Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ah, Sevilla. Where my soul is.

*In May of 2008, I was moving about on a taste-test of Europe. This was my experience in Sevilla, Spain.

After an incredibly horrible train ride in.. I was worried that I wasn't going to enjoy Sevilla, Spain at all. I left the train station and was greeted with fairly bland and boring city streets. This was the incredible and beautiful Sevilla people had been boasting about? This was... blah.

I trudged to my hostel, dropped my things on the floor, sat down, and cried my heart out. After having been traipsing around Europe for a full three weeks and a train ride that was supposed to be a fairly simple overnight sleeper turned into a 48 hour disaster - where I lost time, shoes, and a bit of my sanity - I was exhausted, grouchy, and completely and utterly disappointed. I felt ready to give up.

Mustering up all that was left of my remaining reserves, I forced myself up and out. I couldn't afford to waste time, even if the city was a complete letdown.

5 minutes into the tiny, winding, fresh flower covered and cobble stoned streets, I knew I was wrong. It turns out my assessment was very premature. Only minutes away from my hostel was romance incarnate. Every turn led to something even more beautiful. Small cramped, but cozy walkways between buildings opened up into gorgeous courtyards with fountains, beautiful orange trees and flowers, and tiny little cafes and restaurants everywhere.

I didn't get to do too many touristy things, on account of there not being enough time, but I have to say, the Alcázares Reales de Sevilla is the most beautiful place I've laid my eyes on. It is a palace of Sevilla and an incredible specimen at that. Lovely rooms, graceful pillars and Moorish architecture whispers history lessons to the curious mind. Beautiful yes, but in my humble opinion, not nearly as phenomenal as what awaits you on the other side of those old stones: The palace gardens. They're massive, with many different sections and styles. So many flowers and fruits and fountains and birds that your heart aches. I won't even try to do describing this garden justice. I don't think even my camera could. But I was walking through paradise. I think I left a small part of my soul there. I will have to go back to get that some day.

I then went to see the Cathedral. Again, lovely, but I have to admit, once you've seen one massive religious building.... you've kind of seen them all. As I cringe and await the gasps of horror. No, I don't mean to do the structure injustice. It was definitely a wonderfully gorgeous building, in all it's massiveness. But what really got my heart fluttering was when I climbed up the tower, up a winding ramp studded with little alcoves of history and anticipatory glimpses of a view out small barred windows.. up to the top.. where you got to see Sevilla from the sky. Just beautiful.

My coup de gras, though, my absolute favourite thing thus far: the Flamenco. I went both nights I was in the city, and am still completely, utterly, amazed by it. I knew from the start I wanted to experience this tradition of southern Spain and upon questioning my hostel receptionist I was told I had two options for enjoying the Andalucian entertainment. There was a proper show you could see for €30, or you could go for free at a local bar. I chose to go to the bar, and have absolutely no regrets. Like I said, I went twice, and would have gone more had there been any way I could.

Again, I feel like I can do no justice by trying to put this into words; but I will try.

The place was packed, people squeezing tightly onto the benches and seats, trying to find anywhere to sit. The air was smokey and filled with the cacophony of laughter and conversation. It was hot and sweaty, with everyone laughing and jostling and cramming close to get drinks at the bar. Those drinks were cheap and plentiful, and the people joyous and friendly.

Then the performers stepped out onto this small stage. A man raised his arms and shouted authoritatively over the crowd, hushing us into silence... Anticipation.

Good grief. The pulse, the song, the passion. The voice of the singers and the grace and power of the woman. This dance, the rhythm.... I am meant for it. I think my jaw hit the floor and stayed there. Another piece of my soul flung out onto the stage. The first night the small performance space contained only three people. A guitarist, a singer/clapper, and a dancer. Her movements were fierce and passionate with feet slamming onto the wooden floor with captivating control. The singer's voice was strong and confident, his clapping a rhythmic pulse that seemed to make your very heart beat in time. And the guitarists music lulled you blissfully into this complete experience. Those three - just them, alone on stage - I thought were phenomenal. Then the second night gifted me with a flautist as well. Again. I was awestruck. His lilting music complimented the performance perfectly. The musicality of the whole situation, the complete ease and talent of these artists, it left me in dumbfounded awe.

That night the singer even tried to pull me up on stage and get me to sing with them! No, before I get your hopes up too high, I didn't. A cold I was suffering through had my voice sounding like a dead wet dog. But, admittedly, I thoroughly enjoyed the attention. Afterwards - because the second night I smartly sat myself right beside the stage - I was even able to snap a few photo's with the group. (What? I AM a tourist!). The vibe in the bar was electric. I have never been happier.

On my last night in that magical city, I walked down beside the river. Clouds from a light refreshing rain were clearing and I watched a peaceful and beautiful sunset. I wandered the winding streets one last time, sat at a small restaurant and relaxed as I ate some Spanish paella, (a rice dish to delight the senses). Then feeling fully contented I went back to my room to rest up for my early train ride to Barcelona.

