August 15, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Trips to the US

I almost fell off the face of the planet this last month. Or perhaps more precisely: I got sucked into a family-and-friends vortex somewhere between San Francisco and LA.

It was a good vortex, though. I raced around San Francisco, spending time with my city and friends. I went to a four-day-long conference that filled my brain and warmed my heart. And I did the flowers for (and was in) Heather’s wedding in LA. The trip was madness – it always is – but sweet madness.

So, now that I’ve returned to Madrid, I’m resurfacing to share a handful of photos I took with my iPhone while flitting around all over the California countryside.

My peeps (i.e. tortugas) on the Embarcadero

Market Street and the Ferry Building

Seagulls and the Bay Bridge

Half Moon Bay

Brunch at Boulette’s Larder in the Ferry Building (Bay Bridge in the distance)

Koy street art in front of Blue Bottle Coffee in Hayes Valley

The bouquet I made for Heather on her wedding day

Alamo Square

The Golden Gate

And now I’m back, vortex-free and missing every unrestful minute of it. The sensation shouldn’t last for long, though – I head to Morocco soon and back to the States again in a month, with stops in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. I hope you’ll come along for the virtual (and much less tiring) ride!

*If you aren’t following me on Instagram, you can find me at tortugaviajera.

February 14, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Trips to the US

I’ve become uber-fascinated by street art lately. Nerd-level fascinated. So when I plugged in my old point-and-shoot camera the other day and discovered a jackpot of San Francisco street art photos that I had forgotten I’d taken, it felt like a colorful care package from home (minus the candy and other awesome things my mom usually sends).

I claim “nerd-level” status because I actually wrote an article on the subject for Off Track Planet about the Valencia scene (if you haven’t read my writing on OTP, well, brace yourselves for a slightly more uncensored Erin). In doing so, I headed out to Spain’s third largest city to hunt down work by top grafiteros. Accompanied by my partner in crime (AKA Sox, my best girlfriend, who lives in Valencia), we traversed sketchy neighborhoods, and angered prostitutes with my paparazzi-like graffiti photography tactics.

Escif, Valencia, street art

So, when I visited California over the holidays, I couldn’t avoid feeding my obsession. With a new set of eyes, I scoped out the urban artwork that SF had to offer. While most of the pictures below were taken in Clarion Alley in the Mission – San Francisco’s edgy, diverse and borderline hipster neighborhood – my favorite snuck up on me while cruising around Alamo Square.

Driving down Oak Street with my best buddy at the wheel (I apparently like to drag friends along on these excursions of mine), I saw the ladder-and-trunk mural. Doing a double-take, I demanded we stop, certain that it was painted by my favorite Spanish street artist. And sure enough, while inspecting the image, there it was – his signature, ESCIF, in bold capital letters. His murals grace walls in his hometown of Valencia, but also around the world, including this particular street in the City by the Bay.

If you don’t already get geeky over urban art, I hope these colorful images might inspire you to scope out street masterpieces in your hood. Full of messages, heart, and passion, they’re worth more than just a passing glance.

Jet Martinez

Escif, San Francisco

January 24, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Trips to the US

With a picture like that to the left, it’s fair to say that New Mexican food tastes better than it looks. And don’t be fooled, that mess of a plate will set your mouth on fire too. After last week’s overview on my get-to-know-you session with the “Land of Enchantment”, now it’s time to talk food.

Red and green chile sauce
Expect most all New Mexican dishes to come with a serving of red or green chile sauce for dipping or dousing. We’re not talking about that canned stuff that you like to put cheddar cheese on, but instead salsas made of the hot chiles themselves. However, this is no harmless condiment; the sauce tastes borderline-torture hot, unless you’re a local and extra-used to having your mouth feel like it’s on fire (even you California Mexican-food buffs will likely find yourselves scrambling for a glass of something to wash away the pain). And these aren’t just any chiles, but rather indigenous varieties that locals proudly consider uniquely superior. New Mexicans like to down their picante poison by putting it on or mixed with just about anything. No dish is safe, and neither is your mouth. (The above hideous-looking dish is mixed with various chile sauces.)

New Mexican cuisine isn’t all spice and heat – it also has a softer and sweeter side. To combat the battle-zone of hotness that is your mouth, nosh on the ubiquitous sopapillas. Forget Mexican tortillas, this fried and puffy flatbread typically comes with a bottle of honey to elevate you to new levels of food euphoria. You’ll be happy to forgo the basket of bread when served this side reminiscent of funnel cake or beignets. In related news, since my trip to NM, I’ve become convinced that honey is a logical condiment for just about anything. That, and peanut butter (duh).

I’ve got a soft spot in my heart, or perhaps my stomach, for empanadas, which are Northwestern Spain’s pie-like pastry stuffed with savory concoctions made of meat, tuna or cod. Then New Mexico comes along with their sweet version, complete with “heat up and serve me”-worthy fillings made of peach, blueberry, or, holy-get-in-my-mouth-awesomeness like sweet potato. Sprinkled with sugar, the eat-on-the-go pastries will almost make you forget the fire still radiating from your mouth.

