Chocolate Sweet Potato Green Smoothie

My friends at NuNaturals have been hard at work making even more sweetening options for your sugar-free arsenal. They were more than generous to send up some new goodies for me to try out. I am particularly in love with the NuStevia Cocoa Syrup. The go-to is always going to be smoothies with their stuff. I just don’t eat too many things that require sugar or a substitute of some kind. There is a new baking blend that you’ll see at some point. I’m just debating what needs baking.

The chocolate syrup is just that — chocolatey and sweet. Perfect for drizzling on ice cream, in small doses because it does have that powerful stevia sweet, or making a mug of hot chocolate [in summer...that's normal right?]. The texture is silky, the cocoa very even handed, and it blends really well. The bottle it comes in makes for easy use too. I have yet to see it start to get clogged, which is more than I can say for a bottle of Hershey’s.

This smoothie not only utilizes the new chocolate syrup [so good!], but hemp hearts. I thought I’d try something new in my quest for added protein and omega 3′s. They smell earthy right out of the bag, but blend right into the green smoothie. I haven’t been able to get many ripe bananas, and I’m impatient, so I switched to sweet potato to give the smoothie some heft and some sweetness. The frozen little cubes in the freezer section are easily blended in the Vitamix. You could steam up some fresh ones too if you’re so inclined.

This is chocolatey and only a little sweet. The oats and vegetables bring down the sweetness, which is just fine with me. I’ve been downing one of these every morning for a few weeks now. It’s just that easy.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 heaping tablespoon hemp hearts
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseeds
  • 1 teaspoon NuStevia Cocoa Syrup or more if you want it sweeter
  • 1/3 cup frozen spinach
  • 1/4 cup frozen sweet potato cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Water, as needed for consistency

Preparation

Layer in the smoothie ingredients in the order above before blending until smooth.

Coconut Milk Rice Pudding with Mango Puree

I’ve been enjoying an abundance of fruit and vegetable. I wander over to New Seasons and see what’s new. A beautiful new batch of honeydew melon from Hermiston, Oregon. It was a bigger, more oval shape. Intrigued was an understatement. I don’t think I’d ever had one before, only watermelon. It was extra juicy, a more vivid orange, and just as deliciously sweet as you’d expect from a melon. The radishes are extra spicy and nearly the size of golf balls right now. I don’t think I’ve had one that spicy before. I’ve been eating them like apples, so I don’t see them ending up in any salad or side dish anytime soon. The radish greens are cleaned and waiting to hopefully get used up here soon. I was tempted to blend them into my morning smoothie, but that just seems…unappetizing. My last experience with them was bitter and spicy, so I don’t know how well that will go with the latest concoction I’ve been blending up.

It all started with craving a mango. I don’t eat that many mangos after a really random and unfortunate reaction to a mango that left me with obscenely dry lips and eyelids. It’s related to poison ivy, I guess. I still gave into the craving and picked up some pre-made puree in hopes of alleviating another reaction. I did pick up a couple champagne mangos a few weeks later and survived. Maybe it was just freak thing. Either way I’m still cautious.

Rice pudding is like the risotto of the breakfast dessert world. It’s such a comforting bowl of awesome. I love it best the first day and less so each following day. Don’t think it stops me from eating it cold for breakfast. There are no rules. It’s really easy to make. The hardest part is remembering to stir it often enough so it doesn’t stick and burn to the bottom of the pan. No one likes crunchy burnt bits, do they? Maybe for color.

Each bite of the pudding was every bit of wonderful. Stirring in the puree was nice, but I really think I’d want cubed mangos next time. It would be a nice texture change and you’d get a bigger contrast between spicy coconut and the sweet mango.

Inspiration: A Thought for Food

Ingredients

  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 1.25 cups of water
  • 2/3 cups orange juice
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoons grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup mango puree [the original recipe has a details on how to make your own] or cubed mango

Instructions

In a large saucepan that will hold all of your liquid and rice, add the rice, coconut milk, water, orange juice, salt, and vanilla extract. Bring it to a boil and reduce it to a simmer and partially cover the pot with a lid. Stir the mixture occasionally over the next 20-30 minutes until the liquid is mostly absorbed by the rice. Stir in the brown sugar, maple syrup, and your spices. Remove from heat. Spoon into serving dishes and top with mango.

Mushroom and Ground Pork Ragout

I don’t know what it is about eating things on toasted bread, or crostini if you will [and I will], but it just feels fancy.

I’m not talking that breakfast-esque affair, but little pieces of grilled bread.

We’ll just ignore the fact that crostini, like bruschetta, was Italian peasant food. Those Italians always had style.

Anyway, this dish belongs on toasted pieces of bread, big or small. I won’t judge if you need some pasta with it because that would be really good too, but toasted bread is meant for the splashes of broth. Just don’t let it make your toast soggy. Ugh. My worst nightmare.

My only regret to this really deliciously filling pile of mushrooms and pork was not having fresh herbs. Dried work. They do. It’s just not the same.

If you’re really not feeling porky, just add in more mushrooms. The original recipe had all mushrooms, but I just wasn’t feeling it for some reason.

