We can say many things about 2020 and 2021. There must be a million words we can use to describe the pandemic. The word that I can relate to the most is reinvent. What do you do when your entire profession and income completely disappears from one day to the next? Many of us in the world lived through this at the beginning of the pandemic and many of us are still waiting for some normalcy to come back to our work life. It continues to be a long road. I taught yoga online during our first lock down as a way for my students and friends to have some type of tension release and to share some time together. And once we were allowed outside again, I began to make videos about travel and history to share with people who have traveled with me before and for anyone interested in learning a bit more about the Iberian Peninsula. It helps to keep me connected to my continuing studies and to my job. But, I really needed a temporary income. Anything at all. I searched and searched like so many of us did. Maybe it is ironic that the way I finally found to survive was by teaching online to students in China. Obviously, the income can’t compare to my regular career but I actually found a job and I love it! I love to teach and I enjoy my students so much. I feel like I have virtually traveled around China and I have learned so much more than I ever knew before about the country. I have always been interested in Chinese history and of course, Chinese food but that interest has been deepened in a way I had never expected.
Spring Festival was this past month. The Chinese students have one month of vacation which means they study, A LOT! But, they also partake in all of the festivities that go along with Spring Festival including the Laba Festival, Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival which marks the end of the holiday! They clean their homes, shop for food and new clothes, share grand meals with their families and receive the lucky red envelopes! I have had so many great conversations with my students about how their particular family celebrates this important holiday. I even got to spend time in the kitchen with one family on New Years Eve and watched as the vast variety of dishes come flying out to be served!! One mother sent me beautiful photos of the food she prepared with her family. Everyday I learned something new about Spring Festival.
I make a lot of Chinese food. It is one of my favourite cuisines to prepare. For years I have been trying to perfect my Mapo Tofu. But, for the Lunar New Year I had to try some new dishes. In the past month I have made homemade vegetable and pork dumplings (they design needs improve), caramelized pork belly, grilled chicken skewers (one of the dishes I saw fly out of my students kitchen), Kung Pao pork, Cantonese Steamed Sea Bass, Ginger and Garlic sticky beef and of course, more Mapo Tofu.
This is the Year of the Metal Ox. According to the Chinese Zodiac, this year will bring us career advancement, prosperity and wellness. That was how my 2020 was looking last January, so lets hope and pray that this rolls over into 2021 for everyone! So, cheers to all of you who have done something to reinvent yourself this past year. I know I am not alone with this word!! May 2021 bring us health and prosperity.
Lately I find myself complaining a lot about the cold weather we have been experiencing here. But, considering that much of my family and friends have spent days on end stuck in their homes or sleeping at work due to their harsh weather conditions, I should really just shut up. Our “fairly” cold weather and snow capped mountain does bring thoughts of warm stews and soups to mind. There is nothing better than a steaming bowl of deliciousness to brighten a cold, rainy day.
Traditional Spanish food is filled with great stews and soups. We have an amazing selection of beans and legumes and the potajes (stews) that are prepared from these provide a healthy and inexpensive base to the Spanish diet. The recipes vary countrywide but I can bet that many Spaniards would say that their favorite dish is one “de cuchara” or eaten with a spoon. And more than likely prepared by their Mother or Grandmother.
Lentils are always a favorite of mine as well as the amazing garbanzos with spinach, cumin and paprika in Seville. But the recipes are endless. When you travel to Asturias it is obligatory to indulge in Fabada Asturiana with fat white beans and various pork products. One of my other favorites in Asturias are the “verdinas” or little green beans often prepared with seafood.
The mother of traditional Spanish stews is the Cocido. The ingredients vary depending on the region but the common ones include garbanzos, cabbage, potatoes, various types of meat, and pork fat. Some people enjoy the stew as one plate while in Madrid they eat the soup first with thin noodles and then the vegetables, garbanzos and meat. In an area called the “Maragateria” in the province of Leon it is eaten “al reves”. The meat and vegetables and garbanzos first then followed by the soup. The first time I tasted this cocido was on the Camino de Santiago after my first year in Spain. After that I have enjoyed it in some wonderful picturesque towns near Leon. And of course, any great Spanish stew needs to be washed down with a bold red wine and accompanied by excellent crusty bread.
As the rain falls here in Granada we are about to dig into a delicious stew made for us by a friend. It was prepared with garbanzos, wild mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes. A nice glass of Rioja and Happy Sunday to all!
At the beginning of the summer Luna and I were blessed and invited to the beach with some dear friends. We had a wonderful time enjoying great food, laughter and plenty of “mini-people” conversations. The big people conversation usually happened after midnight and only if we lasted that long after a day of eating, drinking and swimming. If I were to describe all of the amazing food we ate I would have to write a book. Between the homemade Italian-accented dishes of my friend Carmen and the beach restaurants, my palate, tummy and heart were in heaven. The homemade recipes are a secret of course. But I have the flavors memorized in my mind.
