Thursday, November 29, 2012

Soup for a windy day

When we arrived back in the Port, the weather was a balmy 15 degrees. However, the last few days have seen winds gusting well over fifty kilometres an hour with the temperature about 12 degrees. The beach is covered with dead sea grass and a lone log. Last night one of our neighbour's trees broke in two and this morning at the Nautica, our morning coffee stop, the tops of some waves were breaking over buildings that house gear for the fishing boats. Needless to say the boats have been in port these last few days. It is very difficult to walk any distance or even open the car door. Even the few windsurfers in the bay are having difficulty with the high winds and choppy seas. At night we hear a lot of creaking and something banging in the wind. After much exploration the banging remains a mystery.

Tuesday saw us in Figueres at the local market stocking up on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs and water buffalo cheese. It is so lovely to move from stall to stall picking out your food from the vast selection. Some things you just won't find at the market because they aren't in season. There wasn't a fennel bulb in sight.

We always have home made soup on the go. It was time to make minestrone using an old Italian friend's recipe handed down from his grandmother. I love how Italian men are such good cooks. I have halved the recipe. Just in case you want to warm up on a cold day, here it is:

Dino's Minestre

  • 1 large onion
  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • one half (maybe less depending on your taste) hot pepper
  • 4 potatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 pieces celery with the leaves on
  • zucchini
  • bay leaf
  • small handful of marjoram
  • small handful of oregano
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-6 cups of chicken or veggie stock
  • 1-28 ounce can of tomatoes (use good plum tomatoes....San Marzano or whatever you can get)
  • 1 jar of cannelloni beans drained and washed
  • A handful of parsley
  • Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pot. Add onion, chili pepper, garlic, plus the rest of the veggies. Cook up.
  • Add stock, bay leaf,marjoram, oregano, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add can of tomatoes. Take a tomato at a time out of the can, squish in your hands and add to the pot. Add the juice as well.
  • Cook for 20-30 minutes.
  • Add the beans in the last 6 minutes.
  • Add the parsley at the end.
I had some fresh basil I stirred in at the end. This soup will last for three days and then we may freeze some. It is delicious and so good for you.

Looking outside, the wind has died down and the sky is a beautiful blue. Let's hope it stays like this.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wedding bells in Canada, turkey in New Jersey

Our trip to Toronto for a very special wedding has come and gone all too quickly. Our trip began with a train ride to Barcelona on a Sunday afternoon, arriving in time to locate an Irish pub that was showing the Scotland vs New Zealand rugby game. And we were in time to catch the second half. There was some good natured rivalry with some Kiwis, who were fairly disgusted that Scotland had scored some tries against New Zealand. We were very happy for the same reason even though Scotland went down to defeat. After the game we had time to walk down Las Ramblas past all the vendors and immobilised people dressed to portray various statues to the marina at Port Vell. It is always lovely to see all the huge yachts at their moorings. Later in the evening we walked to the Market restaurant beside the Santa Caterina Market. It is always busy serving the freshest food. Once again I had the most delicious sautéed baby squid in garlic, oil and parsley topped with a fried egg. This is truly a mouth watering good dish.

Early Monday morning we were boarding our Lufthansa flight bound for Frankfurt and then Toronto. Even though we arrived in Frankfurt early we just had time to negotiate the labyrinthine terminal to catch the next plane. Although this flight was comfortable one has to wonder about the new Austrian chef employed by the airline. This was without a doubt the stodgiest most heavy menu I have ever seen. Doesn't this chef realise that you are sitting on a plane for nearly nine hours and not spending that time toiling in a field?

It was nearly dusk as we drove into Toronto along the Gardiner Expressway. This piece of highway hasn't changed in many years. It is still crumbling away and hasn't got a long life left. It seems that no alternative plans have been made to replace it. As former Torontonians we were pretty alarmed by the number of high rise condominiums that have sprung up along the old railway lands. Toronto seems to lack much foresight in its urban planning and high rises are springing up willy nilly. Even our hotel in the historical TD Bank building had a high rise stuck on top of it. However, the original old vault down in the basement  was very interesting and led to "The Path," a gigantic underground pedestrian walkway that runs for kilometres, all of it lined with lovely shops . For anyone familiar with Toronto it goes from Union Station to the Eaton Centre. After a few false starts we got used to navigating underground and travelled around easily.

