Shortly after we returned from Spain, Super G gave me a gift of Phaidon's The Book of Tapas, by Ines & Simone Ortega which delighted me to no end.  The photography is beautiful and there are lots of recipes to try out.  You can buy it here. For my first venture, I decided on meatballs or albóndigas because I thought these could also serve nicely as picnic food, to be warmed up on the barbeque.

So I pretty much did the prep at home and then took them in my fabulous picnic tiffin tin to the picnic site and then warmed them up on the barbeque in a roasting dish.  Worked a treat.  I will try this recipe again although I would probably play with the spice mixture a bit.  For me the seasoning was not adequate. That said, they were even better the second day.

Here's some shots from the preparation:


Campeones España

When we planned our trip to Spain, we weren't thinking of the World Cup. We picked our return date of July 12th, somewhat randomly.  It was only after I had booked that we realized that the World Cup Final would be on July 11th and that we would be in Madrid and that there was a very good chance that Spain would be in the Final. So from that point, it was very much a case of believe and it will happen. That said, the first game we watched, still in Canada at this point, at Vancouver's Cafe Barcelona, left us a little shaken - losing to Switzerland? But from there, there was nowhere to go but up.

Having watched a few games in Spain, we were cautiously optimistic, but by the time we hit Segovia and watched the Germany Spain semi-final, it was clear that we were on the right track.

So as we reached Madrid, the mood was great and everyone had their party clothes on.


The morning of the final, we got up early enough and headed to the Retiro, Madrid's beautiful park. Apparently this is a Sunday tradition for me. My dad used to take me here every Sunday, when I was a child and we lived here for a few months. I love that everyone comes here. The old ladies, the young hipsters, the loud-mouthed youths, the families. It's a beautiful park with acres to walk and lots of shade to keep cool in.  This Sunday was different only in the displays of yellow and red and the sound of the vuvuzela which started early.


Being our last day in Spain, we hit the Corte Ingles one more time to see if there was any last minute shopping we could avail of.  Near the Puerta del Sol, the fans were out in force, even Mickey Mouse, who everyone knows is Spanish, was there.  At this point, I was somewhat weary of the Vuvuzela and game time being still several hours away, I had serious doubts as to the lasting power of some of the more ardent fans.


For the match itself,  I'll be honest, and just tell you that we wimped out of going to Plaza de la Cibeles, a short walk away, with the thousands of fans and opted for the cool, air-conditioned comfort of our hotel bar.  The atmosphere was still very lively with lots of fans and we were close to the action, in Plaza Santa Ana. Our own group consisted of myself, Super G, my friend Jay who lives in Germany or (Yeik as he is known locally in Spain...more on this later), my sister and her fella plus one of her former work colleagues and his wife who are both Spanish. So we had a nice little international but clearly pro-Spanish contingent.

The match itself was kind of difficult to watch, with attrition setting in pretty early, the Dutch clearly determined to stimy Spanish efforts. But with Iniesta's late goal, the atmosphere exploded and the fans went mad.  After the match, there was nothing to do but hit the streets and join the party!


We joined the action for a while and then headed for a meal, at a local pizza place nearby.  It was perfect, simple and just what was required. The partying continued long into the night and even by morning, there were still a few stragglers around.


The next day, our flight was delayed by two hours, which delighted us because it gave us another couple of hours to enjoy in Madrid. When we finally did go to the aiport, we learned that the Spanish team would be arriving around 3.  We didn't expect to coincide with them, but as we were taxiing for our flight, the captain indicated that the aircraft carrying the Spanish Team was on our right hand side.  (I think this also explained our long taxi and why we were making a runway change at last minute...)  I have to say, this was a pretty cool moment, and everyone on the aircraft started to clap at this announcement.  It was the cherry on top of a beautiful and memorable trip.


Taste of Childhood


I love Fanta de Limon. (Lemon Fanta) I'm not sure why we don't have it in North America. It is the perfect soft drink. For me it's the taste of childhood - I always preferred it to the 'Naranja' or orange variety and there is nothing finer for quenching thirst on a hot summer's day.  And did I mention that it is 37 C today in Madrid.

Madrid – Casa Lucas


The main roads in Spain are all measured from the Puerta del Sol in Madrid so we have literally arrived at the epicentre. 440kms from Galicia and we are here!

For our first afternoon, we visited Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor area. It was extremely hot and humid and at one point rained, which was a blessing because it cut the relieved the air of its humidty.

For our evening meal we went to Casa Lucas in Cueva Baja, once again, the recommendation came from my friend Bob.  Another great one Bob - thanks alot!