Ah, Sevilla. This is where my soul is. No, you definitely did not disappoint.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The spice of life - and a salmon filet recipe

I've had this nagging interest in cooking since I was a little girl. To be perfectly frank, my parent's didn't really put anything awe inspiring on the table. Not that I blame them. In a busy dual job household with three kids and our entire lives to orchestrate, I think the last thing they were feeling at the end of the day was inspired. Not to say they didn't feed us well - we were instilled from the start with a nutritionally balanced ideal of what was right for our bodies - but you wouldn't often find anything fancier than baked chicken, (okay, okay.. shake'n'baked), with potatoes and steamed veggies for dinner.

This always left me with a hankering for more. I started out small, by inventing - or so I felt - my own recipe for spaghetti sauce. Simple smart ingredients with a healthy dose of fresh garlic, chunky vegetables, italian spices, and chipotle hot sauce. I remember when I sat my dad down for him to try it; I was inwardly cringing at the possibility that my taste buds, and only my taste buds, could possibly enjoy it.

He dropped his fork - and his jaw - looked at me plaintively and asked, "Where did you learn to cook like this!?"

After that I gobbled up, (pardon the pun), any recipe people would throw at me and strove to put my own twist on it or use the idea's to make something wholly new. I'm not a huge chef or foodie, nor do I cook fantastic meals every night. But when I get inspired, and get into the kitchen.. I feel like magic ignites.

Over the years I've had many influences that have developed my tastes, ideas, and my thoughts on food. Ex-lovers, good friends, google and the food network ;p All combining together to create the mini-chef and food lover that I am. I've switched to all organic foods, now, and when I do eat meat I try to let only oceanwise seafood, and organic/free range, (properly fed and no antibiotics!), meats onto my plates. I find this has not only made my karma feel good, but, truthfully, my entire body.

Part of the reason I write this here in my travel blog is because, arguably, one of the greatest aspects of traveling is trying new foods. I've grown incredibly fond of simply wandering through fresh food markets, trying new dishes, expanding my culinary horizons, and enjoying what the world has to offer my taste buds.

Tonight, this is what I created. I hope you all enjoy. This recipe was inspired by a really good friend. Thank you, Camille. I still make this.

"Pan seared wild salmon with spicy peppers and tomato on brown rice. Topped with a simple home made chunky guac."

I have no idea how to write out a recipe, especially since I tend to wing it with the amounts, but here goes.


*Oceanwise Wild Salmon Filet, skin on (salt and peppered)

Rice - Wild, Brown, Long grain white.. whatever your fancy. I chose brown :)

Organic Veggies:
Red, Orange and/or Yellow Bell Pepper - Chopped in approx 1 inch chunks
Fresh Tomato - Chunky like the peppers
Red onion - Yup, you guessed it, like the peppers
Garlic - Chopped
Hot pepper - Diced - I used half a small orange habanero.. but you can decide how brave you are, or not :p

1 large ripe Avacado - (you want it to feel soft to the touch, but not majorly mushy)
Garlic - Diced, abt a clove (I like it garlic-y. Sometimes REAL garlic-y. But I'm a bit of a nutterbutter)
Red onion - Diced, two teaspoons? (it'll be a lil more than your garlic but careful not to overpower your guac with awesomeness)
Tomato - abt half a fresh one, chopped
Lime or Lemon juice - a squirt or two (preferably fresh, but if you hurtin' for citrus I just use a bit of reg lemon juice from the bottle. Shhhhh.. dun tell.)
Olive Oil (extra virgin) - I just pour a small glop in.
Cilantro - Chopped (or flat leaf parsley as an alternative) - ummm... I'ma go with.. a couple table spoons? Depends on how much avacado/tomato you've got goin on....
Salt and Pepper - to taste

The guac can be pre-made, or if you're efficient while you cook you can always just throw it together in between stirs and flips and such :) Basically you chop/mush up your avacado, stir in everything else, and try not to eat it all before dinner's ready.

Start by putting your rice on, and cook as needed depending on which rice is your preference. I baked my salmon a little bit while I was cooking to ensure its readiness, but it was also still a little frozen. (This is what happens when you decide to cook last minute at 9pm and the only food you have is chillin out in your freezer.)

In a frypan heat a little oil, (extra virgin olive, for me), on medium heat. Sautee your bell peppers, garlic, onions, and hot pepper until soft but still a little crisp. Lower the heat and stir in tomato's, just enough to heat them through. Remember to season your food. Salt and maybe pepper - if you dare to spice it up even more- to taste. Remove from heat and place into a covered bowl.

In the same pan add a little more oil if needed, and on high heat lay in your salmon filet. (You may want to google how to properly do this.. I totally wong (winged?) just threw it in and hoped for the best... I'm still alive though, and it tasted pretty freakin good.. so I guess I did it right. But I don't want to be responsible for bad meat out there!) So, yes, pan fry that fishy sucker. Please don't kill yourself with food poisoning. I wouldn't like that.

By this time your rice is hopefully done, your guac is a go, and you're ready to plate this tasty beast.

Lay down a bed of rice, top with your spicy veggie mixture. Place your salmon filet on top, and add a generous dollop of guac. Lastly sprinkle with a bit of extra cilantro or flat leaf parsley because not only does it taste good, it looks good too.

Shablam. Awesome healthy dinner that tastes devine!

My only regret this evening is that I didn't pull out my good cam to photograph the nummy result. Ah well, next time.

Cheers! To good eating!