Pesto Chicken and Grape Tomato Skewers

I have to say I’ve never made pesto. I’ve always wanted to. I bookmark recipes for it all the time, especially when they’re non-traditional with things like arugula and pistachios. Yet, I never make it. They sit on the list, then I eventually delete them because I know deep down that I’m probably not going to make it. The fridge New Seasons makes fresh stuff for me, so why would I bother?

It’s almost just as surprising that I made my own skewers when New Seasons has those, too. I buy them more often than not when we’re on a “grill something served with salad” dinner spree. I make skewers so often that I forgot I already bought a package of bamboo skewers. They were buried in the back of the pantry. I guess one can never have too many skewers.

Have you ever had a grilled tomato? Specifically a grilled grape tomato. They get soft and sweet and are ready to burst [assuming they didn't already] on the grill. Then, when sandwiched between chunks of juicy chicken covered in pesto, they are elevated to some god-like level. It’s unexplainable, so don’t try. Just eat.

For the side, I sautéed some zucchini ribbons in a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Finished it with drizzle of truffle oil. YUM. 

PS – I soak my bamboo skewers while I’m making up the other ingredients. Supposedly this helps them from catching on fire. I thought about buying metal ones, but that seems like a recipe for me burning the hell out of myself.

Ingredients

  • 1lb chicken breasts
  • 1 jar of pesto
  • 1/2 pint of grape tomatoes
  • 8-10 bamboo skewers

Preparation

Soak your bamboo skewers in water. Cut up your chicken breasts into uniform, bite-sized pieces. This will help them cook better. Place the cut pieces into a bowl and pour the pesto all over them. Use your hands to make sure every piece is coated. Let them sit for approx. 10-15 minutes [or more if you have the time]. I sliced my zucchini ribbons in the meantime.

Set up a station that to put all of this together. Thread a piece of chicken onto the skewer followed by a grape tomato. Repeat until the skewer is full. I was getting four pieces of chicken and three tomatoes. Highly dependent on the size of your chicken pieces. Repeat until you use up everything. Try not to lick your fingers. Y’know, raw chicken.

Preheat your grill to a medium high heat. Lay them on. Don’t touch for about four minutes before rotating. Cook for an additional four minutes. Remove from the grill and let them rest for a few minutes. Serve.

Lentil Salad with Arugula and Currants

If last year was the summer of burgers [or pizza, let's be honest], this seems to be the summer of salads with homemade dressings. I’m up to five or six so far this year. I’m sure it’s not over yet. I think it has to do with how hot it’s been lately. Hot meals pale in comparison to a fresh, bright salad and some grilled meats.

This was originally marketed as The Best Lentil Salad, Ever by Sarah at My New Roots. She’s probably not wrong. Lentils are pretty much awesome — super filling and taste like whatever you want them to be. The dressing is spicy, tangy, and sweet all in one. I’m usually sold whenever dijon mustard is involved. It’s my favorite condiment. I was seen squeezing an upright bottle of yellow mustard at Killer Burger a few weeks ago just so I could smell the mustardy air as it came out. It’s like that.

It’s really one of those flexible salads that you can swap out just about anything. I’d like nuts and a little goat cheese next time, just for something different. It would completely change the flavor, but still be equally awesome.

Inspiration: My New Roots

Ingredients

  • 1lb of lentils [brown, green, or Du Puy]
  • 1 medium red onion, small dice
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1/3 cup capers, rinsed
  • 5-6 cups arugula
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cinnamon

Preparation

Rinse the lentils before bringing them to a boil in a pot of water, covering them by 3-4 inches. Reduce the water to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes until they’re tender but hold their shape well. Rinse them under cold water when they’re done.

In a jar, mix together the olive oil through the nutmeg. Top with a lid and shake well. You can whisk it in a bowl instead of you don’t have a jar with a lid.

Put the lentils in a large bowl when they’re done. Pour in the dressing and mix well. Add the onion, currants, caper, and arugula. Toss to combine until everything is evenly distributed.

Chorizo and Garlic Shrimp Burgers

We spent the weekend in San Francisco — partly for Andrew’s birthday and partly because Inter Milan was playing Real Madrid in Berkley. It was perfect timing really. I hadn’t been to SF in at least four years, I’m guessing. It’s been a long time. We rented a sweet little apartment in The Mission near where our friends live. It was close to BART and a million things to eat, and it had a great view of the city from the rooftop deck.

