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Friday, February 28

Sun in the Winter

There’s an unspoken rule for the weather here. People from every corner of the world loves clear skies, sunshine and warmer weather, right? After having lived here and experienced it ourselves, we admit Germans take it to the next level. As soon as the sun shines, even briefly, everyone is outside strolling, window shopping, exercising, and/or dining. Germans (probably) invented al fresco style dining because when the weather is nice they hate being inside. There are even coffee shops where people buy a cup of espresso or cappuccino and drink it outside; it must taste better. Being so far north the winters can be brutal and seem like a never ending season with grey, dreary days. Sometimes weeks pass before we see the sun. Therefore when the skies are clear, the unspoken rule applies.

Fortunately this past week has been an exception to a dull winter and we’ve had glorious weather every single day.

Winter is also THE season to get citrus; fresh, sweet citrus. In Nürnberg it comes from Spain and Greece that I am aware of. The husband loves his fruits, especially Mandarins and Clementines. The other day in addition to buying Clementines I also bought Valencia oranges (typical for juice).

Having those oranges on my counter for an hour, I knew exactly what I wanted to make with them. I’m partial to banana-type breads. For instance. Baked in a loaf pan if I can eat it for breakfast then I am making it or thinking hard about making it. Instead of making it with butter I found an older recipe in my folder with olive oil and yogurt. I’ve made the original but for these delightful oranges I had something else in mind.

Orange Cardamom Yogurt Bread
Yield: One 9 inch loaf
Recipe adapted from this bread

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom*
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons orange zest**
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup orange juice, fresh ***
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the asterisks, please see my notes below the recipe.

Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C

Thoroughly coat a 9-inch loaf pan with olive oil. (I recommend a glass or ceramic pan.)

With a zester or a vegetable peeler, zest the outside of 1 orange. If using a peeler, make sure to mince the peel with a sharp knife.

Whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, ground cardamom, and salt in a medium bowl.

In another bowl, rub the sugar and the orange zest together orange with your fingers. Then whisk in yogurt, olive oil, orange juice, eggs, and vanilla extract. Fold in the dry ingredients until everything is combined. (Do not overmix.)

Before adding the batter, make sure the pan is coated with olive oil entirely (and the oil hasn’t gathered at the bottom). Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top.

Bake in the center of the oven until top of bread is golden brown, about 50- 55 minutes. Insert a toothpick or butter knife in the center of the bread, if it comes out clean or with few crumbs then it is ready.

Let the bread cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the bread. Invert it onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

My notes:
* Instead of 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cardamom, I would use 1 1/4 teaspoons
** Instead of 2 1/4 teaspoons orange zest, I would use 2 teaspoons.
*** There wasn’t enough orangey flavor, except from the zest, I plan to experiment with omitting olive oil and adding 1/2 cup orange juice, next time. (If you have experience with omitting fats for juice in quickbreads, please do share your experience.)

For longer shelf life, wrap the cooled bread in plastic wrap, then in ziptop bags and place in the fridge for 4- 5 days.

This was a recipe I am thankful to have tried, even the husband raved because it wasn’t too sweet. And to eat this with coffee while the sun shines makes for a perfect February morning.

Tuesday, February 25

Southern Spain- Seville & Malaga

Seville is the largest city in the state and receives the most visitors due to its size, Flamenco and Alcazar. In the walking tour, we learned of the Giralda (attached to the Cathedral) that was built as a Minaret but eventually converted to bell tower. We learned thoroughly of the conquest of the city by Ferdinand III in 13th century. After touring through the city on foot, one of my favorite spots was Plaza de Espana, a large square with renaissance architecture now houses government offices and decorative tiles.

After the tour we headed to Bar Alfalfa in the city. With a full bar and standing room only we ordered few tapas at the bar. When we entered, few tables had a cheesy dip so we ordered that, Pollo al Horno, Sliced bread with melted cheese and Jamon, Paella, Salmorejo and Blood Sangria to wash it all down with. The “blood” was play on words due to Halloween. Our favorite was the baked cheese made with Provolone and dipped with bread. Paella was cooked with seafood and although very good on flavors it was under salted. Both the Salmorejo and the bread with jamon were acceptable while the jamon provided great flavors, deeming it memorable. Our least favorite was the Pollo al Horno which was boiled chicken, seasoned with salt so overall bland. The sangria was excellent with a hint of cinnamon.

