A Day Out

Sometimes it’s fun to get out of the city and explore. So I joined a few friends and visited a couple of new places. Neither is on the beaten path. My favorite kind of adventures. It wasn’t a flashy day. But it was filled with learning new things and even making new friends.

We went down south of Valencia towards Alicante. All the way to the town of Moixent, and then up on a hidden hilltop to a site that dates back to the 4th century before Christ. La Bastidas de les Acusses was a thriving town Of 800 (large for the time) overlooking an idyllic valley with a lake at the bottom, that has since dried up and is now covered in vineyards. The town was a walled city of Iberians who traded with both the Greeks and Phoenicians – whose imported technology brought the Iberians from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. And then in one year they vanished without a trace. They still don’t know why.

The site was discovered in 1909 and has been under one excavation or another since the 1920’s. Much of the town is visible due to the walls ringing the town. And the walls for each of the buildings that made up both commercial and residential buildings of the town. They’ve done a great job of recreating an Iron Age home, complete with the storage vessels, sleeping platforms, and milling stones from the period – back then the mills came from from Morroco.

I’m always impressed by how Spain has been a cross roads for so many cultures over the millennia, through trade, war and migrations. It seems to have absorbed what it needed and discarded what it did not. I especially loved the demonstration of ancient lock mechanism. Not so different than we have today.

Then we made our way to a nearby winery. Cellar del Roure is a boutique winery in the foot of the hills. At the middle of the 19th century a wine blight from American destroyed nearly all the grapes throughout Europe. Spain was one of the last to be infected by the bugs that destroyed France’s entire crops. But by the time the area we visited was effected, a solution had been determined and the Spanish vines were saved.

In the latter half of the 20th century, most Spanish wineries had abandoned the Spanish varieties – those unique to the area – and converted all their grapes to what the world wine market was clambering for. Cabernet, Savignon Blanc, Surahs. But Cellar del Roure went a different way. They built their vineyards and reputation on the old vines. They went looking for them and discovered them in old forgotten vineyards and abandoned fields. Grapes like Bobal and Albarino, and more uniques to Spain. And then in 2006 they moved to their current location and discovered something that would change how they made their wine going forward.

In the bottom of an old building on the site, they opened a sealed door and found the caves where wine had been aged in tinajas (terra cotta jars) since as far back as 1614. While they still use the French white oak barrels for some of their wines, the majority are now aged in this traditional vessel, buried deep in the ground to slow the fermentation & aging in the cool underground temperatures – even in a hot Spanish summer. The result is more fruity and less oaky. Better for me.

In the photos you can see the tinajas – both buried and some of the new ones that are being stored in the warehouse waiting to be buried in a new cave, The method for filling the buried vessels is ingenious. It’s a series of aquaducts (‘wine-a-ducts’) that funnel the juice from the crushed grapes into the vessels to facilitate fermentation and aging. And the vents in the caves have chimneys that jut out of the ground on the surface.

Venting the cave

The wine is thoroughly drinkable and the people who make it remind me of those I knew living in Napa and Sonoma in the early 90’s. No flash. Just farmers looking to make ambrosia without the glitz and polish that is experienced there today. We were in Napa a few years ago. I didn’t like the change and hope that this need for a sanitized Disneyland type experience never makes it to these little Spanish wineries.

It was a fun day out and lunch at a local restaurant was just right with its simple fare of lentil soup and roasted rosemary chicken with potatoes. The best days are those where the fuss is at a minimum and the friends are at a maximum.

And Just in time too. Starting tomorrow is Semana Santa. Holy Week! Everyone is off work and the processions will be thick on the ground. Iโ€™ll be posting some sights and sounds from the run up to Easter. Stay tuned for that.

Interactive Tapas

Last evening was all about Tapas! I”m not an expert on Spanish food and since we’re surrounded by tapas everywhere, it was time to get educated. Our friends, Nick and Tatiana, organized the evening for us all.ย  The chef at Ahuevos, Jose’ Simon, and his lovely wife hosted a night of ‘Interactive Tapas’. It was basically like a Tapas Nursery School for those that are Spanishly challenged and yet love yummy food.

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My friend, Pete and Ryan joined the group. They just moved here from Seattle a month ago, and they are also in the infancy stages of learning about everything Valencia has to offer and widening their circle of friends. This was a great opportunity to do both and we had alot of fun.

We started out learning to make Sangria. It’s a pretty simple recipe and was actually the signature drink at our wedding all those years ago. We made it in buckets for all our guests (but we served it in lovely glass wine jars). And I screwed up and instead of putting sugar in them, I grabbed a salt container and our first batches were so bad they’re legendary amongst our friends. My friend Curt laughs every time he tells that story.

Well, if I had used the recipe I learned last evening, I wouldn’t have had that problem because you make a simple syrup in advance and pour that into the mixture. It dissolves faster and helps to masurate the fruit quicker. And we were very pleased with our results. Ryan did all the chopping, Pete did all the selecting of ingredients. And Me? Well, I supervised from afar – or not at all and took some notes.

