Monday, August 22, 2005


And now for another installment of this continuing series. This one’s for the guys.

Tip #2: *Always* where underwear when jogging in Lycra® shorts.

I say this not for reasons of public embarrassment, but rather for those of personal anguish. I can assure you that the line between Lycra® and sandpaper will be indistinguishable after the third kilometer.

Now…where did I put my daughter’s nappy cream?

Friday, August 19, 2005


Ace reporter Angie has finally published her “Top Five Childhood Food Memories.” Click here and you’ll learn why the combination of watermelons and leather boots might lead to a spanking.

Now that all four of my “taggees” have fulfilled their obligations and passed the meme baton to future generations (like Kimberly, who tells us how Buddhists celebrate Thanksgiving), we can close the book on this matter.

Thanks to Harsh, Mausi, Kick Shoe Kooy and Angie for being good sports!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Certified food-nut, Harsh, has published his "Top Five Childhood Food Memories" in resonse to my earlier meme.

Check it out here and you'll be asking yourself, "How did his mother get a six year-old to eat all those gourmet items?"

Sunday, August 14, 2005


For the past several weeks, readers have tolerated my relentless whining about barbeque—or rather, the lack thereof here in Spain.

“Boo hoo hoo…I can’t find a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker® in Spain!”

“Boo hoo hoo…I don’t want to pay $150 to ship one from the US!”

“Boo hoo hoo…why can’t my biceps be as large and bulbous as my calves!”
Oh, wait…that was last year’s rant.

So, after spending several sleepless nights obsessing over the matter…and even considering such ludicrous options as taking welding lessons so that I could build my own “Sally Mountain Cooker” out of an oil drum (a plan that was as hilarious to my family as it was terrifying to my local Fire Department), a sensible reader named “Ironporer” stepped in with the solution that my meager brain couldn’t formulate on its own: “Hey Sal, why don’t you build a smoker out of terra cotta flower pots.” Then he pointed me to a website.

Well…it turns out that there’s a show called “Good Eats” on US television’s Food Network that recently showed how to build such a BBQ smoker. It looked idiot-proof and inexpensive. And—most importantly—it would keep dangerous tools out of my hands. I therefore rushed to my local home improvement store and returned with 75€ worth of components. Here’s how the smoker is constructed:

Posted by Picasa


1 large terra cotta flower pot (approx. 17-20” tall with a 17” diameter).

1 rounded terra cotta flower pot with a diameter that’s a little larger or smaller than that of the other pot.

1 electric hotplate

1 metal pie plate or other shallow pan.

Hardwood chunks or chips

1 round grate with a diameter that’s a little less than that of the first flower pot.

1 thermometer

A base on which to rest the smoker (I used a wrought iron tri-pod; alternatively, you can use bricks or 2x4’s)


Step 1: Place the “normal” flower pot on the base so that it’s elevated off the ground.

Step 2: Plate the hotplate at the bottom of the pot, and drop its electrical cord through the pot’s bottom hole.

Step 3: Place the pie plate with wood chunks on the hotplate.

Step 4: Wedge the round grate into the pot and place the meat on top of it.

Step 5: Invert the rounded flower pot and place it over the bottom pot. This will be the smoker’s lid.

Step 6: Drop the thermometer into the top pot’s hole (Duh! Be sure that the thermometer’s diameter is greater than that of the hole).


Fire-up the hotplate so that the wood chunks smoke and the internal temperature hovers between 210º and 220ºF. Then twiddle your thumbs for the next 7-10 hours.

That’s the theory. Now, here’s the reality.

During the first hour, I neither saw nor smelled any bloody smoke! Worse yet, the internal temperature of this ill-conceived contraption was frozen at 150ºF. Now, 150ºF is the perfect temperature for cooking a piece of meat if, and only if, you like your BBQ with a side-order of salmonella. I found this obstacle especially irksome, given that I had paid a premium for the most powerful hotplate that Boulanger had in stock—a 1500 watt German-built model that should’ve generated enough heat to smelt pig-iron.

