Friday, April 15, 2011

Transported by Food: A Brief Culinary Journey in Andalucía

This is another delicious guest post from Maya Hanley. She has recently returned from a tumultuous Spanish journey. See how she made it through with the help the local cuisine. 

Our Christmas was off to an icy start with unexpected arctic weather and closed airports. Needless to say we were delayed in our arrival at Albuñuelas, only to find that the house we had rented was cold, damp and unliveable. Despite the late start (and later, my sister’s broken foot which ended the trip prematurely) we are very grateful for the new friendship we forged with the wonderful couple who rescued us, put us up and fed us.

David Crockett and his lovely wife Lorna own a B&B, a beautifully converted house in the middle of the village of Albuñuelas (phone: +34 6 3604 3596). David is an avid cook and thrilled us with his culinary delights, like paella with pork and spinach and Moroccan fish tajine. Oh, and lots of local wines!

The next day, we headed into Granada and searched out a place that looked appetising. Eventually, on the main street off Plaza Nueva, we found SECO, a restaurant featuring mainly seafood. It was lunch time so the place was crowded. One thing I have noticed in Spain is that most people eat lunch out, usually very quickly and efficiently. A lot of them will stand at a counter, have a beer and some tapas and head back to work.

We ordered grilled asparagus with garlic and olive oil, grilled oyster mushrooms with a similar sauce, hearts of lettuce salad with a roasted garlic dressing that was red with paprika and utterly divine, baby red mullets deep fried whole in light batter and large, shelled tiger prawns, also deep fried in a light batter. Our table was groaning under all the plates and I think the waiter thought our eyes were definitely bigger than our bellies. But he didn’t know us and our capacity to swoon over perfectly crisp asparagus dripping in local olive oil or our penchant for trying to figure out exactly what was in a dish. It wasn’t cheap (€52 for two of us with wine) but we ate the lot and would highly recommend it.
The following day, up in the high Alpujarras at a temperature of about 5C, we came across a roadside inn, Bodega Guillermo, just outside of Pampaneira, again right at lunch time. This time, it was filled with Spanish hikers and they all looked hungry. We ordered from the menu, not really knowing what we were getting and we were not disappointed. One of the best things I have eaten in ages was a soup, more like a stew, called Potaje a la Gitanilla. It was made with pork bones cooked to the point where the soup turned to jelly as soon as it cooled. The main soup base was then added to with chickpeas, pork offal and chorizo. The offal part might not be to everyone’s taste but the flavour was so robust you could feel it sticking to your ribs as you ate. With it we had a tomato and garlic salad, heavy on the garlic, crusty bread and delicious coffee – well worth the €25 for the two of us, including a glass of wine and a liqueur to warm us.

For those hours we spent exploring the cafes and restaurants of Andalucía, we forgot all about our trials and tribulations. That’s the beauty of food – it transports you to another place; in our case, a place we will never forget.
Craving more? Be sure to read about Maya’s “Swedish delights”, check out her blog, and stay tuned for more tasty thoughts from this epicurean Tripper.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Visit to Cobh

Last Sunday, my darling sister, Luarena, gave me a belated Christmas present of a stay at Fota Island Spa Hotel near Cobh, Co. Cork.  As some of you will know, Cobh is our hometown and a place we all still miss in some ways.  I know I do and feel great nostalgia for the place.


Fota Island Spa had a great deal on: €109 for two people sharing including the use of the Hydrotherapy Suite and Hammam.  Other services were extra.  We took a look at the Hydrotherapy pool and loved what we saw and decided to skip extras as we were on a budget.  As it turned out, we made a good choice and spent hours in the pool, which was lovely and warm, enjoying the water that gushed onto our necks, working out those kinks and a 'river' that went in a circle around a big pillar and forced you around very quickly. I spent hours in that, loving every minute of it. There were jets that pummeled your feet and legs, your back and, best of all, a giant geyser that forced water onto whatever part of the body you wished.  I tried standing on it and it made my feet tingle really nicely as well as massaging my knees and back and stomach.  We went from one spot to another for a good two hours until we were so prune-like it was definitely time to get out.

After that we hit the Hammam and breathed in the eucalyptus fraganced steam, warming our bodies on the tiles for about 15 minutes. We had left our bathrobes and magazines in another resting room that has beds that are heated.  When we went back in, we found someone had taken my sister's seat, thrown her robe on the floor and was reading her magazine. When my sister asked her for her magazine back, the woman sneered at her and reluctantly handed it over! Some manners..

We had dinner in our room, served by a wonderful waitress who couldn't have been more helpful and charming and watched the Dancing on Ice final. Luarena, who is a night bird normally, fell asleep at 10.30pm after a bath in the wonderfully deep tub in our bathroom.   I, for some reason, couldn't sleep at all and ended up awake until about 4.30am going through one of those dark nights of the soul that are so awful.

The next day, we headed to our hometown and went straight up to our old house, Roseville, a late Georgian house that even today to our grown-up selves looks big. It was lovely to see the place being cared for, except for the horrible plastic windows they'd put in. I know, I know, they're cheaper and they work. But they look awful and I wish they would make plastic windows that look less plastic!

After that we went down the the beach we used to swim at, Cuskinny and had a bit more nostalgia - not all of it good. When I was a little over three, we went swimming there and my oldest sister put me in a rubber ring, an inner tyre I think, and my bum was stuck down in the hole and suddenly a wave came and tossed me over and I was upside down breathing in water. It scared the living daylights out of me and, to this day, the thought of water getting up my nose panics me and I have never been able to jump into water out of my depth because of it. It made me think, again, about doing something to get over this fear because I love water, the sea, the ocean, lakes, boats, fishing and all that. I envy people who can jump into water and swim like fish.

Going back to Cobh always brings up memories of our childhood and how much we loved it there. From the moment we left Cobh, nothing was ever the same again.

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