Recently in Europe category

Aracena (Andalusia, Spain)

Spanish vegetables

Even though I only went to Spain with a half-empty carry-on, I came back with my luggage, and head, stuffed full. Not because of the in-flight oxygen, but from attending a food photography workshop with ace food photographer Tim Clinch. I’d met Tim a few years ago and he had been kind enough to try to give me some advice via Skype in my continuing quest to streamline the way I do things. Everyone who is everyone has told me that Lightroom would change/rock my world.

But when I open the editing program, my head goes into a tailspin. Partially it’s all those levers that promise to make your photos as top-notch as the pros, which are also so gosh-darn miniscule. (It’s like they designed them to purposely exclude anyone who has vision problems, as it’s a real challenge to hover my mouse over them to hit them precisely right.) I know there are all sorts of tutorials and books that promise to teach you everything you need to know.

Call me cranky, but I have enough things on my plate, like worrying about using “it’s” instead of “its” (can’t we just collectively decide to let them be interchangeable? – especially because my grammar-check keeps flagging the first “it’s” in this paragraph), and making sure I’ve got my photos tagged correctly; I goofed and posted a picture on my Facebook page that was incorrectly tagged, and after a visit to a lovely market, I came home and found a slew of less-than-pleasant words aimed in the direction of yours truly.

pastries

But now that I’m older and wiser – and believe me, after working in restaurant kitchens since I was 16, I’ve heard everything – I was happy to be able to just take a deep breath, and focus my efforts – and my trusty camera – on doing what makes me happy. And that was taking a trip to Andalusia to practice with a pro, and have some fun while we were at it. Because if it’s not fun – why do it?

Since everyone agrees that this Lightroom editing program is the best thing since sliced pan, off I went for a long weekend with Tim. I was also looking forward to learning from him how to see things differently, and taking pictures out of my comfort zone. So this post I’m kind of thinking of as my “homework.” There are a jumble of photos, sizes, styles and so forth. But what the heck.

jamón

And for sure, I’d rather be eating, tasting, and exploring new cities than going through technical manuals. So there.

(Although I did realize after I edited all the photos that I got the size wrong and had to rework ‘em. Can someone please advise me of when I will catch a break?)

arroz negro

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Masa Bambini Bread Bakery, in Seville

Seville bread in Spain

Spain isn’t quite known for its breads. It’s probably because bread is more used as a vehicle for eating other foods – like pan con tomate (toasted bread with olive oil, then rubbed with fresh tomato and a bit of salt) or as a resting place for marinated sardines, or another tapas, rather than enjoyed on its own.

olive oil on bread

To make a little confession; when I came to Spain, I brought a little loaf of bread from France with me to have for breakfast. Because as much as I like pan con tomate (which is often eaten for breakfast), I didn’t think I would have the time, or the inclination, to gather all the ingredients and prepare them in the kitchen of my apartment. And I’m a creature of habit and the morning isn’t exactly the time of day when I’m looking forward to any surprises.

Seville bread bakery

So I was excited the first day when I met Juan Gomez, the owner of La Azotea, and he invited me to come along the following morning to visit the baker who makes the bread for his restaurants. What I wasn’t so excited about was waking up at 6:15am, so I would be all set to go (ie: already coffee’d up) when he would ring me up to meet.

juan gomezSeville street
baking formula for ovenloaves of bread

Fortunately Spaniards seem to be pretty laid back in the morning and Juan took me to La Campana for my 47th café cortado in twenty-four hours and some pastries, including a tasty flat, crisp bread known as torta de aceite, a local specialty made with lots of olive oil, sesame, and usually a touch of anise – although I did have one version with candied Seville (sour) oranges that blew my calcetínes off*.

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Café Cortado

Cafe Cortado

I’m not a fancy guy. I don’t insist on expensive clothes, I don’t drive a car, my hair is such a disaster I take the clippers to it once a month just to so I don’t have to deal with the unruly mess, nor do I give a hoot about sitting in a suit in a 3-star restaurant, with a tie closing up my throat while I try to pretend I’m enjoying a fancy meal. To me, one of the great joys in life is simply a good cup of coffee.

