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While Spain may lend itself to images of inert, bronzed bodies on the beach and the quiet lull of an afternoon siesta, don’t let the country’s laidback character fool you. For adventurous travellers looking for an entirely different angle to sunny Spain, there is plenty to do, from kayaking around the bays and snorkelling around the beaches of Menorca, climbing Montjuic in Barcelona, doing a day’s hike in the Sierra de Guadarrama near Madrid, to biking (and drinking in) the La Rioja wine country.

Day 1

On your first day in Spain, you’ll land in Madrid. The city is filled with art and culture, so put your walking shoes on and take a wander around in the morning. In the afternoon, take the train to the little town of Cercedilla, where many of the spectacular hikes that criss-cross the mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama start. Trails are colour coded and maps are easy to follow. Locals recommend Los Miradores, a 9km hike that takes hikers through serene pine forests, and up deserted mountain paths.

Day 2

Madrid’s Parque de Buen Retiro, or the Park of Pleasant Retreat, is the city’s green lung. Here you’ll find locals jogging, families picnicking and lovers rowing across the lake in the middle of this lush park. Landscaped lawns, marble statues and tidy paths make exploring the park an absolute pleasure on a sunny day.

Day 3

From Madrid, move onto Logrono, the capital of La Rioja – Spanish wine country. The city offers free bicycles to tourists who sign in and apply for a card from the Logrono Tourist Office. The flat roads, light traffic and world class wineries all within nearby cycling distance make for a fantastic experience on two wheels.

Day 4

A short 3 hour train ride away from Logrono is Barcelona, the heart of Spanish Catalan country. Montjuic, a major Barcelona landmark, is a hill that towers over the city from the southwest. To climb Montjuic, you can either take the easy option of using the series escalators that run up the hill from Palau Nacional, or you can attempt the hour or so hike up instead. The views are worth it.

Day 5

Barcelona offers an easy introduction wind surfing for amateurs via the gentle waters of the Base Nautica, located between Mar Bella and Bogatell beaches. If you already know how to windsurf, you can hire equipment by the hour; otherwise try kayaking or taking a sailing class instead. The calm waters of the Mediterranean are a calm respite away from the hustle of the city.

Day 6

Ferries and short flights run daily from Barcelona to the Balearic island of Menorca, where sun, surf and sand await holiday makers. Kayak, snorkel or dive the turquoise waters off the beaches here. Colourful sea life and coral reefs abound underwater.

Day 7

For a different view of the island, cycle the Cami de Cavalls, a bridle track that rings the entire island of Menorca along the coast. The track passes along some stunning views and provides access to pristine, isolated beaches that are otherwise unaccessible by other means. From Menorca, catch a short flight back to your starting point, Madrid, before departing for home.

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Your Own Bacon From Pork Belly

If you have the space for pigs but still haven’t made up your mind to raise them, then let me give you a little nudge. It will be one of the best investments you’ll ever make for your farm. The return is almost immediate, and the money saved is huge. Now with that said, let’s move on to one of my favorite reasons for growing your own pork: making bacon!

On my personal blog, I have a “cheater’s” recipe for anyone that wants to try their hand at curing to make a more traditional-flavored bacon. You can pick up a side (pork belly) from your local butcher and use liquid smoke for flavor without a having to purchase a smoker.

Cheater’s “Smoked” Bacon

(Original recipe by Karen Solomon – jam it, pickle it, cure it: and other cooking projects.)

Ingredients:

3 lbs pork belly
1/2 cup sugar or packed brown sugar
1 tbsp molasses, maple syrup, or honey
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 teas curing salt (pink salt, optional*)
1 teas black pepper
Liquid smoke

(You can double or triple this recipe for larger sides.)

Directions:

  • Rinse the pork belly and pat it dry. Trim the fat to the desired thickness. If the belly comes with a skin (rind) then remove it.
  • Mix the sugar with the molasses.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
  • Rub the mixture into the meat and store it in a large plastic bag in the refrigerator for 7 days, turning it once a day and rubbing the mixture in each time.
  • On day 7 check for stiffness in the meat. It should be somewhat stiff all over. (If necessary, add more salt and leave it another day.)
  • Once it’s ready, preheat the oven to 200° and rinse the meat well.
  • Brush a tiny bit of liquid smoke on both sides of the meat. Place it on a rack inside a shallow pan or baking sheet (to catch the juices) with the fat side up.
  • Roast for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 150°.

Slice a piece off and fry it. At this point you’re just testing to see if more liquid smoke should be added to your liking. (But be careful, too much smoke gives the side a saltiness that could overpower the bacon.) If all is good, square up the meat to make slicing easier. Save the excess for a big pot of beans, split pea soup, Southern-style collard greens, etc. The bacon will last about a week in the refrigerator, 3 months in the freezer. Enjoy!!!

If you love this and want to do more (and I bet you will!) then you might be faced with the difficult decision to buy a smoker and slicer. I bought both on eBay, you’ll find great prices that won’t scare a beginner away.

*About pink salt: I like to use it because the pork will turn dark without it. Here is more information according to the New York Time Cooking section:

“Pink salt, also known as curing salt No. 1, is a nitrate, a combination of sodium chloride — table salt — and nitrite, a preserving agent used to deter the growth of bacteria in cured meats. Bacon is cured in the refrigerator, then slow roasted, and finally cooked again before serving. It is not being consumed as a raw, cured meat, so the use of a nitrate is a personal decision. A small amount of pink salt in your cure provides that familiar pink color and bacon-y flavor, or what we have come to know as bacon-y. It is absolutely possible to cure bacon without nitrates; but be aware that the end product will be more the color of cooked pork and that the flavor will be akin to that of a pork roast. With or without the pink salt, homemade bacon is worth the effort.”


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