Inspiration: Eat Good 4 Life

Ingredients

  • 1lb ground pork
  • 1lb mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • Parsley
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Crusty bread for serving

Preparation

Preheat a large skillet on medium high heat and cook the pork until mostly done. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Keeping the skillet on the heat, and only draining the fat if you’re not into all of that flavor, add the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and dried thyme and stir to coat in the olive oil. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the mushrooms are dark and juicy. Add the pork, shallots, and garlic. Cook for a few minutes so the shallot cooks through.

Pour in the wine and stock. Let it simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Turn off the heat and add the butter. Stir until it melts. Taste the broth for salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Spaghetti and Anchovy Butter with Crushed Tomatoes

Let’s spare you the rant on how the internet ate my post. Again. I think it’s a sign.

Let’s talk about Bar Vivant instead. Spain in Portland. It was Spain from nearly top to bottom. After two glasses of Perucchi Red Spanish Vermouth, a Spanish tortilla, a chile stuffed with the best egg salad of my life on a piece of crusty bread, a marinated shrimp, two large, meaty marinated mushrooms, a plate of Iberico ham, two skewers of olives, chilies, and anchovies, mushroom puree wrapped in a puff pastry, and marinated pieces of the most tender octopus I was pretty much right back across the ocean. I’m more than impressed.

Speaking of seafood [again], do you like anchovies? They seem like a such a love/hate food. Bon Appetit debuted this recipe in one of the recent issues, and I have to say the photo won me. A pile of spaghetti marinating in a pool of melted butter and crushed tomatoes. It wasn’t until I read further that it had salty fish chopped up in it. Hello simplicity and delicious. My kind of stuff! Even if you didn’t want salty fish in there, melt some really good butter and do this. Such a nice change from olive oil.

Inspiration: Bon Appetit

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound of spaghetti
  • 1/2 stick of unsalted butter [if you go for no fish, use salted]
  • 2-4 anchovy filets, depending on your love of anchovies
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pounds medium tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Preparation

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining. Set aside.

While the spaghetti cooks, melt the butter in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the garlic and anchovies, stirring to break down the fish and keeping the butter from browning too much. Add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to breakdown. This will take a good 10 minutes. Add the pasta and enough pasta water so it’s covered thoroughly with the butter mixture. Sprinkle with the parsley just before serving.

Olive Oil and Dill Potato Salad

Writing the recaps took way longer than I wanted. There is so much good food coming down the pipe to share. I haven’t been this excited in awhile. I’ve been eating good, and it’s all thanks to my free time and the unending amount of inspiration lately. I’ll take it.

Seafood is my grocery splurge. Do you you have a splurge at the store? Something that you’ll throw down on every now and then? Something you’ll make sure to look away from the register from because you really don’t want to see the damage? That’s seafood for me. It’s like gold. Fleshy gold.

I cruise by the fish counter every time I’m at The Fridge [New Seasons] because I have to know what just came in and what’s on sale. When it’s salmon season it takes all my willpower not to go broke. Fresh fish for every meal, kthx. That wild caught, fresh off the boat stuff is my jam. It makes me die a little inside when I order up a pound of it, and I see what that actually looks like. I can eat like three pounds of salmon BY MYSELF without batting an eyelash. Yet I sigh, take my tiny package of fish, cradle it in my arms like a small child, and head for the counter.

That’s where this salad comes in. I needed something else to go with the fish and keep my stomach a little more content with that piece of fish. The Bon Appetit magazine that’s been making its way to my mailbox had this subtle and delicious potato salad. It’s definitely the antithesis of the spring potato salad with that horseradish aioli slathered all over it. It makes me think of Eileen of Ham Pie Sandwiches and her piles of dill she often has. I love fresh dill, and I definitely don’t use enough of it. I didn’t find some small gold fingerlings or something similar, so I just cubed some regular yukons. It makes a little less pretty potato salad, but it’s still creamy without with the aioli. That’s totally okay with me. We all know I’m in a salmon euphoria anyway.

Inspiration: Bon Appetit

Ingredients

  • 2lbs small waxy potatoes, halved [or bigger ones cubed]
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon caraway, toasted

Preparation

Put the potatoes in a pot and fill with heavily salted water. Cook them in boiling water until they’re tender. While they boil, heat the olive oil in a skillet and cook the onions on medium heat. Season the onions in salt and pepper and saute them until they’re soft. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Drain the potatoes and place them in a large bowl or back into the pot. Pour the oil over the top, add the scallions, dill, and caraway. Stir to combine. Taste for salt.

 

 

Barcelona

I didn’t expect to like Barcelona as much as I did. Did I set the bar low? Setting the bar low does great things sometimes. I anticipated being slightly annoyed with it like I have with other major European destinations like Rome and Paris, but I loved Barcelona. Loved. It. It’s charming in a way I can’t out my finger on. It sucks you in without even trying, and next thing you know, you’re enjoying the hell out of yourself.

Barcelona-17

We picked out a sweet little apartment with a rooftop terrace. ROOFTOP TERRACE. I need one of these in my life. It’s a great little place to unwind—prop up your sore feet with a glass or three of vermouth and some snacks. I’d show you the link because it was a tiny little thing with a terrace that was almost bigger than it, but apparently the listing has been taken down. It exists, I swear. It was quiet and comfortable in that part of town, and yet you can get just about anywhere easily. Neighbors liked to hang out outside of the building in the concrete parks along the street. So many dogs! I missed Roma I was in heaven.

