Well most would have been fooled that summer was here when I last updated the blog as we had had a spectacular week of sunshine. However, fairly soon after my mum arrived bringing with her a suitcase of wind and rain from the UK for us. I joke but it did cloud over and rain, thankfully mostly overnight though so we still managed to make the most of it, despite it not being quite as sunny as we would have hoped!
As my mums visit coincided with ‘Las Fallas’ in Valencia – and she had hired a car – we decided to drive up the coast on the 15th March (which also happened to be Keith’s birthday) to take in some of the celebrations.
We rented a little Apartment for the night and having dropped off the bags were planning on heading towards the center of Valencia in search of a traditional Valencian Paella – a good bit of Peter rabbit – but didn’t really fancy tackling the crowds on an empty stomach. My mum was saved from us contributing to the culling of the Easter bunnies as the receptionist suggested a little place to eat rice just around the corner (Restaurante Levante) for which we were all very grateful. It was a little more pricey than normal but the tasting menu was exquisite – although my mum and I could have happily stopped after the four starters – the main course was an oven baked rice with black pudding, chicken and sausage and desserts finished us off…..
We were ready to take on the crowds with a slight waddle…
For those of you who haven’t heard of Las Fallas before (and haven’t read my Valencia blog previously) it is one of the biggest festivals in Spain celebrating the end of Winter and the commencement of Spring. Assuming the information I found is correct, historically they used to burn the rustic ‘Parot’ (a wooden device used for lighting) outside the workshops, feeding the fire with strips of old wood and old junk collected from the neighbourhood. The Parot would then be brought to life by old rags, giving it human form. Over the years this has changed dramatically into each area of the city building large clothed mannequin models which until about a decade ago took the form of oversized humans. More recently however, they have become controversial structures carrying a political or social message in cartoon character style – Ronaldo and Trump both were present this year amongst others…. all burnt at mid-night on the 19th March.
Valencia is a beautiful city and well worth a visit whether the Fallas are on or not but over the 24 hours we were there we managed to walk my mother off her feet, see a large number of the Fallas and also take in the atmosphere of the ‘Mascletta’ which is held in the main square at 2pm every day …. 5 minutes of fireworks where the noise bounces off of the buildings. Not one for the faint hearted, but a good experience worth putting up with the crowds for.
The rest of the week whilst my mum was here involved many a market, eating and lots of walking ….. she definately went back home for a rest!
Now that my mum is safely back home the sun has come out again and we have had a couple of days where it has reached 28 degrees. Naturally as everyone has been on holiday for Easter over the last few days it has been a little cooler, windier and more cloudy but it hasn’t stopped people piling onto the beach.
We decided to avoid the crowds and stay local for Easter, cooking a couple of meals for friends in the motorhome and catching up on a bit of admin …..who would have thought, not an Easter bunny or chocolate egg in sight. Perhaps I should have had a go at making hot cross buns though…. heh ho, maybe next Easter!
As we aren’t able to spend it with our mothers it is very kind of them to have arranged to get together anyway with the rest of the Anderson clan. Although we are very jealous of the lamb roast that Keith’s mum is cooking so we thought we would join in and celebrate so took ourselves out for lunch for a good Paella at one of the restaurants that we have been wanting to try for a while…. by the way, just in case you were wondering it was a black rice which is with Squid ink…. very rich, but full of flavour…
I don’t know where the time has gone but the last two months have just disappeared and the blog appears to have gone with them.
It won’t be of any surprise though to find that the time has been filled with food, drink, discovering new places and a bit of planning – I know, it is unusual for us but we have been putting quite a bit of thought into the plan this year – normally we don’t think much further than a few days ahead, if we are lucky – however we have extended it a little further than normal …. deciding to bite the bullet and go to New Zealand for three months towards the end of the year. Don’t get too excited though as all we have done is booked the flights and hired a motorhome (after much contemplating of whether we should be shipping ours over there). The rest of the planning will probably happen on the plane in October!
