Mantis prawns, tapas and more sea food – preparing for New Year’s Eve in Spain

As the family get ready for the New Year’s Eve celebration –  the second main celebration of three over the festive season in Spain –  Benjamin and I take a trip to the jetty where the fishing boats come in with their daily catch.

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Galeras

Benjamin’s mother has already been here earlier this morning to buy the seafood for the family evening meal on December 31st. There are twenty-two family members coming for dinner and Carmen (Benjamin’s mother) insisted on going to the muelle (port) to buy the galeras (mantis prawns) straight from her cousin’s fishing boat. She knows they will still be alive and even fresher than in the market place.

As we roll up at the wharf, there’s a buzz of activity. A man walks out with three large nets of mussels and my taste buds start to kick into action. We walk in and inspect the fish. It’s all in boxes on the floor. The floor is wet and people have their wellies on.

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At the fishing port in Chipiona

The fish is laid out in polystyrene boxes. It’s been weighed and each box has its label telling us the weight of the fish or seafood in the box, it’s origin and the name of the person who caught it.

We walk around examining the boxes. The fish has just come in off the boats and is so fresh it’s still alive. We find the galeras. They are wriggling around in the box.

Mantis prawns
Mantis prawns on sale

Little black eyes like peppercorns on their transparent coating. People come in and marvel at the lubina (sea bass). It’s a good size and would easily feed a family of four on New Year’s Eve.

We wander out on to the harbour. A fishing boat is on its way out. They wave out to me as they see me taking a photo. They have a fantastic day for fishing. The sky is a beautiful blue, the sea is calm and there’s little wind. Another group of fishermen are unpacking their catch, they wash off the fish on board and throw it into a large plastic bucket ready to hand over to be sold.

Fishermen unloading their catch in Chipiona
Fishermen unloading their catch in Chipiona

Benjamin and I wander out of the building and over to the fisherman’s bar La Cantina Marinera. The sun is warm despite the temperature of 13 degrees and the terrace is busy. We walk through the terrace and make our way to the bar. At first, I think I am the only female in this busy bar. Something that years ago would have made me feel shy. On closer inspection, I notice there are more women and one of them I recognise from earlier when I saw her organising fishing nets.

I order some tapas and a couple of beers.

Tapas at the bar
Tapas at the bar

Everything on display is fish or seafood. The colours are amazing. Three generous tapas and two beers come to nine Euros. We sit at a table in the sunshine. The tapas are fresh and mouth-wateringly good. The bar starts to fill up with people coming for lunch.  We sit back, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the tapas.

Tapas
Tapas

Celebrating Christmas in Spain – the magic of three wise men at Christmas

One of the three main celebrations over the Christmas period in Spain is the arrival of Los Reyes Magos, otherwise know as the Three Kings or Three Wise Men.IMG_20170105_201852726

The Spanish barely have time to recover from the New Year’s Eve celebrations before they start all over again with the preparation for the visit from Los Reyes Magos (The Three Kings or Three Wise Men) on January 6th.

Traditionally, the Reyes Magos deliver presents overnight on January 5th ready to open on January 6th.

Children all over Spain are excited. They finish school around December 22nd and every year I wonder how they cope with the waiting.  Spending the school holidays waiting for the Three Kings to arrive with their presents, must be quite a challenge.

By January 5th the levels of excitement have risen. There are last minute Christmas shoppers everywhere and in every city, town and village in Spain on January 5th the Three Kings will make an appearance in a procession.
Around 6.00pm the streets will be lined with people, old and young alike waiting for it all to happen.

The Three Kings and their helpers will throw out sweets and small presents to the onlookers as they go around. There’s a mad scramble to catch them.  One year in Burriana, Castellon, they even threw out fresh artichokes, resulting in a tasty supper afterwards, although we had to dodge quite a few as they flew through the air.

Last year I wanted to see the processions in both Ubrique and Benaocaz as I hadn’t seen them there before. So, at around 5.30pm on January 5th, we drove down the mountain from Benaocaz to Ubrique, where people were starting to line the streets in anticipation.

Getting ready for the procession in Ubrique
Getting ready for the procession in Ubrique

At 6.00pm, the procession started with the Three Kings coming down the main street, each one on a separate float with their helpers. Generous handfuls of sweets came flying over our heads while we dodged them trying not to get hit.

Children and adults alike scramble around on the ground to pick them up. A lady behind me pulled out a carrier bag for her children to put them in. They had come prepared.

Each float was followed by a band playing music. I love this about Ubrique. There’s always a band in every procession. The musicians of the town played for the crowd and the excited children. The atmosphere was electric. When the floats had passed the through the main street and were making their way around the rest of the town, it was time for us to drive back up the mountain to Benaocaz to watch the procession there.

Traditionally, the Three Kings tour Benaocaz by donkey, but I had been told that they hadn’t done it for the last few years preferring to go around on more modern forms of transport. The atmosphere was buzzing when we arrived. I was worried that if they went around by car, I might miss them, so Benjamin dropped me off while he went to park.
“They’re up by the church,” I heard a man tell a passing family. “What? You mean this way?” I asked him pointing up the steps.

I raced up the steps feeling like a child. I heard the music before I got there.

And then, suddenly, there they were in full tradition.

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King Melchor

Each King on a donkey.

Most of the processions I’ve seen over the years involve the Kings passing the crowds, but in Benaocaz just like any other procession in this village, the crowd is part of the procession. Those who weren’t dressed up to entertain the children, walked behind the Kings and their donkeys. The Kings carried sacks full of sweets and threw handfuls out as they went from one end of the village to the other.

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The procession in Benaocaz making its way to the Plaza Mayor

Half way round King Baltasar lifted his sack up and the top half of the sack fell plop into the floor in a pile by the donkey’s feet. Baltasar was so convulsed by laughter that for a moment he doubled over and could hardly ride the donkey. He managed to recover and move on, leaving the children free to dive straight into the pile of sweets.

