jofuller

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Madrid – FOOD! GLORIOUS FOOD! (Gloriosa Comida Alimentos!)

Food and travel go hand in hand for me. One, if not the main reason I love to travel is to discover new foods. It’s not only the way the food tastes or how it is presented, it’s the history, the traditions and the culture that unfolds as you munch your way around a destination.

Food to the Spanish as we know is a huge part of their culture. Fiestas, celebrations and family occasions are built around eating – I would happily bet that although Iceland exists in Spain, very few would put out a King Prawn ring to feed their guests. And so it was with great excitement I accepted an invitation to spend a weekend in Madrid as the guest of my friend Lorena a Madrileño born and bred and a foodie. She who was delighted to take me on a food tour of her beloved city and here are the details…. yes, I did really eat this much in two days!

My perfect breakfast, with a big thank you to the French, is a black coffee and a croissant. I could have it every day, but it’s a treat reserved for weekends and holidays. It’s a breakfast that transcends across the globe in its different variations and although simple in its taste and design,  it is possible to get it badly wrong with a weak coffee and a flabby croissant. My personal award for getting it wrong goes to Colombia, who’d of thought they couldn’t make a decent coffee? And for getting it right, Vietnam, but then food wise the Vietnamese get an awful lot right.

Thankfully in Madrid, I only ever had great coffee and buttery, melty croissants so big they come with a knife and fork, and the local tweak? Served ‘a la plancha’ – toasted – with even more butter, well done Madrid.

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Mid morning means another coffee – usually, because you didn’t get to bed till 0130 a standard in Madrid – and a Cortado is the preferred pick me up.  Cortado means “to cut” so literally it’s an espresso “cut”  with an equal amount of hot milk and served almost as a shot. It’s a way of drinking coffee we’re adopting in the UK along with our love of the Aussie flat white.

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Cocida is the ultimate lunchtime comfort food of Madrid and it is the dish that everyone’s mother makes.  It is a dish you can eat out but very few do, as it’s just not the same as the home cooked version, but there is one restaurant, La Bola, in the Opera district of Madrid, where Madrileño’s  go for Cocida.  Lorena was very excited to take me there, although she is a big fan of her mum’s version, La Bola’s is as good if not better – high praise indeed.

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Cocida is peasant food, and like most peasant food, cheap to make, slow to cook and totally delicious.  A basic description of Cocida is chickpea and meat stew, but this is a dish of two parts.

Two bowls were brought to the table, their bottom’s covered with tiny pieces of pasta and then a terracotta pot bulging with its contents was put down but only the cooking liquor, was poured into each bowl.  A light but incredibly tasty broth tinged with orange due to the paprika from the chorizo that had been simmering away in it for a good few hours. The broth is bulked out by the pasta and accompanied with jalapeños for some optional ‘picante” and a big hunk of white bread.

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When you have slurped up every drop of soup  – and resisted licking out the bowl because you are in a restaurant and have remembered your manners –  another plate of steamed cabbage with fried garlic appears and is spooned into your bowl,  and then you get to unravel the mystery of the terracotta pot. Diving in with your spoon it surfaces with chick peas and chunks of meat – bacon, chorizo and pork – these go on top of the cabbage and it’s finished with a generous dollop of homemade tomato sauce.  It’s perfecto! Simple, delicious and accompanied by a compulsory Caña (small glass) of the local beer Mahou.

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It’s carb loaded enough so that in days gone by you could have easily taken a siesta before going back out to work in the fields.  In 2015 you are given a delicious digestive of lemon sorbet mixed with Cava and a welcome espresso. Siesta optional.

Although landlocked, seafood is everywhere in Madrid and hugely popular is the Galician style of cooking, an area of Spain where the sea is rough but rich, the portions are huge and pulpo (octopus) –  once a poor man’s food has been elevated to new heights.

I had been recommended the Galician, Restaurante Riveira do Mińo by a foodie friend in Brighton and it is also a favourite of Lorena and her friends. Through the steamy windows, you can see the chefs at work and crates of prawns and platters of crabs, mouthwatering stuff.

IMG_4468IMG_4546I literally died and went to seafood heaven. If I never eat seafood again, it’ll be OK, this really was unforgettable. We started with a platter of Almejas Marinara – clams in garlic and tomato sauce, and not weeny little clams, these were meaty and substantial.

