¡viva genevieve!

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Archive for the category “Fresh Posts”

Decadent Date and Maple Slice

It’s a Sunday, how about some slice?

Recently I have been busy most Sundays making myself some healthy slices for the coming week to keep me away from those pesky chocolate bars. Upon informing my international flatmates of what I have been making I have realized that a “slice” as we say back home in New Zealand is quite a vague and nondescript name for these little treats that accompany our coffee on an afternoon at our favorite cafe. “A slice of what?” they say, well it’s a date slice of course a deliciously decadent raw date slice that will be fueling my busy week of activities.

All of the good stuff:

For the base:

2 C of oats (or a mix of nuts and oats)       – 1 T Cocoa

1/2 C of desiccated coconut                      – 2 T Honey

– 1 T coconut oil

The top layer:

– 3/4 C coconut milk                                      – 2 T maple syrup

– 1/2 C chopped dates                                  – 1/2 C cashews

The steps:

1. Simmer the coconut milk, maple syrup and the dates in a saucepan over a low heat.

2. In a food processor, finely blend the oats, cocoa, coconut, honey and coconut oil until you have a moldable consistency. If the mixture is too dry, add some more coconut oil.

3. Press the oaty base mixture in to the bottom of a non-stick square cake pan or in to a loaf tin (makes a thicker slice) and place in the freezer whilst you prepare the top layer.

4. Take the coconut milk mixture off the heat and let it cool slightly. Place the cashews in the food processor and add the coconut milk mixture to blend. The consistency should be similar to caramel.

5. Remove your base from the freezer and pour the top layer evenly over the base. Freeze overnight until the slice is set then cut the slice in to slices (of course!) Store in the freezer ready for snack time!

Rewarded with Risotto

Today was my very first rainy run here in Vancouver. Which is a surprise really since it’s raining more often than not. This morning I packed my little running backpack to take with me to work which gave me only one option to get back home again, by going for a run. Even though I have been here for almost 3 months now, I am still never prepared for the rain. Maybe it’s because when there happens to be a fresh beautiful BC sunny day I am lured in to this false sense of summer paradise where I think it surely can’t ever rain again. Until the next day when I am out in the middle of the street, waiting for the bus, soaked to the bone because I neither carried my umbrella nor wore my rain jacket. Always the same. Hopefully I learn before the winter is out.

Luckily for me there are some absolutely stunning running paths in this city and it makes getting out there in the rain a lot easier to do. When you are striding along the waterfront with the mountains in sight, the beach around the corner and the city lights burning in your peripheral it’s easy to get lost in your rhythm and it seems like you are experiencing several different locations all in one great place. I pounded the pavement and the beach feeling the freshness of just fallen icy cold rain and wound up at home an hour later (good practice for my New Years resolution of doing a marathon!) After exercising in the elements I needed a dinner that would not only warm me up but make me feel all homely and cosy inside. For me that meal is often a creamy risotto, I love the simplicity of a good risotto it’s an elegant meal that doesn’t require too much effort and really hits the spot on a rainy evening.

So tonight I had a buckwheat aborio mix with this pumpkin and caramelised onion risotto, you could use either just buckwheat or just aborio but I love the texture of the aborio rice and the nuttiness of the buckwheat so the mix is a great balance, check it out…

WHAT”S IN IT:

Caramelised onions:

– 1 Red Onion                  – 1 T Balsamic Vinegar

– 1 T Brown Sugar           – 1 T Olive Oil

The Rice:

1/2 C Buckwheat

1/2 C Aborio rice

2 – 3 C Vegetable stock

1/2 C Dry white wine (optional)

2 Garlic Cloves (crushed)

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 1/2 C diced/cubed pumpkin or squash

1 T Olive Oil

1 T Butter

Finely shaved parmesan

HOW IT”S PUT TOGETHER:

1. Prepare the caramelised onions (can be done a few days in advance) by slicing the onion and mixing it with the sugar, vinegar and oil.

2. Cook the onions in a fry pan over medium to low heat for around 40 minutes until nicely cooked to caramelisation.

3. Prepare your stock in a pot and keep hot over the stove whilst you prepare your risotto.

4. Fry the garlic, oil, paprika and pumpkin in a pan over medium heat until the garlic is fragrant and soft. Add both the buckwheat and aborio rice and turn the heat up high.

5. When the rice looks translucent and the buckwheat is giving of a nutty flavour, pour over the white wine and listen to the beautiful sizzle as the alcohol burns off. Turn the heat back down to low.