That afternoon we visited the Alcazar, located minutes from the Cathedral. It was built during Moorish era as a fort and is now restored as a palace. Due to the high number of visitors to the Alhambra, the Alcazar is the opposite and relaxed. The palace was first built as a main fort and then had additions added later by kings and queens. There are more gardens than you’d expect and some are worth the stroll. There is a lot of history to the Alcazar including the transformation from Muslim era to Christian. When we were there they didn’t offer guided tours so we opted for the audio guide and we recommend it. And unlike the Alhambra, stroll at your own pace without feeling rushed. I mentioned the husband was underwhelmed by the architecture (because of seeing it in Turkey & India) but if he had to pick one over another, he recommends the Alhambra over the Alcazar. In my opinion, if you have the time, visit both.

Bar Modesto serves food and also has a restaurant across the street (I am not sure if they are related). We ordered Gambas in Ajio (shrimp in garlic sauce), mushrooms with shrimp and Jamon, Potato salad with seafood, and Albondigas (meatballs). The shrimp were served hot in a Cazuela, very garlicky and a hint of red chili flakes. The meatballs were made of deer meat, served with tomato sauce and unusually memorable. And the other dishes were very good also. An important note about the service, it is extremely wonderful. Our server was a short, petite man and very understanding. He suggested couple of our dishes for the night and we were happy he chose them.

We dedicated the next day to wondering Seville on our own and hoping to find some gems, starting with a visit to Triana Market (the largest farmers market in the city) at 10am. Upon entering, most of the stalls were still shut and boarded up. We found ourselves across the street at an unnamed café for breakfast. We ordered pan con tomate y jamon (bread with tomato and ham) with cortado, shot of espresso with warm milk. (Apparently cortados are all the rage in US- mainly NYC because things have to be cool and mainstream to get attention.) At this café it was strong but delightful. After breakfast, we saw many homes and streets dotted with citrus trees and beautiful tiles. It is obvious the Moors impacted this area tremendously with their colorful creativity.

Bodeguita Romero was a quick snack before an actual lunch. The reason to visit this place was to try Pringa, sandwich made normally with beef or pork. We ordered braised pork cheek Pringa and the server suggested Pavia de Baccalao. Pavia is salted cod that’s breaded and deep fried. Both were very good, the pringa was rich from the fatty cheeks but tasty with a glass of beer. Romero is best for a quick lunch or post dinner snacks.

Then it was off to Enrique Becerra around the corner. 1 because it was so close and 2 because why not? That day was dedicated to good food. This place was packed with locals and was standing room only. The back used for dinner is curtained off during lunch. If you can snatch a bar stool seat or two, you’re lucky, which we were. Seeing others’ tables, we pointed and got some of the same things as the locals, chocos en la Rioja, Salmon in White Sauce and Albondigas. The chocos (squid) was braised for hours in Rioja red wine sauce and one of the husband’s favorite things in that meal, to our surprise. The Albondigas were my favorite from the entire trip because they are made with lamb and flavors of mint. The fish in white sauce was served in bite sized pieces per person. It was also good but we couldn’t understand why others around us kept ordering it. Later we learned the fish was their daily special and was half off hence the multiple orders from the same people.

That afternoon we spent relaxing in our room. Before dinner we walked over to Triana market at 5pm for a stroll and found all the stalls were boarding up. Do these people actually open for more than 2 hours?

It was off to Bar Modesto again before a Flamenco show. We ordered new dishes, fish and seafood soup, sea bass with cauliflower and pearl wheat, grilled squid with cauliflower, fresh shrimp and stuffed zucchini with seafood. The sea bass was a winner with balancing flavors and textures from the veg and bulgur. The shrimp were cold and with head on but very fresh. And the soup was nice, the stock made with fish bones. While the stuffed zucchini was good, the concept was too modern, especially for a restaurant like Modesto.

