Adios Granada

Pilgrimage to Alhambra

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Aside from fútbol, our visit to Granada, Spain would have been incomplete without touring the spectacular Alhambra. The Alhambra, I learned, is a vast complex of palaces and military fortresses built by Arabian royalty from the 9th through 14th century to establish the Kingdom of Granada. Walking along the corridors and pathways, in the footsteps of rulers from long ago, me and my fellow pilgrims were treated to a visual feast of artisan work or “fairy hands.” Hand-detailed mosaics, geometric tiles, and carved wooden inlays rolled into a series of patios, fountains, courts, and chambers, and made us stop in awe of it all. I think my family’s favorite part of the Alhambra was the Torre de la Vela (watchtower). There we saw one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada and city of Granada, including the Albayzin – a maze of narrow, winding streets that hail from Granada’s Medieval Moorish past.

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It’s said that Granada stole the heart of legendary author, Washington Irving. Irving was so enamored and inspired by the Alhambra, where he lived for several months in 1829 that he wrote “Tales of the Alhambra.” Part history, part legend, Irving lived in the middle of an Arabian tale where he cut himself off from every day life to drink in “proud-spirited, romantic Spain; where the old magnificent barbaric spirit still contends against the utilitarianism of modern civilization.” A tribute to Irving can be found along the emerald and stone path ascending to the Alhambra.

Sweet and Savory Streets

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To eat when we were hungry in Granada, we only had to follow our noses. Andalusian cuisine is influenced by the rural and coastal regions. Smells of fresh baked bread, empanadas, and other delicious pastries wafted from open bakery doors. At lunch time, which is around 3 pm, we could smell savory dishes since the Spaniards use lots of olive oil to cook with. Common dishes are fried fish, “pescaito frito.” cold soups like salmorejo, and a mixture of fried eggs, meats and potatoes. I loved Tapas. Whenever you order a wine or cerveza, you get Tapas, or small meals to share with your companions. And, I can’t ever forget about ham. Spanish love ham, especially the cured Serrano Ham. Ham was everywhere; which can make it tough for a vegetarian like me. So, what did I eat? It’s surprisingly easy to stick with a vegetarian diet and I snacked on the most delicious tasting olives I’ve ever eaten. However, I opted to fall off the wagon to sample what our Spanish hosts offered for meals (in moderation, of course). One night led the grown ups to a butcher shop named “Dame Jamon.” Translated it means: Give me ham! When in Spain, I think one should experience it all. Except the pulpo (octopus). I don’t do pulpo. Ah well!

In the Albayzin with a view of the Alhambra.

In the Albayzin with a view of the Alhambra.

Sierra Nevada (photo)
We drove up the winding roads to the Sierra Nevada. Our destination was to tour a professional sports training facility – best in class at 2300 meters.
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Fútbol. Always Fútbol

Team Granada

Team Granada

Aqui! Aqui! The words most often spoken during practice was acqui or here. I observed the Spaniards training to keep the ball, protect the ball, and put pressure on other players. Our boys had very good technical skills and were confident in their ability to play with other boys. Having self confidence seems to go hand-in-hand with keeping up with the intensity of the game. Above all else, the lesson is to have fun.

Malaga Club de Fútbol
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Our two aspiring fútbol players flanked by their Spanish coaches Antonio and David (also American) and Malaga Club de Fútbol head of scout Adrian. Perhaps a good Omen?

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We visited La Roseleda stadium in Malaga for a personal tour. Following that the boys practiced with Malaga’s youth academy team. We ended the evening watching a fútbol game between Malaga and Betis.

Street Fútbol or Pelada
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Amigos

Hanging out on the street. He's the real deal.

Hanging out on the street. He’s the real deal.

Our amigos were always patient and courteous, greeting us by either shaking hands, or kissing on both cheeks. And friends of our friends did the same. We were always greeted hello and said good-bye to when ready to leave. The Spaniards value politeness, and although they might walk right into you, they will apologize. I think most liked it when we attempted to speak Spanish even if it was limited.

Treasured Moments

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James and Noah playing with Antonio and Maca’s son Nacho, who has special needs.

