needing some warmth………..

Winters in Granada are not as horrible as they can be other places I realize, but nonetheless I get tired very easily of the cold.  I prefer heat, hot sun, sand on my body and a cool drink in my hand.  So, after all too many days of battling a nasty winter flu I have been dreaming of summer.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, sweet and enjoyable summer.  I have many food and cultural posts still for winter but today I need to feel the hot sun on my skin. If only through a blog.  So, my dreams take me back to Asturias where we enjoy spending a bit of each summer vacation.  Hard cider, great food, and a sunny day on a pristine beach are what brings us back year after year.  The sunny day can be a give or take since Asturias tends to be fairly rainy.  But, we usually luck out with sun for 90 percent of the time. 

  Each year we return to the same rural hotel (another post) where we always feel welcome and have a chance to decompress between campground and campground.  From this beautiful home there are hiking trails that will take you to different towns, beaches, restaurants, and the breathtaking look out at  Cabo Penas.  One of our favorite beaches to walk to is Verdicio.  First we stop at a nearby restaurant along the national highway and then we make our way down to the beach area which kindly offers a small hut serving hard cider whenever you feel the need. 

We had a fantastic meal at a cider house,  La Fustariega before heading down for a swim.  French fries ( or chips) smothered in a sauce made with the best cheese in Spain, Cabrales.  Cabrales in its pure form will make your eyes water, nose run and your stinky tennis shoes smell like roses.  It is delicous.  A raw milk cheese that is cured in an extremely humid cave in the high Picos de Europa Mountains until it is covered in mold and  striped with lucious blue veins.  Asturias is famous for its cheese and Cabrales is one that is honored in competitions each year. 

The other typical dish that we devoured before ordering desserts was Pastel de Cabracho.  According to gastronomical history this dish was first prepared by the famous Basque Chef, Juan Mari Arzak.   The fish (black scorpian fish) is boiled first in a stock, deboned and then mixed with a mixture of tomato, heavy cream and sometimes leek and carrot.  It is formed into a pudding and cooked in a double boiler.  It is normally served as an appetizer with homemade mayonnaise.  When it is prepared well, Pastel de Cabracho is not to be missed. 

We ended our meal with two mouth watering desserts.  Simple and delightful.  A creamy rice pudding topped with cinnamon and a typical Asturian cheesecake.  It was the perfect meal to fuel us for our short walk down to the beach where the sun and a cold bottle of hard cider awaited us. 

                         

breaking the fast…..!

Breakfast has always been my favorite meal.  I have many memories connected with morning delights.  Watching the snow fall accompanied by a latte and an almond cream cheese danish at Macy’s, the best coffee shop in Flagstaff, Arizona , a comforting sweet roll and omelet at Lou Mitchell’s in Chicago with my sister George the morning after I witnessed the birth of my first niece, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich on the train from Granada to Madrid with my daughter (her favorite),  cinnamon coffee with a side of refried beans, a side of tortillas and salsa before class at Kathy’s diner in Flagstaff , a simple baguette with laughing cow cheese and marmalade at many group hotels in Paris, and the amazing and unforgettable Chilaquiles with green sauce at Martan’s in Flagstaff followed by a hike up the San Francisco peaks,  to mention only a few of the best.

Here in Spain, breakfast is delicious and unique.  In Granada and Southern Spain in general the norm is a nice toast topped with what pleases you most; paté, butter and jam, cured ham with tomato and olive oil, or my personal favorite of tomato, olive oil and salt.  You can always opt for a croissant that will remind you that you aren’t in Paris or a big plate of churros and a cup of warm chocolate, but the majority order a toast.  “Café con leche y una tostada con tomate por favor.”  Whole wheat is even readily available these days.

When on tour one of my favorite stops for a great toast is on the way from Sevilla to Gibraltar in the Cork Tree National Park.  In December we stopped for an early morning toast on our long drive to Salamanca and I actually remembered to take a picture.  The enormous toasts are served with a bottle of  grated fresh tomato,  two huge bottles of local olive oil (one with garlic) and salt.  You can dress it up as you desire.  Washed down with a Spanish coffee with milk it is the perfect Andalusian breakfast.