If you are interested in seeing Flamenco, make sure to book seats before the show and arrive early. At Casa De La Memoria, you stand in line, first come first serve basis and therefore score good seats. We had never seen Flamenco, even on TV, so it was a new for us. We learned, later, Flamenco was started by the Romani people in Andalucía and is a combination of singing, dancing and playing the guitar. We both recommend Casa de La Memoria because it devotes the evening to the singing, dancing and its dancers and the expression of tragedy and happiness; there isn’t food and there isn’t conversation. The show here was unexpectedly good and the dancing was brilliant.

Breakfast in southern Spain is impossible to find. We conclude it is because people party late into the night and don’t wake up in time for breakfast. If the hotel provides breakfast, opt for that.

We’ve done walking tours in other cities we’ve visited. The premise is a local person offers a tour in English with highlights of the city in 2-3 hours. Our experience in Seville with knowledgeable Santiago from Columbia was descriptive and he recommended a tour in Malaga so we drove to Malaga the next morning for the tour and lunch.  In the tour, we enjoyed Malaga on a beautiful day and saw sights.  Unfortunately the tour guide wasn’t very good and mostly complained about the Spanish economy driving out the locals to other parts of Europe or America. At one point, the husband and I rolled our eyes and said “we get it dude, you’re angry about the country’s economy.” Who wants a sulky tour guide? Though seeing Roman ruins in Malaga was a neat experience.

After the tour, we walked into La Campana. This place is busy with locals so expect to stand outside or tightly squeeze into the restaurant and stand by the bar. Busy might be an understatement, sardines in a can is a better description. You have to push your way through and order at the bar. Getting the servers’ attention is impossible with others trying to do the same.

We ordered Boquerones (deep fried Anchovies), Calamari, Puplo (fried Octopus), Torta de Camarones (Shrimp pancakes) and Mussels. Everything we ordered was fried. I believe, almost everything on the menu is fried. So as they say, if it’s fried or swimming in butter, it is bound to be delicious; we agree. Everything we got was perfect, the calamari and octopus were a little overdone but nothing to complain about. Others were ordering Gambas a la Mancha, cooked shrimp, served cold. We wished we had ordered that but we were stuffed. The local bier of choice is Victoria (especially at this restaurant) so we followed suit and ordered it and a St. Miguel. The environment at La Campana is blue collar so expectation of high class and status need to be left at the door.

Once our trip and driving around Andalucía was over, we drove to Malaga on our last night for dinner and sleep before our early morning (6am!) flight back home. We stayed at the Amador, highly rated restaurant and hotel. The room on the top floor has stunning view of the sea. We enjoyed the view for 2- 3 hours during dinner at the restaurant. We ordered ajo blanco, garlic and almond soup with shrimp and grape sorbet. Grape sorbet with garlic soup? It’s that type of restaurant. It was a fantastic combination. We ordered paella with shrimps, cuttlefish and monkfish for two. (Southern Spain isn’t known for paella but we wanted something other than tapas and all the meat dishes seemed too heavy.) The seafood was fresh and perfectly cooked, the rice was fine but we had paella in another trip (report coming soon) and that one was more memorable and worth every bite.

From the multiple trips we have taken thus far Spain has captured my heart. Now about that dream....

Sunday, February 16

Southern Spain- Cordoba & Granada

We’ve been to Spain twice already and it’s peak time I share those experiences. First, of the most recent experience. (Although Mallorca is part of Spain, I view that trip differently; it was a ladies trip.)

When I had not been to Spain, ever (a Spain-virgin you can say), my dream was to move there, buy a bed and breakfast and live amongst the orange groves. After our first trip on a momentous birthday, I knew we would return. The second third time we went to Southern parts in October. I had read Autumn is a good time to go, as well as Spring, to avoid the crowds and the outrageous temperatures.

