Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Even though Thanksgiving is a day of celebration and warmth and joy and family and feasting and of course the giving of thanks, it sounds as though there’s more than a little bit of stress involved for some of us. Fortunately I got mine out of the way last weekend, but for the rest of you, the bar will be open 24/7, well stocked with strong drink and comforting friends. (and possibly monkeys, but pay them no mind.) Come in and hang out whenever you need to get away.

Here’s how the bar will celebrate Thanksgiving. There’s a tradition from Galicia, the northwest of Spain, that I’m particularly fond of because it involves strong alcohol, fire, and the company of good friends. It’s called a queimada, and it goes like this.

Start with a big shallow bowl and a couple of bottles of orujo. Orujo (pronounced oh-ROO-ho) is a drink unique to Galicia, made from fermented grape skins, a cousin to Italian grappa. Take a careful sniff from the bottle; it’ll make your head snap back and your eyes water. As you pour it into the bowl, the fumes will rise and whisper to the whole neighborhood that you’re up to no good.

Stir in a substantial amount of sugar, the rind of an orange, and a handful of coffee beans.

Now comes the good part. This is best done in the summer, on the beach late at night under a watchful moon, but we can do it here in the bar where it’s dark and cozy. Take a shallow ladle, dip up a bit of the brew, and light a match. It won’t flare up immediately; you need to be patient, hold the match under the ladle to warm it up and coax it into flame. When the flickering blue spreads across the liquid, gently lower the ladle to touch the orujo in the bowl. Watch the licks of fire skitter across the surface, hesitant at first, then more bold.

Fire is a powerful element, but it still needs your help. If you stand back and watch, the flames will burn the alcohol off the surface and disappear. Stir it gently, and they will revive. Lift the ladle, and you can pour delicate streams of fire back into the bowl. Pass the spoon around, and let everyone stir the flames. The constantly shifting patterns of blue tipped with gold are hypnotic; there’s always a period of silence while everyone loses themselves in the mosaic of flame.

But we shouldn’t forget the purpose. The traditions of Galicia say that a queimada is to summon witches, demons, and evil spirits, so that with the proper incantations they may be destroyed in the flames. In our queimadas, we let everyone summon their own demons: too much grading. family squabbles. difficult colleagues. stupid politics. frustrating research projects. looming deadlines. too much grading.

Bring them all in the room, name them, and dissolve them in the fire. You can see them flame up and disappear; they don’t even leave any smoke.

Now, look back into the bowl. The fire has slowly caramelized the sugar, toasted the coffee beans, and drawn the zing out of the orange rinds. The alcohol has lost its punch-you-in-the-face potency and is now mellow and smooth. Pour a short squat shot-glass full; it will be warm in your hand. Sip, and it is sweet and potent and caffeinated; as we pass the glasses around, the atmosphere will change from quiet, intent focus to cheery babble. The demons are banished; only the friends remain.

I propose we have a four-day queimada, starting now. I’ve poured a big bowl of orujo; who wants to burn some demons?