Our Toronto visit was very enjoyable, dining with old friends and making plans to see them again in the future. We were fortunate to have lots of laughs when we watched Carolyn, my husband's daughter, performing her stand up comedy routine at a local lesbian bar. We did meet her boyfriend later in the week.

The main reason for our trip was to attend Nadine, Seamus' elder daughter's wedding to the charming Jorge. Our first meeting with him was at an Italian restaurant in the theatre district followed by a trip to the cinema to watch Skyfall at 11:00pm. It was just like being in Spain going out late at night. Later in the week we met his gracious parents, sister and grandmother who had travelled from Mexico for the wedding.

Finally, the big day arrived. After a quick make over by Drew at the mac store, I was ready. We were ready. Pictures were taken before the wedding at a church opposite the St.Lawrence Hall in the freezing cold. It didn't matter. Nadine was stunning in her strapless, slim wedding dress that flounced elegantly as it reached the ground. Jorge looked very handsome in his suit. After all the picture combinations were taken there was a little lull until the wedding. Finally in the historical St. Lawrence Hall, wine glasses in hand, we took our seats for the ceremony, which was quite beautiful. There was one very funny moment when the lady performing the ceremony asked Jorge if he took Nadine in sickness and so on. He questioned, "Really?" which caused much hilarity before he gave the right answer, "I do." We won't mention the glitch with Jorge's ring.

After more drinks and mingling it was time for dinner and some good natured speeches. The tables had white rose centerpieces, that complemented Nadine's bouquet of white roses and anemones with the most amazing dark purple centres. Jorge's mother had bought lovely material for napkins, which she had made by local artisans, who sewed on lace borders and monogrammed the napkins with N and J, the initials of the bride and groom. Unfortunately, no mariachis performed during the meal. After the meal it was time for the DJ, more tequila shooters for several people, not us, and chatting with the other guests. Later at night some quesadillas were served before everyone was on their way. The wedding was very special. The couple looked very happy and it was one of those days that we will always remember.

The next morning we drove to the airport, just missing the Santa Claus Parade crowds. Our destination was the Philadelphia area, where we enjoyed visiting relatives and friends. There was lots of dining including a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner complete with roast turkey. This was a treat since we have never seen turkey in Spain. On Black Friday we visited friends in Maryland, who live in a beautiful, old house built in the seventeen hundreds, overlooking the Chesapeake. George Washington visited the house during one of his campaigns. Later we visited our friend's daughter in Baltimore, another newlywed and her husband, in their home in the historical area near Federal Hill. It was a treat to stand in the park atop Federal Hill looking out on the picturesque Baltimore Harbour. It looked totally restored with no tall buildings in sight. We would like to return another time and explore it further.

On Saturday we reluctantly said our good byes before our return trip. It was really lovely spending time with friends and relatives. Best of all was being there for Nadine and Jorge's wedding day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No storks but lots of other bird life

We had a lovely clear blue sky this morning. Since we had to go to Empuriabrava, we decided it would be a good day to catch up on what was happening at the Aiguamolls Nature Reserve. But first we stopped at our favourite restaurant, the Blue Sky Cafe with its outstanding Italian chef, for lunch. I started with quail salad, which had two pieces of quail dipped in flour and fried served with salad. The quail was delicious. My second course was a beautiful piece of cod set atop pieces of sliced potato, some cherry tomatoes, thin slices of green and red pepper and some thinly sliced garlic cooked in parchment paper. Seamus had salmon cooked in a cava vegetable sauce. Usually, we don't have dessert but I weakened and had beautiful pannacotta topped with a few raspberries, currants and blackberries. Did I mention that the menu of the day cost only €12? Meals at Blue Sky are always outstanding and great value for the money.

