A little town called Cadaques

The brisk November wind howls eerily as it channels through the alleyways of Cadaques.  Legend has it that it is this very same wind that has driven men insane over the centuries, its numbing hum drowning out all sense of….. reality.

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Cadaques. View from town church terrace

 

It is in fact very easy to lose track of time and reality as you walk up and around the labyrinth that is downtown Cadaques. The seaside town is nestled along the Costa Brava (rugged coast) of Spain, facing the Mediterranean Sea. During the summertime, this charming corner of the world is a magnet to tourists flocking to its picturesque beaches, rugged hiking trails, and breathtaking architecture. As the autumn fog settles in, however,  you will have the winding roads all to yourself, often walking for hours before any soul crosses your path.  There could not be a better way of exploring!

As soon as the oversized passenger bus takes its last turn around the surrounding mountains that lead into town, the terraced olive trees will greet you with their swaying arms. As you take in the sight – quaint white stuccoed buildings  with terra-cotta roof tops and the blue-gray sea violently crashing against the seaside roads, you will understand why this jewel of a town has attracted many artists over the last century, from Salvador Dalí to Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. All of them making their pilgrimage to the land of Cap de Creu’s jagged terrain to light the fire of their imaginations.  The bus drops off passengers at the only bus station located right at the entrance of town. From there, the small low-season crowd disperses to all directions.

The eccentricities of one of Spain’s most iconic artists, Dalí, are showcased as you take a tour of his former home and art studio. The now museum enjoys a phenomenal view of the sea along with the serene soundtrack of the crashing waves nearby. The journey from downtown Cadaques to Dali’s home/museum must be taken on foot in order to take in the landscapes that inspired so many of Dali’s works of art.

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Cadaques streets

A walk along these streets and the hiking trails of Cadaques will take you back to a simpler time. And when it’s finally time to return to reality, it’s easy to find a delicious mediterranean meal worthy of grand epicurean praise. Seafood is freshly caught everyday by local fishermen and any restaurant you walk into will feature a traditional catalan seafood dish on the menu. Arrocerias, or restaurants specializing in rice dishes (think paella) are abundant in this region of Spain. You will enjoy a traditional meal of seafood paella and a bucket of mussels steamed in Catalan tomato broth at Ix, a hole-in-the-wall family run restaurant located steps away from the beach . A traditional meal in Cadaques will include a bottle of table wine and of course,  a never-ending bread basket!

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Bucket of mussels in tomato broth. Spanish table wine

While you are spending time along the Mediterranean coast, take the opportunity to enjoy grilled sardines, a staple of the region often making an appearance as the “catch of the day” in most Cadaques menus. Casa Nun offers a grilled sardine dish accompanied by a colorful array of grilled seasonal veggies.

You can’t go wrong if you follow your nose towards your next dinner spot! As soon as the sun sets, you will be able to smell the subtle seafood aroma on the grill from the many restaurants that do remain open year round.  It will surely be a meal that will never be forgotten!

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Grilled sardines at Casa Nun Restaurant

 

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View of Cadaques from a nearby hiking trail

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Cadaques – Home by the beach

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Orange tree in Cadaques

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Blue door

 

Food Journey Through Madrid, San Sebastian, and Paris

Memories never fade, but just in case I forget any of the amazing details… I got this little video to take me back to my adventures through Spain & France!

We started off wandering the historic streets of Madrid and exploring its historic bullrings and museums. Of course we could not miss a traditional lunch of bull tail stew before hopping on a train that would takes us on a fairytale journey to the majestic medieval castle walls of Avila, Spain.

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Bulltail Stew for lunch in Madrid

After a rich history lesson and some “cochinillo asado” and “caldo Madrileño” (Avila staples), we headed north towards the self-described gastronomic capital of the world, San Sebastian.

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caldo Madrileño near the castle wall – rich beef broth with chorizo bits, poached egg, and day old baguette.