Finally, the procession got to the plaza where a stage had been set up with three thrones. By now, Benjamin had disappeared into the bar for a beer, but I was keen to see what happened next.

The Three Kings stood in front of their thrones on the stage. The children got themselves ready. The excitement was rising. They knew what was coming. First more sweets were thrown out, followed by plastic footballs. The kids scrambled around to catch them. Soft toys were lobbed out next. With a catch that would impress any cricket team, the man next to me caught one as it flew through the air for his toddler.
Eventually, the Kings took their seats on the thrones. The children were asked to line up in order of age. One by one, starting from the youngest baby in the village and working their way up through the age groups, the children of the village, were called up to the Three Kings to receive a present.

Los Reyes Magos give out presents to the children
Los Reyes Magos giving out presents to the children

I felt emotional. It must be magical as a child in Spain to think that those people who deliver your presents overnight have come to your town or village to hand out presents and sweets before they even get to your house.

As I looked around, most of the villagers I know were there to watch the children receive their presents. It’s a special night all over Spain, but I have to admit that this was one of the loveliest and most fun processions I have seen so far.

So, after a wonderful evening of processions, it was time to go down to the coast to stay with family in Chipiona ready for January 6th.

It’s almost compulsory to get up at dawn on January 6th (luckily dawn is not until around 8.00am at that time of year in the south of Spain) and stuff your face with the traditional ‘Roscon de Reyes’  (The Kings’ Cake) while everyone opens their presents.

Roscon de Reyes handmade at La Panaderia San Anton in Benaocaz
Roscon de Reyes handmade at La Panaderia San Anton in Benaocaz

Traditionally, the Roscon, a round cake, is freshly made at the baker’s and delivered or collected ready to eat for breakfast on January 6th with coffee or hot chocolate.

Of course, we had been unable to resist taking with us a Roscon cooked in the wood-burning oven at La Panaderia San Anton in Benaocaz.  So, there were two enormous cakes on the table, meaning there was no escape from eating cake. What a deliciously sweet start to the twelfth and last day of Christmas.

Five reasons to choose Backwell House as a venue for your retreat

This summer I was invited to spend an evening at Backwell House boutique hotel near Bristol with the Bristol Bloggers group.  I was keen to visit this nine-bedroom country house hotel, featured in the magazine Great British and Irish hotels 2017-18, as clients ask me to recommend retreat venues. My first impression, after spotting Backwell House from the woodland driveway, was that I was in for a treat. We had an amazing evening at the event and here are five reasons why I liked it.

  1. Attention to detail

When looking for a retreat venue, for me there must be a wow factor, something that your guests may not have expected, or even if they were expecting it, it still makes them say wow”.  While Backwell House has all the style of a Georgian house set in beautiful countryside, what really makes it special as a venue are the important little touches that give added value and comfort to your guests. It’s about making the experience special and the team at Backwell House know just how to do this.  For me, Backwell House is a lifestyle choice in a venue setting.

Hospitality tray with Fairtrade tea and ground coffee
Hospitality tray with Fairtrade tea and ground coffee

From the coffee pot and Fairtrade sustainable ground coffee in the bedroom, the fresh wild flowers on the dining table, the organic kitchen garden, local products and free-range eggs from their own chickens, it’s all about giving you the quality treatment that you and your retreat guests deserve.

2. Fine dining experience

As far as possible the food is raised or grown on the land surrounding the hotel. While this adds to the postcard image, you can also be assured that if you choose a meat dish, the herds had once been happily grazing freely in the surrounding woodlands and hills. Seafood is sourced from Devon and any other food supplies are obtained locally from farmers in North Somerset. The delicious bread that was served with our meal comes from a local baker and the butter is homemade.

Brixham crab bisque with beetroot, apple and nori seaweed.
Brixham crab bisque with beetroot, apple and nori seaweed.

The stunning Victorian kitchen garden provides chef, Ross Hunter, with the organic herbs, and vegetables he needs for his dishes. Ross is an experienced chef and brings a unique combination of fresh local ingredients, flavours and style to the table.

My three -course dinner started with Brixham Crab with beetroot, apple and nori seaweed. The combination of colour and texture were amazing.

60 day Hereford Sirloin
60 day Hereford Sirloin

This was followed by a tasty 60-day Hereford Sirloin, Alliums, King Oyster Mushroom, Beef Jus with ox cheek which was cooked to perfection. Ross had obviously taken his time preparing this dish. While the ox cheek, a difficult dish to cook, was a perfect melt-in-your-mouth texture, I felt that it would have benefitted from more sauce. However, that maybe due to the fact that my experience of ox cheek is in rich Spanish sauces.

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Raspberry and chocolate parfait

The meal ended with some delicious freshly made desserts, which were much appreciated by the group, and the cheeseboard with local cheese, which was a perfect choice to finish off the meal with a glass of red wine.

3. Space

Rooms

Each room is unique and decorated differently, adding charm to the visit and making guests feel special.  The rooms are named after someone who had either lived at the Georgian House or was in some way related to it.  An extra touch of charm and luxury can be found in some of the rooms as a free-standing bath allows you to take a dip while admiring the view through the French windows. The rooms are imaginative; the headboards are upcycled from the wooden floorboards, and luxurious at the same time.

Imaginative headboards from reclaimed wood
Imaginative headboards from reclaimed wood

Rooms are clean, comfortable and well provided with tea and coffee making facilities and have an impressive view of the surrounding area. Natural toiletries are provided by local ethical company Bramley.

Outdoor space

The woodland area is ideal for walking while the back of the house leads you out to the flower and organic kitchen garden. There’s plenty of space for outdoor activities, a marquee or tepees.

