Wednesday, April 30, 2014

San Remo market

Saturday. It was time to visit the San Remo market. There are two parts to the market, the inside with all the food, and the outside market, which is held Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. The market is always filled with French people who come over the border in bus-loads. today was no exception.

We made our way through the stylish cashmere stalls filled with every colour of sweater and shawls then through the leather goods to the inside market. This is one of my favourite markets, with everything displayed beautifully. The small Sicilian tomatoes full of flavour we had already tasted at our friends. So far we haven't seen zucchini flowers in Spain but there they were either attached to the zucchini or in lovely big yellow bouquets. These are perfect for stuffing with currants, pine nuts and soft cheese, dipping in a water and flour batter and cooking in oil until crispy. You have never tasted anything like it. All the fruit and vegetables looked so fresh. We said a quick hello to a lady we know, at her stall with produce from Ceriana before moving on past butcher stalls full of hanging hams and salamis and huge wheels of Parmesan cheese.

Outside once again we joined the crush of shoppers. Brightly coloured clothing, shoes, linens, towels, pots and pans, leather goods and hardware were all for sale with almost everything apparently "Made in Italy," or at least labelled that way. The market was really a riot of colour, something you don't always see at other markets. Our purchase was a linen dish towel with a map of Liguria. We've had these towels before and they last for years. Even with all the people this has to be one of my favourite markets.

Italians don't do short goodbyes

Our day wasn't yet over after the huge birthday meal. We were all invited to Volter's best friend's house high up in the hills above Imperia. The car climbed higher and higher as we followed single-lane roads surrounded by olive trees, and finally along a gravel track to reach the house.

Sitting around a large outdoor table surrounded by huge pots filled with a rainbow of orchids, and overlooking an olive grove, we became acquainted with our new friends Salvo and his wife. They built the house and love living up here surrounded by Salvo's 65 olive trees and 45 fruit trees and his wife's magnificent garden with its orchids and rose bushes.

Immediately glasses were filled with Salvo's wine, and hand-picked olives that had been soaked in brine were placed on the table. Visiting people like this is my favourite thing to do in Italy. Even though we had just eaten we had to try some of Salvo's home made salami. What a beautiful, tranquil spot.

The terrace was level with the kitchen and living-dining room decorated in Provencal colours. Everything had been built with much love. We were asked back later in the week for pizza made in the outdoor wood-burning oven but sadly we would be gone by then. Next time.

Now it was time for the Italian good-byes. The first good-bye was upstairs on the deck with many kisses. Then we moved downstairs to the car, where there were more kisses and a break to visit Salvo's cantina, which was filled with steel vats of olive oil, wine, bottled fruits and veggies from the garden and the wonderful hanging salamis. After a promise to come for pizza next time we were in Liguria, and more kisses, it was time for the final good-bye. We can't wait to return.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Old mill perfect setting for birthday celebration

Our first full day in Italy was a holiday, Liberation Day, which celebrates the end of Nazi occupation of the country. In the morning we drove into San Remo to do some shopping. This trip was very successful as we visited the Jaked swimsuit store. Jaked supplies the Italian Olympic team with some very stylish gear. Just as we were about to leave I asked the salesperson if she knew where I could find a wetsuit. As fortune would have it she had some right there. I tried on a couple before realizing that I had them on back to front. The zip goes at the back. Undaunted I tried the suit on the right way round but it was so hot, making it a really unpleasant experience. I didn't buy it but it would be really useful in the winter. At least now I know where to buy one.

This harrowing experience caused us to be a little late for meeting our friends back in Riva. We were still in time to have a glass of wine with Valter, Rossella and Clarissa before going to Volter's birthday lunch. We drove to the Locanda restaurant which is in a converted old mill with the mill stones still intact. We had been there before. Here we were joined by three more friends, and seated at a huge long table. Bread was already spread all along the table as was sparkling and still water and very soon carafes of wine.

I love Italian meals where you don't order anything because the food is just brought to the table. Of course we have learned through experience that pace is everything. You don't want to eat too much in the beginning or you won't make it to the finish line. The first course was a plate of hot appetizers including stoccafisso, dried cod soaked for days before cooking; potato, mushrooms and truffle in a little pastry; bresaola, which is air-dried salted beef with olive oil; a square of quiche and arancini, which is deep fried balls of rice with mushrooms and peas covered in bread crumbs. At the same time huge plates of salami and proscuitto were placed on the table. Next came a plate of risotto with pumpkin followed by a plate of pasta with artichokes. The main course was lovely veal served with roast potatoes and huge pieces of very tender steak cut into slices. For dessert there were at least ten choices. We shared panna cotta with a caramel sauce. Three hours later after toasting Volter with some prosecco and an espresso, we had finished. What a meal!

Now it was time so say good-bye to some of our friends. This involved kiss kiss and conversation right outside the restaurant accompanied by lots of conversation. Pictures were taken before we moved to the parking lot, where there were more kisses and even more conversation. All this took at least half an hour if not more. Seamus commented that you could make a full length Italian movie all about friends saying good-bye. Everyone else would see each other in the next few days but it didn't matter. Ciao, ciao!

