Places in my heart……Burgos

Certain cities will always make me feel like I’m home and Burgos is one of those. Maybe it is because the first time I visited I was a young and tired pilgrim looking for a simple bed and some decent food. The albuergue or pilgrim’s refuge used to be in a park on the outskirts of the city. It was quite rustic but I have fond memories of the communal sleeping area, the outdoor picnic tables and ice cold shower and I had returned with student groups many times to share the experience with them before it closed. There is a scene in the movie “The Way” where they walk up to the gates of this park and I am always rushed with emotion every time I see it. The municipal albuergue is now in a lovely building close to the Cathedral.

Santo Domingo De La Calzada

Burgos is elegance and humility in one. The people are kind yet not exuberant, the pedestrian areas and parks are classy and filled with statues representing the historical and cultural importance that the city holds. The local gastronomy is a mixture of comforting and hearty food with the elegance and detail of modern cuisine. It is a friendly city where one feels comfortable as a visitor or a pilgrim.

The statue of Santo Domingo de la Calzada near the roman bridge in Burgos represents this man known for the construction of bridges, a hospital, roads and a church to help the pilgrims whom he had observed from where he lived as a hermit in the 12th century. There is a town named after him in the same place where he passed away and it continues to be a sacred place for all who walk the French route of the pilgrimage.

The Santa Maria of Burgos Cathedral rises high over the city center. It’s poise and beauty honors hundreds of years of architectural geniuses from its groundbreaking in 1221 up until the 18th century. The main architect of the Cathedral in Granada , Diego de Siloé, was born in Burgos and is responsible for the gilded staircase in the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Burgos. We will also find here the remains of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, otherwise known as El Cid, along with his wife Jimena.

Last summer I was in Burgos with a group of students. I have been working with this school as long as I can remember. It was the Spanish day of sign language and the gate of Santa Maria was reflecting the color for this once the sun went down. One of the students in my group was losing her hearing due to an illness and had been learning sign language. We spent this amazing moment sharing with this lovely group of people from Burgos. They loved being with the students and teaching us new signs. It was one of those moments of gold that you never forget.

I’ve slept many times at a hotel that looks right out onto the Cathedral. The name is Meson del Cid and I loved waking up in the morning atnd having my first view be of this amazing Cathedral. I plan on sleeping there again very soon with a lucky group! It’s amazing how life is a circle.

young me at Meson del Cid, my favorite hotel in Burgos….

Burgos has an amazing gastronomical scene. There are certain things you need to eat when you are visiting such as Morcilla de Burgos (blood sausage with rice), Burgos fresh cheese, river crabs, trout, suckling pig and so much more! All washed down with amazing wine.

An albacore tuna with olives, anchovy and a vinaigrette that I ordered was out of this world. It ranked next to some of the best pintxos I’ve had in the Basque Country. We also had some grilled ribs with potatoes that were humble and flavorful at the same time. Followed by a martini glass layered with egg yolk, pork cheeks and spicy potatoes, we were good to go!

Everything we ate in Burgos this summer was absolutely amazing but one of my favorite memories was from this small bar next to the Cathedral. The tapa came with our wine and we enjoyed it thoroughly along with the great ambience of the bar on a summer evening. Thank you Burgos for reminding me how much I adore being close to you and that I need to bring people there very soon!! I have so many memories here and cannot wait to make more.

Best simple tapa of cured cheese, chorizo and salchichón.

Love in Burgos….

SPICE BCN……must do!

Food Cravings. Every once in a while this happens to all of us. We just want to eat that one thing that will take us back to a certain time or place, or a flavor that we just need to enjoy again. For me it is almost always something spicy. Especially when I am off on tour with many included meals, even though they are absolutely delicious, I crave spicy food. Thai, Indian, Mexican, Persian…..anything with spice! My husband is usually missing something from Portugal, like grilled chicken. So a few years ago when we were both in Barcelona I searched for a place with Portuguese grilled chicken. The only place I came upon was Spice BCN, serving African style grilled chicken. (btw, there are some Portuguese places in BCN)

South African Chicken, Salad and Biltong!!