Immediately reverting to my natural tendency to panic when faced with adversity, my initial reaction was to launch the entire overgrown, earthenware piece of crap over the wall surrounding my house. But thanks, perhaps, to my prior three months of intensive yoga practice, I discarded violence as a cooking technique and calmly hypothesized that the source of the problem was, in fact, the wood chunks. They must be too large. So I removed those chunks from the pan and replaced them with a heaping handful of much smaller grapevine clippings. These, I was confident, would soon have the pot awash in a dense cloud of fragrant 210ºF smoke.

I returned an hour later to find that the temperature in my still-smokeless smoker had indeed risen— but only an additional 10ºF. After two frustrating hours, it was still 50ºF lower than my target. Fortunately, I faced this latest set-back with a much cooler head than I had an hour earlier. Unfortunately, however, “much cooler head” is a relative concept—as I soon found myself scouring the garage for a can of gasoline with which to inundate this maddening piece of fantasy cookery.

Finding no arson-worthy accelerant on the premises, I had an idea that was—far and away—my most brilliant of the day. I would smoke the brisket on my trusty Weber gas grill, and use the flower-pot smoker for a task which, perhaps, it could handle (i.e., growing flowers!).

So…I fired up the Weber and placed the pan of woodchips on the burner. Within fifteen minutes, I had enough smoke to barbeque Dom DeLouise. I then turned off one burner, set the other to low, dropped the temperature down to 250ºF, and slapped the brisket onto the grill. Ninety minutes later, I wrapped the brisket tightly in heavy-duty foil and popped it into a 300ºF oven for another two hours.

And at the end of the day, I had my friggin’ barbequed brisket. Perhaps a bona-fide pit-master from the back-woods of Alabama wouldn’t be impressed, but then again…I’m a helluva long way from Alabama.

Besides, why should I care about what a pit-master thinks. As of tomorrow, I am a vegetarian.

Posted by Picasa


Thanks to the editors of Marbella Guide for publishing another of my essays.

Click here to check it out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Monday, August 08, 2005


The proprietors of four admirable blogs were quietly minding their own businesses last week when, without warning, I callously tagged them to carry-forward a meme called “Top Five Childhood Food Memories.” Well…those seeds have started to bear fruit.

Check out Mausi’s brilliant write-up, and you’ll learn what to spread on a cracker while stoned.

Also, Kick Shoe Kooy—a woman who apparently prefers to remove Band-Aids® millimeter-by-millimeter, rather than in one mighty rip—has published the first of what, presumably, will be five installments on this topic. Check it out, and you’ll learn why a box of raw liver is unlikely to replace diamonds as “a girl’s best friend.”

Sunday, August 07, 2005


Last Sunday, I was in the English-language section of a Madrid bookstore called “Casa de Libro.”

I was crouched on the floor, holding a hardcover edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and debating—with my cheapskate inner-self—the pro’s and con’s of spending 12€ on the book vs. spending the rest of the weekend watching my nails grow.

Then, from behind, I heard the pitter-patter of footsteps—followed a brief interchange that was rendered in the unmistakable nasally tones of two college-aged American girls. It went something like this:

GIRL #1: Oh my God! This is sooooooooo going to be my airplane book!

GIRL #2: Not me! I am going to crrrrrrrrrrash!

…whereupon I opted to spend the 12€ on a set of 3M® polystyrene earplugs and a bottle of Pepto-Bismol®.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


My good friend and distant cousin, Culinary Fool, “tagged” me to participate in a Meme earlier this week.

What’s a “Meme?” To be honest, I’m still not sure. But it seems to be the blogging-world’s version of a chain letter…but with an important difference. Each blogger who is “tagged” to participate in a Meme is expected to contribute his own creative writings to the designated topic before forwarding it on to others.

In the case of this current Meme, the topic is “Top Five Childhood Food Memories.” In other words, the tagged blogger is requested to describe five food memories from his childhood that he misses terribly in adulthood…or something like that.

