..........a blog about food, travel, gardening, and living the good life in Arizona.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cordoba, a tribute to God

I fell in love with this beautiful city -- its narrow streets, secluded patios and bubbling fountains; quiet spaces filled with the scent of jasmine and gardenia. The impressive structures of La Mezquita, Roman ruins and Christian monuments are scattered throughout this city -- the stamps of conquering forces of the past and a stark reminder of their conflicting religious beliefs.

Cordoba's La Mezquita was the major draw for us... second only to the grandeur of Granada's Alhambra, the differences are easy to discern. The Alhambra is a palace and La Mezquita is a mosque/cathedral. As a palace, the Alhambra has many gardens, water features, and artistically designed spaces just for relaxation and reflection. La Mezquita on the other hand is a space designed for large-scale worship; it can hold as many as 25,000 people at one time. It is so massive, its walls are taller than the modern surrounding buildings while its footprint encompasses several city blocks. Along its walls are large doors that open into the Naranjos Courtyard (the Orange Tree Courtyard). This area is free to the public to stroll about and enjoy the orange trees; over 100 grow here. Entrance to the interior of the mosque/cathedral is 8 Euro and well worth the experience.

The interior of La Mezquita is darker than these photos suggest but there are side galleries that have additional light from windows and electrical lighting. The columns that hold the red and white striped arches are dark gray up to about a man's height... the grime of human hands touching them over the ages? I don't know.

As we strolled around the interior, I wondered if 7th c. women were allowed to worship in this holy place or was it just for men? I did a little research and learned that Umar, the ruler of Islam at the time, tried to restrict women's access to the mosque but failed. He settled for segregated worship services for men and women which is the standard today. Prior to his rule, women held the same status as men participating in politics, art, philosophy and religion, even battle.

In one area of the mosque, there is a glass floor that lights an area below ground; it displays part of a mosaic floor of the original Christian church upon which this mosque was built. A gentle reminder that this sacred space was Christian in origin built by Visigoths in the 5th c. in honor of St. Vincent. Afterward, Muslims ruled here for 500+ years and built this amazing mosque. Then in the 13th c., Christians again retook the city and built their cathedral right smack dab in the middle of La Mezquita.

The cathedral is almost gaudy compared to the mosque... lots of gold and towering carved ceilings typical of the Gothic style of the time. The ceiling designs are remarkable; we are still trying to figure out how the craftsmen managed their installation.

Close to La Mezquita are several small hotels catering to the masses of tourist that visit here every day. Large tour groups from all over the world, young people with backpacks, and lone tourists enjoying the peace and beauty of this glorious city. We stayed at one of these small hotels that had a classic courtyard garden off the lobby where we spent some quiet time contemplating the history of this place and thanking our lucky stars we were able to have this experience.

Antonio Munoz Molina (an Andalusian by birth) said it best:

"Cordoba is not a decadent town... one of those haughty cities languishing in its own past, in which life becomes stifled (...) it maintains its own elegant poise, made of the web of dreams and the substance of time itself...; there are places here which seem to contain the entire essence of the universe hidden and untouched." 

Sort of heavy, I know, but aptly describes the feeling of this place... in a word, magical.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Day trip to Cadiz

This lovely little town in southwestern Spain has the most beautiful blue sky and pleasant Atlantic Ocean breezes -- a wonderful escape from warmer inland cities still simmering in the late summer heat of Andalucia. Not only is Cadiz the oldest, continuously inhabited city in Europe having been founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 B.C. and later inhabited by the Romans, it is also the port from which Christopher Columbus sailed from on his 2nd and 4th voyages to America. That was exciting enough for me, but then there is the Cathedral which took 116 years to complete. The church bells ring so loud, that standing in the cathedral square, you cannot hear yourself talk. It's a beautiful sound though and captive reminder to being present in the moment. I couldn't help thinking about the millions of people who walked here for thousands of years and the remnants of the many civilizations buried beneath the square. Nearby there is an archeological site that reveals the ancient history of Cadiz beneath an episcopal palace -- evidence that Phoenicians and Romans used this site for worship and as a funeral complex. Later, with the arrival of Islam, it was used to summon citizens to prayer.