Barcelona-3

Despite the notoriety Barcelona gets for pickpockets [we saw one happen!], I felt safe. As with anywhere, be aware of your surroundings and don’t make things easy, and you’ll be fine. The super touristy areas of Las Ramblas and down through the El Raval neighborhood are kind of exhausting. I’m just never a huge fan of that. Dodging people who are either slow, impatient, or generally rude isn’t my idea of a vacation. That’s been my only annoyance. Nothing is perfect. Wading through the sea of people to go to La Boqueria was worth it, at least once. It’s a huge market.

Barcelona-1

The most miles were logged walking all over this city. One of the days, we walked up Montjuic. It’s an area overlooking the city that’s home to gardens, a castle, a cemetery, and was home to the 1992 Olympics. The stadiums and facilities are open to wander around in. I’m probably being really insensitive to the awesome that is the Olympics, but the empty, older facilities just seemed creepy. They had an eerie quiet on a windy afternoon, and while there were tourists, it was just uncomfortably quiet. It could have easily doubled as the setting of a horror film. I can only imagine the cities that host the World Cup are like after they spend all this money on huge facilities only for them to sit empty. The gardens and castle were beautiful. While we didn’t check out the castle, we did go to this hilltop outdoor cafe and enjoy an overpriced can of beer. You could take a aerial tram down the hill, but you miss out on the cemetery if you do that. Its a unique experience seeing their cemeteries. They’re vertical and by family, and they still exhibit that same type of quiet reflection and honor that cemeteries in the states do. I enjoyed it about as much as someone can enjoy a cemetery before it starts getting weird. My grandma would be so proud.

Barcelona-8

Did you know they converted a bullring into a mall? Now I can say I’ve been to two. The view from the top is worth seeing. It’s not nearly has high as some of the other places in town, but still a nice perspective to see Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya Barcelona.

Barcelona-29

Food was nothing short of incredible. Mas Q Menos for a quiche lorraine. Simple and delicious. Verin for a Spanish tortilla sandwich, which was made by a sweet old lady in a little bar while we watched the Barcelona match. There were old ladies supporting the team for longer than I’ve been alive. It was so fun to see. The server was absolutely baffled as to why we were in their bar since we weren’t from the hotel across the street. They clearly don’t get many tourists. My most favorite spot in the city was Morro Fi for a marinated seafood plate and some heavenly vermouth. They make their own vermouth and cava, and have this teeny tiny little shop that spills out into a couple sidewalk tables. Seriously good bottles of vermouth for 6 euros. We went to Brunch & Cake for an incredible eggs benedict over a waffle. It’s a cute little cafe with kitschy furniture and an open homey kitchen. I sat on a sofa and ate at a little side table. Restaurante Wow was our obligatory burger of this part of the trip. It came with swimsuit runway show on the TVs and an impromptu dance party behind the bar as they were closing. Those were the standouts but you know there was more. There is always more.

Barcelona-18

We checked another stadium off with a stop at Camp Nou. This is FC Barcelona’s stadium. It’s gigantic, holding 99k people. The tour was self guided again and included a museum and more cheesy photo-ops. I still can’t believe people like these—posing on a green screen screen with player or trophies superimposed on it. It was interesting to see the difference between this stadium and Real Madrid. They’re huge rivals, and they couldn’t be more opposite in how they present themselves. Barca is more humble, “yeah, we have some accomplishments, but you can judge for yourself,” and Madrid is very in your face with it. Madrid has won the most trophies and been dubbed the best team in the world, and they’ll tell you all about it. At least four times. Despite having so many seats, I don’t think there is a bad one in Camp Nou. We tried to go to their final game of the season when we first got into town, but the tickets didn’t shake out. 600 Euros a seat? No thank you. Watching it at a local bar was just as fun I’m sure.

Barcelona-44

The weather turned a bit more Portland [read: grey and rainy] towards the end of the trip, which nixed a chance to head out to Montserrat, a mountain just outside of Barcelona. We spent time viewing Gaudi works instead. I’ll confess to not knowing much about him prior to the trip, but the photos of his work didn’t do any justice. I really wasn’t expecting much since it’s just so different, but his work was so great to see in person. Park Guell was really unique. Part of it is free, which is great for when you poorly time the ticketing and don’t actually have time to check it out. You can see his work all throughout the park. It had a little bit of a similar feel to Sintra when we were in Portugal. The Sagrada Familia was by far the most interesting cathedral I’ve ever toured. It’s hard to believe it was started over a century ago and it’s still not finished. I repeat: the work being done isn’t restoration work; it’s still built. I don’t think I’ve been so awe struck by a building before. Everything was planned for a special reason, and the design is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The war destroyed at lot of Gaudi’s models, so a lot of the time has been spent reconstructing those models so they could build as he would have wanted. The audio tour was necessary since I didn’t know what I was looking at or why it was special, but I was in eyes wide open and jaw-dropped the entire time. I would love to come back and visit when it’s completed in the next 20 years. It’s going to be magnificent.

Barcelona-28

The final meal of the trip was at an Italian restaurant with a couple of wood-fired pizzas, a bottle of sangiovese, and two cannoli. Despite three weeks in other parts of Europe, I still love Italy. The boys who run the shop are from Napoli and know how to make a pizza. The trip home was mildly eventful. We apparently packed too little and it raised the eyebrows of Spanish immigration. Apparently being American and packing light isn’t normal; neither is doing your laundry on vacation.

