I have quite a history of wanting things, wanting things I can't have and when I realize that, I want them even more. Perfectly rational, right?
When I was really little I wanted a unicorn. I wanted a unicorn real real bad. I thought about unicorns all the time. I had unicorn calendars, stickers, pins, stuffed animals. You name it. Every single time I threw a penny in the fountain at the mall, guess what? I wished for a unicorn. It's quite possible in fact that I've never wished for anything else while throwing pennies into mall fountains. I'm pretty sure it was only unicorns. I wrote poems about unicorns. In fact, I have one memorized. I wrote it when I was six and recited it to my entire class.
Unicorns are beautiful
So Natural, so white
Unicorns were made by love
Love itself alright
Yep, I wrote that. And guess what I wrote it on? If you guessed lavender stationary in the shape of a unicorn's head you'd be right. And guess where I found that puppy tucked away? In a unicorn folder of course! By seven I was pretty convinced that due to the apparent fact that the tooth fairy was actually not real (yes, I was seven before that information was confirmed... I clearly boycotted reality for the greater part of my childhood), that most probably the reason I'd never seen a unicorn was because they weren't real. This did not stop me though from continuing to throw my pennies into that mall fountain hoping and praying for a unicorn. The way I saw it, it was a wish... if wishes really did come true then I could most certainly wish a unicorn into existence. Right? Well, either unicorns really don't exist or wishes don't come true. It's a question for the ages.
This hoping in vain for the impossible soon mutated into something that seemed more realistic. I hoped and prayed and hoped that a Cabbage Patch Kid would arrive in the mail for me. Did I hope to get one for my birthday? Nope. Did I hope my report card would convince my parents I needed one? No, not in the least. Did I want to save up to buy one (which by this point I had already done once). Oh hell no. I wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid waiting for me, next to the mailbox, wrapped in brown paper. I knew the shape of that box and I must have spent two years walking home from school and imagining that Cabbage Patch Kid box there waiting for me. Had I ever once received a surprise mystery gift from a surprise benevolent stranger? Ummmm.... let me ponder this one. No!
I have to admit, I became a bit more rational as I grew older. I started to work for the things I wished for, rather than hope they would magically fall from the sky or count on the random benevolent stranger. And more importantly I hoped for things that had a greater than -10% probability of happening, or existing for that matter. Well, until about 7 years ago.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment, I can't pinpoint a certain event, all I know is back a bit in time I started to wish I was Spanish. I'm assuming wanting to change one's cultural background is uncommon, however, it might just be one of those things people don't talk about much. Like how wilted lettuce covered by queso really is delicious. It's a secret we all keep, right? So there you have it, at an age where it is no longer respectable to wish for dumb irrational things, I was fully in the midst of wishing for something dumb and irrational.
Now why would I wish for these things? Well, naturally, if born Spanish (ideally in southern Spain) I would be born to a very old flamenco dancing family. I would be raised in the bars where, in the wee hours of the morning, my father would have me get up on the bar where I'd clomp away across the bar, impressing even the most gifted dancers with my rhythm, my grace and the impressively pouty faces I made while dancing. Further, I would speak Spanish, naturally. Living in Texas I'm ashamed I don't speak Spanish. However, if I was born in Spain I could speak Spanish and I wouldn't even have to go to the trouble of learning it. It would be part of me. I would have impressively long, dark, thick hair. And a little wavy too. I just don't think you can dance really good flamenco without long hair. Also, being Spanish would justify my fiery temper.... or at least take what can be a difficult temper and turn it into something that can be called fiery, stormy and sexy. I have not been able to do this here in the States. Perhaps things are different over there in Espana? I don't even know why I think that tempers are a Spanish trait. It must be those pouty flamenco faces. And finally... well, the food. In fact, after the whole dancing bit, it's really the food that won me over.
I don't have an innate sense for working with Spanish flavors. I've read cookbook after cookbook on the subject and still feel like a total neophyte on the topic. I have a sense that I'm missing something, but without having spent more than a few weeks in Spain I don't feel sure I know what that something is. I also sense that in southern Spain the proximity to North Africa and the Moorish influence on the region plays heavily into the food. Actually I read that in a Lonely Planet, so naturally it must be true. I wish a feel for tossing together Spanish food was something, like speaking Spanish, I just grew into, part of my culture.
So what do I do? I don't toss pennies in mall fountains anymore, so that's out. Although, I did toss one in a fountain in Seville once, but I don't think I wished. I think I was just happy to be in Spain, tossing pennies around. No, now I just play. I mess around with flavor combinations that I'm not entirely confident in, I taste things I've never tasted and I pair up ideas that perhaps aren't intended to go together, but sometimes they just do.
And that's what this meal was... just a few odd ideas that didn't sound quite right together, but they just were. I melted onions down in olive oil, added some artichokes and melted them in as well. In the end I tossed in a few potatoes and a healthy dose of oloroso sherry. Somehow it just worked with the man'oushe I made to go to go with it. The sweet sherry and the buttery onions paired perfectly with the lemony zing of the za'atar and the crispy crunch of the bread. After eating it for two days straight I now think this is really unbelievably delicious.
I'll still keep hoping for my southern Spanish childhood, but I'll settle for a few months in a kitchen in southern Spain. And a jaunt into Morocco for a few weeks. I'm just sayin', in case that sort of thing can just fall from the sky, I'll take it.
Just a note, this post I'm featuring the potato dish. My next post will be on the manaeesh, or, in other words, my favorite bread hands down.
Artichokes and potatoes with oloroso sherry
Adapted from Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark
500 g small yukon gold potatoes
5 artichoke hearts, either canned in water or frozen, chopped into small pieces
8 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
3/4 cup oloroso sherry
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 Tbsp roughly chopped fresh mint
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Cut the large ones in half. You want bite-sized chunks.
Place a large heavy saucepan over medium heat and add 6 Tbsp of olive oil. When it's hot add the onion and a pinch of salt. Turn heat to medium-low and cook onions for about 10 mins. Onion should be soft and starting to color. Add the artichoke hearts and cook another 10-15 mins. Add the garlic and cook 1 min more. Pour in the sherry and water and half of the mint. Put the potatoes on top and cover for about 5 mins to steam. The sauce will still be very liquid. Taste for salt... don't be shy here. To serve drizzle with remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the rest of the mint. And just a note, this is much better on the second day, even cold out of the fridge. I recommend making it in advance.