a big tapsi

20598957370_af65ae7d89_bOn the island, during the summers, YiaYia (my paternal grandmother) would always have a big tapsi (pan) of something stewing, braising or simmering over the low flame of her gas stove. Maybe it was gemista (stuffed vegetables) or faki (braised lentils) or gigantes (tomato-ey broad beans). Dozens of dishes from that stove live in my memory and heart and hands.

Hers is the epitome of peasant cooking, the kind that cross-cuts the villages that dot the southern European continent, and especially my Greek island home. Cook something, eat a little today, pack it away, then eat a bit more tomorrow. Stretch that dinner with some good bread and feta, and serve the next day’s over rice pilaf, then eat the dregs cold from the fridge with horta (braised dandelion greens) doused in as much lemon juice and olive oil and flaky salt as you can muster.

These endless dishes, when I was a girl, were an oddity. Here: the midday meal, a procession of half-full pans parading from the fridge, accompanied by whatever new addition graced the stove that day. Always, the bits and bobs matched with a big horiatiki (village salad — never lettuce!) and bowls of olives and a slab of feta and a jug of hyper-peppery olive oil that my Uncle Kleanthe pressed at his grove on the mainland. Hunks of bread dotted the flowered vinyl tablecloth wherever they landed. We’d tuck in — a dozen different plates for as many people — a choose-your-own-adventure sort of lunch.

This summer, my dad has sent a few snippets of these everlasting meals. He’s a boy back on the island at his family table — the yiouvetsi (beef and orzo, scented with cinnamon and clove) and spanakopitas (spinach pies) and bamiyes (stewed okra) of his childhood coming forth from the kitchen, by his mother’s loving hands. It’s my long-distance taste of faraway summer afternoons and a reminder of how I want to feed myself; to feed my family.

Grown and responsible for my own cooking, I’ve come to appreciate YiaYia’s sourdough starter approach to the daily meal, the style of cooking my ancestral islanders embrace as quotidien. Austin and I love to cook for now and for our future selves, dreaming up what dinners will become leftovers, what we will make tomorrow into something new. I’m sometimes weary of people who unequivocally dislike leftovers, especially as I consider all the foods so much tastier tomorrow — tomato-based dishes and long braises and stews and soups… food that rests and evolves into something greater.

Beyond lunch and dinner, this is how we may choose to live: piecing together the already-good bits to make something changed and more delicious. It’s the principle that underlines resoling old shoes and bringing together disparate friends for a communal dinner and reshaping a tradition. Life is tastier when you take the best bits from today and carry them re-imagined into tomorrow. We too are better as we evolve, come together and apart, and are reinvented… like at the island table.

Related

A guide to uncomplicated meal planning for two

Choosing and using a farmshare (CSA) service

Three plum cakes (and a plum bbq sauce!)

Two perfect summer fruit desserts

My favourite way to use garlic scapes

An archive of meals from the Lovey Kitchen

See what we’re cooking this week

for the love of summer red fruits

blackberry-tarragon galette recipe on Some Infinite ThingMy fleeting love affairs with fruits and vegetables are well known. I proclaim loudly that this here season is the best season ever, over and again, hyperbole be damned.

Red fruit season has arrived in Ontario, to my loud acclaim. First with tiny gem strawberries… then raspberries… then sweet cherries as big as walnuts… and now sour cherries. Soon we’ll have plums and blackberries and currants. It’s a good time of year.

When red fruit arrives, my reluctant inner baker comes forth to take advantage of this abundance. Below are two gorgeous, flexible recipes for whatever fruits you have on hand — swap in 1:1 whatever tart-sweet fruit you fancy and prepare to have your creations devoured.

sour cherry buttermilk crumble cake on Some Infinite Thing

Sour cherry and vanilla bean buttermilk cake with brown butter crumble

Makes one 9×9-inch square cake, about 2 inches high. Cooking time: 1 hour. 

Sour cherries (also labeled as Montmorency cherries) are my kryptonite: in galettes, tarts, milkshakes, cakes, sauces, jams… they’re the perfect foil of sour and sweet, like nature’s sour patch kid.

I love sour cherries most in a tender buttermilk-based cake that comes together in a snap. I’ve made this recipe through the years, riffing on a classic Lottie + Doof recipe, who riffed on a Martha Stewart recipe. It’s equally fantastic with red currants, plums or similarly piquant fruit that can stand up to its sweet batter and crumble topping.