For this trip we planned to arrive in Malaga and drive to few of the cities nearby and return from Malaga. We drove couple hours and started our trip at Hotel Macia Alfaros Cordoba. It was cramped but our room was sufficient. Our room faced another white building so the view was disappointing but it was to be expected of a hotel in the heart of a city. It has a large breakfast room in the basement and a spacious lobby but otherwise small hallways and small quarters.

On the first night we ate dinner at the highly sought after Bodegas Mezquita. It was busy, as expected; there were locals as well as many tourists with their displayed guidebooks on the dining table. We ordered the pre-fixed tapas menu with 6 tapas chosen by the chef. Salmorejo, garlic and tomato soup, served cold was delicious and memorable. The bean soup with chorizo and Morcilla (blood sausage and both are Spanish) was good however over salted while the garlic covered potatoes were under salted. Eggplant fries were unique because they were light and crispy but unfortunately also under seasoned. The husband’s favorite dish from that night was Ratatouille, stewed vegetables from the late summer harvest and perfectly seasoned and hearty. I was surprised Cordoba serves Ratatouille, isn't it French? Overall the cost and the food were passable with some hits and few misses; if in Cordoba I suggest an authentic place for local food.

Cordoba is unique for one reason, the Cathedral. This Cathedral has enough history to spend a whole day and it is wonderful. It has Muslim influences from when the Moors were in Spain as well as Catholic touches. It was first a Mosque that was converted to Catholic church, back to Mosque and again to church. When the construction first started it was built to face Mecca for prayer. In the last Moorish acquisition it was expanded to hold 40,000 people. If you get to go, an audio guide or a tour guide is a must. The audio guide that comes with the tickets is sufficient.

After touring the Cathedral, we walked over to Casa Rubio for lunch. The server is Spanish (possibly?) and was born in Germany when his parents moved there before his birth. He moved to Spain 15- 20 years ago. He was helpful and it was nice he spoke German. He suggested Boquerones (fried anchovies) as one of our Tapas so we got it. He also recommended another seafood dish that we declined and instead we ordered Potatoes with spicy sauce (against our server’s warning) and Salmorejo. Rookie mistake. The Salmorejo was very good however the potatoes were terrible, as he had implied. But the most memorable plate was the fried anchovies and I am glad we went with his suggestion.

By the way, a trap at Casa Rubio (and many restaurants with outdoor seating, probably) if seated outside, there’s an extra service charge than to sit inside. We chose a table inside and interestingly enough the interior is charming and decorated with crafts from the region.

Jewish quarter in Cordoba is admired by the tourists and it is neat to walk around; 2 hours in the district is plenty of time. In addition to the cathedral and the Jewish quarter, we walked over the Roman Bridge, built in the 1st century.
Taberna Salinas is tucked away in a neighborhood that many tourists don’t venture to. The advantage for us was its close proximity to our hotel so we went for the last dinner in Cordoba. It is highly praised and understandably so, the restaurant was packed with locals and some tourists on a weeknight. Thankfully we were able to get a table without a reservation. One dish that’s recommended is Rabo de Toro (oxtail stew). We shared the stew, Salmorejo (do you sense a pattern?) and espinicas con garbanzos (spinach with chickpeas). The meat in the stew was falling off the bone and very flavorful. The spinach and chickpeas were also tasty; the ratio was more spinach and less chickpeas, unlike how I’ve made it in the past. Salmorejo was fine. The server suggested the day’s dessert and the husband ordered it for me because I have a sweet tooth. Sadly the dessert was average. The server was pleasant and attentive and Taberna Salinas served the best food in Cordoba.

We went for the hot bath before dinner one evening. According to history, these baths were a meeting place for the people (mostly Muslims) when they lived here, and a way to meet, chat, enjoy one another’s companies while also bathing. We were hoping to experience it like in Istanbul. This bath was different. It has 4 rooms; steam room, cold water room, hot water room and a room with swimming pool. The idea is to rotate amongst those 4 rooms for couple hours. The cold room is freezing and the hot water is scorching but that’s the point. And there are masseuses that give guests massages (must be scheduled ahead). Obviously to prevent people from staying there all day, groups are allowed in on set time bases and have to leave at a certain time. Our massages were schedule in the last time slot. Not only was our massage rushed but this experience compared to Istanbul was below average. It was filled with tourists and it didn’t have an hot bath (like they used to do it) charm. The same Hot Bath company owns locations in Granada and Seville; we say don’t bother wasting your money.