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We then went “proper Galician’ and ordered Pulpo, simply boiled, sliced and served with rock salt. It was so tender and the “life hack” to tenderising your octopus save bashing it against a rock for an hour? Freeze it first, defrost and then boil.  Alongside we had a plate of Peppers Padron, a cross between a jalapeno and a green pepper, these little fellas can, if you’re unlucky, blow your head off. It’s almost like playing Russian Roulette with a chargrilled plate of these. One in fifty apparently is mind-blowingly hot, but there is no way of telling before it’s too late. On this occasion, we all escaped unscathed.

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And then came the boiled seafood, a platter of prawns (gambas),  cranjejo (crab), Langoustines (king prawns), and cigalles (scampi) – a bowl of mayo, lemon quarters and an ice cold bottle of Galician Ribeiro. The wine came in very handy when I was shown how to eat crab the Galician way, mix the brown and white meat together in the shell, add a generous glug of the Ribeiro and mix again before devouring #genius.

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There was still room for a slice of Torta de Santiagoa tart made with almonds – it’s not everyone’s taste due to the dry consistency and it is much nicer when served with ice cream, but that is not the Galician way.

But the food in Madrid isn’t all about big portions, in the little calle’s (roads) off the the Plaza Mayor you can’t move for Cerverzeria’s  selling the hugely popular Bocadillo de Calamares, deep fried squid rings in a white roll – a Madrileño fish finger sandwich – you only find it in this particular area of Madrid and it comes, of course,  with an ice cold caña of Mahou.

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Like in most parts of Spain, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to Tapas bars, but there was one particular eatery that made me very, very happy indeed and that was the Mercado San Miguel. Once a municipal market and now a glass fronted “Centre for Culinary Culture” a place for producers and chefs to showcase their wares.

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You can walk around Mercado San Miguel and take your pick. Our first stop was to get a cold glass of white Rueda to accompany our nibbling and then we headed to the Burrata – a fresh cheese made from Mozzarella and cream! –  and had a generous helping on a slice of sourdough topped with sundried tomatoes and crispy onions, that was followed by a couple of oysters, then olives and parma ham, croquetas bacalao (salt cod) and then we finished with a selection of Manchego and goats cheeses. It was sociable, it was fun and it was just a great way to eat. Why can’t we turn our old municipal markets/warehouses into places like this at home??

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Sunday’s in Madrid is El Rastro, Madrid’s largest flea market and a place not just for tourists but a popular place for Madrileño’s to hang out, eat tapas and drink cañas. It was here that I stumbled across a bar that just sold sardines, peppers pardon and beer.  It was hot and noisy, no tables and chairs, standing only. The chargrill was barely visible what with the smoke and the rows and rows of sardines lined up on it.  In charge of the grill was the barman’s Grandmother, she must have been in her 80’s and wasn’t even breaking a sweat.

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She passed plastic plate after plastic plate of sardines and peppers over the bar and as the patrons sucked the fishes dry, the bits they didn’t eat they chucked on the floor along with plates and serviettes.  I’m not a massive fan of sardines, but I stood and had a caña and a plate of peppers and was almost tempted to order some sardines just so I had something to chuck on the floor.

My weekend was coming to an end but  I made sure I had room for Churros and Chocolate. Traditionally a breakfast dish it can also be had as a late afternoon treat. Thick, thick hot chocolate with crispy, floury sticks of churro – similar to a donut but not sweet. It is totally indulgent, highly calorific and so inevitably totally delicious.

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And so I said goodbye to Lorena, her family and Madrid. What a wonderful city, filled with many beautiful things and lots and lots of gorgeous food. A city made for eating and socialising. Hasta La Vista Madrid, I’ll be back……. I want to watch the sunset from  StreetXO at the top of El Corte Ingles, Callao. It’s not just the view and the sunset that’s the draw, it’s an Asian fusion tapas bar run by the young Madrlieño and three-star Michelin chef David Muñoz .

NB he’s just opened a StreetXO in London, but I think I’ll wait and try his food in his hometown….. or there is always StreetXO NYC opening 2016….. watch this space

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Photo Exhibition and Portuguese Snacks

This weekend I went to a photography exhibition at Artista, a photographic studio and gallery which also doubles up as a venue for many creative events.

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A real bonus is that Artista is licensed  and the Portuguese owner Alex Vodoo – as well as being a hard working photographer –  is a great cook and serves up a selection of delicious home-made Portuguese croquettes and the infamous custard tarts.