6. Continuously add your stock, 1/2 C at a time, making sure that the liquid is completely absorbed before adding the next lot of stock. Do this until the rice and buckwheat is no longer crunchy.

7. Add your caramelised onions and butter and stir in to the risotto. Top with shaved parmesan and serve with fresh steamed greens. Get cosy and enjoy!

* It takes around 30-40 minutes for the pumpkin to be cooked and the rice to be creamy and cooked through.

** Serves 3

New Year, New Me, New Home

Hello my blog.

I’m sorry I went away for so long but I have good reasons for leaving you so empty and out-dated, you see I was taking time out of my old life to start my new one. New lives are pretty complicated things you know; they require an awful lot of dedicated time and effort to birth them in to reality. There are cities to scour, homes to hunt for and jobs to snatch up. There are fresh friends to make, unique lingo to learn and strange foods to eat. There are also new rooms to fill, renewed routines to begin and unheard of recipes to try. With all of these new aspects to cultivate and pursue my days have felt short but my life has felt full and a full life is what’s most exciting about starting anew.

I finished my European travels in November and I have now found that my latest stop is the place I call home. Beautiful, vivid and adventurous Vancouver is where the new me begins. Although right now in January I must say it is more like grey, dreary and gloomy Vancouver. But even in the wet and wintry season I still feel at home, with the beach near by and the mountains in my view I know that this is where my new life is.

Since leaving the professional rowing world earlier in 2014 I have now found the gut feeling I have been looking for, that instinctive feeling where things just feel right, even when some days they’re wrong. Making the decision to finish up my rowing career and end my Olympic pursuit was a complicated and at the time painful decision, but it was the right one. Now I feel like I can prepare for my next long term pursuit in finding my path towards becoming a sport psychologist. This is a path that won’t be clear and won’t be easy but the timing is right to get the ball rolling, because when you’re passionate about something, the timing is always right.

So I find myself now in this wonderfully diverse Canadian city that has so much to offer. Not unlike the surrounds I’m used to back home in New Zealand, there is so much on offer here but on a much grander scale. Being around people of all ethnic backgrounds is a great bonus of being in a city such as Vancouver; there are so many opportunities to learn about not only Canada but also the rest of the world and what’s to complain about when Canadians are just so damn nice!

As the time passes on I am sure I will get used to the subtle differences in language and Canadian culture, although I am not sure I can learn to love a Caesar cocktail (is that a requirement for obtaining residency? I should look in to that) but for now I will stick to the cultural fusion. The fusion of Canada and New Zealand is an easy one as we tend to get along famously, apart from some strange cocktail preferences, so since I am now back in a beautiful, grand and functional kitchen I have started getting back in to my deeply missed passion of cooking. To kick-start my new life and my renewed blog I have made an ultimate “New Zanada” fusion recipe with these ….

Maple walnut ANZAC biscuits

Ingredients:

3/4 C Oats                                                          50g Butter

1/2 C Flour                                                          1/4 – 1/2 C Maple Syrup

1/2 C Desiccated Coconut                                  3/4 C walnuts or pecans (or a mix of both!)

1/2 t Baking soda mixed with 1 T hot water

How it’s done:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius or in my Canadian kitchen 350 degrees fahrenheit.

2. Mix all of the dry ingredients and nuts together (minus the baking soda)

3. Melt the butter and maple syrup over a low heat, stir the baking soda into the hot water and then add to the  butter and syrup mixture.

4. Combine the dry and wet ingredients, mix and place spoonfuls on to a greased or baking paper lined tray *.

5. Bake until golden (approximately 15-20 mins) and enjoy the fusion of these great flavours in a simple yet  classic and tasty biscuit.

* Make sure there is enough space between biscuits on the tray as they expand during cooking.

Little Seeds of Goodness

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine came to me with a small and humble packet of little helpers bursting with trendy super food goodness and asked me “what the hell do I do with these?”. Her sister had apparently told her that she should start eating chia seeds because they are good for her and she needs to take better care of herself. I myself have used chia seeds in the past mainly for desserts and to add to smoothies and I am vaguely aware of their rising super star status in the world of healthy super foods. I like the idea of trying to incorporate some health foods here and there in to my normally balanced diet and I like the idea of antioxidants and omega 3s of which chia seeds harbor many in their tiny little bodies. And I actually enjoy the gelatinous texture they take on when they expand their chia colonies when submerged in liquid. So I really do enjoy the unassuming little chia seed, I don’t however enjoy the price tag, but a small packet does actually go quite a long way when used as a health boost to another recipe or a super sprinkle on a smoothie. So what to do with my friend’s chia seeds……