If you’re in the area, Cordoba deserves a stop for 1- 2 days. It is easy to see the entire city in a day but it would be a rushed day-trip.

In Granada our Bed & Breakfast, Los Rebites, was comfortable and spacious but away from downtown. Our room had a large bathroom as well as a balcony, overlooking the city of Granada. Although the B&B was satisfactory, the daily commute into the city was not.
Since we arrived late to Granada, we went to the local supermarket to stock up on olive oil, canned fish and cured meats. Iberico Jamon (ham) was pricy so we opted for Chorizo instead. After shopping we were completely lost in the city and couldn’t find a restaurant on my list so ended up back at the Bed & Breakfast.

We were back in the suburbs and it was late so our host recommended a restaurant on the next block. When we entered the restaurant was empty, a discouraging sign. However after a long day we chose to sit. The young server didn’t speak much English so we tried our best to get some recommendations. He suggested the daily special, lamb chops and we agreed to share a plate. For appetizer we ordered spinach croquettas which were binded with mashed potatoes, breaded and fried. In the croquettes the spinach had a hint of nutmeg, a memorable touch. For the first course we got potato ensalada (salad- typical to Andalucía), on the house; it was exceptional with garlicky and olive oil notes. Instead of lamb chops we got pork with french fries. We asked about the lamb and the server couldn’t explain the problem. Lost in translation. The pork was perfectly cooked and garlicky unfortunately it was swimming in olive oil and greasy. And the French fries were overkill with potato salad on the house as well as croquettas with potato binder; another vegetable would’ve been appreciated.

Granada is systematic and has a comprehensive public transportation system. From our bed and breakfast we took the bus into the city each day. The first full day we visited the neighborhood of Albayzín. It is an UNESCO site because it’s one of the oldest neighborhoods on a hill overlooking the valley and filled with white homes and has panoramic views of the Alhambra. The architecture reflects the Moorish culture with brightly colored tiles and balconies. When the Muslims were pushed out of other Andalucían cities, they settled in Granada (particularly Albayzín), the only city that wasn’t conquered, yet.

We went to La Ladrillo for lunch. This place had locals sitting on the patio. And they offered menu of the day, a welcome change from the tapas. For the first course, we each ordered Migas, fried bread crumbs with whole roasted garlic cloves topped with fried sardine. The flavors were distinct because of the fresh sardine and roasted garlic but the bread crumbs were not crispy. For main I ordered cerdo (pork pieces) and the husband ordered pork back. Both were garlicky and delectable. I love the Spaniards love of garlic. The husband’s pork was slightly overcooked in some parts, easy to do when it’s thin filets. For sides, we got fries, again. I don’t love the Spaniards’ love of French fries. For dessert I ordered flan and he got coffee. The flan was ordinary.

After visiting the Cathedral and walking around other parts of the city, we went back to our room to relax. Later we headed back to Albayzín to watch the sunset and see the Alhambra at dusk before walking to dinner. We were determined to find a Moroccan or North African restaurant due to the strong Muslim influence; we found Restaurante Arrayanes for dinner. I ordered a Chicken Tagine with preserved lemons and olives while the husband ordered lamb with vegetables. Both dishes were great, a tad under seasoned but still terrific.

On our way to the Alhambra the next morning, the husband wanted to get shwarma from Shwarma King before heading to the palace. It was below average and we both agreed expectations have to be low when buying food from a restaurant on the main road to a tourist sight/ the Alhambra.

