Turning 40 in Rome

Last week I turned 40.  It wasn’t awful.  Partly because, well, that’s how old I am, and partly because I did so in Rome.  It took the edge off… 😉

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San Sebastian – Pinxtos and Squid Trainera

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Our main reason for going to go to San Sebastian this summer was the food.  We wanted to bar hop and drink the traditional basque white wine, txakoli, all the while sampling lots of different pintxos.  Pintxos are small portions of food – what we outside of Spain usually call tapas.  Turns out tapas in Spain come “free” with food  whereas pintxos are paid for, portion by portion.  Pintxos are often (but certainly not always) more refined or elaborate than tapas too.

So during our 10 days in San Sebastian we walked and cycled and explored the city, and in the evenings we headed out to sample the town’s pintxos.  Turns out finding the best food and navigating the bars was a skill to be learnt.  The bars are busy and noisy and were a little intimidating at first.  In our first pinxtos bar on our first day, I managed to steal food from another customer’s plate and had to be told to give it back.   Mortifying, yes, but at least I could then drop any pretence of knowing what I was doing!

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If you’re heading to San Sebastian, these are our tips on making the most of the pintxos…

  • Order the hot pinxtos (pintxos calientes).  These are fresher and often more interesting.  Outside of the old town this menu will only be in Spanish and/or Basque.  We relied on my Spanish – I know maybe 50 words and most are food related – and some English speaking bar staff but we met a Norwegian couple who were using the Microsoft Translator App and it worked a treat – they just took a picture of the menu and the app translated the words it could.  The Apple version was a bit of a faff, however, so we gave up on it.
  • Head out of the old town sometimes.  There are lots of good pinxtos bars in the old town but there’s plenty to discover outside of this area too.  Three streets we liked to visit were San Martzial Kalea just behind La Concha beach; the area around De Cataluña Plaza  in Gros; and the streets De Felipe IV Hiribidea and Isabel II.a Etorb . up near the Anoeta stadium.
  • Learn a little Spanish as well as the Basque words for Hello and Thank you.  You’ll have no problems using English in the old town but heading away from the touristy area there are far less English speakers.
  • Most bars run a tab where you pay for your food and drink when you are ready to move on.  Make sure you show the bar staff what you are taking and keep a mental note too.
  • Raciones are larger portions of food.  Do not order four of these at once.  It’s a lot of food.  Trust me, I know.
  • Many bars tended to stop serving food around 11pm.  Cold pinxtos were available until midnight/1am.
  • We booked a pinxtos tour for our second night through San Sebastian Pintxos Tours.  It was quite pricey but absolutely worth it in the end.  Our guide was charming and informative and the experience gave us the confidence to make even more of the food scene in San Sebastian.

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One of our favourite bars was Mesón Martín.  The gambas rebozadas (battered prawns) were outstanding as was the squid trainera.  A trainera is a traditional Basque boat but the term is also used to describe a slice of baguette topped with seafood.  The following was a trainera I returned to order again and again then I came home and made it so I could continue eating it some more.  It’s very easy to put together and really great BBQ food.

 

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Squid Trainera

Garlic infused olive oil  (Shop bought or simply slice up a whole head of garlic and add to 250 extra virgin olive oil – heat very gently until the garlic starts to cook and the oil becomes fragrant – let cool and store in the fridge for up to a month)

2 cm wide slices of baguette

Slice of jamon or other thinly sliced cured meat

1 large prawn per trainera

1 small squid per trainera 

Parsley and salt to serve

  • Pat dry the squid and prawns and rub with oil.  Cook over BBQ coals or under a hot grill for 4 – 6 minutes until the prawns are pink and the squid is lightly coloured/blistered.
  • Toast the bread and brush with garlic oil.  Add a slice of jamon, a squid and a prawn.  Drizzle with more garlic oil and spinkle with salt flakes and parsley.

 

 

 

Nashville Hot Chicken

We fell in love with Nashville last summer.  Oddly, it was David’s choice of destination on the trip.  I’m the country music fan but he was the one that suggested it and continued pushing for a visit, even though it was out of our way.  So visit we did and we loved it.

Nashville’s a good looking, laidback town with great food, super friendly folk and an unbelievable music scene.   The latter may seem like a rather obvious statement but we couldn’t get over just how much good music was available all over the city, all the time.  We’d go back in a shot.

Nashville Hot Chicken is a must-eat when you visit.  Moist fried chicken with a blow-your-head-off coating placed on a slice of white bread and served with pickles.  I knew I had to learn to make it when I returned and that’s exactly what I’ve done.  My waistline may never recover.  😉

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Nashville Hot Chicken 

Serves 4

8 chicken legs and thighs 

200ml tabasco sauce

2 tblspn brown sugar

Plain flour

1 litre vegetable oil

1 tblspn chilli flakes

2 tblspn cayenne pepper

1 tspn smoked paprika

1 tspn garlic powder

1/2 tspn cumin powder

1-2 slices of white bread per person

Dill pickles

  • The day before you eat, make the brine.  Add the sugar, tabasco and two heaped tablespoons of salt to 1.5 litres of water.  Heat gently on the stove until the sugar and salt have dissolved.  Let cool.  Once completely cool, add the chicken, ensuring it’s completely submerged.  Pop in the fridge over night.
  • For the hot oil coating:  Add 100 ml of oil to a small frying pan.  Stir in the chilli flakes, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika and cumin along with a teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of pepper.   Heat gently until the oil warms up and the spices combine – do not over heat, you just want the oil to become aromatic.  Set aside.
  • Remove chicken from the brine and pat dry with kitchen roll.    Warm an oven to 50oC.  Tip plain flour into a shallow bowl and season well with salt and pepper.  Heat the rest of the vegetable oil in a large pan (it should be about 3″ deep) until 175oC.  Cook three pieces of chicken at a time by dredging them in the seasoned flour, shaking then placing in the oil.  The chicken should cook for 10 mins then be turned.  Highly recommend that you read and follow these instructions for perfect fried chicken.  Place cooked chicken on a rack in the warm oven while you cook the rest.
  • Once all the chicken is cooked, gently heat the oil again then brush generously all over the chicken pieces.
  • Serve chicken on slices of plain white bread with plently of dill pickles.  I like to have a small jug of the spiced oil available for those of us who like our hot chicken extra hot.  🙂

 

Floyd, Virginia

This summer we spent three weeks in the States.  I flew over mid-July and taught at the wonderful John C Campbell Folk School then David joined me and we began our road trip from Nashville through the Smokey Mountains then up and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was fabulous.

Since returning I’ve been planning on posting about some of our travel and food experiences.  So let me start here…

One of our favourite stops was towards the end of our trip – Floyd, Virginia.  It’s a tiny town just off the Blue Ridge Parkway known for it’s jamboree.  Every Friday night musicians from the local area and further afield gather in the town to play.  The main event is in the Floyd Country Store where musicians play and folk dance from 7pm until late.  Outside on every street corners bands also play.  The crowd was a mix of musicians and dancers, locals and visitors, young and old. It was an amazing experience and one we’d love to repeat.

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Our accommodation for the night was just outside of Floyd itself. A tiny wee cabin in the woods with an outdoor shower and toilet, it was .  Had we not been flying home the following day, we would have asked to stay an extra night.

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