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Cape Town, Day One: Table Mountain, Boulders, Delaire Graff Estates, Wedgeview, Five Flies

Cape Town, Day One: Table Mountain, Boulders, Delaire Graff Estates, Wedgeview, Five Flies

On my 101 in 1001 list, visiting Africa was listed as one of my travel goals, as the continent has been one of those places I’ve thought of as wild, beautiful, and incredibly interesting. Mike had been before on a safari with his family to Kenya and Tanzania, but this was my first trip.

South Africa doesn’t require any shots, so we chose it for both convenience and the fact that it seemed to have so much to do. It is recommended to take malaria pills, so we have been taking one pill a week to prevent it.

Getting to Cape Town was as quick and painless as possible considering the number of flights required…we flew from Coruña to Madrid, Madrid to London and London to Cape Town. Our day started at 10 in the morning for our first flight, and ended at about 10 am the next day as we arrived in Cape Town. There was no time shift though, so we got a relatively fresh start as we headed straight from the airport to Table Mountain.

Table Mountain

Table Mountain is a National Park in South Africa, so I was excited to cross off yet another requirement off of my 101 list, to visit another National Park.

We had purchased our tickets online, skipped the queues, and went straight up to the top via a cable car with a rotating floor that ensures everyone in the car gets a 360˙ view.

It was absolutely gorgeous at the top.

We stopped in the little cafe/snack bar at the top as well and were very pleased to see that they offered delicious, healthy, and some organic options for snacking!! If only American parks were as classy.

We spent about an hour walking around the top of the mountain, taking in the views and taking plenty of photos.

Boulders Penguin Colony

45 minutes away from Table Mountain was Boulders, where we saw the Penguin Colony!

It was a fairly small little attraction, and since we hadn’t expected it to take so long to get there, we were in a bit of a rush. We spent about ten minutes with the penguins before we had to scurry off for our lunch reservations, which we were very late for.

Indochine/Delaire Graff Estates

Our lunch reservation was at Indochine Restaurant at Delaire Graff Estates, and even though we arrived late, they were gracious and allowed us the last lunch seating. As the first Asian restaurant we’d had in a very long time, we were very excited to get two different curries listed on their menu, as well as some noodles, spring rolls, and rice. We drank the estate wine, and enjoyed the beautiful view from our table.

After lunch, we walked around the estate and found it to be absolutely breathtaking. After looking up how expensive their lowest-priced room is, it wasn’t hard to figure out why this looked like a palace–for $700 a night, you should be treated like royalty!

Wedgeview Country House & Spa

We then headed to our bed and breakfast (yet another requirement crossed off the 101 list!), Wedgeview Country House & Spa. It was very exclusive, extremely personal, and meticulously maintained. We have nothing but praise for this wonderful B&B, they made our stay very comfortable and were comparable in price to most hotels we stay in when we travel.

Five Flies

A short while after checking in, we were off again to dinner at Five Flies in the city of Cape Town, as recommended to us by Terri at Try Anything Once.

It was funny because we had originally set our reservation at 8 o’clock, but when we saw we’d be too rushed for time to get there, we requested for them to push it back an hour to 9 o’clock. They were happy to oblige but told us we’d be the last seating, which is incredibly different from Spain!! Most restaurants near us don’t even open their doors until nine!

We arrived at the restaurant and had a nice meal. Mike got a kudu steak, which is a type of antelope in South Africa, and I got the Kingclip, which is a popular fish in the region. Where Five Flies truly shined though was with their service. Since we arrived so late, the evening was winding down and our waiter had some extra time to spend with us, so we got to pick his brain about South African wines while he poured us a few tastings. Particularly memorable was the South African grappa–perhaps not my cup of wine, but I could definitely appreciate it for what it was.

And so that concluded our first day in South Africa, which was jam-packed!! We felt a little rushed and harried, but each part of the day was so memorable, AND I got to cross three of my 101 off in one day! Not too shabby, right?

Portugal-Porto

Portugal-Porto

The last stop on our Portugal trip was in the city of Porto. Here’s our third and final video of our trip:

First of all, this city is confusing to drive in. We would have still been looking for the hotel if not for our GPS. If you’re going without a GPS, be sure you have a decent map since the roads can be quite confusing.

Second of all, the Porto tourism office kind of screwed us over. We had made reservations to go to a few Port Wine tastings and were told to pick up our tickets at a certain Porto Tourism office. When we went there, the man helpfully told us that they couldn’t give us the tickets, but another office could give them to us, except they were closed for lunch until a half an hour after our tour was supposed to start. Awesome.

We decided to wing it. We tried going to the Port Wine place that was first on our list, but the tasting room we ended up at was closed (we were later told there was a second location that was open, but we didn’t know where it was).

Taylor’s Port Wine

Right next door to the closed place though, was Taylor’s Port. We decided then and there to scrap all plans (gasp!) and just go for a tasting there.

Going to Taylor’s ended up being a good decision. They gave us two complementary glasses of Port Wine and a free tour, so things were immediately looking up for us. 🙂 After we finished our two complementary glasses, we decided to purchase and split a Port Wine tasting of 10, 20, 30, and 40 year-old Port.

Prior to our trip here, we had always enjoyed Port wine, but didn’t know too much about it and didn’t really have a palate for determining the age of a Port besides “old” and “young.” Doing this kind of flight was educational and delicious, because you could really tell right in front of you how the wines aged and what they tasted like at each point.

