Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Spain Day 27 Barcelona Travel Notes

During our month in Spain we visited Barcelona nine times and still feel there’s more to see.  If you go:

Enjoy the Ramblas every chance you get.  It was the starting point of every visit and we never tired of it.  It’s also a great way to orient yourself after touring the side streets.

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Embrace the local foods.  Water is safe; restaurants are clean and organized.  Some food recommendations:

Breakfast:  Most patisseries serve melindros enjoy them with hot chocolate and fresh orange juice.  If you come across a churroria stop in for fresh hot churros, hot chocolate and juice.

Lunch:  Go to a charcuterie for jamon and chorizo and a variety of cheeses.  Order bread with tomato and a glass of cava or sangria.  Eat in or have it wrapped and enjoy on a park bench or your air conditioned hotel room.

Dinner:  Any lively tapas restaurant.  If you don’t speak the language sit at the bar and point at what you want.  There are so many different tapas the menus are confusing.  We also really loved the pizza.



Wood Fired Pizza


Go to a flamenco show. Tarantos on Plaça Reial just off the Ramblas has a nightly 30 minute show. The box office opens at 8pm for the first show at 8:30. It’s a small venue so all the seats are great and only 7 Euros pp.  I went three times and every show was different.

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See every Gaudi building you can.  If you only see one go to the Sagrada Familia.  Only two?   Park Guell.

Walk.  Get a map from your hotel and wander.  You’ll discover Barcelona on your own terms.  Buy a fan on the Ramblas.  It will be a nice souvenir and you’ll use it.  The lines for attractions are long and rarely shaded.

Adjust to the later hours. It’s much cooler at night and you’ll be able to enjoy shopping until 9pm and dining until midnight. The heat in the middle of the day can be unbearable and we embraced siesta (as do many shopkeepers) this is however a good time to visit the busiest sights to avoid long lines.

If you go or if you’ve gone let me know what you enjoyed.  Barcelona is a gorgeous city full of history and culture and I’m already planning my next trip.

Spain Day 26 Packing up and Moving Out

Today our home exchange comes to an end. Our host family is winging their way over the top of the world as I write this and we’re trying to fit everything into our bags.

Here’s our problem:

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But worth the worry. The food in Spain is superb, made with fresh, quality ingredients and craftsmanship. Spaniards are justifiably proud of their pantries.


  • Tuna. Line caught in the Med and packed lovingly by hand. (This tuna won the tuna taste-off on blog and it costs half the price here as it does back home).
  • Chocolate made by the monks
  • Honey from rosemary loving bees
  • Sweet tortilla’s that I can get at Central Market but vow to master the recipe because I can’t otherwise afford them.
  • Chorizo that we’ll have to smuggle past the sniffing beagles
  • Almond biscotti
  • Olive oil (milder that what I buy at home, fabulous for aioli and salad dressings)
  • Black truffle salt
  • Strawberry sugar
  • Herbs de Provence from our trip to France.

Doesn’t really justify the need for a new suitcase but there’s also the tins of duck confit (2), fois Gras (1), Cassoulet (2), duck rillettes (1) antique wine bottles (2) pottery bowls (2) and the really fabulous BOOTS that added considerably to the problem since I wasn’t willing to abandon their box in Spain.

We bought a new suitcase which doubled as a stroller. E fell asleep inside and was most annoyed when we woke her.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Welcome Bainbridge Review

This is my first post since I joined the Bainbridge Review’s blog page and I’m excited and honored to be here. This blog is a personal journal of my food education and travels. I’ve spent the month of August in Mataro, Spain a suburb of Barcelona. If you’d like to see my daily blog entries please click here and you’ll find recipes for classic Catalan foods, travel journals and pictures.

Today’s post is about leftovers.

Wouldn’t you know it. It’s siesta and the shops are closed and in the midst of our packing we’ve forgotten about lunch. Funny thing for a food writer, but there it is. There’s no help for it but to resort to leftovers.

A quick search of the fridge revealed an abundance of raw materials. A half full jar of anchovies; the baby artichokes we bought in France, a package of lox, eggs, a baguette. And so it was revealed to me the evolution of the Pintxos of which I wrote a few weeks ago. They are the answer to every cook’s “what to eat” dilemma and a great way to clear the fridge of odds and ends.

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After looking over our supplies I knew that aioli would be great. Garlic aioli would overpower the salmon so I deleted garlic and added caper juice and anchovy oil for flavor. The result was thinner than typical aioli and the flavor was tangy and salty and the perfect dressing for steamed artichoke and anchovy pintxo.

