Another country menu; Tour de France

I’ve picked up my treadmill pace (and thus my miles on my “virtual” Camino trek) and so I’ve reached Frómista in Palencia province of Castile and León autonomous community. There I found four different eating establishments with online menus so I have a lot of raw source material to translate, analyze and feed into my corpus.

It’s been easier to get more miles on my stationary exercise equipment because now I’ve got the Tour de France on TV to inspire me (more than usual daytime TV shows). While I’ve mentioned I’ve now done 222.5 miles on treadmill I’ve also done 3665.6 miles on my stationary bike in the same time period. When I lived in California, counting biking to work, I usually did about 5000 miles a year so my boring stationary riding is about the comparable distance to what I used to do 25 years ago. But even with boring bike commuting it was a lot more fun riding real roads (especially in the San Francisco Bay Area which has some excellent biking routes) so at least with the Tour on TV I can make that my vicarious experience. So in the sprint to the finish in Stage 6 I managed to do 1.3 miles in the same time the racers did 1.5 miles – not bad, except they were climbing a very steep hill! I once got to participate in warmup laps with professional riders so I have a pretty good idea how much better they are than I am. I was going full out and just barely keeping up with the pros (well below Tour level, just local California pros) who were just loafing along. So I have no illusions of ever being capable of racing and certainly not at 72. But still it’s satisfying to “ride along” with the peleton.

But back to Spanish food and deciphering menus. Of the four possible in Frómista I’m reporting on the first, Villa De Fromista.  At first I thought Google Translate badly botched a few items but on further investigation I believe GT’s problem was due to the unusual HTML structure that made it difficult to tell boundaries between items and so Spanish words were “run together” in the text that Google translated. Since GT claims to use “context” (or sometimes described as using all words as a group rather than individual word-by-word translation) parsing the menu items incorrectly is bound to create confusion for it. But this is yet another cautionary warning to readers who might think in today’s high tech world a smartphone, with machine translation, is sufficient to decipher menus in a foreign language. So machine translation still has a ways to go and so my project to build a superior translation, keyed to the actual structure of menus in restaurants in Spain, still (if I succeed) could be more useful.

So, a few items of interest and I’ll get to the other three restaurants in another post. The restaurant has a MENÚ DEL PEREGRINO (Pilgrim’s Menu) for a mere 11’50€ and the MENÚ ESPECIAL for 19’50 €. It also offers GUARDA BICICLETAS which Google translates as ‘KEEPING BIKES’ and Microsoft translates as the more obvious ‘Bike Guard’ (presumably the same as a bike rack as called in USA) and this fits into my focus on the Tour. As I’ve studied the Camino in detail I have wondered about biking it instead of walking. I did do a long (escorted) ride in Germany and Austria once and I found biking to be a very pleasing pace for touring: not too fast and miss everything like with a car, but not as slow as walking and thus little change in scenery during the day. Since I’m averaging 26.2 miles/day on my stationary bike maybe working back up to 50 miles/day (which was my Germany pace) and thus completing the Camino in less than two weeks should be my focus (plus the possibility of going miles off the Camino to find better food or accommodations, plus fewer crowds).

Anyway back to the menu. The biggest mistake in translation which I don’t think is due to parsing the HTML is:


Battered cod with french fries

where Microsoft’s translation (in green) is much better (certainly more useful). How bacalao became ‘coco’ is a real mystery. rebozado we’ve encountered before and is just a conjugation of the very rebozar (to coat with batter). So this really is a fairly simple item to translate.

And this is kinda funny but obviously a poor translation


Mushroom Scramble

because we’ve covered revuelto already in this blog and ‘revolted’ isn’t even close.

LECHAZO ASADO (‘roasted lamb’, Microsoft got the animal right but missed this is one of the standard references to suckling (unweaned) lamb) and COCHINILLO ASADO (roast suckling pig) were totally botched by Google but it’s so bad it has to be due to parsing issues in the HTML.  Google displayed lettuce (actually lechuga) and chicken (actually pollo or gallina), neither of which is even close. Several times A LA PLANCHA becomes ‘to the plate’ which is a nominally correct literal translation but as we’ve covered in other posts this really means ‘grilled’ (as on iron griddle or skillet). ‘to the plate’ would be confusing it you didn’t know the more useful translation.

And this is an amusing translation that is actually more correct than it first seems:

ENTRECOT DE GANADO (lit: cattle or live stock) MAYOR (lit: older)

In other words this is just an aged Beef Entrecote where entrecôte (the French spelling) would mostly translate to ribeye. To a steak lover what isn’t in the menu is whether this is dry-aged or wet-aged. Unless the steak is tiny having this priced at 19’50 € (for all three courses) is either a very good deal or unlikely to be equivalent to this item in a premium steakhouse in the USA.

So, as usual, a more careful translation of the menu reveals a bit different view on what one might choose. Soon I’ll cover the other three restaurants in Frómista (that have online menus) as I trudge further west on my virtual Camino trek.





Left Burgos …

… the province, not the city which I left a long time ago.

Like most Americans I have limited sense of geopolitical subdivisions of Spain. Several years ago I learned about the autonomous community divisions and probably know most of them. But these are in turn (sometimes) divided into provinces which don’t really correspond (most of the time) to states in USA or provinces in Canada.

Thus I didn’t really expect to be crossing into a new province, Palencia in Castilla y León autonomous community (the largest in Spain). I discovered this from converting my basement treadmill “hiking” miles along a GPS track of the Camino de Santiago. The best I can do for now is then look at satellite or streetviews on Google Maps to get a clue of what it might be like to be at that spot along the Camino.

So I noticed the Puente Fitero which looks like a relatively new (and attractive) bridge over the rio Pisuerga. That’s approximately the boundary of Burgos and Palencia provinces and my accumulated treadmill “hiking” of 213.8 miles puts me just past Itero de la Vega.  After Palencia it looks like León province comes next before finally crossing into Galicia.

