Nearly 2 years later, thousands more miles traveled, hundreds of pounds of food eaten

3 Sep

NH lobster boil

It has been nearly 2 years since I’ve blogged. I have no excuses except that life has turned, twisted, and changed as it does for most people, and I wasn’t sure I felt like blogging anymore. But, last night I got inspired again, watching Chef with our great friends MM and CT at their gorgeous home in New Hampshire. These past 4 days have been a food and wine fest combined with swimming in their pond, long walks, a few hikes, and one restricted calorie dinner. As this blog’s subtitle notes, this is about “Food, Love and Life (not necessarily in that order)”, and it is again time for me to reflect on those and write about them here.

I have done so much and so little in the past 2 years since I’ve returned from Spain. Maybe one day I’ll revisit those years, but for me – for now – this is the time I want to write about. So, here it goes…

The top picture is a lobster boil we had on Sunday. Fresh lobsters, sweet corn, chorizo, baby potatoes, steamers, shrimp and garlic butter for dipping. Spectacular! Two nights ago, MM made pesto pizza with garlic, basil, and tomatoes from his garden. For several days running, we’ve had gorgeous beet root salads (again from his garden). Today, it’s cubano-esque sandwiches with fresh pickles and marinated onions (See Carnet’s ala David Chang’s salt and sugar quick pickle recipe, below), a sesame-tamari-dry mustard-olive oil-mirin-worcestire reduction from the pork tenderloin I marinated, gruyere cheese, and MM’s “mushroom bacon” (see recipe below). And, there has been cava, cava, and more cava, involved, every day – an ode to Quim. Cava goes with everything, especially rose cava on an 80+ degree fahrenheit day while floating in a tire in the pond.

There are no pics of us in the pond (thank goodness), but below are a few pics I took of this gorgeous farmland and NH’s wildflowers while I went on a long walk today. This is Americana at its finest.

wildflowers NH1

Sunflowers (ignore my finger in the upper corner)
NH sunflowers

Yummmm, sweet corn!
NH corn

Flag and pond in NH

Flag and pond in NH

flag and pond NH

To temper our very large and very fun caloric intake over the past several days, last night C and I decided to embark upon a new eating regime that MM and CT have instituted 2x/week at their house. It’s a calorie restriction “diet” (although I hate that word and dispute that I will ever go on a diet) that has some foundation in science. I’m not an expert, but MM (a software engineer with a very analytical mind) has done a bunch of research on it and he and his wife have been experimenting with it for about a month. The very broad idea behind calorie restriction for short durations (also known as intermittent fasting) is to change up your metabolic rate. There are some studies that show animals live longer and there are some that suggest that humans live healthier lives – less metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, less of the bad type of cholesterol that blocks your arteries – with less caloric intake while upping their fiber in the form of fruits and vegetables. This “eating regime” (not a diet) is more akin to eating vegan or vegetarian for a day or so and eating minimal or no grains.

MM strives to eat 600 calories on Mondays and Wednesdays. His wife: 500-600 calories each of those days. Here’s what we ate on the restricted calorie day:

Breakfast:
1/2 cup corn and quinoa cereal with 1/2 c. almond milk – about 150 calories

or you could eat 2 hard boiled eggs and some steamed greens for about the same amount of calories

Lunch:
Salad of all greens, cucumbers and carrots with a fresh lemon juice, shallot, rice wine vinegar, water, salt and pepper dressing – about 30 calories

or

Christine’s lunch: 2 Tbl. hummus, 1/2 cup carrots, several cucumber slices, 10 almonds (6 calories each for a total of 60 calories in almonds), 1 slice of cheese – about 250 calories total

Dinner

MM’s zucchini pasta with fresh tomato sauce – tomatoes from his garden, onions, garlic, fresh basil, capers, salt, pepper in 1 tablespoon of water, all steamed down to form a chunky, hot tomato sauce, served on top of thin strips of zucchini that have been steamed for 1-2 minutes + 1 glass of wine = 300 calories total (5 oz. glass of wine is about 120-150 calories, depending on the type of wine).

We also had a salad of fresh beet roots and baby lettuces, topped with a shallot, lemon, balsamic, water, salt and pepper salad dressing. About 30 calories.

Throughout the rest of the day, I sipped on lemon water and iced black coffee. I did not do any cardio or hardcore exercise that made me burn a bunch of calories but I did go on a 1.5 hour walk. Surprising to me, I wasn’t super hungry until about an hour before dinner (6:00 p.m.) and then my stomach was growling.

Here’s the trick: you can eat as many raw veggies you want throughout the day, as they are very very low in calories and high in fiber. Some are high in water content (especially cucumbers and celery), so they fill you up.  You have to be a bit more careful about which fruits you eat. For example, a small red apple has about 70 calories, but peaches and nectarines in season now have less.

I’m not going to lie and say it will be easy if you’re used to eating a ton of food each day (especially rich foods), which C and I are. However, if you have some will power and treat it as a part of your eating regime, knowing that 5 out of the 7 days, you’re not restricting your calories, it is much easier than I thought. We’re going to try it 2 days/week and see how we do. To help each of us do it and to share new recipes with the calorie restriction theme, Carnet created a blog called the Hungry Wino at https://www.tumblr.com/blog/hungrywino. You’ll find the dinner recipes from last night on that blog.

But, back to today’s lunch:  Cubano sandwiches done the New Hampshire way: thinly sliced roasted pork loin with the pork marinade reduction on baguettes with Carnet’s salt and sugar cucumber and onion pickles, freshly sliced tomatoes, mustard, gruyere and white cheddar cheese and MM’s mushroom bacon.  They were sooooo good. Here are a few pics from prep to finished product.

Here are two prep pictures of the insides of the cubanos, pre-grilling:

cubano prep

cubano prep2

Post-grilling and wrapped for safe transport:

cubano wrapped

hungry winos with the cubanos in the barn

hungry winos with the cubanos in the barn

inside the cubano after it is grilled

inside the cubano after it is grilled

Finally, here are a few of the super simple condiment recipes:

Carnet’s salt and sugar quick pickle recipe:

Combine 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon salt in a bowl (so a 2 to 1 ratio of sugar to salt). Cut up fresh veggies – cucumbers, carrots, onion, watermelon, whatever you want to pickle, and sprinkle the sugar/salt mix over them. Toss and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Serve immediately.  We found that the onions needed to be rinsed as the brine was too salty on them, but the cucumbers absorbed the sugar/salt mix perfectly.

MM’s mushroom “bacon” recipe:

1 large bunch oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced. If you can’t find oyster mushrooms, shitakes are a decent substitute. Put the sliced mushroom in a bowl with a splash of EVOO, salt, and pepper (more pepper than the salt). Don’t use too much olive oil, a what you’re doing is drying out the mushrooms, essentially. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put in the over at 180 degrees F for about an hour, depending upon the moisture content of the mushrooms. Then, crank the heat up to 350 and let them go for another 10 minutes or so until a little crispy. These are a delicious and healthy alternative to bacon on salads and sandwiches!

So, this is it for the day.  Happy eating!

5 more days in Catalonia

22 Sep

After Madrid, it was 5 more days in Catalonia to finish up my time there. We rented a black Mini Cooper and set out for Cadaques. C had never been there and I felt like I talked about it so much that he had to see it. We did my favorite things – ate the best pulpo ever at Can Juli in Port Lligat, drove through the beautiful Cap de Creus national park up to the lighthouse for just after sunset, and had dinner at Compartir under the stars. The smoked ham at Compartir is still the best ham I’ve ever had.

I had a new dish for dessert – the cherries and cheesecake. That was sensational. It was a new take on cheesecake and I adored it. The soft cheese was super luscious and the sweetness was balanced perfectly with dried, tart cherries as well as the tart cherry sorbet. Here’s a pic:

The service at Compartir was better this time, but it still had some problems. People, train your staff!

After saying goodbye to my favorite street friend, La Sirena,

and buying a 5.65 Euro bottle of Oriol (great red wine from Emporda at a great price!) from the Lowrey-Seymour and Ogdie-Williams’ favorite wine-by-the-barrel and wine shop, we set out for Aiguablava, another favorite of mine.

We got caught up in a huge 1 day rain storm but that didn’t prevent us from eating at Toc Al Mar (soaked to the bone but nothing a couple of salads, lots of pan con tomate and a bottle of cava wouldn’t fix) and enjoying the next morning on the cute little cove beach before we set out again. I should mention how much we loved our hotel in Fornells, which is a small cove town on the water right next to Aiguablava. The hotel is called Hotel Aiguablava (http://www.hotelaiguablava.com/) and it was awesome. The service was exceptional and we had a spectacular suite room with a balcony on which to chill and look at the ocean.

