Were we in Italy or Spain?

It’s hard to pick up blogging after a period of silence.  Is anyone still out there listening and reading?! Life once more wriggled and wiggled and got in the way but between driving to Spain, doing Spanish family stuff, driving back to England and doing Anglo/Italian family stuff we managed to keep smiling and getting on with things.

20170513_155342

Shortly after arriving in Spain Big Man celebrated a birthday and we are both most firmly of the opinion that all birthdays are worthy of recognition.  We had long wanted to visit an archaeological site near Seville called Itálica.  It’s an amazingly well preserved Roman City (although nowhere near as extensively excavated as Pompeii)  and birthplace of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian.  Bizarrely, few people seem to have heard of it. Even our Spanish family didn’t seem to know where we were heading off to.

20170513_144141.jpg

The amphitheatre is stunning and very atmospheric. Apparently the third largest in the Roman Empire at the time.

20170513_144632

20170513_145426

Entry is free, which is wonderful,  and when we visited we felt as if we were almost on a private visit.

20170513_152302

And as for mosaics…heaven!

20170513_154612

Enjoy the photos,  it’s an amazing place. But don’t tell too many people or it will be crowded next time  we go!

20170513_153709

If you enjoyed this, take a look at a previous visit to a Moorish City we visited near Cordoba…

Advertisements

Three months…

That’s an awfully long time to have been quiet on the blog.  Far too long! Excuses? Oh I have plenty of those! Six weeks in Spain with no Internet access (thank you Iberbanda for a spectacular cock up), then we got back to England and started ripping our own house apart…finally.

20160928_1128392

20160930_11552720160929_123447

There was very little of great excitement going on in  the kitchen, partly because we don’t really have a kitchen right now and partly because I was on the “dull and boring food” diet prior to having my gall bladder removed on Monday.

20160930_180228

20160930_131909

So now I am reclining, not in splendour as our house looks just about as bad as it will ever get, but comfortably.  I am remembering a few days of escape to beautiful Asturias (and you can read more about a previous trip here), and dreaming of the delights I can cook and enjoy once the kitchen  is in and I’m back racing around again in my usual rude health.

20160929_124557

20161001_114749

img_20161001_114848

I can’t promise to be back all that soon, but please do wait for me, I  miss your company!

La Mancha and Windmills

Our drive from the south coast of England to almost the south coast of Spain involves a journey of 2200km. A long way. We’ve made the trip many times now and are familiar with the route, the best places to stop for a coffee, or to sit and eat some of our mammoth picnic. We know where we can stop to stretch our legs and let the pups have a little run around, and we know which hotels are dog friendly. What we’re still learning about are some of the beautiful places we used to drive past at speed, cities, towns and villages which previously were just names on the map.

20160703_223424

Instead of driving the route in 2 long, hard days, we now take 3 or 4 days and pick new places to stop and enjoy. We’ve loved Bordeaux, Biarritz and Burgos. This time we pulled off the motorway south of Madrid, pretty much slap bang in the middle of Spain to explore a little of La Mancha.

20160630_114711

It’s a province which is famed for its cheese,  Manchego, which takes its name from the province in which it is made.

It’s also famous for its Windmills, which became well known through the work of 17th Century Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes and his book Don Quixote. Not too long after meeting Big Man I celebrated a birthday in Spain and one of his sisters presented me with this great tome  (great in all senses of the word, it’s a thick old book!) in Spanish. I confess I still have to read it,but am reassured by many Spaniards that they have only read parts of it as part of the school curriculum.

20160703_223326

The tale is of a Spanish nobleman and his adventures with his trusty sidekick (a simple farmer) who sets out to restore the art of chivalry with many mishaps along the way.  One of his adventures involves Don Quixote battling the Windmills,  believing them to be ferocious giants. The province has invested money in restoring many of the old windmills,  which were used to produce flour, and they are a popular tourist attraction, visible from a great distance.

20160630_115511

The town of Consuegra has a marvellous collection of restored mills which are situated on top a hill and give amazing views of the 12th century castle and the town below.

20160630_114444

Despite the heat being in the high 30s, and not being able to go into the palace, as dogs were not allowed to enter, we enjoyed the dramatic views and the beauty of the mills and the vast plains below.

20160703_223540
Temperatures here in Andalucía are high, and just now, sitting in the heat without the slightest hint of a breeze, I find myself smiling at the memory of the gusts of cool air back on that hilltop in La Mancha.

