Sunday, 31 July 2016

Watermelon gazpacho

Refreshing gazpacho offers a cooling breeze - this summer's hottest version is made with watermelon!

* * * 

I'm the first to admit it: I'm pathetically crap at eating fruit and veg. Unless they're deep-fried, that is. Or wrapped in bacon. Which, especially with fruit just doesn't happen often enough.

The hotel breakfasts at our travels serve a regular reminder of this. As the Cat Blogger is busy filling her plate with everything that's fresh and green I stand in the queue for my third top-up of bacon. But let's face it: all that green stuff just fails to evoke the sort of passions and uncontrollable cravings that, say, pizza does. Or the aforementioned bacon. 

No-one is ready to chew their own arm off to get carrots. No person walks home from the bar at 4am with cauliflower in their hand. No shop on Saturday mornings is inundated with people desperate for tomatos. Am I right or are you wrong?

There is one exception to this, though. Watermelon. I just can't get enough of that one and in the summer it's something I legitimately do crave. To a point it hasn't even occurred to me to out bacon in it. Yes, I just said that. 

During the last weeks Finland has bathed in such sunshine it's been difficult to remember this is Finland. Which is great, seeing how I'll be far too busy to do any travelling. And heat like this cries out for something cooling, such as gazpacho.

Previously I've shared with you recipe for the traditional, tomato-based one, cucumber version, its Andalusian cousin salmorejo and the white version called ajo blanco. This summer's hottest ticket though is this: watermelon gazpacho. Quite possibly the best of the lot. 

Oh, and if you want to go the extra mile, roastng/ grilling the ingredients adds a new dimension to this (and other gazpachos)!

Serves 4, as a shot-sized portion 12

Watermelon gazpacho:

1 kg watermelon cubes (approximately 1 mini watermelon)
2 tomatos
1/2 red pepper
1/2 small red onion
1/2 cucumber
1 jalapeño
3/4 dl oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar)
1,5 tsp salt
large bunch of coriander (reserve a little for serving)

to serve: oil, coriander leaves, remaining veggies finely chopped

Dice the veggies and finely chop the remaining veggies for serving. Place all the ingredients in a blender and whizz until smooth. Let cool in the fridge for a couple of hours or even until the following day. 

Check the taste before serving and adjust adding more salt and/ or vinegar. Drizzle oil on top and serve with the chopped up veg and coriander.





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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Jerez Alcázar - glimpse into the Arab Andalusia

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Much like its other counterparts, Alcázar fortress in Jerez offers an interestng glimpse into the Arab conquerors' Andalusia

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My head aches. Ligh hurts my eyes, no matter ho deep I try to bury myself into my brand new Panama hat. Jerez in May is suffocatingly hot, but having been up most of the night before, not being able to keep anything inside I don't even dare to drink anything, which probably doesn't make my current state any better.

A guide I've been provided with smiles and nods knowingly. "You've been getting to know sherries aready, then ?" If only. I'm desperately trying to trace the source of all this. Surely it can't be my lunch the day before - I mean, the place was so nice? I suppose it could also be the starter at yesterday's dinner? One of the six I had ...?

I'm trying to focus on the guide's words as well as I can and obiediently attempt to take some photos, too. Though my efforts are pathetically half-hearted as the results reveal. Poor horse is missing half of his head and I resolve to pretending not to even notice.

I'm looking at a tour of Alcázar fortress in Jerez de la Frontera. Or something like that. 

"They all look the same, anyway", I find myself thinking cynically. At this point my crap mood is aggravating even myself.  Seville, Alhambra, Cordoba... makes absolutely no diference. 

I stare numbly at the wall surrounding the fortress and briefly toy with the idea of actually just using a photo from a wall somewhere in Jerusalem

Same old crap, everywhere. It's not like somebody can tell the difference? It's not like anyone's actually even going to read this?

Oh, yeah. Palm trees. How bloody exotic. No-one has ever seen those anywhere, right? Well, let's take another pointless photo, just in case. 

I pull my hat even deeper and map out the public toilets in case I need to emergency evacuate myself. Not that I can, though. That's the thing with travelling alone: there's no-one else to take the photos and tour the sights.