This friendly spot bring in spices from South Africa and the Caribbean to prepare their homemade sauces. You can choose whichever you prefer and also choose your level of spiciness. They also have tiger prawns and vegetarian/vegan choices. You can also add some great side dishes to go along with your mains. The salad is perfect and they make their own dressing which is so delish! I love to start out with the Biltong, which is the best spicy dried beef snack you have ever tasted. This all pairs perfectly with their South African Shiraz wine or a cold beer.

South African Chicken with Savory Rice and Salad!
Malva Pudding with Vanilla Custard

For dessert, go for the Malva pudding served with Vanilla Custard. Yum! I’ve already been here quite a few times and the food is always excellent. And now, they have opened another location but I haven’t been there yet. On our last visit they invited us to a few different liquors at the end of our meal as we chatted with our friendly server. For me, this a is a must go in Barcelona!

And, thanks to FEEDSPOT for naming me one of their best 15 Spanish Food Blog Sites!!!

https://blog.feedspot.com/spanish_food_blogs/

Reminders of Bourdain…..

Walking around Porto

Quite a few years ago my husband told me that we had to eat a “cachorro” at this place in Porto. A few weeks earlier we had enjoyed this amazing grilled meat platter with rice and potatoes (all carbs always) and black beans at this great place in the Batalha Plaza. I was sort of hoping for a repeat but since I am from Chicago and a good hot dog is rare to fine, I needed to go for it. In my entire life I never knew that one could have an addiction to hot dogs. But, it is now a truth for me.

The “New” Gazela

Two summers ago my Mom and I watched the Anthony Bourdain episode in Porto. He had not been back there for many years so I was excited to see what his adventures would be this time. AND THERE HE WAS eating my “cachorro” at Gazela. That same grilled bun with just the right amount of hot sauce.

Now there are photos of him inside the original Gazela. I’ll never be able to eat here again without thinking of Anthony Bourdain and how many hours I spent traveling and enjoying food and people from all over the world right by his side. Yesterday I read that Eric Ripert and José Andrés decided to name June 25th “Bourdain Day”. I’ll have one for you to celebrate that day in just a couple of weeks. They opened a new spot now, I’m sure it was because of you. Saúde!

“There are no two finer words than “encased meat”, my friend.” Anthony Bourdain

More pieces of my Granada…..Alpujarra

For me there is nothing better than going back to the places where I have spent precious time. Sometimes it takes years to get back to certain places regardless of how close they are to us. The area of the Alpujarra in the Sierra Nevada mountain range south of Granada is one of those places for me. I recently read a novel based mostly in the town of Pampaneira which spoke of Gypsies and the difficult times of the Spanish Civil War. These beautiful towns are so filled with history that one can almost feel it in your bones and you hike through the valleys and drink from the fountains. Last week I was ready to come and spend a few days here enjoying the solitude and beauty.

As an important agricultural area the Alpujjara produces almonds, lemons, figs and the most delicious cheese. It also boasts an amazing variety of cured pork products. Cured pork loin with rosemary, white sausage, blood sausage, morcón (similar to chorizo yet a bit bigger) and of course, the ham from Trevélez. You can enjoy a generous tapa with one of the local wines from Europe’a “highest vineyards”.

It’s not all pork and cheese here in this region. We ordered a great dish made with fava beans, based on a recipe that goes back generations. It was prepared with local fava beans, pods and all. Usually we only find these beans naked, shucked from their home. But here in Pampaneira they use them in their entirety and bathed in a flavorful almond sauce to make any vegetarian smile! They went perfectly with a local wine served in a glass Porrón which actually originated in Catolonia.

The poet, Federico García Lorca, referred to the Alupjarra as “el país de ninguna parte”. A NOWHERE COUNTRY. The history lingers here in the streams and the valleys. Such as the legend of Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada, going into exile here. And more stories of the rebellion and expulsion of the Moriscos and the repopulation of the area by colonists from Extremadura and Galicia. All of this and more rests here in the trees.

Open air market, sardines, and the sea…

IMG_4867Just south of one of my favorite cities, PORTO, there is an active fishing town called Espinho.  We have spent quite a bit of time there during the summer months sleeping in our van, swimming and enjoying the fantastic seafood that the restaurants offer there.  I was even coaxed into taking a surf class one morning.  The morning we had our class the waves were huge and the beach had a red flag.  My biggest nightmare became reality.  Miraculously I made it through alive but I stick to body boarding from then on.