Alhambra is a combined palace and fortress on a hill, with initial construction in 9th century. It was neglected until the Moors and the King revamped the palace in the 11th century. The visit to Alhambra requires advanced planning; visitors must book tickets online and are given a specific time for entrance. Due to high volume of visitors per day, the center is strict about entering on the scheduled time. Each time slot allows 4 hours per visit and many areas have an automated machine that scans ticket. Audio guides can be rented and we both recommend them. Following the ticket instructions, begin at the Nasrid Palace. There is a lot to see and learn in the palace and due to its magnificent size it’s easy to get lost in.

I will honestly say that Alhambra is worth a visit while the husband was shocked at the rave reviews from visitors. For someone that has seen Arabic influenced architecture in India & Turkey, to be precise, he was underwhelmed. For me, if there was an 8th wonder of the world, the Alhambra deserves that spot. It is impressive inside and out.

In one of the guidebooks, I had read about convents in Granada selling cookies. Of course I had to find one myself. While in Albayzín, we located one but unfortunately they were closed. The next day, before the Alhambra, we found Monasterio de Santa Catalina de Zafra with the help of a tourist office suggestion. They are conveniently located on the path to the Alhambra. Inside the instructions state to ring the bell and order from a list of 3-4 cookies. After waiting 3-4 minutes, a nun answered. Here’s the neat part. The nuns are behind a rotating carousel window (lazy susan with covered window) and customers can’t see them. She asked me what I wanted so I asked for Polvorones and Mantecados. She put 500 grams each and turned the wheel. After seeing them, I requested in my broken Spanish 250 grams of each. She took them back, repacked them in smaller bags and charged me 6 Euros. I put my money in the carousel and walked away with homemade Polvorones and Mantecados from the convent.

Polvorones and Mantecados are shortbread cookies made with fat, powdered sugar and sometimes contain almonds. Mantecados are made with lard. They are crumbly because it’s mostly butter or lard and nuts, great with coffee or tea. Word of warning, don’t buy these BEFORE the Alhambra tour because food can’t be left in lockers and you have to walk around for 4 hours with the cookies; it will yield crumbly cookies when you’re home. None the less I loved the idea of nuns selling their homemade food. And the cookies were rich and delightful.

Sunday, February 9


We made a day trip to Plzn, Czech Republic for the Pilsner Urquell brewery tour. Driving in we saw many industrial buildings on the edge of the city. Surprisingly Plzn is a small town with what seemed like one tourist attraction, beer. The town itself wasn’t very special, sadly. Once there we parked in the brewery’s parking area and took the 2 hour tour. Our guide’s English wasn’t very good therefore he often stopped mid sentence to think about the rest of his point. Although the guide wasn’t very good, the tour was. We highly recommend visiting this brewery, if in the area. The man that started the brewery was from Bavaria and to this day the same recipe is used. So we drove to CZ for really good Bavarian beer we get in our neighborhood.
Joking aside, it was a fun day trip and worth it if you have a car. We bought two cases of Czech beer at Tesco (a UK grocery chain) to bring back. A funny experience at the store was trying to communicate with the employees and have them understand we didn’t want to buy the beer case (the actual case for the bottles). (In Germany (and Czech as well as some other EU countries), beer cases come with a deposit so people take them back for the money refund.) They spoke amongst themselves and decided to give it to us for free. We couldn’t believe how friendly these women were and their desire to help, especially with lots of hand gestures and miming. Sometimes it just takes going over the border for friendly customer service.

Wednesday, February 5

Fur Coats

There is an unusual obsession with fur coats in this town (or who knows, even the country). Often it's older German women however as of yesterday I saw a man bundled up in his fur coat.  (I was too far away to snap a photo of him.)  I suspect these coats are real, very expensive and the cold winters these individuals have experienced warrants a fur coat purchase. This isn't a PETA post because I eat meat and was anti leather believe to each their own.  But the fur coats, I find very fascinating.  In my opinion, it takes a certain kind of person to wear a fur coat in public.

I've started photographing. Yes, I am that unsuspecting photographer that snaps one from behind because I don't want to get beat up by the German ladies. Any thoughts on why these Germans love wearing fur?