Berenjenas Fritas con Miel

My slightly less glamorous attempt

My slightly less glamorous attempt

The first time I tried this simple yet amazing spanish tapas creation was at Casa Marcos in Villaverde, Fuerteventura, at what is currently still my number one restaurant in all of Europe. The place was pure magic, in so many ways. Great food, decor, service, wine, prices, sizes, oh and did I mention? The food was amazing.IMG_5017 (480x640)

One of the items we ordered, on the recommendation of the waiter (who I think was also the owner) was ‘Berenjenas Fritas Con Miel’ – also known as fried eggplant with honey. More than just a mere “what do you recommend,” the whole service model was for the waiter to bring out a chalk board of their (continually changing) menu items, put it on a chair and talk you through each one. More than just translating what they were, it was a conversation about exactly what we felt like and what each meal was and very nearly a counselling session on our culinary hopes and dreams. You could imagine if it was a concept restaurant somewhere like L.A. he’d be wearing a name badge that said “Food Consultant.” Luckily for us we were on the very definition of a dessert island (there’s actually only sand on the beaches because it gradually blew over from Africa).

That's the look you get when you know you're about to have an amazing feed

That’s the look you get when you know you’re about to have an amazing feed

So we indulged in some delicious, slightly crispy, fried eggplant slices, drizzled with tasty local honey. Having never been the greatest fan of eggplants, I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty and yet simple it was.

I was reminded once again of this dish more recently at a tapas restuarant in Copenhagen called “El Porron.” The food was great, and is once again restoring my faith in Spanish food (until that restuarant in Fuerteventura I’d been rather quite disappointed in Spanish Cuisine). Equally tasty (and filling me with nostalgia for the extremely relaxing time I had in the Canary Islands), I decided that now that I have my own kitchen, the budget for experimental cooking and a stocked pantry for what feels like the first time in over a year I’d hunt down a recipe and try them out myself.

Actually my first attempt was “how hard can it be? Fry a slice of eggplant, put honey on it.” But alas, there is more skill required, as I ended up with a pile of eggplant-y mush covered in honey. As it turns out you have to get the moisture out of the eggplant slices, and put a little flour on them first. The trick to removing the moisture is to either just squeeze them out, or to sprinkle some salt over them and leave them for and hour on a paper towel (the salt draws the water out) and then squeeze them. Another recipe also suggested soaking them in milk to ‘remove the bitterness’ and then ringing out the slices.

Lucky for me one eggplant is about 3 portion sizes, so got two more chances to redeem myself. I tried the milk option next, which didn’t really work that much better I thought, and then the salt option. I learnt that you really should be careful to sprinkle as little salt as possible – I overshot the mark on one of the eggplant slices and felt like I’d bitten into the ocean when it was time to eat them. But as far as getting crispy eggplant slices, it was definitely the best method.

Next, dip them in flour (I used buckwheat flour to keep it gluten free, which worked fine) and then fry. I also used coconut oil, which I think works pretty well for the sweet/savoury combination. Finally, place on a paper towel to soak up excess oil, then drizzle with honey when you serve. Apart from waiting for the slices to dry out (which can be hurried along by just skipping the salt and ringing them out) it was quick, easy and super delicious. It seems the flour really is necessary, and perhaps wheat flour would have been more effective, but a gluten free alternative worked perfectly fine.

Verdict: Easy, novel and tasty. Nostalgia made it even more so.IMG_5021 (640x480) IMG_5019 (640x480)

339. Learn To Surf

I have always wanted to learn to surf. Actually no, that’s a lie. I have always wanted to be able to surf. I’ve never been disillusioned as to the fact it is a fairly hard slog until you get the hang of it, which is perhaps why it took me until I was 23 to give it a go!

Just as expected, it was really difficult! I was determined on day 1 to at the very least get up on the board, and spent almost all of the 5 hour lesson trying, until finally I was there, standing almost upright, gliding along the waves, feeling all triumphant. For all of about 1.5 seconds before I was face first into the ocean.

I was meant to do three days in a row, but at 5 long hours each, it was a gruelling slog! By the end of it I’d had enough after 2 days, was able to report back I’d stood up a few times and got the basics, but very much of the opinion that the effort to reward ratio of surfing is seriously off. For all the time you spend bobbling in the ocean, battling your way out and getting slapped in the face repeatedly by the waves, when you finally get an acceptable one you really only get a good 10 seconds riding the wave before you have to do it all over again.