And finally, no trip to 100-year-old New Mexico would be complete without a pig-out fest on the state cookie (yeah, they have an official cookie!). Inhaling a biscochito, you might be reminded of a light shortbread cookie, with a hint of fennel, and dusting of sugar. To my now uber-Spanish palette, it seemed more like a thin version of Spain’s mantecados. Whatever they resemble, the final verdict is in: I want more and I want it often.

As I shared in last week’s post, there’s a lot more to New Mexico than the food. But just the temptation of these few treats seems reason enough to start training your mouth for a chile marathon, and your stomach for a biscochito fiesta.

*Please visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page to see more pictures from my trip to New Mexico.

January 11, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Trips to the US

“I expected more meth heads,” I told Laura as my trip to New Mexico came to a close. Perhaps I’d watched a touch too much Breaking Bad. After all, you know something’s wrong when you’re slightly disillusioned by the lack of druggies, crack houses and drug cartel violence.

Yep, I went to New Mexico while home for the holidays. When my best high-school friend, Laura, offered to fly me out there to visit her, I couldn’t resist. To prep for my journey, I overdosed on Breaking Bad episodes in hopes of acquainting myself with the region a bit. I got all sorts of amped to see the quirky city of Albuquerque and its, um, eclectic citizens. But, not surprisingly, while the TV show weaves in very real problems faced by New Mexico, there are of course other things that make the state noteworthy. Let’s discuss!

Nature-y goodness

Fans of wide open spaces will find just what they’re looking for in New Mexico – that is, a whole lot of nothing, punctuated by bushes, trees and even some peculiar rock formations.

Laura and I set off to Tent Rock to see some of New Mexico’s nothing, and it was something alright. We trekked between phallic rock formations in alleys carpeted with icy snow. Weaving through the slot canyons bordered by ribbons of rock, and up slippery mountainsides, we nearly tumbled to almost certain death more times than I care to remember. But despite the dicey hike, the journey was spectacular. My only suggestion: save it for less snowy months. And Laura says, during summer, avoid the afternoon, or risk getting swept away in flash floods. Basically, it’s a miracle we made it out alive.

If the Southwest were a company, their brand colors would be terracotta orange, turquoise and light purple, with secondary colors chile-pepper red and canary yellow (my ex-colleagues in branding will appreciate the nerdiness that just happened in that sentence). Shops, restaurants and even some houses all blanket themselves in the signature colors, making for a dazzling site distinct to the region.

I got pretty geeked-out on color (and mailboxes, but that’s another story) during our visit to Madrid. Yep, you read that right, but you probably didn’t say it right. Pronounced Mádrid (emphasis on the “a” as opposed to the “i”, as in the Spanish capital), the little city of just a couple hundred people attracts a hippy and artsy set. During a quick walk down the town’s main drag on Route 14, we got our fill of sculptures, wind chimes and fountains, mostly made from recycled materials. I hear that by night the city brightens with Christmas lights, ensuring a colorful visit no matter the time of day.

Awesome churches

I’ve done my fair share of church spectating. Stained-glass windows, Gothic stonework, Virgin Mary statues, repeat. They’re nice and often pretty breath-taking, but not necessarily awesome. New Mexico changed that for me. Its Catholic complexes marry Europe’s classic style, the Southwest’s vibrant colors, and the US’s love for a little Christmas decor. Overall, far more impressive than I expected them to be, and certainly the most intriguing churches I’ve come across in the US.

The grub
More important than anything else uniquely New Mexican is, of course, the food. But grub – in my world, anyway – is far too precious a subject matter to be squeezed into a blog post like a side of fries. Expect my usual rant on food in next week’s update.

It’s a shame that I didn’t get my fill of crazies in New Mexico – good thing San Francisco never disappoints. And now I’m back in Madrid (Ma-DRID, that is) where I’m dodging pickpockets and street-corner kleenex sellers. I guess I’ve got no shortage of “eclectic” in my life.

July 20, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Trips to the US

Announcement: I’m heavily considering giving up my professional pursuits to just dig shellfish. Perhaps I’m not entirely serious, but what is the deal with me and mollusks? I’m kind of obsessed.

Initially, I didn’t have any intentions of shellfishing when heading north of San Francisco to Tomales Bay a couple of weeks ago. But when my friend mentioned sun, picnic, wine and shuck-em-yourself oysters, all decision-making abilities got washed out with the tide. Plus, given my lifetime of summers spent clam digging, and my obsession with the marsicadoras in Galicia, I suppose it was no surprise that I ended up playing with oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company.

And so there I sat, shucking shellfish like it was my job (and I wasn’t half bad at, I must say), washing them down with white wine, hummus and organic cherries. Several oysters and a wicked sunburn later, we headed down the road to the famously quaint restaurant Nick’s Cove. Alone at the bar, the bartender entertained us with magic tricks while we sipped on more wine (making the tricks seem that much more magical, of course). In typical Bay Area fashion, the sun blazed at our picnic location, but just five minutes away at Nick’s, we found ourselves in the middle of a chilly fog bank.

With that, I leave you with some Tomales Bay eye candy. And now, after nearly four weeks in the US, I will return to my regularly scheduled euro blogging (you know – subject matter that includes musings on mullets and Spanish country western fiestas). I do hope I didn’t bore you all these last weeks with too many shots of shellfish and beaches – but really, isn’t the West Coast spectacular???!!!