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Cochinillo Asado – roasted suckling pig with patatas (potatoes of course)

I will never have such an exquisitely braised pig ear with sherry & butter sauce like the one I had that day in “La Cuchara de San Telmo” ….We also sampled a creative dish of seared goat cheese stuffed with roasted veggies and drizzled with a fucking delicious sauce (yes!) and finally sprinkled with sesame seeds for some unexpected crunch, Freshly caught cod fish was a memorable choice as well! All of the food was exclusively basque and painstakingly prepared by passionate chefs whose one mission in life is to showcase the culinary wonders of the Basque region.

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Seared & stuffed goat cheese @ La Cuchara de San Telmo

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Me in front of San Sebastian’s culinary jewel!

From San Sebastian we took a night train to Paris where we were greeted with a dynamic hustling and bustling city of lights!  A trip to the enchanting “Le Marche des Enfants Rouges”  fulfilled my Parisian fantasy of walking through the market stalls as I sampled fromage, charcuterie, and duck pate. Here, the “Bonjours” were always followed with a genuine smile!  The highlight of our stay was the charming “Le Petit Canard” where we partook in an unforgettable dimly lit romantic dinner for two to celebrate that moment in time, far away from home. It was perfection. After a day’s journey on foot through the most picturesque of Parisian neighborhoods, we came upon a lively yellow building with a small entrance and and inviting scene of happy diners begging us to come inside. The Escargot with garlic butter, duck confit, French onion soup, and cassoulet were just some of the classics offered in this quaint corner of the classical Parisian culinary world! The food was unforgettable, but the hospitality received in Paris was incomparable to anything else I have ever experienced. The restaurant owner at Le Petit Canard personally greeted us and kindly led us to our table. Language barriers aside, we talked about the origin of the organic ducks used in the menu and of his journey to Mexico and the food he encountered. The conversation always gravitated towards people and food. The food people eat and the food they share with others.

If there is one thing I noticed in my journey through Paris, Madrid, and San Sebastian, was that the people are eager to share their food with us, and through that sharing they taught us a little about their history, way of life, and culture.

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French onion soup @ Le Petit Canard

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Le Petit Canard

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Escargot is not to be missed

 

Eating Barcelona Pt. 2 – Mosquito

Close your eyes and imagine the remnants of a dark, rainy night. The rain is falling slower and slower with every passing minute until there is nothing left but some sporadic shallow puddles and the smell of wet dirt in the air. Rain is not something Barcelona is known for, but when the winter arrives and the drizzle settles in, it can be unforgiving for the unsuspecting traveler. On this particular night of cold rain, we ventured out into the miedeival labyrinth we had become so familiar with already, El Born. We wandered around with the high hopes of finding a bowl of something to warm up our mood!

As we turned onto one of the many winding paths of “El Born”, something hit us! It was the subtle aroma of lemongrass and thai basil dancing a slow dance towards us. We followed the smell towards a small crowd that had begun to converge around a glass door leading into “Mosquito“, Barcelona’s go to place for Asian inspired tapas.

A bowl of wonton soup never figured into our dinner plans before that moment. To travel thousands of miles for Asian food in Spain, when our very authentic Vietnamese community plays it big in the culinary world in Orlando, seemed unthinkable…… But the tantalizing aroma kept pushing and tugging at us. Wait time was an hour but well worth it.

Eat here for a savory wonton soup and unforgettably delicious duck dumplings with a tangy dipping sauce (my personal favorites, but you must try the entire menu). The craft beer selection is diverse with many to chose from (not so common in Barcelona).
There is no doubt that Mosquito’s vibrant and modern atmosphere was a nice break from days and days of Spanish tapas. The food itself was a window into another aspect of Barcelona that before that moment I had failed to observe, its diversity of cultures.

