mooninspain

Food, Travel , Life and more Food in Spain

Archive for the category “New Beginnings”

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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

 

 

Everything Swiss………….

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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.

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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!!

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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.

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Meditative meal…………

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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.

 

Good Vibes in Granada………..

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You can’t judge a book by it’s cover (tapa) but a bar you can.

Sometimes in the winter off season from tours I find myself “holing up” and reading books, doing yoga, and being a bit of a recluse in general.  Yesterday was quite different being that I met with a friend for coffee, then went to my class and in the evening met up with another friend for tapas.  Both of my friends that I met with yesterday are the type of people who spread positive energy, and time with them leaves me feeling much better about myself and life in general.  With my morning friend we talked about how negative comments from others are so unnecessary and can really get one down.  We definitely need to choose to surround ourselves with positive influences on our lives.  This made me think about how much I have been through since I moved to Spain and how difficult it has been at  times to filter through the falseness to find true friendships.

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Not long ago we were served this tapa of potato chips and pickled anchovies which also took me on a time travel back through my experiences since I’ve lived here. I had been a vegetarian and then vegan for many years before moving here but when I arrived I decided to expand my food horizons for cultural reasons.  This was the very first tapa I was ever served in Granada.  Having been tortured as a young child by canned anchovies (the extra salty ones) hiding under the cheese on homemade pizzas, I basically loathed the smell and taste of them. One can imagine how I felt when this was set in front of me.  However, like many other things I learned to love them. I remember everything about this moment and the bar where I was having tapas with friends.  At Seis Peniques they would serve 3 free tapas instead of 1 with every drink,  and it was where we took Sevillana dance lessons in the basement. It was also where a close friend of mine ended up working as a cook in the kitchen and he was taught the “secret” to the amazing Salsa Rosa.  Ketchup and Mayonnaise.  We laughed for hours about that one.  Since that first tapa I’ve had many positive and negative experiences, both with people and with tapas.  These two subjects can give you the same general feelings.  They can be dissapointing and make you feel really awful or they can lift you up and make you want for more and more.

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One of my favorite discoveries in Granada was taking the bus down to the beach and being able to enjoy a tapa at one of the chiringuitos in the sand.  I felt like I was in heaven the first time I was served a cold beer with a tapa of fried fish and was able to jump into the sea between drinks.  This is still one of my favorite ways to enjoy a day off.   The best part is that if you are served a tapa that you don’t like you just might have a friend stop by to enjoy it for you as was the case for me one day.  A small friend but very helpful.

Cheers to my uplifting encounters with dear friends yesterday and to my friend Melissa who lifts me up and encourages me from far away!!

memories of summertime……………………

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Finally a moment to sit down and reflect on the past year.  It is amazing how time flies when we are busy and running about from place to place.  In the past few months on tour I have had many a day when I thought of what a beautiful summer we had in our trusty and very old van.  We had many beautiful experiences in France, always going off the beaten path to find a bit of local flavor and new, albeight brief friendships.

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The day before we entered into the French Pyrenees we followed a sign and our hearts to a beautiful country home and family who sold their own homemade sheep´s cheese.  We drove up and up and up until we landed at their gorgeous house, and were greeted by their friendly dogs who licked Luna to a special type of cleanliness.  The woman explained the entire process of how they produced their cheese and allowed us to taste each type.

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We happily purchased a large wedge which was the base of many future meals for us and lasted all the way to Granada, one month later!! After our happy purchase, we eventually found one of the most beautiful places to sleep, right next to a river and a couple of very friendly French families.  Our trip was filled with daily gifts like this, a viaje we will never forget.

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Don´t show my Mom this photo!!!  Luna loves to climb on top of our van and have a better perspective of the world.

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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.

Vinho Verde………good for the soul.

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After leaving the Douro Valley we drove north towards the Minho river which is the natural border between Portugal and Spain.  This area of the country is absolutely gorgeous.  One of those places where you just want to unpack and stay for a very, very long while.  Lush green landscape is the backdrop for this river that is almost 2 kilometers wide where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean..

