Author: Amanda

What to Expect When You Eat at El Celler de Can Roca

What to Expect When You Eat at El Celler de Can Roca

El Celler de Can Roca has been voted the #1 restaurant in the world. Twice. (It’s also been #2 four times.) If you are fortunate enough to secure a reservation, here are some tips to help you prepare for and enjoy your experience. What to […]

Barcelona’s MUHBA (Museum of Barcelona History) Highlight: A Roman wine-making facility

Barcelona’s MUHBA (Museum of Barcelona History) Highlight: A Roman wine-making facility

Are you going to be in Barcelona on a Sunday? Take advantage of Barcelona’s free museum Sundays and spend a few hours at the Museum of Barcelona History (MUHBA). The museum is free after 3 pm every Sunday and all day on the first Sunday of […]

Portugal: a food-lover and photographer’s dream

Portugal: a food-lover and photographer’s dream

Famed poet and Lisbon native Fernando Pessoa once wrote “The value of things is not the time they last, but the intensity with which they occur. That is why there are unforgettable moments and unique people!” Such, fittingly, was my short but sweet time in Portugal: a quick let’s-grab-a-Ryanair-flight-and-go-explore trip to a country of which I embarrassingly knew very little.

The fact that I knew little about Portugal is perhaps another indicator of how under the radar this country is: although replete with history, architecture, literature, fabulous food, and out-of-this-world (and affordable) wines, Portugal remains second fiddle to its neighbor, Spain. And you know what? I’m OK with that. Those who have been to Portugal know. And when being in the know involves such incredible food and photogenic cities and landscapes, I feel privileged to be one of the lucky ones who ventured to places not often on the radar for American tourists.

On two separate trips we explored the most well-known cities in the country: Porto and Lisbon. In both cases, we braved the European winter (hey, we’re from California: this was a feat) and traded the Barcelona/Mediterranean climate for the cold and dreary Atlantic coast. But just as London seems better dreary with its moss-covered stones, Oporto and Lisbon seemed their most fitting when overcast or wet from a recent rain. Here’s a little of what I learned during our travels.

Portugal-peacock-garden
The gardens are as romantic as that of any I’ve seen in Spain, France, or Europe . . . but this one in particular had peacocks, so it gets extra points.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-plaza
The squares and fountains
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-plaza-statue
How beautiful is her face? I’m not kidding when I say this was one of my favorite places in the world to photograph.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-photography
The grit is real and (if you ask me) beautiful.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-cathedral-monastery
The cathedrals and monasteries are just as grand as any you’d see in other European countries . . . but this one also houses Vasco de Gama and Fernando Pessoa, so it kind of wins.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-photography-travel
My general obsession with taking photos of adorable elderly people extends to all corners of the world, apparently.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-trolley
Remember what I said about these cities being photogenic? The pop of yellow . . . I. DIE.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-travel-photography
More grit. More awesomeness. My hatred of graffiti IRL suddenly disappears when looking behind the lens.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-mural-art
Portuguese tile is indeed some of the most beautiful.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-travel-photography
Just sigh. #OnlyInEurope
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Belen-monastery
The monastery in Belem (cathedral with de Gama’s grave pictured above) is most certainly worth a visit while in Lisbon. And not just because of the pasteis de belem that you can buy down the street.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Lisbon-
I know that the word “charm” is overused. But come on now . . .
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Lisbon-
Speaking of charm. . .
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Lisbon-
TILEWORK.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Lisbon-plaza-at-night
ARCHITECTURE
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-lighthouse
I know, right? So ugly.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-food
Food. OK, let’s stop here and talk a little about Portuguese food, which –only second to wine–is the most underrated thing . . . ever? With the sea flanking the majority of the country, seafood reigns supreme, but the barbecue, the pastries, the perfectly cooked potatoes, the stews, the . . . Portuguese food is outstanding, friends. And I’m spoiled and eat Spanish food daily and I still can’t stop thinking about some of the dishes we were lucky enough to have.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-pastry
Eat all the pastries.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Douro-View
A river cutting through a city always makes for a dramatic scene (and beautiful bridges).
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Douro-River-Bridge
Bridges like these.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Lisbon
I want to take all the pictures.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Lisbon-travel-pics
Ughhhhhhhhhhhh
Beautiful-Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Lisbon-
No caption. I have no caption.
Photos-Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Lisbon-
Make it stop.
Travel-Photos-Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Lisbon
Not ugly.
Portugal-Oporto-Porto-Lisbon-mural-street-art
Even the murals are awesome.