At this point in time I was going through a biscuit phase, or a cookie phase if I was living in America. So I put the chia to use in an oaty biscuit recipe where it actually works really well to bind all of the ingredients together. Of course I was also going through a chocolatey dessert phase, a phase I seem to have been stuck in for the last 20 years, so I made us some chia dessert cups which I love because the texture is so unique, almost like chocolate mousse but not. And the best thing about this dessert is it also seems like a viable breakfast option which is always a plus! So with chia as my kitchen sidekick I put together Spiced Chia Oaty Biscuits and Chia Choc Banana pudding cups and we were chia cheerful!

SPICED CHIA OATY BISCUITS

2 Mature mashed bananas
3/4 C Oats
1-2 T Chia seeds
1/4 C Milk
1/4 C Desiccated coconut
1/4 C raisins
1 T Butter (melted) or Coconut oil
1 T honey
1 heaped teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 C crushed nuts (optional)

1. Mix the chia seeds with the milk in a cup and let sit for 5-10 minutes until the chia have
worked their magic and created a gel consistency.

2. Mash the bananas and add all ingredients in to a bowl and mix together, add the chia seeds
once they have expanded. the mixture should be quite wet but it should roll in to a ball.

3. Roll about balls of the mixture in to biscuit size and put on a lined baking tray and flatten
the tops slightly to better resemble a biscuit.

4. Bake for about 20 minutes at 180 degrees until slightly golden. They won’t brown up like
normal biscuits but a sprinkling of gold is a good indication. Let sit to cool and enjoy a
healthy bikkie with your cup of tea!

* Makes about 12 biscuits*

CHIA CHOC BANANA PUDDING CUPS

1 Mature Banana
1/2 C Milk
1/4 C Chia seeds
1 T Cocoa
1 T Honey
Desiccated coconut to sprinkle

1. Mash the banana and mix in the cocoa and honey until the cocoa is completely combined and the
mixture is smooth.

2. In a bowl mix the chia seeds and the milk with the banana mixture until the chia seeds are
distributed evenly through the mixture. Pour in to small glasses and top with coconut.

3. Refrigerate until set. I like to make this in the morning so I have dessert waiting for me
that evening, this is so easy. Dessert in less than 5 minutes? Can’t complain with that!

* Makes 2 serves*

Sevilla: Eats, Treats and Citrus Streets

It has come time for me to move on from sunny Sevilla and carry on with the journey. It’s time to stop taking midday siestas, partaking in tapa tasting and sipping on tinto veranos and start planning to head to lands of cooler and crisper air. Whilst basing myself here in Sevilla to teach, learn and explore I have managed to get to know the city pretty well and I have made some fantastic friends along the way, the great thing about the Andalusian people is that they are always arms open wide, boisterous and ready for a cerveza and a fiesta. The following list is just a small sample of my Sevillian favourites: the things that I highly recommend and that make up the best memories of this city that I will take away with me.


Tapas, Tapas and more and more Tapas

I’ll start with the food as it seems to be the centre of my universe still even though I am no longer an athlete. Andalucía is probably the most known region of Spain for tapas, tapas are everywhere but here they are particularly a core part of the lifestyle. The best tapas I had here were at Espacio Eslava a well-priced and beautifully presented tapas bar (you can see the food we had on “World Table”) Bodeguita Romero is also one to check out with very traditional options. The tapas dining experience really is my favourite way to enjoy food, you get to try so many different flavours, the meal ends up being cheap and you are full and satisfied by the end of it. My recommendations are:

Solomillo con whiskey – Pork tenderloin cooked in garlic and whisky sauce, so simple but so full of flavour and a great one to mop up with bread.

Morcilla – Ok this one sounds gross but it is actually so tasty and very rich, it’s the Sevillian style of black pudding and is usually served in a bocadillo.

Ibérico – Anything with Iberian pork is amazing and beautifully tasty! These acorn feed pigs really are a cut above the rest, you can taste this in many ways including jamón ibérico or ibérico secreto.

Cola de toro – Bulls tail, this is usually stewed and only available on some occasions. I was only able to try bulls tail croquettes which were delicious.

Chocos fritos – Similar to Calamari but a bit thicker, these are fried pieces of a sort of cuttlefish, served with a squeeze of lemon.

Flamequines – These are a sort of pork schnitzel roll with goats cheese and ham. Can’t go wrong!


