Ever since our children were little we have taken them on all our travels. They quickly learned to share two experiences with us, visits to museums and dinners in foreign restaurants.
As we seek out the best in art, so we decide on the best restaurants; fortunately, that doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive.
Our older daughter, Niki, had just finished a semester at the University of Salamanca when, with our 14-year-old Maria, we met her in Madrid. We found out quickly that Niki's semester had been a totally enriching experience, and that she was at home with the language and the people.
She took us through the Plaza Mayor, the very old, very large square of the city, to the Arco de Cuchilleros, one of 10 gates leading to different sections of Madrid. As we walked down the steep, narrow steps, strong smells of pepper fried in olive oil, and sounds of guitars escaped from the taverns.
When we emerged from the Arco de Cuchilleros, I was amazed at the feeling of ''I've been here forever'' the place gave me. Old, old buildings flank the famous landmark, small wrought-iron balconies on dark exteriors, people sitting in them to escape the heat, idly watching the passersby. We were in Old Madrid.
The restaurant Niki had chosen for us was close to the arch. The Antigua Casa Sobrino de Botn is well-known to tourists, but its reputation abroad has not spoiled it. When we arrived around nine in the evening there were still empty tables.
Regular diners start coming around 10 and the place gets crowded. However, the restaurant will serve early dinners for those who do not like late hours.
Casa Botn, like other Spanish restaurants, has several rooms. The front room has a beamed ceiling, gorgeously carved wood paneling, stained-glass cabinets, and tables covered in white linen and crystal.
The waiters initially were reticent, even sullen, but when Niki spoke to them in Spanish, they warmed up and came to our table frequently to give us excellent service.
The oven is really the heart of Casa Botn's existence. It dates from 1725, and when Casa Botn in 1860 changed from a watering place for travelers to a bakery, the oven continued to function.
Today the same built-in Horno with the light blue tiles, azulejos, decorating it, continues to burn oak for its heat. That, blending with the aromas of traditional flavorings, gives the succulent pork and lamb the distinctive Castilian character.
The special chef for the roasting labored in the small room but was glad to have his picture taken. Antonio Gonzalez Martin, the owner, spoke perfect Engligh and when I returned a week later he had the recipes typed in English and ready for me.
The downstairs at Casa Botn looks like enchantingly lit caves. Some suggest this may be the original Casa Botn. The decor utilizes woven peasant hangings and tiles. Of all the restaurants we enjoyed in Salamanca, Madrid, and Toledo, Casa Botn remains our family's favorite.
Here are some of the recipes which can be made at home. Prawns with Mayonnaise Sauce 3 pounds of prawns or shrimp 2 bay leaves 1/2 of an onion 1 twig of thyme 2 tablespoons salt A dash of tarragon vinegar 1 teaspoon sweet pimento pepper
Boil the prawns with all the above ingredients in just enough water to cover. Remove and drain. Serve with mayonnaise to 6. Mayonnaise Sauce 4 egg yolks 250 grams or 8 ounces of excellent olive oil Juice of 1 lemon Salt to taste
Stir egg yolks with a wire whip, then in a steady, tiny stream add oil. Keep stirring vigorously. Add lemon juice, taste, then salt. The Spanish serve their mayonnaise almost like buttermilk in consistency. Artichoke Hearts with Ham 2 kilos (4 pounds) artichokes 300 grams or 10 ounces cured ham, cut in small cubes 2 tablespoons flour Salt 2 lemons, sliced 3 tablespoons olive oil 4 ounces olive oil
Remove hard leaves of artichokes. Cut from the top horizontally, almost to half original height. Cut off stems. Wash. Boil 30 minutes in water into which the flour, salt, lemons, and 3 tablespoons of oil have been added.
Drain and cut into four sections. In a frying pan heat the 4 ounces of oil, add ham, saute, then add artichokes, saute 4 minutes and serve immediately. Serves 6.