This part of our journeys would take us on several one-night trips. C wanted to cover as much as he could in 8 days before we left Spain, so after 1 night in Aiguablava, we set out for the castle in La Bisbal. Here’s a pic of what we saw as we left Aiguablava on our way to the castle:

Here’s a pic of Carnet with our Mini in Pals:

One of the things I’ve found so funny are the signs that tell you when you’re leaving a town. Here’s an example:

Out, done, finished, no more. They all have a red slash across the name. Hilarious.

Onto our castle! Yep, I loved Castell d’Empordá (http://www.castelldemporda.com) so much the first time with mom and Diana, that I decided to take C there. Here are a few more pics. It is amazing there. Gorgeous, serene, and a must-stay place for anyone traveling in this part of the world.

View from tower:

View from room:

Sunset over the Empordá:

C with the black cat that followed us everywhere. This pic captured us perfectly: constant cava in hand (thanks to the management of the castle for spoiling us with free cava) with our gato negro.

And, finally, us on these great, white double bed like lounges in front of the pool:

Back to Barcelona for the final 2 days. On Friday night, C, Diana and I ate at a terrible restaurant that was highly rated in Tripadvisor called Gelonch (http://www.gelonch.es). The very expensive, tasting menu was really bad. Not just a little bad, but very bad. I never turn away dessert and I turned away 2 of them.

You could tell chef Gelonch has a creative mind by the different products he puts on the same dish and by the descriptions on the menu. However, there were fatal flaws in almost every single one of the 11 dishes! We were so disappointed that Diana made a comment to the waitress. We prefaced our critique with that we want them to succeed and their menu is creative but that many of the dishes just didn’t work at all.

The waitress started to defend the food and then brought out the chef. Chef Gelonch then defended his food, as well, but admitted that the sauces on his plates were too thick and starchy (they were and were very off-putting) as well as the avocado being of bad quality. If you know this, why do you send the dishes out? Why serve the bad avocado?

The excuses continued with “we’re a very small kitchen”, “we don’t have a Michelin star” (well, then why charge Michelin star prices?), etc.

Carnet and I were pretty miffed by the end. Diana was more gracious about it. The company is the only thing that saved the dinner. Sorry, C and D! We should have gone to Alkimia or Cenc Sentits.

The next day in Barcelona, we woke up to a gorgeous sunny day, walked down to the beach and then stopped by one final time at Quim’s to say goodbye to the boys. We had a terrific meal there, as usual. Yuri made Carnet an extra large foie burger:


Then, we did a little shopping for Carnet’s god-daughter’s birthday.

I had bought tickets for the afternoon show of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. It was fabulous. If you’ve never seen this dance company, it is a must. They hail from New York City and they started as an all-black dance troupe by Alvin Ailey in 1958. He revolutionized modern dance. This company is something special and the show in Barcelona was excellent. I had seen a show in NYC 20 years ago and I was equally thrilled with this show. Plus, the Liceu venue is a stunning venue in which to see anything in Barcelona. Here’s the bill:

Next stop: our favorite gin and tonic bar we call the “burrito bar” which isn’t its name, but it is next to a place called burrito, which in Spanish is not the eating burrito but a small donkey. The bar is next to the weird sculpture behind Placa Jaume that looks like a bunch of wire coat hangers put together.

Here’s the crazy sculpture:

After a g&t, it was time for our final Barcelona dinner at Tickets. C had always wanted to go and he loved it! We started out with raw tuna belly topped with salmon roe and seaweed, followed by their infamous “olives” (made through spherification). Then, we had the cheese puffs and the navajas, which are both of my favorites.

Here are a few pics:

Navajas

olives

We finished with 2 of my new favorites: the rabbit taco and the “wild things” dessert. The rabbit taco was so incredible we ordered 2 more. I loved, loved, loved it. Here’s a pic:

And, finally the grand finale: the dessert called wild things.

This was such a whimsical, inventive and delicious dessert, I would have ordered another one but I was really full by this point. Awesome dinner! Here are the two very happy Tickets goers:

Then, it was time for bed in our very comfy, ultramodern and hip hotel right off Placa Catalunya called Room Mate Pau (http://pau.room-matehotels.com/index.php/en). Funny name, but the rooms are dynamite and the hotel staff could not be nicer. The rooms have surround sound speakers into which you can plug your iphone or ipod or whatever you have to play music, or you can choose from the hotel’s selection. The beds are plush, the rooms have fun purple and blue mood lighting and the whole place is exceptionally clean. Finally, even though you’re right in the middle of the city, the rooms are super sound proof. I highly recommend this place. Ahhh, such a delightful sleep.

Next stops: Peñíscola, Valencia, Segovia and San Sebastian.

4 days in Madrid

19 Sep

I met C in Madrid a little over a week ago and we started our journeys by eating and sleeping, of course. We actually didn’t see that much of Madrid as both of us needed sleep. But, we had some tasty meals, we saw a flamenco show, and we spent 2 hours watching the finish of the Tour de Spain bicycle race. That was exciting, as it was right outside our hotel.

First, let me say, I recommend staying at the Westin Palace Madrid. See www.westinpalacemadrid.com . It’s in an outstanding location in which to walk to the jazz quarter and good food, and it’s surrounded by gorgeous buildings. It’s also a beautiful hotel with very nice and large rooms.

The first meal we had was at the oldest restaurant in Spain called El Botin. Andrew Zimmern did a show on it. Here’s the YouTube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGhhHsIfoAE

It’s all about the suckling pig here. So, we had it. And, we had the roasted lamb, as well. Both were incredibly rich and tasty. We loved the environment. There are so many little nooks and crannies that serve as dining rooms and it’s old school service – men waiters in suits, all very serious. We washed it all down with a pitcher of their sangria, which was necessary on a hot Madrid day ;) The feature picture at top is one of the cooks roasting more pigs. You can see the pigs on the shelf behind that are done.

The image below is what you first see when you walk into the restaurant. It was a fun meal!

Then, it was on to a flamenco show that night at Corral de la Moreria. C had not been to one and people in Madrid claim to be excellent at flamenco, so we decided to go. Plus, I wanted to see another one to compare it to the show I had seen in Seville a few days earlier. Here’s a photo of a dancer in action:

I have to say I didn’t think it was as good as the show I saw in Seville, but it was also different. I thought the singers and guitar players in Seville were much better, but I think the dancing was about equal in both cities. The Madrid show certainly was entertaining, however.

Then, it was lots more sleeping and our big adventure out the next day was to watch the Tour de Spain. Here are a few pics of the peloton and some riders out in front.

We also met some very cool Bulgarians. This was the first time they had left their 3 and 1 year old kids and had a vacation together. They saw us looking for an outside table at a bar and they invited us to join them at their table. They were super nice, very smart and had taught themselves English just by watching t.v. Very impressive! Here we all are:

A few more days of resting and we were ready for our last big meal in Madrid at El Club Allard, which is a 2 Michelin starred restaurant. It was a bit of a strange place to find and it was in a business building. But, when the chef comes to your table within the first 10 minutes after you sit, that’s a great start.

I learned that he came to speak with every table shortly after they sat down to ask their likes, dislikes, dietary restrictions, etc. Yep, the chef. He caters – within reason – to what types of food you like. You have a choice of how many dishes you want and he goes from there. We chose the medium-number of dishes and here was our menu:

Here are a few pics of the dishes. See if you can match the pictures with the menu.

Our favorites: The butterfish tapa, the egg in pastry, the smoke and foie dish, the mushroom soup, the rabbit in mole sauce taco, and the chocolate, sea-themed dessert. All dishes were technically executed to perfection. We thought some flavor profiles were outstanding and others just really good. There wasn’t one dish we didn’t like. So, overall it was superb. And, it was the same price we’ve paid for several bad 1 Michelin star (and some no Michelin star) restaurants in the past. I highly recommend it!

And to boot, they brought us out a “Happy Honeymoon” pre-dessert. Soooo nice!

Next stops: Back to the Costa Brava, the Empordá, and Barcelona.

5 days in Andalucia: Part III (Days 3-5: 2 days in Seville and 1 day in Málaga)

18 Sep

Day 3 of the trip was the first of two days in Seville.

Don’t you just love when you get back to back hotels that are awesome? I arrived at Hotel Amadeus La Musica in Seville in Barrio Santa Cruz (the best barrio to stay in if you want to be close to the sights and fun narrow streets you can get lost in), and the staff could not have been sweeter. I booked the only room on the third and top floor and it was perfect, although anyone visiting should note that the elevator only goes to the second floor and from there it is 2 flights of steps up to the third floor.