A Piece of Royalty in the Centre of the City

The Royal Alcázar is probably the best thing you can see whilst in Sevilla. It is one of the most beautiful palaces in Spain and arguably the world. With a strong Moorish influence, this huge palace and complex is like a secret garden amongst the city. The architecture is unbelievable and the tiles and gardens are like nothing else. There is usually always a line but it really is well worth the wait and the 9.50 euros. It’s a must do.


Maria Luisa Park

This large public park is a sanctuary of greenery, beautifully tiled and crafted spaces and pathways to explore. Again it’s one of those places that will surprise you being right in the middle of this big city. It’s a great place to wander for an afternoon and requires a decent amount of time to be truly appreciated.And it’s free, what’s not to love!


Plaza de España

Another free and beautiful part of the city is Seville’s Plaza de España, it seems most of the cities in Spain boast a plaza by this name but Seville’s is by far the most impressive. The tile work across the whole plaza is unfathomably amazing and one of those sights you just can’t quite capture on film. You can hire a boat to paddle around the small river that runs in front of the plaza for a peaceful afternoon.

Experience the Flamenco

A trip to Seville is not complete without at least hearing a little of that charming Spanish guitar. The flamenco is a strong part of the culture here and is evident with the countless number of shops selling flamenco dresses and fans. I never went to a paid show as I thought they may be a bit touristy and overpriced, however there are many bars that have free flamenco on show and as long as you are drinking you can sit and experience it. Some of the bars don’t play until midnight so if you aren’t much of a night owl you probably won’t get the best flamenco show (according to locals) but it’s still pretty amazing if you ask me. One of the most popular and easily accessible free shows is with La Carbonería a very cool whole in the wall type bar with flamenco most nights and at a reasonable hour. The guitar is a really core part of the show and the dancers perform with a whole heap of passion, it’s an impressive art form.


The Sweets that God Giveth

Although I am not religious in my bones I really love the tradition here to purchase sweets and pastries from the local nuns to support them and the convents. There are a few to visit in the centre and all have some of their own uniquely homemade treats. I went to the <emConvento de Santa Ines on calle Doña Maria Coronel and it was such a unique experience. Firstly you choose your holy sweets from a menu board and yell through your order via a lazy susan, the nun on the other side (whom you never see) spins your sweets over to you and you then part with your cash and spin it on back to the nun. We chose a specific Santa Clara biscuit which had a melt in your mouth texture and a distinct cinnamon and star anise flavour. Its great really, you leave with a full belly and a sugar high and surely some brownie points with the big guy up top.

The hot days, citrus streets and the enchanting music of Sevilla have left me with some beautifully etched memories to take with me, my love for Spanish food and language has been strengthened but I think now it is time to get back to my own lifestyle where naps are only for lazy Sundays and dinner isn’t consumed in the middle of the night (: What a wonderful way to extend the summer and enjoy a bit of Spanish living. ¡viva the Sevillian Civilian!

Shackled by Sugar

When I see that the purple packaging is empty except for the surviving crumbs hiding themselves and quivering away in the corners of the now vast and vacant wrapper, I think to myself “Whose been eating my deliciously creamy Milka chocolate??!” I swear there was some left. I deliberately bought the 300g block as it would be cheaper in the long run, I would eat it slowly over a week or two as I know I have exceptional chocolate will power. Alas it lasted barely a day. And no matter what I tell myself, deep down I know that if I look directly in to the mirror I will see the deviant chocolate thief staring straight back at me. I have become a slave to a master of denial, deception and the slogan “just one more won’t hurt”. I have become enslaved by sugar.

The thing is, before I started travelling I really wasn’t this bad (honest) I could buy a block of chocolate and nibble on it for two weeks, eating just enough to satisfy any sugary cravings, sometimes a little more if I was reaching the “I swear I’m going to strangle somebody if I don’t get a chocolate fix right this instant” level. When I was in the comfort of my own routine back in NZ I had the ability to keep regular eating habits. I could make my spirulina smoothie every morning, I had access to things like coconut oil and quinoa and time to make good lunch choices like salads and wraps. Travelling and being on the road means it’s hard to keep routine and structure which sometimes is the best part about travelling, being homeless and structureless. For me I have found that my whole routine has been turned upside down, thrown in the washing machine and set on spin cycle for far too long. Living in Spain I am eating lunch at 2 or 3 o’clock and dinner at 9 or 10. I believe that this alone has kept me running back to sugar like an old comforting childhood memory.