Indoor space

If space is needed for workshops, activities or therapies, the dining room is available as well as a small cinema room in the old cellar. The breakfast room is a bright, airy and spacious room that could easily be converted into a space for workshops. There are plenty of tables, comfy chairs and seating areas making it ideal for a writing retreat where participants might need individual space.

Local coach Sarah Clark, from Mariposa Coaching, has participated in one of Backwell House’s events. Sarah said,

Backwell house is a beautiful venue steeped in history. Mariposa Coaching has been lucky enough to have a stand there on a regular basis at The Art of Wellbeing, a pop up wellness event. I have offered coaching tasters at a stand in their beautiful dining area with Georgian charm. Plus, talks on sustainable wellbeing, positive thinking and harmonious relationships in their cinema area which provides a relaxing and cosy event space. They even have a walled garden with doves in the dovecote.

Backwell House dining room
Backwell House dining room

4. Location / Easy access

Looking out over the countryside, you would have no idea that Backwell House is so well connected by road and air and is only 15 minutes’ drive from the bustling city of Bristol. Tucked away on the A370 in North Somerset, it’s easy to miss the beautiful wooded driveway that winds up into the grounds, taking you away from the main road.

The M5 and the M4 are both within easy reach and there is ample parking space. While Bristol International airport is only three miles away, making it easy for guests to arrive from many destinations, the venue is not on the flight path, meaning you can enjoy time here without aeroplanes flying overhead.  It’s a ten-minute walk to the local pub and shops and a bus to Bristol stops on the main road if you’d like to visit Bristol, but don’t fancy driving.

Relax in the bath with a view of the gardens
Relax in the bath with a view of the gardens

5. Labour of love

The story of this hotel is an interesting one as director Guy Williams spent three years living in a caravan in the grounds of the Georgian house as the project developed. His love for the hotel and grounds shines through as he talks about how it was restored. Where possible, things have been upcycled and reused in the project. Very little has gone to waste. The bar contains reclaimed wood from the floorboards and the mosaic pattern was carefully put together by Guy. It seems he has got everyone involved  – his mother made the curtains for the venue –  and his passion has infected the rest of his team.

Guy has chosen his team well. He wants the best when it comes to providing a homely and comfortable, yet sophisticated and luxurious ambience.  Guy has plans to make Backwell House bigger and add more rooms. I just hope that the expansion doesn’t mean losing the quality that he’s built up so far.

Treat yourself to a cocktail in the beautiful Backwell House bar
Treat yourself to a cocktail in the beautiful Backwell House bar

Would I hold a retreat here?

The answer to this question is yes. All in all, I loved the way the team looked after the personal touches at this boutique hotel. At the time of writing this post, the hotel has only nine rooms and there’s definitely an air of relaxed sophistication here.  Local products always score a high for me and the chef is more than capable of catering for all requirements.

I feel like it’s the sort of venue where you could leave your walking boots by the front door and change into your indoor shoes as if it were your own home, while enjoying the luxury of being looked after. The team would like you to feel at home and will happily provide drinks on the lawn on long summer evenings or cocktails around the fireplace in the winter.

Summer time Pimm’s on the lawn
Summer time Pimm’s on the lawn

If you decide to hold a retreat here, bear in mind that unless you book the whole venue, you may come across other guests either staying or dining at the hotel. I recommend that you, or your retreat event manager, visit any venue before booking to get a feel for the place to make sure that it’s right for you and your guests.

What you need to know

Room prices from £95 to £245 per night B&B

Menus start at £29 for 2 courses. £35 for 3 courses

Free parking

Website:  www.backwellhouse.co.uk

Contact details:   enquiries@backwellhouse.co.uk / 0117 325 110

Address: Backwell House, Farleigh Road, Bristol. BS48 3QA

 

I enjoyed a complimentary evening meal at Backwell House as a guest at the Bristol Bloggers event. All opinions, as always, are my own.

 

This post was first published on www.europeancoachingretreats.com

 

Five reasons to choose Apartamentos Sierra Alta as your retreat venue

Five reasons to choose Apartamentos Sierra Alta as a venue for your retreat

Perfect for a writing retreat
Perfect for a writing retrea

Nestled in the beautiful backdrop of the Sierra de Cadiz mountain range in Andalucia, our friends and family have been staying in these wonderful apartments since 2013. Since 2014 we have been hosting our annual writing retreat here. We really love these apartments and not just for the quality of the accommodation – there’s something special about the surroundings too.

Here are five reasons why I think these apartments are special:

  1. Location

If you have read my article about Backwell House, then you will know that when I’m looking for a retreat venue, for me, there must be a wow factor. Something that your guests may not have expected, or even if they were expecting it, it still makes them say “WOW!”.

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Sunset in Benaocaz

Here, the location really is a wow factor in itself. Sierra Alta is on the edge of the little village of Benaocaz at almost 800m above sea level. It’s surrounded by mountains and there are amazing views. Some stunning sunsets can be seen from the apartments as the sun goes down behind the mountain known as ‘La Silla’ (The Saddle).

‘This place is magical’  Martine Louis, Money Coach

2. The Apartments

There are six apartments in total making this a small and cosy place to stay.

Sierra Alta Apartments
Sierra Alta Apartments

Each apartment has either a balcony or a terrace giving you a great view and some outdoor space. There are two two-bedroom apartments and two one-bedroom apartments which would comfortably fit ten people on a retreat (if participants share a bedroom, you could take up to 14).

Each apartment has a lounge area with a kitchen and a bathroom with a walk-in shower. There’s air-con if all gets a bit too hot in summer and they are centrally heated for cosy winter stays, which, believe me, you will appreciate in the evening if you stay here from November to March.  There’s also a fireplace and logs are on sale in the village if you fancy a cosy fire.  My experience with log fires here depends very much on the way the wind is blowing!   And, unless you are an expert at lighting fires, I would recommend popping up to the restaurant Posada El Parral to enjoy their log fire instead!

