mooninspain

Food, Travel , Life and more Food in Spain and around…..

Archive for the category “Life in General”

elegance and quality on the Camino……..

 

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From personal experience, this yellow arrow will always lead to somewhere magical. On one of our many excursions to Portugal we found ourselves on “La Via De La Plata Portugues”. This Midevil Route of the Path of St.James led us to the beautiful city of Braganza in the region of Tras os Montes, Portugal.  This city with human settlement dating back to the Paleolithic Age welcomed us with Christmas music played in speakers on the streets, an open fire in the plaza to warm our hands and its incredibly well preserved Castle dating from the 13h century.

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We spent the night in the Solar de Santa Maria, a small hotel placed in the old home of the chief of police from 1639.  The owner asked at what time we would like breakfast the following morning.   When we came down we found the best spread I have ever seen,  set up just for the two of us. Homemade jams, Christmas sweets, fresh fruit, rolls and a variety of local cheese.  We rate hotels by their breakfast and this is definitely sharing the number one spot!

A few more pieces of my Granada………

During and after the holidays  is a time for me to regroup a bit and enjoy some down time before the tourist season begins.   The weather has been unusually beautiful even for Andalucia.  We always take advantage of the warm sun to explore some of the small towns and nature that we have a stone´s throw from Granada. We can hike or bike to Pinos Genil which is a beautiful small town on the river known for its outdoor terraces where you can enjoy lunch or just a small tapa.  The “huevos rotos” are especially good at La Taberna de Guillermo.  Sauteed potatoes with excellent Serrano ham and fresh eggs. The eggs are served fried and whole on top and you cut everything up with a knife and fork hence the name, Broken Eggs.  Here they let us use their homemade hot peppers to put on top which makes us extremely happy.

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Since my daughter Luna “adopted” my bike a couple of years ago I have not had my own until this Christmas. Thank you Santa.  To celebrate we biked to Fuente Vaqueros, the birth town of Federico García Lorca, a prominent poet and playwright who was assassinated by the Nationalist troops in the Spanish Civil War. From the path along the Genil River you have a perfect view of the snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada. In the afternoon we stopped to talk with a shepherd who was out walking with his 180 goats.  He was a happy man who mentioned that the day would be perfect if he could spend it sitting on an outdoor cafe drinking beers with his wife.

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One of the most pintoresque drives in Andalucia takes you from the city of Granada down to the Mediterranean Coast passing through the mountains and the Tropical Valley.  It is called the Carretera de la Cabra, or the “Goat Road” in English.  There is a beautiful hike down to the Rio Verde and a few small white towns that are yet to be discovered by the masses.  We usually stop in a couple of those along the way to the coast.  In the town of Otívar we have a glass of one of my favorite wines which is quite strong.  It is called vino de la tierra, wine of the land.  Here it is pink and harsh.  A dear friend from another town close by laughingly commented, “be careful or you will end up asleep in the valley.”  That same friend directed us to a bar in Otivar to taste their award winning tapa, grilled eggplant with goat cheese.  IMG_3273

“UNDERSTAND ONE  SINGLE DAY FULLY , SO YOU CAN LOVE EVERY NIGHT”

                                                                                                   – Federico García Lorca

local, cheap, and good!!!!!!!!!!

Yesterday I was just thinking about a new blog post to catch up on the last couple of years.  As I flipped through photos and memories I couldn’t quite decide where to begin; Naples, Portugal, Switzerland or Granada.  In the evening my new roommate/adopted daughter was talking about the dishes she misses most from Portugal and mentioned this wonderful traditional cod. It was quite random that I had this blog post saved as a draft with this photo. So, here is one of my favorites as well from a lovely little restaurant near my old hotel in Lisbon. Bacalhau com grao. Boiled salt cod with garbanzo beans, boiled potato and served with chopped raw onion and parsley. I like it with piri piri but I usually break all food rules when it comes to hot sauce.  More to come and Happy Sunday!!!IMG_9465

More Pieces of My Granada………..

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
― Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

The cave where I lived………

 

We all have places in this world that enter in our hearts and never leave. I have a few that come to mind. Simply closing my eyes I can take myself back to certain sounds, streets, mountains or sunsets. My sister Georgianna has always joked around saying that I can only live in two cities, Granada or Flagstaff, Az.  Hopefully I will prove her wrong one day but she knows me well. They are the two places that cling tightest to my heart.

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The “Poppy” Fountain

Granada is unique in this world, one of the most beautiful cities without a doubt. I have been lucky to live in almost every neighborhood in the city.   The best was without a doubt , Sacromonte. A magical neighborhood of caves with the best view of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The fountain next to my old cave home says,  “How I would love to be the fountain in my neighborhood, so that when you pass by and drink I could feel your lips close.” The history of cave dwellings runs deep in this part of Spain, Sacromonte dating back to before the 16th century. In 1963 this Gypsy quarter was almost completely destroyed by severe flooding but today life is still thriving in its bars, flamenco and cave homes. It is our favorite “city” hike especially on a sunny day.

 

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View of the caves…..

