Lo que no mata engorda: My first fresh fig in Figueras

Figueras, birthplace of Salvador Dali, home to his incredible museum, and the place where I conquered my first fresh fig.

We arrived in Figueras to a more-than-slight drizzle and on our way to the Dali Museum, clutching a much too small FC Barcelona umbrella, we stumbled upon the market, which of course I had to explore a bit. And there I saw them. Fruits that, before that moment, I had only seen in pictures. Yes, never before had I laid eyes on a fresh fig (you can only find the dried variety here).

My knees were shaking as I asked the lady in my broken Spanish if they were already ripe because I was going to eat them now (now, now, now!). And eat them I did…first slowly and carefully, exploring the fig with all my senses and savoring is sweet flavor and soft flesh, and then quickly and greedily, giddy with discovery. Inside they are as bright a ruby as in all the pictures I have seen. Their taste a bright, almost innocent version of their intense dried counterpart. My first fig…but definitely not my last on this trip.

Lo que no mata engorda: Eating our way through the Costa Brava (part I)

Lo que no mata engorda...what doesn't kill you only makes you fatter. Which can only mean one thing, since I am still here blogging, the scales are tipping! Mmmm...but Spain is such a lovely way to gain weight...

Here are some of the gartronomic highlights of our road trip up the Costa Brava...the rugged and beautiful coast of Northern Spain. We ate in a lot of wonderful places, and most left us happy and sated, but these were our favorites...

Fonda Caner in Begur

Begur was the “base” for our Costa Brava explorations. Unlike the seaside towns where most tourists flock when visiting the Costa Brava, Begur lies a little ways inland. Small, romantic, and absolutely charming, it is a gem of a town growing around a hill, upon which lies the ruins of their old castell. Our hotel, Hotel Rosa, a recommendation from my aunt, was a little family-run affair down a pedestrian cobblestone lane, not two steps from the main square. We loved it! It was just the type of place I like – intimate and cozy, nothing too fancy, with great service. And if that wasn’t enough, the owners, Maria Rosa and Narcis, have a restaurant right across the street which is excellent! I am usually wary of hotel restaurants, seeking instead small family-owned places…but Fonda Caner (their restaurant) was just that...and so good we had dinner there twice!

After their requisite free glass of cava (sparkling wine) on the first night, I had bacalao (salt cod) with red pepper, raisins, and pine nuts con cebolla confitado a la miel (caramelized onions with honey) which was amazing. In Manila, we are usually exposed to a very limited bacalao experience, the most popular being bacalao a la Viscaina, and the bacalao sold here (aside from being so expensive) is the super dried up kind which you have to soak out of all hell before you use. The bacalao I had was fresh, so soft and delicate, but still with the familiar salt kick which was complemented perfectly by the onions in honey. Mmmmm. C had the lamb shoulder, which was also good, although I thought my dish was better (heehee). We also had a salad with fresh anchovies (another Mmmmmoment) and huevos de codorniz (quail eggs) with foie. They also have a dessert cart groaning with delicious goodies. You can get a selection of “little bites”…which is what I did.

Our second dinner there came after a harrowing drive up to Cadaques in the fog (more later). Tired and water logged, we regaled Maria Rosa with our rainy adventure (a Spanish-practicing moment) ending with “We are now sooo hungry!” So we tucked ourselves into a table, ordered a bottle of wine (from the Baix Emporda region of the Costa Brava…we wanted to try something local to where we were) and got ready to warm ourselves up with food. I insisted on the Suquet de Peix (fish stew) which I love…it is just the thing when you want something comforting and tasty, and Fonda Caner did not disappoint. C had the Duck Leg with Green Fig sauce which tasted as good as it sounds. We also had a plate of steamed mussels (always good) and Endives with Roquefort, which I really liked but C did not (this is the moment we discovered that he doesn’t like endives…I was so unaware!).

I cannot end this without mentioning their breakfast buffet. I was not expecting much (Asian breakfast buffets are famous/infamous for being seriously massive), just the usual egg, ham, bread spread that I have had in the tiny hotels I have stayed in around Europe. I was pleasantly surprised. They had a selection of cold cuts which included various chorizos and salchichones, butifarra (Catalan sausage) and sobrasada (embutido/chorizo-like spread), a basket full of pan amb tomaquet (pan con tomate), cereals, yogurt, and pastries. But the best part for me was this little chiller section which housed home made cuajada! It is a milk curd which is popular in the Northern part of Spain and is one of my favorite things. I will write more about it in another post but suffice to say that, just with the fresh cuajada, I was a very happy camper.
Hotel Rosa
Pi i Ralló, 19 17255 Begur - Baix Emporda
Tel: +34 972 623015
Email: info@hotel-rosa.com