Inside an apartment
Inside an apartment

The apartments are clean, comfy and equipped with basic cooking equipment. While there’s only a two-ring electric cooker, it’s fine for cooking a simple meal or breakfast when you don’t feel like eating out. If you go away on retreat or holiday to cook like a pro, this probably won’t suit you. As an extra bonus if you are travelling light, a washing machine and ironing facilities are also available if you wish to wash your clothes and dry them off in the sunshine before you go home!

3. Carlos and Maria

This is point number three, but actually, hosts Carlos and Maria are one of the main reasons why your stay at Sierra Alta is so special.  Not only are they friendly and welcoming, but they have also put a lot of thought into making your stay comfortable. Their thoughtfulness and personal service shines through and is one of the things I love most about them. If they haven’t got what you need, they’ll do their best to sort it out for you. And while they are never in your way, they are always on hand if you need anything and are quick to spot a way to improve their service. Nothing is ever too much trouble, making this ideal as a retreat venue as you can be sure your guests will be cared for. They pay attention to the little touches that, for me, are so important, yet so often get overlooked.

Carlos and Maria are always making improvements. Last year we arrived to find hairdryers in the bathroom and two newly built barbecues in the garden area. This year we discovered that they now provide pool towels for guests (at no extra cost). After realising that many visitors (particularly those who arrive in Spain by plane with hand luggage only) weren’t bringing pool towels with them, they decided to invest in some for guests’ use. These are the little touches that I believe give added value and comfort to your guests.

4. The Pool and Outdoor area

The natural backdrop in the area is amazing and Carlos and Maria have created an outdoor space that is relaxing and laid back. Sun loungers around a salt water pool, sun shades and a seating area where you can admire the view, use the space for a workshop or watch the sunset with a glass of wine if your not watching it from your balcony.

Helens view edited

Carlos maintains the pool and keeps it clean all year round meaning that if you are brave enough to swim in December you can, – the pool is unheated and even in summer, it can sometimes be a challenge to get in – but more importantly it means that it’s aesthetically pleasing all year round. It always looks beautiful whether you are sitting around it or admiring it from your balcony.

We generally go in September to enjoy the good weather (and the pool), but if you are here in December or January the pine tree is light up for Christmas and New Year. At the end of January or beginning of February you might even get to see some snow!

5. The ambience

Thanks to the beauty of the natural surroundings and Carlos and Maria’s efforts and good taste, there’s a very special atmosphere here that’s difficult to beat. It’s not just your normal apartment block. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a sort of magic to the surroundings. It’s generally peaceful although you will probably hear the donkey braying, cockerels crowing and perhaps the church bells, along with the tinker of goats’ bells if they happen to pass by. A few dogs might be barking in the distance, but it all adds to the atmosphere and won’t disturb the peacefulness.

Will we carry on holding retreats here?

We most certainly will! Our guests love it and so do we.

Our lovely guests from the writing retreat 2015
Our lovely guests from the writing retreat 2015

In September 2018, we will be running our fifth retreat here and every year the venue holds its magic. It’s a beautiful location and ideal for taking time out. The mountains are a big wow factor for our guests. Apart from the natural surroundings, one of the other wow factors for me here is that I always feel like I am the first one to use the apartment.

If you decide to hold a retreat here, bear in mind that unless you book the whole venue, you may come across other guests staying at the apartments. This has never bothered us as the type of guests who come here tend to be looking for peace and quiet or are off hiking all day. However, that said, during the school summer holidays it is likely to be a bit nosier (in Spain that includes the whole of July and August).

I think it’s always a good idea for you, or your retreat or event coordinator, to visit any venue before booking to get a feel for the place to make sure that it’s right for you and your guests.

What you need to know

Prices:  start from 60 Euros per night for a 1-bed apartment for 2 people

Parking: free

Nearest airport: 1 hour 20 minutes from Jerez airport / 2 hours from Malaga airport / approximately 1.5 hour from Seville airport / 2.5 hours from Gibraltar

Public transport: a bus runs twice a day to Ronda, Malaga and nearby Ubrique

Website:  http://www.sierra-alta.com/

Contact details:   You can email Carlos and Maria at: apartamentosalta@gmail.com  (Remember to let them know you read about the apartments on Rebecca’s blog!) or contact me to make a booking for you.

 

Amazing places to eat tapas in Andalusia: Bar El Cura, Trebujena

Tapas in Trebujena    Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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Delicious tapas in Andalusia at Bar El Cura, Trebujena

The white village of Trebujena is perched on the top of a hill overlooking the estuary and surrounded by marshes. It’s not generally on the tourist path, but if, like me, you enjoy excellent tapas, then I recommend adding Trebujena to your go-to-list when eating out in the province of Cadiz.

About 30 minutes from Jerez de la Frontera and 20 minutes’ drive from Sanlucar de Barrameda, Trebujena is a quiet, unassuming and friendly village. If you are in the area in the summer, it’s best to go in the evening as it can get incredibly hot here during the day.

So, where should you go when you get there?

One of the great things about Trebujena is that each bar has its own range of tapas and by that, I mean you won’t find the same standard menu in each one. They all have their own charm and delicious tapas. Whether you choose Bar El Litri, La Escalerita de Ana or Bar El Cura, you won’t be disappointed. While I  recommend all three for their excellent tapas and service, in this post I’m going to tell you about my latest experience in Bar El Cura, which you’ll find in the plaza Antonio Cañada.