Thank goodness I packed rather lightly for me and so I made the ascent quite easily. The elevator to the second floor was fun as it was glass and you could see all the Amadeus and period piece decorations and furniture on each floor. I should mention that hotel only has something like 11 rooms and each has a theme.

I arrived at my cute and very spacious room with classical music playing and the A/C already on a very good temperature. It was about 95 degrees outside when I arrived, so I appreciated the thoughtfulness in having the room comfortable. I walked up to the rooftop bar (above me) where there was a jacuzzi (handy only in the winter, I’m sure) and a smiling bartender. Cute, all very cute!

Here’s a pic of my hotel in the narrow, pedestrian-only street:

I decided to take a quick nap in my king bed because it was plush and I could. Also, it was time to wait out the heat of midday and journey out afterwards.

After my nap, I decided to walk the old quarter, which I was staying in and it was sooo cute (I was thinking everything was “cute” at this point). Like Córdoba, Seville’s old quarter is comprised of very narrow streets, many of which are pedestrian-only, and the building color of choice is a yellowish-gold. See below for an example.

I walked over to see the outside of the cathedral (yep, I’m on a cathedral tear) and the outside of the alcázar (king and queen castle). One view of the outside of the cathedral is the feature pic. Below is a picture of a lovely friend I met outside the cathedral.

After casing the 2 destinations I would do more exploration of the following day, I stopped for some lemon gelato and headed toward the river for a walk. Well, the walk along the river is super noisy, since it’s a major thoroughfare for cars, so it wasn’t that great. But, I got to see the other side of the river, which is the less touristy side.

Seville is a city of nearly 1 million people, so it’s not small. And, you can tell when you’re out and about. I have to say that I didn’t love it as much as I loved Córdoba. In large part, I think it’s because of the size, but I also think it’s because there were so many tourists, including me! Of course, I’ve been spoiled in many of the places I’ve visited to have them seem very quaint and be there just for me – ha! And, if a city is going to be huge, it better be Barcelona, which of course is my favorite big city.

Anyway, it was time for some tapas. I went to a bar recommended by the hotel and I had 3 tapas: 1) an octopus and potato salad which I did not like at all because the octopus and potato were all mushed together in mayonnaise and I only like mayonnaise when I or C make it with fresh eggs, olive oil, Dijon mustard and lemon; 2) a panko (Japanese bread crumb) battered and fried chicken breast filet with basil oil – very decent and an excellent value at 1 euro; and 3) the bomb of fresh made pasta: 2 gigantic raviolis stuffed with pine nuts, raisins and morrell mushrooms, in a light cream, Pedro Jimenez sauce. Wow, those 6 bites knocked my socks off. I will be trying to repeat that pasta recipe at home.

I asked what the bartender recommended for a drink on this very hot summer night and he suggested “vino tinto de verano”, which translates into red wine of summer. Sure, I love red wine! Well, this is not really red wine. It’s red wine mixed with lemon soda – a sort of quick sangria. But, somehow it worked. With lots of ice and the dry red wine to counteract the sweet lemon soda… yummm.

That’s how I ended day 1.

Day 4 of the trip was the second day in Sevilla.

I started out early on Day 2 because I knew the thousands of tourists and me were going to descend upon the cathedral and the alcazar by 10:00 a.m. So, I ordered breakfast to be brought to my patio. It was lovely. For 9 euros, you get fresh squeezed oj, a plate of manchego cheese and tomatoes, a croissant, 2 min-baguettes, a slice of yummy sugary pound cake, fresh jam (2 types), butter, olive oil, and your choice of tea or coffee delivered to your door in 15 minutes.

I was out the door by 8:45 a.m. and on my way to the cathedral. I am soooo glad I went early. I arrived at the cathedral and I didn’t know that there was more than one entrance open, so I just went into the one I was closest to. I didn’t pay and there was a service just starting. I pulled out my camera and started snapping pictures and in 10 minutes, ropes started going up around me. I didn’t really notice until I started seeing all of the other tourists being shooed beyond the ropes and essentially quarantined to small section in which to snap pictures. But, there I was with all of the rest of the church goers attending the service.

I sat for a few minutes to admire the enclaves, mini-chapels all around me, and the main “stage” and then I decided to slip under the ropes with the rest of the heathens. It’s a lovely and immense cathedral, but I really wanted to see the palace – the Alcázar.

9:30 a.m. and the palace already has 100s of people in tour groups waiting to get in. Sigh. Well, I’m going anyway.

The Alcázar (pronounced “all – cath- a” in southern spain) is still the official residence of the queen and king of Spain, although I have my doubts they live there at this point. It was a marvel, and along with the Mezquita, something everyone in Spain should see.

Here are a few pictures of the inside.

I ate lunch at a restaurant in Plaza de Doña Elvria whose name I can’t remember, but it wasn’t very good. The best thing I had was a bowl of gazpacho with olive oil ice cream in it. The olive oil ice cream is a GREAT way to balance the acidity of the cold tomato soup. I loved the idea and I may steal it. Also, the gazpacho had chunks of good green apple in it which I also thought was a refreshing idea on a 100 degree day.

Back to the hotel for a nap before I set out to see some flamenco at a joint called Tablao Flamenco El Arenal. One of the women at the front desk recommended 2 places for Flamenco and I said I want the most beautiful one. She made a reservation for me for the 8:00 p.m. show and off I went to nap.

At 7:00 p.m., I started out to find the place on a small street down by the Canal de Alfonso called Calle Rodo. I forgot to mention that I had already been lost at least 6 times in the windy streets of Barrio Santa Cruz and Barrio Central. And, I had a map! Up until this city, I felt like I was doing pretty well with the maps, but for some reason I was super directionally challenged in Seville.

I walked in a bunch of circles and then a nice old man stopped and asked if I needed help. Why yes, is it that obvious? He told me exactly where to go. Finally, I meet someone who wants to help that actually has a perfect sense of direction and distance.

I arrive at the venue and because I only wanted a drink not dinner, I was given sort of a crappy seat behind a pillar. So, note to show goers, fork out the extra 30 euros for dinner and you’ll get a prime seat. Also, the food looked amazingly good. I was a bit surprised as I was thinking it would be an afterthought since the show was the main attraction. Anyway, I’m at a communal table with some folks from Australia and Austria who were lovely and we struck up a nice conversation about all the places all of us have visited. We all decided Seville was not our favorite, due to its size and the sheer number of people here at the moment.

The show starts and from moment 1 I’m blown away. Serious professionals, serious Spanish guitar skills, serious voices. I loved both male dancers of the night (the very first and very last dancers, of course) and female dancers #3 and #4. Clearly, #1 mama had seniority as she went first but she was a bit of a tank and didn’t move as well as the others. No worries, we must all give respect to our elders.

Dancers #3 and #4 were complete opposites in appearance. #3 was what you expect to see – striking black hair, very voluptuous and curvy, very serious and had the pained look on her face that most flamenco dancers have throughout their performances. #4 was blond, super fit, and smiled a lot. She sort of reminded of a Spanish Christie Brinkley in the MTV video “Up town girl.” Okay, now I’m dating myself. They both had amazing foot work and were dazzling.

There were 3 male singers, 3 guitarists and 1 “drummer”. The 1.5 hours were full of strength, ferocity, amor, sexiness. I generally despise the machismo in Spanish culture, but there was something very attractive about it in flamenco. I was bummed I didn’t get to snap some pictures, but they were expressly forbidden. I understand why. I’m sure the performers didn’t want flash bulbs going off in their faces every 5 minutes. It was dazzling and I would go see it again in a heartbeat.

After working up a sweat in my own chair just watching (kidding), it was time for more food. I went back to a café for dinner that I had stopped in earlier to do some olive oil tasting. It was called Extra Verde (extra green). They had an interesting looking tapas menu.

It was 10:30 p.m. and I sat in the lovely courtyard. My waiter was awesome. I told him I wanted 3 “light” tapas and a glass of white wine. I told him to bring me his best. He brought out what would be my favorite dish in all of southern journeys – salmojero con virutas de mojama y langostino. Salmojero is a very traditional Andalucian dish that is essentially a creamy gazpacho. But, there are many modern twists and so it’s now just a cold soup of whatever the chef designs.