IMG_5594

IMG_5588 (1)

IMG_5598 (1)

IMG_5605

In the mornings we would wake up early to watch the fishing nets being pulled in from the sea.  We loved watching this whole process.  Early in the morning the boats take the nets out and leave them in the sea.  Hours later tractors pull the nets back onto the beaach.  Traditionally this was done using the Portuguese fishing boats and steer to pull the nets back on to shore.  The catch of the day is pulled up to shore and then the people in charge begin to sort, separate and sell to local restaurants or families.  It is so much fun to watch.  Usually it is the men and boys who are separating the fish and the women take care of the business side of things. The atmosphere here is so pure and and the people are living the same way they have for years and years.  If there is one thing that can keep my attention before coffeee, it is the fishing industry in Espinho.  It is a mixture of calm, chaos, confusion, organization and the hardcore daily life of locals.

IMG_5607 (1)

Bar in the Fishermen’s Neighborhood

There is a small fish market right next to the local bar in this neighborhood but every Monday in Espinho they celebrate one of the best open air markets I have ever experienced.  For 12 hours each Monday you can find pretty much everything imaginable.  The market expands over a mile long and is filled with local farmers, artisans and the gypsy market as well. The fish market here is absolutely gorgeous.  We met a wonderful woman named Carlota.  We watched as she purchased the fish and then followed her to the stall where she sold the goods.  Some were already prepared for “Caldeirada”: a traditional Portuguese fish stew prepared with an assortment of skate (or any other fish), potatoes, onions and cilantro.

At one point in the morning you could purchase a huge crate of fish for two euros.  Sardines are the best in the summertime.  We would have purchased the two euro crate if we had a fridge in our van but it was probably not a good idea to do that!! We enjoyed them in a restaurant almost everyday without the lasting smell.

The rest of the market is an array of colors and smells and local people selling their items.  You can find the freshest vegetables, bread, cheese, pots and pans, clay cookware, live hens and roosters.  I could go on for hours talking about the products that you can purchase in this amazing market. Instead I will leave some nice photos below to give you an idea.

One of my favorite parts of the open air markets in Portugal is the food that you can eat while you are shopping about. My partner loves having the grilled chicken with salad and wine.  He could eat this everyday of his life.  But, in Espinho we found a great little stand that sold a variety of dishes.  The 50 cent jars of wine went great with a “bifana”, a traditional pork sandwich served with mustard and hot sauce.  We also noticed people showing up with their empty tupperware containers to fill them up with the soup of the day.  Of course we had to try the soup!  One Monday it was “Papas de Sarrabulho”.  At first this may not sound so enticing to you.  It is mashed blood with potatoes and meat from a variety of animals. It is a soup that is prepared in the Northern part of Portugal and wonderful in the winter months.  Like most dishes prepared with blood, it was surpsingly tasty!

We enjoyed the Monday market days thoroughly but they could also be exhausting due to the hot weather.  Usually we followed a morning at the market with an extremely refreshing swim in the Atlantic and a long walk along the beautiful coastline. On the other days of the week we would swim and eat and swim.  We would eat grilled sardines almost everyday.  In Portugal they serve them on top of great bread so the flavor of the sardine soaks into the bread.  You eat the sardine and then put olive oil on the bread and enjoy the wonderfully flavored bread!  We usually followed the sardines with a fish caldeirada. We even prepared it a couple of times on our own over an open fire.  Along with a lovely salad and local wine you really can’t go wrong.

RESTAURANTE OS MELINHOS – CREDIT FOR AWESOME FOOD!

 

One afternoon we ran into Carlota along the boardwalk selling fresh fish.  This a town of hardworking people.  On Mondays she would be at the regular market and then during the week she would go from restaurant to restaurant and house to house selling her daily catch.

IMG_4997 (1)

IMG_4954

End of the morning work……….time for a beer.

 

 

 

Everything Swiss………….

alphitta

Alphitta. Zermatt.