Since my previous look at the route of the Camino was from the movie The Way I was unaware of how much of the Camino passes through Castilla y León, which, frankly looks pretty boring.  The movie had far more scenes from Navarra or Galicia, both of which are a lot more interesting (and green and/or hilly). In fact a lot of views I get in Castilla y León look closer to the Central Valley of California or in some cases even the Cowboy Trail here in Nebraska. I’d certainly not be very interesting in hiking those, especially in summer trail, so this part of my “virtual” trek has dampened my enthusiasm for doing the Camino. Maybe only the short western segment (minimum to qualify) would be better.

But I’ll keep doing my basement miles and converting them to my virtual trek as it remains a good incentive for the boredom of exercise.

Spanish Food in Walla Walla, Washington (USA) !!

Hi, I’m back. 5100 miles of driving from Nebraska to Oregon and back, via Black Hills, Devils Tower, the Columbia gorge, Yellowstone and the Bighorn Mountains. Tiring but beautiful country especially at this time of year when everything is very green. Higher than usual snow in the mountains and suddenly warm days made for some very high water in all the rivers. And we got sick of bison. We first encountered them in Custer State Park in South Dakota. They ignore cars and stand in the highway as long as they like. It took an hour to go just a few miles. But it was worse in Yellowstone as the humans now had to admire the bison and so it was human traffic jams on top of large animals in the road. But I suppose we deserve some payback from them since we consumed some of their cousins as well as some elk.

But we had a real surprise in Walla Walla, Washington. I haven’t been there for at least 50 years and so didn’t remember anything. Walla Walla was not one of our planned destinations, just a midway point between Sandy Oregon and Boise Idaho. So we were surprised to see the profusion of wineries, at least 40 in the valley. Being from California naturally I can’t imagine wine in a cold state but the Walla Walla valley has mild weather so all types of fine grapes can grow there but it seems Syrah is what does the best.

But the real find was a restaurant, Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. Often any region that has wineries will also attract interesting restaurants and there were several in Walla Walla. We chose this one because it had some menu items typical of Spain (as well as other parts of the Mediterranean).  Here’s their menu, easy to read (at least for me as it’s in English, but with a few terms from Spain. On all this trip we tended to get too much food, which we then hate wasting (or accumulating as new fat) so my initial choice of patatas bravas gave way to wood grilled octopus instead. While patatas bravas is a fairly simple dish it is quite tricky to get the crunch just right so I wanted to see if Saffron could do it right. But my wife wanted the octopus and, actually, I’ve mostly avoided it but as it’s common in Spain decided to try. It was delicious. My main course was the Green Garlic Pappardelle and it was terrific, great lamb so while not particularly a dish from Spain at least a common ingredient used there. I’ll have to find out some day how Walla Walla compares to some comparable restaurant along the Camino, but for now this is the closest I’m getting to Spain.

While I didn’t get my patatas bravas I did get a great potato fix at Boise Fry, a place that says it serves burgers as a “side” to their fries. Being Idaho naturally the potatoes we saw growing in vast fields end up as a specialty item. I had a special that day (unfortunately I forget its name) that ended up with the second frying of my hand cut fries in duck fat. Talk about crisp. More sauces to try than I’ve seen anywhere else. We toured the Basque Market (a couple of blocks with Basque flags everywhere) but had already eaten so we didn’t get a chance to try more Spanish food there.

And I have to give a shout-out to Mama Inez in Pocatello Idaho where my wife, an aficionado of chile rellenos said she had the best she’d ever had.  And a shout-out too for Sanfords Grub and Pub in Spearfish South Dakota, really funky but delicious. So good we timed our day’s drive to stop there on the way back after discovering it on the way west.  So definitely some good eats on this trip.

And now back to the heat and humidity of Nebraska (after refreshing mountain weather on most of our trip) and the daily routine.

A blogging dilemma

I’m using this blog (partially) to “document” interesting tidbits I encounter while doing research for my anticipated smartphone app to translate menus in Spain. That app needs to have a comprehensive and accurate dataset to use in the translation, not just the equivalent English term (which doesn’t always exist) but also some description. For example, what is sobrasada? Yes, it’s ‘sausage’ but saying that (or even ‘spicy pork sausage’) doesn’t tell you very much.

So I’m using various sources to build up a “big data” corpus which will have translation errors and other errors. But algorithmically I can extract from that corpus what I’ll need to power the app. But I have to build that corpus manually, often exploring “puzzles” I find in trying to figure out a proper equivalent in English for some culinary item I find in Spain (btw, I am focusing on Iberian Spanish and trying to prevent terms only found (or used differently) in the New World from defocusing my corpus).

So I’m doing several things with these posts. First they are a kind of journal (or lab notebook) for various translation/description puzzles I try to solve. While I have many MSWord files with the raw work the blog posts highlight some interesting (at least to me) bits. Second by writing for potential readers I have to work a bit harder to try to have my posts accurate and at least somewhat coherent (instead of the real-time stream-of-consciousness in my raw material). This more careful writing makes the posts better but does have a real downside – it’s SLOW. It might not seem like it to you, Dear Reader, but I probably spend more time writing a post about something interesting in a menu than it took me to decipher the entire menu. So at some point the blogging gets in the way of my work.

But the real “dilemma”  I have is that I just don’t get the posts done, at anywhere near the rate I’m discovering the tidbits I want to write about. And days later when I go back over my raw data I often can’t recreate my thoughts or discover I forget to include links or definitions or whatever and don’t much feel like repeating my work.

My posts are fairly long which is good and bad. It’s good because I try to weave multiple points into a post, often with some background research. It’s bad, because the posts are probably too long for most readers’ attention spans and because I don’t get them done.

So every now I’m tempted to do short posts, literally for each situation I encounter, rather than trying to organize multiple examples into a single post.

For instance, I’ve started looking at a new source. Previously I’d used menus I could extract from restaurant websites along the course of the Camino de Santiago, and several online glossaries and dictionaries. But I’d also stumbled on many sites (focused on Spain and entirely in Spanish) for recetas (recipes). These are more tedious to process but often contain information I don’t find elsewhere and therefore can stuff in my corpus so potentially less frequently used (in menus) terms are still incorporated.