In short, this trip was really special. I’m torn, as I always am, between the idea of going back to see what we missed, like the northern parts of both countries, and heading off in some new destination. We’ve already started debating where to go next. Let’s be honest; it started while we were in Spain. Never enough traveling. Never.

[Recap: Lisbon, Porto, Seville, Madrid]

Madrid

Underestimating walking a few miles in a new city is always a fun way to start getting to know a new place. A map doesn’t always show the elevation change, right? I hope the guy who let is into the super modern studio wasn’t totally offended by how much I was sweating. He left quickly partially because there wasn’t much to talk about, partially because he didn’t really speak English [or because I smelled?]. This apartment was a super modern studio. The bathroom was crazy. The entire thing was the shower. A small glass wall kind of contained the water from the dual shower heads. There was a floor squeegee. It was awesome, if a bit messy. The location was [again] really great for getting on the metro or walking to the more touristy parts of the city.

Madrid-15

Madrid is huge. I wasn’t expecting that at all. We stayed right off Calle Gran Via which is a wide street line with huge buildings, mostly full of chain restaurants, shops, and theaters. It was a nice change of pace from the smaller, sleepier cities we’d already been in. It’s very metropolitan, and there seems to be a museum or a square on every other block. It felt like it could accommodate a lot of tourists without it feeling overwhelming. When you come across a park, it’s a stark contrast from the looming buildings. A breath of fresh air. Literally. With big cities comes more begging and homelessness than you see in the smaller ones, but it’s still not nearly as bad as Portland or San Francisco.

Madrid-2

We spent an obscene a lot of time at the Museo del Jamon over several days. When I see legs of cured meat hanging in the all over the place, it is hard to tear myself away. It didn’t hurt that a small beer with random ham snacks were 1.20€. A plate of mixed ham and cheese? 4.00€. It was so awesome. Speaking of ham snacks, have you ever had ham flavored Ruffles potato chips? I’m not one for processed junk food but my god they’re good. We went through at least two bags. I meant to bring some home, but forgot. They wouldn’t have made it home anyway, let’s be honest. At one point we splurged on some Ethiopian food. It wasn’t exactly the cheapest meal by Euro conversion standards, but I was craving vegetables and that’s an easy and delicious way to get some.

Madrid-25

Mercado de San Miguel was easily my favorite place in the city. Can I move in? It’s a market that functions more like mini restaurants than a place to get your groceries. Each vendor sells mostly tapas-sized goodies, but you can buy bigger versions if you want to wait. There are a ton of wine, beer, and cocktail vendors to round out the experience in the evening. My favorites included the skewered olives with meats, fish and cheese, the chunks of marinated octopus on little toasts, and a huge ball of delicious burrata on toast with ham and light drizzle olive oil. That beautiful ball of cheese made my trip day.

Madrid-21

Toma Cafe was a little slice of home. It was a legit coffee shop with beards, freshly roasted beans, and latte art. Sometimes that’s just what I want in a sea of cheap espresso. Spain has spoiled with the cortado, which is basically a mini cappuccino. Toma’s was definitely the favorite.  A fresh carrot cake with a dense lemony frosting was the breakfast of champions. If I had to pick, it’s probably closest to Courier Coffee at home [and I just realized even their webpages are similar...].

Madrid-23 Madrid-10
As I mentioned before, there are so many gardens/squares and museums in Madrid. I bet you couldn’t see them all in a week if you dedicated your time. We walked through several gardens and one church before being promptly kicked out for mass. One of the parks, Parque del Buen Retiro, had a lake in the middle where you could rent boats. I preferred to sit lake side with a Tinto de Verona [red wine with lemon flavored soda] and watch birds try to devour leftover sandwiches on nearby tables. That drink has come home with me. It’s like quick and dirty sangria. The park is gigantic, 350 acres, and sits in the middle of the city. There are really manicured green spaces, a lot of trails, art galleries, and sculptures. It’s an escape from the hustle of the city.

Madrid-17

Did you know that there is an Egyptian temple that sits in the heart of Madrid? It was relocated from Egypt as a thank you for helping them restore another one. We first went at night because the view from the surrounding park is a great one of the city. There is a little museum in middle of it if you go during the day.

Madrid-33

True to form, we made another trip to a football stadium. Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Real Madrid plays there, and is considered one of the best teams in the world, and they make sure you know it. I’ve never seen a museum so full of itself. I had no idea that was even possible. The stadium is huge, holding over 80,000 fans. It’s a self-guided tour and there is a lot to see. You’ll easily spend a few hours with the multimedia museum spread throughout the tour. At the end, there is a mock up of the new stadium they’re going to build. It’s going to revolutionize the viewing and game-day experiences. Attached shopping mall and hotel? 360° television monitors in the stadium? So crazy.

By our last day in Madrid, we realized we stayed a day too long [we could have used that in Sintra!]. We just didn’t find enough to keep our attention, and we spent a good part of the last day sitting in the apartment. It allowed us to get some sleep since we had another early train to Barcelona, the last part of the trip.

[Recap: Lisbon, Porto, Seville, Barcelona]

Seville

Talk about a long day of travel. There was a train ride from Porto to Faro, down in the beachy Algarve region, followed by a bus to Seville. All total, about 10 hours. There is no quick way about it. Most Spanish travel is channelled through Madrid, and we didn’t want to go there yet, so long route it had to be. It made for some pretty scenery. All that really matters about the trip is that the nondescript Spanish border control officers sitting on the side of the freeway in their pickup truck were wearing jeans and sleeveless tees [even a Duke basketball jersey!]. Fancy! I wish all immigration checkpoints were like that.