Perhaps, as the instructor lamented, the surf was crap when we were there, or as the other students lamented, the instructor was crap. I certainly wouldn’t mind giving it a go with some friends who knew what they were doing, where I could potter around in my own time and have some regular breaks, but I can definitely conclude that I’ve given it a go and surfing isn’t really for me!

338. “Irish Sangria” And More Rugby Trivia Than I Could Ever Need

After a wee wander round the Castillo beachfront, and the usual extremely late Spanish dinner, I got back to my hotel room fairly late. I had to be out of there at 5am, so I thought I’d best go double check I could actually check out at that time. It turned out reception was closed and wouldn’t be open until 10am the next day, but the bar was open, so I popped in to see what I should do.

At the bar, I was met with a rather bored Irish bartender who had spent the day dealing with a lot of difficult Italians who pretended not to speak English as he repeatedly informed them the bar was not, in fact, a BYO establishment. By gosh was he excited to find a fellow speaker of the mother tongue! Either that or he was a serious Chatty Cathy. Whilst trying to work out where to put my key in the morning, he insisted I try his latest cocktail innovation – “Irish Sangria.” Well I can definitely tell you that Sangria, banana liquer and whiskey are not going to be winning any awards any time soon, but it was a bit of a laugh and who am I to say no to free cocktails? Despite fiddling with the proportions according to my feedback it didn’t really get any better unfortunately, but it was a bit of a laugh whilst I maxed out my free wifi time.

Just as I was about to leave, one of the regulars came in, an old, alcoholic Welshman named Bruce, who turned out to be a very accomplished conversation trapper. The bartender mentioned I was from New Zealand and he was off out of the starting gates on the biggest rant about rugby and the All Blacks. I mean I know we all love the All Blacks in NZ, but by God I could not be less interested in hearing a play by play of the All Blacks vs Wales on the 31st of October 1972. Just as I’d got past politely listening and was ready to interject and make my departure, he begun to recite a poem about the game! It was actually quite amusing, and I was amazed that he knew this poem about the one time Wales beat the mighty All Blacks by heart. Though he was of the opinion he could only recite the poem whilst under the influence (I think that’s one of those things alcoholics say to make everyone laugh so they can justify their drinking), I got him to say it a second time so I could write it down because it was acutally quite entertaining. Or maybe it was just the Irish Sangria.

“It was a cold and windy day and a week that had seen some rain
When all roads lead to Stradey park with the all blacks there again.
They came down from the valleys they came from far and wide,
They were 20,000 in that ground and me and I outside.

Shops were closed like Sunday and the morn was cold and still
And those who chose who stay away were either dead or ill.
But those who went to Stradey will remember till they die.
How New Zealand were defeated and how the pubs ran dry.

For the beer flowed at Stradey , pumped down from Felinfoel,
And the hands that held the glasses high were strong from steal and coal.
And the air was filled with singing and I saw a grown man cry.
Not because we had won the game, but because the pub’s run dry.

Then dawned the morning after, on empty factories.
For we were still at Stradey, bloodshot absentees.
But we all had doctors papers and they all read just the same.
We all had scarlet fever, and we’d caught it at the game.

And when I’m old and my hair turns grey, and they put me in a chair,
I can tell my Grandchildren, that their Datcu was there.”

9-3 By Max Boyce, as recited by Bruce the drunk Welshman in Fuerteventura.

When I looked up from my computer after recording it, the bartender and the chef were dancing the YMCA on the bar. Supposedly they used to work at a bar where if YMCA came on all bartenders had to drop everything and climb up on the bar and do the dance. That was a good signal it was time for bed!
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337. Castillo Caleta de Fuste

IMG_5173 (640x480)On my last night in Fuerteventura I stayed in Castillo Caleta de Fuste, mostly so I could be close to the airport and get to my super early flight. Castillo de Caleta seems to be a giant town made of hotels and resorts. The waterfront is dominated by the giant complex that is the Barcelo Resort. In fact, as you walk around the waterfront, you suddenly sort of find yourself in the middle of it. There is one tiny strip of houses on the waterfront that refuse to be bought out, but aside from that almost every building is part of the resort, and kind of makes you feel like you aren’t meant to be there!

