Tag Archives: Spain

43 varieties

I first tasted Cuarenta y Tres in Seville. Drinking sangria in Spain is a sure-fire way to identify yourself as a tourist, but that’s never bothered me much. I speak a little Spanish and I’m sure my pronunciation is just as much of a giveaway.
One of the fascinating things about sangria is that, like paella, no two places ever produce the same even though everybody agrees (more or less) what the core ingredients should be. And, typically of eating and drinking out in Spain, just because the place looks, or is, cheap doesn’t necessarily mean the quality suffers.
It was an outside terrace in Triana. Just across one of the bridges. I can’t be certain, but it might have been Restaurante Rio Grande. What I can be certain about was that it was remarkably good sangria. More than just the usual red wine, fruit, sugar, and cheap brandy. The taste was much richer and complex, with one flavour that I couldn’t quite place. I thought it was fruit based, the person I was with thought vanilla. It turned out that we were both right.
So I asked the waiter what was in the sangria. The surprise was white spirit. No, not the sort you clean paint brushes with, but vodka. And the “secret” ingredient was Cuarenta y Tres. So named because it has 43 ingredients including fruit and vanilla. Unsurprisingly, I have a bottle on one of my shelves.
The last two weekends I’ve been abroad in Germany and France, photographing Christmas markets and other things that require you to be on the street, on your feet, in the cold, for long stretches. The stalls selling gluhwein or vin chaud were very welcome.
More than one of them had orange somewhere in the mix. It took a few days for the thought to surface, but something made me wonder whether Cuarenta y Tres might work in mulled wine, rather than sitting on the shelf until it’s sangria time again. It does.
And just as sangria should be individual and distinctive, so should mulled wine. What’s the point of buying those teabags of mixed spices that make your mulled wine taste like everybody else’s? Why not browse a few recipes, adapt and experiment. This worked rather well:

One bottle of red wine. I used Cotes du Rhone but I doubt that it matters much providing it’s a fairly meaty red. This is not the season for Beaujolais Nouveau.
One apple chopped into smallish bits. I’ve had some mulled wine where the apple has been cored and then sliced into rings. But life’s too short to core an apple needlessly.
Two clementines. Because I didn’t have an orange. Unpeeled and cut into quarters. You could peel and zest of course, but life’s too short and I’d doubt you’d really taste the difference.
Three or four cloves.
A couple of inches of cinnamon stick. I just took a whole one and snapped it in half.
Some freshly ground nutmeg. Optional because grating nutmeg is a pain. And if life’s too short to grate a nutmeg…
A tablespoon of sugar. Most recipes seem to call for caster sugar. Possibly because it dissolves faster? Golden granulated works just as well.
Two large star anise. This might be the “secret” ingredient that will make your mulled wine stand out from everybody else’s.
It all goes in a pan with a glass lid so you can keep an eye on proceedings. Heat it very very slowly. Do not, under any circumstances let it boil.
Fifteen minutes or so later take it off the heat. Add a large wine glass (mine was probably 150ml or more rather than the regulation 125ml) of Cuarenta y Tres. Or Cointreau.
Or similar as takes your fancy.
Plus a splash (25ml or so) of cheap brandy.
Leave to infuse for a while. I managed 30 mins while cooking dinner.
Re-heat if required.

And enjoy.

I have a little list

Though I’d much rather prefer a long list.

For lots of reasons, I love Spain. One of the things they do well is events. Whether grand or a little local fiesta.

I’ve been to quite a few. Semana Santa twice (once in Seville and its environs, once in Segovia and Madrid). And fallas twice (once in the heart of Valencia, once also in towns to the south). They’re big set pieces which you can’t help being aware of if you’ve got any interest in Spain and its culture.

But if you observe carefully (and as a photographer I try to) you should start to understand that the grand spectacles are actually constructed from lots of smaller parts. The churches and parishes for Semana Santa, the localities for fallas.

And often those individual elements are more interesting than the whole that’s marketed to tourists. One of my fondest memories of fallas was one of the societies that had cooked a giant paella and was selling racions to passers-by for 5 euro to raise funds. Add another euro for a beer and it was a bargain on-the-hoof lunch. Spanish food cooked the authentic way.

Last year I came across a mention of L’Aplec del Caragol, a weekend when Lleida celebrates snails. It’s a city that’s quick to get to by train from Barcelona, and the event coincided with a bank holiday in England, so it was too tempting to resist. Especially as flights to Spain can, with a little planning, often be bought for less than train tickets to somewhere else in England.

It was a fun few days. Which started me wondering how many similar events there might be. For once, GInYF (Google Is not Your Friend) here. That’s not hugely surprising because these events are very localised. I don’t suppose, for example, that huge numbers of people outside of Lincolnshire have heard of the World Egg Throwing Championships.

So I’ve started a little list to try to capture Spanish events that might be worth a look. Think of it as a bucket list for me and anyone else interested in trying to get a better feel for Spain.

Semana Santa, Fallas, and the running of the bulls in Pamplona aren’t on the list because they are too “obvious”.
Seville’s April fair is on the list because I haven’t done that yet, even though it should fall into the obvious category.
The Three Kings, which I’ve seen a few times, is only on the list because I wonder whether there are less obvious places to spend the night of Jan 5.

The best I’ve found so far (after a very brief wander around the internet in my lunch break) that represent what I’m looking for are possibly Carnival in Cadiz or Las Hogueras de San Juan in Alicante. I’m aware of Tomatina, assorted Moors and Christians events (Alcoy is supposed to be the best?), and a baby-jumping festival so they will probably get added soon.

Other suggestions are very very welcome. Not only for my benefit, but also for anyone else with more than a passing interest in Spain. Add them to the comments and let’s see how big a list we can compile for everyone’s benefit.

The 12 plates of Christmas

I’m an atheist, and really don’t like tawdry commerciality, so I don’t really do Christmas. The holiday does, though, provide a reason (if one’s needed) to hibernate and eat. If only there was a tick box for food in the religion section of the census. So, without further ado bring on the 12 plates of Christmas.

The turkey has been bought. Though it would probably be more traditional, and preferable, to have a goose.

Ditto the ham.

And the beef. So there should be some decent packed lunches to take to work next week.

Not forgetting the venison.

And there’s a couple of kilos of tiger prawns in the freezer. They’re best served a la plancha with plenty of chilli in the oil

There’s also a duck in the freezer, along with some Chinese pancakes.

Or a large jar of confit for making cassoulet.

Though it would have to be done with chorizo (cooking and eating varieties from Galicia) because there isn’t any Toulouse sausage.

But there are wild boar sausages

With Old Spot smoked back bacon for a serious breakfast

Rather than Stilton there’s a wedge of organic Caerphilly

And the Cava is chilling nicely. Cheap stuff from the supermarket for the bucks fizz, and some quality bottles brought back from Spain for dinner.

Here’s hoping you all have a good holiday.

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The good, the bad, and the fugly

This is a list best presented without any further comment:


1. Germany (too smelly)

2. England (too lazy)

3. Sweden (too quick)

4. Holland (too dominating)

5. America (too rough)

6. Greece (too lovey-dovey)

7. Wales (too selfish)

8. Scotland (too loud)

9. Turkey (too sweaty)

10. Russia (too hairy)


1. Spain

2. Brazil

3. Italy

4. France

5. Ireland

6. South Africa

7. Australia

8. New Zealand

9. Denmark

10. Canada

And before you ask. It’s from a survey conducted by OnePoll.com and reported in the Telegraph.