the down low for work reasons, although many people figured it out. And I promise, this blog isn’t ending! Just changing a bit. Mario might have some funny observations for you in the future.

St Patricks Day Spain USA

Celebrating his first St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. by wearing a goofy beaded green tie.

Shout out to Betsy Transatlantically and C’est Moi, Sara Louise for their blog entries about visas and all the frustrations that go along with them—you really helped me out!

Ribadesella, A Gem on the Asturian Coast

Recently, while going through my Instagram, Mario commented sardonically, “You didn’t like Asturias much, did you?” True enough, there are six consecutive photos of Asturian scenery, along with one delicious tomato and sardine salad we enjoyed during our two-day stay there. I couldn’t help it! Asturias was everything I adore: beaches inspiring awestruck silence and wonder, mist-covered mountain ranges, the sounds of bleating sheep and barking hunting dogs, dangerously tortuous mountain roads, and the ringing of autochthonous cows’ bells while they munched happily on the local vegetation. So sue me—I loved Asturias!

Ribadesella (Asturian: Ribeseya) was one of our first stops after our brief pause in Burgos.

Asturias Ribadesella

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A Family Tradition—Making Chorizos

I cannot remember when I first tried Mario’s parents’ homemade embutidos (the Spanish word for all types of sausages and salt-cured meats). I do remember, though, the times I’ve eaten chorizo  or salchichón in a bar, though. These version are too salty or too chewy, too tough or too lean. I suppose, in a way, I’m a total chorizo snob. (Funny when you consider that chorizo is also a slang word for thief.)

A few autumns ago, I accompanied Mario and his parents to their friends’ finca, or estate/property. Really it’s just a  house with a large backyard and a pool. Oh, and now there are a few chickens running around, laying farm-fresh eggs with thick yellow yolks—best consumed fried in olive oil with chichas (known in other parts as picadillo or zorza).

Finca Zamora Spain

Mario and his godmother/cousin enjoying the finca

My in-laws are zamoranos, Zamorans. They are both from small villages in the Zamora province, located in the northwestern part of Spain, in the autonomous community of Castilla y León. As such, they are accustomed to eating good food. When they were children, their mothers cooked what was local, what was in season, and what tasted good. My father-in-law, Jesús, recalls not being able to afford olive oil, an expensive treat. So they cooked with lard. And you know what? My mother-in-law, Pepita, makes some tasty desserts with lard. Pig products were (and still are) king, and thus cured meats are king: jamón, lomo, fuet, chorizo, and salchichón.

When I got to the house, my in-laws and their friends had already put their manos a la obra!

Chorizo making ZamoraChorizo making Zamora

They don’t actually do their own matanza, though I do know a few families that used to (and some that still do!). They do buy only the best meat, though carne ibérica 100%.

The ingredients for a good chorizo are:

  • Pork. 100% Iberian meat. Do not skimp on quality; you will notice later.
  • Paprika.
  • Coarse salt.
  • Garlic.
  • Oregano (optional, but it gives the young chorizo and chichas a great flavor).

Chorizo making Zamora
Look at how pumped I am!

Steps

  1. Wash the guts. Yes, I said wash the guts … If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen (or the finca). You may need to remove some fat.
  2. Chop the meat into elongated pieces, but not too thick. This helps when you’re trying to put the meat through the machine (as seen above).
  3. Knead the meat. Once the meat is chopped and the condiments prepared, they are mixed together, until the paprika and salt are well distributed. It should look red.Chorizo meat
  4. Let stand for several hours or overnight.
  5. One person should fill the machine and turn the crank while the other stuffs the sausage.Chorizo making Zamora
  6. Once the sausage is finished, it’s time to tie the free ends.Fresh chorizo salchichón
  7. You take the uncured chorizo and salchichón to a cool, dry place to cure. Mario’s parents use an old village house and hang them from the rafters. (Really!) The ideal temperature is cold, but not much lower than 0C/32F.Chorizo salchichón curando curingChorizo salchichón curando curingChorizo salchichón curando curingChorizo salchichón curando curing
  8. Don’t forget to enjoy some chichas with red wine, the perfect way to coger fuerzas on a cold autumnal day!

Chichas picadilloCooking chichas cocinando chichasEating chichas Comiendo chichasEating chichas Comiendo chichas

You may not believe it, but after this mid-morning “snack,” we ate arroz a la zamorana for lunch. This rice dish is full of, again, all the pig parts: ear, hoof, ham, sometimes even snout. You know, a light lunch.

Arroz a la zamoranaArroz a la zamorana

What’s your favorite: chorizo, salchichón, or some other embutido?

Chinchón—A Plaza Mayor to Rival Salamanca’s

As far as as Plaza Mayors go, I’ve always had a clear favorite: Salamanca. Now, not to hate on Madrid (though I don’t have a problem doing that at times), but for me, nothing rivals Salamanca’s gorgeous Plaza Mayor. It’s where I met up with Mario on our first dates (we met, as do most couples and friends, debajo del reloj), it’s where I picnicked on sunny days with my guiri friends, it’s the square I crossed daily on the way to my internship.

Last autumn, though, some friends of ours invited us to visit Chinchón, a small village about 50 km southwest of Madrid, with a population of roughly 5,000 people. They too are a couple like us: one Spaniard, one guiri from the Midwest. They got married in this town, and I immediately saw why they were drawn to it.

Chinchón Plaza Mayor Madrid

Its Plaza Mayor, Main Square in English (though I never translate this phrase), is a classic medieval construction. All around the outside are houses and buildings with balconies. Many of these have been converted into restaurants, so you can sit outside on the rickety (or so it seems) wooden scaffolding and enjoy your menu del día.

Since its construction, the square has been home to various events: royal fiestas, comedy shows, jousting, bullfights, religious sacraments, executions, and even home to a movie set or two (Around the World In 80 Days, for example).

Chinchón Plaza Mayor MadridChinchón Plaza Mayor Madrid

Chinchón is also known for its eponymous beverage, a form of anisette, made from aniseed macerated for half a day in a hydroalcoholic solution (usually wine). Later it’s distilled in copper stills for different amounts of time, leading to distinct varieties, including:

Chinchón Anis Sweets
The liqueur is also used to make many sweets (Source)

  • Sweet, useful for cooking at 35% alcohol
  • Dry, no sugar and 43% alcohol
  • Special Dry, a stronger variety at 74% alcohol

I actually hate aniseed, so we passed on trying this libation.

Chinchón Plaza Mayor  Madrid

Chinchón Plaza Mayor  Madrid

Chinchón Madrid

Which villages have you visited around Madrid? What’s your favorite?