Back in Time at El Club Allard, Madrid

The time: June, 2013
The place: El Club Allard, a two Michelin starred restaurant in historic Madrid, Spain
The company: Sr. Antonio
The celebration: Departure for America!

Nearly two years ago, we "set sail" for the US to begin our American journey. We had no idea where would we end up, what jobs (or not) we'd be employed with, nor the very state of residency -- our goal was California and we ended up in Colorado, so things can certainly change, and expectations are better left unthought. However, we did know that we needed to give ourselves the proper sendoff with a decadent meal cooked by one of Madrid's top talents, Chef Diego Guerrero. He's since moved on from 13 years at the restaurant to open one of his own, so I'm glad that we could experience before his own departure.

I've heard that the now Executive Chef María Marte, is doing a fabulous job, and since she was by Diego's side for nearly 10 years, much of his legacy and plates live on, now combined with her ingenuity. It is also said that she started cleaning plates at the restaurant in 2003, and now direct a team of 15 masterfully.

Scone con mantequilla verde de ajo | bread starter with green garlic butter. Right on the corner you can see the imprint of the dome of Casa Garallado where El Club Allard is located in Madrid. 

Vietnam: The People of Hoi An, A Photo Essay

Following the sights, and the food of Hoi An, the last installment of this series is dedicated to the people. The day in and day outs of market life in Hoi An, Vietnam. Those that dedicate themselves and their craft, to being there early, helping their follow citizens, and feeding or caring for all who give their patronage.  

A women making the banh xeo (Vietnamese crepes) that I adore. 

Down on the Farm | Huerta La Vega | Gijon, Spain


I'm long overdue on this post, however the story and generosity of the family never grows old. Here's the recount of my visit to Serin, Gijon, Spain with Lauren of Roaming the World.

"Hay que asustarlas" she tells me, "You have to scare them," this apparently is the centuries-old secret of making the world's best Fabada Asturiana, a hearty white bean based stew that takes hours to prepare and includes random shots of cold water to shock the beans - creating the final texture of smooth on the inside and taut on the outside. It also strikes me as the most appropriate catchphrase for our current situation in food politics, food sovereignty and public health. As I stroll through the mushy, recently rained-on, and about to-be-rained-on-again-grass, I ponder why there are not more farms and farmers dedicated to sustainable practices. How many more incidents of salmonella in our spinach bags, unplanned horse meat in microwavable TV dinners, cases of child obesity, arsenic laced rice and chicken, or E-210 agents are we willing to withstand, before the consumer says enough is enough. Fortunately, the motto of Huerta La Vega is to kill them with kindness, not to scare us, but to offer fairly and sustainable grown and sold produce with 100% transparency. And that's exactly the hospitality and image they gave us when we were invited to their farmland in the foggy midst of green Asturian fields.

California Coastin' | Half Moon Bay


Within the travel world, and likely, countless Top Ten HuffPo lists, driving along Northern California's coast is said to be the ultimate bucket list item. The drive, or simply the fact of being in that geographic location, gives way to some of the most stoic cliffs and stunning scenery on the continent. Sometimes it's a case of "you'd have to see it to believe it." The power that resides within these mountainous sandstone mammoths, transport you, even for a gliff, of being in another time, another place in history - ironically just over the hills, the echoes and calls of Silicon Valley and San Francisco's eminent fog await. Although, for a lazy afternoon, or a pensive weekend, you can be one with nature - to build your camino, to witness your footsteps imprint in the sand.

A Day in the Life: Playa del Carmen, Mexico


Now that Denver is in the middle of winter and San Francisco is experiencing fog - shocking! - and light rain, it's not far-fetched to envision the warm, tropical and inviting Yucatan Peninsula coastline of Mexico. My previous run-ins with this country had only been through a 3-day, 2-night trip to Rosarito - which included much to my chagrin (as I now reflect as a responsible adult), a tepid swimming pool, $1 street tacos and Pacifico beers, and an unnamed strip club. I was certainly a different kind of traveller then - not that that was habit - however, Mexico for myself and I believe many of its neighbors to the north, existed/exists as a means to escape their own personal hell, to vacate the monotony of their daily lives and drink up their all-inclusive margarita with as much fury as physically possible in a three day trip to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Baja or the like. 