The 10-year Port was nice and probably what I would buy for myself if I just wanted a Port at home.

The 20-year Port was so much more complex than the 10-year, and probably the best value of all of the Ports in terms of taste vs. price.

30-year was very developed and complex, with more raisin characteristics.

40-year was ridiculously good with caramel, toasty notes but was ridiculously expensive. I’d definitely get the 30-year if I wanted a treat rather than the 40. The taste wasn’t so different that I could tell a huge difference as a casual Port drinker. Still though, for the price difference between 20 & 30…I’d have to make sure that it was a really special occasion before I bought the 30.

After the tasting, they headed up a tour of the grounds (in English) and helped us understand the history and process of Port wine. I found it to be fascinating, as most of my wine knowledge does not consist of that of Port. I felt like I wanted to ask more questions about the process, but with a larger tour group, there just isn’t the same amount of time or patience for being *that* person in the group that asks questions other people don’t care about.

When the tour ended, we walked the beautiful grounds of Taylor’s for a little while and then we headed back to our hotel to rest and get ready for dinner.

The Yeatman

The Yeatman hotel is extraordinary. It seemed to drip with richness and grandeur, and we made reservations to eat at the 1-Michelin Star restaurant there.

We got to the hotel early so we could walk around before our dinner reservations. The view was incredible, especially with the way the light hit the buildings.

While at dinner, I took copious notes so as to remember the dishes and the service. Perhaps it was because it was Easter Sunday, but we were yet again disappointed with this restaurant’s service. Again, nothing really wrong with the food, but the service was lacking in quite a few ways. Again, if we go to a place like 100 Maneiras which doesn’t have a star and charges about half of what this place charges and it’s better in almost every possible way, there’s just something wrong there.

Still, it was quite a wonderful view from our table.

Porto Exploration

The next morning, Mike asked if I wanted to go straight home to pick up the dogs, or if I wanted to explore Porto a little more.

In true trooper fashion, I told him that I’d be disappointed in myself if I didn’t explore the city a bit more.

So explore we did. We went down to the main streets right by the water where most of the tourist spots seemed to be happening.

Climbing a Bridge

Without really meaning to, we found a staircase that we thought would lead to more shops and restaurants, but unfortunately, it was just a staircase up, up, up. We started at ground level, and all of a sudden we found ourselves climbing all the way up to the top of the bridge!

I was a bit winded after that many steps, but I’m glad we did it.

We looked around a bit more and entertained the thought of grabbing lunch before we went, but all we could find were overly touristy spots that all served exactly the same things. Since we only had a few hours to drive before we got home, we figured we’d snack a bit in the car and eat at home.

Conclusion:

Porto was really beautiful. Again, very hilly so bring some sneakers or comfortable shoes. Definitely do a Port Wine tasting or two. We could have spent more time here as well, but the nature of our vacations is usually just to explore a little bit of as many places as we can. Whether or not our style will change as we get older, who knows.

I will say that this style of travel seems to work well in Europe though because there is just SO much ground to cover. We drop in a city, get a feel for what it is, then move on to the next one. Sometimes I wish we could stay in certain places longer, but overall I really love seeing as much as possible given the time we have to spend on these vacations.

Would you want to stay in one city for longer or do more of our style of traveling where you drop in, look around and move on?

 

Portugal-Lisbon

Portugal-Lisbon

Here is our second video of us exploring Lisbon!

When we got into Lisbon, we took care of the most important part of our trip first: We went and saw The Hunger Games. Portugal doesn’t dub their movies like they do in Spain, so we could go and watch the first movie we’d seen in theaters in months. I loved the movie, though of course I’ll always love the books more.

When the movie was over, we went back to our hotel, the Radisson Blu which was located on the outside of the city. It was great because it was located near public transportation, which was really really wonderful in Lisbon. The subways were clean, everything looked brand new, and it didn’t smell like Philly & NYC subways.

I love cities with good public transportation. Mike just loves his Eyewitness Travel Books.

100 Maneiras

We’re like, fine-dining ninjas when it comes to our food research. Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode in Lisbon was shot a few weeks before we arrived in Lisbon. Though his official schedule wasn’t posted to the Travel Channel website yet, Mike found out where Bourdain went via some super google sleuthing. 100 Maneiras was on the list, and we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go as well (the Lisbon episode is airing tonight-4/30/12).

Excuse the random people who decided to be funny for my photo. To get to 100 Maneiras from the subway stop we got off on, you have to climb approximately 10,000 steps. SO glad I decided to wear my Toms out and store my heels in my purse to change into when we got there.

Menu:

Codfish Clothesline

Crispy Seafood Balls with Pea Pesto

Tenderloin Carpaccio with Foie Gras Cubes and Madeira Wine Reduction Jelly

Frog Legs with Acidified Onions and Sauteed Mushrooms

Seafood Canneloni with Spinach and Ginger Air

Sauteed Turbot in Parsnip Puree with Leek Straw

Palate Cleanser: Ginger and Lemongrass Granita

Pork Cheek with Potato Foam and Shallots

Tropical Fruit Salad with Gratin Mascarpone

Cocoa Brownie with Pennyroyal Air and Jelly, Champagne Sorbet and Balsamic Biscuit

We LOVED it all. Everything 100 Maneiras did was fantastic. Just the right amount of creative, just the right amount of beautiful, just the right amount of unexpected and fun. The service was fantastic, the wine pairings were fabulous, and for all 10 courses plus 5 different wines paired with it…was just €75/person.

