Monday, July 26, 2010

Granada Province

Iced gazpacho and manchego cheese in Pampaneira in Las Alpujarras (Sierra Nevada foothills)

Saving the best for last in my vacation recap: Of my travels through Spain, Granada spoke to me the most. It's white-washed houses in the hills and arid landscape surrounding the majestic Alhambra recall fond memories of Greece. Farther south than even most of Andalusia, it evokes the Moors and an eastern way of life far more than any place I've seen: tea-houses and hookah bars, winding cobblestone paths... the oppressive heat that I enjoy so much.

After arriving by train from Sevilla, my first afternoon in Granada took my through a dimly-lit tea-house for almond cookies and a smoothie, then up a long mountain walk through siesta heat to reach remote underground chapels in the hills. Evening brought me to an open-air cafe, with wine and a sketchbook, overlooking the Alhambra at sunset.

But if tapas come from Spain, and the better tapas come from the Andalusia region, then the BEST tapas come at the top of a three-hour uphill hike in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. And they come to you for free with a round of frosty beers!

Las Alpujarras, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, are bespeckled with wonderfully quaint cliff-side towns. Very white, like snowy peaks. And small. The kind of small town where you hike through the center during siesta and don't see a living sole aside from two loose donkeys hanging out in the town square.

Yep, there they are. (The second one is hiding behind the fountain.)
And to save you the pictures of dripping, sweaty faces, I'll leave you all with the best tapas ever served, eaten at the top of the three villages of the Poqueira Valley, on plastic chairs outside the only bar open.. the taste of perfection:

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Sevilla. City of azulejos and flamenco, colorful gardens and alit steeples. Sevilla was the place everyone said I should go, and they were correct in its natural beauty.

Sevilla was where I began my solo travels, and thus began my painting. My first afternoon was whiled away, hour by hour, vino blanco by cheese baked with honey, doodling at a tapas cafe.

In truth, the majority of my three days in Sevilla were spent walking. Walking along the river at sunset, getting lost on the way to the Mercado la Encarnacion, trying to find the church with the human skulls, and wandering amongst the roses in the Alcazar gardens (sitting only for the duration of one watercolor).

My "best in show" meal for Sevilla, came on my final night at tapas bar La Europa in the city center: Baked black cod served on a tomato puree; and goat cheese, apples, and strawberries drizzled with balsamic reduction and large rock salt.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Perfect Summer Asparagus

Winter may bring the rain that waters our grass and keeps the golden hills green, but for my money, there are no greens as vibrant as summer peas, green beans, and asparagus.

And while asparagus can be a finikey food (bitter, easily overcooked, undercooked), there's no better time to give it a shot than right now, with this simple palate-pleasing side dish!


All of the ingredients are in the title, and it's a recipe without any real measurements, as you can add however much you want of any ingredient. I usually just cook a bunch of asparagus and then add toppings to taste.

I've made this dish several times, and I used to boil the asparagus: Add to a pot of boiling water and cook for 5 minutes, drain, and return to pot. Cover with a tablespoon of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

However, now I prefer to grill it, even if only on a stove-top grill pan (though outside grills give a great flavor too): Heat pan over medium-high flame, toss asparagus with 1 tablespoon olive oil and grill about 5 minutes, rotating to get marks on both sides. Turn off heat and season with salt and pepper.

On the side, prepare a bowl of pesto and tomatoes. I typically use store-bought pesto and cherry tomatoes (sliced in half), but this most recent time was a fresh pesto and chopped heirlooms from the farmer's market. If the pesto does not have cheese in the ingredients, add a few handfuls of freshly-grated Parmesan and stir together. Mix together with the chopped tomatoes.

Serve asparagus either on one central platter or individual plates. Top with a dollop of pesto tomatoes, and finish with another pinch of freshly-grated Parmesan.

Serve with a favorite meal. For instance, alongside baked cod and fingerling potatoes...mmmyum!