Over the years, I’ve whittled my tastes down to espresso, which is the true essence of the bean. While I like café au lait for breakfast, probably because it encourages the lingering that I need in order to gather up the courage to face yet another day. But in Spain, however, no matter what time of day it is, I always order a café cortado. Even though it’d described as a similar riff on the caffè macchiato in Italy, or the café noisette in France, which gets its name from having just a noisette (hazelnut) of foamed milk on top (although another description says that it’s because it turns the coffee the color of hazelnuts), to me, it tastes like a very different drink altogether.

Cafe Cortado

Café cortado – perhaps it has something to do with the name, the alliteration with those two Cs in a row that roll off your tongue, helping it sound so resolutely Spanish. Or the tiny glasses they serve it in, which the vested waiters with black ties set down before you with one hand, and a moment later, the other hand swoops down with a pitcher of steamy milk, to create a frothy, yet strong, coffee drink. And whatever they do to the milk, it’s especially velvety. They just seem to get the foam right. There’s nothing worse than having a coffee drink with a crown of airy foam on top – who wants to dive into that first anticipatory sip of coffee, but instead end up with a mouthful of air? Pas moi. And the café cortado combines the soothing creaminess of steamed milk with a reasonable jolt of a café solo.

I also like the glass. An Italian friend told me never to order espresso in a cup in Italy – to ask for it in a glass – because the porcelain retains some of the flavors of the dishwashing detergent. (Unfortunately my Italian isn’t very good and I always forget the phrase I’ve tried to memorize, to ask for it in a glass.) That may be one reason the café cortado alway tastes so good to me. It’s the glass. Or maybe it’s the sharp waiters with their slicked back hair and dark Spanish features, accompanied by the smell of sugary pastries in the fluorescent-lit showcases? I don’t know, but standing at a stainless-steel counter watching them pour the milk into the darkly extracted coffee in the glass while the milk foams up around it, but making sure it’s not too airy so you can enjoy the coffee that it’s mingling with, is one of the great joys in life. And one of the joys of visiting Spain.

Cafe Cortado

Seville

Spanish olives, garlic, capers, etc

I was en route to a workshop outside of Seville and right before hitting the “buy” button for the plane ticket, I thought – “What the heck am I thinking? Why not go a few days earlier, and some time in Seville?”

Yemas

I know I say this every time I visit somewhere, but I want to move here. In fact, I even think I found my apartment.

Seville apartment

My last visit I think was in, uh, 1983 – or something like that. So I didn’t remember much. But I do remember that when I left Spain (I was on an 8-10 month trip through Europe), I distinctly recall saying that I wanted to spend more time in Spain. So to prove that good things come to those who wait (and wait, and wait, and wait), I found myself back in the country. More specifically, in Andalusia.

After walking from the bus station, admiring the Moorish architecture, apartment buildings with spacious courtyards and stunning terraces, the tiled patios and walls (I went to the post office to mail some postcards, and it had the most lovely tile work!), and friendly people, I unpacked as fast as I could and decided to get down to business, and eat.

flan-like pastry

Seville is small enough so you don’t need to worry about taking public transit, getting lost, getting bored, or going hungry. And not necessarily in that order. It seems like every other business is some sort of eating establishment and people eat at all hours – starting with breakfast in the morning, standing at the stainless-steel bar, sipping cafe cortado. Then later in the day, between lunch and dinner (whose hours I have yet to master), people crowd sidewalks cafes. But unlike in Paris where everyone is drinking beer or wine, in Seville, most tables seem to have plates of something that people are collectively digging their forks into.

Flamenco

And there are plenty of little places to stop in at all hours, such as La Campana confectionary, where they candy everything – from green figs and tiny pears…

candied pears

…to sweet potatoes!

candied sweet potatoes

A few days isn’t quite enough to do Seville justice. And with over 3000 tapas bars, it’s hard to hit them all. But I was in touch with Shawn of Seville Tapas Tours (who gave me that staggering figure) and we met up my first day – and later that night – for some tapas action.

