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July 14, 2004
The Stone Bowl

BERODIA (JNS) _ Waiting for everyone to gather for the afternoon meal, I take a drink from the fountain in front of Sixto's home.
A small stream of water spurts up from a rough stone bowl about 2 1/2 feet wide and about a foot deep with sides three to four inches thick. The bowl sits atop a pedestal of stone.
I ask ``Did this have a use before it was a fountain?''
Sixto's wife, Inez, knows.
``Yes it did, do you want me to tell you?''

A large container similar to a half barrel was placed on a pedestal above it and water was strained through ashes to make lye, which was used to wash clothes. The stone bowl, chiseled out by hand, was placed below to catch the lye.
We go inside and sit at a long table in a room down a few steps at the back of the house. Doors at the end of the room are open, giving us a view of the mountains.
Inez's daughter is visiting from Newark with her husband, Manolo, and his brother and wife are visiting from Australia. We all sit at the long table with Inez' other two daughters, Nansi and Chinche.
Hunting comes up and I mention my father recently shot five deer at once. Manolo says he knows, he was there, he was proud of himself for getting two that day only to see my father with five. Apparently, my father shot one, the other four fled toward his brother, Francisco, who fired turning them back. My father then cleaned up.
``Francisco had his hands on his head,'' Manolo said. ``He was saying `Eiee, what are we going to do with all these deer?'''
We have fabada, followed by various cheeses (cabrales, young cabrales made only from cow's milk that hasn't turned blue, and manchego) For dessert, coffee, liquor and borachina, sweet fried dumplings of bread and egg (kind of like french toast) covered in a sauce of wine and light syrup, thus the name. Refreshed, I walk up into the mountains in a light rain, breathing hard because of the steep incline, stopping to talk for a bit with a man clearing a field of hay by hand with a sicle and a rake. Inez later says he's about 80.
I walk on and turn around when a large German Shepherd trots out onto the road. His owner, Esteban, a young man in his early 20s, is a few steps behind, and we chat on the way down. He lives in Gijon but helps his family with the few cows they still raise.
Back in Berodia, we decide to drive over to the next town, Iquanzo, by the old route _ a mostly unpaved, thin, crooked and steep route Manolo says afterward has earned me a ``carnet internacional,'' an international driver's license.
After a beer in the local bar, a look at the 18th century church and another walk around to examine the local cows, sheep and goats, we head home.
After visiting Berodia we stopped in Arenas de Cabrales the next day for a prix fixe lunch. I had solomillo Cabrales, a strip steak with blue cheese sauce. I asked the waiter if it was cow and he said it was buey, or ox. Whatever it was it was tasty. My father had lomo con pimientos, pork tenderloin with roasted red pepper slices. Lisa had the best of all, bacalao in a green sauce. The sauce was excellent, a little garlic, and some wine, and a little parsley.
Dinner was more of a misadventure. Still stuffed from lunch, we drove into Cangas de Onis, the largest and most touristy town nearyby. The kids were hungry but we weren't so we ordered a pizza to go. By the time it arrived, Cafe San Antonio, Calle Constantino Gonzalez, 7, having beers, an excellent plate of pulpo gallego (9 euros), and something called cariera (5.50 euros, I think). Cariera was pot roasted beef cooked until stringy, but still maintaining its form enough to be served in large chunks along with thick au jus from the pot, potatoes, and of course red roasted peppers, very similar to carne stufada, a popular Gallego dish. The two kids, meanwhile, ran in and out followed by Lisa, while people played cards at a nearby table, some guy came with a trout and the owner lectured him on its quality.

Posted by Alex at July 14, 2004 06:08 PM