Two of our favorite Spanish staples are seasoned fresh tomato salad and fried eggplant. Usually they are pretty straight forward and simple. But, at the chiringuito (beach restaurant) in Malaga we had the absolute best of both. The “Tomate Aliñado” was a pleasant surprise. Usually this “salad” is simple sliced tomato with olive oil, salt and fresh garlic. But this one was extra special. Fresh tomato, capers, toasted garlic, parsley, balsamic dressing and the perfect bit of anchovies on top. The surprises didn’t stop at the tomato.
The same afternoon we also had Luna’s all time favorite, fried eggplant. Under the batter fried eggplant covered in sugar cane syrup was a surprise slice of goat cheese. When cut up and mixed together the goat cheese and sugar cane syrup made the perfect combination. Although I always enjoy the traditional recipes in Spain, an imaginative variation can definitely make a difference. Especially when sharing it with friends and enjoying the sound of waves and sea water on your skin. A view of the Mediterranean also adds a nice touch, especially with a gorgeous woman passing by. She looks like she needs a cold beer! Lucky for her the beach bar has a special cooler to take one down to the beach!!
Winters in Granada are not as horrible as they can be other places I realize, but nonetheless I get tired very easily of the cold. I prefer heat, hot sun, sand on my body and a cool drink in my hand. So, after all too many days of battling a nasty winter flu I have been dreaming of summer. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, sweet and enjoyable summer. I have many food and cultural posts still for winter but today I need to feel the hot sun on my skin. If only through a blog. So, my dreams take me back to Asturias where we enjoy spending a bit of each summer vacation. Hard cider, great food, and a sunny day on a pristine beach are what brings us back year after year. The sunny day can be a give or take since Asturias tends to be fairly rainy. But, we usually luck out with sun for 90 percent of the time.
Each year we return to the same rural hotel (another post) where we always feel welcome and have a chance to decompress between campground and campground. From this beautiful home there are hiking trails that will take you to different towns, beaches, restaurants, and the breathtaking look out at Cabo Penas. One of our favorite beaches to walk to is Verdicio. First we stop at a nearby restaurant along the national highway and then we make our way down to the beach area which kindly offers a small hut serving hard cider whenever you feel the need.
We had a fantastic meal at a cider house, La Fustariega before heading down for a swim. French fries ( or chips) smothered in a sauce made with the best cheese in Spain, Cabrales. Cabrales in its pure form will make your eyes water, nose run and your stinky tennis shoes smell like roses. It is delicous. A raw milk cheese that is cured in an extremely humid cave in the high Picos de Europa Mountains until it is covered in mold and striped with lucious blue veins. Asturias is famous for its cheese and Cabrales is one that is honored in competitions each year.
The other typical dish that we devoured before ordering desserts was Pastel de Cabracho. According to gastronomical history this dish was first prepared by the famous Basque Chef, Juan Mari Arzak. The fish (black scorpian fish) is boiled first in a stock, deboned and then mixed with a mixture of tomato, heavy cream and sometimes leek and carrot. It is formed into a pudding and cooked in a double boiler. It is normally served as an appetizer with homemade mayonnaise. When it is prepared well, Pastel de Cabracho is not to be missed.
We ended our meal with two mouth watering desserts. Simple and delightful. A creamy rice pudding topped with cinnamon and a typical Asturian cheesecake. It was the perfect meal to fuel us for our short walk down to the beach where the sun and a cold bottle of hard cider awaited us.
If there is one place in Granada that has never let me down, it is Cayao. We were lucky enough to stumble upon this gem when we moved into our second to last neighborhood. It was love at first sight and we continue to be faithful through the years. The tapas and specialty dishes are based on local cuisine, homemade, and always delightful. The owner and son of a bullfighter, Mariano, treats his clients like close family. I’ve brought groups, family and many friends here and everyone has always enjoyed every minute and morsel.
It is best to arrive early to Cayao to enjoy a tapa of their fantastic rice with alioli. But if you don’t the replacements are just as good if not better. On my last trip before Christmas with my partner in crime we were lucky enough to be in time for the rice. Our palates were also blessed with the best Tortilla Española in Granada slathered in Salmorejo ( a thick tomato, garlic puree) and accompanied by a cabbage salad dressed with oil, vinegar and pomegranate seeds. Our last tapas surprise were small sauteed potato cakes topped with spinach with raisins and pine nuts and served with a perfect Manchego cheese. Thanks Mariano.
The regular menu at Cayao is filled with wonderful options that include Salt Cod with fried garlic, fondue, and Iberian pork cheeks in a Pedro Jimenez sauce that is out of this world. One of our standard favorites is their special Pisto (vegetable stew) which they prepare heavy on the zucchini and garnished with fried slices of bread or “picatostes”. It is pretty much impossible to go wrong. They also offer a different daily dish which varies from lentils to a Gypsy stew made of white beans, garbanzos and many pork surprises.
For me Cayao is a mixture bar/museum. I love to wander around and look at the bullfighting posters, newspaper articles and amazing artifacts that are hanging on the walls. One of my favorites is a menu from 1957 that posts the prices for Tapas in pesetas. They prices range from 4 to 20 pesetas which nowadays works out to approximately 2 – 12 cents. Wow.
Cayao is a must visit in Granada. If there is a Cheers for me in Spain, this is it. Happy New Year!!!
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.