Ingredients

For the crumble

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 c allpurpose flour
  • 1/4c granulated sugar
  • 1/4c packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp fine kosher/sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

For the batter

  • 1.5 c allpurpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine kosher/sea salt
  • 1 stick (8 Tbsp, ~100g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, large
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, or scraped insides of 1 bean
  • 1/4 c buttermilk
  • 2 c sour cherries, pitted (or other sour fruit: rhubarb, red currants, diced plums)

Method

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the crumble: In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine into a sand-like crumble. Reserve to side.

Make the batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a stand mixer using a paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar until fluffy and pale yellow. Incorporate eggs and vanilla. Incorporate flour mixture and buttermilk, in alternate additions, scraping down sides of the bowl as you go. The batter will be paste like and smooth.

Assemble the cake: Spread batter into a parchment-lined 9×9-inch square pan. Top evenly with cherries. Top evenly with reserved crumble mixture.

Bake the cake: On the middle rack, for about 1 hour, until a pick inserted in the cake’s middle comes out clean. Check the cake after 45 minutes, as ovens vary.

Cool for at least 30 minutes, turn out, slice and serve. This keeps well in the fridge, tightly wrapped in saran.

blackberry-tarragon galette recipe on Some Infinite Thing

Herbed Fruit Galettes

Makes two 10-inch galettes. Cooking time: 30 minutes. 

Galettes are my answer to pie. I don’t like making pies — fussy, unforgiving and less visually impressive than the simple galette (or crostata, if you’re in Italy). This galette recipe riffs on a brilliant Smitten Kitchen creation, substituting sour cream for Deb’s ricotta and adding lemon zest in the tart dough, and intensifying the fruits with fresh herbs. A slice is the perfect vehicle — alongside lots of fresh vanilla ice cream — for consuming as much summer fruit as possible in one bite.

For these galettes, I opted for cherry/rosemary and blackberry/blueberry/tarragon fillings. Here are a few solid fruit/herb pairings:

  • blackberry + tarragon
  • black cherry + rosemary
  • strawberry + basil
  • plum + thyme

Ingredients

For the tart dough

  • 2.5 c allpurpose flour
  • 1 tsp fine kosher/sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2 sticks cold, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 4 Tbsp ice-cold water

For the filling

  • 4 c fruit of your choice (or, 2 cups each of different fruits for each tart)
  • 1 Tbsp herb of your choice, finely chopped
  • 8 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 4 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the glaze

  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp water
  • lashings of turbinado sugar, for a crunchy crust

Method

Make dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and lemon zest. With your fingers, incorporate the butter until the mixture looks sandy. Combine sour cream and 3 Tbsp cold water and add to the flour mixture. Stir to incorporate and knead until a rough ball (don’t overwork the dough). Split into two equal portions, flatten into discs and wrap in cling film. Chill for at least one hour, but ideally overnight.

Make filling: Combine all filling ingredients and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes. This will give the cornstarch time to do its thing.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Assemble galette: On a large floured surface, roll the dough balls into two round-ish shapes. They will be about 15 inches in diameter. Transfer each round to its parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon galette filling into centre of each round, leaving about 3 inches of border. Fold up the corners into a rough shape, pinching the folds lightly to ensure everything is sealed.

Glaze the galette: Whisk egg yolk with water. Brush over crust. Sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.

Bake the galette: On the middle rack, for about 30 minutes, or until beautifully golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes, slice and serve.

This keeps on the counter for a couple days in a container, but the crust will soften slightly. You can reheat the tart in a 200 degree F oven for 15 minutes to re-crisp without compromising the fruit.

Related Resources

A guide to uncomplicated meal planning for two

Choosing and using a farmshare (CSA) service

Three plum cakes (and a plum bbq sauce!)

My favourite way to use garlic scapes

An archive of meals from the Lovey Kitchen

See what we’re cooking this week!

12 airbnb rentals later: 12 things we’ve learned

12 Airbnb tips from insidersAt the time of writing, Austin and I have stayed in Airbnbs in a dozen cities — from Paris to Atlanta to Costa Rica to Amsterdam to Milan to Ocho Rios to everything in between. We’d estimate Airbnb stays make up about half of our travel accommodations, with hotels filling out the rest.

We’ve gotten pretty good at using Airbnb in the past couple years and developed a few hacks, so to speak, through a lot of trial and just as much error. Finding an awesome Airbnb — and the corresponding value for money and charm that come with these properties — is entirely possible if you know where and how to look, and what to avoid.

Below are 12 things we’ve learned that have led us to better Airbnb rentals each time we rent.

16115143570_5427df029c_b Costa Rica Airbnb Rental16300735301_6b437cdc45_b Costa Rica Airbnb Rental

A caveat to begin…

We only ever rent entire apartments/houses — we’ve never ventured into shared space or a private room within a home. The below advice pertains to standalone, private apartment/house rentals.