Seville-35

If I could sum up Seville in a word, I’d probably use hot. There is more to it this culture rich city than the temperature, clearly, but my pasty Oregon body was totally not prepared for 90 degree weather. Then again, I never am. We met Christian’s mom to get setup in the apartment. It was the most lived in apartment by far, clearly not just a place to rent for money fun. He rents it out when he’s in Brazil. It was a charming little apartment near the main part of town and is a short walk from the bus station. The lack of a fan I thought might be the death of me, but I survived.

Seville-27

We unintentionally timed this trip with the Seville Fair [they know it as Feria]. It’s a cultural fair that starts two weeks after Easter Holy Week. Everyone dresses up in bright, colorful costumes and have decorated tents that cover the fairground. There are parades to the bullring. People party until the wee hours of the morning. We didn’t really participate in any of the festivities other than seeing a bullfight. I wasn’t sure what to expect or think, but I knew it was something I had to see in order to form my own opinion. It is a dying part of Spanish culture, yet the ring was nearly sold out. It’s expensive too! Who knew sitting down towards the front would cost over 120 euros each? That’s not where we sat. My fair complexion would never survive. I’m not up to date on the rules, but it was easy to catch onto the format. A bull would be let loose in the ring. The younger, inexperienced matadors taunt and tease it so the matador can learn the bull’s ways. Eventually a man on an armored horse comes out to rile it up some more, and ultimately stab it in the back with a spear. Finally the matador comes out to do his thing. He’ll stick a few more barbed spears into its back, and tire it out. It concludes with a final sword thrust. In total we saw six different bulls killed over the course of a couple hours. It was really intense. People heckled the matador and waved their white handkerchiefs. They mob the matadors after the fight to get photos and autographs. It’s just like any other sport, except they consider it a fine art.

Seville-13

Because the weather was so hot, we took advantage of the siesta most days since it was the hottest part of the day. The sun is relentless if you’re not careful. I was already sporting a sweet sunburn from Lisbon. One can only put on so much sunblock. The other alternative is getting up early to beat the heat. The streets are practically empty because of the late nights people have, and the weather is perfect. A walk through the more touristy parts of town, the cathedral, squares, and parks, are really great at that part of the day. We toured the Cathedral De Sevilla on one morning. It was really pretty and well-maintained, not showing its age at all. Paying an entrance fee helps make that happen. There is a bell tower you can climb to get some of the best views of the city. It was worth the whole trip to the cathedral to see these views. The only downside was the group of apathetic school kids on a field trip. I was immediately envious of all the rooftop pools at the hotels. +1 to the hotels. Afterward, we sought out some ice cream. I was pretty disappointed with the quality of roadside ice cream shops. I feel like you couldn’t find bad gelato in Italy. The ice cream in Spain was easily mediocre if you just picked a random place. I don’t think we gave it another chance the entire trip.

Seville-30 Seville-1
My favorite meal of the trip was eaten on the first night in Seville. La Azotea. We waited an hour at 10pm. Late meals aren’t a joke. The restaurant isn’t very big, and it’s only open until midnight. I was already hungry well before we stood in line, but it just felt worth it. The menu is super fresh and innovative without being ridiculous. The portions are worthwhile, not just wisps of food on a plate, and while it definitely wasn’t the cheapest tapas in town, you’re paying for the quality. The servers were awesome. We hadn’t experienced service like that at all during the trip. They were friendly and attentive, which is not the norm. We asked one of our servers to pour us whatever his favorite wine was, a particularly dangerous thing to do if they really just go for the $$$ bottles. I’ll admit I was nervous when he cracked open a magnum bottle, but it was liquid gold and actually reasonable. I have never tasted such a great Spanish wine. It was a bottle of Predicador by Benjamin Romeo, a red wine that’s heavy on the bramble fruit. It’s a mix of tempranillo, garancha, and viura. We closed the restaurant down after a ridiculously good meal of tender grilled tuna belly marinated in soy sauce, and pile slow roasted pork cheeks, roasted potatoes and goat cheese. We were invited back the next day for lunch where we met the owner and ate grilled bull. He lived in San Diego for awhile. You know he and Andrew became fast friends.

Seville-2

I got my first brush with really good Iberico ham. I think I love prosciutto more, but some soft greasy acorn-fed cured meat is not a bummer. After a particularly bad breakfast experience [the service, not the food, sine we never got all the food], we ended up at this Flores Gourmet, a charcuterie spot. Andrew just told them that we wanted ham, cheese, and wine. Breakfast of champions. Spaniards love their ham. Many breakfasts involved just ham on toast. No condiments. It’s not all created equal though. I feel like this is an instance where price is definitely indicative of quality. Restaurant quality Iberico just wasn’t the same as some of these places that specialized in it.

Seville-19

Did I have a juicy burger and fries with a half pint of Guiness at an Irish pub late one night? Yes, yes I did. I’m telling you, a burger in every city.

There was so much of Seville that we didn’t get to see in our short time there. I’d love to go back if the weather were a little cooler. After a long walk to the train station early one morning and we would be on our way to Madrid.

