Important Notice

Special captions are available for the humor-impaired.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Barça 5-0 Real Madrid

So every season Spanish teams play each other twice. Monday was the first confrontation between Barça and Real Madrid. I would have to say that this was one of the more heavily-anticipated games in my four years here with Real Madrid leading the league over Barça by one point. The game was in Barcelona right after the elections in Catalunya so there was a bit of politics mixed in with the football hysteria. Barça simply humiliated Madrid 5-0 (5 goals is called una manita, or “a little hand” here in Spain). It was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters play the Generals. The first goal by Xavi was a true work of art. Former Valencia CF superstar David Villa had two goals. A lot of people are saying it was the best game Barça has ever played. I’m not a Barça fan but damn, what a game!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Conservatives' Short Memory Lampooned


 
I was flying out of Seattle several years ago during the Bush regime the day after they began making people take off their shoes or some other silly-ass security hoop they made us jump through. It was all so ridiculous to me at the time but if you even hinted that you didn’t approve you risked getting on a no-fly list or worse. All I could think of at the time was that they should just have a clown thump all passengers over the head with a dead chicken to complete the humiliation process.  When boarding a commercial airplane you basically have no rights and authorities can do with you what they please. You can’t even back out of flying once you begin the security check.

Now airline security excesses are the cause célèbre of conservatives in America.  Somehow this is all Obama’s fault.  They have the memory of fruit flies with intellects even smaller.  It wasn’t liberals who were screaming bloody murder for absurd levels of security. We didn’t invent Homeland Security (rhymes with mall security). Just like the completely fucked-up economy that Obama inherited so he was with America’s hysterical attitude about terrorism.

You can't have it both ways, conservatives. You can't create a state of fear and then expect much in the way of liberty. Having us all freak-out over terrorism served you well (remember those weekly colored alerts?). You used fear to bully us into two unwinnable wars and pass the Patriot Act and now you cry because someone touches your junk at the airport.  Way to think only one move ahead.  Anti-terrorism was the hammer and lack of patriotism was the anvil.  The fact that our liberties were being smashed didn’t seem to bother conservatives during the Bush administration but now all of a sudden liberals are responsible.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Castellón: An Urban Example

Basílica del Lledó

Castellón (or Castelló de la Plana in Valenciano) is a mere 70 minutes north of Valencia on the cercanía, or local train. I’ve passed by it a couple of times by train but I wasn’t able to see anything because the rail lines are underground through the city. One of my Spanish friends is from there and we have talked about this city of about 100,000 inhabitants on many occasions. He praises Castellón for its progressive approach to transit issues and he has been bugging me to take a look for myself. I finally made it up there this weekend.

I rode my bike to Valencia’s Estación del Norte and arrived at about 10:05 this morning. I bought my round-trip ticket in one of the machines (9€) and found the train waiting on track #1. There are trains every hour to Castellón on weekends and 40 a day during the week. Spanish trains are incredibly efficient. I am reminded of this every time I'm on a train.


You are allowed to take bikes on the cercanías and I have on several occasions but this time I played it smart and brought along something to secure my bike so I wouldn’t have to hold it the entire way. I brought a bunch of climbing gear with me from Seattle even though I haven’t used any of it yet and I doubt I will. I knew I had a short length of thin-gauge climbing rope somewhere amongst all of the other shit like my harness, an assortment of carabiners, etc. I had some sort of device used for locking your harness to a piece.  It is adjustable, strong, and easy to use. It has a carabiner on one end and I knew this was exactly what I was looking for. I just wrapped it around my bike, attached the carabiner to the overhead hand rail, and tightened it. My bike was perfectly secured instead of being a safety hazard for everyone in the car.

The trip was uneventful but I did notice a cool mountain top fortress at Almenara that I want to check out sometime soon.  The Castellón station is modern and looks more like an airport than the usual stately structures of most European stations but it’s clean and efficient. Castellón has had a bike sharing system for a few years now and of course there is a station directly in front of the station. The entire downtown area is what they call a Zona 30 which means the speed limit is only 30 kph (18.6 mph) to encourage more cycling. Most of the city center is off-limits to all vehicles except for residents so the streets are extremely pleasant for pedestrians. It really is a beautiful city. I would compare it to Portland as far as modernity and the overall progressive nature of the urban planning.