Cost compare

In some cities, choosing an Airbnb over a hotel will save you a ton of cash — the price differential is just that big. In other cities, the marginal price difference between a hotel and Airbnb of comparable quality is nil. In those cases, we often opt for a hotel.

Hotel prices also fluctuate more than Airbnbs based on seasonality — so in high season, stay in an Airbnb and in low season, splurge for a really nice hotel, which will be price competitive.

We also LOVE Airbnbs for family vacations. As a rule, the more rooms, the cheaper cost per person. When you have a large number of people, suddenly luxurious multi-room Airbnb options become a more affordable option on a per-person basis — as with our Costa Rican house pictured above, which five of us stayed in. As a rule, we would rarely choose a hotel over an Airbnb when more than just Austin and I are travelling.

Decide on a ‘hood

It’s easier to get sucked into a cheap Airbnb rental in a not-so-great area than with a hotel. Hotels just aren’t built in areas away from amenities! So, figure out a few neighbourhoods that interest you in a city BEFORE booking an Airbnb. Failing that, ensure the place you choose is close to good transit options. In Amsterdam, we picked a little cottage off the beaten path in a residential neighborhood that was a great deal — but it was just a 5-minute walk from the central subway line to all the neighbourhoods we wanted to visit, making it worthwhile.

It’s also beneficial to check the transit times and options between the Airbnb and airport and in some cities, the central train station.

Photos will lie

A picture is worth a thousand words, and Airbnb hosts are masters at taking photos to show the best angles and features of their apartments. Just like a hotel, your Airbnb is never going to look better than its pro photos, so consider them closely. Some things to look for:

  • Type of unit: Is this a renter’s actual apartment, or a dedicated short-term rental property? Austin and I have realized we greatly prefer Airbnbs that are dedicated rental properties — we feel uncomfortable staying among someone else’s things. So we suss this out in the photos, looking for tell-tale signs of long-term occupancy — like loaded bookshelves, lots of appliances, desktop computers and in general, greater clutter. We avoid these places.
  • What story do the photos tell? Are there a dozen photos of the surrounding neighbourhood, but only one photo of the kitchen? Do you see rooms from multiple angles or just one selective fish-eye shot? Ideally, you want a large enough variety of photos (think: 20-30) to get a full sense of the space.
  • If there’s no photo of a key amenity, take pause. If a host isn’t showing you a single photo of the bathroom, don’t even bother. It’s missing for a reason.

20598976588_c3fa623d1f_b Prince Edward County Airbnb RentalRead guest comments

Guest comments are a treasure trove. We won’t outright ignore a property because it has few comments, but so many times, the comments section has either assured us a rental is right for us, or turned us off. A few things to look for:

  • Cleanliness: If more than one person questions the cleanliness of a place, don’t consider it. The collective is usually right (and generous) on this front.
  • Perks: Comments are a great way to suss out the intangibles — the awesome hosts who leave a bottle of Champagne, have a personal guide to their favourite places in the neighbourhood, serve a beautiful breakfast (as in the above photo!) or are flexible with checkout times. These little anecdotes often are the deciding factor for us when we’ve shortlisted multiple rental options.
  • Cancellations: Airbnb publicly documents every time a host cancels a stay on a guest and how far in advance. If a host has multiple last-minute cancellations, don’t consider the property. It’s not worth the risk of finding a new place late in your planning when places are booked up. We learned this the hard way in Montreal, where a last-minute host cancellation sent us scrambling to find new digs.

Use a thoughtful eye. While comments matter, they are not the be-all-end-all. One critical comment may not equal a bad host. You may be seeking something entirely different from your stay, or the incident may have been a one-time blip. Consider the critical mass of comments versus an outlier. Also: while we tend to skip rentals without any reviews, there often isn’t much difference between seven and 70 reviews in terms of a global perspective.

Lastly, read between the lines. Most decent people aren’t going to leave outright nasty comments — so reviews can sometimes be written in code-like prose… “lived in” could mean dirty, “clean but tiny” means it’s probably really tiny, and “a place to sleep” is likely a bare-bones rental.

Consider added fees

Don’t look at the “per night” sticker price on an Airbnb rental, which doesn’t include 1) the cleaning fee and 2) the service fee. These two charges vary WIDELY from rental to rental, which can mean a relative steal becomes expensive thanks to a $150 cleaning fee, whereas a slightly more expensive rental is suddenly within reach. We always take the gross cost and divide it by the nights in our stay to get a true picture of our per-night price tag.25617559684_c8c7cacced_b Reims France Airbnb Rental

Book long-ish stays

We’ve learned that Airbnbs are less useful than hotels in two situations:

  1. For short stays (i.e., two nights or fewer) because of the added logistical complexity of arranging key exchanges.
  2. For stays when our departure is late in the day/evening, as it’s sometimes hard to figure out where to store luggage for the day. With a hotel, you just leave it at the front desk, which isn’t possible with most Airbnbs.