What we chose

We came here on the Sunday evening of a busy weekend during the Trebufest; Trebujena’s annual music festival. Knowing how busy they had been all weekend, I was half expecting the kitchen to be closed and the tapas to be of a lower standard than normal. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

gmabas
Seafood salad

The selection of tapas in Bar El Cura is varied and elegant. Whilst most bars in and around Cadiz serve the traditional pescaito frito, (fried fish) El Cura has a menu of original tapas at very reasonable prices. We started the evening with a cold tapa of ‘salpicon’ a seafood salad with tomatoes, pepper, onion and a dressing. Salpicon varies from place to place and the amount of seafood you get can sometimes be outweighed by the salad, but fortunately, El Cura is generous with the seafood.

taleguitas de alcauciles y pata negra
Artichoke parcels with cured ham

Next came the exquisite Taleguitas de alcauciles y patanegra; beautifully wrapped parcels with artichokes and cured ham wrapped in filo pastry and deep fried. Artichokes are commonly known as ‘alcafchofas’ in most parts of Spain, but here in Cadiz they are known by their other name ‘alcauciles’. A deliciously warm mixture of textures and flavours, this tapa won my vote immediately.

We followed this with a dish that still makes my mouth water every time I see the photo. Milhojas de mango, queso de cabra y jamon from the specials board was a tapa I had never tried before. Filo pastry topped with a layer of mango and goats cheese, a slice of cured ham and a tiny drizzle of olive oil on the top. Biting into this was like disappearing into food paradise.

mango, goat's cheese and serrano ham
mango, goat’s cheese and serrano ham

Next came the other half’s choice which, of course, being the more carnivore of the two had to include meat. He ordered magret de pato sobre timbal de patata – duck on a bed of potato. The duck was moist, and the potato melted in my mouth bringing out the wonderful flavour of the duck.

We finished the savoury dishes with another one from the specials board ‘pulpo al horno’ – oven baked octopus. I am not exaggerating when I say that every mouthful of this dish was accompanied by an ‘ooh’ or an ‘mmm’. The dish was served hot and with papas panaderas (potatoes fried and then baked in the oven)and roast peppers.

El Cura also has a great selection of wines and local sherries to choose from. It was impossible to leave without a homemade chocolate dessert, a café bombon (coffee with condensed milk) and a peppermint tea.

Two of us ate and drank for around 22 Euros. This bar gets a sobresaliente (ten out of ten) from me for its original selection of tapas, taste and excellent value for money. The service is great and the professional dedication from the owner is amazing. As a family run business Bar El Cura closes on a Tuesday, so remember to choose another day if you want to go here.

Top tip  A tapa will give you a saucer size dish while a racion will give you a larger portion. Tapas vary in size from restaurant to restaurant. If you have never been to a particular restaurant before and you aren’t sure whether to order a tapa or a racion, start with a tapa to judge the size of their portions. Some tapas are extremely generous and are great for sharing, whilst in other places you will need to order a racion (a large portion roughly about a plateful) or media racion (half a portion ) for sharing. As tapas and raciones can be ordered as you go and don’t need to be ordered all at once, you can judge the size on your first order and take it from there.  Buen provecho – enjoy your meal!

* I have been to this restaurant more than once and I love it.  Every time both the food and service has been excellent. Bar El Cura had no idea that I am reviewing them and all opinions are my own (and of those who shared the meal with me!).

My big hairy avocado goal: setting goals and blogging

This week I spent a lovely morning at Bakesmiths in Bristol with business coach Linda Davies-Carr at her workshop on goals; Review Refresh Revive

When Linda first advertised this workshop as ‘a half way through the year review session’, I realised with a surprise that the year was almost half way through and I still hadn’t achieved many of my goals as a writer. It’s easy to go off track and get caught up in the other things going on life. So, I signed up for the workshop realising that this was an opportunity to recover my motivation.

One of the first things Linda asked us to do was complete a form with questions about our business. The first question asked if we have a business plan. As a retreat organiser, I have a business plan. However, as a writer I don’t have one. An ‘Aha moment’ came as I realised that I have not been paying attention to my writing goals. Actually, I wasn’t even sure what those goals were. So, it’s no wonder I don’t write as many blog posts as I’d like to; I am not taking myself seriously. I teach others to set goals using the wheel of life as part of wellbeing courses, but I clearly am not walking my talk in this area of my life.

So, why are goals important anyway?

Procrastination seems to be a popular word nowadays and ‘finding time to write’ is a common complaint among writers and business owners who write a blog. One of the great advantages of having a coach to help you set goals, is that you have someone you are accountable to. You set a goal with your coach, decide how best to achieve it, let your coach know what action you will take and then report back with your results. Not only do you not want to let your coach down, but you also feel motivated, so you get on and do it. Besides, it’s embarrassing telling your coach that you didn’t do it because the dog ate your notes, or whatever excuse we use. Setting goals helps to keep you going in the right direction. It gives you clarity. Your goals motivate you when you get stuck or can’t remember what you were supposed to be doing. They help you deal with overwhelm and create a strategy in your work.

The big hairy avocado goal

Linda talked about having a big hairy audacious goal (which I later misread as a big hairy avocado goal in my notes) and having smaller goals that you can tick off.

She suggested that we set thirty day, sixty day and ninety day goals as well as twelve month goals and five year goals. If you are thinking ‘I don’t have time for that’, Linda also pointed out that for every minute we spend planning, we later save ten minutes in execution.

The big hairy goal is usually the one you are working towards long-term. Whether that’s to own a boat and navigate the world, to write a book, to own a beautiful home, to set up a charity or to earn a five-figure income from your blog. It’s the dream-big one.

Take action

Linda repeated the importance of acting immediately. So, after the workshop I set about writing my goals as a writer. I’ve committed myself to writing two blog posts a week for my own blog, a guest post once a month for other blogs and to write two articles a month that I can sell. Each goal has a deadline, a list of things I can do to achieve it and three things that I can do to move me towards that goal. It was exciting to see my goals taking shape as I planned how to achieve them. I have also set myself a financial goal. And, of course a goal to write a business plan for my freelance writing career. Now I have posted this online, I also have to be accountable to you, lovely reader or, alternatively, find a blog-eating dog and attempt to deny all knowledge of any goals. In other words, it will now be hard to let you down. Not only do I feel motivated, but I’ve also made a commitment.