At the Aiguamolls we immediately headed for the first blind looking forward to seeing the storks. What a surprise! The two hundred storks were gone. There were still lots of mallards. In fact we watched one male mallard holding something underwater that looked like it could have been a stick but it turned out to be a female mallard's head. There were some new arrivals: grebes, coots and a lone northern shoveler duck. The cormorants had staked out their usual place, shared with a few ducks, on a floating log. There were a few great blue herons on islands packed with mallards. There were large, white spoonbills perched on an island and flamingoes flapping their vividly coloured pink and black wings. Some of them looked like they were trying to walk on the water. Later some of them looked like they were swimming but in reality they were crouched down with their heads at water level scooping up food and eating it. Every so often a brown marsh harrier would swoop overhead.

We walked down to the barn with all the huge storks' nests. Empty. All the nesting platforms were empty. Even the resident stork colony had flown the coop for warmer climes in northern Africa. The Aiguamolls is on migratory routes stretching from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia to Africa.

The water level in the Aiguamolls was very high. The channels down each side of the path were full. Today the Camarague ponies were standing in a field almost covered in water. As they fed you would hear big slurping noises as they found the grass underwater. There were some very young ponies still dressed in their brown coats before losing them to turn white.

Suddenly, the sky darkened and it was time to retrace our steps. We heard a man in a field calling someone. Eventually, a Camarague pony came along following the man and leading a long line of cows. It was a funny sight.

Back on the road again, we stopped at an Agroboutique that we hadn't visited before. There was the usual wine and more olive oil than usual. In the back of the building was a huge antique olive press with three giant rectangular stones that were used for pressing the oil. Outside the building next door there was a huge hopper filled with big, green olives.  One old man kept coming out of the building with big jugs of olive oil. A frantoia. I had to go inside and take a look. A number of men were waiting for their oil. There was a huge electric crushing machine that had pipes leading into a steel vat. A lady turned the tap on the vat and out came beautiful, green olive oil to fill a jug. The same old man carried more jugs of his oil back to his car. I wish that I could have tasted the oil. We may return on the weekend when the agroboutique has several events going on including a demonstration at the frantoia.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A favourite walk through amazing rock formations

This afternoon we took a drive to the old Club Med site in the Cap de Creus Park. Even though we've had some rain over the last week, it still looked quite parched up in the mountains, all the riverbeds still dry. Purple flowers on the wild rosemary were the only blooms we saw. We passed several olive groves, and people carrying huge orange tubs of olives that they had just harvested. Plumes of smoke came from other groves, where the harvest had been completed and small piles of pruned olive branches were burning creating a beautiful smell.

Once we arrived at the old Club Med we felt a few drops of rain but decided to continue with our walk. It was one of those days when the sun shone, but then clouds appeared and then blacker clouds appeared. This was one of the original Club Meds, and typically accommodated over six hundred people in summer. Over time it became less fashionable and went into decline. Now all the buildings have been demolished but the tarmacked roadway remains, which makes for very comfortable walking.

This is a walk like no other. I suppose that you could compare the area to a moonscape. There are huge slabs of sandstone and shale, which have been eroded with the fierce wind and storms. There are many caves and huge rocks rising high above in the shapes of wolves, mushrooms, dinosaurs, unicorns and men with long pointy noses.

I saw them all today. Some of the slabs of rocks are so eroded that they hang precariously and look as though they might fall at any time. The shale has a windswept look as if it had been tossed up by the sea in horizontal and vertical layers. No words can adequately describe the unique beauty of this spot.

Finally, we walked down to a small cove where we had a lovely big ham and cheese baguette with tomato rubbed into the bread. The walk had given me an appetite and surprisingly I ate the whole thing. I was tempted to jump in the water, which felt swimmable, but when the sun went behind the clouds it seemed less inviting. Next time.

We retraced our steps but at a slightly quicker pace as the sky was becoming quite dark and the air around us increasingly humid. But luckily we made it back to the car without any rain. A quick drive took us to the end of the Cap de Creus, where we sat outside and had an espresso. A perfect ending to one of my favourite walks.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lots going on during Todos los Santos

Thursday, All Saints Day in Spain and France. Unfortunately, this will be the last time it is celebrated in Spain as a national holiday because of the austerity measures. Next year it will be a regular working day. There were lots of visitors in the port with people sitting on benches or walls just soaking up the sun. The scuba diving boat that we haven't seen at all lately made at least two trips today. 

