Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ray’s wine comments

From Ray….

A few comments about the good and very inexpensive wines to be found here on the Costa del Sol.

We have not spent more than 6.5 Euros, retail, for any bottle, red or white. They are widely available in any retail food shop or market. The best selections are in the Carrefour supermercado. Most reds, usually riojas, are 2010 vintage or older. We just enjoyed a bottle of Estola 2008 Riserva, which is a blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon, that was quite drinkable. It was one of the more expensive purchases at 4.50 Euro. Another recent quaff was a Mayor del Castillo 2010. Very pleasant, especially at 3.50 Euro. Our most expensive purchase to date, though we haven’t consumed it yet, is a Marques de Caceres Crianza 2009 at 6.50 Euro.  If these prices were available at home, we would most certainly be drinking Spanish wines exclusively.   

The region is not known for outstanding blancos but a Marques de Caceres 2011 was lovely at 4.95 Euro and a Casa Mayor 2012 Rijoa slid down nicely. The Tinto de casa in most restaurants and tapas bars is very easy to drink and most of us would be proud to serve it to guests.  Winery tours in Jerez this week taught me that there’s always something to learn.  More to follow.  Since Anita is writing all of the posts, I wanted to at least write something I’m familiar with.Image

A Day in Jerez

A Day in Jerez

On Thursday we traveled to Jerez—a 90 minute drive from Estepona on a gorgeous sunny day.    We arrived in Jerez without a problem.   Ray’s navigational skills amaze me, as there are so many roundabouts entering the city, it’s nearly impossible to stay on course.  We did have some trouble leaving at the end of the day, but that might have had something to do with the tastings and the reluctance to leave.   We passed through town to arrive in time for the incredible horse show at the Real Escuela del Arte Ecuestre, (Royal School of Equestrian Arts).  Jerez has been a center for horsemanship in Spain for centuries, and this beautiful campus demonstrated the tradition and pride of this very special academy.   Sadly, photos were not allowed so I cannot post pictures of these magnificent horses, riders, and handlers.   But it was really something special.   I took a few shots of the arena during the intermission, just to give an idea of the place, and an outside photo or two.   The only photos of horses I can provide are those of the Przewalski breed stabled on the grounds.  This is the last wild breed, a key evolutionary link to horse breeding that has continued to survive for 12,000 years.   The photo of the male may offer some insight into how they managed to – ahem – preserve the species under the most difficult conditions.

Of course, we scheduled our time in Jerez to coincide with the harvest festival.  The sherry bodegas (cellars) were open for tasting, and we managed to do a fair amount of research, aspiring wine scholars that we are.   At the terrific tour and sherry tasting at the Sandeman bodega in Jerez, they threw in a little flamenco show just for fun. (Video attached to previous post).  Our guide, Patricia, pulled of the “Sandeman Don” costume as her cape fluttered in the breeze while walking us through the cellars, patios, and demonstrations of the sherry-making process.    When you click through the Jerez slide show, you’ll see how her fabulous mane of red hair set off the ensemble.   Ray loved her, and especially enjoyed her adorable Andalucían accent, thick enough to spread on toast.

Click on an image to view the slideshow.

Wedding (crashing?) on the beach

When sitting on the Playa del Christo on Saturday, one of the two main beaches in Estepona, we saw a group of people gathering at one of the Chiringuitas –beach restaurants.  They were on the opposite end of the crescent-shaped cove from us, but there seemed to be about 70 or 80 people congregating, and all of them were dressed in white.   At first we thought it was a school group in uniform, but then realized there were people of all ages.  So I walked over to investigate and questioned one of them.  (Of course, I picked a tall, really good-looking young man–might as well enjoy the scene!)   It was a wedding, with all the guests dressed in white.   The groom’s family wore touches of light blue and the bride’s light pink—the overall effect of everyone on the beach dressed in white was absolutely gorgeous.  “Que  bonito!” I commented to my new pal as I was offered hors d’oeuvres by a passing waiter.   Does this count as wedding crashing?   I think it’s just typical Spanish hospitality. 