I understand that this is still expensive, but for the quality of food, service, wines, and the fact that Anthony Bourdain ate here? 1000% worth it. I can honestly say that 100 Maneiras did everything right and it was truly a delight to dine with them. If you’re going to Lisbon, there’s no way you can pass this place up.

Lisbon Botanical Garden

The next morning, we headed straight for the Lisbon Botanical Garden. We love us a good botanical garden since we’re big nature lovers. It still wasn’t the right time of year for roses to be blooming, but there were plenty of other interesting plants and animals to look at.

There was a a butterfly house as well, which I thought was pretty cool, but probably not the most impressive butterfly house out there. Nevertheless, it’s always a good day when a butterfly lands on your arm!

After meandering through the garden, we went exploring the city while on our way to the next stop on our itinerary.

Lisbon

The views of the city were incredible. The buildings were bright and colorful. The shops were fun, and there was an incredible amount to do. We covered nearly the whole city, which is no small feat considering it is very hilly and there are about a million steps. We bought a day-pass for the subway and it helped a little, but we were really interested in walking around in order to see everything.

We both felt like we could have stayed for another day or two in order to see and do more.

Solar do Vinho do Porto

Our afternoon activity was to go to a famous Port Wine House, Solar do Vinho do Porto. Reviews online weren’t lying when they said that the service was poor–the man who started serving us acted like we were an inconvenience to him. Come on, man! I know that you’re probably not happy that you’re a tourist attraction, but embrace it! There were people from all over the world who came into the Port Wine House, and it was funny because I saw that everyone carried their own country’s version of the Portugal Eyewitness Travel Book, which is where Mike got the information to come here from.

Regardless of the service, we had a few glasses of Port each and a few snacks. It was really fun and definitely worth the stop.

That night, we went to a restaurant called Assinatura. I was so exhausted after walking around all day that I didn’t take any photos. We appreciated this place because they had both an a la carte menu and three options for prix-fixe menus (3-course, 5-course, 7-course). Since we had only eaten the snacks at the port wine house, I was starving. So we chose the 7-course menu with wine pairings, of course. 😉 I thought this place was also very very good, but not as good of a value as 100 Maneiras.

Conclusion:

I LOVED Lisbon. I think 3-4 days here would have been nice, but we still got a good taste of the city in the amount of time we spent there. We had originally planned on going back to the hotel to nap in the middle of our long day there, but we bit the bullet and stayed out. It was a good decision since there really was so much to do and see.

Some advice: take the subway when possible and wear some uber-comfortable shoes. The steps really can be a killer after awhile of walking. The city is so much fun though and I would definitely go back.

Next up, our final destination in Portugal…Porto!

Portugal-Algarve, Vila Joya

Portugal-Algarve, Vila Joya

I think the 79th best restaurant in the world deserves its own post, don’t you?

First of all, if you didn’t see the video from yesterday, here it is, with our trip to Vila Joya starting at the 4:58 mark.

Second of all, let me start this out by saying we’ve been to 14 Michelin restaurants so far, three of which have been in the top 100 in the world. By now, we’ve gotten a good idea of what the Michelin experience should be, and based upon some of the amazing restaurants we’ve been to that aren’t in the top 100, our expectations for those within it are very high.

I will do a separate post on what I believe to be the ideal Michelin experience to be, so for now I’ll stick with Vila Joya.

What we wore.

Arriving

Vila Joya is a 2-star Michelin restaurant and the only 2-star restaurant in Portugal. The setting is incredible with gorgeous views in an incredibly posh resort. The dining area was intimate, if a little cramped, but the candle-light, rose petals and beautiful table setting were nice touches to their ambience. They neglected to print the price in my menu (it was only listed in my husband’s)–something I’ve run across a few times, and feel is a bit offensive–I’m not such a delicate woman that I can’t know what I’m paying for my meal.

A clever setting where our napkins looked like little tuxes.

The price per person was €165, and when we made our reservations we inquired about the cost of a wine pairing with the 8-course meal. They responded that it could be €90-120/person, depending on the sommelier that night. That was the single highest price point for a wine pairing we’ve ever encountered. Instead, we requested a custom wine pairing for €50/person since we thought that would get us a decent enough pairing without spending (even more) unnecessarily. The sommelier obliged.

Accommodations

The main floor manager impressively spoke an incredible amount of languages. Portuguese to one table, German to another, Spanish, and English. Judging by that amount of knowledge, I assumed he probably knew French as well. This really stood out to me as it showed the restaurant truly wanted each of their customers to feel welcome, no matter where they came from. Mike and I compared his job to being a sort of ambassador–he was gracious and accommodating without being too invasive.

The one place where I felt confused by him was because of a couple of comments he made to us, which I thought were strange. He repeatedly said “It’s a very lucky night,” which I didn’t quite get. If they had just received a shipment of white truffles in the off-season, that would be one kind of lucky that I could understand. But it seemed to me that he was implying that we were incredibly lucky to be there at his restaurant. This was a bit off-putting to me, as our being there had nothing to do with luck, but because of a good amount of planning and money.