So I have decided that I will be a slave no more! I have started to slowly chip away at the sugary sweet shackles that bind me to this processed drug, I’ve tried my very best not to eat away at them (: Since I have settled here in Sevilla for a short time I have managed to get my hands on some coconut oil and I have started making some sweet healthy delights to carry me through the withdrawals and get my sugar intake back to normal. I have always loved coconut oil, mainly for taming my unruly and rebellious tresses or for trying to smell like what I imagine a beautiful Island princess to smell like, but mostly I love the versatility of this oil so I try to use it in small amounts in different ways in my diet as well. The main treats I have been whipping up for myself are coconut rough and cool coconut and banana bites both are extremely simple and don’t require much time, equipment or effort.

Coconut Rough

This is one of my favourite chocolate flavours so I absolutely love this version, coconut, coconut and more coconut! What’s not to love?!

4 Tbsp Coconut oil
2 Tbsp Cocoa
¼ C shredded or desiccated coconut (use desired amount, I like more rough in my chocolate so I use a lot)
1 Tbsp Honey or Maple syrup (adjust to taste)

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix together until smooth.
2. Pour the mixture in to a small tin lined with baking paper.
3. Set in the freezer and break in to pieces like chocolate bark.
4. Keep stored in the fridge and enjoy!

Cool Coconut and Banana Bites

These are so tasty and great for hot days as they are eaten straight from the freezer.

2 Tbsp Coconut oil
1 Tbsp Cocoa
1 Tbsp Honey or Maple Syrup
1 Banana
Desiccated coconut to cover

1. Mix the coconut oil, cocoa and honey until smooth.
2. Slice a banana in to 1cm thick slices and dip in the chocolate mixture.
3. Roll in coconut and put in a container to store in the freezer.
4. Eat straight from the freezer; try not to eat them all at once!

Of course there is always room for some real chocolate, which I refuse to give up completely, but these definitely keep the sugar cravings at bay and keep those shackles loose. And for the record next time I’m buying chocolate it won’t be the large block, you’re not in charge today sugar, not today!

Back Where I Belong

As I watch my deliciously golden mixture bubble away on the stove stop I hum to myself that tune by some rapper whose name I cant remember but whose song contains the words that express how I’m feeling at this moment, “ back where I belong, something about being strong, there’s nothing that I cant tryyyy, so put your hands in the skkkkyyy” (along those lines anyway) After being on the road for a good 3-4 months I have finally been able to get back in the kitchen. Where I belong (and no I’m not saying that just because I am a woman). One of the things that makes me happiest in this world apart from travelling, apart from working out to tunes by Beyonce and apart from eating (just eating in general) is cooking.

Since I have been staying in Sevilla in a real house I have been able to get a little creative again in the kitchen. There’s just one problem. This real house, it has no oven. What??! I know who doesn’t have an oven?! I was so shocked to discover this fact that I almost just turned right around, walked out the door and hopped on the next bus out of there. But what I realised is that it just means I have to be more creative. A challenge. So when I attended my first couch surfing cooking meeting I was racking my brains with what to make, I wanted to make the obvious and always moreish NZ (not Australian ☺) dessert, Pavlova, but I didn’t have an oven! So with a little help from my Grandad’s recipe and a little kiwi influence I came up with this velvety hokey pokey chocolate slice.

My Grandad uses ginger and apricots in his version and I always remember loving devouring this sweet delight whenever we visited him. His recipe uses sweetened condensed milk, something else I have fond memories about. I remember loving when my Mum would make her caramel slice because I would get to lick the spoon after she had used the sweetened condensed milk. I had a really bad realisaton making this slice as it dawned on me that I am in fact an adult now and if I want to eat sweetened condensed milk straight from the can then I can sure as hell do it and no one can stop me! Unfortunately I have now had to ban myself from buying sweetened condensed milk, add to that list Nutella as I had the same realisation the week before about this, my all time favourite flavor combination, and needless to stay the jar didn’t last long!

So with my slice I decided that I needed to incorporate a little kiwi in to it as it would be my dessert for the International couch surfing dinner, I thought hokey pokey would make a great addition to this slice because I’ve never met a person who doesn’t love hokey pokey! This recipe is great as you can add almost anything you like and it’s so simple. And the best thing, I didn’t need to use an oven! So the recipe…….