We are however coming towards the end of our time in Alicante, so with roughly five weeks until we set off we should be thinking a little more about the next part of our adventure to Eastern Europe…… that will come I guess, probably the week before we leave or possible after we set off as we know we need to get to Venice first …..
In the mean time, whilst we haven’t been planning, we have had a fantastic weekend in Madrid back in January, doing a bit of a tapas crawl through Malasana which is an area just north of the center with hundreds of small bars, each heaving with people catching up with friends for a couple of drinks and a few tapas on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. We hopped from bar to bar enjoying everything from Spinach Croquets to Mussels before giving in to the proper hunger and indulging in two perfectly cooked (which means with the eggs slightly oozing) tortillas and a lot of Chorizo in Cider in the early evening …. possibly a little bit over indulgent for four people but, we were four very happy (and a little fat) people afterwards !!
It hasn’t all been food related, we have ventured a little further afield towards Benidorm with Pilar, Nuria and a couple of other friends to do a lovely wooded walk…. getting to see the nicer side of Benidorm from above before heading back to Villa Joyosa for a lunch (Ok, I lied – it is all food related!) with the most amazing dessert Keith and I have had away from home for a long time …. Tarta de Turron – which basically consisted of melted down nougat (almonds) on a pastry base …. it was heavenly!
We have had a few visitors over the last couple of months or so and on Richards’ (Gonzo) request, we agreed on a grey day to venture over to Benidorm to see where the show ‘Benidorm’ was filmed… it was a bit of a disappointment to find that the hotel was being renovated, the bar was shut and actually much of it was filmed elsewhere …. that said, as the day went on the sun came out and we did get a reasonable sunset but I don’t think that he will be in a rush to go back.
After a couple of slightly cooler and windier weeks – believe it or not there was actually snow on the tops of the mountains here for a few days – the sun has started to come out a little more, rising to around 20 during the day and only falling to 10 overnight…. Summer is finally here (well British summer anyway!) so the bar b q has come out a little more and we have even started to eat breakfast outside again … pure luxury!
Happy New Year! and I apologise for the lack of blog for a few weeks, time has taken hold of us and I was about to publish one two weeks ago and run out of time before we jumped on a plane back to the UK …. so I am afraid you now have a condensed summary of the last four weeks as I don’t want to bore you to death …..
It was a reasonably relaxed lead up to Christmas for us, the weather was mostly dry with a couple of grey days and the temperature hovered somewhere around 14 degrees during the day (obviously feeling warmer if the sun popped out), falling to 5 or 6 degrees over night …. some may say a little fresh! Needless to say the heating was on most evenings if we were home and we even had a bit of a boost on the occasional morning whilst eating breakfast …. even I resorted back to the odd bowl of porridge in the morning to keep me warm!
We can’t complain though …. it isn’t the snow that the UK and North of Europe (and Spain to be fair) have been getting…. but I don’t plan to be going skinny dipping any time soon.
Keith has had another two rounds at the dentist, the first of which demonstrated that something wasn’t quite right with the mould as the crown didn’t fit so they did another temporary filling, then the second (Friday just before Christmas) appears to be ok. The dentist however likes to ensure you get your monies worth as he has only put in temporary cement to ensure that the crown sits correctly which means yet another trip this Friday….. hopefully to be the last. Anyone thinking that they could pop over here for cheap dental treatment would get several breaks away which I am sure would be enjoyable…. but I am not convinced that four trips for a new crown would be economically viable!
After moving the motorhome a couple of weeks ago we found that we couldn’t get the satellite to work for Spanish TV …. disaster, as although we don’t watch much TV, we were really getting into a couple of the TV series they have been showing. We tried pretty much everything to the point that our neighbours were bemused as to why the dish was going round and round in circles. Finally we gave up and the next morning Keith called up Oyster in the UK who were really helpful and advised us that Spain was in the process of changing its frequencies (i.e. where you point the satellite to) and had obviously done it earlier than expected and not told anyone …. all resolved, although the satellite dish definitely needs a bit of oiling!
