My favorite places in Spain (Basque Country)….Bodega Berroja

Hondarrabi Zuri Ready for Harvest

Some places just feel like home from the very first moment you arrive. I always say that I have many different homes across Spain and Portugal. They are places that I can walk into year after year and and always feel greeted with warmth and friendship. In the Basque Country, up in the hills and looking over the Cantabrian Sea there is a small boutique winery that captured my heart from the very first moment that I arrived over 8 years ago. A winding road takes you up to this magical place that is not visible until you are at its doorstep, not unlike the Guggenheim Museum upon your arrival in Bilbao.

In this paradise, smack in the middle of the Urdabai Biosphere, this boutique winery produces Txakoli. This is the wine unique to the Basque Country, along with its own language, culture, food and sports. It is a wine that has been produced for centuries in the Basque Country. The wine was originally made by and for the families, a yearly production to be enjoyed with the local food. It was produced in Baserris, or farmsteads. The grape, Hondarrabi Zuri, is indigenous to the Basque Country. Txakoli should be served cold, always a short pour and maintaining the correct temperature. It pairs perfectly with seafood and especially a nice cheese such as the Idiazabal cheese, made from the local sheep. It also pairs well with the heavy dishes in this area prepared with ingredients like the local pinto beans from Tolosa. Txakoli cleanses your palate and invites you to indulge more and more, while enjoying the next pintxo that calls your attention! If you really want to enjoy the perfect pairing with a cold glass of Txakoli, you should prepare Bacalao al Pil Pil to accompany. Salt cod with garlic and chili peppers. It is the ideal combination.

Vineyards Bodega Berroja

Bodega Berroja is a short drive from Bilbao, and here you will meet José Ángel, the owner of the winery. I find myself at a loss for words to describe José Ángel. Those of you who have been lucky enough to meet him already know what I mean, and those of you who will be fortunate enough to visit in the future will be endeared by his kindness and authenticity. There are few people in this world like him and he has always encouraged me to live my dreams, just as he has, since the moment that we met.

José Ángel
Tasting during the Harvest

Originally, Txakoli is and should be enjoyed as a young and sparkling wine. It will accompany your fantastic pintxos as you wander through the streets of Bilbao, Vitoria or Gernika. It is unusual to be able to enjoy a glass of Txakoli outside of the Basque Country unless you are lucky to be in a Basque bar in a city like Barcelona or are lucky enough to know of a great wine importer in your local area! Nowadays, wineries like Berroja also produce Txakoli that can be enjoyed with a long, sit down meal as well. They even produce a rose if that is what you fancy!

Txakoli Tasting with Idiazabal Cheese

Yesterday, March 19th was Father’s Day in Spain. It is also the day of San José. Happy Father´’s Day and Happy 80th Birthday to my Father who recently celebrated in February!! I hope you are enjoying that glass of Txakoli right now.

Read more about the Basque Country in these posts……………….

https://mooninspain.com/2020/05/14/from-cod-to-albacore/

https://mooninspain.com/2020/06/20/art-architecture-and-food-art-in-bilbao/

https://mooninspain.com/2014/11/19/el-txikiteo/

https://mooninspain.com/2015/08/18/tourist-remember/

The Year of the Metal Ox……………

Carmelized Pork Belly with Bak Choi

We can say many things about 2020 and 2021. There must be a million words we can use to describe the pandemic. The word that I can relate to the most is reinvent. What do you do when your entire profession and income completely disappears from one day to the next? Many of us in the world lived through this at the beginning of the pandemic and many of us are still waiting for some normalcy to come back to our work life. It continues to be a long road. I taught yoga online during our first lock down as a way for my students and friends to have some type of tension release and to share some time together. And once we were allowed outside again, I began to make videos about travel and history to share with people who have traveled with me before and for anyone interested in learning a bit more about the Iberian Peninsula. It helps to keep me connected to my continuing studies and to my job. But, I really needed a temporary income. Anything at all. I searched and searched like so many of us did. Maybe it is ironic that the way I finally found to survive was by teaching online to students in China. Obviously, the income can’t compare to my regular career but I actually found a job and I love it! I love to teach and I enjoy my students so much. I feel like I have virtually traveled around China and I have learned so much more than I ever knew before about the country. I have always been interested in Chinese history and of course, Chinese food but that interest has been deepened in a way I had never expected.