Update on our wanderings

Besides just hanging out on the beautiful beach at Estepona, we have visited a few other beaches in the first week here—Torreguardia, Fuengirola, and yesterday, Benalmadena.   Torreguardia is lovely and there’s not much there except sand, surf, and quite a few English and Irish families on holiday.   But the beach is gorgeous and I’ve included a photo of the beach beds and the lovely clear waves.    Fuengirola was similar to Estepona, only busier and bigger, but we got the beach chairs we’d been looking for at a good price—something we couldn’t seem to do in Estepona.   Benalmadena is a much larger town/city—closer to Malaga.  We really wanted to visit there because our son Ricardo spent a month there when he was in high school. The beaches are gorgeous, although the it’s a  little too big for my taste for a beach town—with an aquarium, a butterfly park, and amusement park in addition to the big town. Sleepy little Estepona is much more relaxing.  But we spent a nice day in Benalmadena, had a wonderful lunch, a long walk along the beach, and later took the cable car up to the top of the mountain.   The views were breathtaking, and we were rewarded at the top with an equestrian show.  The horses and riders were good, but not particularly impressive; however, the setting—with the arena at the edge of the mountain and the whole seacoast in view behind—it was definitely worth the trip.    I hope the attached does it justice.

Click through the slide show to see all the pics.

Settling in — and loving it!

After a little over a week living in Estepona, things are starting to make sense.    We’ve had to adjust our New York rhythms to southern Spain’s mañana philosophy—but we’re getting there.   In fact, we spent the entire first week just riding our bikes, hanging out on the beach, going to the market and enjoying the sunsets.  Of course, being the people we are, there has been some great food and wine too.  The first day we sat at a Chiringuita (the restaurants on the beach)  with our toes in the sand and ate arroz negro—black rice with choco—the little tiny squid-like creatures with squid ink flavoring the rice—incredible!    Obviously, in this fishing port we’ve been able to get great fish and seafood, and are cooking the way the Spanish do—fresh ingredients prepared simply.   We filleted a fresh dorado (sea bream), dredged it in flower seasoned with sea salt and pimento and sautéed it in olive oil.  Finished with some fresh lemon, what could be better?    Perhaps the tiny little roast potatoes and green beans from the farmers market we had on the side.

 The other day we cooked coquinas—little tiny clams about the size of a thumbnail.   This was our late dinner—we’re trying to adjust to having our main meal at 2 or 3 pm and eating something light for the evening meal, or just having tapas and a glass of wine.  We used a great spice mixture that we found in the farmer’s market—the spice selections are fantastic.  I wish I could buy them all but tried to exercise restraint.   The spice seller called this “gambas a la plancha” mixture.   Meaning these are the seasonings used for grilled prawns.  It was made up of dehydrated garlic slices, dehydrated parsley leaves and small dried red chiles.    Since both the spice mix and the coquinas might not be available in many places, I’ve translated the very simple recipe for more common ingredients.  Fresh parsley is so much better anyway—but I must say the spice mixture was fantastic for an “instant”appetizer-sized dish for two:  

  • One pound small clams
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
  • 2 small red chiles, such as thai or bird chiles, or substitute ½ tsp chile flakes
  • 6 ounces white wine
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus more for finishing
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, place the gImagearlic, chiles, olive oil and white wine.   Bring to a boil for one minute, covered, and turn off the heat while you wash the clams.   The liquid will take on more flavor as it sits.   Bring the liquid back to the simmer, add the clams and cover the pot.   Shake it back and forth on the hot burner until the clams open.  The clams should have added their juices to the liquid in the pot—if not, add a few Tablespoons of water, or more wine—you want enough liquid for dunking the bread.  Add the parsley, stir it through, and ladle into bowls.  Drizzle with a few more drops of olive oil, and serve with crusty bread.   So very simple and absolutely delicious.


Welcome to Estepona

We arrived in Estepona on Monday, after a very long but mostly uneventful journey.  We flew AerLingus so had to go through Dublin, which added some time—but that’s the one thing we’ve got plenty of.    A 100 MPH tail wind got us to Dublin an hour ahead of time, so there was no rushing for gates or worrying about our luggage making the transfer.     But we did have a bit of a lost luggage scare.

