Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Good, Bad, and Random

As the title suggests, this post is a bit of a recap of what's being going on and what's on my mind. (In the Navy, they would call this "goods and others", which I used to find strange and now realize is so typical of military-speak.) I think most people's lives are a constant mix of positive and negative, this is mine currently...

-Our June is filling up with family visiting! My aunt and uncle bought tickets for the end of the month and my mom, sister, and adorable niece are looking at tickets for the beginning of the month. We haven't seen any of them since my sister's wedding in October. I can't wait to show them the place that we've called home for 2 years! Sidenote: Can't believe it will be 2 years at that point. Whoa. 

-We've been making a knockoff version of one of our favorite pizzas (from El Horno de Leña in Puerto). It doesn't look that exciting but it is ridiculously good. Sauce, mozzarella, goat cheese, honey, and oregano. Delicious combination of flavors and oh so simple. We had it for dinner Monday night, with spinach and balsamic vinaigrette salad. If goat cheese is your thing (and it should be) give it a try.

-A friend of ours from Norfolk happened to be in town Tuesday night. It was a short visit, but we went downtown for drinks, tapas, and the Real Madrid v. Barcelona match. It was great to catch up with someone we hadn't seen in a while and it made me a little nostalgic for our time in Virginia. One of the perks of this lifestyle is that the Navy really is a small world and you never know when you'll meet up with someone again. And Madrid won!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lunch in Lovely Zahara

On the way back to El Puerto from Guejar Sierra, we took a little detour to Zahara de la Sierra to have lunch with friends. I happily snapped photos almost the entire way, while Graham battled with passing slow moving tractors. Ahh, country life, it's the same everywhere.

Despite the agricultural traffic jam, the drive was lovely. Descending from the Sierra Nevada mountains into the olive groves that go on as far as the eye can see, passing pueblos blancos and rambling cortijos...

Olive trees for miles...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Guejar Sierra

Last weekend we had planned (our version of "to plan" is to talk about it and google some stuff, then wait until the last minute) to go to Granada for a few days of snow and tapas. Combine procrastination with a car in desperate need of new brakes that were still in transit across the ocean and it looked like our long weekend was a total loss. 

Until our amazing and generous friends (Ross and his wife, Pia, who also taught me how to make tortilla, there is no end to her awesomeness) lent us their second car. On top of that, their rental apartment outside of Granada was upgraded from 1 bedroom to 2, so they invited us to join them. Weekend saved!

On Saturday morning we packed up our their car and drove several hours to the countryside outside of Granada. The apartment was located in quaint Guejar Sierra, a small pueblo blanco perched in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Sidenote: Guejar is pronounced "way-har" or some close approximation, like guapa is "wapa". 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Carnaval in Cadiz

 I got back last night from a long weekend away in the countryside outside of Granada. It was fantastic, refreshing, and lovely, which means I have hundreds of pictures to go through before I can share with you all. But for now I have have some photos from Carnaval in Cadiz last weekend. 

Carnaval is a time of celebration before the beginning of Lent, which focuses on reflection and sacrifice and some people choose to give up indulgences (still going strong without one of my favorites!). Carnaval in Cadiz is one of the biggest and most popular in Europe. For 10 days straight the city is filled with revelers from all over the country and continent. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pancakes and giving something up...

Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday - in the States most people think of New Orleans, parades, beads, and drunken debauchery. Here in southern España, it's Carnaval time. Many towns have their own celebrations, with Cadiz hosting the biggest and most well-known, attracting revelers from all over Europe for a 10-day party. I'll have a whole post on that craziness soon.

Where I'm from Fat Tuesday is Pancake Tuesday. Churches host pancake dinners or people make breakfast for dinner (brinner!) at their house. The tradition comes from emptying your pantry of sugar, eggs, and other fatty deliciousness before Lent begins. For us non-religious folks, it's a good excuse to have a big midweek brinner, and so we invited some friends over to the casa on Tuesday night.

Scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, pancakes, dessert pancakes. Yes, dessert pancakes - chocolate chip silver dollars, served with nutella, peanut butter, and strawberries. A friend brought pastries. More friends brought bottles of cava. To keep it light, we also had a fruit tray. And there were mimosas, of course!

It was a delightful feast with friends and a fun way to share a tradition. There was lots of good conversation and the question about who was giving something up for Lent (and what) was thrown about. 

I'm not Catholic, neither is Graham, or really any particular religion, but I like the challenge of giving something up for 40 days, sometimes it's good to test your willpower. So for the last few years, I've given something up. It also makes it easy if you get asked about why you're not eating/drinking/doing something you normally do - it's Lent. In the past, I've always given up eating meat. At this point, I hardly eat any meat at all (not never, I consider myself "flexitarian", still eat seafood often and meat rarely).

Last year, even though Graham said it was too easy, I gave up meat again, but I knew that really wasn't enough of a challenge this year. After thinking for a bit, I knew what a true test of willpower would be

Monday, February 11, 2013

$32 at Carrefour

 After this little post about a quick trip to our local fruteria, I thought it would be fun to share another shopping trip. Maybe my version of "fun" is a little weird, but I really do find food shopping and costs fascinating. 

Tonight we ran out to Carrefour, which is like our version of WalMart, except that it's actually a French company and not nearly as crappy (sorry, WalMart, I don't miss you). Carrefour is all over España and has just about everything - clothes, kitchen stuff, toys, electronics, books, plants, and a grocery section that has an impressive selection of fresh produce, seafood, cheese, meats, and Spanish wines. 