So I just started a small trial to look at this recipe site. Under its recetas tab it has 14 categories, and under Pasta y Arroz (pasta and rice) there are 15 webpages with about 12-16 recetas per page. IOW, this is a lot. And every receta is presented on the webpage as a caption (to a photo) where I can use Google Translate and then manually produce a side-by-side Spanish and English pair, such as:

Ñoquis de calabaza y boniato con salsa de gorgonzola Pumpkin and sweet potato gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce

For this I’d extract for my corpus ñoquis (gnocchi ), calabaza (pumpkin), boniato (sweet potato), salsa (sauce), and gorgonzola (gorgonzola). If I double check these term associations by looking in the Oxford dictionary or the DLE (more authoritative, but harder to use than Oxford) I  could add these associations to my corpus with higher confidence levels. IOW, mistakes are bound to get into the corpus without a lot of checking, but I’m also hoping the “big data” type filtering will eliminate the spurious pairs.

But what I just described as the process in this post took me quite a bit more time than it did for me to extract the side-by-side pair (still tedious but relatively quick) and do a quick visual parsing (really looking for any terms that require more research). Note that while I have no fluency in Spanish I do know a bit about the grammar and thus know how to spot parts-of-speech and change the word order used in Spanish to my normal English and thus find the term-by-term association. This entry was simple to do and the only (slightly) interesting part is that the original ‘gnocchi’ does have a different word in Spanish but ‘gorgonzola’ doesn’t (and as a somewhat interesting question, are these “Italian” words or now so incorporated in English, at least by foodies, to consider them English words (known linguistically as ‘loanwords’).

So of the first webpage of pastas this was the most interesting puzzle:

Escudella con sopa de galets, el plato estrella de la Navidad catalana Escudella (in Oxford as -dilla, but some searches appeared with this spelling; is it a typo? here? and on web?) with soup of galets (is this short for galettas?), the star dish of Catalan Christmas

but Oxford has it with a definition (didn’t have translation) in which case it was a specific dish

no, galets appears to be a type of pasta (shells)

This is my raw entry. Since escudella and galets appear in the Google Translate as same word in English (i.e. not translated or perhaps there is no translation) this is the type of thing I look for to do more research. When I merely asked Oxford for the translation of  escudella it said that was missing. What it does show (helpfully) is close matches which in this case I tried its suggestion of escudilla (which is bowl and kinda seems to fit this recipe name). So you see the note I made to myself (in Oxford as -dilla, but some searches appeared with this spelling; is it a typo? here? and on web?) but that’s just a start. Since I’ve done this a lot I immediately used the Oxford a different way; instead of asking for translation I asked for definition (of escudella ) and it had this in Spanish (then with Google’s English:

Plato que consiste en un caldo de carne y hortalizas, colado, en el que se cuece arroz, fideos u otro tipo de pasta; es un plato típico de Cataluña, comunidad autónoma de España. Plate consisting of a broth of meat and vegetables, strained, in which rice, noodles or other type of pasta are cooked; It is a typical dish of Catalonia, autonomous community of Spain.

Now I could immediately point out that Google’s translation of plato as ‘plate’ is not correct as plato also means ‘dish’ which fits better but that’s the typical kind of digression I get into that just makes posts take even longer.

Now meanwhile I thought I recognized galets. I did a previous post about the menu from a store selling cookies (as a bit of diversity from just restaurant menus). So I double checked by asking Oxford for the Spanish translation of ‘cookie’ (which is lists also as biscuit in British English) and it has galletas (as I thought I recalled). So I thought this might be some colloquial term for cookie.

But now my “translation” ‘bowl with soup of cookies’ is pretty obvious nonsense and so no better than the untranslated correspondence. So, since this is a new source and I’d already discovered I could click on each receta and get a full page explanation (intro to the disk, ingredients, preparation) I began to see the flaws in my attempt to unravel this puzzle. As the recipe page itself is entirely in Spanish I have the same kind of puzzle, i.e. Google again botched some of the translation. But there is enough text and importantly a picture that I could try some searching and I found galets as an item I can buy online (I’ve often used this source in this project). These look like (in both the recipe picture and the tienda picture as fairly ordinary pasta shells (I don’t see what’s special about them) but pasta shells are pasta shells (except maybe tiny details) so now I’d know what I am getting if I’d picked this off a menu in a restaurant.

So finally I know both these words don’t have English translations so I’d want a different kind of entry in my corpus of a short description and then potentially a longer one. Thus a diner using my app could learn about this dish.

So there, you see what I mean. This post has taken me far longer than the original analysis. Yet it’s good (for my purposes, hopefully somewhat interesting to you, Dear Reader) to have this more complete explanation (I can re-read this post someday when I’ve completely forgotten this and have to resolve something in my app). But if I’d simply written this one item in the most brief form (to jog my memory later, plus at least some glue prose to make it read better than my raw notes) I would have gotten this done.

But it also means I’d probably have many more posts which is mixed benefit as well. So, IOW, there really isn’t a great answer.

So I have a solution. I can use categories to distinguish the posts that are really minimal and that I create almost immediately after doing the work for the corpus. These will really be post “fragments” but at least I get more recorded.

For instance, I was looking at a menu on Friday and its Menu del Dia was for Mother’s Day so I had in mind a post to create on the 5th. But instead I spent most of the day cooking for our Cinco de Mayo feast (and drinking a few too many margaritas). So I never did that post and now the “joke” of it is gone as its timeliness is past.

So I’ll continue to struggle with this, fragmentary and terse posts, or (sometimes too long) complete posts.

Where did I go?

I was generating fairly regular posts but then dropped out of sight for almost two weeks – what happened? Well I’ve been out of town and thus mostly offline, south to Oklahoma. It’s not that Oklahoma doesn’t have the Net – I was just busy and my work on food terms in Spain is on a computer back home so I had nothing new to post.

Oklahoma is a long and not very interesting drive from Nebraska with most of the distance in Kansas. To most people the variation is scenery is so slight they’d say it all looks the same (and it has some of the same dusty and dry character of the part of Spain now along my virtual trek on the Camino). But to those of us starved for something to see there is a difference, even several regional variations (e.g. the Flint Hills) on the drive and it is easier to make that drive with brief excursions off the main route.

