Pooping log

Christmas is around the corner and with it, it comes a myriad of traditions. Each place has its distinctive customs. Here in Catalunya there is the Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log) or more commonly known as Caga tió (pooping log). As with all traditions, families have adjusted this one and some details of it may vary from household to household.

The Caga tió used to be a regular log but nowadays it is a smallish wooden log with stick legs, has a happy face, wears a red, Catalan ‘barretina’ hat and is covered in a blanket. The log poos lollies and small presents at Christmas though it is not as simple as just that.

From the 8th of December (Día de la Inmaculada Concepcion) the log “appears” in the house doorstep or found in the woods. From that day onwards, children must feed and look after the log until Christmas eve. Sometimes the feeding is recommended to be dry bread, orange peel or dried beans. Others, turrón (nougat). Sometimes parents might replace the small log by increasingly bigger ones as time goes by to make the children think that the log has grown after being fed.

On Christmas Eve, the tradition becomes bizarre and quirky. In order for the Caga Tió to produce its gifts, children are to beat it with another smaller wooden stick and sing to it, ordering it to poop presents. Whilst the words may vary from town to town, the tune stays the same, and translated to English it goes something like:

Poop, log,
poop nougats (turrones),
hazelnuts and cheese of mató,
if you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
poop, log!

The song should end with a final load cry of Poop log! (Caga tió!) to command to the log to poo. The children then reach inside the Caga Tio’s blanket and find whatever the log has defecated. In some households children must go to a room to pray that the log has pooped something.

Traditionally, the Caga Tio produced relatively small gifts that were for all to share, and not individual gifts. The most common droppings offered by the log include turrón (nougat), small sweets, biscuits and dried fruits.

When the log has nothing left to evacuate, it finishes the feat with a salt herring, a head of garlic, an onion, or it ‘urinates’ by leaving a bowl of water. If there is a fireplace, the Caga tió can be burnt afterwards. Though these days many people keep it for next year.

It is said that the origins of this tradition date back to the days when the fireplace was a central and important part of family life. The ashes of the burnt log were kept and spread by crops and near the stable and even on the beds as a rite to promote fertility. Others say that the log symbolized the gifts of warmth and light that were given by the earth in the form of wood.

Whatever the beginnings, in this corner of the world, comes Christmas eve, many children will be wacking a log with a stick to make it poop presents and lollies.

The best kept secret worth eating

A recipe now considered a national treasure has been kept secret for 200 years. It is said that only 6 people know the recipe for the Pastéis de Belém a Portuguese egg tart pastry (similar to pastéis de nata except made in Belem). It is incredible to think that these cakes that are only made of egg yolk, milk, flour and sugar end up being crispy on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside.

It is said that to keep the recipe a true mystery, not only do all bakers have to sign a non disclosure agreement but they also work inside the secret  factory – Oficina dos Segredos. A recipe invented by the monks that lived in the Monastery in Jeronimos in the early 19th century to bring income to their home and to use up the leftover yolks from starching their habits with egg whites.

Be sure to buy more than one because these mouthwatering tarts sprinkled with cinnamon are too good to be on a diet. It is no surprise that this place sells on a daily basis around 20,000 tarts; number which in the summer gets doubled!

Octopus everywhere

Carballiño (literally meaning the little oak), a little town in Galicia has celebrated, since 1969, on the second Sunday of August, “La Festa do Pulpo”. This is a culinary party with an estimate of 80 to 100 thousand guests who consume around 50 thousand kilos of “pulpo a la gallega” during the event.

It is said that the festival started as the fishermen of the area were obliged to pay a tax in produce to the frays. Amongst their catch there was the octopus, plentiful in Pontevedra. With the quantities they were receiving, the frays had to commercialise it and the festival began.

The “polbeiras” or “pulperas” (women who cook the octopus) cook this animal in copper pots. The octopus has to be ‘scared’ and is introduced into boiling water for a few seconds and taken out again a few times. This technique helps the octopus keep its skin once boiled for longer amounts of time. After its boiled, the octopus is cut in slices and served with olive oil and cayenne pepper sprinkled in the top. Perfect to pair with a local brew or wine.

Almost a ghost town

Once a fruitful town that housed more than a thousand people, the Malta knights amongst them, now it struggles to reach one hundred. Pazos de Arenteiro is a town that almost disappeared near the rivers of Arenteiro and Avia. A disease struck the grapes of the region which declined the (fruitful) wine making business and took almost every vine to its death. But now, a passionate galician has the dream of restoring this little town to its former grandeur attracting tourists and locals to stay or give them a homemade meal as good as any high end restaurant in a big city.