And if he had just said it once, no big deal, I brushed it off. But he said it three times, so I finally asked what was so lucky about the evening. I can’t remember his words exactly, but they were somewhat along the lines of “well, it’s very lucky because you are enjoying yourself and the food is very good and that is a good night for us.” Um. Okay? Maybe it was just a difference in customs or culture, but it still struck me as odd that I would be told how lucky I was that I had made a reservation and paid for a nice dinner.

I get it, you’re in the top 100. Being humble about it is much more impressive to me than gloating, however.

Service

Excuse the photo, I pulled it from our video footage.

The service revolved around one large serving table in the middle of the room, where the waitstaff would place trays and synchronously place your plate in front of you and your dining parter(s). This part of the service wasn’t working for them though, as they seemed to have too many tables for there to be two waiters at the same place at the same time. At a few points, one waiter would be hovering over my shoulder with my plate while another server rushed over to grab Mike’s just so they could lower it in front of us at the same time. I’ve seen this technique executed flawlessly in enough places to know that Vila Joya’s staff just seemed to be too few for the amount of tables in their area.

Also to the point of staff to customer ratio, bread was slow-going to get to us and had to be requested several times by us. It may seem like a small issue, but that small issue just points to the larger issue of being understaffed or disorganized.

Sommelier & Wine

The wines were all Portuguese wines, which I appreciated. There was an odd glass of wine that was served to us inbetween the fish and meat courses which had no pairing to go with it. After reflecting on that, we believe there may have been some sort of mix-up where that wine was supposed to be paired with something else but had been forgotten. That, or it was just to fill the very long gap we had between the fish and meat courses and they needed to keep us entertained. Still, I would have preferred to have been brought a glass of Port at the end of my meal instead of having an odd glass of wine without a pairing in the middle of the meal. I suppose that I could have gotten the best of both worlds had we paid another €40-70 per person for the regular wine pairing, but overall I thought that the wines we received for €50/person were more than sufficient.

The sommelier was where I was very turned off by Vila Joya. While serving me and my husband wine, he would look only to my husband. He made eye contact with me perhaps once all evening, which was baffling as I made conscious efforts to look at him the entire time he was speaking about the wine, even asking him questions about a few bottles.

At one point when the sommelier poured my husband a taste of wine, Mike asked him to pour the next taste to me first. The sommelier neglected to do so and continued serving my husband before me. I felt angry at being treated almost as if I didn’t exist, or that my palate did not matter as much as my husband’s.

Food

I left the food for last because really, it was wonderful. And it would have to be wonderful for the restaurant to have made it so far, right? Every dish was spot on and delightful. They didn’t get too creative with their dishes (like, say, Akelarre), but the ingredients shined on their own.

Each flavor in the dishes worked well with each other and I specifically remember the second course being my favorite with the prawn ravioli, roasted tomato, baby cilantro and curry. I also heard the man behind me say that it was one of the best things he had ever eaten. I wouldn’t go that far personally, but it was very very delicious.

Menu

Roasted Scallop
with Green Apple Bergamotte

Prawn Ravioli with Tomato and Curry

Wild Turbot
in Pata Negra Sauce
with Jerusalem artichokes and Ceps

Smoked Eel with roasted Goose Liver
and Broccoli Puree

Wagyu Tafelspitz
with Onion Sauce and Green Beans

Stracciatella

Piña Colada

After 8

So if you’re going for the food, Vila Joya really does have wonderful, wonderful food. If you’re going for the true Michelin experience where you feel like a VIP and where you are delighted by the joys of truly flawless service, Vila Joya may not be that place.

Conclusion

I really struggle with my feelings in regard to some of these Michelin restaurants I go to. Are my expectations too high? When the service is lacking or if something doesn’t feel quite right about the meal, am I being too hard on them? Should I just judge them based upon the food? Who am I to be critiquing these amazing places we go to?

Later on our trip to Portugal, we went to another Michelin-star restaurant, where I took copious notes about both food and service, but again the service fell short.

It makes me feel like I’m missing something, or that I’m being too harsh, but then I think about our experience at Ikarus in Salzburg, Austria. A one-star restaurant where the service, the ambience, the food, the drinks, the presentation were all absolutely breathtakingly perfect. And what about Terrine in Munich? Another one-star with service so personal and detailed that the meal will forever stick in my mind. Those restaurants, despite how many stars they have and despite the fact that they aren’t on the top 100 list, made the Michelin experience incredibly special. Yes, the food is amazing at all of these places, so what truly sets them apart from each other are the personal touches in service and experience, and that is what I generally use to personally rate these restaurants.

That is why I’m hard on Vila Joya…because they had the opportunity to set themselves apart with their service, and unfortunately they did so in the wrong direction. No one will argue that the food wasn’t wonderful, but when a sommelier doesn’t look a woman in the eye? When we’re the last people in the restaurant, ask for our check and have to wait 15 minutes to receive it? When we’re told how lucky we are to be there despite the fact that we’re paying customers?

It’s no wonder I’m a bit hard on them. They know what people expect upon arriving, and they failed to deliver the whole experience.

I don’t regret going. The food was still fantastic. I had a great evening with my husband. I learned more about food and wine. I got to buy a new pretty dress for the occasion:

But on the scale of Really Really Good to Holy Moly Incredible, My Brain Just Exploded with Awesomeness, Vila Joya fell to the Really Really Good side of things. It’s still not a terrible night.

