Monday, January 31, 2011
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Sunday, January 23, 2011
In a phone interview from his retail store in Williamsburg, Virginia, Don shared how LaTienda.com and his new book came into being. After their time in Spain was over, Don’s family visited as often as possible, vacationing, seeing old friends, and exploring parts unknown. In his book, Don writes, “On the return flight we would load an extra suitcase with memories of Spain: those long tube glasses they use at tapas bars, ceramics and cazuelas of all sorts, Maria cookies, and most of all, bars of Heno de Pravia and Magno soaps whose familiar fragrance still waft through our home.” Once retired from the Navy, the family settled in Williamsburg, Virgina, where Don had attended the College of William & Mary. Then in 1996, just a year after amazon.com burst on the scene, the Harris clan got into the online game with a “.com” of their own. They put up a website selling the bright and beautiful Spanish title of Andalucia. Unfortunately, the site didn’t take off as they’d hoped. The American market loved the tile, but not to the degree of the Spanish. In Andalucia, you’ll find entire walls, both exterior and interior, covered in these colorful tiles; not so in the States. That, coupled with the fact that the tiles were heavy and prone to breaking kept the online tile idea from taking off. Even though the tile business didn’t pan out, it did attract the attention of some Spaniards living in the United States. And when Don asked them if they’d be interested in buying Spanish “jamon” instead of Spanish tile, around 200 of them said they certainly would. So Don and his family started working on bringing world renowned Spanish “ham” to American tables. This took some time, and Don used the La Tienda website to keep his eager customers abreast of his progress. He started writing essays about Spain, its food and its culture, to keep them entertained. Don finally found a way to bring Spanish food, wine, cookware, and bath products to the masses, and have been doing so successfully since 1997. While LaTienda.com grew from a “mom and pop shop” to a major player in the Spanish food market, Don’s writing continued. Don wrote about his own family’s experiences in Spain, as well as the families of their Spanish friends who supplied La Tienda with their labors of love. His writing and photos gave readers an appreciation of the quality of the artisan products available at La Tienda, allowing them to connect with the people and the processes behind the goods. Before Don knew it, he had over 10 years worth of stories about Spanish families and food. At his own family’s urging, Don sifted through all those essays, pulling the best of them together into this impressive new book, “The Heart of Spain-Families and Food,” and what a treasure it is!
This book is a real keepsake, whether you’ve been to Spain or not. You can’t help but be taken in by its majesty. Not only does Don share his insights about food and culture, but also explores the artisan traditions that have remained intact decade after decade in a modern world addicted to progress and efficiency. Don shows us when it comes to quality, efficiency is often overrated. Don’t worry if you don’t win this autographed copy because you can purchase your own on sale right now at LaTienda.com. It’s 25% off until January 31st, so click on that link to get one while it’s still on sale. It's part of the Winter Sale, with over 100 items available at up to 40% off. If you do win the autographed copy, you can keep it for yourself and give your extra copy as a gift to someone you care about. That’s what I’m doing! I ordered three yesterday, one for me and two for friends. I can’t wait to give my copy a permanent home on my coffee table. Hasta luego…
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Friday, January 21, 2011
The little dish above is a pepper made for popping, and I think it's better than any jalapeño popper I've ever had. This dish is called pimientos padron and it is a tapas classic, and so simple to prepare...garlic gives this dish its special punch. They are fun to eat too...hold the stem and eat it all in one bite...just leave this stems on your plate...YUM!
The last recipe of the day was a dish we call "Hammered Olives." The marinated olives are full of flavor and are a great make ahead dish for any party, in fact they taste best when left to marinate overnight! So easy and soooo delicious. I gave this recipe to a friend and she told me that after her family had eaten all the olives, she soaked up the rest of the herb infused oil with a baguette and even ate the oranges...Now that's a testimonial! More to come...Hasta luego!
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I was contacted by Context Travel to check out one of their walking tours they had recently started providing in Madrid. I checked out the company and found they have received endorsements from Travel+Leisure, National Geographic, Fodor's, Frommer's, Lonely Planet, and Rick Steves', just to name a few. I must admit, I was impressed. Context offers intimate group or private walking tours of 13 cities in nine different countries. According to their site, the docents are "scholars and specialists—in disciplines including archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and classics—who, in addition to our normal work as professors and researchers, design and lead in-depth walking seminars for small groups of intellectually curious travelers." The company is "committed to the character of the city—its built environment, cultural heritage, and living fabric." I am very excited about having Context here in Madrid because we are always looking for new ideas for our family and friends who come to visit. Sometimes you want to go along, but because of busy schedules, sometimes you have to send your guests out on their own. I would totally send my family or friends out on one of these walks. They are affordable and with the low docent to walker ratio, we were really able to pick Almudena's brain about whatever piqued our interest.
