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

Orange & Basil Cocktail

I am currently in a little town in Spain, just over an hour away from Seville. The temperature is 34 degrees and most of my days are spent lounging around reading, sunbathing and sleeping. The heat seems to intensify around 6 to 7pm, which ties in nicely with what is fast becoming “cocktail hour”…

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My craving for something refreshing and indulgent goes off like an internal timer around this time and yesterday I decided to make something a little different  (my usual tipple would be a Spritzer or Cerveza!) utilising the fresh basil growing in the garden and the abundance of oranges famous to this region of Spain, this drink is bursting with the essence of Summer and perfect for a scorching Spanish evening!

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Orange & Basil Refresco

(makes 4 cocktails)

Peel of 2 Oranges

A handful of fresh Basil

500 ml Vodka

Dash of Soda

Dash of 7UP or Gaseosa (Spanish soft drink)

Ice cubes

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You will firstly need to make an orange and basil infused vodka (which can also be done a couple of days in advance). I put orange peel, basil and vodka into a jug, along with a slice of orange to heighten the flavour. Muddle with a fork (cover in cling film) and pop it into the fridge for a couple of hours at least.

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Get your glass tumblers ready with a small strainer hovering over each as you pour around a shot & a half of the infused Vodka into the glasses, over ice. Add a dash of soda and top up with a very light, sweet soda of sorts (I used Gaseosa, which is a Spanish soft drink and resembles 7UP, so I’d say that would be a good match). Finally one squeeze of fresh orange in each glass.

I garnished our cocktails with an orange spiral and a single basil leaf.

Now sit back under a shady tree and watch the world go by…

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For more information on infusing spirits, check out this blog below-

http://theshiksa.com/2013/02/13/infuse-vodka-flavor/

It’s been a while….

Over the past couple of months it feels as though I have been totally consumed with work, which has left little (or no) time to keep up with the blog. Really it is inexcusable but I can assure you there have been daily thoughts about it, or more like ‘daily pangs of guilt.’ It is finally time for me to give A Shuffle in the Pantry some much needed TLC, whilst I sit in the peace and quiet of the Spanish countryside…. (and breathe a sigh of relief).

I am waking up early at the moment around 7:30am and spending 20 minutes meditating- something I have been doing twice daily for the past 3 weeks. It clears my heads and provides an inner calm, which in turn prepares me for the day ahead. Prior to learning the Transcendental Meditation technique my stress levels were sky high, which was manifesting in the inability to sit down and the constant tidying up and moving of objects (to his dismay, my boyfriends belongings) around our flat. The need for a holiday was becoming increasingly apparent. Now I am here, it is heavenly and paired with TM*, contentment has captured me.

Today is no different with regard to my routine. I woke up naturally (no alarm, which is bliss!), sat for 20 minutes then made myself scrambled eggs with the essential addition of Salsa Picante, a glass of peach juice and a French press. I never make coffee this way at home in the UK but it has become habitual for me when on Spanish soil, finding the whole process satisfying and delicious.

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Now this is when I sit down to write but where do I start? There are places I have been that I’d love to share with you, dishes I have cooked or baked that I want to tell you about and lethal-but-delicious cocktails consumed which are a must, however with mention already of meditation and trascendence…it seems appropriate to touch on the book I am currently reading- “The Physiology of Taste, Or Meditations on Trascendetal Gastronomy” by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.

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“Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are.”

I came across it on Amazon when I was buying a book on TM called the Science of Being and Art of Living. In the section labelled “Recommended for you”, was this book, staring at me with its big, beautifully illustrated artichoke. No sooner had I read “The most famous book about food ever written” in the description, I had ‘bought now’ and it was on its way…

A book that would appear to be so highly sophisticated is always daunting as a holiday read. Last year as part of a book club that I am in, I was battling my way through ’50 Shades of Grey’ poolside, grimacing with each page turn and every repeatition of “lip biting” and appearance by her “inner goddess”! As much as I would love for a minute to be the sort of person who loses themselves in a romantic fiction or the like, I am not. I generally look through cookery books, read biographies and learn from books on spirituality (although did totally adore the Hunger Games!)

Let me touch on this all ever so briefly, as I am only just starting to read this myself but firstly I will admit one thing. I am reading this book in one hand with a dictionary firmly in the other. There are the most magnificent words page after page, some I know and some I don’t (and as it was first published in 1825, this is no surprise), what a shame it would be to never know their meaning. It is easy to arrogantly breeze through a book like this and pretend to yourself that you understand all of it, which will potentially result in very little learning, however I swallowed my pride (a mildly dyslexic one at that) and made a decision after the first page to have a reference guide alongside.

The book is set out not in chapters but in ‘Meditations’, which makes clear to the reader the devotion and contemplation of this subject of Gastronomy by the author. Jean Anthelme Brillat- Savarin was born in France in 1755, aside from his epicure status, he was primarily a lawyer and politician. He spent the last few years of his life writing ‘The Physiology of Taste’ and in 1825 published the book at his own expense. He died in 1826.

From what I have read thus far, I have learned that Brillat-Savarin had a wicked sense of humour and a brilliant mind. For a foodie of any kind this book will be a wonderful education and an entertaining read. Don’t rush it, take it all in at your own pace, research as you go anything you do not understand, underline beautiful quotes and enjoy all that it has to offer on food, drink and the culture that surrounds it. It covers everything from the senses & the power of taste, to the theory of frying & the pleasures of the table.

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“Those persons who suffer from indigestion, or who become drunk, are utterly ignorant of the true principles of eating and drinking”

*TM or Transcendtal Meditation; A technique of meditation derived from Hindu traditions that promotes deep relaxation through the use of a mantra.

For more information have a look at the work of the David Lynch Foundation.