On top of this, most Airbnbs offer weekly/monthly discounts over daily rates, so you can save a significant amount (10-30%) by booking for longer periods.

Look closely at the amenities

The amenities section in an Airbnb rental is also a treasure trove of the random things an apartment offers — washer and dryer, dishwasher, real bed, hair dryer, air conditioning. If the amenity is offered, it’s likely listed here. Some things to look for:

  • Is the bed an actual bed, or a pull-out/trundle? So important — you want a good, real bed!
  • What floor/level is the apartment on? I don’t like staying on the ground floor, so will look for this information or ask. 
  • Is there a washing machine? Austin and I strategically book Aibnbs on long trips (think: 2+ weeks) to ensure we have a washer and dryer in the middle of our journey for laundry. It’s how we pack for long trips in just a carry-on.
  • Will you be cooking? We love to cook simple meals (especially near-daily wine/cheese — as in the photo below from Paris!) while on holiday. This offers a few benefits: it makes us feel at home, takes advantage of amazing local markets and saves our money to splurge on special restaurants. A simple Airbnb kitchen with some knives, dishware and glassware is all you need to assemble meals.

Bring toiletries

This isn’t a hotel, so be sure to pack toiletries like shampoo, soap and a small hair dryer. You may not need them, but sometimes you do.

15351962779_4f9c072c3a_b Paris France AirbnbFriendliness matters

In many cases, you’re staying in someone’s home! It goes without saying, but be friendly and tell your story. When I request a rental, I always take the time to introduce our family, where we’re from (nice Canadians here, eh!) and why we are visiting a city. It’s a small step to forge a first connection and assure the host you will be a genuine, thoughtful guest in their home — sell yourself and your travel story!

Be a good guest

Again, you’re staying in someone’s home! Austin and I always take care to leave our rental in good standing. I’m not saying you should make the bed or sweep the floors (!) but just exercise general courtesy by leaving a rental close to how you found it, ready for its cleaning and the next guests.

Give it a try!

That first Airbnb booking can be scary — ours was — but taking the plunge is so worth it for the value of these rentals and ability to live a bit more like a local, even as a tourist. If you do try it out, use my link — you get a $30 credit, I get a $30 credit — we both get a cheaper holiday!

If you have questions, let me know. We’ve helped vet and hunt down Airbnb rentals for friends and family alike, and can help you decide if a space is worth renting.

Above: a few photos from our Airbnb rentals through the years — Costa Rica (1-4); Prince Edward County, Ontario (5-6); Reims, France (7-8); Paris, France (9-10)

good reads | 42

giovanna-battaglias-wedding-capri-alexander-mcqueen-giambattista-valli-azzedine-alaia-sarah-burton-peter-dundas-anna-dello-russo-celebrityI love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. To that end, here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

A fascinating piece about the four quadrants of introversion, based on emerging research. Another good reminder that, just like extroversion, introversion is not one-size-fits-all.

Feminist emojis.

My longtime sartorial icon, Giovanna Battaglia, was married in Capri. HEAD EXPLODES at the awesomeness of it all.

Wolfgang Buttress’ Hive — the central installation of the UK pavilion at last year’s World Expo in Milan — was one of our favourites. It’s getting a second life back home in London.

Choir! Choir! Choir! is such a happy part of Toronto’s social fabric and I’m thrilled they’re receiving international acclaim.

Brilliant writer Edward Readicker-Henderson passed away this week. I’m keeping him in memory through his words and this TED talk, which is full of so many poignant, stirring passages. He will be missed.

giovanna battaglia wedding

Other Roundups to Love

Fathom’s Links We Love (updated Saturdays)

Food52’s Weekend Reading (updated Sundays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (last updated: 2016/02/25)

[images: the wedding of Giovanna Battaglia]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday (or Saturday or Sunday) morning.

travelogue | andalucia, spain (june 2015)

travelogue andalucia spainNew to the travelogue series on Some Infinite Thing? See past adventures!

Up until summer 2015, I had spent a fair bit of time in northern Spain, but never the south. And with a country so diverse — from regional cuisine, to cultural customs, to religious traditions — I was keen to revisit Spain from a new perspective.

