Karen’s Kitchen. Not generally two words uttered together, in my case. I have been known, or accused of, giving numerous people food poisoning one Christmas. In fact, in the end, the number ran into double figures … and some hadn’t even been in attendance at my Christmas soiree! Nibbles in my world generally run to a packet of stale crisps, so ‘Karen’ and ‘kitchen’, or more specifically, cooking, haven’t in the past generally been twinned. But I have got better, and now, in general, most friends and family don’t frantically make up quick-fire excuses when we ask them to dinner at ours!

Oddly, cooking in a motorhome seems to suit my skills better for some reason, maybe for the simple fact it is generally just the two of us, so there’s no pressure on the entertaining front. This was not true when we were in Turkey, where I was surrounded by supercooks, some professional, and the ever present cry of “Karen, what are you making for the family dinner?” filled me with dread. That said, the Elddis motorhome kitchen has everything we need – including an oven, grill, 3 gas burners and one electric plate, plus a microwave … I really have no excuse! 

David eagerly awaits this evening's meal!

Before we left home for our motorhome expedition, we would try and upload any firm favourites into an app called Paprika, where you can not only put in the recipes, but also categorise them and make notes i.e.  marinade required, motorhome friendly etc. For us, or me especially, I have always erred on the spicy side, so much so that many people would say that my parents took the wrong baby home from the hospital. Now, that would have been quite a mix up, as I was born at home…  However, and perhaps surprisingly, spice here in Spain is quite hard to get and, in many countries, we have sometimes found fresh herbs hard to come by as well, thus making some of our favourite Thai and Indian foods quite hard to make. Thankfully, our close friends Pat and John gave us a supply of Blue Dragon Thai pastes which have kept our Thai cravings at bay. Of course, the general perception is that we must eat out all the time, which on our last trip in Spain, might well have been true, but this trip, given the dreaded C-word, we have not been able to visit many cafes and restaurants, although we still do enjoy our lunchtime tapa whenever we can.

We enjoy eating out when we can, but our budget isn't infinite and many restaurants are closed at the moment anyway

Snacks on the beach - but beware the wind and sand!

The magical Califa in Vejer ... we hope to return there soon

A few of the villages around us have had to shut due to high Covid numbers and so with those closures, have gone a few of the bars and restaurants we especially liked as well. Unfortunately, one of the most famed restaurants around here is Califa, a Moroccan-style restaurant in Vejer, which decided to give up the ghost before Christmas due to the various new rules etc. We did, however, manage one meal there and it was a delight. Most people who visit this area will go there and it was one of our first topics of conversation when whenever we meet fellow motorhomers Lesley, Geoff, and their young son Jackson, who made a splendid impression in the restaurant in 2016 (read more in ‘A Change in the Aire’, which I’m reading right now). We are hoping it might re-open before we leave for the UK.  Some restaurants in this area are of course closed simply because they are Summer restaurants, and at the moment, as we walk around Barbate and the beach areas, we can see work going on in many of these places, with the general hope that life might be normal again by Summer.

My latest good read: A Change in the Aire

Our choices on eating out have therefore been limited, but of course we appreciate it’s stricter still in the UK. In the absence of any big adventures to fill our travel blog this week, I’ll regale you with our culinary delights!..

Monday began with a breakfast out. Here for brekkie, tostada is the name of the game, served with fresh tomato (hopefully), oil and garlic and you can add to that delight perhaps some jamon or queso, served with the ubiquitous café con leche. This breakfast in Las Dunas (Canos de Mecca) is particular nice, as you get a garlic clove to rub on your toast, as well as proper fresh tomato and now, of course due to Covid, a very sweet, small sealed virgin olive oil bottle. Unfortunately something did get lost in translation last Monday, as we ended up with not a ham and cheese addition, but a ham and another tostada with just butter and jam - but of course being true Brits we just shared the two, whilst I berated David on his lack of Spanish skills!

Back into town we go!