 

Having already eaten I didn’t go for the food –    I did squeeze in a delicious “prawny something” –   but to see the first exhibition of photographer Solly Levi.  Although not a local – in is own words he is from “everywhere” – Solly has a healthy obsession with the West Pier and it is the subject of most of his photographs of Brighton and Hove.

He Photographs the pier in all weathers and at all times of day and night, but what makes Solly’s pictures so different is that he distorts and plays with this iconic image and in doing so produces some amazing and very unique photographs of our beloved landmark.

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It was a lovely evening and it is always so inspiring to be around people who are passionate about what they do and what they create for themselves and others. I wish both Alex and Solly much luck for all their future projects.

 

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I Did It!!!!

I have completed the 10-week beginners Comedy Improv course with The Maydays which culminated in our showcase ON STAGE in front of a LIVE AUDIENCE.

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It was the scariest thing I’ve done, and I expected my fear to get the better of me but it didn’t, no emotional meltdown or cock-ups on stage, just FUN! FUN! FUN!! and such a buzz to get a response from an audience because you have made them laugh.

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If you want to have fun and conquer some of your fears, I can’t recommend it enough…. I’ve signed up for the intermediate course, who’d have thought!!

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The Best Anti Ageing Solution – *warning* this post contains nudity

I’ve dabbled with Meditation over the years, but it has seriously been on my radar for around a year.

At Christmas my sister was nipping off every day, twice a day to do her “mindfulness” practice and my friend James found a coping mechanism for his stress levels by “taking 10” every day with Headspace. These are two important people in my life and I could see changes in them, changes for the better and these changes were coming from their daily dedication to their practice. The positive changes their practice was making were starting to show up, their lives seemed easier, and both of them a lot happier.

So I decided to follow in their footsteps and learn more about training my mind. I read Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman and I went to see their protegee Ruby Wax touring with her lecture about “how our minds can ruin our sanity” and bought and read her book Sane New World. I Downloaded the Headspace Ap and participated in two, free, 21 day guided meditations with Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey, and I took my hot yoga practice to a more meditative level by cooling and slowing down with regular Yin and Restorative classes.
All the above, amazing! Great books, I’d recommend them both, and though many people I encounter are raving about Headspace, I can’t get along with his voice (a lesson in itself no doubt) and the Deepak and Oprah 21 day meditations, although slightly cheesy are very informative and great for getting into a meditation routine (it takes 21 days to form or break a habit) and Deepak’s voice is a joy!

I have started to grasp the concept of quietening my mind and turning off the little voice, the Chitta Vritti, the Monkey Mind, that constant commentary that runs through my head, making me amongst other things, judgmental and impatient and I am trying to discipline myself into a routine every morning of doing 20 minutes of yoga and 10 minutes of meditation (and an hour of writing!).

Keen to learn more and knowing it was just around the corner from me in Hove, I looked up possible workshops and classes at the Bodhisattva Kadampa Meditation Centre, and to my delight, they had a 1-day retreat on the “The Healing Power of Mediation.” Most of my meditation practice had been self-taught so I was keen to learn in a group environment and be taught by experts whose meditation is as part of their daily life as brushing their teeth. Could they help me master this practice, could they help me transform my thoughts?

Bodhisattva KMC, Hove

Bodhisattva KMC, Hove

The weekend was brimming with wonderful teachers, from all walks of life, some of them Monks and some of them like Steve had adopted the Buddhist way of life and its teaching, but it ran alongside his everyday life of being a builder!

Steve gave a thought-provoking talk on the workings of the mind. He explained that the mind is the lens through which we view the world, it is how we experience the world, and if our mind is clogged up with negativity – jealousy, anger, feelings of loneliness, dissatisfaction and discontentment – then that is how we see and feel the world around us, so we need to clean up our mind. It is the minds natural default to generate negative thoughts and feelings, so we need to train the mind to be more positive and we can do this with a regular meditation practice. That made sense to me and all my previous learnings were starting to come together and then I met Lam Chen, who really got me thinking…..

Lam Chen took her session on the Saturday morning and not only did she look so much like my dearly departed mum Patsy Fuller, she radiated something so very beautiful that instantly made her incredibly attractive – she is in her late 60’s with a head of shaved grey hair and was engulfed in robes of yellow and burgundy much better suited to someone alot taller than this diminutive lady from the East Coast of Scotland.