In other parts of Spain, breakfast takes on a whole new air.  In Madrid and most of Castilla Leòn y  Castilla La Mancha morning fare tends to be much heartier. The weather tends is harsher and people bulk up with extra girth and fat.  Our first morning in Salamanca we went to a nice classic place for a “light” breakfast.  A delicious tortilla española with chorizo  (spanish potato omelet) and a plate of churros.  For those who are low carbing it, you can go for the very typical chicharrones (fried pork rinds) and torreznos (fried slices of pork fat) which my husband chose to order for day two breakfast.  As they say in Spanish, “Sobre gustos, colores” or “there are as many tastes as there are colors”.  To each his own.  Either way, I’ll stick with the tortilla which is an artform in Salamanca, tall and juicy and filled with all kinds of treats.  It was perfect to battle the bitter cold that waited for us outside that day.

my #1 for traditional food in Granada……..CAYAO

If there is one place in Granada that has never let me down, it is Cayao.  We were lucky enough to stumble upon this gem when we moved into our second to last neighborhood.  It was love at first sight and we continue to be faithful through the years.  The tapas and  specialty dishes are based on local cuisine, homemade, and always delightful.  The owner and son of a bullfighter, Mariano, treats his clients like close family.  I’ve brought groups, family and many friends here and everyone has always enjoyed every minute and morsel.

It is best to arrive early to Cayao to enjoy a tapa of their fantastic rice with alioli.  But if you don’t the replacements are just as good if not better.  On my last trip before Christmas with my partner in crime we were lucky enough to be in time for the rice.  Our palates were also blessed with the best Tortilla Española in Granada slathered in Salmorejo ( a thick tomato, garlic puree) and accompanied by a cabbage salad dressed with oil, vinegar and pomegranate seeds. Our last tapas surprise were small sauteed potato cakes topped with spinach with raisins and pine nuts and served with a perfect Manchego cheese.  Thanks Mariano.


The regular menu at Cayao is filled with wonderful options that include Salt Cod with fried garlic, fondue, and Iberian pork cheeks in a Pedro Jimenez sauce that is out of this world.  One of our standard favorites is their special Pisto (vegetable stew) which they prepare heavy on the zucchini and garnished with fried slices of bread or “picatostes”.  It is pretty much impossible to go wrong.  They also offer a different daily dish which varies from lentils to a Gypsy stew made of white beans, garbanzos and many pork surprises.

PISTO

For me Cayao is a mixture bar/museum.  I love to wander around and look at the bullfighting posters, newspaper articles and amazing artifacts that are hanging on the walls.  One of my favorites is a menu from 1957 that posts the prices for Tapas in pesetas.  They prices range from 4 to 20 pesetas which nowadays works out to approximately 2 – 12 cents.  Wow.

Cayao is a must visit in Granada.  If there is a Cheers for me in Spain, this is it.  Happy New Year!!!

pintxos with Dalí……………


Last summer I spent a lovely day with two wonderful friends in the town of Figueres in Northeastern Spain.  The town on its own is small, yet sophisticated with many nice shops and restaurants.  One time a few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Castell Sant Ferran which is an enormous structure outside of the main town that was built starting in 1753 in honor of King Ferdinand Vl.  It was later used as a prison until 1997.  However, the castle is not the main reason that people visit the town of Figueres.  It is known for being the birthplace of the Catalán artist Salvador Dalí and home to the most unusual interactive museum I have ever visited.  The theatre/museum was built while Dalí was still alive and offers a wonderful walk through the life of this surreal and completely “out there” artist.  Amongst other things Dalí was known for his exotic moustache, strange fetishes and curious relationship with his wife, Gala.  For me he is one of the most fascinating artist to be born in Spain.