We also managed to do a bit more trekking around El Campello in December trying out a few more Tapas bars in the ‘El Duelo’ challenge …. although the last time we went we only made it to two …. the tomato triple, which unfortunately looked far nicer than it tasted and the beef stew which tasted far nicer than it looked…. so you get to see the former rather than the latter which was a bit tasteless…
Christmas has been quiet but lovely, kicking off with prawn fajitas for lunch on Christmas Eve and in the evening enjoying posh tapas – Bellota ham, Chorizo and other cured meats, Gravaldax, Herring, Cheeses and home made focaccia. All washed down with some lovely Faustino V Rioja. This was of course after we did our Gin taste challenge ….. a £35 bottle of Lymington Gin from the New Forest vs a 4.50 Euro bottle of Spanish Gin …..
I am ashamed to say that the result was that we could both definately taste the difference drinking the neat Gin (not something that we do very often I would like to add), however once mixed with a Fever Tree Tonic and a quarter of a lemon….. they were pretty much the same – apparently we can save our pennies going forwards! We even broke out Settlers (board game) on Christmas Eve which Keith won 2-3 (obviously something to do with the Gin!)
Lunch on Christmas Day which was a little unconventional … although perhaps we are starting a trend now – BBQ Steak …. the sun was shining and the steak was cooked to perfection.
After a few more days of Spanish holidays we then flew back to the UK on the 29th for a few days to catch up with the family and friends, eat Christmas Cake, Dundee Cake, Mince Pies and of course Turkey sandwiches! And that is without mentioning the incredible Beef Wellington and Mojito Cheesecake that we had on New Years Eve in Bath….. It was a great few days that felt like a lot longer as we crammed so much in. It is difficult to believe that we have already been back in Spain for a week…. where does the time go?
So, just to continue the cooking theme into the New Year and I will add to the recipes, we dug out an old recipe given to us by Dave and Nicky to make Mejillones (Moules or Mussels)
Keith has been trying his hand at making fish fingers (with Cornflakes I might add) which were really tasty, I made a mushroom and Spinach risotto that we haven’t had for ages but was delicious, we did a BBQ for our Spanish friends with copious amounts of meat and a Bakewell… although to be fair to them this time they lapped up the Avocado, Tomato and Mozzarella salad which was a pleasant surprise! We also cooked our first Lasagne in the motorhome for Miguel and Elisa which worked a treat … and Keith made a batch of Millionaires Shortbread which although the shortbread was slightly on the crispy side, it still tasted delicious!
After my failure with soda bread you will be happy to hear that I have returned to making rolls again, although we have now completely run out of our Waitrose flour that we stocked up on before we left home and the mix is pretty much 50/50 White and whole meal, with a handful of both Sunflower seeds and Linseeds thrown in for luck…. although I forgot the linseed this time! They were however super light and fluffy, although to be fair anything would have appeared light and fluffy after the rock like Soda Bread rolls I made previously, which was why it surprised me so much when Keith bit into his first roll and found something hard – I was distraught – thinking I had lost my touch until Keith realised that it was a tooth that had finally given up and decided to make the most of the soft bread cushioning to break free! Thankfully Keith wasn’t in any pain but it was a tooth that had a large filling from a long time ago and the tooth had cracked so a visit to the dentist was inevitable!
The dentist was friendly and reasonably priced and Keith is certainly getting his monies worth as despite the Dentist originally planning on doing an ‘inlay’, he soon realised he couldn’t so has given him a temporary filling until next week when he goes back to have a crown…. I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that we have survived this long without needing any dentistry work abroad.
Having been here for just over five weeks and with the nights getting colder (yes, believe it or not it has been down to about 6 degrees in Alicante …. positively chilly!) therefore we have required a bit of heating over the last week or so, we decided that we should probably go fill up with LPG, give the water tanks a bit of a shake and clean, whilst at the same time popping into Decathlon. We were amazed by the fact that we didn’t come out with our arms full as we normally do – I would like to say that we are reigning in our inability to control our (ok maybe it is just my) sports clothes/accessories addiction but I think it was simply the fact that they didn’t have such a great selection this time…. he ho, saved for a couple more months at least!
