Sunday, March 30, 2014

Winter in Barcelona: How to Keep the Cold at Bay


Though I live in sunny Barcelona, I still suffer from the cold during wintertime. For all of you Chicagoans out there shaking your heads in disbelief and poo-pooing the idea of ¨winter¨ in Spain, may I remind you that it is the most mountainous country in Europe? In addition, most of the homes here are old and built of STONE. Luxuries, such as central air and forced heat, are virtually nonexistent.

Putting Cold in Perspective
Still think I´m being soft? Let me ask you this. Have you ever set your bare foot on the ceramic floor of an unheated bathroom during the dead of a Chicago winter?

If so, you know how shocking and unpleasant that experience can be, not just because of the layer of skin you left behind as you hightailed it out of the bathroom, but also because your mom, or your kid, heard you curse like a truckdriver for the first time.

Now imagine that ceramic floor also covers your walls, your ceilings and your roof and you´ll begin to understand the kind of cold I have in mind. Houses here are like iceboxes which is great during June but hardly ideal during December. Trust me when I say, its the cold inside, not the cold outside, that is the problem during wintertime in Barcelona .

Coping Mechanisms
Now that we are all on  the same page - one that reads ¨LISA IS NOT A WIMP¨ - you may be wondering how we without central air manage from mid-November thru the end of February. Some of us modify our indoor movements. Small steps and gestures are less likely to dislodge a blanket when sported in the style of a toasty but constrictive mummy wrap. Others run-up astronomical electricity bills with space heaters. But the smart people, the really really smart people, eat a LOT of hot soup. Cradling a hot bowl of soup in one´s hands on a cold day is one of life´s little pleasures.  Actually eating the soup raises body temperature.

Right now, my soup of choice is butternut squash.  This squash tastes great, is in season and is healthful to boot. Foodies be advised, I am both gluten and lactose intolerant, so you won´t find any cream or butter in my recipe. 

I must confess, I use the word ¨my¨ loosely as this recipe is a combination of ingredients that I liked from a slew of recipes found on  http://allrecipes.com/ .That said, IT ROCKS!!! Full of flavor, it balances the sweetness of squash and the tartness of green apple perfectly. Hope you enjoy it and stay warm everyone!!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
Ingredients
1 butternut squash, medium size
32 oz chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
1 onion
2 stalks celery
1 granny smith apple
1 carrot
1 potato
Half a tablespoon of honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
  1. Bake butternut squash in oven at 350 until partially cooked (just until it becomes easy to remove the skin). You can bake it whole and just partially, as I do. If you prefer a roasted flavor, you can split the squash in half and roast it, cut side down on a cookie sheet, until tender.  
  2. Chop onion, celery, and apple. Saute onion and celery in oil for 2 minutes, then add apple and saute for 3 or 4 more minutes (until onions start to become translucent) and apples are a bit tender. Set aside. 
  3. Peel and cut squash into bite size pieces. Chop carrot and potato. Add these ingredients, along with the chicken broth and the apple mixture to a stockpot and bring just to a boil. Add honey and stir. Add pepper and salt to taste and then lower the heat and simmer until vegetables are tender. Stir regularly.
  4. Remove from heat and puree in batches until smooth. 
  5. Return entire mixture to stove and warm just enough to heat through. 
  6. Serve immediately. As you can see by the photo, I garnished each bowl of soup with sprig of parsley. In hindsight, I wouldn´t advise this as the flavors weren´t right. Garnish with a slice of apple, or some crushed walnuts instead.  
The humble but tasty butternut squash