The sad truth is that most American communities pale in comparison to Castellón.  The strength of Spain’s middle class is readily apparent everywhere you look. You can’t differentiate between a good neighborhood and a bad one. Even in a country with unemployment stagnating at 20% people look to be enjoying their lives. The parks were filled to capacity on this cool November day as well as the street cafés. I happen to think that the unemployment figures here don’t accurately measure the human condition because many people work off-the-books and therefore aren’t included in statistics. Many other people are out of work but still live at home and are cared for by family. The Spanish doesn’t look nearly as miserable as the average crowd at any American Wal-Mart. In fact, they don't look at all miserable, completely the opposite.

What pisses me off the most about the American Right is their absolute refusal to even consider other societies when looking for ways to improve life in America. A recent candidate for governor of Colorado called Denver’s bike program a United Nation’s plot that “could threaten our personal freedoms.” Our freedoms to spend $4 a gallon on gas? Our freedom to make our Arab enemies the richest states in the world? I’m not sure what he meant but you get the idea. Trains are also some sort of communist plot to conservatives in America. This comes at a time when European countries are falling over each other to improve their networks of high-speed rail. Valencia will be joined in December to Madrid by the AVE (Alta Velocidad) line which will shorten the three hour and twenty minute trip to an hour and a half.Americans scream bloody murder whenever a dime is spent on AMTRAK. It's called infrastructure, you fucking Republican morons and without it you can't have a society.

Update:Valencia has just recently declared the historic center of Carmen to be a Zona 30 as well. Police also limit vehicular traffic in the city center on weekends.  Valencia is changing rapidly for the better but is still behind Castellón.  Keep trying, Valencia!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shining, Gleaming, Streaming, Flaxen, Waxen


What's That on Your Head?

I’ve been thinking about hair a lot lately, or at least more than I normally do, which is almost not at all.  I think about my hair about as much as I think about toenails or my gall bladder, two other body parts I mostly just ignore and for good reason.  The difference is that hair seems to be pretty important in our society, just watch an hour or so of television and count the number of advertisements selling hair products. There’s an army of scientists dedicated to keeping the hair on men’s heads and another army of scientists trying to grow hair back on to heads that have lost it already.  And then there are the comb-over scientists for the guys who can’t afford the things the other scientists have invented.

I spend less than 15 seconds daily on my hair, some days even less.  I don’t own a comb or a brush.  I buy my shampoo in bulk and it can double as oven cleaner (my oven is in worse shape than my hair, if that is even possible). Sometimes I wash my hair with oven cleaner when I’m out of shampoo but my shampoo is much cheaper than oven cleaner so I try to avoid that scenario. 

I’ve never really had a cool or funky haircut—not for very long that is.  Once in a while I’ll splurge and go to an expensive salon. I look good walking out of the shop but the next day, after all of the gel and spray and whatever the hell the stylist put on my head has been washed or worn out, I have the same stupid-looking mop as before.  

And then there is the world’s worst haircut: the mullet, which comes from the French (pronounced moo-lay) meaning “What the hell, dude?” I feel sorry for guys and gals with mullets. Do you want to know why I feel sorry for them? I feel sorry for them because they obviously are people who don’t have friends, because if they had a friend that friend would tell them that their haircut isn’t suited for the post-caveman era.  It’s like when you leave the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe or you have food on your face; you rely on your friends to point these things out to you so you don’t walk around the rest of the day looking silly.

The alternative to getting a haircut is not getting one which is a million times worse.  What is my evidence for this statement? “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you exhibit A: Hippies.” Being a hippie is kind of like walking around with a filthy groundhog sitting on your head, except a groundhog would be sort of cute and long hair isn’t unless your name happens to be Heidi or Pippi. And as far as I know from reading the books I don’t think that Heidi and Pippi walked around all day trying to bum weed off their friends.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Parked and Locked


One of my bike locks malfunctioned for some strange reason so the key wouldn’t turn the lock. I paid 15€ for the lock so it wasn’t like it was all that cheap. Luckily it decided to stop working when I had it locked in the first floor store room of my building where it was chained to a heavy metal ladder. If it had malfunctioned on the street it would have left me stranded and then it would have been a target for thieves while I figured out how to cut the chain.  I borrowed a hack saw from a friend and was able to cut through the chain in less than a minute.* That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for this lock. This whole episode makes me even more paranoid about bike theft.

Today I am going to shell out 50€ for a U-lock to compliment the heavy chain I use now which cost something like 30€. That means I have 80€ worth of locks to protect a bike I paid 60€ for to begin with. I have no doubt that thieves could make off with my bike in less than three minutes in spite of these two locks but I don’t know what else I can do to protect my property.