We also learned how to make seasoned olives of our own creation, and the different types of olives for eating. Jose’ is from Leon and likes a different type of spice than his wife, who is from Valencia. At our table, we liked a lot of the pink pepper, juniper berries, garlic, red pepper, bay leaf and cloves. Jose’ thoroughly approved of our choices. They were so good and like any good cooking class, we got to take some home so in two weeks I’ll let you know how they turned out.

Then it was on to the Aioli. I’ve made it before with just garlic, salt and olive oil. But I learned some new things last night. Jose’ uses an egg yoke in his (I couldn’t eat it) and he doesn’t use olive oil, but sunflower oil. He says that the olive oil in Aioli causes it to break. I did the mixing and the pounding of the garlic and then the egg separation. Even though I can’t eat them, I still know how to separate egg yokes and work a mortar and pestle, for goodness stake.

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Finally, we finished off the night with some horchata ice cream. I’ve been clear on my thoughts about horchata in the past, but this was different. It was wonderful! and with a little dark chocolate sauce it was heavenly. Everyone else got a slice of bread under theirs. It was made from day old bread that they soaked in booze and did some other stuff to, but I didn’t pay that much attention because I can’t eat the bread and I was took enamored of my new found love of horchata ice cream.

It was a fun night and we ended it with drinking from a ‘botijo’. It’s a jug that usually contains wine or water. Last night, the one they offered contained water. Pete braved drinking from it and was rewarded, like me, with water down the front. Ryan drank from it like a Spanish fisherman who has never drank from another vessel other than a botijo, in his entire life. He spilled not a drop.

After our tapas night we are looking forward to learning more Spanish cooking. Jose’ is organizing something out on the farm in Alboraya where they grow the food for their restaurant. I’m really looking forward to cooking food in the field where it’s grown. And Tati is looking to organize a trip back out to Manisis – think Fiesta de la Ceramica – where we can learn how to make a Botijo of our own and perhaps I can sign up for a ceramics course.

A great evening with good friend, old and new, good food and the promise of more to come. It doesn’t get better than that!

 

 

 

In the Neighborhood

This morning, after a coffee, we decided to head out and run some errands. But first we stopped off and visited a local tower that used to be the gate tower for the old city of Valencia. If people wanted to enter the town, they had to pass through one of the 12 gates that were built into the walls surrounding the city, first. But this was the main entrance to the city as the road to Barcelona and the road to the surrounding mountains terminated at the gate.

Torres de Serranos

The tower is called Torres de Serranos and it dates back to 1392, when they started construction, and completed it in 1398. The rest of the city walls and towers were torn down in the 19th century but because Torres de Serranos, and a couple of others were used as prisons at the time, they were saved from the demolition.

The opening ceremony for Fallas is conducted on a platform in front of the tower every February. So it is kind of an iconic and beloved landmark now.ย  And with the 100’s of school children converging on it as we were finishing our 2 Euro self-guided tour, it is clear that it continues to have importance in the educational history of the area.

The views from the many levels are stunning. And I continued to be amazed at how these structures were built with no real technology – as we have today. No machinery. It’s clear why tradesmen were so highly prized back then. Stone masons and their knowledge passed from one generation to another. The precision for setting stone that last for more than 600 years is awe-inspiring.

The stairs throughout the tower have been largely left as they were. Hand rails are optional – even today. One thing we’ve noticed in some of our castle crawling is that the Spanish don’t have the same need to bubble wrap everything that Americans do. The stairs are treacherous – but, Oh well. The ratio of school children to adults is about 25 to 1. The attitude being ‘Don’t jump or you’ll die’. Basically, just have some common sense. We don’t take that tack back home. There would be wavers and a lot of modifications for ensuring safety would be virtually guaranteed.

Another thing we noticed about gathering clubs, whether its school children, groups of adults in the park or just friends, people here gather in circles a lot and hold hands before undertaking something. We don’t have any insight into why but it’s clearly a cultural thing. You don’t see this in the US. Especially with adults. We never hold hands with anyone we’re not dating, especially if they’re the same sex. Maybe it’s our puritanical grounding, but here they communicate by connecting everyone physically and encouraging people to look each other in the face, and talking. Imagine – looking at other people in your group. And they aren’t praying, so it’s not religious. I would be very interested to understand how this started and what this seemingly pervasive ritual is all about.

But it must work, because none of the children we saw, after their circle ritual in the square below, were out of control or jumping on the ramparts waiting to be scolded by an adult chaperone. Unheard of.

So far, we’re loving how we can step out our door into a bit of history while just walking to the Decathalon to return a couple of shirts. It seems strange but we’ve never incorporated a walk through a historical site into a quick shopping trip before. But considering where we live now, I think it’s inevitable going forward. And it’s exactly where we want to be.