My City Picks: Things to do in San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian

I pride myself on my organization when travelling.  I usually buy the books, read the tips, and download the maps prior to arriving in any new city or country.  However, when I spent five days in San Sebastian, Spain as part of a three-week backpacking trip, I went in a little more “blind” than usual.  Having done little besides look up pictures of the beach, I stepped out of the car in San Sebastian with few plans or expectations.  Fortunately, not having a laundry list of things to see and do made for a creative stay.  We were able to wander  as we pleased (San Sebastian is totally walkable), finding things to do along the way.  We hit most of the popular spots, and I’ve summarized my list of to-do’s in this charming coastal town.

 

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Monte Urgull

San Sebastian sits on a little bay, and one side of the bay’s crest ends in Monte Urgull, a hikable hill with amazing views.  The paths circulate the hill in gentle slopes, so the hike to the top isn’t too rigorous and can be done fairly quickly (about an hour), depending on how many detours you take.  At the top, you’ll find a  small museum, religious statue, and breathtaking views of the whole bay.  There is also a little library tucked in the hill, which prompted my friend and I to wonder if the workers have to hike up to work each day!

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Buen Pastor Cathedral

One of the central spots in San Sebastian’s bustling “old district” is Buen Pastor Cathedral, the top of which extends high into the sunny sky.  The building itself is impressive from the outside, and the little plaza on which it sits is a fun place to people watch while enjoying gelato from a nearby shop.

 

San Sebastian 6Playa de la Concha

Easily the most popular attraction, the central beach (La Concha Beach) is clean and fun.  We actually didn’t spend too much time lounging here, though I would have willingly spent several days sunning and people watching had we been staying in San Sebastian for longer.  The crest-shaped beach is the perfect length for a morning walk, if that floats your boat.  On some summer nights, the beach plays host to an international fireworks competition.  We thoroughly enjoyed wandering down to the sand each evening to stake out a spot for that night’s show.  Afterward, I highly recommend making your way to an ice cream shop (the name of which I sadly cannot find) on the western side of the bay, where I enjoyed the best dark chocolate ice cream of my life.  Not. Kidding.  Walk about a block or two southwest on Matia Kalea.  The shop will be on your right.

 

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 Pasteleria Oiartzun

This busy pastry/gelato shop dishes out some delectable sweets!  Stop here for an indulgent breakfast, quick snack, dessert, or all of the above.  Expect to wait for a seat if you’re looking to leisurely enjoy your treats.  The place gets crowded during peak months.

Find Oiartzun’s website here.

 

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Favorite Summer Recipes

 

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Happy Earth Day.

I cannot wait to spend long, warm summer evenings making some of the recipes in my summer repertoire!  Meals that are relatively easy, involve little or no oven use, and include lots of fresh produce are those I find myself making again and again.  Below are some of my tried and true faves, along with some recipes I am eager to try soon.

Simple Tomato Bruschetta (a classic, light summer dinner in my house)

Rainbow Bowls like this one (easily adaptable to what we have on hand)

Veggie Pizzas like this one (again, adaptable)

Strawberry, Avocado, and Spinach Salad (three of my favorite foods in one!)

Grilled Veggie Kabobs (yummy mustard sauce)

My Favorite Smoothie (easy for breakfasts)

Vegetarian Taco Salad (avocado is a requirement!)

Black Bean and Butternut Squash Burritos (I crave these regularly)

Chipotle Black Bean Burgers (a staple)

Mexican Street Corn (looks yummy!)

Penne with Roasted Cauliflower and Lemon Caper Vinaigrette (will try soon)

 

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Summers are for al fresco dining

 

Happy cooking!

 

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Spring Forward; My City Picks: Summer in Madison, WI

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Today’s warmth has me eager for the consistent sunny weather that is soon to come!  Being able to sit outside, drive with the windows down, grill vegetables (without freezing), and wear dresses (sans tights!) are aspects of spring and summer that become ritual come July, but in these first few weeks of sun, they seem like true miracles.  We melt, and I love it.

As we gear up summer, I look forward to some of my favorite seasonal activities in Madison, Wisconsin.  My summer picks are listed below.

 

My City Picks: Summer in Madison, WI

Dane County Farmers Market on the Square**–Head to the Capitol Square on Saturday mornings for a huge selection of fruits, vegetables, baked goods, plants, jams, honey, meats, pasta, cheeses, and more.  My favorites?  Healthy scones from Chris & Lori’s Bakehouse, fresh local pasta from RP Pasta, any organic greens, and basil.  Lots and lots of basil.

Eating outside at Café Porta Alba–Enjoy one of their delicious, authentic Neopolitan pizzas at an outdoor table after shopping the stores at Hilldale Mall.  For dessert, head up to the rooftop patio at Sundance 608 restaurant across the street.