So when I conjured up the idea of stopping in Mexico on my way to the States from Spain, I was a bit hesitant how it would all unfold - obviously escaping the Spanish crisis left productivity, viable income and "life security" top of mind. In the end, it was decided that a 2 hour layover wouldn't cut it, that there really wasn't a rush to rent an apartment, job hunt and grocery shop in the US. Slow travel was the answer, the only means to get to know our surroundings, experience the local culture and climate, and actually give-back to the community. We attempt this on nearly every trip that we take these days; we've tired of the guide books, most of the sights and really crave the connection that develops when you call a place home. To do this, it would require us to stay in Playa del Carmen, Mexico for a month - no complaints there. We chose Playa - as it's affectionately called - because it was off-the-beaten path of Cancun travelers, while still quite well connected to transportation services, internet and necessities, and we had been told by other long-term travelers Sarah Somewhere and Never Ending Voyage that it was a plausible economic choice as well as maintaining its Yucatan charm. 

So now that 6 months have passed, and I've more or less settled into a routine in the US, and am living out a slightly different "life story," I'd like to reflect on this trip for you, so that you'll have a better understanding of what it's like to take in a place at a sea turtle's pace. 

7am: Wake-up more or less when the sun shines through our rented apartment windows and start the day with a smoothie.

Following my terrible hostel choice the first two nights, we got very lucky with accommodation, as we encountered our landlord while at an internet cafe - we cut back on costs by staying 30 blocks from the beach (about a half hour walk), but that enabled us to live closer to locals and experience the elements that would be otherwise missed by resort goers; such as the soft buzz of the brass bell from the ice cream or tamales cart, water delivery, birds outside our window acting as an alarm or warning of an approaching storm, and the chattering of the elderly couple downstairs as she hung the laundry in the patio. The fruit offerings in this part of the world seem abundant and affordable - the irony is that the state on a whole consumes a large portion of soft drinks and lard. The other irony is that you realize how much of their vegetables and fruit make it up to the US and Canada, and are then sold at a 200-500% increase. I suggest you read a little closer where your avocados, limes, and berries come from next time - you might be surprised just how dependent on Mexico other countries really are, and perhaps that perspective will in turn affect race relations, or simply educate others. 

Gloriously ripe and delicious papaya, the queen of Mexican produce. 

2013, Year in review, or is it?

Holy moly this year flew by - me being late for my own year in review post is a sure sign of that. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that the Pinterest board I started for 2013 goals, sits in the same position; it included starting a small batch baking company, writing a novel, and going to Ethiopia - well there's always this year.

It's been a year filled with movement, in the literal form, moving from place to place to now where we find ourselves, Denver. Denver you may ask? "Ni sé donde coño está" "I don't even have the slightest clue where that is." It's in Colorado, at exactly one mile above sea level (5,280 ft), and precisely yesterday it was snowing. On warmer, sunnier days - which thankfully are commonly interspersed between the cold days - , it looks something like the below photos. It's quite beautiful and the people that we've met thus far absolutely love living here, they're some of the proudest residents I've ever come across, and seem utterly tickled to be in a state that offers skiing, hiking, and a ton of other outdoors sports, some of them 20 minutes from the downtown metropolis. We're still getting our bearings, and neither of us knows just for how long we'll be here (that nomadic tendency is a real bitch), but trying to make the most of it. We still oscillate between the reality of "building a life" in an actually place where our mail arrives daily, that we can call our own, with the whispering winds of the wild and the lure of unknown lands and experiences. It's culture shock for the both of us, but more profoundly I think we have both come to the staggering conclusion that we've changed, not necessarily our surroundings. Antonio has never lived in the US, and I've been nearly four years abroad, shuffled between Spain, travel and visa trips to the embassy. Frankly, it's a bit of the elephant in the room, our love or need for travel, and as we try to "normalize" - finding work, making new friends, shopping for clearly labeled Fair Trade products, and sleeping in a queen sized bed - we feel like we are betraying ourselves, conforming to a normality that doesn't fit us any longer. But who am I to say? I believe the most important - and difficult - part of 2014 will be completely surrendering to the situation we find ourselves in, quieting the white noise within our minds, embracing the opportunities, nuances and certainties (because let's face it, we're in a privileged situation here), and leaving the wide open road with no destination for a moment in time when we're 110% ready to step into that proverbial vehicle.

