Some of my favorite tapas are on the coast of Granada. Since it is still around 90 degrees everyday here, I have the beach on my mind constantly. In any of the beach restaurants or “chiringuitos” you can sit down at a table with your feet in the sand, order a beer (or whatever it is you desire), and enjoy a wonderful tapa. Fresh fish and seafood are the norm here. I love when I am surprised with a small plate of grilled shrimp or fried, marinated dogfish.
I remember my first couple years in Granada when we would take the bus down to the beach for the day. There was something liberating about enjoying a cold drink with a free tapa of fried squid and then jumping into the Mediterranean sea merely 5 feet away. My excitement about this has not faded a bit in the past 16 years. Swim, tapa, swim, sun, tapa, swim, tapa, sun, swim…………ahhhhhhhhh!!
During the summer months the “chiringuitos” set up an open fire to grill the fresh sardines. We call them “sardinas al espeto”, sardines on a skewer. For most of my life I thought I hated sardines (?). Little did I know about the delicate flavor of these healthy fish. I prefer the smaller sardines to the larger ones. The larger ones tend to be oilier and have a stronger flavor. A favorite tapa here is “migas” or sauteed breadcrumbs and garlic, topped with grilled sardines. Sometimes a bit of melon is thrown in. Delicious!
Tapas are a way of life in Spain. Small, simple dishes of food that vary depending on the region and the restaurant. The word tapa simply means “cover” or “lid” since originally a slice of cheese or ham was placed over a glass of wine. Whether this was done either to keep the flies out or simply because someone decided it is preferable to have some sustenance along with your beverage of choice, the outcome shaped an important part of this culture. This is my first of many posts dedicated to the “tapa”.
Where I live in Granada tapas are free. Not just in the city, but in the entire province (county). There are many places throughout the country where you will be given a bite of something when you order a drink, be it olives or a small dish of paella. But in Granada, the tapa enters into a whole different dimension. During “tapa time” which happens between 1 p.m and 3:30p.m. and then again from 8p.m. to 11 p.m. more or less, you are given a free tapa with each drink you order. In many bars you are simply given a different tapa with each drink where in others you are given a list of tapas to choose from. The assortment varies from bar to bar and can include anything from fried fish, meatballs, cured ham or a Spanish omelet to fried eggs with potatoes, snails in a spicy sauce or a small baguette with pork tenderloin and tomato. The list is endless.
El Camino de Santiago or The Path of St.James is something that I hold dear to my heart. The pilgrimage to Santiago de Campostela has many different routes that begin in various places throughout Spain and the rest of Europe. I’ve walked it twice, two different routes, at two very different moments in my life. For me, the Camino is filled with fear and denial overpowered by magic and love. At the moments when you aren’t looking for it, you will always find a sign that points you in the right direction or gives you that last bit of energy needed to move forward. On my last Camino across Northern Spain we had “un día de estos” or “one of those days”, exhausting and eternal. It seemed like we would never arrive at our destination that day.
When we did make it across a very long and slightly creepy dam, we found a “town” with a closed down hotel that only brought one image to my mind……. the film Psycho!!! My first thought was, ” let’s get the heck out of here”. After hightailing it 3 more miles up a very dark and windy road we finally got to our new destination, Grandas de Salime. We were greeted with a warm wonderful meal and a place to rest. Although I had many flashes of horror films as we hiked those last 3 miles, I knew that we would be okay. Earlier on that day I had found the most amazing design that someone had left on the earth. The Camino brings it all to the surface.
My favorite time to be on the beach is at the end of the day when the sun has just barely set in the distance. I love the sluggish manner that the families pack up to go home almost with regret or “sin ganas”, without desire. The end of summer, the shortening of days. After surviving some of the hottest days of the year, we were met yesterday by clouds on the beach. Last night the air smelled of cool rain followed by a nice morning breeze. It was cleansing, but if it were up to me I would extend summer just one month more. I tend to spend the hottest of the Spanish summer working and then as soon as possible we go straight north to enjoy a bit of cooler air. Avoiding the Southern beaches in the summer has become a habit. Too many people, too expensive, too many umbrellas on the beach, and difficult to find an empty bit of sand on any beach. However, in early fall all of this disappears and the beaches are left wide open to enjoy. The water has a perfect temperature and the sun still warms enough of your body to enjoy the full day.
The coast of Granada tends to be filled with local people. The beaches have pebbles instead of sand which at times can be a bit agonizing for the feet but I prefer to look at it as reflexology. The service in restaurants tend to be typical “estilo granadino” with a bit of grouchiness thrown in with your fried fish. But for me, it is simply home. Once you cringe over the pebbly entrance, the water is cool, deep and so salty that there isn’t a need to move a limb to float. I can swim for hours. Over the years I have fallen in love with many secret coves in Granada. Even on a day where we have little time to go hiking and driving about, in 35 minutes we can be on a beautiful, relaxing beach. The food comes next…………
My oldest sister Denise always says that my daughter should be a spokesperson for Asturias, as it is her favorite province in Northern Spain. We have been vacationing up north since she was a very small baby and it is something she looks forward to all year long. She will ramble on about the green landscape, the beautiful beaches, the wonderful food, and of course the healthy cows that produce her favorite milk and ice-cream. We try to spend most of our time in campgrounds while visiting the north of Spain because we love the people and the freedom that Luna has to run around. Spending the days swimming and hiking from cove to cove is one of our favorite past times. One of the most picturesque towns is Luanco, just west of Gijón. We spent one night in the town a few years ago at a beautiful hotel right on the sea where they served us breakfast as we watched the fish swim.