Our signed menu from that evening.

Recent Adventures Around the House

Recent Adventures Around the House

I haven’t been updating much on day-to-day life around here since it doesn’t seem quite as glamorous as traveling, but I thought I’d do a lump post of a few adventures we’ve had in the past few months that have stuck out in my mind, as well as a couple of pictures I like. 🙂

European Spiny Crab

These crabs are fascinating and terrifying at the same time. I was afraid to buy them at the market, but I know that there are only so many opportunities in my life to cook European Spiny Crab for myself, so I eventually grew a pair and then bought a pair. They were good crabs, but the bodies didn’t have quite as much meat in them as I anticipated, and surprisingly enough I like the blue claw crabs easily found in NJ better.

The dogs were THRILLED though and thought that they were special treats for them. Sorry, guys.

We didn’t put that poor crab through too much torture, but the dogs were intensely hungry for curious about it.

Lagavulin Scotch

If you’re a Parks & Recreation fan, you might recognize this bottle of scotch. Ron Swanson loves his Lagavulin with his steak.

Mike wanted to learn a little bit more about scotch, and so he bought a bottle of Lagavulin. It has an incredibly strong, smoky flavor and it was very interesting. Mike drinks his neat (without water or ice) and I just had a little splash to try. I can’t say that I’ll be a regular scotch drinker, but I could appreciate it for what it was.

Spanish Sidra

First of all, I know my husband looks like Where’s Waldo. Second of all, stop being so jealous. 😉

Dry Spanish cider is not very commonly found in the States. Cider found in the States is usually cloyingly sweet with carbonation. Dry Spanish cider, or Sidra, is not sweet and only has slight carbonation when you pour it from up high.

Mike has stated to me on multiple occasions that he wants us to make our own Spanish-style cider one day when we have a farm and orchards of our own. I’m having a bit of a hard time picturing it at the moment, but whatever makes you happy, Waldo honey.

Sad, but Beautiful Sunset

Remember the Fragas do Eume adventure we went on in the woods? Well, someone set fire to part of the woods not too long ago and since it had been so dry here, the fire spread quickly. The whole sky was filled with smoke and it was so heavy that we could smell the burning from inside the house.

As the sun set that evening, it looked like the Apocolypse. The sky burned bright orange-red, and while it was very beautiful, it was sad to know that someone had set out to destroy a pristine piece of nature. I believe the Fragas is open again and it will recover, but many people in this region are still very sad about the incident since they had all grown up around the Fragas and all have very dear memories there.

But, so I don’t end this post on a sad note…

The Dogs’ Favorite Spot

It isn’t often that our dogs can get a good look at the top of our heads, so they love to stand on the landing of the stairs right above our kitchen table and look down on us while we eat dinner. There is also a window right next to them that they can look out of, so it’s really an ideal spot for two dogs that need to be “in the know” about everything in the house.

So those are a few of our recent little adventures! Are you a scotch drinker? Have you tried Spanish Cider? What did you think?

Tomato Chickpea Curry

Tomato Chickpea Curry

In our area of Spain, international cuisine is nearly non-existant. Okay, we have crappy mall Chinese food and doner kebabs, but there’s no sushi. No Korean. No Indian. No Thai. Hardly even an Italian joint. Traditional Galician restaurants use fish and very little seasoning in order to let the freshness of the fish shine. Potatoes are boiled and served with oil and maybe some paprika. Stewed greens and caldo gallego may be tasty, but Mike and I tend to live for the spicier, more complex flavors of Asian cuisine.

So while we’ve been living here, I’ve had to learn how to DIY my favorite international tastes that I sorely miss from home.

This tomato chickpea curry is thick like a stew and can be served over rice or another grain, or can be eaten by itself, like I did for lunch with a few slices of baguette.

Ingredients:

2 cups chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 28oz can of diced tomatoes
1/2 a large white onion (or one small onion), diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
1/2 a green pepper, diced
1/2 a red pepper, diced
1/2 a yellow pepper, diced
1 small chipotle pepper (I rehydrated a dried one), diced
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
Water
Yellow curry powder
Smoked Paprika
Cayenne Powder
Salt & Pepper
Mr. Naga Very Hot Chilli Sauce (might need to go to a specialty store for this one. Can buy here & ship internationally)
4-5 cups of greens (I just opened up a regular bag of salad greens, but kale and/or spinach would be good)

A note about the Mr. Naga Very Hot Chilli Sauce: I received it from a friend who bought it in the UK. It is incredibly spicy and is made with one of the hottest peppers in the world. If you wanted to omit it and use another pickle relish or paste from Patak’s or something, that would be fine too. 🙂

In a large pan, saute onion, garlic and peppers over medium heat. Add in your chipotle pepper and let them sweat together. Add in your 28oz can of diced tomatoes, fill that can up with water and add it to the pot. Throw in the bouillon cubes and chickpeas. It will look like a soup at this point, but it’ll cook down. Add in your spices to taste (I went heavy on the curry, but you don’t have to) and turn the heat down to low.

Let the pot simmer for about 2 hours or until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce. Adjust your seasonings to your taste and when it’s ready, add in your greens and let wilt. Serve over rice, couscous, or eat on its own with some bread.