Spanish pastries

When I was booking my trip, right after I hit the “Book it” button on Expedia, the price had miraculously risen, which I find kind of odd (it’s like going to the supermarket and when you get to the register, they tell you the price has gone up since you put the item into your shopping cart) so I found an apartment on AirBnB which was great; right in the middle of town. Not only was it close to all the great tapas bars, which I later found out, renting an apartment had the added feature of no one knocking on my door at 8:35am to see if they could “service my room.” #hotelpetpeeve

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Le Mary Celeste

spiced cucumbers

The cocktail resurgence has hit Paris big-time (and it’s hit me too), and the team who created Candelaria and Glass, two of my favorite places in Paris, have another hit on their hands with Le Mary Celeste. This corner bar in the Marais is named after a ship in the nineteenth century that left New York and was later found adrift and abandoned. No one ever found out what happened to the crew, who left all their personal belongings and valuables behind, but the boat was also found fully stocked with barrels of alcohol.

Le Mary Celeste cocktail - Rain Dog

I don’t think many – or any – of those barrels landed in Paris, although there is no shortage of things to drink around here. Wine has historically been the drink of choice, although beer seems to have overtaken les vins in popularity judging from all the young people drinking pints in cafés. But gaining traction are cocktails of quality.

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Freddie’s Deli

Pastrami at Freddie's

Parisians have been welcoming an influx of foods coming from a few unexpected shores for a number of years now – tacos, hamburgers, tortillas, banh mi in mobile form, and now, pastrami. I’ve never seen anyone with a more far-away look of longing than my French partner after recounting a giant pastrami sandwich in New York, piled high on soft rye bread. On a tip a few years ago, someone sent us to Coffee Parisien for his fix. And he was so irked with the thin, wan slices of pastrami between the bread that he walked over to the kitchen and told them they were doing it all wrong. (And now you know why I have to be on my toes around here all the time!)

However there was no need for that at Freddie’s Deli. Located in a charming little square, you’ll find the white tiled storefront, the brainchild of Kristin Frederick, who launched the burger and food truck craze in Paris with Le Camion qui Fume.

Pastrami sandwichFreddie's deli in paris
Tyrrell's chipsbrownie

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Eating Around London

London Beef

I never really “got” London. It was always this hulking city that I struggled to navigate, overwhelmingly large, with a subway system that seemed like a tangle of routes and directions that I just couldn’t unravel. But part of it is my fault as I never really spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. I just accepted defeat early on. So this time, I decided to walk from one side of the city to the other, to get a feel for it. And I have a London-sized callous on my foot, but it was worth it. I got to see the neighborhoods and the districts while I wandered and stopped in cafes and coffee shops, and just sat and watched snippets of everyday life in London. And now, I “get” it. London is pretty fun – and delicious.

Spending nearly a week there gave me some time to make a few discoveries – finding some new places, and revisiting some old favorites. Such as the pastries at Ottolenghi in Islington and a trip to Neal’s Yard (where they happily hand out samples, which – of course, makes you powerless to resist buying slabs of – well, everything), all accompanied by a pleasant friendliness and efficiency.

pear cakes at Ottolenghi

And I even mastered the Tube (subway) and managed not to get lost during the entire time that I was there, which is a first for me. All of it is – as the French like to say are (although they should probably tweak it a bit, to comply with grammatical rules) – “So British!”, such as black cab drivers opening the door for you with a peppy greeting, and getting dairy delivered in glass bottles for a spot of milk in your morning coffee.

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Sour Milk Bread

salmon at lux

I was fortunate to only have few “clunker” meals during my trip to Sweden. You always feel kind of bad when you’re traveling, especially because you have limited time (and funds) and want every meal, and mouthful, to count. Before going to Stockholm, a friend who I was en voyage with had reserved at Lux, a restaurant in the old Electrolux vacuum cleaner factory – beautifully restored – a little ways from the center of the city.

River in Stockholm

Arriving at Lux was like breath of fresh air, figuratively and literally, as the terrace of the restaurant overlooked one of the many harbors that flow through Stockholm. And a less-than-spectacular meal that we’d had the evening before became a distant memory when we sat ourselves down at a table on the terrace, overlooking one of the many quiet waterways that envelopes Stockholm. (And speaking of keeping the air “fresh”, you gotta love a restaurant that stocks toothbrushes in the restrooms.)

lux toothbrushes

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