Austin and I had a chance to spend just over a week exploring the Costa Del Sol and Andalucia last summer (already a year ago!) during a month abroad and we jumped at the chance — with our south Spanish travels taking us to Malaga, Granada, Ronda, Gibraltar, Marbella and Seville.

We departed Toronto (YYZ) for Madrid (MAD), opting for the convenience of a direct flight. After a brief hello with an old friend of Austin’s from grad school days at Cornell, we caught our Renfe train southbound to the coast.

Train travel in Spain is fantastic — the trains are clean, frequent, pretty efficient and it was easy to buy just-in-time tickets at the station. Highly recommended.

On our three-ish hour trip south, I was struck initially by how arid and grassy the terrain was. The north, in comparison, is much more lush and verdant. As we rolled south, the landscape evolved, with olive trees dotting the landscape as far as one could see, tiny pink flowers overtaking fields, and as we moved further south cacti and endless sunflower fields. Rural southwest Spain is a magical sight.19997427822_8ce600ef8b_b19818405269_20547308ff_bWe snapped up our week-long rental car from the Malaga train station and drove about 45 minutes to our accommodations along the Costa del Sol. Our apartment was a perfect third-floor walk up, overlooking the mountains to the north and the sea to the south. Doing dishes at our kitchen window was a little luxury with that view.19818645499_6dee929754_bWe woke early the next morning to get acquainted with the town. The beachfront stretch where we were staying had a near-endless stretch of boardwalk to stroll. We stopped at the market for key provisions — rose, jamon, fat gordal olives and crusty bread. This was lunch on our balcony more times than I can count, overlooking the sea.19979071256_7f7a093523_o19997245052_c65c0922ae_b (1)19818503059_5caba67a01_bThat evening, we strolled west to Chiringuito el Juncal for seafood paella. Although Costa del Sol isn’t paella country (you need to go north to Valencia for that) we had heard wonderful things about this beach-side stop from some locals. And it didn’t disappoint — a spectacular and fresh assortment of langoustines, mussels, squid and whitefish dotting crunchy-bottomed rice.20005278945_4368c1c670_bA rental car meant we could take advantage of the many wonderful towns dotting the coast and into Andalucia. We knew our trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Alhambra — especially since we had visited architecturally-similar Moorish Marrakech earlier that year. It was a scenic 1.5 hour drive from our home base to Granada.19818618819_1fcc89c659_b

20010362451_064ce86f07_b 19817118090_bcc9ca19ea_b 19382691614_d0eb93b0e7_b As expected, the Alhambra was beautiful — a marvel of tile work, wood carving and marble. It was set apart from its Moroccan cousins by the total attention to restoration and upkeep. The fortress is sometimes referred to as “a pearl set in emeralds” and one immediately understood the reference when the shimmering white buildings perched atop the verdant hills of Granada came into view.19817140920_cc5951e203_b20005292985_76ebbbecd7_bThings took a turn for the unexpected after we departed the Alhambra. We drove into the mountains a bit more, and I asked Austin to stop off at a gorgeous tile store so I could take a peek. We found a parking spot — which at the time seemed totally obvious — not realizing the many twists and turns of the Albacin (old town Granada). In retrospect, we probably should have marked our place on a map, or took a photo of the lot or… something. But — hindsight.20005290525_66d4dc21a5_b19817159040_d8b89a2a17_bWe eventually succumbed to being lost and just explored. For hours, we ventured about the old city on foot — taking in different historic buildings, enjoying tapas on the square, and as if by magic (or really, Austin’s helpful gut instinct for all things directional) found our rental car.19818628509_febed0eb33_bIt wasn’t how we intended to experience the old city, but it couldn’t have been more magical. We drove home at sunset and collapsed exhausted from the sun and our hilly hike.19382452784_5223022ab2_b 19978827486_ca8d652a49_bWhile on the Costa del Sol, a beach day is requisite, so we planned to spend the morning and afternoon lounging beneath a palapa with books and beverages.19997329342_c368040f00_b 19817288090_d27e72413a_bThe coast is famous for its delicious fat thumb-sized sardines that are grilled to order over an open fire. Alongside some blistery green peppers and more rose, it was a perfect lunch right on the beach.20010304241_41f9a2a598_b 19817077540_1d2d61730e_bThat evening we cleaned up to explore the famous little town of Marbella — known for its yachts and boutiques and exquisite sunsets. She didn’t disappoint — offering us a spectacular gradient sunset of cornflower to lilac to sparkling fuchsia to creamsicle. It was one of those holiday moments where we reveled in doing nothing, just standing on the beach listening to the waves.19816980208_6d1883d7d5_b 19997249842_89beb71474_bAs we planned our trip, Ronda quickly ascended to the top of our to-visit list. This mountaintop city is famous (if not by name, then photo) for its iconic centuries-old bridges carved into the mountainside. We packed up for the drive the next morning, with Austin commanding the winding and nail-biting cliff-side drive up and up.19978769076_6d24bd5264_bOur day in Ronda was so full and varied. We parked our car and wandered the city streets, taking in the perfect sunshine. We started the day with a visit to her famous whitewashed Plaza de Toros — known as the home of the Rondeno style of bullfighting.19382363954_bd433d175b_b 19818370249_30682b6531_b 20005037165_00f0576731_bAlong the way, we found a good vantage point to admire Ronda’s iconic Puente Nuevo (new bridge), the newest of three (very old) bridges. She spans a 120-metre chasm that divides the city  into its old Moorish town and El Mercadillo parts over the El Tajo gorge, and makes you gasp at her sight — especially when you consider the massive structure was built starting in 1751 and took 42 years to complete.