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My regular order at Café Porta Alba: insalate emiliana followed by pizza marinara with added basil and parmagiano shavings.

Concerts on the Square–Another activity on Captiol Square, the weekly outdoor concerts happen on Wednesday evenings from June through July.  Pack food (anything goes, but some folks get pretty elaborate!) and arrive early to lay a blanket down, as the seemingly spacious lawns fill quickly with picnickers.

**For a post-market breakfast, grab a table at the bustling Marigold Kitchen on Pinckney Street.  Their rosemary potatoes are to die for.

 

Happy Easter.  And Happy Spring.

 

 

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My City Picks: Casual Eats in Rome, Italy

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I spent one month in Rome, where I ate a lot of authentic Italian food.  And some not-so-authentic “Italian” food.  Of the countless restaurants and cafes I visited, those that I recommend are included in this first of (hopefully many) “My City Picks” posts.

Pizzarium

Located just steps away from Rome’s Cipro metro stop, this tiny (but nice) pizza nook doesn’t appear like anything special from the outside.  It has no tables, and patrons eat standing at the restaurant’s outdoor wooden counter or sitting on a nearby bench.  Inside, though, you’ll find a unique array of creative pizza variations on a long counter, waiting to be sliced up at your request.  I tried three different vegetarian variations (a simple but delicious marinara and herb, a surprising pumpkin, cauliflower, & herb combo, and a goat cheese, onion, & green bean slice).  Each kind was a taste of food heaven.  Make the metro journey and be adventurous with your pizza order.  You’ll thank me. ImageImage

Panella

My friends and I joke that we will simply never be cool enough for Panella.  This upmarket bakery/café/gourmet food store specializes in delectable pastries, creamy lattes, and making young Americans feel intimidated.  It is loud and full of bustling Italians all morning and afternoon, but the atmosphere was cool enough and the food tasty (and pretty) enough to entice us to return again and again.  And again.  Most items are priced by weight, so expect to end up paying more than you had hoped for that simple piece of veggie flatbread.  If the weather is nice, sit outside and pretend to be a chic local, as we tried (and miserably failed) to do.

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Giolitti

Touristy?  Yes.  Worth it anyway?  Absolutely.  This famous gelateria near the Pantheon scoops up my favorite gelato in Rome.  I made about five or six stops here during my four-week stay and would’ve made more had my hotel been closer.  The array of flavors may appear overwhelming, but I’m sure everything is delicious, as I never heard anything but rave reviews of Giolitti’s flavors.  My favorite combination was dark chocolate and hazelnut.  When you order your flavors, watch out for the amusing worker who tries to hand you your cone through the glass.  You’ll find yourself slamming your hand into the transparent barrier in an eager effort to grab your frozen treat.  I fell for it once and won’t do it again.  You’ve been warned.

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Weekly Vow

I recently reread an old post by one of my favorite bloggers, who wrote, “Watch how much your body allows you to do and feel. Give thanks. Be kind. Let’s not wait until we’re 70 to feel good about the vessel we landed to change the world from. There is freedom in appreciation given.”  Her post inspired my personal vow for this week.  I vow to stop myself from any thinking that leads to disappointment or frustration for something I cannot change.  I vow to practice self-love by being mindful of all that my body allows me to do.  I vow to strive for daily appreciation of this vessel I have been given, for some folks do not have the powers and abilities that I do.  Some do and then tragically lose those abilities.  Our bodies allow us to do much, see much, and learn much.  I vow not to treat my body like an object to fix, but rather as a place from which I have been given the fortune of discovering this world, or, as the aforementioned blogger put it, this living continuum to which we belong.

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Home for Homemade Almond Butter

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Home me for a long weekend.  Refreshed and hungry for homemade goodness, starting with roasted almond butter. While store-bought products are convenient, the process of making something from scratch makes it seem much more valuable.  With each bite, I remember the enticing scent of the nuts roasting in the oven as I waited impatiently.   Yummmm.   The small labors are worth it.  While I would hardly call something as simple as almond butter a “recipe,” I’ve included my process below.  My favorite way to eat this delicious and nutritious yummyness is atop oats with fresh berries and cinnamon.

 

2-3 cups almonds

1 T honey (optional)

1/2 t sea salt

1 t coconut oil, melted

 

Roast almonds in a 350 degree oven for about ten minutes, then remove and let cool completely.

Place almonds in a food processor with an S-blade and process until completely smooth. (About 5-10 minutes.  Yes, minutes.)  Scrape down sides as needed.

Add sea salt, coconut oil, honey, and any other add-ins and process until incorporated.

Scoop almond butter into a mason jar and store in the fridge for optimal freshness.

 

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Made too much to fit in your jar? I guess you’ll have to dig in with a spoon to make a little room.

 

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