Pizza with Friends on the Italian Riviera

Last week saw us making another trip to the Italian Riviera in Liguria. The colours on the drive were the best we had ever seen with the yellow broom in full bloom along with poppies and even bright pink goat's beard. Once we were settled in our hotel we visited our friends in their apartment on a quaint little side street in Riva. Everywhere you looked were huge red or pink geraniums flowing over balcony window boxes. Of course they had to share their space with the day's laundry and people making space to sun themselves and sometimes dogs enjoying some recreational barking.

After having a welcome glass of homemade wine from our friend's grapes we went to the local pizza restaurant right on the promenade in Riva. We had a seat where we could see the flames leaping about in the huge wood-burning oven. Although the restaurant doesn't open until seven the wood is set afire at four-thirty. This same wood burns throughout the evening. Any Italian will tell you that pizza from this type of oven is the best but I have to say that pizza from our local in the next village is much better. Of course I didn't tell our friends that as I didn't want to sound like those people who always have better things at home. But just imagine, a Spanish pizza better than a genuine Italian pizza.

We  finished our evening off with a walk along the promenade to the next village, San Stefano al Mare. It is always enjoyable to walk here as there are lots of little restaurants and bars on one side of the walk and the waves crashing in on the other. It was a lovely way to end the evening.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Great weather, good food, and many laughs when old friends visit

Blogging has taken a backseat lately since we have been busy with a visit with very old friends. We met them off the train in Figueres and immediately whipped them off to our favourite tapas bar Lizzaran. After lunch, it was time for them to tour the Dali museum. It was perfect as there was no line up. Then it was home to El Port de la Selva.

We continued our tourist trail to Perafita winery for a little wine tasting. The tour was quite captivating since the girl that showed us the vines and the wine making process had not given any tours before and certainly not in English. She did an excellent job practicing the English she learned at school in California and Virginia. Then we drove to the easternmost point on the Iberian peninsula, the Cap de Creus, followed by a walk on the old Club Med site, where everyone admired the stunning rock formations created by erosion from the wind and sea. Unfortunately, our friends couldn't get in to see Dali's house in Port Lligat because it was fully booked. By now we were hungry so it was off to the Nautica in El Port de la Selva for a lovely lunch, even though it was four o'clock. I enjoyed a wonderful piece of grilled turbot.

On Friday we visited our local market. It was Easter, and the weather was warm, making this one of the busiest days of the year. The village changed from tranquil to summer-busy overnight. Unfortunately, the ATM ate my bank card and did not produce any cash. After spending what seemed like an endless amount of time on the phone with my bank, once being cut off, the next time speaking to someone who was clueless and finally ending up with a supervisor, some of the problem was resolved. After being kept on hold listening to ghastly music and being asked to spell my name over and over for the bank person, I finally lost it, much to everyone’s amusement. I said this guy was a f.....g moron, which broke everyone up. I was on hold at the time. Later in the day we were all a little more genteel referring to the person as a FM.

Once my blood pressure reached normal numbers we headed off to the Greek and Roman ruins at Empuries. We never tire of visiting this site, and marvelling at just how clever and advanced these early traders were. By now the sun was definitely over the yardarm so we drove to the nearby lovely little town of St. Marti d'Empuries for a wonderful and much needed pitcher of sangria.

On Saturday we started out our day as usual at the Nautica for coffee. After a walk into the village for some shopping, we headed off to Compartir, the restaurant run by three former chefs at El Bulli, which was the best restaurant in the world. We were really fortunate to book a table as they are so well known now. It was even busier than the Port but soon we were sitting outside at Compartir drinking one of the best drinks I have ever had. It was Campari, vermouth and blood orange juice with a foam on top accompanied by little cones of corn nibblies. Compartir means to share so when ordering we kept this in mind and ordered four starters. The first was a tuna cannelloni carpaccio, which was a lovely red in colour on a sauce of all different colours. Delicious. This was followed by mild-tasting sardines in another lovely sauce. Thank goodness there was plenty of bread for mopping up. Next came the lightest cod croquettes accompanied by a honey foam. As I am writing this I am salivating. The last starter was my favourite, a small bowl with a poached egg covered with the lightest of light potato cream and truffle oil. Oh my! All this served with an excellent local white mildly sparkling wine.

For main course we shared a rice dish with white and dark sausage and trumpeter mushrooms. The sauce was so flavourful and the dark sausage was to die for. Our second main course was rabbit ribs and artichokes in a very light batter with aioli sauce.

We managed to save a little room for dessert. The first was a tiramisu with very flaky chocolate. In fact our friend remarked that it resembled a Cadbury's Flake. Since I'm not really a chocolatey dessert person it wasn't really to my taste but the second dessert certainly was. It was called omlette surprise and what a surprise it was. A plate appeared on the table with what looked like a meringue loaf. Once we dipped into in the mouth watering coconut meringue we uncovered the tasty crunchy, anis, mint cookie and mango and pineapple. This dessert was superb. The food was really outstanding and my description doesn't really do it justice.