[Recap: Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Barcelona]

Porto

Our train had wifi. Do you know how cool that was? Who needs to nap when you can check the internets for three hours. Of course we got our hopes up that we’d experience that on every train from then on [and we did ride another three trains and a bus], but that wifi was elusive for the rest of the trip. The landscape between the two cities ranges from bleak to lush and green. There really isn’t a whole lot going on between the two.

Porto-5

We took the Metro from the train station to get to the apartment. Traveling in rush-hour was an experience. We missed our stop because no one would let us out despite saying excuse me in English and Spanish [forgot to look it up in Portuguese at that point], saying the stop, mildly pushing, and pointing at the door. At one point someone repeated the stop back to us, and we’re like “Yeah…” and the door closed. Funny and irritating at the same time. The apartment we rented from Vitor was gorgeous. He and his family appear to have purchased the whole building and are slowly remodeling each unit and putting them up for rent. The remodel was really well done, and the location, again, was great. There was a lot of exposed stone, natural light, and a stacked washer and dryer in a closet in the basement. I am a master of Portuguese laundry now. All I can say is thank god the the wifi worked down there. We were a short walk into to the river, and having a market across the street increased our port and wine consumption without even trying. Oh, and chocolate salami. Lots of chocolate salami. It tastes like a Little Debbie brownie. It goes well with port. Trust me.

Porto-4

There is talk that Porto was a huge source of inspiration for JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series. I was so giddy, and really didn’t try to hide it. The talk isn’t wrong. There are definite reminders all around that city. The shop-lined cobblestone streets feel a bit like Diagon Alley, the bookstore, Livraria Lello, has a staircase that resemble Hogwarts, and the university students wear uniforms with capes. Harry Potter nerdom activated!

Porto-29

The university students were celebrating that weekend with Quima das Fitas, which is a celebration lasting a week before they go into finals. We happened to be around for the culmination of it, called Cortejo Académico, where the students from each grade level or discipline dress up in certain colors or wear certain costumes. They greet the mayor at the end of the parade. People started getting spots for the parade early in the afternoon and when we went to dinner well after 10pm, the floats in the parade were still going strong. It was pretty hard to not get swept up in the enthusiasm and excitement of the event even though I wasn’t the least bit invested. It’s way cooler than a traditional graduation.

Porto-17

The food in Porto was some of my favorite. Possibly more memorable than Lisbon. I traded bacalhau for Francesinhas. There was still a lot of fresh grilled fish. But what is a Francesinha? It’s a sandwich topped with ham, two kinds of sausage, and either steak or roasted meat. The sandwich is topped with slices of of melted cheese and is smothered in a beer tomato sauce. If you get it “especial” you’ll have a fried egg on top. A necessary addition. The sandwich comes surrounded by french fries to help soak up that sauce. I have to say that while the sandwich was delicious on more than one occasion, I was kind of disappointed. Call it the gluttonous American in me [and she's a big girl], but I was expecting something a little more ridiculous. It wasn’t that heavy or a gut-bomb at all, even with the fries. I would have loved if their beer tomato gravy was a little thicker and creamier. I kept expecting it to be, but it just wasn’t so. In a perfect world, I could pour a bowl of pork stew [papas de sarrabulho] I had that was thickened with blood all over the sandwich. Don’t crinkle your nose until you try it. Think sausage gravy in a porky stew form. You can’t taste the blood. So. Dang. Good.  We had that at Conga – Casa das Bifanas, known for their bifana [obviously], a stewed pork cutlet sandwich. Simple and delicious. The spicy sauce it’s stewed in is ladled with your meat into the small soft roll. They’re tiny and incredibly addicting. They go great with a beer. I watched a table of older men down several of the sandwiches, beers, and fried quail legs. Men after my own heart! Can I also talk about burgers for a second? Portugal [and Spain] love burgers. I think we had a burger in every city except Lisbon, and I’m not talking McD’s style. Bugo Art Burgers in Porto is tied for my favorite burger of the trip. Had we gone for dinner to be able to sample their more adventurous dinner menu, I’d say it would have easily won top spot. I got really well acquainted with eating my burger with knife and fork, like a local. The beef was really juicy and well cooked. You can choose a variety of condiments. I ate mine with caramelized onions reduced in port and a Portuguese cheese because when in Porto…

Porto-6

…you drink port! As you probably already know, Porto is known for its Port wine. You can’t make it anywhere else. Seriously, it has to be made there in order to be considered port. The port caves are across this river in Gaia [hello tax break], and they line the streets. I read that there were 50 different caves up in the hills, but people usually only hit a few. In our case, only two on separate days. Krohn was stellar, and the definite favorite of the two. It was a really laid back port tasting without a tour. Sergio explained all the nuances of their port in a way that my wine-dominated brain could understand. It is definitely different than wine, but that’s the point. I don’t know if it was our enthusiasm or what, but he poured us a special taste of their 20-year just because. Yes please! It set the bar high for port. I have no idea if I can get Krohn in the states [haven't seen it yet], but I will totally have a bottle on hand going forward. It has similarities to Vin Santo [Italian dessert wine] but a much better shelf life. You can take open a bottle and it’ll last for at least a year or longer. The second port cave we went to was Ramos Pinto. Chosen randomly, as all good things are. They had an hour long tour, with an extremely enthusiastic guide, and a simple two port tasting. The tour was informative and fun without being too dry.