The last hangers on:

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The waterfront was really beautiful and picturesque, particularly as the sun went down. My favourite photo that really sums up the vibe of the rest of the place is this one:IMG_5155 (640x480)

The falling apart sign of a resort that is barely able to keep running is not at all an uncommon site. In fact, Fuerteventura has some huge issues with Spanish property developers turning up and deciding to build hotels on land they don’t even own, or just starting up some construction as a money laundering exercise, so there are tonnes of giant concrete half finished construction sites, where either the project was abandoned or the landowners managed to get an injunction.

336. Corralejo

IMG_5123 (640x480)As far as tourist places go, Corralejo, the main town on Fuerteventura, proved to be a dream destination. I say that based mainly on the fact we could get a room in a resort for the same price as a single bed in dorm of a hostel in most of Europe. There were also balmy beaches, a cute old town full of novel little bars and restaurants, and it was what I like to call “just the right amount of touristy.” There was enough infrastructure to support all the tourists (shops, bars, cafes, beach activities) but there weren’t enough people to actually cause annoyance. Win.

Highlights included finding a bar with mojito specials when the olympic closing ceremony was on, crazy cheap sales everywhere and coming across a music group doing some kind of Canarian drumming/percussion performance lead by a man who decided conducting was less important than dancing around having a grand old time!

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335. Tapas Heaven

Barcelona proved to be really disappointing as far as cuisine goes. Being a big paella fan, I had sort of made an assumption that like most countries, there would be some great local cuisine to try. As it turned out, Barcelona was choc full of tourist trap style restuarants. Our one attempt at paella turned out to essentially be very dry, microwave reheated rice that was so flavourless it may as well have just had yellow food colouring in it. No saffron to be found there! (which, to be fair doesn’t actually make the rice go yellow, so if you see a yellow paella it will usually just be flavoured with tumeric and thus not be very authentic). Aside from that, local food seemed to just be baguettes with various cured meats in them (AKA not very exciting). Special commendation, however, is awarded to spanish fritatas (potato omelette), often also found in a baguette. Being essentially a carb sandwich, it was definitely a one-time thing, though.

Just as I was about to give up all hope on Spanish food (somewhere between my really average empanada experience and being stuck at Barcelona airport with nothing but dry baguettes. Actually I’m still not over my crap empanada. I mean really, how can you screw up a pie?!), we discovered the most amazing, heavenly, delicious, excellent, [insert adjectives conveying deliciousness and awe here] tapas restaurant in Vilaverde. From goats cheese stuffed bell peppers to super tasty egg plant fritters, to local seafood, the entire menu (which turned up on a giant blackboard  in the seat next to us, and was recited/translated by the restaurant owner), an entire world of gourmet creations I have never seen anywhere else was opened up for us. The fact that most of the meals were meals I’d never actually eaten was particularly novel, as for the most part when you eat out, although a meal is delicious it is usually just a variation on a theme you have encountered many times before. Later on in Corralejo we found another excellent Tapas restuarant

Being the chief export, goats cheese was a huge recurring theme in many of the meals, and it was actually a lot more delicious than anticipated! Most of my previous goats cheese experiences have involved a wierd musty aftertaste, but that was pleasantly lacking in Fuerteventuran goats cheese which was more like haloumi than any goats cheese I’ve ever tasted.

333. Climb a Volcano

IMG_4924 (640x480)Perhaps not strictly a first, I did climb Mt Ruapehu years ago, but we took a chair lift up halfway so I’m gonna call this particular volcano a first, based on the fact I climbed the whole thing. To be fair to Ruapehu though, this one was quite tiny and there was no pick axe required in getting to the top…

The highlight was an equal first between the little squirrels living camouflaged in the crater (which looked small but was actually massive) and the views of the rest of the island.

Fuerteventura is almost the definition of a desert island, apart from the fact that there is only sand on the beaches because it blows over from Africa! They import almost everything there, the only exception being goats cheese, the sole item produced locally. And yet produce is still really cheap, although much of the fruit/vegetables are found in the freezer section of the supermarket.

332. A world of different types of yoga

Given we were at a yoga retreat, it should be of no surprise that we got to discover a bunch of different types of yoga (as well as pilates, tai chi and zumba). It was educational, to say the least! Some classes were, in my opinion, better than others, though everyone has their own preferences. I have to say I’m much more a fan of the relaxing/stretching/exercising types than the meditation/yoga-as-a-religion types, but to each his own, right?

Here’s my run down of the different types we learned, and my personal impressions!

Hatha Yoga

This is my favourite, as it is where you stretch out all your sore muscles and then end with what I like to call “nap time” aka shavasana. There’s no better way to relax than lying down after stretching out every single muscle in your body! It wasn’t too strenuous either.

