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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Every morning we leave our house and as we cross over the river I look up to the right and enjoy the view of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I love this view year round, with and without snow topped peaks. For me it is one of the reasons that makes Granada very special. In about 25 minutes you can be up at the ski resort Sol y Nieve to enjoy the snow that we usually don’t have here in the city. And in 40 minutes you can drive south and be on the beach. For me, this is an ideal place to live.
Last year on the Day of Andalucia (the day to celebrate Andalucia becoming an autonomous community) we woke up to snow in the city. It was like a gift for children and adults. No school and snow falling from the sky. We spent the morning throwing snowballs with our neighbors and building snowmen. We had to enjoy it fully because we don’t know the next time this will happen!
A high of 73 degrees during the first week of November is an open invitation to spend the weekend on the coast. I have become a complete beach whore since I moved to Southern Spain. And I can’t break myself of this addiction. Why would I want to? Our beaches in Granada are pebbly, hardly a grain of sand. Sometimes this can cause excruciating pain as you hobble from your towel to the sea. You simply adapt. And what small bit of foot ache can’t be cured by some great food and wine?
No meal on the coast of Granada is complete without an “espeto de sardinas” (sardines grilled on an open fire). You have not had a real sardine until you taste these with a slightly smoked flavor. And wash them down with a cold glass of San Miguel beer. This is true beach food.
A local winery named Calvente produces the perfect dry yet fruity white wine to accompany some clams in garlic sauce and the best octopus I have ever had in my life. Here it is smoked for hours over an open fire then tossed with garlic and parsley and served with a cabbage salad and alioli. This is what weekends are made for!
No reason to skip the cheesecake or crema catalana for dessert. A glass of my all time favorite liqueur over ice to help digestion? Yes please. Patxaran is made with sloe berries (endrinas) and produced mostly in Navarra and the Basque Country but Granada has it’s own small production as well. The best way to enjoy the sunset over the Mediterranean.
The only thing more important in Spain than futbol (soccer) is ham. Jamòn, be it Ibèrico, Serrano, Pata Negra, de Trevèlez, let ham live! I have to be honest and admit that I pretty much avoid the average tapas bars in Granada that slap down a piece of ham and bread for a tapa. I don´t like bad ham. I´d rather drink a cheap wine than eat cheap ham. I prefer jamòn ibèrico but I have also learned to appreciate cured ham from the lower Sierra Nevada Mountain range here in Granada. Jamòn de Trevèlez. However, if given the choice, I prefer cheese. Always have, always will. All cheese. Soft, sweet, stinky, hard. I love it all.
When “Jam” first opened in Granada I would walk by the large windows and peer in while inhaling the deep smell of cured ham. The name of the tapas bar made me laugh. Ham, but in Spanish with a J. Finally, one day we decided to give it a try. I’m yet to be dissapointed by their tapas and cheese platters.
They have an amazing wheel of Stilton cheese that they fill with Pedro Ximènez, a dark and sweet sherry. It is out of this world and the reason to order a cheese platter. It is accompanied by a nice selection of cured manchego´s and reggiano. The tapas are also delicious. On one afternoon we enjoyed a great marinated dogfish with red cabbage and teriyaki chicken with a sweet and sour cabbage salad.
Save the best for last they say, no? The bonus dessert at “Jam” is an explosion of flavor in your mouth. Cured ham covered with dark chocolate and topped with a bit of stilton, a walnut, and a bit of quince paste. It doesn’t get much better than this!!