To add insult to the injury of the epidemic level of bike theft here in Valencia the city council has decided in its wisdom to begin fining cyclists for chaining their bikes to street lamps and trees. I read this in an article in the local paper Las Provincias last week and it made me so angry I couldn’t see straight the rest of the day.  Everything about this issue is completely absurd. First of all, how is it a problem if someone chains their bike to a street lamp? Will the lamp cease to function properly? Will trees stop growing? The last thing the city needs to do is to discourage people from riding a bike. Every aspect of bike riding is a positive thing for everyone: people are healthier, there is less traffic, less need for roads, less traffic accidents, less need for automobile parking, less pollution, etc. So why in the name of fuck would the city threaten cyclists with cutting their locks, confiscating their bikes, and then handing them a 50€ fine?  I’m guessing that not a single politician responsible for this foolish law has ever ridden a bike…ever.  I can only hope that cyclists here won’t take this sitting down. 

*When I told the guy from the bike shop about how quickly I cut through the chain he said that if I didn't have the lock thieves would be able to steal my bike with even less effort. 

Update: I was told by a cop in Burjassot that I couldn't lock my bike to the railing of the municipal building. I was pretty pissed and I told him that I've been doing it for a year and a half without a complaint so why now? He said it was a security matter. I asked him about the security of my bike. There are no bike racks in Burjassot and locking bikes to trees or lamp posts is now illegal. What the fuck? Thank God I cam across this article in the Valencia edition of El País. I'm not alone in thinking that this new law is completely and utterly absurd (and totally anti-cyclist).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

No More Eagles, Please!

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that rock and roll is dead but I wouldn’t mind if someone set the snooze alarm and allowed it to sleep quietly for the rest of my life. I was sitting in a bar last night listening to the rock and roll on the house stereo and I couldn’t help thinking how much I don’t like it at all these days. If I never heard another rock song in my life I wouldn’t miss the genre one bit. Whether it’s 80’s pop, heavy metal, or whatever the hell they call whatever kind of music the kids are listening to today I can say that it just isn’t my cup of tea. I never listen to rock at home. En casa I stick to either some form of Spanish or Latin American music or classical.  I like jazz but I could live without it now. My musical tastes have been seriously narrowed in the past few years.

Popular music—mostly rock and roll—has had way too big of an influence on modern culture for the past 40 years. Most of it has been pretty mediocre.  Don’t even get me started on rap. I have always told people that they need to start developing musical tastes outside of rock while they are younger because it seems pretty ridiculous to be rocking out when you are in your 50’s and 60’s. To each his own, I suppose, but does anyone really need to listen to Stairway to Heaven ever again? Or Hotel California? Fuck, I’d pay a lot of money not to hear most songs in the rock pantheon.  It’s not like rock is any worse than any other form of popular music it’s just that I’ve been around it my entire life and I’m sick to fucking death of it. I have been for perhaps two decades, maybe more. Probably since The Smiths split up.

I listen to Spanish popular music simply because I want to be better versed in the culture of Spain and Latin America. It’s all part of learning the language. It’s important to understand cultural references people make as well as the language they speak. I make a point of watching as many Spanish movies as I can for the same reason.  The culture of rock and roll I know too well already. Old dogs like me need to learn new tricks.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I'll Drink to That


I’m just thinking out loud here but wouldn’t it be a lot easier for everyone if we turned the Yuletide holiday into binge-drinking marathon like St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve?  Instead of all of the gift buying, and family, and cooking, and setting the table, and the "I should make real cranberry sauce but it’s not like any of these animals would know the damn difference," and the clean up, and the tedious relatives boring you half-to-death, and Uncle Myron and those horrible cigars, and "For the love of God didn't anyone teach you kids to flush?" instead of that you could just have a kegger with plastic cups. You don’t hear about people being stressed-out on St. Patrick’s Day—unconscious, yes, but not stressed.