“A traveler sees what he sees. A tourist sees what he has come to see”. – Gilbert K. Chesterton
At the end of the night, this quote resonated in my mind. Why? Its easy to set out into the beautiful city of Barcelona with a list of its many heavily promoted tourist attractions – Gaudi, tapas along the ramblas, and more Gaudi. And while these are an outstanding reflection of the artistic talents that inspire the city, many tourists fail to look deeper towards the people that make up the fabric of the city.

On this particular night, Mosquito offered us a taste of the Barcelona that you will not  often see in tourist guides. Rather, we saw what we saw and broke away from our Spanish tapas routine to  experience just how diverse this glowing city had become!

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Courtesy of YELP. Craft beer inside Mosquito.

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Courtesy of YELP – Inside looking out.

Eating Barcelona – Part 1

Not too long ago I found myself exploring the medieval streets of “El Born”  in Barcelona. This is a magical corner of the world that is full of local charm and mystery, but it is also starkly juxtaposed with the permanent presence of mass tourism and its effects on locals.  In an effort to stray off the beaten path as much as possible, we went in search of local restaurants serving up traditional & exceptional catalan food. The city of Barcelona is widespread and diverse, and although the touristy districts tend to be overrun by overpriced food establishments,  the city has so much to offer for those who venture outside of these areas.

These are some of our favorite spots in the city where freshly caught seafood took center stage, traditional cuisine thrived alongside the exotic and new, and local ingredients always remained king!

Can Majo – Paella Marinera 

Carrer l’Almirall Aixada, 23
08003 Barcelona
Spain

I could not imagine a visit to Barcelona without the chance to savor its fresh caught seafood. After an exhaustive research process that included talking to several strangers (allegedly locals) randomly selected from the streets, we opted for this little jewel in the heart of Barceloneta, a thriving seaside neighborhood facing the Mediterranean.  This charming restaurant sits next to the boardwalk and offers a million dollar view for those who opt to dine outside. But we came here for the food, so the view was the least of our worries….

Like any other Spanish restaurant, we were greeted with a bottle of red table wine and plenty of olives to pick through while we perused the menu. This didn’t take long since we had our eye on the prize: Paella Marinera. There is one thing you must know about paella in Barcelona. Rumor has it that there are some restaurants unwilling to go through the effort of making this time consuming dish. As a result, they serve up pre-frozen paella with the push of a microwave oven button. We were warned about this and were told to always pay close attention to the time it takes for the paella to get to your table. If it takes 30 minutes or more, you are more than likely eating freshly cooked paella. Can Majo passed this test when our server warned us of the long wait time. No problem, we were under the spell of the crunchy pan con tomate!

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Red Wine, Olives, and Pan con Tomate in the Background

Our paella arrived pipping hot and with a trail of dancing steam swirling above the casserole. Heaps of seasoned rice and symmetrically placed langoustines greeted us with welcoming warmth as our spoons scooped out what  seemed like enough food for a hungry army onto our white plates.  We were instantly in love at first bite as the sweet & subtly salty squid confirmed the seafood freshness. Beads of endless al dente rice flowed into our bellies until not a single one was left. We washed it down with an espresso for a perfect ending to the ideal Barcelona meal. It was like something out of a fairytale really – magical. We triumphantly walked back to our apartments, ready for a good night sleep. For that moment, life was perfect.

Paella Marinera for two

Bar La Plata – Tapas + wine

Carrer de la Mercè, 28
08002 Barcelona
Spain

Dining out every night in Barcelona can get pretty expensive, specially with the service percentage tacked on to any full service restaurant. For those nights when you realize you still have more European cities to explore and very very very limited funds, Bar La Plata is a delicious and cheap option. I used Yelp Barcelona to find this bar tucked away in a corner of the old town section of Barcelona ( Barri Gòtic). Reviews raved about the tapas offered here and the photos were inviting so we walked in on a cold rainy night.
The space was packed but the wine kept flowing and the service was quick. There were two barrels of wine, white and red… Easy enough. We walked up to the bar, asked for wine and a tapa. I’m not really sure that there was any menu to speak of, in fact, I don’t even know how much I paid for my food, but it is delicious and filling and that always make for a great investment. Bar La Plata has been around for 70 years, and judging by the proximity to Picasso’s old studio (found only steps away based on clues gathered during a visit to the nearby Picasso museum), we suspect this might have been a hang out place for the artist…..although that is pure speculation on our part.