The raciones are creative and delicious but with simple, yummy flavours.




When I was in about grade eight, we had a social studies text book and  on the cover was a picture of the aqueduct in Segovia. For some reason,  I always imagined it to be out in the country somewhere but the reality  is that it sits right inside and is part of the fabric of the city

It's fitting that we started our journey with Gehry and Gaudi and we are now here in Segovia with the Romans. Surely if these guys hadn't figured out that arch thing, it's unlikely that the others would have been able to achieve what they've done.  And both are equally spectacular.


We left Galicia at about 4 o'clock and had a lovely drive to Segovia out of the main heat of the day.  We arrived to our hotel about 5 minutes before the Spain / Germany Semi-Final of the World Cup so we headed straight to the bar for the first half.  Spirits were high and compared to the other places where we had watched previous matches (Galicia, Basque Country, Catalunya, who have their own national identities) there was considerably more favour for Spain.

We left at half time to go into town as we hadn't even seen the aqueduct at this point and we wanted to be in heart of the action.  We landed at a small bar which had a relatively tiny 36 inch flatscreen outside on the terrazza.  But the atmosphere was great and of course when Spain scored the crowd went mad.

Later, there were lots of celebrations in the streets and a dance festival, presumabably planned earlier and independently of the World Cup was going on at the foot of the aqueduct.


This was truly one of our most memorable days in Spain and sitting there in the moonlight watching this amazing performance in front of this incredible structure, it was hard not to think we were in a dream.

The next day we got up early and explored the town a bit and visited the 16th Century Gothic Cathedral. All the flying buttresses you could want!


Grandma's House - Eating & More Eating

Grandma's house is in the Ancares region of Galicia. This is a  relatively unspoiled area of the earth where the people genuinely live  off the land. Everyone has their plot of land with cabbages, potatoes,  beans and maybe a cow, or some pigs and chickens.  Life is pretty simple  here. From the village, it seems like you are in the middle of nowhere  and it's quiet and lovely. You can hear birds sing and see the stars at  night.  But when you look over the hill, there's the motorway running  through the valley, bringing you out of your dream world and truth be  told it's an engineering marvel.


Grandma is an excellent cook and so we besides visiting we do lots of  eating. Simple things like home grown lettuce for salad, locally made  chorizo sausage and cured ham and local veal steaks.  She even made us a  cake - well truth be told - she had it made.  She gave her chicken's  eggs to the local bread man (he comes every day to deliver fresh bread  to the door - how's that for service!) and he made the cake for her.

These are truly free range chickens. They are closed in at night but other than that, they pretty much run the place.


There are lots of childhood memories of when this place was a busier, more bustling one.  My grandparents ran a store which was below the main house and I always remember it as being full of people and energy. The motorway has changed the atmosphere of the place.  The trucks used to run right past the front door on the old highway, so while it's now safer and less noisy its taken some of the life from the place.

It's always nice to be here.

Getting Behind…

So clearly I've been getting behind in my blogging. Somewhere after San Sebastián I lost the plot and got consumed by driving and getting to the  next place. Here are some highlights:


After San Seb. we headed to Biarritz to drop our friends to the airport and we stayed the night.

Stunning location on the Basque Coast. Check. Beautiful young people sunning themselves. Check. Snotty French waiters and mediocre food. Check. Check. All the makings of the perfect holiday resort. It is beautiful, no doubt but I'd be hard pressed to spend a week here I think.  We did have some amazing mussels in blue cheese sauce that were to die for. They were really small and tender but overall the food here was nothing like we'd been eating in Spain and was quite a bit more expensive.


Further down the coast toward Spain, the town of Saint Jean de Luz is  a much nicer town with a more homey feeling. The beach front isn't as  impressive but I enjoyed the town itself more with its little shops and  bakeries.  I have always wanted to go here because when I was a child my  family stayed in the next town on the Spanish side - Hondarribia and we  could see Saint Jean from there. As a young child I always found it amazing that you could look across the water and see another country.


Bilbao once more

I have some family friends/relatives in Bilbao so we met them for  lunch. Despite their best efforts to direct us to their home via an exit  name that did not exist, we inevitably ended up lost in Bilbao. After  several attempts to locate each other via telephone they eventually  ended up coming to find us so that we could follow them to their  apartment where we could eat lunch. Bilbao sits in kind of a hole in the  landscape and they live at the top so the view from there was quite  something. We could see all of Bilbao and even the Guggenheim from their  balcony.  The 'small' lunch as they called it consisted of ham,  chorizo, ensaladilla de Rusia - a kind of potato salad and asparagus.  Then for the second course, yes, I did say second course, they provided  some delicious meatballs called albondigas in a very rich tasty sauce.   This was followed by cheese of the Idiazabal variety which is typical of  the Basque country. To paraphrase Van Morrison….now the eating has  begun.