Vinayasa Flow Yoga

This one was more in the workout variety, and had some fairly difficult poses to hold. much more of a challenge!

Yoga Nidra

Also called sleeping yoga, this is more of a meditation type of yoga. It was basically just the nap time part, stretched out over a whole class. Not gonna lie, there was very little to complain about there! It would probably be a wise choice for anyone who has sleeping difficulties to try, as it is a really great way to ease yourself in to a very relaxed, deep sleep. I was not such a fan of the bit where we were meant to chant “ummmm” over and over, but that’s just me. As we were lying there, we were told to focus on some sort of goal or resolution we were really keen on achieving – supposedly it is often used to treat people with addictions e.g. quitting smoking, or eating disorders to stop them overeating. I definitely did wake up feeling quite motivated!

Kundalini Yoga

This was probably my least favourite class. It was all very focussed on spirits and chakras and all that jazz, which is all a bit far down the yoga spectrum for me I think. It was taught by this very angry German frau who was yelling at us to get into all these rather painful positions and do “the breath of fire” which is essentially hyperventilating. She was very intimidating. Then went round and gave us all lingering bra-less hugs at the end which was a bit awkward. Quite the contrast. Maybe I need to ease my way in to that kind of yoga, but as she was yelling at us that we should be feeling the spirits washing through our bodies all I could think was “of course I’m getting a bloody headrush, you are making me hyperventilate upside down! That’s a lack of oxygen to the brain, not a magical yoga spirit!” But you know, wouldn’t want to go ruining it for everyone else by voicing those thoughts outlod. Maybe I’m just not enough of a believer…

331. Azul Fit Yoga Retreat

Fuertevntura

At last, about 28 hours later than expected, we arrived in Fuerteventura and headed to the “Azul Fit” yoga retreat. It consists of a small villa about 30mins or so out of Corralejo, the main town on the island. We wound up there after we went in search of somewhere we could chill out by the beach, do some surf lessons and easily/cheaply fly there between leaving London and heading to Brussels for a music festival. Claire and I also happen to be growing yoga fans, so when we discovered this place we were quite excited!

It turned out to be just the most amazing and relaxing week I have ever had. Despite intermissions of rather gruelling surf lessons, mountain biking and volcano climbing, there was plenty of time for sunbathing by the pool and book reading. By the end of the week we had built up to doing about 3 hours of yoga and pilates per day, and coupled with the delicious, healthy organic food on offer I cannot recall a time in my life when I have felt healthier! It was just the recharge we needed after the dramas we had had, and a great escape from being in big cities. As Claire and I took up every opportunity to adventure around and do activities, we realised we most definitely were living up to the adventurous kiwi stereotypes! Travel is fun and I’ve loved seeing so many great places that I’ve heard so much about, but I definitely came to the realisation that my idea of a holiday involves as few people and as much nature as possible!

The staff there were also absolutely fantastic. They even let us stay an extra night for free because of our delayed flight which was really sweet and totally unnecessary. It was quite a small, intimate place, and we got on really well with all the girls there (it was all girls that particular week, and not many males in general, usually). The main chef, Jo, made the most amazing, delicious meals, all of which were vegetarian and easily gluten/dairy free. It was really inspirational in terms of creative items on the menu that were really tasty and left me feeling really great by the end of the week. She sent us some of her recipes from the week which I have since made with great success, and she now has a cookbook available which I will most definitely be purchasing once I’m done travelling around. It was a great reminder of the huge difference I feel when I cut out gluten and dairy especially…

I definitely couldn’t recommend the place any higher, it was such an awesome way to relax and unwind, particularly if yoga/surfing/mountain biking is your thing. And compared to its rivals in places like Bali, it was a really cheap offer. We actually mentioned that to the owners, but they were more concerned with being accessible to more people than pitching themselves to the Eat-Pray-Love crowd and charging through the roof. Oh and did I mention how lovely they were?IMG_5090 (480x640) IMG_5089 (480x640) IMG_5088 (480x640) IMG_5086 (640x480) IMG_5084 (480x640) IMG_5083 (640x480) IMG_5081 (640x480) IMG_5079 (640x480) IMG_5031 (640x480) IMG_4923 (640x480) IMG_4910 (640x480)

 

329. Barcelona, Round 1

Barcelona1Luckily I got a second crack at it, a whirlwind tour not proving quite enough. Until then, here’s my photos from the first time around.