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We drove to the town of Caminha one day for lunch.  Caminha is a small but very classy town located only a couple of kilometers away from the Ocean.  We sat down for lunch at a cafe  in the in the main square which is surrounded by beautiful Renaissance and Gothic houses.  This area of Portugal is known for a type of wine called Vinho Verde.  It literally means “young wine”.  Vinho Verde should be consumed within a year of bottling and is produced in red, white and rosè varieties.  Some people think it is difficult to drink due to the rich color but we love it!

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The wine went perfect with our ¨light¨lunch of salad, a hamburger and a ¨bifana¨.  The Bifana is a sandwich of slowly simmered pork served with a mustard sauce on an excellent roll.  In retrospect we should have ordered two Bifanas and vetoed the burger.  It was absolutely perfect with a bit of ¨piri piri¨ and the vinho verde.  ¨Piri Piri¨is one of my favorite things about Portugal.  HOT SAUCE.  Always a few different varieties and always available.

After our very long lunch we ran, literally, to catch the sunset right where the Minho River meets the Atlantic.  It was definitely the perfect end to a perfect day.

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New Year´s Day in the Douro Valley

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I am a little behind on posting but, “mas vale tarde que nunca”. And now I am on a clean eating spree so it is good to go back and reminisce about the amazing food we enjoyed on our trip.
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After we left the small city of Chaves my wonderful partner decided to take us on a drive through the beautiful Douro Valley, famous for it’s gorgeous scenery and internationally renowned wine production. The whole region is filled with “Quintas” or wine producing farms. Many of which are built on slopes to protect the vineyards from the humid winds. Before stopping in the town of Peso de Règua we took a short detour so my love could show me the ¨lock¨ that raises and lowers the boats in order for them to pass through the different levels of water in the Douro River. I had never seen a lock before or my memory is blocked. I was so amazed by how it worked (and freezing cold) that I forgot to take a picture! But you can look it up on the internet or watch it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MDEG5p3IwA here! This one has an 89 foot drop. My next trip (besides going back to the USA) is a boat trip on the Douro.
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We were a bit tired from New Year’s Eve and very hungry so we stopped in the town of Règua for lunch. We found an excellent restaurant, Castas e Pratos, that was built right in the train station. Being New Years Day they had roasted baby goat as a specialty. It was served with the most delicious rice, roasted potatoes and sauteed broccoli rabe. In Portugal everything has to be served with potatoes and rice. Atkins would not be happy. The other dish we ordered was filet mignon with a gorgonzola sauce and risotto with wild mushrooms. Surprisingly not a potato on the plate.
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The wine list was a book, being in the Douro region. The service was impeccable and we enjoyed every moment. We can´t wait to go back!!
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to veg or not to veg……………….

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On my very first flight from New York to Madrid I looked through a very well known travel book about Spain and Portugal.  In the food section I remember reading that it was almost impossible to find vegetarian food or a decent salad.  Being a vegetarian at the time I figured I was going to live on bread and apples for the following year.  The truth is that during my first few months here I did find it difficult to find a lot of vegetarian options.  But that was mostly due to my lack of knowledge about the food in Spain in general.  I think many vegetarians decide to survive on Tortilla Española (spanish potato omelet) and green salad, without the tuna of course.  But actually, the options are endless.

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One of my very favorite dishes, a specialty in Sevilla, is Espinacas con Garbanzos.  A hot stew with fresh spinach, chickpeas, cumin, paprika, garlic, bread and olive oil.  Served with mini breadsticks and a glass of dry sherry, it does not get much better for a veggie lover.  In the South you can also find fried eggplant everywhere.  Sometimes salty and sometimes with sugar cane honey.  My daughter loves the vegetable tajine at our favorite seafood restaurant on the coast of Granada.  It is an out of place item amongst the fresh fish and seafood but she is always happy to order it!

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Salads are plentiful and diverse.  One of our favorites is an Avocado Salad, either with fresh greens or tomatoes.   Another that we enjoy and order frequently at the beach restaurants here in Granada is a fresh fruit salad which varies seasonally.  In the fall it is filled with oranges, chirimoyas (custard apples), perssimons, avocado and star fruit.

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There are so many vegetable dishes available if you know what to look for on the menu or at a bar.  I have not yet looked to see if that travel book has changed it’s idea about food in Spain and Portugal.  The days of “jamon” being part of a vegetarian dish have long dissapeared in most places.

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