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As I said in a previous post, this is my birthday month.

Sharon’s ‘surprise’ gift to me was a Food, wine and history walking tour of Malaga (seeing as we’re down here for Christmas anyway). It was a surprise inasmuch as I only knew that on a particular day we had to catch a particular train from Torreblanca, to be able to present ourselves in the Plaza de la Constitución at 10:30am prompt.  31467462750_82c0fe75d0_n

We were met by Susanne, our guide and were joined by Mike from Manchester.

So just the three of us on the tour – which made it so much better than it might have been with lots more people. Sharon had booked with a company called Devour Spain – they also do tours of Madrid, Seville and Barcelona.

The trip starts with a short history of Malaga’s varying population from the ancient Phoenicians through Romans, Moors and the current Christian occupation. This was then used to pin the different dishes and tastes we went through during our 3½ – 4-hour tour.

We started with (slightly late for me) breakfast at Café Central, just on the corner of the square.

coffee-cupWe were told about the owner’s history and how he came to serve 10 (ten!) different sizes and styles of coffee. We had Pitufo con tomate and churros with our coffee. I had largo. All the coffees come in cups or glasses marked with a percentage – to show that you have been served exactly what you ordered.

Following breakfast we took a stroll to Malaga’s main market: Mercado de Atarazanas where we visited two stalls for extended tastings and more history. Our first tasting stop was the Cristóbal Rios olive stall (stand 241-248).  We tasted three types of olive (but I cannot remember their names – sorry), all varying in strength and taste, along with fried  marcona almonds and locally dried moscatel raisins. These were all delicious.

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Our next stop was at El Niño, still inside the market (stand 187-189). Here we were given a taste of sweet Malaga muscatel wine and a plate of cold cutsJ  There was a tasty, hard goats cheese, Iberian ham, Serrano ham, chorizo and salchichón. It was great to actually have both hams on the same plate, so I could see and taste the difference – and THERE IS a difference! Serrano ham is a much milder flavour and has much less fat than the prized Iberian product. Iberian ham is much fattier, tastier and deeper in flavour – as it should be given the way the pigs are bred. Often known as pata negra, these hams can be seen as different from serrano simply by having black feet. The two sausages were ok, but tend to be much nicer  when cooked.

market_platter

Having had our fill of market produce we took a fairly good stroll to the other side of town to Mainake, a specialist wine merchant. Here we tasted three local Andalusian wines that were unusually dry (rather than the more normal sweet Malaga wines). One white was to Sharon’s taste but too Retsina-ish for me, and then two very young red wines which were, once again, not to my taste.

Lunch was taken at Mesón Mariano in the city centre. We were presented with an amuse bouche of sorts, which was then followed by four entirely different tapas and a single sweet. The restaurant specialises in artichoke dishes and so we started with an artichoke dish: Alcachofas en salsa (it actually had a different name, but looked like this), then we had Boquerones simply coated in seasoned flour and fried. Boquerones are a small white anchovy local to Malaga. Someone from Malaga might be known as a Boquerón.

We then had a tuna dish that was delicious, but what it was called and what the sauce was made of is now beyond me as I was too engrossed with the previous two dishes. Our final tapa was a plate of Albondigas in a local almond sauce.  I like the sauce, but the meatballs were too big and the texture too doughy for my taste.  Our postres (dessert) was a local speciality: Leche frito. This is condensed milk that is friend and topped with a nougat (turrón) ice cream. That was DIFFERENT.

That was it – our tour was over, but it had been a delight. Excellently led by Susanne.

We stayed over in Malaga and had breakfast once again at Café Central. This time we were able to order our own food and coffee (and agua del grifo – tap water J)

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I was sixty-five this month.

To celebrate a lifetime of learning and working, I invited six of my closest chums to join Sharon and me for dinner at The Watermill in Slaithwaite. John R, I met during my first week at secondary school (I met his wife Sandy, when they married). John T, I met when playing rugby and after my family had moved from Sheepridge to Deighton. I met Carol later in life when we all met up again a few years later. Tony and I met in mid-life, when we attended teacher training college. We followed that up by working together in a catering business/franchise, which is when I met Gill, his wife.  We have all done all sorts of things, together and apart.  We had a great meal, followed by dessert at home (Sharon had made cake and Carol had made us tub of her bombe 🙂 ).

img_7450Prior to this, we held open house on the Saturday before my birthday.  Almost forty friends from various parts of my life (and life line) came along to this and we all had a great time chatting and reminiscing.

