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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Summer in Spain

A deserted courtyard in Valencia.*

Summer in Spain

I often think that it is a shame that summer doesn't last forever. At least I think about this whenever I live in a place where summer doesn't last forever. I lament seeing the first signs that summer is waning—a harvested field, the retreat of sunlight in the late evenings—but there is still plenty of summer left at this point. Here in Valencia I would say that we are just at the half-way point. Even with so much summer still in front of me I like to take time to appreciate everything this means. I like to take stock of all of the things that I love about this season so as not to forget about anything important that I may be missing—not that anything that I enjoy about summer is in any way important.

As far as food is concerned, the summer months are a bit paradoxical. It is almost too hot to cook and even eating becomes a tiresome task at times. Even thinking about what to cook gets to be a little tedious. Thinking, in general, seems almost hazardous when you are baking in the sun. Still, you have to eat. The good news is that you have friends who have barbecue grills on their rooftop terraces. If I had a wood-fired grill I doubt that I would cook food any other way—at least until I got tired of it. I suppose that keeping the grill clean is a natural impediment to over-using it. Here in Spain you can buy real wood coals instead of those charcoal briquette things that seem to have been hatched in a chemist's lab. They take a while to get going but waiting for the fire to get up to speed is why they invented cold beer—or at least one of the reason (note to self: write essay on all of the uses for beer).

Summer is the best time for much of the produce harvested in the Valencia Community. About the only thing out of season during summer are oranges. We are absolutely up to our eyelids in vegetables this time of year so I go on buying binges. I just bought a huge bag of red peppers that were on sale for something like 3 kilograms for 1€. When I bought them I had no idea of what I was going to make; they just looked so good that I couldn't pass up a deal like this. I ended up making stuffed peppers.

Stuffed Peppers

People make stuffed peppers here in Spain but I have never seen them on a menu or on display in a restaurant. Stuffed tomatoes and peppers could be found in just about every taverna I ever went into back when I lived in Greece. I had never had them before I moved there and I immediately placed this item on my favorite dish list. They are often eaten cold so this is a great meal for summer. I can't even remember the last time I made them myself. I brought home the peppers and just pulled a recipe out of thin air with what I had in my cupboards. I started by cooking two cups of rice. I made the rice with a little less water than I normally use as the rice will continue to cook a bit in the oven. Next I sautéed some onion, tomato, and garlic in olive oil. To this I added a jar of cooked vegetables I found in my cupboard (something I wouldn't buy but it was there and I wanted to get rid of it). I added the cooked rice to the vegetables. I finished the stuffing mixture by throwing in some pitted olives.

Cut the tops off the peppers and clean out the seeds. Keep the tops. Fill the peppers with the stuffing, place them all in an oiled baking dish (I used my clay dish I use for arroz al horno and place the tops on the peppers. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on top just because that's what a Greek cook would do. Cover the dish and put it in the preheated oven. After about 30 minutes remove the cover and allow to cook for another 15 minutes or so.

Stuffed peppers are incredibly easy and well worth the minimal effort. Mine came out great but I am anxious to make this dish again and put a little more effort into it. I want to make it in the traditional Greek way with ground lamb, raisins, and fresh mint.

Beer tastes a lot better in the summer than in other months. I love riding my bike to the beach in the early evening and the finishing up by stopping by for a cold beer at a bar near my apartment. There is nothing like that first, ice-cold swallow of beer after you have been out in the hot sun. The next five beers don't quite have that same zing to them but what are you going to do, quit after one mouthful of beer?

The next best thing to a cold beer after a good bike ride is a cold shower. I don't even bother turning the hot water on in the summer except to wash dishes. In fact, the water never gets cold enough for me. Showering at the beach feels pretty damn good, too.

*I love how the streets are totally deserted on Sunday mornings in the old quarter of town. I ride my bike down all the very narrow roads and I can actually feel the vibrations of the church bells because there is no other noise.

I could go on all day about what I like about Valencia in the summer, but it's already too hot to be in the house and it's only 09:00.

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