Velvety Chocolate and Almond Hokey Pokey Slice

Start with the Hokey Pokey

IMG_4041

50gms Sugar
2 Tablespoons Golden Syrup or Honey (I used honey as Golden Syrup doesn’t exist in Spain, it has a slightly different flavor but is still just as tasty)
1 Teaspoon Baking soda

1. Lightly mix the sugar and the honey together in a pot and boil over a medium heat on the stove. DO NOT stir once the mixture is on the stove top.
2. Let the mixture boil for about 5 minutes or so, the important thing is to watch it carefully and watch for a change in colour. You want the whole mixture to darken in colour to a nice golden brown.
3. When the mixture has darkened, the bubbles are bubbling and it looks as though it’s close to burning, remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the baking soda.
4. The mixture will foam and double in size and you can then pour the mixture quickly on to a piece of baking paper. Let sit until it has cooled.

*If the Hokey Pokey is chewy and sticky then it wasn’t hot enough when you added the baking soda, next time it needs to be left longer to bubble.
** This makes a small batch, double the quantities if you would like to have some left overs!

Chocolate Slice

200gms Best quality dark chocolate (This is important, I have tried it with cheap milk chocolate and the flavor just isn’t as good)
½ C sweetened condensed milk
50 gms Butter
1 portion of crushed Hokey Pokey
¾ C Chopped almonds
¾ C Dried cranberries

1. Melt the chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and butter over a low heat and let your mouth drool at the sight of this delightful mixture!
2. Crush your pre-prepared hokey pokey (which should have beautiful fluffy air bubbles throughout it) into small pieces with your hands or a blunt kitchen object.
3. Add hokey pokey, almonds and cranberries to the chocolate mixture and pour in to a small tin lined with baking paper. I used a loaf tin but you can use a cake tin if you prefer. Cover and put in the fridge to set. And there you have chocolate hokey pokey perfection!
4. Cut in to slices and enjoy straight from the fridge.

I love how simple this recipe is, it’s rich so you don’t need a lot. This recipe makes a small batch to enjoy as dessert or with coffee.

The Future Looks Bright


*A few photos from Sevilla

It never ceases to amaze me the interesting and unique people you meet whilst travelling. When I am at home I very rarely come across the strange, the interesting or the down right nutty. Maybe its because at home I’m too busy with the life bubble of friends, family and work that I have already created to notice or to chance across these kinds of people. Or maybe it’s because in my far off New Zealand, we are just a different breed from the rest.

I have been in Sevilla for three weeks now, living in small town Gines, about seven kilometres from Sevilla centre. When I say small town, I mean small town. I once saw an oxen and cart parked outside one of the local tapas bars, just pulled up and parked right in front with his oxen to have a beer and some tapas. Those sorts of things you only ever see in small towns! I have been teaching English here for a couple that runs a language school from their home. I was initially really excited to start using my CELTA qualification and get this teacher role started, although I am enjoying it for the most part, what I didn’t count on was teaching a group of rowdy, disinterested and rebellious pre-teens. Well all I can say is I have a lot of respect for school teachers who deal with classes of 30 of the little monsters, I only have eight and I am barely holding on to my sanity.

When I am not squishing myself in to the role of English Language Teacher I have my spare time to roam and discover Sevilla. I have been opting to do this by meeting up with different travellers from all over the world for language exchange so I can attempt to become somewhat proficient at speaking Spanish. Last week I was joined by an American friend to practice my not so good and her marginally better Spanish conversation, we agreed to meet at Café de la Prensa on the Triana side of Sevilla which over looks the elegant Guadalquivir river, well-used by rowers and kayakers alike. The café has a great tapas menu; I can recommend the pollo rellena, stuffed chicken breast in a tasty Andalucían sauce.

When we arrived we were disappointed to see that all of the tables were already taken and we were contemplating rethinking our dining choice. I scanned the tables and I noticed an old slightly eccentric looking man sitting by himself at a table for four. He wore a dusty white suit, what appeared to be a cowboy’s bolo tie and he had donned a purple hat for the still sunny Sevilllian late afternoon. He sat alone with his cane outstretched and as I caught his eye he got up and motioned us over to his table. He looked as though he was maybe in his late sixties and grumbled to us (in Spanish) something about there never being any tables for one anymore. He motioned for us to take the table and he proceeded to ask for his check. Well that was very nice of him I thought, we were both hungry and eager to get in to the tapas selection ahead of us.

What we didn’t count on was that the quirky man in the purple hat was keen to stay for a chat, well all the better for us I guess as it was a good opportunity to practise Spanish. I didn’t follow much of the conversation as I am still struggling to hear Spanish via the very unique Andalucían accent, my friend however is much better than I am and continued to contribute to the conversation. At one point he did turn to me to tell me that I was a very intelligent woman. Well, I wont argue with that one Spanish cowboy! I graciously laughed and said my “gracias”.