I had decided to provide a selection of Spanish dishes, tapas size, with beer and cava brought back from Spain in October. Sharon decorated the house in a pseudo Spanish style with a big flag, an inflatable beer island, an inflatable cactus and lots of streamers.

I prepared:

  • EMPANADILLAs, made from potatoes, swede, cheese and onion (baked not fried).
  • I sliced some Spanish Sheep (oveja) cheese. We’d probably call it MANCHEGO.
  • I cooked TORTILLA. Each filled with six eggs, potato and onion. 12 portions each.
  • PATATAS BRAVAS – roast potatoes with spicy tomato sauce.
  • ALBONDIGAS – mixed pork and beef meatballs in a tomato sauce.
  • I also made my version of the Spanish SALAD RUSSE with lots of potato and vegetables (and a little tuna in some).
  • and .. Sharon made a wonderful BEETROOT HUMOUS

I had also made my own focaccia bread to go with all this. As it didn’t turn out quite right, I toasted small pieces of this in the oven – which made it perfect. People pretty much helped themselves while I sliced the main act, SERRANO HAM, off the bone as required.  Thank you for this Aldi!

Emma and family had not been able to make the open house as it was Amy’s birthday, but they came around the following week for a meal. I invited my mum and dad to this too as I wouldn’t see them for the best part of two months afterwards.

So, I’ve had a great birthday month. I’m in Spain now and will receive my birthday gift from Sharon on Tuesday when she takes me on a surprise ‘something’ in Malaga. I’m looking forward to that.

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Work

The last few days have been frustrating. For our training we are housed in a tiny room with intermittent internet connection, aging computers and a break out room (even smaller) that we cannot use if the ‘Director’ decides to come in to work. Even so, had the website we were here to train the folks on, have worked properly, even those “Indian” problems would have been easy enough to overcome. So frustrating.

Our team

Still, we managed: Just.

Sadly tonight is our last night with the delegates. Tomorrow (after 24 hours) we have some mopping up work to do and some shopping will be required before we get to that. We leave the hotel at 4:00am Wednesday morning.

Food

Our hotel provides a good selection of dishes from around the world. I wrote about the breakfasts in an earlier post but the lunches and evening meals are no less extensive. Like breakfast, the lunch menu has a wide array of buffet dishes from (mainly) across India. There are also special menu meals, only one of which we had because – quite simply – there is TOO MUCH to eat. Mostly, when we’ve eaten in the hotel of an evening, we have just had snacks, because the main dishes are huge.

Restaurant food

Lunch at the Biere Club

That doesn’t mean that the hotel is the only place to eat. We’ve eaten in several other places, sometimes more than once because a) the food is OK and b) the portions are not too large (and if they are the food is cheap enough to not worry about leaving any). Neither of us have overdone the Indian food, but what we have had has been delicious. However, many of our meals have been non-Indian (with maybe just a touch of Indian influence) 🙂

We’re frequented a place called The Biere Club  several times. They make a tasty really crispy based pizza and their ‘assorted’ fries are gorgeous. We must have sampled about a third of their menu on his trip and can honestly say that if you want a non-Indian snack or meal – this is the place to come. They even brew their own beer, which at lunchtimes, we’ve avoided (we have to work you know).

Another place I would never have a) found or b) gone into without Alison’s recommendation was The Only Place. Here, I had what was the best steak I’ve eaten in many a year. I can’t honestly remember one as nice in the last twenty years, unless it was one I had in Australia in 1996. It was simply delicious. It had real flavour, something we don’t often get back home, and was cooked to perfection. The restaurant itself is BYO (as long as it’s wine the can serve you with disguised as coke, or tonic) and very Indian. Hat’s off to you guys – keep up the good work.

Last night we went to a place we’d never been before. The Glasshouse looks  a bit posh and to be fair they did their best to provide a friendly, open air, Mediterranean atmosphere. The food was really good: We both had Caramelized Goat’s Cheese as a delicious starter and followed that up with chicken dishes which were perfectly cooked but nothing to write home about.

Street food

Fruit sales

I really wish I dared to try the street food that we see everywhere. There are folks selling coconuts; they cut the copra away and allow the purchaser to drink the water inside (straws are optional) and then, the cut it open properly and scoop out the inside with a leaf. There are folks selling cut fruit: my problem is the amount of flies we often see around such stalls and the water the fruit may have been ashed in. There are folks selling, peanuts (freshly cooked and de-husked), folks selling sweet tea, folks selling all types of meals to eat standing on the corner of the road (which is invariably bedlam) and all kinds of other folks selling – stuff 🙂

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I’ve eaten out several times since my birthday last week; its that time for year. My experiences have ranged from the sublime to the downright careless.