Just like there's no-one to hold your hair as you need to throw up for the 16th time that night. And no-one to fetch you water. Or head out in the search for the closest pharmacy. Seriously - what the hell is the point of this travelling alone business? It sucks!

I hate myself, my life, my stomach that by now is making noise that rivals any death metal band, history, sunshine and Andalusia. 

Even my lense proves to be too dense for this place. And there's far too much light. I try to replace my camera with my phone, but fail at that (too).

So, I also hate my camera. And my phone. And the tourists, moving around with the leisurely pace of a comatose cow, continuousy walking into my photos, with no rush anywhere.

(How the hell can they not be in any rush? What do they think they're on - a holiday? I, for one, still have like three places to go see after this one!)

Soon I start hating my guide, too. Dignity and pride of their origins are qualities I've so far looked up to in Andalusians but now they're reaching a point of irritation beyond belief. Our talks about my life in my little corner of Andalusia just make him sneer.

"Benalmádena? What planet's that one on?" He thinks his remarks are awfully funny - seeing how we're no longer in my province of Málaga. Instead we're in his province of Cádiz, which according to the guide is clearly the best world's got to offer.

The longer he keeps pouring out pompous superlatives about Jerez and the Alcázar, the more I just want to rip his tongue out and shove it in my ears.

This is nothing more than a poor man's Seville!

As we reach the fortress' garden, the temptation to resort to violence is becoming increasingly impossible to resist. Hasn't this moron ever heard of Alhambra?!

Under the cooling shade of Alcázar's arches I finally start to feel a little better. My vision is no longer a blur of Zig Zag patterns that look like a Missoni collection cirka 1973. 

I take a deep breath, manage to drink something and decice to give the tour another chance.

The name Jerez has its roots in the Phoenician era and the name it was known as back then: Xera. The region has been inhabited at least since the Neolithic era, though who they were exactly is still unknown. First larger settlement can, in any case, be traced back to the 3rd millenia BC. After the fall of the Rome, the area was ruled by the Vandals and Visigoths until 711 and the beginning of the Arab conquerors' era.

Back in 11th century Jerez was  independent until it was joined with Arcos. Both of them were annexed to Seville in 1053.  Between 1145 and 1147 Jerez and Arcos were briefly under the Granadan rule until the Almohad dynasty conquered the cities.

This is when the fortress was built, too. 

Reconquista, the Christian reclaim of the Iberian peninsula was not something that happened overnight in 1492 - it was a centuries-long tug of war. Jerez for instance was reconquered already in 1264 and as a result the Alcázar became the seat of the city's first Christian mayors. 

Jerez used to house 18 mosques. Today Alcázar is the home to the last of them. During Alfonso X's reign it was converted into a chapel, but the old minaret still stands, next to the cross-bearing church tower.

Many well preserved details shed light into the kind of life that was led here over the centuries. Grain being ground to flour, bread being baked, olive oil being pressed in massive presses...

You know, the very life that we self-respecting food bloggers still live. Oh, and them Amishes. 

One of the most beautiful features are the arches, under which time stands still.

The most memorable part of the fortress is, without a doubt, its hammam, the Arab spa. Hammams were important not only as a tool for hygiene and ritual purity but also as the source of pleasure. 

Andalusia still has hammams that are open to public - one of them right here in Jerez (admission €25 pp/ 1,5 -hour visit). For more information please see here.

The octagonal tower is a typical feature for the Almohad architecture and that, too, stll stands. From there you can admire the views over the fortress...

...its gardens, modelled after Paradise...

... and the city of Jerez itself. 

Which still failed to win me over the way Cádiz did. 

Relieved the tour was over (and mildly surprised over my own resilience) I did for a moment ponder a visit to the San Salvador Cathedral next door. 

However, common sense (and senseless hunger) got the best of me and I decided to pass on it. "It can't be more than another poor man's version of the cathedral in Seville" I concluded somewhat cruelly and decided to brave lunch instead. Which, by the way, was Iberico pork belly confit (!) with grilled octopus (!!!) 

And that, as you all know, pretty much covers all the crucial elements of my diet. 

But lo and behold: my gusto went steadily down as the fever went up and I couldn't even finish my lunch ( now there's a first...!)