Cathedral square is bustling with activity all day and night... here, you can sit in outdoor cafes under the shade of umbrellas, sip a sangria, and people watch while pondering the wonders of this place. You can also eat. Charlotte, our hotel receptionist, recommended a couple of great places to eat; one of which served the best food we had in Spain so far. Taberna El Tio de la Tiza, a quaint little tavern with outdoor seating near the beach. They served the freshest fish and seafood and wonderful homemade croquetas.

In Cadiz, we stayed at the Hotel Patagonia Sur, a small hotel on a side street off Cathedral square. The delightful staff were so helpful and welcoming, we can highly recommend a stay here. Also, the breakfast was substantial and delicious.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tapas at home

After a wonderful lunch of calamari, pork burger, salad and dessert at La Campana, we decided on tapas at home for dinner. Unfortunately, my risotto cakes were a flop -- I forgot to add an egg which would have kept the cakes from falling apart and the pate we purchased at a local grocery store was disappointing as were the olives. So in the spirit of keeping it real... not every culinary adventure in this house is a success! But we live and learn and move on to the next meal. (Our tapas plate was pretty though, don't you think?)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Morcilla and mussels

Last night was my night to cook so I bought one morcilla sausage at the mercado in the morning along with some fresh green beans and arborio rice for the risotto. Jack was not real keen on the morcilla idea, so he purchased some mussels to steam just in case. This was the first time I cooked morcilla so I wasn't sure how to go about it, but Google saved me once again... slice and saute, no brainer. The interior of this sausage is really soft so gentle treatment is a must. I learned there are several types of morcillo, this one was most definitely Andalucian... sort of spicy, rich and savory. I loved it! This was also the first time I made risotto without careful measurement; there are no measuring cups or spoons in this kitchen, so I just winged it. Thanks to Jamie Oliver for his no-fail risotto recipe that is my go-to. It turned out great just eye-balling the amount of rice to liquid; it accompanied the morcillo and mussels perfectly. All together, a rich meal, but that's what wine is for, right!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Birthday dinner in Seville

Today is Jack's birthday and he's cooking dinner for us in our abbreviated Sevilliano kitchen. There is a 2-burner cook top (sadly electric, not gas and no oven) on which he's making sauteed duck breast with fresh homemade plum sauce, steamed asparagus, and green salad with cabra and kiwi dressed with sherry vinaigrette. I'm just writing the post about it :), he doesn't need my help. For both of us, it's a treat to have the kitchen to ourselves to create a special meal. Since it's his birthday, I let him christen our itty, bitty kitchen with his menu of choice. Soon I will have my day and do something with a special local sausage that I remember from previous trips to Spain. It's called morcilla (blood sausage). Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A cook's travel essentials

We love to cook in our travel destination kitchens, especially in Europe where we have access to the fresh seafood that we can't find in Seward. The produce markets in Spain, France and Italy are highlights of every trip as are the cheese shops, gourmet emporiums and bakeries. The colors, smells and presentation are the result of the traditions and careful thought of people who really care about their craft... be it masterful cheese making or growing a beautiful tomato. Food shopping in the markets and thinking about what we may find to cook is always an adventure.

Just like many vacation rentals here in the U.S., European apartment kitchens are usually stocked with the basic cooking supplies, pots, pans, utensils, dishes, cups and glasses. The knives are often disappointing though and for that reason, we always pack our own. This trip I put together a cook's survival kit that should meet most of our needs; it's a lot more than I usually pack so it will be interesting to see if it was worth the extra effort! Here's my arsenal:

I love this tiny grater, the natural fiber sponge, and the Himalayan salt and pepper combo... finds from HomeGoods. Also, decided we needed:

A small nonstick pan
Whisk for bullet-proof coffee
Wooden spoons – one flat edge
Plastic cutting board
Silicon spatula
Mesh vege bag
Aleppo pepper
Pepper mill - whole Tellicherry Indian Black peppercorns
Zatar (sumac/thyme/sesame seed/salt blend
Basiks Blend (herbs and spices)
Sea salt – Kosher and pink Himalayan
Vanilla bean
Italian seasoning
Minced dried onion
Herbs de Provence
Coconut oil

Our destination is Seville, Spain where I know saffron, paprika (sweet and smokey) and fresh garlic are readily available so no need to pack those. The new knives with blade sheaves were a gift to Jack for his birthday on the 9th... can't wait to try them out. I'll post more from the apartment when we arrive, stay tuned!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Grape Harvest 2014

Last year the birds and critters ate all of our grapes. This year they left some for us and there are still a ton on the vines. These are destined for grape jam.