Lam Chen spoke to us about Inner beauty, our desire to appear attractive and stay young. The amount of money and effort we put into our appearance and sometimes the extreme measures such as surgery that we undertake to make ourselves appear younger and more attractive, but actually the best anti ageing solution? A mind of compassion. If you can train your thoughts to be compassionate to others then you will radiate attractiveness and people will flock to you, no matter how good your skin or hair look, if your mind is thinking good things which results in good actions, you will be the most attractive you can possibly be.

Selfie with the truly beautiful Lam Chen, she's on the right!

Selfie with the truly beautiful Lam Chen, she’s on the right!

What a lesson to learn, I’ve heard it before of course, but to hear it spoken by someone who had truly embraced this way of living her life and delivered it with such sincerity and belief was a revelation. As a hairdresser, with an interest in Spirituality this was a very poignant moment when a connection between the two worlds became visible. I’m not going to stop wearing make up or colouring my hair but I’m certainly going to concentrate more on my thoughts and learn to be a more compassionate and patient individual and hope that my inner beauty will start to show up more.

As well as all the wonderful insights I gained this weekend, I also made two lovely friends Tom and Lou from London. They were keen to go for a dip in the sea, so I suggested we go for a swim on Sunday at 0700 before morning mediation. Neither Tom or Lou had bought their bathers, so I dared them to a skinny dip!

It was a perfect Sunday morning, sun out, no breeze and a low tide so lots and lots of sand. We stripped off and ran in, it was blissful, Buddha had blessed us this Sunday morning! After half an hour my toes started to go numb so I decided to get out and as I walked out of the sea in all my glory, I heard “You are one hot Cougar!” I looked around and saw a “gentleman” who had just woken up on the beach and was just about to inhale on something highly illegal.

I work-shopped the comment in my head and decided to take it as a compliment. Luckily I was still in my Zen like state from the previous day, but there was a part of me that wanted to call him a c*ck… sorry Buddha, still got some work to do on training those thoughts!

Sunday morning skinny dip with Lou and Tom

Sunday morning skinny dip with Lou and Tom

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Majorca – My Weekend on The Love Boat

I am very privileged to be on a friends British Airways Staff Travel concession which has allowed me to fly standby many a time. I rock up at the airport, check in, get a seat and jet off.  But on a recent flight to Palma, Majorca, the flight was so busy that I wasn’t allowed to check in and being a low priority – how very dare you – I was directed instead to the Staff Travel room and told to wait… this was a first and I could feel the anxiety rising.

Twenty-five minutes before the flight was due to leave I was told I had a seat, and suddenly I became THAT mental woman dashing through the airport with her trolley bag. At Security, I had too many toiletries stuffed into the ubiquitous plastic bag so I had to choose, in a hurry, what to take and what to leave –  Nuxe body oil or Vichy SPF 50 BB cream. I can only describe it as harrowing. I careered into the departure lounge looking like I had arrived on the back of a  motorbike.

Two hours later the searing heat of Palma hit me as I jumped into the back of a clapped out Polo, my gorgeous school friend Katy Lobo at the wheel and we headed North to Puerto Pollenca for a long weekend at her place, a catamaran called “Felix” – did I mention that I am also privileged to have friends in wonderful places.

Due to the soaring temperatures of the air and the water, Katy and Thomas – Katy’s beau and the proud owner of Felix – have moored a short motor dinghy ride outside of the sheltered bay of Puerto Pollenca to take advantage of the breeze, and the cleaner cooler water of the open sea.

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Thomas’ ideal is to live on as little as possible, waste as little as possible, be kind to the planet and spread the love. I liked him instantly. He’s a good man and he makes Katy very happy, their love for each other is infectious and they were lovely to be around.

All the electricity on Felix is solar generated and the “air conditioning” is a sail positioned above the main hatch to syphon air into the cabin and galley – it’s simple and it flipping works.  Felix is circa 1970’s so no mod cons, but beautifully made and full of character. Freshwater onboard is precious so washing up and showering are done in the sea.  It didn’t take me long to loose my inhibitions and strip off, jump in and soap up along with my hosts. I felt surprisingly clean and fresh and for four days I didn’t use any oils or moisturisers, my skin felt amazing and it was much more fun than having a bath.

Life on the sea attracts some very cool people and I was lucky enough to meet a handful of Katy and Thomas’ friends over the period of my stay.  These gatherings took place over a BBQ dinner on Felix’s deck. It’s hard to beat fresh local produce cooked simply and eaten as the sun sets over the sea and the mountains, relishing in the company of friends old and new.