Our first tapa consisted of fried Boquerones, finger fun sized fish very similar to sardines. They were crispy to perfection, crunchy and addicting. And yes, you do eat the whole fish, head included. The eyes are pretty tasty.

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Fried boquerones with red wine

The fun did not stop there! We were ready for round two, meaning; more wine and time to try another tapa! We asked for  the famed Catalunyan  sausage “butifarra” because of course they had sausage! Restaurants here don’t have an option not to have sausage! We learned that very early on in the trip!  The wine flowed into our bellies and the sausage arrived sizzling on top of a toasted slice of fresh baguette. Who knew? Alcohol, pork, and carbs are a wonderful combination!

Coming up next: We found the most exotic of tapas in “Mosquito“. A jewel of a restaurant offering a fusion of tapas and Asian cuisine in the heart of Barcelona!

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Butifarra on baguette and the last few drops of wine.

Tres Leches – A brief history

Tres Leches

Being the self-described foodie and aspiring chef that I am, I could not accept that the very “Mexican” pastel de tres leches that I grew up eating in my hometown of El Paso, Texas came from within a box of conveniently premixed yellow cake mix.

I was baking a tres leches for my very own going away party at work (yes I did this by choice and with a very enthusiastic disposition) and I needed a recipe that would wow everyone. I wanted to share a little slice of my heritage with my fellow co workers because the world speaks in food. Anywhere you go, this is a truth! So I called my mother and discovered that two generations of women in my family had given in to the efficiencies of the boxed cake mix. Bummer!

I started to look for my own recipe but the internet is overflowing with tres leches recipes claiming to be Mexican, European, Nicaraguan….etc. Confusion ensued.

Theory of Origin #1: There is a very confounding theory online which traces the origins of Tres Leches, as it is know to Latin American countries, to the corporation Nestle. Nestle distributed its canned milk products throughout Latin America during WWII when it set up manufacturing plants in Mexico. A quick call to my grandmother confirmed that she did indeed use recipes from the canned milk labels., although she couldn’t confirm the tres leches recipe was one of them.

Theory of Origin #2: Other stories tell of tres leches originating in Europe (think desserts like the popular tiramisu, which is another dessert that is soaked in sweet liquid before serving).

All in all, identifying the exact origin of this popular dessert proved to be a very difficult task. So I decided to start my own version with bits and pieces taken from different sources.

The Recipe : Sponge Cake from my prized America’s Test Kitchen Baking book 

If you want to step away from the boxed cake mix, this is the perfect cake recipe to use for tres leches. Soft with a springy feel, this airy cake will not get overwhelmingly mushy when I soak it with milk. Instead, it will absorb just enough to give it a crumbly and moist texture.

  • 1/2 cup plan cake flour (I substituted with AP flour without a problem)
  • 1/4 cup unbleached AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs, room temp
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  1.  Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 8 inch cake pans and cover the bottoms with parchment paper cut into rounds.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt  together in a large bowl. It is recommended that you sift it to break up any lumps.
  3. Heat milk with butter in saucepan, add vanilla and keep warm and away from heat.
  4. Separate 3 eggs and place the whites in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Place the yolks in a bowl with the other 2 whole eggs.
  5. Beat the whites at medium speed until they become foamy. Increase speed gradually and add 6 TBS of sugar until the whites form soft peaks. Move the egg whites to another bowl
  6. Add the whole egg + yolks mixture to the now empty mixing bowl, add the rest of the sugar and beat at medium high speed until they are thick and a pale color.
  7. Add these beaten eggs and sugar into the egg whites.
  8. Carefully sprinkle the flour mixture into this egg mixture and fold gently with a rubber spatula until all of the flour is thoroughly combined. The original recipe suggests 12 times but it may take slightly more.
  9. Pour the milk and butter into a well made on the side of the bowl. Mix until there is no trace of dry flour.
  10. Pour the batter into prepared cake pans and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the top appears to be a golden color and a toothpick inserted to the center of the cake comes out clean.
  11. Run a knife along the perimeter of the cakes. This will loosen them up so that they can be turned over and removed from the pans.
  12. Place cakes on a baking rack and place in the refrigerator until fully cooled.