I invite you to follow along as perhaps you have for the last three years; I'll do the best I can to stay honest, true and consistent, but go easy on me, life is taking a few new turns as of late.

Happy New Year to you!

Coffee and Community: La Bicicleta Cafe Madrid


I'm going to tell you a somewhat depressing story. But alas, hold out for the end because there is indeed a happy ending.

I imagine what occurred to me, has also occurred to many expats, travelers or loners who find themselves dumped into the holiday season without a family to call their own in their adopted land. Getting your bearings - creating those friend circles - can be difficult those first few months once you've made the choice to move, work, study, or travel abroad, and there is probably nothing more nerve-wracking or awkward than trying to invite yourself to someone else's holiday party or vacation house, even though you know you'll be essentially - or what may feel like - the only person left in your city come the week all the children are let out for winter vacation.

I myself, know this feeling all too well. I arrived to Spain in 2009 to work as an English teacher just days before Thanksgiving, so it was quite evident to me that I'd spend that glorified Thursday in a bus somewhere arriving to my new destination. A few quick weeks following that, and barely two weeks into my job, and we were off for a long winter break; I had made few networks, my new roommates were going back to their respective countries (France and the UK), leaving me - an American 9,000 miles from her last home - a bit SOL. This was by no means pre-Internet, but I dare to say pre-Meetup Spain, and certainly for a smaller metropolitan area like Valencia a insurmountable obstacle in my social calendar. There was a lot to see, I took long walks through the city, admiring the meticulously placed lights hanging from old gas lamps, observed the holy belén (nativity scene) in the immaculately reverent cathedral, drowned myself in hot cafes con leche - one of my first fluent sentences in the language "dame un café con leche por favor" - and meandered through covered markets offering their abundance of marzipan, chorizo, polverones (a Spanish variation of shortbread treats) and castañas (chestnuts). Although, that came to a more or less abrupt stop when the streets emptied, the families retreated to their living rooms, and even it seems the trash collectors stopped working, as well as signs on storefronts begun to surface of "cerrada por vacaciones."

Rather than dancing sugar plum fairies circling my thoughts, I had flashes of 'The Christmas Story' and a Chinese Christmas, a lacquered roasted duck- if I was lucky - but certainly dumplings of some sort.

And I wasn't far from the truth. On Christmas day I just had to get out, I had to remove myself from watching movies, patiently watching Skype away messages, and the idea of cooking for one.

So I ended up at a Chinese bar/cafeteria a few blocks from my apartment. It occurred to me to go to an Irish pub (aren't they always open?), but the fear of facing identical faces of another generation stereotypically nursing their holiday wounds with alcohol, disturbed me. The streets were desolate, not even a florescent open sign lit the restaurant, but it was clear it was the only commercial shop on the street not observing the holiday. I suppose I found refuge in the idea that they were also immigrants, that neither of us spoke the language correctly, fluidly, and that for a short period I'd commingle with my species - without words - on a day that eerily reminded me that I had chosen this path of solitude, that I better get used to being by my lonesome and that Heinekens taste the same everywhere. There were dumplings, however.

The story ends there, it wasn't dramatic, OK maybe I shed a few tears onslaught by my experience during the romantic comedy I watched later that evening, but I soon found colleagues, friends, a companion and never spent another holiday in Spain alone. But I know that sensation and wish to implore that all of those "loners" this holiday season, seek communal spaces, light-hearted open gatherings.

In Madrid, Spain's capital, there almost isn't a more idyllic setting than La Bicicleta Cafe, which besides from serving amazing coffee from my favorite Barcelona coffee shop Cafes El Magnifico, exudes collaboration, community and the future.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,

When the sun hits Madrid just right.