This tiny village has plenty to offer: a XVI century church you can visit and tracks to stretch the legs. One of the walks will take you through an abandoned village, a medieval bridge and the vegetation of the area.

Humour in sculpture

The first portuguese artist to have her own exhibition in the Guggenhaim Bilbao. This famous sculptress has a sense of humour that explores the duality of life, in which there is a conflict between the public and private, luxury and austerity, and she questions sociopolitical issues in the world and those that surround women as a gender. To create these contradictions In her work, Joanna Vasconcelos uses everyday items such as pots, pans, mirrors, irons, tampons, etc.

All through the Vasc museum, a gigantic Valkyrie that slides in each crevice of the museum is adorned by coulourful crochet art made by the 20 artisans who during 2 years helped her build Egeria. Using this skill in her artwork, the sculptor tries to highlight the contributions of women who work.

And outside, Solitario, a reference to the single diamond of an engagement ring. Juxtaposing male and female through the use of whisky glasses and Mercedes wheel hubs to make a woman’s jewelry item.

Navajas con ajo y limon

Surrounded by sea, Spain offers an opportunity to taste a wide variety of creatures from the ocean. Sometimes even what was once used, and still is used, as bait years later becomes a delicacy.

These fish are long, thin molluscs with shells that look like the old cut-throat razors and are sometimes aso known as razor clams. They swim vertically, in sychronised groups, with their long snouts pointing down.

Sometimes they are harvested by hand or trailing an electric cable behind a boat to struck the fish.

Not your usual dining experience

Immersed inside and underneath Barcelona’s iconic Liceu opera house on the Ramblas, Opera Samfaina offers people a gastronomic adventure and a wildly visual theme park. The experience is a multi-sensorial and dinning extravaganza with Catalan food at its heart. A great activity for team bonding. Once seated at our round, themed table, we are entertained by overhead projections of the ingredients they could have had. But taking no notice of the organising of the event meant a vegetarian evening of what seemed like a psychedelic trip of Catalan cuisine laid ahead. Skipping the fish, meat and pork dishes and instead having lettuce, tomato and potato based dishes.

The project of this restaurant was led by the brothers Jordi, Joan and Josep Roca famous for El Celler de Can Roca which was voted Best Restaurant in the World in 2013 and 2017.

Though it is a wonder how long this place will stay open. It is said that the venue that opened in July 2016 is now on debt moratorium.

Looking up at Gaudi’s creation

Gaudi’s most famous creation is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world with around five million visitors every year.

When the Sagrada Familia is fully built, it will have 18 towers to represent the twelve apostles, the four books of Jesus, the master tower for Jesus and another one for Mary.

Today only 8 towers are completed, four are part of the Nativity facade and four are part of the Passion facade. The Nativity facade was completed under the supervision of Gaudi himself in 1935.

Those with fear of heights can be at peace as there are no sudden drops or open spaces. The climb up is normally in a lift; though once you have checked out the views from the top, everyone must walk down approximately 400 stairs along a spiral staircase. For those brave enough make sure you step out into the little balconies and look up as well as down

What would you call this building?

This building was added in 2003 to the Barcelona skyline. The tower’s name is Torre Agbar, Agbar being a made up word from the towers original owners: Aguas de Barcelona.

It is said that its architect Jean Nouvel was inspired by Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and the Montserrat mountain in Barcelona. Might have designed it as a geyser rising into the air but the truth is that people see the tower and relates it to more common objects and has been named the suppository, the shell, the cock, the bullet, the cucumber and many more.

At 144 metres tall it is the third tallest building in the city and provides an imposing observation deck over the new Barcelona though it is not open to the public. It has a glass surface in which the colours of the Mediterranean (and many more) are reflected at night thanks to the 4,500 illuminated glass panels that serve as windows.

The tower has won prices for being a green building, one that harnesses solar power and groundwater to reduce energy consumption.

The tower has 32 floors, of which 28 can be used as office spaces. It is still unclear to me what the building is actually used for as the debate for a hotel license has taken years. It is true though that it is a good reference point and a spectacle by night.

In Hove, actually

Among the sand, on promenades, or in groups of tiny “villages”, are brightly coloured, shed-like structures that make the British coastline unique. It is estimated that there are at least 20,000 of these typical and iconic beach huts along England’s shores.

Local authorities usually stipulate colour schemes. Here in Hove, beach huts must be a specific iceplant green and dark cherry. Doors can be any single solid colour or vertically striped in multiple colours. Hut doors can now be constructed from either panelling or tongue and groove.

A licence fee for 2018/19 is £367.20 including VAT.

These huts are in not in Brighton but in Hove, actually. An important distinction between where is posh and where is not.