My Spain…

Back into the swing of things here in London and with Summer finally here, my holiday blues are subsiding. Leaving Spain for me however, is always hard…

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Arcos De La Fronterra is a little Spanish town near Jerez, that I can happily call my second home. If you want to discover typical Andalusian culture then this is a good place to start. It is surrounded by olive groves but towering high above the surprisingly lush landscape are elaborate churches, family run tapas bars and Moorish inspired homes and dwellings built into the rocks. There is a wonderful little vineyard called Bodegas Marascal, right next to Arcos town which is a simple hobby to its owner Marco (& a real treat for those locals who get to taste the wines!) We visited last year and got to see this working vineyard in action, followed by a thorough tasting whilst snacking on cold meats and cheese.

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Just by the reservoir 10 minutes from Arcos is a town called Bornos and this is where I experienced Caraquoles for the first time. ‘Caracoles guisados en caldo’ (snails stewed in broth!) is an apertivo typico for the Province of Cadiz. I spotted the gentleman on the table next to me devouring this peculiar looking delicacy as we sat outside a Tapas bar a couple of weeks ago. My only experience of Snails before now, has been stabbing at big, garlic escargot in piping hot ceramic dishes ‘the French way’. Drinking down the grey liquid then carefully picking at the little caracquoles with my teeth was a new venture. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised and washed down with a chilled glass of Cruz Campo, I can see why this herbacious and well seasoned broth is popular despite its daunting appearance.

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(top tip: avoid the black sack at the base of the snail….!)

On June 23rd, we celebrated Midsummer in honour of San Juan (St. John the Baptist). Led by a group of Spanish friends it was a day of good food and very good wine as well some fantastic ‘Spanglish’ conversation- we were really stuck on the word ‘Host’ and this escalated into a rather hilarious game of language-charades. Needless to say, the Spanish dictionary was coming in handy. At 12am the fireworks started and out came a banquet of sweet treats; traditional Spanish cakes and desserts.

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The sun setting over Arcos de la Fronterra

It is a celebration particularly prominent to some of the coastal towns of Spain (Alicante for instance consider it their most important Fiesta) and they spend their day preparing huge bonfires, which become the focal point of the night when revellers jump over them to “purify and cleanse the soul”. We kept it a little more low key but toasted to the shortest night of year with copious amounts of Cava, whilst releasing lanterns into the sky.

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Cucumber & Mint Salad: Light, fresh salads are essential lunches for scorching hot days

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I take my Cruz Campo with a slice of lemon!

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The train from Jerez to Seville is very simple and well worthwhile. It takes just over an hour and gets you right into Seville about a 15-20 minute walk from the centre. Seville won my heart over the first time I visited on a lone expedition 4 years ago. With very little planning I jumped on a bus from Algerciras on the southern coast (next to Gibraltar) and made a journey with nothing but a map and a camera. I have returned every year since with friends to show them this magical place.

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A visit to the Alcázar is a must when visiting Seville. This Royal Palace, encased by the most enchanting of gardens, is still in use and houses the Spanish Royal Family when they are on trips to the city. Peacocks strut in between cooling water features & ancient foliage whilst tourists stagger around in awe of the Palace’s fine detail, inside and out. Good food and drink isn’t hard to come by down the many cobbled streets surrounding the Alcázar and horse pulled carriages wait patiently at the Cathedral to lead you further afield.

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To really, really experience the true heart & soul of Spanish life however, you must find and witness the passion of its Flamenco. Last year my boyfriend and I were near hypnotised behind the big wooden door of Tablao El Arenal; sweat was flying, heeled boots were clicking and hands were clapping during this deeply emotive performance, that has stayed with me ever since…

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Now, tucked away in the Sierra Morena mountains just outside of Seville, is another little piece of heaven. This year Isaac and I were lucky enough to spend the night in the perfectly rustic ‘Trasierra‘ (owned by Charlotte Scott) which is the ultimate escape.

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We drankRosé by the pool and were treated to a typically Spanish spread for lunch; fresh salads, almond gazpacho, braised sausage & lentils. Homemade cakes & mint tea are served in the afternoon, post siesta and by night, you can enjoy a three course dinner under fairy lit trees in the courtyard of the Cortijo. Sleep was easier here than I have found it to be in years, no doubt the fresh white linen sheets and rare silence of the night had something to do with that. Sounds pretty idyllic doesn’t it…

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The warm breeze is perfumed with Jasmine and around every corner, set against white washed stone are dashes of colour from the lavender and rose bushes. Come here to relax. Be barefoot and carefree. Read. Eat, drink and surrender to this rural way of life.

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There is no doubt that I am truly in love with Spain. The culture, food, drink and hospitality. The weather is glorious and it continues to fill my soul with goodness each and every time I visit. It also beholds many more little secrets and adventures which I can only hope to indulge you in on countless other occasions…

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For more information on Trasierra you can LIKE their Facebook page, check out their website or give them a Tweet @trasierra
http://trasierra.eu/
https://www.facebook.com/trasierra?fref=ts
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Pancakes For Everyone!

Today is Shrove Tuesday, or as it is deliciously known… Pancake day!!

Falling the day before ‘Ash Wednesday’, it is the meant to be our last day of indulgence before lent. Shrove comes from the word shrive, which means ‘to confess’. So I must confess now, that I LOVE pancakes..

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When I was at school, we would celebrate this day by selling pancakes on a trestle table outside the H.E. room, to the other classes. Choice of Nutella or lemon & sugar would greet us along with a paper plate that was soon to become very soggy and unappealing. Unless I am mistaken, if you had no change, you could put your name down as though it were an ‘honesty bar’. For weeks they’d chase us for that £1.50 (or whatever it was), the pancake ladies hunting each fellow classmate down like hardened professionals. It was always the best cooks in the class chosen to be in charge of batter and ‘flipping’. The lesser experienced of the class would sit with the tupperware boxes of change, clip board of names (of the soon-to-be-in-debt) as well as organising the long lines of very greedy school girls. I mainly remember taking the indulgence bit to the extreme as though I had never been fed and I am guessing it has had a lasting effect on me.

Despite crepes being my absolute favourites whether it is Shrove or not, I found this incredible vintage inspiration courtesy of Aunt Jemima. Her thick buttermilk pancakes with bacon! An absolutely must-try when next cooking up a storm for breakfast.
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…and just incase any of you are feeling extra-specially fruity today, here are some other great recipes to try out from some modern day domestic Goddesses.

Beetroot Crêpes with Blood Orange Sauce (pictured below)

Classic crêpes suzette

Ricotta Pancakes 

Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce 

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Somewhere else in the world people are celebrating…

“Powder Day”

It is a tradition in a village called Tolox in Malaga, Southern Spain, to throw talcum powder at each other the day before lent during a huge celebration they call El Dias de los Povlos! It is said to be a tradition for young men to seduce girls (a questionable tactic!) and originated in the 16th Century when a Moorish girl and Christian girl who lived in this village were fighting over the same man. The girls both worked as bakers and began to throw more & more flour at each other as the argument escalated. Today men use this as a chance to proclaim their love for local ladies and will try with all of their will to track them down and talc them up!

A far cry from all of us stuffing our faces with gluten and sugar but whatever rocks your boat I suppose!