Friday, December 16, 2005


On behalf of Inés and myself, I’d like to wish all you Virtual Tapas Bar-hoppers a groovy Christmas/Hanukah/Kwaanza…or whatever other flavor you sprinkle onto your holiday sundae.

But given our close relationship, I felt that a mere holiday wish was a bit...inadequate.

So—as I warned you earlier—I decided to go the extra mile and write a Christmas poem. If you really, really want to read it, then click here.

The poem assumes some minimal knowledge of Spanish holiday practices (i.e., the kids here get most of their gifts on January 6th, which is Three Wise Men’s day), but you’ll get the gist nonetheless.

Make it a merry one!


Sal...Your Virtual Tapas Bartender

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I am constantly amazed at the Spanish male’s ability—and willingness!—to drink 80-proof alcohol at times of the day when my own body wants nothing more than a large dose of caffeine.

I’ve seen this scenario repeat itself in Barcelona, Madrid, Guadalajara and nearly every other town that I’ve visited during my six years here.

There I am...sitting bleary-eyed and saggy-cheeked in a bar. It’s breakfast-time, and I’m holding a café con leche and a chocolate chip muffin. All around me, however, are beefy men in coveralls smoking cigarettes, reading “Marca” and—as God is my witness—guzzling snifters of brandy, orujo and anís.

Brandy, orujo and anís! First thing in the morning!

I’ve told this to my friends and family in the US, and they are likewise astounded. Some even doubt that I’m telling the truth. So one morning several weeks ago, I went to my favorite Sanchoville bar at 10:15am armed with a pen and Moleskine notepad. My mission: To conduct an earnest (albeit unscientific) survey of what the bar patrons were drinking at that tender hour.

There were thirteen men in the bar, and this is what they were drinking:

- Five (5) coffees.
- Five (5) mugs of beers.
- Three (3) snifters of anis dulce (i.e., a sweetened, licorice-flavored liquor).
- One (1) snifter of orujo (i.e., a grappa-like liquor).
- One (1) snifter of brandy.
- One (1) bottle of alcohol-free beer (he either had a very difficult
night, or mistakenly thought it was Lent).

And then—just like that—they finished their drinks, paid their bills and returned to their welding torches and construction scaffolding.

Quite honestly, I don’t understand how these tequila sunrisers were able to keep their eyes open (let alone, work) after such a “breakfast.” Alcohol is, after all, a depressant. And one would assume that a mug and/or snifter full of depressant so early in the morning might lead to thirteen drooling heads snoozing peacefully on the bar’s countertop. But that wasn’t the case. In fact (and ironically enough), the only person in the bar whose posture and demeanor resembled those of Abe Vigoda was...ME!

Anyway...I showed my survey results to José—the owner and bartender extraordinaire—and asked how is it possible that these people can drink so early in the morning...EVERY morning.

“It’s crazy!” he said, banging his fist onto the bar. “They’re doing a lot of damage to their bodies!” José’s moral outrage at the manner in which these men were slowly killing themselves was, perhaps, only exceeded by his delight in that they were doing so at his profit.

But I wonder...are they really killing themselves? I assumed so, until I did a little research and discovered that the life expectancy in Spain—not only for women, but also for men!—is higher than that of the US. Those thirteen men in my survey are likely to outlive the thirteen spandex-clad men who, at this very moment, are huffing and puffing in a Kickboxing Aerobics class in Van Nuys, California.

The Spanish Paradox? Could be. Just imagine if the television show “60 Minutes” should get ahold of this information. I can see it now. All throughot the US, Human Resources Departments will supply employees with morning-time glasses a brandy, orujo and anís as part of their corporate “Wellness Program.”

Dilbert won’t just live longer; he’ll live a whole lot happier.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Pusties have been spotted in Wisconsin!


Pusties have been spotted in Wisconsin!

Saturday, December 10, 2005


[Update, March 6, 2016:  I've written a new post, with new recipe, about the Utica Pusty.  You will find it HERE.]

Our good friend and VTB-VIP, Culinary Fool, has been blogging lately about her grandmother’s Christmas cookie recipes. That got me thinking about my own Nonnie’s holiday specialty—pusties!

I’m not sure if pusties (also known as “pustichioti”) are an Italian or Italo-American invention...although I suspect the latter. And I’m not sure if they’re available in other parts of the US or only in the Utica, NY area...although again, I suspect the latter.

Pusties are little, baked pastry tarts filled with chocolate or vanilla custard, and capped with another layer of pastry dough that's brushed with egg yolk. They look like a frilly meat pasty...but, of course, taste nothing like one.

In a rare moment of common sense, I had the foresight to ask Nonnie for her recipe several years ago. And it’s a good thing, because I don't think that anyone else in the family had previously thought to do so.

And so, my friends...I include Nonnie's recipe below. I like sharing family recipes, because it lessens the chance that they will be lost forever. And now that Nonnie’s pusty recipe is safely aloft in cyberspace, I can stop worrying that the original handwritten version will meet an untimely death at the hands of my finger-painting daughter.


To Make the Dough:

1.5 cups Crisco Shortening or Lard
5 cups Flour
1.25 cups Sugar
2 Eggs
0.5 cup Cold Water
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
0.25 cup Honey

Step 1: Blend Crisco, sugar, flour and baking powder. Blend like you would a pie crust.

Step 2: Add water, honey and eggs. Mix and refrigerate.

Step 3: Add a little extra flour if dough is too soft. Make little “meatballs” and spread in the pusty pans. Caution: do not spread too thick, because the baking powder will cause the dough will rise a little.

Step 4: Fill the pusty pan, cover with a cap and brush the top with egg yolk.

Step 5: Bake at 375 degrees F for 15-20 minutes.

* * * * * * *

To make Vanilla Filling:

3 Eggs
0.75 cup Sugar
0.5 cup Flour
2 cups Milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla (or some brandy)
Dab of Butter

Step 1: Cook over low heat until thickened.

Step 2: After it cools, add vanilla (or brandy) and a dab of butter.

* * * * * * *

To make Chocolate Filling:

0.5 cup Flour
1 cup Sugar
0.25 cup Cocoa
1 cup milk
1 cup Cold Water

Step 1: Mix together flour, sugar and cocoa.

Step 2: Add milk and cold water.

Step 3: Cook over low heat until thickened.


Since our friend Angie raised the bar for Christmas-time blasphemy this year, I thought I’d contribute one to the cause.

Click here.

[Thanks to Henry at Potter’s Bar in Nerja, Malaga for sending me the link.]

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Here’s one for those of you that can read Spanish: click here.

It’s the head-scratching story of a man who visited a circus near Madrid last week and decided to stick his arm into a tiger’s cage. I’m not sure what this guy was expecting, but what he got shouldn’t have been a surprize. The tiger tore-off his arm and devoured it.

But here’s the thing. In 2003, the same thing happened to *another guy* at *another* circus near Madrid.

Puzzling? Perhaps...but not from the legal perspective. There is, after all, nothing in Spain’s Constitution concerning the right to bear arms.


...Sal’s 2005 Christmas poem. Reserve your tickets now.