Loving our French neighbours …. but not the cold wind along the channel!

Life has been getting in the way generally the last few weeks. It hasn’t left much time for posting or visiting your blogs, but I’m playing catch up this week.

Last week we managed a speedy hop over the channel. Well, under the channel, to be more precise as we travelled via the Eurotunnel. We spent a night in Boulogne-Sur-Mer and stayed in the old town – very picturesque but I can’t get the photos off my phone to show you. We also stocked up on lots of wonderful wine, cheese and other delicious goodies like all good Englishers on a “booze cruise”. So many wonderful things to choose from and I had to smile as I bought some freshly sliced beef carpaccio – thin slices of raw beef which I served over a salad with griddled asparagus and drizzled with lemon oil. (If you want a chuckle at my not so successful attempt at making octopus carpaccio, take a look at this post).

Carpaccio (4)

I was smiling because in England a few weeks ago with some pals we went to a Steak Grill and one of us ordered a burger which they wanted served rare. “Sorry” we were told “local restrictions only allow us to serve minced beef when it is cooked through”. Couldn’t they rely on the quality of the beef they buy and their suppliers we asked? “Legislation” we were told. So a finger up to whoever in England decides how we should eat our meat, and a big round of applause to our French cousins for letting us make our own choices.

Beachy Head (3)

In an effort to work off some of the cheese calories we had consumed, yesterday we took the pups off to nearby Beachy Head for a walk.

Beachy Head (4)

Perhaps not such a good idea to visit this beautiful headland with amazing views across the south coast on quite such a windy day, but (as my granny used to say), it certainly blew the cobwebs away!

 

What I did on my holiday….

Do you remember those essays you had to write after the holidays at school? I used to love them and then you could draw pictures and stick things into your exercise book too. No exercise books anymore in my life, but the joy of sharing via the blog.  Here’s a quick tour of our recent time out with friends and family from Spain to celebrate Big Man’s and my Mum’s birthdays.

May Day in Hastings with (Not So) Traditional Morris Dancing

Toli's Birthday Week 016

Hastings Fisherman’s Huts

Toli's Birthday Week 031

They’re Changing Guard At Buckingham Palace….

Toli's Birthday Week 042

Time for a Reviving Beer

Toli's Birthday Week 048

View from The London Eye

Toli's Birthday Week 052

South Coast of England (East Sussex) Countryside and Beach – all in one!

Toli's Birthday Week 056

Climbing Mermaid Street in Historic Rye

Toli's Birthday Week 063

Classic Motorbikes

Toli's Birthday Week 105

You can’t have birthdays without cake (I know it looks like we were celebrating a 706th Birthday, but the shop only had one “0” so we had to adapt for a 70th and a 60th!)

Toli's Birthday Week 085

And we couldn’t not have a dodgy  “selfie” of Chica and Big Man on his special birthday at Windsor

Toli's Birthday Week 135

Exhausting but fun….hope you enjoyed the tour with us!

 

Fennel Scented Cauliflower with Griddled Sea Bream

No sooner did we get here than it’s time to head back to England. I’ll be sad to leave our beloved mountains again but work beckons and excitingly we’ll also be renovating a property for my parents close by.  We’ll all be round the corner from each other like one big Italian/Spanish family! My dad will even have space to store his beloved Vespa and to continue the family tradition of making their wine for the year with grapes imported from Italy. We have a celebration ahead with both my mum and Big Man reaching special birthdays within days of each other. Friends from Spain will be flying over to England to join us, so I’ll be able to share that with you.

Don't worry - we'll all be travelling in more comfort than this!
Don’t worry – we’ll all be travelling in more comfort than this!

The packing up of the car starts today and we head off on Thursday morning to drive through Spain, right up the middle past Madrid then over the border at Irun and – all going well – resting for the night in Bordeaux. The next day we continue up through France and cross from Calais to Dover by ferry and then a couple of hours later we’ll be in Bexhill. Just over 2200km – loaded with paella burners and pans for pals, cheeses, wines, sausages and of course Luna and Alfi. We definitely don’t travel light!

We'll miss the view from the patio of one of our favourite local bars. And the dogs love it there too!
We’ll miss the view from the patio of one of our favourite local bars. And the dogs love it there too!

But today I have just a little time to look back on the last month in Spain and share another simple recipe which, for me, is full of one of the flavours of Andalucia- anis.