I really loved all of the flavors in this dish and the chickpeas were perfect with it. You could do so many of your own variations of this dish by adding in almost any veggie you like, or substituting the chickpeas for chicken or another meat. You could probably even do this in a crockpot if you wanted!

Enjoy!

Our Evolving Food Philosophies

Our Evolving Food Philosophies

About this time last year, I started reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Overnight, I wanted to change everything we did about buying and eating food. Mike was not on board with a complete overhaul of our lifestyle, and it caused many many MANY discussions that turned into arguments that turned into compromises. A year later, I can say that our lifestyle has changed pretty dramatically.

Localganic

When we were still in Philly, we started going to the farmer’s market weekly and buying the bulk of our food there. We would buy more organic options at the grocery store and less preservative-laden packaged foods. Now, the foods here in Spain are not quite as organic or local. While there are many fresh markets, organic produce is simply not the majority here. Also, even the fresh markets import much of their produce, and any organic produce is almost always imported as well.

But even though we cannot be as localganic as we would like to be at the moment, we share similar goals for our future, which is to continue buying the most local and organic meats, cheeses & produce as we can.

Headhouse Farmer’s Market in Philadelphia, taken right before we left in October 2011

Gardening

We also share the desire to become as self-sufficient as possible.

Mike has planted over 550 seeds in our garden this spring. I’m not sure if all or most will grow, but it’s a very ambitious statement to make: we want to grow everything we can. We want to be able to pluck our food out of our backyard, eat it as fresh as possible, or preserve it for later. We want to live by the seasons. We want to look forward to the best tomatoes we could possibly imagine every single year. We want our children to know the joy of a warm strawberry plucked off the vine and straight into their mouth.

Yes, I would love to have these tomatoes pop out of my garden in the summer every single year, thnx.

Meat

I cook meat maybe once a week. Maybe. When I do cook meat, it’s usually organic ground beef or chicken. Occasionally, I’ll buy a duck breast or another cut of meat that we rarely have. I don’t see us giving up meat entirely, but we very much enjoy the meals I cook without meat, so we don’t see any reason to change the way we currently work. I try to cook fish or shellfish once or twice a week, but other than that we’ll have vegetable-based soups or salads with fruits and nuts.

Mike is perfectly happy with the arrangement and commented to me that he really just doesn’t want to eat a lot of meat. He had meals recently around his coworkers (on a ship, where the food is prepared for them) and can’t believe that others eat so much meat in one sitting. He said he just doesn’t feel the need to eat a lot of it. I agree.

And now that I’ve been cooking mainly without meat for awhile, when I think about adding meat back into some of my dishes (like if I used chicken instead of chickpeas in my tomato curry stew), the meal doesn’t appeal to me as much anymore.

Cooking

I cook 90% of our meals when we’re not traveling, I would say. Maybe 85% if you don’t count those nights that I throw a frozen pizza in the oven. We go out to eat maybe once or twice a month. This is dramatically different than when we lived in the States, where we’d go out probably once or twice a week. I do miss eating out, I truly do. But cooking so much at home has forced me to get creative and it’s given me a challenge to use everything I can in our refrigerator before it goes bad. I am much better about this now than I ever was before because if I didn’t feel like cooking, there would always be the option to run out for sushi. Without that option, those beets in the fridge are going in the oven and we’re eating them, dammit!

Eating Out

While we’ve been here in Spain, we’ve mostly gone to restaurants that use very high quality produce and cuts of meat, so I don’t feel any guilt about ordering anything off of the menu. At smaller places I may not be familiar with, I know that the seafood is going to be incredibly fresh and local, so I’ll get that.

When we’re back home, I see myself being more choosy about the places we go out to. We don’t eat at chains, so we try to pick more high-quality or locally owned places, but even then I might start opting more for the vegetarian options if I’m not confident about the meat or seafood. We’ll see.

Grocery Shopping

But we’re not perfect. Very, very far from it. We will still buy chocolate candies that are mass-produced (M&M’s and Mars Bars, anyone?), I enjoy a good packaged butter cookie, and we just can’t give up tortilla chips and ritz crackers. We are not exactly where I want to be in regard to eating packaged foods, but I don’t think we’ll ever be 100% rid of them. When we’re back in the States, I’ll try to find organic equivalents of those things that I love and try to cut back on eating them even then.

One thing that consistently bothers me is that I use cubed/granulated bouillion stock for our soups. I try to buy organic options, but I still feel guilty. Since I use them so often in soups and other dishes though, I just don’t want to prepare my own stock that often. Perhaps I’ll also kick this habit one day.

Has your food philosophy changed recently? Are you getting more on board with the localganic movement? Are you a vegetarian? Share your story!

A Sea Feast

A Sea Feast

I’m getting very close to finishing up our Portugal video, so hopefully I’ll have that for you guys this week.

This past Friday, Mike and I decided to cook two new things: squid and gooseneck barnacles. We also decided to include two of our favorite standbys, mussels and oysters, in case of an inept disaster.

The squid could have turned out to be a disaster. I bought little ones and thought that in order to play it safe, I’d batter and fry them. Instead of doing any research whatsoever on what I was doing, I decided to dunk the whole squid in the egg, (head, eyes, insides, skin, “backbone” and all) then the flour, and lo and behold, the flour didn’t stick. And Mike was giving me the side-eye while asking if we’re really supposed to eat the whole thing.