As we have now entered December the Duel of the Tapas has started again in El Campello. So as always we feel obliged to go along and try a few to get to know some new places as well as enjoy their culinary skills. We were fairly reserved last Friday night and only tried four places, the first was a waste of space as every time the barman was asked for a drink he huffed so loudly we felt that we were imposing on his personal space, needless to say he couldn’t be bothered to do the Tapa or perhaps just didn’t have the ingredients but whichever it was, we won’t be going back.
The second place offered an aubergine stack … I was going to say quite impressive for Spain to have a veggie Tapa but apparently there was some bacon hidden in there somewhere – it was also very good. The third was a wine bar whose Tapa also appeared to be veggie from outside but they had also sneakily added a bit of cured meat but it was exceptional, a small slice of bread topped with goats cheese, caramelised onion, cured beef, watercress and a fruits of the forest reduction. The final Tapa of the night was a roll made with squid ink, filled with Calamari and crunchy fried onions …. taste was excellent and presentation the best yet … scoring a 5/5 from us all.
The Duel of the Tapas goes on for a month and each time you try one you get a small beer or wine and the Tapa for 2.50 euros (although you do normally pay a little more if you choose wine) and you vote for the winner of the competition…. I am sure we will be trying a few more before the end of the month!
December 6th and 8th are two public holidays in Spain, so along with a couple of friends we headed off to Cuidad Real which is South East of Madrid, just under 400km away where Alfredo, another friend of ours lives.
Cuidad Real isn’t really known for much apart from its food which always bodes well for us but may not be high on everyone’s list. The town used to have a 4km wall and 132 towers protecting its Christian, Jewish and Muslim population but over the centuries they have all pretty much disappeared leaving a fairly new shopping centre and only one or two buildings that date back to the 13th Century.
Needless to say we met for tapas and lunch trying out some of the regions specialties including ‘Migas’ (breadcrumbs fried with Chorizo and Pancetta and other lovely things) and ‘Caldereta Manchega’ (Lamb stew with potatoes) before heading back to Alfredo’s family country house where we lit the fire and baked potatoes in its ashes to eat with lots of lovely cheese and meats, all washed down with a mixture of red wine from the region and beer whilst watching the football.
Although the skies were blue and the sun was shining, the open fire was welcome as the temperature dropped to around -3 over night, although we did also have central heating in the house. The morning brought blue skies and frost on the ground and set out to explore the garden with Alfredo’s father who had arrived to do some pruning of the grape vines and tend to the garden – 5000 sq.m in total giving them a sizeable veggie plot, tennis court, swimming pool and chickens.
After a Spanish breakfast of Panetone and coffee we set off in the car to find the setting of Don Quixote written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. For those of you who haven’t ever heard of Don Quixote it is a Spanish novel that was written in early 1600’s, considered to be the most influential piece of Spanish work of literature of all times.
Don Quixote talks of the tilting of the windmills …. and we found the windmills that are described and it is fair to say that it is a fairly stunning setting. However, with not a huge amount more in Consuegra than the windmills we headed off to the ‘Lagunas’ (Lakes) for lunch and a short walk.
Lunch was excellent, enabling us to try some more local delicacies including ‘Atascaburras’ which is mashed potatoes with cheese, eggs and walnuts and I tried something I can’t remember the name of that was eggs with chorizo, cheese, mushrooms and pancetta – delicious! All the starters were followed by meat – what else in La Mancha – and home made desserts of rice pudding or cheesecake.
Despite spending a fair amount of time in the car during the day we still decided to head back to Alicante which was another four hours drive …. slightly longer than expected as the cheesecake had disagreed with Manolo so we had a couple of enforced stops!