He then said to both of us, well we thought he said to both of us “soy psicólogo”
“I am a psychologist”. Oh perfect I thought and proceeded to tell him all about my psychology studies and that I want to study sport psychology in the future. From there the conversation didn’t really continue how I had expected. He began describing us both in detail, what kind of people we were, our ethnic ancestry, our personality characteristics. At first I thought maybe because he is a psychologist he’s interested in personality traits etc. and that’s where he was going but then he said to me (in strong Spanish and intensity in his eyes) “ you are going to be very rich one day”. Well, ok (I laughed nervously) I wondered if I had translated correctly, he also told me that I will work for the rest of my life. Well I should hope that after working for the rest of my life I would be very rich, I’d be a bit disappointed (and exhausted) if I wasn’t!

When he finally got up to leave so we could order something to eat he left with some final, and I’m sure very wise and life changing words. But unfortunately neither of us could really understand him. He continued to talk of our futures as we left, about my friend’s impulsive nature and my quiet nature and then he hobbled off with his Spanish cowboy image and his elegant walking stick. I mentioned to my friend that he had been an interesting psychologist; I couldn’t quite work out if he was psychoanalysing us or predicting our future. She turned to me and said “ Oh no that’s not what he meant, he must’ve said “soy psíquico!” the Spanish translation for “psychic”, easily confused with “psychologist”! Oh now I got it, we just had our futures read by a real purple hat wearing Spanish cowboy psychic and we didn’t even know it! Well I’m not sure if he was just one of the nutty strangers I spoke of earlier or maybe he was the real deal …… I will never know, and now I wish I could understand more Spanish! But hey the future looks bright apparently, lots of money and lots of work to come, vamos a ver. ¡viva the odd and curious!

Meeting the World one Couch at a Time

I have realised that my idea of travelling isn’t one that has me visit the most popular tourist sights in a whirlwind tour of a city or town where I leave with a surface deep knowledge, appreciation and memory of that city. What I have realised over the last few months is that I am happiest travelling when I am meeting people, local
people and learning about their city through their eyes. I am happiest when I am getting lost in a small, underrated part of a city that has bigger and more well-known attractions to offer.

So when I set off on my journey I went with the intention of using the couch surfing website in order to see a different side of the places I wanted visit. Upon telling others of my plan I was faced with a varied array of responses. Some were positive like “wow that’s such a great idea, I wish I could do that” some were non-committal like “hmm that’s kind of cool” and some were shocked and discouraging like the customs officer in San Francisco airport who interrogated me on whether I had in fact thought about what is going to happen when I wake up in the morning in a bath full of blood stained ice missing my vital organs and feeling pretty stupid.

Well, although I was faced with that particular response a moment before I was to meet my first couch surfing host, I decided to go with my loud and confident gut instinct that said, “hey you never know until you try!” Of course I can understand the hesitation and the scepticism over a website that brings strangers together in the confines of their homes that are usually not privy to the safe and watchful eye of the public like when you arrange to meet someone at a café or bar, but I like to think that a project such as Couch Surfing tends to attract like minded people. I like to think that everyone uses the website for the same reasons that I do, to meet, to learn and to help others on their quest to see the world and expand their minds. Unfortunately, of course, like anything conducted via that seemingly limitless World Wide Web that we love to hate, there are going to be people who are not of like mind (or sound mind!) and who abuse the project.

It is unfortunate also that the consequence of travelling alone as a young woman is that I put myself in a targeted position of vulnerability no matter how much I feel that I’m channelling Beyonce on the inside. Of course men also face certain risks when travelling but for women it is just a whole different world. I feel I have to be extremely judgemental about who I talk to or agree to meet with on Couch Surfing. Do they show themselves half-naked in any of their profile pictures? Do they have any strange comments on their profile? Do they look like they think they are gods gift to women? Do they use xos and winky faces when commenting about women they have couch surfed with? Do they offer to share their bed with me? What age are they? And lastly, do they have a creepy “I’m going to knock you unconscious, tie you up and hide you in my secret basement” kind of face? These are all very important questions I ask myself when agreeing to surf someone’s couch.