The base of this dish was the traditional creamy tomato gazpacho, but then it was topped with shaved, smoked tuna and a fresh prawn. All that was drizzled with a spicy olive oil. This is a killer dish on a hot day. I loved it! Here’s a pic:

Next came their version of hummus. I found that garbanzos beans are used a lot in cooking in Catalonia and I was excited to see them as my favorite dip in Seville. Extra Verde’s version was topped with a sort of dried seaweed, sesame seed and salt mixture and drizzled with some spicy olive oil. Yumm! The only disappointing thing is that in southern Spain they serve the lamest white bread and crackers with everything. They’re just awful, so I ended dipping tomatoes in the hummus and eating the rest by itself.

Finally, my 3rd tapa was a soy marinated tuna that was then smoked and paired with a salad. I loved that there was such a healthy restaurant in southern Spain.

Then, it was off to bed. The next day would be the last day of my southern tour.

Day 5: Málaga.

I woke up early so I could do one more “sight” before I headed to Málaga: Plaza España. It seems like every town I’ve been to has a Plaza España. However, this one was exceptional. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. The gorgeous government buildings, the fountains, the bridges – all have ornate tile work. Here are a few pics:

And, for the 1929 expo, they created some 30 different tiled ‘Province Alcoves’ along the walls of the Plaza de España. Here’s Albacete’s:

Onto Málaga!

I don’t have much great to say about Málaga. It was sort of a gritty port town. The old town by the cathedral (which wasn’t that spectacular compared to all of the other cathedrals I have seen to date) was cute but nothing that I hadn’t already seen. Málaga did have a fun, lively café-cruising nightlife in the old town. But, so do many other Spanish cities.

The highlight of Málaga for me was the Picasso museum and it wasn’t even the Picasso exhibit. The two exhibitions that I loved in the museum were temporary exhibits. The first was by an Argentine documentary film maker named Robert Otero. He took photos of Picasso at his home and work from 1961-1970. These photos gave a rare glimpse of Picasso’s last years.

The other exhibit was an exhibit of late 1800s-early 1900s lithographs (posters) from Moscow, Berlin and Paris. I really enjoyed the black and white documentary footage from 1929 of these 3 cities. It showed the roaring 20s dancers, ice hockey in Berlin, and a bicycling race.

Other than that, Málaga was kind of a bust for me. I wouldn’t need to go there again.

But, my first 4 days were spectacular and I would certainly recommend Córdoba as a must see city in the south!

After Málaga, I headed north on the train to Madrid to meet my love. That’s where my next posts will pick up. Stay tuned….

5 days in Andalucia, Part II: Day 2 Córdoba.

17 Sep

I am circling back around to finish 5 days in Andalucia and then I’m going to try to catch up with my other travels since then with 1 post per day this week.

Day 2 Córdoba was all about the Mezquita and the Alcazar, followed by a very good lunch!

So, I wake up after a long nice sleep in my very comfortable bed and grab a quick breakfast (included in the price of the hotel) of jamon iberico, manchego, scrambled eggs, fresh squeezed oj, and few biscuits for the road.

It’s 9:30 a.m. and I know I need to get to the Mezquita rather quickly before all the other tourists descend on it. So, here’s a quick history of the church turned mosque turned cathedral – named the Mequita – depending on whose history you want to believe.

The cathedral literature says “It is a historical fact that the San Vicente Basilica was destroyed during the Islamic period in order to build the subsequent mosque.”

Other literature just picks up at the year 785 when the construction of the mosque began. It underwent 4 stages of construction in different eras according to who was in power at the time. It was the social, cultural, and political center of the town.

Here are some pics of the outside as I moved around it.

This is the outside wall consisting of 19 original doors that are now closed. These doors were important sources of light way back when.

Here’s a close up of one of the doors. They were spectacular.

You enter the Mezquita through a rather unimpressive courtyard compared to what is next. Immediately inside the main building, you see the alternating red and white brick and double arches all about which “were modeled on the Hispanic-Roman tradition”, according to the brochure. See the first pic, above.

Throughout the whole inside you can also see the work of Byzantine artists. The mosaics were incredible.

Here are a few more pics:

And, here’s a shot toward the ceiling of the now Christian part of the Mezquita:

So, after several hundreds of years, King Ferdinand II reconquered Córdoba and he was eager to claim the mosque as a Christian space. So, inside you’ll see plenty of Christian symbols, chapels, and a treasury composed of pieces used during prayer time.

It’s all pretty stunning.

After the Mezquita, I went over to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (castle of the Christian Monarchs). It began as a palace and fort for Alfonso X in the 13th century. From 1490 to 1821 the Inquisition operated here. Today, it has some beautiful gardens surrounding it. Not sure if they want to make you forget the atrocities that were committed here, but it worked on me for a few minutes when I came to the rose section. Such sweet smells. I know I’m cheap at times.

Here’s a pic of the Alcázar, from the top looking back over the city.

Here’s a pic of the gardens:

After going to mosque and church, I decided it was time to head to the Jewish temple. I’m an equal opportunity learner when it comes to religions ;) No pictures here, but it was cute.

Of course sightseeing works up an appetite, so I headed to a restaurant called Ziryab Taberna Gastronomica. I was the first one there at 12:30 because that’s super early to eat lunch, but that’s how I roll these days.

From the moment I walked in, I was greeted by a darling waiter named Luis. He was all smiles and very happy to assist me. He suggested the menu del dia and that’s usually a good choice. I asked what choices in each section he liked and he steered me onto my favorite salad I’ve had in the past 6 months. It was a very simple salad, yet the ingredients were perfectly fresh and ripe, which they needed to be to execute this mostly tomato salad.

Here are the ingredients: tomatoes, hard boiled egg yolks, capers, sliced pickles, fresh basil, sweet onions, sherry vinegar and olive oil. Then, on the side, there were endive leaves with basil oil on them. Perfect, delicious. I love basil oil. I think there’s nothing better on a salad in the summer.

Here’s a quick recipe if you want to make it at home:
Basil Oil

Ingredients and items you need to get started:
1 bunch basil, stalks removed
boiling water
bowl of ice water
non-terry towel
blender
good extra virgin olive oil
salt

Directions:
1) Bring a pot of water to boil (just enough to submerge your basil leaves)
2) Drop the basil leaves in for 10-15 seconds, just enough so that they are barely wilted but still super green
3) Take the basil out with a slotted spoon and immediately submerge into the ice water bath. This helps retain the color and the freshness and is a necessary step. If you skip this step, your oil will be an ugly color.
4) Remove basil from ice bath and squeeze out excess moisture in a non-terry towel.
5) Throw basil in a blender with some good EVOO and puree until it has a fine consistency. Use that day or the next. Keep in a covered container in the fridge.

Next came the main course. Again, I was hesitant to order fish, but the waiter talked me into it mostly because I was curious about the almond sauce underneath.

Nice dish! The tuna was cooked perfectly – seared on the outside and rare on the inside. The sauce was excellent. I asked the chef, who the waiter was nice enough to bring out the Chef to talk with me, and she – Claudia – said the sauce was made of toasted almonds, toasted bread, saffron, soy sauce, black pepper and stock. She also studded the outside of the plate with more basil oil, which the dish really needed as the sauce was smoky. So, basil was a great compliment to it.

Finally, dessert: brownie with yogurt ice cream. Well, the brownie was very mediocre and I’ve made way better, but the yogurt ice cream was probably some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. It was incredibly smooth, with just a hit of sweet, and it had the great tanginess of really fresh, plain yogurt. Me encanta!

Here’s a pic (I already took several bites before I remembered to take a picture, per usual when someone puts something sweet in front of me. Usually, I forget who I am and what I’m doing for a few seconds as I’m so excited to see chocolate).

And the bread. Hot, crunchy outside, soft inside. The 18 euro lunch was fabulous. And, the nice waiter served me a glass of Pedro Jimenez (good, dark sherry) and a café solo on the house. Great service, thanks!

Well, I had to take a nap after that, and actually for the night. Although I had a few stomach issues yet again (damn fish), I had another nice long sleep and awoke to a beautiful day to go to Seville.

My perfect day in Barcelona (in between traveling)

13 Sep

In the blog community, sometimes we are asked to post on others’ blogs, so I did “My perfect day in Barcelona” for my friend, Rob’s blog. Check it out at: http://www.homagetobcn.com/rachels-bcn-day/.

I promise I’ll get back to posting on the rest of my journey in Andalucia in the next few days. But, right now, I’m on my long awaited – 12 years, actually – honeymoon. So, there will be lots of posts to come. Stay tuned….