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Caves and Mountains…

Passion, Port and the Douro Valley

img_4830The Douro Valley in Portugal is known for its prolific wine production which is eventually taken to Vila Nova de Gaia near the city of Porto and stored in the wine cellars.  Traditionally the wine was transported there by “rabelos”, a cargo boat native to the Douro region.  The microclimate in this area also allows for the production of olives and almonds.  The rolling hills along the river provide fantastic scenery to enjoy a cruise or a train ride.  This summer we enjoyed both of these and a great pass through lock of the Regua dam, one of fifteen dams that exist on the river.

We parked our van in the town of Pinhão from where we were able to explore much of the valley and enjoy the excellent wine.  Right in the small town of Pinhão is the Quinta do BonFin, one of the many winery’s owned by the Symington family.  Eventually the grapes will end up at the Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia.  Here we enjoyed one of our favorite afternoon drinks, “Porto Tonica”, white port with tonic water and a slice of orange or a cinnamon stick.  The views from Bomfin were absolutely beautiful!

 

I have a minor addiction with tiny towns in the middle of nowhere.  From Pinhão you can hike straight up hill to the well-preserved town of Provesende, home to 356 inhabitants. This town dates back to the time of the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula.  They say that the  name comes from the last Moorish King of the area, Zaide. The town is pintoresque and loaded with history. You can see the Pillory from 1573 , the granite fountain and the Manor homes which remind us of the wealthy families that resided in this area.

 

One of my favorites parts of this town were the trash bins on the streets that are actually the baskets that were traditionally used to collect the grapes during the harvest. What an outstanding idea! We also hit the jackpot for lunch in Provesende.  The main restaurant in town was already closed but the owner offered us a “light snack”.  Before we knew it we had a spread in front of us of ham and cheese, local olives served with a sugar cane honey to dip, vegetable soup, bread and local olive oil, sliced apple sprinkled with bee pollen, and a local sausage called Alheira.  Don’t forget the wine, we are in the Douro Valley!

  • Dedicated to my Smithsonian group that I was forced to abandon due to minor injury.

 

Illegal in Lisbon……………

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One of my favorite past times is researching restaurants. Local and traditional are important to me especially to recommend great places to my guests so that they can enjoy good food in non touristic places. But, for myself and my family I love to find the best Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Indian, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, and Japanese just to name a few. I love spicy food and I crave vegetables especially when travelling. A couple of years ago we found our new favorite Chinese restaurant in Madrid and I was trying to find something equal to it in Lisbon where I spend quite a bit of time. Bingo!! What I came up with was ¨Lisbon´s Illegal Chinese Restaurant Scene¨. It sounded like my Chinese food dream as I read through the article.

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My love and I had a whole afternoon and evening free in Lisbon not long ago and I could not wait to see if we could find the Illegal Chinese Scene! He knew the neighborhood well but had never heard of the Chinese restaurants. We had a beer in the colorful plaza of Intendente before wandering down the street to hunt for our destination. We finally saw a building with a few windows where we could see a some people sitting at tables. We walked into the dark stairway and saw a black arrow pointing to one door. My love knocked on the door and said to the kind Chinese girl who answered that we were looking for the illegal restaurant. Maybe not the best choice of words but we did laugh about it quite a bit. Her answer was a simple no and she pointed upstairs. I decided to take a different approach and said that we wanted to eat to which she responded by opening the door wider and leading us to a table.

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Everything that we ordered was delicious and authentic. Pork dumplings, Tofu with Vegetables, and Kung Pao Chicken. Fresh and colorful and the by far the best Chinese I have had in years. I will return again and again. Not only is the food great in a unusal setting but the neighborhood is one of my favorites. I love the slightly grungy streets spotted with Indian and Chinese restaurants. It is worth it just for a walk and people watching.

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Slow food and slow life…………

My partner said he wanted me to have some genuine rest and relaxation before beginning the busy Fall season and that he knew just where we should go for a week or so in August.  So, we headed west from Madrid, spending one night in the beautiful city of Talavera de la Reina, before setting up camp near some of the most historical  towns in the interior of Portugal.

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Just crossing over the border from Spain a bit above the Tagus River we arrived in the small town of Monfortinho known for its hot springs.  Considering the temperature that day was about 110 degrees we decided to move on to the charming town of Idanha-a-Velha.  This town of about 80 inhabitants was founded by the Romans and is rich in history.  We arrived fairly late for Portuguese lunch standards but we were bound and determined to find something to eat.  Filipe went into the one bar in the town to ask about a restaurant.  He came out with the information that the one restaurant in town was closed because they were in the main social hall serving the musicians that were in ldanha for a week long camp.  So, feeling positive and quite hungry we went down to the hall to try our luck. The man told us that they had a buffet set up just for the musicians but he consulted with the owner to see what he could do for us.  Five minutes later we were seated at a table and presented with quite a feast by smiling and gracious people. At the end of the meal we were even offered some local cheese from friends of the owner.  Seven euros for a meal of various grilled meats, local wine, bread, olives and as always in Portugal; salad, potatoes and rice.