We always go back to Luanco for a few reasons. One, is the delicious ice-cream we have found there, my favorite being rice pudding, which is the richest most delicious bit of cream I have ever tasted. Luna always tastes a different flavor, trying to never repeat. The other reason for visiting Luanco is the wonderful family beach in the town. But, on our last trip Luna found her best excuse for visiting Luanco. Milk from Asturian cows sold in a vending machine!!! For one euro she proudly carried her liter of fresh cow milk back to the campground. Amazing. Milk from a vending machine that tasted like actual milk and even had a layer of cream on top. Does life get better than this when you are 5, or 39??????
Deep fried food. Before moving to Spain this was something I ate occasionally in a bar or to cure a hangover. In Spain however, fried food disguises itself in a way that almost makes it seem healthy. And, according to many a Spaniard, if it is prepared correctly it is healthy indeed. You may try to avoid it, try to minimize, but it is always there and always delicious. Even after 17 years I still haven’t taken up the tradition of deep frying in my own home. I prefer to leave the dirty work to someone else and enjoy my “fritanga” sitting on a beach or a pleasant terrace. The smell of my neighbor’s fried fish wafting into my open windows three times a week is as close as I need to be.
Two years ago we discovered a great campground in a national park on the Northern coast of Spain in the region of Cantabria. From the campground you can walk down to an extensive beach, Oyambre, that allows amazing views of the “Picos de Europa”, a spectacular mountain range. Last year we discovered a great little restaurant still open in the off season where we enjoyed a menu of the day that included a pinto bean stew and an excellent tuna with onions or atún encebollado, typical along this coast. When we returned this year in August, the main beach restaurant or “chiringuito” as we would call it here was open. El Pájaro Amarillo as it is called has beautiful views of the beach from its extensive terrace. We were looking to eat something “light” on our first afternoon at the beach. Since my daughter is a huge fan of fried calamares we decided to order “rabas” . They are basically deep fried squid cut to be straight instead of rings. We also ordered a “ración” of patatas bravas ( fried potatoes in a spicy sauce). The fried squid in Cantabria is one of the most tender and delicious that I have had in the country (and my daughter eats it everywhere possible). But, the patatas bravas were unbelievable. This is a typical tapa served all over the country in many different ways. Like my daughter with fired squid, I try to taste all varieties of patatas bravas throughout the country. What usually varies the most is the sauce. These were actually patatas mixtas which includes both the spicy tomato sauce and an alioli or garlic mayonnaise. Both of the sauces were so delicious that we dipped both the potatoes and the squid into the sauce. YUM!!! The alioli held enough garlic to ward off the flu for 5 years and the brava sauce was actually SPICY!!! Something very unusual in Spain. We returned the next day and ordered the exact same simple meal without one regret. The beach is beautiful and the mixture of sand, sun and fried yumminess makes it all the more worth the visit!!!
When I lived in the States I used to give myself a New Year’s present each year. It was the We’moon Astrological Datebook filled with beautiful artwork, poetry and all types of amazing moon love. In Flagstaff I would trudge through the snow and ice up to my favorite book store to get my new copy each year. Then I would cross the street to the best coffee shop in the history of coffee shops and order a nice soy latte and an almond danish and dig into my new We’moon. If I was really lucky, the snow would be falling on South Beaver Street and all would be bliss.
Well, cheers to the New Year. I can’t say that my New Year’s Eve was the most exciting to be had but it was enjoyable, relaxing and more or less healthy. Luna and I and a dear friend enjoyed our leftover homemade seafood ravioli’s with spicy vodka sauce. Of course Luna preferred her ravioli’s with truffle oil and Parmesan cheese. Luna and I ate our mandatory 12 grapes at about 8 o’clock with our friend making the chimes of the clock and then Luna was asleep by 8:30 and my friend went out with the “normal people”. My partner is out of town working and I kindly turned down all invites by friends. There was something soothing about starting the New Year on my couch with a glass of Cava and a movie. And as an insightful friend said, “you are not a loser, you are a cool Mom”. So this is how Luna and I began 2011, relaxed, happy, and together.
There will be a New Moon on the 4th of January along with a partial Solar Eclipse. So said this will bring us good fortune and happiness. More than anything I hope it will bring some necessary change in the world. For me personally I could definitely use some inspiration and good fortune. Last summer I promised myself I would finally start my book about great Spanish food and hidden restaurant treasures. Needless to say I have done plenty of research in the past 16 years but I need to get it together. So, this blog I am hoping will help me along a bit. Little by little I plan to share my research along with other experiences of my life here in beautiful Southern Spain.