5 days in Andalucia: Day 1 in Córdoba

5 Sep

I continue my food and history quest, this time in the south of Spain in a region called Andalucia. First stop: Córdoba. This is a city of about 300,000 people, so it’s not small. However, it very much has a small town feel to it, especially in the “old” part of town where I’m staying near the Mezquita Catedral.

Here’s a brief history of Córdoba, according to Lonely Planet, that I think is necessary to understand if one is going to understand all of the different architecture of the Mezquita, especially.

The Roman colony of Corduba, which is most of modern day Andalucia, was founded in 152 BC. In 711, the city of Córdoba was captured by Muslim invaders and became the Islamic capital of the Iberian Peninsula. Córdoba’s heyday came under Abd ar-Rahman III (912-61). The biggest city in western Europe had dazzling mosques, libraries, observatories and aqueducts, a university and highly skilled artisans in leather, metal, textiles and glazed tiles. The multi-cultural court was frequented by Jewish, Arab, and Christian scholars. Lonely Planet, page 737.

Since these were the “glory years”, I’ll leave the history at that for now, as that part of Córdoba’s history is really what I wanted to see.

Moving onto my journey, first, I have to give props to my hotel – Eurostars Patios. This is one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in during my journeys in Spain. It was very inexpensive (49 euros per night) and it was fabulous. The hotel is super modern and new, all the rooms are soundproofed and all the rooms look out onto one of their many designer patios. My room (#108) was at the end of the hall and away from any stairs or lift, so it was really quiet. It was exceptionally clean and it had a nice amount of space, as well.

The true lux about the place was that it had pillow service. If you didn’t like the pillows that came on the bed (4 very comfortable ones), you could call room service and order off the pillow menu – awesome! Finally, the shower had a modern rain shower head, instead of those awful handheld things that come in most hotel showers and annoy me because if you adjust them, they tend to fall off the wall.

So, I arrived late on a Sunday afternoon and it was the perfect day and time to arrive. Córdoba is very quiet on a Sunday afternoon and most everything is closed, so you have a chance to do a great walking tour of the city and to see the old buildings and different neighborhoods without being bombarded by so many tourists. Below are a few of my pictures from Sunday.

Right next to my hotel are some old Roman ruins of a temple:

Plaza Tendillas:

The closer view of the guy riding the bird as well as the ornate work done on the top of the building (I love this one):

Another view of a building in Plaza Tendilla:

A cute house, with some typical tiles, I walked by on a narrow street as I made my way to the outskirts of the old town:

One of the things I loved about Córdoba was that some of the pedestrian walkways were covered with white banners of sorts to block out the sun. Córdoba was very hot when I arrived, like around 98 degrees F/36-37 degrees celsius. So, this was a fabulous idea. Here’s a pic of the banners overhead from one of the pedestrian streets:

So, I make my way over the where the 2 big “must sees” are in town: the Mezquita and the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, or so I think I’m going toward them. I know they are both closed at the moment, but I thought I would take some photos of the outside. I end up overshooting a bit and come upon an old wall that was the outer wall of the city at one time and now which is called Calle Cairuán. Here is the magnificent wall:

This wall goes on for several typical city blocks and it has pools surrounded by flowers next to it. Just gorgeous.

I walk some more and come down to the Rio Guadalquivir (the river). I decide to walk across the Puento Romano bridge to check out the structure at the end of it called Torre de la Calahorra. Here’s a pic of the bridge and the Torre de la Calahorra:

As you can tell from the picture, the countryside is super brown. It gets scorching hot here in the summer and the dust is palpable when it’s windy.

I wander back over the bridge and around the outside of the Mezquita. *Side note: I won’t include any pictures of my first day’s view of the Mezquita, as light was waning and the streets were narrow, so the pictures with flash don’t do it justice. But on day 2, I’ll include a ton of pictures of the beast. It’s truly a beast and amazing.

I find the museum of the Spanish Inquisition and decide this looks like an interesting place to browse. Here’s the entrance:

I didn’t know much about the Spanish Inquisition, other than it was an attempt by the King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms. There were inquisitions in Rome and Portugal, as well, but the Spanish one was the most “substantive” (read: brutal). Under their rule, the Spanish Inquisition began in 1480 with the invention of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which was under the direct control of the monarchy. It was not definitively abolished until 1834 under Queen Isabella II. So, there’s a long history of terrorizing people here over religion or lack of religion. Oh wait, we still do that the world over, don’t we? Oh, I digress.

So, after the museum I decided it was time to eat. Nothing says “it’s time to eat” like some wicked history. I took a cue from tripadvisor and went to their number one rated restaurant in Córdoba: Regadera. Well, it was cute. Here are a few pics of the place:

The bar area (cute):

Entrance to the dining room. If you look to the left of the door at the end of the bar, you’ll see a small fountain. Also, the doorway to the dining room is a very typical Moorish style door:

Well, the food was hit and miss. Since I was inland, I decided to go with meat. I ordered the suckling pig. The skin, which if done right is incredibly crispy, was burned! So were the top and bottom of my scalloped potatoes. Really novice cooking here, folks.

My young waiter knows something is wrong when, after 4 bites, I push the plate away. So, he asks. I try to be nice and say I’m critical because I’m a chef (yep, I pulled the card, mostly because I wanted something else that was good). I say I want you to bring me your best plate. He goes back to the kitchen and comes out with a duo of tartares. I’m thinking “Sh-t! I don’t know if my stomach can handle any more raw fish, and we’re inland so I’m not sure how fresh it is.”

But, I accept the explanation and dive in. The tuna tartare is the same old same old I’ve had everywhere now in Spain when someone thinks they’re going to serve me their “best dish”. It’s raw tuna with avocado and wasabi. No offense, folks, but we’ve been doing that in Hawaii since, I don’t know how long but way before anyone else on the planet save the Japanese, I’m sure. It’s good, but it doesn’t blow me away because I’ve had it so many times.

Moving onto the salmon tartare. Now, I’m really freaking out… there is no way this salmon is fresh. I taste the lemon foam on top – wow! That is sensational! I taste the green chili-cumin sauce on the bottom and it is also sensational. Those two are keepers. The salmon was mixed with sweet onion and green apple, which is a great combo with salmon. The tartar itself would have been excellent had the fish been fresh, but definitely it was not.

Here’s a pic of the tartares:

I ended up with a chupito of a green apple liquor – yummm! Time for bed. Tomorrow…the mammoth Mezquita and a tower of inquisition surrounded by a magnificent garden….

Day 5 Galicia: O Grove

29 Aug

So, I wake up early in Cambados (having survived the minor food poisoning and night in the The Shining hotel) and decide to go see the ruins in a graveyard before I hop another bus to a town called O Grove, which is also known for its fabulous seafood. I forgo the breakfast at Casa Rosita because we all know what happened last night when I ate there.

I go get a café con leche, a fresh squeezed o.j. and an empanada at a cute café in old town.

The empanada, which was perfectly adequate:

Then, I look at my map and go wandering to find the ruins that are inside a graveyard.

Below is the entrance to the ruins:

A closer view, just inside the entrance:

A view looking back out toward the tower from inside the ruins:

I snapped about 20 pictures because I fell in love with the architecture and stonework.

They indeed were very cool and an architectural marvel in their day. I start to look around the cemetery and realize I’ve never been in a cemetery that is so elaborately decorated with large graves and gravestones. Here is one pic on the outside of the ruins. People really respect the dead, here.

I go back to my hotel and decide I can’t face another make-me-want-to-hurl bus ride, so I decide to catch a cab to the next town. This was the best 25 euros I ever spent on transportation! I get picked up in a black Mercedes town car. The air conditioning is set to a comfortable 75 F (I’m guessing, but that’s my preferred temp and it was mighty comfortable in there), the driver has road skills, and he sets the tunes to 80s U.S. rock. I love you!

30 minutes later, happy, smiling and singing to Duran Duran, I arrive at my least favorite hotel of the journey. Seriously? This has 3 stars and it has no A/C? It’s like 96 degrees F today. Receptionist: I know and I’m sorry, but it doesn’t usually get that hot here. Internally, me: Hmmm, I doubt that. But, whatever, I’m only going to sleep here and I don’t see Jack Nicholson or Shelly Duvall around, so I’ll bear with it.

I dump my bags, finally get on wifi and chat with my darling husband for a bit, and then set off to figure out how to rent a bike for the day. Yeah, biking, or “bicing” as it’s called in Barcelona when you rent a city bike!

O Grove is a peninsula with the character of an island. On the map of Galicia (Day 1 blog post), you’ll see that O Grove is slightly southwest of Cambados and it sticks out in the Atlantic Ocean.