We wandered around Cadaques and saw more people there than we had ever encountered before, especially along the promenade. However, the walk was really enjoyable. The day wasn't that warm but there were visitors from northern climes lying on the beach. No Spaniards would be caught there for another month or two.

On Sunday we drove up the mountain to the Monastery of Saint Pere de Rodas. The broom, lavender, poppies, euphorbium and even wild orchids were in bloom as we walked up the path to the monastery. We all enjoyed walking around the old church, food storerooms, refectory and the tower overlooking the Port below. I like it because it gives you a better sense of just how people here lived in times gone by.

A leisurely lunch was followed by a trip into Figueres, where we bid a sad farewell to our friends. We hope we have enticed them to return with our tales of nearby places to visit up the coast in France and local walks in the Alt Emporda. Bon voyage Pat and Ed. We hope you return soon.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Aspargus festival showcases local produce

The village has moved from its slow winter pace into pre-summer mode. The hotels and restaurants are open and ready to receive visitors on the Easter weekend, when the village will be as busy as on a summer's day.

Sunday was proof of this. It was the asparagus festival, with almost twice as many booths as last year. The festival is a showcase for local products such as wine, honey, tuna, olive oil, crafts and more. For 3€ we got five tickets to spend on samples of food or wine. Our first selection was wild boar pate on some bread, which was delicious. Next came a little pot of meaty wild boar stew. If you have never tasted wild boar it has quite a unique, special taste and is not strong. Then came a plate of freshly made seafood risotto cooked and stirred patiently over an open flame. This was supplied by one of our fishmongers. Our butcher had made sausages with pork and the skinny, wild asparagus, which he barbecued right on the spot. All of these were really superb. By this time we each had only one ticket left, enough for two brunyoles — homemade sugar doughnuts. What a feast for 3€. There were lots of asparagus quiches and pies as well as other asparagussy things but for us this was the best.

We toured around the other booths advertising Catalan Independence, showcasing the Nautica marina and selling clothes. The local children were enjoying the four bouncy castles, a trampoline and some other games all free of charge. Of course the sardana band played, while the locals formed a circle to dance and count 31 steps one way before changing steps to a count of 51. The day was filled with asparagus hunts and another band later in the day. Many of the restaurants in town were advertising special foods made with asparagus.

As it happened we had a party to go to. A friend of ours, an ex-pat, is moving back to Minorca after staying here for a few years. Drinks were flowing freely and there was masses of food, paella, shrimps, salads of every kind, artichokes, meats and pan tomat. I've never seen a table piled so high with food. There was also a karaoke machine, which would have been fine except for one rather inebriated show off. We had a good time and met some new French people, who have bought in the village.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Our visitors enjoy Dali's house and Paella

We have once again been busy preparing for visitors and then taking them on our well established tourist trail. With mixed weather it makes touring around a little more difficult, since most of our activities are outdoors.

Undaunted by the winds we had a lovely lunch in St. Marti de Empuries, in the restaurant right by the church. The service is always wonderful as is the food. With lots of variety in the menu of the day, I opted for the light and lovely moussaka for starters. This was followed by a beautiful grilled sea bream and all accompanied by a bottle of good local Peralada red wine. An after-lunch walk right by the sea justified some of the lunch. Our walk took us past the Greek ruins at Empuries including an ancient dock jutting out into the bay. Finally we ended up in L'Escala before retracing our steps and returning home.

With another windy day facing us, we took a trip over to Dali's house in Port Lligat. It had been some time since we had visited the house, where Dali lived with his wife Gala. It really is a feast for the eyes, with so many whimsical items scattered about. My favourite is the big stuffed bear in the entranceway. This spot used to be where Dali lived before eventually buying four more fisherman's cottages and cleverly weaving them into his odd house. It was designed to capitalize on the views out over the bay, which are magnificent. Dali’s studio still contains the elaborate pulley system that enabled him to work on huge canvases without getting out of his chair! The tour ends out by the pool with its many places to lounge. This is where Dali did his entertaining. No guests were allowed in the house and certainly no one stayed there. He and Gala had only one bedroom in the whole place.

On our last day with our guests we went to the Nautica, a restaurant overlooking the marina. We started with a late morning coffee around noon. It was so nice with the warm sun finally beating down that we decided to order a pitcher of sangria, something our guests had never tried. This rolled right into a paella that Josefina, the owner kindly consented to make for us. It wasn't a problem that we had to wait for an hour, we had the sangria. I can tell you that this paella was definitely worth the wait with lots of langoustines, huge shrimp, clams, mussels, squid and octopus.  It certainly was loaded with seafood, and it was delicious. But what can you expect, when the restaurant is right beside the fishing fleet's moorage.

Our guests left right before the weather turned rainy. With the combination of high southerly winds and rain, Seamus had to hose down the car before we could drive it the next morning as it was covered in thick, caked-on sand from the rain. This was a first.

Now, we are almost back in our routine. We have done all the staple shopping for our next guests. Tonight we are going to the nearby village of Selva del Mar to a pizzeria called Sol de Nit. In this cave like setting we will hear great music and enjoy the best pizza we know of. I'm salivating already.