mooninspain

Food, Travel , Life and more Food in Spain

Magical Mountain

There is a magical place up high in the Pyrenees if you have the patience to travel the narrow highways and to keep going just when you thought you were already at the end of the road.  In the province of Huesca you will find the National Park of Ordesa and Monte Perdido.  It is a protected area and home to species such as the primula aricula or bear´s ear, a precious purple flower that grows on the calcareous rocks of the canyon.

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If you follow one of the rivers with magic, the Cinca, it will take you to its headwaters at the Valley of Pineta.  In this breathetaking glacier valley you will find the waterfall that heads this river and one of the most peaceful places on earth.  The sound of cowbells and the river in the morning is a gift that is hard to replace. I have been blessed to sleep here many times in the past 16 months and I still can´t get enough of its greatness.

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At the end of the road you will find the beautiful Parador, a small hermitage dedicated to the Virgin of La Pineta, and a cross country ski area with a small refuge.  You can choose to hike up further into the Monte Perdido (lost mountain) or to just wander around with the cows and do cartwheels as I choose to do.

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Everytime I arrive I find the Valley in a different mood.  I have seen her covered in snow, flowing with waterfalls, cold and bare or lush green.  I never tire of discovering new parts of this magical place.  My love and I thought we discovered a “bar” once.  Well, we found a sign anyhow and were happy that we had brought our own wine.

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I look forward to returning in autumn and discovering more of the Lost Mountain.  To visit my friends, the cows and see how their babies have grown.  And to hopefully see my favorite of all, the chamois, a small goat that likes to hide from me lately.  Hasta Pronto, hasta la pròxima querido Monte Perdido.

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Vinho Verde………good for the soul.

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After leaving the Douro Valley we drove north towards the Minho river which is the natural border between Portugal and Spain.  This area of the country is absolutely gorgeous.  One of those places where you just want to unpack and stay for a very, very long while.  Lush green landscape is the backdrop for this river that is almost 2 kilometers wide where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean..

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We drove to the town of Caminha one day for lunch.  Caminha is a small but very classy town located only a couple of kilometers away from the Ocean.  We sat down for lunch at a cafe  in the in the main square which is surrounded by beautiful Renaissance and Gothic houses.  This area of Portugal is known for a type of wine called Vinho Verde.  It literally means “young wine”.  Vinho Verde should be consumed within a year of bottling and is produced in red, white and rosè varieties.  Some people think it is difficult to drink due to the rich color but we love it!

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The wine went perfect with our ¨light¨lunch of salad, a hamburger and a ¨bifana¨.  The Bifana is a sandwich of slowly simmered pork served with a mustard sauce on an excellent roll.  In retrospect we should have ordered two Bifanas and vetoed the burger.  It was absolutely perfect with a bit of ¨piri piri¨ and the vinho verde.  ¨Piri Piri¨is one of my favorite things about Portugal.  HOT SAUCE.  Always a few different varieties and always available.

After our very long lunch we ran, literally, to catch the sunset right where the Minho River meets the Atlantic.  It was definitely the perfect end to a perfect day.

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New Year´s Day in the Douro Valley

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I am a little behind on posting but, “mas vale tarde que nunca”. And now I am on a clean eating spree so it is good to go back and reminisce about the amazing food we enjoyed on our trip.
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After we left the small city of Chaves my wonderful partner decided to take us on a drive through the beautiful Douro Valley, famous for it’s gorgeous scenery and internationally renowned wine production. The whole region is filled with “Quintas” or wine producing farms. Many of which are built on slopes to protect the vineyards from the humid winds. Before stopping in the town of Peso de Règua we took a short detour so my love could show me the ¨lock¨ that raises and lowers the boats in order for them to pass through the different levels of water in the Douro River. I had never seen a lock before or my memory is blocked. I was so amazed by how it worked (and freezing cold) that I forgot to take a picture! But you can look it up on the internet or watch it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MDEG5p3IwA here! This one has an 89 foot drop. My next trip (besides going back to the USA) is a boat trip on the Douro.
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We were a bit tired from New Year’s Eve and very hungry so we stopped in the town of Règua for lunch. We found an excellent restaurant, Castas e Pratos, that was built right in the train station. Being New Years Day they had roasted baby goat as a specialty. It was served with the most delicious rice, roasted potatoes and sauteed broccoli rabe. In Portugal everything has to be served with potatoes and rice. Atkins would not be happy. The other dish we ordered was filet mignon with a gorgonzola sauce and risotto with wild mushrooms. Surprisingly not a potato on the plate.
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The wine list was a book, being in the Douro region. The service was impeccable and we enjoyed every moment. We can´t wait to go back!!
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New Year’s Eve in Trás-os -Montes Portugal

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En route from Valladolid to Northern Portugal we decided spend New Years in the small city of Chaves in the region of Trás-os-Montes, just crossing over the border from Spain. The city and surrounding areas are known for it’s hot springs. The history of Chaves dates back to Paleolithic times and holds much to discover. It is also on the Portuguese Path’s leading to Santiago de Compostela.