Mapo Tofu and Sticky Ginger Beef

Spring Festival was this past month. The Chinese students have one month of vacation which means they study, A LOT! But, they also partake in all of the festivities that go along with Spring Festival including the Laba Festival, Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival which marks the end of the holiday! They clean their homes, shop for food and new clothes, share grand meals with their families and receive the lucky red envelopes! I have had so many great conversations with my students about how their particular family celebrates this important holiday. I even got to spend time in the kitchen with one family on New Years Eve and watched as the vast variety of dishes come flying out to be served!! One mother sent me beautiful photos of the food she prepared with her family. Everyday I learned something new about Spring Festival.

The spread for Chinese New Years Eve

I make a lot of Chinese food. It is one of my favourite cuisines to prepare. For years I have been trying to perfect my Mapo Tofu. But, for the Lunar New Year I had to try some new dishes. In the past month I have made homemade vegetable and pork dumplings (they design needs improve), caramelized pork belly, grilled chicken skewers (one of the dishes I saw fly out of my students kitchen), Kung Pao pork, Cantonese Steamed Sea Bass, Ginger and Garlic sticky beef and of course, more Mapo Tofu.

Kung Pao Pork

This is the Year of the Metal Ox. According to the Chinese Zodiac, this year will bring us career advancement, prosperity and wellness. That was how my 2020 was looking last January, so lets hope and pray that this rolls over into 2021 for everyone! So, cheers to all of you who have done something to reinvent yourself this past year. I know I am not alone with this word!! May 2021 bring us health and prosperity.

Lucky Money Envelopes!!

I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet…..

Just when you think that nothing else could possibly happen, it does! At 12:30 pm on Saturday, January 23rd as I was taking a much needed and too short of a nap in between my online English classes, the bed began to rock back and forth. I sat up quickly and realized that it wasn’t just my bed, but the walls also seemed to be moving and then something crashed to the ground somewhere in my apartment. Big earthquake number one for this year, magnitude 4.4. I have lived through many earthquakes here in Granada and I remember each and every one of them. The biggest was in 2010, with a magnitude of 6.3, but I don’t remember feeling it as I have felt the quakes this year. I don’t know how to explain why, but this one felt different to me. I felt it in my core and it left my hands trembling. I taught my next four classes with my feet planted firmly on the ground.

A Peaceful Sierra Nevada, Granada

Earthquakes are no surprise here since Granada is the most seismic area in Spain. This is where the African and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and have formed many faults. According to experts, these two plates are constantly approximating to each other by 4 to 5 millimetres each year.

3 days pass after that first big quake and the aftershocks continued daily. Some we could feel, some not. Then, on the following Tuesday night I was happily brushing my teeth in our bathroom when I heard my family shriek! I had not felt a thing in our bathroom but when I walked into the hallway I could hear the cracking sounds and see the walls moving once again. We live in on the 7th floor of a 10 story building with 100 apartments in all. It has a big open courtyard in the center which allows for fresh air and easy communication with the neighbors. Since we still have a 10 pm curfew in Granada, all of the neighbors were home and the sound of conversation in the corridors grew and grew. In the next 12 minutes we had 5 more sizeable quakes, ranging from 3.6 to 4.6. Needless to say, these left an uneasy feeling in everyone who felt them! Well, we finally had a reason to forget about COVID for awhile. Two days later an even larger one shook the city and surrounding areas. These were felt as far as the city of Cordoba and even North Africa.