Here’s a map of O Grove that I used to explore that day:

It also shows that is looks more like an island than a peninsula except that it does connect to land on the very southeastern tip.

The main tourist part of the town is at the very top of the map, which is the northern part of the peninsula.

The pic at the very top of this post is a view from the bridge looking at the “entrance” of O Grove. There’s apparently a 19K loop I can do on the bike, so I’m looking forward to that, but not before I eat some food.

I’m really torn at this point because I really want to try the vieires and the percebes, which are river scallops and barnacles, respectively. I’m in love with percebes and they’re very reasonably priced in this town because you can see the people out in the water gathering them. I wish I would have taken a picture of that.

Anyway, I see vegetable paella on the menu and a “traditional Galician cheese salad.” Salad and vegetable rice? I’m all over it, as I’m thinking I better lay off the seafood after last night’s disaster.

Here is a pic:

It looks pretty decent, right? Well, yuck, yuck, and yuck. This is now the second day in a great little coastal pueblo that I’ve had a disastrous meal. And, this restaurant also had a Michelin nod. Here’s the sign of the offending restaurant:

I guess I have to take some responsibility here, as the restaurant name is about seafood and everyone else was eating fresh seafood and it looked marvelous. So, I probably ordered the wrong things. But, at the same time my thoughts as a chef are don’t put items on the menu that are after-thoughts and in which you’re not going to take the same amount of care to prepare. It’s not like I asked for pizza, or something off the menu. You clearly had a whole paella section and a whole salad section. Shame on your house!

Anyway, I decided to eat the delicious crusty bread and down ½ of a bottle of Albariño. Now, it was biking time!

I rent a beach cruiser with a big saddle and a basket in front. Here’s the darling thing:

I know that the young woman at the tourist office is thinking that’s just my style. The problem is she forgot to inform me that there will be hills along my route and that although the bike rental is only 4 euros for the day, for 2 more euros I could get a 10 speed that actually might be more beneficial to deal with the hills. No matter. Simple is probably best at the moment and considering my biking history (I once fell off a motorcycle ride at an arcade. I was not drunk.) So, away I go, armed with a super simple map, backpack in the basket and my bathing suit on. I am ready to find a secluded beach!

I first decide to go to the baby island off O Grove that’s connected by a nice bridge. The island is called Illa Da Toxa. Here’s a view as I’m heading to the bridge that connects to Illa Da Toxa:


Here’s a view from the bridge over to Illa Da Toxa (I’m on my bike at this point).

The waters are beautiful and so are the beaches!

I ride around the island in about 15 minutes, stopping at a café for a quick drink. There is some serious wealth on that island and a golf course.

I cruise back toward the pier and toward the way the Spanish Julie McCoy pointed. Along the pedestrian and bike promenade, they have these great art pieces that really show you it’s a “fish” town. Here are a few:

I pop in and out of these cute little coves. Here’s a pic of my favorite cove as I love the wrecked boat:

I keep cruising – uphill – and I come to a point where I look and there are 6 possible small roads I can take. Hmmmm. Where are those on the map? Oh, I see, they aren’t. The is a macro view of the biking route I can take. No micro view to be had. So, I decide to stop and ask a kind, older looking gentlemen who’s hanging out in front of his house (presumably).

I pull out the map and ask, “where am I on this map?” He starts to stutter in Spanish. And, he goes on and on and on and I can’t even interrupt at this point. I’m just hoping I’m not staring too hard as I’m really trying to concentrate on what he’s saying. But, I’m just not getting it. After 10 minutes, I try to politely interrupt him 3 times to say thank you. Finally, I give up and get back on the bike. As I randomly pick one of the roads he’s still calling after me and pointing at all of my choices. So, I start down this road that smells like manure. I decide that’s not the road for me, so I turn back and take another road. 15 minutes later, I’m now in the interior of the island and I have lost the beach route.

I decide to backtrack but then I forget where I came from. I’m not worried, as how lost can I get on a peninsula that is 19k in circumference? I stop and ask a woman who is getting into her car and she explains where I am on the map and where I need to go to get to some nice beaches. Yeah!

By this time, I’m pretty sure I’ve gone at least half of the 19K. In fact, I’ve gone about 4K, maybe 6K since I got lost.

I find a nice beach. I dive in. Ahhhhh, soooo cool and refreshing. The water is super clear and the water quality seems excellent. I’m super happy. Here’s a pic of Playa Rons:

And another view of the lovely Atlantic waters:

I end my day with the awesome 3 hour bike ride and decide it’s time to pack it in. I’ve had 2 days of bad eating in what are suppose to be 2 tremendous seafood towns, so it’s fruit, nuts and Gatorade for me tonight. Despite the bad food and that’s it 100 degrees F in my hotel room, I’m still in love with Galicia. The terrain, the water, the food in both A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela – me encanta!

I would go back in a heartbeat.

(As I’m writing this I’m looking at my notes I took throughout the day at O Grove. I’m in the first class cabin of the Renfe train from Madrid to Barcelona. I decided to pass on the “free” airplane looking food. But, in honor of my husband, I’m drinking coke and whiskey. Oh, and eating dark chocolate. That’s a lunch of champions, right? See pic below.)

I’m looking forward to my next journey south to Córdoba, Málaga and Seville!

Day 4 in Galicia: Cambados

28 Aug

I loved this town, despite the fact that it tried to kill me. But, more on that later. Cambados is a darling little town of 6700 (according to my guidebook) that sits in the Rias Baixas area (the area of the southern rivers, and the southern part of Galicia, as you head south from Santiago de Compostela).

By the hightlighted picture at top, you can tell that Cambados is about the grapes…which means it’s about the wines, and more specifically Albariño. It’s also about the mariscos (shellfish). So, when you step off the bus, you are greeted by this lovely fisherman about 100 yards to your left, in a darling park (Paseo Da Calazada) full of palm trees that line the water promenade (Paseo Maritmo).

Here’s a pic of my first friend in Cambados:

After a 2 hour harrowing bus ride in which my 125 year old bus driver alternately stomped on the brakes and gas every 5 minutes while trying to figure out the gear system (did he break out of the home and steal the bus, I wondered?), I was glad to see how darling the town was even near the bus station, but, it was time to lay down before I lost my cookies. I had researched hotels and I decided on a 4 star hotel that seemed reasonably priced and whose restaurant had excellent reviews for its seafood. The name: Casa Rosita.

Here’s a pic of the cute exterior:

Well, it’s a bit outside the main city center, but I think good things come to those who walk. I’ll explain later. Hint: home brew.

I check into this promising hotel (from the outside) and into a very stark, weird, yet clean room. I kind of felt like I was in The Shining. The hotel was super quiet, the staff gave weird looks and were seemingly all in a dark mood, and I didn’t see any other patrons around.

Obviously, I had been spoiled with either very modern rooms (A Coruña) or very antique, charming rooms (Santiago de Compostela) along my adventure so far. This was neither. It had no fridge (my other 2 hotel rooms did and they came standard in the standard rooms), it had no wifi, it had no safe in the room (other two did), it had no pens/paper to write on, and the “exit” sign above the door inside the room had such wonderful interior illumination that at 2:00 a.m. I was pondering how I could break it without anyone hearing. Not sure why the extra, extra precaution is needed to show me where my door is at night. I’ve never been in a hotel room that had that super annoying feature. And, I couldn’t turn it off. Seriously, in Spain you’re worried about liability in case of a fire in the middle of the night and me needing to find my door? Trust me, if no one cares about that in U.S. hotels, you certainly shouldn’t be worried about liability here. I’m more worried about an ax coming through my door and someone saying, “Here’s Johnny.”

I’m a little unnerved and unpleased with my hotel, so instead of laying down, I decide it’s probably better if I walk it off, go get some food and then do some wine tasting!

As I walked through the outskirts of town toward the main square called Praza de Fefiñans, I came upon a promising looking restaurant – Obopaladar. It was a disappointment. I had a piece of tuna that was perfectly seared, but the chef must have been having a bad day, as it was WAY over-salted and someone apparently dropped the salt shaker in the ratatouille my bonita was sitting on, as well. Gross. Umm, didn’t the description on the menu highlight asparagus? Why is there only 1 spear cut in half on the plate? The only thing good about the restaurant was the cool, very modern light fixtures and the ceiling. Here’s a pic:

After my bad lunch I decide that now I really need a drink. I start walking on the main road and come upon the old part of the town starting at Praza de Fefiñans. Here’s a view of the entrance to the square:

Here’s another, where all of the restaurants, bars, and wine shops are lined:

On the side of a building in the courtyard, here’s a woman holding her family crest:

My first stop was a cute little wine tasting room.