Girona for the Game of Thrones lover: the ultimate 2019 self-guided tour of Girona GoT filming locations

Girona for the Game of Thrones lover: the ultimate 2019 self-guided tour of Girona GoT filming locations

The city of Girona is worth a stop when traveling in Spain, regardless of whether or not you are a Game of Thrones fan. While touring the historic medieval center, be sure to stop at some of Girona’s Game of Thrones filming locations and geek out […]

The gilda: a must-eat pincho when in Spain

The gilda: a must-eat pincho when in Spain

The problem with restaurants in Spain? You’re overwhelmed with culinary choices. Tapas, pinchos, afternoon-long paella lunches, bites at a vermuteria . . . the options are endless and, let’s face it: we only have so much stomach real estate. What to eat when in Spain? […]

Say cheese! The blue cheese caverns of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon

Say cheese! The blue cheese caverns of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon

When your husband asks you what you want for your birthday and you say, “A trip to Roquefort,” you’re either a Francophile, fromatgophile (I just made that word up) or weird. I might be a bit of all three, but when it comes to our incredible stay in Millau and our tours of the cheese caves or Roquefort, I have no apologies or regrets.

Millau
Charming Millau, surrounded by mountains, is a hidden gem near the French/Spanish border.
Millau.Flower.Boots
Even the streets are cute in this sleepy little mountain town.

Those who know of Roquefort-sur-soulzon most likely associate the area with cheese: it is, after all, the bleu cheese capital of France. After a stay in Aveyron, it’s come to symbolize so much more: the land is replete with agricultural beauty, breathtaking natural landscapes, and (because hey, it’s France!) delicious regional foods. And bleu cheese is indeed the Big Cheese of this region.

There are many small production cheesemakers in the region, but we decided to tour Société des Caves de Roquefort, one of the seven Roquefort producers in the region and the establishment responsible for over 60% of all Roquefort production.

Roquefort.Millau.Aveyron
There’s cheese in that there hill.
Roquefort.Societe.BleuCheese
Not a bad view for a cheese maker’s office!

The highlight was of course the cheese tasting, but we learned quite a lot about cheese production during the hour long tour. Some fast cheese facts, for those of you who, like me, were very excited at the arrival of a cheese emoji:

  • The veins of color in blue cheese come from a mold (penicillin). Before its discovery (thanks, Fleming!) farmers would rub the cheese on wounds to prevent infection.
  • For a cheese to be called Roquefort, it must meet strict standards. Sheep must be out to pasture, be fed a diet of grain and fodder (3/4 of which must come from the area), only Penicillium roqueforti bacteria may be used, and all maturation, packaging, and processing must be done in the region.
  • It’s not just a blue color: there are also green veins in the cheese, depending on the type of cheese you’re eating. 
  • After Comte, Roquefort is France’s most consumed cheese.
  • Naturally occurring ducts within the cheese cave act as ventilation, keeping the air at the optimal temperature and level of humidity.
  • Walking in the dark caves is super, super, fun. (See photo below.)
  • It’s OK to spell it ‘bleu’ if you’re A) speaking French, B) pronouncing it as the French do, or C) referring to France’s bleu cheeses. But in general, in English it’s best to spell it “blue.” You’ll notice that I’ve used the French spelling when referring to Roquefort in this post; for general statements in blue cheese, I’ve used the English spelling. (I’m not the only nerd who cares about this: check out Serious Eats’ “Open Letter to Restaurants: It’s ‘Blue’ Cheese, not ‘Bleu'” by Michelle Humer who must, I’m convinced, be my grammar and cheese loving soul sister.) Grammar/spelling lesson over: back to the fromage!

The biggest takeaway from the tour and our time in Millau? Not all blue cheese is made equal. It’s easy for us to overlook the characteristics of blue cheese: for starters, you rarely find a cheese plate with more than one blue cheese, so it’s difficult to compare the flavor profiles of different veined cheeses since we rarely taste them side-by-side. But tasted alongside one other, it’s easy to see that some blue cheeses are milder and more creamy while others are saltier and more pungent.

Although delicious by itself, blue cheese is delicious in salads, adds a kick to dressings, and is of course delicious on burgers. Our post-Roquefort dinners and dinner parties included some of these little gems:

As with all trips, the best part was the unexpected. After our tour of the Societe caves, we took a walk around the mountain on which the cave rests. (This path beckoned!)

Roquefort.Millau.Aveyron.Trail.Tree.Hike.Path

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We came to a moss covered stone wall with an ornate gate that was, to our surprise, open. In the stillness of the scene, with freshly fallen leaves under our feet and bellies full of delicious Roquefort quiche and wine, we entered . . . and found the most eerie scene. The stone walls enclosed a large, treeless area on the slope of a hill overlooking Aveyron. At the top of the enclosure were three mausoleums, as if the area had been cleared for a graveyard that, in the end, only admitted three families.