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It also worked well with lox and capers with a slice of fresh tomato, a wedge of boiled egg and steamed green beans.

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R’s Provencal BBQ duck chopped, garnished with cheese from the Montserrat monks, sprinkled with egg yolk and dotted with a caper.

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So, the next time lunch or dinner sneaks up on you without your permission subdue it with these quick and tasty sandwiches. I’d love to hear about your winning combinations.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Spain Day 24 Gaudi’s Park Guell

A failure as a high end housing development a stunning success as a community gathering place.  My favorite Gaudi site.   If Alice had been Spanish this is where the rabbit hole would have dropped her.

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If you arrive Park Guell by the subway know that it is a nosebleed of a hike, up, up, up and you come in the back way to a disappointing first look and winding dusty trails before you get to the good stuff.  Take bus 24 from Plaza Catalunya instead; much closer and you enter the park through the intricate iron entrance gates and this view.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Spain Day 23 Provencal BBQ

It’s 9:45 pm and the temperature is hovering at 87 degrees.  The apartment is stifling from being closed up for three days while we toured France. What are we doing?


Just before crossing the border from France to Spain we did some shopping for a picnic lunch.  Seduced by the array of French foods we loaded up in anticipation of dinner at home; firm white potatoes, baby artichokes, skinny little haricots verts.   R is grilling duck legs marinated in Provencal herbs.  It must be 100 degrees in front of the BBQ.  R is a dedicated and hungry man.

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The green beans are so fresh and flavorful they get little prep.  Just a quick blast in the microwave then taken crisp-tender and steaming to the table.  At the last minute I toss some chorizo in to trick the kids into eating their greens.  I’ll save the artichokes for tomorrow but the potatoes are for tonight.  I boil them in salted water and give them a quick dressing of olive oil and Provencal herbs.


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We sit down for dinner at 10:15 in front of a whirring fan, kids are naked against the heat.  You’d think we’d pick at our food, but we eat heartily.  L has three duck legs, J has two; the beans disappear.

After dinner we melt away to bed via cool showers, shutters thrown open to the Spanish night.  It takes the kids a long time to settle and it’s one a.m. before I douse the lamp and kiss R. goodnight. 

Just your average evening in Spain.  Buenos noches.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Spain Day 22 Cassoulet in Castelnaudary

If you’re wondering where I’ve been I’ll tell you. A spur of the moment road trip turned into a three day tour of French food specialties.
We spent our first night in Perpignan and toured the city castle and enjoyed entrecote and pomme frites (steak and fries) beneath the watchful eyes of 400 year old gargoyles.
The Hotel de la Cite in Carcassonne was our next stop. (Click the hotel link to see a picture of the walled city.) This fabulous four star hotel is part of the old citadel. The kids enjoyed the pool in the shadow of a 16th century church. I enjoyed the view of the old town and the narrow passageways, shops and my first taste of French made cassoulet.
Cassoulet has been a favorite holiday dish of mine. We make it every New Year’s Eve but this is the first time I’ve had this quintessentially French dish made by French hands. So, in the name of research our next stop was Castelnaudary the undisputed Cassoulet capital of France. It was here that I had the most memorable meal of the trip at the Restaurant du Centre et du Lauragais, enthusiastically recommended by the townsfolk.
Le Menu
Fois Gras with toast followed by a steaming pot of Cassoulet, sealed with a crust of duck fat revealing white beans beneath, a leg of duck confit and a fat sausage. Dessert was profiteroles, another French favorite of mine. Cream puffs filled with vanilla ice cream melting deliciously into gently warmed dark chocolate sauce. Wine pairing: A nice French champagne to start and an earthy spicy red with dinner.
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Here's a recipe I've used numerous times with great success.  The ingredients aren't cheap and the recipe makes enough for 10-12 hungry people so plan for a party or cut the ingredients in half.

Adapted from: Mediterranean The Beautiful Cookbook

For the Beans:
4 ½ cups dried white beans
½ pound salt pork (green bacon) or bacon blanched two minutes then drained.
2 onions, each stuck with 2 whole cloves
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
1 cup peeled and chopped fresh or canned Roma tomatoes
1 tablespoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Ground cloves (optional)
For the Meat Ragout:
1 tin duck confit
1 ½ pounds lean lamb, cut into small cubes.
4 onions
4 cloves garlic
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups peeled and chopped fresh or canned Roma tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock (plus more as needed)
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 pound garlic pork sausages, cut into 3-4 inch chunks
1 pound fresh pork sausages, cut into 3-4 inch chunks.
2 cups fresh bread crumbs

To ready the beans, place them in a bowl and add water to cover. Let soak overnight. Drain well

Transfer beans to a saucepan and add water to cover by about 2 inches. Add the salt pork or bacon, clove studded onions, garlic cloves, thyme, bay and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add the salt, reduce to low, cover and simmer until beans are tender and firm. 1-1 ½ hours. Remove and discard the whole cloves and the bay. Add pepper and the ground cloves (if using). Taste to adjust seasonings.

