Last August we had a 50th birthday celebration for one of my dearest friends in Granada. It was very special on many levels. We celebrated her 50 years on earth and also celebrated being together for the first time in so long! Darn Covid . My close friends, Javier and Charo, made the trip from Reus in Catalunya to be here for the occasion! Javier greeted me with his huge smile and hug as always and he also held two bottles of golden Vermouth in his hands! He had brought the best of the best. Vermouth from the town of Reus, where this beverage was introduced by the Italians in the 19th century. Reus is only two hours south of Barcelona and at one point it held at least 30 Vermouth distilleries. With time, the beverage began to spread further into Spain and has become an important aperitif in many cities and towns.
When we feel like enjoying a vermouth here in Granada, we have a few places that we head to immediately. Our favourite is Bar Albergue. It is a classic in the center of Granada, just perfectly located outside of the main tourist area. I went to this bar for the first time over 26 years ago as an innocent and probably clueless student. At the time, in my mind, vermouth was an ingredient in the many martinis that I served working in restaurants and bars in the US. Who knew that I would learn to enjoy vermouth as an aperitif in so many different bars and cities?
Many people go the Bar Albergue for the vermouth and their fried salt cod. Bacalao frito. As I’ve written before, my Italian Nana would use the word bacalao when she joked about giving us a “spanking”. I’m going to give you a “bacalao” she would laughingly say as we imagined a huge dried fish in her hand. In Granada, neither of these words are a laughing matter. We take our vermouth and fried cod very seriously and in Bar Albergue you can enjoy the best. Luis is always behind the bar ready to serve you. Each tapa here is different. You might be served fried hake or fried cod, fresh fried anchovies, or “callos”, a traditional tripe stew. They also serve some of the best “fritura mixtas” in Granada just in case the tapas aren’t enough for you!
Fun fact. The word vermouth comes from the German word wermut which means wormwood, the important ingredient that gives vermouth its bitterness. Salud!
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.
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.
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!!
During and after the holidays is a time for me to regroup a bit and enjoy some down time before the tourist season begins. The weather has been unusually beautiful even for Andalucia. We always take advantage of the warm sun to explore some of the small towns and nature that we have a stone´s throw from Granada. We can hike or bike to Pinos Genil which is a beautiful small town on the river known for its outdoor terraces where you can enjoy lunch or just a small tapa. The “huevos rotos” are especially good at La Taberna de Guillermo. Sauteed potatoes with excellent Serrano ham and fresh eggs. The eggs are served fried and whole on top and you cut everything up with a knife and fork hence the name, Broken Eggs. Here they let us use their homemade hot peppers to put on top which makes us extremely happy.
Since my daughter Luna “adopted” my bike a couple of years ago I have not had my own until this Christmas. Thank you Santa. To celebrate we biked to Fuente Vaqueros, the birth town of Federico García Lorca, a prominent poet and playwright who was assassinated by the Nationalist troops in the Spanish Civil War. From the path along the Genil River you have a perfect view of the snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada. In the afternoon we stopped to talk with a shepherd who was out walking with his 180 goats. He was a happy man who mentioned that the day would be perfect if he could spend it sitting on an outdoor cafe drinking beers with his wife.
One of the most pintoresque drives in Andalucia takes you from the city of Granada down to the Mediterranean Coast passing through the mountains and the Tropical Valley. It is called the Carretera de la Cabra, or the “Goat Road” in English. There is a beautiful hike down to the Rio Verde and a few small white towns that are yet to be discovered by the masses. We usually stop in a couple of those along the way to the coast. In the town of Otívar we have a glass of one of my favorite wines which is quite strong. It is called vino de la tierra, wine of the land. Here it is pink and harsh. A dear friend from another town close by laughingly commented, “be careful or you will end up asleep in the valley.” That same friend directed us to a bar in Otivar to taste their award winning tapa, grilled eggplant with goat cheese.
“UNDERSTAND ONE SINGLE DAY FULLY , SO YOU CAN LOVE EVERY NIGHT”
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!
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!
I have a serious problem. I am an obsessive menu reader and am yet to find a 12 step program to remedy this. It is impossible for me to just walk into any restaurant and sit down and eat, even if the establishment has been highly reccomended. I need to read the menu. Either the the actual menu itself or simply the food on display. It is one of my favorite aspects of traveling. However, my decision isn’t only based on what is offered on the menu but my simple instincts and how the bar or restaurant makes me feel upon entering. Trusting your food instinct is an art and one to believe in and to keep finely tuned.
On a recent trip to El Puerto de Santa Marìa in Càdiz I had one of these special moments. We had a great lunch at one of the most typical restaurants in El Puerto for fresh fish and seafood (recommended by my dear friends who are on a plane to Thailand at this very moment). After lunch, happily filled on wine, clams and baby squid we decided to take a long walk to the beach. As we were wandering through town I caught eye of a beautiful street sign, Calle Luna, and a great little bar right on the corner. I knew we would have to go back after the beach.
While my daughter dug into a garbanzo and shrimp stew the owner prepared a marinated salmon with avocado for us that was simply beautiful and delicious. Accompanied by a glass of local white wine for myself and a cold beer for my friend, it was the perfect end to our daytrip.
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.
One of the most important things I have learned is to appreciate the smaller moments in life. To be present and relish the time we share with others and also alone. In Spain we have a saying that expresses this perfectly. “La vida son cuatro dias.” Life is only four days long.” Enjoy, and don’t let life pass you by without experiencing it to the fullest. In Spain much of this theory revolves around sharing food and drink. We can always find time to enjoy just a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I have many favorite places where I do this in Granada and in the cities that I pass through frequently.
There is a beverage and a small bit of something delicious to fit any moment or feeling. A chilled glass of dry sherry served with olives and cheese filled peppers served by a gentleman in a white jacket and bowtie is a nice way to share a conversation with a friend an early evening in Barcelona. Or a bit of hard cider before lunch while peacefully looking out at the Bay of Biscay. And in Sevilla, I love to have a glass of sweet sherry accompanied by a bit of fresh cheese with quince paste and rosemary as I kick back and listen to the lively atmosphere around me. These are just some of the moments that I have treasured along this beautiful road we call life.