I was doing the trip to meet with a new attorney to finally start the process in Oklahoma to transfer my mother’s estate to her heirs. Her/our family has had a farm there for four generations. The farm isn’t much, as a farm. It served, many decades ago, as a subsistence farm for the family with most of its production for the family’s own consumption. Some cream and eggs got sold for cash to buy things. But industrialized agriculture, in the USA, has largely driven this type of farm out of operation. Today it serves just as grazing land for a tenant rancher. Much of the land in the immediate area is abandoned for agriculture.

But today the land grows something else – energy. On our 1/8th section (80 acres, sounds large but that is small in USA) there is one wind turbine from a fairly large wind farm (just like the turbines one sees along the Camino as Spain is more advanced in use of wind power than the USA). It was chugging away most of the time we were there (this is the windy and stormy time of year) and every revolution puts some cash in the pocket of landowners. Wind is new, oil and natural gas are old. The new and sometimes controversial technology of horizontal drilling and fracking has drastically increased production. So there is a new well, over a mile away on the surface, that has sent out its horizontal shafts under our land. And these horizontal wells, with a much large collection area (than a vertical shaft) is also a nice income.

That is, if I can ever get the deeds settled. Back when the land was just for low value farming the legal standards of ownership records were less. Today there is more at stake and so the standards are higher. Probably in any multigenerational ownership story, almost anywhere, there are gaps – some probate was never filed with the county clerk, some conveyance deed was properly signed or dated, or some change in marital status wasn’t recorded, or whatever. Everyone (local) knows Person X owns the land but challenged these claims may not stand up. So therefore I will have substantial legal bills and years of chasing lost documents to ever establish ownership (by my mother) which no one challenges. What fun!

Meanwhile the drive, as I mentioned, is fairly boring so we try to spice it up a bit with geodashing. Once upon a time there was no GPS (at all, then for a while it was only massively expensive military technology). I happened to work next door to Trimble who developed the first civilian GPS technology, later made more affordable and so learned of GPS before most people. So when commercial GPS was new and just barely available to the public it was a novelty and a number of “games” evolved using GPS. geocaching is the best known. For a while everyone wanted to rush out to those spots on the globe, known as confluences, where the GPS would read XX.0000 and YY.0000.

There are only so many of those and all that could be found have been. So geodashing  was developed to create artificial and thus sustainable purely random locations to find. And to make a game out of the search. Why? For fun. What is there? geocaching goes to some place, for sure, that another person has been (they left the cache there) but geodashing goes to a completely unknown (to outsiders, obviously locals know it) location. The game insists on not violating trespassing so often the location is not reachable (we must get with 100 meters). So each month when the new dashpoints are published we silly folks doing this game put them on maps and figure out whether they can be reached via public right-of-ways and then, more importantly, if there is any pattern that can allow reaching the most dashpoints with the least driving.

OTOH, when one has a long drive we look for something to break up the monotony by locating nearby dashpoints along the route. The drive from Nebraska to Oklahoma can be done purely on freeways (really limited access multilane highways as one part, the Kansas Turnpike is definitely not “free”). It’s really boring to just see 550 miles of pavement. Tourists drive through the midwestern “fly-over” USA states, especially along I-80 in Iowa or Nebraska hoping to get to the interesting tourist destinations further west, so I-80 looks really monotonous (and is).

But get off the main route, designed for speed, even if a non-tourist part of USA interesting things can be found. Before the Interstate highway system drivers were on two-lane roads that deliberately went into every town along the way. Frankly this is a lot like what I see on the Camino, a route that reaches a new small town every few miles. As in the USA there is some parallel route high-speed highway to go from the major spots, i.e. Logroño to Burgos that bypasses all these towns. But the Camino walking moves at a different pace and that is exactly the point.

And it is the same point with geodashing. There is no there-there at a random longitude and latitude (sometimes there actually is). It is the JOURNEY, not the destination. The slogan of geodashing is “getting there is all the fun” and that’s why we crazy people do this. There are surprises everywhere and interesting things one never even knew existed. Sure everyone knows about Yellowstone or Glacier or Grand Canyon or Yosemite but what is in Templeton Iowa or Arthur Nebraska? Scale is everything and that is part of the appeal, to me, of the Camino. When you zip by at 120kph in a car everything outside is a blur, but passing on foot at 5kph (and easy to stop and look around) the world is different. And driving on a farm road (which here look much like most of the Camino route) at 50kph and being able to stop anywhere since it might be hours before another car comes by is a very different way to see the world.

So the route from Nebraska to Oklahoma is really boring, unless you can get off the main road, if only for a bit, and see something you never expected by going to someplace entirely random. There may be huge historical differences between geodashing and a pilgrimage on the Camino but there is also a lot of similarity.


Left La Rioja

These “progress” reports of my virtual trek on the Camino are probably the least interesting posts I make here, but bear with me. But I want to record this progress as a kind of journal. I’ll attempt to spice up these posts with some personal story.

In this case today, with my increased mileage on my basement treadmill, I passed through the town of Redecilla del Camino. As I always do I used Google maps to “explore” any POI (points of interest) Google notes. These include both the restaurants I find to use as source material for my Spain food terms corpus, but also lodging, stores, etc. So when I was looking at an albergue in Redecilla del Camino I noticed the address indicated Burgos.

At first I was confused by this. I am familiar (from a distance) of the city of Burgos as an important place on the Camino but I’m still some distance from there. So digging around a bit I also learned, today, that Burgos is a province, part of the autonomous community of Castile and León. Looking back at the Google map I discovered the boundary between La Rioja and  Castile and León is between Redecilla del Camino and Grañón, the milestone of my last post, so I realized I had crossed this border. I wonder if there is even a sign had I been actually walking.

When I became fascinated with Spain several years ago I attempted to learn the geography and the political entities. Thus I learned a bit about the  autonomous communities as the major divisions of Spain. I tried to memorize what all these were and where they were. Later I learned some of these are then divided in provinces. La Rioja was both province and autonomous community (as well as a regional designation not exactly aligned on the political entities, somewhat like Nebraska is part of the “Great Plains” region of the USA). So it didn’t take very long to “walk” through La Rioja after leaving Navarra.

