SPAIN // Sunday in Guardamar


Parque Reina Sofia - Guardamar del Segura, Costa Blanca

A couple of weekends back I was lucky enough to find myself in sunny Spain. The half-way point in a busy week playing tourists, I had proposed that Sunday be something of a siesta: a day for soaking in the pool, or soaking up some Vitamin D with a sun lounger and a couple of books. Sounds good, right? 

Only, it turns out I haven't quite mastered the sun, sea and siesta life when it comes to holiday time. I'm not very good at sitting still in one place when I think there's something more to see or something better to be experienced. My books remain unopened, my notepad barely touched, but my legs move constantly and my camera and arm become almost permanently attached! 

So it was that everyone awoke on Sunday morning to the suggestion that we scrap our day of lounging in exchange for an alternative plan! After a spot of research the night before, I put forward the idea of heading up the coast to Guardamar del Segura to visit a market and park. My parents - fortunately - seemed glad to get on board and so we duly got ourselves organised and headed off.

Cactii - plants and flowers - Lemon Tree Market, Guardamar del Segura45 minutes south of Alicante and just 15 minutes north of Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca, Guardamar del Segura is a small town on the mouth of the river Segura, from which it takes its name, and is best known for its miles of sand dune beaches and pine forests and its two neighbouring salt lakes, the Salinas de Guardamar.

Surprisingly, then, it was an orange and lemon grove on the outskirts of town that was actually our first destination of the day. Known colloquially as the 'Lemon Tree Market' - you'll never guess why! - the Mercadillo de Campo de Guardamar takes place from 9am 'till 2pm every Sunday and is one of the largest markets the area has to offer.

I've spouted about my fondness for local Spanish markets often enough before and have loved my visits to Torrevieja, Playa Flamenca and San Miguel, but Guardamar's was really something else! With an estimated 1000 stalls each week, the items on sale seem limitless in both quantity and variety, selling everything from flowers to fidget spinners; towels to tomatoes; scarves to strawberries; wine to windows (yes, really!); honey to handbags; sweets to souvenirs, and almost everything you could think of in between. The stalls seemed to go on for days and the place was alive with the buzz of both vendors and customers. As my dad remarked, "I think we've figured out what the Costa Blanca does on a Sunday!"

The food stalls are my personal favourite - no surprises there! - with the olives particularly catching my eye ("Aceitunas con ajo y perejil, por favor!"). On this occasion I came armed with a list of ingredients and delighted in picking them out on the stalls, trying to find the best bargains, and then bringing them home to cook up a Spanish-inspired storm.

Tomatoes - fruit and veg - Lemon Tree Market, Guardamar del Segura
Candy - Lemon Tree Market, Guardamar del Segura
Peaches and nectarines - fruit - Lemon Tree Market, Guardamar del Segura
Red green peppers - veg - Lemon Tree Market, Guardamar del Segura
Aubergines - vegetables - Lemon Tree Market, Guardamar del Segura
Honey pastry - candy and pastries - Lemon Tree Market, Guardamar del Segura

Besides the sheer scale of it, two things struck me as most notably distinguishing this market from others I've visited.

The first was relatively simple and practical with the Lemon Tree Market seeming much better organised than some, in terms of signposting and parking; the clear differentiation between food and other goods in the layout of the stalls; and the presence of toilet facilities on site. The latter, I guess, is a necessity if your market is in the middle of farmland, but it made a refreshing change from having to run off and find a local cafe or pub!

The second - more exciting and enticing by far - was the availability of hot, freshly-cooked food and refreshments in a third area of stalls, with many providing seating and shelter under which to enjoy their wares. From traditional Spanish cuisine of tapas and enormous paella pans; to a full English breakfast or afternoon tea, Greek salads, or German sausages, there is something for almost every taste-bud. You could even sit back and enjoy a Spanish beer, share a jug of sangria or sip a G&T!

We opted to share some churros on this occasion: enormous, hot pastries straight out of the fryer, covered in sugar and cinnamon and served up in a cone bigger than my face. At €3 for a dozen of these beauties, I will never again be able to sit in a British restaurant charging £5 for three and read the menu with a straight face.

They were "delicioso" but I'd definitely be keen to plan the day out better and sample some more substantial food on any return visit. "Mucho gusto!"

Churros - fresh hot food - Lemon Tree Market, Guardamar del Segura
Paella - fresh hot food - Lemon Tree Market, Guardamar del Segura

After successfully purchasing my shopping list (and then some!) and filling our faces with sugary delights, we left the stallholders to begin packing up and headed into Guardamar itself to visit the 'Parque Reina Sofia'.

Named (I presume) after Queen Sofia, who reigned from 1975 to 2014, the park - which was opened in 1991 - is popular with visitors for its well-kept walkways, beautiful ponds and cascading waterfalls, as well as the large children's play area, petanca courts and an often-on-site amusement park. Perhaps its most attractive features, however, are its free-roaming residents: terrapins basking in the sun on the pond's islands; swans floating gracefully by; tiny little fluffy ducklings following their mums; and peacocks and peahens interacting in their ever eye-catching way!