Here's what we picked up for €24 or about $32:

-bag of spinach
-big bag of juice oranges
-2 dozen eggs
-2 containers of strawberries
-2 bottles of cava
-5 vine ripened tomatoes
-large wedge of parmesan cheese

I should probably point out that this is not a typical shopping trip for us - 24 eggs?! But we're hosting a Fat Tuesday Brinner (breakfast for dinner) at our casa tomorrow night and needed supplies, along with a couple things for pasta tonight.

Cava - yum! Looking forward to some mimosas mañana. 

The official tally. 

Our big budget item - imported cheese for €6 or about $8. Seems spendy, but at the commissary (the grocery store on base) that would have cost us almost $14. And you know how I feel about cheese, so I consider that $8 well spent.

The great thing is that other than the Italian cheese, everything came from España. Pretty impressive for $32, right?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sunshine and wine

I had a lovely little lunch with a friend today. Even though we were wearing jackets, it was warm enough to sit outside, next to the water, a view of Cadiz across the bay. With the sun on our faces, we enjoyed a glass of wine. It feels like spring is here...which hopefully means summer isn't far behind...

Hope you enjoy some sunshine and wine this weekend! Or if you are in the Northeast in the States, snow and whatever you have stocked up on!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Coffee date

I admitted a while back (in this post) that I don't drink coffee. I have never been a coffee drinker...well, except for when I was studying abroad in Budapest and would order cappuccinos, because that's what you do when you're 20 and living in Europe. So, I have spent years starting my day with cold, crisp caffeine from a diet soda, specifically a diet Dr. Pepper. I know, so American/gross of me. 

When we moved to España, I really wanted to experience the Spanish way of life in every way (all while butchering the language with my Spanglish), but couldn't bring myself to order a simple café. While others drank coffees at the end of a meal, I would get another glass of Rioja (how's that for embracing the culture?) and be perfectly content.

Until I was out with a Spanish girlfriend, who suggested we stop for a café and I figured, why not give it a try? I mean, never say never, right? I learned to like dark chocolate. I lived in south Texas for 2 years. I married someone in the military. Crazier things have happened. 

One café con leche later and I was in love...

That means I can now happily order a café and do things like go on a breakfast coffee date with Graham and not look like a total Americana. Which is exactly what we did one weekend morning.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


I am still recovering from the excitement of the Ravens winning the Super Bowl! Part of that might be the fact that I was up until 6 am, since Super Bowl Sunday was actually Super Bowl Monday here in España. But the lack of sleep was totally worth it for this Maryland girl! 

I spent most of Sunday anticipating the big game and wearing purple, even to my afternoon riding lesson. 

We had homemade crab soup for dinner (Maryland!) while watching pre-game coverage, then took a little pre-kickoff siesta.  (Please excuse the random mix of iPhone snaps, instagram, and Nikon pics - I was just using whatever was within reach, while my eyes were glued to the tv.)

I made some game time snacks, put the pups' Ravens gear on, and had a few people over. We bought an NFL Game Pass subscription at the beginning of the season (overseas futbol americano fans - this is a must!) which meant we could watch in HD and see the commercials. 

Sidenote: Yes, Chloe and Cora think that the pouf that we bought (haggled for in 110 degree August heat for 30 minutes) in Morocco is a dog bed. 

You know the rest - football, halftime show, football, blackout, football, near comeback by the other team - Ravens win!!! After the longest Super Bowl in history, it was 5 o'clock in the morning. Which meant it was time for celebratory cava and purple cupcakes, of course. 

Some of the Ravens fans in the casa called it a night, but I couldn't even try to go to bed until after 6 am, I was so excited!

Watching my team win the Super Bowl was so great, and also a little bittersweet, since I am far away from my home state right now. I know I missed out on being surrounded by other fans and a sea of purple, but it also made me feel connected to all those people who were doing exactly the same thing I was - cheering for the Ravens, especially in those exciting final seconds of the game. 

Did you watch the game? Were you more interested in the halftime shows or the commercials? And just one more thing...RAVENS!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Port Tasting in Porto

I had been hearing and reading great things about Porto recently, so when we were coming up with ideas for the long weekend, I suggested it. And by phrasing it this way "What about Porto? We could go port tasting!" I knew that Graham would be sold. 

He loves port, has for a while. I can remember buying him bottles of 20 year tawny for special occasions when we lived in Texas, way back when he was in flight school, when we were young younger and dating. During our first trip to Portugal, Graham did a little port sampling in Sintra and he bought a bottle in Lisbon. As for me...I have always preferred wine, simple, delicious, unfortified wine. But I've learned that the best way to gain an appreciation for something is to learn about it and try it at its source (worked for Guinness and whiskey in Dublin). 

Port tasting in Porto is ridiculously easy to do - simply cross the bridge in Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia and walk along the riverfront, with the old port boats anchored along the side. All of the cellars are lined up, each easily identified by large signs, and hours clearly posted out front. If you have any questions about tours or tastings, the staff at most cellars are very friendly and required to speak at least 2 languages, so English is no problem, but many speak 4 or 5, if you would prefer French, German, or Spanish. (Coming from southern España, where the concept of customer service is a little rough, we were impressed.)