Saturday, 31 August 2013

Spaghetti Nero

I´ve been amusing myself my comparing the contents of my and the neighbourhood's British tourists' shopping baskets. Well, based on the content of theirs (packet of hot dogs, bottles of whisky, vodka and gin, 6-pack of tonic, giant bag of crisps and a canister of Coke) I've taken the liberty to assume they're Brits anyway.

Then there's mine. All the seafood that's been available that day - often with no idea what to do with them. But this is one of the best uses I've come up with. Black spaghetti is available in some supermarkets, but in case you get hold of squid ink, you can make your own.  Provided you have a pasta machine... In case you use regular pasta (the way I did) add the ink into the cooked and drained pasta. There's no point adding it to the water (as I learnt after 4 sachets)  as it won't absorb properly. Dying couscous or rice with squid ink is based on them absorbing the water they're cooked in. One 4 g sachet is enough for approximately 250 grams of pasta/ rice/ couscous.

Since the black colour gives this dish fairly dramatic look, I wanted to let the colour do all the talking and didn't want to distract it with cream- or tomato-based sauce. Instead I tossed the pasta in butter and white wine instead. Simple, but (as those clams in Benalmadena showed) so delicious!

I used king prawns, mussels and octopus. The big ones I used for Pulpo a la Gallega and those cocktail-potatos too. They are available frozen at big supermarkets. As the cooking is a bit of a time-consuming process, I usually cook a bigger batch and freeze them for later use. Obviously you can use calamari rings too, or the kind of seafood mix I used for Ensalada Rusa.

Serves 2

2 portions of pasta (spaghetti or linguine)

16 king prawns
10 mussels
about 200 gr octopus
1 garlic clove
1/2 chilli
the zest of 1 lemon
A couple of tbsp butter
1,5 dl white wine
salt, pepper
handful of parsley

If the mussels you're using are pre-cooked, thaw them first.

Cook the pasta according to instructions on the packet. In the meanwhile make the sauce. Sauté thinly sliced garlic, grated lemon zest and chopped chilli in butter. If you're using uncooked prawns, peel them (you can leave the tail on) and add into sauce now. As they start to turn pink, add white wine, mussels and octopus. Let simmer under lid for a couple of minutes. If the mussels you're using are fresh, at this point throw away the ones that haven't opened. Check the taste and season as needed.

In case you're using squid ink, add the content of the sachet into the cooked and drained pasta carefully as it tends to colour everything else that gets in its way too. Pour the sauce on top, sprinkle the parsley and serve.

And if you can't get squid ink, don't worry - the dish tastes fine with regular spaghetti too. And you can always switch off the lights - in the dark any spaghetti looks black!

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Friday, 30 August 2013

Glory, glory halleluja

Life, it throws you. Up and down. This emotional roller-coaster has left me bruised as it keeps turning my life upside down. I have just learnt that my blog has been nominated in the Best Food Blog category at the Gloria Blog Awards - the Oscars of the Finnish blog scene. Do check out the other nominees as well - you'll find them all here. Go crazy with your Google Translator - it's all in Finnish.

My journey as a blogger has been full of emotions and passion. This kind of a surprise I never would have even dared to dream of though. I'm humble. And extremely grateful. Echoing the statements made by the skiers of the yesteryear, demonstrating the sort of self-deprecation Finns are known for, my head started buzzing with thoughts like "just being nominated in a gala of this magnitude is a victory in itself". And "being among nominees this accomplished when the blogosphere is full of amazing blogs, each more visual, witty and vibrant than the next, just being nominated is an unbelievable honour". But you know what? I genuinely feel that way.

The other day, as I was updating my resumé, I got thinking how much blogging has already given me. Also in the way of life and employment skills. It forces to be responsible and keep pushing harder and harder, even when you yourself don't feel like it. Building this website has also honed my IT- skills, more than a frivolous silly humanist such as myself ever would have thought possible. And utilizing social media (for something other than stalking ex-boyfriends). It has also taught me persistence and ambition (budget management sadly not...) The feedback and awards have strengthened my confidence and faith in what I at least think I'm doing.That in turn has given me courage to actively take contact with fellow bloggers I so far have only admired from afar that I've now had the privilege of meeting in flesh.