If someone told me that they visited Switzerland and did not like it, I would be seriously worried about them.  Yes, it is expensive. Insanely expensive.  A glass of wine poured out of a thimble costs 15 dollars, fine. A pizza for one person, 20 dollars.  But, you can also have one of the best homemade sausages in Zermatt and beyond for about 5 dollars.  Add a beer or wine. 3 more.  And, everywhere you turn it is jaw-dropping gorgeous.  Every place is more beautiful than the next.  It’s clean, organized and people are genuinely nice.

sausage

Best Rosti with Sausage at Alphitta!

I was so lucky to be introduced to this amazing restaurant, Alphitta, near Zermatt.  The owners are genuine and friendly, the food is outstanding, and the view is unbeatable.  Can’t get much better than this in one day.  My friend ordered a boar ragu that was absolutely delicious but I had to have the Rosti with Sausage and it did not disappoint.  It was prepared perfectly and absolutely gorgeous.  I can’t wait to go back to visit!!

panetone2

Cherry Panettone

I especially love the Italian part of Switzerland.  It’s where I feel most at home with the language and the people.  And of course, the food!! My daughter and I make panettone every Christmas so I loved seeing this display of Cherry Panettone that they prepare in the summertime.  I was also served the most beautiful and delicious raviolis I have ever seen (besides my Nana’s) recommended by our gracious bartender, Mario.  Smoked eggplant with mozzarella. They were so good that my colleagues actually ordered them for dessert! I couldn’t repeat so I had BABA, a small cake saturated with a rum syrup. Oh dear, time for a jog!!

Thank goodness Switzerland is best known for it’s hiking and swimming in beautiful crystal clear lakes and I was able to enjoy both of these.  I left Switzerland holding a special place for it in my heart. It’s beauty, cleanliness and culture.  Glaciers. Mountains. Cows, oh the beautiful cows.  It is a small bit of heaven in Europe.  I can’t wait to go back.

glacier

parapente.jpg

 

freddy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meditative meal…………

albaicin

Yesterday morning I sat down to meditate and it took me a moment to calm my inner monkey.  In that moment I was taken back to the time when I was first learning how to meditate, about 20 something years ago.  The memory and feeling came back as clear as the morning’s light.

I used to go to yoga, thai chi, kung fu up in a very cold Cultural Center in the Albaicín neighborhood.  We finished each class with, what was for me at the time, a very lengthy mediation.  Besides the lack of warmth in the room I also remember every bit of my body from my chest down falling asleep, the kind of asleep where you cannot move and have to massage every muscle to be able to stand up and avoid looking like a new born goat or simply falling down. It took me quite a long time to get used to sitting for long periods of time and to allow my mind to relax into a meditative state.  We would finish class quite late, around 10 or 10:30 p.m. and inevitably at some point I would lose the concentration of my breathe, succumbing to the pain in my legs and become distracted by the growling in my tummy.  This is the moment where I would practice my own meditation focussed on what to have for dinner.  To make it through the end of the meditation and the incredibly long winded post meditation chat from my professor I would take part in my own mental movie.

In my mind I would leave the building and begin the beautiful walk through the narrow streets of the Albaicín enjoying the crisp winter air.  I would pass by my favorite spot, Plaza Carbajales and enjoy the beautiful view of the illuminated Alhambra before making it down to a local food shop located the street that we called the Tea house street, filled with Moroccan shops and tea houses.  My roommates called the shop, la mala follá , refering to what they thought of as the general grouchiness of the owners. I, however always found them quite friendly.  I would purchase one avocado, one tomato, one cucumber and a small loaf of bread.  Eventually I would make it past Plaza Nueva and to my home, the Hostal Colonial, a place that was like living a movie everyday. I would  run up into the lively kitchen to prepare my favorite salad. In my mind this salad would taste so glorious and my little meal meditation would take me just up to the point to when I would hear my professor’s long awaited hand clap that would signal the end of the “post meditation monologue”.  Happily I would join in clapping my hands together and rub warmth into my hands, face and legs and bundle myself up to continue my beautiful journey home to my ritual salad.

Carbajales is still one of my favorite plazas that I pass by whenever I wander through the Albaicín for an afternoon walk.  And the days have long passed since that cold building filled with many memories but the meditation continues, no pain and less thoughts about food in the moment.