There’s no reason to stop with Christmas.  Instead of a thoughtful card, dinner for two, and a piece of jewelry for Valentine’s Day we could buy a bottle of bottle of off-brand vodka and mixer to show our love. And Easter is practically begging to be turned into a drinking holiday.  I can’t even tell you what an Easter is. Halloween and the Fourth of July have already pretty much been relegated to boozing fiestas so we just have to make the other national holidays get onboard.  Let’s face it; Arbor Day desperately needs some alcohol to spruce it up a bit—even a bad pun makes Arbor Day a little easier to bear.  If we can turn Mexico’s Cinco de Mayo into an American booze-fest I think we can do the same with Yom Kippur, Flag Day, Good Friday, and Kwanzaa.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Holiday Spending Guide

Each holiday season we are confronted by a daunting issue: how much money should we spend on gifts?  How do you know if you’re spending enough? A hint that you are spending too much is when you get slapped around by a fat guy in a bowling shirt sent over by the collection agency.  We have developed an effective and simple formula that will insure that you don’t come out looking like a cheapskate while stimulating this rather sluggish world economy.  There are many levels of guilt working against you during the Christmas holidays, all of them barking at you to spend a staggering amount of money, most of which you don’t have. Fiscal prudence may be a nice campaign slogan for the Tea Party crowd but on an individual level it goes against everything we hold true as Americans.  We have worked in conjunction with two of the country’s leading economic think-tanks to arrive at a simple, sensible, and economically viable blueprint for gift shopping.

We start with a universal starting point for all households. For this figure simply take your annual income and double it. I told you that it was simple—at least at first.  If you have a roommate, empty out his/her wallet/pocketbook every time they come home too-drunk-to-notice during the month of December. Get them something but don’t go overboard or you’ll defeat the purpose of stealing from them for a month straight.  If you don’t have a roommate to steal from you’ll have to find some other victimless crime to get more cash. I suppose this goes without saying but under no circumstances should your holiday shopping cut into your holiday drinking budget.

If you are in the doghouse in your relationship you’ll need to double that figure again.  If your girlfriend has ever asked you, “Do I look fat in this dress?” and it has taken you more than 0.87 seconds to reply “No, you look great,” add another $80 to the total.  Tack on another $75 if you forgot her birthday or your anniversary (And yes, it’s your anniversary, too, even though you don’t care). Women, please add $100 if you think about Brad Pitt every time you do the deed with the anti-Brad Pitt your friends call your other half.

If you have children add an extra $50 for every time you promised to take them to the water park but didn’t because you were too busy sitting around in a filthy t-shirt watching a fishing show.  Add an extra $100 if you decided you were too drunk to drive them at 09:00 on a Saturday morning (Don’t forget to get something for your AA sponsor this year!).  I realize that you don’t think it’s a big deal if you forget one of their names but it may be important to them.  Add $20 every time you referred to one of your offspring as “what’s-his-name” in their presence.  And remember that even if you’ve spent more time this year picking your kid up from the emergency room or the police station than proudly standing by while they receive some honor, you still need to buy a bunch of crap for them—gift buying has a lot more to do with stimulating the economy than personal merit.

You know what people say; you can’t put a price tag on human happiness.  Or do they say that you can’t get a refund on human happiness without a receipt? Or is it something about the price of happiness and how it’s more expensive these days? It’s probably made in China. Anyway, you need to suck it up, get more checks printed, get another credit card, and get out there and start spending.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Nobody Bikes in L.A.

I came home last night and turned on the TV to catch a few minutes of the movie Collateral. I had seen it before and wasn’t too interested in seeing it again in Spanish. The sound quality on the dubbing was kind of shitty and I could barely hear it and I didn’t feel like putting on my headphones.  What struck me about the movie were the vast nightscapes of the city of Los Angeles.  Jesus, what an awful place that is. For someone who hates driving and cars, LA is like hell.  I would rather spend 2-3 hours a day being waterboarded than driving a car around that endless expanse of highway.  

Monday, November 08, 2010

This Week in Food

I made a couple of good dishes this week. On Friday I tackled beef bourguignon and for Sunday’s midday meal I made a paella with revollon mushrooms. Luckily I had a few excellent bike rides to counterbalance the huge meals. I actually went out on Friday afternoon on my bike with the idea that I would be having a big meal with wine afterward. I kept thinking about all that butter, animal fat, and wine as I hammered along the beach bike path. Thinking about food for two solid hours really made me hungry. I had another great bike ride on Saturday. In fact, Saturday’s ride was so good that I had no legs left on Sunday for a ride. I planned on going out for a ride but after taking the Valenbisí bike downtown to visit the Modern Art Museum in the morning my legs felt like set concrete.

Unlike last year, the fall rains have been regular which means that the mushrooms in the market have been inexpensive and wonderful. I have been thinking about making a paella dish with revollon mushrooms for a while now and all of the planets sort of converged on Sunday to make that happen. I had beef stock and a bit of bacon leftover from the beef bourguignon I made on Friday.