So he had the brilliant plan to look up how to actually prepare squid. This video is short and helpful if you’re interested.

Here’s what we did.

The squid was delicious. And really, it was nice because I learned something new about cleaning and preparing seafood, which is always a good thing. No, scooping goo out of the squid wasn’t pleasant, but the feeling was immediately replaced with, “Wow, this is really cool that I can do this myself.” There’s really nothing like the feeling of learning something new.

Besides the squid, we also tried a new creature in the kitchen that was also new to our tastebuds: Gooseneck Barnacles.

Gooseneck barnacles are teeny tiny little things that grow in clusters. In my opinion, the taste is very similar to crab with the texture of a clam. The flesh is sweet and very delicious, but they definitely took some work to get to. Since we boiled them in a little bit of saltwater (enough to steam, not enough to cover), they were filled with steaming hot liquid that would squirt out everywhere if we weren’t careful. I thought they were very very good, but I think that we’ll really only buy them again if we have guests since they’re a bit of a novelty.

Mike shucked our oysters. We had nice, cold Leinenkugel beers. I made garlic bread. And as always, the mussels here are absolutely divine.

The mussels here in Galicia are unlike any other mussels I’ve had. They are so, so, SO good and probably the cheapest thing you can buy at the market. A win-win all around. The oysters are also very good, but difficult to find. The small oysters are a very decent size though (I wouldn’t call them small) and are about €0.50 each.

Overall, our sea feast was a success. We’ve been slowly making our way though all sorts of new and fun creatures, and it’s been very rewarding (and delicious) to try all of them.

I think the one type of sea creature that I simply do not like very much is shrimp. Even though they are good here and Mike loves them, I’ve just never been a big fan. I’ll still eat them when we’re out if Mike wants them, but don’t cook them very often at home. I keep eating shrimp in hopes that one day I’ll *get* it. Hasn’t happened yet, which is odd to me because I can recognize “oh, this is a very good shrimp” and still just not really like it. I don’t think I feel that way about any other foods, and it bothers me that I am like that with shrimp!! I just want to like it, for goodness sakes!

What’s your favorite type of seafood? What can you just NOT get into?

An Easter Special

An Easter Special

So, Easter is this weekend. Mike has off of work from Thursday to Monday, and originally, we weren’t going to go anywhere since we figured most places would be closed over the holiday.

But staring at that huge chunk of time in front of us, we just couldn’t resist the temptation to take a little trip. We wanted to stay within driving distance since Iberia Airlines (the primary airline in this region) is striking over part of the holiday, as well as to keep costs down. We tossed a few ideas around, including:

  1. Morocco
  2. San Sebastian for more restaurants that we missed the first time there
  3. Salamanca & Oviedo
  4. Lisbon & Porto
  5. Girona (near Barcelona) and Catalonia (currently home to the #2 restaurant in the world)

Since we got here, San Sebastian has been high on our priority list in order to taste some of the best restaurants in the world. We’ve already been to Akelare, and we wanted to go to Mugaritz (#3 restaurant in the world), Arzak (8th) and Martin Berasategui (29th). It was super short notice to try to get reservations at these restaurants though, and while one was available for our time frame, we wanted to wait until we could go to at least two of them. (check out the top 50 restaurants here.)

So, since we hadn’t really had the opportunity to explore Portugal, we decided on Lisbon and Porto. We’re leaving Wednesday afternoon and driving about 100km past Lisbon so we can go to Vila Joya in the Algarve region of Portugal, the only 2-Star Michelin restaurant in Portugal and the 79th best restaurant in the world. It will be the highest ranked restaurant we’ve been to yet–we’ve been to the 80th best in Germany and Akelare in San Sebastion is 94th.

via Vila Joya

The Algarve beaches look absolutely incredible. They have natural stone arches and the snorkeling is said to be amazing. At this time of year though, the water might just be too cold still to jump in.

Source

Then we’ll go to Lisbon and explore…

via Travel-in-Portugal

And then on Easter Sunday, we’ll head to Porto to hopefully taste and buy some extraordinary Port Wines. We’ve done our best to make sure that the restaurants/shops/tasting cellars we want to go to are open, but really all we can do is hope. If they aren’t, we can at least enjoy the beautiful city.

via Portuguese-American-Journal

Another perk to going to Portugal?? They don’t dub their movies at the cinema, so there’s a good chance that I might actually get to see Hunger Games in English!! If we can spare a couple of hours, I WILL require us to go see the movie since I’ve read the books about…oh, 20 times maybe? I’d tell you I’m exaggerating…but…I’m really not. I just re-read it again last Sunday. I’m pretty obsessed.

So more restaurants, wine, and hopefully a movie! I think we were especially pushing to make this trip happen because we are trying our hardest to exhaust this area while we’re here since it will probably be a very long time before we travel back to this part of the world. Hopefully, things won’t be entirely shut down for the holiday, but we are anticipating some things to be closed. I suppose it’s the risk we take, but no matter what, getting to explore a little bit more of this world makes us happy.

Have you been to Portugal? Any tips?

Making Sea Salt

Making Sea Salt

The first time I heard of making your own sea salt was from a wonderful blog called Not Without Salt. Her post had beautiful photos of gathering sea water in glass jugs. I pinned it, thinking that it might be something to try when we moved closer to the ocean.