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Later on that afternoon we strolled through the beautiful streets down to the Roman Bridge and also listened to a practice concert  in the Visigoth Cathedral performed by the young people attending the music camp.  Right before leaving Ildanha-a-Velha we walked by the community oven as the woman was just opening the door.  She told us that they weren’t baking bread that day as it is only baked once a week but we did purchase some very crunchy cookies for our breakfasts.  The people in the town were so down to earth and friendly that for me it was the best way to begin our two weeks in the Alentejo region.

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Back home………more pieces of my Granada.

After realizing that we were not going to make it to the States this summer, we decided to pack up the van and head in direction of the French Pyrenees.  We spent 30 days sleeping in the van in various parking lots of different towns, beaches and mountains. It is hard to explain what it like for 3 people to live in a 1994 uncamperized Renault Trafic for a month. Three different countries and a million memories all done in what we call “plan ahorro” or “penny-wise.” There will be many future posts to come about our trip.

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My favorite part of arriving home was being able to prepare food in our kitchen with a refrigerator and a sink.  The first few days home we barely left the house, enjoying the lap of luxuries that a home offers.  But one day we decided to go out for a tapa at one of the best tapa bars in Granada which just happens to be close to home.  After paying 40 cents for a glass of wine and 70 cents for a beer in Portugal, it is hard to go back to the prices around here. However, there are always exceptions and “Bar La Noticia” is one of them.  The tapas are homemade and two will last you until dinner time.  Fava beans with an egg, excellent roasted pork, homemade croquettes and meat in a tomato sauce are just a few.  The other day we had grilled Iberian pork served with a spicy sauce (mojo picon) and Paparrones which are french fries covered in a Bolognese sauce and cheese. There is nothing sexy about this place, but for a ¨Cheers¨type environment and some great tapas, it is the place to go. Welcome home!

Tourist, Remember!

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Some of my favorite coastline in the Basque Country is between Bilbao and San Sebastian on the Cantabrian sea. Zarauz is a relaxing village that comes to life in the summer offering excellent food and one of the longest beaches along the Cantabrian sea.  Last year we spent a few days in the nearby fishing town of Getaria and walked the 3 mile seaside walk to Zarauz a few times to enjoy the beach and to dine at Karlos Arguiñano, a restaurant owned by the famous television chef. The walk between the two towns is right along the Northern Route of the Camino de Santiago.  We fell in love with the rhythm of Zarauz and decided to spend a few nights there in a hotel and returned again this summer with the van.

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Last year we stayed in a hotel right in the main square and there was a protest going on about the attempt to close one of the local bars due to political reasons.  In the Basque Country there are bars called “Herriko Tavernas” where members of the Basque Nationalist organization meet.  They are also just regular bars with excellent pintxos. The Spanish Government is trying to close them down. The protest consisted of the signing a proposition, selling t-shirts and live music.

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One of our favorite bars, also in the main square, has a great display of pintxos.  Everyday at 10 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. the bar was quickly covered in various types of Tortilla (spanish omelette).  Some are sliced in half and layered with different fillings like crab salad, ham and cheese or tuna salad with piquillo peppers.  Others are prepared with potato and onion, chorizo and peppers, or any mixture of fresh vegetables.  The choices are endless.

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The classic Pinxto, which should be eaten in one big bit, is the “Gilda”.  Named after Rita Hayworth as “Gilda”, this pintxo is spicy, salty and green! An olive, a spicy pickled pepper and a cured anchovy are what you get on this long toothpick.  Whether you are in Zarauz or any other bar in the Basque Country you can always find a “Gilda” surrounded by many other plates of art that are prepared to touch all of our senses.

The only way to survive this heat…………………..the beach!!!

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We have been hitting record temperatures here in Granada the past few weeks.  Having lived many years of my life in the desert of Arizona I can usually handle the heat but every year it gets more difficult.  The last couple weeks have been brutal around here and the only way to deal with this is to flee the city and head to the coast.  Lucky for us it is only 40 minutes to the nearest beaches with clear and cool water perfect for soothing the burn of the summer.

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Our very old yet reliable hippy van makes beach life a lot easier since we can now spend days on the beach without having to spend too much money or “pasta” as we would say here in Spain. One of life’s greatest joys is opening your eyes in the morning with a view of the sea, hearing the sound of the waves and going for the first morning swim with the fish.  I love the pebbly beaches of the Tropical Coast near Granada.  The water is usually like a deep swimming pool and clear enough to see your feet and the bottom of the sea.  The best beaches are found by hiking down a steep path or a curvy road.

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Of course beach life would not be the same without some fresh and local food.  Although we do enjoy preparing our own food next to the van, a good lunch at a “chiringuito” is always a treat.  At my favorite beach they have the best avocado, caper and anchovy salad.  The coast of Granada is painted with avocado trees, one of the best fruits on earth.

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I probably eat less rice than anyone else in this country.  Personal tastes and a minor seafood allergy don’t help much with this.  Lucky for me, here at my favorite chiringuito they will prepare the paella without a seafood broth so that I can actually enjoy a decent rice.  The best part of an excellent paella is the “socarrat”, the rice that gets crunchy and forms a crust at the bottom of the pan. This word comes from the Spanish word “socarrar” which means to singe.  No matter what type of paella you are eating, this is the part that should be most enjoyed!

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