There were even more people in the village on Friday, which was market day. As well as the two fruit and veggie stalls there were many other clothing, hardware and jewellery sellers at the market. There were so many people in town that we couldn't even get parked  to do our shopping. This is a relatively rare occurrence even in the summer. All day people strolled around, visited the shops and caught some sun.

On Saturday afternoon, we decided to visit Figueres once the shops were open. As we drove along the highway we could clearly see the beautiful snow covered far Pyrenees. River beds that were completely dry until torrential rain last week were now bursting.

The Ramblas area in Figueres has now been deemed a tourist site. It is very close to the Dali museum and in fact this should have happened a long time ago. Businesses in the area are are allowed to stay open over the lunch time. The huge tree lined square in the Ramblas is often the site of various festivals. This weekend it was the First Modernista Fair taking a leap back in time to the early twentieth century at the beginning of modernism. The vendors in the many stalls lining the square  added to the atmosphere by dressing in turn of the century clothes. It was a delight to wander around and admire and smell the various stalls selling cakes and baked goods, artisanal cheeses, Serrano hams, huge tubs of olives of every shade of green, orange and black, jewellery, candles, herbal concoctions for every imaginable ailment and toys. One stall had a huge pan of different kinds of white beans with some prunes and the most delicious smell of spices simmering away. Several people were enjoying this for dinner. Others stopped at the crepe stall for Nutella crepes.

We passed the roast chestnut stall to watch the biggest barbecue that you could imagine. It was cooking different kinds of sausages, pork and huge slabs of spareribs. A huge seating area was set up at the end of the Ramblas and people were dining on the barbecued food accompanied by big hunks of fresh bread and sangria or beer. It smelled quite wonderful. This project is to help revitalise the Ramblas. I think it worked. I've never seen so many people in Figueres, many from nearby France. It certainly created a lovely atmosphere.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wedding wardrobe good excuse for trip to Perpignan

Our closets were severely challenged for an upcoming wedding. Not to worry. It was a good excuse to make a trip to Perpignan. As we journeyed across country we noticed a number of people harvesting their black olives. The olive trees are kept quite short, which makes harvesting easy. Some people were dropping the olives into big black tubs, while others had tractors with big steel containers that they parked under each tree. The branches are shaken or prodded by sticks causing the olives to drop.

As we passed through the areas of fire damage it was good to see that lots of ground cover is re establishing itself. It is amazing how the fires stayed away from most buildings and towns.

We were really taken aback when we left the country road and arrived in the border town of La Jonquera. Right in front of us was a very bare bottom. It was a hooker dressed in a thong, black suspenders and stockings and skimpy top. She turned around so we saw the full picture. It was a little surprising. Most of the hookers don't line the roads anymore as there are huge fines for the hooker and the johns. Usually, they wear more clothes, especially in the cooler weather.

Once we arrived in Perpignan, we had a quick lunch of duck and frites. What a delicious combination. There are lots of lovely shops along the lanes in Perpignan. And the good news for us is that many close for only an hour at lunchtime and more and more of them are open all day. They even have on going sales. We stopped in a huge square lined with bars and restaurants and sat outside for a coffee. The server kept bringing out orders of a lovely red drink along with beers. Our curiosity got the better of us and we asked what it was. A combination of beer, lemonade and grenadine. I didn't catch the name of it but I am going to order one next time we are there.

We completed our wardrobe upgrade at Galleries Lafayette, a beautiful French department store. After one more quick stop at the pharmacie to buy French Green Clay, which looks like fine dirt but is excellent for stopping heartburn and removing toxins from the body, our visit to Perpignan was over.

We look forward to our next visit to Perpignan. It is a lively university town with a really nice atmosphere and lots going on. The town supports two rugby teams and rugby shops abound. We may even find time to look at more of the historical sites.