But before you start rallying to have me canonized, trust me, there have been moments of envy and feelings of inadequacy - I mean, there are so many awesome blogs out there! And no matter how The Gentleman is one of my biggest fans, even he switches on the iPad in the morning wondering out loud what "those people at Sillä Sipuli have been up to". 

I think this calls for a celebratory drink. Or two. Here's a summery one. And seeing how it's got fruit in it, it actually counts towards those elusive five-a-day!

Half a watermelon
ginger ale
mint leaves
crushed ice

Puré the watermelon in a blender. Bruise the mint leaves with the crushed ice. Pour in 4 cl of vodka and a dash of lime juice. Then add 1 dl of melon puré and top with ginger ale.

PS. In addition to the nominated blogs, you can (work that Google Translator!) also vote for other blogs in readers' favourite- category (lukijoiden suosikki). You can vote for us (of others. Or us) here. There are even prizes to be won!

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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Oven dried tomatos

A cancer diagnosis my circle of friends was hit with a couple of years ago was bit of a shock to say the least - it was less than a year after another friend of mine had been snatched away by that devilish disease. In his attempt to give me something else to think about and something to celebrate life The Gentleman planted me a herb garden. Rosemary, chives and mint have taken on the task with appropriate zest for life, basil seems to be struggling a bit. With coriander I've had to abandon all hope. Now, after yet another similar diagnosis thyme and lemon thyme have been added to the patch. 

Being able to step outside to collect fresh herbs form your own garden is one of life's little big luxuries. This time they found use in oven dried tomatos. The end result is more zaftig (oooh, how I love Yiddish!) than the store-bought sun dried variety, but equally versatile. Serve them on their own in tapas-table, in salads (especially in Saint Tropez salad!), on bread, in pizzas, as a foodie gift... 

Some recipes call for honey to be mixed with the oil, but as I prefer acidity, I added a tiny splash of white wine vinegar. 

This recipe yields two jars like the ones in the photo (each a little shy of 0,5 litres) 


750 gr ripe (plum) tomatos 

1 generous tsp sugar 

1 generous tbsp dried basil 

salt, pepper 

2 sprigs of rosemary 

2 sprigs of thyme 

2 garlic cloves 


3 dl olive oil 

2 sprigs of rosemary 

2 sprigs of thyme 

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 

1 tbsp white wine vinegar 

Cut the tomatos lengthways into slices of about 1 cm thick. Place them on parchment, sprinkle sugar, basil and thinly sliced garlic on top. Season generously with salt and black pepper. Dry in the oven (90°-100°) for 4-5 hours (depends on the juiciness of the tomatos, thickness of the slices and desired consistency). Though mine was a fan assisted oven, for best results it was best to leave the door slightly open, using a wooden spoon as a tool. This way the moisture evaporates quicker. 

Combine the ingredients for the oil and place the tomatos in layers with oil into jars so that the tomatos are covered in oil. Squeeze in the herbs and keep in cold letting the flavours come together for at least  24 hours before serving. 

When you're done with the tomatos, don't throw the oil away - use it for frying or in salad dressings! 

And though this blog doesn't even pretend to be equipped to give anything other than recipes, here's one lesson everyone should learn and remember: love is the one commodity we can all afford to waste - even in today's sombre economy. It is the one thing that only grows the more we give it away. So, do remember to love now as there might not be tomorrow. 

This big luxury of my tiny life reminded me of its relevance just now as I received the news of yet another friend dying. She had just embarked on her new life in the sun she'd been dreaming of for so long... only for it to be cut short quicker than anyone could have seen coming. 

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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Lunchtime at roadside

After Júzcar and Cartajima my faith and blood sugar levels were running a bit low. Luckily the strength of the Gentleman's character rescued the situation (and the the interior of our Audi - I would have probably started chomping on that next). We settled for lunch at one of those numerous ventas that line the Spanish highways.

Ventas are exactly what they look like: family-run roadside restaurants offering fuss-free home-cooked meals. The original clientele they catered for was without a doubt the truck-drivers on their endless journeys. They don't look much and sometimes the appearance is just downright sad. The table cloths dancing alone in the wind at tables no-one's sitting in. The owner and his mate at the corner table staring into abyss in silence, cigarette burning off one after another.

