Courgette & Moody Sky

…just messing 🙂

Corgette / Calabacín

Courgette / Calabacín

Sierra de Cabo de Gata

Sierra de Cabo de Gata

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The Tapas Culture

I guess to many people who haven’t experienced “proper” tapas, the concept is a little strange. I meet lots of people in San José on holiday who have no idea how it works. Tapas bars in London and I guess other places outside Spain don’t operate in the same way for example in a London tapas bar, you would buy a drink and then the tapas separately. In my lovely little village, there are some great tapas bars and slightly further afield in Almería, there are the best tapas bars I’ve ever been to and the concept is thus… you buy an alcoholic drink, mosto (grape juice) or a non-alcoholic beer and the tapas comes with it… free, yes that’s right FREE. The tapas are usually about two to three bites big but after maybe three drinks, you’ve had a nice light sized meal and a great night out.

Chorizo al Infierno - I like to toast my bread :-)

Chorizo al Infierno – I like to toast my bread!

Many of the bars pride themselves on their house specialites as well as the more traditional tapas such as carné con tomate (meat with tomato sauce), patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) and pincho moruno (spiced chicken mini-kebab). Such specialities include my favourite chorizo al infierno (chorizo from hell) – a small spicy sausage served on fire like a sambuca would be, raxos (a Galician style tapas) – pork fillet (lomo) in a savoury sauce, choto al ajillo (goat in spicy garlic sauce) etc.

Seafood Tapas

Seafood Tapas

Some bars serve very upmarket tapas but NOT at upmarket prices! It’s very rare to pay more than €2.75 and for that you’ll get a very good quality glass of wine… well actually, you’d be hard pressed to find a wine in a Spanish bar that isn’t a good quality 🙂 There are also a number of bars that specialise in vegetarian and vegan tapas e.g., cherigans (a bit like crisp breads with various toppings), tortilla de patatas (potato omlette), pimientos rellenos (stuffed peppers) so there is indeed something for everybody.

The word “tapas” is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover” and according to one legend, the tapas tradition began when king Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes of food between meals. After regaining his health, the king ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine to customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or “tapa”.

Huevo a la Plancha

Huevo a la Plancha

The most popular history of tapas is that the original tapas were the slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalucia used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over and spoiling the sherry. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, both of which are salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry thus increasing their alcohol sales. Tapas has evolved through Spanish history by incorporating ingredients and influences from many different cultures and countries.

A big thank you to Amber McClean for providing the photographs, I realised after starting this article that I actually have NO photographs of food!

Carnaval, San José

Of all the fiestas that take place in Spain throughout the year,  there is nothing wilder than the Carnival (Carnaval) celebrations in late February. The week leading up to Lent is a time for wild partying in some parts of Spain when the country plays host to Europe’s biggest and best Carnival festivals.

There are a few speculations on the origins of Carnival in Spain. Most popularly, it is believed the term Carnival derives from the words “farewell to the flesh,” a reference to the excesses that led up to the sombre Lent. Some suspect Carnival is derived from the Roman solstice festival, the Saturnalia, where participants indulged in much drinking and dancing. Saturnalia is believed to have had the first parade floats, called the ‘carrus navalis’. With these pagan roots, its easy to see why the dictator General Franco banned them for forty years!

Carnival in Spain is celebrated nationwide though the most raucous festivities are in the Canary Islands, Cadiz and Sitges. While each town has its own unique flavour of celebration, they all have a devotion to having a good time. In these main destinations during Carnival it seems that no one sleeps as the drinking and dancing go from dusk until dawn. You’ll see extravagant costumes and people in masks everywhere, and in any of Spain’s Carnivals, you’ll have a lot more fun participating in the masquerading than you will just watching. San José, like most other towns, played host to its own carnival this weekend gone, probably not on the same scale as other major cities but colourful and vibrant none-the-less.

Slideshow of the daytime, setting up the floats and getting ready to party.