Rice with Wild Mushrooms

2 cups Fallera rice (if this isn't available where you live then you must move)
1 kilo revollon mushrooms
Onion, garlic (I used cebolleta which are like enormous green onions)
1 grated tomato
¼ cup bacon
2 cups red wine
5 cups beef stock
2 tbl spoons tomato paste
Olive oil
Butter
Saffron, salt, pimentón dulce (sweet paprika)

Sauté bacon with a generous portion of olive oil in the paella (mine is 46 centimeters). Add chopped onion and garlic. Add generous portion of butter (nobody likes people who are stingy with butter).  Add the chopped mushrooms. Cook this down very well. The mushrooms release more flavor the more they are cooked so make sure they are way past the al dente point. Add the tomato and the pimentón.  Add the red wine and let it almost all evaporate. I heated the stock in the microwave and added the tomato paste directly to the heated stock. Add the stock and the saffron. When this mixture is boiling add the rice and turn the heat down to medium. Remember not to stir the rice once it is in the pan.I have learned a new trick to make the socarrát or the thin layer of slightly burned rice on the bottom of the pan that Valencianos treasure. When the rice has cooked I turn up the heat for about a minute. I take the pan off the stove and place it on a wet dish towel which stops the cooking process. 

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The City Reconsidered (again)



I lived in downtown Seattle before moving to Valencia, Spain several years ago. Both of these moves weren’t accidents. I wanted to live without a car. I wanted to walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation.  So many Americans think that cities are crime-ridden, impersonal, and just basically awful places to live. I guarantee that I know more people in my neighborhood than any suburbanite living in a Road Warrior-inspired gated community.  I think it’s pretty pathetic that so many people have to drive everywhere to effect their daily needs (not to mention a big, fat commute to work).  If a parking lot is a constant companion you should think about a change.


Spain has the city building thing down to an exact science (except in places where they are attempting to build American-style suburbs). In Valencia almost every block is like a little self-contained village. The proximity of Spanish city life creates a familiarity among the inhabitants. You walk by the same people every day so it’s almost impossible not to say hello.  Even the surliest of barmen will break down and say “Buenas Tardes” after you walk into their place for the 10th time for an afternoon coffee. I recently bumped into my Pakistani barber in the aisle of a store and chatted for a bit (OK, it’s a Pakistani store where I buy spices but it’s still a coincidence).  If I had to leave my neighborhood for another area of the city I would be leaving a lot behind in the way of acquaintances and goodwill.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

How to Be Happy

Life Coach
I started thinking about the topic of human happiness recently after watching a video of a purported life coach—whatever the hell that is. Because I always do an exhaustive research on all of the topics I discuss here I did a Google search “How to be happy.”  One of the first things on the queue was a book by that title. It seemed like total bullshit but at least it was free. I looked a little closer and it turns out that the author had adapted this book from another tome he penned that dealt with improving people’s golf games. OK, I don’t pretend to know shit about happiness or how to get it but I’m pretty sure it has absolutely nothing to do with golf. I’d go so far as to say that happiness and golf are two separate things.

If the people who claim to be life coaches (whatever the fuck that is) or the authors of books entitled “How to Be Happy” were being completely honest I think they would lower their ambitions for the average slob. It’s just absurd for everyone to expect to be wildly happy. How about a more modest goal? How about “How Not to Be Completely Miserable,” do you think that book would sell? Probably not because people love fairy tales, happy endings, and get-rich-quick schemes.  Doubt scares the living crap out of people even though certainty—in most cases—is completely ridiculous.  Certainty is easy whereas doubt is very difficult. Admitting that you don’t know or worse, that you can’t possibly know something can be frightening.  Religion sells certainty, so do life coaches (Really? People actually call themselves “Life Coaches?”).

Many people also just want to buy the human being instructional manual. Unfortunately, that book has been out of print for a long, long time.  If there is an instructional manual for life on this planet then it’s a work in progress made up of every shred of wisdom ever acquired over the course of human history.  You need to sort through all of that wisdom and come to your own conclusions. There, that was easy, wasn’t it? Is this what “Life Coaches” tell people? Do “Life Coaches” wear those horrible gym teacher stretch shorts and whistles?  I’m guessing that “Life Coaches” are like those über-annoying personal trainers at the gym that scream at people while they do sit-ups.  If I were a “Life Coach” and preyed on the weak and confused my slogan would be: Life Coach, no more shooting sprees or the first session is free!