All this would be familiar to a resident or actual traveler but as someone who has never been to Spain it’s all new. As Sarah Palin once was ridiculed for saying she could see Russia from her home (she’d have to go way west in the Aleutian Islands for that to be true) I “saw” Spain while touring the Algarve in Portugal. I thought about driving a few more hours and at least crossing the border, so I could claim I had at least been in Spain, but that would have been a silly trip (somewhat like I can claim I’ve been in UK/England since I went through an airport there on the way to Portugal). Having merely crossed a border is not the same as an actual visit so I’ll have to wait until I really can visit Spain to claim I’ve been there.

Castile and León appears to be the largest autonomous community and since the Camino seems to cross most of it this will be a long trek. My impression is this area is far enough from the coast to be primarily the hot and dry part of Spain, less influenced by the cooler and wetter weather along the northern coast. My comments in the last post about the appearance of the countryside (not much different than western Nebraska or the Central Valley of California) suggest to me this is probably the least interesting part of the Camino. At least it appears fairly flat and so less strenuous walking but the lack of shade makes me wonder why so many people do the Camino in summer – do they know about this?

Without actually visiting a country it’s hard for an outsider to know much about geography. I’ve been in almost every province of Canada (and 49 of USA states) so I can relate to those from personal memory. But merely looking at maps is no substitute to try to really learn geography of a country by visiting. What I do know is that there is both a strong cultural difference and also gastronomical difference between the autonomous communities covered by the Camino, which, of course, is one of the appealing points, both to visit or just virtually visit as I’m doing.

So while this is not a “real” milestone it is a significant one for my journey. It feels about like going to Texas in the USA. I was born in Texas but left as a child and actually never expected to return. To my surprise I’ve returned a number of times. You can drive long days and still not be out of Texas so I suspect my virtual experience in  Castile and León (even just Burgos province) will be even longer.

So with this post out of the way I can return to my main topics. FOOD!

Moving faster, again

I’ve previously mentioned that in order to encourage myself to burn up miles on a treadmill in my basement I transfer that mileage to a GPS track I have of the Camino de Santiago. Thus I can track “progress” (also find new restaurants to virtually explore) and so at least have the virtual experience keeping alive my dream of someday having  the real experience.

Anyway a few weeks ago I suddenly started having severe enough pains in my toes to decide to rest a bit and then reduce my workouts. Recently, as mysteriously and quickly as the pain came on now it appears to be gone. Bodies are sometimes a real mystery.

So cautiously I went back to my mid-intensity workouts. My machine records a lot of data and I analyze that in spreadsheets. My recent low intensity workouts require about 120 calories burned per mile (this is zero slope and 2.0 mph). My medium intensity is more like 170 calories burned per mile (5.5 degree slope and 2.5mph). The high intensity that I was doing just prior to toe pain is a bit more erratic in the data since I boost the slope to 15 degrees and 2.8mph as long as I can stand (usually just a couple of minutes) and then back off to recover (in essence, simulating interval training which is superior for cardiovascular benefits than endurance training). So my high intensity was running about 215 calories burned per mile. When I was much younger I did significant amount of backpacking, in rugged terrain (mostly Sierra Nevada mountains, the ones in California, not Spain) with heavy pack and that effort felt like workout load between the medium and high intensity I’m doing now, without the bugs (of course I’m also 40 years older, so who knows).

So as a result of higher pace (I did only 6 miles in about 3 weeks while nursing my angry toe) I’ve now made 139 miles (from St Jean) and so my GPS track shows me just past the town Grañón (which is west of the bigger town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada).

So I’ll stick with the medium intensity and see if I can catch up the gap I created (from my previous regression trendline) and hope the toe pain does not return but I’ll skip the high intensity. I suspect the Camino intensity would be a bit less than my medium intensity workouts.

Doing training in a basement is helpful for tuning the body but is really boring. So in a few weeks the weather will allow hitting the trails some. Fortunately we have two reasonable outdoor trails within an hour’s drive: the Wabash in Iowa and the MoPac in Nebraska. These are trails built on top of abandoned railroads. The railroads were built long ago and thus were coal-burning locomotives so to protect crops from burning embers the railroad right-of-way was fairly wide. Today, with the trains long gone, the right-of-way is mostly woods and thus the trails are fairly well shaded. Which is good because it gets hot here in direct sun. The downside, however, is the humidity is higher along the trail than elsewhere. Two years ago when I was actually training for the Camino I began to push up my distance on those trails, with my maximum (and really only a half day) at 16 miles so I was getting close to the required distance.

But I know day-after-day is a lot different than a single day. I used to average about 20 miles a day on my bicycle and could easily do 40-50/day on weekends and then an occasional Century. But, when I did a (escorted) bike tour of Germany and Austria with about 50 miles every day it steadily wore me down to be going every day. So I suspect the Camino is like that, being able to do the daily distance, for just one day, is nowhere near the same as day-after-day. Plus I returned to my home and standard meals thus not facing the occasional dubious albergue and/or dubious restaurante.

So in doing my “virtual” Camino trek I use the images collected by Google on Streetview. Much of the route my GPS track shows has been covered by the Google cars. In fact, often looking at the street view I see the trekkers. So I’ve seen the route, steadily since leaving the Pyrenees go from green and wooded to brown, flat, dry and plain. Even going further west in La Rioja has lost most of the vineyards. So the Camino is dusty and flat. At one point it was just a dirt path alongside a divided highway.

In short the “boring” trails (say compared to mountain trails on either USA coast) here are still better. At least they have shade and a good walking surface. During summer they are a green tunnel, a lot like the Appalachian Trail (the Pacific Crest is much more exposed, like the segment of the Camino I’m now on). And the walking itself looks iffy. The two trails here are covered with crushed limestone which makes for fairly smooth (easy on the feet) walking. In contrast all the rural roads nearby are crushed stone and look just like the ones in Spain in this section of the Camino. Once I took a shortcut and went a couple of miles on the rural roads and that gravel is rough on the feet (also takes more muscle effort due to some slipping on unstable surface).