But the food is home-cooked and sometimes genuinely excellent. We got lucky and we found one just like that. The kitchen was run by Maman and the menu boasted mouth-watering options, each more tempting than the next. The focus here at the barren mountain land was on game (Deer! Wild boar! Goat!) and on the local pork (obviously) - including some less popular options too (The whole head! Snout!)

To start with we had a couple of tapas. Fish salad turned out to be mayo-based salad of crab stick, cabbage and pineapple. Bizarre, but in its fruitiness rather refreshing combination. 

Boqerones en vinagre came with generous amount of garlic. Surprisingly it worked and was not at all too overpowering. Next time I too will be more daring with my recipe.

But the hands down winner of this round was chicharrones, a dish these only popular around here. Fried pork rind, por favor!

I've noticed blogging affects the way (and what) I eat. The goal is after all to demystify the food of Andalusia (and rest of the world) and to encourage people to occasionally opt out of that safe bet of steak and chips. "That I've already had, must have something else" - approach also forces myself to stay excited and open-minded. Open-minded to a point  I was toying with the idea of snout, simply because of its curiosity value in a photograph. But wild board won in the end - after I heard it would come with chestnuts. I loooove chestnuts and have had them a lot in France where they are often served with game. My expectations (and hunger) were high as I fantasized about a pot of chestnuts stewed with steaming chunks of slowly braised wild boar...

... but in reality the boar came with those chips and pickled vegetables even a truly good restaurants seem to love in Spain (as experiences in Nerja, El Chorro and Ronda among other places have proven).

In addition to strength of character The Gentleman has started to show signs of envy-evoking self-restraint. He wasn't going to have anything else to eat. Until the waiter came along with his recommendation of roasted suckling pig ("but is good!"). And right he was - succulent, fatty deliciousness all the way down to the trotters.

Even I couldn't have stomached a dessert... but seeing how the chestnutty crème caramel was promised to be "so goood!" how could we argue (anyone starting to see a pattern emerging?). And sure, what a light way to finish a lunch that was...

The wines were the house wines from Baron Ley, produced in Ronda region. And proved that they have character(s) and (lots of) personality. There are good ones and then the kind we had today. Though I'm sure the red one would have developed to give a lot more flattering first impression had it been left to breathe for, say, about three years.

At this point our ambitious plan was to head home.But then the waiter came over with digestives. I think you can already guess how that conversation went... Yep, "but is gooood!". So, a round of Ruavieja, that yellowish green liquor with thick, syrup-like consistency it was. This drink, originally from Galicia, is something restaurants often bring over after a meal on the house.

Then it was definitely time to head home and enjoy some siesta. And the total for the lunch? 41 euros. Now that if something is goood!

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Tuesday, 27 August 2013


Much like the Smurfs themselves, Júzcar is small and does not boast too many alternatives for lunching. Village's Smurf-themed hotel has a small restaurant, but neither one of us was kiddy enough to get giddy over the thought of a Smurf-themed burger menu. So, we made the executive decision to keep driving to a nearby village of Cartajima, where the hotel Los Castanos was said to celebrate local produce on its menu.

Cartajima in itself is one of the small and quiet villages of Serrania de Ronda bit a couple of hundred residents. The seemingly generic appearance belies a long and rich history though, dating back to Moorish times. It gets its name from Arabic, the original name translating as "the farmhouse of Aljaima". First Christian texts write the name as Xaritalxime. 

Following Reconquista at the end of the 15th century the Muslim population was evicted resulting in the death of many surrounding villages. In the Independence War 1808-1814 the village boasts having been in crucial part in defeating the French.

The area used to be famous for its wine, but the industry was served a lethal blow in the form of phylloxera. Now, slowly but surely, its making a comeback though.

Today the villages reminds me of the wilting little towns back home, each year with less and less people, each year just a little closer to the inevitable death. The post office has been closed for years and the village shop is about to follow. People are getting older and older as the youth faces the move to the big cities in the South in the search of jobs and better life.

Fería had recently been celebrated here, too. This is their celebrated patron saint.