To make the meat ragout: Open the can of duck confit and scoop out two to three tablespoons of duck fat into a Dutch oven or large pot. Heat and then sear the lamb so all sides are browned. Removed the lamb and reduce heat to medium low add onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are tender and translucent 8-10 minutes. Add lamb, wine, tomatoes and two cups of chicken stock. Gather together the thyme sprigs, parsley and bay leaf into a bouquet garni and tie securely with kitchen string. Add to the pot, cover and simmer until lamb is very tender, about one hour.

Preheat oven to 350. Layer ½ of the beans into the bottom of an ovenproof pot or Dutch oven (something pretty enought to take to the table. Pour meat mixture on top of beans and add the lamb confit and sausage pieces. Cover with the remaining beans. Top with bread crumbs and drizzle duck fat over the top. Bake until the top is crusty and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Serve hot and with ceremony. Break the bread crumb crust and scoop the bean mixture onto each plate (or large shallow soup bowl) then place a piece of duck and a chunk of sausage in the center. Sprinkle with fresh parsley if desired.

This meal is very hearty. Serve a simple green salad with a light vinaigrette. Offer nearly frozen peeled grapefruit segments between courses as a palate cleanser (or grapefruit sorbet). Finish in the French fashion with a cheese/fruit course. Champagne to drink.

If you go: Castelnaudary: Be sure to take a walk along the Canal du Midi where canal boats pass beneath stone bridges decked out with flowers. Have your dinner at the Hotel Restaurant du Centre et du Lauragais and if, like us you were so stunned by the food and wine take a room there too. It’s a great two star hotel and looks out over the town’s main street. Ask for a room at the back if you’re an early-to-bed-type.
Carcassonne: If you’re feeling flush stay at the Hotel de Cite; the Hotel Donjon in another lovely choice within the city walls. Stock up on French food specialties at Epicerie de la Cite (10 Rue Cros-Mayrevieille) just up from the Hotel Donjon.
Surrounding Area: Visit the Grotte de Limousis a cave with eight chambers, underground lakes and a rare white crystal chandelier stalactite. The drive into the the mountains past vineyards and tasting rooms is quite lovely . The African Game Reserve at Sigean is a must see if you have kids.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Spain Day 20 Cadaques


cadaques 109 Finding a room in Cadaques at the height of the season is impossible. Unless you’re R. He scored a quadruple room with an enchanting blue shuttered terrace overlooking a courtyard filled with olive trees. Bougainvillea, ivy, and grape vines climb the stone walls and drape the edge of our balcony. Blackberry vines twine through a lime tree laden with fruit. When I get home I vow to create a drink with lime, blackberries and grapes and call it the “Cadaques”.

We celebrate with gin and tonics flavored with a lime from the courtyard. Did you know that freshly picked limes have a heady floral perfume? It soon evaporates from the lime but the scent lingers on my hands.

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Whitewashed buildings crowd above the harbor climbing the gentle hills that rim the bay. Fishing boats bob on anchor and fill the rocky beach. Sleek dinghies with high powered motors press against the seawall; yachts rest beyond the local fishermen’s boats.


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Narrow alleys created long before cars, just wide enough for a donkey and cart or for a family of four to hold hands and gaze. Lots of charming shops; Ross buys a striped pullover reminiscent of the French navy, I get a floppy hat.

We have a three course meal at the water’s edge; anchovies from Cadaques; fish soup; fish pasta; Catalan flan. Delicious. We wander back to our hotel room stopping to watch the fire juggling and to listen to music from an open air restaurant. The kids play out the last of their energy. Off to bed.

If you’re here be sure to have a fresh mint mojito at Nord Est; browse around Waiting for Richard (Gere that is…ask the proprietress about the store’s name) and try for a room at the Hotel Octavia.  The grocery store across the street carries gin and tonic in case you do some lime pilfering.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Spain Day 19 Sunflowers

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  High in the mountains above the Mediterranean sea exists a farmhouse restaurant with two Michelin stars bordered by a field of giant sunflowers.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Spain Day 18 Melindros and Chocolate

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I learned about melindros from another blogger The Amateur Gourmet who just returned from Barcelona and dinner at El Bulli the best restaurant in the world.  He recommends melindros and chocolate so when I took my morning stroll and saw that the patisserie three doors down had re-opened following August vacation I stepped inside.