Gijon We said our goodbyes and headed to Gijón - a beach town on the  Cantabrian Coast in Asturias. It was lovely to have some fresh air after  all that driving so we walked up and down the beach front and had a  small dish of clams before taking a pretty early night.


Galicia I am a 'gallega' by birth so we were returning to my homeland. Galicia is a very green and very beautiful, not very industrialized. Much of it lies on the sea and the reputation for quality products from both land and sea is known throughout Spain.

We were ultimately heading to Grandma's house in Noceda a small village near Lugo but with a stop in Santiago de Compostela.

We stopped about noon at a beach called Praia os Catedreis or Cathedral Beach which is known for its spectacular formations. Sadly the tide was in and we didn't get the full effect but beautiful it was just the same.


Lost Once More…Santiago

Our plan was to have lunch with some cousins of mine in Santiago and then head to Grandmas. But once again, a combination of lack of local knowledge, confused instructions and communication issues resulted in us being lost at our destination and spending about an hour trying to find where we were going to go. Super G was quite frightened at one point as we navigated the small streets of Santiago with me driving, speaking in Spanish to my cousin on the speaker phone both of us shouting at each other which is more the Spanish way of discussion.

Eventually I gave up with trying to find our destination and we simply abandoned our car in the nearest public car park and took a taxi to the restaurant we were to meet them at.  This meal was so simple, but so enjoyable.

Grilled Octopus (Pulpo) Salad Red Peppers stuffed with Cod Pimientos del Padrón, a local specialty - small green peppers that are fried. It is somewhat of a lottery as some are extremely hot, others are not. But both are delicious. Tortilla Española - until this point I had been very disappointed with the tortillas we'd had in other places. This is a dish that my mother makes all the time and sorry but the others had not been up to scratch. But this one was more like the one I remember and was delicious. The flavour of the eggs was incredible and the colour was really rich and yellow, almost orange.


At this point, my cousins were ordering dessert, which was really quite unbelievable, but despite our protests out came a dessert plate with various things to try including delicious strawberries covered in chocolate as well as chestnuts in chocolate and creme caramel.


Paseo Por Santiago

Some of you may have heard of the Camino de Santiago which is a religious pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James the Apostle who is believed to be buried at Santiago. It is said that the remains of the saint revealed themselves in a field of stars or Campo do Stella from which comes the name Compostela. This has been a route for pilgrims since at least the 13th Century.  This year is a Jacobean Year or Año Santo which occurs in every year that St. James Day, the 25th of July falls on a Sunday. The next one will be in 2021.  So many more pilgrims will come this year than in others.

My youngest cousin Faia was an excellent tour guide deftly walking straight past any signs that said 'prohibido' or 'guests only' to show us lots of secret corners of Santiago - a truly magical city. She also showed us the 'insider tricks' like lying on the ground in front of the Cathedral and looking it upside down, which is what locals do.



The lovely Mexican man at the next table said it best when I asked him what he had eaten, "That is the problem, I'm not sure that I can describe it - It's like nothing I can remember - I think that Arzak must be the Dali of food" There is no reference point for Arzak - and I will suffer the same problem as my Mexican Friend here. So below is a somewhat futile attempt to describe our meal. If nothing else, the pictures convey the beauty of the plates which really were works of art.


A fish pudding on a stick wrapped in a fried noodle wrapper. - Satisfyingly tasty. White bean soup with apple. - Simply gorgeous, light, fragrant. Chorizo in tempura - which was really tempura with a chorizo flavour. No part of the texture of the chorizo remained. Crispy rice cracker with mushrooms of the area, called Hongos. - Surprising and yummy. Sardine with Strawberry - who would ever dream of putting these together? But I can tell you, this was the most memorable and divine taste of the plate.

First Course Foie gras and some roasted pepper pieces (I think?) served in a tapioca pocket. We were told to stuff the pocket which was light as air, and eat it  like an ice cream cone. Sorry - no picture - at this stage, I was completely overwhelmed. Super rich but light and airy.

Second Course

Lobster with a Potato Crunchie - the potato was  blown into a crisp - almost like a rice chip. Very interesting texture  combination. Lobster was succulent.


