Pan con Tomate at Pepitas in Barcelona

Pan con Tomate at Pepitas in Barcelona

I’ve been on vacation. To reward myself for working hard this year, I booked a trip to London and Barcelona months ago. I like having time to really look forward to it. I even bought a couple of Spanish language CD’s to try to learn some Spanish, but was too busy to learn much more than survival Spanish. Crazy-busy.

So, we toted our guidebooks and maps and walked and ate, trying to absorb and experience the place, trying to see something new. Or old, rather, because we were on a whirlwind tour of London, with a longer stay in Barcelona after that.

Walking the streets of ancient cities, rich in history and culture, is always inspiring and humbling. So while my feet kept going, my mind was able to go into a receptive mode that is unfortunately too uncommon in everyday life. As a working person, I spend my days busy, busy, busy, always scrambling to the next thing. Because it’s productive, right?

Well, not really. Our 24/7 crazy-busy culture is not all it is cracked up to be. I’ve been thinking about his more and more over the last few months, and this brilliant article by Tim Kreider really crystallized some of the things I was realizing.

Here is just one gem from the piece:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

As someone who writes about healthy eating, you might wonder why I would want to talk about being too busy. But really, the crazy-busy phenomenon is not just unbalancing for your life, but it feeds into the myth that we don’t have time to eat well. Just when your stress hormones are flowing and you need to take care of yourself with some good food, you grab something fast, packaged and refined, and the cycle continues. When you really believe that you don’t have time to throw together a salad, you must be in “crazy-busy” mind.

So, devoting a week of my life to the study of tapas in Catalonia was a great assignment for me. You see, tapas are all about sitting down, relaxing, and having some tasty bites while you unwind with a glass of sangria or cava. Watching people walk by, trying to figure out what country they are from, wondering where I could get a jacket like that, and just making idle conversation with my sweetheart. Blessedly, my smartphone was not working well, so I couldn’t check emails unless I went to a wireless hotspot, and well, none of them served sangria.

I will write more in the coming weeks about the amazing foods I ate there, and the class that I took from a wonderful local cooking teacher. But if there is one thing that I have learned in my few travels to Europe, it is that the genuine food of the old country is simple. Really simple. Sometimes it is labor intensive, because you have to cut and peel some veggies, or actually cook, but it is also often very low labor. The land that gave us Ferran Adria and his foams and blobs is also a place to learn to appreciate a simple smoky eggplant and pepper dish, or a fried artichoke heart, sans sauces of any kind.

The perfect example of this is the tomato bread. At every tapas bar, even the more contemporary, high end ones I tried, there is Pan con Tomate. When the server asks if you want Pan con Tomate, you might expect something like Bruschetta, with a pile of diced tomatoes, basil, maybe cheese. But this is something a 4 year old could make. Halve tomato, smear tomato insides on bread. Sprinkle with salt, eat.

Of course, it turns out that the pulp of the tomato and the clear jelly around the seeds is the richest in Umami-enhancing chemicals, so this is actually the most flavor you can get from a simple tomato right off the vine.

So maybe those Catalan peasants had it all right. Just a good tomato, good bread, and a little time to sit down. I am so down with that right now.


The Tasty Tomato Gel

The Tasty Tomato Gel

Pan con Tomate

4 slices peasant bread, they use a white bread, I like whole wheat

2 small very ripe red tomatoes, best ones you can find

a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil

sprinkles of coarse sea salt, preferably Maldons

If desired, toast the bread. Cut the tomatoes in half around the equator, and rub each half on the bread, leaving the wet interior on the bread. To maximize your yield, you can also use a grater and rub the tomato flesh against it over a bowl.  If desired, eat the remaining tomato with salt. Drizzle a teeny bit of oil and some crunchy salt on the bread, eat.