Monday was laundry day, and this time we had to brave the main road to Barbate with our weekly wash strapped to David’s back as we cycled, as we can no longer go to Vejer. Tuesday became shopping day. I had on previous cycles, walks, drives into Barbate spied a bar that caught my eye on the main road, and so on Tuesday, as we made the more scenic cycle in (it passing the bar in question) I put it to David, that in the name of research we should stop there and give a review. We had, for some reason, made a bit of a late start and so it was a reasonable hour for a sherry/beer stop - it was after 12pm anyway!. We tethered our bikes up outside El Bodegon del Mar, or rather dumped them on a yellow zigzag right outside said bar and ventured in. The barman and locals (two) were friendly and there on the bar, which immediately caught David’s eye was a pot of very tasty looking stew. Immediately, murmurings were made by David about it, to of course the appreciative bar person and so with our sherry and beer we had a tapa serving of the pork stew. This was delightfully served with tiny, but perfectly cooked mini roast potatoes. It really was yum and aided our shopping no end!

A tapa of pork stew perked David up on 'shopping day'!

When in Barbate, we usually end up or begin, if we are doing ‘the big walk’, in a small bar on the seafront. The food is mainly fish, but also has a nice selection of tapa, but also the bar, if there is any trace or hope of sun, is in a favourable position to get some warmth. This week we made three (!) visits to the bar and now have one of their loyalty cards. David’s favourite tapa is the tortillas de camarones, which vary in price per bar from €1 to €2. I have to agree - they are delightful morsels that suit a drink so very well. As far as we can tell, they are a batter like mixture containing small shrimp that are then deep fried, so the outer edge is crispy but there is also a small element of lovely moist, almost chewy shrimp mixture inside, so much better than crisps or nuts as an accompaniment!

Tortillas de Camarones

One night I decided to cook the region’s amazing tuna. It was so meaty that I was almost unsure that I could cook it through properly, or that indeed we would actually like it in comparison to the usual supermarket pre-packaged (but very acceptable) tuna. Served with a lovely coriander and caper vinaigrette, asparagus and small potatoes, we both agreed it was wonderful and truly superior. We also had very thin lamb fillets, sort of chops but not quite, again done as a mini roast with my beloved mint sauce - a small taste of home. However, the pièce de resistance goes this week to a Bill Grainger recipe, recommended by our friend Phil in Turkey. It was lemon risotto with spicy prawns. We had this dish on Friday after my second visit to the dentist, and after three quarters of an hour in the chair, the soft but flavoursome dish suited my aching, but one filling repaired, another to follow jaw.

Lemon risotto with spicy prawns - a Bill Grainger recipe rustled up in the motorhome!

Dry January fell by the wayside. Well, it was David's 60th and our one year 'Van-iversary'!

For those of you who have just finished Dry January, well done! We haven’t, nor did we attempt! We are, after all, on the edge of sherry world, where you can go into any bar, and providing they understand you, get a variety of sherries by the glass, and not be looked at as if you are a hundred years old, or get a long-ago opened bottle that is now rank.  Whilst I appreciate that sherry is now a near popular cocktail ingredient in the trendy bars of London, it still has a long way yet to go, especially as those bars are now closed and those long-ago opened bottles of sherry are also going very much downhill, unfortunately.

Tonight, as I write this blog, we failed to get a paella at our picnic spot restaurant, following a lovely long (cold) walk through the pine forest, as it was closed. This time we stood firm and I am now cooking a favourite standby of chorizo and rice, whilst waiting for David to return from the bar with our neighbours, Judy, hubbie Alan and Helena, our Swedish neighbour, who did thankfully recover from the walk we took her on to Barbate and has now, in fact, done the 24k walk three times with us.

We hope for the weather to pick up here later this week, as we carefully watch the Covid numbers around us and we hope that we can eventually get Buster back on the road and see a bit more of Spain before we head home. Whatever happens, you can rest assured that with good, cheap produce available here in Spain we won’t go hungry, or indeed dry!