Melindros are a cross between pound cake and bread, mildly sweet with enough oomph to stand up to being dipped in hot pudding. 

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Spanish hot chocolate is spooned not sipped.  The consistency is that of pudding and it’s very hot.    Swirl your spoon and it settles languidly against the side of the insulated glass, steam rising. 

To make this at home I’d probably just melt a big bunch of semi-sweet chocolate chips and call it good.  That’s how rich and chocolaty it is.

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The insulated glass is like two glasses in one.  An inner glass holds the drink, an air pocket  separates it from the outer glass.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Spain Day 17 La Boqueria Barcelona

Just off the Ramblas is a fantasyland of food.  It’s so packed with people and goods you can hardly move. 

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Spain Day 16 Pintxos

Pintxos: Basque style tapas from Spain’s northern regions. Small open faced sandwiches made from local ingredients. Order a mixed plate or select your favorites from the counter. Can’t wait to get home and have tapas party. Want to join us?







Smoked Salmon Pintxos

Slice a baguette at an angle in 1/2 inch widths.

Moisten with olive oil

Top with slices of tomato and boiled egg

Top egg/tomato with Lox

Spread with teaspoon of aioli with chopped capers. (you can use the aioli recipe I posted last week and leave out the garlic and add capers to taste.)

Garnish with capers and an olive.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Spain Day 15 Gaudi Afternoon

We went to see some of Gaudi’s most famous buildings and …wow. The Sagrada Familia pretty much defies description (but I’ll try). Just about everything in the cathedral results from Gaudi’s nature studies. The massive supports are tree trunks and the star shaped ceiling a canopy of leaves, grids are honeycombs and spires are lavender wands. The cathedral is still under construction.

It’s hard to get a good photo, it’s covered in scaffolding and access to most of the interior is blocked so the masons and architects and others can work.

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Looking up. See the branches and tree tops?

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This is what you see as you approach the cathedral. These spires are topped by the emblem of Barcelona. The lavender spires are on another side.

Casa Mila (lLa Pedrera)

The lines were so long at Casa Mila that we didn’t go inside. From the outside Casa Mila looks like the perfect home for Dracula with weird black balconies melting in the sun.Barcelona day 065

After a morning of Gaudi we needed some frivolity so the whole family took a ride on this:

Barcelona day 107 That’s little E about thirty feet up.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Spain Day 14 Sweater Weather

It’s actually a little chilly here this morning.  You can tell how much my perspective has changed when I call 70 degrees chilly.  Growing up in the fog off the Straits of Juan de Fuca 70 was considered quite balmy.  Out came the shorts and barbecue and my mom would bake a chocolate cake with vanilla butter cream icing and we’d spend the day at Lake Crescent.  Which now that I think about it was filled by melting glaciers so no wonder 70 seemed hot.

It’s been in the mid eighties every day.  Not a problem if you’re used to the Pacific Northwest where as soon as the sun goes down it cools off and you get a break from the heat.  Here I go to bed and it’s 87 and I wake up at its 77.  Which is why 70 feels so darn chilly.

I hope it doesn't sound like I’m whining because we are enjoying the weather.  Loving it actually.  But every now and then it would be nice to come home, open the door and feel like I’m stepping into a refrigerator.  But alas, no air conditioning. 

We’re not in the cheap seats here, in the apartment.  If you didn’t sense my delight in this place when I made my first post way back two weeks ago, let me tell you now….It is splendid.  Our hosts are very artistic; walls are filled with gorgeous photography, everything is pleasantly arranged.  The furniture is heavy wood; antique armoire’s,  beautifully honed chairs, lots of art they’ve collected from their travels. 

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In our room there is an armoire, an elegant wood writing desk, an old fashioned bicycle, a massive urn filled with ivy, and books, lots of books.  The dining room has life-sized busts on the wall.

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There are four(!) sets of 12 feet high French doors.  The ceilings are 13 feet high with ornate white painted wood moldings.  The rooms are airy.  I feel a little bit like I cheated them when they got my four bedroom farmhouse turned beach house on Port Madison.

The point is; no one uses air conditioning.  Shops and most of the restaurants, but not people’s homes.  I have yet to see an AC unit stuck in a window and since most of these places were built a hundred or so years ago it seems unlikely that they have central heating and AC. 