So frankly, yuck! The Camino between Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Grañón doesn’t look fun at all. Now there is the concept that peregrinos must suffer and on this stretch of the route they will (or at least their feet, plus sunburn (wearing sunscreen when it’s very hot and you’re sweating is seriously not fun)). But this is a silly kind of suffering. It’s like when I did a lot of biking – working hard to go up a mountain had the reward of accomplished the top but I hated biking into headwinds, just an invisible force holding me back. So I see the route in this stretch that way – not really a challenge but just a slog with little point except, hopefully, to reach better outdoors further west. If I wanted a walk like I’m seeing I actually could do it here. Another rails-to-trails project, the Cowboy trail does go as far as the required Camino distance to get the compostela and it too is completely exposed and is parallel to a major highway. I’ve never chosen to do any of that trail, even on a bike, much less the slower pace of walking – too hot, too dry, too boring (and here with lots of insect pests).

But, fortunately, on a virtual trek, I get to avoid that and merely face the boredom of stationary exercise.



Menú degustación

Degustación literally means ‘tasting’.  Many of the restaurant menu’s I’m studying, especially the more “upscale” (AKA “expensive”) restaurants offer this kind of menu. Like the Menu del Dia this is a fixed price (prix fixe) but whereas the del Dia seems to be the more common items of the restaurants the degustación seems to be their showcase items.

In the USA ‘tasting menus’ have become more common over the decades I’ve been going to better restaurants. The first memorable one I recall was here in Omaha, at a restaurant specializing in fish with an excellent Peruvian chef (thus some of the Spanish influence). I recall my first time there – we received an invitation for a New Year’s Eve tasting menu (with wine pairing, of course, which is not as obvious that is part of the menus in Spain). The food was excellent and since I was just starting a weight loss program I was pleased, despite relatively high cost, that the portions were small and incredibly tasty. The most beautiful tasting menu I ever had was in a restaurant in Beijing, near the Grand Hyatt (I couldn’t find its name). Bizarrely that place was straight out of LA and possibly the fanciest restaurant in my experience, thankfully on expense account on business travel (although China has AMAZING value at its restaurants, the same place in LA would have been 500% more expensive). It was amazing and a lot of fun as well as tasty, to be surprised by incredible dishes.

The inspiration for this post is my continuing search for restaurants in other regions of Spain, than northern Spain which has been my primary focus. So I looked at Cartagena in Murcia, near the Mediterranean coast with the assumption I’d see either local items or more seafood influence. The menu that is the source of this post comes from Magoga (website) and its tasting menu.

As a small digression, triggered by the idea that one item from this menu seems to relate (after some translation research) to molecular gastronomy. In many ways Spain is the prime mover on this. For many years elBulli (now closed, but still has website) and Ferran Adrià was the top ranked restaurant in the world. More recently the world’s top restaurant has been French Laundry in Napa Valley California. I’ve never been able to afford (or at least justify the luxury) of dining there with the price of their tasting menu and wine pairings easily exceeding $500 per person.

OTOH, my first encounter with fine dining was also in Napa (when I still lived in the San Francisco Bay Area) at Domaine Chandon, which as I was searching for its link, now, sadly, seems to be closed. Domaine Chandon was my first luxury restaurant and over the years it began my personal indicator of inflation and what I could afford. It was always expensive but still reachable (with Silicon Valley high tech salary) for at least special occasions. After my initial visit I returned to treat my sister on her birthday. A better foodie than me she taught me that discussing the menu (even off menu items) with servers enriched the experience. Some of the servers I encountered were students at the nearby California Culinary Academy (undoubtedly working at Domaine Chandon for handsome tips plus experience at top notch restaurant). These people were very knowledgeable about the menu and thus discussing it with them added to the experience. I still can remember the fabulous house smoked trout appetizer that I would have never ordered without the pitch from the waiter. But as I’ve grown older and been lucky enough to eat at many fine restaurants I’ve become more disappointed. Domaine Chandon was a special occasion for me and an delightful experience. At one visit we were joined by some golfers at an adjacent table. Unlike us this was routine for them and they wolfed down their food like I would eat at a fast food restaurant. That made me realize I’m not one of the 1% and thus unlikely to ever enjoy the tasting menu at French Laundry (which I saw on a foodie show, but have never been able to afford in person) so elBulli was also a place I only “virtually” experienced through a TV special.

Be that as it is Magoga (and others I’ve seen) I might be able to experience if I could somehow get to Spain.

But on to some items from the menu itself.

Snacks Snacks

I guess the word for ‘snacks’ in Cartagena is snacks, no idea what this item might be. But this item is a bit more interesting:

Langostinos, coliflor, pomelo y crema de sus cabezas Prawns, cauliflower, grapefruit and cream of their heads

Yes, cabezas does literally mean ‘heads’ and I assume this applies to the langostinos, not the coliflor or pomelo.  I know enough cooking to use the shells from peeled shrimp to boil in water and reduce to use as a tasty base for a sauce, but with research it appears adding the actual heads of the shrimp enriches the shrimp stock even more. The only time I was invited to eat the head of a shrimp was a beautiful bento box in Japan (I declined, still not that adventuresome diner).

Ensalada de cebolla asada y salazones Salad of roasted and salted onions

salazones was a mystery, literally it simply means ‘salted’. But salted what, the onions? The photo at the website didn’t clarify this but it was an interesting presentation in a “submarine” ceramic plate.

Papada de chato, guisante del campo de Cartagena y trufa melanosporum Double chin, pea from the field of Cartagena and truffle melanosporum

This is a perfect item for research. papada does literally translate as ‘dewlap’ or ‘double chin’. chato was a bit harder to find but it appears to be a breed (the source says “brood”) of pig unique to Murcia. “local” is a big deal in contemporary cuisine. As far as I can tell chato is not DO but does seem to be something “local”. One of my other experiences with ‘tasting menus’ was another restaurant, here in Omaha, that, by invitation only, did special items, with the wine pairings, where the chef explained each item, down to the actual supplier of the ingredients and the sommelier then explained his wine choice to go with the item – a lot of food but a bit too pricey for our routine consumption. I can’t quite imagine eating the double chin of any pig but I’m told (not having direct experience) these odds bits of the animal are more tasty than the common cuts (please, recall my post on Iberian “secret”, something similar to skirt steak, that is available online for about $60/lb, sorry, I’ll skip that).