After about 20 minutes of chatting about Albariño, this region, and what tastings were being offered, I ended up tasting 2 wines and then I told the wine pourer I was done. Seriously, after two tastes I’m tipsy? What has happened to me? The wines here typically have lower alcohol content than those in the U.S.

Anyway, we talk a bit more about the other growers and producers in this region, and I decide to buy 3 bottles: one from a bigger and more commercial grower (whose wines are imported by a New Jersey importer in case I’m interested in getting more in the U.S.) and 2 from a brother-brother team who are small production growers and bottlers. These, I won’t be able to get in the states.

I decide to lug my 3 bottles back to my room and set off again for more discovery. I decide to take a back, residential street to look at the houses. The street is called Rua Carreira. Here’s a view of one of the houses on that street:

Darling, isn’t it?

I had heard that some of the best Albariño in this pueblo comes from home brewers – essentially those who have several grape vines and ferment and bottle for home consumption only (and for sale to tourists, apparently). Low and behold, I come upon a cute little green house with gorgeous flowers out front and a sign hanging above telling me they sell Albarino.

The house number, in case the wine is good and anyone else wants to find her (or, in case it poisons me and we want to go back and blame someone):

Her gorgeous hibiscus:

It’s about 5:00 p.m. now and I knock. An older woman comes to the door in her camisole and crazy white hair (probably how mine is going to look in another 30 years when I let it go). It looks like she just rolled out of bed.

I ask in Spanish: Did I disturb you? Abuela: Why, yes, you did. Can I help you with something? Me: I saw that you sell Albariño wine. The abuela: I do. How many bottles would you like? Me: How much are they and when were they bottled? Abuela: They were bottled last year and they are 3 Euros each. Me: I’ll take 2. Her: Okay, but you need to drink them soon because they are all natural with no sulfites. Me: Okay. Can you show me your vines? Abuela: Sure.

She closes the door, puts some clothes on and comes out with 2 no-label wines with suspect looking corks. No matter. I’ve spent a lot more on a lot worse, I’m sure. In fact, unbeknownst to me at this point, later I’m about to spend nearly 10 times that on a dinner that will again poison me.

Anyway, she shows me her vines and says this year is a tough year. It’s too dry and the productions will be low.

Here’s her small vineyard, which is above a walkway in between her house and the neighbor’s house. It’s all latticed grapes above the walkway.

She tells me to take care and I’m wondering if there’s an implied meaning there: does she mean take care when I drink the bottles, like they might poison me? Clearly, I’m still reeling from the bus ride, the fact that I’m staying in the The Shining hotel, and that I’m now pretty sure my lunch chef wanted to induce a heart attack in me through salt consumption.

I decide to shrug it all off. It’s a gorgeous day and I’m up for the challenge as I’m so charmed by the idea of buying home brew. What a fun experience!

I walk away smiling with 2 bottles of home brew under my arms and come upon this darling, old little church.

Yep, more church going for me! I walk under the thick metal, front door and go in. I’m the only one there. It’s dark and musty. I’m a little unnerved as I start to hear this thumping noise coming from behind the jesus statue. I think: Is he mad because I entered with 2 bottles of wine under my arms? I mean, I’m happy to share, jeeesh!

Anyway, it’s a hidden clock that I realize is thumping (why not chiming like adorable church chimes and clocks are suppose to do?). I decide I’ve had enough of church for the moment. I’m going to find a winery.

On my way to a winery a little way out of town, I come across this awesome library. Here are the pics of the library. Now, if I were a kid again, this place would make me want to read.

This one’s for you, my prince:

We should construct and “vine” libraries like this in the states! I think we need all the help we can get to get our kids to focus on reading and learning more through some amazing paper documents instead of defaulting to wikipedia on the internet (yep, when I taught high school not too long ago, my students were citing wikipedia as a source in their history papers. Really? You couldn’t find a primary source or a reliable secondary source? Wow, have we gotten that bad about teaching our children? I was disgusted).

Sorry, I digressed. After the library, I walk to a winery called Pazo A Capitana and a nice woman invites me in. She’s speaking French to another couple and they look at me and tell her to speak in Spanish. Nice! I fooled them again. Anyway, she is kind enough to do double translation and tells us about her winery and that it has been in the family for 100 years, etc. We’re told we can walk the grounds and then come back for a tasting. So, I walk the grounds and take some pics. It was a gorgeous day and she had gorgeous grounds, to be sure, filled with fruit trees and flowers.

I love the local pears here. I bought two from a fruit shop and they were delicious.

The old v. modern barrels:

And the flowers….oh, the lovely flowers..:

Ahhh, this is a dream. Wish I could have one of these properties!

Well, by now, it’s around 6:30 p.m. and earlier I was told by another woman to come back to her place for a wine tasting at 7:00. So, I forgo the wine tasting here to go back for the other one. What’s the saying, “A bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush?” When I arrive at the 7:00 p.m. wine tasting, the woman now tells me that she’s going to charge me 10 euros to taste 3 wines. Why didn’t she tell me this before? Now, I’m irritated and I’m certainly not paying 10 euros ($13 US) to taste wines from one producer since most of the bottles of Albariño cost less than 8 euros and some good ones as little as 4-5 euros (and my sketchy homebrew, 3 euros each!).

So, I opt to go to a wine shop where a hippy looking guy is running the joint. I ask him if he knows about Albariños. He gives me a, “are you stupid, lady?” look and then I know I’m in the right place. He asks me what type of Albariños I like and I say I don’t really know, I’ve only tasted about 6 different kinds. He says I look like a kind of “classic Albariño” drinker – slightly dry, a little complex, smooth finish, great with seafood. He’s smiling a kind of odd smile, so I’m thinking clearly there’s a joke I’m missing in there. But, I shrug it off as I think I’m in a paranoid mood today, and I go ahead and buy 2 more bottles.

By this time, I realize I have added 7 bottles of wine to my stash of food from Santiago de Compostela that I’m carrying for another 2 days. I need another bag, but only a small one. So, I buy a cute little wicker bag that looks like a picnic basket. I don’t even want to think about how I’m going to get any of the wine back to the states. We may have to drink it all when C comes!

Here’s my wine stash:

It’s almost 8:00 p.m. and I’m ready for some good food! I ask a few locals where they like to eat and they say Casa Rosita. Why, that’s my hotel. I also did read great reviews on the restaurant, although the reviews said it’s weird eating off to the side of the hotel lobby, which it is. But, I decide that it must be good anyway, if locals like it.

I don’t want to go into all the horrid details, as I’m super bummed about it all, but everything, including the wine they served me, was awful. I’m pretty sure I ate a bad scallop, which I told the waiter. He just took it away. No offer to replace it or take it off the bill. Well, all told, I paid 55 Euros for an awful seafood dinner, save the seafood salad that had large chunks of freshwater crab in it that was dressed with shaved egg yolk, olive oil and vinegar. The worst part is 30 minutes after I finished the meal, I lost it to the sewage system. Good thing I was in my hotel already! So, my review is an unequivocal stay away from Casa Rosita.

I’m really getting tired of losing my cookies, but tomorrow is another day!

Despite the total weirdness of the hotel and 2 horrible seafood meals in a town that is heralded for its seafood, I LOVED this town. It oozes charm and I’m really a fan of Albariños. I can’t wait to try them back in the states when I attempt to make my Galician-inspired food.

*Note about the 4 blog posts regarding Galicia: The entries are transcribed from the notebook I used to take contemporaneous notes during my journeys. I didn’t want to go back and edit out my goofiness, so these posts capture some of my thoughts at the time they formed – for better or for worse ;)

Days 2-3 in Galicia: Santiago de Compostela

24 Aug

Overall assessment: this is a MUST see visit if you’re in Spain.

So, I decide to get up early and go see the famous cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the plazas surrounding it. I’m glad I did. For anyone visiting, go early, as the crowds start forming at around 11 a.m. and it gets packed.

Here’s a pic of the enormous, breathtaking, and somewhat haunting cathedral:

One of the reasons for the large numbers of people is that it’s a famous pilgrimage destination. Here’s my summary of the summary from Lonely Planet, describing why it’s famous:

The faithful believe that St. James the Apostle preached in Galicia and that after his death in Palestine he was brought back and buried there. The tomb was supposedly rediscovered in 813 by a religious hermit named Pelayo who followed a guiding star (name “Compostela” comes from the Latin “campus stellae” meaning field of star). The grave became the rallying symbol for Christian Spain and Compostela became the most important destination for Christians after Rome and Jerusalem. Lonely Planet, pages 37 and 502.