19979000336_5edaeb98bc_bWe stopped off in the city square for tapas, pitchers of tinto de verano and a Spanish guitar serenade. Perfection. We spent the remainder of the afternoon meandering through Ronda’s sites — the Mondragon Palace and gardens, old bridge and city walls. Along the way, we took in the caves and a quick stop at a local winery for offerings of simple table wines and sherry on tap.20004989645_5ee4152dc8_b 19997252272_9bd451cf20_bWe got on the road for the zigzagging drive before sunset, fueled by custard cake and rosquillas, traditional sugared doughnuts. Returning to Malaga, we were greeted with fireworks from our apartment window, the perfect ending to a sweet day.

20004956925_1f823d8f77_b 19816995300_7997fb940d_bThe next morning, we set out early to see the famous Rock of Gibraltar, a little taste of the UK on the Spanish coast. It felt like a scene from a film to wind along the highway and suddenly see that massive iconic shape rising into the clouds.19997175812_46e85773b3_bAppropriately, we crossed the border, found a parking spot and settled in for some old-school pints and fish and chips with plenty of malt vinegar and mayonnaise. Through a combination of cable cars and walking, we made our way to the apex of the rock.

Gibraltar is famously noted for its Barbary macaques — feisty little creatures who will steal any and all food in their reach. As we stepped off our gondola, one hilariously snatched a full strudel from the bottom of a family’s stroller and proceeded to have a one-ape feast. His audience was equally horrified and impressed as he dove into dessert.

19816938170_6911e73cfd_b 19816892258_fc5802b2e0_bWe spent the day taking in the Rock’s sites — the British Forces base, many barracks and cliff-hanging vantage points into the mist, and the impeccable St. Michel’s Cave, a network of limestone caves with epic cathedral-like ceilings dripping with stalagmite rock formations. As we explored the cave’s tunnels and passageways, it was neat to see the main cavern being set up for a concert that evening — the cave’s natural acoustics make it a popular music venue.19382319314_fe856bb349_b 20004953545_43159da7ff_b19816829888_ecfc772f12_bThe next morning, we were up bright and early to pack and return to Malaga, where we’d spend the morning before heading north to Seville. High on my list of sites to visit was the Centre Pompidou Malaga — the first sister to Paris’ famous Pompidou Centre, one of my favourite galleries in Paris19978606666_8a74dc1f62_b19816857420_716582fc85_bThe Pompidou has an iconic colourful cube as its main architectural feature, which makes for a fun photo op. We were fortunate to visit during a fantastic temporary exhibit devoted to Joan Miro’s paperworks, which were stunning to see in person.19816858860_22426226f7_bAfter a short walk along the waterfront and under its wooden canopies, we caught our train to Sevillewhich I fondly have come to know as my city of aesthetic overload. That is to say, I’ve visited many stunning, architecturally magnificent cities in my day, but none has yet to compete with the opulence and splendor and light of Seville.19382572254_a2d2ef53a8_b 19818538399_1de4c3aa9a_bWe checked into our “splurge” hotel of the trip, the Palacio de Villapanes Sevilla — housed in an old converted palace and truly a place of luxury from the branding to the amenities to the massive 15-jet shower.19384223693_b28cb7c1d9_o19383833583_60d3c8b226_oMap in hand, we set off on-foot mid-afternoon in the searing 40-degree dry heat. It felt so good and different from the cool breezy heat of the coast. We strolled through parks and past iconic buildings eventually making it to the Plaza de Espana and Maria Luisa Park before sunset, where the city square was bathed in perfect light.20010088531_67a30ebd77_o19816755938_ec201504d7_o19818201809_27e0f715c1_bThe square’s mix of Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival architecture makes it one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, replete with gorgeous, intricate tile work, fountains and wood detail. We walked the park, eventually making it to the river, where we spent the evening tapas hopping from one picturesque table to the next — eating all the octopus and patatas bravas and gazpacho we could manage.19382585014_3598e2f8b3_b19382241234_5db89aec59_oWe walked across the bridge through the dark toward the Metropol Parasol (Las Cetas), Seville’s controversial wooden structure in La Encarnacion Square, purportedly the largest free-standing wood structure in the world. Said to resemble giant mushrooms, we learned just how divided the locals were toward this structure during our time in Seville. There were no “it’s so-so” opinions — people either love or hate the thing, as we would learn the next morning as we undertook a tapas tour of the city. 20010442161_dd4811e984_b20004833385_9774c57dea_b19383839103_2ab4e08b5e_bIn our research leading up to the trip, I kept happening upon a local guide company, Devour Seville, run by an expat American who seemed to be doing great things to spread the Spanish food gospel to tourists. We signed up for a half-day tour of the city that would take us to eight of Seville’s key food sites.

