Siesta, A Necessary Luxury

SiestaAhhh, the siesta. That romantic, pastoral image associated with long ago and the ultimate example of a laid back culture. Surely in today’s modern, fast-paced society, full of Blackberry calendars, such a glorious time designated for relaxation couldn’t exist.

Oh wait, it does.

One of my first questions when I came to Spain was, “So, the siesta…is that actually real?” It may have sounded dumb, but for someone who just chugs another cup of coffee mid-day to keep going, I was looking forward to this possible change of pace.

Historically, the siesta was considered a physical necessity and a relaxing way to avoid the hottest part of the day for 2 hours. Today, with a more rapid pace and coffee, the biological need for a short nap in the middle of the day has been turned into a luxury. But as much as we try to fight that afternoon drowsiness, it would be much more effective (and enjoyable) to take a 20-30 minute nap, rather than keep going like the Little Engine That Could.

Humans are bi-phasic (meaning we need two periods of sleep every 24-hours) and research shows that our energy levels drop during the mid-afternoon. It becomes difficult to focus, think clearly and be productive. But with a 20-30 minute nap, your mind and body have been refreshed and the rest of the day is easier and certainly more productive. What do you think I was doing before I sat down to write? Yep, napping. Believe me, it took a while to submit my stubborn, “no-I-need-to-stay-awake” mentality to a nap, but when in Spain… On the days I do take a short nap I’ve noticed a significant difference in my energy levels, my overall mood and productivity. Like olive oil, the siesta experience is something I will incorporate into my routine when I am back home again. images

In Spain, the siesta takes place after lunchtime, in the later afternoon. Even if some Spaniards don’t fall asleep, it is a time for relaxation, family and friends and a general break from work. Shops and offices close for a few hours and restaurants and bars grow to full capacity. If Spaniards eat at home, many of them will doze on the sofa for 20 minutes or so, TV remote control in hand… This healthy disconnect from the more mundane working world is one of the many reasons Spain has such a liveliness and spontaneity. (It also allows for the more late-night tapas culture!) In Spain, sitting down and savoring a lunch with friends or family members, rather than spending it hunched over a computer, tends to be the priority. A café con leche isn’t just used for the caffeine, it’s used to simply put everything else on hold and enjoy a moment to yourself.

Whether you’re at home or traveling in Spain, leave time in the warm afternoons to indulge in this underrated necessity. And some olive oil. And red wine.

References: Siesta Awareness

This post was originally published on Andalucia Inside.

My Newest Discovery in Spain? Olive Oil.

I knew Spain, especially the southern region of Andalucia, was serious about their olive oil. But it wasn’t until I saw huge two-liter bottles being sold at grocery stores and had many of my dinners deliciously drenched in the stuff that I finally said, “Ok ok, I get it.”

Everywhere I turn, there is olive oil. At the store, in restaurants, in kitchen cabinets, on the table next to the bread. Coming from a place where I just grabbed plain ole vegetable oil to sauté or coat the frying pan, this basic ingredient and flavor in Andalucian cuisine seemed to me like a new-found “secret of life.”

Like Spanish wine, olives and olive trees have a long and ancient history of cultivation in the Mediterranean area. The trees are said to have originated in Greece about 6,000 years ago, where stone tablets dating back to 2,500 BC have been found making reference to the plant. The Phoenicians and Greeks brought the olive tree to Spain and cultivation was further expanded under the Romans. The Arabs also continued to improve the technique of olive oil production during their rule. In fact, the Spanish word for oil, aceite, is derived from the Arabic word, al-zeit and “stuffed olive,” aceituna, also comes from the Arabic word al-zeituna.

Andalucia is the largest olive oil producer in the world, which may be why I see it drizzled over everything, from toasted bread in the mornings to tapas at night. Catalonia, Castile-La Mancha and Aragón are also popular oil producing regions in Spain, each with it’s own unique and distinct flavor. Some oils from Andalucia are considered fruity, slightly bitter and peppery or with a touch of sweetness and piquancy from Aragón.

Spanish cuisine follows the Mediterranean Diet, which is known to be incredibly beneficial to your health.Mediterranean meals are comprised of a “generous use of olive oil, for cooking as well as garnishing, lots of healthy legumes and nuts, pasta, bread and rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products such as cheese, and plenty of fish.”

Olive oil is a fundamental part of that Spanish diet and it also happens to be one of the healthiest oils in the world (why was I using vegetable oil…). Not only is it full of antioxidants and very easy to digest, it is also known to reduce and keep cholesterol levels in check. Although it is recommended to use virgin or extra virgin olive oil varieties to ensure you are reaping the benefits and getting this oil in its purest form.

Until you can experience fresh, flavorful Spanish cuisine first-hand and savor their famous olive oil in it’s most traditional and purest form, you can always cook a Mediterranean meal at home. Here is a recipe for Salmorejo, a cold soup, very similar to gazpacho, but richer and smoother. Add some fresh rolls drizzled with olive oil along with a glass of Spanish wine and enjoy!

This was originally posted on Andalucia Inside. 

References: Olive Oil from SpainAsolivaAndalucia.com