Today, people from around the world make walking pilgrimages along any one of the 4 marked routes. On the train 3 days after I left Santiago de Compostela, I met a new friend whose name if Beth. Beth did 5 days of the pilgrimage, doing anywhere from 18-29Km per day walking. She lent me her book about the pilgrimage to peruse on our train ride and I learned that the pilgrimage is about walking and the spiritual journey you’re suppose to enjoy on those long, silent walks (they encourage no cameras, phones, or music – basically to tune out the modern world and tune into yourself). Most pilgrims end at Santiago de Compostela. But, from there you can make another 100km journey to Finisterre.

It was fascinating to hear her perspective and also to see hundreds who made the pilgrimage, descend upon the cathedral. Most had walking sticks and backpacks on. Many were limping. We met some young girls on the train who had to quit 2 days into the trail because it was too difficult for them. I won’t divulge Beth’s age, but Beth is at least 3 decades older than these girls and in phenomenal shape. Go Beth! You’re inspiring.

I know what my friends and family are thinking right now: for someone who is not religious, she sure seems enamored of cathedrals, churches, and monasteries, and has taken an interest in religion in Spain. From a pure architectural standpoint, I think the churches and cathedrals are some of the greatest marvels of Europe. How much time and money went into these is crazy, and sometimes egregious when you learn the history of how the money “came” to the churches and cathedrals. This history of just how intertwined religion and politics have been through the ages fascinates me, as well.

Below are a few more pictures of the cathedral, inside and out, as well as of the different plazas surrounding the cathedral. There are 3 entrances to the Cathedral and each one is very different.

This is a picture of me looking up at one of windows of the cathedral from “Praza do Obradoiro”, as they call it:

This is another view from Praza do Obradoiro, where you can see some pilgrims in front:

And, another view of Praza do Obradoiro. I’m on the steps of the cathedral here, using my zoom so I can capture the trees that surround this town. It is really beautifully green there.

Here’s a view of a fountain and building looking at Praza Das Praterias from the steps of the cathedral entrance at Praterias:

So, what does the inside look like? Wow. The ceilings are all done in domes. There are at least 10 different shrine rooms, 3 smaller chapels in addition to the main mass room, angels everywhere, gold everywhere. It’s pretty hard to describe. The art and architecture is a melding of different ages, for sure. Below are just a few pictures to give you an idea:

This is one of mass in the main hall:

This one really shows the arches, domed ceilings and the ornate carvings with gold plating:

This one is for my mom and grandma who love angels:

This is a very interesting piece of stonework that was surrounded by tape so you couldn’t get close to it (other than by camera zoom). This is what I’m talking about when I say there is very different art/sculptures from different eras in the cathedral. I really loved this one in particular:

As is typical of the climate, it was a bit rainy and overcast, but the temperature was perfect for me. After wandering all sides of the cathedral and plazas surrounding it, I decided to wander through a park not too far from there called Alameda. I’m so glad I did. It was such a darling park, extremely well maintained and I met some new friends and smelled some lovely roses.

Here’s a picture of a new friend I met along the way in the park:

Here’s a close up of some beautiful roses in the rose garden. It reminded me of the rose garden in Golden Gate Park, and it made me miss it, San Francisco, my husband, my friends there, etc. more than a little bit:

A statue of another lovely woman in the park:

Finally, a view from one side of the elevated park:

Isn’t this place gorgeous?

In addition to visiting Santiago to learn about the cathedral, I also visited to eat more great Galician seafood! Since I had a great experience at a Lonely Planet recommended eatery in A Coruña, I decided to see if their suggestions about food in Santiago were also good. Nope, one wasn’t. I went to a restaurant called Meson de 40 that was suggested for good seafood. Unfortunately, it was rather disappointing. The pulpo was tough. The Albariño, a little sour and grassy. The only thing that was worth eating was the fried calamari and it still wasn’t even close to the best I’ve ever had. The breading was falling off, as it was too thick, but it was indeed tender. So, I powered through it because I was hungry. The waiter (maybe owner?) was very nice, though, and the service was great.

After my less than stellar lunch, I decided to go in search of the famous almond tarts they produce in Santiago. I went to one empty shop in which all the person sold was tarts. She asked me if I wanted to try some and explained all her offerings. I chose to try 3 different ones. I ended up buying two, with the intention of sharing them with Diana, Martin and Marianne in S’arago later this week (too bad I got food poisoning yet again and missed the dinner).

Then, I went to buy the famous Tetilla cheese because it’s shaped into… well, tits (that’s what the Spanish word means!). I stopped in another shop where I tried 4 cheeses and decided on the one most fuerte (strong). I also bought a jar of fig preserves to go with it, a jar of pulpo pate, and a jar of picante paprika.

Okay, so now I’m thinking: how am I going to carry all this stuff back, and will the tarts make it through 3 more cities, 4 more bus rides and 3 more train rides? I’ll worry about that later. Time for a siesta.

Here’s a pic of one of the famous almond tart (it is delicious):

After an afternoon rest back at the hotel, I asked the receptionist at the front desk where she would go if she wanted excellent, very “clean” and very fresh seafood. Without hesitation, she recommended Fornos, which is in the “newer” part of town about a 10 minute walk from the hotel.

At 8:00 p.m., I set out for the restaurant. I was the second person there, as 8:00 is early to be eating dinner. Great for me! From the moment I sat down, I had excellent service. My waiter was in his late 50s/early 60s and was a former military captain (I heard him say to a table of 4 that sat next to me later). He asked if I wanted him to speak English and I said no thank you. I want people to speak to me in Castellano. So, he did and quite rapidly after that. But, it was great. I understand Spanish food-speak now. Whew! It took a while.

Anyway, he explained the different seafood specialities from this part of the world and I decided on their famous Zamburinas, which is a fresh water scallop, and a freshwater crab called Buey de Mar (ox of the sea). Buey is usually the name for beef in this part of the world. Yep, this meal knocked my socks off. Fantastic. Pure, clean, simple, fresh, some of the best scallops I’ve ever eaten. Both the crab and the scallops were perfectly cooked.

Here are some pics:

The dining room of Fornos is a bit dated, but it is still very Spanish as are the plates food was served on:

This is happy me with my crab:

Here’s a pic of the crab close up, with the roe all mixed up:

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to eat the roe and coral in the crab, but the waiter insisted he mix it all up for me into a sort of paté and that I spread it on the bread and eat it. Que rico! Wow, that was rich and lovely. I ate only about half as I was a bit nervous about my stomach and liver, still.

He asked me how I wanted the scallops prepared and I said a la plancha with just olive oil and garlic. Good choice by me. They were super sweet and cooked perfectly. The tenderness was amazing. The red part of the scallop (I think the foot of this particular scallop) was the most delectable part and you are encouraged to eat that part, here. It was nearly like biting into liver paté. At first, I wasn’t so sure by looking at it, but I would’ve missed out on a fantastic part of this little creature had I not eaten it.

There’s a picture of my plate with a few scallops on it, as the feature picture at top. And, here’s the serving plate of scallops (it’s missing the 3 scallops that were on my own plate by this time):

The scallops were definitely in the top 5 dishes I’ve eaten in Spain and Catalonia and likely the best scallops I’ve ever eaten, period. They were that good. The crab was probably within the top 10 dishes I’ve eaten since I’ve been in Spain and Catalonia. Mind you, I’ve eaten at 100s of places and 100s of different dishes.

The restaurant has a Michelin star and, finally, I’ve eaten at an establishment other than Alkimia that I think deserves it.

I asked for a glass of Albariño, and when I was ¾ of the way through it but still had scallops left (second course), the waiter came over with the bottle and poured in another half glass, explaining that I must continue to have them together. Nope, he didn’t even charge me for the extra wine. Nice touch.

Finally, although extremely full and happy at the moment, I couldn’t pass up the tulipa de helado mandarina = tulip of mandarin ice cream. Essentially, it was a cookie-tart shell that housed delicious tangerine ice cream. I couldn’t finish it, but it was a great palette cleanser – a little sweet and a little tart.

Here’s a pic of the cute dessert:

You’d be hard pressed to find any fresh and delicious seafood dinner half as amazing as this was for 41 Euros. I wish I could go back!

I went to bed extremely happy but also knowing I would never be able to get these scallops in the states. Boo hoo. But, as always, I was looking forward to tomorrow. It was Albariño wine country for me, so I was thinking that should help ease the pain of leaving the scallops behind. Ha ;)

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