Three Milks – For this one I just kind of played it by ear (remember I am creating my own recipe). I used heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and half and half at a ratio of  1 – .50 – .50. So I used 2 cups of liquid altogether and wanted to avoid an overtly sweet milk blend. I grated a bit of cinnamon into the milk. Many people like to spike it with some kind of liquor. I will definitely do that next time.

Divide the milk into two equal portions. Poke holes throughout the cakes with a fork and slowly drizzle the milk blend into each cake. Pause while the cake absorbs most of it, then come back and continue to drizzle more in. You will find that the milk will start to ooze out of the bottom as the sponge becomes more and more saturated. You could  probably take that milk and reuse it if you wanted to.

Decoration  – This calls for a standard whipped heavy cream topping. I grated some lemon zest (1/2 tsp) and added honey to taste until it was sweet enough for me. Whipped the cream to stiff peaks on a stand  mixer.

Before spreading it on the cake, I spread a thin layer of raspberry jam on top of one cake, then topped it with the other cake layer of equal size. Then once this was set in place, I spread the whipped cream evenly throughout until smooth. This is a blank canvas now, ready to be decorated with fresh fruits, pecans, almonds, or anything else that you may have available!

Portland Oregon Inspiration

Deciding what to leave behind when the moving day comes is very difficult and stressful. I know I should not be so attached to objects but I cannot help but think that that I may need that mandolin that I have not used in 3 years. Then I end up putting it in the keep pile instead of throwing it out…..

So I have decided to remain focused! These are some of my favorite Portland Oregon photographs found around the internet.  They help me stay on top of my packing and keep me striving to make it there in 2015!

St. Johns Bridge, Portland, Oregon, U.S (by Russell Flynn Photography on Flickr)

St. Johns Bridge, Portland, Oregon, U.S (by Russell Flynn Photography on Flickr)

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Burnside Bridge & Cherry blossoms

Snow in Portland, Oregon

Snow in Portland, Oregon

Oh the Markets!

Oh the Markets!

Packing up & going far….

As I write this, we are trying to consolidate 6 years of Florida life into the 2 -door VW Golf that will drive us three thousand miles across the country in an attempt to escape the increasingly backwoods conservative mentality of Florida folk and the heat induced stupor that strikes without fail every summer.

We have decided to move to the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Oregon) where the public transportation is abundant, running trails exist, and bike lanes are a convenient reality. Often rumored to be the land of craft beer, bohemians, and grass fed chickens, Portland seems like it will be an affordable foodie mecca for an aspiring chef and her tattoo artist husband – yet again,  who knows, we may have watched too many episodes of Portlandia! I am willing to take my chances…

To drop everything in one place and start from scratch in another is a rather daunting thought, we are seriously shitting bricks here…..So, in an effort to save as much money as possible, we have decided to sell almost everything we own (not much) and haul our most valued possessions; cats, le creuset, kitchen aid, bikes, computers, & books in our cute little hatchback!

So we have started to throw out, donate, and sell stuff! If anyone is a relocating expert, please do share best practices and tips! I will be ever so grateful!!

The adventure begins! Countdown: unknown (we do not have a date set in stone yet).