Make goal setting fun

Make it creative. Sit somewhere inspiring, get yourself a drink and plenty of water to keep hydrated, put on some music, create a vision board, use different colour pens, buy yourself a special notebook, use coloured paper, whatever makes it enjoyable for you. Find someone to help you gain clarity whether that’s a brainstorming session with a friend or a coaching session. Writing your goals down provides a visual reminder of what you need to do. Many experts believe that writing goals down has a powerful effect. Check out Brian Tracy to find out more. Make sure you can see your goals every day. Linda’s advice is “do something towards your goals every day to keep up your momentum”.

Now I’m accountable to you, dear reader

So, will goal setting as a travel and personal development blogger help me to take myself seriously? In other words, will I write more blog posts? I’m hoping you will be able to see for yourself by watching my blog grow week by week. I don’t want to let you or myself down, so I have set dates on my calendar for each goal that I have set myself. I also don’t want to let my personal coach down – she has worked hard with me to help me gain clarity and create a vision of where I want to be with my writing career. I have my goals written down in a pretty notebook – there’s one on each page and today I brainstormed where I want to be in five year’s time. I feel motivated and in the last few days I have been far more productive as I look at my goals and get to work on them. And guess what? It feels good.

I hope this article has been useful and would love to hear your comments in the box below.

How to order a coffee in Spain

How to drink coffee in Spain

20161228_105112If you have ever been to Spain and wondered what type of coffee to ask for, then this guide to ordering coffee that I came across recently is just for you.

Spanish coffee is strong and down to earth. You won’t find a menu with lattes or cappuccinos. So, whether you choose to drink it hot, with ice, decaf, with or without milk or very sweet with condensed milk, this guide will hep you decipher the lingo when it comes to ordering coffee in Spain.

If you prefer not to drink caffeine, you can order all the coffees in the guide with decaf coffee (descafeinado). So, a decaf coffee with condensed milk becomes ‘un descafeinado bombon’.

While the guide refers to a café manchado as either an espresso with a splash of milk or a ‘glass of milk flavoured with coffee’, I have always known it as the latter – hot milk with a splash of coffee. Coffees do vary from region to region though, so it’s worth checking.

If you are visiting Spain in summer, a café bombon con hielo (coffee with condensed milk and ice) is a great way to drink something cool if you don’t fancy an ice cream or would prefer a cool, but sweet alternative to a dessert after a meal.

One thing that is still not common everywhere in Spain (although Madrid may be different) is soy or other alternatives to dairy milk. However, lactose-free milk is generally on offer in most coffee shops, restaurants and bars.

Don’t be surprised if your coffee served in a glass in Spain, but one thing you will rarely find (and let’s hope it stays that way) is coffee served in a plastic or polystyrene disposable cup therefore, making coffee drinking an environmentally-friendly affair as well as a sociable one.  As the guide to ordering coffee says “the last thing to note is that most Spaniards do not take their coffees ‘to go’. Instead, they sit down to enjoy their drinks with friends or family”.

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Love and literacy: Book Day in Spain

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For book lovers and writers in Spain, April 23rdroses outside bookshop, World Book and Copyright Day, is characterised by an expression of love. A book and a rose are given as presents to loved ones to celebrate El Dia del Libro (Book Day) all over the country.

Originally started in Barcelona, in the 1920s, by the writer Vicente Clavel, Book Day later went on to become declared World Book and Copyright Day by UNESCO.

Clavel, who lived in Barcelona, came up with the idea of a day to celebrate books and reading. Since the 15th century people had given roses to their loved ones on April 23rd the day of the patron saint, San Jordi (St George), in Catalonia. Realising that April 23rd was also the anniversary of the death of both Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare, it was decided to celebrate Book Day in Spain on this day and encourage people to give books as presents.

At first, men gave a rose to women on this day and women gave a book to men. Nowadays, books and roses are given as presents to both men and women. Schools, bookshops, readers, writers and publishers celebrate this day all over Spain. Bookshops decorate their shop windows with roses and events take place with readings and authors signing books.

Books and flowers outside the bookshop in Chipiona
Books and flowers outside the bookshop in Chipiona, Andalucia

In Catalonia it’s a big event and you will find La Rambla in Barcelona lined with book and flower stalls. The area quickly fills with crowds of people buying books and roses as an expression of love for their families, friends and partners.

In the mid-1990s Book Day became a worldwide festival and was declared World Book and Copyright Day by UNESCO. Every year on April 23rd a city takes over the honour of being World Book Capital  to promote books and reading for the following 12 months. This year, 2017, Conakry, the capital of Guinea has been designated World Book Capital. Conakry’s mission is “”to promote reading among youth and underprivileged sections of the population.” (Source: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/wbcd).

As books can be expensive in some parts of the world and libraries are scarce, UNESCO is encouraging the use of mobile telephones for reading as mobiles are cheap and widely available. Mobile devices are often used as a reading platform and can be accessed in areas where people can’t afford books or education is seen as a social stigma.

As a bookworm, or ratón de biblioteca (a library mouse), as they say in Spanish, I can´t imagine my life without books or reading. I am grateful for all the things I have learnt, the feelings I have felt, the places I have visited, the adventures I have lived and the people I have met in books.  In the words of William Styron:

A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

Which book would you like to give as a present to a loved one to show you care?