When we arrived in Malaga airport, Ray went to the lower level to organize the paperwork for our car rental, and I waited for the luggage.    Luggage—that’s one thing that had me tossing and turning in the weeks leading up to this adventure.    How do you pack for a long trip through both warm and cold climates, and manage to fit it all into a backpack and a rolling bag per person?    It was a challenge, and it remains to be seen whether we will have all the things we need—but we managed it after several hours spent laying things out on the beds, putting them into suitcases, taking them out again, debating the usefulness of each item, and trying again.  We were very proud when it was finally accomplished!  Will I be able to live with only sneakers and three pairs of shoes?   All will be revealed, eventually.

What wasn’t revealed, however, was the location of our bags in Malaga airport.   I experienced a horrible, nauseous sensation when I realized they’d turned off the baggage carousel, everyone had gone, and I was still without luggage.  I went down to the rental car area, where Ray was still standing in line, and announced the bad news.  He gave me the documents with our address in Estepona and the baggage tickets, and I went back up to look for the lost luggage office.   There were signs, but no people in the offices.   I know it’s Labor Day in the U.S., but why is nobody working lost luggage in Malaga?    I was rapidly approaching panic mode when a nice looking bearded young man in an orange polo shirt tried to sell me a tour.   I let him know that I was more interested in locating my luggage, probably not in the warmest way.  But he was kind, and told me it was probably in the customs area, since my journey did not originate in the E.U.    The customs area was through two sets of glass doors, and all the lights were out.  I charged ahead, wondering if I would set off alarms or be arrested or perhaps get stuck in that dark room with no way out.   There on the carousel were our two bags—one red, one blue, with a halo of light around them and a choir of angels singing in my head.   At the other end of the room was an area with a lighted sign reading “Nothing to Declare” in three languages.    I charged ahead, wheeling the two bags behind.   There were no exit signs, no officials, no people at all.   I walked up to a set of double glass doors, praying that they would open and let me out.  They did!   I was saved.   I dragged the bags down to Ray, we got into our little rental car, and we sped down the A-7 to our destination.

In a couple of days I’ll post about settling into our little waterfront apartment in Estepona.  But first, I must write about one other misadventure. You do want us to be authentic, don’t you?   We took off in our very cute little Seat Ibiza that only Ray can drive because, sadly, I have not yet learned to operate a manual transmission.  It was on my to-do list for this summer, but believe it or not I could not find a driving school that teaches on a standard transmission anywhere near us in Massachusetts.  Why couldn’t Ray teach me, you ask?   Two reasons:  first, because we don’t own a car with a manual transmission, and second, because now would be an inauspicious time to get a divorce.   After watching Ray struggle mightily to find the reverse gear, my regret is not as intense.

We were shown the apartment by the agent—no surprises really—very cute, well-equipped and in a perfect location.   A little teaser photo is attached here—the view from our balcony.   We decided to go to the Carrefours super-store at the end of town before it got too late, and pick up some basic provisions—bread, coffee, bottled water, wine, beer, sherry, brandy.  Those are the basics, right?

Our apartment is in a gated community at the Marina.   The agent had shown us how to touch the key fob to the gate post to let ourselves in.   One our way to the market, we drove up to the gate to exit.   Ray touched the fob to the pad and nothing happened.    He tried again.    Nothing.  I got out to investigate , hoping to discover some written instructions.   Ray put on the brake, got out and looked around for another sensor.   He found it, a few meters back from the gate.   The gate began to open — inward, right into our bumper.   Fortunately, I was outside the car at the time and used my Basque super-strength to hold the gate back before it crushed the car.   “Quick, back it up!” I screamed at Ray.   He jumped into the driver’s seat; and, this time he was able to find reverse pretty quickly.  He backed up.   And the passenger’s side door, the one I’d left open, banged into the post where the second sensor is located, a safe distance from the opening gate.    We could have ripped the door right off the side of the car had he hit the gas just a bit more enthusiastically.  As it turned out, no damage was done, and we nearly needed oxygen once we realized what a comedy of errors had just occurred.    It did end with a lot of laughter and no damage to the car.   

This story does have a moral—Never drive in a strange place after you’ve been traveling for 24 hours and have not slept.    You may do really stupid things that damage property, cost you money, and cause you and your partner deep humiliation when trying to explain how it happened.