Porto-21

We also spent an afternoon taking a tour of the FC Porto stadium, Estádio do Dragão. It’s the newest of the cities we visited and is LEED certified. Fancy! This tour was guided and in Portuguese and English. They’re super passionate about their team, living and breathing it. They don’t have nearly the international presence as many of the countries in Europe, but the pride in it is the same. Oddly enough, their uniforms were just picked up by Warrior an American company that primarily takes on lacrosse and hockey jerseys. Our tour guide was asking us about them when he found out we were American, and I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. I hadn’t heard of it until that moment. Apparently they’re trying to take on the global soccer market. After the tour, you have the option of checking out the museum, which you must. It was a highly creative and interactive museum—an adult playground. Your senses of sight and sound are assaulted by all of the videos and audio everywhere you look. We practically had the place to ourselves, too, which made it equal parts awesome and creepy. It was a pretty dark experience, and I don’t love loud noise when I can’t see well. Plus we were followed by an employee the entire time. I swear I wasn’t going to steal that trophy! By the time we were done with the tour and museum, three hours had gone by.

Porto-38 Porto-11
One of the nights when we were headed out to dinner [another Francesinha, of course], our street was blocked off by an apartment fire. It was almost unbelievable how close they’ll let the public get to the scene. At home, it’d be roped off for at least a block. We could have gone up to the firetruck that had the ladder allowing the firemen to get to the roof. They made quick work of it, and by morning I could hardly tell where it took place. I tried to search for it on the internets, but I couldn’t find anything. The firefighters didn’t seem to stressed, so I’m thinking everyone involved was okay.

photo 3

The Duoro river is really quite beautiful. It runs right along the Porto. We spent a lot of time either walking along it or sitting on the riverbank on the Gaia side, near the port caves. The Porto side is one of the most touristy parts of the city, and you can’t really sit unless you want to be at a restaurant. The grassy banks of the Gaia side are much more pleasant, and allow you to take in the great view of the Porto side. The old buildings are so charming. They’re tiled like Lisbon, but not nearly as ornate. I wanted to take a tour up into the Duoro River Valley to go on a wine tour but it didn’t end up fitting into the schedule. We made up for the wine tasting in the apartment. It’s easy to do while you’re trying to figure out the cycles of the washing machine and dryer. Their energy saver cycles will be the death of me.

photo 1 photo 2
Porto was all kinds of lovely and easy to get around. While I liked Lisbon a lot, Porto had a little bit more charm and that touch of fantasy that makes my geeky heart swell. I was sad to leave and head to Seville, but Seville was it’s own kind of awesome. On our way to the train station, I was surprised to see all the kids teenagers on the Metro at 6am. At first I they might be going to school when one of them stood up, half asleep and really drunk, to get off the train. Of course. The bars were just closing. They were going home for the night. No wonder the cities stay relatively sleepy and quiet in the morning. They’d only gone to bed! I can’t keep up. Without wifi and only getting a few hours of sleep the night before, I slept a lot of our train and bus rides to Seville.

[Recap: Lisbon, Seville, Madrid, Barcelona]

Lisbon

This trip was incredible. I’m thankful that I don’t have to pick a favorite city because I liked each one for different reasons. If you haven’t been to Portugal or Spain you must go. They’re both beautiful countries, full of history and culture that you just cannot get by reading or watching travel videos. Photos don’t do it justice. May was a perfect month—low on tourists and really good weather. We had one day of rain the entire trip; the rest of the time was spent in the 70-90 degree range. Perfect for v-neck sunburns.

Lisbon-20

I don’t get tired of traveling. I miss pieces of home—people, my dog, events—but the idea of hanging out in and exploring new cities doesn’t get old. As long as I have access to a washing machine, living out of a backpack is my favorite way to travel. Being able to pack quickly on an early morning, carry everything over cobblestone streets, and easily toss it up into the overhead shelf on the trains are huge. I packed that way in Thailand, and I’m pretty sure I’ll do it forevermore. Unless, y’know, I need a larger wardrobe for some reason or actually buy something to bring home.

We used Airbnb for the entire trip, reserving a new apartment in every city. If you haven’t used it before, you should definitely check into it during your travels. Rooms or entire homes as cheap as or cheaper than hotel rooms, in [potentially] more centralized locations, and with more of the amenities I want [hello, washing machine]. Yeah, you don’t have someone coming in and cleaning up after you daily, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for all of the above.

Lisbon-35

There is an Aerobus that takes you to and from the airport, and it conveniently dropped us off right in front of the Hard Rock Cafe to meet up with Gil who took us on a tour of the city by car while the apartment was being cleaned. It was a perfect way to start the trip. Being able to get your bearings in a city right from the beginning was incredibly helpful.  Gil pointed out each of the surrounding neighborhoods from a couple really high viewpoints from one of the seven hills the city is built on, and he gave us a few ideas for getting the most out of our next few days. The apartment was a tiny little thing, but perfect for what we needed. It’s right in the heart of the city, walkable to nearly everything you’d want to see, and close to Metro stations if it wasn’t. It didn’t feel touristy despite being right off a main shopping avenue. We were on a side street full of locals, markets, and cafés. It was quiet at night and glorious.