I’m one of those funny folk who love fennel and dill but can’t stand drinks like anis, pernod or raki. Use it in cooking though and it’s a whole other matter.

Anis is a popular drink here (sweet or dry) and is served with or without ice, or if you add a little slosh of it to coffee in the morning, it becomes a “Carajillo de Anis”. Most popular with all the old boys in the local bars to start their day! We always have a bottle of it at home but it’s one of those bottles that lurks around for ages getting a bit dusty.

After resuming my mountain walks with the pups I have found plenty of wild fennel to pick – here it’s mostly the feathery fronds that are enjoyed, but you can also use the young stems in the same way you would use fennel. This recipe uses whatever veggies you have to hand, it’s all about the delicate aniseed flavours. We enjoyed ours with a whole bream stuffed with wild fennel which we cooked on the cast iron griddle and drizzled with a few drops of anis once it was cooked.

Sea Bream with Cauliflower (4)

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a side dish)

  • Half a cooked cauliflower chopped into small pieces
  • A leek, cleaned and cut into thin slices
  • A mix of red and green pepper, finely diced
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Half an onion finely chopped
  • About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fennel and fronds
  • A tablespoon of anis flavoured liqueur
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a deep frying pan or wok and add the onions and peppers.  Fry gently until they are very soft (this will take about 20 mins) then add the leeks, garlic, fennel and cauliflower. Continue to cook until the leeks have softened, season and add the liqueur. Cook for a further minute and serve.

This would also be delicious served as a vegetarian main course on it’s own or stirred through rice or pasta.

Pasta with Smoked Pork Belly and Black Olives and Breakfast in Biarritz

Driving through France on our little road trip we bought a few foodie souvenirs to remind us of Bordeaux. Some delicious wines, a piece of deliciously pungent cheese which we ate as part of a picnic and some wonderful cured pork belly. It was sold in a market from a butcher’s stall and was in the section with the salamis and cured meats. My French is a little rusty now but I think the lady who ran the stall was telling me that they cured it themselves and sold two versions – one smoked and one salted and peppered. Of course, we bought both!

I was too busy chatting to the butcher to take a snap, so here's one of the fish stall!
I was too busy chatting to the butcher to take a snap, so here’s one of the fish stall!

After leaving Bordeaux we stopped off for breakfast in Biarritz – it’s somewhere I had often hoped to visit and imagined the glamour of bygone days. It really was a quick pit stop but enough time to enjoy the beautiful coastal views and breakfast!

Le Petit Dejeuner
Le Petit Dejeuner

Back to the Pork Belly….It’s delicious cut into tiny pieces and enjoyed as a nibble with a glass of ice cold rosé wine. It’s equally wonderful when heated, in the same way you would use lardons. I made a quick, fresh tasting  pasta sauce to bring out the smokey flavour of this wonderful cut of meat and if you ever come across it…do buy some!

Pasta with Smoked Pork Belly (2)

Pasta Sauce to serve 2 people

  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 4 ripe tomatoes cut into small pieces (save the juices too)
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of tomato purée
  • About half a cup of chopped smoked pork belly (or use bacon or lardons)
  • Half a cup of chopped black olives
  • A good splash of white wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Put the water for your pasta on to boil and then start your sauce. Gently fry the garlic for a minute or two, until it starts to soften then add the tomatoes with their juices and cook for a couple of minutes until they start to break down. By now it’s probably time to put your pasta into the water, so go ahead, the rest of the sauce doesn’t take long.

Add the rest of the ingredients  and continue to simmer while the pasta cooks. Check and adjust the seasoning, drain the pasta and add the pasta to the sauce. Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy your speedy and delicious meal.

Beautiful Bordeaux

When we travel to and from the UK we stop pretty much half way just near Bordeaux. A hotel just off the motorway, a place to rest for the night after about 1200km from Malaga and the pups can stay with us too.

DSCF4337

This time we decided to take a slow trip back and stop for two nights so that we could actually go into Bordeaux and enjoy some of the sights of this stunning city. The weather was amazing, we walked and walked, we enjoyed great food and it was a wonderful way to start to unwind after many months of hard work and a long drive from England.

DSCF4344

Do hope you enjoy the photos, they were only taken on the little camera as I didn’t want to be loaded down, but I think they capture the atmosphere of this beautiful place.

Of course, there was ice cream and we all got to share!