Giacomo is an architect by trade but had recently rowed 3000 miles through the waterways of Europe from London to Istanbul making a documentary to highlight the importance of water conservation and subsistence. The documentary has been made into a film “Man on the River”  and he is now in talks with the BBC about his next venture, spending the winter alone in an isolated igloo in Norway, he is quite a guy. But it wasn’t all about him, he was as equally interested in me as I was about him. And whilst I shared my ambitions with him, miraculously a dolphin appeared in front of the boat.   This is a sign from the Earth telling me to live my dreams he told me.   Get out there and just do it – swoon. A shooting star would have finished off the evening perfectly.

The next day brought high drama at sea, after a day busy doing nothing but a quick SUP in the early morning followed by some serious sunbathing and skinny dipping we were informed by a former player of FC Barcelona that “manana mal tiempo”. High winds were due to hit the coast, Thomas and Katy’s “fleet” had to be secured.

This involved moving Katy’s dhingy “The Black Pearl” into dry dock. A covert operation at 2300 which involved, bolt cutters, a saw, two head torches, two girls – one totally at ease and one totally clueless – and a very chilled out German – Thomas. Once The Black Pearl was safe on dry land we then had to cross the very choppy bay to take down the sails on their other dinghy “The Optimist” and once that was done, I was allowed to go to bed. Exhausted.

The High winds came and went. They were a relief from the stifling heat but caused some chaos amongst the sailing fraternity which is clearly split into two halves. Those that can sail and those that have very expensive pleasure boats and think they can sail and quite frankly – says she who can’t sail – a danger to themselves and others.  It was a day of tangled ropes, tangled moorings and tangled tempers, unusual behaviour in this chillaxed community

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Katy and Thomas do have a wonderful life, a life which they have created but it doesn’t just involve BBQ’s, inspiring conversations and being naked 70% of the time, they do have jobs.

Thomas is a Captain for hire and one of his clients is a billionaire Norwegian businessman, the owner of a £2.2m super motor yacht moored in the bay of Alcudia and it is this boat that is Katy’s “office” she is the Stewardess when he is on board.

The Norwegian pops down for about 7-10 days a month during the summer season and when he’s not there the boat sits empty but needs to taken for a run every so often to keep the propellers moving, so  I jumped at the chance to go work!

I can’t give you the name of the yacht for obvious reasons, but I can tell you it was flippin enormous and top of the range in every aspect. It was easy to imagine Kate Moss and a few of her A-list mates draped over the sun decks, vomiting into the shag pile and spilling vodka all over the Miele kitchen. Get the picture?  As we left the bay, Thomas put his foot down – not a nautical term – and we belted along at 23 knots. We were so high up and going to so fast, that the wake we left behind was comparable to that of a cross channel ferry, it was super cool.

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But for all of her luxury, the yacht was soulless. A super expensive, super shiny beige and chrome interior by Kelly Hoppen, with no personal effects. The Norwegian comes down on his own and keeps his own company. Too busy making money to enjoy it with family and friends. How very sad. As lovely as it was zipping around like a VIP for the afternoon, I would much rather bob around the Med on Felix luxuriating in any waft of breeze that came my way rather than the respite of Kelly Hoppens’ air conditioned blandness, cold, uninviting, uninspiring and most definitely no love.

All good things come to an end and so it was that I ate my last handful of “holiday” crisps and my last two scoops of “holiday” ice-cream  – all foods preceded by the word “holiday” miraculously contain no calories – and said a fond farewell to Puerto Pollenca, Felix, Thomas and Giacomo.

I reluctantly put my clothes back on and jumped out of the water and onto a bus to Palma with my beautiful friend Katy. Not only had she shared with me her life aquatic and inspired me to leave my unopened Nuxe body oil and Vichy SPF 50 BB cream behind, but she also shared with me a little pearl of wisdom.

A couple of years ago she came to a crossroads with her work and personal life and a friend told her to put on her “Yes Hat”. To stop saying “no” and “but” and to say “yes” to people and opportunities that came her way. I have recently learnt that “I can’t” actually means “ I won’t” and that the crippling emotion behind “I won’t” is fear.

And so I dedicate this blog post to my friends Katy and Thomas who have shown me how life can be lived and how much you can love and be loved when you are FEARLESS. HALLELIJIAH!

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