Egg Course Arazak always does an 'egg of the season'. Ours was called an egg earthquake. The egg was orange in colour and perfectly poached with most of the white removed. Then there were little bits of crunchy sweetness mixed in with the dish. We were told to break the egg yolk and mix in the crunchy bits.  The only thing I can describe this to is when you are eating eggs, toast and maybe you have some maple syrup or other sweet thing on your breakfast plate and by accident the sweetness combines with the egg. Pure yumminess!

Fish Course Sole with Spinach and Walnuts. The walnuts were soft and were impregnated with smoked paprika. Smoked paprika is quite traditional in Spanish cooking so this gave it  a comfort feeling but the combination of flavours was so subtle it made it very elegant. The sole was divine. This was my favourite course up until this point.


There was also a choice of Monkfish, which J one my companions opted for. This was delightfully playful - a veritable beach scene.


Meat Course Choice of pigeon or lamb were recommended but the Maitre D also offered choice of Foie Gras or Beef. We all opted for the lamb save for J who took the pigeon.  The lamb was perfectly cooked, medium. More smoked paprika in a light oil and for the real surprise of the plate, a potato made to look like a marrow bone, complete with a lucious sauce in the centre to simulate marrow. The potato itself was coated with a white rind (like you'd see on a camembert) which completed the effect. (Quickly supplanted the sole as my new favourite of the night).


First Dessert Course It feels like we had as many dessert courses as savoury ones. The Maitre D simply asked us if we all liked chocolate, pineapple, lemon etc at the beginning of the meal and said he would bring us several things to share.  For the first dessert course, I received some chocolate balls arranged in the shape of a grape vine in a strawberry soup with a basil ice.  This was the truly incredible part of the meal. The chocolate ball was like a delicate pudding ball that you had to handle delicately, like an egg yolk so it would not break. On popping it into your mouth, it was like having a malteser explode and liquefy. No crunchy malteser texture but the flavour of one.


Super G had an opera cake made whose flavours included spinach and was incredible. We were also given Rosemary ice-cream and a raspberry. As with all the ice creams we received they had the most incredible texture somewhere between a sorbet and ice cream.

Second Dessert Course At this point, I couldn't believe that food was still coming at us and it seemed each course was getting more surprising as we went on. A deconstructed lemon cake which appeared to be morsels of lemon curd covered in a waxy substance that was served with a  honey water and cochineal fractal.  At this point, you may be wondering, what is that exactly so I will explain.  The 'honey water' was placed in a small bowl. It had the consistency colour and texture of an egg white. Into that was placed a drop of cochineal (red liquid). Immediately a fractal occurred in the honey water and we watched it grow bigger. We all gazed in awe as the waiter then stirred it up and poured it over the cake.


This was accompanied with a second dessert named 'Lunatic's Dessert' which I can only describe as orange pudding explosions. They looked innocuous enough on the plate - almost like fava beans. We were told to scoop up the contents of the plate, sugar, salt and a black syrup and eat the 'bean' all at once. The result was this intense explosion in the mouth that liquefied in an instant and gave the most intense orange flavour.


Coffee & Petits Fours At this point, I could't really eat anymore but the sheer beauty of the plate was so compelling we had to sample them. A truffle covered in smoked paprika wrapped with a bow of lemon peel like a beautiful present, a white bean and chocolate ball with crunchy rice. Incredible. I think Arzak has mastered something very fundamental about how animals are attracted to the brightest flower and has designed his plates accordingly.


This is simply the meal of a lifetime. The flavours were incredible but it's as much about the experience, the creative plating, the artistry and the surprise. With all of the showmanship, I still felt like this cuisine was rooted in something more basic, and elemental. You could feel the love in this food.  The other thing I will say is that the chef himself was very present in the dining room, coming in and appearing to truly connect with his guests. We had been met by him at the door and he invited us in, calling me by my first name in a way that made this fairly formal experience a warmer and more natural one.  I will never forget it!

Welcome to the land of Pintxos

We have landed in San Sebastian - a food lover's paradise and one of the most beautiful places on earth with its gorgeous beaches on the Bay of Biscay. San Seb. is home of the pintxo - a basque word  for a small literally two bite meal.

And there are tons of them!

Every bar we go into has them lined up and piled high on the counter.  Jamon Iberico mini-sandwiches, foie gras on toast, scallops in béchamel sauce served in a scallop shell, goats cheese and eggplant tower, crab mayonnaise, leeks and sundried tomato on toast.

We move from place to place like roving marauders, tasting just a bite here and a bite there washed down with little half glasses of wine or Xacoli, a basque specialty, a light white wine with gas poured from a height.

Just when I think I have found my favourite taste, my favourite place, we go somewhere else and it is supplanted. If this isn't living in the moment, then I do not know what is.

I am in heaven!