I mentioned The Crown at Roecliffe in my previous post and the food there was delicious. The customer service was careful and attentive without being overbearing and the whole evening was faultless. Yet, locally, I joined three ex-colleagues for lunch the other day in a well respected eatery and it verged on being uneatable.

Because I have dined well here before, I won’t mention the venue but, as I also ate here again a few days later (see below) with just as little care in some of the food preparation, I will blog about it and only re-visit when some time has passed and I fancy risking it again.

Sausages
Us four ex-colleagues were there to chat and catch up, so the food was only of secondary concern – I had a Sausage Sandwich (with caramelised onion and apple sauce). What can go wrong with a sausage sandwich? Well first of all, I was offered ciabatta or baguette – neither of which would be my preferred choice of bread for a sausage sarnie. Nevertheless, I chose the former based on my knowledge of the sort of baguette bought and served in pubs up and down the country: tasteless lumps of microwaved-from-frozen cooked dough – unlike their crunchy French namesake.

Old grumps

Sadly, the ciabatta was a bad choice too because it lacked any substance that allowed me to pick it up and eat it like a sandwich. I had to use a knife and fork (God forbid!). As the rectangular plate contained a smidgeon of salad and half a bag of sliced, raw, red onions, and as the sausages themselves (I’m coming to them) were blobbed with tinned/bottled apple sauce, the whole thing was pretty unmanageable.  The onions were a surprise inasmuch as the menu suggested they’d be there, it just didn’t say they would be raw – why would they be? The sausages themselves, particularly knowing their provenance and the competition this well renowned butcher has locally, were sadly lacking in flavour. Just thin grey fingers of ‘something’ to hold the name ‘sandwich’ together.

They were busy though, I’ll give them that and for that reason I’m forgiving the barely cooked and lightly coloured chips and I’m forgiving the time it took to serve three sandwiches and a steak pie – but I cannot forgive the poorly kept beer. Watery Hobgoblin! I can’t re-live that.

Mum’s Birthday
My mum was 85 last weekend, she won’t mind me saying because she keeps forgetting 🙂  However, as I say, we’ve had some good meals here before and had booked a Sunday lunchtime table to celebrate. Remember, this is the same pub/restaurant as mentioned above.

I avoided the Hobgoblin.

The service on each occasion was good. Better on Sunday than Thursday but on each occasion the service and attention to orders etc. was good.  My starter was OK: A small piece of Halibut with sweet and sour sauce. I didn’t expect any more than I got, a few bones still in it and commercially tinned/bottled sweet and sour sauce. I still ask myself “why?” but can’t really say. Anyway, my main course was better: Roasted belly port with prawns and saute (ish) potatoes. It was good, the only thing letting it down was the prawns served on top – which prevented the skin from properly crisping up. But it was tasty.

Goat’s cheese tarte tatin

Hummus
However, Sharon’s choices were badly made (in both the sense that she made a bed choice and the sense that the dishes were in fact badly made). How can you ruin hummus? This is one product the chef should have bought in! It was lacking any real flavour, was watery and under seasoned. I know there are different ways of combining the chickpeas, the tahini (if used) the garlic, the olive oil and the seasoning but this, served to Sharon, was just home-cooked chickpeas (drain these well Chefs, drain them well), food processed to within an inch of their lives and lightly seasoned. And to dip in it? Griddled Asparagus (the menu said that) and boiled Chantenay carrots. Boiled!! Sharon had misunderstood the menu – it said griddled asparagus and carrots – she’d expected raw carrot. But boiled! ffs.

Her main course was less of a disappointment but still not what it should have been. A goat’s cheese tarte tatin. The picture here is what she expected (from elsewhere), what she got was something a whole lot smaller.

Rant over.

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As anyone who read my previous post – https://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/the-old-telephone-exchange/ – will know, this (long) weekend has been spent in North Yorkshire, celebrating my birthday.

Sharon had planned a fabulous weekend of good food and time to relax, so after our trip to Ripon, on my actual birthday, I relaxed. Sharon had tea to cook after all – from scratch and from goods she’d brought along with us. We had Butternut Squash Ravioli for starters, with a spicy tomato garnish and spinach. this was followed by a Griddled Rump Steak, battered onion rings (remember – all from scratch and there was no fryer), mushrooms in a cream sauce, Roasted Sweet Potato and some delicious potato skins. Yummy. This was followed by Tarte Tatin. There would have been cheese – but we were too full.