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Drinking coffee on the terrace of our friends apartment was just one of the treasured moments I had in Granada. Words can only help tell pieces of the story of what I experienced in this Andalusian town.

Just as Granada stole Irving’s heart, Granada has stolen my heart. I have seen, felt, smelled, tasted, and touched this beautiful culture, rich with history. Adios Granada. I’ll be back.

Getting my country groove on with Keith Urban

Keith Urban in concertI got my country groove on last night with Keith Urban at Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center (CMAC). Except for all the cowboy hats and boots worn by fans, I wouldn’t have known I was at a country music concert. Yes, I went to see Keith Urban Friday night in Canandaigua with my country music sherpa Jo-Jo. And yes, moms, ladies, and gentleman, Keith Urban is gorgeous!

The four-time Grammy Award winner and American Idol judge took the stage with his trademark straightened and highlighted hair, sculpted and tattooed chest and arms, and tight jeans – it’s hard not to pay attention. He looks like a rock God, but he plays country music? Jo-Jo wisely pointed out that it’s not your “Hee-Haw” kind of music.

Since I’m not a follower of country music, I really had no idea who the opening acts were, but I remembered Little Big Town. Wow. The band’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” was smokin’. But I came for Keith Urban and his “Light The Fuse Tour.” Up close or far away, he’s not only cute, but can sing falsetto hooks and shred a guitar. He plays with tremendous energy and his excitement is infectious. From his own stuff to a cover of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” I was in awe.

Urban loves his audience to the point of reading aloud hand-made signs by fans who had hoped to get a hug, or perhaps dance on stage. One teen fan got her wish when Urban read her sign: “Put me in a song.” He invited her on the stage and before he sang to her, he asked where she was from. She replied, “Canada.” The audience, which was an interesting blend of young and senior-folk, booed. Incredulous, Urban who’s Australian, turned to us and said something like: chill out, she speaks English.

Up until last night, I knew only two of his songs – “Kiss the Girl” and “A Little Bit of Everything,” but it didn’t matter. I found myself grooving to all of his radio-friendly beats by the end of the two-hour set. A turning point was when he stood five seats from me on a table, singing and playing. He was so close, I could have touched him. In the end, Jo-Jo got it right. Urban lit our fuse and together we got our country groove on. (Click here to see the video snippet.)

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What makes chocolate innovative?

photo of chocolate grinding from tōcōti chocolate

photo of chocolate grinding from tōcōti chocolate

What makes chocolate innovative? Is it an unexpected flavor or texture, or an unexpected pairing? My quest was to find out (but first I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming) and write a story for Rochester Magazine about chocolate!

For a little while, I got to be Charlie (or Charlene) in not one chocolate factory, but two where I experienced the art of making chocolate – asking questions, listening to the chocolatiers’s stories, learning about the process, and, of course, tasting chocolate.

Both chocolatiers I interviewed had very different backgrounds. Dale Montondo of tōcōti (pronounced TOE-koe-tee) chocolate is an engineer who grinds and roasts beans into inventive, flavorful chocolate bars. Alex Vigneri of Vigneri Chocolate is a former semi-pro hockey player from a close-knit family of Italian bakers. Both chocolatiers have little in common with each other, except for two things: a passion for making the best chocolate they can and an insatiable curiosity. Like the long line of chocolate innovators before them (and constant tinkering to make it better), it’s this combination that’s driving innovation in an industry that might seem devoid of novel ideas. And they’re right here in Rochester, NY.

Quarrels wine complementing chocolate kit

Quarrels wine complementing chocolate kit

If you haven’t read your copy of Rochester Magazine’s April issue, my short article “Don’t scarf the chocolate,” appears on page 8. You can’t read it online unless you buy the app for the iPad (not available for iPhone, sorry Mom). However, because you are a subscriber to my blog, you can read the article here. Once you’re finished reading, why not go out and buy a copy of Rochester Magazine or the iPad app? Oh, and don’t forget to try the chocolate!

What do you think?

Thanks for reading. If you like this post, please feel free to share it with your friends or send me a comment. You can also post a comment on my blog or Facebook.