So, we sleep with the balcony doors open at night and with the shades unfurled and a fan on during siesta.  We sleep well.  We’ve embraced siesta.  It’s nice to have a little break during the heat of the day and since we’re a family of night people we’re perfectly happy eating at 10 pm after we’ve strolled the ramblas for a while.  We tuck the kids in at 11:30 their window open to the street three floors down where people are still out talking.

So,  I’m feeling a bit chilled and need to dig a sweater out of my carry-on bag that I never unpacked because it is filled with stuff like sweaters.  And then I might make a cup of tea and sit on the terrace beneath the olive tree and eat freshly baked bread drizzled with honey we bought from the monks.

Buenos diás.  Have a good day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Spain Day 13 Tortilla a la Carmen

In La Bisbal d'Empordàmet we met Carmen who not only hooked us up with 4 liters of wine in our own antique bottles (enough to endear me to her forever) she also told me how to make an authentic Spanish tortilla. Erase any visions of some sort of quesadilla because this is far from anything you’ve ever had in a Mexican restaurant. It’s a type of omelet filled with potatoes and caramelized onions.

After speaking with Carmen I surveyed the internet for tortilla recipes and found none that caramelized the onions first—I’m thrilled as I think I’m on to something really secretive and authentically Catalan; the food equivalent of having a key to the corporate bathrooms. I’m in baby!

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Tortilla a la Carmen

1 medium size onion chopped fine

4-5 smallish thin skinned potatoes sliced very thin

5 large eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil, Spanish if you can find it.

Coat nonstick skillet with olive oil and add onions. You don’t want them to sizzle and dance in the pan. You want it hot enough that the onions don't soak up the oil but cool enough that they can sit in the pan for ten minutes with some gentle stirring and turn a toasty nut brown.

While the onions are cooking sprinkle potatoes with salt and mix all the way to the bottom of the bowl. When the onions are done remove them from the pan and use the same pan for the potatoes. Add more olive oil if you need to. Again…no sizzle. You want the potatoes to cook without getting crispy. They are done when soft all the way through. Add the onions into the pan and mix together.

In a medium sized bowl stir eggs just until the yolk and white swirl together. Add the warm potato onion mixture and let sit for a few minutes then pour the whole thing back into a hot skillet that you’ve wiped clean of olive oil. As soon as your edges are set reduce heat so you don’t burn the outside while cooking the inside.

Now the tricky part…you’ve got to flip this sucker. Carmen was suspiciously abstract about this so I consulted the internet: Set a plate on top of the skillet then turn the skillet upside down so the tortilla is bottom up on the plate. Slide uncooked side into the pan and finish cooking. Tortilla is done when you poke it with a knife and it comes out clean.

Serve with Cava or Sangria (mine is soaking right now), bread that’s been kissed with fresh tomato and drizzled with olive oil and a nice salad.

In Spain Tortilla is eaten for breakfast, as a light lunch or tapa. We’re having it for dinner tonight.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Spain Day 12 Carmen the Wine Merchant


It’s very hot. So hot that you really just want to sit in the shade and nap. But instead you have dragged your family two hours across Catalonia to experience the capital of pottery on market day. You trudge through the market trying to summon enthusiasm for shiny red peppers, arrays of espadrilles and endless tables of olives, nuts and live chickens.

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Siesta begins in half an hour and if you don’t see some pottery soon you won’t be seeing any at all … but it’s so HOT - you dash into the first shop that looks like it has AC…no pottery! Wailing quietly to yourself stifling the panic that comes from knowing your two children and husband are just about to revolt. Turn, eyes downcast, apology on your lips; and your husband who heretofore looked like he was enduring a forced march now looks happy.

We stumbled into a wine merchant’s lair! The walls are stacked with casks and the shelves are lined with bottles. Putting two and two together we quickly step to the counter. Carmen the gregarious shopkeeper offers information, recipes, and drink.


But first we taste. The wine samples are poured directly from the barrels. We start with rose’s and choose a slightly dry one with an effervescent finish. Gazpacho, chorizo, shellfish. All will go well with this wine, not that we need any excuse.

The sangria is so dark it’s almost black. It’s thick and rich and has been fortified with other liqueurs. One taste and we’re hooked. Carmen tells us what fruit to add and how long to let it soak. We select antique bottles she fills directly from the vat.



Carmen sealing our Rose and Sangria with red wax. A gallon of decent wine costs 8 euro.