I’ve expressed before my obsession with spicy food and the lack there of it in Spain. I am eternally searching for the exceptions. After 20 years of searching I get extra excited when I find a good spicy dish in a typical place. Because finding spicy food in an Indian or Mexican joint is pretty much a given. The other day we stopped into one of our favorite local bars in our old neighborhood. If you don’t get here by 1:30 in the afternoon you can find yourself with your face plastered against the window as you scream out to the bartender for another beer. Well, the other day we were pleasantly surprised by a new tapa on their list. PAPAS EN MOJO PICÓN!! I’ve talked about Patatas Bravas before. These are not the same. The flavor is completely different. Mojo Picón is a spicy sauce from the Canary Islands that is made with garlic, cayenne peppers, cumin, vinegar, olive oil and salt. Or any other variation on the theme. The name comes from the Portuguese word Molho (sauce). And these potatoes were particularly delicious with their homemade Mojo Picón!! Thank you Granada for the mojo!
Everyone who has visited Madrid has seen, photographed or met up with friends at the famous Bear and Madroño Statue. A cute little bear trying with his paw to grab a bit of this unusual and fairly unknown fruit. This symbol, along with the seven stars that have been known to represent either the Ursa Major Constellation or seven castles that used to surround Madrid, make up the Coat of Arms of this capital city. There are many different versions about why the bear and tree also became part of the Coat of Arms. Some say it is the symbol of possession and power. My favorite interpretation so far was one that my sister Denise was given late one night in a bar in Madrid. Something about bears molesting trees. Anyhow, I would imagine that for most visitors this statue in the Puerta del Sol is their first and last contact with a Madroño Tree. But, they can be found all over the country.
The other day we went for a walk with friends near the Alhambra. We eventually found ourselves wandering through the Carmen de los Martires. “Carmenes” in Granada are typical homes with beautiful garden areas. Sometimes Granada is referred to as The City of Carmenes. This particular Carmen is very large and open to the public at certain hours during the day. There are beautiful views of the city, extravagant gardens and even peacocks. It is the perfect place to enjoy peace and quiet or read a book. With three kids in tow we had less peace and quiet but we did enjoy the views and had fun tasting the funny fruit off the Madroño trees. I heard once that if you eat too much of this fruit it can actually intoxicate you. We didn’t have time for that but it was fun to taste.
Is there anything better than the smell of a wine cellar? For me, there are few smells that are equal to that complexity. A sweet yet profound passion that slowly intoxicates your soul. Usually the first thing I do when I step into a wine cellar is close my eyes and slowly inhale. It is an aromatic reminder that something beautiful is about to happen.
Recently we enjoyed a visit to a beautiful Wine Hotel just outside of Salamanca. The enchanting Hacienda Zorita is home to a unique winery, hotel and spa. It was, in the 14th Century, a Dominican Monastery and you can still visit the chapel “San Nicolás de las Viñas” which is home to some of the best wine in the country along with a collection of religious artwork from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Jaime, one of the founding partners of the Hacienda took us on a guided tour of the winery and then hosted one of the finest wine, olive oil and cheese tastings that I have ever experienced.
After the wine tasting we were treated to a relaxing and informal dinner in the River Cafe. Since my truly angelic daughter had sat through the very long tasting while quietly nibbling on pieces of apple and delicious bread dipped in golden organic olive oil, it was the perfect meal for us. A simple cheese plate and delicious arugula salad were her personal favorites of the evening.
The grounds of the hotel were so beautiful that regardless of the subzero temperatures we took full advantage of the walking trails and the beautiful sound of the River Tormes. I look forward to my next visit to Zorita.
For me, Salamanca is a city of great extremes. Intense heat and bone chilling cold. Polished intellectuals and laid back Bohemians. Extreme joy and happiness mixed with rigidity and formality. Passionate love and melancholy.
Salamanca is also home to the oldest University in Spain which was founded in 1218. The stone facades and walls of the city are covered with the names of students painted with a mixture of bull’s blood and oil; a permanent sign of the intense connection between the erudition and the deep Castilian traditions. There are so many monuments to see in Salamanca that I often find myself overwhelmed and prefer to enjoy the culture of the street life and the most beautiful Plaza Mayor in the country.
Last summer however, when I was in Salamanca with my dear friends Val and Melissa I visited the Casa Lis, which houses the Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. After wandering through the beautiful museum we discovered the outdoor cafe and I sat down and contemplated the Rio Tormes over a nice glass of Cava. That morning we had visited the garden that is dedicated to the amorous meetings of the two main characters in the novel, La Celestina. Calixto and Melibea were their names. The garden is now filled with padlocks and paintings that profess the eternal love of many modern couples. Next to the garden you can also see the shelter for pilgrims on their way to Santiago. Salamanca is on the Via de la Plata, the Path of St. James that makes its way from Sevilla to Santiago de Compostela. Thoughts of the Camino and the sight of pilgrims always makes me nostalgic, a good reason for another glass of Cava.