Since one needs to eat as well as enjoy art, my friends and I found a nice little “pinchos” bar in town.  “Pinchos” or “Pintxos” as written in Euskadi, the Basque language, are small snacks eaten in bars or taverns.  They are originally from the Basque country but also enjoyed in other areas of Northern Spain. They usually have a toothpick through the center attaching the snack to a piece of bread.  Pinchar means “to poke”.  You can choose your pintxos from various plates along the bar and at the end the bartender will count your toothpicks to tally your bill.  The honor policy is very important in Spain.  My friends and I enjoyed (too) many pintxos along with a few glasses of a smooth Ribera del Duero.  Being health conscious as we are, we also ordered a grilled vegetable plate which was served with a Romesco sauce.  Romesco sauce is typical in Catalunya and made from some  variation of dried red pepper, garlic, olive oil and hazelnuts. (photos by my dear friend Melissa)

classic, friendly and packed with people………

Spotting a great tapas bar in Spain is not that difficult if you know what to look out for.  Number one  is the “Spanish Servilleta”.  This is basically a very small, see through, and non absorbent excuse for a napkin.  However, it is key to spotting a good bar.  While enjoying tapas one may go through 50 of these napkins to clean their fingers, and then proceed to toss them one by one onto the floor.  The floor in  any popular tapas bar in Spain is completely covered by napkins, toothpicks, shrimp heads and tails and olive pits.  The cigarette butt is now excluded from the list.  Number two is to look for places that are crammed packed with people to the point that many are spilling out of the front door and windows.  Within the bar you will find many groups of friends and family balancing their drinks along with a plate of communal tapas. When we go out as a group in Spain we almost always collect a “fondo” or collection of money that one person is in charge of throughout the afternoon or evening.

early afternoon
early afternoon

There are some old yet unchanging tapas bars in Granada that I love to visit every once in a while.  A place like “Diamantes” is one of them for me.  It started as one very narrow bar that is constantly filled to the brim with a mostly local crowd enjoying their perfect and light fried fish.  There is now a “Diamantes 2” as shown above with a bit more elbow room.  Both of the bars are incredibly efficient, friendly and filled with local flavor.  The most frequent tapas that are included with your drinks are fried eggplant, shrimp in garlic sauce, fried dogfish and fried shrimp.  There is nothing better than a midday “tapeo” starting at Los Diamantes.


The Friar’s Garden

It has been raining for the past four days and we have been enjoying the fireplace, playtime and a great variety of home cooked food.  Finally,  there was a break in the clouds and we decided to go for a stroll up the river.  Walking about 2 1/2 miles along the river from our house we have a couple of great restaurants.  Today we chose one called La Huerta del Fraile, The Friar’s Garden.  Across the street from the restaurant there is a huge pumpkin patch along with many vegetable gardens and orchards. The rain started up again as soon as we walked in, so we tucked in next to their fireplace.  We had planned on having one tapita and then moving on but we were so relaxed and the first tapa was delicious and unique.  So we stayed for a bit.

The first tapa was a surprisingly scrumptious  version of one dish in Spain that I have always disliked.  It is called San Jacobo (Saint Jacob).  Usually it is a slice of chicken wrapped around ham and cheese then breaded and fried.  Basically, the Spanish version of Cordon Bleu.   Most of the Saint Jacobs that I have met have been in low cost hotel buffets where basically everything is disgusting. Needless to say,  I had never once enjoyed a San Jacobo in all of my years in Spain until La Huerta del Fraile’s version.  It was made with cheddar cheese, eggplant, mushrooms and ham and then covered in a crunchy coating.  Tapa number two was also the best version I’ve ever had of a very typical dish, Migas.  Literally, migas de pan are the soft breadcrumbs from fresh bread.  The preparation of the dish known as Migas can vary depending on the region of Spain that you are in.  In Granada they are the breadcrumbs or leftover bread sauteed in olive oil with garlic, green peppers and a variety of pork products.  On the coast they are also served with sardines (see toes in the sand, shrimp in my hand).  These definitely ranked the best that I have had.  Usually Migas are prepared on an open fire out in the country.  A typical dish prepared for hard workers.

Off the regular menu we ordered a salad with tomato and goat cheese and a plate of fried berenjenas (aubergine or eggplant) with sugar cane honey.  Fried eggplant deserves a post all to itself.  My 5 year old daughter wants to dedicate an entire blog to this favorite dish of hers.  They are typical in Cordoba but here in Granada we have also found some amazing ones.  For me they are a mixture of dessert and pancakes.  A light fluffy batter, eggplants, and sweet dark honey.  Another fried delicacy here in Spain.