So…that’s what I’ve done. Listed below are…

(In no particular order)

1. CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER AT GRANDMA’S AND GRANDPA’S HOUSE: My paternal grandparents in Utica, NY hosted Christmas Eve each year. And although my Grandmother was a competent (if not Bocuse-esque) cook during normal times, on one day each year (December 24) she morphed into a Culinary Savant. Consistent with Italian-American tradition, the Christmas Eve menu was meatless and fish-heavy. It consisted of the following: (a) smelts dipped in flour and egg and fried by my grandfather on the gas stove in their basement; (b) shrimp cocktail; (c) battered and fried shrimp; (d) vinegary fish salad with more components than I could possibly list; (e) thin spaghetti with oil, garlic and anchovy sauce; (f) spaghetti with red calamari sauce [my favorite]; (g) lobster tails for the kids; (h) fruits, nuts, pomegranates (which the kids called “Chinese apples”) and dried figs; and (i) pies and baked goods for desserts…including Utica’s classic “Half Moons.” Their house was a revolving door of visiting family. Aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws dropped in and out throughout the night. There were usually 15-20 for dinner; with another 15 or so stopping by for coffee and desserts afterward. During dinner, my grandfather would sit at the head of the long table set-up in their living room with a gallon-jug of Carlo Rossi dago red on the floor next to his right foot. When the spaghetti course came ‘round, he’d ask if I wanted grated cheese. I’d say, “No” and he’d usually respond, “What are you? A Polack?!” This Utica-based annual food fest began to slowly unravel after we moved from from the area in 1977, but my parents continue the tradition (with still more courses added) to this day in Chicago.

2. BANANA SPLITS AT EDDIE’S: Eddie’s is a large family diner in Sylvan Beach, NY. Sylvan Beach is a town on Lake Oneida (thirty minutes or so from Utica) where my paternal grandparents have a summer house. We spent entire summers there until we moved in 1977. Eddie’s has been in business since the Jurassic Period. It is a throwback to the 1950’s, with red vinyl booths and formica tabletops. Most booths set beside large windows lining two of the four walls. There was usually a line waiting to be seated behind a barrier of velvet movie theater rope in the front entranceway. Eddie’s is “famous” for its hot ham sandwiches and (from my father’s perspective) its banana-cream pies. But I mention it here not for those items (which, I’ll concede, were fabulous), but rather…for its banana splits. We’d often go to Eddie’s during summer nights for desserts. My grandfather and I always ordered the banana splits. Each came on an oval-shaped stainless steel dish—looking like a shallow silver boat resting on a silver pedestal. The banana split was constructed as follows: (a) one scoop each of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream; (b) one banana cut lengthwise, with each half resting parallel beside the three scoops of ice cream; (c) hot fudge drizzled over one half of the ice cream, and strawberry sauce drizzled over the other; (d) a mountain of whipped cream forming a peak on top of the ice cream and banana; (e) salty chopped peanuts sprinkled over the whipped cream; and of course…(f) a maraschino cherry on top. My grandfather—who was 5´4” and 200 lbs. of hulking, rock-solid muscle—typically made short-work of the banana split. I’d need a bit more time to finish…but not much more.

3. NEW YEAR’S DAY RAVIOLI AND ORECHIETTE AT NONNIE’S AND POPPIE’S HOUSE: New Year’s Eve and Day were the designated holidays for Nonnie and Poppie; my maternal grandparents. As I mention above, my paternal grandmother was a one-day per year Savant in the kitchen. But Nonnie was/is a 24x7x365 genius behind the stove. How could she be otherwise? Her parents came from Puglia! The centerpiece of Nonnie’s New Year’s meal was ravioli and orechiette in a meat-based tomato sauce. She made the ravioli by hand, and it was stuffed with ricotta cheese. The orechiette—a pasta typical of the Puglia region that translates to “little ears”…although we kids called them “little hats”—were offered as a concession to Poppie, who didn’t like ravioli. My love for Nonnie’s ravioli rivaled my love for Grandma’s spaghetti with calamari.