A good couple of days away but happy to be back at the motorhome and in our own beds again. The food was excellent but it was rich so although we were out again last night with some other friends, it is nice to be eating slightly less rich food and doing a little bit of exercise!
We have had a busy couple of week of cooking as well so I have added some of the recipes that I haven’t shared previously onto the blog. Keith made his first motorhome Gravaldax with the 4 euro bottle of gin and it was great (and has subsequently made teh second), he also decided to try his hand at Pitta breads which came out brilliantly and take less time to prove so possibly another option if we don’t have two and half hours to make bread! We have also made a couple of dinner dishes – an old favourite Kedgeree, although they generally don’t have smoked fish in Spain so we just used cod loin. We also made BBQ Baked Beans with Sweet Potatoes which is a veggie wonder – full of flavour and warmth for the winter. Finally today, we risked enforcing a bit more of England on Manolo and Santi by making Fish Pie which went down well…. although we still can’t get them to eat any veg if it isn’t actually part of the dish itself! As it is coming up to Christmas the first batch of Fruit Cake Muffins also came out to come with us to Cuidad Real which were very tasty although could have probably been cooked for a couple of minutes less in our oven to keep them a little bit more moist.
When we set off from the UK we had already planned to be back no more than six weeks later which seemed a little odd but worked out well. Having settled into our routine in Alicante and got ourselves a little bit of sunshine, just over a week ago we caught the tram and then bus to the airport, injected a little of Starbucks caffeine (Gail) and before we knew it were being picked up at Gatwick by my mum – how easy is that?
Although the first morning on English soil was only about 2 degrees when we went out for a run, it soon clouded over and warmed up leaving us with warmer (about 11 degrees) although slightly duller days for the rest of our stay – can’t really complain.
We were back in the UK naturally to catch up with family but that came as a bonus as this trip was a well planned 50th Birthday celebration for Keith’s sister Shaz….. several months in the pipeline!
Who would have thought that we would manage to see one of the most beautiful sunsets that we have seen in a long time on home ground, just a shame that it was on the Friday and no-one else managed to enjoy it with us ….. I have to admit it was pretty chilly though!
Not one to really celebrate in a big way, it was a small family affair down in Bournemouth staying at the Sandbanks hotel for a couple of nights and checking out two lovely restaurants – The Cliff and Rick Steins, we couldn’t have asked for more. We walked, ate, drank, chatted, drank and ate some more …. all in all a lovely weekend and it would be fair to say that Keith and I both managed to consume more than our fair share of Bacon whilst at the hotel ….. it is still something that the Spanish just don’t know how to do.
Bournemouth, Bacon and the trip home feels like ages ago now though as we have been back for six days and life is back to normal…..although within a couple of minutes of being home (it was 10:30 at night) we had our neighbours knocking on the door as they thought we had broken in – scared the life out of them apparently they thought we were still away – its nice to have people looking out for you!
Although it is still mostly sunny the temperature has dropped and this morning it was about 10 degrees when we got up to do our morning routine …. definately time for thin gloves and a long sleeved top when running although it does generally warm up as the day goes on.
We have been doing a bit more cooking over the last couple of weeks so I have added a few more recipes to the site. I cooked up one of our favourites ‘Salmon Monster (coulibiac)’ which is a bit of a center piece for both mums before we headed back to Spain, made Cheesecake (and dare we say it, it was delicious) at the weekend when Manolo and Santi came over for lunch and a Quick Stewed Squid with Pasta dish for lunch a couple of days ago.
We have also bought some of the cheapest gin we have ever come across …. 70cl for just over 4 euros to make some Gravadlax and I also had my second attempt/failure at making soda bread rolls. I’ll share the recipe for Gravadlax next time assuming it turns out as good as it has done at home (although we used to make it with vodka….) and I am not convinced that you want the Soda Bread recipe unless you would like to use the rolls as ammunition to take out a neighbour as they were so dense and rugged they would have killed a small child or animal if thrown with force ….. next time maybe?