Colmenillas a la crema y alcachofas en dos texturas Morello with cream and artichokes in two textures

Google Translate got colmenilla correct in other parts of the menu from this restaurant so I have no idea why it picked ‘morello’ than simply ‘morel’ which, interestingly for me, led to my first attempt at a food dictionary. I once visited a restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea California where the menu was entirely in Italian. Fortunately everyone there spoke English so I was to inquire about one of the dishes and had this fabulous veal dish with morels (the more favorable Italian dried). Coming to Nebraska one of my in-laws harvested morels in the wild around here but they were nowhere near as good as I had in Carmal.

But it was really the en dos texturas that inspired this post. A search for just texturas revealed little, but en texturas did lead to this source:

Spherification is a spectacular cooking technique we introduced at elBulli in 2003 which enables us to prepare recipes that no-one had even imagined before. It consists of the controlled gelification of a liquid which, submerged in a bath, forms spheres.

I recognized the name Ferran Adriá from my virtual experience with elBulli (I watch a lot of foodie TV even if I’ve never visited these places). So this is my guess, that the restaurant in Cartagena was probably influenced by elBulli, so I think my guess as to the meaning of en texturas is at least plausible.

And then there is this item from the tasting menu:

Arroz de conejo y butifarra Rabbit and butifarra rice

A search for butifarra yielded this plausible result, but there it is called botifarra. That is the Catalan term for this sausage and the more general term in Spain is butifarra. Another item:

Pichón de Bresse con su jugo Pigeon of Bresse with its juice

yielded, via search:

The pigeon of Bresse is a pigeon brood coming from the village of Bresse, in France, where they are reared in small farms under strict legislative controls. They are birds with Denomination of Origin.

Again this shows one of the challenges of interpreting menus. I suppose some people have heard of Bresse, as a source of pigeons, but I had to do some research to figure this out.

And finally:

Milhojas de avellanas y cuatro especias Hazelnut and four spices millefeuille

I am guessing Google Translate is correct and mihojas is millefeuille.  But unless you’re more skilled than me as pastry converting a Spanish term to a French term doesn’t help much. At this the article on millefeuille seems to be an adequate description of what is otherwise, sometimes, called a Napolean.

So this was a fun menu to analyze (and probably a very tasty one to actually consume) but it does show some of the challenge of figuring out menus in Spain. The online source for the restaurant didn’t list the precio for this menu but I’d guess it is enough that I’d really want to understand what I was getting before I’d decide I could splurge on it.

Speaking of that I also received this recommendation to try this place, Au Courant, for my next special occasion, my 20th wedding anniversary next week. It will be a splurge but $55 (before wine pairing) is probably cheaper than flying to Cartagena and trying the menú degustación at Magoga which I can at least dream of doing.











Delayed, but still moving

Various issues have interfered with my virtual trek along the Camino. The main issue is some sufficiently unpleasant pains in a toe to discourage my walking on machines or even the streets (it’s beginning to be spring so some walking outside is feasible). I’m disappointed by my lack of progress, just 5.81 miles in just less than a month.

So I have now made it to Santo Domingo de la Calzada which is big enough to have a lot of places to stay and restaurants, even a couple with websites and online menus. It’s surprising (and not so often mentioned in peregrino lore) that most of the country getting here is really boring dry farm county.

OTOH, since it’s been pleasant outside, for a few days, I have about 7 miles of real walking. But this is all nothing. To do the Camino one must be able to cover some significant mileage, each day, and day after day. All that is part of the point of even doing the Camino, the effort, the exertion, the pain.

My situation is a bit different. If I were actually on the Camino “going for it” is part of the point, push through any pain. But I’m in the midwest USA, doing miles on a treadmill in a basement. Rather than pushing through the pain it’s appropriate to “give it a rest”. But it seems like a rest isn’t cutting it.

I’m nearly 72YO. I’m in good shape but meanwhile have sustained a few minor injuries in my life. I don’t like wearing shoes (my southern US background) so, of course, every now and then I’ve banged a toe or part of a foot into some stationary unmoveable object. Those bashes to my body add up. I can’t recall if my current pain, minor but inconvenient, results from such an event, but it does add up.

I figure that I’m lucky. I have both good health and decent fitness (age adjusted). I could do the Camino, maybe a bit slower than others, but I’d get there. The maximum walk I’ve ever taken is about 60 miles on a backpacking trip in Canada. But backpacking is a bit tougher than the Camino.

Once I had the situation where I was working for a small Silicon Valley startup that fell short of funds, so I had a couple of unpaid weeks off (that or lose my job all together). So late in the season I hoped on my bike and rode down the west coast of California (with a ride to get me to starting point, you always ride south along the Pacific coast). I made it all the way, and enjoyed the stops every night. California reserved a spot for all bicyclists, so all of us were forced into the same spot every night. I had a gas lantern and that became the focal point of all the other cyclists. So I get the whole “brief” companionship that occurs on the Camino.

Anyway my visit is still virtual. Who knows if I can actually do it for real. And so my short distances don’t really matter. Weeks to cover a daily distance I can ignore, in virtual. But I wonder what would happen for real.

I should just read my cookbooks

I’ typing this post in a room full of bookcases that are almost entirely full of cookbooks. We love acquiring cookbooks but it’s now silly how many we have. Every time one of us gets a new one we promise we won’t buy any more. But the next chance for gift giving another one shows up. Like most people we now get recipes to try off the Net – either they’re suggested in some other source or they’re easy to find with searches. Cookbooks have many advantages but they aren’t quick to search.