Sweet treats in Spain: Torrijas at Easter

Semana Santa, or Holy week, is a week of processions and traditional food leading up to Easter in Spain. If you have never seen a Semana Santa procession, it’s quite something. In the larger cities, people come out in their droves to watch the religious effigies passing by accompanied by sombre music. The procession goes on for hours at a time and consists of a paso – large wooden statues of Jesus and Mary on a float along with other representations of the Christian portrayal of Easter. It’s impressive, not only because of the decoration, fresh flowers and the robes and candles of the penitents that follow the effigies, but also because the representation is carried on the shoulders of people, generally men, who have been in training for weeks.

In the villages, it’s often a challenge as they move the ‘paso’ around tight corners and along narrow streets.  Probably, the one that impressed me the most was in the smaller town of Salobreña in the province of Granada. The effect of the colours against the background of the white village was breath taking. This was also the first time I experienced La Saeta – a religious song sung a capella in which the singer shows his devotion to the statue in the procession.  A band playing through the streets is always enough to make me want to watch any procession, but the saeta was something else. A powerful voice reaching out across the square was the only sound you could hear amongst the crowd.

Sweet Treats

Semana Santa is also a week for eating and dining out with friends and family. While there are various traditional sweet dishes during Holy Week, one of my favourites is Torrijas – a type of sweet French toast.

While the recipe varies slightly all over Spain, typically Torrijas are made from bread left to soak in milk or wine, dipped in egg, fried and covered in a sweet syrup.

Torrijas are widely available in Spanish cake shops during Lent and are often made at home too. It’s a simple process to make these delicious treats. You’ll find the Spanish either eating them for breakfast or with an afternoon coffee.

How to make Torrijas

I’ve been told the trick is to use day old bread and whole milk. In Chipiona the local sweet wine Moscatel is often used to soak the bread rather than milk. The Torrijas are fried and then bathed in syrup producing a rich, sweet and filling treat. While some people make the syrup with hot water and sugar, Benjamin’s mum, Carmen, uses hot water and honey with a pinch of salt creating a sweet syrup called meloja.  The quantity of each ingredient depends on the amount you wish to prepare.

  1. Soak the bread in milk with a pinch of salt or wine for at least 30 minutes
  2. Beat some eggs with milk
  3. Dip the bread soaked in milk or wine into the egg mixture  torrija in egg
  4. Fry the bread in hot oil  frying pan and torrijas
  5. Remove each slice carefully from the frying pan and place on kitchen paper to cool and drain off any excess oil.

The syrup

To prepare the syrup – heat a pan of water, add plenty of honey and a pinch of salt. Once the mixture has reached boiling point, lower the heat and keep stirring until the syrup thickens. meloja simmering

Once the bread has cooled, you can dip each slice into the hot syrup using a pair of tongs. It’s torrijas banadas en melojaimportant that the bread has cooled otherwise it will disintegrate in the syrup.  Put the bread slices onto a plate or a container and pour the rest of the syrup over the top so that the slices remain moist. Once they have cooled, they are ready to eat and will last for a few days if kept in an airtight container. I don’t know about other Spanish families, but here the Torrijas don’t usually make it to the air-tight container however many Carmen makes!

While this might sound overly sweet, the bread gives it a savoury touch.  I’m not very sweet-toothed but I have to admit I love home-made Torrijas.

Variations on the recipe include adding cinnamon to the milk when soaking the bread and lemon peel to the oil when frying.

If you are looking for an energy boost Torrijas are ideal. Apparently, before they became associated with Semana Santa they were given to women in labour to recover their strength after giving birth.

If you have enjoyed reading this or make your own Torrijas, I’d love to hear about it in the comment box below.

 

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Spicy chocolate, truffles and change

Chocolate, the perfect business

As I sip my spicy hot chocolate, the flavour hits the tip of my tongue. Cinnamon, cloves, chilli and star anise. It’s warm, exotic and luxurious.  Just like hot chocolate should be.spicy spoon and mug

I stir my chocolate and think of Nicola Eaton.  When anyone mentions living the ideal life and having the dream job to Nicola, she shrugs and smiles to herself. She considers she already has her ideal lifestyle.

“I don’t need to go up Everest. I’m very happy with the life I’ve got.”

As the owner and creator of The Really Expensive Chocolate Company, it might be easy for some of us to see why Nicola is so happy with her choice.

So, how did she make the transition from children’s nurse to running her own chocolate company?

At the workshop

As I sat down and got ready to interview Nicola, she whipped me up a hot chocolate. She used cacao powder from her new source. It’s the same powder that she uses for her hot chocolate cubes.

I first met Nicola at a network meeting, so I know a bit about her already, but I was keen to find out more.

We settled down with our chocolate and some almond and lemon curd biscuits that Nicola bought at the Doynton market on Saturday.  I was feeling rather privileged to be spending an hour of a Monday morning sipping hot chocolate and listening to Nicola’s story.

Nicola has converted her garage into her workshop. It’s bright and light. There’s a table in the middle, two chocolate making machines and a small kitchen area. A corner with paperwork and a printer where Nicola prints transfers to go directly onto white chocolate.

box of chocs
Assorted truffles in orange, lime and strawberry chocolate flavours

Nicola has been making chocolate here since 2009. In this quiet, tranquil room this is where it all happens. The chocolate gets designed, made, tasted, packed and sent out. She also runs adult workshops here.

How it all started

It might be fair to say that chocolate-making found Nicola rather than the opposite. Although chocolate has always had an influence in her life, as Nicola’s great uncle used to work for Cadbury at Bournville. She remembers going there as a child and her great uncle would bring home misshapes for her to eat.

“Chocolates with caramel in them; they were bashed about, but they were lovely.”

In 2006 Nicola’s family gave her a voucher for Betty’s in Harrogate.  Betty’s, a well-established tea room with a cookery school, offers a wide range of courses. Nicola chose to spend her voucher on a chocolate-making workshop. She had a lovely day there and came back with a big bag of chocolates she had made. Wanting to make the most of her new skill, Nicola began making chocolate as presents for family.