Parque Reina Sofia - Guardamar del Segura, Costa Blanca
Peacocks - Parque Reina Sofia - Guardamar del Segura, Costa Blanca
duck - Parque Reina Sofia, Guardamar del Segura, Costa Blanca
Peacock - Parque Reina Sofia - Guardamar del Segura, Costa Blanca

A gorgeous place for a walk in its own right, with plenty of shaded spots to cool off and perhaps enjoy a picnic, the park also sits directly opposite its companion - Parque Alfonso XIII - with its series of walking and cycling routes which lead through pine trees and sand dunes, connecting the marina to the rest of the town. We didn't venture into the latter park on this occasion, but it looked very picturesque and I could certainly imagine myself returning to explore more.

Tortugas - Terrapins - Parque Reina Sofia - Guardamar del Segura, Costa Blanca
Pond and playground -  Parque Reina Sofia - Guardamar del Segura, Costa Blanca
Ducklings -  Parque Reina Sofia - Guardamar del Segura, Costa Blanca
Waterfall - Parque Reina Sofia - Guardamar del Segura, Costa Blanca

This time round we spent the majority of our time 'Ooh'-ing and 'Aah'-ing at the wildlife - so pretty! -  before hopping in the car and heading home (via Torrevieja for ice-cream at Ramon Sirvent's and La Zenia for coffee at La Mirada!) to enjoy the afternoon's sun and spend the evening putting those market buys to good use, cooking up that Spanish-inspired foodie feast!

What more could you really want from a Sunday?! Nada! Es perfecto!


FOOD // A Foodie Father's Day


Father's Day dinner - vegan vegetarian gluten-free

Falling in the middle of June - and in a week that actually had some sun! - I feel like Father's Day is typically a BBQ kind of day. But falling on a Sunday, I feel like it's also a day for a traditional roast. Conundrum! 

We had no real plans for Father's Day this year, intending to get together on Tuesday instead, but when I found myself wide awake and in need of distraction at 3:30am on Sunday, some food-filled scheming was soon had and a plan was quickly hatched! In spite of the fair-weathered temptation, I eventually opted for a roast-type meal, which was something of a relief when the heavens opened just as I reached mum and dad's house!

After a restless trip to Asda at 5:30am (side note: what a pleasant supermarket experience!), I spent the rest of the day cooking in short spells - both in the flat and at the parentals' - whipping up a vegetarian (mostly vegan), gluten-free frenzy from some entirely new-to-me recipes. 

Here's how it all progressed...

Blueberry garbanzo oat pancakes - father's day feast

Firstly, there were blueberry "pancakes" made from gram flour and rolled oats. Admittedly, these weren't for Father's Day; these were just for me! Let's call it fuel for a day in the kitchen, okay? 

Blueberry garbanzo-oat pancakes - vegan gluten-free

Soft, chewy, warm, gooey, these weren't traditionally-textured pancakes - more akin to the banana ones so popular with health-food fans - but they were tasty and went down a treat with some extra blueberries and agave syrup poured on top. I followed this recipe, but improvised with cornflour instead of cornmeal, and nutmeg instead of cinnamon, and threw some crushed blueberries into the batter mix. Perfect start to the day!

Minimalist Bakers one hour vegan pot pie
Minimalist Bakers one hour vegan pot pie - gluten free pastry

Suitably fuelled, next up I prep'd my one-pot vegan pie following a recipe by Dana at Minimalist Baker. A simple dish of onions, garlic and an assortment of veg in a sauce of almond milk, cornflour and vegetable stock, I opted to cook mine in one large casserole dish instead of individual pies, swapping out the "biscuits" for some ready-rolled gluten-free pastry rounds to top off this easy but effective main course.

Carrot and sweet potato cumin mash - vegan gluten-free

To accompany, I made some carrot and sweet potato cumin mash, loosely based on this (not-particularly-well-written) recipe (read the comments!) on the BBC's Good Food website. Christy wasn't a huge fan of the cumin, but I enjoyed the way it balanced out the sweetness of the potatoes and the warmth it brought to the dish.

(What I didn't enjoy was the moment in which I "cleverly" tried to melt down some vegan butter and saw it explode ALL over my microwave instead. Lesson learned!)

Red and brown onions for roasting - stuffed onions - vegetarian gluten-free
Stuffing mix - stuffed onions - vegetarian gluten-free
Stuffed onions - vegetarian gluten-free

Alongside this came some stuffed onions, roasted in the oven and overflowing with filling. Gouging out the inside of an onion was something of a new and interesting experience, but worth it in the end!

For the stuffing itself I used the leftover onion along with some celery, garlic, spinach, cashew nuts and cubes of gluten-free bread (which unfortunately made my version of this dish vegetarian rather than vegan), soaked in veggie stock, according to this Akis Petretzikis recipe. There was a LOT of stuffing so the rest was baked and served up as an extra side dish.

Fried greens - spinach, asparagus, brussels sprouts - vegan gluten-free

Last but not least were some humble greens: spinach, asparagus and Brussels sprouts (thank you, 10p Asda bargain) fried off with lots of black pepper and a tiny bit of soy sauce. Yum! 

Vegetarian gluten-free vegan father's day dinner

Chocolate slider - condensed milk ice-cream

I must confess I didn't get as far as thinking about dessert, but dad himself saved Father's Day with some condensed milk ice-cream he'd whipped up a day or two previously (vaguely based on this recipe) because he is an ice-cream-making legend. Amazing!

All in all, a pretty darn good day for food, if you ask me! I hope it went some small way in saying 'Thank you!' to a dad for whom I am incredibly grateful and by whom I am incredibly blessed. ♥