Lisbon-8

Most days were spent walking all over the city with only a loose plan, which would prove to be the case throughout the entire trip. Cafés are abundant and being back in the land of cheap espresso was heavenly. I love Portland coffee, but there is something about a shot of espresso for one euro. If you have been following along on Instagram, you know I ate well. While I don’t know any Portuguese other than a few basics, language wasn’t a problem. The Portuguese know a lot of English. They don’t dub any [most?] English TV so they learn it through that in addition to what they learn in school. My favorite restaurant by far was our first meal, recommended to us by our friends at Radar back home. It’s called Taberna da Rua das Flores, and it’s a rustic, traditional dining experience. The chalkboard menu of the day is only written in Portuguese, and the server was kind enough to translate it for us. I had my first of many interactions with bacalhau [dried, salted cod], and it was really good–not too salty or fishy tasting. The rehydrated texture was a little tougher than I was expecting, but it works in a salad of chickpeas and hardboiled eggs. A lot of the meals were centered around grilled fresh fish, boiled or fried potatoes, and very basic salad. Simple and delicious. It was nice to not have to think too much about what I was going to eat. Menu paralysis is a thing, and I’m affected regularly. Whether it was a quiche and espresso for breakfast or a ham and cheese sandwich on a crusty roll, it was good choice. Sticking to the “Menu of the Day” is usually a wise choice, too. Most restaurants post up what they’re making that day, even if they have a full menu. Pick something off that for the freshest ingredients. I had a very basic lasagna and soup at a nondescript cafe one afternoon, and it was some of the best I’ve eaten.

Lisbon-24     Lisbon-10
We took a day trip to Sintra by train. This place was wonderful, and absolutely worth traveling to Lisbon for. I really wish we would have stayed a night there just to spend more time checking out all of the castles and little cafes. There is so much to see out there. It seems small and unassuming, but the roads keep winding on up into the hills revealing more castles. We spent the majority of the day wandering the main parts of town and inside Quinta da Regaleira. It is a huge estate once known as “The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire” based on someone who used to own it in 1892. It’s a totally magical space with lots of winding trails, underground caves, churches, and random lookout towers. He apparently went crazy with collecting and building all of these things to reflect his interest and ideologies. The main gate will supply you with a  giant map to help you find your way, but you can still easily get turned around. The underground caves were so cool, connecting you with other parts of the grounds. There was also this small body of water you cross by stepping stones. I felt like I was in the Labyrinth and the bog of eternal stench – so cool! Sintra is also a fine time to check out two Lisbon specialties, Ginjha [a cherry liquor traditionally served out of chocolate cups], and cheese custard pastry [pastéis de nata]. Both are as good as advertised. My grandma would have lost her mind with the cherry liquor and chocolate cups.

Lisbon-27

Back in Lisbon proper, the Alfama neighborhood and the Castelo de São Jorge at the top of one of the seven hills are both totally worth checking out. Alfama is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon, surrounded by Moorish city walls. It’s full of old homes, churches, and restaurants to hear Fado music. We averaged 8-10 miles on foot each day since everything was so walkable. Taking an early morning stroll through the neighborhoods meant that you had the streets to yourself. People would hang out of their windows to see what was going on in their neighborhoods or put out their laundry. While I didn’t want to spend the time waiting in line to buy the ticket to go inside the Castelo, the neighborhood surrounding it was more than worth it. You can have your fill of churches on the walk back down through Alfama. Watch out for the Segway tours.

Portuguese nightlife isn’t a joke. Bars are open super late [or early depending on how you look at it], and you really don’t eat dinner or start your evening until closer to 10pm. To be fair, we stuck to the tourist route and ate around 8 or 9pm, mostly because I couldn’t wait that long. All that walking, a girl needs to eat! The Barrio Alto neighborhood has a ton of the late night spots, and the restaurant seating spills out into the walkways up the hill. You seriously climb stair after stair and continue on up the hill. I really want to know how many people fall as the night wears on. Walking on cobbles is a skill even in the best of times. One of the nights, we ate at an Italian restaurant because it’s hard to say no to pizza, even in Portugal. The best part of the night was the pan flutist who came around playing the hits. I can’t remember now what song it was, but it was equal parts hysterical and awesome.

Lisbon-5

One of the things we knew would happen on the trip was going to a Benfica football match. The stadium was easily accessible from the Metro, and you can’t get lost with all the fans walking around. As is the case with our previous euro football experience in Milan, getting the tickets was fun. We had to pick them up at will call which wasn’t technically at the stadium at all, and they don’t really tell you that online or on the confirmation email. Thanks to a woman at the actual ticket booth and a kind man who told us how to get there. We followed the man and his family/friends ONTO THE FREEWAY. It was bizarre and kind of awesome—groups of people walking in a makeshift line on the shoulder of the freeway, making their way around the stadium. If there was every any doubt that this was okay, there was a transit policeman standing in the grass under an overpass watching us do it. Crazy. I loved it. They don’t allow drinking in the stadium except for espresso and nonalcoholic beer so most people stay out in the parking lot until the last minute. The game itself was rather mellow since Benfica was already slated to win the league for the 33rd time no matter how they played that night, and they had the Europa league final coming up that was way more important. Regardless, it was fun. I like tucking another European football match under my belt. Gotta collect them all.

Lisbon was a great start to a great trip. From there, we took a short train ride to Porto where I would fall in love with Portugal all over again.

[Photos by Andrew, as usual]

[Recap: Porto, Seville, Madrid, Barcelona]