The following day, breakfast was scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (how lucky am I?) and then although Sharon had researched some walks around the area, and because it was cold, we decided that following our breakfast we would set out and take a look at Thirsk and Northallerton. There was a nowtish market on in Thirsk and I found it disappointingly depressing, whereas Northallerton on the other hand was a whole lot better. So, anyway, we ‘did’ the charity shops, bought a Christmas special Fat Rascal from Betty’s and came home to light a fire and relax before popping out for a splendid meal at a pub five miles away.

The Crown Inn at Roecliffe

is a 16th century coaching inn that retains the inn’s historic features, such as stone flag floors, crackling open log fires and oak beams

and has a fabulous reputation for food and for service. Both of which, following our meal last night, I’m happy to say were richly deserved. We were made to feel welcome throughout our evening, service was attentive without being ‘in your face’ and the food was delicious. I had a pressed belly pork starter and Sharon had ox-tail tortellini. Both were home made and fully flavoured. Mine came with spicy noodles, most of which i had to leave for fear of over-facing myself.

Next, our mains arrived: Sharon had a Venison dish that was just right; whilst I had the Yorkshire Lamb. Two cutlets, perfectly seasoned and a small side dish of shepherd’s pie. We managed to finished a bottle of Malbec too – so a good time was had by all.  Home now and eating left overs 🙂

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Truck loads of Marmite

Marmite – I love it.

I’m led to believe that there are people who hate Marmite: it’s hard to believe I know, but there’s no answering for taste.

I take mine any way it comes, but preferably thickly layered on toast (buttered toast at that!).  Steppy* says that I’m weird because I keep my jar of Marmite in the fridge, but then I do tend to keep everything that’s open but not finished in the fridge.

What’s not to like?

Marmite is packed with flavour and B vitamins (I nearly wrote jam-packed, but that could possibly mislead Marmite virgins to misapprehend the flavour) so intense it makes your teeth itch. It flows under the knife like a luscious black butter, creating a glossy sheen to my toast.

Some years ago Marmite was banned in Denmark** (well, it can only be supplied under licence) but over here it is synonymous with good taste, health and flavour. I’ve tried ‘own brand’ versions (they’re ok – some spread better from the fridge and they’re cheaper) and I’ve tried Vegemite, the antipodean  version – but I still come back to the original and best.

Just saying 😉

*Step daughter – Betony 🙂
** http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13541148

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Readers of earlier posts [-1-] and [-2-], may remember that my birthday weekend had so far been a series of surprises – each one topping the other.  My previous post had seen me reeling from the arrival of invited (but unexpected by me) guests Tony and Gill. I’d left the post promising to detail the food that was served up by Sharon after a long, hard afternoon in the kitchen.

After celebrating with a glass of fizz, we sat down to:

Gnocci

Served with roast cherry tomatoes, blue cheese and rocket topped with a sweet pepper sauce.

Sharon had made the gnocci and the sweet pepper sauce during the afternoon, so I knew we were having roast peppers at some stage because the delicious smell peculated throughout the room I was in. This was followed by:

Seared Tuna Steak

Served with lemon and coriander couscous, samphire and garlic butter.

Fresh Tuna cooked in garlic butter is one of our favourite meals, so this was a delight. All the flavours were balanced nicely and the steak was not too big for its role in the meal.

Pan-fried Leek & Ginger stuffed Chicken Suprême

Served in a white wine sauce, with sweet potato, feta cheese and a crispy sesame seed savoy cabbage.

Sadly up to and including this point we had taken no photographs of the food. We were too busy enjoying the experience, the company and the wine, which Tony had very kindly brought along with him. We next had a choice of ‘cheese first’ or ‘pudding first’. Tony and I had cheese, the ladies had pudding – which was again, magnificent:

Garden Berry and white chocolate Cheesecake and cream

This was based on the mixed berries we had picked at home and made into jam.

Mixed Berry Cheesecake

Mixed Berry Cheesecake

And that, apart from a few petit four type nibbles she’d bought in, was Sharon done for the night. The meal, the company and the day had been a great success and something I will remember as a birthday treat for a long, long time.

In the next post I will wrap up Hellifield and move on to my final day of surprises – Sunday 8th December. b.t.w. I lied about the pics. …..

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