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The holiday season brings the city back to life with many locals who have emigrated to France. They are home to visit and the restaurants were filled. We wandered into a small place with excellent homemade food. The local cuisine is heart and a good wine is necessary to wash it down. The first dish that we ordered was Alheira, a local sausage with pork, turkey, chicken, bread, garlic and paprika. The origin dates back to the 17th century when the “new Christians” were trying to disguise that they still followed Kosher rule of not eating pork. Here it was served with two types of potatoes and cabbage.

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Just in case the Alheira was not enough, we also shared a Feijoada. A dish of white beans, various pork products, tomato, carrot, and onion. It is eaten with rice. Luckily there is always a perfect green salad available to lighten up the meal.

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It was a bone chilling New Year’s Eve in Chaves so we decided to end our meal at a funky little cafe that served up a couple of excellent gin tonics with red pepper seeds. Needless to say 2014 will be a New Years’ to not forget.

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to veg or not to veg……………….

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On my very first flight from New York to Madrid I looked through a very well known travel book about Spain and Portugal.  In the food section I remember reading that it was almost impossible to find vegetarian food or a decent salad.  Being a vegetarian at the time I figured I was going to live on bread and apples for the following year.  The truth is that during my first few months here I did find it difficult to find a lot of vegetarian options.  But that was mostly due to my lack of knowledge about the food in Spain in general.  I think many vegetarians decide to survive on Tortilla Española (spanish potato omelet) and green salad, without the tuna of course.  But actually, the options are endless.

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One of my very favorite dishes, a specialty in Sevilla, is Espinacas con Garbanzos.  A hot stew with fresh spinach, chickpeas, cumin, paprika, garlic, bread and olive oil.  Served with mini breadsticks and a glass of dry sherry, it does not get much better for a veggie lover.  In the South you can also find fried eggplant everywhere.  Sometimes salty and sometimes with sugar cane honey.  My daughter loves the vegetable tajine at our favorite seafood restaurant on the coast of Granada.  It is an out of place item amongst the fresh fish and seafood but she is always happy to order it!

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Salads are plentiful and diverse.  One of our favorites is an Avocado Salad, either with fresh greens or tomatoes.   Another that we enjoy and order frequently at the beach restaurants here in Granada is a fresh fruit salad which varies seasonally.  In the fall it is filled with oranges, chirimoyas (custard apples), perssimons, avocado and star fruit.

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There are so many vegetable dishes available if you know what to look for on the menu or at a bar.  I have not yet looked to see if that travel book has changed it’s idea about food in Spain and Portugal.  The days of “jamon” being part of a vegetarian dish have long dissapeared in most places.

Food items that I thought I would never enjoy…………..

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I feel that I was raised in a fairly cultured world as far as food is concerned.  My Mother and Nana prepared excellent Italian food tracing our roots but they also made Chinese, Greek, French and many other ¨ethnic¨cuisines.  My parents would also take us out to different restaurants on a fairly regular basis so that we could taste foods from different countries. I have clear memories of tasting flaming saganaki, schnitzel, and cheese enchiladas as a very little girl. As a teenager my mother would rent films about food and far away countries; Babettes Feast, The Scent of Green Papaya, and Big Night come to mind. Many of my Friday nights were filled with popcorn and subtitles.

Regardless of my upbringing there were many foods that I still could not taste upon my arrival in Spain. Anchovies, sardines, octopus, and pig ears are a few on the list. Pig ears still remain on the list. The others, however I have learned to love along with many other different foods.

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I remember walking into a fish market many many years ago in Granada, and the kind gentleman offered me a goose barnacle to taste. Here and in Portugal they are called ¨percebes¨or ¨perceves. I could not get myself to put that in my mouth. They are truly horrific. I kindly refused and left the market.

Not long ago I watched a documentary about how goose barnacles are collected and found it incredibly interesting. It is a quite dangerous and tedious process. And so as life goes, I recently found myself in a market in Porto actually enjoying a plate of goose barnacles, cold albariño wine and great company. Call it circumstancial or a change in my palate. Nobody will ever know. But, I have the photos to prove it. Never say never.