Just in Case you are caught in an Earthquake

There was no major damage in our neighborhood but the towns that are built right on the faults did suffer damage. The Cathedral, the Saint Jerome Monastery and a part of the Alhambra are also being repaired from damage. Many people left their homes and went to second homes near the coast or to stay with family or friends. There have been 1,600 earthquake registered in Granada since January 23rd. We are still trembling a bit and this past week I was woken up on 3 separate mornings with my bed swaying forward and back. However, they are getting smaller. At least for now. And at least until this very second as I write!!! Literally, this very second another earthquake of magnitude 3.5 just shook our apartment once again. It has almost become normal to hear “earthquake” shouted in our home, just in case somebody didn’t feel it. We all felt this one and so did my other friends in Granada since the messages are rolling in.

I am forever thankful to these friends who make it just a bit more relaxing with their contagious sense of humour. We have laughed together through many earthquakes this month! Let us all keep the laughter going throughout whatever this new year holds for us. Peace and calmness from Granada.

Building with Full Moon
Indoor Patio

When you live below one of the marvels of the world….

On November 3rd the city of Granada was closed to any “outsiders” due to the high amount of Covid cases in the city. For one of the largest holiday weekends of the year, All Saints Day, Granada would be sacred only to those of us who live here. I received an email from the Parador of Granada saying that they had a special just for residents of Granada. With all other guests having to cancel, this historic hotel would be empty once again. But, I will save that surprise for another post.

How could I sleep in the Parador de San Francisco and not spend a day at the Alhambra? Not just spend a day in the Alhambra, but an almost empty Alhambra. As I’ve mentioned in other posts the Alhambra used to be free on Sundays when I first moved here. My memories of studying in the gardens of the Generalife for hours on end are ones that I will cherish for my lifetime. I don’t ever remember crowds of people visiting during those years. As time has passed things have changed drastically. It is almost impossible to visit the Alhambra without it being sold out, even in the winter months. However, the other day I had it almost to myself.

Located on top of the Cerro del Sol, or Hill of the Sun, the Generalife was the summer and rural palace of the Emirs during the Nasrid Dynasty in Granada. It is possible that the origin of the word Generalife comes from the Arabic Yannat al Arif, the arquitects garden. It was built during the 13th and 14th century. Just like the entire area of the Alhambra is our oasis from the noisy city, the Generalife was their oasis during the extremely dry and hot summer months. The ever flowing water and lush gardens are calming at anytime of the year. We will also find the most photographed Patio de la Acequia and the Sultans Garden with its famous cypress tree. The legend says that it is under this cypress tree where Boabdil’s wife used to meet up with her lover from the Abencerraje tribe eventually resulting in the death of this entire family.

Two of my favourite parts of the Generalife are those that many visitors may just pass through without much thought. To arrive at the high gardens of the Generalife we take the Escalera del Agua, the water staircase which is one of my favourite places. Broken into three sections, the water from the acequia real (royal channel) flows down on both sides of the staircase. Water is brought to the Alhambra by this water channel from 6 kilometers away. The staircase is also protected by a dome of laurel trees.

Escalera de Agua , Generalife

The Paseo de las Adelfas, The Walk of the Oleanders, is a 19th century walkway that was built in the 19th century as a romantic entrance to the Generalife. The name itself is passionate and picturesque. It connects to the Path of the Cypresses which will lead you back to the palaces. The visitor should not forget to enjoy these simple pleasures of the Alhambra.

Path of the Oleanders
Path of the Cypresses

When you exit the Alhambra near the Generalife and cross the street you will see a sign that says, Jardines de Alberto. Located in the home of the 19th century painter, Ramón Carazo, you will find a lovely restaurant that specialises in Nasrid cuisine. The home is a Carmen, a typical house in Granada. The word comes from the Arabic word for vine, karm. It has a garden with high walls. Traditionally the garden would have fruit trees and grape vines. In the garden of this Carmen is where the restaurant is located. Sit down and have a drink, a tapa and a great meal. You won’t be deceived. You may be served a homemade croqueta or some marinated and fried monkfish. I highly recommend the menu of the day. If you are lucky you can try the roast pork with a puree of sweet potatoes and squash. For desert you must have the Andalusian cream topped with croutons and sugar cane honey. Is there a better way to end a morning in the Alhambra?