IMG_8889

From my posts on Buenos Aires’ Recoleta Cemetery, London’s Highgate Cemetery, or Barcelona’s Poble Sec Cemetery, readers might know from that I’m a bit obsessed with graveyards. So this was indeed an exciting find. The chain to the gate of the middle mausoleum was unlocked, and on Ryan’s dare (because I’m 33 and still can’t turn down dares, apparently), I walked the steps and peered in. The coffins were long gone, but a somewhat fresh bouquet of flowers was hanging just above the broken glass and dust that so often accompany these beautiful and creepy mausoleums.

The banner on the wreath read “Regret.”

And I ran for my life.

Thanks for the memories, Millau. You charming, beautiful, and creepy place with tasty, tasty cheese.

I don’t love the cold, but I love chocolate and churros

I don’t love the cold, but I love chocolate and churros

Food for thought: have you ever had a bad churro? From the stick-straight variation I grew up on (hello, childhood memories of county fairs and Disneyland!) to the delicious, dulce de leche-filled churro covered with peanuts that I sampled from a vendor in Brazil, I’m […]

What is real truffle oil? The truth about truffles

What is real truffle oil? The truth about truffles

Is this real truffle oil? We’ll find out. Mac and cheese. Popcorn. Eggs. Pastas. I’ll eat truffle on nearly everything, so it’s no surprise that Umbria, one of the Italian truffle regions, happens to be one of my favorite places in the world. I fell […]

So…I went to a mummy museum. Thanks, Guanajuato.

So…I went to a mummy museum. Thanks, Guanajuato.

You either love or really hate the idea of visiting a museum filled with mummies, and since you’re reading this, I’m assuming we are on the same level of appreciation of things grotesque and macabre. Thanks, friend. You weirdo.

During a trip to Mexico, we spent several days in Guanajuato, a town with Spanish colonial architecture and the most delicious street food, gorditas. (How have I not written a post on gorditas? More on that soon.) But for now, something that just might make you lose your appetite . . .

Guanajuato Mummies Sedimentality

Museo de las Momias Guanajuato Mexico Travel SedimentalityMuseo de las Momias Guanajuato Mexico Travel Sedimentality
Mummy Museum Guanajuato Mexico Sedimentality

Guanajuato’s Mummy Museum displays naturally mummified remains (many from the victims of a cholera outbreak in 1833). The bodies were disinterred between 1865 and 1958, during which time families had to pay a tax in order to keep their relatives interred. Should the families be unable to pay the tax, the bodies were unearthed: just 2 percent of these remains were mummified naturally. (If you’re wondering, a law was passed in 1958 forbidding the disinterment of bodies, so this is thankfully no longer a practice.)

Stored away for years, the bodies began attracting tourists, and cemetery workers began charging a nominal fee for weirdos like me to see these incredibly well-preserved bodies. Later, El Museo de Las Momias was officially formed. It houses over 100 mummies, including the smallest mummy in the world (the fetus from a pregnant woman). It also includes the (gasp) remains of a woman who was buried alive: when disinterred, she was found on her stomach, biting her arm, which had been bloodied. What’s up with people being buried alive in South America? I’m still haunted by a story I was told of a girl who woke up in a mausoleum in Recoleta Cemetery . . .)

Recoleta Cemetery Sedimentality

In addition to being an attraction for people who watch a little too much Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, the museum has been featured in several movies: in the 1970 movie Santo vs. The Mummies of Guanajuato, Mexican professional wrestler Santo and several friends fight the mummies-come-to-life, and in the late 70s, Werner Herzog shot scenes of the mummies for the opening sequence of his film Nosferatu the Vampyre.  The mummies also inspired a short story by Ray Bradbury, who penned “The Next in Line” after his visit. In the introduction to his book, The Stories of Ray Bradbury, he writes:

The experience so wounded and terrified me, I could hardly wait to flee Mexico. I had nightmares about dying and having to remain in the halls of the dead with those propped and wired bodies. In order to purge my terror, instantly, I wrote ‘The Next in Line.’ One of the few times that an experience yielded results almost on the spot.

Interesting note: although this article is a bit dated (2007), interesting research has been done over the last decade on the mummies. Read more about it with this University of Texas article.

Poblenou Cemetery

 

Pasta making at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese in Bologna (+ tortellini en brodo recipe)

Pasta making at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese in Bologna (+ tortellini en brodo recipe)

Taking a pasta making course during our time in Bologna was sort of a no-brainer: pasta is at the heart of Italian cuisine and Emilia-Romagna, the region where Bologna is located, is known as the “stomach” of Italy. Brain, stomach, heart . . . we’re close […]