Our day started at the Mercado de la Encarnacion, just underneath the Metropol Parasol, a bustling indoor market bursting with meats, seafood, pantry staples and fresh produce. To begin, we tasted some expertly sliced jamon Iberco, of the famous chestnut-fed Iberian pigs. The meat was paper-thin, mouth melting and deliciously salty.

20005187325_74fbca0a2d_oFrom there, we tucked into Bodega el Picadero for some tosta de pringa — a soft baguette spread with a mixture of braised meats often eaten standing up for breakfast– coupled with a cafe con leche.

Walking a little further, we stopped outside one of Seville’s many convents for sweets prepared daily by the resident nuns. We learned that because of the city’s extreme, dry heat, few families have ovens for baking and instead rely on communal bakeshops and working convents for their sweets and bread. Each day, the nuns prepare a set menu of traditional sweets, plus a daily special cookie. The tiny, anise-scented and powdered sugar coated sweets reminded me fondly of Greek Christmas cookies.19816743528_4a6375b8d6_bWe continued our eating tour with tinto de verano and succulent grilled pork sandwiches stuffed with fries. Interesting note: we learned on our tour that sangria is a 100% invented tourist commodity in Spain. Locals actually drink tinto de verano — the same beverage minus the floating fruit, for a quarter the price. We were happy to be in the know for future drink orders!

We took a breather from all the eating to stop at a generations’-old hole-in-the-wall for Vino Naranjatraditional orange wine. This wasn’t my cup of tea — overly sweet and syrupy, but I could see it working cut with ice and sparking water on a hot day!

Stomachs (somewhat) settled, we moved along to one of my favourite stops, Freiduria la Islawhere we feasted on perfectly fresh, flash-fried dog fish and chips, served piping hot from the fryer on newspapers or in paper cones. This was expertly prepared in a tender, herb-dotted batter. I could have eaten mounds of it.19383803713_13f56a0788_bOur last savoury stop of the day was to our guide’s favourite Sevillan tapas spot, where each guest was given free reign to select a few tapas. Austin and I ordered a range of delicacies — from braised snails to salmorejo (Andalusian bread soup — similar to gazpacho but blended with stale bread) to thick slices of tortilla.

The eighth and final stop was a sweet finish at one of Seville’s oldest ice cream shops — La Fiorentina – for incredible housemade helado. I opted for the flor de azahar (cream of orange blossom… when in Seville…) and it was expectedly fragrant of the city’s famous blossoms.

By this point, with the city deep in siesta and our bellies bursting, we returned to our hotel for a nap of our own. We roused before sunset to dress for dinner and set out exploring. We strolled past the government buildings, down the main pedestrian thoroughfare and into salsa lessons at a local market.20004779295_9123dbb0c5_b 19818111219_53b0938efc_b20010012271_ff9acba882_oTo finish off what was becoming our eating tour of Seville, we popped into Eslava — top of my list of Sevillan tapas spots from research. It delivered with fresh, beautiful tapas on a perfect two-top table in its alleyway  — slow cooked egg, more salmorejo, grilled razor clams, stewed Iberian pork cheeks, to name a few — all washed down with tumblers of tino de verano.

In our research, Austin found a celebrated Peruvian-Japanese restaurant that he was convinced we needed to try. I initially side-eyed the idea of eating fusion tapas in the south of Spain, but my husband is usually right about these things. Off we went to find Nazca — down winding back alleys and by busting night life, for dinner #2. And Austin was right — we had one of our best mini-meals of the month at this place. Their ceviches alone have us planning a return to Seville — bursting with acid, the freshest expertly chopped fish and bright herbs.