5. AND FINALLY…FRIDAY NIGHTS WITH JAI: This is, perhaps, pushing the bounds of what might be considered “childhood,” because I was in my early ‘20’s at the time. But hey…I’m almost 40 now, so that was half a lifetime ago. Anyway…Jai is a close friend from Chicago whose mother has kept my belly well-stuffed with Indian food for two decades. During the years 1989-1991 (when we’d just graduated from university), Jai and I had a Friday night ritual. We’d drive into Chicago at 7pm and head straight to a joint called The Patio on Taylor Street for an Italian sausage with hot peppers. I don’t know what spice The Patio added to those babies, but they were life-altering. After The Patio, we’d bound around the city doing who-knows-what until midnight. At midnight, we’d drive to El Taco Loco; which was a trailer-like Mexican diner in the middle of a parking lot on South Wabash Street…just behind the Blackstone Hotel. The waitress at El Taco Loco was a young Salvadoran named “Zoyla” who—despite seeing us every week for two years—never showed the least bit of recognition when taking our orders. Jai and I always ordered the Burrito Suizo…which was a rugby ball-sized burrito bulging with meat, sour cream, guacamole, tomatoes, onions and topped with melted cheese and ranchero sauce. Mine was stuffed with shredded chicken; Jai’s was usually stuffed with chorizo and eggs. For drinks, we’d always order horchata…which was supposed to be good for hangover-prevention. After El Taco Loco, we’d kill another couple hours before our last pit stop. Between the hours of 2am and 3am, we’d venture into the scary Maxwell Street area for Polish sausage. A Maxwell Street Polish is a Chicago institution. It’s a grilled Polish sausage on a bun, topped with thinly-sliced grilled onions and yellow mustard…and is usually accompanied by a small cardboard box of French fries. Maxwell Street was a rough area during those years, but the Polish sausage joints were a safe-haven. No matter what the hour, they were always packed with hungry University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) students huddled together for safety like a pack of antelopes in lion country. The Maxwell Street sausage-fest marked the end of our Friday night. With onion-tainted breath, we’d trek back to the suburbs and arrive home while the sun was rising…at which point, I’d pick up the Chicago Tribune that was already laying on my parents’ driveway and head-off to bed for a few hours.

There you have it! My five childhood food memories.

Now…according to generally-accepted Meme procedures (GAMP), I am supposed to pick four other blogs to carry this Meme forward. I therefore designate the following (which, I hope, won’t piss them off too much…this is, after all, strictly optional):

1. HarshKarma
2. Kick Shoe Kooy
3. On The Road
4. Mausi

Next, GAMP requires that I list those blogs that came before me on this Meme. Why? So you can see how and from where it traveled. If you are one of the four blog that I “tagged” above and you choose to carry this Meme forward, here's what you do: (a) Remove the blog at #1 from the list below and bump every one up one place; (b) add your blog’s name in the #5 spot; and (c) link to each of the other blogs for the desired cross-pollination effect.

1. BeautyJoyFood
Farmgirl Fare
Becks & Posh
Culinary Fool
Sal DeTraglia’s Virtual Tapas Bar

Wow! That was exhausting…but kinda fun. I hope that you found it somewhat entertaining, even if it didn’t pertain to Spain.

Now, go out and get yourselves some banana splits! Culinary Fool is buying!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Last week, I posted an email that I sent to Weber® BBQ’s Customer Support department.

My email concerned Weber’s Smokey Mountain Cooker—a trash can-like contraption that is used for smoking brisket, pork butt, ribs, and anything else that can be slathered with BBQ sauce and served on a slice of Wonder® bread.

I had recently discovered—to my horror!—that the Smokey Mountain Cooker is not sold in Spain. And after exhausting all avenues for resolution on this side of the Atlantic (i.e., bribery, threats and public weeping), I dispatched a last-ditch plea for compassion directly to Weber’s corporate headquarters in Palatine, Illinois (USA).