After a pit stop at the bathroom I dragged my sorry ass (drenched in cold sweat) back to Cádiz and finally gave in, not even attempting to climb out of the bed. 

Until the next day, anyway - I had El Puerto de Santa Maria and the trip's best restaurant to check out after all!

* The trip was organized in collaboration with Cadiz Tourism *





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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Jerez de la Frontera - home to sherry, dancing horses, motor sports and palaces

Famous for its sherry, motor sports and palaces, Jerez de la Frontera is another convenient base for exploring the South Western corner of Andalusia. 

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The city of Jerez de la Frontera is located roughly a half an hour train ride from Cadiz (one-way ticket about 6 euros). It is larger than Cadiz and even boasts an airport, so it's another good alternative for a base when getting to know this part of Andalusia. But what it wins in practicality, it does lose in charm. Cadiz is still by far my favourite. 

(Having said that, I myself was feeling less than charming that day, owing to a dreadful bout of stomach bug mixed with a generous portion of migraine. Oh, the glamorous life of a travel blogger...)

With population of 212 000, Jerez is the 5th largest city in Andalusia. One of its key attractions is the Royal Equestrian School and their dancing horses I took you to see in the previous blog post.

The two things Jerez is truly famous for everywhere in the world, however, are sherry and motor sports. In 2013 Jerez was  elected the European Wine Capital and the following year it was named the first ever motor cycle capital of the world. 

At the turn of April and May the city hosts MotoGP. That's when thousands and thousands of leather clad bearded men descend here in such volumes it becomes impossible to get a hotel room anywhere in the region (trust me, I know. Now. )

Jerez is the birthplace of sherry and the noble tipple actually takes its name after the city.

One thing you should definitey make room for in your Jerez itinerary is a visit to one of its many sherry bodegas. One I'd recommend is Real Tesoro with their Valdespino sherries. 

I'll take you on a tour of its musty and magnificent cellars later on, but for now you'll find more information on the visiting hours over here.

Sherry has quite a presence outside the bodegas, too, for instance in the form of tabancos, traditional sherry bars so typical for the region. Only until a couple of decades ago they were strictly off limites for women.

In case you'd rather get drunk on history, you should head over to Jerez Alcázar fortress, tour of which can be found on the blog over here. 

The resemblance to Alcazar Palace in Seville is astonishing, as is the resemblance of the nearby San Salvador's Cathedral to its Seville equivalent in all its Gothic - Baroque-Neoclassical glory (yes, this piece of trivia was brought to you in association with Wikipedia).

The cathedral is the heart and soul of Jerez Diocese, the head of which doesn't have it too bad either. His residence Palacio Bertemati, a townhouse in a very typically Andalusian way built around an open courtyard, is rather impressive piece of real estate on its own rights.

Jerez is also known as the city of palaces. 

Its old town is estimated to house at least a hundred abandoned palaces. Occasionally they pop up in the real estate market, too, so in case you've got, say, 3,5 million euros to spare, you could get yourself a seriously nice souvenir over here. 

Some of the palaces are still inhabited by the very noble family the palaces were initially gifted to by the King. Many are open for public  - for more information just click here.

One of these is Palacio del Virrey Laserna. Originally built during the era of Arab conquerors, it has gone through serious of makeovers but still has some of the original features, displayed side by side with all the one of a kind antiques the family has amassed over the course of its history. The palace has stayed in the same family for centuries. The title of the count, though, was passed on to the oldest son, so my host, the younger brother, has to make do with that of a Marquis (poor sod).

I do seem to have completely forgotten to ask if he's still in the market for a Marquess, though. I mean, I could totally see myself hosting my famous Sunday lunches in these surroundings...!

And I can't see my canine-loving guests having anything to complain about either: family's dogs have their very own 18th century thrones to lounge in...

How about you guys? Familiar with Jerez? What were the highlights of your trip?

* The trip was organized in collaboration with Cadiz Tourism *



Andalusian kuninkaallinen hevoskoulu Jerez_Andalusian Royal Equestrian School Jerez_10      Tukholman Suuri Synagoga_Stockholm Great Synagogue9


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