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Almería

I love living in the province of Almería and I think this is largely due to the diverse nature of the environment however, I’m never sure what to make of the city. Amber & I had decided to spend some time away from San José this weekend and although only a short distance away, we decided to stay in Almería. During the first few hours of walking around, I wanted to be elsewhere – I really couldn’t see a reason to like the place but shortly after this initial feeling, there is a different story to tell.

Valentine's Day Dummies

Valentine's Day Dummies

Almería has some truly amazing tapas bars and bars in general and the people in Almería are some of the most friendliest I’ve ever met. At night, the city comes alive with the bustling of people hopping from one bar to another and enjoying a wide variety of tapas specialities that each bar offers. We enjoyed an amazing night of Flamenco in a bar that you might of ordinarily walked by; it was an unassuming but fairly full bar – there were a few guys standing around outside, one with a guitar strapped to his back and one with a cajon in his hand who told me that they were playing there. So in we went and what an amazing evening we had. For a more detailed account of the Flamenco plus a few movie clips, please click here.

Subsequently the next day wandering around the city I had a better feeling in my bones and rather than the “wanting to be anywhere else’ feeling I had yesterday, I was much more open to being there and enjoyed it greatly, though it was pretty cold!!!

So, after a quick and simple breakfast, we headed to the fantastic Centro Andalauz de la Fotografía to take in two wonderful exhibitions one by Robert Frank and one by Simon Norfolk, who I hadn’t heard of. The Simon Norfolk exhibition was stunning and I recommend it highly. After the photography centre and a little wandering around, we had lunch in an amazing Arabesque restaurant called Tetería Almedina where we also had some very fragrant teas the day before.

Padlocks

Padlocks

The rest of the day was spent wandering around and taking photographs with a brief stop at the Museo de Almería, that is the fantastic archaeology museum on the Rd. de Ronda. As most readers will probably know, I love abstract photography and so I’m afraid to say that my studies of ram-shackled buildings and derelict building-sites might not be the best advert for the City of Almería but I would say miss it at your peril.

Fountains, Avenida Federico Garcia Lorca

Fountains, Avenida Federico Garcia Lorca

Move over Worrall-Thompson

Celebrity chef Antony Worrall-Thompson may know a thing or two about cooking steaks and indeed, his Windsor Grill restaurant offers (mostly) good food at a price… but watch out, the local pub is sneaking up behind and is setting new standards in cuisine.

Situated in the picturesque Buckinghamshire village of Taplow not far from Windsor, is former spit & sawdust pub The Oak & Saw. This establishment was taken over by Karen & Ian about five years ago and what a great job they have done in transforming it into the “foodies” paradise we now behold. Whether you are just dropping in for a quick drink or are planning to have a meal, you can always expect a warm and friendly welcome and a place where you can relax and get away from the stresses and strains of daily life.

The food is somewhere between traditional English and modern European, but there’s no way you can pigeon-hole it. My personal favourite is the fillet steak, cooked to perfection and exactly to your requirements by their in-house chef affectionately known as Boris. The food at The Oak & Saw is unpretentious, reasonably priced, very high quality and is easily streets ahead of other restaurants, including AWT’s Windsor Grill.

But what of the pub? The Oak & Saw carries a good selection of real ales, lagers and wines and I find the Argentinian Malbec a perfect accompaniment to my steak. The staff are very accommodating and helpful; if you want to vary your meal that’s never a problem and it’s always served with a smile by the bubbly Tracey.

Summing up,  The Oak & Saw is one of the most under-stated treasures of the Thames Valley and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

So all you regular readers of my blog must be thinking, “where’s the photography element in this post?” Well, it’s this – I’m giving one of my favourite eateries some “exposure”!!

<groan>

The resurection

…well no-one can be as puzzled as me! After a few weeks in the camera case and me thinking that’s the end, my camera shows signs of life! I haven’t yet used it so I guess that will be the acid test. We shall be going to Alpujarras on a wine tasting trip in a few days as part of Amber’s birthday celebration and will bring all cameras so let’s see… watch this space, I’m excited are you? 🙂