Being a young woman on one of these sites I have had many propositions from various men asking me if I want to stay with them where they will take me here and there and buy me this and that and if I want I don’t even have to wear clothes. Most of these men are old enough to be my father. And in response, I politely decline, “No thank you kind sir, I don’t quite feel like being an unsolved murder mystery today”. I have even had one young man try to come on to me within five minutes of meeting (literally five minutes!) I was meant to couch surf with him and he agreed to meet me at the train station near his house, which to my surprise meant somehow to him that we were on a date. He couldn’t believe that I wasn’t there to sleep in his bed and he couldn’t get his head around the fact that I wasn’t interested in him! Needless to stay I checked myself in to a hostel that night.

Despite a few strange incidences, for the most part my Couch Surfing experiences have been above and beyond amazing. The people I have met have taught me so much and have shown me that there are many truly genuine people out there, no matter where you place yourself. It’s just a matter of being aware, being smart and trusting your instincts. The majority of people on the site are genuine couch surfers through and through and want nothing more than to learn and share their travel experiences. So I have compiled a list of tips for new comers to the site, I highly recommend using it on your travels even just to meet for a coffee with someone, it’s a project that opens up so many doors and brings new ideas, people and experiences in to your life.

1. Start off by just using the site to meet other travellers, sign up, create a profile and start meeting! I love using the site this way, as especially when you are traveling alone, it’s so nice to meet someone for a coffee or to see some of the sights together. I have made many great friends this way.

2. Don’t stay with someone unless they are a person you would stay with at home. For me I wouldn’t stay with an unknown 45 year old man who lives on his own in my own country so I wont do it half way across the world. I’m sure lots of these men are lovely, normal people but you have to look out for yourself!

3. If their profile pictures are all of them posing topless and doing a muscle man photo shoot, they are probably using Couch Surfing as a dating site. If that’s what you’re in to, go for it, if not, next profile!

4. If they write, “clothing optional” on their profile, probably not a good choice.

5. If they write, “shared sleeping surface” or “can sleep up to four people in my bed” again, probably not a good choice.

6. It’s best to look for families or couples; I find it feels a little safer; I also try to stay with women if possible.

7. If they offer a room to yourself and not just a couch they are probably true surfers! After all, if they have a spare room they have the option of renting it to you but they are offering it for free, I think these people tend to be genuinely interested in cultural exchange.

8. Go to a couch surfing meeting! They happen in cities and towns everywhere, usually once or twice a week at the same place and it’s a great place to meet new people, people who you may want to stay with later on. It feels a bit more comfortable if you have met the person already. And there are usually so many people there; you are bound to make new friends.

Overall I always recommend Couch Surfing to others as something they should look in to when travelling. I have had many unforgettable experiences and I have made so many new friends, I have also met some people I don’t wish to meet again but that is the beauty of Couch Surfing. You never know who you will meet or what you will learn. So go dip your toes in the water and start surfing! ¡viva new stories from the couch!

*Photos below of my Couch Surfing experiences

Captured by Cádiz

The first sight of Cádiz that came emerging out of the azul sky and sea that surrounded my peripheral was the grand and baroque style cathedral of Cádiz. The cathedral that took over 100 years to build greets the port and the shoreline of Cádiz with imposing style and grace. I took my first day trip from my new base in Gines, Sevilla to this popular weekend destination, I opted to take the ferry across from Puerto de Santa Maria instead of taking a direct train, to get the complete and full experience of my first meeting with this historic Spanish city.

I think it was love at first sight, Cádiz really turned up with an exceptional first impression. You can feel the Andalusian roots in this city from the refreshing stark white houses and buildings inlaid with unique and colourful tiles to the overwhelmingly long tapas menus and that feeling that there really is no reason to rush or worry. Being in the very south, you can see and feel a Moroccan influence amongst the city’s most prominent buildings and the fresh sea breeze is inhaled from every corner of the city due to its position on a narrow stretch of land embraced on all sides by the sea.

The beaches here are relaxed and beautiful (not as beautiful as NZ beaches but pretty close!) I passed my day at La Playa de la Caleta in the old city between two castles that lie at either end of the beach like outstretched arms reaching out in to the sea. This particular beach was a set for the James Bond movie Die Another Day and really was quite striking with the colourful little local dinghies beached at low tide and the old stonewall running alongside the sand border behind me. Cádiz really makes you fell like you are on holiday, even if it’s just for a day. I recommend taking the ferry over as it only costs 4 euros one way and is a more scenic way to arrive. The Mercado Central is a must visit too; one of the great things about Spain is all of the open air markets where you can purchase all kinds of fresh produce from coconuts to calamari. Hopefully the beautiful beach weather will hold for a few more weeks here so I can explore more of the beautiful coast that Andalucía has to offer. ¡viva holding on to summer!

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