Now the point of this is that in my previous version of this project I started with a cookbook. It had been a gift since I didn’t have anything on Spain’s cuisine. Like I’d previously done for Italian I wanted a translation glossary so I began a list based on that cookbook. This led me to getting more cookbooks and now I have these:

Penelope Casas Tapas
Penelope Casas The Foods & Wines of Spain
Simone & Inés Ortega The Book of Tapas
Susanna Tee Tapas (doesn’t have Spanish names)
Teresa Barrenechea The Cuisines of Spain
Exploring Regional Home Cooking

A couple of these are classics and I can particularly recommend the Barrenechea book as also a good explanation of some of the geography of Spain and regional traditions (as well as having some great photos). But it’s the Casas book that covers a lot of the very menu items I’ve been discussing in this blog, for instance:

Sopas Y Potajes Soups and Meals-in-a-Pot

This is a chapter in the book. Yes, sopas == soups but potajes is a little bit more obscure. literally translates it as either ‘soup’ or ‘stew’. Thus I did one of my usual searches, “what is the difference between sopa and potaje”. That led to this useful article (and the Google Translate is reasonable) and to this article which revealed the term ‘potage’.  This is a term any good foodie should know but I confess my ignorance of it and like several other cooking terms that would occur in English I learned something beyond Spanish terms.

But continuing, there are these items under this category:

Consomé al Jerez Sherried Consommé
Sopa de ajo Castellano Garlic Soup, Castilian Style
Cebollada con almendras Onion and Almond Soup
Crema de perdiz Cream of partridge soup

To translate the first one you need to know that Jerez is a geographical reference (and by coincidence the closest I ever got to Spain while still in Algarve Portugal and too late in the day to cross the border and back). This is where most of the sherry is produced and Jerez might easily appear somewhere on a bottle of sherry. However Jeriz is NOT literally sherry so right away we realize these side-by-side Spanish and English titles of recipes are not going to be literal translations.

OTOH crema de perdiz is completely word-by-word except we need the slight knowledge that sopa == soup and is missing in the Spanish name of this dish (not clear why it got included in the English). cebollada con almendras is somewhat less literal as we know the easy Spanish word y is ‘and’ and con is with; so the two nouns are correct (and in same order, i.e. cebollada == onion and almendras == almonds) but again this isn’t quite literal. So trying to match up terms and extract pairs of matching words (as I did in earlier version of this project) would have produced the misleading translation con == ‘and’. And the standard word for ‘onion’ is cebolla so we have to know a bit about Spanish to realize cebollada is actually a derivative form which literally means ‘cooked with onions’. IOW, using these pairs to create a corpus would introduce errors which some statistical analysis of the corpus would have to correct (therefore the corpus has to be large enough which is what I’m trying to do on this version of the project).

Sopa de ajo Castellano introduces another way literal translations aren’t helpful. So, sopa == soup and de == of and ajo == garlic so castellano must == Castilian Style. This is a common occurrence, in several of these cookbooks, to refer to recipes as being in the style of some region of Spain where either they originated or are common today. So it turns out I learned a new English word with this additional item:

Gaditano perro caldo Cádiz-style fish broth

Here again I started matching up terms: caldo == broth is easy but perro is weird since it literally is ‘dog’, not fish (easy to remember from the movie The Way when in Navarra Jobst is insulted by calling him perro). says pez is fish (the animal sense) and pescado is fish (the culinary sense). So with a little searching we find the connection which this article explains (try to find that in your translation dictionary or smartphone translation). So that left Gaditano which I found was “The Spanish demonym for people and things from Cádiz is gaditano“. So this is the same as Castellano  above. It’s just my ignorance but I’d never heard of ‘demonym’ but it’s very useful with one definition being “a word that identifies residents or natives of a particular place, which is derived from the name of that particular place”. This led me to search for ‘demonym for Spain’ and eventually I acquired a fairly large list of these that will be useful in future matches, as these in the list (which I deduced directly once I saw the pattern):

Gazpacho Andaluz Cold tomato soup (not literal, Andalucian)
Gazpacho Extremeño White gazpacho (not literal, from Extremadura)
Fabada Asturiana Asturian bean stew
Cocido Madrileño Boiled beef and chickpea dinner (from Madrid)
Callos a la Gallega Tripe and chickpeas, Galician style
Caldereta de langosta Menorquina Lobster stew, Menorca style

Now as you can observe there really isn’t a consistent pattern here whether the demonym gets included in the English title or not (I added the stuff in pink). So unless you know (or have a list like I just found) you may have trouble word-by-word matching the Spanish and English and extracting useful (and correct) pairs for a corpus. And we have this one:

Ajo blanco con uvas White gazpacho with grapes, Málaga style

The demonym I found with seach, for Málaga is malagueño and that isn’t in the Spanish name of this recipe, so I guess that is just something you have to know. But there is something else going on here: blanco == white and con == with and uvas == grapes so those matchups are easy, but ajo != gazpacho (it is garlic instead).  I haven’t tracked this down (just noticed it) but our conclusion would have to be that ajo blanco is some kind of colloquial reference to ‘white gazpacho’ that a Spain foodie would know but we poor old travelers would probably think this is some kind of garlic soup.

And here are just a few more items from this section of the cookbook for your enjoyment:

Marmitako Bonito and tomato soup, Basque-style
Purrusalda Codfish soup
Suquet Catalán fish stew
Gazpachuelo Vinegared fish soup

None of these have literal translations. So if you encountered any of these on a menu a conventional language translation dictionary would do you no good and you’d spend quite a while in Google (assuming you can afford the Net connection or even have it) to track these down.

And this is why the world needs the Spain food “guide” I’m trying to create. It’s useful to have some literal associations between Spanish and English words so you can spot something like this:

Callos a la Gallega Tripe and chickpeas, Galician style

(just translating callos would be enough for me to skip this item) but these names, while from a cookbook they might easily appear on a menu, require a broader collection of translation information. Even knowing gallega ==’ galician style’ doesn’t really tell you anything unless you have some clue about distinctions in Galician cuisine (compared to elsewhere).

So lots more information is needed that a mere translation dictionary. Acquiring all those associations is the research part of this project. Then comes a challenging part, how to deliver that information? It’s unlikely a phrase will exactly occur on a menu so how do we search for it – that will be fun programming stuff.