The weather was practically perfect, if not a little hot. After spending nearly all of Saturday outside, I was sporting a lovely sunburn on my forehead and my nose. It’s already peeling, so yay. It was a super short trip thanks to a cancelled flight on Friday. We arrived at nearly 11pm on Friday and were flying out 7pm on Sunday. Short. Friday night we had super quesadilla suizas from El Farolito Taqueria. On Saturday I had the Franciscan scramble at Kitchen Story,  a pastrami sandwich and the best pickleback of all time from Giordano Bros., and the most thoughtful Campari and soda at Double Dutch. The bartender took the time to rub the lemon peel over the rim of the glass. It makes such a difference! The original plan was to have dinner at Beretta, but a two hour wait was not something anyone wanted to deal with. Inter Milan won by the way for anyone who is interested. It made the day that much sweeter. Sunday was spent getting an Americano and ginger scone from Ritual Coffee , a watermelon salad with rocolla, white balsamic vinaigrette, pumpkin seeds & ricotta salata cheese and a homemade biscuit from The Vestry, and brown sugar and fennel ice cream from Humphrey Slocombe. It was like Salt and Straw without the wait. I had forgotten what that was like. We finished up the trip with a sandwich to go from Ike’s Place eaten on the roof deck. I love that city. Next time needs to be at least another night. There is so much to see, do, and eat in that city.

Remember how last year seemed to be the summer of burgers? It also seemed to coincide with Portland’s inaugural Burger Week, which starts soon by the way. SO EXCITED.  Anyway, I made this burger recently, and it was the first burger of the summer. It’s surprising it took this long, but when the mood strikes, you can’t ignore it. I can’t even remember the last time I bought shrimp. Buying a two-pound bag for eight shrimp makes sense, right? You’re going to see a little bit more shrimp around here. Anyway, these burgers? AWESOME. Mexican chorizo is so good. The recipe gave you instructions to make your own, but we have a little market by the house that sells it by the pound size link. It’s hard to say no to that. If you actually make the real deal, let me know! I’d love to hear about how it tastes.

Paprika mayo and manchego cheese make this whole thing. I’ve been on a manchego  kick since we got back from Spain. It’s such a versatile and creamy cheese. Have you had Sir Kensington’s Mayo? It’s my latest find at New Seasons. I don’t eat enough mayo to justify buying a huge jar, so this little jar is perfect. Make the burgers if you have even the slightest bit of love of chorizo. You don’t even have to make the shrimp if you don’t want to, but it makes them that much better. I promise.

Inspiration: Lady and Pups

Ingredients

  • 1lb of chorizo, remove from casings so you can make patties
  • 8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • juice of one lime
  • 4 buns
  • 1/2 cup of shredded manchego
  • 1-2 thin slices of tomato per burger
  • flour for dusting the burgers
  • olive oil and butter for the pan

Preparation

Divide the chorizo into four equal portions to make patties. I brought out my trusty scale to make sure they were approximately the same size. I can’t eyeball things that good. Place them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.

In a small bowl, mix the shrimp with the olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper. Place in the fridge until ready to use as well.

Whisk together the mayo, tomato paste, paprika, mustard, and lime. Set aside. Try not to eat it by the spoonful.

Preheat a skillet on medium high heat. Dust the patties with a bit of flour so they can get a nice crust. Add about a tablespoon of oil to the pan. Once it’s shimmering, it’s hot enough. Add a little bit of butter before placing the burger in the pan. If yours is large enough, you could do two at the time, but I didn’t want to risk it. One at a time for me. Don’t touch them for a good 3-5 minutes until you notice a crust forming on the bottom of the patty. Flip and add 1/4th of the shredded cheese to the top before covering for a minute or two. Once the cheese melts, remove the patty from the pan and set aside. Continue this with the rest of the patties.

In the pan with all the drippings, add the shrimp for about 1 minute on each side until they’re cooked through. Remove and slice in half when they’re cool enough to touch.

Toast the buns if you’re into that sort of thing. Add some mayo to the bun, top with a burger, four slices of shrimp, and a slice or two of tomato. Enjoy.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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...].

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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.

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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.

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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]