At this point even the religion buff that is yours truly found herself baffled. Are they all just interchangeable names for the Virgin Mary that enjoys a rock star-like popularity throughout the Catholic world or have there really been enough virgins to go around for each village? And if so, is their miraculous status result of anything other than the fact that they managed to avoid the temptations of happy hour at Weatherspoon?

Only the flags dancing in the afternoon wind over the narrow alleyways bore testament to the recent celebrations. The streets were empty, no living soul anywhere. The lanterns lighting the night falling on the village had already been put away and were collecting dust at the corner of the city hall. The only sounds were the muffled voices of a family getting together for lunch at the back room of the village's tiny tobacco shop.

And the hotel? Cerrado. Closed.
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Monday, 26 August 2013

Smurf village of Júzcar

While Andalusia is famous for its white villages, there's also Júzcar, one that's completely blue. Reason for this is every bit as weird as the village itself.

* * * 

Andalusia is famous for the white villages like Benalmadena and Ardales which dot its majestic mountains. Then there's Júzcar, a blue village located in the mountains of Serrania de Ronda around 22 kilometres from Ronda and approximately 100 kilometres from Malaga. 

In the spring of 2011 Sony Pictures had all the village (yes, that includes the church AND the gravestones!) painted blue as a part of a worldwide campaign promoting the release of the Smurf movie. Back then the village was estimated to attract around 300 visitors annually. in the six months after the lick of paint the number went over 80 000.

In December that year Sony offered to restore the village back to its whitewashed glory. But what did the villagers do? They had a vote and decided to remain blue. In a small village like this, especially in the current economical situation, the livelihood needs to be taken from where ever they can. No matter what the colour.

Perhaps inspired by this another Andalusian village came up with a plan of their own. A mastermind behind it was an entrepreneur whose brainchild was to paint all 300 houses of the village of Moclinejo pink, rename the streets after famous gay artists and even build a park specifically for cruising (nope, nothing to do with boats...) This plan, however, has so far failed to take off the ground...

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Sunday, 25 August 2013

Soup Sunday: vichyssoise

It's hot under the Andalusian sun. So unbelievably scorching hot. As my hair glues together forming dreadlock-like nests and my face sweats in shades of purple even Pantone colour chart doesn't recognize I can't help but wonder what the attraction of blonde women in the Southern part of the world is based on. I can tell you the scent of Schengen visa fails to overpower the smell of me after my deodorant has failed already at 10 am... (Oh no...I've become one of those people I hate on airplanes!)

Before my first ever trip to Israel my Hebrew teacher at the time genuinely wanted to know if I was insane. Being an Israeli himself he would have never ever voluntarily spent time in the heatwave of July and August. And trying it was. But keeps calling me back, year after year.

I don't know whether it's the old age getting to me but I don't remember ever struggling with these temperatures this much. The Gentleman, currently living here full-time has acclimatized to a level of a Kenyan marathon runner. "What? It's only 34 degrees!".

Yeah. In the shade! The only consolation is that the tan is coming along nicely. Though I doubt I'll have a chance to show it off as I return to Finland. Swathed in jumpers. And anyway, it'll only lead to skin cancer, right?

In addition to positive thinking this heat has killed my enthusiasm in the kitchen. If you can't stand the heat and so on. So, it's time to pull yet another chilled soup out of my sleeve: vichyssoise, the most classic of them all. It takes no real effort to make, keeps well in the cold and only gets better with time. I've seen some recipes use as much cream as they use chicken stock but I just find that a tad too much. Especially seeing how I need to (at least try and) look good in a bikini. A reminder for the winter: the soup can be served hot too. In which case some crispy bacon would be a lovely addition...!

Serves two (or as a starter for four)

3 generous tbsp butter
2 leeks
3 small potatos (or 2 medium sized ones)
1/2 chickenstock
1 sprig of thyme
2 dl cream
pinch of nutmeg
salt, pepper
handful of chopped chives
green apple

Cut the leeks in half and rinse. Peel and cut the potatos into small cubes. Sauté the leeks in butter but make sure they won't get any colour. Then add potatos and the thyme. Cook them for a further minute. Then pour in the chicken stock and simmer until the potatos are done - depending on the size of the size of the cubes 30-35 minutes. Remove the thyme sprig and blizz in a blender. Pour back into the pan, add cream and bring to boil. Season with nutmeg (carefully though - too much and it will taste like soap. Even more and it will get you hospitalized) and salt and pepper. Cool (even until the following day) and serve with chopped chives.