Homemade croqueta tapa, Jardines de Alberto
Fried monkfish
Roast pork with an Autumn Puree
Andalusian Cream

History, memories and fried pork…….

Torreznos de Soria at Bodegas La Mancha, Granada

Lately I have been reading through a couple of my favourite books about culinary history focussed on medieval cuisine. One is about the Islamic World and the other is about Sephardic cuisine. I plan on making some of the recipes that I have been reading about in these amazing books. So, why the heck am I writing about fried pork belly you might ask??

Well, while recording my YouTube video last weekend we decided to include one of my favourite bars in Granada to end on a local gastronomic note. Nothing gourmet. Just a long and true old time taberna near Plaza Nueva called Bodegas La Mancha. I used to live on the street where La Mancha is located, Calle Joaquin Costa. On this street you will also find the historic Hotel Inglaterra designed by local arquitect Angel Casas in the 1920´´’s, the Hotel Anacapri (a Rick Steves hotel) and the Hostal Colonial, my home for many years which deserves its own blog post.

When I lived on this street over twenty years ago we used to frequent La Mancha. Carmen, (may she rest in peace) who ran the Hostal Colonial would send me down the street to grab our dinner on nights that we were feeling too lazy to cook. I would push through the crowds to order our usual. Carmen always wanted a bocadillo with jamón Serrano y roquefort. And I would annoy the men in white shirts and black ties by asking for something ¨”strange” in their eyes. Back then they wouldn’t ever vary off the menu. But, since I lived with Carmen they put up with me and would prepare my bocadillo con queso, tomato y lechuga. Both me and my sandwich were very odd to them back then. We would also get a liter of Jumilla wine to go. I remember paying 115 pesetas for the wine. That was less than a dollar during those years.

Beautiful wooden bar….

For many years now when I go into La Mancha I am always greeted with warmth and good memories. The older gentlemen still remember me and they still remember Carmen, of course. So do many of the fixed customers who spend time drinking Vermouth or a Palo Cortado (a variety of sherry) at the beautiful wooden bar. Everyone knew Carmen from el Hostal Colonial.

Carmen and I in El Hostal Colonial 1997

Nowadays we stop in here when we take a nice walk up into the Albaicín or Sacromonte to have a bocadillo and a wine or vermouth. The old tabernas like La Mancha near Plaza Nueva are the best places to really feel what Granada should feel like regardless of the times we live in now.

Usually we stick to our favourite bocadillo made with thinly sliced grilled beef, roquefort cheese and a couple of guindillas (pickled spicy peppers). But, last weekend since we were filming the video we went out on a limb and got a plate of Torreznos from Soria. Torreznos is not a food that I consume often. I can probably count the amount of times I have eaten them on one hand. The last two times I ate Torreznos before last weekend was with the same friend. Once in Pamplona and once in Madrid right before confinement. I can still hear Paco saying, “Vamos a ese bar dónde el dueño es Segoviano y tiene unos torreznos buenísimos!”

Torreznos in a bar in Chueca, Madrid with delicious empanada behind them!

A torrezno is basically fried pork belly, or sometimes described as fried thick bacon. Torreznos can be cut and prepared differently depending on what part of the country you are visiting. Even the name can change. However, it has been eaten in Spain since the Middle Ages since it is mentioned in certain works of literature such as Lazarillo de Tormes. Author anonymous. It is eaten especially during the time of year of the Matanza when a pig is killed. Every bit of the pig is used for different preparations and delicacies. Matanzas are held all over Spain and Portugal and in other countries. A torrezno should be eaten at room temperature to enjoy its flavour best. You can have it with beer or wine but for me, wine is the only way to wash it down. Practice moderation when consuming torreznos. Remember your heart and your arteries but enjoy every delicious moment!!! And don’t forget to watch my video about the Realejo neighbourhood in Granada where we end at Bodegas La Mancha. Salud!!

https://mooninspain.com/2020/10/15/a-walk-through-granada-el-realejo/