Then after I came across an article from Simple Organic posting about the benefits of natural sea salt versus highly refined table salt, you really didn’t have to convince me any further to give this a try. Natural sea salt has so many more nutrients and is much more flavorful than table salt, which sounds like a win-win to me!

Now that I live right down the road from a few beaches, making my own salt is suddenly very possible, very easy, and free! We didn’t have beautiful glass jugs, but we did have empty milk liters.

(Stay tuned for a post about Wrigley & Zoe’s day at the beach)

When we first made salt, we brought three liters of water home with us and it yielded about 3/4 cup of salt.

What I wasn’t anticipating was how absolutely fascinated my husband would be with the process. The same day that we finished our first pot of salt, we went back to the ocean for EIGHT more liters of water.

Mike stood in the kitchen most of the day literally watching the water boil.

Late last night, the salt finally dried up enough and this morning, we have…a lot more salt!

Also, I guess Mike was in the 3rd grade science mood because he put an egg in a cup of vinegar just to watch it strip the shell from the egg. I think he was meant to be a mad scientist, not an engineer.

Mike was absolutely giddy over the whole process, so if you have kids, hopefully they will be too. It might be a cool thing to do the next time you’re on vacation (if you’re renting a condo with a stove).

I definitely don’t think we’ll be buying salt while we live in Spain!

Have you made sea salt before? Do you ever like to do elementary school science projects in your kitchen too, or is it just my husband?

Munich

Munich

We spent three days in Munich on our trip, and it was wonderful! I’d heard fabulous things about Munich, but wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of its size. It was a much larger city than I had anticipated, but the public transportation was FANTASTIC. We could get anywhere we wanted through public transportation, and the hotel we stayed at even included a pass for all trains with our room.

Mike and I didn’t waste a lot of time when we got in…we headed straight for (you guessed it) the nearest glühwein booth!

The glühwein mugs kept getting nicer and nicer as our trip progressed, but since we were in Germany, we couldn’t go the whole trip without making the rounds to some bierhalls!

I will be forever partial to weissbiers…I don’t care if it makes me “such a girl.” Because I am. So hmph!

As evening fell, we decided to stuff ourselves silly on streetfood instead of going for a balanced meal at a restaurant. This is mostly what we did throughout the trip to keep costs down on the meals inbetween our Michelin-star restaurant excursions. More on that in a bit.

Now, it was all really the same from market to market. There weren’t a ton of differences besides the amount of people milling around and the mug that they were serving the glühwein in. But even though each market was largely the same, I really, really, really loved all of them. Having so much Christmas spirit in the air made me extremely happy, as did all of the sweets and foods that were delicious and cheap. Everyone that we came across in Munich spoke English as well, so it was also a very accessible city for tourists.

The other days that we were in Munich, it rained, so I didn’t take photos of their incredible day market, where there was produce galore. I could definitely see myself living happily in Munich, with the great public transportation, the shopping, the food, and the markets that were definitely superior to the little ones we have in our area of Spain.

We also went to Tantris, a 2-Michelin star restaurant with fabulous 70’s-era decor. Seriously, “orange carpet on the ceiling” type of fabulous.

In all honesty, we were a little disappointed in Tantris. It makes me feel like the snob-of-all-snobs saying that a 2-Michelin star restaurant wasn’t up to snuff, but there were a few dishes that left us less than impressed, which isn’t exactly what you want when you’re shelling out that kind of dough. Overall, I thought that it wasn’t worth the money or the rating. We had a good meal, but it wasn’t as special as we had hoped.

The other restaurant we went to while in Munich was called Terrine. It’s a one-Michelin star restaurant, and it was HARD TO FIND. We were about 35 minutes late to our reservation because we could not find where it was located. Oh, and it was raining. We were terrified of being charged as no-shows, but we made it and settled in.

Since this was the last restaurant we had planned for our trip, we decided to go all out for it and order the full, 10-course meal with wine pairings for each course. It. was. wonderful.

I won’t post pictures of this experience since the lighting was bad and my Photoshop skills just aren’t good enough to do it justice. Instead, I’ll let the menu speak for itself.

king crab and scallops in lime vinaigrette
tahiti vanilla, air “pata negra”

carpaccio of venison
kohlrabi, black truffle

lobster with squash and watercress
crispy calf’s head

john dory in clear bean-tea
seafood & red bell peppers

wild duck with black pudding and sauerkraut
cassis fruits

red mullet
cauliflower wonton, spinach, curry

chicken breast and leg
beetroots, artichokes, treviso

roquefort creme

grape granité, dark chocolate
cinnamon cake, orange, basil sorbet

warm chocolate espuma, rum banana, kafir lime ice cream

Some of it may sound odd or strange or not super appetizing, but it was amazing. It was a wonderful meal with all of the flavors adding something to the experience. The wine pairings with each meal were especially appetizing and we had a few very, very memorable wines. The service was all wonderful and we learned new things about cooking techniques and different wineries. While the meal was one of our most expensive on the trip, it was definitely worth it.

Munich was, in a word, magical. I loved so much about the city and I can definitely see myself revisiting. The bierhalls were fun, the dining was wonderful, the streetfood and markets were amazing.

Next, I’ll take you to Neuschwanstein Castle and Liechtenstein to round out our Winter Vacation!