Inspired by the fruitiness of white gazpacho, before serving I like to add into vichyssoise a yellow apple I've pureed in a blender as it lends the soup nice, fresh edge.  Since apples tend to brown quickly, this shouldn't really be done much in advance.

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Saturday, 24 August 2013

Feria in Benalmadena

August is the season for ferías. These village fêtes honour the local patron saints and at their best last upto a week. And serve an excuse to get dressed to the nines, eat and drink well. Benalmadena Pueblo just celebrated theirs and as a sign of this the feria gate had been brought back from hibernation. 

In addition to people, streets and houses get dressed in their best gear too.

A local band had been brought over to entertain the audience. And their cover version of Psy's Gangnam style was... entertaining alright. But what I was after was the "free tasting of local specialties" that the paper had promised. Oh yeah, advertize free food and I'll turn fluent in any language. But there was nothing. So I had to organize my own tasting.

First it was higado  - chicken liver. And it was good. I already have a couple of ideas stewing in my head. Perhaps with some figs that are so in season right now? Spiked with some... port wine, perhaps?

Next stop was almejas, which in its simplicity was superbly light and summery. Butter, garlic, white wine, clams and parsley. At their best life's pleasure's can be so very simple.

Then there was pinchito de cordero, lamb skewer. Beautifully seasoned with exotic spices echoing rich history and faraway countries. And to go with that some local rosé, claro que si!

Here's the heroine of the hour. Doesn't seem terribly impressed with Gangnam Style either..

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Friday, 23 August 2013

Market time

There are several weekly markets at Costa catering to all imaginable needs. Arroy de la Miel's markets are held on Wednesdays and Fridays and in Fuengirola the demand meets supply on Saturdays and Tuesdays.

The market in Fuengirola is the largest one. On Tuesdays the goods are the same that can be found at all the other markets as well (from lace underwear in fluorescent colours to nuts and knockoff Guccis) but on Saturdays the fería ground located halfway between the train stations of Fuengirola and Los Boliches is taken over by a massive flea market.

There's pretty much anything anyone could ask for. A couple of years ago the authorities clamped down on the goings on that had gotten out of hand and now everything on sale must be segundo mano, second hand. The prospect of being fined hasn't put off all of the hawking Herndandezes though.

There are also several stalls by a variety of expat-run charities which means there's no shortage of English books. And not just the Barbara Cartland- variety: but there's often a chance to find some cookery book bargains too. 

And there are bags galore. Some less...

... and some more genuine.

This is also a god place to find those Moroccan straw bags that I love so much. Saves a trip to the other side of the sea, you see!

There are tools catering both to the needs of handyman of today and serial killers of the Middle Ages.

And avid interior decorators are in for some treats too... even the humbler tastes are catered for. Too bad The Gentleman failed to fall for the charm of these Posh and Becks- style thrones for the poolside...

And as is appropriate for the fería season, there are the traditional dresses.

And seeing how we are the Costa del Golf...

For a blogger like me, collecting staging equipment with the enthusiasm of a squirrel getting ready for another Ice Age this place is heaven. There are all sorts of rare treats: such as genuine 18th century Bohemian crystal from 21st century China (and judging by the sweet, rhubarb-like smell I detected lingering at the gates there just might be a chance to source a herb particularly popular among the horticultural societies of Jamaica and Holland...)

I myself am still trying to justify the purchase of an Oriental tea pot (a mere metre in height...). Though it would look nice next to the Egyptian rug, Moroccan lanterns and Turkish cushions...

I did find something though so stay tuned - they're coming to a blog near you!

It's easy to lose oneself (not to mention the time and money) at the market, but haggling (especially with the non-Spanish vendors located further away from the gate) is recommended. Though I myself am legendarily poor at that life skill. Once at a market I was having some T-shirts printed and the negotiations of the final price were in full swing. The seller agreed to drop the price down to 25 shekels. And what did this street-smart world-traveller do? Insisted on paying 30...

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