El Far in Llafranc
I sometimes think that there are two types of people in this world: paella people and fideua people. I am definitely a fideua person. For me, no trip to Spain is complete without having this dish…with tons of allioli. Fideua is cooked the same way as paella except with noodles…short straight ones called fideos (hence the name). It was love at first bite when I tried it with my parents way back when, and I couldn’t wait to have C try it too…only to discover that he is most definitely, without a doubt, a paella person! We had a fantastic fideua in a restaurant called El Far in Llafranc, one of the many adorable seaside towns we explored during our Costa Brava road trip. The restaurant was recommended for their fideua (and seafood dishes) so that was enough for me. We also had Berberechos al Vapor – tiny steamed clams which were so fresh and sweet! A detail I loved was the country style bread which was served on a wooden cutting block with little tomatoes and olive oil so you could make your own pan amb tomaquet (pan con tomate – bread with tomato…a very typical Catalan way of having bread that is oh-so-much better than plain – the bread is rubbed with garlic and tomato and drizzled with olive oil)! It is located at the very top of a hill, beside the lighthouse (which is what el far means) of the town. It has wonderful views and a picturesque walking path which is perfect for a post-fideua-lunch-walk.
El Far
Platja de Llafranc
Tel: +34 972301639

Hotel Sa Tuna in Sa Tuna
We had many amazing meals in the Costa Brava. Most of them relaxed affairs involving a bottle of wine (always!), stretching out much longer than usual. This was our first and one of the best. Sa Tuna a tiny, charming town with an equally tiny and charming beach. On my cousins’ counsel, we ate at the Hotel Sa Tuna, taking a table right by the shore, to have what she claims to be “the best baked fish I have ever had”. So we made sure to order the Pescado al Horno (we had the turbot). It was amazingly tasty and fragrant…just packed with, but not overpowered by, the flavor of garlic, tomatoes, and olive oil, and ever so succulent and soft. We paired this with an order of Escalivada (another favorite of mine) which is a salad of grilled red peppers, eggplant, and onions…refreshing and delicious. We also had the grilled duck breast which was excellent...cooked just right…the perfect amount of rare with just a sprinkling of sal Maldon. After lunch we explored the town with its typical blazingly white houses and gorgeous bougainvilleas, and went for a walk down a walking path along the cliffs which takes you to the next cove.
Hostal Sa Tuna
Platja Sa Tuna 17255 Begur, Costa Brava, Girona
Tel: +34 972624182

La Vela in Calella
As I have mentioned, C is very much a paella person. He loves paella. I like it, sure. He loves it. But in Spain there are more ways than one to enjoy rice and seafood in one vessel, and I wanted him to try them too. One such way is Cazuela de Arroz. Rice with chunks of seafood and meat are cooked in a big black pot (or clay pot/barro). It’s much wetter and soupier than paella and the seafood flavor is very powerful. We had it on one blustery day in Calella de Palafrugell, another seaside haven along the Costa Brava. Its warm, wet, flavor-infused rice hit the spot as we languorously watched the thundering waves crash against the shore, while a lone fisherman bravely tossed out his line, and we shared lazy wine-induced thoughts with each other.
sorry no contact detials...it was that sort of day...sigh...

***note: I am posting culinary highlights only, but if you have a question about anything else, or if you need more information than I have put up, please email me at eighty_breakfasts@yahoo.com and I will answer as best I can :)

Run, don't walk

Run, don't walk to the bookstore and buy the latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens' American Patchwork and Quilting. Last week, Karen, the gal that I work with at Henry Glass e-mailed me about my being on the cover of American Patchwork & Quilting. I wasn't paying attention so I didn't bother asking her. Then, I when I walked into Kindred Quilts on Saturday, the girls there congratulated me on being a cover girl. HUH? I didn't realize that "be Merry" made it to the cover! I was so excited. Check it out. Not only is that quilt on the cover, they also wrote about the Creative Circle of Excellence that I attended in May. I made the pink block at the top left page of the article [the bright block with flower and green stem]. Mary Lou Weideman, Linda Milligan [Possibilities] and I made the Queen on the next page.

It has been a great week. My finished fabric arrived! It is always a thrill to see the finished product. The line is called "Paisley Parade" and I love the fabric. The images always look so dull on paper. They should be available in the next month or two. I see that it is available at
http://www.fatquartershop.com. Pennington Quilt Works [http://www.penningtonquilts.com]in Pennington, NJ ordered the entire line. If you are in the area go and check the line out when it arrives.

Barcelona-Costa Brava-Malaga: Highlights in Pictures

I have been back for a week now, flying in to Manila last Monday and working the same day. Since then it has been non-stop: wading through the email that had piled up while I was gone, unpacking and getting things back in their places, in two words -- settling in. That all may seem dreary and tedious after having come from the amazing whirlwind of Spain with the man I love. Well, yes...in way it's a slow and gentle push back into reality. But, lest I forget, the most important part of the honeymoon is still with me...my lovable C! So it's also a wonderful settling in to rhythms both new and familiar...

Now, before I get too cheesy, another important part of the honeymoon: pictures! While I finish putting together my actual written highlights, here are my highlights in pictures. If anyone has questions about any of the pictures just leave a comment and I will answer as best I can! :)