Here is Weber’s response:

Hello Sal,

Thank you for your email. Sorry, about your situation in trying to obtain a Smokey Mountain. WE do not sell grills directly to consumers nor ship outside the United States. Perhaps Amazon can accommodate or you may need to have someone in the U.S. purchase one and ship it to you. Sorry…

If you require further assistance please let me know.

Weber Customer Support

Perhaps I was naïve in thinking that my wittily tear-jerking email might have persuaded Weber to FedEx me a complimentary Smokey Mountain Cooker as a gesture of international goodwill. Yeah…definitely naïve.

On the positive side, however, at least they tried to offer a few suggestions. If this had been the Customer Support department of a Spanish company, they would’ve informed that theirs is not the correct department for my inquiry…and promptly passed me to a Berber-speaking subcontractor sitting at a lonely outpost in rural Tunisia.

And what of those suggestions? Well…I thought about the Amazon option long ago. They do sell Smokey Mountain Cookers on-line (and at a great price), but don’t ship them outside the US.

As for the other suggestion, I won’t need to bother friends or family with this trivial matter. Why? Because I will be visiting Chicago in the near future and can coordinate the logistics personally—assuming, of course, that I’m able to repress my natural tendency toward being a compulsive cheapskate. My first thought was to buy a Smokey Mountain Cooker in Chicago and bring it with me on the flight home, but common sense prevailed. I really don’t want to explain to security personnel why I’m walking through O’Hare International Airport carry 47 lbs. of tubular-shaped, black sheet metal.

So…my fate as Spain’s foremost (and only!) BBQ pit-master will be in the hands of the US Postal Service…and then, the Spanish Postal Service.

Two national Postal Services?

Perhaps baked chicken breast on a slice of Wonder® bread doesn’t sound so bad after all.


Last week, I posted an open letter to the world’s Finns asking what the hell is a “Sauna Bar.” I saw one while walking through Madrid last week, and became titillated…er…I mean, suspicious.

I’ve since received the response below from my friends Hanna and Jussi in Helsinki. Yes, this is their actual response (with only minor grammatical editing on my part).

Hey there Sal the pal,

Jussi has some secret strategic connections which we cannot talk about publicly. These contacts have conducted, at his urging, a serious and deep investigation of this mystery place called “SAUNA BAR.” Here are the results of the investigation and the Finnish jury.

The background of this matter is somewhat similar to Russia’s top secret Space Projects…and to the US’s UFO project (which is supposed to be “Top Secret” but of course…everybody knows about NASA Field no. 51).

Anyway, the SAUNA BAR is a top secret Finnish governmental project that was established decades ago. The government’s goal was to develop a “Heaven for Finns”…and *only* for Finns. Why only for Finns? Because we didn’t think that other people would enjoy our version of Heaven (i.e., sitting in a sweatbox with a group of extremely quiet Finns…boring, no small talk or chit chat, etc.).

As result, scientists developed the SAUNA BAR as the place where Finns go after death. It is, quite simply, a sauna combined with a bar. In other words, it is a one-stop Heaven for Finns; as it would be too difficult for Finns to choose if there were 2 Heavens (i.e., one Heaven being a sauna, and the other Heaven being a Bar—we would simply never be able to decide where we want to end up after death).

Given the above explanation, your readers might be wondering what is “Hell for Finns.” We actually have two. One Hell is a Bar where you do not have cash and they do not take credit cards. The other Hell is a Sauna that is cold.

I hope these results of Jussi’s investigations help you with figuring out the SAUNA BAR mystery, and I hope that you are not very disappointed that they do not accept any non-Finns there.


Hanna (on behalf of Jussi and Hanna)
Helsinki, Finland

So there you have it. The mystery is solved.

I believe that Hanna’s and Jussi’s response is important for two reasons. First, it solves the Sauna Bar mystery. And second, it proves that the Finns—who are perceived to be a very quiet and serious people—are, in fact, bonkers to the core.

Vanha mies jolla on puujalka!