This newsletter is long overdue but life has been more frenetic than usual. Easter was relatively calm and Caroline and Jamie came to spend it with me in Ferentino. The Church celebrations seemed more low-key than usual and we were spared continuous, amplified, out-of tune singing. They were obviously saving their vocal chords for May 1st when the patron saint, Sant’Ambrogio, is exalted for three long days with canons, fireworks and day-long sermons and singing. My problem is that I am directly below the cathedral and the narrow Via Consolare has a string of loudspeakers aimed at my bedroom and terrace. On a positive note we resorted to DVDs and I enjoyed introducing Jamie to ‘Gandhi’. Alex and Max have visited India with me on my gourmet tours and now Jamie feels it is his turn. He is worried about missing out since I have said next year will be the last time I will take people to India. We also watched ‘Out of Africa’. I had forgotten the incredible photography and wondered if I could fit in a safari before I am too old and decrepit.
Later in April I took my first group to Andalusia. It was a great success and we packed an incredible amount into our time. In Seville we stayed in the enchanting Las Casas de la Juderia which has been made up of several little houses, alleys and patios from the old ghetto. Many other guests seemed reluctant to leave this haven of peace and they sat around doing their emails in secluded, shady areas. We did a little of this but Seville was there waiting for us.
Las Casas de la Juderia
We explored Triana market where we had a splendid cooking class with Maria and Victor.
We did several tapas bars but my personal favourite was the traditional Las Teresas whose jamon melted in the mouth it was so good.
We reluctantly moved on and sampled more delights at La Azotec, never neglecting to have a glass or two of manzanilla to give us energy to continue ! The trendy Petit Comite had an interesting menu with a new slant on local ingredients. We dropped in for an early light lunch and enjoyed excellent service before the young crowd arrived. For more formal dinner we returned to two of my old, established favourites – becerrita and Enrique Becerra, run by different family members. While the others were exploring the cathedral and Alcazar I went on a convent crawl. In Spain closed orders of nuns raise money by making conserves and sweets to sell to the public. Many of the cakes were invented to use up the egg yolks left over when the whites were used in sherry production. In Santa Paula they have a small shop off the inner courtyard with a large selection of jams and jellies. I bought some hot chiilie jam, a jar of rose jelly and a small bowl of quince, all labeled with the Benedictine motto ‘Ora et Labora’ – Prayer and Work.
The convent of San Leandro was more of a challenge. The square was deserted at about 11am on a sunny Sunday morning. The Church seemed asleep inside its walls. I walked round the outside until I found a large door with a bell but no name or notice. I rang the bell and when nothing happened I started to walk away until I heard an echoey voice coming from the bell. Hesitantly in Italian, which is near enough to Spanish to communicate basics, I said I would like to buy some yemas, the convent’s speciality. The voice announced the price for a small box and a small turntable opened up. I placed in the money, the table turned and after a few seconds I was rewarded by a small box standing in place of the money. They are delicious and I wished I had bought more, but apparently you can buy on line. I am still trying to discover where.
At the end of our adventure I had to get to Madrid for my flight home. There were problems with the train so I was advised to take the bus. Never again. Five long hours in cramped quarters, irritated by noise leaking from my neighbour’s inefficient headphones. After sunny Andalusia Madrid was grey and soon there were torrential rain storms. The following day the centre was blocked by the Marathon and it was a Saturday morning so the San Miguel and San Anton markets were too full for comfort. The Madrid experience was saved by a delicious dinner in Hotel Villa Magna where a young chef, Begoña Rodrigo de Jorge, who has a restaurant in Valencia was doing a tasting menu. A different wine was served with each dish and it was all very good. A fitting finale to a great trip.
Tomorrow I am flying to Budapest where I will be finalizing arrangements for my October gourmet adventure. I am meeting up with Zoltan who will introduce us to the Budapest he remembers from the 1956 Uprising and the Communist era, and I will talk to the people hosting two of our private dinners. I will finally get to explore the delis around the Great Synagogue to be included in the culinary walk and my mouth is already watering as I think of eating again at Le Bouchon and Gundel where we will have our ‘welcome’ Sunday brunch. The mouth watering leads to me remember that I will also be visiting the dentist but the pleasure is worth the pain which in Budapest is almost negligible.
There has been too much travel in my life recently and I am looking forward to a lazy summer when I will be spending some time in Greece. Despite its current financial problems it will still be the Greece I love where I can swim, relax and read my way through a pile of books, dreaming of my meze and chilled white wine.
There are still places available for Greece September 12-19, and Budapest October 4-9.
There are full details on my web site.
I have to write my calendar for next year, for the tours I will be doing with my grandson, Max. I would like to choose four destinations, plus North India which is long overdue. I would be grateful for some feedback so that I can choose four from the list :
Sicily, Amalfi Coast, Istanbul, Marrakech, Andalusia, Budapest, Goa and Kerala, North India