19816774020_4628b2fe6c_oOur ninth day in Spain was our last, as we had a mid-afternoon flight to catch to Venice for the second leg of our summer holiday. After one last leisurely stroll through town to see the Seville Cathedral in all her splendour, we tucked into pestinos (Andalusian sweet fritters) and cafe con leche before we hit the road.

Planning Your Trip

Stay

The Palacio de Villapanes Sevilla for a five-star hotel experience in Seville

Miraflores for quaint apartments overlooking the Mediterranean Sea

Eat

Chiringuito el Juncal for perfect paella (Costa del Sol)

Devour Seville for a knowledgeable local guide company to introduce you to the city’s iconic eats (Seville — also in Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga)

Eslava for the best Sevillan tapas

Nazca for some of the best, freshest ceviche in Spain

See/Do

The historically stunning Alhambra (Granada)

Beautiful Moorish Albacin (old town Granada)

The seaside Yatcht town of Marbella

The mountaintop city of Ronda — especially the Plaza de Toros and magnificent stone bridges

The Rock of Gibraltar for a taste of England on the Spanish coast

The Centre Pompidou Malaga — particularly if you love the Paris equivalent

The iconic Plaza de Espana (Seville)

The controversial Metropol Parasol (Seville)

Other Resources

Step-by-step guide to building a travel itinerary

How to pack a capsule suitcase

My Spain board on Pinterest

good reads | 41

george clooney esquire 2016I love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. To that end, here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

The glass brick facade on the new Chanel building in Amsterdam is stunning.

I’m obsessed with Wine Folly’s new beautifully designed and super functional wine maps of the world.

Chef Mina Stone shares cooking lessons from her Yiayia. My Papou’s favourite dish is faki, so her memories felt very close to home.

This is what a great interview looks like. David Granger talks to George Clooney for the May 2016 issue of Esquire.

Farm-to-table: the term that’s become so abused and ubiquitous that it’s almost useless to a caring diner. This is a shame for the chefs who do commit the energy and expense to cook on a local scale with local ingredients.

On one of our Mexico trips, Austin and I spent a day touring the mountains of Jalisco and learning how racilla and tequila are made. I’d love to do the same for mezcal when we eventually make it to Oaxaca. 

I was never a big Sex and the City viewer, but that doesn’t stop me from loving this probing piece on its four genre-bending female archetypes. 

A primer on chili pastes.

Long form: I devoured Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Elevena post-apocalyptic novel that begins in my beloved Toronto, in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood I spent many of my formative years. This is one of those books I had on hold for a year at the library, but kept missing each time it would come in. It was worth the wait — crisp, elegant writing, gorgeously interwoven narratives and a haunting little glimpse into our shared humanity. I love post-apocalyptic anything — movies, books, short fiction — for what they reveal about the world in this moment. Station Eleven is the genre in its best form.

Other Roundups to Love

Fathom’s Links We Love (updated Saturdays)

Food52’s Weekend Reading (updated Sundays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (last updated: 2016/02/25)

[lead image: Nigel Perry for Esquire]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday (or Saturday or Sunday) morning.

good reads | 40

linguistic family tree

I love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. To that end, here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

Pairing Girl Scout Cookies and table wine is a terrible, terrible idea. Food & Wine investigates. 

Something to keep handy on this first (at last!) warm spring day in Toronto. Transitioning from winter to spring: a mental guide. 

Dave Beran is leaving the Alinea Group to open his own restaurant in LA. I’ve eaten half-a-dozen amazing meals at the hands of Beran through the years — at Alinea and then Next, so I look forward to experiencing food that’s entirely his own out west.

An illustrated linguistic family tree. 

One of my favourite chefs and food writers, Dan Barber, explores taste, religious law and tradition — and their intersection — in a beautiful essay about matzo. 

Zaha Hadid’s architectural legacy.

Long form: I just wrapped up Ethan Canin’s A Doubter’s Almanac and adored this book. It appealed to the part of me who enjoys math and puzzles — but you certainly don’t need a love of math to dive into the story. Canin has a luxurious way with words and builds memorable, round characters who lead us through a narrative at its core about the pursuit of happiness and the decisions we make. Well worth a read.

Other Roundups to Love

Fathom’s Links We Love (updated Saturdays)

Food52’s Weekend Reading (updated Sundays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (last updated: 2016/02/25)

[lead image: Minna Sundberg’s illustrated linguistic tree]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday (or Saturday or Sunday) morning.