From children’s nurse to chocolate maker

At the time Nicola began making chocolate, she was involved in research for palliative care for children.  She started her working life as a children’s nurse in Great Ormond Street, moved to Wales to study a PHD and then taught nursing and computing at university.

People liked the chocolate she was making and started to ask her if they could buy it.gift box

“Would I make some for them to buy?”

There’s a slight hint of amazement in her tone, as though she still can’t quite believe it.

From her kitchen, Nicola started making chocolate by hand. She approached a local village market in Doynton and started to sell her chocolate there on a Saturday morning.  In 2007, she set up a little business using the smallest of the three machines that are now in her workshop.

Nicola began to understand her clients and what they would buy.  In 2008 a three-day business course helped her with branding. She had called herself Nicola’s Chocolates, but decided that, if she was going to make this work, she needed a name that sounded more business-like. She chose The Really Expensive Chocolate Company.

As Nicola began to sell more, she took the decision to give up her day job to concentrate on making chocolate full time in 2009.

Nicola now works with Julie who helps her taste, make chocolate and pack, and she regularly works with freelancer, Jo Rymell, photographer and graphic designer from Hot Hibiscus Design. Jo designs the personalised labels that are Nicola’s speciality, making the chocolate bars an ideal gift.

At busy times of the year she also employs local students looking for some extra income to construct boxes for her.

Getting her business off the ground

Nicola sells most of her chocolate online via her website and has an Etsy shop called Belgian Chocolate Shop.belgian choc shop

She goes regularly to local markets and craft fairs. She also does talks and demonstrations at Women’s Institute meetings, friendship groups and Rotary groups. She had just received a phone call before I arrived to book her again for next year.

“I take a lot of chocolate samples. I take champagne truffles ganache and I make truffles while I’m there and I dip them in chocolate.”  No wonder they keep inviting her back.

M-TRF-CHAM-12-1_large
Champagne Truffles

“I give them a history of chocolate, how it’s made. Just a few facts I’ve picked up along the way,” she said modestly. The audience also get a 10% discount to spend on her products. She told me about the Mayans and how the Spanish took cacao beans back to Spain and made a thick chocolate drink with them. Nicola liked it when I told her the Spanish still make this drink. I made a mental note to bring Nicola some Spanish hot chocolate on my next visit to Spain.

We talked about the importance of finding support at networking groups. Nicola regularly attends a local ladies networking group, Ladies Who Latte .

“When I met the group about two years ago, my business sort of turned a corner. It was really helpful. Through Ladies Who Latte, I had the impetus to set up a new website. I met Jo, she did lots of photos for me. We’re friends now.”

She often takes samples of her work with her for us to taste. At meetings Nicola tells us how wonderful it is to work with Jo. She’s very generous when it comes to recommending the people in the group that she has worked with.

Tasting time

Spicy Hot Chocolate Spoon based on 17th century recipe.

Nicola has also been approached by the National Trust to make spicy spoons from a 17th Century recipe found at Dyrham Park, near Bath.
“You have to get all the spices right. Julie and I spent ages drinking hot chocolate, just to try and get the flavour right”

She laughed as she remembers that one sample had too much chilli.

“We couldn’t taste anything for the next hour!”

She told me that the volumes of spices used vary, depending whether the spices are in the powder or in the chocolate itself. When milk is added to the powder it affects the quantity of spices.

“So, we had to taste quite a few of those too,” she added.

Nicola likes to be able to identify all the spices, “I don’t particularly like very strong chilli, but actually, in chocolate it’s very nice.”

I have to agree.

“When you are making things like this, you have to try a lot of hot chocolate” joked Nicola.

The feel-good factor

We talked about the benefits of chocolate.

“It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for senile dementia. It reduces stress” It also contains iron and magnesium.

The Really Expensive Chocolate Company uses Belgian chocolate. Nicola uses only cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar and milk (if it’s milk chocolate). All her chocolate is gluten free and the dark chocolate is dairy free. She makes a range of Moo free chocolate and the 80% dark chocolate has very little sugar.

As well as the health benefits, Nicola understands how chocolate connects to others. It’s a way of showing you care.

“Of course,” she reminded me, “the three Quaker families (Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry) who advocated the drinking of chocolate in the U.K., instead of alcohol, were philanthropists who looked after their workers.”

Show you care with chocolate

For businesses who are looking for something special to give their clients or members of staff, Nicola can “make chocolate to help their business.”

Personalised wrappers
Personalised wrappers

Nicola’s speciality is personalisation. She makes bespoke labels for her bars, making them ideal gifts for events, place names at weddings and dinner parties and thank you presents.  Or, have your logo printed straight onto white chocolate with edible ink. It’s a bit like putting a transfer onto chocolate and looks fantastic. A great touch for business. She also makes letters and numbers and is currently exploring with Lego®.

logo on white choc
Company logo on white chocolate

The philanthropist and chocolate fits. While Nicola has changed her career, she’s still very much involved in caring for children. She’s a trustee of the Jessie May Trust, a volunteer at a messy church play session and sometimes looks after some local children. Until recently she was also a school governor.

Time to go

I left with a spicy spoon and instructions to report back. The sort of homework I like. I have enjoyed talking to this warm, generous and unassuming lady. Later as I drink my spicy spoon, I realise that Nicola’s nature is reflected in her chocolate. I feel peaceful, relaxed and content.

It would be hard to say which of Nicola’s chocolate is my favourite as it is all so good, but as a dark chocolate lover, I am going to go for the 80% dark chocolate. And, I highly recommend the spicy spoon.

choc spoon

Where to buy  

Website: https://www.recc.co.uk/

Etsy shop – https://BelgianChocolateShop.etsy.com

Doynton Market: http://www.doyntonvillage.org/events.html