My Favorite Places in Spain………. #1 Toledo part 2

I could probably write a book about Toledo and all of my lovely experiences I’ve had there but that will have to wait for another point in my life.  After all, it did rank number 1 for many reasons. Toledo is one place where I never tire of wandering through the streets and monuments.  Every time I walk through the city I see something new and learn more about the history and layers of this medieval treasure.  One night many years ago as I was strolling through the narrow cobblestone streets with some students I ran into my dear friend Mario leading his group on a nighttime tour.  From this moment on I decided to include this as  part of any tour of mine that sleeps in Toledo.  Each city takes on a different persona when the sun goes down.  The moon, darkness and city lights completely change the feeling and security that daytime holds.  A nighttime visit in Toledo is filled with legends, mysteries and intrigue.  One of my favorite expressions in Spanish is “pasar una noche Toledana” which describes when one has had a sleepless night for one reason or another.  Historically, the saying refers to a bloody massacre that occurred in the year 797 when a cruel Governor invited all of the nobleman of Toledo to his home for a banquet.  As they entered his home one by one, they were beheaded and tossed into a ditch.

On a lighter note, I’ve enjoyed some great meals in Toledo with many wonderful friends.  I’ve also enjoyed some quiet afternoons and nights alone with a tapa and glass of wine.  This past June I went for a cold beer at a restaurant that I have frequented through the years because it is next door to the hotel where I often sleep.  It is a bit of a dive and I usually only go in for a quick drink.  Well, in June I was surprised with  a tapa of one of the best Croquetas I have ever eaten.  It was quite ugly as you can see, but the flavor was perfect.

I’ve had a few memorable meals at a restaurant named Casa Aurelio where they serve tender meat that you cook to your liking on a hot brick.   Another favorite place of mine is El Hostal del Cardenal which is a breathtaking hotel and restaurant connected to the walls of the city.  The restaurant offers beautiful gardens where you can enjoy a wonderful meal or cold drink and feel as if you are part of a medievil film.  However, there is a place that I always tend to go to when I am up near the main plaza of the city, Zocodover.  It is called El Cason de los Lopez.  This building from the XVI century is located on a street that was once famous for typical “mesones”  or  a XVI century bed and breakfast, where Miguel de Cervantes used to eat and rest.  The main floor of the building is part of an interior patio with a bar and rustic, informal dining area.  In the bar you can order a mixed plate of Manchego cheese and cured local sausages.  It is delicious.  My friend Alex and I discovered it while catching up on each others lives over some local wine from Castilla la Mancha.  And I ordered it again to share with two of my favorite dining partners this summer.  The picture is taken by my friend Melissa.  After we had already eaten more than half of the plate…………

introducing the croqueta…………

Sundays invite adventure and escaping from the city center.  Even though we all laugh and criticize the “domingueros” or “Sunday drivers”, we end up being one many times during the year.  So, today we went up just a bit into the mountains to breathe some fresh air and see what the day would bring.  Basically it is hard to go wrong around here on a weekend.  As long as you have good company and some open space for the kids to play, the day is pretty much set.  Lucky for me I have friends who also have a damn good sense of humor which makes the day just that much brighter.  Even with the clouds.  We ordered some food to share and then just as I was mourning the lack of homemade croquetas on the menu, this tapa appeared on the table.  It was as if they had read my mind.  My friend Annette and I both have a bit of an obsession with ordering homemade croquetas when available.  I think we are trying to find the best.  There is a lot to know about the “croqueta” in Spain.  Croquetas can be real crap sometimes.  Frozen and produced by a machine.  Or just plain bland, boring, and disgusting.  But,  when you find a good croqueta, it is like a delicious bit of fried love.

I was truly blessed to live with an amazing woman here in Granada.  Carmen taught me a great part of what I know about this city.  She hated to cook.  But her croquetas were seriously the best I have ever had.  I would hang over her as she made the bechamel, added the leftover meat from the stew cooked the day before and toss them in the egg and flour.  I watched the patience and love she put into those delicious rolls.  When they were ready we would all line up to taste as she fried them one by one.  I would always get back in line for seconds.  And with that bit of energy we would be off to go out for the night.

The croquetas today were homemade and fresh.  They weren’t as good as Carmen’s, nor where they as good as the one I will put in my next post, but they did hit the spot.  The company was even better…….a bit crazy……..but good.