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El txikiteo………………

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I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Basque Country. This area of about 20,000 square kilometers is rich in its own tradition, culture, politics and gastronomy. Something special about their gastronomy is that men tend to be the cooks, not just in restaurants but in private homes and families. This is a unique part of their culture and what is the history behind the “Txoko” or closed gastronomical societies that were orignially only open to male members. The Txoco originally began in San Sebastian in the late 1800’s. A restaurant or a basement with a kitchen is rented by the society to cook, eat and socialize. Nowadays many Txokos also allow women to drink, eat and socialize within the txokos but not to cook.
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Another great part of the Basque gastronomical tradition is the Txikiteo (chiquiteo). Friends gather in the early afternoon to go from bar to bar and enjoy small glasses of wine or beer accompanied by the ever elaborate pintxos (pinchos) which are usually small slices of bread topped by any artistical combination of ingredients. A pintxo could be pate with an anchovy, goat cheese with carmelized onion and cured ham, or wild mushrooms with garlic. Really there are no limits to the pintxo; sushi, grilled vegetables, a lebanese kebab. I have tried it all. For me they always go best with a glass of Txacoli, the typical white wine from the Basque country (more to follow).
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The top of a bar all throughout the Basque Country is a colorful procession of pintxos and some of the best “food art” I have ever seen. In most bars you are given a plate and take what you like from the assortment on the bar. The bar person will then charge you by the amount of toothpicks on your plate. All on the honor system. Just the way life should be!
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distracted in Northern Spain and Portugal………………

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To quote Ani Difranco, ¨ I just got kind of distracted.¨  With a new tour, with a new life, and with just about a new everything.  A good and healthy fresh start. And most of this distraction began up North on a new tour that I have been doing from Lisbon to Barcelona.  The saying is ¨what goes up, must come down¨………….well, not in my case.  I went up and never came back down.  So, since last March it has been the North for me, over and over and over again.  Happy and at home along my ever significant Path of St.James and eager to share every bit of what I love about this special part of the peninsula.  Sometimes our job on tour can feel like a bit of a roller coaster without a place to get off and rest your spinning brain.  But, I think I now have the chance to rest and to share a bit of my experience.

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 From the electrico in Lisbon to a fine port tasting in Oporto, from the majestic maze of the Parador in Santiago de Compostela to the pintxos in the Basque Country.  The Guggenheim in Bilbao to my beloved chamois in the Aragonese Pyrenees.

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This year has been a great adventure in travel, love and of course great food and wine.  All of which will follow soon.

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Warming the Soul and the Tummy

Fabada Asturiana

Fabada Asturiana

Lately I find myself complaining a lot about the cold weather we have been experiencing here. But, considering that much of my family and friends have spent days on end stuck in their homes or sleeping at work due to their harsh weather conditions, I should really just shut up. Our “fairly” cold weather and snow capped mountain does bring thoughts of warm stews and soups to mind. There is nothing better than a steaming bowl of deliciousness to brighten a cold, rainy day.

Garbanzos y Espinacas

Garbanzos y Espinacas

Traditional Spanish food is filled with great stews and soups. We have an amazing selection of beans and legumes and the potajes (stews) that are prepared from these provide a healthy and inexpensive base to the Spanish diet. The recipes vary countrywide but I can bet that many Spaniards would say that their favorite dish is one “de cuchara” or eaten with a spoon. And more than likely prepared by their Mother or Grandmother.

Verdinas with Prawns

Verdinas with Prawns

Lentils are always a favorite of mine as well as the amazing garbanzos with spinach, cumin and paprika in Seville. But the recipes are endless. When you travel to Asturias it is obligatory to indulge in Fabada Asturiana with fat white beans and various pork products. One of my other favorites in Asturias are the “verdinas” or little green beans often prepared with seafood.

The mother of traditional Spanish stews is the Cocido. The ingredients vary depending on the region but the common ones include garbanzos, cabbage, potatoes, various types of meat, and pork fat. Some people enjoy the stew as one plate while in Madrid they eat the soup first with thin noodles and then the vegetables, garbanzos and meat. In an area called the “Maragateria” in the province of Leon it is eaten “al reves”. The meat and vegetables and garbanzos first then followed by the soup. The first time I tasted this cocido was on the Camino de Santiago after my first year in Spain. After that I have enjoyed it in some wonderful picturesque towns near Leon. And of course, any great Spanish stew needs to be washed down with a bold red wine and accompanied by excellent crusty bread.

As the rain falls here in Granada we are about to dig into a delicious stew made for us by a friend. It was prepared with garbanzos, wild mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes. A nice glass of Rioja and Happy Sunday to all!

Pieces of The Alhambra…….

"He wore the cloak of grandeur. It was bright With stolen promises and colors thin." Archer Huntington

“He wore the cloak of grandeur. It was bright
With stolen promises and colors thin.”
Archer Huntington

Patio de Los Leones

Patio de Los Leones

Peinador de la Reina

Peinador de la Reina

Patio del Cuarto Dorado

Patio del Cuarto Dorado

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