When I Googled “How to Be Happy” I got 55,440,000 results. When I Googled ““How Not to Be Completely Miserable” there were two entries. I suppose that I will try to write that book.  Here are a few outline points for my book, How Not to Be Completely Miserable:

         a) Stop reading magazines with pictures of celebrities on the cover.
There are a lot of reasons for this, the main one being that these magazines are all shit. Another reason not to read them is that they are in the business of hagiography which is a form of religion created by advertising. Celebrities—especially the Hollywood type—are usually no better people than the average slob in the street. Celebrities have the benefit of personal trainers, personal chefs, plastic surgeons, and make-up artists to help them to side-step some of the more mundane complaints of life here on this planet. However, they can’t escape the fact that they are human.  Believe it or not Julia Roberts takes huge, ghastly shits just like her manicurist or her pool boy. And we all have to die sooner or later, no matter how many Oscars we have.  

               b) I’m almost positive that your new cell phone, big screen TV, BMW, or Franklin Mint art object won’t make your orgasm any better.
I don’t know what I mean by this but you know what I mean, so just stop it.

              c)There is no substitute for reading.
There just isn’t. Watching TV may make you hip as far as pop culture is concerned but when you get around smart people you sound like the idiot that you are. Get a library card and use it. Start today.

That may sound arrogant but trust me, I struggle every day in my battle with ignorance like an alcoholic trying to stay with the 12 Step program.  As far as my own experience is concerned, there are no shortcuts in life, no easy answers, no life coaches, no How To books that sort it all out for you, and no Eating-Praying-Loving your way around the tough parts of human existence.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Valencia CF 3-0 Glasgow Rangers

Valencia CF has kept their hopes VERY alive in the Champions League this season by defeating the Glasgow Rangers 3-0 tonight in Mestalla here in Valencia.  Soldado scored two goals and Tino Costa had the third. We now have 7 points and are second in the group behind Manchester United. Two games left against Man U. and Bursaspor.  

I watched the first half in one of my bars and then sprinted home on my bike to eat dinner and watch the second half.  To let you know how exciting the game was let me say that I was glued to the TV to the extent that I didn’t have time to take the couple of steps to my bathroom to grab a pair of scissors to cut an annoying hunk of skin hanging from my finger. I’ll get around to that task now that the game is over but not before I see the results of Tottenham-Inter Milan match (Tottenham won 3-1).

Monday, November 01, 2010

Cooking Class


I have started a cooking column in the monthly magazine I write for in the States. The magazine is geared towards university students so I call the column Cooking 101—not very original but it gets the point across to the target demographic. I’m trying to teach them how to cook but also to keep their minds open when it comes to the kitchen. I hope this attitude will permeate other aspects of their thinking as well. I am keeping things very simple yet these dishs are the cornerstones of the culinary arts. 

I have had a couple of Italian roommates in my life and if I can extrapolate from these two people (and their friends I met) a general sense of what it’s like to be Italian I can say two things: Italians eat pasta at least twice a day and they almost all can whip up a really good plate of pasta with whatever ingredients they have on hand in the kitchen. This dish is one of the classics of Italian cooking and when done well it can be heaven.

Cooking 101: Spaghetti Aglio Olio

Don’t be intimidated by the Italian name which means spaghetti with garlic and oil; in Italy this dish is as basic and simple as ramen noodles are for American college students.  Something all Italian men can prepare and a favorite dish after returning home from the bars late at night—or more accurately, early in the morning—probably because the ingredients are almost always in the kitchen.

Ingredients:
Spaghetti
3 Garlic Cloves
Olive Oil
Red Pepper Flakes
Fresh Parsley (optional)
Salt

Boil the spaghetti in salted water. Pour the olive oil into a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Slice the garlic thinly and add to the heated oil along with a pinch of salt. I like to tilt the skillet so the oil pools to one end which ensures that the garlic does not burn. What you are trying to do above all is infuse the oil with the flavor of the garlic. After a minute, add the red pepper flakes to the oil and garlic. If you have fresh parsley add this last. When the spaghetti is cooked add it to the pan along with a bit of the pasta water and toss with the oil, garlic, and red pepper until the water has evaporated. Serve with a glass of red wine which is another thing Italians always have on hand, and so should you.

There is a lot of room for personal interpretation in spaghetti aglio olio: use a little or a lot of oil; add anchovies, parmesan cheese, sun dried tomatoes, you name it, but it’s best to err on the side of simplicity. Buon appetito (I think that’s right but I don’t speak Italian)!