"For centuries, the heart of Madrid's literary and intellectual life has centered in the Huertas neighborhood, to the east of the Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol. A vibrant quarter that was once home to such seminal figures of the Spanish Golden Century as Cervantes, Quevedo, Góngora, Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca, this district is still the heart of theatre, art, and the cultural life of the city. During this three-hour walk we will look deeply into daily life of 17th century Madrid as we stroll the quiet, pedestrian-only streets of this hidden but most magnetic area of the city. The great thinkers and artists of that century will bookend and shape what will become a thematic orientation to Madrid's place in European intellectual history.
Our seminar starts with a visit to the church of St. Sebastian, the parish church where the great writer Lope de Vega was buried. The church is also home to a 400-year-old confraternity of actors, and thus an anchor in the theatrical traditions of Madrid. The guided visit to the nearby residence of de Vega offers an extraordinary opportunity to immerse ourselves in the period, while a discussion of the writer's exceptionally adventurous life and herculean literary work articulates our understanding of intellectual life in the 17th century. Perhaps the most prolific writer that has ever lived, Lope de Vega was born in Madrid in 1562 and died here in 1635. His pastoral novel Arcadia presents an idyllic existence which was far removed from his experience as a soldier in the Invincible Armada and a troubled lover in cloak-and-dagger baroque-era Spain. The figure of de Vega allows us to look at the role of cloaks and capes in the history of Madrid, as well as its associations with the literary world. Passing by the site where the first edition of Don Quijote was printed will allow us to continue our literary and intellectual them will also giving us occasion to discuss the towering figure of Cervantes, who lived in the area...Our focus will be on the continuous life of the neighborhood and its role in art and culture through the centuries, and how this has defined Madrid as a city....On this walk we will also look at how 20th-century Modernists left their imprint in this quarter with the construction of Cine Doré, a must for cinema lovers and oft featured in Almodovar’s films. As homage to the history of film making in Spain, we'll pass, too, the site of the first cinema projection. Depending on the interests of the group, we may take a quick culinary break to explore the sweet delights offered by nearby Casa Mira, or perhaps head to one of the best bakeries in town which has been successfully providing Madrileños since 1830, and which featured in a novel by Benito Perez Galdós. In the end, we'll emerge with a vivid portrait of the literary lions who defined Madrid and the intellectual life of this city over the past 300 years. We'll also get a chance to explore one of Madrid's more bohemian quarters as a way of immersing ourselves in the contemporary city."
Our docent, Almudena, originally from Madrid, like many Context guides, has her Ph.D. According to her bio, "[t]hroughout her Ph.D., Almudena traveled extensively around Italy and Spain, and lived in Rome for a year while collecting documentation kept at the Vatican archives. Her main interests lie in the history of the Church in the 1300s and the patronage of medieval fortresses, reliquaries, and textiles, as well as tomb sculpture. She has worked as a family art workshop docent at CaixaForum Madrid and teaches history of art to young children on a private basis. She has translated numerous academic articles, and her most recent contribution is the translation of the chapter dealing with the architectural history of Toledo Cathedral in a recent book published on the building." So she really knows her stuff! She had an answer for every question asked and I felt like I saw things that I haven't seen in any guidebook about Madrid thus far. At 55 euros a person, I think this is a great value for a three hour tour. She brought to life the literary figures she spoke about and the not-so-friendly rivalry between Spanish icons Lope de Vega and Cervantes. The only negative comment I have to make about the tour was that it was a Sunday morning, and while it was nice to have the streets of Madrid to ourselves, some of the places Almudena showed us weren't open. If taking this tour, you might want to keep the timing in mind.
As I said, I feel like Alumenda gave us many "new to us" places to return to, places I hadn't heard of in the year and a half that I've lived here. She showed us two "new" restaurants, Casa Alberto at Calle de la Huerta, 18, established over 100 years ago and a neat old chapel turned restaurant, La Capilla de la Bolsa at Calle de la Bolsa, 12. We were able to peek inside and it was gorgeous! She also took us to a boutique of a cool and hip Spanish designer named Paloma del Pozo and to the shop of a talented woman who paints lovely silk scarves. Sadly, I have lost her card, but it's right across the street from Lope de Vega's house, so I will be able to find it again...Thank goodness! Here she is working on one of her creations...
When the tour ended we said good-bye to Alumeda and our new friends, and slipped over to our favorite churros place, Maestro Churrero, before we drove back home...shhhh, don't tell the kids! It was a delightful way to spend a Sunday!
...And I have some exciting news...Spain Is My Happy Place is teaming up with Paul Bennett, the owner of Context Travel, for a giveaway of a Madrid Walk in a couple of months, just as the weather is getting nice for a stroll through Madrid. Click here to visit the Context Travel website to check out all their great tours and book your own walk of your own. Happy trails and hasta luego...